roland

Jan 192017
 

 

TMZ recently released a video showing a German Shepherd being forced into the water for a scene in “A Dog’s Purpose.” While we had nothing to with this production, we have received numerous requests for comment:

Let me start by saying this: I am very proud of the work I do, and would wager my soul that virtually every animal I have worked with has had a great time. The animals I know in film and television are some of the most loved and pampered on the planet, with lives rich in comfort, joy, play, adventure, health, and fun. They live longer, healthier, and happier lives than 99% of pets or wild animals.

What I “saw” on the video, taken at face value, is unacceptable. However, I do not know much about the events portrayed in the TMZ video, and neither do you. We were not there, and watching a snippet of video can be so misleading that I am reluctant to offer any thoughts because we do not know context, we did not see what happened before or after, and we have not heard the other side, so drawing any conclusions is problematic. Of course, this video looks awful, but it is a few moments edited for maximal impact. I am absolutely not defending, or attacking, the trainers involved, as I just do not know enough.

What I can tell you is how this scene would “normally” be handled:

Normally, this scene would have been prepped long in advance.  The dog would have been running into water, dock diving, swimming across rivers with more and more current. If the dog did not love swimming, a double would have been found who did. A few weeks before filming, the dog would start rehearsing on the actual set, first with no current, then gradually increasing the current as the dog became confident and comfortable. By the time this scene filmed, the dog would not merely be willing to get into the water, he would love getting in and swimming in the current. This is how it is normally done because it is what is best for the animal, and because it is what is best for the production!

As I said, I am not going to defend what happened, but here are a few ‘mitigating’ thoughts about what I observed in this video:

  1.  The guy narrating is not, so far as I can tell, part of the animal team and is not speaking for them, and what he is saying is silly and objectionable but irrelevant.
  2. I do not fully understand what I saw–no sane trainer would show up with an unprepared animal and expect to shove it into that water. Why was there no ramp in or out, what was the plan, what information are we missing?
  3. Forcing an animal to do something is almost never the best technique.  However, there are moments when pushing a dog to get into the water and realize that no harm will result can be a viable alternative to consider.  Millions of loving pet owners have enacted scenes like this trying to get Fido into the bath, or into a pool for the first time, and in 90% of those cases the animal has not suffered physical or psychological damage. When to “push” is a judgement call, and sometimes people get it wrong, or it looks wrong from the outside… Some animals, or children, pitch a remarkable fit about having their nails trimmed or getting into a crate or not getting a treat at the store, and while force is almost never the best response, one also needs to recognize that without lots more information these fits can look much worse than they are…
  4. There was a trainer in the water near the end when the dog was pushed under by current.  Why she was so far away is unclear, but it was likely a mistake —the dog had always veered to the other side before, or they misjudged the current and thought he would get more across. But again, how awful this was is questionable—many dogs love playing in the waves, even though from time to time they get dunked and rolled, but thirty seconds later they are back at it.  I used to have to drag Tillie away from the Rio Grande because she found the current exhilarating and would seek out the rapids, often getting far more submerged than this dog.  None of which makes it ok—that dog clearly did not want that experience, and it was a mistake not to avoid it—but it was likely just that: a mistake, and the dog was likely fine ten seconds later.
  5. Animals working on set are incredibly scrutinized. Not only are there trainers and AHA, but every moment we are watched and filmed.  There are millions of hours filmed every year of every single thing we do—every animal lover with a cell phone films every walk, every crate, every training session. 99% of those moments are great and never end up on TMZ.  No matter how great a job someone does with animals, there will be few moments that, without context or explanation, could be edited together to give a bad impression. The same is true for anyone who has ever owned an animal—things occasionally go awry and look awful.
  6. Sometimes, an animal can be prepped and trained and ready in every way, and things can still go wrong.  All the practice in the world does not change that these are sentient beings with moods and feelings, and sometimes an animal suddenly behaves very differently than expected.  Of course a skilled trainer recognizes this and steps back to reevaluate, but sometimes it may take a few minutes to recognize, and by then accidents may have occurred.
  7. This is not at all an excuse, but by way of possible explanation: movie sets can be almost unimaginably high pressure.  With huge financial and temporal pressures, and a powerful production team pushing and demanding, it is sometimes difficult to say “no” when one ought to.  This is why people die in stunts, or on train tracks, or driving home at hour twenty. It is perhaps the most important job of an animal trainer to stand between this pressure and their animals–to shield and protect them from production demands; and while it is not ok, sometimes people agree to ‘try’ things that they should not.

As I stated, I do not know enough about this particular situation to offer an explanation for what decisions were made or why. I do not know the dog, or the prior training, or even how the rest of the day went. I do not know what schedule snafus occurred, I do not know if American Humane was present. I do not know what shortcuts were taken or what unexpected events occurred.

What I do know, after thousands of hours on set with countless animals and other trainers, is that this video does not at all represent what usually happens on set. Virtually every trainer I have worked with is unwaveringly committed to the welfare and happiness of their animals.  In our industry, as in every corner of the world, there are undoubtedly a few bad seeds, people who are not strong enough, moral enough, or kind enough to protect their animals at all times. And certainly accidents, misjudgements, or mistakes do occur. But most of us do this because there is nothing we would rather do than spend every day playing with animals we love, and it is vital to our success that the animals also enjoy the work because our reputation hinges upon them working well which depends upon their being happy and enthusiastic.

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 January 19, 2017  Posted by at 6:33 pm Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Jul 122016
 

SufiXmas

Great animal training requires substantial knowledge and mechanical proficiency.  But perhaps even more, great training requires artistry.

Recent decades have been a golden era for the science of animal training.  Our understanding of behavior has grown and evolved, our techniques for utilizing that knowledge have advanced, and core principles have become widely understood by a great many trainers. Hallelujah!

But knowing, and mastering, techniques is only the first half of becoming a good trainer. I have known several trainers who possessed extensive book knowledge but whose training outcomes were dismal. And I have observed others who had very little knowledge but who achieved incredible results. Why?

For teaching almost any behavior, numerous techniques can be utilized; and the well-versed trainer knows many.  But selecting the right technique for an individual animal at a particular moment demands acute perception and judgement: when to push; when to ease pressure; when to encourage, to coddle, to take a break; when to reward with food or toy or praise or play; when to correct, to lure, to raise or lower criteria; when to cheerily accept effort, to add energy, to be calm; when to wait, to rest the dog for more energy or exercise them for less; when to capture or back-chain; when and how to proof; when more training is needed, or less …. .

For some trainers, this feel – this ability to read an animal and a situation and respond with just the right tool – comes easily.  For others it seems almost impossible. As with so many talents, there is an innate component, but there is one process that can maximize whatever talent a person may possess as a trainer: mindful experience.

Not to be confused with mere repetition (some people can “train” for thousands of hours without really hearing or learning), the single most powerful means to develop training artistry is to carefully, critically, thoughtfully observe and listen as one trains.  During each moment you are training, your dog is reacting, responding, showing you what is working and what is not.  You must listen. Science and technique must be so honed that they require little attention and recede into the background as you focus everything on feeling your dog. You must attune yourself to the dog’s reactions, not only the obvious changes in behavior, but the tiniest and most-subtle changes in body language – eyes, ears, tail, energy, enthusiasm, engagement.

You must constantly adjust and file away each moment as information that will help you to develop and refine your training intuition. Videotaping yourself can be useful, as can asking other trainers to observe and critique your sessions. But ultimately you must listen to your partner and refine your partnership so that you instantly and seamlessly accommodate your partner’s needs at each moment.

This is not to disparage science. By all means read and study and listen and learn everything you can.  It will all help you improve.  And absolutely spend many, many hours learning and practicing various techniques. But ultimately the training excellence you achieve depends upon how willing and able you are to listen to the animals with whom you practice.

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 July 12, 2016  Posted by at 5:05 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Jun 272016
 

IndDaySlate

The Fourth of July signifies American independence, barbeques, celebration, fireworks, and unfortunately many frightened dogs. In addition to the obvious refrains about keeping your pets safe and secure, let’s talk a little about what you can do to help minimize your pets’ distress.

First, let me point out that each individual is different, and you need to figure out what is best for yours.  For some there may be little choice other than heading out of town, for some pharmaceuticals may be effective, for others a Thundershirt may be useful.  There is no single right answer, so you need to try a few options and find a combination that is most effective for your pet. And if you have a great technique, by all means share it in the comments below!

That said, here is the technique I have found to be most effective with many dogs:

A couple of nights a week, for the next several weeks, go into whichever room in your home is most soundproof, and turn up a stereo as loud as you can without causing your dog any stress, introduce a strong scent (peppermint perhaps), and then play a rip-roaring game of fetch, tug, race, wrestle, rollover, etc. Play to all of the dog’s strongest drives and make the game fun.  Try to make it the most upbeat, engaging romp possible, although not so over the top that it becomes frenetic or stressful. Have a very high rate of reinforcement—lots of treats, praise, cheering, throwing, tugging… If possible, have a colleague set of a few small noisemaking fireworks outside a distance away, or have someone in another room play a recording of fireworks. Have a container of super-treats sitting nearby, and periodically make a show of running to the treats and giving one, or more, to your dog, so that the act of running over to the treats becomes reinforcing as well. You should be laughing, dancing, sweating, and generally all having a blast.

On the Fourth, and in some places a few days earlier, before the fireworks start, go into the same room, crank the stereo, introduce the scent, and repeat the same exercise.  Your dog will be somewhat trained to the desired behaviors, but even more he will be conditioned to a state of exuberance. Whenever you hear a boom over the loud music, do not react, but make sure a fun action occurs and run for a reward, so the booms start to seem like a precursor to the fun stuff.

The underlying notion here is that wild exuberance is a more immersive state than calm. Calmness tends to be fairly passive and fragile and easily interrupted by the first loud noise.  Conversely, energetic play has great inertia and is difficult to interrupt.  Exuberance also utilizes more similar chemical and neural pathways to fear, and so is more feasible when faced with frightening stimuli. And of course, the aural, visual, and olfactory cues that you have conditioned will all serve the secondary role of dampening the frightening stimuli.

Do not stress about the Fourth.  Your dog will detect your anxiety which will compound his.  Come up with a plan, ameliorate the noise as much as possible, and do everything you can to keep them safe and happy! Oh, and Happy Independence Day!

Note: before you panic about the image at the top, two things: one, do not try this at home, and two, it was shot in pieces and was very safe–there was one firework behind me when I was working the dog, and we were a safe distance and he was well acclimated. The angle makes it look closer, and then the others I photographed separately and composited in afterwards!

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 June 27, 2016  Posted by at 6:51 am Tagged with: , , , , ,
Jun 082016
 

Forest Image

In the Spring of 1998, I purchased a home surrounded by forestland. Having grown up in Southern California, Boston, and Santa Fe, I hiked through the seemingly endless trees on my land, feeling connected and renewed, at peace with the land, and acutely aware of my stewardship responsibilities.

I was a staunch environmentalist, conservationist, tree-hugger!  I had been a vegetarian most of my life, spent my evenings reading Rachel Carson and Peter Singer, and was reasonably well versed on the horrors man reaped upon the innocent earth.  I knew without hesitation that my trees would never be cut, but would be loved and cared for as nature intended… Everyone else might be greedy, selfish, short-sighted, and willing to rape the land for a few dollars, but at the very least I could protect my little piece…

It took about two years before I began questioning my assumptions. The conifers on my property were so prolific that they were destroying biodiversity! There had been meadows, clearings, margins, wetlands, savannas, even old dead stumps, all teeming with different creatures, but as time went by they were getting smaller and fewer.  Everything was becoming the same, and the number and type of animals and plants was getting smaller and smaller.  Little could grow in the deep shade, and mature conifers provide little food.  I started reading very different books, and soon I was yanking up baby trees like weeds!  I started thinking about the role of fire.  A few years later I bought my first chainsaw! A few more years, and I had foresters and biologists out to give me their opinions on where I should thin and where clear-cut to maximize healthy, diverse ecosystems.

I am still no expert on forestry, and I have not even determined the perfect plan for maintaining my own tiny forest! But what I have learned is that forest management is complex and requires balance, a huge amount of information, and thoughtfulness, not simplistic certainty.

I was not merely ignorant and uninformed about forest management—I was actively and zealously participating in a war without genuinely understanding the issue! This is the problem of passion and information without experience. When we love something, we are quick to dig in our heels and fight to protect it. Sentimentality and romanticism occlude reality and we sometimes refuse to participate in precisely those activities that might help us understand that big picture and the competing factors that make simple certitude so misguided. Reaching a conclusion without enough information to understand the issues is foolish. Advocating for that belief is one of the most dangerous actions a person can take.

What does any of this have to do with animals, the topic of this blog?  Whenever there is a fight about an animal issue, the people involved on both sides are generally animal lovers, but there are 2 distinct groups: those whose love of animals is largely theoretical and based on little experience, and those who have tens of thousands of hours of diverse animal experience.  And the problem is that the inexperienced sentimentalists almost always get it horrifyingly wrong. They advocate and support laws and positions that are profoundly destructive to real animals in the real world.

If you care about animals, and you want to be involved in making the world better for them, the first step must be accumulating enough knowledge and experience to be certain that your opinions are informed and valid.

And perhaps most importantly—do not pursue experience that will reinforce your assumptions, seek out experience on the other side of each issue, for that is how you develop wisdom. Think breeding is awful, find the best breeders you can and learn from them.  Think kill-shelters are evil, go volunteer at one and try to understand why they are making the decisions they are.  Believe wild animals cannot be happy in captivity, volunteer at a good zoo.  Think Animal Rights advocates are idiots, go spend some time with them and try to understand their perspective. Spend time around many experts with many different opinions, participate with passion and care, and listen carefully and critically and with an open mind, and you will become an expert. And spend time around many, many animals—in the wild and in captivity, and pay close attention, for there are few better teachers…

Until you do that, you are the problem.  You are the loud ignorant din that drowns out truth and progress.

But once you have spent a few thousand hours pursuing knowledge, whether you come to agree with my views or not, I relish hearing your thoughts.  The very best ideas and outcomes derive from a diverse set of intelligent and informed opinions being weighed and balanced. In many ways, humankind controls the fate of every animal—and tree—on the planet, and we owe it to ourselves and to them to do better. Doing better begins by recognizing that the difficult decisions must be made by those who authentically understand the issues, and each of us must either develop the knowledge to participate, or be quiet and get out of the way…

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Jun 022016
 

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It is very, very sad that Harambe the gorilla was killed.  And even more sad that his death was so clearly not his fault, and so seemingly avoidable and senseless. Anyone who cares about animals will certainly have a strong emotional response to this event. And that is absolutely appropriate, but once you are done crying, railing, and ranting, stop for a few minutes to actually think about a few truths:

  1. Every parent in the history of the world has occasionally been distracted and lost track of their child. During those moments, luck is the only thing keeping those children from being abducted, walking into traffic, falling down stairs.  Of course parental vigilance is vital, but it also is not, and never shall be, perfect. I do not know how negligent this mother was or was not, and am neither defending nor condemning her behavior.  But pretending that parents should never be distracted for a moment is counterproductive and dishonest.
  2. Zoos are extraordinarily safe places for attendees: billions of children have gone to the zoo, and the statistics are overwhelming—they are about as safe as it is possible for a place to be.  The few injuries that do occur are mostly from falling down, aspirating food, or being stung by a bee. The car ride to the zoo is staggeringly more dangerous than the zoo.
  3. Zoos are extraordinarily safe places for animals: gorillas in captivity live an average of twice as long as those in the wild, and are far, far less likely to experience injury, trauma, or accidental death. They have better medical care, ample food, and very few threats.
  4. Whether Harambe intended to harm the child or not, zoo officials had to make a quick decision about how best to protect the child from very real possible harm. These are people who likely knew and loved Harambe, and wanted nothing more than to protect him, but had to make an impossibly difficult decision in a few moments. Had they not fired and the child been killed would they have been more right?

When bad things happen, humans want to blame someone, find an explanation, make some change so they feel less impotent, and in our emotional desperation to make sure it never happens again we make many poor decisions that cannot and will not create a world without risk, but absolutely will create a world full of anger and blame and draconian, micro-managing rules. Having freedom, adventure, and virtually any experiences, means accepting that there is a small chance catastrophe will strike. Individual catastrophe, no matter how sad and devastating the incident may be, does not fundamentally alter the risk/reward equation.

Certainly, there is lots for those involved to thoughtfully review—are there ways to improve fencing or barriers to even further reduce the risk of anyone getting into enclosures, how can we increase parental vigilance, what are the best protocols and practices if a person ends up in an animal enclosure?

What we must not do is let a single event occlude the larger statistical picture.  We must not eschew, condemn, or ban every activity that has any miniscule risk. We can make informed, caring, good decisions only so long as we remain rational, calm, open, and mindful.

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 June 2, 2016  Posted by at 7:56 pm Tagged with: , , , ,
Mar 242016
 

athena1

The recent announcement that SeaWorld is ending their orca program and forging an alliance with HSUS sparked widely diverse emotional responses, from joy to despair, but most serious animal people were deeply hurt and furious.

I am not going to address the specific orca question: despite my tens of thousands of hours working with hundreds of species, I do not possess sufficient knowledge or experience with marine mammals to know whether or not orcas can thrive in captivity. This determination belongs in the hands of dedicated, knowledgeable, caring experts, and not abandoned to weekend activists, anti-animal fanatics, pre-occupied politicians, or casual animal lovers. And I am not privy to what happens at SeaWorld, so I cannot speak to the details of their care.

Nor am I going to attack those at SeaWorld for this decision.  We are all struggling to find best and most effective paths in the current world, and I do not have access to all the information they had.  I suspect it was a serious mistake for SeaWorld to become a publicly traded company, but even if they had not, no institution can long survive what SeaWorld has been facing, so they did what they believed was necessary to survive in the short term, even though doing so may well have sacrificed the future.

I want to discuss some of the broader realities and process failures that got us to this point:

It is profoundly saddening that SeaWorld has been unable to persuasively communicate the core truth that responsibly managed captivity is a great alternative in parallel with protection of wild animals. That animals can do better living with people than in the wild.  That they can be happier, healthier, and longer-lived.  That man has today claimed every inch of the planet and that the only future for most species inexorably includes human involvement. That most animals care not about the idea of freedom, but about survival, comfort, and happiness.

It is devastating that SeaWorld partnered with an organization that has shown repeatedly that it will not rest until every single animal living with man has been removed or eliminated.

It is flabbergasting that a filmmaker with no relevant knowledge, education, or experience, and a woefully lopsided, sentiment-based agenda, could produce false and misleading propaganda and raise up an army of well-meaning-but-utterly-misinformed do-gooders who—in the name of orcas—set about destroying the greatest ally orcas have ever known.

It is gravely disappointing how many excellent animal facilities have seen no choice but to die with a whimper, or hand over their soul to the devil and betray their colleagues and the truth.

It is crushing how close we are to a world in which all animals have been shoved out of our homes and lives and banished to an illusory “wild.”

It is depressing how little SeaWorld, and other animal professionals, have been able to educate the public that good animal training is not cruel, coercive, or exploitative.  That animals need, and love, to play the game, figure things out, and perform complicated behaviors.

It is unfathomable how many people embrace an agenda that they have not bothered to fully grasp, and do grievous harm to animals while passionately believing that they are helping.  How many people are certain they know best, even when they know nothing at all.

But the most frightening and saddening truth is this: science and reason surrendered to a mob of pitchfork-brandishing villagers.  Knowledge and thoughtful pursuit of truth abandoned the field to ignorance, hatred, and frenzy. However you may feel about SeaWorld, you should be very afraid of a world in which the mob can control such decisions.

Make no mistake: animals and those who love them are losing badly. Sea World’s capitulation was a grave defeat for Earth’s animals. But perhaps even worse, it was a devastating blow for mankind. Watch the responses to SeaWorld’s decision, and relentlessly you will hear people with inadequate knowledge repeat the tautological assumption—“Wild animals belong in the wild because they are wild and yearn for freedom.”  No matter how much logic and data are presented to them clearly demonstrating the fallacy of their position, they will simply repeat their impenetrable certainty.  Reason, knowledge, and discourse are little match for sentimentality, unabashed ignorance, certitude, and zealotry.

Some may not recognize the enormity of this event: SeaWorld, after all, is but one organization, and we are only talking about a few orcas. But we are not really talking about SeaWorld as a brick-and-mortar institution.  SeaWorld is an icon, a metaphor.  SeaWorld is a manifestation of the notion that enterprise, entertainment, education, and animal care can synergistically coexist. SeaWorld, until recently, generated a great deal of revenue and profit, but its managers directed a significant portion of those profits into the welfare of their animals, aiding wild animals, conducting groundbreaking research, educating the public, and generating interest and affection for marine mammals.  It is cruelly ironic that the only reason people care enough about orcas to be attacking SeaWorld is because SeaWorld brought the charismatic mammals to our focused attention, and made them into the icons we treasure so deeply.  SeaWorld was the principal global institution with the resources and commitment to stand toe-to-toe with the Animal Rights groups and say, “No! We will not capitulate to misguided sentimentality no matter how loudly you yell.”

SeaWorld was one of the last citadels protecting the ideal that animals and people can live together, and that both can be the better for it. I do not know if there is hope left, but if there is, it lies with every single person who loves animals banding together right now and saying with one voice what I wish SeaWorld had said: Enough. We will not be intimidated; we will not let you eliminate animals from our world.  We will not let you distort responsible care and love and stewardship and call them exploitation. We will not let your simplistic fanaticism crush truth. We are the true lovers of animals, the people who dedicate our lives to caring for them and learning about them. With immense devotion and immeasurable reflection and action, we have learned what is humane, what is ethical, what is best for the animals.  And while we will always welcome thoughtful, informed input into how we can do better, we shall ceaselessly strive to ensure that the animals we love always have homes in the wild and with us.

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 March 24, 2016  Posted by at 11:01 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,
Nov 242015
 

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One puppy behavior that cannot be taught without help is how to meet new people.  Each of us needs interactions with novel people so that our puppies can practice appropriate greetings and learn that people are fun and not frightening.  I have wrestled quite a bit with whether or not to blog about this: I do not want to seem condescending or strident, and this is information most readers of this blog will likely be very certain they already know! However, for the past few months I have been taking a puppy around to socialize and meet lots of people, and I have been reminded over and over again how many people out there—even people with extensive dog experience and great intentions—interact with puppies in ways that are problematic.

So please do not take this as scolding, but as an opportunity for us all to pause and think about how we can help one another… And do not interpret any of this to mean you should not interact with puppies—it is very much appreciated when you take a few minutes to help us socialize! But puppies learn very quickly, and it does not take many bad encounters to have a significantly negative impact. So give a little thought to how you can be a positive influence.

Here are a few thoughts:

Things to do:

  • Have a conversation—the single best step you can take to making your interaction beneficial for the puppy is to have a conversation with the owner before you do anything with the puppy. 254313_10150204842632371_5903048_nAsk them about how they want the interaction to go, what things to avoid, what to encourage. No two puppies are identical, and what would be super helpful with one puppy might be quite harmful with another. You do not know their goals, their issues, you must ask!
  • Listen to the owner—no matter how knowledgeable you may be, you do not know what this owner and dog want. You must carefully listen to what they tell you.
  • Listen to the dog—observe the dog closely while interacting. If it is intimidated by what you are doing, back off. If it is pulling back or trying to avoid you, stop. If it is getting too excited and frenetic, slow your actions and reduce your energy. This is not a contest to get the dog to love you the most, it is a long process to get the dog to react to new people the way the owner wants.
  • Start easy, get harder—you can always increase the intensity and difficulty, but if you come on too strong it is very difficult to undo.
  • Be calm but friendly—almost  nobody wants a dog that goes crazy and gets frantic when it meets new people.
  • When in doubt, ignore—if you are not sure; if a puppy seems nervous or hyper or whatever, and you are not sure what the owner would like, the safest path is to ignore the puppy while you ask the owner.
  • You are not entitled—this is not your puppy. Sometimes the owner way not want the puppy to meet you at all. Or may want you to ignore the puppy. You do not know what that they may be working on at any given moment, so do not take it personally if it does not involve you…

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Things to avoid:

  • Too much energy—many dog lovers coming rushing in and start frenetically playing. This is overwhelming to some puppies, but to many it simply creates an expectation that greetings are supposed to be super-high-energy, which is almost never what an owner wants. Calm, friendly, thoughtful greetings are far more desired by most owners. After the initial greeting is over, many owners will appreciate your having a good play session with their puppies, but initially calm is much better than too energetic.
  • Telling them to sit, sit, sit—this is a very well-intended recent trend. Lots of pet owners and Petco trainers, learned the idea that a great way to avoid jumping up is to reinforce an incompatible behavior, and so they ask every puppy to sit. And in truth, this might be a fine trend, except that most people do it poorly. Their timing is awful. 427393_10150948043917371_571527743_n
  • Approaching too directly—when you see a puppy and immediately rush straight towards it, think about how this looks to the puppy.
  • Petting them on the top of the head—some dogs love this, some owners want to work on this, but in general, most dogs would prefer if you do not start out petting them on their heads.
  • Grabbing them or pulling them towards you—most dogs have a natural opposition reflex, especially to being pulled towards a stranger.
  • Petting them roughly—many puppies do not want to be whacked, tousled, slapped, etc.
  • Correcting them—unless we have discussed it, you do not know the rules I have taught my puppy. So if he paws at you that may be exactly what I trained him to do. If he jumps up on you, or mouths your hand, or lies down, or stands, whatever he does, you should not correct unless you know it is something he is not supposed to do…
  • Pushing them too far—I was at a seminar recently with my puppy, and he was having a great time meeting new people in a new place with lots of dogs and commotion. And a lady came over, sat down, and started harassing him. Grabbing his feet, lifting him up, grasping his testicles… And she kept it up until he was trying to get away from her and she would not let him get away. All the while she was explaining to me how much people appreciate her playing with their puppies, how she desensitizes them to lots of strange things, how she is beloved as a molester of puppies. It is not your job to torment my puppy. If I want or need my puppy to have that experience, I will ask someone I know and trust. I might even ask you, but it is not your place to decide to push my puppy.
  • Your adult dog correcting them—unless we have discussed it in advance, I do not want my puppy to have negative experiences with other dogs. If you are not 100% sure that your dog is great with puppies, please stay away. Many people bring their dogs over to meet my puppy and when I ask if their dog is good with puppies, they tell me they do not know. @#$^$%&#&!! Do not experiment with my puppy. A bad experience can cause issues that will take years to resolve or may never be undone. Oh, and noise counts. I have had several people tell me their dogs are good with puppies, then their dog reacts negatively and growls, barks or otherwise tells off my puppy, and they say, “See, she doesn’t ever make contact…” Contact is not the issue—I am far more concerned about psychological trauma then physical trauma, so if your dog is not welcoming and benevolent tell me so I can keep my puppy away!
  • Your dog being too forward—If your dog loves puppies and people and comes rushing up into my puppy’s space, there is a good likelihood that my puppy will be frightened. MAny puppies are sensitive to pressure, particularly from adult dogs. Keep your dog under control and a bit away, and let me bring the puppy over. This way the puppy can approach at his pace and not get overwhelmed.
  • Your dog being too interested in me—many puppies are a little insecure and even jealous about their owner. If your dog comes running in and greets me super enthusiastically, it may be negative for my puppy.
  • Your dog making things negative—I was practicing tunnels with my puppy when someone else came in and let their puppy say hello. Which was great. But every time my puppy tried to go into a tunnel, theirs would blast in after him, sometimes same direction, sometimes opposing, and would either knock my puppy over or just startle him. Later I was working my puppy on a table, and she encouraged her dog to jump up and essentially knock him off the table. These actions made my puppy far less confident about tunnels and tables—he is not sure another dog will not come knock him down…
  • Playing keep away—I am a little flabbergasted when people come up and take my puppy’s toy and don’t give it back. What is this game supposed to be? It is just obnoxious. Sure, you can tease the puppy, move the toy quickly, but the goal is to get the puppy to try harder and when they do try hard, they should win! If you want a toy, go get one, but that toy is my puppies, so if you are going to play with it make sure you do it in a way that is pleasing to my puppy.
  • Pretending to throw something—much like keep away, I am not really sure what people think they are doing. Yes, if you try you can fool the puppy. Bravo for you. But you are diminishing the puppy’s desire to fetch and decreasing his inclination to trust humans. 11226080_10206399172931203_4726228965782265055_o
  • Tugging on their toy too hard—although it may not always feel like it, puppies have small teeth and weak jaws, and we do not want tug to be unpleasant.
  • Intruding on training—if I am not looking at you, and am clearly working on something with my puppy, do not talk to me. Do not talk to my puppy. Do not call my puppy. Leave us alone, or wait until we are done and approach you.
  • Following—if you are approaching and I head the other way, don’t chase me down. It likely means that my puppy is not in the mood to meet you, or that your dog is frightening my puppy, or that for some other reason I do not want to interact with you right now.
  • Picking them up—I cannot believe how many people think it is ok to run in and pick up a puppy that they hardly know. How would you like it if someone did this to you? Being held is an act of trust. Do not pick up a puppy until you have cleared it with both the owner and the puppy.
  • Making lots of baby noises—a surprising number of people squeal and grunt and goo-goo and screech when they see a puppy. This is probably not a huge deal to the puppy either way, but it is really annoying to me, so please stop it.
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 November 24, 2015  Posted by at 5:30 pm Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
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Last year I wrote a blog suggesting that keeping a pet forever no matter what may not always be best for the pet: sometimes we need to swallow our egos and recognize that a particular animal might be better off in some situation other than living with us.

I did not intend to wrestle with this issue personally quite so soon…IMG_1184

London’s breeder, Scott, called and asked if I would consider sending London back to live with him. London’s father Tundra had recently died, and Scott really wanted to continue that line that had produced such excellent offspring. He had a female named Sierra that needed a companion and mate, and he believed London would be a really strong complement to her genetics.

For several weeks I agonized over what is best for London:

London is a remarkable animal – sweet beyond words, extremely smart and willing, possessing some of the best dog skills and language I have ever observed. He loves to train and play, he is good in the house, loves riding in cars, has no resource issues. He has liked every person he has met. London is simply beautiful, perfect in almost every way. The only flaw I ever saw in him is that he sometimes finds new situations overwhelming, and it takes him a while to get past his initial cautiousness. Large movie sets are almost always challenging, with lots of strange sights and noises. While he might have done well on some sets, I felt the odds were too great that London would eventually encounter situations too intense for him to enjoy.

IMG_2720-EditThere is no compelling necessity for London to go anywhere: he absolutely can stay here forever. He has abundant space, lots of animal playmates, a comfortable climate, a pond he loves to splash in, people he adores, and lots of tranquility. He need not ever again go to set, and can simply stay happy at home and be a much-loved pet.

Alternatively, he can go to Scott’s place where he will have a mate and the opportunity to sire splendid pups and will perpetuate a lineage that has produced excellent animals. He will still enjoy adventures if he wants, and he will not likely ever encounter the types of super-intense situations that make him uncomfortable. I can go visit him whenever…

There is no wrong answer here. Both of London’s paths forward are wonderful. But nonetheless, I had to decide…

A few days ago, London went to Scott’s. I love him so very much, and will miss him dearly, but I believe there is a real chance that London will be happier with a mate than without, and if he is ever not happy, we can always bring London back to our place.IMG_5528

He has been at Scott’s for a few days now, and is doing great! Eating well, adoring Sierra, going to the mall, and generally having a great time. He seems to have quickly accepted Scott, and has exhibited no issues at all: Scott is doing a great job of making London feel comfortable and welcome. Is he happier? I cannot know. But so far he seems very happy, and Scott and I will reevaluate frequently and make sure we both believe London continues to know a great life. If in a week, a year, or 10 years we feel that London would be happier back with me, he will always be welcome and cherished. I remain grateful to Scott for trusting us to care for London as we did, and I look forward to meeting the superior pups I hope a thriving London sires!

 

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 August 31, 2015  Posted by at 10:10 pm Tagged with: , , , , , ,