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  On top of the rain, he had a vet appointment yesterday morning to have blood withdrawn.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.