Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page
When the good people on the Green River road in Guilford, Vermont lost access into Brattleboro they did what people anywhere with the motivation and tools would do, they helped themselves.
Hurricane Irene, downgraded to a tropical storm by the time she reached New England dumped records amounts of water, in a short time, on mountainsides already saturated by previous rains. Witnesses say that within minutes streams and rivers became raging torrents. The USGS chart shows the Green River going from under 100 CFS to close to 20,000 on Saturday. A hot tub was seen floating down the Green River, along with a variety of other debris. The high water in Brattleboro dumped tons of silt in basements, buildings and downtown, along the Green River the water stripped tons of gravel from roads and embankments, making travel downstream to Greenfield and upstream to Brattleboro impossible.
When I returned home on Tuesday, after being stuck in Washington DC where I had attended the BlogPaws conference, I was surprised to discover that the road I was prepared to walk, from the Green River Covered Bridge to home, appeared to be driveable, barely. When I was within half a mile of my house I saw what looked like a road crew. One neighbor with the heavy equipment to do it, had started, from upstream, working his way down, to make repairs so residents were able to get out but more importantly, utility crews and rescue vehicles could get in. A resident in the area had already required emergency assistance for health reasons and rescue personnel were forced to make it to his home on foot. Other neighbors grabbed the pick axes and shovels languishing in sheds, put on their work gloves and joined in. Along with wreaking havoc, disasters also galvanize people and neighbors who had never met before were greeting each other and sharing their stories of the floods.
The road is not fully repaired, nor has it been assessed for safety, and residents ask that sightseers refrain from traveling on it as the traffic degrades the repairs they have made. It is not possible to travel past the State line into Colrain, MA, as the road has washed away completely. We don’t expect official road repairs to begin until the area has been assessed by FEMA. The road is not only our lifeline into town for supplies, one resident faced job loss if she was unable to get to work. Many of us are still unable to drive the full distance to our homes, but with walking shoes and backpacks are looking forward to the ‘given no choice’ opportunity to walk along our beautiful river each day during times when we’d usually be hurrying off to work, or returning home.
Our neighborhood was lucky. Property was lost but no homes were damaged and our family and pets are safe. Others not far away were not so fortunate. Seeing my piece of the planet stripped to bedrock is disconcerting, but seeing my community come together is heartening. We are already planning the Hurricane Irene party to share pictures and videos of the event. By then we hope to have our road rebuilt, but if not, the picks and shovels will be stored and we’ll take out our skis.
BlogPaws is an event I look forward to more and more. I have the opportunity to meet my twitter and Facebook friends and I always go home with a few tricks & tidbits about websites, blogging and social media. That pales in comparison with the energy and inspiration I get from learning about and meeting people who are doing incredible things to benefit animal welfare. It’s humbling.
In return for the opportunity to attend BlogPaws I am asked to share information about the Pedigree Foundation’s annual Writer a Post Help a Dog campaign, running through September 3. For every post written that mentions the Pedigree Foundation, a non-profit formed to help support shelters and promote the welfare of animals, 20 pounds of Pedigree dog food will be donated to feed shelter dogs, up to 10,000lbs of food. There. That was easy.
I am not a product reviewer. I blog about fearful dogs. I appreciate being given the opportunity to attend an event where I can share my mission, to educate people about the most effective and humane ways to work with fearful dogs. I worked up the nerve and handed several copies of my book to the tattooed, black Tshirt wearing guys of the reality TV show Rescue Ink. I shared it with Mike Arms of the Helen Woodward Animal Center and Krissie Newman, wife of Nascar driver Ryan Newman, who is devoted to the cause of animal welfare including humane education for children. This kind of self promotion doesn’t come easy to me, but I decided I’d be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity to do it. It’s not me I’m selling, it’s the information which I think will help save lives. Fearful dogs are at a huge risk of behaving aggressively. Aggressive dogs are at a huge risk of being killed at shelters or being given up by their owners.
If you blog and write a post mentioning the Pedigree Foundation another 20lbs of food will be donated to feed dogs living in shelters. If you are involved with a shelter and would like to apply for a grant from the foundation, you’ll find information on their site. If you do write a post and want to share it in the blog hop simply click on this linky tools link, and add your post to the list.
I am attending the BlogPaws Conference in the DC area and wondering whether I’ll make it home tomorrow night. While I’m away Nibbles is being boarded with a woman who offers home boarding. He’s been there before and it was a fabulous experience for him. He made new and continuing progress. After a few days back with me he began to display behaviors that he had been showing while boarding.
Here’s a short video of Nibs approaching me for handling. He has begun to do this more, jumping up on the bed in the morning, racing around the room trying to initiate play. He’s still wary of approaching me if I’m standing. I’ll keep giving him the chance to get used to me, whatever my posture.
During a seminar I suggested that people with fearful dogs reward their dogs for moving away from what scares them. Did I mean reward them for trying to flee? For many this flies in the face of what their goal for the dog is. Don’t we want to get dogs closer to what scares them? Well, yes, and no.
Working with any dog is a process and throughout that process the dog’s behavior changes, at least that’s what we’re hoping for. But sometimes the changes are not necessarily what we’d like. As a fearful dog gains confidence we may see happy, eager to engage behavior toward a trigger. Or we may see a dog who with some confidence discovers that they are more willing to be assertive and express what they truly feel, which for some dogs is, GET AWAY FROM ME! It’s that ‘get away from me’ behavior that can become dangerous for a dog and whatever they are concerned about.
Unless you know with surety that a fearful dog is going to end up loving a trigger, you take a risk whenever you encourage them to get closer to it. Early on with Sunny I used to take him for off leash walks on a wooded trail near town. When people appeared he would run off into the woods, sometimes barking. As time went on he became bolder and I remember thinking how much progress he was making when he no longer chose to run off into the woods, but instead followed after people for a bit. But I also remember having a flash of doubt at what was really going on. Was he truly just investigating them? Was that head lift toward the jacket tied around their waist a sniff or had he tried to get his mouth on it? Because he had never shown any aggressive behavior toward me or my husband, nor had any of the people who had handled him previously mentioned aggression, it was not a consideration I kept in the front of my mind. I do now.
I am not suggesting that we never work with our dogs to increase their comfort level when in closer proximity to their triggers. It’s how we go about it that matters. Suzanne Clothier’s treat/retreat technique provides dogs with the opportunity to practice moving closer to a trigger while never removing the option to move away from it. When we take the option to move away from something scary, a dog may hunker down and suck it up, hating every second of it, some may be ok with it and figure out that it’s not as horrible as they expected it would be, but there will be some who will respond aggressively in order to make the exposure end. Don’t ever eliminate ‘move away’ from a dog’s repertoire of behavior choices.
Ultimately our dogs need to learn skills for dealing with what scares them, if only peripherally. But how we get them there matters. The ability to decrease proximity between themselves and a trigger is not necessarily proof of success. You may be willing to go into work and pick up your paycheck and still hate your boss. Or the work you do. People are not the only animals that can go ‘postal‘.
I am trying to keep up with sharing the different things I am doing to help Nibbles learn to be comfortable with people. He’s a fairly solid little dog. He doesn’t have general anxiety or any phobias. It would seem that he is just lacking experience with people and the things people do with dogs, like put leashes on them and take them for walks or reach out to pet them or pick them up (the curse of small dogs). He’s had some experience so he’s not totally freaked out by humans, but not enough to immediately feel good about us.
Darting away or startling is a hard habit to break. For a dog like Nibs it’s practically a reflex. Heck, it may even BE a reflex. I want to give Nibs many opportunities to experience me reaching for him and NOT darting away. He can always move away if he chooses to, and sometimes he does. But he can also choose to move closer to me, and he does that too.
Most of the time when I am walking around the house Nibbles follows me and I ignore him. If I have to move in his direction I give him time to move away and turn my body slightly away from him so he doesn’t feel the need to flee. If I am sitting on the floor he will come up behind me and I can reach back and give his ears and chest a rub. I’d love to catch that on video.
Here’s a short video update on Nibbles. He spent over a week being home boarded and it was a great experience for him. The woman boarding him understood the need to be patient and non-confrontational with him. By the time I went to pick him up he was snuggling on the couch with her.
Nibs will still dart away if approached or reached for. He needs to learn to be comfortable on a leash. But as you can see from the following video he’s a happy little dog who will make someone a great companion.
I spent a wonderful week visiting my mom in Buzzard’s Bay near Cape Cod. I boarded Nibbles with a woman and her family who had adopted another of the dogs who were confiscated along with Nibbles and Kelly. Nibbles had a great time working through many of the challenges a dog needs to sort out when they live in a world with people. He was going in and out of the house on his own. He was snuggling on the couch with his caregiver, who was able to give him pets and scratches. He was tolerating being on a leash. Bottomline was that I hated to take him away! He’s back in my office and I suspect that in a day or two we’ll be back to running around and playing, but in the meantime I’m being cautious and keeping him confined to his pen.
It’s easy to think that when dogs like Nibbles begin to show indications that they are happy and playful, that they are no longer flight risks. It doesn’t take much to add to the pressure they may be experiencing and see them revert to their earlier behaviors of fleeing or avoiding handling. The woman who was boarding him quipped that she didn’t want to end up being the subject of another story in a local paper which had already written about Nibbles’ adventures after he fled from his first foster home. I feel the same way. Better safe than sorry.
The following video is of Kelly, now called Rocky, who I had met in the barn along with Nibbles. Kelly showed more skills when it came to interacting with people. I had fun teaching him to target and play other ‘get used to hands’ games. Every dog is different and how we work with them will vary, depending on their abilities and comfort level. Pay attention to the dog, be patient and gradually ‘up the ante’ in regard to what you expect of them as their skills improve.
Nibbles was one of approximately 23 dogs confiscated from a home breeder by the HSUS. After being placed in a foster home he fled through a window and was on the lam for a week when he trapped by an ACO 30 miles north of his foster home. How he got that far as fast as he did will remain a mystery, but I’ve seen the little guy get the zoomies and he could probably cover some ground. It was another couple of weeks before Nibbles was identified. He had no collar, tags or chip.
Few people, well intentioned as they are, fully comprehend the challenges of a fearful dog, or appreciate how that fear will affect their behavior. I offered to take him on and see if I could help him learn skills for living with people. The following are a collection of videos I’ve shot showing some of the things I’ve been doing with him since he came to my home.
I often ‘wish’ I had shot video of a particular dog and this time around I decided I’d just do it. There were obviously no set designers or wardrobe people involved.
One of my first goals with Nibbles was creating a space where he would be safe, i.e., couldn’t escape, and where he would feel safe. Nibbles has some comfort with people, but never learned how to communicate with us. Teaching a dog to target is one of the simplest ways to get the point across that if I do something, and the dog does something specific in response, they’ll get a reward. This is when I think of the Helen Keller ‘water’ moment, when the penny drops, the light bulb goes on and the dog learns that there is method to what may have just seemed like madness.
Another reason to give a dog a safe space is that they are less inclined to want to flee if they already have a place they can go and relax. I’d rather have Nibbles race back to his crate when startled then race around looking for a door or window.
Desensitization & Counter Conditioning
The process of changing how a dog feels about something can be slow. I am trying to help Nibbles learn to associate having me interact with him, with food.
Often people try to lure dogs near them using food, that can backfire. I am using treats to reward Nibbles for behaviors I like, and also sending him away from me to look for treats. After he finds a tossed treat, he looks to me again. We need to become relevant to dogs and food is the obvious way to do that.
Play and movement are important in the process of helping fearful dogs. When a dog feels safe they can begin to play. I want Nibbles to learn that people are fun to play with.
Coming soon! Nibbles gets to be outside.