“May I Pet Your Dog?”

My corgi Ein is cute.   Super cute.  I’m not bragging, it’s just a fact.   And when we go out in public, people can’t resist that cute.   Ein has a handsome teddy bear face, a perpetual smile and that bunny-butt strut that all corgis have and people need to get their hands on him.

But here’s the thing - not every dog likes to be petted.  Ein is in this category, and he is not alone.   Do you have a dog like that?   What does your dog do when strangers approach on a walking trail or at the park?  Maybe her tail is low or tucked under her legs, rather than wagging or swaying.  She might try to hide behind you as people approach.   She might crouch low to the ground and avert her eyes away from the situation.  These are all signs that your dog would rather not be petted by a stranger.

Ein at a picnic with me.   He is in between my legs with head turned away from a person off-camera.   Look at his lips and the tension on his face.   He says "No thank you!"

Ein at a picnic with me. He is in between my legs with head turned away from a person off-camera. Look at his lips and the tension on his face, his ears are beginning to fold back. He says “No thank you!”

I knew nothing when Ein came to live with me.   He is the dog who taught me about dogs.  When people approached us and asked me, “He’s so cute!   May I pet him?” I said that they could.  If someone couldn’t pet my dog, didn’t that mean that he was a Bad Dog?  Didn’t that mean that he wasn’t friendly, that there was something wrong with him?.   It meant embarrassing me, and the other people.  For some reason, that mattered.   And it was at my dog’s expense.

The years went by.  Two more dogs were added to my family, dogs who loved to be petted.   It was easier now.   I could just tell people, “You can pet the big dog, the little one is shy.”  That was a compromise.   I could take one of my larger, people-loving dogs to social situations and leave Ein at home, happy.   Ein did come to love rally obedience trials, and the people there.   No one wanted to pet Ein, but they might give him a treat.   He learned to stare and smile and charm other competitors into giving him a tidbit without the compromise of petting.   These were Dog People.   They understood dogs.   This was Ein’s great gift to me, all I had to do was watch him and pay attention.   And I learned to understand dogs, too.   They don’t speak with words, they speak with body language.

No touchy!

No touchy!

Fast forward to now.   Ein is 11.   We were at a boat launch getting ready to go out on our kayak together.   Senior though he is, Ein is a head turner with his handsome face and adorable little orange lifejacket.   A group of teenage girls were gasping and squealing over him, you would have thought he was Elvis.   “May we pet your dog??”   It had literally been years since I had been asked that question of Ein.   Years.   And it caught me off guard.  But without hesitation and for the first time in his entire life I said the correct answer: “I’m sorry.   My dog is afraid of people and does not like to be petted.”   They seemed surprised and a little embarrassed.   That’s okay.   I was standing up for my dog.   Like I always should have.  And honestly, it felt great.

It is okay to stand up for your dog.   It is okay to say, “No.” People will get over it.   They will find another soppy bouncy dog to love on, possibly within the next hour or less.  It does not mean that your dog is a Bad Dog if she does not want to be petted or touched.  Your dog is a Good Dog, an awesome dog.  Your dog is not public property, she is your friend and she is counting on you to make decisions in her best interests.   Watch her, learn to read her body language and say “No.” when you can see that your dog would rather not be petted.  Your pup will thank you for it, I guarantee!  And you might even feel super proud of yourself!

Say Goodbye to Old Dog Blues

I have had my dog Ein since he was four months old.  He is nine years and four months old now.  If you are reading this blog you must be no stranger to the ways that dogs lodge themselves into our daily routines, our hearts and souls.  The ways that they grow with us, the ways that they change us and the ways that they support us as we go through life.  Ein is no exception.  Ein was a bundle of anxiety when I got him and I was in college and stressed out about life.  I always loved animals and nature but I was never what you would call an “active person.”  Ein changed all of that.  We started exploring the local county park and the rest is a tale I have told before.  Hiking trails were a place that we could escape life together, and we did.  What started with casual 30 minute strolls led us to the mountains jutting up around the local wild river.  We would stay there for hours swimming, hiking and gazing out over every new place that we explored.  And so it has been for years.  Six feet, two heartbeats.  Paradise.   Peace.

Until the middle of April this year.  Perri and Molly tornado’d into Ein and he started limping on his front leg.  It would not go away.  We went to the vet and tried medication but the limp persisted.  When the vet examined Ein she asked me if he had any problems with his hips.  I was surprised.  Of course not.  We took x-rays.  Ein’s hips took my breath away.  To say they are dysplastic and arthritic is an understatement.  And it did not just happen overnight.  And if that was not enough, the vet showed me the bone spurs growing in his spine.  Rear leg paralysis is a possibility if that condition persists.  I was gutted.  I started Ein on joint supplements, pain medication and some at-home PT exercises to help strengthen his rear legs.  The front leg limp would go away, and come back again.  I could see his right rear leg, his most dysplastic hip, being held stiffly and never with weight on it.  I had to cancel an agility trial and a rally trial that I had been looking forwards to participating in with Ein.  Long hikes were certainly out of the question.  I felt like everything that we loved to do together was over.

A few months later in June, Ein and I attended our annual Corgi Group picnic.   The corgi picnic is one of the highlights of my year, every year.  There is the hot dog bobbing contest, there is the musical hoops contest, there is the silent auction of doggie and corgi items, there are baby pools for wading in, agility equipment to play on and there is lots of food and lots of corgis!  Ein and I never do the hot dog contest, because he has always been afraid to nose into the water for the hot dogs.  And the competition is stiff!  We have never stood a chance.  Musical hoops was always our game.  It is like musical chairs, except that everyone walks around a ring of hula hoops and when the music stops, you get your dog to sit in a hoop.   For Ein, who has always been good at heeling and auto-sitting when I stop walking, this game was a cakewalk!  We have won it probably four times.

This year Ein had a hard time getting his rear end into the baby pool.  He woke up limping on his front leg and stiff in his rear, so I didn’t think musical hoops was something that we should be doing.  All those years of going to our picnic and enjoying those two things above all else, and suddenly his hip dysplasia is sticking its ugly face in there, reminding me that my dog is not who he used to be.

I went back over to Ein’s x-pen by myself and really felt like crying.  It might seem stupid to some.  But nine years of this dog, nine years of my little badass that nothing could stop.  My little scrapper who was picking fights with german shepherds at the dog park “just yesterday.”  And suddenly he is old.  I was still figuring out how to deal with that.  My dog who could hike 12 miles over a boulder field is having trouble stepping into a baby pool.  Through some twist of fate my x-pen was next to a corgi and owner that I have seen coming to the picnic every year that I have been going.  Except this year, her dog’s entire rear end was paralyzed because of degenerative myelopathy, a condition common in corgis.  He was her agility dog.  I have always noticed corgis on wheels, corgis in strollers, or corgis who were half lame at the picnic.  But not until this year, when my own dog was going lame, did I become hyper aware of what causes these wonderful dogs to be confined to a wheel cart or a stroller.

The end result was that while I enjoyed the picnic, it was a bittersweet day for me.  I enjoyed being my normal shutterbug self and taking 84 photos of all the picnic-goers (Click here to see the Flickr Album).  I enjoyed the food.  I enjoyed spending a day out with Ein.  But I allowed his mortality to make me feel sad.  I became worried that he may likely have degenerative myelopathy as well.  A friend of mine who recently lost her beloved doberman at only 7 years old to osteosarcoma told me that she regrets missing out on her dog’s “old dog years.”  That I would regret it if I continue to mourn Ein before he was even gone.  And she was right.

I am a busybody going in a million directions with training, agility trials, therapy visits and hey! also a full time job.  I felt I had no time for Ein.  But a lot of that had been because Ein’s recent grouping of diagnoses made me feel so sad that every time I looked at him, it was all that I could think about.  I allowed myself to shut down on him, because I was so overwhelmed by the shock and pain of my dog growing old.

No more.  It had to stop.

Kelsey sent me an Ein-sized exercise peanut and it had been sitting around for a week or two.  Since I decided to stop moping, I inflated it and we got to work and Ein had so much fun.  It is a new game, and it can be an every day thing.  So what if we are doing it to strengthen his wrecked hips.  He is having fun, and so I am having fun.

I must embrace this time.  I must enjoy it.  The last dog that I had pass away was 9 years old when he died.  He was fine one day and died overnight.  No warning, no old dog years.  He was just gone one morning when I woke up, he died in his sleep.  No exercise peanuts, no supplements, no cozy orthopedic dog beds and shorter walks.  He was just gone.  I haven’t lost Ein to cancer, or a heart failure, or a tragic accident – I still have him.  He is still here and happy and he is still my boy, and just because his body is starting to deteriorate doesn’t mean that we can’t find new ways to enjoy our relationship.

I bought him a lifejacket.  Swimming his fantastic exercise for the hips.  The dog is working his joints in the water, but there isn’t any impact.  Ein has always loved swimming for his ball, but he tires easily and starts sinking into the water and coughing.  I have always chuckled a little over doggie life jackets.  My dogs can swim just fine, they don’t need that stuff.   I used to think the same thing about training classes though, and look at me now.  When I watched my dog be able to swim out after his tennis balls for … I don’t even know how long, I lost track of time, I regretted not doing this sooner!

And if Ein can’t be the musical hoops champion every year at the Corgi Picnic anymore, we are going to have to start training towards being the hot dog bobbing champions!  I think that he will be a fast learner.

It has been since that picnic in June that I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and Ein.  We have worked harder on our PT together, we have been taking short walks together, I have been making time to take him swimming and the supplements and medication are doing their job.  I have committed myself to enjoying this part of our life, whatever that may mean.  We went camping in late July and I did something that I was afraid to do since April.  I took Ein on a swim and a semi-long hike around the lake where we were camping.  Just the two of us.  He stayed sound.  He was amazing.  He was happy.  And so was I.

IMG_8270

Stop worrying. Let’s hike!

Why I will never shave my double-coated dog again

He’s a cute, hairy little nightmare.

We are in the heat of summertime, pardon the pun, and we are seeing the normal hot weather warnings all over the internet.  Do not leave your pet in a hot car.  Keep your dog hydrated (and how to recognize and address heat stroke.)   And… do not shave your double coated dog.  I am not writing this post to beat a dead horse.  I am writing this post because I did shave my double coated corgi, Ein.  Twice.  And I will never do it again.

Why did I shave Ein?  The same reasons that anybody might shave their hairball.  I wanted Ein to be cooler and I wanted him to stop shedding eight pounds of fur all over my house every single day.  But after those two years of shaving Ein, I was done.  And it wasn’t just because more than one person shamed my decision to shave him.  It was because I learned from my mistake(s).  I got to see first hand, in my own dog, the negative side effects of shaving an animal with a double coat.

The dog’s coat will never grow in the same again.
Ein is living proof of this – and we got off easy!  I see this billed as a very popular reason not to shave a dog’s coat, with grave warnings that the dog’s hair will grow back in ridiculous patches, or will otherwise never grow back in properly.  This is because, depending on the dog, either the under coat or outer coat may grow back faster than the other – not in sync.  These two coat layers work together to protect the dog from the cold and heat, and shaving them often does irreparable damage.  Ein’s hair grew back in rather nicely…except for on his sides.  The hair there is frustratingly thin, even 4 years after the last time I shaved him.  This is a constant reminder of the mistake that I made.  I am grateful that the rest of his coat did not suffer the same fate!

The dog will not be cooler without his natural coat to protect him.  Seriously.
This is absolutely true, and it was the main reason I (came to my senses and) stopped shaving Ein.  He was miserable without his glorious heavy red coat.  He would heat up ridiculously quickly, and cool down even slower.  This was not the case before I shaved him.  We spend a whole lot of time outdoors in the summer, sometimes hiking directly in the sun for more than a few miles (with plenty of water!) – and I noticed Ein needing to lay down and take more breaks and pant.  And if that did not make me feel guilty enough?  On one post-shave hike, Ein got a sunburn.  This was something that his fur had always protected him from.

4664581621_9dc3e5bc32_b

Hot Shaved Corgi

Bits of nasty old undercoat being blown away. No need to shave that!

Yes, Shaved Dogs Do Still Shed
Ein was still shedding eight pounds of hair each and every day after he was shaved.  The hairs were just a whole lot shorter!  So, if this is the reason that you might like to shave your double coated dog – think again.  You will still be vacuuming hair!  Feeding Ein a high quality, grain free kibble suited to his dietary needs has drastically reduced the amount of coat that he sheds.  A once-monthly bath and coat blow out during the summer months does a great job of clearing out all of Ein’s loose undercoat (and we do this outside, so all of the area birds have corgi hair in their nests!)

It really does look ridiculous
I keep Perri the Poodle’s body hair fairly short, even on her face, feet and ears.  The only exception is her head pouf.  A poodle can pull off any coat length and still look great – they are customizable dogs. (brainwashed by poodle?  guilty!)   Double coated dogs?  Specifically Ein?  It just looks plain silly to strip down that regal coat to nothing.   People laughed at him.  He looked like a mere shadow of his grand old self.  Ein is more than likely mixed with some type of spitz (I think Pomeranian), and the mixture gives him an extra hairy mane that adds to his personality.  It might sound funny, but shaving that away shaved away a bit of what makes Ein Ein.
There are so many ways to help a dog beat the heat in the summer without taking his coat off.  We have a baby pool that Ein likes to wade in.  He gets groomed regularly to keep the dead undercoat off of him.  We go for more walks in creeks and less on hot and dry hiking trails.  We love summer, and a little bit of hair isn’t getting in our way.

K9 Bakery: Honey-Cranberry Oat Cookies

IMG_3405

On occasion, I love to bake little treats for my dogs.  It takes a some time, but I enjoy it and I know that they appreciate it.  Sure, they also like to eat deer poop and paper towels, but I like to think that somewhere inside of their brains (or mouths), they register my home baked cookies as slightly more delicious than those things.

This time around I decided to make Honey and Cranberry Oat Cookies for them.  The recipe is modified from the “Honey Dog Cookie” recipe in Cooking with Your Dog by Ingeborg Pils.

You will need:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups oats
2 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 eggs
2/5 cups milk
1/4 cups dried cranberries
Apple Cider Vinegar

Mix flour, oats and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.

IMG_3341

Add two tablespoons of honey
IMG_3344

Allow your dog(s) to clean the honey measuring spoon.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP!

IMG_3346

Add butter (I melted mine because that’s just easier.), eggs and milk!
IMG_3359

(Optional) Add splash of Apple Cider Vinegar.
ACV has plenty of doggie health benefits, my favorite of which is that it is a natural parasite repellent when added to the coat or ingested.   In my opinion, we can’t have enough ACV so into the cookies it goes!

IMG_3361

Mix in dried cranberries
IMG_3365

Don’t look now, you are probably being stared at.
IMG_3368This batter is very sticky!  You can ball it up and make round shaped cookies or shape them with a cookie cutter.  What worked best for me was to get a large glob of the batter and plop it directly onto the cookie sheet and then work the cutter into the batter and remove the excess.
IMG_3372
Bake cookies in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes

IMG_3375

During that time, clean up your kitchen!  Get your spoon clean!
IMG_3385

Get your bowl clean!  Aren’t you glad you have a dog to do all of your cleaning for you?

IMG_3395Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly before feeding to your poor, starving and likely grateful dog.   No judgement if you give one a taste, too!  After all, they do smell amazing.  Enjoy!
IMG_3409

Sign 57 – Getting Mr. Ein over our Biggest Training Challenge

Warning: This post may only be interesting to lovers of Rally Obedience!

Bane of my Existence.

Bane of my Existence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Cynosport Rally Obedience Sign 57.  I underestimated you.  Big time.
“This exercise requires two signs. The team halts at the first exercise sign, at a spot 10-15 feet away from the jump and 4-6 feet offset to either side of the jump upright. The handler leaves the dog in a Sit and walks to the second exercise sign, at a spot 10-15 feet to the other side of the jump upright and directly facing the dog.  At this sign, the handler cues the dog to jump. Points will be deducted if the handler steps towards the jump while cuing the dog. The dog must come over the jump. As the dog is jumping, the handler may turn slightly so that the dog can come to front position but does not move forward towards the dog. The handler then cues the dog to Finish or Forward either Right or Left.”

My dog sport fever all began with my little corgi, Ein, in an agility class in January 2012.  Straight from the beginning we learned jumping.  Ein is okay with jumping.  Right?  RIGHT?  It was the teeter and weave poles that really freaked him out and sapped his enthusiasm for agility.  But jumps?  He’s got that.  Sure.  Sure he does.

Ein and I started trialing in AKC Rally Obedience and (then) APDT Rally Obedience in August 2012.  What a fun year we have had, with plenty of ups and downs, as a green handler and anxious dog.  We have collected up to the Rally Excellent title (AKC) and the ARCH title (WC Rally).  But not the elusive Rally Level 3 title.  And why?  You guessed it.  Sign 57.  (I was mostly worried about the heeling backwards required in the Moving Backup sign.  It has not been an issue.  Not once.)

Due to my inexperience, I never imagined that Sign 57 would be a problem.  It’s a jump, my dog was taught to jump.  Therefore he will jump when I point.  Simple!  Not simple.  (The errors in my thought process are clear to me now.  Not so much back then.)
Two things I failed to consider: This sign is a variation on a Utility Level Obedience exercise.  So: not easy-peasy!  Also, this sign requires more independent work than any other rally sign ( in my opinion.)    Approximately 30 feet of independent work.
Ignorance is bliss: I attempted three Level 3 entries with Ein and received Non-Qualifying scores for every single one. What can I say, I am a “learn from mistakes” type of person.
Ein is great at holding a stay.  He is so splendid that when I left him in a stay and sent him to the jump, he continued to stay.  And stared at me.  Because, much to my naive surprise, he had absolutely no idea what I wanted him to do.  I was shocked and ashamed of myself that I had asked Too Much of my little red dog.

Well, it had to be fixed!  My initial attempt at “training” this was to simulate the exact same set up and ask Ein over and over again to take the jump.  Ridiculous, I know.  It didn’t work.  The next logical step was to get Ein and I closer to one another.  I would leave him half a foot offset from the jump, and position myself – facing him – on the opposite side, about 2 feet from one another.  That worked, but unreliably – yet it has still been my favorite method.  Next attempt was to put a target (we use a can cover) in front of the jump and send him to target that.  That worked okay.  I moved the target to the other side of the jump and Ein would: walk around the jump to target, stare at me, or rarely actually go over the jump for the target.  Everything was Not Working.  We have been struggling with this for months with little to no resolve.

A few weeks ago, Ein performed this sign two different times in a rally-o class.  I was ecstatic.  But then the next week, we were back to square one.  I think about this sign so much.  And the more I think, the more I realize that I would find our solution only by breaking the sign down to its basic fundamentals.

IMG_2659Part 1 – Leave the Dog in a Sit.
You must heel up to the sign.  Your dog must sit.  You leave the dog and the dog must stay.  It seems very simple, but in order to help Ein understand what is being asked of him, something had to change.
Our instructor suggested that instead of saying “Stay” I might say “Wait”, or something different so that Ein knows what is coming.  I like this a lot.  This helps me communicate to Ein “I want you to stay, but you will be asked to jump soon.” versus our normal “Stay.”  Ein has a very reliable “Recall Over Jump” when I leave him directly opposite of me, so telling him “Get Ready.” before asking him to jump in that situation, and only in that situation, should help him learn his new cue word.  “Get Ready” will be exclusive to “Staying Until Jumping.”

einlPart 2 – The Handler Cues the Dog…
Dogs need clear direction when they are being asked to do something.  It only makes sense to consider my own body language and cue Ein in a way that communicates most clearly with him, and takes his personality into consideration.
Without listing everything that I have done wrong, I know that I need to: Say his name.  Say our new cue word loudly and clearly.  Point to the jump in a grand sweeping motion with open hand (or two hands!) and keep my arm(s) raised.  Look at the jump during all of this, not at Ein.

Part 3 – The Dog Must Come Over The Jump. That jump needs to be a Really Good Thing for Ein.  And previously?  It really was not.  Again, a new cue word (bar”) and more concentrated emphasis on the bare bones concept of the jump. (starting at a low jump height is ideal for teaching the basics of a jump, and for building confidence.)
When I taught Ein agility jumps, I was told to wait for him to make the decision to jump, and then throw the reward out in front of him after he took the jump.  So, we revisited: I sat by the jump standard with a bag of yummy treats.  Ein got a treat thrown opposite the jump for: looking at the jump, for taking the jump.  He would initially stare at me.  It did not take him long to realize that that would get him nowhere fast.  Soon he began some glances at the jump.  Jackpot!  I threw the treat opposite the jump with a verbal praise-marker (Ein is afraid of the clicker sound.)  Since I started off sitting by the jump standard, Ein didn’t have the option of running around the jump.

It wasn’t long before Ein realized that he was Getting Food and Being Right and I soon had a corgi who actually wanted to jump.  I had succeeded in making jumps fun again!  We repeated this process with my moving one foot, three feet, and so on away from the jump standard.  Same process with me sitting in back of or in front of the jump.  It took some time, but now I can actually stand rather than sit and tell Ein “Bar!” and he scampers over that jump and smiles at me.   Mission accomplished.

9613473158_d2215da5d9

Part 4 – Front and Finish.
Though I have obviously had issues with underestimating the above three parts of this exercise, I feel confident that this will be our strong area!  Ein is always happy to return to the safety of Me, and by now a Front and Finish are non-issues.  At eight years old and obsessed with Me, Ein is not prone to a zoomie run following the fun of taking a jump.  But hey, I don’t want to jinx us – especially not if we survive the sign to this point!

Sign 57?  You are going DOWN.  

So how about you?  Have you ever had a training challenge that baffled you and your dog?  What did you do about it?  Still working on it?  Please share!

Our Favorite Useful Everyday Cues

Patricia McConnell recently did a short series on her blog where she talked about some of her/her readers’ favorite “non-traditional” cues (which is to say cues that fall outside of the standard litany of sit-down-stay-come.) Her post started a conversation within the Team about the cues we’ve taught that have been the most useful for us in our everyday life-with-dogs. Here are some of our favorites!

Continue reading