We’ve Moved!

After months of creating, planning, and endless tinkering (and the incredible patience and awesome skills of Blue the wonderful amazing fantastic web developer and designer), the new website is LIVE!! Woohoo! And this blog has now shifted to be a part of my overall business site. I hope you’ll update your address books and blog reader feeds to the new site: https://www.maplewooddog.com/blog/

I’m going to be closing the ability to comment on posts on this site, as all the posts are now on the new site and folks are welcome and encouraged to post and continue discussions there.

Screen shot of the new blog header




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We have a habit around here of asking dogs to do things as opposed to telling them what they have to do.  (about the only time routinely I deviate is when Zora is eating poop and then 90% of the time she completely ignores me, so yea that’s a successful tactic…not)

In the spirit of an ask, the human doing the asking has to realize that they might not get an answer they wanted.

And we’re ok with that around here.  And the dogs learn that no is an answer they can safely give, and how to safely give a no without escalating a situation further (which is unfortunately not something majority of dogs learn. When dogs aren’t given the option by humans for a non confrontational ‘no’ answer to work, the dogs often figure out escalating will get them the results they are needing).  It we get a ‘no’ we try to figure out why and then change the ask or the situation or depending on context do some behavior mod or training to increase the chance the next time the dog will feel more comfortable giving a yes, or sometimes we just leave it as a ‘no’ answer.  I mean the dogs ask me to do things for them all the time and sometimes I tell them no, sometimes a no is just a no, and that’s a good thing for all of us.  Sometimes the outcome of the question posed is rather amusing though.

The other night I was on the couch and Zora was snuggled up half on my lap half on the couch cushion, very comfy and content, when my spouse came over and said, “Hey Zora, could you move over so I can sit there?”  (This is a common ask around here, and one she goes along with a yes answer to majority of the time.)

black and white corgi sleeping on a blue couch and white, blue and gold pillow

Zora lifted her head up.  Gave a half hearted effort to move, and then flopped back down in the same spot very dramatically.  “I tried, really I did, I tried to get up, but the strain was just too much, I’m too tired, just can’t do it.  Look I tried, you can see how much effort that took, I just can’t move out of my most comfy spot right now.  You understand.  You can sit elsewhere, right?”

We both cracked up laughing.  The drama.  The diva.  “Oh no, I’m just too tired.  Can’t you see how much that small effort took out of me?  I’d love to comply and do as you’re asking and move, but it’s just too great an ask right now.  You understand, don’t you?  Be a dear, and go sit somewhere else.”

OMG.  This dog is too much.  Too much!



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black retriever with grey muzzle sitting in a yard covered in brown leaves with tiny white snow flakes falling

Connection: the relationship of a person, thing or behavior to something or someone else.

Connection is an all the rage buzz word in the current world of dog training.  In years past the word instead was “Attention”.

Attention: the act of directing the mind to listen, see or understand; notice.

And somehow in the world of dog training both connection and attention have become one and the same with eye contact.

Eye contact: the act of looking in the eyes of another person as the person looks at you.

Lately I’ve listened to a number of webinars, podcasts and quotes from dog training professionals, handlers, competitors, trainers all about how eye contact is critical to connecting with our dogs.  The undertone being if you don’t train it, if you don’t have it, if you can’t do it, you’re doing things wrong and your relationship with your dog, training and competitive goals will suffer.

Here to tell, you that’s a load of baloney.

Is eye contact one means of connecting with our dogs?  Sure.  Maybe.  Depends.  On the dog.  On the person.

Is eye contact one means of ensuring we have the attention of our dogs?  Sure.  Maybe.  Depends.  On the dog.  On the person.

I’ve worked with many dogs over the years who I wouldn’t want to ever teach to purposefully make eye contact with humans with.  Why?  Because the fine line of that dog shifting into viewing such as a threat, challenge or escalation is too great.  Instead we worked to consciously teach those dogs when a person looks at you, look away!  Otherwise you had approximately .2 seconds before the dog went, “You lookin’ at me?!  YOU LOOKIN’ AT ME!!??!” and all manner of behaviors you don’t want a dog practicing would come out like a rain storm.  Or approximately .2 seconds before the dog went, “You’re looking at me!!!!!  Wheeee!!!  Let’s get this party started!!”  And all manner of frantic break your or their body excitement ensued.  Reinforcing those dogs instead to look away when looked at helped them stay sub threshold, and access other safer coping skills.   For some of those dogs, eventually once they trusted their ability to access safer coping skills and that those skills would work to meet their needs, we were then able to condition that eye contact can be made with humans without their world falling apart, but some of those dogs we never did.

I’ve worked with dogs over the years who could auto pilot anything.  They could be staring at their handler’s face and eyes making what seemed to be gorgeous attention and yet still their brains were elsewhere.  Was it eye contact?  Yes, sure.  Was it attention on the person they were looking at?  No.  Was it connection?  Well, sure, connected to what they wanted to think about but not with their handler!

I’ve worked with handlers over the years for whom eye contact wasn’t an option.  Myself included!  Years ago when it was drilled into me that eye contact with our dogs was a requirement, I trained it, but it was never easy or comfortable for me.  And once I trained it to ‘satisfaction’ quite frankly I found I then rarely if ever used it in real life or actual training.  After a time, I realized I’d stopped teaching an eye contact with humans cue to my dogs at all, (I do though often teach dogs to look at certain other things on cue, like ‘watch where the ball is being thrown so you can find it’, or ‘look forward in the direction my foot or hand is pointing so you know which direction I want you to run when I release you from your start line stay’) and I started to think about why.  Realizing, how unnecessary to my training and relationship with my dogs eye contact really is.  So I stopped actively teaching it in my lessons or classes, unless a client specifically asked for instruction on it, and noticed the lack of active teaching of eye contact between dog and handler didn’t cause any obvious detriments.  Connection and attention between dog and handler could still be clearly gained without eye contact.

Is eye contact a means for many folks and dogs to interact with each other?  Is it a part of many folks routines when training or competing with their dogs?  Sure.  But it isn’t the be all and end all.  It doesn’t have to be a component of a solid, healthy connected relationship or moment with our dogs.

Let’s go back to that definition of connection, shall we? “the relationship of a person, thing or behavior to something or someone else.”  and attention: “the act of directing the mind to listen, see or understand.”  Seeing is just one of many means of defining attention.  And connection makes no mention at all about the eyes or sight.

The keys of connecting with our dogs, of attending to our dogs are about understanding and relating.  About both parties, dog and human, building a relationship where each is willing to notice the other and direct the mind to understand.

So, just here to say, if you’re striving to build a connected, attentive relationship and training moment with your dog, but eye contact isn’t your or your dog’s thing for whatever reason?  It’s ok.  You’re not doing it wrong.  Your team isn’t lacking some huge key “if you can’t do this you might as well quit” eye contact element.  It’ll be ok.  There are many other ways to connect, be, attend to our working and personal relationships with our dogs, and for our dogs to connect, be and attend to us.  Eyes not required.


Listen for Stillness


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3 dogs in a group stay, spaniel in a down stay, lab cross in a stand stay, corgi in a sit stay

This is starting to look like the season of stays. With stay instruction and training working its way into many lessons.

Stays are an integral foundation behavior and a part of nearly all performance sports. And the bare bones basics of a stay is stillness until release cue. Defining stillness for a dog consistently though can be a challenge for many people. For many folks, when we start to increase distance and go out of sight, or turn so you can’t see the dog, stay criteria degrades. The dog starts creeping at the start line, or changes positions, or tap dances, the handler none the wiser until they turn to see their dog.

This is where we go low tech. A bell on the collar. And training yourself to hear the silence. Silence means stillness. Stillness means criteria is met. Criteria met means reward or release cue.

3 dog collars each with bells on them on a granite counter top

Removing the need to rely on vision to validate criteria met for stays means increased reliability, consistency and confidence in your dog and your training.

Listen for stillness.

Freestyle Shaping


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Kitchen chair in center of a room with blue rug, black and white dog face close up on side of image


1 kitchen chair

1 bored corgi in need of entertainment

Handful of dog kibble or small treats

1 tired human

1 comfortable sitting place for tired human preferably warm and with cozy blankets

Goal: entertain corgi in silliness and fun with minimal energy out put from human

Black and white corgi walking under the chair


Place kitchen chair in middle of room

Place dish of dog treats on table next to couch

Human sits on couch in a warm blanket

Mark and reward corgi with a tossed treat for doing interesting things primarily surrounding chair and quietly. Also intermittently toss treat to the silent black dog lying peacefully next to human on couch.

Black and white corgi walking under chair away from camera


Wagging tail silent corgi moving in general figure 8 type pattern through and around legs and rungs of chair ending in a down with corgi head resting on rungs of chair while human remains comfortably snuggled in blanket on couch and black dog remains peacefully chill beside said human.

Black and white corgi walking out from under chair towards camera

Conclusion: adorable happiness for all.

Black and white corgi lying under chair with her head resting on the rung, tail a wagging blur

New Year, New Coat: DIY Dog Rain Coat


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Tom standing in a parking lot in the rain with his guide dog harness over his black rain coat with reflective stripes

2018 is forecast to head out the door with a lot of rain. so Tom is ringing in 2019 with a new coat. It’s been raining a lot here these past couple of months. While I don’t much care about the dogs getting wet when we are heading back home after a walk or other outdoor outing, where I have plenty of towels, hence none of my dogs having had a rain coat prior to the tail end of 2018, now that my schedule has Tom and I out of the house regularly traveling to various locations where we both have to be presentable for hours before once again braving the elements to head home, it’s become more of an issue. Plus thinking about the sheer amount of salt, sand and slush ick he’ll be lying in on the train and subway floor all winter, ewe gross. Hence my plan for a DIY rain coat for Tom.

Tom has an odd body size and I’ve learned over the years premade dog coats don’t fit him well or at all. They either expect him to have a much thicker neck, or shorter back, or more barrel like rib cage. Instead he has none of those proportions. But Tom’s body shape and size does lend itself well to with fairly simple modifications fitting into human jackets. Usually a men’s large or women’s x-large. So off to the thrift store we went in search of a water proof coat to repurpose.

Used Men’s waterproof lightweight jacket with zippers and snaps procured for a reasonable $10 price tag and we were off to the races. Or more my basement with sewing machine and fabric scissors.

After putting the coat on Tom various ways, it seemed to fit him most comfortably with more freedom of movement with the zipper running down his back, so that was the starting point. Glad we got one with a rain flap that snaps closed to cover the zipper!

Next in the very exact science of the way I make dog clothes, I made some cautious cuts while the coat was still on my very patient dog. See, another benefit to training a stand stay cue!

First up the back of the coat (ie the part now on his under belly) so that he’d have the ability to use the facilities when he needed ideally without my having to remove the coat or him peeing on it.

Next cutting off bits of fabric to adjust the fit of the chest.

And figuring out where I was going to cut to remove the hood while also using remaining length to make a nice cuff collar to keep rain off his neck.

Cuts made and floor covered in shreds of black fabric, it was off to the sewing machine.

Sew a bit, put coat back on dog to ensure I did it where I was supposed to. Remove coat again, sew a bit more. And so on, until all that was left was the cutting and sewing of the sleeves. The trickiest bit of all. Not so long they cause a trip hazard, not so short they leave more than necessary of his legs exposed to the elements. Out of the 2hrs or so I spent all told on this thing, the legs took about 40% of the time since I did end up having to redo them. Twice. Glad I had the forethought to sew before I cut, since redoing them was then a matter of just ripping seams and not sewing material back on.

The final piece de resistance: iron on reflective stripes. It comes in a roll at the local fabric store for a mere couple of bucks. Such useful stuff!

A few final checks to ensure 1. Tom can indeed toilet comfortably and without dirtying the coat, 2. He can walk, trot, run and do stairs up and down with ease (one such test proved the sleeves still needed more work! Adjustment made and next stair test passed with ease), and 3. his guide harness fits over it and he’s comfortable and happy guiding with the coat on. Final critical test occurred when it rained just a few days after making the coat. Final test passed after a 3 mile walk in the rain, mud and slush resulted in a mostly dry dog (his head, lower legs and tail were wet of course).

Total cost of a Tom size waterproof rain coat: $12 plus my time (and that of my spouse who carefully searched racks at the thrift store to find the perfect coat for this project, because he’s a dear who enjoys bargain hunting).

Not bad, not bad at all. And Tom does look rather spiffy if I do say so myself. oh and added bonus, it was pointed out to me after the jacket was completed, the brand name of this coat? Guide Series. How awesome is that? Lol

Tom standing in profile in his rain coat silver stripes on the sides and legs

Tom sitting showing of the chest and legs of his rain suit with silver stripes on the legs

Tom sits in his rain coat from the back showing the zipper with button rain flap open

Tom sits in his rain coat from the back showing it zipped up with the rain flap buttoned closed over the zipper

The rain jacket on the ground without Tom in it to show the cut up the back (now belly) of the jacket that allows him full freedom of movement

He’s in My Spot


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By Tom

Doesn’t he know he’s in my spot? The guy human who lives with us. Doesn’t he know? Why is he still home!? And still in my spot?!

I tried to shove him out. I tried to sit on him. I tried to make him jump out of bed with my cold wet nose to his back. Nothing worked! Mum told me I wasn’t allowed to kick him out of bed. Not allowed?! But it’s MY spot. It’s after 8am, he should be out of my spot and gone to wherever he goes most days.

I let him keep my spot warm all night. Then he’s supposed to remember it’s mine and get up so I can snuggle next to my mum in our big bed with the warm cozy blankets and my pillow.

5 days a week that’s the way it works! Mum said he’s home on vacation and it really isn’t my spot. I just happen to borrow it when he goes to work every weekday. And the guy human is wonderful and loving enough to put up with a pillow covered in my fur.

Harrumph. I beg to differ. My spot! My pillow! My snuggle time!

Woe is me now stuck on this tiny little dog bed that apparently The Pest now gets rights to as well!! Is no spot sacred anymore!?

Black retriever and a black and white corgi lieon a dog bed together

Role Models


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Tom in harness sitting and Zora sitting outside ready to start a walk

This morning we joined a friend and her 5 month old lab pup on a walk. He’s a fun, bouncy pup. At that age where social graces are often a quite bit of a struggle. Observing him shift from in your face plowing excitement OMG DOGS!!! To hey look at us just hanging on a walk this is fun I’m pretty cool! Over the course of the walk was a joy.

By the end of our walk he was just one of the crew. Sharing sniffs. Hanging together. Exploring. Comfortable in his own doggie skin.

How did we get from social dork to one of the crew? A long line, help from his mum and me at times, and really Tom and Zora doing a lot of puppy training. T and Z are really good at reinforcing behaviors they feel are acceptable in pups.

Usually goes something like this:

Bouncy dorky pup explodes into a space. Tom and Zora ignore it. Tom being “I have a job to do, pup you ain’t worth my time”. And Zora, “ugh, you are soooo not cool.” With an eye roll and flip of her hair.

Bouncy dorky pup attempts to charge into their space. A human prevents that and using long line and space encourages pup to move in a curve, or sniff, or even just slow it down or stop moving forward.

Pup does any of those behaviors, Tom and or Zora look at pup

Pup loses his shit cuz “OMG they looked at me!!”

My dogs, look away from pup and go back to ignoring pup

Pup goes “But but but! I’m so cute and awesome you must want to love me! Don’t you know how awesome I am?! Talk to me!!!!”

Tom and Z ignore pup. Yea no kid.

Pup gets distracted and sniffs the ground. Zora moves closer to pup

Pup loses shit again cuz “OMG she’s coming to play with me!!!”

Zora goes Yea, no and moves away again.

Pup goes, but but but look I can do that sniffing thing again?

Zora comes back toward pup. They sniff the same patch of leaves. A half second passes, pup starts to lose his shit again cuz OMG Zora is right here next to me!! Human intervenes, Zora ignores pup and moves away

Rinse and repeat throughout walk until final third when pup has finally grasped the way to get Zora or Tom to acknowledge he even exists and to “OMG they let me walk beside them!! We sniffed the same thing! OMG the cool kids, I get to be one of them!!” Is to chill it out. Be cool man, be cool.