Tuesday, June 29, 2010

4th of July

Independence Day. A day for picnics, getting together with friends, parades and FIREWORKS!!

Fireworks are great to look at, the colors are spectacular. They can also be loud! Very LOUD!! They can scare your dog!!! Many dogs bolt thru screens, crash thru windows, and jump fences to get away from the noise.

This will be Melissa's first July 4th, we really do not know how she will react to the fireworks. She has not reacted at all to thunderstorms. I think she will be ok with the fireworks. But to be on the safe side here is our plan: 1) She will be in the house during the evening hours this entire weekend, as will our adult dogs. Fireworks will begin early, most likely tonight, Friday. With the 4th on Sunday and the Holiday on Monday...a 3 day weekend, people will party early. We have nearly 4 acres, but just in case a neighbor shoots off a big one, I'd rather have her in the house then in the yard. 2) We will monitor her to see if she should get a bit anxious. We will watch for her pacing, breathing faster, or startling at any distant sounds of celebration. If she does we will party it up, the bestest of treats will come out. Our other dogs, who have never been bothered by fireworks, will join in. We will close the windows, play relaxing music and have a party of our own indoors. We will make a pleasant association with the loud noises to wonderful treats: dried tripe, salmon, the stinky stuff that dogs really like. We have done this with our previous puppies to prevent them from becoming fearful of thunderstorms. It works! We must have made an extra nice association of lightning and thunder with our 7 yr old dog. He runs to the window during a storm, wags his tail at the biggest bolt of lightening and comes running to us for a treat, totally relaxed with a Borzoi grin on his face. 3) We will make sure Melissa has LOTS of exercise during the day so she will be tired and ready to settle in the evening. I just picked up some huge meaty bones from the butcher. Melissa will have one in her ex-pen to keep her busy.

Does this mean Paul and I won't be partying this 4th? Going to see fireworks? We have a puppy, this is her first 4th of July, we will stay home to make sure she is ok. We are pretty sure she will be, she has not reacted to any thunder or lightning, trucks back-firing, loud noises etc, but we'd rather stay home and party and keep an eye on her. Missing out on some parties and giving our time to Melissa this 4th is part of being a puppy owner. Puppies take time, they are our responsibility. My goal is to have Melissa totally comfortable with whatever her future holds. A little prevention now while she is young, is well worth the time and effort.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Melissa is 10 months old!

Yesterday marked Melissa's 10 month birthday. She spent the day at the Crossings in Colonie. Paws in the Park, a fund raiser for the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society, had over 200 dogs and people walking the paths at the park! Melissa walked with my friend Lessa, they were in the top ten for raising money. Thank you to everyone who donated not only to team Lessa/Melissa but to all the dogs and people who walked to help the shelter.

You can see just Melissa's and Tate's hind ends in this photo, they were about in the middle of the group and having a grand time sniffing as they made their way thru the park. Seeing the large number of people walking their dogs and having fun was awsome!

I was busy evaluating dogs for Therapy Dogs International. A HUGE thank you to 15 year old Alisha who not only handled check-ins but organized all the paper work thru-out the day. Thank you goes to Barbara and her Golden Retriever Glory, who was the greeter dog for one section of the test. Thank you to Barbara Tran PMCT who drove from Vermont to help for the day and to watch several of her students take, and pass, the evaluation. To all the many children who played Frisbee, softball and soccer on the sidelines during a section of the test, I thank you. The test could not have been held without your help. Thank you to Ed, Keith and Eleanor, and many other people who stepped in to help. People came as far as North Andover Massachusetts and the Syracuse area to have their dogs evaluated. Mickey, a Golden Retriever, rescued from the MHRHS several years ago was one of the 15 dogs who passed the evaluation to become a pet therapy dog. Kudos to his owner Rose for adopting and training him. For more information on Therapy Dog International please check their website: www.tdi-dog.org

Lessa said Melissa met many many people and all sizes and shapes of dogs. Year old children in strollers, some held in parent's arms, some walking along. She met tall people, short people. She met people wearing hats, sunglasses and carrying balloons.

Melissa also met big dogs.....

...and little dogs......

She also met Southpaw, the Valley Cats Mascot. Lessa said Melissa took a polite sniff and moved on.

Therapy dog Tasha, a black Chow adopted from MHRHS, made an appearance with owners Peter and Sharon and made Melissa's acquaintance.

Melissa had a good day. Thanks Lessa!

Friday, June 25, 2010

We're home!

Paul and I just got home from a 10 day trip to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon and Zion. The dogs stayed at The Animal Inn at Sky Run, it was the longest time for Melissa to be boarded. When I was leaving the kennel area, I watched Melissa from a distance to see how she settled in. This was her 5th visit to Sky Run. She didn't bother to look up to see where I was going.......she was relaxed and totally engrossed in sniffing her surroundings. Upon my arrival to pick the dogs up yesterday, I once again watched from a distance to see how Melissa was acting. She was calm and relaxed. So how exactly did she get to this stage in her life? Being away from home, being away from Paul and myself. Traveling nearly 200 miles one way to get to Sky Run. Being away from everything familiar...and then switching her mind set to settle into a different environment.

1) As a young pup, Melissa learned to be alone in her crate or ex-pen in familiar surroundings i.e. the house or my van. I then began leaving her with a person Melissa was familiar with for short periods of time in an unfamiliar venue while I moved out of sight. Just a few seconds at first, then for longer periods of time. Gradually I increased the time she was away from me and chose many different places to practice. I use the word practice, because from my way of thinking we are always practicing for whatever life will bring Melissa's way.

2) She has learned that traveling in the car is fun. She has her crate, a thick double sided sheepskin to lie on, something good to chew on. During her last 8 months with us, we have gradually increased the amount of time she travels. She looks forward to going into the car, it means fun times, so there is no stress driving to Sky Run.

3) Melissa is fed her usual rations at Sky Run. I package food in individual bags for each meal. Keeping her on her usual food will prevent her from having any digestive upset which, knock on wood, she has yet to have. She seems to have a cast iron stomach.

4) Having a 4 legged friend stay with her at Sky Run also helps Melissa settle into different environments and get the much needed exercise a young Borzoi needs. She has Lab Lucy, but she has found a new friend at Sky Run, Elvis, a Blue Tick Coonhound. He is only 4 months old, but Melissa and he have quickly bonded. They run the huge field together. Melissa is comfortable being without her housemate due to her earlier practice of being alone and doing activities solo. Elvis is owned by the owners of Sky Run, so Melissa will have a long time dog friend to play with during her future stays.

5) And lastly I chose a boarding facility that offers everything I wanted: big indoor areas for the dogs, large outdoor kennel runs (this visit Lucy and Melissa had an outdoor area that was about 30 ft by 20 ft), and a huge field for them to really get some hard core exercise. Chain link fencing is a minimum of 6 ft, double and triple gates/doors to get to the outside of the kennel area and a staff that is knowledgeable and caring. The last is clearly evident on how my dogs interact with all staff members, leaning against them and getting more pets. The dogs are focused and relaxed. All the dogs maintain weight, in fact, I think Melissa gained weight this visit! No missed meals due to stress for this young girl! It makes our vacation time stress free knowing our dogs are relaxed, comfortable and safe.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Paws In The Park

Melissa goes lots of places with me. But this time it will be a little different. I will be driving her to the Crossings in Colonie, then handing her leash over to my friend Lessa. Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society is having their first annual Paws in the Park fund raising event on June 26th. Check the shelter's website for more information.....my computer skills are lacking and this program is not letting me post any website addresses...help! I will be busy evaluated dogs for the Canine Good Citizenship and Therapy Dogs International certification, so Lessa offered to walk Melissa.

It will be another new experience for Melissa. Sure she has gone to different places, seen different people and dogs; but this time I will not be with her. It will be a different experience, but all in preparation for Melissa taking her pet therapy test later this year. One of the sections on the test is a being separated from the owner and being with a friendly stranger for 3 minutes. She knows Lessa and turns herself inside out when she hears Lessa's voice. The big difference will be my absence.

But Melissa will have other familiar faces to walk with her. Sue and GSD puppy Tate as well as Debi, Keith and adult GSD Dylan will be joining her as they make their way around the mile and a half loop. I think Melissa will not even miss me. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Water Dance

Different breeds of dogs have different play styles. Melissa loves hanging around with her retriever friends. She wrestles with them. She swims with them. She runs with them.

But her ultimate pleasure is leaping and splashing She has met a friend who has asked her to dance. Kodi is a Standard Poodle, he and Melissa make up the steps as they go along. It is a dance known only to them, for that moment of time.

They meet politely at water's edge.

Melissa makes the first gesture to begin.

The dance begins.

They run and splash.

They leap high in the air.

Twisting and turning, it is a dance of their own.

Sometimes it can look serious!

They take turns dunking each other. First Melissa. Look close, Melissa's head is barely showing!

Then Kodi goes under! Yes that is Melissa pushing him under the water with her paw.!

Kodi stays under, as Melissa makes her get-a-way.

Twisting back, she looks to see if Kodi is resurfacing.

When he does, she runs away.

She swims in to begin yet another dance.

She leaps straight out of the water.

Then directly at Kodi.

Another dance begins.

Some of the steps are different.

Sometimes they synchronize their movement.

And the dance goes on......

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Continuing To Share

In April of this year I wrote about Leaning To Share. I explained how we showed Melissa to look forward to people approaching her when she has a valued object. The learning and practicing has continued. Several times a week when Melissa has something of value I trade for something of higher value. I let her eat the higher value item out of my hand or I toss it on the ground as I remove the object she had. It's easy to practice...she eats twice a day, so I can incorporate these short training exercises around meal times. We also practice when she is in the crate and has a chewy. We also trade or exchange for a higher value toy when she is in the yard. We also practice in different locations. For the times I approach empty handed, Melissa is willing to give....she has practiced sharing many times in her 7 months living with us.

Last week we got to use this skill in a real life situation when Melissa found the dead bat. There was no way I practiced with a bat!! But Melissa had so many repetitions of people approaching when she does have a valued object, that all I had to say is 'what do you have?' in a soft sing-song-y kind of a voice. No need to threaten, we are a team, we communicate. My approach was a signal for her to look up, relinquish the dead animal. I had a handful of treats that I let her eat while I bagged the bat.

Buster had a baited hook in the back of his mouth. His family had accustomed him to having his mouth looked at. How did they do that? It's easy and takes only 30 seconds each training session. Let your dog lick butter or cream cheese off of your finger....gradually allow your finger touch his gums, teeth etc. This also comes in handy as your dog ages and perhaps develops a bit of tartar on their teeth. A dog who is comfortable with you handling their mouth will let you scale their teeth, look for sore gums, or pull fishing line from their mouth.

What about dogs sharing with each other? I recently had a student ask about multiple dogs taking toys and chews from each other. First I do not allow any dog to bully another. But if you see that the dogs are comfortable and no one is threatening another by giving hard stares let the dogs continue to play, but keep a careful watch in the beginning. The dogs usually develop play groups... with the toys at the center of the play! They pull, they chase, they tug, they wrestle, they even growl when playing. But watch for the dog who walks away cringing or staying a distance away and afraid to come close. Chances are there is a dog in the group that is sending out some vibes. Removing the toy and/or chews usually resolves the situation and the dogs continue playing with each other. Remember that guarding objects is a left over survival trait in our dogs,. they are not bad dogs. Just because we brought them into our lives does not mean all that hard wired trait for guarding is gone. We need to teach them humanely how to share so they can live peacefully and safely in our homes. Sharing with humans is a must. Sharing with other dogs sometimes happens peacefully, sometimes we need to help them learn. Sometimes we need to prevent problems by carefully choosing your dog's playmates.

I do not believe in letting dogs live in a stressed environment. If you are not sure how your dog will act with a chew around another dog, separate the dogs with a baby gate or put them in a crate while they chew on their bones. If the dogs are comfortable being in close proximity with highly valued objects I will put out extra toys and chews. Two dogs? Put down 4 or more bones. One may end up with 3 and the other only one, but that's ok, they each get to chew. When in doubt, please get some help from a certified trainer whose teaches using the most up to date training methods.

Melissa and Lucy are always swapping toys....usually Lucy takes from Melissa and Melissa gives chase. But recently we noticed that Melissa is not so quick to give up the toy. She seems to enjoy keeping it away from Lucy. She spins in place as Lucy tries to take the toy. We all laugh because we know how quick Lucy is...she could easily take the toy from Melissa! But it has become a new game. In the last few weeks we have noticed that when a chase begins it is not always Lucy with a toy in her mouth. It is Melissa in the lead some the time. Lucy eventually takes the toy and then Melissa tries to get it back. They are playing, they are sharing, no one is bullying.

Just the other day I was lax in where I left my training bag. It was open, with lots of good things to chose from. And so Melissa chose the tug-n-treat pouch. I approached, she wagged his tail. I bent over to pick it up. I certainly was not about to reprimand her for taking something out of my training bag. I should have prevented her from cruising by closing the zipper...plus I should have been watching Melissa a bit more closely. The pouch smelled good, it was filled with freeze dried liver, it was tempting, so she took it. After all it is something I toss for her to get, we play tug with it and I then open the pouch and let her eat some treats from it.

I want her always to relinquish objects to me. I want her to feel comfortable bringing me objects.. To her they are all of value, otherwise she would have no interest in them! Whether it is a toy we are both playing with, or something she found on her own: a tug-n-treat pouch or a dead animal or a baited fish hook. Or just an ordinary stick found floating in the water! They are all valued objects to your dog. Teach them to share. Continue to practice during their lifetime.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Danger At The Lake

We thought we were safe at the lake. The dogs run and chase, swim and retrieve, and sniff in the bushes surrounding the lake. Occasionally they find things. Buster found parts of a dear the day the lake open. Barely thawed from winter the dogs had a blast chasing him up and down the beach while Buster kept the lead, and deer leg in his mouth. Last week Melissa found a snake skin. Today she found a dead bat...it was way past dead, it wasn't even stinky but dried and falling apart. We disposed of it in the trash can.

But today something very scary happened. Buster had just returned from sniffing in the bushes. He was ready to leap into the water when Lessa said 'is that a fish hook?' We looked at Buster and he had a 'thread', or so it seemed, hanging from his mouth. It was one of those snaps that attach to the leader, the leader I believe attaches to the hook. Any fisherman out there to describe this better? I began to pull fishing line out of his mouth....a good amount of that nylon filament, about 15 to 18 inches worth. Attached to the end was a gooey piece of bait. Under the bait was a fish hook!!

It was a warning to us. We had become complacent. The dogs run and play on the beach. We throw bumpers in the water and the retrieve. And we keep an eye on them as they sniff surrounding areas, but apparently not enough of a watchful eye. We thought they were safe.

What this brought to mind is teaching your dog to be comfortable with you and others opening his mouth and taking objects from him. You never know when you may have to remove something from their mouth. Melissa readily gave up the dried bat to me, but was ready to play keep away from the other dogs. Buster was relaxed as I pulled the fishing line and hook from his mouth. Is your dog comfortable giving up an object? When it is on the ground? When it is already in his mouth?

Next time I will describe how I taught Melissa to relinquish an object she has possession of. Until then, keep your dogs safe, keep an watchful eye over them. When you travel know the number and directions to the nearest vet should you need their services.