Positive Reinforcement is Not Permissive Upbringing

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I’ve been noticing a pattern of thinking among some dog parents lately and I feel called to address it. It’s the belief that positive reinforcement equals permissive upbringing. I already wrote a little bit about what positive reinforcement represents to me in this blog post, but I wanted to write a separate post to address some main concerns about force-free training that people often have.

 

A lot of people (myself included) have been raised with a lot of punishment. Modeling what we’ve seen our parents do (and sometimes other people as well), we develop a belief that only punishment can show someone what’s wrong. I mean, how else would they know, right?

 

Here’s where it gets tricky - punishment may show someone what’s unwanted behavior, but it doesn’t show them WHY this behavior is unwanted and WHAT they should do instead.

 

Growing up in an environment where punishment is the main choice of “discipline” often leaves us confused and unsure about how to establish constructive communication. We simply try to avoid being punished, often not knowing what the hell we should do to please the one who punishes us. The same thing happens to our dogs.

 

Because the popular media and the self-proclaimed “dog whisperers” have convinced millions of people that dogs need to be “dominated” and that you have to be the “alpha” (despite the fact that “dominance theory” has been disproven by the same guy who came up with it and many other scientists as well), people take on the burden of being the disciplinarian. This is a tough role, a heavy cross to bear. You are expected to be strict, firm, loud and sharp. You’re not allowed to feel bad for the dog you’re disciplining because (like your disciplinarians have told you), “this is for his own good!!!!”

 

Let me stop you right there and first tell you that we can all be so much better than this. We can be so much better than raising our most loved and vulnerable creatures with fear and intimidation. We don’t have to repeat this cycle of fear, just because we don’t know what else to do. It’s on this point that I often run into a pushback from other dog parents. They genuinely don’t know how to explain to their dog what they want, because nobody ever taught them how.

 

As people, we have incredible difficulty communicating with our own species, let alone a different one. It’s normal to feel confused about this. It’s normal to feel a bit helpless. After all, you are on the beginning of a very big learning experience, aren’t you? This fear of the unknown and confusion about everything we have been taught for decades usually leads to people having strong misconceptions about positive reinforcement. Again, this is a totally normal response, but I would like to highlight that it’s your responsibility as a dog parent to always seek knowledge about constructive ways to communicate with your dog. Always!

 

One of such ways is setting up solid boundaries.  

 

The Role of Boundaries

I always say that boundaries are my favorite thing in the world. I love them in all of my relationships, including the one I have with my dogs. Boundaries are essential, but there is always a kind and loving way to set them. People can be a little more complicated, but at least with dogs you’re setting a boundary to someone that always wants to please you. Boundaries are the foundation of any good relationship. Just like you explain to your boyfriend that you need Saturday brunch with your best friend to stay sane, you can explain to your dog that when you’re working at the computer, he needs to leave you alone. Just like you explain to your mom that she can’t come over unannounced, you can explain to your dog that paws don’t belong on the dining table. Kapish?

 

Let’s look at how you can set these boundaries in a way that doesn’t include force or punishment. Instead of yelling at your dog for stealing food from the table, you can simply set up a routine where every time you sit down to eat, he has to wait in his crate or on his dog bed. You can also set up a baby gate on your kitchen door or keep him in another room. No fuss, no yelling. Just a simple way of saying “Hey, when I’m eating, this really has nothing to do with you and it’s best if you wait outside the kitchen.” You can even give him a chew toy in the beginning stages of reinforcing this boundary to really make it clear that when you’re sitting at the table, he has something better to do than trying to steal your food.

 

It’s funny that people think positive reinforcement means the lack of boundaries because it’s actually quite the opposite: positive reinforcement is built on boundaries!

 

The more you set clear boundaries, the less you’ll have to argue with your dog. Prevention is one of the greatest tools in force-free training. When something goes wrong, don’t ask yourself how can you punish your dog. Ask yourself “How can I prevent this in the future?”

 

Do you see the difference? Punishment puts all the blame and responsibility on your dog, but positive reinforcement puts the responsibility on you - where it belongs! If you have been calling your dog for the past 10 minutes and he’s still not coming back it’s not your dog’s fault, dear friend. It’s your fault and your responsibility. You have a responsibility to teach him a reliable recall and to not let him off the leash if the recall isn’t solid enough. You see how this works?

 

Positive reinforcement is NOT permissive upbringing because it’s built on boundaries and prevention. It’s built on us recognizing our own responsibility.

 

If you were raising your dog in a permissive way, this would mean that your dog is always off the leash even though he doesn’t understand the concept of recall, it would mean that he runs up to every dog he sees and is disrespectful of their personal space, it would mean that he can get your attention whenever and however he wants, that he controls when you go out on a walk and when he eats and when he plays (usually with constant whining or barking at the owner until he finally gives into the dog’s wishes) and so on. The thing about permissive upbringing is that it has its limits. At one point, the permissive dog owner loses his temper and - you’ve guessed it - yells at the dog and punishes him.

 

These dogs don’t feel safe at all - they feel confused and exhausted because they always have to be in control. If your dog barks at you three times a day to feed him and four times a day to let him out and he's constantly whining until you give him attention and when you want to work he keeps bringing you toys ... your dog is not happy. He is irritated from all the extra responsibility that should have been on YOU! Failing to provide a stable environment is not good upbringing at all. Failing to provide safety and structure results in our dogs striving to provide it for themselves, usually in very unhealthy ways.

 

You see now that positive reinforcement doesn’t mean anarchy, it means that we recognize our dog’s needs and tend to them in the kindest way possible. It means that we step up to constructive communication and always, always learn about how we can parent them in a way that respects their integrity.

 

Unwanted Behaviors - Do We Just Ignore Them?!

Some people believe that unwanted behaviors should just be ignored and once the dog figures out they won’t grant him any attention, he’ll likely stop with them. I absolutely DISAGREE with this. Sure, some things that our dogs do are attention seeking indeed, but most of them aren’t. Most unwanted behaviors are a result of some kind of a frustration and they are our dog’s way of telling us something is not okay. If we just ignore these behaviors, we’re essentially failing our dog.

 

So how can we stop the negative behaviors without using force? Can we use any corrections at all? What about the word “no”?

 

When an unwanted behavior is in motion, there are numerous things you can do. First, you can simply call the dog by his name and ask him to come to you. That immediately puts a stop to whatever he’s doing. You can also offer him a different behavior to do instead. For example, if he’s trying to jump on you, ask him to sit or lie down. In order to do that, you’ll need to have some solid behaviors already in place, of course.

 

Some people don’t believe in using the word “no” within the frames of positive reinforcement, but personally I’m not too touchy about it. The reason is because “no” is just a word and it means nothing to our dogs until we give it a meaning. You can use any other word that means “stop what you’re doing.” I know a lot of people use “leave it.” Personally, I do use the word “no”, but it’s introduced to my dogs during their basic training and carries the same connotation for them as any other word. It’s simply a cue that means “stop what you’re doing” and it’s always followed by a behavior I would like them to do insteadOn this note, I do recognize that people often abuse the word "no" by repeatedly saying "Nooooo. No. No!!!!!!!!!! NOOOOOO!!!!! HEY, NO!" If you are doing this, ditch the word altogether because your dog doesn't really have a good association with it.

 

Whatever “interrupter” you use, please make sure you’re not just telling your dog what they shouldn’t be doing and failing to provide an alternative behavior. Make sure the dog knows what you want from him!

 

Lastly, you can simply distract your dog with something else - this is usually the technique that works best with puppies who don’t have any solid behaviors yet. Use a toy or food to distract your dog from whatever else he is doing. Show him that if he follows your lead, exciting things happen!

 

Don’t forget that all of these ways of “correcting” a behavior only serve the purpose of interrupting the unwanted behavior in the moment that it’s happening, but after that it’s your responsibility to make sure that the unwanted behavior doesn’t get the chance to repeat itself. You can do that by implementing - let’s say it together kids - boundaries and prevention!

 


I hope I was able to clarify some positive reinforcement misconceptions with this blog post and that you’re walking away from it more secure in the next steps you’ll be taking with your training. Above all, I hope that I was able to bring positive reinforcement closer to some of you that are still struggling with the concept of it.

 

What does positive reinforcement represent to you? How do you set your boundaries? Please share your point of view in the comments below!

 


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Adopting a Second Dog: Will I Love Him the Same?

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Love; the most powerful force in the universe. We all experience and understand love in a very unique way, whether it be in romantic relationships, within family, friends or with animals. Everyone’s experience of loving a dog is different - and every experience is valid. I know a lot of you only have one dog who you love with all your being. I also know some of you are exploring the possibility for another dog, but always stopping at the same point: wondering if you could ever love a second dog the same as your first one. I know, because I used to feel the same.

 

Some people never think about this topic, never doubt their own capacity of love. That’s great and if that’s you, I hope you approach this article with open mind and compassion. For some of us this is a very real topic and I think it’s important that we talk about it.

 

Without further ado, here is my take and my personal experience on this question:

 

is it possible to love a second dog the same as you love your special first?

 

When I adopted Bailey 5 years ago, we instantly had a connection. I can honestly say I never had to work to build our bond, it was just there. I did hand feed her from day one, so this probably contributed a lot, but even before her first meal ever, while we were in the car driving from the shelter, the bond was there. It felt cosmic. Meant to be. I’ve known we are soulmates since the first second.

 

Growing up, I always imagined myself with a pack of dogs - two dogs minimum! Even on Bailey’s adoption day, I had a thought in the back of my mind that she is only my first dog and that more of them are going to come along. I was very unprepared for her issues, truthfully, but I was also unprepared for the amount of love I feel for her. It was life-changing and scary. What if something happens to her? What if I’m never going to love another dog like this again?

 

I couldn’t even imagine that a love like that could be matched - ever. So for a while, because of Bailey’s reactivity issues and my overwhelming love for her, I pushed my dreams for a second dog out of my head.

 

When she was about three years old, the wish for another dog arose again. I don’t really know what triggered it, but I just assumed Bailey would benefit from a canine companion and my daydreams of having a pack returned. It was always just Bailey and me. I wanted to add one more soul to create a dynamic trio, a team, a pack. Bailey’s training was progressing well and I was confident that we would do just fine with another dog. For the next two years, this wish would burn inside of me, but for situational and financial reasons it was “never the right time”. I felt like I was totally ready, Bailey was ready … but life was just a mess.

 

Enter December of 2015. My life has finally gotten a bit more stable. Things were flowing into the right direction and I made a decision: I’m going to adopt another dog in 2016. I knew I wanted a Border Collie, I knew I wanted a rescue. I started following shelters and rescue organizations on Facebook, checking for possible Border Collies. In the beginning of February, I found him. There was a post about a little pooch being found sick on the streets of Bosnia. At the beginning, I didn’t think he’s going to end up mine. I figured someone else will adopt him once he’s released from the vet. His photos kept popping up on my feed, so I was following his recovery closely. I fully believed he had so many possible adopters already lined up, I genuinely didn’t even consider him. Until one day, a picture was posted of him in his foster home - and the caption read he’s still looking for his forever home. He was looking so devilish, healthy and happy. I could not believe that he still hasn’t found a home! My brain went: what sane person would ever pass up on this baby? I wrote a message to the woman who rescued him in the middle of the night and the rest is history. We underwent a phone conversation and a home check. After the home check, it was official: we’re going to drive to Bosnia and pick up my baby number two, a boy I named Chilly.

 

The gravity of me adopting another dog didn’t hit me until the evening after the home check. I was cuddling in bed with Bailey, thinking of how much she means to me and all of a sudden, my heart stopped.
HOLY - FUCKING - SHIT. What the HELL am I getting myself into? Am I insane? I don’t think I could ever love another dog like I love Bailey! This is impossible! Why am I doing this? It’s going to be so unfair to the other dog! What if he won’t get enough attention because of Bailey’s special needs? What if he’s going to be super jealous? What if I completely mess this up????

 

All this and more. A million what-ifs and a self-doubt so big it could pass as a mountain. I quote my mom a lot, because she says the wisest things, and when I was really young I asked her how she can divide her love between four kids. She said: “Love does not divide - it multiplies.” Meaning, you don’t have a fixed storage of love that you have to divide between different people and animals. Love multiplies with each soul we grow to love. I decided to trust mom on this one. I also knew that Bailey is going to eventually love the new addition too, so it was worth the try. Besides, I couldn’t get Chilly out of my head. He was already my dog, even though he was so far away. He had yet to be neutered and I worried about that constantly. I worried about how he’s going to handle the journey from Bosnia and if he’s going to have a hard time adjusting to his new life. I bought him the cutest dog bed (that he chewed up on day 7) and the cutest leash and the cutest toys.

 

I loved him since the moment I saw his picture on Facebook, I just didn’t realize it - because it was the kind of love I wasn’t used to. It was full of worry and responsibility and having to overcome my own feelings of self-doubt. It was the kind of love that puts up a mirror and tells you “this is what we need to work on.”

 

Once we finally drove to Bosnia and Chilly was finally in my arms, I felt like my heart is going to burst. I missed Bailey the whole day so terribly, but I knew Chilly belonged to me the second I first held him. When we got back home later that evening and I saw him with Bailey, I knew I made the right choice. Sure, she was nervous around him and unsure. But he was patient, curious and loving - towards us both. The three of us clicked together like we were always meant to be a family.

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Having one reactive dog and one young Border Collie has made my life incredibly busy overnight. In the first weeks, I didn’t really walk around thinking about how much I love Chilly or how silly it was for me to ever doubt that. I tried my very best to set up a daily routine that would work for all three of us. It was a lot of work, especially because I was doing separate training sessions. Then one day, Chilly got really sick. I hate canned dog food and I don’t know what the hell has gotten into me that day, but I gave some of it to Chilly and it upset his stomach. I was so terrified. He was throwing up all the time. I was worried he has brought a weird bug from Bosnia. I was worried he has an undiscovered disease. It happened in the evening and I was on the phone with the vet, almost sobbing into the phone, describing his symptoms. The vet reassured me it’s just an upset stomach and gave me further instructions. At 1am, Chilly finally stopped throwing up and I decided it’s time to go to sleep. I tucked Bailey under the covers, I moved Chilly’s (half-eaten) puppy bed out of his crate and spent the whole night sitting next to him. I couldn’t leave him alone for one second.

 

Somewhere around 4am it hit me: I can’t believe I ever thought my heart isn’t capable of loving another dog. Here I am, terrified to bits and pieces for a dog that I have barely had a month. This feeling of my heart aching with fear - this is what love feels like.

 

Chilly was alright within a couple of days (thankfully!) and our life went back to normal. Since that day, I have often re-examined my love for him. I would think about how much he makes my heart sing. How he fills me with joy. I would think back on how I used to doubt my own capacity to love.

 

I did get one thing right though: I don’t love him like I love Bailey. But I also don’t love Bailey like I love him. I don’t love my mom the way I love my sisters and I don’t love them the way I love my mom. I have learned that every love is absolutely unique. They are all love, all equal … but all different.

 

There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

I know better know. I know that I will never love anyone like I love Bailey and Chilly, but that doesn’t mean my love ends with them. It only means I love each soul individually. Each soul has traits that I am in love with. Every relationship is completely different and one of a kind, every relationship teaches you different things and shows you newfound depths of love.

 

I am so thankful for both of my dogs. They are my greatest teachers and I know that I really needed this lesson on love, because I often think about it in other areas of life too.

 

If you want to have another dog and your only hesitation is the fear that you won’t love them the same as you do your first dog, let me tell you this: you will not the love them the same - you will love them differently, but equally. Give the second dog a chance to step into your life and teach you a lesson about how love always, always multiplies.  

 

How many dogs do you have? What have they taught you about love? Share your insights in the comments below!

 


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Rehabilitating a Reactive Dog Is a Lifelong Process

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If I had to sum up my mission in one sentence, it would be this: my mission lies in raising awareness about how positive reinforcement can help your reactive dog. This is the number one message I’m always trying spread and stay true to.

 

But sometimes, life with a reactive dog can get really hard. They’re barking all the time. Everything is scary to them. Your family doesn’t understand you. Positive reinforcement is taking too much time. You find yourself wondering: is it ever going to get better?

 

The short answer to this question is: YES and NO.

 

Some things will get better, I promise. My Bailey was so messed up when I adopted her, I sometimes can’t believe how far we’ve come, especially given all of the mistakes I made in the first year of our journey together. It’s almost unbelievable that she’s the most well-trained dog in our household, despite her issues with reactivity.

 

There are definitely many ways to tackle reactivity with positive reinforcement. You can start by signing up for my free email course (Reactive Dogs: Where to Start) or hiring a really good force-free dog trainer (How to Choose a Good Dog Trainer). You’re going to need a lot of patience and support, but the hard work is so worth it! DO NOT fall prey to people who say that traumatized dogs need prong or e-collars! These collars will only solve YOUR problems, not your dog’s! Click here to read why positive reinforcement is THE ONLY way to truly help your fearful dog!

 

Now let’s talk about the other part of the answer: NO, some things might never get better.

 

Your dog might never be excited to meet a new dog, human, child. He might always be afraid of thunderstorms and fireworks. Visitors at the house might always be a problem. There are several reasons for that. First, if your dog is afraid of loud noises, he can be triggered at any time because noises are impossible to predict. Second, if your dog is afraid of other dogs, you can run into off-leash dogs at any time. Most of them are unpredictable and have poor training - they run up to you and invade your dog’s personal space. Third, if the problem lies in people and children, it's usually hard to explain our dog's needs to them. They often don’t respect the boundaries we set and instead of listening to us, they start preaching. Not to mention, children are very loud, fast and unpredictable.

 

Do you see my point? You cannot control your dog’s environment all the time, so some fears will always stay present.

 

My advice is to change your mindset.

 

When I started working with Bailey, I set a goal: I want her to stop barking at other dogs. But looking back, this goal wasn’t particularly realistic. I wasn’t aware of how deep her problems were and that they go way beyond dogs. The core of her issues is the lack of her general feeling of safety. Once I changed my mindset, things improved drastically. I set new goals:

  • I want to create more safe spaces for Bailey.

  • I want her to be able to observe a dog from a safe distance.

  • If she flips out because of a loud noise, I want to be able to manage that.

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Nobody can just fix their dog overnight. If you are setting your expectations too high, you are going to be disappointed - and your dog is going to become even more frustrated. Once Bailey and I started reaching our smaller goals, we kept setting new ones. Today, we can pass most dogs at a close proximity and she doesn’t bark. Sure, she still gets triggered if a dog is off-leash or if he barks at her, but this is just something that we have to manage.

 

Remember: it’s not about completely getting rid of your dog’s reactivity. This can take YEARS and some of it may always be present. It’s about learning how to manage it.

 

None of us signed up to have a reactive dog - or if you did, you are my personal hero. I’m not ashamed to say that I never would have chosen this for myself; I was 19 years old, fresh out of High School, zero dog training knowledge. But I believe Bailey was given to me for a reason and not a day goes by that I don't thank the universe for blessing me with her.

 

Some days I do (still) get scared. Loud noises are still a big challenge for us. I wonder: is it always going to be this way? Am I going to have to worry about her for the next 10 years? How are we going to cope with all the life changes yet to come?

 

I know it’s not easy, making a home out of a realization that your dog might never be normal.

 

I can’t travel with Bailey by any means other than by car. She’ll never be around children. If I ever foster, I’ll have to take so many precautions. Just this year, with two new dogs coming into the house, it’s been really hard for her. This is our reality. But it’s manageable.  

 

But you know what? It’s more than just manageable - it’s a learning experience every single day. It’s the unique feeling of joy when she overcomes a fear. It’s extra cuddling when she’s having a hard day - or when I’m having a hard day. It’s educating other people, it’s running this blog, it’s being a better mom to Chilly, it’s growing into a better human.

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It’s crying because of fear and frustration but then getting back up the next day and understanding that the most important job I have is teaching Bailey that the world is a beautiful, safe space - even on the days when I don’t believe in that myself.
 
It’s our reality. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth it.

 

If you ever struggle really hard with having a reactive dog and feel like you have absolutely no support system, please join my FREE email course that will help you get started and guide you through the beginning stages, or just email me at luna@motherofrescues.com if you have a specific question.

 

Rehabilitating a reactive dog might be a lifelong process, but you don’t have to do it alone! 

 


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Love Letter of the Month: Luna and Chilly

Most of you know that the reason for starting this blog was my reactive baby girl Bailey. I wrote about our special connection here. She is my first dog and a really big challenge, but I always knew I’m going to have more than one. I wanted a second dog for years, but was hesitant due to Bailey’s reactivity and co-dependency. What if I adopt another dog and she hates him? Or worse, what if I adopt another dog and she makes him reactive too? There was a lot of fear, doubt and even disapproval from my environment, but nonetheless I have decided to trust all the knowledge I have acquired over 4 years and adopt another dog. I trusted that Bailey and I were ready!


On 26th of March 2016, Chilly came into our lives. He is a tiny rescued border collie and the joy of my heart. He is the sweetest and most amazing boy in the world. He is calm, patient, curious, adventurous and beyond energetic. All of my fears were completely ridiculous, because he has been very helpful in my work with Bailey. They have a special connection and I love watching their bond grow. Today is 20 months since his adoption day and I want to celebrate this occasion with dedicating November’s love letter of the month to him!

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A LOVE LETTER TO MY MENTALLY STABLE DOG 

Written by Luna C. Lupus


My dear sweet Chilly,

 

This might be a love letter, but it’s also a gratitude letter. I am so thankful for you, I’ll never be able to fully put in words. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Thank you for coming into our lives. You are more than I ever could have dreamed of. The ultimate joy of my heart, a daily lesson in unconditional love and the little creature that makes my heart grow. I always think I have it all figured out, but then you teach me something new every single day. You teach me that an aching heart is still capable of so much love, that there is always a second chance at life and that we can go through pain with grace if we only open ourselves to curiosity and adventure.

 

Thank you for loving our Bailey as much as you do. Thank you for being patient with her. She really needs you. Every time she gets upset over a loud noise, you stay calm and I notice her looking to you for stability. I notice myself looking to you, too. Before you came to us, it was just me. Nobody understood Bailey’s issues as much as I did and to the same extent, they didn’t understand her gentle, loving, calm side either - because they never got to see it, as she only shows it in the safety of our bedroom. You changed that. Your stability showed her that the world is safe and that nothing bad is going to happen. And when she does have a bad moment, I am not alone to deal with it anymore, because you are right there beside me.

 

When you and I combine forces, we are Bailey’s best support team in the world! She’s become so much more interested in the world ever since you’ve been in it. You truly are the best thing that ever could have happened to us. You fit with us so right, it was always meant to be. The bond and dynamic the three of us have goes beyond words, common sense or this lifetime.

 

Thank you for being my adventure dog. I always wanted a dog that I could take on long carefree walks or in the park or everywhere else I might go. I had to grieve that part with Bailey, but I did find it with you. Our long morning walks are so healing for me. I love to watch you explore the surroundings and practice tricks in the park. I love it how you trust me even when you are afraid. Slowly but surely you are going to leave your past behind and become even braver than you already are!

 

Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone and for taking my knowledge of canine psychology to another level. Working with you is such a joy. Your sensitive nature and an eye for detail have made me more mindful in how I communicate and what I pay attention to. You help me focus on the here and now.

 

When I look into your warm brown eyes or when I see you do your jumping tricks, I am centered in the present. There’s no place else I’d rather be.

 

When I got Bailey, I found my soulmate. A being that feels like the other half of me. Someone with a story so like mine, it’s sometimes impossible to help her without helping myself first. When I got you, I found my best friend in the universe. You are my joy, Chilly. You’ve shown me aspects of life I didn’t know before. You’ve made me a better human and a better mom. You are always challenging me to be adventurous, to be an explorer and a wanderer. You inspire me to be curious about the world and to chase every single butterfly I encounter. Your love for adventure has woken up a side of me I wasn’t in touch with before. I keep my eyes open now and I am not afraid to chase the unknown.

 

My love for you grows every day.
You are so incredible, my heart might burst!

 

It takes everything in me not to cry with humility when you fall asleep on my lap. I wonder how I deserve all this love. How did I get so lucky? How did I ever live without you? I know it’s only been a year, but the time before you seems like such a distant memory. You’ve brought so many changes, all of them resulting in pure joy.

 

Thank you for being Bailey and mine’s source of stability, playfulness and courage. We both love you more than we can possibly explain or understand and your arrival filled this house with more love, joy and loud barking than I ever thought possible.

 

Thank you for everything that you are and for loving us with so much grace.
You mend us.

 

Love, mommy

 


Thank you so much for reading this letter. Click here to read all the letters in this series! 

If you want to submit your own, email me at luna@motherofrescues.com! :) 

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2017 Has Not Been Easy but My Dogs Have Taught Me These Important Lessons

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There is so much about this year that I don’t even know how to put into words. It has been one of the toughest years for me - and for many others, too. There has been a lot of loss, a lot of release, a lot of transformation. I already wrote about the process of losing Lady and how that has affected me. Naturally there have been other losses and changes too, all very personal. Changes in my business, changes on this blog, changes within family, changes within friends and most of all, changes within my soul. I am not the same person as I was a year ago, not even close. This year was all about letting go and moving forward. 

 

Throughout this year, I have held onto my love of dogs more than ever before. Dogs understand me far more than people do, I believe our souls vibrate on a more similar frequency. It has been like this since I was a child. My connection with Bailey and Chilly has always been very healing for me and this year has been no exception.

 

Every day my two furry children teach me about life, unconditional love, surrender and purpose. They are the two souls that love me at the end of the day no matter how shitty that day was. They are my anchors. My sweet duo. My family.

 

I have learned a lot this year and my two little munchkins played a role of being big teachers! Sometimes it might seem like I am teaching them, but it’s quite the opposite. I only raised them; they teach me. Here are some of the most powerful lessons that my dogs have taught me this year in the midst of troubling waters, heavy hearts and utter chaos:

 

1. THERE IS NO SHAME IN REST

Bailey is really big on resting. She can be curled up next to me sleeping for as long as I need her to. If I decided to sleep for 24 hours she would happily do it with me. Sometimes I am running around all day, trying to outrun my own emotions and when I finally collapse into bed at the end of the day and she curls up next to me … I can feel it in my bones that I should have done it sooner. We exhale the day together and I am reminded in that moment that rest equals self care. I’ve been practicing taking naps now. During the day, if I feel exhausted or upset, instead of pushing through or burying my head in a giant bowl of pasta just to cope, I’ll simply lie down on the bed and let Bailey snuggle with me.

 

It helps, sweet friends. 
Rest really does help - and the world does wait.

 

 

2. SLOWING DOWN MAKES YOU MORE MINDFUL 

My daily walks with Chilly are my favorite thing. Due to her reactivity, Bailey’s outings and exercises are a little more work for me and have more structure to them, which is absolutely okay, but with her I am always in “work mode.” It’s different with Chilly. I can put on my headphones, turn on the epic Game of Thrones soundtrack and just take a slow walk with my mind turned-off. Chilly loves to explore his surroundings and he is never in a rush. He has taught me how to be more mindful. How to explore every inch of a meadow, how to sit down in a park and just … be. This stillness is something I didn’t know before. Our mornings have now turned into that part of day when we just explore nearby parks and meadows, do some socialization work with him and proof behaviors or tricks. I am totally present in the moment, I forget about time, I remind myself to walk in a slower pace. Chilly loves it and so do I! I used to rush everything in my life, but since I have slowed down, my days have been a lot less stressful, my mind more clear. 

 

 

3. FIND YOUR BALANCE AND TURN IT INTO A HOME 

I know that some people don’t believe in balance, but I have found that finding balance within my days keeps me healthy and happy. Chilly and Bailey are polar opposites; they balance each other out. Bailey can sleep the rainy days away and Chilly could be in constant movement if I didn’t stop him. Bailey is fearful and Chilly is curious. Not only do they help balance each other, they also help balance me. I am a total introvert hermit and when I want to spend the day in bed watching TV shows, Bailey is always up for the job. But when the time comes to be more social, to go out and take a long walk throughout the neighborhood, Chilly can’t wait to tag along!

 

I have learned that it’s totally okay to mix down days with adventure days. To mix being careful with being brave. Our souls don’t have to be just one thing, you know?
 

I have also been implementing this balance philosophy into how I feed, exercise and train my dogs. I don’t strive for perfection anymore, like I used to. Some days we are more active than others. Some days I can prepare fresh food for them and some days it just doesn’t work out. Some weeks we are really good at proofing tricks, some weeks we forget about them altogether. Consistency is important, but it shouldn’t be an obsession. This new-found balance in our rhythm has helped us become more connected and excited about life. After I spend some days being lazy, I can’t wait to be more adventurous. After I spend a whole day working, I can’t wait to take a day off the next day. After we skip Frisbee for a couple of days, the dogs go bananas when they see it again! Thank you, balance.

 

 

4. ALL IS WELL - EVEN WHEN IT'S NOT

Like my darling Bailey, I am also prone to anxiety. I always consider everything that could possibly go wrong and have over the years accepted anxiety as my general state of mind. This year has really pushed me to my limits and put this to the test. Dogs are far more mindful creatures than humans. At the end of the day, when the whole day is behind them, my pups curl up on my bed and fall into sleep so peacefully. They surrender to life, they leave the day behind. They trust the morning is bringing new adventures. All is well - this is what I’ve been saying to myself lately. At the end of the day, when the lights are out, I can hear my two favorite souls on this planet breathe right next to me. No matter what has happened that day, all is well. I can leave the day behind. I can sleep soundly knowing I will wake up the next day to their cute little snouts nuzzling me awake. And whatever that day brings … at the end of it, I will still fall asleep to the sound of them breathing peacefully. All is well.

 


How has this year been for you? What trials have you experienced and most importantly, what have you learned throughout it all? What is the greatest lesson your dog has taught you? Leave a comment below and let’s support each other through this year of loss and transformation.

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3 Things That Might Be Undermining Your Dog's Training Process

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We all make mistakes; that’s a fact. Nobody is perfect and as a passionate perfectionist I can tell you that striving for pure perfection has only gotten me in trouble in my life. So I’ll say it again, for those sitting in the back of the classroom: We all make mistakes.

 

 

When your mistakes set-back your dog’s training or rehabilitation process, that’s when we tend to be super hard on ourselves. Understandably so - this little four legged creature is totally dependent on us and here we are, screwing up! The one thing I’ve learned through some painful lessons of my own is that life happens to all of us. A lot of the things are completely out of our control and on most days we truly do the best we can, with what we’ve been given. I understand that it gets really hard some days and guess what? Your force-free training doesn’t have to be perfect. Before you crucify me for this statement, I think even the most famous positive reinforcement trainers with decades of experiences make mistakes sometimes. You either underestimate the situation, overestimate the dog or just break under the pressure of your own nervousness. It just happens.

 

To me, the point of positive reinforcement is to always strive to be better. Progress is better than perfection.

 

Learning from your mistakes is better than pretending you are not responsible for them and blaming the dog for his “bad behaviors.” Exploring your own patterns of thinking is better than giving up on a training system altogether because it seems like “too much work.” You don’t have to always be perfect, but you do always have to strive to be better - that’s what it’s all about.

 

Let’s look at some of the unexpected things that might be undermining your force-free training and how you can work through them to be a better dog parent, especially if your furry child has a serious case of PTSD.

 

 

1. Your Own Upbringing

How you were raised impacts a lot of things in your life and the way you choose to raise your dogs could be one of them too. Every person is different because every person comes from a unique environment and has a unique story. I don’t know your story - but you do! I encourage you to look into it and see if you can draw some parallels or contradictions between your own childhood and how you are now communicating with your dog. Are you trying to be the ultimate boss? Are you afraid your dog is going to experience discomfort, so you don’t want to set boundaries?

 

Personally, I was raised by two people who were polar opposites. One was completely authoritarian and repressive, while the other one was fully permissive. Between these two concepts, I was hella confused. I was either feeling trapped and afraid or I was trying to cope with all the freedom I was given. When I adopted Bailey, I knew I would never ever use force to raise her because by then I had learned on my own skin that it doesn’t work. So I went to the other side of the continuum: the lack of rules and boundaries. At the time, it was the only other thing I knew, so it made sense to me. I started to deal with her fears by coddling her, pushing her in interactions with dogs and humans because “she needs to socialize” and leaving her totally without protection in those interactions because I fully believed I was giving her “freedom.” I felt so very sorry for her because of the hundred phobias she had, but I did nothing of value to actually help her. My poor little baby she was, until I finally lost my shit every couple of months and yelled at her out of frustration because of her constant barking. Even the most patient humans can break under the weight of their dog being hysterical 24/7. I feel bad about it today, of course, but I want to mention it nonetheless because I’m trying to break the myth that people are either bad dog owners or perfect dog owners.

 

Our first year wasn’t all bad, mind you, there was so so so much good in it ... but as far as her reactivity goes, we were lost. The whole time I knew that while I may not be using force to raise her, something was definitely still wrong.

 

Slowly but surely I started to understand that too much “freedom” isn’t always a good thing either. I started understanding that boundaries don’t have to mean repression - they can mean a safe harbor. Protection. Giving your dog a feeling of safety, showing them that you will always make sure all is well. Once that clicked in my head and I found this middle ground, things improved for us so much. Bailey started to trust me like never before. She knew that I am going to make sure she is safe, as well as guide her rehabilitation in a very slow manner. If she ever felt overwhelmed it was my job to give her space, remove her from situation etc. We finally found balance.

 

2. Blindly Trusting a Training Philosophy

I don’t believe in blindly trusting any doctrine. I don’t believe in either side of the aforementioned continuum. I believe you should always strive to acquire more knowledge, follow what the experts say (not self-proclaimed experts but actual scientists), ask many questions and at the end of the day, think with your own head.

 

All dogs are different. What may work on one of them is not going to work on the other one. I believe in force-free training because I believe fear and intimidation should not have a place in any relationship! But within force-free training there are many roads you can go down and if choose to do so with a blindfold over your eyes, refusing to learn about other paths, it may set-back your training.

 

Some people never use the word “no” when training their dogs. Some don’t want to use treats and go for toys instead. Some feed their dogs from a bowl while others use mental enrichment as part of the feeding routine. Some don’t believe in the game of fetch, some don’t like it if the dogs jump at Frisbee, some believe dogs should never be on a leash, others believe they should always be on a leash. Some socialize their dog by putting him in a pile of puppies, other socialize their dog by hand picking canine interactions. Different owners, different dogs ... different approaches. 

 

Whatever your version of positive reinforcement looks like, it’s still better than using shock collars.

 

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Maybe you find out that some of the techniques you’ve tried haven’t been working for you - that’s awesome! You can dive into exploring others and see what works for you in the end. Always be open to learning new things, always!

 

Positive reinforcement is a journey. It’s an ocean that is hardly ever smooth. It tests our patience and trust. We’ll make mistakes because we aren’t perfect. You’ll lose your temper or re-traumatize your dog or hype up your dog instead of calming him down. Hey, it happens. Do not give up!

 

A smooth sea has never made a skillful sailor.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

3. Forgetting That It Takes Time - A Lot of It

Most people give up on positive reinforcement because it takes time and dedication - something they are not prepared to invest in their own dog. Please don’t be one of those people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “Well we’ve tried with food but it didn’t work. The choke collar is the only way to keep him under control.”  Needless to say, my heart breaks every time.

 

How hard did you try?

How long did you stick with it? A week? A month?

Did you have a system in place?

Were you consistent?

Did you get professional help?

Did you set your dog up for success?

Did you create a pleasant training environment for both of you?

 

Answer these questions every time when you want to give up or resort to an aversive.

 

Yes, maybe your walks are going to be far from perfect for the next three months. Maybe your dog is still going to bark at everything that moves for the next six months, before you even start noticing progress. Maybe you’ll be a little more tired. Maybe your environment will not understand and you will feel a lot of social pressure.

 

I can tell you with a certainty, it is not going to be perfect - but it’s going to be kind to your dog and that’s what makes it worth it!

 

Stick with it, stay patient and trust in yourself and your dog. The results will pay off. Nothing forms a stronger bond than raising your dog with love and compassion. That does not mean the lack of boundaries, the lack of a system, a total anarchy. It means that you are guiding your dog towards being a happier, more confident pooch. It means you reflect on your own patterns of upbringing and see what’s undermining you. It means you are always looking for more knowledge, reading books, attending seminars, talking to experts. It means that you recognize it takes time. And above all, it means dedicate yourself to growing as a person, too.

 

Putting a shock/choke/prong collar on your dog will not solve their problems - it will only solve yours. That is awfully unfair. Success is not linear and force-free training is not always going to be perfect; but it’s always going to be worth it. <3

 


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How to Choose a Good Dog Trainer

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If you have a reactive dog, working with a good dog trainer is one of the first things I’ll recommend to you. I understand that a lot of people either can’t afford a trainer or can’t find any suitable ones in their area; since I was in that same position five years ago when I adopted my dear Bailey, I write about these topics as much as I can so that everybody can learn for free, no matter where you live! In fact, I even have a free 5-day email course for those of you with reactive dogs!

 

But if you can afford a dog trainer, I encourage you to do so! When the decision falls, “Okay, I need help from a professional,” your head is immediately filled with a billion questions. How will I know who’s a good trainer? What would I even ask? What if they give up on my dog? What if I don’t like them? What if they suggest something I’m uncomfortable with?

 

I want to share the four most important things I believe you need to pay attention to when picking out your dog trainer, one that will become your support system and an important piece in the grand puzzle that is training your dog!

 

1. Training Philosophy

What makes a good trainer? Is it the experiences that they have, the number of owners they have helped or is it their values, the respect they show towards the dog, their knowledge about dog psychology and body language?

 

Personally, I put a person’s training philosophy first. Anyone can strap up an aversive collar on a dog and call it a day. Anyone can shove a dog into the ground and repeat the word “alpha” because they heard it on TV from a self-proclaimed expert. Anyone can do leash corrections, raise their voice and blame everything on the dog.

 

But not anyone can sit down and try their best to understand your dog. Not anyone can care enough to ask you as many questions as needed to get a full picture of your dog’s current mentality. Not anyone will try to figure out the why of your dog’s outbursts. Not anyone will be your team member, seeking to work together with you to help your dog. Not anyone will be able to do that - but a good positive reinforcement trainer will.

 

Your core values need to be aligned with a dog trainer’s training philosophy. If you believe in raising your dogs with love and kindness, compassion and patience, then invest into a force-free trainer!

 

 

2. Experience

It’s obvious that your dog trainer needs to have some working experience but I want to stress this: if you are looking for a dog trainer to help you with your reactive dog, not every force-free trainer will do. They need to have experience with fearful/reactive/aggressive dogs!

 

This is a very vulnerable group of dogs, you know that. This group always gets targeted by trainers who use force. I don’t want this to happen to you and your dog! Find a force-free trainer that has worked with reactive dogs before. Somebody that understands their psychology and is fluent in body language. Somebody that will be able to commit to you for a longer time and won’t make promises about “fixing” your dog in a matter of weeks. Traumas don’t work that way.

 

You can ask your friends for recommendation or utilize Facebook groups. There are many groups on reactivity and positive reinforcement. The good thing about social media is that it brings together people all over the world. Ask in the groups if anyone can recommend a good positive reinforcement trainer in your area. The answers may surprise you!

 

 

3. Education

Theoretical education has nothing on field experience, but I do think it’s important to bring it up. Nowadays, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer. People might choose them because they are cheap or conveniently close to their home, but just because someone calls themselves a dog trainer doesn’t mean they are a good one. It sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.

 

I would advise you to check out where your dog trainer has acquired their education and then make a decision whether that particular training institution aligns with your dog training values or not.
 

Words like “certified” and “recognized by” and “featured in” sound very fancy - but make sure you do your due diligence on where those certificates came from in the first place.

 

 

4. Personality

By no means do I think dog trainers should be subjected to a popularity contest - not at all. But you do need to find a trainer whose personality you can cope with. They will be teaching you how to work with your dog, how to help them overcome fears, you will be spending a respectable amount of time together and if something goes wrong they will be your first call.

 

You should find someone that you’ll enjoy working with - even on the really rough days!
 

Find someone that tells you the truth, even if it’s hard to hear. Someone that won’t treat you as just another client but will fully be present with you and your dog in the moment. Someone that will also be compassionate if you are ever struggling and will encourage you not to lose faith. Most of all, somebody that you can trust.


Tell me, do you have any experience with hiring a dog trainer? What did you learn from it and what advice would you give to someone still on the fence? Share your insights in the comments below!
 
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Love Letter of the Month: Maria and Shark

People who take control of their own lives and futures are one of my favorite people in the world. There is so much strength and inspiration to be found in those special souls who prove to us every day that the life you want is just waiting out there for you to live it. Everything is possible, so long as you have the courage to chase your dreams! Maria's story has taught me that. 

When I first found her incredible blog The Tropical Dog I was absolutely amazed by the life she shares with her dog Shark. They travel the world together, like true friends always do, chasing adventures and writing about it from an incredibly realistic perspective. Her blog offers numerous travel tips and adventure stories, proving that a dog can be your best companion even if you are a passionate traveler - or maybe especially so! 

Maria wrote a beautiful love letter to her sweet Shark. Their story is truly unique, one that reminds us unconditional love is stronger than any obstacles! Today is also Shark's 4th birthday, so I'm wishing a big big big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to this charming pup! <3 

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A LOVE LETTER TO SHARK 

Written by Maria Himmich


My Sharkylove,


Today, we are celebrating your 4th birthday. I know the precise date because I know you since your very first day. Your mother, who was originally my neighbor’s dog, was abandonned to her fate and had become a stray dog. When I woke up on that October 13th, 2013 you were huddling with 3 other puppies out of the window of my bedroom. Your mother chose to give birth in my garden. I like to think that it was destiny.


At that time, I lived in Rodrigues, a small tropical island lost in the Indian Ocean, near Mauritius. I
worked for the local French Alliance. I had to leave a year later to get back to Europe, then find
another job somewhere else.

 
My life was absolutely not stable. I wanted to be a nomad and travel the world as much as I could. Like many people, I liked the idea of having a dog some day, but now was definitely not the right time.
 

So when I first saw you with your brothers and sisters in my garden, I thought I could not deal with that "problem" and told my neighbor to take care of her dog and her puppies. Unfortunately, that irresponsible woman tried to get rid of you.

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The next day, after she took your little family back, I got woken up by your cries, the we-need-help kind of cries. Your mom was also barking. I waited for almost an hour, trying to convince myself that it was not my problem. Then I decided to go to my neighbor’s garden to see what was going on. I found you and the other puppies stuck under a large piece of metal sheet in the glaring sun. Your mother couldn’t reach you and was going crazyAs to my neighbor, she had left to work and had deliberately put you there to let you die.

 

I did what I think every normal human being should do. I rescued all of you and took you and your mom back into my garden.
 

I kept you for 5 weeks, then I started to look for friends who wanted to adopt a dog. You were the last puppy left to give but I decided to keep you, just a little longer. Days became weeks, weeks became months and by the time the end of my work contract arrived, you had totally won my heart. It was just impossible for me to leave you behind, even though I had no clue how I was going to travel with a large dog from the Indian Ocean to Europe.

 

As Rodrigues island was very tiny, I had to travel to Mauritius to buy your vaccines and a travel container for the flight. Of course, my family and friends thought I was crazy. They told me I could not keep on traveling the world with a dog. Well, I did not care. The only thing I knew is that we had so much more things to live together.

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4 years later, we have traveled to 9 countries : Mauritius, Morocco, France, Greece, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and the USA.

We run a doggy travel blog together. We have shared so many crazy adventures, met so many new friends, had so much fun and created so many unforgettable memories… You have become my travel buddy, my bodyguard, my personal trainer and my source of joy.


I feel so grateful for each of the million of smiles you have already brought me.
 

Of course, I know some day you will have to leave me and my heart will broke into pieces. That is life and I can do nothing about it. What I can certainly do, though, is enjoy every single day we have the chance to live together. My Sharkylove, I promise to do my best to make that sparkle in your eyes shine as often and as long as I can.


Thank you for sharing my adventurous spirit. Thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you for being so funny without willing to. Thank you for protecting me all the time. Thank you for trusting me.


Happy birthday my little piece of tropical heaven!


I love you,


Maria


Wow. No matter how many times I re-read this letter, I'm always in awe - and tears. Big thank you to Maria for sharing her words with us. Your friendship with Shark is one of the most inspirational friendships and companionships I've ever seen and I'm so lucky to know you! If your travels ever bring you to my little country of Slovenia, we totally need to meet! <3

Check out Maria and Shark's incredible travels featured on their fantastic website The Tropical Dog

You should also follow them on Facebook and Instagram, to see their epic daily adventures - and wish Shark a very happy birthday today!!!! :) 

 

Want to submit a letter of your own? Write a letter to your rescue dog and send it to luna@motherofrescues.com to be featured! 

All photographs featured in this blog post are the property of Maria Himmich

Book Review: Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution by Zak George and Dina Roth Port

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Disclosure: this is NOT a paid review, but I did get a free physical copy of the book from the author. All opinions are my own, you know I am a very opinionated lady! NONE of the links in this post are affiliate!


Kindness. Something that the world needs so desperately right now.
I firmly believe that kindness begins in the most intimate of environments. How we are with ourselves. Our spouses. Our neighbors. Our children. And, perhaps the most telling, our pets.
 

How it all began

When I adopted Bailey 4 years ago, as you well know, I got a little ball of big fear. Fear that ran so deep it soon became clear to me there's a long road ahead of us. People in my life, with good intentions, had their own ideas of how I should be raising Bailey.

 

"Speak more firmly with her."

"Yank the leash back and say NO!" "

Just let her bark, who cares!"

 

But in the depths of my heart I knew that this is not how I wanted to raise my baby. And so the search for better, kinder methods of raising a dog began.

 

 

I don't remember which video of Zak's was the first one I came across, nor do I remember how I came across it. But I do remember binge-watching all of his other videos in one night. Replaying the crucial moments over and over again, writing down important things, feeling incredibly motivated to work with my pup. What really drew me in was not only Zak's methods of force-free training, but the love that he was radiating.

 

He is beaming with love, happiness and excitement when he is working with dogs and you know what? That was new to me.
 

When I watched other people train their dogs, they were very authoritarian, sharp and psychical. When I myself was training Bailey, I used to be incredibly nervous. I only focused on my main goal (for Bailey to stop hysterically barking at everything) and completely disregarded her emotions or the fact that training was supposed to be fun! Then I saw Zak's enthusiasm and it forever changed me. I realized then and there that, even though I was using positive reinforcement, I wasn't getting results because my bond with Bailey was damaged due to my own attitude towards training. 

 

I subscribed to Zak's channel, naturally, and have been following his videos ever since. My interest in positive reinforcement and dog adoption grew into 4 years of adopting rescues and confidently, enjoyably helping them overcome their past anxieties. This life, being the mother of rescues, has led me to many, many +R resources and I keep finding new ones. But I will never stop keeping up with Zak's youtube videos. 

 

When in doubt, I know I can always rely on his videos. I can always return to the basics, always look at things from a different point of view. I can always look to him and that enables me to be Bailey's safety net, anchor and safe space.

 

When I heard about his book, I knew I needed to read it and share his wisdom with you all! I feel it in my heart that this is the knowledge that needs to be shared, needs to be visible, needs to reach as many people as it possibly can. I feel a responsibility to do my part. So here is my review of Zak's incredible book! 


The Dog Training rEvolution

 

From the moment you first open the book, you know that this is not your typical dog training book. You don't feel alienated from the author. If anything, it is clear from the very first lines that he gets you. He is one of us, the hardworking dog parents who love our furbabies beyond belief and just strive to be better for them every single day. You feel understood, heard and above all, not judged.

 

This is a book that gives you confidence as well as reassures you when you make mistakes and urges you, in the most positive way, to simply learn from them.

 

What I've noticed is that Zak uses the same tone of communication in his book as he does in his training - he is clear, direct, kind, sympathetic and a lot of fun. 

 

Throughout the book, he emphasizes the importance of prevention, which is something you'll hardly ever see in other dog training books. It is such an important part of dog training and yet so many dog owners fail to realize that. His methods focus on preventing the unwanted behavior from happening as opposed to waiting for it to happen and then correcting that behavior in a very negative, physical way. Where I'm from, positive reinforcement is still a fairly new concept and I think a lot of people struggle with it because they don't invest into prevention. Instead, they leave their dog to his vices until he develops a whole lot of behavioral problems that are, at that point, harder to change.

 

I really want to point out that if you have any issues with your dog, there's always a big chance that they could have been (or could still be) prevented. So dive into Zak's book and notice how he carefully guides you through the necessary prevention by giving you actual examples that you get to implement straight away.

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Another thing that stood out to me was him talking about the importance of a bond. Like I said, I learned this one the hard way, through personal experience. But I also learned that bond is something that keeps growing and evolving. I love how my bond with my individual dogs keeps changing and deepening.

 
My dog training philosophy is this: Training your dog is all about COMMUNICATION and BUILDING A BOND. Once that’s established, other things align as well!
 

To be completely honest with you, there aren't many widely known dog trainers who would either share that philosophy or dare to speak publicly about it. But Zak does! Every time he mentions the bond in his book my heart does a little happy dance! I am overjoyed that this knowledge is finally reaching people and if you're not using the bond as a foundation of your training, then you need this book and you need it NOW!

 

Building a bond is essential to your relationship and you mustn’t do anything to compromise it. Why? Because ”bonding is also a matter of letting your dog know that she can trust you and depend on you.”
— [Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution, page 83].

 

This is why it's called the dog training rEvolution! This dog training philosophy is revolutionary indeed! And luckily, because of people like Zak, our relationship with dogs has an opportunity to evolve. Just like any relationship, it needs trust, communication and safety. Zak likes to draw parallels with raising children or being in a relationship with other humans. He breaks down the barriers that stood so long between humans and their animal companions.

 

He puts a mirror in front of us and urges us to see that our dog's emotions aren't that different from our own, after all. He makes it clear that owning a dog is not something that you can emotionally detach yourself from. In fact, it is precisely your emotions that will help you be a better dog parent. If you tune into those, the rest should come easy!

 

When you prioritize your relationship with your dog, the teaching process becomes easy.
— [Zak George's Dog Training rEvolution, page 2].
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Now that you know Zak's philosophy I also want to tell you a bit more about how his book is structured.

 

It's a journey every single dog parent goes through. It starts with the moment when you decide this is it: you're getting a dog! But before you actually get the dog, there's a whole lot of things to figure out (the dog's breed, rescue/buy, your financial situation etc). Zak really dives into all of these fundamental things every dog-parent-to-be (no matter how experienced) wonders about at some point. He then guides you through the necessary preparations before your pooch of choice arrives home and once he's finally home with you, Zak's book takes you on a journey from welcoming the pup to explaining the basic training principles you need to know.

 

Armed with this book, you will make a badass  of a dog parent - that, I can tell you!
 

What I appreciate so much about the book is that it also covers a little heavier subjects: common behavioral issues and taking care of your dog's health. As both of these topics are very personal to me, I perhaps enjoyed those two chapters of the book the most. Simply because it finally made me feel seen, heard and appreciated.

 

I know, I know, I hate to be that dog mom, but it's the truth! Upon adopting Chilly I borrowed around 7 Border Collie books from the library and they taught me nothing. They weren't helpful at all and I had to seek Border Collie resources elsewhere (god bless the internet). But this book really makes everyone feel included - whether you have a rescue or a purebred, an angel or a little devil, a confident pooch or a traumatized bug like my Bailey. Zak is inclusive and that's very important to me.

 

His book ends on a high note: with fun tricks and activities you can do with your dog. That is perhaps one of the most exhilarating parts about being a dog owner, no? Getting to do fun things together and bonding through them!

 

Whether you read through this book in one go (like I did) or just pick chapters relevant to you (like I will in the future), it will not only leave you richer with information, but also full of enthusiasm and drive for strengthening the relationship with your dog and helping him thrive! 

Make sure you have a highlighter at hand! ;)   

 

My darling sister is already lined up to read this book. I can't wait to pass it onto her and then discuss what we've both learned and how we will implement our knowledge into our daily life with our precious rescues.

 

I want you to do the same. If you haven't yet, I want you to read this book, then come back and tell me how it shaped you as a dog parent. Tell me some of your insights. Tell me how it touched you. Let us all grow together.

 

Let us continue this movement, that Zak has started, in our lives and in all of our communities, wherever in the world we may be! 

 

I also want you to support Zak by:

BUYING HIS BOOK!

Subscribing to his YOUTUBE channel (and clear an afternoon because you'll want to binge these videos).

Liking his FACEBOOK page.

Support him on PATREON

Heart his precious dogs on INSTAGRAM.

And read his tweets on TWITTER

 

Last but not least, I would like to thank Zak for sending me this book and for unselfishly sharing his knowledge all these years! You really are making the world better, one dog owner at a time.<3


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How Essential Oils Help My Fearful Dog

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Over the years I have tried a lot of things to help Bailey with her wide spectrum of fears. Triggers such as dogs, skates, moving objects etc. have mainly been conquered through positive reinforcement and counter-conditioning. She’s come such a long way and I am very proud of her, but the one thing we’re still battling on every day basis is her noise-sensitivity.

 

She gets triggered by loud noises all the time - we live in the city and that’s something I just can’t control. The situation has given us both some gray hair, but we’re coping with it through learning about new ways to keep her calm. 

 

For last year’s New Year’s Eve we have tried the anti-stress wrap and it worked amazingly. I was very impressed and I may even buy the famous Thunder Shirt this year. We are also big lovers of music and use it in our every day life to calm Bailey down whenever she is feeling nervous or upset. I’m still surprised by how well she responds to it and how much it calms her down

 

However, some recent changes in our life and environment have encouraged me to look for more ways to help her.
 

First, we have a huge (and loud!) construction site in our backyard at the moment. We also got two new dogs this year, which means more noise in the house - either occasional barking or just the sound of them running up and down the hallway. These are the things that upset Bailey every single time. She just hates loud noises, no matter how irrational the fear. I recently read an article titled A Dog That Is Afraid of Loud Noises Is Afraid of Everything and it gave me a lot to think about. Noises are something I can’t control and they are all around us.

 

I can’t approach this with counterconditioning, because I can’t possibly isolate the noises that make her react - and even if I could, there will always be new ones to conquer. Aside from the anti-stress wrap and music, I felt like I was missing something. 

 

Enter essential oils! They were recently recommended to me and I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical at first. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but I was definitely open to trying something new.

 

I’m happy to report that after two full months of testing, I’m seeing so many positive results! To be honest, the change was apparent the first time I used them and it only got better since then. 
 

So far I have only tried two scents: lavender and baldrian (valerian). I’m open to trying more or maybe even mixing them, but this has worked incredibly well for us and I am very satisfied with the results! 

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LAVENDER

We tested this scent by putting a few drops of lavender essential oil into an essential oil diffuser that I found at home - it’s a tiny bowl of water that stands over a candle. If you love crafting, you can DIY a variety of essential oil diffusers. I mainly used this aroma in the afternoons and over the weekends, when everybody is at home and the household is a little louder than usual. (The construction site doesn’t stop on the weekends either).

 
I noticed that Bailey is much more calm and less prone to reacting when I use this essential oil. Even if there is a sudden loud noise, she’ll only lift her head, maybe silently growl a little bit, but totally keeps her cool. No loud outbursts!
 

I was absolutely in awe. I tested the oil during a thunderstorm as well and outside of a couple short barks when the thunder was loud, she was totally fine. The final test was a couple of weeks ago when my home country Slovenia won the European Championship in basketball (woohoo!) and people celebrated with fireworks. I generally don’t follow sports, so on the night when we got into the finals I didn’t even know there was a game - I wasn’t prepared for the fireworks and Bailey had a really hard time. On the night of the finals I did prepare though. I lit up my essential oil diffuser, put in lavender and the evening passed so peacefully I almost couldn’t believe it. A few short barks here and there, but other than that she was surprisingly calm.

 

This essential oil is now a part of our every day life. If we have guests coming over or if there is something loud going on in the neighborhood, I know I can count on lavender oil to keep Bailey calm. I am so very thankful for this discovery! 
 

BALDRIAN (VALERIAN)

The success of lavender essential oil within the house had me wondering if I could bring them outside somehow. How cool would it be to have them on walks with us! I stumbled upon an essential oil collar in one of the local pet stores and decided to give it a try. It was 100% natural and infused with baldrian. 

 

It had a really strong aroma. I left it out of the package for a couple of days to wear off a little bit, but without much luck. When I put it onto Bailey she absolutely hated it, so I took it off after a couple of minutes and decided to try a different approach. I didn’t know if it’s the scent that’s bothering her or just the fact that it’s on her, so I cut the collar in two identical pieces and placed one in Bailey’s crate and the other one in Chilly’s - he gets a little jumpy sometimes during thunderstorms or if new people are in the house, so I figured it would be fun to try. 

 

They both seemed to respond to it super well. Bailey spent a lot of the time in her crate by her own accord, as did Chilly. I started leaving these collars with them every time I left the house and even though they generally don’t mind being alone, they displayed calmer behaviors upon my return than usual. I am super happy with this arrangement! 
 

Maybe in combination with lavender, the two aromas are the winning thing for us. I’ll buy baldrian essential oil as well, to test it in a diffusor, because the cut up collar is starting to lose its scent. I also have yet to figure out a way to bring essential oils on our walks. Maybe I’ll DIY a collar and infuse it with just a few drops or make an essential oil bracelet for myself and wear it when I’m out with Bailey. 


Needless to say, the discovery of essential oils has changed our lives.
 

Bailey is so much calmer and there have been some very unexpected benefits for Chilly and myself as well. He’s less jumpy when he’s scared (or excited) and my own anxiety is almost nonexistent when lavender is in the air! I also struggle with insomnia and I noticed that on the days when we used lavender oil I actually had no trouble sleeping at all. These oils have been an overall success! 

 

At this moment, we are still only at the beginning of our essential oil journey - I want to learn even more about how essential oils can help dogs and share the knowledge with you as I go on.

 

If you have a fearful dog, I encourage you to give essential oils a try and see how they work out for you! Already tried them? Please comment below and share your experience!

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The Attack of Fleas: How a Multi-Dog Household Conquered an Outbreak of Fleas

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Fleas are every dog owner’s worst nightmare but if you have more than one dog (let alone five) it’s absolute HELL. We recently had a really bad flea outbreak in our home and I wanted to share how we finally got rid of them after almost a month of trying to exterminate them; how our days and weeks had looked like while battling these annoying little bugs and how we are now making sure our prevention techniques are much more current, updated and various than before!

 

1. How it Began

The first flea outbreak we ever had was last year and I’ll admit it was Chilly who brought fleas into the house. The outbreak was rather short and the fleas died in about a week or two. We bathed the dogs twice, we combed them, we gave them preventative serums, Chilly got an anti-flea collar and that was the end of it.

 

As a result of that experience I realized that Chilly has an incredibly sensitive skin and is prone to itching and irritation. Within a couple of months I ditched all chemical products, including the collar, and decided to look into natural flea-prevention options. We bought a spray that is a natural repellent and it worked incredibly well. It was the first year when we didn’t get any ticks, on any of our dogs. Even the mosquitos didn’t touch them, so we figured we were safe for fleas too.

 

Until one day, last month, we woke up into a household swarming with fleas. Apparently a big enough amount of fleas won’t care about the spray repellent. Hard to tell which of the dogs brought fleas into the house this time around but it was such a big amount of them that it gave me nightmares.

 

It’s likely that Ruby was the main culprit because she had the most of them, they were literally crawling all over her. No matter how much we washed her, she kept getting new ones - and we couldn’t figure out how!
 

From her they must have jumped on Ursha and the rest of the house; that’s how my dogs got them too. Everybody was scratching all day long. It was one of those situations when you wish you could call it an annoyance but you basically feel your sanity slipping from your hands. We braced ourselves for two weeks of constant washing, bathing and vacuuming.

 

2. What we tried - what worked, what didn’t

First we tried a regular anti-flea shampoo on the adult three dogs. It didn’t do much, other than irritate Chilly’s skin. We figured we’re going to need a natural option because Chilly is too sensitive to chemicals and Ursha is a puppy. My mom found natural shampoos in one of the local pet stores and we decided to give them a try. Surprisingly, they worked super well! They managed to kill the majority of the fleas and we repeated the washing twice a week, on all four dogs. (Disclaimer: at the time we only had four dogs, but by the time I’m posting this we’ve been joined by another rescue named Ringo. <3 It just took me forever to write this, haha!).

 

We washed all of the dogs’ bedding every two or three days. The laundry machine is already going non-stop in this house, but this took it to a whole new level. Washing the bedding of four dogs plus the mats that are scattered around the house (in the kitchen or the hallway) for the dogs to lie down, plus our own bedding (because pups are allowed on the bed) was incredibly exhausting and time consuming. I hated getting out of the bed some days because I knew that the first thing I have to do is put everything into the washing machine. And I had to coordinate this with the other bedding being washed as well as everyone’s clothes. To say that it was insane is an understatement.

 

We also vacuumed the whole house literally every day and for what it’s worth I called my grandmother one day and told her: “I vacuum every day now. You’d be so proud of me.”
 

We still used the natural spray repellent that I mentioned before, as well as another homemade lavender spray for spraying the household; their mats, the floor, their beds, our beds, every single surface the dogs lie on - so, every single surface in our house. We also had a big carpet in our living room chemically cleaned. I don’t think we’ve ever done as much cleaning before. ;) 

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After two weeks of this process, you’d expect the fleas to be exterminated. But somehow after this entire ordeal they were still crawling all over our dogs! I was at the end of my wits and felt like I am going to lose my mind. This flea fight has caused us much time and even more money. 

 

After googling for the millionth time what else could we try, I came across an electronic flea comb. It sounded like a really good idea and I have never heard of it before, since most of the articles I read didn’t mention it at all. I bought it online and prayed that this was the solution we’ve been waiting for.

 

It turns out that the electronic flea comb was exactly the solution we needed!
 

Despite all of the bathing and washing, somehow the fleas either jumped right back on the dogs or stayed there in the first place and didn’t die from shampooing. The electronic flea comb managed to find and kill those sneaky fleas! We combed the dogs constantly with one flea comb for an extra week and finally finally finally the situation started looking manageable.

 

After the last bathe-wash-comb-spray cycle, the fleas seem to have left completely. Halle-freaking-lujah! I am so thankful to have found the flea comb because without it I honestly don’t know what we would have done. We couldn't possibly figure out where the fleas were coming from - could be from the vet or from bushes on our street or from any of the neighborhood’s dogs. Maybe even from the stray cats that live around here.

 

The way this comb works is that it electrocutes the fleas the second they make contact with the comb and also destroys all of their eggs. It’s safe for dogs and humans, even the most sensitive dog in the universe (Bailey) was totally fine with it. I highly recommend it if you have a flea outbreak because it will really make your work A LOT easier and much quicker!

 
Don’t get me wrong, the washing and bathing is still super important, but this comb will literally kill any flea still left on your dog. Works like a charm!

 

3. Prevention tips and tricks

I’m taking prevention a 1000 times more serious now than I did before. For years I just used anti-flea serums on Bailey but Chilly has brought a more chemical-free life with him and I don’t regret anything. I’ll still be using the natural spray because at the very least it worked super well against ticks and mosquitos. I was scratching myself all summer long because of so many mosquito bites and the dogs were fine - in the end I started spraying myself with the damn spray too, haha. We’ll continue using our homemade lavender spray (water + lavender essential oil) for spraying the surfaces every now and then. We found that it worked really well and even during the outbreak I couldn't find any fleas on the dogs’ beds when I started using this spray!

 

I’ll also be using coconut oil on their skin and fur more often now; not only does it have a great many benefits, it’s also a natural flea-repellent recommended by our vet.
 

I’m looking into which foods are a great supplement to prevent fleas too; I already heard of garlic and am collecting ideas on how to sneak it into the pup’s meals. If you have an idea please share it in the comments!

 

Winter is coming (shameless Game of Thrones reference), so I think I’ll be able to sleep easily during the cold months as fleas aren’t common in the winter. But once hot and humid season comes along again we’ll be looking into some natural sprays and repellents for our backyard and the grassy surfaces the dogs like to lie or play on.

 

It’s not always easy having a whole pack of dogs but I can promise you it’s NEVER boring! ;)

Tell me, have you ever faced a flea outbreak? How did you fight it? What helped and what didn’t? And most importantly, did you buy yourself a giant chocolate after the whole thing was over or was that just me?
 
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Love Letter of the Month: Hannah and Jax

My dearest readers! September has found its way to us and it's time for a new love letter of the month! I wept reading this letter (something tells me I'm going to do this with ALL the letters) because it is so very honest. No sugar coating in this one, just plain truth. We like to plan out our life down to the very last bit but sometimes it doesn't work out the way we had hoped. In such moments, it pays off to stay positive and believe in the good things that are yet to come. You never know when you might meet a soulmate dog; or a soul-mutt as Hannah, today's featured dog mom, calls her precious pup Jax. 

Hannah is a reader of this blog and she submitted her letter via email. I felt very touched and inspired by her story. I often speak to readers who have had to make decisions that I find so heavy. Hannah's first adoption didn't work out as they had all hoped, but she refused to give up on rescue dogs and because of that, Jax has a loving home today - and we have another letter to sob over! 

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A Love Letter to Jax

Written by Hannah Gibbs


Dear Jax, 

You've stolen my heart, and I'm so glad you did. 

I have to admit you were not the first dog I fell in love with, there were Jordan and McGuire. I've always grown up with dogs, none of them were rescues, but I came to learn how much love a dog can give you. Neither of them could have prepared me for the love you would give me. 

I promised myself that I would not graduate college without coming home to my very own dog. I also have to admit that you were not my first choice, nor would you be available to adopt on that Thursday I came to the animal shelter. Unfortunately, my first choice did not get along with my family, including your nephews, Jax. With a heavy heart, I had to return him to the animal shelter. My heart healed when I saw how happy he was to see his favorite staff member.

That's when I met you, Jax. As I was walking into the shelter, a volunteer was taking you on a walk. I will never forget the smile on your face as you were heading outside. That's when I knew I needed to bring you home. I told myself that I was just emotional, and I can't let my emotions make a decision that would define my future for the next however many years. 

I visited with the other dogs at the shelter, but I kept looking for you. When you finally came back for your walk, with your tongue hanging out, and your tail wagging at top speed, I knew you were the one. It was love at first sight, you were my "soul-mutt!" 

I took you home, as you slept on my lap for the hour drive. My heart melted every time you looked up at me with those big brown eyes. I named you Jax, based off of my family and I's favorite TV show character. Little did they know that you would also steal their hearts. 

You would run around the yard with my parent's black lab, Doc, for hours playing fetch or just chasing each other. Doc would steal your food, but you didn't care. My parents were shocked to see how well behaved you were. You did not beg for food, nor did you potty in the house, you did whatever you were told, and did not whine when you were told "no". Whenever I ask my parents to stay with you while I'm away, without hesitation, they say "Yes!" every time. 

Only after a month at my parents' house, I got my first "big girl" job and we were going to move 2 hours away. The smile on your precious face when I rolled down the window, made my anxiety and fears melt away. You would stay by my side as we moved into our new place, an apartment that was pet-friendly. Jax, you have no idea how many hours I spent looking for an apartment that would accept dogs.

You would lick my tears away when I got homesick. You would sleep right next to me at night, just so I would know that I wasn't alone. 
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Now, its been four months since we've met, and 3 months since we moved. We've done everything together. We go to the Farmer's Market every Saturday and stop by your favorite dog treat store, I take you back to my parents' house so you can run around with their dog, I even got you DNA tested, so I can learn as much as I can about you.

I was so happy when I saw your DNA results. I was told at the shelter that you were a Coonhound/Pointer mix, but where they way off! Jax, you are an American Staffordshire Terrier, Great Pyrenees and Border Collie mix. Which means you are extremely loyal, intelligent, protective, calm, and watchful. It also means that you get along with children, including your 4 crazy and wild nephews, Hunter, Sawyer, Bear and Brady! It means that you put my happiness and well-being before yours. It means that your heart is so big, and so full of love. 

When I adopted you, the animal shelter staff told me about your past. My heart broke into thousands of pieces.

They said that you were from Tulsa, Oklahoma and was brought to a kill shelter as a stray. You were at that shelter for months and months. Your time was coming to an end and you were transferred to the Cedar Bend Humane Society in Cedar Falls, Iowa. You were quickly adopted out, but your owners then abused you, harmed you, and threatened you. On a stormy night, tied up to a tractor, you stayed up the whole night howling. A police officer drove by, picked you up and brought you back to the shelter.

After a week at the shelter again, I rescued you. No, you rescued me. 

Jax, I promise you this; I promise to love you unconditionally, even if you rearrange my shoes around the apartment, bark at any living thing that walks by our window day or night, and specially after you got into my camera equipment.

I promise to never leave you, I will always bring you with me, no matter where life takes us. If my job moves us to Europe, then I will be getting you a passport because you are moving too (don't worry their ice cream is even better!).

When I get married and have kids of my own, you will be right there with me. I know you will be my children's favorite thing to cuddle and run around the yard with.

Lastly, I promise you can always sleep in my bed, because honestly who could resist that precious face of yours? 

I know that you have a past full of fear and hate, I promise I will make up for those horrible horrible things.
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I promise you that I will never hurt you like they did. I promise to calm your fears and worries during every stormy night, to teach you that vacuum cleaners are not scary and hurtful, and most importantly to show you how much love and happiness this world can bring you.

I thank whoever had you first. I thank them for giving me an extremely intelligent, extremely loving, well trained and caring dog.

I also thank you, Jax. You have taught me so so much in these past 4 months. You taught me to enjoy the journey, not the destination. I enjoy car rides with you, as you are soundly asleep next to me, and then you wake up and stick your head out the window with a huge smile on your face. You have taught me to put my phone down and enjoy what is happening right in front of me. Don't worry, if I forget, you will literally knock my phone out of my hands. 

You've taught me to make time for afternoon naps, to enjoy every day in the present, to not worry about the future, and most importantly to love unconditionally, even when it seems impossible. 

Jax, here's to our new adventures together. Here's to many more walks, tons more dog treats, more bowls of ice cream, more afternoon naps in the sun, more late night movies and popcorn, and more car rides. 

I love you more than anything in this world, Jax. 

Love & Always, 

Mom


A story about companionship, hope, unconditional friendship and eternal love. My heart is all warm now! Thank you Hannah once again for submitting your letter and writing about your adoption experience from a very truthful place. I am so happy you and Jax have found each other! 

You can support and connect with Hannah by checking out her website

Want to submit a letter of your own? Write a letter to your rescue dog and send it to luna@motherofrescues.com to be featured! 

All photographs featured in this blog post are the property of Hannah Gibbs

Love after Loss: Coping with an Open Heart after Experiencing Loss

lady bug. little donut. Knödel. <3 

lady bug. little donut. Knödel. <3 

Before I jump into this post with a heart that feels as heavy as a brick and as light as a feather at the same time, I’d like to give you a little update on the past 9 months of our life.
 

In January, our sweet angel Lady started showing symptoms of apathy and weight loss. She was rejecting food and movement. After a long month spent driving her from one vet to another, she was finally diagnosed with a tumor. It was big, aggressive and incurable. We said goodbye to her 5 days after getting the diagnosis, on February 6th and her soul joined the stars and galaxies roaming above us.

 

In April, my mom started looking into Red and White Irish Setter puppies because we talked about the possibility of adding a new dog to the family in 2018. Mom just wanted to do some research but as fate would have it, she had fallen in love with a baby puppy with a heart-shaped mark on her head. It felt like a sign. She contacted the breeder and long story short, an Irish Setter puppy joined the family on my birthday, June 25th!

 

The year was going to continue without other major changes, but since life is hardly ever still we have welcomed another dog into our family this week. My sister has adopted a sweet 2-year-old boy; we named him Ringo. He is of Bosnian nationality, just like Chilly. He has the most magical eyes, ones that I can faintly recall from a past lifetime. We met him on a Thursday and by Monday he was ours. It happened so fast I’ve barely had the time to process.

baby ringo. 

baby ringo. 

I’m a hyper-sensitive introvert empath INFJ person (let me wait while you google all of those), which means I feel things very deeply. You couldn’t possibly guess if you met me, but my insides are as turbulent as my outsides are calm. Changes affect me very much. Adjusting to souls departing and arriving shakes me to my core.

 

I am trying to find the balance between grieving and loving. Being sad and being happy. Dwelling on the past and gazing towards the future.
 

My heart doesn’t always know what to make of all of these changes; how to adjust emotionally and fall asleep with a mind that is at ease. Usually it resorts to feeling everything at once. I don’t know that there is any right or wrong way to grieve. I am no stranger to loss at this point in my life and this is the lesson I keep learning over and over again: surrender.

 
Surrender to time, life, emotions and changes. Let go of trying to control things. Some days I think I’m doing it wrong and other days I know there is no such thing. Life has it’s own course and pain is in resistance. Allowing what is, letting go of what isn’t. That’s the lesson.
 

Ursha is the most energetic puppy this world has ever seen and Ringo is the sweetest, calmest boy. She is curious and hyperactive and so attentive. He is wary and focused and so gentle. They are both so new to us, but in some moments it feels as if they have always been here. I seek for little bits of Lady in such moments, just to assure myself that everything she has brought into our universe is here to stay and will forever manifest itself in the canine souls we bravely love.

 

I used to call her Lady bug and since she’s passed I’ve randomly encountered lady bugs indoors two or three times. I would call it a coincidence except I don’t believe in those. I believe she would love both Ursha and Ringo so very much.

 

It’s funny how her departure is the cause of their arrival. I was very young when someone told me that the universe doesn’t like emptiness - as soon as it finds an empty space it seeks to fill it. I have since found that to be true. Maybe life is just a series of losses and gains; arrivals and departures. Having just three dogs in the house was odd. Too empty. Too quiet. Now we have five and it’ll probably never be quiet again. ;)

Sweet angel lady. she was such a cuddle bug. <3 

Sweet angel lady. she was such a cuddle bug. <3 

We are so blessed to have been able to welcome not one but two magical souls into the family this year. There is strength in having healed to the point where we dare to love, despite the loss. I know of people who have lost a dog and vowed to never own another one again. I know of people who have lost a dog and got another one the very next day. I know of people who have lost a dog and it took them years to adopt again. All of that is okay.

 

We grieve and process in different ways. Sometimes in solitude, sometimes in companionship of humans, sometimes in companionship of other dogs.
 

What I meant to say with this blog post full of incohesive rambling is this: I miss Lady. I miss her dearly. I miss her paws. Her smell. Her gentle gaze. And I get so unbearably sad some days. But then I look at Bailey, my soulmate. And Chilly, my whole heart. I look at our Ruby, who has been with us since I was 14. And Ursha, the baby of the pack. And Ringo, of course. Ringo with his promise of new adventures and even more healing. Looking at them swells my heart with love. So much love. And I know that all is well. I used to think people can either be happy or sad - when really, we can be so much of both, always at the same time.

 

Dare to love, my friends. Dare to love despite the loss. Dare to weep even when you are happy; to laugh even when you are sad. I know many of my readers have lost dogs in the past too. I know you are no strangers to this grief.
 

I want to end on an uplifting note, with a quote from one of my favorite books, Tiger Lily.

“I knew I’d miss you. But the surprising thing is, you never leave me. I never forget a thing. Every kind of love, it seems, is the only one. It doesn’t happen twice. And I never expected that you could have a broken heart and love with it too, so much that it doesn’t seem broken at all.”  

 


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10 Thoughts You Have When Your Dog is Misbehaving in Public

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If you are lucky enough to call yourself a dog owner, you are also lucky enough to have found yourself in a situation at least once when your dog has terribly misbehaved in public. Maybe they peed on your neighbour’s car right in front of them (hello Chilly), maybe they barked their head off at a really cute guy (thanks Bailey), maybe they pooped in the middle of the street (looking at you Ruby) or maybe they decided to cause a scene in a busy coffee shop (darling Lady). We’ve all been there! The thought process that happens in our brain at such moments is described down below! ;)


10 thoughts you have when your dog is misbehaving in public

1. Not now. PLEASE. Not. Now. NOT while they are looking! No no no aaaaaand he’s pooping on their driveway. LOVELY.

 

2. Don’t make eye-contact. Whatever you do, do NOT make eye-contact and it will be alright. Just look away. Surely they won’t tell you to pick it up if you’re looking away? Maybe you can lie and say he just peed.

 

3. Am I a bad dog mom if I pretend he’s someone else’s dog?

 

4. Maybe if I smile they will think I have the situation under control. Maybe I won’t look so embarrassed. Should I chastise him or will that make me look incompetent?

 

5. You know what, I’ll just talk to my dog like it’s a human being and can understand my complex sentences. That’ll do. (Followed by spoken sentences like “No, mommy doesn’t like it when you do that, we talked about this. Yes we did, didn’t we? Mommy needs you to be a good big boy now.”)

 

6. After this shenanigan it will be a miracle if any human being on this street ever talks to me again.

 

7.  Why did I think bringing my dog into this very social area was a good idea?!

 

8. Let me just fake smile my way through this and drag my dog away even though he is biting the leash and refuses to listen. Is saying “dogs will be dogs” a thing?

 

9. Okay, I got this. I am a functioning adult dog mom. I GOT THIS. Breathe, just breathe. Don’t panic. I got his favorite toy in my oversized backpack and if I wave it in front of his face I might get his attention. Or would that make me look like a complete lunatic?

 


10. Well, I’m done. This is it. Best to just wait it out and never show my face here again. I’m 99% sure I am going to be known as that-crazy-dog-lady after this. I wonder if I can put that on my resume.


Do you have any to add? What is going through your head when your dog is misbehaving in public? Write your thoughts in the comments below along with some stories of your dog’s mischief! ;)
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Bailey's Early Graying

It’s so hard for me to write this post, but it’s only been a recent thing that Bailey’s graying has become so apparent. I know most dogs start to gray between the ages of 5 and 7, but my dog is five years old now and I believe she looks much, much older. It is possible that she is just getting older like normal dogs and it’s more noticeable due to her black coat, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s happening a little too sudden. I’ve been growing very concerned because of this and I’ve read online that early graying is closely linked to anxiety and fear. This doesn’t strike me as anything new, since Bailey has always been fearful, but the graying has been a surprise that has really become apparent in the last two years.

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Here’s a picture from July 2015

 

 

(age 3)

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Now let’s look at a picture from a year later, August 2016 (age 4)

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And at last, a picture from this month, August 2017 (age 5)

 

Her early graying is causing me great distress, mostly because I believe I can pinpoint the cause of it and I feel so powerless. We’ve always lived in an urban area and for a reactive dog that’s really hard, but we’ve managed. Bailey has had so much progress and while it took us some time, I believe we have succeeded in finding a balance that works for the both of us. However, we’ve had a major construction site open right in our backyard. It’s loud, it’s shaky, it bothers me and I can’t even imagine how Bailey must be feeling. Loud noises are so uncomfortable for her and her noise sensitivity is the one thing I know we still struggle with. But the construction site is something I have no control over and I’m worried about the effects it may have on her.

I’ve been wanting to move to the countryside for a while. Somewhere out of the city, more peaceful, with a lot of nature. I think both of us would love that. Moving out of the family home on a freelancer’s budget, alone and with two dogs (one of whom has somewhat special needs) is a challenge - one that I don’t expect to mount anytime soon. I’m not writing this to complain about my situation, because I know I have been blessed in my life many times over.

I’m just saying: my reactive dog is under constant stress because of loud noises and it’s starting to make me inconsolably sad.  

We’re trying a few different things. Music helps her a lot. Providing her with much crate time during the day helps even more. We’ve changed her exercise routine to games where she is not so impulsive. We’ve started using essential oils and I’ll be happy to write a separate blog post on them soon, because they have changed our life! I am optimistic, because she and I have already been through so much together, I know this is just a stepping stone in our story.

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I read conflicting reports on early graying affecting a dog’s life-span but I’m trying not to think about this.

All we have is now. All we ever have is now. All I can do as a mother is in this moment and in this particular moment I can only look for ways to lessen her anxiety.

When I was reading the articles I couldn’t help myself but cry, because there is nothing that I wouldn’t do to make Bailey happy, make her calm. And yet, it often seems that every single success we have is eventually undermined by something out of my control. An off leash dog, a neighbor's random fireworks, a construction site.

Perhaps such is life with a reactive dog; learning to let go of control and loving them through troubled waters, holding onto them with grace and believing that everything will work out.

If you have any experience with early graying in fearful dogs, or even just graying in general, please comment below. I really need to hear some fresh perspectives on this topic as it’s something that has caught me a bit off guard!


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Love Letter of the Month: Ashley and Titan

If you read my last blog post, you'll know that I have decided to start a passion project with a mission to give rescue dog moms a chance to express their feelings and write an honest letter to their sweet pup. I want to kick off this project with a dear friend of mine Ashley and her darling little chihuahua Titan! Little Titan is reactive but Ashley is one of the most dedicated dog moms I have ever met. The two of them are on such an incredible journey together, I knew her words could inspire and resonate with many of you! When I first read her letter it made me cry and every single time I've read it since, tears have always come. So don't say I didn't warn you - prepare some tissues before you start reading! 

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Dear Titan: An Open Letter to my Best Friend

Written by Ashley Nequest


Dear Titan Warren Nequest/Love Bug/Monkey/Chicken/Fluffy Butt,

You changed me. Thank you. 

I imagined myself being the kind of owner that only let their dog on the furniture when they’re invited up, that never let them sleep in the human’s bed. I had visions of having a full social life that didn’t involve me introducing my pet as the main topic of conversation at every possible chance. I was going to be a dog owner; nothing more. And I was… Until we were about 10 minutes into the drive home from the shelter, suddenly a seven-month-old, reactive, rescue chihuahua mix had my entire heart. 

A few days after I brought you home you met Zoe, your favourite poodle, for the first time. I was able to watch you run, play and be a puppy, it was so completely freeing. Though, between rounds you would walk the fence line, sticking your little nose under at every possible opportunity. It took less than ten seconds for you to get your entire body under the gate. By the time I had flung it open you were almost at the street. All I remember is calling your name, which you didn’t know, and dropping to my knees feeling an overwhelming level of helplessness. I also remember the utter relief as you turned around and came flying right into my arms. That was the moment it happened, the exact moment the world shifted and everything clicked into place. That was the exact moment I stopped being a dog owner and became a dog mom. 

The first time I experienced your reactivity was more than a little alarming for me.

I called my mother at 6 a.m. crying because this sweet little thing I brought home had spent the entire night barking at people in the park. You lunged at the end of the leash growling and snarling at every single person we happened to pass. To finish off the night you awoke from a dead sleep having a complete fit due to a child crying on the TV. I was terrified, you were terrified and all I wanted was to give you a loving home when someone else had given up on you. 

I’m sorry it took me so long to realize what you were going through, I wish I had understood from the very beginning. I wish someone had told me that you were scared, that my anger wasn’t helping. I wish I had done better. I wish I didn’t waste months trying to figure out how to “fix” you when you were already so incredibly perfect. I wish I had seen you for the blessing you are right from the start, maybe you wouldn’t be as afraid now. Some days I still grieve the loss of a life I never had, I miss the imaginary trips I took with my fictional “perfect” dog. Most days I know this is better. 

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I plan on spending every day of your life making you feel as safe and happy as I can, regardless of the cost. I know the world is a scary place, I find it terrifying as well, but please know I will always protect you. I will stand between you and the other dog, I will stand between you and all of your fears until we are ready to take a step closer. I promise.

Titan, this is my love letter to you, this is my love letter to rescue dog motherhood. I do love every single second of it, both the easy moments and incredibly challenging. There is nothing that makes me happier than waking up to your little paws on my chest as you get a good stretch, nothing makes me as feel as proud as being called a good dog mom and nothing breaks my heart like you feeling overwhelmed. I absolutely love your giant ears and when your lip gets stuck on your tooth, it is both the cutest and the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. 

You changed me, you changed my very core.

You have taught me to be understanding and patient, when to fight the battle and when to back down. You have proved that I was right about the importance of naps, there is nothing better after a long day of living than a nice long nap under the covers with your best friend. You have taught me to use my words instead of my hands, that love and compassion can do so much more than grabbing and yelling. I will never be able to thank you enough for forcing me to learn how to be something other than angry, to ignore the bad but always reward the good. 

I love you more than I have ever loved anything.

To me you will always be perfect, you will always be a blessing and you will always be my little Snuggle Butt. Thank you for existing. 

Love always, 

Your Crazy Dog Mom


Hands up if you are totally wiping the tears away! (I know I am - again)! Please support Ashley and Titan by following them on Instagram! You'll get to see much more pictures of the sweet little pooch and read about their story and progress! Ashley thank you once again for writing this honest letter and reminding us of what rescue dog motherhood is all about. 

Want to submit a letter of your own? Write a letter to your rescue dog and send it to luna@motherofrescues.com to be featured! 

All photographs featured in this blog post are the property of Ashley Nequest

A Love Letter to Rescue Dog Motherhood

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I dubbed this website a love letter to rescue dog motherhood and I meant every word of it.

Having a rescue dog, especially if they are reactive or have other issues stemming from their abusive past, is not always a walk in the park. Sometimes it’s really hard. There are sacrifices that we must make, hard work we must put in but at the end of the day, it’s all worth it. I have always wanted to highlight the hard days too, not just the good ones. It’s important for people to understand the work it takes, rehabilitating a dog that was abandoned by the world. But it’s also important to highlight WHY we do it.

I thought long and hard how to best celebrate rescue dog motherhood. I desperately wanted to include other dog moms as well. First I thought about doing interviews, but it felt too structured. And then I glanced at the title of this blog and it came to me. Letters. I want to feature letters from dog moms to their precious rescue dogs. I want to feature letters that represent WHY we do it and WHY it’s worth it. I want to give dog moms a platform where they can spill their hearts out. Where they can truly write down the truest words and dedicate them to their dogs.

Each month I will feature one amazing dog mom and her letter. You’ll have the chance to read the first letter in a couple of days and I am so excited! This project is so important to me and I can’t wait to honor the deep bond between a human and a dog by publishing these letters.

If you resonate with this message and would like to contribute a letter of your own, please send the letter dedicated to your rescue dog to luna@motherofrescues.com and we’ll discuss the publishing date together! I would love to feature your words on this platform and share it with other rescue dog moms!

Our dogs are our biggest teachers, cheerleaders, love bugs and friends. They deserve all of the recognition and our love for them may be misunderstood by those who have never loved a dog, but this community is bound by the unconditional love we have for our four-legged children and the hard work we are prepared to do with them, to help them thrive regarding their past abuse or negative experiences.

Thank you for being a part of this journey; I am looking forward to sharing your letters!

 

 

 

 

 

The Role of Purebred Dogs in a Rescue Dog Household

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This blog is called Mother of Rescues and that’s exactly who I am; a mother of two precious rescues. Rescuing dogs and raising them with love and positive reinforcement is my mission in life. In that I am absolutely certain. My two rescues have taught me everything I know about force-free dog training, canine body language, resocialization, patience and overcoming challenges. Without them, this blog would not exist.

But what about purebred dogs? My household currently holds two purebred Irish Setters, in addition to my two rescues. I sometimes get asked what is my opinion on people buying dogs. Am I against it? Our second Setter (Ursha) has joined the family just a month ago and some were surprised that she isn’t a rescue. I’ve had this topic on my mind for a while, so today I wanted to share my thoughts on the role of purebred dogs in a household that frequently opens its doors to rescue dogs!

The importance of a happy childhood

I want to start with the most important topic that easily defines all living beings: childhood. Our childhood has a big impact on how we grow up, how we act in relationships, the choices we make in our lives. It’s same with our dogs. Their early childhoods determine them a lot! My two rescues, Bailey and Chilly, both had pretty shitty childhoods. One was crammed into a box with 4 other puppies and left in the woods to die. The other had to survive on the streets of Bosnia. Our precious angel Lady was owned by hunters until they disposed of her and she nearly starved to death.

Welcoming these dogs into our home and hearts has been the most rewarding experience but it has also been challenging at times. Creating a stable environment for them is my top priority. This is where our purebred dogs play a big role - especially Ruby.

She’s been in the family for 10 years, longer than any of the other dogs. We got her from the Trawricka breeders and she has always shown incredible mental stability. The past 10 years have been full of changes and she adapted to all of them without problems. Our home is always welcoming new animals and she has been so accepting of all of them. She has welcomed without a fuss a giant pet rabbit, Bailey, a guinea pig, another rabbit, a bird, Lady, three chickens, Chilly, another guinea pig and Ursha. That’s without even mentioning several friends, boyfriends, pet friends and other people or animals who have briefly crossed our home in different periods of life. Ruby is a total champ. 

Her stability has always influenced our rescues. When we bring a rescue into the home, Ruby is the first one to meet them. I believe she immediately makes them feel welcome.

Lady and Bailey, for example, had some anxiety around each other in their first weeks together. My sister and I needed to work on their relationship. But Lady and Ruby instantly became friends, because Ruby is so relaxed and couldn’t care less who we bring into the home. She accepts everyone!

Buying another Irish Setter was a no-brainer for my mom and so Ursha from IRWS Kennel Of The Ronnerfields has joined the family a month ago! It’s safe to say that she has had the best childhood in the world and watching her first 10 weeks of life over social media has been an absolute blessing.

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Training vs. Resocialization

Watching Ursha grow is sometimes a strange experience for me. She’s so normal! She’s a perfectly normal jolly little puppy who would happily bite your hair, nose, arms, legs and shoes if you let her. (She’s a little teething shark!). I remember Bailey at her age; she was a tiny ball of anxiety, showing so many phobias and reacting to everything with extreme fear. I didn’t even know where to start fixing her. Chilly and Lady came to us at later points in life, which sometimes left us wondering what horrors must have happened to them when they flinched in completely normal situations. After spending 5 years resocializing these precious pups and also the loss that we have experienced when Lady passed away in February … it feels like a breath of fresh air, raising Ursha. There is no heaviness or concern surrounding it. My mom gets to train her as a normal puppy, one that has always been happy and loved. There is no damage there that we would have to fix. She’s absolutely perfect. I’m emphasizing this so much precisely because we don’t intend to stop rescuing dogs - ever. They are our lifestyle now. Ursha already has two rescues in the same household and over the course of her life she will meet and love many more. It’s safe to say Ursha’s stability and jolly character will be a great asset in the next decade of our life.

Diversity in Friendship

It seems that in recent years it has became important again where somebody is coming from, what is their background and what history they’re bringing with them. My dogs have taught me so many lessons on acceptance and diversity. I look at them bonding together and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter where they come from. As a complete coincidence, all of our dogs are from a different country. Ruby is from Belgium, Bailey from Slovenia (where we live), Lady was from Croatia, Chilly is from Bosnia and Ursha is from the Netherlands. To them, none of this matters. To them it also doesn’t matter that Chilly was a dirty street dog but Ursha is a high-born princess. It doesn’t matter that Bailey is reactive but Ruby doesn’t even notice fireworks. They only see each other’s souls.

They don’t concern themselves with each other’s origin and I think that is one of the most beautiful lessons they could ever teach us. Deep down, at our core, we are all one.

I am thankful for our two purebred Irish Setters. I am thankful for all our rescues. I am thankful for the balance we have in our home. I know I will eventually move out of the family home and I am not ashamed to say that I will buy a dog when that happens. But I will also foster dogs and continue to rescue them. To me, rescuing dogs is about balance - also within the soul. It’s not always easy and at the end of the day you need to rely on somebody.

I can see my future as the mother of rescues and I can also see one or two purebred dogs as the anchor in that pack. I reject all criticism on this front and invite everyone who reads this article, but especially the rescue community, to approach this matter with love and understanding.

I know plenty of people who just rescue.

I know plenty of people who just buy.

I love that I get to live my life somewhere in between.


What is the structure of your canine household? Do you have rescues, purebred pups or both? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

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Force-Free Training: The Only Way to Help Fearful Dogs

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Whether or not we should be raising our dogs with love, patience and kindness should not even be a debate - and yet, things still feel blurry and debatable to many. A big part of me is tired of talking about this but an even bigger part of me knows that I have a responsibility to dogs and even their owners who may not have realized the truth just yet. I recognize that every change is a slow process and it’s often not easy. I’ve decided to write about it because I want to share my own perspective and reflect on why I feel so deeply about this matter. But before I dive into my own personal reasons as to why I believe force-free training is the only way to help our fearful dogs, let’s go over some research-based facts.

Fact #1: Positive reinforcement (force-free) training is the only training method backed by science.

Fact #2: The pack theory has been disproven by the same guy who came up with it - and many others after that.

Fact #3: Shock collars have been proven to have negative effects on dogs to the point where manufacturers now have to label them as “not to be used on aggressive dogs.”  

If those three facts are not enough to sway you, I have a couple of more reasons of my own. Before I get into them, let me clarify what ISN’T positive reinforcement: choke/shock/prong collars, hitting the dog, kicking the dog, pressing the dog into the ground (“alpha roll”), starving the dog, yelling at the dog, grabbing the dog by the skin on their neck, yanking the dog’s leash and any other so-called training method or punishment that involves force or intimidation.

What IS force-free training: It’s a method of training that focuses on building up the dog’s confidence and bond with you. It focuses on setting your dog up for success. It uses tools such as food and play to teach the dogs wanted behaviors, rather than punishing unwanted ones. It builds a very clear and strong communication where the dog always knows what is expected of them and feels safe with you at all times.
I personally think that force-free training is the only way to help fearful dogs. Here’s why!

1. Our dogs are already afraid most of the time - why add to it?

Fearful dogs experience fear in completely normal situations. Reactive dogs often have explosive outbursts of barking when faced with that fear (or as we call it, trigger). These dogs spend a lot of their time experiencing some form of fear. They are very different from dogs who are able to just chill in the park or sleep wherever there’s room. They experience great anxiety in new environment and the places they consider safe are very few - sometimes none. It’s not easy living with a dog who is always afraid. We can’t control everything about our environment, so sometimes we’ll be faced with loud noises, off-leash dogs or screaming kids. And our dogs will experience severe fear and will likely have an outburst. If you are a parent of a reactive dog you know that after a barking outburst our precious dogs need some time to decompress. They often stay upset even after the trigger has gone away. I see my job as a guardian of such a dog mainly to FREE them from fear, rather than to add to it. I see no point in making my dog even more afraid than she already is. When I got Bailey, she was afraid of bikes, dogs, strollers, skates, children, old ladies etc. The last thing I would want is for her to be afraid of me, too. You want your dog to feel safe next to you. You want to work towards liberating them from their fears and you can’t achieve that if you are using aversive methods of training.

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2. A scared dog cannot be a confident dog

One thing that most dog owners lack is the basic knowledge of canine body language. I notice this all the time and I used to be like that too. After I’ve studied this topic into detail, I started understanding my Bailey much better and her progress skyrocketed. Dogs display fear and discomfort in many different ways. They turn their head to the side, they lick their lips, they yawn, they pull back their ears. All of that, before any of the growling or barking even happens. A lot of the time I will see dogs that were “cured” of reactivity by shock collars or other aversive methods of training. These poor dogs are walking with their tails between their legs, their ears pulled back, constantly turning their head to the side. It’s convenient for their owners, of course, because their dogs aren’t barking anymore - but those dogs are still afraid! In fact, they might be afraid even more than before. Not only are they still afraid of dogs (or other triggers), they are also afraid of the discomfort that will follow if they express that fear. I urge you to look at what your dog’s body language is saying and adjust your training methods accordingly. Start HERE.

3. You want to represent safety - not pain!

Most of reactive and fearful dogs have a big problem with safe spaces. They simply don’t have them.  It takes a lot of time for the owner to create those spaces for them, spaces where they feel absolutely safe and comfortable. Spaces where they don’t get upset by triggers. It could be a crate or a bed or a room. But it takes time for them to get used to it, fully accept it and relax within. Most of them prefer small and dark spaces (den-like spaces), which are sometimes hard to come by. Safe spaces can also relate to humans and other animals. You’ll notice that your fearful pooch really trusts some people; they fall asleep next to them or allow cuddles. But with other people, however many times they’ve seen them, they continue being wary and distant. You, as their owner, must represent a safe space for them. Force-free training is a first step into that direction. You need your dog to trust you. You need them to feel secure with you. When they are faced with a trigger, they should look to you for guidance. They won’t ever do that if they connect you with something unpleasant - be it a raised voice, a jolt of pain, a physical discomfort. Create a safe space for your dog by first and foremost BEING that space!

4. Pain and fear will damage your bond

Raising someone with love and kindness manifests an incredible bond. Raising them with fear and punishment manifests a lot of confusion, repression and miscommunication - which results in keep having to use those negative tools and punishments to “keep the peace.”

I’ll be honest with you. As a kid, I was no stranger to physical punishment and intimidation. It was a constant thing in my childhood and if there is an equivalent to shock collars for humans, I’ve likely experienced it. The people in my life perceived all of that as normal (some deemed it unnecessary but “didn’t want to tell someone how to raise their children”). It was never frowned upon, never talked about as problematic, never brought up as something that might have negative consequences. It has deeply affected my bond with both parents; one of whom I don’t speak to anymore. I am still close with the other parent and I recognize that it wasn’t her fault but in some way the relationship will always be tinted. This is what fearful upbringing does. It creates an environment where every day you are trying to AVOID being punished - you don’t know what is expected of you because nobody ever told you. You are confused. Your behaviors are centered around avoiding the punishment and not around creating actual constructive behaviors. It is same with our dogs. They are smart and if you hurt them, they will do what they can to avoid being punished. That doesn’t mean their behaviors will be constructive - if anything, they will just be full of anxiety and your bond with the dog will suffer severely. 

Do you truly want that? Do you want a dog that is always confused and anxious? Or would you rather have a dog that feels safe next to you? A dog that you can have amazing communication with, a dog that makes you a better human, a dog that you can always rely on because they, too, trust you unconditionally?
The choice is yours.
Make it from the heart.

 


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Fearful Dogs and the Power of Music

Music; one of the most important things in my universe. I listen to music almost all the time and I truly believe it is the language of my soul. Music has gotten me through every single hardship I have ever experienced and aside from writing it is my favorite form of art.

When we talk of rehabilitating, helping and training fearful dogs, we often talk about counter-conditioning, mental enrichment, environment managing and all these other techniques that are without a doubt super important, but I have noticed something has been missing. What happens when we’re not training? When, for whatever reason, we just don’t have that bag of treats ready or maybe it’s the middle of the night but our dog is experiencing severe anxiety? What do we do? I fully believe that music can play a great role in helping our reactive dogs.

For one, by default, these dogs are very sensitive to sound. They can react to a can falling on the floor three rooms away. They can be afraid of a person sneezing outside the house. There is no sound that escapes them and every sound makes them alert. I think it can be a very positive experience for them if we utilize their alertness to sound in a good way. First, music will somewhat cover up outside noises. Second, it may just calm them down in a way you didn’t even think was possible!

5 years ago I adopted Bailey and on the drive home she was crying as I was holding her in my arms. I quietly sang Hey Jude to her, because it’s the song that always calms me down when I’m experiencing anxiety. When we came home the poor bug was so terrified she refused to fall asleep - and her lack of sleep was a big problem in our first few weeks. I put on The Beatles’ vinyl record in the evening and any time I left her alone. I quickly started noticing she’s responding to it really well. In fact, she fell asleep much quicker than if the record wasn’t playing. This is how Bailey’s love of music was born.

Ever since then, we’ve been using music to soothe her anxiety. We spend every New Year’s Eve listening to music and as soon as I turn it on I can feel her fear and nervousness gradually diminish. Our favorite picks for surviving the fireworks are Ed Sheeran’s first album and any ballad Elvis Presley has ever written.

I wish I could lend her my headphones when we go for walks. Maybe if she could listen to James Vincent McMorrow as she is strolling around our neighborhood with me, she wouldn’t experience such anxiety. But I don’t want to shoot for the moon - I’m happy that music can be a calming tool for us when we are at home, or in the car.

I think if music can touch a human’s soul in a way that lets us know everything will be alright, why couldn’t it do the same for our dogs?

Bailey has a favorite song. The one song that I can always count on to calm her down. This song is also my favorite song in the universe and I wonder if there is some correlation. Maybe my Bailey can feel my soul relax when I am listening to it? Maybe this experience alone feels soothing for her? Sometimes I wish I could ask her these questions. Until that happens, all I can do is observe my little bug how she is nervous because of some weird sound outside and then the second I put on the song she curls up into a ball inside her crate and falls asleep, knowing she is always safe. The song I am talking about is Something New. Listening to it is a cosmic experience.

If you have a reactive and fearful dog I would recommend you try playing some songs to them and see how they respond. I’d start with calming songs and then try out different styles, depending on how they are responding. You can also try playing them your own favorite songs and see if they have the same connection to them as you do (or maybe just feel your love for it)!

To help you out a little bit, I created a playlist of 10 songs for calming down fearful dogs! We’ve listened to all of them a countless times and they have all worked like magic for little B. Click on the titles to listen to them on YouTube!
  1. James Vincent McMorrow - Wicked Game

  2. Tokio Hotel - Something New

  3. Tokio Hotel - Run Run Run

  4. Elvis Presley - Can’t Help Falling In Love With You

  5. Elvis Presley - Love Me Tender

  6. Jamie Dee - Blood Bank

  7. Bon Iver - Holocene

  8. Meadowlark - Postcards

  9. Ed Sheeran - The A Team

  10. Coldplay - Green Eyes

How do your fearful dogs respond to music? Do you have any song recommendations or experience you’d like to share? Comment below!

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