Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 80 - Spring green

This is one of those pictures I've been hanging on to for the dead of winter just so I can remember why I love the color green. (Only 19 days 'til Spring!)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Overcoming "Obstacles"

Agility obstacles, in this case.

We've learned a lot about Bella in the last year and a half. Probably more than we learned in the first 3 years she lived with us. One thing we've learned is that her reactivity to other dogs is wholly directed by her fear of them.

When they stay a safe distance away, and aren't aggressing toward her, she is perfectly capable of controlling her own reactions towards them. Of course, if they get too close, she's a firm believer in the maxim 'a good offense makes the best defense' and will not hesitate to make overtures to prove to them just how tough and fearsome she is.

Another thing we've learned is that Bella may not be as fearful as she is wary.

Bella's modus operandi is 'run first and ask questions later'.

Bella is afraid of everything. Everything new, that is.

Given enough time, patience and encouragement, Bella doesn't just figure things out, she revels in her accomplishments. This has been especially evident in her approach to agility obstacles.

The first big hurdle we had to tackle before she could do any agility was to get Bella over her fear of sticks and poles. Because really, a dog afraid of poles on an agility course is just a trembling mass seeing monsters at every turn.

So I played a game with her that involved the cardboard innards of a roll of wrapping paper and something akin to dragon slaying.

When I could walk into a room without her fleeing from the cardboard "stick", I moved to putting it on the ground and rewarding her for being in the same room with it. Eventually moving on to making an agility jump out of it. (The process of which you can see here.)

So when we got to agility class, Bella was not seeing monsters everywhere. She was seeing jumps and weave poles and ladders, oh my!

We expected to have to take this approach with every obstacle in the course which is why we were sooooooooooo surprised when within the a month of starting class, she went up and over the A-frame with nary a look back. (November 2011)

Who are you and what did you do with our Bella?

Well, lest we get too carried away by her initial bout of bravery, Bella reminded us that, yes, she is indeed a cautious, scared-y dog and would take her time over several of the remaining obstacles.

We started doing "off-leash sequences" with the dogs in class December 2011. This was really nerve-wracking because we had no idea what to expect from Bella. When it was her turn, the other dogs would be taken out of the room but still, Bella's nervous energy of being in a scary place combined with being off-leash sent her into fits of zoomies that were both adorable and completely embarrassing. (Uh, yeah, let me see if I can corral and catch my dog... Give us a moment, would you?)

We learned the best way to deal with Bella's zoomies was to just ignore her. Although she was so cute and so happy that even Carolyn our trainer had a hard time not smiling over them. But ignoring her worked and eventually Bella came looking to us for approval and we were able to direct her attention back to the task at hand.

We also learned the secret to off-leash work: better treats.

I've mentioned before that we settled on Red Barn Naturals food logs for our work on Bella's reactivity. But to get her to come back out of zoomies, Carolyn suggested we up the ante in the treat department and we knew just what to do.

Bella has always had a fondness for jerky. Of course, given the issues with cheap chicken jerky treats being made in China, we've been making our own for quite some time. And we decided for Bella's off-leash sequences, we could break those jerky treats up into pea-sized pieces and our chicken-addicted dog would follow us anywhere.

You know what? It worked!

As long as we calmly and quietly took Bella's leashes off while bribing, er, tempting her with extra-luscious chicken (or turkey) treats, our little zoomie dog zoomied no longer. Hallelujah!

Of course, she didn't always pay attention and she certainly didn't go over all the obstacles either but we were making progress.

The Big Three

The three scariest obstacles for Bella have always been the dog walk, the tunnel/chute and the teeter-totter.
The Dog Walk:

We started working on the dog walk in November 2011. It turned out to be one of the first obstacles that taught us how to teach Bella to trust us. Because it was so scary to her, we had to be very careful not to "lure" her on it.

We used the "touch" command to get her to focus on a very small feat she knew well in order to take one step forward at a time slowly, deliberately, consciously over the walk. And, lo and behold, only 5 months later, she conquered the dog walk for the very first time. (April 11, 2012) Now she goes over it every chance she gets. And even some chances she doesn't get.
The Chute:

In January 2012, we participated in Something Wagging This Way Comes' "January is Train Your Dog Month" hoping to teach Bella she could survive going through the tunnel and subsequently the chute. (You can watch her progress in a video we made for the event.)

Working with her at home and in class, it was still 3 more months before Bella actually made it all the way through the closed chute on April 27th, 2012. Now we can't get her out of it.
The Teeter-Totter:

Some day I hope to be writing the story of Bella conquering the teeter-totter but, while we are making progress, that obstacle still remains a blip on our horizon.

Our trainer, Carolyn remarked to us at one point that once Bella figures out she can do something, she just can't get enough of it. She's no longer afraid of it and pushes herself faster and higher and harder each time. And she never looks back.

As we thought about that, we realized it is something has always been true. From the very earliest days when we first brought Bella home and she conquered "The Stairs", she has been obviously and noticeably proud of her accomplishments - relishing in them and showing off to all who will watch.

This makes her very different from a lot of scared-y dogs and I wonder if we'd be more correct in calling her cautious than calling her fearful? But then she turns in to a quivering heap on the floor at the vet's office or crumbles at the sound of snow falling off the roof and I think "No. No, fearful's good. Fearful's accurate." Feisty and ferocious in her own way at times but maybe where Bella comes from, fearful was life-skill well-learned. It's that combination of traits that has made her both a joy to train and a challenge to teach.

But with every accomplishment, she learns to trust both her own abilities and our steadfastness.

She is growing in to a beautiful, strong, loving dog and watching her transformation has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 79 - Is it my turn yet?

Seriously, Bella, falling asleep in Agility for Reactive Dogs class? You've come a long way, baby.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Reactive agility: An interview with the dog

Today we have a very special event here on the blog: we're interviewing Bella herself to get her thoughts on our agility for reactive dogs class.

So, Bella, what did you think of your first day of class?

Well, at first, I was a little scared to go in because I remembered being at this place before. And while the teacher back then probably knew an awful lot about reactive dogs, he didn't seem to care too much about me being a scared-y dog and he got mad at me and my humans a lot.

But mom gave me lots of hot dog slices to get me inside the building this time and once she set down my towel, I knew I was stuck there.

To be honest, it only got worse when the first dog to come into the class with us was a black Labrador named Willie who looked just like the neighbor's dog who bullies me in my own yard! Geez mom, what are you trying to do - scare me to death?

I'm watching you, Willie.
But this black dog went and laid down on his own towel a long ways away from me so I tried to relax and pay attention to mom and dad. Every now and then Willie would get mad at me or I'd get upset about him but when that happened, hot dogs rained from the sky in front of me and I forgot all about the big scary dog at the other end of the room. Willie forgot about me sometimes, too.

Wow - that must have been pretty scary. Did you just hang out on your towel the whole time you were there?

Oh no, at first I thought that was all we were going to do but then we got to get up and walk around a little. Mom and dad kept giving me treats for ignoring Willie while we walked back and forth across the room.

But the best part was when the teacher put a jump in front of us and tried to teach mom and dad different ways to lead me over the jump. She called it front- and back-crosses and oh, was that good for a laugh.

For me it was a little hard to concentrate on going over the jump with the big black scary at the other end of the room and sometimes I would stare at him a little too long getting more and more nervous. But then mom would shove a hot dog at my nose. Oh yeah, nothing like the smell of a cold, slimy hot dog to get your attention.

Class - the long view, with classmates.
So we walked around a little and jumped a little and then we went back to our towels.

The teacher told us she was going to have us each try some of the obstacles and it would be real hard on the dog left sitting at their towel because there was going to be a lot of noise and excitement. But we had to learn to be real calm while all that went on around us. Boy, it was hard but mom and dad just kept giving me hot dogs while the big, black Labrador had a go.

Then it was my turn and I'm pretty sure I shocked the shi---nola out of mom and dad when I got to the A-frame and went right up and over! Hahaha. Every now and then I like to change things up and take something they think is going to be real hard for me and make it look easy. Gotta keep 'em guessing, you know?

So yeah, I did the A-frame on the first try. And then I did it again. And again. And again. And I even did it one last time when they tried to get me to go back to my towel just for good measure. Sorry mom.

That's okay, Bella, we were very proud to see you having so much fun. So, tell the people, did you do all the other obstacles just as easily that first day?

Hahahahahaha! Oh, gracious no. Have you met me?

But Willie, the big show-off, pretty nearly did. I don't think it took him more than a couple of tries to master the teeter-totter even. I don't think he's as a-scared of stuff as I am. I think he's just real scared of other dogs.

And I probably didn't help that time he got too close to me when we were walking around the room and I pulled mom over lunging and barking at him. Sorry about that, pal. (Okay so we're never gonna be "pals" but we can kind of exist in the same room together now without acting like we're going to tear each other apart now.)

Anyway no, I didn't do all the obstacles that first day. But I started to learn about them and mom and dad learned a lot about how to teach me to not be scared of them.

Dad went home and made me some of the obstacles to practice on and what he couldn't make, he got mom for Christmas. Mom's going to talk about a couple of the more difficult things we tackled in the coming weeks because she says she has "stories". (I think that means she's going to make fun of me but whatever, I know I rock.)

Do you have any other classmates besides Willie? What are they are like?

I've had two other classmates at times:
  • Deja was a pretty pit bull who hung out with us for a few weeks. But I don't think she was as loco as the rest of us so she stopped coming after a time.
  • And then we have the handsome-est Miniature American Eskimo dog named Elmo who comes to class when he can. Sometimes Elmo and I trade crushes on each other. He's even more scared-y than I am but I don't think I've ever seen him be reactive. He loves his mom, Rebecca - a lot. You can tell 'cause he's always watching her. Not like me - I sometimes forget mom and dad are there when I'm off sniffing something extra-specially good.
How about your teacher? Do you like her? You don't usually like people as a rule...

Yeah, Carolyn's okay. I like her 'cause she doesn't try to touch me. She lets me sniff her and still doesn't even try to pet me! I didn't think you hu-folks had it in you to be so close to me and not try to touch me. My teacher also teaches other teachers so we had Lisa come and work with us for a while. I really liked her - she smelled like super good treats.

So all in all your class sounds pretty awesome...?

Yeah, you know it turned out okay. I wasn't even on my new special medicine when I first signed up and going to class made me feel a little better about things. All that thinking and behaving and learning new stuff was pretty exhausting so I was too tired to worry (too much) about flies in the closet or pine cones dropping on the roof.

In fact, for a while I loved it so much that I'd do zoomies once I got in the classroom. No, it was not very dignified but I was back in class where I got to climb the A-frame, get all sorts of attention and eat a couple of pounds of hot dogs! What's not to love? (From the hu-mom - Bella exaggerates somewhat about the amount of hot dogs... Somewhat.)

Well thank you, Bella, for your time tonight. Mom was wondering how she was going to share your side of this adventure.

Bella LOVES her class. It has been a lot of effort, a lot of time and a lot of adjustments along the way but she has come so far from her first days. And it shows in her behavior at home. This is a dog that loves to learn and we do her a disservice when we forget that.

Thanks for visiting. Hope you enjoyed our little interview.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Birthday, Bella!

Our beautiful girl is (about) 5 years old today.
May we share 5 times 5 more birthdays together.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 78 - Love

Bella's still on restricted exercise so when Nemo came and dumped snow as deep as Bella is tall on us, Bella's daddy plowed this path all around the yard for her. And her mom shoveled out a few 'potty stations' along the way so Bella wouldn't (couldn't) go bounding into the drifts to relieve herself.

Sorry Nemo, Bella's daddy loves her. (And her mommy does, too.)

Hope everyone in Nemo's path fared as well as Bella did!

Monday, February 11, 2013

If I Should Die Before My Dog - Signed Book Giveaway

Last month, we were invited to join a 'book tour' featuring "If I Should Die Before My Dog". We were very moved by our experience of thinking and talking about a plan for Bella's future were it ever not to include us. And we highly recommend the book to anyone who loves a dog.

This month, the authors have given the bloggers who participated in the tour the opportunity to offer a signed copy of the book to 5 lucky winners. Use the Rafflecopter below to enter for a chance to win. And good luck!

PS - We'll be back next week with more "Adventures in Reactive Agility". Thanks for your patience.


This dogtastic giveaway has been brought to you by authors Joe and Cathy Connolly
and Beck Valley Booksand Pets With Opinions

Giveaway ends on Sunday 3rd March at 11.59pm EST A Dog Lovers lasting guide.......

A beautifully illustrated interactive book that one fills in all of the information about their dogs life in the event they can no longer care for them to help ensure your pets are taken care of.

A thought provoking check list for dog lovers, who unfortunately and with much sadness can no longer take care of their dog.

This book will assist those who want to prepare for their dogs future in an easy to use format that will guide them through the process of telling the "story" of their dogs life, for their pets "Next Guardian".

None of us can predict the future, but in the event situations arise such as death, health impairment or left with no other choice but to give them up, this book will be there to assist your beloved pet with the transition from one home to another

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Black & White Sunday: Orchid

(Click to embiggen - it's worth it!)

Because there's 15 feet of snow outside my door and I need a hint of Spring....

Friday, February 8, 2013

{This Moment} See Beautiful - Sometimes she's just a normal dog

Every day that Bella has a "normal" dog experience is one of absolute beauty to me...

Last week, we received a package in the mail and it came wrapped in heavy paper.

In her almost 5 years with us, Bella has never stepped on paper or a box...

Last week, she traipsed right over the packing paper and even initiated play with me.

What many might find an every day occurrence, an annoyance even, for us became an event of unique beauty.



With paper.

There is beauty in the smallest of life's moments.

We need only remember to look for them.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday 77 - On the sidelines

Sorry about the unexpected hiatus. Hope to be back in action again very soon. In the meantime, Bella waits patiently...