In the Blink of an Eye…

A dog's short life span

 

In the blink of an eye he was gone. My friend of 12 years. Although I knew this day would be coming for some time now, when it arrived it hit me with the suddenness and impact of an earthquake. My friend Cosmo was gone, and my world was shaken to its core. Where did the time go? There was so much more we needed to do together; so much more I needed to learn from him. It’s been over a year that he’s gone and I still miss the way he looked at me, the feel and scent of his fur, and the friendship that we shared.

Our dogs are with us for only brief a time, yet they leave the most profound mark on our lives. Our dogs make us whole and fully human, yet, they leave us way too soon. On average a dog has only one-sixth the lifespan of humans, a mere fraction of the time we have.

“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”, said Lao Tzu, and how brightly our dogs shine during their short time here on Earth.

I often question why this is so. Why do dogs live so briefly compared to us? After all, we are connected at the deepest levels – evolutionary, biologically, culturally, and, I would strongly argue, spiritually. So why are we together for so short a time? I have several thoughts on this, and although none are very comforting, they help to satisfy me in a small way. Continue reading “In the Blink of an Eye…”

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Cultivate Growth – Not Control.

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Sometimes I feel like shouting from the rooftops: “Stop training your dog!!”
There is way too much emphasis on controlling dogs rather than allowing them to grow to their fullest potential. The need for control is sometimes self-serving, and does nothing for the well being or personal growth of the dog and just feeds our own egos. I have even seen social media posts on how well “trained” dogs are by demonstrating how the dog won’t touch a morsel of food until the “okay” is given, or that the dog will take single steps at a time under the strict control of their owner shouting the order. Is this supposed to impress? Obedience and other training competitions measure levels of control one has over their dog. Yes, I was an enthusiastic participant of that scene once upon a time, competing heavily in Schutzhund and French Ring with my dogs. Thankfully, I have grown since then.

Your thoughts about control will depend on how you feel about your dog and the relationship you have with him. Is your dog a vehicle in which you place all your desires and ambitions? Are you living vicariously through your dog? Or do you feel as if your dog is an accessory in your life? I know that in legal terms, dogs are considered “chattel”, but can one living organism really own another? Continue reading “Cultivate Growth – Not Control.”

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No Dogs Allowed.

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  1. Don’t be loud.
  2.  No running, jumping or climbing.
  3. Use designated areas for your bodily functions.
  4. Be respectful of everyone’s personal space.
  5. Clean up your own messes.

The above list should be the code of conduct for humans as well as dogs in all public places and places of business. Let me explain:

My dogs are my friends, and I take them with me almost everywhere I go. I believe this is important for the emotional and psychological health of my dogs. Being exposed to many different situations inoculates them against stress and prepares them for life. However, this often limits me to where I am able to go. Many stores and restaurants prohibit dogs so I patronize the establishments that are dog friendly and avoid those that discriminate against dogs. Recently, my wife and I visited the Seneca Lake wine country with our dogs, and found that although many wineries welcomed our dogs, there were still some that banned them. Yes, believe it or not in this day and age there are still establishments that discriminate based on species.

Although this way of thinking is gradually changing, for as long as I can remember, dogs have gotten the “short end of the leash” when it comes to shopping and entertainment. “No Dogs Allowed” is posted on the windows and doors of many retail and business organizations. So, I ask the question, “Why??” Continue reading “No Dogs Allowed.”

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How Well Do You Really Know Your Dog?

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“To truly understand your dog, you must go from the level of the observer to becoming a participant in the experience.”

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
~ Helen Keller

Someone called me the other day and asked, “Do you work with German shepherds?”
“Of course!” I said, “I work with all dogs.”
“But shepherds are different,” she insisted.

This woman was falling into the trap of thinking only about names and labels, and failed to really know her particular dog. She was under the assumption that all German shepherds were exactly same, as if they had been mass produced in a factory with strict quality control guidelines. She wasn’t able to see beyond the packaging and the labels and get to understand the individuality of her own dog.

This is a trap many of us fall into. We spend endless hours reading and researching and we love to categorize, compartmentalize and label behaviors such as “aggressive,” “shy,” “fearful,” “alpha.” I could go on and on with the list of nouns I have heard people, even dog professionals, use to describe their dogs. Although this labeling system can be a useful tool, often it is misused. This is lazy and disrespectful to your dog. It puts him or her in a box where there is no escape. Your dog is much more than a word; a noun. If all you know about your dog is a list of nouns, then you don’t truly know your dog at all. Continue reading “How Well Do You Really Know Your Dog?”

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The Truth About Dog Parks

The Truth About Dog Parks

 

People often ask me, “Should I bring my dog to a dog park?” This is a topic of some debate and I think that there are too many variables under consideration to say anything absolute. I usually answer with a definite “maybe.” On the one hand, dog parks can be a great place for your dog to run free, interact with her own species and learn important social skills; a venerable “Shangri-La.” On the other hand, they can sometimes be hot beds of disease and hostile environments: the “Wild West.” It all depends on the park you choose, and if it’s a good fit for your dog. Continue reading “The Truth About Dog Parks”

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Is Your Relationship With Your Dog Dysfunctional?

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Many people have a dysfunctional relationship with their dog and frankly are not even aware of it. Our relationships can be off-balance and unequal. This inequality creates conflicts between us and can actually build a barrier that prevents us from achieving a true friendship. Kenzoku, the Japanese word for ultimate harmonious and empowering friendship, can only occur between two fully functioning, equal individuals. True friendship can never grow on uneven ground.

I know that the basic assumption of everyone who owns a dog is that we (humans) need to be in charge. This is so ingrained into our culture that to speak otherwise borders on blasphemy. It goes against the grain of everything we’ve learned.

In truth, the assumption that we must always be “in charge” is a distortion of how it was in the beginning with our dogs. Humans and dogs started out as equal partners around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. We helped them and they helped us. We respected each other’s unique skill sets and this partnership soon developed into a friendship. When and where this friendship became so distorted that it developed into a “master/subservient” relationship, I’m not sure. Maybe it just was part of the must control everything attitude that we human beings hold on to. And yet, this is our present mindset. Continue reading “Is Your Relationship With Your Dog Dysfunctional?”

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You and Your Dog Can Breathe Easy in Times of Stress with Shared Mindfulness

 Bodhi, a Pit/hound mix, didn’t have a great first six months of life. Although I will never know the full story, I do know that he developed a belief that life is a dangerous place. Lucky for him, a great rescue organization pulled him from a high-kill shelter and placed him in a foster […]

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Bodhi, a pit/hound mix, didn’t have a great first six months of life. Although I will never know the full story, I do know that he developed a belief that the world is a dangerous place. Lucky for him, a great rescue organization pulled him from a high-kill shelter and placed him in a foster home, where he spent the next six months. It was a loving home and it helped Bodhi gain some confidence. He was, however, still very fearful and would shy away from new people. When I first met him, he went into a panic when I held his leash. I knew had my work cut out for me. I wanted to help him learn to self-soothe, especially since he was already equipped with the skill set to find peace of mind. You see, dogs are constant practitioners of mindfulness. That’s how they live their lives – one moment at a time. It’s their natural state of consciousness.

It’s been almost four months since I adopted Bodhi, and I already see a remarkable change in the way he interacts with the world around him. He’s more at peace with his surroundings, more willing to investigate strange sounds, and definitely more confident and comfortable around people. A major contributing factor in this was “shared mindfulness.” Continue reading “You and Your Dog Can Breathe Easy in Times of Stress with Shared Mindfulness”

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PALS STICK TOGETHER: My Promise to Cosmo

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Cosmo in his prime.

I loved Cosmo from the moment I met him, but it wasn’t until he became ill that I realized my love was self-serving. I had discovered, shamefully, that I was a bad friend.

Cosmo was a European import German Shepherd with a pedigree that would make any dog jealous. He was the quintessential working dog; the dog I had always wanted. In my early years as a trainer and behaviorist, I had worked with many German Shepherds in Schutzhund, police work, and search and rescue, but I’d never had one of my own. When Cosmo unexpectedly came into my life, I was excited to work with him. Although I loved him, a true friendship would not happen for the first six years of his life. Those years were spent training and shaping him into my “demo” dog. In other words, I had made him into my “trophy” dog; one that I could show off. From his majestic and imposing looks to his precision obedience, GPS-like tracking, and hard-hitting protection skills, Cosmo had it all. That all changed suddenly right before his seventh birthday. Continue reading “PALS STICK TOGETHER: My Promise to Cosmo”

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Are You Solving the Right Problem with your Dog?

The popular models of training focus on control, not connection.

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Debbie called me on a Friday afternoon. I could clearly hear the stress and frustration in her voice. “I’m at my wit’s end with my dog”, she said. “She’s out of control! I’ve been to two trainers and you’re my last hope.”

Daisy, a three year old German Shepherd/Husky mix, greeted me at the door with a smile a mile wide, jumping, wiggling, and mouthing my hands with much excited energy. Debbie hurled a barrage of commands and incoherent exclamations at her. “SIT!”, “DOWN!”, “NO JUMP!”, plus various clicks, buzzes and some guttural noise that that sounded like dialogue from the Star Wars bar scene. In addition, she was waving an assortment of treats in front of Daisy, everything from dog biscuits to what appeared to be chunks of a cheese stick. Daisy was not impressed and she completely ignored her until Debbie clipped the leash onto her prong collar that was far too big for Daisy’s neck. Daisy’s ears went back and she immediately hit the floor. “You see this?”, Debbie exclaimed, “She won’t listen!” “I hope you have better techniques.” Continue reading “Are You Solving the Right Problem with your Dog?”

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Path of Friendship:  An Introduction

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I became more fully human and more connected with my dog the day I stopped seeing him as my dog and began my seeing him as my friend. When I gave up being my dog’s leader, master, and trainer and started treating him as my equal, all the challenges we had between us quickly resolved. We understood, respected, and trusted each other on a whole new level. It was as if a barrier  between us had been removed.

When I was a child I was fortunate to grow up with dogs in my life. My folks were dog lovers who always included a dog or two as part of our family. My dogs were my playmates and best buddies. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have human friends growing up, but the bond I had with my dogs went much deeper. They were my trusted confidants and kindred spirits. I never felt the need to “get control” of my dogs. As friends, we related to each other in the spirit of respect, cooperation and trust. Although we were different, we saw each other as equals, and our friendship was natural and effortless. I thought this was the way everyone and their dogs related to one another.

Eventually, I grew up and began learning the so-called “correct” way to see my dogs. Many of my teachers at that time advised me to put away “childish thoughts” and adopt a more popular and acceptable view of the dog/human relationship. Even though it felt wrong, I carried this mindset into adulthood and eventually made it my career. Fortunately, years later I rediscovered the simple and empowering relationship with my dogs that I had when I was younger. I ultimately rejected the idea that dogs need to be manipulated or dominated, and that just being a “dog” wasn’t good enough. I returned to my childhood roots with dogs and loved them for who they are – not just what I wanted them to be. Continue reading “Path of Friendship:  An Introduction”

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