Trick Doggin’ with Deep Down Dogs!

Hi Friends,

So after many months of working on a performance video, here we go!  Lots of fun, 38 tricks, 4 dogs, on a beautiful Vermont Farm.


Enjoy it!

Posted in agility, Australian shepherd, diane gibbons, dog training, Dog tricks, dogs | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Naps with Dogs

Confession here- I love naps.  Of course, I love dogs.   So naps WITH dogs are right up there on the list of the best combinations in life.   Sure, I live for agility, treibball, rally,  training, and for those great walks in the woods  ( those are the ones we come back from with no one having rolled in something disgusting).   Movies on the couch with the dogs sleeping all around me are high on the list, too.   But crawling into bed together in the afternoon when I have that dip in energy that comes around 1 or 2 is just bliss for me, and for them, too.

The joy of napping with dogs

Nighttime, the dogs for the most part are in their crates in the bedroom with me- there are a couple that can join me in the bed at night, but I need to toss and turn, and too many dogs restrict my movement.  But for a nap, four of the five are cuddled up with me together (I would have all five up there, but my two older boys need to be kept apart in the house, so one of them goes into a crate and I rotate them each day).  It feels like one of the most important bonding times we share.

I’ve read some trainers who think that dogs sleeping in the bedroom is important for a sense of comfort and safety for the dog.   Dogs generally don’t like to be alone, especially at a vulnerable time like being asleep.   When you think of it from an animals perspective, all sorts of things can harm you when you are asleep and your awareness isn’t focused on the physical world around you.  So it makes sense that a pack animal would want to be with its pack during sleeping, when some may be more awake than others and can call out alarm if need be.  And it makes sense to be as close as you can be to one another.  So we share the bed.

My dogs can happily be training or running around during the day, but when we hang out at the house on our days “off”, they follow a rhythm not unlike their wild canid cousins.   Their most active times are around dawn and dusk.  Daytime is happily spent snoozing, resting, occasionally needing to go out, pee, and check the yard.   My rhythm isn’t very different than theirs, in that I’m most productive in the early part of the day, and the later afternoon and early evening.  I’ve always loved taking a nap during the day, and most days I get one in.

So besides just joining up for that special down time during the day, and feeling safe and comfy, what else might be going on?   From a spiritual point of view, we are all going into the dreamtime together.   We all move into another space, another world.  We let go of the shared reality we have here, and move to… there.  It feels not unlike we are having a shared meditation, and we all go together to the place we originated from.  When we are asleep of course, we aren’t consciously aware of one another.   But other parts of us are, and while I can’t say exactly what is happening, I know there is something going on.  When we wake up, it feels like we are closer.

When I awaken, I have a bit of time, not much, before I start “thinking”.  I am open, silent and can sense things that at other times I can’t.  I think that something of the dogs gets inside me at these times, and I into them.


Copyright © 2011 Diane Gibbons. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in diane gibbons, dog training, dogs, naps | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Up and On

Yesterday a friend I hadn’t seen for a while met my new puppy, Dash.   Dash is pretty exuberant when meeting anyone, human or canine, and he will jump up on you and try to kiss you.   My friend wasn’t at all thrilled, pushed him off, and said “OFF” in a stern voice.   Now some of you may think, wow, lady, you need to train that dog to stay off people!  But I have a different take on this.  For one thing, most of my dog friends encourage dogs to jump up on them, including me.   If a dog is just too big, I get down so the dog can get closer and make contact with the parts of humans that are actually interesting- the face and hands (of course, only if the dog is giving soft body, squishy signals that it is friendly).

So most dogs in my circle of dog people don’t get any consistent message about not jumping, and in fact often get rewarded for doing it.   I don’t train it out of my dogs anymore.  If I meet someone I know isn’t into being jumped on or could be harmed, I manage the situation and step on the leash and say “off”  (the saying “off” will  train the dog that when I step on the leash they shouldn’t try to jump up).  When my friend made it clear that she wasn’t happy about it, I did my leash thing and she was happier  (though Dash was not).

A few years ago I was working with a dog trainer nearby that has some deep and unusual theories about dogs.   One of these was that jumping up on you was actually a good thing, and you could use it to your advantage to help heal issues that a dog had.  It was so out-of-the-box that I couldn’t help but be intrigued.  As you may have discovered if you follow this blog, I’m not one that “sticks with the program”, but rather I like exploring and inquiring about the beliefs we hold, especially about our dogs.

So I began working with this idea.  And I found it actually worked to deepen the relationship I had with both of the dogs I was doing it with.   When you scrape away all the interpretations about why dogs jump up on you  (they are trying to dominate, they are being rude, etc)  you have an animal that is making a physical connection, period.  They are putting their paws on you, exposing their belly, and usually reaching towards your face.   And when you think about that, wow.  How amazing and wonderful is that??!  How many animals in this world are wanting to make physical contact with you (well, besides  mosquitoes and ticks and things that want to hurt you)?   Seen this way, you can understand how it can be healing for dogs to get to where they will jump up on you.  They want to connect.

Pilgrim, my Aussie, has never liked being touched, especially around his head.   He is shy of strangers, and tentative about many things.   When I began working with him, getting him to jump up on me, I was amazed at how afraid he was about it.  Over time he got better, to where I could ask him to jump up on me, and stay with his paws on me for a while.   Treats were employed in the process of course.   And in time he got more confident about jumping up.  Occasionally he will do a bit of a jump on someone else, and really this is a wonderful thing!  When he does this  it shows he has grown to feel that some people, at least, can be trusted.   Skye, my border collie, was also tentative at first about jumping up on me, but also came to be more confident about it.  As that happened, he also became more confident around other people.  Skye was never a terribly shy dog around people, but he could be fearful in certain situations with them.   He has overcome that and now will jump up on nearly anyone (though not everyone).
You may say, well, yes, you should teach them to do this but only on command, I would say, to do it on command means that the dog isn’t responding to its own sense of comfort or discomfort, but is just doing what you have taught.   If this is really about trust, and confidence, and allowing the dog to express itself, then it should be free to do that without you controlling the process  (of course, unless someone is endangered by it, or is really uncomfortable about it).

So mostly, my dogs jump up on people.  The three younger dogs were never taught not to, and interestingly they are all extremely friendly.  They love contact, touch, kisses.   They are better balanced in that way than my older dogs that I had to work to get to jump up on me.    Up, and on.  Contact!  It’s a beautiful, and even a healing thing.

Copyright © 2011 Diane Gibbons. All Rights Reserved

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Lessons from The Horse Whisperer

Last night I watched the documentary “Buck”, which I highly recommend to any of  you interested in dog training.   It is a about Buck Brannaman, a man who is a profound horse trainer, and the “horse whisperer” that the movie by that name was actually based on.   A child that was severely abused physically and emotionally by his father, he was eventually put in foster care with a couple that began his healing process.   Buck was able to apply his own experience of abuse to working with horses, many of which have also been treated with cruel training methods.  His gentle, firm, but positive process of helping horses to move from fear into partnership is amazing to watch and the documentary does a great job of showing him at work.

Horses, like dogs, are social creatures.  Horses are different because they are prey animals,  and thereby their awareness of the world is different, but there is much that is similar between dogs and horses in terms of training.   What I saw last night touched me deeply as I made the connections between some of the dogs I see that have suffered under the hands of inexperienced owners (many who have taken their beliefs about dog training from Cesar Milan) and dog trainers that apply a very outdated and abusive “dominance theory” to working with dogs.
Interestingly, the dog trainers that I know that use pain and intimidation -choke collars, prong collars, alpha rolls, making a dog submit- are mostly, though not all, men.  Watching Buck last night, I wondered how many of them had their own abuse stories to tell- ones that hadn’t been worked through as Buck had, so that learning a new humane way hadn’t been a possibility.    I am very quick to judge trainers that are hurtful and that create more fear in dogs rather than joy and partnership.   But what is the story behind that for the trainer?   How do we help them to see what they are doing and how it probably reflects their own pain?

One of the things I loved about Buck was that the horses, often skittish and afraid at first in the ring with him, eventually calmed down.  Then they began to follow him around without his needing to use the rope to make them do it.   They realized they were safe in his presence, and they became curious.   They wanted to “join up” with this man, and you could see it in their body language.  His own healing, his own mentoring by other pioneer horsemen who had learned how to use guidance, body language, mental skills, energetic pressure and subtle cues rather than pain and fear to train horses, gave him a new way of being with these animals.  And the results were really miraculous.   What possibilities are there for us dog trainers here?

A few years ago, I led a workshop called Deep Down Dog.  It was a very experimental workshop that explored everything from quantum physics, mental imagery, and personal belief systems in how we interacted with our dogs.   It was an amazing experience, and went well beyond the usual questions we ask in dog training.   Fundamental was the willingness to be open to exploration, not just about the dogs, but about ourselves.   Those of us that love dogs owe it to them to look more deeply at where our beliefs about how to be with them come from.   We owe it to them to sort through the emotional baggage that we bring to our relationship with them.

We can learn better and new ways, and as we do, our dogs will be more and more willing to “join up” with us.

Your thoughts?


Copyright © 2011 Diane Gibbons. All Rights Reserved

Posted in dog training, dogs, inspiration | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Growing Pup…

So now that Dash was here, it was going to be really interesting to see what he would be like.  So far I had seen pretty much only good things.   He was very social with other dogs, loved every person he met and greeted them with a wagging tail  (I can’t say how much I LOVE that Aussie tail!) and a curl of his body into them.  His tongue leapt out of his mouth non-stop when greeting.  He met new circumstances or unknown things with interest but not necessarily with excessive exuberance.  He was polite, learned quickly, and one of the things I found fascinating was how he was already able to change his play style to match that of the dog he was interacting with.   I had not seen that in a puppy before, and it seemed an advanced social skill.   If he were with my border collie that demanded submissiveness, he would run and roll, and lick, and run and roll, and throw himself at Skye, and then lick, or dig dirt with him.  With Star, my tiny dog who is part terrier and has a very non-contact style, Dash did fast jerky movements, barking, and non-contact. I’ve seen him play with shy dogs, overly rambunctious dogs, and high-contact Aussies.


Dash plays with his friend Sammie

Recently he said “no” to a puppy friend of his who was being too much for him (keeping him pinned down and doing it frequently), and Dash put him in his place.   We gave them a time out and they were fine together after that.

Dash, like many herding dogs, is a very fast learner and enjoys training.  Since I got him, we have spent some time most days training either formally or informally.   Formal sessions have included the usual behaviors such as sit, down, stay, as well as others like retrieving, crate games, hind end awareness, targeting,  and agility obstacles appropriate to his age  (no weaving or jumping higher than 8 inches and not too much of that either).   Most of all we have worked on recalls- all my dogs have good recall, somewhere in the vicinity of 75-90%.   The small dog, Star, has the most distractions  ( which we haven’t worked through and likely, won’t), while Pilgrim has the best recall of all the dogs.   Though I sometimes think I should be doing more recall work with all of them, really I know that it isn’t on the top of my training list. With 5 dogs you have to prioritize, and while they are pretty darn good, getting that extra near-perfect recall would take time away from other things I want to do with them, like agility, treibball and rally training.

However, getting a puppy as close to a perfect recall as I can IS on top of the list.  So Dash and I work on recall in the house, out in the yard, and on walks in the woods.   My clicker and a lot of great treats are what I use, and I know not to call him when I know he is too distracted to come to me.  Building up his recall with small and intermediate distractions is where we are now.  Leaves blowing around yes, we can work with that.  The sound of a chipmunk in the woods, we can work with that, too.   A chipmunk running in the yard, nope- he goes and chases it and I don’t even bother!

Doing a down contact on the dogwalk

At 5 1/2 months he started taking a class with me at the local Humane Society where I also work.  Most people take a class to start their dog’s training, but actually in my mind, starting at home if you know something about what you are doing is really better, and that is what we did.  At home you can train without the huge distractions you will get in a class.  Then when you have the behaviors down pretty well at home, you can add in the distractions of a class.  Dash is proving me right as he is clear what the behaviors are I am asking for in the class, but the distractions are raising the difficulty for him.   He is doing great, because he has had such a good foundation of training, socialization and positive reinforcement going all the way back to his start in England.


Copyright © 2011 Diane Gibbons. All Rights Reserved

Posted in Australian shepherd, dog training, dogs | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Off Across the Pond

I had three weeks to get all my things in order to both import a dog, figure out the air travel,  get my house puppy-proofed, and generally get ready for an overseas trip.   Fortunately, my good friend Ann said she would go with me, which was really comforting.  Ann and I had traveled to New Orleans for the ASPCA together to get dogs out of there after Katrina.   I knew how good she was in stressful situations (hopefully that wouldn’t occur, but you never know).    She is also a vet tech, and has 7 dogs of her own.  So she was perfect to help with this complex adventure.  Paul, my beloved, was going to stay behind and care for our combined pack of 7 dogs.

Dash and I first meet in England. Can you say "Love"?

While this blog isn’t meant to be a whole involved travelogue of our trip,  let me just say, it was pretty darn smooth, but it had some challenges. Most notably I had arranged with Delta to travel on board with Dash, and confirmed this three times before I left.   When I was confirming from England the night before coming back, they suddenly had no record of it, and said he weighed too much anyway  (he was 7 pounds at the time, and 10 was the limit.  It turned out that I was speaking to someone from Air France who wasn’t proficient in English, and there was confusion about pounds vs. kilograms).  I finally got it all straightened out and we were set to go.  At the airport, however, there was…. ta da…. no record of it.  After a bunch of kisses from Dash the supervisor got it all worked out.

But a few reflections here about England and dogs.  One of the things I noticed about Dash’s amazing breeder, Jessica Steward, was that, besides conditioning him and socializing him far more than nearly any breeder I’ve met or talked to here, I became aware of how she and others carried the puppies around a lot.  And I mean a LOT.  The puppies were scooped up and cuddled and transported all while being held.  If they struggled the people just held them without any scolding or negativity until the puppies settled.  And while I am working from a sample size of one, if it IS a common practice there, I think that it may be one reason that many dogs in England you see are so balanced and calm.  They learn self-control early on,  and they learn to bond physically with people.  These two things make them much more socially adapted, and since people tend to take their dogs to public places a lot in England, the dogs also start early  being socialized to lots and lots of people and stay that way.  It was so wonderful to see dogs everywhere we went,  happy well-adjusted dogs (all with their full tails and ears!) in parks, pubs, streets and shopping areas.   Now I KNOW that not all dogs are like this in England, but it seems there are more of them there, or maybe it is just that there are more of them out and about instead of cooped up at home, in yards, and in kennels.

Another thing I noticed there,  people aren’t overly focused on training or managing when they are out with their dogs.   They all seemed to be walking with the dogs enjoying the time together, relaxed for the most part.   We were there a week, and since Ann and I are both dog trainers, we were constantly pointing out what we saw people doing with their dogs, and how the dogs seemed to be responding.  And they all seemed so much better behaved and calmer than you often see here.

So how did this puppy do on a 14 hour travel day?  He started by getting  in a van  (which he had been conditioned to for weeks) and driven into town where we were staying.   He then got into a carrier that the breeder had conditioned him to,  and on the train with us.   He seemed to enjoy looking out the window, and rode quietly and content.  Then we took a shuttle to the airport, into the airport, through security  (kisses all around for the security people from Dash), and on to a plane.   He started out under the seat in the plane, then on our laps in the carrier.   In Amsterdam where we had a stop and plane change, I pulled out a pee pad in a corridor, and he went on that.  Then back into the carrier.   We nearly missed the flight home from Amsterdam, but Ann and I managed a run that got us there barely in time.   Dash was bounced around as I ran with him, came out for security to give more kisses, and then onto the long flight to Boston.   He traveled mostly in his carrier the next 7 hours, but I took him to the rest room to see if he needed to pee.  Nope.  So far, not a single peep out of this puppy!   He did get a bit restless part of the way through the flight, but we opened the end of the carrier and played with him and eventually he fell asleep again.  In Boston we went through security and customs (twice, once for everyone arriving from overseas, and once for the “agricultural” customs since I had an animal).   We drove in a friend’s car who picked us up at the airport, then got into my car and drove home.   Dash was a dream, only 10 weeks old, and easy with everything that went on. Good breeding?  Of course that was part of it.  His dad especially is very easy-going.   But nature was only part of it, the nurture that Jessica had done was paying off already.   This puppy was ready for the world.

Copyright © 2011 Diane Gibbons. All Rights Reserved

Posted in dog training, dogs | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Warnings…and Unexpected Gifts

A good friend of mine warned me when I started this blog that I would likely get some negative stuff coming at me.   Bless her for her concern!  I know that my views on some things are controversial, but I also know that I’m open to conversation, to learning new ways of seeing things, and discovering creative ways of solving what lies before us.  Be forewarned readers that really nasty stuff won’t make it to the comments, but I would love to have good conversations with those of you that have differing opinions from mine.

The whole plight of dogs, the AKC, breeding, docking, spay/neuter, etc.  are all deep waters with multifaceted ethical concerns, and I for one will admit that I don’t know my way clearly through all of them.   But I feel that those of us that ARE concerned need to start talking to one another, open ourselves to the questions, take stands and let go of them when they fail to hold up to the light, and start the ball rolling to change things if we want to see healthy, stable dogs in our futures.

And up front, I just love dogs- all of them.   Even the ones that are bred badly, the ones with docked tails, the ones from puppy mills, the ones spayed or neutered early, the fearful ones, the sick ones.   What I want to see, and what I think most dog lovers want to see,  is less suffering on the part of the dogs, and on the part of the people that love them.

So back to my story, I had started a wonderful email conversation with a breeder of miniature Australian Shepherds in England.    And after hearing about how she tested her dogs, and what she was looking for in her dogs I told her that I was interested in getting one of her puppies sometime in the future, maybe in 2012.  I filled out the application.  And then figured it would be at least a year away.

And here is where the spiritual world does its magic.   The breeder’s pups were born in May, and I connected almost immediately with one of them.   Knowing he was spoken for,  I kept telling myself that he wasn’t mine, but that I could enjoy him through the pictures, videos and through sharing comments about him.   I did that for a couple weeks, and then I got a wonderful email- the people that were going to be taking him decided to wait until the next litter for a female.   The breeder felt that this puppy would be great in a performance home, and after some consideration offered him to me if I wanted him.  Did I want him??!!   ABSOLUTELY!   OMG, I’m getting a puppy!

Copyright © 2011 Diane Gibbons. All Rights Reserved

Posted in anti-AKC, dogs | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment