Counting the little victories

Around here, I like to take note of the dogs’ little victories — their (often tiny) steps toward progress or a desired behavior. It helps keep the spirits up, particularly when you’re working with a fearful, reactive dog and a psycho adolescent!

Who, me?

Pyrrha’s Little Victories

  • I was walking both dogs home from a play-date with Fiona when we were suddenly approached by three strangers: a man I kind of knew (a friend’s father), who wanted to ask me about dog sitting, and then a middle-aged couple who wanted to meet the girls. I was engaged with talking to my friend’s father, so I didn’t really have time to monitor Pyrrha’s interaction with the couple. Generally, Pyrrha will back away from a strange man who tries to pet her and flatten her ears, and so I’d move her out of that situation. But when I had the chance to check on her, she was cozying up to this couple and lavishing their affections! Color me shocked. Pyrrha was better behaved than Eden with the whole interaction (Edie was kind of restless and whiny; not scared, just antsy). After my friend’s father left, we talked to the couple for a while, and they had a German shepherd who had recently passed away and were so enamored with the girls. They were calm and slow-moving, and I could tell they knew how to greet a dog, and I thanked them for that, noting that Pyrrha was normally frightened with such interactions. They beamed at the compliment, and the husband said, “Dogs just know dog people.” Yes, they do, sir!
  • Pyrrha has also been doing a marvelous job of backing down from little squabbles. Instead of picking up the challenge to growl or snap at Eden, she’s been moving away from the situation or diffusing it with her body language. She’s been a lot more relaxed with Eden lately, which has been encouraging to see. I think they’re finally getting acclimated to one another!
  • It’s always a work in progress, but Pyrrha has also been braver in her interactions with Guion. I never force her to be near Guion, because that would only backfire; instead, we let her make her own choices about whether she’d like to be close to or far away from Guion. Recently, she’s decided to stay in a room with just Guion, even after Eden and I have left. This may sound like a paltry thing, but in Pyrrha’s universe, it’s a big deal! I’ve been proud of her. I also think Eden’s gregarious presence has had a good influence on Pyrrha’s interactions with Guion. You can see her thinking about it: “Hm, this crazy puppy is wild about Scary Man. Maybe he’s not so evil after all…”
  • Never thought I’d see the day, but guess who tolerates nail clipping now?? We had to stop using Maggie’s brilliant method of the peanut butter plate, because then Pyrrha generalized and got terrified of us even opening the peanut butter jar (!). Now, I ply her with simple treats, and she just calmly stands there, munching her biscuits, and lets me clip her nails. She doesn’t enjoy it, and never will, but she tolerates the nail clipping, and that’s huge!
She’s getting so LONG!

Eden’s Little Victories

  • Eden has acquired a new habit of lying down at my feet while I get ready for work in the morning — instead of pacing and whining and clawing at the door until I attend to her. This is a very welcome development!
  • Edie has mastered quiet crate exits, which is encouraging. She is so quiet and polite in her crate now; it’s hard to believe that she’s the same wild beast who would throw herself at the door and cry pitifully. She’s 8 months old now, and I daresay she’s gaining a modicum of self-control.
  • This is not exactly something that Eden has accomplished herself, but thanks to a few months of fish oil supplements, I’m happy to report that her itchiness has gone down considerably. She still scratches herself from time to time (what dog doesn’t?), but it’s nothing like the constant scratching when she first came to us. We’ll probably always have her on the fish oil supplement, but it’s worth it to have a less itchy, more comfortable puppy!
  • Eden is our pup with some resource guarding issues, and we’re still working on that overall, but she has made progress in the toy department. She still doesn’t love it when Pyrrha approaches her while she has a toy or a bone, but she doesn’t pick a fight anymore. We have tried to manage this by limiting both girls’ access to coveted objects and always monitoring their behavior when prized possessions are in the room. She continues to show more maturity and less anxiety about “her” toys and bones, which is encouraging. Still gotta work on the food guarding, though.

Also, can I just say THANK GOD that we’re finally having some pleasant weather?? Everyone in our household is so much happier about this. The dogs want to be in the yard more; I want to take them on longer walks; we have more play-dates; Edie gets to play Frisbee or fetch… everything in life has improved, just because of the weather. Keep on coming, spring!

Happy Friday! What “little victories” has your dog accomplished this past week?

Resources on resource guarding in dogs

After Sunday’s scuffle* between Rainer and Pyrrha over a toy, I’ve been refreshing my memory on resource guarding and associated training tips.

BEHAVIOR UPDATE: As of today, Rainer/Pyrrha relations are going quite smoothly. An interesting observation is that they continue to get along perfectly outside in the yard; they play like they’re best friends (chase, lots of play bows, happy and goofy faces). Indoors, they are still a little nervous with each other, but I think this has to do with the tight quarters.

Gimme dat toy
Georgia and Pyrrha with some of Georgia’s toys.

For those who may find themselves in a similar position with their dog(s), here are some great web resources on this common canine behavior:

There are, of course, many other blog posts and articles written about this behavioral issue, as it is a pretty normal, natural canine quality. But it obviously gets dogs into trouble when they start lashing out at people, children, and their fellow dogs.

I think both Rainer and Pyrrha are at fault here. Rainer takes possession of too many things, but Pyrrha also doesn’t know how or when to back down. Instead of taking a hard stare from Rainer as a cue to get lost, Pyrrha sees it as a challenge. From Pat Miller’s article, this is exactly what’s been happening in our house:

Now We’re in Trouble, Part II: Dog B [Pyrrha] is socially inept – Dog A [Rainer] is chewing on (insert valuable resource). Dog B approaches. Dog A gives “the look.” Dog B is oblivious, and keeps blundering forward, until Dog A feels compelled to escalate the intensity of his message, to aggression if necessary, to get his point across.

This clearly makes for a messy domestic atmosphere! We are taking all of these tips to heart and working on this behavior every day in our house.

Have you had to deal with resource guarding among your dogs? What tips or techniques helped you?

(*Thanks to Carolyn for properly identifying the altercation as a “scuffle” instead of what I initially termed it, a dog fight.)

Rainer: Resource guarding and tension at home

Early Saturday morning with dogs

Life with Rainer continued fairly smoothly over the weekend — he got more comfortable with the crate, he’s learning that paying attention to people brings rewards, and he seems to be reliably house-trained at this point.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

They got me up early on Saturday morning (6 a.m.), which I wasn’t thrilled about, but they got to spend most of the day outside, chilling in the yard, while Guion worked in the garden and on his hop plants.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

They’ll play brief games of chase, but more often than not, they’ll just choose a separate corner of the yard and doze there.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

On Saturday evening, my friend Maddy and I took them on a walk around the neighborhood, too, and they were both great. No leash reactivity issues from either of them!

Early Saturday morning with dogs

Sunday, however, we had an incident. I was practicing calligraphy in the office and the dogs were sleeping in the living room (just the next room over). A Kong had fallen out of Pyrrha’s crate, so I, unthinkingly, just threw it out into the living room. A few seconds later, I heard those horrible sounds of a dog fight. Totally my fault.

I wasn’t in there, so I didn’t see who started it, but Rainer had Pyrrha by the neck and teeth were flashing from both dogs. Pyrrha was screaming; it was terrible. I was able to pull her away from him by her back legs (which, in hindsight, could have been dangerous for me) and get her into the study and close the door. After a few minutes of cooling down, I moved Rainer into his crate and Pyrrha came and laid down at my feet.

She was very shaken by the incident and continues to be very nervous around him now. Since then, he’s challenged her over her bed (which he has apparently claimed as his own) and any stick, bone, or toy that he finds.

We’ve removed anything that he could lay claim to from the house and the yard (although it is a little hard to clear it of sticks). We now do not leave them for any extended period of time in the yard together. They are still fed in separate rooms at separate times, as we have done from the beginning.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

I need to brush up on my reading about resource guarding and how to manage it among dogs. This behavior from Rainer surprised me, because he showed no signs of it the first three days he was here. I guess he’s just getting more comfortable here and feeling like this is HIS place?

Meanwhile, Pyrrha remains quite frightened of him. She’s always followed me around the house, but now she can’t let me out of her sight. She squeezed herself into our tiny, tiny bathroom this morning while I was getting ready for work, something she’s never done before. It makes me sad.

Early Saturday morning with dogs

Have you ever had to deal with resource guarding issues between your dogs or fosters? What techniques worked for you?

Pup links!

The Amazing Shepherd Balancing Act! Source: Lovinmansbestfriend

Hennessy Grape Harvest in Cognac. I love the images of the winery owner with his pack of spaniels and setters. All the images are just beautiful. (The Selby)

Do Dog Shelters Make it Too Difficult to Adopt? Dog walker and trainer Lindsey Stordahl raises an interesting question about the adoption regimens for shelters. I don’t think my local SPCA has a very difficult standard for potential adoptees, but I do feel like many of the breed-specific rescue agencies may go a bit overboard with their requirements. Regardless of what you think, it’s an interesting perspective. (That Mutt)

5 Ways You Can Train Like a “Pro.” Basic but great points to remember while training. I always have to work so hard at not repeating cues over and over again. (Success Just Clicks)

How to React When Your Dog Begins Resource Guarding Against Other Dogs. A very thorough article about how to prevent and train away from resource guarding. This is a behavior that I’ve always imagined would be difficult to train a dog out of; I think I may appreciate re-reading this article in the future. (The Whole Dog Journal)

Toronto Council Bans Pet Shop Sale of Dogs, Cats Unless They’re from the Shelter. This is great progress in putting puppy mills out of business. If only it would spread to the States! (The Hydrant)

Fetch. This place looks like my idea of a really good time: A pack of happy, eager dogs, ready to play. (Paws on the Run)