Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Therapy Dog In The Making

This is Maggie when she was just 12 weeks old.   Last month, at 1 year of age,  Maggie completed Therapy Dog Prep School.  It was an awesome class, lots of great people and dogs.  The majority of the class had started training with me when their dogs were just little pups, so I've been able to watch them grow.    When I first meet people,  their dogs are rambunctious little puppies.  The first night of class,  which is a New Student Orientation,  I remind everyone that the journey from puppyhood to Therapy Dog is about 1 to 2 years.    During this time we are going to be training but we are also going to let our puppy enjoy being a puppy.  This should include lots of playtime, rest, socialization, adventures, hiking, swimming and even a little mischief :)   The best Therapy Dogs are those who are well adjusted dogs.  All too often people think that Therapy Dogs are all business and  that they don't get to have fun or worse yet, that they should never make mistakes.  The truth is, there are no perfect dogs, and that includes Therapy Dogs.  While Therapy Dogs do need to have above average training and exemplary temperaments, they are still dogs.   Going through the training process is what helps us determine if Therapy Dog Work is the right career choice for our dog.   It's impossible to look at a 10 week old puppy and say beyond a shadow of a doubt 'he will make a GREAT Therapy Dog'.  We can look at personality traits, sound temperament,  sociability, but only time will tell.    So what do you do while you wait?  You train and have fun. 

When I developed Therapy Dog Prep School it was to help others prepare their dogs for the testing process and Therapy Dog Work.  While I was raising and training my own dogs years ago,  I realized that there was nothing available in the way of training to help me prepare for this process.  I wanted to have a better understanding of what the actual visits would be like.  The only information I received was to take the CGC Test.  While I think the CGC is a good gauge of a dogs basic obedience skills I don't think it gives us enough insight into how a dog will perform in a medical setting or as a working Therapy Dog. 

In Therapy Dog Prep we are working on obedience skills, teaching advanced skills to use on visits and addressing very common problems such as licking, jumping, over excitement, rude greetings, etc.  When the dogs enter class on week one,  it's fairly common for them to be jumping for attention, licking when you pet them and having trouble settling.   By graduation night the progress is amazing, it's always fun to watch the transformation.   Therapy Dogs Prep School helps people prepare their dogs for a variety of careers in Animal Assisted Activities and Animal Assisted Therapies. 

On April 22, 2011 Maggie became a registered Therapy Dog.  She passed all 3 phases of the testing process with flying colors.  Her Mom is looking forward to volunteering in the community and sharing Maggie with others.   Her Mom also knows that 'all work and no play, does not make a very happy Maggie' so her days will still be filled with play, swimming, chasing squirrels and other doggie pleasures. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship

Today was a big day at the McCarthy house, today is the day that progress was made!!  Just three short weeks ago Wally joined our family and while Faye was thrilled, Leo was not happy with his new brother.   Leo has always done great with other dogs but he has always had problems with intact males, due to an attack when he was a youngster.  Wally had just recently been neutered so he still had testosterone, as it takes time for that to dissipate after a neuter.   So for any dog that would meet Wally, they were still reading him as intact.   For many dogs this is not a problem, but for Leo, it was a deal breaker.   When Leo was 1 year old, while on a walk,  we were attacked by an adult intact male and both of us were seriously injured.   From that day forward he has had significant fear issues around any intact male.  As hard as I've tried he just can not forget that horrible day .  Thankfully we rarely encounter such dogs so he has been able to avoid those unpleasant encounters most of his life. 

The day Wally arrived I knew there was the possibility that Leo would not welcome him with open paws so I took a number of precautions during their initial introduction.  We had both boys on leash in my backyard and just started walking them near each other but didn't allow any formal greeting.  I could tell from the minute Leo got a good whiff of Wally that he was not comfortable.  We then slowed things down and had Leo walking 15-20 feet behind Wally so he could gather a little more 'information', still he could not relax.  Wally of course is a big dog with a puppy brain and all he wanted to do was play with Leo.  After 10-15 minutes we moved the dogs closer and within seconds Leo began to growl, bear his teeth and use very good canine communication to tell everyone how much he wanted Wally to move away.  Fortunately Wally is very dog savvy having grown up with many dogs, he immediately knew that he needed to back off and look away.   Even with distance between them Leo could not relax and was clearly stressed so we moved farther apart.  Just as we were walking away, Leo turned and launched a full fledged attack on Wally.  Thankfully Leo has a very good inhibited bite so there were not wounds but it was loud, lots of growling, snapping teeth and horrible to watch.   Wally was well aware that Leo was not happy to meet him and quickly retreated.

I found myself suddenly living in a potentially dangerous situation and knew I had to take time to think this through.  After everyone calmed down I had a family meeting and informed them that we would have to implement some very strict safety measures while we attempted to work through this.   The first step was keep the boys apart so that things could settle down.  From that moment we were rotating them in and out of crates.  When Leo was free, Wally was in a crate and vise verse.  This was not a problem because all the dogs are comfortable in their crates.  The next step was to purchase a DAP Collar for Leo and plug in a DAP Diffuser.   DAP has a very calming effect and I knew it would help all the dogs relax.    We used ALOT of desensitization exercises, offering Leo treats when ever Wally was hear him, clicking and treating for calm behavior, etc.   For nearly 2 weeks I did not allow the boys to have any contact other than approaching each other in their crates.   For the first week Leo would not even go near Wally crate and if Wally approached him he would growl.   By the 2nd week there was no more growling, he was choosing to sniff around the crate but still would not engage in any way with Wally.  At the start of the 3rd week Leo had made repeated approaches to Wally while he was crated and even began sniffing and licking his muzzle.  I was so excited but still wanted to take things slowly and use precautions.   A few days ago I placed a soft muzzle on Leo and had him outside with Wally and Faye.  He was now able to move about freely with Wally but we had the safety of the muzzle just in case.   It was at that point that I saw things changing, more relaxed body language, choosing to engage with Wally and no signs of fear or aggression. 

Today with drag lines on both dogs I decided to remove the muzzle and let them meet.   As you can see from the pictures things went very well.  The dogs immediately started playing a game of tug and running in the yard.   I could feel my blood pressure lower and knew that we had just had a major breakthrough.   

I've learned alot these past three weeks and as always, I'm in awe of these wonderful creatures.    When given time and the opportunity to resolve conflict great things can happen.  Too often we expect our dogs to 'get with the program' forgetting that they have 'opinions' of their own.    We have to respect what our dog is trying to tell us whether we like it or even understand it.   It's never easy watching your beloved dog behave aggressively,  it's scary and makes everyone feel helpless.  Understanding that aggression is a form of ccommunication puts things into perspective and helps you move past your emotional response and move towards a resolution.    I'll still be keeping my eye on the boys in the days and weeks to come but I think they are well on their way to a Beautiful Friendship!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Is Your Dog a Space Invader?

It can be challenging to teach your dog to remain calm on leash when others are allowing their dog to invade your personal space with jumping, barking,  lunging, grabbing, etc.  Space Invaders are everywhere and they can make walking your dog a stressful experience.   Because this is a common problem I address it in all my group classes.  When we enter the class I ask that people to keep their dogs focused on them and not allow them to rush up to the other dogs.  I think this confuses and even frustrates students at times because they think their dog REALLY needs to greet every dog they see.  Students tell me that their dog will only calm down if they are allowed to meet and greet other dogs.  By allowing your dog to 'meet and greet' every dog they see you're creating a problem that will be hard to fix.  

To better understand what a "Space Invader' is, read this great article written by fellow trainer Veronica Sanchez of Cooperative Paws Dog Training in Virginia.

By Veronicz Sanchez-Cooperative Paws Dog Training

Imagine if you were walking in the mall and suddenly a total stranger rushed up in front of you and stood literally inches from your face. As this person talks to you, you can smell their breath, they touch your arm, and stay in your space even as you back up to move away. What might your reaction be? Might you become afraid or angry? What if you are trapped and cannot move away? This would make most people feel very uncomfortable. And unfortunately, many pet owners routinely make dogs tolerate canine close talkers.

Most adult dogs are not happy to have an unfamiliar dog rush up into his or her face. Some dogs may react with a growl or a snap or other aggressive behavior, others might become frightened. Even those dogs that patiently tolerate the behavior may become less tolerant over time. Moreover, some dogs that rush up to an unfamiliar dog show additional pushy behavior such as jumping on top of the other dog, standing with their head over the other dog’s shoulders, and may not respond to the other dog’s signals to back off. Owners often misinterpret this greeting behavior as “friendly.” This is not friendly, it is rude! Add leashes to this situation and now you have two dogs that are trapped in this uncomfortable situation.

Recently, at a practice event for competition obedience that I attended, there were a number of dogs of various breeds in close proximity. Many of these dogs had advanced training, some titled at very high levels. None of the dogs were interacting with each other, they were paying attention to their owners. Why didn’t the owners have the dogs interact? Simply put, because most adult dogs do not necessarily enjoy interacting with unfamiliar dogs. Even adult dogs that are highly trained and extremely obedient will not always interact in a friendly way with another unfamiliar dog. Instead, these dogs know to listen to their owners, and – even more importantly – their owners know to handle their dog in a way that prevents their dog from making another dog uncomfortable.

Compare this situation to a typical visit to a pet store on a weekend, pet owners give their pets the full leash length and allow their pets to rush up to greet many of the other dogs in the store. These dogs temperaments and vaccination status is completely unknown. Since the dogs lack training, when the dogs become too excited or even aggressive, the owners have little to no ability to stop an altercation.

Pet owners sometimes mistakenly think that they are “socializing” their dog by allowing their dog to greet every dog they see on a walk or outing. Instead they are creating the very problem they hope to avoid, they are teaching their dog to be rude to other dogs. The dog is also learning to ignore the owner, that pulling on leash gets rewarded by the opportunity to greet a dog, and because some dogs will react aggressively, the dog is also learning that other dogs are not that friendly. Sometimes these dogs develop aggressive behavior to dogs themselves as they mature after repeated negative experiences.

The nice thing is that it really isn’t that hard to prevent your dog from becoming a canine close talker. Simply respect other dogs’ space. Do not allow your dog to greet every dog you see on a walk. Reward your dog for paying attention to you when other dogs are nearby. If your dog is friendly with other dogs, you can let your dog greet another friendly dog whose temperament and vaccination status is known after giving him or her permission to do so. Ask your dog to sit before letting him greet the other dog – do not let your dog pull you to greet the other dog. Train your dog or work with a professional trainer to teach your dog to look at you when other dogs are around. Take the time and effort to prevent your dog from becoming a space invader – your dog and the other dogs you encounter will thank you for it!