Thursday, November 28, 2013


It's Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and while it seems a bit cliche, I'm going to take a moment to be grateful for all I have... especially these two little creatures:

Maisy has been my rock this year, carrying me through some hard times. I almost lost her in September, so I am also so grateful for all of you who donated to her vet bills. I'm also thankful to have Pyg. We don't know each other very well yet, but we do love each other. I feel so fortunate to have found him. Finally, as always, I am grateful for the friends who've become my family. Sara, Laura, Ryan and Lauren, Megan, Elizabeth, Margaret, Nicky, and Cesar. I'm so fortunate.

So, here's to you and yours. May you always have a furry face and the love of friends and family surrounding you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pyg's Personality

It's been about a month since Pyg came into our life. That really isn't very long, but he's fit into our lives so seamlessly that it feels like he's been here forever. I cannot begin to express how much I love him and how happy I am that fate brought us together.

I knew going into it that foster dogs/newly adopted dogs often take several weeks or months to really settle in and express their true personalities. I definitely saw glimmers of who Pyg is early on, but it's been fun to watch him blossom.

Here's what I know about Pyg so far:

He's playful. Perhaps this is just youthful exuberance, but Pyggy loves playing. Whether it's with another dog or by himself, Pyg has a cheerful attitude. Maisy still adores playing with him. I see her initiating play with him at least once every day, sometimes more. For her part, she's getting less awkward. At first, she was convinced that humping him was the best invitation to play ever, but now she's doing more appropriate play bows.

He can entertain himself. This is awesome, because if Maisy doesn't want to play and he does, he's perfectly content to go off by himself with a toy. His favorites are long floppy toys that he can shake and kill. He's not much into dissecting them, which is fine with me. He also likes to pick up Kongs and throw them in the air, and oddly, empty cat food cans.

He has an off-switch. Pyg is also quite happy to take a nap or chew quietly on something appropriate. He loves his Nylabone (Maisy never touched them as a puppy), and Kongs, too. He's a fan of bully sticks and cow hooves. And when he's tired of chewing, he'll take a nap. I suspect some of this will change as he gets more comfortable. The other day he chewed on a wooden yard stick.

He is less intense than Maisy. Although this will likely change as he continues to settle in, so far he's a bit more subdued. Whereas she will clearly (obnoxiously) make her desires known, he tends to be a bit subtle about it. After two brief scuffles, he's learned not to take food from Maisy, and if anything drops in the kitchen, he'll back away. Poor Pyg; Maisy can be a bit of a bitch. That said, he's not afraid to take advantage of things. The other day he swooped in and stole Maisy's Kong when she left it to tell off the cat.

He's definitely a lap dog. Oh my. Where Maisy really, really doesn't care to be touched (she will cuddle on occasion, but only briefly, and only when it's her idea), Pyg loves nothing more than to be with people. He will curl up on my lap, or worm his way between me and my boyfriend when we're together. He loves to be petted, and we've begun to discover all his favorite rubbing spots. If I stop petting him, he'll rub his face on my hand. It's adorable.

He doesn't like to be left alone. I wouldn't call it separation anxiety, but it's clear that Pyg's had a bit of upheaval in his short life. I've been watching him pretty closely, and he's definitely getting better about it, but if he had a choice, he'd go everywhere with me. On a similar note, he does not like being contained. Four foot x-pens? Yeah, he climbs over them. Baby gates? Knocked over. Wire crates? Escaped from... although I don't know how. It wasn't destroyed. Sigh.

He loves food, and he's an eager learner. I'll post soon about our training, but let's just say that he is quite willing to work for kibble at home, and that I'm having a ton of fun putting some foundations on him. It also inspires me to get back to training with Maisy again. I'd like to get them both into classes sometime soon, but... money. And time.

He's a bit cautious about new dogs. This is perhaps the most interesting thing of all, and I'm curious to see how it'll shake out. He's had a few minor outbursts. Nothing I would call true reactivity, but given his age (10 months) and the fact that reactivity tends to emerge during social maturity (a year and a half or so), I'm being pretty proactive with him. Again, I'll write about this soon, but right now he tends to be a bit wary, though it is lessening as he settles in.

That said, he's a confident little bugger. The other night he was up on a wobble board like he'd done it his whole life. Maisy, who has actually been around wobble boards her whole life, just looked at him like he was crazy. He will jump on counters and climb on uneven surfaces. He is so different from Maisy in this way.

He definitely makes me laugh. Although he's kind of physically ugly (a matter of personal preference, I know), I can't help but call him cute when I watch him running around. He's just... wonderful. I adore this little dog, and I'm so very grateful to everyone who cared for him when he was a pup and made it possible for him to come home.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What is an NQ, Really?

Not an embarrassment, nor an effort to humiliate you,
not even an act of stubborn defiance.
An NQ is a tribute to your dog's willingness to try,
and a demonstration of your own character.

Your dog doesn't know or care that there was no score.
This fact may remain in the record forever
but no one will remember when you accept it with grace.
And few humans do that well without practice.

Though an NQ may damage your pride,
through it you can practice humility,
learn to accept defeat with dignity,
and show courage while facing your fears.

An NQ says that you loved spending time with your dog,
that you viewed her as a worthy teammate,
that you believed in her so much
that you wanted to show the world how wonderful she is.

In a world of multi-tasking and shallow interactions,
an NQ shows that you shared a deep connection,
that you gave each other everything you had,
and that your dog is a cherished friend, not an ego stroke..

Because when the day is done and the trial over,
an NQ proves that you accept your dog, flaws and all,
that you respect her efforts, no matter how poor,

and that it is not winning, but love, that matters.

Author's Note: This post was inspired by both What is a Title, Really?, a lovely take on why we do dog sports, and by some appallingly bad sportsmanship I saw last weekend. It is not intended as criticism of the original. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pyg's Past

It all started when I received Pyg's health records from Secondhand Hounds. The precious few sheets I had- those that told me everything I would ever know about his past- were confusing. Dates didn't line up like I thought they should. Some of the info didn't jive with what I'd been told. His supposed breed mix was different on various documents, as was his birthday. He was a mystery.

My friend Nicky advised me to let it go. I would never know about his past, she told me. Let go now and just enjoy the dog in front of you. Sound advice, I know, but... well, I have amazing google-fu. If something exists on the internet, I can almost always find it. And I knew something had to be out there about Pyg.

There was.

On April 30, 2013, Pyg was “rescued from a very neglectful situation” along with his mother, Belle Belle, and his two siblings, Princess Leia and Wookie. Belle Belle was a three-year-old shih tzu (or maybe a shih tzu mix), and the puppies were about three months old. 

Click to embiggen.

The Animal Rescue Foundation in Mobile, Alabama, who took in the dogs, is a no-kill, foster-based rescue. Belle Belle found a home quickly; she was adopted on June 5, 2013. I don't know when Pyg's brother and sister found homes, but I assume it was relatively quickly. Pyg, though... I cannot for the life of me understand why, but he languished in rescue.

Then again, using this as his Petfinder picture probably didn't help. Such an ugly little face.

He was, by all accounts, sweet and friendly, but there just weren't any takers, even after he went to a large event called Adopt-a-Palooza in October. Of course, I am happy this was the case, as Pyg was meant to be my dog. But for that to happen, he needed to travel cross-country from the gulf coast to the frozen wastelands of Minnesota.

Pyg took a plane from south Alabama to north Alabama thanks to an organization called Pilots N Paws. Then, he had a car trip to Chicago, and then another plane ride. I actually found pictures from that first leg of the trip on facebook, and as I read the comments from the volunteers who had lovingly cared for him over the course of six months, I was touched. These women truly cared about the dogs they had selflessly taken in. They cried as Pyg left on his grand adventure. I am so grateful that they took care of him until Pyg and I could find each other.
Leaving on a jet plane! (Is "jet" an overstatement?)

There is still much that remains a mystery about Pyg's past. I assume that he lived in a rather deprived environment during his critical socialization period, an assumption backed up by his occasional fearful behavior and tendency to get overwhelmed by new situations. But at least now I know the rough outline. Oh, and did I mention I dug up some puppy pictures? Yeah, totally did. 

Ew, kid cooties!

Probably around 12 weeks old.

Awww... he was even an ugly puppy. (PS- please don't be offended when I call him ugly! I know lots of people find the underbite endearing, but... I just don't. However, he has an absolutely ADORABLE personality, and I love him to pieces. I am so very happy I adopted him.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear Maisy

Dear Maisy,

You have been an exemplary dog for nearly 7 years, and I have never before needed to write a letter of warning to you. Even through the worst of your reactivity, we have been able to work out a nice balance of special accomodations and appropriate behavior. However, your behavior today was simply inexcusable.

Now, perhaps you've been feeling a bit ignored lately- after all, we have recently hired a new canine companion who has changed some of the social dynamics here at the Thompson Household. However, I would like to remind you that you did participate in the screening and hiring process of Pyg.

Or, maybe you've heard my comments about how you are "the most expensive dog ever" these past few months. I'd like to point out that this was hyperbole on my part, and not to be taken seriously. In particular, it was not a challenge to which you need to rise.

I will state this as simply as possible: Rat poison is not food. Further, when vomiting is induced following such a dietary indiscretion, the resulting puke is also not food.

Please refrain from eating either of these substances in the future, or I may need to take further action.

CEO of the Thompson Household

Note to blog readers: Maisy is fine. She attempted to eat some rat poison at a neighbor's house this morning. Since I wasn't sure if she actually got some or not, I contacted our vet, who advised us to induce vomiting, which I did. There did not appear to be any poison in her puke, and she's been just fine since then, but still. THIS DOG.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steve White Seminar: Get To or Got To?

 As a crossover trainer, Steve naturally had some interesting things to say about the comparison between primarily reinforcement-based training and mostly punishment-based training. The cool thing is that he’s not dogmatic about it. As a current K9 cop, he really can’t be. If he gets preachy or holier-than-thou, he’s not going to be able to reach anyone.

He even showed us a few hard-to-watch videos of “training.” He always warned us before he did so (there’s no shame in not wanting to watch someone abusing an animal), but felt it was important that we understand the reality of the world out there.

Despite his willingness to watch and discuss punishment-based methods, he believes that it is not suitable as a teaching tool. People and dogs alike do not learn what to do through punishment; by its very definition, it’s suppressive. Because of that, punishment should only be used as an emergency brake. (It’s not clear to me how much or how often he uses punishment, nor under what circumstances.)

For him, using primarily positive methods comes down to a very simple fact: he wants to work with dogs who believe they get to do things instead of dogs who think they’ve got to. In his opinion (and he stressed that there is no science behind this, just anecdotes), with positive training, you have to put a lot of effort in up front, but down the road things get much easier. In contrast, traditional training starts out fairly easy, but over time, the “got to” component makes it so that the trainer has to work harder and harder. In his estimation, “get to” dogs require about 80% less training over the course of their lifetimes than “got to” dogs.

Interestingly, Steve sees training as a continuum of force. At one end, the traditional end, there is a lot of coercion. The dog has to do things, or else. The trainer uses pain to get compliance. At the other end of that continuum, we have the so-called positive training methods. But even this, Steve said, is inherently manipulative. Think about it: we trainers control access to resources, forcing our dogs to earn things they want. This isn’t necessarily bad, but we do need to acknowledge that our actions are not all sunshine and rainbows.

Despite this, I think it’s so much better to create a dog that gets to work in order to earn what he wants than a dog who’s got to work in order to avoid unpleasant things. The former tends to create dogs who are willing, while the latter can create dogs who perform grudgingly. Steve himself experienced that- he crossed over because he was tired of constantly fighting with his canine partners.

I love my “get to” dog. I may be manipulative, but it’s benevolent manipulation, and I somehow doubt that Maisy experiences it as force. But what do you think?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: Merrick Hungry Dog Value Pack Dog Chew Treats from

This month, was kind enough to send us the Merrick Hungry DogValue Pack Dog Chew Treats to review. Now, we've reviewed a lot of things for the blog, and we've liked them all well enough, but here's something I really, truly will buy again.

When the box containing these chewies arrived at my office, my first thought was: whoa. Did they run out of normal-sized boxes? Because that box was big. But no. The bag of treats was big, too. In fact, it was 2 pounds, which is a huge amount of treats for less than ten bucks.

Something that cheap, you expect to get junk. It's not, though. I can't claim to know everything that sells, but everything I've seen on their site is good quality. (I wouldn't feed it to my dogs if it wasn't, free or not.) These chewies, for example, are all U.S.-made. None of that scary crap from China!

The Hungry Dog Value Pack is more like a surprise grab bag than a standardized product. When Merrick has an item that's misshappen or too big or too small to sell as part of their standard line, they instead package up all those things as the Value Pack. Consequently, you get some a random mix of odd-sized/shaped items. The pack we received (only half of which is pictured since the rest was eaten before I thought to get the camera out!) included ears, snouts, tails, hooves, and knuckle bones. The reviews on suggests that others have gotten horns or antlers.

My dogs loved these. Like, gobbled them up and begged for more. So I was surprised when I saw several reviews stating that the Value Pack is only suitable for big dogs, or that the items are too big for smaller guys. I mean, I have small dogs. Maisy is 16 pounds and Pyg is 12 or 13. Neither of them had trouble with anything in the bag.

So, two thumbs and eight paws up from our household!

Disclosure notice or whatever: sent me these for free, but didn't tell me what to say. I just really liked these!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Project Gratitude: Helping Typhoon Haiyan Survivors

In September 2013, Maisy became suddenly and critically ill. Our blog readers rallied around us, providing us with the emotional and financial support needed to get through a very stressful time. Although I will never be able to pay everyone back, I can pay it forward through Project Gratitude. Each month, I donate my time or money to a person or organization that needs it. Please email me at reactivechampion(at)gmail(dot)com if you know someone in need.

This month, I donated money to the UN World Food Programme to help survivors of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The pictures of the aftermath are heartbreaking, and the stories on public radio are just heartwrenching. People are desperate for basic things like food and water; they are dying due the lack of medical care. This, on top of the loss of people's homes and family and friends.

I can't even imagine.

There are a number of great organizations doing relief work in the Philippines, and I hope you will consider donating. There are a number of great organizations doing relief work-  find a charity you'd like to support here!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Dog Named Pyg

While waiting for my foster dog to make his way to Minnesota, I began to think about names. I knew it was foolish to name a dog I’d never met and who was supposed to be only temporarily mine, but deep down, I knew he wouldn’t leave.

His rescue name was Han Solo. Now, as much as I love that character in Star Wars, it’s a bit of a mouthful for a dog. I thought about what I wanted in a name. Something with two syllables, but that can be easily shortened to one. I prefer names that sound in an “ee” sound, but Maisy isn’t very good at verbal discriminations, so I decided to avoid that. I also decided to avoid anything starting with M or with an “ay” sound in it. A shortened version needed to both be distinct from “Maze” and not sound dumb.

I began making a list. Wanting to keep with the Star Wars theme, I initially thought that perhaps Jedi would be a nice name. That was what my boyfriend and I called him during the week we waited for him to arrive, but I also kept a list of names I liked. I’ve since lost the list, but among the names I remember are Pilot, Flyer, Carbon, Ewok, Wicket, Crumpett, and (awful best friend’s contribution) Pollo.

When I picked him up, I took one look at his so-ugly-it’s-cute face and said, “This is not a Jedi.” He did, however, look an awful lot like an Ewok, that helpful alien race in Star Wars, so that’s what I called him… except it didn’t stick.

This is not unusual for me. At the risk of sounding a bit new age-y, my pets often choose their own names. Maisy was just Maisy, right from the start. My ex-husband’s cat originally had a different name, but one day we suddenly started calling him Malcolm. It just fit.

And so, when I started calling the new pup in my house Pyg, I knew that was his name. I originally thought it would be short for “Pygmy,” but it’s not. It’s just Pyg. I’m sure this is not the exciting tale some of you were hoping for- I know there’s been some excitement about learning the logic behind his name- but there you go. His name is Pyg.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Steve White Seminar: Training to the Power of Three

Steve is big on what he calls “Training Triads,” which are teams of three people per dog. This might sound like overkill at first, but he thinks it’s valuable to have so many sets of eyes on the dog. No one person can see everything, and after experiencing training triads, I agree that it’s a valuable experience. All of our working sessions took place in triads, and each person on the team had a specific role.

The trainer is the person who works directly with the dog. They do the hands-on implementation of the training plan. Their most important job is to be fully present. They should not try to talk and train at the same time as multitasking does not truly exist. What we think of as multitasking is actually rapid task switching; most of us are not good enough to do this while working with an animal.

The coach works with the trainer. They help facilitate the design and execution of the training plan. After the training session, they provide either affirming feedback (that looked great!) or adjusting feedback (this time, let’s change this…). The most important thing the coach does is nail down the specifics of the training plan; exactly what the criteria are, the number of reps, the amount of distance, etc.

The observer probably has the hardest job because they work with the coach. They watch the interactions between trainer and coach and help clarify miscommunication. The do not provide any dog training advice except when necessary to prevent a complete train wreck. This is so hard! Before each training session, the coach and observer clearly state to one another what they are about to see the trainer do.

Roles should be traded regularly, and done so in a manner that everyone performs each role in relation to one another. In other words, both of the trainer’s teammates should act as the coach at some point.

Training sessions are structured as pre-brief, be brief, and debrief periods. During the pre-brief, the trainer and coach create the plan and define criteria. The training phase should be brief; Steve recommended a maximum of 60 seconds or five reps, etc. During the debrief, the coach and trainer discuss if the plan worked, and how to change things for the next rep. This naturally leads into the next pre-brief.

Before we ever brought our dogs out, Steve insisted that we work on our mechanical skills. During the first round of doing the triad, I worked on treat delivery in heel position. My teammates refined hand signals and heeling footwork. Only after we had done this were we allowed to bring our dogs out to train. It really made a difference.

In fact, I was so impressed with this that I’ve decided to change the way I teach Growl Class (reactive dog class). Currently, the class is structured so that the first week is held with people only- no dogs. We do a LOT of talking, and while I think there is a lot of value in that, I think we could use that time better. Two things that I see my students struggling with, especially during the first week with dogs, is mat relaxation with slow treats and the humans continuing to breathe! Although we manage things well, the dogs are amped up the first week, which makes the humans tense.

Each week, we have people come in and set up their stations first, and then bring in their dogs. I’m thinking that it might be nice to have a little human-session before dogs come in (weather permitting, of course). Otherwise, the use of crates or second handlers might be helpful… it will be interesting to play with these concepts and see if they help my students be more successful sooner.

Do you use training partners? How have you done it? What about practicing mechanical skills separately? Is that something you’ve done? I’d love to hear about your experiences with either of these things.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Search for Pet Insurance

I was hesitant to adopt my foster dog because of the timing. Well, that, and money. Let’s be honest: Maisy’s vet bills in September alone topped $7000, an amount that would have been out of my reach had you guys not helped me. Your donations made it possible for me to pay for her care. Even so, things have been tight, so getting another dog… well, not only did it feel irresponsible fiscally, but I was also concerned ya’ll would think I was taking advantage of your kindness, or that you’d think I didn’t really need the help.

(Ed. Note: In the time between when I wrote this and when it got posted- often a delay because I don't have internet service at home and have to go to the library, and because I schedule several posts at once- someone did indeed raise this concern. Please know that I examined my finances very closely before I even agreed to foster. Although $7000 in one go was not affordable, the day to day expenses of a second dog is with a few modifications to my budget.)

Regardless of whether or not it was a good idea, Pyg is here to stay. With that decision made, I decided that I needed to protect myself from huge vet bills again in the future. I needed pet insurance. Getting it for Maisy is pointless; she has a pre-existing condition on practically every body system there is. But Pyg doesn’t.

I started my search by asking ya’ll on Facebook which company you use. I got four answers: Trupanion, Healthy Paws, Embrace, and PetPlan. I called around for quotes, and quickly got overwhelmed. Deductibles, limits, exclusions, co-insurance, on and on.

I did some internet research to learn about my options. I decided there were a few things I absolutely wanted: a plan that covered the vet exam fee (some don’t, surprisingly enough, and that was a pretty big portion of Maisy’s care!), prescription drugs, payment based on the actual vet bill, not a schedule, and specialist consults (including a veterinary behaviorist, which I sincerely hope I do not need). I also looked at whether the deductible was per year or per incident, what the annual and lifetime maxes were, and whether or not complementary/alternative approaches (including PT/rehab) were covered.

I chose PetPlan, largely because the premium vs. benefit schedule worked out best in my favor. Of course, the next step was to choose my coverage level. I chose the Gold Plan, which has the highest annual coverage (it covers up to $22,000/year). Then, because I’m a dork who loves charts, I used the calculator on their website to figure out how much of the bill would be covered if the bill was $500, $1000, or $5000 and based on the size of the deductible ($50, $100, or $200) and the reimbursement rate (80%, 90%, or 100%). Here, maybe this will help explain what I mean:

Next, I got a quote for each of those combinations. They ranged from about $18/mo to $43/mo. I didn’t want to pay more than $20 to $25/mo, which narrowed my options quite a bit. Then I looked at that first chart and decided that at that price range, I would get the best coverage with a $200 deductible with a 100% reimbursement rate. This is honestly not what I was expecting to choose, so I’m glad that I made the chart!

Now, is this the right coverage level and premium amount for you? I don’t know. I also don’t know if this is the right company for you either, but I’m hoping that by sharing my decision making process, you will be able to make decisions about what you need and want.

Finally, I just want to say that I loved working with Fabrice over at PetPlan. I asked him a ton of questions, and took up a lot of his time. He was patient with me, and explained everything in great detail. I can honestly say that the customer service I received from was amazing. (If you decide to use PetPlan, you should call him. He’s extension 2411.) And no, PetPlan did not pay me to say this. I just had a great experience.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

When Maisy Met Pyggy

I picked up Pyg- my first foster dog (and first foster fail)- from the rescue late in the afternoon on Monday, October 28. I loved him from the moment I set eyes on him. He was trotting around the rescue office with another dog. I said hi to him, and he was happy to come over for some treats. He seemed calm and friendly, and given what had happened to him in his short life, I was impressed.

Pyg came to me through Second Hand Hounds, a rescue based here in the Twin Cities metro. They got Pyg from a (high-kill?) shelter in Mobile, AL. They sent his vet records with him, which indicated his birth date as January 31, 2013, making him 9 months old. Those records had him down as a cairn terrier/yorkie mix, but I have no idea if that was a “best guess” or if they knew something. Second Hand Hounds thought he might be a yorkie/shih tzu mix. Personally, I think he’s a Midwest Muppet Dog, like Maisy. Damned if I know what he was doing down south.

His records showed that he was neutered at 15 weeks old. I was told this meant he’d been adopted, as the shelter doesn’t spay/neuter until the dog has found a home. Makes sense; why subject a dog to a surgical procedure or waste veterinary resources for a dog who will be euthanized?

At some point in the not-so-distant past, Pyg was returned to the shelter. We don’t know why. I think this question will plague me forever, as I simply cannot figure out why anyone would give him up. He’s wonderful, and someone had obviously done some training with him in the past.

At any rate, Pyg became part of the Second Hand Hounds family, so on the Saturday before I met him, he got on a small commuter airplane and flew from the southern part of Alabama to the northern part. He then got in the car and was driven up to Chicago. I don’t know where he stayed on Saturday night; somewhere along the way, I suppose. I know he spent Sunday night in Chicago, and that he took a second small plane from Chicago to a (small) local airport. I met him a few hours later, put him into one more car, and took him home.

Because I knew that I wanted Pyg to be my dog, and not just my foster dog, I created a plan for introducing him into the household that would give us the best chance for harmonious relationships. The first step was to leave him in the car while I went inside to shut Maisy, my cat Nicky, and my doggie houseguest Maus into separate rooms. After a quick potty break, I brought Pyg up and let him explore his new digs.

I ended up integrating the animals much quicker than I had anticipated. Once he had the lay of the land, I put Maisy behind a baby gate so they could see each other. Both were clearly interested in the other, and so after an hour or so, I let them meet. (I later did the same thing for the cat- who was indifferent- and Maus, who has a rotating foster in his home and therefore was all like “yeah, whatever.”)

Not just interested in each other, but Pyg and Maisy adore one another. Maisy has solicited play from Pyg on numerous occasions, including that first night. It is pretty rare for her to want to play with another dog- she tends to be a parallel-player instead. If she plays with another dog, it’s usually chase games. With Pyg, though, she will wrestle, something that she’s done like once or twice before. Uninterested in tug games, she’s begun to parade around with toys, try to lure Pyg into grabbing an end of it. It’s adorable.

Pyg was interested in Nicky-cat, but for the most part has respected his space. Nicky just ignores Pyg, although if he gets too close and/or obnoxious, Pyg will get a swipe across the face from a fully-clawed paw. This doesn’t happen too often, because I can usually call Pyg away (seriously… this dog is amazing).

He loves to train, and will work for his meals. He’s got a good grasp on impulse control, and knows to sit when he wants something. He’s potty trained, especially if I take him out on a schedule, but he has asked to go out a few times.

He’s incredibly personable. He’s very sweet and a big cuddler. This is a nice switch from Maisy, who has never been big on being touched. She does now curl up near me, but only on her terms. Pyg just wants to be with people (and especially me). He also makes me laugh and laugh. He’s just so dang cute with his puppy antics. For example, the first night he was with me, he found an empty cat food can and decided it was the best toy ever.

Oh, and did I mention that The Pyg has an off-switch? Yeah, it’s bizarre. Not only can he occupy himself by finding an (appropriate) chew item like a Kong or a Nylabone, but he will also just settle down and take naps, too. On Saturday, Pyg was napping on the couch, and Maisy jumped up to join him. So adorable.

All in all, Pyg is an awesome little dog, and I knew I couldn’t let him slip through my fingers. In the week and change that Pyg has lived in my home, he’s begun to shine. Of course, I know that when dogs arrive in new homes it can take weeks or even months for their full personalities to express themselves, so I’m excited to get to know him better.

He’s not perfect, though. There are a few little things that may be issues, or they may not be. Only time will tell. For now, I’m working on mitigating or preventing those things. I’ll tell you about them soon. In the meantime, have some bonus videos. Both are from Pyg's first night with me.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Deal Breakers and Desires

In the week leading up to Pyg’s arrival, knowing that I was hoping to foster fail, I made a list of things I really hoped he had/was, as well as a list of things I just didn’t want. I’m really glad I did, because once he arrived, all those pesky hormones kicked in and decided I didn’t care what he was like. I wanted him.

Doggie Deal Breakers
First up: a list of things that would mean no way, no how. I had thought about this, but friend Sara encouraged me to be specific so I went back and redid my list. Then I asked my Facebook friends what would be on their list, which was a good idea. They said things that I hadn’t thought of, but that I didn’t want in a dog. They also listed a few things that, while I didn’t exactly want to deal with, I would be okay with.

Here’s my list:

Cat Aggression
My cat is 13 years old. He has arthritis, and has had some bladder stones and blockages. And, frankly, he was here first. Cat aggression is a no-go in my household. I decided that it was okay if the dog was interested in the cat, but he couldn’t be obsessed. In other words, I needed to be able to redirect him to something else. Cat chasing would not be tolerated. And while I expected that my cat might hide for a day or two, if he was still hiding after a week or two, that would be a deal breaker.

Maisy-Directed Aggression
You’ll notice this doesn’t say “dog aggression,” and for good reason: I’m actually okay with some dog aggression (ie, reactivity). Occasional snarks and disagreements are fine, but they should be mild and rare, and if Maisy is looking bothered by him, I should be able to redirect him. I am also not willing to crate and rotate. My dogs need to get along without excessive management. Some management, yes (eating in separate areas, for example), but not to the point that only one dog can be out at a time.

Human Aggression 
Again, a bit of reactivity is okay; growl to your heart’s content, little dog. But I do not want a dog that bites people unless seriously provoked. Teeth on skin while pissed off or scared is just not something I want to do. I also wrote that play biting, while not aggression, is acceptable as long as there is some decent bite inhibition with it.

Untreated, Chronic, or Expensive Medical Conditions
I just don’t have the money right now. Of course, emergencies can happen (see: September), making this about the dumbest time ever to adopt another dog, but… yeah. Trying to stack the deck in my favor, you know? I included clinical anxiety here because I just can’t afford to see a vet behaviorist right now. This also includes awful structure. I don’t need a conformation-worthy dog, but I do need one that’s going to be more-or-less sound. This kind of goes back to the “money is tight” thing. Maisy needs regular and ongoing chiropractic and massage to stay sound, and I just do not want to do that again. Plus, I want a hiking buddy, because I think Maisy’s backpacking trips may be limited…

Separation Anxiety
I work full-time. I live in a shared space. I just cannot accommodate a dog who can’t be alone. Not only is it unfair to a dog to be so anxious that he vocalizes all day, but it’s also unfair to my downstairs neighbors. I decided that I was okay with some mild separation distress as long as it improved within a week or two. I also decided the dog needed to be able to be confined (x-pen, bathroom, crate, whatever) without destroying things.

Desires and Dreams
I also made a list of things that I really hoped my new dog would have. Not that the foster dog would have to have any/all of these, but hey. It would sweeten the pot. This list is long, but not as detailed:

Has Easily Identified Motivators
Ideally, the dog would be willing to work for both food and toys, and specifically a tug toy.

Pre-Installed Off-Switch
HAHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHHAHAHAHAAHAH. The foster dog I was waiting for was an adolescent terrier-mix. My friends and I had a good laugh at this one.

I wasn’t really sure what this meant, other than the fact that I wanted a dog with tons of personality and able to make me laugh.

No Reactivity
I could deal with it, but I’d prefer not to.

Should Be Friendly, But Not Obnoxiously So
Honestly, friendly with other people and dogs is fine, but not to the point of losing-his-damn-mind, you know?

Low Grooming Needs
A bath once in awhile, nail clipping, and brushing him once a month or so is fine. Daily grooming and/or needing to go to a professional groomer regularly is not. Yes, this means he will probably shed. Yes, I’m perfectly fine with this.

Okay in the Car
Excessive fear just makes it hard to take a dog somewhere. And I like to go places with my dog.

Some independence is okay and even desirable, but dangit, I want a dog who is interested in working with me (or at least, working me for my cookies). Maisy is insanely biddable and I love it.

Obviously Pyg passed the test, but I wasn’t sure he would at first… Soon I’ll tell you about who he is and how he measured up.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Happy Gotcha Day, Pyg!

It's official: we foster failed! I signed the paperwork tonight. Pyg has found his forever home.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Steve White Seminar: The J-Curve of Change

I absolutely loved the slide Steve showed us of the J-Curve of Change. So much so that even though it was only one, single powerpoint slide, I’m making it into an entire post. It is not an idea unique to Steve; a quick google search will show it being used to explain everything from the economy to political change to psychological progress. Still, it’s an amazing way to explain dog training skills of both the people and the dogs.

Simply put, the J-Curve of Change shows that any time there is a change, there is a natural dip in progress. Here’s a great graphic I found on this website (and then modified slightly to remove confusing bits) that helps illustrate the concept:

Before you start something new, such as a person crossing over to more positive methods, there is a certain level of mastery. You might be getting results you like using a prong collar. When you step out of your comfort zone to try something new- in this case, clicker training- there is often a decline in performance. Steve attributes this to the intense concentration needed to learn new skills. All that thinking often makes it hard to be successful.

Since we expect that progress will go up, not down, we often give up at the deepest part of the J-Curve. This happens either because we don’t believe in the method, or because we begin to assign harmful labels to ourselves or the process (“I’m stupid,” for example). This really is unfortunate as recovery and improvement will happen if the new procedure is better and if we stick with it. Steve recommended that we have a coach that can help us maintain faith in the change and encourage us to keep moving forward.

I definitely think this is something I see with my students who are working on reactivity. Not only is the dog learning new skills, but the handler is, too. I sometimes hear people say in the first few weeks of class that their dog is getting worse. Of course, by the end of the class, they have both made so much progress! I’m really excited to have a way to explain this to my students.

I also really appreciate that Steve showed us the J-Curve of Change before we started working dogs. “Failing” was seen not only as useful information, but also as an expected part of the seminar! Well, then! No pressure on us to be shining stars. I really felt like I could learn without worrying about judgment.

But what do you think of the J-Curve of Change? Is it something you’ve seen in your life, either in dog training or not? I’d love to hear some examples of how others have experienced it!