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Monday, February 28, 2011

27 Hours Later

The answer to the "Guess Me" riddle from Thursday, February 24 is "the lovely SOFIA."  Congratulations Leni!

WAHOO!  What a weekend.

Anne and her three girls arrived about 4:00 pm on Thursday, greeted by Gypsy's howling and singing.  Gypsy was not the only one happy to see them at our doorstep.

Anne, Sofia, Natalie, Elaina (and me) with Rosie and FLD Gus.

Twenty-four hours after my post on Wednesday, February 23, my prediction came true--FLD Gus and cc'd Rosie commandeered our living room.  However, this Lab Wrestling match lasted significantly LONGER than the "little over 24 hours" that I predicted.

FLD Gus & Rosie take a break.
The longest break that Gus and Rosie took (aside from when we kenneled one or the other of them, or "settled" them on "mat") was seven minutes, and that wasn't until around lunchtime the following day!



WHAT WE DID TO TIRE THEM OUT.
 
View of the Au Sable River at Iargo Springs lookout.
Natalie, Sofia, Anne, and Elaina at Iargo Springs.
294 steps UP.

FINALLY, after two hikes around our 13 acres, 294 steps down the wooden staircase to Iargo Springs (and back UP for spectacular views of the beautiful Au Sable River), and 260 steps down similar stairs at the Lumberman's Monument (and back UP), FLD Gus and Rosie finally gave it up, crapping out for the evening just before 7:00 pm on Friday.



AT LAST!

Gypsy on the couch, FLD Gus takes up the floor.
Rosie curls up in the dog bed.
FLD Gus looks up (barely) from his MAT, where he moved to when Gypsy complained he was too close.


(More about our fun weekend to come...)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

GUESS ME!



THEY ARE HERE!

Rosie and Gus--Lab wrestling at our place in the north woods!

We have a little riddle for you...please leave your guess in a comment.  And stay posted for the answer!


I am one of patti's nieces,
I am the one who bonded with Rosie at camping,
I have big hazel eyes,

Whose hazel eyes are these?

I always have my dark, brown hair in a pony tail,

And whose ponytail?

patti mentions me a lot in her blog
and...
I (sometimes) go to my aunt patti's puppy classes.

WHO AM I?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Special Family Visit

In 24 hours,
our quiet house here in the north woods
will be rockin' and rollin' like a mosh-pit.

It won't be my three nieces causing the ruckus
(although they are sure to add spice to the party).

"See No Evil" Elaina, "Speak No Evil" Sofia, and "Hear No Evil" Natalie.  My three nieces!


Anne, my sister.


And it won't be my sister.










In a little over 24 hours,
I predict
that there will be TWO
tired out black Labs
panting
on our living room floor....

FLD Gus hangs on to his long lead, shivering in anticipation...

FLD GUS

and his buddy,
cc'd (career-changed) ROSIE!

Rosie, one beautiful Lab.



I CAN HARDLY WAIT!


My nieces, AKA "santa's elves."


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday's Training TIP: REPETITION

REPETITION is fundamental.

I wish I could remember where I read that it takes 400 repetitions of a given command before a puppy "knows" the command.  I don't know if this is true, but I would not be surprised if it is.  In human athletics, repetition, even mental repetition, actually creates neural pathways in our brains to solidify the action.

When training a puppy, repetition can be as simple as ALWAYS saying "right" when making a right turn (or "left" when turning left), and ALWAYS insisting on a loose leash (walking backward ANY TIME there is tension on the leash).

Repetition can also get more complicated--working the same command in a variety of places and situations, with an assortment of distractions.  Your puppy might well know how to SIT in your kitchen, but what about in your garage?  Or outside?  Or when a stranger knocks on your door?

To teach a puppy the SIT command, start in one room, such as the kitchen.  Hopefully, after 400 repetitions of SIT in the kitchen (with no distractions), your puppy will SIT (in the kitchen) when asked.  To "set" this command, you then must repeat 400 repetitions of SIT (with no distractions) in the living room, then the bedroom, the basement, etc.; then 400 repetitions of SIT in the kitchen WITH distractions, then the bedroom, the basement, etc.; 400 repetitions of SIT  in the living room with distractions, then the bedroom, the basement, etc.; 400 repetitions of SIT with no distractions outside; 400 repetitions of SIT with distractions outside...

Okay, now I am getting repetitious, but you get the idea!

Perhaps keeping track of 400 repetitions is a bit "anal."  Luckily, as puppies learn new commands, they begin to learn HOW to learn, and thus need less repetition.  The key, as a trainer, is to pay attention to your puppy and watch for signs that indicate your puppy is actually LEARNING.  These signs are often very subtle; as you learn to catch them, your training will become more efficient.


SIGNS THAT YOUR PUPPY IS "GETTING" THE COMMAND

Your puppy makes a subtle movement of any kind, such as:
  • Shifting weight from paw to paw.
  • Lifting a paw.
  • Lifting, dropping, or turning the head.
  • Looking at you, then becoming perfectly still.

EXAMPLES OF STARTING TO "GET" SPECIFIC COMMANDS
  • SIT--Your puppy might move his or her rear legs, or make a forward or backward movement.
  • DOWN--Your puppy might stretch out his or her front legs, or take a small step forward.
  • RIGHT/LEFT TURNS--Your puppy might turn his or her head in the proper direction, or glance in that direction.
  • LOOSE LEASH HEELING--As soon as you take a step backwards when the leash has tension, your puppy might turn very quickly toward you.  Sometimes, if you release tension at YOUR end of the leash, your puppy might glance back at you and/or slow his or her pace.


HINTS
  • Be consistent--use the same command word every time.  (If raising a Future Leader Dog puppy, say his or her name before the command).
  • Be patient--when you see signs that your puppy is "getting it," mentally count three seconds (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand) before physically making your puppy carry out the command.  Give your puppy time to mentally process what you are asking him or her to do!
  • Be prepared--immediately give high-value physical praise (or a treat) the very first time your puppy completes the command without your intervention.  And NEVER give a command that you cannot follow through to MAKE your puppy do.

An easy way to incorporate REPETITION into the training of your puppy is to remember to practice commands in ANY and EVERY situation you find yourself with your puppy, especially if you are raising a Future Leader Dog.

At the grocery store?  Throw in a few SITS or DOWNS as you work your way through the store (and every aisle is an opportunity to work on RIGHT/LEFT TURNS).  Sitting in the stands at your niece's soccer game?  Put something tempting within reach of your puppy and practice LEAVE IT.  Taking your puppy out to "park?"  After picking up the loot, give a HEEL command on your way back to the house.

Remember, every time we ask our puppies to fulfill a command, they are using their brains, learning, and getting the mental stimulation they need to wear them out so they can be GOOD puppies!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rifle River Winter Fest

February 19, 2011

WHAT?  NO MORE SKIING?!

I was happy for warmer weather and sunshine last Wednesday when Andy and I loaded up more of our "stuff" (mostly his workshop tools and benches) from the townhouse in the city to move up north.  I was NOT happy for the tepid fog on Thursday that signified the shrinking snowpack.  I'm not ready for winter to be over!

Temperatures skulked around the 50 degree mark through Friday, but by the 10:00 am start of the fifth-annual Winter Fest at the Rifle River Recreation Area on Saturday, things cooled off nicely (somewhere in the low to mid-20's) with brilliant sunshine negating gusty winds.  What was left of the snow was now hard and crusty--not great for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, but at least the mud was frozen.

Winter Fest at Rifle River Rec Area.

CRUSTY SNOW DOES NOT DETER INTREPID SLEDDERS

FLD Gus and I arrived at the Recreation Area in plenty of time to catch the first hayride at 11:00.  As we approached the group warming by the fire, Gus spotted a couple of bundled-up toddlers playing fort on a snow pile some distance to our left.  WOOOOOOF! he voiced, body at full attention.  Gus. Leave it. I said and heeled him past.  He bounced along next to me, his head turning back to eye the younsters.

FLD Gus at the fire pit.

Once at the fire, FLD Gus noticed older kids sledding down a big hill at the edge of the woods.  He reared up, no doubt remembering his snowboarding days in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Gus. NO.   I gave him a quick correction and diverted his attention, thinking that perhaps I should have planned enough time to hike through our property to the park instead of driving.  You know--the tired-puppy-thing.  But he settled down enough for me to laugh at some kids who belly-flopped down the hill.  Who needs a sled on hard-packed snow when snow suits work just fine?!


HAYRIDE

Loading up for the hay ride.

I was hoping for a horse-drawn hayride, but a huge, green John Deere tractor pulling the wagon still gave FLD Gus a good experience.  

FLD Gus comfy in the hay.
Gus carefully negotiated the four wooden steps into the wagon and followed me to a cozy spot between rows of hay bales.  






My enjoyment of the landscape around us was severely impinged by constantly instructing Gus to LEAVE IT--his first taste of straw and I wondered if he was really a horse in disguise!
 

FLD Gus, kept from hay.
 Finally, the woman sitting on the bale across from us took pity  and slid her blanket down to cover the hay; this, plus strategic placement of my legs and feet around Gus's head restricted him from snacking.



The presence of FLD Gus in the wagon distracted most of the children from the beauty of the surrounding woods.

FLD Gus getting petted.
One little girl about seven or eight years old, puffy in her hot pink jacket, climbed closer and asked if she could pet him.  Sure, as long as he stays calm, I allowed.

Gus rolled his eyes up at me as she launched into stories about her own dogs.  He seemed to enjoy the petting, though.

"Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?" The pink-poufy girl asked.  I almost offered, a dog trainer?  "I want to be a fashion designer."  I like your jacket, I replied with a smile.  "I sew outfits for all my dolls, that I design myself!"  

Remember this name:  Lincoln; she might just end up being famous!


HOTDOGS, HOT CHOCOLATE, and STAIRS!

A big thank-you goes to Parkview Acres Convenience Center (right across the street from the park entrance) for donating all the hot dogs and hot chocolate to the over 60 participants of this year's Winter Fest.

Hot dogs over the fire!

FLD Gus hung out patiently while I partook with the early hayride crowd.  I met Rangers Eric and Tricia from Rifle River, and Ranger Patty, who came over from Houghton Lake State Park to help out.

FLD Gus hanging out at the fire pit.
 
There were also several winter campers staying at the park for the weekend!  Brave souls, although one young woman admitted that the high winds drove her from her sleeping hammock the night before.  "I gave up and slept in the heated bathrooms instead."  A couple from Windsor, Ontario said they slept in their van.

An advantage to winter camping:  no crowds or insects!

Beautiful, frozen Grousehaven Lake.

I said good-bye to our new park neighbors, but before leaving I worked FLD Gus on the hay wagon steps one more time.  All the extra work I've spent with him on stairs is paying off.

FLD Gus looking down the steps.




FLD Gus checks things out with his tongue!
First step.







Now the second.
Got it.  Next...
...almost there...
...yahoo!










Thank you Rifle River Rec Area, for a wonderful, if not-too-snowy Winter Fest!  We'll see you in 2012!

The sign at the park entrance.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Puppy Update V

LD MIKE
Wayne, LD Mike's new handler, called me Tuesday night to let me know that their team training is progressing very well.  LD Mike accompanied Wayne to work all day Tuesday (Wayne is a substitute teacher).  Wayne was proud of how Mike ignored other dogs as they traveled his neighborhood.  Another big day was in store for them Wednesday--a train-ride into Chicago for an appointment.  I'm sure they have been very busy; today is the last day working with Mike-the-trainer from Leader Dogs for the Blind.  Way to go, Wayne and LD Mike!


FLD GUS

FLD Gus and I made it to puppy-class at Leader Dogs for the Blind Tuesday evening after missing the previous class two weeks prior due to the "Snowmageddon" storm.

"Forty-seven and a half pounds," Sandy said and turned to her clipboard to record Gus's number.  (My, he's getting big!  His brother, Raphael, weighed in at least a couple of pounds lighter.)

"I don't know why I can't find you on here," Sandy said, searching her list.  "I know you are in class."

By the way, I brought this chase-it toy to use as a distraction tonight, I said and held up what looks like a fishing pole that caught a stuffed animal.

"We won't use that for the 'Basic' class," Sandy replied.

Wait, I said, glancing around the room full of unfamiliar puppies and raisers.  Did I come to the wrong class?

Sandy flipped the sheet on her clipboard.  "There you are!  You are in the NEXT class!"

I felt like an idiot.  Leave it to me to get the class time wrong.  Six-thirty is the "Basics" class; SEVEN-THIRTY is our "Beyond Basics" class.  My niece, Sofia, came with me tonight and now she was going to have to hang out an extra hour with me.

"Well, let me record Gus's weight.  What was it?"  Sandy asked. 

Forty-seven and a half, I replied.   Can I just hang out until our class?

"Sure.  Observe or participate, whatever you'd like.  Or, maybe you can help us out with the class."

Sofia was a real trooper, sitting with FLD Gus while I lent a hand during the "Basics" class.  It was good training for Gus, having to settle with her and not be at my side.  As class wound down I sat down next to Sofia and Gus.

"I think he needs to 'park,'" Sofia told me.  "He didn't whine or move or anything when the puppies walked by before, but now he's whiny.  And a little stinky."  I smiled.  She is learning to "read" dog.  Here, I'll take him out.

A few minutes later and I was back inside with Sofia.  Yep, that's exactly what he needed to do!  Now she smiled.  I still feel stupid for getting the class time wrong, I said, leaning into her.

"I did something the other day that made me feel like an idiot," she whispered back.  "I had to play a solo on my horn and it was acting up and it only played about half the notes!"

Oh no, that's bad!  What happened?

"I don't know, but my teacher told me it was okay, sometimes that just happens."

What a sweetheart, sharing her story to make me feel better.

It worked!  Thanks, Sofia!

Sofia.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

FLD Gus Helps Us Feel at Home

FLD Gus is glad to be back home in the north-country woods after a trip downstate, but it isn't all playtime--a trip to town is not something to miss.  Andy is adding a ceiling light to our dark basement hallway and of course, this necessitates an outing to the hardware store.  We are becoming regulars at the Green Ace Hardware in Rose City.

Today FLD Gus jumps out of the van (with some encouragement), parks, and waits patiently for me to clip on his blue working jacket.  Maybe he's getting over his reluctance.

"They don't have what I need," Andy announces when he finds FLD Gus and I walking the aisles practicing RIGHT and LEFT turns.  What?  I find it hard to believe that Green Ace doesn't have something.  "They are just out of stock right now," he says.  "I should have went with my instinct and gone to Hale first."

Off we go to Hale, 12 miles past our house in the other direction.  Quick trips to the hardware during a project are a bit different up here.  In the city, Lowe's was less than one mile away, Home Depot less than five miles.

Still, it is a pretty drive, even today with the eeriness of fog shrouding the stark branches of the trees.  The temperature lingers around 50 degrees and it is hard to tell if the air is foggy from the melting snowpack, or if the cloud cover is low.  The windshield mists over enough that we need the wipers on.

Fog in the trees

In Hale, we head to the Bernard Building Center.  Andy is confident they'll have what he needs; we checked out Bernard's last week and were impressed with their selection. 

As is typical in businesses up here, FLD Gus is warmly welcomed.  A Bernard's worker stops to admire Gus.  "He's a fine looking Lab," the man says.  "I have one of those.  Is he from Leader Dogs in Rochester?"

Yes, I answer, not too surprised--we heard about another puppy frequenting Glen's Grocery in Rose City.

"My wife and I are raising our 13th dog for Leader Dogs, a female black Lab.  Where are you from?" 

We just moved up here from the Detroit area.  We're out on Brady Road.

"Ah!" He nods.  "My wife drives the school bus for Rose City."

Then she's seen us.  The day we moved in, the school bus slowed past the neighbor's house down the hill from us and let the kids off at the top of the hill instead.  I waved at all the faces pressed against the windows.

"Well," he says, "she's heard about you."

Small town life, word gets out.  But it is nice meeting Ed, and knowing that his wife Lori is the one driving the school bus down our road.  Ed and Lori raised Labs and Golden Retrievers for Leader Dogs for the Blind; one of their puppies was pulled for breeding, and only one was career-changed.  A very successful record!

On the drive home, electrical supplies in hand and FLD Gus curled up at my feet, I remark to Andy, Puppy-raisers.  We're our own sub-culture!  He smiles, more than one reason we're feeling so at home here.
  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Feeding Time

It strikes me as uncanny the way Gypsy and FLD Gus know the time, especially when our clock chimes at 7:30 am and later at 5:00 pm.  Doggie-meal-times.

This evening, the two of them stand expectantly, as if waiting for a bus that's running late.  I listen--from the basement I can just barely hear the clock hammer five beats.  I only have two more screws to bolt into my new "bike room" wall and the last of my small parts cabinets will be in place.

They can wait a few more minutes.

There, I'm done, I say to them as I turn toward the door.  The clicky-clack of eight puppy paws race ahead of me to the stairs.  FLD Gus heads for his mat and Gypsy sits on the carpet next to him in anticipation.

I fill Gypsy's bowl first to show Gus she's the boss and as an exercise in self-control.  Gypsy, OK!  She slinks to her dish that's on the left side of an oval braided rug, but doesn't start eating; she watches me out of the corner of her eye.

I pour half of Gus's food into his bowl on the right side of the same rug.  He remains sitting on his mat, but his nose is scanning the air.  When I pick up the water bowl between the two stainless-steel bowls he a l m o s t gets up, but a look from me settles him.

I fill the water bowl at the sink.  Gus is so stock-still I wonder if he is holding his breath.  At my OK release, he sucks in a little gasp, rockets across the kitchen, slides the rug into the wall, and buries his face into his food.  I'm glad I'm still holding the water bowl.  I guess Gypsy is glad too, because only now does she eat, daintily picking up one piece of kibble at a time.

I empty some of the water out of the bowl; before I can set it down, Gus has almost somersaulted back over to his mat.  He twirls backwards, bumps into the wall as he sets his butt down, not quite on the mat.  He twirls again and lands squarely in place, lifting his chin to wait for round two.

Good mat, Gus! I say and clatter the remainder of his food into his bowl.  OK!

Pretty smart of me to not leave the water bowl full!
   

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thinking of LD Mike

(Happy Valentine's Day to all!)
 

FLD Gus wanders into the kitchen just as Andy and I sit  for dinner.  Gus.  Mat.  I command.  He stops in mid-step and stares at me.  I stare back and mentally start counting, One one thousand, two one thousand...  He backs up to his mat and sits.

Good mat, Mike,  I say, I mean, Gus.  He looks at me like he's thinking, "Why are you always calling me Mike?  My name is GUS.  G. U. S.  GUS.

Or maybe that's just what I'M thinking.  Mike has been on my mind lately.


LD Mike met his person, Wayne, Friday.  He has a new home (in Illinois), and a new job with Wayne.  Mike is a LEADER DOG now. 

Wayne called me Friday evening to let me know that Mike and he are bonding already, that Mike will have a loving home.  I have no doubt about that.  Mike is a special dog and Wayne's gracious "Thank you" on the phone brought tears to my eyes.  It's felt like Christmas all week, finding out that Mike was graduating and his new partner was eager to be in touch with Mike's raiser--me!

During the next week to ten days, Wayne and Mike with be training together with another Mike--a trainer from Leader Dogs for the Blind--to make sure they get off to a great start.  Wayne tells me that Wednesday will be a big day; a train ride and/or bus ride into Chicago.  I guess I was too excited to get the exact details.  Wayne started his own blog (My Leader Dog Journal) to keep LD Mike's story going, so perhaps he'll set me straight. 

Here are a few details I think I can get right...

Wayne told me he is a substitute teacher, so LD Mike will be going back to school.  Wayne, I never told you how good Mike was when I took him to class with me at Eastern Michigan University.  He would like down at my side and fall fast asleep.  Oh...his snoring during lectures did elicit snickers from my classmates, but luckily my professor was a good sport! 

Leni is Wayne's wife and together they are raising a lab/shepherd mix, six-month-old male puppy named Harley to donate to another guide dog school.  After Harley goes for formal training, Leni and Wayne would like to raise a puppy for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  What a wonderful gift for them to give, and a great experience!  And LD Mike has a buddy to show the ropes to and play with when he's not working.


Can a puppy-raiser ask for anything more?--A puppy raised and graduated, and able to be in contact with his handler.  Perfect closure, a long time coming. 

I thought that I was settling down with this news about LD Mike and Wayne.  I guess my name-slip today with FLD Gus indicates that Mike (and Wayne) is still on my mind.  (Can't wait for more posts on your blog, Wayne!)

Sorry Gus, I'll try to do better.

FLD GUS.  G. U. S.  GUS!

Friday, February 11, 2011

FLD Gus Teaches Gypsy How to Play

Scary-smart Gus tricks Gypsy into playing, even when she puts on airs.

Out in the backyard, Gypsy flaunts a two-foot-long stick, but try as he might, she won't play tug-o-war with Gus.

He waits.

Eventually she drops her stick, distracted by deer tracks.  Gus dives in, snatches the stick, and races past Gypsy.  She gives chase.  Gus glances over his right shoulder; he knows that's her approach side.  Gypsy catches up and stretches for the grab.

Gus deftly spins to his left.  Gypsy's teeth snap on thin air.  She launches a second attempt.  Gus twirls the stick just beyond her reach.

Gypsy prances off cat-like in feigned disinterest.  Gus tags along and times his drop.
 
Gypsy dives in, snatches the stick, and bolts off with Gus bumping at her side; she shoves the stick at him with a muffled growl.

Gus bides his time.  He knows she'll get distracted again.


Inside, there are no deer track distractions so Gus invents one.

FLD Gus getting Gypsy to play.
 
Gypsy plays with the blue Kong.  In her own weird way, I wonder if her rear-end-facing play-bow is an invitation.  
 
Gus must think so--he sneaks in, tempting her with the red Kong.

 

His strategy works--Gypsy drops the blue Kong and gives chase.  Gus squeaks by her and races back to the blue Kong to make the swap.


Gus, switching Kongs.

Gus taunts Gypsy; she falls for the bait and now wants the blue Kong.

"Gimme that!"

Gus play-bows an invitation; she lunges in.

"Come on, Gypsy, play with me!










This is her version of play.

"Grrrrrrr!"










But Gus has her figured out...and goes right on teasing!

Gus, teasing Gypsy.

Gus gets Gypsy playing, in spite of herself!

Way to go, Gus!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence: A Positive Training Program"

Before I begin, a quick update on Leader Dog Mike!  A trainer named Mike (!) from Leader Dogs for the Blind is bringing LD Mike to his handler tomorrow.  I was lucky to be contacted by Wayne and he is anxious to partner with LD Mike (I love typing that:  LD).  LD Mike will be Wayne's third Leader Dog.  If any of you are interested in following the continuing story of LD Mike, check out Wayne's new blog at:  http://myleaderdogjournal.blogspot.com/.  Congratulations, Wayne!  We might be just as excited as you are!

Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence: A Positive Training Program

-by Carol Lea Benjamin
1993, Macmillan General Reference, New York, NY 
 ISBN: 0-87605-742-3


Carol Lea Benjamin's book, Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence: A Positive Training Program, is one book among many on a recommended reading list in my Leader Dogs for the Blind puppy-manual.  What better title to select just as FLD Gus hits the six-month-old mark?  I've been looking for signs of his approaching adolescence.

When FLD Gus retreats from the open van door and refuses to get out when I take him to the grocery store, is it because he is testing me?  Or is he just reluctant to leap down into the salty slush of the parking lot?  When FLD Gus balks as I attempt to put on his blue "Puppy Being Trained for Leader Dogs for the Blind" working jacket, is it because he doesn't want to "work?"  Or did I whack him in the face too many times with my shoulder purse as I bent over him to clip the buckle?

In my experience, when puppies hit their hormonal hurricane, it's as if the whirlwind erases everything they've ever learned; at the same time it suddenly occurs to them that maybe, just maybe, they DON'T have to do what I ask them to do.  I have strategies for dealing with this adolescent behavior (see my post from August 17, 2010, "Help, My Puppy is a Teenager!"), but I was interested in reading about Benjamin's approach.

Carol Lea is a long-time dog trainer and writer.  She's written several other books on dog behavior and has written a column ("Dog Trainer's Diary") for the American Kennel Club's Gazette since 1979.
The dog you want does not just happen all by itself.  You must build the dog of your dreams, slowly, carefully, with knowledge of dog behavior and training techniques, intelligent planning and an inexhaustible sense of humor.  (Page 25)

In her book, Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence: A Positive Training Program, Benjamin answers many puppy-owners' calls for help at that dreaded time called "adolescence."  She places no blame for this behavioral "brattiness" other than the "canine unemployment" that our puppies deal with today. Problems occur because exuberant young dogs are unable to use up their abundant energy; in the past, juvenile dogs were just too busy surviving to cause trouble.  (Interesting that Benjamin considers negative human adolescent behaviors to be the result of similar leisure time!)

The four sections in Benjamin's book are well organized, instructive, and frequently amusing.  She uses photographs to illustrate training techniques for specific commands.

FIRST
Benjamin leads the reader through a basic grounding in the human/canine relationship--it's all about ATTITUDE.  She believes that the most important lesson she can impart to her reader is than an adolescent dog NEEDS LEADERSHIP.  She advocates a traditional, "natural" training approach based on the way dogs "treat each other."  She warns that luring with food or treat training is great for "performance," but does not impart adequate respect.
Traditional training, which assumes intelligence on the part of both the teacher and the student, works.   It works on puppies, on adolescents, on adults--even those dogs who have been abused.  So use it with confidence.  This trainer will not have to apologize in midstream and send you off to find another style of dog training because the methods taught in this program are truly positive, positive, meaning clear, precise, sure, unequivocal.  (Page 35)

Benjamin details case studies in adolescent behaviors and follows with a list of eight "Dog Laws" as illustrations that, as she puts it, "your dog is not a little person in fur."  These "Laws of Nature from a Dog's Point of View" are worth the price of this book in themselves!

Equally valuable is Benjamin's "Trainer's Dozen," a list of 13 practical exercises designed to build leadership with your canine companion.  She also includes information about proper training equipment (like a short leather leash), and the qualities of a successful trainer (time, patience, sense of humor, and commitment).

I am familiar with many of Benjamin's "Trainer's Dozen," such as the use of body language, how to praise and correct appropriately, and reviewing basic obedience commands to reinforce good behavior.  Others are new to me, adding additional "tools" to my training toolbox; a couple of others are surprising.

In the first case, for instance, I was interested in Benjamin's training technique for what she terms an "emergency down" and how to use this command to keep your dog safe and respectful by obeying "without thinking."  A great tool!  Another unexpected exercise was her description of a "nose hug" to calm wildness--cupping your dog's muzzle with your hand, imitating a dominant dog's greeting of a subordinate.  I cup my dog's nose regularly, without knowing this!

However, I was surprised at Benjamin's advice not to pet a dog under its chin.  She says this mimics the response of the subordinate dog to the "alpha"--licking the dominant dog under the chin.  Benjamin also recommends teaching your dog to give you its paw, which she describes as a submissive gesture.  I always thought the opposite, that placing a paw on you is similar to jumping up, trying to "take up your space."


SECOND
Benjamin asserts that it is imperative to KNOW YOUR DOG.  Know more about your dog than what time he gets up in the morning, or what shoe he will likely chew.  She urges her reader to study breed AND personality types, and recommends specific training approaches for each type.  For example, a "smart" dog is easily bored--be "smarter" and change routines, don't go over and over the same commands, mix things up, take the dog to a different location to train.  A "dumb" dog on the other hand, needs patience--take things slowly.

When I helped my trainer-friend Katie run classes for obedience trainers, our mantra was LEARN TO READ THE DOG.  Benjamin advises, "pay attention."

Benjamin lets her reader in on "trade secrets."  What does a professional trainer do to be successful?
  • She plans and sets short and long-term goals.
  • She takes notes about how well each training session contributes to meeting these goals.
  • She takes the time to establish leadership.
  • She works on one "problem" at a time.
What does a professional trainer advise her client to do with an adolescent dog?
  • Tire out your dog. (Ah, a familiar phrase!  "A Tired Puppy is a Good Puppy"--my TIP from April 6, 2010.)
  • Teach and reward with play.
  • Learn from your dog.
  • Study your breed standards.
  • Be creative.
  • When you are frustrated and feeling angry, reestablish a warm relationship by petting your dog with warmed hands!
  • Don't roughhouse with your dog.

THIRD
I think it was Cesar Milan who stated, "There are no bad dogs, just bad owners."  Benjamin states this a bit more gently in Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence.  A well-behaved dog is the result of what kind of owner you ARE, rather than what you DO.

Once you have garnered your dog's true respect, many of the problems you previously fretted over will begin to abate and his behavior will fall into line.  (Page 133)

If your adolescent dog exhibits any of the negative behaviors discussed in Benjamin's earlier case studies, she provides a list of behavior changes that YOU must do to "take charge."  Things like "no free treats," long down-stays, incorporating training into everyday situations (making your dog SIT before meals, for example), keeping your dog off the furniture.  I chuckled to myself when she described "constructive exercise" as a long walk, not "being tied to a tree in your yard."  My trainer-friend Katie often explained that thinking your dog exercises by running around in the backyard is like  taking your kid to "Chucky Cheese"--they get wound-up-like-a-cranky-two-year-old tired, not tired out and calm!

Fortunately, Benjamin offers practical strategies to correct these behavior problems.  You should read this book if any of these words fit your dog:  barky, bossy, crazy, destructive, thief, manipulative, fearful, shy, fussy eater, no self-control, mounting, selective hearing, to name a few.  (If you think your dog is truly "aggressive," Benjamin suggests you find professional help.)

Benjamin's discussion about "stress whining" caught my eye.  My nine-year-old lab/mix (maybe whippet/greyhound/terrier?) Gypsy, is a very nervous dog.  I sometimes call her my "whiner-rhymer!"  According to Benjamin, "Stress whining is an unconscious activity."

The first step in correcting Gypsy's unconscious whining is to make her aware of what she is doing.  Once she is conscious of her whining, I can work on getting her to stop whining.  It was interesting to learn from Benjamin that this whining behavior is common in dogs that "were bred for really tough work and are not getting the opportunity to do it" (page 184).  That sounds like my Gypsy!


FOUR
Benjamin emphasizes that building your "dream dog" is about establishing the proper relationship between you and your canine companion.  As she says, a dog isn't just a piece of furniture.  We have as much to learn from our dogs as they have to learn from us.  The loyalty and love we get from a happy, adjusted dog is worth the time, effort, and commitment it takes to do as Benjamin suggests.  It is a "lifetime project."  Embrace the exuberance of your adolescent dog and HAVE FUN!



Benjamin's book, Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence: A Positive Training Program, reinforces my own beliefs about dealing with an adolescent dog.  In the human/dog relationship, it is imperative that we humans remember that we are smarter than our canines (if we educate ourselves about canine-behavior and training techniques), and it is OUR responsibility to give them mental and physical exercise, and proper leadership.  Too often, our puppies train US.

When FLD Gus begins his "wild and crazy guy" imitation (ok, I'm telling my age--who remembers Steve Martin's character on "Saturday Night Live?"), I now have a few extra tricks of my own to help him through his hormonal hurricane...thanks to Carol Lea Benjamin!