My New Year’s “Not-Resolutions” — Yours?

Like many people, I’m classically conditioned to associate “New Year’s Resolutions” with broad, generic and doomed-to-fail pronouncements, like “I’ll be healthier!”  “I’ll lose 20 pounds!”  “I’ll be an all around better person!” “I’ll kind and generous to everyone I meet!” I made my share of impossible resolutions in decades past, and like most of them, they fell apart before the end of January. However, as is often the case, learning about behavior and dog training has helped me to come up with focused and attainable goals, so now I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I made one or two commitments for the year to come.

We know that commitments are most often kept if 1) they are focused and specific, 2) they are attainable and 3) they are made public. Not that you have to blog about them yourself, but at least tell your friends, write them down, post the on your mirror …. do what you can to put them out into the universe in some way.

For example, I always make one related to my own nutrition. Instead of “I’ll lose X number of pounds,” or “I”ll eat healthier food,” last year I decided to eat sardines once a week. (By the way, the word “decision” originated from “decis,” or to “cut off” — as in, “cut off all other options”. Truly making a decision – truly – means selecting one option and completely eliminating all others.) Did I eat sardines 52 times last year? Nope, but pretty darn close. They aren’t my favorite food, but they are really, really good for me (and the environment, they are one of the few fishes not over harvested). I mix them with my favorite honey mustard and a tiny bit of mayonnaise and put them on crunchy yummy toast and eat them with a big salad. I’ve gotten to look forward to my sardine night, no kidding. (FYI, Willie gets one sardine, from a tin of unsalted, water packed sardines, every night.)

The year before it was “eat beans” (lentils, kidney etc) at least once a week. I aimed for twice a week, and have found it easy to do. I make lots of soup with beans in them, or buy Amy’s organic soups (I love you Amy). This year?  Continuing with what works, I’m staying focused and specific. This year it’s “eat greens 2 times a week.” (greens as in kale, chard, collard greens). They are so so good for you, and I’m developing a taste for them.

Uh, isn’t this a blog about canine behavior and dog training? Yup, and you probably already know where I’m going with this. Every year I make a commitment related to Willie too. Last year it was to start working Willie off the farm more, with thoughts of occasionally getting back into herding dog trials. As you know, we entered our first one in October, and although we weren’t perfect by any means, we did well and had fun.

This year, my commitment to Willie is to increase his comfort at working sheep with spectators and to increase his comfort at working at over 100 yards away off the farm. (I guess that’s two commitments – but you’ll see they are related.) I’ve learned over the years that Willie is profoundly affected by others watching him work. I thought that it was primarily me – that I changed when people were watching us work – and I’m still sure that is a factor. It doesn’t phase me to work dogs on a stage at a seminar, but working sheep? Ah, a different story altogether. Lordy if only others could have seen some of the work we’ve done just the two of us! But over the years I’ve realized that, more than any other dog I’ve had, Willie himself gets nervous when there are others watching us, no matter how it impacts on me. His work at the trial also made it clear that once we were over 100 yards (a pittance in a trial), with the addition of spectators, Willie listened less and worried more.

So that’s my commitment to Willie: to get him working sheep out and about as much as I can this summer, and to gradually increase the distance at which he is comfortable working off the farm. Not much I can do about it now though… too much snow to even think about working sheep. Of course, this is party for my benefit, because I love working Willie on sheep, but he loves it too, so it’s a win/win. (I just, one hour after posting, re-read this and realized how very unspecific it is! Very unlike my specific commitment re nutrition, yes? So here’s my revised commitment: work Willie off the farm once a week if weather cooperates and I’m in town. Work Willie once a month summer/fall in front of other people, trying to replicate a trial like setting. Ah, much better!)

What’s your 2011 commitment to your dog? I’d love to hear it.  . . Just make it focused, specific and attainable. Just like dog training, you need to set yourself up to win so that you get reinforced, rather than learning to fail. (I think we trainers and dog lovers often do that to ourselves: set up expectations we can meet and then feeling guilty about it.) You’ll find making a decision (cutting off other options) about the one commitment you’re going to make an interesting one in itself.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: I’ll look forward to sitting back and reading your 2011 commitments over the New Year’s weekend. I also look forward to being home more and enjoying the birds at our feeders. We’ve had more this winter than I can ever remember, including a Sharp-Shinned Hawk (think so anyway, could have been a Cooper’s but the tail seemed more square at the tip), who was attempting to feed on the other birds themselves.

Here are a few I got snaps of yesterday:

Black-capped Chickadee. (Love their calls –  “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee”). There must be 6 or 7 at the feeders everyday, along with a mixed flock of Nuthatches, Titmice, several kinds of Woodpeckers. Chickadees are oxytocin pump birds: cute, athletic, very tame.

Here’s the White Breasted Nuthatch. Always flocks with Chickadees in winter, feeds mostly off of insects hidden in tree bark. Is able to ‘walk’ straight down a tree trunk without falling off. Call sounds like “Yank Yank.” Love ’em.

Another one of my favorites, the Tufted Titmouse. Usually only have two or three a winter, but also flock with Chickadees and Nuthatches. Much more flighty than Chickadees though, took forever to get this photo!


  1. Hope says

    I would really like to work on helping Miikka be more polite to visitors. He loves them so much that he just has to jump all over them, grab their attention if we aren’t playing with him, and generally act like a spoiled little brat. I know this is because I haven’t worked very hard on this yet, so hopefully I can do that this year. Included in that would be finally, after almost 2 years, figuring out how to make him stay. He really does not get the concept at all. I guess the Canine Good Citizen class is in order, since we dropped out of the the (show) obedience class.

  2. says

    My resolution for my new rescue Australian Shepherd is to turn my country bumpkin into a more comfortable city slicker i.e. get him more used to walking comfortably in town and greeting people and other dogs in a well mannered way. My own focus in the new year is to maintain order and efficiency in my surroundings

  3. Alex says

    My resolution for my dogs is 1.) get my Aussie more comfortable with dogs in the neiborhood. I will be enlisting Dogs Best Friend for help! 2.) Get my Aussie comfortable with agility equipment so I can go to agility club in my area. As for the second dog, she is a Shiba Inu so we will be putting in a fence for her to just be herself. I would like to finish her RA titel in 2011 too.

  4. Carrie says

    My new year’s resolution to my dogs is to use all the pictures I take of them as a way to learn more about them as individuals. Hopefully this will lead me to understand more of what they are trying to communicate to me. My fearful girl will be my weekly photo project on flickr this year and I hope to catch a distinct projection of mood, emotion and communication with each weekly photo entry. The better I can read her, the more at ease she becomes.

  5. says

    I am working on teaching Maggie to alert my hubby when his blood sugar goes low — he’s a Type 2 diabetic. We’ve been working on this since late Nov. and she has the alert part down — pawing his pants leg. Big victory for her as she has never liked using her feet to touch anything (e.g. foot targeting, etc.). Now she is an enthusiastic pawer!

    However, Maggie is not doing well on sniffing the cotton ball scented with his saliva and sweat from low blood sugar events. So we are doing a lot of focused and directed sniffing, trying to put that on cue. Then will refocus on sniffing/detecting the low blood sugar samples.

    We are following the diabetes alert training plan from the Vancouver Island Assistance Dog blog; if anyone is interested, just google. Fun challenge!

    PS Try2 tins sardines mashed up with 2 hard boiled eggs, a bit of onion or chives, dijon mustard and lemon or lime juice. Adding 1 T olive oil also reduces the fishiness. Makes a nice spread for crackers or a sandwich. Also, King Oscar sardines (a more upscale brand) in olive oil are excellent alone and worth trying even if you won’t like them!

  6. Tara says

    My commitment to Rupert is to sit down once a month and make a training plan for that month. He has the basics down darn well and the next level of training takes more effort (getting out into distractions etc). So I need to think it out. Once a month is doable and I can adapt it each month based on how things evolve.

  7. Frances says

    Mine is to at least occasionally haul myself out of bed early on a Sunday morning and take Poppy to Agility. Sophy can come too, and has a special dispensation just to do the bits she likes (no jumping). And to vacuum the floor more than once a month … Perhaps I should let myself off housework as a reward for getting to Agility – that way at least one should get achieved!

  8. CJ :) says

    I debated putting this one up because everyone’s commitments to their dogs are so positive and we are starting 2011 with some tragedy here, I’m afraid.

    MacGregor has been diagnosed with suppurative cholangiohepatitis. My commitment to him is to make what is left of his life comfortable and pleasant.

    Shawna just had her remaining eye removed. My commitment to her is to help her adjust better to total blindness.

    Scruffy, Redford and Kaydee – I commit to not forgetting you need attention and affection, too, even more probably amongst all this craziness.

    Willoughby and Hecate (my cats) – you guys do a really good job of telling me what’s on or off in your domain, so we’ll just keep things as they are. :)

  9. Ann W in PA says

    Well, I wasn’t going to make any resolutions, but you’ve inspired me! I am NOT going to make the tempting but doomed promise to lose weight.

    1) Walk the perimeter of our property with the dogs at least once per week, which is a lovely, wooded, off-leash 30-45 minutes. It has such wonderful payoffs, I cannot imagine why I can’t manage to *decide* to do it already! (Hmm… “cutting off” the option of sitting on my butt in front of the TV or computer… maybe that’s it.) I enjoy it, it’s good for me and the dogs, and it’s quality time spent with dogs and husband.

    2) Continue the training journal I recently started through the WHOLE YEAR, with at least one entry for each week. So far, this has been much easier to accomplish as a blog, since it’s set up like a diary already. It’s amazing how you tend to more deeply consider and improve things by the act of typing them out (even New Year’s Resolutions, which are edited to be more specific after their original posting on blogs…) :)

  10. Alexandra says

    My resolution with Izzy is to sign her up for a Control Unleashed class in our area and work on the exercises with her once a week for the rest of the year. I took it with my agility dog Copper, and I was really impressed by the exercises and think that they’ll do my reactive, perpetual worrier Izzy a lot of good. She’s really gotten the short end of the stick in terms of one-on-one time with me in the past year due to my getting more serious about agility training with Copper.

    For me, I need to get more sleep on weekdays, so I’ll have to give some thought to how to turn that into an achievable, specific goal.

  11. says

    My goal for my little pitty girl Luce is to get her into the Open Obedience ring (either CDSP, AKC, or both). Don’t care if we qualify, I just want to get to the point that I feel like we have a place in that ring. We are so close, and I think we can get there if I do the work.

    For my crazy little Border Collie boy Steve, I’d like to get him running under four seconds in flyball by cleaning up his box turn.

    And Mushroom, oh my poor neglected Mushroom, I want to do something just him and me at least once a week, whether that be a good walk, a trip to the petstore, or something else. He’s not a sport dog, and so he gets lost in the shuffle, which isn’t fair to him. I want to try to develop my relationship with him by spending more quality time alone with him.

  12. Annika says

    Mine is to allow him to work things out for himself and not try to over-control him when we go herding.

  13. says

    I adopted a second dog, a six year old Aussie Shepherd cross, in November and haven’t trained him to do anything other than ‘wait’, which is mandatory in my world! I resolve to go through Pat Miller’s training plan laid out in her book “The Power of Positive Dog Training” with Bosco.

    For Maia, my fear-based human reactive heart-dog, I resolve to keep her life as stress free as possible. I adopted Bosco partly to be a companion for her, but also so that I had a dog I could take to public places, and I no longer have to wish for Maia to be anything other than she is. I know that is not specific, but I get stuck in a rut where I feel like I have to ‘fix’ her, and I need to remind myself that as long as I am vigilant about keeping her safe, she doesn’t need to be fixed. Training wise – she has recently become scared of the teeter in agility class and wants nothing to do with it, so that will be my focus for the next little while. Every week in class, I will play some teeter games with her to re-accustom her to it.

  14. says

    Nope, not here. Outgrew New Years resolutions long time ago! Besides, what resolutions, we are perfect just the way we are! LOL

    Seriously though, we give to each other all we have. That is all a human or dog can do.

  15. says

    Thanks for the encouragement and guidance in “deciding.” Here at Silverwalk, I am “cutting off” adding any more adoptable dogs till I am down to a total of 12 (6 adoptable, 6 of my own) – much more manageable pack size than 19 (though Todd is with a fabulous foster – YESH).
    I adopted my Black & Tan Coonhound/Dobie/GSP mix, Justus. My goal is to, like others, start and continue a regimented, regular training schedule. I would like to see him be able to be off leash with an overly solid recall by December. Though I really like senior and adult dogs, I find it interesting that the last two dogs I formally adopted were puppies – Margie and Justus. Have a wonderful New Year. Loved the bird photos.

  16. Katy says

    I commit to teaching Happy 3-6 new games this year. So far we play tag, hide and seek, stairmaster and “find it” (with food). To be as specific as possible – first I have to think up or research some new games, and I’m going to define “new” as broadly as possible (i.e. “find it” with non-food items will count as a new game). And don’t worry, I don’t actually put her on a stairmaster. That game is just run up and down the stairs as fast as you can but come back when I call you!

  17. says

    My resolutions to Mick are twofold. Firstly and most importantly, I want to get him calmer when around crowds and in new indoor environments. He gets extremely overstimulated from those. Secondly, I’m going to learn to drive, so I can take him more places other than just around the neighbourhood.

  18. says

    My decisions:

    1) Work every one of my dogs in their preferred sport at least once a week.

    2) Socialize my new puppy (will be 8 weeks old in February) to the city environment. This is my first puppy to raise when I am living outside the city. My other dogs benefited so greatly from their early social experiences in this environment and it served them their entire lives, I don’t want my new pup to miss out just because we moved! (This means a lot of driving.)

    3) Use my new video camera to get video of each dog at least once a month. I just lost my heart-dog and realized I have basically no video of her life.

  19. em says

    My resolution to Otis this year is to take training advantage of his new digestive wellness and resultant appetite spike (when we adopted him, he was so chronically ill that he had zero food drive, just no interest at all. Now he’s like…a dog! Yippee!). So it’s time to revisit training that I didn’t feel I could fully tackle last year because of the lack of effective positive reinforcers.

    I’ll be committing to fifteen minutes a week (Otis does best with 5-7min sessions) fine tuning his leashed dog-dog approaches, forming positive associations with the mailman, and developing some fun “trick” training, which we’ve never done because that type of training was never really enjoyable for non-food driven, non-toy driven, low-drive Otis.

  20. Veronique says

    I have a 4 month old (human :) ) baby, so my commitments are pretty small in order to make them attainable.

    Get back to training the dogs at home at least three times a week.

    Taking them on a long walk at least once a week. (I would walk them every day, but my female always forces out poop, resulting in nasty runny poop all over her corgi butt. Talk about instant punishment for taking the dogs on a walk!)

    Doing at least one agility trial with my male corgi once my kid is a little bit older and doesn’t need to nurse every two hours.

  21. Susanne says

    My plan is to be more disciplined to take my kelpie to the beach more often and enjoy those moments with her.
    Lisa is 13 yrs now and has given me so much happiness during those years. Im satisfyed with what she understands and don’t feel the need to increase her human vocabulary data base, she is old and has worked hard over the years. I wish for her to merely relax in her old age…and enjoy the things she likes the most. I try to keep things simple for her now.
    Happy New year Patricia xxx’s to Willie and all the sheep.

  22. Jean says

    Easy and Yummy Greens Recipe to help you meet your goal:

    Orange Ya Glad

    Saute chopped onion in olive oil. When it is just starting to brown, add chopped stems from your favorite greens and a clove of chopped garlic. When the stems are bright green and partially cooked add the zest of one orange and about 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg along w/ the chopped greens. Saute until well wilted. Stir in the juice of the orange and a pinch of salt. Cover and steam til done to your liking. Enjoy! :~)

  23. Amy says

    We recently adopted a rescue dog who was abused. (Why do people hurt animals?) He has made great strides and finally trusts me (sort of.) My goal is to be able to take him on a walk around the neighborhood and to have him happily get in the car to travel. Small goals, but I think if he is able to actually leave our driveway (right now he roots to the ground two steps off) he will be make improvements in other areas too!

  24. Debra says

    My resolution is to work on my 4 year old aussie’s insessant bark with patience and care (instead of “barking back”). He likes to bark at all the other dogs when they’re playing, he also barks at anyone coming in the house, leaving the house, any noise in the neighbors yard, etc. I love him but omg somedays I want to run screaming…. Anyone who has suggestions on how to deal with it would be welcome. (He is well trained in every other way, well exercised, fed no grains, has a great pack to play with, retired “parent” so he’s not left alone much).

  25. says

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    1) I resolve to take my dogs outside to new, interesting places most days of the week. I want their lives to be fun and interesting!

    2) I resolve to implement a training plan for all my girls. I don’t have any grandiose ideas of winning any obedience trials, but several of my dogs are still lacking in the basics.

  26. Lisa W says

    I will firm up my resolve to spend more one-on-one time with Phoebe, our five-year-old, slightly crazy, extreme-cuddler lab rescue who has had a little more alone time than she likes since we adopted Olive, an adolescent terrier mix who had never lived in a house before and has that great, but sometimes frustrating, terrier combo of high intelligence and supreme stubbornness.

    We lost our cornerstone, Grace, in November, and since then we are all making sure we find our right place together. Grace was a 15-year-old shepherd mix who was a righteous disciplinarian and was devoted to keeping the democracy safe. We all miss her watchfulness and wisdom.


  27. says

    Thanks so much for reminding us to be specific with our resolutions!

    For my skittish Sophie, my boyfriend and I spent lots of time this year socializing our black lab pup, Boomer. At nine months old, he is already a well-adjusted, solid guy. In fact, he went with us last night for a New Year’s Eve celebration with friends from college I hadn’t seen in years — dinner with seven adults and three kids in a narrow townhouse, and he was so laid back that we often didn’t even know he was in the room! He even stayed up with the adults to ring in his first New Year!

    Now I need to get back to focusing on Sophie to help her overcome her fears and get more comfortable with the unknown and unfamilar. So here goes my specific resolution: Sophie has been staying at home when we take Boomer to the dog park. So I vow to take Sophie along now. We will go at a minimum once a week. She and I will walk the trail close by while Boomer romps in the dog park, and as he finishes up, Sophie and I will go to the dog park entrance to work for at least a couple of minutes on counter conditioning as we watch all the dogs come and go.

    I have many more things to work on (a whole Excel spreadsheet thanks to a Reactive Rover workshop with Pat Miller and Peaceable Paws last year!). But this is a good specific start to get me going and not feel so overwhelmed with all we have to do.

    May you all have a great 2011!

  28. Amy from Maine says

    Play tug with little Spur at least once/week in the presence of another dog who not part of our pack.

    Trying to be very specific is HARD! But, oh so good! Thank you!!

  29. Marcia Lucas says

    Wow, we have the same resolution re our dogs! And I made mine public to my training buddies *before* I read yours! Silly to say, but it makes me very proud to have landed right beside Trish McConnell on 2011 resolutions :-) I resolve to train my dog in a new location once per week. He too works beautifully in our training yard but not at all well at trials…. much like Will.
    Happy New Year!

  30. Diana B from NZ says

    I am making a commitment to enjoy my dogs for who they are and not let their problems define them.

    I thought about getting another puppy to start work with, but at the moment my 2 are so easy to live with. I have noticed they often lie closer now than they used to, they often mirror each other’s positions or lie in exactly the same position. They have a harmony and a synchrony I don’t want to mess with.

    I am making an effort to train the younger one regularly because she loves learning and I have stopped taking the old girl on walks she thinks she wants to go on, but they are just too hard for her.

  31. Pike says

    Happy, healthy and peaceful New Year to all!

    I have two training goals for Ronja the Beahound:

    1) To teach her a more solid recall using – step for step – the Pamela Dennison whistle method.
    2) To clicker teach her the loose-leash-walk using a weekly step-by-step plan with progress follow-ups (or revisions if necessary) to my trainer.

    Training goal for myself:
    To learn from and enjoy the Karen Pryor Academy Program as much as possible and start teaching small training classes afterward.

  32. Marcy says

    My goal for myself is to go for a walk outside everyday. Even if it means just down to the corner and back.
    My goal for Quinn (my 4 year old Aussie) is to work once a week outside the house on sit-stays. I hope to earn his BN at least and that’s what we need to practice the most.
    My goal for Missy (my 5 year old Eskie) is to go to an Agility class once a week. She stresses out when we have spectators and will zoom around the ring. We do fine by ourselves, but I really need to get her out and in a class where there will be other people.
    My goal for Jojo (my 3 year old Aussie) is to train around men. He needs to be able to be in close proximity to a man without having to watch him. He earned his RN this year, but was scared that a man (the judge) was in the ring with us.

  33. Ang says

    My goal is to do various training starting with CGC with my American Staffordshire Terrier.
    What is your take on the breed? I have recently heard that you are not a fan of the pit bull terrier or Am Staff…given your profession, I would hope this isn’t true. As I think of dogs as dogs and not judge based on breeds.

  34. trisha says

    I love reading about your commitments for your dogs for 2011. Good for all of us. We should check in after a few months to see how we’re doing, hey? And oh yes, being specific is hard, isn’t it! And yet, that’s the key to influencing behavior. Just as clicking or saying “yes” when your dog relaxes his or her shoulders is the key to teaching a “bow,” being specific about our own behavior is the path to changing it.

    And speaking of changing behavior, in response to Ang and all else who have “heard” things about my behavior, future plans or beliefs — thank you for asking and going to the source. I am gobsmacked (finally I get a chance to use that word in print!) by the things that are attributed to me. I spent an entire day (until I got smart and gave up), attempting to mollify a “friend” who had heard that I had decided to sell all my dogs and move to Colorado. In spite of repeating that I would no more sell Luke than I’d saw off my own arm for entertainment, she continued to come over and say “You’d better not sell Luke!” Where that rumor started I have no idea, anymore more than I have any idea where the idea that I “am not a fan of the pit bull terrier or Am Staff” came from. (For the record, that’s not true. I’d never say anything even close to that. There’s nothing like 22 years in ethology and canine behavior to teach you to take each and every dog as an individual. Are there tendencies and predispositions related to the type — sure. Does that make them perfect in every context? Of course not, no more than a Border Collie is perfect in many settings. (And an absolute disaster in some, right?)

    Neither am I: 1) Selling my dog/farm and moving to Colorado/Utah/New Zealand/Floria, leaving Jim, changing sexes, apt to toss dogs out of my life as if I’d tossed them out of a car while driving down the freeway, a hater of X breed, or secretly dying of cancer. (Yup, I’ve heard all of these. Lord knows about the ones I haven’t heard. I have learned to try not to pay too much attention.) Perhaps some day I’ll write a blog whilst driving from Wisconsin to Colorado, having left Jim, sold the farm, thrown Willie out of a car as I pulled onto the freeway, while recovering from a sex change operation but about to die of pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    That said, should I write a post about Am Staff’s and bully breeds sometime? I’d be happy to talk about the breed(s), but I guarantee that no matter what I say it’ll be miscontrued and misquoted. FYI, Trish King has some great stuff out of bullies.. check out her seminars on them, I think they are good. Anyone else seen them?

  35. Sandy says

    I have the classic New Year’s resolution to work on – losing weight.

    On June 30 I found a little stray – a senior spaniel cross. The poor little guy was completely flea infested. I sent him to the kennel for lost and found dogs and when no one claimed him after 5 days I had them treat the fleas and brought him home. Inspired by you Patricia, I named him Hope. The name has proved to be a fitting one because all my hopes about it working out with my other dogs and the cats have been fulfilled and this little spaniel has captured my heart and now I can’t imagine life without him.

    He weighed 31 pounds when I found him and today he weighs 46. I didn’t notice the weight gain over the summer but one day in the fall I looked at his widening girth with alarm. I have had his thyroid tested and it is OK so it’s not a thyroid issue. I was off over the summer and we walked from 2 – 4 hours in the forest every day so he put on all this weight in the context of all that exercise.

    I feel responsible because I obviously overfed him, not being used to small dogs. I find it painful to see what has happened – the extra weight has slowed him down quite a bit. He walks more slowly, sometimes has difficulty getting up, wants me to lift him into the car instead of jumping in. And he is a dog obsessed by food, no doubt a breed characteristic (I think he’s a Cocker mixed with a Cavalier) and also he has probablygone hungry in his life.

    I feed raw mostly – I can’t tell you how many people have told me to start feeding him kibble – one of the weight loss senior kibble mixes the vets sell. I would rather continue feeding him real food but this is not an easy problem to fix. I’ve reduced the amount I feed him but try to make him feel full with oatmeal or pumpkin. If I give him a bone I don’t give him a meal and I skip meals sometimes so he doesn’t always get two meals a day as he used to. My vet recommended fasting him – in fact all my dogs – once a week but I haven’t done that yet.

    My commitment to him is to keep at it. It is easy to let it slide and it is hard to stay at it, especially when he turns those huge luminous brown eyes on me and begs me for that treat or that food. But it’s too important to his health and longevity and I need to make this work for him. He still has a few years left and I want them to be good ones for him.

  36. Funder says

    My dog and I both need a wider variety of food. I’ve been depending too much on chicken and not giving her “extras” – sardines are a great idea, I will look for some water-cured ones today! I’d also love to find a halal butcher and get her some goat heads, innards, etc. again.

  37. Amy W. says

    Dog-related resolutions to strike a winning balance in my dogs’ exercise needs.

    For Axle- poor boy was recently diagnosed with elbow dysplasia, so the goal is to find the right combo of therapy to keep him comfortable, yet still active without over doing it. I’m starting with adequan injections, keep your paws crossed it works. Also, will not play ball (fetch) more than 2 times per week – this activity aggravates the elbow, and yet it’s his absolute favorite.

    For Skylee – my young, active girl whose exercise needs aren’t being met, as I try to keep Axle from over doing it. I am enrolling her is doggie daycare a two days a week to keep her active and entertained. I may also add more days, if I think she is benefiting from being there.

    Happy New Year!

  38. Ang says

    Id love to hear more about bullies/ Am Staffs….definitely. Bc I definitely heard that you were not fond of them. It was said on my FB page when I posted your blog, i posted it and someone wrote ” I think she is a wise woman but I was surprised to hear she doesn’t like Am Staffs etc…”
    Ill check out Trish king. thanks!
    I love my dog, a lot, he isn’t a working dog, he is a companion but he is so smart, could really learn to do anything I bet if I went farther in his training!

  39. Ang says

    Sandy- he loves food, but find something else he loves, like playing tug or ball or a new fun favorite toy or a nyla bone or something else he can chew on that won’t make him gain weight. It is hard but its worth it for his health….you can do it! Stick to it…try carrots or green beans for treats! Not sure if he will like them but maybe, you can also fill kongs with natural things like oatmeal or pupmkin or chicken stock and freeze it and he can enjoy that as a treat! my dogs love those like that, I put pumpkin, non fat yogurt and thier dry kibble- wellness sometimes and they love it.
    My dogs are 77 lbs- lab, 75 lb catahoula mix, and 53 lb Am staff- all get a small portion of food- 1 1/2 cups a day…thats it..with some treats in between and sometimes pumpkin etc…when they need something extra I do the kongs with yogurt or pumpkin or chicken stock…keeps them busy and its frozen and it takes longer!
    You are doing a good thing for him!! keep at it!

  40. Ang says

    I just read this by Trish King-
    I dont like this…I think it sounds very negative…it sounds like she is saying they are all have high arousal and its a real problem…. i dont see them as breed being that aroused by people, I understand sometimes the small animal…but they are all so different I still think we need to judge them all individually. She sounds very negative in this and some of it I do not agree with.

  41. Beth says

    I cannot bring myself to eat the sardines! My dogs and cat do get them, though, several times a month. We mix it up with canned salmon, and the Corgis also get yogurt or cottage cheese or scrambled egg (on a rotating basis).

    The cat likes the egg, but when I tried to give her yogurt she looked at me like I’d gone mad.

    I only have one resolution, and it’s for me, not the dogs: my dining room table will no longer be stacked with weeks worth of junk mail, magazines, catalogues, etc. Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds, but there is always a small pile of mail sitting there and I’m sick of looking at it.

  42. Beth says

    Trisha, I’d love to see you do some posts on the bully breeds! I am alarmed by breed stereotyping, but even more alarmed by the anti-sterotyping backlash I see.

    People who know dogs and should no better say things like “there is no such thing as an aggressive dog; it’s all in how they were raised.” These same people will go on at length about how breeds who are selected for different traits for generations are more likely (not definite, but more likely) to exhibit certain behaviors. So, for instance, scent hounds are often not reliable off-leash, working terriers (Jack Russels, etc) are a poor choice if you want to have small pets, greyhounds are more inclined to chase fleeing things like cats, setter puppies with no training will set birds, etc etc; and yet will turn around and pretend that generations of breeding dogs to fight will have no impact on behavior.

    Quite a few bully dogs have a low threshold with other dogs, and moreover if you have a dog from fighting lines they are less inclined to respect another dog’s surrender signals. Working-line terriers are very game; my aunt has had JR’s for years and they are excellent mousers (meaning they actually catch and kill mice and rats on her small farm). A JR only weighs 15 pounds. A pit bull weighs three or four times that, and is more inclined than many breeds to see other dogs as game.

    I know several lovely pits. What alarms me is when novice owners obliviously put them in situations with other dogs where tensions are likely to be running high. Many of the pit rescue organizations say most pits are really not dog park dogs (though they can and do play well with well-matched playmates). Yet I regularly see them at the dog-park with owners who are not paying a bit of attention while a group of 6 or 8 strange dogs rough-houses with rapidly escalating arousal levels.

    Yet even mention such things in some circles and you risk being accused of being “anti” breed. Not sure why it’s ok to discuss in open company a labrador retrievers innate desire to play endless games of fetch to the point of obsession, but not ok to mention that dogs who were bred to fight behave differently in high-arousal settings than dogs who were intentionally bred to live peaceably in large groups, but there you have it.

  43. Rusty says

    Great bird pictures. You must have quite the album of wild life and outdoor jpegs. My commitment to my dog is to trim his nails and comb him out more often. Sheltie, lots of fur to keep untangled. That, and do some nose work with him.

  44. says

    I’m heading into the third week of a Dog Obedience II class with my dog, Java. I’m resolving to do the daily work between classes (so far, mainly improving my timing and use of a clicker). My biggest challenge is that my dog is completely obedient when it’s just the two of us but is utterly distracted in the bigger world, which is why the classes with other dogs are a good place for us to be. After this class, I’ll have to reassess what to do next.

  45. Liz says

    Thanks to all for the inspiration on getting specific. It is a challenge to be both specific and brief!
    Moving to a very different setting in one month, so I hope to stay on top of the training we currently do while integrating new challenges. Two times a week we’ll work on ‘old life’ skills, like visiting active places (e.g. the small town main street with outdoor cafes and lots of shops). Four times a week we will work on ‘new life’ skills (e.g. being very, very nice to the chickens, or learning property boundaries when dealing with acreage).

    My own goal amidst the change is pretty general, but I hope to slow down each day enough to savor life. Eat/live slowly, don’t fill that extra five minutes with anything (just sit), and be careful of new projects which I tend to view as smaller than they actually are.

    Lovely photos, too!

  46. Donna in VA says

    Loved reading everyone’s ideas. This is not behavior-related but I need a mantra of “toes and teeth” every night at bedtime. I need to brush his teeth right after I brush my teeth. His paws need attention – maybe not every night but several times a week. I put balm on when he is settled in his bed. So I need to think “toes and teeth” every night for him.
    For behavior, I need to get to a much more reliable recall. Inside, I want 1 or 2 alarm barks and then I would like him to stop barking and come and find me. This means ** carrying treats around with me inside as well as outside the house ** to reinforce him coming to me when called (** that’s the specific part.) Right now it’s not an immediate response – more like “Oh, I’ll check in with her when I am finished barking at this event/object.” Yesterday at the farm I caught him eating unidentified animal poo and ignoring my recall command. Time to fix this.

    I’ll also toss out this suggestion for anxious dogs. I have trained Max that when I sit on the floor with legs extended wide that he is to come and sit/lie in the V of my legs. This is his safe/calm place. His back is to me, protected, and he faces outward. I used it last spring when I signed us up for a dog fashion show. There were 12-15 strange dogs & handlers and we waited in a small curtained-off area for over an hour. I sat on the floor w/ him in the V or beside me and he handled the whole thing really well.

  47. Karen says

    Well, I, for one, would be delighted if you moved to Colorado! I am still hoping you will do a seminar here.

  48. Lauren Norwood says

    For my American Eskimo, Riley, I’d like to help him improve his social skills with other dogs. He acts like a big bully toward other dogs and often reacts to them by barking and lunging at the other dog. It’s not really hard to control him, but it can get unsettling at times, so I’d like to take him to more places with dogs to get him better acquainted with his own kind, and gradually regain his lost social skills through time and effort.
    He’s come so far since the day we brought him home back in June, and this would be a great hurdle to overcome – for both Riley and us.

  49. JJ says

    Just a quick comment on your wonderful greens commitment. I assume you are making such a commitment for nutrition. Hence, you might want to know that there are three greens which seem to have a lot of nutrition, but which also have a lot of oxolates and thus block your body form absorbing the calcium and iron: chard, spinach and beat greens. I’ve been doing a lot of research on human nutrition lately and have heard and read this information in several places.

    This doesn’t mean that chard and spinach are bad for you. It just means that you are not getting as much nutrition as you may think. These food probably have other good aspects, but if you want to get your calcium from healthy food like leafy greens, these three are not the best choices. (If you love chard, supposedly, boiling it can reduce the oxalates, but I have no idea how effective that is.) According to Wikipedia (which is not my only source) “the body can absorb about half of the calcium present in broccoli, yet only around 5% of the calcium in spinach.”

    The top 4 greens to focus on for great nutrition would be: kale, bok choy, collards, and broccoli. (according to my greens cooking class instructor).

    Hope this is helpful info for people.

  50. JJ says

    Duke and I are in a really happy place. While there are always behaviors we could work on, add or improve, there are no major issues we need to resolve which would take the form of a big-deal new years non-resolution.

    The one thing that came to mind for me is more in the form of a typical resolution in that I can’t pin it down to specifics. My goal is similar to one posted by another reader above: as Duke gets older, I will try very hard to make the best medical decisions possible, including keeping in mind that what is sometimes best: is doing nothing (even when the vets push for invasive and potentially crippling procedures).

    I have learned that lesson the very hard way. Duke has another medical issue right now. The vets are pushing for invasive and potentially painful tests. After doing as much research as I can, I’m not sure the tests are the best way to go. So, I resolve to listen to me this time–especially while Duke shows every sign right now of being happy and pain-free. I just have to keep my worry from spoiling our time together. Perhaps that should be my resolution.

  51. lin says

    Don’t know if I have any resolutions for our dog; she’s an older girl, her behavior has mellowed out a lot and her house manners are still impeccable. Just want to make sure she’s still having a good time.

    My resolution for Mr. Kitty is a raw chicken wing every week. His teeth have tartered up, and I’d rather not put the old guy under anesthesia. May try some of those teeth products as well.

    I love sardines, especially with avocado and french bread. The pets love them, too, and stand around staring when a can is opened. Does Sushi get a sardine?

  52. says

    Funny you should mention it, I just wrote my dogs’ updated IEP (individualized education plan). I need this so when I know when to let go and relax, knowing that I’m doing the best I can. In the world of reactive dog training, there are a million-and-one things you’re supposed to be doing with your dogs. Mats, crates, thundershirts, targeting,DAP, LAT,BAT,CAT, u-turns, emergency sit-stay, diet, drugs, enough exercise, tricks, decoys, classes, it goes on and on and on!! I try to remember your advice: rather than learn a million things halfway, master a few that seem most important.

    For both: one set-up a week (I’ve been using BAT, so this can be with a human friend at a park, or outside a dog park, or inviting a new person over), “run to the kitchen” training (this is what I want them to do when someone comes to the door) three times a week, practice u-turns and the name game, as well as look-at-that, on walks.

    For Dottie only: relax on a mat training three times a week.

    For Gustav only: separation anxiety training once a week (he only has separation anxiety from Dottie, not any of the humans in the house. Go figure). Work on recalls when at the [empty] dog park.

    For me: Love my dogs for who they are, don’t compare them to other dogs, and set them (and therefore myself) up for success. Be grateful that they love each other and everyone in the family and don’t have any health issues.

  53. Sandy says

    Thanks Ang for the great ideas and advice as well as encouragement. Much appreciated – I will do my best for my little spaniel.

    This is off topic but I wanted to let everyone know about a wonderful radio documentary that features Patricia as well as many other interesting and knowledgeable dog trainers and researchers. It’s called “Dogs Themselves” and was broadcast on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) in 3 parts in December. You can listen to it online at—3/

  54. Melissa says

    My aim with Erik is to get him back to agility training. I don’t want to start again until I have his reward system as good as I imagine it should be i.e. he should be finding treats and play rewarding any time, any place. That means no deciding one reward alone is the Agility Reward and refusing to have anything to do with the other one until the moment we stop agility training! Using Ken Ramirez’ method of ‘teaching’ reinforcers like behaviours, I have Erik tugging in the dog park, and successfully switching from food to tug and back to food anywhere, but I don’t think either are as strong at the park as they could be. I think this just means more fun with Erik. :) Everywhere! I want him responding to “hey Erik, wanna play?” by running over to me, no questions asked. So I’m going to play with Erik every day, some tugs for fun and some reinforced with food. Three different places each week.

    My aim with Kivi is to get him holding two targets at once. He does left paw and nose at the moment, but the closer together the paw and nose, the harder it is. I think it is muscle training for him. I want him able to target anything with front paws or nose, including his own body. Just simple practice. :) A few minutes every day, as soon as I sort out the unexpected treat shortage that kicked in over Christmas. The freezer ate them all.

    My aim with Kit the hare is to get him desensitised to me going into his cage any time of the day. Every day I am home I will go into his cage three times throughout the day. Safety signal, very careful so he doesn’t get too scared, reward holding still with retreating. He trains better than ever at night and I want to get him following my target right to his crate. We are halfway there already! One day I’m going to have a crate-trained wild hare and I will consider myself a world class trainer. 😉

    My general training aim is to be less routine but still safely predictable. The cue should be my cue, not how I hold my body or what I did a moment ago. To aid in this I will every week think of a novel way to ask for a known behaviour and get the dogs (and me) to practice it once a day all week. This is even more important for Kit, but he needs different rules. Once a week I will do something novel in one of his training sessions and work him through the upset so he trains again afterwards. His cue should be “I get a little scared, and then I stop and get a piece of strawberry and all is good”.

    Phew. It’s hard making it specific.

  55. says

    My resolution — and I wouldn’t have made one if I hadn’t read your blog, so thank you — is to teach Barnum an actual TRICK. Not a foundation behavior for service work or manners or obedience or handling, etc. But a totally useless, just-for-fun trick.

  56. says

    Oh, shoot, that wasn’t very specific. I’m not sure what we’ll do yet. Maybe twirling? I want to see what he likes.

    How about, once a week, we will train some sort of completely useless behavior, just for fun.

    And I also commit to playing a mind-game or nose-game with him — some sort of fun, easy problem-solving game — once a week, as well.

  57. Ang says

    feel better…here is email from trish king on her bully hand out (outdated)
    Hi, Ang Ja,

    I’m sorry you don’t like the handout on bullies – I think your points are valid, and I appreciate your input. When I wrote that several years ago, I was trying to fight hysteria. It’s not a handout we currently use. BTW, I currently have a pit mix, and have had a pure bred pit — I like the breed, and hate that I see many poor representatives – but, of course, I see behavior problems with all breeds of dogs. It’s what I do.

    If you have any contacts within the breed rescue society, I have a client who is desperately looking for a home for her 6 year old pit. She – the dog – is dog selective, which isn’t the problem. I realize, as I’m sure you do, that there are far too many dogs looking for far too few homes, but we have to try.

    Again, thanks for your input

    Best regards,



    Trish King, CPDT, CDBC
    Behavior & Training Director
    Marin Humane Society

  58. Kat says

    I’ve resolved that I will walk with Ranger at least five days per week. Due to a foot problem on my part last year he ended up walking the other family members a lot more than he did me. I’ve been playing with teaching him k-9 sign much the same way I taught the children to speak and I resolve to continue that more seriously–I know, pretty vague maybe I should say teach him a minimum of six new signs that he can use to tell me what he wants (currently he knows food and toy). And I resolve to finish fencing the property so he can have more area to explore.

  59. says

    I could not stand the bitter taste of Kale, but I found a wonderful way to eat it. Here is one of the best Kale Salad recipes I have ever tasted. Seriously I can make a huge bowl of salad and my entire family devours it. I made it for my daughter who started eating vegetarian at college and was floored that even my 11 year old loves.
    Here it is to the best of my knowledge. All amounts are by taste:
    1.Kale-leaf part only. washed, de-veined (the veins are bitter), and chopped to bite size
    2.Garlic Chips-sliced garlic cooked in olive oil til brown then removed from pan to paper towels to drain.
    3.Toasted pine nuts
    4.Red onion chopped
    5.Red Cabbage chopped
    6.Dried Currants or Cranberries
    7.Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
    8.Extra-virgin Olive Oil
    9.Grated Parmigiana or Romano Cheese
    10.Balsamic Glaze
    11.Fresh Ground Salt (pink Himalayan salt is supposed to be best, but I wouldn’t know)
    12.Fresh Ground Pepper

    Toss Kale, Onion, Cabbage, pine nuts, garlic chips & currants
    In a small bowl mix lemon juice and olive oil.
    Pour over salad and toss until coated.
    drizzle on Balsamic Glaze and toss until coated
    Salt & Pepper to taste

    It should not be bitter, if it is try adjusting with lemon juice and balsamic glaze. I love this salad and have been eating it a couple of times a week.

    Let me know what you think.


  60. Claire says

    I love the idea of picking dog specific new years resolutions! I think focusing in on a couple things will help me 1. achieve my goals, 2. not get overwhelmed by feeling like Im not doing enough for Tilly! My maintenance goals (we already do this and I want to continue) for me and Tilly are: 1. Exercise 45 mins to 1 hour everyday, 2. 4 nights per week go on an extra “sniff walk.” My other goals are: 1. Do something “fun” each week (e.g. go to dog park, walk in a local park, etc), 2. Have dog interactions once per week (either dog park or play date), 3. Join training classes to work on meeting strangers, 4. 3 nights/week, do a mini, trick training session for 10-15 minutes.

    Phew, now its in writing so I HAVE to do it! :)

  61. Laura says

    For Joker (7yo) – I will spend the money on a Nina Ottoson toy. I have been interested but not bought one bc it is expensive if he doesn’t like it. If he doesn’t like it I’ll donate it to the shelter. Also, continue to try to find an indoor nose work for fun class. Joe is all about his nose. Take him fishing 1-2 times per week from April through October. He loves to fish in creeks. Last summer we visited 8 creeks. I want to find more this summer.

    For Cheyenne (will be 12 this year) – She has always been a Frisbee dog and has had to back off on that because of arthritis issues. I need to try to find more replacement activities for her. I think she gets bored at all the creeks and I need to go to the lake so she can play Frisbee. Joe doesn’t like the lake bc it is at the off leash park and the other dogs are overwhelming to him. I should try to simulate some agility equipment for Cheyenne. My grocery store no longer carries beef heart. I will try to find someplace else to get it bc her holistic vet recommends it.

    Sardines – the dogs eat them a couple times per week. I’ve never been able to talk myself into trying them. I’ll try to try them. I eat a lot of spinach (the dogs do too). I have been wanting to branch out into the other greens. I’ll work on that. Thanks for the recipes above.

    For me re the dogs – I will learn to use some of the advanced features of my new DSLR that I bought to take pictures of the dogs (and cats). I will do a better job of printing and backing up my photos. Your photos are inspiring.

  62. Amy in Indiana says

    Where do you find unsalted sardines in water? My dogs were splitting a tin every other day until I started worrying about the sodium levels. They still get fish oil capsules and raw venison, so I think they get okay levels of Omega 3 & 6, but I’d still like to give them sardines occasionally. I have checked all our grocery stores but the only canned sardines I can find have salt.

    Tail shape is only one of the pieces to the puzzle of accipiter ID. If your bird is coming to your feeders, take a closer look at its head. Sharpies have a beady little eye on their tiny head while a Coop’s eye is more in the center of it’s head. If your bird is immature, look at the streaking on the breast. Sharpies have thicker and coarser streaks than Coopers. Sharpies are tiny hawks – just bigger than Mourning Doves. Coopers are closer in size to crows. Although, of course, female Sharpies can be really close in size to male Coopers… accipiters can be tough to ID!

  63. trisha says

    Amy: Unsalted sardines ARE harder to find. I just checked and right now we have a few tins of salted ones, Jim found them on sale and bought a bunch. I rinse them in hopes of eliminating much of the salt, but know this is hardly ideal. Try King Oscar, who we usually buy but couldn’t find last time, or Manischewitz (sp?!). Health food stores probably have some too… And THANKS for the ID tips, great information about your friends Sharpies versus Coopers. I knew that their sizes overlap…. this one was larger than a dove, perhaps a Cooper or a Mega Warrior Female Sharpie? Haven’t seen it again, hope it shows up soon.

  64. Jennie says

    Thank you for writing this and giving me a much needed kick in the pants. My non-resolution is to clicker/trick train my little dog at least twice a week. I made a chart today with check boxes so I can track my progress. I also watched a ton of youtube and came up with a list of about 30 tricks we can work on during our twice weekly sessions. Thank you!

  65. Amy in Indiana says

    Thanks for the suggestions. I will ask my coop if they can special order one of those sardine brands.

    Mega Warrior Female Sharpie! haha!

  66. Beth says

    Trisha, I just noticed your comment about the hawk. We’ve had both sharp-shinned and Cooper’s at our feeder. One thing that helps me in a non-scientific way is that a Cooper’s has a broader head. If a Cooper’s is perched and looking at you straight-on, you almost think “owl” whereas with a sharpie, you definitely think “hawk.” Cooper’s also have a tendency to turn their heads clear around to face the back, adding to their owl-like appearance.

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