Archive for May, 2010

It’s a very British thing to try to avoid feeling too pleased with ourselves isn’t it?  Maybe it’s something in our collective psyche that means as we’re grinning in delight we’re secretly thinking ‘this can’t last’ and warning ourselves not to get too smug just in case the bad luck fairy decides to bring us down a peg or too.

So we grow up with these ridiculous, limiting and often self-fulfilling sayings like ‘Pride comes before a fall’, ‘Don’t crow too loud or you’ll jinx yourself’ and my particular favourite ‘Laugh before breakfast and there’ll be tears before bedtime.’  Great, so even before you’ve polished off your corn flakes your chances of a mirthful day have been ruled out! 

You can probably see where I’m going with this.  Yes, Little Bear embarrassed himself with a horrible display of bullying in the park a couple of days ago.  Distraction worked very well for a while, enthusiastic praise given for the right behaviour (calm bum sniffing in the accepted fashion)  but then as the (rather large) youngster rolled on his back in he went with the bully boy routine. 

On the bright side I remained calm. Now that I know that he’s not intent on doing any physical harm it’s not quite as terrifying, but I don’t underestimate the psychological harm he could do to a young dog.  Granted, most pups will get told off dozens of times in your youth with no ill effects, but if like Little Bear you’re a sensitive type, then you risk creating a problem. 

I’ve learned that physically moving him, as is often tempting with a portable sized dog just makes him cross, so I now get him to leave of his own accord by saying ‘Bye’ and moving away.  His need to be with me over-riding his need to be a bully he comes galloping over quick time.

Thankfully the youngsters owner was very understanding and the dog himself seemed fine, but that didn’t make me feel much better. 😦   This is probably the most difficult time. As his behaviour improves it’s hard not to fool yourself into thinking that he’s suddenly, magically ‘cured’ of his bad habits meaning that any regression comes as a bit of a shock.

But I’m refusing to fall into the trap of inevitability.  One relapse does nothing to diminish all of the great progress he’s made up until now. So to hell with ‘Pride comes before a fall’ – LB and I deserve our moments of pride.  We didn’t jinx ourselves and just for the record we’ve had many a day when we’ve laughed from breakfast right through till bedtime.

“Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
Oliver Goldsmith

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Having a ‘problem dog’ can be a lonely old business on times.  At our local stomping ground I’ve often been the one red-faced and apologetic as Little Bear grumbles at young or submissive dogs or barks manically at anyone and everything.  

Avoidance and removal are the tactics recommended by the behaviourist so we’ve spent a lot of time running away from dogs or situations that might worry him.  We’ve spent a lot of time on our own in the smaller top field too while the other dogs play together in the larger one and it’s hard to coax him away from the fence when you know all he wants to do is join in.

But you can’t live your life simply avoiding the things that worry you. So when last year, we met a friendly dog walker with a group of equally nice friendly, well-balanced dogs we started meeting up with her a couple of times a week to up the ante on LB’s social skills. 

We bumped into her in the park today and within seconds of arriving LB had six dogs sniffing his rear end.  A couple were new to him, but he stood there, alert but relaxed while they made and remade his acquaintance.  Sniffing complete, they all bounded off to have a play. 

I couldn’t help but beam because six months ago he would have been a different dog. 

One day sticks out in my mind in particular as it nearly brought me to tears.  We’d been meeting these same dogs for months, but hadn’t seen them for a few weeks because of holidays etc. We arrived at the field and spotted them playing in the far corner.  As I began walking towards them Little Bear started whining and scrabbling on my leg – a ‘pick me up’ request he’d not done since he was a pup.  He looked desperate and it took all my will power not to scoop him up and run to the car. But what would that teach him?  That these friendly dogs he’d come to know and play with were to be feared? 

I walked the rest of the way with an anxious little Schnauzer whining and pawing at the back of my legs, alternating only to try to pull at my trouser legs.  I felt to cruel I could have cried. 

The walk across the field seemed to last forever but in reality it couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds before we were met like long-lost friends by the other dogs.  LB froze for the greeting, bringing the meaning of the word ‘petrified’ very much to life.  They ignored this and went about their sniffing, tails wagging, tongues lolling.  Inspection over, LB had a good shake and without even a backward glance in my direction bounded after them.

I wanted to record this as it’s so easy to forget how far you’ve come.  Today’s episode was such a welcome reminder of something I may well have forgotten about, but to overlook it would be to discount the progress he’s made. 

We’ve had an amazing week full of little triumphs in fact:  Coming back to me even after he’d spotted his least favourite dog in the world a mere ten feet away.  Playing happily with an 11 month old mini schnauzer puppy without any grumbling what-so-ever.  Choosing to stay by my side and not to run over to see a Collie in the park this morning even though he was off the lead.  I could go on!

So my lesson to self is really about making sure I keep recording the good times as well as the bad.  LB will probably always be a nervous dog but the fact that he’s making progress despite his anxieties makes me even more proud of him.  🙂

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We’re on a roll!

Returning from our evening walk the other day we rounded a corner to see our neighbours boys playing football in the street. Now for an anxious, reactive little dog like LB this is quite a lot to take in. 

He’s always been great with children (they’re always good for a game and they’re brilliant at dropping food in their wake) however a visit from a friend and her young girls last year made him quite anxious. 

A happy playtime turned into ‘lets chase the dog’ and having ignored their mother, I had to step in and tell them off (which I’m sure went down like a lead balloon.) LB seemed fine but spent the rest of the visit tucked behind me on the couch out-of-bounds to the girls. Sadly, the incident obviously left a lasting impression because he now barks at them every time he sees them.

So, operation ‘kids are lovely’ is now an ongoing training regime.

So the boys playing football gave us a great opportunity to practice.  After explaining to them what we were doing and why they were more than happy to take part in the exercise (“Poor little thing, we’ll show him we’re not scary.”) which just meant them carrying on with their kick about, while LB worked on licking chicken out of my hand – a sort of ‘human hand Kong’.  It takes a strong stomach for dog slobber (and some wet wipes afterwards) but I’ve found it to be a great distractor for when he’s too stressed to respond to ‘watch me’ or offer another behaviour.

And so as the boys kicked their ball about and told me all about their own dogs I knelt on the pavement with a Schnauzer enthusiastically licking pieces of chicken out of my hand. 

Chicken exhausted, I stood up. The boys were still playing and chatting and LB was just standing there – body and tail relaxed watching calmly.  Keen to end on a high I thanked the boys for their help, gave LB loads of fuss and about a dozen rounds of ‘Clever Boy!’ and we practically floated home!

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Woohoo! I think Little Bear must have read my last post (or maybe he got the cat to read it to him, she’s clever like that), but either way we have had an amazing few days. So great in fact that I’ll have to split it over a couple of posts but let’s start with today’s triumph.

A huge breakthrough this morning in that ‘The Dalmation who must be barked at’ from around the corner needs a new name.  Out for our morning stroll and negotiating a sit at the curb (will you do it nicely for chicken? What if I say please?) he spots (pardon the pun) the aforementioned DWMBBA – cue ‘big dog’ body posture, muscles stiff as a board, low rumble from his boots….

Now this is all complete bluster because had DWMBBA, who incidentally is a large, confident looking dog, ambled over to say hello, LB would be fawning around his dinner plate paws like a giddy pup.  We both know this but the big scary dog act obviously makes him feel more able to cope.

Mustering my best jolly hocky sticks voice into a sing-song ‘This Way’ we crossed the road and putting myself between LB and the other dog we marched off in the other direction and ….LB didn’t woof once!   He huffed a couple of times but a firm ‘come’ had him trotting by my side without a backward glance. RESULT!

The usual routine would have been manic barking – a knowing nod and wave to DWMBBA’s owner and a hasty retreat, so today was a complete triumph.

After lots of praise and four bits of chicken (which could have been carpet off cuts for all he tasted of them) we detoured into the little wood – his absolute favourite place in the WWW (whole wide world).

After demonstrating the ‘four by paw’ capabilities of the mark 4 Schnauzer which included a paddle in the stream, a romp through the undergrowth and a ‘look at me I’m agility dog’ jump over the fallen tree, he decided to have a nap. 

Now, he’s found of a lie down in a cool clump of clover after a heavy session of fetch, but he’s never taken a siesta in the woods before and never before breakfast.  But after today’s excellent behaviour I was more than happy to let him have a chill – maybe he was laying there thinking of a new name for the Dalmatian – he who must be ignored perhaps?

Little Bear smelling the flowers

Little Bear takes time out to smell the flowers

Little Bear laying in the woods

Napping in the woods

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…you wonder what on Earth possessed you to get a dog…

A couple of my friends have ‘perfect’ dogs.  In fact, I question whether they’re actually dogs at all – maybe they’re shape-shifting aliens here to covertly monitor human behaviour.  I say this because these dogs are chilled out, easy-going, love everybody, get on with all dogs, adore puppies, rarely bark, travel well….you get the picture.

Now I love LB as if he was a small child – actually, given that small children can be annoyingly whingey on times I’d go as far as to say that I probably love him a wee bit more. But having a dog with issues is a roller coaster.  Some days you’re bursting with pride and then on others….you look at the cat and think ‘why didn’t I stop when I was ahead?’

I’ve lost count of the sleepless nights and the hours I’ve spent worrying about him and replaying scenes from his puppy-hood – Should I have done this? Why didn’t I do that?  And in my darkest moments I’ve balled my eyes out wondering miserably if he’d be better off with somebody else.

Now to ND (non-doggie) people all this angst probably sounds a bit pathetic. I’m a reasonably well-educated professional and here I am losing sleep over the choice of training classes for my Mini Schnauzer in the same way parents battle to get their kids into the right school.  As a work acquaintance guffawed at me the other day ‘It’s only a dog!’ 

But he’s not just a dog.  He’s my dog and I made him a promise the day I picked him up that I’d love him and look after him for the rest of his life.  A promise is a promise no matter who you make it to and I intend to keep it, no matter what.

But we’re all entitled to our bad days. 

Take last Monday. LB completely over-reacted to a Jack Russel we know who had the bad manners to sniff his bum when his back was turned.  My usual distraction techniques went out the window as he growled, snarled and barked fit to bust at the ‘so not bothered’ JR.

After weeks of great progress, here he was being demon dog.

As we abandoned the park for some brisk heal work to calm us both down my mind ran the usual gambit of emotions – embarrassment, anger, frustration, self-pity (oh how attractive) and I mentally beat myself up for being stupid enough to get a dog in the first place.

But having a dog with issues has taught me a lot – one of the main lessons being that I’m allowed to be human.  So it’s okay to feel all of that stuff now and again I can only ever be human just like LB can only ever be a dog. 

So I indulged myself in the negatives for a good ten minutes and even allowed myself to wallow in the ‘why me?’ pool just to get my money’s worth, but then I forced myself  Pollyanna style to try to think of something positive I could take out of it.  Amazingly, I found one!  My new-found ability to stay calm. 

Amidst all the barking, snarling and writhing around on the end of the lead, I realised that I had managed to stay perfectly calm, while keeping the lead loose and completely ignoring the behaviour.  I’d even managed a brief exchange with the Jack Russel’s good-natured owner as they’d passed – and forced a smile!

So we had a ‘bad’ day.  It’s not the end of the world.  The important thing is that we move on from it, we go forward, we learn and improve and as Winston Churchill is famously mis-quoted in saying, we “Never, ever, ever give up.”   After all, I have a promise to keep.

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Little Bear wants a friend.  Okay, I admit it, I want another dog and I’d like Little Bear to have a friend, but I’m sure if he could speak in a language we could understand he’d say the same thing. 

Now being an only child, there’s a distinct possibility that I’m projecting.  But I know my dog.  In the same way that I know the difference between a ‘It’s about time you got up’ and ‘I seriously need a wee’ barks, I know that he misses the company of other dogs. 

To see him slumped on the coach after returning from the dog sitters or after waving goodbye to a friends’ dog after a visit, really pulls on my heartstrings.  There’s a marked change in his body language and he just looks down in the dumps.  

Last week after a particularly fun afternoon playing in the garden with Collie pals Molly and Mickey he spent most of the evening on my lap, wasn’t interested in playing and wasn’t too fussed on his dinner.

When he has company he’s like a different dog.  It’s like a light comes on. He’s transformed into a wagging, bouncing, gambolling clown intent on having as much fun as he possibly can.  His face softens, his tongue lolls and he just feels happier. 

Now some dogs are more playful than others.  His Westie pals for instance are great fun but after a few minutes are off sniffing much to his frustration.  Molly is great for a chase session and will happily round him up and have a bit of rough and tumble.  Archie, his young CockerPoo pal is a bit timid on times and needs more supervised playtime for fear that LB will wear him out or simply get on his nerves – bless him he once jumped on our coffee table to get a time out from LB’s insatiable appetite for the ‘chase me!’ game.  But of all his pals it’s probably Poppy who takes the endurance prize for playtime. 

Poppy is our friends Chocolate Lab.  She was the first dog he met as a pup and she half terrified him at the time, bowling him over enthusiastically and sending him scurrying behind my legs.  That didn’t put him off for long though and they’re now firm friends.

Unfortunately we live around seventy miles away but the dogs fall into the same pattern every time they meet.  After an enthusiastic and speedy re-acquainting they moraude around the house playing chase and then roll around on the living room floor.

There’s sometimes the occasional squeak from LB; usually the result of a mis-placed Poppy paw on his tail, but in the seconds it’ takes me to put my coffee down on the kitchen table and walk five steps to investigate they’re back to playing; LB on his hind legs coaxing Poppy to chase him by licking her face or ears. 

There’s normally a quick time out for a drink (and a soaking of the kitchen floor in the process), but then they take up their positions again until tongues are lolling and we have two very contented looking dogs.

So, it’s with this in mind that we’re looking into the possibility of getting LB a friend.   I doubt we’ll find another Poppy as she’s pretty special but I’m crossing fingers and toes that if we take our time we might be able to find a new member of the family that can put a smile on all our faces.  Let the search begin!

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