Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Skateboard: Fozzie's Next Frontier

After 3 years of persistent work with treats and all sorts of techniques for working with reactive dogs, Fozzie has been slowly making discernible progress with staying calm in the presence of other dogs.

When we see other dogs on trails or neighborhood walks, where once Fozzie would have lunged, barked, and trembled at first sight, now he can sometimes keep himself together. He can accept treats and refrain from barking as long as the dog is at a reasonable distance, isn't also reacting, and isn't a large, pointy eared dog like an Akita or a Malamute.

He still trembles and gets very excited, and if we don't have time to prepare and a dog appears near us suddenly, Fozzie still puts on quite the display--so we still have work to do on Fozzie's responses to other dogs.

With skateboards, I'm afraid we have even more work to do. For some reason the combination of the sound and the sight of a person, upright and looking like a person in most ways, but moving in a way that is so unbelievably strange, is too much for our poor boy. 

So we are trying to set up practice opportunities for skateboard reactivity too. 

Fortunately, Florian enjoys the opportunity to get on a skateboard in front of our house and zoom around while I give Fozzie high-value treats.

Still, even when Florian pets him beforehand, gets on the skateboard in front of him, and then skates off slowly, Fozzie still barks and lunges, and snatches the treats with none of his customary gentleness.  

It's funny, because Fozzie can stand on the skateboard himself and even move with it a bit, but once someone else is on it he just can't keep his cool. 

I am going to try just going out on the skateboard by myself with Fozzie, moving it around just enough to make the skateboard noise and delivering organic raw salmon treats.

With enough repetition of that, I don't see how we could fail to make progress.

 Or maybe it's just time Fozzie go on doggie Prozac! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fall camping in Green Ridge State Forest

Last weekend we got a break from family and work obligations and decided to take the dogs for a camping trip. 

It feels like forever since we've been camping. While we love our easy Sunday excursions to some beautiful place, there's something magical about getting away overnight. 

We decided to go to Berkeley Springs, WV, one of our favorite towns and one surrounded by forests and protected areas. We were pleasantly surprised to find the town in the midst of its Apple Butter festival, and took some time to check out the booths and buy some amazing apples.

But crowds are stressful for Fozzie, and pretty soon it was time to get ourselves to the woods. Green Ridge State Forest is enormous, and we drove for what seemed like hours on marginal, rutted, dirt roads until after dark, when we finally found a place to pull off. 

We were in the van, so had a thick foam bed and a warm enclosure, but for some reason neither one of us had an easy time getting comfortable or falling asleep. 

Still, as I lay there listening to the quiet, a tremendous feeling of well-being came over me. 

Here I was in a van in the forest, alone with my sweetie and my dogs. 

Far from civilization, my job, household tasks, or family responsibilities. No one knew where I was, and there was no one I needed to email, nothing I needed to do in the morning. 

If I opened my eyes, all I could see was darkness. 

If I listened, all I heard was crickets, Dahlia's snores, and an occasional, strange, very wild-sounding animal's cry. I have no idea what it was. Maybe a coyote? 

When we got up in the morning, our backs were so stiff we could barely move. How is it possible that I used to stretch out my sleeping pad--one of those thin, hard, corrugated gray and black ones--on the side of the road in some wild and woolly corner of Texas or New Mexico, and wake up in the morning next to a drilling rig pumping away to a haunting rhythm, or a cow chewing her cud practically in my ear, refreshed and with nary an ache? I guess that's what 20 years will do.

In any case, though hardly feeling refreshed Florian and I knew that the best way to shake off the stiffness was to get moving. So we courageously overcame the challenge of bending over to tie our hiking boots then took off along the road again until we came upon a trail. 

We'd actually seen a lot of hunters and other campers along the road, but in this area we didn't see anyone so we felt good letting the dogs run free.  

Until it would occur to me that Dahlia is deaf, and so if she ran off somewhere with Fozzie I'd have no way of calling her, which thought would lead to panic. So I'd call Fozzie, and leash up the piglet when she came charging and humping down the trail. 

But she never failed to charge and hump back in my direction every time I called Fozzie, and didn't seem interested in straying far away. 

She sure does love her Fozzie. 

Even with an entire forest to explore, she was most interested in being with him. And yes, usually humping him. 

And Fozzie, as always, was such a good sport. 

After our hike, we staggered back to the van and slowly made our way back to civilization, and a five-star dumpster diving experience that yielded a freezer full of organic raw dog food.  What a healthy interlude for the whole family. 

What's YOUR favorite way to pretend you're 20 years younger?

Monday, October 13, 2014

When a deaf dog is a good listener

Daria came to us with an unusual name, and none of my friends and family who have met her could remember it. So they ended up calling her variations on Delia, Doria, Dorito, and Dahlia. It's hard to motivate to decide on a name for a deaf dog; after all, you're not going to be calling her. But you do need a way to refer to her, and for a foster dog you need something catchy that will make would-be adopters stop and take a look.  

I like Dahlia; it's a bit smoother and more feminine than Daria and so that one has stuck.  

Dahlia is really settling in with us--she is very attached to me and Florian and has adjusted well to our routine. She is still a wacky little pill in the evenings, though she settles down more quickly for sure. The other night, she was pestering me and barking and without thinking I told her to Sit! and that little butt hit the floor faster than I've ever seen it on any of my dogs or past foster dogs who could hear perfectly fine. 

It was almost as if she could hear.

But I think what really happened is that she is very tuned in, very treat motivated, and very eager to please. She sat just because she is a smart little thing who thought it was a good bet that a Sit would bring a treat.

For me it just brought home a little more how not a big deal her deafness is. In a few short weeks she has been readily and easily trained in the basics--and she's got them down better than many of the hearing dogs I've had. 

So proud of my little deaf piglet-pill!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Primal Jerky Nibs: an Excellent Training and Desensitization Treat

We are really enjoying the chance to sample a variety of high-quality, high-value dog snacks from This month, I asked to try some Primal Jerky Chicken Nibs

Since my beloved Lamar passed away, I am committed to having a steady stream of foster dogs to keep saving lives. And because having just one dog would be way too quiet. 

So there will no shortage of opportunities in the foreseeable future for putting new treats to the test training, socializing, and encouraging better behavior. 

As for Daria, she still gets into her evening wackies most every evening. The main difference between now and the first week or so I had her being that at some point, Fozzie decided he wanted to play with her. So as long as they are both having fun, I let them play. 

When, inevitably, Fozzie tires before Daria, I shake a bag of Primal Jerky Nibs in her face and point to her doggie bed for some training time.  

Primal Jerky Nibs are made of chickens who have been raised organically and without antibiotics or added hormones, and the tiny bite size is perfect for rewarding a long-duration stay. For tossing, one at a time, onto her dog bed as she chooses to remain there rather than nip compulsively at Fozzie's hind quarters. 

Fozzie, for his own part, got to enjoy the power of these tasty nibs during the last thunderstorm we had. 

Fozzie is terrified during thunderstorms, and manages his fear generally by climbing on top of one of us, trembling, and drooling. I suppose I should really work on this by getting one of those thunderstorm tapes and playing it at low volume while giving him treats, but I haven't gotten around to getting one yet. 

So for now, I try to play some nice music to drown out the thunder and just give him really good snacks. Primal Jerky Nibs were a perfect size and high-value enough to take the edge off Fozzie's anxiety. 

Thanks, for the great all-purpose high-value treats!

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Vacation with my Foster Piglet

There was a time when my vacations consisted of loading into my car with my dog or dogs and taking off across the country, pulling off to camp on a red rock butte in Utah or a deserted coastline in Northern California and sleeping under the sky with my snoring companions at my feet. 

It's been a while since I did that, and I haven't been solo camping since around when I met Florian. Vacations are a bit different now, but they still revolve around bonding with my canine friends. 

Last week, my sister rented a house for the family in Rehoboth. It was a beautiful house, large enough for my dad, my sister and her daughter and our friend Eric, our Uncle Johnny and two of our dogs to coexist. Previously I've brought Lamar on these vacations, since Fozzie and Genghis long to tear each other into little bits of fluff. This time, I brought Daria.

It was pretty clear that it was the first time she'd ever seen the ocean, as the first wave caused her to jump straight up into the air. Once it flattened out, she realized quickly that it was just like that wet stuff she likes to lie down in. 

So nice to get up early and walk with my sister, to the beach or to town to get a chai latte, or around the lake. 

Genghis loves the water too. He likes to go out deep in it, sit down, open his mouth, and just space out. For a while.  Daria didn't know what to make of it, so she charged out to him and then bounded back. 

We thought Genghis might follow her out, but he was too lost in his own reverie. My sister had to go in after him herself. 
The house had a gorgeous pool. I think there is nothing quite so relaxing as stretching out by the pool with a few of your favorite people--or hell, even some people you don't like that much--and something good to read. 

But if you're a white pit bull and that's your thing, you'd better put some sunblock on that pink and nearly bald skin around your mouth and nose! 

As a responsible parent, I can tell you that that nosie was doused in SPF 70 and no less. 

Lots to do around Rehoboth even when the weather's less sunny. 

You can go check out the World War II bunkers and observation towers, and Uncle Johnny can release some of his pent-up anger with a real cannon.

If you've got your foster dog with you, you can pose for family photos as your leg is being humped. 

Or even catch your foster dog in one of those rare moments when she is being cute and not misbehaving in any way. 

Some of the best times were when we went to bed at night, in a tall, super-comfy four-poster bed, and my little piglet climbed up next to me, then curled up into a circle while she was still sitting so that she collapsed against me and partly on top of me, and the proceeded to snore deeply, loudly, and with satisfaction. 

It felt just like it used to when I was that 20-something on some beach in California with Lamar and Tashi, when they were all I had and we just brimmed with gratitude for each other, that we could share such a world of beauty and richness and wildness together. 

That I was away from my home and my sweetie and my Fozzie and my usual sources of comfort, but I had this adorable, pink, vulnerable, snoring baby right next to me. I don't think it would have been a vacation without that. 

Sunday was my birthday, and I drove Dad and Uncle Johnny back to Silver Spring. 

Then made out with Fozzie, then left the puppies at home while Florian and I took Uncle Johnny out to see some belly dancing. 

What a fun birthday vacation! Thanks Nance, thanks Uncle Johnny, thanks Dad and thanks to my little loving piglet, such a terrific traveling companion!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Unexpected Delights of Fostering a Deaf Dog

As everyone who's ever fostered a critter knows, fostering brings all sorts of unexpected opportunities for learning. 

Through fostering, I've learned about reactive dogs, shy dogs, older dogs, and impulsive dogs. I've learned about training beagles and shepherds, sight hounds and herding dogs and pit bull type dogs, puppies and cats and kittens.

But until now, I've never had the chance to learn about deaf dogs. 

A lot of it is pretty intuitive. Instead of verbal commands, there are hand signals. They are similar to the ones you would use for training a dog who can hear, which you do before introducing verbal cues because dogs respond more readily to motion than they do to sound. 

Instead of a clicker, you mark a successful Sit or Down or Shake with a "flash": showing the dog your hand and quickly spreading out all five fingers, and then following up with a treat. 

In many ways, the experience of fostering Daria is no different than its been with any of the young, active pups I've fostered over the years (which of course have been most of them, since as I've learned from Kristina Finney, the Foster Coordinator with the Washington Humane Society, the dogs most likely to linger on the adoption floor are high-energy pit bull-type dogs of around 2 years of age, particularly if they are dark-colored and female). 

There's been the initial delight of seeing her smile, when I knew that in the shelter she'd been so nervous and unhappy.

There are the struggles with hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, which as with most young dogs are at their height at precisely the time when humans would like to relax.  
There are the adoption events, and the chance to romp and frolic with a couple of other pit pups who are dark-colored, young, and energetic and have yet to be adopted. 

There's the fun of watching a new dog's personality unfold like a flower as she adjusts to being in a loving home, 

and demonstrates that in addition to the cow and the piglet that are among her ancestors, she adores the water and must also be part duck. 

There's the slow period of adjustment with the resident dog, although this aspect is I think challenged by Daria's inability to hear. 

Daria is unusually persistent in trying to get Fozzie's attention, and her somewhat less than charming play style consists largely of nipping, biting, barking and humping. While the vast majority of communication among dogs is undoubtedly body language, I have to believe that her indifference to his signals is at least in part due to the fact that she can't hear him telling her to go away. 

So as with any impulsive dog, we use it as an opportunity to learn self-control by going to her bed, lying down and doing a nice Stay. 

There's the fun of seeing how affectionate and loving she is when she finally does settle down, and of hearing her snore when she sleeps.

These are all things you'd experience, to one degree or another, with any new foster dog. But what's really fascinating is the ways in which a deaf dog is different, most of which I hadn't thought about at all. 

Of course training is more difficult because I can't use my voice to get her attention. If she's harassing Fozzie in the other room, I can't holler to redirect her but have to physically stop what I'm doing and go where she is. 

Sometimes, I have to tap her on the shoulder. Often, maybe because her other senses are so acute, or maybe because we've worked on rewarding eye contact, she knows the moment I am nearby and gives me her full attention. 

There are also unexpected advantages to having a deaf dog. 

When she is in the midst of a deep snooze, I can go into the kitchen for a late-night snack and rustle bags around, open the fridge, and make food preparation noises that would have other dogs salivating on my feet, and she'll just go on snoozing. I can argue with my spousal figure or yell at my computer, and she won't take it personally or think that the world is about to end like so many sensitive dogs who can hear. She'll just go about her happy-go-lucky way, oblivious to the discord. 

When I come home from work, and she is crashed out on the couch, I don't have to worry about being mobbed at the door. She'll remain crashed out, blissfully snoring. 

Of course, a lot of what's unique about Daria is the connection I have with her, which is unique for every foster dog. There is something just so adorable about that little pink face and that loving spirit, about that innocent, joyful consciousness that exists in a world so different than what we who hear can imagine. 

Though I have experienced deep, heart-level connection with other pint-sized pocket pitties of the snorty, spunky, female persuasion, I wonder if Daria is particularly sweet and loving because with me she's experienced communication for the first time. 

Because for her the world is silent, and the human world makes even less sense than it does for most dogs. So she is relieved that finally there is structure and a sense that she can control her environment.  

Which, along with good food, lots of affection, and abundant opportunity to enjoy tactile pleasures,

is important for any dog, not just the snorty deaf pittie-cow-duck-piglets. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rock State Park with Daria

Another weekend, another adventure with the pups. Florian looked online for trails not far from Baltimore, and came upon some amazing pictures for King and Queen's Seat in Rocks State Park.

We love places with huge rocks because they remind us of the Western US

On this one, we weren't on the trail for long before we came to the rocks, and the stunning view off the edge. 

The dogs were a bit challenged by the boulder-hopping, but were definitely up for it. 
It helped that there were perfectly doggie-sized water dishes carved into the rock

After the rocks, back on the trail which wound down the mountain. We hoped to find an enormous waterfall, so we kept hiking.

We never found the waterfall but did find some grassy areas and ferny areas, where Daria threw herself down on her back every couple of steps to roll around in pure joy. 

I don't know why she does that, but it's pretty darn adorable.

Near the ferns at the bottom of the mountain, we came to a stream. Good thing too, because those dogs hadn't had a bevvie since the top of the rocks. 

Sunday was the first cool, fall-like day of the year, and that water was brisk. Didn't seem to bother those pups, who went in for a refreshing dip.

And then we climbed all the way back up again, and around the mountain to get back to the car. 

Making for some tired pups when we got home. That was fun!