Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

So, to lighten up just a bit, I found this funny (and perfect!) t-shirt and Santa hat for my little brindle girl! In case you can't read her t-shirt, it says "Dear Santa, Define Naughty." Although when it came time to take a photo, I swear, she couldn't help but stick out her tongue. That's my girl! Happy Holidays to everyone...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Umm, Why Are You Telling Me This??

Well, I'm not sure why I'm telling you this, and that's the honest truth. Really, I think I'm documenting this for me, and not really caring about whether anyone ever reads this blog or not. For my friends and family, this topic becomes pretty boring after a bit, but it's such a major topic in my own brain, I constantly think about it, and try to plan out how to make Sydney's problem better so that she can move forward and lead a happy, secure life.

Not everyone is as fascinated with rehabilitating my Rogue Dog (OK, so I tease and call her bad names) as I am. I've always been excited about training dogs, and love seeing the "lightbulb" moment when a dog really, really gets it. I've never had a dog that started out semi-normal become reactive, insecure, "Me Tarzan" (as Jean Donaldson would likely label Syd) dog. So, I want to be able to reassure myself, go back and read about the bad days when I think this day must be the worst. And I also want to be able to remember the good days, so that I know that there are surely more of those to come.

I think also, maybe there are others who are in the same situation, you hear whispers, and feel the need to defend certain things. So, I find myself a broken record: "No, she does not have a bad temperament" and "No, she's not actually aggressive, she's terrified" and "Yes, she was socialized and she came from a reputable breeder, a carefully planned breeding." Most of the time when I am suffering from embarrassment that Syd put on an ugly face I just wish that she would act the way she really feels. I think that if my little dog were to whimper and urinate and run to hide behind me, that would almost be easier for me to handle. At least then I would not have to be explaining the difference between "Aggression" and "Reaction" to everyone we meet. And while I'm typing it out, can I just say that I think the word aggression is so over-applied to any situation where a dog doesn't slobber all over himself to play with another dog?

Mostly, I have all these thoughts in my head, and I worry that each day will melt into another, and I won't be able to keep track of whether Syd is making progress or not. Whether I'm helping her or screwing her up. So I type when I can, and it makes me feel better. You can read or not read, it won't hurt my feelings. And I'm certain that it won't be very exciting for people who aren't interested in the daily details of my little dog's problems. Very few people are! Well, actually, it's probably just me, and that's OK. :-) If you are here and reading, that's great, welcome to my world.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

But the books say...

Dog behavior books. I have nearly all of them. Scaredy Dog, Feisty Fido,Click to Calm, Culture Clash, Mine!, Fight!, you name it, I've probably got it. And the books are great, they help to calm me down and look at things from a more objective standpoint. Fantastic, now let's get to work. I have been doing No Free Lunch (some call it NILIF) with rescue dogs for years, and even with my own big dog Nick, and it really does work.

But one thing strikes me as I read these books again years later. The training program and activities in these books are geared fro that ONE dog in the house, ONE dog to whom I can devote all time and training. With a total of, well, seven dogs in the house, some of these solutions seem to be darn near impossible to pull off with the other distractions in my life. If I had 24/7 to devote to just the one dog, I'm sure Sydney would be back to near-perfect status in no time (well, in my dream world), and I'm sure that I would be better at keeping her from failure in specific day to day activities. This is not going to be a "pretty" solution, but we'll do our very best. When it's winter in Missouri, it's not feasible to leave the old, arthritic Weimaraner outside while I spend 20 minutes with Syd so she can work for her supper. Big Nick is likely scratching at the back door, and well, the cat just comes around when he wants to, and Syd just *loves* her cat. Distractions will happen, and Syd is going to have to learn to live with it. I'm going to have to learn to live with it also. And not get frustrated when the dog doesn't progress as fast as I'd like, or when she has a setback because of some level of stress that she's not ready to handle yet. She and I don't live in a vacuum, and I do have other dogs to take care of, the job that pays for the dog food, and other Life Happens situations. Deep breath. Every day, I give myself a pep talk, and it starts with "Harness her powers for good and not evil."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Building Confidence

Getting serious about making Sydney work for food, work for praise and attention, and limiting her free time is one part of her program. Another part is all about building her confidence. I need to get this girl out and start building her confidence in safe, positive environments so that she can experience success in a new setting. Having her sit, down, stand, get back, watch, spin, sit up, etc. in our kitchen with the same distractions every day is one thing. Taking her somewhere new and asking her to stay calm and do those things is a completely different monster.

We are lucky to have a membership to a relatively new, indoor agility center. The building is accessible to members at any time, other than when classes are taking place. So, I wondered if Syd might be interested in learning a little agility. Working to learn obstacles is something I think can greatly improve her self-confidence *and* our working relationship. My little performance demon really emerged when I took Syd to the agility center. She is extremely driven, extremely food and toy motivated. I love that about her. Of course, her high drive and motivation is also what probably makes her less laid back about new situations, so we take what we get and work with it. Sydney was so different after a few agility practices, it was visible. Her eyes sparkled and her posture was confident and eager as we walked into the building. This place was "new" but also "fun" and I think it will be a great tool for us on the road to Syd's recovery.

Another activity that Syd had participated in as a younger puppy was herding. Syd had that spark and keenness for the sheep. I loved taking her and letting our instructor work with Syd to increase her interest and drive. Once Sydney became reactive and unsure of herself, I was hesitant to take her to herding lessons. A small dog off-leash in a large pen made for a dog who could opt to do what she wanted to, and really undermine our CBC (Corgi Boot Camp) program. I really trust our herding instructor, and she had an idea that I was comfortable with. We'd put Syd on a line and keep the lesson in a small round pen, just to see what Syd's reaction would be. It really worked out great, by this time I felt the work Syd had been putting in was showing in her relationship with me. We went for the lesson, and she responded well to Bridget, and only once did she try to avoid pressure, and Bridget simply stepped on the line, said "no" and Syd came right back to the work at hand, and we spent the next few minutes really praising her as she went to work moving the sheep. OK, so she only moved one ewe at a time, which made for three times the work for her, but she did eventually get all three of the girls back together at the opposite side of the pen! We have several videos of Sydney's Return To Herding on our YouTube site, www.youtube.com/hurrikanecardigans. Because I'm one of those kind of dog-moms, I even included Syd's not so bright moment where Bridget had to get her back in the game.
I'm hopeful that these additional activities that exercise her mind and body will help Sydney to learn to work with me better, and to trust me. Along with our at-home obedience work and CBC, I'm crossing paws that one of these days, Syd will have a breakthrough moment.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Puppy Vacation

So, after the traumatic experience at the dog show (for both Sydney and myself), I decided to take things easy, and not push the little dog beyond her comfort zone. I needed time to look back and try to figure out what was going on with my dog, and Syd had no real reason to be showing, especially since she's just a puppy.

Add to the mix that my girl, in her usual inconvenient fashion, opted to come in season for the first time just weeks after the September show. That put us off-track since Syd went to stay elsewhere for a couple of weeks at her "girls spa" vacation. For those two weeks, she and I are not working on trust or confidence, or anything else for that matter since she's not even at home.

When Syd finally came home, I decided she was going to be in "boot camp" with me, and I was going to control everything in her environment. I dug out my copy of Scaredy Dog, blew off the dust, and started re-reading.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Downhill Slide Begins

Poor Sydney, her mom (that being me) did not realize that one incident that *seemed* to be a minor blip on the radar was monumental to the confidence of a young puppy. I still regret a thousand things I could have done to avoid Syd's tail being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Through the rest of the weekend in Wisconsin, Syd acted OK off of the show grounds. A group of Vallhund exhibitors were all staying at a friend's home, and we had several youngsters all playing and running together. Syd played happily with the Vallhund puppies and adults, even though I did notice that she hung back just a bit from the main flurry of activity.

We travelled home from Wisconsin, and went back to the normal day to day activities. Syd's "Aunt Julie" has a Rough Collie, and I called her and said that I needed to get Syd over to play with Jackson the Collie, because Syd had a little 'episode' with a Collie, and I wanted her not to be afraid of Collies. After our first Collie 'playdate' it was obvious that Syd did NOT have a problem with Collies. My friend labelled the Corgi and the Collie outing as a total love affair, the two dogs could not play enough. WHEW, I was breathing a sigh of relief, thank goodness this isolated incident was over, and my dog was normal, no worries at all, right? I kept taking Syd to some classes, and all appeared to be just fine.

In September, we went to another dog show, and Sydney was very good the first day, as long as stranger dogs did not get right in her face. She was happy to let dogs go about their business from a distance. I thought all was well. Then the second day, my little girl came unglued. A hairy border collie walked by about 15 feet away from us, and this sweet, angelic Cardigan erupted with barking and posturing, as if she were defending herself from an attack. Uh, the dog wasn't even looking at Sydney, but that didn't seem to matter to Syd. Well, I couldn't get my girl out of that situation fast enough, and I spent the better part of the afternoon crying because somehow I failed my dog, and wondering if I could manage this dog who definitely now has a problem. What had I ever done to make her act this way? Where did she forget that she could trust me, that I wouldn't let anything happen to her? Well, Syd wasn't answering, and I'll never know the answers, or what the basis for this new reactivity is. All I know is this is the dog I have now, and it's up to me to try and fix the situation.

I will admit that this was a horrible feeling, unlike any of my experiences with rescue dogs who come to me with unknown baggage. I knew this puppy was raised in my house, with lots of socializing and she had a good start in life. Two months ago she was the ideal puppy, happily going to dog shows, not stressing out about any situation. I wasn't sure exactly how to fix the situation, but I did know that for the time being, Sydney would not be going to dog shows, as the stress level was more than my little girl could handle.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Summer of Change

Fast forward to July 31, 2007. The day things changed for the worse. I was in Waukesha, Wisconsin for a dog show. I travelled there to show Hawk in conformation. I opted to take Sydney with me so that the two dogs would be company for each other. Earlier in July, Syd and Hawk travelled to Houston, TX with me for dog shows, and they both had a great time. On this particular day in Wisconsin, the air was hot and muggy. The dog show was outside. I entered Sydney for two days, just to get her some practice, and also so that she could experience an outdoor show. At just 7 months old, she was still pretty well carefree and up for any new adventure. Sydney showed very well, and she won Winners Bitch and Best of Winners. Her first points in the show ring. I opted to wait to have her photo taken with the judge. That was the biggest mistake EVER.

The judge was behind schedule, so we had to wait through Rough and Smooth Collies to have our photo done. There was very little air inside the tent, and I had Sydney laying down under the steward table, licking on some ice cubes to keep her occupied. I think we waited nearly 45 minutes, and Syd's puppy restlessness started to get the best of her. I finally got her to lay back down and watch the other dogs in the ring. At one point, she was laying quietly, concentrating on the dogs she could see out in front of her, just watching them all go by. In an instant, a tri-color Rough Collie walked behind us, and inadvertently stepped on the very tip end of Sydney's tail as it peeked out from under the table. There was no malicious intent from the Collie, he never even knew he did anything to upset my little Cardigan. And to me, it was just a minor little thing, nothing to get upset about.

Sydney had another take on the situation, though. Because this was a surprise to her, and she did not see the big, hairy Collie approach her, when she felt her tail get stepped on, she wheeled around to see what was going on. The big dog so close to her really startled her, and she nearly flew to the opposite end of her leash, taking me by surprise. She squealed and carried on as if someone had just pinched her. People nearby wondered what happened.

Syd recovered from that event, and I put it out of my mind. No big deal, right? Well, that's what I thought. She's fine, no harm done, it was just a silly puppy overreacting. Unfortunately, I learned that this one tiny little event seemed to play a major role in how Sydney perceives other dogs and escalated at the next dog show we attended...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Where did my sweet pupster go?

That's a question I ask myself after every "ugly" episode. I'm referring to my adorable, sweet, good-natured Cardigan Sydney. She turns a year old on December 28, 2007 and she's lived with me since she was just over three weeks old. Momma and the littermates came to stay at my house and the puppies grew up in my kitchen.

So, I certainly can't lay blame for Sydney's insecurities on anyone else, and I'll say that I think I did every possible thing to socialize and create a safe and secure environment for my girl. From Day 3, the puppies were raised using the SuperDog method to help raise even-tempered, healthy puppies.

I guess the trouble started at about six months old. Sydney and her sister Breezy always got along just fine, never a cross word between them. They had only limited time to play together, as I wanted each of the girls to have her "own life" separate from her sister. Once the girls were six months old, I noticed a few squabbles, and started supervising all playtime, and not letting them run together outside, only in the house, where I could monitor and separate them if needed. By eight months old, Sydney was less and less tolerant, and I stopped letting the girls play together. They always have been and still are crated next to each other. And if one is in an Xpen, they will both play together through the wires, each very happy and enjoying their time together. But take away the barrier, and the fun is over...

Strangely enough, Sydney has had recent opportunities to meet up with two of her littermates again. And after a separation of several months, Syd can get along with most any Cardigan, but somehow, she can pick out one of her littermates in a crowd, and she hates them. I don't know how to explain it, or how she knows, but she does, and it's not a pretty sight.

The key players at our home include Breezy, the Red Cardigan, Sydney, the Brindle Cardigan, and Savannah, the senior Weimaraner.

OK, so it's evident that Syd has a problem with her littermates, something that is very common among corgi girls, but she has never exhibited any ugliness at other Cardigans or other dogs. Until July of 2007...