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Posts Tagged ‘Mini Schnauzer’

Annie and Little Bear with their friend Grace

Annie and Little Bear with their friend Grace

Oh my poor neglected blog. Seven whole months on its lonesome, twiddling its pixels in cyber space wondering if this was it, the thing every blog dreads – the last post.

Well, despite my tardiness, TLBDB, now in its fifth year, need not fear, I have no intentions of abandoning it. I have though come to accept that my posts may not be quite so frequent as they once were.

My less frequent updates are due to a couple of factors.  Finding a group of people locally who are all living and working with reactive dogs has been an enormous help, not just for the opportunity to socialise our dogs, but to find support from people who really, genuinely understand the challenges.

Working for myself also means that I now get paid to write. Admittedly, I don’t get paid to write about dogs, but you never say never!

Little Bear and Annie have come such a long way and continue to be a source of joy and hilarity.  They still have issues and we’ve come to realise that when working with fearful dogs, there’s rarely ever a destination, just a better quality of road.

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Mini schnauzer Little Bear having a cuddle

Bear deals much better with firework night if he has someone to snuggle with.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.” For some unknown reason we’re still celebrating Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow the Houses of Parliament to smithereens 400 years after the fact.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for tradition if it brings a smile to people’s faces, but when you have a dog that’s terrified of loud noises, firework night is traumatic. Picture your dog hunched in a corner, shaking like a leaf and panting so hard you’re afraid he might pass out.

It’s a pitiful sight especially when you’re unable to control the source of their fear. What’s worse is the fact that as the sale of fireworks is unregulated, fireworks ‘night’ now seems to last up to two weeks meaning another assault can come at any time.

Advice 

Lots of dogs are of course frightened of fireworks and social media has been awash with people asking for advice on how to cope with their terrified pets.  On the whole the advice offered is sound: Turn up the TV; try a Thunder-shirt, herbal calmers, hormone collars and diffusers like Adaptil and for those instances where nothing works, a consultation with your vet for a prescribed tranquilliser.

However, there are still those who insist that ignoring your dog is the only way to deal with the situation.  I understand where this thinking may have come from – in positive reinforcement training we often ignore bad behaviour like jumping up for fear of reinforcing it with our attention.  However, YOU CAN’T REINFORCE FEAR! Once your dog is afraid he’s incapable of learning anything so you won’t make it worse by giving him attention.

For pity’s sake, just cuddle your bloody dog! 

So please, if your dog is frightened and wants to be near you – CUDDLE HIM! Distract him, play with him – hell, wrap him in a blanket and feed him roast chicken off a fork if it’ll make him feel better but please, PLEASE do not ignore him.

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Seven years ago today my life was tipped upside down by a small, yappy bundle of cuteness. I thought I’d done my homework. I thought I knew dogs, but in hindsight I knew about as much as Jon Snow. I’m still only scratching the surface in terms of my understanding of these acutely intelligent, sensitive creatures so many of us share our lives with. 

As my blog has chronicled, Little Bear hasn’t been the easiest of dogs. He has challenged me emotionally and intellectually from day one and we’ve had our fair share of dark days when I’ve doubted us both. 

I used to often catch myself wondering what life might have been like had he been a different dog. If he’d been born with the laid-back genes of my beloved childhood Springer or had the take-anywhere personality of those dogs who happily lounge under the table at pavement cafes…. But he is not that dog. He will in fact never be that sort of dog, but that’s fine with me.  

I’ve been blessed not just with an amazing companion, but with an incredible teacher.  The irony is of course that in searching for ways to better understand and help him deal with his fears, I’ve had to face down quite a few of my own. So thank you my Little Bear. Thank you for being the funny, sensitive, sweet little soul you are. My life is so much the richer for you. xxx 

And now for some shamelessly cute photographs for no other reason other than the fact that you’re shamelessly cute! 

Two mini schnauzer puppies

Little Bear and his brother.

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Our first picture

Mini schnauzer puppy Little Bear

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear with his teddy

 

 

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the garden

Mini schnauzer Little Bear sleeping on the sofa

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the autumn leaves

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear looking out to see

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in witches hat

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in a hat

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the pool

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear laying down

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear sticking out his tongue

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the  field

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in a bandana

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Like most aspiring dog owners, before I actually had a dog I used to indulge in the odd reverie about our wonderful future life together.  I had visions of us playing catch in a sun drenched meadow on a warm August afternoon.  I imagined us kicking up a pile of crisp autumn leaves and leaving cute paw and foot prints in the winter snow before heading home to snuggle on the sofa.  

Having grown up with a Springer Spaniel, I wasn’t entirely naive, but I suppose part of me choose to block out one of the not so welcome seasonal realities: Mud.

So long nice clean car

So long nice clean car

Mud magnets

If you’ve not got a dog and you’re thinking about getting one, please, hear me now:  They will get muddy. You will get mud: in your house; in your car; on your clothes and more often than you’ll care to think about, on your face and in your hair.  

You will have an almost daily routine of wiping mud off the walls, radiators and any small children who may happen to walk past. Your pile of dog towels will quickly outweigh the human ones, your washing machine will work overtime and in the winter months, you’ll start grading your walks not on how enjoyable they are, but on how muddy its likely to be. 

Paddling Bear

Paddling Bear

 

 

Who chose the cream tiles?

Our battles with mud are exacerbated by some pretty unpractical home decorating choices.  In answer to the question ‘Which idiot chose cream floor tiles, white walls and a light beige sofa?’ I have to foolishly raise my hand.

In my (feeble) defence, I made those choices when we only had Little Bear and as much as he loves paddling in puddles and rolling in cow pats, he’s not a big fan of deep mud. But then of course, we got a Labrador. 

 

 

 

Annie the Labrador covered in mud

Annie the Labrapotomous

Labrapotomous

Annie is a mud magnet.  She’s the Labrapotomous of the dog world and loves nothing better than getting caked in the stuff from nose to tail.  In the Forest she’ll find the deepest, dirtiest, stinkiest puddle and fling herself into it with the wild abandon of a lemming on a cliff top. She emerges beaming as if she’s just won the lottery and annoying as it is, we don’t have the heart to stop her fun.  But even on a road walk, she has an amazing ability to attract mud and will invariably return home with dirty paws, legs and tummy. 

Adjustments

We’ve made some practical adjustments at home, including installing a new door to give us direct access to the garage from the house.  This means we can bring the dogs in through the garage, avoiding the daily splattering of mud up the walls of the hallway.  It also gives us more room to do the towelling off.

I’d be lying if I said that dealing with constantly filthy dogs is much fun. But here’s the rub: when we took on our dogs it was to give them the life they deserved. And we made that commitment for life. We knew there would be compromises along the way and a pristine home is just one of them. What we get in return though far outweighs the inconvenience and of course, we still have those sunny August afternoons to look forward to.

 

 

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Little Bear hates having a bath. He’s not unusual as I suspect most dogs dislike our penchant for making them sit in warm water while shampooing away all those delightful doggie aromas: mud, stinky puddle water, poop (LB loves the fox variety but will settle for cow pats at a push) and his particular favourite, dead stuff. The day he rolled in a long dead rat is still chillingly fresh in my memory as is the sight of him swaggering home, proud as punch not realising that six baths would be necessary to rid him of the stench.

Bath time blues
Little Bear is now six so I’d sort of resigned myself to the fact that bath time would always be a necessary evil where he turned on the puppy dog eyes with the occasional shiver for good measure and I ended up feeling guilty.

Positive reinforcement
As a big fan of positive reinforcement I’ve tried using toys and treats over the years but he largely ignored the toys and took the treats with a reproachful ‘this isn’t working you know’ glare.
So imagine my surprise when yesterday, LB jumped into the bath on his own!

Bath time Bear
We’d been out for a long forest walk and he was really muddy. But as he’d only had a bath last week I decided to let the mud dry and brush it out. Bear though had other ideas.

While I was hanging up the towels in the bathroom he trotted in, rested his nose on the bath and wagged. Then came the cute over the shoulder look to see if I was looking and another wag. I quietly closed the door, usually a cue for him to dart out of the room, but he just stood there wagging at me.

Now LB loves chasing stones in the ford and over the summer he’s been playing in a paddling pool my mum found for him. He’s so obsessed with the stones I’ve got a handful in a jug in the bathroom in an attempt to make the dreaded bath time more bearable.

I picked up the jug and before I could do anything he had jumped into the bath! What’s more he was wagging fit to bust!

Needless to say he got his bath but not until we’d played stones for a long time – it seemed only fair after he’d asked so nicely!

Lessons learned
Yesterday reminded me of an incredibly valuable lesson: never underestimate the power of a positive reinforcer – they work, but they’re often not the things we think they are.

(Please excuse any formatting issues, I’ve had to write this on my iPhone as he’s fast asleep on my lap and looking way too cute to disturb!)

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Mini Schnauzer Little Bear takes a break out on a solo walk

Little Bear takes a break during our solo walk

If you have more than one dog, chances are you probably walk them together.  I actually still recall the “Walking two dogs is no more work than walking one” argument I used as part of my case for a double dog household.  Oh foolish fool, how wrong could I have been?!

The reality is, if you have reactive dogs like ours, combined walks can sometimes do more harm than good.

Tipping point

Just like us, all dogs have a tipping point. Now for your laid back, confident pooch the circumstances needed to reach that tipping point might never ever arise but for the nervous, under-confident dog the line between calm, rational thought and an emotional, amygdala driven outburst is always that much finer.

In the fourteen years we had our beloved Springer Spaniel, I only once saw him aggress and that was when a Rottweiler  jumped into our garden and cornered him in the yard. Even our sweet old gent found his tipping point that day and acted to defend himself much to our utter amazement.

For reactive dogs like Bear and Annie, their equivalent of a Rottweiler over the garden wall can be as seemingly benign as a dog on a lead 300 yards away. Through an unfortunate mix of temperament, experience (and lack of it), they see threats where there are none.  But when they bark and lunge, it’s out of the same fear my old Springer felt all those years ago, it’s just that their tipping points aren’t as obvious to us.

A life lived in fear

They say a life lived in fear is a life half lived and this can certainly be the reality for many dogs. On Little Bear’s scary list were: bikes, skateboards, other dogs,  horses, velcro (?!) and thunderstorms to name but a few.  A walk invariably encountered at least one of the things and so for a long time, practically every trip out of the door would mean he’d end up in a frenzy of fearful barking and lunging.

Positive reinforcement 

Over the years we’ve worked to raise his tipping point to a more comfortable level.  Armed with clicker and treats (and a swift and unapologetic about turn if we spot something that I know he won’t cope with) we’ve slowly built up his tolerance to the point that he can now see a dog across the street and remain calm enough to sit and get a treat for his non-reaction.

Bikes and skateboards no longer get a second look thanks to the same positive reinforcement and he can walk past a field of horses without batting an eyelash. That said, he has learned to flutter them a little in the hopes of a reward when he thinks he’s been especially good.

The key to the training has simply been to encourage him to feel differently about the things he was once afraid of.  Get rid of the fear and the over-reaction just isn’t necessary anymore.  Which brings me on to the need for solo walks.

Going solo

Part of the ethos of positive reinforcement is that dogs are alway set up to succeed. Considering his naturally anxious disposition, Little Bear has achieved a lot over the last few years which is why asking him to be cool, calm and collected while his best friend Annie is freaking out by his side is really a bridge too far.

So, as much as I love walking my dogs together, until he and Annie are at a similar level in terms of tipping points we’ll continue to walk them separately as often as we can. The good news is that judging by Annie’s progress, she’ll not be far behind him.

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Little Bear finds a shady spot

Little Bear finds a shady spot

When it’s hot its hard to keep dogs properly exercised without the risk that they’ll over-heat. Little Bear especially finds the warm weather quite tough and although he knows his limits, it still leaves us with a problem: One very bright, very active little dog who has no outlet for all his get up and go.  As we know ourselves, being happily tired after a good workout is very different to the lethargy that sets in when it’s just too hot to move.

Putting the fun back 

So this morning , before the day had chance to hot up, we booked the local agility course with a friend of ours. LB has done agility before. We had a couple of one-to-one lessons and then joined a group class. Given his anxiety levels, the group class was incredibly challenging, but he coped admirably and seemed to forget about the other dogs once he was doing the course.

Teaching resilience

He’s loved agility from the off and proved that although he wasn’t built for speed or endurance, he’s a brave little chap.  To my utter amazement he tackled a full height A frame on his first ever session (see the video here).

Taking a break at the end of the session

Taking a break at the end of the session

I was reminded of this today as he lost his footing on the walkway but pressed on regardless. Then again when he misjudged a jump and took a tumble. He picked himself up and with a bit of lighthearted encouragement took the same jump again and again as if to prove it hadn’t beaten him.

 Building confidence

Nervous dogs usually lack confidence and depending on their temperament, use either aggression or retreat (fight or flight) as their only means of coping with the things that scare them.  Watching LB face his fears today and overcome them so swiftly was a timely reminder of how I need to be constantly finding ways to build his confidence and boost his resilience. The other bonus is that before the sun had had a chance to take too much of a hold, Annie and Bear were back home, happily tired, mentally stimulated and quickly snoozing.

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