Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy 1 Year Anniversary!!!

One Year.

Wow, I can't believe it's been a year since I clicked the 'publish' button for the first time. It seriously feels like just yesterday! Actually, if you want to get technical it's been one year and two days since this blog's inception post introducing my dogs. Our blogiversary fell on Saturday, but I was busy at the APDT conference getting my brain overwhelmed with every bit of information I could absorb (more on that later!).

In this process, I have met such wonderful people (and amazing other bloggers!) and I want to thank you for sticking with me. Or just joining me now :). It's been an amazing year.

Blogging has definitely been different from what I first expected - it's much more time-consuming that I envisioned :). The work is definitely worth it though, and I've found it to be more rewarding than I ever thought possible.

At first I was skeptical as to how long I'd be able to keep up with it, but at this point I can't imagine stopping :). I've even expanded and have been trying out Twitter and Google Plus. Go me, huh?!? This coming year should bring more developments as I widen my technology span and make some changes in my life.

Needless to say, it has been one of the best years yet, and I'm pretty excited for what is yet to come.

Heartfelt thanks goes out to all of you that have always taken the time to stop by every week, leave such wonderful comments, and have given me the support needed to continue this blogging adventure.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Diva

My third foster taught me that no matter how many times you explain things to adopters they NEVER listen - but sometimes it works out regardless.

Diva also taught me a very important lesson about Bourbon...

Diva was a dollface. She was so cute and tiny, especially compared to Lola! Diva came into rescue because her owners had allergies, which is actually one of the typical reasons we get. She had obviously been well taken care and had the most fantastic personality, particularly for her age (being a doberteen and all!). She played with Majestic and Bourbon, even though she was a bit on the pushy side - pretty typical doberman bitch :).

Diva wasn't with me for very long (just almost a month) but something scary happened with her and Bourbon while she was here. I had just bought a new bag of food and had it in the kitchen blocked off (at least I thought it was blocked off) because my food container had just broken (the hinges broke and the lid cracked). So I thought I had secured the open food bag in the kitchen away from the dogs - I was totally wrong! Never underestimate the sneakiness of a naughty dog :). Bourbon had disappeared from the living room and all was quiet in the house so I went to look for him in the kitchen. There he was, gorging himself on the open  bag of food. Unfortunately, when I journeyed to the kitchen so did Diva and she ran up to Bourbon to stick her head in the food bag too. Let's just say that was a recipe for disaster! 

Bourbon attacked her and it was a nightmare. I did get them separated and managed to keep Majestic out of the fray, but oh geez did I have blood everywhere! Diva had a few puncture wounds on her face and Bourbon had several on his legs and chest. I felt like such a foster failure!! I got everyone cleaned up and luckily no one was majorly hurt so there wasn't a subsequent vet run. Whew, talk about an adrenaline rush!!

I called our president and explained the situation and asked for any advice, secretly hoping I would still be able to foster!! I also quickly put the food bag behind a closed door so there would be no more mistakes and made plans to go get a new food container the very next day. I kept Bourbon and Diva separated for several days to let the resulting emotions cool off and everything turned out fine. But oh what a lesson!!

Diva's adopted drove down to Moline, IL to meet her (as I was driving up there for an agility fun match with Bourbon) and instantly fell in love. Their current dog though was not quiet sure. They had another female in the house and sometimes two females spells trouble. But they decided to give it a go and took her home for the trial period (we usually give about 2 weeks for the adopter to fully decide if they are keeping the dog or not).

Of course I told them to take it slow and keep the girls separated at home, only allowing short introductions and gradually extending the time they are together. So what did they do? They got home and let both girls into the kitchen while they went back and forth from the car hauling things inside. So not only did they let both girls loose together right away, but there was a lot of commotion with going in and out and no one was supervising. Needless to say there was a small skirmish and they contacted me right away. However, they worked through it and the two girls are now best friends. I thought for sure after that first panicked phone call that they were going to return Diva, but they finally decided to listen to directions and everything worked out. They renamed her Rajana and she has flourished in their home. She was their second dog from IDR+, we love repeat adopters!!

Have you ever had adopters not listen to directions you send them home with? What were some instances of things that happened because of that?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday Training Tip: Beginner Novice Week 2

I sent my entry in for the obedience trial in November this week. I'm already nervous, LOL!! We are entered for both Saturday and Sunday so if it all goes well, we will have two legs toward the Beginner Novice title (you only need three to achieve it). So now we really need to get to work!

This week we worked on heeling, and stays. There are two things that will kill us at the obedience trial - actually being at the trial and the stay exercise. Monday 'looses her brain' at first when entering a place with a lot of other dogs. I was hoping to get her down to the Iowa Pet Expo this weekend to practice and do some desensitization, but sadly Des Moines has a pit bull ordinance and we wouldn't be compliant so that was a no-go. This weekend was also the grand opening for Petco here so I am hoping to head over there with Monday when I get back from Washington.


Monday hates stays. Seriously. They are her least favorite thing and I can't really blame her. So we are slowly increasing the distance I walk away from her. She is fine with me leaving and walking a straight line away from her (like when doing a recall) however, it's when I start to walk a circle around her that we have a problem. So we have started practicing that with low environment distraction and low duration since I am increasing distance and difficulty (moving). At this point I am not worried about the fine details (sitting straight in heel position, me returning head on, returning to heel position by walking around her) - we are just working on the basic 'stay where I leave you' issue :).


Monday actually has great heeling behavior, I just need to work on being formal! I always forget about arm position and I want her to get used to working while I am silent. In beginner novice, you are allowed an 'encouragement' command during heeling I think, but it is still much different than how we usually practice heeling. I need to learn to keep my mouth shut :).

Another thing we worked on was reducing my reinforcement rate. I am usually a high reinforcer :) and I need to get out of my patterns. I like giving cookies, LOL. But in the heeling video above I did not have any cookies on me and I didn't reward her with any. I just used praise and attention. In the ring I won't be able to have treats to rely on so I need to get used to not relying on them now. I also need to get her used to longer stretches of work for less reinforcement. While I am reducing the quantity of rewards, I am actually increasing the quality. Monday is HIGHLY food motivated and it doesn't take much to get her excited so I pulled out some her favorites - Buffalo Bites and string cheese (she doesn't get these on a regular basis).

I made sure she knew the highly valued reinforcer was available (on the table behind the camera) but I didn't carry it on me. Which made it easier for me to not reinforce her so much. If I don't have it on me I can't give it to her! This, of course, is all about human training :). Luckily, Monday has enough natural drive and motivation to do things with me, that we can go pretty long between 'rewards'.

How long do you go between reinforcements? Will your dog work for you with only basic engagement for a reward?

Monday, October 21, 2013

APDT conference is almost here!!

Tomorrow I leave for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) 20th annual conference in Spokane, Washington. To say I'm excited is an understatement :)!!! It's a five day conference filled with amazing speakers and vendors. I can't wait to learn and soak in the knowledge. Plus I am excited to network and meet trainers from all over the United States.

Conference Puppy!

Since this is my first APDT conference, I am considered a Conference Puppy. Quite a cute term :). I have also signed up to volunteer with the Border Collie Brigade. The Border Collie team helps the conference run smoothly and should provide me with a great opportunity to make some friends while I am there (since I won't know anyone!!). I think I'll make a nice Border Collie Puppy. And the nice part is that I got to chose which presentations I wanted to work so I will get to meet some of my favorite speakers :). I can't wait to learn from Denise Fenzi, Nicole Wilde, Grisha Stewart, and Ron Schultz.

I am planning on taking my laptop with me so I can still post on here while I am at the conference :). This opportunity to receive the latest information in dog training is so valuable in the dog training world -  I'm very grateful for it (and the fact my husband is willing to stay home with the dogs!!). I'm hoping to share some awesome stuff with you guys!! Now to finish packing so I can catch my plane in the morning...

Friday, October 18, 2013


I received some great news this week - I passed my CPDT-KA exam with flying colors!! What the heck is that you ask? CPDT-KA stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed and is obtained from the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT).

In order to even be eligible to take the CPDT-KA certification exam, a trainer must have at least 300 hours experience in dog training within the last five years; a high school diploma (or equivalent); and one refernece each from a veterinarian, a client, and a professional colleague. Once those requirements are met, the trainer is given permission to sit for the exam. Then obviously you have to pass it :). The exam is 250 multiple-chose questions that must be completed within 4 hours and is given at a testing center.

The exam covers knowledge of dog behavior and application of training techniques in the following content areas:

  • Learning theory
  • Instruction skills
  • Husbandry
  • Ethology
  • Equipment
It was a lot to cover! Especially since there was no single source of information or real guide for studying. Experience in training really does come into play for this test, and my background with rescue and working for a vet definitely helped. How else would I know all about parasites and kennel cough? :)

Once you pass the exam and are certified, in order to maintain certification you must attend workshops, conferences, and seminars to acquire a set number of continuing education units (CEUs) over a three-year period. This helps ensure that Certified Professional Dog Trainers are knowledgeable about the current thinking, research, and techniques in the field. I love learning and am a total seminar addict so I"m sure I won't have a problem fulfilling this requirement :). Especially since if your CEUs aren't maintained you have to retake the exam to maintain certification. No one wants to do that!!

The original CPDT exam was created in 2001 by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), but now it is administered by the CCPDT. Its mission statement reads:

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) serves to establish and maintain recognized standards of competence in dog training by certifying trainers through criteria based on experience, standardized testing, and continuing education, and identifies those individuals to the dog owning public.

I am totally in favor of establishing and maintaining standards, especially in an unregulated field like dog training. Hopefully, the CCPDT and other institutions like it can further promote standards of knowledge. skill, and professionalism that this industry needs. Right now there is no single all-encompassing state or national license an individual must earn to become a dog trainer. Trainers possess a wide range of formal education and hands-on experience, and implement a variety of handling methods and tools. It can be very helpful in your search for a dog trainer to understand what particular credentials mean and how they are 'earned'.

Credentials are not the end-all-be-all for dog trainers, but I like to think they can help hold us to a higher standard and further our understanding of 'better living with man's best friend'.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Lola

My second foster taught me that it doesn't matter how long (or short!) they stay, you still fall in love.

My second foster was Lola. Oh Lola. She made me smile :). I picked her up in Somers, Wisconsin at a lure coursing fun match our rescue group was hosting (Bourbon loves his lure coursing!). She made the 7 hour ride home (with Bourbon in the car as well) without a peep and settled right into my house like she had lived there all her life.

She loved playing with Bourbon and didn't antagonize Majestic. I was actually worried bringing another female into the house, but Lola just ignored Majestic and so Majestic just ignored Lola. Apparently, they didn't exist to each other :). Hey that totally works in my world as long as there is peace!

Bourbon and Lola playing.
Lola also loved my pond. Oh man, it was hard to keep her out of it! The pond is not very deep - maybe almost three feet in the very center. She would climb right in and just walk around in it splashing and drinking. It was rather cute but slightly annoying as I had to dry her off constantly to come back into the house.

Lola loving the pond.
She loved to lay on blankets next to my bed at night and during the day when I wasn't home, so I didn't have to crate her. Lola never chewed anything inappropriately or ate anything she wasn't supposed to (unlike some of my own dogs!!). She was the first dog to utilize my bean bag as a dog bed :). She was the cutest thing and it was hard for me to let her go to her adopters. But luckily I only had her for a little less than two weeks (my shortest foster ever!!). Hard to imagine getting that attached in such a short time but sometimes they just click immediately.

Her adopters are wonderful and have kept in touch over the years. I got an update last year that she was still doing great and quite healthy (considering she would now be 10 years old!!). Her mom is a vet so I'm sure she's had the best care possible :). She was renamed Remy as they thought Lola just didn't fit for her name. All I know, is every time I said Lola, I got that song by The Kinks stuck in my head! Ok, so I sang to her a lot :). She loved it, even though I'm sure it was off key and horrible, LOL.

Lola curled up in the bean bag.
Bottom line - Lola got a great home and that is what rescue is all about. Sometimes fosters stay only days and sometimes they stay for months or even years. You can't put a time limit on a great family.

How long was your shortest foster?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Just a No Good, Very Bad Week

It's a Tuesday and as such I should be doing a training post but I haven't done any training since last week. Bad Erin! But sometimes life gets in the way and that's what happened starting this past weekend. It has been a rather ridiculous few days.

First, Baron bit me. Yes, my dog bit me in my face. It's partially my fault, the dog is not blameless but I put him in that position. He was sleeping on the bed with me and three of the other dogs and I started messing with his back legs. I believe that I caused him pain and it startled him out of his sleep and so he went after whatever was closest to his legs - my face. I didn't have any stitches and it didn't even really bleed, but it was scary and not something to be taken lightly. Plus this is actually his second bite, his first was to Nicholas's thigh in a very clear pain response late last year.

2 days after the incident
Luckily, he was easily redirected and there weren't any resulting dog fights in the bedroom. But now we have to deal with this and figure out the next step. He did go in for blood work and X-rays and everything came back fine. He is showing some signs of early wobblers - muscle ataxia, trouble doing stairs, and some gait issues - but nothing too serious yet. The next diagnostic step would be a MRI, however that is quite spendy here ($1700-$2300) and is out of the question at this time. He has a chiropractic appointment Friday so we'll see what she says when she adjusts him as well. In the meantime, we will have to look at putting him on an anti-inflammatory pain medication. And I will think about putting him long term on the Gabapentin, but I need to see if it's contraindicated with any NSAIDs first.

Unfortunately, we will still have to have that horrible, never want to have again, decision to think about. How long can we maintain a quality of life with him and keep everyone safe? Especially with the steep stairs in our house that he won't be able to safely traverse (he's already having minor problems with them). Almost a year ago, we took him to ISU because of acute shoulder/neck pain and at that time ISU had thought wobblers. At that point I thought no way because he didn't show any symptoms and his pain was very acute, but now ... now he's showing several early warnings and seems to have chronic pain. Anyone's guess is as good as ours.

Second, Vito got into the bathroom trash again and had to go to the ISU ER very, very early this morning to induce vomiting. This is a human management error on my part, obviously I didn't thoroughly check to make sure the door was shut. Very Bad Erin! Luckily, Vito upchucked the used tampons and we went on our merry way. Let's hope the rest of the week slows down a bit, I can only handle so much excitement!

Life with dogs is never dull!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

When Elephants Weep {book review}

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy.


With chapters on love, joy, anger, fear, shame, compassion, and loneliness, When Elephants Weep is the first book since Darwin's time to thoroughly and effectively explore the full range of emotions that exist throughout the animal kingdom. Masson explores the 'sin of anthropomorphism' in science, both in terms of his own observations and those of other biologists and researchers. Do animals experience fear, love, friendship, grief, joy, and so on? Are they capable of suffering? From dancing squirrels to bashful gorillas to spiteful killer whales, Masson presents anecdotes and insights that offer proof of the existence of animal emotion.

My Thoughts

I found the book to be very insightful but slightly repetitive. Masson's writing style is engaging while still scientific. I have to admit I was slightly afraid to open this book at first thinking it would be overwhelming from an emotional standpoint, but since the book's roots are in science there is a certain level of detachment to the writing which helped keep my perspective clear. Most of the anecdotes were amusing and heartwarming although there were several scientific stories that were horrifying in their cruelty to animals under the guise of research.

One frustration I did have with the book was that it skimmed the surface of many points instead of selecting a handful and speaking directly to them in depth. But I think the book was very well-written and informative, giving an inside look at an otherwise untouched subject. All us pet owners know our animals have emotions- they communicate them every day to us in numerous ways. It's almost comical how long it will take science to catch up to us. I understand you can't precisely measure emotion so a quantitative scientific study of it is not possible (which makes scientists uncomfortable) and that we might not manifest emotions in the same way as different species, but just because we can't graph it is no reason to say that emotions cannot exist in other species. All in all, When Elephants Weep is a great read and I highly recommend it.

For More Information

Check out the other books I've reviewed:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Ice

My first foster will always haunt me.

The lessons he taught me are priceless and truly opened my eyes and heart to rescue. Although his ending broke my heart, he also taught me compassion and the true meaning of rescue - of being bigger than myself.

The Beginning

When Ice first came to me he had already been in a different foster home for a awhile, which was nice because I was able to get a read on his personality before I brought him home (although they do act different in different environments!!). He was already housebroken and dog-friendly so the transition into my house went smoothly. I fostered him for four months before he got adopted and those four months went great. He played well with Majestic and Bourbon, and also with my friend's dogs when we set up play dates.

He did have a few low points, but nothing that caused me any trouble. He was reactive towards people walking by the house if he could see them through the windows or doors. He also had a really high energy level so to keep him 'tired' I was running him every day and incorporating lots of daily walks and short training sessions with him. I even had him enrolled in obedience class and agility class while he was with me. I put a lot of effort into him and it certainly showed :).

Ice's position every morning after our runs.

The next adoptathon came around and I sent him up to Illinois to attend. [Side note: adoptathons are where we gather as many fosters as we can for people to meet, only approved adopters are allowed to adopt that day, but since our dogs are spread over several states it gives people a good chance to meet more dogs without having extensive travel.] Ice got adopted by an older couple that had a 12-year old Doberman at home. Needless to say Ice was too much for them and it went downhill quickly. We always try to make the best matches, but sometimes it doesn't work out. I also wasn't there and I like to think in my head that if I was, I wouldn't have let them adopt Ice (in our rescue the foster home gets the final say), but those are the woulda-coulda-shouldas that don't matter in the end.

So Ice got returned but of course the family didn't want to drive him to Iowa to my house, so they dropped him off at one of our volunteer's training facilities. It was decided that Ice should stay there and get evaluated (as he had lunged and growled at the family's grandkids). He hadn't shown any problems at my house or the previous foster's house so it was just odd that he had a whole host of them for this family. Personally, I think it was their handling skills and their expectations :), but it doesn't matter. It was deemed that Ice was fine and he would stay at the training facility in Illinois. That was fine with me at first, but then it became apparent that Ice wasn't really getting what he needed.

The Second Time Around

Living at a training facility is very different from being in a home environment and Ice already had 'bonding' issues - he wasn't very sociable and didn't work easily with people. So after realizing he was actually deteriorating at the training facility, we made plans to move him back to me. Oddly, he came to me both times in May and left both times in September - just a year apart.

Bourbon and Ice hanging out in the living room.
When I got him back he was a wreck. His reactivity towards things moving outside the house was way worse and his spinning/pacing behavior had increased drastically. Plus, he now marked in the house and was peeing in his crate (which got everywhere since it was a wire crate!). I promptly put him in Clomipramine (an anti-anxiety medication) once we figured out there was no way I could interrupt or redirect his spinning and pacing. The poor boy hardly ever stopped pacing and he wasn't relaxing even at bedtime :(. The Clomipramine took the edge off but it still didn't make that much of a difference. I had resumed his morning runs with me but that wasn't going well either. He had become reactive towards people while out on our runs.

It was devastating to see him in this state. My dogs were completely scared of him and refused to even go into the same room he was in. He must have been giving off some scary vibes. I had put cardboard up in my windows so that he couldn't see anything moving past on the sidewalk. I kept all the windows closed and played the radio on low volume 24/7 so that he couldn't distinctly hear people moving past on the sidewalk either. My house felt like a prison and it was affecting my human relationships (no one could come over because he would explode) and my dog's personalities (they were so oppressed and basically walked on egg shells in case he exploded). It was horrible. And I know that I have a higher tolerance to deal with behavior than the average adopter. What adopter would be able to deal with this?

Ice was not a cuddle bug but he could certainly pull off the cute face!
I gave it 4 months. Four months that felt like eternity. And then I had to face the decision - is he adoptable? But more importantly was the question - what is his quality of life? At this point, his quality of life was shitty. Just plain shitty. He wasn't comfortable in his own skin. There was never a relaxing moment for him.  He hardly slept. I couldn't imagine being anxious every second of every single day but that was his reality, even with medication and some behavior modification. And the overarching complications - I didn't want to live with a dog like this, does anyone else? He couldn't stay at my house indefinitely as my dogs were undeniably affected by him and their quality of life comes first. Who could adopt this dog and stay sane?

I made the decisioin - The.Hardest.Decision.Of.My.Life. I let him go and freed him from his internal distress. I was with him the entire time and it just about killed me. It still bothers me to this day and probably always will. There will always be those thoughts that haunt me - what if I could have done more? What if I had tried this? What if I had known this back then? Thousands of what ifs swirl through my mind every single time I think about Ice. But truthfully I feel I did the best thing for HIM. It certainly wasn't the best thing for me, I would much rather have placed him in a forever home. But what would the life he faced consist of with his extreme anxiousness, reactiveness, and unsocialness?

His background before coming into rescue certainly played a part (an outdoor dog, if I remember right he was a junkyard dog with no name) and his genetics probably weren't the best. Could he have been 'fixed'? I honestly don't think so, he was so far gone. Could his personality have been altered with a different 'puppyhood'? Most certainly but that is a moot point now. In the end it doesn't matter. I gave him the only gift I had left to give him.

Sleep softly my dear Ice. May you run free with a carefree heart...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday Training Tip: Beginner Novice Week 1

What the heck is Beginner Novice?

The beginner novice title is an optional titling class the American Kennel Club (AKC) started in 2012. It's designed to be an introductory title that actually integrates Obedience with the style of Rally (the heeling pattern is displayed with signs from Rally). All dogs are eligible for it as long as they are registered in some fashion (PAL, ILP, Canine Partners, or regular registry) with the AKC and are 6 months of age or older. In order to receive a title (and be able to put BN behind your dog's name) you have to have a qualifying score three different times.

There are 5 exercises to complete and each is worth 40 points (for a total possible score of 200):
  • Heel on Leash - you will go through an 'L' shaped pattern consisting of a right turn, left turn, about turn, slow speed, normal speed, fast speed, and halt/sit, all heeling is done on leash.
  • Figure Eight - same as Heel on Leash but done in a Figure Eight pattern (and doesn't consist of turns or changes of speeds).
  • Sit for Exam - the dog sits for exam (touch on the head) by the judge with you at the end of the leash, your leash should be 6 foot long.
  • Sit Stay - you will leave your dog in a sitting position while you walk around the inside perimeter of the ring and then return to heel position.
  • Recall - you will leave your dog in a sitting position and go about 25 feet away from your dog, where you will turn and face your dog and then recall your dog to you on the judge's order.

Doesn't sound too hard does it? I'm actually only partly worried about performing the exercises - I'm mostly worried about how Monday will handle the crowd and the close proximity of tons of dogs. These things are chaos!! Plus, most people crate their dogs (either in their car or around the facility) but Monday can't be crated so that is always something I have to keep in mind. Damn her slight separation anxiety! We will have to work harder on that as well.

The AKC put out a video on the Beginner Novice title:

I'm not real impressed with the video - for one thing this sucker is 5 minutes long. I couldn't pay attention to the whole thing :). But it does have a lot of information in it.

Our First Step

The first thing we are working on is readiness for the ring. Your dog needs to know when they are working, when they are not working, and when they are about to work but have not begun yet :). A lot of people rely on food or toys to create engagement and focus, but what happens at the ring entrance when you can't have your 'props' with you? Your dog might have trouble focusing :). I, personally, don't want to leave this to chance.

So to teach your dog to understand that work is going to start, you want to pick a position for the dog to wait in. Monday loves being between my legs so I decided to use that position. Denise Fenzi calls these positions 'squishing' because the dog is squished safely against the handler. I rather like her term :). Whatever position you choose, it should make your dog feel safe and protected. And by 'squishing' near the rings, your dog also has a chance to adapt to wherever they will be asked to work.

'Squishing' should always end with a high energy interaction with you. When you release your dog from their position, you should turn quickly away from the dog and either reward heavily or go into work. At first, while your dog is still learning this concept you want to release and always go straight to food or a toy and make the dog catch up to you to get that reward.

Here is a video of Monday 'squishing':

The Process

Place your dog between your legs for no more than two seconds at first and then gradually lengthen the time as your dog accepts the position. To release your dog, take several steps backwards so that your dog turns and faces you. Keep moving backwards so that your dog is rewarded basically in the front position. When that is going well, take your steps backwards but then also turn to the right so that your dog ends up in heel position and gets rewarded in heel position there. That is what I am doing in the video above and that is how I would then enter the ring. With Monday already in the heel position ready to work :).

When your dog is rockstar-solid with this concept, you can start alternately squishing to work (without an immediate reward) and squishing to a reward. As usual you want to practice in as many environments as possible and use it in varying situations with varying time lengths - while you wait for your turn in class, while you talk to an instructor, while you watch someone else, etc. So get out and squish :) LOL.

Check back next week for an overview of practicing the basic Heel on Leash pattern and the Figure Eight.

Monday, October 7, 2013


This weekend was full of typical October weather :(. Drizzly rain, gray skies, cool wind - it kept us all in most of the weekend. The dogs were not impressed, especially since Fall weather tends to send them into a tail spin - all that humidity disappearing makes them extra crazy for a while. So with five dogs full of extra energy and no outlet, it did not bode well for me ... until I got out the food puzzles :). They are number one of my list of indoor-approved, energy-sucking activities.

Each dog has their own favorite food puzzle, although all will play with all of them. I recently got a new one to try out so I thought I would let Baron break it in this weekend. Introducing the TreatStik.

Behold the Power of Play

Photo from

The TreatStik is a self-play toy but I still recommend keeping an eye on your dog while they play with it. It is fairly indestructible and doesn't have any small parts, but if you have an 'enthusiastic' chewer there really is no such thing as indestructible :). This toy is designed with a small oval hole which is what disperses the treats/food. As your dog nudges and rolls the toy, it randomly dispenses the food. It does appear that this toy dispenses food slower than others, so it does prolong the fun :).

On the human side of things - you just unscrew the cap, drop in your dog's favorite bite-sized treats or kibble (basically anything that will fit through the hole), screw the cap back on, and watch your dog try to figure it out :). They are also easy to clean - just place in your dishwasher! I like easy to clean :). Treatstiks are only available in two sizes (large and small), I of course got the large. I think it's too large for Vito to use however he hasn't tried it yet so it might work. It is perfect for everyone else though!

Baron didn't know what to do with it at first and he is still trying to figure it out. I think if it had been more of a ball shape, he would have figured out that rolling it on the floor dispensed the treats :). As it is, he was trying to chew it like a bone LOL. Which is fine as this toy seems to be durable enough for that workout!!

Play Tested, Mother Approved

He never did get the hang of it :). But he never got frustrated and the toy held up well, that is a definite plus in my book.


You can use dry food/treats so it tends to be less messy
Dogs can hear and smell the treats inside.
Durable - made of heavy-duty non-toxic nylon
Made in the USA :)


Can get noisy on hard floors

Baron's Rating: 5 paws (out of 5)!

You can find the TreatStik on various online retailers or through their website at It is always good to have a few different types of toys handy for variety. Rotate the toys through a cycle so your dog doesn't get bored too easily!

Don't forget to check out Bourbon's review of the Tug-a-Jug and consider adding it to your puzzle rotation!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cue Lightening, Thunder, and Anxiety

Last night we had a whopper of a thunderstorm. The weather radio was blaring, the lightening was crashing, and the thunder was most definitely booming. It was loud and incredible! Unfortunately, Bourbon didn't quite agree with us. None of the other dogs even cracked open an eye during the storm but Bourbon whined to join us in bed and was restless through the entire storm. Poor old dude.

Mom, make it stop!!!
We are lucky so far that his behavior is not worse - he just whines and wants to be with us. His anxiety started last year, we are not sure why, but a lot of times thunderstorm phobia will appear out of nowhere. And sadly, it usually gets worse over time - so it's important to take action when you first notice the signs. You shouldn't wait to address the phobia until it is very severe as it will be that much harder to ease or try to reverse.

Is There Treatment?

The standard therapy for fears is counterconditioning and desensitization. You start desensitization and counterconditioning by exposing your dog to the frightening stimulus in its mildest possible form and pairing it with a super-special treat. So the dog learns that a mild form of the scary thing predicts the super-special treat and hopefully starts acting pleased to see the scary thing. Then you gradually increase the scary thing's intensity bit by bit.

Unfortunately, that is hard to do with thunderstorms. The process largely depends on avoiding random exposures to the scary thing (I'm not sure anyone I know has the skills to control thunderstorms?!?). Also, thunderstorms are so multifaceted (clouds, humidity, changes in barometric pressure, wind, rain, lightening, thunder, etc.) that we can't replicate them in order to provide repeated systematic exposure. So what do you do?

Mildly Anxious

If your dog is only mildly anxious (maybe a little restless, some whining, etc. - this is where Bourbon is), there are a few things you can do to indirectly comfort your dog.

Safe Spot

Many dogs seek out small, out-of-the-way places on their own, but you can also provide a comfortable hiding place in a quiet part of your house if needed. Make sure your dog has access to their safe spot at all times since a storm might easily come while you are not home. A crate with a soft bed inside and covered with a sheet might make your dog feel safer, but use this option cautiously. Make sure to leave the door open so your dog can go in and out on its own. In general, being confined in a crate with the door closed leads to heightened anxiety and an attempt to break out, so make sure to determine your dog's comfort levels with crating.

Anxiety-Reducing Attire

A significant amount of evidence shows that anxious dogs may get comfort from the sensation of being 'bundled,' much like a baby in a blanket. There are several products on the market:
  • Anxiety Wrap - This was the first of these types of products. It was developed in 2001 by Susan Sharpe APDT, CPDT. It is made of lightweight, stretchy fabric that fits snugly around the dog's torso and targets various acupressure points on the dog's body.
  • Thundershirt - This was developed in 2009 and uses the same basic concept as the Anxiety Wrap, but is made of a heavier fabric.
  • Calming Cap - This is a soft fabric cap that covers the dog's eyes but is not a blindfold. The dog can still see through the cap but visual stimuli are very reduced.
  • Storm Defender Cape - This product was developed by a frustrated dog owner with a background in psychology and electrical engineering. It operates on the theory that thunderstorm phobia is largely related to the uncomfortable static buildup that accompanies a storm, so it has a special metallic lining that discharges a dog's fur and shields them from ongoing static charge buildup.
Again, every dog is an individual and will show different results. Some owners report quite dramatic improvement; others see no real change.

Modify the Environment

While you can't change the fact that it's storming, you can modify things inside the house to try to help minimize the effects of what is happening outside:
  • Close curtains or blinds to reduce the visual impact
  • Turn on the lights (if the storm is occurring at night)
  • Turn on the TV or radio as a distraction or sound muffler
  • Play music that is specifically designed to reduce anxiety in dogs (Through a Dog's Ear, Pet Pause, and Pet Acoustics)
  • Provide white noise to mask the sounds of the storm
  • Have a pheromone diffuser plugged in at all times (Dog Appeasing Pheromone or Comfort Zone)
Again, each of these things will have varying results and you'll have to figure out the best combination for your dog.

Natural Supplements or Remedies

There is an ever-growing number of herbal, homeopathic, and holistic products all geared toward inducing a sense of calm and relaxation for your pet. Please remember to discuss anything you'd like to give your dog with your veterinarian to be sure it is not contraindicated with anything else. This is just a partial list:

Play Therapy

If your dog has a game that they love, you can try to engage them in an appropriate indoor version of that game. The minute you're aware that a storm is coming, bring out the ball or the tug toy or whatever the game entails. If you throw a play party whenever there's a storm, your dog may learn that storms predict good times (a version of counterconditioning and desensitization). Sometimes the play distraction is just what they need to forget about the storm and replace it with something positive.

Severely Anxious

Dogs with severe thunderstorm phobia will need the help of a professional. In most cases, prescription medication is very successful in conjunction with desensitization and counterconditioning. Though many owners shy away from these types of medications, the benefits outweigh the means in serious cases. There are several medications currently used for thunderstorm phobia, your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication like Xanax (alprazolam) or Valium (diazepam) that can be given at the first sign of a storm, or may dispense a medication that has to be given on a daily basis to maintain a certain level of effectiveness.

While a veterinarian must prescribe medication for your dog, keep in mind that your vet may or may not have a lot of experience dealing with canine behavior problems and anti-anxiety medications. Please do not let them prescribe acepromazine. And should you need the help of a professional, please also consider working with a qualified trainer or behavior counselor, who can help guide you in conjunction with a vet.

While you are giving your dog anti-anxiety meds you want to make sure that you do many of the available things mentioned above as well. Draw the curtains, play soft music, let the dog hide in the bathroom, whatever else helps, please continue to do that. The overall treatment plan (medication and environment modification) will of course depend on the dog.

Extra Resources

Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs - from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)
Storm Phobias - Dr. Karen Overall
Fear of Thunderstorms, Fireworks, and Noise Phobias - Drs. Foster and Smith Pet Education series
Thunderstorm Phobia in Dogs - Dr. Nicholas Dodman
Coping with Thunderstorm Phobia - Victoria Stillwell

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Getting Started in Rescue

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday I have decided to go back to the beginning of my canine rescuing campaign :). It's hard to find a good group to volunteer with because sadly there is a lot of drama in rescue. Everyone thinks they know best and a lot of people aren't open to other viewpoints if they are different. We are all working towards the same goal but that tends to get lost in the daily struggle.

I got involved with Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus back in May 2007 and I am extremely proud to call myself one of their volunteers. That seems like forever ago even though it's only been a little over 6 years :). I was a rescue newbie and had no idea what I was getting into, but I had decided that I would like to foster Dobermans. At that point Bourbon had been a part of my life for a year and a half and I was getting more interested in the Doberman breed in general. Plus I know that if I volunteered with a pitbull group I wouldn't be able to let any of them go!

I got lucky as IDR+ is really a top notch group filled with compassionate people that communicate respectfully. And that my friends, is the kicker. In the rescue community you have to have respectful communication or you get nowhere fast and everyone ends up offended. I could write a whole blog post on that, but let's not get sidetracked :).

Back to getting started...every rescue group will have different qualifiers for its volunteers, so get familiar with their processes. At IDR+ in order to foster you have to go through the application process - which means have your application approved, get a positive vet check, and have a home visit. At each of those points of contact the group learns a bit more about the applicant - that is always a good thing! The home visit is nice because you get to sit down and share expectations - what the applicant should expect from the rescue and what the rescue expects from the applicant. Of course if you are not interested in fostering you don't have to go through the whole rigmarole, you just have to sign up!

Obviously, I was in it to foster so I submitted my application, they checked with my vet to make sure I took care of my animals, and I had a home visit scheduled. This was actually easier than I had envisioned because I was all the way out in the middle of Iowa and the rescue is based in the suburbs of Chicago. Luckily, a group member that lived around the Quad Cities volunteered to come out and visit my home. Then presto change-o, I am an approved foster home!

I was ready to welcome a new foster, but was I REALLY ready? I was nervous and excited, that was for sure. So I planned a trip to pick up my first foster dog and hoped I was making the right decision. Check back next Thursday for the Throwback story of my first foster.

This beautiful face was behind the start of my fostering escapades!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tuesday Training Tip: My Goals

Now that my CGC series is over I can start something new for the Tuesday Training Tip series, but what to talk about? There are SO MANY things I would love to cover, but I suppose all in good time :). I do actually have a ton of good topics, but I am going to aim to try to keep it related to things I am currently working on with my dogs. That way it'll be easier to write about from my own perspective because I will have experienced it and I will be able to trouble shoot better in case anyone has any questions. But feel free to share with me something you'd like me to cover, I am always looking for new things to work on with the pups!

Drum Roll Please...