Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Caption This Image

Your turn! Tell me what this loony dog is thinking now.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

PoochieBells Pet Product Review: Train Your Dog to Tell You When He Has to Go

Folks, we finally finally finally got into the doggie doorbell game, and it couldn't have come at a better time. The displacement situation had effectively eliminated our existing method of Desmond communicating when he had to go potty. The arrival of PoochieBells has really helped us out with knowing for sure that Desmond has to go.

For those of you who have no clue what I am on about now, PoochieBells are literally a set of bells that you hang by your door and train your dog to ring when they have to go potty. 

No, I'm serious. Look:

Aren't they cute? They come in a ton of colors and designs, too. And yes, those are your average jingle bells. A little bit of Christmas all year long!

OK, so here is the rundown!

We started training Desmond with the bells on February 18th. I had suspicions that if he were going to figure this out at all, he would start ringing the bells alllllllll the time, just because he didn't feel like being in this apartment anymore. I feel you Des. I'd like to ring the bells, too.

And damn it if I wasn't right!

In less than 3 days, Desmond started to figure out that ringing the bells opened the door, but he didn't necessarily understand that it was time for bathroom action. By February 26th, he was definitely ringing when he had to go out--but he also seemed to think that he could ring them any old time to signal that he wanted to simply leave the apartment.

Now, we followed all the training directions that PoochieBells come with--which are super simple by the way:

And we absolutely did not ever take him anywhere other than outside when he rang the bells, but he still didn't seem to comprehend how this works. 

Our original strategy was to take him directly outside when he rang the bells--every time he rang the bells. In hopes that he would start pairing the bells with outside (and we put the cue word, "Potty!" on it). That worked just fine, but this didn't seem to properly register as "outside and only outside. do not pass go. do not collect $200." Nor did it work to stop him from ringing the bells either A) whenever he felt like a change of scenery or B) whenever he heard a noise downstairs or next door or a car door slamming out front.

I touched base with the PoochieBells rep who had contacted me about the review and gave our progress/challenge report. I got the following feedback, which is pretty much what we were already doing:

As the bell is a communication tool, dogs will learn to ring it for your attention.  If you are strictly using if for potty training, during the training process, be sure to use the bells for potty time only... meaning don't mix potty time with play time - when you go out.  After he is trained that isn't an issue.
But let's face it: Desmond is one special dog. So we needed a new strategy. That's when I started to ignore most of his bell ringing shenanigans entirely. My theory being that if he really had to go out, I would know because he'd be dancing around at the door or he would ring the bells again/more loudly or something. (When he does ring them, he does it kind of gingerly. Sometimes we can't even hear it. Our delayed reaction may be affecting the quality of our results.)

And that theory is actually more or less reflected in their training FAQs online:

Q: What if my dog rings the bells all the time?A: As with any training procedure, it is important that you remain the authoritative leader. You can rectify this behavior by controlling the frequency you allow your dog to go outside. If your dog just went out and then rings the bells shortly afterwards, wait until a reasonable amount of time has passed (no more than once an hour) before responding to the ringing. He will soon learn not to abuse his new communication tool.

This method is mostly working, but we have not mastered it yet. We are almost always able to tell when he has to actually go out to potty. And the fact that we now have the bells at all it such a help, because previously he was just kind of standing around near-ish the door, looking confused. It's bad enough the poor guy is still confused about the lack of grass once he gets outside; I'd like him to at least not be confused about showing us he needs to go.

Or, worse yet, he was running to the door and whining in response to noise--so we'd take him outside and he'd then just stand there looking around and sniffing the air. Like we have time to just be at his service. Rudest dog ever.

One of the weird things is that our choice of bell location should be helping us in this endeavor:

The bells are on a closet door. The door to the hallway is on the right.
One of the tips on the site suggests that by keeping the bells on the door you use to exit, it will help reinforce the idea that bells = outside. But because this door does not lead outside, we knew we didn't want to do that. Plus, hearing those bells ring all the time would drive us bonkers.

What's funny is that the recycling bin is behind that closet door. So we often have recyclables piling up in the kitchen--just to avoid opening that door and making the bells ring and having Desmond leap off the couch like it's party time. Purpose semi-defeated?

I'll tell you this, though--the reactivity does not help matters. He is the nosiest of nosy neighbors. Every single thing that might be going on without his supervision is a problem. Any noise, and he's prancing over to the bells and banging on them. He hits the bells harder for that than for when he wants to potty.

It's like he's waiting for his one true love to show up in the hallway downstairs and he is just going to jump right out of his skin if we don't let him go investigate the reason the front door slammed. What if it is his soulmate down there and they have a missed connection?? He can't post on Craigslist without opposable thumbs! He could never see her again! Traumatic, to be sure. 

But you know what? (As my mother would say...) MYOB, dog. Not everything is about you. 

What's most frustrating to me is that if we were home with our fenced-in yard, I'd totally let the dude go in and out whenever he wants. I have no problems with that, really, regardless of whether or not it's the "right" thing to do. And I know we would keep the bells right on the back doorknob. No concerns there.

(Know what else is frustrating? Putting on a coat and sneakers every time the dog needs to go out, bells or no bells. Seriously, folks, if you have a fenced-in yard that your dog can frolic in, cherish it. Love it and hug it and cut its grass with care. Roll around in it with abandon--in a spot where your pup doesn't do his business, of course. Because once you lose it, you will weep on the inside every day. And sometimes on the outside if you've had enough wine.)

In any case, the PoochieBells clearly do their job, and the issue comes in on the training side. Actually, no. Scratch that. We have trained him on the bells just fine. What it comes down to is that Desmond is a manipulative drama queen. Plain and simple.

We will absolutely continue to use the bells, even when we get back home one day. And I will be making sure the bells go with Desmond whenever he is staying over with grandparents or our Goodnight Lucky dog sitter. Anything to bring some consistency back!

[disclosure] One set of PoochieBells was sent to us free of charge in exchange for our honest review of them. In addition, we were sent one of these really awesome reusable, disposable towels to try. I didn't want to write up a full review of it--and was not asked to--but very quickly I will say it is fantastic for wiping off Desmond's paws when we come in from outside. I prefer it to a real towel.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Guest Post -- From Playmate to Office-mate: Top Tips for Pets at Work

Seeing as how Desmond's been putting in overtime with his dad once a week during our hurricane displacement, now might be a good time to explore the ins and outs of taking your dog to work with you. 

Dr. Rebecca Jackson, staff veterinarian for Petplan pet insurance, wrote a great post for me to share with you today. Take a look!

From Playmate to Office-mate: Top Tips for Pets at Work

Pug Henry lends a paw in the Petplan office--
or in this case, all four paws!
Cubicle life has gotten cuter in recent years, thanks to many companies’ open-door policy for pets at work. The benefits of having four-legged friends where we spend 8-10 hours per day are obvious; more smiles, less stress and workers who are willing to put in longer hours when they don’t have to leave Fido at home. 

All that being said, bringing our furry friends to work can get us into some hairy situations if we’re not realistic about our expectations, diligent about common courtesy – and prepared with the occasional poo bag! Stay out of the doghouse by committing to the following Pets at Work Pledge.

Darcy & Benny put their heads
togetherto come up with ideas for
the next issue of fetch! magazine.
Healthy Paws. Keep your pet current on vaccinations and administer monthly flea and tick treatments, as well as monthly heartworm preventative.

Manners, Please. Only bring a pet to work if he is socialized and well-behaved. Aggressive behavior towards people or other pets is an obvious no-no, but even if you have a non-aggressive pet who is simply shy, consider carefully whether an unfamiliar environment full of strangers is going to be too stressful and whether he would be better off at home.

Port-a-Potty. Be sure to take frequent potty breaks – more than you normally would during the day. Because there are so many new smells, your dog may be tempted to mark his favorite places; keeping the tank on empty will help curb some of this behavior.  Remember that accidents do happen. Act quickly and take full responsibility for clean-up if one does.

Set Boundaries. Other people’s food, shared conference rooms and any kitchen or cafeteria areas should be off-limits to all four legged “workers.” Keep your dog contained to your personal workspace with a folding gate, and don’t let him roam freely unless everyone is comfortable with him doing so.

Petplan's new Curator of Treats,
Montgomery, tests his typing 
skills in the creative department.
Buddy System. Pets should be supervised at all times. If you know that you are going to be absent from the office for a period longer than 30 minutes, then do not bring your pet to work on that day, or arrange for a coworker (whom your pet is familiar with, and who is familiar with your pet) to pet sit while you are gone.

Pilot the Newfoundland
recently visited Petplan HQ,
where he handed out slobbery
kisses and helped answer phones!
Chow Hounds. Do not share lunch with your pet, or allow others to do so. Eating table scraps can upset your dog’s stomach, and spell disaster down the road. Keep a water bowl readily available, but out of high-traffic areas. Do not clean your pet’s water bowl in the sink with co-workers dishes; instead, bring the bowl home at the end of the day or clean it in the bathroom sink.

Puppy Love. As a consideration to fellow team members, send an email to your officemates the day before bringing your dog into the office.  That way you can make sure that your pet is friends with all of the other four legged “workers” that will be in that day. Dogs who don’t get along should not be brought to work on the same day.

Chew on This. Keep in mind that if your pet willfully causes any damage to property, you may be asked to take him home, and you will likely be liable for any costs associated with repairs.

Furry friends Sophie & Benson
holding paws at the office.
Bringing your dog to work can be one of the greatest company perks, but politeness is paramount! At the Petplan headquarters, we have made the Pets at Work Pledge a formal policy, and ask all new hires to agree to its terms. Having a written policy in place has helped keep Petplan’s four-legged family safe, happy and greeted with open arms when they clock in!

Dr. Rebecca Jackson is a staff veterinarian for Petplan pet insurance. As the daughter of a veterinarian, Dr. Jackson grew up in a small animal vet practice in northern Indiana, and has seen the good, the bad and the ugly of veterinary medicine – and she loves it unconditionally. Upon graduating from Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2006, Dr. Jackson moved to Boston to begin her adventures as a small animal veterinarian. She has also practiced in Tacoma, WA , and Richmond, VA, where she served as a civilian veterinarian at the Fort Lee Veterinary Treatment Facility. Dr. Jackson works as a relief veterinarian for a handful of hospitals in the Philadelphia area. She and her husband reside in Philadelphia with their daughter, their 9-year-old Golden Retriever and their 8-year-old cat.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Hurricane Update Part 6: Is Xanax the Right Choice for Our Dog?

I'm not sure if this is working. 

Last time, I mentioned that Xanax is functioning as an anti-depressant for Desmond, and that's still true. He is definitely not depressed anymore. But he's still super freakin anxious. 

Here are some other effects that Xanax can have on dogs that we think we have seen in action:
  • muscle relaxant (can be used on purpose for this effect)
  • appetite stimulant (can be used on purpose for this effect)
  • clumsiness (considered a side effect)
  • sleepiness (considered a side effect)

Some of those were brief and subsided as we played around with the dosage and his body got used to the meds.

Here's a really interesting side effect:
Xanax may have a paradoxical effect in some dogs, and cause excitement or exacerbate aggressive behaviors.
We may have ourselves a problem here. And that sucks.

That sucks because I want Desmond to feel relaxed all the time, and that sucks because it means an unknown number of trips to the 40-minutes-away vet are in our future (which is just easier said than done right now).

I know this because we were at the vet over the weekend to finish up Desmond's vaccinations, and I figured I could talk to the doctor about our concerns. But the place was packed and the doc was overbooked (which, why do all doctors' offices do this??? cut it out.), so a vet tech just took Des from us to give him the shots and weigh him. We didn't get to see the vet. When I expressed my concerns to her, she went and relayed them to the doctor and came back with the following message:

"You need to make a behavior appointment at your home."

Le sigh...

A) I do not have a home. I do not have a place where my dog feels safe and comfortable. Hence: Xanax.

B) Yes, I know. I realize that this dog needs behavior modification. I do not need training in how to perform behavior modification. I am fully capable of doing it myself--on another dog. I am completely aware that I need to bring in help. This was all part of my original plan, as soon as I was done with my externship and shelter practicum for school. I was going to put all my energy into Desmond's reactivity training. Then Hurricane Superstorm Jerkface Sandy came. Hence: see A.

C) I am just barely functioning at a level that allows me to come off normal. I don't think there's much sense in my getting involved at all in something that's pretty delicate. At this point, 141 days since I've slept or cooked or peed in my own home, I have approximately zero patience and quickly escalate to frustration in response to the simplest of obstacles. I'm ahead of the game for being aware of that, but I'm certainly in no condition to work on a dog's behavior modification. There is a real risk that by working with Desmond now I could make things worse for him.

With the vet tech, I addressed only point A. She said we could just do the appointment at the office then, and it would be about a half hour long. OK, fine. We have an appointment for Desmond's gotcha day (ha ha, Des--gotcha! we're taking you to the vet on your special day. what a bunch of jerks we are, right?) in a couple weeks, but it's at night after work.

At night after work means two things: Desmond is going to be tired--maybe a little annoyed that he's not napping on the couch--and there are probably not going to be any other dogs there. We're not even sure if there is much of a point to this particular appointment, but it's the only time we can go. I guess we'll see what happens.

So that's the status with that. With the crate, he's definitely going in there to chill out and snooze on his own. I keep rewarding him for doing so. However, we haven't attempted to shut the door yet. We're going to wait on that a bit still. Maybe take him out to the park for a few hours first, so he's real tired. We have time--it's not like we're going home anytime soon. Work has still not even started on the house. But it will, at some point, I assume, one day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Our Tag Won the BlanketID Significant Others Contest!

Thanks to you lovely folks, our tagline for the BlanketID Significant Others dog ID tag contest came in first place!
(image from Cate's Under the Blanket blog)

Not only is this super exciting just because winning stuff is awesome but also because winning this particular contest allows me to help the dog rescue group that is nearest and dearest to my Desmond-shaped heart, Ruff House Rescue

Once the tags are available to purchase on the site, $3 from each sale will go to RHR and help them save more doggies from all over the country (they often bring dogs in from out of state and frequently rescue puppy mill mommas and babies).

Now, of course, I do encourage you to purchase the LWD-approved tag (which you can 100% buy without subscribing to the BlanketID service), "Woof would I do without you", but I also encourage you to go ahead and become a member of BlanketID. 

If you're not familiar with the service, it basically allows you to register your dog's info, which is attached to the BlanketID number on the tag itself. Heaven forbid something should happen to your pup and he goes missing, the BlanketID site should be one of your first stops:

If your pet gets lost or Stolen…

Report your pet missing and automatically sends a broadcast email to local SPCA, animal hospitals, shelters, rescues and other local blanket ID members. The email links to your online information so that everybody has 24/7 access to a full description and photos to help identify your missing pet.
That info is directly from the site, but it's not even the whole story. Be sure to check out more here. Plus, because BlanketID has a Lost Dog flyer template for you to fill out when you sign up, printing those out in a hurry will be fast and easy.

We actually already have a BlanketID tag (though I'm very excited to get our new one). Our original tag and subscription is from 2011, and it really does make me feel better to update the details and Lost Dog flyer info before I go on any trip. Just in case.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Happy Birthday, Desmond!

Happy birthday wishes are going out today to our crazy, wonky, odd furry friend. This year, as Des turns 3 (we think...), I finally splurged on the BarkBox subscription

And that's mostly thanks to displacement guilt and a since-ended promotion from Find Myrtle, the Facebook page set up to help a Queens girl find her lost dog: Sign up for BarkBox and get $10 off + BarkBox will donate $20 to the rescues that saved Myrtle from her puppy mill past, Anarchy Animal Rescue & Animal Haven

Here's Des checking out his first shipment:

This box included two packs of Wet Noses biscuits, two toys, and one bag of Get Naked dental chews. His favorites are the dental chews and the green ring toy. In fact, he loved the green toy to death, as you may have already seen on our Instagram feed.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Help Us Help Rescue Dogs: Vote for ID Tag #5 in the Blanket ID Contest

Folks, I rarely if ever post two times in one day, but because TODAY IS THE LAST DAY FOR VOTING in this super-awesome contest by Cate at Blanket ID, I have no choice but to post again. 

Click on this link to leave a comment on the Blanket ID blog post and vote for ID tag #5. We're in second place right now--help us get to first!

If we win, some proceeds from sales of the dog ID tag will go to the rescue group of my choice, which--of course--is Ruff House Rescue (where we got Des). Help us help rescue dogs like Des: vote for ID tag #5 right now!!! Voting ends at midnight. 

(from the Blanket ID Facebook page--where you can also vote!!!)

Hurricane Update Part 5: Xanax & The Crate

If you need a quick refresher on why I'm talking about xanax and crates, click here.

So, for weeks we've been trying to figure out what to do about Des. How to help him. How to help us. I've been through the separation anxiety thing with him before, and that process was long and semi-crazy. Even if I thought it would work again, which I'm not sure it would, I don't have the time and energy required to do it. 

Plus, almost everything I've read about dogs with anxiety, depression, and what is more or less a form of PTSD, is directed at people who are in stable living situations. Those strategies simply do not apply to us. 

The few things I've found that specifically address displaced, stressed pets (and some were even written after Sandy) basically tell you that you're not going to get anywhere with training or behavior modification while your family is all over the place. Your best option is management and to wait it out. Once you're settled, start from the beginning. 

If that idea wasn't daunting enough, it comes coupled with the reality that management leaves few options and that we really are stuck in the house with him unless we can get a dog sitter. He is a very cute fella to spend time with, but sometimes you just want to do your laundry without worrying that your dog is going to go into a full-on panic when you open the door.

After much discussion, we decided that we needed to get the poor guy on some kind of medication and we needed to see what would happen if we reintroduced a crate to him. 

It was a bit of perfect timing, because we had to go to the vet for vaccinations anyway. We figured we'd tell the doctor what was going on when we got there and see what happened. 

This doc previously didn't want to give Desmond a prescription for his general anxiety and reactivity unless we were also going to do behavior modification--which I 100% understand--but I was hoping this would be a different situation. Luckily, the vet was on board right away and mostly just felt bad for Des, like we do. Xanax was prescribed. 4mg a day of xanax was prescribed. That's a lot of xanax. 

For perspective, I'll tell you that in the beginning of this whole hurricane debacle, I was having a pretty hard time with things myself. To help me, my doctor provided a prescription for xanax--at 0.25mg a day. Desmond is 59 pounds, and I am more than double that. 

My dog is officially more of a head case than I am. Who saw that coming?

We've already had to play with the dosing a bit, as warned. The original plan of 2mg twice a day proved to be too much xanax at one time for Des. After we gave him the first pill, he essentially lost control of his muscles. He couldn't walk without collapsing; his balance was terrible. He even fell down the stairs but was able to catch himself and kind of run down the rest of the way (and he was completely unharmed during that). Obviously, we weren't going to give him 2mg again. 

The lack of muscle control/awareness resulted in Des sitting on his own tail at one point, which he has never done before. He's usually very conscious of where he's placing that thing.

The easiest way to break it up was to give him 1mg four times a day, but that is not the easiest plan long-term. We tried another option, which is to give him 1/3 of his total 4mg three times a day.

This seems to be working fine for him, but it's still a little inconvenient for us. We may try to go back to twice a day now that the medicine is in his system, but I'm wary. 

His reaction to the xanax is not quite what I expected. I thought it would make him calm or content or something. Like it does for me. Instead, it is acting more like an anti-depressant.

He's got more energy than we've seen in a while. His appetite is back. And he sure is vocalizing a lot more--which is a very easy characteristic to forget he has when he's mostly sleeping and being quiet. Right this second, he is whining because I'm two rooms away from him while I type this.

He's always done stuff like that--he'd simply rather be with someone than alone--and I thought that might be the kind of thing that wouldn't bother him with the xanax. Like he'd be just chilled out and carefree. 

But it's all good. I'm just glad to see he's back to his normal, semi-annoying self.  

The vet did say that if this wasn't giving us the results we need, we could explore prozac. And a slew of other options, including more xanax. Also, when we do get our lives back to normal and it's time to work on behavior modification, we'll have to reassess his needs. We're looking at this as a temporary solution for the moment. 

On to the crate!

You know how Desmond has an aversion to barriers and being enclosed and specifically crates in general?

Yeah, well, this:

And this:

Pardon my French, but WHAT THE FUDGE??

That first pic is right after Joey set it up. Our intention was to simply leave the crate there with the door open and that's it. Maybe in a week, start tossing treats in it randomly. Desmond apparently had other plans.

We quickly realized that the crate is not big enough for him and tried setting it up with the wider door open so it might be easier for him to situate himself in there. Kona is only a little bit smaller than he is, but he was unable to stand up in the crate without crouching and his head/back were hitting the top of the door. Unacceptable. 

Amazingly, Petco was having a huge sale on crates this weekend, so we scored the biggest crate available--for under $100! (The sale is actually still going on now.) The crate is meant for dogs of 110 pounds and will be a monstrous presence in the room, but we want him to have a castle. We're considering getting him a body pillow to line the walls with, since he's such a leaner. 

It should be here in a week or so. For now, though, we're just leaving this crate where it is and I am tossing treats in there randomly. Desmond doesn't go in the crate regularly but has popped by a couple of times. Once or twice, he's gone in on his own and plopped down. I obviously threw a party when he did that. 

He actually went in there to go to bed one night when Joey was out, but I wasn't keen on not sleeping with my doggie; so after I rewarded him, I waited a while and then called him out to come to bed with me. It's funny how addicting it is to have that damn dog in the bed with you. And it's very weird to think that one day he really might sleep in his crate (which we are actually calling his cave) and not on my pillow/face/legs. Is loneliness worth clean bedding? A question for the ages, I'm sure.

All around, the crate thing is going better than I ever could have expected, but I'm not even going to attempt to close the door on it for at least a month of him choosing to go in there to hang out. I see raw marrow bones in our future. 

We'll still be trapped in the apartment for a while--maybe even for the entire displacement--but in the end it will be worth this process if we succeed. Especially because when we do actually get home, we will be in a brand-new house which he destroyed once already. I don't think so, dog. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... 

And maybe the crate will become a constant for him. Something to depend on and feel safe in. It could wind up really helping him when we move again. Particularly since we aren't even sure if our next move will be into our own home. That remains to be seen. 

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