Marshmallow is Adopted!

Well it was a whirlwind three weeks with Mel that ended with a hard decision, and a happy and lucky forever family.  It was worth breaking all my “no puppy” rules.  I did enjoy having that little peanut in the house!  It was amazing to watch her grow, learn, and explore the world around her.  I was able to socialize her with so many people and other dogs.  I know she has a solid foundation to build off for the rest of her life.

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Leroy and Skylar

Lets go back in time, one week ago.  I was babysitting Skylar while her moms went on vacation.  Skylar was adopted through LCPO just about one year ago when she was a tiny love, right around Mel’s size.  Skylar lives a wonderful life.  She has great manners and is one of the most socially appropriate dogs I know!  Leroy loved her polite, yet friendly disposition. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that she was in good hands since she was a puppy.  But she also has the pleasure of being a “shop dog” at a local soap store.  Her mom totes her into work where she behaves like an angel and greets the costumers with a friendly wag and some kisses.  At night she goes home, happy and content from working the day away 🙂

I shared this video with Skylar’s mom and posted it on facebook.  Amanda and Cheyanne watched this video together while sitting on the beach.  Amanda said they loved it!  They were smiling and laughing and crying and she said, “Is this our dog?”.  Cheyanne was looking for a dog for quite some time… But she didn’t want to rush into anything.  The right fit is important!  But after watching this video, they decided that their dog had actually found them ❤

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Sisters ❤

This is actually the moment that sealed the deal for me.  There were three amazing families that wanted to adopt Marshmallow.  While I knew Skylar and Amanda, I still was torn.  Each of the families were great and would love and care for Mel for the rest of her life.  But which was the best fit for Marshmallow?  Well, it’s safe to say that this picture put my heart at ease.  Marshmallow was already quite content with her new sister.  Playing or cuddling; they were a happy bonded pair.

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Marshmallow, now Ryan, and Skylar with their forever mommies.

 

So Happy Adoption, Marshmallow.  Enjoy your new family and your sister, Skylar.  You deserve the best and they will give that to you. Grow up to be confident and happy.  Learn good manners from Skylar.  Practice training with your moms.  Give them lots of kisses.  Meet as many people ad you can.  Be proud when your moms say, “This is Ryan.  She is a pit bull, and we saved her life.” ❤

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Puppy Time!

The puppy is here!  After a long journey from Tennessee, two baths to remove the filth, a long collar-buying excursion, an even longer naming-the-puppy adventure; I’m finally here with pictures 🙂

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Get ready for cuteness overload.

First of all, we named her Marshmallow, or Mel for short.  Something about her white squishy face just called out, “Marshmallow!” 🙂 When she is a lady, perhaps she’ll go by Mel.  To be professional, of course.  But for now, Marshmallow is settling in and doing wonderfully.  She already got to meet the whole human family, Blueberry, Leroy, and Major the cat.  Positive socialization is starting off  strong!

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Marshmallow is 10 weeks old.  She is spayed and will be up to date on her shots.  We will be working on crate training, socialization, house training, and basic obedience.  Mel is curious about the world around her.  She is slightly cautious, but ready to play and explore.  She is loving all the human attention, and desperately trying to woo the adult dogs in the house into some wrestling and play time.  She will need a committed, life long, adopter who is willing to  make her the best dog that she can be.  And I will need an adopter who will fall head over heals in love with her- not just as a puppy, but as she goes through the challenging teen years, the frustrating adolescence, the slowing in adulthood, and the tender years of old age.

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oh hai. iz a marshmalloz.

More exciting puppy-ness to come as she settles in!

If you have questions about Marshmallow or the adoption process, email me (Casey) at LeroyandCompany@gmail.com!         

Temporary Fix

Although the concept of a foster home is inherently temporary, I am sad to report that Tofu will be moving into a new foster home as of tomorrow.  This was not a quick or unplanned decision.  In fact, I was not planning to foster at all this semester because I knew what would be happening in April and May.  I am finishing my last semester in graduate school, preparing for the Annual Student Exhibition, and planning to move back home with my parents.  I will graduate in May with my Masters in Fine Art from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  And soon after that, I am moving back to Scranton, PA to save money and live with my parents.  Sadly, these situations are just not fair to a foster dog.  But most importantly, I cannot bring her when I move back home.  So as I said, I was not planning this to foster at all this semester.  Sure… I could have probably squeezed in a foster puppy less than 4 months old, or a super gorgeous, highly adoptable blue nose pittie who loves cats and other dogs.  But that’s not my typical foster dog, we have plenty of foster homes for them.  I was just going to take a break.

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But when the LCPO president asks me to help out, it’s hard to decline.  I do have a heart after all!  We had been cross posting for Tofu for a few weeks, with no interest.  (Her name was Mama back then) Her scumbag breeder “owner” was leaving the halfway home and about to hand her off the first offer he got.  Actually, the one offer declined once he found out she was spayed (thanks to Almost Home rescue).  No more Mama for this girl.  But another person was still happy to pick her up, we can assume for less than honorable reasons since dog fighting is common in that area.  So things were becoming dire and we just could not see her end up in bad hands.  So I was asked to take her in.  I said yes, but with the understanding that as finals approached, she would need somewhere else to go.  This is something that easier to say than follow up on.  And if I could keep her, I would.

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As a foster mom, I feel responsible for my foster dogs until they find their perfect forever home.  As the saying goes, “Fostering is not a lifelong commitment, it’s a commitment to saving a life.”  I hope that this is the last time I will take a foster in, and have to say goodbye before they have found their forever home.  It truly breaks my heart to uproot Tofu.  She has made amazing progress with me in terms of being a wonderful companion, preparing for that perfect home, and learning how to trust Leroy.  I will be worried about her being moved, confused, and starting this process over again.  And they all must do this again when they are moved to their forever family.

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The one benefit of her new foster home is that there is a well balanced female dog (along with a handful of other great pooches!).  Because of Tofu’s past as a breeder dog with little, if any other socialization, we think that she may feel a little more comfortable with female dogs.  However, it will likely still take her time to adjust and feel at ease with them.  But her new foster mom knows how to take things slow, so Tofu will be given a nice opportunity so socialization with a variety of other dogs.  I am hoping that this benefits her in the long run,  and allows our rescue to know what type of home will be best suited for her in the future.

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But for my girl Tofu, just because you are leaving me, I will not feel any less responsible for you.  I will think about you, and bother your new foster mom with questions.  I will worry and hope.  I will cross post and blog about you.  When someone says they are looking for a dog, I will suggest you.  I will miss your cuddles, kisses, and happy butt wiggles.  I will meet your forever family and see you on your way before you are adopted.  You will always have a piece of my heart.  And I will love and care about you always.  I am sorry that I was your temporary fix, but I am thrilled that I was able to help in saving your life.  You will never live in a yard again; never know loneliness, cold, or hunger.  You are safe and we will take care of you… until that special family finds you and wants to call you their own.  ❤

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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

Sponsor me here!- 5k Race to Rescue

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

Sponsor me here- Donate

Just For Fun

 

 

 

 

At LCPO, we rescue a variety of “Pit Bull” type dogs.  Dogs that would be classified as a “Pit Bull” in the shelter system can range anywhere from 30-100 pounds!  I thought we’d play a little game, just for fun.  How much do Leroy and Tofu weigh?!  Please make your guesses in the comment section and use decimals so we can tell who is the closest.  Ex- 66.2  I will include a few pictures so you can get a good look.  🙂

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Short or tall?

Big or little?!

Big or little?!

Who is bigger?!

Who is bigger?!

Lap sized?

Lap sized?

A tiny little ball?

A tiny little ball?

As wide as a door? ;)

As wide as a door? 😉

Good luck on your guesses.  The winner will receive… well, my LOVE!  Yes.  And I will announce their name.  That sounds great, doesn’t it?!  Ready.  Set.  GUESS!

 

 

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

Sponsor me here- Donate

 

 

 

Top Ten!

One of my favorite things about being a Foster Mom is learning fun and wonderful things about my foster dog, and then sharing them with potential adopters!  Each foster dog is different with special quirks, likes, and dislikes.  One of the huge benefits of adopting a dog from a rescue rather than a shelter is that we (or any decent rescue) are able to give you SO much information about your potential new family member.  Imagine knowing what you’re getting yourself into, how well trained this dog is, if she has separation anxiety, if she is picky about her food; all before bringing her home!  The reality is that shelters can not always gather solid information about a dog because of the high stress environment.  But alas!  In a foster home, we can get a true read of an individual dog and assess what home he or she would do best in!  So here are the top ten reasons to adopt Tofu 🙂

1.  Happy!-  Tofu is seriously a joyful dog.  I spent ten solid minutes laughing at her yesterday when I picked up a bandanna.  The joy on her face was amazing!  Tofu gets antlers, nylabones, rope toys, balls ect.  None of these excite her in that special “happy dog” way.  But something ridiculous goes through her mind when she sees a bandanna, leash, collar, or scarf.  The wiggling!  Oh the wiggling.  I have no words.  We experience a similar reaction every morning when she is let out of her crate.  Every morning there are smiles, wiggles, happy dancing, joy, more wiggles.  She is a “morning person”.  But more than that, she’s a “life person”.

2. Genuine–  I wrote about Tofu’s past, how she got here, and what her life was like pre-rescue.  But I’ve come to realize that her past has given her a special gift.  She is genuine.  She lets you know how she is feelings and wants to express it to the world.  This is often experienced through tail wags, lap sitting, kisses on your face, and cuddle sessions.  However, she also was genuine about her initial feelings towards Leroy, and will politely know when he’s making her uncomfortable.  Way back when we were crate/rotating, she showed us her snarl teeth and said, “Hey, I’m not sure about him just yet.  Give me time.”  So we gave her time.  But Tofu is especially genuine in her reactions towards other people.  She wears her heart on her sleeve.  When it’s time to have a love fest- you’ll know it.  She’ll be whole-heatedly loving you to pieces.

3. Special–  Well of course, she’s deaf and has slight vision impairment in one eye.  But that’s not what I mean.  Tofu is special.  Something about her just makes you feel like you can accomplish more, dream more, give more.  Tofu makes you feel like the world is in your reach, and your only decision is to decide what you want to achieve.  She is inspiring.  She looks at you and her eyes say, “Just go for it.  I have faith in you.”

4. Home Ready– Most dogs who are living in a foster home will have this in common.  But none the less, it’s worth saying.  Tofu is ready for you.  She is crate trained, housebroken, knows basic commands, knows how to wait for her dinner in her crate, knows how to cuddle with her humans.  She gets it.  I thought it would take longer, since she was living outside, but she’s smart and ready for this life.

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5. Mature–  Dogs typically become “mature” around three years old.  Some of the issue’s I’m having with Leroy seem to have escalated in the past year,  but he is simply coming into his maturity.  Tofu however, is a ripe three years old.  She has likely reached her maturity, so “what you see is what you get”.  There will be little change down the road.  Of course none of this is a guarantee.  But her personality and core self is thought to be pretty set at this age.

6. Perfect Energy Level–  It may seem hard to define the “perfect energy level”.  However, I have a feeling that Tofu falls in the ideal category.  If you want to run, or hike, or even do some agility work, she will be ready with bells on!  If you want to walk or stroll casually, she would be happy to join you.  If you want to play with a toy, oh what fun!  And if you want to cuddle, well as long as there is room by your side.  I do think that Tofu would be a good agility dog.  I don’t know anything  much about this, but she has some serious jump in her step.  So I’d bet she’d figure the rest out 😉  But no matter how spunky your home is,  I would bet she’d do just fine.

7. Cute– Seriously, she’s cute as a button.  Better than that, she’s a Tofutti Cuttie! (Tofu is not endorsed by Tofutti in any way.  It would be cool though.)  But I mean her face!  Have you seen her?  Just look.  Ok.  This one is on you- look at the cute!

I iz cute!

I iz cute!

8. Cuddly– This is something that is very important to me.  Although it confuses me, I understand that not everyone wants a dog that will lick their face, sit on their lap, cuddle during nap time, and be all around cuddly.  But Tofu, she likes those things.  She can hang out independently or nap with Leroy at times.  But she loves being a cuddle bug.  And I would want her future family to love that about her.

9. Good– Tofu is a good dog.  She is not a perfect dog.  But she is learning and she tries very hard.  She wants do the right thing to make her humans happy.  She wants to please.  She wants to kiss you when you’re sad and sit politely while you’re on the phone.  She wants to wait for her dinner, no matter how hard and exciting it is.  She tries not to eat her toys, because I tell her “No” (but they taste so delicious!).  She wants to help you eat your dinner and do all the good things she can to make you happy.  She wants to be a good girl.

10. Adoptable!–  The best thing about Tofu is that she’s looking for you- her forever family!  She is waiting and ready for that right person to fall in love and say those special words.- “You will be with me for the rest of your days.  Your troubles are now my troubles.  I will be here for you, and never leave you.  I promise- I will never leave you.  You are not ‘homeless’ anymore.  You are mine.  And I am yours.”

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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

Sponsor me here- Donate

Indestructible Toys

As a Pit Bull mommy, I’ve been on a search to find the perfect indestructible toys.  You may be able to guess that this has provided quite the challenge!  Here is the rundown of toys we’ve tried.

1.  The Unbreakoball.  I would have liked to show an action shot of my pack playing with this- but they don’t.  It is still in wonderful shape, most likely collecting dust under my bed.  Leroy will give it about one second of attention.  Then he’ll realize he can’t pick it up, it’s not squishy or exciting enough, and he’ll go get something else.  I’ll give this toy an 7/10.  Indestructible- potentially.  But mine haven’t given it much of a chance.

2.  Jolly Ball- “Teaser Ball“.  Leroy likes this toy for short periods of time.  It will not hold his attention for longer than 5 minutes.  But I do feel that it’s pretty indestructible.  He can’t get a good grip on the edge of the ball, and the shape of it makes it hard for him to cause any damage.  We’ll say, 8/10.  Not a bad purchase!

Jora liked the Teaser Ball too. :)

Jora liked the Teaser Ball too. 🙂

3. Jolly Ball- “Tug-n-Toss“.  Leroy had the pleasure of playing with this toy while he stayed with Leigh at Opportunity Barks during my vacation.  He doesn’t even have one yet!  But his birthday is coming- SHH, don’t tell him 🙂  However, this toy was pretty great, puncture proof, easy to carry, chase, and fetch.  I’m looking forward to buying it and only slightly worried for my house!  I think this one deserves a 9/10, but as I said, I haven’t purchased it yet.

Sweet Spot Farm!

Sweet Spot Farm! 

4. Good ol’ plastic bottles.  (No link required)  Leroy loves chomping on any type of plastic.  My preferences are the more heavy duty kind, think Tropicana orange juice bottles.  We do a 2x recycle and there was no extra cost involved.  I drink whatever may be inside, Leroy flattens the bottle, we recycle it.  Not indestructible by any means, but cheap and worth tossing to your pooch! (that is unless they eat things whole).  I give it a 6/10 because recycling is easy and cheap 🙂

Picnik collage

5. Nylabones. Solid plastic?  We’ll take it!  Jora had a nylabone in her mouth, basically at all times.  Leroy enjoys them in phases.  Tofu isn’t so into them.  But they last!  They are not soft or squeaky or exciting, but I trust leaving them in the crates when I’m not home.  And they’re good for a nice munch on every now and then.  I give a 8/10 for these, but it has to be the “Powerful chewer” style.

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(These two pictures are especially terrible- I apologize)

6. Tuffy Toys.  First of all, it has to be the Tuffy Toy level 10.  And I am sad to report that our long lasting Tuffy Toy was recently demolished.  Tofu did most of the damage, and Leroy finished it off.  However, I am still going to give it a 9/10.  It lasted a long time.  And got the most play because it was soft and easy to pick up.  I will be buying more of these in the future.  Well done Tuffy!  Also, I don’t think Leroy would have killed it without Tofu’s help 🙂

Going

Going

Going

Going

Gone

Gone

If you have any great toy suggestions, please comment and let us know!

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

People Pleaser with Excellent Manners!

Tofu has an amazing quality that I would like to share with everyone!  She is a people-pleaser 🙂  She seems to adore every person that she meets at an excited and genuine level of “omg uu iz mai bef friend evaaa!”  This is dog-speak for, “Are you my forever family?? I LOVE you.”  My family of course gets to meet all of these dogs and they form opinions on them.  Our brother Robert came by recently to say  “Hi” to the pups.  While Leroy was a bit overrun with excitement, Tofu did a much better job of keeping her ‘four on the floor’.  He said, “She seems pretty cool”.  Which is a very good compliment coming from brother Robert 😉

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Tofu and her new friend, Steven

My brother Steven was hanging out with Tofu tonight and he said, “I would adopt a dog like her”.  Now that is a compliment! 🙂  We then talked about her inherent manners and what a good, sweet, girl she is.  In taking a chained, throw-away, breeder dog, I was expecting a lot more work when it came to household manners and daily activities.  She has picked everything up super quickly!  (She does fall up the steps sometimes from sheer excitement though lol)

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Tofu has some serious jump in her step, especially when she seems some type interesting prey.  She can probably scale a 5 foot fence and might really excellent at agility training.  So she may let out one big Tigger jump when she’s super excited.  But she almost never puts her paws on anyone, and she will quickly regroup to her happy dancing and wiggling on the floor.  My mom was also very impressed at her good greeting manners.  She is very happy to meet anyone who will pay attention to her, but she shows her love and excitement through tail whippings, butt wigglings, and smiles. 🙂

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Tofu was also happy to practice her Sits for some yummy biscuits! She did very well ‘listening’ to hand signals from a new friend.  All in all, I’ve been very impressed with her home-ready manners and enthusiasm for strangers.  Now all she needs is the home! ❤

"Sit" hand signal

“Sit” hand signal

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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

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 ❤