Of Meadows, Mountains, Golden Light and Golden Dogs

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Of Meadows, Mountains, Golden Light and Golden Dogs

I knew I should be creating lovely, educational blogs on dog training or canine massage, but my head was aching from way, way too much computer time and way too little earth time. I needed dog time, mountain time. I needed to smell trees and wind, and water. I needed to be in high places. So I took the dogs and ran away up to the mountains.

We didn’t go far, just up into Carr Cyn meadow in the Huachuca Mountains, here in Sierra Vista, Arizona. But it was enough. Carr Cyn meadow sits like a tipped bowl below the rocky palisade down which Carr Cyn waterfall flows in season. The furthest end of the bowl is tipped slightly upwards, the end closest to us, down. The result is like a giant lap resting below the torso of the mountains. We walk it counterclockwise, entering bottom left.

The light was that wonderful slanting magic light fall brings that etches each leaf with a sharp jeweler’s precision. Tufted grasses waved a thousand shades of celery green, harvest gold, pale straw. The trees shimmered and flipped through a palette of greens and silvers, while the sweet, pungent aroma from the fading Mexican arnica still permeated the air. I actually managed to harvest this year, a few plastic bags full, to make the world’s best liniment for humans. Nothing even comes close, and when it is finished, it’s just like having all that golden meadow sinking deep into one’s bones.

The Shibas love the meadow, and their golden coats flow in and out of grass and light and shadow. Nagi, the big, black sable shepherd, lumbers along, feeding his soul with the mountain’s portfolio of sounds and scents. The blue jays chatter above, and Nagi stares, dreaming his endless dreams of blue jay conquest. The moon is slightly more than half full and is up early, perching proudly on a clear azure backdrop, dead smack center above a cleft in the top left hand corner of the ridge line. My heart raises up to greet her.

The dogs are earthbound, earth passionate, earth ecstatic. They are buried in earth’s cloven ridges. As we cross the top of the bowl from left to right, the whole Sulphur Springs Valley opens up in the distance, the demarcation of earth and river, the line of the San Pedro, visible from afar. Deer scamper ahead of us, the grasses so high that all we see are the flash of white flags disappearing into the trees. The dogs pause, bodies keen on alert, then gentle at my call.

We meander to the creek’s edge, and I sit to listen to her songs. I love this little creek and talk to her often. She is full of stories, humor, pathos, yesterdays, and tomorrows, but mostly todays. She is ever so present. She makes me mind the moment. It is this gurgle, right now, that flash of light, that dropping leaf, this resonant reddish tinge, oxides a testament of summer’s hard floods. She is here now and forces me to be as well. The dogs just drink.

Across the creek and up the trail we go, tight together around the cattle guard, a right turn, and then down the right side of the bowl into the shadowed woods. Year round these woods give me succor, give me blessing. I am more comfortable in them then any friend’s living room. For me, they are like an old flannel shirt. They are my home, my family, my respite from the world. I know their moods like I know the holes in my own soul. We have known each other.

Back across the creek, and up and out once again into the meadow. Lizards live here, basking in the sun. For the dogs, it is a playground nonpareil. Lizard chasing is heaven. They dash and dart – the dogs that is, and I presume the lizards. It is an old, and endless game. The dogs are happy. The lizards I assume, not. Down we go back under the big, rambling mesquites. We have lost a number of these old grandpa trees in recent years, their shallow roots no match for the turbulent winds that seem to torment us much of the year anymore. It is sad to see them toppled, their wizened wizards’ limbs uselessly beseeching the sky.

Then on down the path to the final creek crossing, parking lot and home. It is still there, my meadow, and thankfully, I have once again climbed into her lap for comfort. The dogs and I are soothed and full, replete with mountains and sky.
Home again, home again.

Copyright Ozuna 10/7/08

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Space: The Language of Dog Culture Part I

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Space: The Language of Dog Culture Part I

In the world of dog culture, space matters. How close. How far. How far up. How far down. All these things are language in dog culture. How quickly or slowly we approach. At what angle. With what kind of body language. These are the nuances of language, the things that bespeak personality, flavor. In the same way that people move through a party or gathering with different styles of body language each of which gives us information about that person, so too does space give information in the dog world.

Here at the ranch, both professionals and owners of dogs in training come to learn the non-verbal language of dogs. Learning how to read dogs is an essential part of the ADDR teaching process. The forty acres of space here, and the off leash training that enables all clients’ dogs to move freely through space, allow for a full range of dog social language. Teaching points out nuances in language, and response, to enable ever better and better communication. Learning to read, really read dogs is an ongoing joy of mine that brings new details every day.

When we approach a dog, we are actually engaging in a conversation. There is language in every motion of our body and how we occupy space. People are no different. Each of us prefers to be approached in a certain way. Most of us prefer something vaguely in the middle between too servile and too “hale fellow well met.” We neither appreciate bluster, nor cringing. Dogs are the same. It is not so much that they derive different meanings from body language, it’s just that theirs is an older, courtlier language than our modern day interchanges. Dogs are still a distinct culture.  Just like a business person would not presume to go to Japan or Saudi without studying what nuances of meet or greet might make friends or give offense, if we want to be really successful in the world of dogs, especially with tricky dogs, we need to slow down and pay attention to both communicating well and not giving offense.

Approach

So what is the conversation when we approach a dog? Depending on how far away we are when we start towards a dog, we move through more generalized pack space into personal space. Personal space, for dogs, like humans, begins about three feet out from the body. Personal body space is entered when we actually touch another creature. Critical distances of language occur at probably a vast infinity of divisions — the “alphabet” of space. But for purposes of this discussion we will use the following rough transition zones: 3, 6, 10, 15, 30, 50, 100, and 250′ of space. Family space might be considered to be out to 10′, pack space out to 30′, social space 50′, information 100, and threat assessment 250. (More on this in Part II.)

Just like with us, there is more latitude allowed for confusing body language between dogs when one is further away than if they are within close proximity. When someone gets close to us, we want them to behave in a certain way. When someone touches us, we especially want them to do so in a certain way, depending on what our relationship with them is. We certainly want our co-workers to touch us differently than we we do our kids or our partner. A favorite friend has far more access to our personal space than a new acquaintance. Presumptions made too soon about personal access are a sure interrupter on the path to intimacy. The same is true for dogs. Yet so often we presume to just slam on through space (language, and meaning) and PAT, PAT, PAT on the head of some poor dog. Yccgh says the dog in a million ways. Eyes scrunching. Mouth dropping open. Body going neutral, or not, depending on the level of aggression in the dog. Breathing changing. Holding the breath. Breathing more rapidly. Muscles tightening. Tail dropping. A million subtle clues.

So what might polite approach look like in the world of DOG??

Slow down
Soften your body
Angle slightly sideways
Dip your eyes
Breathe
Approach at the shoulder
Closed fingers
Given permission, matter of fact, firm stroking, front to back, top to bottom.

Sort of like a courtly dance or presentation to the queen isn’t it?? Yes, dog culture is more formal than we are.

When we just walk straight up to the dog, shoulders and hips front facing, eyes front, regardless of the amount of relaxation in our body, we are still communicating a bold, (actually rude) bordering on aggressive, approach. Straight on approach signals aggression. Curved approach signals politeness. If our body is tight, we signal even higher on the aggression scale. If the dog’s body is tight, they will receive the information higher up on the aggression scale. A two way street of burgeoning negativity.

When we zoom through pack space into personal space and on into personal body space without even a pause, we are unknowingly making demands and statements about dominance and submission. We are not giving the dog an option to hang with us, we are imposing our friendship, and the fact that we are in charge of that friendship. I am not referring right now to the need to establish clear training boundaries with a dog, I am talking merely about what space and approach mean to a dog so that we can read their language correctly to get the very best response out of the dog. We can pause briefly and acknowledge a dialogue and achieve way, way more.

We probably don’t really like it if someone is looking at us with a very intent, fixed gaze, yet we do it to dogs all the time. Just because about 8/10 of the dogs that are out there will be polite when we are rude, does not mean that it wouldn’t hurt us to learn to speak their language a little better. And increasingly, we are seeing dogs who will not be polite back, dogs who do not come from a stable gene pool, who are poorly bred or merely the result of some haphazard mating, or who have not had any proper development or who lack any kind of age appropriate and breed appropriate socialization, (which does not mean taking your young pup to a dog park and letting them get pummeled by the older hooligans who are there.). That is not socialization. Socialization is a gradual process of increasing the complexity of experiences and sensory stimulation that begins at week one of a pup’s life.

Whether the dog is polite back or not, our continual obliviousness to the subtleties of spatial language, or our misunderstandings about the language of space can diminish our training results, result in confusion for the dog, result in frustration for ourselves and in its worst aspects create chaos. Simple courtesies go a long way in all cultures. The same is true of the boundary between the culture of humans and the world of DOG.

In upper level training, we use these notions of space and proximity to build and direct drive to our training objective. Space and movement become treasured pieces of the motivational puzzle. At a basic level it’s about preferences. My big shepherd likes to be part of a rugby scrum. He likes to push up against and be pushed against. So does the Rottie who’s here now for training. Approached like that, the Shibas blink in either disgust on the part of one, or confusion or an attempt to placate on the part of the other. The terriers want to come in on their terms or not at all. Each has their personal preference to space, proximity, speed, and direction. Just like us. Our job is to be aware and if we want to learn to train, or maximize our effectiveness with our pets – some basic awareness of what it all means is essential.

Resources: Turid Rugaas, Calming Signals video.

 

Welcome to Tales From the Sonora

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Tales From the Sonora is a blog about life lived in dog on a small ranch in the Sonoran region of Arizona. Life here is measured in earth time, night sky time, dog time, and horse time. The juxtaposition and collision of those “clocks” with every day modern life is for me, a never ending source of inquiry and reflection.  Tales from the Sonora is the creation of Maryna Ozuna, founder of Kinaesthetics tm, http://www.dogbodycare.com and owner/trainer at http://www.azdoggyduderanch.com.

Welcome.