To continue in the spirit of yesterday’s kid encounter, I decided to go hang out at a playground with Chai today: maybe we’d find a few more kids to watch yell, run and play, and one or two to have positive interactions with!
We walked to the playground at Jardín Santiago Xicoténcatl in Álamos for this: a change of scenery from Parque Las Américas.
Mexico City has LOTS of great parks. The dogs and I have yet to find one we don’t like!
We hung out at the quietish playground for a bit and mastered a scary playground staircase. Chai voluntarily approached and got fed by two kids at the playground, and by 6 adults around the park. We then also watched people playing soccer and field hockey, dribbling basketballs and working out (boxing; outdoors gym). So much to see! I’m really happy with how well Chai did today.
We ended the day with luring positions (sit, down, stand) with Chai’s dinner and a round of brushing. More power to the puppy!
Today, we went back to Emi’s café to hang out for a while. Chai got to spend time with Emi, who has already become an friend, and his wife Rosie who I shared I co-working day with today. Rosie will hopefully also be one of Chai’s permanent friends.
I see socialization (of puppies to people) as a two-tierd approach:
I want the dog to have neutral/positive feelings towards strangers. If a puppy starts out hyper-social, I will work on lowering those feelings to neutrality. If a puppy starts out a little hesitant or shy – like Chai did – I’ll make sure to create as many positive interactions as possible. The protocol for this – for Chai; it might look entirely different for a different dog! – is letting her approach a flat hand voluntarily (no food, no food smells). If she does – give the stranger food to feed from the flat hand; then move on – ideally without them touching her.
This works with Chai because if a stranger doesn’t follow my instructions it won’t be a huge deal. If I had a puppy who panicked if things didn’t go perfectly or a dog who didn’t recover for the rest of the day when an encounter went sideways, I would NOT use random strangers and there might be no food at all.
I want the dog to have a circle of friends that does not only include me. The reason I consider this important is that I want to be able to leave my dog with other people when I travel, or to have a friend come in and walk or feed the dog if I’m gone for the day. And I want the dog to feel good about this rather than deprived of me.
This is something best built in puppyhood. If you give your dog a circle of friends in puppyhood, they tend to – in my experience anyways – be able to open up to new people as adults as well. Again, there are huge individual differences at play here as well. With some dogs, you get the circle-of-friends behavior for free. With others, you’ll have to work really hard. With others yet, you will never reach this goal despite your best efforts. As always: train the dog you have today, not the one you wish you had.
Border Collies are sensitive and occasionally suspicious dogs, so I definitely want to invest a lot of socialization time in the ability to make friends – human and canine. So far, on Chai’s list of regular friends (who are not me), I plan to have 8 people – friends who are either dog trainers or dog lovers and who Chai and I have regular access to. I want to build out these relationships to the degree that I could leave Chai with any of them and she’d be happy.
This is particularly important to me with Chai because I still plan on placing her – so I don’t want her to depend on me, the person Chrissi, but remain open to letting other folks into her inner circle.
Going to Emi’s café means working on both of the above: Emi and Rosie will hopefully be permanent friends of hers (tier 2), and hanging out at the sidewalk café for a few hours comes with lots of opportunities for (tier 1)!
In addition, we always practice mat work out here: once Chai is tired of the world, I’ll get out her mat, and she’ll naturally gravitate towards it and doze off: that’s how you set the stage for success:
If you want to work on a calm behavior (e.g. relaxing on a mat), wait until your dog’s curiosity and need to move are saturated. If you want to work on a high-energy behavior (such as toy play, recalls etc.), work with a dog who is well rested and chomping at the bit to get moving!
A circle of friends.Left: “Emi always has treats for me!” Middle and right: “I like you, Rosie! Let me climb all over you!”
Apart from Rosie and Emi (tier 2 – permanent friends!), we also worked on our approach-voluntarily-and-if-you-do-so-get-fed protocol with 7 strangers (tier 1 – neutral/positive feelings about strangers). Well – in fact, it was only 4 total strangers: people #1 and #2 were Mitsu and the person who owns the store next door, both of whom we see every time we go to Emi’s café. Person #3 was Hugo who was working in the street and stopped by for some Chai love – and who may end up in tier #2 rather than #1.
Of the remaining 4, one was a kid. I’m always particularly happy about this because kids tend to be more difficult than adults: they move erratically, they can be noisy and they are at a dog’s eye level. It’s easier for a dog to perceive a kid as a threat than an adult, and I want to make sure this does not happen for Chai. Who knows – maybe her future family will have kids, and their kids will have friends!
Here’s our co-working superstar, ready to rest on her mat after some excitement! Rosie is having té chai in her honor.
And the highlight of our coffee and co-working day, caught on camera: Chai was able to keep chilling on her mat in the presence of a strange dog who stopped for a drink and walked past! Go puppy!!!
Later today, we worked on brushing again – a behavior we currently get for free, but need to keep practicing in order to ensure it stays that way! I announce “Brush!” and then Chai gets brushed all over.
It is fascinating to me how different different dogs experience husbandry behaviors: some will really struggle with them. Others couldn’t care less. Chai tends to the latter side of the scale, and I want to keep her there.
After another exciting day, we stayed home again to practice chilling rather than being an athlete or adrenaline junkie! Chai got brushed all over and the nails on all four nails clipped (she’s such a good girl about this – I simply announce it and do it and Chai lets me). We also started charging her formal recall cue: “Schnee.”
Play and chill at home with Game.
Charging “Schnee” (this video may be from one of the subsequent days rather than from day 13 – we first started in the house):
Staying home also always means, of course, that we practice quite a lot of home-alone time: after all, Game gets her long walks even when Chai doesn’t.
Chaiary, day 14: Parque las Américas with Game, long line pressure practice, lots of play with Game and meeting and getting fed by 11 strangers!
Day 14 was on the more exciting side again: lots of confident dog encounters!
One thing I love about Mexico City is that it is so easy to encounter dogs of all sizes, shapes, ages and morphologies. From pugs to Great Danes to everything in between – you name it, we’ll meet it!
I beat my own record and roped charmed 11 strangers into allowing Chai to voluntarily approach and then feed her. AND she got to assist me for my first online class videos: giving in to leash pressure and long line handling!
As I mentioned in a previous post – I would not usually feed the behavior of hitting the end of a leash and then reorienting because smart dogs will learn to hit the end on purpose in order to earn a treat. I’m only doing this with Chai when out with Game every once in a while these days because I want this leash pressure response for her formal recall distraction set-ups (which we will get to in a bit). So here is the piece I do not recommend you replicate with your own dog:
On the other hand, what you see below is something I do recommend: these are my two favorite long-line handling ways that avoid rope burn or squished fingers/broken hands with strong dogs who might crash into the end of a long line. There are more methods out there and if you’ve already found what works for you and your dog – no need to change what you’re doing! On the other hand, if your hands keep getting injured by your dog – try the leash handling techniques from the video below! One of them may be the winner for you!
If you need more support to figure out your long line challenges, join us in Out and About! Gold spots are full, but you’ll get to work with a fantastic TA in the FB study group at Bronze!
It’s market day again! Chai and I went for her second visit:
All treats in the video above are for giving in to leash pressure or responding to an informal puppy recall away from tempting market distractions that would either disturb other people or require me to buy something (you eat it you buy it – and I do not want chicharrones or chicken intestines, thank you very much!). My one criterion for the treat delivery is 4 feet on the floor. Sometimes, I only get to the point after she has jumped up – sometimes, I am fast enough to meet her before the front paws have left the ground.
I love what a difference I see in her confidence in this (2nd!) market visit compared to Chai’s first visit a week ago! Her tail is up the entire time, and she is VERY curious about the environment this time! She even gets fed by a market visitor. The golden strategy: keep putting treats into their hands so they don’t get a chance to touch the dog and then move on as soon as they have fed the last treat.
The reason I’m not feeding any voluntary check-ins yet is that she freely offers them and she’s a Border Collie. I’ll get those check-ins for free and want to keep her focus on the environment a little longer before I start feeding check-ins and focus.
The second project of the day: basketball sounds. The sound that makes Chai uncomfortable is the ball hitting the metal plate. I brought a hard rubber ball to replicate the sound today. Since I didn’t bring a tripod and can’t handle a long line, ball and camera at the same time, I briefly tied Chai to a post. While her tail is down (my interpretation: she’s hot and bored after our exciting market loop), she doesn’t flinch let alone retreat from the sound, which she is free to do. I say we are over our basketball feelings!
By the way – the person in the market video isn’t the only one who fed Chai a couple treats today. I’ve been working our strategy (make contact without food and then feed if Chai seems interested) aggressively convincingly and charmingly with strangers and am happy to report that she got fed by 5 different people today – one of whom, our friend below, we’ve already chatted with the other day:
The rest of the day was spent working hard at home (Chai has discovered chairs and she likes them):
This is the first time I am publicly talking about Grit’s death. My colleagues know. My friends know. Her breeder knows. Some students who have had to face similar losses know because I told them when they confided in me. But the world at large? I didn’t share Grit’s story until I recorded this podcast episode, when I talked to Deb Jones after working through When The Loss Is Deep.
I euthanized Grit quite a while after Deb euthanized Helo – so I had vicariously learned the lesson of what happens when you’re public about such a thing in our little corner of the world. And I was not ready for that shit storm back when I decided that it was time for Grit.
Now time has passed, and I am ready – plus I’m also hoping that the weather has become a bit less shitstormy after Deb shared Helo’s story, and Trish McMillan and Sue Alexander have talked about the same topic quite a bit. So it is time for me to finally share Grit’s story as well. Let’s start with a few quotes from this episode:
“We don’t get what we want. We get the dog that they are.” (Deb)
“We don’t get the dog ‘we need.’ We get the dog we get.” (Chrissi)
Like Deb, when I made the decision whether or not to share Grit’s loss publicly, I knew I couldn’t lie. I decided not to share it publicly with anyone I didn’t trust though. Like Quest and Helo, Grit was a somewhat public dog. Depending on who asked, I told them that Grit had died and I was not yet ready to talk about the circumstances because it was too painful. Or I told them the truth (if I hadn’t done so already).
Unlike Helo, Grit’s situation was different. I did see all the signs and had the great fortune to have friends and colleagues to help me carry that pain and all the intents I made to re-socialize her. I did, of course, tell Grit’s breeder. While they weren’t supportive, they weren’t cruel either. They would not have made the decision I made, but they respected mine. Like Deb, I would of course recommend this breeder. They breed excellent dogs. I know about a dozen Belgians they have bred – Mals and Tervs – and each one of them is a fantastic dog with a HUGE personality, ultra worky and environmentally tough (i.e. they are ready to work through anything – rain, pain, cold, intense decoys). Each and every one of these dogs I have met is an impressive working dog, and a lot of these dogs have made it far in IPO as well as police work.
What would I do today if I saw the same behaviors I saw in Grit in a puppy of my own? I would probably return them to the breeder before loving them to the degree I loved Grit. While they are still a puppy, there may still be a chance for them. But it isn’t a chance I myself am willing to take again.
With Grit, I had this whole re-introduction protocol written up because the first time, I thought I was actually being successful. (Less so the second and third time I repeated it – but repeat it I did. I wasn’t done yet. I was stubborn and optimistic.)
I am not stubborn and optimistic anymore – not in that kind of situation. But back then, I had to be because that’s the person I was before losing Grit.
The kind of dog Grit was is extremely rare. Unless you specialize in aggression cases, you’ll spend years in the field as a professional trainer and may never meet that dog. I don’t specialize in aggression cases. I’ve been working with dogs full time for about a decade, and I’ve met that dog twice.
Grit was the first one, and the second one was a pittie mix a friend of mine picked up in the streets in Guatemala. That dog was incredibly sweet with people, but the moment my friend tried introducing her to their other two dogs, she tried to murder them. My friend – who is not a dog trainer – stuck their hand in the middle and the dog redirected on her. That friend is a fancy kind of person so they had a gardener who luckily happened to be there. They cried for help and the gardener helped get the dog off. Then they called me, we set up a mock encounter between the dogs with three layers of security, and I knew at first glance what kind of dog she was. Once you have met that dog, you recognize that dog. It is uncanny how good you get at recognizing that dog.
I told my friend (gently) and they couldn’t believe me. Of course not. They wanted me to work with the dog, and I referred them out to another trainer. I am telling myself I was being kind when I said, “I don’t see a good way out of here, but get a second opinion. Here’s a phone number; this person is an excellent trainer.” Maybe I wasn’t kind but just selfish. I didn’t want to lose my friend, and I was not going to let any of their two older dogs die on my watch. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say. That dog, by the way, did die. My friend rehomed her, and she got killed (she “disappeared” and my friend got ghosted) in her new home in Huehuetenango.
When I evaluated the dog, my friend was not ready to see her for who she was. Which is fair. Everyone is on their own timeline. My own timeline took almost five years – and I was already a professional dog trainer by the time I got Grit. Even so, I dragged her across three continents with me before I stopped trying. How is a pet person like my friend ever supposed to know who their dog is? They can’t. Not if this topic is not publicly talked about anyways.
I don’t wish that dog on anyone. And at the same time: I would not change my life with Grit for anything in the world. Grit was amazing. People didn’t see that because she wasn’t a social dog, and there were so many parts of her that only I knew. Her playful and snuggly and good-crazy sides that she didn’t show when someone else was around.
I knew all these facets and because no one else did … If you were to tell me this same story about you and a dog of yours today, I would think that you waited too long. That I waited too long with Grit because of course the signs were all there. But the thing is, it’s not about the signs at all. It’s about loving that dog with all your heart and knowing that there is nowhere else for them to go and not wanting them to go anywhere else anyways, and wanting them in your life, so you have to trie all that is reasonable for you to try. And only when you love that dog that much do you know how much trying you are capable of. The fact that no one else even really knows that dog just makes it harder and more lonely. So we try, and we try, and we try – for as long as we have to, and how long that is and if we ever stop? It’s different for everyone. Just like everything else in this world.
Some of my favorite memories Grit is an intrinsic part of:
After yesterday’s excitement, we made sure to have a quiet day at home: I don’t want to turn Chai into a super athlete unless I know she’s going to be a sports dog – which I don’t know yet! So rather than having exciting social experiences or lots of exercise, we stayed home, just chilling out and working that little Border Collie brain with a shaping project!
Chaiary, day 11: Parque las Américas and Emi’s Café
Since socialization is THE most important thing for a young dog, after yesterday’s quiet day, we’re back to it today! Because it was another busy one for me, I started by taking both dogs to Parque las Américas – our favorite stomping grounds – again.
We watched boxers doing their thing and a kid playing basketball:
Boxers and basketball with Game at Parque Las Américas.
Then, I dropped Game off at home and Chai and I headed to our friend’s café around the corner – a 3-for-1 trip for Chai: she got to see a regular dog friend, watch the world go by (it’s a decently busy street) and interact with some of it (dogs, people) and practice resting on a mat. And I, of course, get the best of all: great company and the amazing food Emi makes!
Left: seeing one of 3 dogs at the café (no greeting), middle: interacting with Mizu, one of the café regulars, right: time with our friend Emi.
Below is a video showing some more of Chai’s time at the café! There’s a lot going on on this sidewalk!
Stimulation makes for calm and quiet puppies – the best kind of antecedent arrangement for matwork!
Below: from sitting on her mat at the café to lying down to dozing off!
From sitting on her mat at the café to lying down to dozing off. All voluntary behaviors: setting the stage for success!
Btw – today is sign-up day at FDSA. Chai and I will be playing in Shade Whitesel’s Toy class. For me, there is no better training motivation. I know, I know – taking sportsy classes with your foster dog is dangerous territory. I like to live on the wild side.
I’ll also be teaching this term: Out and About, a class about being out in the world and having adventures with your dog! Whether that means teaching settling on a mat, leash skills or advanced recalls – I’ve got you covered. We’re full at Gold, but if you grab a Bronze spot, you’ll get to work with a TA this term!
Today, we were being a fancy puppy: we went to a pet store chain (fancy by my standards) and a park in a fancier part of town! (You can tell by looking at the kinds of cars and the foreigners in my video.) It was Saturday too, so decently busy with lots of new experiences.
We started out by grooming: the announcement “brush” means that Chai is about to be brushed. I’m not asking, just announcing. It is not a cue – just letting her know what’s about to happen. This is okay for Chai because she isn’t body sensitive, which is a reason that I focus my training time elsewhere. With a body sensitive dog, I’d work on cooperative care protocols instead.
Then we went to Petco and conquered the sliding doors of the entry: at first, Chai did not think she could make it through!
I then let Chai take the lead exploring Petco – of course, she led us right into the food aisle:
The toy aisle is interesting too – and the people, the sounds, the smells!
We also met a few dogs, I had 3 (?) people follow my let-Chai-take-the-lead-and-then-feed-treats protocol, and then we braved the sliding doors again and walked along a busy sidewalk to Parque México!
Dog encounters at Petco.
Exploring, watching dogs, people and the playground at Parque México.
Here’s a compilation of all the things we saw and heard, encountered and smelled at Parque México! Note how Chai’s confidence grows throughout this outing. I’m not only seeing progress between, but also within socialization outings and I love it!
On the way back to the car, Chai got to approach and be fed by a kid in rollerskates and their adult, and then we played another round with the sliding doors at Petco before heading home. The doors were still a little suspicious to her – we’ll have to find some more in the future!
The rest of the day was spent playing with Game and with me and toys: chase the ball – bring it back – trade for food – chase again. We are practicing not only an informal retrieve game, but also switching back and forth between food and toys and the marker cues “chase” (a thrown toy), click (eat food) and “scatter” (part of our end-of-session ritual).
Good morning play: increasingly patient Malinois make excellent chew toys!
The next day – Chai’s 8th day with me – was the first time I took both dogs out together. This still isn’t what I’ll usually do – puppies and adult dogs in my house each get their own walks unless I don’t have time to take them separately. Today, I didn’t have time, so they both went out together in the morning. Walking together means the puppy loses out on one of the most important skills I want them to practice: seeing me leave the house with another dog and being fine. No problem for everyone to go out together every once in a while, but until the puppy is about a year old, I want it to be the exception rather than the rule: FOMO is a thing, and the time to avoid creating it is now.
Left: waiting for quesadillas con flor y queso. Middle: hanging out at the park while I eat. Right: adventures are tiring!
We headed to our usual spot: Parque Las Américas. Chai imitated Game – every time Game peed outside, so would Chai. An excellent idol to teach her that the place to do your business is outdoors!
Together with Game, Chai’s confidence was also bigger. She wanted to go everywhere Game went and trusted that what Game did was safe. Due to Game’s presence, we also got some leash pressure work in: if Game (off leash) went further than Chai’s 5 meter leash allowed, she would reach the end. I’d stop and wait for her to reorient, click and treat.
This is not how I teach loose leash walking (this is the fastest way of creating the behavior chain of pull-in-order-to-get-a-treat!), but it’s a great way to teach a puppy to give in to leash pressure rather than show opposition reflex. We’ll need this skill once we’re introducing distractions for Chai’s formal recall cue, “Schnee” (German for “Snow”).
Parque Las Américas in Narvarte
Today, the only treats Chai got out and about were for reorienting after reaching the end of the leash and, on the way back … from a new friend! We met Hugo, a street vendor who told us they loved Border Collies and had one as well as a Beagle at home. In fact, they had been dreaming of getting a second Border Collie … We spent quite a while talking to Hugo in the street, and Hugo fed, lured and scratched Chai under her chin. We exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up sometime with Hugo and their BC to see how the two got along and for Hugo to get to know Chai better.
Chai has decided the funnest way to play with Game is to use her razor sharp puppy teeth:
Day 7 came with a new adventure: two little walks in my friend Rachel’s busy neighborhood, meeting their cats (Chai wanted to play, but Layla said NO – which Chai, all waggy, did not understand), and two short car rides from Narvarte to Escandón and back. Chai also had the opportunity to make a new friend in Rachel. Ever expanding her circle of friends who aren’t just one-off people should help her grow up to be a trusting puppy who feels at home with visitors as well as visiting others.
A new human friend!
The cats were not impressed – but Chai thought they’d make excellent playmates!
… and of course, we played with Game! The better the two get to know each other, the more play there is.
Today, we visited a friend at the café he works at! Emi will be one of Chai’s friends-friends – not just a person she meets once and then never again, but someone she’ll keep seeing. This is what I meant when I said I’d expand her circle of friends: I want her to both have friends-friends (not just me) as well as not mind strangers.
Visiting Emi’s café, we got two things: first, Chai made a new friend who kept interacting with her on and off throughout the hour or two we spent there. Second, she got to watch the world go by!
I asked Emi to greet Chai the way that has been working really well for her: offer her an open flat and. If she investigates and touches the hand, feed a few treats, also offering them from an open flat hand. This way, it is always Chai’s choice whether or not she wants to engage to the degree of coming up close to a new person: initially, they don’t have treats on them and there will be no food smells on their hand. After feeding a few treats in this way, it is again up to Chai whether she wants to further interact or take a break. We always want to avoid luring a dog up to something or someone they might find potentially scary.
Since this was Emi and Chai’s first encounter, this is how we started. They hit it off right away – and not only that: in the course of our time there, Chai had the same brief interactions with Mizu, a daily regular at the café, and the person who runs the store right next door. Here are a few snapshots:
Walking to the café (just a 5-minute walk from where we are staying).
Left to right: offered empty hand (no food, no food smells); Chai choosing to engage; Chai receives treats from Emi.
Left: watching the world go by at the café. Middle and right: it is entirely Chai’s choice if she wants to engage with Emi again/more.
Chai did great watching the world go by from the café. In the video below, she sees her first wheelchair, watches with interest … and then goes back to relaxing!
PS: Here’s this week’s podcast episode I recorded further into Chai’s socialization adventures!