Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Blog on Dogs

While there are probably hundreds, even thousands of dog blogs on the Internet, or even blogger alone, I thought it was time to save my friend's some sanity by expressing my views, experiences, and dog knowledge on here, where people who actually care can read it and voluntarily be subject to my extensive dog-related lectures.

About me: I'm Kini (or Jenny, if we're friends). I am a junior in college at UMBC studying English and looking towards a graduate degree in ESL. So what do you know about dogs?

Well. I have been around dogs as long as I can remember. But when I really got involved and made training dogs part of my everyday life was five and half years ago when a puppy named Yarmouth was born. I became a volunteer puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind in 2004, and suddenly found myself neck deep in numerous theories, methods, and ideas of dog training from GEB. Yarmouth was exceptional at finding ways to prove their theories and my previous knowledge less-than-successful, so I began to do my own research to make Yarmouth the dog I knew he could be: a trainable, reliable partner for a blind person in need.

The answer to finding what made Yarmouth tick was revealed in Carol Lee Benjamin's book, Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence. Inside, it explained the basic psychology that all dogs relate to (we must have an alpha, we must be a pack, we must keep harmony to survive, we must do something productive in our act of surviving) etc. Not a day after I started to practice her techniques, Yarmouth was suddenly a different dog, as if we were finally speaking the same language! As a puppy, he was still his goofy self, but at the drop of a hat, when asked to do something, he did it with great enthusiasm. With Benjamin's techniques as the basis of Yarmouth's training, he was then able to fulfill and successfully adhere to GEB's training program, at that time, a mixture of positive reinforcement and basic leadership.

When Yarmouth was placed in the Home Training program with a gentlemen from New York in 2006, my family and I went up to see him before he left for good in his new life. I left the Guide Dog School that day with a new bundle of fur to train, Godiva (or as her blind person now calls her, "Miss America on Four Paws"). With Godiva, it was love at first lick, literally. Never before have I found a dog I bonded with so closely, that understood my every move and expression. Starting from the beginning with Carol Benjamin's techniques, Godiva was a perfect angel, never behaving badly a day in her life. It was when Godiva was around six months old that I found my next love in dog books, Cesar's Way, and in it, I found my new hero.

Cesar speaks in plain language, explaining what dogs really need and why, and how they are misinterpreted in American Society that actually tends to reinforce bad behavior. In his theory, there are no bad dogs. Just uninformed people that unintentionally make them or allow them to exhibit various unwanted behaviors. Dogs need exercise, discipline, and then affection, in that order! Since dogs are not humans and don't see the world in the same light, being treated as humans sends them the wrong message, where they act out and become unruly beings. My favorite example of this is putting yourself in the position of living in a world where everyone treats you as if you are a chimpanzee. When you want to read a book, they throw you a banana. When you want to have a conversation, they make funny faces at you and laugh. When you think there is danger, they yell at you or shove you in a back room. By addressing dogs as dogs, the beings they are, they become free from this type of frustration, and will gladly pay their respects to you, being grateful for every moment of understanding. Never again have I approached or worked with a dog with any other mindset, ensuring the best possible outcome for the both of us.

Godiva left me in August of 2007, and shortly graduated thereafter with Bill Hadden in March of 2008, one of the greatest men I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. At 81, Bill is still spry, being a "roaring lion" for his local lions club in Lynchburg VA. Godiva lives with he and his wife Jackie, along with Bills previous guide dog, Sandy, living a very happy life. It was only last week that my father and I met them in Shepherdstown WV for lunch, and I'm proud to say that Godiva never ceases to remember me.

Even after Godiva, I continued training dogs for friends, friends of friends, and neighbors, (clients, if you will) and continued dog sitting long and short term for fellow GEB members. By the time my next GEB dog came to me, I had worked with close to a hundred dogs, having gained a lot of experience and positive reputation through my results. Gerta, Godiva's half sister, arrived in late July of 2008 at 10 weeks old, where I "started" her before returning back to college. Gerta was picked up by an experienced couple that had raised 5 other dogs for GEB, and we continue to co-raise her, me taking her whenever I have breaks and am back home for an extended time. Gerta will be spending another Christmas with me this December before she returns to GEB to take her In For Training Test in January, which we're all expecting her to pass with flying colors. Gerta is even on brood watch as Godiva once was, an honor given only to the top 10% of dogs in the GEB program.

So with all this experience, why don't you want to do a career with dogs? There is nothing I think I would like better than spending my days with dogs, walking with them, interacting with them, ensuring their mental balance. But alas, it can hardly be said that there is any demand for such positions. While doggie day-care services are becoming more prominent, it's a business gamble to buy a facility and depend on clients, acquire liscences, and the only way to make a living off of it would be to manage or own the place. For now, my only goal in life is to do something I equally enjoy (hopefully such as teaching foreign children English) and to help any dogs I can along the way, likely fostering some as well as rescuing my own. We can never know, after all, what the future holds. Like dogs do every day, sometimes it's best to just live in the moment and wait for what comes next.

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