Zip1: Introductions

July 2018

Zip arrived a couple of weeks ago, just 5 months old, to join Team Genabacab.

Team does not feel particularly together just yet as the parenting skill of some Team members are working up the near-vertical learning curve. The youngest of the Team is Merrick, now 4 years old and has had no need to develop a role as a teacher, so this arrival has been   …. interesting.

Who is she?

We are discovering who she is day by day as she becomes unzipped. What she is not, quite yet, is “Genabacab”, a home-reared pup from parents of my selection. The missing parts are unknown genetic heritage and unknown early rearing.

She is from working stock, primarily up on Dartmoor which is very open land with wild unfenced sheep that require athletic, clever dogs for best management. These dogs are often proven by selection of competency and vigour. Not by size but by power. We see her heritage as she expresses exceedingly colourful language to the Suffolk rams in the neighbouring field. They are more impressed by her than any of the other dogs.

She was barn reared and left for a pet home at 11 weeks. I am sure her ability to spring direct onto the kitchen table arose from the barn rearing rather than the pet home. But there is no evidence of a lack of social skills, but lots of evidence of extremely fine-tuned survival skills.

In the long summer evenings she chooses to be in the garden working hard to catch moths, bugs, butterflies, water from the hosepipe and everything and anything that is moving. After landing on the TV after fly catching in the living room, these activities are strictly outdoor only. If she begins to start fly-watching indoors I am able to redirect her quite easily.

Living with dogs teaches us many things when we are open to learning. One my early collies used to watch for approaching cars from over my shoulder when I was driving. Apart from needing a towel for the dribble, I firstly considered this quite amusing in a 12 week old pup. By the time he was 2 years old any single movement when he was in the car needed to be worked, read: chased. If there was no traffic the need transferred to the white lines emerging from underneath the back of the car. He looked like a real nodding dog. With hindsight vision I should have never let this begin and restricted his travel to a crate covered in a blanket, or settling him down in the passenger well. He needed to be blocked from seeing any movement. He only did this when in the car, he had little interest in traffic on the street.

Two points of interest

Young collie brains are like empty drawers waiting for the right items that belong. These items are normally mobile stock such as other dogs, sheep, chickens and their brain will develop excellent skills in organizing this drawer. But if the only items to place in the drawer, and for some dogs their drawer cannot stay empty, are moving cars, skateboard, moths, flies, then that is what their drawer will become filled with. I also note that the drawer is in a very specific cabinet, and it only tends to fit in that cabinet.

Jack never chased traffic unless he was in the car.
Zip does not chase anything when in the car she settles well but is as yet untested on the street.
She chases moths in the garden, but not in the house, and this is likely to be seasonal.

When they are young we have the chance to suggest certain items for this drawer and discover which cabinet it belongs in. This is not restricting them and never letting them chase, but making sure that it is channelled towards something that cannot cause harm. We do not follow the “never” protocol, but choose this, not that.

We have bred these dogs to urgently fulfil a need to prevent movement. When they can control movement they feel complete and fulfilled, when movement cannot be prevented they will endlessly chase.

Whilst we are in the draw shopping stage I will carefully control her exposure to movements. I certainly would not let her watch other dogs racing around such as agility classes or flyball, I would certainly not take her anywhere near football practice or parks with skateboards.

Once we have the right sort of items already in her drawer, sorted and organised games such as sheep-balls and sausage chasing, she will be allowed to browse these other moving items and will find them unsatisfactory in comparison her existing, fulfilling drawer. She may be over 12 months old before such browsing is arranged.

Merrick getting “Zipped”. I can asure you M would not be Zipped unless it was her suggestion!


I do not see problems or issues. Dogs, and people, have quirks. Quirks often have a purpose and function and may be an expression of their personality or experience. Quirks are very real to the quirky amongst us, but seem odd to the non-quirky, boring folk.

Zip, aka Spitfire and Child of Dragons, does not share. She does not share space, me, the sofa, certainly not food, never food. Yet.

But tonight she wanted to share her prize with me. I was enjoying TV and she arrived with a mouthful of pre-digested cherry stones wrapped in a thin layer of fox poo. I know it was fox poo as her very favourite place to share affection is around my neck and this was dumped on my shoulder.

But I am prepared.

On my coffee table, there is never coffee, but an IKEA box, with a Zip-proof lid containing precious items such as remote controls and a pack of wet wipes.

The important thing of note is “she shared”.

I feed my dogs raw food, which for her was a treasure of joy and wonderment. The first day she dutifully collected every old bone from the garden, some of which pre-dated ancient history, and cached them in a drain by the front door. I only noticed when the other dogs would not pass the front door. They had never met a Spitfire before so respectfully stayed behind the threshold.

She is a small body and, I suspect, needed to fight for and protect all that was precious from her larger litter mates.

Two weeks on and we can now eat in a bowl alongside the other dogs, without gobbling or trying to dip into another diner’s bowl. This began in the crate but she has quickly learned that food is frequent, delightful and plentiful. Bones are still enjoyed in her crate so the older dogs can enjoy a leisurely time with their own bones and not need to defend.

I live in hope that the restaurant of “frequent, delightful and plentiful” will override the need for pre-digested material from other creatures.

Bloom and flourish

My agenda is not complicated. I want to find out who she is, what she enjoys and teach her how to bloom and be the best Zip that any Zip could be. This means I need to reduce the stressful elements that may diminish the daily pleasures. She can eat bones in her crate for the rest of her life if she needs to. Certainly Merrick still takes her treasured-bones to exactly the same location that her puppy crate was stationed. This is probably the place she considers safe to relax and eat. The others are content to spread around the garden at respectful distances. All dogs should be able to eat at their preferred rate and be stress free.

My life is filled with lots and lots of treat delivery, sometimes when training with a single dog but also training as a group. I will need to be able to teach her when a forthcoming treat is for her and when it is for someone else.

I use 2 cues: the dog’s name and direct eye contact.

This is more important than sit or down. This is a necessary life skill for this dog living in this house with these dogs. This is a skill she will need to practice every day, usually more than once.

Training or teaching or engineered flourishing is about moving towards the desired and away from the undesired. It is not about punishing, scolding or extinguishing. It should never be about moulding a dog to fit your dream or make your life easier. If the dog does not succeed then the failure is loaded onto the dog. It is most surely the failure of the teaching process or the unrealistic dreams and expectations.

We show the youngsters, or inexperienced, how to do succeed before we ask them to practice in tricky situations.

I consider this one of the most important philosophies we can share with our clients in lifeskills classes. We teach people how to engineer success and avoid failure. We teach the skills of looking for the strengths of that individual and making sure they are moved towards success in their future.

Futures are different for every dog. What I consider a lifestyle necessity may be irrelevant for another dog in a different household. By teaching the skills of “engineered flourishing” then all dogs can learn to live their best in the lifestyle of their future.

Learning Life Skills

delivering a piece of food

You can follow the lessons with Zip and Friends:

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If you are a Member, you can follow Zip through her training, where ever that may take us!

For the next few months she will be learning to live with The Team or more realistic, us learning to live with her!

Next: Zip’s arrival from Merrick’s view point and the learning she will need to do to develop a life long friendship.


  1. Yvette

    Fantastic article.

  2. Julie van Schie

    Wonderful! Your empathetic view of dogs is always so refreshing!

  3. Jen Neilson

    “Engineered flourishing” – Love this!

  4. Jane

    Superb article, really looking forward to following this journey with Zip

  5. Justis

    Wonderful! And congratulations to Zip for landing where she will be allowed her quirks. Looking forward to following her journey to Ultimate Zip and a part of Team Genabacab.

  6. Chris Bond

    Your insight is always so refreshing, Kay. The world through the mind of a dog, where fox poo is enormously high value and offering it to her human is a milestone of trust. So cool. And I’m rolling with laughter. 🙂 I look forward to hearing more about Zip as she grows.


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