Friday, February 29, 2008

The Iditarod Is Coming!

When one explores what function their dog breed or breed mix was bred for, answers fall into categories like the rejuvenated Spice Girls -- Scary, Baby, Ginger, Posh and Sporty -- think rabid wolf hybrid, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Irish Setter, Shih Tzu and English Setter --

But coming to a browser window near you, follow this year's elite Iditarod crews as they can be tracked using gps technology. The dogs used on these grueling races were bred to run, withstand cold, and run some more.

With a few clicks of your mouse you can become an insider and watch their progress from Willow to Nome. Kick off is Sunday, March 2. Final day? Only the dogs will know!


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Give Me A Hug

Evolution of a Training Lesson between a girl and her dog.

This video shows a single training session between my youngest daughter, nearly 9, and our 4 1/2 year old springer, Bean. While Bean is very responsive to adults he likes (or who offer food) and older kids, he's a bit stickier with a younger version of a person. Bean is by nature a very thoughty dog. This video takes place over a 10 minute period interspersed with a lot of laughter. Training should be fun. I asked Sophie if she'd work with him in being more responsive and we'd do another version next month. She agreed. Stay tuned for part 2 of "give me a hug."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Leap Year Melt

Winter is going on far too long and I notice the ice formation on my poor lilac tree that I depend on in late May to soothe me for a whole week with fragrant flowers. My less horticulturally challenged friends assure me the intrepid little tree will survive to flower another day. But I wonder -- as a 4-6" snow storm is en route to coincide with the Great Cleveland Democratic Presidential Debate being held at CSU here in my fair city tomorrow night -- does Great Momma Nature know that an extra day is added to this month? To prolong winter. Delay spring! But I'm not really complaining. Sure a lot of gray skies and cold, snowy winter can get tiresome, but I wouldn't trade for any less than the four distinct seasons we have here.

But I would be remiss if I didn't add how my own use of metaphors helps me get through my personal and professional passion -- always working on improving relationships -- and in this case with my own pack of canines.

Today as we sloshed through still-snow-covered-from-the-last-storm sidewalks, my dogs and I, I looked at how the problems I had previously had when walking all 3 dogs together had melted, like my poor ice covered flora, into a wonderful, harmonious and healthy happy walk and while it may have seemed like some time, the investment has led to a whole new, AND IMRPOVED, outside dog dynamic.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

PTSD and Dogs or The POW Dog

It's that time of year -- crunch time -- where I have to get in all my CEU's to keep my independent social work license active. My own deadline for licensing renewal is May and I'm only 8 into a 30 hour requirement that I have 2 years to fulfill. So the flood of e-mail solicitations, not to mention pamphlets, brochures, postcards and letters coming through the snail mail way announcing locally based topics that help fulfill my requirements are taking on particular interest as February is fast fading into March. I try to select the topics that are of greatest interest or benefit for a person who is a dog trainer/behaviorist such as myself. (Let's be honest, location and cost also factor in).

Because of my background in social work with the emphasis on early childhood development AND emergency mental health crisis intervention and assessment, I get insight into dynamics with clients that segue into a realm of discussion that is less about dog training than problem solving with other, i.e., human relationships - spouses, partners, roommates, children, grandchildren, grandparents, neighbors, co workers, etc. Some of my clients, referred by previous clients, are probably bringing me in less about the dog than some other dynamic that couldn't be addressed in a more conventional way -- i.e., seeing a therapist.

Today I received an email solicitation for an upcoming conference that has appeal because it's online and the topic is on The Culture of PTSD. It's relatively affordable, it's available as an audio download OR a CD, and I can choose to eat the food I have on hand that I like rather than hope the box lunch or buffet offers palatable options. And it's worth 9 credits, which could bring me up to 17 without leaving the house!

But more to the point, the topic of PTSD fascinates me in general and with dog clients specifically.

I would argue that dogs in a shelter environment are no different than Prisoners of War. The POW camp may be deluxe and the POW camp may be a pit stop to the gas chamber, but the residents are effectively sent there as prisoners. Previous owners may have abandoned or given up on them directly by bringing them in and paying to relinquish, or the dogs may have been thrown out of cars or abandoned in parks or just plain locked out and given up and thus picked up as strays and brought to a location that invariably includes being put in a cage.

The dog might be given a physical exam by a veterinarian and somewhere someone is going to assess the dog's suitability to be adopted and if the dog doesn't pass the test, the dog is generally euthanized. My friend Tracy Ann of Zen Paws could certainly quote you the real numbers of dogs that are euthanized each day or you could just do a google or other search engine search for those stats.

The dogs we abandon, give up on, lose or otherwise fail by not meeting their needs can, if the situation is ripe, develop symptoms of PTSD. I'm fully for rehoming a dog who doesn't fit into a home -- I've talked before about people making impulse choices that result in a poor match between person and dog -- and this is a topic that merits a heck of a lot more than a blog post -- but if the recognition of trauma (that the dog perceived it as trauma is the key here, not our subjective opinion based on the traumatic incident) that leads to PTSD that leads to manifestations of behaviors of dogs that are either outwardly scary (i.e., aggressive displays such as barking, lunging, snapping or biting) or inwardly scary (i.e., a dog showing self mutilation as in biting or excessively licking him/herself to the point of injury), I'm here to argue that it is treatable.

The potential client who might find me through an indirect approach (not a former client or trusted vet referral) might be focussed on house training. But with a little bit of probing, it becomes clear to me that the problem the potential client is calling about is simply the tip of the iceburg - it's symptomatic of the bigger picture. It's addressing the bigger picture that is key to successful training.

By understanding temperament, known history, presenting problems and dynamic in the home (which can only be seen IN THE HOME), then an effective treatment and training plan can be implemented to help the problem. Even with dogs who suffered PTSD. And from my perspective, those are the most interesting cases clinically. Perhaps if there is interest, I'll start providing case studies to illustrate how training helps!

Now off to see if I can organize and plan for all my CEU's in a more timely way than last time (honestly I got my CEU's and license renewal info in the mail at 11:45 pm on the night of my deadline and I don't want to do that again!).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do Houses Remember?

Snow is falling, again. Arctic air brings cold temperatures which freezes my I take a walk. Helps me process thoughts and get exercise and avoid gathering estimates on repairs and thinking about the inevitable bursting of the same pipe that froze and was repaired last month. Music from my ipod blasts through the earphones and when the rhythm finally gets going both in my head and with my pack, the dogs and I walk in harmony on the slippery sidewalks.

(Trip walks behind my feet, so he doesn't show up in these forward facing photos)

Today's path led us up and around my neighborhood and we passed by a house that sits on a hill at an angle looking down on a slope of street. We've passed this house hundreds of times on foot, hundreds by car. I even went and looked at it and was inside when I moved back here in late '95 but was not entranced by its somewhat utilitarian look and warren of small rooms and low ceilings.

Frequently when I touch base with my father, who is nearly 84, he imparts the sad news that another friend has died. It makes me sad that he is losing his peer group, but grateful he is still active, healthy, independent and always interesting to talk to -- about politics, weather, relatives, whatever we stumble upon in conversation.

Last week his good friend Mel died. Mel and his wife Carolyn had lived in this house where they raised their children. I bet they lived in the house at least 30 years. I know Mel was a very dear friend with a very long history with my parents -- they had been in a bookclub together for decades. A bookclub in which membership continues to fall from death, illness, and moves far away but is still an active part of the remaining members.

On that walk as I passed that house I thought about Mel and Carolyn -- what I could remember of them. I imagined Mel driving up the angular and quasi steep driveway (something really noticeable when snow covers it) and wondered as the wind whipped and light snow fell if a house knows. If a house knows when a longstanding inhabitant has passed on.

Then I hurried home.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Lily Rehab: Part I

This picture might look like the black dog (my Lily) is mauling a visiting golden retriever (Radar) while Trip the JRT is watching on the sidelines. This is one of those deceptive pictures -- Lily has known Radar since he was a wee pup growing up in my chaotic household three winters ago and in this visit they were just having a rousing good time of typical and normal and active and good doggie play.

HOWEVER, I am fully admitting that Lily, who is my safety net in many ways, can be dog aggressive and although I have managed it since she matured (as a pup she was heavily socialized and very appropriate -- See Intimate Dinner Party Dog post) I have decided I really want to change her at the tender age of 8+.

So I am going to report periodically on success and explain the process.

Phase I:
I have instituted nearly daily walks (I strive to go 5/7 days per week) with all 3 dogs from anywhere from 2 miles up to about 6 (which makes us all weary).

For the bulk of the trek, with or without my neighbor and her dog and toddler in stroller, Lily and Bean are joined together, wearing their Har-Vest's, and are ahead of me. Sometimes I have them pull just slightly to help pull me along in the slush, snow and ice which is a frequent surface this time of year in Cleveland, OH!

Certain dogs trigger reactivity (nothing else anymore, even squirrels although she is well aware of them) including raised hair, growling and IF given the opportunity (I NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN BECAUSE I AM PROACTIVE AND AWARE), she would lunge and potentially bite.

Leashes escalate problems. No doubt of that. So I am working Lily, both on walks and just around the house, to come when I say "touch" or simply put my hand out, and get lots of loving, one of her favorite treats. On the last portion of the walk I have her walk beside me, joined to Bean, dragging the leash and staying at my side and checking in often.

My goal is to have all 3 dogs heeling reliably OFF LEASH (or dragging) no matter the distraction by the end of summer.

I'll report in now and then with updates.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Politics of Dogs

I periodically and delightedly participate in my friend and colleague's Tracy B. Ann's Radio Show, THE POLITICS OF DOGS from Nashville, TN on Tuesday mornings. If I can get in my daily walk either before or after the 10 am EST (9 am Nashville time) I delight in babbling with Tracey about all manner of things dog including what is especially salient these days, the Politics of Dogs. (You can listen to a live radio stream if you go to RADIO FREE NASHVILLE.ORG for directions)

I'm a little worried that the tornadoes and erratic rare weather system that invaded Tennessee last night on SUPER (Duper) TUESDAY might compel me to avoid participating on March 4 when Ohio holds its primary! Any thoughts?