Finding Our Way

About a year ago, I had this great ambition.  I was going to write a blog post on my website consistently.   I was going to be clever and witty and I was going to give you all wonderful insights into dogs, training and life in general.  The vision in my head was clear and I had certainty.  Life had other plans for me.  A very short time later I took a pretty hard fall and broke my hand in two places.  Now of course, that happened at 5:30 in the morning of the day that I am supposed to go to the home inspection of what is my now home.  I left the ER and went to my home inspection after having the bones set and in a splint.   Life had many changes in store for me over the next 10 months.  Lots of physical therapy, lots of one-handed navigation of moving boxes along with a lot of humility that comes along with asking for help doing things that I never needed help with before.  (Opening a jar with one hand can be very tricky)

Flash forward a year later.  My arm after many, many months is healed and is mostly normal.  I have been working with some wonderful dog/human teams and life was returning to what I thought was normal.    My first blog post back was going to talk about spring training and puppies, social interaction, public access work and socialization.  Well…….

Needless to say, a few weeks ago, normal changed.  Defining our new normal, whether temporary or not has been a challenge to us all.  One thing I think we have all discovered (or are discovering) during this time is our need, our NEED to connect with people or animals or even to ourselves.  We have been stripped of all the superficial and remain exposed to the real.

The key to our emotional recovery during this time is to explore ways to find joy again and to regain a sense of peace.  I am finding joy in the simple and the extraordinary –  reconnecting with a childhood friend, the sunshine peeking through on a cloudy day, the connection to my co-workers that I cannot see in person, my conversations on the phone with my 92 year old mom, an unexpected apology from a time many years ago, and of course, the never ending love of my dog.  My new home has a training facility that yearns to have dogs and people – learning, sharing and discovering new ways of connecting and communicating.  For now, that facility instead is where I go with just my dog.  We play, we train, we dance… and I make plans for the day when my world opens back up for dogs and their people.

Last night, I went into the training studio and sat on the dog grooming table with my dog CeeCee and talked with an amazing friend on the phone.  Our thoughts and stories about life and people flowed and the conversation was easy and brought me contentment.  Although we are many miles apart, it was as if we were in the same room.    Distance sometimes is physical, sometimes it is emotional, other times it is created by things beyond our control.  But at that moment, there was no distance.  It was a moment in time where I felt sheltered from the craziness of this world.

When I got off the phone, I just sat there for a while with my dog leaning up against me.  No words needed – a girl and her dog.  I am lucky she is in my world.  She is an ethereal being who lights up space in my life.    She has kept closer to me than normal.  She knows our world has changed and she is aware that I’ve been more worried, more tense and perhaps more distracted by news and ever changing events.  She also saw me laugh, smile and talking in ways that relax her state of being, knowing that all is right in her world at that moment as it was in mine.

I try to be there for her too, like she is for me.   I continue to provide the structure she needs, the affection she loves and the activity to keep her healthy.  So what can you do to provide your dog enrichment if you aren’t going to the park, hikes, walks, doggy daycare, training or playing with other dogs?  There are great ways to provide your dog with activities, either with our without you.  But the act of engaging with your dog (or cat, bird, rabbit, llama, etc.) is not just about enrichment for your animal.  It truly is a wonderful time for you to be in the moment with them and to forget for a while that our daily lives have changed.   Play hide and seek using toys, treats or of even yourself or another family member (sometimes finding you is the biggest reward).  Use this time to teach a good solid down-stay or a retrieve.  Don’t forget that your dog needs activity, even if you are not leaving the house.  That doesn’t just include physical activity but mental activity as well.

Finally, I think we are learning how to live with ourselves better.  We are making changes, some very difficult to adjust to with COVID-19 becoming a topic at some point in our daily conversations.  I am learning about myself and how much I am drawn to physical connections with people in my life.  I realized that at some level, I mourned for that part of my life that has now ceased to exist.   As a trainer, I watch body language of people and animals.  When I have been out and about (when necessary) , I notice people not just wanting to physically stay apart but there is some emotional distancing as well.  Some people actually avoid making eye contact as they quickly walk by.  This is an understandable emotional response.   We are navigating strange waters.  I still want to be able to reach out and touch someone’s shoulder and tell them that it will be ok again. I can’t do that so I am learning to live with that for now.  I am looking for ways that I can connect and reach out to people.  I hear people say “we are in this together”.  I would like to find ways that I can help you, although from afar.  My training studio for the time is closed, but my heart is open.  Do you have something that I can help you work on or maybe just chat with you about a concern you have with your dog’s behavior (some people are seeing their dogs having some anxiety issues)?    I will try my best to help you from afar.   I will gift my time as much as I can.  I do truly believe… we ARE all in this together.   That is my hug to you, old friends and new.  Take care of yourself and each other.  – Ramona

 

Promises Made, Promises Kept

As this month goes by, I realize that keeping my commitment to writing this blog on a regular basis is not unlike dog training.  This time, I am learning to train myself.  I often find that I fill my days up with “to dos” and before I know it, I have run out of time.  I have lists on paper, lists in my head, lists on my phone and lists on my computer.  Then there is the incorporating of all those thoughts, ideas and reminders into their final resting place.   I have a lot of balls in the air and I find that the best way for me to keep this commitment, no matter how busy I am, is to make a promise to myself.  I have a lot of things in my life based on unspoken promises, but real promises nonetheless.    Whether it is that I will honor and respect my friends and family, take care of my furry critters and make sure they are happy and well-cared for, or honor my commitment with whatever particular job I have taken on.  Keeping promises to yourself are sometimes the hardest.  Think about those New Year’s Resolutions I talked about earlier last month.  Consistency, focus, commitment and being willing to pick yourself up when you fail or falter – all part of dog training as well as life training!

I tell people to try to work with your dog every day.  Every day.   People say “Sure, but I have a bunch of stuff I already have to do every day.  I don’t have time to work with my dog every day.”  But not every day needs to be about learning a new trick or task.  Sometimes it is just as simple as rewarding for good behavior (sitting quietly while you eat dinner or coming to you quickly when called).  It can be a quick game of hide and seek.  It can be a group of “sits” and “downs” and “stays”.  Your dog loves to work with you.  It is rewarding for them just to be a part of your life.  Before you know it, it will also be one of the most rewarding and satisfying pieces of your day.

Like most things in life though, there is a caveat.  When I say “Work with your dog every day”, I really should be saying “Work with your dog every day, unless you are not capable in those moments of working WITH your dog”.  Everyone has those days when either nothing goes right or someone has yelled at you at work or you’ve had an argument with a loved one or you’re not feeling well or you’re just completely maxed out and have nothing to give.  Your dog will forgive you for not wanting to do a training session.  Being angry, impatient and/or frustrated makes for a bad training session for you and your dog.  Sometimes this can create more harm than good.  You want your dog to look forward to working with you, not dread sessions because you have not been very pleasant to be around.  Remember, your dog doesn’t know that you had a bad day at work.  It is actually an excellent time though to bond with your dog.  Providing emotional support on those days isn’t really about training at all.  Our dogs feel a connection to us.  We are part of their pack.  On those days, our dogs train us.   They teach us about the importance of ear scratches and belly rubs, cold nose nuzzles and bringing a smile to our faces.

So as I close this one out and put another blog post on the books, I want to leave you with a little thought on promises.  The most important promises we make in life are to ourselves.  I will do my best to keep my commitment to write this blog on a consistent basis.  There are times I will falter, there are times I will fail in my efforts, but I will forgive myself for my imperfections.  As I finish writing this today, my furry girl is lying next to me on the couch with her head propped on a pillow.  Later, we will work a little together and play a lot together.  I promised her some belly rubs and ear scratches later too.

Wishing you fulfilled and fulfilling promises,

Ramona

Kicking Off the New Year

Happy 2019 everyone! Did you make a New Year resolution? Do you expect to keep it? I read recently that most people don’t keep their resolutions past February. I have my theories on that, right or wrong. First I believe that there are several parts to keeping our resolutions. Let’s examine those a bit.

First, is your resolution realistic? If you say that you are going to work out for 2 hours every day, for most of us that might be something that would be hard to start of keep up. If you already workout for an hour and half, maybe this isn’t a stretch for you at all. If you tell yourself you are going to read 3 books a week but barely find time to take a shower, perhaps you need to rethink that resolution.

Second, how much do you want whatever it is that you are resolving to do or not do? It is not just about willpower, but about your commitment to that goal. It is about the desire to attain the goal and your willingness to commit to it, even when it’s hard.

Third, there are not many things that happen totally as desired without a plan. Make a plan for yourself. Make a contract with yourself. Decide how you are going to get there, what steps you are going to ensure your success and how to thwart and react and adjust when the plan takes a different turn.

Fourth, the rewards. Small rewards. Big Rewards. We all need them. Reward yourself along the way. In your plan, don’t forget the milestones and reward yourself for reaching them.

Now, here’s where I am going with all this folks. If you want to build your relationship with your dog, if you want to work on tasks, solidify behaviors or eliminate undesirable ones, train an assistance/medical dog, therapy dog certification – it is no different of a strategy than you use to tackle things in your human life. If you want to be successful, you need a plan and the steps you need to achieve it. You need to understand how to communicate with your dog, to understand what your dog is trying to communicate to you. Yes, it is work. Yes, it takes commitment. But the reward for both you and your dog will last a lifetime. Are you ready?

Getting Started

Welcome to everyone visiting here! As I begin to write my blog, someone ask me about my goal in writing this blog. My hope is that I can provide some insight, training tips, useful information and perhaps some food for thought on the relationship with your dog(s).

I believe strongly in the human canine connection and I believe in not only your dog’s potential to achieve greatness, but I believe in the greatness you can achieve together. In that spirit, I will attempt to achieve some of those goals. And as in life, sometimes our actual training accomplishments are not just the ones that we set out to achieve, but the ones that we achieve along the way.

Stay tuned!