In The House of Dog – Seeking Peace and Control

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” – Rose, The Last Jedi

Maybe I quote Star Wars too much. Maybe not enough. The reason I do, and the reason I love Star Wars so much, is because there are a lot of good lessons in those movies (and books, cartoons, comics, etc). And a lot of those lessons involve controlling your emotions, facing your fears, and overcoming the things that hold you back. Especially the things in your mind.

When I am working with reactive dogs, the owner’s ultimate goals are peace and control. Peace in their dog, their home, and when they go out. Control in their ability to teach their dog, or in some cases, simply prevent their dog from hurting someone or something. These are excellent goals. But these goals are just that: goals. They are products of something else. We seek these goals, but it is what we do while we are seeking them that is more important.

The first step to reaching peace and control is to understand why we want them. What emotions are driving us towards our goal? In this, in helping our dogs get to a better place, there is nothing that will work except for love. Love has to be why we are doing what we are doing. Not fear, not anger, not exhaustion. Those emotions will not sustain your efforts. Love has to be what motivates your desire to help your dog. It has to be your driving force.

Think about other relationships you’ve had. Which ones have succeeded and which ones have failed? The ones that succeeded, what were those relationships based off of? All successful relationships, the kind that endure through years and storms of life, are based on love. Your dog is no different. Your dog may not live as long as you will, but you will be there for their entire life. Love has to be your motivation if truly want to see a change.

I know this blog post may seem a little sappy for me. But this is a difficult subject and one that I see on a daily basis. The one phrase I hear constantly from owners: “I just love this dog.” They say it like I’m going to judge them harshly for loving a dog that barks at strangers or tries to bite something that terrifies them. And those are the owners that I work the best with. When I hear that phrase, spoken with sincerity, I know that we’re going to accomplish something great.

When you are working with your dog, keep this in mind. Every action you take to teach your dog, or control your dog, or try to make things more peaceful for your dog, should be driven by love.

Happy Tails!

-Ben

In The House of Dog – Changing of the Seasons

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome” – Anne Bradstreet, Meditations Divine and Moral

The year passes so quickly. Our years are born in winter and end in winter. And so much happens in those days between.

Time has changed, Halloween is come and gone and as I anticipate the winter holidays, and cold weather, and longer nights I feel like become more introspective. Today, looking out my window at a painfully bright blue sky, winter feels further away. But, for me, winter has always been a time of introspection. I guess it’s the longer nights, or the time spent with family, or the forced perspective of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t always like looking at myself. But it’s something I should do. You should do it too.

I can almost hear you asking, “What does this have to do with dog training?” Stay with me for a second. You’ll see.

Unless you are some kind of Buddhist monk or someone else who has achieved some form of enlightenment, introspection is rarely pretty. We are our own harshest critics. When my mind is turning inward on itself, I am struck with the most profound feelings of solitude and depression. I replay the worst situations from my past in my head, and it seems like I am on trial with myself for things that I did. I felt, and sometimes still feel, like the only person who experienced this. Over the years, I’ve learned that EVERYONE does that. We all just like to rip ourselves to shreds. But if you are wanting to be truly introspective, then you have to learn to move past the point of just criticizing yourself and find ways to change the things that you don’t like.

As a dog trainer, my introspection takes a different turn. For the longest time, I would tear myself down over dozens of things relating to my training work. I would kick myself repeatedly for missing something in a dogs behavior, or how my own dogs acted, etc. It took me a long time to realize that I am human and make mistakes, and I need to acknowledge those mistakes so that I don’t make them again. That is a hard lesson to learn, and one that I still haven’t mastered.

But dog trainers can’t be the only ones who are introspective. Owners need to be introspective as well. The one common theme I see among dog owners that I work with is feeling ashamed, depressed, and isolated. Those feelings are difficult to overcome, even without the behavior issues your dog is having. And I usually recommend talking to people about it. Sometimes I’m that person, but sometimes it’s your friends, family, or strangers in a Facebook group. Once you learn that you are not alone, it’s easier to seek help and to change for the better.

Once you learn to look at yourself objectively, you can begin looking at what you are doing with your dog objectively. And then you can start to really change your dogs view of the world. You can take the fear and uncertainty that your dog is feeling and begin to change that. Together, the two of you can come out of the winter of fear and self doubt, and into a summer of comfort and happiness. The seasons for the two of you will change. And while there will always be winters, the memories of summer will always be there, reminding you of what is to come.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” -Albert Camus

Keep up the good work everyone! Happy Tails!

-Ben

In The House of Dog – Tribulation Worketh Patience

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience ” Romans 5:3 (KJV)

It shouldn’t be unusual for me to quote Bible verses. Those of you that know me personally know that I was raised in a Pentecostal home. And while I no longer keep that faith, I haven’t forgotten what I’ve learned. Tribulation worketh patience. Translation: Patience is learned through hardship.

Think about the time you spent in college, or learning a new trade. Think about raising your kids, or dealing with family. Think about that friend that’s an acquired taste. Think about the time you have put into those things or people. Think about the time you spent studying or practicing to learn those new skills. It took time…and patience.

Patience isn’t an easy skill to learn. If it were, everyone would be patient and my job would be times easier. You learn patience by trying and failing, and trying again. You learn patience by realizing that results aren’t instantaneous. It’s a lot like gardening, which is why a lot people don’t garden in my opinion.

When you are dealing with your dog, patience is necessary; especially if your dog is reactive in some form. It’s easy to become exasperated when you are working with your dog, and it can be very disheartening that what you have practiced doesn’t seem to be working. And sometimes, you need to go back to the drawing board, work on your technique, change your cues, etc. But here’s the thing: the professionals (like me) do that all the time. If any dog trainer tells you that their dog did what they wanted exactly how they wanted it the very first time, they’re lying. There is a misconception that dog trainers have unlocked some magical power to make our dogs behave exactly how we want them to. That is not how it works for anyone. What dog trainers are (or should be) experts at is waiting, watching and learning. We’ve learned patience through trial-and-error. We have spent countless hours and days perfecting our technique, modifying our cues, observing our dogs reaction and changing what and how we are doing what we are doing. We didn’t set out to become patient, we became patient by accident. And when we see you struggling with your dog, we don’t judge you. We have the benefit of experience of standing where you are standing and can help you get to where we are more quickly than we did. To quote Master Yoda from the Last Jedi “Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm…but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes: failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

As a teacher, I don’t want to see you fail. You will, just like I did and I continue to do. But I want to see you succeed where I failed. I want to see you grow where I didn’t. And I will celebrate when I see you do so. Because I know you will.

Here’s the other thing about patience: it’s a promise to your dog and to yourself. As the next verse in Romans says “And patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed.” Your patience is a sign of hope. Your patience is a pledge to a dream or an idea that you have and a goal that you want to achieve. And if you hold on to that patience, and keeping believing in that hope, you’ll get to where you want to be.

Well, this turned out more uplifting than I hoped it would.

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben

In The House of Dog – Starting Over and Finding Inspiration

I think about everything that has happened over the past few years. Things I am proud of. Things I regret. Things that I can’t change. My mind is the type that goes back and dissects and replays every situation, looking for details that I missed or things I should have done differently. I can’t change who I am, or what I’ve done. Neither can you. It makes us human.

A lot has changed since I sat down to actually write something. I feel like I’m older and wiser. I’m definitely older. I’ve learned so many things, and unlearned many more. So where do I begin?

Beginnings are difficult. You have the foundation of an idea, of a dream, but that foundation is unstable and you have to be careful as you build on it. It’s easy for all of it to come crashing down. You need friends and family to support. You need conviction and drive to keep building. You need patience to watch you have built solidify so it can grow more. This isn’t really the beginning. But it is a beginning. I think Robert Jordan wrote that line.

I’m starting over, sort of. I’m trying to renew my efforts and do more and get out of this slump that I’ve been. And today, I want to talk about inspiration. Where do we draw inspiration from? And what do we do with it?

I’m a sci-fi/fantasy nerd. Especially fantasy. Tolkien, Jordan, and Hobb took me on adventures as a child. I traveled to distant lands, met strange people. My imagination was very active, and elves and dragons and magic found fertile ground there. I constantly return to these authors and others when I need to feel better. These books are comfort food for my mind and soul. Robin Hobb in particular. I never realized how much her books affected me.

My aunt Sandy, whom I love like a mother, introduced me to Robin Hobb by giving me one of her books, The Assassin’s Apprentice. I won’t spoil it for you, but the main character Fitz is trained to become a royal assassin, serving for his king. Fitz is also has a special ability to speak to animals. As the story unfolds, Fitz bonds closely with a wolf, Nighteyes. The two go on all sorts of adventures, and part of the story is told from Nighteyes perspective. The wolf, who is more than a little snarky, experiences his world through scent AND sight. Nighteyes outlook is unique, in that he lives very much in the moment and he often resolves conflict the way a wolf would: with his teeth or running. Unlike the Lord of the RIngs or the Wheel of Time, the Assassin series gave me a completely inhuman view of the world. And I loved it.

How does that effect me as a trainer? Obviously, it makes me think about how my dog (or animals in general) perceive our world. There are several instances in the books where Nighteyes ridicules Fitz for adhering to some human behavior that the wolf finds useless or unnecessarily restricting. Nighteyes warns Fitz several times when he smells danger on the wind, or helps him hunt for food. Fitz learned over the course of the story about how to look at the world from something besides his own unique point of view.

That is important to training and behavior work. You can’t be a successful trainer if you are limiting yourself to what you alone can perceive. You have to be aware of your subjects other senses, and how your subject perceives their world. You can’t base your training on your limitations, but instead of the limitations of the creature you’re training. Otherwise, whatever you are trying to communicate to your subject is lost in translation.

The other thing those books taught me is that training really is a partnership. The bond between Nighteyes and Fitz was intense (I cried at the end…), and that is the way it should be. The bond between your dog and yourself should be strong. There shouldn’t be any doubt between the two of you. Your dog should trust and love you without question.

When you are working with your dog, look for inspiration for both you and your dog. What inspires you to train your dog? Do that before you train. What inspires your dog? Treats, play? Use that as your rewards. And remember: this is all about building your bond and strengthen your relationship. At the end of the day, all you have is each other.

Happy Tails everyone!

-Ben