Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day, Pyg!!

I have had Pyg for TWO YEARS now! I can't believe how fast the time has gone!

You know what else I can't believe? That no one else wanted him!! Pyg was in rescue for FIVE MONTHS, since the time he was a PUPPY - and no one wanted him! He had to fly clear across the country to find his forever home!

Pyg is the most amazing dog I have EVER known. He is universally good with every dog he meets. He can modulate his energy level and play style to match whoever he is interacting with. He loves kids. He is a world class snuggler. He is SO funny. He's clever. I just ADORE him.

Thank you Pyg, for whatever you did to make people not want you.

Friday, October 23, 2015

FUNDRAISING CONTEST: Donate to Prynne for a Chance to Win DENISE FENZI's New Book!!

You guys all know Denise Fenzi, right? Super awesome trainer, founder of the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, and prolific author? Well, I just happen to edit a lot of her work, and after I do, Denise usually sends me a free copy or two of the book.

She sent me FIVE extra copies of her newest book:

Beyond the Back Yard: Train Your Dog to Listen Anytime, Anywhere (Click here to learn more)

The book is meant for pet dog owners/trainers, but honestly, it offers a pretty awesome "proofing" plan for sports dogs, too. Ian Dunbar gave it rave reviews, and I just really like it.

And you guys remember Ettel and her dog Prynne? Prynne ate... something... that got lodged her throat, perforated her esophagus, and caused her to have a massive chest infection. Well, today her mom got the devastating news that the tear was worse than they thought. Prynne either needed to stay in the vet hospital for SIX MORE WEEKS to heal OR have a very expensive surgery... or be euthanized.

Ettel chose the surgery. And she doesn't have pet insurance. (GUYS, GET PET INSURANCE. HONESTLY, YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU WILL NEED IT.) So, in addition to the bill that Prynne has already racked up, the total is now around $18,000!! Yikes!

So... LET'S HAVE A CONTEST!!! Donate ANY amount to Ettel and Prynne, and then comment either here or on Facebook that you did, along with the name you used to donate. Next week Friday, I will randomly choose FIVE donors to receive a copy of Beyond the Backyard. I will contact you if you're one of the lucky winners (so be sure to include an email address or check back- if I can't reach you within a week, I'll choose another winner in your place).


Monday, October 19, 2015

Project Gratitude: Help Prynne AND Help Katie

In September 2013, Maisy became critically ill. Her care was incredibly expensive, and I could NEVER have gotten through that time without the financial and emotional support from you all. For about a year, I did a monthly "Project Gratitude," where I donated to someone in need, but that petered out because forced giving doesn't feel that good. But just today, I learned about TWO important causes, and I hope you will help out either by donating money OR by praying/sending good vibes/leaving a comforting word for the folks involved.

First up, my Facebook friend Ettel. I've known Ettel via the internet FOREVER. Over the weekend, her year old pup crashed. They ended up at the vet medical center where it was discovered that Prynne has a perforated esophagus, which caused fluid to build up around her lungs, and she has a MASSIVE infection. The conservative estimate for her care is $8000!

Go here to donate.

Another super important cause. I have internet-known Katie forever, too - maybe even longer than I've known Ettel. Katie is fighting PTSD and depression, struggles I know well. Despite all her hard work, she's hit a run of bad luck lately; she's lost two jobs (and her medical insurance) in the past year, and her funds have hit critical mass. You can read her whole story here. Let's show Katie that world IS a good place, and that it's worth it to keep fighting.

Click here to donate.

Please, sir, could you help my friends?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Two years ago, give or take a few weeks, two things happened:

1. Maisy almost died (twice), accruing a ridiculous amount of vet bills (and THANK YOU to everyone who helped out during that time, I still think of you all with immense gratitude), and

2. I adopted Pyg.

The timing for a second dog was horrible, so pet insurance was at the top of my list for him. Although I did not initially buy insurance for Maisy (pre-existing conditions and all), I did end up purchasing it, almost on a whim, this spring. And thank goodness, because Maisy broke her rib a few months later.

So, is pet insurance worth it?

Financially, I'm not sure. Pyg and Napi are both around $275/year. Maisy and Lola are both just under $500/year. I've filed two claims, one for Lola, for which I received about $50 after deductible and co-insurance, and now one for Maisy's broken ribs, for which I've gotten about $350 back (about half the cost so far).

Emotionally? DEFINITELY. When I knew Maisy needed to go see the rehab vet, I was scared of the costs, but felt pretty confident that it wouldn't wreck me financially. I know that if/when Lola's back goes out, or if Pyg or Napi get sick or hit by a car or in a fight at the dog park or whatever... we'll be okay. The peace of mind is amazing.

Also, our insurance company has been great. We use PetPlan, and I've been consistently happy with the service I've received. With Maisy's claim, all I did was download the PetPlan app, snapped a few photos of the bills, and not even 10 days later, I had cash in hand! Plus, they cover a LOT without needing special riders to the plan, so that's great too.

And no- I'm not being paid to write this. I just love them.

Here's a bonus dog pic:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Typical conversation this week:

"So, my dog has a broken rib."

"What?? Which one?"

"Which one do you think?"

"Oh. Right. Of course."

Seriously, if something is going to happen to one of my dogs, it WOULD be Maisy. We don't really know how this happen; best guess is she got in a fight at the dog park. She stole a lab's tennis ball, lifted a lip at a lab, and the lab nailed her. The puncture wound healed quickly, but she became reluctant to jump on the bed, and was more sore in the back than usual.

Long story short, we did x-rays, a diagnostic ultrasound, and now we get to wear this very fancy swat-team-esque back brace for a month and hope the bone chip that's floating around heals up.

Sigh. This dog.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Study Break!

I take my dogs to the dog park, and I ain't even gonna apologize for it.
I mean, look at this happy face!
This dog is so damn photogenic.
Even The Crazy One had a good time!
Lola takes having fun very seriously.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Coddling is not comfort

A friend posted a comment over on the RC FB page in response to yesterday's post about comforting fearful dogs. Basically, she said that comforting one of her fearful dogs in pretty much the exact same way as she did with her other dog actually makes her dog worse. My initial response was, "Nope, wrong, comfort is awesome," but I've internet-known this person for years and years, and I know she's sincere.

After thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that comfort is a lot like that saying, "One man's treasure is another man's trash." In other words, it's subjective. We all find different things comforting, so yeah, actually, comforting one dog the same way as you might another is not always going to be successful.

Here's a personal example:

I have PTSD, a mental illness that sometimes causes me to have panic attacks and depressive thoughts. I'm a lot like our dogs, actually. If someone were to sit down with me when I was in the midst of one of these episodes, touching and hugging me, feeding me chips and jelly beans, I would enjoy it. I would appreciate their efforts to comfort me, and I would LOVE all the attention (and food). But I don't think it would make me feel better. I tend to be easily sucked into self-pity, which usually leads to a downward spiral for me.

What does make me feel better is spending time with my friend Laura. Laura is incredibly practical and no-nonsense. I cannot even TELL you how many times she has literally drug me out into the woods to go hiking when all I wanted to do was lie in bed. She's not a touchy-feely person, and I can count on one hand the number of times she's hugged me. She doesn't spend a ton of time talking about my problems with me. She does not "comfort" me in the traditional sense. In fact, she might even appear cold, distant, or callous.

She's anything but. My friend Laura has consistently given me an amazing gift: the gift of her presence and her time. She has made a lot of sacrifices in our friendship, and she knows that "comfort" is not coddling. It's not catering to my every emotional whim. It's not treating me with kid-gloves or being excessively careful.

Instead, she knows that comforting someone is not about what you do, but instead about the end result. Comfort should soothe someone's soul and reassure them that they are loved. Above all, comfort should express a sense that we are in this together. Yes, life is hard sometimes, but no, we do not have to face it alone. And that's what my friend Laura does for me. It makes me feel better every time.

So... don't get caught up in what you're doing with your dog when he's scared. My dog is not your dog; what each one needs when they're upset is going to be different. Don't think about comforting them in terms of any specific action. Instead, offer your dog your love and presence in whatever way helps him most. You know, like Laura does.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Does comforting a scared dog actually reinforce their fear? (Answer: who cares?)

There was a thunderstorm here last night, an event that doesn't really merit comment here in the Midwest, especially since it was a pretty mild storm. Not windy, no loud thunder booms, just your run-of-the-mill storm. But of course, when you have a thunder-phobic dog, there is no such thing as a small, run-of-the-mill storm.

When Maisy first developed her thunder phobia three or four years ago, I put a lot of time and missed sleep into the problem. I spent many nights awake and feeding her everything from deli meat to potato chips in an effort to counter-condition thunder. I also used situational anxiety meds to reduce the amount of panic she felt so the training could work better.

Overall, it was worth it, because Maisy rarely has the full blown panic attacks that she used to have when a storm would roll in. Most times she's mildly uncomfortable, choosing to stick closely to me or my husband for comfort, and we ride it out with meds, food, or missed sleep.

Last night's storm started about an hour before bedtime. Although Maisy was not panicking, she was a bit restless. She kept walking back and forth between the bedroom and the living room, where my husband was watching TV and I was reading the DSM5 as a bit of light reading homework. We invited her to sit with us several times, but it was clear that she did not want to be near the big picture window with its view of all the lightning.

I finally gave in and went to bed early. Maisy followed me into the bedroom, hopped up on the bed, pressed herself as close as she could to my side, and... fell asleep. No panting, no pacing, no panic, just sleep. All she needed to get through a scary situation was a bit of comfort.

Think about that for a moment.

I know there is a lot of talk about how comforting a dog who is scared is "reinforcing fear" - as if that's a bad thing! I personally don't believe that you can reinforce an emotion, and even if you could, I cannot imagine a living being that would volunteer to be truly scared in order to get a cookie or a hug. Of course, there are those too-smart-for-their-own-good dogs who figure out that if the act scared, they get good things. It may appear that fear (or more accurately, fearful-looking behavior) is being rewarded in those cases, and honestly, so what?

Now, I believe that Maisy was actually scared last night, and I do not think that going to bed a bit early to provide her some comfort was that big of a sacrifice on my part. But let's pretend for a moment that her behavior was a calculated attempt to get my attention. WHY IS THAT A BAD THING? Seriously, all my dog wanted was some affection! She wanted me to show her a bit of love! She wanted to be comforted! Isn't that actually a GOOD thing? Don't we humans get dogs because of the unconditional love they show us? Don't we enjoy being able to lavish all kinds of love on them in return? When it comes down to us, don't most of us say that we love our dogs more than we love most people?

How about, instead of getting all wrapped up in questions about whether or not our dogs are manipulating us, we look at their behavior as communication instead - and respond to that in a loving, caring, affectionate manner.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Social worker by day, and, well, social worker by night, too. In other words...

For a long time, the "about me" sidebar has said, "Social worker by day, dog trainer by night." But I haven't taught a dog training class in over a year, and in ten days I start grad school.

I started this blog six years and two jobs ago, back when I had nothing to do but stare at a computer screen 40 hours a week. Now I not only have a job that keeps me busy, it has solidified my professional identity as a social worker. Then I started editing (no, Denise, I am NOT leaving you), and it's been six months since I've posted anything of substance. Now I'm told to expect to spend 25 to 30 hours a week or so getting my master's degree on.

I'm not planning to end this blog, but I'm also not really planning to update either. I'm not really sure what the difference is; I think I'm just leaving my options open. I'll probably post little snippets over on the Facebook page, but before today, it had been 41 days since I'd posted there, so...

Of course, if anyone is interested in the History and Philosophy of Social Work, or Psychopathology and Human Behavior, I could probably arrange to post some essays this semester. :)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Happy 5th Birthday, Lola!

I have known Lola for almost three years; I've lived with her for one. And while I never thought I would have a basset hound, I am so glad I do. Lola is sweet and affectionate. She's strong-willed and independent. She's a total pain in my ass, and yet so completely wonderful. She has completely changed my life.

Thank you, Lola, for taking care of mi amor y mi vida before I even knew him. Thank you for being (half) the reason we met. My life is so completely full of love and happiness in a way I never imagined possible. I am so grateful that you are my dog now, too.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Let Freedom Ring! Napi's Designated Birthday/Gotcha Day!

Two years ago, my husband rescued Napi. Well, it was a few days after the 4th, but since he was saved from an abusive situation, Cesar decided it fitting to celebrate Napi's freedom day on, well, the day of freedom.

Today is also the day we celebrate his birthday. When he was rescued, Napi was probably around a year. Maybe a bit less. But since we really have no way of knowing, we gave him the 4th of July for both of his important dates.

 He has a few scars from his early years, but he improves every day. Mostly, it's been a combo of meds and love; I am sure I do a lot of training throughout the day, but none of it is all the conscious. These days, after about five minutes of barking, he will settle in and play with new people and dogs.

I love Napi to pieces. He's a fabulously wonderful, difficult, horrible, absolutely amazing dog. I wouldn't give him up for anything.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In Memory of Nicky

Nickolas J. Cat

September 2000-May 10, 2015

I've been avoiding writing this post for awhile; it's hard to believe that Nicky is really gone.

I adopted Nicky in November 2000 as an 8-ish-week-old kitten. I have kitten pictures of him, but that was the pre-digital era. Barring a period of time when he lived with my parents (I lived somewhere that didn't allow cats), I've had him ever since.

How is it that I don't have any PICTURES of Nicky and Maisy together? Here- have a video instead.

Nicky was always a playful little beast. As a kitten, Nicky played fetch. It was adorable. We'd throw one of those barely-counts-as-a-mitten things and he'd chase it and bring it back. He also would brush up against my landline (remember those?!) and call my mom on speed dial.

"Whatever it was, I didn't do it! It was the cat, honest!"
As an adult, he adored catnip and would gladly bliss-out any day of the week. I actually have a plant of the stuff that I grew just for him. He also had a charming habit of sleeping on my head, and a not-so-charming habit of drooling on my face and in my ears. It was disgusting, but I would give anything for that now.

"What? He's in MY crate!"
Things got harder when the Barrera household formed last summer. Not only was Nicky older and arthritic, but Lola was quite scared of him. It took awhile, but we did find a tentative peace in the house. The pictures I have of them together are some of my favorite.

"Dis MAH kitty."

This spring, when it became clear that he was very sick, we began to allow him to do whatever he'd like. As it turns out, that was go outside. He wasn't really allowed to do that before, and he became obnoxious in his attempts to get outside. Mostly he sat in the sun, and I was happy to sit with him.

The best family picture I ever got.

It astounds me how big of a hole such a small being can leave. The dogs have such big personalities, they are so demanding. And yet, Nicky's absence is so conspicuous. I miss him so much. I will always love him. <3 p="">

Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom.
Zichronam Liv'racha, Nicky.
May your memory be a blessing.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: Merrick Power Bites Treats from

New. Favorite. Treats.

This month sent us Merrick Power Bites and I love them! They are everything I want a treat to be:
  • made in the USA
  • quality ingredients
  • soft and easy to eat
  • palatable to all four dogs
  • easy to handle
  • leaves no nasty residue on my fingers
  • they are the perfect training treat size!
Seriously, ya'll. Zukes have always been a favorite because of the size, but even those I would cut in half or fours. These? These require no splitting. They are about 2/3 the size of a Zuke already! So they are great for training little dogs, especially with reactive dog work.

Well done, Merrick. And thanks, Chewy, for providing me with this treat. (For free, but with no other expectations on what I say.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: Evanger's Freeze-Dried Tripe from

This month we got to review Evanger's Freeze-Dried Tripe from Now, I'm no stranger to tripe. I've used it freeze-dried, I've used it raw, I've used it blended up in a food tube. So the biggest thing that you should know about tripe - the fact that it SMELLS - was not a surprise to me. In fact, I thought this smelled less? But then, I've worked in nursing homes and group homes and am pretty immune to bad smells, so. 

Like every Chewy product I've gotten, it's high quality: made in the USA, single-ingredient, you know the drill. This was different from other freeze-dried treats I've used, though. The label says "lightly" freeze-dried, and it is. It's softer, it breaks apart nicely, it's less dusty than other freeze-dried treats, and... it leaves a residue.

Look, I'm no stranger to nasty, slimy treats. Those are the best for reactive dog work, after all. But ew. These leave an oily residue like a bad lotion or something. Thankfully it washed off really well, but given the feeling and the smell, I will not use these for training! 

Napi says they're delicious, though!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I took all four dogs to the dog park and no one died.

Two marvelous things happened on Friday. I found myself with the day off, and it was nice out.

After a long Minnesota weather, I was eager to get out of the house, and I figured the dogs were, too, so I made the decision to take them all to the dog park. I don't usually take Napi to the dog park because of all the crazy, but I decided to take the risk for a number of reasons:
  1. The dog park we go to is huge and wooded, limiting the amount of interaction you have with other dogs,
  2. It was the middle of the day on a weekday, further limiting the number of folks that would be there,
  3. Napi seems to have the highest energy level of my dogs, meaning he needed the exercise most, and
  4. I wanted to see how he was doing on the meds.
This probably isn't something I'd recommend others do, but at the same time... well, it was nice out. And you can't keep your dogs in a bubble; you need to provide challenges from time to time. And it was nice out. Yeah, mostly we went because of cabin fever. I decided that we'd leave early if Napi really couldn't handle it, and I made him drag a leash so that if he was a jerk, I could easily intervene. (And I did several times.)

Napi actually did fairly well. Here's a video of early on in our park trip:

And here's one from the end of the park visit:

Both videos suck from a cinematic standpoint; I was more focused on him vs. keeping him in the frame. Sorry about that. Anyway, he did better the longer we were there - the opposite of how Maisy is/was.

In the first video, he was barking at that other dog. He would actually snap at other dogs that he thought were threatening. A few times he was right - one dog was super stiff in its body language, and another was bothering Maisy - and a few times I think he was just guarding me/my treats/his buddy Pyg.

The second video is even cooler. You can see him stiffen up when he sees another dog approaches (it's a Springer, not that you can tell), and he then chooses to come to me for a treat. So does the other dog, but Napi only growled a tiny bit (I can't even hear it on the video).

What these videos tell me is that while Napi still has a long way to go, he's making nice progress. He's learning to think a bit before reacting. He's able to exercise some small amounts of self control. He can recover quicker from stress than he could before. He sees me as a safe person he can depend on.

Despite all this, the dog park will not be a regular part of Napi's life. He's still practicing more bad behavior than I'd like, and besides, the park will only get busier and more crowded as it gets nicer out. I don't want to risk a dog fight, and I do think that's a distinct possibility. Still, it's nice to celebrate success with a reactive dog.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: Nylabone DuraChew Dental Chew Dino Toy from

This month, we tested the Nylabone DuraChew Dental Chew Dino Toy from And the verdict? Well, 3 out of 4 dogs agree:

This thing is totally chewable! Maisy, god bless her, has absolutely no interest in this (or most other chews for that matter).

Things that are awesome about it:
  • The dogs like it way better than regular shaped Nylabones.
  • Exciting enough that they have chewed on it regularly over the past week.
  • Not exciting enough to cause dog fights, meaning I can leave it sitting out.
  • Sweet dinosaur shape.
  • Made in the USA.
  • Seems to be pretty durable so far. 
  • Only $3.99 right now!
Things that aren't so awesome about it:
  • Only rated for dogs up to 50 lbs. (Not a problem for me, but it might be for you.)
  • Really, really hurts when you accidentally step on it in the middle of the night.
Disclosure: I got this free from but was not paid in any way for what I'm writing. These are also my opinions and I wasn't told what to say.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Behavior Problem or Medical Problem?

The sweater in question.
Lola hates having her nails trimmed. Or her feet touched. Or, heck, even her legs, and it all came to a head a few months back when I was trying to make a fleece sweater for her without a pattern. This necessitated a lot of putting it on and taking it off as I worked out the alterations, and by the end of the day, Lo had nailed me right in the arm. She was D-O-N-E with this being touched stuff.

I've worked with dogs before who didn't like to be touched, so I got to work doing handling training. I started doing exercises to help Lola associate being touched with awesome things. I moved slowly, always watching her body language to ensure I didn't rush her. And things... well, they didn't really get better.

Oh, sure, sometimes she was okay with it, but other days she was immediately grumpy again. I also noticed that she got pretty grumbly when the boy-dogs would rough house too close to her. Not touching her, just near her. It was like she was telling them to keep their distance.

The first rule of behavior club is...
You know where this is going, right? Yup, it was time for a vet check. This is a pretty basic step when dealing with behavior problems, especially ones that crop up suddenly. Pretty much every trainer, behaviorist, and blogger I know recommends going to the vet to check for health problems before undertaking a training program.

Easy said, but harder to remember, especially when the problem sort of creeps up on you. Lola wasn't suddenly aggressive (she's not aggressive at all, actually), she was just acting a bit weird. And anyway, my dogs are no stranger to the vet. We go in for regular well checks, and I'm not afraid to have small things checked out in between. I also watch my dogs pretty closely so I know what's normal and what's not. I catch things early.

Like a needle in a haystack
Off to the vet we went. I mentioned my concerns, and our vet agreed that it sounded behavioral. The problem, of course, is that it's really hard to pinpoint a possible problem. Lola wasn't showing any stiffness. There was no limping, no panting, no licking or biting a certain area. In other words, this was a shot in the dark.

I know I'm not alone in that. I've heard plenty of people say that their vets didn't find anything on exam. I don't think that's the vet's fault at all. After all, our dogs can't tell us if and where they hurt, and I don't know about you, but I do not have the cash reserves to do x-rays and ultrasounds just to rule out a hunch. Still, because Lola's a basset hound, and thus acondroplastic (a type of dwarfism associated with malformed bones and cartilage), I thought there must be some pain in there.

Getting the most out of your exam
Now, I'm not a vet, but I've paid for a lot of vet care over the years, and in my experience, there are three main causes of pain:

1. Illness or injury
This one is probably the easiest to find clinically. Inspecting your dog for cuts or scrapes and taking vital signs can tell you a lot about what might be going on. Acute illness or injury tends to show up quickly and is therefore not usually mistaken for a behavioral problem. Still, sometimes there are sicknesses that fly under the radar. To get at these, regular lab work can help. The exact tests that are done will depend on your dog and the lifestyle risks unique to your situation, but in my experience, blood work (including a tick panel) and a urinalysis can tell you a lot.

2. Musculo-skeletal issues
Joint or muscle problems are much harder to pick up on, even with more obvious signs. Five or six years back, I noticed that Maisy had a very slight, occasional limp coupled with excessive panting, even when it wasn't hot. I took her to the vet, but they couldn't recreate the problem, so they told me not to worry. I ended up taking Maisy to a chiropractor, and later a doggy massage therapist, which did a lot to alleviate the pain.

3. Teeth problems
Dude, toothaches hurt. Unfortunately, I think mouth pain in dogs is more common than we think. Maisy is eight now, so when she started to slow down just a tad, I didn't think much of it. It's not like she got lethargic or anything; she was still playing and eating, just a bit quieter. At her well vet exam, the vet saw a chipped tooth and recommended a dental, but didn't think it was urgent. Well. When she got in there, it turns out Maisy had not one but two abscessed teeth that shattered when the vet went to pull them. Less than two weeks later, Maisy was full of puppy energy again, playing with the boy-dogs, and even doing a bit of tug!

Don't be afraid to try pain meds
I'm lucky to have a great relationship with a great vet. She did an incredibly thorough exam, and in so doing, found that Lola has very mild luxating patellas. So mild, in fact, that we aren't convinced that it was causing the possible pain; I suspect that due to Lo's front assembly, long back, and history of being overweight, she may have arthritis.

Either way, I requested a trial of pain meds. I wasn't expecting much from it, and I kind of think the vet was humoring me when she prescribed them, but the results were amazing. After a week of regular pain meds, both the grumbling about the boy-dogs and her grouchiness about being touched reduced by at least 75%! Of course, now we're left trying to figure what's causing the pain and how to address that. (That's a whole other post, of course!)

What about you guys?
Have you had a medical problem masquerading as a behavior problem? What did it end up being? And how did you find out? 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What's in a Name?

This is Marley:

If he looks familiar, he should - he's the dog we now call Napi - but when this picture was taken in July 2013, he was still named Marley. Just a few hours before, he'd been tied out in the sun, gotten tangled around a tree, and when he got thirsty, began to bark at the water bowl that was now out of reach.

Marley's owner was a jerk. Instead of untangling him, he threw the water in Marley's face, all while screaming at him. This caught the attention of a big-hearted, dog-loving neighbor (now known as my husband), who watched, horrified, as the owner proceeded to beat Marley.

A few hours later, Marley was safe under the care of my husband, who was going to find him a good home. When it became clear that good home would be with him, my husband decided that Marley needed a new name. He chose Napoleon because it's a good, strong name, and he thought this poor dog could use some self-esteem.

All of this is background information to the story I really want to tell you, which is about the power of names.

It's been almost two years since Napi has heard his old name, and we were curious to know if he remembered it. My husband called him from the other room - "Marley!" Napi looked up, confused. He clearly recognized the name, but wasn't quite sure what to do. My husband called again, and Napi began walking towards him, stiff and hesitant. My husband smiled and said "Napoleon!"

And then it happened: Napi exploded in joy. His whole body began to wiggle, his mouth opened in a huge grin, and he began dancing around in circles.

"Look at that!" I exclaimed. "He knows his real name - and he likes it!"

"Yes," my husband agreed. "His old name has bad memories."

"And his new one has good  memories."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why I Use Medication for My Reactive Dogs (Instead of Supplements)

Over the years, I have been very open about the fact that I use medication for my reactive dogs. I also made the decision to keep Maisy on her SSRI long-term; she's been on paroxetine for over four years now. I have taken my fair share of criticism over the years about these decisions. I'm sure part of this is the fact that the most popular articles on my blog are about supplements for reactive dogs; writing about something "natural" and then turning to "the evils of Western medicine" is hard for people to understand.

So why did I do it? Simply put, I put my money - to say nothing of my dog's health - where the evidence is. On the whole, medication works, is safe, and is well-regulated.

The troubling truth is that the claims on supplement labels often lack scientific support. That is why I wrote the series on supplements for reactive dogs; I wanted to know what (if anything) the science had to say about their use. It was interesting to learn about which supplements had some evidence for their use.

But even the best science is worthless if the ingredient isn't actually in that pill you're giving your dog, and a recent investigation done by the New York State Attorney General's Office found that about 80% of the supplements they tested did not contain ANY of the product in question. Further, some of those products had potential allergens that were not disclosed on the label.

Contrast this to the procedure followed for FDA approval and regulation for medication in the United States. The system may not be perfect, but it is far more rigorous than what current exists for supplements, with far more monitoring in place.

Of course, I'm not a vet, I'm not a scientist, and I don't know what's best for your dog. I have heard from many folks who have had great success with supplements, just as I've heard from people who have struggled to find a med that works for their dog. There is no magic pill. But when it comes down to it, I've decided to hedge my bets. My money's on medication.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Happy 2nd Birthday, Pyg!

Pyg is one of the coolest dogs I've ever known. I am so, so, so glad I adopted him. I took a big risk, and the timing was awful, but he has turned out to be exactly what I wanted. More or less.

I had a list of deal breakers and desires when I got Pyg. The list is here, but basically, Pyg stacked up perfectly. He will work for food, toys, and personal play. He will settle down and nap when things are quiet. He makes me laugh a lot. (I mean, the hoarding thing along cracks me up.) He is completely stable and confident. He is interested in others, but if I ask him to do something with me (training, play, whatever), he's glad to focus on the task at hand. He has basically no grooming needs, does great in the car, and is great fun to train! He's also incredibly loving. He loves to be pet and touched.

In fact, when he first arrived home, my only concern was his separation distress. He did not like to be left alone and he could break out of any crate, x-pen, or other arrangement. It was comical except for how annoying it was. These days, Pyg doesn't need to spend much time alone since my husband and I work opposite shifts, but even before we moved in together, Pyg was doing just fine being left alone for 8 to 10 hours a day.

The other thing I'm not crazy about is his front-end structure. He's got the typical easty-westy front legs typical of dwarfed dogs. This will probably cause problems down the line, but, I mean. How picky can I be? We don't do any sports where this will make a huge difference. I mean, I'd like to do some casual agility with him, but regular classes or competitions are not in our future.

I love Pyg. He's such a great little dog, and it continues to blow my mind that it took so long for him to find a home. Seriously - he was in rescue starting from 12 weeks. His mom and his two siblings both got adopted fairly quickly, but Pyg? Had to travel across the country to find his forever home.

I'm glad it's mine.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Is a Tired Dog REALLY a Good Dog?

"A tired dog is a good."

If you've been in the dog world at all - whether in training classes on forums or just talking to friends - you've probably heard this bit of folk wisdom. And for the most part, I get it. Most normal dogs in the United States are under exercised both physically and mentally, and therefore bored out of their minds. For the vast majority of dogs, adding in some extra cardio, puzzle toys, or training time will go along way to reducing nuisance behaviors like barking, chewing, or mischief-making.

But there are times this phrase just gets under my skin, usually when it's applied to reactive dogs. Some advice-givers seem to think that if you just increase your dog's activity a bit, you'll reduce the amount of barking, growling, and lunging that happens...and it just isn't so!

The big problem with this is that your dog is going to be exposed to way more things. If you usually walk your dog for 30 minutes a day and increase it to an hour, you've just doubled the number of triggers your dog is being exposed to. Each trigger your dog encounters - whether he reacts or not - increases the amount of water going into his "stress bathtub." 

Being exhausted because you're stressed out is not the same as being exhausted because you've used your body in a satisfying way. Last week, I came home from work absolutely exhausted. I'd had a headache for a few days. In the morning, I had an argument with a friend. Then, I came into one of those work situations that makes you bang your head and say bad words. I was pretty tired by the time I got home, but ask my husband: I was NOT a good wife that night.

Yup, that's the trail.
Contrast that tired feeling to the one you get from playing sports or hiking. I've been on two backpacking trips. These trips required me to carry 40 or 50 pounds of gear on my back over some very difficult terrain for miles a day. By the end of the day, I would be pretty tired, but it was that good kind of tired where you're happy to eat food that tastes like wet cardboard and sleep on the cold, hard ground. By the end of a backpacking week, I am completely and utterly at peace. I'm in a great mood.

Another problem is trigger stacking. Let's say your dog does great on his walks, comes home and sleeps quietly, and is overall pretty good. What happens if something unexpected happens? Does he stay "good" or does he suddenly surprise you with an over-the-top reaction? If it's the latter, you've just fallen prey to trigger stacking.

Trigger stacking is not exclusive to reactive dogs. The ability to cope with events, regardless of underlying temperament, is a limited resource. We usually think of trigger stacking in the context of "the straw that broke the camel's back," but there comes a point where a good thing becomes too much of a good thing. I love a good Thanksgiving Dinner... once a year. But after a week of leftovers, I'm really quite happy not to see another piece of pumpkin pie for a year. I've had too much, and if you offer me more turkey a week later, my response may not be good. 

Now, I'm not saying that reactive dogs shouldn't get exercised. The endorphins that are released in the pursuit of physically using one's body can go a long way towards improving one's mood. But you do need to be thoughtful about how, where, and when you do it.

If you think your reactive dog would benefit from increased exercise, here are some general guidelines:
  • Start slow. A couch potato cannot just get up and run a marathon. Doing so will result in pain or injury. This is NOT a good tired. Condition your dog so that the exercise is as pain-free and enjoyable as possible.
  • Choose areas that are low-stress. When I was working through Maisy's reactivity, even though I had a perfectly good neighborhood to walk in, it was just full of triggers. I ended up driving her several miles away for our daily walks so that we could enjoy exercise time in a quiet, relatively unused park instead.
  • Choose off-peak times. City-dwellers know how hard it is to find quiet locations, so you may have to settle for quiet times. Late nights and early mornings are familiar to many a reactive dog owner.
  • Think outside of the daily walk box. Physical exercise can be anything that satisfies the need to move.
  • Pick physical activities you both enjoy. Napoleon loves to run. I broke my ankle the last time I went running. We probably won't do that one again. Lola loves long sniffy walks, but strenuous hikes just aren't her thing. Taking her backpacking would be torture. Both Lola and I will be grumpy if you try to get us to do a sport we hate. 
  • Watch arousal levels! If playing with a flirt pole gets your reactive dog so amped up that he can't think, you're probably creating a dangerous situation - especially if he can't settle afterwards. Sort of the exact opposite of the good dog you're trying to get.
Any time you introduce new activities, whether physical or mental, watch your dog closely. If he's "good," that's great! Keep it up! But don't feel pressured to be out there training for a marathon in the name of better behavior.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day, Maisy!

Maisy at 5 months old.

Eight years ago today, I brought Maisy home. To date, it remains one of the best decisions I ever made.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Honest Kitchen Wishes Treats (courtesy of

Maisy tested, Mom approved!
This month, our friends at asked us to review the Honest Kitchen Wishes treats. These are some seriously high-value treats. I knew they would be the second I opened the box: they have that special fishy smell. Okay, they stink. But you know that's a good thing for the pups!

These are dehydrated fish, and pretty awesome for a number of reasons:
  • A named source of fish (haddock, as opposed to more general "fish")
  • 100% haddock, so no grains or fillers
  • Caught using sustainable fishing practices
  • Made in the USA with human-grade ingredients
  • Easy to break into small pieces with minimal crumbage.
These were a big hit with my dogs - and my kitty, too!

I didn't pay for these, but I wasn't paid for my opinion either. My thoughts are my own. :)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Pyg Pen

Woke up to find Pyg's crate looking like this. Now, a normal dog might choose to keep toys or chewies in their stash of treasured items. But Pyg? Pyggy has chosen the following items (listed clockwise starting in the top left corner):

- Half a scented bath bomb
- Chewed up candy wrappers
- A dog food bowl
- A fork
- Some bird seed, and
- A coffee mug

I'm pretty impressed by the coffee mug, to be honest. I'm not entirely sure how he managed to get that in there. I literally fell over laughing when I saw it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Well, shoot. (Medication Update for Napi)

The last time I updated about Napi's progress, I had just had my primary vet consult with the local vet behaviorist. Based on that conversation, we increased his fluoxetine (Prozac) from 10mg to 12.5mg. That was about a month ago, and initially, the dose increase showed some promise. Napi was still barking at things/sounds around the house, but it seemed like maybe it was less intense. On top of that, I was able to interrupt barking fits by calling his name - and he would respond!

But now it's become clear that despite these positive signs, this is NOT the med for my sweet boy. Frankly, he is not very sweet these days. He has gotten more possessive of me; he's growling, snapping, and even biting the other dogs AND my husband if they get too close to me. He's more irritable and tips from excitement to aggression very quickly while playing. He's starting dog fights. It's not good.

So, it's back to the drawing board. We will need to wean off the fluoxetine and then switch to either parotexine (Paxil) or amitriptyline (Elavil). Maisy takes Paxil, so I am biased towards that. The amitriptyline is a TCA - a different class of drug entirely - so it could be a good one to try. I will chat with Dr. Jessy this week and find out what to try next.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Review: Primal Freeze-Dried Beef Liver Munchies from

This month (well, last month, but I'm late in posting about it because OMG I got married!), the dogs got to try Primal's Beef Liver Munchies, courtesy of

We like them! I don't think of them as training treats- they are too big (and too rich? I didn't test it, but liver makes me worry) for training involving quick repetitions. But! They make great single rewards. They break in half (not super-small, but smaller) easily, and the dogs think they are awesome.

Plus, Primal has long been one of my favorite companies. US made, US raised, antibiotic free cows. They have quality products.

And Well, I love chewy! I order all my pet food from there now: great prices and 80 pounds of food delivered to my door - for free - in just a couple days? You can't go wrong.