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.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

changing minds

So, yesterday I posted about a conversation I had with someone in rescue.  The conversation started out with an individual who was looking for help with his dog's behavior.  He mentioned that he's been using alpha/dominance techniques and it seems to be working on his dog's behavior, and he was hoping his dog was "getting the point" so he could deal with the leash aggression issues he was having.

So I posted a bunch of links about the alpha/dominance fallacy and how there are different methods that can help without making the situation worse. Then I got into it with someone else in the rescue because she thought her opinion was more valuable than science...

But anyway, on to the victory.  I emailed the person whose original post it was, and was essentially able to tell him about his dog's behavioral issues, how the dog escalates, and how leash corrections could actually make the problem much worse.   He said my posts were very helpful and informative and made him think more about his dog's behavior.  He said his dog acts exactly as I described, and he just wants to get the behavior under control so his dog is happier and everyone is safe. 

So I recommended "Click to Calm:  Healing the Aggressive Dog" by Emma Parsons and showed him a few videos of the methods in action, and he went online and bought the book and can't wait to get to work.

It's a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.  I'm looking forward to hearing about his progress and the progress his dog makes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

science, smiance!

Recently I had a debate with a fellow rescuer.  I was sort of dumbfounded by some of the things that were said.

It started out with someone discussing being the alpha with their dog, and how that's worked in training him since he's become aggressive towards people and dogs on walks, but is fine at dog parks and loves when people (strangers or known people) come over.  I mentioned how dominance and alpha training methods have been disproved by science, and I posted several links, including Using 'Dominance' To Explain Behavior Is Old Hat, Rethinking the causes of canine aggression, The Alpha Fallacy, Debunking Dominance Theory, The Myth of Alpha Dogs, and a Dog Behavior PDF from Dog Star Daily.  

I also mentioned how using dominance and alpha techniques, including being physically forceful with your dog (including shock collars, leash corrections, any sort of physical punishment or intimidation techniques) can actually cause harm to your dog, and cause more aggression or other issues down the line.  I also mentioned that they may appear to work great in the moment, but rewarding your dog for good behavior ultimately shows more lasting results.

I mentioned how Learning Theory, a scientific theory that is taught in schools and universities across the country to psychology students, teachers, animal behavior experts, etc., can be used to teach every dog because it's training based on scientific research, and does not have the potential to leave the dog with lasting scars or other behavioral problems down the line.

So, the individual whose original post it was said he was going to read the links I posted, because he's interested in understanding his dog's behavior as much as possible.  I thought that was wonderful; I'm thinking, "One person at a time..."

Then, of course, someone else chimed in and let me know that she's learned, throughout her experience, that not every method works with every dog, and she disagreed with my posts.  I let her know that training based in science CAN and DOES work with ALL dogs, and, in fact, punitive-based methods work because they rely on the same principals of rewards and punishment that Learning Theory discusses.  I let her know my point was not whether these methods can work, because they have worked in the past; my point was that they work, but at what cost to the dog, and the dog/human relationship?

She let me know that there are tons of theories out there, and it's important to read them all, and then choose what method works best for ourselves.  I went through the process of explaining what a scientific theory is, and that Learning Theory is not just a random idea someone came up with; that in order to become a scientific theory, years of research goes into providing a hypothesis; and to become a scientific theory, the same results must be replicated and duplicated in hundreds of studies, results are analyzed for errors and tested repeatedly, and they are applicable to the real world.  I reminded her that technically, gravity is a scientific theory as well, but I wasn't going to test it by jumping out of a window simply because I haven't experienced it for myself.

It culminated in her disagreeing with me based on her experiences.

That was it. 

She said nothing to support her statements, and when I asked which part of my comments she disagreed with, she simply said we should all read different "theories" and make our own decisions on how to train a particular dog because not all dogs can be trained the same way. Yes they can! We're talking about the same thing here.  Learning Theory encompasses reinforcement and punishment.  The problem is that aversive punishments can and do lead to other behavioral problems, including aggression, that you'll ultimately have to deal with.  Why not work from a point that will not increase aggression instead?
My last response was this:
It's important for people to read and learn, of course. And that's why I will continue to educate people about more humane methods of dog training for as long as I'm alive and capable.

In the meantime, what I can tell you is best for ALL DOGS, whomever they belong to, is to be trained in a way that does not physically harm them.

It's best for ALL dogs not to have their leash jerked over and over again because it causes pain.

It's best for ALL dogs not to have prong collars jabbing them in the neck, causing pain, or shock collars shocking them, causing pain. 
It's best for ALL dogs to not be physically accosted, hung by their leash, rolled on their back, and otherwise abused in the name of training.

Not only that, but it's best for ALL HUMANS to train humanely because not only does it increase the quality of the dog/human relationship, it encourages the dog to want to participate in training (and thus, make our job easier) and also doesn't leave room for a dog to feel it needs to defend itself against a human that is abusing him in the name of "training."
I mean, what gives? Simply saying, "Science, smiance!" and walking away.  Why do people feel as though the experiences of one individual transcends science?  What happens when 2 people have different experiences?  I mean, to suggest that someone knows everything based on experience, and there is nothing to learn beyond that is, well... embarrassing!

Not only that, but how on earth can one person suggest that physical punishment can not leave harmful or hasting effects on an animal? To suggest dogs need aversive or physical punishment and dominance in order to comply is simply ignorant.  To refuse to learn about better methods of training because of "experience" is beyond ignorant... it's obtuse.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

sonny: playing, petting, and men.

Sonny's face is more relaxed now than it was previously.  He's only been on the Clomipramine for 9 days, but I think I can see a difference in his behavior.  They're small changes, but I still see them. He's soliciting attention from me more; mostly play, but some affection as well.  Inside the house he's gotten much, much more relaxed.  Outside, we're still working on.  With daylight savings time, I have to be extra careful about checking around outside before bringing him out, to make sure it's quiet.  This has helped prevent him from being too scared to go and then coming back inside and going on the floor. We haven't had an accident inside in over a week, but our outings are still very brief.  He has even thrown out a few play bows outside recently, which he hadn't previously done before.

He seems most comfortable at night, when it's dark out.  It's usually 10:30 by the time we get outside for their before bed potty break, and he is much more likely to pull me towards something to sniff at night time. He's also much more comfortable outside if he's out there with Buster or Roxy, so I try to get him out with them when it's possible.

The past few mornings, Sonny has been in his glory... he is so excited when we get up and start the day.  He gets excited to see me, and super excited to see Roxy and Buster.  He's been bouncing around and playing with them, and chasing me, bowing at me, and nudging me with his muzzle.  Yesterday, we got to play a bit (him and I) and we were doing some quick "play and pet" and he was wagging his tail the whole time.  The other day, he was running up to me and sniffing my face and then running away.  This morning, he was running up to me while I sat on the floor, sniffing my face, licking my face, and bumping into me without freaking out.  So I took the plunge and started rubbing and scratching his neck and he was loving it; he reached his neck up in the air a little, then he ran off to grab a toy and brought it back to me! He came back to me, running full force, with a fleece toy in his mouth and he actually tugged with me for a bit.  When he didn't have the toy in his mouth, his mouth was wide open in a giant, gaping smile and his tail was wagging the whole time.

He seems to really like getting his butt scratched, too.  When we're playing, he'll sometimes turn in a circle and lean into my legs and I'm able to reach down and scratch his butt feverishly, and he wags his tail and whole body, and turns his face back to sniff my hands while smiling and wiggling all over the place.

He's still very weary of Rob.  All of the play and fun we're having has been sans Rob.  Even during play, he's on alert for any noises or movement from the bedroom areas... if he hears a noise, he runs to his crate, and then sticks his head out to check things out.  If nothing changes, he'll come back out to play some more.  But the moment he hears Rob's alarm clock go off, he runs to his crate and won't come back out again.  It's not just Rob though, it's men in general.  That's probably going to be his biggest challenge.

Friday, March 18, 2011

roxy, overcoming her fears

Roxy continues to impress me.

Who, me?!

Last night, Vanessa, a volunteer and cat foster for our rescue came over with a cat that we may be interested in fostering.  Roxy not only did amazing with the cat, she did amazing with Vanessa, as well.

I had her and Buster in separate rooms when Vanessa came in with the cat, and when Roxy came out, she sniffed the cat carrier and then ran directly to Vanessa for some loving.  I didn't even have to ask her to go say hi, or encourage her to check her out... Nothing!  She just went right up to her and was all about getting some love:  butt scratches, chin scratches, body massages and, yes, even petting and scratching on top of the head!!

This was a dog that would only cautiously approach new people to sniff, with all her weight on her hind legs.  She always kept a watchful eye on the person, and if they moved, looked at her, talked to her, or attempted to pet her, she would run off to hide.

But Roxy didn't skip a beat last night.

Once she noticed the cat, she kept on wiggling for love with Vanessa, and eventually she slowly reached over to say hi to the cat, Andy.  She was gentle, only pulling a little bit on the leash, but not showing any signs of discomfort or aggression, and barely any interest beyond the initial sniff.  She responded to all cues:  look, leave it, sit, down, stay, and she rolled over.  All great things because she didn't even pause or need reminders, and she wasn't even remotely focused on the cat.

I can't stop being proud of this dog and how far she's come.

Aw, shucks.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

training: never miss a moment

Roxy's training walk yesterday was very productive... not only did we get to work on some stuff I had planned for, we had the opportunity to work on a few things I hadn't planned for.  Namely, the ice cream truck, screaming kids, and basketball-playing teens!

First, Roxy's leash-walking skills are definitely getting better. We've been walking on her martingale collar 90% of the time.  On walks when I don't have time to make sure I'm paying attention to her pulling, we walk on the Halti to prevent her from rehearsing the pulling behavior.  I initially gave her too much leeway on the regular collar, and let her walk wherever, as long as the leash was loose; but we were not having as much success as I wanted.  So I've been keeping her on a much shorter leash, next to me, and simply stopping with a no-reward mark of "oops" and going with our release word, "okay," when she comes back into a heel position.  We've been doing lots of work with rewarding her for her standing next to me, and she's getting better now to the point where if she forges ahead, and I stop and say "oops," she'll come back to my side and look up at me.

Second, we'd been struggling with cars, trucks, etc. on walks.  She watches them so intently, and attempted to lunge at them a few times, so I knew we needed to deal with that behavior.  We worked a lot on "leave it" and today we got to put it to the test with the ice cream truck, while the music/sound was going on.  I asked for, and got, a solid "leave it" -- not only did she look away from the truck, but she wowed me by looking away from the truck and making eye contact with me. Big win!

Third, we had several solid "leave it" trials with dogs barking from their houses, doors, windows, yards, etc.  Not a single reactive moment.  Of course she was on alert when she heard them bark, but she did great, just perking up to listen, and then kept walking!

Fourth, there were kids playing basketball and she walked (almost) perfectly by them on the leash.  We stopped a short distance before them (about 20 feet) and did some basic obedience and then we moved on.  She did great walking by them, although we need to work a little on walking loosely on the leash around people, because she gets excited and wants to check everyone out.

Lastly, a few houses from home, there was a family outside with 5 young kids (between 5 and 10 years old), 2 adults, and a walking toddler.  They were all on the front lawn, playing, randomly screaming, running about, and just plain being kids. I definitely hadn't planned for it, but I couldn't miss out on this perfect opportunity to do some desensitization and counterconditioning, so we stayed across the street and I just kept popping treats in her mouth.  She got extra treats when the kids screamed, made random or unexpected noises, and when they moved (they were stopping and going a lot).  We stayed across the street until I was almost out of treats, and then we left.

We ended on a great note, she walked next to me for 3 houses straight without any reminders and sat perfectly at the front door waiting to come inside.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

....of set-backs and successes

This is Sonny's new favorite spot.... only a few inches away from his crate, but in the corner of the room furthest from where Rob and I usually are.  We don't spend much time in this chair, and up until recently, it's been Buster's favorite chair.  Maybe that's why Sonny chose it... it smells like Buster. And he adores Buster. He seems to like being able to watch us from it, and it works nicely because we don't spend a lot of time there, so he gets it all to himself and feels comfortable and most likely feels safe there also.

Anyway, on to Sonny's behavior.

This morning I was up early enough to try a short jog with Sonny, but he was all over the place, crossing back and forth in front of me, weaving side-to-side, running behind me, in front of me, behind me again... once he'd hit one end of the leash, he'd try another direction and then another and so on.  He pooped, but wouldn't pee, so I took him inside and tried again in a few minutes.  He peed the second time around, so I let all three pups out for their morning play session.

It's strange though, it's almost like a light switch that turns on and off. Literally, the second we come inside the house, it's as if we weren't just outside and he wasn't just in a pure panic. His tail lifts and he runs to Buster's crate, play bows, woo-woo's at him, then run's to the baby gate and licks Roxy's face and tries to nibble on her ears, then runs to me, play bows and woo-woo's at me.  It only lasts a few seconds, but it's showing me the dog that I know he can be with the proper treatment.

In Sonny's case, I truly believe that proper treatment involves medication.  Sure, over time, Sonny could potentially learn the same things that Roxy has learned, and then some.  But, how long is "over time?"  Do we sit back and let this dog suffer in silent fear while we wait it out?  I don't think that's fair; in fact, it's neglectful.  Trainers, veterinarians, and several individuals on the shy-k9s yahoo group believe the same thing -- it's no different than neglect or abuse to simply ignore the dog's anxiety and hope it goes away.  You wouldn't ignore a liver or thyroid problem in a dog, it would be considered neglect or abuse.  In those cases, the organ malfunction is the liver or thyroid.  In a fearful or anxious dog, is it not the brain that is malfunctioning? Isn't it our responsibility to treat the malfunctioning organ, regardless of what it might be?

While at work today I called the vet to set our follow-up appointment, and since Sonny's stools are still not fully formed, she wants to keep him on the prescription food for another week and follow up next week. So I asked her what we are doing with regards to his mental state, especially considering that Sonny's food and treats are 100% limited to his prescription food, so now more than ever, I'm not able to work with him because kibble is not exactly a high-value reward.  After some back and forth, the receptionist on the other end of the call let me know the doctor was putting together a prescription for Clomipramine for Sonny.

Finally, I don't feel like I'm fighting an up-hill battle for this dog to feel slightly comfortable in his own skin.

Then I was sent home from work for being sick.  I came home and took Roxy and Buster for a quick walk, then came back home to take Sonny out.   We went outside and he dragged me across the street and pooped right away; then his normal panic routine ensued:  crossing back and forth in front of me, pulling in all directions, trying to back out of his collar, etc.  So we came back inside and figured I would try again in a few minutes to get him to pee.  I brought Buster to the water bowl and came back to the living room and Sonny had peed on the floor. Great. The medication couldn't come at a better time -- Sonny is becoming too afraid to even stay outside long enough to go to the bathroom.

When we came inside, I put together some food for him, with some water and his first dose of the medication and put his bowl down in his crate.  I walked away and I'm not exactly sure what happened, but he wound up spilling the whole bowl all over his crate, and then he wouldn't eat it.  He pressed himself up against the back of the crate, like he was trying to be invisible.  I left him be, thinking he'd eat the food, plus it's stressful for him to have me right there in his crate cleaning up the food while he's in there.... but 10 minutes later, he still hadn't eaten.  I cleaned up the food non-nonchalantly and he devoured it the moment I closed his crate.

He came out of his crate and had a moment of joy, where he ran around the living room, smiling.

Here's to you, Sonny... and here's to working towards a more relaxed face, like this one, moving forward!

Now he's laying in the Papasan Chair, and for just a moment, I heard him sleep-woofing, for the first time in over a month and a half, he's sleeping with me sitting so close.  Actually sleeping too, not sleeping with one eye open.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

an up-hill battle

Sonny and I have been struggling a lot lately.  He seems overall better inside the house.  He's more relaxed with me, Roxy, and Buster.  He's slowly getting more relaxed with Rob, in the sense that he'll come out of his crate when he's around, as long as Rob isn't moving or talking.  He doesn't cower in his crate when Rob walks around, but he's still obviously uncomfortable and watches him like a hawk, just in case.

Outside is a different story.

Sonny's walks have been shorter lately because he seems to be becoming more fearful and anxious than he used to be.  We've just been going outside for potty and back inside because he literally will potty and then drag me back inside because he doesn't want to be out there. Any noises he hears outside set him into a panic where he will lay down on his belly and try to leap-frog away, despite being attached to me by a leash.  I've learned that the moment he hears a noise or see's a human, it's over.  We have to go back inside, he will not go potty after that, even if the person leaves or the noise stops.

Some mornings, I'll jog him a few houses up in the, to get him some sort of exercise; but it really depends on what time we get out in the morning, how he's doing, and if there are people out there.

We went to the veterinarian on Thursday to discuss his loose stools, and after much debate and argument with the rescue Sonny is being fostered for, I was given permission to discuss the idea of medicating Sonny as part of his treatment.  It has been almost 6 weeks and although there is some progress, he was definitely regressing in some areas and he was obviously suffering mentally.  I went and talked to the force/aversive trainer that the rescue uses, despite my protests in using him because of the force and aversion techniques he uses.  But I was told he needed to see their trainer before discussing medication.  I spoke to the trainer without Sonny and explained that I thought bringing him there would be too stressful, and after telling him about Sonny's behavior, he also said it sounded like Sonny was a good candidate for medication and "the gimmick" of clicker training, even though he doesn't really like gimmicks.

(Ironic note here, I brought Roxy with me to see this guy, to get an idea of how he responds to fearful dogs in case the rescue refused to medicate him unless the trainer actually saw him.  I was less concerned about her, because she's at a point where even if he went to pet her before she was ready, I could easy mark and treat her for the interaction without doing damage.  Anyway, it worked out nicely, the trainer was great with her and very polite in his actions towards her, which made me feel better in general.  But he was saying how clicker training was a gimmick, and he doesn't use it, but it might work for Sonny. In the same breath he was saying how wonderful Roxy was, and how well she was trained, etc... so I politely let him know that she was clicker trained, with a marker word instead of the click... he didn't know what to say. I giggled.)

Anyway, at the vet Thursday, I explained Sonny's situation, and we spent over an hour discussing his behavior, our struggles, and his overall anxiety.  I explained how Sonny is too afraid to learn, that I haven't had success with any desensitization or counterconditioning, that I couldn't even teach him to sit or target my hand, that he wouldn't reliably approach me or anyone for food or anything, we can't approach him at all, etc.  I also explained to her about his loose stools that he's had since he came home with me, and she decided to put him on a prescription diet in order to "reset his digestive system."  He can't have any other food or treats for the next week while we work out his stomach issues.

When it came to discussing his behavior, it culminated in the vet telling me that she didn't want to medicate him because he wasn't showing any signs of aggression -- she told me how she has several fear aggressive patients that she's chosen not to medicate, and they are much worse than Sonny.  I asked her how long she wanted to wait, and she said he might need to be medicated "down the line."  So I told her I honestly didn't care about any other patients, that we're not here to discuss how Sonny's behavior compares to other patients, we're here to discuss the fact that Sonny's quality of life sucks, and will continue to suck since we can't make any progress training wise.  I don't understand, does she want to wait until after he bites someone? Medication is not a solution to aggression, it's a training aid meant to bring Sonny's mind to a point where he's relaxed enough to actually learn to prevent him from becoming fear aggressive....  And as she forcibly pet Sonny, she told me, "he looks like he's going to be just fine," and then told me that when he's afraid, I should have him sit.  Right. Because he knows how to sit, or I'm able to teach him to sit.  I can't even approach the dog, let alone attempt to teach him to sit!

Then, when we were leaving, Sonny was running back and forth in his typical panicked state of mind, and I was just talking to him, "It's okay, Sonny," and "Let's go see Roxy and Buster," and "It's okay, buddy."  I know ultimately if he's that afraid he probably doesn't hear me, or doesn't get any benefit from what I'm saying, but it's natural to want to console your pet.  And the veterinarian told me not to do that because it was rewarding his fear.  I politely told her that you can't reward fear.  I don't think she expected it, to be honest.  But she said she would send me the behavior evaluation and we would see about putting him on meds, but I got the impression she wasn't interested in medicating him.

Late last night, the vet emailed me information on desensitization and counterconditioning, and a tranquility protocol that was similar to Dr. Karen Overall's Protocol for Relaxation.... I wrote back letting her know I've more than familiar with d/cc due to having my own fearful dog at home, and I'm working with her on the Protocol for Relaxation right now, but that Sonny is not capable of handling any of that work at this point because he's always in an anxious state and I can't even approach him or toss or roll treats in his general direction without sending him running.

We're supposed to go back for a follow up next Thursday. I expect that once she's read my email, her mind will be a bit more open to the fact that Sonny is not going to just "be fine" and even if he would be "fine" in several months, that he will be mentally suffering in the meantime and that's unacceptable.

Even today... he was laying in the Papasan Chair, with one of his ever-so-watchful eyes open.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

training: targeting

I've been teaching Roxy to target things for a while, but prior to working with our trainer, I didn't really realize I was doing it.  I initially taught Roxy "touch" to mean I point to an object and she put her muzzle on it. 

After I got schooled on the proper touch command (Roxy targets the palm of my hand with her muzzle), I started using targeting more and more to aid in her training.

We started out shaping that behavior; first looking at the object, mark/reward, then she had to move closer to the object for a mark/reward, and ultimately where she had to touch the object with her muzzle for a mark/reward.

We've progressed to her targeting other people's hands; it's how we introduce her to new people and it really helps keep the pressure off her.  I've learned that most people can't be non-interactive with a dog, especially since Roxy will typically go right over to smell them.  People's first instinct is to reach over her and pet her; Roxy's first instinct is to duck and back away when they do this.

So, I give people an active part in the game.  Initially, I didn't want other people speaking to her or giving cues until I knew how she would do, so I would ask people to put their hand out, horizontally, next to their bodies, and ignore her. I started asking her to "Go say hi!" which is her cue to literally, go say hi to the person, and target their hand.  She'd run over and touch their hand, and get a mark/treat from me.  She's now at a point where other people can ask her for a touch, and she'll run to them to do it.  Literally any adult can make this happen, whether they are giving the cue or I am, or whether I have the treats or they do.

So, we do this a few times, and then she's properly "introduced" to the person, and often she'll run over to them repeatedly, looking for additional mark/treats.  After she's done it herself (without a cue) two or three times, the game is over and she will go over and stand next to the person, which is her invitation to be pet. It was really amazing to watch her figure this game out and then suddenly not be afraid of that person.  Even if she's not interested in being pet by them, she's not afraid of them.

So, on to the video below.  Roxy is the type of dog that doesn't like other dogs in her face, for the most part.  Dogs that she's already "friends" with can be, but it just depends on the dog, really.  She initially liked Sonny very much.  She threw out all sorts of play bows and vocal invitations to play.  But after his quarantine period, Roxy seemed less interested in him.  And Sonny is a muzzle-licker.  He'll be wandering by another dog, and just reach over and lick their face a few times, and keep on walking.  Needless to say, Roxy is not a fan of this.

So I initially started capturing the behavior.  Each time he approached her and licked, Roxy would get a mark/treat.  She started looking for the face lick and anticipating the mark/treat.  I moved on to teach her to target Sonny's muzzle with the cue "Where's the puppy?" so not only is she getting a mark/treat for Sonny approaching her, she's getting one for actively seeking him out, and specifically seeking out the muzzle-muzzle interaction.  I used the word "puppy" instead of using Sonny's name because when we started this, Sonny wasn't comfortable hearing his name, so I wanted to keep the pressure off of him while still helping Roxy feel more comfortable around him.

She's now seeking him out and making attempts to target his muzzle. It's not a fix-all, but there are much fewer avoidance behaviors when Sonny approaches her face, and now we're getting NO snarling, whereas before, he'd lick her, and she'd lift her lip at him.  She is also inviting him to play more often, and taking the initiative to jump into Sonny and Buster's play sessions.  I keep them short and sweet and it's a lot of management on my end, to make sure no one is getting too amped up, but I'm really impressed with her progress.

Also notice Sonny approaching me in the video.  It's his nighttime thing, as of late.  He will come out of his crate and jump in the papasan chair in the background, and when Rob or I throw Buster's ball, Sonny will run after Buster and the ball.  Last night, during the video, he was approaching me to see what sort of treats I had.  I was using chicken chips, something I never considered high value before, but Sonny seems to be very interested in them, so I'll have to get some more since we polished off the last bag during Roxy's targeting session and Sonny's occasional approaching me session last night!

Monday, March 7, 2011

poor sonny

We are off to the vet with Sonny on Thursday.... He was treated for Giardia (with Metronidazole) when we brought him home.  His diarrhea didn't clear up, and then I saw some sort of worms in his feces, so he was treated with Panacur.  Everything seemed fine, but he was still have loose stools, and I'm guessing it was from stress.  The vet tech at the rescue wanted to treat him with the Panacur again, to make sure we got everything (parasite- and Giardia-wise).  He's also been on a bland diet (ground chicken/beef and rice) and that hasn't done anything either.  It's been over a month and the poor dog hasn't had one solid stool.

I have to think it's a big possibility that Sonny's loose stool is stress-related.  This poor dog is in a fairly constant state of panic and anxiety.

I've asked that we talked to a veterinarian about putting Sonny on an anti-anxiety medication, but I haven't gotten a straight answer.  I've been told Sonny should see a trainer for an evaluation first, and of course, the rescue uses an aversive trainer and they want Sonny to see him despite my objections.  I'm not sure how that will help, but doG help me, if he does anything force- or flooding-related, there will be a problem.  This dog has been through enough and I am not going to risk this dog or ignore science-based research on learning theory and behavior modification to appease someone else.

What do they think this will accomplish?  Why does an aversive trainer need to see the dog's fear in order to understand the need for a different approach?  What I've said about him being so afraid when he hears noises outside that he literally attempts to run while pooping, and in effect, poops on himself, isn't enough to warrant talking to a veterinarian about his mental state and the damage the anxiety is doing to him?
It's not fair that this dog is so anxious all the time.  I can't imagine the effects on his mind and body.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Canine Good Citizen

I've decided Roxy and I are going to work towards her Canine Good Citizen Certification.

There, I said it. I can't take it back now.

We have a long way to go still, but I think it will up the ante with her training and bring her to a whole new level. I have no idea how long it will take. I can't put a timeline on her fear. But I would really like to make sure this happens.

This is what we need to work on in order to pass the CGC exam, in no particular order:
  1. transition from the halti head collar to a flat or martingale collar with no pulling
  2. practice meeting strangers and staying in the sit position
  3. practice being handled by a stranger, including ears, paws, grooming
  4. practice meeting strangers with dogs and ignoring them - preference for sitting nicely at my side
  5. practice being left alone with a stranger (3 minutes)
  6. work on our distance stay with a long lead (20 feet)
  7. continue to meet lots of new people
  8. continue to walk in public places
I'm up for the challenge.  I hope Roxy is also.

Who am I kidding... if there's a chance for her to work and earn treats, then she's up for the challenge.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

training: roxy at agility last night

I take Roxy to a walk-in style, on-leash agility class just about every Tuesday. It's truly helped her build confidence, and it gives me a controlled environment to do some desensitization and counterconditioning on a weekly basis, especially in the winter when there are far fewer people and dogs outside to work with, as far as triggers go. It's a pretty basic class:  mostly basic equipment, dogs are kept on leash, they don't touch or play, and it's more for fun than anything else.

Roxy views every person in that class, even new people she's never met before, as treat dispensers. She's very comfortable in that environment, and she handles other dogs being near her much better now that we're around them all the time. There are some dogs in the class that are on the reactive side, some because they want to play with all the other dogs, some because they're anxious, some because they're hyper, and others are just plain talkative.

When we first started going, Roxy was a bit reactive when the other dogs were running about or barking, but she has gotten so much better and is now more curious than anything else. Last night was no exception. Rob came to class and he commented on how he thought she was the best behaved dog in the class, and the best on the equipment as well. He was really impressed with her running through the obstacles, which made me very excited because for a while, he was thinking Roxy didn't even like coming to agility, that it was more for me than for her.  Now he knows that's not the case!

So, without further ado, Roxy's run at the end of class last night.... she was pretty tired since we'd been through several times already, but she did really well.  I'm so proud of her.  She stays so focused on me and looks to me to see what's next when she doesn't know.