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Archive for October, 2009

8 Weeks

As someone who usually has her holiday shopping done by Halloween, I have to say YIKES! This year that’ll be a missed deadline.

To make myself feel better I’m convinced at least I have ideas for people’s Christmas gifts. I just have to make them materialize.  In a mere 8 weeks, I might add. Yep. That’s right. Christmas is just 8 Thursdays away.

If you’d like some Christmas gift ideas for the dog or dog-lover on your list, here are a few:

For the dog:

~Quality training time. From someone with a pack of 7 who teaches others, I can tell you TIME is a wonderful gift.  Teach your dog a new trick or give a gift certificate to a tricks class to a dog-loving friend. A dog’s mind is a terrible thing to waste. They LOVE using it. Show them how. Fun will be had by both two-legged AND four-legged.

~Healthy, wholesome treats or dog food.  Obesity in our pets runs as high as in our human population these days.  Give them nutritious diets, including treats. If you can’t afford a premium dog food, at least give premium treats a try. Making it a special holiday gift may make it even more special.

~Rules, boundaries and expectations along with a job/purpose. That sounds pretty weird on a gift list, but for dogs it’s what they want and need.

~Learn pet first aid so you can be prepared in an emergency.

For the dog owner:

~A gift subscription to Cesar Millan’s on-line course, Sessions with Cesar. He has lessons on teaching dog owners how to enhance their relationships with their dogs by giving them insight into dog psychology.  Canine Coach can get you a discount. Contact us.

~A gift certificate to a training class. Even offer to attend with them. Moral support when learning new or different things can be very important to success.

~A gift certificate to their vet’s office.

~Offer to pitch in with a chore or babysitting to free up their time to spend with their dog.

These are just a few to jumpstart your brain a little. Gifts don’t have to cost a lot to mean a lot- especially to a dog.

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It’s coming up on 7 weeks since RePoe entered our lives. In the last couple weeks, we’ve been making larger steps towards normalcy. They’re still tiny compared to dog with good beginnings, but they’re big in RePoe’s mind.

He’s a dog who’s spent most of his life in a box. He’s content to stay in his box. We’re slowly showing him life outside his box. Sometimes he’s not happy about it, but after he gets over the initial apprehension, he takes it all in and deems it not so bad after all.

He doesn’t flatten himself out in response to our approach anymore, but rather sits up fairly straight.

He willing gets in and out of the vehicle.

He’s now allowed our BST sessions numerous places inside and out, while I’m standing completely upright, when I’m sitting in a chair, when I’m on the floor.

He’s now graduated to giving some tongue flicks. This is a signal I welcome. It means he’s moving from completely shut down surrender to subtle communication-subtle, normal dog communication!

I finally got to cut his toenails. The professional groomer in me was driven mad daily by looking at them and hearing them click on the floor. But we had to be patient. He still wasn’t at totally on board with the idea, but I was comfortable enough taking the risk knowing I wouldn’t lose too much ground in our progress.

His back feet were easy. He was trying to plaster himself against the back of his crate. I just crawled part-way in and did them with him sitting straight up.  His front left foot was a little bit of a challenge. He really HATES having his front feet handled. He pulled his leg away, but wasn’t in a huge panic like before. His right front foot was the one closest to the crate wall. He didn’t want me to have it. When I finally took it firmly, but gently he did something awesome. Not awesome in a way most dog owners would think of, but as a trainer and his confidant, it was awesome to me.

He took my left hand, the hand holding his foot, into his mouth!

This dog was communicating with me. He didn’t bite, he did nothing more than mouth my hand extremely gently. This one gesture was so full of communication, I was touched. But not so much as to stop my automatic game show buzzer warning to let him know it wasn’t acceptable people communication. He didn’t panic or freak and my calm rebuff of his behavior.  He immediately removed his mouth and let me finish his nails.

A little while later, I even went back and scissored his feet. Whew. The groomer in me now can rest at ease for a while.

The trainer in me won’t be able to rest for quite a while yet, however. There’s a whole world to show him out there!

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It’s been just a tad over six months since Ky left us.

I still miss him terribly. I feel his absence most in group classes. He had the anchoring energy even out of control dogs responded to. He could practically read my mind and I wouldn’t have to think twice about it. That allowed me to concentrate on teaching rather than bolstering Ky’s training.

Mara is starting to take on more and more of his former duties. She’s got a totally different energy. Not anchoring in the least because she’s always trying interrupt everyone else’s behavior. Her mottos are “why can’t we all get along” and “it’s okay, I’ll help you feel better”.  She’s especially alert to any chaotic energy. And she’s not always content to wait for me to make the choices. In certain instances, I have to watch her like a hawk.

Having my attention split in two -one part of me teaching and one part of me fortifying her training, makes things much more challenging. But I think those are still good lessons to students-training is lifelong for ALL of us. Trainers included. Even our dogs are far from perfect.

Ky made it very easy for me. I didn’t have to be split for the most part. He knew how to take care of me.

Mara is doing her best but she’s sure got some big pawprints to fill. Hopefully I’ll get Quigley up to speed shortly and he’ll help her, too.

The thought it would take more than one dog to fulfill his legacy is not surprising to those who had the privilege of meeting Ky.

I know I’m not alone in my missing him.

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Today is day 30 of RePoe coming to foster with us.

In the last month, his life has changed dramatically. Ours has too.

He started out shutting down if Mark or I touched him. He passively allowed us to do so, but he mentally checked out -a sad surrender as someone else described it.

We did some exercises I dubbed Butt Scratch Therapy (BST) to teach him human touch wasn’t horrible (see our YouTube channel, CanineCoachWI, for videos). He’s starting to come around. He still won’t solicit touch outside of BST, but he’s no longer “surrendering” to it. If we scratch his chest he will actually smell our hand rather than go into avoidance mode. He sits up straight

He’s doing much, much better with direct eye contact and voice so we can look at him and talk to him at the same time. He’s no longer trying to hide himself under an imaginary cloak of invisibility.

He’s been pretty good about his eating habits. Since his third day here, he’s let us watch him eat his meals from an ever lessening distance. Something others from the seizure weren’t so willing to do.

In the last few days, he’s taken food directly from our hands. He’s still clearly not comfortable doing that, but he’s willing to give it a try. He’s also now letting me hold his dish while he eats his meals.

Having a 10 week old puppy in the house certainly drives home the importance of EARLY training and socialization. Seda, the puppy, wouldn’t dream of giving a treat from your hand a second thought. She’s too busy trying to figure out what to do for a second one before the first one is even in her mouth. Talking to her and looking at her, carrying on a verbal conversation, those are good things. Even though dogs aren’t verbal creatures, they certainly can adapt to some conversation.

These are things that have been a part of her life from birth – early handling, socialization, exposure to life outside a box: normal puppy-raising events.

As a professional trainer, I see a variety of dogs with a variety of behaviors from a variety of backgrounds. Normal puppy-raising events can still sometimes produce puppies with abnormal responses and behaviors.

Having a dog in the house without the benefits of normal puppy-raising and even normal young adult canine life will certainly make teaching this week’s puppy class much more poignant.

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RePoe’s been coming along slowly but steadily. We’ve been happy with the progress. It’s being measured, as someone well aptly put: glacially. To us, though, it’s progress and we’re happy to see it.

We make progress forward and slip backwards some then make more progress forward again. It’s the way of dogs like these.

At some point there is a tipping point where the progress will be exponential and the backward slips microscopic.

We’re not there yet so our job is to keep pushing the edges of RePoe’s comfort zone being very careful to balance it so as not to push him OVER the edge.

Today I had a little time so I did the first session of Butt Scratch Therapy (BST) outside. I expected it to be like starting over. I needed to match leash tension and use lots of calming signals. He actually resisted this a little more than I expected, but not much more.

I used calming signals he likes the most. He’d come in a little, but still hadn’t figured out what it was I really wanted him to do. Why was I sitting cross-legged on the ground????

I decided to be a bit more forward than I wanted to be. I held the lead firm and reached as far as I could and scratched his undercarriage between his front legs then immediately went back to my neutral space. It took a few seconds while he processed things. Then he turned his butt to me and sidestepped in to test the waters. I did some BST and stopped. He stepped a little closer and I did some more. He relaxed a bit and contemplated how this worked outside, too.

Then I carefully stood up and we went for our walk.

On our way back, I chose a random spot in the driveway to attempt some more BST. This time I change the picture again. Instead of sitting cross-legged, I kneeled and then sat back on my heels. I again did the same things I had been doing in all the other sessions.

As I predicted, he regressed some; offered some resistance. He was just starting to think about coming in when the cell phone tucked in my pocket rang. Serious mood dampener!

My lesson plan then changed from coming in for BST to not freaking out and bolting when someone was talking on the phone a few short feet from you. I explained to the caller why I was talking in my quiet, calm voice.  RePoe did okay with that new lesson, so we didn’t go back to BST lessons.

There’s always tomorrow.

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RePoe had a play date on Sunday. I’m sure it was the first in his entire life.

We had Ripple and her owner, Kerry, come for a private play session at the training center.

RePoe was mildly interested in Ripple, but not much. Ripple loves coming to “school” so she took it all in stride. As long as she got to jump through the tire and do the teeter, she was happy.

Kerry & I had settled on the floor a few yards apart and were quietly talking while the dogs roamed about (off lead) doing what interested them.

RePoe was getting braver and braver. He was pacing about the room absorbing everything. He impressed me by passing pretty close to Kerry fairly often.

He decided to get really brave and come and sniff my leg. He actually TOUCHED me! My basking in that moment lasted a fraction of a second.

Out of now where, there was a flash of lightening and a deafening clap of thunder that shook the whole building accompanying a sudden cloudburst-very loud in a steel building.

*&^%$!! Talk about the worst timing EVER. Ugh.

Kerry had to run out and shut her car windows. I took RePoe’s collar and leashed him back up. Kerry used strict obedience to calm Ripple down using static postures.  I got RePoe up and moving. We did a bunch of long line walking before he stopped shaking and settled down.

RePoe and I need time to decompress.

Kerry ran Ripple through a couple obstacles and then went home.

I crated RePoe and went to run some errands.

A couple hours later, I came back to try to regain some of the ground we had lost in the morning’s freak micro-storm.

I started back with long line walking. Then I started “Butt Scratch Therapy”.

I’m working at getting RePoe to buy into the idea a human’s touch is a good thing. I’m exposing him to Butt Scratches. At first I had to convince him it was okay if I touched him. Only for a few seconds, and then I retreat back into “my space” and leave him to “his space.”

The first BST session was a week prior to this play date day. By the end of that first session, I had him moving his rear into my space for me to scratch his butt (and shoulders and head), but he was still on lead.

This second BST session I was going to up the ante slightly. I was going to try off lead. Mind you I’m not a fool, he’s in no way ready to be off lead anywhere but a secure, safe enclosure. The training center fits that bill very well.

I started with the movement of follow me on long lead walking. He does very well with that. After he started to calm down, I removed his leash.

I sat on the floor giving calming signals as I had done in the first session. It took about 40 seconds before he approached me tentatively. Not long after that he was coming into position for his BST.

This second session was a repeat of the first, but he was not hooked to a lead. He was free to run from me at his own will. The first session he could’ve run to, but only the length of the 15’ lead.

He never did. In fact, he actively kept seeking more scratches.

I moved to a different spot in the room-the scary micro-storm spot. He did the same thing. I changed my body position by lying on the floor. He didn’t care. Or at least not enough to leave the new found BST.

I moved to several other spots.

He kept trying to get closer and closer to me for scratches. His legs were already touching mine. So before the session ended, I calmly put his rear feet in my lap…between my crossed legs. I had been sitting crossed-legged on the floor. He didn’t bolt, but he wasn’t sure he was ready for that so he moved his left rear leg out from between my legs. He let his right rear remain.

Again, I did some quick scratches and pauses. During all the pauses I went back to calming signals and neutral body language.

RePoe’s response was to move his left rear leg back in between my legs! He willingly got into my lap!!! It only lasted a few seconds, but it was a lifetime coming for him.

The most impressive thing to me, though, was before he moved out of my lap, he turned his head towards me so I offered my hand for him to sniff.

Good Boy, RePoe!

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