Friday, August 31, 2012

Maybe even better than a tiny goatie

is a tiny itty bitty pocket foster pittie!

Meet Blue. Blue was found as stray, covered in urine and stinking to high heaven. 

The shelter staff thought she might have been kept in a box or a crate, and finally managed to escape somehow. 

She was brought to the shelter, but didn't do so well there as she is shy when meeting new people. 

The shelter foster coordinator thought of me, as she knows I have a thing for shy dogs. I agreed to take her, sight unseen.

Blue is a tiny, velvety, calm, 31-pound pocket pittie. She loves me and Florian, loves to be pet, loves to eat, looks around her new home in shock and wonder. 

She's good on a leash and, at about 4 years old, seems to be totally housetrained and seems to enjoy the crate. 

She even likes having her teeth brushed!
She likes Fozzie and loves to follow him around. For some reason, she keeps trying to stick her tongue in his ear.  

Unfortunately, she and Lamar are not off to a great start. Lamar has this lovely habit of snarling at most new dogs he meets, in response to which Fozzie and the other recent fosters have all looked away and given him space. Not so our little bitty Blue--she took umbrage at his snarlies and decided to show him a thing or two. No real harm done, and she was easy to pull away, but poor Lamar is now scared to death of this little squirt less than half his size. 

Blue, respect your elders! Even if they ARE grumpy! 

Young woman, we are going to do some serious work on Wait and Leave It! And Lamar is going to get treats for watching you work! (Don't worry, you'll get treats too).

I am hopeful that even if she's a scrappy little thing, she can learn to temper those tendencies once she sees there's something in it for her.  

On the plus side, I've been so proud to watch Fozzie show such appropriate and mature signals all around. Toward Blue, he is tolerant and gentle. And with Lamar, watching how quickly Blue took offense made me realize just how tolerant Fozzie has been for 2.5 years of growlies. 

I love my household full of poorly-adjusted, personality-rich canines. 

May we all learn from each other how to live a greater degree of acceptance and equanimity.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Leash Walk and Prey Drive Practice

In my ongoing journey of discovery with Fozzie, I often wonder just what exactly is his issue. Is it really what you'd call reactivity, as in the fear-based reactivity that is so often mistaken for aggression? When he sees certain dogs, like those huskies and like my sister's dog Genghis, who have big fuzzy heads and those menacing pointy ears and can't walk a step without having a conniption fit, I think that's a part of it.

Is it an excess of impulsiveness, and what you might even call joie de vivre? Just an irrepressible spirit that can't tolerate nutty contraptions like leashes, and the totally preposterous notion that a beast of such vitality could greet calmly and nicely? Does he just love other creatures too much to be calm about his feelings? When we see certain dogs and he shows signs of being excited, but not beside himself, and I allow him to approach and greet, and he does so with a sniff and a wag, I think that must be it.

Is it prey drive? When we come upon one of our many neighborhood cat friends, and Fozzie goes into a mad fit of lunging and barking, straining at the leash until I think I'll literally go flying through the air after him, I think that's his diagnosis.

I think Fozzie actually has a pretty complex personality, and that all these are probably true. I also think that he will learn new ways of being, and that he is already starting to understand that the sight of other creatures is no reason to completely lose his cool. 

We saw a neighbor dog on a recent walk, and I didn't have my treats, and there was no car to hide behind. 

So we used our "Whoops-backtrack!" technique, and approached the neighbor--who was talking to another neighbor, holding his calm leashed dog--then retreated when Fozzie and Lamar started to react, then approached, and retreated again, until we were able to walk past in relative calm. At least the dogs were calm; I was talking to them in my nutty falsetto ... it's a good thing my neighbors are understanding.

Another time recently, we had the opportunity to walk with our fellow trainer buddy Francine and a couple of the dogs she had that day. He had a few snarlies and lunges at the beginning, then was able to parallel walk with them for a few blocks.

And the other day--this was perhaps the most exciting--my beloved budgies Ingamar and Flower were in their cage with the door open, having just turned in from a day of flying around "their" room. Fozzzie came into the room, and instead of panicking and chasing him out of the room, I asked him to sit and wait. He stopped his progress toward the budgies, looked at me, smiled, and sat!

Which brings me to what I think is the root of my problem with Fozzie. Just like a nervous nellie dog owner who exacerbates all of her anxious dog's issues on the first day of reactive dog class by bringing her OWN issues to the table, I tend to panic and get all excited when Fozzie gets excited. If I could just be more consistent, firm, joyful, calm and clear in my messages to him, then he'd start to reflect those qualities as well. 

What do you think? Have you had any luck changing your own emotional responses, in order to better support your dog in sticky situations?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Visiting my childhood home

After spending two weeks in Switzerland with Florian's family, it was time to go for a visit with my own. It wasn't just that I missed my folks, but also that my very own dogs could come with me and have 70 acres of Adirondack wilderness to run around in. 

The least I could do for them after running off with the Swiss goats.

I love my parents' place. It always brings back nice memories of spending summers playing with frogs and sunbathing and swimming in backwoods watering holes when I was a kid. 

Of getting pelted with water balloons and tormented with threats of a crayfish being thrown down my shirt during those summers when my brothers were with us too, but even those memories are fond ones.

Vacations there are times of complete relaxation. No cars or city noises, just crickets and frogs and the sound of running water.  

We hike in the woods without even a thought of leashes or of Fozzie and Lamar encountering a dog or cat or human they'll likely attack or devour or at least lunge toward or jump up on.  

The dogs can lounge in the sun all day, Dizzy following Fozzie around with love in his heart, and there's no feral cats around to taunt Fozzie or gates to tempt him to break out of.

Sleeping in the room I slept in from about age 13 on, cuddled up with Fozzie, I actually slept for the first time in months with no help from my prescription buddies.

Dizzy was away getting a thorough haircut by a local groomer when I first got there, so I didn't have the honor this time. When we brought him back the next day I was looking forward to seeing if he still loved Fozzie as much as he did the last time he met him.

Dizzy's affections were never in question, but when he first planted his nose in Fozzie's butt Fozzie did not take kindly to it. His snarl and lunge were really angry, and I thought, crap, maybe Fozzie's getting to that age in bully pups where he is not just leash reactive but genuinely doesn't like other dogs. I remember reading on Pit Bull Rescue Central that this is a common trait for our friends who may at least have some pit bull in their ancestry--however much they may get along with, or at least tolerate, other dogs when they are very young, many pitties lose this flexibility and tolerance once they reach maturity. 

Great! Another layer of complexity to managing Fozzie's behavioral issues.

But before I really started worrying that my relaxing stay in the Adirondacks was going to get a lot less relaxing thanks to Fozzie's behavior, I decided to do a proper introduction and hold Fozzie as he strained and lunged at Dizzy, ask for a sit and a wait, and give cheesy snacks to Fozzie as Dizzy approached and sniffed. A little of that and Fozzie decided Dizzy was OK after all. 

I was very proud of both of them!

Lamar and Fozzie loved seeing their grandparents and checking out all the good things to sniff and explore. 

Overall I have to give these three behaviorally questionable male dogs--and Dizzy is even a bit more male than the other two, having not had a certain, you know, procedure--credit for getting along. 

I guess being in such idyllic surroundings brought out the best in them. 

They loved as much as I did relaxing by the pool with my adorable parents, and even having a swim...though just like when I was a kid, that water was chilly! Fozzie and Lamar got their little paws wet, but Dizzy was the only one who joined me for a swim.

Actually, the swimming was the only part of the whole experience that was less relaxing than one might hope. Dizzy has this habit of barking and running around the pool whenever anyone is in there, which of course sets off the other two, who then bark and chase him around. 

Dizzy usually ends up falling in at some point, which used to be a real concern because he had all that hair weighing him down and we were sure we'd have to dredge him up and rescue him. This time he swam right up to the stairs with no problem.

So glad I motivated myself to drive the quick 8 hours to upstate NY. I would happily have stayed a lot longer, but sooner or later I had to get back to work, back to my Swiss guy, and back to the hikes and wilderness I know await me closer to home.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Goatie Wednesday

Back home after our trip to Switzerland, and able to bask regularly in the warm peanut-buttery frito smell of Fozzie and Lamar's paws and breath, I can scarcely remember how it was to have to survive two and a half weeks without it. 

I don't think I could have done it without the goats.

A dozen or more little goaties of two or three generations live just down the road from Florian's parents. 

I lived on a goat farm for one summer in New Mexico, so I know how friendly and personable goats are. I know that they they seek out human interaction, get very attached to their human caretakers, and follow them around like dogs. 

What I had forgotten was just how intensely they love to be scratched and caressed. 

I had forgotten the sensation of holding their heads in my hands and talking to them, of fondling their hooves and massaging them all over their tiny little bodies. 

There was one tiny little goat who would always run over when I came to visit. I'd scratch her under the chin and on her side, and she'd just freeze in place and her eyes would narrow in contentment. 
Once, I scratched above her tail and she lowered her hips and hunkered down and extended her neck like it was the best thing she'd ever felt. 

Exactly like Fozzie and Lamar do.

We weren't the only ones to come and visit the goaties; most days there were at least a few other visitors there to love on them.

As far as I know, I was the only one who regularly kissed them on their mouths as they stuck their noses outside the fence.

It would be so great to have a goat--an affectionate little buddy to kiss and cuddle and eat all the weeds in my backyard. Alas, I don't think Fozzie would allow it. 
Has anyone had success with teaching a dog with a very high prey drive to love and coexist with members of another species?

Is there hope that someday I can have a goatie too?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sumptuous Switzerland

We got back from Switzerland Friday night. What a wonderful trip! 

Shortly after we arrived, Florian's parents took us on a three-day tour through the Italian part of Switzerland and into Italy. We took a boat on Lago Maggiore 

and explored the little flower-festooned towns around it, with their architecture of brightly painted stucco and crumbling stone. 

The water was delightful for swimming

and during our day on the beach, a little family of duckies even came close for a visit.

Driving across the country, there was no shortage of stunning views across glacier-topped mountains, sunny places to picnic, 

and even a very friendly dog who tried to raid our picnic basket.  

Now the Swiss way of driving is not as calm and easygoing as you might expect in a neutral country known for its high standard of living, rich food, and healthy balance between work and leisure.

With Florian's mom behind the wheel as we wound through narrow, precarious mountain roads that frequently went down to one lane as they reached a blind corner around the edge of an ancient farmhouse, 

suffice it to say that I may have missed a few really picturesque scenes because my eyes were closed.

Back in Puplinge, the little town where Florian's parents live outside Geneva, Florian and I had a chance to go on a hike up the side of the cliffs you can see from the back of his house. 

Normally a hike feels incomplete without dogs, but this is one hike where I was actually glad not to have any little packages of spastic risk-taking behavior teetering on the edge of the very steep stone steps on the edge of the precipice leading up to the summit.


At the top of the climb, we visited the tiny, sleepy town of Monnetier where Florian's father grew up. More stone buildings and the ubiquitous hollyhocks and red geraniums.


We even got to visit Florian's grandparents' gravesite.

Notwithstanding the extraordinary scenery and diversions, I definitely reached a point where I longed for the feel of a furry chest under my fingers or a blast of hot breath on my cheek.

Fortunately, the next-door neighbors have a wonderful dog named Bingo who didn't mind one bit that we took advantage of him to satisfy our own emotional needs. 

He let us take him for walks, deluge him with cuddles and kisses, and sneak him bits of bread and gruyere from the table.

Bingo, coupled with regular goat and pig-oriented outings (more about them in a future post), kept us from the depths of missing our own animals.

Who were very glad to see us, though they did great here with my friend Francine and the occasional little dog she brought to keep them company. 

Its good to be back!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Off to Switzerland!

Every two years, Florian and his son and I go to Switzerland to stay with his parents outside Geneva. 

The trip generally brings no shortage of adorable farm animals, 

alpenhorn players, 

whose music I find oddly relaxing and mesmerizing,

and incredible scenery. 

His parents love to be outdoors, hike, and picnic, and the tiny town they live in is a place of picturesque geranium-festooned stone houses and open fields with views to Mont Blanc. 
Last time, we even found a positive dog trainer right near his parents' place in Puplinge. 

So for the next couple of weeks, if I don't get to post you'll know where I am!

I'm probably eating really good chocolate, getting a respite from the humidity, and practicing my yodel! The pups get to stay with our buddy Francine. 

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!