We Just Can’t Save Them All

kona of kona's touchI read an e-mail last Thursday from a colleague who was upset by a call from a new client regarding their five-year-old Beagle. Mittens (not his real name) was in trouble and the trainer had reached out to our private group to try to offer the best and fastest help possible. Reading the story about this Beagle flooded me with memories of our years with Kona, especially the first two years. I don’t talk much about her, it’s very personal, but she’s been a strong motivating energy for me since the first moment I laid eyes on her. In fact, the day I read the letter was the 25th anniversary of that day. It gave me the shivers.

While reading the e-mail, I had just arrived at a three-day dog training conference, and couldn’t stop thinking about Kona, and the brutal options I had received when I first called a dog trainer those 25 years ago. I was so relieved that there were so many gentle and humane options for Mittens. After that, I just kept thinking, “You protect that Beagle from harm, be gentle with her (despite what the experts were telling you), then you educate yourself and dedicate the rest of your lifework to changing that system”. It seemed obvious. I relished the thought that 25 years later, my esteemed colleagues were on the thread with educated, safe, professional advice. I offered what I thought was a hopeful, lighthearted two-line respite about changing our lives and opening a gentle dog training business, signed it, and prepared for my weekend. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?

I thought about this little Beagle constantly after that, and I watched the e-mails flow through the group one after another with great, compassionate ideas, and also some hard facts about possible outcomes. The advice I received 25 years ago when Kona was exhibiting the same behaviors was a 360-degree turn from what I was reading today. The ideas about how to help this dog were spot on and I was so hopeful that this little guy would be okay. I thought that the owners would be so grateful to get this great, safe advice and be on the right track. I was so glad they had found my colleague and I knew she would be able to get them on the right path. It was going to be a long, difficult process, but I was hopeful for a good ending. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?

I wanted it to go well so badly that I had missed the part in the e-mail about the owners calling shelters threatening to give the dog up. That wasn’t supposed to be part of the scenario. It became apparent that Mittens was not going to be as lucky as Kona. The trainer was trying desperately to provide just the right words, and just the right timing of appointments, so that these owners would continue to work with Mittens. There was a new medical problem with Mittens and that was going to be the deal breaker. Mittens’ issues were many and this last straw would be too heavy. It didn’t feel good. A few days after the e-mail on Kona’s anniversary Mittens’ life was over.

I remembered a phone call I got as a young trainer about a dog that needed help “RIGHT NOW”. They had the name of a punishment trainer and they were going to him, unless I could find an alternative. I was heading out for a business trip, with a vacation to follow and the client needed help. At that time, I had no local support, but I told them I would find a trainer and get back to them. Two days later, I called from the road with some names, but they had already sent Jumper (not his real name) off to boot camp.

When I got back from vacation and followed up, the rest of the story was worse. After two weeks at boot camp, the dog came home, bit someone the next day and was put down. I was devastated and I thought it was my fault. I had so many “if only” thoughts storming my mind I couldn’t think. Why did I leave and not train this dog? Why did they have to go this route? Why are there trainers out there still being violent with our pets? Why couldn’t they be more patient, more thoughtful, more educated. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?

Beagle Kona & Laura DorfmanIt’s been 25 years since I began this mission although it really started 50 years ago with every kitten, turtle, bird, rabbit and who knows what that I brought home with me. I fought to keep them, care for them and love them. I then watched my heart break over and over as they left me. I was lucky, as I began my path on this earth, to be safe enough or hurt enough or just open enough to let my true heart be open to my non-human friends. Not everyone is that lucky or safe or able to be open, to nurture another. That’s what we ultimately try to teach. We are humans and animals walking our paths and we do it together. Some of us are more fortunate than others to understand this, but no one is different. When we judge the worst in others, we are not open to listening to them, therefore we can’t teach. When we observe and not judge, we can listen openly and teach compassion with compassion.

Some of us stay on Earth for a long time and some for a short time and every being brings lessons. I am sure I will never forget Mittens and I am sure that the heartbreak of this trainer will also be remembered. It will remind me of my heartbreak with Jumper and of my too-many-other clients that didn’t make it or I never got to. We can share the heartbreak of all trainers who have lost a dog while trying to save them or didn’t have the chance. We try so hard, just like the good doctors for their patients and the dedicated teachers for their students. We are a world of interconnectedness and when there is loss, it breaks our hearts. And for them, we break for a while and hopefully put ourselves back together stronger to carry on. After all, doesn’t everybody do that for their beloved dog?

The karmic energy of all beings never leaves this earth. We are changed by everything our senses connect with, even if it’s for just a moment, we are changed. We are forever connected to all that we know, and all who cross our paths. We have a lot more to do, and we have already made a huge difference. We can find peace and strength from the ones we do save and hope that we can also find peace and strength from the ones we don’t. It helps us stay on the path.


Kona died from pancreatic cancer on October 21, 2000, at ten years old.

kona’s touch, inc. “gentle teachings for you & your dog” opened for business in January 2001.

Until everybody does this for their beloved dogs.





A Holiday Ode From A Dog (Well, Really Three)

Dear Friends and Family,

We hear you’re coming over tomorrow. Some of you may already be here visiting and we have to tell you we’re already a little nervous. Well, actually our humans are a little nervous so we thought we’d step in and help.three dogs waiting We’re all concerned because some of you may not know about dogs and how we act. Some of you may not know about our particular house rules and the things you have to watch out for because we can get into some pretty crazy things when left to our own antics.

So let’s get started:

  1. Normally we’re very quiet and relaxed around here (well most of the time), but holidays add stress and as you know, stress can bring on unexpected changes. We dogs, some of us, get confused about changes and new things. Don’t you?
  2. Therefore, we try to keep things as consistent as possible. When you come in, if we are not already in your face, (we mean, when we are sitting quietly, while we wait for attention) ask about us. We’re sure our humans would be happy to explain house rules.
  3. Let’s keep all doors closed and have all interactions with open doors happen quickly and efficiently. If we happen to be “Door Darters”, make sure someone is holding us or we are safely in our crates.
  4. When you come in, leave the main hall area as quickly, yet gently, as possible. In our house the main jumper jumps way more in the hallway, so coming right into the house and then having greetings and hugs in the family room helps. Of course, if we had a scared or shy dog, this scenario would be very different.
  5. When we’re in our crates especially with a food treat or bone, it’s probably better to just leave us be. It really scares some of us when you stare at us especially if we have high value treats. It’s a survival thing, ya know. We will however, most likely stare at your food (reluctantly from a distance). We know it’s a double standard, but sometimes it really is a dog’s life .
  6. And speaking of staring, did you know it’s not a cool thing to do in the dog world? As much as many humans may enjoy direct eye contact, it makes most of us very nervous when we don’t know you and you stare at us. Some of us even get nervous if you do know us.
  7. Also, while we’re in our crates, please don’t open them unless our humans have asked you to specifically. All of us dogs have our own different relationships with each other and sometimes some of us need to be alone with our treats.
  8. It’s best if you’re staying here or coming for dinner, to make sure what you bring is in a good safe place where we can’t eat, tear, tug, or drag it. Especially if it’s food. We like food a lot. Close your doors if you’re staying here, we may not be allowed in your room this weekend. When in doubt, put things up high. Purses, briefcases, computer bags are all better off away from puppies.
  9. We want the food. It’s that simple. We’re sure our human’s will tell you, but we’ve been asked to ask you not to feed us without permission from our humans. This one is really hard to ask (from a dog’s perspective), but some of us have allergies and all of us will eat almost anything and it’s often not very good for us. We will still eat it, so we’re bound to ask you not to feed us without permission. But go ahead and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ask for permission.
  10. If you’re not really savvy about dogs, here are some tips. Most of us do not like to have you lean over us, especially if we are small or shy. We don’t really like to be patted on top of our heads, it doesn’t really feel good. Hugs and squeezes aren’t really a dog thing, they’re more of a human thing. Please don’t chase us and use funny sounds.

    If we go to find some alone space, just let us. When we're ready we'll find you.

    If we go to find some alone space, just let us. When we’re ready we’ll find you.


These are some of the particulars in our house, but we hear most houses with dogs have the same or similar scenarios.

Have a wonderful holiday from the “dogs of kona’s touch”


The Puppy’s Growing Up: In Bullet Points

The puppy turned one and he’s starting to show some signs of growing up. He’s coming into his own and his personality is beaming with new SM Jack eats stairsfound wisdom. He is growing emotionally and he is sharpening his communication skills daily as he walks this life with his human family, his canine family and his environment. AND he’s a little doofy puppy full of joy and energy and surprises everyday.

  • Sometimes I feel like I can start leaving him out of his crate and sometimes he eats the ex-pen.
  • Sometimes he acts so well-trained and sometimes he eats the stairs.
  • Sometimes he gets so wound up after exercise he zooms miles of circles and sometimes he just passes out in the middle of the floor.
  • Sometimes weeks can go by where he doesn’t mouth me anymore and then all of a sudden one day he wants to eat my arm.
  • Sometimes he gives me his full attention and sometimes it’s like he doesn’t even know me.
  • Sometimes he’s a “Cool Brave Dude” and sometimes he’s weary of things and a little unsure.
  • Sometimes he hangs with me and follows me everywhere and sometimes he walks into another room to explore.
  • Sometimes he weaves through my legs with ease and sometime he crashes into them and doesn’t have a clue where to go. Okay that one’s on me.
  • Sometimes he cuddles up really close and sometimes he sleeps at the edge of the bed and I try not to take it personally.

Well, all are true and all can be confusing.

As with human adolescents, all of the differences are possible and all exist together, sometimes even peacefully. Your adolescent pup is going through hormonal changes every minute of the day and every day.

We have to go through their changes thoughtfully with them.

I learned a very important lesson early on in my dog training career and I follow it still: “If you’re ready to make a change in the puppy’s life, wait for the right time to make the change, think about it very carefully, make the decision and then wait another month.”

Sometimes after that month is up, you make the change and sometimes you decide to wait another month or six. Most importantly, remain calm, stay patient, and remember we are the species that they are trusting to make good choices for them. Even when we have reached our limit, take three deep breaths, stay even and compassionate and have extra understanding during this phase of the pup’s life.

They are counting on us.

Jack in paw bed



Different Modes For Different Folks

Lately I’ve been watching my colleagues debate an issue that appears to be confusing. Opinions run deep but not always accurate.  IMG_3722

I’m talking about holistic health care for pets, and humans for that matter.

What I would like to do is try to clear up some confusion. This may be of benefit when our clients bring up these issues with us. While we need not offer our strong opinions pro or con, well, at least we have the knowledge.

The bold text is actual quotes from Internet dictionary sites;

“of or relating to holism
relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts. Holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body. Holistic ecology views humans and the environment as a single system.

Holistic health is a concept in medical practice upholding that all aspects of people’s needs including: – psychological – physical – social – spiritual should be taken into account and seen as a whole”. Wikipedia

That’s the meaning of the word ‘holistic’. It is not a specific form of medicine. It is an umbrella phrase for the belief that all healing begins with being cognitive of mind, body, spirit, which can then include many different types of healing modalities.

Here are some alternative medicines that come under the umbrella term of Holistic Medicine:

“a system of therapeutics based on the administration of minute doses of drugs which are capable of producing in healthy persons symptoms like those of the disease treated. homeopath´ic”
Dorland’s Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers

It is mentioned in Wikipedia that homeopathy first started in about 400 BC with Hippocrates first working with small doses of a root to cure the disease you get from large doses of the same root. Then again, in the 16th century the pioneer of pharmacology Paracalsus declared that small doses of “what makes a man ill also cures him”. Finally Samuel Hahnermann gave homeopathy its name and expanded its principles in the late 18th century.

“involves the insertion of extremely thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. A key component of Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain.
Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (CHEE) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. By inserting needles into specific points along these meridians, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will re-balance.” The Mayo Clinic

Wikipedia’s definition is very similar to the Mayo Clinic. Acupuncture is a 2000 year old medical technique used both as the main and alternative practice of medicine in many countries. Acupuncture has been available for companion animals for many years.

“is a complementary and alternative medicine health care profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders of the neuromusculoskeletal system and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractors emphasize manual and manipulative therapy for the treatment of joint dysfunctions Currently, chiropractors practice in over 100 countries in all regions of the world, however chiropractors are most prevalent in North America, Australia, and parts of Europe.” Wikipedia

“is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person’s mind, mood, cognitive function or health.
Some essential oils such as tea tree have demonstrated anti-microbial effects, but there is still a lack of clinical evidence demonstrating efficacy against bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. Evidence for the efficacy of aromatherapy in treating medical conditions remains poor, with a particular lack of studies employing rigorous methodology, but some evidence exists that essential oils may have therapeutic potential.” Wikipedia

Many scents are being used to change our pet’s reactions to stress in their lives which can come from anxiety, illness or general dis-ease. Essential oils make up a large part of the aromatherapy field and now DAP, a scientifically developed product specifically designed for dogs and cats to help ease stress is also available.

Reiki (霊気?, is a spiritual practice developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui which has since been adapted by various teachers of varying traditions. It uses a technique commonly called palm healing or hands on healing as a form of alternative medicine and is sometimes classified as oriental medicine by some professional medical bodies. Through the use of this technique, practitioners believe that they are transferring universal energy (i.e., reiki) in the form of qi (Japanese: ki) through the palms, which they believe allows for self-healing and a state of equilibrium

Reiki is a gentle, quiet modality. Our pets can be receptive to energy work. It is non-invasive and painless.

kona’s touch, inc

There are many other alternative modalities available for our pets. Some others are therapeutic massage, laser therapy, light therapy, and hydrotherapy, to name just a few. Research any of these modalities to help increase your knowledge.

Let’s Remember

Let’s remember that our pets have no opinions about the different modalities and no preconceived notions about whether they work or not. If you have a recommendation from a trusted source and you’re unsure, why not let your dog decide?

Training For Life: A Day at a Time

As many of you know, all right, most of the free world knows, I have a puppy. He’s almost a real dog now, getting ready in a month to Imagecelebrate his first birthday. As most of you also know he’s quite a special little dude. So it seemed only fair, as I welcomed him into my life that I offer him the best that I can. Being a professional dog trainer, the best is awesome and endless and it grows more endless every day. I read, hear and witness every hour, more and more amazing behaviors that could keep us busy for years. My new favorite is the dog walking up the tree backwards. Oh, yes, I LOVE this stuff.

So, back to the puppy. He’s keeping me busy and this last seven months, he’s been training every waking minute. It’s so important to catch them early and establish a house plan with the pup from the beginning.

Here’s my house plan:

This is a human and canine house and the human’s have a good plan. It works best if you follow our plan.

All who live here will be treated with love, compassion and respect.

We have a language and we know how to teach it to you.  All communication will be taught peacefully and you will get a chance to learn it before you are requested to act on it.

We will continue to study your language in an attempt to make all communication fluid, agile and stress free.

We will do our very best to keep you calm and safe.

Oh yes, and in this house, we won’t dress you up except for warmth or weather safety. So far, anyway.

So that’s our plan. It’s a pretty good deal for canines living in this house and when the puppy came I had to step up to the plate to keep it that way. I’d been waiting for a puppy for a long long time so I didn’t take it lightly. I accelerated my training modes. I stepped out of the training box, and back into the box again to get every idea I could to teach this new puppy in our home the best that I have.

The pup came at an important time in my life. I was just starting to get back some of the use of my body that I hadn’t had for a few years and I was in good spirits. I was very glad to be back full-time in the training world which is my job. I was also juggling caring for a home, being in a full time human relationship, caring for two other dogs and having a life. Some of you add human children to that list and time just disappears. As many of you know this routine, it’s not easy to train a puppy when you’re so busy.

Here’s some things you can do:



Teeth brushing: My electric toothbrush has a two minute sequence that lets me know every 30 seconds to change the quadrant of my mouth. (Yep, even tooth brushing uses quadrants). When I first started, I reinforced twice each thirty second span. Then once in thirty seconds and now he has a lovely two minute “stay” on the bathroom rug while I brush my teeth. Now I can start to

add distance and a little distracting dance while I brush. And now I’m exercising, it’s multi-tasking at it’s finest.


Washing dishes, putting away, or emptying dishwasher .

Throw the ball in between putting away dishes, if your dog is a messy “fetcher”, do this when you are loading the dirty dishes so as not
to compromise the clean ones.

Down-Stay” or  “Sit-‘Stay”

Put away one dish, reinforce “stay”, work until he stays for emptying the entire  dishwasher or dish drain. Some puppies fall asleep on the kitchen floor.

“Stay” or “Fetch”

Getting dressed: Once you start to establish a beginning “stay” you can bring your clothes, and your items you use in your dressing ritual.  Start with just going to get your clothes in the closet, reinforce the “stay”. Then get the clothes in the drawers, reinforce the “stay”. Soon you will be able to get dressed, brush your teeth and stop to view a news story, with your puppy in a nice “stay” the whole time.

“Leave it”


For folding clothes from the dryer. Especially sock and underwear stealing puppies. Ask your dog to “leave it”, and reinforce when he doesn’t try to steal clothes. Click and treat his attention to you, not the laundry and fold while you’re reinforcing.

“Heal”, “Follow”, and “Wait”

Put clothes away after folding. “Heel” or “follow” on flat areas, not stairs.  Here you can also do stair work if you have them. Either “wait” at top of stairs until you’ve gone, or at doorways or a “go ahead” cue to send them down the stairs in front of you.

“In Your Crate”

This is easy to do during any of your daily chores and it helps the puppy to learn to be in his crate for all different times spans and helps him get used to it whether you are home or not. Ask the pup to go in his crate and then stop by when he’s quiet and calm and reinforce the calm behavior. Be spontaneous, click or use a quiet verbal marker and reinforce quiet, walk away. Let him out, do a few “sit’s or “downs”. Ask him to go back in. Mix it up, soon he’ll be happy to just be in there, waiting for the new exciting things to happen in his life.

These are just a few. It’s all in a day. I saw a man doing yard work last month and every time he bent over to pick something up his dog was there with the ball. No wasted bending here, he would throw for his pooch, clean up his yard and everyone was happy. It was much better than his dog being inside, bored and restless or outside, bored and mischievous. If you don’t have a yard, use a long line. If you don’t use an electric toothbrush, use a timer. If you dry your clothes outside, just better distraction work. Training opportunities are there all day and every day that you are with your puppy.

Make one commitment today to get your thoughts out of the box and make one training plan in your day, with your dog. You’ll be glad you did and your puppy will be ever grateful.