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Archive for December, 2011

Annie & Little Bear

Annie & Little Bear

I’m not a fan of going out on New Year’s Eve. Of course, it was obligatory in my youth (god, how ancient do I sound?!) but it was usually marked by at least someone crying in the pub toilets, having a blazing row or otherwise getting morose.  Add to that the exhausting game of ‘dodge the midnight snogger’ those slobbery little creeps who think that midnight gives them carte blanche to pucker up to complete strangers and all in all it was as much fun as bathing a cat.  Thanks all the same, but I’ll be chilling at home tonight.

What I do love about New Year’s Eve is the chance to reflect on the departing year. I won’t be sorry to see the back of 2011 for numerous reasons, but dogwise, it’s certainly had it’s ups and downs.

Annie 

It’s been a huge year for Annie for sure.  It started with the TPLO operation to repair her damaged cruciate ligament.  Then came the 12 weeks of crate rest.  It’s amazing how we forget the weeks of disturbed nights as she cried pitifully from her crate.  Getting up three, sometimes four times a night with her was normal for weeks.  Other Half and I were punch drunk from lack of proper sleep.

Then there were the four walks a day she needed to build up the leg muscles and the desperate attempts to avoid the sight of any other dogs for fear that her lunging would undo the surgeon’s hard work.

Annie post TPLO

Annie post TPLO

In May came the freak puncturing of her thigh muscle by the metal work in her leg and the 3am race to the emergency vet.  She’s been spayed this year too and had her first holiday; the disaster story I’m sure we’ll continue to dine out on for years to come. But she’s also made amazing progress.  After months of on-lead walking while her leg heeled and we plucked up the courage to trust her recall, she’s now a sight to behold as she bounds through the woods.

Annie's bionic leg

Annie's bionic leg

She can still be reactive on the lead, but she’s a total pussycat off-lead.  She’s even made some new doggie friends. To see her running with other dogs and initiating play with Little Bear is just amazing.

She’s even learned to retrieve a ball in the past few weeks, which just goes to prove that you don’t really see the whole dog for a long time after their adoption.

A particular highlight came in the shape of her award from Labrador Rescue South East and Central.

Little Bear 

Little Bear too has made amazing progress. We had a setback the other day, but the overall trend is a positive one. His reactivity is much reduced and that’s something I’m really proud of. If someone had told me this time last year that he’d be walking past screaming children, cyclists and other dogs without barking I’d have been amazed, but he’s doing all of that.

He also did really well at his agility lessons.  Again, being in a class with lots of other dogs isn’t something he could have done last year, but he coped brilliantly and even though he doesn’t take agility very seriously, he proved that he can make short work of all of the equipment despite the presence of lots of other dogs.  I’m not sure sitting on the top of the A Frame for a rest is in the rule book, but he certainly enjoyed being the class clown.

Little Bear goes swimming

Little Bear goes swimming (well, nearly..)

He also learned to swim, an achievement of the highest order given his complete terror of the pool on his first lesson. He’s not up to the backstroke just yet, but we’ll be starting lessons again in the Spring so that he can pick up where he left off.

2012

So here comes 2012.  I could fill pages with all the things I’d like to do with them, but I’ll restrain myself. I’m immensely proud of my dogs and plan to spend as much time as possible enjoying their company and helping them overcome their fears in 2012. For that opportunity I feel really blessed.  Happy 2012 everyone.

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Me and my big mouth…

I can just hear my grandmother now. ‘Pride comes before a fall my girl.’  As if an evil goblin was following me around making copious notes and deciding when to bring me down a peg or two.  ‘Ha! There she goes, bragging about that dog again, better blow a bit of set-back dust at her; teach her not to be so smug.’

The goblin struck on Christmas Eve. But I can’t blame magical creatures, it was all my fault.  We had a house full of people and not just any people but a collection of the dogs favourite, treat bringing, cuddle delivering types. They were hyped up to somewhere and didn’t know which of their favourites to make a fuss of next.

When another one of their other favourite people turned up with her young daughter in tow Little Bear completely forgot himself and got really anxious.  I wasn’t quick enough and when she went to stroke him he growled and barked at her.

To her immense credit she was utterly calm and even went home and made him a card to prove that she still liked him in spite of his lack of manners.

I on the other hand was mortified and devastated in equal measure.  I saw our months of training on the school run sail out of the window and had nightmares filled with doom and destruction. I berated myself for my stupidity, flailing myself raw with the memory for days. That’s me. Just like Bear, I’m over-sensitive and err on the Eyeore as opposed to the Tigger.

Where to now?

But I’m a wanna-be Tigger so I’ve forced myself to see it for what it was. A highly charged situation in a confined space that I read as enjoyable simply because I was enjoying myself. What I wasn’t doing was reading my dogs well enough. Annie was relaxed enough and just followed whoever had food, but Little Bear clearly wasn’t comfortable.  My screw up, not his.

So what do we do now?  There’ll be some revisions to the training plan but we’re going to go back to basics and start over.

 

 

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Take a bow Bear

Little Bear the Miniature Schnauzer

Little Bear

The thing about our modern pace of life is that we often allow it to rob us of our triumphs. We write a challenging report, cook a fantastic meal or haul ourselves to the gym on a wet Monday night and instead of taking a moment to metaphorically pat ourselves on the back, we’re off, rocketing onto the next thing on the never-ending to do list.

Maybe it’s a sign of getting older but I’ve developed a bit of a leaning for books which depict a slower pace of life.  The excellent ‘Cat Who’ books by Lillian Jackson Braun, although crime books, have a relaxed charm that make me hanker for a lifestyle which is walked as opposed to sprinted.

Anyway, now that I’m feeling decidedly pedestrian, I’ll get to the point.  Little Bear is doing brilliantly. I just took a few minutes to bask in that statement and cuddle him for all his hard work.  In fact, he’s been doing brilliantly for weeks but of course “I’ve not had time…” to reflect on it yet alone write about it.

Reactivity

The main progress is in his reactivity to other dogs. We’re now at the stage where 85% of the time, if he sees another dog across the road he’ll whine and look at me instead of launching into a full out bark-fest.  It’s not foolproof, other dogs barking at him is something he can’t ignore and he still can’t stand puppies but it’s progress and that’s fine with me.

Persistence and consistency with the clicker training plus I hope, slightly better timing than I had before means that if I can get in with a better alternative before he rapidly runs out of coping strategies and resorts to barking and lunging, we’re in with a good chance.

We use ‘watch me’ and ‘find it’ for treats as distractions but I’m careful to make sure that the food is a reward for non-reactivity; get the timing wrong and it’s easy to end up rewarding and therefore reinforcing what you don’t want.

So that’s my moment and Little Bear’s triumph and now that I’ve taken the time to reflect and record it, I’m going to go give him another cuddle.

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Annie plays with Bear

Playtime, 18 months in the waiting.
Best with the sound turned down to avoid my breathing into the microphone & giggling 🙂

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Playtime!

During my campaign to adopt a second dog, one of my main arguments was that it would be company for Little Bear. He’d have a playmate, someone to fool around with, someone to chase a ball with in the park.

However, when Annie arrived, it became clear pretty quickly that she had no idea what a tennis ball was, nor did she possess the inclination to find out. Once she established that you couldn’t eat them, that was it.

She also had no mind to play with LB. Despite his valiant efforts on the Tomfoolery front she remained nonchalant. Play bows, shoulder rubs, woofs plus no doubt a dozen more signals we just miss, it was like he was invisible.

Dejected

It’s hard to see the little fella look so dejected, so imagine our delight when a few weeks ago, completely out of the blue, Annie ran up to him in the park, bounced into a play bow and tried to chase him! I don’t know who was the more amazed – us or him!

We made the mistake of praising her for it and of course broke the spell instantly as she associates praise with food and as the walking treat bags, us. We were smarter the next few days and watched, tight lipped but wide eyed and beaming, as she went through the same little routine.

Clumsy
It’s taken them a few weeks to work out the rules. Being a complete klutz, her first few attempts to play ended abruptly when she stepped on him or unceremoniously bowled him over. This earned her a barking at and then a few minutes of statue Bear, where he’ll stand stock still and refuse to move, ears back, face set and his eyebrows meeting in the middle. A silent but effective protest at his mistreatment.

Happily, they seem to have figured out the ballet that is clumsy Labrador chasing nimble Schnauzer and it’s now a daily occurrence. Watching them literally running rings around us in the park today I couldn’t help but yet again marvel at Annie’s power to surprise us.

It’s so right what they say, for a lot of rehomed dogs, their true personality doesn’t really shine through for many months, years even. That Annie is relaxed and confident enough now, after nearly 18 months, to play and have fun is fantastic. To see Little Bear’s face light up in delight as she chases him is just magical.

The bond that she and LIttle Bear have is also a complete delight. It’s been a bumpy road with both of them, but every time I see them snuggled up together on the sofa, or as they trot along together, sniffing the same patch of grass or just rubbing shoulders, I’m so glad that the campaign paid off.

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