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Living with dogs raises consciousness (or it can!)

Deuce and I are at our weekly sheepherding lesson, something we have done for the past five years.  Yes, it has been five years and we are still learning, getting frustrated and reassessing (okay, I am re-assessing) how to make improvements.

Sheepherding is a lot like signing in that having talent really makes things easier but neither signing well or sheepherding are easy endeavors.

People are familiar with herding dogs- especially with Border collies; but what people don’t know is how very difficult is to achieve success in herding be it at a trial for a ribbon or as a way of life.  Sure, the talent of the dog is really important and it will definitively make a difference in achieving really high marks but there is much more.

For example, get this:  The dog who is the one with the “natural” instinct to herd must at times forgoes his natural abilities and listen to what the handler is asking him to do. Wow! Right?

The dog also must be brave and confident – yet not pushy in order to move the herd (some species are more “flighty” than others so again another variant) yet, not so pushy that the herd will split in different directions – and now we have a problem. Instead, we must aim to keep the herd together and moving in the desired direction, be it a pen, a pasture etc.

For the past three weeks Deuce and I are working diligently in quite “approaches” as we are “driving” the sheep in a straight line. During the same session, we change the chore to gathering the sheep; that is the dog brings the entire herd to the handler. Our efforts are paying off.  This boy and I appear to be in sync. I cannot contain my appreciation and pride as a big smile flashes across my face.  Good lad, Deuce, good lad!

Today, is a different story. We begin well. Quite approaches that allows the herd to settle and it allows me to set up other opportunities to practice.

As I sent Deuce to gather the sheep, Deuce is either unable or unwilling to really open up (think of flaring out while running) thus keeping all the sheep together instead of going directly at them and splitting them.

We lose the sheep as we are working in an open field. I report to Mary, the person I have been working with all these years, that Deuce “is not covering” meaning he is not “flaring out” to include all the sheep but is “slicing” and splitting them apart. We try this same routine a few more times once I have thought of a better plan to help Deuce.

We end our session working on a large pen where we cannot lose the sheep as Mary and I try to assess if potentially Deuce is having some physical difficulty.

Sometimes a dog might be able to work with no problem clockwise say, but not counterclockwise.  I can promise you it is NEVER because the dog is stubborn.

However, there are many other reasons why this might happen. Sometimes the dog is sore, in pain or has some other physical disability such as blindness in one eye.  Of course, he would favor the healthy side!

It is only 10:00 am and already very hot.  Deuce does not do well with heat so I wrap up our efforts- time to pack it in and get in the car.  Deuce refuses.  Instead, he wants to lay in the shade provided by a parked car.  I usher him as best as I can and now he is in the comfort of car that has been in the shade.  He jumps in effortlessly (yeah!) and now he is taking big gulps of fresh water- still panting.

I get a bit somber. Is there something “wrong” with Deuce?  How can I help him?

Back at the wheel I start thinking of the importance of stepping back from situations like this and observe.  What can I learn by observing how Deuce moves? What he gravitates towards? Has he stopped doing some activity that he used to enjoy?  This is just simple questioning in the physical/athletic realm but wait! There is more… There is always something we can glean by observing and assessing. By asking the right question, different questions. By coming back again and again when we are not getting the results that we think are important.

So, let me ask you – such as I asked myself as I was driving back home from our lesson:

When was the last time that you took the time to finish a magazine article and completely enjoyed the process of reading while also grasping the content of the material?  When was the last time that you laid down on your back and slowed racing thoughts?

Exactly! This is the “more” peace that I am talking about. I don’t know about you, but for me one of my life/daily goal is to PAY MORE ATTENTION.

I want to show up to my life.  I want to show up over and over again to the relationships I treasure in my life.  And my dogs are among these precious relationships.

So, it begs the question: Can I slow down to observe more?  To know more about how my dogs are doing?  To enjoy them?  To share with them? Can I slow enough to make good decisions for them?  What a gift this is!  What a choice too, no?

Being the keeper of my dogs presents an opportunity for caring. For slowing all the things that appear so important and urgent. This opportunity is not only good for my dogs, it is also a pathway for being aware of my surroundings.   A pathway for being present in my life.

Dogs at Play- A visual presentation

Come learn how to:

  • Differentiate dog play from poor dog-to-dog interaction
  • Observe different styles of dog play 
  • Understand how to manage your dog when playing
  • How to be safe at the dog park
  • How to best intervene if your dog gets into a fight
  • When to call a professional to help your dog with his play skills. 

The Details:

Marty’s Meals, 1107 Pen Road, Santa Fe, NM

Saturday September 24th 2016

11-12 noon 

Playing Hunting GamesFree and open to the public. Limited seating please arrive 15minutes early to secure a spot.

Almudena is a graduate of the renowned San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers (CTC), a
Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, a professional member of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers, and the owner of C.H.A.C.O. Dog Training & Behavior Consulting LLC, located in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area. She is also a certified Tellington TTouch® Practitioner for Animal Companions. She was a staff trainer for two years at Tony La Russa Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in Walnut Creek, CA. where she worked with under-socialized dogs who had experienced lengthy shelter stays or scored poorly in the SAFER test.  She is the co-author of: Rioja: The crazy and fun adventures of a smart little dog with magical powers and the family that adopted her.
With over 15 years of teaching experience, she loves teaching people as well as dogs. Ms. Ortiz Cué is keenly interested in working with dogs that suffer from emotional issues such as fear, anxiety and aggression as well as working with rowdy adolescents, puppies and everyday problem solving for guardians and their dogs. For more information please visit her website:

Allergies and Dogs

When a member of the family develops allergies to dogs their doctor most often recommends the following measures:

  1. Containment of the dog – preferably by keeping the dog outside at all times
  2. Bathing and brushing the dog often (sometimes too often!)
  3. Removing carpets and replacing furnishings with fabrics (such as sofas) for non-fabric ones
  4. Preventing the pet from sleeping with the allergic individual
  5. Installing efficient air purifiers with a HEPA filter
  6. Giving the dog away

While the recommendations above might be necessary in decreasing an allergic reaction on the

allergic patient, some of these recommendations by your MD do NOT take into consideration the negative impact on the pet!

Before you confine your dog to living outdoors, please consider the following options:

  1. Segregating the dog to certain parts of the home. So the dog will live inside and be a full-member of the family but will not be permitted in the bedroom of the person suffering from allergies.
  2. Bath your dog twice a month and brush him daily, if at all possible. If you are able to brush your dog with regularity you can contain most of the hair and dander that can be left behind and cause the allergic reaction.
  3. Vacuum as often as possible to remove any possible allergens.
  4. Purchase good quality air purifiers with a HEPA filter that can be placed in areas where the dog will be permitted.
  5. Use a hypo- allergenic cover for your pillow
  6. Wash your pet’s bedding in hot water twice a week

If the efforts above fail to give relief from pet allergies consider co-owning your pup. Perhaps he can live in a friend’s home for part of the week or with a family member while you get to visit him and still keep him as your pet. Social isolation is a well-fare issue for most dogs.

Please consider all possible alternatives so that your dog does not relegate to long and on-going hours with no human social interaction.

Private Training for Snake Avoidance – Using Reward Based Methods

image 1Offer Begins: May 10th 2016 ends June 15th 2016

If you train your dog often by following science based and well designed training  protocols your dog clearly stands a much higher chance of moving away from a snake if he ever encounters one.

Via private training we will teach your dog how not to approach the snake and instead come back to you and if you are not present to move away from the snake.

My approach in teaching the above skills – like everything I teach, is based on the Behavioral Sciences (how animals learn among- other things).

It is also based on reinforcing the dog for making the correct choice: Moving away from the snake, instead of shocking the dog when in the presence of one.

I am offering private training for this specific issue at a 15% discount of my regular hourly fee.

There are only 3 spots available for this offer and the offer ends on June 15th 2016

The Details: 8, 1 hr. private training $726.06 (Santa Fe County tax included)

We will work with your dog at C.H.A.C.O’s hub in Tesuque for a number of sessions as well as in your home if you live within my service area, otherwise all sessions will be held at C.H.A.C.O’s Hub in Tesuque.

If you are interested in this training please contact me directly: or by phone 505-954-1434

NOTE: You will have to buy some supplies in order to practice with your dog between sessions.

Good Timing

I am in the kitchen waiting for Deuce and Rio to finish their breakfast; this morning it was served in their bowls. Deuce appears at the kitchen while Rio bee lines to Deuce’s dish just in case he has left something behind. Once she realizes there is nothing left she comes into the kitchen. I give Rio her daily cartilage support supplement, which they eat as if it was a treat. She is now gone and looking out the window.

I call Deuce to give him his and as I am doing this I realize what’s going to happen next… Rio is now standing next to me and giving me a look as if saying: what did he get that I did not? Ah, of course! She has “forgotten” that she got the same thing just a few minutes past. I grab a piece of kibble that is on the kitchen counter and I give it to her – her consolation prize.

Timing is everything in animal training. Animals do not have the capacity of separating in time a behavior emitted with a reinforcer gained.

Typical case scenario: The dog that relieves himself inside because he has not learned where to go or because he has not been giving the opportunity to do so and cannot hold it any longer. The owner coming home finds the “accident” and admonishes the dog in a not so friendly tone of voice or perhaps something worse.

The person, of course, thinks that the dog realizes that he is being yelled at or punished physically because he eliminated inside. However, the sad truth is that the dog has no idea whatsoever why the owner is acting so threatening.

From the perspective of the dog, that owner is acting threatening “out of nowhere” or because the dog was laying somewhere, came to say “hi”, etc. Because that is what the dog was doing the minute the owner became ballistic.

Not only has the dog not learned where he should eliminate, but now is potentially afraid of the owner. So it is not that the dog is feeling “guilty” it “appears” guilty because it is “appeasing”. And it is demonstrating “appeasing” behaviors because it feels threatened/afraid and is trying to communicate to the person that he means no “harm” or threat.

The same is true with wonderful rewards for our dogs. Consequences,  good and bad, but I am hoping good, must be delivered immediately so that the dog has a chance of linking the antecedent – the behavior to the reinforcer.

Here is another interesting example: Someone is trying to teach the dog to sit instead of jumping on people.

They ask the dog to sit but they are slow in delivering the reinforcer (treat) so now the dog, which has very little impulse control, begins to jump again and the treat is delivered at this particular time. Ask yourself: which behavior was truly reinforced?

The sitting or the jumping? Indeed the jumping! ( &%*$*@). Or perhaps both. So here we have what is called a behavior chain.

This particular one we don’t want. What we want is a dog that sits and not jump/sits. There is so little wiggle room when it comes to poor timing in communicating accurately with our dogs.
For those of us that are clicker trainers/owners the timing again can make our intentions crystal clear to the dog, which is what we want or we can again create confusion for the dog and reinforce a behavior that we don’t necessarily want.

Using a clicker is no saving grace! By using the clicker as an “event-marker” which means to the dog: for this behavior (the one clicked) you are getting a reinforcer we can not only speedy the learning process but have a dog that is really interested in working with us. But this is only true if the timing of the behavior and the click – followed by the reinforcer is done with exquisite timing.
For this reason, I teach my clients that when using a clicker they must really nail the timing of the click. And if needed, it is okay to delay for a few seconds the reinforcer.

It does not take the dog too long to realize that after a “click” comes the reinforcer, and as such they have learned that the movement from our hand to the treat bag means delivery will begin. This is important: Delivery will begin… The anticipation of the reinforcer will – if it is not too prolonged, add value to the reward.

The take – home message then, is to work hard in delivering the “click” with extreme good timing instead of worrying about clicking and delivering soooo fast that we find ourselves fumbling with the treat.

The same applies to “real life”. If we strive to improve the timing of the delivery of the reinforcer we will have not only a more responsive dog but the behavior we want to see more of will become the norm.

In and Out Privileges

I guess it has been a Lab-month in our household since I now have Roxie – another Lab mix here for board & train.

I am teaching her how to use the doggie door that will give her access to our back area to go eliminate, sun herself and just take a walk of some sort. We try the doggie door by having my dogs coming in and out for a treat. Ah, both Deuce and Rio are on board thinking that they kind of dig having all these dogs here since they get to practice what they can do in their sleep and still get paid for it!

Roxy is going in and out of the doggie door as she hears me cheer her and slip her a treat for her efforts. Sometimes as I use the door, I ask her to try her doggie door. Once she has learned how to use it no more in and out requests…. That is the beauty of doggie doors. I personally love doggie doors and encourage my own client’s to consider them. It means freedom for both parties and it gives the dogs the ability to have more control over where they spent their hours. Of course, one has to make sure that the dog will remain safe outside if they choose to go out the doggie door when the people are away.

There is one exception to the use of the doggie door in our household. The dogs get one last chance to go outside before going to bed and then the doggie door remains closed for the remainder of the night. That privileged was lost when Deuce decided that he needed to go outside and match the coyotes in their howling. Now, we get “Animal Planet” inside the home …. Howwwwwwwwwwwwl… howwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwl.

This morning I noticed both Rio and Deuce are inside, but where is Roxie? I call her once and I see her outside through the glass door. I point towards the doggie door reminding her that she is a big girl now and she can use the doggy door whenever she wants to come in, not only out.

I walk towards the doggie door and stand there. No Roxie. So the question is: Has Roxie learned to generalize how to use the doggie door?


Remember, generalization is the third of four stages of learning per Marylin Fender PhD and published in Front and Finish (see previous blog for more on this please). At this stage, the dog has learned that the behavior at hand is relevant under different circumstances. In the case of the doggie door it means that Roxie understands that she can go out and in. And that doing both requires the same steps – just executed from a different location (inside and outside). There is, of course, more than just the ability of the dog to learn to generalize, which in case I have not made myself clear it is not an automatic process for them.

Have you ever met someone in a given context and then when meeting again somewhere else -out of the usual context – and not being able to remember the person’s name or even where (in what context) you had met them?

That is exactly what happens to dogs all the time as they struggle to generalize the learning they have recently acquired. I don’t know about you, but most of the time when I cannot pinpoint where I met someone I become obsessed with wanting to put the puzzle together. This realization has given me more empathy for dogs when they are learning followed by the knowledge that I must take the time to teach dogs the behaviors in a manner that they can generalize it where I want them to use it. This is accomplished by having the dog practice the behavior in either different locations (the living room, bathroom, front yard, dog park, etc.) or in whatever other modalities we need them to perform. Jumping on the back of a car, for example, might be different from the perspective of some dogs to jumping in the back seats of the car.

I pay closer attention to why Roxie appears to come inside when my dogs come in first, but she stumbles when they are already inside to go through the doggie door. My conclusion is that she has not really solidified what it entails to lift both doggie-door flaps – this is the kind of doggie-door with two flaps, which helps with insulation.

When she is following behind Deuce or Rio she is cleverly letting them do the flipping of the plastic flap for her as she hurries thru the doggy door. As we spent more time practicing, I also noticed that my encouragement on the opposite side of the doggie door helps her gather the oomph to push the rubber insert all on her own. It will not be long before Roxie discovers that learning to use a doggie door has some very cool benefits as she decides if she wants to bask in the sun, take a pee or come in for a nap.

Bad Dog, Not!

As it is customary, I give the dogs their evening chewies. Deuce dashes to the living room and he settles on the carpet – in the same spot as he does every night to happily chew.

Rio runs to the dog bed in the kitchen. I am next to her and I take the opportunity to ask her to release the chewy so that I can give it back to her and teach her that I am not a threat to her, and that I do not want to hold on to her precious chew.

She immediately turns away from me with her chew tight in her mouth. I make a note of this and I leave her alone. No, she did not win this time… I just know that if I try and push her around or force her in any way possible to release the chewy I am confirming her concern: yes, I am a threat to you and I am dying to get your chewy away from you.

Instead I wait for the next opportunity to teach this girl that voluntarily giving me her bone pays big dividends. Not only will she get to keep her bone, but also in addition she will get some special treats. The following night I give Deuce his chew and I hold on to Rio’s.

We walked towards the small fridge where I keep their treats and I produce big chunky hotdogs. Rio is next to me eyeing both items. I hold the chew and I extended to her without fully letting go of it. Now she has it in her mouth while I hold the other end. As she is holding it I ask her to drop it. Which for my dogs, and me it means release from your mouth.

She does so quickly and I give her a hotdog for her good efforts. I proceed once again to have her hold the chewie while I am still holding on to it. I repeat the drill and when she releases I give her more hotdogs and finally her bone.

We end the mini-training session with her chewing her bone in peace. Having me hold on to the bone instead of relinquishing the bone altogether, is a preliminary step to teaching her that if she releases, she will get something really good. One must be careful and knowledgeable enough to know where to begin with these learning exercises. When done appropriately nobody gets hurt and the dog on its way to learning that releasing anything of value means she will get it back. Or, if the item is not appropriate – case in point, she brought in a dead bird yesterday, which of course she could not have, she will get something worth her while for allowing me to remove the item from her mouth.

It is important to underscore the difference between teaching the dog to “share” and teasing the dog with a coveted possession. In the former the dog surrenders by choice his possession and the choice is reinforced by giving the dog something of high value followed with an immediate opportunity to have their bone, etc. back.

Resource guarding is the label used to describe a dog displaying a myriad of possible behaviors in a effort to warn you that what they have is theirs and that they have no intention of sharing. Some typical behaviors offered by dogs when guarding can be: body-blocking- the dog positioning themselves between you and the resource, slowing down all movements or acceleration of consumption of the item, growling, teeth bearing, air snapping (bite in the air- no contact made) with of course the possibility of a bite!

These are warnings and as such should always be taken seriously. When the dog guards an item my recommendations is to ALWAYS, defer to the dog at that given moment but to take the necessary steps to teach them otherwise once the situation has been diffused.

When the dog is in a threatening mode, it is not the time to try and push your weight around as you try and show your dog who’s the boss…

YOU are always the boss – don’t you forget it! 🙂 And because you are the boss you are well advised to take the high road by diffusing any sort of aggression instead of having it escalate. We must handle the situation in a manner that that keeps the dog from biting while setting up appropriate scenarios where the dog learns that you being around his precious chewies is always a reason to celebrate.