Two Tantalizing Tingles I Took Home from APDT* 2010

I want more! That’s how I felt at the close of the best APDT (Awesome Phenomenal Dog Training) Conference ever. Most multi-day confabs leave me feeling satiated. But APDT was different. It whetted my appetite for more, which explains why I’m nearly two weeks late in sharing some highlights with you.

Suzanne Clothier is doing a three-day workshop on fearful and reactive dogs next week-end. (October 30) I’ll pick you up at the Albany airport and we can go together,” Debbie Jacobs (fearfuldogs.com) suggested to me on Monday, the day after the conference. I had returned home from Atlanta in the wee hours of that Monday morning. That’s nuts! I thought. So soon. So expensive. So fast.

I had participated in the Training Chops workshop Suzanne facilitated on Saturday afternoon with Pia Silvani and Nancy Wilson, and then attended her (Suzanne’s) presentation on Treat and Retreat on Sunday morning, the last day of APDT. To say I was primed for more is to ask ball-batty Sadie, after I’ve chucked the ball for her twice, “Do you want me to throw it for you again?” So off to Albany I flew a week ago Friday to meet Debbie and enjoy another three days with her and Suzanne Clothier. Awesome!

For now, though, let’s get back to APDT and two lingering ideas that continue to tickle my brain. They are not, of course, the only food for thought I brought home, not by a long shot. But I like them because they offer novel ways to see accustomed ideas. It’s like looking out on a familiar landscape from an adjacent hilltop rather than through my kitchen window, the way I usually see it.

“Our dogs live in a perceptual reality that compared to ours is paranormal.” Dr. Myrna Milani

Dr. Milani’s seed of an idea landed on fertile soil tilled the previous day by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog. In her keynote address she eloquently walked us through the perceptual world of our dogs, all the while encouraging us to deeply reflect on their unique experience.

For example, Dr. Horowitz explained:

To a dog the world is smelly, but not alluring or foul. Their world is a topography of odor. Dogs have 300 million cells for scenting. We have 5 million. Dogs can detect hormones. They can smell fear, happiness, and delight. 

To a dog the world runs at a different rate. Dogs smell first. Smells don’t arrive at the same speed as light. Smells ebb and flow. Our dog keeps attending to the world by sniffing because the sniffed world changes as it’s being sniffed. Anything exists only as it gives off smells. Our dog’s ‘present’ is constantly shifting. 

Dogs see more flashes every second than we do. A mere glance to a person can be a stare to a dog. They are lunging to the future a half step ahead of us. People learn to ignore sights and sounds, but dogs attend to them. 

Thank you Alexandra and Myrna! I’m watching my Sadie girl with renewed awe and wonder. I love seeing her zig-zag along the trail sniffing the ground, sometimes stopping to study a blade of grass, then pivoting her twitching nose in the air to sort through smells about which I am clueless. She stops and stares momentarily at an image frozen in a flash of time for her, but so fleeting to my eyes that I don’t even perceive it. It’s a truly beautiful thing.

Let’s move onto the second nugget.

“Generalizing from captive unrelated wolves to wolves in the wild is like generalizing about us by studying prison populations.” Dr. Alexandra Horowitz

I laughed out loud when Alexandra said this! And, then I thought, how true.

I can’t wait to say to my dogs-are-like-wolves-because-Cesar-said-so friend: “So let me see if I understand. You think my dog is like a captive wolf and I should interpret her behavior as a clever attempt to out-alpha me, and to respond accordingly by punishing her for insubordination. So I guess that means that I can best understand you by watching Riot in Cell Block 11.”

I’m still digesting all I took away from APDT. It truly was a fabulous experience. I can’t wait for next year’s conference in beautiful San Diego. 

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*Association of Pet Dog Trainers