Training: Cash goes up the ramp!

A few times now Cash has had a hard time jumping into the car. If it’s a new, higher car he often misses, and if he’s tired — at the end of a long work day, for instance — he also misses. (Note: my vet recommended giving him bone broth. I buy it at the grocery store and give him 1/4 cup twice a day, and it has worked MIRACLES in both him and Lily!)

Lo and behold, one day a dog ramp showed up on my doorstep! My honey (seen in the last video) listened when I talked about poor Cash, and bought him a ramp. Surprise! However, I happen to know Cash is VERY afraid of anything that gives under his feet, and if it’s high it’s even worse. I decided I’d need to train him on the ramp. Most of these videos ended up on the Lily and Cash Facebook page, but I thought I’d collect them all here, too! Note that I didn’t do any training without filming it, and I tried to say during filming how long it had been since the last session. Proof that training doesn’t have to be arduous or time consuming!

(My vanity forces me to say: I don’t think I could have found a worse angle to film myself at if I’d tried!)

Note for above video: I repotted the sad strawberry plant, and it was happy! Until a squirrel tried to bury something in the pot, tore the up roots, and broke that pot, too. Damn.

In these two final videos, we didn’t want him jumping into the car because he was getting so tired so quickly, and the last thing I wanted was to make him sore! In this first video you’ll hear and see me say I grabbed his collar and pulled to get him the rest of the way in the car. From my angle I couldn’t easily wrap an arm around him to help him forward (as you’ll see afterward), and he was risking falling off. The kinder option then was to pull and get him to safety!

After this final session I didn’t use the ramp for at least two weeks, and then of course Quin wasn’t there to help bracket so he didn’t leap off the side! I used my hand on his collar for guidance and he went in, albeit hesitantly. Since then he’s used it to get up and down several times, and his confidence is back — even though I didn’t train or drill him on it again! If at some point his confidence wanes, then I’ll have him go up and down it a few times until his confidence comes back.

His gorgeous, glossy coat comes from regular washing and brushing provided by yours truly AND Nicole Hunter of Puppy Love Dog Grooming, a mobile groomer in Los Gatos! (Link is Facebook. Phone is 408-691-4200.) I trust my dogs with few people, but Cash visits her for “spa days” where she helps keep his skin happy. 🙂



Dog park: body language

Hey, all! The other day while Doc, Lily, Cash and I were enjoying some sunshine and running in the dog park, I thought, “Hey! I could totally use this group of dogs for body language clips!” So I took a bunch of 3-10 second clips, and here we have some of them! More to come as I have time.

Both have high tails (want to engage) and relaxed spines (positive emotional state). The dog on the right also has more “bounce” to his step and tail. Bounce = play. Taking all into account, both dogs are ready to engage (high tails), but only one of them is ready to play. The other probably would like to explore, visit, and relax!

There’s so much going on here! Start with the chocolate lab: high tail = wants to engage, the tail is relaxed-ish, but the spine is very stiff (relaxed = positive emotions, stiff/still = negative emotions). I would worry, except look at his ears: pressed against the head and upward. That is a classic “Play??!?!” expression! This is a confident dog who really wants to play — probably a fast chase-me game or maybe even some wrestling. When Lily walks up and the spaniel shifts focus to her, the lab politely takes the hint that no one is playing, and leaves.

Now, Lily: medium height tail (“I want to engage, but not TOO much”), super relaxed spine (positive emotional state), lowered, relaxed head with soft, sideways relaxed ears (“I don’t want to play really, just visit). These are the signs of a dog who wants to say hi, but probably isn’t going to initiate play; just visiting.

Finally, the spaniel. From the start through the end, her tail is low. Low = do not want to engage. With the lab it’s pretty stiff, flattened against her butt, with only the tiniest sway at the tip. This is an anxiety wag. You can also see how she’s leaning away. “I don’t want to play! Don’t pounce!”

When Lily approaches without a request for play, the spaniel relaxes a little bit (the tail stops pressing so hard, and begins to swish). It’s still low, though; “My emotional state is improving because you’re not trying to make me play.” She also comes around; “Yeah, I’ll sniff you — but I don’t want to engage more than that.”

Again, there’s a remarkable amount going on here. We’re just going to look at the husky and the smaller dog in the vest getting sniffed.

Husky: high tail, relaxed spine, not a lot of bounce, head not erect: wants to engage + positive emotions = happy. Not a lot of bounce = visit, not play. Head not erect = not inviting to play, dominating, or challenging. In other words, this dog is friendly and not too forward.

Vest dog: tail down, spine stiff, retreating: doesn’t want to engage + negative emotions + escaping = fear. The entire time these dogs are sniffing him, he’s trying to say, “Stop! I don’t want to engage! I’m afraid of you!” It wouldn’t surprise me if his ears were pinched against his head, the whites of his eyes showing, and he’s heavily panting (or will be soon). Those would be stress markers.

Think you’re getting good at this? Think about what the lab and the mostly-white dog are saying, and then check the comments!


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. 😉