Friday, March 23, 2012

To Blog or Not to Blog

I'd like a little feedback, from the people who have started to read my blog.  What would you like to read here?  I've been at this for a few months now, and have a small number of readers (thank you), but I'd like to have more.  What would keep you coming back, hungering for more?  Is it articles and how-to's on dog behavior and training?  Or is that too much work, too much like studying?

Maybe you'd be excited to read more about what I do as a dog trainer - how I spend my days, what my cases are like, the strange things that happen when you train dogs for a living (yes, there are some weird things...), and what I do to make a living with this career.  Or possibly it's more postings about my family of dogs (and kid)?

Maybe you want a mixture of these topics, or maybe something all together different.  Well, here's your chance.  Post a comment, send me an email or send up a message with a sky-writing airplane pilot.  Let me know, because the whole point of writing something is to have people enjoy reading it.

Thank you!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Double Trouble: Dori and Apple

We have a visitor, Dori, a one-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier (she's the one in the red collar).  In between training and sleeping has been playing - lots and lots of playing!  Dori gets along well with all our dogs (and Ethan), but it is especially cute to see her playing with Apple.  They are quite a sight together!  Here are some of the moments I've captured. (For larger, higher quality images click on a photo.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Yawns Are Contagious: Calming Signals in Dogs and How We Can Use Them

We all know that dogs can’t talk (whether or not we care to admit it is another thing altogether).  What they do rely on is body language – lots and lots of body language.  While we might approach a stranger and say, “Hey, I’m new here. It’s nice to meet you,” a dog might walk up to another dog in an arc with a slow, circular wagging tail, its ears back and drop into a butt-up, front down stretch.  They are both ways to express “I’m friendly and mean no harm.”

Calming signals are just what they sound like.  They are behaviors offered by a dog in an attempt to keep a situation calm.  We aren’t completely sure if they are used by one dog solely to calm another dog, solely to calm themselves, or a combination of both.  My feeling is that the latter is true, especially since calming signals are often both offered and returned.  We can help our dogs feel comfortable by learning what their calming signals are and respecting them, and even by responding in kind, repeating their gesture as best we can (tail wagging obviously excluded).

Before getting into what calming signals can be, I want to emphasize that context is important.  Think of how a person telling another “you fool!” can be issued as an insult or an expression of teasing affection.  Context is important, regardless of species.  For example, ears held back on a dog’s head can be a calming signal, a sign of fear, or even just the physical nature of the breed. 

You may or may not notice calming signals with your own dog.  Unless you recently adopted your dog or have a new puppy, chances are your relationship is fairly established.  Your dog may not feel the need to offer these signals on a regular or frequent basis.  Unfortunately we can also extinguish calming signals in our pets, even without intention.  If a dog offers calming signals that are repeatedly ignored or corrected, eventually they will stop trying.  Think about people – if your partner brought you flowers after a fight and you always responded with snide comments about wasting money or stinking up the house, chances are your partner would stop buying flowers – at least for you!  Since we are frequently our dog’s entire world, our response (or lack thereof) to their behavior is critically important.

Calming signals may include:

·         “Look aways” (turning the head to the side, away from the other dog or person)
·         Yawning
·         Sniffing (becoming very interested in not much of anything)
·         Paw raises (raising one of the front paws off the ground)
·         Shake offs (can be a slight shake off or entire body, as if wet)
·         Scratching (like they are itchy – a sudden case of “fleas”)
·         Blinking
·         Lip licking (or nose licking)
·         Moving in an arc (approaching or leaving in a semi-circle, not a direct path)
·         Sitting or lying down
·         Stretching (particularly into a play bow position, though not quite the same behavior)
·         Making a “soft face” – ears back, soft eyes, etc.

There are a few signals that you may want to try, either with your dog or a dog you are just meeting.*  They can help a dog feel more comfortable, and may even be offered back to you.

Blinking is pretty universal between species – go for slow, deliberate blinks (not fast fluttering). Lip licking is also simple to duplicate.  Again, make it slow and obvious. You can actually lick your lips or even just stick your tongue out a few times.  “Look aways” involve turning your head to either side, away from the dog. You may then look back, without making eye contact, then look away again.  A paw lift is a little more difficult (largely since we don’t have paws and walk on two legs, not four).  But if you are feeling daring you can try it with one arm, holding it as if you were imitating a hurt paw. 

You may have figured out now how yawning can be contagious.  Offered as a calming signal between dogs, or even from dog to human (and human to dog), a yawn is much more than feeling sleepy.  It can be offered back and forth, and maybe that's why we feel the urge to yawn when someone near us yawns.

For additional information on calming signals, read On Talking Terms with Dogs by Turid Rugaas.  Rugaas is an internationally acclaimed dog trainer from Norway who has done extensive studies on calming signals in dogs.  You can visit her website at .  A good visual example of using calming signals with dogs can be found in KikoPup’s collection of YouTube videos ( ).  While you’re there check out her other videos – Emily has produced a goldmine of how-to videos on clicker training everything from cool tricks to problem behaviors.

 Video: KikoPup's How To Communicate With Dogs in Their Own Language

* Offering calming signals doesn’t make it safe to approach an aggressive dog.  When in doubt, keep your distance.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Staffordshire Bull Terrier - Can't Get Enough

Usually black dogs are hard to photograph.  I'm not sure if they don't contrast well, or if it is just something in the color of their hair that reacts, but they are notoriously challenging.  However, Apple, my nearly-five-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, is a dream to take photos of.   She's cute, she's fun and she's not afraid of the camera in the slightest.  She's a ham.  I'm not sure who enjoys the picture taking more, but the end result is my computer jammed full of Apple pictures.  Fortunately her dark black coat of hair doesn't usually pose a problem.  Here are a few photos from this afternoon: working on an antler chew and keeping Ethan company on the couch (he's running a slight fever so was spending the end of his day watching a movie). To view with better image quality, click on a picture.

('Cause being so cute is hard work!)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Age Pet Tags

It seems like everything these days revolves around our smart phones.  Don't expect our pets to be left behind.  Some things are very high tech (and expensive!), like GPS tracking that can give you the exact location of your dog - or at least his collar - if he gets lost.  But there's a new one that's a little more realistic for the average pet owner.

Pet Hub, a Washington based company, offers dog and cat ID tags with a QR code - that funky square barcode that can be read by your smart phone.  When someone scans the code they are taken to your dog's very own web page.  You keep this page updated with their current information.

The individual web page gives you room for a lot more information than would fit on a tag.  You can list the typical name, address and phone number, and also your veterinarian, any medications, allergies, important behavior issues (like "can climb fences!" or "doesn't like cats"), reward info and even photographs.  Update the information anytime you want - if you move, if their medications change or anything else - you are in charge.  The Pet Hub tag also features a unique web address that can be manually entered, in case your pet is found by someone less technically inclined. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why I Have The Best Job In The World

10. My work is flexible.  I can be returning phone calls at 9 AM in my PJs, then off to the grocery store, then home again before a private lesson.  It allows me to work in doctor's appointments, time with friends and preschool events.

9. I make a comfortable income.  Not long ago I applied to Petsmart for an open dog trainer position.  I thought it would be easier than starting my business over again in a whole new community.  They offered me the job, but for what they would have paid me I'd need to work an entire day to make what I currently bring in for one hour-long private lesson.  I won't buy a luxury vacation home on my income, but it works for us.

8. I get to work with an endless variety of different dogs.  All different breeds, ages, personalities and problems and successes.

7. My dogs get to be part of my day, all the time.  Even better than "take your dog to work day," I get to involve my dogs in my work.

6. My work is varied.  I do marketing, customer service, accounting, continuing education, networking... there's always something different to do.

5. Puppy breath.  Need I say more?

4. I meet wonderful people.  I am welcomed into my client's homes and their lives.  Many of my clients have become close friends and have provided support for me when I've needed it.  It wouldn't be the same without all the amazing clients.

3. I am my own boss.  It's just so cool to be in charge of yourself.

2. My job allows me to be, in some ways, both a stay-at-home mom and a working mom at the same time.  It's always a precarious balance, but I love the way my job lets me be close to my son and to be far more involved in his life than I would be if I spent 8 hours a day in a cubicle somewhere.

1. Dog training is my passion.  I'd do it for free (but sorry guys, the utility companies, the grocery store and the landlord don't feel the same way!).  What more could you ask for in life?
Mary Majchrowski and her son, Ethan at Mount Hood, OR
February, 2012

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