The Perfect Dog

Napoleon, helping Aspen learn a solid 'place' command with distractions

Napoleon, helping Aspen learn a solid ‘place’ command with distractions

It has been a while since I have given an update on my boy, Napoleon. So, I’m posting one now. The last time I wrote about him, we had a successful off-leash excursion. We still struggled a bit with some kids on skateboards, and sometimes (rarely) some whining in the crate.

Those 2 items have been addressed and handled. He is now off leash 90% of the time, and I don’t bring him on a leash when I go to clients’ houses either. When I take him on walks, I have complete control over him without a leash, or any equipment.

We have worked hard on his obedience and recalls, and I now I have 95% confidence that if he was adrenalized and I didn’t catch his energy levels in time, that he would still come back. He just recently passed his CGC test and is now a Canine Good Citizen of the world! Yay, Napoleon!

Now, our one last issue that I had to pick and choose my battles was feeding time. He would get so excited he would jump up and down repeatedly, shake, run into walls, and run you down to get his food at dinner time.  This has been a challenge since we adopted him 2 years ago. Now, he will sit, whine and shake until you walk towards the back door to open it up to put his food down. Since we feed raw, I always feed outside.

I can’t wait for him to be calm every single time (it was taking upwards of 4 hours for a calm dog, and even then, I didn’t achieve the level of calm I wanted), so this has been a challenge. We have tried switching up the feeding time, we have tried a place mat, where he cannot move off of the mat at all – tail included. That Is what I wanted him to focus on instead of feeding. He can do that no problem, but the shaking and whining is still a problem.

So, I have separated preparing the food in the morning, and feeding at night. So, they are 2 events, and that has seemed to help with the adrenaline at dinner time. I choose to wait to feed until he is calm at nighttime, then walk upstairs (no words) and get his food out of the freezer). He comes upstairs and follows me calmly and I open the backdoor to let him outside, again – calmly. Then, I come back in, get his food, go outside and put it on the ground. He gets excited, but sits automatically (no words, again), and I walk away.

This has REALLY helped and was our last hurdle to become my ‘perfect’ dog. There really is no such thing, but I’m bias, and I love my dog, and he has worked very hard for that title. He deserves it.

What an improvement, huh? He can walk himself on the treadmill now, I just have to turn it on for him and turn it off when he’s done. He ignores cats, dogs, and other people when we are on our off-leash walk. This also includes skateboards.

Such great progress, and I’m so happy for him. He has worked hard and gets a beef heart for dinner tonight. Yum!

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Napoleon, resting after a long day.

Reflection of Positivity

Napoleon and I, after a short training session

Napoleon and I, after a short training session

With all of the emotional challenges I have faced recently, I have to keep focusing on the positives. I focus on how much good I do, and I also face the grim truth: We can’t save them all. But, the ones we are able to save will live on with better lives. I have to think positively.

So, this week’s blog is about my successes this year with my business and personal gains. At the beginning of the year, I had set goals.  Goals I had to accomplish in order to make a huge life change. To take a leap of faith, to make the jump. It all comes down to that decision.

My biggest goal was to get my certification. I have been talking to the owner of K9 Lifeline for quite some time (starting over a year ago) about taking her certification course. At the time, it was around $3,000 and 2 weeks long. Well, that means I needed the money, and I also needed 10 days of PTO. It takes a full month for me to earn 1 day. So, that was 10 months of absolutely no sick days, no vacations, and no ½ days for my own personal sanity. I started saving up my time last year around November. I had a few days saved, so if I didn’t take a day off for Christmas or any other holiday, or get sick, or have an emergency, I could take the course in July.

I had the time, but the Difficult Dog Workshop was in June, and I JUST HAD to go. Which cost me 3 days. That’s 3 more months of no sick days or vacation. I can do it, I know I can. That means I can take my certification in October, and to play it safe, let’s plan on November.

Then, I found out the eTouch Workshop was coming in October with another very reputable trainer. Ok, that’s another 2 days. Which means I’m looking at Dec/Jan. Ah man… at this rate, I’ll never get it. And I’ll never take a vacation!

Then I heard from another trainer that the course is a little cheaper, and is only 6 days, instead of 10, but I get the same amount of material. WHAT?!  Really?! I can take it now! So, the plan is in motion, and I hope to get my certification at the end of August! YAY!

Pack Walk 6/28/13

Pack Walk 6/28/13 (Click to enlarge)

I have also started doing my pack walks. This wasn’t a requirement, but it is a success, and I’m proud I have been able to organize this event. Every time I do them, they get a little easier, I gain a little more confidence, and more people show up for them!

I am now offering a nutritional workshop (hopefully twice a year) because so many clients have been interested in what is the best dog food or I’m interested in raw, I’m just feeding chicken, is that ok? I want to educate and help people do what is right for their dog. Wow, another big event, planned. Hook. Line. Sinker.

I have attended a few nutritional workshops, watched online seminars, increased my training network and made some awesome friends as well. I have read so many books, it sometimes feels I’m reading the same things over and over again. But, if I attend a seminar, read a book, or meet with new people at a workshop, and I learn ONE new thing, it was completely worth it. If I learn a lot, that knowledge is invaluable because I will build on that and learn more new things and become an even better trainer.

I have been asked to help during my trainer friend’s Saturday Socials, and I feel I am becoming more and more confident each week.  This was huge for me, because eventually, I want to run these. I have run a small social in my backyard with 11 dogs (specifically picked out who would be able to come) and I was pretty confident (but so nervous too!). I am more confident and assertive when I am by myself because I sometimes feel I am such a baby in this field, so when I am around someone with more experience, I tend to freeze up a little or my heart starts pounding. I have only been ‘on my own’ training for 2 years. I worked at Petsmart and did simple sit/stay training with my dogs in high school, but not like this.  I will someday be as awesome as these trainers. I can do it, and I am well on my way!

Mowgli was here for boarding for a weekend

Mowgli was here for boarding for a weekend

I have started boarding in my own home. This was a scary move, but overall, I really enjoy it. The dogs are kept safe, get plenty of attention and stimulation and are in a loving environment. And I get to experience what handling more dogs feels like in a safe way. I try to only board dogs I know for this reason. Sometimes, I board dogs I haven’t met before, and it can go either way. I had a crazy dog I boarded in the beginning that was a disaster, but right now, I’m boarding 2 that I had never before. Both are sweethearts, and I’m happy to have them! I get to practice some of my own techniques, I get to practice reading dogs I don’t know, and I get to practice walking multiple dogs at the same time. Sometimes this is a huge challenge because I’ll be walking 4 dogs at once, and only one knows how to walk on a leash nicely. So, we take an hour to go around the block. But that’s just it – I get to practice!

I have actually started making money, and even though I won’t show a profit this year (which is actually a good thing for taxes, of course), I will next year. This year, I attended 2 workshops (so far, and plan to attend another) and my certification course, which weren’t cheap. So, I made money, and then spent it all on workshops.

I have plans in the making to get a better ‘dog car’ as mine is really taking a beating with all the dogs coming and going in it. This may not happen next year, but the year after. In the meantime, I need to find a way to keep my seats intact! Even Napoleon’s kennel won’t fit in my backseat.

We have plans about our location for when I get more serious about doing this. Either having a facility on my own lot, or leasing/purchasing a facility in the future. This is WAY in the future, just a dream right now, but it’s something.

The biggest success, if you can call it that, would be the decision the family and I had to make about their dog, Ryder. You can follow his whole story here. He was a very special Merle Great Dane who had an unpredictable streak. He could be loving on you and playing, and then turn and bite someone. Unfortunately, these are some of the hardest dogs to work with because you can’t find a trigger. We thought it was men, hats, uniforms, etc – but, he wouldn’t go after the same person twice, or the same hat, and if you switched the hat with another person, he would be fine. 95% of the time, he was manageable and just needed training. The other 5% of the time, he was unpredictable and could seriously hurt someone. He was hard to adopt out, and we didn’t find the right home. So, we made the decision to euthanize him. We didn’t come to this decision lightly and it was months of talking about options. I won’t get into everything again, but this was the right thing. I cried pretty much the whole week, I was emotionally exhausted, I didn’t want to talk about it anymore, I wanted a miracle to show up on my doorstep and be the perfect place for him, or I wanted Best Friends to take him. Neither happened. But now, I am at peace with this decision and I am still sad of the outcome – it won’t ever be a ‘happy ending’. But, I know he is running free and will be happy now, without having to worry about anything. I had to make this decision and it has made me a better trainer. This was a turning point in my career. I’m sad it had to be him, but I’m happy he is free and healthy now.

Most of all, I can’t ‘count’ how much I have learned this year, but I have really taken an initiative on learning as much as I can, and sacrificing so much to do this. I have also learned so much about myself, and I feel more complete because of what I have accomplished.  I don’t have the constant stress feeling of ‘Am I doing this right?’ or ‘I’m going to fail, what if I fail?’ feelings. If I fail, I get up and try again. If I get bit or kicked in the teeth, I put a band-aid on and try again. I won’t let other trainers, dogs, people, or my mistakes stop me from continuing on. I will learn from them and be a better trainer for them. I’m happy to take constructive criticism and coaching, but please – no need to be an asshat about it. I want to learn, and I can admit I don’t know everything.

I work in the dog industry, a bite is bound to happen. Not that I want it to, but just like working in construction, it’s inevitable. It’s not if, it’s when.

I’m happy, and I see an end to these 100 hour workweeks. I see a light, and I’m excited to see what happens. Scared, but excited.

I can do this.

Stages of Grief

Ryder was not my dog. Sometimes, like when he was at my house for boarding or for workshops, I felt like he was. He got to stay in my basement and snuggle up with Napoleon right at my feet while we watched movies. I really miss him.

Over the weekend , I boarded a few dogs, and on Friday when I got home from the vet, I heard one of them barking. Without thinking, I asked my husband, “Is that Ryder barking?”

My husband looks at me and says, “That’s not Ryder, Heather.” And that’s when it really hit me. At the vet, it felt like he was going to wake up at any second. He looked like he was just sleeping. I was honored I got to spend the last few moments with him and whisper to him how much he meant to everyone and how much I loved him, and how this wasn’t his fault. How he’ll be able to play all day with the other dogs and chew on as many bones as he wants. He’ll be free.

I don’t believe in a heaven or hell or God or devils. I believe that all life is returned to the planet. No, I’m not stealing the plot from Final Fantasy VII, it’s just the best way I can explain it. When a person, animal, or plant dies, their spirit is returned to the planet so we can keep living on this Earth. I believe this, and I believe Ryder lives on in a different way. I won’t see him again, but I’ll feel him. I’ll feel him in the air, and in the trees, I’ll see moments of him in my clients’ dogs or within my own house. I’ll remember him and laugh at how goofy he could be.

I know I made the right decision, and the family knows that too. But I’m feeling all the things anyone would feel for making a hard decision. Guilt, pain, sadness, depression, anger. Sometimes, I’m inconsolable.  I’ll be sitting at my computer, or talking to a friend, and then I’m completely overwhelmed with sadness and I just end up crying.

GriefI’m experiencing the 5 stages of grief, and as soon as I feel like I’m ok, I remember something about him that was goofy and silly. Like how, when he thought he was going to get some food or a treat, he would sit automatically and back up about a foot so that his long legs could comfortably sit on the ground. Then he’d stare at you with his adorable face. If you waited long enough, he would paw at you to give him what he wants. No, this isn’t ideal behavior, and we had really worked on this. But last week, he got away with it. Why not? He was on death row, he could have whatever he wanted.

Or that time when he was at my house for the workshop and was exhausted at the end of the day. I accidentally dropped the leash and he bolted into my house, down into the basement and snuggled up in his kennel all on his own. I miss these moments, and he’s not even my dog. I just… got attached.

And it will take time to be ok. Sometimes, it’s only once a day where I am in a depressive state. Other times, it’s pretty much the whole day.  I know I’ll feel  better with time, and I know this was right. Sometimes, it feels like I have to remind myself that this is what he needed. Because it feels like I made the decision to kill him. Which isn’t what happened, but emotions sometimes overcome logic.

Today, one of my coworkers asked me how I was doing, and I could barely speak. If I kept talking, I would start crying and would have to step out. So I said I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. But on Sunday, I could talk about it, and I felt confident with my decision. Yesterday, I had a migraine to keep me occupied, but then when I was feeling better, I just wanted to curl up in bed and go to sleep. So, I went to bed around 9:00 pm and didn’t go to sleep until after midnight because I was crying. It just hurts so much sometimes.  So, if you ask me about it, there is a chance it could go either way. I could be fine and tell you about Ryder and about my decision, or I could be completely overwhelmed with sadness and be put into a depressive state… walking on eggshells, I guess.

In time, everything will go back to normal.

A Few Thoughts

So, I have some catching up to do. My life has gone to the dogs, and that’s a good thing! I have been working tirelessly to make the change, and every day I’m a little closer!

First order of business, I hosted another pack walk and it was very successful. I believe I had around 20-28 dogs. Some people came late, some left early, and some joined in while we were walking. So, getting a hard count was a little difficult. This time was better than my first walk, as I was trying to keep everyone together as a group. The dogs benefit the most from having everyone in a pack, not spread out. I’m getting better at this, but it’s going to take some time.

I LOVE the benefits of pack walks and I enjoy getting everyone together to host them. It’s a great way to safely socialize and a great gateway to doing full blown socials while I’m learning more about dog behavior and getting used to reading every single little subtle sign. It’s exhausting, and I feel I miss a lot. But that takes experience. No book or seminar will teach me everything – I have to get out there and do it. At a safe pace of course. I’m not about to take on a really nasty behavioral problem just because I need the experience.

Here’s a video of the walk. If you follow through my comments, you’ll see how every person and dog’s behavior smooths out near the end of the walk. There were a few dogs who needed additional help (The German Shepherd for one), but for the most part, the dogs’ calmed down pretty well.

Secondly, I have started helping with Wasatch Canine Camp’s socials. How awesome is that? (HUGE SWELLING HAPPY FEELING!) However, I feel like I’m miles behind the trainer and her skillset (won’t mention names for privacy), and I have so much to learn. She has also been doing this a lot longer than I have. But I won’t give up, and I’m trying very hard to not feel down when I realize this. I just focus on the good things – like how much progress I have made within the last year, and where I will be at the end of this year. Someday, maybe I will have a facility. It’s a dream right now, but maybe if I work hard enough, I can get there.

The hard part about socials is that you can’t really talk to people while you are there. I’m still in ‘spectator’ mode instead of ‘presenter’ mode. I have to watch every single dog and every interaction to make sure it is appropriate interactions between people and dogs. I feel like I have to be in every place at once, and sometimes I feel like I can’t keep up. At K9 Lifeline, the instructor (again, I won’t say names) said you’ll get a feel for when things are about to happen before they actually do. Like when the energy changes in a particular part of the room/area. I haven’t felt that yet. Will I get there? I feel like I have to be in all places at once, and I don’t think this class can be taught with just one person. Well, the size of the class matters, of course. On average, the class is about 30-40 dogs. I don’t know if I would be comfortable taking that much responsibility yet. Maybe someday – just not yet.  I’m not scared, just… I don’t know enough and I feel I’m a ‘baby’ in this field. It’s comforting to know I have more experienced trainers watching my back while I’m learning, but giving me enough room to grow and to make mistakes. I really look up to these women, and I hope someday I can be as successful as them.

Napoleon

Napoleon, waking me up in the morning

Something else I have noticed is that I find myself being passive around more experienced trainers. Not as assertive as I normally am or I shut down, in one particular person’s case. Like to the point where I can’t speak – I can hardly breathe and I end up having a panic attack.  This affects my performance, the way the animals see me, and I’m not as strong of a leader as I need to be. I have started working on this and I mentally prepare myself before going to class or to an event where more qualified people will gather. One step at a time – I have started asking questions about social, asking about behavior I have missed, and I’m beginning to analyze every dog I see. Sometimes I wish I could turn that off, but other times I’m proud I see so much more than the average dog owner. At first, I was ashamed I needed to ask any questions. But then, I realized that everyone has to start somewhere, and to be the best I can be, I have to stop worrying about what people think about me. I need to buck up and ask. I was always worried someone would say, “Well, you are a trainer, you should know that!” or “You call yourself a trainer, but you can’t handle [insert something here]?” I haven’t received that reaction at all – what do I have to be anxious about? …A trainer asked me that about a dog once – and now I’m asking that same question to myself. What do I have to be worried/anxious/scared about? I’m over it.

I want to turn off the auto-dog-evaluations when I’m out with friends, at parks, or when someone says ‘Your dog is so perfect! He loves people and is just happy’. I want to say: “My dog is not happy nor is he perfect by any means. He’s over adrenalized and he isn’t in the right state of mind, and makes bad decisions. He can’t learn anything in this state of mind, and when you are baby talking him and loving on him, you are reinforcing this behavior and undoing work I have done for the past 8 months. I have been working with him about calming down around people, other dogs, and distractions. He was doing well, and now I have to undo all the un-training you just did.”

Ok that’s really harsh and I haven’t ever said that to anyone, but at the same time, it’s true. My dog is high energy, and with the combination of the wrong state of mind (over excited), he can’t learn anything. I have put him into a calm state of mind before any training, or he won’t learn anything. No, he’s not perfect. He really isn’t, but he is a gem. He’s my rock, and I wouldn’t trade him for the world. Not that we were talking about that – but I am constantly looking at dogs, the people handling them, and how they are reacting. Napoleon can get amped up so quickly, so we purchased an eCollar to manage his mindset. It was really made a difference, though I haven’t received any formal training on it yet.

Any who, I think this is a long enough post for today, so I’ll end here. Next time, I am going to post about Ryder, my training challenge right now. I had him again this week, and I really had to take my time with him on most everything.  He’s a bit of a handful when he is being naughty!

And just to show... here's the obedience class I was enrolled in.

And just to show… here’s the obedience class I was enrolled in. (Click for larger image!)

Hiking Adventures

My husband was informed that a very close friend was coming into town, and would only be here for a few days. We found this out on Thursday, so we planned to do something with them while they were in town.  Well, I’m still getting over strep throat, so no matter what I did, I would have to deal with the coughing from an irritated throat.

Napoleon is soaking wet, tired, and happy after playing in the water

Napoleon is soaking wet, tired, and happy after playing in the water

Anyway, we decided to go on a hike Sunday morning, and take Napoleon with us. He loved it! And it was a great opportunity to practice off leash work around distractions. A new place, new smells, possibly other dogs, and other people… and especially water – he loves water.

Now, just like when you are hiking by yourself, you take things like band-aids, extra water, snacks, etc. Well, I did the same for my dog. I brought treats, extra water, and a doggie first aid kit. This included tweezers, hydrogen peroxide, animal bandages, Neosporin, and frankincense essential oils (never leave home without it!). I also brought a washcloth. This has many uses – cleaning something off, wiping him down after the walk, or getting it wet and using it to cool him off in case of overheating.

I was taking preventative measures for heatstroke as it was, but never hurts to be prepared. I put a drop of peppermint in his water, and on the bottom of his feet, and on the tips of his ears. We took frequent breaks for water and to rest, and I monitored his breathing the whole time. No heatstroke, he did great!

Anyway, back to the hike. We staflowerrted in the parking lot, and I let him off leash. He, as we have worked on, stayed by my side as we started walking. Perfect! So, I gave him the command to go up ahead of us a bit. He was never beyond 20 feet ahead, and kept checking on the rest of us. Awesome! When I noticed lots of twisty turns, or places where I couldn’t see ahead, I called him back and put him behind me (‘Get behind me’ command). He did, and complied perfectly. I also used this command when I saw people or other off-leash dogs. I put him behind me, put him in a sit, and blocked off the new dog so he couldn’t get to Napoleon.

All those encounters went well until we met a dog who didn’t do well with other dogs, and he was being awfully pushy to get to Napoleon. I pushed him back and then gave Napoleon the ‘Get Back’ command to go to the back of our ‘human pack’. We had 5 people total, so he went to the back and waited. Yay! Perfect obedience! We handled the other dog, and the other person apologized and said they didn’t realize there were people/dogs up ahead or she would have leashed him.  Yes, she should have been more aware, but it was all good. No fights, I handled it with my mad skills, and we were fine. Continuing on…

We got to a part where you had to climb up some rocks and there was no room for Napoleon and I to walk side by side, so I sent him up ahead to go first through the rocks. I was a little worried he might slip, so I wanted to be behind him to catch him if I needed to. He did slip a bit, but he was able to catch himself and all was just dandy.

waterfallWe made it to the waterfall, and I released him so he could play. He went after sticks, played in the water, though he was unsure about the waterfall. It was loud and the current was pretty strong right around it.  I threw some sticks for him, and he wanted to get THE BIG STICK, of course! He was getting frustrated with not being able to get the big one, so I called him off and we went to find something that he could get… like a smaller stick!

We stopped for rest, snacks, water, and watched my husband climb up a big, steep dirt hill to sit on a big rock at the top. Napoleon realized he couldn’t see my husband, and spotted him on the top of the rock. He looked at me and I released him to go uphill and meet him. He struggled up the hill, as it was really steep. He made it and sat triumphantly at the top! Then came bounding right down again. I was nervous, as he looked like he was either going to face plant, or run right into a big rock. Nah, he just jumped over it, like super dog! Way to go, buddy!

Napoleon in the waterfallOn our way back, we were all tired. Napoleon wasn’t running up ahead anymore, and needed to stop more for water breaks. It seemed easier on the way back, but since we were tired, it was just as challenging. I had to really watch Napoleon, as he slipped when the path was narrow. So, he stayed next to me on my left as much as possible, and we slowed down a bit.

Finally we made it back and he earned a few more treats (to keep the energy up), and a little more water. He crashed on the way home and slept the whole way.

Today was the day I noticed how old my boy is… he laid down on his bed when we got home and was out cold. When he tried to get up, he was really struggling. I know I was sore, I can imagine he was too. He had trouble getting up, sitting down, and going up/down our stairs. So, today, he gets plenty of kennel time and rest time, and I have decided to put him on Pentosan for his joints. The doctor is coming on Saturday.

It was overall a really fun day, but heartbreaking to see my boy isn’t as young as he used to be. I’m hoping to see positive results from the Pentosan.

Off-Leash Excursion

Sorry for the late post, this was from last week… Been busy with boarding, classes, and extra training hours…

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As you know, Napoleon has been enrolled in a boot camp for the last few weeks. We have been putting him through some more strenuous training with distractions and teaching him more impulse control, along with psychological exercises throughout the day.

On Wednesday, we had a successful training session, that lasted about an hour long. Didn’t mean for it to be that long, but my neighbor decided to walk with me, and we ended up at the park, so we trained there – with distractions, of course.

Napoleon and meThe walk started on leash, and Napoleon has to be in a loose-leash heel position. I am very relaxed on this particular command-he can be a little ahead of me, as long as he isn’t pulling or lunging out in front of me. He is not allowed to sniff, mark, say hello, or pull on the leash, however. He was doing fabulous, with minor corrections.

My neighbor (he’s 12), was on a bike, and riding around us in on the sidewalk and the street. He was in front sometimes, beside Napoleon, in the street, or behind us. I used him as a distraction and worked on Stays (sitting, standing, laying down) while I went about 20 feet in front of him with a long lead. He did great! He’s so used to this now, that he didn’t even try to get up at all. Great!

We see small children, a cat, and someone on a skateboard who was being pulled by his pit bull. *Gulp!* Napoleon has a thing about this last scenario and usually ends up lunging, barking, and whining, trying to get to the person on the skateboard.  This time, he was anxious, lip flicking, and the hair on his hackles raised up, but he was still in a Stay position. Improvement, but we still have to work to do around this situation. He did wonderful around all other distractions.

Now, to the park. I took off the leash, let him relieve himself, and sniff around a bit, and then got his attention back to me. We practiced getting on the play equipment, and having him in a Stay while I ran around, and children were playing all around him. Some kids even played with him – all the while, he was in a stay. Good boy! I called him down, and he came right to me, sat in front of me, and then I put him back in a heel position. We walked around, and I taught him how to go down the slides. He was too big, so he ended up just jumping down the whole thing, silly boy!

Now, on the way back, we ran into more kids, cars, scooters, another off-leash dog, and a cat. He was awesome, and off-leash the entire time. I put him in a stay, and walked about a block down the street, while a dog across the street (off leash) was barking at him. He stayed perfectly. Eventually, we made it back home, and his reward – dinner and then time to rest.

I wanted to count out successes today:

-Great stays
-Successful polite leash-walking
-Successful  off-leash heeling
-Never strayed from me the whole time he was off leash
-Wonderful distraction and impulse work
-Calm demeanor for almost the entire training session (except for the skateboard)

I can’t wait to see how he does on our next training session when we go out again for training! So proud of all the work he’s put in. He still has his moments, but overall, he is making progress, and it’s been mostly uphill.  What training have you done with your dog lately?

Disappointed in Therapy Animals Of Utah

PackWalkAs I mentioned earlier, I hosted a pack walk for my business. It was an awesome turnout! I met some of my clients and their dogs, as well as met a few new faces! I also met some people who aren’t my clients, but I know from our local pets page, and from our social class on Saturdays. Wasatch Canine Camp hosts this class, and many of these people are her clients. So, I tread lightly, as I don’t want to step on toes, or seem like I’m ‘poaching’.

Anyway, back to my pack walk. It was AWESOME!!! Total of 17 dogs came, and I arranged them according to how well they were behaving on the leash. I put the strong, well-leashed trained dogs in the front, and the excitable, un-leash trained dogs in the back. In the middle were all the dogs in between. I didn’t have to do much, as many of these dogs were behaving well on their own.

It was a success! By the end of the pack walk, 80% of the dogs were behaving well on the leash. There were a select few who will need some work, but that’s what this class is for!

The weather was beautiful, the people were awesome, and I successfully put my name out there again! I’m moving up in the world! Well… I like to think so…

packwalk2
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Now, on Saturday, I attended an all-day workshop about therapy dogs. I went through a society called Therapy Animals Of Utah (TAU, formerly called the Delta society). The goal was to get handler certified, and then have you and your dog be certified as a full working, therapy team. Meaning my dog and I are never separated when we are helping patients. We are a team.

The course was from 9am – 5pm. I gave up my only day off to come to this course, so my dog and I could be certified as a therapy team. Since I have been studying canine psychology for the last year, I knew about 85% of what was taught, and had my own opinions about the training methods used, along with the equipment I was allowed to use. I disagreed with some of their methods, and also with the equipment they said was ‘inappropriate’. They didn’t want you even training with certain equipment, which I thought was silly.

For example, any type of chain was unacceptable along with eCollar training. I disagree with this. Now, I think the prong collar should not be used on every single dog, nor does every single dog need it, but I have used this tool in my training in the past. I prefer a head collar, like the Halti (but never Gentle Leader.. not impressed) and just like any tool – a trainer should help you learn how to use it correctly. Their reasoning behind not using prong collars, eCollars, or choke chains was that it could hurt the dog or a person. I was stunned.. such an uneducated way of saying this. Prong collars are a great tool if used correctly. Of course someone can get hurt if it used incorrectly on the dog. ANY TOOL can hurt a person or a dog if used incorrectly.

They wanted you to use a back-clip harness, flat collar and a leash combination, or a martingale collar. Yes, these are all great, but I still really prefer the head collar. They said you can use it, but it is often mistaken as a muzzle, so you will have to explain yourself all the time with this. No shit.

Obviously, I’m starting to get irritated now. It’s like they were treating me like I didn’t know anything. However, I took deep breaths, and realized that everyone there (except me) weren’t trainers, and didn’t study the different equipment, or psychology. So… I listened, and just said ‘ok.’ Every once in a while when I had an educated question like ‘Why don’t you allow front-clip harnesses? I ask because a back-clip harness is promoting the dog to pull, and that’s the opposite of what we want, right?’

TAU2Anyway, back to the course. Right before lunchtime, we were broken up into workshops, and I was stationed at the grooming section. We were discussing proper dental care, and I asked a question, “I take a more holistic approach in raising my animals, and I would rather not put my dog under for anesthesia for a dental cleaning ever 6 months. I have moved to a raw diet and I give marrow bones to keep teeth clean, and I believe it does a much better job. I also use a frankincense/oil blend to clean ears because I won’t use anything that isn’t organic on my dog.”  So, after I asked my educated question, and explained my reasoning, the instructor said, “Actually, a dog that eats raw cannot be certified as a therapy animal. The bacteria in the raw meat that may be left behind on the animal’s mouth, lips, paws, etc is a risk to people who have a weakened immune system. Like people who are pregnant, sick, cancer patients, infants, or elderly people.”

I was shocked… and my heart dropped, I could hardly speak. I was at a loss. I ended up saying how ridiculous I thought that was, and how if a 3 year old who was sick touched another person in the hospital, it was more dangerous than my dog getting someone sick with ‘raw meat residue’ on the mouth. Which, I might point out – with proper grooming techniques, especially within a hospital environment, is improbable.

So, I went back to my place at the table and sat down… by myself… and proceeded to tear up like a baby while lunch was getting ready. I have been preparing for 8 months for this course, and to be evaluated. Napoleon is ready. I have managed his adrenaline levels, and every aspect of the course, he would ace with flying colors. This one little thing – this thing I wasn’t aware of until now – has completely thrown me off, and we have been disqualified. I was so upset that no one told me. I was upset that it felt like I wasted my time on Saturday – my only day off. And didn’t learn hardly anything. I was upset that I have put 8 months worth of work into my dog to make him a therapy dog, and now, we can’t qualify.

So, I took a walk really quickly, and then came back, and attended the last ½ of the course. I realized I also disagreed with some of the training methods they were using the rest of the day. For example, the dog would show signs of stress management (lip licking, yawning, whale eyes, turning body or head away, furrowed brow, etc) and it was the trainer’s responsibility to ‘assure’ the dog by giving praise and positive reinforcement for this behavior to make the dog feel safe. In my opinion, by giving the dog positive reinforcement when it is stressed, you are reinforcing this behavior, thus I don’t agree.  The way I would handle this would be to get the dog out of the situation, and then introduce slower and keep the dog beneath the threshold entirely. As soon as you start seeing signs of coping (again the stress management), I would back off, and slow down. I would also keep sessions between 10-20 minutes, even if the session is going well. You want to end on a good note. The instructors here also didn’t believe this, and just want to ‘manage’ the stressors and see signs of when the dog is finally done (tail between legs, shaking, whining, etc). In my opinion (again), I wouldn’t let it get this far. At this point, you can no longer train, the dog has shut down. It’s too late to use this opportunity to learn, and you might have pushed the dog too far.  This creates a negative memory about therapy work, location, situation, smell, etc – whatever the ‘trigger’ maybe next time, and now you have to worry about ‘fixing’ it instead of ‘management’, which is a lot harder.

Overall, I disagree with the restriction on raw, and I disagree with the core training methods used with this organization, and it’s probably a good thing that we won’t quality. I will need to find another organization that I agree with the training methods, and can happily volunteer for. It is unfortunate I lost a whole day, but at the same time, I am so happy that I did because I know what to look for in other therapy organizations now.

I feel I have cleansed myself of that seething anger I felt initially, and replaced it with acceptance and peace. I’m ok.

P.S.

By the way, you will be hearing less of me in the coming few weeks because I am studying my canine theriogeneology course, and I have enrolled in an obedience course with Napoleon. I need some time for me, and I won’t be on to update all the time, so when I do have time, my posts might be longer (like this one) than normal.

Why do I want to be a dog trainer?

I get this question asked a lot. ‘How/why did you get into dog training?’ Well, it was because of a dog, of course.

I have always loved animals, and especially dogs… and puppies! But within the last few years, I realized I haven’t been entirely happy with my life. Why? I make good money, I have a great husband, and our lifestyle is awesome. We have a house, and I’m living the American Dream. Well, almost. I wasn’t doing what I love.

Dane

Not Albert, but this dog kind of looks like him.

This realization hit me when I was taking Napoleon in for his post-surgery checkup after he was diagnosed with Mast Cell Cancer last year. I was a client of the Banfield hospital, located within Petsmart. On that very day, a local rescue called Lost Paws had their adoption day within Petsmart. They brought with them an emaciated, timid black Great Dane. His name was Albert.

I’m already partial to Danes, but for some reason, this one … spoke to me. He looked at me with his sad eyes, and they said, ‘help me. Please. Help me.’. I sat with him, and talked to him, and completely fell in love with this dog. His spirit was broken, his body was a wreck. He had been left outside to fend for himself, so he had sores on his body from the pavement. He was an intact 3 year old male with little to no training. However, he had a very calm demeanor, and seemed to be fearful of a lot of things: cats, people, other dogs, cars, the leash, kids, etc. I was in love with him. We connected immediately, and I told the person I needed to talk to my husband.

I could socialize this dog. I could let him have a wonderful life with us. I could clean him up and tell him that it’s ok to be scared sometimes, but with me – he would have nothing to be scared about. I would train him, and socialize him, and help him, and show him love. He could be happy and he would do well with us.

I told my husband about him, already knowing that he might not be ok with this. He asked me, ’How do you plan to get him home?’. I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. He was a Dane, and I had a small car. . . with my other large dog. He asked me if he was crate-trained. I wasn’t sure. Potty trained? Again, I wasn’t sure. Any training at all? Probably not. Seems the cards were against me, since my husband and I both worked during the day.

undeweight dane

Again, not Albert, but he was this underweight

I cried, and fought, and tried to get my way for Albert. I don’t mind having an untrained dog, especially with the temperament Albert had. However, I understand where my husband was coming from. We didn’t have the time to train him. To socialize him and give him the time this boy needed to get better. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to help so badly.

During this time, I realized this is where I belonged. Helping animals, saving them, and getting them into better positions. I looked into being a vet technician, helping shelters and rescues, and being a dog trainer.

At first, I wanted to get into the medical field as a veterinarian. That was my dream as a kid. But when I realized you had to go to school for 12 years, and then you spend ½ your income on liability insurance, and malpractice insurance, and then you have to open up your own practice… it just seemed daunting. So, again, I’m faced with this decision.

I did research to become a veterinary technician and I was fascinated. I looked into a school very close by…and realized the cost for an Associates degree in Veterinary Technology was as much as my Bachelor’s Degree was… I’m still paying those off. This became less of a possibility. Though, I didn’t lose hope, and I was determined.

I applied for about a hundred scholarships. Then, I did more research into other fields and possibilities in the animal industry and realized what I really want to do. Train and rehabilitate difficult dogs. I am interested in rehabilitation training for dogs who have been best, unsocialized, attacked, and just needed help. I want to also do therapy training, guard training, aggression training and help in an animal rescue. I’m still interested in the medical side of things as well, but the deeper I get into the training world, the more I love it.

Yes, I have been overwhelmed at times, but it’s not because of the task of training a difficult dog (which I’ll write about later), it’s because I am working so many hours a week, and it feels like it will never end. It feels like sometimes, I’m not making enough of a difference and that even though I’m already working 60+ hours a week, I’m not doing enough.

This is the reason why I have registered for more classes. I feel like I can do more. I can learn more, I can participate more. The more I do, the more I am valued. Though, I know this isn’t really true, but it’s the way I feel. The more classes I take, the more educated I can become, the more valued I am in the dog industry.

I want to be great. I will be great. I am just at the tip of the iceberg though. And I’m ok with that. I have a lot to learn, but I am surrounded by a great support group, and have some awesome trainers in my area who will help me get there. The hardest point for me is that I am progressing so slowly (in my opinion). I want to just learn and study and practice all day, every day. But I have a job. I have a career, and I have responsibilities. I cannot abandon them.

So, I am going as quickly as time will allow without jeopardizing my current position, or my family life. It is difficult, but I will eventually get there. I just have to keep telling myself there is light at the end of the tunnel. I will do this full time… eventually. And I will be great… eventually. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I think I am on the right path.

Productive Weekend

PupsWell, even though I didn’t get a lot of down time this weekend, I had a blast! I hired my friend’s son to come out and help with some yard work, had some adult drinks, and had plenty of puppy play time on Saturday and Sunday!

Raven

Friday, after I came home from training, I got all caught up on paperwork, brushed the kitties, and then headed to bed early. I had an early start the next day. Even though there was no social class on Saturday, I had a ton of yard work to do. Winter cleanup always hits me hard, and I just can’t seem to catch up. So, I hired a teenager to come do the dirty work. My friend brought her 2 furkids over to play with Napoleon, and we ended up helping and digging out a dead pine tree out of my yard. We were fabulous!

PlaydateWe worked for four and a ½ hours, and ended the day getting about 75% of the yard done, a nice sunburn, and some tired pooches. I was really happy to make a new friend, and get to know her and her son a little better. We’ll have to have a BBQ or go up to the creek to have the dogs play a bit sometime. It was really fun.

On Sunday, they came back to help me finish the yard, and have our furkids play again. I had another friend come over with her Newfie puppy and it was like a small dog park in my yard for about an hour. Well, as I have mentioned previously, I have a problem with my dog mounting. Saturday, we pretty much took care of the problem, but Sunday – he started mounting the puppy in full force.

NapoleonBeau

I try to catch this before it happens, but sometimes, he is pretty quick. I can catch it about 80-90% of the time before he actually does the mount. When he does successfully jump on the other dog, I have tried saying his name sternly/loudly to get his attention, spray bottle/vinegar to the face, pet convincer, pulling him off and then tethering him for ‘calm down’ time, tethering him to me, and completely separating him from the other dog (having him kenneled or put somewhere else – out of eyesight. I have started kneeing him hard in the chest when I catch up right before he mounts. All of these things sometimes work, but are not 100% reliable. If he is really adrenalized, he stares at me and does it anyway. I don’t feel this is a leadership issue, as we don’t have any of the other problems with challenging, pulling on the leash, not listening, jumping, etc. He is a high energy, over-adrenalized dog. I can put all of this problems into that one category, and I have enlisted the help of another trainer on this problem, as what I know isn’t working. We start an obedience course that will also cover this problem on Saturday.

Playdate2I think my last option to handle this behavior is an eCollar. We have tried everything else, and this is one behavior I have yet to be able to curb. So, we’ll be working on this in full force. I will be purchasing a Tri Tronic bark collar  soon.  I will need to speak to my local trainer about which one is right for my needs with Napoleon, but I’m excited to try a new approach with him. I will need to learn more about the eCollar in the meantime. As soon as I take my Certification program from K9 Lifeline, I will be Certified in eTouch (using eCollars and the like). I don’t feel comfortable teaching this to clients until then. I want to make sure I know what I’m talking about before I go and introduce a new tool.

Anyway, we finished up the lawn, had a great weekend with some puppies, and at the end of the day on Sunday, I finished it off by watching some Scrubs. My second favorite show. My first favorite is Grey’s Anatomy.

How did you spend your weekend?Chaco