The Brindle Girl Series – Day 6 (Sessions 33-35)

Session #33

First session of brindle girl’s third training week (May 3rd, 2021).

Review: touch without collar – bracelet/collar – holding collar like an object.

Session #34

Holding the collar like an object (rather than a bracelet) is obviously more difficult for her!

Session #35

  • I start easy now that I’m holding the collar like an object: not approaching her all the way.
  • I end up with a nice start-button set-up, and while she isn’t yet comfortable with the collar up close, she gives me several quick start-button looks in a row.
  • Thoughts about patience, and Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 5 (Sessions 28-32)

Session #28

Belly rubs, and thoughts on habituation.

Session #29

  • I lower criteria when reaching for her with the collar-bracelet.
  • This session shows a good set up of treat placement versus direction of her start button look.

Session #30

Back to actually touching her with the collar (still wearing it like a bracelet/glove).

Session #31

Brindle girl and I continue discussing how it feels to be touched by my hand versus the collar (hand: okay, collar: weird), and she shows an interest in my treat hand.

Session #32

+ She starts out lying down in a relaxed position, and I start by just touching her with just a hand before adding the collar back into the picture.
+ Her growing confidence shows in an attempt to mug my treat hand!
+ For the last reps of this week, I transition from wearing the collar like a glove back to holding it in my hand. This is harder than wearing it glove-style – but we’ve made progress!
+ We manage a clear start-button set up (look to her right to request that the collar approach; feed to her left) for parts of this session.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 4 (Sessions 21-27)

Brindle girl’s Thursday sessions!

Session #21

I need to lower criteria a little, and not move the collar quite as close to her face as I did in the last rep of Wednesday’s final session.

I also decide to make a change to her start button behavior.

Session #22

I try to change the start button from glancing up into my face to looking in my general direction.

Session #23

Since putting the collar on her will require a combination of accepting the collar near her neck and accepting my touch, I mix things up and have a session of just touching her neck/head/shoulder/ears.

This session is a good illustration of the classical association that has been created: anytime I touch her, she expects food.

Session #24

I try a new approach: wearing the collar like a bracelet or glove. This works really well!

Session #25

Working up to touching her with the sleeve of my sweater as a precursor to being touched by the collar.

Session #26

I go back to touching her with the sleeve of my sweater …

Session #27

I work up to touching her with the collar worn like a bracelet/glove.

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 3 (Sessions 13-20)

Today’s first session (session #13) goes into what I would do if I *had to* put a collar/leash on her right now (option 2). Then, you’ll see me continue along option 1: counterconditioning her to the collar, assuming that I have an infinite amount of time to reach my goal. I also talk about why in a real life scenario, we might NOT want to choose option #1 after the collar response we observed in last week’s sessions.

Session #13

Session #14: a single-rep session. When working with a learner who is not particularly interested in your reinforcer and free to leave, some sessions may only have a single rep.

Session #15: continued counterconditioning, and I talk about appeasement signals

Session #16: more appeasement signal musings

Session #17

Session #18

Session #19

Session #20 – the last one for Wednesday, and a lovely one to end the day with!

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 2 (Sessions 5-12)

Session #5

Session #6: approach – touch chin – feed – retreat.

Session #7: continue with approach – touch – treat – retreat. Things go really well.

Session #8: Touching head, neck, and shoulder with one hand. Short session.

Session #9: Process isn’t always linear when we work with emotions. I mention the importance of respecting the trust established by the start button behavior.

Session #10

  • Petting her is going well. I proceed to touch her with both hands in preparation for putting the collar on her.
  • Her increased comfort level shows: she lies down during the session.
  • Thoughts on choosing an angle of approach that ensures she doesn’t end up being cornered.
  • Last rep of this session shows the first time I touch her with the collar!

Session #11

I start out by moving the collar towards her neck. Her body language shows she isn’t happy with this: my hands were easier to accept than the collar!

Session #12

+ The element of satiation (more session in a day – the dog is less hungry).
+ Reasons I use low value food (kibble).
+ Her discomfort with the collar near her body becomes more pronounced.
+ I recognize that accepting the collar near her head is harder than I expected – this is not going to happen on the timeline I predicted.


The original hypothetical goal was getting a collar on her within a relatively short time. Realistically – if I really had to reach this goal to take her to the vet – I would not spend more than 10-15 sessions of a few minutes each on this. I have not reached the goal!

After reviewing the video above, I asked the FDSA alumni group to let me know which of the options below they’d like to see:

Option #1: I’ll change the hypothetical objective, and show you how I would continue counterconditioning her to this collar, and eventually put it on her. New timeline: we have all the time in the world. I’ll make things easier – not move it all the way towards her – and then slowly continue from there. You’ll see lots of boring sessions: slow and steady for the win! The kind of trainer I am today would probably not continue along this route in a real-world scenario – but this is not a real world scenario, so anything goes!

Option #2: We continue the same hypothetical scenario: I need to put a collar/leash on this dog to take her to the vet; I’ve tried counterconditioning her to the collar, but counterconditioning hasn’t worked in time. I still need to take her to the vet – so I will be pragmatic, and put a leash on her anyways. I’ll show you how I’d do this in a way that keeps her stress low while still getting things done.

Option #1 was a clear winner, with requests to explain how I would work on option #2. Stay tuned for day 3!

The Brindle Girl Series – Day 1 (Introduction and Sessions 1-4)

A free roaming dog has been coming by my AirBnB – just hanging around, sleeping on the porch, enjoying the view and the company. Well: if you’re an animal and you show up within the perimeters of a space I am renting, I can’t help but try and engage with you!

Since life has been socially distant, I wanted an audience! So I asked the FDSA alumni group for ideas: what would people like to see me demonstrate with my unsuspecting volunteer?

The FDSA students asked me to show how I would work up to touching the dog, and I made up a hypothetical scenario to go with this goal: putting a collar on her so she can be taken to the vet. In this hypothetical scenario, the vet visit isn’t urgent (if it were, I’d put a slip leash on her and just take her). However, I want to accomplish the hypothetical goal within a day or so, spending no more than 10-15 short sessions on slowly getting her used to my touch and the collar.

The following videos show the progression of this project.

Intro video:

You get to meet our free-roaming friend, and Game has a lot to say about our new project!

Session #1 of working up to touching a cautious dog. (Hypothetical scenario: I need to put a collar on her, but it’s not an emergency – so I can take my time working up to it. I estimate reaching my goal within several session (within a few hours/a day if I lived with this dog, and had access to her anytime I wanted to work on this).

Session #2

Session #3

Session #4 of working up to touching a cautious dog. I really like the last rep in this video, where I’m putting my hand under her chin, and she shows no avoidance.

Lessons from driving in Guatemala

“Rutas alternas” have toll booths. They are fancy highways; the two directions separated; no potholes, little traffic, no one stops you once you’re on it. The freeways crisscrossing the country have potholes, and traffic, dead dogs, and checkpoints. They are manned by boys wearing uniforms and carrying guns: the police. You see them up ahead, and hope you won’t be pulled over. 

On the drive from Antigua to San Marcos, I am one of the unlucky ones. I stop the car. I have dark tinted windows, which is why I don’t wear my mask when driving: no one sees me breaking the law when I’m the solitary passenger of my car. So I put on the hazard lights, and pause my audiobook, and take off my headphones, and put on my mask. That new step of putting on a mask seems to take a lot of time. It feels like the police person outside must be waiting and wondering what I’m up to behind my dark windows. 

Make sure my nose is covered. Roll down the window. Smile: “¡Buen día!”

There’s two of them at my car; another team at the station waggon in front of me, and a sole police guy at the first car in our line of three unlucky ones.

So far, I always got to stay in my car – even when they were looking for reasons to collect a bribe. I hand my passport, my license, and the registration through the window.

“Where are you from?”


“Where are you going?”

“San Marcos.”

He finds the page in my passport that holds my visa. Studies my driving license – a pink sheet of laminated paper with a picture of my 16-year old self glued into it; the same format and style as the Arian passes of my grandmother’s generation. I am always amazed when people abroad actually believe this is my driving license. I mean, it is – but it looks like something a 10-year old designed and printed in their basement. I suppose it looks too fake to actually be fake. 

He asks me to step out of the vehicle. They are going to search it, he says. I fish my flip flops out of the side console. He watches through the window as I wiggle my toes into them. 

I always drive barefoot when it’s hot. There’s a very unsexy reason for it, and it is Epidermis Bullosa Simplex. If heat combines with friction – such as the heat of a summer day and the friction of my feet against a shoe – my skin will blister. (Yes, I have tried wearing other shoes. No, there is no cure. And I am tired of having this conversation.)

I get out of the car, and smile. He sticks in his head, sees the ridiculously gigantic crate – a crate that would fit a Saint Bernard – that takes up the majority of the car. 

“You got a dog in there?”


“What kind of dog?”

“Un pastor belga.” A Belgian shepherd.

“Uh. Those are bad dogs.”

“Those are great dogs.”

“Is he bravo?” A word that means different things, depending on who uses it: it can mean aggressive and mean; or gritty and courageous.

“Yes. She’s brava.”

“Does she bite?” 

“Yes. She bites.”

He’s joined by his companion, who’s walked around the car.

“How much is that dog worth?”

I look straight into his eyes. “A lot.”

He spits out a laugh. “Is your dog worth more than I am?”

I do not laugh. “My dog’s invaluable.”

Boy #1 asks me to empty out my pant pockets, and put the contents on the driver’s seat: my wallet. The keys to my AirBnB. A poop bag.

“Is that it?”

“That’s it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am sure.”

“But are you sure?” His eyes, inquisitively. 

“Yes, I am sure.”

“Are you really sure?”

“Pat me down if it makes you happy.”

“If it makes me happy!” He laughs, and proceeds to touch my pockets, which are, surprise, empty.

His compañero picks up my wallet, and starts nosing through it. A couple bills. A check. Debit card. He is thorough, looking into the fold in the bottom of each pocket; sliding his fingers into every little opening. He puts it back down, then remembers the coin department, and goes through there as well. A handful quetzales and cents, and a lucky charm – a lady bug – a friend gave me years ago. 

I do not take my eyes off of his fingers in my wallet for a second, which means keeping my back turned to the other one, who is making smalltalk: how often do I go back to my country? How old is the dog? Are you here by yourself? Flicking a bill out of a wallet and into the sleeve of a jacket takes just a second; I will not give him that gratification. 

Dude #1 puts down my backpack, and dude #2 stops the smalltalk. He walks around to the passenger door, and proceeds to ruffle through my backpack, and the bag of groceries on the passenger seat.

Dude #2 moves the passenger seat back and forth. “El macho alpha todavía no ha aparecido?” he asks casually. Haven’t you come across an alpha male yet? He peaks under the blanket I’ve tied around the seat because Game sleeps there sometimes, and I don’t want her to get the seat dirty.

“No. Not yet.” Sexist jokes are part of those checkpoints. Either that, or they flirt. The first time I got stopped, I ended up exchanging phone numbers with the guy.

They motion for me to open one of the back doors, revealing a large bite pillow and a tug toy, and a 15-kilo bag of Kirkland; cut open and taped shut again so the kibble won’t spill out on the drive.

“Dog toys?”


“Dog food?”


He closes the back door, and comes up front again. If I were to smuggle drugs or arms, I would hide them under the dog, I suppose, in my underwear, or buried deep inside a bag of kibble. (This, by the way, is the lesson I promised you in the title: if you’re smuggling something, hide it under your dog crate or bury it in kibble. No one has ever looked there so far.)

They really wanted to find something today. Maybe I look like a drug dealer now because I forgot to put on my baseball cap before rolling down the window. I’m letting my hair grow out, and it’s at that stage where my head looks like a topiary that stuck its finger into a power outlet. Or maybe it’s because I’m driving barefoot, and going to San Marcos. Everyone knows that San Marcos is where gringos congregate to align their chacras, heal their crystals, grow magic mushrooms and drink cocoa. (I don’t know what’s the deal with the cocoa.) It’s a coincidence San Marcos is where I found a good AirBnB for the month. But I suppose I look bastante dishevelled and stoned with my bare feet, the scrub growing on my head and Game’s rainbow blanket on the passenger seat.

Guy #2 turns to me. “Usted no smoking?” 

“No.” For a second there, I thought he was asking me for a cigarette. 

“No smoking?” He makes a gesture with his hands, as if inhaling from a joint.

“No fumo.” I don’t smoke, and I have the irritating habit of repeating English verbs Spanish speakers put into a Spanish-language sentence back to them in Spanish.

“No smoking?”

“No. No fumo.”

“¿Seguro que no?” Are you sure you don’t smoke?

“I’m sure. Sorry.” I shrug. 

He nods. “You can go.” His friend hands back my documents, and I get in. Time to move on. They are already waving down their next victim.

It is interesting, this game. You hope they won’t stop you because it’s like improv theater: anything can happen, so you can’t be prepared. One time, somewhere between Guatemala City and Jutiapa, a police guy demanded to see my dogs’ paperwork, which, he said, shaking his head dramatically as I looked confused, I was legally obliged to carry when transporting a dog in my car. There is no such thing – the document he demanded does not exist, and we both knew it. I needed to bribe him anyways to get on with my day. The upside is that you can also bribe your way out of actual infringements, like the time I forgot both my passport AND my driving license and “bargained” my way from “I might have to deport you” down to “let me just pay you a generous ‘fine’.”

It’s hard to faze me with a cultural experience like eating tamales, learning to salsa, or being stopped at a checkpoint. There is one crucial difference between these experiences though: you choose to order a tamal or learn to dance, while the checkpoints just happen to you. That significantly lowers the degree of enjoyability of your cultural experience, which is a shame: true enjoyability requires a sense of agency. 

I just sat down and solved checkpoints (you are welcome) to make it more fun next time, both for myself and for you:

Checkpoint BINGO

(Inspired by Jane McGonigal’s book Superbetter.) 

The picture shows a 9-square BINGO board, numbered left to right. The middle square, #9, reads "FREE!" 

Images in the top line:
1 Elephant
2 Cutting board with a cut-up sausage
3 Man handing a bouquet to a woman

Images in the middle line:
4 Bag of gold coins
5 Gun
6 Dog
7 Treasure map
8 Wallet

When to play:

At any cross-country drive or border crossing in Latin America.

How to play:

1. Pick your rewards:

1A What will you win when you get BINGO (a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal row of 3 squares crossed off)? Make it something you can easily treat yourself to within 24 hours after reaching your destination – something small, but special. Example: I get cheesecake when I win a game of BINGO. 

1B What will you win if you succeed at the smuggle quest? It can either be a second round of your first reward, or something different. The same parameters apply: you’ll have to be able to treat yourself to it within 24 hours of completing your drive. As for me, I get a second slice of cheesecake!

2. Opt into the game before starting your drive by printing out the BINGO sheet, and carrying it with you in your car, along with a pen to cross off squares. The tag point is putting your equipment into your car and saying: “If I get pulled over, I get to play!”

3. Your smuggle quest: I once asked a police person what they are looking for when stopping cars. They said drugs and arms. You are going to pretend that you are on a mission of smuggling an object or illegal substance to your destination. It can be any small object – for example, a toy car – or substance – such as the small sugar envelopes you get with your coffee. Before you embark on your drive, hide the object or substance somewhere safe in your car, in your luggage, or on your body. Caveat: you may only use each hiding place once. So the more you drive, the more hiding places you will have to come up with – it’s got to be a different one each time. 

You win the smuggle quest if your object or substance is not discovered by the police or military guards at the checkpoints, i.e. they do not come across it when searching you and your car. If you win the smuggle quest, you automatically get reward #1B, and you get to cross off square 1 on your BINGO board.

The squares on your BINGO board: cross off whichever happens! Mentally as it is happening, and with your pen once you’re on your way again!

1 Smuggle success!

2 The police or military person makes a sexist joke. 

3 They flirt with you, ask for your number, or find a reason to touch you.

4 You bribe them.

5 If you wanted to, you could easily reach for and grab their gun. (You’ll be amazed how often it happens; how easy it would be …!)

6 You are asked to take your dog out of the car.

7 They question a real document you carry (your passport, driving license, papers for your car etc.) or ask for an imaginary document (which, obviously, you do not carry).

8 They search your wallet.

9 Congratulations, it’s your lucky day: you get this square for free just for having been pulled over!

You win reward #1A if you cross off 3 adjoining squares – horizontally, diagonally, or vertically.

Have fun! 

The town you used to live in

It is interesting how profoundly a place changes when you go from living there to just visiting. You see it through different eyes. It can never be the same again.

Last night, Game insisted we go out at 2 in the morning. I don’t think I have ever been out at 2 in the morning in Antigua. Certainly not these past 3 years that I’ve lived here. I don’t think even back in the day, over a decade ago, when I was backpacking through. I was already working remotely then, and getting early starts, before digital nomading became a thing.

I have never seen the city as peaceful as it is tonight, except in Carlos Lopez Ayerdi’s eerie pandemic pictures. Not a single soul in the street. A lone police car pulls around the corner.

Game and I walk two blocks to Parque Central. The shapes of the homeless seam the archway of 5a Avenida Norte. Everyone is covered in a blanket; most have a dog with them, nestled up close to their bodies.

The first time we walk past, nobody steers. We’re quiet. Game, no dog tags to give her away, scavenges around the benches and fountains and crane flowers on silent paws. She finds a chicken bone in one corner; a stale tortilla in another. It must have been a busy night at the park, and the cleaning crew will only come in a few hours.

Warm, soft light is draped over the Palacio de Los Capitanes like a cloak. The central fountain with its mermaids bubbles peacefully, with no one watching but me and Game.

Finishing the loop around the park, one of the dogs hears us. They start barking, and soon everyone joins in, a cacophony of barks; four-legged shadows break away from the resting human mounts. Having a dog is a universally good thing.


The last week of this term’s pandemic challenge!


You’ll play 5 days a week – whichever days you want. Complete any task on the list to play.

Complete the tasks in any order, and check them off when you do!


Follow this link to make your own pandemic challenge sheet for next week, using the Canva template I’ve used for the Finding Five challenge series. You can also find the template by searching for “Pink Artsy Weekend Checklist” on

Click here to download and print a larger version of the week 6 challenge sheet!