Archive for the ‘Blogathon2011’ Category

Dogs go crazy too

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Crazy may not be the clinical term for it, but dogs can also go from being normal, healthy, high functioning dogs to behavioral car wrecks (also not the clinical term). Henry David Thoreau wrote-

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

Many dogs refuse to go quietly, barking their discontent until they are silenced with shocks, sprays, and other threats. Others break. The dog in the following video was sent to a ‘sanctuary’ after the hurricanes of 2005. He, along with others, did not get out of the travel cages they were transported in for 5 weeks. That’s 5 weeks stuck in a cage barely big enough to stand up and turn around in. Food and water were inconsistent or nonexistent. I can’t imagine the fear and desperation these dogs experienced. When he was ‘freed’ he had developed this bowl pushing OCD.

This post is part of Blogathon2011. 24 hours of hourly blogging.


Dogs I have loved

It’s time for a bit nostalgia, which is way better than 2am angst.

I was born into a household with a dog, a black mongrel with brown spotted eye brows. I heard once that Native Americans had a name for these markings on a dog, but damned if I can remember what it was. When I was around 7 years old he went missing on the 4th of July. I cried for days. I got a stye in my eye and thought it was called a ‘pig stye’ which was confusing because that was also what my room was called. Blackie was found a week later miles and miles away living on someone’s porch. I remember my father using a pliers with a coffee can of alcohol on the ground next to him, to pull off the hundreds of tablet sized ticks on him. I had to go off because I couldn’t bear the sound of the dog’s yelping. Blackie lived a few more years and one night he didn’t come home. I found him dead under the bushes in front of our house. He was a gentle dog who I wish I could meet again now that I’m an adult and might see him for the magnificent friend he was.

girl sitting on floor with dog jumping over her legAfter Blackie we adopted Samantha, an untrained smooth coat fox terrier that had been forced to live in my cousin’s basement. The first day I tried to take her for a walk when I came home from school at lunch she ran away from me. I remember crying, my fish net stocking puddling around my ankles. I also remember being so mad when she came home. I had a flash of understanding that she didn’t know why I was yelling at her, but I yelled anyway. She died from complications caused by eating stockings. During the summer she did accompany me on walks through the cranberry bogs. My mother always told me to ‘take the dog’. I think she believed that Sam would protect me from evil doers. But this was over 40 years ago and kids still did things like go for walks by themselves and could be protected by fat little dogs.

For my 16th birthday I was gifted with an 8 week old puppy I named Treble. We were in love. She was beautiful, a bit sensitive and when I left her with my parents when I went away to college I suspect I broke her heart. She broke mine when I had to euthanize her after she was diagnosed with cancer of the spleen. One winter we slept in a rickety cabin above a shed that had a ramp she had to climb to get up into it. Her waterbowl froze next to an ineffective woodstove. After I buried her a friend’s dog followed me around and slept with me, uninvited. To date it was probably the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me.

BC, a cute spaniel mix showed up at the summer camp where I was working when I buried Treble. I called him BC because he was wearing a blue collar. I think that collar is still lying around somewhere. BC had a better social life than I did. Counselors at the camp would take him for rides into town, he’d join them on mountain bike rides and jogs. Someone once told me they found him and another dog named Whitefield, who lived with us briefly, hanging out on an island they would have had to swim to. They swam back home too. BC moved to Vermont with my husband and I (we wouldn’t marry for another 17 years, and I always thought that the only reason John was spending time with me was because he loved BC and BC loved me). We had a dog door and BC’s dog friends in the neighborhood would come in, get him out of our bed and they’d go roaming the woods around our house. Rosie, our neighbor’s dog was such a regular visitor that we sent her home with a note on her collar that said ‘send cookies’ and the next morning she arrived with a bag of sugar cookies tied to her neck. I dug BC’s grave years before he died, always expecting that he’d never make it another year.

woman & cocker spaniel on agility courseMy friend John Farrar developed a brain tumor and when he died I was bequeathed his 2 female cocker spaniels, a mother/daughter pair, a red and a buff. These girls were the cutest, sweetest, easiest dogs I’ve ever lived with. Aside from stealing sandwiches from people picnicking when we went on hikes, they were dream dogs. I keep looking for them to have them back in my life again. Though they lived long lives, both their deaths were tragic and I cry even thinking about it, so there’s no way I’m going to write about it.

For a few years Spanky, a cute terrier mix lived with us. Spanky had been my sister’s dog but when he started to refuse to go outside and began pooping in closets he came to live with me. It turns out that a malfunctioning electric fence collar had burned him. No one thought to consider it as a cause for his behavior. I only found out about it years later and put 2 & 2 together. Spanky was a good dog, who refused to sleep at the foot of the bed and took up too much room. He had to be put to sleep after rupturing a disk. Our last day together was spent cross country skiing and Spanky was in the lead.

Finn our border collie came to live with us after the older of our cockers died. He is sweet boy who deserves better than what he has with me. He deserves a flock of his own sheep.2 black dogs holding the same frisbee We are his 7th home and he has never met a person he didn’t think could throw a frisbee for him. He is probably the main reason my fearful dog Sunny has done as well as he has. Sunny is ruthless about stealing frisbees from Finn, but Finn only grumbles a bit and goes and finds another.

buff cocker faceAnnie was suppose to be my beloved buff cocker Sabu. I knew she wasn’t but I so missed having a cuddly little cocker snuggled up against me under the covers that when I saw her face on Petfinder, and she was nearby, I had to give her a chance. She’s easily aroused, has piss poor social skills when it comes to meeting new dogs, and she barks at people way too much, but under it all she’s a sweet dog. She lived for 6 years with the same family and then had her life upended. I have tried to make her happy.

Honor the memory of a dog you have loved by making a donation to support a humane society struggling to meet the needs of homeless pets. Click here to make your tax deductible donation. All donations will be matched in kind.

Incompatible behaviors

This post was written for Blog-a-thon 2011 to help raise money for homeless animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. Click here to donate! If you have appreciated learning about fearful dogs on this blog you can pay it forward by making a donation. Remember any amount is appreciated, is tax deductible, and will be doubled. A $10 donation will be matched and earn the shelter $20. It’s a pretty good deal and donating money to help others help animals is incompatible with complacency.

Instead of just trying to stop behaviors you don’t like, give your dog something else to do instead and make that a habit! Incompatible behaviors are behaviors that are impossible to perform along with the behavior you don’t like. Teach a dog to sit and they won’t be jumping on you. Teach a dog to go get a ball and they won’t be charging the people walking by the fence.

You can use the same principle in regard to emotions. If a dog can learn to feel good around the things that scare them, they won’t be feeling bad! It’s hard to be sad when you are eating a hot fudge sundae (I prefer mine with peppermint stick ice cream).

In this video you’ll see how play & performing tricks helps my fearful dog feel better about being around people. Make no doubt about it, Sunny remains fearful of most people. He was not socialized to people early in his life and that’s what happens to a dog. He’ll never be a ‘gee I think you’re swell’ kind of dog with people, though he is with me, his primary caregiver. However he had learned skills for coping around people.

Bedtime story

Here’s the scariest story I know. You can lie down if you like, but leave the lights on. You’ll probably sleep better if you make a donation to help animals sleeping in shelters.

It’s late and I’m all alone!

This post was written for Blog-a-thon 2011 to help raise money for homeless animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. Click here to donate!

As social animals, being left on our own can be scary. We leave lights on for little kids when we send them off to their rooms, being sure to check for monsters under the bed beforehand. Dogs are social creatures as well and many never learned to be comfortable being on their own. Some dogs are just unhappy while others are downright panicked when they find themselves alone, especially in a new home.

There are ways you can help your dog.

Start off slow. Help your dog learn that when you leave you come back. Build the duration of your time away gradually.

An idle mouth is the devil’s plaything. Or something like that. Be sure your dog has something to do when you leave. Stuffed food dispensing toys are great. Fill them with dampened kibble or other yummy food, put them in the freezer and hide them around the house when you go out. A full belly can help calm down a dog, but be sure they had plenty of time outside before you leave them so they don’t have any accidents in the house.

Get some playtime in before you go. Dogs are most active in the early morning and early evening. Give them some action and exercise, let them run and explore before you leave them with their breakfast. Adult dogs snooze a lot during the day so it shouldn’t be a difficult routine to get into for them. Make sure that when you are home that your dog does more than just sit around and wish you’d do something with them. Give your dog a life.

Save super good treats and toys for when you leave. Pick them up when you return and only bring them out again when the dog is going to be on their own.

There are calming music CDs and plug-ins and scents that can help soothe a dog while you’re away. Fill your CD player with calming music and spritz some DAP or essential oils before you go.

If your dog is destructive and you are not sure if it’s boredom or separation anxiety, set up a video camera to record what is going on when you are gone.

There are medications which vets can prescribe to help lower a dog’s anxiety level. As upsetting as your dog’s behavior may be to you, and neighbors who may complain about non-stop barking, it’s the dog who is suffering the most. Do whatever you can to help them, including the consideration of vet prescribed medications.

These books can help you learn more about how to treat separation anxiety.



If you live in the northeast of the U.S. you might be interested in this upcoming seminar on separation anxiety.

Stress wreaks havoc

cartoon drawing of dog standing on hind legs looking sadStress wreaks havoc on brains and bodies. The list of signs of how stress affects mammalian brains is long. These signs include physical changes; headaches, nausea, body aches. Emotional changes such as; depression, anxiety, agitation. And cognitive changes; confused thinking and poor memory. People can talk about how they feel and what they are experiencing. Our dogs are limited in how they can communicate how they are feeling. It’s up to us to pay attention to their body ‘language’ and use the species correct interpretation of their behavior.

When is the last time you entertained the thought that a stressed out dog might have a headache? They too can have headaches and feel generally lousy. What about a dog who is stressed and experiencing confused thinking? Can we allow them this possibility and rather than respond with frustration and anger for their ‘disobedience’ consider how we might lower their stress to help improve their behavior? When someone tells me that their fearful dog doesn’t play two thoughts come to mind. Either the human’s definition of play is different from the dog’s. Play doesn’t have to be romping and tussling with another dog, or chasing a frisbee. Play can be the willingness to engage in training, running, exploring. Or the dog is depressed and scared. We don’t play either if we’re depressed or scared.

Lower stress however you can. Speak to a vet about behavioral medications to help with this if you do not see positive changes in a fearful dog’s behavior. The longer you wait, the longer a dog suffers.

This post was written for Blog-a-thon 2011 to help raise money for homeless animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. Click here to donate!

A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog-FREE E-BOOK

Here it is my incentive post!

A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog book coverMake a donation of $20 or more (tax deductible to boot!) to and receive a free e-book copy (in PDF format) of A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog.

All donations raised during Blog-a-thon2011 will be matched by a generous donor and go to help the animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. That means your donation counts for twice as much AND you get a free e-book that sells for $14.95.

Here’s the string attached. You must make your donation between 8p-9p Central time on November 12, 2011. That’s 20:00-21:00 Central Time in the USA. Central time is one hour earlier than EST. If you need info about time zones check out this site and type Omaha as the city to find out what time it is.

My pledge to my dogs

Every now and then I find myself thinking that I am going to swear off dogs. I’ll see the three I currently have through to the end of their lives and then that’s it. No more dogs. This usually occurs when I am speeding to the emergency clinic, often after hours, a dog with a snout full of porcupine quills complaining in the backseat, or when I’m paying the bill for an ACL repair so my dog can continue to enjoy his romps in the woods, or when I’m sobbing myself to sleep grieving the loss of a special canine friend. Most recently I said it while I drove the dirt roads shouting for one of my dogs who took himself on a 6 hour walkabout. That’s it. Never again.

But it won’t happen. Sure I’d enjoy the freedom of leaving the house for days and not worrying about what to do about the dogs. I could buy one of those pretty down comforters and not worry about muddy paw prints and blood from a marrow bone destroying it. I might even have a retirement account that was actually a retirement account and not an emergency fund for dogs. But it won’t happen, I enjoy their company too much.

I may not always do enough for my dogs. Not enough time together, not enough play and training, not enough bones. What I have done is make a pledge to each of my dogs. The pledge I make to my own dogs is that I will try to give them a life worth living and when it’s ending I will do what I can to minimize any pain and suffering. To each of my foster dogs I pledge to find them a home as good or better than the home they are currently in, mine.

Do you make any pledges or promises to your dogs?

This post was written for Blog-a-thon 2011 to help raise money for homeless animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. Click here to donate! All donations are tax deductible and will be matched.

Pride & preferences

happy black & white dog sitting on snow covered ground looking upReward-based, positive reinforcement, progressive positive reinforcement, force-free, dog-friendly, truly dog friendly, science based….whatever you call it, it’s how I want to train dogs, for two reasons, personal preference and professional pride.

In general, I prefer to have relationships in my life that do not include conflict and bad feelings. For years I’ve worked as a leader for groups of adventure travelers, or those brave enough to get into a raft on a river with me, and I always found that asking nicely gets me where we need to go.

Well…. there was the time I was traveling with a group of teenagers for 6 weeks through the Southwest. One morning not only wouldn’t they get off the roof of the van where they had slept, they had left the previous night’s dirty dish water sitting out, something they had been told repeatedly, never to do, to avoid attracting critters into camp. My repeated attempts to ‘ask them nicely’ to get up so we could start our day failed and there was this bucket full of dirty dish water that I wasn’t happy about, and you can probably guess what my next move was. My actions got them off the roof, but they were not happy with me and any satisfaction I got by venting my frustrating was gone when I had to deal with the indignation of teenagers for days. I got some satisfaction from my behavior, and I may have gotten what I wanted from them, but it was a response born of frustration and anger. I regretted doing it.

Dogs are intelligent and sophisticated thinkers. We love to hear stories of their escapades that prove they are. And these stories abound. Dogs who pull injured dogs off highways at risk of their own lives, dogs who walk directly to the saddest person in the room and offer their furry heads for petting, dogs who care for sick or injured animals of another species. You might say it’s all instinct, hardwiring that involves little conscious thought. And in some cases it might be, but anyone who trains using reward based techniques has seen dogs thinking, figuring things out, with deliberate concentration on the task at hand.

There are few offenses in my world that require punishment of dogs that scares or intimidates them. If they don’t know the right thing to do, it’s my responsibility to teach them. Using reward based training techniques has meant they are more than happy to learn.

This post was written for Blog-a-thon 2011 to help raise money for homeless animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. Click here to donate!


This post was written for Blog-a-thon 2011 to help raise money for homeless animals at the Nebraska Humane Society. Click here to donate!

Teaching a dog to target is one of the easiest skills for them to learn. You can teach a dog to target with any part of their body. Nose targeting is usually the easiest since dogs are inclined to sniff things. But you can also teach them to target using their paws, or putting other parts of their body on something. I taught my border collie to target with his chin. He will rest his chin in my palm, on my leg or on an object. I didn’t have any particular reason for it, sometimes I just try to see what behaviors I can teach my dogs. They don’t mind since I use reward-based training methods and suspect they think they live with a fool.

“You mean all I need to do is rest my head in your hand? You’ll give me cheese? You gotta be kidding me! Hey Rex you gotta see this. Watch me get cheese!”

I use targeting for a variety of reasons with fearful dogs. This video shows a few of those reasons.