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.
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.
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?