Friday, July 5, 2013

Premature Obedience Training Review

Margot’s mood and behavior have improved a good deal since my last post.  Luke has been sleeping on the couch with her at night and, so far, we’ve only had one incident of destruction.  I went downstairs one morning last week to find that they had ripped all of the stuffing out of one of our throw pillows, and there was blue stuffing EVERYWHERE!  This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, though.  I purchased four of these throw pillows several months ago when we bought our new sofa, and they’ve been ripping them apart one by one.  We now only have one pillow left.  I’m not upset about it, though.  I mean, they were nice pillows, but pillows are replaceable.  Besides, I’d much rather they destroy throw pillows than my new sofa cushions. 

Anyway, I’ve stuck to my guns about not adopting a third dog right now, and Justin seems to be okay with that decision…for now.   I know he would love to go get a third dog right now if I would let him, but I keep telling him to just hold his horses and try to look forward to having a new puppy in a few years instead.  I think the fact that Margot hasn’t been acting as sad lately is part of the reason why Justin has stopped bringing up the subject of getting a third dog.  We’ve also been watching Frank a lot lately (Zach and Kristy are currently on a camping trip), so it kind of feels like we have three dogs right now, anyway. 

So, the main reason I’m posting today is to talk about Margot’s obedience classes.  As you may recall, I gave a 6-week review after she graduated from the first half of her 12-week course at Petco.  At that point, I said that I recommended the first six-weeks of classes , especially to new dog owners, because they teach some pretty basic, yet important, commands and lay a good foundation for building your dog’s ability to learn and follow more advanced commands.  I still stand by that recommendation; however, I don’t think I’m going to be so eager to recommend the second six weeks of training classes, and certainly not the full12-week package.   Mind you, we still have three classes left before Margot graduates the full 12-week course, so it’s possible that my opinion could change over the next three weeks, but as of right now, I would recommend taking only the first six weeks of classes.

The main reason why I’m not so thrilled about the second half of obedience training classes is because 12 weeks is a LONG time to keep going back to Petco week after week.  Quite frankly, we’re burnt out.  Not only that, but it doesn’t feel like we’re really learning anything new anymore.  We didn’t go to class a couple of weeks ago because we were grieving Sam, so I thought we were going to have to arrange a make-up class or something.  However, it turns out that the only thing they learned that week was “wait,” which is almost exactly the same command as “leave it,” only it involves walking through a doorway instead of leaving a toy on the floor.  We open the door, then body-block Margot so she can’t run through the doorway, and we give the command, “Wait!”  Then, eventually, we stop body-blocking her, but only if she’s not trying to run through the door.  Finally, after she’s waited for a few seconds, you give her the release command and let her go through.  We tried it for the first time at Petco last week, and Margot got it right away.  So, I told Claire that I didn’t see the need for us to schedule a make-up class, if that’s all they went over. 

During the first six weeks, we would learn two to three new commands at each class and barely went over anything we learned at the previous class.  Every now and then, Claire would have a sort of pop quiz to see if we’ve been working on the commands learned in the previous classes, but then we always moved on.  During this six weeks, however, it feels like all we do is go over everything we’ve already learned, and we only learn maybe one new command per class now.  Sometimes, we don’t even learn a new command, we just sort of expand on one that we’ve already learned.  For example, I believe that today Claire is going to have us give the “sit” and “stay” commands to our dogs from the other end of the aisle, instead of while standing right in front of them.  I guess that’s a good thing to practice, but that seems like something we should just be working on at home.  I would rather Margot learn an entirely new command, rather than just keep doing the ones she already knows backwards and forwards. 

The reason why we initially purchased the 12-week package was because it was slightly cheaper than if we had purchased each six weeks of courses separately.  Plus, with the 12-week package you also receive two one-on-one sessions with Claire.  We’ve already used one of our one-on-one sessions, during which we practiced leash walking, but I can honestly say that it was only mildly helpful.  Don’t get me wrong, Claire is great.  She’s very supportive, and she truly cares about helping us train our dogs.  I will also say that Margot walked on her leash much better during our one-on-one training session with Claire than she does when it’s just me, her, and Justin, but I just didn’t feel like I learned anything new or made a real break-through with Margot as a result of that one-on-one session. 

I don’t know.  Like I said, maybe I should wait until we actually complete the last few classes before I give my final recommendation, but that’s just how I’m feeling right now.  At this point, if I had it to do over again, I would have only purchased the first six weeks of classes.

The "Third Dog" Debate

[Note:  This was supposed to be posted about a week ago, but I just discovered that apparently I forgot to click Publish.  Oops!]

After much thought and discussion, I’m more against the idea of adopting a third dog right now.   Well, let me rephrase that:  I’m more against the idea of adopting our third dog from an animal shelter without knowing anything about the dog first, like we did with Luke.  Don’t get me wrong, we hit the doggy JACKPOT when we adopted Luke, but we were extremely lucky.  Luke could have easily turned out to be an aggressive dog or have any number of other behavioral issues, which is the chance you take when you decide to adopt from an animal shelter.  

To further clarify, pound puppies are wonderful, loving, loyal dogs that need homes, and I strongly urge everyone to adopt from their local shelters if possible, but shelter dogs may not always the best choice for certain situations.  If mine and Justin’s current situation was different, I would not hesitate to adopt another dog from our local shelter. However, with two very energetic pups already in the house, I have developed a specific list of criteria that I would require from a third dog, if we ever do adopt one, which are as follows:

1.       Our third dog should be at least 3 to 5 years-old.  After losing Lexie, Jocie, and Sam in the span of less than a year, I swore I’d never have multiple dogs that were so close in age ever again.  Unfortunately, Luke did not turn out to be the 3 year-old dog that the shelter employee originally told us he was, and so now I have two puppies who are almost exactly the same age. 
2.       The third dog should have a lower-energy, more laid back type of personality.   I’m not saying that the dog should never play or get excited, but since I’ve already got two puppies who are constantly wrestling and chasing each other around the house, it would be nice if the third dog preferred to just watch their antics rather than join in.
3.       The dog has to be extremely socialized and not aggressive towards people or other animals under any circumstance.  I know this seems like a pretty standard, “no duh” type of criteria, but aggression is a personality trait that is sometimes difficult to see when you first adopt a dog from the shelter.  You might fall in love with a dog at the pound because he’s extremely friendly towards you, but then, after you’ve brought him home, you find out that your new dog tends to show aggression towards unfamiliar men or becomes aggressive at mealtimes.  
4.       Although this is not a deal-breaker, I would love it if the third dog was a cuddler so that Margot could have a new cuddle buddy to sleep with.

The way I see it, the only way Justin and I can be sure that a dog meets all of these criteria is to adopt one that has either been in a foster home for a while, or one who is looking for a new home because the current owner can no longer keep him/her.   That way, the previous owner or foster parent can tell us from firsthand experience what the dog’s personality is like.  A shelter dog’s true personality is usually only discovered after the dog has lived with you for a while, and I’m just not in a position right now to be able to work with a dog with any behavioral issues.   Plus, I’m afraid of bringing home a dog who might act aggressively towards Margot and/or Luke at some point.

With all of that said, I’m still not 100% certain that I even want a third dog right now.  Margot and Luke are so awesome together, and part of me is afraid that a third dog will change their relationship somehow.   What if Margot prefers the new dog over Luke or vice versa?  Or, what if Margot and Luke completely ignore the new dog or, even worse, are mean to him/her?  Any of those scenarios would break my heart. 

Furthermore, the biggest reason why we were considering adopting a third dog was because we felt sorry for Margot.  She obviously misses Sam, but the grieving seems to be improving lately.  In fact, I’ve even noticed that Margot seems to be acting a little bit sweeter lately than she did before Sam died.  This past week, she has actually taken breaks from chasing Luke around or playing with one of her toys just to come over and rest her head on my lap.  There’s also a sort of tenderness in her eyes that I’ve been seeing a lot more of lately.   Of course, the downside is that, if Justin or I are busy and don’t have time to snuggle or pet Margot right when she wants us to, she gets extremely whiney.   After also dealing with this type of behavior from Lexie, though, I’m convinced that the whining demands for attention are just a “Dobe thing.”  I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, though.  It’s actually kind of cute.  (Spoken like a true Doberman enthusiast.) 

As for my little Prince, Lukas (I recently gave him the middle name Prince, by the way), he has shown some improvements in his behavior this past week, as well.  A few nights ago, when Margot was acting a little sad before bedtime, Justin and I decided to leave Luke out of his crate, just to see how he’d do.  We were hoping (and still are hoping) that he would eventually start cuddling Margot if we left him out with her at night, but Luke also has a history of destroying things (shoes, remote controls, T-shirts, etc.) while we’re asleep, which is why we started crating him a few months ago.  However, so far, Luke has done pretty well sleeping out of his crate at night.  In fact, I think that having Luke on the couch with her these past few nights is part of the reason why Margot has seemed a little less sad lately.  

So, for all the reasons I just mentioned above (and one other very big reason that I will discuss another day), I’m kind of leaning towards holding off on adopting a third dog at this time.   For me, it all boils down to this:  If we get a third dog right now, it will definitely have to be an older dog, and, unfortunately, I’ve come to view a dog’s lifespan as being like an hourglass that is just constantly draining, until one day it eventually runs out.  And yes, smartass, I do realize that this metaphor also applies to humans, but a dog’s hourglass is much, much shorter and, as a result, I am much more aware of it.  After Lexie and Jocie died, all I could do was wonder when Sam’s time was going to run out, as well.   I tried not to focus on such a negative thought, but I simply couldn’t help it, and every time I looked at Sam, I just wanted to cry.  So, I’m afraid that if we adopt an older dog, especially so soon after losing our other three older dogs, I will always be wondering in the back of my mind, “How much time does this dog have left?”

The other option for getting a third dog is to wait a few years until Luke and Margot are a little older and then get a new puppy, which is the better option in my opinion.  You see, with puppies, I’m not as aware of their little hourglasses because they’ve still got so many good years ahead of them, and I’m way too focused on raising them and training them to even worry about the length of their lifespan. 

Unfortunately, Justin doesn’t totally agree with me about all of this and would love to adopt a dog right now, which makes me feel kind of bad.  However, I do think that he sees where I’m coming from, and of course he also loves puppies, so I’m hoping that he can just be patient for the next few years while we wait to add a third dog to our family.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Good-Bye, Sweet Samul

I’m sad to announce that, last Tuesday evening (6/18/13), Justin and I had to say good-bye to our sweet Sam.  She had thrown up a few times over the previous week, but it was intermittent, and she still continued to eat, drink, and use the bathroom normally, so we decided to just keep an eye on her.  Then, last Monday evening, she threw up a very large amount of mucous, and she seemed a little weaker than usual, so I decided I would call the vet in the morning to make her an appointment.  That night, Sam pushed down the baby gate and came upstairs to sleep in our bedroom with us, which is typical of her, but she did not even try to get in our bed, which isn’t as typical.  She just slept in the floor. 

In the morning, I noticed that her breathing looked a little labored, and she didn’t come downstairs to go outside or eat breakfast with Luke and Margot.  However, it wasn’t unusual for Sam to stay in bed and skip the whole morning routine, so I tried not to let it upset me.  She was also still very responsive whenever I pet her, so I hoped that she was just being lazy that morning.  Still, as soon as I got to work, I called and made her a vet appointment for Friday at 9:45 AM because both Justin and I had Friday off that week.

Later that afternoon, Kristy texted to ask if Sam was at the vet already because Sam wasn’t downstairs when Kristy came over to get Frank during her lunch break.  This worried me because it was not like Sam to stay upstairs all day.  So, I began frantically texting Justin, knowing that he would be home soon for his lunch break, and asked for an update about Sam.  He finally texted back, but it wasn’t good news.  In fact, he told me to call the vet back immediately and try to bump up Sam’s appointment because something was definitely wrong.  He had managed to coax her downstairs when he got home for lunch, and she even went out into the yard to use the bathroom, but she was so weak that she could barely make it up the four steps of our deck, and she basically collapsed as soon as she made it back inside the house.  Justin brought her water, which she gladly drank, but then she threw it all up just a minute later.  She also turned her nose up at food, which is definitely not like Sam.

Upon hearing all of this, I knew in my heart that Sam would probably not be coming home from her vet appointment.  Regardless, I called the vet back, told the receptionist how Sam’s health had rapidly declined since that morning, and she said that we should bring her in at 4:30 pm that day.

In a nutshell, an X-ray showed that the large lump that has been visible on Sam’s left side for quite some time was actually a large tumor that was attached to the base of her heart.  It was growing inside her ribcage, whereas all of her other previously removed tumors had been just under the skin.  The tumor was pressing on Sam’s heart and lungs, causing her to have breathing problems, weakness, and even anemia (her gums were very pale).  I was afraid to ask, but I had to know if I could have prevented this outcome if I had brought Sam to the vet as soon as I noticed that large lump on her side.  The vet assured me that there was nothing I could have done.  Since the tumor was attached to Sam’s heart and was actually growing inside her chest, by the time it had grown large enough to be visible, it was already too late to have it removed.  This brought me some relief, as my biggest fear has been whether or not I made the right decision by choosing not to have Sam’s lumps checked out or removed. 

So, knowing that there was nothing that could be done at that point, and especially considering the fact that Sam was no longer able to walk, eat, or drink, Justin and I knew that Sam’s time had come.  The vet and the technicians were all extremely kind to us and allowed us ample time to say our good-byes.  When it was time to give her the first injection of anesthesia, I asked if Justin could cradle her in his arms because that was Sam’s favorite thing in the world.  I also wanted Justin to hold her so that I could look Sam directly in the eyes and be near her face, the same way I had done with Lexie and Jocie when they passed.

Even though Justin and I were both very tearful, I smiled at Sam the whole time as she gazed into my eyes.  Then, Sam gave me the most incredible gift.  As we looked into each other’s eyes, mine dripping with tears, she moved her paw so that it touched my arm.  She was trying to comfort me in the exact same way that she always had whenever I was upset. 

The best example of this is another moment that I’ll never forget.  After my husband (Sam’s father), Chris, had committed suicide in 2009, I had taken my three girls (Sam, Jocie, and Lexie) to live with me at my father’s house for a few weeks while I tried to decide whether or not I should continue living in that house or find another place to live.  Sam was so upset by the whole ordeal that her fur had fallen out in large clumps along her back.  She looked awful, and I knew that the best thing for her would be to take her back home because that’s where she is the most comfortable.  That was actually a big part of the reason why I ultimately decided to move back into the house.

The first night that we were back in our house, Sam was the most relaxed I had seen her since before Chris died.  She curled right up on the couch and immediately fell asleep.  I, on the other hand, was feeling rather uneasy about being back in that house again, especially alone.  So, I tried to distract myself by surfing the Internet on my laptop, but eventually I started crying.  As soon as I did, Sam got up from where she had been laying comfortably, walked down to my end of the couch, sat beside me, and simply put her paw on my shoulder.  I turned my head to look at her, and she just looked right back at me with those deeply soulful eyes without moving a muscle.  I knew at that moment that I had made the right decision by moving back into our house, and I knew that Sam would help me get through the difficult readjustment period, which she did.

Sam was always the biggest comfort to me during the most difficult times in my life, and she provided that same comfort to me last Tuesday evening at the vet’s office when she touched my arm with her paw.  It was as if she knew what was happening and wanted to help me get through it, just as she had helped me get through that first night back in the house.  It was a moment that I will never forget for as long as I live.  Sam was the most amazing, compassionate dog, and I already miss her so much.

Margot has also been missing her big sister, which has been difficult for me to watch.  The day after Sam passed, my brother told me about an article he’d read that said whenever a dog passes away in a multi-dog family, it’s actually good for the other dogs to smell the dog that has passed away.  This will supposedly help give the other dogs closure so that they won’t worry about where their brother or sister has gone.  Upon hearing this, I texted Justin and asked him to get our clothes that we had worn the previous day at the vet’s office, which were covered in Sam’s fur, and make a pile for Margot to smell.  He did, and about 30 minutes later he texted me a photo of Margot curled up in that pile of clothes, sound asleep.  It broke my heart.

For the most part, Margot has been behaving normally during the day.  She plays with Luke and Frank, gets excited to go for a walk or to the dog park, and she’s been eating and drinking just fine.  However, as soon as she starts to settle down and wants to fall asleep, Margot starts acting very sad.  Sometimes, she acts like she just can’t get comfortable.  She re-positions herself a lot, and sometimes she even gets up and starts whining.  Other times, she becomes super cuddly with me or Justin.  Typically, Margot just curls into a ball right up against us or lays her head in our laps whenever she wants to cuddle.  Ever since Sam died, though, Margot has wanted to actually lay across our chests with her head close to our faces.  It reminds me of how she used to lay on my chest when she was a tiny puppy.  It’s as though she just misses that feeling of being super close to another warm body while she sleeps.  It’s such a shame that Luke isn’t much of a dog cuddler, or else I doubt Margot would be as depressed as she has been this past week.

Well, I’m sure you can probably guess where this is going – Justin has already started campaigning for us to adopt a new cuddle buddy for Margot.  It’s not that I’m against owning three dogs (Lord knows that I’m used to that by now), I’m just hesitant about adopting another dog because there’s no guarantee that the dog we choose will want to cuddle with Margot, either.  With that said, I will admit that it does feel strange not having an older, calmer dog in the house anymore.  I miss Sam’s laid-back energy.  I also loved the fact that there was an older dog in the house to whom my puppies showed respect (Margot more so than Luke, but only because Margot was raised with Sam since she was 6 weeks-old).  Therefore, if we do adopt another dog, I will definitely be looking for one that is at least 2-4 years-old, but preferably no older than 5, one who has a lower energy level, and ideally one who is a known dog cuddler.   All I can say is we’ll see, but one thing is for sure, no dog will ever replace my sweet, sweet Samul.  :(

Friday, May 31, 2013

First Six Weeks of Petco Obedience Classes: A Review

Today is going to be Margot’s six-week graduation from her obedience training classes at Petco, and I’m perhaps a bit too excited about the fact that Claire, the trainer, is going to have graduation caps for all the dogs.  Hehe!  Can you say, “photo op?”  Margot’s not actually finished with her obedience training, though.  She still has another six weeks to go.  They just “graduate” every six weeks because that’s how the course is broken up, and not everyone pays for the full 12 weeks. 

Anyway, since we have hit the midway point, I thought I’d give a review of what I think of Petco’s obedience training classes so far because, as I’m sure you could probably guess, there are some definite pros and cons.  One of the biggest cons is the fact that there is not a separate training area in the store for classes.  The classes at the Barboursville Petco are taught in a small area right as soon as you walk into the store, and the area is sectioned off by a 3-foot tall divider.  The space is sufficient enough for practicing basic commands, but whenever it comes to practicing “come” or anything that has to do with walking on a leash, each owner has to take turns walking their dog up and down the aisles of Petco around shopping customers, who sometimes have their own dogs in the store.  It’s not a bad thing to train our dogs around so many distractions, but I just don’t feel like it’s a realistic situation for training certain things, especially leash walking, which is our main issue with Margot right now.  When she’s inside the store, she is much more obedient to mine and Justin’s commands because she’s nervous about being in an unfamiliar place.  However, if we take her outside for a walk in our neighborhood, Margot immediately goes into “leader and protector” mode and doesn’t listen to a word Justin or I say.  In other words, she is a completely different dog outside of Petco when it comes to walking on a leash.  So, I asked Claire last week if we would be doing any training exercises outdoors at some point, and she regretfully said that Petco will not allow her to train outdoors for “insurance purposes.”

The upside to all of this, for anyone who may be considering signing up for obedience classes at this particular Petco in the future, is that they are building a much bigger store, complete with a designated training area, which is supposed to be open around Thanksgiving of this year.  I have already suggested to some friends of ours that it might be worth it to wait until the new store is opened in November before signing their dog up for classes.

As for the classes themselves, it is very important to understand that they are not intended for training the dogs.  The purpose is actually to train the dog owners so that you can go home and practice the exercises with your dog until he/she performs them perfectly.  We usually learn two to three commands per class, but we never actually practice them very much there at the store.  We also only go over those commands briefly during the following week’s class before moving on to learning something new.  So, again, you’re not actually paying $200 to have your dog professionally trained.  You’re paying $200 to learn how to train your dog yourself, which I think is smart.  It’s like that old saying, “…Teach a man how to fish, and he eats for life.”  If you don’t take what you learn in class and practice at home with your dog regularly, then you really can’t complain about the classes being a waste of money if your dog still isn’t trained after he/she graduates.

With that said, I do feel like a little more time could be spent practicing each new training exercise with our dogs while we are at Petco because it feels like a lot of our time gets wasted during each class.  For example, it feels like Claire spends anywhere from 10-20 minutes at the end of every class just trying to kill time before her next class shows up.  She does this by handing out worksheets that summarize what we learned in class that day and asking us if we have any questions, but if no one speaks up, she tends to just ramble on about various things until the hour is up.  She also gives the dogs a “play break” and a “pee break” during class, both of which I think are important, but I also think that those time periods could be a little shorter. 

The reason why I personally wish that we could spend more time actually practicing the training exercises with our dogs while in class is because it is next to impossible for Justin and I to practice some of the exercises at home with Margot.  The best example I have is with the loose leash walking.  Claire told us to practice the techniques and exercises that we had just learned in the store that day with our dogs at home, but she told us to walk them around inside our homes several times before attempting to walk them outside.  This is a problem for us because of Sam and Luke.  For one, as soon as Luke and Sam get a whiff of the treats I’m using to train Margot, they swarm me, and then it becomes a competition between the three of them to get a treat.  However, if we try to separate the dogs by putting Luke and Sam upstairs or outside, Margot spends the whole time wondering where her siblings are instead of focusing on the exercise.  So, unfortunately, I really don’t feel like we’ve made much progress, if any, with the leash walking because we never get to practice it with Margot at home, which is why I feel that the more time we can spend practicing with her at Petco, the better. 

On the positive side, there are some areas in which I have seen some very good results.  For example, Margot used to ignore me and Justin completely whenever we’d call her name at the dog park, but now she actually turns her head to look at us and even comes to us (sometimes) whenever we call her, which is a huge improvement.  She has also gotten very good at performing “sit,” “down,” and “stand,” both with verbal commands and with silent hand gestures, which I think is pretty awesome.  In fact, she performs these commands regularly for us at the dog park, and we throw her a tennis ball as her reward for performing them correctly.

So, would I recommend Petco’s first six-week beginner’s dog training course to others?  That’s actually kind of difficult for me to answer because everyone’s situation and reason for wanting to enroll their dog in obedience training is different.  If you are an extremely busy person and you don’t have time to work with your dog at home, then no, you should not waste your time or money (you also probably shouldn’t own a dog if you don’t even have time to train the poor thing, but I digress.).  I do think that I would recommend this first six-week training course to new puppy owners, especially if they’ve never raised a puppy before, because it’s a good bonding experience and it also helps set the foundation for good behavior from your dog as they get older. 

I guess the better question is whether or not I personally feel like these first six weeks of classes have benefited us and Margot, and the answer to that is yes, but not as much as I had hoped.  While I have seen some improvements in behavior and she has learned how to perform some basic commands very well, our main issue continues to be with walking Margot on a leash, and, so far, I do not feel like that problem is being solved by going to these classes.  With that said, I’m not really sure what’s in store for us for the next six weeks of classes, so I am going to stay hopeful. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time to Catch Up!

I’ve never been good at giving a Cliff’s Notes version of anything, but since so much has happened since the last time I blogged, I’m going to try my best to summarize:

·         Margot and Luke continued to have random incidents of aggression at the dog park, so a couple of months ago I put my foot down and decided that I wasn’t taking them back until I had taken at least a couple of obedience classes with Margot.
·         Zach and Kristy’s downstairs neighbor, who is quite old and who is also the only tenant in their apartment building who doesn’t own a dog, complained to their landlord about Frank barking “non-stop.”  Zach and Kristy were afraid that they were going to be asked to get rid of their puppy, so I volunteered to crate-train him at my house.  I slept on a futon mattress beside his crate for a couple of nights, just like I did when Margot was a baby, and then Kristy started sleeping over at my house so that she could correct him during the night instead of me.  After a week of this, Frank was much, MUCH better in his crate at night, and he started sleeping back over at his own house again.   Despite the fact that Frank’s toleration of his crate at night had improved by about 95%, he did develop a potty schedule where he’d wake up at 4:00 am, bark, and then Kristy would immediately let him out to take him outside to pee.  Then, to keep Frank quiet, she’d put him in the bed for the rest of the night/morning.   Unfortunately, the downstairs neighbor wasn’t very tolerant of Frank’s one time per night, 4:00 am barking, and she decided to complain to the landlord again.  As a result, after all of mine and Kristy’s sleepless nights trying to get Frank used to his crate over at my house, Zach and Kristy have decided that they have no other choice than to allow Frank to sleep in their bed at night.   We have also become Frank’s doggy daycare, as they crate him over at our house during the day.  It’s the only way to keep their crotchety, old neighbor (and the landlord) off their backs.   Subsequently, they have amped up their search for a house.
·         Luke has been a terror over the last month.  It’s funny, because whenever you look at him, your heart just melts because he looks like such a sweet, innocent dog.  You can’t imagine that this dog would ever misbehave, but, oh, does he ever!  In the past month, Luke has chewed and destroyed not one, not two, but three TV remote controls!  I just keep the replacement remote on my Amazon wish list now so that I can pull it up quickly and order a new one whenever we find one destroyed.  Justin and I are trying to remember to put the remote up on the mantle whenever Luke is in the living room by himself, but the other day I went upstairs to take a shower and forgot.  I was seriously only upstairs for about ten minutes, but when I came back down, I found another destroyed remote. 

Perhaps even worse than the destroyed remotes, however, is the fact that we came home last week to find that Luke had peed on our BRAND NEW sofa!  I mean, what dog just pees on a sofa?!?!?  Um, that would be our sweet, innocent-looking, little Luke.   Needless to say, Luke is now being crated just about every time we leave the room for more than a few minutes.  He hasn’t had any problems with staying in the crate, though, which is a relief.  He and Frank even share the crate during the day when we all go to work. 

Okay, that just about brings us up to date.  The main thing I wanted to talk about is the fact that Margot has now enrolled in obedience training at Petco!  FINALLY!  It turns out that the dog trainer, Claire, had fallen ill suddenly with some gallbladder issues, which is why it took her so long to get the classes started.   After she told me that, I felt bad for being so frustrated about her not calling me, but Claire is doing fine now, and classes started three weeks ago.

There are two other dogs in Margot’s class, Sully and Zoe, who are both around Margot’s age.  Sully is a beautiful, white, rambunctious, male Pit mix who is FULL of energy!  Zoe is a cute Boxer female, who is probably one of the more mellow Boxers I’ve ever met.  Margot was a bit anxious during her first class, as was I, because Sully kept trying to initiate playtime with Margot, and Margot would have been happy to oblige, but of course we wouldn’t allow that to happen during class.  So, as a result, Margot would let out these loud barks and moans/growls, which Justin and I recognized as just sounds of frustration for her, but to everyone else, I was afraid that everyone else was mistaking Margot’s behavior as being a form of aggression towards Sully.  We kept explaining to Sully’s parents and to Claire that Margot isn’t used to meeting new dogs while on her leash.  She’s used to being set free at the dog park and being allowed to do the usual doggy greeting ritual of sniff-sniff-PLAY!  They all seemed pretty understanding, and Claire even gave Margot, Sully, and Zoe an opportunity to interact a little more towards the end of class that day.   At the following week’s class, Claire even allowed the pups to have a play break and made all of the owners leave the training area to give them room to romp and wrestle.  Ironically, as soon as all of the owners left, our puppies became so concerned that they no longer wanted to play together.  They just wanted us to come back! 

As for the classes themselves and what we have been learning, so far I am pleased.  The first class was very basic.  Claire just wanted to get the dogs used to the fact that we will reward them with treats whenever they do something that pleases us.  She also wanted to get started on teaching them one of the most important commands, “Come.”   She introduced us to The Name Game, which is when one person has the dog’s attention, and the other person then says the dog’s name.  If the dog turns his/her head towards the person who said his/her name, then that behavior is rewarded with a treat and praise.  If the dog doesn’t look right away when his/her name is called, the other person is NOT allowed to repeat the dog’s name, which actually takes some practice because you naturally want to call the dog’s name again if he/she doesn’t respond the first time.  However, instead of repeating the dog’s name, the other person is supposed to just make noise until the dog finally looks at them, and then that gets rewarded with another treat and praise.   Justin and I will practice this exercise at night while we’re watching TV, especially if Justin is sharing his apple or some popcorn with the dogs.  While Margot is staring at Justin’s snack, I will say her name, and then we reward her with a bite of Justin’s snack whenever she looks at me. 

As for teaching Margot the “come” command, all Claire has us do is show Margot that we have a treat in our hand, then say, “Margot, come!” before running down the aisle at Petco.  If Margot runs after us, we “jackpot” her, which is when you reward her with five treats, but given to her one at a time.  We’ve practiced this command at all three classes, and during our last class Claire extended the distance in which we ran from Margot to see if Margot would follow us the whole way.  When Margot did, indeed, follow us the entire length of the aisle, Claire seemed very impressed and kept praising Margot for being so smart.  However, all this time, Justin and I have thought this exercise was kind of silly.  I mean, after showing Margot a handful of treats and then running away from her, of course she is going to chase after us!  We couldn’t believe it when Claire said that a lot of puppies in her classes haven’t been following their owners all the way to the end of the aisle the same way Margot did.  However, when I went over to Zach and Kristy’s that evening to practice with Frank what we learned in class that day, Frank did not chase after me when I practiced the “come” command with him.  So, I guess Claire was right.  Not all dogs are as eager to chase their owners for a handful of treats as Margot is.  That being said, I’m still not convinced that Margot is actually learning the “come” command.  I still think that she’s just chasing us for treats.  Unfortunately, this is the one command that Justin and I haven’t been able to practice with Margot much at home.  It’s just too difficult with Sam and Luke in the house because all they do is interrupt our training exercise by trying to get a treat for themselves. 

During our second training class, Claire taught us how to train our puppies to “sit” and “lie down” by luring their noses with treats.  Margot, Sully, and Zoe all knew the “sit” command already, but none of them had learned it the way Claire taught us that day, which is to hold the treat in front of their noses, and then slowly raise your hand up and over the top of the dog’s head.  As the dog raises their head to follow the treat, they will naturally sit.  She told us that the reason it is important to train them with this method is because, eventually, they learn to respond to the non-verbal command of simply raising your hand, even if you don’t have a treat.  The same thing is true for “lie down.”  To get them to perform this command, Claire had us hold the treat in front of their noses, and then we slowly lowered our hands to the ground until the dogs finally laid down to receive their treats. 

At last week’s class, Claire proved to us that our dogs were already learning non-verbal commands when she held up her hand to Zoe, and Zoe immediately sat.  Justin then held his hand up to Margot, and she immediately sat, too.  Then, Justin made the “down” gesture, and Margot laid down!  We also learned the “stand” command that day, and by the end of class, Margot was even standing with a non-verbal hand gesture!  I was so proud, I could’ve burst!  Margot also did really well with the other exercise we did last week, which was sitting by our side on command while walking.  We would walk a few steps, then stop, and tell Margot to sit.  If she sat by our side facing the same direction in which we were walking, she received a reward.  However, she did not receive a reward if she circled around to face us first before sitting, but Margot only did that a couple of times. 

At last week’s class, before class got started, I also mentioned to Claire that Margot’s behavior at the dog park lately has been really disappointing me because she’s been showing some aggression towards other dogs and I can’t figure out why.  In fact, I had to leave the dog park early two days in a row last week because Margot and Luke were picking on this one certain beagle, who didn’t seem to be provoking either of them.   Claire asked if Margot was very socialized as a young puppy, and I told her that she was, very much in fact.  I then mentioned that this behavior seemed to start around the same time we got Luke, and I asked if that could have anything to do with it.  After all, Luke wasn’t raised by us as a young pup, he’s a male, and he definitely seems to have more of a desire to assert dominance than Margot does.  Claire said that it is possible that Margot could be picking up some of Luke’s behaviors, and she suggested that we try taking them to the dog park separately to see if they still behave this way. 

Later during class, Claire had given Zoe and Margot a bunch of toys to play with while she spoke to us about what we were going to learn that day (Sully was absent last week).   Suddenly, while Margot and Zoe were kind of milling around the toys together, Margot kind of growled at Zoe.  We immediately pulled her away from Zoe, but then I looked at Claire and said, “See?  What was that?”  Claire replied, “That was aggression.  It was probably due to these toys, and you had told me that Margot had some incidents with toy aggression, so I shouldn’t have even given them toys.  That was my fault.”  Then, as Claire was gathering all the toys and putting them away, I asked her what I should do whenever Margot behaves that way towards another dog.  I asked if I should just write that off as one single incident, or does this mean that Margot and Zoe simply do not get along?   Claire told me that, first of all, it was an isolated incident, and just because Margot showed some aggression towards Zoe over a toy doesn’t meant that Margot and Zoe are never going to get along.  After all, Claire pointed out that they had never had any trouble interacting at any of the previous classes.  Secondly, Claire told me that it is very important that I remain calm whenever an incident like that occurs and simply remove Margot from the situation.  She said that if I freak out and start yelling, Margot will feed off my energy and intensify her own behavior.   Thankfully, after the toys were put away, Margot did not show anymore aggression towards Zoe.

I decided to take Claire’s advice, and we took Margot to the dog park without Luke this past Sunday.  Upon entering the dog park, Margot seemed a little more anxious than usual.  She was growling at the other dogs who had come to greet her at the gate, and her fur was standing up on her back and neck.  I didn’t yell at her, though, and I simply let her enter the dog park off her leash.   I kept a close eye on her, and after a few minutes of non-aggressive butt-sniffing, her fur settled down on her back and she seemed to relax.  Everything was going pretty well, until a Luke look-alike entered the dog park.  For whatever reason, shortly after greeting each other, Margot started growling and wrestling a little too aggressively with the Golden Retriever, named Scout.  I remembered to stay calm, and I simply pulled Margot away from Scout by her collar.  Then, Scout’s owner ran over to Scout all worried and was saying things like, “Awww!  Scout, are you okay, baby?”  As much as I understand why Scout’s owner might have been a little concerned, I also knew that the incident was NOT that bad, and there was no reason to be THAT concerned.    Furthermore, I am a firm believer that you should never baby your dog like that unless something MAJOR happens, like if blood is drawn.  Babying your dog is like rewarding your dog for being weak, which is especially not a good thing if you are bringing your dog to a dog park. 

Anyway, I took Margot towards the bottom of the hill to find a ball as a way to distract her from Scout.  As we were looking for a ball, though, Scout came down the hill, and the same behavior started up again between the two.  It was like Scout was curious  and kind of wanted to play with Margot, but Margot was obviously playing much rougher than Scout had anticipated, which then frightened Scout and made Margot even more aggressive. 

After pulling Margot away from Scout the second time, and especially after the way Scout’s owner had reacted the first time, I then became a little worried that Scout’s owner might become angry at Margot and, subsequently, me and Justin.   In fact, that’s my biggest fear whenever these incidents occur at the dog park.  I’m actually more worried about what the other dog owners think of me than I am about Margot.  Anyway, I decided the best thing I could do was try to keep Margot as far away from Scout as possible.  So, I started throwing tennis balls for Margot at the bottom of the hill while Scout, thankfully, stayed at the top of the hill.  While Margot and I were playing ball, I started practicing her “sit-down-stand” hand signals, and I rewarded her by throwing the ball.  For the first time ever at the dog park, Margot seemed completely focused on me the whole time we were playing.  Even when other dogs would approach and/or run around us, she never took her attention off of me.  Justin and I also noted that Margot had responded much better to both of us whenever we called her name. 

After a while, Scout’s owner actually approached me and commented about how well Margot was doing with performing those commands.  I was beyond relieved that she didn’t seem upset at all about Margot behaving aggressively towards Scout earlier, and I was very flattered by her compliment on Margot’s training.  As we talked, I told her how glad I was that she seemed so understanding about those two prior incidents between Margot and Scout, and she assured me that those types of incidents happen at the dog park all the time.  Not only that, but she said that Margot’s not the only dog who has ever gotten aggressive towards Scout.  She even kind of blamed Scout for “egging dogs on sometimes, “ like when she followed me and Margot down the hill earlier.  Again, words cannot even express how relieved I was to hear these words coming from this woman that day.

I went home that night feeling very positive, not only about our visit to the dog park, but about Margot’s training in general.   Seeing Margot respond better when we called her name, and especially seeing how attentive she was to me while we were playing ball, despite all of the distractions at the dog park, proved to me that these obedience classes are going to be worth the time and money when it’s all said and done.  Also, thanks in large part to my conversation with Scout’s owner, I learned that day that I can stay calm, diffuse an incident of aggression with Margot, and I shouldn’t waste any time worrying about what the other dog owner’s think about me or my dog.  After all, by removing Margot and distracting her in order to prevent any further incidents, I am being a good, pro-active dog owner, and hopefully the other dog owners will recognize that.  In the meantime, I’m feeling pretty confident that Margot will continue to do well in her obedience classes, and these types of incidents will occur much less frequently in the future.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Better Than Television

I know I haven’t posted many updates lately, but I have two reasons for that:

1.       Between the craziness at my full-time job and how busy I’ve been with my photography business lately, I simply haven’t had time.
2.       Unfortunately (and, perhaps, fortunately), there hasn’t been a whole lot for me to report.

I’m rather frustrated with the dog trainer at Petco, who was supposed call me weeks ago to tell me when Margot’s obedience classes start.  Claire called me twice at the beginning of the month to gather information about Margot (size, breed, age, etc.) so that she could place her in the appropriate class.  Then, I never heard from her again.  I called a couple days ago to check, and I was told by one of the Petco employees that “Claire has been sick.”  Okay, that explains why I haven’t heard from her.  That’s totally fine and I understand.  However, I left my name and number and asked them to have Claire call me to let me know when the obedience classes will begin, and I still have yet to hear back from her.  Grrrrr!!!

I’m very anxious to begin Margot’s obedience training because, now that the weather has finally gotten nicer, we’ve been going to the dog park a lot and trying to go for walks.  However, Margot is still pulling like crazy whenever I walk her, and I’ve been noticing a little bit more aggressive behavior from her at the dog park, as well.   On a few occasions, Justin and I have seen Margot growl and show her teeth to another dog who was showing interest in her stick or ball.  It’s been rare, but I don’t like it.  I’ve heard that a dog’s personality can sometimes change right around the time they turn 1 year-old, which will be in June for Margot.  She’s just always been such a pleasant, friendly, little social butterfly at the dog park, and I would HATE for that to turn sour in any way, shape, or form.   

I’ve also been noticing some herding behavior from Luke at the dog park, which I also do not particularly like.  Whenever another dog takes off running, Luke tends to give chase while nipping at the other dog’s hindquarters and giving a low growl.  For anyone who doesn’t know Luke’s sweet personality or recognize this as herding behavior, it looks as though he’s just being aggressive towards the other dog and trying to bite it.  As soon as he gets the other dog to stop, though, all Luke usually does is sniff the other dog’s butt, then go on about his business.  Still, I just hate the thought of anyone thinking that Luke is trying to chase down and possibly attack their dog.   I plan to research herding behavior and how to correct it, and hopefully I can break him of it.  (Anyone have any experience with this?  Feel free to share some advice!)

Sam is still doing well, although my heart breaks for her a little bit every time I look at her.  I try not to think like that, I really do, but I simply can’t ignore those big lumps on her side.  She’s still getting around well, though, and the lumps don’t seem to be affecting her or causing her any pain.  She still eats, drinks, and goes to the bathroom normally, and she routinely climbs the stairs to go jump in our bed every morning. 

One thing Sam hasn’t been too happy about lately, though, is all the puppy-sitting we’ve been doing for Zach and Kristy’s dog, Frank (the puppy I found abandoned in the building where I work).  Every time they bring Frank over, Sam starts barking at him.  It’s exactly the same way she behaved towards Margot for about the first month after we brought Margot home.  I guess Sam is just annoyed by the presence of little puppies.  Perhaps it’s because they’re so rambunctious and she’s “too old for that sh*t.”  In Luke’s case, he was kind of an older pup when we brought him home from the pound, and he was much more interested in playing with Margot than playing with Sam, which would explain why Sam didn’t seem as annoyed by him.  She barked at him a little bit for the first couple of days, mostly whenever he and Margot would play rough, but she’s been totally fine with Luke ever since. 

As for little Frank, he’s getting so big!  He has definitely started to resemble a Pit Bull more lately, too.  His body is kind of stout and muscular, and the bone structure of his face looks more like a Pit Bull than any other breed, I think.  He’s also been developing more of a Pit Bull-like personality.  He discovered his bark last week and doesn’t hesitate to use it.  He’s also gotten braver at playing with Margot and Luke.  He used to cower a little bit whenever they’d start wrestling near him, but now he tries to jump right in there with them!  He also likes to growl and bark at them to prove what a big, tough dog he is.  Haha!  It’s pretty cute, I’m not gonna lie.  I also love how gentle Margot is with Frank.  She always lies down so that they’re more eye-level, and she lets Frank bite all over her face and ears.   If he starts to get too rough, she’ll either stand up to remind him that she’s the bigger dog, or she’ll use her paw or chin to pin him down for a few seconds.  Luke has also dished out a little discipline to Frank on one or two occasions.  If he thinks Frank needs to settle down, Luke will give him a gentle “bite” on his hind end or his neck.  I find it all very fascinating, and I swear I could watch Frank, Margot, and Luke play for hours.  Who needs Bravo TV when I’ve got the drama of “The Real Canines of Cabell County” happening right in my own living room? 

Friday, March 22, 2013

They Can't Have Puppies, But They Can Have a Cousin!

My boys.  :)

Well, Luke was neutered this past Wednesday and is doing fine; however, he will NOT stop messing with his stitches!  I even put Margot’s Medical Pet Shirt on him, hoping that would block him, but Luke has actually managed to eat a hole right through the crotch of the onesie!  I’m just hoping and praying that he doesn’t bust any of the stitches.   I just feel so sorry for him because, obviously, they are itching him to death. 

Poor, bored Margot

I also feel sorry for Margot because, with her playmate out of commission, she’s been SO BORED!!!!   Luke has played with her a little bit here and there, but he mostly just wants to sit on the couch with me or Justin.  It seems like every time he gets up to walk around, it makes his stitches itch.  So, I think he prefers to just lie in one spot.  He played with Margot a little bit last night, but not nearly as much as they’re used to playing.

In other news, yesterday was my day to close up the office, so I had to work until 6:30 p.m.  Closing actually involves having to lock up a bunch of different things in two different offices on our floor, the business office and the office where we see patients.  As I was walking back and forth between the two offices last night, I thought I heard the sound of a dog or puppy whining coming from the stairwell.  Since there are also apartments in the building where I work, I didn’t think much of it, other than, “I didn’t know the tenants here were allowed to have dogs.”

I always take the stairs when I leave the office, as we are only three floors up.  As soon as I opened the door to the second floor, the first thing I saw was a little pile of poop, undoubtedly from that whining dog I heard just a few moments ago.  There are no apartments on the second floor, though, only a vacant office building and one other office.  So, I figured one of the tenants had probably brought their dog down the stairwell to take it outside, allowed it to poop on the carpet, and didn’t bother cleaning it up.  As I walked over to the staircase to descend the final flight of stairs, I half-hoped that the owner with the dog would be in the lobby so I could get a look at this irresponsible person. 

At that moment, I thought I heard another little whine, and I glanced up in time to see a tiny, little, black and white puppy come running over to the staircase banister.   He must have been hiding in the corner behind me when I came through the stairwell door, and I must have walked right by him on my way to the staircase.  I quickly looked around the empty second floor again to see if perhaps this puppy’s owner was also crouched in a corner or something (granted, that would have been weird), but it was obvious that this puppy was alone and very scared.  The poor little guy was trembling and wanted so badly for me to pick him up.  As soon as I did, he calmed down.

Well, I knew right away that I couldn’t just leave him there, but I also had no intentions of keeping him myself.  I mean, I love puppies, but I’ve already reached my quota for this year.  So, I took him upstairs to see if perhaps my co-worker, Barb, would volunteer to take him home with her.  She didn’t, so I knew it was up to me to either find this little guy’s owner or find him a new home.  Barb suggested that maybe the puppy belonged to one of the tenants upstairs and he just accidentally got out somehow.   So, I wrote a sign that said, “Found puppy:  On 2nd Floor, b&w male, approximately 6 weeks old,” and I left my phone number.  I taped the sign beside the elevator in the lobby, but my gut told me that this puppy did not belong to anyone in our building.  If he had gotten out of one of the apartments, the ONLY way he could have ended up on the 2nd Floor would have been if he not only climbed down a LOT of stairs in the stairwell, but he also would have had to have opened that heavy stairwell door.  I also find it hard to believe that such a young, tiny puppy could have climbed up to the 2nd Floor from the lobby staircase.  It seems much more likely that someone probably took the puppy up to the 2nd Floor and just dropped him off.   

Meet Franklin!

Well, long story short, no one called to claim the puppy last night, but I’m happy to announce that my brother, Zach, and his fiancĂ©, Kristy, have decided to adopt him!  So, Sam, Margot, and Luke now have a new, baby cousin, who has been officially named Franklin!  Zach and Kristy have actually been talking about getting a dog for a very long time, but they could never make up their mind about what type of breed they wanted or whether or not they wanted to adopt a dog from the shelter.  In fact, Kristy told me recently that she didn’t think they would ever get a dog because they would probably never agree on those things.   So, it was actually an ideal situation for them to just be told, “Here.  This puppy needs a home.  Please take him!” 

In fact, in a lot of ways, this whole situation really feels like it was meant to be.  I’m guessing that the puppy was abandoned sometime between 5:30 and 6:30 yesterday evening because a lot of my co-workers, who also take the stairs, left at 5:30, and no one reported an abandoned puppy at that time.   So, what are the chances that someone just happened to put this puppy right in my path on a day when I just happened to be working late, which I rarely ever do?  Also, what are the chances that this puppy would be found by someone who not only had a house full of dog toys and dog food, but who is also related to someone who just happens to want a puppy?  Yes, I would definitely say that it was meant to be that little Franklin came into our lives last night.