$10,000 Dog

Before I acquired my boy, Ranger, I decided that I wanted to have a backup fund for any pet that I brought home.

Why?

  • Because I don’t think there is anything more heartbreaking than to own a pet and discover that something fixable is wrong with it, it’s urgent, and you cannot afford it. Insurance helps, but there are things like g. rooming costs, training, equipment, supplies, and fun activities. Just stuff that adds up.
  • As a business, I wanted to try to set an example because daily I am overwhelmed with sad cases of people who cannot afford my grooming services–even if I were to price them so low that I can’t earn a living. The owner may be able to afford the grooming once a year, but for many breeds this is not enough. The dog is often suffering because of this. I feel bad charging some people because I know if they are scraping to pay for grooming then they can’t afford vet care, premium foods, daycare, environment management tools (crates, baby gates, etc.)
  • How often do I hear that a person purchased a puppy from a pet store and it cost $1000? That is just the tip of the costs.  Even if someone were given a show dog, this is just the beginning.  So many people spend their money on that initial price and are shocked and resentful when they find out how much more is required. How many of us would dare to bring a horse home without having plenty of money for things like a barn, hay, equipment, a truck/trailer? For some reason, most of us think dogs just manage to work it out. They don’t. I would be thrilled if someone told me that they had set aside even $500 for their new pet. I wanted to go above and beyond.
  • One can peruse the “Pets” section on Craigslist, for example, and find an endless list of ads where people are selling their unwanted pets (or, more accurately, asking for “re-homing” fees). Some people will try to find a way to ask for the original purchase price. Dogs do not go up in value (unless it perhaps happens to be a dog trained by Karen Pryor).
  • I wanted to do something different. Instead of trying to sell a dog, how about if something happens to me and I can no longer care for mine, I have $10K to give to someone willing to care for him.
  • Think that’s insane? One of my best clients has legally named me as the guardian of their dog. They have committed $35,000 toward ensuring his good care. By their calculations, he will likely live another 10+ years. That’s approximately $3500/year to cover food, vet care, and anything else he needs. What a concept!
  • I have a guilty admission. I fell onto hard times after I acquired my dog. We no longer have our $10K fund for Ranger. However, I’m glad I had it at the time. Had it not been there, it  surely would have been more difficult to care for him than it was. Not all is lost, I have a tiny little seed of a savings account started for him again. A $10 deposit here, a $20 deposit there adds up. Ranger is 3 years old now. I’m sure we will need it at some point.

So, if you have a pet of any kind, I would encourage you to think about setting up an emergency plan + trust fund of sorts if you really care about your pet.  What is it that typically happens when a pet owner dies, must move, or has any other life change that does not allow them to care for their pet any longer? Check out the staggering number of ads on Craigslist, PetFinder, Animal Control, The Humane Society, rescues, etc. (I can’t bear to think of the possibilities of one of my pets ending up in a punishment-based home or, worse, in a research lab or dog-fighting ring). Give any pet you love and cherish the best possible chance of living well by:

  • Lining up a legal guardian, if possible.
  • Setting your pet up with a dowry or naming them in your will.
  • Teaching your dog excellent manners–this is every bit as essential as money. A well-mannered dog is adoptable; an expensive, ill tempered, untrained dog is not endearing and is usually discarded.

If it matters to you what becomes of your pet, do everything you can to set your dog up for a good life!

Worthy of Posting

Progressive Reinforcement Trainer Logo

The following is a manifesto written by one of my good friends who is one of the most talented trainers in the world (literally, she travels the world and teaches and is a very popular sensation on YouTube).

This document  is well thought out and worthy of a post on this site. It might be a bit advanced for those who are new to training, so I’ll try to provide a brief summary.

Summary: Emily Larlham is proposing a new vocabulary term for training that is very clearly positive-reinforcement only. She provides the details of what this is and is not. She proposes the new term because “positive reinforcement” has all but lost meaning due to overuse and misuse.

The type of training she practices (and that I always hope I am practicing) is what my mother described as this “Your dog receives either neutral (at worst), a reward of some type, or a jackpot for excellent behavior. Never a punishment.” It’s close enough, though ignoring unwanted behavior is “punishment” in the technical sense, but that’s getting into the nitty gritty.

I don’t care what it is called, but it, in my opinion (and unless science or some other very persuasive theory comes along to blast this one out of the water) is what I, personally, consider to be the highest level of training there is.

In our circle of training friends, we really don’t consider it ‘training’ unless you are challenging yourself at this level. Intimidation isn’t impressive: Anyone can do that. This tight set of constraints in training forces a trainer to be creativeknowledgeable, and skilled and is the ultimate in showing respect to an animal.

Because, in order to employ this type of training, you have to know what a specific animal likes/dislikes, fears, is annoyed by, what motivates the animal–experience and studying both play a part for a good trainer to either begin a new behavior or change an existing one.

“Do no harm” is the minimum requirement; “Help this animal to feel secure, even tempered, and confident” while learning is the ultimate goal. It’s the healthiest relationship we can have with animals.

Proud to call myself a Progressive Reinforcement Trainer.

Here is the manifesto in full from her website:

Progressive Reinforcement Training Manifesto

By Emily Larlham

The Need for a New Term:

A type of animal training exists that involves no forms of intimidation, confrontation, violence, reprimands, or domination.

This non-violent type of training has gone under many names: “Clicker Training,” “Positive Training,” “Positive Reinforcement Training,” and “Reward Training,” among others.   There is a need for a more specific, more accurate, more inspirational term.  The above terms have been used so loosely in recent years that they have lost their original meanings.  How has this happened?  Trainers who use compulsion methods may incorporate a clicker (a noise maker to mark desirable behavior) and refer to themselves as a “Clicker Trainers.”  Trainers who use painful or intimidating methods may include food or toy rewards in their training and refer to themselves as “Reward Trainers” or “Positive Reinforcement Trainers.”  It is already possible that a member of the public may seek the guidance of a trainer who claims to be “Positive,” only to find out that this trainer routinely uses physical violence towards animals.

I propose a new term that trainers and members of the general public can use to refer to this type of modern training – a training system that is not only humane, compassionate, and reliable, but is also based on the latest scientific studies.  Because this form of training constantly incorporates the latest and most reliable scientific findings, and because it furthers an evolutionary progress toward a more harmonious relationship between humans and the animals who live with them, it shall be referred to as Progressive Reinforcement Training.

Progressive Reinforcement Training essentially means teaching animals by rewarding desired behaviors and excluding the intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation.

Progressive Reinforcement Training means:

1) Training by rewarding desirable behaviors so they will be more likely to occur in the future, while preventing reinforcement of behaviors that are undesirable.

An example:  Letting a dog walk forwards while the leash remains loose to sniff a bush as a reward for not pulling, while not letting the dog reach the bush if the leash becomes tight (so that pulling on leash is never rewarded).

Another example: If you are training a dog to greet guests politely, you first reinforce the dog for calmly keeping all four feet on the floor (not jumping) in exciting situations, and then when the dog does jump up, you remove your attention briefly (by turning away from the dog- as attention is rewarding). However, if you simply tried to train a dog not to jump up by turning away from the dog repeatedly without rewarding him for the correct choices – the dog could become frustrated.  It is true that if the dog figures out that the jumping is not getting attention, the dog will try an alternate behavior – however, a dog will more likely try jumping higher, barking, whining, and nipping over standing still or sitting for attention. By rewarding the dog for what you want him to do first, you give the dog a default behavior to try when what he is doing is not working.

Examples of Rewards:

Food, toys, attention, people, other animals, running, sniffing, swimming, going outside, coming inside etc.

Keep in mind the animal chooses what is rewarding, not the trainer. This means that if you give your dog a treat for sitting, and then ask him to sit again and he doesn’t sit, it’s very likely that the dog does not find the treat rewarding.  Other things to keep in mind are that rewards will not be effective if the animal is full, or the animal is stressed.

2) Interrupting and preventing undesirable behaviors without physical or psychological intimidation, as well as rewarding an alternate response (training a behavior you find desirable in it’s place).

An example: If you want to train a dog not to lie on your couch, you train the dog to do what you want him to do first.  That is, you train him to go and lie on his dog-bed.  Then when he does try to go on the couch, you interrupt him and redirect him to the appropriate location (his dog bed) so that climbing onto the couch remains unreinforced.  During the training process you, also use management and prevention: while you are away from the house, you block the dog’s access to the couch, as he would likely choose to lie on the couch – and be reinforced for it – in your absence.

You can interrupt an animal’s undesirable behavior so that he is not self-rewarded without using physical or mental intimidation.  To do this, you can train the animal to respond to an attention cue or a recall: something that means, “stop what you are doing and look at me”, or “stop what you are doing and come here immediately”.

A very basic training plan for training an attention noise to interrupt behavior:

First you can make the noise that you want the animal to respond to (a whistle, or a kissy noise) and then feed a treat. Repeat this until the animal is expectant of a treat after the noise.  Next make the noise while the animal is looking away from you and AS the animal turns to look at you (for the treat) mark that behavior with either a click (using a clicker) or by saying “yes”.  Once you have repeated this step you can then add distractions.  Have the animal on a leash so he cannot reach the distraction (perhaps a low value piece of food on the ground)- make the attention noise, and click or say “yes” and then feed a treat if the animal turns towards you after hearing the noise. If the animal does not turn towards you, do not click or say “yes”.  The animal should not be allowed to reach the distraction that it is interested in.  You can take a step backwards from the distraction to make it easier so the animal can succeed.  You can condition this attention noise or a recall to muscle memory in the same way a driver responds to a green light traffic signal (green light means go!).  Once you have created many different scenarios where your animal can disengage in what he is interested in to come towards you and look at you, you can start using the sound to interrupt behaviors that you find undesirable.

Keep in mind that if you ignore the animal and only pay attention to him when he is doing undesirable behavior, you will be training the animal to do exactly that which you do not want by providing your attention whenever the behavior occurs.  So the GOAL is to reward the animals alternate responses to the same situations in conjunction with interrupting and preventing the undesirable behaviors.

Example: If your dog steals your underwear and runs around the house with them to get your attention, you have got to reinforce your dog with your attention when he is calm and doing NOTHING.  When your dog is lying at your feet quietly, that is when you will reinforce him with MORE attention than when he runs off with your underwear.

3) Taking an animal’s emotional state and stress levels into account.

Trainers practicing Progressive Reinforcement read an animal’s body language to the best of their ability for signs of stress or arousal and adjust their training approach accordingly.

Example: Removing a dog that is offering stress signals from a situation where a child is chasing or pestering the dog.

4) Socializing and teaching an animal to cope with his environment using reinforcement.

You can use Progressive Reinforcement Training to socialize and teach an animal to cope with his environment by letting him experience low or non-stressful situations in which the animal is likely to succeed and earn rewards for desirable behavior.  You can then increase difficulty and distractions as the animal succeeds, with the goal of creating a confident well-adjusted animal.

An example: Teaching an animal to be relaxed and calm while being handled or restrained by using reinforcement.  Pavlov’s dog was trained to have a new emotional response to a bell because the sound of a bell was followed by food. You can train your dog to enjoy handling, very simply put, by touching the dog and then feeding the dog a treat, and increase the invasiveness as the dog remains unstressed by the situation.  If the dog were to shy away, the trainer would have to go back a step to where the dog was comfortable (Classical Conditioning).

Another example: Feeding a dog a reward for remaining relaxed and calm around an exciting situation (perhaps a road with loud traffic), first from a distance and then as the dog succeeds from closer and closer.  If the dog were to become too excited or stressed, the trainer could go back a step in the training process until the dog was successful.

5) Using a marker to train, whether it be a clicker, some other noise-maker, your voice or touch, or a visual marker.  Or, on the other hand, not using a marker, and instead for example reinforcing an animal by feeding a treat directly to his mouth.A marker can be used to pinpoint behavior.  It tells an animal that what he is doing at that exact moment in time will win him reinforcement.

For example: If a dog sits, the trainer can click as the dog is sitting, and then feed the dog a treat.  Or the trainer can say, “Yes!” in a positive tone as the dog is sitting and then feed the dog a treat or release the dog to get a toy or go out the door.

Reinforcing behavior is also possible without using a marker.  For example, you can feed a dog a treat for looking at another dog to change his emotional response to the other dog (Classical Conditioning).  You can also reinforce your dog for calmly lying around the house or outside by tossing him a treat between his paws while he is not expecting the treat and he will be more likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

6) Employing humane, effective, respectful training based on the latest scientific evidence.

A commitment to Progressive Reinforcement Training means strictly following all of the above principles – not just in training sessions, but during 100% of the time spent with an animal.

Progressive Reinforcement Training does not mean:

1) The intentional use of physical or psychological intimidation.Using your voice, touch, body language, a device, or the environment to intimidate an animal for the purpose of continuing, initiating or ending the animal’s behavior.

Examples: staring at an animal, intentionally leaning over him, poking, jerking, shocking, squirting with water, startling with a noise, or using your voice in an intimidating way to suppress behavior (saying “no” or “eh!”).

2) Intentionally disregarding an animal’s stress levels or signals.

Intentionally putting an animal in overly stressful situations in which he cannot cope, rather than exposing the animal in a way that he is under his threshold (the animal can make choices and cope).

Example: Forcing an animal to meet a stranger while the animal is offering a wide range of stress and avoidance signals.

Example:  Dragging an animal across a surface he is frightened of and refuses to cross, instead of teaching the animal to feel confident and calm crossing the surface using Counter Conditioning (rewarding the animal for choosing to take steps across the floor until the animal is confident to cross calmly on his own)

3) Holding selfish or uncompassionate goals for your training.

Intentionally putting an animal at risk for physical or emotional damage to satisfy ones own interests.

A commitment to Progressive Reinforcement means never intentionally using the intimidatory tactics above  – never in training sessions, and never during any other time spent with an animal.

Why refrain from using Physical or Psychological Intimidation?

For scientific, moral, and ethical reasons. Using these forms of conditioning can produce unwanted side effects in addition to the basic trauma they do to an animal.

The many problems with using physical or psychological intimidation:

1) Without perfect timing, intensity, and consistency, the “training” amounts to nothing more than abuse.
2) The animal learns to avoid the punisher in order to indulge in undesirable behavior.
3) These techniques can cause irreversible emotional damage to the animal.
4) The punishment can increase stress hormones, arousal, and aggression.
5) Animals can habituate to the punishment – meaning that the intensity of the punishment must keep increasing to have any effect as the animal learns to endure it.
6) You cannot change an animal’s basic emotional response to find children, adults, or other animals (or anything for that matter) reinforcing by using intimidation; you can only suppress the dog’s punished behaviors.
7) Intimidation can cause dogs to hide their warning signs before attempting to bite.
8) Dogs trained with punishment can feel trapped by their handlers, since the decision to leave a ‘stay’ or to leave the handler’s side (to escape from a bothersome child, for example) can cause punishment.  Animals who feel they have no escape tend to bite rather than move away.
9) Intended intimidation can actually increase the behavior you wish to extinguish, as intimidation involves giving a form of attention to an animal.
10) The presence of the punisher becomes less reinforcing for the animal.  If you punish your dog using intimidation, it is harder to compete with the reinforcement value of other things in the environment.  Your dog will find other stimuli in the environment more reinforcing than you as the dog increasingly associates you with punishment rather than reward.
11) Dogs who have been trained with physical or psychological intimidation do not offer behaviors on their own as readily when asked, making complex behaviors difficult to train
12) Handlers who use intimidation as punishment will punish their animals more readily in the future as punishment is rewarding to the handlers themselves (they get the result they wanted- hitting a dog made it stop barking, so they will be more likely to hit the dog in the future).  In other words, using physical or psychological intimidation causes one’s own behavior patterns to change.

In conclusion, Progressive Reinforcement Training is not a permissive form of training.  It requires providing consequences to all behaviors.  The trainer takes on the role of a benevolent leader and guide using these ethical and scientifically based methods.

Pet Overpopulation

Does it really need to be said?

Who, at this point in history, needs to be told to spay/neuter their pets?

You might be absolutely surprised.  On a routine basis, I meet people who ask me if they think it would be a good idea to let their dog have a litter or two.

Here is my shortest post in history.

  • There are currently too many dogs.
  • Of the people who will take a puppy, how many of them do you think will actually be ‘good’ homes and not ruin a good puppy from misinformation, lack of time or money, loss of a home, loss of a job, moving, having a baby, etc? Not many people are truly prepared and knowledgeable to raise a puppy well and keep it for life. The, now-grown, not-so-cute-anymore, has-issues ‘pup’ now sits in a shelter. The stats are not in the dog’s favor at this point…no matter what line of champions a dog is purported to come from.
  • Millions sit in shelters; millions are euthanized daily. Are we comfortable with the intentional death process? I’m not. It is a reality. How about just spaying/neutering?

 

Apology to Abby

What better way to begin blogging than to start with an apology…to a Basset Hound named Abby?

I woke up this morning with a heavy heart and I’m doing what I usually do when something either bothers or excites me (and don’t dare call anyone at 5:30 a.m.): I write.

Yesterday, I violated every principle that I founded West Coast Pets upon: I caused pain to a dog and forced her to endure a procedure (toenail clipping) even though she was clearly (CLEARLY) terrified about it. I took advantage of her good nature not to bite me. Instead, she kicked and screamed. I caused trauma and violated any trust she had in me.

Veterinarians and groomers may read this, laugh, and shake their heads.  My good friends and colleagues may read this and “unfriend” me.  I only have myself to answer to–that self is far more critical. Then there’s my own dog–I answer to him more than to any God. Dramatic writing? I hope so.

I have gained the trust in my closest circle of positive reinforcement training friends to handle my own and their pets with the most advanced, humane techniques known I have set the bar for myself much higher than most pet owners do, on purpose. I want to be different. I want to be extreme. It’s not about me; it’s about them. I hope that taking this stance is infectious and spreads to other caretakers of animals.

What is positive reinforcement training? Rather than provide a full explanation here that has been written about extensively in many books by some of the best I will keep the focus on Abby.

However, check my website in the future as I try to condense the subject for beginners to break it down into enticing bites. If you’re more ambitious, try reading “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor or visit her website http://www.clickertraining.com. Do you have a background in psychology? Pull out your textbooks and refer to Pavlov and B.F. Skinner.

In short, I spend an unimaginable amount of time training animals to accept unpleasant procedures using gifts and rewards for good behavior rather than forcing them to tolerate things that frighten and more deeply entrench their reactions. I’m trying to set them up for a lifetime of good treatment by anyone who must handle them.

So, what were the factors that would lead me to owing Abby an apology?

  • Pressure.
  • Lack of a written policy.
  • Assumptions about typical owners.

I’ll integrate all of these into an ideal scenario.

Someone hears about “The Great Saratini” in San Diego. The Ms. Doolittle of her small world.   If you know me, you would know this is pure sarcasm…my dorky idea of humor.  Sometimes I think I receive a little too much credit from people. The credit goes to the real stars, the teachers and researchers who developed these techniques as well as the heroes who are the animals themselves. I remind myself daily that it is a gift and a privilege to get to work with and/or care for them–not the other way around.

So, based on a recommend (or maybe a pet owner has simply heard that I “groom dogs”) someone decides to call me and set an appointment to have their dog groomed.  If this dog and their person know about positive reinforcement methods and my commitment to them, no problem. We take the time to set the environment and proceed in a way that provides maximum benefits for their pet.

If not, I am currently in a dilemma. The average person who takes their pet to a groomer expects low cost and fast service. They may not even realize what happens to their dog or cat after they leave a salon, vet, kennel, etc. Explaining what I do, in detail requires a lot of wind. I want to be nice. I don’t want to disappoint. And that’s how I ended up letting Abby down.

So, back to my ideal scenario.

Phone: Ring, Ring.

“West Coast Pets may I help you?”

“Is this the real owner of Ranger? I’ve heard so much about him!”

“Why, yes it is. I’ll let him know he has another fan. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Well, I’ve heard that he shacks up with a gal named Sara who incidentally knows how to cut and shape fur, trim toenails and the like and that she uses fully positive methods to achieve this. I read her website thoroughly and understand that this approach takes some time and is more costly initially than just going to a regular groomer who is often under intense pressure to groom as many dogs in a day as they can. In order to do so they may crate dogs for, sometimes, an entire day and force them to cooperate…or else.

“Yes, that’s true. Anything else today, Sir?”

“Yes, I have read her website and am prepared to do what it takes to help my dog. I would like to stay and watch and, perhaps, work alongside her to train my dog as she works. Is this allowed?”

“Oh! Well, this is Sara and I am very pleased that you called and are prepared to go the distance. Yes, I know how to groom dogs and cats…it’s a nifty talent and obsession skill . I apply science-based training techniques to help dogs  handle things that normally might make it uncomfortable for them and/or dangerous for a handler.”

“Great. I would like to schedule 4 appointments and see how it goes.”

“My pleasure. The first appointment is 2 hours long–I use the time to become acquainted with your pet and to assess what approach to take and answer questions. I will try to teach your dog a new handling-related behavior (such as offering their paw for sanding toenails). The second appointment is where I normally expect to see the pet voluntarily offering the behavior I have taught. Appointments 3 and 4 are where we practice and make bring it all home to, hopefully, solidify the new conditioned responses and behaviors so that your dog is confident and comfortable.”

“And I can watch?”

“In person and in real time.”

“Goody. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Neither would I.  $425 is the total cost.”

“A bargain. Book me.”

A more real-life scenario.

“Hi, can I book a grooming appt? My neighbor says you groom dogs. I heard you’re cheap.”

“Uh…”

If I’m lucky, it’s somewhere in the middle or better.

So, what about Abby?

Abby’s sweet human came to me after adopting her new little malti-poo, Brady.  A long-time client and friend told her about my very first grooming clinic. At the clinic, she scheduled an appointment for her other dog, Abby, to come in for a nail trim.

How much does it cost? $10/nails. $12 if I use the Dremel. That’s the short answer, which is what I normally only have time for. The caveat is that these are the prices for dogs who can cooperate.

What do I need to do for the real scenario to become my ideal scenario?

1. Prepared materials. I need to take the time to finish my website and create a handout about the philosophy, methods, and policies of West Coast Pets. I think it is now writing itself as I type.

2. Resist assumptions. Abby came in. She was nervous. My first mistake–I made the assumption that her owner wanted the job done quickly and cheaply and that if I told her about my business that she would think it was all a bunch of hyped-up, overpriced tosh.

3. Resist pressure. I have prepared myself that West Coast Pets may only have one customer–my own dog. If the company survives, then a)  it’s a selfish win for me.

What?!

I’ve concluded that I’m nearly unemployable in traditional office environments because I’m usually crying inside from boredom or frustration or having a panic reaction to interpersonal politics.

I have always envied, yet never understood how a person could arrive at work looking fresh, bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to work. How come they aren’t as gripey and resentful as I?

They arrive early, aren’t trying to avoid their job, and stay late. How come they stay until the job is done and actually care? I’m usually pretty good at whatever job I’m given, it’s just that, for some reason, I am not invested and am clearly more motivated by “the stick” than “the carrot.”

Doing what I do best is very selfish. I love it. I feel guilty (and so grateful) admitting that I’m having fun. I’ve assumed that everyone would want my job. Surprisingly not. Often clients remark, “Oh, I just do NOT have the patience for that.” Really? Yay! I guess I’m that ideal employee when put in an environment that is like running in a field of bon bons for me.

How is it that I have endless patience to wait for desired animal behavior or can fixate on trying to get one piece of fur trimmed ‘just so’ and, yet, enduring a corporate meeting to celebrate the details of a quarterly success can prompt me to call a doctor to find out just what in the heck is wrong with me?

b) Luckily, for the animals, this fascination benefits them.

So, what about Abby?

I pulled out a pair of clippers and Abby certainly reacted…by screaming. I hadn’t even taken a hold of her foot yet! The argument goes, if she’s screaming anyhow and I haven’t even hurt her, how about if we just ‘go for it’? She screams in protest and I’ll quickly and carefully clip.

Well, the result of that was that Abby became a wild 70+ lb. animal who was screaming, kicking, and pulling. Unfortunately, I’ve had previous experience with wrestling animals in my youth. It came naturally to me to engage in a struggle with the resolve to ‘win.’ It’s seductive and addicting.

I got on the floor and had her in a tight hold. If you were standing outside you would have heard a heck of a racket. Her toenails? Still extra long. No, we didn’t accomplish a thing. Just holding, screaming, and when I’d try to get the clipper onto her toenail, she had an amazing ability to kick it out backwards and make it impossible to get the clip.

If I HAD been able to clip, most likely I would have cut straight into her quick causing her pain and bleeding…which would lead to, guess what? Less cooperation, more fear, and a future of more struggling (hopefully).

Why hopefully? Because I would almost rather see the animal keep up the fight than to become crushed and defeated. I may live to regret those words. I’ll think about them some more, but some of the most difficult animals to help are those who are so shut down from defeat that they are barely trainable with rewards.

Her struggling, in some ways, shows that she is still very alive and persistent. This is smart! It may be that this very dog escapes in the event of a fire. She doesn’t accept defeat.

If I’m lucky, I can direct this persistence in a way that benefits her.

To my small credit. I know when to stop. And stop I did. Almost any grooming shop will charge a small amount to get the job done. And they will…even if it takes 3 people to muzzle, scold, and hold down even a dog as small as a Pomeranian during a full-out battle of the wills. They may also give up and recommend that an owner take the dog to a vet to be anesthetized for such a simple procedure.  This is hard on an animal and very costly. Imagine doing this monthly!

Usually what happens though is that the owner gives up and the nails grow long again. If professionals give up and/or get scared, the owners are normally even less confident to do the job themselves when they experience the struggle and/or cause their dog to bleed.

Who suffers? The dog. Long toenails are literally crippling to an animal. It forces their toes to bend sideways when they walk. Still other toenails will curl around and grow right back into the skin.  I have had countless experiences of digging a toenail out of a dog’s own skin.  Unhappy face.  😦

As an update to the story, Abby just came in for her first lesson this morning. We filmed her and I am so pleased with the results! She will be coming in tomorrow morning again for her follow-up training appt. I can’t wait to review the film footage and post the results to my website.

That darned website!!! Yes, I could have had a website up and running by now, but I’m such a perfectionist in some ways that I it isn’t ready because I’m insisting on building it myself using purely a CSS model, created by me from scratch (tech nerds know what I’m talking aboud).

So, the website gets updated as I plow my way through a complicated “How To” CSS book.

Thank you, Abby for giving me another chance. I’m publishing this article, your film footage, and then challenging myself to write a “West Coast Pets” grooming policy that clearly outlines the process and the costs. Thank you for helping me to get it right.

Where does all that ‘extra’ money go? Right back into the business. It also goes toward free things that I offer to the community to include: A free class to educate people about the differences between positive and punishment based techniques…how to tell the difference.

I’m writing how-to instructions for teaching dogs to detect low-blood-sugar to, hopefully, prevent the “dead in bed” syndrome known to diabetics. I think this needs to be widely available and free (or nearly free).

Sometimes I simply have to give free services where I see a need.  Having lived in a trailer park, I have seen that nearly every RV owner has a pet. So often these are people who cannot afford training at all, let alone advanced trainers who go above and beyond. I simply hate to watch these animals get traumatized on a daily basis for “being bad.”

Also, to provide the best of the best (hopefully), I constantly challenge myself to read, attend lectures, achieve titles, etc., etc., which is far more costly than just using the old force and punishment methods, which are completely intuitive.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you for reading. Thank you , Abby for coming back in and giving it another go. You are one smart cookie and a good example of showing us humans a thing or two about forgiveness.

Thanks for helping me to do better. It’s a process to find an effective way to resist pressure and, even better, to find a way to turn it around

Sara

West Coast Pets

San Diego, CA

http://www.westcoastpets.net

p.s. Stay tuned for Abby’s video!!