Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quick Tip #2 - Yelling

If you're yelling, you've already lost control of the situation. That's not good, IMO. (And I seem to yell a lot. I'm trying to cut down.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quick tip - Attention seeking and giving

With the arrival of both baby Wiggle in November and Sprout's terrible twos, time is limited so I'm going to try keeping up with just some quick tips.

Quick Tip #1 - Taking time to spend one on one time with dogs or children can make your life easier.

When the dogs or children are driving me nuts I have to stop and think about the last time I gave them all my attention. Usually it's been a little while. Just a 30 minute walk or a quick board game or trip to Little People land can do wonders to settle attention seekers and allow me to get more done. And I feel less guilty.

Cats and Babies

Bringing Home Baby

The Cat Edition

Go through the owner surrender cards at any shelter or rescue or look through a classifieds section and you will see a sad number of cats being given up because of a new baby. Sometimes it is an automatic response. For years old wives' tales told of cats sucking the breath from children and passing dangerous diseases around. Modern times have shown us that cats do not deliberately harm babies and that basic good hygiene protects everyone from the spread of disease. Other times new parents make quick decisions based on the emotions and disruption that happen in the first few weeks or months of a new family member and fear for the well being of their baby and/or the cat. With some preparation, this also can be less of an issue. I am certainly no expert on cat behavior, but I have successfully kept my two cats and my daughter living under the same roof for three years now. Here are some of the things I have discovered in that time.

Many people don't think about helping cats adjust to the presence of a new baby. Just because we do not typically train them the way we do dogs does not mean they will just automatically adjust to a baby. In general letting a cat pick her own pace is the best way to go, but you can help make the transition to the baby easier. One of the easiest ways is to play a baby sounds CD just as you would with a dog.

Also as with dogs, it is important to start making changes to the cat's routine and living space as soon as possible. This is especially important if you need to move the litter box. Some cats will search out the litter box no matter where you put it, but most cats are not this forgiving. Decide where you want the box to be and move it a little closer every day. Make sure it is cleaned daily so the cat has less of an excuse to avoid it. (But of course, please let the non-pregnant do the cleaning!!!)

Less tricky is deciding if food and water bowls or cat beds need to be moved for feline or baby safety. Water dishes are very fun to tip over and play in depending on size could present a drowning hazard. Dry cat food can be a choking hazard, while wet or raw cat food can harbor bacteria. Placing these items on a sturdy, secured cat tree or shelf not only protect your child, but give your cat a much needed “baby-free zone.”

Baby-free zones should be available to the cat on each level of your house. This can be a high perch (sturdy enough that a baby or toddler cannot pull the item over on themselves or the cat) or a room closed off by a gate or cat door. The space will be important during the initial chaos of bringing the baby home and especially as your child gets older and mobile. Most cats want to avoid unpleasantness once the baby is moving around, so giving them an escape is vital to everyone's happiness.

While most cats will try to escape rather than put up with a child's enthusiastic love, there are always a few who will stay or who are not fast enough to get out of range. Teaching a child the proper way to show love for the kitty is vital. Modeling “gentle pets” on the baby's own arm and encouraging soft, one handed petting instead of hugs are excellent things to start doing as soon as the baby is old enough to notice the cat. Keeping the cat's nails trimmed is just as vital to make sure any defense from the cat does as little damage as possible. You really cannot blame a cat for defending herself the only way she can when she is hurt or scared, but you can minimize scratches.

It is important to have cat-free zones as well as baby-free zones. While most of us accept the fact that cats do not suck the breath out of infants, the fact is that infants are warm, smell like milk, and are smaller than the average cat. An innocent nap for the cat can cause panic for the parents. Start keeping the cat out of the baby's room today, either by keeping the door closed or by installing a screen door so you can hear and see the baby but the cat cannot get in.

Baby toys are incredibly irresistible to cats for the same reason babies love them. They are warm, soft, cuddly, and comfortable. As adorable as it can be to see the cat curled up in the bouncy seat, you may not want to encourage the behavior. Cats can be positively trained just as dogs are. Shaking a treat jar and telling the cat “off” as it gets up to investigate is an effective way to train the cat to get up on cue. Providing even more irresistible bedding and moving the cat to that area whenever she naps in the wrong spot is also helpful.

Sometimes cats do need some extra encouragement to leave the comforts of baby items alone. In those cases there are some relatively harmless deterrents you can use. There are commercial products such as Scat-Mats, which use static electricity, or SSSCat and Spray Sentry, which use compressed air, to dissuade a cat from a crib or blanket. Or you can use something simpler such as balloons, tin foil, carpet tape, nubby plastic carpet protectors (the side you usually toward the carpet), or netting to discourage a cat. Since they are mostly interested in comfort, most cats will break the habit of trying to access those areas after a few weeks of finding them blocked.

List of Resources for Baby Friendly Dog Stuff

Baby sounds CD:

Websites and Online resources: one dog trainer's blog comparing raising her daughter to how she trains her dogs. – a very supportive community with good advice about dog training, care, nutrition, etc.,,, – just a few places where you can find many toys and supplies to keep your dog occupied.

Problem-Solving Toys and Chewies:

Kong and Goodie Ship – available at most pet stores and wonderful for placing food and treats in, topping with peanut butter, cream cheese, yogurt, etc. and freezing.

Tricky Treat Ball, Moleculeball, Twist & Treat – toys that can hold almost an entire meal's worth of dog food, but takes at least 15 minutes to empty. These can be found in local pet stores or online.

Sonik Soft Dog Toys – squeaky toys that only your dog can hear.

Chase N Pull Dog Toy and Nifty Pet Exerciser – two different toys that your dog can chase while you're sitting in a comfortable place.

Orbee Tuffee balls and bones – you can stuff them with treats or some dogs just like them as they are. The balls tend to bounce on their own, which can keep a dog busy for quite some time. They've held up fairly well to the power-chewing Lab's jaws, as well as to the incessant teething of my Collie puppy.

Bully Sticks – is where I've found the best price for bullies that don't smell, but I'm sure you can find them elsewhere.

Antler Chews – found at, among other places.

Don't Forget Fido!

The next few posts will be things that I've written in the past and can never find on my computer when I need them. So here they are!

This list was compiled while I was confined to bed rest at the end of my first pregnancy.
My poor dog Cousteau didn’t know what to make of his mom not getting off the couch or
out of bed. I had been his primary source of fun and mental stimulation and now I wasn’t
much of anything. And, since the baby was due within a matter of weeks, I knew that
things weren’t going to get any more exciting for Cousteau in the near future. Here are
some things I did (or wished I did) to make sure my dog knew that he was still a part of
this family. Keep these things in mind whether you are expecting a new addition to your
family, you are temporarily out of commission, life takes a hectic turn for awhile, or any
reason you find yourself with less time than you’re used to.

1.) Review what your dog already knows. Not only does this remind your dog that the old
rules still apply in a new situation, but quick drills exercise your dog’s mind and can help
him relax. Don’t worry about trying to find a 30 minute chunk of time – taking a minute
or two here and there as you go about your day is just as effective. So, use that down time
while you’re waiting for coffee to brew, as your computer boots up, something cooks in
the microwave, on your way to the mailbox, or even in the bathroom to spend some
quality time with your dog.

2.) Teach your dog a new trick. Things like turning in a circle, offering a paw, rolling
over, crawling, etc. are relatively easy to teach in short training sessions of a few minutes
here and there. They are also relatively low pressure to teach and are just plain fun!

3.) Use modern technology to make your life easier. There are many devices on the
market that allow you to launch a tennis ball a great distance with very little effort on
your part. My favorite is the Chuck It which works wonders for taking the edge off of a
ball crazy dog. A Chuck It, a lawn chair (for you) and 10 minutes before or after work
may not completely exhaust your dog, but it can help. Or if it’s dark when you have time
to spend time with your dog, there are a number of glow in the dark balls on the market.

4.) Investigate the possibility of a dog walker or doggie day care. Most dogs really
benefit from the care of experienced professionals in these services. You benefit from a
dog that has had physical and mental exercise as well as companionship for a portion of
the day.

5.) Enlist the help of trusted relatives, neighbors, or friends. Asking someone to take your
dog with them on their daily walk, with their dog to the dog park, for an overnight visit,
or to come over and play fetch with your dog can really give you and your dog a break. If
you don’t have anyone like that near you, there is no shame in checking your dog into a
kennel for a night to give you a bit of a rest. Some kennels are more like summer camps
with lots of activities and play for your dog – she probably won’t even know you’re

6.) Enroll in a class. Most classes are only 45-60 minutes a week – not so much time in
the grand scheme of things. If your dog’s obedience is already pretty good consider
trying something new like Rally, agility, flyball, tricks and games, canine musical
freestyle, or a therapy dog class. Even if you never compete, it can be fun to learn new
things with your dog. Shuffling your schedule to make time can be difficult, but
ultimately worth it.

7.) Take a walk. We all know that 30 minutes of exercise 4-5 times a week is beneficial
for our health. Combine a healthy activity with your dog’s quality time and you both win!
If your dog doesn’t walk nicely on a leash, consider using a product such as a Gentle
Leader, or Easy Walk harness to better manage your dog.

8.) Groom. No matter if your dog has long or short hair, grooming is an important aspect
of dog ownership. Not only can it help to reduce shedding, deal with mats, improve skin
condition, and make your dog look his best, but it is a nice way for the two of you to
bond. If your dog doesn’t currently like getting groomed, this can be the time for you to
work on associating the brush, tooth brush, or nail trimmers with good and wonderful

9.) Designate a co-pilot. If the weather is cool enough (less than 70 degrees) and your dog
likes car rides, bring her along while you run errands. A crate or special dog seat belt will
keep your canine co-pilot safe and confined in the backseat while still allowing the dog to
look out the window for a change of scenery. And it gives you someone to talk to while
discussing the heritage and intelligence of the other drivers on the road.

10.) Take five to cuddle. What could be a nicer way to start or end your day than taking
five or ten minutes to just sit quietly with your dog and cuddle? Studies have shown that
petting an animal helps us to decompress from stress and it is just as good for your dog as
it is for you. So ignore the phone, leave the email unanswered, or soak dishes in the sink
and curl up with your dog on the couch or with some floor pillows and just enjoy being
together. After all, isn’t that why we got our dogs in the first place?
©2005 Jill R. Miller – Originally posted at

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Great Flood (of Stimulus)

Today our family had a chance to go to see a USF2000 race. My father-in-law works for the series owners and we were able to get VIP passes and watch the action from the pits. You would think that since one of Bug's all time favorite movies is Cars that this would be the best day of her life. Unfortunately Bug is also noise sensitive, so what should have been lots of fun for her turned out to be torturous.

The drive into the pits was lots of fun. The window were rolled up and the A/C was on. Grandpa met us and we got out of the car, which was parked next to where the cars line up to start the race. Two lines of cars starting their engines all at the same time. It wasn't so bad when they drove off and we couldn't see them any more and they were quieter because of the distance, but then we decided to watch the action from the grandstand.

Walking under the track was fun. Walking along the access road through a wooded area was cool, but as soon as we got to the grandstands the cars were passing by right next to us. Bug was not impressed and she wanted to go back to our car. Then she convinced herself that it would be quieter at the top of the grandstand so we took off.

I thought once we were away from the track and safe Bug would settle down, but instead Bug's anxiety increased lap after lap. She started to cover her ears as the cars passed, then as soon as she heard them coming around the other side of the track. Soon her hands weren't big enough to block out enough noise so she grabbed mine to cover her ears. She started getting upset whenever I'd remove my hands, even when there were no cars in sight. Instead of getting used to the noise, she got more and more upset the longer we were there. I think as her anxiety increased there just wasn't enough time for her to relax again before the cars came by and her anxiety spiked again. Because she was already worked up, her anxiety wound higher and higher until she was just a mass of nerves.

This made me think of noise sensitive dogs and how so often we do exactly the wrong thing with them. The temptation is to get them closer to the sound so they can see that the noise won't hurt them. Whether it's intentional or not, we flood the dogs with aversive stimuli (the scary thing). In some cases the dog will habituate or gradually get used to the scary thing, but more often than not that flood of stimuli will cause the dog to get more and more afraid of it for the same reason Bug did. The dogs don't have a chance to relax and clear their systems of the "fight or flight" adrenaline that has built up in their systems. On top of the fear, we've just proven to the dog that we humans can't be trusted to protect the dog from scary stuff. (Or that parents won't protect the frightened child.)

What is far better for both children and dogs in the presence of something scary like this is to find a spot where they are comfortable and then take a step back from there. Once they are completely comfortable at that level (officially called "sub threshold"), you can take a step forward - figuratively or literally depending on the situation. But the important thing is to let the one who is afraid give cues when it's time to move forward, not some timetable we've set up. After all, we're not the ones who's bodies are trying to tell us to take evasive action or we'll die, which is what happens in these situations. Fear isn't rational, it's an ancient survival technique.

In a dog's case using treats can be very useful to feeling comfortable at level A before moving to level B. Using food in emotional situations is frowned on for children and the difference is that humans will always be controlling a dog's food input (or should be), but a child will one day be an adult and they need to learn how to cope without relying on food as a crutch. This could be hypocritical, but honestly, I don't care. Treats work for dogs so I use them.

Play is a useful option for both fearful children and dogs. Havana and I have braved scary situations by using games of tug to get closer to or past the evil. Playing fetch in a safe area closer and closer to an aversive stimuli can also be effective. If I'd been prepared with Bug I'd have brought bubbles, a magnifying glass, her camera and other things that she enjoys doing outside and we'd have started exploring away from the track and wandered closer as Bug felt comfortable.

Basically my point is that contrary to some big name TV dog trainers and the old fashioned belief that a scared child just needs to "suck it up" or "be a man", slow and positive introduction moving at a comfortable pace set by the one who is afraid is a more surefire way to get the results you want. And it's less traumatic for all involved.

Sunday, August 8, 2010 a virtue...

...and of course I want to be virtuous. Usually. But patience is not easy to come by. Sometimes we just don't have a choice.

When Havana was a puppy, I'd already been a professional dog trainer for about 4 years. I was doing everything "right" - puppy classes, careful socialization, relationship building, etc. We were enrolled in puppy class where I work and it was a lot of fun, although humbling that I was a student in a class I've been teaching for so long. Even more humbling - my puppy Would. Not. Down. I could usually lure her down with a food treat, but as the weeks progressed and the other puppies were downing on a hand signal and then verbal cue, Havana and I were still using a lure or it wouldn't happen.

We had some progress when I started pretending I had a food lure in my hand and then immediately treating her for the right response or if I kept the food lure in my hand and gave her a different treat. But I was still attaching the darn treat to her nose and bringing it down to the floor two months after we'd started class!

Suddenly one day the light bulb went on. Not for me - I still don't quite know what happened. Havana must have just put two and two together and got four and then couldn't figure out why I hadn't simply told her that earlier. She became a downing fool. We had lots of baby gates up and I'd often ask her to down before opening one (work the weakest behavior for frequent reward). Pretty soon she had a decent remote down going.

This remote down has now translated into amazing things. When Havana comes to puppy class with me to help with puppies who need tutoring in Canine Body Language, I can down her in a room of loose puppies from a few feet away. When we work sheep I can down her 50 ft away with 4 or 5 sheep between us. If she's in the yard and barking madly at rogue squirrels or leaves that dare to fall before autumn, I can down her from a distance to hush her for a bit. She's got down figured out and then some! I just needed patience for her to understand what I wanted in her own time, rather than on the time line I'd set up in my class.

Now I have my darling Sprout. Smart, beautiful, funny, goofy - everything a mother could want for her child. (Not that I'm biased.) Now most kids I know, including big sister Bug, my husband and I way back when, all took first steps before the first birthday. Not my Sprout. She wasn't really interested even in cruising around furniture at that point. Why bother? Crawling got her whatever she wanted. Developmentally she was fine - she just didn't feel like walking.

I could have spent a lot of time freaking out, and I did to a point, but I didn't want to make this a big deal to her. I knew she'd do it eventually and all the freaking, cajoling, and begging on my part wouldn't make it happen before she was ready. I built a safe framework for her - offering her toys from a distance that would encourage a first step, praising her for the little bit of cruising she bothered to do, walking with her while holding her hands, etc. But still nothing.

Finally on February 27, just before she turned 15 months old she took 3 steps to my dad. (He's currently deciding on which font for the bronze plaque he'll be placing in the house.) Hallelujah she's walking! We bought baby walking shoes and waited for the chaos to begin. And waited. And waited. And waited...

While she now knew she could take steps and would take one or two from time to time, she would still rather crawl. Since she's officially "walked" before 15 months we'd made the cut off the pediatrician had set so I didn't worry about that any more. But it took two more months for Sprout to decide walking was worth the effort and to do it regularly. And now at 19 months she's running just like the kids who'd been walking since 10 months.

The point of all this? Milestones and guidelines are simply suggestions, not ironclad rules for how puppies or babies are supposed to develop. As long as there are no additional signs indicating that there may be a problem, all of the worrying and fussing in the world will not cause a puppy or child to move along at the pace we think they should. And when they figure it out on their own, they'll progress as fast as they need to in order to do what they want to get done.

Now if people would just stop trying to freak me out that Sprout isn't talking yet. Really, I think she's proven that she's an independent spirit who will get it done when she's ready. And do I really want the dueling sisters competing to talk with me from the backseat?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Being Prepared

In all of my research on helping kids and dogs get along, one of the most important things is to get dogs used to the physical changes around the house as soon as possible. I always recommend:
  • Figure out where baby furniture will live and put it there ASAP. If you can't do that just yet, at least move any dog beds or other furniture that will need to be moved.
  • If the dog will no longer be allowed on the bed or furniture when baby is here, put that rule into effect today.
  • Ban access to rooms that will be off limits when baby appears.
There are of course other things to do, but these are the ones that apply to today's post.

So we've got a new baby coming to our family. Our "Wiggle," for lack of an actual name. The dogs have been through this already and while we'll be reviewing basic obedience and playing the baby sounds CD, nothing too terribly much will change for them. Well, Havana may decide she doesn't want to sleep next to my side of the bed as I have to get up more and more, but that's up to her.

What will be changing, though, is life for my girls. Bug is already pretty used to things being set up for a toddler, but she doesn't remember much of what it's like to be at a newborn's beck and call. Or screech and cry. And this will be totally foreign to Sprout all together.

One of the first things we had to do was change how we talk about dolls to Sprout. We discovered this when we introduced her to a newborn baby and she tried to pick up the baby and rock it like she does her dolls. Well, of course she would! How is Baby Carrie Fisher-Price (the doll) different from Baby L? There is no difference to a toddler. So now we call the dolls "little" and babies "baby". I don't know if it's working or not, but Sprout did not try to strangle Baby A like she does Little Carrie, so hopefully it is.

We're also going to have to move furniture around. The girls will be sharing a bedroom, which will be an adventure for all of us. Bug already knows that this will happen and we've been talking about it when the opportunity arises. It's a little hard to prepare Sprout for this since it's so abstract. And unfortunately she won't be ready for a big girl bed until after Wiggle is here, so I can't have her all set up and ready before he's here. But if one girl isn't freaking out too much that's half the battle.

And because Sprout is a little stinker, we're going to make sure that there is a safe place for Bug and her things, just as we have for the dogs and cats. The plan is to build a loft above Bug's bed, sort of like an unused upper bunk bed, with a railing around it and a little door. With any luck, Bug will be able to climb up there to escape the wrath of Sprout and maybe, just maybe reduce some chaos. Let me have my delusions, ok?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sometimes it does directly relate...

I always tell my puppy class students that the first time I was taught "look" (the dog looks up at my face on my command), I seriously thought my teacher ran out of things to show us that night. Now it is one of the commands I use the most, especially when we're out in public. Having your dog look at you on cue is just so darned handy, even if it takes a little effort to teach. When your dog looks at you, your dog is probably not:
  • Scarfing food off the table/counter/hands of young children
  • Barking and posturing at another dog
  • Pulling on a leash
  • Breaking a stay
  • Sniffing/eating nasty trash off the ground (can you tell I have a Labrador?)
  • Greeting people or dogs who would rather not be greeted
  • Missing the next cue I give
  • Getting into or causing any number of miscellaneous problems
I love, love, love this cue!

So imagine my delight when I realized it has another application - making sure a 5 year old is paying attention to me. Now instead of repeating myself twelve times (bad, bad Momma, say it the first time and mean it!), I can say "Bug. Stop. Look at me. Do not put stickers on the dog." Just like the dogs, once I can drag her attention to me I can cue her next behavior or redirect the current behavior.

Am I proud that I can get the exact same results for child and canine with the same cue? Well...not really. But it sure is handy. There's been a lot less yelling since I discovered this, though, and that's a good thing. Not that that neighbors have noticed it being any quieter around here. I blame hormones. Don't know what I'll do next spring when the windows are open again and I'm not pregnant.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who did that?!

Today in my scatterbrained way, I forgot to close the gate to the girls' bedrooms. When I went to put Sprout down for her nap, I was greeted with an upended diaper bin and pieces of dirty diaper all over the floor. (Thankfully we do cloth diapers so the worst of the nastiness has been flushed and dirty diapers are largely inaccessible to the dogs.) Even though I knew it was my fault, I called out "Grrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!! Which one of you bad dogs did this?!?!?" Strangely, no one answered.

I put Sprout down, cleaned up the mess, and went about my afternoon. I realized that both dogs were in "their" room, all on their own, as flat as possible on their respective dog beds, pretending to be invisible. Neither one made eye contact with me, although they both followed me with their invisible eyes in their invisible heads. (Because I am a mom to both canines and humans I can see invisible things like lost shoes, vegetables, empty toilet paper rolls, and misbehaving creatures that no one else in the house can see.)

Now some may say "Oh the dogs knew they did something wrong" or "those dogs are acting guilty." I beg to differ. Once the "goodies" were out of the diapers, the dog pretty much put it all out of his (maybe her) mind. However, the dogs have learned from past experience that if I let out an exasperated growl, chances are they are going to get closed off in their room. And in the past when the dogs have ignored the direction to go to their room, it usually involves a scold and a persistent body block which they would rather avoid. (Body block = me getting big and tall and moving into their space. I never touch them, I just invade wherever they are trying to be and dogs, being dogs, will give way to whoever is in charge. Since I control food and access to outside and all fun activities, I'm in charge without every laying a finger on them.) So to appease Crazy Lady who Controls All Good Things, the dogs just did what had been expected of them in the past. Who knows, maybe the appeasement would work and I'd act like it never happened.

This is quite a bit like when Bug is warned that a certain behavior will earn her a certain consequence. Right now we're dealing with some lying issues and I consider lying a pretty big rule infraction. Bug hates going potty for whatever reason and twice I've caught her telling me she went and then I find out she didn't. Bug knows that if she lies about potty before bed, she will not get a story. Both times, even though I said "You'd better go potty because if I find out you are lying to me, you will not get a story", she took the risk. Then when she got caught, she instantly went into appeasement mode. Suddenly she couldn't go potty, brush her teeth, put on her jammies, and get into bed fast enough - things that are usually a struggle. And she mentioned her story several times during all of this. She hadn't forgotten - she knows full well that there is a consequence for lying - but she's hoping by doing everything else right, things she's been resistant to doing in the past, I'll forget and/or be appeased. Instead, I gently reminded her that she was not getting a story because she lied, tucked her in with the usual love and kisses, and left.

Bug's grasp of the consequence happened after only one incident while it took the dogs quite a bit longer to read my voice and body language, but the end result is still the same - the sudden urge to do exactly what is expected. It's not really guilt acting as much as it is appeasement behavior so things can go back to being the regular pleasant routine it usually is. Dogs don't have morals so they can't feel guilt. Humans do have morals and can feel guilt, but it takes some time to develop and Bug is still developing the finer points. And appeasement and guilt can go hand in hand for humans, but a dog is a dog is a dog. They do what works and we love them for it. Usually.

(And before anyone criticizes me for locking up my dogs or however that may appear, let me just say that the dogs' room is actually my husband's rec room with my husband's office on one side and a half open Dutch door to the kitchen on the other. It has windows, climate control, water, comfy beds and is where we usually do our socializing. The dogs aren't outcasts, they are just put in a room near family traffic without being in the way so I can better manage the insanity in my home. They choose to go there on their own and generally spend their days and nights with the family.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Word Associations

My little Sprout said her first sentence last night. It was only two words, but it was still a sentence. She said "BE QUIET!!!" when the dogs were barking. Or it might have been "PUPPY QUIET!" Either way it had a subject and a verb and according to 4th grade grammar, that's a complete sentence. Maybe a better question is why on Earth did she choose to scold the dogs as her first sentence instead of something like "Hi Mama" or "More milk"?

I don't know what's going on in that curly little head of hers, but I have a couple of theories. One is consistency. If I am outside and I hear Havana gear up for a barkfest, I will call out "hush" or something like that. Thankfully I'm very careful not to tell the dogs to shut up or else we could have had a bit of a Meet the Fockers moment. But because it drives me nuts when Havana has a barkfest you can pretty much guarantee I'll say something every time she does it. Since Sprout is usually outside with me she hears "breath in, barkbarkbar, 'Havana! Hush!"

There is probably also a fun factor going on. Our yard is big and Havana is loud. As a result I use a loud voice - some might say a yell - to tell her to hush. Yelling is pretty darn fun for a toddler and if Mama does it consistently in a certain situation then it's monkey see, monkey do. Add in that bossy big sister usually follows up Mama's scold with a "Havana! Quiet!" and you've got an awesome behavior chain that Sprout just needs to be a part of.

As I rather sheepishly reflected on my baby's choice of sentence, I started to think about other cases of associative learning that I've experienced. Dogs and kids both use cause and effect to their greatest advantage. Just this week we started the foundation work for "stay" in puppy class. I told my students NOT to say "stay" at this point because the chances that their puppies wouldn't stay was great. And believe me, I have seen many dogs - usually with owners who say "she knows stay" - come on cue, sit on cue, and stay...until she hears "stay" in which case she jumps up and runs to the owner. Or runs away.

The dog does indeed know "stay". She hears it every time she's about to get up, or is already up. So she knows that when she hears "stay" she has changed position into a stand so whenever she hears "stay" she should get up and move. What the owner has trained is actually a really reliable release word and not a command to hold position, but the dog, not knowing English any better than we speak Canine, has connected a specific action to a specific sound. It just so happens to be the opposite of what the human wanted, but was exactly what the human taught.

The saddest of what I call "anti commands" involves botched recalls. I work hard so my dogs not only come when called, they are happy about it. My heart, once it started beating again, just about broke when my foster dog Maya opened the slider and escaped one day. She didn't go far, just in the yard, but it terrified me. I ran over to her and in my happiest voice called "Maya!!! Come!!!" The first time she ran in the other direction, so I grabbed Cousteau to entice her and again called "Maya!!! Come!!!" This time she looked at me with such a sad look and dropped to the ground in an 80 pound puddle of immovable dog. Someone had taught her that if she heard "come", something less than pleasant was going to happen. I'd like to think it just meant she was going to get stuck in her kennel or closed into a room so her previous owners could leave. And maybe it was just that. But still, instead of approaching me when she heard "come", she learned it was better for her if she avoided the human.

Sadder still was a few years after that when I was walking a client dog. This dog, while a great pup, is not known to be Miss Congeniality and she alerted me to the presence of a dog on her street. I looked and saw a golden dancing around the backyards. She was skittish and wouldn't approach me, no matter what irresistible tricks I tried. I put my client dog safely into her house and tried again. Now the golden would come closer to me and I saw she had a remote shock collar on. Once again I called in my happiest voice "Hey! Come!!!" As soon as she heard a loud, firm "come" she tucked tail and ran in the opposite direction. Nothing I did could get her to come near me again. I strongly suspect the electrodes on her neck had something to do with it. She got used to "come"-ZAP and possibly further punishment once she got to her human that she didn't have any reason to approach a human who said such a thing. (I'm not getting into a debate over shock collars. Obviously I don't like them. I know there are arguments for sometimes using them in extreme situations. I'm not prepared to use them for my training so I don't advocate them. End of story.)

So now that my youngest chatterbox is starting to use understandable words I have to think more about the word associations she gets from me on a daily basis. And I need to continue to think about the impact my words and actions have not only on my children, but on my dogs who don't have the luxury of fluently sharing a language with me. And here I thought I could just open my mouth and let the words spew forth.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why so quiet?

I don't really want to think about how long it's been since my last post. Sprout is now almost 18 months old. Bug will be starting Kindergarten in a few short months. And oh yeah, I'm 19 weeks pregnant with a baby Bug has named "Wiggle". And wiggle s/he does! So humans and canines alike have been neglected while I struggle with nausea and exhaustion. Agility with Havana was not particularly successful as I looked like I was going to vomit and then pass out after a run. Swim lessons with Sprout are going slightly better. I don't feel like passing out or vomiting, so I've got that going for me. Cousteau appreciates slower walks, when I can manage them, but Havana would like to know when we're running our next 5K.

Ironically as a tiny Wiggle was growing and getting ready to make his/her presence known, I was searching for another dog. I wasn't sure if I was ready for another dog, if I wanted three dogs, if I could give 3 dogs and 2 kids all the attention they needed. Then there was the whole convincing the husband that we needed a third dog. I'd floated that balloon a few times only to get it quickly shot down.

Then I discovered I was pregnant. It wasn't expected, but certainly it's a pleasant surprise. I realized that this would not be a good time to add another dog to our family, but my thoughts about the baby were amazingly familiar. Was I ready for another baby? Could I really give 3 kids and 2 dogs the attention they need? How can I get DH on board with this? In this case the decision was taken out of our hands and we just need to accept, adjust, and anticipate.

But in a couple of years if we have a dog just fall in our lap, I'm not going to complain...

My Collie, My Kid

This was originally posted at - a wonderful online resource that I encourage everyone to check out.

...I think Bug and Havana are psychically linked. And not in a good "Go save Timmy, Lassie!" way. tongue

I sat through a painful ballet class with Bug. Her inner collie was hanging out for all the world to see.
-Initially so excited she couldn't shut up. (Bark much?)
-Had to tell everyone, including the instructors, what to do. (Round 'em up and herd 'em.)
-Did all the exercises her way.
-Was so busy being nosy that she missed instructions.
-Instinctively tried to comfort a frustrated little girl. (Collie empathy)
-Became bored with repetition for exercises she found useless and shut down.

Bug and Havana also:
-play beautifully with pretty much all other playmates, but will stand up for themselves
-need a good amount of physical and mental activity
-can be good at entertaining themselves
-talk. Constantly.
-are scary smart sometimes, but only show it when they feel like it.
-can do just about anything if shown the right way to do it in the right way.
-are very social.

I found myself treating Bug like Havana during class. I started with giving subtle signs, then I gave her a good scolding followed by explaining how to behave and marking good behavior. (Yes, I'm the dorky mom giving her kid thumbs up throughout class!) I even turned my head away from her when she was paying attention to me instead of her "handler". I found this really funny...when I didn't want to throttle my kid!

Trying to decide what dog to get for Sprout and then Wiggle to connect to. Something smart, obedient, but quiet...

New Policy on Comments

I am pretty new to the whole blogging thing, so I'm not entirely sure how to handle comments. I love that people are reading my blog (and maybe I'll make that effort to keep up with it better!). On the other hand, I'm embarrassingly American - I am only fluent in reading and writing English. Some days even that's questionable. So I have decided that I will only consider approving comments that are written in English, since that is the language of this blog. I am thrilled that people in other countries are reading what I have to say and commenting, but I'd love to be able to understand you, so please since you are reading this in English, respond in kind.