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.