Saturday, May 26, 2012

Boy how time flies

It is crazy to think that two years ago we didn't have Abby. 

On Saturday May 29, 2010 my husband and I went to the NHSPCA in Stratham, NH in the hopes of welcoming a dog into our lives.  In many ways I feel like Abby was meant to be ours that weekend.  I've told you before that my husband knew we were coming home with a dog that weekend because of the preparations I had done for her arrival.  We had literally just moved that same week and although I had taken two days off to move and pack, I had the majority of our stuff unpacked and the house put together in the course of those two days.  This is how my husband knew we would have a dog that weekend.  However, when we walked through the NHSPCA, there were many dogs that were already adopted or had pending adoptions.  Additionally many dogs were fearful of men.  Before we made one more pass through the shelter, I had resigned myself to the fact that we had not found our dog.  And then Abby approached the door to her kennel. 

"Baby," as the NHSPCA referred to her, had been outside on a walk when we had made a few passes through so we had missed her.  But she came right over to us and was so sweet and adorable that my heart just melted.  I mean, look at this face?  How can you not fall in love with her? 

We were in love.  In spite of reservations my husband had about bringing a puppy home, he fell in love that day, too.  It really is easy to see why.  But for all of the preparations I had done inside of the house, we were completely unprepared with things that Abby would need (food bowls, toys, food, etc.)  So our girlie rode in the back of my Corolla with my husband while we made the trek home and stopped at Petco to get things for her.  Petco was a blur of people wanting to say hi to her, us not knowing what the heck to get her, and Abby being in overload.  It was not at all surprising that she threw up in my car on the way home two miles from the house. 

Abby checked out her new surroundings, and we did our best to try to make her comfortable. 

Abby slept the majority of the afternoon with us.  What a tired girl!  And for the most part that day some part of her was touching us - her paw, her tail, etc. 

Abby quickly fell into routines, and inevitably became such an integral part of our lives.  I cannot imagine a time when we didn't have her.  I love this sweet girl so much, and as we approach the anniversary of her Gotcha Day I am so proud of the girlie that she is. 

She really does have the most beautiful smile.  Pictures like the one above and the ones below here remind me that there was a time in her life where these smiles weren't possible, and I always feel so lucky that we were able to give her reasons to smile. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

There's a reason I train my dog

People are often surprised to hear that we still work regularly on training with Abby.  While I typically refer to the weekly class we take Abby to as puppy school, we regularly work with her on a wide variety of concepts aimed to shape various behaviors with her.  Most people will typically joke that at this rate Abby should have a PhD. 
But there's a reason I train my dog:  I don't want to be that person

You know the person I'm talking about.  The person that in any situation shows complete disregard for either their dog, those around them, or both.  They are the person who often utters such phrases as "Don't worry, they're friendly," or "They're a good dog but they don't listen," or they simply don't say anything at all while their dog is the poster child for continued education.  I'll give you an example. 

Today I needed to bring Abby to the vet.  A few months ago she had a problem with an interdigital cyst between the toes on her back paw, and sure enough one flared up between the toes on her front paw.  I am trying to take a proactive approach to Abby's vet appointments because I know that she gets nervous about them.  Let's face it - Abby has had a series of not so fun appointments that have included UTI's, anal abscesses, and a tooth extraction.  If this were me I'd need copious amounts of alcohol to face the exam room.  On top of these appointments, our girlie has often had instances where over the top dogs have been right in her face.  If vet visits are not well thought out they can be a recipe for disaster. 

Since the TACT Seminar, I have decided that I need to take a proactive approach to the vet.  With the first vet Abby would visit, we lucked out in one regard.  Because Abby went there for routine checkups, daycare, grooming and training she truly never knew what was going to happen.  I realized that I needed to take a similar approach with this vet because her generalization wasn't transferring in light of the more scary visits.  First, I need to take her to the vet for all sorts of random things.  Perhaps one day we will go there and Abby will just walk through, get a treat, and leave.  Another day we will drive into the parking lot and Abby will be treated for walking around.  Another day we may go in, get on the scale, and leave with treats.  It's important that I mix these things up.  Additionally, in the event that Abby does need to be seen I need to work with our vet to make these appointments less scary.  Sometimes our vet runs late.  Rather than subject Abby to being in a waiting area building her anxiety, I will go and check us in and she can wait in the car.  When her exam room is ready they will wave to me and call us in. 

This is what I did with Abby today and it worked out really well.  Abby was very patient with the vet while he checked her toes and expressed her anal glands.  At the end of the appointment Abby sat by the door waiting for it to open.  I asked her to wait while I opened the door and I checked to be sure no dogs would bombard us as we left and Abby waited patiently until I gave the OK.  She then was praised by the staff at the reception desk.  However, there was a slight timing issue and her invoice was not ready when we approached the desk.  I laid Abby's mat down while she waited so she could relax.  It was at this point that I heard the lobby door open.  I figured the best course of action was to move Abby from where she was and walk to the opposite side of the waiting area because inevitably this person might seek to leave via the same area we were standing in. 

I gathered Abby's mat and focused her attention on me.  It was at this point that the little dog that had come in had rounded the corner and went right up to Abby in a very forward way.  I still had Abby's attention so she didn't notice at first that the other dog was coming.  It was at this point that I literally stuck my leg in front of the incoming dog to block her.  You could tell the other dog didn't expect it because she ran into my leg trying to get to Abby.  The owner said at this point, "Oh, sorry, she's friendly."  I replied, "She's not."  With that Abby and I turned and walked to the other side of the room.  Abby had her eyes on me the whole time and she sat proudly on the scale and worked on targeting my hand.  Another stressed dog entered the waiting area and huffed and puffed while trying to pull towards Abby.  My girl sat on the scale and looked from that dog to me as if to say, "Do you see that dog?" 

This is why I train my dog. 

Abby is sometimes friendly towards other dogs, but often hates when dogs are over the top in their greetings.  She doesn't like aggressive face to face contact at first and sometimes prefers manners in approaching her.  Now Abby did not show any signs of aggression or distress in the first dog ambushing her to say hi, but that doesn't matter.  You should have eyes on your dog.  You should know where they go and what they're doing.  And you should ask me if your dog can greet mine and not be surprised or hurt when I say no.  Because I have to be honest when I tell you that if your dog wants to greet mine in a vet's office it isn't going to happen.  I have no idea if you are picking up food, seeking treatment for conjunctivitis, or are there for any myriad of reasons in which I would not want your dog to greet mine.  It's a veterinarian's office, and in most instances you are not there just to say hi. 

This is why I train my dog.  So that she can go out into the world without being a menace,  and in the face of uncomfortable situations look to me to fix them.  So that she is not that dog who rounds the corner and ambushes other dogs or people who are reactive or fearful of her.  So that I am not that person who shows no respect for others and causes panic to owners of reactive dogs.  So that I am not that person who risks my dog's safety because she misreads a cue from another dog and is bitten. 

Today was a day where I took great pride in the work we have done with her. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What do you mean you need to learn about tact?

There were a few people who first misunderstood when I told them I was going to a class on TACT.  They took it to mean tact.  And for better or worse there were people who weren't surprised when they thought that I was going to learn about the latter.  Boy will they be disappointed! 

Touch Associated Clicker Training (TACT) is a new protocol from Julie Robitaille that helps rehabilitate reactive, shy, and aggressive dogs using clicker training, learning theory and massage therapy.  I first learned about the program when reading the Facebook page for Dogs In Need Of Space (DINOS).  DINOS is a wonderful community I discovered a few months ago that allows people with reactive dogs to share stories, ask questions, and offer support to owners of reactive dogs.  As soon as I saw that TACT was created by Emma Parson's teaching assistant, Julie, I was on board. 

Admittedly I was nervous about going because I am not a professional dog trainer.  And if I'm to be totally honest I didn't previously think of myself as a trainer either.  Sure, I train Abby.  But I had previously classified myself as her owner and did not necessarily think of myself as her trainer.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that although there were professional trainers and recent Karen Pryor graduates, there were also fellow owners, vet technicians, and animal massage therapists to name a few.  The idea behind TACT came from Julie's work in massaging canines.  She had clients who would want her to work on their dogs but they were worried.  Given the dog's reactivity the owner did not feel as if this was possible.  What began as Julie asking them to still come to her booth so she could click and treat dogs for entering, looking at her, walking towards her, etc. transcended into protocols aimed at giving repetition and structure to the interaction reactive dogs had with strangers. 

So much of this program seemed similar to the Protocols for Relaxation that Abby and I have used previously in the sense that you start with very small steps and build from there, increasing the difficulty as the dog is comfortable with it.  Additionally the Relaxation Protocol has a very ritualized series of movements that you do while the dog is in a default down or default sit.  TACT is very similar in how it builds the predictability of this protocol and later adds distance or challenges.  But additionally what I liked about TACT was that it builds the idea of generalization and applying this to other environments and other strangers.   

The seminar showed actual footage from private lessons between Julie and one particular dog, Finch.  There were points of Finch's story that reminded me so much of Abby - the alarm barking at strangers and other dogs, hackles raised.  There have been plenty of times where Abby has done this, even with people she sees regularly in our condo development.  But then there are other times where Abby bounds happily over to people to greet them and give them hugs and kisses.  Although Abby's reactivity seems relatively low these days which I credit in part to her not doing daycare anymore, it is something I am always mindful of.  The seminar was great at explaining Displacement Behaviors and how to identify them and has given me some criteria for identifying when Abby is at or beyond threshold.  Beyond that it has given me a series of protocols that we can work on, as well as some Foundation and Emergency Behaviors that we can use for situations where we see things that could trigger Abby to move past her threshold.  It also left me feeling empowered and believing that Abby and I have a relationship where I am also her trainer and handler. 

For those who are interested in checking out TACT but don't have the ability to attend a seminar, Julie has a comprehensive 5-disc set available for purchase on Clean Run.  The DVDs are 5.5 hours long and walk you through an introduction to clicker training, the TACT protocol, and massage therapy techniques.  I highly recommend them! 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sometimes if it's not one thing, it's another

What is it about April?  It was just last April when our girlie started to kick off with a whole host of GI issues centered around diarrhea.  Bloodwork, ultrasounds, and nutritionist consults left us feeling rather frustrated and convinced that we would not get to the root of Abby's problems.  After an attempt at Purina OM that left us feeling like the food was not working, we tried moving Abby to Hill's Prescription I/D canned food.  This food has left Abby having solid stools, but the issue of Abby burping up is one that has continued to perplex us.  Now I should state that Abby doesn't burp up all the time, and certainly it didn't seem to be something that bothered her when it happened.  But within the past few weeks I've noticed that this burping seems to take her by surprise, and literally she can't control it.  There is no purging associated with it, and it certainly doesn't seem to be a vomit situation.  But all of a sudden Abby could be walking or just laying down and suddenly it just comes out of her. 

There's two different theories that I have about this problem.  The first is that this problem didn't occur until she changed to canned food.  If I had to think of what is different, that certainly would be it.  But at the same time, not only did her GI issues kick off in April, but her latent fear reactivity kicked off around the same time.  In June we brought Abby to see a vet behaviorist and we increased her Clomicalm slightly from a half tablet twice daily to three quarters of a tablet twice daily.  One side effect listed on Clomicalm is vomiting.  I would be doing a disservice to Abby if I didn't at least consider that this was a possibility.  However, one of these hypotheses is easier to test than the other.  So I'm adding a bit of dry Hill's I/D to her food and I hope to transition her over to at least a 50/50 ratio to see if this improves.  If not then I may need to investigate options for helping her with this.  Currently I've been giving her a 10 mg tablet of Pepcid half an hour before each meal and I've not noticed any improvement.  Hopefully the dry food will do the trick. 

I am really excited and nervous to say that in two weeks I will be attending the TACT Seminar that Emma Parsons and Julie Robitaille will be presenting.  I hope that it will give me another tool in my wheelhouse to work with some of Abby's reactivity, to reshape how she views situations, and to help us both feel more confident in stressful situations.  I have to admit I'm nervous.  I will be in with dog trainers, people you hire to help you with the problems you have.  But I felt inspired after talking with our trainer about this, who told me that I am a dog trainer with a very small audience. 

And finally I leave you with one other link if you are feeling so inclined.  On June 10, 2012, we will be going to the NHSPCA Paws Walk in Stratham, NH.  It seems like just yesterday it was May 29, 2010 and we were at their facility looking at their available dogs to see if we could find one.  My husband will tell you that he knew we were going home with a dog that day.  I will tell you that I never envisioned my life changing in the way that it did that day.  I don't like to think of Abby as a rescue.  The question of whether she is or not in my mind has always been a touchy one.  It isn't that succinct.  And beyond that, the presumption is that we saved her when really the opposite is true.  She saved us.  Each and every day I am completely amazed by her, and I feel so lucky that she has come into our lives.  We feel so blessed to have her, and the least that we can do on that day is walk in support of an organization that has enabled us to welcome Abby home.  She was meant to be ours.  So I know that times are tough and everyone is stretched thin.  If you are able to donate, we would be so thrilled by your support.  And if you are free on June 10th and wish to walk with us, we would love the company.  Here is the link to my donation page.