Saturday, September 29, 2012

Play, play, PLAY WITH ME NOW!

Very few dogs will play with Langley because he really is an ass when it comes to other dogs. Langley is all about himself. He wants to play so badly but the other dog typically gets overwhelmed and then Langley resorts to bullying to get his way.

In this video you see Langley attempting to engage my somewhat persnickety boy Frodo in a game of chase and Frodo wants nothing to do with him.  Frodo is always pretty aloof to foster dogs after the first day but he is able to hold his own for the most part. He's had plenty of practice, that's for sure.

This is a great example of one dog doing his best to send body signals that they are not interested, don't want to get into an altercation and really want the other dog to go away.  And Langley is a good example of a dog totally ignoring all those body signals and being a complete teen puppy punk. It's either Langley's way or there will be a loud tantrum.

While it was pretty funny to watch, it shows how Langley doesn't really understand "interacting" with other dogs but is more about just getting his way. We're working on this with him but it definitely is something that we are struggling with.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Magic Mushroom goes for a spin

Here's another new toy that Langley is testing out. He did pretty well and quickly learned that just rolling it on the side didn't get that much kibble out.  This toy needs to be flipped around quite a bit before it was going to give him any kibble.

The Magic Mushroom is made by Petmate and one nice touch to this food dispensing toy is that you can alter the size of the hole that the kibble comes through to match the difficulty to the dog. Next time we use this toy I plan on making it a little tougher because as you can see, Langley was pretty quick this time at getting the mushroom emptied out.

It comes in 2 sizes and I recommend the larger of the two to all but the teensiest of dogs because it's a very lightweight toy and the larger version is going to make your dog work more to manipulate it.  The mini mushroom would be much easier to just toss around and quickly empty.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A new part of our training routine: doing nothing

Sometimes the best thing to do when faced with what seems like an unsolvable task is nothing. No, seriously!

For months now I've been working with Langley and always he's been "Crazy Train" Langley, or "Wildman" or an "issues dog" and even at times a "last chance" dog. I want to help him, and I know I've helped him a lot but we have so much more ground to cover and my brain is constantly picking at the problems and trying to untangle everything so I can understand him and what makes him tick.  Today I hit that point where in Dr. Seuss' words I had puzzled until my puzzler was sore. 

I uncrated him for yet another of our endless rounds of work and play-work, and potty training work and impulse control work that we do each day.  He walked over, stretched out on the ground, rolled over on his back and cocked his head to the side to look up at me, ears flopping and tongue hanging out, and he made me laugh out loud. This dog is king of the goofy looks. And then I decided, "screw it". We were both tired of the same old song and dance, and I decided we both needed to just chill out and have some time to veg without focusing on what needed to be fixed.

Langley's trademark goofball pose
Langley has always been an avid TV watcher.  Since he is so alert visually, it really catches his attention and he'll sit quietly on the couch and watch for awhile and then relax and fall asleep.  I don't watch much TV but needed to not think for awhile so we stretched out on the couch, turned on a rerun of Green Wing and prepared to laugh.  Langley stretched out in front of me on the couch and soon was asleep on his back making cute little snoring noises, all four  of his long legs straight up in the air under the blanket.  We laid like that for 2 hours, him snoring and me laughing and petting him and just appreciating that joy of doing nothing and thinking about nothing with a warm, sweet dog stretched out beside you. 

So this experience hasn't solved the puzzle of what makes Langley tick and we are back at our training games tonight, but it did remind me that sometime when training a dog who needs a lot of help, I need to change my focus and just appreciate them and be with them rather than seeing them as a puzzle to solve.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ode to a Steer

No greater sacrifice has been made than that of a steer. Well, yes, they are castrated so that they can add weight to their hindquarters and turn into better steaks, but initially they have given up the life of the bull - a life full of testosterone and being the herd's badass.

But I'm here to say that their penises did not go to waste! No, they were stretched, sometimes braided or knotted, dried and then turned into a "bully" or "pizzle" stick. 

Here at the Casa de Rat, they work better than Xanax to keep this foster mom sane.  I always keep a bully bouquet high on a shelf for times when silence or calmness are required.  Since we foster terriers, calm quiet time is like gold: highly valued and with a very high price tag. 

Langley's weekly supply of bully sticks

In this picture you see about $50 worth of bully sticks.  The average Joe would pay about $100 for them but I work at a very nice natural pet store who feels sorry for me and lets me purchase them for my fosters at cost.  This will be Langley's supply of sticks (and my supply of quiet times) for the next 7-9 days.

You all know what a busy boy Langley is and that he needs lots of structured time and something to keep him focused.  Well, when he needs to be in a crate, bully sticks can guarantee a quiet and busy Langley.

There are lots of brands available but our house brand is A.B. Bullies because they are about 2-3 times as thick as most bullies (therefore lasting much longer) and they are also blessedly stink free. It's also a Washington State company, which is nice.

So I thank you Mr. Steer.  Your sacrifice has not been taken for granted.

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's all fun and games...

Langley received a very nice gift of $50 earmarked to purchase him some new puzzle toys and bully sticks to keep his very smart mind busy.  (Thank you!) So at work today, an indie natural pet food store, I picked up 3 new food dispensing puzzles and 2 of the mega sized bully sticks that I can saw into thirds for him and end up with 6 sticks.

There are tons of different types and brands of puzzles out there but what I like to use with Langley are the type that he can push around the living room.  This gives him time out of the crate that is structured and focused, but also that allows me to get work done on the computer in the same room as him.  I've been trying to regularly buy him new ones because he's so smart and quickly figures things out and gets bored.  My hope is that rotating them through will keep him engaged.

In this video he's playing for the first time with a Buster Cube by Jolly Pet. Other toys that fall in this category of puzzles that I like to use are the Kong Wobbler, the Petmate Magic Mushroom, Canine Genius, The Petmate Barnacle, the Omega Treat Ball, and for non-destructive chewers the Starmark Treat Dispensing Balls are nice... 

Typically I would have bought the larger Buster Cube with him to make it more difficult, but this toy is going to be specifically used to leave with him in his crate while I work so we needed the smaller version.

So thanks for the toys and bullies! He is busy with his Buster Cube right now which is giving me time to write this post.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rolling, rolling, rolling...

Langley's been having a rough week. There have been multiple dogs in the house that he's never met and the 3rd of this bunch is actually staying put - our new foster boy, Samish.  All this change was enough to stress Langley out and for Langley more anxiety equals less focus.

In spite of his current short attention span, we are continuing to work on training exercises which teaches him to work with his humans and to look to them for guidance in situations where he feels unsure.

In his true over the top smart dog form he learned roll over with a lure the first time we tried it. We had to go slow with the lure and he was really doing it to follow that treat rather than  understand I wanted him to roll over.  That's okay though since that's how you get started with many tricks. That was the day before yesterday and we only did it 3 times before cutting the session off.  Then yesterday when we went back to it, instead of the hesitant roll, he knew exactly what I was going for when my hand started to move past the side of his head and over he went like a pro as you can see in the video.  Again we cut this off after a few rolls and lots of praise since I want our training sessions to always be a fun part of his day that he looks forward to.

Our next step will be to perfect this roll by slowly removing the lure from the trick and replacing it with a visual cue.  With the speed that Langley learns that may happen tomorrow. :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Mighty 10 Pound Hunter

When I get a new foster dog it can be overwhelming - getting him registered with New Rattitude, taking photos and creating an online album, combing through the shelter paperwork to determine what vetting has been done, if any, trips to the vet, etc.  But the fun part of having a new foster is getting to know the personality of a new dog.  We learn the silly things about how they like to sleep, what toys they prefer, what their bark sounds like and how much they use it...  We also learn about behavioral things like how they get along with other dogs, people, kids and cats, if they've ever had any experiences living in a house, if they've ever been house-trained, etc. All that information can then come together for us to try to find a home that is a good match for a dog's unique personality and needs.  That's the journey we've been on with Samish.

In the house Samish is a calm and quiet little guy.  He gets along with the other dogs and seems happiest when curled up and snoozing in someones lap. He does fine in a crate, doesn't like vegetables, and seems to be house trained.  But once he gets outside this guy turns into a hunting machine!  I swear he's nearly as compulsive about it as Langley.

Samish, climbing through the bamboo hedge to get to a mouse in the woodpile
The difference is that at 10 pounds this guy can fit almost anywhere.  He goes under the 12" deck portion, into the dense bamboo hedge, behind sheds that are pushed against a fence...  What is worrisome though is that when the prey goes over the fence, like any evil squirrel tends to do, he doesn't let that stop him.  He then searches for fence holes, high spots near the ground, spots that could be widened with a little bit of digging.

Because I was so worried that he'd escape and also because getting him to come inside is next to impossible, I've been putting him on an extendable leash when in the back yard and watching him like a hawk.  We're going to have to be really careful when placing him that he doesn't have access to a doggy door and also that his people understand this is a determined little terrier that shouldn't be left alone in a back yard. Ever.

He went to the vet's office on Wednesday to have an exam and get his microchip inserted.  The vet said that he is younger than we were told - probably 2-3 yrs rather than 4-5 yrs.  His knees, heart and lungs were good, however, we discovered the reason for his somewhat stiff gait and occasional trouble negotiating stairs.  On one side his hip is stiff and when his leg is moved around makes a crunchy/clicking sound that I don't want to hear again. Ick.  He doesn't seem to be in any pain from it and was fine having the Dr. manipulate it.  The vet's speculation (can't confirm it without x-rays) is that he has a healed hip fracture and was probably hit by a car at some point.  That would make sense given his single mindedness when he is outside in search of prey.

Anyhow, there's a little more of what we've discovered about this sweet boy who is snoozing in my lap while I type.  I'd better go now and get his breakfast ready - minus any extra veggies, of course.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Langley: Check in

Langley and I have been playing a new game in the house called "Check In".  Pretty simple really.  I run somewhere and then stand and say "check in" and Langley runs over sits in front of me and gets a treat.  He loves it and we have been playing it several times a day to make the words "check in" have a really positive connotation for him.

The end goal of this game is that when we are outside in environments that are distracting and overwhelming to him and can trigger compulsive and reactive behaviors I can say "check in" and Langley will be distracted from whatever is triggering him and want to come get that treat or attention since he knows that checking in has a really positive outcome.

This weekend we decided to test out this newly learned skill in the back yard, a place where he is easily triggered by wildlife, rustling plants, dogs barking in other yards. When Langley first had his little break down, nothing could break his focus from his triggers and he would lunge and bark at the end of the leash.  Only physically forcing his head to turn towards me would elicit a split second of recognition and then he was back at it.

Contrast that to this video. Langley was outside for a potty break.  He heard the neighbor's small dog barking on their deck, something that quickly ramps him up, and yet still he was able to respond to my call of "check in".  It's pretty exciting that he's developed this skill and is doing so incredibly with his training.  He's a smart, smart dog who truly loves people so it is a joy to see him grow emotionally.

We'll keep working on this game and practicing inside and outside. Already he is doing more and more check-ins on his own, something he never used to do, and he is getting attention and treats to reinforce this behavior of staying in tune and connected to his human.  Good work, Langley!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Meet little Samish!

When New Rattitude's Lynn Bonham was evaluating several Rat Terriers that we had been notified about at the Kern County shelter in Bakersfield, CA, she came across one small 4-5 yr old male Rattie mix who hadn't been listed on the Pet Harbor Website.  Kern shelter is a pretty awful place for dogs to land and not many make it out so it broke her heart to think of leaving the gregarious little guy.

Of the 5 Rat Terriers there she was able to pull 3 and headed home to Fresno with 2 females and this little mystery guy who had been missed in the shelter so didn't have a chance out.

Samish when he was in Fresno with his temp foster mom, Lynn Bonham
Yesterday Samish was transported up to us here in WA. He weighs about 10 pounds, loves to hunt and is pretty dang adorable.

Right now he is still in what we call the "belly band stage."  All boys are required to wear belly bands for a minimum of 3 days after arriving since the temptation to lift a leg for a nervous guy in a new setting is pretty strong.  He's also still so busy sniffing and learning about the back yard that it's been tough to get good photos of him so we are still working on that. Here he is in Washington, being forced to pose for a photo when he really wants to check the garden shed for mice.

Samish is pronounced like the name "Sam" with "ish" added to the end.  So he's not a Sam, he's just a little "Sam-ish". :)  Like all of our foster dogs in 2012, his name is part of a Washington State theme.  He's named for a beautiful bay that is east of Washington's San Juan Islands.  Here's a good photo of it taken from Larrabee State Park -

Friday, September 14, 2012

Introductions take time

First impressions don't always stick in the dog world.  This week we've had a doggy guest at our house and initially she was not at all enthused about Langley and his over the top, energetic way of greeting a new dog. 

I'm pretty sure in Langley's mind all that was going on was "OMG, OMG, OMGEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!" because that's about how excited he gets when meeting a new dog.  Instead of going into play position, his entire body flattens to the floor in a quivering mass of potential energy and immediately the new dog realizes they are in over their head and is on guard.  Then Langley launches at the dog expecting a Langley style wrestling match and he instead he finds the dog is growling at him with lip curled.  The end result would be a fight if I didn't intercede since Langley is so far over threshold from excitement that his joy quickly turns to reactiveness.

So, instead of right off the bat expecting the dogs to be in the same room together, I separated them so they can't get at each other, but they do see each other.  For the first day this still drove Langley nuts, but gradually, the sight of Chicory became old hat.  She was just another dog in the house like Tilly or Frodo and he could really care less about her. 

Chicory and Langley, hanging out in our small kitchen

This morning Langley jumped the gate into the kitchen, as Langley does regularly since we only have a 36" baby gate.  My first thought was to get him out of there because he just goes in to steal Tilly's stash of little bully stick nubs. Sure enough, that's what he was doing, but when I got into the kitchen to get him, I realized that both Tilly and Chicory were gated inside the kitchen.  I felt panicky but immediately realized that Langley was completely unimpressed by Chicory being in the room.  He looked for bully sticks, got a drink of water, and then came over when he saw that I was treating Chicory and Tilly for sitting calmly.  No altercation and then I picked him up and carried him back into the living room without ever realizing that yesterday this was the dog that had him half crazed.

So remember when you are introducing a new dog into your pack, or if you already have a dog who is slow to warm to new dogs, give them some time to feel comfortable and safe.  Often times a new dog is a nervous and confused and they just need some time before they are expected to settle in.

Tonight we have a new foster boy arriving so this experience with Chicory was a great test drive to see how Langley could handle another dog in the house. Both he and Chicory did great so I think we are ready to have a second foster dog here.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The ever useful "down-stay"

Langley has learned the cue "down" so well that he will be trotting across the room and if I say "Langley, down" he'll belly flop mid stride into a down.  I decided that the next step to teach him is a "stay".  The trick to teaching a good stay is not to expect too long of a stay too soon.  If you do it will be frustrating for both the dog and the trainer since the dog only has so much impulse control in the beginning. That's part of the lesson he's learning - that doing what you've asked, even though it isn't at all what he wants to do can lead to pretty great things - be it treats, praise, or getting a favorite toy.  If you start with a short little stay that you know he can accomplish - a couple seconds even - then you have set him up for success and everyone wins.  The stay can then be lengthened slowly over time.

Since Langley struggles with impulse control, we had to start with a reeeeeeeally short stay - about 2-3 seconds.  Now he's pretty reliable up to 15 seconds.  We'll keep working on it until we can do a pretty long stay. We also will practice him holding a stay while I move around or even when I move out of his line of sight. This isn't the best video since I was so focused on Langley that I wasn't paying attention to the filming but you get the idea.  Mr. Langley has now added a "down-stay" to his repertoire.

All this training isn't just to teach him basic manners  and how to live the life of a house dog.  The most important lesson that I want Langley to learn from all this work is that humans are worth listening to and when things get scary, turning to them for help instead of reacting to his fear is a great option.  It will take awhile but hopefully we'll get there.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chase Time

While we are trying to keep almost all of Langley's time pretty structured, on occasion we just play. And although our house dog Frodo isn't at all fond of Langley's level of energy, he just can't help showing off his speed and tight turns on occasion.  Because Langley ramps up when playing with other dogs and gets overly excited fairly quickly we keep the length of these chase games super short so everyone ends the game happy. This video was shot after Frodo and Langley had been running and chasing for about a minute.  Frodo couldn't help himself and had to get one more loop through the room before calling it quits.

Monday, September 3, 2012

How to keep calm? Lots of structure

Langley is still a bit of an anxious guy, in spite of the meds.  When given free time to just hang out and do his own thing, his anxiety seems to ramp up and then he displays a lot of stress behaviors and things tend to spiral out of control.  To manage that we try to keep his time structured.  I use lots of puzzle games and treat toys so that what would typically be open play time for most dogs is keeping him engaged in an appropriate activity and also keeping his smart brain busy. 

We also do a lot of basic training - things you'd learn at doggy obedience class - and Langley loves to run through speed drills of these things. He is fast and his eyes never waver from me once he is really on a roll.  "Sit - down - play dead - break - heel - down - stay - break - sit - shake" (we are working on adding to our repertoire).  In this video you see him doing this type of work.  He is a bit distracted because (a) he just ate dinner and isn't super hungry and (b) Frodo just went downstairs with a bully stick and he's not sure what he wants to do about that.  Still, he pulls it off in spite of distractions and a full belly.  Good work,  Langley!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Challenging lessons: impulse control

One of the things that can be particularly challenging for a young dog to understand is that just because something is there and because they want it really, really bad, does not mean they get to have it.  Table surfing, stealing other dogs' treats, taking food from a child's hand, etc., are all examples of a dog that hasn't been taught that not everything in the world belongs to them.  Remember, this is not the dogs fault that they are doing that as dogs are impulsive, live in the moment creatures.  But to live in the world peacefully with humans, we expect well behaved dogs to practice this skill and that means that it's our job to teach it.  A dog that steals food off a table is just being opportunistic, not bad. What would be bad is to get angry at the dog for not displaying a behavior that has never been taught.  I'll get off my soapbox though.

While most young dogs tend to lack much impulse control, one of Langley's issues was he had almost no impulse control at all.  We are talking one out of control, hyper prey driven, food motivated dog.  So we've been doing lots of practicing and this is one of the exercises we do. 

On the plate there are a few bits of venison jerky and a little fish kibble - nice and stinky and delicious and Langley REALLY wants to eat it.  Initially every time he tries to eat it my hand clamps down over the food.  He sniffs and paws at my hand and when he realizes he's not going to get any of it he lies down and my hand lifts up again.  We repeat this until he doesn't immediately go for the food when my hand lifts up.  At that point I gave him a piece of kibble from my treat pouch (not from the plate.)  Then the light starts to go on in his furry little head and he lies there looking at me.

At first we start with the food a distance from him since a dog can only take so much temptation. I play with the food, moving it around on the plate, but Langley holds firm. So then we move it closer.

And then so close that it may be considered animal torture in some countries.   That took some serious self control.  You try staring down a delicious mouth watering Haagen Dazs bar and tell me how much fun you are having!

As a reward for such a well done job and enduring this cruel form of puppy torture, Langley was rewarded with a salmon and veggie filled frozen Kong to relax with. He loves all these structured "games" we play and the trick training we do and the result is a terrier that is much more connected and working with his human.

We do a bunch of differenct exercises like this each day and Langley is getting quite skilled and slowly doing better with being able to focus on me when we are outside in areas that really trigger his compulsions.  Of course we have a ways to go but it's better to focus on the baby steps and he's taking a lot of those. Good job, Langley!