Posts filed under ‘rescue’

Personal Coach

If you looked at this photo and guessed that the Chuckster is not thrilled about being dressed up in a blond wig and forced to hold a sequined rose in his mouth you’d be right. The boy’s pinched expression and somewhat whale-eyed glare clearly express annoyance and stress.

If I’d been foolish enough to try this with the boy in the first months he was here, I’d have been in stitches. Literally. Today it just took a few seconds of firm, gentle insistence to get him to agree to it.

Why do I insist on torturing a dog who was seized as part of an animal cruelty conviction?

I do it because if I let Charlie take the easy no-stress route and stay in the deeply dysfunctional place he inhabited when he first came here, he’d still be a miserable, lonely, filthy, unsocialized little wretch. You see, the problem with comfort zones is that they’re such nice, safe, warm comfortable places that if we’re never pushed out of them, we just settle in and stay there. And when we’re allowed to indulge in that kind of intrinsically rewarding avoidance behavior our comfort zones don’t shrink – they get bigger.

Because of a severe lack of early socialization, when I first met him there were a lot more things that Charlie feared or otherwise didn’t like than things he liked (or was even willing to put up with). The boy had also inadvertently learned that he could use his evil, evil teeth to make things he didn’t like go away. When faced with any kind of new or even mildly stressful situation his default reaction was a screaming, spitting, biting tantrum. So it was my job to regularly, fairly – and yes, sometimes forcefully – push Charlie out of his comfort zone so he could develop the coping skills he hadn’t had a chance to acquire in the first months of life.

Basically, I need to act as his personal trainer. It was my job to design a safe and effective mental exercise program to help this dog reach his potential. And I couldn’t always be his buddy when I did it. A good personal trainer must be prepared to push her clients relentlessly.

A lot of people will try to convince you that incorporating any stress or aversiveness in handling or training a dog will make him vicious, fearful and/or neurotic. These people are wrong. Working with dogs like Charlie has convinced me that the idea that we should only share ‘positive’ interactions with our dogs is a deeply flawed one.

Despite what the main stream media tells you, stress is not an inherently negative or unnatural thing. Stress is a natural – and necessary – part of every life (seriously, even plant life).  Stress drives evolution, it builds strength and it even enhances some forms of learning. Because stress is absolutely essential to life, the key to dealing with it successfully doesn’t lie in avoiding or ignoring it, it’s found in developing the strength to cope with it.

The brain’s stress coping mechanisms are a lot like muscles, you’ve got to use ’em or you’ll lose ’em. So in a direct analogy to resistance training, we can use mental training to increase an animal’s ability to deal with stress. The basis of this training consists of a program of controlled exposure to moderately stressful things that increases a dog’s ability to cope with stress. This is strikingly similar to the goal of resistance training which, according to the American Sports Medicine Institute, is to “gradually and progressively overload the musculoskeletal system so it gets stronger.”

If your dog needs a bit of personal coaching follow these rules:

  • When possible give the dog some choice in how to approach the stressful situation. Don’t put the dog on a leash and drag him toward it. Instead, set up a situation where making some approach to the object results in a reward or a release of pressure and then show him how to earn it.
  • If the dog has completely and absolutely made up his mind that he cannot approach that particular scary thing, don’t quit and reward his refusal, just move on to an easier thing.
  • Keep the dog’s mind and body active during the exercise. Idle paws are the devil’s tools! If your dog is not fully engaged in the exercise those extra mental resources will be shuttled to stress responses and they’ll work against you.
  • Increase the difficulty in steps. Watch the dog. His response will tell you how big to make those steps.
  • Give the dog a short break to shake off the stress after each step. If he has a hard time shaking it off, make the next step smaller or easier. If he rebounds immediately, make it bigger or more difficult.
  • Work in small bits at first. Increase time as your dog increases his mental resources.
  • The last bit of the work you do will be the piece that the dog will remember most clearly, so it is very important to end the work on a successful note. Even if this is only a small success.
  • Don’t overdo it. Once the dog’s confidence is aroused – end the session and give him a break to process what he just learned. This should be a time for calm, quiet reflection not rambunctious play.
  • It is important to realize that if you are working with a genetically shy dog or one who had severe deficits in early socialization – you will need to continue these kinds of mental strength training exercises for the rest of your dog’s life. Maintenance training will be much less difficult and time-consuming than your initial training program, but your dog has to use these skills or he will lose them.

In my experience, when done well, this kind of program will result in geometric rather than arithmetic progress. So while you will probably need to begin by taking tiny steps you should begin to see significant changes as your dog’s resources are built up. Be aware of this and don’t fall into the rut of walking in baby steps throughout your training program.

After many months of regular structured mental resistance training young Charlie has progressed beyond baby steps and significantly increased his ability to cope with stress. He’s gone from a dog who pitched a major fit any time a new person came into our house to a dog who, with just a bit of help, now likes to hop into visitors’ laps to cuddle.

Note the big, relaxed smile. Chuck is really happy to be in Nancy's lap.

Pushing Charlie out of his comfort zone wasn’t always fun, and in the beginning it was very stressful for both of us. But every day he gets stronger. The boy still needs a bit more work, but this crazy, bitey little dog is learning to roll with life’s punches. And more importantly he’s also beginning to recognize the rewards that go along with those skills.

February 20, 2011 at 11:52 pm 7 comments

Love at first sight

“My Dog Zero,” released in 1992, was Joe Murray’s third independent film and his first color film. About the film he writes:

In 1991, I did an 11 minute indie film about a man’s quest to overcome high expectations when it came to finding a perfect canine companion. It was done on a shoestring budget, with students painting cels in exchange for food and coffee and a donated Iron camera stands that needed to be moved with a fork lift.

Here is a clip where Mildo decides a Dog is what he needs, and travels to the local Dog pound to pick out the perfect pet. You know how we always see pets resembling their owners? This is that scene.

It was love at first sight and Murray captures the scene in all of its wonderful and absurd delight.

October 20, 2010 at 7:40 am 1 comment

Objectivity FAIL

There have been some interesting goings on at the StarTribune this week. It started on Sunday when Jean Hopfensperger published a piece titled Humane Society, fighting a “smear”.

The story quickly hit local dog boards and generated some interest both because of the subject of the story and… because the piece was quickly scrubbed not only from the paper but also from google’s archives, shortly after it was published. A few people (including yours truly) wrote to the paper asking why the story was pulled. No answers were given but the story mysteriously re-appeared on the StarTribune’s website today.

The piece presents a strongly one-sided defense of Janelle Dixon’s condemnation of Humane Watch’s campaign to inform pet owners about how little money fund-raising behemoth the Humane Society of the United States uses to directly support animals in need.

While readers may assume that a woman representing a local animal shelter is primarily driven by a desire to save as many pets as she can, it may not be quite that simple. Ms. Dixon is not only president of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, she’s also the president of the National Federation of Humane Societies (NFHS).

What is the NFHS? According to the social activist networking website care2:

Earlier this year when Pacelle was criticized for his role in euthanizing dogs rescued from a dog-fighting operation, HSUS made a commitment to begin evaluating all rescued dogs on an individual basis.  This commitment has led HSUS to launch The Shelter Pet Project – a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to end euthanasia of healthy and treatable homeless animals.

It has also led to the creation of the National Federation of Humane Societies. This is a coalition of dozens of major shelters and rescue groups throughout the country that have vowed to stop euthanasia for healthy homeless pets by the year 2020.

Stopping the euthanasia of pets is a laudable goal, but the StarTribune opinion piece story appears to have been lifted entirely from a letter NFHS wrote to Mr. Richarad Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) dated May 25, 2010. A letter that is posted prominently on the HSUS website.

The letter states that the HSUS’s “charitable purpose has never been questioned.” Apparently Steve Putnam, author of the letter and the executive director of NFHS, doesn’t spend much time on the internet. HSUS’s ‘charitable purposes’ have been called into question for years by yours truly and a host of other bloggers, forums, webgroups and advocacy groups. It’s old news.

Putnam goes on to state that “The HSUS mission has always included a focus on large-scale animal cruelty and eliminating animal suffering. HSUS has always been transparent about that mission.” Perhaps HSUS is completely transparent when they’re dealing with groups who share their ideals, but in my experience, the group makes millions by taking advantage of the fact that a very large number of pet lovers think that the Humane Society is the same thing as their local humane society. HSUS further obfuscates the truth by prominently featuring the plight of homeless pets (the same ones they spend less than 1% of their funds to help directly) in their advertising copy.

While he calls CCF’s motives into question, Putnam, for some reason, does not feel the need to mention the very strong ties between NFHS and HSUS. Neither does Dixon.

So Putnam and Dixon both have a pro-HSUS bias. Big deal. I’m a huge fan of freedom of speech, and as such, I support the rights of Putnam, Dixon, CCF, HSUS and NFHS to lobby and speak out on issues as they see fit. While I would fight to the death to support the rights of these people to speak their minds – I’m convinced that it’s immoral (and quite possibly illegal) to engage in misleading advertising.

As I’ve stated before I meet a very disturbing number of average Americans who donate money to HSUS in the mistaken belief that their money is going directly to fund their local shelter. While we all bear the responsibility to make reasonable efforts to investigate where our donations are being used, the deceptively ambiguous ads used extensively by HSUS – in my opinion – lead most people to a false sense of assurance that their money will go directly to support the care of pets in need rather than to support lobbying efforts that many of these same people disagree strongly with.

I’m also not a fan of advocacy journalism. The words you read here, on this blog, represent my opinions. I do not present this site as a news outlet so you can safely assume that anything you read here reflects my own personal bias. And unless you’re a complete dimwit, you probably understand that’s pretty much status quo for the blogosphere. The same can not (or at least should not) be said of the non-opinion pages published in a newspaper. When a journalist lifts information from a letter that is nothing more than a strongly worded opinion/PR piece and publishes it as ‘news’ without looking for, examining and discussing an opposing viewpoint – she spits on the idea of objectivity.

But, as I’m sure most of you know – that isn’t news. Spittoons appear to be common fixtures in newsrooms these days…

June 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm 14 comments

The Good Dog Inside

The past two weeks have been exciting for young Charlie.  We threw a lot of new things at the boy, in this short period of time he:

  • Behaved calmly while surrounded by strange dogs and people during the Minnesota mini-gathering
  • Met a diverse crew of men who refinished our deck, and looked on with calm interest while they worked right outside the windows
  • Politely allowed himself to be approached and checked out by several strange off leash dogs at a sheepdog trial
  • Accepted my assurance that a pack of strange dogs staying as guests in our house was not a valid reason for a meltdown (I’ll add that he handled the situation with more grace than Audie did)
  • Developed a crush on our human visitor
  • Threw one brief tantrum when a strange person strode up very quickly then bent over inches away him at the trial (she was picking something up off the ground, and paid little attention to the little snot)
  • Then recovered his wits sufficiently to allow her to pet him just a few minutes later
  • Maintained good off leash manners while four different human guests were here
  • Did his first stint as a demo-dog (albeit allowing me to demonstrate how to apply a pressure-release technique to defuse a reactive dog)
  • Let my client pet him immediately after said demonstration

Charlie has come a long way. It was obvious from the start that a good dog was lurking inside the smart, resilient, obnoxious little jerk who arrived here last fall — but in the beginning, only hints of that good dog showed through.

Today Charlie is a good dog who only occasionally shows hints of the horrid little beast he never wanted to be.

Charlie watching the trial with Mark and D
Note that his leash is being held by the ‘dog un-trainer’

Charlie watches D make dinner
(I love a man who cooks for me!)

June 3, 2010 at 9:24 am 10 comments

Small Wonders

On Sunday a small group of people and dogs gathered at our place. This is not an unusual thing, many dozens of similar groups have met at our place in the five short years we’ve been here.

This may look like a typical group of happy dogs and dog owners –  but it’s not. All the dogs in this picture are alumni or current fosters with National English Shepherd Rescue and all but two of them are members of the infamous Montana English Shepherds.

Less than a year ago, these dogs were still be held as evidence in an animal cruelty case. Today they’re all living in homes in and around the Twin Cities area. And while most of them still have a few issues to work on (don’t we all!), these dogs and their owners have accomplished incredible things.

I had a marvelous time meeting and working with everyone, but the part of the experience that will stick with me will be Stanley (the handsome blond boy on the far left). Stanley crawled in flat on his belly and shaking like a leaf – but based, I’m sure, on months of patient loving help from his foster mom Nancy – he recovered and found the courage to not just to sit up tall and straight in a room full of strange people and dogs, but to smile for the camera.

We worked a bit. We talked a lot. We made new friends and we plan to do it again.

Of course I couldn’t resist the chance to fit in a bit of training. Here I am trying to get Louie to work for a treat:

Louie is being very polite, but (like nearly all the Montana dogs) he’s telling me he just simply can’t take treats from a stranger. That’s okay. There are a lot of tools in my training bag.

Here I am introducing Louie to the e-collar.  Note how even with my assistant’s nose up his butt, Louie’s more engaged with me in this picture. I’m using very soft pressure with the collar combined with subtle body language and verbal encouragement to communicate with Louie. I was able to show his owner how to accomplish this in just a matter of minutes.

Louie lives on a farm near us and his owner would like to be comfortable giving him more off leash freedom. I suspect that more e-collar training will be in his future.

Chuckie, who earned a reputation as a Horrid Little Dog in Montana shows he’s not so horrid any more. Chuckie *hearts* his e-collar.
———————————————————–
Many thanks to Miare Connolly for the wonderful pictures. And thanks to every one (two- and four-legged) who joined us. We had a wonderful time!

May 17, 2010 at 10:55 pm 7 comments

Links to Make you Think

The Distorted Perspective on euphemasia

sarabeth photography’s photo essay on red lake rosie’s rescue

Why coffee makes you pee

No more pumpkin on store shelves (we still have plenty in the freezer)

A forest of ginormous dog sculptures – WANT, WANT, WANT!

March 29, 2010 at 8:29 pm 3 comments

Distorted Perspective

…you sure are

This excellent video was created by Retriever Rescue of Colorado.

February 21, 2010 at 5:29 pm 12 comments

Linky Goodness

Pet Connection has important information on “a series of veterinary drug recalls that have been going on quietly, without public notice or so much as a letter to America’s veterinarians.” Apparently dangerous problems with two different drugs manufactured by Teva (ketamine and butorphanol – marketed under several different brand names) were discovered months before a public recall was issued. Go read the post. If theres’ any chance that your pet is going to be tranquilized or anesthetized, you need this information.

YesBiscuit posts an excellent summary of places to donate to help earthquake victims in Haiti.

Lassie, Get Help presents a most excellent summary on The Trouble with Temperament Tests.

There are updates on the Murder Hollow Basset case from Terrierman and NeverYetMelted, again presenting wildly different viewpoints. I don’t see corroboration in any new stories that, as Terrierman alleges, the judge expressed opinions of any type regarding the conditions at Ms. Willard’s kennel. He’s simply requiring her to obey the law – as he should. Even though many would like us to see laws like most of those written regarding animal care as black and white issues – they aren’t. The most astute commentary on the case I’ve seen is still YesBiscuit’s posts on confessions of a dog abuser and the number’s game. Go – read them, and be sure to read the comments from ‘abusers’.

FWIW I’m still convinced that, as usual, the truth lies in that boundless gray area where all life outside the world of propaganda and hyperbole exists.

January 14, 2010 at 1:46 am 8 comments

Charlie’s Angels

Charlie and I took a field trip last week.  We went to see a veterinarian whose specialty is orthopedic surgery.

Charlie has had a noticeable limp since he arrived here.  He avoids putting weight on his right leg, his knees turn out in an odd way, and he can only get up on the furniture if we help him.  I waited to take him in to get it looked at for a couple of reasons.  First, he was a snarky, stressed-out little snot and I wanted to wait until he’d progressed to a point where the visit would be only moderately stressful for him and the vet; and second because I had a nagging suspicion that the help Charlie needed would be more than either NESR or I could afford right now.

Last week I knew we were both ready to make the trip — and now I have good news, bad news and more good news to report.

Good news:  Charlie stayed remarkably calm for more than an hour while he was in a strange place surrounded by strange people who did strange things to him.  It was a bit of a hike to the clinic — the kind of drive that would have provoked a frantic, scrabbling, whining, puking reaction in him a couple of months ago — but today Charlie and Audie rode together without incident.  The clinic staff didn’t coo or gush over Charlie (he hates that), and he and I both appreciated the professional, matter-of-fact way this clinic operated.   I stayed with Charlie and held him during the exam.  While I’m sure it was painful, he took it like a trooper and we didn’t need to muzzle him.

Bad news:  Charlie has a grade four luxating patella on the right and a grade two on the left.   The right knee isn’t just painful, if it isn’t repaired soon the misalignment will damage his knee and hip.  The left knee, while not as severely affected as the right, also needs to be repaired.  Net cost – about $3,500.

Good news:  Not only has the surgeon offered to give us a discount — but in a stroke of wild, wonderful, good fortune — an anonymous benefactor (or benefactors) has volunteered to pay for Charlie’s surgery.

This wonderful, beautiful, unselfish, anonymous gift was given in the true spirit of Christmas.  And we will always be grateful.

I’ll call to schedule surgery on Charlie’s right knee this week.  The goal is to stagger his surgery and mine by a couple of weeks to reduce the level of inconvenience involved.   One armed handler and three-legged dog, Charlie and I will rest, heal and work on physical therapy together this winter.   Audie will go back to being my service dog, and Zip will sulk because we’re not focusing on her needs (throw!)

By summer both of Charlie’s knees should be healed.  According to the orthopedic vet, when both of a dog’s knees are damaged as badly as Charlie’s are, repairing them has an almost immediate positive effect on behavior problems like shyness, reactivity and aggression.  So this surgery should help heal his soul along with his body.

Thanks to Charlie’s Angels a truly wonderful little dog who was once tossed out like a piece of trash gets a chance to move on to the kind of life and home he deserves.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts —

Next winter Charlie will be leaping through the snow - at his forever home

December 21, 2009 at 9:20 pm 19 comments

Hannibal Chuckter

Charlie had his first veterinary appointment today.  While he will cheerfully allow me to handle him any way I like, being handled by strangers is still a completely different story.  So I brought him in by himself (I usually bring the dogs in as a pack, as they’re all very easy to handle).  And I brought a muzzle.

The spectre of young Charlie wearing this lovely bit of apparel, along with the blinkless stare and completely even, 60 bpm pulse rate he maintained throughout the examination earned him the charming new nickname.

I’ll admit that the little shit looked astonishingly evil, even to me.  When I took him back out to the van I left the muzzle on until I got him into the crate.  Once he was safely inside, I slipped the muzzle off and shut the crate door in a single swift move (I may be a gimp, but I can still move pretty darn quickly when I need to).  Once the door was closed, I was surprised – and quite pleased – to see a soft, happy, wiggly puppy on the other side.  I opened the door back up and the vicious killer my happy puppy greeted me with a wagging tail and a flurry of soft, sloppy kisses.

I am so glad I spent all that time getting him used to wearing the muzzle.

Once we returned home, Charlie released his stress by viciously attacking wrestling with Audie.

November 19, 2009 at 11:17 pm 5 comments

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