It’s not very often that I come across an article or post from other dog trainer that makes me yell, YES! PERFECTION! THANK YOU!!
I found one today.
I am taking the time to sit down and share this with you because it is one of the most powerful and effective ways to listen and communicate with your dog. And it’s simple.
Check it out.
Whisperering: What is it Really?
Challenge for the day…. Don’t talk to your dog today. Instead, talk only with your body language and see what happens. You’ll find out how much you chatter to your dog, meaningless words and wonder why she tunes you out. A surprise may be that your dog pays closer attention because she’ll have to rely on your body language (her first language). This is the tip of the iceberg in training.
If you aren’t aware of your own body language and energy around dogs you will have very little idea what kind of training your dog needs. Your dog is responding to your body language first, secondarily the words coming out of your mouth. I love this cartoon [Gary Larson above] because it speaks brilliantly to how we relate to dogs. We are relating to a different species entirely yet we are relating to them as if they are human. This is why trainers have jobs, people get bitten, dogs don’t pay attention to you, they are destructive, they play chase when you are trying to call them to you, and the list goes on. It’s a total disconnect without this awareness.
Let’s dissect this cartoon. Our friend with the glasses is clearly in a reactive state; pointing fingers, yelling, bending over/leaning forward, big energy. The dog is sitting there trying to figure out what this man is saying. Is this dog just sitting there calmly listening to his owner letting it blow over his head, tuning him out? If you said YES, you are incorrect. Everything in this dogs’ body language is saying “I”m stressed”: Direct eye contact, alert forward ears, closed mouth, wondering whether to flea or retreat but by no means calm and relaxed. If the dog did something offensive to the owner like take a sock or not come when called and this is the reaction of it’s owner don’t you think the dog may not want to ever come when called or try to make a game out of getting the sock to perhaps change the tone of the owner and get a game of chase going? Dogs do things to engage us and if we don’t know who we are being or how to read a dog’s language, we’ll have little success with a healthy relationship with our dog.
Okay, if you can’t do it for a whole day try using body language for 2 hrs while you’re interacting with your dog. If you find yourself in his face to get his attention then you’re a prime example of a dog owner with a dog who has learned to tune you out.
Pay attention to these things:
What is your facial expression when interacting with your dog?
Is it hard not to talk?
Do you have big energy?
Is your energy relaxed and calm?
Are you reactive?
What did you notice in your dog?
Do you use your hands a lot or a little?
When you ask your dog to do something what is your body doing? What position are you in when asking your dog to COME to you?
When walking on the leash, how are you holding the leash?
What do you do when you see a dog approaching while walking on the leash?
What do you do when you stop to speak to a neighbor?
What is your dog doing when you stop to speak to a neighbor?
What else did you observe about using your own body language with your dog?
Relying simply on your body language should prompt a whole slew of awarenesses you had no idea of about yourself in relating to your dog. This awareness could raise the bar to the connection you have with your dog because you are now actually whispering/speaking in a language your dog can understand. It’s not magic, it’s awareness and understanding.
Once you’ve become more aware of who you’re being, try this. As you begin to speak to your dog, whisper. Literally, whisper the cues/commands you are asking for, along with a hand signal for the command and see how much more attentive your dog will be to you. This takes practice. Learning to understand body language, yours and your dogs can be the connection you’ve longed for and will be life changing. ~ Jill Breitner
I absolutely love this! And I couldn’t agree more with Jill’s expert advice. This method of compassionate awareness is what I teach kids and clients. For some, it’s very hard to do at first, but with practice, you can learn to do it every day with your dog! I promise you can. I learned how to do it, and so can you.
I learned the method of “becoming more aware” way back in the day when I first started training komodos, crocs and giant tortoises. Take a guess who is not listening to you ramble on while you’re training them. Reptiles. They want the food. Not meaningless words.
Oh, and I should also mention that back in the day I was kind of a spazz, too. Flailing my arms and body around didn’t help anything. In fact, moving quickly and without forethought was dangerous. I learned to slow down, and to think before I moved or reacted. I learned to be aware of the power of body language; it was a direct line of communication to these animals. I could speak to them softly with my body language, or I could speak loudly and become a threat. Speaking softly was always the better choice.
I also learned how to read their body language. I watched their very deliberate moves. Even a subtle shift in weight was a huge signal! By watching and observing them, I was listening to them. I learned what they wanted. And I learned how to ask for what I wanted. It was a cooperative dance. I learned how my energy affects the animal I am working with. And I learned to honor and respect their space. I never intimidated them or pushed them around. I was never a bully. I treated them all with the utmost respect. Always.
We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.― Zeno of Citium
Now fast forward to today. I don’t live with crocs or komodos, but what they taught me carries over to how I interact with my dog. I listen more than I talk. I watch more than I move. I observe. I absorb. Then I assess. I don’t react. I redirect. And I set my dog up for success.
I don’t yell at her – e v e r. I don’t poke, jab, hit, kick, or harass her. I don’t hurl oppressive cues like tssst! at her, or snap my fingers in her face. I don’t steal things from her to teach her I am the boss. I respectfully ask her to do something when I need to, or redirect her attention. Because of this we have a relationship based on total and complete trust.
I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness. ― Mother Teresa, A Gift for God: Prayers and Meditations
These days I listen more than I talk. I observe more than react. But most of all, we always have fun together.
I am not special. I made mistakes and learned from them. Now I do better because I know better. You can, too! Becoming aware of yourself and your dog will change your lives. I promise.
This is dedicated to every animal who taught me how to talk less, observe more, respect every animal, and to remember to have fun in the process! Thank you Chopin, Zazous, Coal, Magma, Kadar, Corky, Feldspar, Xaviera, and Obsidian.
Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.
Traveling with your cat doesn’t have to be a crazy, stressful experience. It can, and should, be a stress-free even for both of you! You can take trips together, and you go to the vet when needed, without having to catnap your cat.
Below are some tips and techniques that I have had success with over the years, with wild and domestic felines. I hope these tips can help you and your feline family members, too! Please note: this is an abbreviated list. If you would like more detailed help, feel free to contact me.
Your Goal: Turn the Cat Carrier into a Safe Place.
Leave the kennel out weeks prior to transporting your cat to the vet (or any car ride).
Better yet, leave the cat kennel out all the time; it looses its “fear factor”. Your cat will start to see it as neutral as the rest of the furniture.
Put your cat’s favorite treats, food, catnip, and toys in the crate to help your cat associate the “scary kidnap machine” as a yummy, fun, safe place!
Play games around the cat carrier.
Place familiar scents (ones that you know your cat feels safe with) in the kennel. This can be a blanket, your sweater, their bedding, etc.
If the sound of the metal carrier door is a fear trigger for your cat, remove the door. You can put it back on after he/she is using as a kitty condo.
Your Goal: Reward Your Cat for Being Near the Carrier
Reward your cat when s/he looks at the cat carrier. Toss treats in her direction when she glances at it!
Have a Treat Party and praise her calmly when she walks near it.
Offer huge rewards if she peeks her head into the carrier.
It’s ok if your cat walks away. You are building up her confidence of just being near the carrier.
Your Goal: Build Up to *Asking* Your Cat to Go Into the Carrier
Reward your cat for walking in, then close the door for a few seconds. Open the door, toss treats, then walk away. This teaches your cat that you’re not going to slam the door on him and CatNap him/her.
Gradually work up to keeping the door closed for longer periods. Always reward your cat.
Your cat will learn that the door closing will open again soon. This helps cats to feel safe, and not trapped.
Your Goal: Quick Trips
Once your cat is feeling safe at this point, and walking in and out of the carrier, you can carry her around the house, then let her out.
Remember to reward and praise!
Slowly build up to walking outside to the car with your cat in the carrier. Keep it short and sweet. Continue using lots of treats and praise.
At this stage, you don’t need to even turn on the car, just place the carrier inside the car, offer your cat treats, and see if she’s calm enough to eat.
After your cat is feeling comfortable and safe with this stage, you can turn on the car, offer treats, and then turn off the car and end the session.
Eventually you can work up to driving down the street, then coming right back home.
All of this will involve lots of treats, praise, and patience.
Your Goal: Go Slow. Be Patient. Allow Choices.
Cats respond well to slow and steady progress.
Cats respond positively to being given choices.
Choices create security, safety, and improve their well-being
Forcing cats to do anything only creates fear.
Fear creates distrust, anxiety, and even health problems.
Forcing your cat to do anything they are uncomfortable with breaks down your bond and erodes their trust.
Today is International Appreciate A Dragon Day! Yeah, I know. It sounds crazy, but if there is an international peanut butter day, then dragons can certainly have their turn in the international spotlight. As soon as I heard that today was appreciate a dragon day, I was really psyched because one very special dragon came to my mind. He was amazing in every sense of the word.
Because of this dragon, I learned and felt more than I ever thought possible from a 140 pound lizard. I cared for him, bred him, trained him, enriched him, and during his last days on earth, I held him between my legs as he breathed his last breaths.
His name was Kadar and he was a Komodo Dragon.
Here There Be Dragons!
I was introduced to Kadar on the first day of a very challenging and amazing career path. I had the pleasure of working at the Audubon Zoo in the Reptile Section for many years. I was a reptile and amphibian “keeper” (animal caretaker) and an enrichment specialist. Kadar was one of the many species of reptiles that opened my mind to the depth of intelligence and perfection that many animals have. He dispelled many myths about reptiles, and showed us how to be more conscious of caring for reptiles in captivity. Kadar was a gorgeous specimen, and quite a sight to behold! He was a favorite among many zoo visitors and staff.
Leaping, Learning Lizards!
Force-free training was just barely beginning to be embraced by the zoo community when I was working there. Thankfully, in 1999 we learned that “even lizards” can be taught to do almost anything because they are incredibly intelligent! Each day at the zoo, there were scheduled public feedings. Zoo visitors loved to come and watch us as we climbed to the top of Kadar’s exhibit, and then toss him a deceased rabbit, mackerel, or beef heart into his enclosure. Kadar would come running over and gobble the gory goodies down within seconds! The gory (but fascinating) scene was quite a sight to see!
Then a female reptile colleague and I taught Kadar to station where we wanted him to in his exhibit, using a laser pointer. We also taught him to recall on command so we could shift him in and out of his night den without force. He learned to target, and to trust people again. We also learned how to safely work with him without using fear or force.
With training and enrichment we encouraged his natural hunting and stalking abilities by encouraging him to “hunt” for scents all around his enclosure, to mimic conditions that he would have experienced in the wild, on Komodo Island. Through force-free, choice based training we gained Kadar’s trust, we eliminated fear on both ends of the stick!
One day we needed to perform a medical procedure on Kadar (to remove a few rocks in his belly that he had ingested) and in the process, a vertebrae and some nerves in his neck were severely damaged. Kadar soon lost his strong, regal gait and was not responding to his training cues. He was becoming severely challenged while eating and moving around his enclosure. We did everything we could to help him. Our hospital staff worked around the clock during those last days to monitor his vital signs and keep him alive. We took shifts at night breathing for him.
I will never forget the honor and respect I felt, holding him between my legs as I gently pushed air into his lungs, hoping that it would keep his organs and brain functioning. We even took him to the Children’s Hospital next door to the zoo to perform a CAT Scan and MRI to see how extensive the damage was, but it was too late. Kadar’s heart was still beating but he was no longer there. He had passed in the night while in my arms. We mourned his passing, but we never forgot what he taught us about reptile intelligence, and what he brought to the zoo community. We all learned something from Kadar.
Not All Was Lost.
After Kadar passed, we were all heartbroken, but were able to honor his legacy by continuing the force-free reptile training movement with Kali, his very clever Komodo mate. We taught Kali to station on a scale, allow nail trims, and to be crated. Our team created a special crate designed to facilitate safe, force-free annual exams without anesthesia. In the latter years, Kadar and Kali had to be anesthetized for these important annual exams. This really cool create enabled the hospital staff to come out to our area for medical procedures such as weighing her, blood draws, radiographs (x-rays), colloquial swabs, and checking for eggs.
Trained Komodo Dragons!
When we trained Kadar, there were hardly any force-free reptile training programs in existence at the time. Thankfully, now zoos all around the world are utilizing more force-free training with the species that they breed and care for in captivity. They use everything from laser pointers to target sticks and clicker training! Below are just a few of the safe and enriching management tools that zoo staff around the world are using with Komodo Dragons to maintain their health and well-being:
These training and enrichment techniques allow zoo keepers and medical staff to work safely with, and in close proximity to, Komodo dragons in captivity. These force-free techniques facilitate the animals’ well-being through mental and physical stimulation.
Many people are terrified of Komodos and see them as monsters. This is not true. Most komodos in captivity have strong bonds with their keepers. However, safety is always the utmost priority because they do have quite a bite when they are in prey drive! Any number of their prey would attest to this (if they could). They are not slobbery monsters that will attack you at a moment’s notice. They are usually calm, clean, and calculating.
In 2009, scientists concluded that komodo dragons (and all monitor lizards and iguanas) produce venom. Venom is a toxin that’s secreted by glands and injected into an animal by a bite or sting (versus how poison is delivered). There is a common myth that highly toxic bacteria in a Komodo’s mouth is what’s responsible for ultimately killing the dragons’ prey. Zoo and reptile management and researchers have long thought that the Komodo dragon kills its prey via blood poisoning from the 50 strains of bacteria in the dragon’s saliva. Well, it turns out that the bacteria tale has been a “scientific fairy tale”. They found that the levels and types of bacteria do not differ from any other carnivore; it’s the venom at work:
The dragon’s venom rapidly decreases blood pressure, expedites blood loss, and sends a victim into shock, rendering it too weak to fight. In the venom, some compounds that reduce blood pressure are as potent as those found in the world’s most venomous snake, western Australia’s inland Taipan.
Other venomous lizards, like the Gila monster, channel venom down grooves that run the length of their teeth but the Komodo dragon doesn’t have these – it just drips venom straight into the wounds that it inflicts. The venom itself consists of over 600 toxins, a chemical arsenal that rivals those of many snakes. Many of these poisons are familiar and they greatly exacerbate the blood loss caused by the dragon’s bite. They cause internal haemorrhaging from leaky blood vessels, prevent blood from clotting and cause muscle contractions and paralysis. Fry calculated that a typical adult dragon would need only 4mg of venom proteins to send a 40kg deer into toxic shock from collapsing blood pressure. A full venom gland packs at least eight times this amount.
After the CHOMP, a Komodo waits patiently, following its bitten prey for miles in a leisurely fashion. He or she then locates the dead animal by its smell. Like most lizards, Komodo dragons have an exquisite sense of smell. But it’s not the kind of smell most of us are familiar with. Like a snake, a Komodo “tastes” by collecting air with its forked tongue, then deposits the collected scent particles on receptors on the roof of its mouth. Using this method, it can detect a dead animal up to five miles (eight kilometers) away!
The chemical analyzers “smell” prey by recognizing airborne molecules. If the concentration present on the left tongue tip is higher than that sampled from the right, it tells the Komodo that the prey is approaching from the left. This system, along with an undulatory walk in which the head swings from side to side, helps the dragon sense the existence and direction of odoriferous carrion from as far away as 2.5 miles (4 km), when the wind is right.
Komodo dragons are actually very clean animals. After they are done feeding, they will spend 10 to 15 minutes lip-licking and rubbing their head in the leaves to clean their mouth. The inside of their mouth is also kept extremely clean by the tongue. ~Professor Bryan Fry, Associate professor from The University of Queensland
Scientific Name: Varanus komodoensis
Thekomodo dragon is the world’s largest lizard.
They are classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), But with only 3,000 to 5,000 left in the wild the latest data suggests they are endangered.
Komodos are native to a few volcanic Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group including Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores. The largest island is only 22 miles (35 km) long.
Komodos are called the ora, or “land crocodile” by locals
For centuries, a local tradition required feeding the dragons. Hunters would leave deer parts behind after a hunt, or sacrifice goats. In the past, the practice maintained a friendly relationship with the animals. Ancient customsstrictlyforbidharmingthekomodos, which is why they survived on their native islands and became extinct elsewhere.
Female Komodo dragons have been known to give birth without ever mating with a male dragon. Some call these “virgin births” but it’s actually parthenogenesis.
They are one of the most intelligent reptiles! They can distinguish between their different keepers in a zoo, by voices and different clothing worn by their keepers. Locals on the islands also say that the dragons know who’s who!
Their vision and sense of smell are highly sophisticated.
The largest verified specimen reached a length of 10.3 feet (3.13 m) and weighed 366 pounds (166 kg)
Komodos have about 60 teeth. Teeth grow back quickly if when they lose any.
They use their teeth to cut their prey into sections, and then swallow without chewing.
They rarely drink water. They prefer to get their fluids from the food they eat.
They can consume up to 80 percent of their body weight in one sitting.
They will a variety of prey including snakes, other lizards, young komodos, fish, eggs, carrion, deer, pigs, goats, dogs, horses and water buffalo.
They prefer to hunt as an ambush predator; they lay in wait, then surprise their prey. Chomp!
When hunting large prey, he/she attacks the feet first, knocking the animal off balance. When hunting smaller prey, h/she usually lunges straight for the neck.
They are extremely fast for a lizard of their size. In short bursts, they can reach speeds of 12 miles per hour.
JuvenileKomodos are very agile climbers. They live a more terrestrial life (in trees)untiltheyarefully-grown and able to protectthemselvesfromotheradultKomodos on the ground.
Komodos can throw up the contents of their stomachs when threatened to reduce their weight in order to flee.
Large mammal carnivores (lions, tigers, etc.) tend to leave 25 to 30 percent of their kill unconsumed, (leaving the intestines, hide, skeleton, and hooves). Komodos eat much more efficiently; they only leave 12 percent of their prey. They eat bones, hooves, and the hide. They also eat intestines, but only after swinging them vigorously to scatter the feces from the meal.
Because large Komodos cannibalize young ones, the young komodos will roll in fecal matter which seems to be a scent that the larger dragons avoid.
Young dragons also have rituals of appeasement; the smallerlizardspacingaroundakomodo feeding circle in a ritualized walk.Theirtailis stuck straight out and they throw their body from side to side with exaggerated convulsions. This helps them to stay near the feeding circle without being attacked.
Dragons may live up to 30 – 50 years in the wild, but scientists are still studying this.
Female Komodo Dragons live half as long as males on average, due to their physically demanding ‘housework’ (building huge nests and guarding eggs for up to six months).
Scientists have been searching for antibodies in Komodo blood in order to help save human lives.
Poaching, human encroachment, and natural disasters are its greatest threats.
Recommended Reading for Lizard Lovers!
This blog is dedicated to you, Kadar. Thank you for teaching me what reptiles are capable of, what exquisite and perfect creatures you are, and for teaching me more than I could have ever imagined. You were loved and adored by so many.
“Komodo Dragons, Biology and Conservation” by James B. Murphy, Claudio ciofi, Colomba de La Panouse, Trooper Walsh
Building Trust, Creating Cooperation, and Reducing Aggression at Any Age
Even a five year old can teach an animal not to bite. This well documented video shows a very young boy teaching the family parrot how to feel safe around him, which results in the parrot no longer biting him.
What makes this video so amazing (and why reward-based training should be the goal when working with any animal in our home, or in a captive environment) is the safe, slow, and steady progress you see without using force, punishment, or intimidation. Perle, the parrot was asked to participate in every step. She was never forced to participate. Perle was given choices. She was able to decided what she felt comfortable with in every step; this allowed her to have control over her environment, which increased her trust and helped her to feel more secure around Noah.
You’ll also notice a bonus to taking the positive reinforcement training route: the boy and the parrot gained a relationship based on trust and respect. They had finally created a clear, open, and honest dialogue. They were communicating together, in a new language they could both understand! If the boy and the parrot continue this kind of safe interaction and positive training, they will continue to build their relationship together, because they will both learn to trust one another much more deeply.
This video is one of the best examples of what we must ask ourselves: Why force an animal to do something out of fear or intimidation when you can just ask them calmly?
Force-free training is not a fad; it’s based on decades of research and science. These positive methods are what many professional animal trainers have been trying to teach the public (and fellow “old school” trainers) for years. Thankfully, we are now seeing it being used with almost every species, and now in our homes! These training methods work on cats, rats, dogs, horses, pigs, ferrets, and every animal in between!
With the right tools, patience, and determination, we are all capable of making positive impacts and lasting improvements with the animals that we share our homes with. We can do this without fear, force, or intimidation. Our children can, and should, be a part of this process. We can teach children safe boundaries with our pets, while helping them to increase their trust, and to help the animal to learn to trust as well. This is how we build long lasting bonds for life!
If you are interested in learning how to using these methods in your home or at your facility, please check out Steve Martin’s workshops. He was one of my greatest animal training mentors and teachers. His training skills, and compassion for people and parrots are recognized and respected all over the world.