Monday, August 4, 2008

A Bad Injury

It's been a little while since I've been on... Toby and I were taking things easy and hanging out in the safety of our home for awhile. Or well... that was the intention. Last Sunday however he stepped wrong off our 'mini-deck' (only about 6 inches off the ground) and we thought he pulled a muscle. He walked fine after the initial yelp and was his normal self. Late Monday night however things started to go down hill fast. At first he started with a slight limp on his left back leg (acting like he'd pulled a muscle). Then he cried every time he moved and within a few hours after the initial downward spiral he started screaming with the slightest motion. He collapsed and didn't move for hours. Not my normal dog by a long shot. My parents were still convinced he'd just pulled a muscle and that there was nothing we could do but give him rest and ice it. Mom and I slept on the floor with him all night, just trying to keep him comfortable and from moving too much. Halfway through the night mom finally conceded that there had to be something else wrong or at the very least he needed something more thant he dog asprin we'd given him.

First thing Tuesday morning we were into the vet's office. We carried him in using his crate (because I was scared that picking him up would hurt him more) and sat down for one of the most emotional vet visits ever. The vet had to poke and test his back legs to see where the problem was and everything just made him scream. She then started flipping his feet so that the tops of his feet were touching the floor and watching. Normally a dog is supposed automatically flip their feet back into the right position... Toby did it fine on his front two. His back right was slow. His back left (the leg we thought he'd pulled the muscle in) he never corrected. The vet started to fear some neurological was wrong. They sedated him for x-rays and took him out of the room. Half way through the x-rays he came out of sedation screaming in pain (they had to flip him on his back to get a better view and the pain was too much). I left the vet's for a few minutes while they finished the x-rays. I was too the point where my nerves were beyond raw and I was physically ill.

It turns out that Toby collapsed two discs in his back (or something very similiar, I was a little out of it in the explanation part)... and there was a real fear that he might not be able to walk again. He stayed at the vet's for a few hours under sedation to give him as much time pain-free as possible, but the moment he came out they called us back up to get him. Toby has not been handling vet trips well at all and the last one we had (a simple blood test for Heartworm he decided that he had no more tolerance for vets and lunged for her, a very weird thing for a dog who loves people any other place) so being in the office was stressing him out and they didn't want him hurting himself in the stress. So he came home with us (by far my preference). He's on crate rest for the next 6 weeks.

So far he's done really well. He's made a lot of progress this week. He can walk again, stiffly but enough to go potty. Though my dad is still supporting his back end with a towel to help keep some weight off Toby's back legs. We've made our house handicap accessible pretty much... Dad and my brothers built an addition to the wagon to wheel him in and out of the house and by dismantling the picnic table we have a ramp down the outside stairs. His pain level seems to have really gone down and his tail is finally starting to wag a little again. He's been such a trooper and we hope that the rest of his recovery goes as smoothly as this.

I haven't been this scared since he was a puppy and we battled parvo with him. He's always been the healthier of the two dogs but when he falls he falls hard. I'm just so glad he's okay. So here's to hoping he continues to recover.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wow - playing with both Toby and Shelby! At once!

I've always played with Toby and Reba at once. They don't share toys - Reba grew up her entire life without having another dog in the house... so she never learned to share her toys and when we got Toby, that never changed. However, they both want me to play with them if I'm playing with the other. So sometimes we alternate between me setting one aside while I play with the other and then alternating or playing with them both, just one on each side with different toys. It's a bit of a coordination problem but it works. Toby and I play a laid back version of tug, with me shoving up against him with my shoulder to make it harder on him as I tug the toy along the ground, and then Reba and I would play with her chasing my hand.

I've never been able to play with any other dog in Toby's presence, let alone with him on the other side of me. That sends him right over threshold. However, earlier today while he was out I finally got Shelby loosened up back to the happy dog she can be and she started playing. She jumped the first few times mom moved but then settled into chasing a toy that I dragged along the floor. After Toby came in we stopped playing again... I didn't want to risk it. Which was fine by her, she went back to her place on the couch. Then Reba went crazy. Just darting around the room barking after her ball (she'd knocked it out from under the table and it was scooting away from her). This inspired Toby to want to play. I've never gotten him to play when there was another dog anywhere near him... he might bite at the toy if I ask, but that's it. This time he was asking for it even with Shelby sitting on the couch 3ft from him! So I asked Shelby to stay and played with him.

He was completely relaxed (our inside games aren't revved up at all, they're quiet just giggly games we play) so I asked Shelby to come on over to my other side. Which she happily did for cuddles while I continued playing. No problem. He saw her coming but went back to the game. So I grabbed the toy I'd been playing with her earlier with and started playing with her. This one took a bit more concentration than my Toby/Reba games because Shelby is faster and can actually see her target. But both dogs played calmly for quite awhile. It wasn't until one end of Toby's tug toy came loose and zoomed in the midway part that Shelby wanted to see what Toby was playing with. He never stopped playing, he just growled at her and shoved himself around me tucking his head and toy out of the way, but he was still loose. I just slid in between them and refocused her on the other toy. We had no other problem. Once done both dogs just spread out on either side of me for cuddles.

Toby still isn't 100% sure about her with everything... but he's not 100% on anything. Ha! Nor am I. For the most part though he's very relaxed with her. He won't tolerate as much from her as he does Reba - for example, Shelby can't bark without sending him over the edge and he'll pounce/play bow in his rude, lab-full-body slam. But we've been managing it, using a lot of splitting before he can get too close if he looks like he's getting excited and he's staying calm. She can do her happy jig in front of me, jump on me while on the couch, and trot after me. She can't run yet, no noises, and she can't play solo with me (though we're still working on having him relaxed while Reba plays solo with me... so that's a work in progress, I'd never expect it with a new dog). Shoot, I didn't expect any of this but it's awesome to watch his progression. Even mom has been spectacular with this (my brothers too, dad works during the day so he doesn't have to deal with me in the room with the dogs - a good thing because he's convinced my only problem is that I'm not strict enough the first time). Unlike her normal 'bad dog' routine if she has to do anything, she's started just simply stepping between the dogs if Toby gets too antsy. She doesn't lean over him or point at him or anything, just steps in between and continues on. That's normally enough to erase any tension between the two and they will follow who ever stepped in the middle.

Shelby's parents are coming to get her today. A bit depressing all around. She's such a doll of a dog and she's getting a kick out of so many things. She's never had dog toys really... a tennis ball in the backyard and that's it. Believe me, I've asked. I got her one for Christmas a few years back but it squeaked... not a loud squeak but enough to annoy her mom. So she's learned that we have whole boxes of toys! She won't play with them on her own, but she likes to rifle through and pull out some and just set them outside the box. Then of course Reba rounds up all of her balls to horde and Toby takes his tug toy out of the room. But they do leave her the rest of the toys to arrange by the boy. Then I put them back and she does her happy jig and takes them all back out. She's also starting to run around the house with me (when Toby's outside)... it's nice seeing her confidence come out when she does it too. And then there are the trick times. She looked so lost yesterday when I was running our two through a bunch of tricks. She knows sit and shake, but I started luring crawl for her so she didn't get bored doing the same things. It's nice watching all three of them relax and do silly tricks together for me. Though I will say, old dogs learn tricks incredibly well. Shelby's picked up on crawl AND spin so far.

I'm sure she'll be happy to see her family tonight but we'll sure miss her. She's such a charmer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Well, today was much better.

He needed quite a bit of time to adjust last night... And I wasn't at all sure what to do in the situation. So mom and I made a plan and hoped it worked. For the most part my goal was to stay out of the situation, to go upstairs and just come down occasionally... that way Toby didn't feel pressured to guard me and he would hopefully relax more when I was in the room with him and Shelby. It worked fairly well and I was able to pet them - with both dogs calmer if they were on opposite sides of me (and Toby in a cued behavior). If Shelby however got excited and started to do her happy jig (shuffling front feet and she crowds up against your leg) and Toby got too rough, I'd neutrally tell him "That's enough," and give him a different cue to do - mostly his hand touch one and then a sit or down.

I don't consider 'that's enough' a punishment in this situation. I can't remember using it before, so I'm not sure it's a learned behavior for him yet - but saying his name tended to jazz him up and he just giving him a cue didn't seem to connect with his brain. But normally by the time I rattled on a few words and then cued he was fully capable of listening. And cueing him to come touch my hand got him away from her and calmed him down, even if she followed. It worked well enough for us and I spent most of the night making sure Toby knew he had a job to do any time I walked in the room. That faded after awhile and he got to the point where he would be snoozing on the floor, hear me coming and watch Shelby come say hi before falling back asleep. He did get a little nervous when he saw me getting ready for bed and Shelby acted like she was going to follow me upstairs, but I had mom call her away and then called Toby up for bed. Shelby didn't sleep with us... I didn't want him to think he had to share 'his' sleeping spot too. I figured that was pushing it too far, especially for a dog that's not staying long.

Today, he was tense in the morning but relaxed. I can officially say I don't think I'll ever be able to live with a dog that doesn't have a solid leave it. It'll always be a behavior I train right from the beginning. Toby has never generalized it to live animals, but there is no question in his ability to leave any food, no matter what. Shelby dropped her treat and both our dogs started to go for it. Not good. I've had so many incidents where Toby's leave it has saved him from eating something he wasn't supposed to (half the time he doesn't bother even looking towards whatever fell...) but it always makes me proud. I was able to cue him to leave it and stop Reba mid-go for it so Shelby could resume in peace. I'm not sure how she'd have reacted to having it taken, but it's not worth it. (Although, if anyone has tips on how to teach a dog that's going blind a good leave it... I'd like to hear them. I've tried with Reba, but she can only see it some of the time... it makes the criteria VERY hard to define for her... and since it normally takes her ages to find something I've lived without it. It'd be helpful though).

Outside of course, is a little different. Inside, Shelby can be dancing in front of me and Toby's calm about this. Outside... he tried to entice her to play. They've played before, but he was a bit over the top enthused about his asking today so she told him no. He flopped into a second play bow, hitting her as he did it (he was very loose body wise, just not respectful of her personal space), she lifted her lip. That was enough for him until after he'd chased a squirrel came flying back, tried to ask for play and she refused him again. He'd ignored my hand touch so I was moving in closer to cue him away but I didn't need to. He went to put a paw on her back and she turned and snapped at him that time. That was enough for him. As long as she wasn't crazy running around the yard he ignored her. Or I should say, as long as she wasn't doing that or chasing me up the deck. But overall giving him something else to do and the fact that she wasn't willing to tolerate being tackled calmed him back down again. He's a loose happy boy right now, snoozing up next to her. At dinner time tonight Shelby didn't eat until I started hand-feeding her... our two finished before she was done so I cued them both to my other side and asked for downs. I hand-fed them all together. Both my dogs love hand-feeding, it's a chance to get food from me and do tricks. Shelby just got to much comfortably. And it kept everyone out of her dish while I made sure she ate something today (she's used to being free-fed, which we don't do at our house).

Here's a picture of the pretty girl:

For a 13 year old lady, she's looking grand. Still has the most incredible heart too, but camera shy. This is the only one out of a good twenty shots that I was able to get and I'm zoomed in from a distance. She's a timid dog. I know some dogs are naturally that way, but I also know a great deal of hers it due to her raising. The problem I always find myself in when I get to spend some time with her... is how happy do I make her? Her 'mom' has an unpredictable temper. One day Shelby is allowed on the couch, the next she gets screamed at for it. One day I can play with her, the next day Shelby gets screamed at for even bringing me a toy - even if I've asked for it. Our house is much more laid back (thank Dog!). She's allowed on the furniture and she's allowed to be a wacky girl. We don't care if she dances and runs around in the house when she's happy. And yet, I hate to think that when she gets home she could get in trouble. We're following their instructions as said, but her mom has never been consistent with her. Which is so sad, because I'd have taken this dog a thousand times over... my entire family would have. She's a complete joy to have here, especially now that my boy has calmed down. And I know that her family loves her (especially the kids and their dad), but there's a reason I don't take Toby to that house unless I have to. So as much fun as it's been to see her come back out of her shell, I'm worried about just how far I happy talk her into. She's such a sweetheart.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Well, I've been avoiding this thing lately. Mainly because I'm still avoiding the vet appointment in my memory. I think when I cope better with what happened without falling into that self-hating, depressed mode I'll write about it. But right now... it's almost safer to get some distance from it. I can at least type this without feeling like I'm about to break down, so that's improvement. For the record, no one got hurt.

However, the real purpose of this blog is on the fact that we're watching my aunt's dog today, tomorrow and Friday. It never occurred to anyone in the family - including me - that this would be a problem. Toby and Shelby have always gotten along... no matter where we were at. They've lived peacefully together in campers, at Shelby's house, at any other of our relatives houses... Shelby is one of those quiet, calm dogs whose absolutely no trouble. She's also female... Toby's never had a problem with a female before. Ever. And shoot, to top it all off... They started off great. Their normal calm meet and then they forgot about each other, lounging around the house. My brothers and parents could all play and pet Shelby and nothing changed.

Then I come home. We haven't had any scuffles or anything, but if I so much as look Shelby's way Toby is stepping between us. The only way I can pet her is by putting him in a sit/wait on one side of me and having her on the other and pet them both at the same time. But if I'm not very clear that I want Toby to follow me when I'm done he heads straight for Shelby, smelling her over, sometimes his tail is up, sometimes not. He just has this weird, overly excited look in his eye. If she tries to petition petting from me he splits between us, blocking her access. And heaven forbid if she gets excited and jumps or play bows at me. His eyes nearly bugged out of his head when she did that and the only thing that kept him from rushing over and posturing was the fact that I stepped in between them and told him to back off.

This has never happened before. I've played with Shelby wildly, running around her back yard and he never cared. He'd either watch or join in, completely relaxed. Shelby has always been one of his buddies. Not the over the top, OMG I'm excited to see her type of buddy... but they've always acted like extended housemates. Happy to see each other, petition play when they want... shoot they've always gotten along better than even our little dog Reba and Toby do sometimes. And Shelby's not the problem... I'm fairly certain there. Yes, she's watching me and just waiting for me to cue her to come get petted (she's a very restricted dog, her upbringing was very, very strict...) but that's nothing new. She looks away, arcs around, yields to Toby... shoot, Reba just snapped at her (Reba can't see and Shelby just stepped on her tail, whoops). Nothing.

I'm a bit torn in how to handle this. I don't want to entice a fear response in anyone... I've toyed with the idea of desensitizing the situation. Except, Shelby can't have anything outside her kibble - which she's not in the mood for. And Toby doesn't seem food motivated at the moment. If I'm out of the room, he'd take it no problem, if I'm in the room... we're treading his threshold I guess. He'll take it and it's give or take on whether he'll eat. He did just eat dinner (which I always carefully monitor... him and Reba like to try and switch, even though she can't reach his and that doesn't always go over well). Shelby was in the room and less than a foot from me. As long as I wasn't touching her and he knew what I wanted him to do (to eat) he was fine.

-sighs- Well, I'm not reading my book downstairs tonight like I planned. At the moment I'm relegated to my room while I let things resettle downstairs. I wish I knew if I was doing anything... but when I came home I was confident and relaxed. I'd seen them all lounging about in the house and had no worries. At the moment I'm puzzled but I don't feel too stressed by anything because in this situation Toby seems to be responding best as long as I've given him clear directions and am ignoring Shelby. The poor girl. She loves attention.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reba Pictures

Because I realized she doesn't get enough 'show time' on the blog or in the videos. So here's my best girl:
Reba happy to work. That's one thing I can count on... she always wants to play and work. She's such a happy girl. Where I get stumped a lot of the time is how to help her... she's losing her eyesight and I find myself struggling to continue teaching her as many tricks as possible. We're learning together and in the end it'll make me a better trainer for it, but she's not an experienced dog when it comes to shaping (and gets frustrated fast) and luring is dangerous for my fingers. So we experiment together... but a lot of it I don't think to tape.
Her eyes actually look good in these pictures too. They got all green and gunky the longer we worked outside. :(

Oh and just because I can't help it. I have to show of the "happy man," although he was anything but this last weekend. I noticed he'd either itched a small hole in his side or gotten bit by a good sized bug. Either way he had to suffer through my administrations. I voted to just clean it/put some cream on it, and bandage it rather than take him to the vet this weekend... I watched him closely and he seems completely normal. And taking him to the vet would have wiped his system out - stress wise. I hope that changes with the new vet. We'll see how well that goes Tuesday.
Though I will admit... he doesn't look nearly as fed up with me in this picture as he did last summer when he started itching his butt bald and had to wear undies for a few days. Oh... was I getting the look then! Seasonal allergies kick our butts over here. In the winter, Toby is fine... his coat is shiny, his eyes bright, the whole nine yards... The moment my allergies kick in come spring, his are right behind mine. -sighs-

A New Vet

Well, I've been putting this off and putting it off. I've known for a little while now that I wanted to change veterinary clinics. The vets we currently have do a good job, don't get me wrong, they're just not for us. They're closest to us and have done fairly well with all of our dogs. But Toby has been going downhill there... he used to love going in and saying hi to the people. Now, he'll cower as we walk in the front door and will freak if it even looks like we're heading to an examining room. It's far from easy carrying him back to a room. You know it's bad when your dog gets injured and you weigh whether it's really that bad to take him with the emotional costs you know it has on your dog. I've tried working with them... I've asked to be taken in through the back if possible, they can't do it. Which is surprising, because they can do it for other clients. I've asked if we can schedule around the busy times, they can't do that either. There aren't any non-busy times apparently.

So after a lot of poking around I was recommended to a small vet practice (a little drive from where I am...). After calling them I'm feeling much more confident about switching. We've set up an appointment (for next Tues) just for a meet and greet with the vets and if he's feeling comfortable, his heartworm blood test. They were more than willing to set up an appointment just to get to know him (even more surprising was that the receptionist recommended it before I'd even gotten to that question). Even better, we're scheduled right after lunch time and are the first clients in. That way there will be the fewest possible dogs there and he shouldn't have to feel crunched and over threshold. And if that doesn't help, they're more than willing to take us through the back. There are a few more questions popping into my head as I write this... which goes to show that no matter how prepared I thought I was to call, I still didn't have everything on hand like I wanted. lol. But that's nothing I can't ask them Tues.

Part of me hates having to switch vets. On the human end, our previous one was convenient. I hate driving, I'm terrified of it. Our old one was right next door practically, off residential roads so I didn't have to do anything 'scary.' The new one is off a little distance (15 minute drive), off a busier road that I've never been too. I'm scared all right. But I'll spend this weekend driving from home and back just to get the feel of it. I almost didn't call and move him... almost, until I remembered him shutdown in the middle of the lobby, shaking and having to be carried into the back room. Or the way he know growls and cowers from the vets and makes me wonder what goes on when they take him from me to the back. There is no way I can accept that that's how going to be has to be. The lady at the new vet assured me that that's not how it should have to be either.

I just really hope this works out. -crosses fingers-

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

And he's loose...

I had quite the heart attack this morning. The latch on side gate sprung loose while he was out and I'd gotten distracted because I was running late for work so I didn't realize it until he'd been out 10 minutes. I know the gate was shut when I let him out because that's the first thing I check, so I'm not sure what went wrong. However, Toby has one call (I smooch, shut the door and he has 10 seconds to get up to the door) when he's out back when it's time to come in. It's amazingly enough, a rule structure everyone in my family has kept up with. If he's not there in 10 seconds the shoes go on and someone calmly goes out to fetch him. He rarely, if ever misses a call. Lately however, with the pesky dog out he's been missing a few.

So when I called him this morning I didn't think anything of it. I went out back and checked the fence line for where he might be standing before I realized he wasn't there. Sure enough when I turned around and hurried around the deck... the little gate was standing wide open. I took off after him, but when I didn't see him in immediate sight down the block I started to panic. Trying to think I just did a 'smooch' sound again as I headed in the direction I thought he'd go. I made it two steps before he dive bombed me. Yes!

I'm so proud of him. Thankfully, it was a quiet morning and outside from the normal fenced dogs on the street there'd been nothing for him to get in trouble with. After some cuddles and telling him what an awesome man I thought he was, I let him run up my neighbor's drive way back into our back yard (his biggest reward tends to be getting to run loose again... I can't give him that, but I could at least rev him up and run with him back those last few feet). I'm relieved and thrilled... whew.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Track Success - Playtime, Tunnel Work, and Distractions

Wow. It's been so nice out these past few days that we were actually able to get some agility work done... After yesterday's success I couldn't wait to get out today. We tried this morning, but the track was in use, so we went to a near by park and just walked/jogged around on his 6ft leash. The park itself is bigger than the track but... people like to use it as an off leash dog park (why, I don't know, it's settled between four roads, one of which is busy) so I didn't want him on anything that I couldn't be right there to intervene if a dog came flying out of nowhere. It allowed him to stretch his legs and work on loose leash walking, because we haven't done much of that.

But tonight... I kept my fingers crossed and when I drove by the track was empty. So I went home and loaded him up. I already had my arms full and him in one arm when I realized the track was no longer empty - two 13 year old girls were riding their bikes around the track talking. That was fine. I figured we'd do some 6ft leash work while they were there and if they left I'd switch lines and go to agility. They didn't leave... but were very curious to see what we were up to. I love kids that are well behaved. They were nice. Parked their bikes, asked questions, asked before they pet... the whole nine yards. Toby was very happy for a chance to say hello to someone older than his normal 5 year old and younger crowd (kids just seem drawn to him when we go out... and as patient as he is, he's not always as thrilled to see them as they are him). They saw my bundled up tunnel (only 3ft long, nothing special) and asked if we were training for a competition. I told them no, we were just there to have fun. They asked me if he was good at it... no there too. LOL. Don't get me wrong, Toby LOVES his tunnel... but this was going to be the first time we ever tried the tunnel anywhere other than my backyard.

Then they headed off like they were going to leave. So I set up. I was setting the camera up (I videoed the session, but you only see half of the tunnel and our play sessions because I didn't do a test run with it... I was too nervous), when I saw the girls had parked their bikes and were sitting in the bleachers to watch. I'm not the person you put in front of a crowd... and Toby's not the most focused boy on the lot. But I was determined to try and just have fun. It was going to be a nice, small distraction so I figured I might as well make use of it. He did wonderful!

I ran him through the tunnel 4 times (5 trials, I set him too far back on one and he missed the tunnel)... using tug as his reinforcer. He was thrilled. It was all one big game to him and that's exactly what I want! It was over in less than 3 minutes and after that I let him wander and smell, just rewarding for check ins. The girls stayed the entire time... they waited until I'd packed up and was heading to the car before they came to ask more questions. I thanked them and still can't wipe the silly grin off my face. He not only played with me at the track, he did a 'new' obstacle for that situation, and did it with people watching. What a boy! I've teased enough people that if I could give him a 'show name' it'd be Valerie's What a Man, because that's my boy. When he's feeling good and comfortable, he'll do anything.

I may upload the video, either here or to youtube... Though I'm hoping to get a better one soon (I need to figure out a good camera arrangement for out there).

On an even brighter note! I might have found a CU class less than a half hour from me. This is the closest positive class I've been able to find. I'm not sure however, if the trainer does private classes or what not as she's apart of the Kalamazoo Kennel Club and their web site is hard to navigate and with several different trainers for various classes. I'll be nosing around Thursday to get more information. I'd love to work with a trainer who uses these principles and is a positive/clicker trainer. -crosses fingers- I can only hope. I'd like to be able to set up more safe situations to work with him in.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Toy Success! Yeehaw!!!!

I'm so beyond thrilled tonight. Toby has never been willing to play anywhere but home... He might take a toy if asked but would normally drop it off hand. It's never mattered where we were at... camping, staying at someone's house, just out in a field... He wouldn't play. He'd 'work,' aka tricks, but was never relaxed enough to play. Lately however, the abandoned track near by has double as our backyard/walking grounds. It's not safe to walk in the neighborhood, so I've taken to using that almost daily to get him the exercise he needs. In doing so he's gotten really, really comfortable there... enough so that he'd play agility with me and run through the jump standards I got.

So I've been trying to build the fun/relaxing aspect of the track for a little while now, in hopes that maybe he'd be comfortable enough to actually play with me. Tonight was finally cool enough that I decided to grab the jump standard for some work... and two toys. They're both new ones... a nice, soft tug and a fake rabbit pelt. No food rewards like I normally have to use when we go on an outing... just me and two toys I didn't know would work.

He was a blast!!! At first he was just thrilled to have room to stretch his legs and was pacing at the end of his 50ft line when he came trotting up to 'help' me set up the jump standard. I got out his tug toy and started twirling it over the ground, jerking it about and running and WHAM! He latched on for a game of tug and then chase and tug again. Finally I cued him to give, set him in a sit and ran him through the standard for another game of tug. I was so beyond pumped. It's the longest session we've ever had with the jump - just being able to run and play. The rabbit fur toy was even more of a hit. It's the first time I've actually walked him around and had him turning back looking for a toy to go play with instead of walk.

He was more relaxed there than I've seen him normally and totally willing to be a goof. I'm so glad to see him finally relaxing somewhere other than home like this. (On a bonus note, the other day my brother's friend was over with his 10 year old brother. The boys were all out back and had taken Toby with them while they played. Toby played beautifully with the little boy, doing his normal 'keep away' game which the boy got a kick out of chasing him around the backyard. He will bring it back if you ask, but Toby grew up with little dogs and he's always considered that type of play to work the best. Lying down to wrestle is okay but takes a lot more self control than letting the other dog chase him around. He takes that view to play sessions with people he's not too sure of how to play with either. And of course, with one of us if we're not specific right away on the game we want to play).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Near Miss

I've so beyond had it with my neighbors and their dogs. I haven't walked Toby in the neighborhood since the little Shih Tzu ran up and bit him while we were out front. As a rule I've ignored the two dogs these people own as they run loose in the front yard. I've tried being civil. I've tried being as polite as possible to these people. I don't want them as my enemies - these are the people who just the other day went walking down the street with a baseball bat after someone. I'd rather not have a problem.

But... it's ridiculous when I can't even let my dogs out in the backyard without having to worry now. Why? Because that little dog that attacked him has discovered that are dogs on the other side of our fence. That wouldn't be a problem if she was in her own backyard... we have landscape timbers laid at the bottom of our fence to prevent anyone from going under it. We've taken the precautions. I contain my dogs, I keep them under control when out in public to the best of my ability and they are always on leash. But in our fenced in backyard that is the one place Toby is allowed off leash and to just run around and be a happy dog. I should not have to worry about his sanctuary being breached by some one else's dog.

The only part on our fence that sits off the ground is the double gates dad needs to get his camper in and out. That's it. That's all the way up our drive way, behind our cars, and it barely sits off the ground maybe 3 inches... And yet when I let the dogs out this morning, went to grab a drink, I had to come flying back because Toby was barking up a fit. Toby never barks so when he barks something is up. I go bolting out in the backyard and Reba is snarling away on our deck and Toby is madly attacking the ground near the double gate system. That's when I can hear the barking and snarling of a little dog on the other side.

I yelled leave it as I'm trying to run down the deck to get over to where he is and much to my surprise, he listens! Toby has a stellar leave it with non animate objects... it's a work in progress with live animals. Especially other dogs. But maybe because he thought I was cueing a leave it to the fence he backed off a few feet from it, he kept growling but at least he was no longer trying to claw down the gate. (It's padlocked and with a car pressed up against it, but still...) I get over there and just grab his collar in time to see a little snout of a dog trying to peak in under our fence, little teeth bared.

Oh, I'd had it. I hit the fence and yelled at the dog to get... which resulted in the dog backing off our fence and just standing there barking. Not that I agree my little temper tantrum helped the situation with Toby, he just thought there was even more reason to be snarling at the fence, but it was much better than kicking the dog in the nose... which at that moment was as close to what I wanted to do at that moment (which was give the little dog's owners a kick in the hiney). I led Toby back in and despite a few last huffs at the fence he was fine. Then I turn to go retrieve Reba and see her hopping down the stairs to go take up his post. -laughs- I scooped her up and carried her in. Silly little dog.

I called Animal Control once both dogs were in the house. They came, I reported everything that's happened and they went to have a talk with the neighbors. An hour later... the dogs were out loose again. I have a feeling I'll be making a lot of reports, because I'm done. I'm not about to risk having that dog try and dig it's way under our fence to get at Toby. And as much as I'd like too... I can't guarantee that he wouldn't be out back unsupervised... everyone in my family lets the dogs out and it was a losing battle from the start on that area.

Toby has some of the best manners with little dogs. He modifies his play with them, he's grown up with, he cuts them a GREAT deal more respect and tolerance than any large dog and is all around very good with them. Puppies tend to get the same response from him. But, he doesn't tolerate being bitten. And this little dog seems to have it out for him. This is the third time she's come flying up to where he was at to start something. The first time we were half way down the block on a walk and up she came, thankfully chased off by another neighbor. The second time she came out of nowhere and had the whole bite fiasco. And now she's tried to find her way under the fence to get at him. I've heard her a few times in their back yard too and she chases the fence line snarling but Toby gives up fence fighting rather fast on that side because we've blocked huge sections of it off so he can't get near the fence (from when they still had the large dog before it got loose and attacked a kid).

Some people really should just not have dogs. Those these people shouldn't have kids either. -sighs- Though I've just remembered, I don't think the dogs are licensed... so the next time I call Animal Control that'll be a point I bring up. Maybe a hefty fine will sway them to keep their dogs contained.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Toby Turned 5!!

Yep. Sunday, Toby turned five years old. A bit startling because it doesn't feel like we've been together that long. Gosh, I can still remember him in the Humane Society kennel with his all golden lab colored siblings, the only one not bouncing around like a madman... he was just sitting there calmly, wagging his tail as he looked up at us. Or holding him when I discovered he had Parvo, or his gangly adolscence, or... wow. It really has been that long.

To celebrate I got him some special stuff. He got a Booda Bellies Giraffe - a really weird looking stuffed toy giraffe, with a huge fat tummy. He thinks it's awesome and I'm waiting for him to destroy it... surprisingly it's last two chew sessions now. That's gotta be a record for a stuffed toy. He also got a 'money bag,' a stuffed toy our Wal-Mart occasionally has, it looks like a small bag of money, with the dollar sign on the side, but instead of squeaks it crinkles. He LOVES the few toys I find that do that. Then as a special treat for dinner he got a McDonald's hamburger (well part of it...). Reba also got stuff, a collection of puppy squeakers that are small, soft, and have incredibly high pitched squeaks. She loves them.

Things have been quiet here for the most part. After the incident in the previous post we haven't walked around the neighborhood at all. I've taken him to the track every day I can and worked with him in the backyard when I couldn't. This past weekend I was swamped dog sitting so he got a little neglected - and was sure to tell me so! I did let a doggy friend come over and visit Sunday night - or rather, a past doggy friend. Although Toby was initially thrilled to see him, the interest died off fast when we both realized that Vargus has fully come into his hormones. He's a three year old (or close to) intact male Boxer. Varg loves to play, but he's a little 'humpy' to everything. Everything. Female in heat nearby perhaps? I don't know. Toby wasn't too thrilled after Varg tried to hump him once or twice and after calmly setting the situation straight he retired on the deck behind me.

I did this however, not just to let him play but also to watch his reactions with me around. It's been awhile since he's been able to play with a doggy friend (we just don't have many). As normal, he doesn't like Vargus paying attention to me. I'm not sure how much of it is more 'resource guardy' or just splitting and wished I'd taken a video. But I'm leaning towards the latter of the two. Why? Because as long as Vargus was calm and we were just petting (hard for that dog, who never stays still!) Toby was fine to watch or be pet as well. But if Varg got too excited he'd step between us... if Vargus continued to go over the top, Toby'd get growly and tell him to knock it off.

Treats wise, they were both more than comfortable to take treats from me and work with me. Odd... because in the presence of another dog on leash that's now always the case and surely not with the dog standing right next to him.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The First Bite

Why is it when things are going so good that something always has to come along to help everything fall apart?

I've never believed that Toby couldn't bite or even that he wouldn't, but I've managed every situation so that he wouldn't ever feel like he had to. But today mom called and asked us to come pick her up at the bank so I put the dogs in the car and drove down. Toby wasn't feeling much of himself today so I figured the car ride would do him some good. It did. He was a happy dog the whole trip. When we got home we got paused by neighbors so they could ask questions about the dogs. Normally I would never stand out in my front yard with Toby because these neighbors are known for having their little dog get loose (and now their second little dog as well), but the door was shut and they assured me both dogs were locked in the house.

Alright, I let Toby linger out front with me. He was greeting all the neighborhood kids happily and mom entertained the neighbors (they were curious about Reba's breed and her sight, their new dog looks similar to her). I can barely remember what happened next. Their door must not have been locked and one of their kids must have opened it... next thing I hear is something jingling behind me and a flash of black and white as their little Shih Tzu darts over. Toby whips around but he's very good at keeping his head... normally. He's MUCH more tolerant of little dogs than he is of big ones.

But this one bit first. I remember having that split second startle as the dog did two snaps against Toby's nose and then it all blurred over in speed. I think he tried to pin the little dog first but the dog was fast, just jumping and nipping. It was over in less than a second. I had the leash reeled in and Toby hefted off the ground and Toby had the little dog by the back of it's next in his mouth. He let go just as fast as he picked it up and the owners were there to collect their dog... but I don't even know what to think.

Toby remembered himself fast and pulled himself right into a sit. He was whining slightly but nothing like he would if he were really over threshold... but I don't know. I talked to him a bit, asked him if he were okay and he settled back to normal. His breathing seemed fine. The other dog wasn't hurt according to her owners. Toby went in the house fine, none of his normal stressy behaviors after an outburst.

I shouldn't say it was his first bite... he's gotten loose once and after greeting one of his buddies turned and saw that his other buddy wasn't there and those two collided. But Comet had the same problem Toby had and neither of them stuck a bite. Their jaws were open and knocking against each other but neither of them were willing to put in the bet for the fight. Other little dogs that have snapped up Toby's face have just been pinned to the ground and held there until they cool it (unless I can intervene). (He's been raised around a bunch of little dogs, so most of those have always been someone getting a bit too bossy and Toby not tolerating it). I've never seen him actually bite, let alone hold that bite for more than even a split second.

Needless to say my adrenaline is up. I never saw that one coming. Toby acts fine but he'll be taking it easy around the house for a few days. I probably need it more than he does... because all I want to do is curl up and cry. I'm thankful neither dog got hurt and furious that these people can't contain their dogs. And at the same time I'm downright furious with myself because... I don't even know. I'm not even sure where to go next with our training, I just hope we've done enough that I'm not completely back below zero again. I don't think I can stand having to be reset all the way to the beginning again, let alone having be worse for another year before I undo what tonight did. Please just let it be a small speed bump... not a whole earth quake. I don't think I can take another one of those.

Morning Pictures

Here are some recent pictures of the Tobermeister!

(No, he's not supposed to be drinking out of the bird bath. I called him away after I realized what he was doing... When I clicked to take the picture he was just standing pretty, apparently in the split second it took for the camera to register he dipped his nose for a drink. Silly boy, that's yucky!)

And a few attempts at getting some bird shots... ironically they're fine with me wandering the backyard without my camera. I go and get it and they all leave...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Open Bar at the Track

Well, this past weekend I'd bought some of those cake decorating kits - where you squeeze the frosting out through the nozzle... fully intending to use them as a way to squeeze food into Toby's mouth at a continuous stream. In the moment getting the reward in fast and as often as I possibly can is actually allowing us to watch a dog go past and have Toby remain pretty calm.

So I set out today with some cut-up hotdog in my bait pouch (not a real, high value treat for Toby but good enough for how comfortable he feels at the track for some obedience work) and my frosting-thing filled with blended meat. I'd been hoping to try the Open Bar technique again but until my Direct Stop gets here I was voting for the safety of the track. And well... I thought it smart to test my new equipment before trying it on the road. Good thing too...

We get there, are barely out of the car and into the gate, not even on the actual track yet when some guy walks his dog past. I spot it first and am able to get Toby out into the middle of the track (I had to drag him away from a smell, but thankfully he just thought it was me being impatient). I still new we only had about 100 feet between us and the other dog... in this environment I wasn't too sure that it would be enough of a distance, but by then Toby had spotted the other dog. Equipment failure 101 - always have a back up plan. Because sure enough, when I went to squeeze food into Toby's mouth I discovered the hole in the nozzle was too small for the thick goo I was trying to squeeze through. This wasn't going to be just a quick pass from the other dog either... the dude had to walk the whole length of one side of the track, then of course turned, and had to walk half the small length of it before the sidewalk dips down the hill and the guy/dog would go out of sight.

I started shoveling hotdogs into Toby like you wouldn't believe. But they're not high value rewards for him... he was taking them but more because I stuffing them in his lips than actually reaching for them. So I changed to scooping gunk out of the sleeve of the froster and letting him lick that off. Gross, but effective. We did get some mild crying from him - because we were a bit too close once the guy turned and walked the width of the track, that put him quite a bit closer because of the angle I'd rushed out to. I'd expected him to go straight or turn the other way... not continue on closer to us. Nonetheless we made it through without an outburst...

But we've gotten an interesting new twist to this. In the car on the way home he saw someone so I fed him as we passed (might as well build on calm behavior right?). Then I saw a dog so I was feeding him as we drove past - all calm. I like this. We got to a stop sign and while I was waiting to turn he saw two dogs playing across the street. Now, normally in car that'll set him off into his cry-screams. Instead he whined and whipped to me, so I fed him hotdogs as we drove past and that was that. We were within 30 feet as we drove by (the dogs in a fenced in front yard) and while he was a bit nervy (breath a bit to fast, his eyes glued on the dog, a bit stiff but not overly tense) he was way under his normal reaction level for a situation like that.

Things are actually going pretty good... I think they'd go better if I could remember to breathe normally in the moment things are happening. I'm getting better now that I have a plan for how to handle the situations and we've laid some good calming foundation work for this... I just have to remember to breathe normally.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

New Trick - Cross Paws

Well today we did a lot of mini-sessions again. Some old work with pairing his lip lick with the cue 'Yum,' but we also did a variety of new stuff. Both dogs had a lesson on getting on the skateboard/getting used to it's movement. Sadly I need a different skateboard, my brother won't be too happy if we continue to use his good, expensive skateboard for the dogs (it feels the same to Toby as his nail file board, so we get a combo of standing on it and scratching it).

I'm also trying some body awareness stuff. For him I discovered teaching him to work into a laundry basket and then working into smaller stuff works well. We tried a while back with a medium sized box but he didn't get it. Half the time he got a back foot in by chance, but he was consciously thinking about it. The laundry basket was big enough he would put a back foot in with some encouragement, but the sides were also high enough that he had to think about lifting them in. I'll have to get a picture of this as we work our way down into something smaller.

Last, but not least, he learned how to cross his paws today. We settled on 'girly boy' as the cue (which we're starting to add). Took it outside to get a good picture, the new environment meant he wasn't 100% sure on what I was asking, but he did do it. We'll work on making the behavior more solid and more prominent 'cross' of his paws as he gains confidence. But here it is:

And Reba saying good bye:

Gotta love the slurp face she has going on there!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Impulse Control and Mat Work

We've done a lot of mini-sessions all day today, but at the request of a friend I videoed the impulse control/mat work we (both dogs and I) did tonight. Thought I'd post it here:

Loose Dogs and Set Backs

I love idiot little dogs that are allowed to run loose. Probably not as much as I love their idiotic owners that let them out in the first place. Don't get me wrong... I understand fences break, or latches fail... management always fails. But when people don't even bother? I don't think they realize just how much that pesky little dog can damage months and even years of work in one day and one encounter. And it's beyond frustrating for the person behind the leash of a dog they've spent months getting to a semi-normal state.

We'll see soon enough just how much damage the loose dog today did. I'll take a break from walking Toby around here for a while and let him have some breathing time. You see, we set off today rather confident. Yesterday's success just blew me away. We'd just set out when I saw there was a loose Shih Tzu running around - and she gets loose a lot - but we just crossed the street and I fed Toby as I passed. Worked brilliantly. He was a bit distractable this walk... but I could see all the cats that were out last night. I was impressed I was getting at least some check ins while he sniffed down all the cat places.

The entire walk went rather smoothly and we even took the long way back and still there were no problems until we were half way down the block and saw that not only was the little dog still out, but his owners were sitting in their yard a half a block down watching the dog run the entire length of the neighborhood. How nice of them. I had him nibbling for a few seconds but then the dog spotted us, started jumping up and down and barking. Great. There went Toby. He hit the end of that leash and the dog took off (mind you, the dog was across the street from us... but that much movement/barking from the other dog pushed him over threshold). Instead of continue I stepped us back a few feet and moved behind a car to let Toby cool down. He did and although scanning his surroundings wanted his cheese. Stress reliever? I don't know.

We talked with the guy whose car we were now hiding behind but he started shaking his head. I'd known from the barking that they hadn't taken the dog inside and instead the dog was darting back and forth the street and sure enough... heading back for us. I stood up to get a look, told it to get but that only made the dog yap more. Thankfully, unlike the dog's oh-so-helpful owners, the man by us chased the dog off back towards it's owners. They never once moved. I thanked him and headed Toby home. We were heading down my neighbors drive way (not risking trying to get to the gate in my front yard) when I could hear the dog barking it's way back towards us. We made it in fine... but come on.

Toby did fairly well, all things considering. I just wish people would keep their dogs under control. And I really, really can't wait until my Direct Stop gets here. But here's to hoping that this doesn't set us back very far... we've worked so hard to get to this point. -sighs-

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fooling Around

Toby was a little bored so I decided to teach him to hop up into my computer chair. It moves, so we started slow. He wasn't phased by any of it. It was his size that got in the way. -rolls- He climbed up but he was backwards and it was awkward turning around while the chair was wobbling (I didn't let it move too much, but I did let it move some. He was comfortable with that). He even slid into his puppy sit and stared at me and the treats impatiently while I wobbled the chair around and had him do shakes and hand touches.

Opening the Bar

This past Monday was the first time I'd actually tried the "Open Bar" technique. It's mainly, feeding the dog while a stressor goes by. It helps change how the dog perceives the situation... from the normal negative to something more positive. Well I'd been reading a few blog posts from someone else on the Control Unleashed Yahoo group doing it and had decided to try it... and in Monday's post, just getting him to nibble the cheese the whole way really worked. I was a bit stunned.

So today I went out intending to do the same thing. I wasn't feeling comfortable or confident enough to set out with the mindset of doing it if we saw another dog. Why? I don't know. Maybe I still felt like I'd be making the situation worse. Or bribing him. Or something... I don't know. But we headed out... barely made it off the block when I saw a dog heading in our direction across the street and Toby hadn't noticed him yet. So I made a split second decision and called him to me. I grabbed the cheese and let him start nibbling while I held his collar. Part of me hoped we'd get through it without him noticing the dog... Me, insecure? You betcha.

He did indeed notice the other dog. Now... I really couldn't have asked for a better 'test dog' than that one. It's a husky-mix (probably) and this dog is one of the calmest dogs I've seen on walks. He always walks perfectly calm with his older gentleman and whenever we've ran into them, the dog barely blinks an eye if Toby reacts. I knew there wouldn't be any lunging back from this dog... so that's better than most could have hoped for. The moment Toby saw him he stopped eating and started to focus, I just moved the cheese back in front of his nose and he started nibbling. I laughed when I read in the other CU member's blog about her dog growling and slurping as he watched the dog go by and had an similar odd-sensation as Toby whined, and nibbled at the same time. And yet... Toby was choosing to eat. When I had to move my hand to get another small chunk to let him nibble (I'd gotten 'smart' and cut the string cheese up before heading out) he moved with my hand, whining and latched onto the next chunk. Wow.

Once the dog was beyond us and moving onto the other block I was able to cue Toby to continue the walk and just wow... Up he went and rather happily! He may have been just on his threshold line or a bit over as the dog went by, but the recovery time was in the blink of an eye. Now sadly, we made it about five steps before my neighbor jogged to catch up to us, startling Toby. This man Toby has never once tried to jump on but the man has never tracked us down to walk with us. So Toby did get a bit stressed then, jumped towards the man (to greet... but that's not smart with this guy) and I made sure we kept our distance. After the rest of the block we turned another way so we didn't have to do the whole walk with him. He freaks me out and that's NOT the vibe I want to send my dog... not after such a success! But we made it home without further trouble.

I have to say... I'm a lot more open to the thought of feeding him through a stressor. I'd tried it in the beginning, but it had always been having him sit first, and trying to piece little bits of treats into his mouth making the whole process slow. Having something that he can just nibble/suck on the whole time works 10 times better. He got through the situation of having a dog walk past us (albeit across the street) without ANY of his normal fuss. Normally he's dancing at the end of that leash, loud whining/crying/growling, loud huffing breaths, scanning the surrounding area during and after and can take him about 10-30 seconds minimum to recover. Today, we got through it with some mild whining as he watched the dog go by. I'm definitely going to make more use of this! It's a shame I can't pin down the man's walking times and use them to my advantage. -grins- If only all people had set schedules!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Today has been a lot of mini-sessions. I took Toby out to the track for a good run on his 50ft, but not only that... I took our little jump with us. I set it up in the middle of the field and after getting his ya-yas out we did a few call-throughs for the jump. I don't really have much of an idea when it comes to agility training as of yet... so I'm making it up as I go along and doing whatever makes sense. I figured a good way to start would be to just get him running through the jump standards. We'd already done a shaping session of it at home, and a few things in and out of the house with it. So I set him in a wait on one side of the jump and called him over from the other side. That worked well enough. Next step I figured would be to run alongside him as he went through it. We do that fine at home (in and outside), but he thought it was much funner to tackle me instead. Reminds me how little playing we actually do at the track...

Toby doesn't play with me if we're not home... so I don't even bother to bring toys most of the time. However, he's willing to play agility with me there, so I can't help but wonder if we're there often enough that he now considers it a second backyard of sorts? I think I'll experiment on bringing some toys with us. As well as use the Premack Principle to up the value of playing with me even more so.

Once home we relaxed for awhile before getting down to some more training. I fed both dogs their breakfasts while on their mats. We haven't done this since the first time (bad me!) but Toby did well. All his Relaxation Protocol and Mat work really pay off. Reba decided it was much easier to just stay on her mat than get up each time after I led her back to hers a few times. I can do a lot more when I have the living room to work in... I can jog, do figure eights around the dogs, play with the front door, leave the room, all kinds of things. So not only is it helpful to have those added distractions for Toby's mat work, but I really want to build having a spot to send them for when I want to work with one dog individually. I'm hoping to do this again Thursday morning again.

Then after another break Toby and I went to my room for some shaping sessions. We refreshed on his bow... I want to get him to hold it for 10 seconds before I put a cue on it. Why? Because all though 75% of the time he'll hold it for a count of 5, sometimes he starts to bow and then folds back into his down. It was an awesome way to capture the behavior, but I've had a hard time getting him to discriminate it from his down (which is also his default behavior... xD).

Then we did some hind leg work. I discovered that he's itchy today on a certain spot on his belly, so rubbing that while he was standing resulted in lifting his back legs like he was going to itch. I c/t that for a little while before stopping. I also cued him to down, clicked him for rolling onto one hip and tried clicking for any twitches his back feet gave. Got a few before he started getting silly with his face. So we switched gears and I started to click his play face. He pulls his lips/whiskers back... like a dog baring his teeth, except you never see the teeth. It's his 'grin'. I've always wanted it on cue, so why not?

After that we called it good for awhile. I did do some work with getting him to look away from me and at something else for some c/t. It's the start of the Look At That Game! in Control Unleashed. I'm not sure he's getting it, but it's the first time I've taught it too... so we'll see where we get with it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Breakthrough! With Cheese!

I've been using string cheese this past two weeks... since I've been too cheap to buy something else for him. It's worked fairly well. With the mozzarella I was getting my normal check ins... but with the colby jack I tried tonight? Oh wow. The checks ins were bam-bam-bam in the beginning... then we crossed an outdoor cat and he lost his brain for a good portion of the walk. It set him right about his threshold, maybe a little over, and he forgot I existed as he smelled down the variety of stuff dumped in people's yards. However, we always get to this spot where I'm preparing to cross over to the next block and there is this LOUD dog (not visible) across the street from us. He sounds vicious and then to top it off, there are sometimes a whole group of dogs behind a fence (visible) in the house we're trying to cross over to. Add that to the fact that we don't always continue the walk and choose to turn instead of cross the street and that place is a very stressful place for Toby to walk.

He's desperate to continue the walk, and at times can be pushed over threshold. Lately I've been treating for every time he hears a dog bark in that area and it's helped him stay calmer... though he still pulls like a madman across the street, determined to keep his walk going. (We normally turn back there on our shorter walks, because from there on out the walk gets more 'dangerous'). Tonight I got lazy and stuck what was left of the string cheese in front of his nose and let him nibble when he heard the dog. For the first time EVER Toby walked at my side, nibbling on food while we were outside. He's one of those eat and run dogs, that you have to build up to having the dog stick around for a chance at seconds. Heartened by my success I released him, called him back and gave him a few more steps of nibbling, released him again, and then called him back and let him nibble his way across the street. It was the calmest walk we've had walking across that street. I was stunned.

Now... sadly, that left me without any food rewards for the rest of the walk home but thankfully outside of two enclosed dogs and some kids playing basketball there was nothing worthwhile to send him over the edge. He did fairly well the rest of the way home. I'm definitely trying that again!

'Adventures' Update 2

This is a continuation of the previous post, "Sometimes... I'm just too scared to act." There are two 'adventures' I'll share in this post, both that happened last week one day right after another.

I was pressed for time so I voted on taking Toby on a walk around the neighborhood. After the 'kid incident' of the last post we hadn't had any more trouble. He needed a chance to stretch his legs before I left for the day so I took him out on a quick walk around the block and give him a longer one later. Things were going great, everything was upbeat and happy until we rounded back on our walk (heading home on the 'safe' side) when I noticed the people right next door my house had another dog out... and loose. It was one of their guest's dogs, a little shih tzu that they had no control over. Thankfully I noticed it before we'd made it too far and was cheerfully able to turn Toby around and head back towards the end of the block. It didn't take them long to corral the dog and we were able to head home. I was out of treats but I was lavishing the praise the whole time. Not once did he go over threshold. I was one proud momma.

Then the next day we head out and I see the dog in their front yard (I hadn't noticed it until I was out of my yard and already passing in front of the house because they were having a yard sale). Toby started to pull and whine for it so we started to put some distance between us and the dog. We ended up in the middle of the street... just in time for the normal little dog that lives there to come bounding out of the house and straight up to us. I didn't even see the black blur until it was too late. Thankfully, his Easy Walk harness makes it incredibly easy for me to turn him towards me. The dog didn't bite and in Toby's state... he gets so eager he puts himself in a sit (like readying for a crouch? it's also one of his default behaviors... so I'm not sure which it is, or both?) and met the dog head on. They sniffed and by then I had hold of the back of his Easy Walk and was ready to turn him towards me. Instead I held him still and stepped between him and the little dog. Which of course only enticed the little bugger to dance around us in circles while I held Toby and his head whipped back and forth to watch. Overall, he did incredibly well.

For those wondering, I stepped between him and the little dog for a reason. He tends to be best with smaller dogs when they approach (especially ones more interested in play), but I haven't figured out a pattern to him. We met one pup in the store who he met fine and went stiff/growled at a second later. Another pup where he met and was fine. He has a select batch of little dogs he absolutely adores and wiggles to get near on leash (has a few big dogs too... most that he's met as a young dog or off leash)... and yet, on our walks... it's the little dogs he reacts to the strongest when they're behind a fence. This one he's had some desensitization too (the dog wanders off leash a lot right in front of one of our front windows... I've used it to my benefit), so that might have helped. Nonetheless, despite the almost wild energy in him he reacted very well to the new dog. He did however start to whine as the owner came up to shoo her dog away and as we started on our walk. He was a bit stressy the rest of the walk, but did manage to settle down again by the end of it.

He tends to handle the 'crunch' situations very well... but I'm really missing my Direct Stop. I keep waiting for one of these idiots to let their dogs loose and have it ruin all our hard work... again. This is the best Toby's ever been and I don't want to have to start from scratch all over again because people can't keep their dogs contained. Or kids for that matter.

Sometimes... I'm just to scared to act

I haven’t posted anything in awhile. I was gone this past weekend so training wise nothing got done on my part. However, I am interested in sharing a few things that happened in the past few weeks. About two weeks ago I had one of the scariest moments in my dog-history with Toby. We’d had a relatively decent walk up until we turned down our street and headed home from the different direction. We’d just turned to go down the street when I saw a young boy that often wanted to pet Toby. Toby adores the kid, because B (as I’ll call him here) is one of the most polite and dog-savvy kids I’ve ever met. Sadly, B turned around and bolted in the other direction. It took a moment for me to realize why… A week or two before that, B had been severely attacked by another dog in the neighborhood (the very reason I hadn’t been walking the neighborhood at all for a few months… the dog was a time bomb and I knew the management would fail. It always does). He had gotten loose and the dog ended up attacked B, leaving a nasty bite on the boy’s face. And although B had seemed back to normal, still petitioning every other dog walker that walked by to pet their dog there one thing I had overlooked. The dog that had attacked B, looked incredibly similar to Toby. They were both brindle, big, floppy eared dogs.

A four year old boy never should have had to go through an attack like that (no one should have to…) and it’s one of those heart breaking moments to realize a kid that young now has a fear hanging over his head. With a sad frown I continued our walk, Toby was relaxed and things were going well. Until we hit a house about half way down the block… we’d recently had someone move in and they tended to keep their dog chained out front when the kids were out. The dog and everyone was inside, but the scents were all over the front yard. Toby stopped to sniff and I saw his brain start to click off because the dog had been corralled on the front porch and was barking it’s head off from inside. Add the scrape of nails on the door and that was it for Toby. Especially when the dog barking set off every other dog on the block. Toby was a goner. He gripped the ground, his eyes glazed over, he screamed over-stressed in every way… he was beyond just over-threshold and was beyond my reach. I did the only thing I could think of (not knowing how long the measly little door on their porch would last) and dragged him away from the house. He was already in a panic-attack (as best as I can describe it), so it was down to getting him out of danger. We’d barely made it to the next house when I heard scuffling over the pavement. I turned (no longer confident myself! I was terrified) just as I felt something ram into Toby. He whipped around ready to bite, only for both of us to discover it wasn’t a loose dog… but that little boy’s friend, J.I never thought it was possible for Toby to be that far over-threshold, mid-reaction to suddenly get control of himself. He not only managed to snap his mouth shut and jerk his head away from the kid so that he was cuddled up against the boy. But also managed to turn and lick the boy down within seconds. His face was clearly stressed, but his breathing had already begun to even out.

I wasn’t nearly as fast in my recovery… I opened my mouth to scream at the boy when he turned and called to B (who was across the street), “See, Toby don’t bite!” I wanted to cry. That kid had no idea how close he’d been to proving himself wrong there…Still, B was already on his way across the street when he paused and checked with me (I love that boy…), but his words weren’t the normal “Can I pet your dog?”… no his words were, “Does your dog bites kids?” With one look at Toby, who despite the stress crinkles around his eyes was relaxing (even in the midst of a several dogs barking around him) I reassured B and had him come over. I was stuffing chicken down Toby’s face as B came to pet him (I didn’t want Toby to lick his face and scare the boy anymore than necessary). It was amazing… I watched B go from pale, white-knuckled fidgeting to the familiar smile on his face. I had Toby shake for both boys (it’s his stress reliever trick) and excused ourselves to go home. I’d had the biggest scare in my lifetime and yet… one of the best moments with Toby I’ve ever had. I shook for days after the ordeal and at the same time, I have a whole new pride and respect in my boy.

I’ll post the second set of our ‘adventures’ for the past week later tonight.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Indoor Training

Yesterday, on our trip to get Toby some more food we stopped at the Toys R Us up there for my brother. Unknown to me, Toys R Us apparently sells some dog agility stuff (from the AKC Juniors stuff)... so I came home with a bar jump and a set of weave poles. The poles aren't the best... they're completely out of PVC and the base doesn't feel all that sturdy (especially not for the way Toby goes through stuff once he's learned them) but they'll do for now. Last night I took both dogs out in the backyard to play. With one of my neighbor's dogs running loose the entire neighborhood was in an uproar with dogs barking all over the place... so Toby was insistent about running around the fence line and checking everything over.

Oh well. I took Reba, some good treats and worked on the weave poles with her... just luring her in and out. It's not the way I plan to teach it to Toby, but what I really wanted was to making playing with me sound SO much better than running the fence line. So Reba and I made a huge fuss, cheering and happily dancing around the weave poles and a few minutes later (in one of the quiet spells) Toby came trotting up. I gave him a few treats for joining us and told him he could "Take a Break" (it's a temporary release, and he's free to demand to keep working). He did and so I alternated dogs, every now and then cueing Toby to go for a break. Sometimes he took the offer and charged back to the fence line (most of the time when other dogs were barking) and other times he chose to stay. Slowly he stayed a little longer between times and I packed everything up before the dogs could get too bored.

However, I brought the jump inside and set it up in my room last night. I wanted to shape him to walk through the jump standards. He figured it out in record speed and was just trotting through them for a c/t. Perfect!

Today, it's rained all day. I took him out for a brief walk around the neighborhood in the rain but for the most part... I've had to exercise the dogs inside. Works fine for us. Mom and Dad left to go to the hardware store (our basement stairs broke...) and so I set the jump up in the living room and had the dogs work on running through the standards and hopping low jumps. They both thought that was really, really fun. Along with the jumps and weaves I bought a new toy for Tobbers, a soft Frisbee and we've been using that as a reward as well. (I've given up buying toys for Reba... if there is one Toby likes, she's free to it... but she's SO picky about her toys. It's easier to just buy a double of whatever one she turns out to like, instead of buying two and her not liking anything you get...).

We took a short break after that and I was trying to come up with some more stuff to do. I remembered dad had the small step ladder on the front porch so I dragged that in and had the dogs practice trotting through it. Or well, Toby trotted through it. Reba had to hop and that was more tiresome than stepping over the jumps so she only had to do it a few times before resting. It's amazing how well Toby figures out what he's supposed to do. Even when I had to go refill on the treats... I came back into the living room and he was trotting back and forth through it, watching me. Such a smart boy.

After that we did some work with getting him to climb on weird objects. I had Toby hop on to dad's tool box and then stand in the 2 on/2 off position and then get on and off, each time getting in that position. Then I saw the mini-trampoline mom had gotten the other night (I can't even find the springs on the side with my fingers... so it was safe) and I had him practice hopping on that and doing some tricks on something that gave beneath his weight. He did great! After a short power outage, I was trying to decide what to do next... But one thing was clear after our little group session this morning... working two dogs is hard. It'd be easy if Reba was as well versed as Toby is... but even he's not perfect. I can put him in a wait and work Reba... but I have to be careful on how long I'm leaving hi there or how high the distraction of working Reba is for him. Reba... she's never even been trained to wait. Whoops.

So I decided to give them both a place to stay and just work on getting some sort of routine going for when I work both dogs. I grabbed Toby's mat and Reba's bed, some new treats and headed down for the living room. Because of Toby's issues we've been doing the Relaxation Protocol by Dr. Karen Overall on his mat, as well as training him to go to his mat any time he's sees it. I knew he'd be pretty good at staying there no matter what I'm doing. I set Toby's mat up first and he instantly climbed down from the chair and flopped onto it. Perfect! He got a treat and I called Reba out and lured her to her bed asked for a down. Then I just started waiting. Every few seconds both dogs got a treat. Then a little longer. We actually were able to move faster than I thought because Toby knew this game very well and Reba really loved the idea of laying in her bed and getting 'free' food. By the end of the session I was walking around both dogs in a figure eight, waiting ten seconds, or even tapping the door (even hitting it's handle once!) and both dogs were fine. I had a feeling Toby would be... we've done similar stuff in my room. Reba I was expecting more of a problem because she gets so excited about food. But nope. They were awesome!

I'm gonna have them earn their breakfast this way for a few weeks. Building distractions and then slowly calling one dog off their mat and then back on for treats for both dogs. That way sooner or later I'll be able to work one while the other rests and then switch. I've been meaning to do this for awhile... but a lot of my dog training goes on in my room (where I'm not getting snapped at for being in the way of the TV :p) and since we're so cramped for space up there I only ever work one dog at a time. But I might as well work on this now... especially since mornings are such a nice time to do this.

Reba is resting happily now a bit zonked from all the training. Toby was... but it's been an hour or two now, so he's up and getting into trouble while they're fixing the basement stairs (licking dad's head while he tries to put in the new steps) so I'm off to occupy him again.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Setbacks and Successes

Today was a mixed bag. I decided to take Toby out for a walk around the neighborhood, to tide him over until it cooled down and I could get him out for good run. I'd just hooked him up and stepped out the front door when I saw two young boys walking a dog. Yikes. I just told Toby what a good boy he was, carefully kept myself breathing and hurried us on out the front gate. Turning him right back in and putting him in the house tends to make him go over threshold and he starts whining. Since the dog was on leash and relatively under control (they were running back and forth across the street a little crazily) I decided to try something new. And it worked. Toby did have to continually check back behind him to watch the dog, and his pace was faster than normal but not a peep. His breathing barely even changed rhythm. I was one proud mom!

We decided to take a different route and off we went. Things went relatively smooth until we had to turn for home. I'd heard one dog behind a privacy fence so decided to walk by it with the street between us. That was fine, Toby could handle that. Except... neither one of us had seen the beagle on the side we were walking, behind a picket fence. Oops. That hyped Toby up a bit, but thankfully... he's not familiar with the beagle's baying so he was more curious and surprised than anything else. He took some chicken and decided that whatever it was, it was one weird animal but not worth trouble over. We'd also managed to cross the street to buy him some more room to recover. And of course, dog number three started barking from behind a chain length fence (we were at an intersection, so as it was down the road to our right a few houses... thankfully).

That pushed him over threshold a bit. His hair went up and the more the dog barked the more stressy he became. His breathy picked up pace and he started to pace the end of the leash at a mad pull. Even after we were past and he could no longer see the dog he pulled a bit, wildly sniffing the ground and couldn't take chicken for another 30 seconds are so. Then he pulled himself back together and rejoined with me. Not bad. This is an improvement on his part... to have made it through a walk with so many 'trouble zones' without that much of a hitch. Still, I was more than ready to get him home and let him relax. Normally I wouldn't have even pushed him this far... except I couldn't do much but take the new surprise dogs (I've checked that route before and never ran into the last two dogs...) all in stride and keep going.

Of course... our walk wasn't done yet. And sure enough... we're half way down the block when one of the trouble dogs (if she got lose, there would be a fight...). She bolted and for a good few split seconds it didn't look like she was chained. I'm sure my breathing stopped here and all I could do was keep my eye on her and keep Toby moving away from danger. She hit the end of her leash just as we past a car to block Toby's view. His breathing was loud, huffing and really fast, his hackles up, and he was pacing. But within a few seconds he was already calming only to turn his head to see the dog the boys were walking behind a fence. That pushed him back over threshold (even though a calm dog standing there probably wouldn't have normally). Still... within about 20 steps into our neighbors drive way towards our back gate and he was back to being relaxed.

He recovers fast these days which I'm so thankful for. Even when he's hit with a trouble zone again and again. I didn't remember to breathe until we were safely in the backyard, but I'm still proud of him. Even throughout all of that... he never whined once. He's improved a whole heck of a lot this past year. ^_^

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Dog in Sight - Success!

Or Day 2 of McDonalds, you are my hero. I stopped by on my way home from work and got two double cheeseburgers from the dollar menu - one so I could have lunch before I got home and the second for Toby's walk today. I took him out to the track and the moment he figured out that cheeseburger was on the list of rewards I had, I couldn't lose him. Which was great. I got to reinforce a lot of eye contact and working with me out somewhere different.

Then I spotted a dog. It was outside of the fenced in track and a across the street. All in total, the dog was a good 80 feet away, if not a little more. A nice place to start. So I started asking him to look in that general direction and then back at me for some more cheeseburger. He liked that game. Then he saw the dog and instantly took four steps away from me as he focused in. Because of course, at the same time he noticed the dog, said dog took off at a dead run around and around a parked car. Hmm... not good. I know him, if I move into him he'll move away from me. We were definitely slightly over his threshold of what he can handle too... not much. He was still there. I could see his ears flick back when I talked to him and he wasn't 'frozen' yet... So I started moving backwards. I told him let's go and moved out to the end of the 50 foot. If he went over board and I needed to drag him away I didn't want to have to deal with rope burn if the rope slipped in my grip. I told him "Let's Go!" again, all cheerful and patting my leg. His ears flicked and that was it.

So I started moving out to the side, called it one last time and his ears flicked back to me and this time the rest of his body followed. He trotted up to me, a few whines when he reached me, but wow! My mind was already into the management mode... I never expected him to be able to turn away and walk 50 ft of line away from a dog. I partied and fed him bits of the cheeseburger for awhile, all the while telling him just how amazing I thought he was. He's such a special boy. He did glance back several times while we were still there but the dog had left and Toby was willing to keep working with me. Great!

I do need to find locations that I can safely desensitize him to other dogs. Todays was rather safe. There weren't any holes on that line of fence... but the distance wasn't easily adjustable because if we'd moved back too much farther you couldn't see the dog because the track is set up 10 feet higher than the street on that side. That and that's the first time I've seen that dog there. I do think I have an idea... at the college I go to there is a loop of the city walking path around the small lake there. Right by the main entrance for the loop is a large hill. I'm thinking of taking him there some nights and sitting way up on the top of the hill (about 150-200 feet from the path) and starting some work there. It's just random when dogs go by... so we could be up there for a half hour one night and see none and then 10 the next night. But it's the first time that I've seen anywhere around here that might actually work.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

McDonalds - You Are My Hero

For today at least. Since I'd run out of the 'good stuff' on yesterday's walk I knew I needed some thing to bring along for today. So I pulled into the drive through at McDonalds and got the 4 piece Chicken Nuggets off the dollar menu and headed home. By the time I was ready to leave for the walk Toby had 'seemingly' (whoever knows with this dog) forgotten about the chicken nuggets my pockets were smelling like. I had him reorient at the front door and we headed out on our walk. We were about half way down the block before he had his first check in and I tossed him his first bit of a nugget.

It was a "Hey there mom!" kind of notice. He flipped right over to my side for a few more "Yes!" and tidbits before his brain remembered we were on a walk and to ignore me. I did a few pauses and name recalls for some rewards as we continued on. The walk went very smoothly for us both. He checked in frequently the whole walk - to the point where I used all four nuggets down to the last crumb. Tomorrow I'll stop and grab a plain hamburger on the way home. He loves those.

I've had a few light bulb moments today... one of which being how to try handling the times he gets over threshold. On Mondays and Tuesdays right now, driving somewhere for a walk isn't something I can do (especially not this week! Finals! eek). So we have to do the neighborhood circuit. But that means that he has to deal with the distractions this poses... including the variety of outdoor cats and the dogs he spots on our walks. (He's memorized their common locations... xD). One thing I do know... is that once he's staring off somewhere, putting tension on the lead to continue on - or drag him on if he's glazing over just makes things worse. Talking to him as I normally would is ineffective. And getting excited or something to distract him sets him over the edge. So what to do?

So I decided to try something today... it doesn't work once his eyes have glazed over and he's gone or has already lunged. But for today, when he started staring off at whatever he thought he saw (I saw nothing...) I leaned down, patted my legs and cheerfully told him "Let's go!" When he came I gave him several little tidbits and continued on. Hmm... I tried it again and it worked again. Either this is a breath through in our training or he's relaxing slightly while watching.

We did a lot of eye contact work this morning for his breakfast so that also might have helped. I'll have him do another batch tomorrow morning as well. Day 2 of the Relaxation Protocol tonight before bed and then I get to snooze while figuring out how to pass another final tomorrow. I'm exhausted. I know he's improved a lot and our walk today was downright cheerful. By golly though, maybe I should name my next dog Easy? Just for good luck.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Trip to the Duck Pond

I planned on taking him out to the college and letting him run around in the field in front of that today and then touring the campus. However, the sprinklers were on this morning so we had a change of plans. I took him to the duck pond across the street. Definitely not something I'd do if there were babies on the ground, but right now it's only the start of breeding season and as long as you give everyone their space the birds stay happy. It's actually a rather large place, with a nice sized field on one side of the pond and then up behind it and the Children's Day Care there is another small lake with a play ground and park over there. Lots of places to walk. I took the camera along and got some rather nice pictures. The birds are all used to people and let you get pretty close. I did risk getting any closer than 20-30ft with Toby along, but they didn't pay either of us any mind for the most part.

I can't put up all of the pictures for today, but here are some...

When we first started we walked in the field next to the pond. There was another small pond in the middle of the field (really tiny) and I let Toby nose around in the grass. It was weird... because he could have easily disappeared into the brush, he blended in so well.

We were just off some main roads and people use the area frequently. Next time we go I'm taking some bags to pick up some of the litter... it was just sad. But I got a nice shot of Toby standing when some car horns started blaring from the road behind us.

After we looped around behind the Day Care (closed on Sundays) we headed off to the small field by the small little lake and practiced some obedience. He was such a good boy.

Then we wandered over to some of the birds swimming in the small lake and I got to take some nifty pictures.

And what was Toby doing while I took these pictures?

As fascinating as he finds the birds, he doesn't consider them prey. He watched them quite a bit when we walked past the main pond, his favorite parts being when the birds would land in the water. But for the most part he just relaxed and enjoyed the day, rolling around while I took some good pictures.

Of course, when he discovered I'd let him go right up and sniff the water (I wouldn't let him drink out of it... I carry water for us to drink, I don't need him catching something and who knows what's been dumped in that water), he was more than willing. He really wanted to go swimming with the birds but I was leery about what was in the water... it really stunk. So he just got to sniff the edges. All was going fine until one of the geese decided Toby was a little to close for comfort and started honking really loud at him.
See the extended head on the goose in there? Yeah he was screaming at Toby. Toby wasn't too sure what to make of that. I called his name and for a moment he didn't come, but when the goose started to turn towards him he decided it was best to leave the bird in peace and came barreling up to me.

Here is the main pond. We were resting on the other side of it (my car was up by the building on the other side), waiting for someone to leash their dog. I understand getting your dog some exercise - shoot, we were there for that reason - but letting your dog plow through and chase and bark at all the birds? That's just rude. And I'd hate to see what would happen if the dude decided to let the dog loose after there are babies on the ground. The geese get vicious and fast.

And some pretty shots I grabbed while walking:

I need to figure out a lot of stuff on my camera still, but for the money I had, it's a really nice camera.

We were gone for about an hour and a half, but Toby is still zonked out on the couch. I'm sure he'll be up and at em soon, but he enjoys getting to trot around and explore everything.