Archive for the ‘At Home with dogs.’ Category

One of the benefits of writing for the public eye, is the learning that I do with every post or article.  The feedback you get is revealing, and sometimes deeply poignant.  Other replies are so angry that you feel the heat coming off the computer screen…In the other parts of my life, I have the privilege of doing a lot of public-speaking to groups.  My particular speaking- style involves being  quite informal, and occasionally leaving my prepared comments for  brief forays into “straight from the heart.”   I also learn a lot from these events…

The biggest lesson I’ve gleaned over the years?  Words and Thoughts are Tangible things that affect the souls around you.  Use them Wisely,  Kindly, and Judiciously…

Okay, what does that have to do with being seen naked by your dog?  Good Question…I’ll try and make this simple.  And the good news is this:  You won’t feel like you need to hit the gym or the Weight Watchers section of grocery store because of your dog.

As we learn to communicate with our dogs on a level beyond food treats, clicking, and leash techniques, it becomes evident that most of the communication is a One Way street.  The street leads from YOU, downhill, to the Dog.  The dog reads you perfectly, but the reciprocal is mostly non-existent.  The dog sees right thru every emotion, tension, and joy that you feel.  He expertly bases his every move based on the emotion pouring out of his human like a faucet on the sinking Titanic…They sense our “energy”, and they read it fluently.  And this works with every human they encounter…The energetic output of the human person is an open book to our dogs…Have you ever sensed that your dog doesn’t “Like” someone?  Sure you have…How does the dog know???  HOW does the dog know???  It’s because we are all Naked in the eyes of the dog.  At least figuratively…

Dogs are Mental beings, much as we humans are, with some differences.  Dog actually determine the value or threat of  humans in very short order.  Humans?  We get fooled all the time, and that’s how large bridges get sold, and fake Rolexes end up on unsuspecting wrists.  Go ahead, try to sell a dog the Golden Gate Bridge…He won’t go for even the best bargain basement price!

But seriously, think about this…Has your dog ever reacted to a stranger in such a way that you wondered what was wrong with that individual that seemingly, did nothing to provoke any reaction?  We humans broadcast our every emotion to the far reaches of the galaxy because we can’t help ourselves…Happy, Mad, Glad, and Sad, we BROADCAST all of it.  We are mentally NAKED to the most pedestrian of dogs.  Even more so to those dogs with training in protection and experience.

Another good example of this can be seen at any dog park.  There are always people to be seen, yelling or cursing at their own dog when it refuses to come to them.  Other transgressions are also met with snarly remarks, name-calling or even swatting the dog.  The dog reads this stuff like an eviction notice, and refuses to submit to it.

The fact that our dogs can see us as the naked, emotional, unstable, humans that we are, makes one correction necessary.  As handlers, trainers, or just owners, we do our dogs a giant favor by simply learning to calm our inner selves, and providing a calm, supportive, atmosphere.  I’ve observed a young handler at an Agility competition that further supports me.  The young lady had a wonderful Aussie that clearly loved the competition ring.  That day, the handler was upset about something, perhaps outside of the competition.  I don’t really know.  But between runs, she talked to several different people and it was easy to see her anger was hanging out all over.  The dog had begun hanging back from her on his leash, trying to avoid her emotional thunderstorm.  As the day progressed, the dogs performances got steadily worse.  As that happened, the handler became less and less patient.  Her own performance became quite unsteady, and they both went home disappointed and angry.  A earlier, that same team had won a national level competition.  This was about what the dog was seeing in his “Naked” owner.  Emotional Energy of a negative charge…

Think about this whenever you are with your dog.  What energy am I transmitting to the universe?  What naked appendage is my dog seeing?  We need to put on a coat of calm, with a nice turtleneck of positive attitude, and a pair of comfortable, confident, loafers.  Or some high energy, supportive and active Nike’s…

Again, this will take work and effort on our part as humans.  After all, the dog can’t help but see us “naked”…Lets show our dogs the best parts!!!

embarrassed-chimp

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It’s July in Ohio.  It’s hot, it’s humid, and the air hangs like a mouldy blanket left at a Boy Scout Jamboree 2 weeks hence.  Walking, exercising, and training with the dogs during the day becomes uncomfortable if not dangerous.  Personally, as someone that prefers the climate of the northern Great Lakes, this place is only 2 steps from climatic perdition…That’s why our activities have taken place very early in the day for the last month or so…when it’s only 85 degree’s outside.  Sorry Ohio, I dislike your climate even more than I dislike your college football team.  (That which shall not be named here.  LOL)  But I digress into humor when my actual point is quite serious.

A pre-dawn walk is a riot of peacefulness.  Birds swooping over the lawns searching  for breakfast, a whitetail deer crossing the golf course with her two late spring fawns, a pattering of a light rain shower on the leaves,  the river running with the recent overflow of water.  A mother raccoon and her kits are busily eating my neighbors sweet corn crop in his fenced backyard. I can hear the babies cooing with delight at each juicy morsel they inhale.  Momma raccoon purrs with satisfaction, knowing that her babies will soon leave the nest and move on to their own devices, freeing her from the burden.  It’s noisy, but it’s natural.  By my side are the two German Shepherds that my wife and I share our lives with, both looking up at me wondering, “Where to today, Dad? Huh? The river? Chase the geese? Huh? Huh?”

Normally, I walk each dog individually, giving them ample time to do as each wants.  Those walks are often distracted by training or exercising some skill or behavior.  When I walk them together, I’m searching for something else.  Inspiration.  Clarity.  Prayer.  Or maybe something I can’t describe.  At any rate, it’s not about physical exercise…and the dogs are with me to be observed for whatever they can teach me…

My recent writing about the “Bond” that we all want to develop with our dogs has been on my mind like an icicle growing on the eaves of the house.  Dripping, growing slowly, drip, drip, drip.  There’s much more to be written and pondered, and this current walk together has been a catalyst of thoughts.  Now if I can only manage to get them on the screen with some sort of clarity…

When you sit in a forest in the anthracite black of night, or walk  in the twilight of the approaching dawn, and you really focus, it becomes obvious that all living things are interconnected.   All things living are symbiotic in some way…True, humans are closer to the animals than we are to the trees, but we are all part of, and dependant on each other to varying degrees.  How could we not be?  We all come from the same Creator.  He alone understands the full measure of the bond between all living things. ( Okay, if you don’t accept that there is a God, a Creator…then what I say here probably won’t be your cup of tea.  Just give me a listen anyway.)  That’s your loss…those that believe that this all came about by chance, by evolving are missing something wonderful.  Namely this:  All Things Have A Purpose.  The belief that all of this came about by chance takes away all meaning in life.  There would be no reason for it, and it would eschew responsibility for anything.  Nothing to look forward to…Be born, live a while, and die.  That’s a sad way of life, and I fear that more people live it than we realize.

Faith tells me that not only are all living things dependant on each other, but some of those living things were meant to have special and fulfilling relationships.  Like Humans and dogs…humans and horses…humans and fresh strawberry pie.  (Sorry, strawberry pie isn’t a living thing, but I do feel a very deep relationship with it.  Digressing again)     That’s what I was thinking as I walked with the dogs this morning.  I realized that as we have been overtaken by technology, science, and the human insistence on making work easier, we have abandoned this bond between all living things.  The Clan of All Living Things has been fragmented at best, and shunned at worst.  Horses were working partners, as were dogs.  They lived to serve their keepers, and their Keepers cared for them as cherished work mates.  There are still people who treat their animals this way, and you’ll find that they have the best ” Bond” that can be had.  Training methods are NOT the key to the Bond,  and such people prove this everyday.  Sensing the emotional output/input of the dog is the key.   Allowing the  energy between master and canine to flow unimpeded…What I mean by that is simple.  “Training Time” is time to train.  “Bonding” time is time to observe, listen, and understand.  Yes, training does aid in creating bond, but it’s only part of the equation to that end.  I’ve been reading the book, “Rin Tin Tin, the life and the legend”  by Susan Orlean,(http://www.amazon.com/Rin-Tin-Legend-Edition-Hardcover/dp/B00BR5G9M0/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top and I was surprised to learn about the “method” (or lack thereof) that Lee Duncan used with his beloved dog.  Duncan describes it as their “Wanting to please each other, and see the other happy.”   Okay, that quote screams of esoterica understood only by the quotee, but something about it rings true.  Duncan and Rin Tin Tin were together constantly.  They communicated on the dog’s level, in language and behavior that the dog understood.  Duncan never made Rinty a small human in a fur coat.  They had, “The Bond”…(A reading of this interesting book gives a bit more insight, but it is ultimately a very sad story.)

What I take from the story is that their relationship was not “Built” by any training method.  “Built” has a connotation of forcing or shaping  something into existence. Often with resistance from the subject.  Duncan gave credit to the deep bond they shared for Rinty’s huge bag of talents.  He states that they never learned “Tricks”.  Certainly there had to be some form of training, but they mention little of it.

Again, I’m not offering any strident method to building a bond with your dog.  My suggestion is only this:  Put aside the training and the discipline for a few minutes a day, and just be with your dog.  Observe (don’t sit there trying to interpret body language) Talk to the dog, (No, he won’t speak back), but he’ll become accustomed to knowing that he has your undivided attention aside from everything else.  Turn off the science and try to feel the flow that moves your dog…My suggestion for practicing this is to sit out in the dark some night this summer and just Listen…You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.  The same thing goes for the dog…You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed while you were busy working at having a dog, instead of enjoying the dog just being with you…

As a final thought, I want to state that I now believe that this “Bond” cannot be built, as though from a blueprint.  Rather, like most natural, created things, it “develops” in a time and manner uniquely to itself.  Allow yourself to watch it develop, and stop trying to force it…That doesn’t mean I’m foregoing “Training” and “Working”, not by a long shot!  But there should certainly be time to just watch the passage of time,  the learning process, and your own growth as a dog trainer.  Treat yourself and your dog to this simple pleasure…

 

I am an admirer of the contemporary essayist and writer, Edward Hoaglund. (If you’re interested, here’s more info.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montaigne)    Chances are, you’ve never heard of him, but thats’ why I’m writing this post.  Mr. Hoaglund was born in New York, New York in 1932.  During his early twenties, he took a job at the Ringling Brother and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus  tending to the large cats that took part in the circus acts.  Pretty exciting stuff for a young man looking to find a voice in the world…Thats a side note regarding my admiration for him, as young Edward had a speech impediment, a severe stammer.  He is quoted as saying, regarding this problem,  “‘Words are spoken at considerable cost to me, so a great value is placed on each one. That has had some effect on me as a writer. As a child, since I couldn’t talk to people, I became close to animals. I became an observer, and in all my books, even the novels, witnessing things is what counts.”

You see, he and I share a speech impediment.  His,  a stammer making speech unintelligible at times.  My own is a strangulated vocal chord sometimes making my voice too weak to be heard, or hard consonants impossible to form.  So we’ve both bonded with the written word, in order to bring to life what we observe, feel, and need to express.  We also share a great love of canis familiaris, and we sate our love for them by writing about them.  I was ruminating over my recent post on “The Bond” we all seek to form with our dogs, and it occurred to me that Edward had written something quite profound in the same vein.  I frantically tried to remember where I had read it, but couldn’t find it for Part 1…Well, I finally found it in my journal, where I recorded it, and it will be central to the rest of this post.  Here’s the quote:

“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human.  The Point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog!” – E. Hoaglund.

Pretty profound if you’re asking my opinion.  And yet, it’s almost a completely ignored concept in the world of dog training today.  An examination of specific modals of contemporary “training”  show a heavy and misguided reliance on  pure “Science”, which ignores that dogs are bound, or even freed, by the emotional capacity that they have.  Science and Behavioral Theory ignore the true source of the bond that human and dog can achieve together, namely a flow of energy that produces positive action between the two living souls.  Heavy reliance on clickers and food treats(and the crazy idea of ever increasingly, “high value”  treats)  to achieve obedience, or tricks, or whatever actually blocks the ideal flow of energy thru the dog, by interruption.  Therefore such methods are more like bandages on sucking chest wounds, unable to stop bleeding because of inadequacy.  Training our dogs should more properly focus on the personal trust and bond that we build with our dog from day one together.

The $100,000,000,000.00 question is this:  How do I develop my own “dogness”, a state of empathy (as opposed to sympathy) with my dog?  And can we achieve that state?  Truth be told, I don’t know…but I’m trying anyway.

I’ve noticed a recent proliferation on the internet of sites that focus on “Observation” of canine behavior.  Body language and physical reactions that reveal what’s going on between those fuzzy ears.  Facebook has a page that shows photo’s of dogs and page members post their interpretation of different “signals”.  I believe that careful observation is an important part of developing “dogness”, but from reading the various posts, it seems to me that “Human Psychological”science is encroaching  on the discussion.  Some of the observations turn the dogs into furry humans with human reactions to various situations.  It becomes so complicated, burdened with way too much  minutiae, that the salient points are shrouded in “What does that mean?”  But I do believe that some of it is on track.  Most especially those observations that are simple.  Those that allow dogs to be dogs.  Those that understand that dogs are really very simple, uncomplicated, creatures.  It is only human science that turns the mind of a dog into a convoluted labyrinth of difficult to understand behaviors.  Becoming aware of your own “dogness” may well be a result of your own willingness to be simple and straightforward in your own thinking.   Again, this is a major obstacle to most people who call themselves “Trainers”, or  “Behaviorists”.  They want canine behavior to be complicated, understood only by people with degrees and formal education.  Many want to put dog training into the stratosphere of professions so that those who have only experience are cast aside as “wannabees”.  But I’m telling you, dogs are much happier as simple thinking souls.  That’s not to say that dogs are stupid, or mindless.  They do have intelligence, that much is rock-solid.  But when we understand their inherent simpleness, we can approach what Hoaglund was speaking about… becoming partially “dog”.

The first thing that I’ve attempted in gaining this bond, is to simplify my own approach to training.  I took every book on training and understanding dogs that I own, the notes from every seminar I’ve attended, and tried to distill them into one, simple truth.  I began with the concept of “Drives”.  There are behaviorists and trainers that will assign a different “drive” to every behavior.  In my thinking, they all can be refined into a single motivator, a single “drive”.  It’s called “Prey Drive”.   The drive to hunt, search, eat, and play for one essential reason.  Your dog is a “hunter”.  Operating off this conclusion has allowed me to ask simpler questions of why my dog does what he does.  “Why would a born-hunter react in this way?”  “What would a simple hunter do in this situation?”  That’s my approach…Not everybody subscribes to what I do, and that’s fine.  You find your way…Ask yourself this:  How can I see the world in the same way as my dog?  How do I suspend the human tendency to judge and analyze everything that comes before me, and react like a dog would?  How does my dog communicate with me?  Am I trying to see things from his viewpoint, or am I forcing him/her into some wayward, human paradigm like Operant Conditioning or pure Pack Behavior?  Have I ever tried to duplicate my dog’s way of communicating?  For instance, have I ever tried to duplicate a “play-bow” to my dog?  What was the reaction?  Try not speaking to your dog, and communicate thru body language…or facial expression.  Closely observe how your dog reacts to your mood…If I get frustrated or even angry about something, what does my dog do?  Hide?  Growl at me?  Suspend your adulthood for a few minutes, and pretend to be a dog!  Sniff at things, roll over on your back…whatever a dog does during it’s time.  (I’d not recommend that you  go around humping things like some dogs are wont to do, as this could lead to legal and ethical, not to mention social complications)  Find a way to Be Dog.  It will open up a whole new understanding of your canine friend!

(P.S.-  I’d also not recommend allowing someone to lead you around on a leather collar and leash in public.  More complications that you don’t want.  I’m just sayin’…)

 

My friend and fellow German Shepherd lover Julie Reeg wrote a piece for the Columbus Dispatch about her experience in becoming a dog lover…It’s her first foray into being published, and I hope she continues writing!  Here’s her story!

 

 

 

 

OK, I get it now.

I didn’t understand “dog people” — how they consider their four-legged creatures their “furry children,” their reason for living.Above all, I didn’t get how Fido was so welcome on the couch, the bed or anywhere else that Fido wanted to be.Not that I was a dog hater: I’ve had dogs.Seventeen years ago, I bought a dog because my son — Jordan, 5 at the time — made me feel like a bad mom because all the other kids had pets and we didn’t.

Enter Ashton, a cute Shih Tzu puppy — a shoe-chewing, pee-on-the-carpet puppy who barked regularly.Don’t get me wrong: Ashton was sweet. He really was.Sadly, though, Ashton didn’t make it past age 2. On Beggars Night, unbeknownst to me, he licked some antifreeze in a neighboring driveway and quickly succumbed to kidney failure.I was sad — truly. Rest in peace, buddy.

Kaya, another Shih Tzu, came next. He, too, was a sweet little dude.And, nowadays, I have Gracie and Griffin, two Yorkshire terriers who represent the yin and yang of my life.Gracie — all 9 years and 6 pounds of her — is a burrito-shaped sweetheart. Griffin, an 8-year-old who drives me nuts daily, is the most anxiety-prone animal on the planet.I have invested many years and plenty of money in dogs.But you wouldn’t have seen me sleeping with them (who wants the bed smelling like a dog?), fawning over them or treating them as if they were human — or hugging them, kissing them or letting them lick my face (gross!).

Until now.

My granddog, Mora, entered my life a year ago.My son, 22, always wanted a German shepherd — and, because Jordan is grown, he can have whatever pet he wants. He chose her. (Actually, she chose him. I have video to prove it.)And now she owns me.I am crazy in love with her. I’ve become — gasp! — a “dog person.”Worse, I’m the type who annoyingly shows off pictures of a dog, tells stories about the latest cute thing she did and treats her as if she were a grandchild.

She is the Most Beautiful Dog Ever.  Mora has transformed me and my feelings about dogs, especially big ones.I don’t even know who I am anymore.She recently came to stay overnight with my fiance and me, and, the next morning, I let her get up on the bed and cuddle with me.

She. Was. On. My. Bed.

It’s ridiculous how this “little” girl — 90 pounds and still growing — has stolen my heart.I never thought I wanted (or liked) big dogs, yet big, beautiful Mora has Grandma wrapped around her paw.Grandpa Michael is equally smitten. And, when he’s around, sometimes I get slighted: She cuddles with him.I try not to take it personally; I just might go to the kitchen to get her a treat — to coax her my way.I worry about her almost as much as I did my son when he was young: Is she eating enough? Why is she panting so much? She seems sad; what’s wrong with her?So, to all the “dog people” I’ve ridiculed for years out of a lack of understanding, I apologize: I get it, and I’m proud to be one of you.

Now, let me show you some pictures of my granddog. Isn’t she a-Mora-ble?

Julie Reeg, 52, of Gahanna happily runs with the big dogs now.

The A-Mor-able  Mora.  My Grand-Dog!

The A-Mor-able Mora. My Grand-Dog!

I spend way to much time on the internet.  However, as a writer/researcher, that’s where the action happens, and so I keep my nose to the hard-drive.  Sometimes I discover things that really confuse me, and this time, it’s a doozy.  See if you don’t find the same thing…

When you peruse websites, forums or Facebook pages that discuss contemporary German Shepherd breeders, you will undoubtedly finally read the words, “…the German Shepherd dog is a mere shadow of what it was…”  or, “…von Stephanitz is rolling in his grave over what his working dog has evolved into”,  or  “Law Enforcement agencies all over the world are abandoning the German Shepherd in favor of the better suited Belgian Malinois…”  (Don’t freak out, I’m NOT dissing the Mals!  Second best dogs in the world!!!)  “The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling!!!”  said Chicken Little.  “The German Shepherd is Fading Fast!  Surely The Breed Is no longer what it was!”  said the forum member posting.  on the Pedigree Database.

And that’s where the confusion comes into play.  Because if you read further on the internet, there are so many breeders of World Class German Shepherds that exceed what ever expectations you might have, that the phrase stretches credulity to the nth degree.  Many of the laments come from breeders bashing on other breeders.  “That guy and his kennel are breeding thru a failed bloodline that should have been stopped years ago!  If this were Germany, those dogs would have been culled or rendered unable to breed!”.  Such posts are common on the P.D. and it’s even worse on places like Facebook.

One such prognosticator of the German Shepherd Breed and it’s future (or lack thereof)  opined that the German Shepherd has been rendered useless as a working dog at all, and informing all that he was going to start with another breed entirely.  He was, in his words, “despondent over what has been done to his beloved Schaefer-hund by so-called “Sport-Dog” breeders, and Americans with their “Looks before Ability” attitude.  Oh, woe was he…

Well, I followed his name back to Facebook.  He turned out to be a young man in his early twenties, that I would guess had owned his dog for a whole 8 months already!!! He had had trouble house-breaking the puppy, and he blamed it on bad breeding and influence from the weakened breed.  That’s one source that I found for this reported “Down-Fall of the German Shepherd”.  It’s “Fashionable” now to bemoan and rend ones outer garments, in mourning over the grievous condition of the German Shepherd…

It’s also quite common for Breeders of every stripe to wail that “Everybody but me and my friends are ruining the German Shepherd!!”  This seems like either an economically based problem, or hubris, bordering on self-deluding psychopathy.  The German Shepherd Dog is certainly at the very end of its usefulness…

Now, for better or worse, I’m going to tell you what I believe about this idea that the German Shepherd Dog has been ruined as a breed in its entirety…

Mule Muffins.

Granted, there have been some twists in the road, and not a few ill-advised detours.  People with different intentions have certainly put their own stamp on the breed, creating their own ideal.  Other breed aficionado’s absolutely HATE the results.  Working Dog people stand aghast at the “Frog-shaped” American bred show dogs, whose hip structure negates proper “glide” in movement.  The American Show dog people call the “working shepherd” undeveloped and unsightly.  In all honesty, I  am not a fan of the show dog style of German Shepherd, for reasons that will remain my own.   I’m not here to bash on  people who choose to follow that standard.  I’m taking the responsibility to myself, to support and handle the standard that I believe in.  Let them have what they want…Are they ruining the German Shepherd for All of Us????  I don’t think so…

On the other paw, I believe that there is a core group that are breeding and developing German shepherds that would make the crabby old Captain green with dog-envy.  They show up regularly at Schutzhund competitions, Protection Sports events, Disaster sites both natural and man-made, Sheep-herding(both competitive and real world WORK)  They serve and protect Officers of the Law everyday, find explosives for soldiers in the field, find and recover lost loved ones…they are beginning to help find certain cancers in patients long before our technology can detect it.  The list of what real “Working Dogs” are doing today is ever-growing and dynamic. The foundations of what von Stephanitz wanted is unshaken, and remains intact.  Only the “Chicken Littles” of this world that want to be heard and repeated by the ignorant sheeples are saying that the “Sky Is Falling” on the German Shepherd.

Reason on my conclusions this way…If the Original German Shepherd Breed was so perilously close to the precipice of extinction, why would so many be working so hard at cultivating their own blood-lines?  These are people who truly Love the German Shepherd dog, and, in spite of what some believe, they are not getting rich breeding them.  They do it for the “Ideal”…the notion that a German Shepherd can be truly Great when bred and trained properly.  If the breed itself were really in such danger, how would IPO competititors be producing dogs that excel in their sport?   Yes, there are other opinions of what the “ideal” German Shepherd is.  That’s fine.  Leave those of that opinion to themselves, and allow them the joy they find in a different path to their ideal dog.

The dream of von Stephanitz isn’t dead, or in danger.  It’s just that some have lost the vision to recognize where it still lives and breathes, and  thrives.  The Working German Shepherd is alive and well, in spite of what you may have read…Now go out and work your dog, he’s itching to do the job he was born to do…

I know I promised that I would follow up the infamous “Backyard Breeders” post with two posts, hitherto entitled “Why Breeders Breed” and “Why Rescuers Rescue”.  Well…I finished both posts today.  I edited them.  I re-read them.  Read ’em again.  Did some more editing.  Added some photo’s for fun.  Gave each post a new title…Then I deleted both posts, a total of 5,795 words.  “Fly away ye’ wee fairies!!”  I called after them as they disappeared into the electronic ether, unread by everybody but me, myself, and I.  (You’ll find that line funnier if you affect a Scottish accent…)

The fact of the matter is this.  We ALL do things for different, sometimes very different reasons.  I messaged or spoke with dog-people from both sides, Breeders and Rescuers.  The  latter group I almost called the “Anti-Breeders”, which I learned would have been a bad generalization.  It’s true of some, but not all.

I could list 50 different reasons that breeders breed, some incredibly stupid and ill-advised.  Other reasons border on the Sublime, and need to be encouraged.  I could also list 50 different reasons that Rescuers obsess over which dog is on “death-row” in 24 hours, and how to free that same dog.  Spaying and Neutering are gospel to these fine people…I can’t commend them enough for their tireless dedication to the cause.  Or, more correctly, To The Dogs.  One friend, I’ll call her Aimee, (because that’s her name).  Aimee has managed to navigate both sides of this watery deep.  She has purchased from a breeder, AND she rescues dogs with alarming regularity.  (Let me give you her blog-link, and let you see first-hand what she does:http://mymegaedog.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/off-to-tending-camp/She wrote me a lengthy note about Rescuing and working with shelters and the profound reasons that she does the work.  I also spoke with Breeders.  I’m not going to link them, because it just seems that breeders are magnets for abuse, from “Anti-Breeders”, groups like PETA, and sadly, from each other.  Especially from EACH OTHER…Facebook alone is a veritable “Omaha Beach” for those who would breed dogs, for whatever reason, Good or Bad. (If you don’t get the Omaha Beach reference, shame (And a POX!) on your History Teacher.  Google it.) 

I will say this:  I thought I was able to write quite objectively about both sides of the issue, even though I identify with one of them strongly.  Both Breeders and Rescuers have a dark-side, and they both have a Light-Side.  Both received commendation from me, as well as some well-deserved  castigation.

My final conclusion, and the reason I sent both posts into perdition’s flames, is this:  We Do What We Do Because We Love Dogs.  Or at least 99% of us do.  (There IS an evil underbelly of society that just uses dogs for their own nefarious and evil reasons .  I give you Michael Vick, or the operators of commercial Puppy Mills.)

I would hope that this mutual Love would give us something in common.  We all agree that ALL dogs deserve good homes.  We all agree that Dogs deserve training and good treatment.  We  agree that all dogs deserve to live as long as possible in good health.  We all think that we have the best way of delivering those things as well, and this is where the fighting begins.  As example, I noticed a post on a Facebook dog- centric page from a young man trying to find information on where to recover his dogs pedigree papers which were lost.  Several of the posts were helpful…He just wanted information.  What he got was insipid and obtuse “reasons”  that he shouldn’t be considering breeding at all, but to go out and adopt a dog instead.  It was the wrong place, at the wrong time, and added nothing to the posters reputation for intelligence.  This kind of thing doesn’t help the dogs in any way.   “Get Off My Page and Go Back To the Mutt Farm“…(An actual Facebook post…)

I’ve tried to put this into a final statement…It seems to me that we all need to focus on our own activity, and let others have their own convictions.   Concentrate on making improvements to the Dog, the breed, the relationship between you and your dog!  DO THIS YOURSELF!!!!  Don’t get so hung up on what someone else is doing, when you can improve your own little corner of the world first!!

Therefore, and To Wit, I want to hear from All of YOU about Why You Breed or Why You Rescue.  And all the other permutations of these activities.  We are trying to find common ground here, or at least an Understanding to those who disagree with each of us.  This will give you an open opportunity to express why and what YOU INDIVIDUALLY  do  to make dogs lives better…I will be watching the comments closely, and asking Facebook Admins to do the same…KEEP IT POSITIVE. Help others understand…  I will personally remove comments that start down the same old dark paths we’ve been down before a thousand times.

Got It?  We’re waiting to hear from you!!!  Have fun and have a great time writing a short paragraph!!!  (Then you can go out and play in the blistering heat if you want.)

 

This post has been in development for several years, waiting to finally make it onto the blog .  Frankly, it’s been driving me crazy as I just can’t seem to get it “Right”.  I know what I want to write, but I want it to sound less like psycho-babble, and more of what it really is, which is behavioral understanding…  Admittedly, I know that this post will not be the definitive description of The Bond, as I’m describing it…there’s much more to learn.  It’s going to be a life-long pursuit…But if I can start others on this journey of discovery, then I’ll be happy…There might very well be others that already recognize the “Bond” for yourself.  You may have your own description for it, your own way of developing it.  That’s wonderful…Hopefully this piece will help someone else find it for themselves and their dog…

I remember that day so vividly.  It was the first time that I saw “The Bond”, living, breathing, buzzing with a gentle hum.  I couldn’t explain it, even if I had known what I was seeing.  I’m not saying that I understand it fully even now, but I do “see” it, and my best mentors are teaching me about it…It has been theorized, and I believe substantially “proven” that dogs are all  about Energy and Flow.  (To read more, check out Kevin Behan’s Blog.)   http://naturaldogtraining.com/blog/    That’s a major part of this “Bond”.  But I’m getting the cart before the horse…Come back with me, about 6 years ago, to the beginning of my dog career…

I had already spent 6 months actually visiting GSD breeders in my research.  I had driven to, as I recall, 13 different breeders..  During that time, I was not yet shopping.  My mission was to meet as many breeders and their dogs as I could, and form my goals clearly.  I met many wonderful dogs, two or three very nice breeders, a couple of  “questionable” breeders, several breeders that shouldn’t have, and at least 2 ego-maniacs, with delusions of god-hood.  I learned a lot…I also unlearned a lot.  (Think, “never judge a book by its cover.”)  One of the breeders that I met came right in the middle of my search, sixth or seventh in line.  She was not famous, she didn’t import dogs from the finest Germanic Lines overseas, she had absolutely no pretense about herself.  But she did have an encyclopedic knowledge of her dogs and their behavior.  Her name is Rhonda Sellers, and what I saw at her facility will forever be a part of my own work with dogs.  Her farm is located in a rural area, an island in a sea of tall corn, and waving hay fields.  There’s a gate to enter as you arrive, and when I passed thru, my car was engulfed in German Shepherds.  One or two barks alerted the mistress of the property, but no excessive, anxious carrying on by the 8 German Shepherds now giving my car the 5th degree.  I admit it now, I was hesitant to open the door and get out.  I needn’t have worried though, as the Pack leader walked out onto her deck, and without word, the dogs went to her without question or hesitation.  They were protective of her, but they also knew that she was here for them.  There was nothing to worry about…

Rhonda is a slightly built lady, not imposing in any degree physically.  She could be 30 years old, or she could be 60…(Much close to 30…LOL!)  But to this pack of German Shepherds, she was the center of the universe, and their behavior was controlled by what I can only call her thoughts.  She talked to them like mature children, and they swirled around her.  As our “interview” proceeded, I recall that each dog checked me out individually.  I had come here with some very specific needs and wants.  I was honest and forthright with my strengths and weaknesses as a dog owner, and what I planned for a dog.  While Rhonda listened intently, it was easy to see that she was watching each dog in turn.  In hind sight, I think the dogs were talking to her on a whole different level, unheard by me, but ABOUT me…To this day, it was one of the strangest experiences that I have felt.  And if this sounds somehow fantastic, it’s true.  My observations for that first day are still fresh.  Rhonda moved about her large property, and the dogs moved with her like a flight of birds.  When she sat back in her chair, talking, the dogs showed the exact posture.  When she leaned forward to press a question, the dogs followed suit.  That was “The Bond” in living, breathing action.

I still had other breeders to visit over the next few weeks, and I saw some very fine dogs.  But I found myself comparing every one (dogs AND people) back to Omorrow, that small farm in the cornfields.  I even returned to a couple of those breeders from before Rhonda, to use what I had observed.  I then returned to Rhonda and made my decision, but that wasn’t the end of my experience.  Over the next few weeks, I visited and re-visited.  I thought I knew what I wanted, and was convinced.  To my surprise, I learned that this wise and experienced dog-person was deciding what I really needed.  I had decided on a pup from a large and curious Black & Tan male, with a beautiful female that looked similar.  On one visit, I was introduced to a large, solid Black male.  Certainly an imposing creature, and a first time bred female, also solid black.  Rhonda suggested one of these upcoming pups, certain in her appraisal of me.  I was mesmerized by the relationship that existed between her and the big German Shepherd, and I began to adjust what I was thinking…Suffice to say, I listened and trusted.  I have never regretted trusting her.  But that was only my first exposure to “The Bond”, that hidden state of understanding and communication that is achievable with a dog.

The next time I saw it, was with a small, but energetic fire-ball of a terrier on an Agility course.  This time I “saw” it as an identifiable energy between dog and human.  As the dog ran the course, there was no talking, no flailing hand signals by the handler…I noticed that the pair rarely were separated at the eyes…They watched one another for instruction, explanation, and yes, celebration.  It was uncanny in my thinking, and I knew that I would need to speak with the handler.  That took some time, as the duo won everything that day, and were deeply involved in the accolades heaped on them as prizes were handed out.  The handler was a very fit lady, 63 years young, well into her second adolescence.  The first question I asked her took her by surprise I think.  Usually she hears, “How did you train your dog?”  Somehow, I got it right this time, and asked, “What was going on between you and Sammy (the dog) out there?”   She laughed out loud at the question, not rudely, but in relief.  “You mean,  ‘how does he know what I want him to do?”

“Yes, exactly…you never lost your eye contact with him…It looked like you willed him thru the course.”

“Well, that’s only sort of true…We’ve worked together for 5 years now, and we have a “connection”, I’d call it…”

Our further conversation revealed that something beyond “Training” was, and had, been going on for those years.  “It’s more than mastering a specific method of training, or strict method.  A good trainer will observe the dog, motivate the dog, and allow each dog to be an individual with unique needs.  It’s a lot more work than using clickers or food or toys exclusively…but the connection is stronger.  It eliminates behavioral problems.  You learn it by living with your dog, working with your dog, and understanding where his energies flow most freely.  When both dog and handler have matching energy, you have success.  But it’s more work than most trainers want to put in, time wise.”

It should be re-noted here that I have great admiration for trainers in Agility disciplines.  They are unafraid of looking inward for better ways to relate to their dogs and the training needed.  The “bond” between dog and handler is paramount to the most successful competitors…So many other dog sports and the trainers there, are mired in tradition or “science”.   Many, (certainly not all), practitioners of Protection sports and Schutzhund, and others look tom the past for training.  Many such dogs spend more time in kennels and crates because they are unable to socialize out of fear that they will harm someone.  But it’s being proven time and time again that such dogs can be perfectly capable not only of “Family” life, but walked in public.  Such dogs are competitively successful, and well-liked and trusted out in the community.  Because the trainers/owners/handlers are using “relationship” as part of their program.  Building a “Bond” with the dog, not treating them as a tool to be used and put away.

The next time I was struck by this “Bond” was with a Sheriff’s Department K9 Unit patrolman.  It was during a simulated live  fire exercise, with a closed environment apprehension.  Officer and canine communicated silently from room to room, up two separate stairwells.  The dog was put “on point”, leading the 3-man unit in the search for a supposed armed perpetrator.  As I was the tail-end observer, I had a close view of how the dog and Handler communicated with the smallest of indicators.  I, in fact, missed the most important signal of all given by the German Shepherd.  I learned about it sometime afterward talking with the officer.  He described it this way.  “When we were in the stairwell, the dog kept his nose upward, testing the next level.  If he moved without hesitation, and avoided eye-contact, it was safe.  When he slowed, or caught my eye, he was unsure and became cautious.  When we finally reached the door where our subject was concealed, he stopped and stared at me for direction.  It was a full 30 second, unblinking stare.  But since Casey (the four-legged officer) couldn’t open the door he didn’t bark or alert.  He avoided alarming the suspect, and told me that somebody might easily be on the other side.  As you saw, he was right…That communication doesn’t just happen, and training it has no methodology.  The Deputy graciously offered me this explanation for the bond between him and his dog.  “It starts the day you meet your dog.  You begin to grow into each other.  First thing that I recommend a new Handler/Canine do together?  Play ball together, get out a tug-toy, and wear each other out.  If it takes an hour, do it for the full hour.  If you can’t do that, you need to be in better shape anyway.  Play is the foundation of your team training.  Everything in the dogs future is a game to him.  Forge that bond immediately and build it everyday.  Invent other games, and work out at things that make the dog rely on your communication for what you want him to do in a given situation.  Try to do some of this without using your voice, just facial expression or hand signs.  Build this relationship strong enough, and you just might get the urge to take a dump in the backyard, just like the dog!”

Okay, that may be more information than necessary, but the officer was making a point.  Relationships are made by working, playing, and being silent together.  In other words, Living together.  Getting inside the others thoughts and intentions.

I’m still trying to understand if this type of “bond” is possible with every dog owner and their dog.  It might the possession of only a few special people and their canine.  Certainly, far fewer have it than claim to have it.  That much can be observed at any dog-park on the Blue planet we call home.  This bond cannot be forced into existence, nor commanded, nor willed by force.  It cannot be forged by the fire of passion, but rather, appears to coalesce, like fog in a boreal forest.  Slow, quiet, not observable except by those that recognize its unique properties.  And it certainly cannot be rushed.   But I  know that we can all pursue The Bond.  I don’t believe that it’s only a matter of how much time we spend with our dog to achieve it.  Certainly that helps, but the quality of time and work and drive to learn together is a huge part of the equation.  We all eventually get the dog we deserve, and the end result is squarely on your human shoulders.  Give your dog your very best, and never stop pursuing, The Bond…