2019 is a big one. I left my job of 9 years to train full time, my husband, who has been working out of state for the past year, is now working back home, my dogs, now have a mom who doesn’t work two full time jobs, plus a second parent in the house - they are exhausted from the love and attention. I’m overwhelmed, I’m excited, I have endless choices, the change is warmly welcomed. But, did I mention I’m overwhelmed? This blog post was sparked by my business binder project - part business plan, part vision board, part treasure map, part coloring book, part something sparkly that makes me smile - and all that is going to take my business into the future. There is so much to dream about, but I am an efficient girl, so every now and then I need to do a little compass check just to make sure my peepers stay on my guiding star. Last March I started a new tattoo project that included two arrows pointing in the same direction, a little basic - I get that, but every time I looked at my arm, it reminded me to keep all my stuff moving in the right direction. AND. IT. WORKED. Who has two thumbs and didn't deviate from her path? This girl. And, that Havanese helped. Also, go check out Alissa’s work @shademedtattoo
I Am Who I Am: My Guiding Star
I don’t know if it makes me simple or complicated, but I think my values as a human and trainer can be classified into 3 major categories, which I realize doesn’t make a star but it does make for an appropriate length blog entry:
Education. Don’t Be a Dick. The Best of Mary Poppins and The Beach Boys.
Here we go...
Guiding Point 1: Education Matters. A lot.
I love learning. I fall in love with engaging speakers. I have more books than I’ll ever be able to read. I think my family thought I would never leave college. For a while, I thought I’d never leave either. When it comes to dog training, I feel the same. Certifications are important, but continuing education is queen because current education matters most. Science is dynamic. With new thinking, advanced technology and retooling of ideas, comes growth, change and an evolution of practices. The science behind animal training has changed a lot over the years. Today, there is a mountain of scientific evidence that supports teaching dogs, and all animals, with positive training methods as the most effective way to achieve your training goals and provide for the best all around existence for you and your dog. I value educating the community to this message.
I love bringing the very best to my clients. In dog training, my mission is to make sure humans are equipped with the skills to not only keep their dog in their home for a lifetime, but enjoy (or at least see the light) in every single moment of it. I’m kicking off my year with a trip to ClickerExpo in Portland next week!
Guiding Point 2: Don’t Be A Dick
My second life & training philosophy is don’t be a dick, an f-wad, a-hole, or whatever term you’d like to call someone who acts like a jerk. You know what? I feel like this is offensive to genitalia. I’m just going to use jerk going forward and I think you catch my drift.
Basically, it goes like this. If something makes me feel unhappy with myself, causes me to cringe, or drives me to throw down my WTF face, it’s safe to say I’m not feeeeeling it. I’ve been teaching for 20 years. When working with humans or dogs or anything or anyone, my goal is to provide an awesome experience. I want my learners to be comfortable, have fun, get smart, provide a place where mistakes can be made and a place where we can learn together. This simply does not, will not, and cannot include yelling, pain, intimidation or threat of any of the above.
Even if the science didn’t exist that show us positive training is better for many, many reasons, I still wouldn’t choke, pinch, spray, electrocute, smack, force or threaten my student into learning. And, I don’t want to work with people who do this either.
Guiding Point 3: In Every Job That Must Be Done, There is an Element of Fun (Fun, Fun)
I smile a lot. I laugh just as much. I like to find or infuse a little fun everything I do. Sing at the top of my lungs while I mow the lawn. Check. Roller skate race down the hallway while meetings are in progress? I’m in. Always (Hint: when you’re in, always, you never really get in trouble). I like to fill my days with the unexpected; make boring tasks entertaining, say yes, scare the shit out of myself, try new things, meet strange people. Which is why I also have an education in recreation - I value the concept enough to go into debt for it. Like, private grad school debt.
Here’s Why: Life is damn hard. Work, death, money, illness - really rough, really, real shit. But, everyone deserves fun, enjoyment and play. I really, really like providing that outlet for my community. Getting all riled up about a dog’s inability to sit on cue is not fun for anyone involved. Even science says so.
I have animals because they make my life better - they are my playmates, my running partners, my educators, and my friends. If I am freaking, spraying, yelling, hitting, choking, pinching, electrocuting or threatening when working with my dog, I am not 1) using my education 2) being a good human or 3) having fun. And this girl, wants to have fun.
I Didn’t Say Any Of This Is Easy
Does this mean that I’ve never yelled at my dog? That I’ve never lost my patience and leaned into my pup when he didn’t respond to a verbal “sit”? Of course I’ve done this. I am human. But, it means that I’m aware of when I do it and it means that I know it is not only unproductive, but potentially takes a real and meaningfully shitty toll on my relationship with my pup. It also means that I’m aware that when I start down this slope, it gets slippery. It tells me that in our next session, I need a new training plan...and perhaps help, a chill pill and/or a nap. I need to come back and do better and live up to my 3-pointed star compass. Side Note: I thought I was inventing a new shape and just realized it’s the Mercedes logo.
So, why do people choose to train their dogs with force or “forcey” methods?
Mental Health - way outside my scope, but I have resources that can help and I’m happy to share.
It’s Old School - it’s the same reason that people do weird, hilarious, YouTube quality things at the gym - they saw it in a body building mag from ‘87 and it’s worked for them (forget the fact that you can’t lift your arms above his shoulders anymore…)
They are not very skilled at training. Too quick are people to throw up their arms and say, "this doesn't work." You have to have the education, as well as the patience and practice.
They got bamboozled. A slick sales guy, a pitch about “balance and respect,” maybe it sounds like something you’ve heard on tv before, or that gorgeous German Shepherd sitting like a statue at a local expo not blinking until commanded to do so, perhaps it's the promise of quick results, laziness, between the kids and the dogs, they’re at the end of their rope, or they just didn’t think to ask, “what’s the fallout of this?” Or maybe they have just justified the fallout...
Because, I also think some people just get off on the immediate result of using pain or fear. Delivering that shock, yelling, or throwing your arms up, jolts a dog into momentary compliance. For some humans, that feels quite rewarding. But, know what fluffs my feathers? Building such a relationship and working so hard on skills that when my dog kills a woodchuck and wants to bring it home with her, a calm and quiet “drop it” followed by a yummy cookie got the job done.
I had a person ask me if I did any “collar work.” After I took a full 30 seconds to process the question, I replied, “No.” With a disappointed face, she went on to tell me how she’d never train a dog again without a prong collar, “you just give that tug and BAM! That dog listens right up” Ooook. I’m just gonna give you a minute alone.
Here’s some of my many struggles: if you call your dog your best friend, your baby, your fur kid, or buy it sweaters and swag, how do you justify hurting or threatening it? If that’s ok, why don’t we equip kids with shock collars when they enter the classroom? Why are some of these “training tools” ILLEGAL in other countries and available at local pet stores in the US? Any poodle....
Here’s the Thing
In training and in life, I believe in the journey. I believe in choices. I have made mine. As a human and trainer, this is where I stand: If you commit to raising a dog in your home, you also need to commit to the realities that dogs are hard work and puppies are utterly ridiculous. You are going to have very, very challenging days with them, just like you do with your partner or offspring. You commit to that work for a lifetime. You commit to educating yourself or seeking out help when you’re stuck. You commit to kindness and keeping your animal safe from harm. You commit to the concept that your dog thinks, feels and learns all the time - even when you don’t want them to. Your commit to the idea that your actions matter, a lot, to your dog. You accept that training these little beasts takes our time and attention away from other important aspects of life. You commit to teaching your dog what you want them to know and you open up to learning from them, as well.
I will not inflict harm or the threat of harm on anyone I am teaching. It violates my life principles in every way and feel gross. And, while I have no interest in convincing those who have made other choices, I would urge anyone to not miss out on the amazing degrees of companionship, behavior, and enjoyment that can come from your dog because of an attachment to antiquated training methods, a lack of information, or discomfort in questioning practices in a well-rehearsed sales pitch (ps - electric shock doesn’t f-ing tickle and should be illegal). Ask yourself if this feels right. Ask yourself if this is how you’d like to learn. Ask yourself if this jives with the research you’ve been reading. You have options.
Get help from a great trainer. Absorb the knowledge. Have Fun. Feel Good. Do the work.
This Isn’t How I Thought It Would Be
Your dog has been slapped with a label like reactive, naughty, over-aroused, hyperactive, aggressive, scared or scary. It’s isolating, embarrassing, frustrating, sad and very likely not what you thought you were getting yourself into. Dogs are supposed to be our go-to pals in life, but it’s hard to go anywhere when your dog’s behavior is unpredictable, or worse, predictably terrible.
Undesirable behaviors can manifest themselves in all breeds, without prejudice for how much you forked over to buy or adopt, it’s doesn’t matter if the dog is big or small, experienced dog owner for first timer. These behaviors might present themselves all of the time, it may feel random, only on leash, only around children or only men over 5’10 wearing red hats.
It’s easy to get hung up on the “whys, ” Were you abused? Were you socialized? Bad genes? Were you mercilessly harassed by a mail truck in a previous life? Real feelings surface when you see other dogs peacefully walking down the street or hear about our friends' weekly trips to the dog park. Sometimes we think our dogs will just get over it, sometimes we seek professional help, sometimes we pretend it’s not a big deal, sometimes these dogs find their way into or back into the shelter system to become someone else’s burden. No judgement, just reality.
Behavior change takes time and commitment. What that really means is that it takes a lifestyle disruption...and rearranging your home...and altering your expectations...and acceptance that progress is not linear... and ultimately, digging deep for levels of patience, kindness and compassion that you may not even know that you possess. But, change = growth
Over the years, we’ve accumulated these awesome graduates from our Focused and Confident series who wanted more. And, I wanted more. My pups get my leftovers when it comes to training. I was particularly concerned with my guy, Ojai - a wild boy whose engine runs red hot, his heart is fueled by chase and his head is filled with all. the. feelings. We have made most excellent progress, but we live rural and experience winter weather in which no life form goes outside. 4 months of not seeing a bike or another dog generally knocks us back a few notches on our climb.
An Individual with a Tribe
I am, by education and trade, a programmer. Not of the computer variety, but the sort that builds classes, events, teams, club and activities around a central concept and keeps you coming back for more. I am fascinated by the impact of community and connections. So naturally, I set out to build my tribe.
Focused and Confident Social Club (FCSC) is free but exclusive, it’s managed but not coached. The team is invite-only for those who have proven their skills in our Focused and Confident series. Both handler and dog skills are considered prior to invite. Most importantly, we are looking out for the welfare of the dogs involved. Each team member plays a vital role in the safety and success of this program.
We started in Feb 2018. The goal was simple - bring a handful of carefully selected teams together to practice whatever skills that individual team needed to work on. No greetings, no sniffing of any sort, big (BIG) space bubble, head in the game 100% Each location was picked for maximum success. Teams kept a good 10 - 15+ feet from one another. Our initial meet-ups were successful, all of the dogs were doing their thing, humans were releasing tension from their leash and shoulders; I think a few even breathed! Then, it kept getting better.
Our posse was showing up on a regular basis and it was making a difference. Dogs were quick to recover from any barky barky, the group reads situations like real dog pros and they make split second adjustments with grace and ease to maximize everyone's experience. They are simply fantastic.
Not Your Average Walk In The Park
Dog management is dialed to 11. Always. This is the not-secret to our success. We practice trail/path etiquette, we have full treat pouches, we take our time, we make space, we understand and respect our own dog and other dogs' needs and body language. It's exhausting and worth it and it works.
Ellen & Bailey
I fell in love with Bailey, a sweet little brindle pup with the biggest ears I’d ever seen, at an adoption fair for Sandi Paws Rescue. I’d been dreaming of getting a dog and she felt like the perfect match. We had dogs growing up, I thought, how hard could it be? On the drive home from Fond du Lac after picking her up, I realized I had no idea what I was doing.
Over the next few weeks as she started to settle in, her energetic, bold, sassy personality started to shine and I quickly realized we were going to need all the help we could get. I came home from walks feeling embarrassed and frustrated about having the dog that lunged at other people/dogs and jumped up trees barking at squirrels. There were days when we couldn’t even get out the door before the jumping and nipping and leash tugging would start, and I’d turn around and unclip her leash, feeling defeated. I couldn’t sit down at the table or on the couch without her barking at me. More than once I questioned whether I could actually handle this, if we were truly a good fit for each other.
We started training with Local Dog (formerly Dog Face), learning the basics, Bailey is smart and eager to learn, but as her leash-reactive behaviors grew worse I knew we needed more. As we worked through the Focused & Confident series, joined social club walks with other reactive dogs, and did in-home training for leash skills and boredom busters, I began to see the progress we were making. Both Bailey’s confidence and mine were growing, and our walks were becoming much more enjoyable. I’m better able to predict situations where we’ll need a distraction, and when she does react she’s able to recover more quickly. I’ve learned the value of being an advocate for your dog - the importance of keeping distance when needed, avoiding potential triggers, and being comfortable with saying no when someone approaches asking to pet her or if our dogs can meet.
We certainly still have struggles, but growth is a continuous journey, and we’re going to keep working! It’s my goal to take the skills we’ve been using outdoors and apply them to stressful situations at home as well - building calmness toward the vacuum cleaner for example, and managing over-arousal during playtime.
Over our year and a half together, Bailey has challenged me in the best ways and shown me all the love she has to offer. Walking past other dogs with ease and snuggling on the couch without all the barking, are reminders that hard work pays off, and it’s 100% worth it! - Ellen
Julie & Princess Leia
Princess Leia started her dog-dog reactivity at about the age of 6 months. There are several scenarios as to ‘what went wrong’, but after several years of trying to place the blame, I finally realized that isn’t important. What’s important is giving my little girl the best and happiest life with what we have.
When first showing signs of reactivity, I was SO devastated. Afterall, I had big plans for this pup! I competed in agility with my previous dog, and when he retired, Leia was going to be my ‘National Champion’ dog. So as soon as her little body and mind could handle it, we began our agility instructions.
I remember my first Local Dog (Dog Face) class well. Focused and Confident, Level 1. I sat in a room with 5 other people, NO DOGS ALLOWED, discussing our dog’s issues and what our goals were. Goals? I never thought about a goal. Just ‘fix’ my dog! That’s all I wanted.
I finally figured out that my immediate goal was to get Leia from her crate to the start line at an agility trial, without throwing a tantrum or hurting another dog. Once in the ring, alone, we will be fine.
I continued the rest of the F&C 1 classes, without much improvement. The shear sight of a dog, a block away, would send Leia into a growling, shaking, drooling mess. And there was no coming back once she started. We would actually have to leave the building in order for me to calm her down and get her attention back.
I wasn’t giving up! Then the magical day arrived. We walked into our classroom, treat in hand, leash pulled tight. I’m dreading that deadly walk from the door, past our classmates, to our seat. We walked into the room, and like clockwork, Leia began her intense eye contact, body tightening, growling noises at sight of our neighboring poodle. Oh here we go again!! But, catching me completely off-guard, SHE LOOKED AWAY! Her eyes concentrated on me, tail wagging, I think she was actually smiling, as we continued our walk to our ‘special corner’. I couldn’t believe it!
I had spent dozens of times crying in despair after our classes, losing hope. That day my tears were ‘happy tears’.
As we left class that day, still shaking from the unbelievable events from earlier, she locked eye contact with our neighboring shepherd dog. Growling and carrying on. Oh well. It’s true what they say…one step forward, 2 steps back. But every little step forward counts.
Yes, Leia reached our goal of being able to walk from her cage to the agility start line. And we’ve continued to grow from there. I have to keep on top of things, always being aware of our surroundings, and letting others know about her ‘problem’. It was important that I learn to communicate this to others, to help us be successful. I needed to accept that she will still have ‘bad days’, and there will always be that dog that no matter how much we train, she ain’t ever gonna like (Poor Paco. Sorry, Dude!)
Most importantly, I needed to stop feeling guilty about her ‘condition’. Who cares why she’s like this. I had to get over it and move forward. And through the years I have become confident in our strengths, and know what her vulnerabilities are. It’s ALWAYS a work in progress, and I frequently go back to the basics and work on our “Look at that dog” exercises.
Picture it. You’re getting fit, exploring the great outdoors, armed with an awesome excuse to shop for new gear, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll find someone who enjoys running with you. A running partner is really special sort of friend - they let you mooch off their water bottle, don’t judge how red or sweaty you get, know the right level of encouragement and quiet, won’t get mad when your snot rocket lands on them, they stand guard if you need to pee in the woods, they listen to bitches and brags about your work, love, boss or spouse. You develop a special language, riddled with inside jokes that are so not funny to anyone else. Dogs. Are. The. Best. (Also, the handfuls of humans who tolerate this behavior from me and keep coming back for more. Mad, crazy and forever love.)
And, Here Come the Excuses
But, I’m no good at running. But, my dog is too fat, old, young, naughty, big, small, barky. But, I don’t have time. I don’t have a dog. Throw your excuse at me, I toss back a solution (you can get better at anything you put effort to, start easy, go slow, replace “run” with “any kind of movement,” dog stroller, hire a coach/trainer, actually try, how you spend your time is a choice/everyone has time, bajillion shelter dogs could use exercise). What else you got?
Here’s the thing. I’ve been coaching novice running for the majority of my adult life. In the last 9 years managing the fitness department for Madison School & Community Recreation, I’ve coached upwards of 400 runners, from 5k’ers to marathoners, kiddos to 87 year olds. If I had to make a list of my top 5 skills, coaching new, apprehensive, sometimes (very) crabby adult runners probably takes the top spot. I am confident I can help you like(ish) it, if not love it. And, I’m really sure, dear dog person, you’re gonna have fun with your creature and in return, your dog is going to love you something extra if you make fitness a priority.
The good news is that if your feelings on running spur from the memory of some torturous 1 mile effort in PE class, repeated attempts at the ‘Couch - 5k’, regrettable minutes on the gym treadmill watching crap tv, I’ve got something better for you. Plus, your dog gets to come along.
*Evilly taps fingertips to one another* I can make running your gateway drug to inspire you to move more AND take your relationship with your pup to the next level.
The Real Deal
Just like dog training, fitness doesn’t come in any magic form. There’s no quick fix pill; you can’t lay down cash and get instant results. This involves that dirty ‘w’ word. WORK. WERK, if you’re nasty. But follow me down this path for just a sec: work, with a dusting of fun, is actually just a game. Who doesn’t like to have fun and play games? Literally, no one.
At this point, I’m gonna give you skeptical Sallys and Steves an out. There are cute dog pics below, but we’re leaping, both feet/all paws in, to the “hows” of running with your dog. To proceed with this blog, you should have an eyebrow raised with a “this might be for me” attitude.
First Things First
Like any physical activity, you and your pooch need to be healthy and cleared by your doc and vet, respectively. Seriously.
At minimum, you’ll want a dog with decent leash-walking skills. If you presently have a wild Marlin on the end of your leash, hop in a dog training class or hire a trainer to work on walking politely on lead.
Time to Shop! For the human, you need running shoes. Not lawn mowing shoes. Not basketball shoes. Running shoes. Go get some good shoes so your body holds up (because you’re about to have so much fun that you’ll want to do this for all eternity). An interval timer is also great. You can use a watch or specific interval time like Gym Boss - it’s a phone app too, if you prefer to use that.
For the Dog
Investment Estimate: $200+/- to outfit you and your dog
Now that you’ve stimulated the economy, let’s talk about what you’re going to do with all this new shit in your closet.
I use run/walk intervals to teach all newbie, crabby, injured, returning and basically all runners. Some hang onto these intervals for all eternity (I do). Others have a hang up about running nonstop and venture in continuous running direction. Cool either way. Do you.
Here’s the madness behind this method. Firstly, intervals are just effective. Mix periods of “go” with periods of “stop or easy” and repeat. It’s used is all realms of fitness and sport training. After 10 years of competitive running and racing triathlon, unaddressed injuries caught up with me in a wicked and debilitating way. Surgery after surgery changed my entire way of life, but running is such a passion to me that I was willing to, literally, do anything - even *gulp* walk.
What a fool I was! Now, after using intervals for the past 10 years, I have put out faster times, I am never sore after a run, and my head doesn’t play tricks on me like (eh, 2 miles is good enough...when I planned for 4). Most importantly, I can run more consistently. I can’t imagine running any other way now.
Then, I started running with my dogs and found that intervals were incredibly useful for teaching my dogs to run well. Clearly, our dogs know how to run - but without training, it’s a free-for-all of spastic starts and stops, pee breaks without warning, hard pulls to sniff and crisscrosses until we’re all tangled up and I can speak only cuss words.
Goal Setting & Journey Enjoying
Go big. Go small. Stay where it’s comfortable. The choice is yours. But as you dive into your running journey with your pup, always remember, this run isn’t about you - you and your dog are a team. Your success is built together, so current runners need to be conscientious to not push it too hard - if running is new to the pooch, having a dog who is annihilated post workout is totally inappropriate for your animal in a mind, body and spirit way. For the newbs, just enjoy without pressure or expectations. Breath the air; Love the slobber.
Wanna Get Racey? There is this beautiful sport of canicross that involves you and your dog running trails. We, in Wisconsin, are pretty lucky as we have a rather active canicross calendary. Check out Kenosha Running Company’s Canicross Site - they offer seasonal (fall - spring) canicross races. From experience, they are low-key, friendly and awesome for all levels - walk, run fast or slow.
Interested in learning more? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m currently offering individual or small group private coaching for canicross training and working on a mini-sesh workshop this spring.
Local Dog Adventure Blog
Join me and my 3-dog crew as we share our stories of training and adventure. Whether you're a newly leashed dog guardian, veteran handler, weekend warrior, cuddle on the couch sort, got yourself a fancy AF purebred or filthy, little mudblood, all are welcome in the Local Dog Tribe. If you want your pooch to think you're the coolest thing since sliced hot dogs, read on!