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.