Certified dog training and behavior solutions in North Georgia.

A Jack Russell Terrier calmly settled. Isn’t she beautiful?

Just Be

It isn’t just gratitude for Bean’s presence that has me watching him as he sleeps. Or leaps across the yard. Or greets the morning with cheerful wags and barks. For years, my dogs and foster dogs have been teaching me to be here now, to pay attention, to listen and quietly observe what is without constant analysis. I’ve mostly been a dense student, but I continue to let go of more and more useless distractions, slow my pace slightly more, and spend a little more time just being with my dogs. Thousands of hours of schooling, workshops, reading, and intellectualizing about canines pale in comparison to what dogs teach us when we are simply, fully being with them.

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Behavior change for the two-legged animal

Question: My highly sensitive puppy mill rescue reacts fearfully when I reprimand my other dog or when I’m irritated about something not even related to her. How can I get her to understand that those situations are no threat to her?

That’s a paraphrase of a question I received in person yesterday from a man who loves his dogs and clearly wants them to be happy and comfortable in his presence. I only had time to give the pithy answer–stop fussing and cussing–which I did not give because how unhelpful is that? What I did was ask him more questions and send some tips and links in an email later.

To put it simplistically, dogs are about as intelligent as an average two-year-old child, according to researcher Stanley Coren and others. They have little ability for abstract thought. Fortunately for them, they do not stare out the window, ruminating upon moral and philosophical dilemmas. They stare out the window scanning for movement of potential prey or other material objects of interest. They are practical, survival-oriented beings who think in terms of threat/no threat and food/not food. (Also like a two-year-old human, “not food” does not preclude consumption!) It’s our job as adults to communicate with dogs (and toddlers) at their level of understanding.

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Smart cookies

A black nose pokes into my home office door followed by big, charcoal blue ears over liquid brown eyes. Belle steps halfway into the room, cocks her head, and softly whimpers. She knows I can’t resist her charm. “Uh huh,” I mumble, “it’s past time for bed. Just need to finish this one . . . .” She wags her charcoal blue nubbin of a tail and stares at me, melting my resolve. Maybe that one thing can wait until morning. She sweetly cocks her head again. That’s it, I’m done.

My dog reminding me to go to bed when I stay up too late is a side effect from positive reinforcement training and has now been reinforced as a desirable behavior itself. This happy accident began with a frustrating situation . . . .

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