Still alive

Dog life in May 2015
Still living!

It’s been a long time since I last checked in, and although I don’t think I will take up the regular posting schedule that I once did, I may endeavor to write a bit now and then. Because I’m still obsessed with dogs. As much as I may pretend that I’m not.

What’s new with the pups since January 2015:

  • Eden’s itchiness reached desperate levels. She was scratching constantly and causing hot spots. After hundreds of dollars and a series of unhelpful tests (including a $300 allergen panel that came back saying she had no allergies whatsoever) and false diagnoses, it seems that she may just have environmental allergies. So, she’s now on a daily dose of Apoquel, and that seems to be helping her. Sigh. Makes me think about what I wrote about a while ago, musing on the misleading health of expensive purebreds versus sloppily bred/mutts.
  • On the whole, however, they are happy and fairly healthy. Pyrrha is now 5 and Eden turns 3 in July.
  • They are currently living with my parents for the summer, because my husband and I are living/working in London right now! We miss the dogs, but they are having a great time. I don’t think they miss us at all. Eden is getting lots of daily exercise with my dad (including Frisbee, morning runs, and rollerblading sessions), and Pyrrha is just happy to be with Dublin on a daily basis. We’re really grateful that they can have such a happy temporary home.

Not having them around right now makes me think about them more and about all of the training goals I have for them when we come back home at the beginning of August.

Three main things I want to work on:

  1. Eden developing some impulse control, especially at doorways and when greeting house guests.
  2. Pyrrha’s tendency to be the “fun police” with Eden and other dogs; specifically, her very annoying habit of explosive barking every morning and redirecting it at Eden when they are let out of their crates.
  3. Putting daily walks back in my schedule. I was good about this with Pyrrha, but I got lazy when we added Eden to the family, and having two leash-reactive German shepherds made me even less inclined to take them out on my own. And so it became a vicious cycle, in which I rarely walked them because of the reactivity and their reactivity never improved because I rarely walked them. Mea culpa!

More ideas on this later, but I have been doing lots of behavioral refresher readings during my lunch breaks in London. (Eileen and Dogs seems to always know what I want/need to read!)

Simultaneously falling asleep
Napping in synchrony.

What’s new with you and your pups?

February dog training goals

Here are our training goals for February!

Couch time with the #germanshepherds.
They’re both drowsy here, which is probably why their expressions convey such crankiness.

February Goals for Pyrrha

  • “Wait.” We’ve been working on this for a while, and I think she’s finally getting it, but we need to generalize this command to other places. So far, we’ve just been practicing it in the basement, and now I think she thinks it’s just a basement activity.
  • Continue working on crate-exiting calmness.
  • Continue working on classical conditioning protocol for perceiving small children.
  • “Leave it!” Pyrrha could also use a refresher on this command; we don’t practice it enough with her (probably because she doesn’t have the same inclination as the puppy does to put everything in her mouth).

February Goals for Eden

  • Recall. Generalize this command; keep practicing it when she’s barking pointlessly in the yard.
  • “Go to your mat.” Teach her to go to her place and then chill out there. Should also probably get her a more substantial dog bed than an old quilt…
  • Tolerating grooming/handling behaviors, such as letting someone grab her paws, open her mouth, look at her teeth, groom her, etc. She’s a very people-friendly dog, but she doesn’t seem to have been exposed to much of this. Most recently, I’ve been clicking and treating her for her permitting me to open her mouth and look at her teeth.
  • Curbing the counter-surfing. Arrgggh.
  • Continuing to work on not jumping on people.
  • “Leave it!”

What do you hope to teach your dogs in February?

Follow-up on our January training goals

How did we do on our training goals for January?

Kitchen pups

Oh, these little weirdos. They make our lives so crazy, and yet, what would we do without them?

January Goals for Pyrrha

Omg let me in
OMG MOM LET ME IN
  1. Curbing jealousy directed at Eden. I am very happy to report that this is going a lot better. Pyrrha seems a lot calmer about Eden’s presence and a lot more tolerant of her adolescent antics.
  2. Crate-exiting calmness. This is also going better, although she seems to have good days and bad days with this. The turning point has been that I’m finally figuring out what helps her here. She gets amped up when I let them out of the crates, and she then redirects that energy onto Eden. Our helpful practice now has been to let Pyrrha out of her crate, and I spend some time stroking her and speaking to her until she calms down, and then Eden can come out. This has been working so far, and it’s something we practice daily.
  3. Avoiding leash reactivity on our walks. Lately, I’ve been walking them by myself, so I just avoid areas that I know tend to be populated with dogs. If Guion is with us, however, we practice our strategy of letting the confident baby (Edie) go first and Pyrrha follows behind, with me doing our classical conditioning protocol for when she perceives dogs. I think we’ll always be doing this with Pyrrha, to some degree, and it can feel disheartening, because the progress is SO incremental, but I’m glad that we at least have a plan in place now for her leash reactivity.
  4. Classical conditioning protocol for seeing small children. We’ve been practicing this on walks and particularly at the mini-park/playground that’s near our house. On pleasant days, there is usually an assortment of kids at the park, so I keep Pyr at a fair distance away and treat her for every time she is looking at or perceiving a child, especially small children. She doesn’t seem to notice/be bothered by kids older than the age of 7 or 8, so we’re focusing the most on the smallest ones.

And now for the crazy baby:

January Goals for Eden

Gourd girl
Gourd girl.
  1. Sitting to greet people. This is sort of going well… she at least seems to know now what we want her to do: sit on the ground and wait for pets. But she just has so much love in her heart that it is difficult to contain! And we need to be more consistent. The hard part is when we have visitors (which we normally do). We need to have a strategy in place for telling guests what to do — before they walk in the door! — if Eden tries to jump on them.
  2. Crate-exiting calmness. Super! She is now showing a lot of self-control in this area, because we’ve been clicking and treating for calmness (sitting quietly until the crate door opens). This is also helping Pyrrha’s crate-exiting craziness (above).
  3. Not feeling the need to bark to announce herself in the backyard. I can’t say that her feeling this need has decreased, but our new strategy is kind of working: If I call her to come while she’s barking, and she comes, she gets treats. This plan has greatly improved her recall, which is a side bonus, but it hasn’t decreased her need to bark. I have a feeling this need may always be here, but we can keep working on the recall.
  4. “Leave it.” Totally forgot this was one of our training goals. Whoops. Yeah, need to work on this one.
  5. “Come!” She’s getting this down in a yard-to-house recall, but we need to generalize this to the home and to other areas.
  6. Not counter-surfing. I also have no idea what to do here. How do you get your dogs to stop counter-surfing? (Pyrrha has never tried this, not even once, so we’re kind of at a loss.) Yelling “off” isn’t really helpful.

Coming soon: Goals for February!

September training and behavior goals

More for my own sake, I’m going to start a short, monthly series here to record my training and behavior goals for Pyrrha. At the end of the month, I’ll make a brief progress report. This is more for keeping myself in line than for anything else, because if you write it on the Internet, then you have a faceless mob to keep you accountable. Right?

Get it, P. #kisses #loveandfear
Kissing Dad!

I don’t consider myself nearly as hardcore as the majority of you, so we’re going to keep our goals simple for now.

September Training and Behavior Goals for Pyrrha

  1. Take a reactivity class at Canine Campus.
  2. Practice behavior modification techniques to reduce on-leash reactivity toward other dogs. Crossing the street, treating for just looking at dogs, and ME taking deep breaths and loosening my body language and grip.
  3. Practice off-leash recall in the front yard. (More on this soon.)
  4. Improve and sharpen the command “Stay.” Get more consistent on this. (Sometimes I use the word “wait,” which is clearly not helpful to anyone.)
  5. Keep practicing calm exits from the crate. Particularly as we are with Draco now, work to mitigate her behavior so that she doesn’t grumble at him when she moves from the crate to the door. She has a habit of basically messing with him when she exits the crate to go to the backyard: growling, jumping in his face. I don’t think it’s aggressive, because she did this with Rainer, too, and he never responded in kind; it’s more an expression of nervous energy or maybe even jealousy? I don’t know. Whatever it is, I need to start training some impulse control and get her to cut it out.
  6. Improve her relationship with Guion. Get advice from Deven (our trainer) about how to accomplish this? I am kind of at a loss. He feeds her, he slips her bacon, he tries not to engage with her at all unless she initiates it… but she is still very fearful of him. After a year. Sigh. It’s kind of disheartening sometimes.

What are some of your goals for your dog this month? And if you have any training tips for me, feel free to dish ’em out!

Fearful dogs class, plus training goals for Rainer

Last night, Rainer and I went to a one-time, one-hour class at Canine Campus, called “Rescue Remedies: Fearful Dogs.”

Rainer in training class
Trying to take photos in class never works out so well. This is the best one I got! Those are his ears.

Canine Campus is where Pyrrha went for her obedience class, and I’m a big fan of the trainer, Deven. Deven has had numerous shy dogs herself, and she seems to really understand them.

While Rainer was mostly unable to calm down for the majority of the class (lots of pacing and circling), I was really thankful that we went. Deven reinforced so many concepts that are easy to forget with shy dogs. The class was also really motivating to me to stop being such a passive trainer. Now that Rainer has acclimated to our lifestyle, it’s time to start actively teaching him things. I can’t just wait around and hope that he’ll learn something.

Rainer lounging at home
Safe at home.

This lesson was really reinforced coming and going to the class. The worst part of last night was getting to and leaving class. This is the issue: Rainer has a severe fear of getting in cars. Severe to the point of nearing the biting threshold.

My husband was gone last night, and I was stuck with the Jeep, so getting Rainer into it was quite the ordeal. It took me about 15 minutes. I was plying him with tons of treats, but as soon as he’d get within a foot of the car, he would freak out: jerk back, trying to pull out of the collar, biting the leash, etc. I was finally able to get him in when I put some treats on the car seat, and he got brave enough to put his paws on the seat, and I lifted his back end into the car. Once in the car, he rides OK; he’s so scared of it that he doesn’t move much at all.

The traumatic part of last night was leaving Canine Campus. After class concluded, I asked Deven and her co-trainer Mary to come out to the car with me and help me strategize. Mary started by treating him for nearing the car, and then throwing treats away from the car, giving him the freedom to back up when he wanted. This went on for 10 minutes, however, with Rainer showing little inclination to get any closer to the vehicle.

Instead of diminishing, his fear was only growing, and when we approached him, his entire body tensed up, and I could tell this was a dog who was ready to bite if we tried anything else. Deven clearly recognized this too and came back out with a sheet and a muzzle. I felt so dejected. I hated to traumatize him further, but we were never going to get him in that car.

We put a meatball in the muzzle, and I could snap it on him; this freaked him out. While he was trying to get the muzzle off, we put a sheet beneath his abdomen, and Deven lifted his back end, while I picked up his front end and put him in the car. He was fighting the whole way. The poor guy. My adrenaline was racing, and I felt so upset. And embarrassed. He was so upset.

Upon leaving, Deven reminded me that this is something we would need to work on every day. Rainer’s fear of getting into cars will not go away on its own. Seeing him in such a state of panic last night really brought that home. This is a dog who really doesn’t know anything about the world; everything is frightening and new to him. It’s our job right now to help him take those baby steps toward confidence.

Rainer lounging at home

So, that said, here are some really basic things I want to teach Rainer in the time that we have him:

  1. Car desensitization. Every day, practice working near and in the car. Treat him for approaching; treat him for just looking a it in the early stages. Move up to getting him to enter the car on his own.
  2. Name recognition. Treat him and praise him for giving us any attention when we call his name.
  3. Sitting for food. I know that this dog can sit, but we cannot get him to do it! I keep waiting for him to offer the behavior at meal time (luring him back with the bowl), but he won’t do it. I also wonder if this has something to do with his bad hips. Sitting could be painful for him, so we may need to find an alternate behavior.
  4. Grooming desensitization. Treat and praise for whenever he submits to brushing, touching paws, opening his mouth. Move up to this gradually; brushing is the easiest place to start.
  5. Leash manners. Learning how to walk politely on a leash; getting him not to freak out when we see other dogs (freaking out, for him, means frantic circling; no barking or anything like that, thankfully). Practice safe zone training (LOTS of distance between the stimulant) early on; only take short walks where I can control the environment without pushing him past threshold.

As you can see, we have a lot of work to do. But I believe in him and in his potential to overcome a lot of these fears, with our patient help.