Sunday, September 29, 2013

Denise Fenzi Seminar: Ring Ready

A lot of people think that if their dog knows all the exercises, he’s ready to compete. Denise would argue that not only is this not true, but also that you’ve failed to prepare him for the most important part: dealing with the stress inevitable in a new environment. I touched on this a little in my last seminar post, but today let’s explore this idea just a little more.

To recap, to be successful in a trial environment, your dog should either be confident with chaos going on around you or he should be willing to take your word for it when you tell him he’s safe. Either way, you’re going to have to do some work, whether that’s doing planned exposure to a trial site or developing a trusting relationship. The latter requires that you actually step up and protect your dog, both at trials and in the rest of his life.

But the environment isn’t the only stress inherent in competition. For most dogs, the sudden cessation of classic rewards (food, toys, etc.) is frustrating. Dogs who think the lack of reward means they’re wrong can start to worry. Others will become demotivated and not see the point of working that hard. Because of this, you should both build up playful interactions that can be used as a reward in the ring and practice using these during trainings. Your dog needs to be able to work for long periods of time without toys or food.

Another stress is the sudden change in the way you’re acting. This is especially important if you tend to do most of your training alone. Most people act differently by merely having an audience, but you will also go from having your sole focus on your dog to needing to split attention between dog and the judge. At the very least, have an “invisible judge” in training with you. Look at and listen to the invisible judge. Take directions from the invisible judge. Talk out loud. Bonus points if you can play trial sounds while training. (You can totally get these free, by the way. Most smart phones will allow you to record and playback audio. Set your phone down at a trial and let it run for ten minutes or so.)

You will also need to find a way to recreate stress in yourself so that your dog learns that it’s no big deal if you tense up. I’ve heard many suggestions for this over the years, but I liked Denise’s: get a metronome (again, smart phones are awesome; download a free app), set it for between 125-135 beats per minute, and heel to that beat. This will force you to concentrate on something external, which will replicate that face you’re going to be making when listening for a judge to call instructions during a trial.

Finally, teach your dog to learn how to wait. Most people never do this in training, but dude. We do it all the time at trials. You wait for your turn. You wait for runoffs. You wait for awards. It’s helpful to practice by watching another team, but if you train alone, simply practice standing around for 5 or so minutes at a time. Denise recommended using “squishing” during this time. She recently wrote about this on her blog far better than I could, so go read about it here

Once your dog knows how to wait, how to work for long periods without food or toys, is comfortable with you acting weird, and trusts that you’ll protect him, then you can consider competing. What do you do to prepare your dog for the ring? Do you have other suggestions? Please let us know in the comments!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Maisy's Home! (Again)

On Wednesday afternoon, we got the results of Maisy's spinal tap and adjusted her medications. One of the things we did was increase her steroid dose. I was warned that one of the side effects would be an increased need to urinate, so when she asked to go out frequently on Thursday morning, I didn't think much of it. But on Thursday afternoon, we noticed that she wasn't actually going every time she squatted. Then she started to squat every thirty seconds, no matter where she was (including in the house, and she is very well housetrained).

I took her to the ER, where an x-ray showed that her bladder was huge, indicating a blockage. They weren't sure what was blocking her since they didn't see any stones, but did a therapeutic cysto (they stuck a needle through her abdomen and into her bladder in order to remove the urine that way). Yesterday they did an abdominal ultrasound and found several small and one large stone (approximately 7mm, which is about the size of a pinky fingernail, I think).

A lithotripsy was performed. This is a non-surgical procedure where they put a small video camera up her vagina and then used a laser to break up the stones. Then they did a combination of stone basketing (not really sure what this is- Dr. Google isn't very helpful!) and urohydropropulsion (a urinary flushing technique) to remove the smaller bits.

Lab analysis showed that the stones were struvite, which is the best kind a dog can have. Struvites are usually the result of an infection, especially staph infections. As you may remember, Maisy was found to have a UTI caused by staph when she was in the ICU a few weeks ago.

Originally, they planned to keep Maisy overnight, but she recovered from the anesthesia quickly and they felt she would be “more comfortable” at home. When I picked her up, I found out what that meant- apparently any time someone came near her, she would snap at them. She was brought out to me in an e-collar with bright red stickers on it that said “CAUTION: MAY BITE.” Poor Maisy. I really don't blame her (I would feel bitey, too!). Oddly, on her discharge paperwork, they said “She is a very sweet girl and we really enjoyed working with her.” Ha.

The plan going forward: She will continue the steroid treatment for the inflammatory disease of her spinal cord, and we're adding in antibiotics for a couple weeks and pain meds as needed. She was also sent home on a prescription diet and orders to follow it strictly. Maybe it was just trigger stacking, but this was the first time I actually cried throughout all of Maisy's health woes this month. And oh, how I sobbed on the phone with friends. I didn't realize how important  it is to me to be able to share junk food with her.

Anyway, Maisy is home and doing well, or at least, as well as she can considering the circumstances. She's very, very tired, but when she's awake she's happy and playful. I am so glad she's here with me. I have no idea what the future looks like, and only a small idea of how it might change, but she's here, and for that I am grateful.

Finally, I just wanted to answer some of the questions I've been getting:

Is this related to the inflammatory disease of her spinal cord?
It's highly unlikely. More than likely, it's just some seriously bad luck. The thing is, Maisy has had recurrent UTIs her entire life (including a previous scare a few years back), so this was bound to happen at some point.

Why didn't they catch this when she was in the ICU before?
I don't know, but I don't think it's because they missed something. They did all the diagnostics they should have. She had two UAs/UCs, and a ton of x-rays. The x-rays she had on Thursday night didn't show the stones, either.

Have you considered a raw diet/supplements?
Maisy was actually on a raw diet before all this started and we used supplements (cranberry, fish oil, and probiotics, mostly, although we'd run out a few months back and I hadn't gotten around to starting them again because money has been tight). When things settle down in a few months (and I have the money again), I'm going to schedule an appointment with the nutritionist at the U to discuss diet again. Although I believe in the prescription diets, I also hate them. I don't think there's any actual meat in the one Maisy's on.

Speaking of money...
Have I mentioned how grateful I am for all of you? To date, I have spent $6,957.77 on Maisy's health care this month alone. There will be more bills to come (neither issue is resolved at this point), but hopefully they will be smaller. I have received $4,444.03 in donations, so I only have to pay $2,513.74 out of pocket. This is still more than what's in my emergency savings, so I'm in the market for a third job. Even so, I cannot even express how thankful I am for everyone who has supported Maisy and I in the past month. I'm not sure what I would have done without your financial assistance.

If you're local, please consider signing up for one of my reactive dog classes to help me pay the bills! I also do private lessons. Email me for more info about either one. I have a class starting next Friday for easily distracted sport dogs and/or mildly reactive dogs that isn't full yet!

I also make and sell quilts and weighted blankets. The weighted blankets are great for people with sensory processing disorder (also autism, insomnia, anxiety, etc.). The shipping for quilts isn't bad, but for the weighted blankets, it gets expensive. Email me for info and pricing. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Spinal Tap Results

The results of Maisy's spinal tap came back today and... I don't know. It's not bad news, really, but it's not exactly good news, either.

Here's the deal: They tested the cerebral spinal fluid for tick borne diseases and ran a full infectious disease panel (that included things like fungal infections or protozoa). These were negative, meaning that we don't definitively know what caused the inflammation of the spinal cord.

But we do have a guess based on her current condition. Overall, Maisy is doing well. She's bright, perky, eating well, and wants to play. She's been friendly and outgoing with people, though a little reserved around other dogs. I think this is related to low-grade pain that she continues to have- or at least, that I think she has. She moves stiffly and sometimes just looks like she hurts. She has very little stamina; if we go more than four or five blocks, I have to carry her home from our walks. And if she does get this tired, her back end becomes weak and/or uncoordinated. She's tripping a lot more, especially when going up steps.

So, when we look at this picture, the vet believes that Maisy's illness is probably immune mediated. I only kind of understand what this means. I started to google it, but the wiki article talked about increased morbidity and mortality, so I backed the hell out of that window. I do know that the vet said arthritis can be an example of an immune mediated disease. It also means that Maisy's illness is likely going to be a long-term, chronic problem. I spoke with a friend of mine that's a vet, and she said that typically immune mediated diseases can go into remission, but aren't usually cured.

Tonight Maisy will start an increased dose of steroids, roughly tripled what she was on before. We will see how this goes over the next week and then will reassess the treatment plan. The goal is to taper off the drugs, but she may need to be on some dose of steroids for the rest of her life. The good news is that a little known (to me, anyway) side-effect of steroids is that it can actually improve behavior, and so far, Maisy seems to be one of these dogs. (Seriously, I had to drag her away from toddlers the other day.) Of course, they can also cause recurrent UTIs, an issue Maisy already struggles with.

I'm trying not to freak out about the future implications, like whether or not she'll be my hiking buddy again. For the most part, our day-to-day lives should be relatively unchanged (though perhaps with fewer, shorter walks), and I am grateful for that. Right now, I'm trying very hard to just take things one day at a time, and enjoy the present moment with her as much as possible. Since I tend to be a worrier, this is pretty difficult for me, but it's also probably very good for me.

I'll keep you all updated on how Maisy is doing on the steroids...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Things You Miss

When Maisy was in the ICU, I never once wondered if we'd ever compete in another dog show. I didn't think about the ribbons and the titles. Surprisingly, I only briefly questioned if we'd be able to go hiking again.

Pillow hog.
No, what I missed was her glorious naughtiness.

I missed the way she hogs all the pillows at night. I missed the way she will nose open the sock drawer in order to steal her favorite ones. I missed the way she runs circles around my feet in the morning, nipping at my calves if I don't move fast enough.

I couldn't eat without being overcome by sadness that no one was there to beg for food. My morning routine felt short and weird because I didn't need to spend ten minutes waiting for someone to find just the right spot to pee. When friends came to visit, it felt bizarre that there was no one dancing at my feet, excited to see who was on the other side of the door.

After she got home, I celebrated the smallest things. Stealing an apple out of my hand while I was eating it. Waking up with a tennis ball in my bed. Chasing a squirrel down the block.

The things you miss are now what you expect. Yes, sometimes Maisy annoys me, but lately, these obnoxious acts are nothing short of a miracle. I'm so thankful to have my (rotten) dog home and (mostly) recovered.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Denise Fenzi Seminar: Stress and Your Competition Dog

Be a safe person. (It helps to have more than one safe person!)
Last December, Denise Fenzi came to town. Ya’ll know I love this woman’s training style, right? And that she’s a pretty cool person on top of that? Yeah. You should definitely go to a Fenzi seminar if you get the chance. This was actually my second time seeing Denise, and even though the topics were the same, I still got a ton out of it.

My favorite bits were when she talked about stress in competition dogs. Of course, this is a topic near and dear to my heart because Maisy is a nervy little thing in competition venues. I have accepted the fact that I will probably never achieve the same level of success in the ring as Denise; I am simply not interested enough to train to those standards. Still, I enjoy a few weekends in the ring every year, so I definitely appreciated Denise’s wisdom. Today I’m going to share it with you.

First and foremost, from the moment you bring your dog home, you need to be a safe and trustworthy person. I think we all want to be this person for our dogs, but we don’t think through how our actions might undermine our goal. If we want our dogs to know that we will protect them, we need to actually, you know, protect them. They need to learn that we won’t abandon them.

This starts when we are socializing a new puppy. Denise explained that socialization is about exposure and desensitization to new things. It does not necessarily mean interaction. In fact, forcing a puppy to interact with something he’s wary of is not only likely to make him more nervous around that thing, it’s also going to teach him that you can’t be trusted to keep him safe. In fact, Denise prefers her performance dogs to treat strangers more like statues: they are boring objects that aren’t worth interacting with.

As much as possible, you should be very clear in your expectations. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what was expected of you, you’ll understand why. It’s stressful to have to guess about how you should be acting. It’s even worse when the rules seem to be inconsistent or constantly changing. I once left a job because my boss was so unclear! But our dogs don’t have that option.

If your dog starts throwing behaviors at you (outside a shaping session where he’s supposed to!) consider if you’re being unclear. Denise finds that dogs who do this are often frustrated and don’t know what you want, so they just start cycling through things they know, hoping to find some clarity.

Keep in mind that softer dogs are more sensitive to pressure, both physical and social. While some dogs enjoy rough-and-tumble interaction, others prefer that you interact with them in a quieter manner. This will change the way you reward your dog both in and out of the ring, as well as how train him. For example, during heeling, turning to the left (towards your dog) will be more demotivating for a softer dog as it puts pressure on him. Likewise, be careful about how and when you lean over him or otherwise get in his space.

Clear expectations are important for training, but also for trialing. Even more important than teaching your dog the behaviors needed for competition, you need to teach him what to expect at a show site. Dogs that can take your word for it if you say it’s safe will be able to focus on you, not the environment. Make sure that you prevent other dogs or people from visiting him unnecessarily at a trail. Teach him how to enter the ring, what to expect from the stewards and judge, and so on.

Denise actually had a ton more to say about trial preparation, and we’ll talk more about that in my next recap of her seminar. For now, though, I’d love to hear what you do for your stressy competition dog.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The CPDT-KA Exam Experience

On Monday, September 9th, two big things happened in my life. First, and most significantly, Maisy was admitted to the ICU at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. Because of this, the second thing- taking the CPDT-KA exam- went from being the centerpiece of my week to completely unimportant.

I’m honestly glad the exam was scheduled when it was. Maisy seemed unwell Monday morning, but she was not yet critically ill. I left her at my vet’s office for testing while I took the exam, and had complete confidence that she was in good hands. Had the exam been scheduled even a single day later, I likely wouldn’t have taken it at all (it’s harder and/or more expensive to reschedule than you might think).

I can’t tell you much about the exam itself because the Code of Ethics I signed requires that I keep the contents confidential. For the most part, the exam was as I expected: computerized, 250 multiple choice questions, with the content being fairly close to what was listed in the candidate’s handbook.

The exam is computerized, which is nice because you can “flag” questions to review before finishing the exam. I flagged questions that I wasn’t 100% sure about the answer. Because I’m a worry-wart, at the end I used that to estimate my score: about 85%. I reviewed the questions, unflagging the ones I was pretty confident about, and it went up to 91%. So I think (hope!) I passed… but they don’t tell you what a passing score is, and they don't send the results until 4-6 weeks later.

It took me about 1.5 (out of the allowed 4) hours to complete. I really should have used more of my time to review the entire exam instead of just the flagged questions, but my brain was fried. Part of this is because the type on the screen was HUGE and there was no obvious way to change it; while it makes sense that they want to make it accessible to folks with all visual abilities, it was pretty distracting for me and therefore made it harder for me to concentrate. Well, that, and I was concerned about Maisy and wanted to leave so I could call my vet for news (phones aren’t allowed in the examination room).

There were a few questions that I just don’t understand how they fit into the content areas outlined in the handbook. I’m sure they do- the test is pretty rigorously reviewed- but I have no idea HOW. There were a few in the husbandry section that seemed oddly specific for a dog training exam. As expected, there were a couple where there seemed to be more than one correct answer, but there were also one or two where NONE of the answers seemed right.

I wish I had some good advice or tips for those who have yet to take the exam, but I just don’t. I guess if pressed, my advice would be: don’t schedule it for over a meal time (mine was scheduled to go from 10am to 2pm, and I was getting hungry by the end), start studying much further in advance than I did, read the questions and answers thoroughly before answering (just generally a good idea), and relax. It’s just an exam, albeit an expensive one. Trust me, there are FAR more important things in the world. My dog being alive is one of those, and just hours after the exam that was no longer a given in my life.

But Maisy is improving, and there is nothing left for me to do to prepare for the exam. So now I begin the arduous task of waiting… 

If you took the exam, what did you think? Any advice for future test takers? 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Looking Back

A lot of this has been shared on Facebook already, but I need to write about it some more because that's how I deal with stressful stuff. Plus, I wanted to include some of the non-medical happenings and share some pictures.

One week ago yesterday, everything in my world was normal. It was a lazy Sunday spent half-heartedly studying for the CPDT exam when I would have rather been reading a novel, so when my friend Elizabeth invited me over for supper, I gladly accepted. I took Maisy with me even though Eliz has an 18 month old, figuring that Maisy could hang out in a crate if it got too stressful.

It really wasn't. Maisy and Baby O got along wonderfully. In fact, Baby O was more interesting in giving Maisy treats than anything else. Feeding Maisy became a reward for everything else- eating supper, taking a bath, putting on a diaper. First do this, then you can feed Maisy.

We came home, went to bed. Maisy did need to go out in the middle of the night, but considering the sheer amount of junk Baby O had fed Maisy, I wasn't surprised. I did note that she looked a little stiff when we went up the stairs to our apartment, and made a mental note to email her chiropractor to schedule a visit.

Maisy was not in bed with me when I woke up, which is weird. I came out into the living room to find her sitting hunched over, glassy-eyed and panting. She took her medicine, but refused to eat breakfast. I called the vet.

From here, you know the story. In the span of 24 hours, she went from happily playing with a toddler to being admitted to the ICU. That first night, even with IV pain medication, she would cry out in pain every time she was touched. She had a high fever and we didn't know why. Nothing significant came up on spinal or thoracic x-rays, blood work, a urinalysis, or from a neuro consult. She had a spinal tap done, and we finally learned that she has an inflammatory disease of the spinal cord, although we won't know what caused it until the result come back sometime this week.

Those days are a blur in my mind. Visiting hours are pretty limited, but thankfully I have a flexible job and an understanding boss. I saw Maisy twice a day, with regular phone updates in between. The morning after being admitted, she looked better, but just barely. She couldn't settle down until I physically held her in my lap, but it wasn't long until she got up and asked to go back to the ICU. Heart breaking.

That evening, once again I came and brought her to the visiting area. She was restless but also reactive, barking at every noise and movement outside the closed door. I felt awful for her; being sick is bad enough, why did her anxiety have to rear up again? Still, with a lot of coaxing (read: cookies), she was able to lie down with me for a bit. She was even offering me her paw in exchange for food.

On her last day in ICU, I went to visit before she had the spinal tap. Because it was done under general anesthesia, she couldn't have treats. Still, she seemed more settled and curled up with me on the floor. The tech told me that she'd been a bit of an attention-seeker overnight; if the staff were on the other side of the room, she was quiet, but if they were working with an animal in the cages near hers, she'd begin howling. As soon as they came to check on her, she seemed to brighten up and quit vocalizing.

Still, it was clear that it was mom that she wanted. When the vet came in, asking to take her back for a quick test, Maisy refused to leave my side and they had to tug a bit on her leash. When Margaret (Maisy's former vet behaviorist, who works in the same building) came to visit us a bit later, Maisy got up and hid behind me... even though she knows and likes Margaret in other contexts. And when I finally gave her back to the ICU staff, Maisy would not go with them. I had to turn and walk away before she would, and I think that was the hardest thing I've done in awhile.

Maisy was glad to come home. With the antibiotics and steroids, she is making progress each day. I'm actually pretty surprised at how quick her recovery has been. Today- one week from when all this started- she tried to initiate play with a dog friend, has been bringing me her ball, and is just generally acting like herself. She doesn't have her normal stamina and endurance yet, and I expect I'll need to keep her quiet for awhile, but I think she's out of the woods.

Now that I think she's going to have a full (or incredibly close to it) recovery, I'm finally feeling the full impacts of the week's events. I'm finally acknowledging how scared I was. I'm finally feeling the physical effects of so much emotional stress. It was a weekend full of naps and massages and hot baths. And spending time with my dog. I want nothing more that to be with her just one more day; thankfully, it looks like my wish will come true.

I will end today's post in gratitude: I am grateful that Maisy is home and improving. I am grateful that she is acting mostly like herself. I am grateful to the staff at the U who took such good care of my baby dog. I am grateful to all my readers and friends and their friends who made it possible for me to get Maisy the care she needed without having the stress of money over my head. I would have made it work, but I don't know how. It probably would have involved a lot of Ramen and skipped meals. So thank you all for your support and love. I have so much to be grateful for. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review (and Promo Code!): Good Karma Dog Company

I meant to get this post up so much sooner, but between taking the CPDT exam and Maisy’s subsequent health crisis, time has slipped away from me. It’s really too bad, because I LOVE THIS COMPANY.

Okay, so the Good Karma Dog Company recently contacted me to do a review for them. I love free stuff, so naturally I said yes… but then I learned that they are dedicated to all-natural dog treats and eco-friendly toys, two things that are pretty important to me. Add on to that the fact that their Pound for a Poundprogram donates a pound of treats to canine rescue for every pound sold (up to 3% of quarterly revenue), well… this company has some good karma!

Then I received the box from them. Oh my. Not only did I receive the products they had promised, but they also through in a few extras for both Maisy and I. When I commented on that, Deb from Good Karma told me that this is how they package all the boxes that go out to customers. Awesome.

On to the products! Maisy and I reviewed three products. Two were just for her (dude, I am so not chewing on a bully stick and/or cod skins), and one was something that I really liked.

First up, the Barkworthies Junior BullySticks. These bully sticks (always a favorite around our house) are meant for smaller dogs. Maisy snarfed hers right up! It lasted about the same length of time as other bully sticks we’ve used, and I do like that there are no artificial things added to it.

Next, the Polka Dog Bakery Cod SkinTreats. This foot long treat is crunchy and fishy- Maisy’s favorite qualities in a treat! The cods are locally source and made in the USA, which is always good, and I love it when companies use all of an animal’s parts. I mean, if they have to give up their lives for us, we might as well not waste any of it. My only beef (er, fish?) with this product is that it didn’t last very long- a few minutes, tops. Still, Maisy REALLY liked these, so I’d definitely buy them as an occasional treat.

Finally, the Cycle Dog Trail BuddyBowl. This portable bowl is pretty awesome. It’s made from recycled inner tubes, lined with an FDA approved food-grade liner free of BPA’s, phthalates, PVC, and lead, and is lightweight and foldable. You know what all that means? BACKPACKING ACCESSORY!!! It holds 22 fluid ounces and weighs approximately 4 ounces- less than the smaller bowl I used on our trip this spring. Plus, this one will fold up and fit into a pocket or other small space. The bowl did initially have a pretty strong smell, but once I opened it up, the rubber smell dissipated quickly, and it didn’t deter Maisy from using it.

Finally, a word about the Good Karma Dog Company website: it’s insanely well-laid out, pages load quickly, and it does a great job of summarizing each product. I appreciate knowing where each item was made (I don’t buy stuff from China) as well as being able to locate the ingredient list quickly (food allergies suck). They have a lot of 24 hour sales too, so you should totally like them on Facebook.

Bottom line: While yes, I did receive free products from them, my opinions are mine, not theirs. They didn’t require that I say this, but I love the Good Karma Dog Company! If you’d like to try them out, they’ve graciously agreed to offer ya’ll a 20% discount for the month of September. Just enter the code champblog20% at checkout.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Project Gratitude

If you are reading this, thank you. You have made a difference in my life and in Maisy’s this week. As you all know, Maisy spent 48 hours in the ICU this week due to an inflammatory disease of the spinal cord. We still don’t know what caused it (test results will be back next week), and she is still very sick, but she is well enough to be home.

And that’s because of you.

Maisy and I have had so much support this week, I am completely overwhelmed with gratitude. True story: when I told my therapist about what you guys did, she cried. And then asked for permission to share our story with her husband and colleagues.

In just over 24 hours, you all donated enough money to cover her medical bills. I cannot even tell you how much of a blessing this has been. As a social worker, I live paycheck to paycheck, and while I have an emergency savings account, it was not big enough to cover the estimate I was given when Maisy was admitted. It was wonderful to be able to authorize the tests, care, and treatment that her vet recommended without having to worry about the cost. This gives Maisy the very best chance for a complete recovery, and I am so, so, so thankful to each and every one of you.

But you all have also given us your emotional support, which was just as valuable. So many people were holding Maisy in their thoughts and prayers. I absolutely believe in the power of intention. I believe that sending positivity and good energy into the universe makes a difference. I believe you all helped Maisy get well by doing so. Thank you.

There were times this week that I was scared I was going to lose my girl. The smallest moments- waking up with her on my pillow, going for a walk before bed, eating food with a scruffy little begging face staring up at me- were the ones I missed the most. Today I am eternally grateful that I will have more of these.

Last night on facebook, I asked for donors to email me with their address if they’d like a thank you card. Everyone replied that they would prefer that I pay it forward instead. So I will. To that end, I’d like to introduce Project Gratitude.

If you donated to Maisy this week, whether with emotional or financial support, and if you’d like to be publicly thanked, please email me at reactivechampion(at)gmail(dot)com with your name and a link (to your blog, website, etc.). These will be posted on the new Project Gratitude tab up top.

Starting in October, I will begin a monthly practice of donating money to a needy person or to a charitable group. This person or group will probably (but not necessarily) be animal-related, and I will donate what I can. Some months it may be a smaller amount than others, but if I’ve learned anything this week, it’s that everything counts. If you have a cause you’d like me to consider for my monthly donation, please email me at reactivechampion(at)gmail(dot)com. It’s going to take me awhile to get through the list - with over 80 financial donors (and many more emotional supporters), this is a 5+ year project!

If you would like a donation of my time instead, I’m open to discussing that as well. Feel free to email me with what you’re thinking of- time spent at a local volunteer event, some editing, a guest post, whatever- and we can discuss if it’s possible.

Finally, a number of you chose to be anonymous with your financial donations, and if you’d prefer to remain that way, feel free to either comment on this post anonymously or use a throw-away email address. I’d be happy to post a link or a short statement or even a picture in memory or honor of someone on the Project Gratitude page.

Watch for updates to the Project Gratitude tab, and then look for the monthly blog post detailing that month’s featured giving. While I will never be able to express just how very grateful I am, I hope that in this small way, I am able to pay your kindness and generosity forward. Thank you. I love you all.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

She's Coming Home!

Maisy had a spinal tap this afternoon. The procedure itself went very well (she had a slightly low BP during anesthesia, but meds took care of that). They analyzed the cerebral spinal fluid and found a lot of white blood cells, which is abnormal. There was no obvious bacteria, although the final report from pathology is pending.

This means that Maisy has an inflamed spinal cord/nervous system. We still don’t know why. A full tick panel is being sent out, and they will also look for an immune mediated disease. These results will take about a week to come back, so at this point we’re going to treat with 3-4 weeks of doxy (the antibiotic of choice for tick stuff) and a smallish dose of steroids (to treat the inflammation). She should feel better in 24-48 hours, although she may still have a fever during this time. As long as it doesn’t go over 103.5, I don’t need to worry. 

Oh, and she gets to go home tonight.

I did ask if they thought it would be better for her to be monitored and have the benefit of IV fluids, meds, etc., but they said that she’s so stressed in hospital that they think she’ll recover better at home. This is very true: when I visited her yesterday, she was pretty reactive to noises outside our visiting room. She was back to Old Maisy, Pre-Medication Maisy.

I did have to laugh when the tech this morning told me that she had been a bit attention-seeking overnight. Apparently when they were on the other side of the room, she was quiet in her kennel, but if they were in her area but with another dog, she would howl. As soon as they checked on her, she was fine. Rotten, rotten dog (said with a huge smile and all the love possible).

During this morning’s visit, the doctor had to come in to borrow Maisy for a quick test. Maisy would not get up and leave my side. When I went to leave, again, she would not go with the tech into the ICU area. In both cases they had to… I want to say drag her back, but that sounds much rougher than what happened. She just needed a lot of encouragement to go with them.

Anyway, depending on the results of the pending labs (tick panel, checking for fungi or bacteria in the CSF, her urine culture), we may change the meds/doses a bit, but overall, I am incredibly relieved to have a treatment plan. Maisy isn’t out of the woods entirely, but things are looking much, much better.

Finally, I wanted to thank each and every one of you for your emotional and financial support. I am deeply grateful (and a bit overwhelmed) by your response. I so truly appreciate everyone’s kind words, positive energy, prayers, and hard-earned money. I will post a photo of the final bill later today or tomorrow over on the facebook page (and sometime after that over here, just not sure when) so as to be fully transparent and accountable to everyone.

Thank you so much. Thank you for being part of our lives, and for helping me care for Maisy. I love her with all my heart, and I’m just grateful that I will have another day with her.

Speaking of which… I’m gonna go get my dog. Love you all!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

She was fine. And then she wasn't.

We had a completely normal weekend. I taught on Saturday, and then hung out with Maisy while I did some last-minute studying for my CPDT exam (which was yesterday, I think it went okay). Sunday we went to my friend Elizabeth’s house, where Maisy followed her toddler around the house. (Apparently pushing treats on a dog is genetic, as we had to reward things like eating and taking a bath with the opportunity to give Maisy a treat. So. Cute.) We came home, ate supper, went to bed.

I woke up alone. This is unusual, but not unprecedented. I figured that she was a little stressed from All The Good on Sunday, what with not biting a kid and all. But when I got up, she just didn’t look right. She was stiff and panting and then she refused breakfast. She never refuses food. Never.

I called our vet. An hour later, we were in their office. Maisy sat hunched over with a miserable expression on her face. She had a slight fever of 102.9 (normal is 101-102.5), but nothing noteworthy. She yelped when the doctor touched her neck. We agreed to do some blood work and x-rays. Neither showed us much of anything, although she did have a faint positive for anaplasmosis, a tick-borne disease. But since the blood work didn’t support that, we figured it was just that she had been exposed to it before- completely plausible here in Minnesota.

She came home with antibiotics, a pain med, and instructions to monitor her temperature. When we left the vet clinic it was 103.3. An hour later it was 104; I called the vet back and they gave me some directions on how to cool her down. Despite this- cool washcloths in armpits and on paw pads, misting her with water, putting her in front of a fan, and having her eat a popsicle (she refused)- her fever actually went up, so I took her to the closest 24 hour clinic, which happens to be the U of MN. She was having a lot of pain in her neck and hips and her fever was 104.5, and we didn’t know why.

They admitted her to ICU, put her on IV fluids, started IV pain meds (fentanyl), and did a CBC and chem panel. Those results were inconclusive, but her fever did go down to 102.6. Spinal x-rays showed mild narrowing of the discs in her mid-back, but we don’t think that’s causing the current issues. A neuro consult ruled out disc herniation. The vet suggested discharging to home and either doing a wait-and-see or further diagnostics tomorrow. I said I needed a few minutes to think about it and then called a friend who is a vet. She told me what questions to ask so I’d know how to go forward.

When I called back, her fever was back at 104.4, despite the IV fluids, so going home was no longer an option. A urinalysis this afternoon showed some bacteria and white blood cells; a urine culture has been ordered. Surgery consulted and agreed that there is no joint swelling.  Tomorrow they will do a spinal tap and a joint tap. Those tests will tell us if she has a bacterial infection of the spinal cord, meningitis, a tick-borne disease, and/or some kind of immune mediated disease like arthritis. 

Her fever is down again this evening at 102.9. Still not normal, but much better. Still- we have no idea what is wrong, and I am so worried.

I also am quickly running out of money. Before I got divorced, I was solidly upper-middle class, and vet bills like this wouldn’t be a problem. But now, single and a social worker, it is. I spent just over $500 at my regular vet yesterday, and the current estimate for hospitalization and diagnostics at the U is around $2700. Plus cost of treatment. And it will obviously be more if she needs to stay another night. I’ve used up my emergency savings on this (and my cat’s ER visit last week), and am getting close to my credit card max.

I need help. I feel really weird doing this, but can you help us? I’ve set up a YouCaring site (the new ChipIn) here. I posted this link on our facebook page earlier, and I am so grateful to everyone who has donated already. And a little overwhelmed; we've gone from "how am I going to afford this?" to "well, I can still pay my rent." Thank you.

If you can’t spare a few dollars, that's fine. Your prayers, good vibes, positive thoughts, and white light (and whatever else you might do) means a lot to me.

Finally, I wanted to address a very common question: we do not think she has that deadly virus that started in Ohio. Her symptoms really don't match up (those dogs have had vomiting and diarrhea- Maisy doesn't.)

Regular and frequent updates are available over on our facebook page.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

CPDT Study Session #8: Ethical Considerations and Humane Treatment

There are many, many ways to modify a problem behavior. So how is a dog trainer to choose one? The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers has created a hierarchy of humane responses. It requires that all CPDTs use the least invasive methods first, only moving along to the more invasive procedures if those fail to work.

1. Address any underlying health, nutritional, or physical contributors to the problem behavior first. It’s common knowledge that there can be medical causes for problem behaviors; for example, pain and thyroid issues are discussed widely as potential causes of aggression. Rather than creating a training plan- even one rooted in positive reinforcement based methods- it’s more humane to address those health issues.

2. Manipulate the antecedents. Or, in plain English, if there is an external factor causing the problem, fix that first! So much better to shut the curtains to stop your dog from barking out the windows all day than to use a bark-control collar, no?

3. Use positive reinforcement to teach the dog what you want them to do.Notice how this is halfway through the list? It’s not because it’s wrong to use R+, but rather because it is more invasive than the other options.

4. Implement differential reinforcement of an alternate behavior. This is similar to R+ but since it also includes an element of extinction/negative reinforcement, it’s considered slightly more invasive.

5. Use negative punishment, negative reinforcement, and/or extinction. All three of these use some kind of aversive control, and are therefore considered more invasive than the previous options.

6. Reduce the problematic behavior through the use of positive punishment. Note that P+ is allowed. That said, it is meant to be an option of final resort.

There are some procedures which CPDTs are prohibited from using. These include lifting a dog by the collar, leash, or fur so that two or legs are held off the ground. Swinging the dog, hanging the dog, or restricting the dog’s airway is likewise prohibited. Shock/electronic collars are allowed, but not without using less invasive methods first. A CPDT cannot use more than one at a time, or apply one to the genitals or abdomen. Pinching the dog’s toes, ears, or other body part in order to cause or end a behavior. Holding the dog’s head under water for any period of time is disallowed, as is using a cattle prod on the dog.

I rather like the approach the CCPDT has taken. It shows a definite bias towards positive methods (which I obviously prefer), but does not take tools out of anyone’s toolbox. Although I have no intention of ever using a shock collar on a dog, as I’ve learned more about training and behavior, I’m less and less likely to say “never.” I appreciate having a rational approach that makes suggestions on various types of methods to try before moving on. I especially appreciate the emphasis on addressing health problems and management; I feel like those are often overlooked.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about negative reinforcement being so far down the list. On one hand, I see the point: R- requires there to be an aversive. On the other hand, I think there’s a big difference between purposefully introducing an aversive and removing one that’s already in the environment (such as in BAT).

I’m also glad to see that there are some limits to what can be done. They seem to prohibit only the most egregious options (read: abusive) for use in routine training. And really. Cattle prods? Shocks to the balls? I shudder to think about it. There needs to be a line drawn and this one seems fair. Of course, I would prefer not to use a shock collar at all, but I can see why someone living in rattlesnake country might consider one.

But what do you think? Where would you draw the line? Does this hierarchy go too far? Not far enough? Would love to hear some thoughts.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

CPDT Study Session #7: Husbandry

I'm in the home stretch for the exam. I take the exam on Monday, so with less than a week to go and three sections left to review, well... honestly, I'm not worried. Studying has actually helped me feel more confident than less- it's been mostly review!

The husbandry portion of the exam counts for 6% of the final grade and covers general health, grooming, and nutrition. The information from today's post is from Terry Ryan's book and this section in particular was written by RK Anderson and Margaret Duxbury, Maisy's former vet behaviorist and my friend.

The running theme of this section is that as a trainer, you should not try to take on duties outside of your area of expertise. This means that unless you've received the education required to be a vet, groomer, or nutritionist in your area, you should refrain from giving specific advice and instead refer to the appropriate professional. This is especially true when it comes to health information. 

Infectious Diseases and Prevention
A dog exhibiting symptoms of an infectious disease (distemper, parvo, etc.) should not come to class and instead be referred to his veterinarian. The symptoms will vary among disease, but in general, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, nasal discharge, and coughing are causes for at least a call to the vet.

Parvo is of special concern as it is highly contagious and can quickly result in dead dogs, especially with puppies. Do not allow sick puppies in class and clean up all areas well if a dog becomes sick afterwards. A solution of 1 part bleach to 30 parts water will kill parvo.

Vaccinations are the best way to prevent infectious diseases. Although I am concerned about over-vaccination, I do believe in vaccinations, especially for puppies. Side effects in healthy dogs are rare and generally minor, and for me, the risks outweigh the benefits. But, personal choices aside, as a professional trainer, you should not put your clients' dogs at risk. Require vaccinations (or titers, but remember that there are fewer studies on the efficacy of using these to determine adequate antibody levels) for all dogs in your classes.

The core vaccines are distemper, hepatitis, parvo, and rabies. All dogs should have these. Depending on other factors- best discussed with a vet, not a trainer- non-core vaccines like lyme, lepto, bordatella, parainfluenza, etc. might make sense.

Because puppies are born with maternal antibodies, and because we don't know exactly when these will wear off in each individual, puppies get a series of shots. The core vaccines (excluding rabies, which should be given after 12-16 weeks) should be given every 3 to 4 weeks starting between 6 to 8 weeks until 12 to 14 weeks. They should be repeated at 1 year and then every 1 to 3 years after that. While socialization is extremely important, puppies should not begin classes until at least 1 week after their first set of vaccines. Thankfully, this means puppies should be able to attend classes starting at 7 to 9 weeks; plenty of time to take advantage of that critical socialization window.

Parasites fall into two main categories: internal and external. Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of these are the responsibility of the veterinarian.

Among the internal parasites we have heartworm (which effects the cardiovascular and respiratory systems) and gastrointestinal worms (which can impede nutrition, causing further problems). The latter type are quite common and can be spread to humans, especially those with compromised immune systems.

External parasites include fleas and ticks and can cause allergies, transmit diseases like lyme, transmit tapeworms, and/or cause anemia due to blood loss.

To Spay or Not to Spay?
Again, this is a conversation best left to the medical professionals, if for no better reason than it is an incredibly complex issue and one that I simply don't have the space/time/education to write about fully. That said, a dog can be spayed or neutered as early as 6-8 weeks, though generally we look at it as happening either before or after puberty.

Neutering will reduce mounting, marking, and fighting behaviors in 50 to 60% of male dogs, and will reduce roaming in 90% of dogs. It will not calm the dog down. It will reduce the risk of certain infections, prostrate issues, and (obviously) testicular cancer. Spaying will protect a female dog against uterine cancer and pyometra, and if done before the first heat will reduce the risk of mammary cancer. The behavioral benefits of spaying a dog are far less clear.

Medical Conditions that Impact Training
Once again, Terry Ryan's book cautions trainers against making a diagnosis of any particular medical concern. In addition to some of the reasons identified above, it's also due to the fact that there are a lot of different conditions that can result in similar behaviors. Any of these conditions can change behavior or limit a dog's ability to learn, making even the best training less effective.

Among these are hydrocephalus, epilepsy, liver disease, hypoglycemia, hypothyroid, and cushings. Likewise, drugs like steroids, tranquilizers, or benzodiazepines can cause behavior changes. Issues related to aging can cause problems, especially when looking at changing sensory capabilities. Pain is a huge factor in behavior and learning abilities of dogs. Finally, though readers of this blog likely need no reminder, emotional issues like fear and anxiety will also impact training.

Oh, the can of worms that can be opened here. I have a lot of opinions on this subject, and you probably do, too. Suffice it to say that likely the biggest concern here is the dog's weight, especially carrying too much. A fat dog will contribute to medical conditions, pain, and limit a dog's ability to do certain activities.

Finally, Terry Ryan's book is silent on this issue. So. Um. Cut your dog's nails? Don't let them get mats in their fur? Teach the dog to accept handling (ah! a training issue!). Beats me and good luck to us all!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Brave and Courageous Dog: In Memory of Dobby

I remember the emails well: I have this foster dog, my best friend wrote, and I’m thinking about keeping him.

This was a big deal. At the time, Sara only had one dog, a recovering reactive dog named Layla who was pretty picky about her canine companions. But Layla seemed to like this dog, so despite some reservations (and a whole lot of emailing and blogging and general hemming and hawing that seems funny in retrospect), Sara decided to adopt Boots.

The first thing she needed to do was find a suitable name. The dog (well, puppy, really- he was probably around 6 months old at the time) she had pulled from the local city pound had been terrified. He would pancake to the ground and pee himself when people even looked at him. He had huge eyes and though scared of the world, desperately wanted to be right. 

She named him after the house elf in the Harry Potter books, and like his namesake, Dobby was brave in the face of fear. Over time he blossomed. He and Sara played in rally, and his prancy, bouncy heeling was beautiful to watch. He loved balls, and would parade around the house or training area when he was given one. He would curl up into a ball of fur and snuggle pretty much any time. 

And then he began having seizures.

With each subsequent seizure, his behavior deteriorated. Sara consulted with neurologists and a board certified veterinary behaviorist. She tried meds. Lots of them. And then she ran out of things to try, and he kept getting worse.

And so Sara- who loved Dobby with all her heart, who cared for him through it all, who gave him the best life he could have hoped for- selflessly gave him one last gift. She set him free from a body plagued with physical and emotional illness. 

Tonight, I am with Sara. As we walked our dogs together earlier, it reminded me of past walks in that same park, along the same path, with the same dogs... minus one. It's so strange to know that I'll never see that eager, earnest, amazing little dog again. Our time with our dogs is so short. Sara’s time with Dobby was even shorter. Don't waste a single moment. Go for a walk. Throw a tennis ball. Snuggle on the couch. Be with your dog.

Do it in honor of Dobby, the brave and courageous dog.

If you’d like to read Sara’s beautiful tribute to her dog, please read it here. It's way better than mine. There's also a follow up here

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Kathy Sdao Seminar: Working Spot!

The seminar was set up as a series of mini-lectures, and between each one, we were paired up with another dog/handler team and several auditors. The working dogs would make a plan and then train, while the observers would help with data collection and then have a small group discussion on how things went, what to change on the next round, etc.

As the title implies, Maisy and I had one of the working spots. Although she was amazing, I was not. Sigh. I was so frustrated by the tasks set to us. Truthfully, it had very little to do with Maisy, the tasks, or the seminar. Remember: the seminar happened back in early October, which was about two months after I had separated from my (now ex-) husband. There were a lot of adjustments to be made during that time, and honestly, I probably wasn’t in the right mind-space to be training a dog.

Each day had a separate training task. The first day had to do with targeting; to be honest, I forget exactly what we were supposed to be doing now, but I remember trying to get her back feet on a piece of carpet. Utter failure. (Short legged dogs are hard!) The second day was a bit better; Kathy showed us a commercial of a dog who took a chicken strip from his owner, held it until given some sauce, then dipped it in the sauce and ate it. We were to work on this in whatever form we wanted. This went better; I worked on having Maisy hold a dog biscuit without eating it.

Here are some of the things that really hit home with me. I’m not sure that these were new things, exactly, but they were things that I understood in a new way after the seminar.

Train in Short Sets
I’ve heard this about a billion times before, but somehow I never do it. You get on a roll and don’t want to stop, or just lose track of time. We got around that in the seminar by deciding how long we were going to train (usually between 30 and 90 seconds), and then having someone time us. And even then, some of us had a tendency to do “just one more rep.”

Training in short sets is important, though. Part of this is because you can only concentrate for so long; good dog training requires you to both SEE what the dog is doing and then to MARK it with good timing. This is hard work, and something people often underestimate. Taking regular and frequent breaks allows you to rest between sets, and thus keep your eyes (and thumb!) fresh.

Training in short sets also allows you to think in between. This is incredibly important when it comes to…

Criteria and When to Change It
First, keep your criteria the same throughout each set. Since your sets are going to be short, it should be easier to resist the temptation to change it midstream. The problem with trying to change it on the fly is that it tends to throw off your timing. In addition to seeing and marking, you’re now analyzing performance and deciding what to click. I don’t know about you, but my brain just cannot do that much at once!

Raising criteria can be done based on the rate of reinforcement (Kathy recommends doing so when you get into the double digits per minute), the percentage correct (most people do so at around 80%), or by the density of reinforcement. This last one comes in to play with duration behaviors where you can’t get reinforcement rates in the double digits. Instead of giving one treat per click, you give a larger amount so that the dog would end up with roughly the same amount per minute.

Once you’re ready to raise criteria, do so by looking at the responses you are currently accepting. You’ll have “technically meets expectations, but nothing special” on one end of the continuum, “average responses” in the middle, and “outstanding!” at the other end. Raise criteria by clicking only average-to-outstanding behaviors, and drop the “technically meets standards.”

If something unexpected happens- either super good or super bad- STOP. End the set and think because…

Planning is Important
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was how specific you should be in order to train well. Many of us had the tendency to state “I am going to work on duration now,” but that really doesn’t say a whole lot. Instead, Kathy challenged us to be very specific in what we mean by duration. Much better to say “I’m going to click when she holds the dog biscuit centered and lengthwise in her mouth without mouthing it for a minimum of two seconds.”

In other words, know what you’re going to click. There should be no guesswork about whether or not something meets criteria.

So, even though I felt sad and frustrated the entire weekend, I learned enough to make it worthwhile. I am fortunate to have a dog who will keep working for me even when I’m not feeling up to par. So, it was a great seminar, and I’m so glad I got to have a working spot with Kathy!