Thursday, June 28, 2012

Exposing a shy dog to new experiences

Since I know my duty as a foster parent is to expose my foster dogs to as many new, different, mildly challenging but mostly fun situations as possible, I didn't object when Florian recently had an idea for a bit of an adventure involving Pager.

Although we all know Florian can go a bit overboard in the adventure department, the idea of going kayaking, and not having to leave poor Pager in her terrible crate, was too appealing to pass up.  

Florian has been in heaven since our friend Francine left her kayaks in our backyard, and has been using them every chance he gets.

I've only been a couple of times, because of course when I have time for an outing I'd rather it be one that includes the dogs. 

And the idea of going kayaking with Fozzie in my lap, or Lamar, just doesn't sound like a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Not even Florian's that crazy.
But with Pager, the idea didn't seem that far-fetched. 

Now a really together foster mom would have had a doggie life jacket all ready, but since I am not that foster mom I resolved to just go really slow, hold her tight, and stay mostly in shallow water. 

She was a bit nervous at first, and paced around trying to find a comfortable position just like in the car.

Except every time she paced around in the kayak, the boat lurched and we nearly capsized. Exciting!

Pretty soon though, she seemed to relax and have a good time.

She just looked out over the water, and found she was pretty comfy out in the open air and close to her foster mom. 

No vomiting or peeing!

That was WAY more fun than the car ride.

I don't know if going kayaking is on any official lists of recommended activities for shy foster dogs. But it sure was a fun way to spend the day with Pager.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Making progress

With each new foster dog, I go through moments where I feel uncertain of my abilities.  With Pager, as each piece of furniture has been peed upon in succession, I've wondered about whether I really know anything about this housetraining thing. 

But then, after a few days of "Catching her in the act," saying "whoops!" and whisking her outside, and bestowing lavish praise for each outdoor wiss, we haven't had an accident in days. 

The first few days we left her in there, her crate looked like this at the end of the day.
Yes, she somehow pushed the crate floor out of the bottom, while also shredding all the newspaper and upturning her water and food dishes. 

After a few focused Crate Appreciation Sessions--in which I feed her hot dogs, which she is starting to like more, inside her crate while sitting nearby and leaving the door open--she is starting to be able to relax in there.

Unlike Sandy and Collette, Pager came to us with no training. So I had to start from scratch with Sit.

Didn't seem to be making progress until Fozzie, who of course wanted in on the training session fun, came over to demonstrate.  

Then something "clicked" and she's been avidly sitting ever since!


Fozzie, what a leader you are.

Perhaps the most exciting development is her enthusiasm for food. She's still not the undiscriminating chowhound Collette and Sandy were, but she is now much more interested in all the things you'd expect her to be. 

Even yummy antibiotic-laced tuna! 
Fozzie: Where's MY Cephalexin snack?
Sure makes things easier to have a dog who likes to eat!

And inspires my confidence to see how patience with simple techniques pays off. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Leash attack solutions

When we first got Fozzie, my first indication that I had bitten off more than I could comfortably chew was when we went for a walk and his response to turning around and heading for home was to grab his leash and tug lustily, and not let go.

Two years later, this is still his response of choice when we see another dog and don't stop to meet it, or when we encounter humans who engage with me in any way, or sometimes just when he is in an energetic mood. 

I'm sure this is a manifestation of Fozzie's frustration with stopping and being on leash, his reactivity, his extreme desire to meet and greet and embrace everything and everyone he encounters, and maybe just his joie de vivre.

Though he's got a really good Drop It and Leave It in the house, when he's in this stimulating situation nothing can make him drop that leash. I'm sure that means that we just have to work harder on these skills in non- stimulating situations, but until we've done that I need some extra help.

The chain leash is the only thing I could think of for a while. Works, but heavy and uncomfortable to carry.

A while ago I saw a great suggestion by Kobipup: make your regular leash taste nasty to the dog. Her suggestion is apple cider vinegar, all over the leash. I imagine you could use bitter apple spray or Tabasco sauce too, or Chinese mustard if you had to.

We doused our leash in vinegar a few weeks ago, and at first it seemed Fozzie was much less likely to chomp. Perhaps he's gotten desensitized to the vinegar though, because he's back at it. Time for the Tabasco?

One trainer I worked with suggested having him on two leashes, and as soon as he grabbed the leash I was holding, dropping that one and taking the other. Fozzie's way too fast for that--he'd have both leashes in his mouth in no time.

Since Fozzie's leash attack madness results from his stimulation and stress, the most effective solution would be to just walk him singly, without the other dogs, who are definitely stressors. When I have time to do this, he is without doubt calmer.

As far as training, we need to just spend more time practicing. Meeting neighbors, shaking hands, talking, making eye contact with Fozzie as he sits. Approaching other dogs, backtracking if he gets tense, calmly walking past when possible. Going to Francine's classes and trying not to freak out. In the meantime, we just need to effectively manage the situation!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fearful dogs

In the span of time between the moment I agreed to take Pagent, and the moments where I saw her open up, I had plenty of time to envision all sorts of worst-case scenarios. 

I already knew she was one of three shy dogs, and I knew I was getting the most scared one because for some reason they thought I could handle it.

When I saw her huddled up in her crate, and put one finger against her absolutely rigid backside, I thought of all the sad stories I've been hearing lately of fearful dogs who despite heroic efforts have just stayed that way. 

A wonderful positive dog trainer colleague of mine has a dog--a smallish black lab mix--who was in the shelter from age 6 weeks to age 6 months, and missed out on that critical socialization window. Despite her good luck in being rescued by my friend, she remains frightened of everything. 

A trainer has recently written in to the regional positive dog trainer list I'm on, about a client dog with high anxiety, fear, and resource guarding who has bitten her owners; the experienced trainer is at a loss as to how to help.

Many dog trainers, including the author and owner of the fearfuldogs website, concur that with some fearful dogs, euthanasia should never be off the table as an option. Suffice it to say that it is not an option for me, that I can't imagine being the agent of a dog's destruction through my own conscious choice and failure to find an alternative.

I used to think that literally any dog could be rehabilitated, that there was no case of fear or instability that couldn't be healed through patience and really good treats. I've realized that this is not the case, that just as some humans are severely imbalanced, some dogs are too and even the most creative positive training has its limitations.

When you meet a fearful dog, you always think--abuse. Or neglect, or mistreatment, or some really bad experience involving men/cars/vacuum cleaners/other dogs. But a lot of the time, its much less dramatic. It's just a lack of socialization and exposure to new experiences during the critical first three months of life when a puppy is most open to new experiences, since during this time sociability outweighs fear. Around 12 weeks, puppies enter a relatively fear-prone period of development, making socialization efforts less fruitful after this time. 

So my friend's little black lab mix, and my own little black lab mix, will likely never be social butterflies, and they may never be dogs who love all people or dogs who love to go to dog parks or even dogs who you would call extremely well-adjusted. 

But I fully believe that they can have good lives, and that they can bring joy into their people's lives, and that they deserve to live. Their potential is yet another reason why I hope more people will try fostering, in the DC area and beyond!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pager, you're my nemesis

Yeah, I know. She's a precious little thing with skinny legs and a face to die for, and she gives the best little rough kisses imaginable. But sometimes, when I'm trying to get her to take her meds and she's thwarting me at every turn, I am at a loss what to do about this little Pager package.

Pagent/Pager came to me with a bit of kennel cough and a mild staph infection, and two different antibiotics she needs to take for some days still. 

But she was confused by hot dogs, and would only tentatively take a piece in her mouth and then chew it the way most dogs chew lettuce--with tongue flailing about and bits of hot dog flying out the sides. Now she eats them, but still chews them thoroughly and thoughtfully--so that a pill tucked into one is easily discharged out the side of her mouth. 

Most foods you'd think would be exciting get the same treatment. In fact, what's the only food she gets excited about? Dry kibble! And how do you hide a pill in dry kibble?

Especially at first, when she really was barely eating anything, my only recourse was to stick each pill down her throat then stroke her throat to make it go down. But she hated that, and I felt like an absolute monster making her do it. 

Now she's more curious about more foods, but still not the kind of food inhaler that makes administering pills a piece of cake. So, I thought, I'll outsmart the little lunatic. I'll grind up the tablet and empty the powder out of the capsule, and combine the powder with a concoction of heavy cream and tuna fish. What dog could refuse that?

This dog! Apparently creamy tuna is still not exciting, at least when it has a hint of doxycycline and cephalexin. 

So I mixed some dry kibble in, and she finally showed some interest! Though only enough to eat a few bites before wandering away nervously.

Bleep it, I thought, I give up. The damage to her psyche from taking the bloody meds is going to be worse than the damage to her physical form from not taking them. So I went off to write on my computer and stew, though I brought the forsaken bowl with me. 

And then, when I was contentedly checking my email and not worrying about the consequences of Pager not taking her meds--in short, when the air had cleared and there was no social pressure weighing down upon our little hesitant eater--she came over and began to eat. She ate a good amount of her creamy fishy med-soaked dry food before dropping off to sleep. 

The moral of the story is that with a fearful dog, patience and time are often your best allies. And as I have observed with my anxious boy Lamar, pressure to perform can really get in the way of a dog behaving naturally and as both you and the dog would like. 

Tuna fish may be one ticket to success, but a calm, relaxed attitude is even better! 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Intro to the good life

This weekend provided a prime opportunity for Pager socialization. 

I've been giving her limited walks because she only just had her last DHPP shot--even though the vet said she could go anywhere now--but I knew my aunt and uncle's place was a safe and fun place for a pup to meet new people and be outdoors.

When she arrived, after a drive there in my sister's car, spent squirming and squeaking on my lap, sticking her head out the window, and finally peeing on me, she was already exhausted. 

After a romp of disbelief in my aunt's huge open yard, she curled up under the table, rested her head on a rock, and was fast asleep for the next two hours.

There she remained while the rest of us binged on yummy snacks, took swims, and played "Shark!" with my niece.

I finally roused her so she could get in on some of the fun. She's still not a social butterfly right off, but she does like people!

I agree Pager, it's hard not to like Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bob. 

To think that this dog was almost labeled hopelessly shy! 

Lots of shy dogs are scared of kids, but she did just fine with my shark-like niece. 

And did some crazy romping with her cousin Genghis. 

And stepped right up to watch him get hosed down. 

Pager, was that the highlight of YOUR day?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sweet little nosie

Despite the new pee stains on literally every upholstered piece of furniture in my house, there is something so rewarding and joyful about this particular foster pup.

Florian has been mispronouncing her name from the start, and the mispronunciation stuck, so we've been calling her Pager, or Paige, or Pagey, or Puppy-pee. Or Collette, when we get confused, or Sprocket. 

Poor little thing. Are we doing damage to her malleable little psyche? 

I'm pretty sure she'll be OK. When I look at the 8 scillion pictures I have already taken of her, there is a marked difference between those I took that first evening, and the ones I took just a day or two later. 

The tongue is lolling out way more, the tail is wagging, the whites of the eyes are no longer showing.

And when I cuddle her, she just stays right there.

Allowing me to kiss her as long as I want, drinking in the good fortune of not being in that loud, unsettling shelter place anymore. 

I've met very few dog noses that I didn't want to kiss, but some are just particularly scrumptious. How wonderful to have access to one like that full time!

Monday, June 11, 2012

New foster fun

Since she's not fully vaccinated and we can't yet take her on rambling adventures, I've been spending a lot of time with Pagent in the yard. My garden is more de-weeded than ever and she's gotten to discover all the fun things she should have discovered a long time ago.

A good scratch in the sun!

Helping make sure her mom is prepared to go out in it!

Helping get together all the garden supplies

Pulling weeds

Making sure I don't work too hard while the weather's so nice

 And of course just normal fun doggy things like tennis balls 
and sticks
What an engaged, happy little thing!

Friday, June 8, 2012

My name is Kirsten, and I'm a foster-aholic

As usual, I resolved after Collette went to her forever home to give Fozzie and Lamar a rest for a while. 

This time it lasted all of a day and a half. 

I was enjoying a relaxing afternoon of gardening on my day off on Wednesday when I impulsively took a computer break, because, you know, there really might be something important. 

This time, there was: an email from the Washington Humane Society about three very nervous puppies--Isaac, Pagent, and Bella--who were not doing well in the shelter and whose time was up. 

After 45 seconds of thinking it all through very carefully, I emailed to say that I could take one, or all three, if it was a matter of life and death. 

Meet Pagent, 6-months old, skinny, gangly, nervous, and unbelievably sweet.

Florian picked her up while I was at work yesterday, and reported that she was so scared she wouldn't walk with him to the car and promptly peed when she was in there. 

He had to leave once he brought her home, so set her up in a crate in the basement with a nice blanket, food, and some toys. She was so scared of noises, people, and things that he didn't want to leave her upstairs with big scary Fozzie and Lamar.

I went online to, bought A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog, and biked home from work just as fast as I could, knowing I'd have to spend some time working with this pup just to even be able to touch her. 

In the basement, I found a huddled, stiff little bag of bones crouched in the back of her crate, the nice toys and bowl of food untouched. When I came close and saw her terrified eyes, I thought oh boy, this is going to be a tough one, one I may not be able to help. 

I know the best thing to build confidence in a dog like this is to let her make her own decisions, and choose when and how she wants to interact. A few hot dogs to lubricate things don't hurt.

She wasn't interested in the hot dog I tossed in her crate, but she didn't shrink away or snap when I came close by either. Not wanting to leave her in the crate in the basement all night, I opened the crate, put a collar and lightweight leash on her, and squatted just outside. She did look at me, and slowly, gradually, crept toward me.  As she approached, I took a few steps farther away, then crouched down again. She followed again. Like that until we were outside.

Then that little nose took off. Sunlight! Green stuff! Dirt! The whole wide world! Wow! 

While we were sniffing up a storm, Lamar snuck through the dog door and made his appearance in the back yard. 

I didn't even have time to think uh-oh, not the greatest thing to expose a fearful dog to, before I immediately saw that little thing perk up and wag for the first time. She loves other dogs! Even Lamar! And fortunately, Lamar was on reasonably good behavior. 

Over the course of the next two hours, Pagent unfurled like a flower in a time-lapse film sequence, going from immobile to bounding through the grass in the backyard with mouth lolling open and tail wagging ecstatically. 

What a delight to see a little creature open up to the joys of the world. 

And don't worry, the shelter decided to hold on to Isaac and Bella until they can find foster homes for them too. 

Welcome, little puppy-bee! I'm so glad to have you. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fozzie's long-term prospects

I have been thinking for some time now that I won't always have to prepare for a walk with Fozzie like I'm going into a war zone, with multiple harnesses to keep him in check, a wrist brace to ensure I can withstand his lunging, a fat pouch of treats to arm us for the distractions to which he is so sensitive, and a mental state on hair-trigger alert for the possibility that we will encounter another dog, at which moment I usually gasp, reflexively utter something along the lines of "Oh crap," beg that the person give us a minute, and wrangle a tangled mass of jumping lunging barking dogs behind a car, bush, or house, or run in the other direction. 

Eventually, Fozzie will be 15 years old, arthritic, deaf, blind, or incapacitated in some way, and he'll be far more manageable. I only have to suffer through the next 12 years of my life or so, and everything will be just fine.

Then I read a couple of posts by Jodistone and Kristine at Rescued Insanity that made me feel there might be hope, even for Fozzie. Stories about once-reactive dogs who now have moments, or even whole days, or, in fact, what looks like long-term trends, of calmness on leash when around other dogs. 

Will Fozzie ever get there? I think a lot of it depends on whether I ever find the time and the will to take him on more individual walks, without the other little firebombs. And if I ever overcome my foster compulsion long enough to keep it down to two dogs and give Fozzie more of the individualized attention he needs.  

Until then, we have our props that make leash walks possible, if not particularly relaxing. 

And I suppose I'll always look a little...eccentric...during our walks.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fostering with WHS

I wrote a little postie about my fostering experience for the Washington Humane Society to put on its blog. Thought you'd like to see it!

One Foster Volunteer's Experience

By Kirsten Stade, WHS Volunteer

My boyfriend Florian and I have been fostering dogs in the DC area since early 2008, first with several rescue groups and now with the Washington Humane Society (WHS).  These four years have contained their share of urine-stained furniture; shredded electronics, upholstery, and a passport; uprooted landscaping; and seemingly futile efforts at peacekeeping in a household with what some would say is too many critters under one roof. But above the sometimes deafening chaos, I have never questioned what I believe is a defining truth: fostering animals is the most important thing I can do in this lifetime.

I began fostering with WHS after volunteering there, being so impressed with the warm, caring, appreciative, and fun spirit I encountered among the staff. As I learned about the shelter's programs for enrichment and positive, reward-based training of the animals in its care, I realized how great it would be to foster one of these dogs, who had so much "value-added" from all the efforts of volunteers and the training programs that teach them the skills they need to succeed in the world.

My first WHS foster dog was Sandy. For several months I had had "only" two dogs—my two impulsive, reactive, loud, energetic “foster failures” (meaning I adopted them!) Fozzie and Lamar, who are more than enough to keep me busy. I must have been feeling vulnerable though when I received an email about a 10-month-old red pit bull type pup whose cage mate had gone to rescue, leaving her lonely and stressed out at WHS's New York Avenue adoption center. I arranged to pick her up the next day.

Sandy1Sandy was a raging little fireball of energy, careening through the house in the evenings and flying through the air to land on the couch, or on our laptops, or on our heads. There were certainly those moments in which I beseeched the Universe—and my friends, family members, and colleagues—to send me a really good adopter, really soon.

And then there were moments in which I held her and she made those little snorting noises she made when she gave kisses, when I wanted time to stop so I could lie with her, just like that, forever. My connection with Sandy was on a spiritual level; I felt I had a kinship with her. There was something about her little, innocent baby face and the gratitude and need for affection that came pouring out of her, that made me feel this was a connection I couldn't let go of. 

Then Lamar would growl, Fozzie would bark, or Sandy would start squirming and chewing again, and I remembered the wisdom of keeping that revolving door of foster dogs going. After five months Sandy met an adopter who could not have been more perfect for her. She lives in Baltimore and goes for long walks greeting everyone in the neighborhood with her dad, whose experience of adopting her was so positive that he now has a foster dog as well, in addition to Sandy.

Once again we were down to two dogs, and thinking we'd take another break from the kind of sustained intensity that Sandy had brought. But resolutions like that are made to be broken, and one day after volunteering we couldn't exactly say no to Collette, a 6-month-old blond lab mix pup.

Collette3 007Collette was calm in the house, loved other dogs, loved people, was affectionate but not pushy, good in her crate, and easily amused by tennis balls. In short, the kind of dog you wouldn't mind having around for a while. Lots of other people had the same idea about her though, and it was just a few short weeks before she was adopted, by a wonderful woman who works from home and takes her for runs along the beach and play sessions with her mom's friendly dogs.

The take-home lesson from Collette is that fostering doesn't have to entail a major upheaval to one's home and life. Truly there is a foster situation for everyone: long-term fosters who become foster failures, short-term or temporary fosters, calm older fosters, loving puppy and kitten fosters—all are getting a break from the shelter and freeing up valuable space, so that lives are saved.

We're down to two dogs again, thinking we’ll maybe take a bit of a break so Fozzie and Lamar, pictured below, can relax. We’ll see how long that lasts!

To learn more about the WHS foster program, visit