Archive for the ‘behavior’ Category

Lollie, My Buddha


I remember when Lollie was just a pup. She was part of that first litter of puppies we fostered. They arrived just a month after Sadie died, 8 weeks old and dirty. We got 3 of 11 of them, born to a fierce fighter of a mother who scared me down to my toes when I met her at the vet’s office. I didn’t want to keep her. I really didn’t like her much. She was whiny, noisy, cried long and hard whenever she was left alone, and had SO much energy. Mike and I would stay up for hours throwing the ball to her, wondering aloud when she was going to get tired. I remember being afraid of her and for her, remembering her mother and not wanting to have any part of that. When that first family came to view the pups and I saw and heard myself steering them toward her littermate, I knew I was attached. After they left I had to acknowledge that she and I were destine to walk part of this life together. I remember holding her head in my hands, looking into her eyes and saying, “You will be my Buddha.”

I was determined, by willpower alone, to change the course that genetics seemed to lay out for her. I took to socializing her as if it were my job. We went to the dog park nearly every night. I met many kind people there and watched my little baby puppy grow into a lanky teenager, running among the dogs. At about 6 months of age, we stopped going to the dog parks. I dedicated myself to her training, starting her out at 4 months of age and going weekly, every single week, until I decided that she didn’t seem to like it much and I was getting too stressed out. That was about a year ago. If you read my last post, you know I failed to shape her into a different dog than she was. Some things really are destiny.

But I did get some things right: I got a semi-career out of it – I still train dogs on the side. And Lollie has a lot of skills. And I have had an amazing opportunity to learn about myself, life, and for lack of a better word, spirit. You see, Lollie triggers a lot of emotions in a lot of people. Dogs like her will do that. She isn’t an easy or a simple dog. She is fully herself and she has a big self. And she isn’t wall balanced. There is definitely a screw loose in her, a sensitivity, an over-reactive, fear based aggression that comes to the front more times than I would like. Don’t get me wrong – I am not glamorizing her. If I could make her one of those simple dogs who likes every dog she meets I would. In a heartbeat. The one thing, one of the best gifts she has taught me though, is to see what is in front of me.

Hermes and Lollie

So, when she attacked Hermes, I had to get really clear about what I was seeing in front of me. I had to sort through all the fears, the sense of failings, the horror stories my mind was telling me. I had to get as clear as I could to see what was in front of me. For a long time I thought I saw the end of my ability to keep my pack safe. I also thought I saw a potential heartbreak or law suit from her attacking a child. I also thought I saw the slow decline of a dog into doggy madness. Mostly I thought I saw myself failing, afraid. But when I finally settled my mind down I saw this: just Lollie being Lollie. Her “attack” was predictable, not unfounded (if you know dogs and how this particular dog’s mind works) and not intended to be so aggressive. No dog targets another dog’s tongue – that she got his was clearly an accident. And I also saw this: Hermes got over it as soon as the pain receded. Within a day he was eating normally and within two days I saw him happy to finally get to play with her again. Five days after the incident I saw all of my four dogs laying side by side in the sun on the deck. I saw Lollie finally relaxing as I finally relaxed.

Here is my biggest realization – Lollie is a mirror for me. Not always, that’s where good training comes in, but most of her incidents of “aggression” were a way for her to embody the stress of what I was carrying inside me. A lot of you won’t understand this. But those of you who’ve lived with an aggressive dog that you’ve worked hard with may. When I was stressed, she would pick up on it and become more agitated. When I was afraid, her eyes would dilate to nearly black as she also felt fear. When I was frustrated at home, she would turn on one of the other dogs lying innocently in her path. The aggression I was putting out into the world, she was showing up with. And it wasn’t just the aggression I was putting out, it was my perceptions of the world, how it works for me (or against me as was my usual story line) that was coming back to me in her behavior. It wasn’t until I consulted a spiritual adviser, Mary Muncil that I really understood this. She helped me hold a deeply grounded place while I searched for my answers. It soon became clear that this issue had more to do with me and my dissatisfactions, my left over issues from childhood, my fears and worries that I don’t get to be happy or have an easy life, than they do with Lollie. Lollie was simply being Lollie, my very predictable very present Buddha.

Lollie settles

As I got clear with this she settled immediately. She seemed happier and more at ease. She was careful and non reactive around the other dogs. I started taking her out to run more and she liked it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is no way I think that she is “cured” – she will likely do this again, be reactive with an overly stern level of correction to what she thinks is a slight to her, a disrespect, or a play for a possession she thinks is hers. But it won’t shake me to the core like it did this time. This time things are more clear inside me. Sure I still have an enormous amount of work to do. I am clearly in the middle of this thing with myself – still needing to listen, observe and be brave. But I am no longer afraid. I’m not afraid of her or of my truth. I know I can handle whatever comes my way. The fear was the hardest part for me, because it left me feeling so young, so cut off from myself, so helpless. Now that the fear is gone I have access to all my training, my skills, my intelligence and my instincts. As long as I can keep myself clear, I believe things will be much better. And I also bought a great book (Brenda Aloff’s “Aggression in Dogs”) on working with aggressive dogs, just to make sure my skills were up to snuff!

So, again, as always Lollie has pointed me in a direction that has been about spiritual growth and healing. For that, for her role in my journey, I will be eternally grateful to her.

Trouble when adding a new dog to your pack

We recently received this note from a reader in response to our post How to Introduce Two Dogs and thought it deserved it’s own post:


I recently got a Chow Chow (a week ago), they don’t seem to get on quite well. I believe I introduced them incorrectly as I read somewhere on the web saying we should let them affirm their ranking system and allow them to have small fights. After first two days, I noticed something seems amiss as the fight just got more aggressive. Which I decided to do more research and fought an alternative suggestion which is to stop such dominance fight should it occur.

I have the chow chow restricted by a fencing in a small area (Toilet train)and allow my other dog, an 11 month old Japanese Spitz to roam the house as it is toilet trained. My Spitz tends to start a fight with the 4 month old chow chow whenever i let it out of the confined area. I remain calm and assertive throughout hoping to correct my spitz but it doesn’t seem to be effective. Out of this one week, there was only one occasion where the two of them were peacefully roaming around the apartment for 10 mins. However, everything was back to square one again.

I bring them for walk daily, side by side (Chow on my left, Spitz on my right). My spitz gets along quite well when out of the house, however, there were occasion where my Chow started biting, unsure if it was play biting my Spitz during walks.

I’m hoping to get some advices on how to introduce two properly and get them to live harmony in my apartment.

Thank you, and your advise is greatly appreciated.

My response:

Your dogs are both young so there is that going for you. It seems that you have done a fair bit of research on your own, good for you! It will help you to be educated on how to read dog’s body language so you can be more confident in knowing what you are seeing – aggression or dominance display, play or fighting, how to know when things are getting tense and you need to intervene.

First thing I would do is this: (more…)

Our latest foster, 3-year old Buddy


Buddy is a 3 year old Shih TzuPoodle mix that’s been with us a week. He bears an uncanny resemblance to my childhood dog, Ginger. So much so that I have actually been contemplating keeping him. However, Lollie our pitbull mix doesn’t like strange dogs. So far she’s been easy to manage but the reality is that we have to keep them separate. And anyone who has two dogs in their home who don’t get along understands when I say that it is really stressful making sure everyone is safe. I don’t like it. Maybe with work it would work out, but at this point, I don’t think I’m up for that challenge.

BuddySo, for now, we consider Buddy a visitor. He was an owner surrender, directly to H.E.L.P, His previous owners said he was just too much to deal with, given that there were children in the home. You look at his little face and think, “how can that be?” but don’t let his fluffy good looks fool you – inside that cute suit is a type-A, big dog. Knowing what I know now, after just one week, I can see how someone who doesn’t really know dogs, who didn’t really want a big dog, and who didn’t have the time to work with him would find him a nightmare. He literally needs HOURS of exercise each day just to be calm. But today I think we over did it…as I let him out tonight he struggled coming up the stairs. I guess we have found his limit – a three mile walk and 3 hours of fetch is it. That’s good at least.

So, other than his ball obsessiveness and his need for large amounts of exercise for a small dog, he is great!!  Here is Buddy on –  where you can fill out an application to adopt him!

A few more pictures of Buddy: (more…)

What to do when dogs jump on guests

The Question: I want to know what the proper way to handle jumping on visitors is. I have been holding him down with his collar, using the other hand in front of his nose and saying “OFF” and it’s not working too well.

I just hate when he jumps on my clients coming in……….

The Answer:  I would handle this one of two ways – if you have a client who is ok with it, I would have your dog on leash when they come over. Tell them that he is in training and use that experience to teach him that the right way to great is to sit nicely. Only if he is seated does he get any attention. If he isn’t sitting you have to get him into a sit (or a down is fine) and make him hold that position until you are ready for him to be greeted. And he should hold his sit throughout the greeting. In fact, this is a skill that is tested in the canine good citizen test – sitting nicely while greeted…so it is considered a somewhat advanced skill. If you aren’t sure your client would be ok with part of your attention on your dog, or if you don’t want to do that, then I would crate or somehow separate him during these encounters. Just keep in mind – every time he engages in a behavior you don’t like, he is practicing that behavior. If you can’t get him to practice other ones, then at least stop him from the opportunity to engage in the unwanted behavior.

March 13, 2011 • Tags:  • Posted in: advice, behavior, dog ownership, training • No Comments

Greta’s puppies settling in

I’ve been getting updates on Greta‘s pups! It seems all are doing really well. This is such a relief to me. It seems they are all good with potty training and sleeping in their crates. I am so pleased with what seems to be their easy transition. And I can not tell you enough how much I am enjoying my free time!!! The down stairs has been cleaned, the puppy room sterilized (ready for the next crew when we are – which should be a bit I think), and the tasks I’d put off for the past two months are beginning to get tackled. Thanks to all the families for their hard work with these puppies. Hopefully we’ll have some new photos from our reunion of sorts at the puppy playtime this coming Saturday.

Puppies are trying to figure out how to relate

puppy outsideThe final weeks are upon us. The puppies are no longer little blobs of fuzzy cuteness, but active, demanding creatures with personalities – and very sharp little teeth. I’ve noticed lately that they are in the stage where they begin craving human interaction but don’t quite know what to do with it. I watch them interact with Greta and they clamber around her, clawing and biting and trying desperately to nurse. Once they are satisfied with that, they really don’t know what else to do with her. It is sort of like that with me. When they see me, they swarm around my legs and jump up at me, biting. If I bend down they try desperately to put their mouth on my hands some how. If I let them, they try to crawl up my arms toward my face. If I let them, they arrive at my face with their eyes looking crazy and their mouths open and snapping. Really, I think they have no idea what to do – they just W A N T.

I understand that there are many things they are learning now, how to eat from a bowl, and drink water, how to potty outside and how to relate to one another. I’ve seen every litter go through that learning process. But this is the first time I’ve realized that learning how to relate to people is also something they have to learn. They have to understand and get used to cuddling, being petted, and playing with someone (rather than simply chewing on someone). All this is learned, of course. I just hadn’t realized it until tonight.