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

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Brother Robert

Introducing, Brother Robert! Robert is the middle brother, in his prime college years.  He is the type of guy who can use the phrase, “lovin’ life”, and mean it to the full extent. 🙂  He is certainly animal friendly and always gives the dogs a nice pat on the head before he is out the door.  He will cuddle on occasion or nap with Blueberry.  But he has assigned the family cat, Lucky, as his animal.  (Though somehow I am the one that took Lucky to the vet for his yearly…)  Regardless, Robert is a good sport and is excited for the puppy.  He also came out and ran the LCPO 5k with Steven.

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“Nice to meet you” with Robert

Robert is a great brother who does his best to participate in the dog-crazy that is our home.  He tries to help out when he can and he likes hanging with the big Lee.  I am especially excited to bring the puppy home, because I know Robert is excited and will love that puppy to pieces 🙂

Thanks Brother Robert, for being part of this crazy family!

 

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

Progress!

 

 

 

 

So if you read my letter to Leroy or noticed my lack of blogging, you may have gathered that I’ve been a little bit busy.  But I’m back!  This month I received my MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  (WOOT! If you’re interested in the other half of my life, you can check that out)  I will be busy and working to figure life out, as always.   But I promise to start providing more regular updates on Leroy’s progress!  However, it was a good time to take a blogging break, because Leroy is officially on Prozac (it takes 6 weeks to see any noticeable changes).  So I am ready and able to say that we are making progress!  But I am 100% certain that this progress is a combination of Prozac and very diligent training.  The Prozac is helping Leroy to stay under threshold more easily, and the training is giving him something active and productive to do when he becomes stressed out or overwhelmed.  It had been a great combination!  Not without mistakes, meltdowns, or errors of course.  But the overall trend has been progress.

Leroy is more capable of coping with a slowly moving cat in the distance, or even a very still cat a few feet away!  He uses his new favorite command, “Look at that”, to find something that is exciting and chase-worthy.  When he sees the exciting kitty, he has a moment.  Maybe we’ll call it a mental freak out.  He sees the cat and he wants to chase it!  That’s what he knows- that’s what he does!  But then he remembers- If he sees something exciting and he looks up at mom, he gets treats!  Good boy Leroy, good boy 🙂

We are still struggling with skateboards.  Those buggers are a challenge.  But we had a nice moment yesterday with a boy walking past us who was holding a skateboard.  Leroy didn’t quite go over threshold, but he was crying and worked up about it.  On the one hand, I could have been upset.  He wasn’t even riding the skateboard, he was just carrying it!  But on the other hand, I knew what to do!  And guess what?! Leroy knew what to do!  I waited Leroy out while he had a minor freak out… and then he gave me a very nice look away.  YES!  Good boy Leroy, Michaela would be proud.  🙂  Leroy got a nice reward and we left!

I goez for nap nao

I goez for nap nao.

 

Sorry for the delay in posting.  Please comment if you have any questions, post suggestions or anything at all!

 

Sponsor us here– 5k Race to Rescue

A Letter To My Dog

Dear Leroy,

Thank you for your continuous support and friendship.  You have been an amazing help to me during this past month while I finished graduate school.  I could not have done it without your patience and understanding.  I would like to thank you for being so wonderful, as well as apologize for my faults.

We both know that when I was looking for a companion, I wanted to meet an adult, preferably older than three.  You came into my life as a young one year old mess who needed a friend, and after being your foster mom for many months, I could not say goodbye.  I was happy that you did not have a very high energy level, even back then.  I knew that these two years in school would require a lot of my time, energy, and attention.  But what you lacked in energy, you began to make up for in behavioral issues.

I let things get to a bad place.  I can not fully express the depth of my sorrow for that.  I was often tired after I finished a long day in school, and you seemed to prefer cuddling and tug-of-war over a walk.  Philadelphia is scary.  You seemed very overwhelmed, so I let things slide.  This is not acceptable.  I am so sorry for this mistake.  When a child does not want their vegetables, their mom will not let it slide.  They get creative.  They ask for one bite.  They ask for a second bite.  They are encouraging.  They persist.  I did not persist.  You didn’t like walks, so we stopped.  I promise to never let this happen again.

 

I did take you on the occasional walk.  And we did a lot of playing, fostering, training, and games.  So things were not all bad.  But something happened during this time that made me truly understand your stress level.  Not anything obvious.  Maybe I just was reading, training, and trying to understand.  You are after all, my first dog.  We did a lot of learning together.  But I started to understand that maybe you needed more help than I could offer.  I don’t like seeing you stressed.  But I didn’t know how to fix it.  And avoiding the outdoors certainly isn’t a good solution.

I finally accepted that I needed some help.  So after the holidays we went full force into behavioral adjustment training and started you on Prozac.  I blamed myself for your lack of progress.  But now I blame myself for letting things get as bad as they did.  I know this last month has been crazy, but I promise I will never let things get to that place again.

So Leroy, thank you.  Thank you for letting me slack off this month.  I can not say that life will never get busy or overwhelming again; I’m sure that it will.  But I will do my best to remember all of your needs, and take them seriously.  You may be willing to skip the walk, but it does not mean that we should.  Thank you for everything.

Your Loving Mother and Friend,

Casey

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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