Friday, January 28, 2011


Sometime in the past year Jun started a new OCD habit (you know, in addition to the barking, pacing, and tail chasing). She runs diagonally across the yard from one corner to another, slides to a stop at the fence and barks 2-3 times. Rinse and repeat. I don't know when it started. I didn't even know it was happening until my neighbor mentioned how "funny" it was to watch her run her little pattern every morning.

I used to put Jun outside to potty and go inside and not worry about her. She used to just stand or lay by the door when she was done and was ready to come in. In fact, sometimes I'd put her outside when I just needed a break from her, because she'd just lay there so nicely. When did that stop? I have no idea. But now we have this new OCD habit, that is sometimes triggered by people walking by or cars driving by, but often happens just because I opened the door and let her out.

Before it started snowing the grass in the back corner of my yard was gone due to her sliding to a stop there. I was hoping the snow would deter her. It did not. Then she started wearing through the snow down to the dirt. Not cool.

So two months ago (maybe three, I'm not exactly sure) I drew a line in the sand and set out to stop her. I started going outside WITH her to potty, every. single. time. In the middle of winter, which requires getting on boots and jacket every time, and slogging through the snow. This has been going on for two months now and it WAS going great! For two months she stopped running her pattern. She did her business and ran to me happily and we went inside. I had planned on continuing going outside with her every time for at least a year to make sure the habit was completely erased. And I've been following through with 100% consistency.

Well . . . the habit is back. I cannot even stop her--she runs right past me. If I grab her, she breaks free and finishes her pattern. I can't yell to get her attention. I can't do a damn thing. This is the fun of Jun . . . just when you think you've solved a problem, it comes back with a vengeance. Either that or a new one crops up to take it's place.

And what's more, Elo's started doing the same damn thing.

So what now? I have only one option left . . . take Jun out on leash every. single. time. Strike that--take ALL my dogs out, individually, on leash, one at a time, for the rest of their lives (since I already take Lok out on leash and I may as well fix Elo while I'm at it). I do not know if I have the resolve for this. I own a house with a fenced yard for a reason.

I am just waiting for all our success from the past week to fall apart. And it's started happening already. Jun has discovered that she CAN chase her tail on leash. She's also now guarding me from the other dogs when she is leashed to me, since I can't do what I usually do and just move away from her when I see her lip raise or her body tense or her eyes harden. So instead of leashing her to me, I've been just tethering her to furniture. This is also working. For now. But probably not for long. She's already started chewing on her leash in these situations.

Monday, January 24, 2011

In Which We've All Learned to Chill Out . . .

 . . . well, started to at least.

Jun and I have a lot in common. I've been described as having no off switch. Sometimes I run just for the hell of it (ok, short sprints with a purpose like from the car to the park--I'm NOT a runner). And if people are "doing something," I'm in! If I don't get something right away, sometimes I get frustrated. And I appreciate structure and rules---I like to know how my world works and where I stand in it. I don't do well with down-time--I get restless and am not good at not doing anything (though I have gotten better in the past couple years thanks to some coaching from a friend).

All of the above applies to Jun. So realizing all of that really helped in figuring out the answers to my two questions from last week.

What is relaxation? I have a border collie. She's young, fit, energetic, and a little bit crazy. All of that is good! Relaxation does not mean semi-comatose. My dog can be both active and alert as well as relaxed. For example this video from relaxation guru Leslie McDevitt, depicts a "relaxed" dog, or so she claims. I would have though of this more as having good impulse control--more of an "operant relaxed." The dog is clearly poised for action, jumps up quickly when released, but is also able to think through arousal and demonstrate good impulse control. Jun doesn't have impulse control issues. So I guess, by this definition she is pretty good at relaxing.

The more important definition of relaxation, for our situation, is that it is the opposite of anxiousness. Anxiety (as I'm using the word) is a state of being uncertain, and also uncomfortable with that uncertainty. I have realized that Jun is anxious when she doesn't know what she's supposed to be doing.  She is also anxious when she's not sure how to respond to a stimuli (thus the fear issues we're working on). I think Jun is, in general, a happy and relaxed dog, but she has a rule set that she operates by and when something happens that doesn't mesh with her rules, this causes anxiety. So in the past week I have set about trying to provide a bit more structure for Jun.

One such situation (the primary one at home) is when I'm sitting down--at the table, on the couch, on the floor. For whatever reason, this is the time she is most likely to pace and spin. My friend Sarah suggested last week that I try leashing Jun to me in the house. The difference has been dramatic!! Since she's leashed to me, she has little choice but to lie down and chill. And it creates a situation different enough from "training" that I am actually able to shape calm without her going into operant mode! For example, I sat down on the couch to read a book and tethered her to the couch leg. At first she was just trying to get on the couch and struggling--not afraid of being tied, just being a brat. When she stopped and stood nicely I gave her a treat. When she sat I gave her a treat. Then when she laid down, then when she put her head down, then when she flopped on her side. By the end of half an hour she was almost asleep! I have never in 2 1/2 years been able to sit down on the couch and relax with Jun out of her crate! A couple nights ago we did the same while I watched a movie. It took a lot less time for her to settle and she slept almost the whole time--got up maybe 5 or 6 times, but quickly settled back down when she saw nothing was going on. Wow! I think in 2 1/2 years this is the most *I've* been able to relax with her around! I don't know why this never occurred to me! We've had less spinning the past week than we've ever had since she was 8 months old. I am hoping that with several months of this she will come to see me sitting down and ignoring her as a cue to chill and this will just become part of her routine/rule set.

I've also been managing the crate barking better. When I'm home and need to confine her, I've been putting her in the bathroom instead of her crate. This seems to have changed the picture for her enough that even without her collar it doesn't trigger her barking habit. She just lays down and chills. Crazy! For whatever reason she also has not been barking in her crate when I get home from work for the past few days. I'm not sure if it's the general atmosphere of relaxation I've been fostering with her or that I've been keeping her bark collar tighter, but either way, it's less nerve-wracking for ME when I don't come home to barking and sets a better tone for the rest of the night.

Finally, the Relaxation Protocol. We started it. We've done it every day for the past 5 days. I have no idea if it's doing anything other than building some great stays on my dogs, but even if that's all it does, I'm cool with it. It at least gives ME some structure for our training sessions! Interestingly, the skill they all have the hardest time with is laying still for anything over 5 seconds with me just standing there. I guess when we work stays I've always stood back a few steps or been walking around doing something to distract them. When I'm just standing there, they are usually supposed to be offering behaviors--so it took us a few days to move up from level one, but now they are all doing really well. Especially Lok. It's very low-pressure for him and he's loving it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Which I Ramble Like an Idiot . . .

 . . . because that is how I feel regarding this relaxation stuff. I think my frustration is primarily due to two questions I have, the answers to which seem fundamental to my understanding of this concept:

1. What is relaxation?

2. When should my dog be doing it?

I have been thinking a lot about Jun's behavior as it pertains to relaxation in the past few days. What is she doing and when is she doing it? When we are playing fetch, she is very much "on" and very intense, but happy I think, mouth open in a smile and tongue hanging out, but eyes wide and body tense and ready. When we are training she goes back and forth between the same "intense/happy" mood I see while playing outside and a more stressed mode. When she gets it and is having fun with the game, her face is relaxed but intense. When she is not sure what I want she displays stress behavior--lip licking, yawning, licking my face, pacing in circles, scratching herself.

When I'm not directly interacting with her, her behavior varies. She is clingy a lot of the time. She likes to be touching me in some way. The time she is most likely to lie down on her side and just sit there doing nothing, maybe close her eyes (and this is what I think of when I think relaxation) is when I'm standing up and/or walking around the house doing something. Cooking, cleaning, getting ready for work or ready for bed etc. Sometimes she will be glued to me but other times she will lie down nearby and do what I think of as relaxing. My guess is her behavior at these times will depend on how much exercise and mental stimulation she has gotten that day--the more stimulation, the more likely she is to chill.

When I am sitting down--at the table, on the couch, on the floor, etc--she is almost always what I would consider the opposite of relaxed. These are the times she will be trotting in circles around the living room, chasing her tail, jumping up on me, running back and forth from me to the door. Are these stress behaviors in and of themselves (I have not been watching for lip-licking and things like that)? Or are they just naughty/attention-seeking? Are they bad? Is part of the goal to get rid of this behavior? Obviously it is annoying to me and I would rather she do something else., but I have learned to ignore it for the most part. The only time she doesn't act like this while I'm sitting down is if I put her in a long down-stay. I can sit down and ignore her and she will stay (usually, though I might have to reset her a couple times) and eventually flop on a hip and put her head down on her paws, though she will watch me constantly. Is she relaxed? Or does the fact that she is watching me and will jump up immediately upon being released mean she is not relaxed?

When I am behind closed doors, she does not do her pacing routine. She lays by the door and waits for me. Or else finds her own mischief to get into, e.g., standing on the table, barking out the window.

When she has a bone to chew on, she will lay down and chew on it, but I would not call her behavior relaxed, particularly when Elo is around, because both of them are constantly watching the other to make sure their bone doesn't get stolen. Even without another dog around, I don't think she is relaxed with a bone. I contrast Lok's behavior with a bone--he will chew on it in a leisurely manner, not get up and move until he is done (maybe just to switch to a more comfortable position), and when he done he will breathe a big sigh of contentment and maybe roll on the floor for a minute or two, then probably curl up somewhere and go to sleep. Jun's behavior is more intense, like it is with anything. She is very intent on her chewing, will get up and move to a different spot often, and when she is done, she will get up and start pacing or chasing her tail again. It's almost as if chewing is just another outlet for her . . . frustration? Anxiety? Endless energy? Enthusiam?

Let's see, what else . . . in her crate. Without her bark collar on, both at home and in the car, she almost immediately starts staring up into a random corner of her crate, at a wall or the ceiling, barking sharply and rapidly, crouching and bouncing into her barks, sometimes growling and pulling on the bars of her crate. This alternates with pacing in circles and whining. She will do these things until she is panting hard and will not stop until I put her bark collar on or let her out of her crate. With her bark collar on her behavior can be strikingly different--though if she knows it is loose enough that she won't get shocked, she will sometimes behave the same as above. I put her in her crate with the collar on right before I go to work. Regardless of the tightness of the collar, she usually lays down pretty quickly with her head on her paws, watching me until I leave. When I get home, she is usually barking as described above, unless the collar is very tight. At bedtime, I put the collar on too loose to be effective and she will usually stand up in her crate for awhile, maybe pace and whine for a couple minutes, but she goes to sleep within a few minutes. While at home, I will put her in her crate while I work with the other dogs and she will pace, whine, and bark--UNLESS I leave the crate door open. If the door is open, she will stay in of her own accord, lay down, and watch me (it's a trained behavior we have been working on lately).

When I am petting her, she will lie down, her eyes partly closed, face soft, mouth open. As soon as I stop petting her, she jumps up immediately. She has never sat or layed down next to me while I am sitting down and just been calm--if she is sitting calmly next to me I am either actively petting her or she is in a stay and working.

This morning we went for a walk, per our homework from Sara. We don't usually walk--I started NOT walking my dogs after I got Lok and was unable to break him of pulling on the leash. Walks were frustrating for both of us, and besides that he still needed to run in the yard afterwards to burn off energy. Jun came along and our non-walking continued, despite her walking nicely on a GL. But this morning we went for a 15-minute walk, and Jun behaved exactly as I remember on the few walks she has been on. Hyper-alert. Her head was on a swivel. Looking all around her. She was aware of me, didn't pull, and looked back at me occasionally, but she also seemed to need to see everything around her. She spooked a little at a couple fire hydrants. We only saw two people on our walk and she became very alert, standing up tall and freezing in place (I couldn't see her face it was turned away from me)--I brought a tug so we could play tug every time a person was in sight (our attempt at the first steps of counter-conditioning--I'm getting a food tube this weekend so we can use that too). 

Ok . . . ready, set, go! Psychoanalyze my dog!

Until the past three days, I saw her as a high-drive, intense, crazy, working dog. Now I'm supposed to be working on getting her to relax, but . . . relax when? And what does that mean? I can see her behavior on walks being possibly anxious and fearful, but is her boundless energy at home a problem?

Tonight we are going to start on the RP and just see what happens. I don't really understand how the RP is any different from proofing a stay, but I guess I will not understand it unless I give it a try. For the past three days we've been trying to just shape relaxation. She lays in her crate with the door open, I sit next to her with treats, and treat her for blinking, shifting her weight to a more comfortable position, deep breaths, head on paws, etc. Um . . . I clearly have no idea what I'm doing, because they only result I'm getting is MORE stress. She has no idea what I want and is offering all sorts of behaviors, contorting herself into the weirdest positions, holding her head at all different angles, looking at me, looking away from me, looking all over the room. We tried it out of the crate too, just on the floor, and it was even worse. And when we were done, she spent the rest of the night spinning, spinning, spinning.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Physical Therapy

Last night I took Elo to an appointment with a physical therapist. I know that three-legged dogs can have physical issues, due to the way their bodies have to compensate for their missing leg, and I wanted to find out what I can expect with Elo in the future and what I can do to prolong his mobility.

Turns out, Elo is perfect! He is very strong overall and is only slightly weaker in his core strength on his left side (the one with the missing leg) than his right side. His back is straight--she said that sometimes dogs missing a leg will get a curve in their spine, and he doesn't have one at all! His right rear leg is strong and his hip measured 170 degrees. She said normal is 162-165 and that if I were to have it x-rayed it would probably be rated excellent. So essentially what that mean is there is very little chance of him becoming displastic later in life!!

We have a short exercise program to do with him and all the dogs. The first exercise is a sit-to-stand, in which the dogs are to get into a standing position from a sit without stepping forward or moving his front feet. This requires him to bear more weight on his rear leg to stand up. So we are to do 5-10 reps every other day.

He is also supposed to do side-lying sit-ups to maintain core strength. To do these, you begin with the dog laying on flat on either side. You hold the front leg that is on the ground lightly so that it is not touching the ground and they can't use it to help push themselves up, then you lure the dog with a treat so that he curves up to the side and ends with his nose near his tail. Back down to the ground and repeat for 10 reps on each side every other day.

We are also supposed to do heeling, 5 minutes on the right side and 5 minutes on the left with circles and serpentines and figure 8's. This will require teaching him to heel first, so we will be working up to it. In the mean time, she said that just walking will be good for him, as it is more structured than playing in the back yard. And since I can't take him for a walk due to his reactivity . . . we will be working up to that as well.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fixing My Dogs

Last night, Jun and I had a behavior consult with Sara Reusche of Paws Abilities in Rochester. Jun has some fear-aggression issues with strange people and they have only seemed to get worse over the past couple of years, progressing from reacting only to kids to reacting to almost any strange person when she is off leash and anyone who gets up close and personal with her when she is on leash. It is bad enough that I thought it was time to be proactive and step in to fix her before she hurts someone or gets to the point where I am uncomfortable taking her out in public at all.

Sara pointed out how stressed and nervous Jun was in general. She did not really relax at all the entire hour and a half of our appointment. I consider myself fairly well educated in canine body language--more than most "pet people" at least--but I had not been picking up on a lot of stress signals she was giving off. She's always been a crazy hyperactive dog and I have accepted it as who she is--an extremely drivey working dog. And she is that, but she is also stressed much of the time and doesn't really know how to relax ever. So our first order of business is teaching relaxation with the Relaxation Protocol. I am also going to start using DAP and a thundershirt--we put a thundershirt on her last night and she sat by my side without moving for, well, maybe a few minutes? I'm not sure how long it was but it was longer than she's ever sat motionless before (without being in a stay or being entertained somehow) in her life. We are also going to start taking two walks a week and doing basic counter-conditioning to people we see--that is, dispensing food while people are in sight, no food when there are no people--to try to change her emotional reaction to encountering strangers.

Then there is Elo. Elo is starting a reactive dog class next month. He's gotten a ton better with several of his triggers by working LAT, but have not had many opportunities to work around dogs in under threshold situations. So class should be great for that! I have high hopes for Elo--he's not fearful and he really loves dogs and people. He just doesn't know how to respond appropriate to certain stimuli, and has really benefited from being taught an alternate behavior. He will also benefit from relaxation work, I think, so he's going to do the RP as well.

And finally, Lok. He has been doing SO much better with his anxiety since being back on Prozac. He has been back on it for almost 2 months now, I think. He barely licks his paws anymore--they are mostly white again! He still barks in his crate some, but doesn't completely freak out anymore, doesn't dig frantically or chew on the crate pan and bars. It will be thunderstorm season again in a few months, and I'm not looking forward to that, but I am hoping that the Prozac, DAP, thundershirt, and working the relaxation protocol will help him as well.

So, I have my work cut out for me, but if it pays off in happy, relaxed dogs it will be well worth it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Heeling Work

We've been doing obedience work lately, specifically, heeling. I've been taking my dogs to my office building on the weekends (twice now, but planning on weekly), because there is a TON of completely empty space and nobody stopping me from using it! It's great for working heeling! There are pretty much zero distractions, since it's mostly empty hallways, but it's a different place so that in itself is a bit of a distraction.
With Lok, I'm really just doing a tiny bit of heeling interspersed with other things and trying to make it super fun for him! I ruined him for obedience by entering him in a Rally trial two years ago. He got his novice title and never wanted to do obedience again, especially heeling. And now that his sight is completely gone he has that to contend with as well. But I'd really love to get him in the ring again someday--only if he wants to of course--and show the world what a blind dog can do! He can still do all his obedience behaviors with some auditory position markers. For his swing finish, I snap my fingers behind my leg, so he knows how far back to go. For heeling, I pat my leg the whole time so he knows where I am. And for front, I snap my fingers in front of me. I will also cue turns--"turn" for right and "pivot" for left. That's really all the modification he needs and he's been doing great and having fun with it!

Jun has always been good at heeling--a bit forgy, but enthusiastic and she has fun with it! We've been working on left circles. She does not seem to bend well to the left (she has spent most of her insane little life spinning in circles to the right, so not surprising) and while her right circles are beautiful and her left pivots are awesome, she can't keep a bend to the left and when heeling a left circle she is constantly crashing into my legs.

I've gotten a ton of great suggestions to help work on this. Next Monday she is going to see a canine physical therapist who can tell me whether she has any physical issues preventing her from bending left and give us some exercises to strengthen and balance her left side. In the mean time, I've done a couple of things that have worked out really well. First, working large circles and cuing a left spin every few steps. This has really helped to keep her in position and bending left. I've also been treating to the inside and slightly behind her head so she has to bend to reach the treat.

Another thing that has helped is paying more attention to my shoulders. In order to circle properly, she should react to the position of my shoulder and adjust her position accordingly. So when my shoulder moves back for a left turn, she ought to swing her butt back to stay in position. She's known pivots forever, but I wasn't sure if she cued off my shoulder or not. I tested it by sitting her in a heel position and rotating my shoulder forward and back---and she changed her position to stay in alignment! So since she already knew that, I paid a little more attention to my handling and keeping my shoulders square on straight lines while cuing turns with my shoulders. We worked on this last night at the pet supply store--heeling left around a square display shelf as an inside barrier, and I could not believe how well she did! She stayed in position perfectly, no forging, took her cues to turn from my shoulders, and the inside barrier seemed to help her understand to bend around the corners! I am really excited to keep working on this!

We are also still working on Jun's go-out. It's been somewhat slow progress, but progress nonetheless, and as of last night she went to stand with all 4 feet on her mat across my entire house!!! My house is TINY. The farthest away from her I can get is about 10 steps, but this 10 steps took us weeks, so I am excited!! We'll have to start taking this one on the road and working it in the hallways at work. 

Jun's new trick: I am free shaping a limp (or trying at least)! Jun hasn't done much pure free shaping so this is an experiment. Step one: hold up your left paw in a sit position. Check! Step two: hold up your left paw in a stand--started to get this last night! Step one and two are the easy part, but she's already doing better than Lok ever did.

Elo is just learning loose leash walking. I am determined to have one dog that knows this skill!! He is doing great, as usual! We're still working on cue discrimination--I've found he regresses if we skip a week or so. :( Oh well. And we've starting building the foundation for a handstand (just working rear-foot targeting right now)! He may never be able to do any tricks on cue, but that's not gonna stop me from teaching them anyway!


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Living with a Tri-Pawed Dog

I have written a bit about some of the "challenges" of living with a blind dog and a deaf dog, but I haven't really written about my experiences with a 3-legged dog. So here are a few points of note:

1. You only have 3 feet worth of nails to clip. This saves time and also results in 25% less drama with a dog who is not fond of nail clipping.

2. Do not expect a similar reduction in running speed or leaping ability. You will be disappointed.

3. If your dog is missing a rear leg,  you may need to help them scratch the ear on the side of the missing leg. They will try, but that little stump just wont reach!!

4. In the winter, when your dog's paws are cold, they may spontaneously start walking on two legs. Inevitably, you will not have your clicker handy when this happens.

5. Three-legged dogs lend themselves well to jokes--like telling people how long it took to wash off 11 paws when the dogs came inside the other day. It's fun to watch how long it takes them to figure that out.

6. If your 3-legged dog is small-ish and is are missing a rear leg, it is extra easy to carry them on your hip.

7. You can threaten 3-legged dogs very handily-- one leg for naughty behavior, two legs for very naughty behavior. I think 3 legs might be just a bit too mean!

8. You can teach 3-legged dogs fun tricks: "Pogo" would be a good one (hop on their single back leg), "let me count your legs" (flip on their back with legs in the air) is also fun, and someday I hope to have that clicker with me for the occasions he starts dragging his back leg. That would be a very handy cue to have for eliciting sympathy and donations if we ever became homeless!

So, as you can see, living with a severely disabled dog like this is quite challenging!

Pic by Anna Belikova. He looks like such a puppy to me here!Love this dog!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Wrap-up and 2011 Goals

I wasn't going to do a 2010 wrap-up post, because I didn't really feel like we had accomplished much, but then I though of one thing . . . I didn't get any new dogs in 2010!! Considering I got Lok in 2007, Jun in 2008 and Elo in 2009, that's a pretty big accomplishment!!

Seriously though, most of my 2010 training was disc related, which I dont talk about much on this blog, probably because it's a dog training blog and disc training feels more like ME training. We didnt accomplish as much as i was hoping to accomplish disc-wise, but we did pretty well in a couple quads and had one great freestyle round. Actually, we accomplished quite a lot now that I am thinking about where we were in 2009. Jun is a much stronger freestyle dog. Her TC fell apart, but I think we're making progress on those issues. For 2011 I'd like to add a few more yards to my long throw, become more consistent in my throwing in a comp environment in both distance and TC and get better at just "playing" in freestyle.

My biggest training accomplishments this year were with Elo. Lok pretty much took a break from all training and Jun didnt do much besides disc training. Elo has come a really long way since September 09 when he came home with me. I am super proud of this dog. For 2011, I'd like Elo to get his CGC. That would be such a huge accomplishment for him! It may not happen this year, but that is what I plan to work towards.

Lok started nosework in 2010 and I plan to continue to work nosework with all the dogs once a week. I've also been working less on tricks and more on manners, and incorporating manners work into our daily routines, e.g., stay out of the bathroom while I'm getting ready in the morning (practical boundary work), down stay before being allowed to get on the bed, etc. My dogs have decent manners, but since we're not training for any sport competitions right now, I figure we may as well work on useful behaviors that increase the peace in our household and help save my sanity.

Here's to an accomplished and fulfilling 2011!