Wednesday, March 21, 2012

hugely successful walks

Now that the weather is nicer and I'm actually home when it's light out, we've had more opportunities for walks and the dogs are loving it like crazy.

I've been walking them separately and working hard on their leash pulling and reactivity using the clicker, and they have both become (almost) model citizens on their walks by themselves.  The only time we have an issue is if something really out of the ordinary happens, like the guy up the street playing with a remote control car that's the size of a small dog, or the random off-leash dogs charging us.  I think I've spoken to all of the neighbors who used to keep their dogs off-leash in their yards, and most, if not all of them, don't do it anymore. In fact, the only one that does it keeps her eyes peeled for me, and when she see's me coming, she puts her dog in the house while we're 2-3 houses away and I typically wait and do some basic obedience with whoever I have while she's doing that.  I don't like it, but I can at least appreciate her being aware that we don't appreciate her off-leash dog charging us.

In the past, walking them both together has been extremely difficult because they both pull like crazy and if Buster whines, Roxy becomes more hyper-vigilant than normal, and if Roxy notices something and gets curious with her ears and tail up, Buster whines, which sets off the barking... it's a vicious cycle.  We've been working on them being together without reacting and we've had a lot of success, but we haven't done full walks together because they weren't ready, and we need more practice in ideal conditions (fewer people and dogs out!).

But today we didn't have enough time for separate walks and it was later in the evening so I opted to take them both together, knowing there would be fewer people out with their dogs.  We only encountered one dog, a beagle, who usually bellows and growls at us while the teenager on the other end of his leash asks if he can say hi because he's friendly...  But today we were able to walk by the beagle, on the opposite side of the street, without Roxy or Buster making any noises.  All we needed was to stop and take a breather upon approaching because they were both excited, and then Roxy pulled a little on her leash when we were walking by (pulling forward, not towards him).  Of course Roxy pulling made Buster pull a little, but a little "Oops!" (for Roxy) and "Easy!" (for Buster) got them both to settle down and continue peeing on everything in sight. 

There were plenty of dogs barking from their houses and back-yard tie outs, and all Roxy and Buster did was look over and maybe walk a little faster. And both pups responded so well to "Leave it!" when we passed the house with dogs running the front fence, barking at us.

I'm so pleased :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

roxy's first valor agility event

Roxy and I went to our first VALOR event this past Sunday.  VALOR is a venue for agility dogs that might need a bit more space or management in order to compete -- dogs that are nervous around people or other dogs, for example.

We ran in the training division, which is just the beginner level courses, but they allow you to bring treats or toys into the ring.  Roxy ran 2 different Jumpers courses, and one Standard course.  She ran qualifying runs (what is referred to as a 'Q') in all three courses, which is really exciting considering it was our first event.  All that is required for a Q is for the dog to complete all the obstacles in the right order without lunging at or aggressing towards the camera person.  There is no time limit in VALOR.  I'd still like to work on our speed, and we more practice on distance handling, but in the meantime, I'm really happy with our progress and specifically Roxy's ability to adapt to a new environment so well.

Roxy also received a lot of compliments, she met a few people (and of course checked their hands and pockets for treats) and she saw several dogs, but didn't react to any, aside from mild curiosity.  My favorite comment was when we walked into the ring on our first turn, in a brand new environment with strange people everywhere... Roxy was so relaxed, mouth open, tail wags and paying attention to me, and someone said, "Wow, she's so happy!"

Here is my favorite video of the day, primarily because it's her fastest run.  She was really booking it, and even though she knocked down a bar and missed the last jump, I was so proud.  We re-ran it for a Q, but this run is the one I'm happier with because her speed is better.

And here is our standard run (I know the video says Jumpers, it's just labelled wrong).  I'm really proud of her, she went up the A-Frame and the Walk without any hesitation.  We've been doing it in practice without a problem, but this was a new venue with equipment that is new to her, we were outside, which we hadn't done before, and there were new people and strange dogs as well.

It was a very successful day, and we're looking forward to doing it again!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Not the best quality pictures, but they make me smile, nevertheless :)

Buster, don't you dare tell anyone what I'm about to do.
I luffs you, Buster.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

awesome walks

We've had some really successful walks with both Roxy and Buster lately.  Their leash-walking skills continue to get better, and we're at a point where I never get dragged down the street, but do occasionally get a tight leash.  I'll take that, because I'm more concerned about the reactivity, whining, and freight-train pulling towards people and other dogs that we used to get.

You talking about us?

Just today, Buster walked by an unattended dog without making a peep, and just next door he walked by a barking and lunging Maltese.  Sure he was pulling forward on the leash a little as we walked, but he didn't start whining and pulling towards the dog, he didn't bark, and he kept walking when I said, "Let's go!"  He also ignored the Puggle who was lunging and barking through the glass door in her house.

Roxy also did great.  We saw a neighbor of mine who has an English Springer Spaniel.  In the past Roxy and her have been able to interact a bit because the Spaniel is not jumpy and in-your-face, which is okay in Roxy's book.  The Spaniel is a little scared of dogs that are over the top and her owner has been spending a lot of time helping her feel more comfortable with other dogs, and because Roxy's behavior around other dogs can be a little unpredictable, we opted not to have them greet one another.  We stood about 10 feet away from each other chatting because both dogs were doing so well.  Roxy kept a loose leash the whole time we chatted, except when she was walking politely towards the Spaniel in an arc (!!!!!).  Roxy had some really great body language, she was relaxed and checking in with me frequently, and even looked away when they made eye contact (contrast that to her prior behavior of pulling at end of the leash, on high alert, possibly barking, and barking and lunging when eye contact was made).

Progress is wonderful.

Friday, February 24, 2012

take the good with the "bad"

At agility today, Roxy decided she only wanted to wander around the course when it was our turn to run... she had no interest in actually running, or even walking around, with me.  But she did run with our instructor, and she greeted every person that came within a few feet of her with tail wags and butt-offerings ("Here's my rear, please scratch!"), including a complete stranger.

And on the way home we stopped to get gas, and Roxy didn't bark at the gas station attendant and responded to "leave it" when I asked.... which has been something we've been working on, but haven't had a whole lot of success with.  After all, the gas station attendant is a monster who attacks the car, and Roxy doesn't like it one bit.  So, this was a proud and happy moment for us.

I guess I'll take a dog who occasionally ignores me on the agility course (the "bad") if it means a dog who happily greets strangers and doesn't make the gas station attendant pee his pants (the good)!!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

roxy's learning to play

Roxy and I have been playing agility for a little over a year now, and she really seems to enjoy it. My goal has been to keep things light and fun. I want agility to be a positive experience for her, a happy outlet for energy, and another way to help build her confidence. So far we've been pretty successful, although there are times I get a little frustrated when I can't figure out what is going wrong, but I've learned that when I get frustrated, we get nowhere, so instead of getting frustrated, I just run around the agility course with her, pretending there isn't actually a course to run. Anything she does is fair game and then we're done for the day. It helps me get my frustration out, and makes sure to keep it fun for her without much pressure to do certain things.

So, with agility we've started playing a bit more, in general. I'm experimenting with different techniques to get Roxy to play with me more, so I can transfer them over to agility and help build speed and drive in her. The first thing I did was put her play bow on cue.  I say "Roxy, play paws!" and she play bows.  I use it to get her excited, because "play paws" is how I get her excited to play with me at home.  It's transferred over to agility class a bit, but I really want to find other ways to get her excited (partly so I don't have to get on my hands and knees anytime I want her to run fast, but also because it's good to mix things up with her and use different motivators!).

So, I've been working on getting her interested in playing with toys that don't involve food (like tennis balls, tug toys, stuffed toys, etc.). Some days, I come home from work and she's beyond happy to play with a tennis ball. Usually she only wants to play with the one that Buster has, but nevertheless, she wants to play with it, which makes me happy! When we play, it's not a formal game of fetch or tug or anything -- it's playing however she wants to play and however she's having fun doing it.

So, here's a short clip of her playing and chasing a tennis ball. Although I don't think she's really too sure how the game works yet, she does seem to be enjoying herself, at least a little bit.

This is a huge improvement over her previous interactions with tennis balls, which included the patented, "Why you fro dat fing?" look with the long-winded, "I aint gettin dat," sigh.

In addition to playing with the tennis ball, Roxy has also been learning how to tug!  Prior to a few months ago, the only thing she'd tug was her flirt pole.  That's literally the only toy she'd play with, besides from de-stuffing toys, and that isn't a team sport for Roxy.  Her normal flirt pole is taller than I am, which makes it a bit cumbersome to use while running a course, so I made a small flirt pole, but she wasn't quite as interested in it, so I still need to troubleshoot that.  In the meantime, we started playing with the easy "Tug-It!" toy, which she wound up tugging into 2 pieces in a matter of 30 seconds (thanks to turkey sausage!), so we moved on to the advanced version, which she enjoys and tugs with, but hasn't destroyed yet (whew!).  I also have a rabbit fur tug style toy that we can put food in, but the interest in that is still short-lived, so we'll keep working.  Either way, I'm happy she's tugging on something small enough to bring to agility classes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

sugar is home

I didn't think I could part with Sugar.  And actually Rob and I considered keeping her... it was a frequent discussion, honestly.  She was with us for 5 months, but it felt like she'd been with us forever. She fit right in with Roxy and Buster, adored Rob and I, and was just overall the dog we were always looking for.  She didn't mind being the last one in the bed (snobby Roxy needed "her" spot) and Sugar was perfectly fine to sneak in later, and snuggle by my feet.  She was able to read Roxy and Buster so well.  She knew Buster didn't want to share his ball during fetch, so she'd chase him towards the ball, but veer off to the side when he got close to it and come back to me, so she could chase him again when I threw the ball.  She figured out quickly that sharing her body heat was the way to Roxy's heart. She snuggled like a champion, and was a pro at surprise french kissing you.  She was always ready and willing to go with you, even if that meant sitting in the yard watching you rake the leaves.  It was incredibly hard to let her go.  I mean really, who wants to let go of the perfect dog?

But in the end we found her the perfect family. They love and adore her, and she loves them back.  I knew it was meant to be when, during the meet and greet, she completely ignored me and my play requests, in favor of belly rubs and snuggles for her future Mom and Dad. She's doing wonderful and I seriously couldn't be happier with her placement.  Below is an update I got from her new family, I guess I can stop crossing my fingers that she'll come back now, huh? :)

From her new adopters:  "Sugar is doing great and we're definitely enjoying her! She fits right in and is perfect. We had her around Amanda's whole family last week for her bday and she was great. She listens very well and she learns quickly too. I already taught her high five! lol. At first she was kinda nervous. After a few days she started learning that this is her new home."

"She loves car rides. Any time we go by the car she wants to jump in. She is doing great though. She loves jumping on the bed with us and I think she already claimed one of the couches as her couch. Haha."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

roxy is not the dog i adopted.

Two and a half years ago, I fell in love with a rescue dog outside of a Petco in Ledgewood, NJ.  We named her Roxy.  That day, we went shopping at the pet store, where she proceeded to panic when walking down the aisles.  In our backyard, an unpredictable noise and movement in a bush resulted in her avoiding the bush for months.  Roxy would run from most people and occasionally sniff others with all of her weight on her hind legs, prepared to run at any moment.  She would not allow strangers to pet her, and if they reached out, she ducked and ran away.  She jumped and ran from loud noises and any objects that were unfamiliar to her.  She growled and barked at the garbage can in the backyard when I moved it from one location to another.

Two years ago, Roxy would have looked like the saddest dog on the planet.  Her face was constant worry and she was always on the lookout for scary things.  When people were visiting our house, Roxy was literally depressed.  She'd go to the bedroom and lay there, unlikely to venture out and explore. She wanted nothing to do with strangers.

Now, I could go on here about Roxy's behavior. I could literally talk for hours about her fearful and shy behavior from 2 years ago...but I won't.  This post isn't about the dog I adopted over 2 years ago.

This post is about the Roxy I have now... about the Roxy that greets new people and solicits petting from strangers.  The Roxy that doesn't simply look for treats from strangers, but actually solicits attention from them.  The Roxy that bolts out the back door, runs directly to the no-longer-evil bush to check for fuzzy creatures.  This post is about the Roxy that drags me down the aisles at the pet store, enthusiastically sniffing everything, and occasionally turning back to me, smiling and wagging her tail.  This post is about the Roxy that shows off her play skills when strangers come over, by promptly play bowing to Buster, and chasing him around the house.

Just a few weeks ago, Roxy made a completely ridiculous spectacle of herself trying to play with Buster while there were people in the house.  I was sitting on the couch with my best friend, and Roxy ran into the living room and dove under the coffee table towards Buster.  She play bowed from her under-the-table vantage point, and demand barked at him to play with her.  She wanted to play, and she wanted to play NOW.  It didn't matter that someone else was in the house, and it didn't matter that the someone else was sitting right near where she wanted to play.  A little later in the night, George walked into the house while I was on the couch, and Roxy ran to the door and eagerly greeted him.  Now, this was a man that Roxy had previously ran and hid from.  It is the same man who, two years ago, stopped by to let Roxy out one night, and Roxy refused to come back inside the house without a line of treats for encouragement, and him not in sight.  So, on this night a few weeks ago, he walked into the house on his own, and Roxy greeted him with tail wags and she was asking for attention -- there was no barking, no running away, no ducking away from his hand, none of it.  Just happiness, excitement, and tail wags.

Blurry tail = happy dog!

And just this week, our foster dog Sugar, had a meet and greet at our house.  I had Roxy and Buster in another room initially, so the couple could meet Sugar independently.  But Sugar was pretty preoccupied with sniffing the door where her buddies were, and eventually just sat by the door (that's what I get for teaching her to "ask" to open doors!).  I asked the couple if I could let Roxy and Buster come out, and they said sure, they are dog people and the more dogs, the merrier.  I cautioned them to simply ignore Roxy, as she would likely sniff them but prefer to explore without being pet initially and they were completely comfortable with that.  Roxy and Buster ran to greet the strangers, and Buster was his happy-go-lucky self.  Roxy ran out with Buster to greet the couple, and eagerly sniffed them. She sniffed them while they pet and interacted with Buster and Sugar, and then playfully skipped away and picked up a Nylabone to chew.

Then something amazing happened.  Roxy looked up from her bone and saw the other dogs getting some loving.  She tilted her head to the side, then got up and walked over to greet these "strangers."  The male stranger was squatting down and petting Buster, and Roxy walked right up to him and turned into him, between his legs, effectively positioning herself between the "stranger" and Buster.

My Roxy, who used to cautiously sniff strangers and always positioned herself with an escape route, was soliciting attention from a strange man, and there were no treats in sight.  I had not asked her to "go say hi," and she was not greeting him and running back to me, expecting treats.  She approached and solicited prolonged attention from someone who was, in fact, a stranger.  She then walked away from the no-longer-strange-man and approached the stranger-woman and nudged her hand with her head.  She was asking for attention, and specifically soliciting petting on top of her head, rather than ducking away from a hand.

Not only did Roxy solicit attention from these "strangers," Roxy also made a fool of herself... she was throwing her front paws on the ground with zest, and inviting Buster and Sugar to play with a tail wag and a play growl.  She was excited and happy, and relaxed enough to let herself go in play, despite "strangers" being present.

Now, we still have some things to work on, don't get me wrong.  I'd like to get to the point where she is greeting strangers with tail wags because they predict awesome things are about to happen, but this is huge progress for a dog like her, and I couldn't be happier to see her growing, learning, and changing.  The simple fact that she is able to relax enough to play while strangers are present is huge, and I am thrilled that she is able to leave some of her past behind, and keep moving towards happier times.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

sugar's story

I went to the kennel with Roxy and Buster to bring home another foster dog.  We tried one male pitty who Roxy absolutely adored, Thunder.  Roxy and Thunder were play bowing and wrestling in no time, and I thought we were sold on bringing him home.  Then, I brought Buster out to meet Thunder, and, unfortunately, Buster had no desire to interact with Thunder at all.  Buster would growl whenever he came near.  We tried parallel walking and slow introductions, but Buster just wasn't having it. So, we opted to try another dog -- a female -- and hope that worked better for Buster.

Tammy, the foster coordinator and one of the only people I trust to help me introduce Roxy and Buster to dogs at the kennel, came out with a dog named Sugar, a white dog with red freckles and spots who had the most pathetic look on her face.  It was obvious that she had multiple litters of puppies in her life, and she was listed as only 3 years old. I was told she was friendly, and had been surrendered to a shelter without her puppies. The puppies had come in a few days later, but they were all adopted.  Sugar was recently treated for heartworm, and was to be kept calm for the next 4 weeks.

Buster was a much bigger fan of Sugar... his body language was so much more relaxed, he wasn't avoiding looking at her, and he was even sniffing and wagging his tail.  His whale eye was gone, and there were no growls of disapproval.  Roxy tried to play with Sugar, and Sugar just stood there, looking completely lost.... so we took her home for foster.

She spent the first several days asleep on the couch right next to me.  If I got up to go in the kitchen, she followed.  If the other dogs began playing, she would lift her head and watch for a few moments, before putting her head back down with a heavy sigh.

Her body was in rough shape.  She was practically molting, she had intense diarrhea, and her teeth were beyond yellow -- they were actually becoming orange in some spots.  We offered lots of bully sticks and chews, gave her a bath, and brushed her often and her body began to heal.

Slowly, but surely, Sugar showed that she was genuinely a loving dog, who's mission in life is cuddles, snuggles, and kisses.  She started to figure out our routine, and began running into her crate at meal times, and hanging by the backdoor when she had to go out.  She began zooming around and smiling, and was pretty much content to be loved all day long.

We started working on training, and Sugar was thoroughly confused.  She knew how to sit, but not on cue, and it was almost as if she offered a sit when she didn't know what to do, or when she thought she was in trouble.  But she seemed to have no idea that there were things she could do that would be rewarded, that she could alter her behavior to earn treats and other rewards, so I spent a lot of time working on that with her, and you could see she started to understanding that sit = reward.

Then, after a couple of weeks and she had settled in, Sugar started digging holes in the yard.   I approached her to redirect to a toy, and when I reached down for her collar, she literally cowered.  She flinched, sat, and rolled half-way on her back to expose her belly to me.  I felt terrible, knowing that someone had likely mistreated her... so as she rolled over, I rubbed her belly and she wiggled her little tail nub at me while staring in disbelief.  We did this a lot, I "practiced" approaching her and just loving her to pieces and after about a week of that, she stopped cowering and rolling on her back, unless she just plain wanted a belly rub.

Next, I wanted to teach her to target my hand... I called her name and she ran over to me and sat at my feet. I lifted my right hand up, about a foot in front of her face, and Sugar flinched.  Again, here is this literally perfect dog, and she was expecting someone to hit her.  So we worked on that, too. 

Sugar settled in very quickly, and her and Buster became fast friends.  Roxy was a little less tolerant of Sugar's play attempts, but all-in-all, Roxy liked her.  We had gotten very lucky with this dog that no one knew much about aside from being "friendly."  And, in the mornings when we get up and get ready for work, I would often find all three dogs, snuggled up on the bed together.

Sugar accompanied me on a trip to upstate New York, where I met with some of my rescue friends and volunteers from Rescue-a-Bull.  She met many dogs, and plenty of people, and she was fabulous.  By the end of the weekend, she was tired and bit less interested in making friends with the other dogs, but she had behaved ever-so-wonderfully.

I've been taking Sugar to adoption events, but we haven't gotten a lot of interest in her, despite her loving personality and adorable wiggles.  I've been updating her pictures, and posting about her frequently, to keep her fresh in everyone's minds.  And, we've been getting more inquiries for the last week or so, so I am beginning to get hopeful that she may be going home soon.  And although I'm hopeful, I'm a bit sad, because Sugar is literally a perfect dog.  Roxy and Buster both like her, her energy level matches theirs, and so does her intensity.  She adores Rob, she is funny, and snuggly, and just a completely lovable dog in all possible ways.  She is going to make someone very happy, that is for sure.  And the difference in her, from the day she came home and pouted while sitting on my deck for our adoption pictures, and now, is pretty amazing: