Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Speed Bumps and Learning Curves

Well, not only did the shelter initially get Luke’s sex wrong, but their prediction that he was approximately 3 years-old turned out to be way off, too.  According to Dr. Ellis at Animal Care Clinic, Luke is actually only around 11 months-old!  Yes, ladies and gentleman, it appears that Justin and I have ourselves another puppy (not that we’re complaining).  The vet said that he’s very healthy, and he’s scheduled to receive more vaccinations, as well as be neutered, in about three weeks. 

While Luke’s lack of appetite worried me for the first few days, we’re learning that he just doesn’t like to inhale his entire bowl of food in one sitting like his sisters.  He prefers to eat his food a little bit at a time, although we do have to make sure that Margot doesn’t sneak and finish off his bowl of food in between sittings.   I’m just happy that he is finally eating better, and I’m sure he’s going to fatten up a little in no time. 

Overall, Luke is a very good boy, although there are a couple of issues that we’re trying to address with him.  The first issue is the fact that he jumps up to greet people.  Chad, who is a vet tech at the Animal Care Clinic and also teaches obedience training there, told us during Luke’s check-up that the best thing to do for that is raise our knee and hold up our hands whenever Luke jumps, and of course reward him if he sits instead of jumping.  We’ve been doing that, but our little Luke just doesn’t seem to be getting it.  He is definitely a smart dog, but he does seem to be a little bit slower to pick up on things than we’re used to.  So, Justin and I are just going to have to be a little more patient when trying to train him, that’s all.

In fact, his inability to “get it” is the other issue we’re having with Luke.  No many how many times I give him a quick touch to try to correct him, he immediately comes right back and repeats his bad behavior again.  The worst is when he tries to run out onto the porch as soon as we open the front door.  Despite his short stature, Luke is a pretty powerful little dog and will just keep trying to barrel through our attempts to keep him back and away from the door.  He will even lower himself all the way to the floor and stick a paw or his nose in the doorway so that we can’t shut it.  I know that sounds kind of funny, and I do at least have enough of a sense of humor to appreciate Luke’s sneaky tactics, but it’s also very dangerous for Luke and quite annoying for us when we’re trying to leave. 

This morning, I decided to practice more of Cesar Millan’s methods by trying to wait until Luke achieved a fully calm-submissive state before I even opened the front door.  Unfortunately, I can tell that it will take quite a long time for Luke to achieve that state of mind, and I only had a few minutes before I had to be at work.  Regardless, instead of just opening the door and fighting Luke off so that I could shut it behind me, I first walked to the front door and just put my hand on the doorknob.  As soon as Luke came into my space, I turned around, gave him a quick touch, and told him, “No.”  When he immediately moved forward again, I repeated the correction.  After I did this several times, he did finally stop moving forward.  So, I took a step toward him to further claim my space around the front door.  He looked me right in the eyes and backed up a step, which was good.  Then, I stood there and waited, and Luke finally sat.  However, his attention was still clearly focused on the door.  If I had had more time this morning, I would have continued standing there and claiming my space (not allowing him to move closer to the front door) until he finally laid down and relaxed.  Then, it would have been okay for me to walk out the front door. 

However, due to lack of time, after Luke sat and I stood there for a moment, I decided to go ahead and reach back for the door knob.  As soon as I did, Luke lunged forward towards the door again.  I was able to correct him enough so that I was able to get out the front door, but in order to shut the door I had to physically push Luke away with my foot, which made me feel awful.   So, I’m definitely going to work on this problem with Luke more when I have plenty of time to practice patience with him, as well.

While I’m on the subject of behaviors that need correcting, Miss Margot has developed a new behavior that is very disappointing.  She’s begun pulling on her leash during walks, which she never used to do before, and this has only developed over this past winter.  (Luke is a dream to walk on his leash, by the way.  He stays right by your side, and if he starts to pull even a little bit, he corrects himself.)  I’ve tried correcting Margot by giving her leash a quick jerk and making the “anh!” sound, but all she does is spin around for a brief second, and then continue to pull.  I’ve also tried stopping dead in my tracks as soon as she pulls and making her stand there with me for a few seconds before walking again.  The problem is that, even though we’ve stopped walking, she is still in a very high-alert state of mind.  Justin and I have both attempted to snap her out of it by trying to get Margot to look us in the eye and even sit during these pauses on our walks, but she absolutely will not pay attention to us.  In fact, she acts like we’re just in her way if we try to look her in the eye, and she’ll keep moving her head around to see what’s behind us.  I’ve also tried doing that thing that Cesar does, where he kind of taps the dog on their hindquarters with his foot while they’re walking to surprise the dog and snap her out of their anxious state of mind, but when I do this with Margot, it just ends up looking like I’m kicking my dog, and it doesn’t even work anyway.   So, now I’m considering buying one of those leashes that Cesar recommends that fits right up under the dog’s chin.   Something has got to work because it’s getting to the point where I don’t even want to walk Margot, even though I know I have to.  So, it’s starting to feel more like a chore to take her for a walk rather than an enjoyable experience for both of us, and I don’t want that.
Justin and I decided to take all three dogs out for a couple of walks this past weekend, which went fairly well.  The first walk was better than the second walk, though, and I cut the second walk short out of frustration.  During their first walk together, I started out walking both Sam and Margot and let Justin walk Luke because Sam and Margot are the two “pullers,” and I feel like they respect me as an authority figure more than they do Justin (no offense to Justin, but he’s just too tender-hearted and gentle to really demand their respect the way that I do).  However, Sam was actually being very well behaved and not pulling on her leash at all, and because Margot was turning into quite the handful, Justin offered to walk Sam with Luke.  That turned out to be a much better arrangement, because Luke and Sam were excellent walkers together.

So, yesterday, when we decided to walk all three of them again, Justin took Sam and Luke and I took Margot.  I want to preface this by adding that I had just come back from a four-hour photo shoot, which was fun, but a bit nerve-racking for various reasons.  So, my nerves were already a bit frazzled when we decided to go for a walk, which probably didn’t help make Sam and Margot feel any more relaxed.   However, the main problem was that there were a lot more people and dogs out at the park yesterday, so Margot and Sam were both at higher states of excitement and energy than the day before.  (Notice I’m not mentioning Luke because he remained a calm, happy dog during both pack walks.)   I tried to pause several times during the walk, taking deep breaths each time to try to release my own anxious energy, but as soon as we’d start walking again, it would come right back.   

Sam’s energy was more of a nervous/scared/anxious energy, which is very typical for her, whereas Margot seemed to have more of a high level of alertness and excitement in general, as in, “What’s that?  Who’s that over there?  Where is he going?  Why is she running?  What are those people doing?”  Whenever Sam and Margot would come close to another dog, however, they would both lunge and pull to get to the dog, but for different very reasons.  I believe that Margot is truly just very excited and simply wants to meet the other dog to see if he/she is friendly and wants to play, but Sam barks out of fear and actually wants to make the dog go away.   So, the owners of the dog in question don’t really know what to think or how to react to our dogs, and the whole time Justin and I are trying to yell over all the barking to explain to the other owners that Margot really is just trying to be friendly, and Sam really isn’t being aggressive towards their dog; she’s just nervous and barking because she’s scared.   In other words, every time Sam and Margot encounter an unfamiliar dog, it always ends up being just this huge, loud, chaotic, embarrassing mess, and it always ends with Justin and me having to pull Sam and Margot away from the other dog in order to restore the peace.  It really bothers me because not only is it physically exhausting and embarrassing, but I feel like it makes Sam and Margot look like they’re both aggressive towards other dogs, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

The thing is, Justin and I both feel that if Sam and Margot were to encounter an unfamiliar dog by themselves, without her sister there, those two encounters would be much different.  Margot would still get excited and want to meet the other dog, but without Sam constantly barking behind her and making the other dog nervous and unsure about what’s going on, that other dog would probably just let Margot sniff him/her and reciprocate.  In turn, if Sam were to encounter another dog without Margot there being all excited and anxious to meet the other dog, Sam would probably just keep her mouth shut and go out of her way to avoid the dog all together.   

So, unfortunately, it seems like the solution is pretty clear:  Margot and Sam shouldn’t go on walks together; at least, not in heavily dog-populated areas, like the park.   However, if we decide to walk Sam and Margot at separate times, I do think that it might be a good idea to still include Luke on both of those walks because I think he sets a good example for both girls.  Luke’s main focus during walks is following me and/or Justin.  He truly sees us as his leaders, and he behaves accordingly.  As I said before, he walks right by our sides, and we’re able to keep his leash loose and relaxed the whole time.  Occasionally, Luke will walk ahead a little bit, especially if he’s trying to keep up with his sisters, but as soon as he feels tension on his leash, he automatically slows his pace and/or returns to our side.  Justin and I both suspect that Luke would probably be able to walk with us without a leash, but it’s definitely too soon to test that theory.  I wouldn’t want to try walking him without a leash until he’s undergone some formal training and I feel confident that he’ll come when he’s called.

Anyway, despite everything that I just mentioned above, which are all correctable behaviors, Justin and I are really happy that we decided to adopt Luke.  Not only do he and Margot get along very well, but Sam has finally relaxed around him and doesn’t get as upset anymore whenever Luke and Margot start rough-housing.  Also, just as I had hoped, Margot now prefers to pick on Luke instead of Sam because she knows that Luke will be happy to play with her.  Besides wrestling, Luke and Margot’s favorite games are Keep-Away and Tug-O-War. 

My favorite is when they start chasing each other around the living room, kitchen, and dining room, which are all open and connected rooms, so it’s kind of like they’re running around a track.  They’ll run in that circle a few times, and then one of them will stop and wait for the other one to catch up.  However, if Luke hears Margot stop, for example, then he’ll stop, too, and then they will both slowly sneak around and peek into the next room, hoping to catch the other by surprise.  When one of them finally does surprise the other, then they get all excited and start chasing each other again.  It’s really fun and heartwarming to watch, because that’s the type of high-energy playing that I know Sam just can’t (and doesn’t want to) do anymore. 

So, overall, I believe that everyone is much happier now that Luke has joined the family.  Sure, we’ve got a few wrinkles to iron out, but that was to be expected, and honestly, it could have been a lot worse!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Surprise! It's a Boy!

Well, ladies and gentleman, it looks like the girl who SWORE she’d never own a male dog is now the proud owner of a very happy, loving, and incredibly sweet boy.  Yes, it turns out that the pretty “girl” dog that Justin and I fell in love with at the shelter actually has boy parts, which are difficult to see because of the long fur on his belly.   The employees at the shelter even thought he was a girl!  We didn’t realize it until we took him outside to meet Sam and Margot last night at the shelter, and he immediately hiked his leg to pee on a sign. 

For a brief moment, I actually thought, “Well, crap!  I really kind of wanted to adopt this dog,” but then that thought was immediately replaced with, “But how can I say no to that face?!?!?”  He was so happy to see me and Justin.  He kept looking up at us with his big, goofy grin, wagging his tail like crazy, and he also kept hopping up and wanting us to cuddle him (which is a behavior that I immediately began discouraging, although I did think it was very sweet). 

So, I went ahead and got Sam and Margot out of the car to introduce them, just to see how it would go.  Both dogs basically ignored him, although Sam did let him sniff her butt, and he immediately acted like he wanted to play with Margot, which were both good signs in my book. 

After we put Sam and Margot back in the car, Justin and I took a few minutes to talk it over.  Finally, after weighing all the pros and cons of adopting this boy dog, I just looked at him and said, “I really don’t know whom I think I’m trying to kid by pretending like I can actually leave this dog here.” 

And, with that, Luke became the newest member of our little family.  I asked Justin to name him because I’ve named all the other dogs in my life, and because I also kind of wanted our next dog to be more of “Justin’s dog.”  (Actually, one of the biggest “pros” I took into consideration while briefly trying to decide if we should adopt Luke was the fact that he seemed to prefer Justin a little bit more than me, which melted my heart.)  Justin was having a hard time coming up with a name for the new dog on his own, though, so I started throwing out some suggestions.  Finally, since Justin is such a Star Wars fan, I suggested Luke, and Justin immediately approved.     

Sam and Margot continued to pretty much ignore Luke during the ride home, but as soon as we walked inside the house, Sam started barking.  I guess she felt the need to let Luke know that this is HER house and HER family.  Margot, of course, didn’t feel like she needed Sam’s protection from Luke at all.  As soon as I let them out into the back yard, after some preliminary butt-sniffing and territory-marking on Luke’s part, Margot and Luke took off chasing each other around the yard.  That’s when Justin and I could really see the Border Collie in Luke because he’s so fast and agile!  We can’t wait until we can let him loose in the dog park to really see him run.  I’ll bet it’s amazing. 

Anyway, I hate that Sam seemed so uncomfortable with Luke last night, but it was really no different from when we first brought Margot home.  If you’ll recall, Sam seemed so upset by Margot’s presence that we actually considered letting Sam live with Justin’s parents.  Thankfully, Sam eventually did warm up to Margot, and now they are the biggest cuddle buddies.  I’m just hoping it doesn’t take Sam quite as long to warm up to Luke.   Hopefully, once she realizes that Margot isn’t bugging her half as much because now she has Luke to play with, Sam will finally just relax and enjoy her lazy time alone on the couch.

As for Mr. Luke, he’s only been with us for less than 24 hours at this point, but so far so good.  He hasn’t had any accidents in the house, and we left him and Margot out last night without any problems.  My only concerns right now are clearing up his kennel cough and the fact that he didn’t really seem to want to eat this morning.  He ate just a little bit last night, but we weren’t concerned about it because we figured he probably ate at the shelter.  This morning, though, when I put food in all three dog bowls, he was more interested in loving on me than he was in devouring his food like his hungry sisters.  A little bit later, after Sam and Margot had both eaten and Luke and Margot had played for a while, I put the food bowl back in front of him and encouraged him to eat.  He only took a couple of nibbles, though, and that was it.  I’m hoping that he was just excited about waking up in his new house with his new family this morning, but I asked Justin to crate Margot this morning when he left for work and leave the food bowl out for Luke.  I’m hoping that when Justin goes home at lunch, Luke will have eaten his food. 

I’ve already made Luke his first vet appointment for Saturday morning, and I plan to have him neutered as soon as possible (the costs for both of these services were included in his adoption fee).  So, I’m sure Dr. Ellis will help get his kennel cough cleared up, and if Luke still isn’t eating very much by then, I will definitely discuss that with her, as well.  While I’m there, I may go ahead and sign Margot up for obedience training.  I wonder if Luke should take the classes with her, or if that will just be too difficult?  I’ve already started working with him because of his bad habit of jumping up on people, and I also started teaching him “sit” this morning, although only very briefly.   I guess I’ll just ask the trainer at the vet on Saturday if it would be a good idea for Luke and Margot to take obedience classes together.  In a way, that seems like it might be a good bonding experience for them.  :)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Training, Worrying, and Possibly Adopting

I’ve definitely let too much time go by since I last posted an update because I feel like I have a TON to talk about in this post!  First of all, Margot turned 8 months-old on February 13th and is still dabbling in some “Doberteens” behavior.  For the most part, she hasn’t been too bad.  There have been a few bathroom accidents here and there, but nothing major.  The worst thing she does is chew on non-toy items whenever she’s alone in the house or we’re in bed.  We haven’t suffered any major losses since Justin and I replaced our dress shoes, though, so knock on wood that was the worst of it.

I have recently decided to put my endless hours of watching The Dog Whisperer to the test by trying some new obedience training with Margot.  We haven’t done any new training exercises since she learned “lie down,” so I wasn’t sure how well she’d do, but I have been quite pleased!  We’ve been working on playing fetch because Margot has never really played fetch correctly.  She used to bring you the ball, but instead of releasing it on command so you could throw it again, she would just sort of touch you with the ball or rub it on your hand or your lap, as if enticing you to take it from her.  Once you would try to take the ball out of her mouth, though, she would either run away or initiate a little game of tug.  This was very frustrating, not only for the fact that the game can’t continue if you aren’t “allowed” to have the ball back, but also because Margot would repeat her little enticement routine until you basically had to pry the ball from her teeth. 

So, the other night when Margot brought me the ball, after I was able to take it from her, I simply sat it on my lap instead of throwing it.  As soon as she moved forward to take the ball from my lap, I did what I’ve seen Cesar Millan do a million times on his show, and I gave Margot a quick tap on the chest while making the sound, “Anh!”  (Cesar usually makes more of a “tsssht!” sound, but I have been making the “anh” sound since she was a little puppy, so I stuck with that since she already knows that it means “no.”)  As soon as I did this, Margot backed up one step and looked at me.  Success!  Then, when she tried to take it again, I answered her with another quick touch and, “Anh!”  Again, she backed up a step, but this time continued to stare at the ball.  I remembered from watching Cesar’s show that you have to be patient and wait for the dog to reach a completely calm-submissive state before you allow him/her to have the object that they desire.  This communicates to your dog, without words, what type of behavior you expect. 

In this case, even though Margot had backed up a couple of steps, the fact that she was still staring at the ball on my lap told me that she was still in that, “LET ME HAVE IT!” state of mind.  So, I simply sat there and waited.  If she moved forward towards the ball, she received the same reaction from me as before.  Finally, after a couple of minutes, Margot sat, which was a positive sign.  I wondered if I should reward her by throwing the ball at that point, but I knew she wasn’t in her FULL calm-submissive state yet.  So, I continued to wait and, to my surprise and delight, Margot eventually laid down on the floor, stopped staring at the ball, and looked directly into my eyes!   I held that eye contact with her for a moment before I finally said, “Good girl!” and tossed the ball.  After just another one or two repeats of this exercise, Margot not only seemed to understand what is expected of her when she retrieves the ball, but now she even seems to enjoy performing this exercise with me and Justin. 

In other news, last weekend I made a vet appointment for Sam.  She has a history of developing benign lumps (fatty deposits) all over her body.  They aren’t cancerous or anything, but they will continue to grow if you ignore them.  I actually had five such fatty deposits removed from Sam’s body in a single surgery a couple of years ago, but I swear she was never the same after that.  To be fair, I can’t say for certain that it was due to the surgery, but all I can tell you is that she definitely had a more difficult time getting around after that.  For that reason, and especially after losing Lexie and Jocie within a month of each other last summer, I decided I probably wouldn’t put Sam through any more of those types of surgeries, unless her life was in danger or if she was in pain.

Lately, though, a large lump that has been on Sam’s right ribcage for quite a while has gotten so large that I feel like I can’t keep ignoring it.  She does not seem to be in any pain and has been acting completely normal, but the lump is about the size of a baseball now and is very noticeable.  Not only that, but a new growth has developed on the outside of her skin near her collar, which is different from all the other growths she’s had in the past.   Therefore, I feel that a vet appointment is now in order.  It just upsets me because it feels like this will be Sam’s “moment of truth.”  We’ll either find out that the lumps are cancerous, or we’ll find out they are benign, but then have to decide whether or not she should have them surgically removed.  I originally made the appointment for last Monday because Justin doesn’t work on Mondays, but it just so happened that he had to go into work for scheduling on that particular day.  So, I cancelled the appointment and told the vet’s office that I would reschedule Sam’s appointment after Justin’s new work schedule goes into effect, because ideally I’d like for us to be able to take her together.

And finally, I’ve got some pretty big news.   Justin and I went to the pound this past Saturday, and we may be adopting a pretty Golden Retriever mix today.  Maybe! 

Now, whenever Justin or I have mentioned to our friends that we will eventually be adopting a third dog, which has always been our plan, we’ve received a variety of reactions, most of which aren’t exactly 100% positive.  There seems to be some concern that Justin and I may not realize what we’re getting ourselves into financially, or we don’t understand how much of a handful three dogs can be.  While I understand and appreciate my friends’ concerns, it kind of surprises me considering the fact that I have owned three dogs for the last nine years, and all of my current friends met me while Jocie, Sam, and Lexie were all living with me.  So, obviously, I fully understand how much owning three dogs can cost and what living with three dogs is like.  However, I just try to keep in mind that my friends are only trying to look out for me.  After all, they recently had to witness the heartache that Justin and I experienced over losing Lexie and Jocie, so maybe they just don’t want to have to see us go through that again.  Or, perhaps they’re worried that Justin and I will keep adding dogs to our family as a way of filling some kind of void or “replacing” Lexie and Jocie, which is actually an understandable concern considering the fact that Margot is a Doberman and this dog that we’re interested in at the pound reminds me a lot of Jocie. 

However, just to be perfectly clear, Justin and I do not want to adopt another dog just for the sake of owning three dogs again or to fill any voids.  We actually have several valid reasons, but, with that said, the #1 most important thing that I will be considering is whether or not this new dog will get along with Sam and Margot (especially Sam).  If we introduce this pound puppy to the girls this evening and there is any friction whatsoever, it will be a bummer, but I will not adopt her. 

The main reason we want to adopt another dog is because we want Margot to have a playmate.  Sam and Margot still play together, but it’s mostly just Sam lying on the couch and Margot trying to wrestle with her.  We think Margot and Sam would both be a lot happier if Margot had a sister who shared the same energy level as her.  In fact, I’m actually hoping that by giving Margot a more energetic playmate, it will help take some of that burden off of Sam.  I hate to use the word “burden,” but Sam’s old, and I know that she would probably rather not have to constantly entertain Margot.  I would love for Sam to be able to just chill out and watch the other two dogs play, and of course join in if she feels like it.

The last big reason why I want another dog is sad, but it’s because I know that Sam probably won’t be around for much longer than a few more years (if we’re lucky), and I worry about how Margot will handle that.  Sam has been the only other dog that Margot has lived with, and she obviously looks up to Sam as a leader.  I’m hoping that if Margot has a new sister, especially if she can take on more of a leadership role with the new dog, then maybe it won’t be so hard on Margot when Sam passes away.   

Okay now, enough of that Debbie Downer stuff.  Let me tell you more about this potential new family member!  The name they gave her at the shelter is Lindsey, but Justin and I both agreed that we’d change that if we adopt her.  She is a Golden Retriever mix who looks to be around 2 to 4 years-old, and as cheesy as this sounds, as soon as I saw her, I just knew she could be The One.  I could see it on Justin’s face, too, especially when the dog started licking his fingers through her cage.  Still trying to stay objective, I said, “Well, that doesn’t really prove anything because you did just eat hot wings for lunch.”  Then, Justin bent down closer to the dog’s face and said, “Do you give kisses?” and she immediately licked his nose, which is Justin’s favorite thing in the world.  At that point, I knew she had won him over. So, I walked up to her kennel just to see how she’d react to me, and she immediately jumped up onto the cage to greet me with her tail wagging like crazy.  She is obviously used to being around people and seems like she’ll be a very loving lap dog, but I was still trying not to fall head over heels just yet.  I suggested that we continue to look at all of the other dogs at the shelter, but as soon as we started to walk away, I heard the dog start to whimper, and that’s pretty much when I knew that she had to at least meet Sam and Margot.   

I asked the woman at the front desk if the dog had been chosen for adoption by anyone else yet.  She said no and that the dog had only recently been brought into the shelter as a stray.  The woman also added, “She’s such a sweet girl.”   So, we told the lady that we would probably be back on Tuesday (they were closed Monday) with our other two dogs so that we can see how they’ll all get along.  However, I really won’t be surprised if someone else adopts that pretty pup before we get there this evening.   I’ll be a little sad if that happens, but at the same time, at least I’ll know that she didn’t have to stay in the shelter for very long.

See, believe it or not, I’m not dead set on adopting a third dog right this minute.  Our original plan was to wait until spring when the weather is nicer so that Margot and the new pup can be more active together outdoors, and I still like that idea.  So, if this adoption doesn’t happen today, I’ll be a little bummed, but I won’t be completely heartbroken.   It’s going to happen eventually, and I’m happy to wait for the right pup to come to us at the right time.