Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dressing Ghosts and Goblins

I had a honcho biggie Chihuahua in my life once. He was a rugged, fearless dog and almost daily for over ten years, he followed Josh and I on hiking, climbing and mountain-biking trails. We were always in the woods, even during the winter when we'd sometimes follow deer tracks through freshly fallen snow, day and night. Josh and I would be bundled up against the cold but Kaya never was.

I put a sweater on him once. It was a fancy red sweater with leggings attached. I thought it was so cute and I had visions in my mind of how adorable Kaya would look in it. The sweater was a little tight and difficult to get on but I was too intent on my own desire to see him in it to take note of how much he disliked being handled in the way necessary to get the thing on, or to even consider his thoughts and feelings on the matter. I wanted what I wanted! After I got the sweater on him he just stood there, frozen. With lots of encouragement, he finally took a step with a front leg. It lifted up high and quickly like it was being pulled by a string. Then a hind leg raised in the same way, then the next front, then the next hind. He looked like a little red bug with fused knees doing a forced march. Josh and I nearly fell over laughing that kind of abdomen-spasming laughter that happens only rarely in life. After I regained my senses, I looked at Kaya and immediately recognized how unhappy and uncomfortable he was. He didn't know what a sweater was or why it was all over him, squeezing his beefy little body from all angles! I immediately took it off and never put it on him again. To the end of his days he would wear only his own fur as he slogged through snow and ice and endured the cold just to follow us into the wild as he did during the summer.

Kaya's few minutes of fear and discomfort did a lot for Jack. Italian greyhounds can begin to shiver when temperatures drop below 80 and they are very cute in outfits. Jack has a lot of shirts and house jammies that he wants to wear when he's cold. These are "his costumes." He also has quite a few outfits that I want him to wear but him...not so much. These are "my costumes" and for them, I have a special plan. I introduce the various parts of my costume to him dozens of times, associating them with food, fun and play and getting them closer and closer to being on in the process. I click and give him pieces of chicken liver and treat him frequently while he is wearing it but the removal of the garment is the real reinforcer. He gives me short-term acceptance of my costume and I give him its removal. By the time he is actually wearing it, he is emotionally jazzed about the process of getting into it. The costume has become associated with happy, playful interactions and with his favorite treats.

These costume-conditioning sessions are easy and they can be some of the most fun things we do with dogs. When we take the time to let the little goblin emerge willingly, the dog is having just as much fun as we are and we both have the opportunity to be completely delighted with the outcome.

Some dogs don't mind what you put on their bodies. Others will show their reluctance and insecurity in their faces. With facial expressions very much like our own, they'll look concerned and fearful. If you are planning to turn the canine in your life into a ghost, goblin, pirate or fairy princess this Halloween, there's still time to follow my special plan. Show the costume, piece by piece, clicking, treating and retreating. Touch the costume to the dog and do the same. Hold the costume on the dog longer and longer; put one leg in, snap one snap, and open and close Velcro here and there. Celebrate each step, play like a child and enjoy this time with the dog so that the dog can enjoy her time wearing "your costume."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Prayer for Peace

I don't watch the news. I don't read the newspaper. I am training the mind and these things are not good for it. First I'll tell you how I'm doing this and then I'll tell you why and then I'll tell you what this has to do with dogs.

Through a sheer act of will I'm becoming more and more acutely aware of what the mind is doing and that allows me to operate it as I consciously choose. It keeps the mind from operating me. When I AM its supervisor, I have control over old and long-practiced habits of response; I don't have to do them any more. I can loosen the mind's restrictive and often irrational beliefs, explode its crazy biases and release its insane thirst for representations of fact – information and/or knowledge that it often identifies with so completely that it thinks it is that. I AM something much more grand and eternal than the mind's conceptual framework and the little story of "me" that it has concocted. Like Dorothy, I have seen the Wizard behind the curtain operating some complex machinery that creates and maintains an illusory reality, and every moment that I become aware, I'm tapping my heals like crazy.

Newspapers are filled with stories of greed, injustice, cruelty and savagery and these are like a drug to the mind. It will latch on to horrifying ideas and images and replay them constantly when the I AM is not supervising and willfully directing thought. This streaming replay delivers us into states of upset and enmity whether we are conscious of it or not. Stop for just a moment and see what the name Michael Vick does to the mind you're familiar with. Did it flip some switches that filled you with feeling? If it did, that body of yours is having a biological stress response and its heart and brain have already telegraphed it far and wide.

Every influence that enters the mind is immediately radiated into the noosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, geosphere—the ALL—as electromagnetic energy. When we feed the mind words like "cruelty," wretched stories of neglect, or images of dogs being horribly and brutally abused, the energy that we radiate is not harmonious. It is incoherent and chaotic. It does not resonate with our truest natures and deepest desires. These discordant emanations immediately and directly affect the mind, body and the whole of reality in some unintended and very unfortunate ways.

When our news-watching, horrifying-picture-seeing, unsupervised mind replays a reality that we do not like or want, over and over and over again, it affirms the existence of the very thing we resist. When we consciously think about what we don't want, when we see it in the mind, we feed it energy; we agree with its truth and its inevitability in the world. When we hope and wish that it were not so, the mind affirms that it is so and that it's opposite isn't and the force of our resistance and desire actually keeps what we want at bay. None of this helps us create a world in which these events are less likely to occur. It keeps us all locked in a bad dream of our own making.

To make matters worse, when we become aware of an injustice, neglect, brutality or abuse, the mind will help us to transfer the intensity of our emotions onto a perpetrator who will become a symbol of cause and guilt. We will assign to it all responsibility for the unwanted event showing up in our reality. The mind will attack the symbol again and again. Toward it, we will direct forceful feelings of hate, revulsion and contempt and we will feel right and justified to wish for its cruel punishment and even its demise. Unbeknownst to us, the identification of a perpetrator actually works against us. It feeds very strong energy to the deed that was done, the very thing we don't want. Violence doesn’t correct violence; it perpetuates it.

As part of its training, I feed the mind pictures and stories of what I do want to see in the world and direct it to have thoughts and see visions of that reality. I have to tell you that it doesn't want to do this because it is so contrary to the mind's very purpose and its conditioned and habituated history of operation. At any moment that I AM is not watching, it plays and replays its program.

For all of the reasons outlined above, I shield the mind from images and stories that represent cruelty toward animals. I don't want to expose it to the scarred and damaged faces of dogs who are fought for sport, the mutilated victims of unimaginable crimes and the emaciated bodies of animals left by people who moved on and left them. This is not an attempt to evade responsibility or languish in apathy. I AM aware that all I experience and perceive is what mind has made and I direct it so that I can use its power.

It is time that we took control of our most powerful tool and used it to create the reality our hearts desire. This is not work that lies in the future; it is an opportunity that's present now, in every moment of the living experience. It does not exist "out there" somewhere; it exists within. Let's direct the mind to think of and envision peace, safety and care for all of the creatures in the dream. Let's harmonize with the reference state of love. We may not be able to reach out and catch every hand that would strike against a dog but we do have the power to create a reality in which such acts will vanish. We can control our thoughts, our mental pictures and our feelings. With a little training, it's amazing what the mind can achieve. After all, it created the very same reality that we live in today – the one that we resist and wish was different.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Potty Humor

I belong to a number of Internet groups and forums and about a month ago a person on one of them posted a link to some of her clicker-educated dog's theatrical accomplishments. Just a couple days ago, a friend of mine who is "fifty-something" and who is not on that Internet clicker list, or any list for that matter, and who does not know the person or the dog, told me about this very funny video she saw recently. Two dogs are sitting together when someone asks "who farted?" and one dog points to the other. That was Chris Puls' canine partner Coyote! You can find his medley of tricks on her YouTube channel, click here.

That video sure got around in a month and I'm certain it's because of that little "who farted?" piece at the beginning. Why is it that we are so in love with potty humor? You'd think that we would grow out of it but I guess we never do. I have to admit that right after watching Chris' video I got an idea to teach a similar bit to Jack – our unique little version of potty humor that's just slightly beneath our sense of dignity and style. It involved a hind leg lift – his, not mine.

I contemplated how I could set up an education session in which Jack would voluntarily lift a hind leg and I could click then reinforce it. I got him moving around using hand-targeting but we were not connecting on the idea. I stopped to rethink my education plan and realized that when we wipe paws at the front door, Jack raises his hind legs as I approach them with the towel. So I started to teach the lift by first moving a towel toward his hind leg (he is left-pawed so I began on that side), clicking and reinforcing even the slightest raise until the leg could be cued up without the towel. I'm chaining another behavior to the leg-lift now and will film the whole thing when it's finished. You may want to subscribe to Jack's video channel so you can see it when it's available.

But I didn't write this article to make a point about shaping Jack into a hind leg lift. And I didn't write it to examine our attraction to scatological humor. I wrote it because I've noticed that so many of us seem to approach our education sessions with dogs as though we're preparing for an important exam or global competition. We are often too success-driven and serious to have fun and it's pretty certain that if we aren't enjoying ourselves, the dog isn't very likely to either. A dog can learn so much more if he's having fun and we can have so much more fun – something we seem to forget to do as we mature. Maybe that's potty humor's special appeal. It gives us a way to giggle like children and have fun without having to actually do anything or spend any money.

So to my friends and followers I issue this Potty Humor Challenge...Come up with an idea for a hilarious little trick with a theme that will make people laugh out loud. It doesn't have to be off-color but if it is everyone will love it! Start thinking about how you can shape, click and treat your canine student to perform it and then get started. When you have a finished product, post a link as a reply to this article. Here are the rules: You must giggle like a child, thoroughly enjoy yourself and make sure the dog is having as much fun as you are – even more. After all, he can keep right on learning for the rest of his life and he will if you make learning fun.