13 April 2016

Training With Cesar: Finding The Perfect Human, The Perfect Dog

Dancing With Cesar

Dancing With Cesar

This month, I'm poring through Cesar Millan's wildly popular best-selling training book How To Raise The Perfect Dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond. I want to write about how the training book compares to my own life, dogs and experience.  I am eager to meet my first "perfect dog" and I am curious to know what "beyond" means, unless it's that Rainbow Bridge.

Yesterday, I wrote about Cesar's view of housebreaking and my own experience with it.

As I wrote yesterday, training books for me are often works of inspired humor and fantasy. This is nowhere more apparent than in Cesar's chapter called "expressing disagreement" with your puppy and learning to express limits "kindly,"  and in a language the puppy will understand.

Although Cesar has a reputation for being tough, his advice – at least about disagreeing with puppies – is nothing but positive. It is,  in fact, often ludicrous, perhaps with an eye to the many dog lovers out there who think store-bought food is abuse. The book seems to me a desperate nod to the very popular and fashionable training program called positive reinforcement training. You will find very few people on those Facebook forums or anywhere else in the sensitive regions of the dog world who would claim to practice anything else.

I ought to state two things up front just to be transparent.

1.I do not accept the  idea that Cesar Millan is in any way an abuser of animals, or that his methods are cruel and abusive, as many dog lovers believe. His training methods for correcting bad canine behavior are far gentler than the methods dogs themselves use for correcting one another. Although he has absolutely nothing in common with you or me or our dogs, he has an absolutely proven record of rehabilitating many dogs others have given up on.

2. Like everyone else, I am an advocate for positive reinforcement training.But I am not an entirely positive person. You probably are not either, if you're being honest. It's what they call being human.

3. I have written one training book, an e-book called Listening To Dogs: How To Be Your Own Training Guru. It cost $2.99 and you most likely never heard of it. The more training books I read, the more I like it. I understand that Cesar sells a ton more books than I have or will. He is the Big Guru of dog training in America.

Positive Reinforcement Training is pain-free training, it exists under different names and descriptions but basically it is about reinforcing the behavior that you want, rather than correcting the behavior you don't want. It is the most gentle conventional method of training, by far the most politically correct and by many standards, the most humane. If we are being honest, it is also nearly impossible for most people to fully achieve.

I  remember being invited to a very positive clicker training program for a dozen dogs in a windswept cow pasture in upstate New York. The positive reinforcement trainer was emphatically positive. The first thing that happened was that the Lab ate his clicker,  which his owner dropped in the cold and snow, and his owner cursed the dog and smacked him in the butt. The clicker cost $3, the man shouted,  and the Lab had eaten three of them.

The Lab and owner were expelled, it turned out to be too cold for people to click.

So this is the dilemma surrounding positive reinforcement training, the elephant in the room. If you look at the news, or any five people you know in or outside of the office, or members of your family, you know that most people are not entirely, or even mostly, positive. Truly positive people stand out like a full moon in a dark sky. And even celebrated positive people like the Dalai Lama confess that they are often quite surly and negative.

Dogs are unpredictable, instinctive, have very different ideas than we do about what is appropriate. When you get a dog, your first task is to teach them not to be a dog, or do any of the things dogs love to do – roll in feces, eat garden bulbs, have sex, chew up sofa pillows, eat the stuff in the litter box. It is a kind of war from the beginning. A good dog is one we have intimidated or manipulating into giving up what he or she most naturally loves. It is not a simple, peaceful or always loving process.

And this is the great dilemma of dog training books, the people who write them live in another dimension, perhaps across the Rainbow Bridge, they live with saintly and agile and ever-patient aliens who are not like me or anyone I know with dogs I can't imagine and have never seen.

As many of the people reading this know,  I am not always, or even often, the most positive of people. I was not positive when Fate grabbed a bar of soap out of the bathroom shower and ran through the house with it, foaming at the mouth and scaring the wits of out of me. Nor was I positive when she pulled a pair of my underpants out of the hamper and deposited their shredded remains at the feet of our dinner guest.  Or when she took the contents of the bathroom wastebasket, transported them upstairs, and spread them over the quilt on our bed.

I was not positive when my border collie Rose ran a block of sheep right up my ass, knocking me to the ground, or when my border collie Orson decided to herd a school bus in New Jersey with 50 grade school children inside and their hysterical Boomer moms and dads outside. In fact, I have not been positive countless times around dogs, and this is the complex thing about positive  reinforcement training. For it to work, it often asks the human to be something humans are generally not- calm, patient, loving.

Just look at the presidential campaign. If they can't do it for two hours on national TV, what makes anyone think we can do it with a headstrong puppy, an animal – the perfect dog – throwing up on our shoes or peeing on the carpet?

Cesar has page after page in his book about how to be polite to your puppy. Touch a puppy on the side of its neck or on the side of its hindquarters. Use a claw-shaped hand, which mimics a mother's bite on the side of the neck, on the muscle, not the throat. This hand doesn't "pinch," it is firm, but it doesn't have to use much pressure. The pressure should be proportionate to the level of behavior (for instance, an adult dog that has escalated into a red zone will need more pressure than a puppy that has just begun chewing a shoe, which will need only a light touch.)

The timing of the touch correction, cautions Cesar, "is crucial it has to take place at the exact moment of the transgression and end the moment the puppy relaxes and changes her behavior. Use the "tsssst" sound to represent displeasure, he says. Use a "kissing" sound to represent a positive action.

Good advice, I'm sure. Over my dead body. I'm not walking around Main Street making "tsssst" and "kissing" sounds to a puppy.

I read this and was thinking "who are these amazing people?," who can be so vigilant as to catch a puppy at the precise moment of transgression (I never saw Fate go near my underpants or the bathroom trash), or form their hand into the shape of a claw and quickly run down a shrieking puppy scrambling for its life, and estimate just what was proportionate for eating trash as opposed to gnawing on a shoe.

How fast can they move, as opposed to me, who could not easily get under the dining room table to try to strangle the border collie puppy who just stole my  biscotti from the table? What kind of legs do those people in the book have? Which muscle am I supposed to gently press again?

With all due respect to Cesar, these books seem like a shell-game to me, a pyramid scheme. They do things you cannot possibly do in most cases, they make you feel small and incompetent with your dog. Dogs pick up on stuff like that.

You read these books and can't possibly be the kind of person you read about, and can't possibly do what the people in those books do. So  you feel stupid, and you decide you need another book to help you get to the next level, even though you never got to the first. After awhile, you may realize that the real point of the books is to make you feel like a failure, so  you will need more books and a video or two as well.

I am a fervent supporter of being positive with dogs and all of my animals, but I am a passionate supporter of acknowledging reality as well. I am a human being. Look around you.

When Fate came down the stairs with my underpants, I stood up and shouted,  I did not think much about it, I surely remember the horrified look of my guests, and she took off and ran under the dining room table. I glowered at her and mumbled, blushed a bit and threw the underpants in the garbage. Even if I could have caught her, which I could not, I would not have remembered how to do the claw hand, exactly where to place it, or just how much pressure to apply. Which muscle? What age?

Books like this make us feel dumb and inadequate. Dogs are very pliant and adaptable creatures. They know right away when we are displeased, and they are not made of crystal. Displeasure often rolls off of them like rain off a seal. I do not ever hit my dogs, I have tried to kick one or two in my time and missed. I would not dare to even show Cesar's book to a farmer, and they have some of the best-trained and behaved dogs I have ever seen.

My mistake with Fate was in not containing her that night when she was so young and we couldn't pay attention to her. She should have been in the crate with a bone. There would have been no trouble, no bad habits to form.

Sometimes I lose it and shout at her. That is rare. Mostly I love her and play with her. She is quite a happy dog.

Sometimes I stomp my feet. Once in awhile, I throw a throw chain over her head to startle her. She has not been damaged by any of this, she is eager and responsive, and is even becoming obedient. Sometimes the best training is to let them grow older. Fate will not be a perfect dog, and was not, not through puppy hood or beyond, whatever that is. And she does not have a perfect owner.

Those are the cards we both are dealt. We are partners in the joys and travail of the world.

Our training goals are positive and realistic, within reason and ability,  and we are achieving almost all of them. She is teaching me a lot all of the time. I yell at her about a half dozen times a week, and once in awhile, she even takes notice. Do not let them make you think you are stupid, try being your own guru and see what happens. You'll save a lot of money too and you might even feel good about yourself as the owner and lover of a dog.

Posted in General

The Good Witches Turn Bats Into Butterflies

Bats Into Butterflies

"Bats Into Butterflies

Star of love, burn so bright,

Aid me in my spell tonight,

Unite my true love to me,

As I will it, so mote it be."

  • Love Spell Chant.

The good witches meet every week, always in the Round House Cafe, the light is always on them or around them, or failing that, they give off their own light. It is said they cast love spells for unrequited lovers, turn bats into butterflies, will the clouds away from their window, turn flies into sparrows and bullying men into lamposts.

They laugh and sing, and swirl in their own world, oblivious to the clinking of  glasses and cups and the chatter all around them. My pagan wife Maria is on the left, Athena on the right, then Mandy. They are never seen to order food, but it always appears, they are never seen to eat food, but it is always gone.

Bring me quiet,

Bring me peace,

Ease my dreams,

nightmares cease.

  • Sleep and Dream Chant

If you approach the table directly, cherubs will pour in through the window cracks and sting your cheeks, nobody bothers the good witches while they are chanting and laughing and telling their tales. It is said they chant and cast spells, chase away demons and evil spirits.

Children can approach safely, the good witches spin chocolate and cupcakes with their laughter and present them to the young, as good witches do.

Men are afraid to approach the good witches directly if they have ever caused a woman any harm, they will turn suddenly into snakes and spiders and drool and weep and soon be crushed under the feet of customers.

It is said the good witches often help the poor, and those with money troubles. And they can spin beautiful quilts from used napkins and baling string.


One coin here, one coin there,

Prosperity is everywhere,

I need some wealth,

Financial health

I just need my share.

  • Money Spell Chant

The good witches care potions, they can cure headaches, weak eyesight, brush away tears with a wave of the hand.

Bring health to my body

Heal mind and soul too.

Strength and well-being

Make it all new.

You can spot the witches as soon as you enter the cafe. The light is always on them.

Posted in General

Adventures Of A Cyberbeggar: The Monochrome Files, Day Two. Shaming.

 Kim B

The Monochrome Files

The Monochrome Files

Kim  wrote on my Facebook page yesterday that her husband "is a greatly admired artist,  his materials are costly he has a hard time getting by, I'm happy to say he has never asked strangers to fund him. You know You are really out there. People don't ask others to pay for their blogs please take me off your list asap."

I did reply to Kim, who fled my blog and my Facebook page in  horror.

It is true that I am really out there, but $3 billion was raised last year for crowdsourcing projects around the country, and I was not nearly the first. I said I didn't have a list and wasn't a good secretary, and I was afraid she would have to just remove herself and leave if she was unhappy.

She is a "huffer," a term I use for people, who storm away in outrage when they see something that offends them. I think Victorian ladies did that a lot. They just "huff" out of the room.

I was not as happy as she is that her husband is struggling, and sorry she was so proud of it..

I did wake up this morning thinking of her husband and I felt badly that he did not ask for the help that is being offered to so many artists and writers now.

I was sorry that he does not have the same kind of partner that I have, she always encourages me to seek help for my work and is not happy or proud when I suffer.

In fact, she gives me the strength to do things like camera fund, it is not easy for me.

Suffering is worse than pride, I think. And not always necessary. I have suffered plenty, and not suffering is better, given the choice. There is a  great philosophical choice there, and I am in the thick of it.

For all that, my fund to buy a $3,000 Canon re-converted Monochrome camera is well underway. I received about $1,500 via Paypal yesterday and have not yet checked my Post Office Box (P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, NY., 12816.) the main avenue for the funding request, I only started the campaign two days ago. I don't imagine contributions will arrive until tomorrow or Thursday.

I appreciate these contributions so much, most are for $5 and $10 and I am only using the blog to make the request, not a crowdfunding site. That is meaningful.  The money is not about the blog, which is and will remain free, that is a completely different story.

Earlier in the day, Steve e-mailed me to formally resign reading my blog and said I was "cyber-begging," which he found outrageous, given my obvious wealth and taste for luxury (trips to Cape Cod and Vermont). I admit that writers have a long history of begging for money, as they never seem to have any. Charles Dickens passed a cup after his readings, and wrote a "Christmas Carol" as a desperate effort to earn some money.

I used to beg my publishers for money, before they all were taken over by corporations. They don't answer the phone any more, not if writers are calling.

Robyn was also displeased with my request: "I would never ask anyone for money…sorry…I work and save til I can afford it ! I was really surprised you did this! Now, if you'd needed help for one of your critters, that's another story!" I asked her why she thought I didn't work and save, and I also asked her where she thought the money for all of those photographs she loves to see of the critters (for free) come from. I wonder if she ever thinks about where the money for the hay, farrier,  vet care and barns and fences comes from.

I know the answer of course.

Some people do not see art or writing or photography as work. Crowdsourcing  – the collection of small amounts of money from large numbers of people to help creative people and others in need – has revolutionized and democratized creativity. In Germany, writers and photographers are given salaries for several years so they can establish themselves. That would be seen as a heresy here, and frankly, not something I would wish. But in some parts of the world, art is recognized as being important.

Almost every farmer I have ever met wonders about people like Robyn, they go to the grocery and buys milk, but never considers where the milk came from or how it got there. It is natural to take things for granted. Farmers can't afford to do that. I guess I can't either. I do work hard, and I would love to save some money.

I am not looking for someone to pay for my life.  I'm managing that. Neither am I in crisis or drama. Either way, I will survive.

The camera would help me get to another level – it is black and white digital camera – and also benefit the people who get to see the photos I take every day.  I will be honest, I want to keep growing as an artist. From my messages and mail, my work (and Maria's) is meaningful to people, I see that also from the generous and supportive contributions coming to me for this project.

"Thank you," said Susan," for sharing your words and photographs, I read them every morning, they mean a great deal to me. I appreciate being able to support this work in my small way."  She sent me $20. I appreciate it too, Susan, and thanks for understanding that writers and artists and photographers also need to make a living, just like Robyn and Kim's struggling husband.

It is hard enough to be an artist in this corporate world, it is a wonderful things that artists don't have to struggle as hard as they used to.  There is now some help out there.

Americans are spending billions of dollars on crowdsourcing sites to support writers, artists, inventors, documentarians, filmmakers. I'd love to talk to Kim's husband and steer him to indiegogo.com, where so many very respected artists are learning that they don't have to struggle quite as much.

Thank you for the contributions, they mean a great deal to me, I suspect I am at least halfway there. I am proud they are all coming from readers of the blog, and that I did not have to reach outside. This camera – built for black and white digital use – will help me see the world anew, and hopefully you as well. I will do the best I can for it, and for you.

I am determined to find my zeal, as Joseph Campbell says, and live my life. I will never be shamed into thinking there is something wrong with that.

__ You can contribute to the fund via Paypal – go to "Friends And Family" and sent the contribution to [email protected] or you can send a check or other payment to Jon Katz c/o Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Thank you.

Posted in General

Holy Light


Holy Light

Holy Light

My photography  brought me to see the light, which is, I suppose, one reason it is so important to me. The ancient mystics believed that light and color was the way in which God spoke to the people he created. I do not truly believe in God, but I do worship light, and if there is a God, it makes sense to me that this is the way in which he speaks to me, in fact, I think this is the way in which the holy spirit speaks to me.

For much of my life, I could not see the light or find it, but through the viewfinder, I am led to it every day. Spring is the season of light, and of its  renewal Holy light to me.

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Daily Video: Joy Of The Morning: See Fate And Run On Their Run Together

Every morning, I take Red and Fate out for their morning run together in the side pasture. It's one of my favorite moments of the day, and I have a lot of those on the farm. Fate has explosive energy, I find she needs to work it out by running one or two times a day. Red's energy is steadier, more of a constant, and he loves to run also – we do outruns out there – but at a much more even pace. I think Fate is running at close to 50 miles an hour, like a cheetah.

She loves to try and ambush Red, and they brace one another, as border collies do with sheep – she runs in opposition to him, as you will see. I wanted to share this with you, I'm starting something new on the blog  -the daily video. I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoy taking them. The videos are taken on my Iphone 6, transmitted to You Tube and then cut and pasted into my blog. I am grateful for the technology that now makes this so easy, and hopefully, these images will give you the same pleasure it gives me.

Posted in General