By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr
Those of you who read this blog every week are used to the Think Outside The Box ideas I write about. Consequently, many of you know I have a learning disability and an eidetic memory. You also know that I've trained my mind to recognize letters, words, and numbers as they are, not as my mind thinks they are. This brings me to behaviour, more so, dog behaviour. The reason we can see beyond behaviour is because of our ability to feel empathetic.
Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall
Behaviour is the result of internal processes manifested outwardly, and as Morpheus said to Neo in the Matrix "The body cannot live without the mind." We, I really should say I, am reminded how great an impact emotion and cognition have on mySelf, especially when I look to the past.
Let me tell you a little story. In 1997, I had a life-altering idea that still drives me today. I won't go into details about the idea because it's not relevant. What is important is the long-lasting effect it's had on me as a person and professional. At that specific moment in time, it became clear to me that working with animals was, is, really about working on mySelf.
Emotions are contagious whether you want them or not. Brains are wired for empathy, and not surprisingly, science confirms dogs are also wired for empathetic connections. When I observe human or dog relationships, I'm tempted to bypass behaviour and look at which emotions are in action.
When I can perceive which feelings drive behaviour, I access the opposite emotion within myself and share it purposefully. My objective is to transcend emotions and develop a universal state of feeling, of being.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
My entire life has been about encompassing ideas, emotions, feeling, thoughts, plants, people, and animals into one giant entity which has depth and breadth. A sort of living organism which self-sustains itself because of a shared connectedness.
Sounds intangible, not to say ludicrous, I think not. Couples adopt their spouse's mannerisms and speech patterns; dogs synchronize their gate speed to their human; plants grow more efficiently when they're in the presence of other plants; consequently, our simple attachment to one another influences others.
In other words, your dog becomes you, and you become your dog. This is not new, for centuries, companies have used the monkey see, monkey do phenomenon to sell products.
Words of Wisdom
Empathy isn't about feeling responsible for other's emotions, it's about placing yourSelf in someone else's emotional state in order to feel what they might be experiencing. Unfortunately, empathy can bring you so far. If you've never experienced the emotions associated with a particular event, it's difficult to perceive the same feeling.
My perception of people and animals is a reflection of internal processes which belong to me. I see events in my life as experiences. These encounters serve to teach me how I perceive mySelf in the world and all that it contains; therefore, my emotions belong to me and reciprocally, I'm not responsible for other's emotions. Empathy and projection are very distinct things.
I live my life based on a sentence I thought of during meditation "Close your eyes and see, for the vision laid before you is clouded by your sight." If you can make sense of this sentence, you've understood what I've been trying to say. If you don't, no worries, life will always find a way to teach you the concept. And, if life doesn't teach you, your dog will.
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One thing's for sure, people consult far more often for aggressive behaviours than for fear, destruction, inappropriate elimination, vocalisation, and anxious behaviours put together. The funny thing is, aggression is normal in canids.
So why are we bent up on aggression? Why do we fear this type of behaviour above anything else? My answer will probably displease most readers, but I'm going to say it anyway. Aggression troubles people because humans tend to see aggression as an extension of their emotional selves (anthropomorphism). Furthermore, pet guardians can't bare the idea their canine companion could, or would, exhibit aggression towards other humans or dogs because that puts them in direct conflict with other people.
I'm here to reassure you, dogs are aggressive but not because you are aggressive. Canines display aggressive behaviours, just as humans do, but unfortunately they can't put emotions into words. Dogs manage their world with simplified communication output based on avoid conflicts at all cost. This is done via a language that serves to communicate information fast and easy. If I tell you to Please go away because you make me feel uncomfortable in this situation in a soft non threatening voice, your response might take time because you don't believe me. But, if I say in a loud aggressive voice Buzz off, you quickly get the message and leave me alone.
My question to you is were you upset about watching the video? Would you intervene in this type of situation? If so, which dog would you pull away and why? I don't want to answer because I want to open the discussion with you. Let's stop fearing aggression and let's talk about why we don't allow our animals to communicate. Yes, it's true some dogs are poorly behaved because of behaviour issues, but that is far from being the majority. Most aggression cases on my desk are dogs who have learned to be aggressive because of poor breeding, poor socialization, interrupted communication, and poor training.
If you want to deal with aggression, you must first detach yourself from the emotion and see it objectively for what it is, dog communication. You should approach aggressive situations and learn to identify what your dog is trying to say. If you need help, find a good human-dog interpreter who will teach you canine language, and in return, you'll be better equipped to solve aggressive emotional outbursts, should you need to.
By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
A few weeks ago, we talked about breeding dogs for fashion, not function. The taboo topic is a very sensitive one because it reflects our direct impact on a species we created to serve our specific needs. Unfortunately, our needs for a service animal (hunting, livestock guardian or herding, human safety, etc.) have changed and so too have our dog breeding practices.
In the last few decades, designer dog breeds such as the morkie, cockapoo, labradoodle, puggle, and so forth have become popular, not because they serve a function, but because they are fashionable. People love these mixed dogs because they are one in a million, so to speak, and owning a rare breed is what makes people feel different and unique.
Designer dog breeds are one thing, monster dogs are another, but both find themselves on an ethical slippery slope. In Great Danes and Other Monster Dogs, we saw how the exaggeration of physical and behavioural attributes compromise function for fashion. With social media, fashion can quickly spread with highly negative consequences for our furry friends. We have to be careful not to change designer breeds into real monster dogs.
Nature does produce monster creatures with forms that don't serve a function. When this happens, animals normally don't live very long and are removed from the gene pool. However, with domestic dogs, this isn't always true. Some people tend to breed strange-looking canines together in order to create litters of dogs that will sell high because of their uniqueness, and with social media, how easy it would be to promote fashionable figures over functional ones.
When we talk about designer breeds and monster dogs, a few questions come to mind. Questions like, how do dogs feel within their own body? Certain characteristics hinder function, therefore, dogs must suffer in some form or another. If they do, how do we evaluate suffering? Do we base suffering on behaviour or on physical pain? Dogs who suffer from short spine disease would die if left to their own device, so why do we feel compelled to save them? I'm simply asking you, the reader, to think about these important issues because it's entirely our responsibility what makes or breaks a dog breed.
A few final thoughts and questions. Who would judge monster dog breeders unethical? Who would prosecute such breeders when no control exists to oversee the genetic welfare of puppies? To these, I have no answers, and I sincerely hope I'll never need to find them. Monster dogs should never become fashionable because of our desire to possess strange and unique things.
Designer breeds are not the only creatures we are turning into monster dogs. As Adam Conover in Adam Ruins Everything mentions, pure bread dogs are being transformed into monster dogs because of inbreeding and our desire for fashion. This form of fashion breeding is slowly, but surely, killing our precious pets. If you click on the above link you will get a simple, yet thorough, explanation of what people are doing to dogs.
The only solution we have to save our dogs is to allow for genetic diversity. We must put aside our need for fashionable pets and focus on function: running, jumping, retrieving, catching, herding, swimming, pulling, etc. I suggest we prevent domestic canines from becoming monster dogs by allowing them total cross-breeding with other breeds but avoid making designer dogs. We must allow the gene pool to recuperate if we are to keep our furry friends functional.
By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
When I was a kid, we had Great Danes. These majestic creatures were big, bold, and never shied away from all our childish shenanigans. We started with one, then we had puppies, so we ended up with two, you know how the story goes. We had a molosser breed because Great Danes were big friendly dogs. With time it seems, Great Danes, molossus, and other breeds have become monster dogs.
Molosser means mastiff type. In French, a mastiff is called a Dogue (pronounced dog). Actually, Molosser is the proper term to describe what people call bullies. Dogue Allemand (German Mastiff), Dogue de Bordeau (French Mastiff), Dogo Argentino (Argentinian Mastiff), Dogue Napolitain (Neapolitan Mastiff), Broholmer (Danish Mastiff), Dogue Anglais (English Mastiff), Anatolian Mastiff (Turkish Mastiff) all belong to the mastiff group, AKA molosser, AKA bully, AKA dogue. There are so many molosser breeds I can't name them all here, but you can visit this page to find out more.
Breeding Function or Fashion
I'll probably make enemies in the dog breeding community with this article, but I have to speak up. Today's Great Danes look and behave nothing like my childhood dogs. They have narrow chests, are lightweight, nervous, fearful, and prone to so many diseases, books have a chapter dedicated to the subject. Mind you this is not only happening with Great Danes, other breeds are seriously affected by our lack of consideration for their psychological and physical well-being.
I know I'm over-generalizing, but like my friend says, Gotta make outrageous claims if I'm gonna keep you awake. Seriously though, when we choose fashion over function we're changing our companions into monster dogs. The new norm in dog breeding is to exaggerate physical characteristics because the strange, uncommon, and peculiar dog is what we all want. Why, do you ask? Because a unique dog makes us, well, unique.
Morals & Ethics
There is absolutely no function to excessive hair, skin, a brachycephalic face, twisted legs, extra-long ears, or low hindquarters. I believe it's our role to educate the population about poor breeding choices. We need to stop the trend and ask ourselves, as pet guardians and professionals, where do we draw the line? Do we want to breed for function or fashion? I think the time has come to turn the tide and stop breeding dysfunctional pets and start breeding functional friends.
I want to grow old and see beautiful dogs walking and working within their human teams. I want to watch Retrievers bring back rubber ducks from a hidden pool. I want to hug a Molosser dog without him shying away. I want to see Shepherds herd animals. I want to see Terriers dig out plastic rats. I want to see running dogs run. My question to you is what do you want to see? I'll leave you with these words "...You want the enjoyment from that animal [dogs] and you're willing to do almost anything to the animal to get that enjoyment out." - Raymond Coppinger
- Molosser Dogs
- Extreme Breeding
- Canadian Kennel Club Breed Standards
By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
When I was in yoga school and attending university, teachers had a saying Observe the Observer. A simple statement which requires years of practice just to understand it's significance. Fortunately for us, dogs live their lives based on this philosophy. We, on the other hand, indulge ourselves in past or future dimensions of time with great consequences. We forget all about the Observer.
The Eternal Mind
What does Observe the Observer mean? It means to look at one's actions and words from an external point of view. A kind of step-out-of-your-body experience without stepping-out-of-your-body in order to consciously become aware of your thoughts and actions. You can see how this is easier said than done, especially when emotions get in the way.
Observe the Observer teaches us to live in the eternal moment. In fact, this is what spiritual practices teach, yet we let our minds wander and get caught up in all the daily drama that surrounds us. Unfortunately, daily dramas constantly bring us back to the past or propel us to the future. If we were Marty McFly, that would be awesome; unfortunately, that's not the case. But (because there's always a but) we do have the means to keep our minds from wandering off. We do have a perpetual be-in-the-present-moment machine with highly sophisticated sensors at our disposal.
If you're a dog caregiver, look at your feet, it's right there. OK, so it might be outside, in the living room, or hidden under the table, but it's there nonetheless. We didn't come up with an original name for this machine-like anti-mind-traveller or resistant-thought-shifter, nope, we called it a dog.
A Powerful Message
Dogs, the canines that they are, live their lives in a quasi constant present state of mind. They are the master observers; therefore, let's use our human-dog relationships and stay connected with them in the present. Allow your dog to teach you this valuable lesson that is Observe the Observer. Watch yourselves interact with your dogs and feel their present awareness, for the present is really the gift.
Observe the Observer means you were able to catch yourself being mentally absent and capable of returning to the present. This shift in awareness is all you need to be happy, and guess what, dogs teach us this lesson every single moment of every single day. The present is the most precious gift, and dogs give it to us repeatedly, so, maybe it's time we took a look at our Observer.
By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
Working with animals is extremely rewarding, but it also yields a dirty secret, people in our line of work burn out. We change bad behaviour into good behaviour, we improve the human-animal bond, we teach, we foster, or rescue dogs, and all his hard work comes with a steep price, we emotionally exhaust ourselves. Today's article touches on human emotional management.
I'm fortunate enough to have learned this very important skill while I was in college. Because of my learning disability, I had to manage my emotions in order to access my memory and train my brain to make a new association between words. I had to manage frustration, sadness, and euphoria all at once, which as you might have guessed, was not an easy task.
Human emotional management is the hardest thing to do because we're super sensitive to the animal's plight and we desperately want to help. Thus, while we address animal issues, we come to realize we are faced with human emotions; consequently, it becomes difficult to manage both humans (ourselves and others) and animal emotions. If professionals can't emotionally disassociate themselves from the situation, they are likely to burn out. To avoid stress which can lead to distress, and eventually burnouts, I want to give you a few ideas on how to manage your emotions. So, please keep an open mind as you read on.
1. You are not the animal you are helping.
2. You can only do your best, beyond that point, let someone else take over.
3. When faced with a difficult situation tell yourself "I'll deal with these emotions later".
4. Don't forget to address emotions as soon as possible; don't sweep your emotions under the proverbial carpet.
5. Your view of a problematic situation is very different than the animal's perception of reality.
6. If you are too emotional, don't get involved and don't train.
7. If you need to address an emergency, use your rational brain, talk yourself through the steps.
8. Voice your emotions when appropriate. Ideally, after an emotionally charged event has occurred.
9. There will always be animals in need, you can't change this fact; you can only change your perception of it.
10. Talk with other professionals, ask them how they cope with their emotions.
There's a fine line between stress, distress, and eustress, and if you don't respect your limits, you will burn out. Working with animals means we accept the challenge of creating a new reality for the human-animal team, beyond that point, you must let go. You're not responsible for other peoples' emotions; you're only responsible for your own inner well-being. I'll end this article with the following quote "The environment is everything that isn't me." - Albert Einstein
By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
The hardest part of owning a pet is when we realise our animals don't live forever. We live in such close proximity to our companions that pain felt by their loss is not only profound and sad, it can be utterly life changing. In my case, I've been fortunate to spend my life with a variety of marvellous pets and working dogs; unfortunately, this also means approximately ten animals have come and gone throughout the years.
Animal grief is another taboo topic I wish to address this week, for it's an extremely difficult period for animal lovers. People who grieve their pets often feel emotionally alone and sometimes disconnected from the rest of their entourage, especially if their family and friends are not pet lovers. Spouses, children, co-workers, and parents who don't share an emotional link with animals will often dismiss pet grief as an actual bereavement process.
Shameful Pet Loss
People who grieve the loss of an animal can feel sad and lost, and without support from their environment, these same people cry and scream in secrecy as they process their pain. Some people will be subject to expressions such as Don't cry, it's just a cat, Why don't you just get another dog, or my favourite You should be happy, you can now do what you want, when you want. Certain people are so ashamed of their emotions, they hide how they actually feel.
There's no shame in feeling isolation, loss, sadness, confusion, anger, or uncertainty when you grieve the loss of a beloved pet. Each person has a right to process difficult emotions and should feel comfortable to ask for support, especially from family and friends. So, how do we create empathy where there's very little to none? How can a person accept your pain as real and support you through the grieving process? If colleagues don't believe there's an emotional connection, how can they address the sadness you feel? Unfortunately, the answer is it's very difficult, not to say impossible, till they have felt an emotional connection themselves.
Where to Turn
Pet loss is as real as it gets and if you feel alone, sad, or confused here are a few tips.
1. Bereavement is OK. You're allowed to be sad and angry.
2. Grief comes in many shapes and forms.
3. There is no norm when it comes to rituals associated with pet loss.
4. Make sure you say goodbye any way you feel appropriate.
5. If you have other pets, make sure you're aware of their emotional state.
6. Wait till you've processed your emotions before you get another companion.
7. When ready, get a different breed of pet, it helps with closure.
Many of our clients have turned to us for help when they lost their companion; as such, we strongly encourage trainers and behaviour specialists to have a list of resources handy for these difficult times. Remember, people need to talk about their pets and feel they have been heard. Finally, if everybody could accept that loosing an animal is in fact painful, we would become a better society, because acceptance is the first step towards healing emotions.
Pet Loss Canada is a web site where you will find the following links:
- Goodbye and Beyond: A Workbook For Those Enduring the Loss of a Companion Animal pdf booklet
- When Your Pet Has Died - Alan Wolfelt
- You will always be a part of me - Timothy O’Brien - www.petlossgriefguide.com
- Is It Time to Say Goodbye - Timothy O’Brien - www.petlossgriefguide.com
- Pet Loss and Human Emotion - Cheri Barton Ross & Jane Sorenson
- When Your Pet Dies - Christine Adamec
- Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of a Pet - M. Anderson
- Grieving the Death of a Pet - Betty J. Carmack
- The Human-Animal Bond and Grief - Laurel S. Lagoni
- Diary of a Very Special Love - Martin S. Kosins
- Good-Bye My Friend: Grieving the Loss of a Pet - Herb & Mary Montgomery
- A Snowflake in My Hand - Samantha Mooney
- Animals Make Us Human - Temple Grandin
- Resilience - Elizabeth Edwards (NB: Paperback is written to current time)
I'm often asked how did I merge passion and profession. Although there's no one answer to this question, there's one guiding principal which governs any professional opportunity, it's called choice. You must first decide to make something happen.
As some of you may already know, I'm a passionate person filled with ambition and an endless drive to make things happen. I try not to force things, for if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. That being said, there's a fine line between choosing to do something and trying to do something. When we try, we fear. We fear success, failure, loss of self, loss of money, loss of respect. The list is long. When we choose, we love. We love ourselves enough to decide what's best for us.
I chose a long time ago to be a behaviour consultant and I've tried many times to rely solely on my profession as my single source of revenue. It's been an interesting and sometimes difficult journey, but never have I regretted the choice. Neither should you. I believe you can decide to try something which doesn't necessarily define your choice, as long as the choice remains clear in your head. My students and clients know As long as what you want is clear in your head, it will be clear for the rest of us, including your dog.
When I made the choice to exert my profession full time, I never looked back. Obviously, as with any business, stress and insecurities can and do creep up and point their ugly little heads, but then something happens, a client with a dog I've helped shows-up to give thanks and feedback on the situation. Those moments are what we all strive for. That specific reinforcement moment and the satisfaction of a job well done are what drive us.
I was, and still am, extremely fortunate to have wonderful friends around to guide me when I need to make choices. That being said, only you have the power to decide, to make the transition. You have to want to make it happen and take a chance. Yes, you might fail, but you might also succeed, and to me, that is worth a try. Regardless of the outcome, you will grow as a person.
There are no endeavours void of risks, just like every ending spawns a new beginning. I've never taken for granted the opportunities I've been presented with. I remain grateful for all the people I've met along the way and helped me establish the Dogue Shop as a leader in our field.
How did I decide to merge passion and profession? The answer is simple, I chose too. My best friend use to say "If you can make it happen, happened". He meant to say, if you believe in something so hard you're willing to try everything you can to make it happen, then the choice has already been made. He was right. It happened.
I normally don't talk about my personal life because I try to keep a professional profile. That being said, today I want to share of myself because of the countless number of times people have told me how lucky I am to do what I love for a living. I decided to write this piece to explain that life is not about luck, it's about opportunities. With this article, I wish to reveal who I am and why my passion of the human-animal relationship drives me.
When I was a very young child, I asked my father for a dog. Curious, he inquired what type of dog I wanted. My answer is as clear today as it was back then. I told him, with all the conviction I could muster, I wanted a big dog. Not long after, I received my first Great Dane puppy, and at seven, I got a second one. My father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember I told him I wanted to be a doctor. He asked You want to be a veterinarian? I corrected him and said No, I want to be like Dr. Doolittle. At a very young age, I knew I wanted to speak with animals in order to help them.
Later in Life
When I was in college, I was diagnosed with a learning disability. This event changed my life. Dyslexia wasn't a negative problem, quite the contrary. I finally realised I wasn't dumb. I was told I was a non-linear thinker who reads and understands concepts in pictures, not words. I was also told I had an eidetic memory which would come in handy. The diagnosis made so much sense to me. Why am I telling you this? Because I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of twenty-two.
Following the diagnosis, I was trained by a very wonderful woman named Rose who loved to Think Outside the Box. Her plan? Teach me word recognition. In essence, she would teach me to use one part of my brain to train the other part. My photographic memory would serve as a word recognition dictionary. Let me explain. When I write or read, I see the word tje but through word association, I learned that when I see tje, the real word should be spelled the. The program worked well, and my skills as a reader and writer improved dramatically. New words and a few select older words still pose a challenge, but overall, I can read and write at university level.
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
What does this have to do with dogs? Dyslexics tend to use one subject matter to interpret their understanding of the world. Without knowing it, I had picked dog behaviour. Dog language, because of it's non-verbal attributes, became my interpretative strategy. Today, when faced with a new idea, concept, problem, or information, I convert it to dog behaviour. If I can make sense of it in another visual form, I understand it immediately and my super memory helps me remember the information.
For me, canine behaviour isn't just a passion, it's a way of understanding life. It's my window into a world that often doesn't make any sense to me. Dogs allow me to communicate and express the millions of pictures that form in my head all at once. They're the reason I write these articles for you. Dogs have become my God, for they have taught me so much about life and my role in it. I think without animals by my side, I would have taken a very different path.
I've had a wonderfully amazing life filled with events I've created for myself. I'm not lucky, I'm determined. I work twice as hard as the average person to write this blog, but I do it because I believe if we share, we grow. I'm a passionate person, that's true, but most of all, I'm someone who enjoys seeing you: the reader, the client, the friend, the family, think and smile about the topic of my life that is canine behaviour.
If you think you, or someone you know, might be dyslexic, please seek information and help.