Monday, September 21, 2009

Special Needs? Hardly!

Meet Phoenix.  She is a gorgeous 2-year old brindle Boxer.   Her parents, Kim and James, hired me to help with her increased leash reactivity, defensiveness, and anxiety when Kim thought she couldn't handle her on walks anymore.  I expected to meet a wild child, but in actuality, she is very sweet and calm- not your typical Boxer!
Phoenix is completely deaf, and most people would think she would have special needs.  I assure you, she has no idea she is deaf, and pays better attention and is more intune than most hearing dogs- including my own.   While she doesnt have any special needs, she is very special.  She is clearly well-loved and I think the prognosis is very good!
Her mom sent me a photo of her enjoying the Everlasting Treat Ball I recommended.  You go girl!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Super Puppies!

One of my greatest joys in life is watching puppies play.  And for obvious reasons (I think) my favorite class to teach is Super Puppy class.  Actually, though- I think the puppies teach me.  You see, it's very simple.  Puppies are fair and forgiving.  They play, they wrestle, they snark, they run, they hump, they bite, etc.... all the things that puppies do.  And for the most part, puppies will let other puppies do whatever they want- Unless one of them bites too hard.  Then they scream and yip and howl like someone is trying to take their Christmas presents away.  But, once they howl, and the play stops for one or two seconds, they go right back at it.  Puppies forgive other puppies' trangressions within a fraction of a second and move on.  I wish more people did that!
This past Saturday we had 6 puppies in class and it was wrestle-mania: WWF at Quality Paws.  I was so happy to see all the puppies playing appropriately, snarking and biting and playing, just like they should.  Playing with other puppies is SO important for bite inhibition (see Bite Inhibition Article) .  If you wait too long, or only let your puppy play with adult dogs, it may be too late.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Bionic Dog

Meet Winston.  The world's strongest, loudest dog.  Winston is a 10 month old pug and he is stronger than my 170 pound Great Dane... and I am not exaggerating.  Winston's mom, Anne, and I have been friends for a while, and I live vicariously through her because my dream dog has been a Pug.  Jasper (my dane) was supposed to be a pug, but fate or something cosmic intervened.  I met Anne about 3 years ago when I worked with her other dog, Lilly.  Who, by all accounts is normal.  Winston, however, is not.  Don't get me wrong.  I ADORE Winston, and have been madly in love with him since I met him when he was 8 weeks old.  I am posting a photo of his puppy class, plus a recent one that was taken on the same day as this story took place.

Winston has issues with grooming- specifically getting his nails cut.  Anne asked me if she could come over and get some help with teaching her how to cut Winston's nails. "Of course", I said, as I looked forward to seeing him.  They arrived and we got to work.  Let's suffice it to say that Winston despises, no abhores, no strongly dislikes.... no HATES having his paws touched, much less his nails clipped.  I was shocked at the noises coming out of his body as we lightly touched his paws, and even more shocked at how strong this dog was.  It took every ounce of my being to hold him still while Anne inevitably got the job done.  I am not exaggerating at all when I say he is stronger than any Great Dane or Mastiff or Newfoundland I have ever restrained.

What is wrong with my little Winston???  This is not right, so I came up with a desensitization plan for him, but in the end, I simply cannot believe the strength of one little dog.  My back will never be the same.  I love him, but I think I'll get someone else to restrain him next time.  :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Marking Behavior: Anxiety or Spite?

This weekend, I received three different emails from people regarding their dogs peeing and pooping in the house.  All three people said "He does it when he's mad at me and wants to spite me".  I always cringe when I read and/or hear this, because it is the furthest thing from the truth.  Please believe me when I say, DOGS DO NOT ELIMINATE TO SPITE THEIR HUMANS!!!

Dogs are very sensitive creatures.   Second-hand dogs (as I often call rescue dogs) are especially sensitive, and some have suffered stress, abuse, and even trauma in their 'past life'.   When they are adopted in to your home, or when you move, or when the baby is born, or when you are stressed or sad, your dogs have a lot of the similar emotions that we have.  They get anxious and stressed just like we do.  So, when they feel anxious and stressed, they can pee and poop in the house to help themselves feel better.  We do the same thing with food, wine, exercise, and cigarettes.  When your rescued cattle dog lifts his leg on your new couch, he is not marking his territory- he is trying to alleviate his stress and anxiety by helping to make the area smell more 'like home'.   The same can be true for cats, although it can be much more complicated for felines (but just as curable!)

If you yell at your dog, or rub their nose in their urine, they will only become more stressed, and therefore mark in the house more.  If you give them free run of the whole house and they run upstairs and pee on your bed, it is not their fault, it is yours.  If you take them for a 30 minute walk and they don't pee, then they come in and urinate on your expensive persian rug, you aren't predicting when they have to go well enough and setting them up to fail.

Marking behavior and inappropriate elimination are actually very fixable.  Once you decrease the underlying anxiety, re-train the correct potty behavior, manage the dog's environment, change your behavior, and decrease the amount of stress, the marking can and often will go away.  There are no guarantees...  but there is hope.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

My Lovely Assistant

While most people in an office have a secretary, delivery runner, accountant, or housekeeper, I assure you, I do not.  I am the chief 'cook', dishwasher, phone answerer, scheduler, driver, treat cutter, and pooper scooper.  As the owner/operator of my own business, things can get pretty hectic somedays, and often I don't have time to use the restroom or eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner on any given day.
I do, however, have an assistant.  She is the most lovely girl.  She has pointy ears and a toothy grin.  She loves getting her 'paychecks' and does anything I ask.   She goes with me on appointments and, with the utmost love, affection, and devotion, I use her as 'bait' (very safely of course).   She sits excitedly in the backseat of my car anticipating her next doggie- introduction.  I could not do my job without her.   She never calls in sick, and always has a big smile on her face.

Her name is Bobbie and I adore her. 

It's Mine!

My last appointment of the day yesterday was with a 16-month old handsome yellow lab named Murphy.  When I arrived he proceeded to greet with me with a happy woof! and tail wags, and then spent the next 30 minutes molesting me with his nose because he knew there MUST be hot dogs on my body somewhere.  While his parents didn't appreciate his antics, I didn't mind as he was gentle with his nose nudges and kisses- and he did it all with a smile only a lab can give.  After having lost our chocolate lab last month, it was wonderful to have the lab 'heat' on me again.
Tara and Ben, Murphy's adoring owners, hired me to help with his escalating food aggression, also called 'Resource Guarding'.  They described 14 months of food and bone possession that would make other people shiver in their Mutt-lucks.  Since the age of 12 weeks, when around food, Murphy has growled, snarled, snarked, lunged, and bitten to the point of puncturing Ben's thumb- which was the final impetus for them getting some real help.  They described months and months of training they had tried to do.  Nothing helped and he was getting worse.  Murphy has also become the dreaded teenager, and although he can't take the car without permission or go out back and smoke a cigarette, I'm sure he would if he could- he is THAT much of an adolescent.  They didn't know what to do!  Tara and Ben are not alone.  So many people call me in desperation because their dog turns in to Cujo with food/bones/toys/owners/space/siblings/beds/air/a fly on the wall/a blade of grass etc and they have no idea what to do.  I assure you, there is always some sort of hope.  If your dog is growling, snarling, or biting you, please call on a professional.  Don't try anything you see on TV, or what your brother or the lady at Petsmart tells you to do.

I outlined the plan for Murphy and his parents, and set up an appointment to go back in a month to continue training.  I always leave a few weeks in between appointments so all the parties involved can get in a new routine and start training without pressure- this is extremely important to the success of the program.  Murphy's environment is also going to be managed very closely so he doesn't have the opportunity to guard anything anymore.  This is also essential for training, as you cannot let a dog keep practicing the behavior you are trying to eliminate.

Murphy is a very lucky boy to have such wonderful, patient, and persistent owners.  It is clear he is very well-loved, and I think the prognosis is excellent!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Beginning of the Dog Blog

Today is the beginning of a new era at Wag & Train. I have finally made it to the year 2009- I am on Facebook, I just started Twittering, and am adventuring into the land of blogging.
Although I don't have a lot of time to blog, I hope to share my experiences as an animal behaviorist along with tips, advice, and lots of fun stuff. My hope is to help save dogs and cats, and help them find and stay in their forever homes.

For my first post on the Dog Blog, I'd like to tell you about Kenai. He is my inspiration in all aspects of my life, including the reason I began Wag & Train. He and I moved to Denver, from Minneapolis, in 2001. I was working for an engineering company and wanted to take a break from all things 'dog'. I had been working full time at my real job, and teaching classes and doing private sessions in my spare time for the previous 7 years. I was burned out!
In addition to training in Minnesota, I was constantly working with Kenai. He found me in 1997 as he was about to be euthanized by Animal Control- he was about 6 months old. I already had 2 dogs at home and certainly didn't think I needed another one. He had other ideas. I took him home and realized he had a myriad of issues that we had to work through: Separation Anxiety, Fear Aggression, Potty Training, Leash Reactivity, and MAJOR Chewing. His nickname was Puppy Scissorhands. He was emaciated, and severely neglected, as well as abused and scared. I had bitten off way more than I thought could chew, so to speak. No one in their right mind signs up to have a dog like this! Someone else created these issues and I had to solve them- how fair is that? I spent endless hours working on desensitization, counterconditioning, leadership and relaxation training, and crate training. I sweated, I toiled, I cried, I sobbed, I laughed, and eventually we bonded.

Ok, so I digress. Once we arrived in Denver, I immediately saw a need for a positive-only trainer, which is my background and passion. Thankfully, back then there wasn't the influx of 'internet-certified' so-called trainers out there. After much agonizing thought and soul-searching, I decided to start my own company here and Wag & Train was born. My best friend's now-husband, Jeff, thought of the name so I must give him credit for it, as I am not that creative. Once the name was picked, I had to figure out a logo. After a week of thinking about it, I had an idea- I would use Kenai as my logo... why not? He was exactly like all the dogs I would work with in the future, or at least had a lot of the same issues. He was fantastically handsome (I'm not biased at all)- and had a quirky look to him: One blue eye and one brown eye, One ear up and one ear down. (I think he hit the gene pool jackpot). Thus, the Wag & Train logo was born. Thanks to my friend, Shawn (, for designing it and making it happen!
Kenai turned out to be a great dog, the BEST dog. He still had his issues, but they were manageable, and most importantly, we understood each other and I never set him up to fail. He was my soul mate dog. I lost Kenai this past March at age 12, but he lives on in everything I do at Wag & Train. I still hear him bark in the background soundtrack of my life. He is the reason I get up every morning to help the countless 'previously unwanted' dogs and cats out there who have found their forever homes.

If Kenai and I have one message for all of you out there, it's "Don't Give Up". Your dog may have issues now, but if you are patient, consistent, kind, and are willing to work through them, your dog will pay you back with a lifetime of love and devotion, just like my beloved Kenai. I love you Kiki!