Reactive Rovers Summer 2017

Howdy Friends,

It’s has been a while since we last checked in and we’d like to change that by sharing some new exciting things going on around these parts with Ellie and Argos. As you may know, ever since we adopted Ellie from the Lange Foundation in West Los Angeles 4 years ago, Chris and I have struggled with her reactivity. It took a while to realize it was reactivity, combined with some fearfulness but now that we have gotten this far, it was time to actually do something about it. I feel like I’ve been through it all with her;  ear bleeding barking at other dogs, adults, children, critters anything that moves too quickly and makes any disruptive sound. I’m tired of the stares, the head shaking, and the nasty comments. I’m tired of waking people up at 6:00 am when a squirrel crosses our path during our daily walks. Whatever I was doing up until now doesn’t work. It is the time I got some professional help for Ellie and I. Living with a reactive dog can be so painfully tedious and I know this because for 3 years we lived with Argos and it was wonderful. Argos’ qualities are the envy and goal of every dog owner out there.

To this day, I have to walk the dogs at 6:00 am or earlier to avoid other dogs and dog owners on the street. We stick to a bathroom break schedule that is coordinated based on a number of dogs outside at that time of day. Ellie can’t go to dog groomers, dog parks or the veterinarian because she goes bananas. Our last visit to the vet, she hid under the bench because she refused to go near the vet (and the vet was concerned about coming too close due to her low warning growl) so when it was time to perform the exam, I had to hold her down and tuck her head underneath my underarm. Family, friends, and neighbors cannot visit unless they are willing to withstand eardrum splitting barking for 10 minutes before she gives up and runs away to a corner.

It’s time to seriously do something about it and we decided to start with some professional help. Brief research online proved dog behaviorists and trainers are fucking expensive.  Look, I want to help the dog, I really do, but currently, she has other very important and very costly medical expenses. So expensive, private training classes are not an option at the moment for us. Thankfully, we live in Pasadena and the Pasadena Humane Society is top notch. They provide so many great services to the residents at low costs, making it a true treasure. So, Chris and I took a gander and it turned out that they hold “Reactive Rovers” classes at affordable prices. So here I am, first class in, ready to share this journey with anyone who is interested and also documenting the experience as much as I can so I can go back and determine whether certain efforts have been successful.

For our first class, the trainer had us teach and emphasize the ‘focus’ command with our dogs. We did this by taking a treat, showing it to the dog, bringing to the bridge of our nose and just when the dog locks eyes with us, we treat. This was simple for Ellie as she used to stare me down for treats. She sees something, she wants something, and she stares at me until she gets it. Then came the sit command and pretty much all the dogs in the class, six dogs total, were able to follow the command flawlessly. For the first few classes, I imagine such basic commands need to be refreshed as these will be built upon.  Our homework for this week is to read and watch some videos from Tom Mitchell of Naughty But Nice and Victoria Stilwell of Positively. The Naughty But Nice videos include two 3-Minute Game Changers that were really fun to try out this weekend. One is to create and reinforce recall and safe spaces. With the use of two treats, a low value and a high value, you teach the dog that it is awesome to return to my side every time. In our case, I tossed a carrot that Ellie runs out to get, eats and runs back to me for a piece of cheese. We’ll go into it later but we are forced to use vegetables, fruits and non-meat protein for treats.

She is a quick learner, she realized what the game was at once and we did it for 5 minutes. It’s been awhile since I fed her cheese so I also did not want to upset her stomach on the first try. The second game I think it’s Proximity Vortex and the dog is treated for staying by your side no matter where or how you move.

Chris and I decided to spend 20 minutes each day with Ellie, alternating, to practice these concepts. I will practice during our daily walks and see how that goes.

Stay tuned for next week.

Excitement and Submissive Urination

Ellie has a problem. A peeing problem.

Now, don’t get me wrong, she is house-broken. She doesn’t pee and poo randomly indoors. Instead she seems to lose control of her bladder at specific times. The specific times tend to involve someone talking to her or petting her.

I first noticed this pattern when Chris greeted the dogs after coming home from work. It’s a mystery to me that this never happens with me. I also noticed the peeing when I have guests over or when we visit others. I ruled out the little accidents as marking of areas or people because as long as no one excites her attention during first encounters, nothing happens.

In the past, Argos has had  a UTI infection. Concerned that Ellie’s inability to control her bladder was a manifestation of a more serious health issue, I spoke to the Veterinarian about it during her last visit. He had no reason to believe it was anything serious and in fact assured me her accidents had more to do with excitement and/or fear, than a health related issue.

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Sure enough, I came home and did my own research. Ellie has been displaying symptoms of excitement urination. Many websites use excitement urination and submissive peeing interchangeably and I don’t think it helps people understand how best to resolve the issue. I diagnosed Ellie with excitement urination for two reasons.

 

  1. State of Mind: When Chris and I come home, Argos greets us by jumping waist high and we respond with petting and baby voices. I know its wrong. I know that it’s anxiety mixed with excitement and it is wrong to reward it with attention. I’ve tried to correct myself many times but how can I ignore a furry face when I’m just as excited to see it? It is in this very stage of excitement and anxiety that Ellie pees because she acts the same way and we respond the same way.

  2. Chris, my family, and friends have tried to ignore Ellie’s frantic excitement but not Argos. They greet Argos as usual and guess what? Ellie has an accident. No one is saying anything to her but she still hears the ruckus Argos forms, the squeaky voices and she loses it.

The solution is rather simple. Ignore the dog. When Chris comes home, he ignores the jumping dogs, and goes about his routine. Sometimes it takes a while for them to settle down. Ellie will circle his legs a couple of times with a rope toy in her mouth and Argos will continue to jump in the air hoping for a “Good Boy!”. Then, disappointed, they will walk back to the kitchen where I am and lay down on the floor, just as they were right before he came in. No accidents. After a good 15 to 20 minutes Chris walks over to them, gives them a good scratch behind their ears and hands them a freeze dried liver treat.

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Wouldn’t this be wonderful?

Steps to Resolving Excitement Urination:

 

  1. Understand that this has nothing to do with house-breaking.

  2. Let the dog empty it’s bladder more frequently in designated areas. Give the dog a treat after it eliminates in the designated area. I cannot stress enough the power of treats. This will help determine or confirm excitement urination.

  3. When the dog pees, clean it up and say and do nothing. It’s easy and almost involuntary to sound disappointed when you are greeted with a puddle of pee. Clean it and move on. Excitement and submissive urination is involuntary. The dog can’t help it. Don’t sound disappointed or stern for something he or she cannot control.

  4. Ignore the dog when the situations that trigger the involuntary urination come up. Does it happen when you come home after work? Come home, ignore the pup, let it settle down for a good 5 minutes and continue with your routine as you normally would.

 

Man With DogIf after five minutes the still pees, make it ten minutes before you direct attention to it the next day.

This new routine was put into place about two months ago and I thought Ellie was completely over the excitement urination. She quickly proved me wrong when family came over for Super Bowl Sunday. Too many people, too fast, too loud, so much going on! She couldn’t control her excitement.

We often drive over to Chris’s parents home for Sunday dinners and its the same issue. It’s so hard to tell people to ignore my dogs. I often feel they think I am being mean, either to them or the dogs. My requests are disregarded or forgotten and peeing ensues. I can’t blame them, my dogs are adorable 😀

I have no doubt she’ll grow out of it. According to my web browsings, the issue is common in puppies and sometimes it happens to adult dogs, later in life.

I mentioned earlier that I feel that excitement urination and submissive urination should be distinguished from each other  if only for the sake of addressing the issue and thus resolving it. It seems that there are other factors that account for submissive urination. For timid dogs and un-socialized puppies they are eager to show submission. This could be due to fear, anxiety or timidness.

Steps To Resolving Submissive Urination:

 

  1. If peeing happens, when it shouldn’t, clean it up and move on. Don’t scorn or sound disappointed. The mere act of submission is a survival mechanism at work “Look, you be the boss alright?”

  2. For submissive urinators, certain sudden gestures will trigger the issue. Don’t approach in dominant positions or with dominant gestures. Don’t approach at all. Let the dog come to you. Go down to their level and wait for the dog to make the next move. I’ve seen dogs scoot in as this happens. Dominant gestures consist of sudden movements such as bending down from the waist and talking to the dog or direct eye contact.

  3. Give a command. Sit, down, roll-over etc. and treat if the command is followed through. This will help build the dog’s confidence.

The point of any of these steps here or anywhere else on the web is to remove the situation that triggers the involuntary urination. If you just rescued a shelter dog and you suspect fear and timidness is at the root of the problem, love that darn dog and show it that it has nothing to fear anymore. Whatever you do, don’t get frustrated with your pup, these solutions do work.

I used several websites such as www.petmd.com and www.banfield.com for information and resources. I am open to suggestions for reading materials, so suggest away!

Running with Dogs

running-with-dogsExactly two months ago I wrote about running/jogging with my dog Ellie as a weight loss program for myself and physical and mental exertion program for her. If someone had told me I was going to be able to run 2.5 miles without complaining, crying or screaming murderous rants, I would have thought it a really mean thing to say to me. I hated running. I would have rather licked the floor of a busy public restroom than to think about running. Alas, I strapped on my sneakers, harnessed the dog and took off, for my clothes were feeling tight and the lack energy was slowly killing me. However, I didn’t do it by myself.

Chris and the Pooch to 5k guide had a lot to do with my success. Chris made sure I kept my word when I said I would go out for a jog, kept me company and learned that to encourage me best, guilt tripping would be ideal. The Pooch to 5k guide was great to check my endurance progress as the weeks went by.

It is not easy to run with a puppy. Their training is yet to be fully ingrained and they are easily distracted. This means I am often being pulled along for the ride. Sometimes I just want to relax while I run. That’s right, I said it, relax.  While we all must always be aware of  our surroundings (traffic, cyclist, and other pedestrians),when running with a dog, specially a puppy like Ellie, you need to pay even more attention.

personal trainer dog

As I run with Ellie, I am still constantly training her. Correcting her when she starts to run in front of me, knowing and catching her “I need a break” signal, and most important of all, calming her mind.  As soon as we begin running, all of a sudden, it’s so much action! So much to pay attention to and so little time to dawdle! Cars are zooming by! Its crazy! This, I’m sure, is what races through her mind once we start pounding the sidewalk. It takes her a good half mile to 1 mile to settle in and follow along at a regular pace. Sometimes I just need a break from that, so once a week I run alone.

Argos rarely runs with me but boy is he an expert runner! He usually accompanies Chris and they keep up with each other very well. Argos is three years old and although he’s never jogged regularly, he’s a natural. I think his obedience training is set, he understands commands quickly and is self aware at all times. He knows better than to run in front of someone.

If you’ve never exercised with your dog and you are interested in teaching your dog to run with you, below is the list of things I did to begin.

Supplies:

  • Will power. LOTS of will power
  • Sneakers/comfortable clothes
  • Harness/Leash. You can try The Buddy System a hands-free leash. This works best on older well trained dogs. Puppies like Ellie, unfortunately, still need constant leading and direction. I find it easier to simply use her harness and regular leash.

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Precautions:

  • Dogs cool down their bodies by panting. They don’t sweat like we do and so special considerations need to be made. Run only when the weather is cool. Hot weather and a hot, panting dog are not good together. Run either in the early morning or the evening.
  • Make sure the dog is well hydrated at all times. After a good run, I pour fresh cold water in the water bowl for them to enjoy.
  • Don’t eat before you run. It doesn’t feel good. Run before both you and your dog eat breakfast or dinner or until a good two hours have passed since your last meal.
  • Use common sense. If you are miserable, so is the dog. Take a break. It’s more important that you complete the goal you set out to do than to do it fast. If it takes you 30-40 minutes to run/walk 2 miles, at least it was 30-40 minutes you didn’t waste away sitting on the couch.
  • Consult with your Physician & Veterinarian. For breeds who suffer from hereditary ailments like hip dysplasia and the like, running might not be the ideal form of exercise. Please be sure this is safe for you and your dog.

Running/Jogging:

Like I mentioned a few times, Pooch to 5k is a great guide for starters. This is what I used and I surprised my self at how well I adjusted as I progressed through the guide. The first two weeks on the guide I felt out of place. My body fought against my desire to get in shape. By the third week I felt my feet fall into a steady pace…all of a sudden, I didn’t feel like I was dying with every step…I could hear my steady breaths and it felt so damn good. I was hooked!

After I completed the 5 weeks outlined in the guide, I was running 2.7 to 3.1 miles without a hitch.  I don’t always run the same distances, alternating between 3.1 mile run and shorter runs. This is what a typical jog looks like for me:

  • I do a dynamic stretch.
  • Ellie/Argos Warm-up: 5 minutes brisk walk. It’s a good time for the dogs to void before we start running.
  • Run for about half the total distance. Usually about 1 mile, break for two blocks and continue till the end. There are a few pauses here and there sometimes to allow for busy sidewalks, other dogs, traffic or whatever distracts Ellie.
  • Warm down with a walk and static stretching for me.

hip-pain-running2I run almost every other day and take Ellie with me about 2 times a week. I embarked on this exercise journey for two reasons: to lose weight and to exorcise Ellie’s abundance of rambunctious energy. Don’t get me wrong, I love my rambunctious pup, but her energy was excessive to the point of needless barking at anything and everything that dare move beside her. I felt as though she was actually stressing out Argos with the constant pestering for play. I’ve since lost 8 lbs and she is one docile carefree doggie. Two months later, mission accomplished and it didn’t cost me anything but will power. Maybe $20 dollars for the hands-free leash, which I don’t even use.

I plan on maintaining this routine by actually participating in 5k, 10k runs, and one day…a marathon. I’ll take it slow, continue training and take Ellie with me on this new exciting adventure. I am excited, I signed up to run the 5K Paws Fur Pink Run/Walk for Breast Cancer with Ellie at my side.

Running Buddy in Training

Action photo to come. Apartment is undergoing renovations so there are holes in the wall I didn't want reflected in the photo.

Action photo to come. Apartment is undergoing renovations so there are holes in the walls behind me I didn’t want reflected in the photo.

So in the last couple of years I’ve gained some weight. I think it’s normal, I’m getting older, metabolism is slowing down but certainly not my appetite and I don’t make the best of choices when it comes to food…most of the time.

So I figured small changes, little by little should make a difference. I bought myself a FitBit One, stopped drinking soda (on a daily basis at least) and I’ve lost 6 pounds. It’s time to kick it up a notch, so I decided I’m gonna start running. I came across the Pooch to 5K guide and I got to thinkin’…

Ellie, my 7 month old Cockapoo is getting a little round in the middle. She’s got a lot of energy although we go for long walks. I decided I’m going to train her to run with me as I train myself to follow this new routine. She is still working on walking on a leash without pulling, its difficult for her, anything distracts her and she wants to go after it.

I bought the The Buddy System but I don’t think I’m gonna start using it just yet. The Buddy System is a hands free leash intended for running with your dog. A lot of people also recommend it to teach dogs to walk on the leash without pulling. Ellie has not learned to stay on my side and my side only when we run. I’m pretty sure I could have fashioned a device like The Buddy System myself but, for those who know me well, it takes me a while to finish DIY projects. A long while.

Along with The Buddy System I had to purchase Ellie’s third harness. She has managed to chew through two of them. I learned my lesson, I take the harness off as soon as we are back in the apartment and I only leave her collar on for quick leashing at potty breaks. As for training treats I bought a treat tote that I clip to my pants. I used to put treats in my pant pockets and Ellie would scratch and sniff at me all day even after I had removed the treats.

So let’s see how this goes, I’m hoping that by putting my goals out there, it might make me a little more accountable and help me stay on track.

Crating Ellie

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And now, the crate is too small.

I’m a pack rat and sometimes it pays off. Take for instance the fact that I kept my dog Argos’s crate almost 3 years longer than I needed it. I say ‘I needed it’ because Argos would never say he needs a crate, of all things.

I put the old crate in my bathtub and scrubbed it down with hot water and Dawn. Dried it and lined it with pee pads and covered those with a small soft blanket I had slept in. Ellie would have a nice, clean crate to sleep in at night. However, it didn’t quite happen that way at the beginning. I know puppies cry at night in a new home and I can understand why; no litter mates, no familiar smells and everything so foreign and different, but Argos never cried. Ellie did. Ellie howled.

I tried putting a warm bottle of water under her blanket so she would feel warmth, I tried toys and treats and nothing worked. I gave up the crate for a week and instead set up a sleeping area right next to my side of the bed and close it off with a gate. For some reason this worked wonders, no more crying and no more howling. Then she chewed up my night stand and that was the end of that. Back to the crate for Ellie! To my surprise, this time around, she was fine in the crate and it was happily ever after…

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Chewed up dresser.

Until a few days ago when I realized she no longer fits in the crate. The reason for the crating at night had been because she wasn’t potty trained and I didn’t want her to roam free at night knowing all the trouble she would make for me. She’s potty trained now but she manages to chew up things she is not supposed to, mainly forgotten pieces of undergarments. The point is, after 3 months of being potty trained, I still don’t trust her to set her free at night when I’m sleeping. Argos was the king of the castle when we slept, but now he shares bunkers with Ellie because he has been demoted to her current sleeping arrangement, in the kitchen.

There was a bit of complaining from Argos the first couple of nights and now he has pretty much come to accept it. Ellie on the other is quite happy to have company when everything goes dark. I think I’ll re-evaluate this arrangement after Christmas and see if Ellie is ready for a little more freedom.

 

Ellie’s Very Busy Day

EVERYONE says their dog is the BEST dog. I say that sometimes. Dogs get into trouble and sometimes its right under your nose the second you look away. Take today for example, I usually have the dogs with me wherever I am in the apartment. When I shower, they come in the bathroom with me so that any trouble they can get into is minimized. Ellie, however, has been getting into the habit of eating toilet paper. Yep, used toilet paper. I’ve been trying to correct the behavior by saying no and showing her to her toy box. Instead she proceeds to sitting in the toy box. I really don’t know what I was thinking when I bought the darn thing. It’s too big and they only have three toys…

I know that this interest in chewing things is most likely boredom so I am also addressing that by walking her a minimum of 2.5 miles. I’ve also scheduled a 30 minute training session every night before bed. I am still working on teaching her basic commands like sit, down, jump, and twirl. Unlike Argos, she finds the Kong incredibly diverting so I stuff it with goodies every now and then and toss in her crate at night. This has been working but unfortunately today she only got to walk around the block and the day before their feeding schedule was off by two hours because I got caught up doing something else.

And this is what happened.

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Ellie Dines on TP

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Ellie pooted

They are not the best dogs in the world (the assumption being that “Best Dogs” are superbly behaved, wash their own bowls and open doors for you) but they are my dogs and I love that they are imperfect.

Potty Training My Puppy

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Ellie’s first day at home. We are sitting in the balcony after dinner waiting for her to relieve herself. She didn’t. She waited to go until we were all back inside the apartment.

I adopted Ellie when she was only two months old and that meant she was peeing and pooping everywhere. I set up pee pads in my balcony for her to use at designated potty breaks and placed my Nature’s Miracle and paper towels close by.

My boyfriend Chris and I decided to adopt a second dog when we did because we knew that we wanted to adopt a puppy, for personal reasons, and because I am currently spending quite a bit of time at home and this would give me the chance to potty train any new additions to our family. That said, I moved all my daily operations to the living room where I cordoned off Ellie, myself and poor Argos by association. This way, any accidents could easily be cleaned up and I could see, hear or smell them right away and be able to take her to the balcony pee pad where I wanted her to go.

It took about a week for her to realize that the pad in the balcony was the place to pee and poo and not the rest of the balcony. I would slide open the door to the balcony and she’d run off, relieve herself and come right back for a treat. This was awesome except for the part where she wouldn’t signal when she had to go, at least not a signal I recognized right away. She would relieve herself if I didn’t catch the cue in time. This kept happening and I kept growing frustrated with myself for not understanding her tell.

Then I saw it, a quick glance at me, a quick glance at the sliding door and then bam! An accident. Of course she had frequent potty breaks but after rambunctious play and big drinks of water, relieving herself just anywhere felt pretty good.

Once I caught her glancing over, I’d run over and let her out. Treats and praise all the way. Once she caught on, her cue became more pronounced. She began sitting by the door, then it evolved to sitting and scratching at the door if I didn’t notice right away. All this was great progress but at least once a day, she’d have an accident.

I live on the third floor of my building and running up and down the stairs with a puppy didn’t seem like a good idea at first. I realized Ellie understood that it was really rewarding to go on the pee pad in the balcony but she was still having accidents and I didn’t understand why. So I got rid of the darn pads! I started by taking her downstairs every one and half hours, then increased to two, then three, etc. etc. And guess what? No more accidents!

If I had understood that pee pads were a drawback, I would have chucked them a long time ago. I imagine potty training looks a little different from dog to dog but this I tell you works:

  • Consistency: A specific setup and restricted area where there is constant supervision

  • Rewards (and only rewards, absolutely no punishments of any sort)

  • Cleaning supplies

It took us about one month to go accident free. It might have been faster but obviously both Ellie and I had to learn and understand each others movements. There were days when I seriously doubted the method I had adopted, days when I would clean up one puddle right after another. Whatever you do, don’t give up.