Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 28 of 30DR: Progress?

Here's something I noticed today: crappy dog incidents seem to correlate with the tidiness of my house.

When my house is a mess, it's usually because I'm immersed in something else and neglecting it. Like for the past 2 weeks I've been starting school--especially the last seven days.

I haven't been blogging with behavior observations because for the last week or so I've been mostly just getting through each day. The dogs continue to be separated by baby gates. I've kept up most of the 30DR: feeding them twice a day in different locations, requiring them to sit before anything good, restricting them from furniture, crating them at bedtime.

What I haven't done *consistently* the last week: regular training sessions each day, 30-minute settles (in the 'down' position) for each dog each day, morning walks.

I've done most of those things much of the time but some days I did slip.

Something good I've done: taking them individually to a neighbor-friend's house to play with a pug-doxie mix. Both dogs have been doing really well with that dog. It's a joy to see.

This morning I took Petunia to play with the pug but there wasn't time to take Buddy afterwards. Instead of taking Buddy for the walk (he'd been waiting for it, knowing it was his turn, watching for us out the window as we returned) I put them both in their crates so I could make it to church. I came home from church, let each dog into the yard, then put them in their gated areas: this time P got the back of the house (kitchen, bedroom, my dining table/workspace, B got the front of the house: living room, upstairs guest rooms.

As I made myself some tea I heard what sounded like thunder--or a dog bouncing off furniture upstairs. As I climbed over the gate into the front of the house B was speeding downstairs and into the corner of the living room. Guilty of something for sure. Upstairs I discovered that he'd pooped all over the guestroom floor. Everywhere.

So I clean it up and make no eye contact with him and think to myself that this is because he needs exercise (and more discipline?) but meanwhile how do I respond?

I could crate him but I don't want the crate to be punishment. So right now he's on a down-settle, I haven't made eye contact at all--just put the collar around him and led him to the floor at my feet--and he's resting on my right foot and that makes me happy but I guess I need to move it in case it's somehow a dominance thing. Lord.

. . .

OK so after sitting like that for a half hour I told him to stay while I went into the kitchen to pour more tea. I returned to the living room and he hadn't budged. I didn't say 'Good Dog' but instead just returned to my spot on the sofa with my foot on the leash.

But throughout all this I'm still wondering if he 'won' because I'm giving him a form of attention (by ignoring him on a settle I'm still here with him on his side of the house) that constitutes a reward for his bad behavior upstairs.

Meanwhile, Petunia is on a dog bed on the floor, growling occasionally at the noises outside. I can see her through the fireplace.

. . .

While I'm sitting here, some additional updates:

* Yesterday when Buddy and I were outside I heard jangling and Petunia had pushed aside an improvised barrier to join us outdoors. I immediately led them back into the house and calmly separated them and during this process it seemed clear that they knew they weren't supposed to be together. Neither dog really greeted or approached the other. I think I led B back to the house first, perhaps because he was closer to the door. Buddy didn't seem to acknowledge P much and just went inside and took his position on the front side of the house. P did pretty much the same thing.

* Friday morning I was exhausted from my late-night class and allowed myself to sleep in later than usual. I let each dog outside then gated P in the room with me and climbed back into bed. She jumped up on the bed. I sent her off. A little while later I switched dog positions; B was with me in the room. He also jumped on the bed. I was half asleep and used that as my excuse for allowing him to remain on the bed a few minutes. I realized I was being inconsistent and wrong. But I *so* miss having the dogs near me. I got up within a few minutes so that i wouldn't fall asleep with him there, making myself an even worse dog-leader. That's the only instance of my breaking the bed rule, though, for nearly 30 days.

* I'm continuing to use the Gentle Leader with B. P continues to flee when I approach her with it. I've managed to set the neck-size for her but the snout-adjustment is trickier. It takes both hands and a calm dog in a sit position (not under the bed). I'll keep at it because I think it would be a good thing for her. She doesn't always pull on walks but does sometimes, especially with my mother. Also, from a leadership standpoint I think I ought to be able to require her to wear a head collar occasionally.

More exciting news:

I'm in the middle of a transition to Canidae dog food. The food-recall really pissed me off. We've been Nutro customers since I adopted each dog, and although the dry Nutro we use wasn't one of the recalled products the moist Nutro products were recalled. I had trusted Nutro with the health of my dogs. I did a lot of research and was confident the product was manufactured in North America and met exceptionally high standards. Standards, schmandards. They outsourced part of their production to China; standards were compromised; dogs died. Nutro has lost my business. Period.

Two DVDs arrived yesterday: the first two seasons of The Dog Whisperer. So far as I can tell none of the episodes is really about my scenario: two dogs living in the same house and not getting along with each other. The closest I've seen so far is the "Cinnamon and Chocolate" episode but that's really focused on the behavior of just one of the dogs (Cinnamon, "the rescue dog"--and BTW it irritates me the way the owners seem to attribute the dog's behavior problems totally to the fact that he's a rescue dog rather than a breeder-purchased dog). The DW doesn't really deal with the dynamic of both dogs. Don't get me wrong: I do see myself in the mopey-looking mother and daughter of that episode--they seem so weak and wimpy and I dunno just hideously squooshy. But I was hoping to see more about handling two dogs that have to be separated and simultaneously trained to repair their relationship.

The episodes in which the DW brings his pack animals into the picture are not helpful to me because I don't have a DW-approved pack to train my dogs to be dogs. Thank God for the neighbor's pug, that's all I can say.

. . .

So looking ahead:

The 30-day period of the 30DR is nearly over but we've really only just begun. Partly because I didn't do all the things I said I'd do:

* I still haven't acclimated either dog to a muzzle. (The P-muzzle-scenario is seeming less like a good idea now that I'm reminded of how traumatized she gets about things on her body--she's been so calm around B, even yesterday she came outside and didn't shrink away from him. If you knew nothing about their history you'd never guess a problem existed between the two. But of course that was true of them before the 30DR also: half the time they'd seem fine; half the time P would be hiding under furniture.)

* I haven't established a real walking routine for us.

* I haven't maintained the bicycling routine either. (I started the practice of reserving a kayak for myself at the boathouse after heinous meetings as a way to get myself off campus and into a calm state of mind before going home those days. I need the *reservation* part of the exercise because otherwise I'm likely to just return home and get distracted and neglect the exercise. The reservation gives me accountability.)

* I haven't done enough daily training sessions. Not nearly enough.

* I haven't kept my house tidy, which I think is something that needs to be part of this. Neglecting that part of my life seems to be a manifestation of other weaknesses. I'm not saying it's a cause-effect relationship but I do believe that changing more of my external behaviors will help me become stronger inside.

* I stopped using the daily checklist, which wasn't part of the first trainer's requirement but did help me discipline myself.

OK, so now what? Well, 30 Days Has September so I'm thinking it's time to regroup and start another 30DR, modified according to what I've learned from the first 30DR and the trainers who helped me, and the realities of my life.

I'll call it C2C and base it on the Click to Calm approach assigned by the new trainer. In a nutshell, here's that approach:

* Continue the basic rules established in 30DR.

* Enroll Buddy in the October Canine Good Citizens class.

* Make a daily walk a non-negotiable commitment to EACH dog.

* Use the training worksheets given me by the new trainer, using the clicker as part of the reinforcement.

* Teach each dog a new trick this month. Something that will really work their brains.

After watching DW I'm also thinking I should do something with each dog that reinforces my leadership role, like getting Buddy into the swimming pool with me and like getting Petunia to wear her Gentle Leader.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Oh, is this the bad one?"

Just now I saw the new neighbors in their driveway and brought Buddy over to meet them.

B & I had just returned from a lovely shopping spree (PetsMart, the dog bakery, a doggie boutique), in which he made many new human friends and was fairly polite to various dogs and was an all-around model canine.

I gave the new neighbors a bit of cookie to share with Buddy and as Mr. New Neighbor handed B the treat he said, "Oh, is this the bad one?" I laughed nervously and said, "Oh no, they are both very good dogs."

Evidently my neighbor on the other side had dropped by to say hello yesterday and during the conversation pegged Buddy as a bad dog. Here's the thing: in addition to the fact that my neighbor owns a rottweiler that actually KILLED ANOTHER DOG last year--as in pulled out of his leash during a walk and ran into another person's yard and attacked the barking dauchshund there--and that I would never mention such a thing unless someone's dog seemed clearly at risk--in addition to those things, my neighbor knows NOTHING about my domestic challenge with P & D or, really, about my dogs' behavior except that Petunia and his rottie fence-fight, which is why the old neighbor told me the sad story about his dog (because it places my dog at risk). I DID NOT retaliate by telling the new neighbors about the rottie's "badness."

I *think* his whole basis for condemning B is the fact that B was wearing a head-collar the other day and that my neighbor mistook it for a muzzle.

But even if my neighbor did know more about B's story---WTF?!

My new neighbors appear to be NDP (not dog people), which is nice because it means I don't have to worry about P fence-fighting on that side of the yard or about a new dog attempting to tunnel into our yard. But now they've been told to be fearful of one of my dogs, which of course will make them behave fearfully around him, which is completely unhelpful.

People are exhausting.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 18 of 30DR: Muddling Through

I purchased Gentle-Leaders for both dogs. B-dog is always much better about tolerating new "gear" so I've been working with him first. Because this is a head-bound collar I'm hoping it might ease the transition into muzzle-wear. Also, of course, I'm hoping this lead will help me train both dogs to stop pulling the lead as we walk.

Both dogs are pullers, despite lots of training (never as much training as is humanly possible but still enough training that we ought to do better) as well as experiments with the Illusion Collar and shoulder-leads in addition to the slip-collars we used in obedience classes.

The Gentle Leader is recommended training gear in the Click to Calm book we're doing with the new trainers.

I'm trying to calm myself with the idea that I can focus on one thing at a time and measure some progress in that way instead of yearning for a miracle. But of course I'm still tense and worried.

Meanwhile, today I learned a couple of things:

* Buddy really doesn't like the Gentle Leader but is putting up with it while attempting to periodically scoot it off his snout. I was going to trade his buff-colored leader for a black one so that people wouldn't think it's a muzzle (my neighbor saw it and immediately said, "Don't bit me, dog" and warned his little boy to stay away--I'm pretty sure this was all about the lead because he knows nothing about B-dog's situation and, for crying out loud, his dog is the one that actually killed a small dog down the street last year--Sheesh!). Anyhoo, I'd read about that reaction to the Gentle Leader because people freak out when they see dogs in what appear to be muzzles (Lord, they should see the real thing!). But I decided I'm going to keep the buff-colored one on B-dog because I need to be able to see whether it's slipping or loosening from his head, especially if we go for long-distance walks. If he wears black I may miss seeing it slacken. (Yes, if you put it on properly it's not supposed to slip but B-dog is Houdini and a little sneaky about these things.)

* During our walk a couple of very friendly humans (neighbors with rescue dogs of their own) approached B to say hello. The man was intimidating--big and hunched over--so I told him we're working on our socialization, etc. He insisted on petting B (you know, I've had this happen before: men say, "It's OK, I'm a dog person" and keep approaching even though--as in this instance--the dog's ears are back. B was looking wary but not growling or anything. I didn't want to alarm him by pulling him back so I said something like, "Well, thanks for saying hello but his ears are back so we're going to have to see you later" in as friendly a voice as I could muster.

This in-between world is so tough. If I'm going to use the label what I have right now is a couple of fear-aggressive dogs. And I'm trying to socialize them in a way that's safe for them and for those with whom they interact. And in a way that doesn't give me an ulcer (or worse).

* P-Dog:
Petunia is going to require lots of baby steps. She can read me like a book and can tell when I'm about to have her do something she doesn't like. She immediately goes to her crate or crawls under the bed. So tonight I managed to get the collar-part around her neck once, adjust it, but not try it again. (The Gentle Leader DVD suggests not to push dogs into the collar but instead to use lots of short sessions with extra-good treats.) Tomorrow I'll attach the leash to the leader before trying it on her because I think she's more likely to compromise and try the thing on if she knows it's related to going for a walk.

* Right now P is lying on her side, the dearest little bundle of fluff. Reminds of me of when she was a puppy. It breaks my heart to think that I could be endangering her by keeping B with us. I'm terrified of that. Even though there's been zero visible aggression between the two since the episode during the training session (at least zero noticeable to me). I continue to keep them separated by baby gates. But I'm still so worried about getting this wrong.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Day 15 of 30DR: Rebellion

After my previous posting I decided I needed a brief rebellion: so I petted P again when she approached me near the sofa and then I drove both dogs to the lake and Mom and I walked them on (*gasp*) flexi-leads with no heel-ing or clicking.

At the end of that B-dog resisted going into his car-crate (for the first time ever). Lord: now I'm reading everything into that though praying not to. So I put him to bed in his at-home crate when we returned.

P hid beneath the guestroom bed upstairs while Mom and I stayed up late talking. But she's in her bedroom crate now and came into the bedroom voluntarily and didn't resist getting into her own crate.

The trainers said I should put their crates in separate rooms. I haven't figured out how to do that yet. I feel like P needs to sleep closest to me but it breaks my heart to "banish" B to another room and, if I do, I'm not sure where his big crate will fit. So for now I just moved the crates on either side of my bed instead of beside one another.

I feel like I'm getting an ulcer.

But it was good to get outside tonight and I've asked my mother to help me ignore work long enough in the morning to get on my bike.

I've also decided I may need to take anti-anxiety meds for a while.


I Don't Know How to Be with My Dogs

The trainers last night told me it's unhealthy to let my dog sit in my lap for a couple hours while I read. They said that means I'm petting her too much. She probably doesn't like it. And if she seems to like it (i.e., if I'm sitting and reading and she jumps up to sit on my lap while I read) then it's because I've created a co-dependent dog.

Of course, for over two weeks now there's been no sitting and reading with dogs on my chair or lap or ottoman or beside me on the sofa. My most blessed moments, my most tranquil and pleasant moments, are those when I sit with a dog or with both dogs and read. The trainers said I can never have a dog on either side of me on the sofa again because as I'm reading they could be passing negative eye contact and suddenly get into a fight with me in the middle. They told me about a woman's husband whose face was maimed by a terrier sleeping on his pillow. They talked about plastic surgery only partially reconstructing a ruined face resulting from bad dog-location decisions. So no more doggie "book-ends" for me. And for at least six weeks no more single dog beside me anywhere. And no more calling it "my great joy" to have the dogs so near me because that means I'm making the dogs too important. I need to find other things that matter, they said. They said I need to do more things that aren't with the dogs. I said I do plenty of other things.

What I love most, though, is my quiet time with the dogs. And now I don't have that. Not really.

For over two weeks I've been trying to seem authoritative, in charge, calm, structured . . . I've given praise only for obedience to the tasks in the 30DR. I've done "settle" and I've played but it's all been very structured, measured, calibrated.

This is not who I am.

I can't live like this forever. I'm paranoid about giving my dogs too much affection, about giving them the wrong kinds of reinforcement.

I'm so tense I could crack.

* * *

As I read what I wrote I find myself thinking that the solution, for me, must be to decide what I want most--what I'm not willing to compromise--and then to assert myself to make it happen. Isn't that calm-asserting leadership?

Right now my irony is performing the role of "leader" in a way that's tearing me apart, making me feel brittle, even self-destructive sometimes. I'm trying to trust experts to tell me what's right. And I have great confidence in the principle that I've been a weak leader and that's the root of the problem. But I need to redefine what me-as-leader means. I'm not going to transform into Cesar Millan. And I'm not going to become that semi-friend/bully at work who is so great with dogs but pushes me around (making me feel, perhaps, the way B makes P feel: herded and intruded upon).

I need to figure out what I can realistically become without losing who I am. Somehow that means sloughing off or excising the abused little girl who believes she deserves all manner of criticism, who can't possibly be good enough as she is. Somehow I've got to figure out where my strength is and how to build that as my foundation for leadership. Compassion, perhaps.

* * *

So I write myself into tears. And I leave the room so my dogs won't know I'm weakened and crying. And P-dog comes into the bedroom immediately and approaches me as I sit on the floor. And she sniffs my tears and nudges me to pet her and I give myself permission to break all the rules and pet her--without waiting 30 seconds, without making her sit first, without clicking her for not nudging me to pet her. I just pet her. And my first thought is, "I feel like a pedophile. I've snuck off into a corner and I'm hiding from the dog trainers and secretly petting my dog." And my next thought is complete disgust with a situation that has left me feeling ashamed of sharing a fundamental moment of comfort with my dog, who knows I'm hurting, who always knows what I'm feeling, and who knows I need comfort.

This is where I am. It feels so wrong to be here.


A Hero's Journey

I just have to say this:

I still want this story to have a happy ending. I realize that my heightened emotional attachment to these dogs is part of what created the structural imbalance of our homelife that apparently contributed to (perhaps ultimately caused or at least fostered) the current crisis.

But I want this narrative to evolve into a Rocky-esque story, in which lots of hard work and the support of wise mentors leads to a transformation for all three of us.

I'm not ready to give that up.

Living with One Dog

My headache is probably dehydration from last night’s sobbing and from today’s semi-suppressed crying. I’m too wiped out to explain more of the trainer’s verdict and recommendations and of my thoughts about all of that.

So I’m probably going to blog this one piece at a time.

My immediate decision is basically this:

Do I:

(1) Keep both dogs, knowing that the experts say I’m looking at keeping them separated forever, living in a house divided by babygates, with one dog always in another room or in a crate.

(2) Find another home for B-dog.

But the decision tree for (2) is really:

(1) Find another home for B-dog.
(2) Kill B-dog. (I first typed “euthanize” then “put to sleep” but who are we kidding?)

Why is (2) even on the table? Because B-dog is a Big Black Dog that has bitten at least one person and now has a history of aggression with his house-dog. He is not the sort of dog one easily places in a stable, loving, FOREVER home. I’ve read the foster-dog placement literature; I’ve interviewed people for pet-adoption; I’ve interviewed myself as a candidate for pet-adoption. On paper, I was the best pet-adoption candidate in the world. And yet here we are.

Of course I’m not going to end B-dog’s life. But when I make that commitment it doesn’t just mean taking him to the vet. It also must mean refusing to ever place him in any home that isn’t a better environment (canine-fit-wise and otherwise) than my home. And how many homes like that are there?

Even last night’s trainers, in full knowledge of how un-ideal I’ve been as a dog-leader, said I’m probably the best chance B-dog has.

So here we are.

And YES I am going to keep the alternative-home option in mind. But for now, what I owe B-dog is, at minimum, training to help him become less aggressive with people and dogs. Part of me knows this is a stalling tactic. But part of me knows that I need some of this also: I need more work on becoming stronger—for both dogs as well as for myself. So I’ll continue this work and see where we all are at the end of the year.

I’m enrolling B-dog and me in a Canine Good Citizen course that begins in October.

And I’ll keep up with my 30DR.

And I’ll pray a lot.

And here’s another thing: If either dog were to go to another home, I would be living with one dog. So I need to spend some time experiencing each dog more fully instead of just focusing on the logistics of keeping them apart. If at the end of this I end up with just one dog it’ll be like this: me and the one dog. So I need to stop mourning the idea of living with two dogs but spending time with them separately. As things stand, that’s what I’m going to get either way.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Dogs Don't Like Each Other, and Never Will (Day 15 of 30DR)

I just returned home from a meeting with three professional dog trainers.

During the observation session B-dog lunged for P twice, in neutral territory.

The trainers said that from the very beginning B's body language was more anxious and aggressive than Phoebe's, which was defensive.

They said that based on what they saw tonight, and my background information, and the fact that the two dogs have always rested in parallel rather than piling on top of each other, and that they've never done lots of cuddly play stuff, they conclude that these two dogs really don't like one another much, and that they never will.

They said I should keep them separate for life.


Two of the trainers have dogs that can't be trusted together; they live with them separated always. They say it's possible to still have a decent life with your dogs that way. The whole scenario makes me sick to my stomach.

I was so much more hopeful when I believed that if I could just fix myself they would be okay.

I can't write anymore.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day 14 of 30DR

It's been raining the last two days so I haven't had my bike ride and the outdoor sessions with P&B have been shorter. None yesterday, I think. One today.

I've been reading Emma Parsons's Click to Calm in preparation for our meeting with the trainers tomorrow. Tomorrow I bring both dogs to meet with the trainer and her assistant to see where things stand and what I should do next to supplement or fine-tune the 30DR. This is a different trainer than the one who assigned the 30DR. I still haven't heard back from her.

So basically here's where things are:


* I really need to keep journaling every day. If it gets too tedious to record my notes in this blog I must still record them somewhere. I like the blog because it has the date/time stamp and makes this process more visible somehow. Even if only to a concerned friend out in cyberspace.

* Yesterday I got a little too comfortable perhaps and then didn't make a blog entry. When I don't write details I overlook details. My recollection of yesterday is that things were pretty much fine all day. I took both dogs out on errands in the car, just to give us all a change of scene.

* I remember now that at the end of the night I caved in and let P-dog sleep on the floor instead of in her crate. I'd kept us all up past midnight while I installed curtains in my bedroom. B went right to his crate, as usual. But P wouldn't budge off her dog bed on the floor so I let her stay there and gated the room so she wouldn't wander all over the house. She didn't try to get up on the bed. But there's a progression here . . .


* Right now P is on the floor doing Part Two of her "settle." Part One was a punishment settle. Here's what happened tonight:

- After a long day at work and a peaceful morning and evening with the dogs I went upstairs to take a bath in the guestroom tub. When I got out of the tub P was on the guestbed. I saw her there as I was towelling off. Told her "Off." But was so bleary-eyed from the long bath (read several chapters of Dickens) that my request was pretty weak. After putting on my pajamas I walked into the room more assertively and said "Off" and she ignored me. I felt myself being hesitant: part of me thought she looked so sweet on the bed, so happy and sleepy, and my first thought was, "I don't blame her. I'd much rather sleep there too." But another part of me felt a little scared. I can't explain this precisely: I wasn't afraid of P but I was afraid she wasn't going to get off the bed at that moment. I feared a confrontation. And I got one (surprise, surprise--I'm doing my best Gomer Pyle as I type this). Instead of grabbing her collar to pull her off the bed (which I *think* is what I usually do), I tried to nudge her rump off the bed. She growled. Then she snarled. A nasty, warning snarl. THAT'S A NEW ONE. I don't remember her ever protesting like that when I've removed her from furniture. In the olden days (pre-30DR) I would nudge her off the bed to change sheets periodically and she would lie there like a lump and then give up and get off. I don't recall any defiance over it.

- I stood there with my arms folded and head up and ignored her for a few moments as punishment. But I was exhausted and wanted to get to bed. So I turned off the lights and walked downstairs. But when I got downstairs I remembered my 30DR says I need to require "sit-ups" (which are really "sit" then "down" then "sit" then "down"--at least that's what I've deduced) as punishment for misbehavior. So I put her on a leash and had her sit, which she did, then down, which she didn't. Now, we've been doing clicker training sit/downs for days. And she knew sit and down years before any of this began. She knows what "down" means. She was just ignoring me. So that's when I walked over to the sofa and started a "settle" and I kept the leash extra short. Not forcing her into a down but giving her very little domain. She struggled a while but at one point I got the feeling she was relieved that I "put my foot down."

- So here I continue to sit. Very sleepy and exhausted emotionally from all this.

* What else about P? Well she ate all her supper today during both eating sessions. I mixed in a little RB's dog food (which our puppy school trainer, years ago, recommended as a training treat).

* At the lake tonight she tugged as we walked but not in an abnormal way. Her tugging really varies. Usually she's much better at not-tugging than B-dog. Tonight she was just average.

* YESTERDAY during our errands I took P into Home Depot. Put her in the cart on a towel and she was very good. Tense at first but really engaged. Very interested in the whole experience, it seemed. She stood up, looking at me rather than out front, ears up, eyes wide, very alert and not too scared.

* Now she has gotten up from her Phase 2 settle (I just have the leash around by ankle now) and is standing looking at me. I'm feeling a little afraid of her, strangely. Afraid there's a confrontation formulating in her mind. All of this could be my karma for the obnoxious teenage years. I know in my bones that my present apprehension is what my mother felt toward and about me. I know this dog cares about me, we have a deep bond, but I feel like she's testing me and I feel incredibly vulnerable because so much depends on her behavior. She must change her behavior or else I'm going to be forced into an awful decision about moving one of these dogs into a new home. And I'm angry at her for putting me into this situation. Even though I accept the fact that my behavior fostered hers.

* And part of me keeps flashing back on EE's interactions with her. When EE played tug (and he did it even though our trainers told us never to play tug with her), EE would start with regular tug--his hands holding one side of the object in P's teeth--and then HE'D PUT THE OBJECT BETWEEN HIS TEETH TO, as P held the other side in hers. And he'd tug that way with her. I'd insist that he stop it but . . . SHEESH! She slept at the head of our bed, in between us. We both loved it. But we may have created a monster. Right now it's all my fault and all my responsibility to fix, if humanly/caninely possible.


* Was really good yesterday at PetsMart and good today at the lake and good just in general.

* Having said that I'm getting increasingly worried that the physical separation weirdness could make it harder to reintegrate them physically later.

* Gave me THE BEST eye contact today on a Sit during one of our clicker sessions. Man, his eyes were so clear and alert and focused on me. It was gorgeous.

* * *

So now what?

* Back on the bike.

* Do walking with both dogs when Mom visits this week.

* There are things I want to ask the trainer:

- What's the best way to reinforce good behavior while their opposite the baby gates?

That's the biggest one, really.

* I need to purchase one or two more baby gates at Target. The Evenflow brand is the best, BTW. It's smooth and quiet and long. Much better than the dogs gate i purchased at PetsMart. I need at least one more so I can block both sides of the fireplace.

* Emma Parsons cautions us that dogs might get worse before they get better, behavior-wise. Maybe that's what this is with P.

* I feel like I need to pick two main behaviors to focus on, clicker-wise, for right now: their name command (to get them to reliably look at me when I say their names); practice walking on-lead without tugging. I've tried multiple techniques the last few days for using clickers to train loose-lead walking but so far they've all been pretty awkward. I'm going to try the 180 degree turn thing next.

I'm too weary to write any more.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day 12 of 30DR

P dog seems to be barking more than she did the first week of the 30DR. This might mean she's not getting enough exercise. Or that she's more comfortable with the at-home logistics (she was unusually quiet the first week). I dunno.

Today we continued to pretty much stick to the 30DR. I might have missed a "settle" here or there. The thing about the settles is that the dogs don't seem to notice them. As I've mentioned before, the dogs are accustomed to sitting at my feet while I read. And of course when we do the settle I pick up a book and read. If we settle late in the evening they just fall asleep. When we settle earlier in the day they often remain awake but just sort of hang out. P might tug a little but not much.

I might need to make the settle into a settle-down (which is the version I was taught a few years ago by another trainer) instead of the settle anywhere (i.e., the leash anchored to my foot but the dog is allowed to adjust her position as she desires). But that seems sort of extreme. I dunno. I might try it with P after the meeting with the trainer this Wed.

* * *

Other stuff: Not much to report, really. That seems like a good thing.


* Is barking an awful lot when I let her be on the side of the house facing the street. I can tell she's barking at other neighborhood dogs that are barking. None of this is directed at B and probably not at me either.

* Was super good tonight when I took her to campus for a big cookout with lots of students and parents. She accepted all sorts of petting--this is pretty normal for her but sometimes she snaps when men lean over her and tonight she did not. I was relieved about that. I realize I need to TRUST MY DOG more than I do. I'm uptight. But I'm hoping to get that trust back.

* Doesn't seem to want to drink or eat if her bowls are in a line of vision with B across the babygate. That's been true throughout the 30DR so far. I tend to rotate between having the bowls near the babygate and around the corner from it, just to see how it goes. But she usually won't eat if the bowl is near the gate.

* Might have had a little episode with me this morning as I was preparing to leave for church. I gave her her kong in her crate then remembered I needed to refill her little water bowl and when I went to the sink she'd taken her kong under the bed and refused to get out. The second time I swept my hand toward her she gave me a warning bark. I responded with a gruff voice. Instead of making it a confrontation I went outside and splashed water in the pool, hoping it would be irresistible to her (she loves to play with the water). She came outside immediately, so I played the splash game as a reward and then led her to her crate peacefully. Does this mean I just rewarded her for her bad behavior beneath the bed? I tried to think it through. I could have squirted her with the water bottle but that would have made her remain beneath the bed. I could have ignored her--either by standing still for as long as it took (missing church) or by leaving the house, which would have enabled her to remain under the bed as long as she wanted. I could have removed the mattress and boxspring and in that way frightened her out from under the bed. But just walking away and starting over seemed like the best route. Maybe my mistake wasn't splashing the water but by then playing the game. Oy.

* * *


* Is now barking also (not all the time, just at this moment), apparently to echo P. I'm sort of OK with that. It's something they can do together. (Am I an idiot?)

* Is still being mild and good around the house. Which is normal for him.

* * *


* Went for my ride today.

* Walked both dogs, doing more training with B on the walk.

* Did the turkey-training thing with both dogs again--still trying to give them positive experiences within eyesight of each other and relatively close to one another (still separated by the gate).

* Did the cream-cheese and cookie in the muzzle thing with both dogs but no muzzle-attachment (again--sigh).

* Am just now noticing that I seem to be doing a little more training with B than with P even though P is the one who probably needs it more.

* Am still feeling tense about keeping the dogs separated--both the logistics of it and the worry that it might make them less likely to be comfortable with one another in the long run.

* Am feeling good, still, about the clicker approach. Part of why I like it is its OCD-fitness. Clicker training involves breaking down desired-behaviors into teeny-tiny steps--some trainers recommend making detailed checklists so you can chart your progress with the dog as you click toward the end goal. In this way it gives the dog-handler lots of positive reinforcement and hope that progress is being made. I need this sort of positive reinforcement. Regardless of how much the dogs need it, I definitely need LOTS of it.

* My state of being overall: tense. I'm trying to notice my own tension and to relieve it through external means (e.g., by riding my bike, walking with a dog) as well as by prayer and breathing/meditation. I need more of the latter.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 11 of 30DR

I'm too exhausted from a very full day to write at length.

(Frankly, I put all my dog-blog energy into an email to a friend.)

Instead, let me summarize with:

* P just put herself to bed, in her crate, with no treat.

* B is waiting for me to close the lid on the laptop so we can call it a day.

* Both dogs were especially good today. Still separated but no growling at D. (She did snarl at Oliver, the baker's poodle, but that always happens and we'll deal with that after my "click-to-calm" training.

* P & I played brilliant frisbee but did not get around to the muzzle practice.

* B wore his new muzzle for about a minute. Then I removed it. We're taking this s-l-o-w.

* I felt better about everything today.

* I rode my bike.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 15, 2008

Day 10 of 30DR & Envisioning Canine TriZenalon

By mid-day today I was a complete mess.

I hadn't heard from the trainer (she was going to call last week to "check in" on the dogs' progress but never did) so I called and left messages on her cell phone around 8 a.m. and on her office phone around 2 p.m., wanting to get her advice on re-introducing the dogs to one another while wearing their muzzles and also to see what she thought about my accepting a friend's invitation to immerse one of my dogs in their pack of three for a little while to see how he'd do just being a "regular dog" for a while.

The latter (a kind invitation, thoughtfully given) had been eating away at me for hours and hours for reasons I still can't quite articulate but much of it had to do with my feeling like I would be throwing B-dog to the wolves simply to prove to myself that he was still normal.

So I finally declined the invitation because my heart wasn't in it and my heart is way more trustworthy and stable than my brain right now.

As I listened to myself leaving the message on the trainer's machine I detested myself--I sounded whiney and helpless and pathetic and was trying to somehow guilt the trainer into returning my call. What I sounded like (I later realized) was my ex-husband in the final months of our separation, when he seemed to be trying to use helplessness as a weapon. I believe he did that partially unconsciously; he felt defeated and his only apparent way to communicate with me was as a wretched, weak person. Our interactions left me feeling pummeled by weakness--it was an awful feeling. (Sort of like the fish-slapping sketch in Monty Python, only not a bit funny.) And now I felt like I'd become that person.

Meanwhile, my kitchen's a mess; my whole house is a mess; I've been complaining to my friends for hours and days about the dog thing, wallowing in it further here on the dog-blog. I just couldn't bear myself anymore.

* * *

So I took a bike ride around the lake.

Within minutes I felt like a better person. By the 8th mile I was inventing a new sport--I called it a tri-Zen-a-thon: it would involve maximizing pleasure by bicycling, kayaking, and photographing a scenic route on a lovely day. Participants wouldn't "compete" so much as "share" the experience: waving at one another (as we do riding around the lake), helping one another port our kayaks, finding nice spots to observe nature.

Then I thought an even nicer version would be the Canine TriZenalon: a trio of dog-walking, kayaking (with the dog), and bicycling (still possible with smaller dogs in a basket or kiddie trailer or with any size dog on a leash but only on shorter rides in mild weather).

These are the thoughts I have on my rides.

* * *

And I made a decision during the ride: to stop sending negative energy into the universe about my dogs. They're such good dogs. And I am not the worst yuppie dog owner in the world, either. When I tell my story to strangers (yes, I know . . .), I often get lots of irrelevant advice that assumes I don't have any rules at all, that I've learned absolutely nothing from my (many, many) training classes, and that they are totally untrained and vicious to everyone. When in fact I have dogs that do most of the things I ask them to do 85% of the time, that get into their crates voluntarily when they see I'm dressing for work, that tenderly attach themselves to my quite tall but perpetually falling-down, elderly step-father, that never rush the door when my petite mother wanders in for a visit and almost never rush out the door when she neglects to close it behind her. They play gently with the one-eyed pug-doxie mix around the corner. These are fine dogs that have become confused as a result of living with someone who meant well but didn't get it right the first few times on the training train but even today, even in my pit of despair, I took them out separately for walks and did our "settle" exercises and obeyed the feeding rules. I'm so ready to condemn myself, especially to others. (is this masochism? why am I so ready to invite others to view me as ridiculous and inept? what's that about? don't want to get into the childhood stuff again.) But it's nuts. And it's unproductive. Damaging, even.

So I'm going to stop narrating this situation like it's American Beauty and shut up and deal with it. And be grateful for all the good I keep neglecting to think about.

I'll keep recording potentially pertinent details here. But no more whining.

* * *

Today's status:

We're going to bed early. We still haven't done the full-blown muzzle experience. I have misgivings about reintroducing the dogs right after putting them in muzzles because it seems like a way to negatively reinforce their time in the same space. I know both will hate their muzzles. So I need a way to have them wear the muzzle for a while in a fairly pleasant scenario, like with me reading nearby or giving them some positive attention. Playing ball with P, perhaps.

Today they each licked cream cheese and a cookie out of their muzzles. Tomorrow I'll do a little one-on-one time with the muzzles.

So far both dogs have been really good. P still isn't eating much, B is. B-dog seems to really miss P. He seemed really disappointed when I refused to let him outside with her and again when I put the gate between them. Of course I could be reading everything into that but what else is new?

P seemed a little more comfortable with B on the other side of the gate today.

We did a little clicker training. Back to the beginning: click and treat. Using the extra special turkey.

That was because my old trainer finally returned last week's phone message (said she was out of town) and suggested I read Click to Calm.

I like the idea of trying clickers. it's something to do, at any rate. My 30DR is compatible with clickers and I'm sick of negative stuff like spritzing P for growling. It doesn't feel right to me. I'll keep doing it but I need another long-term solution.

I guess that's it for today.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Day 9 of 30DR

That is the JAFCO muzzle I purchased for each of the dogs. I chose it because it's designed to be comfortable enough to be worn all day (though I definitely don't intend to make them wear theirs all day) and because it seemed the least Hannibal Lecterish of the ones I could find. The hot pink plastic ones I borrowed from Greyhound Rescue are pretty but hard and chafey and only intended to be worn for very short intervals (like during a race--long story).

I meant to begin acclimating the dogs to their muzzles today but procrastinated. So it'll start tomorrow.

Also tomorrow I've accepted an invitation to bring B-dog over to a co-worker's house to play with her 3 dogs. I'm nervous as hell about this idea and may still chicken out but as I watch my dear boy napping on the step, having been physically separated from P-dog for over a week (behind babygates all that time) I know that he needs real dog-play time and he can't quite have it with P yet. Also, being in a pack of dogs might be good for him psychologically.

The part of me that's nervous as hell is the part of me that's harkening back to August of 2006 when the dogs were rejected by Camp Bow-Wow for "not being comfortable with themselves" around other dogs.

I've been thinking about that trainer for a while now, the one who advised me "to get Zen with the dogs" and who was totally right and of course I tried in my own way but didn't follow her advice about acclimating them each back into the dog park and into other dogs and that is one of the reasons I'm totally blaming myself for the wretched scenario here at home.

I'm tempted to take B-dog back to her for an evaluation without P and see how he does. I worry that this weirdness with P is making him less practiced at dealing with / tolerating / ignoring obnoxious dog behavior toward him. That's why part of me thinks we should go ahead and visit my coworker's dogs. But then I think about McConnell's "hope and fear" mode, which is what I'll be in if I take him to that house where he'll be supervised by my friend and me but not by a trained professional.


And like my posting from two years ago I'm thinking, "Shit it's August. If only it were the beginning of the summer and I could really work on this." Oh brother. It's like I've just slid backwards year after year.

* * *

But none of this is really why I logged on to the blog. I mainly logged on to make some notes about today's dog scenario.


* Ate almost none of her food today. Barely a few bites of kibble. I gave her multiple chances but she just sniffed it and walked away.

* Hid under the bed during the thunderstorm, as usual. But also hid under the bed this afternoon when B was behind the gates in the living room and she had full run of half the house.

* On at least one occasion P stood in front of B, separated by the babygate. They stood looking at each other for a few seconds without seeming to snarl or cower. That seemed good. I think I said, "Good dogs" but am not sure. It happened rather fleeingly, though I am trying to train myself to give them immediate feedback to anything especially good or bad.

* At one point today (or maybe it was last night) they were going into their crates and P was in hers first and B did not want to walk anywhere near his crate. P was staring him down somehow. Not growling but definitely working her mean energy on him. I could feel it myself. B paused at the threshold and I had to talk him and walk with him all the way across the room and to his crate. She never growled this time, even after he got near her crate en route to his. But it was tense for sure.


* Just seems sort of subdued. He doesn't play really at all unless I initiate it. He ran around the yard a little tonight but he's not getting any real fun that I can see except maybe fore our short "mental health walk" today.

* Ate all his food, right when I gave it to him, at both times today.


* I missed today's bike ride because time somehow slipped away as I did work-related emailing. I ended up with only about an hour between meetings so I chose to give us a "mental health walk" by taking the dogs to the lake and walking the in a new place. I took B down his first boat ramp; he was apprehensive about it but did it and we both felt proud afterwards.

* I'm feeling really tense about having the dogs separated so much, even though they can see each other. It seems unnatural and stressful for them and it's no party for me either. And now there's the added stress of trying to decide whether to "throw B to the wolves" tomorrow at my friend's house. (Not wolves, but two mixed-breed dogs: one B's size, one P's size, and a Chihuahua or two.)

* I should have ridden my bike before doing any emailing.

It seems worth noting that P never growls at B when they're around their traveling crates in my car. Those crates stay in the same location most of the time, so it seems to me there's a potential for a territory thing there. But they don't seem to mind each other at all in that space.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two Sides of Me

A wise friend observed that P-dog and B-dog seem to be two halves of me. Yes that is so.

For years I've called P "my little empath" because she seemed to absorb whatever I was feeling at any moment. Especially the bad stuff. She's so watchful. Her shiny black eyes sparkle even in darkness, beaming right into my soul.

But what of the situation now? If I were to identify traits of my own with those of the dogs during this awful drama where would I even begin?

I've spent hundreds of hours journaling (here and elsewhere) about how the dogs are aspects of what I want and need but I'm not sure I have the self-awareness or honesty to identify how the dogs are aspects of what I am.

So I'll pour a glass of malbec, stop thinking so hard, and see what comes out without censoring myself . . .

Right now, meaning in the midst of the 30DR,

P-dog is:

* conflicted and unsettled--her behavior snaps between pleasantly normal and anxious and mean, as if she's just not sure how to "Be"

* gentle and loving and wants nothing more than attention and kindness . . . except for when she wants to be left entirely alone

* unusually protective of her treasures--not in an aggressive way, but in a worried-they're-going-to-be-taken-away way (for example, a couple weeks ago I brought home a deliciously massive knuckle-bone for each dog--B-dog gnawed on his but P dragged hers into another room and just sat there with it for hours; today I gave each dog another precious treat--a vanilla-infused cow cheek--and again B devoured his but P brought hers to her hiding spot beneath the bed and sat with it; I could find no evidence that she even nibbled on its edges). She has always remained calm when I remove a treat from her, and she continues to seem OK with my capricious removals and returns of treats (more of my training/testing her) and I don't know what would happen if B approached. Usually, when they're in the same room with treasures they take them away to other places until one of them gets distracted and wanders off, which is when the more vigilant dog grabs and hoards both. The loser tends to just accept the outcome. This has historically been true of both B and P. Because I've kept them separated the past week I can't say what would happen now but suspect P would growl.

* scared--she is fearful of bodily harm. She remembers B injured her and doesn't want to take any chances. She believes B is dangerous.

* wishing she and I lived here alone.

* tense about this whole fencing-off-the house and changing-all-the-rules-about-the-furniture thing.

B-dog is:

* worried. Something is wrong and different and he doesn't like it and doesn't know what to do about it.

* bored. He's not getting to explore as much. Discovering the passageway (i.e., the pass-through fireplace) between the two confinement areas was fun but now that's gated too.

* afraid of P. She's freaky and doesn't seem to like him.

* missing me. He wants to just have mellow time together, without all the tension.

* oblivious. Feeling like things are really basically okay.

* Itchy. If I'd just scratch his rump more often and brush his fur he'd be pretty content most of the time.

* misunderstood.

OK, well there you have it.



Day 8 of 30DR

I rode my bicycle again this morning.

Last night, as I rode around the lake, I spent the entire hour reciting things I loved about riding my bike around the lake--how it makes my calves feel strong, how it opens my mind and liberates me from the anxieties of my day, . . . I feel certain that the bicycle hour helps me be more calm at home.

But today by the time I returned home it was already too hot to walk the dogs. So I neglected that today but was pretty steady with everything else.


* I crated them twice today. The first time P-dog quietly tackled her kong while B-dog entered his crate. The second time (even though all other conditions were, as far as I could tell, identical, right down to the kong) P-dog barked and growled at B as he entered his crate. He retreated to the bedroom doorway, then obeyed me when I insisted he come to me and enter his crate, with P barking and growling. I spritzed P with the water-filled spray bottle that I now keep there. I haven't yet rotated their crates. I'll do that tomorrow.

* Again today P seems tense when I put her in the living room and B in the dining room. She hides behind a chair to block his view of her. This morning she wouldn't eat her food. She did eat tonight's helping, though. I switch the dogs between those spaces throughout the day, trying to give them equal access to me and to the backyard. My gut tells me I need to get them un-separated soon or else the gates will reinforce the antagonism somehow. It keeps them from playing together. Not that they frolic much, really, but still a little frolicking is important. But they mainly frolic by chasing squirrels and I worry that muzzling them on hot days outside will be too hard on them. So again we hit the early-morning scenario.

Speaking of muzzles. They arrived this afternoon. They're still in the box. I just couldn't bring myself to open the box today. Tomorrow I'll start the business of gently introducing them to the muzzles--putting treats inside them on the floor and so forth. I hate this.

* As for B's behavior, he's still docile but seems a little tense and unhappy. Hard to explain. It's just his demeanor. He seems to believe he's in trouble with me.

I hate this.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Day 7 of 30DR

It was a week ago that P-dog and I met with the trainer and received the 30-day regimen. I can't say that I was bowled over by the trainer: I didn't get that mystical "Dog Whisperer" sort of confidence from her that I'd hoped for, but she seemed compassionate and competent and knowledgeable and I trust her advice.

Also, she sent me a copy of Patricia McConnell's slim book on the multi-dog home, Feeling OutNumbered, which surprisingly I didn't already own.

Here's where things stand:

For the most part I've followed the regimen to the letter. I turned it into a checklist (with a column for each dog) and have been pretty disciplined. Some slip-ups:

The last two nights P-dog has not spent all night in her crate.
Rain storms came into town on Sunday (thunder frightens her) and at bed time she slid beneath the bed (which she usually does during storms) and I couldn't extricate her without trauma. I tried to make the right decision: on the one hand I need to stick to the rules--letting her sleep beneath the bed is giving her the choice of where to sleep, etc.; on the other hand, I'm trying to be calm and in control and crawling under the bed to wrestle her out seemed to be giving her too much attention and result in me being unsuccessful unless I removed the mattresses and so forth. It just seemed too chaotic and, besides (I rationalized) my chief goal is to keep her off the bed so beneath the bed is sort of OK.

About halfway through the night she snuck up on the bed and I got her off and into her crate. That was Sunday night.

Last night she pulled the under-the-bed thing again. I figured I'd get her into her crate again later in the night. She didn't jump on the bed but stayed on the floor and roamed around the house barking in the wee hours of the morning.

-->Note to Self:
  • From now on, she goes into the crate even if I have to remove the mattresses (ugh).
  • I'll see if I can make a barrier with laundry or some such each evening to prevent her from getting under the bed at bedtime.
  • If for some reason I let a dog sleep outside the crate one night I will remember to gate the door so they don't have access to the whole house.

My other main slip-up is that I've been neglecting my daily bike ride.
I've been drinking too much coffee, staying up too late, getting up too late, and not putting myself first. (Which is largely how we got into this mess to begin with.)

Now, anyone who knows me will appreciate the importance of the bicycle-riding thing. I'm notoriously boundary-less. I give myself away to everyone and everything. I put myself dead last. Especially after my dogs. Which is why--again--I failed as their leader. In order for me to be a leader to them I must treat myself like someone who matters. I deliberately chose something fairly easy--a bike ride, for crying out loud--that would help me practice "mattering."

But so far I've only gone every other day or so.

Some notes on the dogs' behavior:

  • P-dog seems to be more rather than less fearful of B. The nighttime crate thing seems to be tied to her fear of having him walk by her crate or be next to her. (Their crates sit side by side.) A couple of nights she growled at him as he walked by her crate into his. I detected no aggressiveness on his side. On the contrary, he seems to slink past her--head down, eyes turned away, almost cowering--into the crate. I feel like I need to correct both of them for behaving this way: spritz P with water for being aggressive; spritz D for reacting to her. I saw Cesar Millan correct a dog with fear aggression by forcing him on his side just for starting to get tense (not even for growling). Does this mean I should at the very least spritz P for behaving fearfully? I dunno. I'm going to keep a water bottle near the crates and squirt her for growling at him. But I don't know whether I should squirt her for acting fearful.

    I need to differentiate here: sometimes she growls; sometimes she looks frightened and hides.

    Yesterday she hid behind the couch after B-dog wandered up to the baby gate to watch her play with a squeaky toy. She behaves apprehensively more consistently when he's near the gate that separates them.

  • Despite all that, we have had some seemingly peaceful quasi-interactions. Yesterday I accidentally left both sliding doors open to the back yard and P-dog joined B and me in the yard. They chased a squirrel together in the garden without incident. I tried to give them a little space for that and then to stop it while things were still OK. McConnell says it's best to not live in "hope and fear" in situations like this: "I hope they'll do OK together but I fear they'll get into a fight."

    Last night I invented "turkey training." They both love deli-style sliced turkey so I had them both do down-stays on either side of the babygate and I walked between them rewarding each with a little turkey while they remained down, each about a yard from the gate facing one another. P didn't growl once. She seemed mostly focused on the turkey but still it seemed like progress or at least not another step backward.I got that idea from McConnell also. She said it's a good idea to have one dog do a sit-stay or a down-stay while watching another dog be trained or played with. The idea is to get the other dog to trust that your time with the other dog means good things for him as well. So you reserve a special treat for the dog that's observing the play and reward him periodically during the play so he'll be invested in the whole scenario.

  • One more thing I'm learning: I need to do their 30-minute "settles" earlier in the day. Lately I've mostly been doing them at night (because, frankly, there's SO MUCH to do during the day). But squeezing in the settles at night means the dogs just fall asleep; they don't know they're settling.

Labeling what's going on doesn't seem entirely helpful. But I guess I should summarize what I think I know about what's happening right now:

* P is behaving fear-aggressively toward B. Not every moment of every day, but consistently so each day. I need to pay closer attention to the specific details of when and where she does it. Right now it seems to be mostly at times when B dog is closer to her than I am, or when he starts to enter "her space" which sometimes is personal space (though yesterday in the yard he sniffed her hindquarters briefly and she didn't react) and sometimes is an area surrounding her personal space (like outside her crate while she's in it).

* P is starting to avoid her crate at bedtime. Maybe this is a power struggle or just ingenuity. Maybe it's related to fear of B. I'm going to move the crates--partly to make her location less like her "territory" (in the same spirit as moving their food bowls per the 30DR) and see if that makes any difference.

* B seems about the same. He's cowering less around P but he never did cower all the time with her. Just in particular moments, notably he would do this when P was on the chair, sofa, or bed with me and he would enter the room. My concerns about B are mostly (a) that this situation does not somehow cause him to become more aggressive toward P (I still don't think he's aggressive toward her, really, except after a fight has begun that she probably started); (b) that I keep in mind B's pre-existing issue of being aggressive toward masculine visitors to my house, mainly because it's something that remains an issue in my life with B despite the fact that I'm concentrating on his relationship with P right now. My hope is that by improving my leadership-style with them, and by structuring our home-life somewhat differently, I'm doing things that will also help me improve B's manners toward house guests. I have very few visitors, but it's important that I not feel anxious about having company now and then.

* I seem to be getting that condition on my scalp (not sure what it's called) that comes from stress. A little mound has formed on my hairline. At first it seemed like a pimple or a mosquito bite but it's the kind of thing that will bleed profusely if I scratch it. I'm feeling the strain of all this.

* Oh, and I keep describing most of this in terms of P's fear-aggressiveness but the trainer mostly attributed the problem to possessiveness. The trainer said P views me as a possession and is being aggressive to keep B away from me. That would explain the growling when B approached the water bowl near my desk (and maybe, to her, the prospect of him getting to be on "my" side of the gate for a while. But I don't see the possessiveness scenario explaining P's growling when B approaches her crate or his. Unless she's saying, "This whole space near my crate is mine; keep out." Which makes sense. And then the under-bed stuff is just her attempt to expand her territory again or something. But her hiding behind the couch when he approaches the gate seems not to be about possessiveness. And their big, ear-piercing fight occurred in the living room, away from me, near the television, which is not a major possession in our house (I rarely watch it or do anything with it and neither do the dogs). I saw no toy on the floor after the fight so though it's possible there was some sort of "bone of contention" involved I don't know what it would have been.

As I log off I find myself reporting two more things:

* B-dog just realized he can get from the living room to the dining room through the two-sided fireplace (thus evading the babygate).

* I keep doing dumb things. After B-dog's unexpected arrival on this side of the babygate I put P in a sit-stay in the bedroom and brought the babygate to the doorway to keep her there while B dog remained in the dining room, which is where I am typing right now. I called B near the table to drink some water and P growled at him as he approached the water. Once again, it looks like the growl was about B entering her visible space (which is two yards from her position behind the gate) or maybe it's about him entering the space I've been working in (I wasn't sitting there at the time but P may have recognized the change as B entering my space, which P sees as her territory. I dunno.)

So I used my calm correction voice (such as it is) and put P on a downstay in the bedroom (McC says to do this within eyeshot of the other dog but P was already around the corner and there didn't seem like enough room near the gate--though I probably could have maneuvered her there--it just happened so fast). P did her downstay and while she was there I thought, "Now what? I should have just squirted her maybe. And now I'm here in the bedroom with her, which is probably like a reward to her for barking at B. So I figured I'd do the 30-minute-settle-while-ignoring-her session right then. But 5 minutes into it I thought, "Yeah, but I'm still giving her what she wanted when she barked at B: I'm now in her space instead of in his, and she's lying comfily on the floor looking out the window not seeming to care whether I'm ignoring her or not because for years I've done this--sat in this chair reading a book with her at my feet--and it doesn't look any different except that she's on the floor instead of on my lap." So I left her on the leash but walked back into the dining room and now I'm here with B.

Maybe it's time for that bike ride.

Labels: ,

More Requirements (Supplements to the 30-Day Regimen)

I added two things to the 30-day regimen: muzzles for them and a daily bicycle ride for me. Here's where that comes from:

In addition to the 30-Day Regimen the trainer suggested I get a muzzle for B-dog to relieve myself of anxiety during trial periods of letting the dogs be in the same space.

She said it's not a good idea to keep them totally isolated from one another, so the muzzle is intended to help me give them that needed time together. Additionally, I'm trying to mostly gate them in areas where they can still see one another.

During my research on the muzzles I spoke with several people who suggested I muzzle both dogs, not just the bigger one, because the smaller dog (P-dog) appears to be initiating most of the fights. She is definitely fear-aggressive (in addition to whatever else might be going on here) toward B. So the muzzle on P would: (a) prevent me from giving her an unfair advantage over B, should she initiate a fight in which he wouldn't have his mouth to defend himself; (b) level the field in general (making both less likely to severely hurt one another--so far P's worst was a puncture to B's paw pad but still . . .); (c) perhaps help me strengthen my position in their eyes as the leader of the pack (something I evidently need since everyone agrees I've let P-dog feel like the alpha--not just alpha dog, Queen of Everything--all these years).

The muzzles haven't arrived yet. (I'm relieved about this because I'm dreading the muzzle thing. But will do it.)

The trainer added the periodic-muzzle requirement.

I added an exercise requirement for myself: an hour per day of me-time on the bicycle to help me begin to feel stronger inside and to clear my head so I'll be less anxious around the dogs.

It's very clear that the dogs' problems won't be totally resolved until I fix myself. So much of this is all about me and my laxness and anxiety and overall feeling of vulnerability. I know I need a "30-Day Emergency Regimen" for myself as well as for the dogs. But I'm only requiring myself to do the 1 hour of bicycling for now.

Labels: ,

30-Day Regimen

I'm going to keep a more-detailed journal about our experience trying to overcome the fighting.

Here's the list we received from the trainer last week:

Feed dogs twice a day, during a consistent time frame (ex: 7-7:10 a.m. and 4-4:15 p.m.) and move bowls to a different location each time, removing food even if untouched.

Give dogs zero people food except as training treats.

Require dogs to Sit or Down before every treat.

Walk each dog at heel but pause many times to allow her/him to wander around and smell interesting things while you remain stationary.

Lead two training sessions per day, 5 to 10 minutes with no physical petting.

Lead two eye contact sessions per day (5 times per session, OK while walking).

Conduct a thirty-minute settle (foot on leash; ignore the dog; down-stay not required).

Each dog has access to only one toy at a time.

Avoid playing tug-of-war or any game you do not initiate yourself. (Pause and walk away before initiating the play.)

Avoid walking around the dog; gently nudge out of the way.

Restrict dogs from beds, chairs, sofa (put empty boxes on them).

Before leaving home, put dogs in their crates (TV/radio on).

Do a surprise down once a week..

Remain calmly vigilant for problem behavior and interrupt it however possible.

Require sit-ups (Sit then Free; repeat) after problem behavior.

Sing the dog’s special jingle (including her name) twice a day for 7 seconds.

At bedtime, both dogs sleep in their crates.

Labels: , ,


"Muzzle" was the most awful word and image to me . . . until the trainer used the word "re-home."

Her actual sentence was something like, "You may need to consider rehoming one of them."

I said, "Consider what?"

That word re-home is dogworld jargon.I hadn't heard it or used it before. As soon as its meaning clicked I felt Lost. Like I'd already lost the battle to re-make our life.

The thought I didn't have at that moment but recognize now is how much my shattered-feeling is related to the divorce-and-rebuilding narrative of the past 3 or so years. Ending my marriage was a good decision. Then my forced-remodeling and home-ownership scenario: more upheaval, stressful as hell, but a necessary part of moving on. And throughout all this the dogs were my real life. They were my source of all rightness.

At the heart of everything was my belief that my purpose in life was to live as well as I could right now, to stay sane and strong, and to take good care of these dogs. I was starting over from scratch with everything but the dogs. The dogs were my family, my nucleus. I consoled myself night after night--beyond lawyers and disturbing handymen and mounting debt, and termites, and nightmarish phone calls from my ex--no matter how I'd handled or mishandled everything else that day I consoled myself that I was OK because I'd taken good care of these dear dogs.

I had already "re-homed" us all: spent the last year making it possible for us to live in a beautiful place with birds and a garden and everything we needed to be safe and peaceful together.

I don't have children. I have two dogs that were abandoned by other people and came into my world and made me feel whole.

But it seems probable that my way of caring for them was wrong for them, or at least not right enough to prevent the trouble they're having right now. Despite all my best intentions, despite all the books I read and classes we took--puppy school, basic obedience, agility, freestyle dance ( ! ), flyball--despite the dog park and the vanilla infused cowcheeks and the singing and the love--I blew it.

To make this less of a pity party I'll acknowledge that some of the problem is nature rather than nurture. But still I can see so clearly that most of what I've done "for them" were all the things I wanted to do, not necessarily the things they needed. They needed more walks, they needed more obedience practice, they needed reinforcement of the lessons we learned at school--lessons about home manners and responding appropriately to strangers, they needed a calm, assertive leader. I didn't give them enough of any of that.

The things I wanted them to need--affection, quiet times on the sofa, training as a feel-good hobby--these were not the things they needed most.

My point is that I knew better all along but I ultimately copped out and did whatever was most comfortable for me.

So here I am, on Day 7 of the emergency training. Praying to God we can all fix this. So I can keep my family intact.

(Some would say that my persistence in calling my dogs "family" indicates I'm still not doing what they need: I'm still treating them like humans rather than like dogs, still burdening them with my emotions. Yeah. Bite Me.)

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ignoring my dog for another 25 minutes

I'm sitting on the soft with B-dog's leash beneath my left foot. Mom is here visiting and we had a late supper so I feel guilty about restricting his mobility after a long evening of crate time.

But I must do this. a 30-minute "settle" with each dog on the floor, my foot on the leash, while I pay absolutely no attention to them. Poor buddy.

And poor me, really. I'm sleepy from the beer at dinner and must repeat this routine with P-dog as well before going to bed. And since both dogs must now sleep in their crates (instead of on my bed with me, which I love) I'm trying to give them a little liberty time before hitting the hay. Sheesh.

* * *

The last few days I've been following the trainer's "emergency" regimen in an effort to fix us all. Since I've been too worn out to blog about it I'll paste one of my emails describing this saga to a friend, following my 1 or 2 hour meeting with the dog trainer regarding or problems at home . . .

* * *

. . . After the meeting I sat in the car and
sobbed. For so many reasons. For being such a poor dog-mom despite my
fine intentions. For being such an incompetent leader to animals who
need leadership more than anything. For not doing my best
for these sweet creatures. For smothering them instead of attending to
what I knew they needed.

I mentioned my willingness to do the big time crack-of-dawn dog walks.
The trainer said European research has shown that dogs don't need
intensive Dog Whisperer style exercise because that raises their
adrenaline and can actually make them more aggressive; instead what
they need is lots of mental stimulation. She said what I need to do is
take them for a walk for the purpose of stimulating them, not
exhausting them. She said their nose is their most important organ. I
dunno. Seems like exhausting them is a good idea. But I'm going to
follow her prescription and let them walk and smell things instead of
forcing them to zoom along for an hour. In this hot
weather it's a bad idea to push a long walk anyway.

She was kind and a terrier-lover and gave me lots of advice and a printed sheet
summarizing a 30-day
plan for restructuring your dog lifestyle. I turned that into a
checklist and will follow it faithfully for 30 days, starting
tomorrow. (Though I'm starting some things tonight--perhaps including
not letting the dogs sleep with me.)

The trainer didn't say I could never sleep with them or cuddle with
them on the couch again, but she did say I'd need to stick to the plan
until things changed.

She helped me see how I've always let P-dog be in charge: from the
very first day of B-dogs arrival when I mistakenly let her decide
when he was permitted in certain parts of the house--that should
have been my decision, not hers.

She also said there really isn't any such thing as Beta and
Delta--that whole hierarchy thing. She said packs have a leader and
then everyone else, the others' roles change depending on what the
pack needs at any time. The problem in our house isn't that P or
B want to be Top Dog so much as the fact that I'm not Top Dog.
Once again (as with every other trainer I've worked with) she
explained that the dogs don't believe I'm in charge. Right now they
seem to see me as a possession. Part of the territory they're fighting
over. If I were clearly their leader they wouldn't see the need to
fight over territory anymore. It would be my territory. And so on.

So my job for the next 30 days is to (1) protect the dogs from hurting
each other, and (2) make myself their leader.

The saddest thing in the world is that (1) involves making B-dog wear
a muzzle. The trainer said it's a bad idea to keep the dogs separated
all the time because it will ultimately reinforce the problem rather
than dilute it. They need to be in the same space now and then. But
the only way I can feel confident P is safe (today's bite BTW was
near her eye--I discovered it only later) is by muzzling the bigger dog. This
won't necessarily stop them from fighting but it will reduce the odds
of a horrifying injury and it will make ME feel less nervous which is
a huge part of the problem. I'm now terrified for P-dog and I'm no
good at pretending not to be tense in front of them.

So tomorrow is muzzle shopping. She recommended a metal basket-type
model and said that the Greyhound rescue people routinely use them and
give one to every adopter because Greyhounds are so prey-driven
they're a natural threat to cats and such. The image of B-dog as
Hannibal Lecter horrifies me. Makes me cry. But I just need to get
over it. Me being comfortable is partly what led to this awful

And becoming a leader is next. Lord. The trainer at first described
how her own mother was one of those people who you just obeyed as a
kid no matter what. I knew what she was trying to suggest and found I
had absolutely no parental analogue. Not one of my four parents was a
calm-assertive leader. My mother was animated but weak and
hyperreactive; my father obtuse and unconcerned; my stepfather
unpredictable and sometimes abusive; my
stepmother an uncompassionate alien.

Explains a lot, actually.

During my drive home I reflected on all those Dog Whisperer podcasts I
watched this afternoon and it occurred to me that I'm the red-line
dog. I'm the one who needs the hour-long exercise to expend my nervous
energy before starting my day with the dogs. I'm the one whose energy
is weak or anxious to the dogs. I'm the one who needs to be balanced
and predictable.

So for 30 days I'll do all the things the trainer prescribed plus an
hour of exercise, probably on my bike. An hour is about two rides
around the lake. I can do that. I won't be in the mood for it but I'll
do it.

It's so difficult to change who we are inside. Is it even possible?
I've felt vulnerable for so long that I don't know how to feel
otherwise. But I believe it will require a physical change--something
very deep--because faking it doesn't make it.

And I keep going back to my ex-husband's (EE's) role in all this. He was alpha. Always.
To all of us. And in retrospect I believe that when EE lived here my
weakness and frustration was already well established in the
perceptions of my dogs. I've always said their behavior change was
about protecting me after EE left. Actually, I believe the foundation
was forming even while he was here. I wasn't second-in-command. I was
just another member of the pack who happened to take them to obedience
school and to the vet but wasn't really in charge of anything.

My persistent exhaustion emotionally and physically, my sense of
debilitation, all this weakness comes from years and years of tension
and frustration that began long before I adopted these dogs. They've
always known me as this fundamentally weary person.

The training I will do. Every last thing on the long list. Every day.
Twice. But I realize the dog thing is unlikely to be truly resolved
until I change. Really change. For good.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Watching Dog Whisperer Isn't Enough

To keep myself from crying I've been watching video podcasts of The Dog Whisperer. They're too short to be really instructive but I had to do something.

Tonight I'm taking P-dog to meet a new trainer and I've vowed to do whatever she says. For life. And I mean it.

When I briefed her on the situation over the phone she said, "This has been building for years." And I believe she's right. And it reminded me of all those studies of violent behavior when at first people say [any given menace] was "always quiet and polite and kept to himself" when in fact if you traced his history you'd see the awful incident was part of a larger pattern of behavior.

Well that's where we are.

At least no one's maimed yet.

But the dogs' behavior is now out of control. Last week they got in another scuffle in which B-dog clamped down on P-dog's ear and pierced it. I pulled them apart again but I have trouble visualizing them halting the fight on their own. This morning they got into it again by the backdoor and this time apparently P-dog punctured B's paw pad.

These are such dear dogs. I'm terrified for them both. Especially P. She spends most of her time beneath a bed and avoids crossing B's path. But when the fights begin I believe she's the one initiating them.

So now I'm having to keep them separated in their crates, letting one out at a time for exercise. It breaks my heart but I don't know what else to do. I mean I know lots of things to do; I've read dozens of dog books. I know I need to walk them an hour each day to exhaust them physically (Cesar Millan) and be a calm-assertive leader (Patricia McConnell) and treat them like dogs not people (Monks of New Skete) and so forth. But right at this moment, on a hundred-degree summer day, with two very tense dogs, I don't know what next steps to take to begin making everything all right.

I've begun walking them on short leads, and I intend to build up to an hour each morning per dog but that is going to mean getting up at 5 every day. An unrealistic goal? Yes. But it's too hot to do anything else. And of course we could walk shorter distances, blahblahblah, but the point is I've begun taking steps too late. At the rate I'm going I may not be able to curb things before a more serious injury.

And school begins in a few weeks so I won't have as much flexible time. Sigh.

And I realize a major part of this is behaving like a Calm. Assertive. Pack Leader. I am none of those things. I'm tense and anxious. I'm nervous and confrontation-avoidant. I'm exhausted and weak and want to just wander around the house doing whatever I want without setting an example for anyone.

Granted, none of the above traits are desirable. I need to change them no matter what. But I guess I figured I'd have more time to gradually evolve into a Phenomenal Woman. I've mostly been a Tired Woman.

And my dogs have been suffering the consequences. I'm so sorry.

Labels: ,