Thursday, April 7, 2011


MAXMOM here...

  A soaking, rainy day. 
It was the perfect opportunity for a private practice session, on stage (without the cast), for Toby's debut as 'Sandy' in the musical 'ANNIE' which is only about 6 weeks away.

We'd planned to meet up with Shannon - our McKaynine chief instructor and the owner of
here in Johannesburg, South Africa.
She is an incredible trainer and qualified animal wrangler, and it is a great privilege to be able to work (and learn) from her.
Thank you so much, Shannon!

 Toby barked at the motorbikes, as we travelled along Beyers Naude drive, towards the campus of the University of Johannesburg and its beautiful theatre. He is very perturbed by motorbike riders, especially ones who wear yellow, reflective jackets. At his age (nine months), all sorts of little insecurities generaly start to make their appearance.  In Toby's case, motorbikes are just one of them, and they set off little barks of insecurity.

As usual, he has his 'potty' call on our arrival in the carpark. 
There I was, with my collection of little black packets, picking up his 'bits', while he looked on, enthusiastically wagging his tail. 
Oh what it is to be a dog-mom!

We took a short walk around the grounds before we met up with Shannon at the theatre. At the moment, Toby is also nervous of the large, concrete slabs on the walkways.  

Many of them are loose and they wobble when we walk over them.  It's going to take some time to help him over this little fear of his too.

Once indoors, he's always more relaxed and always happy to meet new people.
(Although we are still working on curtailing his exhuberance)
(Shannon working with Toby in the corridors of the theatre)

I continue to marvel at the beautiful theatre with its large auditorium. 
(Toby on the stage of the UJ Theatre)
The floor of the stage is very nice too.  It's a bit slippery, but this may well be a blessing in disguise, because it slows down my energetic pooch. 

We were able to practice his 'send away' command, as well as a few bits and pieces from his other scenes.  Toby loves the stage and he loves working indoors.  His scenes are coming along very nicely and we should be more than ready by the time the curtain goes up.
(Practicing the 'away' command)
By the way, the vertical 'stripes' in the background are the various ropes and pulleys for the stage props - could be quite a 'dangerous' area for a dog...

Shannon helped introduce him to one of the 'trolleys' with its loud wheels. (This is for the final scene, where "Sandy" will be brought onto stage in his crate and
'given to Annie as a Christmas present')

(Shannon introducing Toby to a trolley)


After rehearsing with Toby, Shannon spent a while chatting to me.

Our discussion prompted a ...
(For me, personally!)

(Have you ever had one of those?)

You see, over the past 11 years, I have come to realise that:

Training a dog is a journey in personal growth!

When we nurture our own children, we have to be sensitive to our own parenting style. At times, we have to adapt our styles, if we are to coax our children in a direction that will maximise their own growth and potential. We have to, on occasions, step out of our comfort zones and allow them to make their own mistakes in life.  It is these mistakes that give them the knowledge towards the pathways of success.

 Similarly, in order to train Toby successfully, I need to be sensitive and understanding about my own, personal quirks, body language, training style and emotional space.
For example, I have to admit and accept that I am a controller.  I have to admit that I am a person who needs to be organised, but I am a bad delegator. I have to realise that I prefer working with a degree of predictability around me.
This is!
It is for this reason, that I have always tried to train in 'predictable' behaiour in my dogs.
  Predictable dogs serve to enhance my own comfort levels.

However, there is an element of irony in all this:

Your see, training towards predictability may, indeed, be promoting unpredictability.

Why do I say this?
As with my children, if I had been too controlling, then I would have restricted their ability to discover themselves and to find their own special talents.
Since Toby is in my company every moment of the day, I have fallen into the habit of giving him continuous, sometimes subconscious, commands and cues.  Admittedly, he responds beautifully, but I have to understand that he is now relying totally on my instruction... for everything! 
Some of my readers might see this as a good thing, but where does it leave Toby?
What does he do and how will he react when I am not around?


I need to change a bit!...
I need to allow Toby a little more space!...
I need to allow him the opportunity to feel uncertain...
and then to choose...for himself!

In order for the two of us to ultimately be a good team, we have to learn to trust each other.  I have to build his self-confidence and to somehow communicate to him that I trust his little choices.
It's time to make a training mindshift.

And its also time to step outside my own training comfort zone...

This beautiful dog of mine, is still a package to be unravelled...


WFT Nobby said...

Hi MaxMom
Very interesting post. Toby looks very comfortable on stage, I must say. Born to be a star!
As for the personal growth thing - yet another interesting aspect of dog ownership. I wonder if people who by nature are to some degree 'controllers' gravitate towards dogs like retrievers that are known to be biddable. I'm not sure what it says about me that I secretly rather enjoyed the fact that Bertie was by far the feistiest dog in puppy class and caused all sort of chaos, and that Hamish made it very clear early on that he was not interested in obeying commands he saw as pointless. (My mother always said of me, in exasperated tones, that "you can't tell her anything" i.e. from a very early age I would always query things and not just accept what I was being told).
If my dogs have taught me anything it is a patience, especially in dealing with Hamish when he was old and slow.
Hmmm, maybe one day Bertie will applying his scientific mind to a study of this whole issue!
Meanwhile, continue having fun with Toby, and enjoying your journey.
PS I guess I will not be your only reader who is unsurprised to learn that your instinct is for order and control. No doubt we all give away more on our blog posts than we realise....

STELLA and RORY from Down Under said...

Hi Maxmom, I agree with what you say. Having 5 children it is sometimes hard to let them 'spread their wings' but ultimately what we want is happy, independent children who can make their way in the world and be happy and successful in their endeavours. Having dogs is similar but I suppose we must remember they aren't children, but dogs with their own different needs. One thing that looks easy to spot is how much fun Toby will have in 'Annie'. Take care all, no worries, love Carol.

Maggie Mae and Max said...

Hello dere MaxMom,

You is a wunderful teacher and I learn somethin' new everytime I come and visit you! :)

Woofs and Licks,
Maggie Mae

Chester said...

Greetings from Pennsylvania! I love hearing your insights and have to agree. Chester, being a very strong-willed and intelligent dog has taught me more about myself than I ever imagined I could learn about myself or especially that a dog could teach me. I can relate to your liking things in order and being in control. I know training him and paying attention to my own behaviors has been one of the most fun and coolest adventures I've ever been on.

I know Toby will do just fine-and the audience is going to fall in love with him. He is gorgeous!

Chester's Mom ;0-)

Scout and Freyja said...

Training, learning, teaching - all go hand in hand. I've found over the years that each of my dogs were so different, even if from the same breed. I've also learned that they teach me just as much as I teach them.

Toby is growing into such a handsome young man. My gosh, he's just gorgeous!

Two French Bulldogs said...

Toby that picture of you on stage is absolutely beautiful. This movie stardom is so exciting! We love following you along on this journey. By the way who doesn't scream at motor bikes?
Benny & Lily

houndstooth said...

I know exactly what you mean! It is a lifelong journey we take with our dogs, and it definitely tempers us and causes us to grow. I realized this mostly after our second Greyhound, Hawk, had passed away. There were so many important lessons that I learned from him as we faced challenges together!

Jake of Florida said...

What a thoughtful and insightful post! Our wirey guys are so independent-minded in some instances that I've stopped trying to control all their behavior. Actually, when they do consistently do what we've trained them to do, I'm even a bit surprised and grateful. What does that say about me? I need more time to think about it because as usual I'm project oriented. But I shall ponder (much like our favorite PONderer).

xxxx Joan

Golden Samantha said...

Your insights are sharp and incredibly honest - the depth of your wisdom should certainly help in the ongoing growth of both you and Toby! He is doing such a great job on his part in "Annie" - we're so proud of you for taking on such a project! He looks very calm on the stage - I think all puppies around 9 months or so (as you say) demonstrate some inner fears -
Avalon still has some issues about certain things. I'm sure, with time, that they'll disappear! Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.
Miche and the Girls

Sierra Rose said...

Great post! Indeed an incredible journey for all. What a great opportunity for both of you! The theatre looks amazing!

Sweet hugs,
Sierra Rose

Suka said...

Such an insightful and honest post. Pets seem to magnify our personality traits, both negative and positive. And it is great that you are so open to receiving the messages and willing to bend yourself to help Toby grow into his own. It is hard to change habits, so good luck!

Six weeks?! Time flies! It is great to read how Toby is moving along so nicely. He looks so beautiful on stage and he seems to be so much more confident. Very exciting reading about his continued progress in the play!

KrisAnne and Suka

~Kim at Golden Pines~ said...

Hi Caryl! I enjoyed this post because it really hits home in finding the balance in letting our pups learn to be themselves and knowing what we expect of them too. Our boy Josh is now being trusted to be off lead on the outside of the fence. He has a great time and really loves it, but when his curiosity gets the better of him and he decides to go to far and doesn't come back when called, he knows the consequence is that he is simply and quietly (and without scolding) put back on a leash~~When he does as he's asked, it's lots and lots of praise and he gets to continue to enjoy his freedom--I think for Josh, a good balance.

Angel Ginger Jasper said...

I think that the training goes both ways and you will grow together. It will be a magical journey for sure. Hugs GJ x

Molly the Airedale said...

What a wonderful post! Toby is so lucky to have you, MaxMom.
He also looks like a natural up on that UJ Theatre stage!

Love ya lots
Maggie and Mitch

The Life of Riley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Sounds like your doing a bang up job Toby, way to go! Keep up the good work!

Blu here:

Well Caryl you are a Good Girl! Really, I am happy that the lightbulb went off for you. When I first began training with Tessa my lightbulb went off too. Tess was better than I thought once I relaxed and let her think on her own. She really did amaze me. Just relax and watch what wonders Toby will come up with!

Tessa and Blu too

sprinkles said...

The important thing is that you recognize this and now have the opportunity to change!

My parents have a fairly youngish beagle. My mom is incredibly impatient with him. Whenever I hear her getting annoyed with him over the littlest things, it brings back memories from my childhood because that's how she was with my brothers and me. And it occured to me that she probably doesn't even realize she's like that.

Unknown said...

Toby sounds like he is doing wonderfully! And I think you are a wonderful owner & trainer. I really empathised with your last note about being self-aware - like you, I'm also a terrible "controller" and like everything around me to be predictable. And so I have taught Honey a LOT of commands and have practised with her lots so that she is generally very obedient & reliable - I'm sure, as you say, as much as anything to promote my own comfort levels! So thank you for the reminder to take a step back sometimes and let things go.

I do try very hard to let Honey have some "dog time" regularly - that is why I'm so keen for her to find playmates and roll in stinkt stuff and to take her to places where she is allowed off-leash and can just sniff & explore and "be a dog" - because when she is ON leash, our rules about behaviour are very strict and I can't afford to bend them just for her to enjoy abit of freedom (have to be consistent!) so I like her to have off-leash time where she can do her own thing.

That's why I've found it so frustrating since our move to Australia because it is so much harder to find places to let Honey have freedom - which means she gets so much less chance to be herself.

And I have to admit that because of our bad experiences with other dogs in the past and Honey being attacked - and then blamed! - I am very uptight when we meet other dogs and monitor all interactions heavily. So maybe you're right and I need to learn to let go there a bit too and let Honey make her own decisions a bit when interacting with other dogs...I'm always giving her commands to control her behaviour, worried that she'll antagonise them - coz so many of them get fear aggressive with her - but maybe I need to trust her to do the right thing herself.


KT and Easton said...

Beautifully said. Every dog teaches me how to lead them and in return, they give me a little bit of their heart to fill this unworthy vessel. There is nothing like it on this earth.

Toby is such a handsome boy who tries so hard for his Mum. We're falling in love again !!!!!!!!!

Becky Andrews said...

Wow. Super exciting to be in Annie, Toby.

Berts Blog said...

Hey Toby....That is so cool. now I know a STAR. I wish I could come to Africa and see you in the play. I guess I'll have to settle for more pictures.

I was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I used your picture on stage, on my blog Sunday.

I would love to tell my friends about you. I feel special cause I have friends all over the world.

Africa is a favorite place of my Vickies family. Her brother and nephew come to Africa at least once a year.

Anyway, will you let me know if it is ok to use your picture and tell my friends.

Thanks and "Break a Leg"
(Not really, Vickie just says that is what you say to the stars before they go on stage. It is supposed to mean good luck, but it sounds kinda like a curse if you ask me. So in dog talk.....Have yourself a great time.)

Mrs. JP said...

That was a light bulb moment! It is the ultimate gift to give the people/pets around you the permission to be themselves.
I know that you and Toby are a good team and you have to trust that as well.
blessings to you all in SA from the holler...

Gail Wilson said...

Best of luck on your acting career!!!
Our new Maggie has taught me that not all dogs are alike. Mistaya was so earger and ready to clicker train but Maggie gets so easily distracted!! So I am doing totally different training approach for her. She is a fox terrier type so other things seem much more important to her. Mistaya has me spoiled with her total desire to please me all the time.
Quite a challenge for us humans to undertand all these precious creatures.
M.O.M. Gail

Kari said...

A brave and honest post. I think I was a over controlled human and in some ways am still wondering about parts of "me" that might have been. That's why I think the only things I ask of my pets is that they be happy ,eliminate in the proper place and not be obnoxious to other people or pets.

Milo and Alfie Marshall said...

We are very proud of Toby. And don't worry yoo are an excellent dog-mom. Toby and his siblings are very lucky!

KB said...

Your lightbulb moment was really quite profound. I am the same way - a controller. But, I've very gradually learned to let my dogs have the freedom to make choices and trust them. In fact, it was a vet who pushed me to do this when I was emotionally recovering from having my beloved dog murdered about 20 years ago (it was a very long recovery because it was such a violent event). After that, I wanted to control every last little action of my dogs, to keep them "safe". A vet pointed out that, ultimately, I needed to learn to live with the uncertainty of the world to let my dogs be as happy as possible. I'm still not very good at "letting go" of control - but I try.

So, I truly understand your lightbulb moment!