Creatures of Heart

NeilSattinAndNolaHighRes

Neil with Nola, who has since passed away, but will always be a Creature of Heart.

“We all recognize that our dogs are emotional creatures, that they are creatures of Heart… So what Natural Dog Training does, that none of the other training methods do, it works with your dog on the level of Heart. And you’re getting them into an emotional space that’s conducive to obedience and social behavior. Every dog is operating from that level of how the world makes them feel. And so, if you’re just trying to control their behavior, but you’re never trying to get into how to make your dog feel differently, then you’re kind of missing the boat.”     –Neil Sattin, author of The Natural Dog Blog

I recently sat down with Neil Sattin at Crèma Café on Commercial Street to discuss our mutual interest in Natural Dog Training. In the late 90’s Neil adopted a 6 month old dog named Nola. Nola, it turned out, was aggressive to other dogs. In his search to help Nola work through this issue, Neil says, “I tried everything in the alpha school, the dominance school, the correction school, and then I tried everything in the positive school, the clicker, like, everything, and … nothing worked.”

He was advised by certain trainers that Nola should be euthanized, but Neil was not going to give up. He worked with other trainers and found that their methods “would work up to a point, and then it would just clearly not work. In the alpha-mode, ultimately I could see that she was becoming fearful and timid and it wasn’t helping the actual problem. And in the positive school…she would be good up to a point, but as you know, with aggression, you can’t click away aggression… And that whole step-by-step process of trying to desensitize your dog to those situations, only works up to a point.” So he continued working with Nola, seeming to make progress with certain methods, but then she would end up attacking another dog and he would find himself back at square one.

Back in those days, the internet was just beginning to put it’s pavement down as the information highway. But Neil kept searching high and low until he finally found Kevin Behan and bought his book called “Natural Dog Training.” The way Kevin described dog behavior and his approach to training really clicked with Neil. He went to work with Kevin in Vermont and was immediately intrigued with Kevin’s philosophies and system of dog training. Neil ultimately ended up apprenticing with Kevin for a month-long intensive program where he was immersed in the world of Natural Dog Training.

This experience changed Neil’s perspective on dog training, and he came back from his apprenticeship with the necessary tools to not only help rehabilitate Nola, but to then start working with other dogs as well. He even produced a DVD set explaining and demonstrating the main techniques and principles of Natural Dog Training.

I told Neil about some of the NDT work I was doing with my own dogs and asked him if there was a “prescription” for training in terms of time spent every week with the exercises, or how often should one practice bite-work or other techniques. I had concerns that I was going through periods of doing too much “training” and then getting burnt out and not doing enough. So Neil put it into perspective for me.

He compared it to people who have horses, and ride and work with their horse every day. There is no day that the horse is perfectly “trained,” they are constantly evolving and always improving their relationship with the horse. Well, same goes for your dog. Every day is an opportunity to work with your dog. But actually, even the “training” can be in the spirit of play. So it doesn’t have to feel like work at all. “Everything is an opportunity for you to engage your dog in the spirit of play, and the awesome thing is, this kind of play leads to really social behavior.”

He goes on to explain the pressures people put on their dogs, often in total disregard to what’s in their dog’s best interest. He says, “Most people, whether they realize it or not, they get a dog to serve a need for them…” What Neil asks us to do is flip that paradigm around and see if the human can serve the needs of the dog. He believes that we put a lot of demands on our dogs without really thinking about what the dog needs. “If I’m asking my dog to be cute on demand when guests come over, or to always come when called because I want to feel significant in their life, that’s all putting a lot of demands on the dog… On the flip side, if you buy into the premise that all your dog really wants to do is to feel flow, and find ways to release stress, then why would you ever want to do anything else with your dog other than helping them release stress–which is the pushing, the bite-work, even when you start doing obedience work, that becomes a vehicle for helping your dog feel flow and release stress.”

Neil’s experience with Kevin and the Natural Dog Training paradigm ultimately led him to work with people who had problems with their dogs, but in a way that was more focused on the people-problems. He says, “Kevin’s approach is all about how the dog’s emotional experience is a mirror of what’s happening with their human, and his tactic is that you work on the dog and that ripples back to the human.” In Neil’s approach, he teaches people techniques for working with their dogs, but he also encourages the humans to change their emotional, spiritual and physical habits in order to bring about change in the whole system. Because the dog is responding to the human’s emotional state of being, he believes that there needs to be a shift in the human’s life in order to see a shift the dog-related symptoms.

We also talked about how people can get caught in the “story” of why their dog is acting a certain way (myself included). As Neil puts it: “They get a rescue dog or for some reason their dog starts being aggressive, and my sense is that most of the time people are really trying to come up with a story about why that is; and in my experience the story is actually not that important, in fact it can get in the way.” So Neil does his best to get people out of their “story” and into the present moment, which is where the changes take place.

If you are interested in learning more about Neil’s methods in working with dogs or with people, please visit his website: www.naturaldogblog.com.

Loving What Is: Amor Fati

the girls 2

If you’ve read any Byron Katie, you might recognize the title of this blog post. And if you haven’t read Byron Katie, definitely check her out at www.theework.com –you can even do “The Work” on your dogs! But anyways, I just wanted to say a few words on dog training regarding progress, and the flipside of progress which might be loving what is, or Amor Fati.

Wherever we are right now, we can look at our dogs and see that they are perfect the way they are. It may sound sappy, but actually everything is perfect exactly the way it is.

Those of us who are perfectionists can often escape the present moment because things aren’t as they “should be,” when the reality is, that they are. The worst part about this addiction to everything being perfect, is that you don’t require any substance to get high, because it’s with you all the time: your mind! And it’s robbing you of the present moment.

So with all the confusion around training, and the worry about whether we’re doing it right, or why were not seeing “progress,” it’s good to take a break every once in a while and just enjoy our dogs. The way they are right now. Surely they bring us so much joy, we can appreciate them as much as we can “train” them.

My dogs aren’t “trained,” nor do I think there is such a thing. My dogs just are. They drive me absolutely batty, but if I wanted to tell the truth, I love it. I don’t want them to change. They will change, of course. But I love absolutely everything about them.

If you find yourself getting frustrated or stuck, try having a beginner’s mind. Experience your dog as if you don’t even know your dog. What do you see? What do you love about this dog that you just met?

In that spirit, I wanted to celebrate what fun it is to “work” with my dogs. Because for me it isn’t work, it is my passion.

Here’s a short video just to document where we are right now, with everything that Kevin has taught us so far:

 

 

Probiotics for Dogs

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Non GMO ingredients. Great for dogs with upset tummies.

Maybe the Law of Attraction is Real After All

Yup, she's still psychic.

Yup, she’s still psychic

In an attempt to further discover new and exciting ways to communicate with our dogs, in order to improve the bond, connection, and understanding between us, let me tell you a tiny but significant story:

I was just eating my dinner, scrolling through Facebook on my iPad. (I know, not very mindful or whatever, but I’m addicted to my iPad/social media, etc.) Eva was laying some feet away, calmly lying on the floor, facing away from me. I had a thought about Eva, and as this thought was forming, I turned my head to look at her. At the same time, she turned her head to look at me, and our eyes met. She got up and came over to me as if I had beckoned to her. I went back to eating, because the thought was not that I wanted her to be near me, but simply wondering why she was being so calm when we hadn’t gone for our evening walk/swim/romp through the woods and pond. Without saying a word, I returned to ignoring her, and she returned to her quiet spot on the rug. 

This whole sequence happened in less than a minute. And normally, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it. I’m used to Sophie being so sensitive to my eye contact that if she’s looking at me, wanting something, and I make the mistake of making eye contact, she immediately takes this as some sort of permission to come over to me and be even more persistent in her begging. So I have to be careful about speaking to her, about her, or merely looking at her because it will usually evoke some sort of strong reaction from her in which she perceives my attention (even a quick glance in her direction) as permission or acknowledgement of her desire. The thing that struck me about this interaction with Eva, was that she was not looking towards me for anything that she was desirous of (unless she was pondering that evening walk?), and the moment I began to think about her, a very clear sequence began which looked something like this: 1. A thought is formed, 2.The movement of my head is a subconscious reflex to the thought (My attention goes to the object of my thought), 3. Eva turns her head to look at me (the object of my thought appears to perceive that attention), 4. Eva, the object of my attention comes over to me, as if I have called to her, but without any verbal or physical gestures other than looking in her direction. 

Do other people have these same sort of experiences?

I think we have either underestimated the energy and power of our thoughts, or perhaps the psychic abilities of our dogs… And if it’s possible to communicate to our dogs without even speaking a word, doesn’t that sort of put obedience training onto a whole new playing field? Do we need chains and props and clickers, etc.? Or do we just need to trust the bond we have with our dogs? Of course, I realize we live in a physical world and it’s important to physically interact with our dogs, but maybe incorporating more of the metaphysical could benefit both species.

Sweet Potato Smoothie

sweet potato smoothie

So I’ve been feeding my dogs The Honest Kitchen Embark formula and loving it. (It’s a raw dehydrated diet, and you can check out the full review here: Canine Supplies with Conscience.) Today I ran out of Honest Kitchen so I had to make my own. This is a sweet potato smoothie for Eva and Sophie. It contains boiled sweet potatoes, raw eggs with shells, kefir, probiotics, baby greens, and Perfect Form (also from Honest Kitchen). Can’t wait for more Embark to arrive tomorrow, it’s too hot to be home-cooking for my doggies! But they love it, so it’s all good.