Friday, August 28, 2009

"Mooooooom! Bring me back something nice!!"

The final countdown is ON - less than 20 days left until GROOM EXPO 2009, baby!!! This year, I'm going for the VIP package as well as taking the Pet First Aid course (a birthday present). That's a whole weekend and then some... I can't wait!!
Unfortunately, Xavier can't come, so he'll just have to settle for a present instead. They won't have treats, but maybe a new shampoo especially for Nordic coats will make him happy!
The hotel I'm staying at has free Wi-fi access, so I might post some updates here. That is, unless I'm too exhausted after each exciting day of shopping, learning, and whatever else this year has in store. Whichever way it goes, it's gonna be AWESOME!! Stay tuned for more info!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Winner Take All?

It never ceases to amaze me how many people are still so willing to subscribe, adhere, and even practice the old "Dog vs. Human" theories when working with the animals. Some days, like today, it seems as though it emerges more and more. It's scary, really, the way man treats his "best friends".

I've seen first hand what techniques such as hitting, jabbing, kicking, poking, rolling, choking, etc., actually do to a dog. For all intents and purposes, let's call this dog... Sprinkles. An average little mix-breed dog, really. Owners brought him home because he was just so cute, and they'd been wanting a dog for a while. Trouble is, they didn't do their research on how to raise a well-adjusted dog. Sprinkles was left on his own to figure out the world, and it ended up with bad results. He barked like the world was coming to an end when someone knocked at the door. No one could approach his food bowl (which was always full, no matter what) without risking being bitten. On top of that, he developed severe separation anxiety.

How did the owners try to control him? Whenever he leaped from the couch to howl at the "intruder" knocking at the door, he was forced down on his side, and if he tried to wiggle free, he was struck repeatedly. To the eyes of a human, he "calmed down" after a while, when in reality, he was giving up his life. By flipping him on his side, the human communicated to Sprinkles that he was about to die. Sprinkles certainly had a will to live the way he flashed his teeth, but gave up once he realized his fate was sealed. Or was it? When the human let him back up, he always looked around like he'd dodged a bullet. In his canine mind, he did.

Because of his small stature, anything bigger than him by his food was a threat, especially since his humans would take the food away. He didn't know that they were just trying to put more food in the bowl, even while he was eating. That's a matter in and of itself warranting a whole new post; still, the humans were really scary, taking away his nourishment! Sadly, the above scenario was repeated: howl and bite in protest, receive an empty--yet painful--threat.

As for the separation anxiety, his owners left him home alone his first night in the house and put his bed in an isolated location every night thereafter. He never learned object permanence, and so he carried on, never wanting to be alone. Even when the humans came to scream "Shut up!" in his face, it was attention, was it not?

According to the trainers who use these "methods", Sprinkles should've improved and been the world's best behaved dog, as the humans "taught him his place". The little fellow only got worse as time went on. He began fear peeing in the presence of all humans, even his own. His snarls and growls lessened, but were replaced by biting without warning. These trainers will argue that Sprinkles was trying to "run the household," when in reality, he was a scared little dog that was chased into a corner, left with nowhere else to go but the route of aggression.

I wish the story of Sprinkles was a sob story, but it isn't. Sprinkles was about four when I first met him, and not knowing anything about behavior until relatively recently, I watched this unbreakable cycle for several years, with him steadily getting worse. I haven't seen him in almost three years, and I don't even know whether or not he is still in the same house. Dogs like Sprinkles are labeled unfairly by humans as "stupid" or "dominant" (and not the proper use of the term, either, but the "pop culture" one) and subjected to mishandling. I wish I knew then what I know now about how dogs really think, then maybe I might have been able to help this little guy - not being able to do so will always be my one regret in my career with animals.

One thing is for certain though: I steer away from manhandling and intimidating dogs even more so because of him. Every time I see or hear of a "trainer" jabbing, rolling, or otherwise causing a terrible situation for the dog, I see Sprinkles: his wide fear-filled eyes, his increasing snarl, his stiffened little body. The only thing these methods are good for is creating another Sprinkles.

All these dogs need is some patience and understanding from us. We're supposed to be dog's best friend. Let's act like it for a change.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Every New Beginning...

I've been wanting to do this for a while now: start up a new dog blog that encompasses my random musings as well as daily events and antics. Right now is an odd place to start, I'll admit, as I got a good dose of reality about twelve hours ago.

In a few months time, I will be moving to Kentucky (yes, it'll be the KY location now) to attend the Nash Academy. So far all I've been thinking about is how much fun I'm going to have up there while I learn to groom the dogs, but I realized how hard it's going to be to leave this life I've made here behind.

While working at the cafe this morning, one of my usual customers came in: an older lady, very friendly and always happy to have a conversation. Today was a little different: she informed me that she suddenly had to leave town, and wouldn't be back for several months. It dawned on me that this was most likely the last time I'd serve her a drink, as I'll be taking off by the time she gets back. Talk about a bombshell. Still, we talked about how other coffee houses can manage to mess up the drinks... I had a particularly nasty latte on Tuesday because the espresso sat for a full minute. Ah, but this is a different topic for a different day.

As she left, she asked me to come around the counter, and gave me a huge hug. She loved the short time she'd spent here, and told me that I was going to go far in my endeavors with the animals... I truly believe this. To hear it coming from someone that I only knew for a short while, to know that I've touched a life... it's an incredible feeling.

It's hard to lose customers like her. Earlier this year I gave a fond farewell to one of my former literature professors; she's going to be on sabbatical this semester, so I won't get to see her at our cafe's other location before I leave for groom school. But saying goodbye to today's customer made me realize just how hard it's going to be when I gather up my luggage and hit the road. There's so much I'm leaving behind to pursue my dream of grooming: my friends, family, jobs, the animal shelter... everything.

Yes, my departure is going to be emotionally charged, but it will come to pass. Life's a stage, after all, and I'm in transition, from the end of one act to the beginning of the next. And goodbye is never really goodbye, because, to borrow a line, "There will always be another dog show!" Perhaps I'll round everyone up to come visit me in my future salon... who knows? There's only one way to find out!

Onward to glory, to greatness, to... giant balls of fur!!