The Genius of Antecedent Arrangements

While looking around the Internet, I came across an old post by a blogger I used to read when I was much more into the training thing than I am now. Eileen and Dogs was filled with such revolutionary information for me back when I was inhaling dog behaviour tips with my morning coffee. The quality of her wisdom has not diminished. Thought the writer claims she is not a professional trainer, she has absorbed plenty of knowledge through her personal experiences. I wish it was possible to download half of her brain into my own.

Anyway, the post that struck me this week was all about antecedent arrangements. Ms. Eileen has written about this training classification in the past but it sounded too convoluted of a concept for me at the time. I didn’t understand it right away and so I moved on. Reading about it now, with no pressure, I realized this training method is something I have employed all along. I just called it something different.

I don't know the name or breed of this dog, but when I see him, I call him Little Bear. Finding out his real name wouldn't make him less adorable.

I don’t know the name or breed of this dog, but when I see him, I call him Little Bear. Finding out his real name wouldn’t make him less adorable.

In essence, antecedent arrangements mean managing a behaviour as opposed to training a dog to do something different. Does that make sense? In many circles, management is looked down upon as the lazy way of doing something. I’ve always kind of disagreed. In my world, managing is setting the dog up for success. It is also one of the least invasive ways, for the dog, to handle a disagreeable situation.

For instance, I set Shiva up for success by putting a set of blinds on the window of the back door. This way she can’t see the downstairs neighbours coming in and out and doesn’t feel the need to bark at them. This is an antecedent arrangement. In another example, while on a walk this evening, I climbed up a slight hill to put space between Shiva and two approaching strange men. I overheard the men talking about my odd behaviour as they passed but it made Shiva more comfortable and prevented her from barking and lunging.

Shiva really wants to sniff the muddier side of the path where she often finds yucky garbage to scarf

Shiva really wants to sniff the muddier side of the path where she often finds yucky garbage to scarf

Put another way, an antecedent arrangement involves controlling or rearranging a dog’s environment to encourage desirable behaviour.

I am betting you do this too and not just when it comes to your dog. There are lots of ways we can set ourselves up for success. If you are tired of rushing in the morning, you can rearrange your environment by making your lunch the night before and making sure your keys and everything else you will need to grab on your way out the door is all together in one place. If you want to write more often, you can tell your friends you are going to write 100 words every day and ask them to heckle you if you don’t follow through. These are antecedent arrangements. They are things you prepare ahead of time to create scenarios where you are more likely to succeed.

By rewarding her for walking on this side of the path I avoid the difficult situation of making her drop the disgusting trash and she still gets to sniff. I could train her to "leave it" and not pick up the rubbish in the first place but after five years, the antecedent arrangement is much easier for us both.

By rewarding her for walking on this side of the path I avoid the difficult situation of making her drop the disgusting trash and she still gets to sniff. I could train her to “leave it” and not pick up the rubbish in the first place but after five years, the antecedent arrangement is much easier for us both.

This is now my favourite dog training phrase. I find myself looking for them everywhere. It is true that management can become a default of passive trainers. I won’t exclude myself from this. But when thought about in a careful manner, this method can be a great tool for a trainer who strives to use as little force as possible.

Do you employ any antecedent arrangement techniques in your household? What are the ways you set your pets, or yourself, up for success?

Soliciting Advice: Time Perception in Dogs, or, Another Dang Post About the Crate

Crate Picture UprightSo Shiva has this crate. I might have written about it once before. It’s hard to remember. This singular item has been a gigantic focus of drama and contention in my life for so long that I have no idea what I have said and to whom. Considering how much I loathe the dang thing, I know I have spent a terrible amount of time defending it.

The thing is, I will always defend it. This bothers me. One of the reasons I hate it so much is the fact that so many people have their own opinions on the subject and each believes she is right. There are a lot of areas in dog training that are factious. The use of the crate is right up there with prong collars and raw food. I don’t like that I automatically leap to the defensive side when it is mentioned. My shoulders tense, my forehead wrinkles, and I feel my lower lip slide into a pout. I like to think I am the kind of person who is open, who questions her assumptions, and who can listen to alternative points of view. When it comes to the crate, the arguments become personal. Thus, my mind remains closed.

No doubt you have your own ideas of the what the crate represents. Some of you may use it with your dogs without question and some of you may look upon it has a cage of horror. You are both correct. Because if I have learned anything during this enterprise of dog ownership, it is that success has more to do with the actions and feelings of the human than it does with right and wrong. There is no perfect way to get things done that works for all dogs. But if you feel like crap about something, your dog will too.

But I digress. I feel like I am repeating myself. Another philosophical discussion is not the purpose of today’s blathering.

As I say, Shiva has this crate. Shiva also has separation anxiety. This same metal box has been an intrinsic part of the formula for keeping her safe for the last five years. Whether you agree or disagree with its use in this situation is irrelevant. We’ve used it, Shiva knows what it means, and we can all earn our pay cheques without worrying she is hanging herself on the blinds. Even though the crate has enabled us to move on, I still hate it. I hate putting her in there every morning. Always have. I made peace with it, yes, but I have never liked it. Not because I think crate training is bad but because it is not the ideal way for Shiva to spend an afternoon. It is one of my biggest personal failures that we are still using this thing after five years.

I feel like I should underline that.

There has been some headway.

The crate is currently located in our bedroom, not because she sleeps in it at night but because it is a room in which she feels safe and comfortable. The light is low and we can close the door to prevent our jerkwad cat from harassing her. She has her blanket and her Kong and her water and she trusts that we will return. She knows that her only job is to lick peanut butter and sleep. Recently, with my heart in her indelicate paws, when we have gone out for only short periods of time, such as to the grocery store on weekend afternoons, I have taken the chance of leaving the door to the crate open.

Crate picture landscape

The routine is just the same. I take her outside for a potty break. I prepare her Kong of deliciousness. I refresh her water bowl and straighten her blanket. Shiva dashes inside the crate like it is the answer to all her hopes and dreams. I wait for her to lay down and then I give her the toy. She forgets I exist and dives in to her snack. On a typical day I would then close the crate, turn out the light, and then shut the door of the bedroom. But now, on the occasional short jaunt, I have been skipping the step with the crate lock.

So far, we have seen very positive success. Not only has she not hurt herself, but she behaves in just the same way she does as if the crate door was closed. With one significant difference: when we return home she is not locked in the small space but she is lying on our bed. It is a much happier sight, let me tell you. She is not relaxed, I wouldn’t say that, but her location cozied up to our pillows looks so much more… Natural?

I would love to give this a try for slightly longer stretches of time but am so scared of what could happen. We have done this before – experimented, played with the process, attempted to give her more freedom – and it never worked out. She just couldn’t handle it. Having free reign of even one room proved to be too stressful.

Is she ready now?

I guess there is only one way to know. But is it worth risking her safety? Should we just continue on as we are? Is it better to give up on my dream of one day walking out the front door with Shiva snoozing on the sofa?

The big question I am hoping you can help me answer is: how do dogs perceive time? 

Is leaving Shiva alone in the house for one hour the same as leaving her alone for three? Do you think she knows the difference? If she can handle 60 minutes without being in the crate, is it possible she could deal with four times that?

I’d love to know what you think. In all of your observations of dogs, in all your tremendous amounts of reading, do you think they perceive time the way humans do? Do you think it feels longer to them or shorter?

Please, if you have any thoughts on this subject, no matter how obscure, I’d be so grateful if you would share them.

Reactive Dog is Reactive, and Kind of an Ass

Shiva in snowWhen reading through the posts of last week’s #WOOF Support Blog Hop – an event hosted by and supporting owners of reactive dogs throughout the Petosphere – I was not surprised by how many of the stories sounded familiar. Roxy turns into a whirling dervish at the sight of other dogs, Ruby‘s anxieties are triggered by quick motion, and Felix was never taught solid social skills. These are all things Shiva and I have encountered together. And are still encountering.

Almost five years in, I wish I could say we have jumped down the other side of the reactivity mountain, like all her lunging is a distant memory and we walk down the street without a care. My former self liked to believe this was possible. If I was to go back and read posts from several years ago, I know I would find a cocky attitude and jokes about Shiva’s “reactive remission”. I saw every success as foreshadowing a cure.

I am now far too wise, too Shiva-savvy, to make these comments any more. Remission was never the right word to use. Reactivity (or assholerly, depending on the circumstance) isn’t behaviour that appears like a symptom of a disease and then remains until treatment pushes it into dormancy. Shiva’s barking and lunging and jarring is much more fitful and much more predictable. It is more like acne than cancer. It requires vigilance and practice. Sometimes old methods stop working and I need to try something new, a different topical cream to smooth out the skin. Shiva can be calm one second, jerky the next, and then calm for several months in a row. It’s just how it goes.

Sniffles

It would be a lie to say her eruptions are unexpected or that I never know how she is going to respond to a stimulus. Based on experience, I have an educated guess and I am almost always right. If I calculate twice per day for the past four and a half years, we have almost 3,500 walks in our tumultuous history. And counting. If I haven’t learned her common reactions by now, I haven’t been a very good partner.

However, just because I can predict her actions, doesn’t mean I always do something to prevent them. Sometimes I am too slow. Sometimes I am too lazy. Sometimes I am irritated with the situation and I don’t care if she freaks out. Sometimes I choose to be polite rather than put her first. Sometimes I like to take risks, see if I am wrong

I am usually not wrong.

The areas that differed between participating blogs in the hop were the posited reasons behind the reactive behaviour. Buster was injured by a larger dog, Forrest battles vet-diagnosed anxiety that affects multiple areas of his life, and Lucas has overcome a great deal of fear but needs help keeping his emotions in check. I have yet to come to any conclusion about the cause of Shiva’s dislike of other dogs, plastic grocery bags, and strange people – among other things.

I used to think it was fear based. Perhaps sometimes it is. But she is a very confident dog in many ways, if not a little over-confident. Is she just over-compensating?

The bulk of her problems lie in surprise. She doesn’t like it when something is there that wasn’t before. For instance, a few weeks ago someone had dumped an old leather chair at the entrance to the ravine. When we came out of the trees, Shiva saw the stocky black item and stiffened. The closer we got to the chair, the more she tensed. She started breathing in thick pants through her nose, always a warning sign. In her mind that chair didn’t belong there; it was an instant threat. The same thing happened on the weekend with a minivan parked on the trail. According to Shiva, minivans do not belong on trails, they belong on roads. When we turned the corner and she saw the large vehicle planted to the side of the path, she lost her mind.

If you have never seen a forty-five pound mutt take on a Dodge Caravan, I highly recommend it. Hi-lar-i-ous.

Strange men are also a common trigger. Not all men, though, just most. She instantly liked my PH’s older brothers but is still wary of my father. I can never be sure who she will accept and who she won’t so we avoid them all equally on our walks. This morning we took advantage of my day off and took a longer sniff through a part of the river valley we don’t get to visit often. It was early for a holiday and there weren’t many people. I made the mistake of assuming we were completely alone and forgot to pay attention.

Scary Men

Do you see the men in the above picture, to the right? Way off there in the distance? I didn’t either. Shiva did and she let them know it. I should probably have felt bad about her wild barking but, in truth, I appreciated the warning. I didn’t want to hang around in a quiet park with four strange men any more than she did.

This is why I am still conflicted about the reasons for Shiva’s reactions. They could be caused partly by fear and partly by a naturally territorial nature. They could also be a way of communicating with me when I forget to observe our surroundings. A “hey, there are people over there, just so you know, can we trust them?” Or, when it comes to her behaviour toward other dogs, she could just be kind of an ass.

PosingAt this point Shiva trusts me to handle most situations and the worst of her asshole, er, reactive, days are in the past. Most of the time I am able to prevent any episodes and we continue on our merry way with none the wiser. We’ve got the techniques down to an art and when in doubt, I don’t hesitate to cross the street or make use of someone’s driveway. But we both still make mistakes. Like an annoying pimple, there are some things that will always give us trouble. Shiva is reactive because she is reactive. That is just her personality. It is my job to help her deal with it.

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!