Suzanne Clothier Seminar April 2016
I recently spent the weekend listening to one of my favorite dog behavior guru’s, Suzanne Clothier. I first met Suzanne at an agility seminar in the mid 1990’s and later read her book, "Bones Would Rain From the Sky, Deepening Our Relationship With Dogs". I was hooked and learn something new at every seminar! Suzanne’s focus is observation, awareness, and our connection to dogs. As we loose our connection to nature we loose our connection to animals. We often forget how to allow dogs to be dogs and build on their true nature to promote and nurture their ability be successful in our human society. This is reflected in the numbers of animals that are surrendered to animal shelters annually. Even more disheartening are the numbers of animals euthanized for behavior that is deemed unacceptable to live as a social animal in a human world.
No one brings a puppy into their home with the intension of surrendering them after the first year due to behavior problems. For most of us, myself included, our lives revolve around our beloved dogs. We choose dog friendly places to live. Vacations are often planned around dog friendly hotels, motels, and RV parks with the opportunity to hike in a dog friendly off leash area. We purchase the healthiest food, look for the best veterinarian, and attend all the right training classes. There are a plethora of dog trainers, dog walkers, and doggy day cares to choose from. So what has gone wrong? Why this increase in the number of fearful and anxious dogs?
The information Suzanne shared with us over these two days helped provide some insights to these questions and more. On the first day we explored the growth and development of puppies. The first year of a dog’s life is equivalent to the first 14 years of life for a human. Wow, we need to pay attention to that first year with our puppy. The dog’s emotional foundation is established at 16 weeks. This is important because an animal will always default to its true foundation when stressed. When we work with our puppies we need to remember they are social, physical, emotional, and mental beings. It is our job to help develop the coping skills that will prepare them for life with us, the places, things, activities, and other beings in each of our lives.
Our focus needs to be on quality experiences that build a good, solid, varied reference library. Social interactions should be short and sweet (1-3 minutes), allow for success, varied, and built in thin slices. We sometimes forget that puppies need lots of sleep, which includes naps and quiet time, in our efforts to wear them out. Sleep deprivation can result in a irritable, anxious, overwhelmed, or fearful pup. They also need calming contact, which includes gentle pressure and a quiet steady hand. This will help your pup when he is unsure but not panicky or trying to escape a situation.
The puppy license is real and expires at about 5 months based on hormonal shifts and physiological changes. My puppy rights include, annoy adults, be a pest, forget the rules, look cute, and play, play, play. We would do well to take a cue from the way adult dogs treat puppies once this license has expired. For more on this topic check out Suzanne’s article, “Stop Poking Grandma.”
What are our criteria for choosing the types of breeds we do? All puppies are cute and raise our oxytocin levels. I am not sure we are giving thoughtful consideration to what that puppy will become as an adult. Often our choices are based on how a dog looks or the latest movie or TV show K9 celebrity. Shelter surrenders reflect these choices. When we are considering herders, helpers, hunters, or huggers it is important to understand the differences between these breeds. The major things to consider are structural confirmation, behavioral confirmation, predatory behavior, play styles, and use of space and how this will fit with our lifestyle. Breed specialization improves performance and limits adaptability.
On day 2 Suzanne’s focus was on the Relationship Assessment Tool (RAT) that she has developed. This tool evaluates communication, control, relationship, and connection between the handler and the dog. Do the dog and human maintain awareness of each other? Is there mutual respect? How do I communicate what I mean and are there consequences that come in a timely manner? What are the rules? Part of being a social animal is carrying your share of responsibility for the rules. Trust and respect, the animal needs to know that you are always the same person in all situations. We need to constantly ask our dogs, “How is this for you?” This is a great assessment tool and is a single page. Suzanne is developing an on line course for RAT that is anticipated to be available by the end of 2016. I will be watching for it and will let you know when it comes on line.
After these very thought provoking two days I have been reflecting on my relationship with Lucy. We definitely have our sticky moments, my communication could be more clear and consistent and we continue to struggle with loose leash walking. Susanne suggests looking for the “fire flies” in a relationship and build on them. Lucy and I have our fire flies, we have a true heart connection. Lucy is steady, true, and sweet. She has a good foundation, she travels well, is lovely to live with, comes “mostly” when I ask and is always forgiving of my imperfections and impatience. I hope some day to get it right and will continue to listen to webinars, read books and attend seminars until I do.
My hope is that as our awareness grows and we reconnect with nature we will naturally pause and consciously nurture our relationships with all the animals in our lives. Thank you Suzanne for travelling all over the world and sharing your wisdom, humor, and experience. You have helped make the world is a better place for the animals. Suzanne will return to Oakland on April 29th and 30th 2017 and will be in the Carson City area in the summer of 2017.