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Creating a School of Thought for Puppies

“Nothing is more important than this day.” Your puppy does not know how to tell time on the clock, or dates on a calendar.  Your puppy lives in a state of awareness of this moment, in this present, in this now. Your job (and, it’s a joyful one!) is simply this …. picture your puppy’s best life and make it happen. 

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My Happiness.

It’s exciting to consider the future of your new puppy and its potential. You’ve imagined a picture for your pup that shows a happy, resilient, playful, obedient dog, equipped with skills to adapt confidently to environmental changes. There are numerous “schools of thought” on how to create such a dog, and, one that is fun for both you and your pup is to reward and encourage thinking. It’s easy to do!

Humans learn quickly and deeply through information and visual pictures. Let’s say your coach wants to win the game. How your coach delivers that message is key. Warning you to “miss the kick and we lose the game” sets a bleak picture and a feeling of disappointment in mind and body. An empowering coach would likely remind you to be your best with a message of “kick a winning goal,” setting a picture of success and fulfillment in your consciousness. The goal is the same, the school of thought impacts which result occurs. In your dog’s school of thought where you are the coach, how you present a “goal for the win” message matters greatly.

Your dog’s brain has about 56 million neurons ready to fire, re-wire and build mental connections through the electrical stimulation events provide. At sixteen weeks of age, your pup’s brain is about 80% developed, and, mentally and socially, dogs are considered to be in a puppy stage until around four years of age. The term “puppy brain” is real and can last much longer than the age at which your dog reaches physical maturity.

As a caring owner, providing “thought-full” learning opportunities appropriate to their mental capabilities, encourages positive connections, problem solving skills and focus. An improved relationship and bond with your dog are often two added values of thinking.

Puzzle and focus toys that dispense treats are super ways to start your dog’s adventure in learning as they work to win the rewards hidden within. Provide different games, toys, textures to challenge your dog’s level of learning and engagement. A diversity of experiences is valuable in the learning process, and in time, your pup is likely to challenge you to come up with even more training activities to keep her/his brain stimulated and engaged! Creating a dog that loves to learn is a super power, and a super goal to have!

It’s normal for a dog to show signs of frustration in the form of whining, barking, or offering behaviors that have nothing to do with the play at hand during “thinking training.” Stay calm, this is the moment at which thinking is happening! Your urge may be to jump in and do the task for your dog to alleviate its frustration. Try to focus your efforts to provide support through encouragement and perhaps a re-start of the game. When the game is done, your dog will likely be thirsty and tired from the brain workout!

In your training, work to build in daily doses of “thinking” training to support the goals you envisioned when you got your pup. Engaging their brains can speed up learning processes and cementing of concepts in meaningful ways. You’re likely to find a by-product of a “thinking” dog is that less time is required by you to train behaviors. Bonus!

A mental reminder to yourself before you engage with your dog can be helpful to keeping on task. It might go something like this: “I empower my dog to think and learn. I encourage my dog to engage with thought-full toys, puzzles and opportunities, because doing this increases my dog’s ability to problem solve, remain calm and steady in new or crisis situations, and offer more behaviors that I like.”

This blog/article appeared in the March 2018 J & J Dog Supplies magazine.  Thank you to J & J for this opportunity! 

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Trust Your Dog

In life’s learnings, trusting others is not the easiest of decisions to make (we can all chat with our therapists later about this one 😉). And yet, we’ve all been told (Ordered? Encouraged?) countless times by people in the agility community and may have said it ourselves to someone else on occasion, to “trust your dog.” As if trusting the dog is the magic elixir of success.

The sound of that three-syllable phrase trips my gut and a tiny fear-filled voice in my head asks “why?”  I’m going out on a limb here and say that I bet you know the feeling.  There’s a flutter of your heat beat kicking it up a notch, you flash to what can go wrong if you relinquish control of the situation, and you question yourself ….. what if I haven’t trained a send well enough, what if I don’t get there in time?  What if, what if, what if ……  courtesy of three little words ….. Trust your dog.  By the way, have you ever wanted to buy a product from a salesperson who uttered, “Trust me” in their pitch? I didn’t think so.

The interesting thing about trust is that as soon as someone tells you to enact it, you push it away. Doubt, seeing an open door, tries to push it wide enough to weaken your belief in yourself.   

Trust is a decision.  Much like fear, joy and gratefulness, we can choose trust, or choose to give up. Trust can be good. Very good. Trust builds leaders and leadership, it sets the tone for success, for progress for achievement and attainment. And because all of life is balanced, the flip side of trust requires abdication of control, disposal of responsibility for the outcome of actions. There’s risk of failure and miscommunication. 

I don’t believe people really mean it when they say to trust the dog. Here’s why. To trust my dog means that I would have to stop believing in me, and I’ve worked too hard to do that. I’d have to believe that I’m incapable of leadership, unable to make decisions, of handling well and perhaps that I am untalented, slow, and uncoordinated. As I read those statements, none of them sound like me. I am capable of leading, I am capable of making decisions, I am talented and because I’ve practiced, I am coordinated and prepared. To hand over the outcome of a run or training to my dog (who is lovely yet can’t read numbers, hasn’t walked the course, and has the reasoning level of a toddler (proven by scientific studies) is just not going to happen. And, it’s unfair to both of us.

I trust (see? I really DO trust!) that my friends in agility want the best for me, and when they remind me to trust my dog, I hear in their voices a clear reminder ……

BECAUSE I have trained, BECAUSE I have reasoned, BECAUSE I have put the time and effort into being the very best supporter and leader that I can be for my dog, I can TRUST MYSELF to handle and act with excellence, confidence and strength.  

I like to play agility. I don’t like to play with my decisions, especially ones rooted in something that I’ve worked hard to achieve, that can be so easily cracked and so very hard to repair if broken.  So, I keep it simple.    

I choose me. I choose to TRUST MYSELF.   

On Roadtrips and Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd's Pie at O'Possum's Pub in Murfreesboro, TN

It has been a long time since I have played this agility game I love. Not so long as an eon or an eternity, but, fifteen months (so far) without a dog beside me that loves the geometry and poetry of the lines and the motions to master them as much as me, is long enough already. I miss Shepherd’s Pie, too.  Meat, veggie, potatoes, cheese and gravy.  Seriously, a concoction of delicious (my choice, I know there are others with other views!).

Pick a path. Take a roadtrip.
On the road with Jamie and Stephen (and Cruzer), deciding the path to reach our destination. Away we go!

The day will come again, each day is one day nearer, I tell myself.  Be patient.  Be aware in today’s choices, it is tasty, all in itself. My Happiness (for that is what he is) will not be old enough to legally give this sport a go for another year at least.  So, I wait.  And, enjoy.

To pass the time, I’ve begun revisiting photos from the roadtrips and adventures of my experience.  (I did not look at them for this short term eon, it hurt too much, but I find now, it’s okay).  There are plenty of photos of ribbons and reminders of success, but those have begun to feel like they belong to someone else, not to the me that I am (becoming?) today.

I’m not the handler that can tell you about a course I ran 5 years ago, about the turns and the challenges and my handling. Once I run a course, it falls out of my head. On to the next one. I admire athletes that can describe a run from a decade ago in its entirety.  I cannot. A jump or two, perhaps, or a finish line, but, that is all.

I can, however, tell you about the courses that I visualize for my future. I can tell you about the colors of the jumps in the internalized TV screen in my head, of the footing and of the feeling of the flow and the flawless timing of my imagined runs. Of the exhilaration as I swagger to the startline, or, blast past the finish. Runs of the past served their purpose, I learned from them, and they live in my subconscious, where they have settled in as the foundation to support me today without me knowing it. I do not need to call them out in my “now.” They were. Today I AM, and tomorrow, they will help me be.

Vici, Fin, and Me
8 years as friends, and we’d never met, until a roadtrip brought each of us (Vici, Fin, and me) from our respective coasts to Cynosports. Fin made Finals. I don’t remember that part (I’m certain it was spectacular), but, I do remember elation felt for meeting this amazing woman and burying my head in Fin’s fur as I shed a tear of Joy for that moment.

I am using this time to remind myself of the “why” of my game. Ribbons and accolades are wonderful and serve as roadtrip markers.  They validate my desire and confirm my belief in myself. They give me reason to value the effort. They are “rewards,” with little real meaning to anyone but me.

In the photo album of my life, it’s the travels (near and far, day to day and of duration) that stand out. And, the people I meet. And, of course, the Shepherd’s Pie.

So, I remind myself:  Always look for a place with homemade Shepherds Pie on the menu to share with friends (or, sushi, if that’s your fav.  Maybe a vegan burger or two, go green).  Stop the car often, because I might find the doppelganger of Mayberry’s Aunt Bea offering coffee in a fast food chain, and wouldn’t that be a delicious take out? But, most of all, get out and enjoy the roads my feet are on today. The ones behind me brought me to this moment, in order for me to continue to move forward.

And, if I do, I will find unexpected Joy to make me Happy. And, the best Shepherd’s Pie I could ever imagine. Though, it will be tough to beat the ones that I’ve had already.  (Have I mentioned I like Shepherd’s Pie???)

Nothing is worth more than this day.

Nothing is worth more than this day.

“Nothing is worth more than this day.” ~Goethe

“When hearts and minds meet, unimagined success is assured.” ~ Cruzer Patterson

There will never be another moment exactly like this one.  I hope that you make the most of it.  Drink in the joy, smile at the hope, live for the now.  There are so many moments of our lives that we can’t plan for, or direct.  There is however, one thing we can do anytime and with no limits, and that is to be aware.  The Agility Mindset is a journey that begins by helping to determine where you are, and the roads of possibilities that can take you on adventures a plenty.  I’d like to help you connect with yourself and your furry canine companion on this adventure, and maybe, to inspire you to be your best agility athlete ever.  You can make it happen if you believe.  I did.  Follow me, and let’s be always awesome!