Peace from Separation Anxiety

I have a confession to make: I did not used to believe in separation anxiety.  I truly thought that it was a condition of underexercised or over-coddled dogs.  To say that I am ashamed that I used to think this way is an enormous understatement.  I brought Perri home last August as a five month old puppy, from a family of five that no longer wanted her due to her habit of chicken killing on their farm.  I don’t know if she was never left alone before or often in her life.  I don’t know if she had any boundaries set (free roaming seemed to be a privilege awarded to all of the other family dogs that I met when I picked Perri up on that farm.)   I don’t know if it was pure and simple genetics.  This is likely.  I later found out that Perri was purchased from a closed-down doggie daycare/”hobby” breeder and was alarmed to find reviews of shyness and separation anxiety in more than a few dogs while reading on an online forum.  Whatever the case, I was getting a wake up call about the harsh reality of separation anxiety.  Perri had a bad case of it and I had no freaking clue what to do.

All of my dogs have been crate trained.  Perri was going to be no exception.  In fact, the day I picked her up I lifted her into the X-Large crate inside of my car and we drove home.  She screamed for the entire ride and vomited all over herself and the crate.  This was likely a combination of adjustment, car sickness and terror at being put into a crate and suddenly finding herself to be “alone.”  Still, at the time I dismissed this as Poor Puppy and moved on with our day.

It continued.  If you have ever dealt with a dog who has separation anxiety, you know how it goes.  I tried to crate Perri and it was blood curdling screaming from Day One. (video examples can be seen here and here.)  I have always done the “wait it out” and “make the crate a rewarding space” type methods with the dogs of my past and before long they crate peacefully and come to enjoy their little “den”.  But Perri did not see her crate as a “den”.  The more I ignored her the more frantic she became.  There was no making of Perri’s crate into a good place to be with toys or food.  She could not play or eat, she was too upset.  Everything escalated, with rare moments of false progress and discouraging backsliding.  If I would leave and come home again, the crate would be moved or she would have gotten out of it by prying the edges apart and squeezing out.  Sometimes the tray would be flung out from the bottom.  She put gouges in the dry wall by slamming the crate into it, she chewed up the carpet underneath of the crate.  It got to the point where Perri’s feet were raw from self mutilation or her fight to escape and find somebody to Be With Her.  Often she would wet the crate, and it was not a housebreaking issue.  Our vet asked me after an exam, “Are you sure she is 9 months old?  Her teeth are very ground down.”  It was from trying to bite her way out of her crate.

Understandably, I could no longer bear to leave her in the crate.  So I left her have free run of the house.  Perri was “better” initially and then she backslid.  She did not wet herself or self mutilate any longer, but she projected her anxiety outward instead.  She would pull things off of the bookshelves, counter, table.  She would rip trash out.  She would scream.  She would stand at the door while I was preparing to leave for work, panting.  As soon as I would shut the door she would scream and claw at it.  I could never shut her in a room with my other dogs if I would want to confine them for brief amounts of time.  She would rip the wood apart by digging, clawing, and begging to be back with me.  Begging to feel safe.  Perri’s separation anxiety extended to even when I would leave a room.  If I stood up from where I was sitting her head would bolt up and she would rush to follow me wherever I was going to go in the house.  Even my showering was Too Much for Perri.  As soon as I would close the shower curtain she would literally leap up the bathroom walls, door and sink searching for me and crying.

I was devastated, confused and very overwhelmed.  My patience-wearing-dangerously-thin husband wanted her to have a lobotomy (joking.  sort of.)  I did not know what to do.  I had never dealt with anything close to this in my life.  I thankfully had a lot of dog-savvy friends to offer support and advice.  I was willing to try most anything to get Perri to feel safe in her own home.  These are some things that I learned through force of necessity.  These are things that helped me and my dog defeat separation anxiety, not necessarily things that will help all dogs.  But I think that maybe the lessons that I learned could help some dogs, so I felt like I should share.

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A good dog with a bad problem that she didn’t ask for.

1. My dog is not doing this to upset me.
Seems obvious, I know.  But I had to remind myself of this from time to time.  I feel deeply heartbroken that Perri had to suffer while I was learning the full scope of how terrified she really was.  She had to suffer while I tried to pick my way through what were her anxiety issues and what were normal puppy issues.  I recently watched a video seminar by Suzanne Clothier (Arousal, Anxiety and Fear) and she described the labels that we place on a dog’s anxiety as though they are places on a map.  We are looking at the labels or little dots on a map, but the dog is actually living in that place.  That is their world.  I could speak a simple phrase, “Perri cries when I leave her alone.” when in reality Perri was absolutely overcome with overwhelming anxiety and terror that I could not begin to comprehend.  It is so important to have compassion and have respect for the dog’s perspective.

2. Comfort Your Dog
There is a school of thought that petting and soothing your dog when they are afraid will encourage and reinforce the behavior.  I find that to be very off putting.  Perri no longer has separation anxiety and I did plenty of comforting to bring her out of that dark tunnel of fear.  I do think that the timing of the praise/petting/comforting is very important when it comes to separation anxiety.
One thing that helped Perri tremendously was to do a lot of yo-yo’ing back and forth from her.  I had to get up earlier for work in the morning to allow time for departure from Perri.  I would walk out the door and come back inside and love on her before I had even shut it.  Over and over and over again.  Day after day, hundreds of probable thousands of times.  If I wanted to leave a room in the house I would take a few steps away from Perri and return, and then build on that to more steps away, to out of sight.  “I will always come back to you and comfort you.  You are safe.”  They key was to get back to Perri before her terror become unbearable to her, before it even started.  It was important to get back to Perri while she was still feeling okay and build on any small successes.  Comforting and showing affection to her was vital.  Was this time consuming?  Unbearably.
In time, when I would leave the house I would put Perri on my couch (compared to her standing in my kitchen staring at me with wide eyes and panting mouth.) and snuggle her and I began my walking away ritual anew from there.  I don’t know when it happened, but these days I have a poodle that is happy to eat her food in the morning and then relax on my couch all day.  I’m lucky if she even wakes up when I give her a kiss goodbye.

Perri on a “lunch break walk” with me during the workday.

3. There is no “Blanket Cure”.
Every dog is different, and therefore every solution is different.  It is frustrating to find the correct path for you and your dog and there is a lot of “playing by ear” and figuring out as you go.  This is, in my experience, a very time consuming issue to fix and every dog progresses at her own pace.
I found a lot of comfort for Perri in a very strange solution that would not work for every lifestyle: I took her to work with me and she slept in my car.  Some people thought this was cruel, but the reality was that Perri lived in a near constant anxiety attack unless she was either with me or snoozing in my Honda.  She was simply not afraid when she was in the car.  I don’t know why, I did not question it – I built upon it and used it to our advantage.  But while I was working on leaving her alone at home, being able to take her with me and let her feel safe so that we would not harm her progress was a huge help.  I park my car in a security monitored parking garage while I am at work.
An excellent alternative (that I considered!) was a doggie daycare, but again this is not an option for all dogs and is certainly a cost intensive option.  Perri was intact at the time so she was not a candidate, and she also has fear of other large dogs until she has “warmed up” to them.  For those two reasons, “The Car Method” was a great albeit strange choice that worked for us.  Keep an open mind!

4. See your Veterinarian.
They can help!  And not only that, but you should have your dog evaluated to make sure that there is not a medical reason for their behavior.  I never went to see Perri’s vet specifically for separation anxiety.  She had a yeast infection in her ear and while the vet was treating her for this she asked us how everything else was going.   “Well, not good…” and I vented and poured out the details of Perri’s problems.
The vet suggested the yo-yo technique that worked so well for Perri, she made me feel a lot better and told me some stories of other cases of SA, and she asked me to please return if we did not have success with behavioral modification so that we could consider medication to help Perri relax.  Your vet can be your partner in working with your dog’s issues, or can likely refer you to a behaviorist who can.  Medication can be an excellent tool.  Other options that I have heard about along the way were Dog Appeasing Pheremone (“DAP”) products, Rescue Remedy or Probiotics.  The Thunder Coat can help some dogs, though I never tried it with Perri.
Don’t exclude anything.  Every dog is different with different needs.

4. Dog’s Best Friend.
In time, my pitbull Molly was mine and Perri’s rock when it came to dealing with the SA.  Who would guess that a breed so (foolishly) maligned would be a “nanny dog” for an anxious poodle?  For Perri, having Molly with her was not enough in the beginning.  Maybe they weren’t bonded enough, maybe she was too far into her terror to care if another dog was around.  (Though my most successful crating arrangement to date was when I put Molly and Perri’s crates alongside of one another.  Perri lasted an entire week of crating when she got to be next to Molly before she backslid.)
As time wore on, Perri would be snuggled with Molly and if I would leave a room and that was Okay.  Or if I was leaving for work Perri would run to the basement where Molly was sleeping and hop on the couch next to her and who cared if I was leaving?
Bringing another dog into your home when you are already dealing with SA in one dog can seem daunting, a gamble or just a downright a bad idea.  It can backfire.  It is not something that I would even suggest as a “cure”.  Perri and I were very fortunate to have a live-in buddy that could help her to feel better.  Dogsitting or playdates could be a great way to find a temporary friend for your SA dog to hang out with and find some comfort.

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Poodle Whisperer, Molly

5. Take Joy in Success.
Keep an eye out for progress and embrace it when it happens!  It will happen, and in baby steps.  I remember once I shut the dogs in a room when my nieces stopped by and I didn’t want them to be assaulted by the dog gang.  Perri barked and cried, but it was the first time Perri did not try to rip a hole through one of my doors.  I remember the first time I got up to leave a room and she actually stayed sleeping on the floor instead of panicking and chasing me.  I remember yo-yo’ing with her on the couch and returning to find her head down and relaxed instead of perked up because I left.  I remember her Canine Good Citizen test and how I had to leave her for three minutes with a friendly stranger.  She passed.
Successes did not occur every day, but I took them as they came.  You have to.  Look for forward progress and build on it.  Listen to your dog, feel out what they can handle and use it to your advantage.  Success was my dog communicating to me, “I can handle this.  This feels safe.”

6. Train Your Dog
I love training my dogs.  Perri and I began training in pet obedience, then formal obedience and not long after that, agility.  It all creates confidence, and confidence is what an anxious dog needs.  Teaching tricks is a fantastic way to bond with your dog and make them feel confident.  Teaching a dog the silliest things or working with them for just ten or fifteen minutes a day towards any training goal can have benefits far beyond what you can imagine.  I believe that all of the training that we did and still do was very important in helping her feel brave and safe.

These days, Perri hangs out in her crate at obedience or agility trials, and when we drive to places in my car and she is crated, she does not cry.  I can shut her into rooms and she sits calmly and waits for the door to open again, because she knows that it will open again.  I can leave for work and it is not a theatrical event, because she knows that I will come back to her.  She no longer sleeps in my car in the parking garage, but at home on my couch.  Our path is not the path that would work for every SA dog, but it worked for us.  It was hard and there were tears shed and moments when I felt like it would never end and “Why oh why is my sweet dog like this?”  I am so happy to have been able to somehow help Perri believe, “I am safe.  She will come back.  Being alone is not forever and I am Okay.”

Donut’s Story

As  most of you know, I am heavily involved in sato rescue through the farm/vet clinic I board/work at. I spend a lot of time meeting, photographing, and networking for adoptable puppies and dogs. The farm is ever-changing to accommodate more dogs. There are kennels and runs that attach to climate-controlled rooms to give the puppies freedom while keeping them safe from the elements. The sun room in the farmhouse has been converted into a puppy raising area for especially young pups. There are whelping areas around the farm for the pregnant mother dogs we periodically take in. Pretty much everything except the horse barn and riding arenas has been adapted to make the process as smooth and user-friendly as possible for everyone involved.

Donut the week he arrived.

Donut the week he arrived.

For the most part, the puppies get adopted faster than I can keep up. In fact, we’ve adopted out over 100 dogs since the program started a little over a year ago. Most of those have been since March of this year. It’s an impressive number, especially when you consider how thorough the screening process is. A lot of the puppies have homes lined up before they even ship state-side. In fact, there are many pups who I don’t even get a chance to photograph before they’re out the door. By the time most of the pups reach my blog, they have already been placed.

Once in a while, however, we get a dog who doesn’t get adopted as quickly. Usually, these are either older puppies or adult dogs who just aren’t as cute as the younger pups. Sometimes we get puppies who haven’t been well socialized and are too shy to grab adopters’ attention. Eventually, though, they all find their forever homes. There are plenty of retirees looking for older lap dogs, and many people like something that is already house broken and past the crazy puppy phase. We’ve also discovered that there is an entire group of people who prefer dogs that are shy and not in-your-face or overly energetic.

Then there was Donut.

Donut came to us back in May. He was one of a litter of six Chow mixes. Two of his siblings had pre-arranged homes and were gone before I could blink. The other four were promptly photographed and listed for adoption. They were about eight weeks old at the time.

Snuggling a kitten in the clinic.

Snuggling a kitten in the clinic.

Donut seemed like  a regular puppy at first. He played with his litter mates, ran around the farm like a Looney Tune, and quickly got to be friendly and sweet.

As time passed, however, we started to notice that there was something off about Donut. It started off subtle. He would take a funny step here or there. He would take a little while to get up. He would seem to get ‘stuck’. It wasn’t long before these problems started to become harder to ignore. Donut’s gait was definitely affected. It seemed like he wasn’t aware of his hind end. He struggled to get up after sitting or lying down. The doctor looked him over and decided that he was definitely struggling with some kind neurological issue.

Donut was taken to a neurologist for further diagnostics. The specialist diagnosed him with hypomyelinogenesis. This birth defect is apparently pretty common in Chows and Chow mixes.

He seemed like a regular puppy.

He seemed like a regular puppy.

In this defect, the myelin sheath, which basically acts as insulation for the body’s nerves, doesn’t form properly. Without proper insulation, the nerves misfire, leading to clumsiness and sometimes tremors. There is no current treatment for hypomyelinogenesis, but the condition is not painful or immediately life threatening. In some cases, affected dogs get better. In some cases, they get worse. Doing walk therapy can help dogs build muscles to help overcome their lack of coordination and balance.

Since Donut didn’t appear to be suffering (he still played with the other puppies, loved to eat, and wagged his tail almost constantly) and there wasn’t much to be done, we decided to take a wait-and-see approach. If he showed improvement, great. If he declined beyond a certain point, we would humanely end his suffering. Otherwise, we would continue to watch and monitor the little guy’s progress.

Before long, all of Donut’s brothers and sisters found homes, but Donut remained. We kept him listed for adoption, but he became our first true special needs puppy. He would need to go to a home that was prepared to deal with his issues. Stairs, for example, were basically a no-go. His owners would have to accept that they might be facing a shorter life expectancy. We remained optimistic about the puppy’s future, but we knew he would be very difficult to place. After all, who wants to take a defective puppy who walks funny and can’t get up without help sometimes when there are a dozen happy, healthy, energetic, adorable puppies just as readily available!

We accepted that Donut was probably there to stay. We would let him live out his life at the farm. When his defect took a turn for the worse, we would put him down and lay him to rest in the back pasture. It was only fair. Besides, he was turning out to be an excellent farm dog.

The months wore on and Donut became a staple around the farm. He never wandered far and his thick coat gave him excellent protection against the elements. He picked his favorite places, frequently hanging out on the front porch or sleeping under the back deck.

Socializing with new arrivals.

Socializing with new arrivals.

We joked and called him our Bridge Troll, with his zombie-esque walk, strange bark, and tendency to appear from under the deck with little warning. As he matured and his muscles adapted to his neurological deficiences, Donut started to look more and more like a coyote crossed with a Tasmanian Devil. We didn’t have to worry about intruders with Donut patrolling the property.

The truth of the matter, however, was that Donut was a real sweetheart. He greeted me every morning with his tail wagging on auto-pilot. He followed me around, slowly but with great determination, as I did my farm chores. He sat in my lap while I waited for my thoroughbred to eat his evening grain. Since his body wasn’t normal, Donut had never grown to the size of a true Chow, which made him the perfect size for cuddling and picking up. Over time, I figured out his favorite itchy spots, and I learned that his weakened hind end didn’t stop the best of doggie reflexes. When I hit the perfect spot on his chest, that back foot would thump at full force. It was funny and heartwarming all at the same time.

Donut enjoying some late evening sun in October.

Donut enjoying some late evening sun in October.

Sure, Donut wasn’t going to win any races, and sometimes he needed help getting up. Once, startled by a horse, he fell over like a fainting goat and I had to ask Mike to help him get unstuck. Mostly, though, he had no idea anything was wrong. His body had functioned this way his entire life and he had adapted pretty well to it. He figured out how to hop his back legs so he could run. He mastered rising from the down position. He figured out that howling and ‘talking’ was easier than outright barking.

I think we all accepted that Donut was going to be around for the long haul, and that was just fine. After all, he wasn’t in anybody’s way, and he wasn’t one to cause trouble. His ad stayed up on the website, but we stopped showing him to adopters. We started introducing him as, “Oh, that’s Donut. He lives here.”

Then, at the beginning of November, the doctor announced, “We need to bring Donut in and give him a bath. He’s going home this afternoon.”
I had to scrape my jaw off the ground. “Did you say Donut got adopted?”
“Yes. Someone came out to see him yesterday.”

A happy dog.

A happy dog.

It turns out that a couple saw Donut listed on the site while casually browsing available dogs. They had a Chow/shepherd mix who passed away right around the time that Donut was born. They weren’t really looking for another dog, but Donut caught their eye.

The wife works with special needs children and found his story endearing. They called right away, looking for an application, and they turned out to be a stellar potential home. They got approved and immediately asked to meet Donut.

Despite his oddities, they were drawn to him and found him quite lovable. They went out right after they saw him to buy all the things he would need… toys, a dog bed, a harness, etc. and they were beyond excited to bring him home.

Twenty-four hours later, after a bath, a nail trim, and a kiss goodbye, Donut was on his way to a home where he’ll be the center of attention, hopefully for years to come.

Two days later, the adopter called with some questions and we got an update on how Donut is settling in. When asked how he was doing, the adopter replied, “Well, he ate breakfast and dinner with gusto, but he still seemed a little worried at bed time, so I slept in the dog bed with him to make sure he felt secure.” If that doesn’t melt your heart…

And so, at eight months old, and well past the cute puppy stage, Donut found a home, despite issues that made him unappealing to multiple adopters.The stars really lined up for this shaggy little guy. It was my feel-good moment for the month. I’ll miss having him around the farm, of course. I didn’t realize how attached I had gotten to him until I found out he was leaving. I’ll miss him wobbling around behind me while I work with the horses.

Best wishes, Donut. I hope you live happily ever after.

K9DIY: Make a mini-A frame to practice contacts at home

Project difficulty level: Medium hard (some fiddly bits; a fair amount of assembly, even with pre-cut parts; a lot of waiting for things to dry; some fluency with power tools–a drill in this case–is helpful)

I’m starting an agility foundations class with Widget soon, and because I’m impatient and bored with playing target games, I thought it might be fun to start shaping some contact behavior with her.  I also like to make stuff, and will also take pretty much any excuse to start a weird project, so I decided to build Widge a tiny little contact trainer.  A few years ago, I made Lucy a dog walk to use as a contact trainer, but that was cumbersome, heavy, and a pain to move around, so I decided to go a little smaller for Widget.

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Lucy’s dog walk/contact trainer. Please note my EXTREMELY fancy expensive bases from Clean Run…..oh wait, those are broken director’s chairs.

So I made a little A-frame, just tall enough for her to climb over it and practice her contacts, and short enough that I could fold it up and hide it behind her crate when I wasn’t using it.

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Shrimpy contact trainer for shrimpy dog.

So before I tell you how I did this (and before I encourage you to make your own), let me tell you that if you are looking for extremely specific directions, you are going to be disappointed by this post.  You know how sometimes you look in a cookbook and the recipe tells you to use exactly a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and then you ask your mom for a recipe and she’s like, “Eh, you just get a bunch of butter and throw it in a pan and cook it until it smells good”?  This post is in the style of that second recipe.  You’re going to have to adjust it to fit your specific dog’s height and weight; you’ll need a thicker and wider set of boards if you’ve got a dog who’s bigger than teeny little Widget, you might want to swap out the hardware based on what you can find, you might want to go a little taller if your dog is confident on equipment, etc. And that’s all fine! This is all just to give you a general idea of how you could make something like this if you wanted to.

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Growing Up Guide Dog Puppy: Introducing Dierdre

Christmas morning loses its allure when you become an adult; no longer do you wake up before the sun and jump on your parents heads trying to get them up and out of bed before the morning commute starts…in China. Despite attempting to sleep at least past brunch most Christmas mornings these days, nothing will get me that feeling of anticipation and giddiness again like Puppy Day. The morning that I was due to pick up Guide Dog Puppy #5, my alarm was set to go off at 5:30. I was dressed by 5:15. I packed up a puppy bag full of extra towels, clean up materials, collar, leash, puppy coat, some toys, water, collapsible bowl, and eagerly set off for the 3.5 hour drive over to the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus in Palmetto, Florida.

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Naturally, it was pouring rain when I arrived (this is Florida, afterall), but that didn’t stop me from taking pictures of the campus. I made a few purchases at the gift shop while waiting for the worst of the rain to pass, adding a southeastern pin and stuffed puppy in puppy coat to my guide dog memorabilia collection.

Stuffed Puppy in coat

Stuffed Puppy in coat

 

My collection of guide dog puppies

My collection of guide dog puppies

(The yellow lab has Guide Dogs for the Blind's original logo from the 1940s on it)

(The yellow lab has Guide Dogs for the Blind’s original logo from the 1940′s on it)

The campus over a Southeastern is very beautiful, and one of the largest in the country in terms of acreage. I had signed up for the campus tour to get a better look at everything, since I had never been to this guide dog campus before. Because there was a brand new class just in for training, we were unable to see the dormitories, but I got a glimpse of the new veterinary center, and saw the construction site for the brand new dog assessment center currently being built.

Map of the Campus

Map of the Campus

New Barpal Veterinary Center

New Barpal Veterinary Center

The campus was very lush and tropical, with beautiful landscaping, palm trees, tropical flowers and plants, several large ponds, and a wide open grassy field at the back. And of course, all tours at Southeastern feature… puppy hugging!! For this particular tour, the lucky puppies were Golden Retrievers.

This cutie ended up coming to a raiser in my club a week later

This cutie ended up coming to a raiser in my club a week later

Tug!

Tug!

One important feature about Southereastern’s puppy kennels is that the back areas have screened-in windows with no glass, to expose the puppies to the Florida heat and humidity. Many dogs from other schools that come to the tropical southern climate have a hard time acclimatizing, so Southeastern takes special care to ensure the puppies grow up used to the heat. In the winter and spring, the kennel workers also pipe thunder noises into the kennels, to desensitize the pups to the sounds of a good storm. Of course, in the summer and fall, the natural Florida weather means no recorded thunder is necessary, it comes in its all-natural form then!

Puppy Kennels with their screened-in windows overlooking the puppy field

Puppy Kennels with their screened-in windows overlooking the puppy field

The puppy playground

The puppy playground

Puppy Kennels

Puppy Kennels

In the back of the puppy kennels was the whelping and newborn unit, with glass windows to see in.

Brand new puppies!

Brand new puppies!

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After the tour we took a walk through the gardens and ‘Freedom Square,’ walkways with butterfly gardens, railroad tracks, bridges, and other obstacles used to train the guide dogs or for people to just come and enjoy.

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Statue in the gardens

Statue in the gardens

After ending the tour by going by the training kennel and petting some dogs in training, we returned to the puppy kennel to pick up the new puppy that would be coming home me.

BB & SEGD Open House Dec. 3, 2011 118

I had been told prior to my arrival that I would be picking up a female yellow lab by the name of Dierdre. Because Southeastern had been blessed by 100% conception rates and some very large litters, there was a shortage of puppy raisers, and some of the puppies that would normally have gone home at 8 weeks, had been waiting in the puppy kennel for an available puppy raiser. Dierdre was one of those puppies, so rather than being 8 or 9 weeks old, she was already 16 weeks. She also had a giant goose egg on her head, from whacking her head on the puppy kennel door (repeatedly. I would come to learn over the next few weeks that’s she’s a bit of a klutz).

I clipped her new collar around her neck and happily signed her out of the puppy kennel. I decided to follow the same tradition that i had for all of my other puppies, and take her picture in front of the campus sign, but since it had rained all morning and the cars driving by were making the puddles splash, I opted for the admin building sign instead:

Introducing Dierdre!!

Introducing Dierdre!!

After taking her picture, we hopped into the car, with Dierdre riding in the customary location for a guide dog traveling by car: right between my front feet.

That's one heck of a knot!!

That’s one heck of a knot!!

It didn’t take long for her to fall fast asleep. While I don’t generally like to take baby puppies into too many places with their little coats on; I prefer them to be reliably housebroken, and you never want to do too much, too fast with the baby puppies and risk creating a fear that will wash them out of guide dog school. But it had been a long day and we decided to stop for lunch at a low-key restaurant, which meant taking Dierdre into the restaurant with us. I put her little coat on, and she happily followed me into the restaurant. For the first 30 minutes she sat by my feet and calmly watched the restaurant commotion going on around her, before chewing on her nylabone a bit and finally falling asleep right as the food arrived.

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When we finally arrived home, it was time for Dierdre to meet her new roommates: Hawkins, Tiki and Raiden.

Hi Tiki!!

Hi Tiki!!

Hawkins has a minion

Hawkins has a minion

 I attempted to get a family shot… but with 3 unwilling dogs (only Hawkins was up for this game) this was the best I could do

Dogs are like potato chips- you can't have just one!

Dogs are like potato chips- you can’t have just one!

Because  puppies are… well, puppies, I prevent bad habits by giving puppies a limited range of movement if I am not able to watch them 100% of the time. This means we have cable tie-downs all over the house, baby gates to block off rooms I will be in, and I even have a ‘house leash’ that I can tie to my belt loop to keep a puppy by my side wherever I go.

Tied to the dining room table

Tied to the dining room table

Plenty of toys keep a puppy busy!

Plenty of toys keep a puppy busy!

Stuck in my office

Stuck in my office

Tied to my bed

Tied to my bed

 

For now, Dierdre’s days are filled with learning to go potty *outside* (and, on command!), to be quiet in a crate, and that she can’t put her mouth on everything that she sees. Difficult lessons for a curious puppy! Tune in next time for Dierdre’s first puppy meeting.

 

Trick Training: An Introduction

GUEST POST BY JENNIFER ANDRESS

Let’s talk about tricks!

I was super excited when Team Unruly asked me to do a guest post on trick training, because I LOVE teaching dogs to do tricks and I love Team Unruly, so hey! jackpot!

Whether you’ve got your eye on the competition ring or just want to enjoy the companionship of a beloved pet, trick training has infinite benefits for both you and your dog. It’s fun, lighthearted, and can be as easy or challenging as you want. Most dogs really enjoy it, and the process of learning tricks can do wonders in improving a fearful dog’s confidence and developing a distractible dog’s focus and self-control. You can use tricks to build muscle and enhance your dog’s coordination and conditioning, and they’re great as warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after physically demanding runs. They will improve your ability to communicate with your dog and your dog’s ability to communicate with you.

Tricks are great for impressing friends and relatives, and have been extremely useful to me in marketing foster dogs. While many prospective adopters think it’s nice if a dog knows Sit and Down, they’re outright amazed if the dog can spin on cue or wave “hello,” and you can teach these tricks in about 15 minutes to a clicker-savvy dog.

Stella, the beagle/pittie mix on the right, was one of my very first foster dogs. She charmed her way into a new home when the family’s 12-year-old son asked her to Spin at an adoption event and she did. The kid was amazed, ran to his parents, and said “Mom! Dad! I found our dog! This is our dog!” He kept asking her to Spin while his parents were filling out the adoption paperwork. And so she lived happily ever after, because she’d learned a silly trick.

Additionally, because the Trick Dog title progression is designed to be extremely flexible and can be done in any setting you want — even inside your own home — it’s a great way to get started in dog sports with a reactive, fearful, or otherwise “difficult” dog who’s not yet ready to compete in higher-pressure venues… or, for that matter, a handler who’s got a touch of ring nerves.

And, finally, if you are a primarily R+ trainer in an area where that approach is not widely shared, and you’re struggling with how to teach competition exercises in a positive manner, trick training is invaluable because it will give you all the foundational skills and tools you need to develop innovative approaches to solving those problems. I taught Pongu to do scent discrimination as part of the Margarita Trick, so now we’ve got that concept in place to use for Utility scent articles; I taught directional cues as part of the (as-yet-unfinished) Halloween Trick, so now we’ve got Utility directed retrieve foundations too.

The Margarita Trick. We did this for my dad’s 60th birthday party

Because I taught those concepts as part of our goofy little tricks, there was no pressure involved for either me or my dog, and I’m inclined to think everything goes much faster and more smoothly when you’re just doing it for fun. And if you get it wrong, who cares? You’re not messing up the actual exercises — if I screw up teaching the liquor bottles in the Margarita Trick, it doesn’t mean Pongu will carry my mistakes over to his Utility scent articles — so you can re-train the formal exercises differently if need be. If you get it right, hooray! If you get it wrong, no big deal.

Hopefully you are now sold on trick training being AWESOME (if not, well, maybe Silvia Trkman will convince you).

Okay! Your hosts for this shindig will be ARCHX TDCH Pongu the Insane, CD-C RL1X2, RL2X, RL3 (AOE), my severely fearful nutjob of a German Shepherd mix, and Crookytail the Tigerwuff, NTD, RL1, my dearly beloved, dense-as-a-lead-fruitcake Akita mix. Together, these two misfit shelter mutts comprise Dog Mob.

Dog Mob! Also, my perpetually messy house.

Dog Mob! Also, my perpetually messy house.

I started trick training to improve Pongu’s confidence and focus, because he was and is a genetically fearful mess of a dog, and for a very long time it didn’t seem likely that he’d ever be able to tolerate any kind of class setting, let alone set foot in a competition ring. He’s doing okay now, but I don’t think we would have gotten there without lots and lots of trick work along the way.

Pongu rocking his Trick Dog Champion medal and spiffy title certificate with fancy blue border. It has sparkles!

Pongu rocking his Trick Dog Champion medal and spiffy title certificate with fancy blue border. It has sparkles!

And I kept it up with Crookytail, because Crooky is… well… as they say in the South, “bless his heart.” I love him, and he is a wonderful guidance counselor for foster dogs, but his boundless eagerness and enthusiasm for learning are not matched by any actual, um, ability. Crookytail has washed out of every sport ever with a novice title (I’m looking forward to washing him out of competition obedience with a CD sometime next year), but he loves to (think he can) learn, so I teach him tricks because then I don’t have to care if he gets it wrong. Which he will. For months.

These are not Crookytail's ribbons. Sometimes I just let him pose with Pongu's ribbons because it makes him happy to think he's good at stuff.

These are not Crookytail’s ribbons. Sometimes I just let him pose with Pongu’s ribbons because it makes him happy to think he’s good at stuff.

So those are my dogs, and that is why we all think trick training is THE BEST THING EVER, and next time we will get around to breaking down an actual trick, step by step.