Sunday, January 31, 2010

Feisty Fido IV

I did NOT want to get up for Feisty Fido this morning (hmm, might this be a recurring theme? Dog class early on Sunday mornings is not a great idea for me? Especially if there's fun happening the night before?). But I did, and Dottie and I had a good time. She did well, I learned things, etc. etc.

Right now my mom and dad's dog Loona is over since they're out of town. The three dogs make a really funny pack. I'm glad they all get along so well. When Loona first came over, Gustav tried to get in her space in a friendly way and she growled and he lay down and exposed his neck and otherwise acted the submissive. Funny that he's so cowed by the women in his life, and happily so. I think having Dottie/Loona types around really helps him develop his emotional control. They will not hesitate to put him in his place if he's rude or pushy. If he wants to play, he has to be incredibly delicate and careful or they won't play anymore. Not that they really play with him much, but there are some brief moments where they indulge him. Dottie and Gustav are really both better off with each other rather than being an "only dog."

Time to go back to bed, then start brainstorming questions/issues for Chelse on Wednesday. I have so many training questions, so I need to focus in on what's most important and how to get Gustav on a really solid, individually-tailored plan. I've been wondering recently if neighborhood walks are even the best thing for him. They've been perfectly happy getting mostly just yard-time (Justin or I goes out and plays with them) while it's been cold, and there's no scary strangers or potentially upstart dogs in the yard. Hmm.

Friday, January 29, 2010


Today the pizza guy stopped by unexpectedly because he had given us the wrong receipt earlier. Interestingly, instead of freaking out, Gustav ran to his bowl of food he had been eating and wolfed the rest down. What does this mean about him? Was he worried the stranger was going to eat his food? Hmmm. Also, it really freaked ME out because I feel vulnerable at night when I'm in my pajamas, apparently. I didn't really know, but after Justin took care of it and the guy left, I was trembling and feeling anxious. Who knows what kind of creepy subconscious anxieties I'm constantly passing on to my dogs. No wonder they're crazy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I have Chelse from Dog's Best Friend coming over next Wednesday. I am really excited to get some specific ideas on how to tighten up Gustav's program. I'm worried that he's getting the wrong idea sometimes. For example, last night I decided to run some door-knocking desensitization. So all I did was knock on the front door from the inside, then give kibble (assuming the dogs were quiet). They were great, but after getting treated Gustav would let out a silly little woof, confusingly. Does he think that's what I want? Am I accidentally reinforcing reactive behavior, and making him worse? I know that technically a reinforcement has to happen within a half-second or so of the behavior to be reinforcing it (unless a secondary reinforcer is used, like praise or a click), but anecdotally I have watched Dottie game that system. For example, she barks out the window at nothing then trots over to me, sits and wags her tail, and ceases barking. She is clearly chaining events and anticipating a reward. Stupid smart dog.

I've also been mulling the best way to handle the entrance. Gustav will be in his crate, for sure. I'm hoping to make it so Chelse doesn't knock at all (maybe a note on the door?) and so that one of us can let her in while the other treats Dottie out of barking (probably me). Then we'll put Gustav on leash and bring him out, and essentially treat Chelse like Justin's mom, who Gustav has acted aggressively toward in the past. Gustav will never be within bite-range of Chelse, unless things look really really good.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


The vet visit is over. I was incredibly stressed out, but tried hard to remain calm. Justin was in charge of holding Gustav while Nancy examined him and gave him shots. Gustav's heart was pounding and Justin said at one point he gave a big shudder of fear. Nancy said she's pretty sure he expressed his anal glands from fear.

But, Nancy said she never felt like he was about to go off on her, and that when that happens she gets a particular feeling and notices enlarged pupils and a quivering lip. After he was examined we put him in his crate.

When she came in we had the dogs in the yard, then let them in after she had entered. Gustav was good until Dottie barked, then he put up his hackles and acted more fearful. Just underscores the importance of keeping Dottie calm. Nancy recommended next time that everyone stands around ignoring them until they aren't reactive anymore. Otherwise pre-emptive treat giving for calm behavior is good. That's what I'm striving for, obviously.

We talked briefly about the possibility of putting Gustav on some doggie drugs for his fear. I'm going to talk over this possibility with the behaviorist when we have an appointment.

All in all, I'm super stressed and slowly calming down, but incredibly relieved that nothing bad happened. Poor Gustav was just absolutely terrified. In other news, Gustav is fat and the low-protein diet we have him on Nancy thinks is a low-quality food. So we'll probably switch him. Can't decide whether to go to some other low-protein or back to normal Iams.

I know I will feel better if I make a behaviorist appointment, which I was planning on anyway. That's my personality: I have to take steps to solve problems to feel better. Even though my resolution is to chill out a little.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Children and bands

I haven't done much outside with the dogs today, just yard play and training in the house. Justin walked them before he went to work, however, and said Gustav growled at a kid from 30 feet away. Dottie barked after Gustav growled. He went off to the side and had the dogs sit and gave them treats. No lunging and barking, but not an encouraging reaction either.

Band practice was today and Gustav actually pulled off a windmill tail wag for Shane. I was anticipating everyone, so there was no barking as everyone entered and then I had all the boys throw treats for the dogs. I am pleased with how the visitor situation is going.

Tomorrow is our vet visit. I am nervous but will try not to be.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Not strictly dog related.

Nothing to post today because Justin did all the dog walking. I'm a lucky girl.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Feisty Fido III

Boy, did I ever not want to get up early and drive Dottie to the other side of town. My band had a show last night and I was up late. We went anyhow (nothing like a super-expensive class to motivate you). Dottie did really well, I was really proud of her. Yesterday we were all of a sudden right next to a dog behind a fence that was going crazy and Dottie didn't make a peep, just looked up at me for treats as we walked away. I can't say the same for Gustav, but he did pretty good. These facts make me think that Dottie is all done with dog classes and that they'll be more useful for Gustav at this point. I'd like Gustav to be in another reactive rover class, and I'm also planning on scheduling a one-on-one appointment as a sort of behavioral check-up, to take stock and fine tune the training plan. I should probably think about stepping up planned training activities, like having my dad come over or other people, rather than just the band once a week. And start running door training now that it's not super freezing outside.

What I'd really like to do is form a training club, where people with like-minded training goals can get together and run controlled trials with our dogs. I'd also love to find Gustav a dog buddy who will play with him and not get into fights. Like maybe a high-energy submissive male dog who likes to wrestle, or a high-energy dominant female dog who likes to wrestle. Anyone know anyone? Hmmm.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Year's resolution, sort of

I have resolved to take a more positive, strengths-based approach towards my dogs. I think it will make us both happier with our time together. It's hard to learn so much about training without falling into a fixing-type attitude, where there is some imagined end-point and problems to be addressed in order to reach that goal. My dogs have many lovely attributes. I have found myself ruminating on their need for improvement during quiet moments in walks, instead of just enjoying that portion of the walk for the peaceful time it is. I'm going to try to focus on issues only when they arise, since I already have a plan in place.

Easier said than done.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why her?

Today Gustav took exception to a woman with a scarf and glasses and canvas bag, maybe in her upper thirties. From almost a full block away. Totally weird. I do not understand why he decides some people are unacceptable and some are not. I didn't even have treats ready, because he doesn't normally react from that distance. We crossed the street and I had him sit and gave him treats once he stopped growling and started looking at me.

I also saw the mailman from not quite all the way across the street and the dogs were perfect.

Otherwise the walk was fine. Justin said they were really good this morning when a guy jogged past them with his dog in the street, while Justin was on the sidewalk. That is, until the guy said to his dog "look at your dog friends!" Then they lost it. Oh well.

Good enough

I took the dogs on a jog last night after I got home from school. They seemed so relaxed when I got home, they didn't even bark when I came in. It doesn't make me feel that great to know that when I'm gone all day they are calmer and happier, but I guess it's better than the other way around.

We walked RIGHT NEXT to a lady with a shopping bag on the sidewalk, and I was pushing chicken into Gustav's mouth so fast he barely had time to look up. No problem.

We saw a whole bunch of dogs, and Dottie was perfect. Gustav did some pulling and growling and hackles, but nothing out-of-control and each time I was able to have him sit and look at me. He did one amazing look-at-me when he was pulling at the end of his leash trying to get a better look at a dog. With just one "Goose!" he turned all the way around towards me and licked his lips, despite the fact that he was so aroused and intent.

All three boys in the band came in the front door last night with nary a bark from either dog. It helped that I saw them out the window and was already in position by the time they knocked, but still!

Gustav was affectionate and snuggly to the boys. A ball rolled under Christian's (my brother) feet and Gustav decided he couldn't take it. I pointed this out and Christian threw the ball for him. Then he pet Gustav on the head while he had the ball in his mouth. Gustav was pretty pissed about this, he got rigid and put his ears back and kind of stared at Christian from the side. I told Christian to stop and there was no problem. I don't know if this was primarily from resource guarding (the ball) or being pet on the head when it wasn't his idea. I think Gustav makes a huge distinction between going up to someone to be pet and having someone approach him to pet him. After a while he went to the other room to scratch his ear (I think he knows that Justin and I will tell him to knock it off if he does it in front of us, he has a scabby ear), then returned and sat near Justin. I felt like he was getting increasingly stressed and overwhelmed, but I could be projecting. At least once he lay down on the floor near Christian, very relaxed, which was great. If the boys had stayed much longer, I probably would have considered putting him in his crate for a break or having the boys toss treats or encouraged Justin to keep him over by him. Sometimes I stare so hard at him during these types of events that I think I'm imagining some body language that Gustav isn't actually displaying. I'm not sure. After Feisty Fido is over, I think I'm going to have a check-up appointment with a behaviorist to gauge his progress and get some ideas for the future. Sometimes I think he's improved a lot, and sometimes I think it's just seems that way because Justin and I don't put him in situations he can't handle anymore. After all, he's always been fine with the band, it was just our own concern that led us to isolate him from visitors for a while. So a reintroduction to a situation he never showed any problem with doesn't feel like such a triumph. Oh. I just typed my way into feeling less proud. I think I'd better stop.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back to the grind

The spring semester started today, so it's back to a nice normal schedule for everyone. I think this will be good for the dogs, because when I'm around too much I think it puts them on edge a bit. Without a consistent schedule, they never know when I'm going to hop up and take them for a walk, so they tend to stare at me a lot. Now they get an early morning walk, then a midday walk with Justin, then an evening walk with one or both of us. Nice and normal.

This morning we saw the little wheaton terrier from down the street while we were playing in the park. It was pretty far, but Dottie was off-leash and I was in the middle of untangling Gustav's leash when it appeared. I called Dottie and leashed her and untangled Gustav, and during all this craziness they saw it and Dottie only barked once, half-heartedly. Once I got them situated I treated them like crazy and I saw the lady with the wheaton smile. This made me especially happy because she knows my dogs are terrible and she could see the improvement. Hooray! A really good feeling.

No consensus on the low protein diet yet, except that Gustav's poop is way bigger and stinkier. Boo.

My friend Erin started a blog about her own special dog: It's great to be able to read about other people's process with their dogs who, um, make our lives more interesting. Plus she's an amazing writer; I'm jealous of her clever blog title.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Feisty Fido II

We had a great class this morning. Dottie had been so freaked out in the car last time, I had to lift her in this time. This time, however, I didn't turn on the heat or defroster so there wasn't that scary blowing noise. I also put the window down for her. She spent the whole ride with her head out the window and was markedly more relaxed by the time we got there. In addition, I spent a good deal of effort making sure she'd pooped beforehand. Dainty Dottie won't go just anywhere, she especially doesn't care for deep snow. I had to walk her around the block, play with her in the backyard, and walk her around the front yard before her highness finally found a suitable place.

At class we did attention work (looking at my face when she hears her name) and got to do some nice counterconditioning while other dogs were led into the room one by one. I especially liked the "make a choice" game. In this game, you hold a treat straight out by your side, then wait for your dog to look at your face instead of the treat. This took Dottie a little while, but she got it. It's basically like shaping, where your dog has to volunteer a behavior and learns to offer it up without a cue. The game can get harder by bringing the treat closer and closer to the dog's face, until they can ignore the treat and look at you instead.

Dottie and I took a walk afterwards, behind the dog training place. I think it's only fair after forcing her to pay me undivided attention for an hour in the presence of other dogs.

Now we're home and she's absolutely pooped. Gustav was super happy to see her, which was cute.

Two things I'm thinking about: one, Justin thinks we should work on Dottie's admittedly terrible treat-taking skills. She is very snappy. We think this might be partly due to tossing treats at her a lot, which encourages her to snap in the air, and also due to anxiety (a "hard mouth" is evidence of stress in both my dogs). Lisa, a teacher in the class, advised giving the treat in a fist pointed down at first, then when the dog seems ready flipping the fist over and allowing the dog to take the treat. I think offering the treat from below the dog's mouth is really helpful too. Half the time, though, we're tossing the treats on the ground so Dottie can pick them up while we get Gustav's attention.

Two, when I took the dogs jogging a few days ago, Gustav barked and hackled and pulled towards a few people. Justin is always surprised to hear this, as Gustav is on better behavior with him. This makes me sad and I'm trying to figure out why it happens. I've been trying to act more relaxed and put a little more swagger in my walk, like Justin, to see if it helps. Gustav doesn't think I'm a very effective leader, apparently. At least compared to Justin. I hope to ask one of the teachers of the class about this if I can. It could be that there's nothing I can do about it, but if there is I'd like to do it.

I'd love to take another Reactive Rover class with Gustav, I think it would be really helpful.

A few days ago my brother came over to pick something up. The dogs freaked, but I got them to sit and take treats and then he came in. Then I had him knock and enter a few times and give them treats. That part they did beautifully with. I wonder how to bridge the gap between practice sessions and someone actually coming to the door for the first time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

F- for Cynthia

Boy, I did something dumb. Nothing terrible happened, but it really could have so I'm feeling sheepish.

Yesterday I took the dogs to the lake, which is frozen, and started walking out. We went past the sledding hill, where Gustav got noticeably tense so I gave him chicken to countercondition. We walked far far out, with Dottie playing frisbee. Then I put Gustav's muzzle on and we saw some dogs with a skier in the distance. I gave him treats and he was able to move on. We were having a good time, with perfect recalls and so forth, when all of a sudden Gustav tore off at top speed towards the sledding hill. I called "Gustav, stop. Gustav come!" and ran off in the other direction like I'm supposed to. No response. Turns out there was a golden retriever along with a skier next to the lake shore. Gustav ran up to the dog, who was in turn about twenty feet from all the screaming sledding running children. He met the dog, tried to initiate his version of "play" (I'm gonna knock you down and it will be fun for me, okay?), then ran back full speed in a straight line to me. Whew. He didn't bother any kids or the skier. I was just in shock. I didn't even know if I should give him treats or not. I called him repeatedly and he didn't come, so should he still get rewarded? I waffled. I praised him and petted him, which was good, but I didn't give him chicken and I leashed him, which was bad (I think?). Then we went home. Hmmm. Was that the right way to handle it? In any case, I was grateful that he didn't find it necessary to address any people (can you imagine a muzzled Gustav charging sledding children? The horror! Oh, I can't even think of it. Oh. Oh.) I was unhappy that he found it acceptable to venture so very far from me. It was so far, it took him a good thirty seconds at a dead run to return. He was a speck. Anyway, lesson learned: he is not trustworthy if there are any distractions at all at any distance. I'm going to have to eventually set up some distractions to work on the recall, since it's pretty good without them and I have to up the ante if he's ever going to come out of a situation like that successfully in the future. Not like he'll have a chance for a long long time, that's for sure. Whew.

Today: a nice, leashed walk with Justin along. I'm taking the day off. No risky dog walks. Just safe, safe neighborhood leash walking.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


All the band members except Shane came in through the front door with a little barking and a little hackles, but lots of from-the-butt tail wagging and general okayness. Everyone threw treats for them. I caught Gustav staring intently at Steve's hand looking for treats. As it warms up I'm hoping to resume me and Justin's door training, as going in and out over and over again is terrible for our heating bill. All in all, I think everyone in the band is on Gustav's "fine" list, which is good in case we ever have to go out of town and need someone to walk him. My next goals for this: my mom and dad and my sister-in-law, Tisha.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Great long walk today! We went on a circuit I like in the summer for jogging that includes a bike path along a marsh. We passed tons of people on the way. I worked extra hard to stay calm and breath, and Gustav didn't even put his hackles up! I wasn't brave enough to stay right on the sidewalk, but I went up into driveways to buy us a little more space.

We had a great time tromping through deep deep snow. Gustav got to chase ducks with his muzzle on and did three amazing recalls-once from pretty far away and while staring at ducks! At a dead run!

We had one hiccup, when we were walking along and a dog on a line in its front yard suddenly lunged at us and started barking. I did a 180 without any barking from my dogs. There was no sidewalk across the street, so we had no choice but to run past the dog in the street. The sidewalk would've been way way too close for comfort. The dogs barked and carried on, but once we got past the dog, I had them sit and we went back towards the dog a little, to impress upon them that quiet sitting and good listening makes the scary dog go away, not tantrums and hysterics. They did great. Hooray!

Dottie stayed in her room all alone while I was home for five minutes with a great kong. I'll keep trying to increase the time/distraction (separately) so I can put her away when necessary without a lot of whining and barking.


Our walk last night was ill-fated enough to be funny. Nothing terrible happened, just annoying circumstances.

It was ten at night, in cold cold weather, so I envisioned (ha!) a quiet brisk walk. I didn't even take the time to chop up chicken or cheese or hot dogs, just grabbed a bunch of Charlee Bears. The very first thing I saw was a dog across the street. Great thing about feet and feet of snow: I can see way before they do. I treated them and it was fine. Next up: the bike path. I was going to go left, but then saw some people and decided to go right. As I walked, I turned around and noticed the people were: a. coming our way b. jogging and c. had a big ole doberman. Ok. I hustled up to a side street and went up a distance I thought the dogs could handle. I waited until the joggers came. Surprise! They needed to come up the tiny side street. Ok. I went up farther, thinking they could go across the street and go that way. Dottie and Gustav have totally noticed the dog at this point, but are being great, especially since all they get for their trouble are crappy dry charlee bears. Well, the joggers aren't moving and I look up to hear them say, "Um, that's exactly where we're going." I had stopped literally right in front of their house. The joggers don't really take the hint that my dogs are under training and start walking briskly home while I drag the dogs across the street, having lost their composure by now. Thank god for gentle leaders, I had no handling issues. We got across the street and I got them in a sit. I feel like even the intensity of freak-outs is less since our counter-conditioning program started, especially for Dottie. She acts like she's thinking "Oh, dog! I hate them! Bark! Oh wait, something usually happens . . . it's treats! Treats! I love them! Oh, the dog is too scary! But I love treats!" The effect is a wild turning back and forth from the dog to me, trying to decide on a course of action that she can live with.

After something like that happens, everything else on the walk is twice as bad. We walked down a bike path through a field and all of a sudden a guy on his BIKE with TWO dogs comes racing down the path. We dove for cover by leaping into the deep deep snow. They did pretty good, with some lunging and barking at the point when the dogs were closest. Oh well. Dottie gets the most improved award, while Gustav wouldn't even look at dogs while on leash when we first got him, so definitely most unimproved. I completely blame Dottie along with Gustav's increased sense of bad-assness for this development. Free advice: a two/three year old dog is not a grown-up dog. Older and bolder, they say. Caution at two is aggression at three. We don't really know precisely how old he is, but he came into his own over his time here, and "his own" includes taking action in situations that used to cause him to just ignore people/dogs or go into the other room.

A great way to make a dog walk go awry is to think "Oh, a nice quiet night. I won't see anyone." Still, it wasn't the end of the world and I've personally come a long way in learning to take the setbacks without too much disappointment. Justin can attest that I used to come home nearly in tears if we had some embarrassing bark-a-thon. My type-A personality wants everything to be fixed and right and all that, but that's just not the way it works.

Some musings: I used to think of dogs as either trustworthy, or not. Kind of like when I had a behaviorist come over for Dottie because I wanted her to teach me a "stop barking" command. She helped me realize that it's not about the "no barking," it's about the internal state that's causing all the barking. Very few dogs are trustworthy in all circumstances, and even if they are it's no reason to give people carte blanche to do whatever they want to the dog. My dogs are just proactive in letting me know what their comfort level is and what kind of a life they enjoy the most. I think Dottie has profited most from Gustav's aggression, because I would routinely put her in positions that she really didn't enjoy because I wanted her there and she would be "fine." Think potlucks and State Street. Justin was always wise in this respect, but I didn't want to listen. He would ask, "do you want her there because it will be fun for her, or for you?" Now I have no choice but to carefully consider their threshold and internal state of being, because if I don't someone might get hurt or at the very least my training would be set back.

That being said, I sure get jealous when I see dogs tied up outside the store, or laying next to the swing set while their family plays nearby. Sigh. I always bitterly think "Those dogs have no personality, anyway. Who needs it?"

Today my calming signals book came in! I've heard some people clicker train their dogs to display calming signals on demand, helping in dog-dog aggression cases especially. Given Gustav's difficulty in listening when out and about, and general slow learning style, I think this might be a distant possibility. People are my number one priority, but someday it would be nice to work on his dog-dog aggression too.

Well, another day, another training session. Hoping to do some off-leash work today, as it may get in the (*gasp*) upper twenties!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Feisty Fido!

This morning was our first Feisty Fido class. This class is for dogs who are reactive on leash, like Dottie. There is a great Patricia McConnell pamphlet of the same name that has been invaluable in helping Dottie deal with seeing dogs on walks.

Honestly, it wasn't a great start. I put Dottie in the car and scraped the inside of the back window because my p.o.s car needs that. Dottie was literally shaking after that noise, and was a total wreck for the 35 minute car ride. She only hates the car in the winter, which I hypothesize is because she gets carsick because she can't stick her head out the window. I also think it might be the loud defroster. As of this morning, I added scraping to the list of things to hate about the car in the winter. She hid in her customary spot on the floor right behind the driver's seat.

When it was her turn to go in the class (they do it one-by-one, smart in a class full of reactive dogs!), she had her hackles all the way up when she could smell dog smells. She wouldn't sit or take treats from the instructors (Chelse and Lisa) and generally behaved like a whipped puppy. She concluded this portion by taking a gigantic poop on the floor. I guess she didn't go in the yard this morning, I will remember from now on to ensure she's gone before dog class. Yuck. It was a funny type of embarrassment. I wasn't embarrassed she pooped, per se, or that she has problems. It was just a problem she doesn't actually have and I was only prepared to display problems that I know of. Funny. I almost felt like she was wasting time by displaying behaviors that are not representative of her actual and myriad problems. This makes me laugh even as I type it.

I brought her back out to the car to wait for other dogs to have their turn, where she shook and looked terrible. I was really concerned at this point that I had totally overwhelmed her. I brought her back in for the class and she perked up a little. She took treats from me and the whole time only emitted a teeny little bark. The most surprising part to me was the way she treated the dog bed. We do some relaxation protocols and "go to bed" and down-stays on the dog bed, but she's not super at them. At the class, I led her to the dog bed and she lay down on it right away, and I didn't even ask her to! I even had a hard time coaxing her off of it. I was really proud and a little confused.

Her lack of barking, while nice, seemed to me to be a partial shut-down on her part. She was so happy to be given cues and led around. It reminded me of our flyball class, where she moved like she was about 100 years old even though I know she's a super fast dog when she's comfortable. No barking or shenanigans, just quiet resignation. What a fragile little creature she is . . .

We worked on attention and mat-to-mat, but mostly the benefit came from being counterconditioned against a room full of reactive dogs. Hopefully over time the treats will outweigh the fear.

After class we took a walk along the bike path behind the building. She sprinted up and down happily, and we played chase. She had a great time and clearly had a lot of energy/anxiety to burn. Lots of hilarious play-bows and running as fast as she could. I'm glad we got to do that.

The car ride home was similarly traumatic. Once we walked in the door, Gustav was soooo happy to see her and vice versa. They really are security blankets to one another. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Having Dottie as your leader, as she is to Gustav, must be a constantly unnerving experience, since she's hysterical and insecure. Like living in a dictatorship with some insane leader.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the class, because I think it will be good for Dottie and me. Ultimately, though, it's for Gustav. I don't really care if Dottie chooses to bark here and there, but it makes Gustav go into super-defensive mode, because one of his bosses is freaked out. Also, she's improved a lot even without the class, but for Gustav's sake I need to step it up a little. To keep her from barking when seeing dogs or greeting people or when people come to the door will really help Gustav stay calm.

In closing, I'd like to list the things Dottie's really great at. I want to do this because when she came home, Justin remarked that she looked terrible and smelled as though she'd been attacked. I think these are valid observations, because her ears were plastered back, her stress veins on her face were engorged, and she started compulsively licking the couch. Don't worry though, she was barking out the window again in no time!

I'll start with things I'm grumpy about:

She's not good at camping or dog parks or laying down anywhere except home or waiting quietly while you talk to someone you met on a walk or meeting dogs on walks. She's not good at being left alone unless it's in her room with something to do and music on. She's really good at accessing me like a slot machine, barking at imaginary things out the window then running over and sitting nicely and waiting for treats or a kong given in frustration when I just want a few hours of peace. She's good at alerting me when the UPS truck is within a few blocks or anyone at all is on the street or, heaven forbid, coming to the house. She's good at getting me to buy crazy dog toys.

Here's things I read about on my aggressive dog site that I thank God she doesn't have:

She's not aggressive to Gustav (except when she's being a bitch about bones or wants him to stop trying to play with her, but she's plenty appropriate in her communications) or people. She doesn't have separation anxiety. She's healthy (knock on wood). She doesn't run away or chew things to bits (anymore). She's house trained. She's not pushy to us and can be on the couch and bed without issues. She doesn't resource-guard from people.

Here's the things I really really love about her:

Dottie is friendly and gentle to children. She is an amazing frisbee dog. She has a nearly perfect recall, such that I have seriously considered walking her off-leash all the time (I can't take the stress of the possibility she'd get hit by a car, so I don't). She can go on hikes in the woods or to any park without causing problems. She knows tons of awesome tricks. She is really smart and loves to clicker train. She loves to run for no reason, and she can run super fast. When she does this, she sometimes starting bounding as high in the air as she can, which makes her look like a gazelle. She taught this move to my mom and dad's dog. She is what I call a billboard dog, so cute and dog-looking. When she naps, she curls in a ball and puts her chin in between her back leg and back, a pose I call "the duck." She goes "mmmmmmmm" when you pet her just right, but has never ever ever solicited petting. Sometimes if you want to pet her she won't let you and licks you instead. She is really treat motivated, making training easier. She loves to go jogging with me and gives me a look that says "Finally! you figured out what a walk is really supposed to be, none of this meandering slowness, but an appropriate clip." She sleeps under the blanket, which she gets under herself, then curls up and warms my feet. She is spunky. She is loyal. She is attentive. She taught me to accept her for who she is and what she can do, and enjoy what she enjoys.

Here they are hibernating in perfect symmetry:

Sometimes it's overwhelming to be solely responsible for the quality of life of a living creature . . .

Friday, January 8, 2010

Getting cocky

Short walk this morning and Gustav lunged and barked at the dog across the street, causing Dottie to bark once (not bad-she also then immediately sat and looked at me-good girl!) and the leashes to get totally tangled. I blame myself, I wasn't prolific enough with the treats. I got cocky. Saw a few other people and by then Gustav was a little riled and tense. But all I got from him was hackles, no barking/lunging. I would much rather have him improve with people than dogs, if I have to choose.Excellent attention work, with one exception: a very long delay. I still gave him a treat when he finally looked up, but I was on the fence about it.

I've been working on his compliance on basic commands. He definitely has that dominant "only if I feel like it" attitude. I've started asking for sits before going in the yard. Any dog that doesn't have their butt on the floor within three seconds doesn't get to go out right then. They get a second chance a few minutes later. I really think it's reasonable to expect a three year old dog to sit promptly when in the house with no distractions except wanting something (like to go out or eat). It's really funny to watch him lay down when he doesn't want to, he slooooooowly stretches his paws in front of him so he slooooowly slides onto the floor. I read in Dr. Dodman's book that dominant dogs should get three seconds to sit for their food, or they don't get it until the next day! Then you decrease the number of seconds over time until it's instantaneous. That seems overkill for Gustav, but I won't pretend I haven't thought about it. Luckily he sits pretty quick for his dinner. I'm also trying to remember to have him sit to get petted, a "say please" type protocol. Dottie's so good in that regard, I literally can't remember her ever pushing herself on me to get petted. She doesn't seem to love that type of attention as much as Gustav does.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Twenty whole degrees!

Nothing like a few days of zero degree weather to make twenty feel toasty warm! I took the dogs on a fun creek romp yesterday, as it's frozen. Gustav still likes to chase tennis balls, even with the muzzle on (a sad/funny sight). Dottie enjoyed some frisbee. Gustav came beautifully when called, four times at a dead run. I'm trying to balance distance and distraction, the two enemies of recall. Sometimes he finds something distracting right at the last second, so I'm outmatched. He hasn't been tested with any serious distraction, i.e. a person or dog is in sight. I would probably have to set that up special, since I can't practice on unsuspecting passerby. I would definitely freak out if a seventy pound muzzled dog came charging me. That's the paradox of a muzzle: just when everything is safer, people feel more threatened.

The chew antlers came in the mail today. The dogs took a while to figure them out, but seem to like them now. They don't seem any more special than a bone in terms of attractiveness. I don't think I can use them as room-training treats for Dottie to teach her to be in the bedroom alone. However, a kong with liver and a milkbone worked really well yesterday. The trick, as I recall from Patricia McConnell's crate training advice, was to take it away and let her out before she's done with it. She worked on it without whining or anything while Gustav and I did clicker training in the rest of the house. Hooray!

Two funny observations today: one, Gustav was trying to get the chew antler that lay about a foot and a half from Dottie, who was chewing on the other. I watched in fascination as Gustav made himself small and unthreatening and slowly crept his way towards it. He had his face turned away but his eyes firmly planted on Dottie. For her part, she chewed vigorously and kept her eyes on him. It seemed like he was going to win, and just as he started sloooowly lowering himself to the ground, she put her ears back and let out a teeny growl. Gustav stood back up. Boy, she is such a bitch about toys, pun intended. I have never seen such a mean look on her face as when she thinks Gustav might get something. I'm lucky he's so happy in his subordinate place, otherwise I would have a fight problem. Considering she's such a shaky leader, with her submissive-with-people attitude and general unbalanced-ness (I have seen playful dogs at the dog park take one look at her and go off in the other direction), and he is so dominant with both people and other dogs, I find the hierarchy in the house totally baffling. There can be no doubt about her place: she can literally take a chew-thing from right under his nose without so much as a growl from him. Weird.

Second, I have been fascinated by Gustav's tail movement while looking out the window. I call it the flag method: he goes to the window ready for trouble, tail high in the air. If there's nothing, the tail slowly descends into a lowered position. If there's something but it's far, the tail stays up. If there's something close or threatening, the tail stays up and is accompanied by hackles and barking. It's convenient for me, because if the tail stays up I can go over and counter-condition whatever is far enough not to put him over threshold, but is concerning to him.

I'm feeling a little discouraged about lack of natural people-training opportunities, since I'm on vacation and have plenty of time to do it. Turns out people aren't out and about as much when it's freezing cold. Also Justin and I have been delinquent on our door training, since we don't want to come in and out of the front door and lose all the heat. I still knock from the inside then throw treats, but it hardly phases the dogs. Usually band practice serves as the natural training day, but Shane the singer is in stupid warm Mexico so there's been no practice. I guess I could stand to set something up with my dad or brother, two people on his "ok" list. I don't think we could do a stranger yet.

Gustav needs shots, and so Justin and I are starting to mull over the visiting vet's visit. Muzzle, or not? I'm thinking he'll be crated for the entry, Dottie will be provided with an amazing kong to distract her, and then we'll bring Gustav out on a leash. Or not? The leash can make him worse. Hmm. Ideas? I talked to Nancy (the vet) about it, and she said she would alert us to her impression and whether she wants him muzzled or not. That doesn't solve the problem of initial introduction though.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goosey-woosey. Who would think with a face like that he can be such a meany sometimes? He's a very affectionate, lovely dog at home.
Dottie on a warm summer day.

Gustav, my nephew Bjorn, and boyfriend Justin.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dottie humbles me

Dottie always gets through all treat and puzzle toys withing ten minutes or so, so I did some research and tried to find a super hard one. I decided on the tug a jug, bought it, and it's totally too hard for her. Sigh. Maybe over time . . .

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Inside only

No walk today, it's just too cold. When this happens, I give the dogs their meals in trick training. One dog gets a kong in the second bedroom, the other gets their kibble piece by piece via clicker training. I should really work harder at training Dottie to accept being put away in a room even while we're home. She's fine if we leave, but starts barking and whining if we're home (especially if she can hear the clicker and she's missing out!). I ordered some chew antlers today and I'm planning on giving them only when we're home and the dogs are in their room-hopefully this will sweeten the pot and help that training.

Dottie knows lots of cool tricks and we're working on shaping. Shaping is cool because she doesn't get a command, she just has to figure out what I want through trial and error. I take a laundry basket and put it on the floor. Then she gets a click and treat for looking at the basket. Once she figures that out, she only gets a click and treat for touching the basket, then touching the basket while standing, or sitting, or whatever. It's fun and very mentally challenging for her. It's extra cool to watch her learn what I want her to do with absolutely no talking or gesturing from me.

Gustav, well, he's a bit of a slow learner. We're stuck on down and stay and leave it, bless his couch potato heart. I think about where Dottie was at his age, and I'm hoping to look forward to a very mellow future (with a little less aggression, I hope). Dottie was a spitfire at age three, she could run all day and not be tired. Gustav seems satisfied with so much less. I'm so glad Gustav doesn't have Dottie's energy needs and anxiety and reactivity, along with his aggression and bully attitude towards other dogs. That would be an insurmountable issue.

I think I see a little of Gustav's past when trick training him. He absolutely will not learn take it, where he takes a toy from my hands in his mouth. He just refuses. I guess I won't push it, but it's weird. Also, when working on a down stay, he jumped a mile when I moved a little quickly towards him to treat him. I wonder if he was slapped or yelled at in his early training, or if he's just jumpy by nature.

I once heard Patricia McConnell say that mental exercise was twice as tiring as physical exercise for dogs. I don't see that in my dogs at all, otherwise we'd being doing tricks all day and little reasonable walks. It takes the edge off, for sure, but I can tell they still want to sniff the neighborhood and stretch their legs. But when I let them out in the yard, they only last a few minutes. Sigh.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Sometimes having dogs in winter is really unpleasant. It was 13 degrees, and we just got back from an hour walk. Should've put Dottie's coat on, she was really unhappy. Also, it being New Year's, Justin gave them a little walk before he went to work and I spent the day drinking bloody mary's with friends. Then I walked them at around five, and it was dark. Boo.

On the plus side, I hardly saw anyone the whole time. Today was a "no training" day for me, I didn't do any practice anything except for treats when we heard barking dogs and stopping at the corner. I even tolerated some pulling because I was too cold to do my usual: when Gustav pulls, I stop immediately until he finally gets the hint and looks back. Then I praise him and we move on, with the forward movement being the reinforcement. Not today, brrrr. Hope I didn't undo lots of training.

Happy New Year!