Reactive Rover Graduate

Well, we did it.  We completed our Reactive Rover course.  3 more credits added to Leroy’s training transcript.  Despite all his douchebaggery “reactive-ness” (more on that later), it was a wonderful class and we both learned a lot!  None of the dogs in the class were “cured”, but they all made great progress and worked very hard!  The owners learned about management, disengagement cues, calming signals, threshold, body language, and coping mechanisms. Reactive dogs come with a lifetime of training, management, positive social interactions  and boundaries.  It is an ongoing process.

Now where to start?!  Let’s get some of Leroy’s low points out of the way.

I keep telling myself that Leroy made progress and improved throughout the course. I know he did.  However, it’s very easy to fixate on the negative, embarrassing, overwhelming moments that we went through every single week.  Boy does this dog know how to look like an arse!  So here are some of our low points:

1.  Leroy tried to eat the stuffed demo dog.  Twice.

Photo by Opportunity Barks Behavior & Training

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Poor, innocent, stuffed Fluffy.  You fooled my dog- yes.  But you did not fool me!  While most dogs gave a realistic depiction of how they would react to seeing a real dog,  Leroy went above and beyond. 🙂  He of course threw his typical “reactive dog” fit, which includes a ton of  lunging, whining,  stress panting, and barking.  He finished up by charging Fluffy, aggressively smelling his butt (albeit this part is technically ‘good manners’, though not in the rude way he approached), and forcefully knocking him over, leaving him flopped and dead.  Rest In Peace Fluffy.

Oh wait, he was stuffed.  PHEEWWW!  Oh yes, and this happened twice (the only two times we approached Fluffy).  Talk about embarrassing- Keep it together, Leroy!

2.  Leroy went over threshold at least once every week (OK, probably more than once).  Every week during our first exercise, Leroy would “loose it” and go over threshold.  My 55 pound train-wreck of a pit bull would do his “over-the-threshold” things- screaming, barking, lunging, whining, more lunging.  I’ll say it again, embarrassing!

3. Leroy was vocal, vocal, vocal.  I am that parent in the grocery store with a child that is just screaming, and screaming, and crying, and screaming.  And I’m just looking at the fruit in the produce section.  I’m that girl.  (Note to self- abstinence is key).  Leroy really felt the need to vocalize about everything.  People are moving?  We’re in a new place?  We heard a dog?  We are bored? VOCALIZE, about everything!

4. Leroy tried to eat a few of our fellow classmates.  Mainly, the mini doxie, Theo.  I will give him a tiny, tiny pass.  Leroy never denies having a super high prey drive.  He likes birds, OK?  The Doxie probably just looked squirrel-like for a second there 😉  (Note- there were no dog-dog interactions in this class.  Mr. Doxie was at a safe distance at all times, usually across the room and behind five barriers)  We also had a moment with Serious the Husky mix, but that was a very challenging activity involving proximity and movement for both dogs.  Too much, too soon boys.  All considered, these were only mildly embarrassing.

So the Worst Puppy is at it again! However, I did say that we improved and learned a lot.  And we did!  Let’s move on from all those negative points and talk about the good.  *shakes off* <- I learned that move from Leroy.  After we do a stressful activity, he has to shake it off.  This helps to calm him.  Hooray for calming signals!  Let’s take a quick time-out for a cute diagram of dog body language that I found!

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So since we are calm and ready, let’s move on to the high points!:

1. Leroy has three “go to” calming signals.  And as a high anxiety dog, he does these a lot.  He wants to be calm!  So for the whole Reactive Rover class, I watched him (and rewarded) his Head Turn.  This was especially important because after Leroy reacted at another dog, he would eventually give a very clear Hear Turn.  This was his signal that he was trying to calm himself and wanted to leave the situation!  After all that hoopla, he was ready to leave- Excellent!  Typically after we backed away from the situation, he would Shake Off.  Sadly this is not on the adorable diagram.  But it is a calming signal nonetheless. (Or it is a calming signal to my knowledge- I am not a professional!)  His third calming signal is slightly debatable.  It would be the I’ll Be No Threat, where the dog has his back to the stressor.  Leroy is food motivated.  Like, motivated!  So it’s possible that he was doing a combination of “I’ll Be No Threat” and “Mom, give me food”.  Either way, he got to practice looking at the food treat pouch me instead of the other dogs.  We learned things!!

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Photo by Opportunity Barks

2. Leroy started to “come down” faster, after going over threshold.  During the weeks at the beginning of Reactive Rover, Leroy would go over threshold and stay there for a bit (so to speak).  We often had to leave the room (on top of already being behind barriers) to help him relax and focus again.  He was pink as a Piglet from stress, panting, vocalizing ect.  But every week it seemed to take him a little less time to “get his shit together”.  Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t laying quietly on his side for our relaxation exercises or prancing next to Mr. Doxie.  It was mild, but there was improvement.

3.  Leroy was less pink!  Leroy is a white pooch, and he basically turns pink when he’s stressed.  Pink eyes, ears, tongue, and skin- but there was a little less of that every week.  Possibly the earliest sign of Prozac starting to work, or a combination of going to the same place for the 5th+ time, or picking up on the routine and training- Leroy was not quite the Pink Piglet that he normally is in a stressful environment.  Whoop whoop!

4.  Leroy is a smart, focused, food motivated pup.  Gosh, when he is looking at a treat, he is a focused dog.  Sometimes when we’re in a new place, he gets so stressed that he doesn’t eat.  But I bring the good stuff to class, and he has always been happy to eat and focus to the best of his ability in the class setting.  When he is focused, he can do anything!  Sit, down, watch me, clumsily walk over agility markers, look at that, say hi, leave it (mostly), find it, walk nicely.  When there are excessive food rewards and we’re under threshold, Leroy is focused and can work very nicely!  Even with some minor distractions.  🙂  Good boy Leroy.

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Photo by Opportunity Barks

Stay tuned for more updates about what we learned and practiced in the class and what our next training activity will be.  Plus, a birthday this month!

If you have any questions about Tofu, becoming a foster parent, or the adoption process- you can email me (Leroy’s mom) at Casey@caseyheyen.com

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Things That People Don’t Like to Talk About- I Have a Dog with Issues

A few months ago, I talked about some of Leroy’s flaws and the difficulty that presented when I went on a vacation.  While he is of course the apple of my eye, he is also the most challenging dog I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.  I am a dog trainer at PetSmart and have had enough fosters and short term guests to know- Leroy is not your average dog.  He excels at being the Worst Dog at Puppy School; but he typically is one of the smartest and often knows the most commands.  About a year ago, we started training class at Opportunity Barks.  We did one day of Real World Manners, but our amazing trainer Michaela was smart enough to know that Leroy had the whole curriculum mastered.  While it was hard for him to be in a new place around strange dogs, he buzzed past the Watch Me’s and Down’s with ease.  She suggested that we move into a Self Control class to work on well, self control.  He was, as I’ve become used to, the Worst Puppy in school.  But we enjoyed the class and learned a lot.  A year later, we are enrolled in Reactive Rover.  I had a brief moment of excitement- “HEY!  These are all of the Worst Puppies in school!  It’s a class just for them!  Maybe my baby Le Le won’t look like a ‘crazy Pit Bull’.  They will understand!”  Well,  my boy is still the Worst Puppy. 😦  He has epic meltdowns that involve whining, crying, barking, and lunging.  He did this all in Reactive Rover on Week 1, when he was shown the stuffed decoy dog.  Yes- stuffed.

And yes- this is the same dog that I call a “pretty gosh darn excellent foster brother”.  So how does it all fit together? How can he be so patient with fosters but so terrible with an innocent stuffed dog?  How can he be so good at his Sit Stays, but so bad at “keeping his shit together”?!  Well.. I’m going to get to the bottom of it all!

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The first thing that I want to explain is a fancy word called “threshold”.  When Leroy is trying to attack a stuffed animal- barking, whining, lunging- he is over his threshold.  I have been reading about this fancy word and I decided to email our expert trainer, Michaela, because I was a bit confused.  Here is her wonderful insight!

“Threshold” is used to differentiate between the state in which your dog can still “think” and respond vs. when arousal level makes it impossible for them to be responsive.  Neurologically, your dog is using a part of the brain and nervous system that goes with the basic “fight-flight-freeze” survival instinct.  If you imagine yourself, say, responding to a robber in your home, your body goes into survival mode (e.g. pumping adrenaline, etc) and relies heavily on action-not thought.  It’s a more primitive bodily reaction that is important to survival but which actually suppresses the decision making part of the brain.
As a dog’s arousal level rises, you see changes like muscle tension, ear and tail position changes, body weight forward, faster breathing, brief “stillness”, staring and targeting, etc…Once a dog goes “over-threshold”, he’s having a full barking-lunging meltdown, acting purely on survival instinct. Little can be learned in this highly adrenalized state because the “higher thinking” part of the brain is suppressed for optimal survival mode.  So learning must be done sub-threshold (that is, when arousal levels are low to moderate, but not over-the-top).
So, yes, Leroy is challenging because he goes over-threshold very quickly, once outside.  However, he’s making great progress at being able to “come down” more quickly in classes.  I hope this helps a bit!
So there you have it!  Threshold is like ‘fight or flight panic’.  It’s all just too much stress and stimulation for my little Pudding Face to handle.  Therefore he has his special meltdowns and looks like an arse.  😉 Another reason that Leroy has so much trouble doing things outside of his comfort zone is because of his past.  Leroy was a lawn ornament.  He was chained.  We can only speculate on how long and how severe his circumstances were, but we do know that he was found with the heavy burden of his past life.

When he was found, the chain was wrapped around his neck and padlocked closed.

Because of his past as a chained dog, Leroy struggles with something called “Leash Reactivity”.  This is actually a pretty common problem among dogs, but especially an issue with dogs that lived with the long term frustration of being at ‘the end of their chain’ every  day.  Imagine for a moment that you are given an 5 foot  radius to live in.  Then picture a sweet smelling flower, or exciting squirrel, or happy human face- standing right past that boundary.  I would not enjoy that.  So when Leroy is on his leash and I’m not letting him go any further, he feels severe frustration and aggression.  If I wanted to use my imagination a bit more, I would say that maybe his childhood puppyhood memories of a cold lonely yard come flooding back.  And he remembers how terrible it was to be stuck in one place without love or freedom or stuffed kongs.  My point is, I would be unhappy about being on a leash too.

Tofu was also a chained dog.

(pre-rescue) Tofu was also a chained dog

I was worried that Leroy’s general stress level and anxiety was one of the main reasons he was not making any progress.  So I talked to Michaela and she agreed that it was time to see a Veterinarian Behaviorist.  Most trainers or behaviorists that I’ve talked to seem to think that medication is very over-prescribed, and often used by people who are lazy not committed to training.  However, Michaela said that she supported my decision and hoped that it would help.  As it sounds, a vet behaviorist is someone who is both a certified behaviorist and trainer, and a fully registered vet.  The best of both worlds!  So we went to Dr. Reisner for a professional opinion.  Here is Leroy’s list of issues, written by a professional.

DIAGNOSIS:

  1. Generalized anxiety
  2. Resource-guarding
  3. Reactivity/impulsivity
  4. Fear-related aggression
  5. Tentative: Predatory behavior

Holy Issues! I knew Leroy was the Worst Puppy, but gosh.  Dr. Reisner said that she was very impressed with me and Leroy.  We are a good team.  He was a bit of a nut case during our consult (as expected, because it was a new place).  But he was a good boy and listened to my commands and hand signals while I talked to the doctor.  At one point I gave him the hand signal for Quiet- putting my finger to my lips (Leroy was whining like a baby about being in a strange office and not getting enough attention from the doctor).  Dr. Reisner said, “Does he know what that means?”  Leroy was trying very hard to listen to me because I had my trusty treat pouch, and he was sitting silently waiting for his reward.  I thought, “How silly, why would I be doing it if he didn’t know what it means!”  But apparently he proved to her that he is a very smart puppy, even though he was also being the Worst Puppy.

So what happens next?  Dr. Reisner decided that Leroy is in fact a good candidate for medication.  He is currently on 20mg a day of Prozac to help manage his generalized anxiety.  Prozac takes 4-6 weeks to become effective, so we haven’t seen any changes yet.  But I’m keeping a close eye on him for side effects or positive changes. Dr. Reisner also seemed to think that our training skills were really great- not that there isn’t always room for improvement.  This made me proud of my boy but also sad, as he was flopping around the exam room like a stressed and anxious fish out of water.  He was unhappy, as he usually is when we do something new.  He did not enjoy this or find it a fun adventure.  He was stressed.

Above all, I want my dog to be happy.  If he doesn’t like new places or new people or new anything, that’s OK with me.  If he can never happily go on a walk without thinking that the world is out to get him, then we won’t go on walks.  He can stay with me in his “happy place”, also known as my bedroom.  But at the end of the day, I want to know that I gave it my all.  I want to say that “Yes, I have a dog with issues.  I did my best to work through them and make him more comfortable in the big scary world we live in.  I accept him and understand his issues.  And I love him anyway.”

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A big *thank you* to Michaela at Opportunity Barks and Dr. Reisner for all the help and support ❤

Introducing- Tofu!

Tofu is a 3 year old pit bull that was saved from a life of neglect. LCPO worked with Almost Home Animal Rescue out of Long Island NY to save this sweetheart from less than desirable conditions. Tofu was living outside of a halfway home, regularly passed from breeder to breeder, and almost sold as a bait dog. She is now spayed and loving being indoors. Tofu is sweet and happy. She is thrilled to be surrounded by loving people who take care of her. Tofu is crate trained, house broken, and she will go to her adoptive home knowing sign language! Tofu is deaf so she will be learning all her commands with hand signals. She has already made herself right at home and proven to be no more difficult than any foster who can hear me 🙂 You can learn more about deaf dogs at http://deafdogsrock.com/. I will also be happy to do training sessions with her adoptive family to make sure that everyone knows and understand how to communicate with her. Please feel free to ask me any questions about fostering, deaf dogs, or Tofu!

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Tofu and Leroy and participating in the “crate/rotate” method until they are both more comfortable with each other.  This involves keeping the dogs separate for any amount of time; a few days to three weeks or more!  Through this process, I allow the dogs to feel comfortable in my home.  I let them learn how to trust me and each other through minimal exposure.  The foster dog become familiar with our routine and environment, and is able to de-stress from whatever experience they had before coming to me.  Tofu seems to be a little bit uncomfortable when Leroy is too close to her crate. She has made the snarl teeth at him a few times for getting too close.  But she does better when she is out and approaching him in his crate.  Neither dog likes to share food, not even a little.  This is a polite way of saying that they would probably fight over a crumb, or something that looks like a crumb, or a crumb that fell and was cleaned up a few minutes ago.  As always, I will feed them separately and even crate them for a little while after their food bowls are removed from the environment.  Leroy was showing off in front of Tofu and trying to engage her a little bit, and she did wag her tail and playfully bark in her crate.  I think they will be good friends with some patience and trust.  More about Tofu to come as I get to know her wonderful personality.  All I can say so far is that she’s had no accidents, and she is a happy girl who loves to kiss! 🙂

For adoption information or more about our rescue program, you can visit www.lcpoinc.org 🙂 Please share for this wonderful girl and feel free to ask any questions about her or the adoption process!

Let’s Play Dress Up!

Happy National Dress Your Pet Up Day!  Here are some of my favorite “dress up” pictures from my time as a foster mom and doggy mom.  Enjoy 🙂   This is a small fraction of the number of Dress Up … Continue reading

Vacation panic- To board or not to board!

Well I’m backkk!  🙂  I had a lovely family vacation in the Dominican Republic and I enjoyed 7 days of sun and alcohol and dancing and water.  While I’m sure you’d love to hear about all of that, I wanted to write about my pre-vacation-panic about what to do with my beloved Leroy.  Now, many people may not believe that Leroy comes with a list of issues challenges.  I will give you a brief rundown.

1. Can NOT be around cats.

2. Difficult to walk on leash.

3. Takes a few days to acclimate with other dogs (and honestly, I only trust myself in this department).

4. Food/bone/toy aggressive around other dogs.

5. Leash aggressive/ reactive.

6. Uncomfortable being leashed/ restrained around new men.

7. Unreliable recall when outdoors.

8. Stressed in new environments.

So who knew?!  Well I did 😉  And we manage to the best of our abilities.  But the main points are hopefully enough to explain my concern with throwing him just anywhere for a week.  While many incredibly lucky people have that one friend who loves animals but doesn’t have any due to work or apartment constraints, I’m not in that boat.  My parents would typically watch him but this is our once yearly trip that we do together.  The majority of my friends check in under a few categories- allergic (or someone living with them is allergic), have cats, home for school break, full house (anywhere from 2-7 dogs already), have cats, no fenced in back yard, weigh under 90 pounds, or have cats.

So onto a solution!

I had to board Leroy at a traditional facility once for an emergency weekend.  It was a regular boarding kennel- Indoor/outdoor runs, concrete floor and lower barrier, chain link door and fence.  The benefit was certainly the cost.  These types of kennels will generally run around $25 a night.  The kennel owner did admit that he was concerned when I was dropping Leroy off.  The barking, stress, and shelter-like feel were a lot and my boy did not handle it well.  But the kennel owner reassured me that after only 15 minutes, he settled down and was just fine.  When I picked him up, he seemed unaffected by my presence but thrilled to leave the building and hop in my car.  He was also limping (a normal symptom, but I felt bad nevertheless).   So basically, I’d be OK with this again for a weekend or quick trip.  But for 7 days, I wanted to feel more comfortable with where I was leaving him and aim for a less stressful location.

I ended up leaving him with a wonderful positive reinforcement trainer who we’ve worked with before.  She does limited boarding out of her home with dogs she knows.  Here is the website.  We didn’t to their training program that’s listed on the website, just traditional boarding.  Leroy stayed in a room that was about the size of my living room and dining room combined.  And their “small” yard was a quarter acre fenced in.  He enjoyed playing, running, and fetching in the yard, followed by meals and chewies in his room.  This is about as low stress of a place as it gets.  Plus I felt great knowing he was with a behavior specialist and trainer.  She sent very nice updated and a picture that made know with certainly that I left him in good hands.

Sweet Spot Farm

Haii momz! Iz playid witf a jolley ballz!

 

This lovely place like this ran me $50 a night.  Not the most expensive place I could find, but not the cheapest either.  But peace of mind is worth a lot when you have a boy with a list of challenges.

Another excellent option that I wanted to share is having your fur friends stay in someone’s home.  I offer this service for one dog at a time when I’m not fostering.  Here is a website to show you my profile.  There are great new sites starting up such as this one that allows you to search for people in your area who can watch your animals either in their house or sometimes in yours.  I would recommend doing first a meet and greet, then a night or two (while you’re nearby), then a regular week long vacation.  Especially if you’re leaving the country, you want to make sure you and your animals are comfortable with the set up.  Doing this can run you anywhere from $25-$50 a night as well.

So there you have it, a vacation rundown by Leroy and Company.

And don’t forget, our little Jora is still looking for her forever home.  Email me at Casey@caseyheyen.com with any questions about Jora or the adoption process!  

 

Adventuring!

Leroy is the type of dog that would be considered a ‘homebody’.  He gets stressed out and overwhelmed when we’re anywhere that isn’t Home.  But we like to go out to places that are easy to manage to continue his socialization and work on some training.
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Here we are on the way to the park!  Leroy is an excellent co-pilot.  He generally settles in and goes into “sleep mode” because he’s used to driving 2 hours from my house to my parents house.  This was just a quick drive though so he was trying to hang out in the front with me 🙂

Like my sweater?

Like my sweater?

Because it was cold, Leroy and I were both bundled up in sweaters. 🙂  He was very alert because we were in a new place!  So he was paying close attention to all of the new sounds, sights, and smells.  We had a nice afternoon hike and he was exhausted for the rest of the day.  Stay tuned for more adventures with Leroy!

 

Any questions about Jora or the adoption process can emailed to me (Casey, aka Leroy’s mom!) at Casey@caseyheyen.com.  Please share her story with anyone looking for the perfect family companion!

 

 

 

Santa is coming!

Leroy, Jora, and I had a nice time at my parents house last weekend. Jora wrote her list for Santa and asked for a forever home. And on Saturday she had her second meet and greet with a great family! She might just get her wish 🙂

We had some fun making homemade dog treats and of course I had two enthusiastic volunteer taste testers. I’m sure they would have been happy to help while I cooked anything, but since it was dog treats, I figured it was only right if they got to lick the spoon!

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They look good enough to eat! 🙂

Leroy also got in the Christmas spirit by wearing his Mommy’s Santa hat. He is such a good sport 🙂

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Are we done yet?

We hope you are getting into the holiday spirit too!  Please send Jora your good vibes and well wishes- she’ll be doing a trial run with her adoptive family starting Saturday!