Blogtober Day 4: 3 things you want to say to people who annoy you

dog_talk

Phoebe says:

  1. “I really don’t want to hurt your dog, but he’s scaring me. Please listen to my Mom when she tells you to Back. Up.”
  2. “I’m allowed to be here too. My Mom and I are working hard on being ok with other dogs, but I’m unpredictable when scared, that’s why we’re at on ON LEASH ONLY park. Stop being bitchy to my Mom, put a leash on your hyperactive Labrador and Back. the Frack. Up.
  3. Back. the Frack. Up. No really, I mean it! I need lots of space between me and your dog!

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Cooper says:

  1. “But Mooooooooom! The roast was just sitting there! It’s soooooo unfair that you’re angry now and adjusting my dinner portion!”
  2. “Why are you yelling at my parents?! Your unleashed Scottish Terrier came bounding up to me! Phoebe and Mom ninja-stealthed out of here because of it, leaving me and Dad a bit confused and worried, so clearly I need to put your scary dog in his place for being so rude!”
  3. ” Not all Rescue Dogs are abused and beyond emotional repair. Sure I have a couple of issues, but not more than the next dog. Don’t be scared, give us a chance. Please?”

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You can view the full Blogtober 31 Day Dog Blog Challenge here

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Blogtober Day 3: Something you’re afraid of

“There is no illusion greater than fear.”

– Lao Tzu

Cooper says:

I’m a very confident dog who doesn’t have many fears. And if I did, I wouldn’t admit to that on such a public forum! Oh, ok… if I must be honest, I think the thing that scares me most is when my Mom and Dad leave the house. It’s just that ever since I was a puppy I always had food and water, but was left behind and forgotten by my first owner, and then at the kennel I lived in for years the groundsman was a man I loved very much, but he would often leave me alone for 1-3 days on weekends when he went home to visit his family from far away.

My Mom says this is called “Separation Anxiety”. She also says my adoptive sister Phoebe used to have this fear too, but it’s mostly gone now. Hopefully I’ll also find a way to trust that my parents will come home every day without the panic that wells up!

I'm with you on this one McCauley! It's scary to be home alone! I think I would've handled this in a very similar way to how you did!

I’m with you on this one McCauley! It’s scary to be home alone!

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Phoebe says:

Luckily I’m not as afraid of everything as I was when I first arrived, but there are still some fears that I just don’t know if I’ll ever overcome. My biggest fear is of other dogs. This means I am defined as being “reactive aggressive” towards any and all other strange dogs, and is often misunderstood by people as me being just being badly behaved, angry and aggressive. Luckily my Mom got help so that we could both find better coping mechanisms when I’m out and about. The progress I’ve made is amazing! I still don’t like other dogs near me when we walk in parks or in the neighbourhood, but at least they can be a bit closer to me, and it takes a lot longer for me to lash out!

My biggest fear! Look at all those dogs!

My biggest fear! Look at all those dogs!

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Mom says:

We are constantly hard at work to overcome the fears in the house. Most of this blog chronicles this journey, but for those bookworms out there you can check my posts on the two books I read that really helped with these specific issues:

You can check out the full Blogtober 31 Day Dog Blog Challenge here

Jolly Up & Settle Down

In Phoebe’s weekly Fun Class at Dog on the Couch our first exercise after the group walk is called the “Jolly Up & Settle Down”. This is a great exercise for all dogs, but especially for reactive and hyperactive dogs as it’s an important lesson they learn over and over that teaches them to quickly focus, relax and put attention on you when in an excitable state.

So What is it?

This is a simple exercise where you begin by getting the dog excited through jumping around, playing and being generally silly for a few seconds, you then abruptly stop play and tell the dog to go “down”. The dog must then lie down on its side in a totally calm and relaxed state as you gently rub their tummies and speak very softly and soothingly.

Blurry action shots of Phoebe (and Katz!) running around in excitement

Blurry action shots of Phoebe (and Katz!) running around in excitement

At first when Phoebe did this she was all too aware of the other dogs around her in a heightened state of excitement, but she soon realised that they weren’t at all interested in her, so soon she came to love it. She now plays it with abandon and quickly calms when told to.

...aaaaaaand settle doooooown, and relaaaax...

…aaaaaaand settle doooooown, and relaaaax…

How does it help Reactive Dogs?

Though both Phoebe and I were loving this activity, I was curious as to why our Trainer said it’s so good to practice. From what I’ve learned, the reason for this is because it teaches reactive and hyperactive dogs to quickly reach a calmed state from hyper-excitement. Phoebe has total focus on me when we are out, and she has now learned through these weekly exercises that even when she’s excitable and around other dogs, if I tell her to be calm and lie down, she has enough trust and experience to listen to me knowing that the only thing that will happen is that she will get a lovely tummy rub and then soon we’ll carry on to the next fun activity.

Do you recommend this for other owners of reactive and/or hyperactive dogs?

Yes. What’s key though, is lots of practice in a controlled environment where the nervous dog is guaranteed to always be safe when they relax. You should also be assured that your dog will have full attention on you when you play this, as a dog that is in a heightened state of play and excitement may be easily distracted and if there are any fear/aggression issues with dogs nearby adrenaline could kick in and a dangerous situation could develop if you don’t have your dogs’ full attention. To get your dog to get to a “down” you may need to use a treat lure initially, but soon the love of the game and the ensuing calming belly rub will become a reward on its own.

Phoebe and Cooper’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Reactivity, Hyperactivity, Stress, Obedience

Tool(s) Used: Just you and your dog having fun, with occasional treats in the beginning

Cost: Low. Free!

Ease of Implementation: Easy. But as with all training exercises this may take a while to perfect. The motto Practice! Practice! Practice! applies here

Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This exercise is both fun, and extremely useful at the same time. On walks where I can see a potential threat coming I can distract her by getting her to a calm down within seconds, and while I do this we can slowly turn around and walk the other way without her ever knowing that a potentially true threat was en route. I feel a lot more confident with Phoebe knowing that she can go from full throttle to zero in a matter of seconds without feeling uncomfortable or threatened.

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Do you have any tips for calming a reactive or hyperactive dog? Do you think this is something worth practicing?

Phoebe Part II – #42 Foster Parenting

Ah. My beloved Phoebe. You may remember the post where I explained how Phoebe became a part of the family. She is still such a joy, but I’ll be honest, sometimes it still feels so hard. Don’t get me wrong, there is no part of me that doubts my decision, or regrets a second of keeping her, it’s just that I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that she isn’t perfect, and neither am I.

My family have always been animal lovers – with K9 and feline family members that far outnumber their human familial counterparts. And we’ve mostly adopted from shelters where possible. So I was familiar with the fact that you never really know what you’re going to get, or what effects genes and environment will have on the dogs that they are. In hind sight I now see that we happened to strike the shelter jackpot everytime! I’ve never seen any problems that weren’t simple to overcome with a little TLC and perhaps a short obedience course – until Phoebe.

Wow. Phoebe is the poster doggy for rescue dogs that struggle to shake their past and their fears. But at least I know she isn’t alone in this, and that it’s unfortunately a very common problem with rescue dogs. As I mentioned in my last post, I believe the organisation I adopted her from failed us both in that they never bothered to learn about Phoebe’s personality traits, or did sufficient investigation before or after the adoption, even when I told them I had no idea what I was dealing with and needed help. But there’s no use dwelling on that, Phoebe and I were both up for the challenge!

Phoebe chilling

You see Phoebe is what is referred to as a “reactive dog”. This means that for reasons that include insecurity, inability to socialise positively, fear, or general unease she lunges and snaps at other dogs. Not with full blown aggression and the intention to harm them, but a short, sharp warning through the medium of sharp teeth and a powerful jaw snap that would impress a crocodile!

Before Phoebe, I too was one of those people who silently judged other dog owners whose dogs lunged or barked at passing people or animals. I would stand there shaking my head and smugly congratulate myself on being a much better “parent” than the owners who I thought weren’t interested in putting in effort the of training and socialising properly. Really, I’d think, the only reason your dog is acting out is because you just haven’t tried.

Yup, karma is a bitch – apparently a highly strung reactive one at that!

I knew Phoebe had problems, but I guess I just thought that once we overcame the separation anxiety and she settled in she would become more secure, and the other “problems” like her reactivity would magically disappear like a stray piece of bacon dropped on the floor at breakfast time. We had pushed through the worst of it, established routines and adjusted to socialising slowly and at her own pace. I really thought that it would all be fine. I know that was naïve, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

I eventually had to admit that things weren’t getting better, and that I officially had a dog with ‘special needs’. This is a lot more difficult to admit than you’d think. I once again hit the internet in earnest to research how to handle this and soon realised that the feelings of inadequacy at your ‘failed parenting’ are totally normal and that the only thing to do is to suck it up and find constructive ways around it.

In my search I found this excellent post that sums up the emotional journey of coming to terms with parenting a reactive dog: Five Phases of Reactive Dog Ownership. According to these phases, I currently place myself on Phase 3: Panic, edging ever closer to Phase 4: Progress.

It’s tough, but I am lucky enough to be working with an experienced behaviourist who inspires me with confidence. I know a major part of what’s blocking our success is my own fear. I trust her advice completely, but I struggle to follow what seems like totally counter-intuitive advice – I mean, c’mon… if she’s snapping at other dogs near her I should slacken or drop the lead? Are you sure?! No matter how many times it gets explained to me that it’s the lead that makes her edgy and more reactive (which rationally makes 100% sense) all I can picture is her breaking free and being the cause of a dog fight that ends with blood (Phoebe’s and the other dog’s), tears (mine) and hysteria (me, and then Phoebe’s when she sees that if I’m upset she must surely get hysterical too) and then I’ll be hunted down by angry villagers wielding pitchforks and demanding my dogs untimely demise… *INHALE*. See? My brain knows I’m getting good advice, but it also screams NOOOO! But like I said, we’re working on it.

And until I manage to get there, I can unashamedly say that Pheobe and I are going through a mountain of treats-as-distractions every week, and we’re using the coping mechanisms mentioned in this great post: How to live with a dog-reactive dog and not lose your shit: An (im)practical guide. She perfectly describes the daily ordeals of laughing, crying, loving, and most important of all, becoming a ninja!

If you’re dealing with a reactive dog, all I can say is that you’re not alone! And make sure you find some professional help to teach you how to overcome this with your dog in a positive, controlled way. By not getting help, you are depriving yourself, and your own ‘Phoebe’s’ a chance at happiness!

Phoebe Reactiviy

And once you get tired of being a ninja, this poster is a great start at learning how to best deal with the reactive dog in a positive way.