Should You Train Your Dog Like A Dolphin?

Yes.  And no.

I have been out of the world of dog competition for several years.  There was a time when I used to spend a lot of time at dog shows.  I would always see clickers for sale, and occasionally discussions would crop up on different training styles.  Some were adamant that all dogs should only be trained like dolphins, or marine mammals, others would state that only positive reinforcement should be used “like with animals in zoos” some said you should only train with clickers.  But are any of these statements true?

 

 

It is entirely possible to achieve results using the above-mentioned methods, but I disagree with the use of the absolute.  It has been my experience that the typical dog owner, you and me, does not need to go to the effort of using those types of training systems effectively.  A combination of positive and negative reinforcement can be highly effective at shaping the behaviors you want, and raising a happy, well behaved companion.  Are you all shuddering now because I used the word ‘negative’?  Read on and find out how it’s not as bad as you think.  You won’t need a clicker or a whistle.

Being in the worlds of exotic animal as well as dog training I spent a serious amount of time studying and using operant conditioning.  I worked at Sea World, I worked at the San Diego Zoo, and I was intimately familiar with training systems used in world-class zoological facilities.  I was also teaching dog obedience at the same time, both private and group classes, and I considered several different ways to incorporate clicker training into my classes.  I talked about it with my students and got an overwhelming lack of interest in response.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why; most people didn’t want to work that hard.

Animal training utilizes the operant conditioning techniques developed by B.F Skinner, and places like this and this will tell you about the man and how his work applies to animal training.  It’s a fascinating subject, and far more complex than I’m going to tackle here and now.  But I do want to introduce some important concepts.

Animal Training Glossary

Positive Reinforcement.  We’ve all heard the term, but what does it mean?  How is it useful to animal trainers?  The word ‘positive’ is used here in the additive sense.  You are adding, or giving something the animals likes, or finds pleasurable, and this stimulus increases the likelihood a behavior will be repeated.  When you give a dog a treat, or a sea lion a fish immediately after it does a desired behavior you have positively reinforced that behavior, and the animal is more likely to do it again under the same circumstances.  Part of the job of the professional animal trainer working with exotics is figuring out what is positively reinforcing to the animal she’s trying to train.  It might not always be food, although that is the most common positive reinforcer.  But, what reinforces a dog is not likely to reinforce a porcupine.

Negative Reinforcement.  Don’t cringe!  This is often confused with punishment, but it is not.  The word ‘negative’ is subtractive; something is removed, stopped or avoided.  It is the absence of this stimulus that produces the desired behavior.  How many of you use a leash and collar, and your dog walks calmly at the end of it?  The collar and the pressure it exerts when the dog pulls at the end of the leash is an example of negative reinforcement.  The dog is negatively reinforced when he stops pulling and the pressure is relieved.  When the dog walks without pulling he avoids that pressure, and he is more likely to walk without pulling your arm off nicely at your side, giving you the desired behavior.  It is impossible to put a leash and collar on a sea lion or a dolphin, but a cheetah or a wolf responds well to gentle pressure on a collar.

How is training an exotic animal, a dolphin, a sea lion or a wolf like training your dog?  Key principles apply:  you need to be consistent, you need an effective communication system, you need precise timing, and you need a lot of patience no matter what you are training.  In this sense, training a dog is like training a sea lion is like training a porcupine.

How is training a sea lion not like training your dog?  You will never share your home with a sea lion.  I loved Disney’s ‘Sammy the Way Out Seal’ when I was kid, but believe me, you do not want one of these in your house.

 


If a sea lion quit on me during a show, you know what happened?  Nothing.  The sea lion swam in the moat until he was ready to pay attention again.  I did my best to tap dance and the crowd enjoyed a good laugh.  Hey, it happens.  You review what caused the animal to quit, adapt and move on.  Sometimes it was just because it was summer, the sea lion wasn’t hungry and he’d rather be on a beach with the ladies.  It’s his biology and DNA telling him what to do, and my fish just wasn’t as reinforcing as the nice cool pool.

What happens if your dog eliminates in the house and you ignore it?  Do you laugh?  Exactly.  We expect certain behaviors from our domestic animals that share our homes that are never taught to animals in zoos.  And remember this, they’re domestic!  They’re genetically programmed by centuries of breeding to be handled and trained by humans.  Domestic animals are very malleable and adaptable to the application of behavior modification techniques, positive and negative reinforcement.  The same cannot always be said of exotics.

Can you use a clicker to train your dog?  Of course you can, or a whistle, or your iPod if you want to get really creative.  Do I recommend it?  Nope.  The typical dog owner wants a pet that is well mannered, housebroken and knows a few commands.  If the dog sits, lies down and comes on command the average dog owner is happy.  These are very easy things to accomplish, no clickers necessary.

Ask yourself this:  Do you really want to be sure you always have a clicker on you?  Can you keep a pocket of treats always full?  Remember, consistency is the key to good results in training, if you do not use that clicker accurately, you will confuse your dog.  Clicker training is dependent on food reinforcement particularly in the early stages.  You would have to adjust your dog’s feeding and limit treats or you could easily train your pet into obesity.

Where is clicker training helpful?  Do you want to train your dog to this:

 

 

Isn’t that amazing?  I don’t know what methods she used, but clicker training is a great way to get such precise, complex behaviors.  How many hours every day would you willing to put in to get your dog to do what Rookie does?  Most people are happy with a dog that walks at their side as they stroll through the neighborhood, naps quietly while they watch tv and doesn’t freak out when people come to visit.  They’re not looking for a dance partner, they’re not looking to compete at dog sports.  That is a whole other subject and realm of training.  It can be a lot of fun, it builds a tremendously close bond between you and your dog, but it is also a huge time (not to mention money) commitment.

Dogs will respond beautifully if you give them love, and training, but that entails applying positive and negative reinforcement.  The animals that live with us need to learn and respect the behavioral boundaries we establish.  They need to follow these ‘rules’ all the time, which is the expectation most pet owners have.  You want your dog to eliminate outside all the time, right?

But how do you know which reinforcement to apply and at what time?  Stay tuned!

Dead Girls Love My Husband

I haven’t posted about ghosts in a little while, and thought I’d share this encounter with you:

Hub and I went out the other night to a friend’s birthday party.  It was being held at a club downtown, and the building is well over one hundred years old, lots of history and of course, ghosts!  We got there early, and went upstairs and I looked around to see if any spirits were nearby.  Hub took one look at my face and knew what I was doing.

I immediately got a hint of a female floating some ten or fifteen feet away.  Her hands were on her hips, she had bright curly red hair, and looked disheveled.  Her layered dress wasn’t very clean, and her face had the bumps and lines of woman who has lived a very hard life.  She glared at me from across the room, and while to me, she seemed to be floating, from her perspective, she was standing next to a fire place.  She was projecting a stubborn determination.  The building had been remodeled since her time, but she only knew the floor she stood on, and the fireplace she stood by.  Her arms crossed and she rubbed her shoulders and upper arms, she remembered being cold, and it was still affecting her.  I said “Hi.”

“Yeah, what do you want?”  She was surly, she didn’t like being talked to.  She sneered and glared at me.  I felt her anger like buzzing vibrations against my skin, that then focused on my forehead.  “Want to stare at the dead whore?  Is that it?  Well this is my place, and I ain’t leaving it!”  Her emotional vibrations began to give me a headache.  She did not like people intruding on her space, did not like that I could see her.  She resented being dead, but she also resented that some of the living could see her and treated her like a circus freak.  She only wanted to be left alone and she wanted nothing more than to push my attention away.

“Alright.”  I pulled back, and actually turned my head away from the spot she hovered in, rubbing the center of my forehead, which was still twitching and vibrating from intensity of her anger.  Hub noticed and asked, “Are you getting anything?”  “Yeah,”  I answered, “But she’s not very happy.  She’s over there.”  I gestured and described the redhead and the fireplace.  “She doesn’t really want to talk.”

“Oh really?  Why not?”  Hub wanted to know, and looking over he addressed the spot where she was still glaring.  “We just want to talk a little.  Nothing wrong with that, right?”  I watched as a new look came over her face, surprise, and her anger started to melt.

“Who’s that?”  She wanted to know.  “Is that a man?”  The spirit was suddenly interested.  “That’s my husband.”  I told her.  Anger vanished and now she sparkled.  She didn’t exactly become beautiful, but she did put on a smile and said. “A man!  It’s been a long time since I talked to a man.  Well, hello handsome!”

I don’t know exactly why this is, but dead cannot always see the living; maybe they’re too caught up in the memories of their lives.  This was the first time I’d experienced a spirit not-seeing, then seeing a person next to me.  Perhaps it was just a matter of her following where my attention went.  Watching her transformation though, made me laugh, and I  had to tell Hub what she’d said.  I tried to mimic the lilt she put into her voice, which made us both laugh again.

“Aren’t you going to introduce us?  That’s the polite thing to do, you know.”  She demanded.  I presented Hub, who waved and said “Hi.”  He then asked me what her name was.  “Ruby.”  She answered.  “He really is handsome, how’d you get so lucky? What a catch!”  This really was a first for me, a ghost cooing over my husband.  I described Ruby’s exclamations, and praise, which made us both laugh, and him glow.  “Even the dead girls love me!”

Ruby’s whole attitude changed, especially when Hub joked with her flirtatiously.  “Oh, I like him!”  She forgot about her anger, but she still didn’t really want to talk to me.  When I tried to offer to help her cross to the other side, she refused.  “Nah!  I’m okay here.  Tell your cutie pie I said good bye.”  Then she faded from my sight.  Naturally I passed on her farewells, which made us both laugh again.

Not every spirit wants or is ready to move on, Ruby clearly wasn’t.  I don’t try and force them, or make them cross over, in fact, I’m not sure I could.  It’s always at the spirits own choice.  Ruby didn’t put in any more appearances, and we left later on without any more ghostly encounters.  But Hub was more than pleased that he’d finally spoken to a ghost.

For Love of Little Chickens

Wednesday is usually dog-training day, but I’m expanding the topic to include raising backyard chickens.  Eventually I’ll add in some of my zoo animal stories as well.  Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of dog-training tips and advice coming!

Monday I ordered my new crop of chickens!  I’m so excited!  Before, I’ve always tacked my chicken order on with my friend’s and she’s taken delivery.  So I have not had the joy of hurrying to the post office to collect my fluffy little peepers.  This year though, I have no one to share a chicken order with, and so placed my order for 25 to arrive at the end of March.  Yes, you read that number right; I will soon be the proud parent of 25 fuzzy little babies.  They are every bit as adorable as they look in pictures, too!

Ten of the little cuties are egg-layers, and I picked 5 different breeds, some I’ve had before, and some are new to me.  The other 15 are meat birds, Cornish crosses, and will end up on my dinner table.  Yum!  They mature at 2 months, and in that time they grow amazingly fast; they go from little and cute, to huge, to my freezer in that shockingly short time frame.

Most people though, get chickens just for the eggs, and I have 10 new egg layers on their way.  This year I’m getting 2 Buff Orpingtons, 2 Partridge Rocks, 2 Black Minorcas, 2 Araucanas, and 2 Dark Brahmas.  Plus, the hatchery is throwing in one very rare, exotic chicken for free!  Yippee!  Too bad they’re not telling what breed, and it could be a male, which would not be good.  But it’ll be a cool surprise, can’t wait to find out!

You probably know there are white eggs and brown eggs, but did you know some birds lay pale pink eggs, some lay blue-green eggs, and some lay a brown so dark it looks like chocolate?  Buff Orpingtons lay pale pink, Araucanas lay blue-green, Black Minorcas lay white, the rest of my girls will lay brown eggs.  I’ll have an Easter basket with all the different colors and shades!  If you ever get close enough to a chicken, look at her ears.  The color of the skin of a hen’s ears is the color of egg she will lay.  No joke.

Why do I grow my own chickens?  Taste and nutrition. Have you ever had eggs fresh from a small farm?  Maybe you have had chickens yourself at some point in time?  If you’ve only had store bought eggs from large production farms, then you are missing out.  The egg of hen who has access to fresh air, sunshine and is able to move about and do normal chicken things, like scratch in the dirt and eat bugs, is richer in vital nutrients than one kept in tiny cage it’s whole life.  Eggs from pastured chickens have:

1/3 less cholesterol

1/4 less saturated fat

2/3 more vitamin A

2 times more omega-3 fatty acids

3 times more vitamin E

7 times more beta carotene

(Thank you, Mother Earth News for the above info, and read more at: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-10-01/Tests-Reveal-Healthier-Eggs.aspx#ixzz1myKaftR9 )

Have you ever thought about keeping chickens?  It’s easily done in the city, and many are discovering the joy of having these beautiful birds share their home.  I’ll bet you never thought of a chicken as beautiful before, but just check out what my girls will look like when they’re fully grown:

Dark Brahma

Photo from http://poultrykeeper.com/brahma/the-brahma/photos-of-brahmas.html

Partridge Rock

Photo from http://www.mypetchicken.com/about-chickens/chicken-pictures/Partridge-Rock-Hen-X45.aspx

Black Minorca

Photo from http://media.photobucket.com/image/black+minorca+hen+/shay20_2009/allpics493.jpg

Buff Orpington

Some of my girls from previous years

Araucana

Isn't he gorgeous? But Brewster was a rooster and had to go.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share with you some of my chicken stories.  Keep checking back for hints on housing, raising and enjoying a small flock in your backyard.  If you have questions or hints, please share them!  I’d love to hear about your own adventures in chicken keeping.

Energetic Cleansing For Anyone

Do you ever feel just worn down?  Maybe it’s been a really stressful day, maybe you’ve been running around like your hair is on fire, chasing after kids or pets or errant employees.  Have you been sitting in a cubicle staring at a screen for hours on end?  It may be more than just physical or mental exertion wearing at you.

Is this how you feel at the end of the day?

As an energy worker and healer, I am especially sensitive to the emotional and energetic auras of the people surrounding me.  As a healthcare worker, and a natural empath, I feel an almost constant drag on my own energetic resources when I’m at my ‘day job’, and take extra steps to protect myself from being drained.  But by the end of the day, I usually find that I’m at a pretty low ebb, and it’s not entirely due to being on my feet for most of my work day.  I’ve developed a quick and easy energetic cleansing method to help remove any negative, or heavy energies that may be clinging to my own aura and energy field.

Negative energies?  What’s that mean?

Even if you don’t buy into the whole metaphysical and paranormal aspect of what I’m talking about, I’m sure you can all relate to these scenarios:

The co-worker who can suck all the life out of the room, just by walking into it; this person makes you cringe, internally at least, as soon you spot him because you know he’s going have something to complain about.  He’ll tell you how a work task went wrong and it’s not his fault, or just how generally terrible his life is.

The acquaintance who always has the disease du jour, and can’t wait to tell you every excruciating detail of her symptom progression.

That other acquaintance that dumps every emotional upheaval on you, cries on your shoulder, and is always in crisis.  But then has no time for you when you need to vent.

Have you ever noticed that after an encounter with one of these people, you suddenly feel less spring in your step?  That you feel, well, drained after being around them?  It’s not your imagination, they are sucking off your energy, and this is what’s making you feel so low.

The good news is, you can help yourself feel better, and you can do this very easily.  All you have to do is take a shower, something I’ll bet you do every day.

No need to stand under one of these, although it does feel amazing.

Really?  That’s all there is to it?

Not entirely.  For those not metaphysically minded, I’d be curious if you tried this experiment, and how it goes for you.  Stand in your running shower and still your mind.  If you need to hold some sort of image in your head, try for a clear running stream, or waves crashing on the beach, or you can just try for soothing blankness.  The idea is to still your mind, and halt the thousand odd thoughts jamming through it, just for a few moments.  If worries about paying the phone bill, or helping the kids with their homework intrude, just sort of gently push them away, and return to that stillness.  Take six deep breaths.  Try and imagine the air, packed full of relaxation, filling your lungs from bottom to top.  Count to four, slowly on each inhale, then exhale out for another count of four and imagine letting go of all your stress and tension.

Six slow breaths, while keeping your mind still and focusing on breathing calm in and stress out.  Does that really work?  Try it, and you tell me.  But if you want some science behind it to satisfy your left brain, then here it is:  Running water produces negative ions; a negative ion is an electrically charged particle, floating around in the air.  Natural settings, beaches, running streams, waterfalls are full to brimming with these negative ions, while indoor and city setting may have levels in just the hundreds or even zero.  Negative ions have been shown, in multiple studies, to have positive effects on human cognition and emotions.  When you breathe in during your shower, you breathe in these negative ions.  Once they hit your bloodstream they trigger the release of serotonin, the feel-good, mood elevating neurotransmitter.  Thank you, WebMD.  Now, you can go buy a fancy, spendy negative ion emitter, or use the free one you already have in your home shower.

An ideal negative ion generator

I’m going to move on to the metaphysical and paranormal aspects of energy cleansing now, so I’ll say goodbye to the strict left-brainers and thanks for stopping by!

A clean energy field leads to a happier, more balanced you!  We all know the energetic vampires of our acquaintance, and if you’re actively engaged in energy work, spiritual healing, mediumistic or other paranormal activity, keeping your aura clear is of paramount importance.  Bits of psychic detritus will be attracted to you and cling, just as you go about your daily life, even when you’re not doing psychic work.  Humans, both living and dead can and do attach lines to your energy field and will drain you.  Many spiritual traditions draw a direct linkage between energy drainage and physical sickness, so it is important to cleanse yourself of these energetic attachments to maintain your overall health.

Removing these attachments requires your focused intention.  It’s not enough to just jump in and rinse off, if you have significant attachments that have burrowed deeply into your aura or physical body then they will need a little boost to get them to release.  The other thing to remember is this; on some level you have given permission for this attachment to form, it could not attach otherwise.  This happens on a conscious as well as unconscious level.  When we share our feelings, when we empathize with another, when we give an ear to a friend, we help shoulder a little of their burden, we lighten their load temporarily, but we are not obligated to bear it indefinitely.  So while you do, on some level, give permission for attachments to form, you can also withdraw that permission, and that is key to energetic cleansing.

Focus your will and attention.

Before I begin my energetic cleanse, I take a moment to ground and center myself, and take the cleansing breaths I described above.  I bring my full attention into my body and aura, and let outside cares drop out of my mind; this moment is wholly for me and my health.  I take the time to reconnect with my body by focusing on every part, from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head; I let my attention ‘look’ at every part.  I also let myself feel every sore spot, ache and pain, relaxing the grip I have held on suppressing these sensations through the day.  I take full ownership of my body; it’s joys and pains.  Then I direct my attention outward to my aura; I’ll even put out my hands to feel it’s gentle curvature as it surrounds me, and feel for any rough spots.

Once I am fully connected to my body and aura, I then state my intention, I use this phrase:  “I completely remove from my being any and all attachments that do not contribute to my highest healing good.”  I hold this intention firmly in my head, and let the water cascade over me completely; ducking under the showerhead is a great idea, but you can also pass your hands over your head and face if you don’t want to get your hair wet.  I visualize the water removing every piece of heavy energy; everywhere the water goes it removes those attachments.  I hold this image, along with my intention for several breaths, imagining a curtain, or veil, travelling down from crown to feet, washing away that heavy energy.  You’ll feel it when that last bit washes away.

Next, if I sensed any gaps in my aura, I’ll seal and smooth those over with a little Reiki.  I like to hold one hand over my heart chakra and the other over the gap while I’m offering the Reiki.  I take a few last moments to visualize all the attachments being carried down the drain by the water, holding my intention of release until they disappear.  By the time I step out, I feel like a new woman!  Little aches and pains are usually swept away and I feel renewed and energized.

Remember these key points:

Hold that intention!  If your attention wanders and you begin to fret about the day you had, or the one still to come, you are not cleansing.  Refocus your attention back to yourself and repeat your intention:  release those attachments!

It may take some practice get the feel of holding your intention and focusing your attention.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, this is how you learn; just remember to keep trying and it will get easier.

Breathe deeply!  Move that air and circulate those negative ions, get as many into your bloodstream as you can.

Take a moment to really feel yourself free of that heavy energy, notice how much better, how much lighter you feel.  When you step out, clear your mind and ‘check in’ with your body and your aura, feel it completely whole and shining.  Tell yourself this is your body’s natural state!

I find that this exercise, used daily, highly beneficial.  My psychic senses are clearer and my stress levels greatly reduced.  If I’ve had a hard day on the job, and just want to turn in to a slug, this cleansing will restore me.  But don’t take it from me, try it yourself; I’d really love to hear how it works for you.  Drop me a note and tell me how you felt before and after.  Try it for a few days, then hold off for a few, and see if you notice a difference.

Waves and beaches are natural energizers

I Will Not Train Your Dog

I’ve been working on a new information flyer.  What do you think?  Does this make you want to hire me?

I WILL NOT TRAIN YOUR DOG

BUT I WILL TEACH YOU

HOW TO HAVE THE

DOG THAT YOU WANT

 

 

Do you have a new puppy and no idea what to do with her?

 

Did you adopt a dog, and you’re having difficulty getting him to listen to you?

 

Did your dog do great in obedience school, but now isn’t quite as obedient as she used to be?

 

I won’t train your dog, but I will train YOU!  You see, it doesn’t matter if I train your dog; you are the one who has to live with her.  A trained dog is not stagnant, like a program on your computer, that once installed works the same always.  Unless you reinforce the training daily, it will break down.  This is why I hear so many people say, ‘he did fine in obedience class, but now…’  What I will do is help you develop the training skills to comfortably live with your pet.

 

¨     Gain insight into your dog’s behavior

¨     Learn how your body language influences your dog’s actions

¨     Develop a great relationship with your dog

 

I will teach you the key components to successful dog training so that you will understand how to teach your dog after I’ve gone home.

 

I offer consultation on an hourly basis.  This is not a one-size fits all dog training course.  This is a one-on-one assessment of your needs, and the direction to help you get the dog behavior you want.  You decide how many consults you need.

 

I have over 10 years professional experience training animals in zoos for shows and educational purposes, and teaching obedience classes.  Plus training my own dogs for obedience, conformation, agility and herding.

 

 

Beauty of a Woman Blogfest


The beautiful and talented August McLaughlin is hosting the very first Beauty of a Woman Blogfest.  Her posts never fail to delight, but August has created something very special with this collection of authors.  You will definitely want to check out her website tomorrow, February 10th and tour through the blogs of the gifted writers participating.  In addition to the lure of the posts there are prizes to be won, including a Kindle and a $99 Amazon gift card.

I’m almost 45 years old, and it took me a little while to stop mourning the loss of my 20-something body.  You see, I used to be a gym rat, lifting weights, cardio, swimming; I worked out almost every day to keep my body looking like the girls in the magazines.  It helped that I had a very physically demanding job that kept me moving and on my feet most of the day, working as animal trainer.

But somewhere betwixt there and here, I picked up a few extra pounds year after year.  I was curvier, and not entirely sure I wanted to be; I was used to thinking of 125 pounds as the end of the world, and now I was a bit beyond that.  Hub was happy with me, but was I happy with me?

No mystery in the why.  In the ten years between leaving the animal field and now I had moved to another state, changed careers, got married, and worked long hours on the night shift.  I had spent my days off doing nothing but eating McDonalds and chocolate comfort food, reading, and sleeping, too exhausted to exercise, then too broke to keep the gym membership.  Excuse after excuse.  I spent a fair amount of time trying this fad pill or that exercise gimmick to try and lose the weight quickly.  You know how well those work, right?  Even though I left the night shift and joined the ranks of the daytime, Monday through Friday workers, I’d lost the habit of exercise, and picked up the habit of picking on myself, and spent a lot of time not feeling very pretty at all.  Yeah, that’s also a big help isn’t it?  I had a bunch of family drama in my life, and I pretty much turned into a hermit.  Yes, the stretchy pants are my best friend.

I wanted to exercise more and eat better, but I was never very good at sticking with it.  It took me months of self-castigation before I realized I was working against myself with the negative talk.  I gave myself a stern reality check.  Why would I avoid working out because I couldn’t go lift or run for an hour and half every day?  Because I would hear:  What’s the use?  Anything less won’t do you any good.  Oh that little voice in my head!  I was trying regain the body I had 20 years ago, and I was using phrases like, you’re so ugly and fat, and you are such an idiot to try and get myself off the couch.  For all my time spent meditating and working on my spiritual self and trying to practice love and compassion for my fellow beings, I had precious little to give to myself.  Why is it that we are always hardest on ourselves, using words we would never dream of repeating out loud to another person, to bully and browbeat our inner self?  I forgot that our strongest power comes from accenting the positive, not the negative.  Instead of berating, I turned to offering myself love, and support.

Then came the real shocker.  A friend recently posted a picture from that time, and I didn’t even recognize my own form at first.  Seriously, the first thing that flashed across my brain was, sheesh, why doesn’t she eat a cheeseburger?  With extra bacon?  Although I didn’t consider myself unhealthy at the time, I remember a co-worker telling me that when I first started at the zoo, she didn’t think I’d be able to handle very physical quality of the work, that I looked so frail.

I was trying to squish myself back into a square hole when I’d become a round peg.  My mental image of the younger me didn’t match the reality of who I was now, not just physically but mentally

Seeing that picture was a turning point.  That ultra skinny and well-nigh unobtainable magazine body was not what I thought of as attractive or healthy now.  I’d been beating myself up for not having something I didn’t really want anyway.  I stopped thinking of the former me as something to be longed for, punishing myself because I was no longer that shape.

When I next looked in the mirror I saw my curves as beautiful, not ungainly.  I wasn’t a stick skinny girl; I was woman in her prime.  In that moment I was gorgeous in my eyes, and I learned to love my body all over again, when I’d been a fair way to hating it.  I stopped whispering hateful messages in my ear, and instead switched to empowering phrases, and looked for ways to adapt my lifestyle to incorporate healthier eating and multiple, shorter bouts of exercise.  I realized I was comfortable with who I am now, and while I saw room for improvement, now it was for me.  I would define my body as beautiful, not give that power away to the media or the magazines!  I can’t tell you I’m perfect at eating right all the time, and sometimes I get so lost in my story I completely lose track of time, but I am consistent about getting back on track, because now I am comfortable in my skin.

Every woman should be able to look herself in the eye, say I love you, and truly mean it.  Don’t try and conform to the media’s narrow definition of what looks good, the beauty of a woman lies in her soul.  Learn to love yourself and see yourself as a true child of the Spirit, and you will see the beauty we all carry within.  Then will shine it for all to see.

How do you find your beauty within?

Be An Alpha Dog! For Your Dog’s Sake

Before I get to the alpha dog post, I’d like to invite you to the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest.  On February 10th, August McLaughlin will host this unique collection of blogs posting on the subject of Beauty, the first ever in what will hopefully become an annual event.  My post goes up tomorrow, then on Friday, February 10th you will want to visit August’s blog to read all the contributions from this terrific assortment of writers.  Plus, there’s a bunch of prizes up for grabs, including a Kindle, body image coaching and email dog training advice from yours truly.  You won’t want to miss it!

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Last week I talked about the importance of being alpha, but the big question is of course, how?  If you have a puppy, it’s easy.  They’re young, they’re impressionable, and any creature older than them is going to be the boss.  This is the time to establish your benevolent dictatorship.  Yes, that’s what it is.  Dog ownership is not a democracy, Jake doesn’t say if he sleeps on the bed with you.  You do!

You make the rules, and you enforce them.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be harsh or forceful.  A good alpha establishes the rules from the start, makes them clear and sticks to them consistently.  This will make it easier on you, easier on your dog, and you’ll find your dog will naturally follow your lead.

Your dog has no choice in whether or not she’s going to act like a pack animal, it’s hard-wired into her DNA.  Much as we love our dogs, much as we love to dress them up like Princess Leia spoil them, they are not humans in fur coats.  Dogs will be dogs…but we can shape their behavior and teach them to curb or alter their natural instincts to suit us.  Use body language, tone of voice, and mimic dog postures to establish your pack leadership, and your meaning will immediately be clear to your dog.

Not sure if I prefer the all-white gown look, or slave-girl Leia on a dog.

Alpha wolves control their pack’s behavior.  If the alpha says move, a wolf moves, and you can apply this in the home.  Want to walk past your dog but he’s in the doorway?  Walk right into him and with a gentle nudge have him clear your path.  Is he napping in the hall?  Don’t step over him, get his attention, get him up and make him move.  Lower ranked pack members clear the path for the alpha.  This might seem subtle to you, but to your dog it is a clear signal that you are in charge.

If your dog is not allowed on the couch, then there’s no in between.  If Jake jumps up on the couch, you are going to immediately tell him ‘no’ and have him jump off every time.  But you will also make it clear to Jake, what the desired behavior is, to lay on the floor, or on his bed.  So, once Jake is off the couch, you will take Jake to his bed, get him to lie down on it and praise Jake for being a good dog.

A good alpha will make it clear this behavior is wrong, but this behavior is right.  Anticipate that when Jake comes into the room, he’s going to try and jump on the couch, so take him to his bed, have him lie down on it, and praise him!  Give him a favorite toy to play with when he’s lying on it.  Pack leaders make the rules and enforce them, but they also let pack members know what the right behaviors are and reward them.

Pack leaders also control the food.  I can leave my dinner plate, a burger, a steak, anything, sitting on a low table and walk away, fully confident my dogs would never dream of so much as drooling on it.  When it’s time for their dinner, they sit and stay, waiting politely until the food is prepared, on the floor, and I release them from their stay to start eating.  The alpha says when it’s mealtime, there is no shoving or lunging past an alpha to get to food.  Having your dog sit or down and stay, waiting to go to his food bowl will help prevent pushy behaviors like begging or food stealing.

Believe me, your dog wants to know the rules and follow them!  Most dogs are not alphas; most of them do not want to be pack leader.  They will step into the position if they feel they have to, because they perceive a lack, and this can cause your dog a lot of mental stress.  Being clear, firm and direct when establishing and enforcing your house rules will help your dog be calmer, and more inclined to pay attention to you.

This does not mean you have to be a stiff, angry disciplinarian.  Dogs can be taught to recognize words, but they respond instinctively to our tone of voice and body posture.  You can use this deliberately, consciously, when you interact with your dog by altering your stance, changing the pitch of your voice, and making or breaking eye contact.

When you’ve caught Jake on the couch, stand tall, give him a hard stare, speak firmly and in a lower tone when you tell him ‘no.’ When he crawls off, with head and tail low, you can tell him ‘good’ or similar words in a calm, neutral tone while your expression becomes more neutral.  He’s responding to your body language as much as your word.  You need to alter your own tone and posture to acknowledge that he’s responding appropriately.  Take your tone of voice up and lighten it when you take him to his bed and have him lie down.  Praise him for lying down in an upbeat happy tone, and give him a good, comforting scratch on the chin or behind the ears for being a good dog.

What does your body language tell your dog?  Are you confident?  Harsh?  Playful?  Do you try and alter your posture or voice to influence your dog?

Start teaching me right from the start!

Get Back UP

 

I wrote about inspiration a week ago, and boy did I need to find some.  I don’t normally like to say this, but it’s been a bad couple weeks.  Everything’s relative I guess, no one died, I didn’t find out someone’s deathly ill, but everything just went to blah.  The weather was dreary and wet, and I was hurting on multiple levels.  Even my favorite songs couldn’t lift me up; I needed to dig deeper.

 

It started with slamming my hand in the car door.  BAM!  Great, now I can’t write.  So while blog posts, and plot twists and new stories swirled and jumbled in my head, I couldn’t get them out.  Frustrating!  The pre-holiday rush at work slowed after the New Year started, and then a massive snowstorm took even more hours away from the paycheck that covers the mortgage.  That’s why there’s a savings account, right?  But it still makes me sweat.

 

Friday, February 3rd would have been Dad’s 79th birthday.  He died on May 1st 2010 after a long, slow and painful slide downward.  It was the kind of disease progression that makes you long for the person to die and end the suffering.  And then you feel like a horrible daughter.  You might think that being a mediumistic psychopomp, and able to talk to the dead would give some relief from the grief and sense of loss that his absence makes, but no, it doesn’t.  Even though I know that Dad’s spirit is alive and well, I miss being able to hug him, and hear his voice.  I broke down again last night, while Hub held me close; the void that was Dad’s place in this world still hurting because I couldn’t call and wish him Happy Birthday.

 

It gets better, it gets easier, but sometimes, I just have to cry it out.

 

Then, a miracle happened.

 

I was starting to seriously consider seeing a doctor to fix my hand.  A hard lump that ice and ibuprofen had no effect on, pain, and that whole not able to write thing, had me on the edge of freaking out.  Oh my god!  What if I can’t write anymore?  Yeah, I know, hyperbole, but when you’re having this conversation inside your head, things always seem horribly final.  When I poked and prodded at my hand, testing range of motion and pain, I thought it possible I’d dislocated something, but wanted to give it a little more time.

 

Enter my friend K.  K is a powerful woman in all respects, a businesswoman, singer extraordinaire, and amazing friend.  She grabs my hand, all unknowing of my injury, and squeezes, doubling me over.

 

“Oh my god, what’s wrong, what did I do?”  She was instantly concerned, so I told her what had happened and tried to reassure her.  “You didn’t know; it’s okay.”  I said while trying to calm the waves of pain flowing up my arm.

 

“No, no, no!”  She was insistent.  “I do that!  Why do I always do that?  I seem to have this sense that knows wherever someone is hurt and I grab it.  Why is that?”

 

“You’re a healer, so you’re drawn to where people hurt.”  The words popped out of my mouth before I could stop them.  K was pleased, like the concept hadn’t occurred to her before.  “Do you really think so?”  I nodded, shaking and flexing my hand, which was no longer throbbing, and we moved on to other topics.

 

Later that night, I ran my thumb over my injury and did not feel the large lump that had been there.  Really?  It can’t be that easy.  It was.  The lump was negligible, the pain almost nonexistent, and…I could write again!  I had to tell K she had fixed my hand, and she was thrilled.  Hmmm.  Will have to check and see if she’d like a Reiki I attunement…

 

These weeks have been a great reminder that life is a rollercoaster, not a flat track.  Exhilarating, funny, and wonderful, but also scary, sad and painful.  I had to remind myself that when the coaster takes you down on a plunge, there will be an upswing on the other side.  But you may have to get up and go looking for it.  Don’t try and deny or repress the sad, it will only eat you up from the inside.  Get it out, let it go, however or whatever that process is for you, and you’ll find the courage to pick up and keep going.  Remember also to be kind to yourself.  There is no time limit on grieving or healing, it is it’s own process, and it’s yours alone.  Take it, own it, and learn from it.

 

Today is a beautiful sunny day.  I’m writing, I have my home, my family, and life is good.  I hope that you are all doing well.  Drop me a line and tell me about it!

 

Pictures taken by and under copyright to me.  Please ask permission before use.  Thank you!

The Leader of the Pack

 

Dogs are pack animal, and you need to be the leader of your own family pack.  Motorcycle, leathers and girly vocals are optional.

Dogs, like humans, are social creatures.  Wild canids such as wolves, coyotes, hyenas, live in family groupings with a distinct hierarchy of leaders and subordinates.  Dogs, descended from wild ancestors have retained this social programming.  It’s part of what helps them fit so well into our own society.

Dogs are individuals; he will be shy or outgoing, a leader or a follower depending on his own personality.  My first Belgian sheepdog loved 5 people on this planet, and the rest of the population wasn’t worth his time.  He would be polite, but really didn’t care if strangers wanted to pet him or ignore him; he was aloof, indifferent to most everyone.  My second Belgian, on the other hand, loved to meet people and everyone was his friend.  He’d greet them with a big toothy smile and wagging tail.  Both though, were very guarded and protective if a stranger came into the home.

Your dog will naturally look upon you and your spouse and kids as his pack, his own family group.  A pack has a leader, who is at the top of the family hierarchy.  The leader, or alpha, in wolves decides when the pack hunts, or moves, or sleeps or plays.  The alpha makes the rules and calls the shots, and every other wolf defers to the alpha.  If your dog does not perceive that you are alpha, he’ll assume the job himself.  Does this sound like anyone’s dog?

 

The dog that growls and snaps when you try to shoo her off the couch, or take away her toy.

 

The dog that yanks and drags his owner at the end of the leash, lunging at every passerby, dog or human.

 

The dog that barks and snaps at you when you kiss your spouse.

 

If your dog thinks he’s alpha, then in his mind, he’s being a good leader for putting you in your place.  Obviously, you’re an uppity pup telling him to give up his comfy nap spot, or take his toy, and so he gets to snap and tell you to back off.  It’s his job to protect the pack, so he has to scare off every stranger by being big and fierce, and why are you yelling at him?  He’s just doing his job!  And get away from his ‘special’ human!

You need to establish that you hold the job of pack leader, and you are so good at it, that your dog never has to worry about trying to step in and fill your shoes.  Body language, eye contact and tone of voice will all convey your confidence to your dog, and he will respond to it.

Are you the leader of your pack?  Or does your dog run your house?