Monday, January 3, 2011

Remember what you say...

Yesterday was cold here in Wisconsin. It is, after all, January. But we'd just had a big melt and my usual walking path was largely uncovered after a month of thick snow and ice. My dogs were glued to my side - I couldn't take a step without one in front of me and one behind. Usually it's only one being pushy at a time unless it's meal time and it wasn't. Then I remembered that after the first big snowfall I'd promised them we'd walk again when the path was visible and safe. So I leashed up the dogs and off we went.

Now the likelihood of the dogs actually remembering what I said to them a month ago, let alone understand it at the time, is debatable. But it made me think of other ears that may or may not remember what I've said and promised and how it may be interpreted.

Long, long ago in my first teaching job at a Catholic school I had a parent ask if I'd threatened to hit my students. I was shocked! I would never say, let alone do, such a thing! After a bit more conversation I stretched my mind back to a moment of frustration with my class when I said something about in my mother's day kids got whacked with a ruler for acting like this. It was meant to be cautionary, but mostly that the kids should be grateful things changed. Well, what changed was the interpretation of the comment.

I learned a couple of lessons from this:
1) What I mean to say may not be what is understood.
2) Don't say things that I can't back up with actions. In other words, don't say it if I'm not willing to do it.

These lessons have stuck with me even after I left the classroom and I use it both with my dogs and my children.

#1 is easy with dogs. Give my commands clearly and simply and things tend to work out. Not as easy with the children. While I still try to state things clearly and simply when I want to be understood, the kids key into the things I don't expect to them to understand or they misunderstand what I say.

Children, like dogs, tend to hear certain words even though they understand far more words than dogs do. (Usually.) They hear "hate" or "bad" or "stupid" and instead of hearing "I hate it when you kick my seat" they hear "". This has lead me to using the phrase "understand" as well as giving the child a clear alternative behavior. (Redirection - it works for dogs and kids.) Instead of "I hate it when you kick my seat" I try to remember to say "Don't kick my seat. Put your feet against your own seat instead. Do you understand what I'm telling you?" It takes longer to say, but it usually leads to less confusion and/or hurt feelings in the long run.

#2 is tough regardless of dog or child interaction. You tell a kid or dog to do something and they don't do it, what do you do? Ideally you follow through with whatever consequences have been agreed on - gently taking the dog by the collar, giving the child a time out or whatever. Remember all behavior has a consequence - will the consequence in the case of a lack of behavior be that the behavior is corrected or will the non-behavior response be allowed to continue? Hopefully you'll follow through so the child or dog doesn't learn to ignore you.

Of course it's easy for me to say this while I'm sitting, child and dog free, in a car dealership waiting for my Swagger Wagon to be ready for me. But when I'm exhausted and I've got a screaming infant and a whiny toddler and Bug tells me no, she's not going to put her things away I have a choice to make. Do I let the backpack and snow pants sit in the middle of the living room, do I put them away myself, or will there be a negative consequence for Bug? Even though it will be a pain at the moment to follow through, either with a time out, removal of privilege or something else, in the long run it will be worth it since with consistency Bug should learn that I mean what I say and it's less hassle for her to just do it when told.

DH and I have a saying and I don't remember where it's from - "Stop or I'll tell you to stop again." It applies to stubborn children and canines alike. There comes a time when you need to stop talking and start doing, even if doing means getting off my super comfy couch.

On the flip side, if I want my kids and dogs to believe that I mean what I say I have to follow through on the good things, too. This is why clicker training works (or doesn't work). Havana does an about turn well, I click to mark it and I follow up with a treat or chance to tug. If I didn't follow up the click with a reward pretty soon the click would mean nothing and she'd ignore it. This is why many of the behavior charts I've tried with Bug have failed - I don't get around to writing a check or putting a gem in the jar soon enough.

And while Bug can't or won't remember to put her backpack in the laundry room, she's sure as shootin' going to remember that I told her she could have a tea party at her next play date. I may forget in the meantime, but if I said it was going to happen, then I'd better do it so she doesn't lose trust in me. Otherwise my promises to her, whether it's of a negative consequence for bad behavior or something fun to look forward to, will mean nothing.

Which is why my dogs and I were out walking across patches of snow and ice in a 10F windchill. Because I try to mean what I say, even if no one remembers it but me. It's good practice for the times when other people do remember.

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.