Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year in Review, Part 3: My Education and Growth

One thing Maisy has really done for me is turn me into a better dog owner and trainer. If Maisy were not reactive, I very likely would not have spent so much time learning about training, nor would I have developed some of the skills I have worked very hard to acquire. In this entry, I want to share some of the things I’ve done to become a better trainer, as well as some of the things I’ve changed at home to help Maisy feel better.

I think one of the biggest skills I’ve developed is in my ability to read dog body language. Like most owners, I was pretty oblivious to what my dog was telling me with her body. Now I can generally pick out the main components of what’s going on. Although I still struggle to read the body language of other dogs, especially the brief and subtle displays, I’ve gotten much better at reading Maisy’s body language.

I went to one dog-related seminar this year in March, when I spent two days with Pat Miller (who, incidentally, thinks Maisy is cute). It was a great seminar, and I learned a lot. We covered a variety of topics, including a general overview of operant and classical conditioning, dog body language, and a special afternoon session on Constructional Aggression Treatment.

I did a lot of reading, and currently belong to 42 dog-related yahoo groups. I also read the following books:
The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson
Bones Would Rain From the Sky, by Suzanne Clothier
Getting in TTouch with Your Dog, by Linda Tellington-Jones
Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt
The Hidden Life of Dogs, and The Social Life of Dogs, by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Don’t Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor
A Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs, by Caroline Knapp
Click Your Way to Rally Obedience, by Pam Dennison
Reaching the Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor
Click to Calm, by Emma Parsons
Through a Dog’s Ear, by Joshua Leeds and Susan Wagner
Ring Wise: A Handling Manual for Competition Obedience, by Marie Sawford
On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas
Successful Obedience Handling, by Barbara S. Handler.
(I’m working on a few more, but I probably won’t finish them by the end of the year.)

I also watched two dog training DVDs: The Language of Dogs, by Sarah Kalnajs and Crate Games, by Susan Garrett.

I volunteered as a trial steward at a UKC obedience trial in November, and I learned a lot. I watched everything closely, and took away some great tips which I have incorporated into my work with Maisy. I also learned that trials are only as stressful as you make them. The judges genuinely want each team to do well, and the other teams barely pay attention. This has gone a long way towards reducing my ring nerves, although I know there’s a lot of work left to do there.

I also made a lot of changes in Maisy’s life. One of the most important things I did was introduce treat dispensing toys for her meals. Maisy eats supper out of these every day. She has a Buster Cube, a Tricky Treat Ball, a Bob-A-Lot, and our favorite, the Tug a Jug!

These toys are vital to keeping us both sane. Maisy has a lot of energy, and being able to expend some mental energy during meal times really cuts down on her anxiety. I also improved Maisy’s diet by switching over to pre-made raw for breakfast, with high-quality, grain-free kibble for supper. She takes probiotics and fish oil daily.

Maisy switched to a holistic vet this fall, and has received regular chiropractic treatments. She’s also got her first massage today! I have never seen this dog so relaxed. This may sound like extravagance, but keeping her pain free is incredibly important when managing her anxiety.

Maisy and I have gone to a ton of classes, including CU-style classes, rally and advanced obedience. We have had a couple of private lessons, and even took a few tracking lessons this fall. It was really neat to watch Maisy use her innate abilities, and really taught me that I have to trust her as much as she has to trust me when we’re working together.

Finally, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t share what might be my favorite Maisy-related moment from 2009: the night in March when she got me out of a speeding ticket.

I was driving to a dog training class, and was apparently going a bit too fast. Okay, I was at least 15mph over the limit, so I knew when I saw those lights in my rear view mirror that I was going to get a ticket. The officer walked up to the passenger’s side window to ask for my license and proof of insurance.

I couldn’t find it. I apologized profusely, but the officer looked at me sternly. Then he noticed Maisy, who was sitting safely buckled in her seat, wagging her tail in large, loose circles, and with the biggest doggy smile possible. He did a double take, then smiled at her.

“You know what?” he said. “Don’t worry about it. Just slow down.”

I thanked him, and then, as I drove away, I thanked Maisy.

And I need to do that again today. Thank you, Maisy, for everything you have done, for everything you have taught me, for loving and trusting me, for simply being yourself. I could not ask for a better dog.


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

wow 42 yahoo groups, and I thought my 18 was hard to keep up with! That is a great list of books too, I think I've hit all but TTouch and Through a Dog's Ear. Reading has been so much of my education and the rest has mainly struggling to actually apply what I've read!

Super cute about Vito and the speed ticket! Alas Vito's stranger danger would cause me the opposite problem! Oh I can just see it now!

Crystal said...

I don't read every post in those groups, obviously! I get them all on digest, and usually just scan the subject lines. I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot, but I do get a wide cross-section of info.

Through a Dog's Ear is really good. It was a very quick read, but incredibly interesting.

I understand what you mean about how hard it is to APPLY what's been read. I often have these lightbulb moments where I totally get how some concept (thresholds, for example) apply to Maisy.

Melissa said...

Hey Crystal... I came over from LJ and really enjoyed your 'year in review' posts. I have really enjoyed all the reports about the progress you and the amazing Maisy have made! :-)

I was wondering if you might have time to answer a question or two for me. We just moved to a new state (again!) and found what looks like a nice dog training group nearby. I have a couple of questions about getting involved that I would love to ask you before I contact them. Let me know if that's ok on here, or if you would like to email me - thanks bunches! (our email is neverwinter2 at

oh, and Happy New Year to you and Maisy!!!

Crystal said...

EIther place is fine- whatever is easiest, I guess! :) I'll shoot you an email, though.