Category Archives: Pets

New journey: dog trainer education

A rare update from my corner of the Internet: some things have changed here (others stay the same). I’ve started on a new chapter of my life, let’s call it “becoming a dog trainer”.

I’m currently studying for a Certificate IV in Companion Animal Services, which is a government accredited dog trainer/pet professional education here in Australia. The version of it that I am doing takes two and a half years part time, and takes place mainly online. The offline elements comprise two seminars, and work experience with animal training and class teaching.

(The study does not free me from needing work in the meanwhile, but it sounds better than “unemployed” and gives a focus and vision for the future)

The Plan with it has two versions: Continue reading

Good things about having dogs

 

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Spirit’s and ‘Nala’s puppyhood in the old flat shortly after we added Nala to our little pack

 

I don’t know where to begin when talking about how good it is to have dogs, but I have long wanted to write about it and recently got extra inspired after reading A Kindred Soul by Musings of an Aspie.

We have 2 dogs. In line with the policies of this blog, they’ll have Internet pseudo-names and will be known as ‘Spirit’ and ‘Nala’ online. Spirit because she is a free spirit, and Nala (named after Simba’s girlfriend in The Lion King) because there is something lion-like gracious, majestic and childish about Nala and the way she moves.

 
What the dogs do to the house*

The dogs spread a happy & easy going vibe in the house, so we look extra forward to being home when we’re out … not to mention the cheering, tail-wagging welcome committee that greets us when we open the door. The dogs are great fun on an everyday basis; and a play or cuddle with the dogs can lift almost any heavy mood.

Most of all, the dogs have transformed our home into a little community. We are not just a married couple any more, we are a little tribe with a culture that we shape, but which also shapes us and which’ evolution is not fully under our control. I guess having dogs is somewhat akin to having kids in that regard.

 
The dogs are therapeutic

Whenever I’m feeling down, I can easily make the dogs happy, and that tends to lift my mood too. Sometimes all the way up from ‘tired and de-motivated’ to ‘having fun’.

When I feel nerve-wrecked and overloaded (or whenever Nala needs a hug), Nala will lean on me and/or rest her body on my chest. Although it sometimes feel like my ribs are slowly bending and it is hard to breathe, Nala’s warm heavy softness and trust is one of the most soothing sensations I know when I’m stressed, anxious or in sensory overload mode – just the right impact at the right time. And she is always around, with her unconditional support and strong but simple needs.

I also learn a lot from observing the dogs and their pack dynamics every day. I learn about social dynamics and political games (dog politics is mainly about bones, but still), perspective taking, care and responsibility, about their unique personalities, about being open to another species’ very different type of mental operative system, about conflict management and many other things.

And the dogs keep us/me physically fit. And safe too… protecting the house against real and imaginary enemies.

 
Dogs are routine animals

All that said, one of the key aspects of having dogs has to do with rules, everyday structure and routines. Dogs cherish and need daily routines such as walks, feeding rituals, training, and just all the little things we do at certain times and which they know will happen. Routines and predictability give dogs a sense of knowing the world they live in and be prepared for what will happen. Dogs thrive when they know precisely what to do, and carry out the same sequences day after day with the same persons. Carrying out routines together is a bonding kind of communication; it conveys that ‘we are together’, ‘we belong here’.

It isn’t necessary to be as rules-oriented as I am with dogs and some may find it a bit extreme, but I like to have many little scripts for longer activities, such as walks, that break the activity into small steps and mark how far along we are in the process and what will happen next. It helps the dogs to know what to do (even if they sometimes do the opposite!), and it helps me to control two dogs that are actually so strong that they can pull me over the ground ‘like a sled’ if they forget I am there.

Below is an example of a sequence of little scripts embedded in a daily routine; namely the morning run on a route via bush firetracks. It may be boring to read, but it is fun to do due to the dogs’ infectious enthusiasm for every step in the process.
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The bush neighbourhood and the dog pound

The neighbourhood I currently drive in for the interviewer job is down a long no-through road that branches into a network of curvy, secluded no-through roads on the edge of bushland. The suburb is semi-rural with paddocks with grazing horses, cattle and sheep as well as stretches with bush and forest, and no street lights after a certain point. Evenings are dark and quiet apart from the sounds of birds and insects in the forest alongside the road, and the air smells dry and fore-sty.

 

bushapes

 
When I drive out there after dark I actually keep my car doors locked*. I have a strong LED torch handy and have finally unpacked the pocket alarm I got from my employer to carry it with the work equipment. What do a female Scandinavian like me know about Australian stranger danger…  The bush is a deep unknown space where people can disappear without a trace**.

The houses sit on large blocks of land behind long driveways and large rugged front lawns; often fully fenced. It doesn’t look like a rich suburb despite the large properties; many houses look old and wooden with DIY extensions, and some have caravans and rusty cars huddling around them.

 
Neighbourhood assumptions

Here are my assumptions about people who have chosen to settle in this type of neighbourhood:

  • They like nature and serenity
  • They prefer to be left alone by people
  • They have big guard dogs to protect against intruders

Guard dogs is the real potential danger; a highly unpredictable variable. Here are my strategies  for minimising dog risks:

 
Dog Danger Avoidance Strategies

From the perspective of a resident dog, everything is wrong with the presence and behaviour of me entering its territory. Trespassing, snooping around, being a stranger, even nervous (although I try to hide it)… It is its job to keep me out.

For that reason, I’m armed with dog treats when I enter an unknown property (hoping that all dogs take bribes). Before I enter the gate of a fenced property, I whistle and call to lure potential dogs out in the open, and if I see any, talk to them with my most friendly, light-pitched, gentle voice.  I continue to whistle and call calmly as I walk up the driveway to show potentials dogs that I am unworried and not trying to sneak up on anyone.

So far it works, but I haven’t yet had to enter a property with rottweilers or one of the humongous sized Neapoletan Mastiff-type dogs I have seen.

 

neapolitan mastiff

 
 
Stray dog dramas

On the first few days driving in the area a different type of dog drama came up:

On the second day a couple of stray dobermann crosses appeared from the bush and followed my car. I was driving slowly, looking for addresses with open windows, music in the radio and dog treats in the driver’s door. They disappeared into the bush again after a while.

The next day, when I stopped the car to write an address in Google Maps, a Staffy X-like little dog came over. It had severe Mange with almost half of the fur missing on it back and was underweight, shy and very hungry. I gave it some treats and tried to grab the collar so I could see if there was a name tag (there wasn’t), but it was scared and bolted when I reached out***.
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