Friday, April 24, 2015

Until Tuesday {book review}

Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Fmr. Capt. Luis Carlos Montalvan with Bret Witter

A highly decorated captain in the U.S. Army, Luis Montalvan never backed down from a challenge during his two tours of duty in Iraq. After returning home from combat, however, his physical wounds and crippling post-traumatic stress disorder began to take their toll. He wondered if he would ever recover.

Then Luis met Tuesday, a sensitive golden retriever trained to assist the disabled. Tuesday had lived among prisoners and at a home for troubled boys, and he found it difficult to trust in or connect with a human being - until Luis.

Until Tuesday is the story of how two wounded warriors, who had given so much and suffered the consequences, found salvation in each other. It is a story about war and peace, injury and recovery, psychological wounds and spiritual restoration. But more than that, it is a story about the love between a man and dog, and how, together, they healed each other's souls.

"We aren't just service dog and master; Tuesday and I are also best friends. Kindred souls. Brothers. Whatever you want to call it. We weren't made for each other, but we turned out to be exactly what the other needed."

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book and I must admit I shed a tear or several :). Montalvan candidly describes his experiences serving the military through two tours of Iraq and the resulting Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) he tries to cope with. He gives a brutally honest picture of how and why PTSD is such a challenge for our service members. It was hard to read about the stress that our service members put up with while they're fighting and the challenges they face as they re-integrate into civilian life. Too many are facing difficulties, only to be turned away when they seek or need help :(.

The role service animals play in treating 'invisible' wounds is also a big part of this story and Tuesday's story is just as heartfelt as Montalvan's. I am totally recommending this book to everyone - it's a great read on many levels.

Check out the other books I've reviewed:
Dog is My Co-Pilot
When Elephants Weep
Scent of the Missing
Tell Me Where It Hurts
Little Boy Blue
Pawprints of Katrina
Hit By a Flying Wolf
What the Dog Knows
A Small Furry Prayer

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy 4th Birthday Rookie!

Still as cute as ever...
I tried to be a nice human and take Rookie to the park to play some ball for his birthday. Unfortunately he foiled my plans and tried to be adventurous (aka run away) after just a few tosses. Luckily, I also leave him on a long line so I was able to catch him...but still we had to go after that little stunt of his.

One minute we were playing ball together...
And then he decided running amok was much better...
Lucky for him I still love him :). Earlier this month, he got his birthday presents - a new tug and a new ball (which is actually the one pictured above). Tonight I'll make him a special dinner and call it a day lol.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Chicken!!

It's softball season and Vito gets very excited about softball! :) He doesn't care so much about the sport though - it's more about the balls for him lol. And since we play a lot of catch, he gets to play a lot of chicken! We are nice and sometimes let him get the ball but we are still working on him giving it back :).

Such a handsome old man :).
Vito says 'Catch me if you can...'
There's that 'Mine' look again...
Putting it back in the glove is obviously something
we are still working on...

Do your pups have any favorite sports?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Making a Scent Box

I started working with Rookie on tracking quite awhile ago and am just finding time to actually share it! To be fair we didn't get very far when I started (at least not progressing past what I've described below lol) and now we have started all over since it's been so long. But Rookie doesn't care and I'm sure he only vaguely remembers doing this over a year ago ;).

To start Rookie on tracking I introduced him to scent boxes, my method described below. As with everything dog training related - there are a million and one ways to do it, this is just the way I was comfortable proceeding with and that fit my knowledge of tracking <which is admittedly not much> and teaching.

Scent Boxes/Shapes

For the duration of this blog, I am going to call them scent boxes, although they are known by several names. This will at least keep it consistent :). Scent boxes are an area about 3 feet by 3 feet where you have completely tramped down the vegetation, making sure to stay within the edges of your 'box' or area. I started with squares because they are easier for me, but lots of people do circles as well. Once your dog gets the idea, you can make up all kinds of shapes to keep it interesting :). It's important to keep a definite edge to your 'box' because that edge is a learning moment to your dog - all scent and good stuff (aka food) is within the box and it teaches the difference between crushed vegetation and uncrushed vegetation. This teaches your dog to search crushed vegetation to find the reward.

This a decent video about how to set up your scent box:

Scent boxes are a great way to start with tracking for several reasons:

  • Your dog learns scent discrimination by pairing the food with the scent of the track on whatever surface you are working on
  • You (the handler) start to see what your dog's body language is when they are concentrating on the food/track versus what they look like when they aren't on the track
  • This technique allows you to introduce different conditions (surfaces, weather, etc.) in a 'not real' tracking context which helps take the pressure off
  • It allows your dog to contain themselves calmly within the scent borders and figure it out for themselves

The key here is to let your dog problem solve on their own and not help them. This concept is very hard for many people :), myself included! But after a few sessions your dog will hit the edge of the box and not leave it, instead turning back into the scent area and continuing to work. Yay, that's what we want!

Making Scent Boxes

I have been laying 3 at once (making sure to run them upwind from each other) and spacing them at least 10 feet apart. I don't want Rookie to smell food from another scent box while he is in a different one and get distracted. I try to make a big jump into the area I am going to stomp down and I make sure to come out the same way I went in. The idea is to make ALL the borders as clear as possible and make the scent of the crushed vegetation as unique from the rest of the grass as possible.

You also want to try to start out using short, green grass. Then as your dog catches on, you can introduce longer grass, dead-ish grass, and dirt. For the food, I like to use 3-4 different kinds of treats in each scent box. I don't want Rookie to think that tracking only means search for hotdogs lol. But I do generally use hot dogs, plus two different kinds of Happy Howie treat rolls and cheese. Use something that your dog LOVES - you want to make the best possible association between sniffing and tracking. And even though Rookie has a big mouth :), I cut up the pieces really small (like dime size) and try to throw about 4 inches apart throughout the scent box.

I also put a flag (just the regular hardware store flags) where I am going to start my dog at the scent box so they get used to seeing those fluttering nearby.

Putting Your Dog in the Scent Box

Since Rookie had no idea what he was doing (and if you are just starting out, neither will your dog), I just led him up to the scent box and pointed at the ground once and then let his nose discover the food. Very quickly your dog will start to pull you towards the flags :). 

I did this with Rookie just on a regular collar and leash. No fancy equipment required :). Since the idea is to let your dog discover on their own what is track and what is not, I restricted Rookie from leaving the scent box by more than a body length (using the leash). But make sure to have a loose leash while your dog is in the scent box! And when it's time to get your dog out of the scent box, I normally approach them, offer them food from my hand and food transport them off the pad to the next one.

Ready to start?!? :)

Here is a long-ish video of Rookie in his very first ever scent box (from last year when he still looked terrible). You can see he was confused about what he should be doing and wanted to sit and stare at me for further instructions :).

Ugh I forgot how bad he looked early last year :(. We've done a few repetitions of scent boxes this year and he caught right on like we hadn't taken a year off lol. We'll have to take some recent video :).

Let me know how much your dog likes to find food! :)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Eggs!

We hope everyone had a Happy Easter yesterday. Our dogs enjoyed the nice weather and even got their own Easter egg hunt :). It was quite fun watching each of them figure out how to open the eggs to get the treats. Their egg-opening styles definitely fit each of their personalities!

Bourbon was very methodical about opening his eggs. He likes to have a plan before taking any action apparently...

First he stares at the egg. I'm pretty sure he's trying to 'become the egg.'
Then he touches it to make sure it's real. Seriously.
Then he picks it up and carries it to another location.
While he's carrying it he cracks it of course.
And then he very daintily eats the treat out of the middle.
No actual egg eating for him, unlike some of the other monsters....
Rookie went next and it took him a few minutes to figure out how to open the egg. I suppose if I had used stinkier, more high-value treats he would have tried harder. Something to think about next year I guess :).

Rookie also stared at his eggs at first, but his was more of a perplexed stare.
Like 'hmm, what are you and how do you open?'
Then he pawed the egg. I totally thought that would open it but nope.
Rookie is still wondering how the damn things works. He can be a slow thinker...
Rookie was very thorough when cleaning out his eggs.
Apparently his whole nose fits in one!
He was so thorough that he even decided to try to eat the egg itself...
Monday was much more energetic in her pursuit of the eggs. It was good thing I got a some video because she was hilarious.

Vito, of course, didn't care about opening his eggs at first, he just wanted to have them. And by have it, I mean resource guard it :).

He is pretty sure that is his egg and he's keeping it that way lol.
But once we got him to realize we weren't going to be taking the eggs away and he had to open them to enjoy them, he pretty much got down to business.

Vito making certain there are actually treats in these funny egg things.
He figured out very quickly how to get those treats out.
Then he had to lick the eggs clean just to make sure he didn't miss any crumbs.
There's his patented 'Mine!' look. He did get 'stuck' guarding a few times.
He has such a good sit pretty :).

Did you do anything special with your pups?

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Small Furry Prayer {book review}

A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler

Steven Kotler was forty years old and facing an existential crisis - which made him not too much different from just about every other middle-aged guy in Los Angeles. Then he met Joy, a woman devoted to the cause of canine rescue. 'Love me, love my dogs,' was her rule, and not having any better ideas, Steven took it to heart. Together with their pack of eight dogs - then fifteen dogs, then twenty-five dogs, then, well they lost count - Steven and Joy bought a tiny farm in a tiny town in rural New Mexico and started the Rancho de Chihuahua, a sanctuary for dogs with special needs.

While dog rescue is one of the largest underground movements in America, it is also one of the least understood. This insider look at the cult and culture of dog rescue begins with Kotler's personal experience working with an ever-peculiar pack of dogs and becomes a much deeper investigation into exactly what it means to devote one's life to the furry and the four-legged.

Along the way, Kotler combs through every aspect of canine-human relations, from human's long history with dogs through brand new research into the neuroscience of canine companionship, in the end discovering why living in a world of dogs may be the best way to uncover the truth about what it really means to be human.

My Thoughts
Okay first I have to confess that I read this book in July of last year :) <during my not-really-blogging time>. So it's been awhile, but don't worry I still remember everything about it! First off, the book was not at all what I originally expected it to be. I was expecting a sappy story about a dog rescue with individual stories about the 'special' dogs that have come through. I ended up a bit surprised lol :). While there is a component of that in this book, the larger part is comprised of an exploration into the science and philosophy of animal psychology and the human/animal bond. That threw me for a little bit of a loop! :)

It was also very interesting to read a story like this written by a guy who didn't even start out as a dog person. He didn't grow up with dogs. He lived alone in the city without one for a long time before bringing home his first dog Ahab. But moving in with a pack, and then realizing he needed them - and further realizing that they were deepening his worldview threw his world for a serious loop. Being a skeptical journalist, Kotler responded by researching the heck out of the situation.

That's when the book became intriguing to me - when Kotler began writing about his research into dogs and various states of being - he discusses altruism, sexual orientation, enlightenment, shamanism and shapeshifting, dog and human evolution, inter-species communication, and even more. I enjoyed how he would use an experience with his dogs as a jumping off point for a scientific discussion, then circle back to the initial story. I don't always like that technique but for this book it made the science/technical bits more personal and easier to understand in relation to the author's life.

In the end, dog rescue is hard work and by no means pretty, but the rewards come in so many different ways. This book proves that there is a lot we can learn from animals, and there are somethings we may never understand. I really enjoyed this book and how different it was, I definitely recommend it!

Check out the other books I've reviewed:
Dog is My Co-Pilot
When Elephants Weep
Scent of the Missing
Tell Me Where It Hurts
Little Boy Blue
Pawprints of Katrina
Hit By a Flying Wolf
What the Dog Knows

Wednesday, April 1, 2015