Monday, April 30, 2012

You've come a long way, baby!

I've joked in the past that Bella is afraid of everything. Today we're going to get a little more specific about what that means. She's not afraid of much, really, just people, places and things. Oh, and sounds. But you know, other than that...

Over the years, as I've been talking to folks about fearful dogs though, I've discovered something a little different about Bella. Yes, Bella is fearful and she's reactive as a result of that fear, but Bella's not really a shy or timid dog. In fact, she's a very curious and sometimes even bold little critter. While her modus operandi is "run first and ask questions later", that's not necessarily a bad life skill for a street dog to have. And it's probably that response which was responsible for keeping her alive on the streets.

The trick for us has been to help her understand that she's not on the streets any more and she doesn't have to live in constant fear. So even though she's still working on some of her issues, she has really overcome a great many fears since she joined our little family. I thought maybe it was time to celebrate just how far she's come.

Things she was afraid of:
  • My family (mostly)
  • Gus and Molly (dogs, specific)
  • The garage (mostly)
  • The basement
  • The attic
  • The bathroom
  • Enclosed entry ways
  • The car (traveling in)
  • Being stepped over
  • The shower
  • The hair dryer
  • The coffee maker
  • The toaster
  • The microwave
  • The television (general) 
  • Her harness
  • Her leash 
  • Her head halter
  • Her thundershirt (mostly)
  • Stairs
  • The spiral staircase
  • Wrapping paper tubes 
  • Sticks
  • Anything that vaguely resembles a stick
  • Yard & garden implements (all manner of):
    • Gloves
    • Brooms
    • Rakes
    • Hoses
    • Barrels/buckets/bins
    • Wheelbarrows
    • Ladders
  • Cars
  • Trucks 
  • Motorcycles
  • "Industrial" smells (paints, oils, gas...)
  • Sounds (specific):
    • Fireworks (we think)
    • Leaf-blower
    • Law mower
    • Chain saw (just the noise - she's not allowed outside when it is in use)
  • Agility obstacles:
    • Tunnel
    • Chute 
    • Jumps 
    • Weave poles 
    • Dog walk 
    • A-frame 
    • Table 
    • Tire
Things she's still afraid of:
  • People (general)
  • Dogs (general)
  • The vacuum cleaner
  • Bugs that buzz (flies, bees, etc)
  • Beeps/alarms
  • Storms (wind, heavy rain, thunder)
  • The snow-blower 
  • Things that fall on the roof (acorns, stones, branches, snow...)
  • Agility obstacles (in progress):
    • Teeter-totter
    • Tippy boards

I am not now, nor have I ever been, afraid of my dragon.


So you see, she's actually done very well for herself. Her few lingering fears we are working to help her overcome and some we're just managing for her.

There are a few I think she'll never get over and I can't blame her. She was attacked by an entire nest of yellow jackets so I suspect her fear of things that buzz will never quite go away. That was a lesson she needed to learn. And to be honest, with such an inquisitive nature, it's probably in her best interest to harbor a little fear, it might spare her some pain in life even now that she's in a much safer place.

What we really want to help her with is her general anxiety. I want her to someday be able to hear a noise while she's stretched out on the couch and not run for cover. I want her to finally understand that while she's in our house, she is safe. All the rest is gravy.

So how about you? I know we've got lots of scared-y dogs out there but what is it your dogs are afraid of? Is it one specific item or event or is your dog in Bella's camp - afraid of everything new? Are you trying to overcome those fears or just managing them? Have you had any success? (Bragging is always encouraged.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 37 - A study in body language

Okay, not quite wordless today as some explanation is required.

This series of shots was taken quite some time ago back when we used to be able to take Bella to a local field (before it became a "dog park"). I'd never seen Bella react to another dog in this way and, being fascinated by the whole thing, I just kept shooting. There are probably 10 dogs playing behind me and, as you can see, the approaching dog's owner was watching the situation carefully. As was I even though it was through the camera lens.

Note: I've added some of my own thoughts to the photos for a thoroughly not-wordless Wordless Wednesday. :\

The first thing I noticed was the approaching dog kept looking away - a calming signal to the little runt watching him. Bella is interested but relatively relaxed in posture and ears.

Bella is getting a little intense here...

so the approaching dog veers off...

and Bella's posture immediately relaxes. (Note the lift of the head and relaxation of the ears.)

This is when I began to think Bella has some Border Collie in her. Not sure what the heck she's thinking here

Monday, April 23, 2012

And the Purple Sparkly Toilet Seat goes to.... Us!

So in the last week, I have almost broken my wrist, prepped (read: banged head against) my PC for the OS upgrade I'm about to undertake, rescued a lost dog and celebrated the last official birthday I shall ever recognize. (If my father could remain 29 for 50 years, I figure I can be 49 for at least 30.) And as if I wasn't far enough behind on the blog, let's just say typing with one hand surely didn't help matters.

(Before you ask, I'm fine. It appears to be just a sprain and I can now type with both hands again, although I still can't open a bottle of wine on my own. I believe that's written into my marriage contract though so Jan has been keeping busy on that front. ;)

It is however, time for me to stop whining and thank some very lovely people for some very lovely things they have said about us in the last month. Not the least of which are the lovely Mums and dog over at Declan's Dogs Blog.

First, let me tell you, when we found out that we were on 'the short list' of Deccy's Excellent Blog Award, we were pretty honored to even be mentioned among such fine blogs and entries.

But wait, I'm assuming you all know who Deccy is - the infamous Greyhound of Declan's Dogs Blog fame? If not, you seriously must go check out the fabulous ex-racing Greyhound that is the Dec-Man! Witty, charming and devastatingly handsome, this is a dog and blog not to be missed!

Okay so now, where was I? Oh yes, we were quite honored to even be considered for Deccy's "Excellent Blog Award" for March 2012 so when we found out we actually won it, well, let's just say bragging was done all over. Except for, you know, here because once again I couldn't quite get my act together until now to thank Deccy's lovely Mum for sending it to us.

Here it is in all its sparkly goodness.

It's kind of funny because we won it for a Wordless Wednesday post I actually labored over posting and then suffered massive panic attacks over once I did. (Saying I'm an introvert is so understating the issue...) I was worried it was too personal, too intimate to share and no one would want to watch a slideshow of a long-gone friend and his loving family. What a learning experience that was.

Anyway, it did seem to touch a few people, not the least of which was Deccy's Mum who had her own experience with a 'sainted' canine, Deccy's beautiful predecessor, Flynn. Seems Flynn, much like my Beau, has been a tough act for Deccy to follow. And as difficult it has been to lose Beau, and understandably Flynn, I wish every one of you reading this blog, your very own sainted canine in life.

Speech, speech!

So, okay, enough rambling. I'd like to accept this Most Excellent Blog Award for March 2012 (aka the Purple Sparkly Toilet Seat) on behalf of all the Flynns and Beaus in our lives. The dogs who weather our storms and mistakes and teach us grace in the process. The ones who are just this side of extra-special, the ones we can trust to always do the right thing even when we don't and the dogs who love us and do us proud no matter how many times we screw up on them.

But I'd also like to accept it on behalf of the dogs like Bella and Deccy who, for all their quirks and foibles, will no doubt leave their own very special hole in our hearts no other dog can fill when it comes their time to visit The Bridge. Each unique and extraordinary in their own way.

Thanks Deccy's Mum. Your kindness is well appreciated.

And while I'm on a roll, I also want to take a moment to acknowledge another special occurrence and thank the blogger responsible for it.

You see, a few weeks back we entered a contest over at Roo's Doins. Roo and Roo's mum make some of the most inventive stuff in Blogville from Pet Fiction Theatre Theater (sorry, crossing the pond even on a blog can take a moment ;) to their Monthly Jigsaw Puzzles and their recent "It Takes a Thief" contest. So when they were sponsoring a contest to giveaway some new creative software they'd reviewed, we signed up. If they liked it, we figured we'd like it too, if we could ever suss out how to use it.

And well what do you know - we ended up winning!

We've already downloaded the software but are waiting to really dig into it until after we upgrade to Windows 7 (no comments please). For such a computer nerd as myself, this was a lovely gift to win and I promise Roo and his mom that as soon as we get a chance to dig in, we'll produce some fun scrapbook pages to show off what a cool prize it was.

In the meantime, if you want to see what someone with talent can do in just a short time reviewing the product, click here to check it out.

What playing we have done has been fun and we really appreciate the prize. It will be put to good use (just as soon as I can get this darn OS installed and working properly.) Thanks again, Roo.

Happy Monday, all!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday's Dog - Chocolate Lab Casey

Being involved in rescue, you hear a lot of horror stories that make you wonder how people can be so cruel to their animals. Believe me, I've seen surrender applications come through my email that make you wonder if you couldn't find a way to drop the human off at the shelter instead of the dog.

This is not one of those times.

This is one of those times that reminds me we're all in this together and our world is facing hard challenges. This is one of those times that makes me happy to know there are rescue groups out there to help ease the landing for some old friends whose human-folk did everything they could but just couldn't make it work.

Allow me to introduce you to Casey.

Photo courtesy North East All Retriever Rescue.

Casey is almost 12 years old and has found himself homeless because his family just couldn't make ends meet any more. They did the best thing they could for him: they found a rescue group where Casey will live in a foster home with a caring foster family until his new forever family comes along.

At 12 years old, Casey would have had a difficult time had he just been dropped off at the county shelter. Now, thanks to North East All Retriever Rescue (NEARR), not only will they make sure he's in a good foster home, but they will ensure his new forever family provides regular updates about him so his previous family can sleep at night knowing he's loved and in the best possible home (if not theirs).

This old boy is mellow and sweet and so ready to share the couch with you. You can view his entire profile on the NEARR website.

And if you don't happen to have room in your life right now for a big lovable lug, maybe you could push one of those buttons waaaaaayyy down there and share his story so someone who does have room can find him?


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 36 - Stellar Stella

One of Bella's old playmates from the Farm Field, Little Miss Stella.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Don't just feel bad, do something!

We're participating in the April "Blog the Change for Animals" (BtC4A) campaign.

It's a great idea that gives bloggers a chance to make a real difference in the lives of animals using the skills they have: writing, photography and video. And it's that idea, the idea of using the skills you have to make a difference, that I want to talk to you about today.

Sometimes I wonder if it's human nature to focus on the negative, the things that are wrong, the things that are bad, the things that overwhelm us and feel too difficult to repair. We see the SPCA commercials, the ones where Sarah McLachlan makes us feel downright suicidal and, wishing things were better but knowing we can't possibly bring another animal into our lives right now, we nod our heads and change the channel.

But that's where BtC4A comes in. How many of us have thought about the things we can do to improve the lives of shelter animals? Don't think you have anything to offer? Have you seen this?

Copyright, The Pit Crew, Illinois Rescue

The point is, we all have something we can do.

Don't have money to donate? Maybe the next time you're cleaning out your linen closet, you could take those old sheets and towels to a local shelter?

Do you have extra time? You can walk the dogs, play with the cats, clean the kennels. You can make phone calls.

Technically savvy and socially engaged? You can blog, you can tweet, you can share stories on Facebook, raise funds or simply awareness.

You can talk to (and recruit!) your co-workers and friends. Hang a rescue calendar on the wall of your office or cube then just wait and see how many conversations come from it.

Are you good with a camera? Maybe your local shelter or rescue could use someone to take pictures of the pups that would make them more appealing to someone looking for a new dog?

Do you have a car? Every week, dogs and cats are rescued from high-kill shelters and driven to safer havens. You don't have to have a big SUV to participate. Get on the mailing list and just sign up for the animals you can fit - someone else can take some of the others. The more people on the list of volunteers, the more flexibility the transport coordinator has to make the route work.

Sure, shelters and rescues need money and they need fosters and forever homes but they also need volunteers. They need people willing to man booths promoting the organization at local festivals, to handle the dogs at "meet the dogs" events, they need people to keep their websites up to date, to screen applicants, to visit prospective adopting families, to move dogs from a shelter to their new foster homes.

And of course, they need volunteers to walk, train and socialize the dogs, cats, bunnies and other critters that find themselves out of a home.

Landing in a shelter doesn't have to be the worst thing to happen to an animal. In fact, if that animal finds itself a new home with a family that truly wants them and promises to love and care for them for the rest of their lives, it could turn out to be the very best thing possible.

Just ask Bella.

To everyone who gives a little of their time, a little of their heart, a little of themselves to make the world a better place for animals, thank you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Train Your Dog Challenge: The blooper reel (video)

I seem to be on a bit of a video kick lately. I think that might be the slacker in me realizing it's easier to show than to tell. ;)

I put this video of outtakes together from our participation in the January Is Train Your Dog Challenge so you can all see what I had to work with to get that 1 minute video in last Monday's post. I have to say I'm surprised there wasn't more footage of me hanging my head in defeat.

Anyway, hope it gives you a chuckle on this fine Friday morning.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 35 - I'm going to sleep now...

Don't ya' just want to reach out and take that piece of hair off her nose?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

January Is Train Your Dog Month!

Something Wagging This Way ComesWhat? Yes, yes, I know - it's April. So I'm officially 4 months behind in my blogging efforts. (And I bet you thought you were running behind. ;)

Anyway, back in January (yes, of 2012, har har har), Pamela over at Something Wagging this Way Comes laid down the gauntlet with her "January is Train Your Dog Month Challenge". I chimed in that we would be participating, and we did - we just never did the follow up. We were supposed to post about this back in February.


I suppose I could have declared failure and let it lie but it's just not in my nature. And since I can never pass up an opportunity to brag about Bella, I say "better late than never!"

Bella loves a challenge

One of the most fundamental aspects of Bella's life is training - to help her get over her fear, to build her confidence and to guide her in simply becoming a functioning member of society. It's constant because it's necessary. I've never really done this with other dogs in my life. Sure, most knew how to sit here or give a paw there. I even trained one of my earliest dogs, Alfie, to give me a hug. But it didn't go much beyond that.

Alfie and me
When we got Bella, however, we realized 2 things: 1) we were in a little over our heads with the extent of her fearfulness and 2) she has a remarkable amount of energy and inquisitiveness that, if not properly channeled, would end us all up in a heap of trouble.

As a result, Bella has been through Beginner and Intermediate Obedience, Ruffians 1 (how to work with reactive dogs) and Agility for Reactive Dogs - Beginner and now Intermediate. She loves agility but has always been afraid of the tunnel and now she's also facing the dreaded "chute".

One of the things she has been most afraid of around the yard since we first brought her home are the collapsible bags used to gather up leaves and other yard debris. And the tunnel and chute look an awful lot like them, albeit sideways versions.

In an effort to spare our agility classmates the 10-minute delay that was accompanying any attempt to get Bella through the tunnel/chute during class, I decided this would be what I'd work on with Bella for the Challenge.

Another part of the Challenge was to choose something that would both train Bella and further solidify my relationship with her. Already aware of the benefits of working with Bella to overcome her fear - she learns to trust herself and she learns to trust us - I knew the more of that we could bring to her life, the better.

Our (not especially exciting) training program:
  1. First things first, we needed to get Bella to be in the same room with the scary thing (for now, just the tunnel without the fabric part of the chute extended). This consisted of nothing more than giving her a treat every time she went anywhere near the object. No clicking, just treats at this point.
  2. Move on to getting Bella to approach the object on her own terms. Every time she did this, she was rewarded with both a click and a treat. We are beginning to shape a desired behavior here and you can see her start to figure it out in the video below.
  3. I then began asking for more and more from her before she got her click (and subsequent treat). If at first she just had to look at the object to get a click, the next step was to wait until she touched it to offer the reward. When she was comfortable touching it, then she had to put her head inside to garner a click. Finally, she had to go all the way through the chute to win the rewards of clicks and treats (as well as some good old-fashioned play time).
  4. Once she was consistently going through the tunnel, I began to let out the fabric of the chute a little bit at a time. Retreat back to step 1 and lather, rinse, repeat.

"Let's go to the video tape" *

One thing I did learn while editing hours and hours er, 45 minutes of video is why positive reinforcement trainers aren't getting television shows on Nat Geo: this training method is simply not "fun" to watch. It's slow, it's boring, it's tedious. I was falling asleep watching me train my own dog. But it works. And more importantly, it promotes a healthy bond between you and your dog.

And while she still won't go through the closed chute, Bella does romp right on through the long tunnel in agility class now and will go through the chute if we hold it open. Given time, and a little more practice, she'll make it the rest of the way, I just know it.

Having cut out the many minutes of Bella just lying on the floor looking at me trying to get her near the tunnel and the numerous "I'm just going to sniff over here for a while"s, I have whittled the evidence of our Train Your Dog Month participation down to a, hopefully somewhat entertaining, minute and a half.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday's Dog: Bradley the Coonhound (Urgent!)

Hi friends,

We have an urgent case here today for our Saturday's dog.

Bradley is currently in a high-kill shelter in Marion County, South Carolina and as of Thursday, 4/5, was on the "red list" to be put down. My friend, Cindy, stepped up and paid to sponsor him which will cover his "pull fees" and vetting costs but we need to find him a place to go so Paws to the Rescue can get him out of the shelter and to some place safe. He'll even have transport up north if we can just get a rescue group or (no-kill) shelter to take him.

Photo courtesy Paws to the Rescue.

Sweet, smart and friendly, this guy deserves his chance to get out of this shelter. Please help us make that happen by sharing his story with anyone you know in the animal rescue community who might be able to help. You can see his profile on Petfinder or check him out on Facebook.

From his Facebook profile:
ID: #120156
BREED: Hound Dog
AGE: 1 year
WEIGHT: 49 lbs (too skinny)
TEMPERAMENT: Bradley is friendly and eager to make friends with people and dogs.

Bradley is located at a HIGH KILL SHELTER:
Marion County Animal Shelter
123 Dog and Cat Court
Mullins, South Carolina 29574
(843) 423-8370

To rescue or adopt an animal, please send an e-mail ASAP to our Rescue/Adoption Coordinator at: This email is for SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY. Please include animal's name and ID#.

Thanks friends.



Paws New England has agreed to take in Bradley but they need to find him a foster home. Please continue to spread the word to get this guy a place to stay. Word has him coming up here next week.

Yay Bradley! And way to go, Cindy!!!!!!!


"Saving the life of one animal may not change the world,
but the world will surely change for that one animal."