Category Archives: Dog Training

Second chances: Milo

It’s not a call you want to get as a rescuer.  I knew what was coming when I heard the vague message on the machine.  “I adopted a dog from you several years ago.  Could you call me as soon as possible?”  I knew from her name which dog she’d adopted and he’d been a wonderful, well-behaved boy but I knew something bad had happened.  Milo was, as best as we could figure, a german shepherd or collie mix that came from a cat shelter that only had outdoor kennels that he escaped from regularly.  In a strange coincidence, the day we returned the family’s phone call happened to be the fifth anniversary of his adoption.

The news was what I had expected.  Milo had bitten his adopted “dad”, an injury that required sutures, when he came toward the dog and demanded that he leave the room. It was not unprovoked, and it was the first time he’d aggressed with them and so they really felt they should give him another chance.  However, they had recently had a baby- unquestionably a stressor that led to the situation- and were unsure what would happen if they kept him.  After the bite, Milo was sent to the boarding kennel he stayed at sometimes, and they called us.  They used wording like “he goes insane” when someone would come to the door, mentioned that he was “extremely protective” of the home and of the woman adopter, and we were worried that the aggression was an issue that had been building up for a while.

Taking this into consideration, I made an appointment at the vet’s office to euthanize Milo, and called the family to make arrangements to pick him up.  I told them that I could not make promises and that it is not usually an option to rehome a dog that has bitten someone and sent them for stitches due to dangerous dog laws and liability issues.  They said they did not want to know what would happen, they would rather keep the idea in mind that Milo would have a happy ending; they did not want to be informed if we were to make a final decision about him.  It was their way also, I believe, of giving me a way to do what they understood I might need to do with less guilt and turmoil.

I drove to their home that Monday, depressed and miserable, setting out for what would have been one of the worst days I’ve had in rescue.  I held my composure as Milo’s “dad” met me at the door with Milo on leash, pulling and struggling to get to me, his body language showing an excited but happy dog, not an aggressive or fearful dog.  After an initial greeting, I knelt so he wouldn’t feel the need to jump on me, and he gave me kisses.  After Milo’s dad signed the return form, he started to show some emotion but soldiered through it.  We loaded Milo and some of his belongings- what had gone with him to the boarding kennel, anyway- into the back of my Forester, and as I drove away, I began to cry.  After what happened with Murphy earlier in the year, I knew I needed to do more for Milo than give up on him for a mistake that was probably human error entirely.  The dog in my vehicle was not giving signals that he was a crazy, dangerous beast.  I took him home in order to give him a chance to mingle with the dogs and cats.

Milo met the dogs with little issue, and showed some interest in the cats but not enough to be a concern.  I called the vet immediately and cancelled the euthanasia appointment and instead made one for a checkup and thyroid test (thyroid disorders can cause temperament imbalances, including aggression in many cases.)  His checkup went well, no thyroid issues, and he was very well behaved for the exam and blood draw and in the crowded waiting room.Milo has been here for five weeks, and we have seen no signs of aggression.  He is a high strung shepherd mix that can be reactive to lots of stimuli, but I believe he had to feel seriously threatened before he decided to bite.  My goals for 2012 is to work with Milo on confidence building, continuing to reduce his reactivity, and earn his Canine Good Citizenship award to prove that dogs can show less than desirable behavior without condemning them for good.

I know it was the right decision to make, though it comes with sacrifices- Milo is now a permanent part of our lives, at least for the duration of HIS life.  I’ve struggled with the very human response of feeling that it is unfair to us AND Milo  to have this dog join our family because of a situation that shouldn’t have happened, or because his adopters were unwilling to work with a behavior consultant or give Milo a chance to adjust to his new life with the newborn baby in the home.  It is inconvenient, and it is stressful having eight dogs under our roof to take care of.  Milo’s reactivity has gotten better already but as a sound-sensitive chronic migraine sufferer it has been incredibly difficult listening to him bark his head off at random things like neighbors in their own driveway and anything larger than a leaf moving down the road in front of the house.  I’ll admit that I selfishly allowed myself to resent this dog for no reason other than we have become stuck together.  In the last two weeks, I have really made an effort to spend one-on-one time with him, working on training with the reactivity (HUGE difference already) and basic manners and obedience to help develop a bond.  It has been easier to accept that he’s a part of our lives and look forward to seeing what kind of potential he has.  I feel guilty for allowing my own emotions to make me upset about having Milo in the house when really, I am relieved that he is doing so well.  He has the opportunity that I couldn’t give Murphy because of his dog aggression.  Though he is treated with the love and compassion that all dogs under our roof deserve and receive, I can’t bring myself to call him “my” dog yet, I simply refer to him as a sanctuary dog for the rescue for now.  It will take some time for that to change, but we’ll get through this together.

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Filed under Dog Training, Personal, Pets, Rescue

Shutting down

The phrase “shutting down” has been used for a while in dog behavior.  It usually refers in situations where the dog has just become so overstimulated by stress or fear that it becomes unresponsive.  I was recently contacted by an adopter that is attempting to do some pretty advanced training with her new dog and she mentioned that he seemed “exhausted” after a relatively short period and would not even take food from her anymore.  This dog isn’t exhausted, he is shut down.  She is most likely introducing too much, too quickly, or making training sessions go too long, or throwing too much at him at once and he is having a hard time coping with all of it, so he just turns off.  This can happen with fearful or hypervigilant dogs as well, dogs that are so overwhelmed by what’s going on around them that they just can’t process the environment anymore.

The other day I discovered that shutting down applies to more than that when it comes to working with dogs.  I learned that *I* can shut down while interacting with them, too.  I was going out for a walk and discovered my foster Hailey to be HIGHLY reactive on leash.  It is frustration that causes her reaction, she wants to check the dog out and I’m sure her pit bull heritage doesn’t help with that.  She is better after getting a solid sniff and she does fine with the six other dogs at the house, but she was just uncontrollable until she was able to get to him and unfortunately, she can’t be allowed to do that with every dog we see on walks or at classes, which she was supposed to be starting today.  Her behavior was so awful I was floored; I really hadn’t expected it even though she can be a handful.  I should have done something productive, should have taken her out of the situation and gotten her back to a manageable level of excitement, should have used the information I have gathered over the years to help solve the problem.  Rather than using my brain to figure out exactly what I needed to do, though… I simply turned off.  I didn’t want to walk this dog anymore, didn’t want to try and solve her problems, just didn’t want to deal with it.  She was hurting my arm, I could not get her focus, and she sat there squealing and yipping and looking quite fierce because she completely lacks social skills with new dogs and I felt overwhelmed and helpless.  I shut down.

It’s been a hard pill to swallow to realize that there are huge gaps in my comfort level with certain aspects of training.  We’ve had dogs come through here with serious problems that were ironed out pretty easily through consistency and training and a lot of patience and I know that this can be as well.  I have had this degree of reactivity with two fosters now (Cody and Hailey) though and… I feel so lost.  I joke, “why can’t this be as easy as aggression and resource guarding?”

With a dog that is overwhelmed and shutting down, we try to figure out how to keep the level of stimuli to a point where  the dog feels safer and can think and concentrate.  I suppose that now, I need to do the same for myself while I try to help Hailey.  Hopefully I can, and we’ll get through this together.  Baby steps.

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Canine Good Citizen-ship

Yesterday evening, the last of my five dogs, Dover, passed his Canine Good Citizen test.  This is huge for us because Dover, a deaf English setter, came to us with such severe canine compulsive disorder that he was disconnected from everything in the world around him except the lights and shadows he lived to chase.  He was a foster for an English setter rescue but it was clear that he was unadoptable after six months of sloooooow progress uphill and we adopted him.  I knew that placing him in an “average pet owner” home would be risky.  His condition is serious enough that he has been placed on anti-anxiety medication to help control the compulsion and for three years, managing his behavior and trying to recover his quality of life has been a huge part of our lives. We initially had kept him because it was the best thing for HIM but over time, we realized that we were just as much in love with him as any of our other dogs and can’t imagine this journey without him.  Passing his test last night was like planting our flag on top of Mt. Everest. Proof that we made this climb together.  I’m not sure what is in our future but I know this: whatever we try to accomplish, we will succeed!

What is CGC testing?

The American Kennel Club has a series of simple tests for you to demonstrate your dog’s status as a Canine Good Citizen (CGC)- essentially that he or she is a well mannered, respectable member of society and not a menace, danger or nuisance. This test is actually a jumping board to therapy dog testing but they are not the same thing.

What do you get? A certificate that proves your dog has proven itself in front of one to three evaluators. Some insurance companies will reduce your home owner’s rates if you present these certificates for the dogs in your household.

Your dog must pass ten tests for a 100% in order to be certified. Automatic dismissal occurs if the dog growls, snaps, bites, attacks or grabs any person or another dog. If the handler is unsportsmanlike, kicks, strikes or manhandles a dog at any time, the pair will be dismissed immediately. If your dog eliminates during the test, you will be dismissed although you can take the test at another date.

Your dog will wear a harness or collar (no correction collars or head halters) and depending on the facility where you test, you may be asked for proof of license or rabies.

SO, is your dog CGC-worthy?

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger
Evaluator approaches the handler, shakes hands with and greets the handler, ignoring the dog. The dog may be sitting, standing or laying down but may not break whatever position it’s in to go to the evaluator and cannot show signs of timidity or aggression.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting
Now the evaluator greets the dog, petting its head and body. The dog may stand or remain sitting politely for this but should not jump up on the evaluator and as above, cannot be shy or resentful.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming
The evaluator inspects the dog as a veterinarian might examine it, checking the body, feet, and ears. The handler brings a brush the dog is familiar with so the evaluator can lightly brush the dog. The dog should be healthy in appearance and cannot be frightened or aggressive in response to handling.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
Exactly what it says- your dog should walk beside you and not pull ahead on the leash. Usually you walk in an L shape pattern out and then back because there must be a left turn, a right turn, an about turn, a halt somewhere along the route and a halt at the end.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd
Essentially, a crowd of people (usually there are kids or people with crutches in this crowd at the tests I’ve observed) spreads out not too thinly and you are instructed to walk around them, passing fairly close. The dog doesn’t have to totally ignore people but shouldn’t jump or strain on the leash, be fearful, aggressive, or overly excited.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place
At this station, your dog is placed on a 20 ft line. You must ask your dog to sit and down to show that s/he knows how, and then you pick the position to leave your dog in for the duration of the test. Telling your dog to stay, you move to the end of the 20 foot line and wait for your evaluator to send you back to your dog, return to your position and then the dog may move.

Test 7: Coming when called
Usually done right after the sit while your dog is still on the long line, you now must put your dog in a stay and walk 10 feet away from your dog. When the evaluator gives you the signal, you release your dog and tell it to come to you. This test isn’t for the stay so your dog doesn’t need to be PERFECT in a stay here, but it certainly goes over better. All you’re doing is demonstrating that the dog will come to you when called.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog
Two test takers and their dogs walk across the floor to each other, they shake hands and say hello, exchange pleasantries, etc, and then continue walking. The dogs are on the outside, not walking face to face, and must not go to each other or the other handler. You don’t have to put them in a sit but some/most evaluators I have worked with like to see that.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction
This might be “dropping a crutch or cane,” “dropping a chair,” rolling a wheelchair, opening an umbrella, clanging pots or pans, etc. The dog is allowed to startle but can’t bark, lunge, or try to run away.

Test 10: Supervised separation
Tester leaves dog with an evaluator or a test volunteer and goes out of sight for three minutes. As long as the dog doesn’t throw a total fit (constantly bark, whine, pace, or otherwise seem freaked out though mild nervousness is okay) it should be able to pass.

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