All In A Days’ Work

People love their dogs so much and take such good care of them that you often hear them say in regards to reincarnation, “I’d like to come back as one of my own dogs.” I on the other hand wouldn’t want to come back as one of my dogs, or as the dog of any doggy guru I dare say, be it Cesar Milan or Ian Dunbar (and I think I love dogs as much as they do). This is because the problem with being one of my dogs is that I’m always studying them, paying very close attention to every nuance of what they’re doing, and then on top of all this they’re expected to be the standard bearer of a theory and fledgling movement. What a drag. My ideal life for a dog is to be owned by a logger who loads his dog up in the pickup for a day in the forest, or the woman who takes her dog to her shop where she gets to sell the things she loves, and off they go together with the day’s work as the main item on the agenda. So what I’ve found to be the best thing I can do in order to enjoy the companionship of my dogs is to just to go to work together. The dogs can hang out with me and all I have to do is get into the flow of whatever I’ve engaged in, and since I love working in the outdoors, the dogs love being around me. In my case this generally means either mowing the fields or getting in the wood.

Over these next few days Trisha is out of town and so I’m taking care of Hero and she is one intense little puppy. If she perceives something as having one iota of preyful essence then it’s meant for her mouth only and must be brought to ground. She goes from point A to point B at the speed of light and knows how to shift tectonic plates when access is denied. She was bred for work and would be every canine handler’s dream dog, and yet could just as easily be fodder for the euthanasia meat grinder that is the American pet marketplace. So what to do with this little furry ball of caged lightening? Of course, no training, no walk; let’s get some wood. The day before I had dropped a dead ash in the lower field so I loaded up my chainsaw, splitting maul, gas and oil in the tractor and off we went. Hexi is in heat so our logging party comprised of me, Hero and Hessian.

I spent an hour or so sawing up the limbs and trunk, getting the brush out of the way and then splitting the slugs into cordwood, all during which Hero and Hessian had their own private little adventures that radiated from the job site as epicenter of their synchronized orbits, Hero covering twenty paces for every one of Hessian’s (he’s nine years old now). There is a relatively busy road a hundred yards away but I knew that Hero’s drive to make contact is so strong that what is a problem in one context is an asset in a supportive environment. She was at the center of the only universe that mattered to her so there was nothing else out there.

The tree I was working on fell at the edge of a small thicket of white pines and poplar saplings where the woods were beginning to encroach on my field (next summer’s project) and on one of Hero’s sorties I saw her coming out from under the pines with a big chunk of frozen something buried so deep in the back of her mouth I knew the attraction was primal magnetic. I assumed it was a chunk of a deer that a coyote had taken down and eaten most of and now Hero had found its remains. It might have been a section of the skull and there were wads of fur still stuck to it. Hessian too could see the primal importance of her discovery and was soon trailing in her wake and sniffing at her mouth and this allowed me to see just how great Hero’s temperament is. Even when she lied down to concentrate on her meal, and with Hessian crowding her muzzle and milling around to get a good whiff of what was going on, nibbling on the crumbs and flecks in the snow by her paws, Hero never growled or interrupted herself to deal with Hessian. She wanted that carcass with every cell in her body and Hessian could feel it so there was absolutely no tension between them even though they were check to check and jowl to jowl. It was a powerful experience to watch them achieve reconciliation over a potentially charged moment and completely via their own resources. I cringed thinking how so many such incidents in a domestic household distort the cooperative faculty that every dog is born with when two dogs find themselves in a comparable situation before this faculty has fully evolved.

But the dog trainer in me couldn’t resist the teachable moment so I called Hessian, had him lay down by the tractor and then approached Hero and knelt down about twenty feet away. “What a goooood girl, she’s sooooo boootifulll, Heeerroooo, yea, looook at that fluffy, furry wabbittt you’ve got there. Hero got up and came toward me and so I stood up and began to slowly backpedal while I increased the volume of my cooing. Hero proceeded to circle me and so I knelt down again and with her leaning against me, I gave her a good rub-a-dub along her topside and flanks and she all the while continued to hold the carcass calmly in her jaws. Perfect, she was giving me her energy. What a temperament.

An hour later when I was stacking wood in the shed behind the house, Hero found an old marrow bone in the yard and so to build on what had happened earlier I asked her to Hup while I patted my chest. To my delight she did. And why not, when you love what you’re doing, it’s all in a day’s work.

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Published February 19, 2010 by Kevin Behan
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12 responses to “All In A Days’ Work”

  1. Angelique Lee says:

    Ah, this explains how in the groove we all feel when I’m outside gardening with the dogs, or lately, when I get into the rhythm of shoveling off the ice rink. My mind is at peace and I a in the moment.

  2. kbehan says:

    Exactly, our dogs can be with us and we’re not paying attention to them.

  3. Kaytie says:

    Great, tangible experience. I LOVE having my two dogs with me every day too! They are my ambassadors too.

  4. Burl says:

    Not sure where this goes as a comment.

    I remember listening to Temple Grandin on You Tube saying how she built a device for herself that would squeeze her body after she saw the calming effect such a device had on cattle at a stockyard.

    So when one of our dogs puts her front feet between my legs on the seat of my chair and is roughly face to face w/ me, I wrap both my arms around her, clasping hands together, and gently squeeze her front shoulders together. It really seems to provide a temporary good feeling, as she seems to stay put after I release the pressure and she stays for more such squeezes.

  5. Christine says:

    Yes, that’s the way it is when the puppers and I go walking in the fields/woods. I don’t really pay them too much attention and they get to play, romp and amuse themselves without interference; no commands, reprimands or corrections. We all really enjoy it! They come home very relaxed and ready for a nap – very good for me! 🙂

  6. Hmm, I really have enjoyed reading your weblog. I have heard a lot of people learn better visually so maybe think about adding more video clips to your blog posts 🙂

  7. Christine says:

    So I’ve been thinking and this is what I thunk…we should institute a game on the website “Stump the Chump” and of course Kevin is the Chump and we all do our best to Stump him…by providing scenarios and/or 20 questions.
    My first contribution is a scenario:
    A few years ago my family was out at camp. My sister brought her dog “Happy” a very nervous and high-strung beagle mix. The first thing she did was to bite Duncan in the face! Duncan did not retaliate but later in the day, she and Duncan were hitched up opposite each other but not within striking distance. We were all sitting in the sun room and watched this scene unfold:
    Happy was barking (obnoxiously) in Duncan’s face and wouldn’t stop. Duncan stood facing her and would look left and then look right, he’d turn around with his back to her and turn to look at her. All the while, every movement he made was slow and seemingly deliberate. As this scene played out, Happy stopped barking and watched Duncan intently. Before long they were standing in parallel both looking in the same direction and Happy was much calmer.
    At the time, this seemed to confirm Turid Rugaas’ explanations of Calming Signals. I’d like to hear Kevin’s explanation of NDT.
    My first “Stump the Chump” question is: Why is it that some dogs wait until their people come home before they will evacuate their bowels? (That is, for those dogs who are not crated all day and are let out by other people or are free to dump during the day.)

  8. Christine says:

    btw…regarding scenarios/questions: Rule #1 – They must be real, not contrived so as to be obtuse, confounding and unanswerable; Rule #2 – It should be fun for everyone and challenging to Kevin; Rule #3 – Genuine; Rule #4 – I’m open to suggestions for input/rules, etc.!

  9. christine randolph says:

    haha! stump the chump. on facebook sometimes my friend gives a prize for the funniest contribution to his posts. maybe we should all be allowed an attempt at the question ? I think the presence of the owner sets off an expectation to be let out (since they are often let out immediately when the owner comes home) so the bowels start to become active. it is like the first trigger in a behaviour chain leading to the final behaviour (pooping)

  10. christine randolph says:

    yep there seems to be this calming effect of pressure on the front of the body, hence the thundershirt for scared dogs.

    problem is initially they are scared of the procedure of putting on the thunder shirt.

    Example: one of my dogs squishing himself between me and the back of my car seat even though he is a 50 lbs dog, actually the RCMP think it contravenes something in the motor vehicle act which it does not …until he decides to come forward a bit and starts goofing about near the steering wheel..which admittedly he has been doing a bit lately.

    I think he was initially a bit afraid to ride in the car (for the first year or so of his life he did not do it, before I adopted him) so he felt a strong need to be squeezed and was very quiet back there. now he is less scared so he starts to jump around a bit from the position especially when we get to places he knows and likes.

    so after being threatened with a huge fine a couple of times by the RCMP, I now tie him up so he can sit on the passenger seat but cannot get to me in the driver’s seat.

    he is very comfortable there…the fear is gone so the behaviour can easily be modified

    …still when I am a passenger in the car, he occasionally gets to squish himself behind me…

  11. I won’t comment on the pooping behavior (one reason being that since in my experience, it’s fairly rare, it doesn’t much concern me). So I’ll focus instead on the first scenario, where Duncan was seemingly “sending calming signals” to Happy.

    First of all, dogs don’t have the cognitive ability to form the intent to change another dog’s behavior, let alone the intent to change the other dog’s emotional state. In fact, a dog can’t even form the intent to change his own behavior; all behavioral changes in dogs take place through how emotional energy either flows toward resolution or gets blocked, which would then perpetuate the dog’s tension.

    Meanwhile, a dog’s social instincts are designed to foster or attain group harmony as much as possible. So whenever energy flows it has to flow in a harmonious way. And when energy gets blocked, that’s a form of resistance or tension. But just as in music theory, tension always has to lead to some form of release, as in the case of a passing chord resolving to a major triad (or something along those lines).

    So there Duncan is, chained next to this obstreperous noisemaker, who’s vibrating out of control, i.e., she’s in disharmony with him (and with her true nature). Is Duncan sending her calming signals or trying to attain a state of harmony? Are his behaviors “calming signals” or are they more like someone who’s tuning a guitar string, and keeps fiddling with the tuning mechanism until the strings are in tune (i.e., vibrating in harmony)?

    In Duncan’s case, his vibrations are minimal compared to Happy’s. And his behaviors are more akin to the way a musician moves his or her hand while playing a theremin (than to Eric Clapton’s roadie tuning his guitar for him).

    Each of Duncan’s moves are an effort to achieve a sympathetic vibration or inner harmony for himself, which in this case, resulted in creating an harmonic connection to Happy.


  12. Christine says:

    Huh…my Nana used to call me “obstreperous”…
    btw Lee, you were supposed to comment on the “Stump the Chump” blog. I have no choice but to…eeeiiigggg…(that was NOT the “Easy” button it was the “Wrong Answer” buzzer, in case you didn’t know). Sooo…even if your answer is right it’s wrong! lol

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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