Saturday, December 31, 2011


Another deposit in the behavior bank for Mr. Oscar last night.

Last night we hosted a dinner and had a couple come over whom which Oscar has never met before.  They really wanted to see our dogs (God bless them :) ), and we explained the "rules" to them prior to them coming over (Oscar will be crated at first, ignore him when he's in there, then ignore him when he comes out, etc...) and they were more than happy to oblige.

Oscar did his usually woof-woof-woof when they came in, but settled nicely and was actually whining and high-pitch yipping after a few minutes.  Once he was quiet, I let him out, off-leash and he did fantastic.  He went and said "hello" and then proceeded to play with his stuffed Kong toy.  These fantastic people even brought toys over to give him and Fanny (Fanny could have cared less), but what a lovely treat to have such wonderful visitors come over and spend time with us and they pups.  They were soooo incredibly calming for all of us in the house.

As I talked about in my previous post, I did a quick brief with Oscar to let him know about the upcoming events and he seemed to listen and understand.

Good job, Buddy!  Woot-woot!! :)

Friday, December 30, 2011

It's a two-way street

My mind is always racing.  Racing down the street at a speed that is way over the legal limit. Without tooting my own horn too much, this is one characteristic that makes me excel at my 8-5 job.  But, this same characteristic is one of my biggest downfalls when it comes to my relationship with Oscar.  

I am constantly reminding myself to slow down, look both ways, stop for 2-seconds, use my blinker and turn my lights on.  Oh, and don't forget about the parking brake! 

Consciously, I have to remind myself to breathe and not push him or I too much, too fast or too soon.  Instead of going 20+ over the posted speed, I have little signs that I am controlling and making pop up every 50 yards.  These signs read anything from "Wow, good job auto-checked in" to "You're just fine...there's nothing in the bushes." to "We'll get through this ear cleaning together...and there will be beef baby food at the commencement!" to "Thank you for "telling" me that you are uncomfortable; I will take care of it for you."

There have been several posts on this blog about the frustrations Oscar has brought me as an owner, as a dog parent, as a human being.  What I wanted in him as a puppy (and asked for from his breeder) is not what I got.   First and foremost, we wanted a GSD for our family.  We did get that.  Very true.  But, I also wanted a GSD with a good temperament that would allow me to do therapy work with kids.  I did not get that.  Oscar has shotty nerves, a lot of fear-driven reactivity and has a hard time adjusting to new situations.  Do I expect any breeder to be able to predict the future of their dogs?  Nope, but I feel like I was mislead.  The breeder chose him for us and I know enough now that I won't let that happen again...or if it does, it will be with someone I have a better relationship with before considering a puppy from him or her.  

Aaron and I have gotten in to many discussions about this and we have gotten mad, upset at his breeder, gotten upset and frustrated at Oscar, gotten mad at each other, but we realize that getting upset/mad/frustrated will not fix anything.  It is OK to have these feelings, but accepting Oscar for who he is, where he is in his life journey and continuing on together is going to get us all where we need to be.  

All this said, the relationship Aaron and I both share with Oscar should be a two-way street.  Oscar needs to be a willing participant in our journey together.  I'm reminded of Suzanne Clothier's wonderful analogy of our relationship with dogs as a dance.  It takes two partners to dance...and to have the timing, footsteps and harmony just right to feel right doing it.  Two.  Not one.  

This week I've been doing a better job at communicating with Oscar.  I have, literally, been talking to him out loud about my intentions.  "Oscar, we are going to go a short walk together.  I know you don't like walking too much when it is dark outside, but I will take care to make sure nothing bad happens to you or I.  Then, when we get back, we are going to play a really fun fetch game with the frisbee! Sound good?"  If nothing else, he is actually looking at me when I talk to him this way and it is an audible reminder for me what we are going to do...together.  

The journey ahead of us will be exactly how it is supposed to be and my duty is to be a willing participant.  All I ask for in return is for the involvement to be reciprocal.  It's a two-way street.

CU Puppy Book!

Super duper excited about the news that Leslie McDevitt has written a new book about Control Unleashed that is specifically geared towards puppies!  Woot-woot!  It doesn't come out until the end of January, but I am definitely going to order it up and read the pages with eager eyes.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Small Victory

We had a small victory worth celebrating in the Holder house this afternoon.

Today I did the weekly vacuuming to clean up all the white fur all over the floor, in the nooks and crannies, in the cold air returns, on the couches, on the beds, behind the toilet, etc. and it was the first time EVER that Oscar did not bark once at the vacuum cleaner!  Woot-woot!!  Last week before I vacuumed I re-evaluated why Oscar barks at the vacuum monster after I had recently finished reading the BAT book.  I was reminded that he is trying to increase the distance between him and the scary yellow Dyson monster, therefore the previously attempted mark/reward near the vacuum was working against me.  So, I started marking and rewarding him for non-reactive behavior, but used my brain and tossed the food AWAY from the vacuum.  A double-reward, if you will, the food AND what he wants in the first place, increased distance.  DUH!

So, this afternoon when I revealed the yellow monster from the closet, I started to mark and reward for the absence of over-threshold behavior and tossed the treat away from the vacuum.  It took some coordination b/c Fanny always tries to get in on the food action, but we succeeded and, boy-oh-boy did it feel gooooooooood!

That's (1) small victory for Oscar and a step in the right direction! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fanny Pants

My lovely Fanny, at 12-1/2 years of age, in her Christmas gear.
Today I had the pleasure of going home during lunch to take out the furkids.  My husband is usually home during the middle of the day, but today he had a commitment to tend to, so it was my turn to come home and get some fresh air with the puppies.  It has been several weeks since I have had to leave work and it was a nice change.

Per the usual course these days, Fanny had no idea when I got home.  I have made a habit of making louder noises when I get home so that I do not all of a sudden appear and startle her.  Today was no different.  I did my usual routine and she heard something, although she didn't hop off the couch until she saw me appear through the doorway.  Once she did see me, though, her happiness came about and came over wagging.   Shortly thereafter I let Oscar out of his crate and we all headed outside.

As I stood outside today, tossing the frisbee for Mr. Oscar, I paid special attention to my dear, sweet, special Fanny and found myself really connected to her.  I simply watched her move around the backyard, navigating the ground, sniffing for food (rabbit poopies, I'm sure!), and occassionally lifting her head catching an air scent. 

I found myself watching her rear legs a lot.  Fanny has lost a lot of muscle mass in her rear end and legs the past couple of months.  It truly was amazing watching her balance her weight over her back half...she put both rear feet, one in front of the other, directly underneath the middle portion of her back end.  Ever so slighty, she swayed a little bit to each side and then took a step or two and repeated this routine.  It was completely fascinating. 

When I touched her, I noticed every single one of her vertebrae and her hip bones with hardly any muscle covering them.  Instead of being disgusted, though, I felt truly connected to her and her aging process.  I know her time is coming to an end soon...and the day she crosses that rainbow bridge is coming closer than we all want it to be, but she is one dignified, graceful lady.  It is amazing to watch her navigate around her environment, being totally commited to each step with a complete understanding of what she needs to do to move from point A to point B. 

Our morning walks together have turned into complete awareness journies.  I let her sniff all she wants.  I let her go wherever she wants.  I let her pee on every tree.  I know this is what make her happy and I don't want to take that away from her in her remaining life on this earth.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shower Training

I like to preach to my students in class (and to my husband) that the easiest way to train your dogs is to make it part of your everyday routine.  You don't need to dedicate 15-20 minutes non-stop for training (although I encourage people to do this if they want to and can - and if their dog(s) can actually train for that long).  I would much rather work my dogs in 1-2 minutes bursts that fit into my schedule.  Of course I can't find it now, but Suzanne Clothier had a wonderful short article where she asked people the simple question, "Got a minute?" Her point was that people do, in fact, have a minute (60 seconds) to spend with their dog(s) to do these short, fun training sessions.  I could go on forever about how much I love Suzanne, but for now...let's move along, shall we?

Tonight, it was just me and the dogs (Aaron was working late)...I got them all taken care of with their respective exercising, training, feeding, more training (Oscar!) and more indoor exercising (Oscar!).  After all that was done, it was time for me to clean up from a long day of work, so I popped in the shower.  Within 2 minutes, I hear Oscar squeaking his big 'ol cow toy...which actually sounds like a HEEE-HAW donkey...and whatta know, here he comes walking into the bathroom with it in his mouth, accompanied by a fiercely wagging tail.

So, I figured, what the heck...let's play a little game of tuggy while I'm in the shower.  Oscar, of course, loved this and we got in a quick 90 second training session consisting of drop, sit, down, touch and up (where he pops his front feet up on the tub).  BAMMO!  Shower training!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Finished Book - "The Well-Adjusted Dog"

Following up on a previously reviewed DVD, I finished reading one of two books I purchased written by Dr. Nicholas Dodman.  I opted to read The Well-Adjusted Dog first and will likely pick through the other book (Dogs Behaving Badly) here and there.

Dr. Dodman's book is well-written and very informative.  He lays out 7 steps that he believes are the keys to having, well, a well-adjusted canine companion.  These 7 steps are:
- Exercise (specific needs for specific breeds)
- Diet (one that is appropriate for your dog)
- Communication (it's a two way street)
- Physical control (again, the level that is appropriate for your dog)
- Leadership (be your dog's parents)
- Managing Fear (fear-related behaviors are all too common)
- Environmental Enrichment (brain games, appropriate interactions)

Also included in the book is an entire chapter titled "Maladjustment and Medical Matters" where Dr. Dodman talks about reasons why dogs may exhibit undesirable behavior and what can be done to help.  He gives a brief overview of pharmaceutical treatments, natural treatments, which I found helpful and informative.

Eventhough I did not agree with everything he wrote about (he mentions that if a dog does not comply with your request to "sit" when you are offering him dinner that you should withdraw the entire meal until the next meal time.  I don't agree with that...and would rather withdraw the meal for 30 mins. and give the dog another chance, but that's just me), all-in-all it is a wonderful book that I found helpful and think a lot of dog owners would benefit from reading...and it's super cheap on Amazon ($6.00!).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quit While Your Ahead

Today was another one of those days for Laura where I pushed too hard.

We had a lovely house visit this morning at our house with a fellow trainer and Oscar did quite well.  As usual, he barked when the lady came in, but settled in and was let out and we did some work (LAT, U-turns).  He didn't have any reaction after he came out except for a couple barks trying to hurry up the treat machine.  No barking/lunging, etc. when the lady left.  GOOD DOG!

Aaron left shortly thereafter to do some errands and I baked some cookies.  After I was done, I thought that it would be a good idea to take both pups for a car ride to a local college that has a huge outdoor field that rarely is used in the fall/winter.  So, I packed up the dogs in my car with the long lines and headed over.

Per my usual routine, I made sure that the coast was clear where I parked my car and, then, let the dogs out.  Apparently I need some new glasses because there was a woman jogging that I did not see.  Well, Oscar saw her and let me know (i.e. he started barking).  Nothing crazy...more of a "Hey!  There's a person!  And I don't know them!" type of bark.

So, we walked around for about 1/2 hour (yes, it was rather cold - burr!!!), then, Oscar, again, sounded the horns "HEY!  There's another person! Wait, there's two of them!  Why are they walking towards us!?"  I gave him a nice, calm "Thank you, that's enough" and continued walking him and Fanny away from the stranger danger situation and he did a couple more pause and barks.   I wasn't upset with him (although I really would appreciate having a dog who isn't such a spaz about other people!), so just kept on walking.

I needed to get gas on my way home (the warning light was on the whole car trip), so I stopped and fueled up.  There were a couple people at the gas station and I simply C/T him for seeing the people.  No barking out of him except for a little "wuuuf!" at the very beginning.

The car ride home he was fine.  I saw a few of our neighborhood kids playing in their front yard and thought, "OH, I should go do a couple quick repetitions of C/T just for seeing them."  So, I proceeded to walk down the driveway.   Well, of course, that was the EXACT same time our immediate neighbor came out his front door with his beagle.  SO, that was a HUGE failure.  Oscar barked, lunged, barked some more.  HUGE failure on my part.  I smacked myself in the forehead multiple times when I got into the house...GAH!!

When will I learn that I just need to chill out and be happy with small victories?!?!  I should have quit while I was ahead.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What I Mean When I Say "Holistic"

There is a lot of hype around the word "holistic." 

Some people may think of hippies, tree huggers, environmentally-conscious people who drive a Prius. 

Some people may think of "wierd-o's" that do energy healing, reiki, communication with another medium.

Some people may think of expensive groceries from a co-op, people who give up electricity to live more "holistically" with the environment.

Because my blog is name "Holistic Canine," I would like to share with you what I define as the meaning...what "holistic" means to me, Laura Holder, and how the two words "holistic" and "canine" come together in my life.

I use the term "holistic" in the sense of looking at things as a whole...not just one, single element.  How A combines and/or interacts with B and how that, in turn, effects C and so on. 

When I use the term in combination with "canine," I am referring to all the facets that make up what a dog is, what a dog does and what a dog becomes.  Everything is intertwined and interplaying with each other to create whatever the dog is in that given moment in time.  I know, some of you are thinking, "Oh boy, Laura has gone of her rocker, again." 

Well, hear me out. 

Think of all the factors that effect your behavior.
- Weather
- Relationships with friends/family
- Diet
- Bad hair day
- Traffic
- Politics
- Exercise
- Your favorite TV show...

All of these things, on any given day, come together and effect how you act.

This is the same approach I take when I am working with dogs.  What is their exercise routine like?  What is their diet?  How (and when) have they been trained? Do they have any medical problems?  Injuries?  What is their absolute favorite thing(s) to do?  Is their collar too tight?  Is the floor that they refuse to lay down on cold, abrasive?

I truly feel that when we start to look at things holistically, we gain a much better understanding of what it is that drives our dogs (and ourselves).  In turn, relationships begin to grow from a mutual level of respect and communication becomes more fluid.  It's a wonderful snowball effect that I welcome with open arms. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Give me a break, please!

"Give me a break, please!"

These are the words that I'm starting to think Oscar is saying in his head lately.  The past 3 days (Saturday, Sunday and now today) Oscar has had some bark-barks at people and/or dogs on our walks.  Not all people.  Not all dogs.  But enough where I know the release of cortisol has definitely increased in his system making him more on-edge.  Half of these occurrences have happened when we have gotten snuck up on from behind.  I try not to be hypervigilant of the environment to the point that I'm scanning around looking for scary stuff, but it bit us in the ass a few times in the past couple of days.  Time to take a couple steps back in training...again. 

Not that I needed another reason to dislike walking the dogs in the late fall through winter, but there is no doubt in my mind that Oscar is more nervous when we are walking in the dark.  I do what I can to try and help him (walk him with Fanny, get all jolly and sing songs, be quiet and calm) and nothing seems to really help.  I've tried putting his Thundershirt on and walking him, I've tried putting a back pack on him...

He's obsessed with Frisbee and ball in our backyard and back there is a different dog.  He is happy, playful, all loosey goosey.  So, I've tried to take his ball and Frisbee with us on our walks.  That sometimes works, but sometimes it doesn't.  He doesn't completely shutdown or anything.  And it's not like I can't walk him, but lately I've noticed a disconnect between him and I (and I'm sure with my husband when he walks him, although he doesn't seem to notice and/or care).  You would think that I could figure this out.  You would think I could get him comfortable.  Maybe it's his genetic make-up (again) working against me.  I'm a dedicated owner and, once again, I find myself distant from my dog.  It's saddening and frustrating.  The amount of time, energy, money and effort I put in to help Oscar has become lopsided in the past week.

I know we'll work through this as we have in the past, but it's time to give me a break, PLEASE!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Finished DVD Seminar - Cujo Meets Pavlov by Kathy Sdao

Thank you to Tawzer Dogs and their lovely Black Friday Sale which allowed me to purchase Kathy Sdao's Cujo Meets Pavlov DVD for 1/2 price!  (Merry Christmas to me!)

What a fantastic seminar Kathy put(s) on regarding dogs that show fear-based aggression to other dogs and how to treat it using one of the best, scientific-based methods around, that has been used for years, Classical Counter Conditioning.

This was the first opportunity I have had to see Kathy Sdao present material and she is fantastic.  Fun, witty, extremely educated and knowledgeable.  She is a real joy to watch and her passion pours out of her body as she presents.  Her explanation of the different methods of learning theory are simple and easy to understand and her detail description of Classical Counter Conditioning is well laid out and really helped me get a much better grasp on the method.  Specifically the order in which you are supposed to present the unconditioned stimulus and the conditioned stimulus.  

My only regret is that I didn't buy more of her seminars for 1/2 off, but I was on a limited budget last week.  Oh well!

Friday, December 2, 2011


I love Tuesdays and Fridays.  Those are the days that I get to drove of my dear boy, Oscar, at doggy day care.   Not just any doggy day care, but Central Bark Doggy Day Care in Wauwatosa, WI which is 1 of 2 Central Bark facilities owned and operated by Kerry Krienitz, CPDT-KA.

Knowing that the owner/operator of the place he goes to day care has a CPDT-KA makes me extremely happy.  From the little I have interacted with Kerry, I know that she is a very passionate person.  Very much into dogs, has a keen business sense and a desire to help out furry critters and their owners as much as she can.  This is reflected in the kind people she employs at her day care facilities.  The employees there always greet me and, more so, Oscar with a smile and friendly "hello."

Oscar LOVES going to doggy day care.  His entire body wags with joy when he jumps out of the car in the parking lot those two magical days every week.  His body language is absolutely lovely when he greets the handlers and I know he is well taken care of.

Besides the obvious benefits of socialization Oscar receives while at day care, I love knowing that he is in good hands as I am (slaving away) at work.  And, the best part (especially on Fridays!) is that he comes home nice and tired.  Not too tired as he would when coming home from "the other place," but good and fulfilled.  He's still alert, but he's not exhausted.  This is good.  Very good.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Queen of Diets

It's embarrassing.  How have I failed to write a post about one of the most helpful people that has been working with Oscar over the past 7 months?  Shame on me! 

Many people in the dog world, specifically the dog nutrition world, have heard of Monica Segal.  She is an extremely well known canine nutritionist from Canada who has written a few books, several booklets, has one of the best Yahoo! groups, sells top-quality supplements and offers canine diet formulations from puppy through adult.

I came across Monica Segal on a GSD forum I am on when several people recommended her books and services when I was posting about how frustrated I was with Oscar's reoccuring GI problems.  One thing led to another and I found myself hitting the "Add to Cart" button her website for a 2-month Adult Dog Consultation at the tune of $275.00. 

It was the best $275.00 I have ever spent on one of my dogs and I knew it 2 weeks into working one-on-one with Monica.  This woman is driven...passionate would be an understatement.  Monica lives and breathes canine nutrition out of every pore of her body and is one of the most responsive, professional and caring people I have ever met.  And I'm not talking just in the dog profession.  I'm talking about in my entire life.

The support she has offered has been nothing short of amazing.  Oscar has turned out to be one of her toughest cases, therefore she has coined herself "Auntie Monica" to my special boy. 

What astounds me the most is that she is so incredibly personal with her approach and her commitment to her clients is insane.  She has helped Oscar go from a 57 pound skinny wienie to a 66 pound adolescent who has never had better stools, never had a softer coat and has no problems devouring his diet. 

Monica, if you ever get the time to read this post...know that you are a very special woman who I am honored to be working with.  I can only hope that you have inspired more people to get into your profession so that when the day comes when you retire (which will be the day your pass on, if I know you!) that dogs can continue to grow, thrive and survive with diets that they need.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Moments of Maturity

Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed Oscar has started to be better at settling down in the house.  He still has his moments of craziness where he hauls ass around the house with a tuggy toy in his mouth, but he is learning to actually lay down at my side as his food is marinating (as the digestive enzymes are doing their thang).  More and more at night he puts himself to bed in his crate, which is always available to him with the door open, and it truly is great to own a dog that does, indeed, enjoy his crate.  Fanny never liked having a crate and only goes in Oscar's if it's thundering outside.

I enjoy these glimpses of maturity from my dear boy.  Perhaps it is a sign that his brain is starting to slow down and process information better and, as many of us know, if you change behaviors - emotions will soon follow.  I don't know if these moments of maturity (settling) are the effect of the fluoxetine or not, but I'm sure the medication has helped him and will continue to do so.

Speaking of which, the past week or so when Oscar has run and jumped on the fence to see the neighbor dog, there has been no barking/jump lunging.  Sure, he's run over at full speed and jumped up on the fence, but that used to be followed with this weird bunny hop and high-pitched bark bark from him.  Not lately and that's a good thing. 

The emotional rollercoaster that Oscar has is quite the ride to sit through.  He has moments of pure and utter brilliance and he has moments of complete butthead behavior.  That said, I see the scale started to become unbalanced in favor of the former.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Finished Book: "Getting a Grip on Aggression Cases" by Nicole Wilde

Have you heard of Nicole Wilde?  If you haven't and you are in the dog training/consulting business I would be very surpised.  I almost felt ashamed of myself that I hadn't read any of her material before this week.

Nicole Wilde is, "...a Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in behavior issues. She is the recipient of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers’ prestigious Ian Dunbar Member of the Year Award for 2006..."

Enough said right there.

I read her book "Getting a Grip on Aggression Cases" to learn a bit more about dog aggression (reactivity) in general and her book surprised me in that it was a comprehensive guide how a professional dog trainer should deal with aggression cases.  It wasn't exactly what I was looking for when I downloaded the eBook, but it was fascinating and I had several "AH HA!" moments while reading through the pages.

Highly recommend, especially to my colleagues who deal with reactive and/or aggressive dogs.  Great read!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Triple D's (Dodman, Dunbar, Donaldson)

A must watch DVD for any D.B.N.
Recently I have taken my D.B.N. efforts to a new height, courtesy of Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Dr. Ian Dunbar and Jean Donaldson.  I have been fortunate enough to connect with a few trainers in the Milwaukee area who are really progressive and knowledgeable with their dog training and behavior education.  Because of this, they have great resources and, luckily, love sharing their knowledge.

That said, over the past two weeks I have gotten the opportunity to watch a few recorded seminars of Dr. Nicholas Dodman talking about various types of dog behavior and medical causes and treatments. Another recording I watched over the weekend was "Fighting Dominance in a Dog Whispering World" where Jean Donaldson and Ian Dunbar were speaking of the whole dominance "thing."  I'm not even going to attempt to summarize what their speakings contained, but I sat there...on my couch...soaking up their knowledge like a deprived dry sponge.  What they had to say was fascinating...and a lot of it was geared more towards professional trainers, which we all know someday I will be.  Now is just not the time. 

Moving on.  After viewing these articles of interest, I quickly ordered up Dr. Dodman's books, The Well Adjusted Dog and Dogs Behaving Badly and cannot wait to get them in the mail (WHY, oh why, is it taking so long to get to my house!).

Monday, November 14, 2011

Finished Book: Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression in Dogs) by Grisha Stewart

Wowsers.  What an absolute lovely read.  I really, really love Grisha Stewart's book about BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training) and finally finished tonight.

I am soon becoming a huge fan of this method of training because it uses functional rewards.  Meaning that you use something that the dog wants in the first place as the reward for appropriate behavior...kind of like the Premack Principle.  Furthermore, I love the fact that this method of training actually teaches dogs (especially those that are reactive) a new set of skills to help them cope with their stresses by shaping.

For reactive dogs, in a very small nutshell, BAT focuses on presenting the dog with one of it's triggers at a distance far enough away that he remains under threshold, but close enough that he notices the trigger and you wait for the dog to offer any type of "calming signal" (lip lick, head turn, sniffing the ground, yawn, shake off, etc.) and then immediately give a verbal marker and, in the case of a reactive dog, you move with the dog away from the trigger because that's what the dog wants when he usually goes over threshold (barks, lunges, growls, etc.)...he is trying to increase distance between him and the trigger.  It's a brilliant concept and I have used it with Oscar a bunch of times on walks and in one set-up and the progress he made was really promising.

I love working with the dog and helping him learn new behaviors to calm himself down.

Grisha's book is definitely worth adding to the library of dog books if you are interested in learning about the newest dog training methods.  I think we'll be hearing and seeing a lot from BAT in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

CU Soon!

I am so super duper pumped to post about this!  It's official, I will be instructing a Control Unleashed class for BehaviorWorks starting next month.  I am super pumped to be able to take my knowledge (thanks to Leslie McDevitt and Oscar's previous class) and share it to more people that have dogs who struggle with focus and control to various environmental stimuli.

The class will start the first week in December ... and it will soon be publicized on BehaviorWorks' website.  (BTW, I helped design and launch their new website)

Stay tuned for a new journey.  One that is about me instructing people about how to better understand and grow with their doggies using Leslie's wonderful book as a guide.

That's all for now! :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

You Gotta Do What Ya Gotta Do

In many ways my dear Oscar is the perfect dog.  He always has a wagging tail, is always up for a game of fetch or Frisbee and loves to be involved with whatever my husband and I are doing in and around the house.  I love his wagging tail and body and the soft eyes he looks at me so lovingly with.  It makes my heart melt.  He is such a different and unique dog from my sweetheart, Fanny, and I love him for that. 

True to his canine nature, Oscar loves to chase small furry critters (even a white bag when lure coursing), devours his food at meal time, enjoys his human and canine companionship in our pack and likes to lick his nether regions.  These are all behaviors that I encourage him to's what makes him a dog.  He is not a human and I do not expect him to sit back, with his legs crossed talking about current events. 

Also honest to his hard wiring, he sees the world in two very black and white perspectives.  Scary and Safe.  Unfortunately for Oscar, he thinks a lot of the world he lives in is scary.  Plain and simple.  Because of this, he lives the majority of his life in a state of anxiety...chronic stress.  Sudden environmental changes startle him, whether it's a noise or a person suddenly coming into view out our front door, and cause him to jump up from a relaxing down...tail curled up over his back, eyes and head flying around, piloerect and woof-woof-woofing.  While I expect a dog to be reactive, I know there is something deeper going on with Oscar that makes him so hyper vigilant. 

The more reading and educating I do, the more I am of the belief that a dog's temperament is a combination of his genetic make-up (nature) and environment (nurture).  Therefore, I am the first to admit that his reactivity and general anxiety is partially due to his daily living situation.  The other part is just who he is...from his momma and papa's genetic make-up.  Oscar is Oscar.  He is exactly who he is supposed to be and handles every situation in life the best way he knows how to.

It has been over a year since I noticed Oscar beginning to become a rather reactive dog and there are multiple things that my husband and I have tried to help him gain confidence.  Are we perfect in our attempts?  Absolutely not.  Have we tried to help in the best capacity that we could manage.  Hell yes we have.  We have done classical counter conditioning and desensitization helping him pair "scary" stuff with "yummy" and "good" stuff.  We have adjusted our social life to prevent people from coming over because it is too stressful for Oscar.  We have adjusted our goals with what we wanted to do with Oscar.  I wanted to do therapy work with him and realized several months ago that it is very unlikely that will happen.  I'm not upset about that, it's part of the journey Oscar and I are on together.  Damn me if I am going to force him into something that he doesn't feel comfortable doing...that is why we pulled out of group agility classes too...he was too stressed with the other dog(s) in class.

There are several things we have tried to help take the edge off of Oscar's general anxiety.  I don't know specifically what order they were tried in anymore, but they include plug-in DAP pheremone diffusers, the Thundershirt, Ttouch, massages, flower essences, essential oils, herbal remedies, speaking with an animal communicator and having energy work done with him.  I gave each one of these a decent testing period...some things didn't work from the get go (herbal remedies gave him diarrhea)...some seemed to work a little bit (Ttouch and massage).  With all of these treatments, I wasn't hoping for a miracle...just a significant enough of an improvement to help Oscar truly relax, take a deep breath and be a dog and enjoy life without being so anxious. 

Recently I borrowed a wonderful set of DVD's from a seminar given by Dr. Ian Dunbar and Dr. Nicholas Dodman that discussed fear aggression, anxiety and medical causes and treatments for various canine problems.  My hubby actually watched a good majority of the DVD's with me, which was shocking.  Usually he is off doing his "man stuff" when I am entrenching myself in dog nerd stuff, but not this time and boy-oh-boy and I thankful for that.  What we both discovered (together!) through watching these DVD's is that we have done a pretty good job trying to help Oscar get past his fears and anxieties.  These DVD's coupled with the experienced advise from our wonderful private trainer Aaron and I both learned (again, together!) that it is probably time to turn to prescribed medication to really help Oscar. 

We owe it to Oscar to continue helping him in the best way we know how.  Anything else would be a disservice to him and his quality of life.  After doing a lot of talking back and forth, I picked up the phone and called our holistic vet on Monday morning and explained to him that the most recent methods we have been trying are falling short and it was time to consider the next step.  He did some checking and researching and called back on Wednesday and recommended that we try Oscar out on fluoxetine (Prozac).  I have to admit when I heard Prozac, part of my stomach hit the floor...for some reason I felt a moment of failure that I was considering putting my dog on Prozac. 

Those feelings were soon extinguished when I did some quick reading up on exactly what fluoxetine is and how it functions.  When I realized that fluoxetine is not a sedative, I was much more on board with giving it a try than before.  A lot of what I read about other people using it seems to be quite positive and I'm hoping (and praying) that this will help Oscar out by chemically allowing him to learn better behaviors.  I realize that it takes a number of weeks before an evaluation of effectiveness should be measured and I'm willing to see what happens. 

Of course, as urged to by my vet, if Oscar shows any sign of side effects I should call him immediately and we'll talk about another treatment, but for now...I'm hoping that this may be the last piece of the puzzle to help Oscar enjoy a life with less stress and anxiety.

(There is an absolutely wonderful and informative article written by Mary Straus here. that I encourage everyone to read when they have time.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Focus & Control; Class 8 (Graduation!)

Great accomplishment, Horrible picture
We did it!! Woot-woot!!  I feel  like busting out my old Jock Jams CD from middle school to celebrate!

Oscar and I completed our last class of Focus and Control last night and, boy-oh-boy, did that little man make me proud.  He has come such a long way since our first class and he, once again, proved to me that he is capable of being a fantastic doggy.

Our last class consisted of more box work and he did great.  We were next to Nala (I think that's her name, right Cheri?) a sweet, brown Aussie and they did fabulous next to each other.  A couple times during our box work, Oscar actually offered some interest seeking behaviors (air sniffs with ears back and low, slow tail wags).  I just stood back and watched him offer these as I definitely did not want to correct polite behavior.  He auto-checked back in with me and off we went having more fun.  Who knew a box could be so much fun?! 

The next activity we did was a game I knew quite well...the infamous Car Crash Game.  I won't spoil the fun for those of you who don't know what it is, but those that do (Eric!)...Oscar did awesome!  Cheri did a fantastic job setting up the dogs in teams to minimize any, Oscar, of course got to be with all the ladies and did fabulous.  He wasn't giving me 100% attention, but I didn't want it.  I wanted him to check out the environment as we went through the exercise and I marked and rewarded auto check-ins and any nice LAT behaviors.

Class ended with a lovely (and silly, which I LOVE!) graduation.  The training assistant put on that one song that is synonymous with the graduation commencement ceremonies...and each dog and handler team got called up to receive their diploma!  Oscar did great and got a WOOT-WOOT! from some of his classmates. 

I cannot say enough how proud I am of my little white fluffy butt.  8 weeks ago he was the class terror and last night at class he didn't even make a peep and was comfortable...laying on his mat, wagging his tail and had nice soft eyes.  Ooooooooooh, how I love to see those soft eyes.

Who knows what is going to be next on our training agenda...CGC class?  Rally?  For now, Oscar and I will sit back, relax through the holidays and enjoy all we have accomplished together.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Focus and Control; Class 7

Last night was our second to last class for Focus & Control and it was another good one. 

I'm proud to report that Oscar did not have any reactivity problems with his nemesis, Major, and did very well overall.  There were a few times when he did a couple bark-barks, but he recovered very quickly.

We continued to do box work exercises and the fabulous instructor brought in one of her dogs to walk around while we all played LAT and "Incoming!" games.  Oscar did great.  We were next to Sophie, a 5 year old Shar Pei mix who is such a little spit fire...totally cute and full of energy.  I kept Oscar on leash the whole time we were doing box work, but "accidentally" dropped the leash a few times and he did just fine.  Woot-woot!

After box work, we moved onto more mat games.  Oscar did quite well...he was definitely distracted and I had to use a food lure to get him to work, but no reactivity what-so-ever.

I've noticed a shift in his behavior the past couple of classes in that he is actually relaxed enough to lay down on his mat in class.  Reflecting back to the first night of class, he couldn't even lay down with a food lure he was so stressed. 

Watching his transformation has been such a delight and I know he will continue to get better and we will continue on our life journey together.

One more week!  Eek!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

10 Things

Oscar and his Babble Ball...
This evening after I arrived home from work, I immediately got a sense of calm and happiness as I opened the door to go into the house.  What gave me that feeling is simple.  My dogs (and with all due respect, my husband usually does too, but he wasn't home at the time and this is a dog blog after all).

I realized that a lot of times I focus on things that I want from my dogs to make them better (whatever that means, right?!) and that is just plain old silly.  Dogs are dogs and they are supposed to behave as such.  I am as guilty as the next person for wanting my dogs to be "perfect." 

So, as I enter this post, it's all about 10 things I love and appreciate about my dogs, Ms. Fanny Pants and Mr. Oscar the Grouch, both individually and as a combined canine crew.

Without further adieu.......

1.) They are unconditional with their love.  I have never, ever come home to them and seen them without a wagging tail and utmost joy to see me.
2.) Fanny is an incredibly distinguished, independent woman.  She quietly reminds me that it is A-OK to be a strong soul.
3.) Oscar is a total and sincere goofball and lives life to the every moment.  He, too, reminds me that it is necessary to be silly and get silly often.
4.) Both have taught me to live in the moment...or at least try to live in the moment.
5.) Fanny and Oscar have never gotten in a squabble with each other.  They get along fantastically well and I could not ask for anything else between them.
6.) They share the same passion for food that I have.  We all love to eat and that's a goooood thing.
7.) Dogs will be dogs.  Meaning...they will bark, they will chase things, they want to smell  other dogs' excretions (and sometimes lick or roll in them!).
8.) They don't want baths...or their nails trimmed, but God bless them both - they tolerate them.
9.) Oscar has been quite the challenge, but that is exactly why I love him.  I need him to keep me on my toes.
10.) Fanny, too, has been quite the dog, but she is such a sensitive soul that has taught me that with unconditional love and hard work, things can and will change.

I love you my two white fluffies...this one's for you.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Focus & Control; Class 6

Class 6 of 8 is in the books.  Oscar did well overall, although he had a few little snarky moments.  He continues to amaze me with his fabulous recovery time...I've said this in the past, but last night was another reminder how wonderful he really is. 

We started off with some more box work and all of the dogs were put into their designated spots.  Oscar and I were the last to enter, but before we went in, we walked up and down and played LAT and stopped a couple of times to do some hand targeting.   Oscar did fantastic when we were moving around outside the box.  Everyone else took a turn doing the same thing we did outside their respective boxes and the only time Oscar got all poopy was when his nemesis, Major, was walking around outside our box.  Too long of eye contact without timely interuption is what caused it.  I knew it and could have prevented it, but I want Oscar to learn on his own that he has other choices...he has the choice to turn and look away from scary stuff...or at the least not react. 

Continuing on for the rest of class we did some fun mat work games with 2 mats and a chair, then with 1 mat and 2 chairs.  Oscar really enjoyed the games and it helped him get comfortable working in close proximity to other dogs.  He was being such a goofball jumping up on the chair like a circus animal. 

So, overall the class was a success.   Oscar had a little bark-bark at some people on our way home that were waiting at a bus stop...I'm finding that he is more reactive to "things" in the dark, but he was like that last year and so far this year he hasn't been as spooked by things. 

2 more classes to go and it will be a bittersweet end.  I really like being able to work him in a classroom setting where there are other dogs and people working in a structured environment (and I love his instructors!), but I won't mind having my Monday nights back (hello, Dancing With the Stars is on!).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Finished Book: "Animals in Translation" by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

Animals in Translation 
It's been a while since I actually finished reading a dog-related book and I have to say that it feels good to finally have another one done.

The weekend wasn't overly busy which afforded me the time to finished Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson's wonderful book, Animals in Translation.  What a unique, lovely read about animal behavior (and not just dogs, but cattle, horses, cats and birds!).

A brief overview of the book:
Temple Grandin is a high-functioning autistic with a doctorate degree who's life work revolves around her ability to see and read animals.  Her unique perspective stems from the fact that autistic humans are similar to animals in that they both see the world in pictures, not language.

I found the book to be a very delightful read and found myself on countless occasions saying, "Wow.  That totally makes sense!  She really gets it!"  Temple's writing style is often times witty and straight to the point, which I can sincerely appreciate...she writes the way she sees the world, in pictures, with straight-to-the-point sentences.

This is one of those rare books that I would actually recommend to any one of my friends, not just those who own dogs, cats, etc.  The information Temple puts onto the pages crosses the board for all people to read, enjoy and learn about.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Focus & Control; Class 5 (We NAILED it!)

Last night was class #5 of Focus and Control and I couldn't be happier to report that Oscar (and I!) nailed it!  He did AWESOME and made me so incredibly proud!!!

We got there and there were a few dogs already in the room and two of them started barking their heads off at Oscar and I, but we skated by without any problems what-so-ever!  100% of my attention was on Oscar and "listening" to turn he communicated beautifully with me and told me exactly what he wanted and was comfortable doing.

The new things we worked on were:
1.) Box work with increased distractions (people running by, people bouncing tennis balls, a new dog walking by)
2.) "There's a dog in your face!" (the instructor had her bombproof dog and walked him up to us - about 8-10 feet away as we practiced saying "Incoming!" and shoving treats in our dogs mouth)
3.) Go to place (we worked this with all the dogs at the same time - spread around the room - and introduced an object (a chair) that we sent our dogs around and onto the mat.)

Oscar did wonderful and I dang well know that he will have reactive episodes in the future, but he is definitely learning how to cope better with things.  That-a-boy! :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Focus & Control; Class 4 (Husband Saves the Day)

Well, week 2 of my husband flying solo in class, bless his soul, because I had to attend a work function that I found out about earlier in the day (gotta love last minute schedule changes).

I'm not exactly sure what our take home work will be, but from what it sounds like they did some active attention exercises much like Leslie McDevitt does when one dog is working in his/her own box and other dogs are sitting/laying on their mats around the ring.  Oscar did quite well and only got into trouble when the doofus dog, "Coach" had a stare off.  After class, the instructor said that it was all the other dog who initiated the naughty dog behavior.

Overall, Oscar did very well...he still had a reaction, which I was not thrilled to hear...I WANT BORING for the boy and other owners' lack of understanding proper canine behavior (DUH!  Don't allow your dog to stare down another dog!  Even in human language staring isn't polite!).

Next week I will be there, with bells and whistles on, to take Oscar and be there with him.  He's had some habituation now and I think he is progressing.  Maybe I'm being too hard on him and asking too much of him not to have a reactive spat, but I'm also not upset with him for being who he is...a dog...and acting like one if the situation deems appropriate (like getting stared at, or chasing a squirrel, or getting super duper excited at dinner time).

...the quest for boring continues...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Focus & Control; Class 3 (I love my husband)

This post is a little late...a week to be I was on vacation last week and my husband took Oscar to class all by himself (bless his little heart).

Night 3 of Oscar's Focus & Control class went off without a hitch.  Remembering an earlier blog post I had talking about the quest for boring...well, that is exactly what happened on night 3 of class.  Figures!  I was off in California on vacation and my husband flew solo to class and Oscar was a perfect student.  Gosh golly.

So, while I don't have a detail explanation of what happened at class, here are the new exercises that were introduced...

1.) "LOOK at THAT!" (a.k.a. "LAT")
2.) Crate Rules
3.) Start Line Stays
4.) Go to Place

All of these exercises were, basically, taken right out of Leslie McDevitt's fabulous book, "Control Unleashed" so if there was any week were I should have missed class it would have been this one. 

I can't help but think that Oscar's behavior was a direct reflection on my husband's.  He tends to run with such a calm and cool temperament and Oscar knows this.  I'm the one who's wired...constantly moving...needing to do more, more, more. 

Perhaps I should leave town more often or have Aaron take over all the dog training! :)

...and the results are...

After taking a week off for a much needed vacation, here I am back at my blog.

I was happily surprised when I received the results for Oscar's blood work from Dr. Jean Dodd's the Friday before I left on my trip.  His blood work came back 100% perfect.  No problems with his thyroid, no problems with his CBC or differental.  Perfect. 

While I was extremely happy that he had stellar results, part of my shed a tear that his slow weight gain was not chalked up to having something wrong with his thyroid.  Oh well, I'll take it and continue to cook for the little monster.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Twidling My Thumbs

Monday seems like forever ago. 

That is when Oscar's blood was drawn.  That's when it was sent, via 2-day courier to Dr. Jean Dodd's in California.  I keep checking my email...hoping to see the email with the test results.  "Congratulations, you have a dog that is 100% healthy!" is what I know it's going to say, but there is still a part of me, secretly, that is hoping there is something "wrong" with him that will explain his inability to gain weight while eating almost 2400 calories of food per day. 

So, here I sit, at work...thankfully with an internet connection...refreshing my email inbox every 10 minutes.  Hoping, waiting, twiddling my thumbs....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Focus & Control; Class 2 (Holy Trigger Stacking, Batman!)

Let's start this thread with a little story about our day yesterday...

Has anyone reading this heard of trigger stacking?  Well, if you have, then yesterday - as a whole - was Oscar's version of a perfect storm. 

It all started off with the rain yesterday morning.  Oscar has a problem with rain...I don't know why, but he just does.  He doesn't like to walk in it, doesn't like to walk in puddles, sometimes refuses to go out of a building if it's raining.  It's perplexing b/c he LOVES the hose and doggy pools, but I appreciate it for what it is; one of his many quirks. 

Anyway, so it started with the rain.  On top of the rain, he had a vet appointment yesterday morning to have blood withdrawn.  He was an angel in the car the whole trip, although each time the windsheild wipers went on, he gave me "the look" like, "Really, you HAVE to use those things?"  Once we got ot the vet, I had him wait in the car as I went in to scope out the environment...there was a guy who walked by the car with a beagle in his arms and Oscar didn't make a peep, so I was feeling pretty good that we would get in and out without any problems.  I had kindly asked the vet staff that I wanted to bring him in only if/when a room was ready so we wouldn't have to sit in the waiting room, which is rather stressful for, when a room was ready, I brought him in.  Well, apparently I speak a foreign language because one of the staff was just standing there staring at him when I came in, which made him go berko!  Bark-bark-bark, lunge-lunge-lunge.  I kept him moving and we got into the room without too much drama...

The vet came into the room and he barked at him, eventhough the last time we were there he was totally fine with him.  UGH!  He took treats from the vet and did a couple more barks and when I had to restrain him for the blood draw, he was not happy, but willing to comply.  I felt so bad for him, but I didn't coddle him.  I continued to tell him, "Oh, silly Oscar...I don't like blood shots either...tee heee!  We're almost done...I hate mornings too..."  All-in-all he did OK.  Could have definitely done without the stupid lady staring at him though.  What is wrong with people!  BLARGH!

Fast forward to our evening walk and I thought it would be a good idea to walk around the block and see if a dog that Fanny likes was tied out, like normal, so I could do some BAT with a decoy dog.  Well, that backfired in my face.  Sure, the dog was out, but what I never realized before is that this dog SUCKS at giving calming signals.  So, there I was with my adolescent butthead male dog in a staring contest with this adult male dog (intact, BTW) and they had quite the barkfest.  If someone would have handed me a rubber mallet I would have beaten my head into my neck right then and there.

So, on top of these three events, off to Focus and Control class we go...

Lastnight was the second class in the installment of Focus and Control and, well, Oscar didn't do so hot at the beginning because of the shitty day he had been having.

The new "stuff" we worked on in class last night:

1.) Leave It
2.) Whiplash Turns
3.) Targeting

We started off class by doing mat work...well, Oscar wasn't having that (AGAIN!), so we did a little awareness walking as all the other 5 dogs/people did mat work.  He did quite well with auto check-ins. 

After that, we moved onto box work where the instructor put all of us into designated spots.  Last week we were at the end of the line so we only had one person and dog on one side.  Last night the instructor put us inbetween two dogs (BOTH males with male handlers) and we started to do auto check-ins while the dogs were on leash.  Oscar did good, not great, but not bad where I was concerned.  We progressed to unclipping the leash and that's when the shit hit the fan.  Oscar and one of the neighbor dogs saw each other and went to sniff...Oscar's language was good - as was the other dog's - and then something happened (shame on me for not noticing) and he and the other dog went bezerko.  I got him back rather quickly and we tried again.  I got a couple of auto check-ins then he noticed the other dog - on the other side- and just started barking at him.

It was obvious that Oscar was in over his head so we had him move to the end of the class again and resume working.  He did much better there, but I felt like an idiot for having put him through that.  NOT what he needed. 

The good news is that this was at the beginning of class and his recovery time was wonderful.  We did more stationary exercises after that and Oscar shined like an A+ student.  Eye contact with distraction, leave-it, targeting...all things Oscar knows quite well.   So, that was good, good, good!

Oscar ended the class on a high note.  He was very comfortable with the instructor to let her come up and pet him and gave her a couple of hand targets.  We all walked out of class together and Oscar didn't have a single problem with the other dogs moving about with their humans. 

Aaron will be flying solo with him next week as I'm off on vacation.  I'll be thinking of them dearly and hoping that they have a wonderful connection and trust one another to get through class without any hiccups.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bring on the Boring

I'm becoming an absolute junkie when it comes to dog forums, social media, this blog (!) and all things dog.  Bless my husband for putting up with an insane woman to begin with, let alone an insane dog lady.  I love him dearly and often times forget to tell him that I do because I'm too busy managing the other man in my life, Oscar.

One of the pure joys of being connected and having the internet at my becking call is that I have the ability to learn all the time.  There are people sharing all sorts of information - about their life, the lunch they just ate and, of course, dog-related "stuff."

There is a lovely article I found (via a link on a friend's Facebook page) about a trainer's quest for boring.  It's is wonderfully written and every sentence I read, I found myself shaking my head in agreeance and smiling wider and wider.

A nice, boring, impulse control "game" of "leave-it," "take it."
Life with a reactive dog is hard and what we strive for - a boring walk, a boring "welcome" when people come over to the house, a boring car ride - doesn't come easy.  Working with the dog and with their comfort zone, which can change day to day, isn't any easy task for someone like me...someone who wants instant results...who gets paid to turn projects around quickly at work.  I like to think that I am becoming a better dog owner with each day, each week, each month, each year that passes...yet someone/thing always throws me a curve ball to keep me on my toes.  To them I say, "Bring on the boring! Even if it's for just one day."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Focus & Control; Class 1

Tonight was our first night at the Focus & Control class that Oscar and I have signed up for.  The class will run 8 weeks and going into tonight's class I was a little skeptical about what we would be doing.

Well, much to my delight, our first night was fantastic....we talked about each of the dogs and owners at the beginning and why we were all in class and, well, Oscar decided to make his presence known (i.e. have a barking fest) a couple of times, but he settled down after about 15-20 minutes.

The first night of class was based around a couple of concepts...

1.) Massage / TTouch
2.) Awareness walks
3.) Passive attention exercises (auto check-in)
4.) Default behavior

Oscar was not having it when we tried to do the massage/TTouch.  That was no surprise to this girl...he didn''t want to enjoy "relaxing" when he could be scanning all the ongoings in the classroom.  So, while I tried my best to stay calm, breathe and syncronize - it just wasn't happening.

On to the awareness walks.  Everyone in class took a turn and basically walked their dog down and back in the room and were instructed to stop in their tracks if/when their dogs went off to sniff stuff.  We were told to simply wait until the pups reorientated to us and mark and reward that.  Oscar was pretty dang good at this - we (well at least I) do this all the time on our walks.

For the last two exercises, we each went into our own gated off area.  We were all told to put a handful of treats on the ground while we unclipped the leash, then take one or two steps away.  When our pups reorientated to us, we were to mark and reward, then move another few steps.  Oscar did quite well with the auto check in.  I do this around the yard and in the house quite often (although I'm going to ramp it up now) we were very familiar with that exercise.

Last we built on the above by waiting for the dog to not only reorientate, but offer a default behavior (sit or a down) and mark and reward that.  We were then told to release them, then move a couple of steps and mark and reward for the default behavior.  Oscar, again, did quite well with this.  He was being quite silly and kept going and laying down on his leash that I left on the floor.  Silly puppy.

I'm really looking forward to progressing with my classmates.  The instructors were very understanding and told everyone that each individual dog will be progressing at different paces and will be working on different things.   I can't wait for our next class! :)

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Tasmanian Dog!

First off, let me preface this by saying that I am not against allowing dogs on furniture.  While I would love to cuddle on the couch and in bed with my fur babies, I have raised them to stay off of the furniture if there is already a human being claiming the space.  I've done this so they don't just assume that they can hop up on the cushy couch or bed onto our guests and it has been a blessing...Oscar and Fanny are truly well behaved dogs when guests come over.  

On to the good stuff....

In recent weeks Aaron and I have given Oscar the go-ahead to jump up on our own bed when we are getting ready for work or just hanging out around the house.  Now, some of you who know me well might ask, "Why the sudden change in your anal-retentive, control-freak behavior, Laura?!"  Well, I figured why not?!  Why shouldn't he be allowed to be up there?  I would want to be up there if I were a dog and as long as he doesn't destroy our bed, who gives a rip?

You see, Oscar has a split personality.  He is part GSD, yes he is, but his is also part Tasmanian Dog.  Sporadically between 7am - 9pm this "other thing" comes out to play and "It" is crazy.   You better watch your back and always have your knees bent because "It" will come flying out of nowhere, without any regard to what you are doing, where you are going or what you are wearing and let you know that he has arrived.

The prime time for this creature is in the morning, when it starts flying around the house, hitting its tiny ass on doorways, wiping out on the dog beds scattered about and "It" hits his sweet spot when it launches up onto my freshly made bed.  On the bed, this thing proceeds to spin around like an F5 tornado while bucking around like a wild stallion that is looking for a mate.  "It" is very entertaining to watch, hilarious enough to make your stomach hurt from laughing so hard.  Like a real tornado, however, my hubby and I often times just sit and watch this natural wonder thrive on our fine piece of furniture.

At some point, mid-spaz out, "It" freezes (in a crazied-eye play bow, of course) and waits for our counter offer.  If we don't respond fast enough, or the "right" way - off "It" goes again to another path of distruction...a different part of the house will become the next victim.  Fanny has occassionally been an innocent bystandard...getting clipped and losing her footing, but she's a well seasoned veteran and takes it all in stride.  She's smart.  Very smart.  She can predict this natural wonder before it starts and will disappear to the corner of the house that is safe; her own tornado shelter.  She still watches, but she knows she won't be harmed and waits for it to pass.

My human logic to all of this?  Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!!!  So, on rare occassions, there will be a duo of fury running about the house on 67th Street at 7am in the morning.  The weird skin-creature (that's me for those who aren't following!) will sometimes get down on its hands and knees and do some weird impression of a play-bow and man-oh-man does the Tasmanian Dog like that!  Off he goes...zooming around the hardwood floors again...and, ultimately, up onto the bed.  There is where we both come off this high together...breathing deeply, looking at each times the T-Dog gives me the look...egging me on for more, but I just look away, yawn and lick my lips.  If I had a tail, I would wag it nice and low, slow and steady.  A job well done by both human and canine.  Together we "destroyed" the seriousness in Casa de Holder.  Together we let time freeze and were free to be whatever we wanted, wherever we wanted.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Today is a nice, crisp Fall-like day here in Wisconsin...the perfect weather for taking Oscar out to do some BAT work at a nearby park.  I met up with a woman and her cute-as-a-button Corgi, Tinkerbelle, and had a really good BAT session working Oscar.  He was a little A.D.D. at the onset (in all fairness we were in a completely new environment with all those new interesting smells that must be attended to!), so he didn't even realize that there was another dog.  After a while he came back down to earth and we did some great work.  Tinkerbelle was a fantastic decoy dog - she was very attentive to her owner, which took a lot of pressure off Oscar and we did about 5 minutes of actual BAT. 

After a while we did some parallel walking and Oscar was all over the place sniffing his nose the left, forward, halt, to the right..."Oh, what's that!  It needs to be peed on!"  He did go over threshold twice, but it was only a couple bark-barks and he recovered almost instantly.  He is such a good boy in that way - he doesn't hold a grudge and usually moves on with little effort, well except with Garfunkel from agility, but that's over now.

I looked like the worse dog trainer in the world today when it came to having a dog that knew how to walk nicely on a loose leash, but that was excusable because my little white monster did wonderful all things considered.  Towards the end of the session we stopped and chatted for a little while and were about 10 yards away from the lady and Tinkerbelle; Oscar could have cared less at that point.  At the end of our session we all walked together back towards my car and he was a perfect gentleman.  I didn't force him into anything he didn't want and there was actually a time when he showed some curiousity toward Tinkerbelle and his owner, but we'll save the physcial introductions for another day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

All the Little Pieces

Oscar had an energy work session earlier today and, as expected, he has made remarkable progress since our last session.  It seems that all the little pieces are starting to fall into place.  Oscar is more in his his eyes you can actually see him in there, present in the moment.  There was a while earlier in the year that I would look at him and not get anything feeling, no emotion, nothing.  Those were sad days, frustrating days and thankfully they seem to be behind us now.

In an earlier post, I talked about how I have been doing too much to try and help Oscar.  Training too much, trying too many different things...basically forcing myself at him.  Who wants that kind of pressure?  It's like your great aunt suffocating you with her hugs (with that horrific perfume!).

During the past couple of weeks I have made a conscious decision to remove the pressure from him (and, therefore, myself) and the results have been nothing short of amazing.  There are times when he wants to be alone, just as there are times I want to be alone...there are times he wants to play and why shouldn't I let him (well, except for when it's down pouring outside and he wants to go play ball for an hour!).

Has he reacted here and there? Sure, but not anywhere near the way he used to. What's more beautiful is being able to watch the two of us grow together...listen to each other and make our moments together truly together.

Monkey Butt ready to spring off the bed (see the saliva on the pillow?)

All those little pieces, all the effort everyone in the house has put toward helping Mr. Oscar, are finally starting to come together.  The dust is starting to settle...the light is starting to shine through and I can see a beautiful meadow begging for us to walk through.  Our journey together building this puzzle has been so dynamic, so rewarding.  I can't help but feel proud of my boy for teaching me much more than I have taught him and I can only ask that he continues to be my teacher.  He's not perfect by any means nor am I, but what matters is the mutual understanding and respect we have been able to share and develop with one another.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Indeed, you should ask...

Inspiration smacked me in the face this morning.  A friend of mine, whom I've actually only met in-person one time yet had an instant connection with (she probably didn't know that!), wrote something about her and her lovely dog on a blog that really hit me in the face.   In all fairness, this is the person who turned me on to Suzanne Clothier and her wonderful methods of relationship-based training, so I'm a little biased.

You think these poodles are loving their new 'do as much as the person giving it to them?  I don't think so.

Anywho, said person was talking about how Suzanne is running her life because she keeps asking her dog "How is this for you?" when doing various activities with him, such as agility, obedience, tracking etc.  I love this and can actually picture her looking at her dog and saying such a thing with such respect and matter-of-fact attitude.  How many of you really take the time and ask your dog how much they are/are not enjoying what you are doing at any given moment?  Chances are not many and I am as guilty as everyone else for doing things for myself without consideration for the other end of the leash. 

If any of you have had the lovely experience of having a massage, chances are that you have been asked by the masseuse how the pressure is, how the music is, etc.  You know how nice it is when someone actually cares enough to ask your opinion...and I'm talking about someone who actually cares about your answer to their question.  Not the 22 year old chick that is a "massage therapist" because she likes the hours and pay.  It feels nice, yes it does.  So, why not turn to your dog (or cat or whatever other animal(s) you live with) and ask them..."How is this for you?"  You, like I, might be surprised with how they answer the question.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Tonight is the last night of agility for Oscar and I.  I'm bittersweet about the end of our lessons...we've had a lot of ups and downs in class.  When Oscar and I have had a real connection, it has been a magical feeling.  We both glide effortlessly through the course - being truly one - with such a great sense of accomplishment at the end of our run together that we smile at each other without saying a word.  We both look at each other with mutually happy brown eyes and butt wags.  This is the dance that Suzanne Clothier talks of...and my-oh-my is it wonderful.

It is the right thing to do for both Oscar and myself, though.  Our current agility class has gotten to be too stressful for Oscar and there is no need to force him into participating because I want to do something fun with my dog, that would be down right selfish.  We are moving onto something different, something a bit more low-key, a class appropriately named "Focus and Control" at a great facility out in Pewaukee.  I'm looking forward to working with Oscar - creating that harmony, choreographing together, understanding how to read each other better and be around other dogs and their owners who are passionate about developing the relationship with their dog.

So, for now, I say "Farewell!" to agility and perhaps we will meet again some day!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

That's What I'm Talking About!!

The "BATTING 1000" book, due out in a few weeks!  
Super stoked today.  I met a lady in my area that I'm going to met up with (hopefully regularly!) and practice some BAT!  Oh, you don't know what BAT is?  No, it's not the scary creature associated with Halloween...why would I write about that on my forum?!  It has something to do with dogs, of course.

"In a nutshell, BAT is a dog-friendly application of ‘functional analysis’ that gives the dogs a chance to learn to control their own comfort level through peaceful means. It’s very empowering to your dog, in a good way."  BAT was founded by Grisha Stewart and is a very progressive method of training that can be used to raise a puppy (by letting them know they have a choice), rehabilitate reactive, fearful or aggressive dogs and so much more!   I stumbled across BAT several months ago and was amazed by how simple it was and LOVED the fact that it didn't rely on you having to have food on you all the time.  Don't get me wrong - I wear my little treat pouch everywhere, but knowing that there is a way to use environmental rewards to rehab reactive dogs is so empowering!

Of course, like every other method of training - and maybe even more - you need to be able to really be in tune  with your dog and observant to the tiny cues they give off to be the most effective. 

Checkout Grisha's site devoted to this training method!!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beautiful Thoughts from Silvia Jay

I have no idea how I came across Silvia Jay and her training methods, but they are beautiful...very much in line with Suzanne Clothier. Check out her website when you have time

There are a couple quotes that I would like to share with all of you that I found on her website...simply beautiful.

The First Quote:
"Don't ignore your dog when you are out together. Connection within a group is mutual. Attention reciprocal. Practice to stay connected to your dog while you walk. Changing directions often teaches your dog that he has to stay attentive if he wants to know where you are going.

Be fun and reward offered attention and voluntary spatial closeness. Not by shoving a food treat in your dog's mouth, but by playing a game, for example a short chase in which the dog chases you, or throw the ball once, or have her target a stick, or jump a creek. If you use food, throw the treat out for your dog to find. Make your dog walk together an experience and you don't need a rope, or choker. " ~ Silvia Jay

The Second Quote:
"Don’t compete with the environment; exploit it.

Free learning should be applied in conjunction with structured learning, because a dog also has to learn to follow cues and commands. And it takes skill to decide when it is safe for the dog to make the decision. But done right, the relationship and learning benefits are incredible. If dogs are allowed to free learn, to problem solve, the cerebral cortex is trained; cerebral pathways are build.

Dogs have a thinking brain, like humans. Not to the same degree, but more convoluted than a cat’s. The more cerebral the dog, the easier it is for her to remain in her thinking brain, the more responsive and owner connected she is when there is a conflict, the less emotional, reactive she is; and if charged up, she can be easier redirected.

Free learning and patience are part of mindful leadership. Waiting for 20 or 30 seconds to give your dog the opportunity to respond correctly to a request is patience, and also strengthens the cerebral cortex."  ~ Silvia Jay

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Finished" Book: The Dog's Mind

Spoiler alert: I didn't actually read the entire book - and I'm not going to read the entire thing any time soon, but I got 92% of the way through it.

Bruce Fogle wrote an excellent book, especially considering when it was published (1992).  He goes into a lot of detail on the actual brain functions of the dog as the causes of a log of behavioral problems in dogs.  I stuck it through this part until he starting getting into the super science jabber and then I had to skip to the next chaper.

One of the reasons I really liked this book was because he, rather thoroughly, goes into detail on how the most popular way of doing puppy temperament testing (that a lot of breeders use) don't end up being accurate.  (Another reason to love Suzanne Clothier even more! - her CARAT method seems to make a lot more logical sense). 

Overall, it was a great book for a D.B.N. to read.  Definitely not one that I would recommend for my pet-owning friends.  This one should be left to the professional dog trainers or behavior nerds, like me. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

I'm Doing Too Much (There, I said it!)

They often say that a dog reflects his owner.  Remember the beginning of the movie "101 Dalmations" with the humans walking their dogs (or the dogs walking their humans!).  Everytime I see that part of the movie I always chuckle.  Now, when I look in the mirror, I don't see myself as a short, white-haired, perky earred human with a slightly curled tail.  So, what do I have in common with my dogs? 

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what is driving the anxious behavior Oscar has and I keep coming back to my own behavior.  I'm really starting to see that his is stressed because I am stressed.  I work full-time, from 8am - 5pm, 5 days a week.  Then I come home, play and train Oscar, then cook his food a couple nights a week, do bills, clean-up the house, do laundry, try to tackle the backyard landscaping/gardening (I cannot wait for that to be DONE!), then train dogs on the weekend part-time.  Why am I doing this to myself, my husband and my dogs?  Seriously.  I think I need to stop trying to do so much.

It's very humbling to think that Oscar's behavior is reflecting my own.  He can't stop himself to just sit and be a dog.  So, what can I do to help myself...and ultimately help him (and then help me right back!)? 

Well, I'll tell you what my plan is, as of right now.
- Stop taking agility classes with Oscar (Unfortunately he just cannot handle being in class with the bearded collie, Garfunkel and, honestly, I don't see that dog going anywhere any time soon.  He has gotten so stressed now that he is starting to react when other dogs are running the course and that is not the state of mind he wants to be in.  We have two classes left and then we are done.)
- Put him in a much more quiet, obedience-style class that is geared toward calm behaviors (We're starting that the second week in September)
- Taking him out of doggy day care one of the two days that he goes.  (Although it will mean more exercise provided by my husband and/or I, I'm starting to think that his chronic state of arousal is being effected by day care 2x/week)
- Putting him on some supplements that will hopefully help with anxiety (We started Lactium the second week in August and L-Theanine last week...fingers crossed that we'll see some results).
- Be more realistic and honest with myself.  Oscar is a dog and every moment of the day he is being exactly who he knows how to be...that should be respected and appreciated for what it is...

Other thoughts that are in my noodle that need to get out in this post or it's going to drive me crazy...
- I've been so willing to try different things (animal communicators, energy workers, TTouch, flower essences, herbals, essential oils, phone consults from Trish King and Suzanne Clothier) that I find it hard to settle, stay on track and give these things ample time to prove themselves out. 
- I still need to get a thyroid panel done on Oscar....just to put my own mind to ease that there is nothing going on (or maybe there is!) with his thyroid that is causing him to be so anxious and have a hard time gaining weight.
- I'm not getting another purebred shepherd again.  I owe it to myself to have an "easy" dog after these two boogers.  I love both of them dearly and wouldn't give them up for anything, but Jesus Christ have they caused stress in my life where I didn't need it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reactivity: Part 3; Shut up and listen

So much of our dog's behavior on-leash is dependent on our own behavior.  It's no news that dogs tend to act "better" off-leash than they do on-leash.  Is it really surpising, when you think about it?  Dogs weren't born to be on leashes...that was an idea by a human and humans, well, we tend to ruin a lot of stuff.  We get our noses in things and mess up a lot of things. 

One of the turning points my relationship with Fanny was shortly after we moved into our house.  We were taking a nice, leisurely walk around the neighborhood when I suddenly heard a lady yelling at her dogs to come back.  I started to scan around the area we were walking just hoping to God that we wouldn't run into these dogs.  Fanny didn't exactly have the best track record with meeting dogs on-leash.  She had gotten into scuffles and always came out with the one needing stitches...the top of the head, the space between her eyes, and one time right under her eye that I thought we would have to have surgery.  Luckily that didn't happen.  Anyway, back to the excitement...

Much to my displeasure, here come these two dogs running full speed towards us.  One was a golden retriever, one was a medium-sized mix (I would say a pointer/lab/dalmation mix).  My typical response to situations like this would have been to 1.) try and turn around and go the other direction or 2.) if it was too late to turn around, I would pick Fanny up by the collar and hold her head high enough off the ground so she couldn't latch on and bite the other dog.  Since these dogs were too close and I was feeling outnumbered...I had the instinct to do something completely different than I had ever done before.  I dropped the leash and calmly backed myself away and didn't say a single word.  I guess I figured that if she would start some crap with either dog I would blame the owner off in the distance that their dogs ran over to us (crossing the street in the process) and confronted us and my dog was just acting out of defense.

Well...what happened next completely floored me.   Fanny froze, but then started wagging her tail and politely sniffed the other dogs.  "Who stole my dog?" I thought to myself.  After a couple minutes of sniffing, the two dogs took off to go back to their home and Fanny happily trotted along with them.  What this simply because I dropped the leash and let the dogs have their own conversation without me right there attached to them?  Do I get in the way of my dog?  Absolutely. 

As it turns out, Fanny ended up loving the golden retriever, Otis, and we still see him every week (or so) when we walk past his house.  Fanny looks up to us and gives her ever-so-sweet tail wag and starts to whine...and, of course, we cave in an let her go say "hello" to her boyfriend. 

So, what's the point of this post?  Well, it's simple.  We owe it to our dogs to shut up and just let our dogs be dogs.  Let them do their thing and figure things out on their own - on their time - at their comfort level.  I leave you with one, simple suggestion (even to myself).  "Shut up and listen."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Oh Bananas!

This is one (of two) meals Oscar gets on any given day...what a spoiled brat!
Num, num, num.  Leave it to my dog to help me think about food...not that I need him to do that (I'm currently eating a rather tasty peanut butter cookie).  Since I have been making home prepared meals for Oscar since mid-May, I have started to take note on just how good of food he is eating.  This dude eats ground sirloin (not the cheaper ground chuck!), chicken breast, sweet potato, russet potato, turnip, carrot, pumpkin, beef (not chicken!) liver, coconut oil, bananas and we're just starting to add sardines in.  Gosh-golly!  On top of this, all of the meat and vegetables are cooked (the latter mashed as well).  Oh, and on top of that, I paid a very well known canine nutritionist to work us through the entire process making sure we are giving him a completely balanced diet that is specific to Oscar (he's so spoiled).

Why do I do this?  Well, because I love my little monster and I am bound and determined to get the bastard in the best physical shape possible and give him the best I can afford.  Are there times that I am up until 11pm during the week mashing stubborn russet potatoes, sweating my butt off and swearing under my breath as to why the hell I am doing this.  In some dillusional thought, I think my dog really appreciates that I do this for him.  Meanwhile Fanny is just laying on the other side of the kitchen doorway just looking at me saying in her head, "Laura, Oscar is soooooo not worth all this trouble."  I always toss her a piece of food when I'm preparing to make sure she isn't left out of the action. 

Some dogs do just fine on dry kibble (thank you, Fanny...from myself and my wallet!), but there are some dogs that just need more TLC.  Oscar has always had a rather sensitive digestive system and since he's been on a home prepared diet I've seen a complete change in the texture of his coat and he is always excited to eat...something I know other dog owners struggle with at times.  His poops are fabulous (yes, I said fabulous and poops in the same sentence), his energy is top knotch, his breath no longer smells bad and he has clean, bright eyes.  In his own little way, his outward appearance and aura say "Thank you, Momma Laura, for taking such great care of toss the tennis ball already!"