Thursday, July 28, 2011

Potty Training

There are many different ways to potty train a puppy/dog. However, no matter what method you choose, having your puppy on a schedule, feeding your puppy a nutritious food and supervising your puppy are three very important aspects of successful potty training.

Dogs thrive on schedules! Your puppy/dog will need to go potty after sleeping, after meals and for young puppies, after play as well. What goes in on a schedule, will come out on a schedule, so keep meal times consistent. Dogs should eat 2x per day, and puppies under 6 month or small breed dogs can eat 3x per day. For a dog new to potty training, the water dish should be put away an hour or so before the last potty break before bed.

Sample schedule
- 7am: take puppy out
- 7-7:30am: puppy hangs out with you while you get ready for the day
- 7:30am: puppy gets breakfast then taken out for #2
- Put puppy in crate/pen while you leave for work/school/errands
- Get home, let puppy out, feed lunch
- Go back to work/school errands
- Get home, let puppy out
- Play time
- Puppy nap
- Walk (with potty break)
- Puppy nap
- Potty break
- Obedience training
- 7:30pm: dinner
- Potty break
- Playtime
- Last potty break
- Bedtime

Pretty monotonous, but dogs that are new to potty training need frequent opportunities to go out. How long can your puppy hold it? The rule of thumb is months old=hours able to hold it (double that number for at night [up to 8 hours]). Puppy is 8 weeks old? Then he can only “hold it” for about 2 hours tops during the day and 4 hours during the night.

If your dog is on a nutritious food without fillers and extra fiber, he should have a bowel movement about 2x per day. A dog on a mediocre food full of fiber and indigestible fillers will poop up to 4x per day! This makes potty training a lot more difficult. There are many foods to choose from at Petco (Avoderm, Merrick, Castor and Pollux, Blue Buffalo, Wellness). Be sure to measure your food carefully as to not over-feed your dog. Follow the feeding guidelines on the bag plus/minus a little depending on your dog’s energy needs.

Puppies need constant supervision (up till about a year depending on breed and destructiveness). Adult dogs that are not potty trained also need supervision to ensure they don’t have an accident. To keep your dog within view you can utilize baby gates, close off doors or use the “umbilical cord” method and use a leash clipped to the dog clipped to your belt loop or wrapped around furniture and eventually just drug around by the dog. When you can’t supervise your dog, he should be in a crate, pen or dog proofed yard/garage. I personally recommend crate training and utilizing pens. Most garages are not insulated and have hazardous chemicals in them. Leaving a dog unattended in a yard can lead to nuisance barking, hole digging, deck eating and sometimes even tragic endings when dogs escape or when malicious neighbors poison dogs.

Use the “rule of thumb” for how long your puppy can hold it to gage how long to leave him in the crate. Any time over that threshold means puppy goes in the pen with a *potty pad, toy, chew and crate attached to the pen.

If your dog has an accident it is important to clean it up with an enzyme based cleaner. Never punish a dog for having an accident in the house. This can lead to submissive urination, hiding their elimination, such as pottying behind furniture, and other fear problems. If you catch your dog in the act having an accident, you may clap loudly to startle him and scoop him up (if applicable) and rush outside so he can finish his business. In order to make going outside a positive experience you can couple pottying with treats or just use praise and a key potty word.

*A note about potty pads: while these are great if you need your puppy to be penned while at work, do not use these as a primary potty training area when you are home. Dogs that always use a potty pad do not learn to “hold it” or how to “tell” their owner they need to go as the pad is always accessible. The pad can also confuse a dog that going on discarded towels and clothes and even rugs is the same thing as a potty pad. As soon as my dog can "hold it" for the time period I am gone, or starts to eat the potty pads, I stop using them.

Q: "Can I just use a dog door?" A: No, because dog doors do not train your dog to use your yard as a potty space. Perhaps later when the dog is trained, you can use a dog door for convenience, but most situations where a dog door was used as a potty training method have failed miserably. The puppy/dog goes to the bathroom in and outside and is not getting proper praise for going outside. The other complication of a dog door is having your dog bring in foliage, trash and tracking in mud without you being there to clean him up before coming in.

Q: "Can I use a litter box?" A: Yes, you can successfully train a dog to use a litter box, but you will still need to employ all of the above recommendations and literally pen the dog with the litter box until she is successfully using it 100% of the time before allowing the dog more access to the home to ensure she will make the trek back to the litter box when she has to go.

Q: "When can my puppy have free access to my house?" A: Depends on your puppy. For most, around 6-7 months your puppy will no longer have accidents (if he is potty trained!) and be allowed to be supervised less while you are home. However, we can't forget about other things puppies do when unattended, such as chewing and destroying things. Even small non-destructive dogs can find a bit of floss or string and play with it/swallow it and need vet care.

Do you have specific questions pertaining to your situation? Comment or contact me. I do provide e-mail consults for a fee of $30 an hour if you don't need a private in home session for something like potty training troubles.

Check out my post on Crate Training for information on how to implement that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Second Chances

Some of you may know that my mom does dog rescue. This started as a side hobby where she would take in a needy dog here and there, then she began searching for dogs that needed "rescuing." While her intentions were noble, she wasn't exactly going about it right. She seemed to be attracted to the dogs on craigslist in horrible situations whoes owners would not let the dogs go without payment. Basically, she was buying dogs that needed help, then investing further money into their medical needs and finally, re-homing them for a fraction of what she had put into the dog.

I know of many people that have done this. Bought a dog from a pet shop or puppy mill situation or out of the paper because they couldn't possibly leave the dog in the situation it was in. However, the problem with this is that the money paying to save that one dog, is fueling the fire of that person to create/breed more dogs to abuse and live in deplorable condition to turn a profit because people are willing to pay! I think my mom finally realized that she "can't save them all," and that there is a much smarter way to rescue dogs in need, all be it a more complicated road at the beginning.

So began the creation of Sweet Dog Rescue, a 501c non-profit organization dedicated to saving dogs and giving them a second chance. My mom houses the dogs in her home and takes care of all their medical needs, spay/neuter, shots, chipping etc. She potty trains them, crate trains them and makes sure they find a good home. I can't take dogs into my home, but I help in other ways. I maintain the website and petfinder and craigslist accounts. I locate many of the dogs she ends up pulling from the shelter (no more buying dogs from people!), I offer training support to adopted dogs, I take pictures of the dogs and soon will be arranging for donation drives and other events.

This brings me to a rescue story near to my heart.

Charlie was a young scruffy terrier mix at the Martinez pound. In one of their last runs, down the many twists and turns of the hall, it was easy to miss him. With three other dogs, Charlie was matted and coated with feces. He still seemed jolly despite his condition and calmly walked up to the gate when approached. The other two little ones in his run yapped and baked away, fearful of a person watching them.

My mom has a soft spot for terriers. She has two terriers of her own, a Jack Russell rescue and a Wheaten Terrier. She couldn't leave Charlie there. So Charlie was paid for, at this point the full price of what the public pays as her 501c paper work was still in limbo with the IRS.

Charlie got neutered and the next day was available for pick-up. According to his paperwork, Charlie was a stray and approximately 1 year old.

He settled in quickly and it was hard to keep him mellow for a few days while he healed. Pretty soon he was scampering around the yard full of joy. He played with the other dogs, layed on dog beds, solicited human attention and was an overall good boy. He got a good clean up at the groomers to remove the matting and the feces as the pound does not do any cleaning prior to surgery, and the dogs have to wait a certain amount of time after surgery to get wet. It baffles me why they can't just give the dogs a quick bath to at least remove some of the filth. When asked about this, they adamantly say they have groomers on staff, but what do the groomers do?

Charlie was listed on the website, petfinder and craigslist. It wasn't long before a couple across the bay came to visit Charlie. It turned out to be a great match and he was adopted. It was then he was dubbed Chauncey and moved into a lovely home with caring owners.

Chauncey's owners take him to the beach, the dog park, and he goes on car-rides in his own custom booster seat! He was having some trouble adjusting at first to the husband, but with some e-mail training consults, the behavior is getting much better.

I am so happy for Chauncey to have gotten a second chance and to be living with such wonderful, dedicated owners and for the other 30 or so dogs to date that my mom has helped give a second chance to.

I will admit, I myself have never adopted a rescue dog (though I have only had 2 dogs of my own). I used to be of the mindset that rescue dogs were damaged and unpredictable. I am learning that rescue dogs come from all walks of life and that if one looks hard enough, there are many diamonds in the rough out there.

So give a shelter dog a chance. If you are local, check out my mom's website as she gets many different breeds of dogs, temperaments and ages.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I miss my dog

It has been one week since I took Lucy to live at my dad's. I miss her.

Since last Friday, I have visited her 3 times and picked her up for an outing to my place/work afterward. I can say that I feel validated that I made the right decision. The first visit I went over in the evening sans baby. She was happy to see me, but a little concerned/stressed that I was there. I think she may have wondered if I was coming to take her back. She spent most of my visit obsessing over my cat that was outside the window meowing at her.

She has a thing for cats. She likes to stalk them, herd them etc. But if the cat comes straight for her in a friendly, or not friendly manner, she freezes, throws out a ton of calming signals or leaves. She poses no threat to cats. My dad was a little surprised that for almost 2 hours she was staring and pacing at the door/window. He said normally she does that for 10 minutes or so, then stops, even if the cat is still there. I suppose I make my dog neurotic.

When I went to leave, she came outside with me, made an obvious choice to walk past my car, pee on the lawn and go back and sit on the porch. It was clear she did not want me to load her into my car.

A few days later I went to see her with the baby to pick her up to go to work with me later that night. She was happy to see me, and surprisingly, the baby as well. Even gave her a few kisses and played fetch with her. She reluctantly loaded into my car when it was time to go. When we got to my place things started to go downhill.

Lex was over the moon to see her. He was wagging and sniffing and eliciting play. She pretended he did not exist! He gave up after a short while and was very forlorn about it. Then Elsie began her evening whining and Lucy lost her mind. She was up on the couch, in my face, licking me, trying to get in my lap and as close as she possibly could. Lex began to also look concerned from Lucy's concern! Thank goodness my husband came home within an hour and I was able to take the two freaked border collies out and away from the house to go to work for a while.

At work, they both had a blast. They love showing off their obedience skills and are very comfortable with the safe environment I provide for them where they can see me, but not be bothered by other dogs or people. After the classes, they got to zoom around the empty store visiting the critters and employees as I shopped for some supplies. They both had huge grins on their faces when we went out to the car and happily got into their crates for the ride home.

At the last minute, I decided it might be best to take Lucy back to my dad's and not have her spend the night since she obviously had no desire to be at our place. She was very appreciative when I brought her back, greeting my dad and jumping up on HER ottoman!

I also visited her today with much better results. I had my daughter with me and we played fetch, did some tricks for treats and hung out for about an hour. When I left, she was exercised and satisfied. No signs of stress.

While I am happy that she is doing well, I do miss her. I miss strange things though. Having Lex here, means I do get to still have a dog around. There are just things that Lucy does better then Lex!

For example, I miss that Lucy is fluffy. I really liked scratching her fluffy neck! Lex is not so fluffy, and he doesn't like his neck scratched. He prefers his butt scratched lol.

I miss that she cleans up messes and plates really well. Lex is picky and he has such a lazy tongue. My floor is messier without Lucy here and my dishes need to be pre-washed before going into the dishwasher now.

I miss her greeting me at the door. Lex always seems to be napping when I come home, so his greeting is a bit delayed.

I miss her protectiveness. I have always felt very safe with Lucy around. I had no doubts in my mind that should I ever be in danger, Lucy would try her hardest to protect me. She has proved this several times. Once by saving me from some evil rams and once by fiercely growling at several homeless men that were converging upon me on a walk. Do I know if they were harmless or not? No, but I felt threatened and she didn't hesitate to step-up. Lex is the kind of dog who does a spooky bark and then hides behind me or takes off in the face of danger. I love him none the less and didn't raise my dogs to be watch dogs, but I still miss the security I felt with Lucy.

Good thing is, I still get to see her and scratch her neck and have her greet me when I go to my dad's place.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Quite often dog training clients get hung up on the usage of treats as rewards for their dog. They want to know why can't their dog just "do it" without a treat or when can they stop using the treats altogether. The answer isn't complicated, but it is a long explanation. After all, there are two questions here.

For simplicity's sake, I am going to categorize dog training into two camps: the traditional trainers/methods and the positive trainers/methods. In reality, it isn't that black and white because people tend to mix methodologies (which really isn't in the best interest of the dog) and attempt to do positive training with corrections rolled in (at that point is it really positive?).

Traditional dog training uses corrections when a dog does something wrong and nothing happens when the dog does a behavior correctly. The results range. Generally the dog is doing what you want out of fear of a correction. He is not sitting/staying because he loves you and you told him to do it. He knows that it is in his best interest to remain seated or something will happen that he doesn't like. A correction is going to be different for different people. It could be a sharp verbal correction or even a physical correction, such as a collar pop or even striking the dog. Let's take morals of out this. The list is long when it comes to the problem with corrections. For one, it can create a dog that shuts down and refuses to work. It can create a dog that has the life sucked out of him and works like a robot. For "hard" dogs, the human will have to keep stepping the corrections up as the dog gets desensitized and used to the correction and now requires something bigger for him to listen. Who really wants to be that owner? Who wants to yell and scream and harm their dog? I know I don't.

Positive training is based on rewarding the dog for desired behaviors and essentially ignoring or redirecting undesired behaviors or shaping those behaviors into something more positive. The awesome thing about positive training is that you can't "mess" your dog up. Positive training doesn't create dogs that shut down, or act like robots or make you feel awful about yourself. However, if done incorrectly, you may not end up with a dog that does what you want because there MIGHT be a reward, you will end up with a dog that doesn't perform unless he actually SEES the reward! I think this is where people doubt positive training. They see dogs that won't do what is asked of them unless there is a cookie in front of their face. To me, that means the owner just never moved onto the next phase from bribing/luring to actually rewarding and using other rewards aside from food.

Why do we use rewards?

Dogs will only do what we ask of them for two reasons; 1. They are avoiding a correction or 2. We have something they want. Since I choose the positive route, I use rewards to train my dogs. Therefore, my dog does what I ask because I covet something she wants. People often forget that dogs want other things in life other than treats. The list may be different for each dog, and the order of most desirable to least desirable may be different as well, but here is a general list.

1. Food/treats
2. Toys
3. Affection/praise (often this must be taught to the dog that this is a good thing)
4. Access to outside (to potty, to play, to explore)
5. Access to other dogs
6. Access to comfortable things (your furniture)
7. Interaction with other people

Food is usually number one, which is why we start with it in training. Food is also easy to use, easy to control and for most dogs, doesn't bring their energy level up as toys can do that sometimes.

Transitioning from luring to rewarding

Waving a treat in front of your dog's nose to get her to sit is a basic step when we teach a dog to sit, however, we need to quickly move to rewarding unless we want to get stuck in that trap of the dog only wanting to perform if the treat is visible. Last night I had a puppy in class brand new to training and didn't know any commands. The owners chose not to clicker train, so we used luring to get the puppy into a sit. After about 5 repetitions, I showed the pup that my hand was empty (no treat) and gave the hand signal I had been using (which comes natural to the lure to sit) and said sit, and she did it! I immediately rewarded her from my left hand that had a hidden treat in my fist at my side she wasn't aware of. I then had the owners do this with her a handful of times. Later during class after we had taught her several other new commands, her owners attempted a sit again and she didn't do it. Immediately they became concerned that she wasn't doing it because she didn't see the treat. My assessment was quite different. First off, the command was brand new to the pup and we had taught her quite a few new things in a new environment that I believe she may have forgot what the word meant. Second, the owner wasn't holding her hand in the correct position. When I stepped in and held my hand in the correct position (no treat) and calmly said sit and waited for a few seconds, she thought about it and did it! Reward! Now if she had not done it, I would have given her another shot, then got the treat out and did it the way I taught her. I want to make sure I follow through with a command, but at the same time not repeat it too many times. If I have to get the treat back out, so be it. The puppy only learned that command 50 minutes ago so I can hardly expect her to perform without assistance at times. With my own dogs, I would give them to shots to take a command and then if they didn't do it, wonder to myself (quickly!) why they aren't doing it and try to remedy the situation and ask for the sit again. Am I too close to something scary or distracting? If so, I need to move further away with the dog. Is my dog not feeling well? 99% of the time when Lucy would not take a known command it was because her back or joints were bothering her and if I asked her to lie-down on a bed or soft surface instead of the ground, she would promptly do it.

When to stop using treats

This new puppy owner mentioned above, were thrilled at how quickly their puppy was picking up commands and asked me when they can stop rewarding her for each command. Never. Never do you want to stop rewarding your dog. Does that mean she will get a treat for every command? No. They are just going to start substituting other rewards and having the dog perform many more commands before a desired reward. The first step to getting away from treating every time is using something called intermittent rewards. This means you randomly reward 2 out of 4 sits, or a random number out of however many times you practice a command. This strategy actually will make the behavior stronger. The dog doesn't know which time she gets the reward and can't anticipate which times she will and therefore (SHOULD), perform every time asked. This is very similar to why people gamble. People continue to put money in slot machines for a chance for a pay-out.

If this is done too fast, very often a command/behavior will diminish and you will have to go back to frequent rewarding.

The amount of rewarding is going to differ based on your location. Your dog is less distracted at home, and therefore more likely to listen than she is in class or at a park. Be prepared to reward more for desired behaviors for a longer period of time outside the home.

My dogs

My dogs are adults now, 5 and almost 9 years old. I don't give them treats for basic commands at home. They get life rewards. They do sit/stays at the top of their stairs to gain access to our yard to go potty. I will have them sit to get their leashes on. They need to do a trick for a bone. Sometimes during a game of fetch we randomly work on leave-it and recalls off the toy. We work on name discrimination and dropping the toy when asked. They do get treats when I bring them to work though. I want them to behave as close to perfect as they can and I can ensure that with treats. They aren't getting super high value treats, because it is unnecessary for them. If I were taking them to a new place to teach a class, then I would bring high value treats because I am competing with a new environment.

Becoming the value

The most important message I can send is that you need to become valuable in your dog's eyes. That means you are the gateway to all good things for him. Have him perform basic commands or even tricks to gain access to the things he finds rewarding. You can run with this as far as you need for your dog. If your dog is already well trained, you can obviously relax a little and not have him work for every ball toss and pet. If you have a dog that is having trouble following your directions and chooses to self-reward instead, then you will need to restrict more resources until your dog realizes that you are the key to the good stuff in his life.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Early Spay/Neuter

Recently I have had quite a few large breed puppies in my classes. I am happy to say that ALL the owners  I have had in at least the last 6 months, have been responsible and spayed/neutered their dog. I am sad to say that not a single one (where applicable) took me seriously about choosing the appropriate time to alter their dog.

In the blog archives, I have a post titled "Altering your pet." I do strongly believe those not interested in breeding for the RIGHT reasons, get their pet altered. No one seems to be educating themselves on the proper time to alter their pet or the different variations of surgery and anesthesia offered. I don't know if it is due to the pet over-population that vets and other dog-professionals just push to have it done ASAP in fear that if an owner doesn't schedule it when they are actually talking to them that it won't ever happen, or what exactly is going on. Perhaps the vets here (in California) don't know about risks and considerations with early spay/neuter? Whatever the case, owners need to be educated about this.

I am going to be gathering most of my information from this article

There are other articles on this topic out there, but some are from journals that are not available to those not subscribed to the journal or enrolled at a university with a subscription. While studying animal science, I did read a variety of articles on the topic with the same conclusion. You will notice the above article has an excellent bibliography siting all of the sources and the author is a veterinarian! While the title focuses on canine athletes, this really is relevant to all dogs.

The article breaks down the "considerations" into several categories; orthopedic, cancer, behavioral and miscellaneous health. Early spay/neuter is anytime before 6 months of age.

Orthopedic Considerations

Dogs that are altered before puberty (which ranges depending on the breed as large breed dogs hit puberty later than small breed dogs), don't have the sex hormones (testosterone or estrogen) required by the body to close their growth plates. What this means is that those dogs tend to become overgrown. They have long legs, lighter bone structure, narrow chests and skulls. This can cause a higher incidence in bone-related and ligament related maladies. There is a significantly higher incidence of hip displaysia in dogs altered before 6 months! Also, there are higher rates of CCL ruptures. Hip displaysia is a horrible thing for an active dog to have. It can change their life significantly and cost the owner a lot of money if surgery is required. Wouldn't it be easier to hold of till the dog hit puberty to alter him/her to avoid this?


There is a 5 times (yes 5 times!) greater risk of cardiac cancer in spayed females versus intact females. 2.5 times greater risk on the male side. There is also a significantly higher incidence in bone cancer of dogs altered before 1.5 years of age. The idea that neutering prevents prostate cancer has also been disproved as having zero effect.


I have met many people that hold onto the idea that intact males are aggressive. I can tell you from personal experience, that this isn't so. Lex is a very sweet dog and while he doesn't like to "exchange numbers" with other intact males, he can most certainly tolerate other intact males at a park any day. The studies I have reference actually have evidence that it is neutered males that display the most aggression! It also points out that spayed females are more likely to have fear issues and noise phobias.

Other Health Considerations

Most people I know have however heard of female urinary incontinence resulting from an early spay. This means the dog now has problems holding urine. It is interesting to note that this can also happen to neutered males. An increase in hypothyroidism appears in spayed/neutered dogs as well as a much higher incidence of adverse vaccine reactions.

The article also points out at the end that there are other procedures we can do such as tubal ligation or vasectomies, where as in humans, the dogs still have their hormones, just are unable to reproduce. This is probably the most ideal scenario, but it is difficult to find a vet that can preform the procedure and it is probably more costly than just removing the uterus and ovaries/testicles as it requires a more delicate surgery.

So now you have the facts. I am in no way advocating that we all just leave our animals intact. Even responsible owners may end up with a whoops liter and contribute to that huge overpopulation issue we have in our nation. If I were to get another female dog, I personally wouldn't spay her until 15-18 months of age (if it were a medium to large breed). If I got a small breed dog, I would spay her at 9 months. If for some reason I got a male dog that I wanted to neuter (honestly, I don't think I will ever neuter a male again since I have had such a wonderful experience with Lex and I don't have to worry about heat cycles and puppies), I would neuter around 15 months.

Below are two more links/articles supporting the above data.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My dog hates me

I will start by saying that Lucy is doing so much better. In fact, I think I may have discovered the source of her ailment. Stress.

This last weekend my husband, daughter and I had to fly out to the memorial service mentioned in the last post. Since Lucy was still needing round the clock care, I left her at my dad's house where she "grew-up" for 2 years. She loves my dad, and his old dog. There are no kids there and there is plenty of room for her to gallivant and even a pool for her to swim in.

Within 12 hours of leaving my dad texted me that my dog was a pig and eating and drinking like crazy and must be "snowballing me" since this was not a sick, dying dog that he was seeing.

She had a fantastic weekend of fun and I was thrilled that she was feeling better. I told myself perhaps she had a bug that she got over and would have been fine regardless of if she was at my dad's or at home with us.

When I pulled up with my dad to his house to get her, he went in first while I moved our bags from his car to our car. Lucy and Harley were both in full fledged "I love you human!" greeting mode. Body wiggling, tail wagging, even some doggie noises all for my dad. Then she saw me and walked over with about half as much excitement to greet me. Then she saw me take our 1 year old out of the car and everything changed. She looked up, and walked away. I didn't exist anymore.

A light history on Lucy and the baby is in order here. Lucy has never had a fondness for our daughter Elsie. Lex loved her from the day she came home and is still enamored with her. Lucy chose to ignore her for about 4 months until Elsie became more independent of our arms and Lucy was forced to acknowledge her presence on the floor. She had a hard time learning to not run over the baby when playing with toys (Lex was always aware of her, even in play). She started leaving the room and hiding if Elsie was crying especially hard. When Elsie became a mobile crawler at 11 months (late, yes), Lucy seemed to develop a huge distrust with her. Moving and grumbling when the baby would simply go by her. Talking to another trainer, I would move Lucy behind a gate when this happened and give her something to chew on for being a good girl and not biting the baby! I prefer warning signs, such as grumbling any day.

Lucy got over the crawling novelty but just seemed to sink into a depression. I chalked this up to her being an older dog and needing to sleep more. Elsie is a very respectful baby with the dogs. She doesn't pull on their ears or appendages. She doesn't take things from them or holler at them. We are raising her to be a very dog savvy kid.

The light bulb really went off for me when we brought Lucy back to our place this week. I started keeping mental notes of her stress signals, how many she displays each day and when/why they happen. I noticed an alarming pattern. Anytime my daughter was too excited or upset, Lucy would immediately begin panting heavily, pacing, then finally removing herself to another room for 20 minutes to hours before returning. If I gave Elsie any warnings such as "don't touch that," or "that's a no-no," Lucy would display a behavior called splitting, where she would split me and Elsie and give me appeasement signals to try to "calm" me down. These signals for her are usually trying to get in my lap, lick the corner of my lips, give a wide pant/smile. If I comforted her, she really never stopped. So I would have to comfort her a bit, then tell her to go lie-down or get a ball etc. She would comply, but was not pleased about leaving my side.

My second light bulb moment was Tuesday night. I went to my dad's place to pick up some food and took Lucy and Elsie with me. My dad came home shortly after and Elsie scrapped her chin and was crying. As I tended to her, Lucy went through the whole appeasement scenario with my dad. My dad was shocked. He said that she was so happy the weekend she was there and didn't show any signs of stress. He asked me if she did this a lot at my house, to which I replied, "Unfortunately, yes." It was then that he made the offer of Lucy living at his house.

I have been thinking about it a lot. I have shed some tears over it as well. I have always been furious with people posting on craigslist about re-homing their dog because they have a baby and it just isn't going to work out. How can someone just give up their dog? Dogs and babies can co-exist just fine! While this situation doesn't mirror that, I can't help feeling as if I will be giving up if I choose to let her retire at my dad's house.

Wednesday and today, I made a huge effort to be fun doggie mommy again. I took the dogs to a grassy field for fetch both days, played hide the stuffed kong toy yesterday a few times, took them to work with me yesterday and today they had frozen broth treats, got to play with my mom's dogs and do some short training sessions. The results: Lex is in heaven. Lucy is only happy during each event, and lapses back into her other behaviors in between. In fact, I felt as if she literally hated me when I had to pick her up and load her into the car at my mom's as she was about 10 feet from the car avoiding eye contact and refusing to load.

As much as it hurts me, she is obviously unhappy here living with a baby. With another baby on the way, I can't imagine what her stress level will elevate to!

My dad only lives 15 minutes away. I have a key to his house and am welcome there any time to visit or steal my dog for an outing. He really impressed upon me that she will always be MY dog.

I have made the decision. I am going to let her be happy and stress-free and retire there. She deserves it. Now the question is when. I keep procrastinating taking her over there because it feels like good-bye. It feels like I am copping out. I keep making up excuses and trying to invent more things to do with her to make her happy being here again. Then I realize that since Elsie came along, she hasn't been truly happy. At now it is where it is affecting her health.

At this point, I keep going around in circles in my head. I am not sure what our relationship will look like with her living elsewhere, but I keep trying to remind myself that she is clearly stressed here and I shouldn't be selfish. Part of being a good dog owner is taking care of her needs.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Behavior Chains

Alright, I am about to become a dog training nerd here and talk about something called behavior chains.

Last weekend my family and I visited my husband's extended family in Oregon for a memorial service. The day before the service, most family members were all staying at the same house (as were we), preparing for the service and visiting with one and another. A few of them had brought along their dogs.

Try as I might, I could not seem to turn off my "dog training thinking cap." This was difficult as it is my profession! I did however, try to not meddle or attempt to give too much advice on some of the naughty dog behavior I witnessed.

This brings us to behavior chains. There are two types of behavior chains: ones that we create on purpose, and ones that were created on accident. The ones that are created on purpose usually arise from teaching a dog a command or trick that involves several steps. A behavior chain is when there is a reinforcer after multiple behaviors. Just having a dog sit, then getting a treat, isn't a behavior chain. But having a dog do an agility course, is a behavior chain. He is doing several taught behaviors beofre the end reward. If we link undesired behaviors without breaking the chain, we create an accidental behavior chain.

For example, you want to teach your dog that when he hears the doorbell, that he should run to his dog bed, lie-down, be quiet and stay until you release him. You have to teach him each step individually, then put them together until the doorbell is it's own cue and laying on the bed becomes rewarding as he knows after the whole sequence he gets to get up and say hello.

The behavior chains we create on accident usually aren't behaviors we want to enforce. However, many owners that train at home or use novice trainers, will fall into the behavior chain trap.

Last weekend I saw my husband's uncle's hound dog run off repeatedly. She would literally take off the property and run down the country road to see the neighbor's livestock and start baying and making hound dog noises. He would call and call and call, send his border collie to go get her and eventually get up, and run down the road within about 10 feet of her, then she would come. At his point, he would bring her back to where he was sitting before, turn her loose again and the whole ordeal would start again. He was essentially creating a behavior chain. The dog runs off, he calls her over and over, she doesn't come until he is super close, he gets her back to his chair and she does it again. To her, it is a great big game! She loves running off and she gets to continue to run off till her heart is content. Now I did suggest to him that if she doesn't come that she needs to be tied up for a while before let loose again OR not have the gate open so she can't get loose. He replied with what a lot of owners are confused about, "I don't want to punish her for coming back." But did she come back really? How many times did he call her? How close did he get before she finally did come? Did she learn her lesson and not run off again?

A behavior chain I see with novice owners/trainers is people greetings. In my classes, I like to teach the dogs to sit before getting pet by a stranger. This avoids them jumping on the stranger or other unwanted behaviors like crotch sniffing or leash wrapping. The accidental behavior chain that can be created is owner approaches stranger, dog jumps on stranger, owner asks dog to sit, he does, then gets rewarded with a treat and pet from stranger. Now some of you may not see the flaw in this, but what was just created is a dog that thinks he should jump up, THEN sit, then get rewarded. He thinks the jumping is part of the behavior he got rewarded for. How do we prevent this? Multiple ways. First, we can be proactive and ask the dog to sit as the stranger is approaching and reward then, thus distracting the dog from jumping, and reward again for remaining seated once the stranger has left. Another approach is that if the dog does jump, the stranger leaves (taking away that reinforcer), the owner turns around and re-sets to try again (thus not enforcing a jump/sit).

Another behavior chain that makes me just cringe is something I witness at the dog park. Dogs are happily playing and then suddenly there is a fight. Now if this were me, I would break the fight up, apologize, and promptly leash my dog and leave. I am not going to reward my dog for fighting by letting the play continue after the fight has been broken up. What I see happen is fight gets separated (usually in a dangerous way), dogs are then pushed into a down position NEXT to each other, then drug over to the benches and forced to sit near each other for about 2 minutes, then are let loose again. Sometimes the fight starts again, sometimes not. But I have seen many of the same fighters, fighting again on different visits. Why do the owners do this? One owner at the park told me why those people do it (and sadly, he thought it was the correct way to handle a fight). He said the dogs were being forced to submit to each other because they were fighting over dominance. Sitting near each other later, the owners were reinforcing that the owners were in charge and that they WILL like each other. They then release their dogs to play again because they drove all the way to the park and their dogs aren't tired yet, so why go home?

Forcing a dog to lie-down next to another is not making them submit to the other dog. They aren't doing it voluntarily, so how can that even be possible? It will only make your dog think YOU are mean and scary! Having the dogs then sit next to each other doesn't MAKE them like each other. Letting them loose to play again can create a behavior chain. I fight, I lie-down, I go again! Letting the dog loose to play again is reinforcing. I don't get why the average dog owner doesn't see this.

So that is a behavior chain. Have you created any by accident with your dog that you wish to fix?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Having an aging dog can be difficult. For me, Lucy is my first senior dog. Growing up, there were always circumstances that meant we never had a dog past age 2. In fact, I used to call my parents "chronic animal re-homers."

There were older dogs when I was a baby that passed away that I really have no memory of and then begins the count of all the dogs that never stayed with us past age 2;
1. Bruno: St. Bernard that got "too big" and was given to a friend of my dad's were he happily lived out his days.
2. Mandy: St. Poodle that at age 2 got GDV (bloat) and passed away.
3. Missy: mini poodle that we couldn't keep when my parents divorced and we moved to a non-pet apartment.
4. Mariah: St. Poodle that stayed with my ex-step-dad when we left his place.
5. Numerous rescue/foster dogs that have been in and out.
7. Pound dogs that ended up getting re-homed to my uncles or relatives who fell in love with them and my mom couldn't say no for some reason on them taking OUR dog(s) home.

And so that brings me to Lucy......a Border Collie that I did not want and was given as a birthday gift. Our first 9 months together were rocky. I had no idea how to raise a puppy and as a highschooler, really didn't have a whole lot of interest. So she ruined my carpet in my room, ate lots of my stuff and drove me crazy. It wasn't until I got a job at a petstore that some people knocked some sense into me, I got in touch with a wonderful trainer who later became my mentor and the rest is history.

Fast forward to now. Lucy is almost 9 years old. She has had a wonderful life full of agility, flyball, sheep herding, search and rescue work, going to work with me, going on vacations, swimming, hiking, going to the dog park etc. She gets the highest quality food, bones, treats and toys and has been a fantastic dog. However, she has had her share of bad luck.

Lucy had numerous UTI's as a young dog, tore a ligament playing ball with me, knocked her sacrum out of alignment I assume from falling off agility equipment, has had two seizures, several emergency vet visits, pneumonia, the normal bouts of diarrhea and vomiting from time to time and now, I am wondering if our journey together is coming to an end.

In the past 7 or so months (really since we moved here), Lucy has had diarrhea and vomiting on and off. I assumed it was the typical bone that didn't agree with her or maybe she ate some nasty grass outside. Perhaps she gobbled her food down to fast. She was normal in every other aspect. Running, playing, eating, drinking. Then we had a month or so of regurgitation issues with her kibble. Every time I would feed her dry food it would come right back up. So with a little experimentation and thumbs up from the vet, we found that moistening her dry food before hand in a tuperware container that lives in the fridge, coupled with elevating her food, fixed the problem completely.

Then on Friday, July 1st, something happened that has never happened before. Lucy didn't want to eat. She regurgitated her pre-moistened food from dinner in the early morning hours and when it came time for breakfast, she turned up her nose. I offered her many favorites: canned, yogurt, deli meat, sausage, raw dog food and still, she walked away. As the day progressed I noticed that she was not going to the water dish at all. Between the two dogs, I normally fill the dish several times per day, and Friday was a hot day, so this was also unusual. I don't normally panic about doggie ailments since they always seem to pull out of things on their own, but this really bugged me, especially with a three day weekend coming up. So I took her into the vet.

At the vet she received IV fluids, a shot for her nausea as by now she had thrown up bile 4 times and could not keep anything down (I did eventually get her to eat a small amount of turkey before going to the vet), and we got blood work done.

Over the weekend things got a little better. She was no longer vomiting and I was able to get her to eat some canned food if I held it up to her. I also was able to get her to drink some chicken broth diluted with water.

Tuesday I got the blood results and they were a bit inconclusive minus the fact that her platelets are really low. That coupled with her other symptoms point to gastrointestinal lymphoma. Of course, the vet can't "diagnosis" that without doing further testing, but she did tell me that lymphoma, Addison's disease or IBD were her top three suspects. The blood work ruled out the other two. I don't know if she was trying to sell me false hope because she kept saying it could be a rare a-typical Addison's disease that won't show in the blood work, but will in an ultrasound.

So now it is Wednesday. In a way, she has declined. I am now having to spoon feed her the canned food and she is being very picky about what flavor she wants. She no longer is taking that much broth in. But here is the hard to understand part, the part that makes me feel like "my dog isn't sick, she will be fine." She is still happy. She wants cuddles and pets, goes outside to potty, hasn't vomited and will even play a little with her toys with me. She won't play with Lex and she is just laying around more than usual. I think this is the hardest part for me. I know that BC's and my dog in general, is very stoic. She doesn't like to let on she is sick. She will do things simply because I want her to. I bet if I took her to the park right now, she would run and fetch a ball. This fact makes it extremely difficult to judge that all so important "quality of life" factor.

The next step diagnostically, is to get an ultrasound to look for any masses or swollen adrenal glands (Addison's disease). The ultrasound is not cheap and if it is cancer, the prognosis is very bleak even with treatment. Without treatment, most dogs with lymphoma die or are euthanized within 3 weeks of the fateful day when they stop eating/drinking. With treatment, lymphoma can go into remission, but remission only lasts 3-12 months. The treatment is a weekly chemo dose for 25 weeks at the cost of $300 per dose.

I have decided to take things one day at a time. I love my dog dearly, but I can't justify spending that much money on getting a few more months with her (IF she has cancer). My plan is to keep doing what I am doing. Feed her, try to get fluids in her, let her do what she wants to do. If in 3 weeks from now, she is still in the same place as she is today, then I will get the ultrasound because by then, it is very unlikely to be lymphoma due to the survival rate. If in a few weeks she has gone more down hill, I might have to make that awful decision that every pet owner dreads and let her go peacefully.

It helps me so much to be able to write about this. To be concrete in my decision and define what I am looking for as far as when to say good-bye. I always thought that when it came time to put a dog to sleep that the dog would be obviously suffering, unable to get up, soiling itself and things along that line. If Lucy keeps up with what she is doing now, it isn't so black and white.