Friday, May 23, 2014

To Infinity and Beyond: In Memory of Buzz

 These are two of the luckiest people I know- my friend Megan and her dog Buzz:

Buzz totally counts as people.

A dog's life is so short and can be so uncertain that it is rare for one to spend his entire life with one person, but Buzz got Megan from puppyhood to his very last breaths. As for Megan, well, my friend Sara and I like to joke that our dogs will live forever, because the good die young (meaning the naughty live forever? I guess we've never really thought through the logic) but lucky Megan got to have the Best Dog Ever for 16 years.

Best Dog Ever
May 4, 1998 to May 20, 2014

And Buzz really was a great dog, although it was sometimes easy to miss that fact when we had all the dogs together in a group. Buzz was just so unassuming, you know? He was gentle and quiet, content to just sit and watch the day go by, not naughty and obnoxious like some dogs I know.

Ahem, Maisy. Not your treats!

Buzz was Megan's introduction into the dog world, and I have to say, I'm a bit envious. He was tolerant of a teenager's foolishness and tolerant of her mistakes. Not that he was easy, but when he presented challenges (as all dogs do), he would patiently wait for Megan to figure things out. And if she didn't, well, there's stuff over there for him to sniff or look at.

I'll just be over here while you get your stuff together, Lady.

They did find success together in the show ring (I loved seeing 15-year-old Buzz clean up in the Veterans rally class last year), but they also found success together in life. Megan went to great lengths to keep Buzz in great physical and mental shape, and I know Buzz offered her emotional support during some hard times.

God, there is just so much right about this picture.

I can't believe Buzz is gone. And I can't imagine how Megan must be feeling. But I do know they were the luckiest people ever. So godspeed, dear Buzz. We will miss you, and will always love you - to infinity and beyond!

Thursday, May 8, 2014


When I first got Pyg, he was done with crates. It's hard to blame him; after being uprooted from his comfortable life in Alabama (well, I assume it was comfortable- he was in a foster home), he was put in a crate on a small, loud, crowded plane. He then went to a crate in a car. And then onto another plane. 

By the time he'd arrived to my house, he'd spent the best part of 48 hours in a crate, and he said NO MORE. He turned his crate pan into confetti, moved it across the room, and then pulled a Houdini and somehow escaped from the crate without destroying. Seriously. I still have no idea how he got out. 

Well. That wouldn't do. I need my dogs to be crate trained. They need to ride in a crate in the car, be crated a dog shows, and will likely need to be crated if he's ever boarded or at the vet without me. 

I started simply, and fed him all his meals in his crate with the door open. We did this for quite awhile. I waited until he was running to his crate voluntarily, and then did it longer. I probably spent two months on this stage. 

Next, I closed the door, but opened it immediately after he was done. At this point, I introduced him to the concept of waiting until he was released. I taught this the way Susan Garrett does in her Crate Games DVD: if he moved towards the door, I shut it immediately. I'd open the door again, and if he waited even a second, I'd give him his release cue. 

Gradually, I lengthened the amount of time he had to wait for his release. There were like two times that he self-released, and promptly chased him down, picked him up, and put him back in his crate. I didn't yell or hit him, but it still made an impression. He doesn't self-release anymore, even if Maisy is released first, or if I walk away. It's probably time to up the ante a bit and leave the room.

We are now working on the amount of time he stays in his crate after he finishes eating. In the mornings, he'll be quiet for about 45 minutes before making some pathetic whines. At night, after playing all evening with Napi, he's tired and just falls asleep and will stay there a few hours until I let him out. He's also comfortable and quiet in the car crate while I'm driving, but gets a bit noisy when we stop. I've started introducing the concept of staying in the crate while I pump gas or run back in the house to grab something. 

Anyway, here's a video I took a few months back (and then promptly forgot). 

My favorite part of the video is how it looks like I'm not wearing pants.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Missing Maisy

I really miss having only one dog. Not because I don't love the other three, and not even because of the difficulty integrating two households (read: fights). But because I just don't have enough time with my Maisy. The other three need more in terms of training. The other three need more exercise (Maisy's stamina is much lower since she's been sick). And the other three are just... I dunno, needier.

Any time I sit down, this happens:

And Maisy? Well, she doesn't value cuddling nearly enough to share her space with another dog. Or even to resource guard my lap. (Unless I have food. Then she turns into Cujo.)

What Maisy does value is her tennis ball, and whoever will throw her tennis ball. In this case, my fiance. When we're all together, I have at least one and probably three dogs draped across me, while Maisy is dropping a ball at Cesar's feet.

It's more than that, though. I very rarely get one-on-one time with Maisy. She and I share everything with at least another dog now. Our bed, our meals, our walks.

She even has to share her beauty shots!

This is no one's fault but my own, of course, but it's becoming clear to me that Maisy deserves some momma time... and that I deserve Maisy time. I'm hoping that this will be easier once we've moved and are settled. Right now my fiance and I basically live together in two apartments, and it's just awkward sometimes. But really, I know that I need to prioritize alone time with Maisy- and all my dogs, honestly.

So, I wrote and scheduled this post on Thursday last week. I guess Maisy can read, because Friday night, she was wedged next to Lola on my lap. Saturday morning, she was the snuggliest dog ever. So freaking weird. I don't have this post scheduled for a few more days... very curious to see what Maisy does next.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Minnesota Animal Welfare Conference: Suzanne Hetts on The Differences Between Cats and Dogs

I swear I didn't stage this.
I don't write about him much, but I have a kitty. Nicky is a 13-year-old boy I've had since he was a kitten. Although I consider myself more of a dog person, I also can't imagine my life without at least one cat. This is probably why the last segment on of this conference was probably the most interesting and most useful for me: promoting successful relationships between dogs and cats.

Suzanne pointed out that about half of the pet owning households have both a cat and a dog, but unfortunately, very few are concerned about the quality of their cats' lives, and even fewer do anything to prevent problems and improve things after the fact. She believes this is because owners are too accepting of the cat feeling unsafe or scared, possibly because they don't recognize hiding behavior as abnormal.

Although cats and dogs can get along, they are very different species. This starts with domestication. Where dogs were likely domesticated around 14,000 years ago, domestication only happened in cats about 4,000 years ago. That 10,000 years of co-evolution means that dogs are more predisposed to social living with each other and with humans. Cats can and do exist without social groups. They don't really have friends, instead having what Suzanne called “preferred associates”- others that they spend time with. They don't really have packs and they don't have hierarchical social structures.

Body language is another huge difference, especially it comes to ritualized behaviors like greetings. While cats greet one another nose-to-nose, dogs... don't. They might be okay with it, but we all know their go-to place is at the other end. Cats also indicate that they are friendly and approachable by holding their tail up with a curve at the tip. In dogs, this is a threatening gesture. Cats also don't have a ritualized invitation to play. While dogs will play bow first, cats often just pounce. This can be misunderstood by dogs and lead to an unfortunate altercation.

Chemical communication, while poorly understood by researchers, is another area of believed difference. Not only does it seem to be more important to cats, but they use it as a distance increasing behavior, while dogs use it more of a “I was here!” thing. Rubbing and scent marking (which, to be honest, I'm not sure how to distinguish from chemical communication) plays a huge role in social attachment in cats, and dogs... don't seem to do this.

Finally, dogs have active and passive submission behaviors, and cats don't. When a dog rolls over on his back, it's a reconciliation gesture. When a cat does it, it's a defensive behavior that will likely culminate in an attack. What's more, cats do not “make up” with each other.

To have a harmonious home, you need to have good early socialization, complementary personalities, and good experiences as adults. Let's look at each of these.

First, he best bet lies in socialization, when an animal learns his species identity, who to hang out with, and who he should eat. Unfortunately, cats have a short socialization window which starts at about 2 weeks and has already ended by the time they come home at 8 weeks. What's more, kittens have an earlier fear period that happens right at that time. Fear periods mean that bad experiences during that time have a bigger impact.

Next, you need to have complementary personalities. Unfortunately, there aren't really temperament tests for cats... not that they're perfect in dogs. Beyond that, though, Suzanne doesn't think that meet-and-greets really give you any useful info.

Finally, you need to make sure that the animals have more good experiences than bad. You also need to be prepared to accept mutual tolerance over genuine affection. Keep in mind that individuals vary in their desire for social contact, and that minor conflicts are normal and can be ignored. Serious threats or frequent conflicts, no matter how minor, will erode quality of life for everyone.

Conflicts with cats are almost always about space. They rarely fight over social status or resources, so cats that are on the receiving end of resource guarding by a dog finds this unexpected and stressful. Cats who live with other living beings really thrive when there are plenty of spaces- especially vertical spaces- that they can retreat to. Conflicts between dogs and cats usually result from excessive curiosity from the dog, which can lead to predation. Dogs can also just start with a predatory response to the cat. Either way, the result is fear and a reduced quality of life for the cat.

Finally, forcing experiences for any animal never works. “Showing” the animal that the other won't hurt him does not work, and often backfires and makes things worse. Interactions need to be carefully managed until everyone is familiar with each other.

Bottom line: It is not okay for any individual to be afraid of or harassed by the other. Having a peaceable kingdom is possible, and the best way to accomplish this is by proper introductions. This is such an important (and lengthy) process that I will spend the next entire post on it. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Multi-Dog Blues

I apologize in advance: this post is going to be whiny and woe-is-me and venty. I don't usually do downer posts, but you know what? This is my blog, and this is what my life has been like. And if you all have good advice or can just commiserate... well, that'd be even better.

So I have four dogs now. I love my four dogs; they are each such just really cool individuals, and I honestly wouldn't give up any of them. But dear god, it's hard to have four dogs. Especially because I have two resource guarders and another who won't hesitate to fight. And bite. And even though I know you don't break up a dog fight by reaching between them to break them up... well, I'm a slow learner, I guess. On the plus side, I have matching bite-scars on both forearms.

This is a total blow to my pride. I'm a certified trainer, after all! Surely I should be able to handle this better! Plus, one of my good friends has eight dogs living in her house (six of her own, one foster, and one that belongs to her roommate), and she doesn't seem to have even half as many problems as I do! (She tells me that she's been doing this longer and has carefully chosen each dog to fit in with the rest, but mostly I just think she's smarter than me.) 

I keep telling myself it will get better. Only Maisy has really had any training, but we're working on the others. As the rest learn more, it should be easier. Cesar and I are getting better at predicting what will and will not cause fights, and therefore are getting better at management. And soon we will all live in the same house, which will be bigger and have a crate for each dog. This should make management easier, and will provide more consistent routines. I hope.

I don't mean to give you the wrong impression. In all honesty, we probably only have one fight a month, it's just that the fights tend to be much bigger than I'm okay with. And really, for the most part, all four dogs get along fairly well. They will all play together, though we limit that because of noise/shared housing concerns, so most of the time, it's Pyg and Napi playing. In the quieter, nap-type times, though, they've paired off in an unexpected way. Where Maisy is, Napi is, and Pyg and Lola tend to like each other's company.

But some days are just so hard. Please tell me I'm not alone? And maybe tell me what's worked for you?