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Archive for June, 2012

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the stream

Little Bear in the stream

Little Bear turned five yesterday.

I can barely believe it. The time has flown so quickly, it seems like only yesterday that he was a teeny puppy, snuggled up in his crate amongst a sea of teddy bears.

We celebrated his birthday with a walk with a couple of his friends in at a nature reserve we’ve not been to before. He grumbled at a few pushy dogs, but came away when asked which was an improvement at least. But the real achievement was that……(drumroll please) he swam for the very first time!

Regular readers might already know that Little Bear, although fascinated by the wet stuff, swims like a brick. After watching him panic and sink once too often, I abandoned the hope that his ‘all dogs can swim gene’ would kick in and took him for lessons last year.

Yesterday evening, he jumped into a stream with his friends chasing tennis balls. It was perfect, about eight feet wide and gently graduated and without much of a current. As he chased the ball, it floated out into the deeper water and he just went for it, doggy-paddling like crazy to reach it.

Face your fears and do it anyway

After happily swimming for a few minutes, he had a slight panic. He found a tiny rock shelf to stand on at the far bank and stood looking petrified with all four feet huddled into what was only about a 3 inch square  space. I don’t know whether the realisation of what he was doing suddenly hit him, but his confidence certainly wobbled.

To a chorus of encouragement, he finally made up his mind and launched himself with great gusto into the water, swimming like a pro to the bank for his hero’s welcome.

It was a proud moment for us both. LB had decided to be brave. To face his fear and do it anyway.  His swagger, as he rubbed his soggy body against all of our legs for a pat and some more praise, told me that he was feeling pretty good about himself. Not a bad milestone for your fifth birthday either.

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Hands up if you’ve ever ended up in tears as a result of your dogs’ behaviour.

If you’ve said no I’m willing to bet that you either have a well-balanced dog & stumbled innocently upon this ode to the reactive dog while getting your canine net hit (you’re very welcome by the way :-)) or you’re a man. Sorry to stereotype here, but our dogs have pushed Other Half to the limit and he’s not blubbed once, so I’m assuming it’s a predominantly female thing.

Yep, I blubbed.  In public. I blubbed as I trudged through the woods while rummaging in my dog walking bag for tissues without bits of dog biscuit on them and overall failing miserably to put on a brave face.  The incident which sparked this bout of self-indulgence was wholly avoidable, but I got it wrong. So did the other owner but she must have a hide like a rhino as she didn’t seem to give a damn that her dog had just caused utter chaos.

Dive bombed

The scenario played out like this. We’re wandering through the woods when I hear a woman call her dog. I can’t see the dog but call Little Bear to me and seeing her bend down, I assume she’s put the lead on her dog so I did the same.

There’s nothing worse than letting your dog run up to another one that’s newly tethered – not only is it rude, but if that dog has been put on a lead for a reason, your dog is now in possible danger.

Lead aggression is a common problem and is, if you think about it a logical, if not desirable reaction. We all respond to stress with a split second ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ decision, but leads take away the flight option, which for a stressed dog only leaves one course of action.

Three guesses how Little Bear reacted when a super excited Mini Schnauzer raced straight into his face through the ferns. Yep. He went nuts. Lunging, growling and barking and all the while this little dog kept on coming back.  His owner wasn’t a bit bothered and didn’t even try to recall him!

Unable to fend him off I had to resort to picking LB up, something I hate doing as it’s a further confinement, but while being relentlessly dive-bombed I was left with little choice. Said hooligan then started jumping all over me while his owner just puffed on her cigarette and shuffled off without him – charming!

Getting it wrong 

There are so many things I did wrong. I should have turned tail and headed in the other direction. I should have called to her to check if she’d put her dog on the lead. If she hadn’t, I would have let LB off the lead as he’s met this dog before without incident. I should have thrown some chicken on the floor for the marauder and run with LB the other way. I should at least have given her a piece of my mind… but of course, in the stress of it all I did none of those things. Instead, I ranted and raved and then cried hot tired tears while wondering if I was ever going to be able to get my darling boy to a state of calmness.

The whole incident is in such stark contrast to the progress he’s been making lately that I think it was even more upsetting than it might have been. It’s left me under a cloud and kicked off a headache that looks like it’s settling in for a long stint, but we’ll plough on. I may get it wrong frequently, but the biggest mistake I could ever make would be giving up.

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It’s always puzzled me that some people are really reluctant to muzzle their dogs. I was reminded of this today reading the excellent Fearful Dogs blog and it reminded me of a dog I know. 

An acquaintance of mine has a rescue Pointer cross who can be highly unpredictable with other dogs. I unfortunately have first hand experience of her behaviour as she once attacked Little Bear when he was just a pup having been friendly to him just the day before.

When she was first adopted and the behaviour became apparent, her new owner tried muzzling her so that they could walk her around other dogs. This is great dog walking country so there’s an abundance of great forest walks to be had. Sadly though, they soon gave up on the idea as she hated wearing the muzzle and tried incessantly to get it off, not surprising as it was just put on her one day without any preparation or training.

The result is that for the past eight years she’s had mainly on-lead street walks at unsociable hours and only goes off lead when they’re at the beach on holiday. She’s loved and cared for but I can’t help thinking that for the want of a little preparation and perseverance her life might have been very different. 

Training 

As reactive dogs, I’ve been doing some muzzle training with both Little Bear and Annie for a little while now. After reading Debbie’s blog today I went and got the muzzles which hang next to the (nose level) treat shelf in the kitchen and they both jumped around excitedly as soon as they saw them. Over the months they’ve come to associate them with good things and know that when I unclip them, I also pick up the clicker and the treat jar.

Muzzles Party hats

Incidentally, I don’t call them muzzles. I call them party hats. It was a term I heard from a trainer a few years ago, who did some great  videos – sadly I cannot for the life of me think of his name, but I hope he wouldn’t mind me borrowing his phrase – it works a treat!  

There’s an excellent video on Debbie’s blog for anyone who’d like to start muzzle training. I know the basics, but I picked up some great extra tips, like using squeezable baby food sachets as an alternative to cheese in a tube for example. 

So back to the puzzle. Why don’t more people use muzzles, especially if their dog ‘has form’ for aggression? I think the answer has something to do with what they think other people might think of them. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey with Little Bear though, it’s that in the scheme of things, the only thing I care about is keeping him safe and happy. That includes protecting him from himself until he’s able to cope with the situations he’s worried by.  He’s never bitten but all dogs, even the most docile are capable of it and we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that.  

When I give the cat her worming tablet, I take precautions to make sure that I don’t get scratched to pieces and bitten (we wrap her in a towel & use a pill dispenser). I accept that that’s her nature and I work with it, taking the precautions I need to. Denial will just give me lacerations! We really should apply the same common sense approach with our dogs. 

 

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I write all day. I’m lucky in that my day job is in corporate communications so I’m paid to write speeches; copy; briefings; articles and press releases. And yet when I finally turn off the PC for the day and get on with the usual chores of eating dinner (notice I didn’t say cooking  ;-)) walking, playing and feeding the dogs and then trying to create  some semblance of order in the house, the itch to write is constantly with me, pulling at my sleeve like an incessant toddler.

I’ve often pondered on this. I doubt decorators come home from a long day and get the urge to get the paint rollers out again and I’ve known many a teacher who bolts the door for fear of even seeing another child in the next twelve hours so what’s going on?

Expression

My only conclusion is that most writers are driven by a need for expression.  The need for people to read what I’ve written is nowhere near as important to me as the need to commit my thoughts to paper or pixel.  A purging almost of the mind and soul, it doesn’t need to be read in order to matter as far as I’m concerned – I just need to do it.

I may write all day but on the whole they’re not my words. I’m a ghost stepping into another’s shoes to write speeches; I’m a saleswoman pitching an idea in my copy; I’m a teacher marking the homework of the agencies whose work I edit with a bleeding pen through clenched teeth. I’m many people, except of course the most authentic one – Me.

Writer’s block

I sat down this afternoon desperate to write. Dogs walked; laundry done; ironing ignored for another day, I opened up WordPress and – nothing.  Not a single idea for the Little Bear Dog blog.

My creative writing teacher once told us the only way to overcome writer’s block was to write.  His was a generous take on the problem as he saw nothing wrong in including shopping lists in his suggested cure for the dreaded block.  I’ve not veered that far from the path today, but it has helped – I hope regular readers will forgive the digression.

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