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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Second Thought...

After last night’s walk with Margot, Luke, and Sam, I am once again debating whether I should take Luke or Margot to have the formal obedience training with the classes at Petco.   Originally, I thought it would be better to take Luke since he and I haven’t yet established as strong of a “connection” as Margot and I have.   For that same reason, I also thought it would probably be easier for me to take what I learn in the obedience classes with Luke and just train Margot at home.  After all, I trained her to sit and lie down when she was around 8 weeks-old. 

However, two nights ago, I decided to take Luke upstairs by himself to see if I could also train him to lie down,  and, to my amazement, he got it within just five to ten minutes!  It was very simple, straight-forward training, too.  I simply rewarded him with a treat for sitting a few times so that he’d realize that obeying commands is rewarded with treats.  Then, after telling him to sit, I said, “Lie down,” and then pulled his paws forward to make him lie down.  As soon as he did, even though I was the one who put him in that position, I said, “Lie down!  Good boy!  Lie down!” and rewarded him with a treat.  We did this a couple of times before I started giving him the “lie down” command without helping him into the position.  At first, he just stared at me, and he even tried to take the treat from my hand a few times, but I remained calm and patient until finally he laid down by himself!  I was SO happy!   Now, whenever I’m giving the dogs treats in the kitchen, I make Luke lie down in order to receive his.  He’ll do it, but so far it takes me giving him the command a few times before he gets it.  We’re going to keep working on it, though, because I know that you’re not supposed to give a command more than once.  Otherwise, you’re just training the dog to sit or lie down after you say it 500 times, rather than just once. 

So, it probably wouldn’t be difficult for me to train Luke at home after all, but the main reason why I’m considering taking Margot to the obedience classes instead of him is because of our walk last night.  I decided to use the “no pull” harness again, but I also put the cheap, nylon leash in my coat pocket, just in case, and Justin walked Luke and Sam.   The walk started out okay.  Margot was pulling, but not too badly; however, the more we walked, the harder she began to pull.  The whole time, I tried to remain calm and not become frustrated, but I can’t tell you how difficult that is for me.  It’s not that Margot is making me angry when she pulls, it’s that she’s disappointing me.  I hold extremely high standards for her, especially since we’ve been raising her since she was only 6 weeks-old, and I feel like she should respect me and view me as her pack leader, but her pulling behavior and the fact that she wants to walk ahead of everyone during our walks tells me that she doesn’t.  She believes that she’s the pack leader, and that’s what disappoints me so much. 

During yesterday’s walk, there was also some tension between me and Justin as a result of Margot’s pulling.  Justin knows how frustrated I become when I’m trying to walk Margot, and he responds by becoming very quiet, so as not to upset me more; however, this actually makes me feel even more frustrated because I don’t want Justin to treat me like I’m some sort of ticking time bomb during those moments of frustration.   Not only that, but yesterday I noticed that he was letting Sam and Luke walk way ahead of him with tension in both of their leashes.  So, I reminded him that he’s supposed to keep the dogs right by his side, to which he replied, “But dogs don’t really want to walk right by a person’s side.  Besides, I don’t see anything wrong with letting them walk this way.  They’re not pulling; they just want to be up there with you and Margot.”  

At that moment, as frustrated as I already was, I could have easily gone off on Justin for basically un-doing all the training I’ve been trying to accomplish with our dogs, but instead of yelling, I decided to simply prove him wrong about thinking dogs do not want to walk right beside people, and I asked him to trade me Margot for Luke and Sam.  As soon as I started walking with Sam on my right and Luke on my left, neither of them tried to walk ahead of me.  My arms were completely relaxed at my sides with zero tension on their leashes.   If either of them started to walk a little bit in front of me, all it took was a gentle tug on their leash, and they fell right back beside of me.   It. Was. Heaven!  Meanwhile, behind us, Justin was struggling with both hands to try to keep Margot from pulling him. 

After only about a minute of this, I told Justin that I would trade him back, but I said that I wanted to take Margot off in a different direction by herself.  I wanted the opportunity to try to focus her attention on me because I felt like she was always too busy and distracted by trying to act like our pack leader.  So, after Justin gave Margot back to me and he took Sam and Luke off in another direction, I took out the nylon leash and positioned it up high around Margot’s neck.  There was an immediate difference, as she didn’t try to pull me once we started walking again.  However, as I mentioned in my last blog entry, I still don’t understand how to keep the leash in that high position on her neck without also putting tension on the leash, because whenever I relax my arm, the leash falls down around where her collar sits.   It’s also quite awkward trying to walk a dog using both a harness and a nylon leash around her neck, but I managed to do it the best that I could. 

Overall, she definitely pulled a LOT less than she had previously when I wasn’t using the leash; however, I didn’t feel like the rest of that walk was enjoyable for either of us.  It just felt like a big power struggle the whole time, and I even felt like I was being kind of mean to her by not allowing her to sniff the ground and constantly giving her tugs on the leash as corrections.   In fact, it got to the point where, as soon as I’d give her leash a tug, she’d pin her ears down, turn slightly sideways, and look up at me anxiously in an almost defensive response, as if she was afraid of me, which of course bothered me deeply.  This is NOT how I want mine and Margot’s relationship to be, especially during an activity that we should be enjoying together.   I don’t want my dog to fear me, but I also will not tolerate being walked by my dog instead of the other way around.   I was hoping that the answer was simply finding a leash or harness that could stop Margot from pulling, but I no longer believe that that type of device exists for us.  Not only that, but after yesterday’s walk, I now believe that the real problem is the fact that Margot doesn’t respect or view me as her pack leader.  If she did, she wouldn’t try to walk in front of me.  It’s as simple as that. 

In fact, I think I just made up my mind.  I think I will be taking Margot to Petco for the formal obedience training instead of Luke because Luke has already proven that he respects me as his pack leader.   I don’t blame Margot, though.  I regret not working with her more and training her beyond “sit” and “lie down” when she was younger, but I kept thinking that I was getting ready to sign her up for obedience classes.  Then, it became, “Well, I’ll sign her up after she’s spayed,” and then we got Luke and I thought that maybe I should pay for him to have formal training instead of her.   In the meantime, I wasn’t really doing anything with Margot in terms of obedience to make her view me as her leader, other than telling her to sit before giving her a treat.  *rolling my eyes*  As a result, I now have an adolescent, rebellious puppy who thinks she’s running the show, and I have no one to blame but myself. 

In mine and Margot’s defense, though, I would just like to add that Margot is NOT a bad girl, especially at home.   She’s actually very well-behaved for a 9 month-old puppy.  She never jumps and always sits if she wants someone’s attention.   There have been very few instances of her chewing on anything in the house that wasn’t a chew toy, and she’s also good about letting us know if she needs to go outside.  She basically just plays all day with Luke, and then cuddles on the couch with me, Justin, or Sam whenever she gets tired.  The ONLY time I ever disapprove of her behavior is when we try to walk her, but again, she’s just trying to behave like our pack leader, and I’m the one who has allowed her to think that that’s her job.   

So, hopefully she’ll learn to respect and obey me better through some formal obedience training.  I also like the idea of being able to show a professional dog trainer how Margot pulls during walks and receiving hands-on training for that, as well.  I really do feel like the pulling/leadership issue is a much bigger problem than training Luke to stop jumping, so I feel pretty confident that I’m making the right decision by taking Margot to obedience classes instead of Luke.   I guess I just needed to “talk it out.”  Thanks for listening.  :)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Some Progress (For All of Us)

I’m happy to say that a lot of progress has been made since the last time I blogged, although more so with Luke than with Margot.  Margot is still pulling on her leash when we go for walks.  We have now tried two different “no pull” harnesses - one that goes underneath her legs and clips on her back so that when she pulls, it pulls up under her legs, and a different one that also runs underneath her front legs, but the leash clips in the front, which is supposed to make it more difficult for her to pull. 

Well, the first “no pull” harness seemed to have little to no effect on her pulling.  I had very high hopes for the second harness because I had watched several YouTube videos about it and the fact that the leash clips on the front of the harness, rather than on top of her back, seemed to be the key to making the dogs on the video stop pulling.  Well, with Margot, it just made her walk funny and I could tell she was extremely uncomfortable.  In my research about this particular harness, I read several negative reviews from people who said that their dog’s armpits were rubbed raw when they used it, and that is definitely where I could tell Margot was feeing uncomfortable.  We didn’t even make it to the end of the block before I decided to take her back home and take it off of her. 

I remembered that I still had Lexie’s old metal choke chain, which she really just wore because my late husband thought it made her look tough, so I decided to give that a try with Margot.  Mind you, I hate the idea of choke chains (even saying the name “choke chain” makes me cringe), but I thought it would be worth a shot since none of the three harnesses Margot had tried had worked.  In addition to the choke chain, I also grabbed the cheap nylon leash that they gave us when we brought Luke home from the pound, because I’ve seen Cesar Millan use those on his show when teaching people how to adjust the collar up high, right under the dog’s ears. 

Well, Margot did not like having that leash up under her ears like that and managed to shake it off once, but I could tell that it did have a positive effect on her ability to pull while walking.  The problem is that, in order to keep the leash up in that high position under her ears, I have to physically hold the other end of the leash up high over her head, or else it just falls down around her neck where her collar sits.  Not only does that feel awkward and look silly to walk her with my hand held up over her head like that, but that also creates constant tension on the leash, which is the exact opposite of the goal we’re trying to achieve.  So, I gave up on the nylon lead and tried walking her using the choke chain, but again, if I relaxed my arm during the walk, the chain slid down lower on her neck, and then it literally choked her when she pulled.  I couldn’t stand listening to her choking herself, and I also didn’t want to walk her with my arm up over her head, as though I was walking a marionette puppet dog, so I took her back home again and just decided to use the “no pull” harness that clips on top of her back.  Even though it doesn’t stop her from pulling, it seemed to be the best option given everything else we had tried. 

I returned the front-clip harness to Petco that afternoon and bought another collar that fits around her neck, but it is designed to distribute pressure evenly if the dog pulls.  I decided to try this collar because I do believe that leading Margot by her head rather than from her back is more effective.  However, the collar I bought isn’t designed to stop or discourage pulling, but I just figured I might as well give it a shot since I’ve pretty much tried everything else.   Cesar Millan also makes a collar that is designed to sit up high underneath the dog’s ears, but it is around $45, and the reviews I read on Amazon were mixed enough that I don’t feel comfortable spending that much money just yet. 

As I was exchanging the front-clip harness for the new collar at Petco, the lady at the register said, “Did this harness not work out for you?”  I told her that, unfortunately, it did not and that I was almost at my wit’s end trying to find a solution to Margot’s pulling problem.  The lady then gave me a few quick suggestions, and I could immediately tell that her training methods were right in line with the type of Cesar-like training methods that I prefer.  So, I then asked if she had any advice about how to stop Luke from jumping up to greet people, just to see what she’d say.  Admittedly, I was kind of testing her to see if she’d suggest Cesar’s method of turning my back and ignoring Luke when he jumps, or the other methods that I’m against, which include anything that involves making verbal or physical contact with the dog while he’s performing the bad behavior.   So, I was very pleased when the first advice she gave was to turn my back if Luke jumps, and then she said that instead of raising a knee to block the dog whenever he rears up, she prefers to just give a little bump with her hip as she’s turning away from the dog.  

Since this nice lady passed my little test with flying colors, I asked about signing Luke up for her obedience classes.  She’s going to begin obedience classes at Petco starting March 21, and Justin and I are planning to take Luke!  We debated briefly about whether we should take Luke or Margot to the class, as they both have behaviors that require some correcting, but ultimately we decided that the best option is probably to give Luke the formal training, and then we can just apply what we learn in class to Margot’s training at home.   My reason for this decision is mainly because I feel like I’ve already established a good line of communication with Margot, as we’ve had her since she was 6 weeks old and she knows my body language very well.  I can just give her a look, and she knows immediately that I want her to sit and/or stop doing whatever she’s doing at that moment.  Luke, on the other hand, has been with us for less than a month, and even though I’m very pleased with how far he’s come already, I feel like we’re still trying to figure out how to communicate with each other.  He doesn’t always pick up on my “looks” the way that Margot does, but overall I’ve come to realize that Luke just learns differently than Margot, or even Lexie, Jocie, and Sam. 

With my girls, they have always responded well to commands and negative sounds, like the “Anh!” sound that I tend to make when I don’t like a behavior and want them to stop.  Luke, on the other hand, seems to respond better to more nonverbal communication.  For example, when we first noticed the problem he had with wanting to dart out the door every time we tried to leave, my first instinct was to yell, “No!  Back!” and even push him away from the door.  With my girls, that would have been enough because they understand that those commands and that push mean that I do not want them to continue advancing towards the door.  However, I realized very quickly that, for Luke, yelling, “No! Back!” may as well have been like yelling, “Yay!  Fun!” and pushing him away from the door was like initiating a game of “You Push Me Away, and Then I Come Back!”  

So, as I mentioned in my last blog post, I decided to take a completely different approach with Luke and finally put all of those hours of watching “The Dog Whisperer” to the test.  I decided to try communicating to Luke what behavior I wanted from him through my body language and the energy I was projecting towards him.  I know that may sound a little “new age” for some people, but I can tell you from this experience that it is totally legit.  The main thing I had to get across to Luke was that, whenever I’m at the front door and getting ready to leave, that is MY space, and he is not allowed to invade my space unless I invite him to do so.  So, I pretended like I was getting ready to walk out the front door, and as soon as Luke ran towards me, I turned around, snapped my fingers, and made the “Anh!” sound.  I stood my ground, looking him right in the eye, and then I took a small step forward, forcing him to take a small step back.  If he tried to move around me, I simply stepped to that side to block his advancement towards the door, and I continued to stand my ground.   I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when Luke finally sat and I realized that Cesar’s methods were actually working!  I didn’t stop there, though.  I knew that Luke was supposed to reach a fully calm-submissive state before I could try to walk out the door again, so I continued to be patient and wait.   It took a while, but Luke finally laid down at my feet; however, his tail was still wagging, which told me that he was still in an excited state and not yet calm-submissive.  So, again, I simply stood there and waited, until finally his tail stopped wagging and his overall body language told me that he had given up wanting to dart for the front door.   At that point, I turned and opened the front door, still half-expecting Luke to jump up, but to my shock and amazement, he simply laid there and watched me walk out the door! 

What is truly shocking is the fact that, after that ONE training session with Luke, he has never tried to dart out the front door since then.  He’s like a completely different dog!  Not only am I extremely proud of him and even myself for being so patient during that exercise, but it showed me that Luke isn’t “slow” at all.  As I said before, that experience made me realize that Luke simply learns differently than what I’m used to.   His training may require more patience on my part, but I’m confident now that Luke is more than capable of being trained.

Now, with that said, we’re still trying to figure out how to make Luke understand that we do not want him to jump up to greet people.  I was getting really frustrated with this about a week ago because nothing seemed to be working.  Since I previously learned that the worst thing we can do is make verbal and physical contact with Luke while he’s misbehaving, I’ve decided the best training method is to give him the exact opposite of what he wants whenever he jumps, which is to ignore him and turn away from him.  While I have seen some progress, it still takes several times of turning your back to Luke before he finally gets it and sits down.  The frustrating part, though, is that after he sits and I’m finally able to praise him, as soon as I stand up, he jumps right back up on me.  I always immediately turn my back on him again and repeat that whole process, but it just doesn’t stop.  After I praise him for sitting, he jumps right back up! 

For a while, I was beginning to think that this method may not be effective after all, but we’ve just started noticing in the last couple of days that Luke isn’t jumping up as much to greet strangers or our friends as much.  In fact, yesterday we took him over to our friend, Mandee’s, house where a bunch of our friends were hanging out, and I actually saw Luke sit to greet my friend, Shane!  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so happy and proud of Luke at that moment, I could have burst!   Of course, with that said, I also saw him jump on a couple of people, too, so obviously there is still work to be done, but at least I have more hope now that he will eventually stop jumping.

Speaking of yesterday, can I just say that I had the BEST weekend?!?!  The weather was GORGEOUS, and Luke and Margot got to go to the dog park on both Saturday and Sunday!  I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how either of them would do at the dog park.  For one, Margot has grown up a LOT since the last time she was there, and I wondered if she would still be as friendly towards all the other dogs as she was before she hit puberty.  Secondly, I wondered how Luke would do since he’s a male and he had also never been to the dog park before.  I didn’t know if he would be aggressive and/or try to dominate any of the other dogs.

Well, to my great relief, both Margot and Luke were perfect angels, and there weren’t any problems at all with any of the other dogs.  In fact, Margot was the same little social butterfly that she was last fall, and Luke was also really good at making new friends, both human and canine.   As for Miss Sam, we still plan to take her out on our pack walks, but after four very unsuccessful trips to the dog park with her in the past, we’ve learned that the dog park just isn’t Sam’s thing. 

Anyway, like I said, we all had a fantastic weekend, and I’m very pleased with the progress that Luke has been making.  Even though Margot hasn’t made as much progress yet on her pulling issue, I’m certainly not going to give up.  I think she’s just going to require a little one-on-one attention for a while, taking her out on walks by herself and really focusing on training, not just correcting. 

The most important thing I’m learning from raising not one, but now TWO puppies is that patience and consistency are both extremely important.   It’s so easy to become frustrated, especially when I’m walking Margot and she’s pulling me non-stop, despite the fact that she’s wearing a $30 “no-pull” harness that I’ve seen work for all kind of other dogs on the Internet, but I’m learning that my frustration is actually counterproductive because dogs really do respond to the type of energy that you project.   So, in other words, Margot and Luke aren’t the only ones in training right now.  Apparently, Mama’s got some work to do, too.