Geeking Out

Julius and I are four weeks into his first formal class.  When I took the Karen Pryor Foundations Class he was my practice dog but that is about all he has gotten in the way of any formal training whereas Ray has taken three series of classes.  What this new series of classes has done for the three of us is really astonishing to me although to many it may be just a “duh” moment.  I’ll tell you a little secret:  we always considered Julius a little on the simple side, especially compared to Ray, even though many of Juli’s responses are more like regular dog responses.  I began to realize that Juli’s simplicity stemmed more from my own shortcomings and impatience with shaping, and not at all from him so we decided to enroll in class.  Julius is my dog of the world and though I once hoped Ray would earn his CGC, I know that is more of Juli’s destiny so off to school we went.

Shared Learning

I’d say the biggest bonus was that once Ray realized what Julius and I were doing, he began to brush up on his own cues, so as we sit on opposites of the kitchen we sharpen our skills as a family.

I love getting both of my big guys engaged which just makes us bond that much more and although I may be anthropomorphizing a bit, I feel like their self-esteem is skyrocketing as well.  Since they have learned some of their cues differently I try to be very conscious about rewarding any blending that they may do.  I’m telling you though, I’m so geeked out with all of the things Julius is learning that I nearly shed tears of pride each week.  I think that tonight when he so quickly caught on to putting his feet on the squishy bone Jan, the trainer and I nearly started hopping up and down with glee.

Really Reliable Training

Tonight after class one of the “students” got loose in the parking lot and while her dad tried chasing her around frantically, we heard “pup pup pup pup” in a high-pitched voice from her mom and the little dog responded immediately and ran back to her mom’s waiting arms while the rest of us clapped our appreciation.  I’d like to say that got me thinking about a recent encounter, but the truth is, I was just happy for that family and drove home with an air of contentment.

A few weeks ago as I was walking Ray, I realized the neighbor’s little Yorkie pup was loose.  I’d never seen him before but I’d met them a week or two prior when they were combing the neighborhood for him.  Now my Ray-Ray is great on walks for the most part.  When dogs lose their shit bark from behind fences, doors, or windows he completely ignores them and often crosses to the other side of the street but coming head on is still more of a catastrophe.  I can usually lure him into a fairly decent ignore if I haven’t been able to change walking directions quickly enough but as far as his walks go, Ray has a pretty standard path he like to tow and he doesn’t often deviate, so the day the Yorkie was trying to engage him in play by bouncing in circles around us was a freaking disaster. I was trying to get Ray away, trying to keep the Yorkie away, cussing yelling at the kids to get their dog, yelling at the hubby who was yelling at me all while Ray was trying to have himself a nice Yorkie peppermint patty.  That we got in the house without any physical trauma to the dogs (other than Ray’s nails getting trimmed a bit) and without me falling down was a miracle.

Tonight as a reward for being so patient and sweet while Julius was in class, I decided to take Ray for a quick walk before tackling the search for some dinner for myself and as we rounded the corner what did my wondering eyes see but Barak the Yorkie strolling around the street.  “Ray, let’s go home.”  Blank stare. “Ray, let’s go the other way.” Blank stare.  Ray, danger!”  We immediately did an about-face and trotted as fast as my old and his lame legs would take us back to the front door of our home where I got his harness off and went back out to help wrangle the wayward Yorkie after which Ray and I resumed our walk.

Worth More Than Gold

I’m honestly astounded by the number of people who resist the thought of “obedience classes.”  I put that in quotations because that is actually the last thing I think of when I think of class.  Communication class may be a better phrase, or maybe Understanding Class or Bonding Class would work.  The fee you pay will be worth more than the replacement fee for your favorite shoes, your sofa, your drywall or your sanity and it will sure as hell help keep your dog in your home. Amortize the fee over x amount of weeks and add in the few minutes each day when you get to practice one on one (or two on one) with your dog and get to watch him blossom and you’ll realize it’s the best bit of change you could have ever spent because the reward is immeasurable.

Oh! And as Ray and I resumed our walk we ran into Barak’s mom who asked us about training classes, so we will be dropping info off to her tomorrow.

 

Many thanks to Janis, Margery, Jodie and Lesley .

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Rain Man Walking

With a break in the hair-raising humidity and torrential rains,  I sat out on the back patio after work to soak up some vitamin D and watch the boys play, which to me was heartwarming to see them playing so well, though the sound is certainly not for the faint-hearted.  After dinner I figured we’d settle in for some couch potato-ing but seeing them being so good and knowing that they’d enjoy it, I decided to take them each for a walk around the neighborhood.

Julius and I went out first and strolled down the streets I rarely get to walk on.  He is easy and our walk was silent and companionable.  He’s been rocking his Halti instead of his harness and it has been a game changer.  Juli is always good in his harness-don’t get me wrong- but the Halti like I said was a game changer.  He still rubs his head on my legs occasionally but there were several times I had to look to see if he was still with me because the slackness in the leash was so alarming…and gratifying.

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My Rockstar.

I love that we are getting to such a good place and that we can enjoy the quiet companionship together.

Awaiting me at home was Ray with his soft, hopeful eyes and his bouncy-cow hop.  Ray is normally fine just wearing a martingale collar for walks but Julius and I had seen Daisy, a neighbor’s dog, lounging off leash in her yard and since the said yard is on Ray’s walking route, we opted for the Freedom harness for Ray just in case we needed some extra control.

Ray is like the Rain Man on walks; he has a certain route and routine that must be strictly adhered to unless he decides it doesn’t.  Normally, we depart the driveway and make a beeline across the street to the lamp-post to leave some pee-mail.  We then recross the street and skim along our side yard to the neighbor behind us where we (Ray) pees on her corner lamp post, and continues to the American Bulldog’s house to …do more than pee.  We then retrace our steps back and walk around the next block, up the street and around the corner…past Daisy’s house.

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“The Look” gets me every time.

Tonight I’d like to sincerely thank the neighbor with the “doodle” puppy.  As Ray was preparing his poo spot I noticed they were walking toward us but still a good distance away yet also in the exact direction my Rain Man and I would be heading.  I knew the possibility of Ray losing his shit reacting to the puppy if it were coming head on toward us was a real possibility.  The next few minutes stretched on as I fumbled for a poop bag and scooped up after Ray all the while throwing furtive glances to the approaching pair trying to will them to turn away and still remain calm so that Ray wouldn’t pick up on my mood.  I began regaling him with the temptation of yummy treats in order to lure him in another direction while he stood, glancing between his suddenly crazy mom who wanted to go the wrong way and the approaching puppy.  The neighbor (thank goodness) realized what I was doing and slowed her approach and indicated the direction she needed to take to get home.  I ended up luring Ray to a yard to partake of some yummy snacks while the lady carried her doodle past us, “I don’t want him to slip his collar” she said with a smile, passing us by as if the entire interaction was completely normal. It was truly a nice change from “It’s ok…my dog is friendly” people.

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“Woooo, I say.”

As we continued on Ray’s favorite path and headed up the street towards where I knew Daisy was lying out on her driveway, my mind continued to spin thinking of ways to try to cajole my stubborn dog to make a detour I heard the sweetest sound.  Daisy’s “dad” had just turned on a dreaded leaf-blower.  Ray stopped and looked at me…”Let’s go this way,” I said, pointing in the opposite direction.  As we approached our house from the wrong direction and doubled back to another pee-mail location, I took a moment to bask in the warm glow of the realization that Ray trusts me to keep him safe from things like doodle puppies, leaf blowers and other random items of lawn equipment.  For that he earned a nice slice of dried sweet potato.

How does your dog let you know that you’re earning doggie thumbs up?

Foster Flip-Flop

As the person who approves the adoption applications for our rescue, sets up and often does the meet and greets, I have a confession to make.  I get annoyed with fosters who get so attached that they make it harder for a dog to transition.  Granted, it doesn’t happen every time  but often enough that I’ve rolled my eyes a time or two.  Other than Margeaux, my longest foster(s) were the Sugar family; Sugar Marie and her litter of seven puppies. As much as I loved the puppies, by the time they were ready for adoption I was ready for them to go.  They lived in our finished basement which meant each time they needed to go outside we were transporting baskets of puppies up stairs, through the house and out to the back.  And then back to the basement.  Other than that, we’ve had guests for a night or two, but not much more.

I pulled Margeaux on a Wednesday knowing we had an adoption event on Saturday so I assumed she would be a three-day foster. Here we are now seven weeks later and with no open applications on her accompanied by lots of pressure from her Facebook fans for us to adopt her. Believe me, we’ve talked non-stop about the pros and cons of officially adopting Miss Piggy and while she is welcome to stay here as long as it takes for her to find a home and we haven’t completely ruled out being that home, we truly believe there is a better situation out there for her.

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So the Great Debate regarding Margeaux first and foremost begins with Ray.  Nearly two years ago Ray underwent a TTA surgery on his rear left leg and he will likely need a double surgery on his rear right leg this year.  Not only might he need a TTA surgery, but we’ve always known he may need to have a luxating patella repaired as well.  Margeaux requires very little time and attention but to decrease the availability of that wouldn’t be fair to her.  Furthermore, Ray is not a good patient.  His extreme anxiety dictates so much of how we live our lives that if Margeaux wasn’t completely integrated by then I fear she would suffer the lack of companionship and while she and Ray have parallel walked, they have not physically met yet.

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Then there is Julius.  Because Julius and Margeaux had such a successful meeting I became convinced that Margeaux was super dog friendly which has proven to not be the case.  Julius and Margeaux walked then proceeded to the back yard for pictures.  After the pictures were done, Julius in his Joe-cool-chicks-dig-me way, walked away from Margeaux and she has spent the following six and a half weeks trying to gain Juli’s attention. To say he’s fairly noncommittal about her would be an understatement.  He likes being in the yard with her as long as she doesn’t actually try to interact with him. When I was in my teens, my sister who is six years younger than I, used to sit outside my closed bedroom door hoping to hang out with me.  Sometimes I’d magnanimously allow her to enter as long as she followed the rules.  The rules were that she could sit in one small designated spot with her hands folded in her lap, not touch anything and not speak.  I see a lot of these rules in play as they apply to Julius and his little adoring foster sister.

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As much as we love her and as the debate rages on, we steadfastly tell ourselves that we are her foster family and as such we are doing our best to prepare her to transition her forever home.

My Happy Place

Two years ago this month, I had an epiphany and I found my happy place and while I’m not ready to make the move yet, I have no doubt that we will try really to “end up” there.  In the meantime, I’ve had a not so secret obsession with not only the V dogs but with some dogs related to them as well and I’ve been squirreling away online auction winnings and such in the hopes that I’d one day get around to displaying my growing collection.  With the cold winter and the empty office walls, we’ve finally made some headway.

First, on the side wall is a shot I took from the sanctuary.  If I was more talented, this shot would be better, but for now I can look at it and be transported.

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The glare is from my phone.

On the wall above the desk, I gave a sneak peek on Facebook as to what was in the works and now that both Kevin and I had the time to devote to it, I’d love to share our still-in-process-but-kind-of-finished wall.  I say it’s a work in process because there are a couple of other dogs I’d like to add.

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My Wall of Fame

Here’s the overview above from left to right Handsome Dan pawtographed print, Oscar’s paw print, Little Red’s pawtographed print in her “I’m with Handsome” shirt, Jonny Justice Gund plush, below him is a selfie(!) of me and Ray, next is a pawtographed print of Cherry and to the right of him is a pawtographed print of  Halle.  Above Cherry I have my pawtographed print of Wallace who wasn’t a V* dog but who did overcome some great obstacles to shine on his own as well as the brother of Hector.

I love my prints and hope to add to my collection but in the back of my mind I feel there will be a time where I will be able to “give back” by re-donating my collection to help other Pit Bull type dogs in need.  It just won’t be any time soon, as I’m enjoying these too much.

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*True geeks know that only the 22 dogs who went to Best Friends are referred to as the “Vicktory Dogs.”

When You Get Down To It

I’ve had a post planned about Ray’s TTA surgery for weeks now and I’ve even started and deleted it about sixteen times.  The timing also corresponded with the super-cool Giveaway at Oh Melvin’s Project Joy which is focusing on anxiety dogs and is seemingly tailor-written just for Ray (and me.) But the downside is that writing about the anxiety is just so difficult.  Upon reflection, it seems more like snapshots that flash by on a screen rather than prolonged issues that we deal with.  Or maybe because the issues we deal with are prolonged, we don’t realize that it isn’t just our way of life?

We’re so used to Ray being Ray and acknowledging that his way of life is different than that of Julius or even Sugar, that it doesn’t seem different.  It’s like having two kids and you make them each a sandwich.  One kid wants his sandwich cut in squares and the other wants triangles and it’s no big deal to accommodate each preference. You just know what needs to be done to make each kid happy.

  

Ray wears an Adaptil collar, has Anxitane tablets to take in anticipation of Vet visits, we’ve tried and rejected Prozac, he owns but hates his Thundershirt and has to be pretty much snoring before I can attempt to trim his nails.  He likes being in his safe places so while he loves to greet guests, he also can “nervous” pee and since that upsets him, we’ve learned how to have people ignore him until he feels comfortable enough to be greeted.  We adjust. We often gate him and guests don’t seem to realize that we don’t do it for their safety-we do it for his comfort.  While Ray enjoys being with people, he enjoys being in his safe zone as well, so we work on keeping him safe and happy.

  
How did some of this happen? Despite monthly visits to the Vet’s office to practice stepping on the scale and picking up meds, Ray became filled with anxiety there.  In a practice with three doctors, he once drew one who was noticeably leery of big dogs and the visit became a disaster filled with screams (yes, open-mouthed screams) thrashing and blood.  We now request the one doctor who understands him and takes the time to make him as comfortable as possible, but the deed now is done.  We had his surgery done at one of the referred Vet’s offices.  After months of stalking researching on the websites of the list of recommended Vets, calling the office to discuss the issues that I knew would arise, scheduling a personalized tour with Ray and finally the surgery, we still didn’t cover the contingency of post op care.  The standard is to remain in the Vet’s care for 2 days post-op.  That wasn’t meant to be with Ray who, it was felt, would thrash about too much in the care of strangers and ruin the surgical procedure, so home he came to recuperate.  We do what we do.

  
The same thing happened with his nails.  I took him every month for a nail trim which he stood for-until he got quicked and then that’s all she wrote.  We know that about Ray so we just make adjustments for it without even thinking about it being “special” it’s just how we do things.

Recently, I noticed that Sugar’s nails were too long, so I took a pair of clippers over and because her nails are luckily white/clear, started clipping.  What I didn’t count on was that with her longer nails some of her quicks grew longer as well and on the first nail, she yelped and I realized I had quicked her but we grabbed some paper towel, applied pressure and when on to clip all the remaining nails because we knew we could.   Different dog, different outcome.

We just do what we need to do in the manner that we need to do it.  It’s how we live and it’s how we love.

The Bully Collective

Pibbles, Pitties, Pits, Pit Bull Types, Pit Bulls, Bullies, Bully Breeds, Big Head, Block Head, you name it, we’ve heard it or said it ourselves. Every one has a name they prefer to use and everyone has a term they absolutely hate. Personally, we tend to use “Pit Bull Types” as we feel most comfortable with it and rarely use the term Pibbles, although it is kind of cute. I used to feel more adverse to the term “Bullies” specifically because of all of the anti-bullying campaigns and wouldn’t want a(nother) negative connotation associated with our boys.

 

When our pack walking group formed I was a bit leery of the new name, The Bully Collective, but knew that the vision and spirit of the group would overcome any negative association that came with the B-word.

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Collective: shared or done by a group of people: involving all members of a group; marked by similarity among or with members of a group. (Merriam-Webster)

 

We, the members of The Bully Collective are a group of like-minded individuals who love our dogs and seek a safe, nonjudgmental forum in which to walk and socialize them. We are from all walks of life and our dogs are all individuals-some with physical attributes that might be found in Breed Specific language- but others are spaniels and shepherds and such who are also individuals.

 

Last week a neighbor whom I’d seen occasionally, was walking her dog and called out a welcome-to-the-neighborhood to us. Seeing her beautiful dog geared up in her Freedom Harness, I of course approached and engaged her in a chat. Her dog, she said was people friendly but wary of other dogs and they were just taking a walk during half time of the game. I invited her to a pack walk and assured her that it was a no-contact group and that we’d love to have them join us. A full week passed and I kind of forgot about it until the neighbor appeared at the door this past temperate Sunday morning and asked if the offer was still open. Delightedly I gave her the details and we met up at the walk location.

Photo credit to Rachel

Photo credit to Rachel Hoening

 

We had a smaller group and along with Neighbor-lady there was another first timer. Most of the dogs seemed spunky whether it was because of the warmer temps, the energy of two new dogs, or the skipped week, but as we trod the path we all eventually began to settle in and hit our stride. The morning was gray but warmer and we enjoyed a leisurely pace capped off by one of our new dogs diving belly first into a large mud puddle to cool off!

 

At the conclusion of the walk, our neighbor thanked me for inviting her and said, “This is the best thing that’s happened to us all year.” Then later followed up with a text about how she had been praying for a path to help socialize her dog and was happy to have found us.

 

In reality, none of the dogs in The Bully Collective are perfect. Some certainly have better manners than Julius others but we’re a Collective. We all come together for our dogs and week after week we see an improvement or at least a glimmer of light ahead. We support and encourage and celebrate victories great and small while sharing thoughts and bagging poop.

Stay-cation

Whew! It seems like whenever we take a blogging break, no matter how many potential posts I have rolling about in my head, it is just so hard to get back to the keyboard. This last week was no exception. We had a nice staycation doing lots of projects around the house, a bit of relaxing by the pool at the home we have yet to sell, topped off with a quick weekender trip to Detroit.

With so many anecdotes swirling around, I ended up with one that was very un-vacation-like. Ray’s leg is still giving him trouble occasionally, but when rested, I like to take him for short walks around the neighborhood which is always such a joy for him. In a stark contrast to what he was like as a puppy, Ray is a very good leash walker now which is such a joy for me as well.

In the back of my mind, I’m still yearning to get us ready for the CGC, although I admit that we don’t work on it super hard. I think we’ll know when it’s time and if it never happens, it never happens.

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Walking in the warmer weather with so much abundant sunshine also brings a whole new set of issues: squirrels and other dogs. My walking with the SPCA dogs has trained me to become a qualified squirrel scout and since I like keeping my arm in its socket, I’ve learned to try to see squirrels way before any four legged companion I may be with. Let me tell you, it’s a very valuable skill to hone.

So I have a neighbor who walks her dog-with her retractable leash- quite regularly about the neighborhood. The neighbor is friendly and the dog not so much. Annie prefers to do her snooping from the end of the leash and otherwise mind her business as long as no one tries to pet her, which is perfectly acceptable. In the warm weather, Annie is often tethered while her owner is outside which makes Annie much more vocal when another dog goes by. Fortunately, I’ve seen the length of the tether often enough to judge that if we stay in the middle of the street no one should see the other as a threat and Ray can mind his business and work on his ignoring skills.

Until the other day when we approached and Annie began her usual charge but this time her owner gave chase and started calling Annie back-she was not tethered! So here I was, shielding my 85 pound dog from the 30 pounds of fur heading towards us. Luckily the owner got the dog way before reaching us, picked her up, and carried her away, saying, “Sorry, sorry” over and over. Ray, to his credit and my overwhelming pride, didn’t even bat an eyelash and we continued our walk with my heart pounding in my chest.

A day or so later, I was off somewhere and Kevin was doing some work in the backyard while Ray sunned himself on the deck and the neighbor and her dog took a detour from their walk to stand outside our fence and call out to Kevin. This of course, startled Ray who ran barking to the fence to give Miss Annie a taste of her own medicine, so to speak. Luckily the neighbor is pretty unflappable and recognized that she “stirred something up” and took her leave.

So, that leaves me wondering about the whole situation. Ray had grown up in a yard with a privacy fence, and until last October never really experienced seeing the world walk by. He was either out in the world or behind his fence, so I think this newfound perspective is a bit overwhelming to him sometimes, especially since he was standing at the fence one day as another neighbor started up his lawnmower. Ray hates lawnmowers to begin with and he was scared nearly out of his skin that day. Noise at the fence=scary things.

The other note from this event is that in the back of my mind, always lurks the fear that we will walk into a situation that we have no control over. I want to expose Ray to all of the sights and sounds of the neighborhood while practicing his good citizen skills but I need to always balance that with caution. If I avoid an approaching dog, it isn’t because I think my Big Scary Pit Bull is going to eat you and your dog but rather because I don’t know you and don’t necessarily trust that your dog handling skills will keep us out of danger. I guess pre-judging is a two way street.