Thursday, January 28, 2010

Fun With A Box

It was just a box. A cardboard box. A box most people would cut up and recycle. And I would recycle eventually. But for now I eyed it with visions of all the possibilities of what puppy Melissa could do with it.

She has many interactive toys. But a box would be a bit different. What fun to disassemble, by pulling, dragging, carrying, pawing and chewing...and finally opening the box. No big deal to clean up some cardboard afterward. I would have a tired puppy, and one who had the chance to be creative. It would be a good rainy day game.

And so it was. The rain came this week. Actually a deluge, at the end of January with snow and ice already on the ground. Creeks were overflowing and causing flooding. Warnings of ice jams along river banks, and road closings filled the news.

Perfect day to be indoors and try out the box. I needed something that would entice Melissa to stay with the game of playing and opening the box. I let her watch me fill the box with some of her moist food (which would be more interesting...and smelly, then dry food). I let her put her long muzzle inside to take a taste. I then closed the top of the box loosely and placed it on a sheet I had spread on the ground and watched the fun begin.

She poked, she pushed, she picked up the box by the corner and shook it.

She dropped it, she pawed at it.

She poked a bit harder loosening the top. Melissa was getting closer to the food, her nose was leading the way, the food was keeping her in the game.

Melissa was learning how to deal with a tiny bit of frustration and also a bit of patience. She wanted something and in order to get it, she needed to work a bit harder and stay in the game to get what she wanted. She was not only using her neck muscles, her paws, her eyes, and her nose following the scent of meat, she was engaging her mind.

And finally, she had her nose inside the box and began eating.

Fun for Melissa, a good rainy day game. It took Melissa more than 20 minutes to work at getting that box open. It was good mental exercise and it sure beat putting her dinner in a boring bowl. Afterward she settled down for a nap.

What's next for Melissa? We just had a new vacuum cleaner delivered. A bigger box.....oh the possibilities!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sore Puppy Gums

For the past two weeks Melissa has been losing LOTS of puppy teeth. Her gums are sore and her adult teeth are emerging. I have noticed blood on toys, blood on dogs she plays with, and blood on her legs and blankets. The sight of blood can be alarming but this is all normal during the phase of teething.

There are days that Melissa prefers not to chew for long hours on a knuckle bone, but instead chews on one of her soft toys.

Her favorite at the moment is a piece of sheepskin which actually is a replacement piece for the Ram Tuff Wooly Octopus Tug Toy sold at Clean Run.

Just the long piece of sheepskin. She isn't interested in the leather least not this week. She tosses it, she runs with it and chews it.

I've noticed that there are days that she does not want to play tug with another dog or with me. Tugging must hurt those sore gums!. Some days she sleeps a bit more. In the past some of my own dogs have regressed somewhat in their house training. No scientific data to back it up, just my observation. I am sure it has something to do with all the changes going on in their bodies as puppy teeth fall out and adult teeth appear.

I am making sure Melissa goes out more often and I watch carefully for signs of her wanting to go out. I am monitoring Melissa to be sure that she continues to eat well (She has yet to miss a meal since she arrive here nearly 3 months ago. An eager eater she is!). I also am making sure she gets enough mental and physical exercise and has enough appropriate items to chew.

I massage her gums gently with my finger coated in margarine, cream cheese, or peanut butter. This gives me the chance to notice any excessively sore area, watch for retained puppy teeth and allows her to become accustomed to being handled around her muzzle. What could be better than a finger with cream cheese on it? Future vets exams and routine grooming which include mouth checks will be something Melissa looks forward to, rather than something she dislikes.

Another month or so and the teething stage will be nearly complete. Will that stop Melissa's chewing? No! Even adult dogs need to chew. I call that recreational chewing, a topic for a future blog. By giving Melissa appropriate chew toys/bones now, I am setting her up for good habits that will last into the future.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another Visit To Clean Run

I've mentioned Clean Run in a previous blog. It is a facility located in South Hadley Massachusetts. There is an indoor training area where seminars and workshops are held; and there is THE STORE. What a selection of items!! You can opt to buy on-line or go for a visit and browse the rows and rows of dog related items for both you and your dog. Shoes, books, dvds,leads, a huge selection of good quality dog toys, dog treats, dehydrated raw food, Taste of the Wild dry food, and mesh name just some of the items in stock. Whether you are a serious agility competitor, need a good pair of outdoor shoes, or looking for that special toy for your dog Clean Run is worth a look.

Thanks to all the staff at Clean Run for making Melissa's second visit to Clean Run another fun learning experience. Melissa met Norwegian Elkhounds Dakota and Aidan. Thanks to their owner who is a Clean Run staff member for allowing Melissa to meet first Aidan then Dakota. Meeting two unknown dogs at once could have been a bit overwhelming for a young puppy. So intros were made one on one, then the 3 were allowed to mingle.

Melissa is not quite 5 months old, she is still very impressionable and I want all her encounters with other dogs to be stress free and fun. The staff at Clean Run with their enthusiastic attitudes and knowledge of dogs added to Melissa's chapter on learning about life. I am sorry that I do not know all your names but thank you to everyone who made Melissa's experience positive.

Melissa also got to meet a family of Border Collies. Clean Run staff are able to bring their dogs to work, adding to the perks of working at Clean run! Indoor fenced areas are provided for the dogs. Plush beds, fuzzy toys, good chews are provided to keep them occupied when they are not busy greeting visitors. Staff members Pam and Kellie helped make a nice association between the Border Collies and Melissa who were separated by the fencing, by feeding tasty treats to all. None of the dogs were 'pushy' about food. All were polite and waited their turn. Well, I must admit, Melissa did poke her nose at the treat bag once or twice....but she is still learning. Manners do not happen overnight. Skills in self-controled are taught at an early age and then practiced in every day life. Melissa practices new skills at home where there is minimal distractions, we attend group classes to practice some more, and then we take it 'on the road' to practice even more. Sounds like a lot of practice? It is short one to two minute sessions of training thru out the day instead of one long training session. Every time you interact with your dog is a training opportunity. I set things up so Melissa is learning the good behaviors instead of practicing unwanted behaviors. We had practiced self control exercises at home, but at the Clean Run store with new people and the excitement and proximity of other dogs, Melissa poked at the treat bag. She wasn't being a bad dog, she was just figuring out what worked. Thanks to Kellie, who waited until Melissa backed off the bag of treats and then rewarded Melissa for waiting patiently.

Training is happening ALL the time, make the time you spend with your dog quality learning time. And remember to have fun.
Melissa was so excited to see her friend Liz and her Standard Poodle Kodi come from around the corner at Clean Run. Did we give them permission to play? We sure did. Melissa was allowed to go visit only after I gave the cue to 'go play'. She play-bowed inviting Kodi to engage with her. More about self control around other dogs in a future blog.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sensory Overload?

Picture a crowded lobby at a good sized hotel on a Friday evening. Lots of teenagers moving around, parents standing in line to check-in, luggage on wheels, luggage being dragged across the tile floor, lots of laughing, a hockey team with sticks and all the equipment that goes with the game, good smells coming from the restaurant.

Enter puppy Melissa. Within minutes adults and teenagers were surrounding Melissa. Long hair in Melissa's face, purses over Melissa's head, backpacks being placed on the ground near her, teenagers and children on the floor with her as they gave her kisses and hugs. Was this sensory overload for a 4 and a half month old puppy? It could have been. But since Melissa arrived back in October I have been preparing her for such an 'event'. Melissa walked into that lobby and thought everyone was there to give her a party! She loved the crowds, the chatter and laughter. She moved among them confidently, and was eager to greet.

Melissa had been exposed to LOTS of new different sights and sounds and people and objects over the past few months. It is all part of socializing a puppy. I have exposed her to new items however one at a time, then added two different items. For example, the first time she saw someone with a hat, it was on my husband. A familiar person, but with a strange object on his head. She meets new people all the time so a stranger + hat became just part of Melissa's life.

Another example. Stationary shopping carts were introduced to Melissa by the two of us walking up to one. I allowed Melissa to sniff, walk around it, then I rolled it a bit. No problem for Melissa, she had seen many moving objects while we had watched teenagers skate board in the fall. She had seen cyclists zip by.

Socialization by layering many different things: a stranger + hat + shopping cart. I never overwhelmed her, learning about new and different things was taken slow. We met new people and saw different things nearly EVERY day. People/objects out in public, people in our house, people in different houses. A puppy can miss out on so much if they have limited exposure. They need to experience new and different at an early age to help them develop into confident adults.

Here is a list of what Melissa has experienced to prepare her before she entered that crowded lobby this past weekend.

1) People all different sizes and shapes, people sitting, standing, jogging. People with hats, glasses, beards. People carrying objects.

2) People approaching her slowly, walking fast, or running. People bending over her to pet, squatting down to pet, getting on the floor to pet.

3) Surfaces: of all types. Grass, asphalt, gravel, wood chips, tile, linoleum, wood, rubber matting.

4) Objects: backpacks, brief cases, balloons, handbags of all sizes, bikes, snow shoes, tractors, wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes, the list goes on.

5) Objects that were stationary, moving, or smelled different.

6) Sounds: laughing, high and low tones in voices, people yelling to each other from a distance, car traffic, buses that make that loud swish when they stop, squeaking of brakes, hockey pucks being hit, banging of pots and pans, the thump thump on different types of flooring to list just a few.

If you pup is fearful about new people or objects, please do not force him to approach. Allow him to approach at his own pace. If he continues to be fearful, please get help from a certified trainer who uses humane training methods. Do not overwhelm him, you may do damage to his psyche that may last a lifetime. You want to socialize, not terrorize.

I travel a lot with our dogs. To seminars, workshops, dog shows. On hikes, in public places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools, they sometimes get to go on family vacations. By exposing Melissa now, as a young pup, she will be able to handle just about anything that comes her way. Even though the critical time for socialization has past for Melissa, puppies still need to get out in public and continue to develop their skills. Melissa continues to learn about new and different. I am taking the time to build a solid foundation now for Melissa to become a calm and focused adult. Was she experiencing sensory overload in the crowded lobby? Not at all. By taking the time to gradually expose her to new and different over the past few months, she was comfortable in that crowded, noisy setting. She thinks life is one big party!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jumping Melissa!!

A few weeks ago, Melissa jumped up on my friend Lessa and grabbed her scarf. A few days later she jumped up again. Was Melissa a bad dog? Not at all. Dogs and puppies jump up for several reasons. They want our attention, they want to be close to our face. When they are puppies how many times have we picked them up and brought them close to our face? Now that they are 50 plus pounds we no longer pick them up, nor do we want them to jump up. But our dogs do not understand that the rules have changed. It is our job to teach them what is acceptable behavior especially when we change our expectations.

If you want your dog to be near your face, get down to her level, or put jumping up on cue. My adult dogs know the cue 'give a hug', and that is permission for them to jump up on me.

All dogs and puppies will continue to do a behavior that is reinforcing to them. Reinforcement comes in many forms. Telling your dog to get off after she has jumped up is reinforcing to your dog...she got your attention. Unless you have taken the time to teach your dog specific cues, telling them over and over again to do something is meaningless to them. Dogs don't come knowing English. It is our job to teach them what certain words mean.

Pushing your dog off is giving her attention, it is reinforcing. Your touch is reinforcing. The jumping will most likely continue.

Was it reinforcing for Melissa to jump up? It sure was. She grabbed the fringe on the scarf and had a game of tug, it was fun. It was rewarding to her. She would do it again if she got the chance. So what to do?

First, I managed things to help Melissa be successful for doing the correct behavior ...keeping 4 feet on the ground. I did not let Melissa have the opportunity to jump up again for the next several weeks. I set up training sessions with my friends. As Melissa and I approached, I put my hand in Melissa's collar. People were then allowed to pet her. This was simple management. If I prevented her from jumping she couldn't reinforce herself for doing so. Was it teaching Melissa specifically what to But one step at a time. Manage first, teach second.

I like to teach my dogs to do an automatic sit when they greet people. It is part of the pet therapy dog test, it is also nice manners. Melissa is growing in leaps and bounds! Sitting is not easy for her. Imagine folding those long legs! For now I am opting to allow Melissa to stand nicely to be petted. If she goes to leap up, my friend will move back, taking away the opportunity for Melissa to jump. If Melissa offers to sit on her own, great! But that is not priority for me right now. Melissa caught on after about a week of practicing in many different situations.

If Melissa does happen to sit on her own, I am marking that behavior and giving her a reward. I have been capturing Melissa sitting in a separate training session. If I see her moving into a sit, I will click and treat. We have practiced greeting people and keeping all 4 feet on the ground in a different training session. Today, with the help of my friend Barbara, not only did Melissa not jump up but she also sat. Lots of reinforcement from Barbara for that. Reinforcement in the form of petting and a few treats! Melissa got a jackpot!!

Practice does pay off.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Melissa's new toy!

Yesterday, on the way home from training class, a friend and I stopped at Clean Run in South Hadley Massachusetts. Clean Run has gear for dogs and people for agility, obedience. Books, DVDs, treats, supplements, crates, shoes, boots, leads, toys and more toys.

This was Melissa's first visit to Clean Run. The staff is friendly, and everyone who works there loves dogs. Melissa got to see boxes being unloaded from the freight dock, she got to see orders being packaged to be mailed out. She walked on cement flooring, she walked on matting, she walked on indoor/outdoor carpeting. She met other dogs. She and her Standard Poodle buddy Kodi clearly enjoyed themselves as they walked up and down the aisles of the warehouse type building.

Did Melissa need another toy? Probably not. Did we come home with more then one new toy? Yes we did. I can't give Melissa all the hand-me-downs from the other dogs can I? OK, I admit, I had as much fun at Clean Run as Melissa did.

I have not yet introduced all the new toys to Melissa. I rotate toys. For a few days Melissa may have toys A, B and C to play with. Then those go away and I pull out toys D, E and F. The novelty of seeing a toy she hasn't seen in a week or ten days peaks her interest as it did when it was first new.

The toy of the moment is called a Bumi. I had seen one at Dogs Learning Center and really liked the soft rubber that seems to be impenetrable to dogs teeth. It is made of a material called Zogoflex. It is soft enough to be an inside toy, and yet the material stays soft in frigid temps. You can read more about it on the Clean Run website.

It's good to shake.

And watch a friend shake.

It's good to play tug.

And it's good to carry when you chase and are being chased.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Nature's Toy

A dried Hydrangea blossom. It looks like it belongs in the compost. We have a huge tree in the front of our yard that easily produces over a 100 blossoms in the fall. During the winter they dry, break off, and the wind blows them across the yard. Eventually they make their way behind hedges, evergreens, or the John Deere sucks them up in the Spring.

Puppy Melissa has many many toys, but dried hydrangea blossoms are this weeks favorite.

She sees them dancing on the snow

She sniffs them

She drags them

She carries them

She runs with them

She pounces on them

She then looks for more.

The simple joys of being a puppy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Who is Puppy Melissa?

I have received several requests to write about what breed of dog Melissa is, where she came from etc.

Melissa is a 4 month old Borzoi (Russian Wolfhound). The Borzoi is a sight hound, which means they rely on their sight to hunt rather then their scent. The latter are the Bloodhounds,the Basset Hounds, Dachshunds,to name just a few. Some of the other sight hounds breeds are Afghans, Greyhounds, Basenjis, Salukis, Whippets and Pharaoh Hounds. Sight hounds need a fenced yard as they will chase squirrels, birds and blowing leaves, it's just in their genes. It is what they were bred to do. Even though our 12 1/2 year old Borzoi Catera is content to lie on the couch most of the day, just this morning some leaves skittered across the top of the snow and she was off chasing.

At Melissa's young age the desire to chase is already seen, I use her predisposed chase behavior to play specific games with her. A game to search for a treat hidden in the house is not for Melissa, but chasing a fuzzy toy on a long line is!

When choosing a dog, whether it be pure bred or a mix-breed, do some research on what the breed (or combo of breeds) was bred to do. A terrier is more apt to bark and dig. Retrievers like to carry things and swim. A Borzoi likes to chase objects (even leaves!) and they need space to run in a fenced area. Different breeds have different needs, and each call to us in a specific way, choose wisely. You are making a commitment for 10 to 12 or more years.

Melissa was born in Sweden, bred by Lize Edland and Rickard Sellin of Borscana Borzoi. My friend Margie and I flew to Sweden in mid-October to look at the litter and choose the puppy that would come home with me. We had the opportunity to see many of Melissa's relatives that we have only seen in photos. Wonderful substantial Borzoi with super personalities. Several of my friends in the US have Borzoi from Borscana and I have always admired their dogs' structure and temperament.

Why did I chose Melissa? Her color? Her structure? Her expression? Something that drew me to her from the photos Lize sent to me? I think a little of each. Lize had sent me several photos of the litter, one of Melissa specifically drew me to her, I have included it here. But I wanted to hold off with my decision until I met the entire litter. When I met her in person I knew she was the Borzoi for me. Some dogs just 'speak' to us....and Melissa did to me.

Melissa was 8 weeks old when she flew back with us. We had made a reservation for her to go in cabin with us...and held our breaths that she would be permitted. She was larger then I had anticipated, and I wasn't sure if they would accept the carrier we had ...which barely fit under the seat. But Swedish Airlines was excellent. From the time we entered the airport until we landed in the US on the direct flight home the entire staff was friendly and accommodating. As for Melissa...she slept most of the way home.... Photo courtesy of Margie Milne