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.