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.

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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

Materials:

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

Execution:

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

Result:

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.

Supporting Loss

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Regal, a liver color flat coated retriever tongue out smiling

It’s been a rough month around here. Between my gram passing away after a long fulfilling life and a few friends in the process of shifting into hospice care mentality for their geriatric dogs, it’s been a rough go of it. I’ve found myself asked more than usual my philosophy on end of life decisions for our canine companions.

Having been through it too many times with my own pets over the years and supported friends and clients through such difficult times with their dogs, at this point my philosophy is rather simple.

It boils down to this for me: what ever decision made is the right one.

Simple as that. I don’t care what your family thinks you should do, or your neighbors, or a vet, or even what you may have done with a past dog. As long as you feel you are doing as best you can to honor that individual dog and your relationship with them, any decision you make is the right one. Each relationship we have with a dog is an intensely personal and individual one and at the end of the day when such difficult decisions are made from a place of love, whatever decision made is the right one.

No one else has the right to judge you for any decisions made in such circumstances. There are so many factors emotional, financial, location, behavioral, physical, personality and more. None of which are ever the same for any case. Anyone expressing judgment or shoulds is saying more about their own fears, discomfort or insecurity than about you and your decisions surrounding your dog during such a difficult time.

For each of my dogs, I have based the decisions I’ve made on what I know of that individual dog, their personality, their way of going about life, their relationship with me, others and the world around them, plus whatever medical diagnosis they have, and the realities of our life situation at the time. Every single dog I’ve personally had to date, none of the end of life care decisions have been the same, yet all have so far felt right for that particular dog at that particular time.

And yup, I’ve had times where I’ve disagreed with the vets on our case in treatment approach, which may have been a wonderful approach with another dog, knowing my particular dog as I did, would have been a form of torture for him. So I found a vet team that would take more than my dogs diagnosis into consideration. instead of having 3 months of his version of torture followed by maybe an additional 4-6 months of life, we were able to have 6 months of palliative care and excellent quality of life the entire 6 months. A decision I’m glad I made for that specific dog, knowing with a different dog I may very well have made a completely different decision which would have then been right for that particular dog at that particular time.

Hopefully I won’t have to make such decisions again for my own pets for a good many years in the future, (knock on wood) but when the time comes I will do the best I can to do right by my dog and know that whatever decision I make will be from a place of intense caring and love. And I’m doing my best currently to support my friends going through such difficult decisions with their wonderful dogs knowing and believing fully whatever decisions they make are the right ones for them and their pets.

Where’s the water dish?

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I’m a big fan of modifying environments so you don’t have to train the dog.

Or more a big fan of modifying environments so you don’t have to train the dog on niggly bits of life that go against what the dog naturally wants to do because the environment now minimizes or prevents such behaviors and now I get to spend time and energy and thought on training stuff that I get more fun and enjoyment out of.  Like how we have an in cabinet kitchen trash can, so I don’t have to actively train dogs to stay out of the kitchen trash.  Or how we don’t have a door bell so I don’t have to actively counter condition the dogs to that sound.  Because training dogs to do those 2 things isn’t really fun for me, and simple environmental modification means I don’t have to.

A friend with a new to her adult dog recently reached out to me about her dog’s habit of tanking on water that isn’t a medically related behavior.

I asked her, “where’s the water dish?”

“In the kitchen”

“In the kitchen, where you spend about 75+% of your day?  With the dog hanging out there with you too?  In your tiny little kitchen that doesn’t fit much else but you, the dog and a water dish?”

“Yes”

“Move the water dish to the bathroom.”

Environmental modification.  Now when the dog wants a drink he has to make more of a conscious decision to get up and seek out the water dish, rather than ‘oh we’re in the kitchen again, I’m kind of bored, oh look here’s my water dish, drinking water is something to do…’

She’s been data tracking since we chatted to try to get a better handle of his patterns.  Sure enough, since the water dish has been out of the kitchen and in the bathroom his drinking, just with that simple environmental shift, has decreased to closer to normal levels for a dog his size.

Thoughtfully change the environment, change the behavior.  Awesome.

DIY Dog Bandana

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Over Halloween my nephew wanted me to put a Bandana that had been kicking around in the kid’s toy box on Tom. So I obliged, and Tom sported spooky ghosts and jack O lanterns for the next couple of weeks. He looked so cute and got many compliments so I thought I’d see about getting him a few more. Well, the cost was more I was willing to cough up, so time to figure out how to DIY some doggie bandanas. Now there are many other even cheaper and less involved ways to make these, but the plan I came up with was budget friendly enough and met my criteria for easy to maintain. Also I decided I liked having the colorful fabric pattern on both front and back of the bandana and not having to make any cuts beyond the first sizing one. I think they came out just as I was hoping. And Tom looks adorable. Goal met.

Zora sitting next to Tom who is sitting wearing a light blue bandana with penguins and polar bears on it

Step 1: figure out the size. I measured Tom’s neck loosely plus an inch and got 24″. Using the bandana he currently had as a base to work from I figured out fabric sized 24×18″ would work well as I wanted a thicker collar like band at the top which would take additional fabric folds. The thicker collar type top I figured would help the structure of the bandana hold it’s shape even with daily wear. We shall see how that thought pans out in real life over time.

Step 2: after establishing which way I wanted the fabric pattern to go, I placed the fabric pattern side down. I marked 5″down from the top long edge. Then folded down the top edge 2″ and ironed it. Then folded in each side about 1/4″ to the mark I made and ironed that. Finally folded up the bottom long edge about 1/4″ and ironed at.

Fabric on desk folded as described in instructions

Step 3: first bit of sewing. With my sewing machine I sewed the bottom edge, and the top 2 sides down to the mark. Did not yet sew the entire top long edge.

Step 4: fold down the top edge once more, this time to the mark, and iron. Then take the bottom left corner of the fabric and fold it up to the center meeting the bottom of the folded down top crease. repeat for the right edge. The right edge should overlap the left slightly. Iron smooth. You should now have your fabric in the shape of a bandana with triangle bottom.

Fabric on desk folded as in instructions

Fabric on desk folded as in instructions

Step 5: back to the sewing machine. Sew along the 2 sides of the triangle that will make the hanging part of the bandana, do not yet sew the top edge.

Step 6: more folding and ironing and sewing. One last time fold down the top edge. About 1.5″. Iron that fold. Then sew the top fold. This fold creates a tab on either end of the bandana out past the hanging pendant which you can then use for the closure.

Fabric folded and sewn as in instructions

Step 7: closure. I decided to sew my bananas closed, and just slide them on and off Tom’s head. If you wanted to use hook and loop or snaps you could instead. Or could use fabric length long enough to be able to tie it closed. A couple of different bandana plans I found created a pocket to thread a collar through, but as my dogs don’t wear collars in the house and the collar Tom does have doesn’t have a buckle that type of bandana wouldn’t work for us, hence my sewing it shut and creating a bandana with a more collar like top band for structure.

Close up of fabric in sewing machine

4 bandanas of varying patterns on a wood desk