Things That People Don’t Like to Talk About- Progress Has Stopped

It’s not that there we’ve never made progress.  We have, and it has been excellent.  Leroy is on Prozac and he is a happier and more manageable dog.  I wrote about it here, and took a video of us working at the park.  That is an improved dog… seriously.  Maybe you didn’t know him before, but just take my word on this one.  Or take my vet’s word after she watched the video, “That is really terrific – GREAT job, and you’re using different tools (watch, leave it, look at that). You really seem to have found that door into his brain :)”.

So despite the progress, Leroy still has his moments.  That’s all fine and well.  But is that as good as it gets?  I have been participating in a weekly training walk for Pit Bull owners.  Leroy seems to do the same thing every week.  Maybe I just am too close to see what I’m doing wrong.  He freaks out but recovers quickly, then he’s happy to be next to the other dogs and enjoy the pack walk.  Freak out, walk.  Freak out, walk.  Freak out, walk.  Every single week, all summer long.

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I’m gonna be honest here.  I am quite sure that I have room to improve.  I know it for a fact.  But even considering that, there is a part of me that thinks I should be happy with what we’ve accomplished and stop expecting more.

I’ve had the great pleasure of helping one of the rescue dogs, Denali, as her foster buddy and trainer.  She is a sweet three year old girl that needed some help on manners. She happens to have a very pregnant foster mom who has never had a dog before.  🙂  Denali is just a little bit pushy and rude in social settings.  But she absolutely stole my heart!  And after one adoption event and training walk, she has gotten significantly better with her handler focus, sit, watch me, and down.  PROGRESS!  So much progress in just two days.  It’s overwhelming!

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After causing a scene of excitement in the park once Denali mastered the “down” command, I realized that I love and miss training!  I just have been stuck in a routine with Leroy.  I am enjoying the Nosework class with him very much.  But I haven’t felt that excited rush of watching him learn something in a long time.  So until I figure out what to do with my boy, I will get that clicker out and help Denali be the best girl she can be!  She will learn manners, basic obedience, tricks.. maybe she’ll even get C.L.A.S.S. certified!

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*Note.  While I was in the middle of writing this and making mini strawberry pies, my brother Steven’s friend said, “I hope when I have a dog he is as well behaved as Leroy.  He’s a good boy.”

I feel like the universe just smacked me in the head!  Granted, this friend has not seen Leroy lunge after another dog or protect a bone.  He has not seen Leroy be his full-arse-self. But when Leroy is being properly managed and in a familiar location, he is a very good boy.  Sure he chases his tail, sometimes regularly jumps on strangers, begs for food, acts like a goon, ect.  But he is a wonderful dog, especially when he’s not being stressed out by any of his triggers.

To top things off, we showed off our most recent trick, “Bang” which we learned way back in Philly.  But apparently my family had not seen it yet!  They were very impressed 🙂  Since it was new and we hadn’t practiced regularly, he was a little rusty.  But by attempt three he promptly rolled over, flailed up his legs, and paused for effect.  Thanks buddy! 🙂  So my dog is making progress!  Or maybe I’m just making progress at managing him 😉  Either way, Leroy was called well behaved today, possibly for the first time in his life.  So “Thank you”, to my brother’s friend Anthony, for unknowingly putting me in my place.

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Progress Pie

Club Pit

I am lucky enough to volunteer with an amazing pit bull organization.  If you are remotely near PA, you should volunteer with us too.  We have a program called Club Pit.  From the website:

“Looking for a way to meet other pit bull owners or socialize your dog responsibly? New adopter from a shelter or rescue looking for support? Have a pit bull and want in on the fun? Check out LCPO’s Club Pit! It is our mission to have responsible pit bull owners in our communities. Club Pit is a way for us to lend pit bull owners the support they often need through information, socialization and a low cost spay & neuter program.”

Wow.  Is that awesome, or what?  Well I am a pit bull owner and I need support!  So yesterday I join Club Pit for their first weekly training walk.  It is a controlled environment that we can work on training, where I am supported and understood by fellow dog owners.  Less judgement; more nodding and compassionate smiles.  I love it, obviously.  Anyone who knows Leroy by now, knows he was bound to throw a few fits.  My friend and rescue champion Christine remarked, “Is that all he does?  That’s not so bad.  I’ve seen worse.”  She was perhaps being nice, or slightly delusional 😉  However, her unwavering support means a lot.  And Leroy adores her.  I did not remind her that, yes, this is all he does after two years of training and 20mg of Prozac!  But all in all, he was slightly improved from his pre-Prozac, pre-Reactive Rover days.  He was vocal.. he really loves to let everyone know how stressed out he is.  And I was a neglectful mom and couldn’t find his Halti, so he pulled like a demon.  But otherwise, he did just fine.

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Watch Me!

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Please ignore how attractive I am. It was a great hair day.

 

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Leroy was trying to woo Sage, who was training for her Therapy Dog test

 

Despite how well I know Leroy and how I am always preaching about standing up for your dogs, I found myself climbing up a slippery mountain to get away from a ditsy, inconsiderate  normal dog owner who thought it was funny that her two dogs totaling 35 pounds were pulling her towards our pack.  Instead of just yelling out, “Stop, he needs his space!”, I decided to run off the path, risking my life  twisting an ankle to get out of her reach.  I need to start taking my own advice!  So in case you haven’t read it yet, or if you need a pep talk like I did, check out this blog.      

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Leroy and I prepared for the walk by decorating ourselves with yellow ribbon.  Of course, not all dog owners know what this means.  So I’m here to tell you! 🙂  It means Leroy needs his space.  Here is the website for the Yellow Dog Project.  Check it out and if you see a dog sporting yellow, (or an owner running up a mountain) give them some space!

What To Do This Summer

So for the foreseeable future, I have taken up residents with my parents in Scranton, PA.  I am job hunting and looking to move back to Philadelphia around August.  Until then, I’m having a training dilemma.  I’ll start by saying that I am only open to using force free trainers.  Anything other than that is out of the question.  So anyone I will mention is going to fall under that category.  I am hoping that I can get some advice or suggestions.  Keep in mind that I would like to be less broke with a better trained dog 😉 Here are my options while I’m here:

I can choose to travel approximately 1 hour & 15 minutes to a reputable, force free trainer.  I can do private sessions or wait for a potential weekday Reactive training class to start up.  

I can travel 1 hour & 45 minutes to a reputable, trusted, and force free trainer.  I can do private sessions or group lessons.

I can use a local trainer who is less experienced but force free.  I can do a private session where she will evaluate Leroy and see if he can be placed in any of her group training class (which I suspect he can’t).  Or I can continue to do private sessions with her.

I can work by myself on practicing what I know in controlled and respectful environments.  I can do “pack walks” with trusted friends.

I have been struggling with this decision and am looking for some help.  I may give the local trainer a try.  But I don’t want to waste my time and money when I have heard she may not be the best for my situation.  I also can’t afford to be driving all summer, paying tolls, and racking up more debt… Leroy doesn’t even have a job 😉  (and I am barely employed!)  But I also want to keep working with him and seeing progress.  With the lack of bicycles in my neighborhood, Leroy has decided to recently lunge after two cars, actively trying to attack them.  This type of “unexpected” behavior is what brought me crying into Dr. Reisner’s office in the first place.  We must not regress!  Ok, I’m trying not to fall apart completely.  I understand I changed his environment.  But common Leroy, you’ve already been beaten by a car once.  Let’s be logical here.  Your mom can only handle so much crazy out of you!

Until Leroy understands my English; help, suggestions, opinions, local trainer recommendations, advice??  It’s all much appreciated!

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Deep Breaths

Last night, Leroy was exuberantly running around the house, showing off for my parents.  He was flashing his big pit bull grin when he jumped onto Grandma and Grandpa’s bed, quickly lifted his leg, and peed on their duvet cover.

Bad dog..

Bad dog..

People of the world often anthromorphize these types of behaviors, either by saying something like, “Leroy was being spiteful because I made him take a nap in my bedroom”, or “Leroy felt so sorry after he peed on the bed.  He knew he was wrong.”

Well, people of the world; I can promise you that Leroy made no connection between his earlier nap in my bedroom, nor knew that he had done something wrong.  He was simply interrupted and ran away happily.  WHYYYYY??  Why Leroy??

These are the moments I look at him for .3 seconds and say, “Mommy doesn’t love you anymore”, in the sweetest voice I can muster.  Then he’ll do something so cute, it hurts my heart.  Last night his move was cuddling on the couch between me and his Grandma, and propping his head up on her knee, making the best squishy face that ever did exist.  Falling asleep on her with squinty eyed bliss, even Grandma forgot we were mad at the Pudding.  All returns to normal soon after the incident.

But again! The following morning Leroy wants to push my buttons again!  Leroy darling, I am a patient mamma, but you’re making me crazy!  Though for Leroy, I had to accept that he was not trying to make me crazy.  He was simply stressed out, overwhelmed, and unable to handle the situation.  Between the two barking mongrels across the street that run the barrier of their electric fence, the strange collection of men in the backyard with the landscaping company, and the gaggle of seventeen year old kids playing basketball and roughhousing in the pool; Leroy was like WTF?! And I was like WTF?!  These are the moments when I trust my dear friend Christine to tolerate my mental breakdown.  I text her and say, “I’d like to return Leroy and exchange him for a better dog”.  And she says, “No.  You love him too much.  And no one else wants him”.  This of course, is all in jest.  I wouldn’t give up Leroy if you pried him out of my cold, hard grasp.  He is my true love and favorite creature on this planet.  But still, we all are allowed to go over threshold every once in awhile 😉

It’s going to be a long summer…

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I am constantly reminded to respect Leroy’s limits, as well as my own.  So as I type this, Leroy is in his “Safe Place” of my bedroom.  He was too stressed out watching the big kids play in the pool, plus he needed a nap after our exhilarating afternoon walk.  And yaknow what?  That is OK.  I’d rather keep him safe and calm than push his limits.  I am working to be the best guardian that I can.  That includes knowing when and how to protect my dog from stress.  And even though he drives me crazy, I love him more than words can express.  So I am happy to do this for him.

On a lighter note, we do have an exciting announcement to make!  Check back tomorrow for that 😉   And until then, deep breaths!

If you have any suggestions or force free training articles on how to stop territory marking, please send them my way!  Also, please comment with any questions or topics you would like me to write about.  🙂

Dog Accessories

As a dog person, I constantly have my eyes open for the newest dog accessory.  In my house, we are fully equipped with a variety of collars, leashes, and harnesses.  We have a head halter and a cage muzzle.  We have tshirts, a life vest, sun screen, poop bag holders, clickers, and treat bags.  So what are the best accessories?  What stuff is worth coming back to?

So here is a run-down of what Leroy is currently, or most often sporting.

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Freedom No Pull Harness

The Freedom No Pull Harness is an awesome tool.  There is a latch in the front and back of the harness, and it comes with a double connection leash.  You can choose to hook one part on the front and one on the back, two on the front, two on the back, or just one to create a longer leash.  I usually opt for both sides hooked to the front, or one on the front and one on the back.  However, my favorite part about this harness is the velvet armpit straps.  The Freedom is similar to the more readily available Easy Walk harness (being modeled on Drake), which is found at most pet stores.  But the nice straps help with rubbing and are especially appreciated for the short haired dogs.

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Holt Walking Collar

Commonly mistaken for a muzzle, the Holt Walking Collar is probably the best training tool I’ve found.  This tool helps to control your dog’s head.  It works the same way as the horse bridle; so when you control the face, you can easily control the body.  The downfall to this tool is that it takes some acclimation, and Leroy often tries to rub it off on the grass.  But despite some random grass rolling, he walks much nicer in this than anything else.  I especially like the Holt brand of head halters because it has an additional clip to attach the halter to the dog’s collar.  The Gentle Leader makes a head collar that simply has a leash attachment.  However, I feel much more secure knowing that my leash is attached to Leroy’s head halter, which is also attached to his collar.  So this, is my go-to walking accessory.

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Martingale collar and ID tag

And the daily accessory; Leroy’s martingale collar and name tag.  I have a lot of dog collars.  More than I need, certainly.  But I have grown to really like the martingale.  Granted, I don’t use it for walking.  But it is very secure, and super cute 🙂  It needs to either be adjusted or vigorously pulled over his head if I want to take it off.  I like knowing that it is really on him.  So if I ever had to grab hold in an emergency situation, the collar and tag would be sturdy.  The ID tag is a simple, custom, adorable, neck tie design that is engraved with his name and my phone number.

As you may have noticed, the training tools and techniques I use with Leroy are all known as “Force Free” or “Positive Reinforcement”. No prong collar, force, intimidation, or pain is used.  But I would like to know- What do you use?  What have you tried and not had very much luck with?  What are your dog’s accessories?  🙂

 

Sponsor us here– 5k Race to Rescue

Impressive Trickster!

I wrote Leroy a resume a few months ago and I decided that since we won’t be fostering for some time, I want to add some awesome things to it.  And I need your help!  Here is a list of Leroy’s tricks that have been changed slightly since his first draft resume.

Sit, Down, Stay, Drop it, Leave it, Nice to Meet You (paw), Watch Me, Say Hi, Here, Bang, Go To Your Room, Give Me a Hug, and Kiss.  His newer or less practice commands are Stand, Spin. Crawl, All the Way Down, Roll Over, and High Ten.

The newest things we’ve been working on are Back Up, and Close The Door.  And I am excited!  So first, here are two progress videos of Leroy working.

 

Now!  The part I need help with 🙂  I would like a list of wonderful comment suggestions of what we should work on for the whole summer!  Cute tricks, hard sequence activities, funny things- whatever you’ve got!  Bring it on 😉

 

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

Look at that!

Leroy and I have been working on a command for quite some time.  Sometimes I thought, “Hey, he got it!”.  But most of the time, I felt like he had no clue what it meant.  This command is, “Look at that”.  I am asking Leroy to look for what I’m pointing at or something exciting, and then look back at me.  Jackpot- reward- good boy!  The problem is that what I’m asking him to look at is exciting.  So there may be a cat, bird, screaming tiny human, another dog ect.  And when Leroy sees these things, he goes into crazy dog mode.  We had done a few solid Look at that’s in the past, but it was not very reliable.  Leroy is better at working on this command inside and looking out the back door at the cat.  But once we are outside, things are harder.  However, today we had a wonderful walk!  And it was a warm-spring-fever day with lots of activity around the neighborhood.  GO LEROY!  Leroy is also at week 4 on Prozac, and I think I’m starting to notice subtle differences.  We’ve also been working our butts off with training.  So it’s hard to say what is causing the progress.  But I’d guess a combination of both.

So today on our walk, we had a lot of our “good stuff” training rewards- specifically, a huge chunk of the food roll.    Here is the tally of our walk and what we “failed” or reacted poorly at, and what we “passed” and did a wonderful “look at that” followed by a great “look back at mommy and get tons of food”.

Screaming child #1- Fail.  But just a minor fail.  Leroy doesn’t like screaming tiny humans.  It freaks him out.  He had a minor reactive moment, but we were able to keep it together and walk away in the other direction.

Screaming child # 2 and 3- Pass.  There are a group of kids that play in the culdesac by my apartment.  Bouncing balls and a bike, plus some noise- at a further distance, we passed!

Randomly scattered adult humans- Pass.  Usually Leroy does keep it together when we’re around people.  But if he’s especially worked up or if it’s dark, he can react poorly.  But today we walked around and did great.

Two yappy dogs in their fenced in yard- Pass!  This was a close call, because man were they yappy.  But he sat, did a “Look at that”.  Then we got a little closer and did another “Look at that”.  At this point they had noticed us and started wailing.  But Leroy still looked back at me for a hunk of food- good boy!  Then we hurried past their home.  Not walking wonderfully on the leash, but not freaking out either!

Homeless man in a wheelchair- Pass.  Leroy’s eyes lingered on this for a beat too long.  But he did in fact look back at me with no poor reaction!

Slow moving pack of cats- PASS.  This is huge, huge, for Leroy.  He’s had a few unpleasant run ins with the feline species, and I’ve declared him as “Not good with cats.”  He feels the same way about them, as they do him (see picture).  Luckily, he’s never done any damage!  But we keep them apart anyway 🙂   Normally he would totally loose his cool over cats, especially when they’re moving.  But we saw three sauntering kitties across the street.  And Leroy did an excellent “Look at that”!  He also did great when we saw a sitting kitty who was in a yard we walked pass.

i gotz beaded up bai a kitty

Skateboard- Fail.  Leroy hates the skateboards.  He looked at it, and then he tried to eat it.  Hmpm.  Too much, too soon!

Garbage bags x9- Pass.  It seems like the whole neighborhood did spring cleaning and had their trash out early.  There wasn’t much lunging for smells and crumbs of garbage.  And their also wasn’t any- “Moving plastic bag?!- Attack!”, which has happened in the past.  So very good!

i iz ready fo me yumz yum.

i iz ready fo me yumz yum.

Thanks again to our trainer Michaela at Opportunity Barks!  And good job Leroy 🙂  We will keep working on the “Look at that” command, because it seems to be a great tool to have mastered!

 

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

The Good Stuff

Yesterday I wrote about the Reactive Rover training class that Leroy and I finished.  Woo Leroy!  (more on that later, I promise)  I mentioned that I bring the “good stuff” to class, meaning that I stock up on very high value treats.  Here is a run down of what we use, and why we use it!

When I first signed Leroy up for training classes, I was worried that he would be so stressed out that he would ignore all of my special treats!  Sometimes when we are in a scary place like the vet, Leroy doesn’t care about food.  This is always hard for me to believe, because he LOVES food.  Seriously, he loves it.  So I was concerned that he would be stressed and just say “meh” to the hunk of meat in my hand.  Luckily for me, I have an awesome trainer.  She talked about what “goods” to bring to class, and Leroy ate them all up!

*time out*  If there are any of those, “Why do you need food to train your dog? Shouldn’t he be a good boy because he loves you?” type people, I would like to give them a shout out.  My dog (and most others) learns best by receiving food rewards when he is doing something right.   He offers a behavior, and either a. I do nothing or b. I reward it.  Behaviors that are rewarded will happen more often.  Training 101.  Sure, I could give him a nice pat on the head and tell him he is a good boy.  But my dog loves food, so damnit, I’m going to give him food!  It is a very high value reward for him.  Therefore, using food helps keep his attention and interest in training.  Otherwise he would just be eating Fluffy for a full hour. 😉 *time in*

Most of these are under the category of “soft and small”, aka perfect for training.  Although we are stocking up with food, dogs should be getting super tiny amounts of these rewards each time they do something good.  (And this should be faded and mixed in with functional/life rewards over time)  Approximately half a pinky finger nail!  No fat puppies here 🙂  So here is our list of the “good stuff”!  Tested and proven to be exciting, high value, and delicious to Leroy.. and maybe your dog too!

1. Hot Dogs.  First of all, gross.  I’m not a meat person.  So it was quite the effort for me to buy these suckers and feed them to Leroy.  But I did it, and he loved it!  The highest of the high value.  If you have a dog that ignores food when stressed, try the magical hot dog!

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2. “Soft and Small” training rewards.  Most companies make some type of small training treat.  We like to stay on the healthy side of things, so brands like Blue Buffalo or Zeke’s.  Not much junk in them, but still a great treat 🙂

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3. Food Rolls.  These are a newer thing in the world of dog food.  It can be used as a full meal, as a special dry food topper, and as a training reward.  It’s pretty soft but still packed together.  I used this a lot in Reactive Rover because I could hold a big chunk of it and break of smaller pieces.

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4. Freeze Dried Beef Liver.  Aka, crack for dogs.  This one is a little different because it’s not soft.  However, it breaks apart pretty easily so you can still give tiny treats and the dog will swallow it up nice and fast.  I don’t know what it is, but dogs like this.  Take my word.  Tofu is a huge fan as well.  🙂

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Well there it is, my list of the top four best training treats in the whole world.  Or something like that!  Thanks to Stephanie from And Foster Makes Five for the suggestion! Check out some wonderful blogging over there 🙂

 

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

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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 ❤