Sunday, June 15, 2014

Upstate New York

The drive from Connecticut through western Massachusetts and to Albany, NY was really nice. I had enough time to take the back roads and avoid the big highways, so I got to see a lot of small towns and lots and lots of green trees. It was a lush drive in nice weather. It was overcast, but not raining much, just how I like it. Off and on, there were some light sprinkles.

I had a reservation at the local Motel 6 and also had an invitation to stay at the home of my local producer for Albany, Richele Corbo. I knew that she had a dog and didn't know what sort of living situation we'd have and how River would be with the whole thing, so I kept the motel reservation handy just in case.

I was hungry when I arrived, since I had unwittingly left all of my food in the previous town, and was looking forward to relaxing and hopefully eating something soon. I saw a beautiful house set way back on a gorgeous, lush property with a creek running behind it. I parked by a gorgeous barn and  brought River to the front door and couldn't find a bell so I knocked. Mike greeted me and as their  golden lab began to approach us, said "This will be interesting."

That was not what I wanted to hear. The dog didn't come to us but stood a few feet away, barking at us. River was pretty good about it. He went toward the dog but I didn't let go of the leash, so he came back and hung out by me.

The next few minutes were sort of surreal as we stood in the foyer having a casual conversation while the dog loudly and repeatedly obscured every fourth or fifth word we spoke. At the same time, the oldest son and his girlfriend come into the foyer and introduce themselves (although I couldn't hear their names) and introducing themselves to River.

River was doing remarkably well under the circumstances. But I was a bit nervous. Mike kept saying, "she'll stop soon" but even he seemed surprised at how much she was continuing. As the kids were leaving, I asked where Richele was. And he explained to me about how she had gone to BARK BARK but when she BARK to leave, there was another car in tBARK. So they're trying to locate the guy to move his BARK BARK."

To me, living for so long in New York City, that sounded like a situation that was going to eat up at least half an hour, easily, or more. I kept waiting for a suggestion to the solution of the barking dog, which seemed to me to be to separate them. I was about to suggest that I go either go outside or be shown to where I was staying, I could settle in a bit and maybe she would calm down. I was starting to hope that maybe they were planning on having us sleep in the barn.

It was only a matter of minutes, it turns out, before Richele came in. We were both excited to see each other, and she wanted to meet River, but it was also clear that she was reacting, so Richele suggested She and I take the dogs for a walk.

Once we started walking, the dog was immediately quiet and all seemed to be going well. The dogs would sniff at each other and then enjoy the walk together. Richele and I chatted and in my attempt to express to her that I was concerned about this situation we may have, I insulted her family; using the word 'chaotic' to describe the energy vibe I was feeling. I was seeking her reassurance or suggestions for solutions, but it came out as saying 'your family isn't really working out for us, so we'll be staying somewhere else'.

Fortunately, she and I have a history of overcoming misunderstandings in our relationship because we're both willing to face our differences of perspective, see the others and come to a loving understanding of each other. We took a long walk around the expansive tree-filled yard, which sent River into leaps of joy.

Finally we had dinner outdoors near the pond as the bullfrogs burped. I canceled the reservation at motel 6 and we ended up having a marvelous time.

River did wonderfully with the other animals. I was amazed as I watched him behave like a real dog. He pushed his boundaries with her quite a bit, but not in a vicious or a fearful way, just an immature way. Each time he overstepped his bounds, Nicci or I would tell him to stop, and he would. They shared a water bowl and got along fine, otherwise.

And I haven't mentioned the cats. There are two cats. The first, River met by entering a room the cat was in and then running back out having been hissed at. Much later, the cat and he met at the top of the stairs. River was inside the room we were staying in, while Richele and I were out in the hallway discussing my new pants. At this time, a cat came up the stairs, facing the open door to see River sitting, watching him, but staying within the safety of our room. The cat, eyes locked on River, skulked up the stairs and escaped into the master bedroom.

Much later, the family had gone to bed but I stayed up to do laundry. River slept at my feet and I watched TV. The next thing I know, two cats are slowly walking in. They've obviously been watching us the whole time, and now that River's snoring, they're making their move.

Eventually, they're inches from River and he's snoring obliviously. The closer cat sniffs at him close enough to make contact and wake him up. He raises his head, as if to say "huh? what's going--" and the cats dart away, leaving him blinking and yawning. A few moments later his hackles went up. But he didn't pursue it. He checked in with me, and then laid back down to sleep again.

The next morning, as I was getting ready to leave for class, River went into the bedroom where he last saw the cat go. He looked under the bed and then walked around the back of the bed, to find the cat sitting on a chair on the other side. The cat stared as River walked close in enough to get a good sniff, and then walked back a few steps, turned around and exited the room.

Goldfinger class took place in a gritty cool funky tough neighborhood of Albany and we had a fantastic turn-out of glittering genius artists. We all had glitter on the souls of our feet by the end of class.
Posturing, before class

Pre-class contemplative

Richele and Jason with pants!


still dancing...

more dancing...

It was another opportunity for me to stretch the 55 minute format as this studio customarily has 75 minute classes, so I included my Party anthem song and the journey through the Vital Factors once again.

After class, we went to the farmer's market and picked up a lot of great local fruits, veggies, cheese, honey, eggs and some bison jerky for me and a bone for River. I took it back to the house and cooked it a little bit and put it in the few pieces of tupperware that weren't in the long lost box. Then, with my cooler full, hit the road to our next destination.

On the way out of town, I stopped at the local food co-op to stock up the stuff that I left in the last state. After class, Richele handed me a wad of money that I put into my pocket. I drew from that wad repeatedly at the farmers markets and loaded my arms with good. I had still never counted the money, but in preparation for going shopping at the co-op, I finally counted it and was surprised to have over $200.

So my pantry is now well-stocked again. Thanks Albany! Love!

It was late afternoon before we shuffled off to Buffalo. It shaved two hours off the four hour drive to take the main highway, so I took a straight shot. The sun was setting in my eyes during the last hour of the drive, and we arrived at the motel after dark. I quickly ate and went to bed after midnight.

In the early morning hours, River crawled up and got into bed with me. I noticed that it was cold. I don't usually get cold in the night, but I could feel the chill. I decided to let this one slide, and he slept the next few hours on the bed with me.

Our next stop is in Michigan, but I didn't want to drive all the way there in one day so I opted for a stop in Macedonia, Ohio, which is in between Cleveland and Akron.


River was still hacking today.

We drove from Framingham, MA to Branford, CT in pouring rain. The rain was so hard at times that the windshield wipers couldn't keep up, even at the fastest speed. Traffic had to slow to about 55 (ten mph below the posted limit) so that we weren't pummeled with water quite so rapidly.

We took a lovely, winding, scenic forest-y road, and River and I stopped at a riverside scenic viewpoint for some running, exploring and relieving. Everything was going well, River grabbed the toy the first time I presented it to him, and we ran together with it. Then we explored around the riverbank, so River could get his paws wet.

There was a fisherman down there, which startled us at first, but then we all minded our own business and all was OK.

Up the river a bit, we found another good spot with shore access, and no fishermen. We waded a bit in the running water, and spotted a freshly killed large fish lying on the ground at the edge of the river. I let River smell and explore it, but he showed no interest in gutting it or eating it.

As we were heading back to the car, I thought I'd encourage River to Bite and Carry one more time, so I slapped him on the side of his body with the toy, as Kevin would do, to get River riled up enough to bite the toy and run with it. But he didn't bite at it. Instead, he cowered and partially closed his eyelids.  I tried again and he skulked all the way to the ground and lifted his legs, squinting his eyes.

I was obviously doing something wrong, so I hid the toy and we just ran together toward the car.

We arrived at our motel in Branford. This was the third Motel 6 in a row that had interior corridors. But unlike the prior two, this one was nice and the staff was friendly. So it made a big difference in my overall impression of the place. It also helped that everything seemed to be working and nothing was missing.

We spent the night there and left for Milford the next morning, where I was scheduled to teach my class. 

I arrived early, as I usually do, and took River for a walk around the neighborhood. And when I tried to do that Bite and Carry game with him, he responded again with cowering and squinting. I gave up out of frustration and now I am ambivalent about what to do. I wrote an email to Kevin, the trainer, asking what I might be doing wrong.

It was nice to have the class experience to immerse myself into because I was letting myself get all knotted up about River. The magic of Nia prevailed, of course, and after teaching Goldfinger to a small and creative gathering of crystal artistic geniuses, I felt much more at ease with everything.

Today's class was the second to "see my knees" as Nancy put it. The first, were those lucky dogs in Cambridge. ;)

I didn't do it consciously, but I later realized that I officially retired my disconium tuxedo pants at the final turn-around point for the trip, in Portland, Maine. They made it all the way from coast to coast, but not a step back west. I had packed some aluminum running shorts that I found at American Apparel just in case my pants didn't survive.

This was the first opportunity I had to expand my 55 minute format into a longer class. I had 90 minutes slated, so I added a few extra songs and spent a little bit more time setting up a clear focus at the start.

I included a  really high energy song called Get The Party Started, that Mark Frossard gave me when we taught the Men of Nia Jam in Santa Fe. It is sung by Shirley Bassey, which is the common thread of the Goldfinger routine, so it fit in perfectly, and actually provided a new climax point, which I really enjoyed. 

Another thing I added was a journey through the 13 First Degree Black Belt Vital Factors.  I explained how I was going to share the name of each vital factor, and the idea was to interpretive dance based on the feelings and inspirations that come from hearing the words. In the context of the Goldfinger class, which is all about celebration of unique artistic expression, it was a perfect fit and yielded some quite lovely results as the students truly committed to exploring the Vital Factors of Nia.

The next morning I left the motel room without a big box of nuts, seeds, peanut butter, olive and coconut oil, my spices and herbs, my baking soda, much of my tupperware and some supplements that I take on the occasions when I don't get enough fresh vegetables in my diet. I was hours away from Connecticut, part-way to my next destination before I got hungry and saw that I didn't have my food.

I was able to contact Nancy Hammett, who has been my producer in Milford many times. I told her about the box of goodies and that they were keeping it at the front desk of Motel 6 with her name on it.

After hitting Connecticut, we have officially concluded our loop through New England. I actually do have another gig in New York tomorrow before we really leave New England, but since I've already done New York on this trip and already earned the right to color it in on the map. I'm calling Connecticut the last of the New England loop. So, here's what we've done so far.

Friday, June 13, 2014


It was a short drive from Portland, ME to Cambridge, MASS, so I decide to avoid the Turnpike and take the back roads. Unfortunately, I ran into some construction on a two lane highway as I was leaving rural Maine in a town called Ogunquit.

I was sitting in stopped traffic for quite a while. Long enough to shut my engine off and get out my phone to film the tragic traffic. Looking back, I think it's amusing how 'upset' I was getting. I'm not really even upset by the traffic, but it was the not knowing what was going on that was disturbing. I'm used to seeing a sign warning "Flagman Ahead" or "Construction- Be Prepared to Stop" or "One Lane Highway Ahead" something like that. But in this case, all I saw was stopped traffic for quite a while.

Once I got past the construction zone it was free sailing all the way into Cambridge. But I arrived there just in time to meet rush hour traffic and some of the rudest, most impatient drivers I've ever encountered in the United States.

I have been honked at by displeased fellow motorists in the past, but it is very rare because I'm such a relaxed, considerate driver. But I was honked at no less than eight times in my short visit to the Boston area and deliberately cut off from entering into a lane of traffic while I sat there signaling my intention to merge. Not only were they blocking me from joining, but they made eye contact with me while doing so. At least in LA they pretend you don't exist. 

If New Hampshire was the most courteous state for driving, Massachusetts gets the prize for the least courteous.

Fortunately, I've learned to allow LOTS of time to get to my classes on time. I was able to find an open, free parking spot on the main street, just a few doors down from the building I was teaching in and we made it with plenty of time to spare.

Julianne Corey produced me in a beautiful, historic-looking Oddfellows Hall building in the center of Cambridge. In fact, I think it was called Center Square.

We had a great gang of artists, who really drank in the Goldfinger magic. Sadly, we got off to a late start as everyone arrived and settled up, so at the end of class, there were people knocking on the door to get into the room.

This class was not the biggest in terms of attendance, but it was in the top five. And I think it was the highest paying class to date. When I set up my trip, I never make any specific payment request. My thinking is that I'll get paid whatever the market will bear. I'm more interested in getting my work out there than putting up restrictions and requirements. My way, I'm always pleasantly surprised by whatever I get paid for the class.

After class, a few of us went to a local restaurant with outdoor seating. We ate some good food (including a free plate of baklava, sent to us because our food took a long time to arrive) and chatted mostly about Nia and dog training.

I think River must have eaten a leaf or something, because he has started to make a hacking sound on a pretty regular basis. He often eats grass and leafs that don't settle and he'll hack them up, but whatever this is, seems to be resisting coming out. I hope it works its way out soon. I feel bad seeing him hack like that.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Maine seems like another laid-back, scenic state. It is certainly the land of the cute slogans.
"Maine. Worth to visit. Worth a Lifetime" "Maine: The Way Life Should Be." "Vacationland"
"Where America's Day Begins" (because it's where the sun first shines on the USA every day.) And my favorite one: "Maine. It's not the edge of the universe, but you can see it from the edge of the universe."

Everything about my trip to Maine was lovely except for the Motel 6. Which was one of the worst I've stayed in. The male desk staff were all barely existent and certainly not friendly or helpful. There was an abundance of handicapped parking any where near the only entrance door for the whole building, so there were no parking spaces that didnt' require a long, shlepping walk just to get to the lobby. My room had a musty funk to it and there were no screens on the window, so I had to choose between the mosquitoes or the funk. There was no microwave in the common area, which is not required of Motel 6s, but it's very common. In fact it is very rare that there is no microwave. In some places, you have to bring your food to the lobby and ask at the desk to heat your food up for you, but this place. Nothing. The vending machine is also another fixture at Motel 6 that one could almost rely upon. I don't often use them, but once in a while I get a late night craving for some chocolate and I can usually find something fairly benign in the vending machine. But not this one. The glass had been broken out and all the inventory was gone.  At one point, in the morning, a fire alarm went off and they made us all go outside and wait in the parking lot while the fire department came and checked everything out. I was glad to finally load up the car and leave that place.

But in the meantime, I had a bit of respite from the horrors of my accommodations in the form of a lovely Nia class. My easternmost Nia class in the USA. Portland, Maine. I was hosted by Erin Curran who teaches at Casco Bay Movers. She assembled a great group of about a dozen students as well as teachers from near and far.

I love that I can teach this routine over and over again and still not get sick of it. Of course, the enthusiasm that it is usually received with could possibly have something to do with that.

After class some of us went out to check out Erin's art car.

Erin took River and I on a long walk part way around a body of water that I assume was Casco Bay, as in the name of the place in which we danced.

Erin wanted so badly to be a gracious host to me, but I had no needs and didn't really want to do much but go back to my room and shower and eat. Even though my dinner was going to be cold (ref. Motel 6 rant above). She even offered her microwave up to me in case I wanted to come by, heat up my food and leave. But instead I ate cold food and loved it.

It was weird to be in Portland. All my life I had known Portland to be on the west coast, in Oregon. Seeing signs and store names including the name Portland, momentarily pulled me out of my reality and made me think where I was.

New Hampshire

"Drive Courteously. It's the New Hampshire Way." according to a sign I saw shortly after entering the state. And I'd agree. I really felt like driving in New Hampshire was a pleasure because people were courteous in general.

Lately, I've been seeing an ad for New Hampshire tourism. It shows a couple hiking to the top of a mountain. There is no voiceover and no music. All you can hear a few distant the birds chirping and the rustling of their shoes on the path as they make it to the summit in the few seconds we know them. They stop and stand and look out at the wilderness below them. No one says a word. Finally the script shows up, saying  something like 'come to New Hampshire; it's natural.'

And that's pretty much my impression of the place. It's natural. It's relaxed and friendly. It's beautiful and doesn't make a big deal about itself. 

I had nothing to do there, and had just dropped a bunch of cash for the dog training weekend, so I placed an ad offering my services for personal training and/or massage, and actually got two interested responses. So I gave two massages and made some of that money back.

One of the clients told me about a really big park that River would love. So on our way out of New Hampshire, the next day, we stopped at this park and took a walk around a river that seemed like a lake because it was so still. But once we got to the other end, I could see that it was flowing.

After this long trek, I practiced some of the Bite and Carry, which worked like a charm. He was still energetic after the long walk, but after only a minute of Bite and Carry, he was lying on the grass with his tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth.

I'm learning that, with him, it's not as much the volume or intensity of exercise, but the specificity of exercise that he really needs. I'm really loving how relaxed it makes him.

 No, this is not doggy porn, this is a picture of some marks that River has on his belly. I noticed them as he let me rub his tummy. I noticed that they look an awful lot like a target reaction that one sees from being bitten by a Lyme disease carrying tick. And we are in Lyme country. Or perhaps ringworm?

(I later learned that dogs don't actually exhibit the target reaction from Lyme infested tick bites, and that these markings are those of black fly bites.)

After playing in the park for an hour or so, we headed even further east to our next destination.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Natural Dog "Training"

Today was my second day at Maple Farm in Newfane Vermont training with Kevin Behan. It was a beautiful weekend at a picturesque farm with incredible, important events happening every hour, but I was so enthralled I didn't take a single picture.

Kevin has been working with dogs all his life, and his father was also a dog guy. Kevin, at an early age, started to see chinks in the armor of the standard dog-obedience paradigm that experts (even his dad) were using, and began to study and research and experiment and has come up with a philosophy that he calls Natural Dog Training.  I told him that I thought it was mislabeled. It's not dog training at all. It's untraining in some cases. It's a lot of observation and responding to the dog. And it's finding creative ways to meet their needs while at the same time yielding behavioral results that are acceptable.

River and I spent the weekend with him, so that I could learn this technique and apply it to River's fear to prevent behaviors like growling at certain strangers, barking when someone comes into the house, and attacking any dog his size or larger.

I learned that I have not been allowing River to be his full dog-ness. I was requiring that he perform for me. In retrospect, I can clearly see how damaging that was to him. Not permanently, but is was increasing the energetic charge that led to those problems I mentioned above.

Kevin says that no dog is wrong; ever. There is no bad behavior and no bad dogs. There is attraction and flow and balance, and the dog is always seeking to balance his attraction and his flow. Nothing is cognitive, nothing is intentional, nothing is personal.This is why a healthy dog can be calm one second, totally rattled and fighting the next second, and then calm again a second after that. They live their entire lives in one, single moment: now.

But so does lightening, and so does a river, and yet, those can both kill you if you get in the way of their flow.

So if River is exhibiting a behavior that I don't agree with, it is up to me to help him choose a different behavior.

One of the main exercises that we'll be working with is to go into a quick down stay. Walking along side by side and then suddenly, I yank on his chain and calling "down!" Then I reward him with food when he responds by lying down. A few times a day of this can build this into his psyche as a choice he never knew he had. In certain situations that bring up fear in him, he can now make the choice to go down.

A healthy dog will roll over and accept a massage on the side of the neck or the belly, but with me, because I used an Alpha Roll as a method of training, River doesn't fully trust me to do that. And if I'm his main human and he can't trust me, what chance in the world does anyone else have of gaining his trust. So, another daily exercise we do is that I gently roll him over and give him a quiet massage. Kevin says he will eventually stop resisting, but it might take a while. And once he does, it will have a domino effect on his happiness in the world.

River has a low tolerance to stimulation, so I am not supposed to play 'fetch' with him anymore, as that increases that immediate response to stimulus that I'd like to interrupt.

Instead we have a new game called Bite. I'll bait him with a burlap pillow or thick rope and get him really upset at the object until he attacks it with a bite. And then, I encourage him to run with it in his mouth. I don't know why, but this activity takes the urge to bite out of him. As Kevin said when he first met River, "We need to take the fight out of this dog." Giving him an acceptable outlet for his biting urge is crucial to our happiness together.

I had been doing lots of silly obedience commands with him. Touch, Kiss, Spin, Jump, etc. He takes to them really well and is very athletic and trainable. And I thought it was good to keep him learning and to keep interacting with him. But Kevin says that those tricks offer no satisfaction to him. They bring excitement, with no release. So the cute parlor tricks are now off the table.

River has never had a doggie friend. He doesn't play nice. Within an hour of working with Kevin, River was greeting dogs normally. He was sniffing and letting himself be sniffed, walking away, coming back, sharing pee spots and running in the water together. Doing nice, friendly dog activities. And these weren't therapy dogs. These were actually dogs that were at the farm to be fixed of their issues. River, in many cases, ended up being the model citizen and teaching these other dogs how to behave. River was very adept at absorbing anything the other dogs brought and taking it in stride. In the past, he would have most certainly reciprocated a snarling attack from the other dog, if he hadn't already instigated his own snarling attack. But today, he just backed up about two inches and shook it off. Kevin and I would assist the interaction by holding the leashes taught and keeping in a position to yank them apart before anything gets ugly. This gives them a chance to make those choices that don't lead them to satisfaction, but stay in the game long enough to figure out other choices. It was amazing and emotional to witness.

Today River played nicely with a giant sheepdog with aggression issues and a big, energetic pit bull. Yesterday he played well with a Schnauzer and a Doberman and a black Lab and today with the sheepdog, pit bull and an aggressive Corgie. River did better than I ever could have imagined.

On our way out of the farm, Kevin met us in the nearest town, Brattleboro, so that he could demonstrate the technique and initiate River into it in a more urban setting.

He showed me a way to get him out of the car seat that grounds him before sending him bounding off into the city with no sense of self-control. It's weird, but I pull forward on the leash but at the same time tell him not to come off the seat. The idea is that he responds by grounding the back half of his body to resist my pulling. This physically grounds and settles him. If he does come off when I pull, I quickly pull up on the leash, causing it to press on his throat. I encourage him to get back on the seat, and as soon as he does, I immediately release the leash, so he learns that getting off the car seat before I say OK makes him uncomfortable.

We walked down the street until we ran across a homeless person singing and playing a guitar. She had a dog with her. We gave her a dollar and let her dog meet River. It went perfectly.

So, I have some serious adjustments to make. I have to sacrifice some things that I loved to do. But it will be an easy sacrifice because I truly believe that those things were harming him, and I certainly would never want to do that.

Saturday, June 7, 2014


I took a lovely, scenic route from New York to Vermont; the Saw Mill River Parkway.

And even with all the natural green beauty of the Saw Mill River Parkway, I was still blown away when I got into Vermont. Besides Washington, I think Vermont is probably the greenest state. In fact, Vermont reminded me a lot of the Puget Sound area, with the weather (almost always about to rain) and the lush green covering everything. The one difference is the large number of bugs found in Vermont. Western Washington is fairly bug-free.

I arrived on Friday night and got a quick tour of the farm and then I got to watch Kevin take River for a walk and do some exercises with him. He confirmed my belief that we are dealing with a lot of fear, which is manifesting as aggression toward other dogs and (on rare occasions) certain people. He told me that if I were to totally allow him to release his aggression on dogs, it would solve the issue of people. But since I’m not allowing either, he’s frustrated and sometimes will make the mistake of lunging at either.

My head was already full and I was already a bit confused and dealing with my feelings of guilt for all the training I’ve been doing that is contributing to his problem. All of the pushing and tugging and wrestling games we’ve been playing are reinforcing his fear because of the way I’m playing. Kevin tells me that the growling sounds he makes when playing are a sign of tension that isn’t being released. It’s being held and causing him stress.

The dominance and obedience training don’t make any sense to River and serve to put me at odds with him, rather than allied with him. Kevin’s system, called Natural Dog Training, is the opposite; it says that everything the dog does is exactly right and it is up to us to learn how to work with it. Sometimes that means channeling his response (bite) into the proper venue (rope toy). And it sometimes involves teaching the dog to bark and/or bite when asked, so that it gives an outlet for the behavior and an alternative behavior to the ones that don’t end up feeling good.

Another thing I was doing that wasn’t helpful to River was letting him sleep on the bed with me and letting him up on chairs with me or on my lap. Kevin’s experience was that this usually leads to dominant behavior because they feel ‘on the same level’ with the human. He suggested I have River sleep through the night in his crate and to avoid inviting him up on the furniture.

It was a lot to think about as I climbed into the big feather bed. I had River’s crate set up on the floor at the foot of the bed, but as soon  as I turned out the light, I could hear him leave the crate and begin circling around the bed, looking for a good launching point to jump up. Before he got there I told him “Go Home” and the next thing I heard was the sound he makes when he brushes against the crate as he’s climbing in.

At another point, early in the morning, I felt him jump up on the bed and immediately told him to get off and go home, which he did. Other than that, he seemed to be OK with the sleeping in the crate rule. He does it when we’re at home. It’s just when we’re traveling in motel rooms and staying at people’s homes that I let him get in bed with me, but I guess I’ll stop that now.

The next morning started with a lecture as Kevin taught me his theories on how dogs operate on an energetic level. He described a see-saw with one side being “prey’ drive and the other side being “predator” drive and all action is nothing more than seeking a balance between those two drives. Another way to think of it as always balancing between being hungry and being grounded.

It was all pretty intellectual and, frankly, scared me a little bit because while it made sense to me, I didn’t feel like I could turn around and explain it to someone else. And I surely didn’t see how it related to River and me and what we can do differently.

He then demonstrated “giving River a bite”. This was also a bit scary because he would hurl a giant burlap pillow at River and really clock him good on the side of his body. He did this a few times until River finally lost it and started growling, barking and biting at the pillow. At that point, Kevin started walking in a circle and River followed along with the pillow in his mouth. It didn’t look like much more than a guy playing a bit rough with a dog. But Kevin described how it was an important exercise to give the dog a place to put his desire to bite.  He gets rewarded for doing it and at the same time it satisfied the latent urge. After playing this game with Kevin, a dog is less likely to use biting as a means to get out of a highly charged situation.

He not only demonstrated it with River, but I saw him do it with three other dogs, and saw how it changed the choices they make every time.

Kevin described how dogs ‘collapse’. They’ll be in a face-off with each other and all is tension until finally one of them drops a bit and that sets off the whole chain of events that will eventually become playing or fighting.

He also talks about ‘collecting’. This is similar to a human grounding. Kevin observed how much River is pitched forward, putting most of his weight in his forelegs. He described it as being disconnected from his enteric nervous system and out of touch with his body. By putting River on a large flat rock and teasing him with food, but only giving it to him when River wasn’t reaching for it, he taught River that good things happen (he gets food) when he relaxes and sits on his hind legs.

Even as I describe this to you, I can describe it, and I have the experience of seeing it work, but I can’t explain it, and I’m not sure I can even recreate it. Kevin assures me that this stuff is so natural, and so basic, that all you have to do is get a taste of it and you will never go back to the old way. And that applies to both River and me. I was glad to hear that, so that I could let go of a rising panic that I was doing to drive away from this experience with nothing more than a memory of how cool it was to watch Kevin get these behaviors out of River. But if I wasn’t able to understand and repeat them, I’ll have wasted all this time and money.

Throughout the day, Kevin was introducing River to other dogs. On leash and under our strict control, we were able to shape their experience so that they’d all have a positive outcome. I wasn’t surprised when River was cool around the Schnauzer and the Corgie, because he’s never felt threatened by small dogs. Even terribly ill-mannered small dogs never phased him. He just tolerated them or avoided them.

But when Kevin brought out the black Lab, then I thought we were in for it. But again, River was so cool that I almost didn’t recognize him. In the past, it wouldn’t have mattered that this black dog was very polite and knew how to absorb River’s frenetic energy and stay out of harm’s way. River would have lunged after just a few sniffs. But today, River was curious and friendly and it was such a joy to watch the two play. I could see the see-saw of prey-predator that Kevin was describing. It helped that Kevin was narrating the interaction as it unfolded.

After a bit more work, Kevin went to get one of his worst problems; a Doberman with over-the-top aggression issues against people and dogs. She was a bit shy at first, but River was displaying a kind of calm, centeredness that I have never seen on him. He patiently let her work out her stuff as she slowly approached him. He reacted appropriately-- if she became aggressive, he moved away-- if she softened, he mirrored her-- he actually stood still and let her sniff his butt, which is something he was never comfortable or relaxed enough to do in the past.

Kevin was encouraged and decided to take them down to the watering hole. He said water is like a bonding element. It was something they could each connect to and through that connection, connect to each other. I was so delighted to see how they played together!  Just like a real dog. River showed zero signs of aggression and was instead playing very nicely. Even when she lost herself momentarily and would panic and bite at him, he just let it roll off his back. He gave her space when she needed it, but also was ready to engage when she was.

At one point, she started digging in the mud at the edge of the water, and River joined in with her. I’ve been with River for over two years and I’ve never seen him dig, but today he was digging with all he had because it was a way of connecting to his new ‘friend’.

By the time we were walking back from the watering hole, Kevin was impressed. Not only with River, but in what River brought out in the Doberman (I’m sorry I don’t remember her name). He suggested that because River has a very strong temperament that he will take to this stuff really well and is a perfect candidate to become a ‘therapy dog’ helping other dogs learn this work.

By the evening I was beaming with pride, albeit still a little bit baffled and worried that I wasn’t grasping this work well enough to take it home.

Right now, River’s asleep on his blanket and covered in mud.
He had an incredible day, as did I. I hope we can both remember and recreate the events of today.  Tomorrow, morning, Kevin wants to do a bit more work with River and me on the five core exercises:



He swears that just using these five exercises will give River all he needs to correct his behavior all on his own. And after seeing River play with the ‘problem Dobie’ today, I believe him.

He’s also planning to introduce River to another pit bull with problems. I have faith in Kevin and his techniques and confidence in River’s ability to heal.

Pennsylvania / New Jersey / New York

We arrived in New York City on Monday. I have a friend who lives in Manhattan and lets me crash at his apartment, so I chose to stay there as a home base for my gigs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

I was scheduled to be in PA on Tuesday, I didn’t have a class set up (I couldn’t connect with anyone in the entire state) but I do have a client who used to see me when I lived in New York and has since relocated to Philadelphia. So he booked me for two sessions, which made it worth the overnight trip.

I wasn’t counting on the steep tolls on the turnpikes. Between them and the Lincoln Tunnel, I think I paid about $40 round trip, just on tolls. But still, a training session at night and a massage the next morning paid for the tolls, the gas and the cost of the room with enough profit left over to make the time and effort worth it.

I stayed the next night in Manhattan and ventured off the island again on Friday for a class in Colts Neck, NJ. Again the trip was heavy on tolls. I was starting to get used to the idea of rolling down the window and handing more than $10 out as I drove by the booth.

I was aware that I was traveling out of Manhattan on a Friday evening, so I allowed three hours for what google said was a one-hour trip. And I’m glad I did, because it took me the better part of the first hour just to drive from 76th and Columbus to the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel at 40th St.

Once I got off the island, traffic flowed more freely, and I made good time. I arrived at the Colts Neck Recreation Center; Studio 14 with an hour to spare. No one was there, so River and I took the opportunity to play off leash in the grassy area behind the building.

River did something I’d never seen before. He was running around and I dropped to do some pushups with my hands on the ground and my feet up on a picnic table. When he saw my position, he bolted toward me. He ended up launching and leaping clear over me as I did my pushups. And then he stopped, turn around and headed back toward me again. This time he leapt up and landed ON my back so he could launch himself off. I never missed a pushup as he played around me, but I did have to stop and laugh.  Of course, I was doing pushups at the time so I couldn't capture it on video. I've noticed that a lot of the best stuff comes from River when I don't have the camera on him. Here's some video of him running around a bit, but nothing too special happened.

Eventually the mayor of Colts Neck showed up to greet us. He was also the manager of the rec center and was very excited to meet River and I and hear about our adventures across the country. He was so thrilled that I was making his rec center one of my stops that he waived the normal rental fee for the room.

He also informed me that the class started at 7, rather than 6 as I had thought. So instead of being an hour early, I was two hours early. I decided at that point to take River on a little trip to the local grocery store since I was hungry and had so much time before class.

I tied him to a table outside the store as I went in to shop. He was fine.

Later, I taught Goldfinger to a room of shimmering artists. The reception, as usual, was very hot and the routine went over well. We all had a good time, and I hope to return to the area the next time I’m in the region.

The third gig I had in New York was a return to the place where I taught for many years when I lived in Manhattan. I had put the word out to my old group, which was usually a strong ten to fifteen people, but only two showed up. Combined with two new students who had heard about my arrival, we were five altogether. Not the strongest showing, and a slight net profit of $5. My weakest class to date.  I may have to consider whether it makes sense to produce my own classes in New York anymore. Maybe I’ve been away too long.

Other than those three gigs, my time in New York was a time of rest and relaxation. I have a few old clients who I see every time I’m in the city, but with almost a full week in town, I was able to see all of them without any problem.

The rest of the time I spent working with River on his strong protective territorial behavior. Not being used to apartment living, he would bark any time he heard someone walking by in the hallway. And really let loose when someone knocked, rang or entered the door to my friend’s apartment.

By posting the dilemma as a question in a dog training group I belong to, I was steered toward a solution that seemed to be effective. The barking could be explained as River feeling that it is up to him to decide whether or not a strange sound is a threat. But I could take charge of that by responding to his first bark. When he let one loose, I’d say “Thanks. Want to go check it out?” And I’d walk him to the front door (the source of the noise). He hung behind but followed me to the door. I pretended to be listening intently and then after a few seconds I’d visibly relax my body and say, “oh. that’s nothing. It’s ok.” which would cause him to visibly relax, and we’d both walk back to the living room. This seemed to be exactly what he needed. It didn’t prevent him from sounding that first alert, but it did serve to limit him to just the one BARK, which eventually softening into a slight HUFF and then an expectant stare as if saying “let’s go check that out.”

There were lots of sounds in that apartment, and we made the trip to the door many times, but I was happy to be able to offer him a bit of peace of mind.

My partner, Zeke, took some time off work and flew from Seattle to New York to spend our down time with us. It was great to see him and River was excited to be reunited, however briefly.  It seemed like the four or five days were over in a flash, and the next thing I knew, we were packing up the car again and headed to our next destination.

After this week break, we’re back on tour. Next stop, Vermont.

Monday, June 2, 2014

New York City

As soon as I left Richmond, I hit some traffic and was crawling along the superhighway at less than ten miles per hour.

That eventually cleared up and we made it to Washington DC. The traffic was heavy but flowing. I was impressed by seeing the Washington Monument and Capitol Building. The rest of what I could see as I sped by on the highway looked like mostly large concrete buildings. It was humid and hot.

Just as we left DC, we got on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which was a pretty drive with lots of greenery, and the traffic flowed at the speed limit. Actually, this was one of those highways were if I did the posted speed limit, people were passing me left and right and shooting me looks on the way past. So I inched up to a respectable ten miles an hour over. That way I wasn't in the way, but wasn't going faster than anyone else, either.

We stopped at a Rest Area in Delware. Only they don't call them Rest Areas, so I missed the first one I saw after wanting to stop. Eventually I realized that the Service Area was where I needed to pull over to give River his 'break'. It was quite different than the Rest Areas I'm used to. Instead of the small park-like setting, this was more like a mini-mall setting. With retailers like Starbucks, Taco Bell, Cinnabon and Sunoco Gas. There was an immense parking lot and I had to drive through a few sections before I could find a spot. People were running all over the place like it was an amusement park. River needed to sniff every tree in the giant grassy area, so we were there for a while before hitting the road again.

Then the tolls started. Ouch!

They started small at 70 cents, but got bigger and bigger. And there were quite a few of them. By the time we made it through the Lincoln Tunnel, I was quite used to stopping and handing $13 out the car window. I was so thankful for all the cash in small bills that I got from the LOVE donation bucket at the ACAC that morning.

Getting to New York city was surreal. I lived there for 11 years, so there was a very strong familiarity feeling as soon as I popped out of Lincoln Tunnel in Hell's Kitchen. But in all of those years, I never once drove a car. So my perspective of this very familiar city was different than I had ever had before.

I was a bit nervous about this moment, which turned out to be fine. Driving in Manhattan isn't bad at all. In fact, I find it kind of fun. There's a nice flow to it that I recognize from the city itself. It just works. I don't know how; it just does.

I drove up to my friend's apartment, not knowing what I was going to do about parking. I was going to drive up and park at the fire hydrant so I could unload all of my luggage and River's crate and stuff, but when I drove up, I found my friend standing in the street right next to an open parking space in front of his front door. I was glad to pay the meter for such an ideal spot.

I am beginning to get a real sense of how ridiculously expensive it would be to own a car in New York City.

River is very stimulated. He loves to smell and explore everything. And like most people eventually do, he'll have to come to terms with the fact that he just simply cannot attend to every stimulus in this city.

He also wasn't sure what to make of the noises of apartment living. People's voices? Foot steps? Where are these invisible people? Why are they in our hallway? BARK BARK BARK. Every few minutes. Something must be done about this...

Lincoln Center

Central Park


I was kind of running out of food at this point, so for breakfast I had a cucumber.

River and I got up and out early this morning to head to ACAC Fitness in Midlothian, VA, just outside Richmond.

I always get a bit nervous about teaching Nia in a gym. Stereotypically, the mindset of gym-goers is different than that of someone who attends classes at a private dance movement studio or rec center. And especially when I saw the tennis courts, I had to stop myself from telling stories about the clientele. I want to go in and present my work without prejudice. So I rose above and shook it off and went in fresh and clean. (Running around the parking lot with River was very helpful for that.)

We got nothing but warm reception in the gym, by the staff and clientele.... except for the exercise studio itself, which was air conditioned uncomfortably cold. My producer, MaryBeth Grinnan took care of the temperature and I set up River crate in the giant, cold room. (I was staying warm inside).

I left the room and took River with me into the changing area across on the other side of the gym. I changed in there and then, I'm sure quite conspicuously, walked in my silver glitter pants, barefoot with a dog on a leash through the gym, past personal training stations, over the running track, past the stationary bicycles, into the studio.

While I was gone, the room had literally filled with people. At least forty people were now gathered in this room, which suddenly didn't feel so cold and immense.

We ended up have a wonderfully dynamic and brilliantly energetic class together and I could really feel the love by the end. We all migrated onto the basketball court while the students for the next class quickly began setting up the steps.

Marybeth had a great idea for a way to compensate me. Since she was only paid $20 for the class herself, and it was free to the members, there was no real income potential for me. So she made up a 'donation bucket' for those who wanted to contribute to the JAG & River Goldfinger Road Trip LOVE fund. It was a genius idea, which ended up making me nearly $150 for the class (in addition to the $20 from the gym).

After class, Marybeth took River and I to an outdoor cafe in a dog-friendly mall to have breakfast. She caught a shot of River and I in Georgia before we hit the highway for our next destination.

Next Stop, New York!