Nice weather and dog walks

I want to paint a quick picture for you. Put yourself in your dog’s shoes. You are casually strolling in the park. Appreciating nature, taking it all in when all of a sudden someone you don’t know comes sprinting up to you comes right in your face and starts breathing and maybe even talking or yelling. You try to move but you’re being yanked back and this person just keeps coming into your space and is now upset that you didn’t think their behaviors were acceptable. I bet you’re thinking “Dang that person is crazy. What’s their problem? Have they heard of personal space?” You finally calm yourself down and continue to walk and then it happens again. This time there isn’t just one person but 2 and you feel trapped. Your only action is to fight or flight and since you’re already being held back and restricted can you really even “flight”? I doubt it and thus you probably fight and immediately you’re in the wrong because you were protecting your own personal space.  Does this seem really fair? Could you imagine a human doing this to another human completely unprovoked? I can’t… unless of course were at a bar and things are getting crazy. My point is that if humans acted the way that many dogs do off leash, it would not be okay.

market.jpg(The crazy one, controlled in public around other on-leash dogs minding their own business!)

I’ve been working really hard with my dogs to create a walk that isn’t about just sniffing the grass. It is exercise and work. I want them to stay focused and not only physically tire but also mentally. When your dog interrupts that not only does it make my dog uneasy but it also ruins a good portion of our walk. It takes about 5 minutes for them to calm down and another 5 to get them to refocus. Having this happen one time during a walk is enough but imagine when it happens 2, 3, 4 or 5 times. My purposeful walk has now become essentially useless and has probably stressed out my dog.

I need to address a few things before moving forward.

  1. No matter how “friendly” your dog is, mine may not be. My dog is still allowed in public parks as long as I have direct control. My dog does not need to like other dogs. My dog just needs to be able to walk without harming anyone or anything else.
  2. “It’s okay, my (big) dog loves little dogs”. Well, I’m sorry but it takes two to tango. My (little) dog may not love your big dog or your little dog for that matter. I’m not necessarily worried about your dog being big and hurting my little dog. I’m more worried about my dog reacting to your dog and thus setting off a perfectly friendly dog.
  3. Public parks that allow off leash dogs do not belong to off leash dogs. They still need to abide by the laws and respect others.
  4. In Ohio and specifically my city, dogs are required to be under direct control at all times. Although it is quite difficult to find a proper and exact definition, Columbus defines “direct control” as your dog will immediately come when you say come, sit and stay by your side. You should not have to say your dog’s name five times. And on that note, be aware that you should give your dog a command like “come” when you are calling them. How do they know that in this moment their name means “come”?

Many dogs are leash reactive. Dogs can be the nicest off leash but when they are on leash they feel restricted—think someone holding you back in a fight. This can be uncomfortable for many dogs. My dogs personally hate when a dog runs up to their face on or off leash. So you could quickly see the problem when your “friendly” dog approaches my dog when they are on leash. The unfortunate fact is that no matter how friendly your dog is mine may not be. And if a dog gets hurt (in Ohio at least) the off leash dog is at fault, not the on leash one. 

I urge people to forget their ego for a second and think about their dog’s safety. I know that where I walk, people hate me because I am constantly asking people to actually gain control of their dog. I’m obviously annoyed that my walk is being disrupted which shouldn’t be the case but mostly I am concerned for their dog’s safety and my own dog’s safety. If I am walking more than one dog at a time, it is much more difficult for me to protect all three dogs from one another because I only have two hands. Furthermore, having a strong recall is so so so important if you ever let your dog off leash regardless if I am walking in the park or not. A strong recall can save your dog’s life. If your dog does not come when you call it, it shouldn’t be off leash in an open area. They could run into the street or into a dangerous situation and you may have no way to get them back and safe. I would suggest that an actual dog park is the best place for you to go with a weaker recall because at least it’s fenced in and can protect them from some uncertainties. Your dog getting to roam freely is much less important than their life or your ego.  You may have a good dog, but if it doesn’t recall then you need to be a good owner and protect it.

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A side note to recalling. Saying your dog’s name five times and slowly walking towards them is not a recall. A strong “Buster, Come” is a recall (given that Buster does in fact come). It is extremely rude to leave the other owner fending for themselves while you slower walk towards your dog to “help”. Typically “help” comes in the form of yelling at the owner with on leash dogs and dancing with their own dog because now Buster thinks the owner is playing. Just because your dog is “good” and is “playing” with other “good” dogs does not mean that you should be talking and not paying attention. Keeping tabs on the surroundings and possible threats to your dog’s safety is very important for all visitors and dogs. I can’t tell you how many times people just let their dogs run up and antagonize others and don’t even notice. It’s pretty scary especially when you can do nothing but run. I’ve literally run into the street before and forgot to look for cars. And guess who followed….Buster.

My dogs are by no means dog friendly. But I can walk them in a park with little issues because they are on leash and I am there to protect them. I am allowed to be there with my dogs and love getting them mentally and physically exhausted. Both types of dogs should have the same opportunities for exercise and be in a public place. It is up to the owners to be respectful of others and control their dogs.

My last plea about off leash dogs is the following. Please ASK me if my dog is friendly and if they can meat prior to letting your dog just roam up to mine. I will politely tell you no and after my response you need to have a quick way to secure your dog. If you don’t restrain your dog from coming up to my dog(s) I can only do so much to protect all parties.

A quick note about other on leash dogs in parks– Thank you! You have acknowledged that perhaps your dog is not under control and needs to be connected to you in some way shape or form. Obviously this is going to be a compliment sandwich so here I go with the “meat” of it. If your dog is on leash and you see another dog acting a little…err…crazy… why do you let your dog pull towards it. Please, bring your dog in closer. No good will come from a dog on leash meeting another dog on leash whom is leash reactive. Leashes can then get tangled and a mess can happen quickly. I don’t understand why people don’t try to pull their dogs in to protect them from the crazy that is passing. Another thing that boggles my mind is that unless you are training your dog, why do you place your dog in a sit while others pass? This is stressful for both parties and by just passing one another, the whole event happens much quicker. I just think that it may be easier for all!

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Retractable leashes are the worst and basically the devil.

  1. If you drop that heavy handle, it can scare your dog and cause it to run into danger.
  2. If you don’t stop that trigger quick enough your dog may end up in the street and hit by a car before you can even react. This is a serious reality and happened to one of my best friends. It is tragic and the bigger the dog the worse this situation can be.
  3. If your dog is going to be on leash and next to you anyways, why do you need a retractable? 5 feet should really be good enough and you can protect your dog better.
  4. The leash material is easily tangled and it hurts! Try getting tangled up in that… it burns.
  5. Have you ever seen two retractable leashes get tangled….try to separate that quick. It won’t work.

Back to the good—I find that other people who walk their dogs on leashes seem to be more understanding of any struggles I am having. They smile at my dogs and acknowledge the progress I have made. That is super motivating and I love that we can both acknowledge improvements in our pups. Thank you for being another dog lover who understands!

To sum this all up—Be respectful. Ask me prior to letting your dog just run up. Have control of your dog. Be there for your dog and not your ego. Protect them from threats. Understand that not all dogs want to be friends. Parks belong to everyone and all dogs deserve to be able to enjoy nature with their owner. I try to not let me walk ruin your time with your dog, so please don’t let your dog ruin my working walk.  I am happy that your dog is able to play with stranger’s dogs and enjoy life. My dog’s enjoy their walk and love to work. 

And remember to not get mad at other dogs! I always remind myself that the ignorance and ego of the owner is not that of the dogs!

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Agility?This looks fun….

So given that I have an agility section, obviously I do agility with at least one dog. Benny started agility in October 2014. We put him in agility because we wanted to see him jump high. Turn out that your dog doesn’t just jump whatever they can… they are measured and put into a jump class. Talk about a let down… 16 inches? That’s it? That’s it. 12346460_822797781601_5616702011714559067_n

Woody started Agility about a year (and three months before his first competition) later because he is spoiled rotten and he gets to do everything. Woody learned very quickly because he is a Jack and now they both are in the same class level. 

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So I’m new to this obviously so I am just going to tell you some quick facts that I’ve learned along the way. 

  • New dogs are called “green”. Owners are “green” too. 
  • An agility “venue” is not a location. It is the organization. For example CPE, AKC USDDA, TDAA. 
  • An agility event/competition is called a “trial”. 
  • Trials are done by skill level and height. 
  • Each venue has different rules that must be followed.
  • There is actually skill and practice required on the human’s part.
  • Contacts are obstacles that usually have yellow on both sides. They require the dog to climb up or down something (Think dog walk, A Frame, teeter). 
  • The human is probably the one messing up.
  • Dependent on your breed, it will be really easy or not so much.
  • Most of the time you will not understand the spins, or routes required and you will trip and fall like a fool.
  • People “walk”the course. This means they stick their arm out and follow the numbers as if they were running their dog. They try to get their footing and determine how they are going to run the course. Where will they turn? Will they make their dog slow down? Do they have options to do something different? Do they need to block the entrance to the tunnel? It looks funny. I was like “Yeah, okay. Whatever this is weird”. Well, I walk the courses now too.

Agility is actually really fun. However, I think one of the best things that comes from agility is the bond between you and your dog. They learn to read you, and you them. You create a connection that you are doing something together–its fun but they also need to stay with you and rely on you as the leader. You learn to control your dog and what they do. You also learn a hell of a lot about coordination which is really difficult. The best thing is that you have fun and so does your dog! 12347623_822797776611_3572408532971482662_n.jpg

A lot of people think that you have to have a lot of practice to do a trial. Sure it’s nice but as long as your dog and you have a good connection and they know the equipment, you can most certainly try it out. The judges and other participants explain everything for everyone and you have time to ask questions. It’s actually a great learning experience just to watch. And basically if you try you can get a ribbon-trust me. 12741953_833871355071_361503611206111769_n.jpg

So it looks fun and it is fun! In later posts I will go over some key things I’ve actually learned at class and trials that I hope help other newbies in the agility world! 

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The Crazy that is Riley

Most of what I’ve learned over the years has been a direct result of Riley’s crazy. Riley is a perfectly healthy Jack Russell Terrier…..and I hate to be cliché, but when I say terrier, I mean it. He is a bit of a terror child. I like to think of him as my punishment for the torment I caused my parents growing up. I redeemed myself with Woody because he is so so so sweet. JRTs are a hyper, high strung, and intense breed. They have a napoleon complex. When they fixate on something you need to have great control to redirect their attention. However, I think many people could describe their dogs this way. Jacks may take it to a different level, but all dogs have their own little quirks.

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My purpose today is to describe how we have been able to get Riley to a state where he is comfortable functioning in our pack. He still has his moments but without his medications he would not be as successful as he is now. I am by no means an expert. I ask so many different people advice and am constantly learning. This is just my experience that I hope can help someone else struggling with pack dynamics.

We would have the normal dog arguments once a year. One dog would get pissed for something or another and we would end up with a cut here or there. We knew the trigger for Woody was balls and for Riley it was coming into his personal space. For example if he was under a blanket and another dog jumped up he would (what we termed) “jack-in-the-box” them—pun intended. 

But seriously? Do you even bed though?

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Riley is an alpha at heart despite his inability to ever win a fight. But seriously, his record is 0-20+. I am by no means bragging, but figuring out a pack sometimes takes trial and error, and some ER vet visits. Woody is a push over. He grew up with a bully-brother and pretty much gave into anything Riley wanted. I didn’t help the situation either. I would personally take things from Woody and give them to Riley if Riley showed interest. I THOUGHT I was diffusing the situation, but really I fed into Riley’s ego. I helped create the monster at the expense of my sweet baby(Of course I would give something else to Woody, I’m not the monster here!).

When Woody turned 3 and Riley was 6, Riley began to feel threatened by Woody. Benny was too young to worry about at this point and Peter seemed to not be a threat at all to Riley. It appeared to us that Woody really wanted nothing to do with being alpha but Riley didn’t seem to think the same. Riley developed what I call aggressive anxiety. Aggressive anxiety is kind of like when a guy at a bar punches someone from behind. He tends to be that guy screaming “hold me back bro hold me back” and everyone rolls their eyes and thinks “okay tough guy”. Most times we would have zero idea what Riley got pissed about. After seeking advice from a local trainer (Columbus K9), who came to our house to assess our actual situation, we learned that that trigger we were uncertain about was typically….me. Great, now what?

I had to learn to adjust my attention to reading body language. I couldn’t give in to Riley anymore. I also had to accept that Woody was not quite the angel that I thought he was. He did his fair share of dirty looks as well.  I had to teach Riley to respect me and realize that I do not belong to him. Actually, nothing really belonged to him, especially the bed.

I also had to create a bond between the jacks. I took an activity that was traditionally a Riley and mom thing and made it a jacks and mom thing—running. The cool thing about running was you could visualize a pack. We literally could not move forward without all of us being a cohesive unit. Riley really couldn’t be ahead of Woody and vice versa. They had to work together to move forward. They had to be in each other’s space constantly. It was really a great visualization of progress.They even share water bowl time now. Jack-share is my favorite kind! share

However, without the addition of Prozac in Riley’s life I don’t think that any calmness would have been possible. When a dog reaches a state of fight or flight there is no place for him to understand and learn. In order to show Riley things were okay and he did not have to choose fight we had to get him at a comfortable level where he could absorb and learn. After doing a full bloodwork, Riley was able to get on Prozac. I get generic human Prozac from my local pharmacy. It took about two months but we began to see a different dog. You could see the level of stress diminish from his eyes. His body was looser and he genuinely seemed more tolerant and comfortable. We continued to work with our trainer and learned more about body language. After adding this to his life and a bit more structure, we saw a positive change, a happier dog, and a fuller bank account due to less ER visits!

Our forth dog, Benny, really pushed Riley over the edge five years later. A Basenji by nature is a dominant breed. He is tough and strong minded—a natural born leader. However, if we left Ben in charge, I have no doubt that it would turn into a similar scenario when Scar ran the kingdom in The Lion King—everything is his and everyone else gets the minimal left overs. Needless to say this is not ideal either. For us, there was a fine line where we should force the pecking order and where we shouldn’t.
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I have become so in tune with my dogs (or so i think) that I could see this struggle progressing. Riley became less tolerant of Ben. Ben continued to push Riley’s buttons, but seemed to be conscious of the tipping point. Ben would nip at Riley but because he is so fast Riley couldn’t ever “get him back”. I knew that we were approaching a point where fights were likely to occur again so I contacted our vet to see if we could up Riley’s dosage. Unfortunately, he was on the highest dose so we went back to the drawing board.

What Riley was experiencing is what I like to describe as fear-based anxiety. Riley would stand there and physically back into a corner. It was like he was saying “don’t make me do this. No seriously, please don’t make me”. Ben stood tall and strong and didn’t push but gave the “don’t make me laugh. I would kill you in a fight” look (what? You don’t know that look??) I know at the end of the day Riley would choose fight, he would always choose fight, but he started contemplating flight. I saw this change in him and you could tell he was always on edge and frightened. Personally I would never want to be that way so I knew that another medication could help relax him. I want to mention though that nothing I put Riley on has seemed to alter his personality. I feel like the medications he is on only helped to make him feel comfortable and confident.

What we ended up doing is medication and training. The jacks still run together but Benny and Riley now walk together daily. Same concept—they are a pack. I am okay with Benny taking over alpha with me as a supervisor, so I even let Ben correct (to an extent) Riley on the walks when Riley is out of control.walk.jpg

We added a blood pressure medicine called clonidine. This drug can be given every 8 hours at his dosage. However, we try to always start at the lowest and watch for a change. Within about 2 weeks I could see Riley feel more comfortable. And if you don’t believe me, Riley and Ben started playing more often. This NEVER happened prior (not the best picture, but this terrifies me typically).

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If you want to watch this video from three years ago you can see the style of play is very unpredictable. But in this video you can see it is much more controlled.

The cool thing was that you could see Ben reading Riley and letting up at the right times. However, Ben really doesn’t like Riley to be done playing so we do have to step in to let Ben know that play has ended.  I think sometimes happy playful dogs forget to read when their partner has had enough play and it turns into something it shouldn’t. Learning to read my boys’ body language was so helpful in understanding what they all need.

At any rate, a lot of things I plan on talking about came from learning the needs of Riley. Learning to balance personalities and relationships were crucial to keep the boys and my bank account safe. Also having amazing friends to talk me out of going to the vet when it may not be necessary is a bonus as well. Medication in my opinion, allowed for Riley to become stable enough to open up and learn. It has reduced the level of anxiety in different situations so he can enjoy life. I know some medicines can cause dogs to act “doped” up but the combination I have found for Riley does not do that. He is still a bratty little spit fire but he is perfect:)!

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