How I got bitten by my dogs today and why it was MY fault. Another intro to Canine Communication with Cameras and Canines

I am going to start by saying that it is my belief that one of the things we have to do as dog owners or dog owner educators, is manage our expectations.  I am an optimist and also a realist.  This is the story of how I got a serious dog bite from my own balanced pack and why it was my fault. Lovely, snowy, Thursday morning. I post a cute animation about waiting until it is socially acceptable to play Christmas music.  I giggle and immediately put some on Google play.

I have A TON to do today but decide to spend an extra hour in bed reading blogs and resting my throbbing tooth abscess. I was given antibiotics not to be taken on an empty stomach so I head to the kitchen to find something quick and easy.  Apples and cheese? Yes please. Perfect.  I cut both up, put them on a plate and head to the downstairs bedroom to chill while I read and snack. The 5 doggos join me and Elsa Mae sits down and relaxes by my side.

Now I KNOW BETTER.  Elsa will ALWAYS have a food guarding or reactivity response somewhere inside her.  It is MILES better and she can now have strange dogs into our space and even eat in the same room as certain dogs.  That is a huge win.  I will write her full story soon and include words from the team of people who collaborated in saving her life and getting her to Canada. That is a whole story in itself. The short form... she was starving.  Like really almost starved to death.  She fought for every scrap of food she managed to get, often taking it to her steep, rocky den on the side of a cliff. She was a baby herself but had puppies after her first heat and would try to bring the still-born pups some of the few bits of food she managed to obtain. IMG_20171101_193809_614.jpg

A realistic training goal for her is to manage and improve her reactivity around food.  It was so severe I would never make it a goal to ELIMINATE it all together.  It won't happen so why set both of us up for failure? It is my job as a dog family member to read their communication signals and protect them from harm.  I know her thresholds and triggers, as I should.

Back to my day. I see Dudley the dane approaching the narrow space between bed and wall and fleetingly think 'is this going to end poorly?'. I feel like shit and am super into this blog I am reading and lose focus.  Bang.


Elsa does exactly what she does when feeling threatened around food. She always looks and sounds some fierce when protecting her food, but that was her survival tactic.  Fair enough.  Dudley then does what Dudley does when he is threatened or in a confrontation with no exit.  Especially in confined areas where there is no chance for flight.  The other option is fight. Fuck.

Dudley's story will also be written soon. Short version. I did not protect him enough when he was a big, happy gangly pup. He was attacked a few times. Not by my choosing he was not allowed to grow up with his siblings and mama through some very important developmental stages.  He is a sweet softie but has no bite inhibition.  I have told clients over the past decade that I would take a dog with a bite history of 100 other dogs if none dies, gets stitches, or requires veterinarian care.  That vs. a dog who has one or 2 bites only but one or both ended up in a trip to the vet, stitches or worse.  Ian Dunbar is one of the basis and roots of my 'not one size fits all'   beliefs and practices.  He has inspired me for 2 decades.. hmm... maybe longer? I have studied every bit of information, theories and practices there are out there from every source and trainer, educator possible.  Plus more.

Back to the present.  Elsa does what she does, Dudley does what he does and I jump in to break up the fight, worried even if Elsa started it that the damage Dudley is capable of is formidable. #sizematters ?

Right. Getting side tracked again.  So I break it up.  Broken up literally hundreds of dog fights in my life and am known to be quite effective at it. They go back at one another.  I break it up again. Get in between them and Dudley retreats.  I am sick, feverish and not as alert as I typically am.  I go to grab the food, cursing myself whilst turning my back on the usual best of friends. Dang.  Game on again.  This time I do not follow my own rules and again worried about the potential damage, I dive on to them and try to separate their heads from one another.  Does not matter which one got me.  The point is it was my fault.

I finish breaking them up with the help of my super chill, surfer dude dog and calm, fearless leader Radish. Separate them so I can assess the damage and yikes. Pain sets in.  I think I mentioned I have had s few dog bites in my day.  Way larger than this one.  I even had one on my thigh that turned into ...hmm.. cellulitus? (please correct me lol). It took 8 mos and a hospital stay to fully heal as I have a high pain tolerance and ignored it until it was too late. There was no ignoring this one.  Perfect, clean, deep punctures in the muscle, bone and nerves of my RIGHT HAND... I am a leftie but I shoot (photos) with my right.

No way I can drive.  Clean it best I can while choke back tears, cursing my stupidity and try to find someone to take me to emerg.  My awesome neighbor bundles up her 3 kiddos and off we go in the snowstorm.  I arrive apparently pale and dripping cold sweat and shaking.  I am taken right in.  6 needles to freeze it then the lovely staff do their thing.  Now I am back at home after lots of needles, stitches, xray as the puncture hit bone and a prescription for some pain stuff and anti biotics.

I am supposed to be packing, purging and orchestrating the move for our house, Aaron, myself, 5 dogs and 6 parrots.  We are going to be on the acreage in one WEEK. I am not sure if I should share videos and photos here or save them to show while I help you understand canine communication etc.  I will post a few images and a video then explain them at a later date.  I am still in a ton of pain after painkillers and I anticipate a long night of discomfort and regret.

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How many stress and  communication signals do you see in this video?! I will post a verbal play by play of what is happening and what they are saying soon!

Why does your dog look away from the camera when you try to take a photo 🙈📸

Photo of my dog tied to a tree with out fav leash Notice how just as you go to capture a captivating image of your canine companion (I love alliteration )they

  • Look away
  • Give derp face
  • Suddenly have an itch
  • Tongue out w squinty eyes

How annoying is THAT! Next time that happens THANK your dog for giving you polite communication signals.  When we stick a camera, or a cell phone in front of fido's face they feel fear or discomfort as to them it looks like a giant dilated pupil. Dogs constantly read each others and our eyes to see what is going on. So when we hold it up and then ...GASP... put it in front of our own faces. This is uncomfortable and they are not able to read it's 'intention'.


How cute is Elsa Mae above?! She makes my heart hurt.  Anyhow...those last second look aways or irresistable itches are actually very clear communication signals that they are uncomfortable and stressed. So what can you do? How have I photographed literally HUNDREDS of strange dogs and not had image after image filled with stress signals? What if I told you it is easy to condition your canine to crave camera attention? In fact, for those of you that follow the naughty sock bandit misadventures of @elvis_the_pomsky may know he is trained to give an adorable head tilt when I hold up my camera and say "say cheese.  By the way don't ever say cheese for photos or ask others to. I will tackle that in a future post. Stay on topic Sandy! What? Squirrel?


In order to respect them and create the canine connection we crave (I know..groan) you must create a reason for them to overcome that instinct.

Those that have taken my workshops or had a session with me know I call it PAYING YOUR MODEL. I begin every single session by holding up my camera and a high reward treat (my go to is always Ziwipeak) and the very second they look towards my camera I mark it by saying "yes" and then I pay them! You have to have the timing perfect so they catch on quickly.  Secondly, do NOT over do it.  I am maybe 3 frames or shots and I back off the camera, pay my model and let them have a break. VOILA!

I would love to hear about your fur babies and see your snaps! If you have any questions or want to just say hi please comment below.  Have a happy day and make a stranger smile today.  You never know who really needed it.

Sandy and the pack

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