The Dog and I Tackle “Big” Issues

Dog, we need to talk…

I know what you’re thinking.  We talk all the time.  I talk, you talk, mostly neither of us listen.

But this is serious.

I know, we talk about serious stuff all the time… politics, religion, sexuality, human rights,  and refugees…well, I talk, and you lick yourself, or whatever.

…which in this case lends itself quite nicely to our discussion.  The little struggles in life.  They are little, but they are important.

We don’t talk about this stuff.  It’s not always pretty, but these things need to be talked about, dragged out in the light, kicking and screaming, if necessary, so people understand they don’t need to feel ashamed.

                                    Malachi:

Not nice?  Like... no walkies??  Or belly scratchin's?

Um. . . I have no idea what…

Well, for example, the struggle of finding just the right position to sleep in when all of a sudden the hair between your buttcheeks starts poking you…  What do you do?  You want to scratch the itch, but you don’t want to touch your buttcrack…

Marriage licenses-es?  What's that?  It sounds tasty.

Oh, ha!, that’s easy! I have tons of hair on my butt. I just lick it until it’s flat.

Buddy, even if I wanted to do that I couldn’t.  Us humans aren’t as flexible as you dogs are.  But if we were able to reach our heads down there, I still wouldn’t because… ugh, no.  Just, no.

Geez...fiiiine. You don't have to be all testy about it.

Prude… Fine, what’s next?

Well, like this morning, I was trying to sleep and the cat had worked his way under the covers…

What?!

Oh! Well, there’s your problem right ther-

No, I’m not finished.  He sleeps under there a lot…

MAL6

Yeeeah…we need to talk about that. You never let me on the bed, let alone under the covers.

Stay on topic, dog, we’re not talking about you.  Anyway, for some reason the cat kept wanting to groom me.  He’d lick my hand and I’d kinda push him away.

 

Well, that doesn't sound good.  No walkies...

Go on…

Geez, this is sort of weird…

 

. . .um

Hey, you started this…

Well, I rolled over on my side and was just falling asleep when he started licking my nipple…

What?!

Aw! What?! That’s gross! You let the cat-

I didn’t let him! It woke me right back up and I tossed his furry little butt out of bed!

Geez...fiiiine. You don't have to be all testy about it.

Serves you right. *I’d* never lick your nipple…

Uggh…  You know what?  I think we’ve talked enough for today.  Too much reality and truth can be… too much.

Happy Thanksgiving, Dog.  I love you.

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I Have a Dog!!!

Malachi is our newest addition to the family AND my newest pupil.  After passing his CGC test he will be trained to be a psychiatric service dog.

He came to us after his owner was evicted and could not care for him.  He knew we had a fondness for Malachi and offered him to us.  He came to that owner as a stray.  He is anywhere from 3-8 years old.   He is housebroken and has a very mild manner, which makes hims perfect for service work.
Yes, I am currently living two dreams right now.  I finally have the dog I have been wanting for years now, and I get to work on training him for something beyond basic obedience.  I’m feeling pretty grateful right now.

Meet Malachi

Meet Malachi

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On Doggie Separation Anxiety and Socialization in General

Okay, right now I am still in the very initial stages of establishing my new business, getting all the licenses and insurance and preparing for some marketing.  Maybe eventually I will get a separate site up and running just for that, but for now, I think that might be taking too much on, so every once in a while, I may post some dog stuff here.  Here goes.

Lots of dogs follow their humans around the house.  They like to be close, sometimes inconveniently so.  On your heels.  Sitting on your foot.  Or in your lap.  Most humans, for their part, don’t mind and actually enjoy the close bond they have with their dog, even if he is the canine version of a helicopter parent.  So how do you know if your dog is simply a doting canine companion who worships the ground you walk on (especially if you have treats,) or is suffering from bonafide separation anxiety.  What’s the difference?

  Dogs with separation anxiety tend to bark, howl, whine, or even yelp while the owner is not home. They tend to be destructive, and will chew up just about anything, including door frames, clothing, couches, pillows, or even their own crate. When they chew their crate it is usually in attempt to escape, which dogs with separation anxiety are good at doing.  (source)

Sometimes, a dog who chews furniture or tears up the house when the owners leave him home alone may be simply bored or possessed of excess energy (due usually to the owner underestimating the amount of physical or mental stimulation their dog requires.)  Or he may be suffering from the more insidious separation anxiety.  Now that I know a little more than I used to (I still have a lot to learn, but who doesn’t?) I think people take it for granted when they have had an “easy” dog.  They have maybe had a dog that had no behavioral trait that they considered problematic.  Then they are surprised/dismayed when they get a dog that has behavioral issues they don’t like or have never encountered with their previous dogs. Some people, even people who have had dogs before, don’t always realize that a lot of the things we expect of dogs (like long periods of isolation/separation from their “pack”, which would be their human family in this case) are not a natural part of doggie genetic make-up, and sometimes need to be taught or socialized into the dog.  If you think your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, you may want to contact a vet or trainer for help dealing with the issue.

To sum up, the best thing a dog lover (owner) can do for their dog is to get them used to all types of people, places, things, and circumstances as early as possible.  This is your best defense against not only common behavioral complaints, but also against more serious issues like separation anxiety and even unexpected dog bites!

Also keep in  mind, dogs typically don’t generalize well.  Often, when someone claims their dog doesn’t like a certain “type” of person (a person of a particular sex, race, age, etc.) it is simply because the dog was simply not exposed to this type of person enough, especially during the most formative socialization period.  Take your puppy or dog with you whenever you can, and try to make the experiences he has with new people, places, and things good experiences so he can build good associations.  This is a very basic tenet of Learning Theory (Behaviorism) and how dogs learn.

Puppies are not only widely believed to be in a sensitive period, biologically, but are encountering many very important things – people of all types, dogs apart from their littermates, sights, sounds etc. – for the first time, which, from a Pavlovian conditioning perspective, is noteworthy, as significant experiences of both negative and positive variety are sometimes indelible. So it behooves us to “pad” puppies with good experiences regarding things we want them to like, because inevitably life will throw them bad experiences. (Jean Donaldson, source)

So just bear these things in mind the next time you see your dog do something you may not like.  He was not born with a built-in set of rules for living with humans.  He may need to be taught what you expect of him, (and to do that it helps to have a basic understanding of how dogs learn.)  And it bears repeating: socialize, socialize, socialize!

Meet the Beautiful Saffron

Saffron has improved a whole lot since I saw her and spent time with her last weekend.  From what I understand, another volunteer at the shelter also spent some time with her this week.  She was out in the yard when I got to the shelter today, and she was lively and seemed happy to see me.  I was happy to see her too!  She is walking on leash much better, and though she is still a bit afraid of going through doors, it took no time at all for us to coax her through.  Soon she may even be ready for her temperament test and then she will be available for adoption!

Meet the sweet and beautiful Saffron!

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A Saturday at the Shelter

Saturday was a very gratifying day at the shelter, and not just because it was the last few hours of volunteer work I needed before I am allowed to take my final exam.  I got to do a few new things.

When I’m at the shelter to work with the dogs, people see me with my leash and collar dangling around my neck, and my Home Depot apron full of treats, and my name tag (if I remember it,) and they think I work there… which I do, just not in the usual volunteer capacity.  I likely don’t know as much of the inner workings and policies of the shelter as those other volunteers either.  But when people ask me questions, I try to be helpful and tell them whatever I can, and if I don’t know the answer, I send them to someone else that I think would know.  I like being able to tell them about the dogs I have worked with, and try to help facilitate adoptions.

Last Saturday, while I was putting one dog back and perusing the kennel area for my next “pupil,” a middle aged guy started to talk to me about a couple of the dogs, saying he wanted one for a farm dog, but the decision was between two dogs there.  One was a huge hound dog mix, and he seemed mostly gentle and calm (until I got him on leash, then he was a ridiculously strong puller, but that’s another story.)  The other was a smaller black dog that looked like it might have had lab in it, and was severely malnourished from his time on the streets.

A recent experience with a friend who had to give her dog up after he broke loose from his pen, got into her parents’ pig pen, and savaged the pigs led me recount part of the story to the gentleman, asking him if he had cats or livestock.  He confirmed that he had cats and cows, and I suggested he ask that whatever dog he chose be tested for compatability with cats before he take it home, which is something usually not done in routine temperament testing, but only if a potential adopter has cats.  I then suggested, (trying to be clever) that perhaps the tow dogs between which he was trying to decide might get on well together and be able to keep one another company.

Long story…less long… guess who got to do their first temperament testing with the house cat, Cheddar, on Saturday?  I also believe I have the gentleman seriously considering taking home both dogs too!

This cat even sort of looks like our Cheddar...

This cat even sort of looks like our Cheddar…

In case you’re wondering, Cheddar gave the huge hound dog his seal of approval by rolling over on his back for a belly rub, and although he didn’t care for the higher energy of the black dog, the black dog showed no aggression towards Cheddar.

 

And then there was Saffron. One of the shelter managers– we’ll call her M*–  is the lady who worked with me personally to accommodate my curriculum needs. She seems genuinely happy to have me at the shelter,and last week she asked me if I would pay special attention and work with a certain dog that was still in the back of the shelter (where dogs who are sick or not yet ready to be adopted out are kept.)

Saffron was a pretty girl with coloring somewhat like a Golden Retriever (perhaps that’s why they called her Saffron?) and the look of some sort of border collie mix.  And she was painfully afraid.  She still had enlarged nipples, having just recently had a litter, although no one saw her puppies when she was brought in.  I was told that she wouldn’t even walk on a leash.

I had an idea of what I wanted to try to do with her, but when we went in to get Saffron, she hunkered down and piddled on the floor in terror.  M had to carry Saffron to the spacious room where I normally take the dogs to work in cold or inclement weather.  When she deposited Saffron gently on the floor, the dog hunkered down and peed again, and M went to go retrieve a towel and some dog brushes.  I don’t have a lot of time with these dogs, only usually able to get to the shelter once a week, but it seemed really important to be able to help this dog.  If she could not be brought out of her shell, she could not be adopted out and could possibly be euthanized.

The first thing I did was clip my martingale collar around her neck, with the leash attached, so she could get used to their presence.  All she wanted to do was lie there, making herself small, with her head on my leg.  I laid another towel down, figuring the tile floor must be cold on her dragging teats, and I coaxed her over onto the towel.  The next half hour to forty five minutes was spent sitting on the floor, petting her, talking to her, trying to get her to take treats (in my experience, dogs that are too nervous will not accept food sometimes.)  I gradually started moving around more, standing up, going to the bathroom and coming back, and I got her to take one of my “grade A” treats**.

Gradually, she came out of her shell, and just getting her to sit up and hold her head up while I sat in a chair seemed like a huge improvement, making her seem like a different dog.  I started picking up the leash more frequently, still petting and talking and praising, and encouraging her to follow me around.   If I stopped petting her for too long or she thought I wasn’t paying attention, she’d nudge me or put a paw on my leg.  We even went outside for a bit, and she seemed to do better in the sun, on the concrete and grass.  She stood alert and proud, looking like a regular, happy doggie, although she still came back to me from time to time for encouragement.M even brought her dog Alex out, a big ol’ friendly lab, and Saffron did extremely well, allowing Alex to sniff her and say “Hi.”

It took some coaxing to get her to go back inside.  Around this time, I felt like it was time for me to go home.  I would have loved to bring her with me, but I’m pretty sure hubby might have murdered me for bringing home another animal.

Saffron seemed to have improved quite a bit in just the two hours or so I spent with her, but she would still not walk very far on the leash without getting nervous and balking, so I asked for help carrying her back to her kennel, and I reluctantly left her there.  That quiet time spent with her, calming her and helping her to come out of her shell a bit was very rewarding for me, and I think she even sort of bonded with me a bit.  I hope I get to work with her again, but as long as she gets a furever home, I’ll be happy.

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** Part of my particular school’s teachings is that when training you want a variety of lures and rewards, ranging in desirability.  Adequate performance might get a grade C reward/treat, while excellent performance might merit grade A rewards or treat “caching.”

 

Dog Eat Dog Trainer

(photo by Battle Buddy)

(photo by Battle Buddy)

I absolutely love this photo! This embodies everything I eventually want my career to be— training good dogs to help good people!  And this weekend I started the next step in the journey.  Not all that long ago, my sister told me she was in school online to become a dog trainer.  When I realized how easy it was (not necessarily the studying part, but the enrollment and access to materials, etc,), I talked it over with hubby and decided to go for it, taking the first concrete step toward a career goal that I’ve taken since graduating college (and having abysmal luck getting a job in my fields of study.)

Recently, I finished all of my academic coursework and on Saturday I had the first training session of my externship.

I had spoken with my trainer on the phone for a while a week or two before so we could work out a schedule and she could tell me what I should bring.  She had a short list of her preferable tools–  three different sized quick-clip martingale collars, a leather leash, and different types of treats for different “grade” rewards.  The collars I ordered arrived within two days of being ordered, but I was disturbed to discover how expensive the leather leashes are, (and my loyal readers know I’m pretty damn poor, and not just ramen noodle college poor.   I decided to take a regular nylon leash in the meantime, while I scouted around online for a decent priced leash to fit my needs.  The first dog we worked with showed me the reason why I will be paying good money for a good, wide leather leash.  Harold was a large (although not overly large) black and white dog with an interesting double dew-claw.  He was sweet, and easy to food lure into basic “sit” and “down” positions–  a great first dog for me to learn and practice on…   But he was also a bit excited, and deceptively strong.  I wasn’t expecting it, and when I first pulled him out of his kennel, he practically zipped the skin off my palms with that stupid nylon leash!  My trainer and I actually ended up double leashing him for added control.

Anyway, my trainer was also really cool.  Not only was she nice and easy to work with, but she also encouraged me to ask her questions and bring up any ways that my coursework teachings might differ from her methods (which is often the case, as although many of the main tenets are the same, every trainer has their own style.)  What’s even cooler is that in addition to her dog training business and her affiliation with ABC, she is part of an organization that trains service dogs for autistic children!

Despite the chilly day and unforgiving wind, I ended up having a great time and look forward to my next lesson.

As an added bonus, I received an email from my trainer saying that she also enjoyed our session and that it was “nice to have a student who has natural ability.”  Color me tickled!

Hopefully, as the next few months progress, I will have some interesting stories about my experiences for you guys!  In fact, I’m almost sure I will!

“Dogs are not kids.”

Becoming a mom has definitely changed me.  I’ve never been a kid person.   But my kid is fucking awesome!  

And now I am noticing something I hadn’t really noticed until I started posting on social media and reading comments on articles online; when the topic of kids comes up, it’s amazing how many people are hateful about children!

This morning, I saw this article on things parents shouldn’t say to non-parents.  If you don’t wanna read the whole thing, I’ll just outline the points.

1) “Dogs are not Kids”- based on the premise that the people that always compare their pets to our kids actually do know this.

2) “You think you’re [insert anything here]? Try having kids!”  Okay, I get what they’re saying about playing down others’ feelings, but if I’m exhausted from being up with my sick child, I don’t wanna hear about your post bar-hopping hangover woes.

3. “Don’t worry, when you have kids you’ll…”  Firstly, the author is insulted that parents assume everyone wants kids.  I definitely agree that’s not the case, and it does sound a bit condescending…

4. “Is the party kid-friendly?”  I don’t see what the big deal is with this one.  The author posits that unless you and your friend have a tacit understanding that your kids are always welcomed, you should assume they’re not.  I personally think it should be the other way around.  You call yourself my friend?  Then you’ll know chances are that I prefer to do things with my husband and child rather than without.  Common sense.  At any rate, why should even asking this question be discouraged?  By being insulted by the mere question, you’re just opening the door for miscommunication.

5. “My life didn’t have meaning before I had kids!”  The author seems to assume this statement of personal feeling implies something about their life without children.  To which I say, if that’s how you feel, the problem is with you, not me!  I have not ever personally uttered this phrase because I don’t feel my life was meaningless before, just that it has more meaning now.  But if I was to say it to a non-parent, it would not be to infer that I think their life is consequently meaningless, it would just be a statement of how I felt.

A couple of weeks ago I ran across a question on Yahoo! Answers asking people what they thought of a restaurant that banned kids under 18 (not a bar, a restaurant.)  Almost without exception, the “answerers” were either under eighteens who felt this was insulting and discriminatory, and responses like “This is a great idea!,” full of inferences that if a person had an upset toddler they couldn’t possibly  be a good parent.  Let me tell you guys a secret…

I used to feel this way. 

But– and you may not want to hear it– this IS one thing you can not know until you have your own kid… no matter what you think you’d do, or how you “plan” to be with your kids (should you wish to have them,) it is subject to change; you never really know what you’ll feel comfortable doing until you have to do it.  I always thought if my kid acted up, I’d just bust her ass the way my mom did my sis and I when we were kids.  We aren’t “emotionally scarred” (not much anyway.lol.)  But now that I have a daughter, I find myself loath to lay a hand on her in anger.  It’s just not how I want our relationship to be.  I’m not the same disdainful towards kids person I was before.  

And the fact is that some people seem to forget that children are people too.  They have feelings and thoughts and needs, and often not the maturity to frame them properly.  And yet, by the way some adults behave, that sometimes never changes.  Some people forget that they were kids once too.

At any rate, where’s the list of things that childless people shouldn’t say to parents, like telling us how to raise/discipline our kids, and or (#1) comparing their dog to our kids?  My cats and dogs have always been like family to me, my furry kids.  But…they do not require the same time, attention, or responsibility as a real child.  Deal with it.

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Ha! Joke’s on you! My kid already knows how to swear!

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