Thursday, September 29, 2011

obedience training sessions lessons, part 2

here's more of the story about my training change of heart. if you missed my original emotional outburst, please see here.

our last two sessions were for recall and heeling/loose-leash walking. these were the things i was most eager for desmond to learn. his idea of a response when you say his name is to look at you and then stare blankly. also, he's turned into a crazed pulling machine on walks. that was particularly disappointing since he was incredibly well behaved when we took him on walks from the shelter for the weeks we were getting to know him before the adoption. i guess he's all overly confident and happy now, so he's looking to see the entire world as quickly as possible. what a jerk!

as for the recall session (lesson 4), there's not much to say. the process is the previous moves from the sit-stay, but then you look at your dog and call his name and back away. nothing all that upsetting happened with this lesson. OK fine.

for heel/loose leash training (the last lesson), there was an extreme amount of leash jerking involved, because desmond is like a rocket when we exit our property, and the leash jerk is how you're supposed to tell him he's doing something wrong.

it did seem to be working when the trainer did his demo. then, when desmond walked with joey, he stayed very close to joey's side and didn't pull. had desmond already learned to be scared of the punishment in a matter of minutes? seemingly so.

was he happy about it? seemingly not.

if you google for images of nervous or stressed dogs, you'll find stuff like this...

which is basically what desmond looked like during the session

his ears were back and down, his head was slightly lowered, his tail was down and stiff, his steps were careful. i asked the trainer, who was watching with me from our stoop, why desmond looked so sad/scared. he said that desmond wasn't scared but merely concentrating. i wasn't sure what to think, but i didn't feel like i believed that. now i feel pretty sure my dog was stressed, not focused.

when it was my turn to practice, desmond went back to pulling on the leash. the trainer kept urging me to correct my dog and just keep walking--never stop moving, even if i were then dragging desmond behind me. on turns, if i wound up stepping on one of desmond's paws, i was instructed to correct him, because this meant that desmond wasn't following the rules; it was his own fault his paw got stepped on and he needed to be taught that he should pay more attention to where his handler is.

part of me didn't want to do these corrections and part of me simply isn't strong enough to correct desmond and see results. i was doing such a "bad" job with the leash jerk, that the trainer was almost yelling at me at one point--telling me not to be scared to use more force. i felt horrible and couldn't do it though.

that's when the trainer decided to bestow a gift on me. that gift? a choke chain.

i felt even more confused and a bit sick. i had a lot of questions: could it be that desmond really needs such a thing? is it safe? can he hurt himself? can i hurt him? 

our trainer explained very carefully when to use it, how it use it, how to make sure that it's on correctly, and why putting it on correctly is so important. i was overwhelmed and somewhat alarmed but trusted the professional.

regardless, would any of this work when desmond saw another dog? in particular, the three dogs who live across the street and just down the block. we'd have to find this out on our own. this day was, of course, one of the rare times when the dogs weren't out in the front yard, so we couldn't practice this session in their presence and the trainer didn't get to see desmond go completely bonkers as he does over these dogs every day.

now, i'm kind of glad it turned out that way, because i can't imagine what this trainer would have done to desmond in that situation. (desmond has since become so reactive about these dogs that he is difficult to walk down our block even when the neighbors' dogs are not out. i'll get into that more another time, hopefully with video evidence. i have a bunch of photos to share, but you really need the audio-visual experience.)

so, we practiced like the trainer told us: go out and let him do his business first; put him in a down-stay for up to five minutes; release him; put him in a sit; then start your walk and correct anytime he's walking in a way you don't like. we did this once every day, as instructed.

in the end, were the sessions effective? 

yes, somewhat. desmond did learn sit/down/stay.

his recall while on the leash is only great if you're actively doing it as a "trick", but if we're on a walk and desmond is paying attention to something or has pulled out in front and you call him to come back to your side, you get no response other than maybe a head turn. his recall off the leash in our yard is hit or miss (if the neighbor's cat is anywhere around, forget it).

the boy still has trouble on walks with leash pulling, especially when we see another dog. or a person. or a cat. or a squirrel. or a plastic bag. or a truck. (we continue working on desmond's "failings" using other methods. we did use the choke chain for a couple weeks, but i did a bunch of research and decided to retire it.)

meanwhile, none of his separation anxiety issues got even slightly better in response to this training. there was a time right after it was all over that we swore his SA got worse. it was frustrating and we thought about calling the trainer back because he had given us a guarantee, but i didn't want to continue those methods. (since abandoning these methods--and changing some other things, too--he has gotten significantly better when home alone. we're still not at our ideal place with SA, but you haven't seen a Wacky Wednesdays post or anything like it in a long time for a reason.)

i'm left feeling like the training was a bit of a waste of money, but it did teach me a lot about myself and how i want to raise my dog.

more importantly, it lead me to the conclusion that i want to be a trainer. so that's how i've decided to look at it going forward--as an enlightening experience that's helping me forge a new path in my professional life that i wouldn't have predicted. i'm not going to feel bad about it anymore.

i want to be clear that i am not trying to insult anyone who teaches or uses these methods--which can absolutely provide results. i do apologize to anyone who may feel like i'm judging a large section of the dog-people world. what i'm trying to do is tell my story and express my feelings on it. caring for a dog is a very personal thing, much like raising a child, and each person's choices are only theirs to make. i am making the choice to use and, eventually, teach positive-reinforcement training, because it's what i feel comfortable with.

with all the advances in dog science right now, perhaps, by the time i finish school, there will be another theory about dog learning that will give us and even better training method.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BIG ADOPTION EVENT in Long Island 9/30-10/2

this weekend, desmond's old shelter, Ruff House Rescue, is hosting an adoption event in the huntington petsmart.

their doggies are so sweet and so cute, you must go see them. please take one home with you. they need love. and hugs. and permanent warm beds. come on--look how cute miss phoebe is:

i've walked her at the shelter. she's a funny little girl. so playful.

the following is from RHR's website:

Ruff House Rescue will be hosting a Huge adoption event this coming weekend

Where:  PetSmart in Huntington NY  350 Walt Whitman Road

[note from me: this link is to the map, directions & phone number for the petsmart store. you should probably call if you want to go friday. i'm not sure of the hours for that day, but i am going to RHR tonight and will try and remember to find out.]

When:  11am Saturday and Sunday

Adoption fees apply, If you are traveling from out of state and are a serious adopter we appreciate photos of your out door property and indoor photos in place of a home visit.
For adoption:  Belgium Malinois pup (M), Beagle, Hound, Chocolate Lab (M) Black Lab and Lab Mixes including puppies, Shitzu pups, pittie puppies, Chihuahuas, Rat terriers, Standard Poodle puppies, Toy fox terriers and many many other mixed and full breed RESCUES that need loving permanent homes.
Adoption fees Apply and home visits may apply
Please check back to see if the puppy or dog you are interested in is still available before coming down to visit us.
Submitting an application for adoption does not guarantee adoption.
Please send in a completed application to our email address which can be downloaded on this site and bring a copy with you to the event.
 Please come and adopt a new family member!!

Wordless Wednesday: just. too. tired.

by the way, i'm almost done with part 2 of the story about our trainer. it's getting to be quite long (are you surprised?), so i may need to break it up more, even if the breaks are unnatural, just to make an attempt at not being completely obnoxious. hope to have something up tomorrow.

Monday, September 26, 2011

technology works! but then fails me again...

we finally have a custom domain!

we're still a blogger blog, but we now live at the old blogspot URL will redirect you to the fancy new URL, so all should be fine with that.


in switching over to a custom domain, i managed to lose all the IntenseDebate comments that came in before i connected blogger and the new domain (this morning). well, they're not lost totally--they still show up in my ID account pages on the ID website--they're just not showing here for whatever reason.

i'm sad. i really really really appreciate everyone's comments and thoroughly enjoy reading them. i'm working on trying to get them back with the help of ID customer support, but you who knows how that will go.

so, thank you to everyone who has been reading and commenting. and to reply to those who left comments on sunday's post, yes, desmond sure is rocking a new collar. and, yes, he'd make a great model. he absolutely lives for being the center of attention. and treats.

we've been wanting to get him a new collar for a while now, because he's always scratching at the green nylon one. i wanted to try soy or cotton or rolled leather or something else natural, in case it was the nylon that was bothering him (his nylon harness makes him scratch, too), but that was proving difficult to find in a store.

at petco, we decided to feel up on all the collars to find something we thought was softer than the nylon. i'm sure we looked a little crazy. we wound up with the dog whisperer brand. we wanted the green one, but it only came in a size too large for dessie. oh well. red it is. the smaller size actually has a thinner band, so there's less collar to irritate him in the first place. so far, so good.

i tried to find a link to the collar but am coming up with nothing. more technology failings. i give up.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Make yourself comfortable, Desmond

Sometimes, we're pretty sure Desmond seriously thinks he's a human baby.

Monday, September 19, 2011

adopt a less-adoptable pet

UPDATE: now that i am joining petfinder's blog hop, i feel compelled to add a link to the Ruff House Rescue's list of adoptable pets on the site (i really should have done this from the beginning). we got our less-adoptable sweetheart from there, and i adore them (and occasionally volunteer for them), as noted here in my Blog the Change Day post.

adopt a less-adoptable pet from Ruff House Rescue, in Oceanside, NY!

desmond, who used to be david (and before that, spike, if you can believe it. lol!), is now part of RHR's Happy Tails page on petfinder. here's some photos from his listing, where he's looking especially sad and skinny (though not as skinny as he was at animal control):


this week is petfinder's Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week!

technically, it started two days ago but better late than never.

what's a less-adoptable pet? pets with black fur, pets with medical conditions, pets with injuries, pets with special needs of some other kind, senior pets, and pets who are part/full bully breed and/or are subject to the very, very, very wrong BSL (breed-specific legislation) found in waaaaaaaay too many towns and cities and even in one very disappointing state (i'm looking at you, ohio).

side note: i have problems with the bully breed thing and the BSL thing--two things that i don't think should exist at all. this is not the post i want to use to get into that. you can click the Animal Planet and ASPCA links above for more information and get your knickers in a twist all on your own this go-round. end side note.

these pets need just as much love--sometimes more--as any other "more desirable" pets who are sitting lonely in the shelters. i do have one caveat: pets with special needs, medical or otherwise, are certainly not for everyone. not everyone has the time (guilty) or money (guilty) or physical abilities that may be required to properly care for a pet with special needs. that is completely and totally understandable. you are not a monster if you cannot take on a pet with special needs--you're probably a better person for recognizing that and not doing the pet a disservice by bringing them to a less-than-ideal home situation.

our furry darling, desmond, was a less-adoptable, and we love every one of his "flaws" wholeheartedly. the boy has paws only a mother could love. strike one.

funky paws and bent tail

injuries, of sorts, to his back legs, back paws, and tail have caused him to have malformed legs that bend in toward each other (and practically touch when he walks); have some ridiculously funky paws with crooked toes and nails that stick out in all directions; and a crooked/bent tail. luckily, he seems to be in no pain (and the vet gives him the green light on life), but he does have trouble where other dogs would not and gets tired more quickly than most pups.

a view of his wonky legs from the back

and from the front

strike two is that desmond is part bully breed, because he is part pit bull, which is something many people specifically avoid. poor pitties!

the third strike against our little skinny butt is that he is such a little skinny butt. well, his butt will always be that skinny, thanks to the greyhound coursing through his veins, but he was quite underweight in the beginning. he's about 55 pounds now, but was around 40 when we adopted him and around 30 when the rescue group pulled him from the animal control shelter. bringing a dog up to proper weight is something that can be overwhelming/scary for some people. it also might cause someone to think the dog has serious health problems.

three strikes or not, you can't help who you love. we absolutely did not set out to bring home a dog anything like desmond (we wanted older, smaller, scruffier), but i am extremely grateful we're not the type of people who would have dismissed him the minute the shelter volunteer brought his malnourished, wonky self out to meet us. he has enriched and changed my life in so many ways. i can't imagine my days without him constantly whining for attention. :-)

please, if you're adopting or you know someone who is, try and make friends with a less-adoptable or encourage someone else to. it's a win-win situation.

and now, here's the blog hop link!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

obedience training sessions lessons: part 1

as you may have read in my Versatile Blogger post, i am going to school to become a certified dog trainer. there's lots to discuss on the subject, and i'm going to write a series of posts about it, so as not to torture you too much all at once.

a lot of thought went into the decision to plunk down money for this school, but the idea was sparked from my change of heart about our obedience trainer for desmond. i had been posting the details of our sessions on the blog so others could benefit a little from our efforts, but i didn't think that was a good idea after a while. that's where i'll begin. 

when we started obedience training, i didn't know all that much about it, but i knew that my house was being destroyed and my dog was way too attached to me and my husband. we needed help.

by the time we ended obedience training, i was nearly horrified at the thought of what we'd just put ourselves and desmond through. with each session, i was growing more uncomfortable, but we were seeing results with the first commands, so i thought i was being too sensitive.

this is how things took a turn...

for our third lesson, we learned the down-stay. our trainer had us do the usual walk-around-and-sit routine a couple of times and then command desmond to lie down and stay on the third sit. sounds simple enough.

here's where i start inserting random pix of desmond, because i think he's cute and also because i don't have any photos relevant to this post.

the down-stay was simple, yes, but somewhat hard to watch. the way it works is that you tell the dog to stay before you tell the dog to lie down. meaning, you go through the steps from lesson 2 and then after you've got the dog in a sit-stay, you give the next command: down. it turns out the down command doesn't, in fact, have to be verbal, which is where it gets dicey for me. after the dog is in the sit-stay, you can stand behind him and basically stare him down; he'll lie down without ever hearing "down." to me, this felt like bullying.

our trainer told us that the down command is often the hardest to accomplish, because your dog doesn't want to be that submissive. i'm certain there's a slew of people (vets and trainers and behaviorists included) who very much believe that. i just don't think i do.

i've been doing a lot of reading about the new science of dogs, which sheds an entirely different light on our furry best friends, going all the way back to the domestication of wolves and what wolf behavior is actually like (as opposed to what it is currently assumed to be like).

many common training techniques are based on the assumption that there's a pack-leader mentality within the dog--a desire for dominance, a need for a chain of command so-to-speak. these ideas are based on wolf behavior, which has been passed down to dogs.

desmond, are you in there somewhere?

the problem with this is that the majority of wolf studies have been conducted under unnatural circumstances, namely in zoos, sanctuaries, or other places of captivity. more often than not, when wolves are found in these places, the wolves that are there have been "piece-mealed" together into a group. they come from different packs--which are family-based in the wild--and are forced to live together, which goes against the nature of how wolves live, work, and play. this setup causes stress and conflict for the wolves involved. it changes the way they operate.

probably not the best arrangement

does it make sense to use this forced, inaccurate scenario and its resulting behavior to explain or understand what dogs do and why? i've talked about it briefly before, but this is why dog science is so important.

when our trainer was demonstrating the down command for us, desmond was being extremely stubborn and doing all kinds of whining and crying. the trainer had to physically push desmond down to the ground. i know that learning obedience commands is good for des, and i know that he wasn't being physically hurt by the trainer (then again, he does have those wonky legs), but i never expected to see this, and i was taken aback. it took a lot of self-control not to yell at the trainer to get off my dog. this feeling goes back to my "i am toast" theory about becoming a real parent.

no place better than dad's lap. desmond is definitely not a momma's boy.

desmond was also not great at staying down on his first few attempts and had to be corrected with a leash yank, a "no!", and a dragging-back-to-whence-he-came. then you start over again in that same spot with the sit-stay-down process. thank goodness joey went first after the trainer was done with the demo, because i wouldn't have had the nerve to do any kind of pushing or dragging. by the time it was my turn to work with desmond, he performed like an old pro. still grateful for that, and still just a touch shaken by the whole experience.

should you ever feel like you want to cry during obedience training??

even the act of jerking the leash to correct your dog, which seemed somewhat normal to me on day one of training--since i was being told by a professional to do it--has become something that i think about and cringe. i never really felt comfortable about it and always felt horrible doing it in public (like someone would think i was abusing desmond), but i honestly thought it was what we were supposed to do. it made some sense to me that a dog would need to be corrected for unwanted behavior.

one of many shots we have of desmond up against the fence

the more uncomfortable i got, the more reading i did, and that's when i realized that things didn't have to be this way. there are less-abrasive ways to train a dog. i felt foolish and naive and sad. i also felt confused: why would any trainer not use positive reinforcement methods over punishment-based methods?

we still had two lessons to go, and we'd paid for them already, so we chose to finish out with the trainer. plus, we were still having so many behavioral problems related to desmond's separation anxiety--and the trainer swore he'd behave just fine if we got these commands down--our desperation had not subsided much.

unfortunately, things only got worse from there.

sometimes on weekends we let des join us in the people bed. it's very hard to get him out of it when it's time to get up.


this is a blog hop!! actually, this is my first time in the saturday blog hop, so woo hoo for that. today is a crazy day at home with contractor visits and hurricane irene-related cleanup going on, so it will take me a few days to hop around and see the other blogs myself. but i promise i'll be hopping soon!

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Versatile Blogger award

previously, i have mentioned how terrible i am with getting to blog posts in a timely manner. here is further proof: back in july, jen at My Brown Newfies gave me the Versatile Blogger award. july, y'all. that's embarrassing.

i won't let this go to my head, but i can't say the same for desmond

instead of wallowing in shame, i'm going to say THANK YOU! again and finally move along with the award procedures. first up, as per tradition, seven random things about me.

  1. i'm a copy editor by day. you'd never realize that from my mostly-lowercase typing, but it's true. don't worry: i will not ridicule you for spelling and grammar errors in the comments (i save that treat for my nearest and dearest friends only!)
  2. desmond is my first dog with my husband, but i grew up with a white terrier mix named clarence. i hope to unearth some photos of him from boxes i never unpacked when i moved last year, so you can see how scruffy delicious he was. 
  3. i have a very serious, untreated chapstick addiction.
  4. i'm neurotic/anal retentive/paranoid. my husband is in a wedding in cleveland on new years eve. we're both really excited about our trip, but we will be away for 4-5 days and kind of have no idea what we're going to do with desmond yet. i don't really want to leave him with a paid sitter for so long; we're not sure if he can be trusted alone in a parent's house; and taking him with us isn't that easy since we can't leave him in the hotel room alone anyway. i think about this daily, and i'm certain that's not normal.
  5. if money--and laws--were no object, i'd quit my job to open a dogs-and-their-owners-only bar/restaurant/hotel/park. 
  6. i moved from queens to long island. a year and a couple months later, i'm adjusting to semi-suburban life and homeownership far more easily than i'd imagined i would. (i say semi-suburban because we are walking distance to many necessary goods and services.)
  7. i have enrolled in school to become a certified dog trainer! hopefully sometime soon i'll have a post all about this--i have quite a bit to say on the subject. maybe i'll make it a series. :-)
next, it's time to pass this award on to other deserving bloggers. i've seen a few different numbers going around in regards to how many blogs you're supposed to award, but i'm still so new to this myself that i don't know all that many bloggers. i'm going with five:

  1. Take Paws. many of you probably already know, but perhaps not all of you are aware of their awesome blog. recently, my desire to visit oregon was sparked anew by amy and her gorgeous pictures. she's RV-ing around with her husband and dogs.
  2. Oh, Corbin. first of all, corbin is a looker. second of all, he has a great sense of humor and some rather finely tuned writing skills. but mostly, he's a great foster brother, and if you're interested in the world of fostering dogs, this is a fab place to learn a bit about what it's like.
  3. Pauley James Former Foster Baby. and while we're talking about foster pups, be sure to check out this blog, written by a canine named Pauley. he's got lots of furry friends, too.
  4. Brando and Bogart. this blog features three cute cavs--one of which is such a wee li'l thing!--and their daily adventures, which include agility training.
  5. The Poodle (and Dog) Blog. i enjoy this blog because of all the interesting tidbits i find there about dogs from all over. some are funny; some are serious. all are worth taking a look at.
i hope you explore these blogs, and i hope even more so that i was able to help introduce some of you to something you haven't read before. i'm sure most folks have beat me to it with these, but you never know, right?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

in case you missed it: my guest dog blog

if you somehow missed me parading myself around on facebook last week to announce my very first guest blog post, do not fret. here it is one more time.

Guest Post: Welcoming a Dog

the great folks over at Flying the Nest asked me to help them out with some tips for bringing home your first dog, and i jumped at the chance. here's hoping i can continue to bring doggie info to some fine cat ladies and their readers in the future.

not sure what Flying the Nest is? well, for one, you should be clicking on these links. for two, i'll give you a big hint: a girl's guide to heading out on her own. ok, ok. that's not a hint; it's actually the FTN tag line. but you'd know that if you clicked over, now wouldn't you? and you really should. FTN offers some great tips about life without Mom and Dad that everyone can use, even if you've been out of your childhood bedroom for a while.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Rope toy

Someone's playing with his rope toy, which NEVER happens!

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