Getting to Know You

Looking so grown up.

It’s been just over five months since Kyber broke his leg. He was four months old then. Hadn’t been with me for much longer than a month. He’s been on restrictions longer than he’s been alive. We finally got the okay from our physical therapist that he can resume normal activity. He’s not 100% yet; his pelvis seems a bit locked so we have an appointment with a chiropractor to work on that and see if we can’t get it moving properly again. Once that is remedied, we can work on more strength exercises. At least I can let him be a puppy again. Finally.

Now that he’s been more than a “puppy in a box,” I’ve been able to get to know him better. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked what I saw! He was an absolute maniac. Letting him loose in the house was like pulling the plunger back on a pinball game. He was racing all over the place and bouncing off of things. He’d been like that as a puppy, too, but it was much less dangerous when he was only 15 lbs. I still had to restrict him slightly even as I allowed him more freedom. We slowly worked up to longer and longer walks. Plus he had physical therapy exercises to work on. Eventually, he earned freedom in the yard and got to start running. The more activity he was allowed to do, the less crazy he was in the house.

Granted, he’s a 9 month old puppy. He can’t settle down well in the house (he will lay down and chew on something or briefly snuggle up on the couch but he doesn’t sleep). But he doesn’t get into too much mischief and he’s getting better about not obnoxiously swatting Kyu in the head constantly. (Kyu does not approve of this gesture.) I can actually have him loose in the living room and watch TV without having to divert my attention from my show for long periods of time. It’s been nice.

I’m also getting to know who he is as a dog. Firstly, he’s very easily stimulated by stuff he sees. This is, of course, unsurprising. He’s a border collie x whippet! Sometimes I feel like he just wants to go on a walk to watch things. All the things. MUST SEE STUFF! He’s getting better at least. But I’ve felt like he’s training for weight pull on most walks the way he pulls as he seeks visual stimulation. Something to fixate on.

He’s also incredibly smart. Sometimes to the detriment of my goals. LOL He’s a great problem solver. Leash looped across his shoulders? He’ll just duck his head under it. Object in the way? He’ll just step over it (this is a big challenge in doing his PT!). He’s very easily distracted, though. I need to remember to keep sessions really short and minimize things that might pull his attention away from the task. He also tends to have a low frustration tolerance which requires me to make sure I’m very clear working with him. He gets a little mouthy if he’s not sure how to get his cookie. He’s also a bit sensitive and can disengage if I’m getting a little frustrated with him (though not nearly to the extent Kyu can be).

It’ll all be alright.

Despite our relative distance during his recovery, he still seems to think I’m sort of cool. I’ve tossed treats in the yard for him to find and then walked away–he races to me with so much gusto he often chokes on his cookie as he gets to me. In the woods, though, I’m pretty sure he’d rather just take off into the trees and disappear. Given the past two years, I can understand that desire. I’d like to assume he’d come back to find me but, until I’m certain he will, he’s on a leash!

He’s also a total goober. His most-used nickname is “Big Dumb Puppy.” Just because he’s just this big, silly goof. I love that about him.

It’s been challenging and it’ll still be for a while. We lost a lot of relationship-building time. And it’s a little harder to manage some things with a 35 lb “dog” versus a wee little puppy. But we’ll get there. He’s a good egg.

Posted in Chiropractor, Orthopedic, Pandemic Puppy, Physical Therapy, Puppy, Thoughts, Training, Veterinarian | Leave a comment

Protect Your Puppy

Puppies are so impressionable; it’s important to make sure they have good experiences.

This Saturday, I was walking Kyber at the park. We were walking lakeside off the usual path we take and walked by a gentleman seated on a bench with his dog. As I passed him with Kyber, the guy called out twice that his dog was friendly and I noticed the dog was off leash and coming for us. I called back “Doesn’t matter. I don’t want my dog greeting other dogs!” Fortunately, the dog was slow and we remained out of reach but the dog still pursued us. I asked the guy to call his dog (since that didn’t seem to be his first thought) which he did and we avoided any problems. Kyber got rewarded with cookies for turning his attention away from the dog and life was good.

Why does it matter, right? Why didn’t you just let Kyber meet that dog, Jamie? Why are you such a snob about it? Kyber (and Kyu for that matter) is not Risa and isn’t afraid of dogs. So why do you care?

I care because I hate when people assume. Just because I’m out with my dogs doesn’t mean it’s time for doggy social hour. Sure, some of this is carryover from owning a reactive dog. Didn’t matter how friendly another dog was or not–Risa was not interested in being chummy. Most of it is just different priorities. Because both Kyu and Kyber are very dog social and friendly, I don’t want them to assume walks are dog play dates. Dogs trying to play on leash is a recipe for trouble. Even if they don’t get tangled up, it restricts their normal movement and can create misunderstandings that might not otherwise occur. I also participate in dog sports with my dogs where they need to ignore the dogs they might see. I want my dogs to prioritize me and not other dogs. John Q. Public may be just fine with their dog seeking out dogs on walks. I am not.

Today, I was reminded of the other reason why I don’t let my dogs (especially my puppies) just meet random dogs in public.

Kyber and I were walking along the path and I saw some dogs approaching ahead. Since Kyber is incapable of restraining his exuberance around his own kind, I moved him far away from the dogs and focused on rewarding him for choosing to disengage from looking at the dogs. My focus was on my dog but I overheard the conversation between the two people with the dogs. One couple had a young puppy and the other man had an adult dog. The man said his dog was friendly and they allowed the pup to meet him. I only heard what happened so I have no idea what lead up to it. But the adult dog snarked at the puppy and the puppy screamed (as most young pups are apt to do). No one appeared to be hurt (again, my focus was more on getting Kyber away since the commotion had him more amped up than usual and his barking wasn’t helping the situation). I was reminded that single-event learning is a thing and I worried about that puppy. I remembered why I don’t introduce my dogs to dogs I don’t know. I want my dogs to be confident around their own kind and it’s just too risky if a greeting goes awry.

I myself have experienced the horror of single-event learning so I know the fallout can be high. As a child, I loved swimming. I was in the pool practically all summer. I took swimming lessons growing up and spent countless hours in the pools at friends’ houses or the public pool. I was a fish! Until one summer day at the public pool when it all changed. It was a particularly warm day so the water temperature felt pretty chilly compared to the air. I was never the type to just jump right in. I had to ease my way into the cool water. Once I’d acclimated, then I could cannonball in and have a great time. This day, someone shoved me into the pool (something I’d never enjoyed anyway) and, as soon as I hit the cold water, it forced the air out of my lungs. I surfaced quickly and caught my breath but I was scared. So scared. I didn’t want to be in the pool anymore. In fact, I didn’t want to be in the pool again. I tried to help myself overcome the fear but, even now, it’s still there. I’m okay in pools but I still don’t want to submerge my head and still have some anxiety being in the water. All it took was that one bad experience to negate all of my good ones.

Protect your puppies. They’re impressionable. It’s much easier to keep them strong and confident than to rebuild them after trauma. <3

Posted in Fear, Pandemic Puppy, Puppy, Socialization, Thoughts, Training | 2 Comments

Empathy

OMG SCARY!

Dogs are not the same as people. They experience the world with scent as their primary sense versus the visual input we humans rely most heavily on. They have instincts that differ from ours. Their worldview is very different than ours. Yet I find that envisioning the world from their point of view is often beneficial when training them. By putting ourselves in their paws, we can empathize with their experiences and, by doing so, help them find their way better.

This year, I was stung by a yellow jacket twice on separate occasions. I have never been stung before. It hurt A LOT but, otherwise, I was fine. I survived. I didn’t do anything to aggravate the wasp; it just nailed me out of seemingly nowhere.

Fast forward to earlier this week when four yellow jackets entered my house and were hanging out in my kitchen. I’d had them in my house before on a few occasions over the years I’ve lived here. It was a nuisance but no big deal. Until this week. I was SCARED. I have never felt that scared and anxious about having an insect in my home before. I felt panicky. My so-called higher brain could rationalize this event. They weren’t acting aggressively (they were just hanging out on various flat surfaces). Aside from causing me discomfort on previous occasions, they hadn’t caused me any major distress. Yet my body reacted with fear and panic. I managed to overcome it and take care of the problem but, even a few days later, I find myself hypervigilant around my doorway (making sure no more come in). I am quicker to startle when a flying insect comes near me (even though, both times I was stung, I didn’t notice the yellow jacket until it had already gotten me!). Those seemingly minor experiences that weren’t “a big deal” have seriously affected my behavior. I can rationalize my responses. I can talk to myself and remind myself I’m not in real danger. My dogs (as far as we know), can’t do that.

It’s not just an issue with fear though I find that’s the one easiest for most of us to empathize with (plus it’s often irrational in both species). Frustration is another big one. This one, I think we often overlook.

Frustration is incredibly demotivating. Think of the last time you were frustrated. Maybe your Internet was down when you’d planned on hopping online to chat with friends, play a game, do some research, or mindlessly scroll Facebook. What did you do next? Curse? Check the router? Troubleshoot your connection? Turn off the computer and turn it back on? Throw something? Call your ISP and bitch them out? Just give up and find a book to read instead?

BARK BARK! I can’t get to that dog I want!

What about your dog? What does s/he do when frustrated? Bark at you? Spin? Race off to grab a toy to play with? Sniff the ground. Leave? Bite you? Did you realize those are signs of frustration?

We get frustrated when the path to what we want is unclear. You wanted to get online and you couldn’t. Your dog wanted the cookie or toy s/he earns for doing behaviors and didn’t get it. Again, while we humans can rationalize why the Internet is down and why we can’t get what we want, our dogs aren’t able to do that. They expected a reinforcer and didn’t get it.

When it comes to training with, working with, and living with our dogs; empathy matters. We need to set up our training sessions so that frustration is minimized. You have to make sure your criteria is clear to your dog. If it’s not, they cannot succeed. They (hopefully!) want what we have to offer so, if they’re not giving us what we’d expected (Hey! We’re now frustrated, too!), we have to alter our plan so that it’s clearer to them what we’re expecting so that they can get what they’re hoping for.

Likewise, if they are afraid of something, we need to step into their worldview and try to relate to what they’re going through. When you’ve been afraid, has it ever helped you when someone yelled at you? Told you that you were being foolish for acting afraid? Jerked you around? Or took the time to recognize you were upset and manage the situation to alleviate your concerns?

We’ll never know exactly how our dogs feel in situations any more than we can truly know what’s going on in the mind of another human being. But the best relationships are build on good communication and understanding. Put yourself in your dog’s paws and try and see how s/he is feeling in that moment. Use that knowledge to build a better training plan and, consequently, a stronger bond.

Posted in Fear, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment

Lost Puppyhood

Six months old already. How the time flies.

This isn’t how it was supposed to go.

When I brought Kyu home as a puppy, I got started with him right away. Building a bond through play and snuggles. Starting him on some solid training foundations. Having fun as he explored the world, grew, and developed. We have a pretty strong bond now (though it is often tested with his GI struggles).

My plan for Kyber was different. Similar but different. I hadn’t planned on doing much training with him. Just laying foundations like following food in my hand, learning location specific markers, puppy conditioning, and husbandry behaviors. I wanted to focus more on relationship building and important life skills versus training sports skills. Reality hit hard, though, after his injury. Pretty much all my plans were shot to hell.

It’s really hard to enjoy your puppy when he’s essentially confined to a crate for 8 weeks. When all the fun puppy stuff he should be doing (playing, discovering how his body moves, exploring the world) is forbidden. Don’t run. Don’t jump. Don’t move fast. Don’t don’t don’t don’t. So much stress and frustration for us both. How to build a strong relationship when you are essentially the fun police? When you can’t really do anything with your puppy. It’s almost like not even having a second dog.

There are advantages. He can’t get into as much trouble when confined (though he has still managed because puppy!). I don’t feel as overwhelmed by all the things I need to do with a puppy because I literally can’t. I’m also not a huge fan of the puppy stage; I much prefer them when they’re “trained” adults. 😉 But all that cute time and watching them grow and develop was missed because he lived in a box.

Healing well but still not ready for a return to life.

He’s 6 months old now. We pretty much skipped over puppyness and are right into adolescence now. Now it’s time to be an obnoxious brat for the next year or so. Now it’s time to forget all the skills I never got a chance to teach you. Try and be independent when you still have restrictions on your activity. Be a shit with Kyu because you guys barely had a chance to build a relationship and you still can’t really interact now. Spend most of your time out of the x-pen doing PT to rebuild the muscle lost and return regular function to the broken leg. It’s trying. It’s hard. It’s unfair to us both. It sucks. This isn’t what having a puppy is supposed to be.

His leg has healed well. The surgeon is really pleased with the progress. But life is not back to normal yet. It’ll be a slow, six-week journey (on top of his 8 weeks of strict confinement) towards a return to normalcy. Gradually increasing walking distance. Continued PT work. Removal of the surgical hardware. Two months down and still over a month to go.

He’ll probably be fine. Physically. Mentally. Behaviorally. Our relationship will probably turn out alright eventually. But it’s hard to see that on this side of things. Knowing how all your plans went to hell in one freak accident. Knowing that this is the third dog who’s future in dog sports is in jeopardy. It’s hard to cope with it all.

Posted in Orthopedic, Pandemic Puppy, Physical Therapy, Puppy, Thoughts, Training, Veterinarian | Leave a comment

It’s Just Too Important

It’s so important to expose young puppies (safely) to the types of situations you expect them to encounter as adults.

Socialization is critical for puppies. There is such a small window of time in which they can easily learn about the world around them. Up until around 16 weeks, they are little sponges soaking up everything they can about what life is like. It’s so important that we not only allow them multiple opportunities to learn about the world they’re going to be experiencing for the rest of their lives, but to make sure the experiences are happy and empowering. We want our puppies to see things in the world and go “Hey, that’s normal” as they grow towards adulthood. I like taking my dogs lots of places so I made sure to take Kyber to busy places, quiet places, the park, the woods, a dog show, stores, etc. while he was young. It was challenging given that he came home when it was winter AND there’s still a global pandemic. But it was way too important to skimp on.

Then, at 16 weeks of age, he broke his leg. I had to keep him contained and rested. He was only allowed very short, on leash walks. While I knew I had done a good job getting him out into the world, I also knew that essentially hiding him from the world for the next 2 months was a very bad idea. It is vitally important that he still get out and about. Doing so given his restrictions was going to be a challenge. I didn’t want him rushing up to dogs (or having dogs attempt to play with him). I don’t need people getting him all excited. He isn’t allowed to walk on slippery surfaces. He is allowed to walk but not for very long. What to do?

I borrowed a friend’s dog stroller. He’s almost too big for it already but it works. I can get him out into the world so he can still see things without concern of him overdoing it and reinjuring himself. While my preference is to give my puppy (and dogs) freedom to move towards or away from things as they feel comfortable, it’s not really an option with the stroller. Fortunately, Kyber is a pretty confident guy so I don’t have to worry much about accidentally having him too close to something that scares him. As a bonus, he doesn’t have the opportunity to try and greet all the people and dogs he sees (though he’d like to!) which helps him learn the skills I want him to have as an adult. I am happy he likes people and dogs but I don’t want him to think he gets to say “Hi” to everyone out there. The stroller facilitates that.

Most of his walk is in the stroller but I still give him some time to walk around at a safe space so he can still experience the world at his level and with some latitude.

Making sure a puppy gets the right life experiences in the proper timeframe is a challenge. Sometimes we have to get creative and think outside the box. Sometimes we have to endure puzzled looks from people as we cart our 26 lb puppy around in a stroller. Or refuse to let our young dog say “Hi” to their rambunctious dog who’s straining at their leash. It’s all worth it, though. Life with a dog who hasn’t had the opportunity to learn that the world is a safe place is incredibly taxing. I went through it with Risa. I do my best to make sure my puppies are set up for success so that they can happily navigate whatever life may throw at them.

Posted in Pandemic Puppy, Puppy, Socialization, Thoughts, Training | Leave a comment