Monday, December 31, 2012


As I noted in the Secret Santy Claws blog post earlier, Vito is a resource guarder. He's done this from a very, very young age - I saw it when I adopted him at 12 weeks old. So it's something I've dealt with as an ongoing project, which sucks sometimes because in all seriousness, it's something that will never go completely away. I can 'manage' it and I can 'condition' him for certain responses, but it's an ingrained behavior that we will always have to stay on top of.

What most people don't realize is that resource guarding is a natural, normal behavior for dogs. Hey even we Humans are resource guarders when you think about it. We tend to not share well with everyone :). If dogs (or Humans) didn't guard their resources from others they'd be in danger of starving or not surviving. It's this survival instinct that triggers the guarding behaviors we see in our dogs and some of those behaviors are appropriate and acceptable. The trick is learning which behaviors are appropriate or not! :)

A really great resource for dealing with resource guarding is Jean Donaldson's book Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs. A few of the very common misperceptions/myths she debunks:

  • Resource guarding is abnormal behavior
  • Because resource guarding is driven largely by genetics, it can't be changed
  • Resource guarding can be cured by making a dog realize that resources are abundant
  • Resource guarding is a symptom of 'dominance' or 'pushiness'
  • Resource guarding is the result of 'spoiling' a dog
So really, what's the answer for dealing with resource guarding? Every dog displays the behaviors differently and with different intensity, so talking to a professional is recommended. When I started dealing with this, I didn't know of any professional so I dug in and did the research and learned about behavior modification techniques and learning theories. Sometimes having 'difficult' or 'different' dogs makes you learn so much more, LOL!! But seriously, if anyone does come across this and wants some help feel free to ask me any questions :).

Chance Takers are Accident Makers

Vito resource guards with other dogs pretty ferociously, but we have employed a management technique for that. Luckily, for Vito his list of guardable items (things HE deems important) is relatively short and his guarding interactions are reasonably predictable. So the dogs get certain high-value food/treat items in their crates only - bones, stuffed kongs, etc. He also guards toys, so we arrange time to play with him when the other dogs are put away. And when all the dogs are out together those high-value toy items are put away.

But remember Humans are in charge of the management so at some point in time, you are going to forget or mess up or whatever. It happens, we aren't perfect either!

Protect Only the Fingers You WANT to Keep!

Vito also resource guards with us, the Humans :). So we've done some classical conditioning with him to basically protect our fingers! Our basic premise was that we wanted Vito to know that the approach of a human to his 'resource' was a GOOD thing. Just like the clicker is associated with treats in your dog's mind, the approach of a human to his resource should mean a better 'resource' is on it's way. So it breaks down to a basic trade strategy. And in reality, this should be done with all dogs, not just the resource guarders.

We started with the GIVE cue. When first teaching this start with objects that your dog does not value as much and with treats that are highly valued. That way they are giving something that isn't that important but getting something they deem as amazing in return. They are more apt to trade up, aren't we all? :) Then gradually work your way up to objects that are the important ones. Ask for the object, then either wait for him to do so (if he knows the cue) or present the treats near his nose/mouth which will cause him to drop it when going for the treats. Reward and praise for dropping the object, then give it back to him as soon as he's done eating the treats. That's the important point folks, you give it back :). It helps the dog understand that giving away his resources is a good thing, so there's no reason to guard them.

With Vito, we did this most often with tennis balls. He gives us a tennis ball, we give him one back and also initiate the fetch game, which was a very high reward for him. Here's a short video of Nicholas playing with Vito that shows our trade system.

You'll notice at first Vito readily gives the ball to Nicholas without a cue. He knows the game :). But then at about 30 seconds in he misses a ball and it goes directly back to Nicholas, this throws him off and when he goes to bring back the next ball he doesn't want to give it up. Yes, something that small (the one missed reward) threw him off and kept him slightly off. You'll notice after that he is much stiffer giving the ball back to Nicholas and when he brings it back he tends to drop it and stand over it.

The other thing we also did with Vito was condition him that just the approach of us to him while he had something he valued was a good thing. As with the GIVE cue, start with something that is considerably less valuable to him. Then you just walk over to him while he has his resource and give him treats - without taking the object or even touching it. Repeat this until he begins to look up at you with the expectation of goodies. Once they start expecting goodies, then you can start touching the dog and the object. Don't take it away though, they should always end up with what they started with :). So they basically learn that the approach of humans doesn't mean bad things, alternatively it means good things - I keep my object AND I get treats.

Did it, Done it, Doing it Tomorrow

When this kind of groundwork had been laid, you can start replacing the surrendered object with something else if you have to take it away. Just always replace it with something the dog considers of equal or greater value! This is how you can easily get that pair of underwear or shoe or whatever else inappropriate the dog has decided they need :). This is an exercise you should practice sporadically with your dog for their whole life.

Another great article I've found on resource guarding appears in the Whole Dog Journal. It goes into much more detail with different scenarios :).

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Secret Santy Claws

'Twas the Friday before Christmas and all through the Topp house
not a canine was stirring, not even a spouse.
The stockings were hung by the window with care
in hopes that Mr. Brown would soon be there.

The puppies were cuddled all snug in their beds
while squirrels, collars, and balls all danced thru their heads.
Vito in his blanket and Monday on Momma's lap
we had just settled down for a long winter nap.

When out in the yard arose such a clatter
they sprang out of bed barking 'what is the matter?'
Away to the windows they ran like a flash
turning on the outside lights as part of their dash.

The lights on the crust of the new fallen snow
gave the luster of midday to objects below.
When what did they see all amazed and awestruck
but a big, Brown package delivery truck.

With a little red doberman humming a catchy slogan
they knew in a moment it must be Hotrod Hogan!

Secret Santy Claws presents from Hogie!!

Haha, I couldn't help myself :). The crew sends out a major THANK YOU to Hotrod Hogan (and his wonderful mom Kristen) for being the awesomest Secret Santy Claws ever. Check out Hogan's blog (Being Hogan) where he talks about the fun he had shopping for the crew. We had quite the fun watching the dogs open and enjoy their presents. Here's a glimpse into our wonderful madness and a warning - there are MANY, MANY pictures :).


Bourbon had asked for a squirrel to fall out of the trees for him. Barring that, he would settle for a stuffed squirrel he could destroy. His SSC present consisted of not only one squirrel, but THREE. And they all squeak!! He got a really cool plush toy called the Hide A Squirrel (Check it out). He didn't know what to do with all the squirrels, LOL.

Bourbon finally gets his squirrel!!

His go-to method was leaving all the squirrels inside and putting the whole trunk in his mouth and squeaking them all at the same time. He's definitely got a big mouth!! He absolutely loves it and just lights up whenever I get it out for him to play with (he has to play with it under supervision, LOL, we're not quite ready for him to destroy it!).


When we first gave Vito his present, he didn't want to open it. A little bit of his resource guarding popped up and he just wanted to keep the present, LOL. We finally convinced him he'd have much more fun if he'd OPEN it. Vito got what he loves most - a mountain of tennis balls. 12 to be exact! He didn't know what to do with them all!!

He looks very happy! Thanks Hogie!!!

I filmed a short video of Vito with all his balls :). He was so cute with them all!! Check it out HERE on youtube.


Miss Princess got a fantastic collar that shows everyone she is really a girl! :) The collar is awesome and  is made by Claudia at Cozy Horse. She also makes awesome dog coats - one of those are on the list for Baron one of these days. Cozy Horse is also great because she donates a portion of the sale to IDR. We love that her collar also helped those in need, bestest choice ever Hogie!!!

Sadly, the collar did not help her attitude any :), LOL, she prances around more than ever before because she knows she looks good!


Baron got one of the coolest toys of all. SSC Hogie sent him an Orbee-tuff Mazee (check it out). He LOVES it. So far Baron has only had kibble put it in (which is on the easier side because of how small the pieces are) but I've promised to run out and get some bones to put in it to make it harder for him :).  Baron especially likes the food puzzles because that means he gets to eat in the living room and I spend time with him (to make sure he doesn't eat the puzzle!!), it makes him feel special I suppose :).

We took a quick video of him enjoying his present. Nicholas couldn't stop helping him :), boys and their toys. I've uploaded it to Youtube HERE.


Rookie was the only puppy that opened his present like a champ. I wish I had gotten it on film it was soo good, LOL! SSC Hogie got Rookie a double tug (this), just like he put on his list to Santa. He couldn't believe he had a gift under the tree, he is so thankful he was included even though he 'technically' isn't part of the permanent crew. He hasn't wanted to stop playing tug since he unwrapped the toy, but sadly mom doesn't have Schwarzenegger arms so we have to take breaks :). Here is a rather long film strip of his occasion, I so should have had this on video.

Our crew can't think Hogan and Kristen enough! They had the bestest Christmas EVER!! :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ding-Dong, Pain Calling

Poor Baron, last week was a bit rough for him. It's hard being a dog and not being able to tell people what's wrong with you! We had noticed some random pain responses (whining) off and on for a days early last week, so I was watching him carefully trying to figure out what was hurting him.

An Army of Pain

I didn't get a very long time to observe! Last Wednesday morning at 2:00 am Baron woke me up screaming in pain. It was horrible and I hate that feeling that there is nothing you can do to help. I managed to get him calmed down and into bed with us for the rest of the night (he normally sleeps in a kennel next to my bed).

When we woke back up at the regular time, he was feeling better again and was acting pretty much normal. There was more whining in pain, but it was back to being at random moments and wasn't as intense. So I thought, well I would wait and see how he was doing after work. Long story short, he was still in pain and so we took him to the ISU Emergency clinic that night at like 10:00 pm. It made for a really long day!!

Have Pain Your Way

So of course we take Baron into ISU and they can't get a pain response out of him. He did show mild responses to getting his neck flexed to the right and extended upwards, but nothing drastic like he was showing us at home. They are always stinkers aren't they?!?

I was ultimately disappointed in ISU though. They sent me home with Gabapentin as a pain reliever and told me it was basically the start of wobblers. I asked about doing X-rays and they told me that X-rays wouldn't help with a diagonosis and would only rule things out. Right ISU, that's what I want, but they siad they didn't think they were needed. But then again, I didn't really agree with anything else the doctor told me either! :)

First, Gabapentin for acute pain is not really the way to go. It takes a while to build up in the body so it's not immediately effective and there are no anti-inflammatories in it. I did ask about doing an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) but ISU wanted to do blood work first. Which is a good thing because NSAIDs can affect the liver, raising liver enzymes; however, Baron had blood work done just a few months ago so that should been sufficient. Apparently not for them. So we took the Gabapentin and thought we would reassess the situation in a few days.

Second, just because my dog is a 7-year-old Doberman is experiencing neck pain does not mean that it is wobbler disease. I know wobbler disease is really prevalent in Dobermans, but he wasn't showing any of the classic signs. No ataxia (weakening) of the muscles, dragging the toes of the rear legs, and no change in his gait. Dogs affected by wobblers will often have a crouching stance with a downward flexed neck as well.

The wobbler disease that is seen in Dobermans is caused by instability of the vertebrae in the neck which causes spinal cord compression. This compression is usually not very painful (at least not as painful as what Baron was experiencing). Usually the instability is caused by bulging of the disc or herniation of the disc contents. Sounds fun doesn't it? :(  In Dobermans the C5 to C7 vertebraes are mostly affected.

Image taken from Wikipedia (I know, I know it's not a real source, but it's a good image!)

There are several ways to help dogs affected by wobblers but that would be a whole seperate blog post in itself!

Sometimes You Feel Like A Pain, Sometimes You Don't

Baron was still very much in pain on Friday. He was barely walking and just sat there trembling. Every time he moved he would whine and cry. It tore my heart out and obviously something else needed to be done. So Saturday morning I took him into my vet (Story County Veterinary Clinic). They suggested it could be a soft tissue injury, spondylosis, or a cervical disc. For more information on spondylosis click HERE. This blog will never end if I keep going off on tangents :).

We also took him off Gabapentin and put him on liquid Metacam and Tramadol. I gave him his first dose when we got home from the vet (so about 9:30 am). Then loaded up the car with Cross, a foster dog (available through Illinois Doberman Rescue), and drove up to Iowa City on a transport. We handed Cross off to another IDR volunteer and headed right back home.

When we got home 4 hours later, Baron was back to normal. Literally, back to normal and acting like his regular self. Obviously the Metacam and Tramadol did their job! :)  Now that we at least had the pain under control, we could start to figure out what was causing it. So Baron was scheduled for X-rays at my vet on Tuesday (yesterday).

The X-rays showed some slight spondylosis in a few areas but nothing to be concerned about at this time. It didn't point to any cervical disc problems either, so it's looking like a soft tissue injury.

His back

His upper thoracic/neck

So the plan is to keep him on the meds through Christmas and keep him quiet. He's not real happy about the 'keep quiet' part, the pain meds have him feeling frisky again! But after Christmas we will start weaning him off the meds and seeing if the pain comes back. Baron will also get his very own visit to the Chiropractor, probably at the end of January, to see if she notices anything off as well.

Wish Baron luck and send good thoughts his way!

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Elemental Change

We have welcomed a new member to our family - a 2005 Honda Element. It wasn't a planned addition - it never works out that way for us - but we are excited nonetheless.


My poor 2003 Toyota RAV4 is still in the shop, so technically we still own that car too. But hopefully it can get fixed and we can sell it. I love my RAV4, don't get me wrong, but it has served its purpose over the last 6 years. The moment I got behind the wheel of the Element I had moved on. It just drives so much better than the RAV4 and is much quieter (the RAV4 had soo much road noise!).

Plus the functionality of the Element is much nicer for my purposes (AKA the dogs!). The floor is completely rubber (no carpet, bonus!!), the seats are waterproof, and the seats fold up and hang on the sides (which means no hauling in and out all the time!). The seats also do remove completely though if I find I need even more room. Also, the backseat windows are the pop-out style so I don't have to worry about a dog accidently rolling down the windows and jumping out (also eliminating my obsessive checking that window child-lock is on!).

See them hanging up on the sides? :)

I have already done 2 dog transports in it and I've only had it a week! Obviously, it will get a lot of use :). I will have to take some time after the holidays to play around with the crates to see what the best way is to get everything to fit.

Nicholas is actually excited about it as well, for different reasons of course. The front seats fold completely flat as do the back seats so we can use them as a bed (and they are even long enough for his over 6-foot frame!). This will come in handy at the next musical festival, think KanROCKsas :).

Plus with the dash-mounted rally-style shifter, we both agree it's just plain fun to drive! Now I just have to get new window decals and personalize it!

Merry Christmas to us!! :)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dear Santa

I was tidying up the mountain of presents around our mini-tree and noticed this piece of paper tucked into the messy pile. Apparently the household dogs have a few things they would like to say.

From the Crew

Dear Santa,
We have tried very hard to be good dogs this year, so here is our Christmas wish list. We know we're technically too old to believe in you, but it's important to keep the magic alive. Sometimes people (ahem, MOM) don't appreciate that.

We know it's a bit of a rush order, with us waiting so long and all, but here are our Christmas wishes.

Bourbon: So here's the deal, Santa. I want at least one squirrel to fall out of my tree this year and let me bite its sassy tail! Mom says that you probably can't provide that (being as I ask for this every year and never get one), but if you're magic like she also says then do the job MAGIC MAN! If needed I GUESS I can make do with a stuffed squirrel toy that I can destroy, but ONLY if you can't come through with the real deal.

Santa, this is what I am thinking.

Vito: Santa, my item might be quite tricky for you to arrange. I'm not known for being 'easy.' First of all I would like a quiet Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I love people, but I just have got to keep my routine. Maybe if you consolidated some of your stops my humans wouldn't have to go soo many places and disrupt my ordinary daily habits. Don't you think 8 Christmas gatherings are a bit ridiculous (especially when we aren't invited!)?? Anywags, Santa, I know I haven't been very good this year, swallowing foreign non-digestable objects and such, but I am not very good at resisting temptation. I'm only asking for one more little thing - mountains of tennis balls. Really Santa, I can never have too many. Also, I guess I do need one more thing. I crave a Pita Bed (you can find them here:, hint hint!).

Monday: Well, mama says I should ask for less "ATTITUDE" but I'm not sure what she means by that. I think I'm perfect and I know exactly what I want. Santa, I would LOVE an electric blanket all my own that I don't have to share. Like this one: Thermo Pet Throw, it's just my size. Maybe even embroider my name on it so everyone knows it's mine. I also need a new collar, martingale style of course, that is pretty and very girly. I'm tired of strangers thinking I'm a boy!!! I'm looking forward to seeing you on Christmas Eve :) and I promise to try not to chase the reindeer.

Baron: Well Santa, I'd tell you to skip our house because I don't like strangers, but I guess you have to come or we won't get presents. So here's your warning - shout 'hello' before you come down the chimney, I wouldn't want to mistake you for a burglar (or would I?!?). As far as presents go, there isn't much that I need. A new Kong would be good, or really any of the other puzzle feeders. I like to be entertained while I eat. I am also putting a request in for some more alone time with mama. Make it happen, and snappy, or else! For good measure, I'd also like a reindeer antler (I got my eyes on you!).

Rookie: I was going to ask for a deer antler, but I realize that's a sensitive order (unlike Baron, geez). I think I've been real good this year, but sometimes we pups just can't help the trouble we get into. So I'll just get this out of the way - I'm sorry I pee on the floor. It just comes out, I can't help it. I'll do better next year! But back to presents, I would like a double tug bumper (they have great ones here: I would also like a ball on a rope, I know it sounds funny but they are real awesome-like. I found some here that I LOVE: Ooohhh, let's not forget food. I need lots of food and treats 'cuz I am a growing and learning boy. Jus' remember that.

Because we are thoughtful-type dogs, and mama told us it was a good idea, we'd like to ask for stuff for other people too.
  • We want every dog at Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus to get adopted.
  • We want everyone to donate a can or bag of dog food to their local shelter or rescue group.
  • We want people to keep their dogs on leashes so they don't bother us...or get lost or run over by cars.
  • We would like a world where people aren't cruel to animals anymore..and no more dog fighting!!
Santa, please! We know it's down to the wire, but give us a break. We still love you!

Tail wags and licks,
B, V, M, B, R

PS. Please, please don't let our humans make us wear reindeer horns or Santa hats.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Inappropriate Wings - No Angels Here

A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of. ~Ogden Nash

I came across that quote the other day and thought, HMMMMMM, at my house it's a babygate. That is, unless you are Rookie.

He has discovered the way into any room is up and over. Yep, the little monster has found out he can jump babygates. Now I have babygates for a reason (most importantly to keep Baron and Bourbon seperated since they can't live nicely together), but Rookie doesn't care about my reasons.

I didn't need Red Bull to give him wings

Lucky, for him (not so much for me apparently) I have wall-mounted babygates so they are stable enough for him to use when he hurls himself over them. Not much finesse, huh? :)

Man of Action

Nicholas decided he would throw Rookie's favorite ball into the livingroom to entice him to jump it (not that he needs much prompting!). He obviously thought I needed some help getting footage...thanks dear. At least neither the ball nor Rookie hit me while taping :). Disclaimer: No Erin's were harmed during filming.

And for all those that wondered, yes he jumps it both ways - out and in. That multi-talented little monster. Here's the proof:

What inappropriate or annoying 'skills' do your dogs have?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lighten up, it's Christmas

Despite the lack of snow and cold temps, it IS December and we are starting to get into the Holiday spirit. Last night the tree was unearthed from the basement and drug up to the living room. Luckily, I have just a mini, pre-lit tree so setting it up consisted of taking it out of the box, 'fluffing' it, and plugging it in. TA-DA! I love easy. This year we set it up on the china hutch instead of on the toy box so I shouldn't need the ex-pen surrounding it to keep the dogs out. Makes it look a little less like the tree is in a time out! :)

Don't get your tinsel in a tangle

I do also have ornaments to put on the tree, so I wasn't quite done after plugging it in. Obviously not very many since it's such a small tree, but the few that I have are near and dear to my heart. Psst, here's a secret - they are all dog related! Ha, you probably already guessed that. The first one is my favorite and I totally need one of these for all my dogs.

Made by Sally's Bits of Clay. You should totally check out her site!!

I guess Bourbon is a bit spoiled but he is the eldest :). He is also featured, along with Majestic, in thse cute ornament frames I found several years ago.

Apparently, I need to get out there and find more adorable ornament frames to put the rest of the crew's photos in. Good thing they can't really see the ornaments on the tree or I'm sure it would hurt their feelings. I do at least have a general ornament that encompasses the whole crew, so I'm not totally heartless :).

I'm pretty sure my mom gave this one year :).

Be jolly by golly

Under the tree I always place pictures of each kid dog with Santa. I also need to update these, but November got a little away from me and I didn't get photos scheduled. Bad mom. Next year will be Bourbon's and Vito's turns as their pictures are the oldest. Last year Baron went in for his pictures and it turned out okay. Well, Baron looked great but the Santa needed some work. No comments on Monday's picture from the year's a bit...well...yea I have nothing.

Monday and Bourbon

Vito and Baron

As you can tell, I enjoy torturing my dogs :). Hey, that's the price you have to pay for presents at my house! But I do also do a nice thing for them - I hang stockings for them. That way Santa can leave them goodies that are theirs for the keeping and they don't have to share them. Each stocking is clearly labeled with their initial, which then got confusing since I have two B's. But everyone knows that since Bourbon came first the first B stocking is his. I hang them in the order they were adopted :). Makes sense to me!

May your Christmas be wrapped in happiness and tied with love