Archive for the ‘observations’ Category

Dogs teaching dogs

Otis likes the treadmill

Otis likes the treadmill

We’ve had a busy week – Otis visited us for a week and overlapped with Teddy who is still here and now Jackson has joined him! So many male dogs … but everyone has gotten along great.

Otis is a hard worker and while he was here he asked for treadmill work every night. He asked by running around the basement, pushing the heavy leather furniture around with his head and then jumping on the treadmill and looking at me longingly. Every night he’d run for a half an hour – at 7.0 mph. I can’t keep up that pace myself, but he did. And little Teddy, nearly 5 months old, watched him. So, Otie has left and I miss him. He is a sweet, simple, joyful and accepting spirit. And I think Teddy misses him too.

Teddy watching Otis on the treadmill

Teddy watching Otis on the treadmill

Tonight Teddy got on the treadmill all by himself. I ran to get his leash and some cheese and turned on the power. Ever so gingerly, Teddy started to walk, almost on tip toes. He did fantastic! It seemed to me that he had learned how not only to do it but to not be afraid of it from watching his buddy Otis! I was amazed.

A puppy with a biting problem

Most puppies are mouthy but they rarely bite to draw blood.

Most puppies are mouthy but they rarely bite to draw blood.

I’ve been working with a very sad case of a puppy who bites when frustrated. Ordinarily, that isn’t that unusual as all puppies need to learn (and therefore be taught) to tolerate frustration. They need to learn patience and self control much like people need to learn those skills. They are the foundation of what we consider “manners.” When young puppies are very frustrated, it is normal for them to bite. However, all puppies who are healthy and have been raised with their mama and littermates have a natural respect for those in charge. And they all learn something called “bite inhibition.” They learn to hold back from biting full strength, and to use a bite only as a last resort. Their mama teaches them by her reactions when they do bite too hard or too quickly – she swiftly puts them in their place, usually by a nip of her own and a hard growl. And as puppies play together they learn that a hard bite stops play and that a soft bite lets it continue. Through these daily interactions all puppies raised well learn this important social skill.

Puppies learning how to inhibit their bite so that play can continue.

Puppies learning how to inhibit their bite so that play can continue.

Not this little puppy. At 2 months of age this puppy would bite hard enough to draw blood, whenever it was even a bit frustrated. By the time I saw him at 4 months of age, he was confident in his ability to boss people around and bit frequently and with very little provocation. He bit me three times before I even knew what had happened, and that isn’t a common occurrence for me! What is so sad is that this sort of behavior in a puppy so young is highly unusual – to the point of being considered abnormal. It suggests that something has gone very wrong in this puppy’s neurological development or upbringing. I suspect that a large piece of the puzzle is that this particular puppy, even though he is registered with the American Kennel Club, was purchased at a pet store. It is likely that he wasn’t a product of one of the notorious puppy mills, but he could have been. It is more likely that he was taken from his mama and littermates far too young – I’d guess at about 3 or 4 weeks. And his mama is likely mentally unstable herself. It is such a sad story. The family who owns him loves him dearly but the pup has bitten everyone, and there are young children who live in the home. It is my strong opinion that this dog should be rehomed, if there is a home who could work with him. But I strongly suspect that this pup will likely have to be euthanized.

puppies learn how to playSo, please, I cannot stress this enough, please do not purchase puppies from pet stores. Adopt a homeless puppy from a shelter or a foster home (H.E.L.P. is a great resource!). If you must, use a reputable breeder. Make sure they insist on keeping their puppies until they are at least 8 weeks of age. Make sure they keep them in such a way so that they have frequent contact with their mama. And make sure that they are willing to (and interested in) making any problems like this one, right.

An insight on hiking with your dogs

While we were camping recently I had an insight – the “rules” for walking correctly don’t always apply. For instance, we were hiking and two of my dogs wear backpacks. They carry all the water for the group (for us and for them) and carry our lunch. They have a heavy load on their backs and need a bit of room to sway from side to side. It is frustrating and difficult to keep them close, like I usually do, because the packs keep banging into my legs, knocking both of us off balance. I tried for a spell, to keep them behind me but that was also unpleasant as they tended to drip their saliva down the backs of my legs (which is as gross as it sounds.) The solution? I hooked the leash onto the clip on the back pack (we use wonderful packs from RuffWear) and let them walk in front of me. In my opinion this is the perfect solution. They get to have all the room then need to do their “work” and I am free to walk unencumbered.

dogs with backpacksAs you see, they are both working so hard they are staying pretty close by. It was a great solution to this problem. In addition, you’ll see my dog, Bella, on one of those extension leashes. Ordinarily I HATE those leashes as they are used in city walking and the dogs are usually out in front, extending the leashes to their maximum length. This is just a recipe for a whole host of problems, in my opinion. But on a hike, these leashes provide the dog with more room to explore while still being under your control. After a good long hike, you can see, they don’t really want to go that far in front anyway and if they are primarily walked close at hand, that’s where they’ll end up. So, with all things dog training, remember that rules usually need to be broken from time to time.

The important thing is to always ask yourself this question: Who is the leader here, and who is the follower?

Another wonderful party

Chloe's reunionChloe’s family reunion was a hit – again!  What fun we all had even in the sweltering 90 degree heat.  We just put out a huge bucket of water for the dogs, gave the kids those extra large squirt guns and all sat in what shade we could find.  Again, I am convinced the dogs all remembered one another.  At a gathering of dogs who do not know each other there is much more sniffing and posturing; they are all trying to figure out what sort of rank they will fall into.  Not this group – they literally met each other at a full speed run, joined up nose to nose, and ran on together with only a few nose nudges and happy pants.  It was one of those sights that makes you feel good – like your own heart is out there running fast with them.  Very good time.   More photos will be up shortly…

Chloe's reunion

It’s day by day for Brandy

The end of the road is nearing for Brandy. I find myself conflicted on deciding when is her time to go – if it should be my decision at all. She could die naturally, but seeing her decline is so hard for me I wonder if it is not kinder to put her down.

Brandy - Feb, 2010I bought Brandy from Animal Kingdom on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago in September 1994 when she was 6 weeks old. She was always a fairly high energy dog who loved to run and jump like most dogs but I will always remember how she seemed to love the wind. On windy days she would stop in her tracks to face the wind, sniffing, blowing her floppy Snoopy years backward. After a short time, she would bolt from that position and run around crazy – sometimes just I circles – as if to celebrate. This is a vivid but now distant memory. She is old now, arthritic, and increasingly losing the muscle needed to remain standing on all fours. Her legs will frequently slide out from under her in all directions just while she is standing or leaning over to drink some water. I’m sure she wishes we had carpeting to assist rather than our wood and tile floors.


Chloe is thriving with her new family

Chloe, November 2009

Chloe at her Family Reunion 11/09

Second chances

I am happy that there are times in this life for a second chance.  I have felt so worried about Chloe after the terrible mistake I made giving her to her first adoptive family.  I felt so responsible for not following my gut, for not following H.E.L.P. procedure and interviewing absolutely everyone in the family, and for failing her in general.  But seeing her at the first ever Chloe Family Reunion was like getting a pardon from the Universe. 

Chloe looked fabulous.  On the outside she was the happy, confident dog I remembered.  Her coat looked good, better even than when she was with me.  Her eyes shone.  She held her ears and tail with interest and calmness.  But the thing that mattered the most to me was what I saw in her in relation to her new family.  She was clearly bonded to them. 

But let me start at the beginning.

Chloe reunion Nov. 2009I saw her at first and nearly cried.  She came out of the car so differently than she did the night she was returned to me.  She was interested and approached me cautiously but directly.  She sniffed, stepped back and then sniffed again.  I believe she remembered me.  When she got outside with her pups it was clear that she remembered my yard.  She ran like she used to, circling the yard over and over again – tail high, tongue hanging out.  She was completely happy though, not a frantic running, just a run for the pure joy of it.  Then she greeted her pups, sniffing each on the nose.  There was much wagging and nuzzling all around.  Everyone commented on how they were certain the group remembered one another.  At one point I even saw Chloe lie down on her back as her pups gathered round!  Just like she used to when she was still nursing them!  But that didn’t last long and she was up again racing around the yard, her pups in pursuit.

Chloe relaxingAfter a number of games of chase, numerous wrestling matches (everyone having fun, no aggression whatsoever!) and a few tug of war games, everyone dispersed to explore on their own.  Chloe found a mud puddle and promptly lay down in it.  Something she used to do while living with me.  As the afternoon wore on each of the dogs’ energy was drained, and I noticed them going to their people and resting.  Chloe did that too – joined her family, laying at her new mama’s feet and snoozed.