One new thing every day

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One of our favourite things to do, Shiva and I, is to explore new places together. It doesn’t have to be complicated. So often new discoveries are as simple as meandering around corners before ignored. The ripe smells invigorate Shiva and the fresh sights prevent mental boredom in me. I have learned that routine is my swiftest route to insanity. The smallest change is worth any inconvenience.

We never would have found this interesting church if we hadn't crossed a new road

We never would have found this interesting church if we hadn’t crossed a new road

I have been thinking of embarking upon a new challenge, to do one new thing every single day. It can be minor – finding a new tree under which to eat my lunch – or major – talking to a stranger. Would such a feat even be possible? This is what I wonder. There will come a time when I will run out of little things to alter. How willing am I to deviate from the norm? This is what I think I am ready to find out.

Shiva, contemplating doilies on trees. That is a first.

Shiva, contemplating doilies on trees. That is a first.

It is something else to think about, regardless. I might fail. Then again, I might impress myself. As winter approaches and I face seven or more months of Canadian Arctic, I have to focus on something positive, right?

Shiva will be my guide. No challenges daunts her. I couldn’t find a better companion. Year of Badassery, part deux?

Summer Ass-Kicking: 100 Words for 100 Days

As I mentioned, I’ve been feeling out of touch, low, and pessimistic. Things got better with a holiday to plan but, once over, the bland feelings returned. I hesitate to call them by another name as they seem to be related more to boredom than to anything insidious. It is an overall flatness, a disinterest in all activity. Perhaps I am regressing to teenagehood as it doesn’t feel dissimilar. Perish the thought.

Every day is a winding road

As I stew, burrowing further into mindless routine, complaining yet doing nothing to pull myself out, I refuse to acknowledge the obvious. Nothing changes if nothing changes, as the motivating author of a Life Less Bullshit is always pointing out. It is easy to push this away, in favour of wallowing. My friends, do I like a wallow. I am just so good at it too. It isn’t as if I have such a plethora of skills to engage. It seems a shame to toss this one after honing it for three decades. What will I have left but brownie eating and being bad at bowling? These abilities are not in as high demand as you’d think. It seems there aren’t as many prizes these days for the worst bowling score one can achieve while actually trying. What is the world coming to?

This was my prevailing opinion on the matter until this morning. Strange that my mental ass-kicking should come on a Monday. The bus was late, my feet were still sticky with mud from my morning hike, and I scrolled through the emails on my phone with impatience. I could previse the way the rest of my day was going to go and it wasn’t optimistic. Ever anxious about exceeding allowable data, I almost never click on links without access to wifi. The messages I can’t read via my inbox either get deleted or saved for later. Sometimes later comes, most times it doesn’t. I realize now I am the one who loses out the most with this disorganized and hasty practice. Lucky for me, Amber Adrian is a blogging endangered species who still sends the full text of her posts to email subscribers. If not, I would have missed out on this bit of brilliance:

But you know what doesn’t help the drama? Excusing yourself. Because that makes you less you. Because doing the things you love keeps your engagement with life at a steady burn and being engaged with life makes everything better…

And this too:

For now, it seems to boil down to “do your shit and let yourself feel as good as you can as much of the time as possible.”

Oh, and this:

I am not nearly the special feelings snowflake I thought I was. If I feel scared and lonely and joyful and overwhelmed and stuffed with love for things, you probably do as well.

I will stop before I just copy and paste the whole dang thing. It isn’t a long piece but it packed all the protein I’ve been needing into easy to swallow bites. In that way it proves everything I’ve been telling myself isn’t true, which is kind of annoying. No one likes to be as wrong as I have been. I am forced to deal with the idea that if a woman, whom I have never met, living in a place I have never been, can write something simple yet has a profound impact on me, it might be possible for me to do the same for somebody else. The more I write, the more I will want to write. The more motivated I feel to do something I enjoy, the more pumped I will be for other things and the more interesting my life will become.

In essence, I need to stop wallowing and get out of my way. Darn it all anyway.

every day is a faded signIt isn’t going to be easy to keep me accountable. The lure toward mindlessness is powerful after months of indolence. As if it was Kismet, not a week ago I learned about the 100 Days Project from my friend at NEPA Pets. Several wicked minds in New Zealand know what it is to want to do a thing and be unable to show up get it done. The concept is as uncomplicated as it gets. It is so hard to do on one’s own. This is where the internet comes in. Starting July 11, every day for 100 days, people around the world will do the thing they haven’t been able to do. The range of projects is as diverse as the people starting them. There are photography schemes, physical activity goals, plans for interior decoration, phone calls, and love letters. It is a glorious pile of desires to create and be and do.

It felt like hubris to join in, but I signed up anyway. From now until mid-October I am going to write at least 100 words every day. They may not be good words. They may not make sense. They may be stream of consciousness or they may be gag-inducing poetry that would make even my eleventh grade English teacher wail. They are going to be mine. Even though it isn’t July 11, it would be too easy to wait and forget and excuse myself, so I am starting four days early. With no expectations, no rules, no strings beyond 100 words, I am going to get this done.

Even if I have to run over myself several times in the process.

Shiva’s Random Recipe for Dehydrated Hermit Cookies

DSC_0212I’m assuming you’ve heard about this incredible giveaway going on at Kol’s Notes this week. And when I say amazing, I mean for real heavy duty, super duper MEGA crazy. The prize is every dog’s biggest fantasy wrapped in jerky and covered in liver dust.

That’s right, Kol’s Notes is giving away a brand new – too expensive for my wee budget – Excalibur Dehydrator.

This is serious stuff, pet lovers. We all know how lazy I am. Shiva has been complaining to her dog friends – or would if she had any – that it has been DECADES since I made her treats with my own two hands. Like, half her LIFE ago. Clearly I do not love her anymore. This dehydrator could change all that. Put me back on her top human list again, maybe even above the woman at the bakery who gave her a cinnamon twist. I need to enter this giveaway. My precarious relationship with the muttski demands it.

There is just one obstacle to this scheme. In order to enter, I need to come up with my own recipe.This is weave-pole level of trickiness because I do not cook. Ever. And the few times I have, that one weird afternoon several years ago in which I saw myself as the next Food Network star*, I required the use of several cookbooks. How am I supposed to come up with my own ingredients, my own techniques, and my own cooking methods when I have never even used a dehydrator before?

Instead of freaking out and giving up before I even started, I decided to get creative.

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Coconut and pineapple, this is about as creative as I get.

A quick browse for inspiration online showed me what I had already suspected. Most of the easy dog recipes involve beef and other red meats that my dog’s sensitive stomach does not tolerate. I know. She chows down garbage on a daily basis but one handful of lamb kibble has Shiva waking me up several times throughout the night. Building a recipe with cheap ingredients I already had at home was looking even more complicated if I was going to keep my dog’s guts intact.

So I did what I do best when research has failed me: made stuff up.

Looking through my cupboards, I couldn’t help but notice the gargantuan jar of peanut butter taking up the middle shelf. The peanut butter shelf. This stuff is practically a food group in our house. Though it may not be a traditional item in a dehydrated treat – based on what I found, anyway – I knew there had to be a way to incorporate it into my concoction.

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Tinfoil makes the mess go away

Cue to me throwing a whole bunch of crap into a bowl, rolling the mixture into balls, and shoving it in the oven for eleventy-seven hours. Yes, I ended up sticking with what I know, baking cookies. We can’t all be culinary geniuses.

To be honest, I also kind of cheated. Since I had to use the oven and since I did it at the last minute and since I have no idea how to make anything without a recipe and SINCE I gave myself less than an hour to pull this together… The treats didn’t turn out as dehydrated as I would have liked. They were also made with pre-dried packaged ingredients instead of the real deal. But in theory, I do believe this would work. No, I am convinced it would work given a more dedicated cook and the right equipment.

Whatever, the dog still likes them.

Tasting the "dough"

Tasting the “dough”

Prove me wrong?

Here is my beautiful, if impatient, recipe for dehydrated hermit dog cookies:

You will need:

1 healthy portion of coconut**
3 or 4 handfuls of dried fruit, can be a mix of different ones, pick your dog’s favourites!
Grated carrot. (This was my PH’s addition. I think as the resident chef, he felt left out.)
Lots of spoonfuls of peanut butter. I kind of just added as I went, enough to make everything stick together but not too much to make it extra goopy.

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Dump all of the ingredients into a bowl. Doesn’t matter what order, we’re not making brioche here. Mix them up. I like to use a wooden spoon. (My PH, the actual cook, said a metal one is better. Pshaw.) When the peanut butter looks like it has formed a cookie-like dough, or when your arm is tired, shape the mixture into small balls.

Dry in your oven or dehydrator at a low temperature for eleventy-seven hours or until they look crispy and like they won’t fall apart in your hands.

Makes about… Jeepers, I don’t know how many, a bowlful?

If you feel like something a little special, add a garnish of grated carrot and a spring of green leaf lettuce.

Voila!

Voila!

So… They may have turned out more crumbly than I anticipated. That doesn’t mean the recipe doesn’t work. It just means my oven isn’t a dehydrator. I challenge the winner of this competition to try this and I guarantee it will work. And if it doesn’t? I’ll owe you a signed picture of Shiva.***

This "treat" looks questionable. At least there is lettuce.

This “treat” looks questionable. At least there is lettuce.

Have you ever made your own treat recipe? Did your pets like it? I think I am going to stick to my usual method of hanging out in the living room reading blogs while my PH cooks. It seems safer and is far more successful.

*Yeah, I had this idea that me drunk on wine while baking cheesecake would make a brilliant show. This was after my idea for a travel show in which I drank wine while touring historical landmarks. Like “The Thirsty Traveler” only more nerdy.

**What? You expected proper measurements?

***Yes, I am still trying to give these away. 

Train Your Dog Month Challenge – All You Have is Each Other

I attribute my success to this – I never gave nor took any excuse ~ Florence Nightingale

When the month began I was full of plans. I said an official farewell to 2013 and all of its days of aggravation. Nothing was going to get in my way of deepening my neglected relationship with Shiva. Not the office, not the new season of Community, not even my winter ennui. This time we were going to get things done. I vowed.

002Only, in all my swearing and promising I forgot one fairly vital aspect to my scheme. In order to meet my goal, I would need the committed participation of a partner, a canine partner with ambitions and desires of her own. I could be as motivated as I wanted but it wouldn’t make one bit of difference if I couldn’t convince Shiva to join in on the fun.

I’ve written the well-known agility phrase on this blog many a time before – “great dog, shame about the handler” – but in some, limited cases it can go the other way. Even if I am over-the-top enthused about something, if Shiva is more interested in napping on the chair, there isn’t much I can do. This is a lesson my former trainer used to try to drill in my head every time I complained that all the other dogs appeared smarter, saner, sharper. It only took me four years to learn it.

I have to work with the dog I have.

And she has to work with me. Don’t worry, I know all too well who has the shadier end of this deal.

This realization doesn’t mean this month was a failure. I didn’t give or take any excuses. The primary goal of Train Your Dog Month is to spend more quality time with your dog. I do think I have accomplished that.

Before I get to the exciting results of The Great Challenge of Getting Shiva to Hold an Item in Her Mouth, I first want to share a small, but important, victory.

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Due to a lot of patience I have been able to re-teach Shiva that the camera is not a scary Gorgon who will turn her into stone if she looks it in the eye.

I don’t know where she got this notion. She used to pose so well. All I’d have to do was pull out the black box and she would leap into action, presenting her best side for all the world to admire. Somehow, though, something altered. Was it the time I posted the picture of her with her tongue sticking out? Was she upset that I would share such an unflattering image? Or perhaps The Cat has been telling her about the time I captured his fur-less behind for all the world to see.

For the record, I never posted any of those pictures online.

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Whatever the reason, it was getting a bit annoying. She has such a pretty face. This is – mostly – a dog blog. It should feature photos of said dog, and not just the back of her head. I don’t think the world needs to be inundated with Shiva butt pictures, as cute as they may be.

So we got to work. A few handfuls of well-placed treats, multiple withheld sighs, and my best squeaky cartoon voice, and she forgot all about the mythical creature in the camera. The most vital part of this formula was the withheld sighs. I had to remind myself that Shiva is not inclined to respond to frustration. Instead of growling at her to pay attention to me and not the birds flying overhead, I had to force myself to relax and wait. And wait. And wait. And sometimes, I had to call it a day and try again another time.

I had to work with the dog I have.

It paid off. Just look at these puppy eyes.

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I even managed to get a picture of her in which she doesn’t look freaked out.

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My Shiva model is back. I am going to try not to lose her again.

004Now, I guess, I need to own up to this whole retrieving business. I wish I had a wicked video to show you. I mean, I have a video but it isn’t the one I wanted to make.

My clever PH realized that the trick to getting Shiva to return with the toy is to have another one in the wings. Since her favourite ball is this orange and blue wonder, he purchased a second. The results were solid. He had some pretty decent success getting Shiva to run back with the ball in her mouth, drop it on the floor in front of him, and then chase it across the room once again.

He had success. I did not.

Is it because I approach her at the wrong time of day? Do I just not throw as well? I try to match my energy to his and I spend a few minutes beforehand revving her up. But after the ball is thrown, she’ll pick it up, run around with it, and then come back to me with an empty mouth. I am beginning to think that ball games are just not going to be part of our relationship. It is not easy to admit defeat.

This doesn’t mean I am giving up on the challenge entirely. Even if Shiva won’t properly fetch for me, I am still determined to teach her to hold items in her mouth for photographic purposes. It. Will. Happen. Just not yet.

I’ll let this video speak for itself:

Not quite the trick I was hoping to show off at the end of this month.

Sure, I could say that Shiva has done much better with this behaviour than it appears. I am also much better with my timing when the camera is not running. I wish I could show you all of the other training sessions in which Shiva held that stuffed snake for five whole seconds. But I can’t. All I have in any given moment is the dog in front of me. Not the Shiva of yesterday who was a bit more interested in the game, or even the Shiva of tomorrow who might have benefited from a bit of latent learning. Shiva is a dog with emotions as important to her as mine are to me. It doesn’t matter how well she performs in a video. What matters is that we tried to do something together and we are going to keep trying. Because it isn’t about the results.

This is what I tell myself, anyway.

Now it is your turn.

I want to hear all about the fun things you have done with your pets this month. Have you learned any lessons that will help you in the future? Did your pet surprise you? Add a link with your story to the tool below and brag about all of your hard work. Every entry has a chance to win a $25 donation to your favourite pet charity and a prize pack for you and your dog!

The linky will be open for one week. While you are there, make sure to read about the challenges faced by my talented co-hosts at Something Wagging This Way Comes and  Alfie’s Blog, as well as by all the other participants. You may be newly inspired to join me in my Year of Training!

What is one thing making you proud of your pet this month?

Train Your Dog Month Challenge – Going with the Flow

Since we have passed the midway point for the Train Your Dog Month Challenge, I thought i  should check in to see how you are doing with your projects. Taught any new tricks? Conquered any fears? Have you even come up with an idea yet? Shiva and I, naturally, have not only perfected all of our goals like rockstars, I have actually moved on to teaching her how to drive the trick.

Right, and The Cat curls up to sleep in my lap every night.

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Perhaps what I should teach her is how to look at the stinkin’ camera once in a while! Sheesh!

But that’s okay. Even if we are still attempting to master a simple hold the larger goal is to spend time together and have fun. This is what I repeat over and over again, like n incantation. Sometimes with a smile, sometimes muttered under my breath, sometimes through gritted teeth.

Like many people, I thrive on instant results. The most onerous part of dog training is that some things are easier than others to teach. As every dog is so different, I have to remember to be patient when something is difficult for Shiva that was so easy for another. Dogs are not that different from humans in this respect. All of us learn at a different pace and with our own styles. Though Shiva was able to learn leg weaves within a few days, it doesn’t mean she will be able to learn how to toss a treat in the air or balance a book on her nose. As simple as holding a toy in one’s mouth might be for dogs in our former agility classes, this task may be Shiva’s Waterloo. Even if it isn’t, I have to remember that it might take a long time for her to understand what I am asking and that keeping my frustration in check is a vital part of the process.

My former dog trainer – how I miss her weekly advice – linked to a great article on praise and its necessary place in training. The article focuses on agility but I think it applies to all forms of training, whether working with a fearful dog, playing around with tricks, or in more formal activities like obedience or flyball. I’d love to just re-post the entire piece for you because the whole thing is brilliant and I think it should be required reading for every dog handler. Because that would be cheating, I will just share the final paragraph of EmDogs’ motivating post:

My one and only goal is to have fun with my dogs, and show them a bang-up awesome time.  It’s my decision to play this game.  They’d be just as happy with hikes and Frisbee and swimming and…Their life is so short compared to ours.  When they’re gone, you won’t remember if you Q’d in Grand Prix in January of 2014.  You’ll remember the sweet kisses they gave you every morning.  You’ll remember that look of “this is SO AWESOME, MOM!!” they gave you every time you brought out their favourite toy.  You’ll remember that deep down feeling of joy you get every time you cross the finish line with your best friend.  THOSE are the things that are important.  Take the time to stop and focus on those, and you just might find yourself with an amazingly willing E dog living in your house, too.

This is how I want to live my life with Shiva. Let’s face it, we’re not going to Q anything. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t have a blast in the attempt. This attitude embodies the ideal of how we approach everything with our dogs. We don’t bring them home with the goal of correcting their mistakes or screaming in frustration when they don’t understand our rules, right? Training should be super good times for BOTH parties. If it isn’t, you are doing it wrong.

007That being said, dedicating time to working with your pet every day is troublesome when you feel like you aren’t getting any results. I know all too well the dissatisfaction of achieving something one day and then watching it unravel the next. It is demoralizing when your dog appears to prefer chewing on a stick than learning a new behaviour. However, it is these times when it is most important to shrug your shoulders and go with the flow. The more cheerful you are – and no faking, they can tell – the more likely your dog will choose to join you. Even if you never even get to any actual training that day, if all you have to show for your time is a tired, happy animal who is looking forward to your next play session, that is a huge success.

I only say all this as it is something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. When I am in the thick of things, annoyed that Shiva keeps running off to chase the cat when I am standing there with clicker and treats in hand, I need to remember to keep it light. Flexibility has been so important. If she would rather run around then the best thing I can do is ditch my training plan and turn it into a running game instead. After a bit of goofing off we might then be able to work on my goal but we may not. That’s what tomorrow is for.

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Or maybe it will be for looking at the camera without looking terrified. Baby steps.

All you have to do is read every post in this blog under the “agility” category, to know Shiva wrangling is not as simple as I’d like it to be. When things have been at their most frustrating, it has been most helpful for me to remember to laugh. Even when I feel like crying, even when Shiva has just dove over a fence and ripped through a trial staging area filled with reactive dogs and treats that don’t belong to her, even when she jumps on a table and frightens a score-keeper, forcing a laugh helps me relax and makes it more likely she will come back for more.

It is my goal to keep all this close to my heart as Shiva and I work on our challenges for Train Your Dog Month. Along with my talented co-hosts, I am keeping the focus on building our bond. Something Wagging This Way Comes has had a few surprises this month and the wise Pamela has learned to be flexible with the beautiful Honey and Alfie at Alfie’s Blog has hit the books and gotten the hang of the platform spin. It’s a good thing this isn’t a competition or we’d be in trouble! I hope you also have been having an amazing time with your pets, whatever your goals may be, and that at the end of the thirty one days, you’ll have made some awesome memories.

Train Your Dog Month

If you are still looking for ideas, I have put some links together below of my favourite Youtube channels.  Even if you aren’t participating in the challenge, I encourage you to check them out. The enthusiasm and joy of the trainers is only matched by those of their dogs. It is always a dazzling thing to watch.

Kikopup – If you haven’t learned from her patience yet, you are missing out.

My Favourite Pup Jasmine – There is a brilliant mind underneath that soft fur, I believe this adorable Havanese also has a blog of her own.

Nana Border Collie – Nana isn’t the only one showing off her stuff. Her feline and rodent siblings also get in on the fun!

Success Just Clicks – Tena is a thoughtful and spirited trainer. The connection she has with her dogs is more than inspiring. Her blog is also worth a subscription.

Zak George’s Dog Training rEvolution – You are probably tired of hearing about him but I love this guy and will link to his videos every chance I get.

So. Are you in yet? There is still time! Join the Train Your Dog Month Challenge along with my co-hosts at Something Wagging This Way Comes and Alfie’s Blog. Set a small goal to work on with your pet and check back in at the end of the month to share your success. Every eligible person who enters by sharing their challenge in the comments on the January 31, 2014 post or the link list will get a chance to win a donation to their favourite animal charity and a special treat for themselves and their dogs. But, obviously, the real prize will be improving your relationship with your furry friend. You can’t lose!

Train Your Dog Year Challenge: Month #1

Because I am who I am, I have decided to choose the hardest challenge first for my personal Train Your Dog Year bonanza. I could have gone with something simple yet cute, like teaching Shiva to hold a stuffed animal in her paws, or conceivably something practical, like how to relax when someone is knocking at the door. Both would have been good choices. It could be Olympic fever – urging me to go for the gold – given that instead of basing my decision on logic, I’ve decided it is time to get serious. Mega Man style.

Be afraid, Shiva. Be very afraid.

Be afraid, Shiva. Be very afraid.

Any guesses? What is the one behaviour most dogs perform naturally that Shiva has never, ever, in her life, been able to do with any form of consistency? Sure, if I stand on my head and quote Patricia McConnell while humming the opening theme to The Littlest Hobo, she might occasionally pretend like she knows what I am asking. But even then it’s a toss-up. I am certain it’s an accident. The Cat probably puts her up to it just so he doesn’t have to listen to my cajoling any more.

If you haven’t come up with it yet, the behaviour to which I am referring, and the aim of January’s challenge is the basic retrieve. You heard me right. The action most dogs are born to execute, the reason some dogs are alive, is the same action Shiva has no aptitude for whatsoever.

I have tried teaching her this an infinite amount of times before. I have tried using a clicker, I have tried luring, I have tried running around like a crazy person. No matter how many videos I watch or how many books I read, none of the advice as worked. I still cannot get her to reliably return an object. No doubt the problem is me. My impatience is the stuff of legends, especially when it is something I want really badly. My childhood dog didn’t retrieve either. She loved chasing a ball, but she preferred to toss it up in the air and catch it all by herself while her hapless humans looked on. Shiva, on the other hand, prefers keep away, or chomping on the dang ball. Bringing it back so I can throw it again is such a foreign concept to her I may as well be asking her to translate Russian.

Or look at me when I am taking a photo. This will be Challenge #2, stay tuned.

Or look at me when I am taking a photo. This will be Challenge #2, stay tuned.

The biggest issue is, Shiva and I have already mastered most of the tricks in all of the dog books we own. She crawls, she rolls over, she closes doors, she dances, and she even jumps through my arms. All of the easy behaviours, we’ve had in our repertoire long ago. All of the ones that don’t involve her holding something in her mouth, that is. If we are going to be champions, even in our own eyes, we have to nail the retrieve. It is the only way forward. The retrieve is the only thing standing between us and  dog trick glory.

Of course, if I am ever going to have a dog who plays fetch, my lifelong dream, I am going to have to grit my teeth and fight for it. No more diddling around. It will be frustrating. I am going to give up at least a dozen more times. But I have to remember that it’s worth it. Shiva one day bringing me a beer is worth all the tangled hair, all the tears, and all the sleepless nights in the world.

Luckily, I am not alone. I have the genius of Zak George to help me and I have your support. At least, I hope I do. I can do this, right?

Does your dog retrieve? Is it something you taught or does he or she do it out of pure joy? Do you have any helpful hints?

Train Your Dog Year Challenge

My innate laziness has always made the concept of New Year’s Resolutions anathema to me. The idea that I am going to change my whole lifestyle because of a simple calendar flip seemed ludicrous. Besides, everyone knows January is one of the darkest, most depressing months of the year, it is hardly the time I am most motivated to do something crazy, like stop eating sugar. Can you imagine? Giving up the very thing you need the most to survive? I don’t think so.

I don’t like setting goals I know I won’t meet. They used to make us do that in school. I remember being forced every year by my homeroom teacher to write down five things I hoped to accomplish. Cripes. It was junior high. The only thing I wanted to achieve back then was invisibility. Every time she handed out the sheets of paper I would have to rack my brain in order to make something up. I became quite skilled at telling people what they wanted to hear but it didn’t help me obtain anything. If nothing else, the involuntary practice just made me even more resentful and bitter.

But I digress.

Train Your Dog Month

The wise author of Something Wagging This Way Comes has once more been generous enough to dedicate her time to promoting the annual Train Your Dog Month Challenge. As much as I may loathe resolutions, I do appreciate the theory behind the yearly event. Originally conceived by The Association of Professional Dog Trainers, dog owners across the world are encouraged to spend the month of January working with their furry friends on everyday manners and social skills. It is a fun way to get motivated to work on some of the things we all know our dogs are lacking. Whether it be anxiety-based reactivity or teaching our dogs not to counter surf – ahem, Delilah – the notion is that we will buckle down and use the cold month to achieve something with our of which we can be proud. I adore the thought. If only it was so easy to put into practice.

This is where Something Wagging’s brilliant blogger challenge comes in.

As an obliger, I realize I need outside pressure in order to fulfil my commitments. It isn’t enough for me to say I want to do something, I need others to nudge me into doing it even when there is a fantastic new book series loaded into my eReader. This is why I signed up with Alfie’s Blog to co-host what is always a fantastic blogging event. Not only am I obligated to follow through this time as a certified co-host but I am also going to be the recipient of all of your ingenious inspiration. It is a win-win as far as my pets – and I – are concerned.

This will be the third year of the challenge and I fully expect all participants will be giving it there all. It’s not about competition over who teaches the neatest trick. Rather, it is about building the bond, dedicating the time to enhancing our relationships with our animals. No matter how perfect your dog or cat or hamster is, and I am sure they are all fabulous, no doubt there is something you would like to work on. This is your chance! It doesn’t matter whether or not you succeed, what is important is that you spend that little bit of extra time together.

As I mentioned above, I detest New Year’s Resolutions. They are so floppy and inevitably meaningless. We only make them because we think we are supposed to. This year, however, I have made a resolution that I hope you all will help me keep. In 2014, I am resolving to spend more time with my dog.

That’s it. No special behaviours, no fancy moves, just quality time building our relationship. Since we are no longer actively involved in agility, I have noticed a lot of things slipping. Not due to any fault of Shiva’s, of course. Mostly because we just don’t break out of the routine very often any more. We walk, we cuddle, we play tug, we go to sleep. And that’s it. I would like to change that. Shiva and I used to be a unit, a team, an awkwardly deluded duo. I’d like to get that back. I mean, there was once a time, I even convinced her to prefer my praise to chasing The Cat!

This time, I am taking Train Your Dog Month one step further and declaring 2014 Train Your Dog Year. Each month I am going to work with Shiva on a new behaviour. It may not be exciting. We may end up utter failures. We will definitely make idiots of ourselves. But we are going to have fun and revitalize our former synergy.

Remember these good old days?

So. Who’s with us? If you need a little monetary incentive, APDT is also offering a cash reward for winning videos showcasing testimonials how training your dog improved both your life and your relationship with your dog.  They are looking for clips that let the public better understand the value and benefits of training your dog, which is what Train Your Dog Month is all about.

Plus, for anyone who participates in the blog challenge, we’ll pick one training team at random to win a $25 donation to their favorite pet charity and a prize pack for you and your dog. Pretty awesome, eh? You’ve got nothing to lose!

I do hope you’ll join in. Remember, you don’t need a dog or even a cat to participate. I’d love for this year to be the first fishy participant! All species are more than welcome. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!