What is Dog Reactivity Part 2- Maizey’s Reactivity Defined

Maizey is daily teaching me about reactivity. An interesting part of Maizey’s reactivity has required me to learn to distinguish between true reactivity and a very interesting behavior chain of “pretend reactivity”.

The first thing I noticed her reacting to was other dogs. This started in her puppy class. She reacts instantly to a strange dog, but once they meet she calms noticably and over time will become comfortable.

Maizey’s true reactivity has now transferred to many animals from cows to horses and even a moose! The most obvious sign of true reactivity in Maizey is what earned her the title “princess-of–the-shrill-bark”. It is a bark that is higher pitched and more intense than her normal bark.

Body posture is also a very evident signal in that she leans into the stimuli, stretching her body forward to the point where from nose to tail you could almost draw horizontal line down the length of her body. This was an important sign for me to pick up on as when I see that posture start I am learning how to help her stop the reacting before it escalates.

The reactive posture looks like this:

photo taken 9/2009 at 9 months old
You can see how she is hunched back on her haunches yet at the same time stretching toward the trigger. Her tail is a key signal here because it is stiff at the base and standing straight out from her body.

This is the face of one stressed out Maizey

photo taken 9/2009 @ 9 months old
Signs of stress can be seen in the tenseness of her jaw and what we call “whale eye” or “pop eye”.

Another less obvious sign shows up in a general jumpiness. This can show up even in completely calm situations, like when she is laying on the bed, hears a strange noise and visibly jumps as if startled. But it also manifests itself in true reactivity around other dogs. Mainly this shows up as her running and playing with all appearance of calm, but she startles easily at the other dogs movement and responds with a twitch, or jump. Then I know that she is still feeling stressed but on a much smaller scale and she is managing it herself.

For my own record keeping purposes I measure what I observe in her on a 0-10 scale. Its technically called the “Maymay can’t think anymore, help me Crazymomlady my brain is exploding” reactive scale. As is sits better on the tongue and the typing fingers, we’ll just call it the “reactive maymay scale” The stretched out princess-of-the-shrill-bark gets a 9-10/10 on the reactive maymay scale. Depending on other signs the jumpiness may get as low as a 2/10.

Knowing these signs, and many others, has an interesting place in our calming process because Maizey has learned a fascinating behavior chain that starts with barking. It looks like this: see something, bark, look at crazymomlady in an imitation ‘watch’, get a treat, immediately go back to barking and start the whole thing over again.

This is “pretend reactivity”. She is not really anxious over anything. She has simply learned, because I unwittingly taught her this and she is simply brilliant, that “watching” mom after barking gets rewarded. Thus you can see how discerning between real, (“help crazymomlady lady I’m flipping out and can’t calm down”) and pretend, (“oh good crazymomlady wants to play that game where I make an unholy racket over nothing and she gives me treats”) reactivity has become very important in our life.

So what does you 4legged friend look like when reacting to something? What are the signs you see  in them when they see something they aren’t happy with?

You will see just how vital it is to accurately read your reactive 4legged friend when you check back tomorrow for “What is Dog Reactivity Part 3- Anecdotal Evidence Illustrates Maizey’s Reactivity.”


What is Dog Reactivity Part 1

Reactivity in dogs is a very complicated subject. This will be the first in a series to explain what I have learned and what Maizey and I are doing to help each other learn how to calm reactivity, ironically in both of of us!

Reactivity is really just the manifestation of stress in a dog. It involves stress hormones, such as adrenaline, in much the same way those hormones affect humans. It involves learning how to deal with new and scary, or perceived scary, situations.

A reactive dog is one who reacts strongly, in human terms we may call it overreacts, to certain stimuli in the environment. Dogs can be reactive on many levels and to many things. A Labradoodle we met yesterday was reactive to men with canes, hats, beards, or any combination there of.

An interesting case, that one, because the man to whom Luke the Labradoodle reacted to was someone he knew, but when seen with his hat and cane the man became unfamiliar and “threatening” thus Luke’s eruption of barking.

Reactivity can be shown in any number of ways from vocalizing, body posturing, and even completely shutting down. A dog showing these signs of reactivity is really showing you dog signs of stress. And needs your help as the 2legged member of the team to learn how to calm down and feel confident again. Learning to identify these signs is the first step in learning to help your 4legged friend to calm their stress.

There is a valuable 4legged lesson here and it is that stress in life, no matter how many legs you have, is inevitable. But living over threshold and stressed out is unhealthy and miserable regardless of what species you are so learning these calming skills can only benefit us all.

For more information on what Maizey’s reactive journey looks like come back for: What is Dog Reactivity Part 2-Maizey’s Reactivity Defined


"Don’t Throw Me In the Deep End of the Lake!"

Maizey had her first real swim in the lake. Since I don’t believe in the “throw the baby in the deep end of the pool” school of thought and since she has never got into deep water like that before, we let her take it slow. At first she wasn’t so sure.
“Are you sure this is going to be fun crazymomlady?”

But since she really does love water and she’ll do anything for food we gradually got into the deeper water.


“Mmmmm. . .Cheerios!”

Meeka however does not think dogs should go in water deeper than their ankles, no matter what you try to bribe them with.

“Uggg dirty lake water! This is soooo not worth a measly cheerio!”

So she spent her time being the sunbathing beauty on the beach and generally thinking Maizey and I were insane.

“I’m too beautiful to get wet!”

It was a beautiful evening and the lake was gorgeous, and not even too cold.

“Why go in that yucky water when there are so many good sniffs out here?”

Eventually after Maizey had waded around as deep as she could go and still touch the bottom I carried her out to the deeper water.

She seemed a little nervous, but being such a water lover soon got the hang of it and took off on her own. I was like proud momma watching her baby swim for the first time! Pathetic I know, but I can be such a sap!

Of course Maizey being Maizey as soon as the life jacket came off headed straight into the deepest sand she could find for a good roll in the dirt to dry off.

“Aaahhh dirt! Princessface looooves dirt!”

It was a wonderful day surrounded by beauty and being with mehusbandy and my girls.

“Thanks for taking us to the lake crazymomlady and crazymoneybagsdad!”

Maizey’s Level 2 Video-Part One

Time for the L2 video of Maizey’s Training Levels progress. She has tested 8 out of the 16 behaviors. So we are half way there.

She tested her first behavior on April 1, 2010 then the last behaviors we tested were on June 6, 2010 so 8 behaviors in 2 months is pretty good. Keeping good records, which I admittedly am not great at, does help. It’s quite encouraging to look back and see how fast her progress really was.

The video shows the tests as outlined for L2, I view it as sort of the basic foundation to build on.

Then after you lay a firm foundation the levels outline a “Continuing Education” section. We are working on much of the continuing education skills for the skills she has already tested. These are some of the great ideas:

COME: call her with my back to her, and recalling her and gently grabbing different parts of her body helps her learn to be caught.

DOWN: work on using other forms of payment. Try a back scratch or Maizey loves it when I clap for her, apparently she loves applause! A toy, or before being released to go through a door are some other ideas.

PARK IT: This has been a really fun one. Part of it is too move the mat around and teach them to figure out where it is and go to it. One time her floppy lion was a few feet closer to her and in front of the mat so she ran over and pounced on it in perfect park it position and just grinned up at me like, “How ’bout this? good enough?” Such a silly girl! This has proved a very practical skill also to help with her reactivity so we have been doing a lot of mat work out side and in many locations.

CRATE: Location of the crate becomes very important now and so far she has learned to be crated outside in our yard, at numerous other peoples houses, at a training field, and in the car to name a few.

To really understand the depth of the levels you really have to just visit Sue’s Training Level book and dive in, but it is a great program, especially if you aren’t in a position to do a lot of classes.


A Cavalier Version Of "The Princess And The Pea"

In the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tail, “The Princess and the Pea” a prince is searching for a true princess to marry. Apparently in 1835 there were a plethora of imitation princesses and the discriminating prince had to exercise due caution.

During a thunder and rainstorm a princess just happened to seek out shelter at the castle, but still he wanted to be sure she was the genuine article. So to discern the trueness of the bedraggled princess the old queen devised a test for her. She put a pea under a pile 20 mattresses and 20 eiderdown beds. Which makes me feel very bad for the poor eider ducks who had to give up all their eiderdown.

In the morning the old queen asked the princess how she slept and the princess said she slept very poorly indeed, for there was something very hard in her bed. Strangely this was the correct answer for the prince for only a true princess could be so sensitive as that!

At this point I would like to interject that in 2010 some would refer to this as “high maintenance” instead of princess like.

I’m sure there is a moral to Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tail but the moral of this story is one you may have heard before:

I keep telling you not all cavaliers are princesses!

We hope you enjoyed this bedtime story of “A Cavalier Version of the Princess and the Pea” as much as Maizey obviously did!


Look My Girls Are Famous!

So a very long time ago, before I joined the world of blogging and started plastering my girls faces all over the place, Resq Tails posted some pics of Meeka when she was visiting them. Typical of all of Resq Tails pics they are beautiful and for weeks I went are around telling everyone that Meeka was famous.

Now we found this way cool site called Cavalier King Charles A Day where you submit your photo’s and they choose a new one to post. Very cool! So now Maizey is famous too! And because I’m a picture glutton and couldn’t decide which pic to enter I entered two and they posted them both!

So just click the links to see my famous 4legged friends!


The Cocklebur Debacle

It is a humbling and yes, slightly humiliating thing when your 4legged little girl schools you in L2 handling.

Anyone with a 4legged friend know ALL burs are evil. On the scale of evil burs cockleburs rate right below foxtails.

Maizey’s front leg and the cockleburs

Basically cockleburs work like really mean velcro to Cavalier hair. It’s not pretty. Especially when the 2legged member of the team is wailing and bawling about cutting off Cavalier ears and split ends.

Let me paint the picture. On our recent jaunt in the mountains Maizey, Dare and Layla met a cocklebur bush. Before I knew what had happened Maizey was trotting off down the trail with both ears, two legs and a tail full of cockleburs. Of course Layla got her fair share, and even Dare couldn’t manage to avoid them completely.

Enter the humiliating part. That would be me with the wailing and bawling. Of course I scooped her up planted myself on a rock and flopped her over to start taking them out. Yes, still with the wailing and bawling.

“crazymomlady, please quiet the wailing and bawling!” 

Maizey? She was completely fine. I laid her on her side on my lap and she munched the field grass next to us the whole time Marie expertly removed them. As Marie says, “L2 handling? This is L33 handling and she passes with flying colors!” I however failed. Even L2 handling specifies “There must be minimal fussing.” I guess wailing and bawling does qualify as fussing.

Meanwhile Dare was a great help as she got in the bag and brought first the comb and then the slicker brush to us. When we didn’t seem to use them she also helpfully brought us a poop bag and finally her leash. We tried to show our gratitude, but she did seem a little peeved when we didn’t use her helpful contributions.

Thankfully, due to Marie’s experienced removal, some deep conditioner, and some more Cowboy Magic all is well in the continuing saga of the Cavalier ears.

Layla and Dare say, “Don’t worry we’re all still as gorgeous as always!”
Maizey says, “And I still have my ears!”

The 4legged lesson? Cockleburs are not your friends!