Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fung Shui, A Vedic Mantra, and A Healing Touch Specialist

What's gotten better:
  • I've been walking both dogs more and for longer periods.
  • I've lost a little weight.
  • I'm eating better.
  • I'm kayaking around once a week.
  • The dogs are staying off the furniture even when boxes or tin foil are absent. (Which is good not because I give a flip about them being on the furniture but because it means they're obeying one of my otherwise meaningless hierarchical rules.)
  • I'm mostly maintaining the other house rules, such as feeding them twice a day and making them sit before passing through doors.
  • Petunia seems to really love her agility lessons.
  • I've enrolled Buddy in agility and CGC training also and those classes begin soon and will be good one-on-one time for us.
  • I'm becoming somewhat accustomed to walking every day with the dogs and am somewhat less bored by it.
  • I've gotten a little smarter about rotating the dogs around the house in a way that reduces Petunia's opportunities to growling at Buddy for crossing her perceived space.

What's gotten worse:
  • As should be evident from the last item above, Petunia is still growling and mean-barking at Buddy, despite the "improvements" in our household hierarchy.
  • In fact, she's gotten worse in the last week or so. Last month the two dogs would sit across the gate from one another without either one growling; sometimes an entire day would pass without a growl or bark across the gate. (It's always Petunia growling or barking, never yet Buddy.) Now Petunia growls more often then not, every time Buddy: (1) walks past the gate, regardless of whether I'm on the same side of the gate as her and, if memory serves, also regardless of which side of the gate she's on (though mostly when she is on the living room/front door side and he is on the dining room/back of the house side; (2) enters the bedroom at night. Mostly she growls when she is in her crate in the master bathroom and he is entering the bedroom. Buddy now cowers every time I ask him to enter the bedroom, as if Petunia might be in there or growl at him. So our current routine is that I have him enter the bedroom first at night, then have her go to her crate. When I crate them before work there seems to be less of an issue about entering the bedroom, though he still hesitates before entering the room. (Should I put one of their crates outside the bedroom? This is the returning question. The trainer said yes. But I worry that would give one dog perceived ownership of the bedroom (if this is about territory, after all, and if my attempts at being THE owner of the territory are still ineffectual, wouldn't I exacerbate the problem?).
  • The house--especially the dining room--has gotten much more messy, partly because I'm trying to *finally* (as in at last and forever more) sift through all my old divorce and pre-divorce paperwork and receipts to give my tax-preparer, and the kitchen because I've been working long hours and neglecting it. Though I should say my master bathroom has gotten cleaner because moving Petunia in there inspired me to tidy it and now I've kept it tidy for over a week.
  • I'm feeling deep despair. Inside I'm feeling panicky that this dog scenario won't get resolved and that it's all my fault because I'm such a fragmented, brittle mess.
  • Buddy is pulling on the leash again when we walk, even though I'm doing the same dog-whispererish stuff that I began over a month ago and to which he seemed to respond really well.

So where are we?

I'm trying three new things this week:

Feng Shui
Since not filing my 2007 taxes is not an option, I'm seriously focusing on getting through the majority of my paper clutter this week. For good. Financial strain has been a major source of stress for me and clearly part of why I'm feeling brittle (in addition to the dread of encountering marriage related stuff among the papers and clutter). The Wall Street debacle has me terrified of losing my house--remember, I'm on a second mortgage right now. So that would explain part of my increased anxiety that perhaps is fueling the dogs' behavior. I'm out of control financially, or nearly so. I've been spending far more than I earn in an attempt to fix and fix-up the house, and in my prodigal pursuit of dog-behavior solutions, to the point where I've never returned to my plan of establishing a budget or even figuring out what I routinely spend every month, much less strategizing for savings or even further debt avoidance. All this is a serious dilemma. And part of the solution, possibly the main part of the solution, is getting organized at last. Taking ownership of my paperwork, mercilessly tossing and shredding some of it, and getting to a place where I can see what I've got and where it's going. Doing so would clear my dining room and make me feel less like a total failure. I'm calling this feng shui partly also because I believe a core of financial organization would seed organization and tidiness elsewhere in my house and life. The consistently tidy master bath is a huge accomplishment for me. I feel peaceful entering that space and nowhere else in the house. That says something. And I think the dogs feel it too.

A Vedic Mantra
I had lunch with an old student this afternoon, a Buddhist and philosopher whose mindfulness I have always respected. I asked him to recommend a mantra to help me feel more grounded. I'm going to use it as my next effort at meditation.

A Healing Touch Specialist
My therapist recommended this woman to me months ago, perhaps even a year ago, to help me deal with some body/vulnerability issues related to my childhood and stepfather. I finally called her for help with my sense of fragmentation and inner weakness, my inability to feel that core of strength that I'm supposed to be tapping as a "calm-assertive leader." Whenever I try to Be that person I always know I'm faking it. Cesar Millan says "be Oprah . . . be Cleopatra . . ." I've decided who I want to channel is Bette Midler. Ha! No, seriously.

I told the healing touch person this over the phone and also mentioned the problem with the dogs. She asked me the names and breeds of the dogs. Not in that sing-songy dog person way, but in a trained-professional-who-could-be-asking-me-about-my-family-history-of-diabetes kinda way. She said she sometimes works with dogs and that she might ask me to bring one or both of them to a future consultation.

Yes, I know how wacky this all sounds. I don't care. And frankly if I'm going to continue on this quirky journey why not follow every path. And I must say that the moment she took an interest in my dogs I felt I was cosmically meant to work with this person.

So there you go. My appointment is this Friday.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Daemon

Last night I dreamt I had three Petunias. Three energetic black terriers hopping up on the sofa, demanding attention. Not a Buddy in sight.

They were adorable and I loved them all and made them practice only coming up on the sofa when I invited them. Then I found myself worrying that maybe I hadn't taken all three to agility class last night. Or maybe I'd only done the jumps with one or two of them and the other missed out.

Petunia is being brilliant in agility. She seems to love it and seems completely unfazed by the other dogs in class. Last night a rambunctious lab approached her and she was just fine. I accidentally held my breath as some sort of herding dog approached her and she was still fine.

This Saturday morning we rotate into our regular agility class, which will include that pit bull we met last week named Phoebe. The one with the calm energy. I feel certain Petunia's relationship with the pit will go south only if I'm weird about it. This may very well, at last, be the thing that drives me to practice meditation. I need to be able to anchor myself to calmness.

But the business of having three Petunias has me once again in mind of Pullman's book The Golden Compass.

I felt cosmically directed to read that trilogy (three separate events pointed me to it) so I finished Book One a few days ago. If I were actually "called " to read that book it's likely because of its premise that every human has an animal daemon that is a mirror of him or herself.

The idea of dogs mirroring human emotions and behavior is one that has come up repeatedly in my readings about animal behavior as well. And I've admitted all along that my tension and fragmentation have influenced if not caused the problems we're experiencing at home. But it's more than just being tense and off-kilter. If I were to truly contemplate this thing, I'd find parallels in Petunia's need for affection, her bitchiness, her anxieties, and her outright joy in structured romping outdoors.

So three Petunias. Was I supposed to be one of them--maybe the one left out of the agility class?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I've Seen Dog Heaven

It's Shangrila.

And it's just 20 minutes due north of my house: the freeway nearest my house turns into a two-lane country road as I drive further and further north through pastureland that's slowly being developed into McMansions. Just when you think you've gone too far the country road becomes a modern, multi-lane intersection. Turn right and you're on another two-lane country road with long driveways extending into nowhere. One of those driveways leads through a residential security gate, then a tree-lined road (of the gentleman farmer aesthetic) leading to a vast ranch-style mansionesque complex that includes a fully developed horse-training facility that has been turned into an agility dog training facility.

Some paddocks have become semi-enclosed play fields where you can toss a frisbee to a dog that needs a little alone time; others are mini training arenas where a dog and her handler can focus on, say, weave poles.

Stables lined with aromatic wood shavings offer jumping apparatus at different heights.

A satellite building is now the dog trainer's office, fitted out with "dog-proof" decor with southwestern flair: slate floors, iron furniture, a franklin stove, a separate conference room with a viewing system so you can review your agility moves over a glass of iced tea.

Oh. My. Stars.

I brought Buddy to this alternative universe for what I expected would be a quick meeting with the trainer. We stayed three hours (I missed an appointment downtown for this), playing with some of the dogs--yes, we had a play date with a white schnauzer (a male, dominant schnauzer BTW). And get this: the schnauzer's owner works for the very Camp Bow-Wow that rejected us a few years back and said she'd get us special permission for a re-interview for Buddy since he was such a good sport with her dog.

He was calm and dear with every human and canine there.

I brought only Buddy because it's raining all weekend and I figured the storms would rattle Petunia too much for such an adventure to be sensible.

But around 1 p.m. I decided the place was too good for P to miss. So I drove home, switched dogs, and Petunia spent nearly three hours there as well. We wandered around and met other dogs. I was more cautious with her so no play date, but we did walk by many different dogs and nearly all were significantly larger. The dogs around whom she seemed *least * calm were Belgian Tervurans--the same breed as her best friend in the old days. The dog that seemed to be most calming for her was a pit bull named Phoebe. Yes. A big black female pit bull with a scarred up face (from her pre-rescue days), named Phoebe--she is now a therapy dog and does agility.

We played ball for about an hour in the separate space, just getting exhausted and happy. She returned the ball right into my hand, almost every time. Occasionally she'd head over to the horse trough for a drink and them climb all the way inside it, like Mr. Darcy in his bath tub.

She met lots of humans who gave her lots of treats and helped her experience much goodness in an unfamiliar place surrounded by lots of high-energy dogs making eye contact and so forth (in other words, these were assertive and alert dogs--amped up from running around and most were herding breeds, which tend to be, on balance, the most consistently unnerving breeds for Miss P). But she was fine and I was okay and the trainer said she saw nothing in Petunia's behavior that would cause her to worry about having her in a class.

So we're going to return for an individual "levelling" session to see whether we can enter as beginners (instead of as foundations or pre-agility people--in other words, whether we can get on the equipment sooner rather than later). Buddy is going into the foundation class and we're trying to get into the same class as his new schnauzer pal.

That's how I spent my day. My dogs are now snoozing on their beds and I'm feeling Gratitude.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Slightly Updated Training List for Now through Oct 1

OK, let's call it our "Pre-Agility" List or our C2C 101 List

I had a nice talk with the agility trainer this afternoon and she said the #1 training priority for agility is getting Buddy to come when I call him because the dogs work off-lead.

Now, the whole reason we're doing agility is to give the dogs some structured play with me. Something fun and exhausting that includes a little obedience training and some structured interaction with other dogs. BUT part of me is fearful that the dogs may not be ready for re-entry into the off-lead dogworld. And that's something we'll need to just figure out. Either they'll be able to do it or not but I feel confident that if a fight were to occur I could pull my dog back safely and at that point we'd probably have to withdraw from class. Petunia did agility years ago, for six weeks, and never had a confrontation with another dog. If the dogs can handle the interaction I believe it will be important to them. And I'm speaking in the plural because I've decided to enroll in a separate class with each dog, if the trainer will admit each dog into a class. So there you have it.

And if we seem to be ready for agility that's OK because this training list will also help us get ready for Buddy's Canine Good Citizen training and for our general aspiration of living the good life. (Which at this point means the three of us safe and happy and healthy and not fighting. Seems to modest and yet so miraculous.)

So here's the list that I'm making into my next checklist (because evidently I'm better with a checklist):

  1. Walk with each dog every day: 40 minutes min on non-teaching days; anything okay on teaching days.

  2. Clicker train for eye contact ("watch"), both dogs, every day.

  3. Clicker train for coming when called, both dogs, every day.

  4. Maintain the current physical structure of our homelife every day.

  5. Study bark-reduction and make a baby step towards it with Petunia each day.

  6. Practice muzzle-time with Buddy, for fabulous treats, 5 to 30 minutes per day.

  7. Practice backpack-wearing during Buddy's walks at least 3 times per week.

  8. Practice gear-wearing time with Petunia, followed by fabulous treats or playtime, 3 to 10 minutes per day.

  9. Bring each dog into an interesting socialization context (such as a store or public event) at least once per week.

  10. Do at least one 30-minute down-settle with each dog every day.

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Priorities (What Trumps What with My Dogs)

This seems like a useful list to begin and hopefully to maintain.

It comes from what just happened outside: Petunia and I were playing frisbee (frisbee trumps treats for P). I had a sense that the neighbors were outside next door, which usually means their rottie is there too, but instead of returning inside I decided that a rousing game of frisbee would be a neat way to practice being in the yard simultaneously without fence-fighting (something P and the rottie regularly do, always with the same progression: the rottie watches us through the fence, P detects it, P charges behind the bushes against the fence, loud fighting ensues, somehow it gets broken up (I like to think that my calling her away is what finally makes her break off, or even that the neighbors' calling their dog off does it, but I suspect sometimes P just stops when she feels like it), P scampers away from the fence, tail high, looking triumphant and jolly. Needless to say, this behavior is on the short list of things I'm supposed to stop.

* * *


  • Rottie at the fence TRUMPS frisbee.

  • Rottie at the fence TRUMPS splashing water (i.e., the promise of swimming and splashing games).

  • Frisbee TRUMPS supper.

  • Ball TRUMPS frisbee.

  • Mom clicking-and-treating Buddy outside TRUMPS hiding-under-the-bed.


  • Supper TRUMPS Petunia-watching.

  • Sitting TRUMPS swimming.

  • Click-and-treat games TRUMP frisbee or ball.

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Aggressive Alice

Season 1, Episode 16. That's the closest to my situation so far.

Solution: walk the dogs together.


Body Language

A couple quick notes:

During my long walk with Buddy today his ears were more tightly back on his head than I'd ever seen them. I get confused about whether ears back is good or bad but in this instance it must have been good. He was walking briskly forward, at my side, tail wagging. Mr. Adventure.

Right now Petunia is under the bed again. This time it happened when I switched the dogs, like I do: moving Buddy into the bedroom then Petunia into the yard, closing the sliding door, then moving Buddy into the living room and bringing Petunia back into the house with access to the yard and back rooms. Buddy was on his side of the house, behind the babygate. I went to get them fresh water and found Petunia beneath the bed.

At some point during that switcharoo a gate fell down and made a noise and that disturbed Petunia but it happened before I took her outside and so it wouldn't be a "trigger" really, for her going beneath the bed.

Uncle Fester & Roller Skates


Petunia and I took another long circuit through the old part of the lake-park (I've never liked that park--built during the Eisenhower era and reminds me of Eastern Germany--in a bad way. Decrepit socialist minimalism or some such.

Anyhoo, we were stalked by a bald old man in little blue car. He'd park and adjust his rear-view mirror to watch us, then park again further up, then again. He drove like 3 miles an hour. Not lovely.

But the good news is that we've all done our walks for the day. I did Buddy first: a full hour in his backpack. We walked all the way to the dog park and back, which meant going over a freeway overpass. Lots of different sights and sounds and smells. I didn't put anything in the backpack for today. We just tested it to see if it fit properly and it seemed to be fine.

By the time I returned home for Petunia's walk I was pretty pooped so I took a break for about 15 minutes and then went out. My walk with her was only 40 minutes. I think she needs more. And I am seriously thinking about buying a pair of roller skates just for this. Not in-line skates but the old fashioned kind with four fat wheels side by side and a big fat stopper.

Petunia hid behind the tv this morning while I was making my bath and then she came upstairs and hid in the upstairs closet. It was sort of like yesterday: we were outside early in the morning; she was in the garden, seemed to hear something that startled her, then came inside and hid. The sky is overcast so I'm just hoping all this is about weather and not about Buddy. When we returned home from the walk the dogs approached each other mildly at the gate and she sat there waiting for me to get her supper.

Now she's sitting over by her bowl and Buddy is at my feet.

And I'm sweaty and relieved to have that item done for the day.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Trying Not to Feel Overwhelmed

During one of the walks this morning I found myself mentally paging through all I've read about dog training over the past four years, and all I've been taught in classes. Trying to find a path for myself.

What makes this feel like a crisis is the fact that my dogs are physically separated and that, as time passes, keeping them separated could reinforce their animosity. Along with this is the bigger fact that if I can't "fix" the problem I'll need to find another home for one of them.

As I write this blog day by day I hear my own repetitions; I keep circling around and through particular points. My anchor (and not in a good way) is the crisis. If I were living with just one dog who bit people or was fear-aggressive with a neighbor dog or whatever I would be disturbed (as I was when those thing arose) but it wouldn't feel like a crisis.

But I must acknowledge the problem as something else. Calling it a crisis in my own mind is not productive. And I'm not Chinese enough to really appreciate the whole crisis=danger/opportunity thing. Though I get that too.

The ticking away of time stresses me, the sense that I'm not doing enough fast enough to get the dogs together. I'm not changing myself enough or walking the dogs enough or doing enough clicker training or making the right decisions. Those thoughts can really stir up a frenzy. And of course there are other aspects of my life that need fixing. My shakey finances, my disorganization, my extra 25 pounds.

A few weeks ago I considered taking anti-anxiety meds but I haven't followed through with that. I'm trying to give myself a little more time.

So here are some things I think I should focus on:

  1. Establishing a solid, non-negotiable routine of daily walks, in the morning whenever possible (even if they aren't perfect DW ritual walks, they need to happen, and it doesn't matter whether I use gentle-leader head collars or slip collars or Illusion collars or backpacks so much as that I just get out there once a day with each dog, even if it's just around the block). And as I said earlier I've turned 180 degrees on the priority scenario and believe the walk must take precedence even over things I've been wanting to do for my own physical fitness such as bicycling. On my two intensive teaching days I give myself a "pass" to do whatever the heck fits with my day, and that includes kayaking or bicycling on the day with the heinous meetings. But the other days go to the dogs for now. And finding a way through interesting-destinations or whatever else to make the walks as peaceful and pleasant to me as possible so that I'm not judging myself at every step.

  2. Focusing my clicker-training on one specific behavior: eye contact. I've given that a lot of thought and believe that the most important thing I can train these dogs to do right now is redirect their attention to my face on command. That's the foundation of click-to-calm. And it's something I can practice with them at home and during walks without much complexity. I still don't know enough about their body language to know when they're being rude or disturbing to one another. Thank God their behavior is still in that fairly subtle stage, even with the gates. Petunia growling at Buddy is an ongoing problem, and it's one she's done for years, and it continues to be intermittent rather than daily. Teaching her a "watch" command (and Buddy also) could help me redirect that bad energy, in addition to other benefits.

  3. Maintaining the current physical structure of our homelife. Which means, for example, continuing the physical barriers around the house--not allowing them on furniture with me or without me. One addition to this is that I want to experiment with the placement of Petunia's crate. Right now it faces the door and that makes me wonder whether I'm reinforcing a "guarding" behavior with her, expressed when she growls at Buddy for walking by her crate on the way to his at bedtime. The trainers told me that not-correcting behaviors like that is nearly the same thing as reinforcing them, and reinforcing them leads to escalated behaviors. So even though P only does the crate-growling once a week or so I need to make it not happen. By physical-barrier for now and hopefully by behavior/attitude change later. I'm still not ready to remove either dog from my bedroom. But I am emotionally ready to move one into the adjacent bathroom if that might work (not sure if I can make it work, given the dimensions of the crates). And I'll continue feeding them twice a day and so forth.

  4. Being more quiet, and requesting the same from them.I've cut way back on my girlie chatter to the dogs because I've been tense but also because McConnell and others say it's a sign of weakness to dogs. Additionally, though, I need to begin correcting Petunia's barking in the house. I realize she has a lot of energy to release and I don't want either dog to trade barking for fighting. But I think I need to look into a method of bark-reduction training. Maybe with a clicker, maybe with the "watch" command for redirection, maybe with another of McConnell's redirection methods.

  5. Getting Buddy into the muzzle more often. Ultimately they can't be in the same space, even for a little occasional trial period, until Buddy is wearing a muzzle. I'm still inclined to believe it would be more fair for both dogs to wear them but Petunia seems more than resistant; she seems positively traumatized by head-and body-restrictions of any kind (it took me three years to get her to wear a bandanna without stiffening--not that I make her wear one but maybe once a year). The muzzle for P seems too extreme a step at a time when I want the dogs relaxed around one another. So for Buddy, we'll do the muzzle and I'll have to begin putting him in it for upbeat activities once a day or so for at least a week or two (I'm thinking at least two weeks, honestly) before I'll be ready to evaluate whether the dogs are ready for a little open-air time together. I've obviously been stalling about the muzzle. But I'll get back to trying it out with him today, perhaps later tonight I'll work in the garden for a little while and have him wear the muzzle for five or ten minutes. Long enough to get a little used to the idea but not so long that he really suffers.

  6. Putting Buddy in a backpack for some walks to give him more exercise especially on days when I can't give him a long walk.

  7. Putting Petunia in some sort of gear, either the head collar or a back pack, for at least one walk per week. I've made this decision because I do realize that some of P's resistance is just about getting her own way all the time. She'd rather not be encumbered, and I've rarely pushed her to be so. But on some level I think it's healthy for her to learn to tolerate a little physical restriction fro me. Right now it's all about the walk. She resisted a couple of times today when I had the slip collar high on her neck. But I ignored her and she stopped fighting it and did truly seem pretty relaxed afterwards. For the next week it's probably enough for me to just continue that level of physical restraint. But in a week or so it would be good to try the backpack and/or head collar. An additional reason for the head collar is that my mother will return for a visit at some point and be happy to walk the dogs with me. It's always a gift when someone enables me to have the dogs walking in the same space together. But Mom doesn't get the slip collar. She chokes the dogs with it. She means well, and understands when I tell her how to use it, but her attention wanders during our walks and she doesn't monitor her own actions. I think the headcollar would be a good tool for preventing the dogs from straining on the leash and for preventing Mom from choking them.

  8. Continuing to bring the dogs into as many socialization situations as possible, such as bringing P to Home Depot and B to PetsMart. I think it's really good to continue exposing them to unfamiliar scenarios outside our home. So far both dogs continue to behave very well. P isn't thrilled to be wheeled around in a shopping cart at HD but she's polite to strangers and seems to benefit from receiving attention. She doesn't seem to love having strangers pet her. But she tolerates it. That's enough, perhaps. And over time if I could learn to read her body language better I could use those situations to practice more C2C. (As I type that a part of me is praying to God that we'll have a long, healthy life together that will accommodate that next level of training. A part of me feels doomed. Scared. Of what? Of a fatal fight at home, I guess. Or me dying. Mortality everywhere, frightening me.)

  9. Doing at least one down-settle with each dog every day, while I read or watch something good. This is the activity that most closely approximates sitting and reading with a dog by my side. It's not nearly as good as having a terrier's fuzzy head against my leg. But it's something.

I'd love to add more things to that list. The trainers said I should teach each dog a new trick every week to stimulate their brains; they've given me that long checklist of obedience tasks to practice every day; etc. And a few weeks ago I was checklist-happy and I'm still going to make a checklist from the items above. But this week I need to focus on the things that seem to matter most to our situation and do so without setting myself up to fail.

I've also ordered the Calming Signals booklet and DVD that were recommended by my trainers and I've begun re-reading Patricial McConnell's The Other End of the Leash because I think I'm almost ready to truly begin studying my dogs' body language towards one another. This is another vital component of the click-to-calm (C2C) process. But I've been too caught up in my own emotions, I think, to be a careful and patient observer of my dogs' body language.

Today on at least three separate occasions the dogs went nose-to-nose at the gate. Calmly so. They looked just like normal dogs meeting each other. But no play bows (unfortunately) and no snarls (thank God). Just a brief acknowledgment of one another. I wanted to click and reward them but wasn't prepared for it and also maybe I subconsciously didn't want to interrupt it.

The irony of the DW is that he (like my other trainers) say that our dogs mustn't be the center of our universe; I think even one of my dog trainers was wearing the famous t-shirt, "Dogs aren't our whole lives; they make our lives whole." Yeah. Whatever. Try believing that when you're attempting to rehabilitate and repair an unhealthy canine relationship in your home.

And No, I absolutely have not missed the fact that on some level I'm re-living my marital breakdown right now. Just like I felt secretive and sick about having a disturbing homelife with my husband--needing to hide it and put on a brave face every morning for my students--I find myself in a parallel mode now. I'm sensitive to dog jokes; I'm wanting people to stay away from my home (OK, but to make this less black-and-white I have to say I'm not really in the mood for visitors much just in general, ever), including family, and my problem is severe enough that I can no longer find much solace in exploring it in conversations with friends because my friends mostly talk about "getting rid of one of them" and that isn't something I'm ready to do. In contrast, I *was* ready to get end the marriage. Knew it was the answer. With P&B I'm not there yet. I have more hope than that still. (And because of the terms of my divorce there's another dimension to all this--the ex has claims on any dog I would propose to re-home, and he would make such a scenario very painful and very protracted. Of that I have zero doubt.) So, No, I'm not in the same situation with the dogs as with the bad marriage. But the sickness and faking it are here and I need very much to figure out a way to move those feelings out of my heart and mind.

Eckhart Tolle says that if peace is really what you want, then you will choose peace in any situation. Later in the same chapter he says, "When you realize that what you react to in others is also in you (and sometimes only in you), you begin to become aware of your own ego. At that stage you may also realize that you were doing to others what you thought others were doing to you. You cease seeing yourself as a victim." (188-9)

I realize that on a very basic level the problem in my home is that my two animals sometimes fight and injure one another.

I also realize that on a different kind of very basic level the problem in my home is that I feel like a victim. Around some people I feel like prey; around others I feel taken advantage of; around others I feel helpless and damaged. And somewhere along the line I learned to participate in these feelings of weakness, to make them feel true, even at the expense of my own peace of mind.

Part of me believes that this business with the dogs is about the Universe giving me a way to heal myself. Or to accept the healing that was there all along.

Part of me is just freaking tired.

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A Few Notes on Our First Attempt at a DW Ritual

I'm just back from Buddy's walk and need to leave soon with Petunia but here are a few quick notes.

* Buddy peed on my foot but I think it was an accident. I'm still getting used to holding the slip-collar high and close to my left leg and maneuvering near a telephone pole got confusing for me. I tried not to let him stop and pee or sniff whenever he wanted to but did about half the time. I'm thinking this might be an example of where the clicker could be helpful. I don't want to over-complicate this whole thing, but realize I need to keep my eyes open for moments when I could communicate better with the dogs during a walk. I dunno. Plus I feel obligated to do some sort of clicker training to give the local trainer's advice a chance.

* This morning I watched Season One, Episode 19 in the tub. The "Sunny" story seemed promising: divorced woman who poured all her happiness into a dog that's now anxious and fear-aggressive. But Cesar just taught them to take walks. I get it about the walking and clearly need lots of reminding but I was hoping for more out of that story.

* I decided to make Buddy's walk the shorter one today (30 minutes) and give Petunia the longer one because the more I think about it the more I think getting P calm is the most important part of the equation between the two of them. She barks a lot and has a short fuse and may need the exercise even more than B. So while we all transition into The Walking Life I'm inclined to monitor her walking most of all.

* I found myself feeling bored during the B walk. People rode by on bicycles toward the lake and I thought about how I'd rather be riding. I've got to stop thinking about this stuff in terms of either/or. I could, arguably, read less Dickens and do more bicycling. So I need to shuttup and try the more-intense walking thing and learn to enjoy it more. I no longer love walking with my dogs because I'm still so worried about what will happen if none of this works. I'm still haunted by the trainers who told me, in unison, that even they have dogs that they keep separate all day every day in their homes because of fighting. I don't want to live that way. My great joy of sitting beside my dogs and relaxing is gone gone gone right now. Even the walking thing isn't fun 70% of the time because I'm wanting it to be a lesson in leadership. Shit. I realize I need to not think this way and not over-pressurize the walks. But I'm pushing those feelings back constantly. My hope is that this will be like anything--even yoga classes--in which the hardest part is getting into a habit and then appreciating the less-than-fabulous moments because the good ones always come. Like when you're stuck in triangle pose waiting for shivasana.

* * *

* OK, we returned home from Petunia's walk at 10:10, which means it was only about a 40-minute walk. We went so far (all the way to the lake, meandering here and there and pausing at a little beach to sniff the water and watch the ducks and geese) that it seemed like we must have been gone longer. But we walked at a faster clip and had a real destination (with Buddy this morning I first took him by the pug's house to see if he was home to play, but wasn't, so we sort of rambled). Seems to me that an important dimension of the structured walk is my having a destination. When we hit the sidewalk outside our neighborhood you can see a little patch of lake shimmering ahead. Watching that kept my head up and probably made me seem more confident to Petunia.

* P and I encountered a dozen or so dogs. At least one was off-lead. I circumvented a possibly-off-lead Rottweiler in the distance (on the off-chance it might be just too much for us both) but kept us on the path for all the rest of the dogs, including a pack of five being walked by two women (who seemed about 70% in control of them--not awful but not spectacular) and all five were large breeds--rotties and such. So I'm pretty proud of us. Petunia didn't flip; I didn't tense up much. When we passed the off-lead dog (a big fluffy white creature) I didn't look at it and I didn't look at P. I just kept moving forward as if it didn't exist. P seemed okay.

* Shortly after P and I returned home I noticed the dogs had planted themselves directly opposite the gate from one another. Buddy on the floor with his kong, Petunia on the stairs overlooking him; then when I called P down for a kong she moved around the corner from his line of sight and he rotated his back to her. I don't know if any of this means anything. They never seemed to be growling and I didn't sense any tension. As I've said before, I just don't know what to make of their dynamic most of the time. What they remind me of is cats. Aware of one another, slightly aloof--especially P.

* Now both dogs are lying sideways on the tile floor (best investment I ever made in this house): B beneath the table where I'm writing, P out of sight on the other side, growling occasionally at the sound of the lawn mower next door. For all the hoopla, today's ritual took about 3 hours, including the time for the time for the bath and the episode of DW. Both walks took less than 90 minutes. I think longer would be better for both dogs, and I didn't do the backpack thing today after all because I was hoping for a Pug-spree. But I feel like this morning was well spent. Even though I missed church. God knows what all this is for.

* Speaking of spirituality, as soon as P and I reached a clear view of the lake, as soon as the water filled my peripheral vision, my mind opened the way it does when I'm bicycling around the lake. It gave me much of what I needed. For me, anyway, there's much more God in that moment--the lake, my dog--than in any church.

* * *
7:18 p.m.

I was feeling pretty good until about 10 minutes ago.

I took Buddy outside, gave him some of the extra special turkey then put on his muzzle and had him keep it on while I weed-whacked the back yard (about 15 minutes). P was jealous, stuck in the living room behind her gate, crying. I closed the sliding door while B and I were outside but left the blinds open so P may have seen B in his muzzle. It's bright white against his black fur. I'd like P to get accustomed to seeing him in it just as he gets accustomed to wearing it.

For the first few minutes B tried to rub the muzzle off, then he lay on his side, as if he was just waiting for it all to end. Then he approached me and sat and I petted him. Toward the end he stood facing me, head down. Almost looking angry but it was hard to say because the muzzle hides his mouth. He wasn't growling. Just looked displeased. I'd just put the weed whacker away and so I had him sit and then removed the muzzle and gave him more turkey and played with him for 5 or 10 minutes with his favorite toys. I gave him a nice back scratch and told him how great he was. Then took him inside and switched places with Petunia, bringing her outside for a game of fetch in the yard and then in the pool. Toward the end Petunia gave up on the toy, seeming pooped. I dumped some mulch in the garden and she hung out there with me for a little while then wanted to go inside. I took her in, went to wash my hands in the kitchen, and then looked around for the dogs. Buddy was upstairs; Petunia was under the bed.

So now I'm thinking:

* Did something happen between B & P across the gate that cause P to flee to the bed?

* Or was there just a noise outside that made P ask to go inside and straight under the bed?

I'm hoping the latter.

But stressed, of course, about the former.

But here's one good thing: The under-the-bed scenario reminds me that I do have some ways of discerning whether there's been a change in our canine dynamic:

One of the signals that things had gotten bad between the dogs was when P increased her hiding around the house. Whereas it used to be only during storms or fireworks, she began hiding behind the sofa and under beds to stay clear of Buddy.

So as I'm looking for clues that things might be better, one thing to monitor is P's hiding behavior. Even though they are separated by gates, all three of us know that both dogs can scale the gates. P did agility; B once shocked the entire kennel staff by leaping outside his run a few years ago when P was being taken out of hers. P knows she can knock down the gate; she's nearly done it.

Their gate-separation is more about obedience than confinement, probably.

To me this means that the fact P hasn't been hiding from B is a really good sign. She's been on the stairs and in various positions in plain view most of the time. Seeing her under the bed tonight made me really sad, but at least it reminded me that she mostly hasn't been beneath the bed lately.

I's a beautiful evening. I'd love to have both dogs out here with me, playing on the soft, freshly mowed grass. That is my dream now. If I'm blessed with that kind of life again with these dogs, I'll appreciate it more next time around. Buddy wore his muzzle for 15 minutes. It's a start.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Drinking the Kool-Aid

So I just finished the first disc in my Complete Season One of the Dog Whisperer collection. And here is what I'm thinking:

  1. For starters, regardless of what else is happening here, I can say that watching this tv show motivates me to walk my dogs--especially in the moments after each episode ends. I've actually taken two extra dog walks this week solely as a result of my watching an episode and feeling afterwards that I must walk the dog sitting on the floor while I was watching it. Conclusion: I should continue watching this show. (And of course by now I've ordered all three seasons plus the book of his I hadn't read yet and the little dog-training journal suggested by Amazon.com as a complement to the book. (Click-to-Pay is a dangerous thing.)

  2. Because I rarely watch tv and haven't been relaxing anywhere in the house (I still don't know how to relax and do things I love--like reading books--without a dog beside me. It's like when I quit smoking and couldn't figure out what to do with my hands. Plus I have empty boxes on all my comfortable furniture to keep the dogs off so when I'm on the sofa I've got big empty boxes next to me. Weird.) this business of watching DVDs with a dog on the floor is something I'm experiencing at a semi-objective level with the one benefit that it's helping me notice a few things about my household dynamic. What I mean is that I'm not just relaxing and watching DW; instead, I'm watching it and also distracted by the logistics of it. And I've noticed that when Petunia is the dog on my side of the gate, in the living room, she seems to relax when I put her on a down-settle instead of letting her roam around our side of the house. Maybe because it's one position in which we both know how we're supposed to be, physically. I *want* her on the sofa beside me and I'm tense because I can't let her be there--so putting her on the down-settle means I can stop feeling guilty and awkward and she can stop feeling the unsettledness of everything.Conclusion: For now, I may as well use my living room time as a down-settle time for whatever dog is in there with me. Even if it means more than an hour of down-settle for the dog. Because it's a structure we can all live with and not have to think about. And it would be consistent.

  3. So far, my favorite episode is the one with the big black herding dog (a Bouvier). I loved that episode because it had such a happy ending--the dog's owners had the resources to be sure he'd be able to take herding lessons and they'll probably hire a dog-walker for the mornings, but most of all I loved watching the dog racing around with the sheep. Having dog-fun. My dogs don't get much dog fun because they aren't playing with each other (before The Incident they chased squirrels together and played now and then in the back yard--not tons, but some--and of course now they aren't permitted together without a barrier) and they only get their playdate with the Pug maybe once a week. It makes me so sad. The Bouvier episode got me fantasizing about doing agility lessons with Buddy and maybe again with Petunia. (She did agility years ago but just for one series of lessons then we moved on to other random activities.) You know, this is when it's so tough to be a single dog-mom. If a second human were here we could enroll both dogs in agility and take them into the agility ring together, on their leads, and give them a way to be in the same space safely, having fun, and use that as a way to re-structure their relationship. We could walk the dogs together also. At any rate, the Bouvier episode was positive because it gave me a way to visualize Buddy and Petunia having good fun, and feeling the elation of knowing they were having good fun. I need that. I really, really need that.

  4. The backpack thing. I know all about the backpack thing. Both dogs have backpacks. Over the years I've used them in various ways. But there again, to be honest, I used the backpacks during my "backpack phase." I've read literally dozens of dog training books and taken all sorts of lessons. But I've never maintained a consistent routine with the dogs. I basically raised them the way my mother raised me: lots of lessons, lots of praise, lots of toys, not much structure or discipline. Anyhoo, I've decided to do the backpack thing with Buddy and make it a regular component of our walks, partly because I know that realistically during the school year I'm never going to be able to maintain the kind of daily walking-schedule that would really wear him out physically if I rely on duration-of-walk alone. I need ballast.

  5. So here's my experiment for this week: I'm going to rig up a DVD-watching arrangement in the guest bathroom (the one with the tub) so that, in the morning, I can drag myself into the bathtub and watch an episode of DW while I'm waking up. I'll get out of the tub, into my walking clothes and *then* let the dogs out of their crates, taking one immediately on a decent walk. (I realize this is goofy and convoluted but I never feel like going for a walk in the early morning but I'm always ready for a fancy aromatherapeutic bath. I think I'd get out of bed for that and I think this arrangement might give me the momentum I need.) I'll go ahead and declare that my early-morning teaching days are exempt, but if I were to make this happen the other days it could be a major step forward for me and my dogs. Why? Because . . .

  6. I have finally bought into the premise that ultimately what's going to need to happen is a bonding ritual in which I walk both dogs together on a regular basis, having them share space with me in the lead. I haven't abandoned the click-to-calm stuff or the other things the obedience trainers prescribed. But I do believe that at the end of the day this whole problem is about the structure of my relationship with these two dogs. Perhaps even more than it's about the structure of the relationship between the two of them. And the clearest way I can visualize progress is through a routine that involves the three of us walking as a pack. This is tricky as hell because we routinely encounter stray dogs while walking through my neighborhood and Petunia is fear aggressive, etc. (Some day I'll tell the story of the time we encountered the pit bull puppy while walking as a trio.) But now that the weather is cooling down I think I could take them to a local fenced-in spot (like a baseball field) and walk the perimeter with them, a large space protected by a fence. That's my plan. And with Buddy weighted down I think we'd stand a good chance. I wouldn't muzzle him for this because I would keep them on lead the whole time and I can separate them in that configuration. I know I can. I'm still big and strong and know how to get between them safely if necessary. And I'd bring my air horn in case of an unexpected stray or weirdness. So that's the goal: starting a regular walk ritual that will lay the groundwork for me handling them on a trio walk within a protected space.


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bedtime badness & Things that make me uncomfortable with the Dog Whisperer

OK, so after the fireplace incident the evening wore on, with me still at the computer and the dogs separated by the gates.

They seemed to be facing each other more than usual, with Petunia in the dining room at my feet, facing toward the living room, where Buddy was lying near the gate, facing back at us. I worry about that configuration because I can't always tell whether they're giving each other the eye. Until the lunging-incident at the trainer's office I'd never seen Buddy be anything but calm or submissive toward P. I'd never notice either dog giving the other nasty eye contact, except for those time P would growl at B for entering a room. Which, again, was periodic but not hourly or daily.

But tonight I put Petunia in her crate first, then let Buddy outside and when he wandered into the bedroom (P's crate faces the door) she snarled at him and he fled the room and would not re-enter until I walked with him in toward his crate. Which is pretty much where things stood last month when their crates were side by side. Right now the crates are separated by my bed.

The C2C trainer recommended putting the crates in different rooms, even at bed time, and I've been resisting that because I don't want them to lose their sense of us all being a pack. But then I also know it's bad to let this stress between them be a 24/7 scenario. If it would give Petunia some emotional relief to be in a separate room from B then perhaps, over time their relationship could heal and then I could move us all into the same room.

But if I do that, which dog gets to sleep in the room with me? P or B? How do I make such a heart-breaking choice? I could rotate them. Get two additional crates (another$300) and have them take turns. (I don't want to drag giant crates around the house every night.)

Given that they both seem to be dominating me, I don't know whether it would send a strong signal to either one if he or she was chosen to stay in the room with me. From day to day I waver on which dog seems most or least calm and well-adjusted. Seems like I wouldn't want the more aggressive of the two to be the one that got to stay in my room at night. But which dog is that? The fear-aggressive one or the sneaky aggressive one? The sneaky dominant one that climbs on my pillow at night after ducking out of crate time? Or the stealthy dominant one that seems like Mr. Mellow for weeks then poops upstairs in the guest room?

And are words like "aggressive" and "dominant" even the right words for what's happening here?

I've begun watching my Dog Whisperer CDs and he uses the words 'dominant' and 'aggressive'. But I hate the finality of those words. They sounds like death sentences, like criminal convictions.

And if it's so uncommon for a male and a female to have this sort of combative relationship, why is it happening to us?

Today as I watched Season 1 of DW Cesar told a woman, "this dog has been dominating you since you first took him in" and that's definitely true of Petunia. My husband and I encouraged her to come between us (both because we adored her and because we didn't adore one another anymore). We slept with her between us. She was our conduit, the one thing we both cherished. We poured nearly all our affection into her or through her. When we were away from her she was what we talked about. The whole world was about Petunia. For us. And our imbalanced life fostered an imbalanced dog in an imbalanced relationship with us imbalanced humans.

I get all that.

And evidently I did a number on Buddy as well. Whether or not either or both dogs was born with the tendency to be aggressive or fear-aggressive, or whether one or both were damaged by their experiences of or before abandonment, I cannot say. But it still seems to me that if Cesar Millan lived in my house that these dogs would be okay together.

Speaking of Millan, here are a few things that make me uncomfortable about his show:

  • He keeps telling people to leave their dogs' choke collars and leashes on all day. I understand that it could be a good thing for a dog to be on its leash all day. But isn't it awfully dangerous to leave a dog to ramble around a house or yard wearing a choke collar? He never prescribes the choke collar, but whenever owners use them and say, "So I should leave his choke collar on all day?" He says yes. And this includes dragging dogs into swimming pools in choke collars. Seems dangerous to me.

  • He keeps telling weak people to be [whatever strong job they do for a living]. As if being a nurse or a teacher will generate all the calm-assertive energy they need to fix their relationship with their dog. I'm a teacher. Cesar would surely say, "Be a teacher. Be that strong, calm-assertive teacher you are in the classroom." Well, for one thing, I don't feel like a mighty, calm-assertive leader in the classroom. I'm just me. And my teacher persona isn't one of those tough cookies. I'm not entirely a marshmallow, but I'm not Cleopatra or Eleanor Roosevelt. I'm not an actress. I'm pretty much just me all the time. And who I am is a fundamentally and sometimes excruciatingly sensitive person. A worrier who wants people to get along and not upset one another or damage me. I speak up and get in the middle of things but I hate confrontation and only do it when it appears to me that someone in a vulnerable spot is being treated unfairly. So telling me to Be a powerful teacher isn't going to enable me to generate powerful energy for my dogs.

  • He goes away. Even if he came here and used his mojo and my dogs began to frolic together it would be just for television. He'd leave and I'd panic.

I must sleep now.

I'll wander off, though, wondering how much of today's confrontation business is a product of my behavior and how much is about something else.

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Not so hot

OK, I haven't really begun Phase II. I've been spending the last few days mostly sitting on my butt typing reports and proposals and schedules and emails.

As crap accumulates around me.

Is my neglect of the household connected to my dog situation. As I've often said on this blog, I think Yes. But yet I still lose all sense of space and time when I'm home working on my computer. And tomorrow I'm back and forth to campus all day and night. So Phase 2 won't begin til Friday.

And in the interest of full disclosure, last night we had another thunder storm and Petunia ended up beneath my bed again, very late (I was up very late working on my computer) and once again I couldn't get her gently out from the bed so I let her remain there and in the wee hours of the morning I sensed she might be on the foot of my bed but was too foggy headed to investigate so I said "Off" a couple of times, just in case, and then by morning she was on my pillow for sure. And in my tranquility I decided it was nice to have her there for a change so let her stay and put my arm around her (I know, I'm an idiot) til I got up.

Today all was pretty much quiet except that Petunia growled once at Buddy across the baby gate and THEN, just now, there was a pre-altercation growling incident when Buddy began nosing around the fireplace (I removed the baby gates this evening because I lit a fire in there and figured the fire would be barrier enough) and as Buddy was nosing around the fireplace (fire still lit) Petunia stood directly across from him and growled. Good lord.

Is there a cause-effect scenario here?

I did walk them both this morning, in the rain. I made them sit before feeding them and so forth. But I've been lax and inconsistent (the bed thing was really too much but geeeeeeeze).

So here we are. I'm turning off my nice fireplace and lighting some incense instead.

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