His story comes to an end

Hard decisions make us the people we are. We want to be the one to make the hard decisions and take charge of a difficult situation. Sometimes, this is easier said than done. Sometimes, we want to be the person who is being taken care of, instead of the decision maker.

You see, when you become a trainer, it’s not all about playing with puppies and teaching Sit/Stays. You have to work through the hard issues too. Hard issues like euthanasia of a difficult dog. Hard issues like the possibility of having an aggressive or dangerous, unpredictable dog in the presence of a child. Specifically a very large dog who is unpredictable.

You can work as hard as you can, but it’s not enough. Again, now is one of those times. I did everything I knew how to do and exhausted every resource. I made all the recommendations, and the family followed through with all the homework. They really did everything, too. But it comes down to how much progress has been done and how much more needs to be accomplished. It’s more than what I can do, it’s more than what the family could do. Even if he went with the best trainer in the world, I believe the outcome may have been the same. There was a ‘right’ family out there for him, but either it wasn’t the right time, they weren’t experienced enough yet, or they didn’t hear my cries for help. Either way, the decision has been made and the end has come. I also can’t think like that anymore – there is always something else to do. That’s a pet owner’s way of thinking, and I will torture myself thinking ‘What if?’. Thinking as a trainer, I exhausted all resources and didn’t come to this decision lightly.

The question needs to be asked, “Can you trust this dog to make the right decision?”. The answer was No. It has been no for the last 8 months, and I don’t see this changing. With dogs like this, you have to constantly be on your guard and be ready in case things go bad. The one time you let your guard down will be the one time something might happen. This dog was fine 95% of the time, but in those small moments when he wasn’t, bites have happened. A dog that gives no warning is the most dangerous kind of dog. A dog that is unpredictable makes this situation even worse. Even though he is sweet 95% of the time… the moment you let your guard down is when something will happen. This dog was not a monster, but sweet and confused. The product of a hard puppy-hood and negligence and malnutrition. He was a great dog.

It’s exhausting, and you don’t see an end. A decision needs to be made. Can you rehome the dog? Can you adopt them out? Is euthanasia the only option? How do you find the right home? What are the conditions of adopting out an unpredictable, dominant, possibly aggressive dog? What about liability? Is that a life for the family? Why should they have to do this? What kind of quality is that kind of life for a dog? And what if, at some point, he does finally get to be a decent dog? How much time will this senior dane have left? How much time will he get to enjoy his hard-earned freedom? How many people are willing to take on a project senior Great Dane who is likely to bite again? These were all things that we discussed. These were all valid points, and unfortunately, the answer was that in the most ideal family, and with the best training, he would still be a project dog and once the training was ‘done’ (because training is never ‘done’), he wouldn’t have much time left in his short life.

That’s always something to think about. At some point, you need to weigh the cost and quality of life for the animal. Euthanasia is a better alternative, and this way, he can be happy.

Sometimes, that means euthanasia is the best option. Weighing this option is never an easy topic. It’s never easy to think about or discuss, especially with a dog that isn’t yours. How do you even bring up this topic? What if you get attached and you don’t want to accept it yourself?

I have always been of the opinion that euthanasia was an unnecessary option. It was a ‘lazy’ option for people who didn’t want to fix the problem. But after seeing some of the best trainers in the United States have to make the same decisions, my opinion was swayed. I still want to do everything else to not have to make this decision, and I thought that when I had to discuss with a client, it wouldn’t be this dog. It wouldn’t be this client, and it would be years later in my training. But after exploring every angle, talking to the best trainers, and discussing options with the family, I am confident this is the right decision. Even though it hurts and feels like I’m being ripped apart. I know in my heart this is right.

What happens when you have to have this discussion, not only with a client, but with a friend? I handled it in a way that I knew how. I thought about how, if a trainer told me this was the best option for MY dog, how would I want to be told? These are my friends, and I love this dog. But that doesn’t mean it made it any easier. In fact, this made it harder. Part of the job – the hardest part. This is the part where trainers get judged the most, and where second guessing makes this decision even harder.

I’m trying to turn this around and think in a positive light. This will make me a better trainer. I’m sure I will have this same discussion again in the future. If I want to work with difficult dogs, which I do – this is not the last time I will discus euthanasia. I can do it, and I will learn how to better handle these situations. I can learn from this experience and I can learn from everything this dog had to teach me. I won’t forget anything, and I won’t tarnish his memory by making the same mistakes again. I will remember this dog and all the work the family did, the dog did, and how much I put into him. It’s not anyone’s fault it didn’t work out. I will get better, and just like Albert, I will learn from Ryder. To see all of Ryder’s progress, see his notes here.

I love you, kid.

R.I.P. Ryder
2010-2013

Taken on 7/24/13

Taken on 7/24/13

MemorialStone1

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!)

Paranoid

This quote really describes how I feel right now

Yesterday, I wrote about friendship and about how lonely I am. More and more I am noticing I am intentionally left out or not invited to lunch, to “girl’s night” or just dinner. My husband says it’s because everyone is busy and it’s the summer so people have things to do. Kids are out of school, and everyone is spending family time with each other. Is that true? That hanging out with friends is just not a priority, or is it me? It is because we don’t have kids, so we don’t fit in with this crowd?

I find myself getting ignored, talked over, and being completely forgotten. It’s not only in just one place. It’s at work, it’s with old friends, new friends, at home, in my neighborhood. Am I just blind, and not seeing when some people make an effort?

Again, my husband says that I’m just seeing the bad because I’m ‘in the darkness’ right now. Which is what we call it when I’m having a ‘depression episode’.

Nothing is wrong in my life. No horrible trauma has happened. Normal every day stressors are happening every day, but right now, it feels like every little thing that is going wrong is the end of the world.

For example, my husband asked me today, “You called me to tell me one thing, and now you are freaking out and getting all emotional. What’s wrong – what’s really wrong? Because you are throwing this out of proportion.”

Well, what is wrong…?

Maybe it’s because my neighbor’s sprinkler was flooding our front yard.  A company our neighbor hired went over to talk to them about it and my husband wants to hire them to work on our lawn.

If we hire them, we aren’t going to have any money. We will go bankrupt. We will have to eat ramen and mac and cheese, and we’ll get unhealthy and fat. We’ll have horrible skin and get acne. Then, we can’t afford to feed the animals, and they’ll have to eat normal store-bought food instead of eating raw.

And because we won’t have any money, I will have to get another job and work extra to make more money to make up for all the bills we are skipping. I will have to quit my business and then abandon my dream.

And what about how I feel? My heart won’t stop, I can’t catch my breath, I can’t see straight, and I couldn’t sleep last night because I was crying, and thinking about how no one likes me and really doesn’t want to hang out with me.

What if everyone is just pretending to be nice to me because they are nice people?  Am I that repulsive? Do people really not want to be around me? Well, I think I’m done then. I’m done asking people to hang out. I’m done expecting people to ask me to lunch. I’m done asking if people want to come over and walk their dogs with me or come have a drink. Or watch this stupid Vampire Diaries show, which I have never seen, but I thought it would be fun to do with some friends. I’m done asking people to be friends. I can’t do it anymore.

How do I handle all this? I put on the happy suit and go about my day – hiding my invisible battle. Hiding my feelings and just pretending like everything is ok. Because I have to fake it to make it. Right?

RyderFinally, a paid holiday off. Tomorrow is Independence Day. I’m not looking forward to the kids or the fireworks or the noise. But I am looking forward to no work, no training appointments, and I actually get to do something for myself for once. And I am boarding Ryder – a Great Dane I have been working with. I should really get around to writing an update about him. He is back and forth on progress, but overall, it’s one step forward, ½ step back every single day. Progress is incredibly slow, but he has made significant changes since we started working with him. He is way more balanced. Now that I know more about him since the workshop, I see changes, and I see respect and calm behavior… As soon as he feels he can be disrespectful, he will. Anyway, I will have to write about this later…if anyone cares.

Difficult Dog Workshop

Difficult-dog-training-utah-county-k9-lifelineLast week, I had the opportunity to attend a difficult dog training workshop hosted by K9 Lifeline. Heather Beck and her staff taught us how to handle aggression, stubbornness, and over-adrenalized behavior.

Of all the things we talked about (which was a lot, it was a 4 day workshop), there was one particular thing I wanted to highlight that has changed the way I train. It was completely life changing.

See, when I started out, I was positive techniques only. Now, I realize that if I want to work with truly difficult dogs, I need to adjust the way I train. Happy go lucky dogs benefit from positive techniques, but they also learn to be over-adrenalized and can’t learn to calm themselves down. So, you also introduce another problem with using only positive techniques.

Now, one of the major things I learned that I need to work on is adjusting how I feel when working with a difficult dog. I preach patience, patience, patience, but I wasn’t practicing unconditional patience with the dog I brought to the workshop. After the instructor pointed out I was tense, I realized … I was! And I found myself frustrated as well because I felt like we weren’t getting anywhere. So, I adjusted my attitude and instead of thinking, “I’m going to stand here and wait until you realize we aren’t going anywhere until you give up.” to “Let me show you what I want, and we’ll go from there. Whenever you get amped up, we stop and I apply pressure. Once you calm down, the pressure goes away. I’ll wait so we can set you up to succeed. We’ll take as long as you need.” I learned to have unconditional patience, and I also realized that when we are training, I can’t stop until we make it a good note.

dog-training-utah-county-newfoundland-difficult-dogLast night, I was training a 6 month old Newfoundland puppy. We have been training for a few weeks, but I saw aggression yesterday while we were training. We haven’t seen this before from him. This is the ‘fight’ stage, and we need to work him through it (carefully so no one gets hurt). We were practicing working with the Halti with the family, and I was having the younger kids work with him to learn how to use the pressure appropriately. Well, one of the kids didn’t want to be there (we’ll call him Kid B), he didn’t want to train, and it seemed he didn’t like the dog either. So, as soon as he took the leash, he was a bit heavier with the corrections, and the dog turned on him and started nipping, jumping, growling, and barking at him. So, I corrected the child, and we worked the puppy through it. He eventually calmed down, and then we did another round with me, then mom, then then Kid A, and then back to Kid B. The dog again, got aggressive, so I took the leash because I was worried the kid would actually get hurt (this is now a 70 lb puppy who is biting, not nipping anymore). I corrected him softly with just pressure from the Halti, and he took a good 15 minutes to calm down. I got bit a few times on the hand, but then he jumped to bite towards my stomach. No blood, just bruises, but that surprised me. I’m applying what I learned at the difficult dog workshop, and we didn’t give up until the dog was calmed down and on a positive note. We can’t stop when he’s being aggressive because he will learn that’s what he needs to do to get people to do what he wants.

So, I assigned the family to have just the older kids (2 more kids who weren’t here for today’s training) and mom work with him for now since he does bite hard and is fighting so much. This is the first step of learning a few technique. FIGHT – and that’s exactly what he’s doing. So, we need to work him through it.  I checked how I felt while working with him. I was concentrating on not getting mauled, and I was working on my feelings. I’m not scared of getting bit, it’s going to happen at some point. I want to avoid it, but I’m not scared. I felt… calm, relaxed, but focused. I was concentrating on focusing that energy towards him.  He did eventually calm down and we could end the training on a good note and kennel him to process everything he learned.

So, just a few days after I learned how to calm my own mind, I’m learning how to do this with my clients’ dogs, and I saw success. Even though I was late to my next appointment, I wasn’t ending until I saw him relax and calm down and accept what I was trying to teach him. I didn’t give up, and I was focused on being calm and working him through it.

Off-Leash Excursion

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

———-

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?

Success Story

Since I haven’t posted in over a week, I wanted to start out with a few random thoughts of the day. First of all, I was looking at my all time top search phrase, and the number 1 top search phrase was ‘sexwoman’. 40 views were made from this phrase. The next top phrase was ‘gay marriage’ with 8 views. Wow… I didn’t know I sexualized my blog so much, but yay for me, I guess!

Secondly, I just passed 2,000 views on my blog. Again, yay me! I started my blog in February, and haven’t tried to boost my traffic at all. This is an informative blog that I have shared with my facebook account, and to gain support in my journey with my new business and my mental illness. I’m quite proud to say I think I have helped people realize what is going on in my head, and helped them understand a bit more about being bipolar.

IMG_1636Thirdly, I have a success story to share. Napoleon and I have been working on long-distance stays and distraction/impulse control training. We have implemented a lot more ‘rest time’ into his schedule, and done 30 minutes of vigorous training in one session, and then plenty of down time afterwards. I have noticed such a difference, that sometimes I think I have a whole new dog!

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Napoleon had an opportunity to train around A LOT of distractions. I had my family come over, and they normally love to give him attention. We practiced a long-distance down-stay while I was in the kitchen making lunch, as my 3year old niece was running around playing and screaming. We were also babysitting a puppy, and my dad had the puppy on a leash so she wouldn’t get away and run around the house. So, my dog had to down-stay while I was making food ( a HUGE challenge for him is impulse control around food), a loud child, a puppy, and having new people in the house.

What was our result?! SUCCESS!! He stayed in a down for about 15 minutes around all the distractions. I then broke his stay with a recall, and then put him closer to the distractions and tried again. The puppy got away from my dad and wanted to play with Napoleon. He got up after about 5 minutes of abuse from this mouthy poodle/pointer mix. Then, I put him back in a stay in the hallway for about 10 minutes and then kenneled him so he could learn everything we practiced. He did AWESOME! I was so proud! This was a huge milestone for him. Usually, when there are people around, food, and the excitement levels are high, he really struggles, and my anxiety levels sky rocket. When I’m anxious, it is not the time to train. He really helped me that day because he was completely awesome the entire time.

Rainbow Bridge

The loss of a dog is sometimes harder than the loss of a person. Why? I believe it’s because the dog can never hurt you. The dog never gave you any reason to be less of a person and ‘act out’.

A dog can be your best friend, even while they are getting in trouble. Their whole purpose in life is to try to make you happy. They want to be with you every second they can, they want to make you feel better when you are sad, and they want you to know they can help clean up after dinner.

It’s always hard to lose a family member, furry or non-furry, it still hurts. No matter how they go, it doesn’t make it any easier. Which leads me to the reason of my post today; the loss of a family pet.

My mother’s dog just passed away on Saturday, after sixteen years of life. It wasn’t unexpected, just… you never really are prepared for it. For the last few years, I had been dreading this phone call. And Saturday, while I was driving to my training class, my mom called me and told me the news.

Shock. Sadness. Sorrow. Guilt. Loss. Denial. Acceptance.

All the feelings I had at once. When an animal is always in your family, you get used to them, and don’t expect they will ever leave you. You don’t expect it, and when it happens, you tell yourself this can’t be happening. But then almost immediately, reality sets in, and you tell yourself she was old, and her health had been declining.

My mom did an awesome job taking care of her the last few years. Handmaking her food, paying for her medicine every month, carrying her around the house, making sure she is tethered somewhere safe so she won’t fall down the stairs.

My heart was heavy and sad, but it wasn’t only because of the loss of a family dog. It was because this dog meant so much to my mom.

Just like any animal lover, you form an attachment with your animals that you can’t put into words, you can’t explain why you prefer your dog over your family sometimes, but you do. And this phone call was painful to me in that way because I know the same feeling. And the loss kind of feels like you have lost part of yourself.

I talked to my mom, I helped her handle the situation, and I was late to training. When I got there, it was hard to focus because this dog was also my dog for 10 years, and then I moved out and went to college. When you have a puppy, or a dog who is so full of life, you don’t think about the moment when they won’t be around anymore. But because of this incident, I have started thinking about this. This makes me treasure every moment I have with my own dog so much more.

As hard as this is, we knew it was coming. But again, it doesn’t make it any easier. It doesn’t make it bearable, or make the pain go away.  It just means it wasn’t unexpected. My heart is with my mom, even though we are miles away. I’m sad about the death of a family pet, but I’m also sad for my mom. I want to be there and hug her and tell her it’s ok, and help her through this because I know the feeling she has right now. I know the feeling of complete vulnerability and sadness. No one can help, no one can do anything to make this feeling go away, and I know that all too well. However, I just want to be there.

So, in loving memory of Hershey, I am posting the Rainbow Bridge poem, because it helps. Even though I’m not religious, I do believe there is a special spiritual place where dogs can go. Their souls are innocent, and if there is a place like that – they all deserve to be there.

Rest in Peace, Hershey.

Rainbow-Bridge-Poem