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.

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