Camp Unleashed Asheville 2012

I got up early one morning during camp, saw the mist outside, and went to take photos. These are some of my favorites:

Misty morning at Camp Unleashed

Yappy Hour across the lake

Such pretty colors in the fall

People enjoying a cup of coffee and their dogs enjoying a romp

Lady and her pups

Mist starting to lift


One of my absolute favorites





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The man walked into the yard with a pair of sunglasses on, a baseball cap, and a puffy coat on. He briskly strode up to where I was crouched. “Brr!” he exclaimed, “It’s too cold out here to do dog training!”

Naturally, the foster dog I was working with freaked out. From the moment the man had caught her attention, she had lost the quiet fluidity and focus that she had been exhibiting, and had gone tense. Her eyes got wide, her pupils were round, her jaws clamped together and her ears flat to her head, and every single atom of her being was telling me that she was ready to run on a moment’s notice. And at the man’s voice, she exploded into barking – high, panicked, “go away right now!” barks.

“What?” the man said. “What’s wrong?”

The more I observe and work with anxious and fearful dogs, the more fascinating I find it, and the more I learn about my own body language and what kind of signals people send to dogs unintentionally.

For instance, had the man removed his coat, hat, and sunglasses, approached slowly and on a curve, showing his side to the dog and not looking directly at her, and spoken softly and calmly, the dog likely would have recognized him as a beloved foster-father, not an intruder. But the coat (a weird silhouette that she didn’t recognize), the sunglasses (that looked like big, dialated pupils – a “danger” sign in dogs), the hat (another weird silhouette), the direct, quick approach (“charging at her”, if you will), the loud voice (that may sound like a loud, authoritative “warning bark”) all added up to something to fear for this dog.

Anxious dogs are much like anxious people – they tend to over-react to small things. I myself have struggled with severe anxiety in the past, and I understand the feeling. It’s difficult, without practice, to understand the world around you in a ‘normal’ context. Was that woman on the elevator admiring your coat… or haughtily judging the amount of dog hair on it? Is that bruise just a bruise… or is it cancer? Is that smile a real smile, or is that person just smiling because it’s appropriate and they really don’t like what you have to say? It’s hard to tell when something is ‘normal’ and when something is truly off.

Dogs, I’ve found, are much the same. When I first adopted Bean, she would back up and growl if anyone approached at a fast pace. However, given experience with ‘normal’ interactions with people, she ceased being so concerned by it because it became normal. Other dogs I’ve trained have had the same sort of concern, but after good interactions with people approaching quickly, the dogs lose their fear of it because we have acclimated them to a behavior that humans display normally.

In the initial stages of training most anxious dogs, utilizing “dog language” helps dogs lose their fear of people because we are meeting them in the middle and giving them body language they can understand. Removing hats, glasses, coats and making sure your face is clear and readable is helpful. Making sure not to look directly at the dog and instead looking off to one side, presenting the side of your body, and approaching on a curve instead of a straight line can also help an anxious dog be less fearful. Keeping your face “dog-friendly” (slightly squinted eyes, smile without showing teeth, and relaxed posture) is useful as well. Be respectful of the dog’s space, if they don’t want to greet you right away  – forcing the dog to confront you, however well-meaning, is a recipe for a bite (not because they are aggressive, but because a snap or bite is a dog’s very last defense, and something that most anxious dogs are loathe to do but feel they have no choice if in close quarters with no option to get away).

In the end, the foster-dad did, at my suggestion, go inside and take off the glasses, coat and hat and come back out to greet a still-slightly-nervous but much more willing foster pup. The difference a little dogology can make!

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My dog is a liar

Sometimes, people post beautiful pictures of wolves or lions or something equally majestic and carnivorous on Facebook. Sometimes, these pictures are accompanied by some saying that basically equates to “animals are better than humans because animals don’t/can’t lie.”

This is a LIE.

Admittedly, my evidence is anecdotal, but I think any dog trainer could tell you the same thing: yes, animals lie. Even scientists agree that animals lie. Dogs are fairly good liars, time to time. I’m reminded of an incident last night in which I gave each of the three dogs a bone. Bean (who would like to retain control of ALL the bones) got up suddenly, dashed to the window, and started barking. The other two of course followed suit and ran to the windows, wildly barking… while Bean quietly took their bones and piled them with hers, then proceeded to guard the pile. Of course, I took away all the bones, and Bean gave me a look that said very plainly, “Hey! I earned that!”

I will give you another such example. I was taking Bean to an agility class that neither of us were really enjoying all that much. One day, about an hour before I got home, my husband called me. “Bean is limping,” he said. “I’m not sure what happened, but it looks pretty bad.” Naturally, I rushed home and examined Bean who was indeed limping. I thought maybe it was temporary, but knew we couldn’t make class that night – going over jumps would just be too much. So we didn’t go, and about an hour or so later, Bean was acting like her normal self and tearing around the house again.

The next week, the same thing happened. I let Bean in from outside, and suddenly she was limping. I frantically went over my routine, trying to find the reason that she might be limping – were we doing something on that specific day that was causing her injury? I again checked her paws and cancelled going to the class, but I was a little more skeptical this time… especially as she started to run around without impediment an hour later, when it was clear we weren’t going to class.

The following week, when the same thing happened again, I was wise to it. I loaded her into the car, despite how the limp seemed to worsen as we went out the front door, and took her to agility. The whole way to the training center, she laid quietly on the front seat, her head in my lap. When we got there, I lifted her out of the car. Other dogs and their people were going in the door to the facility and one of the dogs started barking and wagging its tail at Bean. Bean, in one moment of pure doggyness, forgot her “limp” and began prancing around as if nothing happened. This continued until we went into the center.

There, after a frustrating first run where Bean refused to take some obstacles and completely ignored me at others, Bean lost it. She threw a temper tantrum. She tried to get out of her leash. She barked at me, at the other dogs, at the people on the floor – not the happy “I want to go!” bark, but the “Oh my GOD I am ANGRY” Shrek bark. I tried to refocus her by having her do some basic obedience, she turned her back on me and began lunging at the dog next to her, which she had never done before. She whined, chewed on her leash, refused to listen. That this was occurring in front of family, as my mother showed up for the class to see Bean run, was even more embarrassing. Our second run went a little better, but I could tell that Bean was not happy at all, and she refused point-blank to do tunnels unless lured with a handful of treats Usually tunnels were her favorite.

We were kind of stuck in the center, too, as we couldn’t leave when there was another dog on the floor, so she just continued to let me know her displeasure. The final straw came when she refused to get up from the floor unless I lured her with treats… and then she would stand up, take a treat, and lie back down again.

When we left, she couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

So can animals lie? I think so. Bean certainly seemed to be lying to me about her limp. I did have her checked out by a vet after the last class, who deemed her to be in perfect health and did an x-ray of her joints just to be sure.

“It’s possible she was just pretending,” he said after I described what happened, including the 45-minute ‘temper tantrum’. “Maybe she didn’t want to go to the class.”

“I think so,” I agreed with him. “I knew dogs could trick other dogs, but I’ve never seen a dog actively trick a human.”

He laughed. “They’re smarter than we give them credit for. She looks just fine, though. She was probably just lying to you.”

To date, Bean hasn’t had the limp reoccur. In fact, she participated with enthusiasm at every subsequent class we went to, and hasn’t tried to chew her leash or lunge at another dog since. My conclusion? What a little liar.

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Birthday Pup


So, since I’ve been teaching training classes (I started February 1st), Bean has accompanied me to almost every class, and she’s “certified” to help me teach. It is totally the best part of my day to go to work with my dog, and it’s definitely the best part of HER day to go, get treats, and say hello to lots of other dogs.

This is what Bean is getting as her reward for being such a good little employee:

A new leash from ResQPup:

ResQ Co. Leash from

And of course, a new toy:

Nina Ottosson "Dog Brick" interactive food toy

If it’s Bean, it Must Involve Food.

She has a birthday coming up at the end of the month (marking her probably-6th year of life) and I’ll definitely be wrapping these up for her.

Though, knowing her, she’ll be WAY more excited about ripping off the paper than actually playing with the toy (just like a pup).

Do you celebrate your dog’s birthday? Do you buy them gifts too, or am I alone in this insanity?

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Potty training your dog

Ok, so after a few months as a dog trainer, I’ve heard a LOT of people tell me that they can’t get their dog house-trained. “I want him to go outside!” I hear, “Not on the carpet!”

While I don’t think ANY dog is beyond training, it takes 3 things:

Consistency, supervision, patience, and praise.

It’s not easy, I’ll grant you, especially when you have a very small dog with a bladder the size of a lima bean, or an older dog that’s been in the shelter for awhile, or a puppy with the attention span of a fruit fly. But it’s all pretty much the same training: when Lima Bladder or Shelter Dog or Fruity Puppy is being house-trained, they’re learning a whole new set of skills.

Look at it from the dog’s perspective. Their life revolves around you, the owner. You decide how much food they get fed and when, you decide when playtime is, you decide when they can go to the bathroom, and you decide all the rules your dog is expected to obey. That’s a pretty tall order!

Some people I’ve spoken to (and I did keep count in the beginning, but I don’t since it’s numbered over thirty now) have an outdated idea that house-training a dog involves “showing them” their mess, scolding them, and putting them outside. So you’re doing three things: you’re showing them where they went to the bathroom (and dogs don’t really know the difference between right and wrong, so the fact that you are ‘showing’ them their urine on the carpet essentially means nothing to them), you’re yelling at them (again, an unfathomable reaction to the dog – you’re dragging them over to this specific spot on the carpet and acting very angry), and then you shove them outside (whoo hoo, reward!). Obviously, to many dogs, this kind of behavior is really weird, but something that they, being lovable companions, accept without comment.

“But s/he looks really guilty!” I’ve had people tell me.

Of course they do! It’s not because they make the impossible leap between a mess on the carpet and your reaction, it’s because every time someone is mad at them, or at someone else, that person has a specific set of physiological changes they undergo. Breathing usually becomes faster or they hold their breath, pupils dialate, posture changes, etc. etc. Dogs are amazing people-readers. So naturally, they associate these changes with your impending anger at them, especially if you are staring right at them as you walk up.

If I become angry at, say, someone I’m talking to on the phone, my dogs will slink around and act very guilty. They will go hide behind a chair, or go peer out forlornly from the spindles of the staircase. Have they done anything? No, but they sense my change in tone of voice, the physiological changes that I undergo, and how my posture changes. Seeing all this, who wouldn’t be a little concerned? And it’s not that I get mad at them, it’s just all the “symptoms” of anger are there, and dogs, like most thinking and feeling creatures, know that when the pack leader is angry, it’s Not Happy Fun Time.

To use one last example about how dogs perceive: say you went to a foreign country where you didn’t know the language. You had to go to the bathroom, so you went to the one that you assumed was free – one of, say, twenty bathrooms available to you – only to be berated by an angry hotelier. Not knowing the language, you can’t be sure what he was saying – only that it was “wrong”. So next time, you pick a different bathroom – only to be berated again. You try another bathroom out of sight of the hotelier – he becomes even more angry. This is how your dog can perceive the bathroom issue – “where do I go?”

The answer is, of course, outside or in an area specific to where you want them to eliminate. But how to teach them that? We have to go from “dog level”.

1. Confinement.

This is not as terrible as it sounds. If you, being the intrepid explorer, had only ONE bathroom to choose from, it would be difficult to make a mistake. So too, if your dog has ONE place to go to the bathroom, your chances of success in potty-training will increase. Most trainers, myself included, recommend crating the dog when you can’t watch them (such as when you go to work). Get a crate big enough for them to stand up and turn around in, and generally dogs won’t eliminate where they are sleeping.

“But my dog HATES being in a crate!” This is kind of a tough one. You bring a dog home from the pound, only to find they pitch a fit being in the crate (I have a dog like this, so I can sympathize). The solution is to confine them to a smaller, cleanable area, such as a kitchen, while you teach them to love their crate (and I’m planning a post on this later) and so you can hold down your job.

(A brief note about crates: don’t use them as “punishment” to the dog – they should only be Happy Places where food and treats and delicious bones get delivered, and a place the dog can go to “get away from it all”. Using the crate as punishment generally ends up with the dog hating the crate because they view it as “punishment”, not a neutral or good place to be).

Again, if you can’t supervise and your dog isn’t reliably going outside to eliminate, confining the dog is best for both your sanity and theirs.

2. Schedule the dog’s potty-time.

Why a schedule? Much like people, dogs work best if they know what to expect. If they know you come home at 5pm to let them outside, they will anticipate that. If you come home unexpectedly at 6pm, their routine is disrupted and even the best-trained dog may leave a mess on the floor. It also puts their bladder on a “timer”, so to speak.

3. If there’s a mess, don’t fuss!

This is probably the biggest point to potty-training, and one people fail to follow. If you didn’t catch the dog in the act of urinating on your carpet, you can’t punish them for it! It’s counterproductive, because the dog doesn’t really understand that the carpet was $1000 (dogs having next to no concept of money), that you paid good money to get it cleaned (again, no concept of money) and that by messing on it, they are being VERY BAD (dogs having no concept of where to go to the bathroom if we don’t teach them). It’s just another cushy place to go, like that bunch of grass outside.

The only time that you should correct your dog (a good, loud “AH!AH! will do it) is when you catch them in the act. If more than 3 seconds has passed after they pee on the carpet and you can’t caught them, the dog has moved on to another moment and won’t understand why you’re angry.

4. Clean it up the right way.

Dogs have an extremely keen nose, and are able to differentiate between many different individuals based on the scent they leave behind. This is why it’s hard for dogs to understand why we DON’T want them to leave their scent signature all over the carpet. “But it smells like ME!” they might protest, “I’m making this MY territory, the same way you do with your picket fence and borders of shrubbery!”

This is why it’s so critical to clean it up the right way. You don’t want to leave any of those scent molecules in urine or feces behind for the dog to inhale, to tell them that this is an acceptable place to go again.

A good enzyme cleaner will clean up those scent molecules and break down the enzymes in dog urine so they can’t smell to go back to that place. I highly recommend Nature’s Miracle for this (in addition, I’ve cleaned up blood, vomit, mud, oil, wine and a whole bunch of other stuff with it), but any good, enzyme cleaner will do.

5. Praaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaise!

When the dog does go outside, Praise! Praise! Praise! Dogs will often work for our praise, and when you fail to have any reaction to them going to the bathroom in the house (or sternly warn them away when you catch them in the act), they will start to understand what earns your praise and affection and what doesn’t. So always, always praise a lot when they do go to the bathroom in an appropriate place. Giving treats, play or anything the dog considers “good” is excellent.

6. Eyes on the dog!

Watch your dog when they do go to the bathroom outside so you can learn their body language. My dogs often circle or sniff the ground like they are following a scent trail (very interested-like) before they eliminate, or pace a lot trying to find just the “right” spot. Dogs will often do this inside as well, and if you learn their body language, you’ll be able to “read” when they need to go outside and take them out quickly.

7. Other reasons dogs go potty inside.

Even the most well-trained dog will have accidents from time to time, so be prepared and don’t get upset at them. Dogs that are suddenly frightened will sometimes pee inside, even though they “know better”, or dogs that are very submissive will sometimes urinate while they are being petted. Don’t worry! With a little confidence-boosting training or appropriate counter-conditioning of the fear, the issue should go away (but again, sometimes, accidents just happen).

8. Territory marking.

There is a difference between “territorial marking” and peeing. Dogs pee  (and/or poop) because they have to “go”, whereas territorial marking is peeing to send a olfactory signal to other dogs that this is THEIR turf. Male dogs are usually the ones that mark their territory more than females, but in female dogs it isn’t unheard of. They also do it to make their home smell like “them”, peeing over unfamiliar odors. This is somewhat of a dominant behavior, and the first step I usually recommend is to get the dog into good training classes (again, punishment doesn’t work for this situation).

Another reason dogs might mark their territory in the home is because something out of the ordinary has happened – perhaps you’ve brought another dog into the home, or a new baby, or you’ve started a completely different job with a completely different shift. In this case, dogs can mark because they are stressed and feel the need to reaffirm their territory, and it’s important for you, the owner, to understand that the dog may feel that his life has been upended and is trying to assert some control where he can.

To deter the dog, again, constant supervision, crating, and cleaning up are necessary. If the marking is in specific places, some people have had luck with either a spray that discourages the dog from urinating in a specific area or attaching aluminum foil to a certain spot that the dog likes to mark (the foil makes a weird sound and will splash urine back on the dog, discouraging them from marking there again). Making the place or object unattractive is the key here – either by making it inaccessible or unpleasant to be in (there are some contraptions out there that will spray or release a citronella mist when they detect motion in the area, which can help). There is also the definite recommendation of spay or neutering your dog, as dogs who are spayed or neutered generally cease this behavior.

9. Medical problems.

If you have a well-trained dog that is suddenly urinating much more frequently, or a dog that is straining to pee, or any other unusual behavior (or any of the behavior listed above that you may be concerned about), please take your dog to the vet to rule out medical causes!

In conclusion, your best bet is to house-train the dog using the tips above – just remember, your dog is completely dependent on you for almost everything, so be patient and consistent! And, y’know, investing in a couple of gallons of enzyme cleaner doesn’t hurt either.

Do you have a question or want to add your tips about house-training? Please leave a comment!

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Camp Unleashed

My, it’s been awhile since I’ve written! Things have been super-busy around here, what with my day-job picking up (winter is a busy season), family and friends, and getting a second job as a dog trainer. I’ve finally nearly completed my dog-trainer-training (no mean feat considering it’s nearly 100 hours) and am probably going to start teaching classes next week.

However, I neglected to write about going to Camp Unleashed, which has been eating away at me for months, so without further ado, I’d like to right that.

I find it hard to describe it, and you know, it’s actually kind of depressing that I have to wait until September to go back! I have to admit, having gone to summer camps and such as a kid, I had kind of thought that it would be fun, but not the with-friends kind of fun that always makes for a great time (being inherently shy, I brought a couple of books just in case). I thought Bean would enjoy running around, but I still wasn’t sure if I could let her off the leash. It required a huge leap of faith on my part…

I couldn’t be more wrong. First, I met four absolutely wonderful ladies. There was my cabin-mate, Owen, and her darling Chloe. Owen and Chloe were the (very deserving) winners of the Camp Unleashed contest. We met Maria, Julie and Stacy at meals, and the five of us ended up hanging out together quite a lot. In fact, we plan to get a reunion together this coming fall, and I’m sincerely hoping everyone can make it, because they are all awesome ladies with incredible dogs, and we had a blast.

Beyond a lasting friendship, hanging out with people who are as obsessed with their dogs as I am was beyond wonderful. Barks and Crafts with Colette, Freestyle, long long walks in the mountains, introductory dog swimming lessons, canine massage, nature walks, puppy playtimes, agility… I am utterly serious when I say it was a dream vacation for a dog lover. I mean, look at this:

Trooper, Sophie, Gillie, Molly, and a spaniel

This was Bean’s face the whole weekend:

Bean's face at Camp Unleashed

Owen’s dog, Chloe, and Bean got along pretty well. They had some sort of doggy girlfriend thing going on the whole time.


This picture cracks me up every time:

Chloe's stink eye

One of the best things about camp was having acres and acres and acres to play on with the dogs. Nothing but woods and wide-open fields, plenty of room for even the biggest dogs to stretch their legs:

dogs running in the soccer field

Bean responding to her whistle recall:

Happy face!

Lots of agility equipment to play on almost at will:

Bean running on the agility course

One night, there was a talent show for anyone who wanted to participate. There was a group of dancing golden retrievers, a fly ball champion, Maria’s talking dog (they had an EXTREMELY hilarious ‘conversation’ that I got partially on video but you can’t hear much of the dialogue), and Dr. Kay’s ‘magical reading dog’:

Dr. Kay's Reading Dog

One night, they held a campfire and I was asked to read the story about Bean that I wrote that won the blog contest. I guess that though I’d given it thought and even a few tears, having to put my love and gratitude for Bean into words was completely overwhelming. I pretty much cried through the whole thing, because I am weak and also because I love my dog and probably developed a sudden fear of public speaking. But it was good anyway, even though I was embarrassed.

The main thing about Camp Unleashed was really finding the bond between Bean and I was stronger than I thought it was, and being able to trust her. That I could let her off leash and have her running around, playing, sniffing and peeing on everything she could was an awesome feeling. After a traumatic experience with a previous dog taking off into the great unknown in a thunderstorm, it was a pretty big deal to be able to do that and trust her to come back.

The best part about camp, outside of the great people and dogs and the beautiful area and the lake and the fun and the crafts and the activities was definitely Julie and Maria’s idea to take a  night-hike around a small lake. We took our dogs and some flashlights and took a trail around the lake in the dark. It was a beautiful, clear night with no moon so we could see all the stars, and the dogs ran around sniffing after all the invisible things in the dark.

If you love your dog and you want to take a vacation where they are included and even celebrated, I cannot recommend these camps enough. The staff was wonderful. The activities were 100% fun (including things like dock-diving, tracking, fly ball, canoeing… pretty much anything that you can think of that includes dogs), although it was really, really nice just to chill by the lake with Bean in the sun sometimes, too. Some people just spent the whole time chilling by the lake or walking their dogs in the mountains, coming in for meals and evenings by the campfire.

Anyway, I cannot WAIT to go back next fall. I’ve already signed up and I’m counting the days!

Some more pictures:

Bean at the docks

Bean and Molly on the beach

Maria's dog Lucy

Bean LOVED the beach. LOVED. IT.

Bean, Molly and Chloe

Stacy's dog Trooper

For about a billion other photos, check out my Flickr page!

Also, a huge thank-you to Camp Unleashed, Annie Brody, Dr. Kay and everyone who helped send Bean and I to Camp Unleashed. It was a completely amazing experience with Bean, and I hope to see you all again this year!


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The Bean Weekly

I cleaned out my car a couple of nights ago after an agility event. Among all the purse miscellanea and coffee cups that miraculously appear all over the place was all the detritus of a week spent carting the dogs around: biscuit crumbs, a few mortified liver treats, a muddy towel, and the desiccated pickles from a McDonalds hamburger (which Bean always manages to shove under the passenger front seat after she’s eaten the rest of her weekly after-agility burger). Life with dogs, I tell you.

Last Friday, Sarah Babcock (of Richmond SPCA fame) graciously invited Bean and I out to her gorgeous farm in Richmond to do a recall/off-leash test. And I’m totally not kidding, her farm is beautiful, and any dog’s dream home. Huge pastures, a pond, lots of grass, agility equipment for days… A human’s dream home too, it must be said, especially with this huge old house built in the late 1700’s, just breathtaking architecture, especially at sunset… I digress. Bean did pretty well with the off-leash test. I’ve never exactly had her off-leash because I am sometimes a helicopter dog-parent and am paranoid of her running off, but she did marvelously and stuck around which is what I wanted to see. Bean had a lovely time sniffing all kinds of new things and rolling in the grass like the wild dog she is, as an added bonus. Naturally, I forgot to bring my camera, so I have no photographic evidence of her acting like a crazy beast, you’ll just have to take my word.

Sarah also hosted an open agility event at the SPCA on Tuesday, called an ‘agility play night’. I had wanted to go to one for some time now, but either my schedule or the weather have been uncooperative so it was my first time on Tuesday. It was a ‘tunnelers’ night, with a bunch of tunnels set up around the course. There was a nested, easier course and a more difficult course for more advanced students. I wasn’t at all sure Bean would be thrilled to be doing agility for the second day in a row, so I chose the easier course.

I was totally wrong. Bean LOVES tunnels. Loves them. Probably would have done the course all by herself. I have no idea why she loves tunnels, but she does. Our first run, she kicked it way up into overdrive, apparently just to get my heart going. She did a perfect run, and then a second, taking directions like a pro. She was all “Mom, I got this,” running the course. We’ve had issues with agility in the past – her not wanting to take jumps so much (don’t worry, I’ve had her thoroughly checked by the vet and he just said, ‘It’s probably just easier for her to run around them, right?’) and longer courses that stressed her out – so having this dog taking perfect direction and running flat-out was kind of like someone handing you the keys to a Corvette after you’ve driven a Honda Civic all your life. It was a-mazing. I don’t think I could keep the grin off my face if I tried.

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