Playing Nurse

Yesterday was the date of Kingston’s surgery in which they removed the pin that had been stabilizing his fracture. It is such a relief to know that he is one step closer to recovery. While he is, of course, uncomfortable, this surgery should have a much quicker recovery time. Before we know it he will be able to run and play like a little pup again! (Gaige will be thrilled!)

The original X-ray image

The original X-ray image

I dropped him off for the surgery yesterday morning around 8, but not before going in for the pre-surgery consultation. The good news? Kingston’s fracture site had produced a large amount of calcification, which should be helpful in strengthening the leg and protecting it against future breaks. The doctor (who was amazing, guys! So much better than our last experience…) was confident that Kingston should be able to live a relatively normal life, without worry of re-injury in the future.

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Nervous Nelson…

The bad news? Most likely a mix of his past, as well as the traumatic visits to the vet for surgeries and other uncomfortable procedures, has resulted in a dog who is displaying fear-reactive behaviors when at the vet. Can you imagine having suffered a traumatic life, and then meeting the only people who have ever cared for you? Then these people leave you in a scary place, with strange people and new smells, where you are locked away. Those strange people do things to you that make you nauseous and cause you pain, and you have no idea why! Now, as soon as we arrive at the vet, poor Kingston becomes a trembling mess, and then growls and barks whenever anyone but me tries to come close to his hideout in the corner. While he never tries to aggress or snap at anyone, this behavior is still something we want to resolve for everyone’s comfort. Thankfully, the doctors and staff were incredibly understanding, gentle, and cautious with our little guy. When I left him, his tail was wagging as he walked away with an awesome technician who remembered him from past appointments (where he’d been fine!). When I asked if I could make an appointment once he had healed, simply to allow him to come ‘hang out’ and ensure a positive experience, they were more than willing to make it happen. Do you have a dog that is fearful of the vet? Try asking if you can schedule a few appointments with the technicians! Most likely they will be more than happy to oblige you in puppy cuddles during their lunch break! Kingston is an endlessly loving and affectionate dog, and so I have every confidence that this behavior is nothing a little bit of positivity can’t remedy.

What’s crazy about all of this? When I went to pick him up, I spoke with the manager. I asked her how Kingston had been for the staff, and she looked at me like I was crazy. She laughed and told me that in fact, she really needed me to get him out of there, because none of her techs were getting any work done! She said that every time they passed his kennel, every one of them had to stop and have a quick snuggle. She said he was the most affectionate and popular dog she’d seen come through the clinic! So that leads me to wonder if his antics weren’t more in defense of me, since they seem to disappear when I’m not around…

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I feel so blessed to be a part of this little dog’s journey to happily-ever-after. He really is a special one, friends. As always, thanks for joining us on his adventures ๐Ÿ™‚

Training Tuesday: Building Relationships

My approach to dog training is not altogether different from my approach to my human relationships. Because that is what my interactions with dogs are… relationships. You must give love (or kindness, or respect, etc), to receive it in return, and you must be more focused on what you put in than you are on what you receive. This approach largely explains why I believe that force-free dog training is the best way.

Tonka loves to learn!

Tonka loves to learn!

Relationship Reinforcing

I fully recognize that a more heavy-handed approach is still very much prevalent in our society. Why? Because of Caesar Milan. Because it works. A dog is afraid of punishment, afraid of pain, afraid of the one in charge, so they operate in whatever way necessary to avoid these things. Science has proven that these approaches do not work long-term in real-life, but they do produce results of indeterminate length or consistency. Using punishment to stop behaviors is nothing new. But notice, I use the word ‘stop‘, as opposed to the word ‘teach‘. We can stop any behavior, but I am more interested in teaching my dogs to choose the behavior I seek. If we utilize intimidation and physical punishment, have we truly stopped the underlying behavior issue, or simply made our dog fearful of our reactions to their instincts? I never force, but I always give my dogs a choice, or at least the illusion of such. They make the right choice because they trust me, because I do not hurt them, because I keep them safe, because I make it easier than the wrong, and because the outcome is enjoyable. They make this choice because while training, we establish a relationship and a partnership. They do not just aim to avoid pain… they aim to please.

Even a game of fetch should have fun rules... consider them bargaining points!

Even a game of fetch should have fun rules… consider them bargaining points!

Training Across the Species

Some of you may know that I am as active in horse training as I am in dog training. One thing that is important to remember is that appropriate training practices should be able to be applied successfully to any species, at least as far as your approach and methodology. Do we want to have to rely on disciplining a large or dangerous animal when they have displayed a poor behavior? Of course not, because it might be too late! It might also result in frustration on the part of the animal, which can lead to aggression. Instead, we as the trainer need to be managing the situation and environment during our training sessions in order to avoid the occurrence of the bad behavior in the first place. When in doubt, ask yourself… would I want to tell my horse “No”? What about my elephant or my tiger?!

Awesome infographic from www.doggiedrawings.net

Awesome infographic from http://www.doggiedrawings.net

Pets as Robots?

Punishment-based methods can work. In the right settings and with uniquely tempered dogs, they can produce animals that respond quickly and correctly. In effect, they produce animals that perform. If we train our dogs like machines, with cold punishment and little reward, they will operate in like fashion… with detachment and avoidance. What those methods cannot do, is contribute to building relationships. And why do dogs exist in our lives, if not to be our family members and friends, guardians and partners, cuddlers and playmates?ย  Rather, if we embrace the natural abilities and traits of our dogs as individuals or as a species, we will create a partnership with a free-willed and independent animal who chooses to do anything in its power to please us. And that is more powerful to me than any other force.

No Effort Dog Training… What?!

While food can be a fantastic motivator to many dogs, it is certainly not the only one. My favorite reward to use with my own dogs are non-food reinforcers, or functional rewards. This allows the dog to tell us what their preferred reward would be. Have a reactive dog who likes to approach other dogs rudely while on a walk? (Provided that the reactivity is not fear-based…) Don’t allow the dog to move toward their trigger unless they are calm and quiet. This approach is used commonly as a parenting practice: you want your teenager to clean their room, and it is a regular battle. Once you find their functional reward (they want to go to the movies with their friends) you prevent them from achieving their reward (movie) until they have performed the desired behavior (cleaning). Make sense? This type of functional training is especially effective, because it doesn’t require you setting aside time for obedience, getting out the clicker and treats, setting up the environment, etc. While that is productive, it isn’t something that the average owner makes time for each day. Functional training is something that is simple to apply in your daily life and schedule, and will directly equate to a dog who is a more compatible addition to your family’s lifestyle, because you use everyday scenarios to improve your dog’s behavior.

By recognizing and utilizing your dogs’ natural behaviors, traits, and preferences, you can be a step ahead in your training. Exploit the fact that your dog’s life is full of rewards! Think of all the pleasurable activities you control access to, and use them to help your dog earn his rewards by displaying good behavior. For example, have a dog who loves to play fetch? Require every session to be a training opportunity. Before the ball is thrown, they must sit, and before it is taken, they must come when called and ‘drop it’ on command. If they fail to respond appropriately, the play session ends. Proper obedience doesn’t always have to take place in formal classes or structured sessions… it can (and should!) be as simple as incorporating cues and rewards into your everyday routines.

Georgia has learned to 'offer' a sit when she is in doubt as to what is expected of her

Georgia has learned to ‘offer’ a sit when she is in doubt as to what is expected of her

Offering Behavior

Think about traditional dog training. The handler verbalizes a ‘command,’ perhaps coupled with a a hand motion. The dog is then supposed to reply with the corresponding behavior. The problem with this, is these training sessions do not always automatically relay to our everyday lives. For example, we want our dogs to sit for attention when guests come into our home, but how do we ‘train’ this in a traditional obedience session? As you are greeting your guests, do you want to also have to command your dog to sit amidst the confusion? To your dog, these are two entirely different scenarios, and the application may not be evident. If we teach our dogs through everyday interactions to ‘offer’ behaviors without a command, and withhold their functional reward until they do so, we are more likely to see these behaviors relayed in everyday events. Remember, dogs are functional beings, and they repeat what works. The dog has learned that jumping and barking = being ignored, while sitting quietly = praise and attention, and so they will repeat it, even in the presence of guests (just make sure your guests are ‘trained’ as well!)

Have confidence in the cognitive abilities of your pup… once you have successfully requested the desired behavior a few times, approach the next session with the goal that you will try to let them figure it out before jumping in and making commands. This gives your dog a chance to demonstrate what you’ve taught them, and teaches them to use their brains to solve the puzzle, by independent figuring out how to appropriately get whatever it is that they desire.

It is important to remember that if we punish our dogs for inappropriate behavior, they are going to be less likely to want to try to offer a behavior on their own. This technique requires a dog who is balanced and confident in his or her relationship with you as the owner or handler, and will never work in conjunction with forceful training practices.

Application

Today’s challenge is to focus on one area of your dog’s behavior that is particularly frustrating. Instead of correcting them when they display an inappropriate behavior, make a choice not to allow them the opportunity to act poorly in the first place, and then focus on the reward. Try to allow them to offer the behavior without making the request. Have a dog that rushes past you through doors, or is pushy during feeding time? Their reward is as simple as the thing that they seek, which makes your job very easy! Withhold the ‘reward’ until they have offered an appropriate behavior, such as a sit. Having a dog with good manners is as easy as making them a habit throughout your daily life.

 

Blinded by Love

 

One of our most important tasks to accomplish during Kingston’s time with us is working on his socialization. He is a pup who really, really wants to love everyone, but who also has some (totally justifiable) fear of the unknown. Especially when the unknown is a tall,ย shadowyย figure. Most of you who know hisย storyย will see this as no surprise. So we have been doing our part to help him have positive experiences with lots of new people. But what we’ve recently learned?

 

There might be more than expected that is shadowy to Mr. K.

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In the photo above, taken last week, Kingston met with an AMAZING force-free trainer who came to the house to help us with his separation anxiety. We had a phenomenal session, one that armed us with some new tools to approach his issues with being alone (don’t worry, we will be sure to share our knowledge in future posts!) But we also got more than we bargained for, when the trainer did an assessment of his vision.

I have always had my doubts about his vision, and had brought it up at one of his veterinary appointments. Kingston seemed to be more hesitant in low lighting, relied much more on his nose and ears, would often miss things that caught the attention of the other dogs, and was not able to even follow food when tossed in his direction. The vet unfortunately brushed off my concerns without assessing him or asking from where my suspicions arose. However, my worries were confirmed during our training session… the trainer recognized his trouble before I even mentioned it!

The good news is that his eye issues are very likely minor. While we will, of course, pursue further medical advice, his eyesight certainly does not seem to interfere with his daily life in a negative way. We have no way of knowing whether this is something that is a genetic issue (he is an all white dog!) or something that occurred as a result of trauma (we know abuse was a regular part of his early life) or some other type of developing medical condition.

What does this mean for his future? Well, not a whole lot. It may mean that his adoptive family should be prepared to approach his training via primarily oral cues, as opposed to relying heavily on visual hand motions. More importantly, it will mean that they need to be diligent about managing his interactions with new people and children.

We love Kingston just the way he is, and want to find a family who feels the same way. We are prepared to help equip his adoptive family with all of the tools they need for a successful life together by being transparent and up-front about all of his many amazing qualities and also his challenges.

Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for our first installment of Training Tuesdays!

 

It’s Getting Adorable Around Here

If I had a dollar for every moment Kingston did something outrageously adorable… well, I would have a lot of dollars. And I would be able to save a lot more animals! I don’t have a dollar for all of those moments, so I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. But, a picture’s worth a thousand words, right? So there ya go…

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He loves to come out of nowhere and jump up onto my lap for snuggles while I’m working on the computer. Best work break EVER.

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Sometimes he tries soooooo hard not to fall asleep, for fear of missing out on all of the fun…

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And then he fails, but of course he does so adorably.

Have an ADORABLE weekend, friends ๐Ÿ™‚ I know we will!

Look-Alikes

So the other night, out of nowhere, I received a text message from J, which lead to the following conversation:

IMG_2508 I know they say that love is blind, but I’m worried what this means for me!

PicMonkey Collage

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I don’t know… what do you guys think? Does your pup have a celebrity look alike?

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Sorry J, but I think this might be a little bit more believable… although certainly not as far as personality is concerned!

Wordless Wednesday: Princess and the Pea

While cleaning our house, I typically try to restrict the dogs to a room or two in order to have reasonable productivity. I’m sure you’ve all heard the joke that cleaning a house with dogs is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos, and I tend to agree. Below is what it usually looks like… IMG_2521

There is a lot going on in that photo! But then, sometimes Georgia decides to get extra adorable.

IMG_2522With beds on beds on beds, I wonder if she can still feel the dog bone underneath? If not, we all know she can smell it ๐Ÿ˜‰