What the dog has been up to lately

Honey
A goofball at heart.

Little Pyrrha stories from this week:

Mmm, toothpaste!

Guion called me yesterday and asked, “So, is too much dog toothpaste toxic?”

Oh, boy. I made another overconfident mistake with Pyrrha and thought we could trust her alone in the house, out of her crate, for an hour. She doesn’t get into anything when we’re home and we left her alone for 30 minutes the other day and nothing was touched; she was just dozing in her crate. So, I was all, “Sweet, she’ll be great on her own! We won’t even be gone that long.”

Pyr, however, found her canine toothpaste down in the bottom of a bin and went to TOWN on it. Guion said she was covered in gooey, green paste when he found her. It was all over the carpet, all over her paws, and the tube was obliterated. She’d sucked out all the paste and had started to chew up the plastic tube itself when Guion came home.

I proceeded to panic a little, and panicked even more when my I told my boss, she called her vet friend, and the vet friend said, “Call the animal poison control center immediately!” But Guion didn’t report that she was acting sick, and the toothpaste was a “natural” brand, so it didn’t have the typical chemical cocktail. And the poison control hotline costs $65.

So, I got in touch with her foster, her fairy-dog-mother, who recommended that I call the vet. I did, and they told me not to freak out, that she’d probably have an upset stomach and possibly vomit. She slept through the night without incident, though, and seems totally fine today, except for those sticky green stains still on her front legs…

What contraband item has your dog ingested? Did you freak out?

Crushin’ on Camden

Pyrrha is still getting used to greeting other dogs on leash, but I think she’s made pretty significant improvements since we first brought her home. She is still scared of any and all dogs, but I’ve been relaxing my hold on the leash a LOT and calming down significantly, and I think that’s helped tremendously. Her hackles still go up and her tail still tucks, but she seems like she wants to greet them now and she hasn’t had any snarling or growling incidents in a month. We’re still moving slowly with it, but I have been delighted to discover one thing: CAMDEN.

There is a young female chocolate-colored pit bull who lives on our street. Her name is Camden and we often see her out walking with her humans. I don’t know what it is or why, but Pyrrha ADORES Camden. Camden is the only dog that I’ve ever seen Pyrrha genuinely happy to spot. She runs right up to her, all wags and smiles, and starts to play bow all over the place. Camden responds in kind, and the other night, the two of them romped around in our front yard for a bit (albeit on long leads). It totally made my day.

Camden’s humans were shocked when I told them that Pyrrha doesn’t like other dogs. “Are you sure? She is so good with Camden! She loves her!” They protested. I said it was true, but it seems that Pyrrha only has room in her heart for Camden. They seemed pleased and surprised to hear that their baby was the only one who could tame our fearful beast.

Camden doesn’t have a fenced-in yard, so I told her people that we really ought to have a play-date with the girls. We didn’t exchange any information, however, so I’m hoping we’ll run into them again soon and make that happen.

Does your dog have a best friend? A dog he or she instantly preferred over others, for seemingly no apparent reason?

Touch!

After my big fail of an attempt to teach Pyrrha to target, I am happy to report that she has successfully learned the “touch” cue! I took a lot of your advice to heart and stepped back a lot before I tried to re-teach it to her. I tried again when she was in a happy, relaxed space and I didn’t make any suspicious movements (like trying to pick up a clicker). She learned the cue in about four repetitions, and now we’re practicing it in other rooms, environments, and with other people. She performed it successfully with Guion last night, too. I am hoping that this command will be a helpful focusing bridge for her when we start obedience school in a few weeks.

What new command or behavior is your dog learning now?

Highs and lows: Stories from our morning

Deep in clover
Deep in clover, deep in thought.

A few highs and lows from my morning with Pyrrha.

HIGH: Squirrels, the most delightful of temptations

So, we’ve discovered the one thing that gets Pyrrha really, really excited: SQUIRRELS. Birds are mildly exciting, cats are very interesting, but SQUIRRELS, OMG, SQUIRRELS. She just loses her mind for them. I love it, of course, because it’s an opportunity to get to see her act like a normal dog. If she spots a squirrel, our gentle, slow walker TAKES OFF like a rocket (and nearly dislocates my shoulder). She jumps in the air, she lets out these adorable, frustrated barks. I’ve even seen her try and climb a grove of trees to try to get to a squirrel. Of course, she’s never even come close to one, but it is perfectly endearing to watch her try.

HIGH: A fondness for beagle-shaped dogs

This morning on our walk, for the first time, Pyrrha expressed a desire to actually run up and meet a dog on leash! A man was walking his beagle mix past us, and I drew Pyrrha off to the side of the walk to let them pass. Instead of her normal tail-tucking, hackles-raising display, she rushed forward to greet the dog and gave a play bow. No snarling at all! The dogs sniffed and Pyrrha was all happy wags (not slow, threatened wags). As the beagle mix and his human walked off, Pyrrha let out an excited, playful bark, with her tail wagging vigorously, as if to say, “Where are you going? Come back and play with me! I’m not even scared of you!” So, that was encouraging.

I say that she likes “beagle-shaped dogs,” because the few dogs that she hasn’t shown any fear of have been beagles or small hound mixes. (Lucy, the dog she met off leash, was a small hound mix.) Not sure why this is, but it’s a good trend to recognize.

LOW: Training mistakes

I just got my copies of Control Unleashed, by Leslie McDevitt, and On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas. These are two books that I’ve been waiting to read for a long time now and both have been repeatedly recommended to me, as the new guardian of a shy dog. I’ve only read a handful of pages in each, but so far, they’re both great.

After reading the first 20 pages of Control Unleashed last night, I decided it may be good for Pyrrha to learn how to target. Pat Miller recommends teaching them to just touch an open and extended palm with their noses as a first step.

This morning, I pick up the clicker from Pyrrha’s basket and then go cut up a treat into many small pieces. I put the clicker and treats in one hand and call Pyrrha. Big mistake. Why, you ask? Because as soon as she spots the clicker–this strange object–she bolts. Pyrrha is now very susceptible to bribery, probably because of my errors. I tried to pair delicious things with scary events (such as grooming, ear cleaning), like all the books told me to, but Pyrrha gets herself into such a state that she will refuse treats in the moment and try to get away. Now, if I ever approach her with a treat or an object that’s unfamiliar, she immediately assumes I’m trying to bribe her into doing something scary and terrible and runs away. So, that’s problem #1.

Problem #2 is that I still tried to teach her “touch” after she ran away. Clearly, I should have stopped and tried again later. But I was frustrated. And that was problem #3. It was such a simple, non-threatening request! At least it was in my mind. To Pyrrha, the extended palm in her face, even when there were treats nearby, was alarming and too much for her to handle. I should have stopped and walked away. Instead, I tried a few more times, and then finally accepted that she wasn’t going to get it and so I put the treats down and left the room.

I left the house very disheartened this morning, but it was a good reminder that I really have to start at ground zero with this dog. She is not going to learn like a “normal” dog is going to learn and seemingly non-scary things–like extended palms or concealed little plastic objects–will frighten her. I mentioned this to my boss, a fellow crazy dog lady, and she recommended that I maybe try to teach Pyrrha to “look at me” first, instead of targeting a palm; this could be less intimidating to teach.

Anyway. I’m trying not to feel too dejected. She’s harder to train that I expected, and Pat Miller makes it sound so easy in her book! But Pyrrha is not an easy dog. This is the one thing I know.

And so we move back to square one.