Not Your Normal Dog Class…

Went to my first reactive dog class! It’s not your normal dog class. For one thing, the dogs aren’t all out at the same time. You drive there. Strategically park your car somewhere around the “farm” and walk them around, then make sure they are comfortable, set, and they can’t see out the windows to other dogs. People take turns working on their dogs specific needs.

For instance, a dog that is people reactive was taken out of the car and walked along a path, while a person volunteered to walk next to the dog and owner, feeding him treats. I was told this dog was super people reactive, and actually bit the trainer once. But now, he has made so much progress, and even wagged his tail!! YAY!!

Everyone else watches and discusses. We also sat in a circle for a super shy dog and let her eat from our hands/toss treats without eye contact. This gave the dog some confidence and get them used to people. Another dog walked on the leash while a man walked along with them 10 feet away. The owner gave treats to the dog.

The students in the class pick what they want to work on, and everyone usually gets 2 sets of practice, or more depending on how many people are there. Some of these dogs have made great strides which makes me hopeful, but every dog is different. Next Saturday will be our first go at it! Makes me nervous, but excited to know there are other people out there. It’s like a support group, but real life controlled situations are put into place to help the dog and owner!

In other news…I have seen some progress with Oreo. She has had dogs barking at her and she had no reaction! No running, freezing, or barking. She acted like they weren’t there. She also looks at me sometimes when she is scared, which is the goal! Additionally, when we were on the back porch a painter was next door and came out-she didn’t bark at all-was just looking curiously! She also saw a dog at the mailbox and no barking!! (which is usually common for her). Seeing some good things. Now..that painter man was outside the front door talking to my husband and Oreo didn’t like that, she barked, whinned, and was very nervous. Same man..different situation…different reaction…

Also Oreo looks forward to wearing her thundershirt (it seems that way). The other day she came right up to me wagging her tail when she saw it! Like she was saying pleassssssssssse. On another note I will be starting teaching again, so will be home less, and have less time to train with her, but intend to definitely continue!

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Leave Your Dog For a Night…MIRACLE!!!

I was discussing dogs with friends at my mother’s surprise 60th party last weekend. A couple complained that their dog is uncomfortable with other dogs, and with people having close contact (hugging, shaking hands). They stated that they were afraid their dog would attack the neighbor’s small poof ball dog that runs along the fence taunting their dog. Mentioning some trainers nearby, I suggested the one I went to, which is mearly 5 minutes away. I also mentioned it will tak e a lot of work to help your dog, but it’s worth it. Her quick reply was that she is going to try leaving the dog with a “dog whisperer” type for a night….then miracle! The next day pick your dog up and they are fine with EVERYTHING!!

Wow. This “dog whisperer” must create miracles. She went on to say it’s quicker and less work than classes. In America we always want a quick fix don’t we? Yeah, drop your dog off and all of a sudden in one night everything is okay, they will be running with the “pack”.  I shudder at thinking what these people must do to create a miracle???? Shock the dog? Hit it? Yell in it’s face “chh, chhh!!!” If a dog is truly reactive and they force it in a pen with other dogs, that would be flooding ( a technique people think will help the dog by essentially bringing a dog to it’s triggers and surrounding them over threshold). This is a horrible idea. Flooding is an old technique, though of to help dogs who are scared of something by overexposing them to it, or flooding them. Flooding is a bad idea in any situation. Some trainers still use it and recommend it, but I would think more than twice about using it. It happened to our dog (not purposely), but we wish we could go back in time. Not only does it not help and scare the bejesus out of your dog, they regress and can/will get much worse. Our dog is much more fearful. It is not only our experience, but I have read countless stories. Think of the word “flooding”. Is a flood a good thing? Is it something you would like to experience? Literally? Or let’s think of flooding in dog terms. Let’s say you are super super scared of spiders like my sister-in-law. She screams and runs out of the house when she sees one, and can’t calm down for days, constantly looking around. Let’s imagine you are her, and we decide to flood you-let’s put you in a room with the door locked so you can’t escape, and put spiders everywhere. They are covering the walls, the bed, and even crawling on you!!??? Do you think you would come out of that less fearful of spiders because somehow you realized they are okay?

Back to the miracle worker.  This couple wants to leave their dog there and commented about how their dog is a stray, fearful dog. I tried to slide in some words of advice, but they continued to say that they read people’s comments on the site about how it really worked, so it must work. Would you leave your child alone with a stranger for a night? Very odd how people can leave their dog with a complete stranger, at their house or facility, and let them do whatever they need to do to have your dog behave. My guess is that people get the dogs back and they are shut down. What I mean by shut down is dogs who have bowed out. They have decided that life is too scary, they will mope around and be nonresponsive. Many people get their dogs back and think wow…MIRACLE!!! But in fact, the dog has been abused, or scared so much that they have decided to shut down and be away from life (not care).

People…DON’T LET YOUR DOG STAY WITH STRANGERS!!!!!

Last Training Session!

 

Oreo had her last training session! We started off discussing how she has been doing, and discussed how her new medication may be causing irritation around her eyes. She has been itching them and they are red :(. This could also be allergies, but has been new since the new anxiety meds have kicked in. I hesitate to post the medication’s name because anxiety medicine is a tricky game. Some medicines work get to aide in training with one day, and horrible with another.

We practiced focusing on me while she got out of the car. Now the trainer had her dog more than 50 feet away and Oreo got out the first time and did wonderfully when I called her name she focused on me and did tricks. Then back in the car to celebrate! YAY! Next, the trainer had her dog walking around instead of having their back towards her. This proved harder. We tried 2 times, then decided on a new strategy. It worked!! The first time at least….

The second time  she did look back at me quickly, did 1 trick, and in mid spin stopped, looked at the dog, then pulled to go into the training house. I don’t think she wanted to avoid the dog, I think she was thinking, “Geez can we stop this already?” We discussed what happened and went to do calming curves (taking a few steps toward the dog at a distance, then calling our dog’s name and hoping she turns). Well, she didn’t turn. She sat and watched the other dog…with interest???

The trainer asked if she should break protocol. I knew what that meant…bring the dog closer. She thought Oreo wanted to play. I agreed because she gave out little whiney sounds, which she does when she is excited to see another dog and wants to play. They neared each other and I became more nervous. Oreo went into her “stalking” pose, and I thought, “Uh oh,” although I shouldn’t have because she does this when she approaches her friends  (dogs she plays with). The trainer turned her dog around to sniff and we let Oreo sniff for a few seconds, then called her to turn around (more like I had to pull her a little). The second time we did this, she wasn’t even interested, she just sniffed around and looked around (YAY!!!! For Oreo, she realizes she doesn’t have to go crazy or get too excited, or even be interested in another dog!!).

We proceeded and Oreo did have a little lunge/out of control outburst, but only lasted a second and was composed. The trainer said, “What was that? I don’t know what that was?” It was like a loud whiney type thing while lunging. Anyways, she was okay after that, and even let the dog sniff her butt and walk by her on the side where she was attacked (YAY!!!). Also, later as we were talking the dogs both were okay just relaxing near each other and Oreo didn’t even seem interested!! YAYYYYY This is a big deal for her because she has never been “not intereseted” in another dog. When she was younger it was lunging to play, wouldn’t stop wanting to play, can’t stop playing..then after she was bitten it was growl, lunge, bark..get away!!! She has never relaxed with another dog around. YAYYY for Oreo!!!  She also layed down one foot away from the other dog who was standing near her!!! YAYYYY!! That is not the behavior of a reactive dog. Perhaps because she knew the owner??

I also noticed she walked away from a neighbor dog who she would sometimes interact with (yay!!!). Oreo is hopefully learned she can walk away instead of going crazy. So our training is not done, nor will it probably ever be done. It’s not easy, but it’s life! I am going to continue to work on some recalls, and one of them should help with her space issues (she stops a foot or more away from me), and work on getting out of the car & focusing with dogs around. Another thing I want to start is a routine when people come into the house. This will get Oreo used to people coming in, and know what to expect. Leaving her in a room when the doorbell rings, invite the guest in, get them comfortable. Do focus/trick exercises in the room, outside, have her leashed on a bed next to me with the person in the room or next room, and so on….I wasn’t pleased that she didn’t focus on me…but if she wanted to play with another dog…that’s okay with me!!!!!!!!

Just like Normal

Did you ever see the joy on dogs faces when they are playing with their best friend? I have, and it makes me forget that Oreo is reactive, just for those minutes, it’s as if she is the friendliest dog ever! She was just outside playing with her best friend, Boomer, a large dog who lets her jump on top of him and roll over and play ball. They share toys, run together, and lay next to each other. It is truely a sight to behold.

Oreo is afraid of strangers, and will even sometimes lunge/bark at them to try to ward them off. When she is playing EVERYONE is her friend. Even the scary neighbor guy who comes out with his dog. When she would once bark at him and lunge, she goes right up to him and all of the people outside for petting and playing. She even lets all of the older SCARY MEN pet her. It’s like magic, and it makes me feel happy to see her so happy and not worried. If every day could be like this! This bring up feelings of why? Why is she okay now, playing in the backyard, when other times she definitely isn’t?

The other day one of the scary neighbor men came right up to us and she had a fit, barking, lunging, and I’m sure if she was close enough she probably would’ve tried to bite him to make him go away he was so scary. We put her in the house, then minutes later took her out the back to play with her friend Boomer. A scary man was sitting next door with Boomer’s mom, and Oreo never met this man before–she went right up to him jumping up on him licking him loving the petting! What is up with that? Pehaps she has associated the back yard with good experiences, and good people? Who knows, but I wish it wouldn’t stop. Unfortunately her best friend boomer will be moving in less than 2 weeks 😦 So we have to savor the moments we have…

On another note I am proud of some of the little things I have seen from her. When she is tired of playing, she will walk away from Boomer or lay down. This is a smart decision for her because sometimes she gets over tired then gets snappy. Another thing I noticed was when the other neighbor’s dog came out she did not go over there. I actually think she knows this dog is super shy. It might sound weird, but I think she knows. She uses calming signals with this dog EVERY SINGLE TIME. When she seems him she automatically turns her head and lays down. If you haven’t read about calming signals you should definitely do that. She is trying to calm the other dog down (yay!). Usually she is the one out of control, but after hanging around this dog a few times at a distance, and having her friend Boomer around she has been more comfortable. Also, she was looking out the door and saw a dog coming, barked 2 times, then walked away. Yay! Small victories when there is a long way to go keeps you going…

Walking Gear

 

 

I find it cumbersome sometimes to carry  everything I need on walks. I have invested in some athletic shorts that have pockets. The following things I bring with me every time I leave for the park or a walk with the dog:

 

  • Leash
  • E Z Harness
  • Treat Bag
  • Yummy Treats
  • Clicker
  • Pepper Spray
  • Poop Bags
  • Dog of course!

Now let’s start with the thing that pops into my mind first when reading the list. Pepper Spray? You may wonder why I carry it, but you might not if you have been reading my posts. Oreo was attacked. Never thought it would happen, and in such a quiet neighborhood. Dogs can come from anywhere, and I’ve learned to always be ready. In the few months I have carried it I have never had to use it. I do have to admit, right after the attack I was much more drastic…MUCH MORE. I bought an extendable baton, that is electrified. It actually is designed to fit right over your shorts or pants to carry. I was mortified. I purchased it and even paid extra to have it shipped fast. I was desperate. If anything is attacking my baby and I can’t get it off this should do!! Why not just pepper spray?? I read that bigger dogs may not release with just pepper spray. I had to get the best.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would never use it unless a dog was attacking my dog and I couldn’t get it off. That happened to be the situation before, and it probably was on our dog for a good 5 minutes not releasing, and pulling. I thought her skin would be ripped off. I actually remember hitting the dog and looking up to the sky and thinking, “God, I can’t believe this is happening, it’s like a nightmare, help me”. This followed with screaming, my husband kicking the dog, and it refused to release. After that I thought we got lucky she wasn’t killed, next time I will be prepared.

TRUTH IS…I never have fully taken it out of the package. The baton actually scares me, and the fact I would have to use it on another dog scares me. What if it was my dog attacking? But then I think back to that day that changed everything, a fun loving dog changed into a highly fearful anxiety ridden dog. She once enjoyed the company of other dogs…okay she was obsessed with playing with other dogs. Now she freezes when she sees them, and well you know what will happen if she’s reached her threshold. Plus, her injuries could’ve been much much worse. And after the attack she seemed so normal, wagging her tail, licking the owner’s hand. Such a sweetie. I digress.

Another thing I find a MIRACLE is the E Z harness. It doesn’t have to be that brand, but a harness that connects in the front to the leash. Amazing!! Oreo use to pull pull pull. She was a tracker and loved pulling to see other dogs. We tried regular harnesses, training methods, nothing worked…until the E Z harness. I don’t know if anyone else has had success, but we definitely have. After the attack though now we have trouble encouraging her walk sometimes she is scared. Taking her to parks and avoiding crowded areas does help though. I still use the E Z harness because it doesn’t cause pressure on the neck. When a dog is nervous, pressure on the neck just exacerbates the problem. It also allows me to have more control. If she happens to get surprised and out of fear starts to lunge, I have much more control. The trainer actually said eventually I could take it off, but it doesn’t seem to bother her, or me.

I do find carrying so much stuff can be crazy, and sometimes I forget. Well…okay I don’t forget. I get up and it’s early in the morning. I go outside with Oreo and she is sniffing, but suddenly a bathroom break turns into a little walk..then AHH scary person or dog!! No treats? Yes, I can hold her attention, but not as long as I would like, we haven’t had enough experience yet and training. It always seems like when you forget the treats or the poop bag…that’s when you need it…and that’ when your dog decides to go right in someone’s front lawn as they are starring out at you from the window.

Growing Up Dog

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.  ~Ben Williams

You heard it right. My best friend is my dog. When I was in second grade my parents got a west highland terrier puppy, we named her Snowy. She lived to be 19 years old!!! She was with me through all of the hard times and the good times too. Some people will just say that I’m crazy, but for those of you that know what it’s like to connect with a dog, they are a member of the family.

I always used to say, “Snowy is my favorite family member”, as I rubbed her head telling her it. Everyone would groan, “We know!” She would close her eyes slightly and smile. It became a joke, but it also showed how much she meant to me. When I was in elementary school and a boy on the bus would bully me, pull my hair, I had Snowy. I would go home and talk to her and tell her. My mom told me to ignore the boy, but Snowy just listened…and agreed. Well, I assume she agreed, she didn’t say anything.

When I was in middle school and trying to fit in with the cool crowd, I would come downstairs in a mini skirt and my mom would tell me to change. Snowy just came up and greeted me and said, “You look lovely.” Okay, she didn’t say it, but she didn’t say anything, she just looked happy to see me. When I came home crying because girls made nasty rumors about me, who was there? Snowy. She laid by my side and liked my face when I cried.

When I got my first job at Dunkin Donuts and I had to get up at 5am, who was there to greet me in the morning when I could hardly get out of bed? Who was there when I got home and opened the door exhausted? Snowy was there wagging her tail. She did not judge, she did not argue, she just listened. I made sure I told my family those things too.

I went to college and knew I would miss her. I rubbed her head goodbye and gave her a hug and kiss. By this time, she was slowing down and her eyesight was going. I felt bad to leave her, but knew that she always liked my mom best and would be in good company. I returned to finish college locally and saw her health slowly deteriorate.

It made me sad to see her move slower and stop playing. I gave her my bean bag for her to lay on close to fire. Hopefully that helped her rest. I remember coming home late one night, and finding her down the hallway. As I went to say hello, she growled at me. Snowy wasn’t usually a growler, so it startled me. I told her that its just me Snowy, and she stopped, realizing through her blindness I was approaching, and not a stranger.

At night she would bark, perhaps she had dementia. Perhaps she couldn’t see well and was afraid. Perhaps she had bad dreams. We thought she had to go outside to go the bathroom, and it became a routine waking up once a night. Eventually it progressed to a few times a night. My parents were miserable. I ended up getting a job after college and moving out, so I didn’t know what it was like to be woken up constantly. I would go visit my parents all the time and see Snowy. Her normal excitement to see me was gone, and she looked sad. When I say she looked sad I mean her tail didn’t wag much anymore and she just laid sleeping in the laundry room, on the dirty clothes.

She would growl at other dogs and had arthritis. We tried giving her pills to help her, but it didn’t seem to help. My mother would always say that she hoped Snowy would pass in her sleep, that one day she would go downstairs and find her peacefully “sleeping” in the laundry room. It stung everytime she talked about it. I told her Snowy would live forever, and was my best friend.

I knew she wouldn’t live forever, but didn’t want to face the fact that my best friend would be gone sooner than I hoped. I grew up with her, and she was there for me. I remember going to the Poconos and it was about a week before I would be going on vacation to Las Vegas. As my mom played cards with a friend, I went into the dark bedroom to find Snowy laying on the ground. She didn’t look happy, so I went and laid next to her with my arm around her, petting her and telling her I love her and what a good girl she was. I remember my mom looking at me and talking to her friend. I knew she was talking about me and the dog, and I knew she was thinking of putting her to sleep.

My mom asked many times if we (someone in the family) would go with her to put the dog down since she was miserable and hurting. I said no and so did everyone else. We didn’t really mean we wouldn’t go, we just thought mom wanted to go soon, so we all thought that saying no would delay the process. I packed up for vacation and said goodbye to my parents. As I left out the door, I saw Snowy laying in the laundry room looking at me. I waved and said goodbye. As I stepped down from the door,  something stopped me. I froze for a second and thought that maybe I should go pet her and say goodbye. Deciding against this, I knew I would see her when I came back.

Arriving home from vacation, I went to my mother’s for dinner. She was still in the Poconos, but was packing up to come home. I walked in the door and automatically looked to the left for Snowy. “She’s in the Poconos, ” I thought. I figured I would hang out and wait for my parents to return for dinner. Needing a drink, I went into the kitchen and noticed Snowy’s bowl was gone. “Hmm, that’s strange”, I thought. “No, they couldn’t have, must have taken it to the Poconos, or they must be cleaning it”. My fiance was with me and I told him out loud that the bowl was not there. I think I knew it then.

Moving to the living room, I looked for the bean bag I had given her many years before, so that she was comfortable. She would always move around in circles, creating an indent on the bean bag perfect for her shape. The bean bag was GONE. I increased my pace, now a fast walk to the laundry room. No dirty clothes down there for her to sleep on. I jogged around the house looking for toys. No toys. “It couldn’t be, she couldn’t have”, I thought.

I immediately called my mom and her voice sounded very surprised that I beat her to the house. She then told me what she did. She took the dog by herself, while everyone was at work to the vet to put her to sleep. She sat alone, in the waiting room with Snowy, while Snowy shook in her arms. Snowy always shook in the waiting room, terrified. I can imagine her shaking with fear, and my mom crying in the waiting room, holding her, trying to tell her everything would be okay, while tears of guilt and saddness of what was to come streamed down her face. I can imagine my mom bringing her in, crying to the vet,  and Snowy thinking it was just another shot or puff of air for another vaccine. I can see the vet putting the puff up her nose of air that would soon put her to sleep while my poor mom watched our family member slowly drift away.

I can’t imagine the horrible images that day has left in my mom’s memory. It is a hard decision to put a dog to sleep, and harder to do it yourself, with no one there. The day still haunts me and I can’t believe my mom had the strength to go herself. I still cry, in fact I’m crying as I write this. It must be the worst feeling in the world watching the one you love dying, and by your choice. I know she was miserable and hurting and went to a better place, but I miss her. For years afterward I would look into the laundry room at my parents house when I walked in the door thinking she was still there. Sometimes I still slip up and call my new dog Snowy.

I know this blog is about reactive dogs, and I have a new dog now who brings me joy, but I write this because it upsets me when I see things in the news about people shooting their dogs or other horrible things. People who say dogs don’t have feelings must never have spent time with a dog. When we brought our new dog Oreo home, she cried and howled as a puppy. She was lonely. When she is hurt she cries and screams. When she is scared her eyes get real big and she freezes. When she wants attention she barks or stares at us. I think with reactive dogs you also see more emotion. The highs are very high, with her jumping around uncontrollably zooming, and her lows of freezing when she is scared or lunging and barking out of control in order to scare away whatever is scaring her.

 Yesterday I had a conversation with her. Well, not quite, but I would say something, and she would give me a little bark back. This continued for a few minutes. I wanted to youtube it, but figured most dogs do this sometimes. Whether people want to admit it or not, dogs have feelings and deserved to be treated like family members.

Dogs are miracles with paws.  ~Attributed to Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy