Monday, December 20, 2010

Construction craziness and Lars well-being

Dizzy and Mom
Imagine, if you will, a <900 square foot 2-bedroom house with 4 dogs, 2 budgies, an anxious talkative Swiss ballet dancer, 4 days of construction work with all kitchen appliances in the living room and 3 very gregarious, non-English speaking contractors (by the names of Jose, Mauricio, and Oscar, in case that helps the imagination) carrying large objects around, and an anxiety-prone late 30-something dog trainer nonprofit worker confronting the reality of still not having adoptive homes for 2 of the said 4 beasts many months after they joined this bizarre family. 

Imagine two of said 4 dogs engage in snarling fits whenever one looks cross-eyed at the other, that another of the 4 is 75 pounds of ecstatic muscle and unrestrained jubilance, and that the fourth is a beloved senior dog who wants nothing more than to lie in the sun and growl at passersby.

Dizzy, after a grooming
Now imagine that all this takes place during the week before Christmas, when the parents of said dog trainer are leaving their ill-tempered dreadlocked Bergamasco, Dizzy, to stay for a few days, concurrently with a visit from said Swiss guy's non-English-speaking Swiss friends, one of whom is terrified of dogs, who will stay for a week. You now have a fairly complete picture of why said dog trainer has been a gibbering mass of nerves, anticipation, guilt, and dread.

A visit from a potential adopter tonight brings hope of a saner world to come. Lars put his best foot forward, quite literally, when he came right over and put his paw on the man's knee. Once the cheesy snacks started coming, Lars did not leave his new friend's side but happily offered sits, downs, rollovers, and numerous paws, then just sprawled out on his side at the man's feet and relaxed. 

The experience reminded me how we all, dogs included, have a potential for peace and well-being inside us that we often just need the right helpers to realize. This holiday I'll be toasting to us all finding the right helpers. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

T-Touch and anxiety wraps

A couple of weekends ago Tashi and I had the privilege of attending a T-Touch seminar by Pam Wanveer of Woodside T Touch. Tashi is normally a jumpy young woman, one who hates having her paws touched, won't let you pull out a tick or a thorn without a lot of wiggling and hollering, and for the last few years, one who doesn't even seem to like to be cuddled very much. In her younger days, though, she was a very affectionate little dog who loved to cuddle with her humans.

Lamar in an anxiety wrap, still pretty anxious
In class, she was a complete disaster--I touched her and she jumped a mile, squeaked, and got as far away from me as her leash would allow. 

Pam suggested an anxiety wrap. Take an Ace Bandage, place the center of it flat against the dog's chest. Cross behind dog's shoulders, then wrap again under the dog's armpits. Tie on the dog's side. 

The effect is like swaddling a baby: gentle pressure, evenly applied, is comforting, grounding, and relaxing. 

A few minutes in her wrap, and Tashi allowed me to touch her all over. For the rest of the class we did little circles all over her ears and head.
Cosmo would only let me clip his nails with an anxiety wrap on
Since then, she's been much more like the Tashi of old--she lets me do little circles all over her, she rolls over contentedly instead of trying to get away, she seems happier to see her humans and spend time with us. I think that one session in class broke through to her and reminded her how pleasant contact can be.

The anxiety wrap is such a great tool--I'm going to bring one to class with me and use it for dogs who can't settle down. 
Tashi's orthopedic bed also seems to help her anxiety

Friday, November 12, 2010

Another calming trick: yawning

Like many dogs, Maize was uneasy with the camera  
I think this is my favorite one yet, picked up from reading Turid Rugaas' Calming Signals: On Talking Terms with Dogs. For dogs who are stressed by other dogs, thunderstorms, the sound of approaching trains, we can use the signals that dogs use to calm each other down.

When dogs do something that seems out of context--shaking when they're dry, licking their lips when they're not eating, yawning when they're not tired--often they are displaying a calming signal. When two dogs meet each other for the first time and are not sure of each other, they do a lot of these. 

I see this all the time in my own house.
  • I bring home a new foster, foster comes into yard, Lamar is allowed to see foster, Lamar turns sideways: calming signal. 
  • New dog licks his lips: calming signal.
  • Lamar sniffs the ground: calming signal.
  • New dog approaches slowly, in an arc: calming signal 
  • Dogs greet, sniff, decide they like each other, new dog goes into a play bow: calming signal
  • Dogs romp and play for a few minutes, Lamar yawns: calming signal
  • I get out the camera to capture these fabulous moments on film, both dogs look away: calming signal
  • Dogs start roughhousing again, knock into my legs, I yell Ouch! with some irritation in my voice, both dogs stop playing and shake: calming signal.
What all these signals are saying is chill out! With these communications, dogs are trying to convey that they are a bit uncomfortable with a situation. To another dog, they are saying Remain calm, I'm not a threat. To a person with a camera or a yelling person, they are trying to get us to calm down and remove the camera from their faces or stop yelling at them. 

The most fascinating thing Rugaas relates is the value of these signals in training. She worked with a family that lived by the train tracks, whose dog was terrified, howling, trembling, hiding with every passing train. To get the dog to relax, she tried getting the whole family to yawn when that train went by. Within a few weeks, the dog was transformed--sleeping calmly as the train blew its horn and chugged on by.

I think this is a wonderful tool to be used in conjunction with desensitization and counterconditioning. I tried it last night with Lars and Lamar, who still get stressed and excited about each others' entries in the front door. As Lamar tried to enter, and Lars stood inside, hackles up, I gave them both bits of hot dog as usual while I stood there yawning. And I swear Lamar's hackles relaxed a bit and both of them smiled a bit wider, a bit less tensely, as they chewed their hot dogs and watched me yawn and yawn.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

on adoption events

Many of us in rescue are encouraged to bring our foster dogs to adoption events, by rescue groups that are eager to get their dogs adopted out so they can save more lives. Many rescue groups even have a policy that dictates all foster dogs must go to a certain number of adoption events, regardless of the dog's temperament or background.

This one-size-fits-all policy does a disservice to many of the dogs who end up in rescue, who may not respond well to the pressure of exposure to many new people and/or other dogs all at once. For rescue dogs who are fearful, a few hours at an adoption event just adds another trauma to what may already be a long list, requiring further rehabilitation and training to recover. Many of these dogs may spend the entire event huddled behind a bush, or barking at other dogs, or bristling when people come up to meet them. This not only makes their chances of being adopted very small, but allows them to practice these frightened, reactive behaviors and get even better at being fearful and reactive.

All good training--training that has a chance of teaching behaviors that stick and are well-learned--works with a dog sub-threshold. This means that we keep our dogs in a place where they can remain calm and comfortable, whether by working with them at a distance from things that upset them (giving lots of treats as soon as they see another dog from a distance, but before they start getting upset) or by working with just a mild case of what upsets them (exposing to just one or two new people at a time, instead of a whole crowd).

When you think about it, for many fearful or reactive rescue dogs, an adoption event is a perfect example of the very old-school method of flooding--over-exposing a dog to something in the hopes that he'll "just get over it"--a method that has been shown to increase fear and reactivity in dogs (although in the short term, the dog may appear calmer because it is overwhelmed and just shuts down). At an adoption event, dogs are standing around amidst many other dogs, encountering people they have never met before, many of whom are coming up to them and touching them without asking. For dogs with "personal space" issues, this can be very stressful.

As I realized with my foster dog Pax--who spent the entire two hours of an adoption event barking and lunging--not all dogs are meant for adoption events. I should have realized it even sooner, with my foster dog Foster, who spent adoption events huddled behind me out of sight. Those experiences didn't help Foster or Pax feel more at ease, and they didn't get them adopted either.

In fact, in 3+ years of fostering and placing dozens of dogs and cats, only 1 found his forever home at an adoption event (that was PJ, who was pretty darn well adjusted). The vast majority of my dogs have met their adopters online. Here are some things you can do to promote your fosters without exposing them to the stress of adoption events.
  1. Craigslist ads. Go to, find your town or city, and click on "post" in the upper right. All kinds of people visit craigslist, so you'll have to screen carefully, but you should be doing so anyway.
  2. Petfinder. This terrific site allows adopters to search by breed and by location. You'll have to register to get an account, or ask the rescue group you work with for its ID and password. Be sure to upload a few sweet pictures, or even better, a video.  
  3. Petfinder ads can also be printed out, making it easy to create a flyer you can post at pet shops, vet offices, training facilities, etc.
  4. Get an "Adopt Me" vest or bandanna, and bring your dog to parks or along popular trails. If you are working with a rescue group, they should have some vests you can use; you can also order them from These environments, while certainly too stressful for some shy dogs, may be less stressful than an adoption event because they permit a dog to move around and because there is less social pressure to behave a certain way--for dogs and handlers! If you think your shy dog can handle a trail or a park, be sure you bring treats and reward her for calmly looking at and interacting with other dogs and people.
  5. Outfit your pup in his vest, and go to a pet store. Most pet stores will be happy for you to come inside and speak with prospective adopters, and have your own personal adoption event. This allows your dog to meet new people one at a time, with fewer other dogs around, and is less stressful for the fearful dog...although of course, even this is too much for some dogs! Call first to make sure this is OK with the pet store folk.
  6. Post your pet to neighborhood and community email listserves. 
These are just a few of the ways resourceful rescue groups and fosters can help their pups get adopted, without making them go through a level of stress they may not be ready for. If you have more, please feel free to share them. 

more exercises for impulse control

I was assisting at Al Winder's Control and Focus class with Your Dog's Friend this past weekend, and was reminded of how great some of Leslie McDevitt's exercises are for calming impulsive dogs and helping distracted dogs focus on their people. In Control Unleashed, McDevitt describes a few ways to help distracted dogs that use completely positive methods. Here is one of them:

Gimme a Break
This exercise is great for the dog who is way too  interested in squirrels to focus on you when you're on a walk, or way too distracted by the other dogs to concentrate on the exercises when you're in your agility class. The exercise helps the dog reorient to you by showing him that focusing on you is what's really rewarding...not by punishing those times when he is distracted.
  1. Choose a behavior to work on, and an enclosed, low-distraction area like a fenced yard or large basement to work in. Behaviors you might work on include Go to place,  walking in heel, or even playing tug of war. Have a chair for you to sit in.
  2. Start working on your behavior, rewarding your dog frequently. If you're doing Go to Place, reward your dog frequently as long as he's on the mat. For Heel, walk in a circle and reward as you walk and your dog stays close by you and gives you his attention. 
  3. After a minute or so of working, say your release word like "All Done" or "Break" and turn away from him and go sit in your chair. If your dog disengages first by looking away or going away from you to sniff, immediately go sit in your chair.
  4. For up to a minute, allow your dog to sniff around and do his thing while you stay in your chair. Do not talk to him during this time; remain unengaged. 
  5. The second your dog reorients to you--glances your way, turns an ear towards you, or comes up to you in your chair, you want to reengage him in your rewarding exercise. Resume walking, going to mat, or doing whatever you were doing, with a high rate of reward.  If he does not reorient to you, reengage him and resume the work you were doing .
  6. Very gradually extend the time of your training sessions, but keep them short enough that your dog does not choose to disengage before you say your release word.
Lamar taking a big break!
The goal of this exercise is that your dog becomes less interested in distracted sniffing around, because focusing on you is so rewarding. As dogs practice, they quickly get to a point where they don't even want to take a break--instead, they remain focused on us when we give the release cue and ask us to keep working.

If you work on it in low-distraction environments until your dog is reliably reorienting to you after you release him, you will gradually be able to count on his attention even in very distracting environments--like in the backyard with all those squirrels!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pre-training session meditation

The more I think about it, the more I realize how well meditation, mindfulness, and dog training go together.

Lamar relaxing and enjoying a paw massage
Our dogs are highly sensitive and tuned in to our mental states. Their noses are so sensitive that they can pick up pheromonal changes the moment we break into a nervous sweat. Having co-evolved with us for hundreds of years, they are highly adapted to pick up on nuances of human emotion. Staying relaxed when we work with our dogs helps them stay relaxed as well, as we project our relaxation down the leash and into them. Here is a meditation to practice at the start of training sessions with your dog.

Meditation: You have already arrived
We live in a very goal-oriented world, and it seems we spend a lot of mental energy thinking about how our lives could be better and the goals we hope to realize someday. We may think about what we’ll do once we’re more wealthy, or how our lives would be if we were more beautiful, had a nicer house, or our dogs were better behaved.

It is important to realize that though we can do many things to improve our lives, we also have everything we need for complete happiness right here, in this very moment.

Close your eyes, and take a deep breath. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in white light that floods your lungs, then your chest, then your entire body.

Now think about all the things you have ever wanted: more material wealth, a better job, more friends, a dog who behaves well and responds to your requests. You may have felt that these things were beyond your reach, but remember that with mindfulness, anything is possible.

Now imagine that You Have Already Arrived. All the physical beauty you have ever wanted, is yours. All the material wealth you ever wished for is already in your grasp. Your house is beautiful and sustains you, your friends are generous and abundant. Your dog is tuned in to your wants, and eager to do as you wish. You have already arrived.

To concretize this feeling, imagine a beautiful lotus flower blooming in your chest. The flower is nourished by the white light you’re breathing in, and with each breath the full, waxy, fragrant petals extend into your shoulders, your throat, your belly. This flower represents your completion, your attainment. Enjoy this feeling of abundance, and come back to it frequently. 

Practice this meditation with your dog beside you and think about what a wonderful being she is. Do you know anyone else so sensitive, intelligent, and affectionate? Show her your appreciation, and take some time to enjoy the appreciation she shows you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

more pit bull insights

This great pit bull blog sheds more light on this deliciously affectionate breed. Lately, Fozzie has not been content to sleep entwined in Florian's legs but insists on curling himself up, in a thankfully compact, doughnut-like form, in between our pillows. I enjoy the firm, muscular gluteals to rest my head against, not so sure about the scratchy, bony, gangly paws that occasionally jut out across my throat.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why foster?

Lars has been back since just after we returned from Switzerland, due to circumstances beyond his control. Roy misses him, and I don't blame him. He is still anxious, but his nose is as long as ever and he still adores me, loves to play with me and Fozzie, and seeks out affection.

At night, when we go to bed, the other 3 dogs are in the bedroom with us. Fozzie is usually on my pillow making out with Florian, sometimes under the covers, sometimes snoring. Lamar won't allow Lars in with us, so Lars anxiously paces around for a while in the living room. I feel terrible that he is exiled from his tribe like this, so I have been trying to spend some extra special time with him before I go in to bed.

If I just spend a few minutes showing him he can lie on the couch--I don't think he realizes it yet--then cuddling him, stroking him, and loving him on the couch, he settles right down and sleeps right there.

This is why I put up with the front yard, a disaster area of torn up flower pots, dismembered plants and stuffed toys, potholes, compost and wood chips scattered across would-be walkways. And the house, which requires daily sweepings to remove the piles of dog hair, dust, and chewed up fragments of what was once my sweatshirt or Florian's underwear.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fozzie Insights

Like a good neophyte dog trainer, I am subscribed to a slew of positive training listserves and they are an absolute superhighway to enlightenment on all things dog training. Recently I posted a question about Fozzie, in the hopes of making him even more adoptable (as if a tongue kissing cuddle muffin is not adoptable enough.) Here's my question:

I wonder if anyone on this list might have ideas about my adolescent pit bull/presa canario (or something) foster dog, who has been with me about 8 months.

He was about to be euthed at the shelter (failed his eval, probably because of his high arousal/play drive) and in the end he's been the best education I could have asked for as a trainer who is relatively new to the art. He has made great progress in impulse control through waiting at doorways and for meals and snacks, sitting and making eye contact before I throw his ball, and some of the on-off switch and other impulse control games in Control Unleashed and elsewhere. He is a brilliant learner of tricks and skills and one of the most affectionate dogs I have ever met.

The main continuing struggle is on-leash. He becomes a lunging, barking, yodeling, wheezing, squeaking madman when he sees another dog, which is no mild event since he is 65 pounds of pure muscle. On those occasions when he has been allowed to approach another dog, he greeted with wags, play bows, and sniffs, which then became rowdy, pushy playing. He is for the most part good with my own two dogs, though sometimes a bit pushy, and he's just such a strong beast that I don't feel confident about allowing him to greet other dogs on-leash....I would rather he learn to calmly accept their presence and move on.

Would you call this leash reactivity, even though a lot of it is play excitement? I have also wondered if his prey drive is contributing, as his is over the top (he smashes from side to side against the windows of my van if not held firmly when we are driving, trying to eat passing cars).

I have tried to find that "magic spot" at which he notices the other beast but is not yet freaking out about it, but I am not sure if that spot exists for him. He can reorient to me during non-stimulating times on walks, but the moment he becomes aware that there might be a dog somewhere around, he becomes that sniffing, wheezing madman who couldn't care less about snacks. There is almost something hound-y about his indifference when we're on walks....when in a training session in house or yard he is your textbook biddable pit bull, but outside he reminds me of the plott hound foster I once had--all nose to the ground.

I got several helpful responses, but the most helpful was the following, from Douglas St. Clair:

You got a great sort of dog there. The Pit bull, as you can clearly see, has a bad rap. They were the most popular dogs in America back between WW I and WW II. If you have seen Little Rascals films their dog was a Pit, but back to your post.

I'll bet he wants to touch, lean on, and be physically close to you more than any other dog ....
These dogs IMO are in every way physical. Just as they want to be physically near members of their family they want to play physically with toys and other dogs.
...these dogs are poor at projecting calming signals to other dogs. I have trained my dog to go behind me and sit when we are about to meet a new dog.'

....First consider a Border Collie and our dogs. A BC is as supple as a rope. Our dogs are as supple as a log. The differences in their build translate into differences in overall movement. Should two aggressive BCs approach one another their bodies stiffen. Does the natural stiffness of our dogs look to them like a dog who is approaching for a fight? I don't know, but I do know that our sort of dog is sometimes surprised by the truly aggressive approach of other dogs.

...Having a dog sit behind [the handler] addresses that possibility five ways. First it calms your own dog to sit our down. Secondly it sends a calming signal to the approaching dog. Thirdly it positions you between the two dogs and the person who takes this posture is also assuming responsibility for the one behind them both in the eyes of their dog and the dog who is approaching. Fourth s/he can see you and see if you are tense or relaxed. When your dog is in front of you there is no way for them to see your reaction to the situation without looking away from what may be a threat to both of you. Fifth If s/he is in front, taking responsibility for both of you, then s/he is going to be more tense.

...For reasons I can't explain I think the dog finds the leash frustrating in general. Tolerable but always at least a little frustrating. When another dog approaches this frustration is increased. So if as you say the dog is initially excited then frustrated by the leash the manner in which s/he addresses the other dog is going to reflect all this. I also think that the presence of the leash makes 'talking' with the new dog a little like trying to great a new person while someone is holding your tongue. Need I describe your reaction for you? :)

I thought this was such a great synopsis of the pit bull--highly physical, quick to arouse, easily frustrated, perhaps poor communicators because of it. But thoroughly affectionate and so loving.

Fozzie is definitely frustrated by the leash and it will take some more practice over time of giving him tasty snacks and making the leash way more rewarding.

The "Go behind me and sit" trick when another dog is coming will take some work--Fozzie is now so excited when he sees another dog way  in the distance, that a sit may be too much to ask as he waits for the other pooch to approach--but it's a great idea for less excited dogs.

For Fozzie, I think I need to work with a  friend and another dog as we approach each other slowly, doing lots of treats and T-Touch. Or maybe Premack: click and allow wild tug of war with a rope toy in exchange for looking at me while another dog approaches? Would have to be at a distance.

Fozzie reminds me of a little kid--those floppy ears, the deep eye contact, the wild energy juxtaposed with a deep desire for approval and affection.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dog Training au Geneve

Our recent trip to Switzerland to visit Florian's family held an unexpected joy--getting to assist in a dog training class!

Katia Pillonel teaches right next to Florian's parents' house outside Geneva, in Puplinge. We went by there one day and she invited us to come back for her classes the next two Sundays, and her classes were such a delight.

Not surprisingly, the Swiss seem much more progressive in their dog training than we are, overall. There wasn't an active emphasis on the fact that they were doing positive training, it was just the way things were done. When I asked Katia--the one in the cowboy hat --whether there was any correction training in Switzerland, she seemed to indicate that reward-based training is just the way everyone does it.

The class was so joyful--happy chiens just ranging about off-leash, their people leading them in training games like Freestyle dance, Musical weaving among chairs, Wait until your owner counts to Trois (even if s/he counts to un, deux, quatre, neuf, sept first) before coming to get the treat, and Find the Key Hidden in the Box. Katia had me demonstrate Heel with eye contact with one of her chiens, and was impressed with how the pooch and I gazed lovingly into one anothers' eyes. I was also very happy to advise one student on helping her shy shepherd mix by working on touch targeting and getting her to touch non-threatening parts of new people's bodies--a kneecap, a foot--with her nose, then lavishing her with treats.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

the doggie pool gets some use

Florian finally got around to weed whacking the entire yard--fun for the whole family, especially Fozzie!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lars is home

I was continuing to get applications for Lars from his petfinder ad, and told Roy I would follow up with them, that I wouldn't leave Lars with him too much longer, didn't want to trouble him, etc, but Roy did not seem too troubled. Finally, he said he was going to just keep the guy. Apparently Lars and his new buddy Walker are inseparable, and even the older dogs in the house seem happy with Lars around.

This is truly a happy ending for a boy who was alone and scared for who knows how long, and who just wanted companionship with people and dogs who would love him and accept him. Thanks to Roy and Karin for helping turn his life around!

Friday, July 16, 2010

the boys' accomplishments

This past weekend, we went to the Adirondacks to visit with my parents and rather than bring all 4 dogs to spend a few days with Mom, Dad, and their dreadlocked, ill-tempered, and testy Bergamasco, we left Fozzie at boarding and brought Lars to Karin's small sanctuary in Hagerstown. The poor guy was anxious when we left him and apparently stared at the fence for 20 minutes after we left. But since then, he's been doing fantastic!

Here is the update from Roy, the infinitely kind, calm, Buddhalike caretaker of the sanctuary:

Saturday: "Lars played with Walker [resident black lab mix] all night. Up and down the stairs till about 3:00 am. He seems to be having a blast. He follows me wherever I go and has been very friendly. I don't need a leash with him, he seems to listen very well."

Monday: "Lars is doing fantastic. He did have a ton of energy. They were standing on their hind legs Sumo Wrestling for the better part of the day, yesterday. I took him down to the creek last night and this afternoon for a walk along the canal. He follows very nicely, unlike Walker. They are both pretty much puckered out now. Walker was snoring so loud last night I had to put him downstairs so we all could sleep. Lars seems to be getting sweeter by the day. He looks like a Polar Bear."

Thursday: "Yes he is doing fantastic. He loves to play, and I think it takes him a little while to feel comfortable. His playfulness could be misunderstood by another dog as aggression, but I think it is just his way of getting to know you. Fortunately Walker takes nothing personal and they became immediate best friends. ...Now they are trying to fit the other ones whole head into their mouth, all I can do is laugh. I would look for [an adopter] that is very active or likes long walks."

So proud of my boy!

Meanwhile, Fozzie is just mellowing into an entirely different dog from the one I rescued in February. No more out of control excitement on the leash, no more zany wild uncontrollable arousal during play sessions in the yard. A regular poster child for the effectiveness of impulse control work.

But I really feel that more than anything, what's helped Fozzie is a lot of love and stability. We've done a fair amount of training but what we've done most is just love him. Lots of cuddling, some T-touch, sleeping in bed with us, and showering him with kisses whenever we get the chance. Sometimes that's just what a dog needs to feel more calm and confident and settle down.

To think that this precious thing was on death row! It really gives you insight into the temperament testing system that was used to justify killing this creature, wherein an animal, already stressed from being dumped off at an unfamiliar place with loud noises and the sights and smells of hundreds of other stressed out animals, is given one life-or-death chance to behave calm and well-adjusted, even when prodded with very stress-inducing intrusions like having a plastic hand shoved in its face while it is hungry and trying to gulp down a quick meal.

I am so glad Fozzie made it out of that system. He is by far the most affectionate foster dog I've ever had and an incredibly intelligent, sensitive, wonderful family dog.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Working Sub-Threshold

We had a good reminder the other day to work with dogs at a level at which they can succeed.

Lars had been doing so well with meeting new people calmly and accepting treats, so I decided to take him to an adoption event, along with Fozzie. It was too much for both of them! Fozzie lay calmly through most of it, but barked excitedly a few times, and Lars was just spooked and anxious.

I was worried I'd given both of them a real setback, but we've been working hard on building back good experiences since. Lars got to socialize with Jenn, my wonderful class assistant Thursday night, where he accepted treats from her and wasn't tooo anxious standing with us on the sidewalk. (Jenn is brilliant about body language too, and she knows to stand without leaning over him, and not make eye contact as she offers a treat. I just ordered Canine Body Language by Brenda Aloff on her recommendation.)

On Friday we got in more good socialization with a visit from my neighbor Liz. Lars was a bit anxious and jumped up when she came to the gate, but we walked together and soon he was calmly walking with her holding his leash. She then walked him alone and reported he was calm and happy!

We then had a visit from my friend Simone, who taught us some more on T-Touch and how to use it to calm anxious dogs and help them feel more grounded. He seems to love those relaxing circles.

Lars has been bred to be very attached to his own human, and to defend his home and hearth from most others. He's doing a great job, and just needs to learn that he can relax the rules a bit with most people!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

new skills

Fozzie, Tashi, and Lamar went camping with us this past weekend, and Fozzie went swimming for the first time! It was so precious to see him wanting to join us out in the water of the Chesapeake Bay, off a gorgeous beach in Westmoreland, VA, but scared to venture out, then launching forward with paws a'flappin, swimming out, then quickly back. He didn't venture out near as often as Tashi and Lamar, but we were proud of him!

We left Lars here in the care of Karin, the one-woman rescuing machine who has been sponsoring the Lars endeavor since he showed up. The young man did well. I missed him, but could not have imagined having 4 dogs in the hippie van with us!

Last night, I put Lars in his crate for a time out from the constant romping with Fozzie. Lars settled in nicely for sleep, and Fozzie was pretty tired out too--but Fozzie lay down next to the crate and stuck his nose between the bars to kiss Lars. He then lay down next to the crate and fell asleep with his paw inside so he could be touching his friend.

Other new skills:
  1. Fozzie has made some breakthroughs in loose leash walking. The other night we went walking with Tashi and Lamar, and just like I tell my students, every time Fozzie's leash went tight we just stopped in our tracks. Tashi and Lamar are natural loose leash walkers, so I think Fozzie knew that he was the cause of the holdup. Pretty quickly, Fozzie was looking back at me and relaxing his pull every time we stopped, at which he got a treat, a happy "Good boy!," and we proceeded on our merry way.
  2. Lars had his first junk food! We shared an entire bag of Chex Mix with Tashi and Fozzie on the porch one evening. Well on his way to becoming a well adjusted all-American dog. Better he doesn't inherit all of his foster mom's countercultural tendencies....

Lamar swimming off Port Townsend, WA
These two...a lot of work but a lot of rewards too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Plotz hound

Fozzie has been sleeping almost solidly, with a few short breaks for romping with Lars, since his adoption event yesterday! He got lots of compliments on his beautiful brindle coat and his great personality. He was very sweet the whole time and gave out lots of gentle sniffies and licks.

It is great having a dog for whom I can so confidently say "yes!" when people of all kinds--kids, older people, big scary guys, anyone--ask if they can pet him. His response is always the same--fold ears back, sniff, and wag.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Lamar is finding that the experience of sharing his home and his people and his Tashi with these big rowdy young males is a tad stressful! Poor reactive dog is not getting much rest. He is taking 5-HTP--precursor to serotonin--to see if he can relax a bit. While we're at it, I'm taking some too!

Much as I love Fozzie and Lars, I am hoping that they both find fabulous adopters soon! I am asking the universe to send us some good people who are loving, sensitive, smart, and will take them for long hikes and give them comfy beds and delicious snacks and take them to positive training classes. My Ideal Adopters, don't hold back! We are ready for you.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

foster failure in the making

Lars went to his prospective adopter's house yesterday, but is back with me now. It was just too much to process for the sweet little freshly-neutered man, and he seems happy to be back. So we are going to let him mellow out here with his buddy Fozzie for a while, let his poor beleaguered scrotum heal up with hot compresses every day, and take our time with this adoption.

I wasn't really ready to let go of him anyway:)

Somehow the shepherd noses grab at me with a unique intensity--that silly sideways smile that they do when they sniff something or when they are being affectionate. He will make a handsome sweetie to some lucky adopter!

As for me, I can't say its the first nose that's affected me profoundly, nor will it be the last. Gotta keep that revolving door of foster dogs rolling....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fozzie the flower child

Fozzie has been pretty good about not destroying the garden, though he does have a knack for getting into "restricted" areas. Now he gets to enjoy the fruits of his self-restraint.

Today we met Jana, a wonderful prospective adopter for Lars. Lars seemed immediately comfortable with her and her niece.

These boys have come a long way--Lars in confidence and Fozzie in ability to mellow out!

Lars progress

Lars came through his neutering unscathed, and with his blossoming sweetness none the worse for wear. He is becoming just your regular, happy dog, at least with me--wiggling, cuddling, diving into my arms for a big bear hug, flopping over onto his back and playfully mouthing my arms. He is also getting warmer with other people--sniffing, taking snacks gently. It is going to be hard to let this one go! Shy dogs are so rewarding when they start coming around.

He is making me appreciate Fozzie more too. I have realized what a soft mouth Fozzie has, and despite his excitability and capacity for arousal, how reliable he is. The way he sprawls out at the foot of the bed when we're watching a movie or going to sleep, the way we can drape our legs over him or fall asleep completely wrapped around him and he loves it.

Multiple dogs are also a great motivator for Lars to eat--I can get him to eat dry food almost always when I go outside with a handful of it, and feed Lars and Fozzie by hand. I guess Lars figures that if Fozzie's enjoying it, he'd better get in on it too! The rest of the time, its a vegan's nightmare for Lars...cheese, cows milk, huevos, bacon, anything fat. He'll be a roly poly family dog like the rest of mine before I'm done with him.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

at the menagerie

Lars is really coming around. He now loves to sit in my lap and to roll over on his back for a belly rub. He wiggles joyfully when I come home and sleeps calmly through the night in my living room. He had a bath last week, his rabies shot and heartworm test the other day, and did great--and will get neutered Wednesday! He is starting to have positive interactions with people besides me too...lies at Florian's feet when he works on his computer, nuzzled Karin's hand gently when she came over to give him his distemper shot tonight.

Friday, May 7, 2010


These guys have been going nonstop. Nappy time!


is his name. Handsome and brave.

This morning, I was able to hold his head with one hand under it, scratching his chin, the other hand scratching his ears and the top of his head. He wagged softly. He let me brush him while he ate his food, and then I even lifted his paws to see why he limps a bit--the centers of his front paw pads are worn down and bleeding, I think just from being on the run so long! Poor little thing.

Next steps: bath, vet.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

creative solution

So the new white shepherd is doing better every day, but I still feel that I am not trainer or manager enough to handle having him inside--three big males, one of them unneutered and unknown--is bigger than me! I know being in my yard and on my porch is an improvement to being at large and at risk of being hit by a car, etc., but it still breaks my heart to have him out there, everybody else in here, and him squeaking away and wanting to come in! The few times I have let him in, Lamar and Tashi did not stop growling, he did not stop humping Fozzie, and I can't even imagine what the budgies thought of it. I still can't get a leash on him easily, didn't want to drag him inside and into the crate--so what to do?

The crate is just inside the door, with the crate door open to the outside and positioned so he can't sneak into the house around the crate opening. He can see in, get an idea for what a household is like, and not feel excluded, I can get him used to a crate with lots of hot dogs, and the other dogs can get used to him without danger of being humped!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Today my new friend allowed me to scratch his chin and neck, loop a leash around him, and lead him to the van for a ride. He was great in the car, just relaxed behind my seat. He's clearly had an owner, and maybe not such a bad one!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

White shepherd

Tonight, Fozzie brought home a boyfriend. This dog is now in my yard with Fozzie, humping and playing and rolling around, both of them having a blast. Where did he come from? Whose is he? I don't know, and I think its a long time since he's seen them--this dog is skin and bones. Scared to come near me but came close enough to eat the hot dog I tossed his way, before backing off again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Adventures in Leave it + watch Me

I realized this is the perfect game for Fozzie. Tonight, we worked on it in the back yard with his second favorite thing, a stick. He has already learned that he needs to sit before I do anything he enjoys, so he sat as I lifted a stick above his head, said Leave It, then seductively, slowly, waved it in front of his face. He stared at the stick, then the eyes flicked toward mine and I said Yes! and immediately threw the stick. He got it, came right back and we played again, and this time his eyes went toward mine almost immediately.

I am amazed at how quickly he learned that the eye flick was what I was rewarding! I have always had difficulty with Watch Me, but I was practicing with Lamar--a far less biddable dog, and one who has fear of trying things to boot.

On our walk this evening, Fozzie demonstrated that he'll need more work before he'll listen to Leave It when he's doing his first favorite thing--playing leash tug of war when he gets stimulated. There was no Leaving It once he got into that leash tug, while we were on a busier street and I was stopping to talk to everyone who admired him and asked about adopting him. After those episodes though, we did get to a quiet street where he started to go for his leash, then responded to Leave It! Victory!

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I am really getting an appreciation for the subtleties of dog training. After reading Control Unleashed (Leslie McDevitt's absolute gem of a training book) and in class with Michelle Mange, my brilliant mentor with Right Start Maryland and Your Dog's Friend, I realized that to get Fozzie to mellow out, I need to give him a reward that's worth more to him than just these cheesy bits! What's the most rewarding thing to him? Going wild! So what should be his reward for not going wild? Legalized going wild!

There is a great handout on impulse control at, so I won't belabor it here; the basic idea is that for dogs who really want to play, they get to play only after they relax and take a break. So with Fozzie, throw a ball, do some push ups, pet him like crazy, rile him up a bit (I'm not doing tug of war with him because it's too stimulating; tug of war would be a good choice for dogs who enjoy it but don't get too into it), then disengage. Look away, take the ball away, stop playing until Fozzie sits and looks at me calmly. May take a while, but ignore him til it happens. Then--start again! Go wild, take a break, go wild, take a break. The Premack Principle--using something pup really wants to do as a reward for doing something he's less psyched to do.

Necessity breeds creativity, and Fozzie is the best teacher ever.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Love bugs

If possible, Florian is even more in love with Fozzie than I am.

This is them after a night of romance, sleeping on the living room daybed so the other dogs and I could have our space in the other room. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

pit bulls are brilliant!

After just a few days, Fozzie has made HUGE progress.

Any new-ish trainer who needs assurance that positive methods work, and work fast, should work with a pit bull. Even more importantly, any trainer, shelter worker, evaluator,
anyone who believes that evaluations are an accurate or fair determinant of who lives and who dies, should spend one day--no, 15 minutes!--with a pit bull and some treats. I am so amazed at the intelligence of this dog, the power of positive training, and the transformation I am beginning to see.

The other day was really stressful--I thought I'd made a big mistake and taken on more than I could handle and this was going to end in tragedy and disaster. After just a few days of working on Sit, Touch, Watch Me, rewarding calmness, training Wait and Stay, I am now confident that I did the right thing and that this is a brilliant dog who will make a stellar companion to someone someday.

He still gets overaroused quickly, and does the leash grab thing sometimes--but other times I see him get that look in his eye like he wants that leash so bad, then I interrupt him with Leave It! and he looks at me and gets a treat instead. I cannot describe the relief and reward of seeing that this is going to work out. Fozzie is a gift to this trainer.

Friday, February 5, 2010


This morning, I took my new boy--now Fozzie Bear, which I think conveys a much better message about pit bulls than his shelter name Bullet--for a walk, and we went to the park and did fine until I was leaving the park and walking down some icy stairs. I guess he was frustrated at leaving, or excited to be out, or just wanted to communicate something, because he grabbed his leash in his mouth and started tugging away. Really intense, complete with growling, shaking, etc. I ended up sitting on the ground in the snow, holding on to the leash for dear life, unable to hold his collar because his collar had slipped off his head. When I did get close enough to take the leash, he redirected his excitement (aggression? Reactivity? Hyperactivity?) onto my arm. It was a awhile before I could get the leash away from him and I'm still not sure how I did it.

Then this afternoon, I was in the yard trying to get him some exercise, and he chased sticks nicely but when I turned my back he went after my pants legs, then coat, then mittens. I don't know whether to call it aggression or overexcited playing, but it is hard to stop him once he starts. In all these cases I was eventually able to get the leash or the mitten away from him, then hold his collar and stroke him as I asked for a sit and treated him, and he did calm down.

Eegad. I have my work cut out for me!