Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Difficult Dog Loves Camille

These picture were too cute not to post - welcome back, Camille!

The Return of Camille, and Some Advice for Difficult Dogs

I'm not sure if you remember, but a few months ago my husband was featured in the Daily Camera (our local Boulder newspaper) for flying a dog to Cheyenne, WY, with Pilots and Paws (a non-profit animal transport organization). Well, the flight went fine, but now that dog is back in our foster care! Turns out her mom got sick and could no longer care for her.

Honestly, I don't mind. Camille is the complete opposite of my shy puppy mill-breeder Bill, so it's kind of fun to watch them play together. She's not the smartest dog I've ever met, but what she lacks in brains she makes up for in sweetness. Plus, her white areas are spotted - how cool is that!

Now on to important things...

Last week, my friend Shelley forwarded me an email that was sent to her by an animal behaviorist and I found it very helpful. In case you have a dog who is shy and afraid of humans, I wanted to share. Here's what Shelley wrote:

After having him for almost a year, he does not want to be touched or picked up. He will tolerate me petting him when he can't get away (on lead) but otherwise runs if I get within about 2 ft. of him. He's scared enough that sometimes when he's running, goes to the bathroom. Treats don't work because when he's scared, they mean nothing to him. He walks well on lead and off. He stays right by my side. He is not aggressive in any way, nor does he guard his food. He does well with other dogs but hangs out from a distance and does really understand "play." He could not go down stairs when I got him and after two months of carrying him up and down, we finally conquered it. Anyway, I would just love to help him get over his fear of human touch. He's made so much progress in every other way. Any suggestions?

And here's what the behaviorist, Trish McMillan, with the ASPCA, wrote back:

I'm glad you found our article helpful and sorry your puppy mill rescue is still afraid of you. This is the reason the ASPCA works so hard to shut down puppy mills - these horrible places cause such psychological damage to the dogs that some of them will never be normal. If you still can't touch your dog after a year, he's likely one of these, so you'll need to adjust your expectations and timeline, and take things in super-small baby steps.

The key in working with extremely terrified dogs like yours is to remove all social pressure (stop trying to pet him) and let him approach at his own speed. I know how hard this is - you didn't get a dog to be an ornament, but trust me, forcing your attention on him is only going to slow things down.

Here's how desensitization and counterconditioning works:
Desensitization and Counterconditioning

This is a technique behaviorists use to teach dogs that things they formerly disliked are actually predictors of their favorite things in the world.

The best exercise I've found for working with the truly terrified is the "cookie person" exercise described in the article. Simply sit on the floor and scatter truly delicious treats all around you. The Natural Balance treat logs are good, since most dogs love them and they can be used to replace part of your dog's daily ration. If your dog is at all overweight (you can't feel his ribs without digging), cut down his regular food so that he'll be hungry. If you have other dogs, block them out of the room for this exercise.

If you're reading a book or watching TV, you can avoid eye contact entirely. Just let your dog approach and take treats, over and over, without you looking, talking or reaching. Gradually scatter the treats closer and closer to you, until he's able to take treats from your hand. This may take days, weeks or even months. No big deal. Be patient and don't frighten the dog.

Once he is taking treats from your hand you can start putting treats on your body as well, so he starts getting into your lap. Or hold your other hand just over his head, so you're almost touching him as he takes the treat. Gradually (again, may take weeks or months) you'll be able to touch your dog. This article describes the process, but again, this is likely going to be months in the future. Don't rush it!

The shy k9s mailing list is an excellent resource - there are many people out there going through the same sorts of things, and these guys are extremely supportive.

One of my articles describing the "cookie person" exercise in more detail is posted here.

If you are cornering your dog in order to leash him for walks several times a day (lots of scary social pressure!) you may be undoing all this work. Try to think of ways to make leashing as untraumatic as possible. Some people leave a very light drag line on their dogs while they're home so you can just pick up the line when you need to take him out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Awareness Day and Bill's Buffalo Adventure

Puppy Mill Awareness Day in Lancaster, PA, was a great event, but I think it would have been more effective if it were in downtown Philadelphia. Essentially it was a festival to raise awareness about puppy mills, but I saw it as more of a networking event for rescuers - the majority of the 1500 people who went clearly already knew about, and were involved with dog rescue.

What really hit me was the vastness of farmland in the Lancaster area and how easy it would be to stash puppies, illegal substances, or whatever back on those farms where no one would ever find out about it. According to investigative groups, there are HUNDREDS of puppy mills in that area. I got to thinking about that and it became so profound that I could almost hear the puppies suffering as I drove through the countryside. But, what really sealed the deal for me at the end of the day was, as I was driving out of town, I found myself behind an open Amish buggy with two men behind the reins and a dog in a 2 x 2 chicken wire cage in the back. It was as though they were mocking us, saying, "Ha! Everyone knows the suffering is real - but you can't touch us!" Well, guys, I've got a message for you. With the number of passionate people working to END the suffering - we will get to you sooner or later.

On a lighter note, my homecoming was great. Bill has recently taken up playing with a squeaky blue buffalo before bed, and last night we had about an hour long game of fetch. My husband thought he needed more of a challenge, so he started throwing the buffalo behind our plant stand, and then into our closet. Bill is already very tentative about picking it up (we play the slowest, gentlest games of fetch ever). When the buffalo got under the plant or in the closet, the game took on a whole new speed: dead stop. Bill just stood there for what seemed like ten minutes, barking and growling at his prey.

The closet was the best - we were very patient and just kept saying, "Go get it!" Finally after much barking and growling, Bill went into the closet... And a minute later came out with a sock! He just stood on the floor, staring at us as if to ask, "This is a buffalo, right?" We laughed but kept telling him to go get it. Finally our patience paid off and Bill emerged victorious with his blue buffalo.

I'm wondering if this new step in his recovery from being an unsocialized puppy mill breeder is because I've been putting an herbal tincture, Rescue Remedy, in his water. Either way, Bill is almost a whole dog, and things are becoming VERY fun.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bill the Protector

I couldn't help but share this - last night I dreamed that my dear little Bill turned into a winged gargoyle protector when I needed him to, and his super power was... Peeing on people! He could shoot from across the room!

Yesterday was my favorite day of the year, the day Dylan (hubby) and I go down to the Nan Desu Kan anime convention in Denver. If you don't know what anime is, check out Cartoon Network late night sometime. Essentially it's animation from Japan, often geared towards adults (there is plenty for kids, too, to ensure lifetime addicts). Anime has been my husband and my favorite form of entertainment for years now, but nothing compares to the convention. Think of a Star Trek convention but instead of Trekkies, there are thousands of teens dressed up as their favorite cartoon superheros. It's way better than Halloween.

Anyway, it (or maybe the two drinks too many that I had)clearly had an impact on my dreams. I was some kind of special type of human that could battle these bad guys and had a Boston Terrier - gargoyle protector (Bill, of course). He would look like a normal dog, doing normal dog things, until we got in the vicinity of one of the bad guys I had to battle, and then suddenly he would grow into this giant gargoyle who "peed" people to death.

Things started to get very strange - I can't remember if I was supposed to protect or battle this baby that turned out to have super powers (her mom didn't know). Then there was some crazy rock slide at the Flatirons (Boulder mountains) that almost crushed me, but of course I had to run up and see if I could set off a second one (definitely not my waking demeanor).

In the end, I remember following a guy back to his base or something - he was supposed to be my friend, but then he turned on me. Literally - his body got really rubbery and he fit through this space I couldn't fit through, leaving me to battle some crazy woman myself.

Just at the moment when things were looking very bad for me, my real Bill decided it was time for him to wake me up. Go Bill!

I wish I could draw, but I'll have to leave this one up to your imagination.Just think of a giant Boston Terrier with wings, who pees on people, and you'll be right there with me!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dog on the Lamb

Actually, nobody is on the lamb - but Livi is on the way to her new home. That's #14 foster, folks - in only 1.5 years. Not too bad, huh? They each have their own unique challenges and charms, but I think Livi's challenge is the most difficult for the town I live in - Boulder "dog on every corner" Colorado.

So Livi is extremely unpredictable around other dogs. Actually, I shouldn't say it that way because I can easily predict that after some period of time at the dog park, Livi will find a dog she wants to eat. Little or big, there's always someone who looks like a tasty meal.

Honestly, I don't think she's trying to eat them - she just really doesn't know how to play. My faith in her is where I got into trouble. She had been doing fine for a few days, and so I had relaxed a bit. Then, all of a sudden, she decided to harass the wrong dog. The owner clearly hadn't been around dog parks much, and she immediately called animal control on me, complaining that I can't try to resolve my foster dog's issues at the expense of other dogs. Yes, I agreed and apologized. I guess that wasn't good enough for her, and this morning I found myself standing in front of a judge - seriously.

What a trip! I can truthfully say that I barely even received detention in school, so naturally I was distraught about going to court. My good friend Mandy came with me for moral support, and we actually ended up having a great time. In my mind, we went to see a play and tickets were $25 each (I was buying).

To prep for the show, Mandy looked up the statue and I called the court, baffled about why I couldn't just pay my fine via mail. They explained that I had to come in and talk with a judge and a District Attorney, who would give me options. Options? Like paying my fine and going back to bed? Yes, she said. Okey-dokey.

At court this morning I asked around as to why others were there, and the were almost all college students with alcohol-related charges. The guy next to me lost his best friend's passport when the bouncer asked him "his" middle name and he didn't know it! (Come on, the first rule of fake ID use is to know what it says!) Finally it was my turn and the judge called my name. I almost started laughing at the irony - the last time my named was called through a microphone was two weeks earlier when I received my master's degree. In retrospect, given the choice, I would take the court "ceremony" over the master's degree one because it was much shorter and more interesting!

Anyhoo, the judge asked how I would plead, and I said, "Guilty." (If I said "not guilty" I would have had to go to trial... for a $50 fine!). She asked if I had anything else to say, and I said,"Yes." I went on to explain that Livi was my foster, she scared a dog with her version of play, and then I put her right back on leash. I apologized and said I didn't mind paying the fine, but was very confused as to why I had to come to court. The judge agreed, and waived my court fees as I had hoped she would. The fine was then paid and the mission accomplished - almost.

A woman was coming to meet Livi at 3:30, maybe to adopt her. She sounded just perfect - a young runner who was interested in agility and would be committed to training Livi. Would she like her?

Success! Livi's new mom loved her, and what's not to love? (Except the dog aggression, that is). She took Livi home, and let's cross our fingers that they live happily ever after. Do Bill and I miss her already? Sure, but we were VERY happy to go on a hike and celebrate our new-found freedom!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Boston Terrier "Book Report"

So much to say about my foster Olivia, but I'll get back to that next week - sit tight. I hate to be a tease, but I'll just say that I have to go to court on Thursday because of her...

On to the fun stuff! The Denver Boston Terrier Meetup Group threw us a great Boston Terrier book launch party at Sid's Doggie Lounge and Nightclub. It was so cool! First, the setting couldn't have been better. The Doggie Lounge is in Englewood, CO. It's a dog daycare owned by a behaviorist, and the dog's that are boarded there aren't crated. The play area is like a hockey rink, and is indoor/outdoor with fun kiddie pools for the pups.

About 40 people and their Bostons showed for the event. It was non-stop fun! There was a Boxer that looked like an overgrown Boston, and an actual overgrown Boston (he must have been 50 lbs - can you imagine?)! The usual suspects showed up including lots of MidAmerica Boston Terrier rescues, and of course Lowrey's husband and friends, my husband, and my parents were there to give us support.

After a champagne toast, Lowrey and I read our favorite stories from the book (I Only Have Eyes for You and Gotcha Day Wish). We signed autographs, but the most fun was when people wanted the book signed to their dogs, and so, of course, Bill "signed" it! (Bill, in true form, spent most of the time sitting under the table or on my feet, allowing his fans to adore him from a distance).

Thanks to everyone who made this event great! We're looking forward to the Golden Retriever book launch party next on the 26th - hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Oh - Livia!

It seems like so many of the stories in the "Lost Souls: Found!" series of books start out with "I was having dinner when I received the call..." or, "It was late one night when the call came in..." Well, now I've got my own evening rescue adventure to talk about.

It was just about dinner time when the call from my rescue group came: had I connected with the woman who rescued Olivia? No, I hadn't - but it was not for lack of trying. The woman I was supposed to talk with was involved with turtle rescue (I didn't even know that existed!). She went to rescue a turtle from a woman who had chronic migraines and lived in the dark. When she arrived at the house, she found that there was also a Boston Terrier living there who appeared to be somewhat uncared for and WIRED. The dog was jumped around excitedly at the site of her - trembling, barking, licking/biting, and spinning in circles - what was going on with this dog?

The rescuer was able to get a twofer that day - take one turtle and get a dog that allegedly eats couches for free. But now what? Enter MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue. Our coordinator, Jami, requested I contact the woman, which I did, but I never heard back. Finally, Jami talked to her and I came to find out that the woman was avoiding me because she didn't like to drive. What? She was less than an hour away and I had offered to meet her halfway. Come on!

I've been called many things in my life, often unflattering adjectives having to do with my East Coast heritage. On this day I'm sure the woman was calling me abrasive (or worse) behind my back, because I called her up and promptly said, "Hi, this is Kyla from MidAmerica Boston Terrier Rescue. I hear you didn't call me back because you don't like to drive? Well, here I am. I'll meet you halfway in a half an hour." Done and done.

I've also been called Supergirl, as was my character in the circus I recently performed in with my mom, Carol, who is now known as "Old Lady Wonderwoman." We slipped right back into our roles, and Supergirl and Wonderwoman zoomed up to Longmont to pick up our new dog-in-need... Uh... Knowing nothing, really, about the dog-in-need we were picking up. (So much for planning - I hope she doesn't eat my cats!)

We met the woman in a truckstop and quickly made the exchange. Livy and Bill had the usual introduction - Livy sitting on Bill's head followed by Bill trying to eat her. No problem - we do that every time. The rest of the ride home, Wonderwoman reverted from superhero to super-mom, cooing softly to Olivia and comforting her in her new situation.

After a few days I'm finally learning what Livy is all about. First, she's the smartest dogs I've ever fostered (sorry, Bill). Her release paperwork said she didn't know any commands. I told her to sit, she sat. I told her to come, she came. I told her to jump up on the picnic table, she did, and then she got down as soon as I told her to. Uh - either I missed my calling as a dog trainer or the person who had this dog for the last six months didn't really know her at all.

We've only got six months of history on Livy. We know that she lived in a dark house with the chronic migraine lady, and surely didn't get much exercise. She's 2.5 years old. Her previous owners are a mystery but one thing is for sure - Livy was beat by a man. I know this because she spent two days growling at my husband and our roommate, and was fine with my dad until he picked up a stick to throw for Bill, which caused her some kind of psychedelic relapse.

While she's the smartest dog I've met, she's also the most terrifying, as she has shown some pretty scary aggressive behavior towards small dogs. She's not a bad dog, she just hasn't been properly socialized. Coupled with her unbridled "enthusiasm," she's a ticking time bomb that I need to diffuse.

Next time I post I'll talk about the techniques I've been using to help Livy gain confidence and settle down.