Case file: Lexie, fear aggression

A few months back I had a dog with fairly severe fear aggression stay with me. I started out just taking videos for her mom, but decided they’d be good for the blog, too! Some of the narration starts out very quiet, as I was trying not to distract the dogs. Most of the time, I get louder. Sorry about that!

Lexie is a four-year-old yellow lab who was attacked by a jack Russel at about a year of age. Her fear aggression started after that, and got worse over time until her owner reached the point of crossing the street to avoid other dogs. Lexie would approach another dog submissively, and then when she got close, attack with panicked intent. While Lexie and her mom still have a lot of work to do, we’re making progress!

Lexie had stayed with me once before, last year, so she had some memory of Cash and Lily. However, I had Brady there as well, so she stayed in her crate the first night for about three hours. When she came out, I kept Brady on leash (to keep him away from Lexie), or kept Lexie on leash (to keep her near me). The first video picks up the next morning, after more leash and crate time to get used to each other.

If you just want to see a heart-warming change, watch the first and last videos. More dogs were added as the week went on; no dogs were harmed in the making of this film!



Narrator: Jenna
Lexie: lab, “fearful pup”
Cash: king shepherd, “dad”
Lily: pit bull, “grandma”
Brady: golden retriever, “happy brother”
Frances: Australian shepherd, “timid sister”
Obi: pit bull x boxer, “fearless bff”


Success stories!

Hi, all!

Well, I forgot to prepare today’s body language post, and they take a fair amount of time — which I’m out of! We’ll delay it a week, and instead I give you some quickie fun stuff.

First, I got a lovely email from one of my clients, who had a small dog that was biting them (and oftentimes breaking the skin) on a regular basis.

Hi Jenna,

Barley is doing well! 😀

Thanks to you, he hasn’t growled at anyone lately. He is sweeter and calmer. Since you explained to us more about his behavior, we understand his limits. Our respect for each other is totally reciprocal and it works really well! Thank you so much for being so generous to us. You are truly a godsend.

If anything happens at all, I will definitely email you right away.

Thank you again very much!



WOO HOO! I love those emails!

Another fun thing is that Tango’s recall is coming along nicely! Birds, being prey animals (and non-domesticated) are easily distracted and take time to learn things in unfamiliar settings. Since the goal is to be able to call him back should he fly away, it doesn’t do me much good to teach him recall only in the house. Once he’d mastered that, we started moving outside (and pretty much had to start all over!). Take a look at his recall a week after we started, and again a month later:

(He’s able to come from farther distances outside, but that would make for a boring video!)

Nothing makes me happier than seeing little birds run. 😉


Fear behavior and training

More videos today! A picture says a thousand words, and a video… well, it says a lot more.

Riley is a lab mix with a lot of fear behaviors. She’s a little timid in the first place, so her owner (Doris) and I do a lot to make sure her confidence stays high, and she meets new (scary) things in positive situations. I first introduced Riley to her new backpack a couple of days before this video was taken. It took about 20 minutes to get her calm around it, to see that it was no big deal. I did all of the same things you’ll see in the video, just at tinier increments. (So instead of flopping it on her shoulder, I started flopping it on the floor, then her leg, then up her body to her shoulder.)

This is the second time Riley has had her backpack on, and I videoed it for Doris so she could see what I’d done. Doris is kind enough to let me show the video to everyone!

A few things to note: in the first video, her body language is anxious. She’s willing to try, but she’s very nervous. You can see this in the way her tail and lower back are pinched (spine is stiff = negative emotional state). I move forward anyway. If she’s willing to try, then I know that it’s just a matter of time before she’s comfortable. I move forward, because if I introduce a slightly harder thing, then that anxiety-provoking thing of a moment before becomes easy. If a dog starts retreating, you know you pushed too fast, and you just back off to where they’re comfortable again and give them more time. Dogs are excellent communicators: they’ll tell you when it’s too much!

Around the 2:30 mark, I say, “I’m pulling it off in the most obnoxious way possible.” This goes back to the idea that I don’t want to be careful about anything, because the backpack isn’t going to be careful about not catching on stuff or, if a strap breaks, falling off. So I want the most obnoxious thing possible to happen in a controlled setting so she sees it’s not scary.

At the 2:44 mark she puts herself in her crate, and I talk about this a little bit. I wait for her to come to me again because she’s been willing to try. If she were to say she’s going to put herself in her crate and not try at all, I would bring her (i.e., drag her if I had to) slightly closer, and then praise her for it. If she’s willing to try, I’m willing to give her space. If she’s not willing to try, I’m going to tell her she has to try just one step, and then praise. That way, she’ll figure out that bravery is rewarded.

At the 3:50 mark you’ll notice I can’t get the backpack hooked before she walks away. I stop trying, because restraining her is more stressful than the backpack falling. Why? Well, we’ve worked on the backpack falling! That’s not scary anymore, and I want her to know she can retreat if she needs to.

Got all that? Great! Onto the video!

Now, when we came back from our walk we did a minor version, for reasons I explain in this second video. I also did it in a different way: I stood up. Note that her tail and lower back are no longer pinched: after a 50 minute walk, all that worry about new stuff was gone. She’d had time to get accustomed to it!

(As an aside: I do not recommend prong collars for most dogs with fear and anxiety issues. Riley has one because she learned to walk perfectly without it so we don’t need to use it often, and it therefore doesn’t increase her anxiety. Believe me, we’ve kept a very close eye on how she’s reacting in general, and how she’s reacting to that! The prong collar is used specifically to help her petite mother keep her from jumping on people, which is the current issue we’re working on.)

There you go! Riley’s mom says: “Every time I go touch her backpack, she gets all excited.” Hooray!




Dog body language: fear and confidence

Quin was working with a dog named Benji one night, after she went to change the trashbag and he panicked. She spent the next little while showing him that trash bags weren’t scary, and videoed it. The video ended up showing too low, but I thought it worked out perfectly.

You see, the great thing about this video is that we’ve got just Benji’s legs. There’s usually so much to pay attention to that it’s hard to focus on just one thing at a time, but now we can. Woo hoo!

When a dog is feeling confident, his weight is balance squarely on all four legs. When they’re not, the weight shifts back, away from whatever they’re unsure of. Watching Benji, you can see how often his weight shifts back — even as he reaches forward for a treat. At the 21 second mark you’ll see his legs settle straight under him; it’s a change from before, though until you see it you might have thought that his legs before were settled straight under him.

You’ll see his nice square legs again at :56; take a look at the difference between that and seemingly square legs at :54. You can watch his legs, elbows, and how far his chest leans forward  to reach (while his legs are still leaning back) versus how much he doesn’t need to reach, as he becomes willing to walk closer and gains in confidence.

About an hour later — after I got home (this was all taking place while Benji is being boarded at my house) — we did it again. Check out the improvement! Well done, Quin! We’re doing our best to eliminate some of his fears while he’s here.


New Mommy Problems

On Wednesday, I went and picked up Tango! Over the last few days I’ve had hilarious “new mommy” problems, and I’ve resorted to my dog training to get through them. We might as well talk about them here!

New Mommy Problems (NMPs) occur whether your dog is a puppy or an adult. If you haven’t had a new dog in a while, you’ll probably have NMPs! I’m going to use my recent experiences with Tango, but the same applies to puppies and dogs:

When first bringing Tango home, I wanted to show him to EVERYONE. This isn’t the wisest course of action. I knew that, but I couldn’t quite resist. By that evening he was chewing on my fingers in great imitation of his T. Rex ancestors, and I thought, “Jeez, I’m a little worried about his beakiness…” I put him to bed, and you know what? The next morning the problem was gone! Thus warned, I’ve been much better about putting him down for a nap, whether or not he seems tired. Young animals especially don’t seem tired when they are: they seem nippy, cranky, barky, screamy, hyper, etc. Let your baby sleep.

The second problem came about the next day. He was nibbling on things, but not eating to any great extent. (Of course, he was also sleeping a great deal. Hard to sleep and eat at the same time.) All the bird literature says, “A newly weaned baby bird could relapse. Don’t let them starve! If you have to, hand feed them.” I even brought home hand feeding formula, just in case.

To hand feed or not to hand feed? That was the question! Rather than get anxious about him eating, I once more used my dog knowledge. When I board dogs, they often are off their food for the first day. There’s my dogs to visit and smells to check out and new toys to play with — who has time for food?! In addition, I realized I had a resource and didn’t have to guess: the breeder, who’s sent home many baby birds before, and gone through this many times. So before I got too upset that Tango wasn’t eating, I texted the breeder (Bird Heaven Aviaries in Fresno, CA, and I HIGHLY recommend them!) and asked what might be up. Sure enough, the breeder said to give him a day, and worry about it if it continued. By that night, Tango had snarfed almost his entire bowl of food.

Another problem I had was my own thought process, the same one I’ve seen in many clients. It goes like this:

I need to play with him and his toys, so he knows how to play with them and that he can entertain himself. I need to eat with him, so he knows that the things I’m giving him are food and not toys, and he should eat them. I need to get him to stop beaking. I need to start work on communication. I need work on toweling (where you teach the bird to be calmly wrapped in a towel for emergency and vet purposes), and getting him used to sleeping in a small dog crate. I need to get him socialized and start taking short trips with him. I need to keep him handle-able now that the breeder gave him such a good start, including beak, under the wings, and toes for toenail clippings. I need to get a harness and harness train him. I need to get him potty trained, and start recall. Most of this needs to be done ASAP.

Imagine your work day. Now imagine trying to add ALL this to it. It’s a little daunting, isn’t it? I had to stop myself and look at things a little more realistically.

1. I need to eat with him, so he knows that the things I’m giving him are food and not toys, and he should eat them. and:  I need to start work on communication.

Every morning, as I’m chopping his fruits and veggies, I label what we’re eating. “This is yam. Can you say yam? Would you like to try the yam?” Anything more complex than that can wait for a week, while he settles in. Greys learn language their entire lives. In the meantime, I’m doing minor communication training. At the same time I’m teaching him that this is food; I can take little nibbles of what I chop, and offer them to him, as well. That’s done.

2. I need to play with him and his toys, so he knows how to play with them and that he can entertain himself.

He already knows how to play with rawhide toys, his favorite. We’ve even played tug-of-war. I can start adding one toy for a few minutes in the evening, and very swiftly we’ll go through all the toys in his cage and he’ll know he can play with them. That isn’t a big deal. If I miss several nights, that’s okay.

3.  I need to get him to stop beaking. and  I need to keep him handle-able now that the breeder gave him such a good start, including beak, under the wings, and toes for toenail clippings.

Every time I pick him up — which is often — we work on beaking. It’s automatic because I don’t want him chomping down on me! He’s figuring it out quickly. As for keeping him handle-able, I like petting him. I play with his toes and tell him how adorable he is, and run my fingers under his wings. It does take me a quick thought: I should play with his toes and run my fingers under his wings. But then I do it once, and that’s all I need. I don’t want to drive him crazy with it, and it’s kinda fun. That’s being done as I hold and cuddle him: no problem!

4. I need to get him socialized and start taking short trips with him.

Like this is a hardship! Yesterday we visited with my mom and sister and Quin — that’s a lot of socializing! Today we had a vet trip and then went to the pet store where he got fawned over. It’s FUN to take a new animal places. I’ll have to keep it up as I go forward, but once a week is plenty, and it’s easy enough to invite over a neighbor for a few minutes, or go knock on a neighbor’s door. But a few minutes a couple times a week is PLENTY. I don’t need to kill myself doing this.

5. I need to get a harness and harness train him.

This is one of the few things I’ll need to set aside time for, rather than doing it as I can. I don’t have a harness yet, but I can wait a few days. Waiting a week isn’t going to set me way back. It’ll give him time to settle in, even. I don’t need to stress about this.

6. I need to get him potty trained,

Just like with puppies, this is going to happen in every day life. I don’t need to set aside time. This will happen as it happens, and I don’t have to think of this as something on my “to-do” list.

7. and start recall.

This I need to make a little time for, but not lots of time. When I notice him coming to me, I say, “Come, Tango!” Right now that’s all he needs, is to start grasping the idea. He’s having to learn so much that adding this other thing is kind of silly. We can even wait a few weeks, and by then he’ll know what his toys are and whatnot, so I can replace “play with toys” with “occasionally call him and lure him over.” Easy peasy!

8. I need work on toweling
I do need to set aside some time to do this, and it should be soon, but I can give him a few days to settle in and myself to get used to the schedule. It doesn’t have to be twenty minutes a night; it can be thirty seconds while we’re snuggling. To make it easier on myself, I’ll probably place a towel on the arm of the couch, so I can grab it easily when we’re there.
9. and getting him used to sleeping in a small dog crate.
This will require first putting the crate out where he can explore it, which I can do in the morning while we eat breakfast. It doesn’t have to be done right away or perfectly. It won’t take him long, either; he’s already been in it once, at the pet store, when I measured him. My sense of urgency is out of place, here.

NMPs further solved!

One of the big things I have to remember is to take things a day at a time, not to overwhelm myself, that I have help and more knowledge if I ask (in the form of the breeder), and that if I screw something up — I can always turn it around. This is a big, big things to remember. People who don’t get their puppies socialized during the crucial socializing months might have a little more work doing it when their dogs are older, but it isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a little extra time and patience. If I don’t have time for EVERYTHING now, then I’ll just know that I’ll do it later. If I mess something up now, then I know that I can undo it later. Deep breath! Being a New Mommy can be hard, but we can make it easier with a deep breath and the knowledge that everything can be fixed!

And by the way, here’s Tango. 😉


Tango video

Things have been a wee bit crazy here at Feathers and Fur, with boarding and visiting Tango and weddings and deadlines and the general run of life, when life decides to run you around.

The last post up was a personality assessment of Tango and T’s sibling from two weeks ago. I went to see them again yesterday, and many of the same traits held true! Tango’s sib is still beaking hard, Tango still likes his/her neck scratched and is still wary of new things, but the good work of their breeder is also shining through: Tango’s sib isn’t beaking AS hard, and once out of his/her cage, Tango becomes a happy little explorer, thrilled to be petted and cuddled and find new things.

All that said, here! A video, just for you.

I’ll try and get more dog content up here next week. By then, some of my craziness should be over!


**Edit: Note that in the end, the bird referred to here as “Tango’s sib” actually ended up being Tango. Going back through these posts, I chuckle that I didn’t realize it early; Tango was constantly climbing on me and demanding attention!

Tango! Assessing personality in young animals

I was going to have an actual dog post today… but then I went and saw Tango for the first time yesterday! So this is dog-and-bird post instead. Or maybe I should say, “Personality assessment” post.

No creature is the perfect creature; they all have quirks and oddities. The real trick is figuring out which quirks and oddities you can live with! It helps, of course, if you know something about the body language or behavior of the animal, but even if you don’t you can extrapolate.

Now, while extrapolating, you need to be aware the animal may be having an “off” day, or going through a stage. Listen to the breeder. The breeder is the one around them all the time. If you describe your personality and household, and the breeder suggests a baby, give that a lot of weight. That said…

The baby greys were both timid of me when I first got there, but that’s to be expected. Birds aren’t puppies, and they aren’t automatically friendly! There were two of them, a few days apart in age and most easily identifiable by the lack of feathers on the back of the younger one’s neck. See?

tango 6.13.13 2

tango 6.13.13 9

<– Lack of feathers

Feathers –>

The older bird was more wary of me, settling back into a corner and growling. I ignored it to give him/her a chance to see I wouldn’t hurt them. The younger bird after just a second’s hesitation started exploring. S/he came running over to beak my fingers (relatively hard; I quickly got a little piece of cardboard to substitute for my flesh!), and the older bird finally calmed and snuggled against my arm, watching the world.

Eventually, the older bird napped. The younger bird continued to run around, beaking periodically. This doesn’t concern me: beaking is like teething. They don’t know that we don’t have plush, downy feathers to protect us from their beaks, and learning to be careful is just part of birds growing up. (In fact, this is where a lot of people go wrong: they panic because the beaking can hurt during this learning period, and instead of just fixing it — like substituting better toys and keeping their fingers away from the bird’s beak — they react poorly, accidentally encouraging it, or give up entirely. Puppies have to learn the same thing, and people do the same unhelpful behaviors with them, too!)

Over the course of about thirty minutes the younger bird figured out that I didn’t want to be beaked hard, and started softening up. A very good sign; this is quick learning! S/he, hilariously, did his/her best to climb my arm as well. One foot on my arm, one on the towel, and looking perplexed about what to do next. S/he tried to grab the towel on the other side but couldn’t reach, and tried to stretch her/his wings and get up that way. None of it worked, but it was funny watching him/her try! This little bird was very active and unafraid of almost anything: only a few times did s/he growl (greys growl when they’re worried/angry). Eventually, s/he wore him/herself out and — much like a puppy — collapsed in boneless sleep.

tango 6.13.13 13

About that time, the older bird woke up. S/he started out preening the freckles on my arm very gently, and then beaking my fingers. S/he was very, very gentle about it. I did take my hand away after a little while just for training sake, in case s/he goes through a harder beaking phase. But because s/he was gentle and not quite so assertive in his/her mannerisms, I gave her/him a longer chance to taste and check things out. (This isn’t needed in puppies, but birds use their beaks and tongues like another hand; exploring, checking texture and firmness, etc.)

tango 6.13.13 10

The older bird didn’t move as quickly, taking her/his time in looking around. S/he became more alarmed when we moved things around, growling frequently and sometimes even charging, beak open. Once s/he charged me, forgetting s/he’d been snuggled up for the last forty minutes, and when s/he got to me s/he grabbed my finger — gently — and held on. I had a good chuckle. S/he seemed confused as to why her/his tactic didn’t work. S/he also charged Justin, the breeder, once. Justin leaned down and said, “Oh, no, don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” S/he didn’t actually grab or beak that time, just paused and looked at Justin, then calmed down and made cute noises and did some exploring.

With each new change s/he became slightly alarmed and then settled down again. S/he was alarmed at being petted, but calmed down and let me scratch her/his head and under her/his wings after a few minutes of practice.

Shortly thereafter, the younger bird woke again, and the two of them wandered around, picking up shavings here and there, practicing flapping (the younger bird more than the older bird), preening each other (the older bird more than the younger bird) and checking stuff out. Once more, the younger bird would check things out while the older bird would growl first, and be brave after a moment.

tango 6.13.13 4

So, if I take all this information, what do I get assessment-wise?

Older bird: At least when new people are around, s/he is a little more cautious and wary. If s/he has problems, they will likely be of the fear-aggression/fearful variety. Anyone who takes him/her home will have to work on acceptance of new things and learning that aggression isn’t going to work. S/he’ll need a little extra encouragement and TLC. S/he is more cuddly and likely to preen, both very lovey behaviors. S/he likes to threaten, and if it works could become a problem. But s/he is also very gentle, and there’s no reason threatening should work.

Younger bird: At least when new people are around, s/he’s far more active. This is the clown, and the more assertive bird. S/he’ll need boundaries, but will probably take new adventures in stride: no big deal. S/he’ll definitely need more work understanding rules and beaking behaviors, and be more likely to get into things. Because s/he’s more confident with new people around, s/he’ll probably want to be the life of the party — a definite plus.

What the breeder said: The older bird is outgoing and typically the one more likely to interact. What this tells me is that we have one set of behaviors with new stuff, and one set with old stuff (or s/he was having an off day!). Confidence is probably key: when s/he feels confident, s/he’s outgoing. This means that work will need to be done with her/him to make sure we build that confidence in all areas.

What I want: I want a bird I can travel with. I want a non-screamer. I want a bird I can hang out with, cuddle with (not natural for greys), snuggle with (not natural), who will be able to be independent when I need to work, who can get along with lots of people. I want a bird who will hang out with me and my friends, no big deal.

Matching: Either of the above birds would work.

The pros on the older bird are that s/he’s very gentle, the breeder says outgoing, far more of a snuggler, interested in preening and other lovey behaviors, was calm enough to let me scratch under the wings. S/he also got very interested and listened very closely when the breeder spoke to her/him, which shows an interest in people/words rather than the spaces around her/him. The cons are that s/he’ll need some work learning to accept things, and might need more adjustment time if we travel. S/he’ll probably need more socializing work, too, to associate new people with good things. S/he may not be much of a talker around strangers, which makes it harder for vain-me to show off my awesome bird. (Let me be clear: this is a bad reason to have a bird. But I’m aware of my faults, and I might as well be aware of this possibility, since it will affect my emotions!)

The pros on the younger bird: s/he’s very outgoing and will likely take travel, people, etc in stride. Most likely this bird will happily talk with a bunch of strangers around. S/he was also hilarious to watch and play with, a general clown. S/he was definitely able to entertain him/herself. When I was persistent, s/he began to learn gentle beaking. The cons are that s/he was always on the move: no snuggling until s/he konked out, and as soon as s/he woke up s/he was active again. S/he is likely to get into more things, given how much s/he was already climbing on my arm and whatnot. Boundaries will need to be set, and we’d have to continue work on gentle beaking and, until s/he’s out of this phase, be careful with strangers.

Since I can train bravery and socialize easier than I can train calmness and snuggling, I decided the older bird is the one I’d like. That said — I’ve met Tango!

I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours reviewing things from yesterday and looking over pictures and videos. Tango is about 9 weeks old (8.5, the breeder said, but I count 9.5, so only time will tell!), and adorable. The younger bird was starting to try and climb my arm (perch), but Tango didn’t. As noted, s/he wasn’t as active in general, at least yesterday while I was there. Weaning means eating on their own, perching on their own, and able to fly. The breeder said he’ll start giving them weaning food in the next few days, so they’re on their way! Hopefully Tango will be coming home some time in the next 3-5 weeks. Hopefully I’ll have time to go visit before then!

Here are adorable videos. Tango is the bird preening, while T’s sibling is flapping like crazy:

Tango is the one in the back, and if you listen closely you’ll hear adorable bird noises:

Yay! I have an adorable baby bird! 😀



**Edit: I was able to take both Quin and my Mom to visit Tango and sib in the following weeks, and discovered that the older bird — the one I’d decided was Tango — was consistently fearful. Given the number of people and dogs I have in here, and the amount of traveling I do, I decided the younger bird was probably better, and that is the Tango you hear about now!