Thoughts on Motherhood

Last weekend, I had the chance to go back east for a whirlwind weekend to  celebrate my niece’s Bat Mitzvah.  Despite the brevity of the visit, I was able to spend time with my mom. On the return flight home, I thought about my mom and  motherhood in general.

20150508_190233My mom got her first dog 9 years ago. It is interesting how bringing a dog into ones life changes how you “parent” and how you enjoy things in general. .  Quincy is a ball obsessed, high energy, and comical Boston Terrier.  When I call my mom, the conversation quickly shifts to what Quincy is doing. I enjoy the detailed description on  the various antics he displays for my mom’s entertainment. I crack up at the effect of my long distance, over the phone dog training. Apparently, it was not as effective as I had hoped as Quincy still believes the cue to “SIT” is “SIT SIT SIT”.

During the weekend, now armed with her smartphone, my mom  was able to show me lots of pictures and video. I like how her demeanor shifts when she is talking about her dog.  She seems relaxed and smiles. Dogs seem to do this for us.  It is clear that Quincy has been the perfect companion.

Everyone says Motherhood is a difficult job. They also say you never know what it is like until you have a child of your own. photo (4)  I would have to agree with both statements. Just as dogs love us unconditionally, we strive to love our children unconditionally.  This is not always an easy task. Growing up, I was a difficult teenager.  Yes, I know that is extremely hard to fathom, but I was.  When I was 12, my parents divorced. At that age,  I did not have the capacity to comprehend the emotional strain divorce has on a parent.  I was angry and I did not make life moving forward any easier for my mom.   It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized all the sacrifices my mother made to ensure my siblings and I always had a roof over our heads, food in the refrigerator, and clothes on our backs.

 My mom gave up a career to stay home raising 3 kids and now was suddenly thrown into the workforce.  She is brilliant and because she is so brilliant-  yes, worth repeating again-  she was able to get a job with the government and quickly propel herself up from entry level salary to the top of the pay scale ladder, taking on leadership positions. She worked very hard and it taught me that every challenge brings both opportunity or turmoil.  She chose opportunity, despite the turmoil I was creating at home. She made the decision to succeed and to focus on what needed to be done to raise responsible, accountable, motivated, and goal oriented children.  She may not have had the energy to deal with me at the time, but I was learning the importance of being strong, independent, and committed to do whatever it takes to make things work.

 Of course, as a grandma, she is totally different, I guess all grandma’s are- but I appreciate how she has evolved over time and am grateful that I have an open and good relationship with her.

abby zoe picture

 My daughter is graduating high school this year. She has spent her entire life growing up with dogs. I often joke that I raised Abby like a dog. Not really-  I just learned  the same techniques that worked with the dogs, actually were applicable to my parenting style as well. Of course, my reinforcements had to evolve as she matured.   Watching  the Little Mermaid for the 1000th time  worked marvelously when she was 3. Now, filling the gas tank in her car seems to be the best reward.

photo 2 (7)

My 4 “kids”

When Abby looks back on her childhood and teenage years, I don’t know what lessons she will say she learned.  My hope is that I have instilled the same values my mother taught me:

Have a strong work ethic:  make yourself indispensable by being the first one to show up and the last one to leave, always performing at 100% even when no one is watching.

Never Stop Learning: Life is a continual process of growth. When you stop learning, you stop growing

When challenged, roll up your sleeves and do what’s necessary for a positive outcome

Be Kind: Understand you never really know what another person’s story is in any given moment.

Surround Yourself with Positive influences:  People who uplift you and never try to bring you down

Get a Dog:  Dogs soften our souls, comfort us at time of distress, keep a smile on your face, force you to get out and enjoy  fresh air,  provide opportunity to meet lots of new people, keep you young at heart, and ensure that you are never alone.

©Dog is Good

Abby at 17 and BOLO

As a daughter, a mom to Abby, and dog mom to Henry and BOLO my life feels really good. My adult relationship with my mom has given me opportunity for reflexion and appreciation..  My relationship to my daughter is the most precious gift I have ever received. My relationship to  the dogs has given me some semblance of balance and has been the driving force behind my life’s work.

There are many facets of motherhood- joyful, stressful,pride, and sad at times.  In reality, everyday is mother’s day- we are the example for our children to emulate and the sole providers our dogs trust and depend upon.  I treasure this responsibility and thank my own mom for giving me the solid foundation to become the person and mom I am today.

Happy Mother’s Day!

If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Overdoing

©Dog is GoodFor Those of you who are currently  (or have been at some point) a parent of a teenager, you may relate to the experience I had this morning.  Let me preface this story by saying that I am fortunate to have an easy going, respectful, and genuinely good-natured teen.  However, I have to wonder sometimes why she chooses which activities/tasks will receive 100% of her effort.

This morning I came downstairs to discover last night’s dinner plates, etc. on the counter near the dishwasher. Her chore was to empty the dishwasher.  After doing so, she neglected to take the dirty dishes and put them in the now- empty dishwasher. Other than using the excuse that she is a “teenager”,  I don’t know why she avoided the obvious “next step”. Yet I do know, if it had been something she enjoyed, she would have gone above and beyond the “call of duty”.  It begged the question, why do anything at a level less than 100%?

Dogs always seem to go all out ( and then some) with everything they do. jon throwing ball They don’t just trot towards a thrown ball – they race with intention and excitement.  They don’t just lightly paw at the earth to get something below – they dig enthusiastically. They don’t just welcome you home with a quick fly-by sniff of your clothing and a lame tail wag-  they are exuberant, offering up full body wags, kisses, and power tail wags.  They even put forth maximum effort to disguise themselves in “war paint”.If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. Let me explain…


On a recent walk, in a safe area where the dogs run off-leash, Bolo managed to discover wild animal poop.  Deep in conversation, Jon and I did not notice… until she ran past us.  As we continued walking and talking, the stench took us over.poopy bolo  Bolo, a beautiful yellow lab, had smeared herself in animal feces, transforming  into  a light chocolate colored lab.  She chose not to engage in the “standard rolling of shoulder/neck area” poopy henryin the poop but instead chose to go “all out” and roll her ENTIRE body in this disgusting animal mess.  I’ll spare you the details of driving home with her in the car, but suffice it to say, it took SEVERAL showers to get the mess and stench off of her.

My point is that Bolo and all the other dogs I have ever worked with, not only go after what they want, they go at it with 100% effort.

I find the statement, “How you do anything is often how you do everything” very impactful.

When we make a decision to do something, we can chose to make the experience/outcome “good” or we can make it extraordinary!  Taking the time to provide that “extra touch” over- performing and over-delivering is what differentiates between average and amazing.  Going beyond excellent makes your personal involvement in something more valuable, and the experience it creates for others simply unforgettable.  We all want to be unforgettable, right?

If my daughter approached the kitchen chore in the same vain as Bolo approached rolling in animal poop , not only would the dishes have been in the dishwasher, the entire kitchen would have  been immaculate.  If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Overdoing!

Do you have a story showcasing how your extra attention towards something made an extraordinary  impact?   Please share with us!

Spring Cleaning!

Looking at the calendar this morning, I realized that today marks the first day of Spring. The sun is shining and the fresh air has provoked that urge to do a little spring cleaning
For many people, spring cleaning is a time to get rid of all the clutter in their lives. It is no different in our home. In our house we strive to get rid of the things we don’t use, do some serious deep cleaning, and freshen up everything for BOLO and Henry too.

Here are my tips for a Spring Cleaning session that will benefit not only your life, but your animals as well:

Use Healthy Cleaners: When scrubbing down the bathrooms, kitchen or floor tiles, be sure to use a cleaner that does not contain any toxic components such as bleach or ammonia. Using a non-toxic product that is pet friendly will eliminate the possibility of your animals getting sick. Another option, is to make your own cleaning solution using vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Keep in mind that different products can be toxic to different pets. For instance, dogs and cats are not as sensitive to cleaning products as birds. If unsure about specific cleaning product, check with your vet before using it in a place that your dog currently inhabits.


Keep Their Beds Fresh and Clean: When washing your pets bed in the home, be sure that the bed has a removable cover. These will last longer and handle more washing cycles. Beds hold onto that “dog odor” and washing it regularly will make the home more fresh and clean. When washing, be sure to use a non scented-detergent Be sure to always use non-scented detergent, and avoid fabric softener so that it won’t irritate your pet’s skin. When done let it dry in the sun so that it can air out and be fresh for your pet.

Clean Your Pets Environment: just like we want our environments to be clean, so do our pets. Regular brushing and grooming will reduce shedding and improve the cleanliness of your home. Also, using synthetic, rubber-backed mats by doors in the home as well as under food dishes will collect moisture and make it easier to clean. Removing pet hair from furniture that your pet regularly relaxes on is much simpler when using a damp rubber glove and brushing it over the couch, pillows, blankets, etc.

Train a Clean-Conscious Dog: after all of your hard work is done, and spring cleaning is completed, the last thing you want is for your pet to run through the home with muddy paws. In order to avoid this, train your dog to stand at the door so that you can wipe their paws and fur that may be dirty from a long day of play in the backyard. Allowing a dog to get up on the furniture is a personal decision but remember, dogs do not differentiate between clean and dirty. Trust me, if they are used to jumping up on the couch to lay down they will do it even when covered in dirt. To prevent accidental couch stains, place slip covers over designated areas to protect the furniture.

Spring Vet Trip: As winter comes to an end, and summer approaches, the spring is the perfect time to take your pet to the vet for a check- up. This is the best time of year to prepare your pet for an adventurous summer after checking in to make sure everything is healthy and ready for fun!

This year, take the time to freshen up the home for you and your pets. It will leave you both feeling rejuvenated and ready for this next season.

Always Leave Your Mark

I am a firm believer in the idea that our dogs teach us lessons through simple things. Their behavior is the main source of our company’s inspired by dog concepts. For instance, one lesson that I have taken from Henry is to “Always Leave Your Mark”. I was recently so moved by a story told to me by a dear friend about her daughter. It truly defined what it means to “Always Leave Your Mark”.

First, a brief backstory.

We moved down to California when my daughter Abby was going into the 4th grade. She was not too happy to leave her friends behind in the state of WA and start a new school where she didn’t know anyone. As you can imagine, for a nine year old this isn’t the easiest experience, so I decided to join her for lunch on hersecond day of classes. We were invited to sit down at a table with two very “stereotypical” California girls. As they sat across from us with their sunkissed faces and sun bleached blonde hair, one of the little girls welcomed us. Her name was Madison McCulloch, and that day she asked us a lot of questions about where we came from, and excitedly told us all about Seal Beach. That day, Abby and Madi became instant friends.


Fast forward eight years later; that freckled faced little girl has grown up into a beautiful young woman who not only holds a leadership position at her high school, but also works a part time job and volunteers regularly for a number of worthy causes. Obviously, for any sixteen year old these are all wonderful accomplishments. However, what makes Madi stand out is how she leaves her mark on a daily basis that showcases the true spirit of humanity.

Madi works at a local coffee shop, Bogarts. She is quite personable and is a valued employee. Upon visiting the coffee shop, her mother witnessed a beautiful selfless act of kindness towards another human being. Like many communities around the country, there are individuals in Seal Beach who do not have a roof over their head, a regular place to sleep, to bathe, or to eat. One such gentleman walked into Bogarts and was greeted politely and enthusiastically by Madi. His appearance might have made others feel uncomfortable but Madi spoke to him respectfully, and energetically asked him how he was feeling that day while inquiring if he would like a cup of coffee. He graciously answered that he was doing well but needed to use the restroom.


Without hesitation Madi pointed him in the right direction and told him that she would have a cup of coffee and a donut ready for him when he returned. She promptly poured him a cup of coffee and set a donut on the counter. When he appeared again, he took the coffee and donut and politely thanked her before leaving. Madi wished him well and told him to have a wonderful day. My friend watched he daughter in awe as all this took place. She asked her daughter how she could just give him coffee and a donut. Madi smiled at her mother and told her without a second thought that she did it all the time and that she paid for it using her own money. The tears welled up in my friend’s eyes…and mine…when she told me the story.

We all have the opportunity to do things daily that positively impact the world around us. These “things” can be as simple as a smile, lending a helping hand directly, or communicating with another human being with the respect they so deserve. Rather than go about our days caught up with ourselves, our computer, the television, or our smart phones, I challenge everyone to find ways to “Always Leave Your Mark”. With this conscious effort, your home, your work environment, your community, your “world” will be a much brighter, happier, and better place because you have been there.


On The Road Again!

On the road again! It feels like I just unpacked from all the travel done in January, but now it is time to load up the suitcase again for a journey back to Orlando. We do a lot of tradeshows to introduce the Dog is Good brand to new businesses and continue to build on relationships with existing businesses. Last year, BOLO joined us on several of these trips. Unfortunately, because this east coast adventure involves travel from LA to

Orlando to NY and back, I am unable to take her with us. This puts me in the situation of finding the right care for both Henry and BOLO while we are gone. Fortunately, there are a number of options. It is just a matter of selecting the one that will be the right fit for the dogs and provide peace of mind for us.

Jax and Henri

Henry is a piece of cake. He is one of the easiest dogs on the planet- well trained, gets along with other dogs, is low maintenance, completely goes with the flow and adapts well to any environment. Because so many people LOVE him, I have a number of choices for where he can stay. His favorite place is the home of his “best friend”- Jax Chait. Luckily for me, Jax’s mom happens to be my best friend too.

BOLO is a different story. A loveable lab, adored by everyone, BOLO is a lot more work than Henry. Is she well trained? Yes. Is she calm and chill? NOPE! Like most adolescent labradors, BOLO never seems to slow down. The happiest dog I have ever known, once she opens her eyes in the morning, she never stops until night fall. She is a “good girl” but can leave even the most experienced guardian exhausted.

When traveling, the options that I usually review include leaving both dogs at home while having someone check on them throughout the day or having them stay at a friends home so that they are around familiar faces. If this is not an option I then look into taking them to a boarding facility or taking them to a professional pet sitter that will care for them in their own home.

As a frequent traveler, I know it can be difficult to find a friend who is willing to take on the responsibility of having another pet in the home. So here are a few of my favorite pet vacation spots to give your dog a great get- away experience:


DogVacay is an easy to use online site that links you to pet sitters in your area that are all ready to watch your dog like a member of their own family. This gives your dog the opportunity to receive one-on-one attention, interact with other dogs, and remain in a home environment while you are away. You can take virtual tours of the home all while you schedule, book and pay online. Knowing that your dog is being taken care of in a safe and loving environment will allow you to enjoy your vacation. Plus, DogVacay sitters send daily photos of your dog to show you how much your pet is enjoying their vacation too!

Furlocity serves as a tool to link you to pet resorts, pet friendly hotels, and veterinarians in your local area. Here you can search, compare and book a getaway for your pet all while multitasking at the office. Furlocity only works with pet care establishments that meet the standard of exceptional pet care. A screening process is done to make sure that each place is clean, safe, licensed, insured and certified with a trained staff. What could be better than knowing your pet will be out of harms way while you embark on your next adventure!

Dogtopia is the ultimate getaway for your pup! Set on a specific schedule, your dog will be given structure while also provided with meals, a place to sleep and plenty of play time throughout the day. Dogs are given one on one attention while also given the opportunity to interact and play with other dogs throughout the day. Prior to their stay, all dogs are evaluated by staff to ensure that your dog will be healthy and comfortable on their vacation at Dogtopia. This will leave you feeling at ease knowing that while you’re away, you’re dog will be on it’s own vacation!

Camp Bow Wow
Bow Wow Pet Resort offers doggie daycare and overnight boarding. Bow Wow includes overnight suites for your pets, and has indoor and outdoor playing areas of your dod to enjoy during the day while supervised by a staff member. As pet owners, you are welcome to bring beds, toys and treats for your pet to enjoy in their time at the resort to make them more comfortable. At Bow Wow, pets are loved and cared for and that’s what makes it so great. You can travel knowing that your pet will be treated like part of the family

.Pooch Hotels                                                                                                              Lastly, Pooch Hotel is a fun and safe environment for your dog to enjoy while you’re away. Fully staffed 24 hours a day, your pet will be given one on one attention and will be visited by staff around the clock. All day play is available with no extra charge, and webcams are available just in case you need to check in. Extra benefits can also be included such as pool time, a treadmill run and even a grooming spa day. It really is a hotel stay for your dog!

All of these places have their highlights. However, only you know what is the right fit for your pet. As you are making your decision, consider the following: the type of boarding (kennel or no kennel), the amount of interaction with other animals your dog will receive, and the length of time your pet will be staying there. Set up a tour with each place so that you can see the environment first hand and meet the staff that will be taking care of your pets while you are gone. Also, it is essential to ensure that your dog is up to date on all of their vaccinations and that they are wearing their PetHub ID tag in case they get lost or go missing.

As a Dog mom I know that traveling without your pets can be difficult and sometimes stressful. However, nothing is better than knowing that while you are away, your pets are in good hands. And, like I always say, wherever I stay, I already know that the best part of my travels are my first two minutes home.

Never Walk Alone…But How do You do That in the Winter?

IMG_1441This week, my sister sent me photos of her deck and front yard.  When I received the photo of her snow covered home, all I could think about was how grateful I am to live in Southern California. Believe me, I am fully aware that I “pay for this weather”.  However, having less disposable income in favor of 85 degree weather is quite palatable. While looking at the photos from my sister, I was sitting outside in a lounge chair, wearing a tank top and throwing a ball for BOLO while reading my current favorite book,  I suddenly wondered how people from the midwest and northeast handle their dog walking in this kind of weather.happy bolo with ball 1

This is something I never seriously considered.  I treasure my daily walks with the dogs and am able to take BOLO and Henry on hikes, to the beach, walk around town  all year round. What about the dog owners that are snowed in each year? How is it that they and their dogs bond and get exercise in the winter?

After heavily researching this subject and possible solutions for those active dogs, I have listed some winter challenges and how to overcome for the dog lovers in snowy states.

quincy in winter coatDog owners face multiple challenges when it comes to exercising with their dogs each winter. Some breeds have thinner coats than others and are unable to be out in the cold for long periods of time without getting frostbite. Another issue is that road salts tend to irritate the dog’s paws and when the dog cleans itself off, the salts affect the dogs stomach making them sick as well as causing other health issues. Lastly, owners have to keep a closer eye on their pets in the winter. With the harsh weather conditions, winter peaks at the highest rated season of dog loss.

Despite all of these issues, there are ways to prevent your dog from getting sick outdoors, or indoor alternatives for those dogs that would rather bundle up and stay warm. If your dog loves the outdoors as much as BOLO, I know there is no getting around those morning walks. If this is the case, prep the paws with protective balm before going outdoors, or purchase dog booties to protect them from ice patches and rough snow. Also, keep your dog from licking it’s paws. This will save them from bacteria and potential infection brought to the surface of the roads from the snow.

 Some fun indoor alternatives for your dog, that will not only allow for exercise, but strengthen your dog-human bond, include setting up an obstacle course throughout the home offering treats along the way, and playing fetch up and down the staircase or down a hallway (for single story homes).  You can also train your dog to walk on a treadmill. Yes, you read correctly…a treadmill for dogs.  I am most impressed with the extensive line of products offered by DogTread and their commitment to excellence in product research and development.  What a great opportunity to ensure your dog stays fit, healthy, lives longer.  Consider exercising along side your dog so you will both be ready for the warm weather activity once winter thaws.

To provide stimulation for those dogs that are going stir crazy, introduce a mental challenge by setting up a treat scavenger hunt throughout the home and help them find their way to a treat they don’t receive too often.

There are a number of fantastic doggie daycare facilities where caring and trained individuals can help keep your dog active all day long.  During the winter months or busy times, it may be worth the investment to guarantee your dog has opportunity to socialize, play, and stay active.

Living in Southern California, I feel very fortunate to have warm weather all year round to keep Bolo and Henry entertained and active. But no matter where you live, snow or shine, it is important to remember that there are endless opportunities to get active with your dog. You should Never Walk Alone, but if you can’t get out to do it….put on some music and get a little crazy.henry and gila dancing

All You Need is Dog

Over the weekend, everyone was focused on Valentines Day.  Friends were sending messages via facebook and texting sweet thoughts throughout the day.  I chuckled as I watched husbands and boyfriends scrambling for their last minute card, flowers, and gifts.

Each year I think back to how this holiday began and how it has transformed over the years. I can’t help but wonder why a holiday focused on romance and love has become so stressful to so many people. It has become a day of outrageous dates, sexy lingerie, and expensive restaurant all to show our special someone how much we love and appreciate them.

Shouldn’t we appreciate our special someone every day?

Henry_Gila_Dogvergnugen3Jon and I did make it a point to do something special and relaxing.  A massage was the perfect remedy after a long morning run together.  I prefer these things over chocolates and roses.  Later in the day, I spent time out front reading.  Both Henry and Bolo hung out with me.  Bolo repeatedly brought her ball to me to throw and Henry just sunbathed on the warm concrete. I appreciate the bond that we share. It is such an unconditional love with no expectations; I wonder why we love our dogs in a way that is so different from the way we love our spouses and our friends.

I understand that all love is different. As people, we have a love for our family, a more passionate love for our partners, a love for our children; we even feel love for certain places and memories. Love can describe our emotions for so many things outside of our romantic relationships. I know that the love I share with Bolo Henry is unlike any other. However, what I often question, is why this is the case? Why is it that the love we have for our pets is so different? And why is this particular love so stress free?

When I spend time with my dogs, there is no pressure. There is no obligation to wear something sexy or cook something extravagant. Pets don’t expect presents or chocolates. They just want to be loved, they just want to play, and they just want attention.

©Dog is Good

A dog is always happy to see you, they love and protect you, and they appreciate everything that you do. Bolo and Henry do not expect me to look a certain way or take me for granted. I am grateful though that  Jon does not expect me to look a certain way either  (although I am sure he would appreciate if I wore something sexy or actually cooked).

February 14th is a reminder that we should focus EVERYDAY on the love we have for family, friends, spouses, and most definitely our dogs. Their love is not a love to take for granted.


Dog is My Zen: Finding My Inner Peace

With everything going on in my life, I sometimes have difficulty finding time to relax; this is no surprise to those who know me or travel with me. Our trade show season has begun, my daughter’s show choir is in full swing for competition season (which means volunteer time), work requirements continue to build and outside of the business, I remain steadfast in my commitment to personal and professional development. It is a bit chaotic at times and it’s moments like these when I have trouble finding time to just take a step back, and breathe.
This is when I find the most comfort in my dogs.

bolo sleeping_2As I type this, Bolo is in her usual spot sleeping at my feet. The steadiness of her breath brings peacefulness and a feeling of warmth. Despite my endless list of things to do, just watching Bolo dream makes me calm. Many people go for a run to clear their head or take a yoga class; and while those are both activities that I enjoy doing regularly, I’ve come to realize that Dog is my zen. It is my time spent with them, playing with them, and observing them that I am the most peaceful. Though it’s difficult to explain, there is something about dogs that profoundly effect my soul. Watching them play with each other, relax with a chew toy, sleep soundly, or explore their surroundings on our walks provide me “ah ha” moments. ©Dog is GoodMorning and evening walks are always the highlight of my day. As I let everything else fade away into the background, I am able to focus solely on the dogs, the sunrise or sunset, or the fresh air that surrounds me. There is no stress, there are no distractions, and I am given time to reflect on my life and my goals.
In our busy world it may seem almost impossible to fit in time for introspective thought.  Taking care of Bolo and Henry’s needs  provides me with that very important opportunity to be with myself in my own thoughts. In the past several months this mindful approach to “just be in the moment” has helped me gain greater clarity and  focus for the personal and business goals I have established.bolo sleeping

After Bolo and Henry have had a great day and it’s their time to rest, the energy level in the house is brought down.  As quickly as they can “ramp up” they can also “ramp down”.  The dogs can go full steam and then turn things “off”. Most people, myself included, continue to multitask until the very last minute before bedtime. As I observe Bolo and Henry sleeping , I know they are note worrying about what happened three hours earlier or stressing over what may happen tomorrow.bolo henry on couch

It is a simple lesson- why waste any energy on anything else but what is occurring in the moment? It brings a smile to my face knowing that life really is this simple. Dog truly is my zen.

The Value of Redirection: A Guest Blog by Victoria Stillwell

My eight-year old daughter loves school so much that when the last day of school arrived a couple of weeks ago, she and her friends were borderline devastated to face the fact that there would be no regular contact with each other and their beloved teachers for a few months.

We knew from previous years that one of her good friends took the last day of school particularly hard, and that as with dogs, if left unchecked, the other kids would feed off of her sadness and end up as a generally morose lot. So when it fell to me to pick my daughter and several of her friends up after the end-of-year swimming party, I decided that it was crucial to employ some age-old positive dog training techniques on the kids in order to avoid disaster and tears.

My husband and I laugh when we are occasionally reminded the extent to which we raise our daughter similarly to the way I train dogs. While they are obviously different species with different needs, and while I am also well aware of the dangers posed by excessively anthropomorphizing our pets, many of the central themes which define my approach to force-free, reward-based dog training techniques are closely related to what many of us feel are the most effective concepts behind child-rearing as well.

In the case of my daughter and her friends, it was important that I redirect the potential for them to collectively descend into unhappiness about the end of school. Instead of allowing them to discuss and dwell on the negative, I decided to take a few of them on a mini field trip to one of my favorite and most inspiring places: Canine Assistants.

I am a huge supporter of the work done by the countless assistance dog training and placement organizations around the world, and the Victoria Stilwell Foundation was born to help provide financial and training concept assistance to many of them. My affinity, however, for Jennifer Arnold and her staff at Canine Assistants just north of my home in Atlanta, comes not simply from the fact that she and her staff are tremendous, nor from my relative proximity to their headquarters, but from our mutual desire to introduce people to the beauty and effectiveness of reward based training methods. I was shocked to learn that Canine Assistants is one of the very few assistance dog training organizations which employs positive training techniques on the dogs they work with. Other organizations tend to use a mixture of techniques including forceful methods, which do little to enhance the human/animal bond essential for an assistance dog/human relationship. Of course our mutual belief resulted in an immediate close friendship developing between Jennifer and myself as well as multiple trips to their facility by myself and my family. (You can find out how assistance dogs are positively trained by reading Jennifer’s fascinating book, Through a Dog’s Eyes.)

My daughter is such a big fan that for her eighth birthday earlier this year she requested that instead of gifts, attendees of her party could make donations to Canine Assistants in order to help partially fund the training of one of their amazing dogs. So when I suggested that she might host a few of her friends at their farm after school on the last day, she jumped at the chance. Riding the therapy horses, cuddling with the newest batch of puppies, and running around the property proved a fantastic distraction for the girls, and after just a few short minutes they completely forgot to feel sad about saying goodbye to their teachers and their classmates.

Redirecting focus from a negative or unwanted reaction, whether predicted or already occurring, is an incredibly useful tool to help manage behavior in dogs, too. Compulsion or forceful training relies on suppressing an unwanted behavior with punishment, resulting in a temporary ‘fix’ along with increased potential for long lasting psychological and physical damage. Positive or reward based training focuses on teaching the dog an alternative behavior instead of punishment, allowing the dog to learn valuable coping skills which start with redirection. Dogs are superb problem solvers and because of their close connection with humans, they tend to look to us for cues to help them in the problem solving process. We can aid their success by thinking ahead and either avoid situations that trigger negative behavior or create other things for a dog to do where positive behavior is encouraged (exactly like planning an activity for my daughter and her friends when school ended.) The less an unwanted behavior is rehearsed the less chance it has of being reinforced.

If certain situations are impossible to avoid, then it is vital that you observe your dog carefully and give him something else to focus on in an uncomfortable situation. For example, if you have a lead reactive dog that lunges at other dogs, people or moving objects as they go past, give your dog an activity to do rather than allow him to focus on something that elicits the negative reaction. Providing your dog with an activity such as a set of action cues (sit and stay) with food rewards for compliance or playing with your dog’s favorite toy in the presence of the stimulus that exacerbates the negative behavior, will redirect his attention onto doing something more positive, while building up a good feeling with the stimulus. This is done most effectively before your dog gets to the point where he feels the need to react. If your dog has a full blown reaction, he is too emotionally involved at that moment to learn and waving a treat or toy in his face will achieve nothing except to frustrate him more and devalue the potency of the motivator. Redirection is therefore most effective when used before your dog reacts. If he reacts negatively before you have a chance to redirect him, gentle removal from the situation is the best way to get him into a state where he can learn again.

One of my favorite games that I play with lead reactive dogs is the ‘go find it’ game. When a dog is in the presence of a stimulus and under his stress threshold limit, it is time to begin the game. This is done by throwing bits of food onto the ground one after the other and encouraging the dog to ‘go find’. By stimulating the dog’s seeker system, I am not only raising the levels of dopamine in his brain by stimulating his desire to seek or move towards the food on the ground, but the actual movement towards the motivator redirects the dog’s energy that might otherwise be used for a negative reaction, onto a positive activity. Some dogs learn much better while moving than having to sit still and focus on a toy or a food reward as the stimulus goes past. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-driven learning and helps regulate movement and emotional responses. If a dog is presented with food or a toy before he reaches a high stress level in the presence of a stimulus that scares him, for example, a positive emotional response occurs. There are circuits in your dog’s brain that encourage seeking or hunting behavior and circuits that elicit the fear response. When you present a motivator to your dog you effectively turn on his seeker system and turn off the fear. This is one reason why activities such as the ‘go find it’ game or playing a game of tug is so valuable for leash reactive dogs. Turning on the thinking brain deactivates the emotional center, enhancing the dog’s attentiveness with positive motivation and allowing him to move into a calmer state where learning can take place. Repetition builds a habit of behavior so that the dog now behaves differently in the presence of a stimulus that previously resulted in a negative response and naturally moves into the redirected action cue or behavior without being promoted. Redirection helps dogs make better choices.

For dogs that are too stressed to do anything but react, gradual adaption must take place until successful exposure to the stimulus is achieved. This is done by performing the game or activities at a distance from the stimulus and gradually decreasing that distance as the dog is successful.

My daughter and her friends had a full afternoon of activities at Canine Assistants and came home tired and elated. Whether helping a child feel better about something or a dog overcome emotionally charged situations, redirection is the key to successfully managing behavior as well as an owner’s expectations.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball in 2015

With the new year underway I find myself reflecting on the holiday cards I received in 2014. As I take them off my wall, I reread the messages sent wishing me “joy in the holiday season”  and  “Happy New Year”. I can’t help but wonder, what does it truly mean to be happy?eye on ball card

As human beings, I feel that we can’t help but to measure our happiness through our successes. We determine our joy and our self worth based on what we own, rather than the relationships we build and the memories we make. This is why we always want more despite all of our achievements.

And like with many of the questions that I ask in my life, I find the answer in my dogs.

happy bolo with ball 1Last week Jon and I took Bolo out for a run and as it came to a close, the two of them began a game of fetch. As Jon threw the ball into the air, I watched Bolo leap for it, catching it right in her mouth in a moment of triumph. I couldn’t help but giggle at the expression on her face as I snapped a photo. It was a real moment of pure happiness. Though it was a simple, and possibly insignificant moment, it was a big moment for Bolo and she bounded back to Jon, tail wagging, anxiously waiting for the next throw.

Maybe that’s just it. Maybe those that are the happiest are those that find their joy in the same way that dogs do: by living in the moment. Dogs don’t stress over anything that happened yesterday, and they don’t experience anxiety over what might happen tomorrow. They focus solely on what they are doing in that moment without any distractions getting in the way; they just keep their eye on the ball.

For a dog to be happy, all they need is that one game of fetch, a pat on the head, or a few words of encouragement and affection. For a dog, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

I often come to the realization that the moments spent with my dogs are the moments when I am the happiest. Whether it’s a morning walk through the park, that moment when they catch the ball, or having them fall asleep at my feet after a long day, it’s time spent with them that I am the most content, and that may be because a dogs joy is the most simple and the most honest. It is easy to relate.dreaming bolo

This year rather than make a million resolutions that I will not keep, I will make the resolution to keep my eye on the ball and find my happiness.  I have come to learn, is that happiness is a state of mind that I can control at any moment during the day. Happiness is a choice…a decision that one must make every day.  It is  a “moral obligation”.  Everyone that we come in contact with deserves an experience that will leave them feeling better about themselves than they felt before interacting with us.  This can only happen when one chooses to be happy and to exhibit the behaviors of a happy person.

fAMILY PIC As I watch my daughter make her way through her teen years, continue to build a business with my husband, and snuggle up with my dogs at the end of the day, I know that this is a resolution I will be able to keep and I look forward to what this year will bring.