It was my proudest moment of being a dog mom/handler/owner, whatever you want to call it. Bear put his paw on my knee. I’ve had dogs go High in Trial, Best of Breed, Champions, and rank in the national top ten in obedience. When Bear put his paw on my knee, I melted. I was clipping Truman’s toenails. I use positive reinforcement to trim nails, one toenail=one treat. Truman enjoys it, and often gives me his paw to do more, after I have finished clipping all his nails.
What about Bear? When we adopted him from the shelter 10 months ago, he was terrified. If you tried to touch his leg, or hold him, he would mock bite, and scream. He ran from the room if he saw the nail clippers. Six months after we adopted Bear, I dropped off a donation at the shelter, and one of the workers said she remembered Bear. “He had problems,” she said. He did. He was depressed and terrified. His way of dealing with fear was to fight and run away.
So yesterday, when I was doing Truman’s nails, and Bear came over and put his paw on my knee, and willingly let me clip his dewclaws, I almost cried. It was the most sincere display of trust I have ever experienced with an animal. Bear was flat out saying, in spite of having people hurt him, reject him, throw things at him, hit him, confine him, he trusted me. Me. I was honored.
I published Stalled, the third book in the Truman Blue, Cozy Mystery Series. Publishing is always mixed blessing. This book is a success for a fledgling Cozy writer. I am well into the next book, Staked Out.
The sorrow was that I unhooked a virtual leash for Leala trot over the rainbow bridge. She was 14 years old. Leala was my first therapy dog. We started together in 2009. She was a stray, terrified of people, but gave them a second chance. She ended up as a premiere therapy dog. She is now in the “memory kennel” with the rest of her buddies.
Last month, while gardening, I picked up a shovel and Bear ran. It broke my heart. This month I noticed a huge change in his guardedness. I think he has adopted us. I credit Truman for a good portion of Bear’s trusting turnaround. Truman is top dog, and Bear finds comfort in his friendly and confidnet leadership.
Bear led a complicated life before he came to our house. He loves to come up from behind walk between my legs as I walk. He happily stands perfectly still while I put on his harness and leash. He loves to have his face held and rubbed. He loves car rides. He was house broken. He came with those trusting traits. Someone loved him. Then somehow, he became a stray.
Did his owner die from Covid? He is a fence jumper. Maybe he aggravated a neighbor to the point he was “relocated”.
He came to us with many fears. If you took hold of his collar quickly, he turned his head gaping his mouth, even putting it his mouth on an arm. He never bit. He was just very defensive. The click of a pen sent him running out of the house. Touching his legs terrified him.
We had him three weeks when he decided to start jumping our fence. He would run up and down a busy highway. I have no idea how he avoided being hit. We spent a bundle on a electric fence (feels like a 9-volt battery on the tongue) and raising the height of our 1-acre dog yard fence. Bear doesn’t try to escape anymore, not because of the fence, but because he doesn’t like to go too far away from us.
In another year, this dog will be one of those heart dogs, I can tell. He is respectful. He is obedient without formal training. He loves to touch and be touched. He often has a paw touching or is leaning against us or one of our other critters. He is one of us.
Truman Blue is the “most funnest” dog I have ever had. Training dogs is rewarding on so many levels, the most important being training teaches you and your dog to communicate with each other. The least important is brag rights, but that’s fun too.
The Gestalt theory, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, is exemplified in the relationship between a human and dog. There is power in tricks and skills.
The first trick I remember teaching a dog, I learned from watching Rin-Tin-Tin. I was six years old and taught my basenji-fox terrier mix to attack my merciless older brother. “Get him!” Fortunately, the dog just nipped. I don’t think my parents believed my brother who claimed their adorable six-year-old daughter would or could do such a thing. Suffice to say that my brother no longer teased me when Frankie-dog was with me.
When I was nine, my dachshund and I received a blue ribbon at a “family fair dog show” because he sat more quickly than any other dog. It was the beginning of my interest in performance events.
I entered adulthood looking for ways to better connect with my dogs. I showed in conformation classes, and obedience classes, but they were not the best fit for me. I did put champion and obedience titles on two fox terriers, and four obedience titles on my two Siberian huskies, but wanted something different.
When I trained my first therapy dog, Leala, something clicked. Truman Blue is my third certified therapy dog, and my first crisis response dog. I enjoy serving my community by comforting people with my dogs. If feels right.
I also learned the fun of dog tricks, and teaching with all positive reinforcement. I start out by watching my dogs, observing their natural inclinations. Teaching them to watch and listen to me is rewarding for the dog and the human.
Over the years, AKC changed its face from a purebred dog organization to an organization that supports dogs. Truman Blue is an AKC registered All American (AKA mutt), a Labrador-Bloodhound with a dash of pit, boxer and some middle eastern hound. He is an AKC registered PAL.
We have had loads of fun putting AKC titles on him. He is titled SWN THD CGC FDC TKA, and although it is not AKC recognized, certified crisis response dog. He has also acted in a stage drama. Our next title will be CGCU (Canine Good Citizen – Urban). What those titles show is that we have fun together. We have trained a lot, traveled some, taught each other, and comforted each other. (see below for title explanations)
Although I taught tricks to all my dogs as I journeyed around the sun, I really learned about the dog human connection about five years ago, when Truman became part of my family. I read Kyra Sundance’s “101 Dog Tricks” and read several books about dog’s intelligence levels including Stanley Coren’s “How Dogs Think,” “The Intelligence of Dogs,” and “How to Speak Dog, and Gregory Bern’s “How Dogs Love Us.”
I have always loved dogs but over the years working with my dogs, I have learned how much my dogs love me, especially Truman Blue.
How do you determine what tricks or skills to start teaching to your dog? Watch what they love to do and work with it. What would you teach Bear as his first trick?
Truman Blue titles
SWN – Scent Work Novice -means he passed three tests in each of four categories
THD – Therapy Dog (AKC) – means he has visited as a comfort therapy dog at least 50 times
CGC – Canine Good Citizen – means he has passed a test that shows he is a good dog around other people and dogs
FDC – Farm Dog Certification – means he has passed a test that shows he is a good dog around farm complexities
TKA – Trick Dog Advanced – means he has passed the novice, intermediate and advanced level tricks with increased difficulty at each level.
Certified Therapy Dog – means he has passed a test that shows he is able and willing to comfort people in controlled settings
Certified Crisis Response Dog – means he has passed the training and test that shows he can comfort people in chaotic disaster situations.
I admit, I hadn’t read the scientific research papers. When I learned about the connection between behavior and left/right handedness in dogs, I was delightfully shocked. How had I missed that?
As it turns out, there are predictors of a dog’s propensity to be a more easily trained, and less troublesome. The predictors are based on observable physical characteristics that are associated with left or right paw preference.
On the left you can see Truman and Bear playing. Bear has a definite preference of using his left paw to whack Truman. He doesn’t just “paw” at him, he actually whacks him, like a–well–bear would. Bear usually steps off to a walk with his left foot first. He was too “playful” for me to get a snapshot of the whorl on his chest, the whorl being another predictor. I tried several times.
On the other hand, the right-hand photo shows the whorl on Truman’s chest. This is the first and only picture I took because Truman was so cooperative. The whorl goes counterclockwise. A sign that the dog is more trainable. I’d put money on Bear’s whorl going clockwise. Truman generally steps off with his right foot.
Truman is the easiest dog I have ever dealt with. He loves to please. He listens to everything I say. He listens and learns so quickly that he seems like a dog genius. Bear, on the other hand, while sweet as he can be, seems head strong, persistent. He is fearful of odd things even though I have worked on desensitization. (Nutcracker cracking pecans at a distance). Bear runs out of the room if he sees the nail clippers. Truman offers me his paw to get nails trimmed.
Below is an over simplification of right and left brain functions in humans (which is comparable to dogs with obvious differences). Possible dog behaviors in italics
Right side of the brain controls:
Physical: left side of body (left dominant)
Thinking: attention, memory, reasoning, problem solving
Escapes from fence
Helps themselves to food on the countertop
Feeling: alertness, determination, disgust, avoidance, fear
Digs the whole yard trying to get a mole
Hates going to the vet
Left side of the brain controls:
Physical: right side of body (right dominant)
Thinking: language, number skills, reasoning, scientific skills, spoken language
Quickly associates words or signals with actions
Good at solving “dog puzzles”
Watches you to try to understand what you want them to do
Feeling: comfortable approaching and engaging with the world, happiness, pride, anger
Good therapy or service dog
Easy to get along with
Bear isn’t really a bad dog. He does have different behavior than Truman. That doesn’t make him bad, it does make him more challenging.
Of course, selective breeding pre-determines many behavioral characteristics. But within each breed, there are differences. The moral of the story is, as a general rule, if you want a dog that is more tractable, and less worrisome, pick a pooch that is right-pawed and has a counterclockwise chest whorl.
Truman’s best buddy, our new shelter pup Bear, has some aberrant behaviors. He is preoccupied with putting toys in certain arrangements.
After reviewing Bear’s toy alignments, I am convinced it contains a message to his home planet. I am in need of help from an astrophysicist. Being a tree hugger, I know angles are important in astrophysics, but I don’t know how to calculate or interpret the small angle approximation. I am certain this arrangement is a signal indicating an impending invasion of aliens from Bear’s home planet. I suspect the planet is in the Sirius solar system, in the Canis Major Constellation. Please help, or we may be overrun, by playful puppers!
Do dogs have horrible nightmares? How would they know that a nightmare is not real?
Bear had been making steady progress in acclimating to our home, until yesterday.
It started with breakfast. When Bear came to our home 2 months ago, he hated being crated. I believe dogs should not fear being crated because at some point in their lives, they may have a need to be crated for such as an injury that needs confinement to heal. Bear’s meals were in the crate, so he had learned to associate crate time with good things. My other dogs (and cats) rotate turns for naptime in the open crate. Bear still doesn’t choose to nap in the crate, but he is desensitized enough that he now willingly walks in for meals and patiently waits for me to let him out.
Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, he refused to go in the crate for his breakfast. He ducked away and sniffed at the bowl from the outside. When I finally convinced him to go in, he took a bite, then stood at the door to be let out. I sat next to the bowl, and he finally relaxed to eat.
I wondered if he had a nightmare. Did he dream that we did something hurtful to him? We have not, but his behavior indicates that he was traumatized by someone more than once, most likely when he was a stray. He’s terrified and runs outside at “click” sounds, like the ones made by a lighter. Loud noises don’t bother him, except for the pop like a balloon. He comes wagging his tail when I hold up a leash and stands still to be hooked up, but he shrinks backs and runs if I try to take hold of his collar without a leash in my hand.
Uncharacteristically, yesterday Bear spent most of the day in the yard by himself, not coming in until dark. Usually, he follows the other dogs in and out, adhering to their routine. The other three dogs are bonafide house pets (all former rescues). We frequently encouraged him to come in many times with treats, but when treat time was over, he retreated outside.
He is a typical 10-month-old chewer but has learned that anything in the doggie toy box is okay. He usually frequents that box several times a day, hauling several toys from the box to the middle of the living room. Yesterday, he didn’t touch the toys. When I picked up one of his favorites and held it up to, him he turned and ducked away. We have never hurt him when he chewed the wrong thing. A simple showing him the toy and saying “no” and immediately handing him a dog toy, with a “good dog” praise, has taught him which toys are his without trauma.
The only difference between yesterday and the day before that was, what to me, was a calm night. I can only imagine the pupper saw his new home in a dark dream. One of those dreams where your worst fears come true, but regardless, when you awaken and see you are safe, the fear lingers. My heart aches for him. He is such a sweet and normally happy go lucky dog. I am confident that he will eventually trade bad dreams for good. Until then, his mom’s heart hurts when he does.
I know Truman’s calm and comforting nature will help heal Bear’s doggie soul.
Truman Blue has a new little brother, Bear. Like all the other critter’s in Truman’s household, Bear is a rescue. Adopted from the local shelter, Bear is a “Labradog”, mostly Labrador and maybe something else thrown in. Or maybe not, it’s hard to tell. Do I see a DNA test in Bear’s future?
Why Bear? A year ago, Truman’s adopted mom, 14-year-old Labrador Sunny, trotted over the Rainbow Bridge. The Hu-Man missed having a busy, affectionate dog. For several months, the family tried to find a special Labrador who needed a home. The dog had to get along with cats, and other dogs, and had to be happy being fenced in an acre yard.
Bear had been in the local non-kill shelter for nearly two months. Being a sensitive pupper, he was stressed by the raucous atmosphere filled with barking pits and pit mixes. Bear sat at the back of his sparkling clean kennel run, head hung, stress panting. But he came right up to say hello when Truman’s Hu-mom called him. He wanted to be petted.
Bear has been Truman’s little brother for 10 days and still has some minor adjusting to do. He is happy to be the Hu-man’s special dog because the Hu-man pets Bear, and throws toys for Bear to chase. Truman loves to run and play with Bear. Bear is mostly respectful when he plays but when he’s not, Truman only needs to woof in Bear’s face, and Bear gets the message. Truman is boss-dog.
Yesterday, Bear, Truman, Hu-mom & Hu-man, went on their first family outing to a plant nursery, and then the pet store. Bear did great for any 9-month old pupper. His worst offense was tugging on the leash a little. After the breezy atmosphere of the plant nursery, the sensory overload of pet store was a little overwhelming, and Bear stress panted a little. The family didn’t stay long. At the checkout counter, Truman showed Bear how to put his paws on the counter to get a treat. Bear is learning quickly.
How such a sweet dog as Bear ended up as a stray, is a mystery. The question is, will Bear make and appearance as Truman’s buddy in a future Truman Blue Mystery?
Scent work (AKA nose work) is a fun, easy game to play with your dog. You probably have the items needed, right there in your home. You can do this inside or outside. We do both.
What you Need Besides a Dog (I bet this works with cats too)
Something smelly (something you have at your house OR what needed for AKC training)
Around the house (make sure the odor isn’t offensive to you dog)
Baking flavor extract (example – mint extract)
Strong smelling spice (example – cloves)
AKC Scent Work
Birch essential oil – first level
Anise essential oil – second level (Pimpinella anisum – NOT star anise Illicium verum)
Something cottonish if you are using oils (consider the dog might eat the scented piece, so make it small enough to pass through)
100% cotton ball (cut in half or quarters)
100% cotton swab (with paper stems cut in half)
small scrap of cotton cloth (1″ square)
A SCENT container that fits inside the glass storage container (odor free)
used pill bottle (I drill 5 largish holes in the tops)
any small container (the lid will need to be open, or have holes drilled into it)
A glass container with a tight lid for storing the scent container (odor free)
For each step, the scent container must be open at top, or have holes in it, and contain scented a cotton ball, swab, or scrap.
Scent the cotton with 3-5 drops of scent (around once a week). (Less as dog progresses) OR put a tablespoon of spice in the container
Think of a word to use to send the dog after the scent container, a word such as “search” “find” “buscar” chercher” “stinky”. It doesn’t make any difference what word you use as long as it doesn’t sound like another command the dog knows.
MAKE IT FUN!!
Treats must be provided within 1 1/2 seconds of the dog finding the container.
Do not move to next step until the first one is solid. (The first few steps may be learned quickly but do them each at least 5 times) Go back to previous step whenever necessary.
(I have three dogs. I was only training Truman. After Truman was at Step 5, I allowed the other two to accompany him and everyone got treats. A second dog learned how to do this by watching)
DO NOT punish or scold your dog! This is for FUN! Be a cheerleader and encourager.
MAKE IT FUN!
Step 1: Let the dog sniff the container, give the treat when the dog puts its nose on the container out of curiosity. You can start using your “word command”.
Step 2: Making the dog wait, place container on floor with a treat on top. Say “search” (or find, or whatever you want) and let the dog get the treat. Encourage the dog with words. This is supposed to be fun.
Step 3: Keep moving the container with the treat on top farther away from you and send the dog to search. (Most dogs seem to find containers on the ground more easily. Start there.)
Step 4: With the dog watching, hide the container/treat behind something. Send the dog to search. It is fine to use the same or nearby places repeatedly in the beginning. Use a different hiding place in each room. The scent may linger in a spot and confuse the dog.
Step 5: Take the dog out of the room. Hide the container/with a treat in a “regular” hiding place. Bring the dog in and send it to search.
Step 6: Take the dog out of the room. Hide the container/NO treat. Bring the dog in and send it to search. When the dog finds the container give treat AT the location of the container. You can drop it next to the container if you want. (In competitions, the dog must ALERT the owner, but if you are just playing, don’t worry about that.)
Step 7: Complicate the playing by moving the container to high and low positions. Hide under pillows, etc with a route where the scent can escape. Always reward with a treat as quickly as you can (within 1 1/2 seconds).
Soggy dogs. It rained and rained, but the participants in the scent work trials were used to working in natural elements. Canines and people were wet and muddy, but that didn’t matter at this show. It was the ability of the dogs to locate a hidden odor cannister that counted.
Scent work is a dog sport where the handler learns more than the dog. The dog already knows how to find things with its nose. They are born that way. It is the handler who must explain to the dog which scent he should find, and then allow the dog to do its thing. It is an amazing privilege to understand how a dog reads the world with its nose.
This was Truman Blue’s first AKC Scent Work Trial. At this one show, there were two trials with identical classes. We entered four classes in each trial, so a total of eight classes.
Containers (the scent hidden in one out of 10 boxes)
Interior (the scent hidden in a room in a barn)
Exterior (the scent hidden in a roped off area outside)
Buried (the scent hidden in one of 10 boxes filled with sand)
Truman earned four first place ribbons, three second place ribbons, and bombed one class…more later on that one bomb, and the handler’s role in reading the dog. His desire to please and ferret out scents earned him High in Trial at his very first dog show