Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Testing: 1, 2, 3-Do we have Reactivity?

           Last night, Cinder and I had a minor adventure.  We went to Marilyn’s puppy class graduation night.  Marilyn wanted us to stay at the “perimeter” of the class, gradually working our way toward them in slow increments; retreating as needed to keep Cinder calm and quiet, focused on me.  The hope was we could get her close to the group and keep her focus on me instead of the other dogs, testing her limits.  We needed to see at what distance she would remain calm and see what activities might stir her up too.  Maybe we should refer to this as, "Testing: 1,2,3-Do we have Reactivity?"
               Initially, Cinder barked a few times upon arrival and I was concerned I’d need binoculars for distance viewing of the class. But, I “worked the program” until we were able to get within about 30 feet of the group.  However, as dogs would peel off from the group to do various things which meant coming closer to us, I had to work at getting Cinder to focus on me and stay quiet.  We’d back away and when she’d quiet down, I’d stop retreating.  Ultimately, we were always about 30 feet away from things most of the evening.  We were able to get closer and even worked near a couple teams for short times, but the closest for any length of time was about 15 feet away.  Even at the 30 feet, it was still a MAJOR improvement over the distances before Cinder would go off even a few weeks ago!
Once the initial phase of the class was over and they moved to some basic puppy agility skills and games, we were asked to do a few things too.  Marilyn had some kids’ pop-up play tunnel cubes with openings on all four sides, connected to form a long tunnel.  This is the way she likes to start pups learning about agility tunnels because the open holes allow the pups to see (and sometimes exit) and not be fearful going through them.  She had us come to about 8 feet from the tunnel and let another woman and her pup work the tunnel while I kept Cinder’s focus.  Then it was our turn.  Easy stuff for Cinder since she already goes through the regular tunnels at home.  However, the hard part for Cinder was when Marilyn took her from me to go to the opposite end of the tunnel to start her run.  You’d have thought Cinder was trying to avoid a killer bear!  She LOVES Marilyn, but when Marilyn tried to take her away from me, it was a huge fuss.  Marilyn succeeded, but not without some fuss.  Each time, Cinder was more than thrilled to come through that tunnel to me like a cannonball shot from cannon.  Then we had to sit close by while several other dogs also did the same exercise.
After the tunnel exercise, they’d set up a very low, puppy version of an agility dog walk consisting of three 12 foot boards and two solid flat concrete pavers for the elevating points.  The first part of the exercise was to walk across the boards, being sure the pups each made contact with the boards as they crossed them.  Then we made attempts to have each pup walk the length of them, just as you would want them to do for agility, using some kind of “bait” & holding it very low so they could look at the boards as they walked.”  So we stood close by as all the pups did that exercise, keeping Cinder’s focus on me.  Finally it was our turn and Cinder made it look easy. But, I’m convinced she would do ANYTHING for a piece of cheese!
That was the end of the activities so Marilyn had the group gather into a semi-circle around her while she gave the class Q & A time and wound things up with parting comments.  We resumed our place about 15 feet from the nearest pup. Cinder heard one of the other pups bark at something and she began to react.  Quickly we retreated and I regained her focus about 25 feet away and we worked our way a little closer, ending about 15 feet away before I could see her getting a little unnerved again.  At that point, the class was about to break so I took that time to gather our things and take them to the car.  After most of the people and pups cleared way but one, we made our way back to Marilyn and Karen (her assistant trainer for the class).  Cinder did well until we got about eight feet from the other pup and we had to retreat to about 15 feet again. 
We waited while the others finished chatting and were able to join Marilyn & Karen.  Marilyn asked Karen about an evaluation of Cinder from her perspective.  Both feel that Cinder’s young and we’re already working on the issues with some positive signs despite my frustration and our set-backs.  Both feel Cinder’s smart and athletic so capable of learning and doing a lot if I can keep working to gain her focus and attention consistently.  They reminded me readily that there WILL be challenges and set-backs; we will both be frustrated frequently along the way, but perseverance should pay off.  The both feel Cinder’s good with people, it’s other dogs that she doesn’t trust.  They both also said, “She is extremely bonded with you, so you’re her person and there will never be a doubt about that. It’ll be very hard for anyone else to get her to bond with them the way she’s bonded with you.” Marilyn then followed that with, “She gets utterly panicked about leaving you.  She’s getting a lot of her courage from you. It’s both good and bad.  You know why it’s bad, but the good part of it means that you can capitalize on that with her and in doing your training.”  Karen said, “She’s probably kind of a dominant female too isn’t she?”  I acknowledged that indeed, she is a “bossy, mouthy girl” that rules over the boys-to a point, at which time the boys let her know they’ve had enough and her puppy license is going to expire soon.  They both laughed and Karen said, “She’d be a perfect Aussie bitch because we call them ‘bossy Aussies.’” Both went on to reassure me that while many things may not be things Cinder will be able to do because the stress involved is not worth the work for her to try them, there are many other things she’ll be well able to do.  Pet therapy is definitely off the table for her-entirely wrong personality, especially once the reactivity issue became obvious.  Going to certain places and doing some things are not going to be enjoyable-for either of us-so let those ideas of things to do with her go by the wayside.  However, they said some of the top obedience, Rally-O, disk dogs, and agility dogs have reactivity issues so she could potentially still be good and even compete in those disciplines. We just have to go through all the training and take it all one step at a time, knowing we’ll have bad days and set-backs, but we have to keep working our way along.
Marilyn’s having a surgery soon and will be out of commission for an unknown period.  Hopefully by the time she’s back on her feet, I’ll be on a job and in a better position to try one of Marilyn’s group classes with Cinder.  Meanwhile, we keep working at the “homework” she’s given us and keep trying to build on our rapport when she’s out, in public with me.
Last night after the drive home, I opened the hatch of the car expecting Cinder to jump out.  Instead, she was SOUND asleep.  I tried to wake her and she was obviously too far out of it to jump out of the car safely and walk into the house.  I carried her into the house.  Once awake, she was ready to go potty; say hello to Gilley and Buzz; and head for bed.  She was EXHAUSTED.  The stress of being quiet and staying focused on me for two hours around all those people, dogs, and activities was more than either of us banked on.  For once, I KNOW Cinder was completely worn out at bedtime. 
 It felt better to go to the class and see that Cinder can focus on me enough to be nearby other dogs without instantly going off uncontrollably.  It felt good that both Marilyn and Karen feel Cinder’s reactivity is manageable and won’t preclude as many things as I’d initially thought it might-assuming we stay on track and keep working toward improving and managing it better.  It’s nice to know that I don’t have the weirdest dog ever; and many dogs are worse than Cinder.  Not that I want other dogs to have or be problems, but it’s nice knowing it’s a fairly common situation.  It’s nice that both trainers like Cinder and are encouraging me to not give up-letting me know that all the set-backs and missteps along the way are really normal and part of the learning curve. It’s nice hearing all this from people who have more experience with it and have that experience within the breed.  I’ve learned that Border Collies are breed apart from most others and if you don’t know and understand the breed, anything else you know about dogs may not apply to them; and usually doesn’t apply in the same ways.  If nothing else, our adventure to the puppy class taught me that we can learn to manage Cinder’s reactivity if I just keep staying the course of working with her.  It won’t be easy, but I’ve always loved a good challenge anyway!
So ends this update on our latest endeavors testing Cinder’s reactivity progress. This also concludes another day doing our best as we continue the endeavor of raising Cinder.



Friday, July 18, 2014

Travel Scare & Safety

We had a very scary dog travel experience today, despite everything we try to do to keep our dogs safe in transit.  My hope is you’ll keep reading to the end of this and share it with others in an effort to learn from our most recent and scary lesson!  Sometimes failing to check something simple and routine; getting in too big a hurry; or otherwise getting side-tracked from focusing on something can be the one thing that causes grief later.  This was a day that I didn’t follow up on a small detail that could’ve ended extremely badly. 
I’ve traveled dogs all of my life.  It doesn’t make me an expert, but does make me experienced.  Growing up, we always had station wagons and cargo vans to transport our show dogs in their crates.  Now, my husband and I drive a Jeep Patriot and Ford Ranger truck – neither made to transport dogs.  If you haven’t got a cargo van, odds are, you’re traveling your dogs in your family vehicle and probably uncrated.  Most people I know frequently travel at least one or two dogs uncrated. 
I’ve traveled extensively and I’ve seen many things in my life.  I’ve had the displeasure of watching several dogs allowed to hang their heads out windows be seriously hurt and killed.  I’ve seen dogs jump out half open windows going down highways.  I’ve seen car accidents in which the dogs inside were freed by opened or partly opened doors and hatches; only to be hit by other cars.  I’ve seen people who’ve had heart attacks or seizures in their cars with their loose dogs inside, snarling at police and rescue crews trying to save their humans-which never goes well for the dogs.  That doesn’t begin to span the list of ugly dog travel scenes I’ve personally witnessed, but you get the idea-stuff happens and it’s often quite ugly. My thoughts are to try to avoid some of the nasty things I’ve seen and heard about whenever possible.  Nothing is ever totally safe; many things are safer in some ways and not so safe in others; but some safety is better than no effort made at all.
I’m not a fan of dogs being loose in a car for numerous reasons-I don’t care how good the dog is because safety is my concern. We’ve found that since we can’t fit crates in the Patriot for even two of the three dogs, we don’t use any crates.  We make use of the Patriot’s cargo design.  Buzz travels in the back passenger seat because he’s the biggest and constantly shifts around to see out the windows. Gilley and Cinder ride in the far rear cargo area together because they both fit perfectly and they both lay down once we’re in motion.   In an effort to keep them from bounding out should a door or window suddenly be opened, I decided they would always wear harnesses and be secured in the car. It also keeps them from jumping around inside the car.  In the cargo area, Gilley and Cinder get fastened to tethers secured to the steel cargo tie-downs, designed to keep cargo from shifting.  In the back seat, we attach Buzz to the seat belt shoulder strap with metal carabineers fastened to his top harness rings; and the seatbelt is fastened through and under his harness strap.    None of the dogs can randomly escape just because the doors open.  They can’t hop over seats and move around inside the car either.  It’s been a good system in many situations.  Many have asked me why we do it and it’s strictly out of my own paranoid efforts to try to make traveling with them safer for all of us.  If nothing else, it keeps them from jumping out the minute we open their doors.
Today, we truly had an unscheduled test of the system that was absolutely scary.  As we were returning home from a jaunt with all three dogs this morning, we were nearly stunned by narrowly escaping a potentially awful incident.  As we neared a turn in town, I noticed the “door open” light on my dash popped on.  I told Brian and as we pulled to the traffic light to stop before turning, Brian yelled, “It’s Buzz’s door! His door popped open! Stop the car and stay stopped!”  In my mind, I can’t tell you the horror I thought might follow.  We were in the middle of traffic with three cars behind us, two beside us; at a BUSY intersection.  Brian wrenched himself around in the passenger seat to grab Buzz and try to shut the door.  After about 20 seconds, he was able to accomplish the mission.  As we turned, I pulled into a parking lot for us to get things situated.  Buzz had somehow managed to pop the door handle with either his flat collar or his harness as he’d been nose-printing the window.  The door must not have been locked and when he popped the handle, the door popped open.  That wasn’t the worst part.  The worst part was that he’d somehow gotten OUT of his harness (which has NEVER happened before) and he was loose in the back seat when the door popped open!  If the door had opened while we were at full speed on the highway-a half mile back, he might’ve fallen or jumped from our moving vehicle with two lanes of high speed traffic on a narrow state road.  If the door had opened even 30 seconds later, we’d have turned the corner, the door might’ve flung open and clipped a street post; and Buzz may have escaped from the car into one of the busiest intersections in our town!  LUCKILY, it happened as I was already slowing, nearly stopped, at the traffic light! Brian was able to get hold of Buzz and shut the door while the light was red; AND there was a parking lot to pull into to get everything squared away again.  I assumed that Brian locked Buzz’s door when he loaded Buzz in.  We’ve done it often enough I rarely have to think about it because it’s such a habit. Brian doesn’t do it as often, but I still thought it was habit for him so I never thought to double check.  The whole thing worked out okay, but what a minute of utter terror to discover the door popped open and Buzz was loose in the car while we were in motion – two things that NEVER happened before!
My caution to you is to always think about the safety of yourself and your dogs while traveling.  Use some kind of harness system to fasten them into your car so they can’t freely exit if a door or window is opened.  LOCK all your doors that your pets can possibly get close to-just like you should lock all doors with small children.  As we experienced today, you never know the weird, unforeseen things they can do that could lead to disaster.  If you have health issues, it’s a good idea to secure your dog in a rear seat, away from you while in transit so that if something happens and you require a rescue squad to extract and assist you, you don’t lose valuable time because they have to first secure your pet to get to you safely.  
Another thing to consider whether traveling around the block or across the nation with your pet is putting together a doggy “go bag” or travel kit you can leave in your car.  It should contain a spare collar, leash, bowl, and a couple bottles of water.  I have one that includes added things like: a baggie of dry kibble; empty Ziploc baggies; some basic emergency items; a couple old towels; and some old toys.  You never know when your vehicle could break down or you could be away from home longer than expected.  Having a few extra things in your car for your dog could come in handy-especially in the summer when it doesn’t take long for anyone to get hot and thirsty.  However you travel with your dog(s), just try to stay safe out there!
This concludes another update and another day in the on-going endeavor of raising Cinder.  Stay safe out there!



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Spinner Bottle Treat Toy-Cinder Tested, Cinder Approved!

Our Dimensions: 24”Tall X 22” Wide X 10” Deep

NOTE:  You could probably make it with one bottle, but
           2-3 bottles is more fun for the dog.

·    Wood to build a frame–recommend a pine board: 1” Thick X  10 or 12” Wide  X 8’  Long
·    Screws to screw the frame together
·    1 piece of metal electrical conduit
·    2 metal cotter pins
·    2 large, clear plastic bottles with large mouths and screw-on caps. * We used V8 Fusion bottles because they’re PERFECT in size, shape, mouth size (for filling); the're fairly thick, durable plastic; and they’re easily replaceable.  They also have “panels” with dot impressions that make it handy for measuring the PERFECT spot to drill your holes for the conduit to pass through.
·   Drill
·   Drill screwdriver bit or screwdriver
·   One drill bit slightly larger than the electrical conduit
·   One metal drill bit to drill holes in the conduit for cotter pins–drill bit size depends on size cotter pins you use.
·   One drill bit slightly bigger than the food or treats you plan to use-for the hole in the bottle cap for food to fall through.
·   Tape measure
·    Pencil & permanent marker
For the Frame:
Based on the sizes of the bottles you use, make a rectangular frame with an elevated bottom “shelf” as the base:  
·       Cut two boards 24” long for the sides; measure 3-4” from the bottom, mark a straight line and that will be the bottom shelf line.
·       Measure and cut the shelf bottom board to a length of 22”; screw the shelf bottom to each side as marked.
·       Measure and cut the top to 24-26”.  Screw it to the top of the upright sides, making sure they are equally spaced on both sides & the sides are square, & equal the width of the bottom.
·    On the outside of each side of the frame, make marks for the holes for the conduit to pass through.  
Based on the size bottles you use, measure from the bottom shelf upward and place a pencil mark in the center of the side boards at the height you want the conduit. That is your drilling point for the hole for the conduit.  * Leave at least 2-4” of space between the bottles on the top and bottom so they’ll spin freely and if you need to replace the bottles, that space should accommodate lots of other bottles.   
·       Sand the frame as needed for safety and/or painting.
·       Paint frame if/as desired.

   NOTE: We used the elevated bottom shelf as the base because it allows for a certain amount of uneven floor or ground without worry of rocking, shifting, or tipping.  We also decided you could use a narrower width board overall, but if your dog is as intent on playing with it as ours, the wider frame provides better stability.

 For the Bottles:
  · Thoroughly clean and dry the bottles & lids with hot water; then remove labels. 
· Using permanent marker, measure from the bottom & place a dot at the approximate center of the bottles. *If using V8 Fusion Light bottles, the side “panels” have dotted impressions with 7 dots across the widest area of the panels-use the center dot of one of the panels and mark another one in EXACTLY same position as the first mark, on the opposite side of the bottle. 
 ·   Using the dots on the bottles, place your drill bit tip & drill cut the holes for the conduit to slide through the bottles.

·   Mark a dot in the center top of the lid to drill a hole for the food/treats to fall out.
·   Using the dog food/treat sized drill bit, drill the hole through the bottle cap.

·  Measure the final width of the OUTSIDE of the box frame & cut your conduit two (2) inches LONGER than the box width.
·  About ¾” from each end of the conduit, drill holes for the cotter pins.

·  Place a cotter pin in one end of the conduit.  Place the conduit through one side of the frame, leaving enough room to put the bottles onto the conduit.
·  Once both bottles are on the conduit, slide the conduit out the opposite side of the frame and place the other cotter pin in the conduit.  The cotter pins keep the conduit from coming out as the bottles spin.

You should now have a completed Spinner Bottle Treat Toy!

NOTES: Do NOT paint the conduit because it will need to be washed periodically from the oily dog food/treats; paint could flake off into the food/treats & be eaten by your dog.

Please supervise your pet(s) while using this item!  It could be tipped, scooted, or they may chew on parts of it so you’ll need to watch them while using this toy.

Sometimes the food FLIES out and sometimes it merely drops out when the bottles are upturned so you may want to use this toy outside on a patio or on a hard surface floor like your kitchen.  It wouldn’t work well on a deck since food/treats may slip between boards or fly off the deck-with your dog flying after them!

FILLING the bottles: Unscrew the cap, hold the bottle in an upright, angled position and insert food/treats; the reapply the cap.  Weight of the food/treats will keep the bottle upright.  I use a small food scoop to insert the food/treats.  * If you use a small necked bottle with a small opening, you'll have a harder time filling it.  

This is not meant to be a dog feeder! Only fill the bottle with a limited amount of food or treats-enough to be fun for 5-20 minutes. The added food/treats will increase your dog's overall daily intake so you may want to use this toy only a few times a week to keep from adding too many calories to his/her daily diet.

You may have to show your dog/puppy how to get the treats out and help them figure out the “game” a few times.  Cinder learned without help but she’s EXTREMELY food motivated!

Cinder tested, Cinder approved!


Monday, July 14, 2014

Any Progress is Good Progress

     If you've been following this blog and our Facebook page, you know Cinder's got some reactivity issues we're working to overcome and redirect.  To that end, I've enlisted the assistance of a well qualified behavioral specialist and trainer, Marilyn, to guide us to a better place and help us achieve at least a few goals.  Today, we met with Marilyn to re-evaluate Cinder's progress and add more tools to our toolbox for working her through things.
     After our fiasco at the public dog park last week, I was glad to meet with Marilyn for more assistance with Cinder's reactivity issues.  We worked together with Cinder today for about two solid hours (with a few breaks). The first question I asked was, "How can we work toward improvement around other dogs when there are no other dogs to work with her; and we can't go to the public dog park or PetSmart because it's too over stimulating?"  Marilyn thought for a minute and the next minute, we were in our cars, headed to the local farm store where there was a moderate but steady number of people and a few dogs.  A place where we were able to work in both the parking lot and inside the store.
     Once at the farm store, we worked outside a few minutes.  Initially, I think we were trying to establish Cinder's current "safe zone" for seeing people without reacting; and determining what other training we could incorporate aside from reactivity seeing people and dogs.  After all, noisy carts and stacks of things moving on flat truck carts also provide training opportunities since they can be scary.  We worked in the parking lot for about 15 minutes, getting her used to several carts and flat truck cart noises; and being near them. Initially, when the carts moved or made noises, they were scary but Cinder was quick to learn that with cheese and repetition of working with Marilyn pushing them beside and around her, they were really nothing to be scared of.  She was willing to calmly walk beside a moving cart in 15 minutes.
      Next, we entered the store.  Once inside, fairly close to the main entrance but off-side, we stood with Cinder, strategically allowing her to see people entering and walking near her.  MY task was to let her see them, but before she could do more than have a quick look, I had to get her focus on me and ask her to do something-or several things like some tricks.  When she started to get more upset, my goal was to get her focus on me while simultaneously (walking backward or sideways) removing her far enough to see her calmer behaviors return.  As each set of people came through, we performed our small repertoire of safe tricks and focus work.  After about 15 minutes, Marilyn had me walk her about half-way through the store on a main aisle and keep talking to her to keep her happy and focused on me.  Then we were did some more things remaining stationary while others came near; and we did our tricks and focus work.  She was doing great.   People were able to walk by, pushing carts and talking without her going off.  
     After about a half hour of varied tasks, we spotted the local Service Dog organization crew with their "trainee" puppies. I was apprehensive and Marilyn said, "Don't be-that's why I'm here and we're going to do some exercises to see what she does and how much effort it takes to either keep or regain her focus." She had us walk about an aisle away from them and let Cinder catch glimpses of them, but not long enough for her to react by keeping her focus on me.  We did that and then the trainee pups stopped to be socialized with people petting them.  Marilyn had me walk Cinder to within about 20 feet of them but without going by them or stopping; and circle an aisle pillar, and back to our original position.  SUCCESS!  She had me do it a few times - each successfully.  Then she asked me to do it again and try to add a stop beside the pillar (more like a brief hesitation), long enough for Cinder to see the pups closer, but not long enough to react.  That time, we actually had a bit of reactive behavior and I had to quickly try to get Cinder's focus again and move back to Marilyn.  Marilyn said, "Well, it wasn't ideal but you got her attention and removed her without much problem and for now, that's very good."  
     We moved on to different points within the store and  a few other exercises.  It wasn't long before a family with kids came up and wanted to pet Cinder.  She was happy, wagging her tail so Marilyn spoke up for me (probably knowing I was questioning the move) and said, they could.  The three kids came over and Cinder was happy to have them all love her; and then Marilyn asked if they wanted to see a few of her tricks. We did a few of them and Cinder returned for their attention, but suddenly, Cinder decided something was amiss and began reacting so I had to make a quick retreat with her to a spot about 10 feet away, between aisles, and let her calm down.  Luckily, Cinder calmed quickly.  Marilyn asked if there was something that seemed to prompt Cinder to the sudden reactivity with the children.  I said, "Nothing they weren't doing before we had her do her tricks."  Marilyn expressed a little confusion about that but said, "Well, I'll have to replay that in my head and we'll talk about it again in a little while."  We moved on toward leaving and of course, everything is a training opportunity so leaving also took a little more time than simply walking out the door.  
     As we were exiting, there was a picnic bench in the "foyer" area between the interior and exterior doors so Marilyn wanted to sit with Cinder there for a few minutes to do a little more work with people exiting close by; and to discuss our goals for the next few weeks of work.  We revisited the incident with the kids that started out well, but went sour.  Neither of us was sure what prompted it but as she asked me what I saw change about Cinder leading up to it, we narrowed it to the possibility of not liking eye contact with one or more of the children so close to her face.  We aren't entirely sure that's the answer, but it seems at least partly likely.  This confuses even Marilyn because of the inconsistency involved in first liking the kids and their petting; and suddenly not liking them. I've mentioned that there are times it seems Cinder's fine meeting most adults up close, but seeing them again isn't always the same.  Apparently that is somewhat a deviation from normal patterns of reactive behavior.  I am to continue documenting her behaviors and circumstances so we may be able to isolate it.  Other than that incident, Cinder did pretty impressively-even to me!
    Before we parted, I asked about whether Marilyn felt my goals of getting Cinder into a group training class were crazy and she said, "No! Not at all! I think she SHOULD do a small group class - it would do her a world of good." Discussion on that topic ensued.  You can't imagine how good it makes me feel knowing that Cinder's progressing enough to really have hope of doing a group training class!  I'm so proud of Cinder for coming along so well despite our issues and setbacks.  We just have to keep our eyes on our training and keep forging ahead.  I can't allow us to malinger.  I still have to remember that her reactivity isn't always completely predictable and NOT to push her too far too fast.
     That concludes this update on Cinder's reactivity and our related training.  At least now, we've added more tools in our toolbox to forge ahead better.  Just another day in the adventure of raising Cinder.



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Two Steps Forward, 222 Back?

     Let me just preface this by saying this is one day I wish I could rewind and re-do differently because everything that went wrong was basically all my own fault but Cinder's the one to pay the price for my stupidity.
     If you’ve been following the blog an/or Facebook page, you probably know about Cinder’s reactivity issues and the work I’m doing with her to try getting her to a better place with it so she has a brighter, broader future.  So far, until today, progress has been great in a relatively short time. Today I pushed the envelope too far. But before you think this post is merely about Cinder’s reactivity and today’s potential set-back, let me assure you it’s also a rant about public dog parks and the people who frequent them too!  Typically I don’t advocate attending public dog parks for a host of reasons. However, they do serve some good purposes for some folks and their dogs.  I was hoping to take advantage of our local public dog park for Cinder’s benefit for a while, but now I am changing my plan!
     Cinder’s been doing very well with all our work to improve her reactivity with other dogs. She’d done so well last week that I decided we’d try going to the local public dog park during weekday afternoons, when there are only a couple people and dogs likely to be there.  That strategy has been paying off quite well-until today.  Let me give you the whole story:
    We arrived at the public dog park at about 1:45PM and only three people and three dogs were there. I observed and felt since one was a puppy and the other adult dogs were essentially well mannered, Cinder would probably be fine.  In we went, looking forward to another successful day meeting different people and dogs in limited numbers.  Indeed, it was quite pleasant and Cinder made friends with the puppy and older two dogs faster and easier than any others. Yea!  As we were conversing and enjoying our dogs, something told me the approaching car with a yapping pair of large dogs was about to change things and indeed, it did.  However, not before Cinder had some fun with her new friends and impressed the people with her GOOD behavior, tricks, recall on a whistle, recall on voice, and her generally happy nature with people.
    If I’d had more sense about me, I’d probably have left when the newly arriving vehicle parked. But between potentially having issues in a parking lot immediately adjacent to a very busy road or INSIDE the fenced dog area, I opted to remain at least until the newcomers were inside and away from the gates to the parking lot.  Immediately, two big dogs took off from their owner right out of the car.  Initially I thought the dogs bounded out of the car but the woman standing with me (both of us now holding our pups at our sides) said, “I think she just opened the door and let them do that.  I’ve seen her before and they did that the last time I saw them too.”  That was the first clue of what was to come AND should’ve been my cue to leave right then.   Luckily, Cinder always wears her car harness with a drag line so I can grab her when she’s loose.  I thought to grab the drag line and have Cinder sit casually, facing the newcomer dogs as they entered the gates across the park.  I thought if she reacted, I’d already have hold to remove her.   
      As they entered, the two dogs came bounding across the park, barking all the way.  Cinder didn’t react at all so I was hopeful this was just a noisy intro that would soon subside and end well.  Suddenly, both dogs came at Cinder and barked in her face.  At that point, Cinder reacted and frankly, I kind of let her have a few seconds to warn the dogs off since they’d been the instigators.  I want Cinder to greet others appropriately and sometimes other unruly dogs deserve a retaliatory warning.  However, once Cinder let out her warning and I called her off (SUCCESSFULLY), the other dogs didn’t back down.  They weren’t vicious initially, but they were definitely escalating; and their owner wasn't doing or saying anything at all.  The dogs essentially pinned Cinder against my legs and picked at her; lunging and barking more and more nastily.  Cinder wasn’t getting more wound up, but she wasn’t letting them get in her space without standing hers.  Meanwhile, the owner finally made her way over and stood gawking, neither saying or doing anything to control her dogs while it was clearly an escalating situation-her two loose dogs against my single dog on a two foot rope in my control, at my side.  I was attempting to suggest that she get hold of her dogs long enough for Cinder and I to leave, but instead the fog-brained woman was too busy asking me about Cinder’s breed, age, and name. 
     Meanwhile, our new friends had smartly removed themselves and their dogs to their car so it was all about me trying to get Cinder out before she completely lost it.  I’d managed to get her leash on her halter collar (thank GOD I hadn’t taken off her halter collar) and started to move toward the gate.  As I attempted to move Cinder on-lead, at my side, one dog lunged from behind and the other came at her from beside. Cinder spun around facing them and looked to me for direction.  I looked at the woman and  said, “My puppy is majorly upset by your dogs and if you’re not willing to hold onto them long enough for me to leave, I’m turning her loose so she can defend herself and I’m going to that gate. My puppy WILL do whatever she feels necessary to defend herself.”  The woman shrugged and said, “I can’t do that-no.”  I turned Cinder loose and she stayed with me, but kept spinning as the other dogs kept lunging and barking.  Finally, she spun and I heard her REALLY vicious snarling growl. I turned in time to see the others were only six inches from her face!  I used my whistle to recall Cinder and thank GOD Cinder turned and came instantly at a dead run; meeting me at the gate and quickly sitting.  The other dogs were on our heels and that fog-brained woman was still across the park doing absolutely nothing.  As her dogs neared while I was trying to open the gate, I scooped Cinder up and practically threw her over the fence while holding onto her leash over the fence. I kicked at the other dogs as I went through the gate myself.  We escaped.  As we exited the outer gate, our new friends with the puppy and one adult dog had watched from their car.  They got out of their car and met me at the exterior to offer assistance and of course, ask questions.
     Back at the Jeep, Cinder had managed to “let it go.” I hadn’t, but she had!  The couple walked with us to the Jeep and said, “We’ve never seen anything like that.” The woman said, “I’ve seen that lady here before and I don’t think her dogs were that mean, but they were definitely not well mannered then either.” I said, “How could they be well mannered when she isn’t. She had no concern for them, me, or my pup. She let them continue to escalate without even attempting to do anything.  When I asked her to hold her dogs long enough to leave, she said she couldn’t do that.”  They asked how I knew Cinder would stay close to me; and she’d come to me when I called or whistled. The next thing they asked me, “How did you know when to whistle and that she’d fly so fast to you when you did?”  I said, “It was a calculated prayer! She’s been running the farm with my older, trained boys and we use the whistle to direct or recall them. I just hoped our experience was solid enough for her to come and thank GOD she did!” We chatted a few minutes more and parted ways. 
    My rant is that people who go to public dog parks aren’t always skillful dog handlers-especially in difficult situations. Obviously this was an instance in which the dog owner didn't have control; and either didn't know how or want to take control either.  Aside from the risks of people who know and/or do so little to control their dogs; there are always issues with people who don't clean up after their dogs; and the dangers of some unsavory people who actually look for dogs to steal; or dogs to fight.  It really seems to me that public dog parks should have some sort of dog park staff – a dog park ranger - on site to help ensure the rules are followed; the park is maintained; and there is trained help on site to assist and even call for additional help in the event of things like our experience today.  If a dog park ranger were there, at least that’s an additional set of hands in the absence of any or not enough.  At the very least, it’s someone to dial 9-1-1! More importantly, if they were patrolled by dog park rangers, maybe more of the people who frequent the parks would adhere to more of the rules; and also be more conscious about controlling their own animals better.  No one should go to a public dog park if they aren’t even willing to TRY to maintain control of their own dogs when they’re there!  Public dog parks are a questionable place to socialize and exercise dogs anyway so why not create some jobs and make the dog parks safer by adding trained dog park rangers to help enforce the existing rules; and add more help for the bad situations that arise?  Seems like it would be a somewhat better system and create a few jobs.
     This episode is MY fault. I’m not blaming anyone else.  I should’ve realized when her dogs bounded out of the car that we should’ve headed for the gate regardless.  Instead, I was sluggish about leaving – and it may have cost all the effort and progress Cinder’s made until today. 
     After that fiasco, I think I was as or more rattled than Cinder. I pushed the envelope and it got us in a jam.  Don’t think I’ll ever make that mistake again!  We won’t do that again – at least not for a very long time.
     However, we will continue going to the private, members-only dog park owned by friends. In fact, that’s the first place I headed with Cinder immediately after our public dog park escape. It’s where Cinder’s favorite swimming pond is, but, it’s also a doggy daycare, boarding, and training facility.  I called ahead to the staff at the kennel and told them that Cinder and I had just had a very bad meeting with two nasty dogs and I needed to Cinder to SEE other new dogs, in the hands of people who have a clue.  I suggested meeting us in the parking lot with, “The quietest, nicest, most patient, low energy dog available that won’t respond if Cinder goes off.”  That’s exactly what we did.  It worked!  Cinder met one more dog – a very sweet yellow Lab - on familiar but neutral ground. That dog was quite calm and pleasant.  They met, they sniffed, they were okay with each other and Cinder was ready to swim.  YES!  We were able to put her in a position of meeting ONE more new dog before calling it a day.  It went well and that’s as much as I could hope for.  Cinder swam about 15 minutes and she started looking tired so we called it a day.
     There were some great moments about the worst event of the day.  Cinder waited for the other dogs to get in her space and make the first moves before she got upset.  Cinder did listen and respond to me far more than she would’ve a month ago.  When I finally let her loose to make our way out, she didn’t start a fight; she kept them at bay, but no fight.  Just as it looked like THEY were going to force a fight, I whistled and Cinder ran to me like the wind-no hesitation!  When she got to the gate, she did everything I asked/told her.  When we got out of the fenced area, she calmed down immediately!  All of those are vast improvements over anything I would’ve had from her a month ago. Despite all that went wrong, a lot still went right.
      Next week we meet with our behaviorist trainer for updates and another progress evaluation.  I’m sure then I’ll hear how much I’ve pushed Cinder too hard, too fast; and how much I need to slow it down; and STAY AWAY FROM THE PUBLIC DOG PARK.  But really, she won’t need to give that lecture so I hope we save time and move to the “train the owner” lessons.  MY lesson should be, “How Not to be an Idiot Owner of a Reactive Dog.”  Oh, wait…I just got that lesson!  Too bad it may have been at Cinder’s expense.  We made so many steps forward that I  hate the idea of 222 steps backward that today may have taken us.
     That’s it. That’s my rant. Thanks for letting me get that out there.  Sorry you were the readers of such a maniacal post!  Hopefully there will not be more in the future, but I make no guarantees.
     With head downturned sadly in shame, I end this chapter of another day in the lifelong endeavor of raising Cinder. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Over the Hump for Cinder's Reactivity?

     Yesterday I wrote about Cinder's recent progress regarding her reactivity-especially with new dogs.  Today, we pushed the envelope a little more and experienced more success.
     Cinder's becoming obsessed with swimming so I'm trying to be sure we incorporate other things into her day too.  Some days we just won't go to the pond so she learns every day is not the same.  To that end, I opted to take her to a public park with nice paths to walk.  On the way, we had to drive by the public dog park. On a whim we drove in.
     Previously, Cinder's visits to the public dog park were disasters. Her reactivity started when we pulled in and she saw other people or dogs. When I tried taking her into the park, she was so reactive I had to carry her out and leave because she just wouldn't quit barking and lunging at everyone and every dog - even from across the park!  It was horrible for both of us.
     Today, on a whim, I swung into the public dog park just to see how much progress we really are making. Right away, there was a city worker weed-eating the fence line along the fence immediate to the parking lot. Since I back in to park so I'm not letting my dogs out into the parking lot, but on the perimeter, it enabled Cinder to see the man immediately.  NO reaction!  Okay.  I shut the car off and waited for her to look out and see the two dogs and other people before I even bothered opening my door.  She had no reaction so I got out and went to the hatch and opened it, waiting for her to react.  I have my dogs tethered to harnesses in the car so they can't just bound out when a door opens. She sat quietly, looking and watching. I figured it was worth trying to push the envelope a little more and try going into the park.
     We unloaded and Cinder was angelic. We walked to the gate and a pleasant young man opened the first gate for us as he came through. Cinder went through and didn't attempt to go over or react. At the second gate, she sat perfectly as I unlatched and opened it.  Again, she went through quiet and calmly.  
     As we walked farther into the area, she finally spotted both dogs and all the people, but only let out a couple "normal" sort of smallish yips.  I immediately got her focus and talked to her, hoping she'd quit before it blew up into reactive behavior.  Success! Cheese is a wonderful attention-getter sometimes!
     I called over to the people with a Bull terrier puppy and asked if we could come meet their dog, explaining that Cinder may become obnoxious and if she did, I would simply remove her. They were quite nice and welcoming.  Cinder made up with the people immediately and the puppy secondarily.  There was a little tension in her stance and attitude, but I was able to talk to her and praise her and treat her through a NICE meeting of a new puppy.  After a few minutes, I decided we'd try her off-leash and see if the two pups would play since the lady with the other dog left.  Indeed, they were a little timid and awkward together at first so I finally decided to walk around the park and they ran ahead and raced and played their way ahead of me until we returned to the other pup's family.  By that time, another couple and their adult dog had arrived and Cinder went to meet that dog.  She was a bit timid and tense, but she went to the other dog and that dog was nice to her so she quickly became less tense. Soon the two began playing too. However, that dog's people wanted to play ball with their dog so at that point, I decided it was better to leave while things were going so well than risk Cinder becoming aggressive or possessive over a ball.
     Since she did so well at the dog park meeting two new dogs, I decided she'd earned a trip to the pond for some swim time before returning home.  Even though she didn't swim yesterday, she was fairly easily and quickly tired swimming so it was a short pond visit. I imagine she was a bit tired due to the stress from being at the public dog park, meeting two new dogs before swimming.
     My hope is that as we work and test, Cinder continues to show improvement as she has been so far this week. I know she's not ready for meeting more than a couple dogs at a time without overloading her and maybe causing her to revert so we have to carefully pick and choose the situations in which to place her. However, I'm ever more hopeful that we will greatly improve if not overcome her reactivity.  My hope is that we can progress far enough over this month to try a group puppy obedience class with others of her age.  Until now, I was wondering if we could ever realistically hope for that, but now I know it IS possible if she continues to have successes like the ones of this week.
     I'm going to credit having my friend's dog over all day on Sunday for jump-starting Cinder's improvement program and progress of this week.  If not for that wonderfully well-behaved, patient and non-responsive dog being with Cinder on Sunday, providing no threat or resistence to Cinder's behaviors, I don't know that we would have had the successes we've had this week so far. A big thank you to my friend Becki and her dog Beanie for helping us jumpstart our progress! Enough single, small successes will hopefully yield the big prizes of Cinder being a good companion, able to go places and do things away from home without reactivity issues. That's our goal.

Thus ends this update for today.  It's the end of another day of the lifelong endeavor raising Cinder.