The Sekrit Dog Trainer’s Manual Part II–The Pudding is in the Proof

I used to know a dog trainer with focus so intense, he vibrated.

He could take any strange dog, in a park, or street grasp the leash, regardless of what kind of collar was on the dog–in the midst of dogs, jogger, cyclists, any and all distractions then have that dog heeling, sitting, laying down and staying–while gazing at him with rapt attention within minutes. His voice control was impeccable. Dogs “got him” straight away.

Within two weeks he could have most dogs under voice control, only.

That’s not most people. It’s not even most dog trainers. Later he would go strictly Purely Positive training [and that’s what HE called it and he did it without food rewards/lures even when he taught tricks]. Could most of his clients? I assume so because he did a bang-up amount of business long before the internet was popular and worked with me then published a book of protocols to re-condition aggressive and trained protection dogs for home living based on what we’d worked out.

We used to debate. I went by the old saw of “Teach the dog in a quiet place, first. Then start the distractions and increase the levels.”

“Nonsense,” he’d say. “Sit means SIT. Dogs don’t teach each other what to do only in quiet places. Training in a quiet place is done so the handler can manage the distraction levels–not the dog.”

That’s the whole point, I suppose.

The #1 ticket to a well behaved dog is not teaching the dog the command. It’s “distraction proofing” the dog to do it every time, all the time, no matter what is going on around them. Any dog will sit in the house. It’s the second there’s something more interesting going on that it falls apart.

In class last week all the other owners said, “S/he was great in the driveway/backyard/quiet street. Soon as we got past that, all hell broke loose.”

After that class, I thought about what my friend said. I’m still thinking about it. I’m thinking he might be right.

What if it’s NOT the distractions? He had the attitude that the dog, “The Dog Will Do It”. After a few leaps and bounds and misbehaviour–do we stop believing the dog will do it?

He thought operant conditioning was over-rated. “If you want a dog that heels into telephone poles because it’s busy staring in your face instead of truly paying attention–go for it. Eventually it’s going to break down.”

He had one other theory of interest, “The problem with dog training methods is that most are based on the premise that you should be paying attention to the dog to either correct or reward. That’s a fallacy. The dog should be paying attention to you.”

The older I get, the more I see he might have a point on that one.

We’re worried about the distractions to either reward or correct ‘with good timing’ but what is the dog thinking? Why isn’t the dog paying attention to what we want in the first place?

This man, who was the best I’ve ever seen with any kind of dog or problem–and I’ve watched a large number of dog trainers from all schools of thought. He was driven out of the business by a bullying, lying coterie of New Age R+ Clicker Trainers when he dared to tell to say on TV they were full of crap because instinct would overdrive the conditioning–A FACT cited by the very inventors of clicker training, the Brenners. He also said food was a poor motivator because other distractions were far more interesting and turning dogs into pecking pigeons was an insult to their willingness to work and their inherent sense of dignity.

Now how did this man get the dog to pay attention?

He ignored the dog. He grabbed the leash and sing-songed, “Let’s go, Fido!”

Then he would heel the dog like he was dancing up and down the busy street/park. The dog never knew what was coming next. If he accidentally stepped on a paw, he didn’t stop to apologize or weep and moan–he kept on dancing. He looked insane. By the end of a five minute heel–the dog gazed at him in rapt attention to see what came next. THEN he would sit the dog or lay it down.

I think this worked for two reasons. The first is–he had the dog’s wholehearted attention. The dog didn’t know what the hell was going on and had to pay attention to keep up. The second was his attitude, “The Dog Will Do It.”

He had no doubt, no hesitation.

You know, the emotions that plague the rest of us when Fluffykins acts like a putz? He called his attitude, “Controlled arrogance.”

The simple fact is–it takes far more time to teach the dog to ignore distractions than it does to teach the dog to do something.

We might be looking at the wrong end of the donkey here.


Not Worth A Can of Tuna–Open Letter about the McGuinty Budget.

I’m going to do something I hate to do in a blog. I’m going to shame myself publicly. Writing personal tales is something I find humiliating.

But I’m going to do it. Why? Because someone needs to say it.

Obviously, Mr. McGuinty—I’m not worth a can of tuna to you.

Can of Tuna

The measly 1% that you agreed to raise ODSP/OW rates this year, you are flushing in the name of “tightening the budget”. Mr. McGuinty I don’t know how much tighter I can make mine. I didn’t know being disabled was supposed to be a punishment.

Yes, this year I bought a computer because my old one was dying. Guilty as charged. I know from buying computers that you get what you pay for so I saved for 18 months to have $600 to spend. I have no TV, no radio, no CD or DVD player. All I have is a computer. Twice, due to emergencies I had to put off buying it in that 18 months.

Do you know what I went without for 18 months, Mr. McGuinty? All my long johns are full of holes. If you haven’t noticed, it’s cold in Canada. I own one nice towel with no holes that cost $2 at Value Village. I do not own one bra that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in at my doctor’s because the elastic has failed and they’re full of holes.

My transportation, an e-trike needs repairs. That’s how I used to find my groceries on sale and bring them home. It’s outside rusting right now because I can’t afford to pay to get it fixed. If my friend didn’t take me grocery shopping weekly I don’t know what I’d do.

I go nowhere unnecessary because it costs $6 to get there and back. I confess that two months ago I had a pizza because someone else bought it. I haven’t had a fresh vegetable in two weeks. My duvet is falling apart and I can’t replace it. I haven’t seen a movie in a theatre for over five years.

In my entire adult life I have not had a vacation.

Do you know what I bought myself for Christmas Mr. McGuinty? A good dish drainer. Because my old one kept leaking all over the counter. What did you get for Christmas, Mr. McGuinty?

Now let me tell you, Mr. McGuinty what I did to deserve that can of tuna.

I worked from the time I was 16. When young, I worked high risk security and investigations. There are people alive and paying you taxes today that might not be if I hadn’t broken up that domestic fight, stopped a man from blowing up his car and taking out the side of a building, investigated some wives’ allegations that their spouses were dangerous to themselves and children, and stopped a riot in a hallway where two families in adjacent apartments came out with blunt instruments and were about to beat each other to death when myself with some other guards came to break it up at great risk to ourselves.

For barely more than minimum wage. That’s just a few incidents off the top of my head.

When I was married I had foster kids some of whom I never saw a dime for, and worked, too. What’s that worth to you?

I rarely had any medical benefits other than OHIP. I paid expenses such as meagre dental and medications out of my pocket, saved my money, only ever collected EI two times in my whole working life and paid a fortune into it.

In later years when I could no longer tackle big men if I needed to—I went to school for social services. After all, I’d been dealing with difficult people all my life with panache, humour, understanding and when necessary, firmness. Good fit, right?

That threw me into a miasma of debt even though I worked the whole time, only to come out the other end working as many as three jobs to make ends meet. Contract work. When I could no longer rob Peter to pay Paul– I squatted in Tent City while I worked part time. When I got there I was 20 lbs underweight from starving myself for months to pay my bills.

When we were housed, no thanks to you, I might add—I went back to work full time but still, contracts.

After years of struggling inside and outside the systems, my body collapsed and my mind shattered.

I wound up on ODSP.

There are people ALIVE and well today Mr. McGuinty because I saved their lives. When I found people overdosing I did CPR until the ambulance came. I went through the dark alleys and found the lost, the hopeless. I tried to show them a place in this world that wasn’t quite so dark.

When they died or were murdered, I grieved.

Mine isn’t the only story like that out there, Mr. McGuinty.

I feel blessed because some people have it even worse. And some have done even more to earn that pittance called Ontario Disability. Some of them are freezing on the streets. Some are ex-cops, firefighters, social workers, veterans and other life-savers who have put their lives on the line to save others which is more than you will ever do.

Even those that have never been able to work are out there, volunteering, helping other people, generous with the gifts they bring even if their skills don’t pay.

Apparently, none of us are worth a can of tuna to you.

Effective Protests–The Man in The Tree

‘Way back when I was pushing for squatter’s rights I supported a man in a tree.

Yeah, you read that right. A man who lived in a tree. Been so long I’ve forgotten his name or the park in the USA where he lived in the tree but really, the details don’t matter.

He was homeless. So, he moved into a big tree in a public park.

He placed a little sign at the bottom of the tree. “Support Public Housing.”

People passing by noticed The Man in The Tree. One of them was part of the squatter’s rights movement and that’s how people from all over the world started talking about The Man In The Tree.

No media covered him. He wasn’t important. He was just some crazy guy living in a tree. All he wanted was a place to live and at least it wasn’t on the wet ground below and he had a bit of protection from the rain.

Soon the people who frequented the park started bringing him food and clothes and carrying buckets to do his business in. An outreach worker that knew about our squatting email tree sent around update bulletins.

The City Council got wind of it and paid $25,000 to put a fence  up to stop people from supporting the Man in The Tree. The cops took away his sign.

People who lived near the park then climbed the fence and fed him, brought water bottles and handed off his slop buckets.

Within a month the City council ordered a 24/7, $25+per hour police guard while they passed anti-camping legislation. Since police protocol stated there must be two policeman together at all times, two police watched him. Nobody narked out how he got food after that point but I suspect the police were quietly handing it up.

58 days later they arrested the Man in The Tree. Add up the math. How many people could have been housed while the City Council harassed The Man in The Tree?

60 days after that the city council agreed to build 50 housing units because a few dozen squatter’s movement people were debating with them and sending the word around.

Whether The Man In The Tree moved into one unit or not, I couldn’t say.

The Man in the Tree wasn’t an activist. He had no organization. He had no money, no resources, no friends, no computer, no video camera, no media contacts and no hope that sleeping in a tree would change anything. He had no history of activism or experience.

Whenever I look at some “movement” or other and whether or not I want to put my energy into it, I ask myself, “Is this The Man In The Tree? Would I do this even if I was alone with no support because it is the right thing to do, just because it is, and not because of group pressure or popularity?

Do I believe in it enough to sacrifice for an untold amount of time and have everyone believe me to be crazy just because someone has to do the right thing? Am I really willing to throw my body on the machine for this?”

And before you ask me to ‘join your movement’–you’d best be able to answer those questions, yourself. If you can convince me of your sincerity and passion–then you are well on your way to convincing anyone else you meet whether or not they agree to join you.