Balance is a term used by sheep dog handlers, but I find myself thinking of its value in so many other contexts related to dogs.
In sheep herding, “balance” refers to a dog’s ability to place itself exactly where he or she needs to be to take control of the sheep without frightening them. It refers to two things really. One is the distance between the dog and the sheep. Too far away? — no control, no pressure. Too close? — forces the sheep to run away in a panic, or to turn and fight. Just right? Exactly at the point at which the sheep will turn and move away from the dog without panicking.
The other aspect of balance is side to side, left to right. For example, does the dog stop at exactly the right place on an outrun to move the sheep directly toward you once he begins to walk directly toward them? Novices tend to believe that a dog should always stop at 12 o’clock, but that’s not always true. If the sheep want to go to your left (as you face the dog and the sheep), then the dog needs to stop at 1o or 11 o’clock, not 12.
Dogs can learn better balance, but there’s little more valuable than a dog who just “has it,” and early in training, finds for him or herself that perfect position to manage the sheep. The perfect position is different for every flock, in every context and even at different times of the day, so it’s not easy at all. It just looks that way when a dog is really talented, just like great dancers and ice skaters make it look effortless.
But easy it’s not, it takes skill and experience. And while thinking about balance (see the photos below), that finding it in many other contexts isn’t so easy either. That’s as true in dog training as it is in sheep herding (not to mention the rest of life). And as with sheep dogs, some balance is innate and some can be learned. Over twenty three years of working with aggressive dogs helped me find a balance between reinforcing good behavior and practical, humane ways of inhibiting ‘bad’ behavior (often just management, but if we’re talking about biting people, the word “just” should be deleted).
Here’s another example: I’ve learned that Willie needs a balance of quiet time and exercise, more so than any of my other dogs. Too much fetching, for example, not only hurts his shoulder, but it makes him overly aroused, rather than relaxed. Too much stimulation (for example, leaving him loose to bark at noisy trucks passing by when I’m gone) makes him crazy; too little makes him fearful and neurotic. Granted, Willie will always be my special needs dog, but I think this general concept applies to all of our dogs in some ways.
I also need to balance my voice with Willie. Sometimes Willie needs me to use my voice to quiet him down, and so I speak with a low voice, either quiet, long words like “Slooooooooow” or “Eaaaaaaasy”. Other times I need to speak sharply to stop him (“Whoa!”) because, well, he’s being an idiot and about to get himself hurt. Other times, he needs encouragement, and I’ll use a completely different voice, higher pitched, more modulated and often short, repeated notes.
What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: Take the word balance and play with it awhile: What have you found you needed to balance with your dog? Yourself? Your methods? Open ended I know, but sometimes that leads to the most interesting conversations. (And if you have figured out the whole “work-play balance thing,” let me know how you found it.)
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: The unseasonal heat has left (yeah) but now the frosts are back a few nights a week. It got down to 24 F last week, low enough to cause some serious damage. But it’s lovely even in the rains we’ve had lately, and feels very spring-y indeed. The lambs make it even more so, here’s Rosebud’s triplets a few hours after birth. I’ve just dipped their umbilical cords in iodine, you can see them still attached:
And here’s Willie (if he’ll forgive me for advertising his error), illustrating a glitch in the balance I was talking about. I sent him around to the right to bring the flock to me. This was the first time I’d worked him on the flock since they lambed. I don’t work a dog on the sheep for the first 2 weeks after lambing, the ewes are understandably too protective around their lambs and it causes fights that I think are unnecessary. The ewes below have lambs over 2 weeks old, but are still willing to give Willie a hard time. He knows that, and in addition, Willie has lost confidence on sheep since his injury, surgery and lack of work for over a year.
Is that why he stopped short here? I don’t know, but you can see that he did. I sent him and waited to see if he’d pick the right place to stop and walk in on the sheep. He didn’t. He stopped short; see how the sheep are still heading toward the left? Some have turned their heads at least, but the dark one in the middle, Lady Godiva is still facing left, and she and Barbie are the 2 leaders.
I stayed quiet, and Willie balanced himself, moving counter clockwise to get into the correct position. You can see how some of the sheep have already begun responding.
And here’s where he choose to walk in again. This time it was perfect. See how the sheep are facing me head on and walking directly toward me now? Good boy Willie.
You might have noticed that 2 of the sheep have their heads down grazing. That’s because I asked Willie to stop so that I could get a photo. His stopping took the pressure off, so they put their heads down to eat. Always a good choice (eating) as far as I’m concerned. Time for me to go do that now! As always, I look forward to your comments.
Barb Stanek says
Balance. Achievement of balance in all areas of my life is a major goal. And in my dog training.
My two boys seem to go with the flow. My girl, however, has cried out for balance every moment of her life. She has chronic pancreatitis, so the first four years were trying to balance out her physical body. During that time, training was hit-and-miss and very basic. She had a hard time understanding what was expected of her in any situation. And generalization was extremely difficult.
Now that she has stabalized physically, she is eager to work with me. Her times of shutting down are few and far between. Her physical balance is allowing her to look for balance in training. She now can train for longer preiods than ever (up to 10 minutes). However, it takes her a longer than average to generalize. This last week, we had a breakthrough. We were practicing obedience in a place that she does agility. And within about fifteen minutes, she seemed to understand for the first time what I wanted! Thrilling.
My girl loves working with me, seeks me out for attention, and performs willingly. Now if we can find the balance between at home and away, we will have achieved another milestone. That will be a milestone that I was never sure we would reach until now.
Balance, what a delicate word and what an easily upset condition. Around here the issue is emotional balance; Ranger and The Great Catsby have it, Meowzart has some and Finna has almost none. I’m proud of that almost; when we adopted her she had none at all; that I can say “almost” none after five months is a triumph. When I talk about emotional balance I mean the ability to recover from being startled, stressed, frustrated, etc., equanimity of temperament. Ranger is about as bomb proof as it’s possible to be; he takes everything in stride and bounces right back from any sort of upset. The Great Catsby (our newest cat) is the same way. Meowzart, the older cat, can take some time to bounce back but he does regain his emotional balance. Finna on the other hand, doesn’t recover from things. When you were describing Willy I was thinking, yep, yep, yep. Too much exercise and she can’t relax, too little and she can’t settle, too many new things in too short a time and she’s a basket case for days. Put much pressure on her and she comes apart but no pressure and she runs wild. Finding the right balance so I can work with her effectively is a constant challenge. If I baby her too much she starts over reacting to everything. If I don’t baby her at all she tries to take matters into her own paws with negative results. It’s a hard adjustment for me since I’m used to living with the others who don’t have Finna’s problems. It’s a wild ride with Finna but she is making progress and she is finding some balance.
All I can say now is that Barb’s girl and Kakt’s Finna are very, very lucky dogs. What wonderful humans they have! Stories like this inspire me everyday; thanks so much for sharing.
Excellent post! I do agility with my dog and she’s a very soft, fairly low-drive dog. The biggest balance we’ve had to find is balancing when to push her a little bit to get her to progress and when to back off. If you push her too hard too fast, she shuts down. If you don’t push a little you get stuck in a rut and she gets bored and turns off to what you’re doing. It’s been interesting trying to figure out that perfect balance of pushing forward but not too hard. We’re getting it, but I still screw it up from time to time!
Balance is huge when working with my pug, Lucy. She is much like Willie in that there is a fine line between enough exercise to relax her and too much to over arouse. Likewise, I notice her reactivity to the world (cars, dogs or horses on TV, the dog across the street) is in it’s best control when I have had a balance between physical stimulation (walks, hikes, play) and mental stimulation (we do mat training and regular obedience/trick training every day). If I miss a day, she will recover. If I miss more than one day of anything in her routine (the walk, training, relax on mat, etc) she spins out of control and can’t seem to get a grip. It’s been a long journey, and it’s because of her that I’ve gained the confidence I have in working reactive dog cases. She’s the reason that I am the behavior consultant I am. And she taught me to find the balance between the confidence to help my clients and the humility to empathize.
Two years ago this week I brought home the dog that has taught me more about balance in life and training than any other dog I’ve ever had. Meg has come a long way since then and so have I.
She took nearly a year to stop dodging behind furniture when someone spoke loudly (not yelling, just talking louder in her presence). She helped teach my family to ‘balance’ our volume. 🙂 She’s always been eager to learn, but would shut down without the right balance of reward and praise. She needed reassurance that she was doing things right or she’d become stressed (miss perfectionist) , but if we were too enthusiastic with praise she’d want to go hide. She’s very precise in training, which made her an excellent teacher for me in clicker training. She continually helps me improve my timing and observation skills.
Meg also insists we maintain a balanced exercise schedule, both physical and mental. She won’t let me sit around and watch tv or play on the computer all day. We have to go outside and walk or play or she gets restless and fidgety. We have to learn something new and train for agility, treibball, or just do some free shaping to work our minds. (She remembers her tricks better than I do.)
Over the past two years, Meg has become a much more confident, happy dog who reminds me daily how important it is to try and maintain a balanced lifestyle. I’m very glad we found each other!
I am aware of the long term effects of imbalance in myself – too many years of working long hours at full stretch, caffeine to get started, 12 hours fuelled by adrenaline, and a couple of glasses of wine to come down enough to sleep, have left me with a rapid reaction to almost any stress now that I have retired. Things that once would not have even figured on the radar can now lead to sleepless nights!
My animals are, I think, well balanced, but in very different ways. Pippin cat is simply idle – he likes large meals, a comfortable bed, a sunny spot in the garden and no interruption to his pleasant routine of cadging treats from each neighbour’s breakfast in turn. Tilly-cat is a hunter – rabbits at this time of year (which explains the strange blip I see in the dogs’ weight in spring!). We have compromised that she can eat them in the house as long as she takes them up onto the cats’ feeding bench in the cloakroom. Given the right balance of freedom to hunt and cuddles and affection she is completely happy. Sophy is innately balanced – she thinks things through, will work for a while until she is bored if the treats are good enough or for life rewards, she runs ahead but checks back regularly and waits for us to catch up at about 200 yards, she reads dogs and humans with near perfect accuracy, she was born good and sensible, and i am sure she has taught me more about balance than I have taught her! Poppy is different – innately a little shy, and rather undersocialised as a pup when I got her. She has needed help to get the balance between friendliness and foolhardiness right. She is still a little nervous greeting strange dogs and people, and takes her lead from Sophy. If a dog barks, or bounces, she can very quickly get wound up and join in, and she is too small for that to be safe behaviour. She is very responsive, fortunately, and I can usually calm her down and relax her with a few words and a quick game. She loves activities that mean one to one training – if I were not so lazy myself she would be doing well at agility, or obedience, or anything else. I am just a little uneasy about doing too much with her – the more wound up she gets, the longer it takes for her to relax, and while driviness is great in the agility field, it is not much fun to live with the rest of the week!
First off..let me say that any dog that figures out how to work sheep and any human that can teach it amazes me to no end. It all seems like magic! How in the world are the commands taught from a distance??
That being said…I think that, since humans have such a hard time finding balance in their own lives, it’s no wonder that the dogs have a hard time with it too. How do you teach something that you have no knowledge of? (Sorry for ending with a participle) It’s all so individual with a dog and I think having an observant human helps. A lot of times the dog is labeled as not obedient or hard to control just because there is a distinct lack of balance in their life. I try to keep some sense of equilibrium with my dog by watching his reaction and adding or subtracting from the stimulus as I think is necessary. I have all of the time in the world to observe him though and we’re mostly inseparable. Others don’t have that luxury and I think that makes it harder.
In reflecting on the many areas where I seek a healthy equilibrium in my life and with my dogs, complete reevaluation occurs. It is a comfort to me to be given a topic (like in the last post, too) that causes me to slow down an often hurried way of being. So instead of moving on to the next item on the to-do list, I get to linger in a place of “gosh… wow… I had forgotten…”
Deep appreciation for opportunities to pause, remember and reflect.
A bit more specifically, when it comes to my dogs I have the greatest awareness of needing to maintain a balance of freedom versus structure, along with routine versus novelty. Despite occasionally getting carried away with life, these aspects always have a presence in my dog decision-making.
But what I also focus on a lot is what Willie seems to be learning! Such an important part of finding balance is to be able to recognize when it is upset without the scales having to be completely tipped. To develop balance as a skill, like Willie seeing the sheep respond in an undesirable way and adjusting his behavior without causing panic, is a success to be celebrated on the road to improvement. Way to go, Willie! Here’s to all of us trying to adjust without tipping the scales, and learning how to better achieve balance from here on out.
What wonderful thoughts in this post, and what wonderful comments people have made. For me, I generally find the biggest challenge is in balancing the needs of two (or if you count my husband, three) animals with very different emotional centers-of-gravity.
Otis craves calm, too much excitement for good or ill turns him off. Repeated cues or praise make him edgy, but a single command bellowed across the field rolls right off his back-he’ll do as asked without any sign of distress. Otis listens pretty well and knows his business (stay in sight, don’t approach strangers without an ok, etc.) when out and about, but he moves on his own timetable, and any attempt to hustle him along is sure to backfire.
Sandy, on the other hand, craves reassurance. She loves to be praised as often as possible, and thrives on frequent direction. But she’s a tricky one- she’s extremely biddable and submissive to humans by nature, but excitable in general and bossy with dogs. If I need to disrupt or redirect her behavior, it’s a delicate balancing act indeed- too forceful a tone and she will flinch and cower, not firm enough and my voice won’t penetrate her excitement. What typically works, frequent proactive direction before she can get too excited to listen works great for her (happy face and banner tail), but drives Otis bananas (low tail and concerned ears, sometimes if I’m really not paying attention to how worried he’s getting he’ll actually go to his four-alarm-stress signal-touching my hands or body with his nose. He usually saves this one for the vet’s office and very cold rain. I translate it as, “I’m upset and I want to get out of here”).
With my husband, I find myself trying to balance my desire to respect him and his decisions as he is co-handling the dogs on a walk and my desire to see him tone it down a little. Because he’s more easily frustrated than I am, Otis’ pokey puppy routine annoys him and he’s apt to bark repeated commands (which doesn’t work, but his tone of voice does upset Sandy), or cue Sandy in a harsher tone than is called for.
With time, the balance points of all three of my beasts have moved closer to one another-my chatter at Sandy doesn’t bug Otis as much, Sandy has grown more self-reliant so I don’t need to chatter at her as much in the first place, and my husband works to modulate his reactions to both heel-dragging Otis and easily-intimidated Sandy. I know it’s been said umpteen times before, but one of the most wonderful things about dogs is their ability to show people the impact that their mood, tone, and attitude have on those around them. My husband is a kind and lovely man, but having the dogs (in particular Sandy) has helped him to really see and work on his tendency to be tense and easily frustrated. I know that striving for balance with the dogs has taught me to hold my head higher, walk taller, stay calmer, and be more decisive.
So yay for Willie and balance! May the sheep always go where you send them!
I began as a novice herder with my SV a few years ago and have had to learn a lot about how to balance myself, him and also balance in how to work him on stock. Though he is pretty talented, he has a lot less natural balance than some of the BCs and also a lot more push (as the breed was intended for cattle). In addition, he is a dog that shifts extremely quickly from overconfidence to stress to fear so to balance the pressure on HIM around cattle and avoid him stressing or being fearful has been quite the challenge. It is easy to put too much pressure on him, and he doesn
Beth with the Corgis says
Not too much to add (my dogs are fairly straight-forward; Jack needs to be reminded not to try to think so hard when he’s being trained on something new, and Maddie will run herself into the ground from exhaustion chasing a ball or swimming, so we need to decide for her when she’s had enough, but otherwise they are not complicated).
However, I just had the pleasure of watching a police dog handler doing some basic obedience work with his K9 in the park by our house. This was not a police dog exhibition. This was a handler doing basic heel/down/halt/stay work that we just happened to walk in on. And wow, talk about balanced handling! I think I’m pretty decent with dogs compared to the average pet owner, but this absolutely put anything I would be able to do to shame. He knew just how much pressure to put on his beautifully trained dog, and when to release the pressure as a reward. And that dog looked like he would have tried to fly to the moon for his handler, if only he’d have asked…. His only reward? One brief run after an obviously-coveted toy. Truly amazing.
Amy W. says
I work to find balance between my both of dogs exercise needs. My girl, Skylee, is 4 yrs. and a very healthy dog. She can go and go and go. My boy, Axle, is 7.5 yrs. and has been slowed by arthritis greatly in the past year. Even with a multifaceted treatment approach, if pushed too hard he pays the price for several days aftwerward.
I swear I can sometimes see the disappointment on Skylee’s face when I tell her we can’t go any further on a hike, and at the same time see the relief on Axle’s face when it’s time to turn around. I try to strike a compromise by taking the dogs places where they can be off-leash and explore. I also try to go to different parks daily, or at least take a different trail daily. The different scenery and more importantly different smells seem to help keep both dogs satisfied. Ocassionally I try to take the dogs to the park seperately, so the hike can be better tailored to each individual. I would do this more often, but there isn’t always enough time to make two seperate trips.
Lisa W says
This is such a timely post for us. I have been off-balance for the past month (some would argue much longer than that) due to one of my dog’s knee ligament injury and the restrictive rest prescription. No toys, no play, no car rides, each room is gated, and we carry her up and down stairs. Entering into week 5, there is obvious improvement, but we are still in lock down. This is a dog that came to us frightened, half-feral, and would fly through rooms bouncing off furniture. Over the past two-plus years, she has learned the love of playing ball (yes, almost obsessively), what fun tricks are to learn, has an amazing recall, and is a whip-smart learner. She has learned to trust us (strangers still scare her), and there is no need to flee from common household noises. She
Lisa W says
Sorry for the double-post. @ Amy W. I wanted to mention that I had that same issue with two of my past dogs. One was older and arthritic and wanted to go with us but didn’t want to go far. I would take the two dogs for a short walk, and we would all walk the older dog back to the car, she would get in and have a nice snooze. I’d head back out with the younger dog that needed a lot more exercise. Not sure if it will work for you, but it was a good solution for us.
Donna in VA says
Did you know the little calendar thingie is wrong? The days are off by 1. April 1 was a Sunday, not a Saturday.
Max is my first live-with dog (a Sheltie). It took me a while to learn to read his behavior and manage him, through a determined effort and many sources of information. I think he is pretty well balanced now, but a large part of it is through the cues that I give him. He likes direction and can become anxious if he perceives a problem and I don’t take the time to direct him as to what he should do. I’ll use the example of ceiling fans. They are used intermittently at our house, and if one is on, he will become increasingly anxious, pacing and barking underneath it. I finally arrived at the solution of giving him choices. One choice is to stay outside the room – out of sight of the fan. Or he can be in the room with me (his preference) but without pacing or getting agitated. He usually manages to “balance” himself – put away his dislike of the fan to be with me instead. But it’s his choice, I do not command him into the room, only out of it if he gets agitated.
With a less predictable routine and in a different household, I can see that he would be a mess. I left him with my sister-in-law for a weekend when we had to leave town, and the list of instructions I gave her regarding the “routine” was probably ridiculous. However he did well because she was willing to spend the time and pay attention to his cues. The vet tech remarked to me yesterday that he was a “good boy as always” because he knows the grooming routine and what to expect. He may not like it, but he can deal with it and never causes a problem. For their part, I applaud them for adhering to a routine that the dog can learn.
My gsd and I are in the throes of struggling with balance while herding. We went to our first herding trial a few weeks ago and the sheep were knee knockers, which we don’t have where we train. His sense of balance was so thrown off since they were literally plastered to my sides, he kept looking at me as if to say “Look they’re right HERE, what do I do now?” Sometimes the things you’ve always wished were close really are better from a distance.
To Lisa, with sympathy. Having just been through 6 months of lock down with Willie and another 6 months of PT and extreme restrictions, my heart goes out to you. And I’d love to tell you that “Oh, everything will be fine,” but the fact is that some of Willie’s fears returned after his year of confinement, and the fact is that with some dogs, like yours, these restrictions can be incredibly difficult. I was most surprised, and unprepared, for how much I struggled personally with so much of my own happiness being compromised. It’s hardly a surprise to anyone that I love dogs, but I didn’t realize how much joy in my life comes from walking with my dogs, watching my dogs play with others, playing with my dogs, training my dogs, etc etc. Somewhere partway through I realize that Willie was doing better than I — and just figuring out that I was depressed myself helped a lot. That’s when I started taking more care of myself, and it helped. Of course, I only had just Willie then, so that made it better in some ways (no leaving Willie to walk other dogs) and worse in others (no other dogs to walk).
Here are some things that helped me, I hope they might help Lisa a bit:
1. If she loves to chew, leave her with the best chew toy ever, one the other dogs never get.
2. Sit down and think of some things that will nurture you… massage? best movie ever with girlfriends? Whatever it is, this IS REALLY HARD. It sucks, it just does, so do what you need to do to help yourself get through this. It’ll help your dog in the long run.
3. Any mental exercise you could do with your dog? Tricks she could learn? (Choose one toy over the other, etc etc). Obviously the kind of tricks are highly limited, but mental exercise (and attention to her and her alone) go a long way to help.
4. Massage? Have you been given good ideas about exercises, PT, massage? All of this is great attention for her and her alone, and is nurturing for both of you.
5. Chant every day: This too shall pass, this too shall pass. It will. There were days with Willie that I thought life would never, ever, ever improve. Now that it’s over, it’s OVER. It all seems like a long dream, and so far in the past (it’s not) that I have to use energy to remember it. I suspect it’s like child birth… somehow your brain and body collude to help you forget how bad it is.
One last thing: Usually, dogs who regress come back a lot faster than it took them to progress in the first place. After almost a year of isolation, Willie is still a little fearful of some guys in some circumstances, not quite as comfortable with unfamiliar dogs as he was a year ago, and less confident on the sheep BUT, he’s doing well on all counts, improving every day, and basically is a happy, happy boy.
Hang in there, and take care of yourself. Wish I could send you chocolate.
A timely post for us here in Maine as well. Perhaps it is the arrival of spring. Having undergone a major renovation, had a baby and moved over the past 18 months, and topped that off with some family medical crisis (better now), I have found my dogs responding differently. Both Aussies, anxiety has increased for both of them. This is a bigger issue for my younger guy, who is at heart a fearful dog. We had come far in prior years but in the past six months it was like we reached his limit and he just started going backwards. As his territorial barking, chasing the cat, and bolting in fear began to increase, my older guy got more stressed and joined in more often on the first two. Daily walks, afternoon play time, crate time… The usual tactics were not really helping. We added a dietary change, holistic intervention, control unleashed practice, a vet work up… And some improvement. But the real difference turns out to be something I wouldn’t have thought of. The dogs have always spend only supervised time outside, and because of Amos occasional antisocial tendencies at have never just left them out for very long. My folks live downstairs in the new house and now that the weather is so nice, a couple of afternoons a week, she is letting them out into our fenced yard and supervising (make sure there is no escape, no uncontrolled barking, no excessive digging). What a difference just a few hours of unstructured, unlimited outdoor freedom seems to make for both of them. A reminder that walking, training, structured play are all good… But they need just to lay in the grass and watch things to find balance.
Jessica Hekman says
I’ve been thinking a lot about balance with my dog Jenny lately. She came to me at a year of age, unsocialized and terrified of everything. A year and a half later, she’s improved a lot, but is still very limited. Right now one of the multitude of projects we’re working on is going on leash outside of the safe back yard, into the scary world.
My first approach was strict classical conditioning: go a set ways into the world, get treats, turn around and go back into the yard. I was frustrated that after several months of this I still didn’t feel able to get her past the side of my house into full view of the street out front. At that point I started letting Jenny drive a little more — we’d go out of the yard and I’d let her do what she wanted on leash. Sniffing around and going right back in was fine. Going as far as she wanted and then turning around was fine. Just hanging out and looking at things was fine. I stopped trying to control every aspect of the experience, and she started improving a lot faster.
I don’t know if this would work on all dogs, but Jenny seems to have a real desire to overcome her fears, and she’s also a brilliantly smart collie mix. So having trust in my dog has paid off — as of a few days ago we are walking along the road three houses away from my property!
So, balance: I’m struggling a lot with how much control to let Jenny have at this point. I think she’s capable of being driven by curiosity to go farther than she’s ready for, and then get overwhelmed and have a major setback. So I’m still trying to guide her (“that’s far enough for today”). I’m also acutely aware that we aren’t just learning to experience the great outside world, we’re also learning to walk on leash together, so I’m trying to keep her at least a little focused on me and not pulling. How to balance all that with trusting my dog and letting her do what she needs to do? I end up not having a formula but trying to listen to Jenny and do what seems right every day.
Anyways, lovely post, thank you!
Lisa W says
Trisha, thank you for such a warm, personal, and practical response. You are spot on. I am a little depressed and anxious (not my usual MO), and when I read about your realization of your own response to Willie’s confinement, it clicked. Thank you! Now, what to do about it. That’s the hard part, and I will try to take better care of myself so I can take better care of Olive (that will have to be the reasoning for now). I sorely miss our walks and playtime and just hanging outside and watching the two dogs enjoy each other. Not to mention fear of the unknown in terms of if this treatment works and how much she will regain. I remember the first time I saw Olive smile — it was last summer and we were walking in the woods, and I was doing some training in preparation for trying some off-leash walking. I had dropped her long lead and was watching her ahead of me, and she came back on her own and fell into a here (our heel), and trotted beside me smiling. It was a perfect moment, and that’s what I have to remember as well as letting go of my emotions a little and focusing on how we do this as best we can.
We have learned some new, non-body-moving tricks, and marrow bones have saved us more than once. I just got the ok for a chew toy from my vet, so I will be able to leave her with something she’ll love and not throw around and pounce on. I give her shoulder and back massages, and will ask about the PT. The regression keeps me up at night, but it’s good to hear that Willie is doing so well. Reading about your year of difference is inspiring. If I thought about a year of this, I’d need cases of wine and a big straw!
I feel very lucky to have a place like this where I can discuss these things and learn so much and be bolstered by others’ experiences. Thank you.
Off to chant now, oh, and I’ll give you my address if you want to send chocolate anytime 🙂
Marcia in NorCal says
Seems to me there’s a common thread here: this is a group of people who (a) watch their dogs, and (b) learn from that watching. Notice, too, how many comments echo the notion of “I have to be careful to not push too hard” in different contexts. Every time I read these posts and related comments, I think how fortunate are the dogs who have y’all as guardians, and how sad the story of the great majority of dogs whose people haven’t a clue about what makes the dog tick.
The comments about “ball crazy” and “overstimulated” remind me of a video clip I recently saw of Sue Sternberg, who often speaks to the subject of the shelter dog. I’m still woefully ignorant of many speakers and writers in the world of dogs, but it’s my understanding that Sue is rather well respected. She made the comment in this clip that shelter dogs need more than physical exercise to burn off the nervous energy that accumulates during endless hours in small kennel spaces — specifically, they can benefit greatly from mental stimulation and the opportunity to spend time learning. If that isn’t a case of needing balance — physical exercise, mental exercise, interaction with people, time to be quiet — I don’t know what is!
What a great post. It’s so great to read all the comments and even better to read about how much everyone here loves their dogs. After having 3 dogs in the past 10… wow, have I had guide dogs for that long?… Anyway, I’ve learned something about balance from each one of them. Marlin taught me how to be stable in any situation. Seriously the dog never paniced. I responded by being stable when he became distracted by other dogs, his only weakness while working.
Torpedo taught me when to recognize that enough was enough. he worked for me for 6 good years and then told me he was done. He couldn’t balance his life anymore between working for me and just being a dog. He needed to just be a dog and he is living the good life at the home of the family who raised him in California. he taught me how to watch for subtle signs of internalized stress that was spilling out. Sometimes, that’s hard to catch.
My newest boy, seamus is teaching me what it means to be relaxed. Nothing bothers this dog, though some things really get him excited. I’m wondering if any of you have a golden retreiver, or a retriever mix? My dog is a lab/golden cross and he does something I haven’t seen as much of in labs. He dives after moving things. Whether it’s a squirrel, or an inch long piece of fuz blowing in the wind. I’m not even joking about that, he really went after that outside of an airport. He’ll dive after them, especially if they’re moving fast. How can I intersept this? It has to be nonvisual as well because I won’t catch his ears/eyes/set of his body through sight. Should I do some set-ups? Thanks for help in this. It’s an area we’re trying to find balance in.
Angel Stambaugh says
I read this post and have been reading everyone’s comments and thinking about balance in my life. Well, in regards to my dog. I’ll leave balance in my life alone for now. Although, I’m sure balance in my life affects balance with my dog, too. Anyway…
I didn’t really feel the urge to comment until today. I work at a doggie daycare, and it struck me today that that is all about balance. Free play versus structured interaction, routine versus the surprises that inevitably happen, healthy play versus over stimulated play and healthy play versus boredom, etc.
In particular, this came to mind because we have one dog who gets very much over aroused during play, leading to undesirable behaviors in daycare. She was removed from daycare for now and will be re-evaluated by a trainer to see if she is suitable to return to daycare and if the behaviors can be modified while she is in daycare with us. She wasn’t in daycare at all last week, and the group dynamics were definitely different. At first I was like “whew”. First, she can be a handful for staff to manage. Second, she causes arousal levels to rise in the other dogs, so they in turn are playing in an over stimulated, not nice way, and don’t take natural breaks like they do on their own on the days she doesn’t come to daycare. It took me a little while to see that the balance kind of swung too far in the other direction. The dogs were seeking me to play with them more than usual, were just hanging out instead of playing with each other, sometimes seemed bored, etc. So over the top aroused energy isn’t good but neither is too low energy.
Thanks for the thought provoking post!
Truly a wonderful post. My reactive dog and I have been working for about three years now (she’s my first dog, too!), and the most important lesson I think I’ve learned is the need to balance my desires and dreams with her needs. Because of her anxiety, most of the dreams I’ve had for her have fallen away. However, I’ve learned to truly appreciate her for who she is, and our bond has deepened. I have learned to enjoy the things we CAN do together, rather than focus on what we can’t. While I will continue to push her, gently, so that she can be the best and happiest dog she’s capable of being, I will I also respect her limitations so that we can enjoy life together.
I’m fostering my 5th future service dog and I was soooooooooo stupid with my first pup. I,right now. drop my head in shame and tear-up when I think of my errors. My stupidity was caused by my anxiety.lack of knowledge and a very VERY high energy dog.
What a crap combo eh? My throat tightens up and I mentally lash myself. (however that said- he is now a fantastic,sensitive,responsive seeing-eye dog to a young woman)
(AND, of his whole litter 0f 9 pups, only 3 “graduated”-he being one of the 3!!!) tight throat ‘go away”!
It seems to me that this “balance” thing is a combination of “reading” our companion . being sensitive
being responsive, anticipating , reassuring, offering play with sheer joy (for the first time I have learned of the magnificence of tugging) engaging in the moment, without other worries crowding us,
and chatter>> explaining (yes, i explain what he is seeing/smelling/hearing) sitting and watching others also has helped us work together (side by side we breathe, as we lean against each other and “watch” ), a “yes’ “yes’ “yes” and a jackpot of treats when we have come successfully through a new situation ,
I share apples with the latest pup- we walk in a field (please, though i don’t mind cold weather, may it soon get warm again and tonight’s freezing rain go far,far away?-a brutal walk this evening-which he endured with grace) regarding the apples, I take a bite, then he gets my next bite when I break it off the apple. we share. piece by piece.
I have learned how to massage along his jaw line and the side of his neck. I feel him relax. Surely he knows I am calmer?
Lately his responsiveness to my “leave it”, ‘down,stay” etc has greatly improved. To celebrate, I give a blasting kick to an old mushy soccer ball and we have fun together. This must be work/play balance that I need.
for tommorow, pup has a marrow bone (a real one-with the marrow scooped out) sshhh, he doesn’t know it’s waiting for him! 🙂
Susan Mann says
Brodie has always strugggled with balance emotionnally- he is very joyously exuberant about meeting people and interacting with them, but reactive towards other dogs (some, by no means all) and critters. Doing anything with moderation just isn’t part of who he is, though he is finally slowing down (13.5yrs). I’ve been pretty fortunate not to have any period where I had to not exercise him for prolonged periods, because I think he woukd have driven both of us crazy.
Arie, OTOH, was born balanced. Phyically, while still with the litter you watched her move and she just seemed more coordinated than the other pups. I took her to a seminar when she was young, and the instructor’s comment was that she had a great blance of “go” and “think.” I do think some of my training (annd lack thereof) emphasized more of the “go” and put us out of balance for a while, so that she was overstimulated around agilityl but we have (mostly) resolved that. She did have an injury that severely restricted activity for a while and although it was hard on both of us, she handled it much better than I anticipated, and in retrospect, perhaps that time, when we couldn’t do “go” stuff balanced our training out somewhat.
I loved this post. Balance is so important.
1) Good Boy, Willie! 🙂
2) Your blog post made me think of my beloved 13-year-old border collie Ana. I’ve been frustrated all her life with how to deal with the facts that she used to bite me (and only me) fairly often. Not enough to cause damage, but enough to hurt. More annoying, the biting was usually connected with me trying to pet her or show affection in physical way. Unfortunately, until recently, all i knew about living wtih dogs was the traditional dominance / hierarchy doctrine. Leash corrections, etc., never back down, “never let your dog be the boss.”
This started to change for me when i read The Other End of The Leash and For The Love Of A Dog. Then, after that, On Talking Terms With Dogs (Turig Rugaas) and Plenty In Life Is Free (Kathy Sdao).
First of all, i started to understand that dogs don’t always want to be petted, and dislike hugs.
Then i found out that when a situation starts getting tense, it’s very easy to defuse it. Ana reacts instantly and dramatically to a “look away”, for example. I also started figuring out some of her own non-verbal language for when she was being uncomfortable. Contrast that with what i used to think, that i should never back down and had to win the stare contests.
Since i changed my ways, i have never been bitten again. 🙂
So i guess, balance sometimes is to be able to learn from our dogs, and not always teach, to be able to have a conversation with our dogs instead of a one-way dominance match.
Susan S. says
A big part of my life these days is balancing the needs of the young dog & the fourteen year old. I deal with the young dog’s daily request for at least a mile walk offleash so she can run & run & run & run vs. the old dog’s desire to walk a hundred yards to sniff & do her business & then head back, the necessity that I raise my voice (a lot) so the old dog can hear me vs. the very soft young dog’s tendency to slam her ears back & look very worried when I do so, & the young dog asking for play in the yard vs. the old dog’s willingness to play now & seriously regret it later. There are a million things. My husband helps. We separate them although they want to be together & we try to accommodate them individually, & we’re grateful for every day of it.
Don Hudson says
Balance! Mr. Miagi, “In karate, must have balance. Must have balance in all life”. Sorry about the movie reference but its appropriate to the subject. I volunteer at an animal rescue and we reach out to children in the area to come and interact with out animals. We also have students, generally special needs kids, come and work at out farm. I can tell you most of these kids are initially terrified of our animals. Many have never seen life farm animals. But through a slow, carefully prepared program our kids become animal handlers. They develop the skills, temperament, and self confidence to feed, water, groom, and sometimes medicate our animals We gice aspirin to our very arthritic pig (500 lbs.). They play with the animals. They talk to the animals. We even had an autistic girl who started talking to the animals and then talking to the other people working at the farm. It even got so that we could give the young women directions or tasks which she would do instantly.
One amazing, probably humorous, occurrence is when our kids go into the chicken coop and gather eggs for the first time. The majority of these kids think eggs come from the grocery store. The look of wonder as a child reaches under a hen sitting on her eggs and pulls them out of the nest is priceless.
We have some of our kids who get so accomplished that they teach new kids how to handle the animals, how to interact with the animals, and how to socialize with the animals.
I can’t prove it but I believe completely that our special needs kids become more physically competent and I know they are more at peace, calmer, and more aware of their environment. And they learn real life skills that could lead to employment and self-suffiency.
This is an infant theory with no real sciene behind it, but I think animals pay a fundamental, necessary role in the development and long term health of people. I see our kids literally become more balanced physically. Teachers, counselors, and job coaches that accompany and support these kids tell us that the emotional, social, and academic skills of these kids improve, sometimes dranaticaslly.
I think Mr. Miagi was right. “must have balance in all life.”