Thursday, February 28, 2013

Holistic Grooming and Handling at the Shelter Part 2

My second talk on Positive, Holistic Grooming and Handling was at the larger Washington Humane Society shelter, in the heart of Washington DC. As before, I asked to use any demo dog who would enjoy it and could help illustrate some of the benefits of mindful handling and grooming.

This time, my first demo dog was Honda. Honda is a wiggly little thing who just couldn't get enough kisses in. Like many of the pitties in the shelter, she had some dry skin and dandruff and she was shedding like crazy. It made me think of how all the dogs I've taken in as fosters have started out with dry skin and patchy, dull, scrappy-looking coats that have shaped up and gotten nice and glossy after just a week or so at home. This is through no fault of the shelter, and is not to toot my own horn--it is just a function of how stress causes dogs to dump their coats, and regular brushing, even with those short pittie coats, distributes the oils and makes skin healthy and coats shine. 

It was nice to watch Honda calm down as she was brushed with the Zoom Groom, and incredible to see the pile of fur we were able to generate.

Next up was a shy little pup who didn't really want to do anything but hide. She would definitely benefit from some calming touch, but in a room with multiple people I didn't want to introduce her to grooming tools for the first time. She will likely be going to a rescue or to foster care where she can get the one-on-one attention that will help her build confidence. 

Then I got to work with Danny, an absolutely ridiculous little mini-Fozzie. Good God. I'm supposed to remain coherent when you give me a little thing like that? Once I pulled myself together, I was able to brush Danny's teeth and demonstrate how great it is to get a little gum/muzzle massage in.

Then, we settled in to a nice demo of nail clipping. Danny was surprisingly amenable to the whole thing! Unlike many dogs, he let me clip those nails with no trouble at all. It didn't hurt that he had a room full of people stuffing his face with treats as I trimmed each nail.

How is YOUR dog with nail clipping? In the event that you don't have an easy time of it like I did with Danny, I have recorded below a step-by-step process for nail clipping that, over time, will help even the most sensitive dogs accept the process.  
  • Get your dog used to having his paws touched. For a few days, just touch each paw, then give a treat. If your dog is really nervous about this, just touch one paw during a session, then rest and play, and come back to the next paw later.
  • Bring out the clippers and place them near your pup. If she sniffs them, click and treat. Leave them out for a couple of days.
  • Put some treats near the clippers. If your dog gets the treats, praise.
  • Use a “touch” cue to get your pup to touch the clippers. Do this multiple times until the pup is touching the clippers readily.
  • Now sit down near the clippers with some really good treats and have your dog lie down near you. Slowly bring the clippers over to a paw and gently touch one nail with them. If she pulls her paw away, look away and ignore her for a moment.
  • Try again until you are able to touch the paw with the clippers. When that happens, click and treat. Repeat several times, for several days.
  • If your dog keeps pulling his paw away, then click and treat for even allowing the clippers within a couple of inches of the paw. Gradually get closer.
  • When you can touch the paw with the clippers easily, raise the criteria by touching the paw twice before you click and treat. Then three times.
  • Repeat the process for all the nails/ paws. When your pup is comfortable with this, you can clip the smallest edge of the nail. Then click and treat. Do just one paw at a time and keep sessions short.
  • Trim nails a tiny bit at a time, and keep them short so quick never grows out.  
  • For very nervous dogs, don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks of slow introduction and counterconditioning before you can clip any nails. The process can, however, go surprisingly fast if you do not rush it, and use high-value treats.
And a great idea contributed by Alison Coates with the Behavior and Training Department at the shelter, who took all these pictures and--along with Marika Bell--helped set up these talks: when you get to the point where you can clip your dog's nails, or close to that point--do one nail right before dinner each night! Way to set up the positive associations.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Holistic, Positive, DIY Dog Grooming

Thanks to some very positive encouragement from some of the positive trainers in my area, I have put together a presentation on positive, holistic Do-It-Yourself dog grooming! Last week, I delivered it to staff and volunteers at the Washington Humane Society. 

Though of course many of the grooming clients I see are long-haired pooches who get haircuts like poodles and shih-tzus, the vast majority of the dogs in the shelter are bully-type dogs with short hair who need minimal grooming. So my talk was geared to all the ways in which positive, mindful handling is beneficial for all dogs. 

We talked about how important it is to find out where and how each dog likes to be touched, and to touch mindfully and with attention to the dog's body language. So often, we pet our dogs absentmindedly and in a way that the dog doesn't actually enjoy all that much, like patting on the head.

Far better is to touch slowly, lightly, in a circular fashion. Like that rich area right in front of the ears, or the ears themselves. Does the dog's face relax, do eyes get squinty, does the mouth open when you touch him? All signs that you are touching a good spot.

My demo dog was Azul, a very shy, frightened dog who groveled on the floor in front of us but was nonetheless happy to see lots of friendly people. 

Azul absolutely melted as I stroked all along her legs and sides, slowly and lightly allowing her to really get in her body and forget her anxieties for a moment. 

The shelter staff told me that on their list of enrichment activities every day, is to spend some time just handling and touching each dog. So great that the shelter dogs are getting that from the staff; this is the kind of thing that makes me feel so proud of this shelter and glad that it's in my community. 

We talked about how great it can be to brush a dog's teeth, while massaging all around a dog's mouth and muzzle. For dogs who are nippy, mouthy, chewy little things, like my old foster dog Sandy, their muzzles can be just full of tension and tightness. Massaging all around that area can release all that tension and help the whole dog relax. 

We talked a lot about how mindful touch helps ground dogs in their bodies, and makes them slow down and notice. Oftentimes shelter dogs are so distracted and their energy is pulled in so many different directions; mindful touch forces them to focus and to tune in. 

In particular, I like to touch dogs in ways that are novel and maybe unexpected for them. This is something that I learned from TTouch, that novel touch makes dogs have to pay attention to their bodies when their usual pattern--for anxious dogs, reactive dogs, and a lot of shelter dogs--may be to have their focus all over the place, except in their own bodies. So we talked about how squeezing a dog's legs, or applying gentle upward pressure on the legs for a dog who is standing, can be a really nice sort of novel touch for a dog to experience, especially since many dogs are very out of touch with their hind legs. 

On top of all that, being mindful as we touch our dogs is healing and well-being-enhancing for the human, as it gets us to slow down and tune in as well. 

We talked at length about nail clipping, which is so stressful for so many humans as well as dogs. 

There is one pup at the shelter named Cocoa Cabana, whose paw was broken at some point and healed crooked. It doesn't seem to be causing her pain and she is a happy, loving, goofy girl, but her nails were a bit long and I thought it couldn't be helping her walk comfortably to have those long nails. 

Walking on long nails, just like walking on high heels for humans, can actually throw a whole dog's body out of balance and lead to pain all over. So while it may take a while to introduce the clippers to the dog and do the clipping in a way that the dog can tolerate, this is a really worthwhile exercise for a dog's total well-being.

In my next post on this topic, I'll revisit how to desensitize and countercondition the nail clipping experience for dogs...or, you can read my old post on nail clipper desensitization.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Our new favorite thing

With my buddy Francine's Tuesday night Tricks class, I've been thinking more about ways to incorporate fun tricks into our everyday life.

I remembered the exercise balls that we had so much fun with in Fozzie's dance class, and I finally got around to buying one. 


Star and I are both very happy I did. 

What a great tool for exercising and learning new tricks--for humans and dogs.

Since Star was already growing adept at Standing on her two hind legs, she quickly learned to put those two front paws on the exercise ball for a treat. 

Now she readily puts those paws on it and is getting more and more comfortable with staying on it as it starts to move, using those front paws to manipulate it instead of getting scared and jumping off in response to motion.


A bit of peanut butter--our new secret weapon against dog distraction-- doesn't hurt either. 

It's only a matter of time before Star can climb all the way on to the pilates ball  like that pit bull in the class Fozzie and I took. In the meantime, she'll be building her core strength every time she works out on the fitness ball, getting better and better at balancing and standing and paving the way for other new tricks. 

Like getting on the skateboard!

She is already taking several steps at a time on her hind legs across the floor, and starting to be able to spin around on her hind legs.

Meanwhile, this human is doing some much less adorable but very therapeutic tricks on the exercise ball that are designed to strengthen the abs and relieve back pain caused by too many dog activities. 
Hopefully said ab strength will enable me to keep up with said dogs as they, in turn, strengthen their abs by doing all those activities!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The mini-mini van

Thank you for all of your helpful comments and feedback on my search for a dog-friendly, eco-friendly vehicle

I especially appreciated the accounts of harrowing near-tragedies with automatic windows. Yes, vehicles with roll-your-own windows are still made--or at least they were in 2010. One of the finalists in my search was a 2010 Pontiac Vibe, which looked like a great dog car, had roll-your-own windows, and whose salesman, Woody, was an avid dog-lover who had rescued his dog from the arms of animal control when she was confiscated from a house in Florida where she'd lived three days in a crate with no food or water. 

In the end, Woody notwithstanding, we decided on a 2010 gray Honda Fit, with a (theft-deterring) manual shift and (hopefully dog-safe) automatic windows.

It's a little car with a large interior space, a little-big car. As we were looking at cars, we asked about fuel efficiency and we looked for rear compartments that would accommodate a dog, a large dog.

The Fit won us over because not only is it reputed to get fuel economy in the upper thirties or more, but we could easily envision Lamar comfortably reclining in the rear hatch. 

Extra bonus, we found that we could almost lie down in the back with the rear seats folded down. 

It won't be deluxe camping accommodations like we had with the van, but it could house all of us in a pinch, I think.

We have not yet had time to break it in with a journey to a hiking trail with all the dogs. The real test will come once Florian learns how to drive the stick shift. 

Will I be subjected once again to the singular pleasure of a road trip with two dogs sitting on my lap, with heads hanging out the window? 

Or will they content themselves with the rear seat and windows all to themselves?

I am a little worried about the automatic windows, but it would be hard to imagine a situation less safe than some of those we had in the van.

Are YOU a stickler  for safety when you travel, or do you let the dogs all hang out there? Do your dogs enjoy car rides, or tolerate them?

Friday, February 15, 2013

In search of the perfect eco-dog vehicle

Those of you who have stuck with me over the past few weeks know that my hippie/soccer mom van, which has brought me and the dogs and Florian on many an adventure and has accommodated all of us comfortably for camping, sleeping, shlepping large and medium dogs of every variety and enormous scores of dumpster goods, and even driving on road trips as far as Colorado and upstate NY, was stolen, and then returned. 

Though the van was recovered only about three blocks from where I live, it came back with major damage and is totaled. We are going to have to get ourselves another dog-friendly means of transportation. 

I have given some serious thought to just getting by without a car, as I know some of you do. I don't use it very often, and it should be relatively easy since Florian has a car, and I get around by bike, and there is a great Flexcar system near where I live.

On the other hand, I am trying to grow a business that depends in part on house calls, and I can't bring my dogs with me on my bike. Florian works 5-6 days a week and is with his son on alternate weekends, and there are plenty of times in the past few weeks when I have wished for a car to conduct my business and take the dogs places.

So the happy medium solution seems to be to take the insurance money and get myself a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle with as many dog-friendly features as I can find. 

The hippie/soccer mom van was nice because it had foam and pillows in back, and they could sprawl out after a tiring hike. But it had no windows you could open in back, so when noses had to stick out front windows, the dog that was attached to the nose had to be on my lap. 

So so far, the criteria are roll-down windows in back, and interior space enough for three dogs and two humans, with a hatchback so Lamar can relax on some pillows and be comfortably separate from the others in back. Preferably a manual shift, so the thieves won't know how to steal it.

The other day, when I was driving a rental car with Star and she was sticking her head out the widow, I had the horrifying thought that I might absentmindedly press the button and make the window go up, trapping her head. So I thought, I'd better get a car with roll-your-own windows. Does anyone else ever worry about such things? Has that ever happened?

We have been looking at a few nice wagons and hatchbacks, including the Honda Fit and the Toyota Matrix. We would welcome your feedback as to a dog-friendly, relatively fuel-efficient car. How do you and YOUR pups like to travel?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dogs and Love

Despite ups and downs and mishaps of late, there is no shortage of love around here.

Sometimes I look at these dogs and I just can't stand it how much I love them. Their fur, their paws, their snorting grunting noses and cool tongues, the way they look at me in loving confusion when I assault them yet again with my inappropriate displays of affection.

I swear, I don't know how any dog owner gets anything done. 

At least those who own the sorts of dogs who tolerate being slathered with affection, because when a dog loves it as much as I do, what motivation is there to ever do anything else? I haven't been on time for work since pit mixes came into my life.

Tonight, Florian and I are going to try to do something consciously romantic together as opposed to just passively enjoying one anothers' proximity as each of us interacts individually with one of the dogs. Maybe it will involve chocolate, or wine, or a nice ethnic dinner out, and an early evening home so we can be back with the dogs for a family love-fest.

The Tibetans have prayer bells, that send blessings out into the world each time they ring. I think a dog's vigorously wagging tail does the same thing. 

I hope everyone out there is having a wonderful Valentine's Day, and feeling how much love you bring into the world by training, feeding, rescuing, and just being good to your dogs. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Games and Tricks class

Star has been doing so well with learning tricks that I knew she would enjoy coming to my friend Francine's Games & Tricks class. 

I sometimes help with this class when there are a lot of people signed up, especially when there are a couple of dogs there who are reactive or have trouble concentrating in class. 

This time, there were just a few students so Francine let me bring Star.

This class was Star's own little fantasy land. We were the first students there so for a while it was just a room filled with toys, things to play with, things to chew on, and people with treats. Wow!

For the first 15 minutes, we just let her wander around, going from nylabone to squeaky tennis ball to soccer ball and chewing on each for a few minutes before moving on to the next. 

Practicing her tricks in exchange for treats, and showing off how well she can roll over

and stand up 

 and spin

It was so fun to see her having such a good time. 

Pretty soon two other dogs showed up, and Star got very excited and amped up. Francine doesn't want dogs greeting when on leash in the close quarters of the class, so Star got very frustrated and made lots of squeakies. 

My cheesy treats weren't sufficient to get her attention, but fortunately Francine had a jar of peanut butter.  A mouthful of that and she calmed right down.

It was amazing to see how her focus improved immediately post-peanut butter. Like the soothing familiar deliciousness just put her right back in her body and reminded her of herself.

Even after her belly was full and no treats were of interest, she was able to accomplish a brilliant Paws Up with a Nylabone as a lure. The Nylabone was so enticing she would have chewed it all night, and in fact she did chew it until her gums started to bleed. 


Fortunately, Francine's friend Margarita got some amazing pictures before we had to confiscate the Nylabone. 

I'm so impressed by those pictures. I think they really capture her irresistible cuteness. Hopefully lots of potential adopters will agree...but not too soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Star the budding circus dog

Amidst all the upheaval lately, I was trying to maintain some constancy by continuing to work with Star on building her skills. 

Actually, the real reason I work with her is that its the only way to get her tired so she leaves me alone and I can attend to something besides her, like researching new vehicles and corresponding with all those thousands of new clients just breaking down my door. 

Star really loves her training. No matter whether we're working on Go to Bed, other impulse control activities, or a fun new trick, she is ready to learn and behaves almost like she is a good little dog!

As I've written about before, I really think trick training is as important and practical for dogs with issues as training in the more basic skills. Trick training, like all positive training, teaches dogs to always be thinking about cool things to try in order to earn a reward. 

In addition to learning a new trick, dogs learn to think for themselves, they learn independence, they learn problem-solving, and they gain confidence in using their bodies and empowerment in using their minds. 

For foster dogs and shelter dogs, trick training gives them new skills and ways of looking cute for potential adopters.

I am trying to get both Fozzie and Star to learn both Stand (on two legs) and Sit Pretty (sit up and beg). They love to do both, although we haven't refined the difference between the two. 

For Stand, I just hold the treat calmly above her head. "Calmly" being a key component so she can just focus, concentrate her energy into her butt, and elevate the front half of the dog off the floor. 


For Sit Pretty I hold it closer to her face, and I hold out my other arm for her to put her paws on it so she can balance--like Fozzie and I learned in our dance class

It takes a bit more self-control than Star has to remain seated on her butt and elevate the front of the dog, without coming all the way up. 

At first, when I held a treat up high for Star, she would stand for a second then spin around so she was facing away from me and fall back onto all four paws. 


Gradually, she's been getting the hang of it and now she can stand steady in one spot on those two back paws, and even take a few steps. 

Fozzie's getting really good at both tricks too, though he still seems to get really tired when he does them.
Which is not a bad thing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Blessed are the peacemakers

Thank you for all of your kind comments on my last post. Things are looking up after an eventful weekend.

First off, Uncle Johnny was here. Right there you know its going to be good. Johnny spent the day Friday with me, driving around with me and Florian, being harassed by Star, and anxious that my sister and I had had a tiff. 

Though we probably would have made up pretty quickly again anyway, we had no choice when Johnny cajoled, browbeat, and verbally abused me until I got into the car with my sister that evening to go pick up my niece from daycare. 

Having suffered that sort of abuse, I was hardly in the mood to fight anymore upon seeing my sister again.

The good news continued Saturday morning, when I got a call from a deep-voiced police officer who announced that my car had been found.  

The velvet-toned and sharp-eyed Officer Sims was doing his rounds past a high-rise parking lot, and noticed a vehicle parked in the back, not in a regular parking space, in a way that looked funny to him. He called in the plates and discovered it was a hippie/ soccer mom van that we know and love. 

That parking lot? It's two blocks away from my house, across from the street my sister lives on. I must have looked right past it a few times over the past week.

The van is damaged, maybe beyond repair, but hey at least I got back that Drs. Foster & Smith luxury bolster orthopedic dog bed. That's the really important thing. 

Sitting in Florian's car in the snow outside the lot where the police had my car towed, waiting for another tow truck to bring it to my driveway to await the insurance adjuster to have a look at it this week, I had a chance to appreciate dogs, family, and Florian. 

What could have been a darkly depressing time was rendered an amusing interlude that will bring laughter for years to come, because I happen to have such ridiculous family members and dogs.

What could have been a lonely, freezing wait in the car was made far more bearable by the reassuring verbal avalanche of Florian as he tried to figure out how to work his steering wheel lock, in his element with a project involving cars and moving parts and things that I find utterly, soul-crushingly boring.

On Sunday, though I'm not much of a sports fan myself, it would have been tough not to enjoy an evening spent sprawled in front of my sister's TV with some really good snacks and against a backdrop of Johnny's and Florian's gentle bickering and Genghis and Star's contented gurgling growls and yawns. 

I hope that you have all had a peaceful and warm weekend too. I look forward to being more present and learning how many pretzels and beers YOUR dogs consumed!