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Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas List (post 100!)

Norman Rockwell
So, this isn't going to be my best Christmas ever. I miss my family, we just got hit with an ice storm, my daughter and I have the flu and my ex is trying to shoe-horn a last-minute person into our "family dinner" at Kotos. I have usually spent hours making gifts and ornaments to send to family members, and am enjoying the knowledge that they are done and sent by now, but not this year. Have I mentioned we've had the flu? Nothing is done. I just spent the last 20 minutes or so walking/sliding/falling down the same 20 feet of sidewalk with an under-exercised (98 pound!) dog trying get him to "do his business" before I coughed both my lungs free from my chest, ejecting them forcefully onto the icy sidewalk. So no, not the best Christmas ever.

But so what? Christmas isn't our only chance to be happy, to get it right. Through this understanding, I've reached a level of acceptance and even the ability to laugh at what a monumental mess things are this year. It has freed me from any and all expectations, and I'm going to call it "The Blessing of Freedom from Expectations" and turn it into a good thing instead of the real f***arow that it has actually become. Come on guys, this couldn't have gone more pear-shaped if I had planned it! It really IS kinda funny.

How would things be if my Christmas wishes were granted?

First of all, my parents would be here. I would have a house to host the festivities and I would have spent the last few days enjoying their company, making cookies, drinking hot chocolate and the like. I think it goes without saying that my daughter and I wouldn't have the flu. Our dogs would take themselves out into their yard, where they could get their frolic on without taking down any people. My gifts would all be sent, and I would be really excited to hear about what folks thought of them. My tree would be surrounded by gifts for the loved ones enjoying Christmas at home.

Dinner would be a fun meal cooked with love by those of us who were sitting down to enjoy it. My ex would still be there, but would have some social perceptiveness. Christmas would be a day to look forward to, not a day to grin and bear it and remember my manners (my new mantra; be polite, remember your manners).

Gifts for me would be simple: a gift card to my favorite clothing store or book store. A Vermont Teddy Bear (silly, REALLY silly, but I've always wanted one. This one, actually, with honey colored fur and blue jammies). A pair of LL Bean Wicked Good slippers. And you know, a pony. Some things never change :-)

But there are days that come after Christmas too, and in fact, endless possibilities to make good things happen all year round. The flu is going away, and the ice storm is behind us already. There's a start. I can do this. WE can do this. Please refer to my previous post about gratitude, because it's still true.

I hope everyone has a blessed and wonderful holiday, and that at least one wish comes true for you this season!

Friday, December 13, 2013


Yes, I know the photo is of "grapefruit" and has nothing whatsoever to do with being "grateful", but it's a device. "Grateful" is one of those words I habitually misspell (I want it to be "greatful", which is like "grateful", but with aspirations) and the word "grapefruit" is how I remember to spell it correctly. Just work with me here. Trust me, it's a good device, and furthermore I couldn't find a single photo of "grateful". But I digress...

As always this time of year, I'm struggling to maintain a cheerful demeanor.  I love the season, but it's incredibly painful too. Last year was okay because our mom visited from Florida between Thanksgiving and Christmas and it really took the sting out of it, but it's back to the crushing longing for home and family this year. Oh, I have a place to live. But a place to live and home are two very different things. If you don't know the difference, you can consider yourself a very lucky individual. I haven't been "home" for a very, very long time. No visit from the parental units this year, so it's back to Koto's for a Japanese Christmas for us.

Okay, well, this can go one of two ways: I can succumb and just melt into a pile of gelatinous goo until after the new year (tempting!), or I can take a long hard look at all of the things the past year has given me, the pretty terrific people in my life, and the things I have to look forward to, none of which are dependent on having a magical holiday. I think I'll take what's behind door #2.

I've had a pretty incredible year. I had my book published, at long last. The way it happened was pretty cool too; the right opportunity came up at exactly the moment I was ready to go. How often does that happen? And the feedback has been pretty awesome! I think most writers have moments of doubt. I know I had more than a few days of thinking that everything I wrote that day was useless garbage. Most often, the next day it all seemed okay, but in the moment I was convinced that every word sucked. The reviews have been pretty great too. So far, so good, and if I get a bad review I can handle it because of all the great ones I have to fall back on. I even had my picture in the local paper, which was a pretty neat experience too :-)

The thing I am most grateful for though (and considering what an anti-social being I am it may come as a shock) is all the people who have supported me and buoyed me to where I am now. I have a long way to go yet, and it's my own initiative that I need to rely on for that, but I am overwhelmed by how many people supported me through this journey thus far: friends, family (mostly) and even complete strangers have been there, promoting, encouraging, buying my book, liking my fan page, and generally just being THERE. It's meant the world to me, and I'm still in awe. I've become very used to "Little Red Hen-ing" it (please note there is no political nonsense implied by this statement) for the most part and with rare exception, so the overwhelming support and positive feedback has been...just wow.

THAT will be my focus. Yup, I'm still going to feel sad. But I'm so grateful to have had (and to have) people in my life who were/are so amazing that it hurts this badly to miss them. I am grateful to have hope for the future, to know what "home" really means, and know that someday in the not-too-distant future I will finally be able to put down roots again and feel like I'm home. It's what I'm working my derriere off for!

So THANK YOU, dear folks, for helping this lumpy, middle-aged Weeble along her path. My gratitude is sincerely eternal:-)

On that mushy note, I leave you with a mushy video (I've become a video embedding MACHINE). It's a song that makes me cry because it reminds me so much of my dear grandfather and his wonderful tenor voice, but it's a good memory, and it means Christmas to me:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Apples and Oranges

I have been asked to clarify the difference between working and show line dogs. I would be happy to! I will use Dobermans as my example, because they are "my" breed :-) I have often said that the two dogs are so different that they might as well be separate breeds and that's true. They should both be love bugs with their families, stable and safe (especially applies to working line, for reasons you will see!), and neither of them should be inherently aggressive. They bear some resemblance to each other too, of course, but that's where the similarities end. Once upon a time, Dobermans had a well-earned reputation for fierceness. Even the show-dog Ferry had such a bad reputation that no judge would touch him. Sadly, he was eventually killed in self-defense by a kennel hand. Breeders subsequently decided that stability and at least some degree of tractability were important assets, and today's Doberman, both show and working lines, reflect that emphasis. In my experience, Dobermans are some of the kindest (if the most cheeky!) dogs out there.

I like nice examples of both working and show lines, so my intent here isn't to show a preference for one or the other (though Murph is primarily of the "working" variety) but merely to highlight the difference. I think the best way to do that is through videos. The first video shows a well-know and quite lovely show Doberman named CJ strutting it out in the ring. CJ will show you a great of example of a show line dog, doing what show line dogs are bred to do:

She's really quite a beautiful dog!

The next video will show a working line dog doing what working line dogs were bred to do. Because so few people understand Schutzhund, I feel like I have to qualify a few things first. This isn't a mean sport where dogs are forced to attack people and become dangerous. Quite the opposite. For the dogs, this is a fun game that they've learned through careful training (about 95%  or more +R, btw) over many months to a few years. Schutzhund trainers are some of the best in the world, and their dogs are almost always beloved family pets. The dogs aren't "attacking a person", they are going for the sleeve which they've come to know as a reward for obedience. The high prey drive inherent in these dogs means that a toy is often more of a reward than food. The stick is NOT for hitting the dog, but is known as a "clatter stick". It is usually hollow bamboo slit lengthwise, and its intention is to make a lot of noise. The example I'm going to show is the "protection" phase of competition, but know that a Schutzhund-trained dog is also highly proficient in obedience and in tracking. I don't know the woman or the dog in the following video, but I chose it because the pair of them approximate Murphy and I proportionally (I think Murph might be a smidge taller), the dog looks a lot like Murph's dad, and his gormy mannerisms are very "Murph like" :-) Please take note of the amazing obedience on this dog, despite his obvious power and energy:

 As you can see, they are very, very different animals, each having a very different mindset and impact on the world around them. Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges (ergo the title of this post, lol).  I hope this helps, and feel free to ask questions!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hammering Home the Point

Okay, before I go on I'm going to warn you that this is going to be yet another post about dog-equipment "discrimination". I personally don't advocate anything specific, or shun anything specific, so I have no real skin in the game here. So, why does it grate my cheese so thoroughly when people dis things like prong collars? Why can't I just let them have their point of view and get on with it? Well, simply put, I love dogs. I mean, they are the best people I know, and they deserve our love and respect. Does that sound incongruous to you? The fact that I love dogs and still have no problem with things like prong collars? Well, if you have any kind of foresight at all, it shouldn't. Quite plainly, by adhering to a singular training mindset and vilifying tools that, used CORRECTLY, have legitimately useful applications for some dogs and promoting your narrow viewpoint, calling all others cruel, you are KILLING DOGS. I have a real problem with that.

Don't believe me? Guess what, many experienced rescues (I don't mean folks who love dogs and have been doing rescue for a couple of years, I mean folks who have really seen it all) would agree with me. I have seen perfectly lovely dogs put down because some a**hole "trainer" couldn't expand their thinking enough to work with the dog in front of them. They were too interested in proving their own theory, and the dog simply didn't "fit". I have seen it over, and over again. My own personal (service!) dog would probably fit into that category for being nothing more than he is: A perfectly normal working-line dog. I really like the prong collar info that these folks put out: Bad Rap . I think the comments are pretty great too. Worth a read! Here's another one from Doberman Rescue Unlimited, a great rescue who 'gets it'.

It's such a divisive issue and it shouldn't be. Folks post pictures like this:

And then they use them to prove that these "devices" are cruel. Oftentimes injuries like the one seen on the poor pupper on the right are chalked up to "burns" from a "shock" collar. Guess what? That isn't even a possibility. Injuries like this are (in my experience) most often caused by folks who use underground fencing and never take the collars off the dog. The injury is caused by the incessant rubbing of the contact points on the dog's skin. INCORRECT use. For the record, I detest underground fencing on many levels, and am regularly flummoxed by the number of people who think "shock" collars are cruel but have no problem at all with underground fencing. What IS that? Incidentally, as soon as you say the words "shock" collar you are pretty much just highlighting how very little you know about they work. I hear someone say "shock" collar, and I know the rest of what they have to say is coming from emotion (and attempting to work on emotion), and has nothing to do with education, logic, understanding or experience.

The applications for prong collars are many and varied, and I believe well-covered in the links that I posted. Perhaps my favoritest-ever electric-collar use that I've seen was in working with a deaf dog. For her own safety, she had never been allowed off leash unless she was in her own fenced yard. Her world was consequently very small. Her trainer started working with her with the electric collar, using low-level stimulation as a reinforcer (replacing the clicker), and the vibration setting as a come command. Her first hike in the woods was a very emotional and joyful experience!

The anti-folks like to label and tell horror stories. They like to cite worst-case-scenarios and misuses as proof that certain tools are cruel. They post pictures and misrepresent the facts to prove their point. They say things like "A dog's neck is very sensitive" (It isn't, or they would tear each other up just playing...duh!). As long as we're posting pictures, here are some from "humane" training tools:
And here's some good reading from the same blog: Dogs in Training

I understand that life "in the books" and in the bubble is a beautiful place. There is always support, dogs always want to do the "right" thing and there is always plenty of time and space to get things done the "right" way. But in the real world, outside the bubble, people don't have endless resources to surround themselves with training help. They have dogs that need exercise RIGHT NOW and don't have spaces of their own that they can control. In the real world, folks with tough dogs aren't getting support, they are getting blamed by "trainers" who aren't familiar (and don't want to be) with their dog's confident and determined mindset. The problems never get solved, the owner feels like a failure and back to the shelter the dog goes. That is the reality outside the bubble.

If you love dogs, then ask yourself: What's most important here? If you are a trainer, look at the dog in front of you. Look at the family. What does this dog and his/her family need to be successful? What will keep this dog's needs met, and keep him/her out of the shelter? If a family needs to be able to walk their dog down the street calmly and right now, and you are teaching them to "be successful" in the driveway because that's all your limited training theory will allow, you have failed.

Before you scrunch up your mind into a little tiny knot of very-specific training theory, remember that at the end of the day, dogs are individuals and they simply don't all respond the same way. They just don't. Have enough respect for their being-ness to understand that and take individual need into account. The happiness and success of the dog and it's family should be the real goal. Always.