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:

Monday, September 12, 2011

remembering to celebrate little victories

With all the time and effort I spend working on Roxy's existing fears, I sometimes forget about her old fears.  The fears we've overcome and tucked away in blog posts, hoping they're gone for good.  But I think it's important to sometimes be reminded of those fears and recognize progress based on them.

The other day, Roxy and I were visiting someone we hadn't seen in a while.  We were in a neighborhood that we occasionally visit, but not often enough to say it's a familiar area.  We were walking down the street and a woman we know was dragging a trash can down the road, from one house to another.  When she saw us, I waved, and her initial response was, "Well, here comes Roxy, she's going to be afraid of the trash can..."

Well, we stopped to chat, and Roxy didn't flinch at the trash can.  She didn't look at it while it was moving towards us or while it was making noise.

Two years ago, Roxy would have avoided the dragging trash can, putting her body on the side of me that was furthest from it.  About 1.5 years ago, she would have barked at the trash can.  One year ago, she would very cautiously explore the trash can with some encouragement, making sure to leave all her weight on her hind legs while she slowly leaned in to sniff.  If the can moved during that time, the can would have been "scary" and required some major desensitization and counter-conditioning work.  But just a few weeks ago, Roxy completely ignored the trash can.  She ignored it upon approach, and she ignored it while I chatted with the woman.  In fact, while we chatted, Roxy was more interested in saying hi to her friend than anything else.  Oh, and she ignored the trash can when we started walking in the same direction as the woman, with trash can in-tow, rumbling and scraping on the pavement directly behind her. Two years ago, if something was behind her making that much noise, she would have been panicked, looking over her shoulder and attempting to get away from it.  Even a year ago, she would have struggled with that scary noise.  But a few days back, Roxy wasn't even curious about it.  She was relaxed and enjoying her walk as if there was nothing different going on.

Now, this may not seem like a huge deal, but remember, Roxy avoided the evil bush for over a month, after just one unpredictable incident.   Her other behaviors consisted of cautiously investigating falling leaves (occasionally barking at them), barking at the trash can in the back yard when it was in a different place than normal, running from the sound of the dishwasher turning on, avoiding the house's attic fan, and backing away and cowering when strangers moved in her general direction....

Obviously her behavior has progressed since we've had her, and even more so since we've been working specifically on her fear issues, but sometimes I am so focused on working on her current fear issues, in the here and now, that I forget that she has come as far as she has. But this little encounter with the garbage can was a wonderful reminder of just how far she has come, and has reminded me of a variety of other little victories that I have since forgotten.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

a new foster for sonny

Sonny went to his new foster home this weekend.  He had been back home with me for a total of 17 days and he was doing really, really well.  Of course that made this whole thing more difficult for me.

Sonny was still nervous with Rob, but had begun playing in the same room as Rob, as long as Rob was sitting still.  Previously, he wouldn't even come out of his crate if Rob was in the same room as him.  Sonny was also going out of his way to venture into the second bedroom (where the computers are) when Rob was there.  He was doing some "drive-bys," where he would run in, sniff a little, and run back out.  He would do this several times in a row before going back to relax in the Papasan chair in the living room.

Sonny and Sugar were also becoming fast friends.  Sugar and Buster were doing a lot of interactive play with toys, instead of just wrestling, and Sonny was always trying to get involved.  I actually think that is part of what helped him make the leap towards tugging -- he was watching Sugar and Buster play tug together, and then participating in their game.  I would grab the tug toy while they were playing, and tug with him a little before letting go and wandering away, to let him take in what had just happened.  Soon after, he began bringing me the rope toy and attempting to tug with me.  It was pure bliss for me.

Anyway, when we were told Sonny was being returned, it was never in the cards for him to come back to my house.  We had our two dogs and one foster, and that was sort of our limit.  In addition to that, we have several weekend and week-long trips coming up in the next six months. We typically bring the dogs with us on short trips, and leave the dogs with a dog sitter on the longer trips.  So, every planned trip would be a huge stressor for Sonny with the potential to set him back pretty far.  Leaving him with random people each time we went away would be traumatizing for him.  Attempting to take him with us on short trips would be equally traumatizing because there is no way to avoid his two biggest triggers:  people and changes in his environment.  So, the goal was to find Sonny a foster that could take him long term at the moment of his return.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The situation became unsafe, and poor Sonny was panic-stricken, so I went and got him less than 12 hours after I was told his adoptive family wasn't keeping him.

I knew when I got him in my car that he wouldn't be staying for long. And I knew when he walked in my house and went from frozen-stiff and terrified to the wiggly, happy little boy I remembered, that he wouldn't be staying. And I knew every morning, when I got up and was greeted with his speeding tail, thump-thump-thumping on his crate, that he wouldn't be staying.  And I knew every evening, when I came home and he jumped up on the couch to snuggle me and kiss me, that he wouldn't be staying.

But none of that made it any easier to send him off to his new foster home this weekend.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

more progress for sonny

One of the biggest challenges thus far has been getting Sonny to come out of his crate when Rob and I are relaxing in the living room.  Lately he's been coming out more to explore, but he doesn't do a whole lot while out there.

With Sonny's newly discovered love for tug and high desire to play tug, last night we saw something different.  Sonny came out of his crate and grabbed his tug rope.  He spent a good 10 minutes playing tug with me while Rob was sitting on the other side of the couch.  Rob moved a few times, and although Sonny stopped to observe, he went back to tugging right away.

I know it's hard for Rob to see, but these behavior changes in Sonny are monumental.  For Sonny to be relaxed enough around Rob to play is something serious.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

sonny tugs (with video!)

Sonny has been back with me for almost 13 days and he is doing very well.  He warmed up to be almost immediately, and is back to licking my face, play-snuggling, and just running about like the goofy dog that he is.  Sonny has always been semi-interested in playing fetch, and he's not biased towards tennis balls -- he wants me to throw whatever toy has caught his attention at the time, regardless of what it is.  So he's been bringing me the rope tug toy, the Kong Wubba, tennis balls, and these tennis-ball-sized squeaky toys that are shaped like gummy bears.  I've been throwing everything he drops for me to throw and he's been having a blast doing it.

But last night when I came home from work, it was different.  Sonny didn't want to just fetch the rope toy, he wanted to TUG.  He ran towards me, rope dangling from his mouth, and he was prancing his little paws around, instigating me to grab the rope.  The moment I grabbed on, he started walking backwards with the rope, attempting to tug.  I was encouraging him to tug and play and he started to tug back, tail wagging like crazy the whole time.

So, of course, I captured it on video just so I could see the difference from earlier on... in the beginning, if you went to grab the rope toy while he had it, he would drop it immediately and run the other way.  Now, he's playing tug and waiting around for me to throw it for him, too.

Last night, before bed, Sonny got a case of the zoomies and was running around like a madman, wiggling and jumping around with toys in his mouth.  We were in a different room than the rope toy, but he discovered the Kong Wubba in the corner and he and Sugar began playing tug.  I turned to watch, and he stopped immediately.  I thought I'd ruined the moment and he was done playing....

But he only stopped playing for a moment.  Then he wagged his tail in full-speed Sonny fashion, and latched onto the Wubba harder.  Then he proceeded to use the Wubba to drag Sugar towards me, where he placed the bit of toy that was not occupied by a dog's mouth directly into my hand. He wagged his tail, full wiggle-butt style, and waited patiently.

So, although he was enjoying playing with Sugar, he really wanted to play with ME.

Monday, July 25, 2011

sonny had a breakthrough

Sonny came back to me last Wednesday night.  For a variety of reasons, his adoptive home didn't work out.  I'll spare you the details, but the situation was unsafe and Sonny was extremely stressed out.  When I picked him up, he was petrified and literally molting.  He was hiding in the back of his crate and avoiding human contact.  He didn't seem to recognize me. I was so scared for my boy, worried that we would be starting from square one.

When we arrived home and I got Sonny out of the car, he perked up.  He wagged his tail a little, but he was still not engaging with me like he used to.  But the moment we walked in the door, Sonny was high as a kite.  He ran around the house like a maniac, wagging his tail, sniffing everything, and smiling! He remembered Roxy and Buster, and was immediately fond of Sugar, our other foster dog.  Rob and I sat on the couch and let Sonny get comfortable.  He kept coming over to me and checking in, and was even checking out Rob.  He would run over to him, sniff his feet and fingers, lick him, and run away.  That behavior didn't last past the first and second nights, but it was so nice to see, especially because that is how his initial interactions with me were.

The night following his return, I spoke with the veterinarian and we agreed to put Sonny back on his medication.  He is on 16mg of Fluoxetine 2x/day.  He's been off the medication for 3 weeks, so I expect it to take a few weeks to see any effects.

Anyway, on to Sonny's break through.  Our typical night with Sonny used to involve Rob and I sitting on the couch watching a movie.  Sonny would spend most of the time in his crate with the occasional exploratory adventure.  I'd been keeping treats handy and doling them out whenever he left his crate.  If he chose to hang back, I'd toss treats for him.  If he approached, he got treats.  Each day was different than the last, and I just followed his lead as to what he could handle on any given day.  He would rarely take his eyes off Rob, regardless of the food in my hands, so there was a lot of offering food while he continued to look at Rob.

Last night, we started an official game of "Look at That!" with Sonny, with Rob as the stimulus.  We have had a large amount of success with Roxy using LAT, and I had been eager to do some overt conditioning work with Sonny, but had been waiting for him to be ready (i.e. waiting for him to be able to stand still long enough to do a few trials in a row).

So, we were sitting on the couch in our normal formation (Rob furthest away, lying down) and Sonny was spending a good amount of time near me. He kept looking at Rob, so I began marking and treating him.  When I marked, Sonny would look back at me, expecting a treat, which was pretty big progress in-and-of-itself.  So, I asked Rob to say a few words every couple of tries.  The first time Rob spoke, Sonny ran back to his crate, and then came back to me when he realized I had marked, "Yes!"  Then we did a few non-verbal trials, where I marked/treated for Sonny looking at Rob without any vocalizations from Rob, just to keep it from getting too scary for him. Then we tried again with Rob speaking and Sonny ran mid-way back to his crate before coming back for his treat.

The third time Rob spoke, Sonny looked at me, expecting a treat, rather than retreating.  He took his treat and stuck around, waiting for more.

It doesn't seem like a big deal on paper, now that I'm re-reading it.  But it is huge progress for Sonny.  He seems to realize he's in a familiar place, And sure, he's still avoiding Rob under normal circumstances, but for him to not run back to his crate when Rob spoke was something like watching a miracle occur.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

roxy, rocking it.

Rob's Dad has a small airplane at a local airport near us, and every year he has a BBQ there. We like to bring the dogs because there is some wide open space in the bark part of the airport that is surrounded by trees and brush.  It's a safe place where the dogs can truly run, because there is nowhere to go.  Sure, we have a yard, but if Roxy were to run at full speed in our yard, she'd hit the fence in 3.2 seconds. So she usually runs in circles, which just doesn't provide her the same ability to run as hard as she'd like to.

The airport BBQ was two weekends ago, and we brought Roxy and Buster, a ton of treats, a ball, and of course, plenty of water.  There were probably 20 people there, plus a handful of kids.  While we were with everyone else, the dogs were on-leash and they were so well-behaved.  They normally are well-behaved anyway, but I was still very proud.  Neither pup jumped on anybody, and everyone had questions about them and remarked on how well behaved they were.

First and foremost, Roxy wasn't fazed by any of the people that were there. Nada. Zip. Zilch. People were coming up to say hi, ask questions, and talk about their own dogs, and both Roxy and Buster were soaking up the loving. Yes, that's right -- ROXY was soaking up loving from STRANGERS.  And multiple strangers, at that.  The owner of the airport came over, and she even commented on how far Roxy has come since the last time she saw her (which was last year).  ROXY WIN!

Could it get any better? Of course it can... and it does!!

There were kids running around, and they were just kids being kids:  running, playing, screaming, popping balloons, crying, and laughing. But Roxy was relaxed the whole time.  We kept our distance from the kids, but even in the past, Roxy would have been very concerned about their erratic behavior.  She would have been hypervigilantly watching their every move; her neck would have been stretched up and out, her ears forward, and she would not have taken her eyes off them.  I could be trying to feed her a steak, and she would take it, all right, but if she had to turn her head to the side, she would find a way to keep her panic-stricken eyes on the strange 2-legged creatures that were running about and screaming.... which meant she was nibbling on whatever I had while subsequently swinging her rear end around to make sure her back was not to the kids at any given moment.

Now, we have been working very hard with relaxing around little kids.  We've done work anywhere from 5-30 feet away from kids, depending on a number of factors.  And when we first started working, she had a super rough mouth when taking treats, and she would try her darnedest to take the treats without ever taking her eyes off the kids.  But on Sunday, Roxy chose to lie down and ignore the kids.  She was relaxed and evidence of that is in my fingers. She had an incredibly soft mouth, even when the kids were running about and screaming.  And really, the only noise that spooked her was a balloon popping, but she perked up for a moment in response to the noise, and then went back to relaxing.  Roxy's ability to recover from the balloon popping really impressed me -- in the past she would have kept looking for whatever caused the noise for at least several minutes.  And her ability to lay down and relax while the kids were running around was incredibly rewarding for me... it was also very rewarding for her considering I was randomly shoving stinky fish treats in her mouth. Nevertheless, Roxy was so relaxed and happily soaking up attention from strangers, despite the added trigger.  I couldn't be happier.

Later on in the day, Rob and I meandered over to the secluded field in the woods.  We dropped the dogs' leashes and just let them run.  Roxy was a dream -- she would run full speed out in front of us, then stop at about 30 feet, turn, and wait for us to come closer. Sometimes she would turn and run back to us to check in, and then off she went again.  Buster just sort of followed Roxy around, being his normal, happy-go-lucky self.

I had brought some awesome treats to do some recall work, because every opportunity is a great opportunity to practice Roxy's recall in new and not-so-familiar places.


I venture to say she's doing pretty well.

Of course, there is always more work to be done, but we're making big progress, and she's becoming a more relaxed and happy dog, overall.  All of this makes me incredibly happy, and I can only imagine how much it's helping her to feel better about all these things going on, as well.  I am very proud of her.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

sonny came home

Week 1 with Sonny
Sonny came home with me the last few days of January. In the 4+ months he has been with me, he has grown and changed so much.  He started out hiding in my bookshelf, then hiding in his crate, and hiding in the closet for hours at a time.  If you touched him, he would cringe and cower.  A few weeks ago, he began snuggling with me.  My boy that spent the 1st day in my house hiding in a bookshelf, the rest of that first week hiding in a closet, and the next month plus in his crate, learned how to cuddle, just before he went to his forever home this weekend.

I can't even begin to describe how much he's grown.  The difference in his behavior from his first couple of weeks is indescribable. I could see it in his eyes; he went from petrified and frozen stiff to pure love and being full of wiggles.

His initial progress was only when he was around my dogs, Roxy and Buster. And once he stopped trying to jump the fence and he was allowed to run and play in the backyard, he made a lot of progress.  He began running, jumping, and playing in the yard.  He was fetching (or at least, chasing) the ball.  He got curious and started exploring things, he began relaxing on the couch, and he was freely jumping up and down the retaining wall in the backyard.  He figured out the routine and began responding to his name and to certain cues, like "Outside?" "Inside!" and "Are you hungry?"  He began voluntarily coming out of his crate and approaching me to play with him, throw his ball, and of course, to give me kisses or collect his dues (treats!).

When Sonny came home with me originally, he spent probably the first month in his crate, pressed up against the back bars so far that when he moved, you could see crate lines on his fur.  When I'd come home at night, I'd walk over and let Buster and Roxy out of their crates and Sonny would ever-so-cautious come out of his crate, but only after I had walked away.  I spent 90% of the time I was home thinking of creative ways to drop treats in his crate without spooking him.  And slowly, I began to notice progress in his face and body language when I would approach his crate.  It started with the fast-paced, only-moving-a-little-bit, still-nervous-and-unsure little tail wag, and it progressed to the full body wiggle and play invitations you see below:

When you work with a fearful dog, the little things are, in fact, monumental.  Sonny is seriously special to me; I adore him to pieces.  And I knew this day would come, where I would have to let him go, but I honestly didn't think it would be as soon as it was.  If keeping a third dog was an option for us, it would be ridiculously unlikely that I would have let this dog go.  Seeing him progress from the semi-feral dog he was, to the dog he is now, has been the most amazing thing to see.  Sure, he'll always be a little special, I'm sure, but this dog is happy, despite whatever previous neglect or abuse he may have endured. He has such a zest for life, it's incredible. He gets the zoomies like a puppy, he squeaks tennis balls while rolling on his back, he chases toys, and he literally bounces around the yard like a bunny. He still flinches when something scares him, but he is recovering faster that he was before.

Our last morning play session on Saturday.
Needless to say, saying goodbye to Sonny this weekend was not the easiest thing.  In fact, it was one of the hardest things I've done.  Despite knowing that he is in a wonderful home where he will grow and learn and be loved, I can't help but worry about my boy. This new adventure will undoubtedly stress him out, but I know it's the best place for him. His new family adores him and wants nothing more than to help him grow into the dog he has so much potential to be.  Luckily for me, his new family has agreed to allow me to visit him, but we'll obviously wait until he has settled in there and bonded to them.  The last thing I want to do is stress him out or confuse him more, so I get the feeling it will be months before I get to see him again. Although, I'm sure I'll get pictures.  But until then, Sonny is home with his new family and despite missing him, I am truly happy for him.

Monday, May 23, 2011

teaching roxy to play

Roxy has never been too interested in playing with toys. In the beginning, it was as if she was afraid to touch anything for fear it wasn't "hers" to play with.  Over time, I discovered she enjoys de-stuffing stuffed toys, chewing sticks to bits, and chasing the flirt pole in the yard.  But that's really it.  Unless it was stuffed with food, the toy had minimal value, or it was only valued for a short amount of time.  Her signature move is to grab a toy and lay down with it, mouth it for a few moments, then lay her head down on it with a big sigh.... "Well, now what?"


Since we've gotten Buster, the ball-obsessed, 3-legged fetch machine, Roxy's been attempting to play with toys more.  She'll get excited when I get home some days and grab a tennis ball.  She'll toss it to herself, or nose it off the bed, watching intently, before pouncing on it.  During this time, she'll chase a ball I throw, but doesn't quite bring it back.  I can grab it and toss it and she'll chase it again, but still not bring it back, no matter how much fun she has chasing it.  This typically only lasts a few throws, and then it's back to laying down with the toy or looking for snuggles.

So I've also been working on clicker-training her to tug and fetch.  She's expressing some interest in chasing toys, and she seems to want to play tug sometimes, but she doesn't have the confidence to tug back for any longer than a few seconds.  I am really eager to see if I can get her to tug and fetch so that her and I have another game we can play together.  I'll take either tug or fetch, but will pretty much go with whatever she seems to enjoy.  And even if she doesn't enjoy the two games after she understands them, she enjoys the training and learning piece of it now.

Now, her repertoire of behaviors involving toys is pretty small.  She chews nylabones, destroys soft or stuffed toys, and she chases the flirt pole.  Anything else is of interest for a very short amount of time and usually ends up in her crate graveyard until Buster or Sonny discover it.  So, I started out with a lot of waiting:  waiting for her to throw out new behaviors involving the toy I placed in front of her.  Once she started interacting with the toys a bit, I began rewarding her for mouthing the toy.  Now we're up to grabbing the toys with her mouth (video below).  I had tried doing all of this with the toy on the ground, but she kept pawing at it and wouldn't go beyond targeting it with her muzzle.  She never took the next step to mouth it while it was on the ground, so I tried working with the toy in the air and making it "dance" a little to get her interested, and we had a lot more success.

The behavior we are working on is going to be the basis for both tug and fetch.  She's got the idea of grabbing the toy, but she's letting it go fairly quickly so I want to work on holding the toy for a longer period of time.  I'll post more updates and videos as we are making more progress!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

progress is as progress does.

Sonny is doing fairly well.  He's learning to relax a bit more and playing a bunch more as well.  He's also recovering from scary events much quicker than he was before, which is huge progress in my book.

We've been playing a lot outside, seeing as he hasn't tried to climb the fence or shown any interest in climbing the fence in just over 3 months.  And since his new default behavior when he's scared outside is to run to the deck and wait to go inside, before recovering and coming back into the yard to play some more, we've been spending a lot more time outside playing.

About 2 weeks ago Sonny started breaking out of his crate a bit, and that's about the time he started showing more interest in playing, so I put two and two together and guessed that he was just letting me know he was ready for more exercise and interaction.  So we've been playing a lot more, him with me and him with Roxy and Buster, and he's been eating every meal out of a work-to-eat toy.  His favorite one right now is the Atomic Treat Ball from  He likes to move it around in his crate and watch the treats fall out, and pick it up in his mouth and drop it so the treats fall out.... it's really cute to watch him, I can actually see his brain working to figure it out.  I also tried the Tricky Treat Ball from Omega Paw, but he had a much harder time with it.

Anyway, here he is, playing in the yard, leaping and hopping around like a bunny and enjoying the fresh air.

I briefly started clicker training with him, as well.  He's surprisingly not afraid of the noise the clicker makes, but he's still a bit hesitant in general so we haven't had a lot of success yet.  I usually spend just a couple of minutes a day when he's really excited and interested in approaching me to work on some hand targeting.  I just sort of capitalize on his excitement and playfulness because I've found if he's exploring quietly and I try to engage him, he gets a bit suspicious and wanders back to his crate.

So, all-in-all we are seeing some progress.  It's minimal, but progress nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

all-around update

Roxy's leash-walking skills are getting better and better.  We're now able to do most of our walk with minimal stopping.  We're actually down to walking in a heel position without any treats when there are minimal or no distractions -- and when she screws up, I can mark "oops" and she'll come back into a heel because she knows we don't go anywhere until she's next to me.

She still pulls when she sees something moving (a person, a dog, a leaf, another animal) but we're working on that.  It's tough because once she notices whatever it is moving, I mark "oops" and stop but she stays at the end of the leash, pulling. So I have to come up with a new strategy for handling that because it's not working.  She'll just keep pulling until the moving object is out of sight, or close enough for her to recognize. Then she'll come back into a heel position.  So, we need to work on heeling with distractions.  I need to up the ante with rewards for not pulling with distractions.  So I'll probably start in the house, then in the backyard, then the driveway.... all before working in the street.

Roxy's agility class is also going fairly well.  She still gets really excited when I ask her if she wants to go to school.  We've been learning left and right turns, rear crosses, and we've been working on the teeter, which Roxy is doing wonderfully on.  I thought she'd be spooked by it, but she's really doing great.  She'll jump up when it's at the highest height and pull it down, then climb on it with all fours.  We haven't worked up to walking across it yet, we're taking it slow to make sure it stays happy. I'm debating what we'll do after this class, though.  The class is really for competitive agility and although Roxy enjoys agility, she isn't as driven as I think she might need to be in order to actually compete.  I think I need to work on some crate games with her to build her drive a bit and see if that helps.

As far as Sonny goes, his behavior continues to fluctuate.  He came out of his crate once last week and zig-zagged his way towards Rob, who was laying on the couch.  He got close enough to sniff Rob's legs before retreating to his crate.  That's how he started interacting with me, so albeit it's slow progress, but it's progress nonetheless.

He's been playing with Roxy and Buster a lot more, and Roxy is becoming more tolerant of him.  He had been licking her muzzle feverishly and she let him know she didn't like it and he's getting better.... he's down to a drive-by-licking instead of a full-on make out session with her face.  Roxy's also been instigating play with him more, and her and Sonny tear through the backyard, running in circles after each other some days.

Sonny has also been playing and interacting with me more.  He has such personality; there is so much spunk and puppy in him.  He is really a goofy dog and he makes me laugh.  I'm fairly certain he learned to play fetch from Buster because he keeps coming up on the couch with the ball in his mouth, allowing me to take the ball and throw it for him, and then taking a flying leap over me after the ball...  When he comes out of his crate in the morning, he wags his tail feverishly while play bowing and grabbing toys to carry about.  It's nice to see him acting like a dog a little bit.

He is still pretty scared of men.  He's been sneaking about and snatching Rob's stuff and running to his crate with it, and that has helped me devise a plan.  I'm going to start desensitizing and counter-conditioning Sonny to smaller parts of Rob... i.e. his smell, his voice, etc. One piece of Rob at a time.

And Buster is, well, Buster.  He's wonderful.  This morning he was watching me do something on the counter in the kitchen and he turned around quickly to go elsewhere, and in the process he smacked the whole side of his face into the cabinet and then sat down with this pathetic look on his face.  I crouched down and he buried his face into my body and let out a big sigh.  He's a silly dog, but he's really such a sweet, sweet dog.  He loves to just climb right into my lap and snuggle. 

We spent a few hours at the park on Sunday and later on, I caught him sleeping on the couch with his tongue sticking out...

Monday, April 18, 2011

This poor dog is breaking my heart.

It seems as though Sonny's progress had plateaued for a while.  He'd be voluntarily coming out of his crate at night when we're hanging out on the couch, and in the morning when I first got up.  He was beginning to play and interact with me a little bit as well. But it seems as though he's now taking steps backwards.  He spent a lot of time outside his crate when Rob was away, and for the first several days when Rob was back he continued with that pattern.  He even ventured close enough to Rob to smell him, and Rob stayed perfectly still, which was absolutely perfect for Sonny.

But for the last 3-4 days, he has been spending significantly more time in his crate than he was previously.  He hasn't voluntarily come out of his crate in days, and while in there, he presses himself up against the back of the crate so hard and for so long that he's leaving crate imprints on his fur.  He wraps himself up into a ball as small as he possibly can and shivers the entire time.  Previously, he would come out of his crate to sniff around and jump into the papasan chair.  Sometimes he chose to lay in Roxy or Buster's crate instead, and since neither of my guys mind, I don't stop him.  Sonny's crate is covered, and he is obviously uncomfortable when it's not covered.  Roxy and Buster's crates are not covered, so when Sonny voluntarily enters their crates to lay down, I consider it some level of progress for him.

The only time he moves is when I walk towards the crate with the leash, at which point he lifts his head to sniff my hand and allow me to attach the leash.  When I begin to walk away from the crate, he gets up, stretches, and follows me to the door.  When we get outside, he goes to the bathroom and then pulls me back inside, where he proceeds directly to his crate, where he doesn't move again until it's time to go back out again.

Worse yet, last week I took Sonny to the kennel so the vet tech there could help me cut his nails.  I didn't want to attempt it by myself, because he moves his paws a lot and I feared I could not safely trim his nails.  When I got there,  the vet tech was in the kennels so I left Sonny in the office with the rescue's president and the other vet tech for the rescue.  Previous to me taking him home, he'd been alone with other individuals without a problem, and those individuals are experienced with fearful dogs and specifically with Sonny, as well.  But poor Sonny was so scared that he defecated in the office despite being housetrained.  He had already gone to the bathroom that morning (within the last hour), so his response was definitely fear-based.

I feel terrible for this dog -- he's sitting there suffering silently and it's only been 5 weeks on the Clomipramine.  I am certain he needs a stronger dosage, so I'll be speaking to the vet again (she was out on vacation last week).  I think she'll want to wait until the 8 week mark in order to up his dosage since she told me that it sometimes takes 8 weeks to see any difference in the dog's behavior, but I think this backwards progress is a pretty clear indication that he needs additional medication.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

sonny plays!

Last week, Rob was away from home so it was just me, Roxy, Buster, and Sonny.  I know that Sonny avoids all men so I was expecting him to be a little more daring this week, and I was more than right.

Sonny was literally a totally different dog than I knew before.  He was out of his 80% of the time, whereas previously he spent only about 20% of his time out of his crate.  He was running around and playing, hanging out on the couch, following me to the bedrooms, chasing me around playing, licking my face, walking across my lap, even laying down next to me on the couch, relaxed.

Prior to Rob leaving, Sonny had been opening up more in the mornings before I leave for work and at night time when I come home... times when he knows that Rob is sleeping or not home.  So I did expect that I'd see more activity from him, but I guess I was sort of surprised at how much more I saw.

He surprised me specifically with the amount of time he spent out of his crate and the significant amount of playing he did.  He had moments of acting like an "almost normal" dog.  He was picking up toys and running around with them, sometimes bringing a ball over to me to throw.  He was playing tug with Buster and the Kong Wubba, and he even engaged in tug with me for a while, which was very unexpected.  He was interacting with me constantly, and was so much more relaxed.  He spent a good amount of time exploring parts of the house he had previously been too scared to go near.

He also has an affinity for finding Rob's dirty socks and picking them up and carrying them to his crate.  If he can't find socks, though, he'll grab Rob's pants, shirts, or anything, really, and attempt to drag them to his crate. It's kind of funny because he's scared of him, but not scared of his smell.

He spent a good 20 minutes trying to get his ball out from underneath this stool, and this video is just a good showing of his puppy personality.  I can see it itching to come out.  The video is kind of dark, but you can definitely see him playing about and his tail wagging feverishly.

I am hoping that week gave him a little time to get his bearings, and now that Rob is back, he'll be a little bit more inclined to check things out.  Last night, Rob was laying on the couch with Buster chewing his ball between Rob's legs, and Sonny quickly came over and sniffed Buster's paw.  He literally sniffed for half a second, but it was closer than he had ever gotten to Rob before, so I know that's progress on some level.  I hope his confidence is continuing to build, and we'll see how the weeks progress.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

roxy's first night at agility training

Last night Roxy and I went to our first agility training class at Morris K9 Campus.  This class actually helps you train for agility competitions, so there is a lot more learning involved, and a lot less "run over the equipment as fast as humanly (doggedly?) possible!"

We walked in the door about 10 minutes early and the prior class was wrapping up.  Roxy and I stood there, sort of taking it all in.  The agility room was huge, in comparison to where we'd been before.  The equipment was newer, larger, and there was a lot more of it.  I was super stoked, and so was Roxy... she was so excited that she was talking up a storm and prancing her paws around while trying to sit.

Roxy wanted to be friends with literally every person that walked by us.  She approached everyone with excitement and tail wags and she was happy to be pet by several people, all without being offered any treats or soliciting treats from me.  This is seriously a big deal for her; she was in a new environment with new dogs, new people, and lots of exciting smells and she did amazing.  The fact that she went and did this all on her own was such a proud moment for us.

And then of course, came the Pit Bull bias.  Some woman darted across the room as soon as she saw us, and asked if Roxy was friendly with other dogs, and I guess I didn't respond fast enough for her, because she said, "I have a really friendly dog and I don't want your Pit Bull to bite him," and she walked away. I was really taken aback and by the time my brain caught up, the lady had already walked off.

On to training.... We did some exercises on the equipment, specifically the A-frame and the Dog Walk.  Roxy didn't blink at the equipment, even though it was definitely larger than what she was used to running on.  We worked on slowing down, focusing, and contact points, and Roxy seemed to do pretty well.  We also started training left and right turns, which Roxy did well with also.  I'm psyched to practice them for next class and get her using them while moving.

Everyone in class had a clicker on their wrist, and the instructor was great.  All humane, positive reinforcement training, just as expected.

The woman I met earlier approached me again, without her dog, and said abruptly, "I don't have anything against Pit Bulls, it's just their owners." And I didn't know how to respond, because, well, I'm a Pit Bull owner... But she continued, as she pet Roxy and just said she's had a lot of bad experiences, not just with Pit Bulls, but with American Eskimo Dogs and German Shepherds as well.  I politely explained I volunteer in rescue, and work primarily with Pit Bulls and other bully breeds, that I'm fully aware of their potential dog-dog issues, and I know my dog very well.  She seemed apologetic (minus the actual apology) and went on to tell me how her last dog was attacked by an off-leash American Eskimo Dog so she is just extra cautious.  She introduced herself at the end of the conversation, and she was nice the rest of the class, but her comments still turned me off a bit.

Then, half-way through class, Roxy and I were working on the A-frame and another girl came in with her dog, Katie.  They started working at the table and the girl took Katie's leash off and wouldn't you know that Katie immediately made a beeline for Roxy.  She charged her, full-speed and got right in her face, snarling, and within half a second, Roxy and Katie were battling it out.  There wasn't any contact and neither of them had a mark on them when it was over; it was all snarling, growling, and barking in each others faces, and it was easy to separate them because they really didn't want to be near one another to begin with... but wow.  Thirty minutes into a class with literally 5 dogs total, and this is what happens? Go figure!

But Roxy didn't seem phased by it.  Once it was over, it was over.  She moved on, and I followed suit.  She did wonderful during the rest of class, and was actually tired by the end of it, which made me happy.

All-in-all a good class, in the sense that the class itself was great, and I expect that we can avoid the almost-fight next week.

This morning, we spent some time relaxing in the sun, where she proceeded to be the laziest stick-chewer ever...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

sonny smiles

Sonny is fearful of people, but he's absolutely petrified of men.  This week Rob is away, so Sonny has been exploring, playing, and relaxing a bit more than he was previously and I was finally able to snap some photos of him relaxing and smiling.  Last night he spent a good portion of his time out of his crate. He had some major zoomies! He kept running at me full speed, smothering my face in kisses, and then leaping to the ground in a play bow with a really big woo-woo, howling noise.  I probably had the biggest smile on my face watching this dog run about like a little loon after spending the first month completely traumatized. So, without further ado...

He would run up to this spot on the couch, lick my face furiously, and then lay down for a few moments before getting up to run off after a toy or Buster again.

If you look closely, his tail is a little blurry... he was wagging that thing non-stop!

Since he was so happy and playful, I took the time last night to start a little bit of targeting with him using the clicker and it seems like he was starting to understand the game.  We'll see how he does tonight when we do some more!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

update on bobby

I got an update on Bobby from his adoptive family today!

Bobby is now Brody, and he's doing fabulous!!

From his new mom:

"He's just the happiest most playful boy and we adore him. We take him to obedience school on Sunday and he is the star student. The trainer is helping us work on some of his bad behaviors like barking and jumping when people come over."

He's got some allergies that they are working on with the vet, and hopefully they get them resolved soon.

I was, and still am, seriously in love with this dog and I couldn't have asked for a better home for him.  They love him, and he looks so incredibly happy.  Here he is, with a tug toy in his mouth, of course.

Sometimes we see some awful things in rescue, and updates like these give me the warm fuzzies I need to keep going, despite it not always being easy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

the double standard

Watching that Corgi get alpha-rolled in agility class has gotten me thinking a lot about dog behavior and about how we train. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about human behavior and why we expect so much more from our dogs than we do from ourselves.

I thought it was fairly obvious from watching that whole situation unfold what was going to happen.  I knew from the moment the Corgi put the brakes on that it wasn't going to end well.  And when he started pulling away from the girl to get away, I honestly thought she would give up.  But I knew when the girl stopped saying he was “just being stubborn” and her face turned bright red that she was completely mortified, and it was probably going to end even worse than I initially thought.

When she reached down to scold him after he growled, I couldn't believe my eyes. What possessed her to reach towards a growling dog that was backing away from her, I'll never understand.  He made it very clear from the growl and the backpedaling that he wanted nothing to do with whatever was going on.  The growl was a warning, sure, but the backpedaling coupled with the growl was a very obvious sign from the dog that he didn't want confrontation, but he was prepared to defend himself if necessary.  And on top of all of that, didn't it cross her mind at some point that the dog's next step may be to bite?

To me, a good trainer will do everything they can to prevent the dog from getting to the point where it feels it needs to bite. Those are the types of trainers that recognize a dog growling is a warning sign that screams, "I'm not comfortable with this situation, back away!" That growl lets the trainer know they went too far, too fast, and they need to rewind.  The others, the ones that feel that a dog should never growl and subsequently feel as if they have to respond to that act with an equal or more aggressive act in order to show the dog who is boss, continue to baffle me. They shrug a dog bite off as if it's bound to happen sooner or later without regard for the consequences the dog may face and they show no remorse for the dog whatsoever.  Worse yet, some of these trainers act on impulse because the dog's noncompliance hurts their feelings.

The situation with the Corgi was the latter; it was very obvious that the girl became agitated and embarrassed that the dog wouldn't comply so she felt she needed to show it who was boss.  Her response to the dog was purely emotional.  It was equivalent to a second grader saying, "She made fun of me in front of the whole class, so I'm going to put gum in her hair!" There was nothing good that could have come from the dog being yanked around and flipped on his back... the only lesson that dog learned was that his growl was not an effective means of getting his message across, so he needed to escalate to a bite instead.  And since that bite didn't get the message across, it's possible that he will feel the need to be more aggressive in order to convey his message the next time around.

Personally, if I were to push a dog so far that he bit me, I would feel a tremendous amount of guilt from doing so.  Not only have I completely ignored all the dog's appropriate warning signs, I've taught him that his warning signs mean nothing to us humans.

Another problem with all of this is that the dog was not allowed to react to something that made him uncomfortable.  He had complete control over his actions, his growl and bite were calculated to deal with the current situation, but the handler lost complete control over her emotions and her actions.  She allowed her emotions of frustration and embarrassment to control how she responded to the dog.  Why is the dog acting in emotions and growling unacceptable, but the human losing control okay?  Why the double standard? I can't figure out why some people can't accept that a dog's growl is equivalent to our "Stop that!" or "I'm not comfortable!" or "I'm scared!"  The Corgi wasn't trying to "dominate her," he was trying to get away from her. 

I don’t understand it.  All of this and I wonder why we expect more from our dogs than we do of ourselves?

We, as humans, all react to different situations in different ways.  Some people are more emotionally charged than others, and react more emotionally than others.  It's okay for us to get mad and yell or cry to express our frustrations; yet it's not okay for a dog to growl or snarl when he's frustrated or scared. Dogs can't give us a detailed explanation of what they are feeling, they can only do what they know how to do:  they lay down and refuse to go somewhere, maybe they go belly up, or maybe they growl or snarl when we continue to push them despite their objections... and when we push the dog past it's breaking point, we punish them for acting out.

So, I ask you this:  why are dogs expected to control themselves and behavior appropriately despite their emotions, but humans are not held to the same standards? We constantly suggest that we are more intelligent than them; yet we expect them to be able to do something that we, as humans, are often incapable of doing?

Dogs have the same emotional reasons that we have for acting out, yet we expect a dog's behavior to be perfect regardless of their emotional state of mind.  Why do people push dogs to their breaking points and still expect perfect behavior?

Monday, March 28, 2011

the art of cuddling

maybe it's not so bad.
fighting sleep.
relaxed? maybe? almost?
but then there was a scary noise...
both finally asleep and snoring.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

the dreaded alpha roll

There was a 7-year-old Welsh Corgi in our agility class the other day... a walk-in style class that's meant for the dogs to have fun and be exposed to agility equipment in a non-stressful, low-expectation environment.  The class was light that day -- only 5 dogs total -- and this was his first class ever.  He was there with his owner and her two adult daughters, and the daughters were taking turns going through the course with him.

Towards the middle of the class, Mr. Corgi slowed down and began refusing some of the obstacles, despite the lures.  He had run through the course several times and he was obviously tired.  On one of the last runs, one of the daughters grabbed his leash and started walking him towards the equipment.  He stopped dead in his tracks and pressed down firmly with his front legs.  The girl gave the leash a tug and he fought against her, pulling backwards against the tightened leash, and then he laid down.

He was done. Totally shut down.  You could see him shutting down on his previous run, so really they should have ended it there.  But this girl was determined to get the dog on the equipment; she wanted him to go through the course one more time.

I told her he was done, she should ask him to sit, down, paw, etc., whatever he knows that is easy and reward him for doing it, so they can end on a good note and move on.  But she wasn't going to let that happen.  She was going to get that dog on that equipment, no matter what.

Her face got red as the dog refused to budge. She kept pressure the leash in an effort to get him to follow along.  His body language was not good; he was staring right at her and holding his ground. I looked around and saw the look on other people's faces, and most of them were as confused as I was, wondering why this was still happening.

The girl finally gave a little slack on the leash, and then yanked it once, really hard.  And Mr. Corgi growled at her.

I could see it coming from a mile away.  This had happened before with this dog; he braced himself when she gave slack.  He knew what was coming; and I knew what was coming next if she kept this up.

I'm honestly not sure what she had expected.  He had given her every other signal he knew that said he was done.  He stopped, he froze, he avoided looking at her, he put all his weight on his back legs and pulled back from her, he laid down... And he was polite about it, as far as growls go.  He growled a low, soft grumble, as if he was letting her know, "Please back off and leave me be!"  He didn't lunge, snap, snarl, or move forward in any way.  He was simply protesting, "No! I've had enough!"

But that was the last straw.  She was already embarrassed that she couldn't get him to follow, and now he had the audacity to growl at her?!

I started to say, "You're going to get..." but before I could finish, she reached down and snatched his collar and a struggle ensured.  The dog was panicked, trying to get out of his collar and run, and he twisted his body around and the girl let go of his collar.  She quickly went to grab him again and he bit her hand, breaking skin.

The girl grabbed him by the neck and attempted to roll him over on his back.  For a small dog, he put up a big fight.  I protested as this was happening, but the girl wasn't listening. She's already started and was committed to dominating this dog.

Roxy let out several whines as she watched the poor dog struggle to get away.  He was whining and letting out these awful yelping noises. Roxy was shuffling in place; she ran behind me, in front of me, and behind me again.  She sat down, whined, and looked up at me.  She could feel his fear, I know it.  Her look was asking me to help him, but there was nothing I could do.  If I got close to that situation, Roxy would have reacted, either to the dog, or the girl.  Nothing I said had stopped her, and I felt so helpless.

We had to walk out. I was so upset watching this debacle, and Roxy was visibly stressed. I don't know if dogs can perceive things the same way we do, but whether it was because of what she saw or what she heard, she was obviously unsettled.

I'm still baffled by what happened... This poor dog's body language was all over the place. He was scared and looking for a way out of the situation. When he realized he was screwed, he tried to make her back off.  You could see he didn't want to bite her, but was prepared to if she threatened his safety. Yet this girl continued to push this dog as if he wasn't going to defend himself. I'm not sure what she thought would happen. I could see it coming a mile away.

It was really difficult to watch.  I've seen it in videos before, but usually it's edited so you don't see the whole thing, and often times the sounds are edited out as well.

Watching it in person and listening to this dog struggle was awful.  I can't believe people do this to "train" their dogs.  Not only does it not teach them anything (except to be scared of us), it so easily results in a bite.  I keep seeing it happening in my head and I can't help but cringe. There were so many moments that this could have ended well, yet the girl kept bushing him.

I spoke with the instructor after, and although she agreed that wasn't the appropriate thing to do, it wasn't for the same reasons.  She said the "dominance down" isn't appropriate because not everyone can physically dominate their dog like that.  I told her I thought they should have stopped after his last run, but she disagreed.  She said once they started, they "have to follow through" with making the dog do some of the obstacles.

Needless to say I will be looking for another agility facility to bring Roxy to.  I can't continue to go to and support a training facility that thinks that's appropriate or acceptable.

I found a new place about a half hour from us, but they don't have any open classes that fit our schedule right now.  They don't offer a walk-in style class, but I think Roxy's ready for the next level now anyway.  That's actually the whole reason I started with the walk-in class first, to make sure she could handle a group setting like that.

This place in Randolph, Morris K9 Campus, uses humane training. I have to call and talk to them, but it looks promising.