living with a dog outside of neutral – part 7

Living is the foundation. While we have spent 10+ years with Franny, and have had to learn and grow a great deal so we could all be successful, living our lives together was always at the center of our thoughts.

It sounds rather obvious, but you might be surprised by the great number of professional trainers and/or behaviorists that recommended extended crating, extended kenneling, limited freedom, and a life on a leash. The Stockholm Syndrome was not my goal. Choice and trust within safe boundaries was my goal. I am a true believer in learning by doing. Again, it comes back to living. Franny has camped on the beaches of California, traveled across Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada, hiked/ran a large portion of the local mountain ranges, and has been part of demonstrations in local schools. Her life with us, I would like to believe, has been full, adventurous, loving and to a degree complete. If only she could tell me.

While this list might appear somewhat overwhelming, please keep in mind, it grew over 10+ years. And it is still growing.

Diet –

One of the characteristics that separates wild from domestic is the ability/inability to eat within proximity to humans. Franny would not eat or look at food with us in the house or even near by outside. She killed and scavenged for her food when we first brought her home. The break through was a mistake really. We were remodeling a large section of our home, so we lived in a tent in our yard and had our kitchen set up under the apple tree. The BBQ was the center of activity with every meal. I started to just chuck meat scraps out into the yard while I went about my business in our outdoor kitchen, some cooked some raw, never putting pressure on her by watching or talking with her. I threw them pretty far out. During a weeks time, I noticed that Franny would start to wag her tail and watch me as I went near the BBQ, so I started to lesson the distance. She would now lay and watch me and wait. Over a months time, she would come close to my alfresco kitchen, lay down and wag her tail, and eat close and from my hand. BREAK THROUGH!

I had accidentally, and also to my great joy, created a rockin’ great positive emotional response to the BBQ, and what I could offer her. Now I could use this new skill of hand feeding for teaching and trust building. yay!

We transitioned onto kibble over time, but it didn’t go well for her. Her system couldn’t assimilate the high phosphorus and magnesium content in commercial food. She developed struvite bladder stones that had to be surgically removed do to their size.

She went on a full raw diet, based on Dr. Tom Lonsdale’s book, Raw Meaty Bones. We also used BARF prepared raw food, and then transitioned into making our own. All of our dogs have been on an 80% raw diet for the past nine years. Whole carcass in the AM, mixed ground meat, offal, a wee bit fruit/veggie, and crushed bone in the PM.

Raw Feeding Video. We use kibble for convenience on busy days.

Multiple Dog Household Feeding Video

Sleeping –

Franny wouldn’t come up onto my bed, no chance no way! She liked to be in a small dark corner of the closet, or in a corner of the kids room. My problem with this was, she went into a very dark place in her mind, eyes would glaze over, and we were not welcome. I wanted her to feel safe and comfortable in our home and especially when sleeping.

We put a dog pillow in every room for her, so no matter where she was she had her OWN space, but I purposefully put them in more open areas. In my bedroom I put a crate half way in and half way out of my closet, right next to the head of the bed where I slept. Comfy crate mat, comfy temperature too. We would fall asleep listening to each other breathe. For the first year or so I would shut the door of the crate so she was where I needed her to be at night. For the past nine years it has remained open. She still sleeps next to me about 80% of the time.

Now that she is older and likes a bit more comfort and warmth, her winter nights are with me on the bed. I sleep with a smile each night.

crate management –

Shortly after we got Franny we also added crate management to the house. She showed signs of property guarding, and I didn’t want to go down that path.

Every time we leave the house she is crated. All I have ever had to say is ‘Franny kennel up’ and she saunters right in. She loves her crate and it was conditioned as a good and safe place to be from the get go. I do not believe in extended crating, the longest she is in there during the day is 3 hours.

barrier management –

We live on the end of a cul d sac with large picture windows. Ten years ago we had nineteen young children and thirteen dogs on the circle, it was a freaking moving picture show everyday!And she had second story front row seating, yikes!

To watch this type of activity was completely over most dogs skill level, but Franny decided she would just bust through the window to get out there. Self control was not a strong suit. We bought stain glass window film and applied it so it went from floor to three feet up. I didn’t want to keep her restricted from the most use rooms in the house, and yelling at her every minute of everyday wasn’t on my list of things to do either.

Cutting out the visual was awesome. She could still hear everyone, which was good, but without a strong visual I could start working on calling her to me with ease and rewarding her coming away from the windows. We had it up for nearly six years before we did another remodel.

Now the windows are clear, she can see everything clearly. But the windows have been conditioned as ‘nothing cool happens here’ space. She may bark a couple of times at a dog that comes close to our yard, or a strange FED EX person walking up our drive, but comes right to me. Conditioning is so much nicer than forcing, and the stained glass film was pretty!

car –

Because Franny was reactive in the car and actually cracked a window I had to be creative about our travels.

I started to take her by myself to dog areas, park a bit away and feed her her dinner by hand while she watched the other dogs. As she visibly relaxed I lessened the distance a bit. Then I would drive by these areas and do the same. I was desensitizing, hopefully, and taking some of the intensity out.

While we can drive by dogs without  acknowledgment of their presence on this planet, If I park and leave her in the car, she will still off load with great intensity. So I don’t park any place with her that has that possibility. My presence is part of the package for calm in the car, I am under no illusion here!

exercise –

This was tricky. She wasn’t toy driven, a bit but not for any type of duration. She liked walking but it didn’t make a dent in her exercise requirements. She loved to run, but it was usually paired with running after something to kill. She was great at hiking.

I started to do backyard agility training for fun, and also mental exercise for her. To all agility fans out there, Franny is a dog that ran as fast as the handler, no more no less. If you were bullet fast so was she. She never popped a contact, missed a weave, knocked a bar, or missed a cue. She was perfect! But she had zero interest in the larger agility scene. She clearly was doing this for me, as she never volunteered to do it on her own. It proved to be a great relationship building experience.

Every night we played with fun tricks in the family room. My kids were used as obstacles most of the time, my husband a launching pad when we got into vaulting skills. Those are some of my best early memories.

My husband who is a runner started to take her on extended trail runs, 15-35 miles per week for over seven years. She rocked as his trail companion. They could pass cows, deer, bears, other hikers and dogs. She loved running with Spore! When she turned ten though she kind of started to refuse the outings.  I think this was harder on Spore than Fran to be honest.

things we taught –

She has gone through agility, freestyle, treibball and herding training with me. While none of them totally lit her up, she does enjoy a fun little session in any of these. Freestyle for sure has become fun for her as she ages. great mental and physical exercise!


come to me

down ( without the threat of pain , fear or discomfort!)

touch an object

go to table (go to transferred into a whole bunch of stuff over time)

roll over

sit pretty





between my legs


jump on my back (she wouldn’t go across water when we first got her, so we taught her how to jump on or backs and we would carry her across)

kennel up

settle gets you everything, push gets nothing

hop up

all agility obstacles

watch me

now (if I really needed her quickly on a trail, now meant, post haste!)

stop and drop (if she saw prey to chase, stop and drop was the behavior we taught, we started this on a long line, see prey at a distance, stop, and a whole baggie of steak was dumped between my feet)

sit/stand/down when car goes by (incompatible with chasing a car) we spent an entire summer on old county roads working on this. My husband would drive the car two miles in either direction and just keep passing us. I needed her to hear the car from aways away and start working on her not setting up so much, and then offer a behavior that was better than chasing, a long line was used for this as well. Meat balls worked great too!

on by – when another dog was near by, for us to keep moving if it looked like it may not go well


gate zen – so we didn’t have bolting out of our space, yard, house, car


back – fun freestyle move

books –

These are the books and/or authors that have been with me through my journey and into my professional career. These are not all of the books I have read, but the one’s I found most useful. I went through a period of reading two books per week. And then I had my stack of ‘pleasure’ books as well that I was reading at the same time. Most of these books can be found at DogWise. Where it says everything, I read all of the books/booklets that author wrote. They aren’t all about dogs, but rather relationship, training, behavior and ethology…

Patricia McConnell – everything

Roger Abrantes – everything

Jeffrey Masson – everything

Suzanne Clothier – everything

Terry Ryan – everything

Bob Bailey – all articles

Culture Clash – Jean Donaldson

Jane Goodall – everything

Mark Bekoff – everything

Next of Kin (awesome!)

Applied Dog Behavior and Training (3 volumes) – Steven R. Lindsay

Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog

Crate Games

The Rosetta Bone

Applied Behavior Analysis

Learning and Behavior

Four Paws, Five Directions

Aggressive Behavior in Dogs

On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals

Peak Performance: Coaching the Canine Athlete

The Only Dog Tricks Book You’ll Ever Need

K9 Kitchen

When Pigs Fly

baby Sounds CD

Dr. Dunbar’s Good Little Dog Book

Alone Across the Arctic

A Shepherd’s Watch

Don’t Shoot the Dog

Disc Dogs DVD

Intro to all breed herding DVD

NATURE’S Dogs that Changed the World DVD

Rhythm Paws DVD

My Dog Pulls: What do I do?

The Well Adjusted Dog

The Elephants Secret Sense

things I’ve learned –

Everything! Franny has taught me how to open my eyes to the world around me, be aware, and build my skills. This applies in all aspects of my life. The one aspect of our relationship that continues to grow is our trust in each other. While love was not part of who we initially were together, it has grown over the years through the fun and dark times. When I look at her there is a feeling of fullness and depth. She is part of my personal biography, my every fiber.

Nancy & Franny …

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa Marie Cook says:

    I loved this story from beginning to end. Thank you for opening it up to the rest if us: word for word…we all learned. Xo

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Lisa, thanks for following. I hope it makes you feel awesome about your choices with Durango.

  2. Bosun Dawg says:

    Thank you for telling her story. She is a very interesting dog. It was really a stroke of luck for her that you were the one who chose her. Thanks for the book list as well. There are some authors there I am not familiar with. BTW I love everything that Marc Bekoff writes. 🙂

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      I am a book junky of sorts, I read anything I can get my hands on that sounds interesting. If you like Marc, check out Jeffrey M. Masson. When Elephants Weep, and a Dog Never Lies About Love are awesome. Thanks you for following this series, I have enjoyed your comments!

  3. Lynne Helmhold says:

    Thank you Nancy for sharing this inspiring story. Franny is certainly very fortunate to have found you and you, her. Lovely insights into a ‘different’ dog. It gives me the inspiration to look harder and from a different perspective, at my ‘different’ dog… Thank you again.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Hi Lynne,
      thanks for following the story. after being ‘in it’ for so many years, it was actually a cool journey to put some of it down on paper so to speak. As Bud once told me, our dogs deserve our efforts!

  4. Judy says:

    I fall to sleep with a happy heart, a grateful smile & a contented, snoring dog at my side because you & Franny have been wiling to share your journey & encouragement with us.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Judy, I love you! Mabel and Franny have been on a journey together that started almost at the same time, and the same time we met through them. I still think the old girls have plans for us…!

  5. Noah Massey says:

    I remember the day Spencer smashed my windshield trying to get at another dog. I remember laughing and laughing because I had no idea what I was going to do with this enormous pit bull that both terrified me and I that loved so much. Boy did I need help! Thank god you were around and Fran had already taught you the stuff I needed to know! I’m super proud of you and Fran for becoming a team through all the ugly stuff (and the great stuff too). In our house Spencer and I have one motto we live by “Never give up. Never surrender.” Way to live that mantra!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Noah you always make me smile! You have done such great work with Spencer, and all of your other dogs. If only a little bit of you could rub off on a lot of people it would be a cool world!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s