Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Passably Normal

That's Tally. Tally is one of my Very Favoritist Dogs Ever. She's a former fighting bust dog from Florida, she's sweet as chocolate, and I got to hang with her in all her yodeling, flipper-footed glory for a whole twenty minutes in Therapy Dog class on Sunday.

See the little blonde dot in the background? That's Rubi. She's working with Tally's person, Ruth. Ruth is all kinds of awesome sauce, but Rubi has only ever met Ruth in passing, and Ruth, to the best of my knowledge, has never had a reactive dog before.

This did not prevent Rubi from being on her best behavior.

I can now add "hand Rubi off to a strange person in a room full of other dogs and expect her to not act like a crazy banshee beast" to our list of accomplishments. While we had other goals (post coming, I promise), I'm pretty sure this is our biggest achievement of Therapy Dog Class. Rubi did even try to pull any stupid stuff - her biggest flaw was repeated shifting from front position into heel position. I mean, that's not even on my List of Thing That Annoy Me About Rubi. She didn't even so much as look sideways at any of the other dogs.

When I got Rubi, I never even considered the possibility that I would be able to do something like this with her. Granted, I wouldn't expect her to be able to hold herself together if the person hadn't been someone as awesome as Ruth, or if she hadn't have had the last five weeks of class with these dogs. Somehow, that doesn't lessen my pride. Rubi and I have poured hundreds of hours into desensitization and counter conditioning, and here is our reward: she can fake normal when I'm not right on top of her.

It was a good day.

Photo of Rubi and I in class by Paige.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Inspire Me

Today at work, I used ALL my nurse skills. I took an elderly patient with pneumonia to urgent care, triaged a patient with low red blood cells, transferred a morbidly obese patient to an exam table, assisted with a pap smear, gave a new doctor a tour of our clinic, educated a patient on her diabetes, hunted down supplies we needed for a procedure, helped a home care nurse troubleshoot a patient’s medications, and a few dozen other tasks that blend into the blur that is being a primary care nurse. I’m good at what I do, and I’m always eager to learn more, but there’s a great deal I don’t know about nurse. For example, I can’t read an EKG to save my life (or someone else’s!), and I’m probably not the person you want drawing your blood. These are activities I've never had reason to learn, so I simply don’t know about them.

Being a dog trainer is a lot like being a nurse. There are many behaviors I don’t know how to deal with because I've never had to deal with them. For instance, I insist that all fosters coming into my house be tested for appropriateness with cats before they come to me – if they’re not cat safe, they can’t stay here. As a result, I have minimal knowledge about how to deal with cat/dog issues. I’m not comfortable with children in general, so anyone who comes to me with a dog/child issue gets referred to another trainer. But hot damn! Do I know my way around a reactive pit bull!

I don't have many pictures of me teaching class. Oddly enough, dog people tend to take pictures of dogs, not people.
Here I am teaching puppy class. In theory.
Photo by Paige.
Many, many moons ago when I was first starting to take classes with my own dogs, I worshiped dog trainers. They knew everything! They were demigods of canine knowledge and gatekeepers to behavior solutions. I've since learned that dog training is a highly specialized field. While there are several certificate programs and dog trainer training schools, there’s no single knowledge base that a person has to have before they’re allowed to call themselves a dog trainer. It’s not like being a nurse where I had to complete schooling through an accredited college, take a national standardized test, obtain a license, and complete a certain amount of continuing education each year to maintain that license. Dog training knowledge is largely based on individual knowledge and experience; therefore, not all dog trainers will have the same knowledge, experience, and skills. The person who teaches your obedience class might not be the person you want to see for your dog’s reactivity.

When I’m looking for a dog trainer for myself and my own dogs, there are two factors that are of paramount importance to me: the means and the end. Does this trainer get the results that I am looking for, both with her own dogs and her students’ dogs? After all, dog trainers should be able to do more than train dogs – they also need to be able to teach their students to train their dogs. I’ve taken classes from people who were excellent dog trainers but miserable people trainers, and I typically came to dread these classes. In the same vein, I want to know that the trainer I chose has roughly the same training philosophies I do. I’ve been around the block a few times, and I’m pretty close-minded when it comes to certain training techniques. If I’m planning to stay with a trainer for the long haul, I want to know that we’re not going to be constantly butting heads over training equipment, reinforcement methods, management styles, acceptable stress levels in dogs, or even the types of dogs I own. (Yes, there are dog trainers that don’t like pit bulls or can’t handle reactive dogs in a class not intended for reactive dogs. Dog trainers are people, too, and not everyone can be perfect.)

Important rule of teaching: never be afraid to look stupid for your students' dogs.
Photo by Gail.

Now that I have been around the block a few times, though, I do sometimes appreciate taking the occasion class from someone with enormously different views than mine. At this point, I know what I am and am not willing to do to my dogs in the name of training, and I don’t have a problem advocating for them even if it upsets the instructor. I’m not so narrow-minded that I can’t pick up useful information from these classes. I feel that I learn as much from people who disagree with me as I do from people who support my own views and philosophies.

Another factor that is important to me in a dog trainer is continuing education. It is an incredible time to be a dog trainer. For the first time in human history, scientists are investing real time and energy into figuring out what makes man’s best friend tick from a behavioral standpoint. There’s an amazing amount of new information out there, and in order to stay current and effective, continuing education is essential. Not long ago, I took a class with Jai in which the instructor was not against my techniques or ineffective, he was simply out of date. It was terribly disappointing, perhaps even more so than taking a class from someone who outright disagreed with me. With the availability of blogs, books, and You Tube, I think that there’s no excuse for not staying current on the information in your given specialty.

Ultimately, I believe that the decision of which dog trainer to chose is rather personal. Who works for me (or with me, as it were) may not mesh with another person. Like each dog, each dog trainer is an individual with unique strengths and weakness. My personal goal in dog training is not simply to train my dogs; it is to learn as much as possible about them, their behaviors, and what makes them happy. Curiosity has gotten me farther in dog training and in nursing than any other quality. Curiosity, of course, killed the cat.

But satisfaction brought it back.

I'm in the picture, it's advertising classes, I say it counts. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Testing, Testing

Short story: I stole a camera from my dad and took a bunch of pictures of my dogs. Enjoy!

Long story: I'm planning another hiking trip, this one with Piper Ann, my friend Crystal, and her dog Maisy. We're tackling about twenty miles on the Superior Hiking Trail in May. Assuming I don't screw up and kill everyone, since this is my first time planning a trip by myself and Crystal's first time ever wilderness camping.

But whatever, I'm sure we'll be fine.

I decided not to bring Rubi on this trip for a couple of reasons. First, I'm pretty sure Rubi and Maisy would hate sharing such close quarters. Second, the SHT sees a lot more traffic than the Border Route does, which means more people, which possibly means more dogs, and this is my vacation dammit, not my own personal hell.

Anyway, I was discussing gear with my dad, and I mentioned that we didn't have a really appropriate camera for the trip. My dad lent me his "Tough" camera (seriously, that's what it says on the side) which was apparently made for throwing off cliffs and falling into the ocean. I promptly went out and took a bunch of pictures of my dogs,because how else am I suppose to figure out how good a camera is?

Here's a bunch of pictures of my dogs: Enjoy!

AND! As a bonus for making it this far, here are a few pictures of my dad and sister's last trip to the BWCA (near the SHT) that they didn't take off the memory card. Lucky you!