Clutter Clearing

NPR does this great thing where they make lists of three books in one category for you to read.  The very first one of this series that I ever read was Three Books for the Self-Help Skeptic.  I can’t remember why I read this one because I am usually neither in need of things to read nor a skeptic, but girl, I am sure glad I did!  I have now read The Four Agreements and I’m slowly working my way through Positive Energy, but the book that really changed my life is Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui.

I never paid particular attention to Feng Shui and I am still not sure I could accurately explain it to you, but I am 100% behind the idea of energy in a home and how it makes me feel.  In reading this book, I didn’t feel bad about how much JUNK we had in our house, I felt inspired to do something about it.  The author, Karen Kingston, is really good at stressing that any little bit of clutter clearing that you can do is good and will bring about positive change in your life.  You know that wedding gift[s] that was really ugly, but you kept it because you felt bad giving it away, even though you’re never going to use a bright yellow tea towel that has a picture of bears kissing under your wedding date in curly script?  Donate it.  And once you’ve started clearing that clutter and you realize how good you feel, you probably won’t want to stop.

In our guest room, we still had all the furniture I used when I lived in a studio apartment.  An entire apartment’s worth of furniture in one room.  And I really didn’t like the crowded feeling the room had or the heaviness I felt when I spent time there.  The desk was piled with papers and who knows what else.  The dog slept on the futon.  The cats puked on the carpet, and I didn’t realize it ’til days later because I never used the space [gross].  It was always a frantic clean up whenever we had guests that needed to use the room and I dreaded the day when we would move and have to do something with all that furniture or have a baby* that needed somewhere (not a futon) to sleep.  So I took some advice from Karen Kingston and cleared it out.  Sold the futon, mattress, desk chair and desk.  Donated the old Dell laptop that I wasn’t using to a non-profit who was SO HAPPY to have it.  With the money we made from selling the furniture, we bought a new tall bookshelf and a great air mattress for guests.  I kept a wooden trunk to store the new air mattress in as well as a two-seater couch that I have always loved.  (Even writing this, I cannot believe how much furniture used to be in that room!)  And, y’all, it felt AMAZING.

Plus, now I love being in there.  I like to sit on my tiny couch and read or talk on the phone (Hubs says I do not have a quiet phone voice).  Or use my new folding table [that I can store in the closet] to do crafts.  I do yoga in there.  I use the big open space to play with wand toys with the kitties or cuddle with the pup.  And it’s ready for whatever person might want/need to live in there next.  (Hubs, if you’re reading this, I’m not mentioning a you-know-what again.  See asterisk below).  And that’s the point of clutter clearing:  by removing garbage (stuff, activities, people) from your life, you make room for the really good stuff that’s trying to come in.

*I am somewhat baby crazy lately.  Just go with it.

How to Train Your Human

This weekend brought a big milestone at our house.  Tonks and I took and passed our evaluation to become a registered Pet Partners team through the Delta Society!  Passing was a big deal, not only because it brought the fulfillment of one of my “wishes” from before we got Tonks, but also because we failed the evaluation the first time.  Going through the whole training process to become Pet Partners really highlighted several of the things I’ve learned about dog training:

1.  Use positive reinforcement.  Tonks and I had to drive about 45 minutes to get to training.  Though she wears a seat belt in the car, she was not particularly good at sitting down the whole time, since the view outside the windows is SO EXCITING.  After realizing on the way to our original evaluation (to get into the class) that if she moved around too much, she’d tangle herself up, I got to work training her to sit down.  How, you ask?  LOTS OF TREATS.  Tonks is highly food motivated, so every time we got in the car for a short trip, I fed her treats constantly the second she laid down and stopped immediately if she got up (Hubs was driving on these trips).  Within two short (<10 minute) trips and without giving her any cues or commands, I ended up with a dog that lays down almost immediately upon getting in the car and stays that way until we reach our destination.  We no longer give treats in the car either; all it took was 20 minutes of getting treats while doing something and it’s her favorite thing to do.

2. Combined with positive reinforcement is the use of negative punishment.  Tonks learned that when she stood up in the car, she quit getting treats.  The removal of a reward (food, attention, playtime) is highly effective to extinguish undesirable behaviors.  Tonks also realized in the course of our training that if she paws me while we’re cuddling on the floor, I stop cuddling, so she no longer paws (good for a large-clawed therapy dog)!

3.  Pay attention to your dog!  Therapy work is about supporting your dog as she provides therapy to the client.  You must, therefore, be totally tuned into what your dog needs and how she is feeling at all times.  This principle also works for training.  Most of the time, your dog will give you signals about her stress and energy levels.  When Tonks doesn’t respond to a command that I give her, it is usually for one of three reasons:  she doesn’t understand what I want, she is distracted, or she’s unmotivated due to boredom or lack of good treats.  She (and most dogs, I think) absolutely wants to do what I want the majority of the time.  She wants me to be happy with her, praise her, pet her, and give her treats.  Working from this assumption, it’s possible for her to be the most obedient and sweetest doggie she can be by me tuning into her needs.

4.  Don’t give up.  Training with your dog can be hard and frustrating.  When we first got Tonks, she was NOT GOOD at walking on the leash.  She pulled so much against her collar that I worried she would choke herself.  Once we got help from an awesome trainer on positively reinforcing Tonks when she walked next to us and also advice on using an Easy Walk Harness, walks became fun for everyone.

What each of these things have in common is that it’s often more about you than the dog (or other animal) you’re trying to train.  If you positively reinforce unwanted behaviors or don’t use an adequately motivating reward for desired behaviors, you’ll see huge progress in your dog by merely changing these aspects of your interactions.  Likewise, if you don’t read the signs you’re dog is trying to give you that she’s confused or tired and give up on the session without realizing the role you play, you won’t have nearly as much success as if you were tuned into your dog’s needs.  When we failed our test, I knew it was because I didn’t pay enough attention to Tonks.  During our second try I watched her like a hawk, and we passed!  So basically, it’s about me and Tonks and us as a team (a new Pet Partners team)!

If you’re trying to train an animal and would like more information, check out Sophia Yin and Patricia McConnell, both of whom have great websites and blogs about [mostly] positive reinforcement training.

Highlight Reel

With the NBA Finals coming up and us only owning one television, we have been watching a lot of Sportscenter.  (Not that this is unusual.  We mostly just watch sports, especially during the NFL season, March Madness, and NBA Playoffs, which is about 8-9 months a year.  If anyone knows how to do cable à la carte and just order the sports channels, that’s what we need).

This morning, I remarked to Hubs that the highlights they show on ESPN make the basketball players look totally awesome.  I went on further to say that it would be really great if every time I effed something up, I could watch a highlight reel of myself doing amazing things.  Making an awesome discovery in lab, figuring out the answer to a tough emotional question, fixing a toilet, looking really fantastic, or doing something baller on the Ultimate field.  Maybe I can work on playing my own highlight reel in my mind every time I want to beat myself up about something.

What would be on your highlight reel?