Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dog Training Done Right: Dogs In Harmony teaches the human and the dog

When I first got my Aussie Shepherd puppy, Corben, we had a week of blissful quiet. He was adorable and confused and shy, and still very young. After that first week, though, he realized that everything the light touched was his…and he became a typical crazy puppy. Well, with the exception that he was startling bright. This meant that he was double trouble.

And so Lynn Hyndman entered my life.

Lynn, who is owner and trainer at Dogs In Harmony here in Ottawa, Ontario, came to visit before Corben even arrived. She helped us puppy-proof the house, prepare a crate, and talk about puppy maintenance. By the time his first training day came around and he was being a nutbar, I was honestly convinced I couldn’t handle this whole puppy thing at all. He wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t sit still, wouldn’t stop chewing things, and wouldn’t stop running around.

Lynn came in, pulled out her bag of tricks, and within ten minutes she had that 10 week-old puppy doing perfect ‘sits’. He was housetrained within a week, and stopped chewing non-toy items within a month. She made it look effortless, the way someone else might tie a shoe or chop a carrot—like it was nothing at all. Indeed, compared to some of the small-brained breeds she undoubtedly works with, Corben was likely a treat to teach.

Lynn has been our constant cheerleader and teacher as Corben has met and exceeded all his basic obedience and manners training, and is now well into his specialized training for his ‘day job’. However, Dogs in Harmony does not usually do the specialty work Corben gets for his job; indeed, you can hire Dogs in Harmony for your own dog anytime, at any age.

Lynn is a Professional Dog Trainer and a member of the Canadian Association for Professional Pet Dog Trainers. You may recognize her from her segments on Rogers Daytime, as well. On top of all this, she volunteers her time with various doggie non-profits, and is a Mentor Trainer for the Animal Behaviour College, testing and training novice dog trainers as well. All these credentials aside, what makes Lynn so incredible is her genuine adoration for her field.

Lynn teaching Corben to ignore
birds and squirrels.

Lynn has a natural way of explaining how a dog works, and this is key in dog training because the majority of the education happens to the owner, not the dog. I haven’t found a behaviour yet that Lynn can’t figure out how to retrain. She’s a steadfast professional, never breaking stride even when Corben does the cutest bad things—though we often laugh about them afterwards. Watching her work is like watching a fish swim: it’s as if she was born with a clicker and a leash in her hand. Lynn focuses her practice on positive, rather than punitive, behaviour correction techniques, and the results are proof-positive that you don’t ever have to whack a dog with a newspaper to stop a troublesome habit. Indeed, she gets much better results by not doing such things.

With Lynn’s guidance, Corben has become the most well-behaved dog I have ever known. And thanks to her help, he’s also one of the happiest, well adjusted dogs, too. I feel like I’ve learned how to communicate with my pup in a way that he understands and appreciates. Everyone leaves a training moment feeling accomplished; it’s like my dog and I are a team, one built on mutual respect and patience. I truly wish I’d met her when I adopted my rescued pug many years back, as I understand now how it’s never too late to teach even an old dog a new trick.
Lynn LOVES dogs, and it's apparent in her wonderful
training style.

This is my unsolicited commendation of Dogs in Harmony and Lynn Hyndman’s work. It’s also my very public way of saying thank you to her for all her work, research, and support as I’ve swung from, “Please tell me how to restrain myself from stuffing this puppy in the blender,” to “Okay, this dog is awesome and I can’t wait to see him every morning”. Thank you, Lynn, for your hard work with us. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful you found your calling.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Tips For Painting Large Furniture: My Buffet Hutch


It’s been a while since we DIY’ed anything here on the Girl, Crafted blog, mostly because I’ve been just painting a lot of furniture and that can get a bit dry (no pun intended). But I finished a really large piece this week and I wanted to share how fabulously well it came out. There are some great tips that came to mind while I worked on it, so I’ll share them here.


I have two nightstands, circa 1970, that I did not sand before painting. The result is that their wonderful Cozumel blue paint is slowly chipping off. I know sanding sucks. I know you want to skip right to painting, and I know that lots of paints come with built-in primers now. But you will pay for your impatience with touch-up coats. Save yourself the hassle and do a good job sanding and priming to start with.

I used a mouse sander for most of this job. A mouse sander is really cheap (usually under $20.00) and even an urban-raised city slicker like me can use it. Choose a sandpaper that will rough the surface up without actually damaging it. You can ask your local hardware store clerk for help with this. You really just want to create some ‘tooth’—some texture to the surface.

Priming seems tedious, but I can tell you that on this dark piece of furniture, even with primer, I had to apply 3 or 4 coats of every colour.


Paints come in a range of finishes: eggshell, semi-gloss, high-gloss, etc. The higher the gloss, the better the paint will typically hold up to wiping and use. But the trade-off is that often, the high-gloss paints require more coats to be truly opaque. If this is a problem and you want to use a matte finish paint (for instance, if you grab just the right colour from the mis-tints bin at a discount) be sure to varnish your piece afterwards. There are great water-based varnishes available now.

Also, and this should go without saying: use proper house paint for this kind of work, not craft or artist acrylics. The extra cost will be worth it, and you can find great mis-tints on summer weekends in the hardware store for cheap.


If you’re doing a multi-step piece like this hutch was, be sure to have your drawing or guide picture with you at all times. You do NOT want to paint a section the wrong colour and have to change it afterwards. Chances are, it’ll make that one section look just a tiny bit different in tone or texture.


We did check the weather, and the promised two days of sunshine was a lie. This meant that my hutch got rained on overnight, had to be dried thoroughly, and was dragged by two girls with stick-like arms for the second day where I had to finish it indoors. Be ready for anything if you’re painting outside.


I used a lot of painter’s tape to keep edges smooth and perfect in sections where two colours join up, but it’s not a perfect system. There is usually some minor bleeding around the edges, especially on a three dimensional piece of furniture. Be ready to wait until all the paint is dry and then use a sponge brush or other high-control brush to carefully touch up the bleeding.


This is a step I always forget, except this time my best friend stopped by and caught me before it was too late. Sometimes you can’t get the hardware off—the hinges on the bottom cupboards, for example, called for some strange martian screwdriver we didn’t have—so you’ll have to decide: do you paint that hardware or try to keep it paint-free with tape? We painted the hardware here, but in a pinch I could use a q-tip with some paint thinner later on and clean them up again.


A project this size is going to take time. I watched an entire season of The Mindy Project and a half-season of Scrubs while doing this project. Put the appropriate time aside for your work, otherwise if you’re like me, you’ll get halfway through, have to put your paints away, and then it’ll be months before you find time again to finish it.


This hutch was free, as it was headed to the trash. Yes, it’s a lovely piece of wood, but no one wanted it and the dark colour was wrong in my home. I hear it’s a sin to paint solid wood, but the reality is this piece was going to the junkyard unless I found a way to love it. Now it holds all my ponies and unicorns, plus all my craft fabric and all my in-progress paperwork for my business. Worst case scenario? The paint job could have gone wrong and I would have had to start again. No big deal. Be fearless and try your best!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Following Girl, Crafted All Over the Internet

Some weeks I have a lot of time to blog on here, and some weeks I don't. Some of you crazy people may miss me from time to time. I realized this morning that I don't often tell you where else on the internet you can find me in a day. Here are some good places to start:


Of course, there's Capital Geek Girls. You can find me there pretty frequently. You can also watch our YouTube show, Two Girls Talking. We're currently trying to learn how to use iMovie to do some filming. We'll see if that results in fewer audio and camera issues. But they're kind of hilarious.

You can also find me waxing eloquent about marketing on Bikini Marketing. By day I'm a marketer and social media consultant, plus a part-time college prof in a business program, so have some neato things to say on this topic. And I'm never dry, as you well know.


If you haven't joined the Girl, Crafted Facebook page, I suggest you do. It's a good place to be reminded of posts that come out. After you 'like' the page, hover over the word 'like' until a drop-down menu appears, then click 'get notifications'. That way you'll always see my posts in your newsfeed. It'll be fun, I swear.

There's also my instagram, which I've been really enjoying lately. I post a lot of pictures there, many of my dog. He's cute so you'll like it, I swear.

Pinterest is my other big love. I grab a lot of recipes and inspirational stuff there.

And Twitter...well, I'm not the Tweeter I used to be, because it's gotten a bit boring on Twitter these days, but if you want to chat, I'm always up for some back and forth!

That's a good place to start. If you still can't get enough at me at that point, you may be a stalker.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

How Not To Talk To A Service Dog Team

Some of you diehard readers know that I am in the middle ofthe lengthy yet rewarding process of training my own service dog. Corben is a bit of a social media celebrity—or at least I think so, as I post pictures of him regularly. He is 11 months old now, and acing his training. He’s with me most of the time now, and he’s helping me a lot with my daily life. And he’s ridiculously cute, so he’s kind of like a visual form of Prozac. Win-win, right?

Well, most of the time.

I’ve discovered that when you appear able-bodied and have a service dog with you, you’re going to experience a lot of bizarre behaviour from strangers. I think we can use these examples as a ‘How not to talk to a service dog team’ sort of list. Here it goes.


Yes, I have a service dog. Yes, he’s interesting. No, I don’t always have time to talk to you about him. Last week Corben and I got onto an elevator that a man had just vacated. As the door was closing, I saw this man turn on his heel and shove his hand into the door to keep it open. As the emergency system kicked in and the door slid open, he stared at us and said, “Is that a service dog?” Yes, I said. “Well…can you explain that to me?” I’m late, I said. “Oh. Oh! Okay…” said the man, and finally let the door shut. Yes, this really happened. Yes, I’m unimpressed.

Don't get me wrong, I love talking about dogs and my dog in particular. But if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “He’s your dog? What’s he for?” I’d have enough money to never worry about the cost of Corben’s training ever again. The problem with this question is that you are basically asking me, a stranger, to tell you what my disability is. Sometimes I even get this question from acquaintances or friends I don’t see often. Most frequently, I’m asked this in a crowded room with lots of eager ears around. No, I don’t want to explain to anyone what’s wrong with me.
He doesn't actually do housework.
Okay, we all slip up sometimes. It’s possible not to realize that a) you’re asking someone to divulge their personal health challenge, and b) that that’s incredibly rude. But if the conversation goes like this:
STRANGER: What’s the dog for?
ME: Service.
STRANGER: What kind of service?
ME: Medical alert.
STRANGER: What’s that mean?
ME: It means he helps me by alerting me.
STRANGER: Okayyyy, but what’s the problem with you that he’s watching for?
…you’ve pushed too far. “Medical alert” means, “I have a medical problem.” Look at it this way: if I came up to you on the street, stood in front of you, and said, “I have a medical problem.”—without Corben beside me, just for no good reason, wouldn’t you think I was being socially awkward? Wouldn’t that seem like an over-share? The presence of a service dog does not mean you should feel all rules of polite conduct are moot.

It’s easy for me to hide sometimes behind the assumption that I’m just a dog trainer. Honestly, many of us with service dogs do let this assumption ride in some awkward situations. But in some ways, it diminishes what Corben and I are to each other. It also daily reminds me that I look healthy, so the fact that I’m daily struggling with a serious medical problem is invisible and therefor, not acknowledged. Anyone who’ suffered through a non-visible health problem can relate to this. It’s like visiting your aunt and having her repeatedly offer you ice cream even though she knows you’re lactose intolerant but just never remembers. In a way, the refusal of people to consider I may have a disability makes me feel even more invisible.


No, you can’t pet him. See how small his brain cavity is? The smartest dogs in the world have only the reasoning capacity of a 12 year-old. If I came to your 12 year-old’s math class and started petting her while she was doing an exam, don’t you think she’d make more mistakes than usual? Every time we’re out together, Corben is performing his own version of a math exam. Every time you try to pet him, you mess up his concentration. Yes, it’s cute when he breaks stride and wriggles to be patted. No, you’re not giving him a pleasant break in his day. You are essentially giving pixie sticks to that aforementioned 12 year-old and then leaving me to get him focused back on his math test.

If you petting him is like a pixie stick, a toddler barking at my dog—yes, they bark at him—is you giving Corben a litre of Red Bull. All concentration is lost, and any work I need him doing isn’t going to happen. I don’t run up and pet your toddlers; please keep your kids off of my toddler.

Ottawa is pretty good about not giving us a hard time. However, I went out for dinner with a friend a couple weeks ago, and a young waiter informed us that dogs weren’t allowed in the restaurant. After I pointed out his vest and told him we had our papers in my bag, he put his hands on his hips, cocked his head and said, “Yeah right. What’s wrong with you that you need a dog?” I don’t have to explain this and I’m not going to. Shop owners, be sure that even your youngest staff understand that it’s a human rights violation to kick me out of a store for having a dog, and it’s also wrong to demand to know what my health problem is.

At Ottawa Comiccon this year, I managed to attend 2 out of 3 days. This is in huge crowds with poor air circulation and a lot of noise. I was able to do this because I had Corben. At one point while I was looking at a vendor table, my friend heard a man mutter something about, “strapping a vest on his dog, too, just to bring him to the con”. MJ rocks, so she turned to him and said, “Yeah, maybe that would be fun, except this is a real service dog.” You’ll occasionally hear horror stories of people faking service dogs, but I haven’t seen it happen around here, and when you look at Corben’s behaviour, you’d have to be an idiot not to see just how heavily trained he is.

After I answer all the questions people throw at me about my dog, their curiosity sated, I will often get a comment like, “Well how nice for you that you get to take your dog everywhere! Well I sure wish I could take my dog with me everywhere!” Listen to what you’re saying, people. You’re telling me I’m privileged because I have a disability where my best tool for normal daily living is having to raise, train, and cart a dog around with me everywhere I go. Yes, he’s cute and fuzzy. No, in many ways he does not make life easier. When I leave the house, I have to be aware of all his needs plus my own. I have to look for ways to traverse a mall without the use of an escalator. I have to choose seating in restaurants based on where my dog’s fat butt won’t get tripped on. I have to get special dispensation to take him on a plane. But yes, he is lovely and he does make my days a hundred times better. So I think it’s bogus to suggest that having a service dog is a lucky privilege; I think it’s more of a karmic balancing. I have to live with this shitty disability for the rest of my life, but the trade-off is that I get to have a sweet-faced companion come along with me.

I had a job interview this spring. I got to the second round before I mentioned Corben, who I’d purposely left at home for the first round. When I mentioned him, the interviewer started asking if I was really sure I could do the job, if (and I paraphrase here) I was so effed up that I needed a service dog. I pointed to my resume and said, “Everything you see on here that you like, I did with my disability present. The dog doesn’t make me less capable. He makes me more capable. I accomplished much of these things without him; imagine how much more I’ll do now that he’s with me.” She didn’t bite. She couldn’t shake her bias. The reality is, having a service dog means that people are daily reminded of my otherwise invisible disability. But instead of looking at Corben as a reminder of how I’m broken, try looking at him as a reminder of how I’ve soldered myself back together. He’s not a weakness; he’s a weapon against failure.


It’s a dog, folks. You see dozens everyday walking around your neighbourhood. I don’t get what all the fuss is about. When you put all the attention on my dog, you make me feel like all the qualities I possess as a person are secondary…that my companion is all that defines me. Just relax and ignore him. It’s what he wants, anyway. Stop staring at the dog and get back to making eye contact with me. I’m here and better than ever.  

Back in the day. I can't believe he's grown up so much.

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