Possessiveness

Sometimes people ask me, “Are your dogs perfect?” And my honest answer is: no. In large part, this is because there are things I just don’t care enough about to put in the training time. But another large part is that nothing stays the same, including dogs.

For instance: I think Lily’s losing her hearing. For a long while I thought she was just being stubborn when I called her to come, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not tuning up her recall because, well, what if she can’t hear me? So her recall is failing and until I know one way or the other, I’m just not going to worry about it.

Another for instance, and the point of this particular post: Doc got possessive. I’ve had him for a year and a half now, which means any issues he’s still dealing with probably don’t have to do with him being a rescue, they have to do with him and me. (Note: this is a rough rule of thumb, with a lot of exceptions.)

He’s never shown signs of possessiveness before, but about six months ago he started getting possessive of bones with Lily. He tried some growls and snaps, and he got in big trouble for it (poked by me and chased off, his bone given to Lily), then rewarded for tolerating her (praise and pets when he had his bone and he wasn’t being a bully to her while she was wandering around/sniffing it, etc.). The praise worked better than the poking with him, so I used that a lot more once I noticed, and he got over his issue in a couple of weeks.

Skip to six weeks (or so) ago, and he’s trying to be possessive of ME, with Cash. Mostly when we were snuggling or I was petting him, and Cash would come up to say, “Me too!” Doc would growl and try to nose Cash away, and went as far as snapping at him a time or two. Because I was standing right there, I’d push Doc away (to the other end of the couch, or chase him off a few feet if I were standing), then pay attention to Cash, THEN call Doc back over and love on him, too. Again, when Cash came up and I could see Doc wasn’t happy about it – turning his face away, ears pinching along his head, whites of the eyes showing – I would praise Doc for tolerating it. After a week or two, that went away as well.

Skip to two weeks ago, and it’s popped up again: this time being possessive first over Patience (my sometimes-helper and the dog trainer in the East Bay I refer people to), then Margo (my assistant) and finally Quin (my honey). In each and every case we did the same thing: push Doc away, love on Cash, bring Doc in and love on him. We also added a couple of things:

For Patience, since she’s also a dog trainer, I asked her to start making Doc calm down and think. One thing I’ve noticed about Doc is the more wound up he gets, the less he thinks overall. Now, it’s normal for a dog’s brain to turn off when they’re super wound up (with either excitement or aggression or anything else), but his brain turns off even when he’s not wound up, if he’s spent a lot of time wound up. Things that wind him up: not exercising enough, some of my playful boarders, fetch, the wild peacocks, squirrels. It’s a full time job keeping him centered! Getting a wound up dog to pause so they can think again (and guiding them gently but firmly through what to do until they CAN think) is key. So I asked Patience to get him thinking around her, adding in little brain-working things like sitting and calming down at doors before he goes out to play, sitting to get petted, things like that. That calmed him so his possessiveness also dropped.

I asked Margo (who does some minor training for me, but firmly insists she’s not a dog trainer!) to use a squirt bottle if he got possessive of her. It’s a good consequence: not emotionally very powerful, certainly not painful, just distracting and annoying.

With Quin, we put Doc in time out when he got possessive, in an x-pen in the house. After twenty minutes (which I judged to be enough time for his brain to wander off his possessiveness), he re-joined us. He was put in time out a couple of times before he got the point!

In all instances, when he became tolerant of Cash or wasn’t possessive, he got rewarded with lots of love and pets. Ex: I petted Cash, Doc watched but didn’t come over to push Cash away, so after a minute – before he lost his patience – I turned and loved on Doc. Repeat ad nauseum! For every time he got busted for naughtiness, I want at least five rewards. If I’m busting him too much, that’s my signal that I’m asking too much of him. I need to reward BEFORE he puts himself in trouble, so he knows what it is I’m looking for, not just what I don’t like.

It took a couple of weeks for him to cycle through everyone and figure out no one was going to let him get away with it. I’m still praising and loving on him when other dogs butt into “our” space to get pets, just to reinforce his good behavior.

During his possessive phase, I used different techniques for different people, depending on how he reacts to the people in question and what they were more comfortable with/capable of, and what worked best for him.

No dog is ever perfect. Even when a dog trainer owns them, even if I spent all my time making them perfect to everyone’s standards, living animals are always changing! I wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉

Jenna

Getting Old Ain’t for Sissies

With many thanks to Quin’s grandmother for the titular phrase!

Well, Lily and Cash are getting older. Lily has a little bit of hip dysplasia and a lot of arthritis (she’s one supplement and, recently, pain killers/anti-inflammatories). Cash is in remarkably good shape, except for the added weight from helping himself to dog food. We’re working on that!

One of the books I’m reading for myself is called “Younger Next Year” by an MD and a lawyer who thought the information needed to be out in the world. There are several editions, and I can’t say it’s the most perfect book out there, but it is based on medical information, and it steers clear of the fad diets and whatnot, which I appreciate! The main message of the book is this: exercise an hour, six days a week, to help your body stay young. A brisk walk is good enough. It goes into a lot more detail about why, but that’s the basic premise.

Here’s why I mentioning it: the things they talk about have to do with being mammals, not always being human. Lily’s been sliding downhill slowly and I thought, “You know what? She’s a mammal, too.” So Lily and I (and Cash because I want him to stay in good shape) are now embarking on a get-younger lifetime regime.

Lily’s arthritis and dysplasia mean that her hips are sore and weak. To help with the weakness, I bought some anti-slip spray by Bio-Groom. [link] From what I can tell from the reviews and my own experiments, it seems to work well for dogs who have just a bit of slipping and weakness; too much, and it doesn’t make a great difference. I make sure to spray it on her pads and toe pads as well, and then pet her for thirty seconds while it dries. I re-applied every few days, and after a while I stopped using it; she stopped slipping.

I took her walking. Lily likes walking, but she gets bored walking the same thing all the time. I hadn’t realized this until I was distressed that she lagged so much, and then one day I took her jogging down a trail… and I’ll be damned if she couldn’t suddenly keep up! Now we walk or jog daily, and she’s gotten far more agile, much stronger, and happier. She’s playing again, and romping with other dogs.

I wasn’t sure, at first, if she was going to be strong enough to walk and jog, so I also looked up strength training exercises. Some things you can do include standing your dog on stairs (if they’re facing upstairs it works their hips, if facing downstairs their shoulders), practicing sit/down/stand/sit (puppy push ups and doggie squats!), and massage helps as well. Dogs are like us: some like a firmer massage, others a softer one. Start with the big muscles alongside the spine, and the ones on the shoulders and thighs. If your dog is pulling away, ease up!

Stretching helps, too. With your dog standing, very gently take a front leg and stretch it forward, stopping when you feel resistance. If at any point they pull their leg away with determination, let them! Give treats and praise throughout, because let’s face it, stretching is odd. You an also bring the front leg back (carefully), and then do the same thing with the back legs. Don’t do anything sideways without talking to your vet.

Finally, I made sure that Lily had enough Lily-time. It’s easy to ignore her and Cash; they have excellent manners, good confidence, and don’t ask or need my time like the younger Doc or any dogs I’m boarding. I started letting Lily on the couch for snuggles, and I make sure that I give Cash snuggles, too, though he’d rather I pet him while he lays on the floor.

We’re all feeling better for the exercise, and Lily is back on the 30-year plan: to live until I’m old!

Thievery

About two years ago, we put Cash on Prednisone to solve some massive allergy attacks that made him so itchy he itched himself bloody. We were later able to take him off it, but the damage had been done.

I don’t mean liver or kidney damage, although that’s something to watch for. Nope, I mean behavioral damage. Prednisone makes dogs thirsty and hungry, and he’d discovered nirvana: counter surfing.

Now, he surfs like I surf: not standing on the object so much as flopping around it and eventually falling over. In his case, though, he didn’t have to stand on the counters to get the food, and falling over resulted in four feet on the ground… and whatever he’d gone up for. Perfect!

I mostly solved the problem over the next few months, and it helped that he was no longer starving all the time. I kept food off the counters or I put him in an x-pen while I was gone so he couldn’t get to the counters, and then I corrected him when he so much as looked at the counters while I was home — hissing and chasing him away.

Once in a while it would still happen, but only once a month or 6 weeks, and I got lazy. While it was frustrating to come home and discover he’d eaten all my bagels, I didn’t care enough to do anything about it.

Last winter, he started gaining weight. He wasn’t stealing food off the table (although he and Lily have started pulling the dirty bird papers out of the bird cage and eating everything from parrot poop to dropped fruits and veggies. I still don’t know how they’re getting the papers out!), so to the vet we went. His thyroid was a little off; we put him on meds. He gained more weight. I started taking him walking. He gained more weight. Then one day I came home to see his face in the dog food bin. Not only had he learned how to open it, but when it was more than half full he could help himself quite tidily! No WONDER he was gaining weight!

Yesterday, I came home to see that he’d pulled the dog treat bin off the counter and helped himself, gotten into the food bin, AND pulled out the bird papers to eat everything there. Enough is enough. Time to fix this!

There are two ways to fix this, and as with everything, it is to either spend more time or more money.

The more-time-more-training way would be to start limiting his access to things when I’m gone, probably by x-penning him, and then giving him consequences (hissing and chasing him off) when I see him looking at the counters or the bird cage, and if I hear him nosing/moving the dog food bin. This will work: I’ve done it before, though I quit a little early. The thing is I don’t want an x-pen in my living room right now.

The more-money-less-training way is this: buy a zap mat and put it in front of things, or a disk and e-collar system that will zap him if he gets too close to the disk (then I can put the disk — or several disks — wherever I don’t want him), or find a way to keep him away from the three things he wants: tie the birdcage tray closed, velcro the dog bin, put aluminum foil on the counter (this last won’t work with him, but it often works with other dogs).

In both cases, keeping the counters (and bird cage) clean is of utmost importance.

Now, in addition to myself (my desire not to have an x-pen up), I need to take into account Cash. A disk with an automatic e-collar to keep the dog away from the disks uses a zap (“static charge” or a shock). I think getting zapped would scare him too much, and I don’t want him to stay that far from the birdcage. (In fact, it’s kind of handy that he cleans up around it.) Since the dog food bin is right next to the bowls, I don’t want him wary getting water or eating, either. So an e-collar and disk system is out, and I don’t want the x-pen. That leaves me with a zap mat. It’s visible, which is good and bad: he can see it, so he knows how to avoid it. But I’ll have to use it for so long that he no longer thinks about it, so that when I pick it up he doesn’t think, “Ah! Now it’s gone! Now’s my chance!” This means leaving it down for 6 months. But I’m willing!

So my current plan is money over training, in a way that won’t distress either of us too much: three zap mats, one in front of the bird cage, one in front of the dog food bin, and one on the counter. (Or maybe two zap mats, and I’ll just velcro the bin closed.) You can get strips instead of full mats, and that’s what I’ll do. He won’t hit it every time, but that’s fine. It’ll make him cautious, and I won’t have to store a giant mat!

Phew. Home training done!

Champ: the journey’s end

Five months ago, when I adopted Champ, life looked like this:

He pulled heavily on his leash. He hard stared, then jumped and lunged and barked at many people while on leash.

The following things wound him up:
playing
a knock at the door
a bath
a minor injury
wiping him down with a cloth
training basic obedience with positive reinforcement
any kind of consequence including “no” and a squirt bottle
other dogs playing too hard
squirrels
the vet
anyone in any uniform
homeless people (which triggered massive barking and lunging)

When he got wound up, he would start tail spinning and/or nibbling hard enough to hurt and in more extreme cases, reverted to jumping at people, usually their faces.

He was also a world-class cuddler and lover, was great with dogs, housebroken, didn’t chew, and was crate trained. I could see even then that he was loyal to a fault. A congenital brain problem and past trauma had combined to create the above list of triggers. It was a mighty list, but he was smart, he wanted to be good, and his loyalty made him try incredibly hard. We got him on medication, and started full time training.

With a lot of work, three weeks ago our life looked like this:

He walked beside me on a loose leash through crowds, dog-friendly stores, and past homeless people. I started work on basic service dog training, and with his “in training” vest on we spent hours at a corner chair inside a busy Starbucks, where people were constantly within a foot of where he lay. He continued to lay, calmly. One guy with a big backpack startled him into two barks, but he calmed down and eventually ignored the man.

He was still wary of some people, but would take treats and decided that most people were okay for being petted. He was still leery of uniforms, but no longer barked or lunged; he just kept an eye on those people while sitting beside me or walking on his loose leash. He went to the vet and, for the first time since he was about 10 months old, allowed someone to give him a physical. He even let the vet and the techs pet him, and wagged and squirmed happily.

He stood calmly for baths (which once would have triggered near-biting), he was excited to get pets when strangers came through the door, he could play without getting aggressive, he let me examine and treat minor wounds even when I know it hurt him a little (ie, peeling off scabs and putting on hydrogen peroxide, once having to put goo in his ear for an ear infection, etc). The only thing that wound him up was when someone new came over; after he’d gotten his pets he’d often go outside to tail-spin, and sometimes if he couldn’t calm himself down I’d crate him for ten minutes until he regained his equilibrium. He NEVER lunged, barked, or pulled toward other people. He could be with me in crowds and be perfectly calm and relaxed.

I could even give a consequence, as much as a quick poke in the ribs if he was really naughty (like trying to bite and pull at my fence, which he had an odd affinity for). Except for needing a little extra time to check out new things (and biting the fence), he’d become the perfect dog. I was actively looking for a home for him. I had even started using him for work, because he was so good with everything.

Two weeks ago, we were standing on a sidewalk chatting with a client. Two dozen people had walked by, easily, when a woman with a purse walked past us. He lunged for her, grabbing her purse (and her skin, which his teeth mostly slipped off of) and refusing to let go. I held onto his leash, picking it straight up so that eventually he’d release. He did, and after many apologies the woman continued on her way. She was, thankfully, understanding.

I thought perhaps he’d regressed a little; I’d slacked off taking him in public for a couple of weeks. I decided to take him out with me more often while it was cool and he could be in the car (which he loved).

Tuesday my parents were here. They’d been here for a few days, and he knew them already. However, he started acting oddly with my dad, whom he’d previously quite enjoyed. I made a mental note.

Wednesday he went to work with me. We were meeting a client at the vet, and I got there early. I had Champ in the waiting room, just hanging out and getting treats. He was super excited to go inside, and was happily taking treats. One of the receptionists came around to give him more. We were chatting, he was taking treats, she was not trying to pet him or even really look at him. He took yet another treat from her and, with no warning, lunged and bit her hand. Again, he refused to let go. She managed to drag her hand out and shimmy out of her sweater, and I finally got him to release. Her sweater had a large hole, and her hand needed stitches.

That was the second attack without warning or provocation in two days, after months of calm, relaxed, perfect behavior. In fact, he’d never bitten anyone before — just scared the daylights out of them, or nibbled hard enough to frighten.

Warnings that dogs are going to bite vary from the obvious – lunging, barking, growling – to the subtle – lip licking, whites of the eyes showing, hard staring. Champ had done none of these. He had simply, in both cases, attacked. You can’t train a dog when you can’t predict what will set them off, and in both cases, there was nothing to set him off. I started to realize that something in his brain had changed, and it might be time to put him down. He was, officially, unsafe.

This was made more obvious over the next days. He began to get aggressive with my dogs, even his favorites, for no discernible reason. He’d never shown aggression toward my dogs. He began to get aggressive toward me; not attacking, but growling and being possessive of bones, toys, and even his food bowl. He’d never shown signs of possessiveness, either.

At one point he was in his crate, and when I went to say hi to him, he stood up and started snarling. I said, “Oh, Champ,” in a disappointed  tone; I knew answering aggression with aggression (“No!”) would, in his case, only make it worse. He started snapping toward me, tail down, his whole body shaking. Still snarling and snapping, he peed himself.

Another day, after getting home, I went to take Doc out of his crate. Champ ways laying about five feet away. I opened Doc’s crate door, and Champ started to growl at me. Doc ducked out, and Champ lunged forward. I had an x-pen sitting there, and grabbed it and slammed it between Champ and I, using Doc’s crate as another wall. A moment later, Champ started shaking all over, and rolled to show his belly. I hadn’t yelled at him or scolded him.

Those were the worst periods, but it was clear at other times he was in distress. A few times we’d be cuddling on the couch, and he’d start growling. Those times I was able to hush him and soothe him out of it. He began to mouth again, to get wound up at simple things. One day I touched his tail, a sensitive spot that hadn’t been sensitive in months. He turned around and mouthed me furiously.

Brains develop for the first 2-2.5 years in dogs, possibly longer. When you have a young dog with congenital problems, things can change in many ways during that time. Or perhaps it wasn’t bad brain development. Maybe Champ was having micro-seizures and something in his brain got damaged. There are probably a dozen things that could have gone wrong, and there’s nothing we could do about it and, often, no way to even know what happened.

Regardless, he’d become dangerous, unstable, and vastly unhappy. He was degenerating as I watched. I had him put down as soon as I could. It’s never easy to euthanize a young, healthy, sweet dog, but sometimes it’s all you can do. And perhaps it was the only way Champ could tell me that the was ready to go.

I love you, Champ. I hope your next life brings you a better chance.

 

Walking etiquette

Recently, someone from rover.com approached me about writing an article on walking etiquette. (Rover.com is a new website for finding local pet care. After quizzing them on their protocol for emergencies, what they expect from the people they list, and checking out their customer service, I can honestly recommend them.)

Since walking etiquette is one of those things I assume everyone knows, but in fact, everyone doesn’t know, this seemed like a great idea! There are differing opinions on etiquette, and different expectations. I want my dogs to be welcome everywhere, so my expectation are high! If I’m out with my dogs or a client’s dogs, these are the etiquette rules I teach.

1 Dog-dog interactions

Unless your dog has perfect voice recall when off leash, don’t let it off leash. It’s great if your dog is friendly and comes running over to say hi to another dog (or person), but how friendly your dog is doesn’t matter if the other dog is aggressive or anxious (or the person is afraid of dogs). Your dog’s friendliness doesn’t transfer to that other dog, and in fact, may cause emotional and psychological trauma to a dog in a distressed state (or frightened human).

This is also true when your dog pulls to say hi to another dog. That other dog might not appreciate a visit, or might be working or training at that moment. If you do want to say hi, the most polite way to do so is to stop, ask your dog to sit, and ask the owner if it’s okay for them to meet. Now no one is invading anyone’s space, and you can find out if it’s a good idea! (See body language posts for whether or not that dog and your dog are being friendly and appropriate.) Dogs often assume other dogs are friendly, even when those other dogs aren’t.

If you have an aggressive dog, give way to other people. Most folks with aggressive dogs do this anyway, but it’s worth repeating! Step aside, try and get your dog to sit, and let people pass. (This will also help with your dog’s aggression.)

2. Dog-human manners

If you’re walking your dog past someone eating something, it’s also polite to catch your dog’s attention so it doesn’t catch their meal. At the very least, shorten up your leash and step away! People on benches and whatnot seem to especially appreciate knowing they’re not going to have a hound in their lap, after their ice cream!

When walking down crowded areas, also keep a short leash. Being unable to get around someone, or getting hamstrung by a dog, is no fun whatsoever.

Many people want to pet dogs, and I think that’s wonderful. Obviously, though, we don’t want our dogs to jump on them, if only to avoid fat lips! I ask my dogs to sit when someone wants to pet them, usually like this:

“Can I pet your dog?”
“Yes, after they sit! Sit, Doc!”

Now, let’s be realistic. As soon as they start petting Doc, he’s probably going to stand up in the hopes of a back/rump scratch. If I know he’s not going to jump, I may not care. If I’m worried about jumping, I probably want to sit him back down. I could tell the people to stop petting him, but generally speaking they don’t hear me; they’re too busy enjoying his wiggling. So instead, I just focus on Doc. I hold his collar (to keep him from jumping), and lift slightly up and back while pushing down on his butt. Usually, this gets him to sit again — at least for a second! I continue until the petting is over, and bit by bit, the dogs learn to stay seated, or at least stay calmer, when they get petted. Woo hoo!

Now, most people who engage with me want to pet my dog. But there are plenty of people out there who are afraid of dogs (or just afraid of my giant shepherd and two pit bulls), so I’ve also taught my dogs not to approach anyone until I tell them it’s all right. This keeps wayward tongues from greeting hanging hands as we wait in a crowd at a stoplight.

3. Dog-business manners

Finally, there are many businesses now that allow dogs. Yay! (And that list isn’t nearly comprehensive. Nordstrom’s, for instance, is also dog-friendly, and many bars, if they don’t serve food, will allow dogs.) I, personally, have a high expectation level for going into stores. I want my dogs to stay near me, preferably keeping fur and wet noses off the furniture/clothes, etc. I have a friend who is allergic to dog protein. This means that if a dog licks a shirt, and he later tries on that same shirt, he will break out in hives. Knowing this, I try and keep my dogs off and away from items that other people will be handling later!

I expect my dogs to keep four on the floor as we walk through, and not jump on things. I have a “if he pees on it or breaks it, I buy it” policy! I also want employees to be happy to see my dogs, rather than complain to management and have their dog policy reversed entirely.

4. Accidents happen

Everybody poops! And pees, for that matter. Obviously, if you’re out walking and your dog needs to potty, clean it up! If you’re on a sidewalk and it was a little soft, I try and take dirt from a planter and sprinkle it on top. This way, it’s covered until it dries out, and people are less likely to step in it and track it.

Here’s an embarrassing situation: early in Doc’s service dog training, he peed in Safeway. I was mortified. Instead of abandoning my cart and running out of the store, which I wanted to do, I placed my cart so no one would step in it, and went to find an employee with a mop. I apologized profusely, and offered to clean it up. (They cleaned it up, but the offer tends to make people more compassionate about the situation!)

If your dog messes up (or just messes!), admit it and make amends. This keeps everyone happy, even if we owners might be mortified.

There you go, my etiquette list! Have anything to add? Feel free!

Champ: The Journey Continues!

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We’re officially looking for the perfect home for Champ in the San Francisco/San Jose/Santa Cruz area! Champ is a two year old pitty, a pro at snuggling, hiking, walking, and bike riding. He’s dog and people friendly. He’s been through major trauma, but after five months of rehabilitative healing, he’s ready to step into a new life! Are you patient, loving, and ready for a dog who will give you his whole heart? Keep reading!

If you’ve reached this place, you probably want to know about Champ. Glad to have you here!

Champ has overcome his issues and major trauma, and is now looking for a fur-ever home. I’m looking not just for any forever home, but the perfect one. He’s already dealt with major trauma in his short life, and now he needs to just enjoy himself and get some love!

Awesome traits13770527_573257576179905_1647106001996775667_n

Champ is an amazing snuggler. I mean, AMAZING. He snuggles in ways people want, and is responsive to being moved. He even lets me lay on him and use him as a foot stool or a pillow!

He’s aware of his body and other peoples’ bodies, so he’s careful when he snuggles and leaves cups and things on the coffee table, 13508964_563327663839563_4157731224826481405_ninstead of sweeping them off with his tail. He gives people personal space and is gentle with my unsteady friends, walking slowly and carefully around them. He’s good with the majority of strangers (sometimes a large backpack or coat will alarm him, but he’s learning those aren’t dangerous), allowing them to pet him, while keeping his loose leash! He’s always good with people I’ve invited into my house, both adults and children. (Actually, I think he has a soft spot for children!) He’s also very protective, though; people I haven’t invited into my house are greeted with some pretty intense barking.

At just two years old, Champ is fit and ready to go on any long hike you’d like! He has great stamina and is very heat tolerant. He’s also bike trained (he can run alongside a bike 13882131_580372962135033_3283632990589839332_nwithout pulling), and he loves quick rides! He also enjoys a good romp at the dog park — about twenty minutes is his perfect amount of time. That said, he’s mature enough to settle for a twenty minute walk a day if he must, and not seem to be overly bothered by it. He walks beautifully on a leash, and isn’t bothered by other dogs on leash or behind fences barking at him. (He does love to chase cats, but remembers his manners when told to sit!) I can walk him through crowds, fields, businesses, and dogs all without being pulled on.

Champ is crate trained and x-pen trained, but has no problems in the house and can be 13346423_555954557910207_1476946729380138661_nleft alone for hours if needed. He loves yards, and wouldn’t mind being left to sun himself while his humans are gone, either. (This does NOT mean he should be an outdoor dog! He needs love and his humans, and to be inside and warm at night.) Champ won’t steal food from you, even if you’re eating on the floor, right in range of him! You can leave food on the coffee table and walk away, and he won’t steal that, either. He’s even left food-dirty napkins on the coffee table overnight, untouched. All this, despite being highly food motivated!

He is super eager to please and emotionally sensitive. His “reprimands” often consist of a firm voice, then me taking his collar and showing him what I wanted. Occasionally, I employ a squirt bottle, and if he’s done something VERY naughty (like join my dog, Doc, when Doc barks at the fence) he gets a quick poke in the ribs. Afterward, because he’s so eager to please, I always reward him for leaving the fence alone, or stopping his barking, etc. He doesn’t bark at much these days, and when he does, it’s usually something new and I either praise him (if it’s a car pulling onto my property) or give a quick hiss (if it’s something new but not worrisome — like a stray dog), and that ends it. This means he barks appropriately, at things I should actually take notice of! Without Doc there to antagonize him, he doesn’t fence bark or worry about dogs, children, or adults in yards adjacent to mine.

Champ is extremely intelligent, and that combined with his food motivation and eagerness to please makes him a joy to train. He is one of the few dogs that I would say will bond with his owner so strongly that he would harm himself to do what was needed. I’ve started the basics of service dog training, because he could be an excellent service dog depending on what was needed. (I would use him as a mobility dog, possibly a psychiatric service dog depending on the psychiatric issue, and probably many other things that do not include anxiety in a human. Their anxiety will translate to his anxiety.)

Finally, Champ is over-aware of flickering lights. I haven’t tried using a laser pointer with him, but I have a hunch it would be hours of fun for him and his humans!13331019_551916291647367_9137330530800200484_n

“If he’s this wonderful,” I hear you cry, “Why aren’t you keeping him?”

Doc (my recent rescue and current service dog) and Champ are an awful combination; Doc decides to do naughty things, and convinces Champ to add his muscle. (When I remove 13557682_563268937178769_6841368415791339272_nDoc, Champ doesn’t get in trouble.) Doc also picks on Champ, and when Doc gets in trouble (which is more often than I’d like!) Champ gets distressed on Doc’s behalf! But mostly, Champ would like to live with a human who has more time to devote to just him. When I boarded him before I had Doc, he was perfectly happy. Cash and Lily, as older dogs, were happy to cuddle with him, play occasionally, and let him get the TLC from me that he needed. But Doc also has trauma and needs TLC, and there’s not enough time in my day for both of them. Champ needs a house where he is the focus, and he’s not splitting it with another young dog.

Champ is amazing, and I want the perfect home for him. His former owners gave him up only because they realized that long work days and living in an apartment weren’t fair for a young dog, and they wanted the best for him. (More on that in his history.) Second, of course he has some quirks! Who doesn’t? His quirks, and the things I want people to keep working on, are:

1. A high prey drive towards cats and squirrels (he’s been fine with my parrot, Tango, when Tango flies around, as well as my friend’s chickens and another friend’s rats). No homes with cats.

2. He’s wary of vets and people in uniform, due to past trauma (more fully explained in his history).

3. He’ll need someone who keeps working on socializing and loose leash walking, which is true of any dog. (This isn’t really a quirk, but I do want someone who will keep working on these things.)

4. He has some kind of allergy. Daily 24-hour antihistamines (which I buy at Costco for humans) and daily fish oil tablets (also for humans, at Costco!) have helped dramatically, as have regular baths with anti-allergy shampoo. We’ll be headed back to the vet soon to see if it can be better diagnosed and treated. *Edit: I think it might be a wheat allergy. After almost a month with wheat only when I forget and give him a wheat-treat, his little hives have almost vanished.*13435579_557046157801047_458150402976802659_n

But the main thing, which will take someone with patience, is a sensory disorder. A lot of chaos, an owner’s anxiety, or a new, alarming stimulus triggers manic behavior. Sometimes this behavior is tail spinning (the first sign that he’s feeling stress). In the past it was barking/lunging at the “threat”, or furious nibbling at the weird sensation. Of note, he has the best bite inhibition I’ve ever seen. When the weird sensation was coming from the hose nozzle during a bath, and I couldn’t get him to stop panicking and biting the nozzle, I put my hand in his mouth. He immediately stopped biting down, though he nibbled furiously!

To address this, he is currently on 40 mg of prozac daily. If I know there’s going to be a lot of chaos at my house, or I forget but notice that he’s tail spinning, I either give him some xanax and/or put him in his crate to calm down and be safe. There may be other medications that work better; I have not tried changing them. Prozac costs me about $10/month at Costco (my vet calls it in for me).

Given this issue, I would not recommend a household where there are small children, or older children with a lot of loud friends over.

Want to know more about Champ? Awesome!13882215_578296392342690_8485917087881395545_n

History:

At two years old, Champ has already lived a hero’s journey.

He was born with a cognitive issue (which I believe is a sensory disorder; surrounding sounds and chaos seem louder, sensations stranger, and emotion bigger to him), and as a puppy, his disorder would have shown itself in frustration; too-rough play, jumping, odd behavioral (and mental) tics (like obsessive tail spinning), and so on. When he reached nearly adult sized (8 months old) his owners re-homed him.

His next owner was a young man who loved him dearly. This young man worked on his manners, but in just a few months tragedy struck. Champ’s person was fatally injured. The police, paramedics, and fire department arrived, but could not save the young man. Champ saw his person die. From Champ’s perspective, people in uniform arrived, and his person died. He began now to see anyone in uniform as a severe threat to his family. Compounded by a sensory disorder, which would have made the whole process more physically painful, this was even more traumatizing than it otherwise would have been.

The young man had been living at home, and his father kept Champ in their apartment. The whole extended family pitched in to help, because Champ was a young dog in an apartment and the father worked long hours. Everyone, including Champ, was grieving the loss of this young man. Champ’s congenital issues, now compounded by a severe distrust for strangers and his own and his family’s grief, blossomed into frustration showing as more tail spinning, destruction and aggression, and dangerous over-protectiveness. Trying to support and protect his grieving family who were clearly at risk from uniforms coming in and killing them, while dealing with his own grief and undiagnosed sensory issues, was too much for him.

This is when I met him. I kept him for a week, trying to re-balance him, and recognized there was a congenital issue happening. (“Congenital issue” means he was born with it, but we don’t know what’s causing it.) We put together a schedule for Champ to help him manage his congenital issues, and the family kept to it. However, within a few more months it became obvious that apartment living wasn’t fair to a young, active dog, and Champ’s current owner asked if I would take him, foster him, and find his fur-ever home. (Compounding apartment/long-work-hours was the fact that Champ’s associations with the apartment were mostly frightening and painful, despite the love he was given.)

When I took him in, the first thing we did was bloodwork to see if his congenital issues were related to organ malfunction. (They weren’t.) Because of his distrust of people in general, taking blood was extremely difficult. It took us twenty minutes, a muzzle, and major restraining. At the time, I didn’t know he had a sensory disorder, I just knew something was wrong. Looking back, I’m sure his sensory issue made everything so much worse. Now “vet scrubs” were added to his list of “dangerous uniforms.”

I’ve had Champ for several months now. He’s learned that while some things (like baths) feel funny, they won’t hurt and if he tolerates it, it’s over soon and he’s praised. He’s learned that loud vacuums will not hurt him, and if I introduce something new and get an odd reaction from him, I’ve learned I can either put him in his “safe crate” to calm him down and let him think about it, or I can reward him with quiet praise and treats, and he adapts. He just takes a little more time than other dogs.

The Martinez Police Department has helped me with his uniform issues, which are better but far from perfect. His vet and local vets have helped with his vet problems, but those will also take more work.

He’s learned that people invited into my house are welcome, and now — after he sees me invite them in — he greets them with a wagging tail. He occasionally jumps in excitement, but is pretty good at remembering to stay down. He no longer barks except when appropriate, and he’s become a settled, wonderful dog, but will need an owner who takes the time to introduce new things with patience, and keeps him socialized. This dog has been through everything, and it’s aged him; he acts like he’s four instead of two, and he needs the love and assurance that comes from being someone’s special dog. He’ll respond twelvefold to it. He is the type of dog people write books about; major trauma, overcoming it, and bonding to someone so tightly that it’s almost unbelievable. He just needs that person to bond to for the perfect ending!

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I’m going to miss Champ a great deal. He’s my best snuggling partner at night. He’ll lay at my feet and let me use him as a footrest, lay on my pillow and let me lay on him, lay beside me if I’m sitting, or spoon with me on the couch. He’ll even lay on top of me, like a blanket, if I ask! He is so loving and calm, while always being willing to go for a walk, run, bike ride, hike, or dog park. He runs my errands with me, and is good waiting in the car (on a cool day) or going in with me (if it’s dog-friendly). I’d like someone who will keep him in the bay area, preferably the south bay area. I’m offering three free training sessions, and his previous owner has offered, many times, to baby sit for free just to see him occasionally. (We would like to keep him local to the San Jose/Santa Cruz/South Bay area, if possible.) Champ is a well loved dog in a bad situation, and we need to improve his situation!

Are you ready for a doggie partner? Email me at jenna.b.mcdonald@gmail.com, or call me at 951-704-5766 and tell me a little about yourself!

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Leaving and returning: how not to create seperation anxiety

Separation anxiety (a dog being stressed out when you leave) is something that a lot of people deal with. In puppies, I would go so far to say it’s normal, and important that they learn that just because you leave doesn’t mean you aren’t coming back. (That’s true with adults dogs, too, but most puppies go through it.)

So here we go: when you leave and return is when you have the best shot of creating, or not creating, separation anxiety.

When you leave the house, give your dog something good. This could be breakfast, some treats, a bone. I’ve handed my dogs toys that are laying around. (They look at me like I’ve gypped them.) It doesn’t need to be fabulous, just okay. Then, leave the house. At most you can say something like, “I’ll be back later!” but don’t make a fuss over it. If you’re upset at leaving, your dogs will pick up only that you’re upset but not why, and they’ll be upset as well. If you act like it’s a non-event, they’ll believe it’s a non-event.

The harder part is returning home. Everyone wants to greet their dogs and get kisses, but it’s important to remember what’s best for your dog. If you act like coming home was a big deal, and you reward their hyper behavior, they’ll start to believe that hyper behavior will bring you home. Hyper behavior turns into anxious behavior rapidly.

So when you come home, stay calm. Put down your purse or your wallet, take off your jacket, get yourself a glass of water. Wait until your dog is wiggly but not manic and then, calmly, say hello. My dogs get pets, ear rubs, and they give me happy wiggles and kisses. They don’t need to be totally calm, but they need to be on the calm end of happy.

Now what your dog is learning is that you’re happy to see them, but returning is still a non-event and, more importantly, what will get rewarded is happy, calm behavior.

If your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety, congratulations! I’d still do this, just to make sure it never develops. If they do, start with this (and the other tips under the anxiety tag), and it will begin to help.

Jenna