A Blue Ribbon Day!

After this morning’s backyard adventure, the four-legged family members opted to spend most of the day inside. Sasha seemed apprehensive when it came time for her mid-afternoon yard break, so I went out with her. This time, however, I was armed with a Plan of Action.

The dogs visiting next door came straight to the fence,  with the Chihuahua leading the conversation. (I’m rapidly growing fond of that little voice.) In similar situations, Sasha has immediately engaged in sustained barking and her mood tends to shifts from interested to agitated in record time.

This afternoon, though, I’d gone prepared. Even as Sasha looked toward the fence I focused her attention on me as I moved toward the center back of the yard. There’s a 20-acre field behind our fence, where the only distractions are squirrels and, come evening, coyotes. We worked through sit, stay, down, and recall even as the dogs barked in the background.

And joy of joys–instead of reacting as she did this morning, Sasha stayed focused on me and worked through the basic obedience routines. Calm, confident, happy. That’s my girl!

This is a FIRST for Sasha!

 We’ll keep working on managing distractions and increasing confidence on our outdoor adventures. For now, I’m happy to know Sasha is on her way to becoming a Canine Good Citizen!

Keep Calm and Have a Plan

Most holiday weekends, our neighborhood sees an influx of out-of-town guests who bring their pets along. For those of us whose dogs are wary of strangers, the new arrivals can add a new level of anxiety.  While vigilance–and maintaining a safe distance–can often prevent a full-blown canine crisis, it pays to have a plan in place to help mitigate stress.

I have a plan. Several, in fact. Lots of strategies and tactics to put into place on our walks, in the park, or anywhere else we might care to go. What I didn’t have was a plan to mitigate the stress of strange dogs showing up at 7 am next door.

Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat were in the backyard, enjoying the first rain-free morning we’ve had in a while.  All was peaceful until we heard dogs barking and running toward the fence on our eastern boundary. Sasha, being a Sheltie and the good guard dog she is, ran over barking in response, with Buddy The Wonder Cat in close pursuit.

There’s a wooden fence along the boundary; it’s the “shadowbox” kind with pickets offset on each side with slight gap between pickets. The gap is enough for animals to glimpse each other but not enough for even the leanest dog or cat to slip through. (Cats’ paws, however, are another story, hence my close attention when the boy is outside.) So with a fence between them, the interaction started off well. Buddy The Wonder Cat loves visitors of all kinds and was clearly eager to visit the Chihuahua who approached. Sasha followed head up, ears forward, tail in happy-wag mode, and the whole body posture suggesting a “happy to meet you” attitude. Her barks were conversational rather than confrontational. Even better, she paused after greeting the visitor and looked to me for approval. She was probably hoping for a tasty reward, too, but my bathrobe pockets were devoid of treats so she had to make do with happy-voice praise.

Alas, the peace of the meet-and-greet was shattered when a bigger dog approached, shoved his nose into the gap, and hurled a barrage of barks and growls our way. Whatever he said, it wasn’t nice. Buddy immediately flattened on the ground, just as he does when a hawk swoops low across the yard. Sasha’s ears went back, tail and body lowering, and her bark tone shifted to classic “keep back” in seconds.

It was easier than I’d expected to get them both inside. I used a combination of the Focus and Look-At-That techniques we’ve been working on. Asking Sasha to focus on me instead of the scary dog gave her a reason to disengage. If you’re interested in helping your dog focus on you, here’s a video that may help:

After a game of Find It! inside, we ventured out for a neighborhood walk, and soon met a different neighbor heading our way with her dog she’d recently adopted from the local shelter. I was encouraged to see Sasha’s initial reaction was once again that of interest, so I used the Look At That again while rewarding her with treats. When they got too close for her comfort (across the street and two houses away) I switched direction and lured her away with me. I paused at the corner when Sasha turned to watch them moving closer on the opposite sidewalk. I had the super-yummy Ziwi treats with me which did the trick! Sasha first stood, then sat calmly, enjoying her treats while alternating her attention between the dog and me. My neighbor stopped on the opposite corner and let the dogs see each other while Sasha enjoyed her treats. Here’s an example of what we did:

I owe much of our progress to Beverley Courtney’s excellent workshops. If you have a dog that’s reactive or fearful, check out Beverley’s Brilliant Family Dog website and online training resources. You can find her on Facebook, too.

A Tribute to Shadow

Taking Flight ©2015 Tom Hidley

If you’ve been following this site, you already know I’m a big fan of the Doodlebugged Mysteries and its award-winning author, Susan J. Kroupa. Doodlebugged is that rare sort of series that appeals to people of all ages and is truly a delight to read over and over.

What you may not know is that Doodle was inspired by Sue’s real-life dog, Shadow. Shadow passed away last month, and I wanted you all to know more about this wonderful dog. As Sue writes in her blog (and shared here with permission):

Shadow, with his keen intelligence, his independence, his often maniacal energy, and his always amiable spirit, was truly the most interesting dog I’ve ever had. Admittedly, sometimes he was interesting in the Chinese curse sort of way.

He was a study in contradictions. He liked everyone, but was not especially affectionate with us, at least not until the last couple of years. He was a dog who liked his space.  He loved treats, but often would not work for food, and would thoroughly sniff anything we offered him, because, hey, THIS time it just might be poison.  He was loyalty impaired—a go-where-the-action-is kind of dog—and not averse to abandoning me during a walk if it started to rain, and race to the shelter of the porch.

A true country dog, he was equally at home in the city, attending soccer games and events with my grandkids.

His antics taught me how little I knew about dogs and sent me in search of more knowledge. He learned early on to hold still if I was holding a camera. After all, as I used to joke, he had “his public”, the many people from neighbors and friends to field workers and service people that he befriended. More than once I had the occasion to meet someone for the first time only to discover they already knew Shadow. “He has more friends than we do,” I would complain to my husband. And it was true.

Shadow inspired a host of nicknames: Motormouth, the Barkster, Boing-Boing, The Ever-Ready Labradoodle, Jumping Jack, Bear-Bane, and Possum-Bane.  Oh, how he loved to catch possums! I often said finding them was his super power.

He inspired a book series. The Doodlebugged Mysteries came directly from observing Shadow, who would stare up at me, never breaking eye-contact, with an expression that clearly said, “Seriously?” He was his own dog, not a people-pleaser, even though he was always pleased to be around people. Doodle’s oft repeated mantra that “smart and obedient don’t go hand in hand” came straight from Shadow’s actions.

Seriously?

Fly away, home, Shadow. May you find woods to race through, logs to leap over, possums to catch, and bears to chase away, and may you live on, at least in part, in Doodle.

♥ ♥ ♥

You’ll find the complete post with more photos and links to previous posts at Fly Away Home. Shadow will live on in our hearts and in the Doodle stories, and I am grateful to Sue for allowing us to be part of Shadow’s public.

♥ ♥ ♥

Available in print and Kindle editions:

Bed-Bugged (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 1)

Out-Sniffed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 2)

Dog-Nabbed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 3)

Bad-Mouthed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 4)

Ruff-Housed (Doodlebugged Mysteries Book 5)

Keep up with Sue at https://susankroupa.com/

Winter Fun and Games

This morning’s temperature hovered at zero and the wind chill of -7 or colder motivated Sasha to set a new speed record in the yard.  With brutal cold predicted for days to come, I’m going to be smart and substitute indoor work for our daily neighborhood walks. Fortunately, Sasha enjoys any sort of training time. Recently, I’ve challenged her to go beyond obedience drills to working through games, puzzles, and tricks. Teaching tricks is a great way to mentally challenge your dog, help them focus, and have fun with you!

Sasha earned her Novice Trick Dog title in December, and she enjoyed that so much we’re aiming for her Intermediate title. The tricks I’m sharing today include some that we learned at a recent seminar held at the NWA School for Dogs. If you can’t attend a training seminar, you can go the DIY route and watch the video links included in this post. (There are a LOT of videos freely available on YouTube.)

If you and your dog are new to tricks, start with brief sessions when you’re both relaxed and interested. Sasha, for example, tends to be more focused when I break our workout sessions into 10-15 minutes blocks.  Most importantly, have fun with your dog!

One of Sasha’s favorite tricks is the Scent Trick. Place tennis balls in a muffin tin, then hide a savory treat (bits of hot dog, cheese, chicken, or anything special) under one of the balls. Place it on the floor and let your dog use its nose to find the treat. I started with a 6-muffin tin and placed treats under 4 of the 6 balls, and then once she understood the game I gradually reduced the number of treats, and then used a larger muffin tin with just a couple of treats hidden. If your dog gets frustrated when the muffin tin slides around, try placing it on a non-skid mat.

Some dogs like to nudge the ball out with their nose, while others use their paws. (Sasha’s a nose girl with this game.) If your dog flips the tin over to get the treats, try wedging the tin under something sturdy to discourage that quick solution and make him think. Here’s the basic how-to:

If your dog enjoys the challenge of scent training, you can play hide-and-seek using a treat-stuffed sock or a Kong toy. Put your dog in a sit-stay, then give your dog time to catch the scent by sniffing the sock. For the first round, I recommend letting the dog see where you place the sock/toy. Return to your dog and tell them “Find it” or “Fetch” or whatever command you want to use. Remember to be consistent with your commands.

Some prefer to have the dog return to you with the “find” for their reward. When I want Sasha to return to me with the item, I use the command “Bring it.” Adapt to suit your dog’s interest and ability level. Be sure to praise the find and reward with a piece of whatever treat’s in the sock/toy. Once your dog understands the game, increase the challenge by placing the object out of sight, gradually increasing the distance and difficulty.

Another fun trick is the Spin. Lure with a treat at nose level while dog is standing. Encourage your dog to follow the scent as you move your hand in a large circle. Go slow, and be patient!  If they stop before making the entire circle, treat where they stop, then go a bit further next time. If you use a clicker, click and treat; otherwise, use verbal praise. Here’s a “how to” demonstration:

Trick training can be a great way to help your dog learn basic tasks. Here’s how to teach your dog to carry a basket:

Ready for something a bit more physical? Try the Weave. Fair warning: this one takes a bit of balance!

Start with your dog on your left, then spread your legs. Holding a yummy treat in your right hand so it’s visible, coax your dog to move between your legs as you lure the dog through your legs and around to your right. Repeat going the opposite direction. Here’s a visual:

If you’re working with a big dog, you may want to teach them to Crawl first so they can more easily move between your legs. In this demonstration, you’ll see the trainer places her hand on the dog’s back. It’s important to note that she is not pressing down or forcing the dog in any way!

Whatever you choose to do, make it fun for you and your dog!

Safe Travels, Everyone!

Sasha’s longest car trip (that we know of) was our first day together, when we drove hours through the Ozarks and across Oklahoma’s tallgrass prairie to bring her home. For a rescue dog that had been handed off from one place to another, a long car journey with strangers was one stress too many.  Since then, though, we’ve taken short trips about town to gradually acclimate her to car travel. Nowadays, “Car” means another happy adventure is on the horizon. She’s equally comfortable secured with her seat harness or zipped into her travel crate, although she clearly prefers being right next to me. We’ve gone to training, the park, pet store, and her favorite Lowes store. We’ve even visited the vet clinic just to say hello and step on the scale, and those casual visits resulted in a calmer dog come annual check-up time.  In the photo here, she’s at the drive-through, waiting patiently for her post-training reward of cheese while I pick up lunch.

Even though she’s a much better traveler now, we’re staying close to home. According to the American Auto Association a record-breaking 107 million people will be on the road and in the air in the coming days, and many will be traveling with pets. If you plan to be among those traveling, here are some tips from AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Breanne Long to help ease the stress of travel for our four-legged family members.

The best way for any pet to travel is in a crate or seat belt harness. This is safest for you. You won’t have a pet bouncing around the car distracting you (or worse, in your lap!), and safest for your pet since he could get banged up or even ejected from the car in the case of an accident. If your dog is uncomfortable in the car, try feeding him his meals in the vehicle, first with the car off, then gradually work up to the car running, and then driving slowly. Make sure to have a second person driving the car, so you can keep an eye on your dog without driving while distracted. Throughout this process, as your dog eats his meals, drop treats into the crate or into his bowl.

Breanne has excellent tips for air travel with dogs, too. Check out those tips and the rest of the article here.

Some good reminders:

  • Be prepared. Take food, water, and bowls, any medications, and a first-aid kit. Remember extra collars, leashes, and tags. Toss in some cleaning supplies, too; I keep wet wipes, white vinegar, baking soda, and old towels in the car in case of accidents. And remember to take along vet clinic and current microchip info. If your dog is lost while you’re traveling, a microchip may be his best chance to getting home to you.
  • Keep photos handy. I keep Sasha’s AKC registration photos on my phone; they show her standing in profile and face-on. I also have photos of her in sit-stay and down-stay positions to make it easy for someone to recognize her if she’s ever lost.
  • Schedule breaks along the way. Choose a safe place and always keep your dog leashed while out of the vehicle. Avoid high traffic areas whenever possible, and give your dog time to explore. The few extra minutes you spend at a rest stop can help your dog enjoy the journey.

© Creative Commons public domain

For more tips on traveling with your dog, visit http://dogsaholic.com and learn how to manage hyperactive dogs, backseat barkers, and more. You might also enjoy reading TripAdvisor’s tips from experts for safe travel with your pets. For more, be sure to check out the AKC’s complete guide to traveling with your dog.

And whether you’re planning a cross-country trek or a jaunt across town, remember that a little planning can lead to better travel experience for all involved. If you’re venturing out to someplace new, check out the pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, events, and more along your route at https://www.bringfido.com/.

Whatever, wherever, and however you celebrate, Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat join me in wishing you the merriest of holidays!

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Look at her now!

When Sasha first came to us last year, she was terrified of loud noises (clickers at obedience class frightened her senseless), anxious around strangers (men in particular), had no leash skills to speak of, and tended to be very vocal around other dogs. And judging from the condition of her coat and skin, grooming was an unknown experience. To appreciate how much has changed, here are “then” and “now” photos:

Surrendered to sheriff February 2016

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting to “now” took a lot of patience and training supplemented by good food, grooming, and veterinary care. Our biggest challenge has been managing her reactivity to cyclists, vehicles, and DOGS. Sasha’s never been the kind of dog who appreciates the up-close-and-too-personal sniff and greet, but after she was jumped by off-leash dogs, her fear level went sky-high. I’ve dedicated hours to what I think of as targeted training and positive reinforcement.

We started with “Look at that!” (LAT training) to help her react calmly to cyclists and vehicles, and Sasha has reached the point where she rarely reacts to bikes, cars, and trucks. And while I was pleased with our progress using LAT training, I needed expert help to keep her moving when other dogs came into view. I turned to certified trainer Shanthi Steddum KPA-CTP who runs the Northwest Arkansas School for Dogs. With Shanthi’s help, we’re making good progress using the Engage-Disengage game. After just a few sessions (supplemented by daily at-home training time), Sasha is noticeably calmer and confident in the presence of other dogs. If you’re inclined to watch, fast-forward to the 5:23 point to see the first dog come close, and then 13:50 for the second dog’s approach. They make me laugh about the 14:25 mark when they’re clearly having a 10-second silent conversation, and again at 14:36 when the “neutral” dog breaks first!

And notice I’m using a clicker here–that’s another step forward for us. There’s a limit, though, to Sasha’s tolerance for the clicker, so I use verbal clicks and say yes or good instead. Her tolerance level varies from day to day (true for all of us, I think), so I adjust as needed.

And isn’t she gorgeous???

If you have a reactive dog, working on engage-disengage may help you!

For the text lovers among us, check out Alice Tong’s article Reducing Leash Reactivity: The Engage-Disengage Game I found on Karen Pryor’s clicker training site. Here’s an infographic from that article illustrating the basic steps (click to enlarge):

 

If you prefer video over text, these may be useful to you:

Both Sasha and I are learning as we go. For my part, I’m getting better at interpreting her body language and vocal signals. If we pass a house with dogs in the back yard, for example, Sasha will bark (hey, she’s a Sheltie!); sometimes it’s a quick bark or two, and other times it’s a clear “conversation” between the two! If she freezes in place at the sight of another dog, I stand still and secure the leash without pulling on her martingale collar.  I don’t say anything but ever since I started counting silently, I’ve realized she’ll bark up to a count of 11 (sometimes less) and then disengage by looking away and/or back at me. Then it’s treat time and we move on. Progress indeed!

My next goal is helping Sasha develop confidence in calmly walking with other dogs and walking past other dogs without comment. (I still have the Canine Good Citizen “Reaction to Another Dog” test item in mind.) Stay tuned!

“Staycation” Canine Style

“Is your dog stressed?” © paddingtonpups.com.au

Does your own sweet dog turn into a Dogzilla when suffering from excess stimulation? Is the heat turning your routine activities into a stress test and making both of you miserable? Maybe it’s time to give yourselves a break and relax. I’m talking about a staycation for you and your pooch.

When the outside world gets too much, maybe it’s time to make the most of “at home” training and play time. You’ll hear lots of experts (and others who like to think they’re experts) insist you must walk your dog daily or you are a Bad Person. While I absolutely agree that dogs need regular activity, I’m not convinced that translates to activities in sensory-saturated environments, or forcing your dog to endure hot sidewalks that can blister their paws.

Instead, indulge yourselves in short sessions at varied intervals. Schedule outdoor activities for cooler parts of the day. And when the heat’s too much, there are plenty of activities to help your dog chill out while keeping physically and mentally exercised. Here are a few of my personal favorites to keep Sasha mentally alert and happy, and reduce stress all round.

Work For It! Give your dog a chore in exchange for treats, meals, and (most important) time with you!  My own Sasha shows off her sit and wait skills before breakfast and dinner, and works through down-stay, come, stop (a hard one!) followed by another down then come and heel to finish around to my left where she sits for her well-deserved reward of a special yummy treat.  Treats are also on the menu when she jogs down the drive with me to the mailbox and we go through basic drills, mixed up to reduce her habit of anticipating what I want next. We practice fast and slow heeling and turnabouts while patrolling the back yard for dog waste, as well.

Find it! Treat balls which require dexterity and persistence to release tasty tidbits are a big hit, too. I’d thought that would be a great activity to keep Sasha mentally engaged and moving about while I worked, but she added a layer of fun all her own by rolling the ball under furniture or behind doors, and then asking me to retrieve it. And being a Sheltie, her “ask” tends to be loud so I stay close to cut off the bark fest before it gets out of hand. Since that means I play most of the treat game with her, we get plenty of bonding time and everyone’s happy.

We also play the “Find it!” game with Buddy the Wonder Cat as our target. This tends to be the most fun when we’re in the yard and Buddy can run behind shrubs and crouch beneath the branches of the old forsythia. Inside, I rely on hiding Sock Monkey or her stuffed duck and sending her in search of her toys.

Hide-and-Seek. This works best with at least two humans participating. One of us puts Sasha is a sit-stay while the other hides out of sight and then the one hiding calls her by name or the person next to Sasha tells her to go search and “Find it!” This is a great backyard activity too! If you’d like to try this one at home, check out this link for a quick and easy how-to. Great game for kids, too!

Rally-O, Home Edition. Take communication between handler and dog to a higher level with Rally Obedience, commonly known as Rally-O. If you’re interested in getting involved with AKC events, go to http://www.akc.org/events/rally/resources/ for more information. And if competition doesn’t interest you, everyone can enjoy what I call the “home edition.” You can create your own “course” by choosing from a collection of skills, from basic to more advanced.  (See a list of the rally skills with images and descriptions here.) So far, Sasha and I have mastered the basics and are moving on to spirals, drop on recall, and the 270° right turn and the 270° left turn–which sounds easier than it is, at least for my uncoordinated feet!

Whether you want to compete or just enjoy some exercise and time with your dog, a “staycation” can be a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated and physically well exercised without ever leaving home!