Enjoying my walks with my dogs

21082904_542479256088672_7221601975003592633_oOne look at this picture and it should not come as a surprise that I have abysmal upper body strength with wrists like that. CTS to boot. And it should not be hard to imagine what a strong girl Nishi is. So to me, it was clear from day 1 that if I needed to be able to walk Nishi, it could never boil down to battle of strengths. I knew then too that I would definitely be the one to lose it, EVERYTIME! So, I was very sure that I HAD to get her to a place where she would not pull me.

In the beginning, I was not really good. I tried many different approaches. Leash walking is HARD!!! I fell flat on my face many times.

Yeah, I was given the choke chain advice that I did follow for one walk. But watching Nishi gasp and sputter that disappeared after it’s maiden appearance. Then came the flat collar. But my wise brother in law talked us into a harness. I am glad that happened before the collar caused too much damage. Then there was the question of the right kind of leash. I tried the retractable for a while, then got badly injured by it, almost saw it amputate Nishi’s leg, read up about the horrors of it and gave that up. Then came some 2″, 4″ and 6″ leashes. I was obsessed. I even wrote a blog about it, which I now know is nonsense 🙂

Then came the techniques. And as with most people I started at “what does the internet tell me”. And of course, what surfaces is whatever is most popular (not to be confused with the most effective, most humane or the best researched. Fake news can have as much viewership as real news these days. Ratings are just that…ratings). So “popular advice was” – be stern and jerk her back real hard when she is young and weaker than you. If she gets older and stronger she will drag you down”. Bad advice, wrapped in good advice! “Resolve it now, else she might drag you down” – good advice. “Jerk her. Be stern” – bleh! I mean, I tried it for one walk and I hated how it made me feel, yanking her back by the neck like that. My little tubby wubby puppy! So that did not work and I looked more.

Next came the world of positive reinforcement training. But here was the catch. My tubby wubby puppy refused to eat treats when outside the house. Just flat out refused. I tried EVERYTHING. Chicken, fish, fish paste, liver pate, egg puff, parathas, poories, paneer, dried shrimp, origen treats, organic home baked cookies, meat balls….NOTHING worked. I tried toys and that just drove both of us crazy.

The twist to the tale was her accident. That happened when we were on our walk. Under my watch. I never forgave myself for it. But it also drained me of every last bit of confidence to walk her on the street. Just stepping out would make me tense up. Two walks with that elevated level of stress…it unravelled me.

I am a meticulous person. I ran into very technical terms like R+ training, 3 Ds of raising criteria, “shaping behaviours”, clicker training, charging behaviours, generalizing etc…I made plans that ran pages long, listing criteria, clicking away to glory. Clickers were not available in India then. So I got a friend to bring me a pack of 100! The concept sounded brilliant and worked awesome with Karen Pryors game of “100 things to do with a box”, but when it came to leash training….nope…no luck.

Then I ran into Turid’s ideas. I learnt about calming signals and like with most Turid fan’s that became the first day of the rest of my life. I had discovered something new, was hungry to know more and was sold on her philosophy. Got all her books, DVDs and tried to leash walking her way. In theory it sounded fascinating, but in practice, it flopped badly. It did not work.

Then I met her. I learnt from her. Made more sense. Worked in the sprawling grounds of her farm in Norway. Tried it in India…epic fail! By now, I am feeling like an idiot.

I introspected and analyzed for countless hours and and realized my leash was only 6″ long. Turid’s were at least 2 feet longer. I got myself a longer leash and tada! It started working. What a difference 2 ft made.

It still was not working well enough though. Turid recommended use of treats and I tried. But that just was not working. India is too busy and distracting. Dogs were not able to talk treats. So I thought about it and realized that this could actually work to my advantage, if I could figure out a way to make the bustle of India rewarding in itself and not requiring treats. I figured I could do that if I kept the stimulation levels controlled.

Despite, I still fell flat on my face a few times. If a dog bolts on an 8ft leash…best of luck! It came down to figuring out how to prevent that bold and how to be prepared. This is where Turid’s teachings finally fell into place, where I have finally been able to work out in Bangalore’s context, how not to put my dogs in a place where they feel the need to bolt and what to do in case she does. It has taken me longer on how to teach my clients that. I am still learning.

I still need some amount of strength to stand my ground a few times. But that happens once in a while and is far easier than having to pull back or being dragged for the duration of the walk. I have not fallen in a few years and I have now walked about 400 dogs 😀 So yay! My wrists are spared. And I am not stressed any more. I love my walks with my doggies and I look forward to it.

Here are some pictures from our walks. Hope you like them.

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The good in yellow

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jul 19, 2016, 10.27 PM IST

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Turmeric can bea extrmely beneficial to canine health

I’ve been hearing a lot on about “turmeric latte” and the commentary that this is just “haldi doodh” that we’ve been having for ages. Here is another such term – “golden paste” – a western adaptation of an Indian blend of turmeric, coconut oil, pepper and water. Turns out this paste is absolutely wonderful for our dogs.

The bio-active compound of turmeric is curcumin. Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that can be a godsend for our dogs suffering from aches and pains.

A paper written for the American Academy of pain management states “Turmeric is one of the most potent natural anti-inflammatory available”. Studies have shown that
curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and it’s antioxidants that neutralise free radicals which cause painful inflammation.

Curcumin is believed to stimulate bile production. Bile is necessary for metabolism of fat in the liver. This is important because the liver plays a very critical role of flushing out toxins. Our dogs, like us, are exposed to a lot of toxins as part of our dense urban living and “packaged food” lifestyles. In addition if your dog has health problems and is on and off any medication for a sustained period, then the liver can use all the help it gets.

Curcumin seems to also have some great anti-cancer properties. A UCLA study showed curcumin to block the cancer promoting enzyme. Another study showed that curcumin has the ability to shut down blood vessels that feed tumour, that preventing tumours and in some cases even shrinking it. With so many of our dogs prone to all kinds of cancers these days, this is a very real concern for many of us pet parents.

Turmeric is also known to benefit the heart. It brings down bad cholesterol levels and thins the blood, reducing the risk of clots. In addition, turmeric seems to have a host of other benefits like weight management, parasite control, allergy prevention, healing of some digestive problems etc.

Turmeric however does not dissolve in water and hence is hard to get absorbed by the body. Making a paste with coconut oil helps increase absorption. You can further increase the absorption by adding crushed pepper corns. Pepper contains a compound called piperine, which when combined with turmeric, in the tiniest of doses, makes the curcumin 2,000 per cent more available in the body. And one final trick to increase the absorption of turmeric is to feed it in several small doses a day, instead of one helping.

To make the paste you’ll need half a cup of organic turmeric, 1 cup of water, 1/3 cup of unrefined coconut oil, 2 tsp of freshly ground pepper. Boil the turmeric and water together for 10 minutes, stirring till it’s a smooth thick paste. Add more water if required. Take it off the heat. Then add in the pepper and oil and whisk it till the oil gets incorporated in the paste. Cool and refrigerate.

The recommended dosage seems quarter teaspoon for every 5kg body weight. So if your dog is 20kg you can give up to one teaspoon a day. So you could start with quarter teaspoon two to three times a day and gradually increase it if need be. Remember that any diet change can cause the dog to have loosies. Curcumin is also known to cause constipation. So make sure your dog is getting plenty of water at all times.

This is a very interesting use of Ayurveda in our dogs’ lives. If our dog is suffering from chronic pain, most times we are at a loss on how to relieve the pain, because sustain pain killer usage is not advisable. We just might have our answer right here.

Speak dog

Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jul 11, 2016, 09.00 PM IST

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Last year I saw a video making the rounds. It showed a busy intersection in some Indian city, a dog and a policeman patiently waiting till the policeman decides it’s the right time to stop the traffic and let the dog cross. First off hat’s off to this policeman. His heart is made of gold.

Secondly, one can’t help but notice that the dog is actually waiting for the policeman’s cue on when to cross the road. How did this happen?

When I walk around on the streets, and come across a street dog, I often look to check if he or she is friendly and might be interested in some petting. Many times, a dog that seems to be trotting off somewhere on a mission, will stop dead on his tracks and turn back and look at me. Not a single word is exchanged. But the dog knows what my intentions are. I am sure many of you who stops to pet street dogs have experienced this. Before you’ve uttered a word, the dog knows what you plan to do.

Then I’ll notice the dog consider it for a second or two before either heading back on his mission or spending a few seconds with me. The beauty of dogs of course is that, most dogs will make those few extra seconds for me. Some won’t and that’s the free will that people keep referring to in dogs that they find hard to give up, if they go from being a street dog to an house-dog.

I bet if we were to film all street dog interactions with people and other dogs some fantastic observations and explanations will emerge. In the case of the policeman, an astute client of mine observed that he is in fact signalling to the dog to stay put, while he waits for the right moment. I spend a lot of time teaching many such signals to my client. So how did this policeman and dog know this signal already?

I tell all my clients this. I don’t know how or why these signals work. But they do. Dogs get it. And if we learn to get their signals, we have a full language that just seems to exist. Perhaps man and dog co-developed these signals to be able to work with each other. After all, wolves use these signals to work together as a pack. I don’t know and we need more studies on these signals. But I know they work. And the policeman in the video is my proof.

I have seen many people, who have not learnt the signals, use them on dogs. That tells me that we inherently know this language. It’s in our bones. People who interact with street dogs often tend to start picking up a few signals, if they are good in observing dog language. I have seen so many people in villages signal with ease. They just don’t seem to need dominance or clickers to get their dog to do very complicated things like figuring out when and how to follow the farmer (follow to field, not to the market), when to bark at strangers, where the boundaries exist, not to jump on people, not to “play bite” etc…

The earliest depictions of man and dog show them working together, not a main training a dog to sit. Man and dog can become a very successful inter-species partnership if we focus on communication, instead of training. Early man showed us it can be done. Start learning a new language today – dog language (formally documented as calming signals for reference).

Commands or Negotiations

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jul 4, 2016, 09.37 PM IST

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Loose leash walking has many benefits over “heel”

I was recently in conversation with a friend, discussing the difference between “heel” and loose leash walks. “Heel” is based on the principle of instructing a dog. Loose leash walks on the other hand are based on negotiating with a dog. So the discussion between these two methods is one of an instruction based technique versus a negotiation based technique.

Instructions or commands by nature are a power based structure where there is a power imbalance. One is telling another what to do and the other does not have a choice in the matter. A negotiation on the other hand is about finding an arrangement that works for both.

The first problem with a power based system is that, the power imbalance puts our dogs in a place where they don’t feel much control over their lives. They are often looking for ways not to follow what’s been asked of them as a way to reclaim some control. That’s why so many clients end up with me complaining that their dog knows what’s wanted to of him but will not always follow the instruction.

For example, the clients who learn loose leash walking are advised to negotiate with their dogs and strike a deal that on most occasions they will allow the dog to define the walk, but on few occasions they would request the dog to allow them to define the walk. Since the dog has a choice almost all dogs find the deal rather appealing and take it gladly. Noncompliance is non-issue in this situation.

The second problem with a command based system is it’s limited repertoire. Here we try to teach a dog the meaning of a few words. Now there are dogs that have apparently learnt hundreds of words. But we are all not Einsteins and neither are most of our dogs. Realistically this vocabulary is going to be small. Even if we were going to negotiate with our dogs, we would not know how to based on a vocabulary of just commands like SIT, DOWN, GO, COME!

The complicated negotiation mentioned above is not even possible with these words. It requires a far more complicated language. Here is where the knowledge of dog language is useful. When we are tasked with learning their language, we pick up much more than just commands. We learn a much more nuanced and complete repertoire with which we can actually negotiate.

The last problem with a command based system is that it assumes that our decisions are always the better decisions. It discounts the fact that in certain situations a dog’s decision can in fact be better. Rambo came in this morning and I was told he was aggressive. I had evaluated that this was because of Rambo’s fear of dealing with dogs.

We went out on a loose leash walk. We suddenly found ourselves at the mouth of a street with two dogs blocking it and barking their heads of at us. We did not command Rambo to come away, but offered the option of walking away as a choice. We could do that because we were not relying on a command, but instead on polite dog language to suggest another option to the dog. He saw our suggestion, considered it and not only walked away, but led us through another less stressful path back home.

His instinct was right about not taking those two belligerent dogs on. His human guardians were stunned watching their “aggressive” dog walk away. What commands
had failed to achieve, a negotiation had achieved beautifully on our very first loose leash walking session.

If you like this article, use the sharing buttons to share this information with friends. Invite pet parents to a new way of thinking about our best friends.

Enrichment buckets

20151002_171056Early this year, I presented “Lives of Streeties” – a study on street dogs that looks at the activity pattern of dogs. The study had some interesting take-aways.

While the primary intent was to figure out how much physical exercise to free ranging dogs really need, there was an observation that caught my attention – the amount of mental stimulation street dogs get. They work for their food, they have plenty of doggies and people to socialize with.

They have so many different urban scents and trails to follow. Continued exposure to new things is known to grow the brain. Of course, sometimes it gets just too much for them, because they are exposed to more than just mental stimulation.

They are exposed to possible abuse and trauma as well. But that’s another story. Our dogs, by comparison are well protected, seem to get similar if not more exercise than street dogs, but seem to be severely lacking in mental stimulation. Their friends are few. They don’t have to scavenge for their food, in fact it’s forced down on them most times.

Whatever few odours we bring into the house, we literally kill it with disinfectant. So what is really occupying our dogs’ minds? Minds that are clearly capable of so much more, if the street dogs are any indication. When I work with clients, I work on increasing mental stimulation. Of course, they get two walks a day. But it’s quite evident that the walks by themselves will not cut it. Our apartments are too sterile and boring to fill in the rest. We need to make it interesting.

If we lived in a less busy city, I would have recommended tossing your dog in the car and driving around to find new places for your dog to explore. But we live in Bangalore and anything that involves driving is not really a great idea. So bring the outdoors home.

At least try. Apart from a toy basket for your dog, try creating an enrichment bucket for your dog. While a toy basket contains dog toys bought from pet shops, the enrichment bucket needs to contain day-to-day objects.

Things you will be happy to replace with newer objects, without worrying about the impact on your pocket. Just about anything can go in there from empty boxes, old clothes, phone books, old mobile cases, old shoes, twigs, green coconuts, ropes…just about anything.

The aim is not to have many objects, but new objects. Each evening, when your dog gets into the mood to engage his mind, lay out all the objects in the enrichment bucket. Each time, aim to have at least one new object in there. Scatter a bunch of treats among the objects. Put a few treats in the boxes. Roll up a few treats in the old clothes.

You have created an activity space for your dog now. Sit back and watch him explore it. It’s important not talk to him when he is exploring. After he’s done, you can put all the objects back in the bucket, toss in something new into the bucket and store it away for the next day.

The toy basket on the other hand, will remain accessible to the dog at all times. As you do more of this, you will gain confidence in the objects you put into it. The amount of destruction your dog involves in will come down. However, the aim of the treats in the boxes, is to get him to destroy it. So make sure your does this under supervision. Enjoy great evenings together!

Walk like a pro

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jun 6, 2016, 10.17 PM IST

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Loose leash walks are calming for both humans and dogs

Hope all of you had a great weekend. We had a great weekend for sure at the Hundeskole. We had a walking workshop. A lovely dog visited us for the workshop and participants got to watch what a mere two hour workshop can achieve in terms of teaching a dog how to walk well without pulling. A few friends I was talking to before the workshop asked me if the visiting dog had already been trained and wondered how I was going to conduct the workshop and train a dog in under two hours to get the dog walking well. But that’s just it. It’s so easy once you have the right equipment and know the fundamental philosophy behind a loose leash walk.

A loose leash walk is basically a contract between human and dog – as long as the leash is loose, walking happens. But when the leash is tight, walking stops. In addition, loose lease walk relies on body language based communication to tell your dog what you need. So you need to show with your shoulders which direction you want the dog to walk in. Body language communication is far more effective with dogs, compared to verbal communication which is not their ‘native tongue’.

Let’s assume that all’s well and you are walking nicely on a long loose leash with a dog. Suddenly the dog gets excited and bolts in front, tightening the leash and breaking the contract. So the walk needs to stop. Then you need the dog to walk back to you to release the tension on the leash so that the walk can resume. But to show your dog that he needs to walk back, you need to communicate with your shoulders that you want the dog to come back to you. So you face away from the dog and wait for the dog to return.

Once I demonstrated this technique to the participants, they were very skeptical, telling me that the dog would not return. So we practised it in the garden. What did we see? The lovely ‘demo’ dog had initially had an argument with her handler, insisting that she wanted to go in the opposite direction the handler wanted her to walk in. We just stood there, facing opposite directions. After a 30-second non-verbal argument of this kind, the dog finally understood. This was not like before. This was a new style of walk. She got what was expected of her. As our hands-on session progressed, her arguments became shorter and by the time we were ready to try the walk on the street, she was walking like a pro.

There are a few tricks to keep in mind. First up, this walk works only with a non-retractable long leash that is at least eight feet long with an H harness. Secondly, people take time to get used to the long leash. So you need to practice the walk in a garden, basement or terrace of a building, till you have mastered it. You don’t drive on the streets till you have mastered the skill of handling the car’s accelerator, brake and clutch. It’s the same for long leashes. And finally, if your dog is not normal and is exhibiting signs of stress or other behavioural problems, first get them addressed by a behaviourist before attempting loose leash walks with the dog.

The participants of the workshop all walked in with skepticism and walked out eager to try this. Most felt that their dogs would enjoy it the most. That’s what comes out of a technique that actually understands the emotional wellbeing of dogs. If there is one piece of advice I can give to people who want to make their dog’s life as pleasant as possible – learn about dogs and their emotions. It goes a long way.

Click them right

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | May 30, 2016, 09.34 PM IST

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Organic formations in candids make for stress free photography for dogs

Today I write to the photographers out there who have taken a shine to pet photography. Photographers play a critical role in increasing awareness about dog related issues. As we all know a good picture can say many things. However badly taken pictures can do more damage than one ever intends to. So it’s important for photographers to know what it is they are saying with their pictures.

What is your dog telling you? There was a recent study done by Stanley Coren, a psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher who examined photographs of people with their pets. He noted that in more than 80% of the photographs, dogs were giving out “Calming Signals“. Calming signals are signals that dogs give either to calm themselves down or to calm others around them down. It is usually an indicator of a stressor or a potential stressor around them. Typical calming signals that are frequently caught on camera include licking lips, slow blinking, turning of the head, yawning and whale eyes (where the whites of the eye are prominently showing). Why were so many dogs giving out these signals in the photos? What was the stressor in them?

What NOT to frame: A dog being hugged against it’s wishes. Notice the dog giving a calming signal by turning away.

The study of course focused on people hugging their dog. The theory is that dogs don’t like hugs and hence were caught giving out calming signals in these photos. However there are others who question if the dogs were giving the signals to the photographer, indicating stress at being photographed. In other case, we know the dogs are uncomfortable.

Experienced behaviourists will tell you that dogs are typically stressed by someone hugging them, someone staring them down, someone making hard eye contact or someone hovering over them. Unfortunately photography often includes all of these. We pick up what looks like a massive big eye and point it right in the dogs faces. If there are humans in the frame, they are often hugging the dog. The photographer often leans down to get a better picture of the dog, stressing the dog further. All of these combined is creating a high stress situation for the dog and that is showing in such studies.

I urge photographers to consider more polite practices when photographing dogs. Educate the subjects of your composition not to hug or sandwich the dog, but to lure the dog into the composition and keep him engaged there with treats or funny sounds. Opt for more natural poses where the dog and humans are not squished together, but are in a more organic formation that does not restrict the dog. Candids might be a much better option in this case. Try not to point the camera straight at the dog and instead opt for more profile pictures that is far more comfortable for a dog. And watch your own body language. Try not to lean towards a dog or make intense eye contact.

The most important tip of all is to look up Calming signals on the internet and learn to identify it in your photographs. Once you are sensitized to reading a dogs calming signals it is easy to work out your body language so that the dog does not see the need to signal to you.

I recently saw the above lovely picture shot by a friend. In the frame is a child and two dogs. The three of them are sitting comfortably on a blanket in a park. All three in the image are facing slightly away from each other, but are still engaged. It’s just lovely to see such a healthy respect for space that the child and dogs were having for each other. Lovely pictures like this play a crucial role in educating people on understanding the personal space of a dog. So I am hopeful that you will be producing some wonderful images that communicate the right message.

Here are some more pictures the wonderful people at Bombat Dawgz contributed towards my good photography project. Enjoy 🙂

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