2 Year Blogiversary

Another year of blogging has come and gone as February 26 marked my two year blogiversary.

Time is such a fluid thing. The older I get the faster it screams by me. The busier I get the harder it gets to pay attention to it’s passing. I try to quantify it by measuring X many months since THIS or THAT happened. But it still doesn’t seem concrete in my head.

This last year of blogging has had some real up and downs, as every year does. Which highlights another aspect of time passing- each year is a different set of events repeating the same pattern. In my Real Life there have been some major changes that I never thought I’d see and that pattern holds true in my Dog Life too.

If you told me last February I’d be a professional dog trainer I would never have believed you. Even writing professional today doesn’t seem true. I just don’t tend to think of my self in those terms. I’m a learner and even in my teaching roles in life I never feel qualified to claim a title of “Knower” since I consider my life a continual process of learning. Plus, the more I learn the more I realize I don’t know. Since I find not knowing quite aversive my 4legged lesson from last February is still true, “. . .let your pups teach you all they can as fast as you can learn. You never know what they are preparing you for.” I certainly could never have predicted my pups were preparing me to take training into a career!

It wasn’t all lessons and learning, when I look back I’m reminded of some silly moments too. This post about snip and snails and puppy dog tails reminded while some things have changes greatly some remain the same. Magnus is still bringing me disgusting things, but none as gross as the dead mouse he brought in a couple months ago!

Looking back there are some things I wrote that surprised me. Last March I wrote, “I’d say I use 85%, maybe even 90%, positive methods. . .” I can’t think why I wrote that at the time, I would say now I am 100% positive reinforcement trainer. I think it reflects one area I’ve grown greatly in the last year. I have a much better understanding of learning theory and the 4 quadrants of positive reinforcement training. I also value that understanding more since I really feel like understanding how negative reinforcement, negative punishment and positive punishment work helps build a more comprehensive training plan. Interestingly understanding the other quadrants has only driven me to find solutions in positive reinforcement even more. I’m proud to say I really have become a “serene trainer” as I set out to in that post.

I really love looking back through the months. It reminds me of things I learned and forgot. This post about Maizey taking Petite Pal’s class really shows that. It’s weird that a year ago she was in classes at all. I would never put her through that now. And though the post is full of lessons and things we learned in class, what it’s most full of is how much I love her. I guess it looks like we’ve lost ground since then, but in reality we’ve gained ground since our relationship has grown to where I’m much more confident in letting her be her.

I’m really glad I have the blog to remind me what we’ve done. It puts things in perspective. Especially things that are easy to get emotional about like Maizey’s progress. It also reminds me of things we trained that I didn’t really take anywhere, but learned from the journey. All in all it was a crazy year and I’m glad I have a record of it.

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The Ones We’ve Loved and Lost

Early this morning we lost one of our favorite 4legged friends. Levi was a our friends’ heart dog and we’ll miss him. My heart goes out to his mom and family.

As each one does, this loss has me thinking of the ones I’ve loved and lost. As a sort of tribute to the wonderful heart dog Levi was I want to share my lost heart dogs here. Each dog has their own lessons for us. Some get into our hearts more than others, but all stay with us forever. My aim is to take what each of these dogs has taught me and use it to be a better dog mom, trainer and teacher. In that way they stay alive with me even though they are gone in the today.

Meeka

Little Man

Sampson

I have to give Summit, our Alaskan Malamute a mention even though I don’t have access to a photo today. The lessons he gave me were some of the hardest and most valuable of any dog I’ve ever had.

Have you lost a heart dog? Give them a mention here and if you want say a bit about what made them so special. . .

When you can’t remove someone’s pain, sometimes all you can do is sit in the space the other is in and keep them company. Let’s all keep each other company in this space of loss. Thanks everyone.

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Training Treat Hangover

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The Stroller Experimentation

The stroller experimentation continues. . .

Every once in a while you see your training pay off and so far this whole stroller thing seems to be that moment for Maizey and I. So far. I’m reserving total judgment until there’s more data, but I’m happy with what I’m seeing.

We’ve taken two good real walks with the stroller so far. Both times I saw just the reaction I thought I’d see at this point. Yesterday we headed out and as soon as I set up the stroller she hopped in. Good sign number one. I zipped the bonnet closed so I didn’t have to worry about her bailing out and she settled right in. She asked to get out a couple times and walked quite a bit, but when she started getting stressed and asked to be picked up I just offered her to get back in the stroller and she happily did that.

Today we walked farther than we have in weeks. She didn’t walk as much as yesterday since I was working with Magnus on how to walk on a nice loose leash next to the stroller. I want him to walk on the right so that’s a change as his default is my left side. He did wonderfully. He’s such an easy going boy and makes my life easy.

I’m very happy that she’s getting out and about with much lower stress in general. She has choices and she seems to sense that. There was so much less whining and barking. Her body language in general is more settled, slower, not as frantic. It’s like a little portable chill out spot that lets her decompress on the go. Her reaction after the walk is better too. Normally we’d have a while of pretty hyper zoomies after we got home, but both days she asked for her stroller to be set up as soon as we got in the house and then hopped in and took a nap.

I’m so relieved to have hope that she can get out more and have it not be so hard on both of us. The other day someone asked me what was stressful to her on a walk. I said, “Everything.” They said, “But what are her triggers?” I just laughed and said, “oh, the air.” Ha Ha Ha. People really don’t understand what it’s like to have a dog that isn’t just reactive, but has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It’s called generalized, because the triggers start in the brain chemistry and the anxiety is caused by everything or nothing in the environment. So to have a safe space we can take anywhere is hugely relieving to both of us.

Did you see this post at Rollin’ With Rubi? It struck such a chord with me. In it she talks about how a trainer finally looked at her dog and saw the truth. He’s a dog full of fear and brave enough to work through it. She expresses how relieved she was to have someone finally see what she sees in her dog. Well, that was my take home message anyways. It’s a message I can well relate to. People look at Maizey and they see a “happy” “squirmy” “wiggling” little dog. They don’t know that’s not her normal self. That’s her out in the world anxious self and it doesn’t look that bad. It doesn’t look like a disorder.

In Home Depot the other day she was like that and when I picked her up she wanted to crawl into my face for reassurance. The lady I was chatting with said, “Oh she’s such a lover, what a snuggle bug.” Sure, except that’s not what’s making her do that. I’ve always said it would be easier to have a broken leg than an anxiety disorder. People don’t understand what they can’t see or haven’t experienced. If she had a bandage on people would get when I say you can’t pet her she’s sick.

I guess I didn’t even know that rant was in me today, but there it is. I guess that part matters to me because I’m really happy to have someplace that she can go to for safety. I’ve lost a bit of hope that she’ll ever live without fear and anxiety. I promise I’ll keep trying to find that for her, but in the mean time what I am able to do is provide whatever safety and reassurance I can. Isn’t that the best any of us can do for each other? We can’t fix it all, but we can sit in the space the other is in and keep them company. Acceptance and reassurance are the most we can offer sometimes. Giving Maizey a safe space to get out and enjoy the world in is the best I can do right now. I guess that’s today’s 4legged lesson: sit with each other in the space that you can’t change, even if that space is a doggy stroller.

Whew! I sure need to lighten up around her lately! Check back tomorrow for a rant free, silly Wordless Wednesday. Even I can’t make that serious!

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“Lord preserve me from smart, complicated dogs”

If you’ve been reading Ruffly Speaking this week you probably recognize that quote from Joanna. Although what Maizey and I face is nowhere related to what inspired Joanna to write that sentence I still relate the the sentiment. Plus it just made me laugh. (By the way, if you really want to know what goes into good breeding and the joys and terrors of whelping a litter you really must check out Ruffly Speaking.)

I love my “smart, complicated” Maizey, but she does push my limits sometimes. It’s good to be pushed though. When I think of the things I’d never understand if it weren’t for her I realize I’d never be the trainer I am today. I have insight into every fearful dog that walks in my classroom and empathy for their families. She’s pushed me out of my comfort zone in training, in relationships, in where and when we go where we go, in more ways than I can list. Her smart, complicated nature keeps me learning and growing.

But because I need some comic relief from her smart, complicatedness I’ve compiled my list of:

You know you live with a dog with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when. . .

  • The arousal level is so high she can’t stop barking to pee and thus has to bark and pee at the same time.
  • Your Google search history includes, “why dogs pee on themselves when anxious”. (Not surprisingly you found no answers.)
  • You’ve classified the consistency of her poop according to how high the stress level is.
  • The first thing you do on a Saturday morning is get up, dose the dog with Prozac, Composure Liquid, put on her Thundershirt and do two days worth of Relaxation Protocol THEN you make your coffee.
  • Waking up to maniacal barking 4 times a night is not a rare occurrence.
  • There are days you keep all the blinds closed to minimize the stimulation of windows.
  • Your little dog that never resource guards can’t relax long enough to eat her cow tail and instead hovers over it like a vulture guarding road kill.
  • There are days when your little dog has no impulse control whatsoever and risks her life to chase the meanest cat alive.
  • Driving 700 miles and paying hundreds of dollars to a veterinary behaviorist no longer seems insane.
  • Walking the dog really means carrying the dog which is now worth it since maybe you’ll only wake up to maniacal barking 2 times instead of 4.
  • Your neighbors think you’ve lost your mind since you’ve spent hours walking around in the front yard with a little anxious dog in a stroller learning to relax.

Do you have a smart complicated dog? Please share what makes them smart and complicated so Maizey and I know we’re in good company.

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The Roller Coaster Ride of Life

I know when I’m getting tired from the daily do’s- I always end up writing as a way of sorting out all the going-on’s. Really it’s just a fancy sort of procrastination.

The pup’s are doing well. I’ve been so busy, but we’re getting in a ton of training time. I’m taking a CAP class. CAP is The Competency Assessment Program by Kay Laurence. We have one of the only accredited instructors in the States working at my training center so it’s an amazing chance to get to take CAP class in person. If you want to improve your training skills I’d highly recommend it. I can’t believe the things I’ve learned in just two weeks. I think we want to train all the “sexier” things, tricks and Rally and stuff, but CAP has taken me back to basics and since it’s really about what I’m learning not what the dogs are learning I’m using a lot of foundation behaviors to practice with. The result is I’m cleaning up a lot of things in their training that I let get sloppy and when we train the funner things they’re doing so much better. I LOVE CAP class!

I have three classes of my own now. I have a 12 different dogs I’m teaching and boy does it push my brain! Dog training is amazing. Each dog is an individual and has individual needs, but you also have the handlers needs to consider then it gets really complicated when you start adding in families and family dynamics. 12 dogs represents way more than 12 students when you put it all together. My biggest class is only 6 dogs and I really appreciate the chance to work in more depth with the smaller classes. It sure presents challenges in dog training I’ve never run into.

My dogs each have their own set of talents and challenges and the dogs I teach are no different. I have to say there’s a huge difference between studying and writing up a behavioral plan and actually teaching someone how to apply it. Dog trainers need to think on the fly and adjust second to second as the dog responds. It’s not as easy as it looks!

Then there’s the amazing amount of paperwork that comes with training. You’d never believe the behind the scenes stuff that goes into a class or session. Rosters to maintain, lesson plans to write, lesson plans to adjust to each classes needs, issues to research, the list goes on and on. Writing it all out sounds sorta droll and dreadful, but it’s not! It’s wonderful and though I worried the more I trained at work the less I’d train at home, it’s exactly opposite. Of course my dogs end up being Guinea Pigs, but they like it, it means we play a lot more games.

Magnus gets to go to work with me sometimes now. He makes a very boring shop dog, but boy does he love it! You can see in the pictures the main job he wants is napping! Everyone that was worried about the torturous snoods will be glad to know he doesn’t hate it anymore. Association is a powerful tool in the dogs brain and now he’s diving into it, just like Mary Beth said he would. He even brought it to me the other day like, “MOM! Here’s the good snood now where’s my good stuff!” He just keeps me laughing.

I’m still keeping up with everyones blogs, just don’t have time to comment much. We’re still here though. Just adjusting as life changes. Isn’t life like a roller coaster that never ends? You strap in and there’s no getting off. You just take the highs with the lows and ride the ride. Scream loud when it gets too crazy and try to take a breath in between. At least my life. It makes me love the quiet moments with me Monkey’s snuggling close and keeping my company.

The most exciting news is we get to shoot with Seth Casteel of Little Friends Photo’s. He’s hard to miss lately as his underwater stuff has gone viral and is everywhere, I saw his stuff on GMA this morning. We get a couple of hours with him and I’m just thrilled. I’m worried about how Maizey will handle two hours of that much stimulation, but it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. Can’t believe it but our shoot is next friday so I better start getting prepared!

All in all we’re good. Taking the ride as it comes for us and hoping it wasn’t designed by a maniacal roller coaster builder. It’s a hope I think we all share!

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Officially One of “Those” Crazy Dog Ladies

I am officially one of “those” dog moms. I bought Maizey a stroller. It’s really funny the reactions people have when you tell them you are buying a stroller for your dog. You know the people who already think you’re a crazy dog lady and, yep, this confirms it!

I’m okay with being a crazy dog lady, but I admit even I balked a bit at the whole stroller thing. I mean aren’t dogs supposed to walk? Sure, but if you’re Maizey walks are an exercise in being stressed out the whole time and that’s just not fun. After carrying her for most of our walks in January I finally took the good advice of another smart dog lady who suggested I get a stroller. (Thanks Patty, I think it’s going to be a great tool!)

I hope I can condition the stroller to be a safe haven where she knows to relax and that will give her someplace to retreat to on stressful walks. Someplace other than my arms, that is.

I bought the Petgear Sportster It’s perfect size for her and maybe a puppy, but too small for her and Magnus to ride comfortably for long, which is fine since I suspect he would rather walk on hot coals than ride in a stroller on a walk.

So far she’s in love with this stroller! I am taking the conditioning of it very slow. We started with basic Relaxation Protocol with her in the stroller for the first day. So as long as she lays down in the stroller she gets randomly timed treats. I release when it’s okay with me for her to get out, but if she chooses to stay in that’s fine. If she gets out before released I just show her back in and ask for a settle and we start over upping the frequency of the treats. I want her to clearly understand this is a place where her job is to feel safe and relax.

The first day she fell asleep and napped in the stroller for over an hour. Over the last few days we have done lots of time in the stroller, wheeling her around the house. She’s getting in and out on her own now and choosing to stay in the stroller and relax more and more. I think she loves it because she loves little small enclosed spaces and this way she gets to be in someplace like that, but still near me. One day Charley and Chloe came over and Maizey chose to relax in her stroller while the over dogs played. She truly was the Princessface surveying her domain that day.

Next I upped the criteria and distraction level by asking her to relax in the stroller whole Magnus and I trained. No problem there. She’s used to parking it on her mat while it’s his turn to train anyways, so the stroller was not a huge difference there.

Then I took it a level harder by opening the front door, but putting the baby gate across so they couldn’t go out. She did pretty well, until there was a huge bang that set the neighborhood dogs barking. She broke from her stroller then for the first time. It was valuable information for me to have. It tells me she’s comfortable, but doesn’t yet recognize the stroller as a place she’s safe enough not to react in. I took the difficulty level back a notch by closing the door and opening the window. We worked that way a couple of days and today made it to having the door open. I’m still not ready to take it outside, but we’ll get there.

I’ll close with my favorite advice from another wise dog lady. When you worry about what people will think about something you’re doing to help you’re fearful dog remember, a tool is a tool. In our case it’s better to walk in a stroller with a smile than on a leash with tears. I hope this turns out to be a valuable tool in our fearful dog tool box.

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