Monday, June 30, 2014

Reactivity Training is Starting to Make Progress

     About three weeks ago I wrote about the reality that Cinder is a reactive puppy and what that means.  Since then, much has transpired that gives me great hope for her despite the challenges that remain.
     Part of the challenge for those with a reactive dog can be identifying what makes them react and under what conditions.  It may seem easy to isolate their reactive behavior, but since reactivity can be to more than one or two things; and can vary depending on circumstances in which those things are encountered, it can take some time to determine what sets them off.  That's what we've been doing over the last couple weeks - trying to figure out what sets Cinder off.
     Cinder's reactive to seeing people in motion at distances; seeing strange dogs at any distance; and some loud noises.  Cinder does well with people when they get close to her or if they talk at distances. Dogs she doesn't know bother her no matter where they are-until she's had time to get to know them.  On leash is far worse than off-leash, but both are stressful for her.
     Cinder's reactivity seems to be compounded by jealousy.  She's quite jealous of other dogs when they're near me or Brian.  This too is the result of being so confined with us during the long, hard winter.  We can't overlook that some studies indicate that females are often jealous and/or dominant, which may also be a contributing factor.
     Hope sprang first from taking Cinder back to the vet for suture removal after her spay surgery.  She was so excited to be there it was ridiculous-which makes me happy. I like it when all my dogs LIKE going to our vets!  While there, none of the other dogs made her react! The whole time we were waiting, there were two dogs also waiting; and several others got picked up. Cinder never reacted once!
     Immediately out of the vet's office, we stopped at a public park on the way home to let Cinder have a walk.  Her only reactivity was caused by a dog that was tied to a tree.  He barked and bounced back and forth at the end of his tether about 100 feet from us.  Cinder's heckles went up and started reacting, but I was able to get her to focus on me and other than a few barks, she kept walking with me.  That was the first time I've been able to get her focus off another dog once she starts reacting!  
     Most of our friends are dog and horse people-many of whom are experts handling, training, and competing dogs and horses.  It's so awesome to have friends like them when you have a problem and need some help. At the very least, it's nice when you can tell them the problems you have and they at least understand you. 
     Last weekend a friend needed Brian to do some work on a project for her.  She didn't want to leave her  wonderful, neutered, male dog at home alone for the entire day and asked if she could bring him.  She knew about Cinder's reactivity, but Cinder and her dog have met once before and managed to survive a nice walk together. We both thought it may be good to see what Cinder would do if a very stable, secure, non-threatening dog came to our house.  We let them meet outside and while Cinder's initial response was to START becoming reactive, she actually calmed by greeting my friend (the human one), who pet her while still keeping her dog close on the leash.  It seemed relatively safe to proceed by introducing the new boy to our boys, with Cinder, in the back yard, off leash.  Other than Cinder trying to herd him and yapping about it, my friend's dog was absolutely GOLDEN.  He never responded to anything Cinder did and he was completely non-plused about the whole thing.  He was the perfect "test dog" for Cinder and Gilley liked him quite well too.  Buzz seemed unfazed.
     Throughout the day, Cinder continued trying to herd the new boy around. She continuously reminded him he was a visitor in HER house. But, she wasn't nasty and ultimately, became more confident that he was okay and began to play with him by the end of the afternoon.  Overall, the new visitor was a positive experience for Cinder even though her yapping often made annoyed us all.  One hurdle down, no one dead-YEA!  Of course, I don't expect Cinder will react the same way to every dog at our house; or even the same dog again in the same way, but we'll take ANY steps forward and be happy for them!
     We go to a private dog park owned by some friends. The dog park is an extension of their board and training kennel.  That's where we go other than the barn for Gilley to play Frisbee and swim in a pond. It's also always been a source of socialization for he and Buzz.  During the day, there are few people who take their dogs to that dog park. However, there are a LOT of people who drop off and pick up dogs from the doggy daycare. It's nice to be friends with the owners because I was able to explain Cinder's reactivity issues and gain their support in helping educate her too.  We are making a habit of going to swim at the pond in the late afternoon, when a lot of dogs are being picked up to go home.  It's also one of four times each day that they exercise boarded dogs in an adjacent area to the dog park.  My thought has been to take Cinder to play and swim in the pond when there would be activity at the kennel that I could either remove her from; or move her closer to according to her reactions. Either way, we can enjoy the benefits of the dog park and if the rest plays into working through her reactivity, that's a huge bonus. 
     Today we went to the private dog park to swim in the pond. At the end of our swimming time, the kennel owner came out with his personal dog to exercise in the separate but adjacent area.  Cinder was so focused on the "flyer" in my hand that she didn't even notice them.  I slowly got her halter collar on and made my way to the exit gate, hoping Cinder would notice them so I'd have a chance to see if our work is paying off yet.  She was so focused on me that it wasn't until Steve said hello to her that she noticed them.  She then sat and began wagging her tail so hard her whole body wagged too.  I took her over to the fence, waiting for her to start reacting to the dog, but she was so focused on Steve, the dog didn't matter.  When Steve stopped petting and talking to her, she still didn't seem to care about the dog separated by a chain link fence and two feet!!! YEA!!!  Of course that got her all kinds of attention and then as we exited the park area into the parking lot, Steve and his dog were there, chatting with his daughter.  I decided to take Cinder past them as close as I could without endangering anyone to see how she'd do.  Again, NO fence and only two feet apart, she didn't care!!!  Steve kept petting her and when he stopped, I had her sit while I attempted to pet his dog to see if that would elicit a reaction and it didn't!  SUCCESS!!!  More treats, more love, and into the car to go home before she had the chance to change her mind!  As we were leaving, she let out two yips, but that was all.
     Today's visit to the pond for a swim was HIGHLY successful for Cinder.  It was a benchmark day.  It's the first time she repeatedly swam out and retreived a "flyer," bringing it all the way back.  Then she met another dog she didn't have any reactivity toward at all!  What a great day for Cinder.  This gives me hope that she will eventually come out of a lot of her reactivity, enabling us to do more things in her future.  I just have to be careful never to assume it will be that easy or good; and I have to keep myself from pushing her to try too much too soon and make her revert.  None-the-less, a few steps forward are better than any steps back!
     That brings you up to date on Cinder and what's going on with her reactivity and the training we're working on to help her overcome it.  Just another day of life as we continue raising Cinder.



Cinder's a Holee Roller!

A plastic Miracle Whip jar with a hole in it.
Finally, we figured out a homemade toy to serve multiple purposes.  Cinder is a little vacuum cleaner when it comes to eating. She doesn’t eat, she inhales! I’ve been looking at several ways to change the way we feed her, most involving some form of specialized bowls or “interactive dog food toys.”  In looking at some of them, I came up with an idea for a homemade version of the same basic idea. We made our version of interactive food dispensing toy from  a round, plastic jar with a hole in the side; enabling a piece or two of kibble to fall out when rolled around.  It couldn’t be simpler! We call it the, “Holee Roller Jar.”  

The result in our test run was SPECTACULAR! Cinder quickly figured out the game and did not deviate from it until every piece of kibble was gone-over an hour in the process!  YAHOO!  We watched her roll the jar all over the house to acquire the kibble rewards that fell out!  Bingo! We have a WINNER!  A toy and food dispenser that keeps her engaged but doesn’t let her inhale treats or food.  Clearly we don’t want her to take over an hour to eat a meal, so it’s better suited to use as a toy for providing a mid-day snack to help keep her busy.  Right now, she eats three times a day so that's one meal she's spreading out longer while we have the benefit of about 30-60 minutes of freedom to do other chores without worry about what Cinder's doing.  

We've used the jar an average of once daily for her mid-day meal. She's become quite attentive to ALL jars we pick up now, looking to see if they will be HER Holee Roller Jar.  She's quite skillful at maneuvering it around the house to obtain her kibble.  

We've added another hole on the opposite side of the jar, more toward the bottom.  We found that the treats fell out well enough that it didn't take her very long to empty the jar.  We decided that putting tape over one hole or taking it off allows us the option of making it a faster or slower game; as well as adding more or less kibble.  I'm going to try a larger Peter Pan peanut butter jar next to see how that may or may not change the game. The Miracle Whip jar is a great size except that it gets caught under the toe-kick of our kitchen cabinets and rolls under our loveseat-although Cinder hasn't let it do either of those lately! 

One more fun little tidbit of many that make up our days as we continue raising Cinder.  



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cinder Gets a Life Preserver!

This week the big event has been Cinder getting spayed.  It's been a normal spay procedure and her recovery is going well. However, if you ask Cinder, this week has already been quite an ordeal, "DANG E-COLLAR!"  And I think that would be the very cleaned up version of what she'd say about it!  Cinder's version of being spayed would probably be synopsized like this:  "Help!!! I'm trapped in this nasty, puppy head-eating, cone thing and I can't get free!!!"  I'm not sure to what extent she even realizes the vets altered her life-uh-her ability to create life.  I'm not sure that part even matters.  What has mattered is wearing the E-COLLAR.  
Head over the back seat on the way home.

When we brought her home Monday evening, Cinder was still groggy so we didn't think much about her not wanting to walk through the house.  In fact, she was so wobbly and groggy we were glad she didn't want to be mobile. However, yesterday morning came and the "Little Criminal" (refer to the hearing aid theft, chewing, and distribution of stolen property last week) still wouldn't attempt more than two steps.  She had a bad time adapting to the device around her head and neck.  We took the cone off to put her on her leash for potty time and the minute the cone came off, our bouncy trouncy jumping bean was instantly herself; prancing her way out to potty.  We came in and reapplied the cone. Again, no matter what we did, she was not going to walk with that collar on.  I can't say I blame her much because she can't see well through it and it's huge so she smacks everything with it which startles her.

I told Brian that we needed to just let her work it out for herself. If we left her alone, ultimately she'd make her way through the house to be with us.  That wasn't true. Nope. Not a chance in a million. Not moving. Instead, she stood there until she wobbled so much, she plopped down and howled.  It was an amazingly impressive, loud, and sorrowful howl-the kind that reminds me of, "The Call of the Wild." That continued for about an hour, non-stop.  I think Gilley and Buzz sort of rubbed salt in her wounds by ignoring her.  On one hand, I was kind of glad the E-collar seemed to immobilize the Little Criminal so she wouldn't jump; on the other, she needed some mobility without us carrying her.

When it was bed time, I was concerned about where Cinder should sleep.  She doesn't fit in her crate with the collar on; and her space is a long narrow hallway.  I didn't want to be far away from her in case she got sick or needed to potty.  Without my hearing aids, I hear nothing, so I didn't know quite how to handle bedtime. She slept on the bed with me.  She, Gilley, and Buzz all layed on the bed with me while Brian slept on the pull-out.  All was well-until she fell off the bed at 3:30AM!  She'd evidently rolled over too close to the edge and fell off.  I jumped up and ran around to see her laying still tummy down, on all four; and when I spoke her name, her tail wagged.  Luckily, she was fine but I was paranoid about her being on the bed and that made me feel worse. Lesser of all evils is the bed, so that's where she returned after a trip out to potty and get a drink. Without further incident, we all awoke for the start of our day a little late.

 Yesterday (Tuesday), Cinder repeated the same behaviors of not moving with the E-collar on. Left alone, she stood until she couldn't and again plopped down, howling the whole time.  I'd had enough.  Cinder is a little Cookie Monster, always willing to do ANYTHING for a "cookie." Training time!  I decided to teach her how to walk through the house with the E-collar on by luring her from one end to the other using her favorite training cookies.  She'd go pretty well for a few steps and then she'd start wobbling and stop.  I gave her about 5-10 seconds and bribed her forward with another cookie.  After that, the E-collar no longer caused immobility.  She finally understood she really COULD move with that collar on.

With mobility no longer in question, the new problem Cinder encountered was trying to get close to or play with the boys.  She'd get close and bonk them with the collar, which highly annoyed the boys and caused them enough grief that they kept leaving the area.  She'd follow and again, they'd tire of being whacked with the collar and leave.  She came to me, plopped down and if puppies pout, I'm telling you there was serious pouting!  In her world I'm sure it was akin to, "Everybody hates me, nobody loves me, might as well eat worms."  As the day progressed, she became more adept at maneuvering with the collar on.  The boys still gave her a wide berth so she was utterly bored and slept a lot - a good thing anyway.  Finally, during the evening, she
began trying to put the collar over the boys' heads and play.  Gilley would have none of that! Buzz let her do it several times, seeming to understand her need to interact. Even so, a few minutes of it was all Buzz could take and he began grumping at her and finally left.

Poor Cinder.  Can't play, can't eat, can't do anything with that nasty collar on.  At that point, I thought to look up inflatable E-collars, but none of the local pet stores had her size on hand and the prices were pretty outrageous for something I only plan on using once on a puppy.  However, I got to looking at the inflatable e-collar designs and thought, "I could make a stuffed version out of denim!"  If I could make one that would work, it would allow her to see, play, eat, drink and NOT lick her stitches.  An hour later, I'd made one out of scraps from a trashed pair of jeans.  

Today, Cinder's worn the homemade stuffed E-collar and been quite a lot happier. It looks a like a denim life preserver, but it seems to work. She's been doing more today so we've had to keep a close eye on her, but the homemade collar provides her the freedom of moving around easily to enjoy a more normal way of life without the clatter of banging into everything.  I won't let her sleep in it overnight-the clunky plastic E-collar needs to be on at night because I don't want to leave her in a stuffed fabric collar all night unsupervised.

Otherwise, she isn't allowed to run, jump, wrestle the boys as is her normal life, but she's able to play a little bit with her toys.  The boys are at least able to be close by without being whacked with the collar and I she's glad for their closer proximities.  I'm glad too because she can come sit beside me and be close without whacking me either! I've sort of missed her nose-bumping my leg and sitting beside me when she wants something. The bonus is that the walls and furniture aren't suffering her "wrath of the collar" either.  When she no longer needs an E-collar, I can reclaim the stuffing and buckle.  Come to think of it, maybe that little stuffed collar really is Cinder's life preserver right now.

It's all just more adventure and learning in our daily life journey as we continue raising Cinder.


Things I Learned From a Dog About Dog Toy-Making

I've discussed dog toy-making previously, but have had so many inquiries and requests it warrants re-visiting to answer the questions I've had.  

Do you make stuffed dog toys for sale? No, I don't make them to sell because I haven't the time; and the prices for my toys would have to be utterly outrageous to cover my time and materials.  I do make some for donations to charities; and  I've made some for clubs and sponsors of event prizes.  I make some for friends that want them when I have time. I am willing to share my knowledge, experience, and pattern-making with anyone who would like to make their own dog toys.  Some of that information will follow in this post.


What's wrong with store bought stuffies for dogs?  In my quests for stuffed dog squeaky toys over the years, I've found that most stuffed dog toys are poorly made, not very durable; many are unsafe; and many of them have only one squeaker.  It irks me that so many stuffed dog toys are made with unsafe items or things that plainly won't last 10 minutes in the mouths of the even the kindest, gentlest dogs.  Things like felt or plastic eyes and noses have no place on a dog toy; yet I see them on a number of toys from cheap box store toys to ultra posh pet store toys.  The stuffings and fabrics from which dog toys are made also amazes me as anyone with a brain should know that tiny plastic or styrofoam beads, shredded foam, or nut hulls aren't something dogs should ingest.  Rule of thumb for buying dog toys should be to examine them as though you're buying the toys for a small toddler child-if a child could easily pull it apart, choke on a piece if it comes off, or it seems otherwise unsafe for a small child, it's probably not any safer for your puppy or dog.

In addition, the costs for dog toys are pricey. Even cheap toys aren't so cheap when you factor in the length of time dogs like mine will have stuffed toys before they're shredded.  A few months ago, I bought three stuffed toys bearing a major brand name of typically durable, safe dog toys. I looked them over and although I didn't think they would last long, they seemed far better than the available alternatives so I took a chance. Within three days of giving them to my dogs the stuffies were shredded. That sent me back to making dog toys myself.  I know not everyone wants to invest their time and effort in making dog toys, but with three Border Collies and a minimal disposable income, making their dog toys yields having stuffed squeaker toys for my dogs that are far more durable and safer than those I've bought from stores.  I can also re-use most of the stuffing and squeakers as the toys are destroyed/worn out; and I often have old jeans, canvas, and scrap fleece I can use - also making homemade toys even more cost effective.

Things I learned from a dog about making dog toys:  In raising Gilley, I learned a lot about dog toy-making and durability that I didn't learn with any other dogs. Gilley is a great toy tester because if it can be shredded, he's the one to do it-"gone in 60 seconds!"  If it squeaks, Gilley's going to destroy it. Gilley will also use anything to play a game of tug with Buzz so the two of them will "tug test" any toy to pieces too. From Gilley, a dog,  I learned that dog toys need:
  • To be multiple layers of heavy fabrics like denim and canvas. Heavy polar fleece is good
     for some softness and texture difference. 
  • Randomly quilting 2-3 layers of fabric increases the durability because it makes separating the layers extremely difficult or impossible.  
  • When using fleece, double layer and use a light denim or canvas base layer with it for durability.
  • Sew all seams at least twice for durability.  
  • Stuffing too much makes them too hard to squeeze; and squeakers won't squeak. Stuffing too little makes the toy less fun and less durable.  Stuffing the right amount is the greatest "art" in the overall process beyond the initial design.  
  • The imperative part of any stuffed dog toy is having at least 2-5 squeakers strategically located in the toy.  One isn't usually enough because the dog will tend to mouth that area most trying to squeak it, wearing the toy out in that spot. Two or more squeakers give the dog several places and ways to make the toy squeak and tends to be more uniformly worn.
  • Covering the squeaker air holes with something like a piece of lightweight cotton, t-shirt fabric, or heavy sock hose is required allows the air to pass through, but not the stuffing fibers. Left uncovered, the squeaker air holes get plugged with stuffing fibers and stop squeaking.
  • Dogs don't care what shapes or colors their toys are-any toy that you make will be fine.   
  • If making tug toys, be sure to use wide strips rather than narrower because they last longer and most dogs like them better when they are a little big. 
  • If making toys that could become objects of a tug game (elephants with big ears), be sure to sew them extra securely.
  • ALWAYS use upholstery thread for hand sewing and do your best to hide the stitching. Exposed stitching tends to be a target for doggy tongues and once they find a loose stitch or knot, they tend to work on pulling at it.
  • Making facial features is more for people than dogs. Dogs won't care if the toy has no
    face.  If you want facial features, use a permanent maker to draw them on; or use your sewing machine to make "embroidered" features.  Making things like tongues or eyes of felt or other fabrics is fun to look at, but they aren't durable.
  • Where there is a seam or a change of fabric or texture, the dog will likely focus more on one feature of the multiples.
  • No matter how badly you think the toy turns out because the toy doesn't look as you imagined it would; the sewing isn't as good as you'd hoped; or you hate the fabric choice for that toy - the dog will still have a toy and won't care.
  • ALWAYS supervise dogs playing with any toys and it's a good idea to inspect their toys every day to be sure they aren't coming apart.  If they are starting to have seams popping or small holes, patch and repair it as soon as you spot it to extend the longevity of the toy.
  • Simple patterns with fewer pieces are best and easiest; and cutting them out about 1/4larger than you want the finished product to be makes it easier to make and stuff them. 
  • Once you start making your own dog toys, you'll want to buy your squeakers in bulk and in different sizes.  Amazon is a good resource; and I usually buy mine in bags of 40 - 100  for $6 - $20 per bag depending on the kind and sizes.

As I said, I don't make them for sale, but I am willing to help anyone who wants to make their own stuffed dog squeaker toys.  Additionally, once you can make a good dog toy, making children's toys will be EASY if you want a special gift for baby showers and holiday gifts!

Thank you for all the interest and inquiries!  I hope I answered all the questions I've recieved but if not, please contact me and I'll be glad to help you any way I can.  

If you're thinking, "Yeah, right! When pigs fly!"  I can help you out with that one too!  It's not a dog toy, but check out Pygmalia SuperPig :





Thursday, June 12, 2014

Reactivity-The First Step to Recovery is Admitting the Problem

Discovering your dog’s flaws is a lot like discovering your child’s-it hurts to the core of your soul.  It’s compounded when you realize you probably caused those flaws.  Sadly, though Cinder is the last puppy I will have and I’ve tried very hard to do right by her at every opportunity, I have failed her miserably in something very important-early socialization.  As a result,  Cinder is “reactive.”  She is definitely very “leash reactive” to new dogs and she’s mildly-moderately reactive to humans unless they talk to her or me; until she actually meets them, when she is almost immediately their BFF.  This is a very ugly thing and may haunt her forever. In theory, her youth is on our side and makes it more likely we can work through it to get her back to a better place. However, once a dog is reactive, it’s generally like having something like diabetes-you can manage it, but the odds of actually being “cured” are low.  I suppose this is the admission of our problem, making it the first step on the road to recovery.
    This is my effort to share the little information I've learned and in no way is this a definitive thesis on dog reactivity:
      What is a “reactive dog?”  There are numerous variations on the definition of a reactive dog, but reactivity is generally a fear based series of behaviors (reactions) to certain people, other dogs, noises, other animals, things, or situations.  The fear is so significant it generally elicits some serious behaviors.    
     Reactive dogs often react “normally” to many or most things and are only reactive to one or two things.  In fact, many dogs are actually reactive, but their owners don’t recognize it as such; and their lifestyles don’t reveal the extent to which they may be reactive because they are well “contained” within their home lives.  Signs of reactivity include: excessive barking at something-even at a distance; raised heckles; lunging at the target of their reactivity; snarling and baring teeth; and/or growling.  Other signs can include things like: trembling/shivering, pulling/chewing their own tail; circling frantically; and cowering or hiding  in/under something-some of them are classified as "neurotic" when they are actually reactive behaviors responding to something that scares or stresses the dog.  
     Dogs can be reactive to anything including: noises, motion, other dogs, cats, people (even just men or just women), only big dogs or small dogs.  July 4th tends to scare many dogs and those responses are  a form of reactivity.  However, the reactive dog has more than an inclination to hide or bark a little.  Some dogs are only “leash reactive”-they’re reactive to other dogs ONLY when one or both dogs are on leashes.  In cases such as Cinder’s, the reactivity is totally fear and anxiety motivated; and her reactivity is nasty barking, lunging, snarling, baring teeth, and growling.  In many if not most cases like Cinder's, the dogs are actually using a “preemptive strike” approach to the person/dog/thing they fear; using displays of aggression  to drive the target away before it has a chance to get close. When the target keeps closing in on them, their anxiety increases and their behavior escalates. When it peaks at threshold level, they are acting on total instinct, usually to the exclusion of all their handler's efforts to control or alter their behavior.  Of course, the reactive behavior is frustrating to their handler and then that adds fuel to the reactive behavior too.
     Like people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or anxiety disorders, reactive dogs can have one or many of the behaviors that reflect their disorder; and they may suffer to greater or lesser degrees. Reactivity can be mild to profound.  It can manifest in behaviors that are often considered quirky or annoying to downright frightening.  The behaviors include a bell curve of anxiety/fear that goes from “sub threshold” (no or low reactivity) to at/over threshold (the dog has shut down and is acting on pure instinct with anxiety at maximum tolerances).  The back side of the bell curve is the decrease in reactivity and anxiety.  Once at or over threshold level, the dog will only calm if the target object is not visible-removed from their view.   Generally, the profoundly reactive dog is suffering serious levels of anxiety and is less likely to be easily managed or controlled.  Many mildly reactive dogs are often considered quirky and their owners live with the “quirky” behaviors because they are tolerable, even entertaining.  The more reactive dogs are often considered and labeled as vicious and/or threatening – and they can become vicious if not well managed and handled. 
     In my research, it seems that researchers see reactivity in all breeds of dogs, from all countries but there are a large percentage of herding and terrier breeds frequently affected.  It tends to be more prevalent in females than males; and sometimes spaying or neutering seems to lessen the severity so a hormonal link may exist.  Known causes include: no or poor socialization as puppies; abuse and neglect; genetic predisposition; a traumatic experience (in the dog's mind, not necessarily the handler's); and they suspect that there are many other causes yet unknown and unproven. 
     Many think that “immersion” sorts of training will correct their reactive dog’s behaviors, but frequently, it contributes to increasing reactivity.  The more successful approaches seem to be centered identifying the things that cause the dog to be reactive; at what distance or in what circumstances the dogs become reactive; at what point they are at sub threshold and at/over threshold levels.  Once you identify those features of the reactivity, then training begins. Knowing what causes the dog to be reactive and at what points-what distance is safe or causes problems-then learning to manage the dog’s reactivity can occur.  For dogs that are reactive to other dogs, going places like PetSmart and dog parks is OUT.  The anxieties that cause reactivity are pushed beyond tolerances and fuel worse reactivity.  Putting puppies like Cinder in group training classes is a waste of time and money because it sets them up for failure since other dogs are the cause of such horrible anxiety that drives them into reactive frenzies and many trainers are not qualified or skilled to effectively handle a reactive dog-especially in their group classes.  One-on-one training with someone who knows and understands how to handle reactive dogs is the best way to achieve success-at least in the beginning.  If you can find a behaviorist who also specializes in working with the dog’s breed, that is especially helpful because they are likely to know the best techniques for handling that breed.  Progress for improving reactivity seems best through various training exercises designed to help the handler and dog develop better skills as a team; and learning how to handle a variety of situations while the dog is not under the stress of seeing a target that elicits reactivity.  Gradually, the dog is introduced to distractions while working with its’ handler; and as they progress, they begin to introduce the person/dog/thing that elicits reactivity by seeing the target at the sub threshold level.  Gradually, over weeks or months, the target is brought closer as the reactive dog and handler learn timing and techniques to handle the situation.  If done well, time and training will help the reactive dog and handler learn to manage the situation effectively.  However, as stated earlier, every case is different and success is dependent on many variables.  
     Cinder’s reactivity is likely due to our inability to socialize her outside our home during the winter months when she was small and the window of time for socialization is most critical for many dogs.  Being so young and small through the hardest winter in the last 40 years meant being holed up until Spring – past those critical weeks during which she would’ve otherwise been socialized.  My understanding is that Cinder is mild-moderate in her reactivity, but exhibits the nastier signs of reactivity that could easily lead people to think her vicious.  That's what makes her reactivity a true life and death issue for her.  As we all know, these days if a dog bites someone regardless of reason, it can result in their euthanization.  However, her youth is on our side; along with my commitment to make this as right as I can for her.  Certainly I never plan to give her up for any reason, but life takes us down roads we don’t always plan to take. 
      When Cinder’s at home, she’s as normal as any puppy ever.  I guess one may wonder why we ever need to worry about the reactivity if we just stick around home.  I like to travel my dogs with me when I go places.  We do all kinds of things and they all involve other dogs too.  Keeping her at home to avoid the issue will only inhibit her life.  She’s a Border Collie and she needs to be busy to be healthy and happy.  It’s in her best interest that I work as hard as I can to help her overcome her reactivity or at least learn how to manage it acceptably-I owe her that effort. 
     I suppose that this is about to be a long chapter I'd never thought I'd have to contend with-or write about.  But, I began this blog and our Facebook page to chronicle raising Cinder in hope that aside from being about our journey through life; we might also somehow help others on their journeys too.  For the most part, life for us and Cinder remains fine and progressing. This is a side-step I hadn't anticipated, but we'll get through it somehow.  Another day and another part of the commitment that is all part of Raising Cinder.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Comparing Pets

   I’d like to thank all our friends and followers for choosing to include our posts as part of your routine reading.  It is an honor to know so many wonderful people enjoy the pictures and tidbits we share; and have come to be part of our repertoire too.  However, there is something about sharing that bothers me:  those who compare our lives or our pets to themselves and their pets.  Comparing our lives or pets is a losing proposition for us all because any time comparisons are made, they reveal short-falls and cause negative feelings. 
   It’s natural to read about others and think maybe they’re living better; or they’re better at grabbing more of the brass rings in life; or that their dogs are smarter, prettier, do more than our own.  But, I certainly hope when you all post things saying that Cinder is already smarter and doing more than your beloved best friends, you are not feeling your own pups/dogs are less valuable or less loved.  I hope you are not feeling that somehow you or your dog(s) and/or your relationships with your dogs are less meaningful or less rewarding-that you have somehow missed out. 
     This is not a competition to see who’s doing more, better, faster at anything-at least, not for me.  I am merely sharing our puppy and the assortment of things that occur in our lives as we raise Cinder, knowing she will truly be our last puppy.  It is an on-going chronicle of things we do and learn; things that happen; hoping we can raise Cinder to be a good dog; and sharing the ways our lives are greatly enriched through life with our dogs.  It is my hope that regardless of what we or  anyone else does with their pets, you don’t really compare our pets and yours.  We all lead different lives with different backgrounds and goals for our pets.  
     Part of the enjoyment of being friends and followers with so many on this blog, Facebook, and in real life is enjoying the diversity of our lives and pets; and sharing things about our common bonds that create(d) our friendships – our love of our animals. 
      I'm as guilty as anyone of comparing myself and what I do or could/should do with my dogs.  I look at Tina and Chandi-now Tina and Gracie (, or Zolza and her Border Collies and think, "Geez! I should really be teaching Cinder all that stuff!"  Then reality sets in and I realize they are trying to achieve different goals with their dogs-including competions. Those aren't my goals. Cinder will never reach her ultimate potential with me and I know it.  I have to be content with making her the best that I can, fitting our lifestyle.  After all, she doesn't even know what a competition is so she certainly doesn't care about how well she learns tricks, obedience, agility or anything else.  She doesn't even know what "beautiful" or "ugly" mean to care where she falls in the spectrum.  Caring about those things is a human thing, not the dog's.
     Please don’t compare our pets and their intelligence or beauty.  When I compare my three dogs, I realize how different they are and how much more or different I could have done and could yet do with them, “if….”  If I had: more time, more money, more space, more help, more knowledge, more talent, more energy, more…  I didn’t and don’t have all the “if” items, in the past or now, so the “if factor” does not apply and therefore, my own comparisons are silly.  It’s not fair to compare my dogs to each other or your dogs.  In reality, I’ve done as much as I could for each of them given my resources and abilities; so second-guessing myself now is futile.   Life gives us all enough hard knocks without comparing what we or our pets do or don’t do.  Comparisons only apply in competition and this is not a competition-at least not for me.  It's a journey through life raising Cinder with our other wonderful dogs and trying to get through life one day at a time.
       As I said earlier, we are extremely appreciative of all our friends and followers, but please remember that nothing about what we're doing is about being competitive or compared.  What we’re doing is about sharing, caring, and learning with each of you and anyone else who wants to share the journey. 
     Be well and be good to yourselves and your pets! As Cinder would say, “Pooch smoochies to everyone!”