You know I’ve been worrying about whether Sawyere’s shelter will accept continued liability for him although he will be at a different facility for his training. Today I got a message that doesn’t actually say that there was a vote taken and he got a ‘yes’, but which inquired about my availability to drive him this Saturday, and I’m going to choose to look on that as a very good sign.
The proposal is that I will go to our airport and pick up two dogs who are being flown here from Ohio, to save them from being killed in a gas chamber. I’ll drive them about halfway to the shelter where Sawyere is, and meet the vice president of the shelter board, who’ll have Sawyere. We’ll exchange dogs, and she’ll take the two Ohio pups back to ‘Sawyere’s’ shelter to be adopted, and I’ll take Sawyere to what will be his home during his schooling, a very well-equipped canine center, with agility arenas, kennels, a shop, and I don’t even know what else, yet. I look forward to learning more about this place, as I’ve been there only once, for an agility trial.
I am trying not to get too excited at the idea that this whole thrilling, complicated plan may actually be about to kick into action. I can’t not think about it, though, because on Saturday I have a rehearsal at the note factory, and I’ll need to have my timings down pat, to make it all work. Depending on when the Ohio dogs’ flight gets in, I may be asking Maureen or Den Mother or Dog Goddess to meet the dogs and entertain them until I’ve manufactured all my notes. It will be a crazy day, no matter what, because Sawyere’s shelter is almost six hours from here, and my own dogs are very used to our schedule, and will be…not to say alarmed, but concerned, by this break in our pattern, if I don’t make sure to maintain a calm, reassuring demeanor. And I will be nervous, for many practical reasons of timing, weather, and things like that, and for one other reason: this will be my first time (unless we count Sadie, and I can’t decide whether I should be counting her or not) meeting a dog who is aggressive enough that he’s considered ‘red zone’.
I think that, since I’m not absolutely sure of what the term red zone means to different people, I’ll wait until I know more to write about it. But I imagine you get the gist of it. So, going out of order a little bit, I want to tell you about another topic that seems to be popping up all over the place in my world, something which I think might turn out to be important in helping Sawyere to no longer be a red zone dog, sooner or later.
A couple of days ago, I mentioned briefly in this blog that I wondered why trainers did not use touch as a reward during sessions. I think I’d like to backtrack just slightly about the road I’ve taken into the realm of dog training.
Although I’ve had dogs my whole life, I’d never done any formal training with a dog until I adopted Burberry. I’d never needed to. I suppose that all the dogs I’d had up ’til then were ‘easy’, because somehow just the normal talking I did to them each day was sufficient for us to understand each other and live together with very little stress.
As I became more and more involved with dogs, though, I wished I had an excuse to take at least one of my dogs to training classes. But the members of the Six Pack really and truly didn’t need training, and they were seniors, with various physical issues to be taken into account. I made a promise to myself that, at the end of the tough years I foresaw (and which materialized), years of nursing them through various things and finally having to say good bye, I’d allow myself to rescue a puppy, and take him or her to classes. A puppy’s many years of life to come, and our attendance at classes, would be rewards to me for the tough years.
It didn’t quite happen on the timeline I’d envisioned. Even now, three years post-Burb, I’ve still got Jiminy, one of the Six Pack, and he shows no sign at all of being ready to go. I think I’ve written this here before, but forgive me, since it thrills me every time I think of it: Jim’s fifteen, or possibly fourteen, by the most optimistic reckoning, but MVDVM says that physically, he’s like an eight-year-old. Love it.
But although the details of my plan weren’t as neat and tidy as I’d foreseen, I did treat myself to a young puppy who needed rescuing, and I did take her to classes, and that is what started me on the road I’m on now, and I’m so grateful. I became fascinated with dog training, and one thing kept leading to another…
I’d had a slightly negative feeling about training, without truly realizing it. I hadn’t felt it was right to want to control another living thing, beyond the point of keeping it safe and allowing it to live in such a way that it more or less fit into my lifestyle (although I was certainly willing to be the one making a lot of the adjustments). But gradually, I realized that training can be simply for the purpose of deepening one’s relationship with a dog. And seen in that light, I wanted as much of it as I could get.
I began to spend more time each day thinking about dog ‘training’ than I did about anything else. I had loads of questions and revelations. One, I remember distinctly. Part of my negative training ‘baggage’ had been about the use of treats–I felt that I was bribing Burb to do what I wanted her to do, and I wished that, instead, she would do the right thing because our relationship was strong and she cared that I wished her to do it.
One day I was doing something in the garden, thinking about ‘training’, and I suddenly realized that a treat was just a message from me to her, in a language she speaks fluently–food. A treat was a love note from me to her, a tiny portable pellet of love (try Zuke’s All Natural Mini Treats for that ‘tiny portable’ reason, but they’re also delicious). Looked at in a slightly different way, treats went from being a bit of a necessary evil, in my mind, to being a very exciting thing to shop for (and I’ve tried a whole lot of different ones, let me tell you).
That’s just one example of the training transformation that happened in me. And I wrote the last sentence that way on purpose. All good dog people know something–we’re training the humans, really, not the dogs.
So, back to what I wrote in this blog. I’ve noticed just how important it is to dogs to be touched. I feel sad when I think back to all the opportunities I’ve missed to purposefully touch the dogs in my past. I was always carrying them and cuddling up with them, and there was a lot of physical contact between us, and the normal amount of petting. But that’s very different from what I’d call massage–touching the dog specifically to give pleasure, or to encourage healing or pain relief.
Little by little, I’ve become more aware that it’s very rewarding to touch a dog or cat with purpose–it strengthens the bond between you and induces calmness and comfort. There are all kinds of benefits from it, really, but I doubt that they need to be ennumerated, since loving human-to-dog touch works just the same as loving human-to-human touch, which most of us have experienced: it’s a very efficient way to show that you care about the well-being of the other.
I happen to be one of those people who believes in chakras and pressure points and qi gong and those kinds of things. Whenever I get a chance to learn about or experience one of the healing methods–Alexander technique, chiropractic, physical therapy, massage–I try it, and I’ve always been very pleased with the positive difference to my health and overall ‘balance’.
So when Beloved F’s mother visited her, while we were still living in the same city, and offered to do some Feldenkrais sessions with me, I jumped at the chance. I knew that Mom O’Beloved is one of the best Feldenkrais practitioners in the country, to seal the deal.
I loved it. It’s very subtle, but the effects are almost magical, and I’m…not exactly skeptical, but very scientific, let’s say, in my approach to things. I found that, for me, the Feldenkrais method releases not only my body, but my emotions, without a doubt.
I’ve told you here that I stumbled upon a way of helping Sadie with her aggression, and that is to touch her, in progressively more purposeful ways. I’m sure that the fact of my touching her, and the way I’m doing it and when, exactly, I’m doing it, are the biggest contributing factors in our progress. I’ve been touching her to build trust between us, and to help her adjust her attitude, in a way. But I’d never thought of touching her, or any dog, as a reward for a specific behavior; in other words, as a replacement for a food treat.
But why not?, I wondered, as soon as I’d thought of it. Trainers often substitute well-loved toys for treats, and there’s evidence that they help even more than food rewards do. Special ways of touching, I imagined, would be even better yet. I pictured myself teaching the dogs different names for the different touches each one likes best. Sadie loves tummy rubs. Jimmy loves to have me kind of flip him over and stroke along his spine. Charlotte loves to be scratched at the base of her tail. Each dog has something, and some have lots of somethings, they love.
And then I imagined myself asking for a specific behavior–a ‘sit’, a ‘down’, whatever–and rewarding the dog with, ‘yes’ or ‘good dog’ and a question: ‘Would you like a tummy rub?’, or just, ‘Tummy rub!’ And then I realized I’m already doing this with Sadie, and the only part missing is that I haven’t, on purpose, anyway, tried to have her associate the tummy rub itself and the label, ‘tummy rub’, with the fact that she has decided not to bite Burberry, this time ;).
But it would be so easy to do that, I think. And I’m going to try it. And that was what I asked about in my blog the other day, the use of touch specifically to replace a food or toy treat, as a reward for getting the desired behavior.
I was very pleased when the woman who will be training Sawyere read that blog entry, and wrote to me to tell me about Tellington T Touch. I had, actually, known about T Touch, but I’d been thinking of its value as more therapeutic–like massage, or qi gong–rather than as a training reward. And I’m still not sure if it’s something that could be used in place of a treat, because I don’t know how long it takes to do. (Although I’m guessing that one could just do a little ‘snippet’ of T Touch, and wouldn’t need to go over the dog’s whole body, necessarily.) I’m hoping that Sawyere’s trainer will read this and let me know whether T Touch is in use in that way, because I didn’t find that information when I searched online just now. I did just a brief search, though, enough so that I could give you a link to read about it, and here it is:
I found this link’s explanation of T Touch more helpful than the one on the official Linda Tellington website, although her site is definitely where to go if you’d like to take a T Touch certification course.
There’s one thing about T Touch I find absolutely fascinating. Beloved F was the first to tell me, after I wrote the ‘touching’ question in my blog entry, that the Tellington method is based on Feldenkrais, and the article above confirms it (although it’s misspelled there). I think that’s wonderful! Because I have a real sense of what it feels like to have it done to me, thanks to Beloved F’s mother, it may help me learn to do it to my dogs.
And what a strange and lovely coincidence, about her mother! My sessions with her happened years ago, and just now, when Mazy is about to arrive on the Beloved scene, all of us will be able to have common meeting ground, the Feldenkrais/Tellington human/dog method. 😉 And common ground may be a very good thing, as Mazy will be bumping Mom O’Beloved out of the guest room, apparently. I think it’s possible there may be some real, although slight, annoyance about that on Mom O’s part, but I also think that, after the possible annoyance passes, Mazy will be enjoying some of the best Tellington T Touch on the market. 🙂
It is Sawyere, though, who’s uppermost in my mind when I think lately about T Touch. I am extremely interested to know whether the trainer who’ll be helping him–I think she needs her pseudonym already! she shall be Sawyere’s Teacher, or, ST–will use T Touch with him. I have a feeling she will. Although I know very little about training, and nothing at all about rehabbing, my gut is telling me that being touched like that will be a way to go right to Sawyere’s heart. I’ve noticed that my…hmm, shall I say, least well socialized?…dogs are the ones who most respond to being touched. Simo adores it, and I feel that he may never have felt a loving touch until I adopted him, strange as that seems. Sadie loves it, and Charlotte, and Anna Belle. But all four of them are slightly fearful of it, too, or rather, they have an alert arousal reaction to it. The other six dogs are more, ‘Ach, she’s petting me again, fine with me’, about it.
I’m very pleased, because that last little bit I noticed only because I was writing it for the blog. Until just now, that interesting observation (whether it turns out to be correct or not) hadn’t made it to what I call the front of my brain.
OK, I’m sure there’ll be much more about T Touch here in future. For now, I’ve got a challenging bunch of notes to produce tomorrow, and I need to cuddle up with the pack now.