Harnesses — they’re not just for sled dogs

I can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post! Somewhere there’s a lost draft of an end-of-the-year-roundup, but let’s not dwell on the past. ¬†ūüėČ

Life has been crazy busy with ups and downs, but training with Ziva has been the one constant through all of the challenges. It’s still always tough for me to not compare her with other dogs we know or see on the street, because she is still reactive to other dogs and she still quickly loses her focus on me when we are walking. However, she is so much better than she used to be. And, I still struggle with being self-conscious of how she behaves when we are out in public, but I am getting better at that, too. One thing that helps us (me) is a new harness that she wears when we are in challenging environments.

Ziva sits by a sign that reads We’ve gone through a whole bunch of harnesses to find one that fits her well. Being 50 percent German Shepherd, she has a big chest, but a tiny belly. (Lucky girl, right?) Most of the harnesses we’ve tried slide around her body too much. There is a Kurgo model that is very adjustable, but it is a nightmare to get on her — it involves lifting her foot up, and also fitting a small opening over head. Both of these things get her soooo worked up, it’s like wrestling a wild mustang. So we have used it when we go on hikes, but it is so much of a hassle for all of us that we never use it on everyday walks.

Ziva running on the beach

photo credit: Kim Johnston

When we went to the beach last fall, I thought a harness would be best there, too, because I wanted let her play in the water on a long leash. I couldn’t imagine trying to get the Kurgo one on and off her multiple times every day, and I also thought it would be too hot in the Carolina sun. So eventually I found a nice, sturdy mesh one from Canada Pooch, that was pretty easy to put on her, seemed to be comfortable for her — and was easy to wash out at the end of every day, and dried out in the for the next day’s adventure. ¬†(Shout out to our local pet store, Mutt Mart, who had a variety of sizes in stock. If you are in the Baltimore area, stop by and give them a look.)

But here’s the thing about Ziva and a harness. She suffers from sled-dog syndrome. The instant I switch the leash from collar to harness, she bolts ahead. When we were at the beach, that meant she basically dragged me down the beach. I admit I kind of gave in to that and assumed that’s how it had to be. Looking back now, I should have tried harder to keep her on the flat collar, and just switched to the harness when we were ready to go in the water. (We hope to go back to that same beach again in 2018, so believe me — I have to plans to do better next time. It’s a learning process.) I guess I thought I could get her to walk on the harness, but it just didn’t happen. I don’t know if it will ever happen. I’m hoping to get some help from our trainer about how we might make it less of a sled pull, because for example when we go for a walk in the woods I like to give Ziva a little bit of freedom to sniff. But it ends up with her pulling me up or down a trail. Depending on the muddiness this is sometimes more manageable than others.

Ziva wearing her new In Training harnessSo, here’s what we’re trying out now when we go out into public: Julius K9 harness with “In Training” patches, a flat collar, and a prong collar.¬†So what’s the point of a harness if the leash is on the prong? Well, maybe it’s more for me than for her. We still do a lot of remedial work when we are walking in public. And all that walking back and forth, stopping, behavioral downs, bridging — it can look kinda of funny to someone who has never been through it. When Ziva is wearing this harness, and I’m just standing there on the sidewalk next to her in a behavioral down, we get smiles and nods. When she’s¬†not wearing it, we get suspicious looks and avoidance. Or, the opposite, like the time when Ziva was really struggling to calm down at a shopping center, a woman came right up to her and reached out to pet her as she kept trying to get out of her behavioral down. I had to ask her not to pet her. (In my experience, kids are¬†so much better about asking to pet my dog — while adults just march right up and say “so¬†cuuuuuute!”)¬†

This harness has a lot of different velcro patches available, so I’m hoping this is something we can use for a very long time. For example, I do plan to get back to more structured Nose Work, because Ziva still really loves that activity. There are patches for that! There are also side bags that fit the harness, and I’m more comfortable with her wearing this harness attached to the seatbelt that having it on her collar in case of an accident when we’re driving somewhere. We’re all going a little stir crazy with the winter weather and I’m hoping to get out on some good long hikes soon. ¬†If she gets used to wearing a harness every time we go out, maybe some day she will stop pulling. Well, with a lot of training. ūüôā

So. What’s your experience with harnesses? What’s your advice?

She’s a Superstar!

Superstar character form Saturday Night LiveWell, maybe Ziva’s not really¬†quite a Superstar yet, but I think she could be. She has really taken to Rally training, and she catches on so quickly to new commands. She is also pretty food-driven which definitely helps. And she is fast, and nimble. She’s a good size for this — the bigger dogs seem to struggle more to do quick turns, and the smaller ones seem harder to lure with food. At 50 lbs and a lotto energy Ziva seems like a natural. I, on the other hand, still struggle with some basic stuff. Like hand eye coordination, or saying things at the right moment. But … I’m getting better, I think.

Ziva stands in the middle of a room full of dogsFor the past couple of weeks Ziva has spent the day of class at Doggie Daycare. I drop her off at about 7 am, and then I arrive at around 5 and take her for a little break outside. We walk around the grassy area so she gets a pottie break, and then I give her a small¬†snack and some water at the car. We also practice our leash work for a few minutes, walking back and forth in the parking lot — she’s always pretty excited at this point and it helps her to focus. She loves daycare. She loves the people who work here, and she has some doggie friends in the group so it’s really¬†good socialization. (One of the dogs from Rally class is also in Daycare on these days.) It also gets a lot of energy out of her, so that when it’s Rally Class time, she can focus a bit more easily. Generally speaking , anyway! But she really seems to need that little period of down time to wind down between Daycare and Rally. When we get back inside the building before class, I usually do some CR massage, and that definitely helped last night.

We’ve got a lot to work on in the next couple of weeks. Our next class isn’t until after Thanksgiving, so that’s plenty of time to improve on what we have learned so far. We got a “Perfect” from Tecla, our trainer, last night on our heeling exercise called “find the leg,” but then we learned to expand on it and I flubbed a little. As I said,¬†I’m the one who needs the most practice here. But so far, here’s what we’ve learned and what we’re practicing:

  1. “Find the leg”: the dog is in Sit, the trainer says Heel, steps left leg back, and moves treat in hand around and behind to the left leg, steps left leg forward, and with ¬†hand at hip the dogs ends up next to you, and gets the treat at the left hip.
  2. Extended “Find the leg”: Same as above, except the dog gets reward when the trainer’s left leg is still back, then when the left leg is parallel to right, and then when left leg is forward.
  3. Stand: There are 2 versions, one from a moving position and one from a Sit. From moving, you basically put the treat in the dog’s face and take one step back. When the dog steps forward, she stops when her nose bumps into your hand to get the treat you say “Stand” and then “Yes!” From a sit is a little tougher. You still stick the treat in the dog’s face, but this time you move it under their chin, and in their effort to get it they invariably stand up. At this point we just say “Yes!” instead of naming it as Stand. Once we get it down consistently I think then we will be naming it. (Tecla’s really good about training things so that the dog does not get confused, and can progress to the next step easily.)
  4. “Suicide” spins: Anyone who has played any kind of sports in the past 50 years must remember “suicides,” where you race from one cone to another, touch the ground and race back to the first cone. Well, in this exercise, you hold a treat in your hand and lead the dog quickly to the second cone, and then whip your hand around so the dog spins around to get the treat, As soon as she spins you say “Yes!” and give her the treat. Ziva¬†loves this one. (Yeah, she’s¬†that teammate — the one who loves suicides!) And she’s so good at it that Tecla told me I need to go faster, and also further. So Sue’s getting her exercise on this one, for sure!
  5. Modified suicide spins: This time you do sets of 4, and randomly in that set you wait till the dog completes the spin and then command “Sit.” You have to mix it up so they don’t anticipate it coming say, on the third time. (Because they totally will.) You then also do this exercise with Down.
  6. Focus when moving: She also really likes this one, and I am trying to harness that enthusiasm. She can be a little snappy for the treat in this exercise, which I asked Tecla about last night. The snappiness means she is very driven, so I don’t want to diminish that drive. But, to be honest, it can really hurt sometimes! The advice was to get a thin, sturdy glove — like a golf glove, or a wide receiver glove — and try not to pull my hand back when I’ve giving her the treat. I’m sure I am pulling back sometimes in anticipation, but that’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ziva’s doing pretty well with this one, and has improved from the start when she used to jump up. So I’m confident we get this under control. It’s another example of¬†me learning what¬†I need to do. Which, let’s be honest, is about 90% of dog obedience training.
  7. Trainer walks around: Put the dog in Sit, transfer leash to left hand, and walk around the dog (leading with right foot). Dog should stay seated, trainer stands to right of dog and gives reward. Also do this with Down.

So. If you wonder how we get to this, it’s a lot of work, but totally worth it:

Ziva lies sleeping on the floorIn our next class, we’ll get to try doing an actual Rally course — that should be interesting! ¬†I have a feeling Ziva will once again do great, and I am the one who will be flubbing it up. I just googled “Rally novice signs” and it turns out that this is, like, a whole “thing”: You can even buy Rally course signs on etsy:¬†rally novice signs. ¬†Watching videos on Rally, I always wondered how people understoodd so well what they are supposed to be doing with those turns and spins, and it seems that people buy these signs and study them. It’s always amazing to me how many things there are in the world that have their own culture and following.

Maybe Ziva has found her place.

Sweetest Devotion

Do you know what the title of this post represents, I mean, other than of course my undying love for this furry beast? It’s also the title of one of the few songs that help Ziva calm down when we’re in the car. So yeah, Ziva has her own playlist, and it’s very heavy on Adele. “Sweetest Devotion” starts playing and Ziva stops whining and puts her head on the arm rest. I can sometimes get her to expand her tastes to a little Amy Winehouse — “Valerie” has a nice melody. And I recently added Tash Sultana’s “Jungle,” and she seems to enjoy that one a lot. But mostly, it’s “Hello” on an endless loop.

We have been traveling with Ziva in a crate in the back of the SUV for many months because, if you have read the early days of this blog you will remember, a year ago she would be so wound up and excited in the car that it was impossible to drive. She would spin herself around on her seatbelt leash and practically choke herself, or, she would stand with her mouth at my right ear and bark, and bark, and bark. Good times.

But recently we had to take the crate out of the car in order to move some furniture, and I thought I would give it a try with Ziva in that back seat again. We’ve done a few short trips since then and she has done pretty well. She still gets excited, but it’s nowhere near the previous level. And if she sees a dog out the window, she still barks, but she is able to get calm again — a year ago that was not happening. A year ago she would just continue to wind herself up. And up. And up. I thank Conditioned Relaxation behavior modification for this change (and of course the wonderful trainers we have worked with for the past year!). Ziva has always loved to go for a car ride — in fact it’s the only way we were able to catch her the couple of times that she escaped the yard. (The fencing has been repaired!). She ran around the neighborhood at the speed of light, and there was no way we could grab her, or get her to come to us. But drive up in the car, fling the door open and say “Wanna go for a¬†ride?????” And she would hop right in. She likes to sit and look out the window, and she doesn’t really like to sit in the crate. So I am glad that it seems like we can move her back to the back seat and keep working on her being calm. Adele is fine with me. The Enya was a little much.

Anyway, its been longer between posts than I intended. But as I’ve mentioned before: when life gets busy and it’s a matter of writing about the dog or spending time with the dog, no offense but she comes first. Right now, it’s Saturday morning and we are back home after a successful time at Pack to Basics and Behavior Modification classes. Ziva did really, really¬†well, and is now enjoying a well earned nap:

Ziva sleeps, resting her head by a laptop

I just want to tell you how great she did this morning. We haven’t been to either of these classes in a few weeks, and there were a couple of new high energy dogs today. One in particular was a challenge to Ziva because it has so much energy. She’s a small Lab mix named Oreo, and boy does she remind me of Ziva 12 months ago! During Pack to Basics she and Ziva got a little too close for each other’s comfort and both made some ugly noises, but it was easily dispersed and they didn’t pay each other any mind after that. But what really amazed me was during the Behavior Mod class. We did “doggy yoga” to start, and we ended up being just a few feet away from Oreo. The way this “yoga” works, is that the dogs have to face away from the other dogs (i.e., their back is to the other dogs), and they have to remain calm. We started out with Ziva sitting to my left, and Oreo about 5 feet behind us. Oreo had a really hard time sitting, and she definitely did not want to sit to the left of her mom. She whined, and she kept getting up. Her mom kept putting her back in sit, and she kept getting up. My heart went out to that mom. It’s so hard to stay calm and keep putting the dog back into a “sit,” over and over again.

And do you know what Ziva did?¬†NOTHING! oh my freaking god. She sat and she looked at me, and sometimes she turned her head and looked at Oreo, and then I would do bridging (“That’s a dog, dih dih dih dih, Yes!”), and she would return her focus to me and lose interest in Oreo, who was still whining and constantly getting up.

It was so incredible, that later, when we left the building, I saw Oreo’s mom and I told her “Hang in there — it really does get better! A year ago, this one was just like that!” And she seemed amazed and said “Really?¬† Because there are just some days ….” And I replied “Oh, I know! Believe me, I know — all that¬†energy!” I also told her that Ziva definitely still has her moments but ….

See, when you have a reactive dog, or a dog that is adrenalized so they are almost uncontrollable, it can be so emotionally difficult. You constantly feel that other people are judging you. It can be a vicious cycle, where the dog misbehaves in public and you get nervous and upset, so then you go out in public and the dog senses that you’re nervous and upset so¬†they become nervous and upset. And misbehave. So it takes a lot of work to just keep going, and taking the dog for a walk even if strangers are looking at you spraying vinegar on your dog’s nose while it barks at another dog across the street. Or you’re standing on her leash while she’s in a behavioral down and still whining at the dog over there. It doesn’t look like you are doing anything, but of course you are doing exactly what the trainer has taught you. And over time¬†it works!

I clearly remember in the early days when some of the other dog parents would say to me “She’s doing so much better!” (Shout out to Bruno’s mom, who always said encouraging things, even when Ziva was being far from perfect.) I feel lucky to have found a community where there is so much support. It is a place where Ziva clearly feels safe — and so do I! And that means we both feel confident to push ourselves. For us, that can mean just going for a hike in the woods, knowing it is quite possible we will encounter another dog. That may seem like a tiny challenge, but trust me, its enough to keep many an owner and dog at home. And that’s a shame. Because, this:

Ziva sits on a hike in the woods

She’s better than she used to be. Except when she’s not.

Its our last day of vacation so I’m going to slip in one more post here before we leave the beach tomorrow morning. I haven’t really had much time to write or to read this week. I knew that bringing Ziva along on this trip would mean a lot of work, but even I underestimated just how much time she would require. So, no sitting on the beach reading, which is one of my favorite past times. But I did have a few minutes where I could sit on the beach with her and she would be still (until she decided to dig a hole and get to the cooler sand — then it was “cover your eyes! look out!” and sand went everywhere.) And I certainly got a lot more exercise than I normally would have in a week at the beach. All in all it has been a good week. With some challenges, like this afternoon.

We had left Ziva alone in the house a couple of times this week for short periods of time and she did really well. She’s been so exhausted that she seems to either go into her crate or jump on our bed. But either way, she seemed calm when we got back, and she didn’t get into any trouble. So today we left her again and we did a little sight seeing at a local light house and had a quick sandwich. And again, we got home and everything was fine. ¬†The worst she had done was to drag one of my shoes into her crate. But she didn’t chew it:

shoe in Ziva's crate

After we were home for a while, I thought I would take her back to the beach as a reward for being so good. So, there I am again thinking things that will make no sense to her. By the time we get to the beach, her time alone in the house will be a distant memory. There is no way she connected the two events. This, was a mistake.

We had about a good 10 minutes or so, where she was on the harness at the beach and she was seeming calm enough. Clearly she was excited, but I could call to her when the length was at full distance, and she would come romping back to me. Some pre-teens asked if they could pet her, and she was appropriately excited, but still under control.  And then. sigh. And then she saw a chocolate lab that was sitting calmly under and umbrella, and she just. went. nuts.

One of the things that has gotten me through all the training this past 12 months is the knowledge that she is¬†so much better than she used to be. But today was like we had traveled back to Day One. Ziva barked and lunged and I really struggled to control her. I tried to get her into her behavioral down, but she was in the harness and she was ¬†trying her best to slip out of it. So I was grabbing her gruff, and she was sounding really nasty as she got frustrated, and I start thinking “Oh, great. She’s going to bite me and then she’s going to slip out of her harness. And we lost her dog tags when she was romping with Murphy in the surf.”

Right about this time, a man came sauntering up to us. I figured he was going to offer help, maybe he’s a dog trainer. But no. He just wanted to ask me her name. Hahaha. Yup. He was pleasant enough but it was kind of odd — I felt like maybe was a therapist, to a counselor of some sort? He’s standing there saying very calmly, “They should make certain color collars for rescue dogs so people know.” Me: “Uh huh. ZIVA! Dog!¬† duh duh duh duh¬†Oouch!”

I finally just told the man that I was taking Zva off the beach for the afternoon, and he said “oh are you going to walk past our dog?” And then I felt pretty good about myself because I said “The black dog? I think your wife — yes? your wife? I think your wife took it back to the house. So we can walk past now.”

Because even if I wasn’t handling Ziva perfectly, at least I was still looking out for her and being aware of my surroundings so that we could get a clean exit. Where upon we got lots of sympathetic smiles and nods from people who had no interest in actually petting Ziva, but who seemed to recognize that we are trying. Then I put Ziva back on her flat collar, off the harness, and had her walk “with me,” and she did great.’

So, clearly we still need to work on the dog reactiveness. But here’s the thing. She played really well with her cousin Murphy, but for a few times when she had to be told “enough.” And when she was with Murphy and Luna and saw another dog, she still barked. But we were able to redirect and bridge her, and she got through those events. The difference today was that she was alone — she still didn’t feel secure with me, the way she did with the other dogs.

Sue walks Ziva on the beach

photo credit: Kim Johnston

But there have been times, oh there have been times. She has run into the surf and she has had no fear of the waves. She has chased seagulls, and she has dug holes in the sand. She has even walked with me on the leash, without pulling. And she has come back to the beach house and slept for 3 hours in the afternoon.

I can’t even imagine what has been going through her head this week. Does she think we’re going to live here now? (I wish, Ziva! ¬†I wish!) The smells, the sounds, the people and the dogs. It must be pretty overwhelming for a sensitive dog. I’m glad she seems to be able to be alone, she knows a safe spot — she’s in her crate now as I write this. And we’ve had some really good times — we’ve even watched the sunset from the rooftop deck together:

Ziva watches the sunset from the rooftopTomorrow we attempt the long ride home again. But this¬†time, I have a feeling she’s going to be sleeping for at least the first part of the trip. Fingers crossed.

A day at the beach is no walk in the park

Ziva sits by a sign that reads In my ongoing quest to expose Ziva to as many new things as I can, yesterday I decided to take her to a dog park that is on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. As I learn more about dog handling skills, I know that what she needs the most, in order to lessen her adrenalized reaction to new situations, is … to experience more new situations. Because she really just needs to begin to understand that everything is going to be ok. As our trainers have said to me many times, “she needs to learn that you have her back.” So I took the day off from work, packed a lunch and lots of water, and we set off on an adventure for both of us. I had never been to this park, and it’s in an area of Maryland with which I’m not very familiar. But we made it with only one wrong turn (following gps leading us to a gate across the road from the actual entry to the park — the attendant said “yup. everyone does that.”)

I unloaded Ziva from her crate in the back seat, and she actually stood quite still for me to put the harness on her. The last time I put it on it her it was like putting a saddle on a wild horse. All bucking and jumping. So I don’t know why she was so subdued this time, but it was very helpful! I wanted her to wear the harness because I knew she would end up pulling on the leash, and I didn’t want her to get used to feeling it pull on her collar. She’s been doing really well on the “With me” command while walking, and I don’t want to blow that with a walk in the woods.

We walked the short distance through a wooded path from the parking lot to the beach. She did a lot of sniffing along the way and I did not hurry her. She very patiently sat for me to take her picture by the Dog Beach sign — it was only 10 am but it was¬†very hot at this point, and we were in the full sun. When we got to the actual beach, I was a little disappointed at how small it was, but there was no one else there so we had a chance to test the waters without encountering other dogs. Ziva¬†loves to jump into the large fishpond in our backyard, but I have no idea what her experience is with large bodies of water — and specifically, with waves. The waves of the Chesapeake Bay are very small — ripples, really. But I think it’s safe to say she found it a little stressful.

So how¬†does it look when a dog gets “adrenalized” in a stressful situation? The following video is Exhibit A. It seems playful and fun, and I was talking to her and laughing with her, but honestly, she is ramping up the adrenaline in this video:

Notice how she runs at the water and growls? Her tail is also wagging pretty quickly but not maniacally. So she’s not out of control, but she is making herself get¬†very excited. She’s kind of scared of this new thing, “waves,” but if she gets herself really wound up it feels good! ¬†In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been laughing here — I probably should have been bridging her with “Water, du du du du, YES!” But it’s hard to remember what to do when in the thick of it.

But I’ll tell ya, I remembered how to bridge when another dog showed up! Because Ziva was already so wound up that she just started barking and barking and barking. And then a¬†second dog appeared, and she was really almost more than I could handle. She barked, but she also pulled on the lead so hard that I almost lost my footing a couple of times in the wet sand. (Note to self: Why do you¬†always think Tevas are a good idea at the beach? They are not. Sand gets in the velcro and the next thing you know the shoes are flopping off your feet. )

Anyway, I was just about at the point of thinking that we would need to leave — I was trying to stuff hot dog in her face and bridging, and also trying to distract her with a stick — when her barking began to decrease, and then she started to pay more attention to me. And suddenly I remembered the two golden rules of Ziva: Bridging and Paying for Engagement (with me). So I continued to do bridging with “Dog” and I continued to distract her with the water and really praise her and keep her focus on me and not on the other dogs. The other dogs, by the way, were both Labradors. And neither one was very interested in anything beyond their tennis ball in the water.

Ziva stands on the beach as other dogs are in the backgroundWe were at the beach for only about an hour, but it seemed like that was enough for this day. It was very hot — in the upper 90’s — and while Ziva seemed to enjoy the water, by this point she seemed just as interested in the grassy marsh area behind the beach. According to her DNA report, she is a quarter Lab, but that percentage had been used up by this point. ¬†So we sat in the shade for a little while and had a drink of water. And I was so very happy to see that she could do this — be in the presence of strange dogs with out caring much about them. She watched them at a distance of about 20 feet, without barking or getting excited. Hopefully she knows: I have her back.

 

A tale of a tail

Ziva sitting in the car

Ziva seemed very excited to be back at the Training academy. We did some socialization and behavior modification work, then took a quick break in the car with water and snacks before we went back in for Obedience 2 class. Next week I guess I need to pack TWO peanut butter sandwiches ….

We had a great day at our first Obedience 2 class on Saturday. It is a very small class — only 4 dogs, and two trainers! It’s almost like getting a personal training session. Ziva did really well with the new commands we’re learning: verbal and visual cues for sit and down, and for “watch me.” Previously we just did sit and down with leash pressure, but she picked up on the verbal cues very quickly. She also did really well with “Watch me,” which is something that had been suggested to us at the very beginning of her days with us as a way to get her to stop paying attention to other dogs. It was never successful then, and low these many months later we know that would never have worked with her adrenaline so high. So it’s really a case of understanding each dog’s personality and temperament, and knowing what will work, when — and what won’t. I guess there are levels of dog reactiveness? And if you have one at the level of Ziva when we got her, you need someone who specializes in it, not just someone who kind of just does it along with a lot of other things.

I also learned something new about dog communication on Saturday. Most of the other dogs in this class were in Obedience 1 with us, and Ziva knows them and doesn’t react when she sees them. We don’t do leash greetings in class, but we sit or stand just a few feet apart, and after having done 30 minutes of Pack to Basics, and an hour of Behavior Modification, Ziva has been just fine to ignore the other dogs lying a few feet away. So I was really taken off guard when she suddenly started barking and pulling on the leash towards Lucy Lu, a dog with whom she had been very friendly for the past 7 weeks.

Lucy Lu is young — only about 8 months old — large, white and fluffy. I knew her breed at some point, but I’ve forgotten. I just tried to google that up, as my 93-year old Dad would say, but am not coming up with the right breed. She has long, white, shaggy fur and looks kind of like an all white English Sheepdog. Except she’s not, and she also didn’t have long shaggy fur on Saturday, because she had been to the groomer. She had very short hair, and a little pompom at the tip of her tail, which was kind freaking Ziva out. My first thought was: “Why wouldn’t she recognize this was Lucy Lu? She knows her smell.” But the trainer explained that it wasn’t that she didn’t recognize her, it was that she didn’t know how to read that tail! It was only then that I noticed that the poof of hair at the tip was bobbing all around. Of course Ziva got stressed, and of course her initial reaction was to get excited.

So that was definitely a “teachable moment” — for¬†me! I was being pretty relaxed, not really being aware of the dog near me, because Ziva “knew” her. But I really needed to be aware of the environment there as well, which on this day included Lucy Lu’s tail.

But once we got Ziva settled back down again, class went off perfectly. So much so that I decided to take Ziva in to the offie with me on Monday. I’m trying to get her into as many new environments as I can, all the time working on our leash work and our relaxation methods. Monday July 3rd was pretty dead in my office, since so many folks opted for an extra long weekend with the 4th of July holiday on Tuesday. I had gotten my boss’s okay to bring in Ziva, and made sure it was also okay with my colleagues, since we now work in a totally open office space. There would only be 4 of us on Monday in this large room, but we do try to be respectful of each other in there. They all said “Bring her in!” So I did.

Ziva lies on the office floor, pantingWell, she did¬†okay. We only lasted about 4 hours, but that was kinda what I expected. It was a very hot day, and we went on a very long walk before we got to the office, but she was still pretty ¬†excited to be in a new place. I brought lots of things from home, like a blanket for her to lie on, but as you can see from the picture, she didn’t lie on it. She also was not very interested in her usual bully sticks. She would lie down for a few minutes, and then she would start whining. I also brought in the nose work equipment, and we entertained everyone a few times by doing “Find.” She did better than I expected, to be honest! It just wasn’t enough to wear out her brain. But, she did cheer up a lot of people who were working in an office when most of their friends were at the beach or by the pool! She’s a long way from being a “therapy” dog, since although she loves to meet new people, one stroke from a new person sets her into a joyful squirm. But that’s just who she is right now. And I love her for it.

And all of these new adventures and experiences help to make her more relaxed at home, as well. I know that as time goes on, she will be able to expand her relaxation to new places. But for now, well, remember in the early posts when I wrote about how she would scare the bejeesus out of the cats because she would race towards them? Well, The cats definitely approve of the “new and improved” version of Ziva, even if she’s not sure what’s going on with them:

Ziva on the couch with a cat on her back

Juliet is the shyer, more skittish one of the two cats. But when Ziva is calm, she loves to come over and rub against her.

It’s been a very busy couple of weeks!

Our apologies for not posting sooner, but Ziva has been a very busy girl, which means I haven’t had much time to sit down and write. I’m on my lunch break now, and she’s napping after a long walk on a hot summer morning, so let’s see how much I can get us caught up.

Two weeks ago, Ziva had a photo shoot. As a first effort, it was mostly successful, considering that it was 95 degrees in the shade, and she was not standing in the shade when being photographed. But she did a pretty good job being patient as my friend Pam took pictures of her in front of a very large mural in Annapolis, Maryland. Ziva sat or stood in front of several different places along the mural when we asked her to — until she wouldn’t. After about 15 minutes, I tried to get her to sit and she just looked at me and barked. And then she looked at Pam and barked. “Nope. I’m done.”

I need to check with Pam before posting any of the photos here, but in the meantime you can check out some of Pam’s blog for her other work and even purchase a copy of one of her previous books, “A is for Angel,” an alphabet book of rescue dogs, which includes our dear old boy Fritz who passed away just about a year ago. Pam’s blog is called Dancing with the Digital Doggy .

Ziva sits on a brick sidewalk, her tongue hanging out as she pantsWhile we sat in the shade, Ziva barked at a guy across the field, and while we were walking across the grass she pulled on her leash, but mostly I was just so proud of how well she did when we walked to and from the mural area and the car. We walked past sidewalk cafes and she stayed by my side very nicely. Yes, she needed some reminders not to get ahead of me, but when walking by a table of pizza I do not blame her! It was a lot of new sights and sounds — at one point even a very big dog about 20 feet in front of us — and she did not bark or pull or otherwise misbehave. It was a really big step on her path to being able to travel the world without getting anxious. I was very happy, and so was she! She is still such an energetic dog, and that’s ok. As long as she understands that she doesn’t need to get worked up when she in is new or unknown situations, the sky’s really the limit for her.

I’m also working on getting her used to spending the night in new places, and last weekend we spent the night at my brother’s house. He has two big dogs and I knew it would be great for her to spend some fun time with them. She has been around a lot of dogs in all the training we’re doing, but not for play time. She’s only off her leash with other dogs inPack to Basics class, and playing is not allowed then. The fact that she can do that — walk (well, she usually does run a bit) — around and around a room with 12 other dogs and not play, is actually pretty impressive for her. So I was really looking forward to her having this freedom to socialize with her canine cousins.¬†As expected, her initial reaction when she saw them as we were getting out of the car, was to bark. But we all stayed calm and I did a bit of bridging and she quickly remembered that she had met these dogs and soon all was fine. Thus commenced 24 hours of dog circus, with Ziva and Murphy running and wrestling and wearing each other out, and Luna keeping a watchful eye on them both.

Ziva and Murphy chew on a stick while Luna lies sleeping in the background

I was so happy to see Ziva playing with Murphy and understanding how to share and give and take! In this picture, Ziva and Murphy each have an end of the stick in their mouth. Nobody got jealous or fussy about that. In fact at one point they had a rope toy that they played tug of war with inside the house. I wasn’t sure at first how that would go, but they did great. There were a few moments during the visit where these two got a little too worked up (well, Ziva got a little too worked up, really), but one of the things I was most pleased about with this experience was that I was able to just say “Ziva, uh un!” or something like that to them and they took it down a notch right away. Murphy is only 6 months old, and each time Ziva sees him he will be even bigger, so although I think she’ll always be able outrun him she needs to understand how to keep play at a safe level. And she did!

Next up: Two Certificates of Achievement in One Week!!!!

Travels with Ziva

Last night we had our “Nose Work” class, which is kind of an extra thing we thought we’d just try out to keep Ziva interacting with other dogs -and also because she has such an active mind as well as body, it seemed like a good “hobby” for her. She has turned out to be pretty good at it, considering we don’t practice as much as we should. But she really seems to enjoy it, so I think it is something we will continue with, at some level. It’s really very easy to practice: I have a collection of small cardboard boxes, and in a couple of them I put some hot dog (of course!). Then I bring Ziva in the room and say “Find!” and she races around the room from box to box looking for the ones with the hot dog. When she finds one, I can tell because she tries to open it. We’re not working at any specific way for her to indicate to me that this box is “the one.” That can come later if we choose to do this “officially.” For now, it’s just a fun game. ¬†She enjoys it more than I ever thought she would. And it has the added benefit of exercising — and therefore wearing out — her brain.

I’ll share some pictures, and maybe a video if we can get our act together, in another post. In this post, I really wanted to talk about Driving with Miss Ziva. Traveling in the car has been a learning experience for all of us. The first few times we went anywhere, I think she was still in sort of a daze about where she was and who we were so she was relatively calm. But as we began going to more places and she seemed to understand that we were all together now, she started to get a little crazy in the backseat.

That is, when she wasn’t suddenly appearing in the front seat.

I’ve never had a dog that was so restless in the car. At first, we tried just putting her in the back seat, but it became clear immediately that she was not going to stay back there, no matter how you put your arm across the divide, or if you had one person driving and another holding her back. So next we tried the seatbelt attachment that clips onto the collar like a leash, which is what her foster mom had used. The first time I took her to our private lesson by myself, she spun herself around in circles so much that she had shortened the leash until there was only enough length for her to be lying on the seat with her head next to the seatbelt. Scary to me, and pretty darn uncomfortable — not to mention dangerous — for Ziva. ¬†A few more spins and she would have been choking.

We had started working on teaching her how to “get easy,” so I began using this phrase with her on our drive to and from lessons. I lengthened the leash attachment and used the phrase and she seemed to be calming down. “Seemed to be” because I didn’t hear her. I didn’t hear her because she was busying chewing through the leash. She appeared in the passenger side front seat while we were stopped in traffic on I-895 one evening. Traffic began moving and I put my foot on the gas but we weren’t moving — Ziva had leaned on the gear shift and we were in Neutral.

We eventually got to class that night, and the trainer suggested we put vicks vapor rub on the leash to keep her from chewing it. That did indeed work for a while (and cleared my sinuses). But then she seemed to understand she could step n the seatbelt clip to undo it, as one does to release the seatbelt.

And on top of all this, she was still really worked up during these drives. One time she stood behind me and barked in my right ear for the entire 40 minutes.

Eventually, we tried a new tactic, which is what we do on all trips now and which seems to be working for us all: a crate. I got one of those plastic travel crates, which has ventilation holes but which limits how much she can see outside. We did a few really short drives to get her used to it, and she seems to be pretty happy in it for the most part. She does better if I’ve really exercised her before we go anywhere, and settles down. But she also knows when we are almost at our destination and starts whining and moving around as we get close. I drive a little Nissan Versa hatchback, so the crate sits on the backseat. I’ve strapped it down as best I can so it won’t go flying in case of an accident, but there is still little give when she is really moving around in it. She gets really excited when we’re almost home, and that’s when she really starts moving around int he crate. Last night we were about 5 minutes from home, sitting at a red light. And she’s back there, whining and spinning around, because she knows we’re in our neighborhood and almost home. And all I can think is that the people in the next car must think I’ve got a T-Rex back there, or some other Jurassic Park wannabe.

Safety experts will tell you that you should have your dog restrained in the car, and you really should, especially if you’re doing any highway driving. You wouldn’t let your kids sit without a seatbelt, why would you let your dog? The best setup is either a harness and seatbelt arrangement, or a crate. I’m happy the crate seems to be working for us, and I think she will continue to get more and more used to being in it during car rides. ¬†(She loves her crate at home, and even puts herself to sleep in it at night. She sleeps in there all night, with the door wide open. She doesn’t come out until my alarm goes off, and then she jumps on the bed. No sleeping in around here!)

As with all things Ziva, we are both learning. Happy trails!

Continuing “behavioral down” … and more

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the holy trinity for us has been behavioral down, conditioned relaxation, and bridging. Doing these three things has had an amazing effect on Ziva and her ability to control her energy. It has taken months of work, and some setbacks along the way, but we are so far from where we started. She is still such a happy joyful dog, and still very energetic. But she is able to calm herself in most situations, to a more manageable level. She’s still not able to ignore other dogs without assistance, but she’s getting there.

We do behavioral down before every walk. For the past few months, Ziva has been doing pretty well at settling down quickly. ¬†But I have noticed that in last week or so, she has been getting really ramped up when I put the leash on her, and it’s taking longer to get her to settle down. I’m not really sure what’s causing the backslip. The weather? The hot dogs? Who knows! But this is the way it goes — a few steps forward, a few steps back again.

So here’s what we do: We practice, practice, practice. ¬†Yesterday, I took a video of Ziva doing behavioral down on the front porch, which we haven’t had to do for a long time, but clearly we needed a refresher. We always do behavioral down before we leave the house, usually in the hallway by the front door. For a long time, this has been enough to get her into the right frame of mind to have a successful walk. But when we first started this method, we did behavioral down in the hallway, on the front porch, and again at the bottom of the steps. ¬†In this video, Ziva had struggled to get calm in the hallway, but finally did settle. But once we stepped onto the porch, she was wound right up again. So I just stopped and did behavioral down right there. In the beginning of the video, she is lying down but still very alert. If your dog is sitting like a sphinx, she’s not relaxed she’s still very alert. Eventually Ziva put her head down, and on the scale of 1-10 I would guess she was at a 3/4. I got her up at this point because I didn’t think we were going to have much more time before neighbors/children/dogs/squirrels etc. etc. came by and she got herself up again. In a perfect world, I should have ¬†stayed there until she reached a 1. Let me know what you think:

This is probably a good time to talk about the collar. I’ve been putting off broaching this topic because it is a hot button one — everyone has an opinion. Here’s our story:

We are using a “pinch collar,” which you can see clearly in the video. This was recommended by our trainer, and we were not allowed to use it on walks until we had been trained in its use, which took several weeks. We use it on walks as Ziva learns to walk on a leash, and for specific training such as “sit” and “down.” Ziva does not wear it around the house, and doesn’t wear it when she is with other dogs.

What is a “pinch collar”? It is a metal collar with with short prongs that put pressure on the dog’s neck when the leash is pulled. Sounds horrible, right? Of course, because that’s only half the story. The other half is that we are learning to use the leash as a communication tool, so that it is¬†never tight and the prongs are never more than a reminder pressure. When we are walking and Ziva starts to get ahead of me, I don’t “pop” the leash as other trainers have recommended with other collars. Instead, I very lightly give the leash tug and turn to the right. I give Ziva a big “Yes! What a good girl!!” and a treat. It is a very conscious process, and the collar should just put enough pressure to get Ziva’s attention, never to cause actual pain. It’s the difference between a tap on the shoulder, and grabbing an arm. I’m tapping.

It would be nice if Ziva would just listen to me, but she won’t. It reminds me of when I was at the mall recently. It was pretty crowded, and as I strolled past the Baby Gap store, I heard a little squeal and then saw a toddler making his way out the door and into the crowd of people walking along. I glanced around at the people near him, and no one seemed to belong to him, so I quick glanced back at the store from which he appeared, and out came a very tired looking mom, whose shoulders visibly slumped when she saw how far he had gotten. I caught her eye and smiled, because he was right next to me now and I wanted to let her know he was ok. She started to make her way toward us through the mass of people, and I wanted to stop the little guy, but not startle or scare him. So I just tapped him on the shoulder and said “Hey there little man. Where are you going?” It was enough to make him stop and look up at me, which gave his mom time to reach us. Now, I could have called out to him, and his mom could have called out to him, but he wouldn’t have stopped. ¬†He needed a physical correction, but nothing forceful or certainly not painful, just a tap on the shoulder. That’s what we’re aiming for with Ziva.

Every collar or harness has its pros and cons. The pinch collar must be worn up under the chin, so that it won’t put pressure on the trachea which could cause injury. (You can see in the video, Ziva is wearing it properly. ) No-pull harnesses are very popular, and are great for some dogs, but have also been shown to cause shoulder damage to other dogs. “Halti” and other head harnesses can cause neck injuries to some dogs. “Choke” collars, which I have used with previous dogs, usually slide down the neck and end up putting pressure on the trachea when pulled.

So. Find a trainer who is experienced with the collar you choose, and get trained yourself. The bottom line is that whatever you choose should be pain-free and effective for your dog. Onward and upward.

Beginning with Behavioral Down

The first Obedience 101 class at Tecla’s K9 Academy was people only, but with lots of homework. So we thought we did pretty good with the homework, but with no context of how far along we should be, it seems we hadn’t done enough. The most important part of this week was to learn “Behavioral Down.” This is a really simple technique that helps the dog learn to control their own behavior and understand that they can get quiet and settled — and that it is a pleasant feeling. Just the ticket for Miss Ziva.

But Miss Ziva was not so enamored of the technique at first.

Ziva riding in the car

Ziva in a moment of calm, when she was not barking in my ear while I was driving home from obedience class.

So, the actual technique is just to put the leash on the dog, and then step on the leash towards the dog’s end, so that it pulls them down slightly. That is, it’s just taut enough that the dog decides it would be more comfortable to lie down than to continue standing. So this is where we start to move away from purely positive training. And let me say, if purely positive training works for your dog, that is awesome. But I believe some dogs — and Ziva is one — benefit from a gentle nudge. I mean, if you watch actual dog moms and their pups, they will give more than a “gentle” nudge when a pup is misbehaving. This technique is in no way painful to the dog, it is simply less comfortable standing like this than to lie down. The dog makes the choice.

The class was warned that the first few times we tried Behavioral Down it might take up tor 90 minutes for a dog to lie down and become completely settled. The goal is to reach 0: lying on her side, eyes closed, calm breathing. The good news was that it never took a full 90 minutes for her to cut her energy in half. The bad news was that we never got below about 3 or 4. I realize typing that,  it sounds like we just needed to persevere. But she would get to 3 or 4 after about 30 minutes and never get below that.  And the first 10-15 minutes was pretty wild: she would stand for long time, leaning forward. The she would start barking. Then she would finally lie down and start trying to roll around.

Ziva and Laura in the park practicing leash work

Some early leash work in the park.

We practiced this in the house, several times a day for a week. She got better, but couldn’t seem to get below 3/4. By the time Saturday morning rolled around, we felt nervously ready. We tried to wear her out a little by throwing the ball in the back yard, and then loaded her into the back seat for the half hour ride. During which she barked the entire time. Somehow we managed to survive that first class — she was pretty bad at her Behavioral Down, constantly trying to get up, barking, and being in general, very wound up. But other dogs were also doing some of that as well.

We practiced our next homework for the week (some basic leash work), and then on Saturday I took Ziva on my own because my wife couldn’t make it that week. “No problem,” I said. And 30 minutes later — after Ziva had stepped on the seatbelt release and ended up in the front passenger seat, and I had gotten her back in the back again, and she stood with her head behind my right ear and barked for the rest of the trip — we pulled into the parking lot. That’s when Ziva saw the other dogs also waiting in the parking lot, and basically went out of her mind. She barked and spun and barked and spun — all in the back seat. I tried redirecting and then distracting with treats, and finally I carefully put the leash on her, and let her out of the car, both hands holding tight on the leash. My biggest fear was that she would get loose and run away.

She didn’t get loose, and she didn’t run away. But she did bark and pull and lunge. Tecla and her assistant came over to talk to me, and I realize now that she knew immediately what was going on with Ziva at that moment. She led us into the building in a quiet room apart from the other dogs, and said that she believed that Ziva is a dog that is addicted to adrenaline. That Ziva had learned to deal with stressful situations — such as being around dogs, being in a new place, meeting new people, etc. — by ramping up the adrenaline, because that feels good. She said she could help us with a plan of training for Ziva to address the adrenaline, by teaching her how to be calm, and helping her see that calm feels good, too.

She also said: Ziva is only a year old, and this is completely fixable. “Or, you can wait a couple of years until she has gotten into a dog fight, or has run away — which is when most people come to me.” I remembered Ziva’s foster mom telling me over the phone, before we met, “The sky’s the limit with this one. She can do any activity you want to try.” And I felt we owed it to her to help her learn to be a better dog. The awesome dog she could be.

So, doggie IEP in hand, we left the building that day with a new outlook and a new future. And we haven’t looked back since!

Next up: Just what was in that doggie IEP, anyway?

EDIT:

So, I tried to to a video of Behavioral Down tonight, which we do now every time we go out the door. She had been alone in the house for 8 hours today, and we had taken a trip out back but we usually also go for a walk in the neighborhood. ¬†Excuse the mess in the hallway and the crazy camera work. ¬†I’m new at this. The key is at the end of the second video, when she lets out a big sigh.

I thought I could film the entire process with one hand, but I had to stop to get the leash on her and then stat filming again: