Saturday, February 13, 2010

Communication is key

   My wife informed me it was time to get a new cell phone, after my old phone dialed someone in Italy and I had 15-minute conversation with them. It was nice to communicate with someone half a world away.
   Communication is key to everyone and everything on the planet. With all the new high-tech, whiz-bang gizmos out there you might think it would be easier to communicate or interact with your fellow man. But after thinking about it for a moment I have come to the conclusion that is simply not the case.
    Some might say we are communicating too much. There have been laws enacted to stop the use of cell phones while driving, and other laws have been written to stop texting in certain places.
   Technology offers many great things, but I think communication is a casualty. If we communicated better, and face to face, Dr. Phil might not be the superstar he has become. Everything on his show revolves around one thing — communication.
   Sure, our phones make it possible to communicate, but do they help us communicate better, or are cell phones actually limiting our communication?
   We communicate everyday in many ways, some verbal, others not, but as our interaction becomes less, so does the civility of our society.
   I let an 18 wheeler pull in front of me on a congested stretch of highway the other day. He was having a hard time getting over because no one would let him in, so his blinker just blinked. He was trying to communicate but no one was listening. I flashed my headlights at the trucker, and he guided his truck into my lane, quickly blinking his tail lights as a thank you. Communication sans cell phone.
   Of course, the guy behind me communicated his displeasure with my driving kindness and let me know by honking his horn.
   Go to any restaurant and look around the dining room. Not too long ago you would probably see people at the various tables holding a conversation with each other. Now, you may see one person texting, one talking on the phone, and maybe another surfing on a laptop. Are they communicating? Not with each other.
   In that same restaurant, those same diners probably communicate more with the waiter than with each other. They gave their order. Where the patrons place their glass communicates a desire for more beverage, where the plates gets moved signals they are finished with their meal and even where the bill is placed with a credit card for payment signals the diners are ready to leave.
   Some studies have shown 90 percent of our communication with others is nonverbal. And, no, texting does not count.
   Those with pets will undoubtedly say they can communicate with their pets without saying a word. A certain body movement, action or facial expression is enough to communicate your thoughts to your pet.
   Pets don’t generally have phones, so they rely on communication skills, and quite often behavior problems are a result of our lack of communication with our pets. Our pets “read” us by what we are saying, without saying a word.
   Don’t believe me? Try these experiments with your dog: Have your dog sit and stay, walk a few feet away, turn around and look at him or her. Next smile widely and hold your arms out like your excited — but don’t say a word. I’m sure your dog will at least wag his or her tail. Next, if your dog is doing something you don’t approve of, fold your arms, or point at him or her and give a scowl. Your dog will probably respond with something that humans would say looks like guilt, but in reality it’s just the dog reading what you are saying and trying to placate you.
   In agility and disc dog, people use body language to tell their dogs what they want done. Want your dog to go left? motion with your arm and turn left. Want your dog to go right? Do the same to the right. Want your dog to stop? Stop. Many times at dog sport competitions, I see handlers “pull” their dogs off an obstacle early then get upset because the dog didn’t make the necessary contacts. In reality, the dog was communicating better than the person, because he or she was reading what the person was doing and thereby doing  his or her part.
   One last thing to think about regarding communication — the number one cause for loneliness is a lack of communication, or interaction, with other people. Loneliness becomes amplified during the holiday season, as thoughts of  the perfect setup makes people realize they really aren’t communicating, or have no one to communicate with.
   Not long ago, we received a letter at the paper about a woman whose only wish for Christmas was to have someone to talk too for a few hours.
   Seeing the smile broaden across her face and watching her countenance brighten as we sat, having a cup of tea and talking — communicating — about nothing in particular was all the communication I needed. The newest phone with all the apps in the world couldn’t match that.

Blake Ovard hopes the world will slow down and stop trying to do everything right now. He communicates with his dogs and sometimes with inanimate objects with a few strange looks and can be reached via e-mail at

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Socializing, good for dogs and people

   Working with the shelter dog I drew for the Extreme Mutt Makeover, Mandy, made me think, in great detail, about a number of things that are normally just passing thoughts.
   I only had six weeks to work with Mandy, and so everything was more.
   More training sessions, more treats and more time bonding. This was done trying to get her to be the best dog she could be so that after the competition, she would have the best shot possible at getting the perfect home for her — and she will give her new people a lifetime of devotion and love.
   Part of her training involved taking her for walks and to various social gatherings so that she became socialized.
   It was obvious from day one that she enjoyed the company of people, so socialization was something that just needed to be kept up.
   While searching for a place bigger than my backyard to let her stretch her legs and run free, I discovered there is not a local place in my town where people with their dogs can go — at least they can’t go with their dogs off-leash.
   We piled into the car several times during training and headed to Fort Worth and the great dog park there, Ft. Woof.
   What a great opportunity we are missing out on in my town by not having our own version of the gathering place for canines.
   And, the Ft. Woof dog park not just a gathering place for dogs. Many people bring their canine buddies to the park in order to have conversations with other animal lovers. Some folks come out and don’t even own a pooch — they just like the company.
   While up that direction, we typically stop for a drink or a bite to eat and gas, if we need it. Those are dollars I would rather spend locally, but find myself in need out of town, only because I must go out of town in order to take part in an activity that is not offered locally.
   A local park would benefit the community socially and economically. Perhaps it is something that should be considered by city leaders.
   Dog parks are something officials typically overlook because they can't see the immediate benefit of one. What they typically see is that the dog park will cost money rather than bring money into the city. They don't understand people with dogs buy goods and services and that money could be leaving their town if dog owners are forced to go to a neighboring community to take part in having fun with their dog.
   I recently mentioned I would be trying various products and telling you if they are worth your hard-earned paychecks, and I have something to report.
   The Mosquito Magnet is a contraption that supposes to attract the little buggers with a mix of propane and a chemical attractant.
   I hooked one outside by my pool a couple of weeks ago, and I can honestly say it has made a difference. It is a bit pricey, running a little over $300, but being able to sit out in the evening without getting bit is worth 10 times that amount. I’m sure my neighbors are enjoying the relief from mosquitoes as well, because it is said to clear about an acre of land from the pests.
   I just hope mosquitoes never get organized and build a mosquito park.

Blake Ovard is a professional dog trainer and a top-three finalist in the Extreme Mutt Makeover. He can be reached via e-mail at when he is not at the dog park or barking up a tree.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pulling down the house

  There we sat on the coffee shop patio, me enjoying the warm cup of java in my hands and Scoop laying next to me enjoying a bone. The sun was shining, the temperature was a near perfect 78 degrees and I thought I could almost hear blue birds starting to sing a Disney tune.
   I looked up and saw a woman trying to make her way down the street, about a block away, with what appeared to be a small tornado on the end of a string. The tornado darted this way and that, pulled forward and back, darted between the woman's legs and looped around as if trying to tie her up.
   Scoop stopped chewing his bone, observed the same commotion I was taking in and looked up at me questioningly. I'm not sure if he was trying to ask if we should help the woman with tornado on a string, if I could believe what I was seeing or if he could have extra dog treats for putting up with me and not acting that way.
   While alternating between the sidewalk, the curb and the edge of the street, among cries of, "no," "stop," "Rufus please," and "come here," the pair made their way toward the coffee shop — the woman holding the leash in both hands so that it couldn't get away from her. Who knows what damage a four-pound tornado could do when left to its own devices on a busy street?
   Scoop had become disinterested, having seen this many times before, and went back to chewing his bone. I pretended to read the magazine in front of me so that I would not be tempted to offer unsolicited advice.
   "Rufus, no," I heard and looked up from my magazine to see the pomeranian tugging his way toward Scoop and his bone.
   I leaned forward and put my hand into the potential path and wiggled my fingers. The cute ball of fur took the bait and diverted his attention from my dog and his bone to my hand, licking my fingers and wagging his whole body. I told the small dog what a good boy he was and scratched under his chin, then told the woman how cute the orange-colored fluffball was.
   Her shoulders dropped and she explained she had rescued him from someone selling puppies on the street corner, and that the pomeranian was only about 16 weeks old. She also said she was at her wits end because he didn't know anything, including how to walk on a leash. The dog not responding to her was driving her crazy and she was afraid she was not going to be able to keep him.
   It was obvious I was not going to be able to ignore the problem, so I pulled out one of my cards and handed it to her. Then I asked if I could pick her dog up, so I could pet him while I passed on a few tips to her.
   So many times people get a dog, or puppy, and expect it to know what the new person wants without the benefit of being able to speak the native tongue of the person, ask questions or experience new things. Dogs experience things differently than people, and sometimes get excited at new surroundings. Like a human child, dogs and puppies need boundaries set and reinforced.
  If a dog pulls, it's because he or she wants to go in a particular direction and is putting what he or she wants to do ahead of what the person wants to do. Like a child, it is up to the adult to provide instruction, boundaries and direction.
   So, I asked why it was that she let the small dog pull her down the street, when it is obvious that with the size difference, she could stand her ground and cause the dog to pay attention to her and what direction she wanted to go. If you want to go the same direction, great, but if the dog decides he or she is going to pull, you can just stop, or you might need to change your mind and go the opposite direction — if only for a few steps before changing your mind and going the original direction.
   It won't take long before the dog learns to pay attention to what the person is doing and want to stay with you. You don't need any special collars, equipment or super human strength, just stop and hold the leash firm. When the dog gets to the end of the lead, he or she will stop and most likely come back to you to find out what the problem is.
   The woman took a coffee to go and the scene as she headed back up the street was a completely different one than only a few minutes earlier. She would stop when Rufus got in front of her. Rufus would come back to her. Away they walked until she stopped again a few more times.
   The barista asked if that works on any dog, no matter how big it is.
   "It does as long as they were born with more than two legs and a tail," I said, and sipped my coffee.

Blake Ovard is a professional dog trainer and a top-three finalist in the Extreme Mutt Makeover. He can be reached via e-mail at

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Change in the air

   I know many of you tune in to see what is going on with some of the training I'm doing, what my dogs are up to or — hopefully — to get a chuckle. Today's entry is somewhat of a departure from my normal blog post, but I think the topic is something many people may identify with.
   This column is the most recent of my newspaper columns, and deals with the more serious topic of politics — which some may say has no seriousness in it, just a bunch of would-be comedians trying to act serious and pretend they have common sense. I could name names on that front, but will leave that for another day.
   So, without further ado, here is my current column, Change is in the Air. Please let me know what you think.
   Recently, President Barack Obama gave the first State of the Union Address of his presidency. In that address, he mentioned he was voted into office because voters believed he would change the way this country does business.
   Whether you agree with the president’s position on the various issues he has championed, one thing does stand true, he is making good on his campaign promises of change.
   For the first time in history, the federal government has actively stepped in and has taken ownership of big companies in the private sector and fired the CEO of one of them, General Motors. I never knew it was within the scope of presidential powers to make such a sweeping move, but it has now been done.
   Governmental sights have been set on insurance companies and banks in recent months, while in their periphery lies newspapers. I need not tell you what a state-run newspaper might look like, for examples lie in other countries like Russia and China.
   Yes, change is in the air in Washington, but it may not be the type of change many voters thought they would be getting.
   Those voters, it seems, have started sending signals to Washington and to state capitals that change may not only originate in those governmental bodies. The change that may be coming may not be what the president had in mind during his speech.
   Two recent gubernatorial contests saw GOP victories in long-held Democratic seats and the recent senatorial victory for Republican Scott Brown, in Massachusetts ­— a state with almost 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans­ — stunned many in the national media.
   Some may blame those victories on the TEA party and 912 movements, but I think it goes deeper than that.
   Here in our area, incumbent candidates from both parties are fighting for their seats in a way they haven’t had to before. Voter apathy seems to have dissipated from the last few election cycles and a renewed interest in the Constitution and how we, the governed, are governed.
   This is evident on the state level as well, with what many thought would be a two-horse race for the Republican nomination for governor turning into a three-candidate gallop.
   Rick Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, has been challenged by popular U.S. Sen. Kay Baily Hutchinson. Both are being challenged by Wharton native and nurse Debra Medina.
Until the gubernatorial debates — the most recent taking place last Friday night — Medina trailed far behind the two seasoned politicians.
   Then a funny thing happened after the first debate — Medina surged in the polls to capturing almost 15 percent of the vote among potential voters. And, Medina took her opponents to task in the second debate Friday in a performance that will undoubtedly see her climb higher in the poles.
   What makes her popular among potential Texas voters? It could be that she isn’t a career politician. It could be that she could be anyone’s next door neighbor. It could be that she is seen to have some ideas to fix what many consider to be broken, instead of offering more of the same, and politics as usual. It could be that during the debates she seemed to have a firm grasp of the issues and articulated her stance while the two front runners seemed to be consumed with getting shots in on each other.
   Medina has made many appearances at TEA party rallies and has gathered grass-roots support at those meetings. With the debates, she has brought her pro-gun ownership, pro-property rights, pro-life, anti-big government message to most potential voters whom she may not have been able to reach without the debates.
   Of course on the Democratic side of the ticket, there will be a battle between former Houston Mayor Bill White and Farouk Shami, and whoever wins the Republican nomination will face the winner of that contest. But , most agree, the battle with all the fireworks is on the Republican side.
   It will be interesting to see how that race, and others, plays out.
   Yes, change is in the air. It starts locally, grows at the state level and continues to the national level. Change will be brought about and, as always, the voters have the biggest say in how that change will take place.

Blake Ovard is a professional dog trainer and a former managing editor for a group of seven newspapers. He can be reached via e-mail at