LTD – Possession

This is the second post in my series on Sue Ailsby’s “Leading the Dance protocol for bonding with your dog and preventing or fixing behavior issues.

Today’s focus is Number Five — “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” Here are the instructions:

At least once a day, handle the dog. Repeat the words, “These are my ears! This is my paw! This is my muzzle! This is my tail!” as you handle him. If he fusses, go slower. It’s important that the dog has a positive experience – that he comes to see that you will be handling him and it’s of no concern to him. When he’s completely relaxed and accepts your handling, say OK and release him.

Like “Sing a Song,” in my previous post, this is a fun exercise. And it gets funnier when I actually do it.

I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on handling Barnum since he arrived, which has sometimes been quite work-intensive. We are still not done with handling exercises, especially where veterinarians are concerned. Barnum does not like vets. Yet.

HUGS from Sharon

I practice the "vet hold" on four-and-a-half month-old Barnum. We call this behavior, "Hugs!"

But with other people, who do not “smell like vet,” Barnum’s very good. I’ve even had strangers do the “hugs” (restraint) hold on him or pick him up in the air. (This must be done by a strong person, since Barnum weighs around 80 pounds!)

With me, and other people he knows and trusts, he enjoys handling immensely, though he’s not as fond of having his ears rubbed as Gadget was, which is too bad because Barnum’s ears are so soft and silky.

We generally do handling on the floor, because it’s easiest, and because Barnum is delighted when I get down on his level and afford him the opportunity to give my face a thorough washing. I know eventually I need to get him used to being up on tables and having me handle him from above. For now, however, we’re focusing on him being relaxed and happy to be handled, including withstanding all manner of grooming.

I’ve added grooming to our LTD protocol. It makes sense to follow up a “Possession” session with a round of grooming. Raking out mats, de-gunking his eyes and ears (he has the hairiest ears ever!), and trimming the fur between his toes (which mats terribly easily), are some of the most important areas.

Our handling “last frontier” — after relaxation with vets — is teaching Barnum to be comfortable with my fingers in his mouth. It’s not an issue of him being dangerous or biting — on the contrary, he wants nothing more than to quickly spit out any fingers that find their way in, accompanied by a facial expression I translate as “Ewwww.” My goal is greater ease in removing foreign objects he has decided not to give up (I know, that’s another training area we need to firm up), and allowing me to brush his teeth (as opposed to him treating the toothbrush like a chew toy) and give him medicine.

This last has become especially important since two days ago, when — being The Dog from Mars — Barnum decided he doesn’t like pill pockets. I have never before heard of a dog (or cat) who didn’t love any Greenies product, especially Pill Pockets. But, there it is, Mr. Picky keeps trying to outdo himself in the “I can live without food, thank you” department of dog weirdness.

He doesn’t even eat around the pill, as some dogs will do — spitting out the medicine and eating the treat. Even if I give him a fresh, empty Pill Pocket, he spits it out (as if it were a finger)! One day Pill Pockets were a tasty treat, the next day — feh!

So, I have to shove the pill to the back of his throat and hold his muzzle closed while I stroke his neck. I think he’d be more comfortable with me taking his temperature (which is done at the other end of the dog).

Fortunately, in the area of tolerance for pressure or discomfort, he has lived up to his breeder’s observations and temperament tests — very mellow. This is important because of his coat and how it must be groomed.

You see, Bouviers are hypoallergenic and don’t shed; their thick outer coat keeps loose hair from their undercoat trapped beneath. This means that to prevent mats, you have to get underneath to brush out the loose hair. It’s a lot more work than with a dog with a “normal” coat. With Jersey, brushing her out once a week was enough. With Gadget, twice a week.

With Barnum, if I don’t brush him at least every other day (now that he has his long, winter ‘do), he gets so itchy that he rubs up against the chain link fence when he goes out! He has the curliest, wiriest, thickest coat I’ve ever had to wrangle. Wrangling requires hauling undercoat rakes and mat-breakers through his fur, pulling or breaking off the dead hair. Some dogs don’t like this kind of intensive brushing but Barnum enjoys the attention and isn’t bothered by the tugging.

In the summer, primarily to make tick checking easier, as well as to reduce grooming work and to provide him relief from the heat, Betsy and I clip Barnum down. These “before” and “after” pictures show the kind of serious implements needed to groom a bouvier. . . .

Haircut "Before" Picture

Even when he still had his puppy coat, serious grooming hardware was required!

(No! Of course we don’t use hedge clippers on the dog! This was a joke. Never, ever use hedge clippers to groom your dog! Very dangerous! Use appropriate dog-grooming tools.)

Haircut "after" picture

Voila! The finished product! Hard to believe we're not professionals, huh? What do you mean, "Scrawny and uneven"?

Back to LTD’s “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” The first night I was performing this little ritual, Betsy walked in on me.

There I sat on the floor, groping Barnum, whose tail was wagging happily. “This is my right foot!” I proclaimed, as I held up Barnum’s right forepaw. “I own this right foot!”

Then I moved on to his ear. “This is my right ear! I own this right ear!”

Betsy looked at me as if my cheese had slipped off my cracker. “Why are you saying those are your ears?” She asked.

“It’s part of Leading the Dance,” I said, and continued. “This is my right elbow!” I grasped Barnum’s elbow and talked in a silly voice to him, gently moving his elbow as I chanted. “I own this right elbow! I can do anything I want with this elbow!”

Because she had asked, I tried to give Betsy an explanation of why this exercise is part of “Leading the Dance.” I was vague, though, because while I knew intuitively why it was useful, I had a hard time articulating it. In some ways, it reminds me of my days as a self-defense instructor.

Didn’t see that one coming, did you? I’ll explain.

It seems to me that there are two important aspects to this “Possession” exercise. One is physical, the other, mental.

The physical, hands-on part ensures that you handle your dog all over, at least once a day. This helps build trust and bonding by making the dog comfortable and happy being handled. That’s pretty straightforward.

The mental part is saying, “This is my ear! This is my muzzle!” etc. It is not a mental exercise for the dog, but for the human. These are a form of “affirmations” — declaring something to be true in order to make it true. Affirmations, at their best, can use your intentional thoughts to create or change an internal or external reality. Thus, they have the potential to be incredibly powerful and empowering, even transformative.[1]

I experienced this transformative power when I was in college (twenty-something years ago), when I took a self-defense course. Near the beginning of the course, we were learning about assertiveness. Part of this involved practice in walking and talking like a person who was aware, in control, and centered. In other words, someone less likely to be perceived as an easy victim.

The instructor led us through three types of visualizations. The first two exercises — focusing on my breath or envisioning a powerful light emanating from my center of gravity — didn’t work for me. The last suggestion was to come up with a word or phrase that made us feel strong and centered — an affirmation, in other words — and repeat it (silently) to ourselves.

First we practiced them, standing still, eyes closed. Then we walked around, continuing our focus.

Like most (all?) young women, by that time I had experienced a fair amount of sexual harassment. Examples included stalking, a rape threat from a (former) boyfriend, being chased by a stranger on the street, and other words and actions by men (and a small number of women) that created a sense that my body was not my own.

However, the main reason I took the class — the greatest cause of my feeling of vulnerability — was that, as one of the few out queers on campus, I’d experienced quite a bit of gay bashing. This ranged from verbal assaults, such as being called a “lezzy” (among many other things) and having a science professor tell me I was a “genetic aberration,” to physical ones, including having rocks thrown at me and a piece of cement hurled through my window.

Therefore, I did not feel safe walking around school or town. Further, some part of me believed that I did not have as much right as anyone else to be who I was or do what I wanted. Though I would have vociferously denied it if asked directly, the message had sunk in that anywhere I went in public, I was asking for abuse, simply by my presence.

I tried on a lot of the positive affirmations suggested by the self-defense instructor, such as, “I am safe,” or “I am at home in my body,” or “I can take care of myself.” None got to the kernel for me. They left me feeling weaker.

I thought about how I wanted to feel when I walked on campus or in the city, how I wanted to feel that I owned public space like anyone else. What popped into my head was, “My fucking street. My fucking sidewalk. My fucking world.” Yeah, I was a little different.

Our homework was to practice our chosen method for the next week as we moved between classes or walked home from a party at night or rode the subway. My posture, my attitude, the way I walked, all changed — forever. I carried with me into my future the knowledge that I had just as much right to be wherever I was as anyone else — definitely a blessing when I became disabled a few years later.

I continued to study various martial arts and became a self-defense teacher, myself. I taught these same visualizations and affirmations to my students (though I did not offer my “affirmation” as a suggestion to the students). It was a joy to witness each student changing how they held themselves as they simply walked in a circle in our classroom, focused on their breath or chosen words or imagery.

So what does this have to do with dog training?

In my opinion, when handling your dog — if you have a good and safe relationship with your dog, full of mutual love, trust, and respect, you can more fully embody the belief that no part of your dog’s body is off-limits to you. You are letting him — and more importantly, yourself — know that you can approach him for pilling, nail-trimming, or brushing of teeth or coat, with quiet, loving assurance.[2]

Dogs respond to this. Canine interaction is much more about body language, non-spoken cues, than it is about vocalizing. They will pick up on our calm, benevolent intentionality.

Humans, on the other hand, tend to be blatherers (of which I am a shining example!). Therefore, giving us something to say while we do this exercise makes us more comfortable. Indeed, how can we help but feel a little silly saying, “This is my muzzle!” as we stroke our dog’s nose? This silliness comes through in our tone and pitch and the way we touch our dogs, creating a fun experience for them, too.

Practicing “whole dog body” possession can sound and look even funnier still. For one thing, Betsy and I name Barnum’s body parts as we handle them — we’ve been doing this for months based on a tip from a sister SDiT trainer. This has helped Barnum a lot with confidence in being handled, particularly by veterinarians and vet techs, because he knows what part is going to be manipulated — or that he can offer — ahead of time.

This planned-in silliness, combined with my tendencies for perfectionism and improvisation, leads to some rather odd pronouncements. To whit, Betsy not only witnessed me saying, “This is my left hock! I own this left hock!” and “I own this tail! I can do anything I want to with this tail!” But, also, “This is my left England!”

You don’t know that one? Betsy does.

When Gadget had an episode of weakness that might have been related to heart damage from chemotherapy, the vet told me I should monitor his pulse. When I taught Betsy how to take Gadget’s pulse, I showed her where to put her fingers: “the inguinal area,” or inner thigh.

What I didn’t realize until many months later was that Betsy thought I’d said, “the Englandal area.” Eventually we realized we were saying different words, and it became a joke. We now refer to Barnum’s inner thighs as “England.” (I won’t tell you which parts are assigned to other nations in the European Union.) Like most relaxed, trusting dogs, Barnum enjoys having “England” rubbed, so I make sure to do that.

Barnum Rolling in the Grass (7 months)

Barnum shows off his appreciation of the UK.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you? . . . After all, I’m required to handle the whole dog.

I worked my way around his underside — armpits (scratch, scratch), ribs and belly (rub, rub) and then. . . . “This is my penis!” I said.

Betsy just shook her head. “That’s disturbing,” she said.

Being a dog, however, Barnum didn’t care. Just like he doesn’t care when I trim the hair in that area that’s matted with urine. After all, it’s not like I’m up at his mouth, trying to rub his gums with my fingers or get him to eat a (disgusting) Pill Pocket. Perhaps I should tell him to just lie back and think of England.

-Sharon, Barnum, and the muse of Gadget

Your comments are welcome, as always!


[1.] Caution! Affirmations have their limits. Most of the time, when I read or hear about the use of affirmations, it is in the context of our American obsession with the idea that we can control our lives by “thinking positive thoughts.” This form of New Age thinking has been a scourge on the disability community.

Specifically, it is very popular for  people (usually those who are not seriously or chronically ill or disabled) to tell others who are seriously or chronically ill or disabled to use affirmations to “heal” or cure ourselves. Such suggestions are intrusive, ridiculous (because if affirmations worked to cure all serious illness, nobody would be chronically or terminally ill, would they?), and at their root, victim-blaming (because they imply that we do have control over our bodies, so if we fail to recover from injury or illness, it is our fault). I drew an extremely popular cartoon on this topic, in fact.

Affirmations are empowering when used to change one’s perspective or other circumstances that one can control. They are disempowering when proposed as solutions for circumstances one cannot control, such as curing one’s disability. Back to post.

[2.] Please note that this is only true if you do actually have a mutually safe, trusting relationship. The full “Possession” instructions from LTD include this warning: “If your dog won’t allow you to handle him like this without getting angry or getting away, DO NOT do this exercise. Do the rest of the exercises and use the clicker to teach the dog to allow this handling later.” Back to post.


13 Responses to “LTD – Possession”

  1. 1 Kathy January 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I have nothing useful to say except I love reading your posts.

    You rock…”My fucking street”…hell yeah!

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler January 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Thank you, Kathy! I was so nervous about posting this one that I had to sleep on it and reread it this A.M. Soooo appreciate this positive comment!

  3. 3 Giselle January 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    ^_^. great entry!

    Ummm, you *did* know that raw chicken and turkey hearts are natural pill pockets, yes?

    You can even make them up ahead of time and refreeze them. ice cube trays make good “pill minder” containers

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler January 12, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Thank you, Giselle!

    I did not know that about chix and turkey hearts! Good tip! However, while Barnum gets beef heart every day (they are his main training treat), and we have had access to occasional lamb and pig heart, I have not found a steady source for chicken or turkey hearts. Even when I buy whole chickens (at a store, with just the “intended-for-human-consumption” parts), they don’t always have the “giblets” so sometimes I get a heart there, and sometimes I don’t.

    He eats a lot of chicken “parts” because I got heads, feet, and some organs from some local farmers, but mostly the innards were hard to deal with because it was just a big garbage bag of smelly (sometimes fly-infested) “soup.” I managed to pick out and rinse some things I recognized (eggs/yolks/ovaries, heart, crop, the occasional kidney or liver, etc.), but it was few and far-between. I won’t have access to that again till late next summer or early fall.

    However, I have discovered that butter is massively appealing to him, and the pills wrapped in it go down, well, like buttah.

    It’s messy, though, and not a good long-term solution. I’ll see what I can come up with. I am hoping it’s just the flavor of pill pocket he didn’t like, and that the ones I ordered will be considered “treats.”

  5. 5 Giselle January 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Sharon, not sure where you are, but Oma’s Pride carries chicken and turkey hearts. the turkey hearts are sometimes humongous!
    A ‘raw dog friend’ and I order abt every 3 mo from a buying group that deals with Oma’s and we split cases of hearts, mackerel, and other stuff.
    Here’s the website, in case its an option for you;

  6. 6 MiMo January 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    Hi Sharon,
    I commented once a while ago, when I first found your blog, but I wanted to say hi again, let you know I’m still reading, and really, really enjoying hearing about Barnum’s training! (I, uh, possibly am a big giant training geek who doesn’t have a dog of her own yet, so, yanno, living vicariously though reading about others’ training!)
    Also just enjoying reading your humorous, insightful writing! I’m always happy to see you have a new post up!
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. 7 Sharon Wachsler January 16, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Thank you, Giselle! You are a font of knowledge, as ever!

    Good news on the Pill Pocket front — he loves the chicken flavor! I was hoping it was just the flavor, and it was. He didn’t like the duck type, which I don’t normally buy, but I had a coupon, and it was the only kind the store had left.

    Interesting, because I once gave him a wild-caught duck that a hunter friend didn’t want, and he really didn’t like it. Acted like it was fish! And I had saved it specially for him since it was Thanksgiving. Took him three days to eat it!Ah well.

    Because I have to pay for the beef heart, and we use it so much ($1.50 pound, by the case, is the cheapest I’ve found), I try to get the rest of his meat free or under $1/pound and local, so I will probably stick with the Pill Pockets. I also use them for training because he loves them so much: twice a day for alerting when my infusion pump goes off, he gobbles one down (with a probiotic hidden inside). I’ve needed to add the probiotic because of GI issues and because he was on antibiotics previously.

    As you can tell, I’ve had to make some adjustments to the total-raw situation for various reasons, but it’s still the bulk, by far, of his diet.

    However, even if I don’t use Omaspride, I’m glad to have the links up for others interested in raw feeing. Smile.

  8. 8 Sharon Wachsler January 16, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Aw, thank you, MiMo! What a wonderful comment! Comments like yours inspire me to keep blogging!

    I am hopefully about to put up a new post, and have been working on several new posts and pages recently.

    Be proud of your training geekdom! I have always been a massive dog-training geek, even when I didn’t have dogs, too. I watched training TV shows and listened to training books. It does help when you get your dog, for real, to have this knowledge. (Although, as I have learned with Barnum, reading about puppies did not at all prepare me for an actual puppy nearly as much as I thought it would!)

    Plus, being a geek is so cool now (shame it wasn’t when I was in, oh, say, first through 12th grades), and I am not a geek about anything that is generally considered cool, like physics or computers or technology or math. I am a dog-training geek, a behavioral-science geek, and a word and grammar geek. We dog training geeks are legion, however, even if we are not ruling the internet. grin.

  9. 9 brilliantmindbrokenbody January 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Hudson and Barnum are just about opposites about England (and surrounding countries) and the mouth.

    Hudson doesn’t make faces about me putting things in his mouth unless I’m reaching down to the back of his tongue. If I’m just fiddling around with his teeth and gums, I get some ‘Mom, what’re you doing?’ but no real annoyance.

    On the other hand, if I touch the inside of his thighs, or worse yet his groin, he hunches his back up to try to get away from the touch. It’s both pitiful and hilarious. He doesn’t much care for being touched on his belly at all, and in fact will fight with all of his strength if I try to flip him belly-up. It was very, very weird for me, because in all my life, I’ve never had a dog who didn’t like having belly-rubs. It’s one of the few things I can do to Hudson intending him to enjoy it and cause him to pick himself up and walk away. If he’s flopped out on his side and really relaxed, he’ll tolerate it, but it’s pretty clear it is NOT enjoyable for him. He’d much rather I scratched just above the base of his tail or his neck and behind his ears.

    Hudson is a real annoyance with pills. We’ve hit the point where we use a piller (which looks vaugely syringe-like except that it’s open at the end) because NOTHING I wrap his pills in will get them into his gullet. When we don’t have the piller, it’s hold his mouth open, shove the pills to the back of his throat, and secure his mouth until he swallows. At least he’s gotten good, in the past month or so, about gulping once we’ve got his mouth closed. Before that, we went through a time where I had to cover his nose so he couldn’t breathe to get pills down. It was distressing for both of us, and he got VERY good treats once he finally swallowed. I can’t tell you how glad I was when he just started swallowing when his mouth closed!


  10. 10 brilliantmindbrokenbody January 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Also, in self-defense training, you probably would have liked my choice of affirmation. ‘You won’t like what happens if you fuck with me.’ Sometimes just shortened to ‘Don’t fuck with me.’

  11. 11 Sharon Wachsler January 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Barnum is the most belly-oriented of any dog I’ve ever had. And he is not as much into the under chin/neck rubbing as most before, or into the ears like Gadget was. He is not rolling onto his back all the way as much as he did when he was younger. I was really hoping that would last. He’s hilarious when in “dead bug position.” But he does still sometimes roll over when I go by to request a belly rub.

    His mouth is a work-in-progress. We are getting there!

  12. 12 Sharon Wachsler January 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Ha ha ha ha. OK, but this time I can’t help but point out (after you corrected me about The Carpenters), that technically, neither of your phrases are affirmations because they use a negative: “Won’t” and “Don’t.”

    Affirmations are supposed to be positive phrases. I remember my instructor gave a good explanation as to why, and I have tip-of-the-brain thing trying to think of it, because in my gut, I know that, brain-wise, for example, people tend to remember things better if it’s put into a positive: “Remember to pick up milk,” versus “Don’t forget to pick up milk.”

    But you can make your phrases positive: “If you fuck with me, I WILL fuck you up.” “You WILL be sorry if you fuck with me.” (Or just shorten to, “I’ll fuck you up.” They are also supposed to be better if short.)

    See how POSITIVE that sounds? wink.

  1. 1 How to Tick Check Your Dog (even if he’s big, black, and hairy) « After Gadget Trackback on July 4, 2011 at 3:59 am
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