IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT (LITERALLY)

Last Fall I found myself in the worst fitness shape I’d been in since college. I was busy, I didn’t have room in my budget for a gym membership, and in my little bits of free time I prioritized seeing my friends over exercising. I never thought of myself as someone who would “fall off the wagon” when it came to taking care of myself – but I had, and it was bad.

Then one day I decided to attend a workout put on by a free fitness movement called the November Project. Despite it being 6:30 am on a Friday, I really enjoyed the workout. The group meets three times a week, and I showed up the following Monday, then the following Wednesday, and even the next Friday. Today I am happy to say that I consistently attend those 6:30 workouts three times a week all over the city (which is going to produce a whole post on motivating a learner to increase behavior!). I am in the best shape I’ve been in since college!

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While I have come a very long way since the day I started, I still find myself discounting my progress. I watch the friends I’ve made, many of whom started around the same time I did, getting faster and faster, while I feel like my pace is staying the same. I beat myself up when I struggle during the workouts because these shouldn’t be this hard anymore. I wonder how the heck I am ever going to complete the marathon I’m signed up for in October. I get frustrated and angry when I can’t keep up with my peers. I’m used to being someone who stays positive and motivated by progress, so these doubts can be really discouraging.

Then I think back to something my mama brought up one time I had a conflict that I needed help managing (because moms always know best). She asked, “Well, what would you tell your clients to do in this situation?” This might sound funny, because dog training and someone’s personal life aren’t really the same, right? Actually, you’d be surprised at the overlap (or maybe you’re not surprised because you’ve been reading his blog, ha!).

In this instance, I remembered all those times I told my clients – or maybe adopters, or first time foster parents, or just any dog owner – to manage their expectations as they work towards their goal. “Don’t let one bad experience ruin the loads of progress you’ve made,” I tell them. “You’ve come too far to let this small step back keep you from being proud of your accomplishments.”

My heart breaks when my clients come to a session discouraged because their reactive dog had an outburst yesterday, after so many weeks of doing so well! So we talk about what their dog was like on day one. We reminisce about how every walk was a nightmare, how they were at their wits’ end, how their household was full of stress. Then we look back at the most recent incident – the dog barked, maybe lunged a bit, and the owner stayed calm, got the dog’s attention back, kept moving, and everyone recovered quickly. It’s like night and day from where they started, even though in the moment it didn’t feel like it.

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Progress doesn’t happen overnight. It also doesn’t go away overnight. Journeys like working with a reactive dog, or conquering separation anxiety, or improving your mile time, are all works in progress that have their ups and downs. When I start to doubt myself and my fitness progress, I remind myself of how far I’ve come. Then I give myself some good old positive reinforcement to keep myself motivated, and I head out for my next run – just like the dog owner who grabs the treat pouch and heads out for their next walk.

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HOLY S*!%… HERE GOES NOTHING

When New Year’s Eve rolled around this past year, I remember thinking, “I accomplished a lot in 2014. I got my KPA certification and I finally got the Manager of Special Events promotion I wanted at the shelter… I guess 2015 will just be a coasting year.”  Boy was I wrong.

As of next Wednesday, I am officially saying goodbye to my full time, 9-5 job as an event planner. Yup, I’m doing it – I’m moving to training and behavior full time!  I’ve accepted a part time position on the behavior team at the Washington Humane Society and then will be expanding my role with Dog Latin Dog Training.

What does that mean? It means that for two and a half days a week I’ll be working with shelter dogs – evaluating them for adoption, running playgroups, doing behavior modification, teaching volunteers and staff about positive training as it relates to shelter animals, working with adopters, and so much more. It also means that when I’m not at the shelter, I’m working with private clients. It means I have more time to devote to them and their dogs. It means I can make my own schedule. It means I have time to actually blog (!!) and to organize more presentation opportunities and to do continuing education. It means I get PAID to put 110% of my effort and my heart and my soul into exactly what I want to do. Every. Freaking. Day.

I feel so thankful for the four years I spent in nonprofit development. Being an event planner for two different animal shelters taught me so much. Event planners have to be organized, detail oriented, good at working under pressure, able to multitask and really good at working with people. Thanks to the years spent mastering these skills, I consider myself relatively business savvy and able to connect with people in a way that will help me accomplish my long term goals in the dog world (and I’ve got some big goals!).

While I enjoyed my time on the admin side of helping animals, there was no denying the nagging feeling that dog training – specifically as it relates to the human-canine bond – was my purpose in life. I recently went to a TEDx talk about “being rebellious.” One of the speakers really stuck out to me. He talked about his experience breaking away from his own set status quo, and how it was scary, risky and against the norm, but so necessary and exciting. What resonated with me most was when he said, “You don’t make a difference by staying comfortable.”

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So I left my comfort zone. It was scary to let go of my 9-5 job. It was even more scary to let go of my consistent paycheck (duh). But as soon as I made the decision, everything felt right. Even when I told my coworkers at my current job, I got the response, “Well that took longer than we expected :-).” This is where I’m supposed to be, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic (I’m literally tearing up as I write this). Welcome to this new ride you’ll be joining me on, you guys. Cheers to growing up, taking risks and following your passion!
TACO

16 HOUR FOSTER DOG

Holy moly do I miss fostering. I knew I missed it, but I didn’t realize quite how badly until I was walking through the kennels at work and saw this adorable little face staring at me through the wires of her kennel door.

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The funny thing is that I was actually heading back to the dogs to check out this adorable pit puppy we’d just gotten in, but this girl with no name caught my eye. She was just so mini and waggy! I cooed at her through the gate, which just made her melt into me more, which then made me melt… I was done.

I went to inquire about her. She was a stray, which explained why she didn’t have a name. I had had had to take her out. I had to spend more time with her! She was just so cute. I hadn’t felt this way about a dog in a long time.

She came and hung out at my desk and did wonderfully. Bringing a dog to my cubicle is a good test, and can actually give me a lot of information about the dog. Does she settle well? Is she super extra curious? Does she get freaked at the office noises she hears? Can I occupy her with a chew? This pretty girl, of course, passed her test with flying colors. So obviously I had to take her home for the night.

Yes, I would say this is one of the perks of working at a shelter: being able to have a foster dog slumber party whenever you want. I geared the little one up, and off we went for our 16 hour adventure together.

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At this point she still didn’t have a name, so I called her Penny. Because she can fit right in my pocket.

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I brought her home and obviously my roommates fell in love with her. I also obviously broke my very own #1 rule of keeping a foster dog’s world small during the transition, and out we went with Penny to Meridian Hill Park. I made sure to bring lots of treats with us so I could show her the behaviors I did want from her while we were out (attention to me, loose-leash walking, etc.). Turns out, Penny rocks. Here are some pictures from our adventure:

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So then of course she was so tired that she was extra snuggly in bed with me that night, which is my absolute favorite part of fostering. It might have only been 5 pm to 9 am, but the time spent with Penny was a nice glimpse of what fostering was for me at one time and what it will be for me again one day. For now I will just continue to enjoy the times I do get to steal shelter dogs and call them my own… for 16 hours.

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PS – Penny was of course scooped up right away. Watching her walk out of the shelter with her new mama brought back some crazy bittersweet feelings!


WINGING IT: OUR SMALL SCREEN DEBUT

Never a dull moment over here. A few weeks ago I had the exciting opportunity to take positive training on TV!

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Being that my full time job is in marketing, I’ve been on TV plugging fundraising events a handful of times (the first time I hung out with Johnnie Cash was when I took her on the news to promote our annual gala!). This time was different though – I secured the gig myself on behalf of Dog Latin and decided the content for the five minute segment. I pitched a “Clicker Training 101” angle and I was so excited to use this opportunity to spread positive training to the masses.

After I got confirmation that we had the segment, I realized I didn’t have a dog to come with me… oops. Minor detail, right? Luckily Dog Latin had just started working with this a-maz-ing client, a six-month old golden retriever named Scarlett. Despite being a young puppy, Scarlett was the absolutely perfect dog to bring with me to show off what clicker training can do. Her owner has been teaching her different manners, behaviors and tricks using the clicker since she was just eight weeks old! Not only does Scarlett have a large repertoire of behaviors, but her focus is unbeatable – especially for her age.

To prepare for our taping, I took Scarlett out on the town to work around distractions. As I’m sure you know, your dog’s ability to respond to cues out in the “real world” is a whole different ballgame than in your living room! The last thing I wanted was for her to see the studio, the cameras and all the people and freak out or be unable to work. So we went to PetSmart and to outdoor town squares and I did my best to create challenging environments for focusing – and Scarlett rocked it each time. We went into our TV debut with a bangin’ reinforcement history.

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We were appearing on The Pet Show with Dr. Katy. I admire Dr. Katy because she’s so successful in what she does – helping the public with their pets – and she has a blast doing it. She also doesn’t compromise who she is just because she’s in the public eye. Her twitter handle reads, “Veterinarian, Mom, Writer, Rabid LSU Fan. Snarky stiletto loving country girl rockin’ the big city.” Love it, girl – you do you!

Scarlett and I showed up to the studio armed with roughly one zillion hot dogs and pieces of cheddar cheese. I knew my reinforcer had to be a goooood one if I was going to keep her attention over the crazy sights and sounds of the news station. I was so relieved when she still had her sparkly, perfectly attentive face on at the studio.

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I was a little nervous, but once the cameras started rolling all of a sudden it became easy. As I settled in and started talking about training, I immediately relaxed. I had plenty to talk about – from switching to functional rewards, to how to get behaviors we like, to showing off Scarlett’s tricks – the five minute segment flew by. Scarlett did unbelievably well, and Dr. Katy was a gracious host.

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So, like I said, never a dull moment! I am so beyond thankful for this opportunity and the many lessons learned from the experience. I look forward to making next time (because there will be a next time!) even better.

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Technology wins again and I can’t figure out how to embed the video, so to watch the clip you have to head to the website. We start at about 8:10!


BREAKING NEWS: YOUR DOG’S FOOD IS NOT MADE WITH A SUBSTANCE FROM MARS

First of all, I’d like to give a huge THANK YOU for the overwhelming support you all gave me after last week’s relaunch of the site. I’m so excited that you’re excited! Your encouragement and enthusiasm made all the work I put into it way worth while.

Now, let’s talk about food.

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Hi, I am a dog trainer who uses food in training – and I absolutely love it. I train using primarily positive reinforcement. What this means is that I add something good to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring again. If I add something and it does not increase the behavior, it’s not doing the job. More importantly, it’s the learner who decides what is reinforcing and what isn’t. Just because you want Fluffy to enjoy pets does not mean Fluffy will enjoy pets.

The thing about food is that it is a primary reinforcer, meaning animals are hard wired to like it and want it. Most of the time, food is good enough to make a behavior happen again (depending on the difficulty of the behavior and the value of the food, but that’s for an entirely different post). Toys, praise, etc. are not always a good enough reinforcer, at least in the beginning, to increase a behavior. It’s like the equivalent of giving you a glass of lemonade to mow the lawn, versus giving you $20 to mow the lawn. Which is more motivating? (Trick question: it’s actually your spouse’s nagging.)

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As much as we would love our dogs to work with us “just because they want to,” that is not the case. They don’t want the glass of lemonade. Well, some do. But most don’t. We need to pay them and make it worth it for them. There are times when toys or praise just won’t cut it with our dogs, especially for tough behaviors like not going bat s*%t crazy when the doorbell rings. Using food in training allows us to mark and reward behaviors we like so that our dogs begin to do them more often. Stay calm to earn a “good boy!” from my human? No thanks. Stay calm for some juicy hot dogs? Now you’re talking!

I totally understand the concerns people have about using food to train their dog. The three gripes I hear most often are 1) I don’t want a dog who will only work if I have food 2) I don’t want my dog to get fat and 3) I don’t want my dog to think he now deserves my people food. Here’s the shocking part to a lot of people: trainers who use food don’t want any of those things either!

If you use food correctly, you can avoid all of those issues. Seriously! 1) Don’t go to your treat stash until after your dog has completed the behavior. As in, don’t stick the treat in front of Fluffy’s face and then give the cue. Give the cue, then treat. This makes it a reward, not a bribe. 2) I’m a big fan of shifting calories away from the food bowl. This is a win-win because your dog is working for his meals and therefore not taking in a ton of extra calories, and he’s getting extra mental stimulation! Which we know is super important. Lastly, 3) People food is only “people food” if it comes from the dinner table. Have you checked out the ingredients labels on your dog food bag? It (hopefully, ha) consists of what we consider “people food” – not a foreign substance from a faraway planet. Your dog will not translate getting cheese as treats to automatically deserving a bite of your grilled cheese sandwich. (But then again if he does think that, just teach him an awesome “place” behavior while you eat dinner and maybe he can get a bite or two!?)

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Do I fade the food eventually? For many behaviors, yes. Or I at least move to a more variable rate of reinforcement with treats while transitioning to functional rewards like getting the leash put on before a walk or tossing the toy. But for some behaviors, like a potentially life-saving recall or serious behavior modification, I usually don’t. The strategies and theories behind how long and how often we use food are a bit more complex and for another post.

Now, of course, like with everything else in the dog world, there are exceptions. There are dogs who will bend over backwards for their human’s giggle or for the toss of a ball. For those dogs, those functional rewards are more motivating and reinforcing. But most dogs need that food when you’re teaching them. I’m writing this because I had a really funny/borderline mortifying experience when I did a taping for a local news show the other day (which deserves its own post) and I wanted to address the whole “treats in training” debacle before I write about that experience. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not working for just hugs, kisses or lemonade, no siree, Bob – and I wouldn’t expect my dogs to either.

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NEW BLOG, SAME US

Hi! Hi hi hi! Welcome back! I’m saying this to you all, but I’m also saying it to myself. Welcome to the new and improved Peace, Love & Fostering blog! (If you’re reading this in your email, that’s your cue to hop over to your web browser and check out our new layout... except maybe wait until you’re by a computer because mobile is nice but not that nice).

I know you guys watched me let PLF fall by the wayside over the past year and a half. I witnessed it too. I had so much else going on. I was too busy. I wasn’t fostering anymore. This site started as a way to get the word out about my amazing foster dogs – once I no longer needed it for that, what exactly was its purpose? Where was my inspiration? Well, sometimes it takes some time and space apart to realize you really were meant for each other.

So, darling blog, I am back for you. Whole-freaking-heartedly.

It all started a couple weeks ago when I got an email with an amazing new opportunity (which I’ll write about later). This person found me through PLF. After celebrating the offer, I immediately regretted not keeping up with posting here. What if this person had passed me over because I didn’t have recent content? Or they dug back into my early posts when I had no idea what I was doing because I didn’t give them enough good posts to read more recently? What if they took my lack of posts as a lack of commitment!? I could have missed this chance, and the thought of that really scared me.

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I immediately sat and thought about why I don’t post anymore (because the dog trainer in me HAD to figure out what was so aversive about it). There are a couple reasons, but one of the blaring ones was the feeling that the blog’s layout and style no longer fit me or my mission. It is very “me three years ago.” Don’t get me wrong – I loved my self-made layout and it served me well for many years, but it was time to grow up. It was time for my blog to reflect the person I am now, mid-twenties.

I contacted my good friend Dani DiPirro, blogger, graphic designer and positive thinker extraordinaire, and asked her for ideas. Turns out that rebranding is, well, what she does (among other things)! I jumped at the chance to use her creativity and expertise. The best part? She’s been reading PLF for years so she knows what’s at the heart and soul of the site. We started brainstorming, and all of a sudden the most amazing, perfect, I-couldn’t-have-dreamed-up-better PLF brand was created.

I’m armed with new graphics (seriously, Dani is a genius), I’ve taken new (real!) photos for my posts and I’ve written new menu pages (if you’re bored, go check them out!). I am absolutely head over heels in love with everything about the crisp new look. It’s so “me right now.”

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But on top of that, I’ve also got an improved outlook, voice and mission. Like I said before, the time I took away from the blog that I spent living and learning has left me with a new sense of self. I’ve got stuff to say! And I think I can say it in a way that will resonate with you! And the fact that I’m confident in that makes me really excited to WRITE! You might have noticed that I changed the tagline from, “The three ingredients to a warm heart and saved lives” to “Lessons learned from fostering, training and loving dogs.” Because that’s really what this space is about: living life, learning from it and sharing it with you – but luckily in a way that involves dogs so it’s not just me talking about myself, ha!

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The cherry on top is that I finally got my .com address. Yup, bookmark it: peacelovefosterDOTCOM. I love you, WordPress, but I just couldn’t live with you in my URL anymore. The site is still a work in progress (hey, life), but making this huge jump has been enormously refreshing and challenging and rewarding and so, so worth it. I feel lucky that I have this space in existence where I can brand myself outside of my training company or my events job – because, at the end of the day, I’ve got my own voice and I’m going to use it to make a difference.

Thank you SO much for sticking with me through all this. See you back here SOON!

MEJC


HOW DOG TRAINING HELPED ME THROUGH A CAR ACCIDENT

Just five short months ago on my birthday, October 1st, I drove home my first big girl purchase – a brand new 2015 Mazda CX-5. It’s my dream car: manual transmission, black, equipped with Bluetooth and a back up camera and perfect for driving around both two-legged and four-legged passengers. I love love love my new car.

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On Monday night I was driving through a really terrible three-lane traffic circle during rush hour. I was cautiously navigating my way through the circle in the middle lane when BAM! another vehicle smashed into my car, gashing up the entire driver’s side and ripping off the plastic molding. In that moment my heart shattered into a million pieces. I was fine, luckily, but my car! My brand new baby car! I kept it together, thought to myself that it was going to be okay because it wasn’t my fault, and got out of my car to get the process started.

As the other driver started telling the cop what happened, I waited for the explanation of why he merged into my lane. Accidents happen. It’s a chaotic traffic pattern with a lot of angry drivers, I get it. Insurance would cover the damages and I wouldn’t be penalized. Then all of a sudden he says, “so then she cut me off and hit me.” Wait. WHAT. My mouth dropped open. My heart started racing. I could feel my eyes starting to sting with tears of frustration. How could he try to blame this on me? I didn’t do anything wrong!? A million thoughts started rushing through my mind. I wanted to scream.

I’m sure you all can relate to this feeling. We’re all human. It’s that gut-wrenching, emotional reaction inducing feeling. It’s when a lot of people make decisions they wouldn’t normally make. As a positive dog trainer, I’ve taught myself to strive to not be reactive. These are the same emotions that owners and trainers feel when they are frustrated enough to do a leash pop or perhaps a harsh verbal correction. It’s these moments, after our dogs have messed up and maybe angered, scared or embarrassed us, where we as humans make emotional training decisions in reaction to what our dogs have done. What I work towards as a trainer is keeping these emotional reactions in check and, better yet, being proactive about the behavior that sparks them. Adding aversives to an already emotional situation often makes it worse. It takes practice and patience and a totally new frame of mind, but now when my dogs mess up I take a deep breath, address the issue and figure out how to change it for next time.

In this moment Monday night, standing in the freezing cold next to my horribly damaged brand new car as rush hour traffic whizzed past us, staring at this person who was trying to accuse me of an accident I didn’t cause, all I wanted to do was react. I wanted to yell and argue and ask him why he was being so mean. But I didn’t. What would that help? I took a deep breath, and I put my energy towards finding a solution. Instead of losing it on him, I let him say his peace (the cop wouldn’t take a report anyway so it was up to insurance to work it out later) and I formulated the next steps in my head: gather as much evidence as possible, call insurance ASAP with my full story, stay calm, etc. Reacting would have added fuel to the fire – just like with so many situations involving our dogs.

I’m thankful that I’ve learned this skill, and that I’m in the position to help other dog owners learn it as well. The type of reward based training we do is not just skipping aversives or ignoring unwanted behaviors, it’s about having the mindset that we can prevent these behaviors from happening by thinking critically, teaching appropriate alternatives and setting our dogs up for success – not by reacting after they’ve already failed. I unfortunately found out the tough way that it helps in all areas outside of working with dogs, but you don’t have to! I encourage you to see if there are pieces of your life where you can switch from being reactive to proactive – the peace of mind is totally worth it.

King