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.