Thursday, January 9, 2014

Puffy Kitty Lips :)

Harvey is an unusually smart cat.  He often watches me train my Beagle, Oliver, and will do exactly whatever I am training Oliver to do.  For instance, I was working on one jump work with Oliver.  This is something that I've never done with Harvey.  Harvey sat and watch me shaping Oliver to jump.  After about a minute or so, Oliver stopped and starred at me.  He seemed to be stuck.  Harvey came over took them jump, looked at Oliver, and walked off.  It was as if he was saying "This is what you do to get the click, silly".  

It had been a long time since my last training session with Harv.  Finally, Harvey and I got back into training.  After watching me train Oliver for the last few months, I'm sure he was more than happy to get to work.  But this time, I noticed something.  I could actually tell that he was happy by his physical appearance.  Before, I would just be able to tell that he was happy because he would join me.  But this time, he fanned out his whiskers and appeared to puff out his tiny kitty lips where his whiskers are too.  This is something I've never seen him do in everyday life.  His whole face lit up like he was in heaven!  That is exactly what I want to see when we dance!  So, now, I have a physical sign to let me know he is having a great time... puffy kitty lips!  Maybe that is his way of smiling? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wolves and Dogs

Often in dog training, you hear about the wolf packs.  People seem to think that wolves and dogs are incredibly similar and they wrap their training theories around this idea.  While wolves are dogs' direct ancestors, they were their ancestors thousands of years ago.  Dogs have been domesticated specifically to live with and work alongside the humans.  Many times, a dog will seek their beloved human's assistance to solve a problem.  This is not something a wolf does.  In fact, if a wolf pup isn't taken from its mother within a few days to live with people, it becomes very wary of humans.  Even then, they can still be wary of humans. 

The brain in a dog has a function of living with and cooperating with humans.  It's an advanced social understanding of another being.  Studies have shown that dogs understand human gestures such as pointing and they also look at human facial expressions.  Wolves on the other hand are using their brains to survive.  Their instinct is to always be alert for danger.  They do not generally cooperate with other species.  This is quite a difference.  Dogs work with us, play with us, protect us, and love us like no other animal seems to be able to do the same way.  (My cats love me and I love them to pieces.  But that working partnership is just not the same with them.  As one scientist, Mr. Miklosi, mentioned, cats hunt for us or themselves; we do not hunt with the cats as partners.)

All this evidence shows that dominance theory style of dog training actually has no scientific basis because dogs are not wolves.  Science has proven that dogs are very different that wolves.  But even if one is insistent that they are the same, it's still not a valid type of training style.  Yes, wolves live in packs.  Yes, wolves have a type of hierarchy within their packs.  But the idea of the dominant wolf or "pack leader" as well as hierarchy has been misunderstood by many.  A wolf hierarchy is simply a group of wolves, each with a different role.  Just as a human family, each role is important.  The human mother may work to provide for the family.  The father may take care of the house and caretaking of the children.  The older children may help with the chores to clean the house.  The youngest are the babies who need to be cared.  Eventually, the oldest child may take over caring for the family.  This is a hierarchy.  But we would never call the mother in this situation dominant or the pack leader.  (Of course, wolves are very different than humans and I do not ever want to compare them to humans.  My only intention is to give an example to explain wolves.)  Essentially, the hierarchy is just a structure of who has what role.  The wolf family leader's role is to keep the family prospering.  Their goal isn't to dominate everyone.  They simply want to reproduce and take care of their families.  The wolf packs are very family oriented as most animals are. 

So, this does not go along with the idea that your dog is always out to dominate you or that you should use punishment against your dog.  Dominance is just not the proper way to train dogs.  Not only are the dogs completely different from wolves in how their brain processes things but wolves also don't go around dominating every family member in their pack.  Instead of using this style of training, why not use training methods that really let the dog flourish?  Using a positive training method that incorporates that working partnership, the cooperation that dogs love, makes much more sense.  Dogs want to work alongside humans.  It's important to be a supportive, caring leader who understands the dogs instead of being the "pack leader".  This working relationship is what the dog was breed for thousands of years ago.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Changes in Focus

Within the last three or so years, I have focused on stress in animals, mainly dogs. Because of the stressful situations that I myself was encountering, I realized how important dealing with stress really is. Not only does stress cause mental concerns, it also causes many physical health issues. Some Asian theories that deal with energy healing by using the body's meridians (energy paths and points used in acupuncture and acupressure) state that a disease is just a symptom of a block in energy or life. Stress is believed to be a major component of these blocks. But whether one believes in certain Asian healing theories or not, it's hard to dispute that stress causes blocks in life. It's common for people to stop doing hobbies, interacting socially, or even not carrying out responsibilities do to stress. The same applies to animals. I've spent much time reading, researching, observing, and experiencing stress. I've learned tons and have created an outline of notes for a possible future seminar or book about stress. But lately, my focus has changed. My husband has shown me that I often need to lighten up a lot more. I tend to be a very happy, lighthearted person but stress often weighs me down. I let it get to me instead of enjoying life. This is something I've been trying to work on for myself. I also recently came across a study by Jaak Panksepp dealing with rats. Panksepp has found that rats love to play, bounce, and wrestle with each other. They exhibit behavior very close to the way puppies and kittens like to play. During play, the rats vocalize in high pitch noises, some of which are not audible to human ears. Using equipment for detecting bat noises, scientists have been able to pick up different vocalizations in rats. But rats who play and vocalize are more fun than impressive. So what's so intriguing about Panksepp's rats that would interest a dog trainer? With Panksepp's studies and equipment, he has been able to prove that rats laugh... or as scientists prefer to say, the rats exhibit behavior and vocalizations that appear to be like laughing. This laughing has been picked up on the equipment that detects high-pitched inaudible noises. The rats also love to be tickled. Panksepp takes that rats and tickles them along their sides and belly. The rats respond by high pitched noises or laughing. Then the rat bounces around trying to get the human to tickle them more, just as the rats do when they want another rat to keep playing with them. It's such an enjoyable study that I didn't want to stop reading about it! But again, what do laughing rats have to do with dogs? The thought that animals are capable of laughing is something that I've always believed. Animals can smile and laugh with their eyes and sometimes even by grinning like humans. I often say that Oliver is smiling or even that the cats are smiling. Happiness is not just a human emotion. It's something that all animals share in my opinion. With the lesson from my husband and the fun, intriguing study of Panksepp, my focus in dog training has switched. Instead of trying my hardest to keep the stress level low for my dogs during training and daily life, I want to focus on happiness and laughter. Even if dogs do not have a vocal laughter, they certainly do laugh in my opinion. Oliver does understand laughing so I would imagine that he often has those same knee slapping moments as humans. It is just that dogs and other animals have a different way to express such laughter and happiness. For the next few years of my life, I will be taking a chapter out of the rats' book. Search for laughter and happiness to enhance your life and those around you. This lesson proves that each one of God's creatures has something to teach, as long as we are willing to listen. :)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rest In Awareness

A few years ago, I had a foot injury that has been ongoing since.  I've had tons of ups and downs during this time but one thing has always stayed the same: pain.  I am constantly in pain.  It never goes away.  I've learned a lot about dealing and living with it.  Recently, I started looking into different ways to help with pain.  Acupuncture has been an interestingly painful/relieving path that I am exploring.  The gentleman who does my acupuncture has recommended mindful meditation for pain relief.  It's a very intriguing concept.  The theory is that meditation can help you deal with your pain and in a lot of cases, relieve it.

Within the mindful meditation tool box for pain relief, there is a concept called "rest in awareness".  Basically, we naturally try to block pain by not dealing with it or thinking about it.  This happens whether it is physical or emotional.  The thought behind it is that if you are aware of the pain instead of ignoring it that you can better deal with it and maybe even elevate it a bit.  But, you need to do this without dwelling on it.  It is kind of like a positive acceptance.  It makes perfect sense but as most things are, it's hard to practice.  You fall into a zone of letting the pain have a negative effect on everything you do.  Even simple things like taking a shower can be hard.  The worst is not being able to do things that you truly love because of it.  You slowly start to block out other things which can lead to more problems like reactive depression.  Been there done that.

So why write about pain and management on a training blog?  Because oddly, it relates.  The rest in awareness concept can be applied to how we deal with our dogs.  Often, our dogs that we are blessed with have their own troubles to deal with whether it be fear, reactivity, health issues, or whatever else gets thrown their way.  Sometimes, we are too focused on the task at hand, competition, or what other people say, that we get frustrated or stuck with their issues.  Sometimes we even deny that they have an issue or do nothing to address it.  We don't stop and rest with them in awareness.  We don't become aware of who they are or what they are going through.  It starts to become all about what we think they need or what we want.  But if we stop ourselves for a moment and relax with them, it opens the doors to learning.  Instead of worrying about the next task or goal, why don't we take a moment to be with them?  Sit with them, relax with them, and see who they really are.

This is one thing that I did with Oliver before I was emotionally ready to train him.  We would go on walks together, hang out together, and just be together.  We were able to connect on a deep level and learn about each other.  With my other dogs, I did not do this, especially with Harley.  I didn't become aware of who he was or what issues he was going through.  I always intended the best for him but it never really ended up that way until the end of his time with me.  Being more aware of him would have helped us grow as a team and as partners.

Once we become aware of our dog's true issues, we can better help them work through them.  We can also accept the issues and see the dog in a more positive light.  Of course, how one goes about doing this depends on the animal and person.  With Harvey, he loves to be next to me as I relax.  With Oliver, he likes to be outside with me as we watch the world go by.  Dewey tends to like random moments of "Dewey time" which includes rolling on my shoes or sticking his nose in my face.  It's all about relaxing with them and accepting them for who they are... and sometimes having a bit of fun with it too!  I find that making positive quiet time for each one of them is really beneficial whether it's actual meditation or just relaxation.

Being aware can also translate to training.  If I am aware of what my dog is doing or going through, I can better listen to him.  Therefore, I can better adjust my training to meet his needs.  Also, if someone suggests something that isn't suitable for my dog, I can recognize it and move on.  I've noticed that the more Oliver and I play with resting/relaxation at home, our training improves.  Our bond runs deeper which helps me in recognizing what he needs and he also seems to understand me better.  This is really a concept that I would like to leap into for my own physical issues.  I also am going to explore it in-depth with animals.  It certainly will be an interesting journey!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A New Addition

I just realized that it has been almost a year since I wrote anything on this blog. So many things have happened. Last year around this time, my first boy, Harley passed away at age 7 from an aggressive cancer. Losing a beloved partner is always hard, as most know. Sometimes it seems like it is even worse when you lose them at a young age. But in February of this year, I found a little Beagle who was up for adoption. His name was Buddy and for some reason, he stood out among some other dogs up for adoption. I went to look at a number of dogs and saw Buddy last. He was sweet and soft but not very interested in me. Later, I found out that this was because he had eaten a fake plant in the foster home he was staying at. The lady who was fostering him said that he was great with her cats and even would sleep with their pet rabbit. I decided to adopt him since he seemed to be a good fit for apartment life and my husband who hasn't had a dog in a long time. I was so excited that I bought a bowl, toy, leash, and collar before ever knowing that the adoption paperwork had been approved.

The woman from the rescue brought him to my apartment. The cats were not too sure about him but he did not chase them or interfere with them in anyway. The first night, he slept with me in bed, right by my side. During the day, he would cuddle with me on the couch and he loved being outside to take walks. Those first few days were perfect. It was the easiest introduction I've had with a dog or cat for that matter. I decided to change his name to Oliver because Oliver means affectionate. On March 5th, my husband came to the states to finally stay with me. Oliver was perfect again with the change. Ever since, he has been the perfect addition to our home. He is leading me down a new path of understanding and learning. Each day, I learn more from him. He has such a sweet and goofy personality that continues to shine each day. The cats now love him. Oliver often gets attacked by Harvey who thinks that the dog should play with him. We now say that Oliver is Harvey's dog!

Normally, I would have jumped to train such a dog! However, after months of having him, I've just started seriously training him. When we first got him, I found it hard to do so after Harley had passed. I was emotionally stuck and couldn't even attempt training another dog. I slowly got around to training every now and then but never was enthusiastic about it. I had a hard time finding a training center in the area that was reasonably priced. I had an even harder time trying to find a place that uses positive reinforcement. So, our days were filled with walks and car trips. Finally, I got involved with some dog groups on a website that helped me get excited about dog stuff again. I found a website for a training center that offers classes not far from our apartment. I signed up for a class and things are starting to pick up again. I'm much happier and Oliver is always excited to go to class! We are having a blast. I can't wait to see what path Oliver leads me down!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Feline Freestyle Take One

Recently, I dusted off my "inner freestyle" with Harvey and Dewey.  I have done canine musical freestyle with my border collie, Liam and my late mutt, Harley.  I found that it is something that is fun and I can easily do at home with enough space.  I decided to try it out with the cats.  Both Harvey and Dewey seem to be sensitive to noise.  I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way.  I mean that they are responsive to noises and music even on a subtle level.

As a kitten, Harvey would come to me when I sang amazing grace.  Some nights I would sing it to him while laying in bed.  He would come to me and promptly lay on my neck.  I'm not sure if he liked the noise and vibration of my throat or if he was trying to choke me so I would stop singing.  Either way, it showed that he had some sort of feeling/thought about the sound.  They also run to my cell phone when it rings.  They especially like the classical music ring tone.  This behavior comes in handy when I've misplaced my phone and someone is calling me.  I just need to follow the cats!

The biggest thing that made me start thinking about how the cats responded to music happened when I was judging a freestyle video competition.  As I sat at a computer desk watching the videos, Harvey would come up to be with me.  Some songs, he would fall asleep during.  Other songs he would get up and leave.  He wouldn't come back until they were over.  Then, for a few of the routines, he actually sat and watched.  This surprised me because it showed that he liked or disliked different songs.  After that, I started thinking about how animals other than dogs respond to music.

Harvey during freestyle judging

All these events lead up to my decision to train them in freestyle.  I will be taking an online class on heeling to music with them in a few weeks.  I liked the idea of the class because it provides structure.  Because we need to train heeling for the class, I have wanted to work with them more in that area.  I was going to do that tonight but after talking with a friend, I decided to play around with what music they liked.  I picked a handful of pieces and made a short video of us moving to each song.  The result was... interesting.

Dewey was up first.  He tends to think more during training.  I honestly think he had no idea what was going on.  He would follow me and then stop and look around as if to say "Huh?  I don't get it.".  The one video that we took had an interesting part to it though.  He jumped at my hand three times and it kind of matches the music.  I don't know whether it was a coincidence or not but it is interesting none the less.  Here is that video:

Harvey was next.  He was astonishing.  I will let the video speak for itself.

It was so much fun!  I really had a good time with him.  I'm interested to see where we go from here!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Perfect Example

Again, the priest at my church has made the tiny gears in my brain start to work.  It is a hard task but he seems to get them moving each time I attend Mass which is a miracle in and of itself.  This time, it is about the examples that God gives us to learn from and follow.  During the Mass on All Saints Day, the priest was talking about how the Saints are examples for us.  He discussed the many qualities that we should learn from and follow.  I started to think about different examples God gives us to follow.

Some of these examples are easy to see.  There are parents who show unconditional love to their children and will do anything to help them without being asked.  Friends who show how to help others and being understanding.  Siblings who live honest lives, the way you strive for.  (All these examples include listening to one talk on and on because the only conversations that you normally have are with co-workers about work or with cats.)  Instructors who inspire you by pushing the limits and helping you along the way.  Strangers who show love and kindness when they are unexpected.  Leaders who not only lead but teach others to do the same.  There are so many different examples out there to follow.  Each one is special in and of itself.  Everyone has their own sins and issues that they deal with daily.  However, each of the examples I have listed are of people I know who inspire me and provide me with good examples.

Some of the examples God gives us are ones that we wouldn't think of.  As I was considering all the people in my life who are good examples, a dog popped into my mind.  He is a border collie named Dean Dog.  I started thinking about how he is an example too.  He shows us something that we should all learn from and try to do ourselves.  He likes dog sports, swimming, playing ball, the beach, butter, etc, etc.  But the one thing I think he likes the most is being with someone.  He is a true companion in that way.  He strives to be close to the people he loves and who love him.  After being gone for 1 1/2 to 2 years, I saw Dean again in his home.  We had our normal greeting of rolling around on the floor together filled with kisses and funny noises.  He laid happily next to me with a content look on his face all evening.  He seemed to want to just be with me.  He is the same way with his partner (owner just doesn't seem to fit).  Wherever she goes, he wants to follow.  They do fun things together but I truly believe that he just wants to be with her.

I feel like as a Christian, I should have that same innocent desire as Dean does.  I should strive to be closer to God.  Everything else in life is wonderful and fun, but what is the most important thing?  God's love is the most amazing, unconditional love.  Shouldn't we too want to be close to the One who gives us that great love?  Shouldn't we spend time with God just as we do with the people and creatures we love?  Dean's desire is a pure and simple lesson.  God gives us comfort and peace. We should have that need to run to Him and stay with Him just like the example Dean shows us.  We should do everything to get closer to Him in our relationship.  It truly shows that God gives us examples in all shapes, sizes, and colors, even blue.