Transforming a Negative into a Positive: How Dog Training is Like Life

Eva the Diva

Do you see the negative or positive space in this photograph?

I’ve learned a lot of my life lessons from obstacles I run into with my dogs. In my attempts to figure out how to live in the greatest harmony with my dogs, and how to create the healthiest, most connected bond I can, I’ve learned many invaluable truths about life itself. I’m sure this is true for anyone when they practice whatever it is in their life they are passionate about, including their career or raising children. But the opposite is also true, when I learn something in an area of my life unrelated to dogs, I simply apply it to my relationship with Sophie and Eva, ét voilá, presto change-o, it works.

Recently I started doing some consciousness work as it relates to prayer, meditation, and shifting focus. Something I’ve gathered in my research about how the Universe operates is that it responds much better to positive statements rather than negative ones. When you say that you “don’t like” something, or “don’t want” something, what you’re focusing on is the very thing you want to go away. This tends to be problematic. As Robert Anton Wilson said: “Most problems exist because the verbal formula you put them in creates the problem.”

So in applying this to my dog training–and I actually hesitate to call it training, because I don’t really believe I’m training the dogs, it’s more like they are training me–I’ve started rephrasing the way I talk to my dogs. A perfect example just occurred a few minutes ago. Eva picked up a sponge that was on the floor, and I obviously did not want her eating it. I gently put my hand on the sponge and said something in the negative like: “You can’t have that.” I may have also given the sponge a gentle pull and said “I don’t want you to eat that.” You know, the normal repertoire of things you would say to a dog or even a child who possesses an object they shouldn’t. Well, she was not going to give up that sponge! So I paused, let go of the sponge and decided to rephrase my request in a positive formula: “I would like…” And as soon as I said the word “would” she dropped the sponge and I picked it up and there was no fuss about it. I didn’t even get the sentence out of my mouth. I believe that because the energy or intention behind the words had shifted, we were no longer in opposition to each other. She was no longer doing something she shouldn’t, she was in the act of doing something she should, which was to let go of the thing I wanted her to give up.

So I’ve started to shift the way I communicate with my dogs. Instead of focusing on what it is they’re doing “wrong,” and saying “no” all the time, I’ve started saying things like, “I would like,” or “I love it when you’re a good girl.” It may sound cheesy, it may sound like woo-woo to many of you. But just try it. And if you don’t have a dog, try it with your children. And if you don’t have children try it with your parents, friends, boss, etc. A small shift can make a world of difference.

All this also makes me realize that we tend to compartmentalize our lives way too much. Because we think dog training is totally different from and unrelated to something like teaching yoga, running  a business, raising children or being in a relationship. But honestly, it’s called the Universe for a reason. It’s one song. When you learn how to be a good “dog-trainer” what you may not realize is that you are learning to be good at everything.

Where in Your Life are You Holding Back?


Your dog always knows when you are holding back. If you don’t mean business, she plays games with you, doesn’t she? She gets inside your head; because truly, no one knows you like your dog. She can sense your energy before you even do. She can feel every mood and anticipate every move.

In dog training, when you hold back your dog holds back, and then you never see her true potential. The same principle is applied to you in your own life: if you hold back, no one will ever see YOUR true potential. And when you interact with others, in relationships of all kinds, even with God or the Universe, that holding back is reflected to you: your relationships will never reach their full potential, and both parties will be unfulfilled. And when your relationship with Life, God, or the Universe goes unfulfilled, you will feel it. A lacking, a sorrow, or maybe that creeping feeling of “hope,” that you “hope” you’re doing it right, but on some level, maybe in your gut, or in your heart, you know something’s not quite right and you deserve more…

And the fault lies in the holding back. Do you feel that someone in your life is not giving you exactly what you need? Ask yourself: am I giving myself what I need? Am I giving the Universe what it needs to assist in ALL my dreams coming true?

Getting the Kinks Out: Bodywork for Dogs

Bodywork for dogs

Getting the kinks out

Many of us humans have had the pleasure of receiving some sort of bodywork like a massage. But did you know that dogs can benefit from bodywork as well? Whether it’s called Canine Physical Therapy or Canine Rehabilitation, dogs can get the same benefits from bodywork as we do. It can help them recover from injuries and surgery, decrease pain, increase mobility, and is often used as part of a conditioning program for working dogs or dog athletes. But even if the dog isn’t competing in sports or doesn’t have a specific “ailment,” bodywork can increase their range of movement, help prevent injuries, provide relief from emotional stress, and improve their overall well-being.

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Stacy Cote in my New Ventures class. Stacy has a 25-year background in human physical therapy. In 2005 she completed her training and certification in Canine Rehabilitation at the University of Tennessee so she could provide therapy to canines. What’s great about Stacy is that she travels to your home to provide services to your dogs where they feel most comfortable. Shortly after we met, Stacy offered to work on Sophie, my 7 year old boxador. Sophie doesn’t have any particular injuries per se, but her hips have almost always been on the stiff side. I do give my dogs some massage, but what Stacy did was much different. She started with some light massage, getting Sophie relaxed and comfortable with her touch. Then she started feeling and manipulating some of the vertebrae in her back which were twisted. She then moved on to extending her back legs, one at a time until she felt the hips release. Stacy also did some fascia work in different places. After that session, I noticed an immediate difference in Sophie’s gait. Her stride was elongated and relaxed.

canine rehab

Sophie gets a spinal adjustment

And you know how good you feel after walking out of a really good massage? That’s how Sophie looked. I was so used to seeing her walk with her hind end being a bit stiff that it had become sort of “normal” to me. So I was happy to see her moving about in a more fluid fashion.

Stacy came back for a second session with similar results. She taught me a bit about how to stretch and massage my dogs and now I practice on them in the evenings to get them good and relaxed and to hopefully get some of the kinks out of their aging bodies.

I would highly recommend Stacy’s services if you live in Southern Maine. If you are looking for someone outside the Maine area, check with your vet to see if they can make a referral. Or you can check out either of these sites: The American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians and: University of Tennessee Directory of CCRP/CERP Practitioners.

If you’d like to contact Stacy directly, her number is: 207.929.0844 and her email is:

physical therapy for dogs

A nice hip-opener

The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Eva the Don Diva

Respecting the kitty cat

When I first brought home my boxador, Sophie, she was about 12 weeks old and my cat was say 3 or 4 years old. I had no worries because I knew my cat, Pascalina, would stand her ground and “train” the puppy. However, when I rescued Eva the Diva, my pit-mix, she was already three, and I knew from working with her a bit that she had a very intense prey drive. She absolutely loved chasing and biting anything that moved, mainly tennis balls, but she had also done some bite work. And I had seen that when she had an object in her grasp, she was hard pressed to give it up. This intensity scared me a little bit when it came to the idea of bringing her home to meet Pascalina. Although Pasca was very adept at putting my other dogs “in their place” and basically put up with less crap from them than even I did, I had no idea how to introduce this adult pit bull to her. I guess I had some of those preconceived notions about pit bulls and prey drive, and how they are not “safe” with cats. Well, all that has since been put to rest. Of course, when I first brought Eva home, she did show a very intense interest in Pasca, but we never once had any incident. I honestly can’t even say if I used any particular “technique” other than careful observation (a wait and see, or hope and pray sort of idea). And now they snuggle up like proper sisters any chance they get.

The thing I hadn’t known then, which I learned from Natural Dog Training, is that the more prey drive a dog has, the EASIER they are to train. You just direct the flow of their energy wherever you want it to go. And because Eva is so intense, it doesn’t take much but a couple of bites on a tug toy to drain her pit bull energy and as my boyfriend would say: “soothe the savage beast.” As long as you are the one who can resolve their deepest need to hunt, play, bite, tug, etc., then your dog should happily get along with any member of the family. Natural Dog Training also helped me to teach her that it’s okay to “let go.” Now I use bite work to train her into a down stay, heel, etc.

The other very important thing which Kevin Behan (founder of NDT and author of Your Dog Is Your Mirror) taught me and has informed so much of my dog training since, is that the prey controls the predator. This is why you want to me more moose-like rather than trying to “be the leader,” or the alpha pack-mate. If you’ve ever seen this video, you can see that a small fury prey-like being has no trouble whatsoever being the “boss” of a larger predator:

Or this one, where the cats “steal” the dogs’ beds:

Now when we were getting ready to move in with Wayne and his two three-legged cats (adopted from the MSPCA), some of my old fears returned. It was unknown if his cats had ever lived with dogs before. I didn’t want the experiment to end badly, so I asked Kevin for some advice. He said that in order to make sure the cat “trains” the dogs, you can put the cat inside a wire crate and introduce the dog that way. This is so the cat has no way to run from the dog, which would arouse the dog’s prey drive. Once the cat has learned that it can train the dog in this way, he should be able to do it outside of the crate as well. So I did this a couple times with each of Wayne’s cats and there was a lot of hissing, but Eva eventually lost interest in the cat in the crate. And so when we brought them all together it took really less than one week for the dogs and cats to figure everything out, and for everyone to settle in, and for me to feel comfortable that there weren’t going to be any issues.

And now our house looks like this:

Cats and Dogs

Sniff my ear, be my friend.

Cats stealing a patch of sun

May I join you?

And so it breaks my heart to think of all those pits in shelters who have a high prey drive, and maybe have shown a little too much interest in a cat during a behavior test, and then they are forever labeled as “no cats.” Because most animal lovers I know who go to shelters to adopt already have at least one or two animals at home and a lot of these include cats. It’s so much harder to get adopted with this label. I’m sure if Eva had been labeled this way (which in a proper shelter she most likely would have been) I never would have taken her home. And now look at her: just a polite little pit bull around her three-legged house-mates.

The Dog from Outer Space

The Dog from Outer Space

Eva the Diva

In the process of moving out-of-state, I had sent some early boxes to the new house with my boyfriend, Wayne. They contained items that I didn’t use very often, or summer clothes that needed to be stored anyway. However, I soon started to wonder where I had put my jewelry box. I don’t own a lot of valuable jewelry, but the few pieces I do have are from my mother who passed away in 2005. So the attachment to the jewelry is very strong even though I hardly ever wear it. Since I couldn’t find it in my house, I had to assume that I had sent it to Wayne’s. But it bothered me that I hadn’t kept an inventory of which items were in which house. And so a couple months later I moved and immediately, I wanted to find that jewelry.

The move had been stressful, and seeing all of my stuff in boxes in the basement of this new house that didn’t quite feel like home–it honestly freaked me out. For me, my home had been my sanctuary, the place I retreated to, and the very structure of which kept me grounded. I liked to keep only the necessary things in it, and to keep them all in their places. Maintaining order in my home is my way of feeling that I have some control over the chaos of the larger world. In other words, staying organized keeps me sane. So to have given up not only my home but also the order it provided, and now have all of my earthly possessions jumbled about in boxes–it was like going cold turkey off of my ersatz prozac. The chaos was killing me. I wanted it all unpacked, and I wanted everything in it’s place pronto! Since that was impossible, because this was a process that would take time, and I have very little tolerance for disorder, I perseverated on that jewelry. I had to find the jewelry.

My aunt had come to visit us my first week in the house, to help me adjust and nest and so forth. She and I looked for the jewelry in all the places I thought it should be. While in the basement going through some of the boxes, Eva, my pit mix, starting pawing between two plastic storage bins. We thought she must smell something on the floor, or perhaps there was a mouse running around the basement that she wanted to get at. She had, in particular, been pawing at the bottom of one of the green bins. But I couldn’t see why because I knew there was nothing like dog food, treats or even toys in that bin. Anyhow, we dismissed it and she stopped.

So after becoming slightly frantic and looking through what felt like a hundred boxes, I finally dug through that green bin, and at the very bottom, in the exact place where Eva had indicated, was my mother’s jewelry. Was this just a coincidence? Or had her heart felt my desire to find that object, and had she consciously or subconsciously pointed it out to me? Was she making a connection between me and the object I so desperately wanted to find?

I couldn’t brush it off as coincidence. Rationally, I knew Eva did not remember or know where I had packed the jewelry. I also knew that she really didn’t understand what we were talking about as we searched. But somehow, I think, she had felt what I needed, and felt where it was, and was attracted to the jewelry because of my desire to find it.

The basis of Natural Dog Training indicates that your dog can actually feel what you are feeling, and in fact, it’s their very purpose in our lives. Science is slowly coming around to substantiate the way this works, and one article I found very interesting was from the Institute of Heart Math: Pets: Making a Connection That’s Healthy for Humans.” I think it’s something we’ve “known” all along, deep down: that we are all connected–and this is the reason why we have the ability to empathize and connect not just with other humans, but with all living beings. Well, animals do it, too! And is it any wonder? We’re all made of the same stuff.

My memory goes back to the first movie we ever owned on VHS, “E.T.” And my mind keeps flashing on the ending, where Elliot and E.T. are so “in sync” with each other that their health and well-being is completely enmeshed; you can look at one and see the state of the other. Their heart monitors even give duplicate readouts (see also: Quantum Entanglement). And while I don’t think our dogs are from outer space, I do believe there’s a very strong possibility that they become very easily entangled with us.

So the next time one of my heart dogs is trying to point something out to me, I might be a little less daft about accepting their intelligence and pay closer attention to our very close connection.