Leash pulling: How a canny collar helped us

Disclaimer:

One “gentleman” yesterday took it upon himself to tell me that my post was crap, I knew nothing about dominance, and I shouldn’t be writing articles when I clearly have no idea what I’m talking about.

I’m a first-time puppy mama learning things as I’m going along. I’m not an expert. I’m not a professional. But I am a writer, and I like to write. Since Ladybug takes almost all of my time and thoughts these days, why not write about her? If the writing can be helpful to someone else, yay! If not…there’s the door. You can leave without being nasty. Or–IDEA–you could post helpful suggestions to add to the discussion. Maybe this hasn’t worked in your experience, but you’ve found something else that has. Maybe your dog responded to a different approach. ADD something to the discussion. Don’t just tear down what’s already there. I may post a further discussion about this another time, how our current culture of keyboard warriors is so intent on destroying everyone else that we destroy relationships and people in the process.

Ahem. Back to the topic.

A lot of my friends have new dogs (as I’ve made more connections in the dog world, particularly with border collies), and a common question is, “How can I get my dog to stop pulling on the leash?” Or lead, as I’m now in England. 😀

The most common advice is, “When your dog pulls, stop. Wait until your dog stops pulling, and then continue. As soon as your dog pulls again, stop again. Reverse directions if you have to. Turn right or left. Always make sure you are ahead of your dog, so you show that you are in charge [more dominance theory].”

This may work for some dogs. For Ladybug and me, though, it was hopeless. I could have reversed directions fifty times in five minutes, and she still would have lunged ahead. Why? Her pulling had nothing to do with dominance. She was excited, she was an eager young puppy, and her energy exceeded her self-control.

Strategies such as reversing direction, stopping and starting, and even yanking on the leash (another failed strategy recommended by an armchair expert) accomplished nothing. Maybe for a lower energy dog, or for an obedient dog, they work well. Maybe if I’d had Ladybug to myself from the beginning so no one else countermanded or undermined my training methods, it could have worked. The world will never know. But I tried this strategy for months. The result?

I gave up.

She walked reasonably well on her flexi (extendable) leash, and I drew her next to me when joggers, bikers, or other dogs passed us. I had her focus on me by having her touch my hand (one of the cutest and easiest things to teach a dog!), and I held out tiny bits of treats for her to follow.

She wasn’t perfect, but she managed. And I really didn’t care if she walked to heel. I like to take long walks to relax and mull over the problems in my life, and I want her walks to be relaxing as well. As long as she was reasonably well behaved, and as long as I kept alert for oncoming distractions, I was satisfied.

Then we were attacked, and our world changed.

The first incident was from someone I thought I trusted. She grabbed Ladybug, shook her, and held her down against her will. She didn’t give me the chance to remove my dog, she didn’t respect either of our space, and she didn’t respect that both my dog and I had been traumatized by months of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

The second incident occurred in the park. A man came after me, shouting racist epithets and threatening to kill me. Smart little Ladybug didn’t so much as snarl or show her teeth (that would have put her in danger, as a dog deemed dangerous can be killed), but she barked at him. When she barks, she means it. She also circled away from me rather than toward me, in effect drawing my attacker away. He switched to chasing her and threatening to kill her, instead. Once she was satisfied that he was far enough away from me that I was safe, she ran to my side and we escaped. She may have saved my life, and I will forever be grateful. No one else has ever protected me the way she has.

The cost was high, though. She’s an intelligent, high-strung, and emotionally in tune dog who took the toll on herself–and was affected by the toll on me. We were both a wreck. (Meanwhile, my car was broken into. Boys on bikes catcalled racist, sexist slurs. What should have been an ordinary doctor’s visit became a reenactment of trauma I’d tried to forget. I became ill, and so did she.)

Suddenly, I had a frightened dog who jumped out at strangers. Screamed if a dog came too close. Trembled if someone shouted, even if they weren’t near to her. She became so scared that her claws dug into my legs as she tried to get away from anything coming near her.

It’s no way for a dog to live, and we needed help.

You’ll get a lot of people, in these situations, who offer you lazy, simplistic advice with absolutely no value:

You’re the problem, not your dog! Stop transmitting your anxiety, and she’ll be fine.

You have to show her who’s boss. Tell her that you won’t allow this nonsense.

Give her a good, hard yank on the leash so she knows she can’t pull.

Everything your dog is doing is wrong, and it’s all your fault…so fix it by being more confident.

Uh…what?

No.

Fortunately, I got advice from someone who had actually been there. I was looking for a halti (I’d never liked the look, but I was desperate), but she wouldn’t even let me try one. Instead, she pulled out a canny collar. (Full disclosure: I’m not connected with the Canny Company, I haven’t received a free product, and I don’t receive any compensation for recommending their collar.)

My initial reaction was frustration. (Polite, well-hidden, and unspoken frustration, of course. After all, I am in England now. 😛 ) I didn’t want this complicated affair that required fitting and adjusting. I wanted a halti! The nose loop kept sliding off, I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the “reins,” and it all seemed needlessly work-intensive.

Then I took Ladybug for her first walk in the canny collar, and all of my protests disappeared. She walked perfectly. Instantly.

Now, don’t think that this is an instant fix for the long-term. It’s not. And even if your dog walks perfectly the second you put the collar on (as mine did, but many don’t), you may find negative reactions in a day or two (I did). It’s also not a substitute for regular, consistent leash training.

BUT.

Wow.

We went from uncontrolled fear/unmanageable pulling and lunging…to perfect loose leash walking. Okay, only in a controlled environment. Okay, only if I can have her in the right setting and mood. Okay, maybe the bronze exam was an exception. Still, it’s something I hadn’t even dreamed of two weeks ago!

If you’d like to see video footage of how to introduce your dog to the collar, please send me a friend request on Facebook. I have three uncut live videos demonstrating how I got Ladybug used to the collar, taught her to walk with it, and (as soon as it’s not raining intermittently) I’ve promised to shoot another video showing her walking with the collar now.

Please note a few things:

  1. How would you feel if someone handcuffed you and thrust you into a room full of strangers, and you didn’t know whether they would hurt you?When we put on a canny collar or anything that restricts movement, we are essentially handcuffing our dog. It’s natural for your dog to feel frightened when wearing the collar at first, and it’s natural for your dog to transfer that fear to the collar itself. Ladybug became skittish around the collar after two days of walking perfectly with it, and her reaction to other dogs was off the charts. For a day or two, I had a dog who nearly jumped vertically from her fear at dogs approaching her.

    REASSURE YOUR DOG. This is not coddling. It’s responsible dog handling. Your dog has just lost a basic freedom (ability to turn her head at will), and you now have extra responsibility to ensure her safety (and, by extension, your own). Be vigilant about people approaching. In my case, we attached a bright yellow leash scarf to warn people to give her (and me) space. Ours said in bold letters, “I NEED SPACE.” While not everyone respects this, many did. That made me feel less stressed, and in turn I was better able to keep Ladybug calm.

    INTRODUCE THE COLLAR GRADUALLY. In one of the videos I shot, you’ll see me offering Ladybug clicks (positive reinforcement with a clicker) for putting her nose to the collar. Gradually, we worked up to giving her a click and treat for letting me put the collar on and off. This training is well worth the time and effort. If your dog shows any sign of nervousness, wariness, or skittishness about the collar at any time, please immediately back up. Give your dog time and space to recognize the canny collar as something positive. Ladybug was fine with the collar for two days. Then she got scared, so I backed up and trained her with clicks and treats for a day or two. Pretty soon, she was putting her nose to the collar (when I wasn’t even asking her to, and the collar was just lying on the bed) and looking at me for a treat. 😀

    Because I restrained my dog’s movements with the canny collar, I offered consistent, genuine, and soothing praise and reassurance. I praised Ladybug while taking out the collar, putting it on, fitting the nose loop, taking her outside, and walking her in various areas. Never use this as a punishment.

  2. The nose loop is designed to slip off. This is a safety feature. That means if your dog put her nose to the ground, or if she puts her head down and backs up, she can slip the nose loop off. It took me quite a long time to figure out how to handle this. You have to hold the leash high enough that the nose loop will stay in place. For normal walking, just a regular leash position will be fine.
  3. The collar stays on your dog, even if the nose loop slips off. This is also a safety feature. The collar will come with two clips to fasten the loose nose loop ends (the “reins,” as I call them) for when you don’t need the extra head control.
  4. The collar will “ride” higher than a normal collar (Ladybug wears two collars when she goes out now. One is her everyday collar with tags, and the other is the canny collar. The canny collar is too big and heavy for us to use every day, and I’m concerned about irritation around her shaved area where she had bloodwork taken last week.) This means you’ll have to fit it very carefully, and it may be a smaller size than your dog’s normal collar.
  5. The nose loop “reins” have to be centered, or the leash will tug your dog’s head to one side. This was the hardest thing for me to figure out. Picture them as drawstrings on a hooded sweatshirt, and you’ll get the concept. Hold the reins behind your dog’s head and center the yellow plastic bit underneath your dog’s chin. Then pull the reins through the center of the yellow plastic piece, and loop that part over your dog’s nose.It’s frustrating and fiddly for the first few times, but it’s quite easy once you figure it out. And remember, you have to hold the reins high enough so the nose loop doesn’t slip off (NOT high enough to pull on your dog’s neck, of course!)

This is an uncut five-minute video sequence showing an untrained volunteer “forcing” a canny collar onto a lunging, jumping dog. It’s painful to watch because the RSPCA simply doesn’t have enough volunteers or resources to devote time for gentle introductions. It’s worth watching, however, because it shows the enormous power this collar has over a dog. It also shows you the potential negative reactions your dog may display.

A canny collar, like any other head collar, is a tool. Only a tool. It is not training, and it shouldn’t be used instead of training. It gives you, the human, yet one more advantage over something smaller than you are.

When Ladybug and I went on our first canny collar walks, she got treats practically every other step. I talked to her, praised her, had her touch her nose to my hand, and focused on her. Even though I could have just put the collar on her and had a perfectly obedient dog, I wanted her to be happy. I didn’t want a subdued, cowed dog with ears flat against her head. (They were flat against her head for a while, and it almost broke my heart.)

So for the next few weeks, we did training of all sorts. I took her to quiet place, busy places, crowded places, and in all kinds of weathers. At first, when people approached I put a leg over her, held her close to me, and soothed her. No one was going to hurt her, and she needed to know that. I don’t care if it was coddling. She felt vulnerable and defensive because she couldn’t move as normal (on a leash PLUS head collar), so she could have my reassurances for as long as she needed them.

In the beginning, I only took her for walks with the canny collar. None of the long, glorious flexi-leash romps we both loved. It was too confusing for her to go back and forth. Plus, the canny collar kept her on high alert. She became tired quickly. We had to limit our walks to 10 or 15 minutes at first, and the stimulation was plenty.

As she got better and better, I slowly reintroduced off-leash and flexi leash walking. At this point, two weeks later, we can take one flexi leash walk per day (which we both love), and depending on the circumstances I may be able to let her off leash in controlled situations. These walks help to relax her. Then we take a canny collar walk, which is shorter and more controlled. We practice turns (right, left, about-turn), crossing the street, approaching strange people and dogs, and sitting and waiting. It’s a training walk, and it’s both short and focused. We are both exhausted afterward.

The great part? The better she’s become at walking with her canny collar, the more I’ve been able to trust her off leash. Right in the beginning, she was a maniac on the flexi leash. She was so excited to be off her head collar that she went wild! I nearly threw the towel in then, as I pictured myself walking this poor dog on a canny collar for the rest of her life. I hated it even more than she did! But with time, patience, and consistency/firmness, she learned to separate “fun walks” (on the flexi leash, with permission to sniff and run around) from “training walks” (shorter, serious, and close by my side). The fun walks helped her relax and get out her wiggles, and the training walks helped her to be more responsible on the fun walks.

I don’t plan to use the canny collar on her indefinitely. The person who recommended it to me used it off and on with her dogs for years. I find that just having it in my pocket helps. If I take Ladybug on a fun walk and she gets out of hand, I can swap collars. Maybe we come across unexpected traffic, or maybe someone shouts at her. I can pop the canny collar on her, and she’s settled and secure walking next to me. Even if I don’t have to put the collar on, just knowing that I can is a comfort.

Because for me, the worst part of having a lunging, pulling dog was the fear–for me. The uncertainty. How awful is it to drag a kicking, screaming, tantruming dog across the part? How embarrassing! It’s true that my calming down helped my dog, but empty, simplistic advice didn’t do it. Having an actual, effective tool helped.

Now, if I take Ladybug for a walk on her flexi leash, sometimes she pulls. Squirrels. Whatever. I’m not perfectly behaved, so why should she have to be? But it’s a pull now and then, and I can stop her if necessary.

I don’t want a cowed dog who obeys my every command.

I don’t want a dog frightened into submission.

I want a healthy, happy, joyous dog whose ears flip flop as she walks with me. I want her mouth half-open as she pants from the sheer joy at being outdoors. I want a dog who walks at my heel when there’s a crowd or a bike or an angry stranger, but a dog who can chase butterflies and sniff eagerly at a squirrel trail.

For me, a canny collar isn’t about instant obedience (even if it produced it for the short term)

It’s about helping my dog–and me–to feel safe and confident enough to enjoy our walks together.

After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Is my dog dominant? A DD perspective

I’m probably going to lose reader interest on both sides of this coin. I don’t imagine that the majority of my dog loving friends are also into DD (domestic discipline, something that has kinship to the BDSM world). I’ve got a better chance of my DD/BDSM friends being interested in dogs, but…

Let’s just say that the interests may run to the eclectic, but it’s a concept I’ve been puzzling over for a long time.

When Ladybug, my 11-month-old puppy, barks or lunges at strangers to protect me, I’ve been sharply criticized by both friends and foes.

If you can’t control your dog 100% at all times to obey you instantly, you shouldn’t allow her in public.

Your dog is aggressive and will be put down.

You’re failing to train her.

I’ve seen what happens to dogs like yours, and your dog is out of control.

I have the right to grab, shake, and terrify your dog, even though I invaded her space to begin with, because she didn’t behave according to my expectations.

I protected my dog, but I worried that the naysayers were right. After all, she is my first dog. After all, I worry daily that I am failing her. What if she becomes the sort of loathsome dog I always hated? What if my proximity to her blinds me to her faults?

Passing her bronze exam has done much to assuage my fears. She’s not perfect and has much to learn, but that’s what silver and gold classes are for. She skipped two entire levels to test well ahead of her peers, and she held her own. In fact, I’d guess that she did as well or better than most of the other dogs being tested–dogs who had been taking the actual bronze class.

Is she still a pain? Absolutely. She barks her head off at servicemen, and she objects to people coming too close to me. But she is a living creature, not a machine. She has the right to be skittish, terrified, and out of sorts. I would hate to have a dog who obeyed me instantly at all times. (Hm, sounds like a lot of discussion about dom/mes and subs!) I enjoy for her to think, learn, and grow.

Most of all, I love to watch her and learn how her mind works.

What makes her upset? What makes her proud? Why does she get excited about certain kinds of training, but she’s bored with others? Why does she get terrified in some situations, but in others she’s a bold, cheeky little miss? What makes her happy?

Every once in a while, we hit on an interaction that makes her light up all over. She sparkles, shines, and absolutely radiates with joy. Pride. Excitement.

She was like that for her bronze exam. Goodness knows why! I did offer her teensy bits of hot dog (an ultra-rare treat, as her kidneys can’t tolerate salt), but that wasn’t it. No food could have produced the bright, alert, happy, and humming-together-in-harmony focus we both felt. It was The Zone.

I still have no idea why, but I loved it. She was like an extension of me, or perhaps I was an extension of her. She knew what I wanted and anticipated it. I never once had to argue, plead, or reason with her.

She made herself the star of the exam, and she knew it.

Then in the days since, she’s stepped in her own poop, refused to come when called, and resolutely growled at a neighbor when she knew full well that she shouldn’t.

A lot of the naysayers have tried to insist I should dominate her. I should assert myself as the alpha, teach her who’s boss, and put her in her place.

I can do that, of course. I can jerk her leash, shout at her, and terrify her with one sharp word. (In cases of danger, I have terrified her. She jumped up near a sharp cooking knife, and I got so scared that she was subdued for the rest of the day. But that was once in her entire life, and she’s never done that again.)

But that’s the easy way out. And it would leave me just as mystified as before. How can I expect her to obey me if I don’t understand her? How can I understand her if I always force my will onto her?

Most importantly, why would she trust me if I haven’t earned that trust?

Because she’s been so desperately ill, and because (three months later) we still don’t know her long-term prognosis, I treat each day with her as a precious thing. She could be taken away from me in an instant, and she nearly was. I watch her, learn from her, and discover new things each day.

Why does she try to bury her wet food, but she doesn’t try to bury her kibble?

Why will she cry even after being fed, walked, cuddled, and played with?

Why does she get excited by squirrels, even if she wouldn’t know what to do with one if she caught it?

Why does she love to nudge her nose to my hand? That was seriously the easiest thing I’ve ever taught her, and we’re modifying it in a lot of ways. (Yes, dear readers, I’m currently teaching her to touch her nose to the tip of a wooden spoon. To the command of “Spoon!” No, I’m not kidding. 😀 I tried to teach her to hold a wooden spoon in her mouth, but she kept trying to chew it. Baby steps. I sympathize with getting excited about wooden spoons. :P)

What makes her ears stand straight up? (Sometimes it seems to be squirrels, but not always.) What makes her ears lie flat? (I thought it was fear or apprehension, but not always.) Why is she scared of a tiny noise (taking keys out of my pocket) one day, but another day she’ll go up to a great big dog and bark her head off?

As we walk together each day, I find myself watching her as I used to watch little kids. Older kids speak, it’s true, but not toddlers and babies. I love learning her logic, and I love observing how she learns. I’ve never deliberately taught her, “Beep beep!” but she’s learned that it means to get out of my way. I can lift an eyebrow when she’s growling unreasonably, and she’ll immediately settle down. With one last, protesting, long-suffering token growl, of course. 😀

Am I strict with her? Absolutely. If I say no, that’s the end of the discussion. But I find as many ways as possible to tell her yes. Yes, you can sniff that part of the field if you stop pulling and walk nicely. Yes, you can get me to play tug with you if you wait politely and stop whining.

In some ways, it’s like raising an intelligent but difficult child. (The smarter they are, the better they are at getting into trouble.)

In other ways, it reminds me of all the reasons I believe in domestic discipline. (If you’re a dog-loving reader who doesn’t know what I mean, perhaps ignorance is bliss.)

I am her leader, but I earn that leadership.

Her needs come before mine.

Her safety is my priority. If I take her out, I’m always scanning the horizon to anticipate issues that will be a challenge for her. (Particularly since we were both attacked, and I’m teaching her coping strategies for when she gets scared.)

When I give her a command, it’s for a good reason. She knows the difference between, “Let’s try this out and see if you can do it” versus “Do this right NOW because something bad might happen to you if you don’t.” When it’s the latter, she always, always drops everything and obeys instantly.

She’ll roll onto her belly (something she never liked to do as a baby) and let me fondle her ears, paws, tail, and everywhere. She knows that I will never hold her against her will (unless she is a danger to herself or others, such as rushing toward an oncoming car). She was held down against her will for much of her babyhood, so that is one inviolable promise I’ve made to her now. No one will ever restrain you, and no one will use force to make you feel unsafe. If they do, they will be out of your life–and mine.

The benefit? If I make her do something she hates, she (grudgingly) obeys. Even gives me a lick afterward.

But I worry.

Every day, sometimes every hour, I worry.

What if something happens to me, and there’s no one to care for her?

What if she gets sick again, and I can’t take care of her?

What if I have no money to pay for her bills?

What if we get kicked out of our housing, or I can’t pay? What will happen to her? (Frankly, I don’t care what happens to me. I only care about her.)

What if all this round-the-clock nursing, feeding, and caregiving isn’t enough? What if her illness/injury is too much for her little puppy body, and she won’t make it?

What if I screw her up because I don’t know better?

As I’ve been pondering all of my former works in progress, I’ve wondered where to start. Kat and Natalie, of course, as I’ve promised a new Wooden Spoon Chronicle for ages. I never did finish last year’s Mother’s Day story. 😦 But Bastia has always been a favorite of mine, and Gemstone needs to be re-edited for republication now that I have the rights back.

I’ve thought a lot about how Natalie shouldered more than her fair share of the relationship burden for years, and how the third book (always still in progress) was going to show Natalie falling apart while Kat found her strength.

It’s easy parlance to say we should dominate our dogs, or that our dogs’ behavior shows them trying to dominate us. Anything from nipping, barking, crying, or taking food supposedly shows “dominance.” We are supposed to squash that and establish ourselves as the dominant ones.

But what if the dominance isn’t about pissing contests or stupid, arbitrary rules?

What if dominance is putting someone else’s needs first, and your life is dedicated to anticipating and safeguarding their needs?

What if your daily life consists of watching youtube videos, reading articles, finding books, talking to experts, and finding resources on how you can best care for this life entrusted to you?

The more I watch and care for my sweet little dog (who may never return to full health), the more I realize that “dominating” my dog is about loving, guiding, teaching, and learning from her.

What else is that, but DD at its very finest?

And how will Natalie come back from the heavy price she has paid? She always put Kat first. She sacrificed her own safety and put her life on the line. She went through ten years of hell because she’d pledged to protect Kat–and followed through.

What about the toll DD takes on its dominant partner?

How are Kat and Natalie going to find a new balance in their relationship?

I’m not sure, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

Bronze Good Citizen Dog Scheme obedience exam

The Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Bronze Award aims to produce a dog that will walk and
behave in a controlled manner on the lead, will stay in one position on command, will allow its
owner to clean, groom and inspect it, a dog that will walk and behave in a happy natural manner,
under control on the lead. The dog must also be able to be positioned by its handler for inspection
i.e. stand, sit or lie down on either side or on its back, all on the lead. The dog must come to hand when called.
The Bronze award aims to provide the handlers with a basic knowledge of understanding and training their canine
companion.

Dog obedience exams.

It’s an odd topic for an author on a kinky blog.

But as Ladybug, my fearless puppy, and I have prepared for our bronze exam, I found precious little information available. It’s an entry-level requirement for bigger and better things, like flyball and agility, but it’s honestly not that exciting in its own right. Competitive obedience, heelwork to music, scentwork…those all lots of resources available. Basic obedience exams?

Nada.

The UK Kennel Club offers guidance notes for the exam, but they are open to interpretation. (There is a similar progam, the Canine Good Citizen, in the US, with the American Kennel Club.)

For example look at these notes:

Exercise 5 – Controlled Walk Amongst People And Dogs
The object is for the handler to remain in control of their dog whilst walking amongst people, dogs and distractions.
The handler should walk for approximately 30 paces and include some turns. They should demonstrate that this can
be done without undue inconvenience and the dog pulling forward or back. The dog should behave in a quiet, relaxed
and controlled manner whilst the handler holds a conversation for one minute. The dog may adopt a stand, sit or down
position at this time. This is not a stay exercise.
Note: Competition heelwork is not the aim. An occasional tight lead does not necessarily result in classification “Not
Ready”. The dog is permitted to walk on either side of the handler.

Um. How many turns? How quiet and relaxed? Just how distracting would the people, dogs, and distractions be? And, well, Ladybug is a border collie. They don’t know the meaning of quiet and relaxed. 😛

We practiced, attended classes, and worked. Class was cancelled five out of the past six weeks due to snow, Mother’s Day, Easter, and the annual meeting. Ladybug was sick enough to be rushed to the emergency vet, and we lost two weeks of training because she was ill. Some days, she was too sick to take a walk. (If you know border collies, you’ll know this is a huge thing. We’d worked up to walking five to seven miles per day, and she loved every single one.)

I searched everywhere for information about the test and was lucky enough to connect with a brilliant dog trainer and exam assessors. I found out information I hadn’t known, and I would have been ill-prepared for the exam if I hadn’t. Also, taking the exam itself was a process that was nothing like my expectations.

I hope this information is helpful to anyone else preparing for the bronze exam. If you’re not, then I hope you’ll enjoy hearing a bit more about Ladybug’s accomplishment.

To be perfectly honest, I’m prouder of this bronze award than passing my own GRE exam. I knew I could pass a standardized academic exam if I prepared, but this is my first dog. Since the first day I brought her home, my life has been filled with people telling me I’m doing everything wrong with her. I’ve been criticized, undermined, and outright belittled for the choices I’ve made on my dog’s behalf. I began to feel unqualified and inadequate as a dog owner, and I wondered whether I’d ruined her for life. No matter how hard I worked with Ladybug, I never thought it was good enough.

So…to have this certificate under our belt is amazing. Just think! Only three months ago, she was so sick that she wasn’t expected to live through the night. She was in the hospital for ten agonizing days, and even at discharge she was not expected to do well. The vets discharged her because they could do nothing more for her, not because she had recovered. Every day, every moment, and every breath is filled with fear and worry for her well-being. She is still a sick little dog, but despite all of her obstacles she’s managed to achieve a bronze certificate. I couldn’t be prouder!

But I promised information about the exam. 😀 First, the important little bits that I only found out by accident:

  • NO treats during the exam. You can, ahem, have smelly treats in your pocket that then leave a nice smell on your hand. 😀 You can also give little treats AFTER finishing each exam exercise. You can give as much verbal praise as you want, and depending on your examiner you may be allowed a quick touch (such as when you’re doing the loose leash walking with distractions). I didn’t need to touch Ladybug, but it helped to know that I could.
  • Head collars (such as a canny collar, halti, or other halter-like attachments that go over a dog’s nose) ARE acceptable. This is officially stated on the Kennel Club website, and your local dog club is not allowed to override this. “Bronze, Silver & Gold Equipment changes – Dogs will be permitted to wear a Head Collar, Body Harness or slip lead during a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award testing session. Note: dogs will still be required to wear a collar with legally compliant information on it.”

    I had resisted a head collar for a long time, largely because I don’t like how they look. But after we were attacked in the park, Ladybug became afraid when people or dogs approached her while she was on her leash. Everything snowballed. She could no longer be let off leash (as I was too afraid we would be attacked again), so she became tense and more afraid. Then she began reacting badly to people and dogs coming near her. Not only did it mean an automatic fail for her test, but it became impossible to walk  her. I asked for help, and I received a recommendation for a canny collar. Best thing ever! She’s now learning (again) to walk off-leash without fear, and I’m learning to get over my own fear.

    Bottom line: If you’re struggling with a dog that pulls, a head collar is allowed and can be quite helpful for the test. Just make sure your dog has enough time to get used to the new collar well before your exam. We had two weeks (as that’s all the notice I had for the test date), and it was a struggle. It meant really hard work, and a lot of that time was during her illness.

  • Grooming mitts are allowed instead of a more traditional dog brush. Ladybug doesn’t mind a regular dog brush, but she’s so tidy (goodness knows how!) that she never needs more than a quick swipe with a grooming mitt now and then. As the test means bringing your own grooming equipment, there’s no specification that it has to be an actual brush.
  • You can ask for extra space if your dog doesn’t do well with other dogs or people too close. While most of the testing was done in a group (my fear, as Ladybug is still a bit unpredictable with other dogs), the examiner immediately offered her extra space for the exam. Ladybug jumped up when another dog got too close. I thought she’d failed when the examiner came up to us, but it was only to suggest we could move away a bit. We were organized into a horseshoe shape, and Ladybug and I had a whole side to ourselves. Just that little bit of breathing room made the entire experience 100% better. Class is stressful for us both, as it’s hard to predict when and where we’ll interact with others.
  • If you want your dog’s activity register name on your certificate, be sure to have the name approved before the exam date. (Of course, if your dog is on a breed register, this doesn’t matter.) The Kennel Club reserves the right to reject register names (doesn’t fit requirements, or another dog has it already), so you do need their approval before having the name on the certificate.

I wish I’d known this information when we first prepared for this exam, as it would have taken a lot of stress away. Still, my experience is your gain. 😀

So, the test!

I walked onto the field (as we train outdoors). Everything was a bit chaotic, so I didn’t know where to go. By the time I’d gotten it figured out, the exam had already begun. Oops! Examiner was very nice and waved us in. About 15 dogs and handlers waited in a line for the gate exercise. This is to show that your dog will wait politely while you open a gate, let you go through first, follow you, wait politely while you fasten the gate, and then walk away with you.

Ladybug was perfection. We’ve trained this since babyhood, as we live on a busy street. I’m terrified she’ll run out into the road, and it’s unpleasant to have a dog running over your feet every time the door opens. She has been confused about this exercise in class (because the little gate in the middle of the field looks nothing like the doors and gates we use in real life), but we’ve practiced this diligently. She followed me to the gate, sat down (none of her teenage stubborn refusal), and wagged her tail as I opened the gate and went through. She was so good that the examiner barely looked at her before marking down a pass.

Then we did the loose leash walking with distractions. Everyone stood in a line with their dogs next to them. The dogs waited quietly (with encouragement from their handlers). Ladybug and I wove in between each person and dog. She looked at one dog and hesitated for a second, but she came immediately when I called her name. We’ve never done this in class without a treat before (remember, no treats allowed during the exam), so I was surprised she did so well. I’d pictured actual distractions, like people and dogs moving around. She did perfectly with stationary distractions, though.

Next (can’t remember the order), we went into a horseshoe-shaped line. Ladybug and I had the middle side all to ourselves. She sat down, and I told her to stay. I dropped the leash and walked about five steps away. To my surprise, we were allowed to “re-command,” meaning to repeat the command to stay. She’s been great about this exercise since babyhood, as well. In fact, it was the exercise I was most confident about. She wasn’t tempted to move at all.

As a group, we were instructed to examine our dogs (ears, eyes, nose, teeth, mouth, neck, belly, paws, legs, tail) and then groom our dogs. I hadn’t known how exacting the process would be, but I just had to rub the grooming mitt and show that Ladybug didn’t fuss or resist. Easy! And very low pressure when we all did it as a group.

Then, what impressed me (with time-saving) is that the examiner combined exercises. She came around to check collar tags (a legal requirement). Since she had to check the tags anyway, she checked whether Ladybug would let me take the collar off and put it back on. I’d thought I would have to take off and replace the canny collar, which would have been a bit dicey. We worked very hard for two weeks, but she can still be a bit skittish. To remove and replace her regular collar was an unexpected pleasant surprise! Ladybug barked once at the examiner, and I thought we were done for. (Barking isn’t allowed in the test.) The examiner told me not to worry and that it was fine.

Next, the examiner came around to scan microchips. Ladybug was a bit hesitant, and I worried she would bark again. The examiner laughed and said to her, “You’re not sure about me, are you? I pinched your collar.” I laughed and relaxed, and Ladybug relaxed as well. Thank you, lovely and kind examiner! I had to show I carried poop bags, which was easy as my entire life is filled with poop bags stuffed everywhere “just in case.”

Next test item was a combination of quizzing us on the canine code (responsibilities of a dog owner) and seeing if our dogs could wait appropriately while we had a short conversation with a stranger. This was the only one I had trouble with. 😛 I was expecting straightforward questions from the code, such as “What does your dog need?” and to answer, “A place to sleep, regular meals, and security.” Or something like that. Instead, the examiner asked me, “When do you give your dog water?” I looked at her and asked, “You mean the last time? Or usually?” And a couple of other incoherent responses. She finally said, “Don’t overthink it. When do you give your dog water?” I said, puzzled, “All the time?” Examiner said yep, that was it. I laughed and said oh, I didn’t understand what you were asking. She said no one else got it on the first try, either. 🙂 Other questions were easy. How often do I give tick and flea treatment (every three months), and what do I do if my dog has uncontrolled diarrhea (been there! vet, immediately).

Then we did recall, which was fun. Ladybug’s always been great at that. Even as a tiny baby, she came flying at me from day one. I had her sit down and wait while I walked a few steps away. She knew what was coming and got ready for her launch attack. She almost gave a false start, but she listened when I said to wait. She came perfectly and sat right in front of my feet while I took hold of her leash again. Textbook. 😀

The last exercise, the one we spent hundreds of hours practicing, was walking on a loose leash. I hated training this one as I don’t care if she walks on a loose leash or not. She loves her flexi (extendable) leash, and I like for our long walks to be quiet, thoughtful relaxation. I don’t want to hover over her and micromanage her steps. But I don’t like her pulling when we are in enclosed spaces, so we worked on it.

She was brilliant. We started walking, and she trotted quite happily just in front of me. The examiner had us turn right twice, and each time Ladybug came with me immediately. Because it’s only the bronze test, she just had to change direction (she didn’t have to stay right at my heel, for example). She was relaxed and confident, with ears flopping and tail waving. Examiner said that was enough, marked her down as passed, and said we should wait for certificates and photos.

As we gathered for photos, Ladybug was a model puppy. (It was a long wait, too!) She kept looking up at me as if to say, “I’m working hard. I’m doing a good job, right?” During the entire exam and waiting afterward, she was unbelievably focused and well-behaved. (Freakishly, lol!) We then went for a nice walk afterward, and she was a little brat barking and lunging. But hey…if you’re going to make me look great for a formal standardized test, you’re entitled to some brattiness afterward. She let off steam by sniffing at the grass, barking at nothing, chasing after the wind, tripping over her own paws, and licking me from head to toe.

She’s my puppy, all right. A bundle of nerves and fear in regular life, but able to come through in a pinch. She’s also passed her first standardized exam. 😀 Next is the silver!

 

 

 

My first Pap smear after sexual assault

Well.

There’s a provocative title.

My editors and publishers should be pleased with my attention-getting skills.

Why am I writing about something TMI on my professional author blog, you might ask. The answer is both simple and complex.

 

Simple version:

I write because my body won’t let me write anything else.

I must write.

So I write what I can.

 

Complex version:

I have spent most of the last year feeling helpless, ashamed, violated, dirtied, devalued, and nothing but a victim. When I searched “how to have a Pap smear after sexual assault,” I found very little. One or two helpful articles, but not much else. I learned strategies and tips that, in an ideal world, might have helped.

In struggling with the helplessness, first of violation and then the inability to undergo a routine medical exam, I need to feel as if I have agency. I need to claim some kind of power. I need…

I need to begin to feel more like Ana again.

The Ana who writes, laughs, jokes, and teases. The Ana who campaigns for social causes, writes kinky fiction, and will fight anyone who claims that F/F fiction isn’t worth writing or reading.

In order to take back my power, I must come to terms with my powerlessness.

And if just one person can read my account and face her worst fear, perhaps I can begin escaping from this nightmare.

——-

Let’s not say who.

Or when.

Or how.

A few months ago, a man

[I couldn’t continue. I surfed the internet, looked up unrelated things, dilly-dallied, and followed a rabbit trail of distractions. This is hard. Even committing to not telling too much, I couldn’t do it. I’ll try again.]

A man placed his genitals against mine.

While claiming helplessness, innocence, and complete lack of responsibility.

The person I trusted most in the entire world told me that I was wrong, it couldn’t have happened the way I thought, and he wasn’t a bad man.

So I hid it.

For months.

When the doctor letter came for a Pap smear, I ignored it.

Then the second letter came, and I wavered. An informal poll on Facebook showed that my female friends overwhelmingly felt a Pap smear was necessary regardless of sexuality.

I went in, unsuspecting, and expected nothing more than embarrassment and pain.

Instead, I nearly screamed and jumped off the examination table.

The nurse could not have been kinder. She reassured me, soothed me, and stopped the instant I grew upset. She talked me through several options and said I didn’t have to continue. Since I was already half-naked, I said that we might as well try again.

This time, I had to bite back the tears.

Afterward, the memories came rushing back.

The last time someone got near my vagina, someone I didn’t trust.

I grew weepy, bursting into tears every time I thought of the impending re-scheduled exam. A quick consultation with the doctor seemed to promise a slow, thoughtful, and careful second attempt that would only proceed if I felt comfortable.

I was a mess for that week. Nearly made myself sick the night before (which was made even more fun by the electric company shutting off my power just before sunset).

The day of, the doctor asked me a few cursory questions before instructing me to strip from the waist down and lie on the examination table. When she told me to lie on my back, despite previously agreeing not to (the position triggered too many memories of feeling helpless), I protested. She said that it would be easier for me. I knew I couldn’t handle it, but she’d rushed me into the exam and I didn’t feel I could say no. I also had the right to ask for a third party to be present (not as a witness, in my case, but someone to help calm me down), but she didn’t offer and I didn’t feel I could ask.

(I’ve since learned that GPs here earn a bonus for administering a certain number of Pap smears. I’d thought she was kind to talk through the exam with me, but she may have been more focused on adding one more number to her list.)

The second she tried the exam, I burst into hysterical tears and sobbed that I couldn’t do it. She’d promised we could stop if I needed to, so I expected that I would be able to leave. The words, “I refuse this exam” should have left my lips, but I was caught in the whirlwind of nonconsensual touch.

I’ve blamed myself for that moment. Often. I should have said no. I should have gotten off the table and gotten dressed. I should have walked out. I should have…

Just like I should have fought against the man who pinned me down and gyrated his crotch against me, penis bulging.

I should have.

But I didn’t.

I’ve been frozen with shame and disbelief since that day, unable to function or to focus.

To make things worse, by attempt number four I said I just wanted to get it done so I wouldn’t have to wait for another appointment on another day.

I should have said I refused the exam, period. I have the right to do so, and the GP even said it at our initial meeting.

Consent is such a tricky thing.

Did I allow the man (I use the word loosely) to touch me?

Did my lack of physical reaction, lack of fighting, kicking, and screaming, render my non-consent useless?

Did my frozen fear inhibit my ability to say no?

Or did I truly not say no?

Five times, the GP inserted the speculum and made me writhe in agony. I could allow it to enter, but any movement inside made my vision go gray with pain. In hindsight, the pain was likely fear translated into bodily form.

Afterward, the GP cheerily tried to say that it went well, I’d tried my best, and I could book another appointment to try again. That we would get there.

When I asked for a referral to a specialized clinic that would help with the exam (as in a clinic that would work with issues such as mine), her face tightened as she told me that was out of the question.

(I’ve since learned that GPs have to pay for services given upon referral, while they receive the payment if they perform the exam themselves.)

I wanted a Pap smear to be something I could do, despite bad history and fear. I wanted to overcome my fears.

Instead, I’ve sat, stupefied, for the two and a half days since.

I don’t have any words of wisdom here.

No advice.

Just hope that sharing my story might help someone else.

I wish I’d taken my cue from the BDSM community. There is understanding that, in certain situations, someone is unable to give or withdraw consent. There needs to be an external observer to watch for body cues.

I needed a watcher.

I wish I’d known that before I went in.

 

 

Dad

Thank you to everyone who has reached out with kindness, compassion, sympathy, and simple human love.

This week is the two-year anniversary of watching my father die.

Yesterday was his birthday and the day we withdrew life support.

Today is the day I spent almost constantly at his side.

Tomorrow is the day he drew his last breath.

I’m fighting to keep afloat.

Fighting to stay grounded.

Hugging my puppy and doing everything I can to make it through.

As if giving me a special gift, Ladybug ate her entire bowl of kibble yesterday. First time in ages.

I didn’t think I would have to face the second Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, his birthday, and now his death day on my own.

But I hold fast to the love and promise of his memory.

I am my father’s daughter.

Even if he no longer lives.

A lovely new book about bats!

My friend, Jess Schira, has a new book out! We connected a few years ago over her writing about pigs, and she’s been a constant resource for me when I have animal questions. She’s even helped when I’ve worried about my puppy.

If bats are your thing, Jess is your woman! Check out her new book. Say Ana sent you. 🙂

—–

60 Beautiful Bat Facts

A Handy Guide for Writers & the Bat Curious

Did you know that:

Bats could be the key to preventing a worldwide chocolate shortage?

That the U.S. military explored the possibility of using Mexican free-tailed bats during WWII?

In China, bats are a simple of luck, fertility, a long life, prosperity, virtue, and good luck?

That in Slavic folklore it was butterflies, not bats, that turned into vampires?

That the markings on a bat’s wings are as distinctive as fingerprints?

Bats account for 20% of the world’s mammal population?

That one little brown bat consumes more than 600 mosquitos in a single hour?

That in Germany, gamblers used to sew the heart of a bat onto their clothing for good luck?

That bats are more effective seed distributers than birds, making bats a key factor in the reforestation of the rain forests?

You’ll have a difficult time finding a mammal that’s more misunderstood than the bat.

Since the dawn of time, bats and humans have shared an uneasy relationship. Humans have claimed that bats consort with the devil, were proof of witchcraft, and that they morphed into vampires, they’ve been used in medicines and viewed as harbingers of disasters. The reality is that bats are cute, harmless creatures that serve an important ecological purpose. They’re clean, peaceful animals that simply want to be left alone to do their job. Now that researchers have started to take in interest in bats, we’re learning that in addition to helping keep the mosquito population low, they’re also an evolutionary wonder.

Without bats, the world would be a very different, far less pleasant place to live.

Whether you love bats, have always been curious about them, are a writer who wants to include a bat or bat related mythology in your plot, or simply wish to expand your Chiroptera knowledge, 60 Beautiful Bat Facts is for you. You’ll enjoy this laid back and easy-to-read exploration of all things bat-like, including Batman!

60 Beautiful Bat Facts is currently available via Amazon!

https://www.amazon.com/60-Beautiful-Bat-Facts-Writers-ebook/dp/B076ZQZ99K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515393532&sr=8-1&keywords=beautiful+bat+facts

Gratitudes

I haven’t done Thursday Thankfulness in ages. Well, I haven’t done any post in ages. Such a shame, when it’s writing that makes me Ana.

So, while we are happily playing round robin add-a-sentence to write a collaborative story on Facebook (look me up if you want to join!), and while you’re all having fun pushing up my word count for the promised story…

I think it’s time to write my gratitudes. Even if it’s not Thursday. Even if life has thrown me a few lemons in the past year. Even if sometimes it all seems like too much.

Because when else do we need gratitude most, but when life is hardest? We choose to want what we have, or we choose to want what we don’t. I’d like to have many things right now that I don’t. Stability, predictability, and a whole host of other things.

What I’ve got, instead, is this wonderful little band of fiercely loyal readers who waited throughout a year of book drought but came running as soon as I put out the call.

How grateful I am.

How pleased, touched, amazed, and overcome.

You’re still here, my beloved readers and supporters and friends.

Today it’s time to take stock of everything in my life that I can appreciate.

For a bed with clean sheets and a pillow that’s clean and good condition, I give thanks.

For a room with a lock on the door and a cupboard to store my possessions, I give thanks.

For food to fill my belly and a place to store nourishment for tomorrow, I give thanks.

For a shower that runs clean and sort of warm water, I give thanks.

For access to a toilet, toilet paper, soap, and sanitary water for washing my hands, I give thanks,

For a clean and dry towel to use after the shower, plus clean clothes to put on and soap for the shower itself, I give thanks.

For a smartphone with access to the internet and ability to add data to my plan, I give thanks.

For a room that protects me from the night chill and wind, I give thanks.

For new books to keep my mind occupied, I give thanks.

For fluids to drink instead of getting parched , I give thanks.

For the ability to close my eyes, lie down, and sleep, I give thanks.

For the sweet reassurances of community who tell me I will weather this hard time, I give thanks.

For every one of you who still wants an Ana story, I give thanks.

I give thanks for you, dear friend who has touched my life.

I need your voice as much as I need my writing. For what good is a writer with no one to read her stories?

For you, I give thanks.

So many thanks.

And love.