Bark and Lunge: Saving My Dog from Training Mistakes

(updated Nov. 2015)

A memoir

BarkLunge

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Bark and Lunge has received three national book awards:

Indie Excellence Award and Sponsor’s Choice Award, the USA Best Book Award, and a Gold Medal and 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite.

Buy the eBook from Amazon, Kobo, Nook, or Google Play.

Buy the paperback from IndieBoundAmazon or Barnes and Noble. Your local bookstore can order it for you too.

 

Nothing’s Gonna Break Our Stride

My training goal for 2018 is to have two ambulatory dogs. I already had Mia on anti-inflammatories and acupuncture when Leo needed TPLO surgery in November. I already had the greatest dog step in the world for the car*, and prophetically had trained Leo to use it.

Mia got her own walks for a few days when Leo wasn’t allowed, but he was putting weight on his injured leg immediately after surgery, so he was ready for short walks. And for several weeks, Leo’s prescribed slow, short walks worked out great for Mia.

Now that’s he’s back to his old self, it’s challenging to walk both dogs together by myself. Leo wants to walk faster, and probably should for his ongoing physical therapy. I accommodate this somewhat by attaching Mia to my belt via an 8-foot leash, while Leo forges ahead on his Freedom harness with the leash attached in front and back. There’s still some tangling, and the sense that Mia is getting dragged along faster than she wants to go.

Last night, while on a ball field well away from traffic, I unhooked Mia’s leash, thinking she could trail as far behind us as she needed, but nope, she stayed within about 8 feet anyway.

Today I took her on her own walk, and let her pick the pace.


*I cannot believe I didn’t blog about the Pet Loader. This video was shot a week before Leo hurt himself.

 

 

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. This month’s theme is training goals, but all positive training posts are welcome. The Hop is open until Sunday. Join Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier, and Travels with Barley each month to share positive training posts, starting on the first Monday of the month and lasting all week.

Not as naughty as he looks

Since Leo is 100 pounds and leash reactive, I often assume he will be perceived as scary. He proved otherwise to me during this past month.

At the end of October, he started limping. I had to leave him at the vet for a couple of hours while they X-rayed him. I worried that he’d whine or cry or bark from the kennel while he waited his turn, but I’m told he did not. Everybody seemed totally crazy about him.

The bad news was that he had torn his cruciate ligament and needed TPLO surgery. I had never heard of this surgery before, but apparently it’s very common, and there’s a 50% chance he’ll need the surgery on his other leg too!

I took him in for the surgery two days later. A brand new place, brand new doctors. They loved him. When the surgeon called me to tell me he was in recovery, she said, unprompted, “I like him,” in such a wistful way I knew she meant it. She doesn’t say that about all the German shepherds.

After his sutures came out, we had a consult for underwater treadmill therapy and the new vet asked if our other dog is as mellow as Leo. Ha! The other dog (Mia) is the mellow one! And here a little video of him on the treadmill a week later.

TPLO surgery is serious business with a long recovery period. Leo has been a total champ. He wore the cone for two weeks without complaint, and hangs out in his crate quite comfortably. He did have a few snarly incidents (fights, if I’m honest) with Mia, triggered by his barrier frustration (vision blocked by cone plus separation with a gate), disorientation from pain meds, and pain. It’s been a few weeks since the last skirmish, so I think that’s behind us.

He’s been walking on the new knee since day one, which has led me to be too cavalier about confining him. I let him get up on the couches, because he’s tall enough to climb up without jumping. But that also leaves him with access to jump on the couch when delivery people come to the door.

And at one point while Rob was decorating the backyard for Christmas, Leo raced toward the back door, sliding across the wet floor, his legs splayed out on both sides—exactly what they told us we didn’t want to happen.

So there have been a lot of times this past month where my heart rate has spiked and I felt like the worst nurse ever. If you ask the people in my TPLO support group on FB, I might be the naughty one for not following the strict directive to confine him and keep him away from furniture.

The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Tenacious Little TerrierTravels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. 

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Senior Dog Doesn’t Want to Come Inside

This month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop has the theme What To Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Listen To You.

For me, that’s like every day. They do what they want. I’m not going to lie. So I don’t have any legit training tips to offer.

I mean, mostly, they’ve been good doggies lately. Leo, now that he’s seven, technically qualifies as a senior, too.

mia-portageYesterday, Mia was up to her old tricks, refusing to come in the house when it was time for me to go to work. Back in the day, when she was a spry eight- or nine-year-old, she was too quick to catch.

The night before, Rob lamented that she seemed to be slowing down. I said, “No, no, she was bouncy and happy on our walk today.” I have had to reconfigure our leash arrangement though, when I walk them both by myself. Mia gets an eight-foot-leash tethered to my belt so she can go at her own pace. The shorter tandem bungee leash was no longer working out because Leo wanted to charge ahead and move too fast.

Anyway, I shot this video to show Rob that Mia is in fact as tricky as ever, ignoring my entreaties, and running out of reach. I couldn’t catch her, and I stepped in poop while trying, which I didn’t notice until I got to the office and wondered what was that smell.

I finally lured her inside by shaking her harness in a ruse that we were going somewhere wonderful. Technically, this was still positive training, since I gave her a bunch of treats when she came in, but it was also a bait and switch. I hate resulting to trickery, because she’s too smart to fall for it too often. And it feels mean. I should have taken her to work with me. There was no reason not to.

Positive TrainingThe Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Tenacious Little TerrierTravels with Barley and Wag ‘n Woof Pets. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. Our theme for this month is what do you do when your dog won’t listen but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. And our next hop will begin Nov. 6 on the theme “training company manners.”

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Scary Dogs Need Protection Too

When you have a big, scary German shepherd like Leo with a big, scary bark, you get used to other people thinking they need to keep their dogs (or their small children) safe from your dog.

Meanwhile, my job is to keep Leo safe from situations that overwhelm him.

Since last month’s “That’s a dangerous dog” debacle, I have trained Leo to wear a basket muzzle. He tolerates it, but if I go too long between cheese rewards, he wants to throw himself on the ground and rub the muzzle off on the grass. Also, I have to get down real low to get the cheese in his mouth.

It’s a tool I’m happy to have, but I do not know whether it would actually stay on were he to lunge mightily or scrap with another dog.

We haven’t yet walked past anyone while training with it, but I expect people will either:

  1. Feel safer because he can’t bite them, or
  2. Be terrified of the dangerous, muzzle-wearing dog, so they stay far, far away.

Both outcomes are equally satisfying to me.

Now that I am jogger-reactive, we’ve been spending more time at the dog park. Trust me, I would rather walk my dogs. My first choice at the park is to be the only dogs there (pictured above). But during the summer, when all the people are out, leash-reactive yet well-socialized Leo is safer in a fenced yard designated for off-leash dogs.

He proved this last week when another dog picked a fight. I had already decided it was time to leave because three kids under 12 had arrived with a medium-sized, pointy-eared black dog. I watched a flip-flop-wearing girl, maybe 8 years old, topple over onto the ground. She moved like toddler. Probably because of the flip-flops. She ran toward Mom and I said, “Careful about running at the dog park!” just as Leo grabbed the bottom of the giggling girl’s shirt. Mom said, “I told you. If you run, someone’s going to think you need chasing.”

Good job, Mom, I thought. But I also noticed her saying to her dog warningly, “Indy. Indyyyyy,” while her dog was nosing around Mia’s face. I wasn’t concerned, though I should have been, because the tone of that “Indyyyy” meant that the woman knew her dog was not trustworthy.

Mia was not ready to leave, so I followed her around until she let me catch up and leash her. During this time, Leo enjoyed a good chase with a flirtatious chocolate lab puppy, joined by Indy, who body-checked the lab. All typical dog-park shenanigans.

The chase ended near the woman and her kids. Again, I heard, “Indyyyyy.” And then Indy was all up in Leo’s grill. Not a Hey, you grabbed my girl’s shirt 10 minutes ago correction, but a legit, challenging, I want to fight you snarl, gnashing at Leo’s head.

Leo wasn’t having it. He barked back, but no fight escalated. He backed away from Indy, positioning himself right in front of me. I said, “You’re fine,” snapped his leash on, and left, without making eye contact with anyone.

Indy’s male person said, “I’ve never seen him do that before!”

Yes, you have. Or your lady has. At the very least, she knew he was capable of it.

To her credit, she knew it was time to leave. I heard a “Let’s go,” and they left right after I did. I feel for her. I’ve been that person, and she has it harder than I do. She has to entertain that dog plus three kids. The dog park is the wrong outlet, and I’m hoping she realizes that now.

So there, irate track coach who knows nothing about Leo. He is not a dangerous dog. He didn’t maul the running child, and he didn’t fight the dog that wanted to fight him. Even if he had done either of those things, I was right there to step in and minimize the damage. That’s in my job description of keeping him safe. And is why I never let my guard down.

He did bark at a floofy dog coming into the park as we left, and probably that dog’s person was like, “Good thing that dangerous dog left before we got here.”

On the ride home, Leo didn’t bark at a thing. Not even bicycles, and we passed a few. I kept catching his eye in the rearview mirror. He must have been pretty charged up from the near-fight, but he looked so cute and happy, the wind from the open window blowing through his fur.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Summer Safety, but all posts are welcome.

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Little-known fact about senior shepherds

Recently, while admiring my pups, a woman asked if Mia was mixed with another breed. We don’t know for sure, but we’ve assumed she was a purebred German shepherd.

I asked the woman why she asked, and she thought Mia looked part Husky!

She wasn’t always this gray. Who knew that as they get older, senior German shepherds turn into Huskies!

Join the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop, hosted by Blog Paws!

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Now who’s reactive?

You know how dogs can become fearful after a bad experience like another dog getting in their face at the park?

That happened to me a few weeks ago. With another person.

During the springtime, our go-to weeknight walk takes us past a ball field and up a little hill. I try to time it to avoid joggers, but sometimes I fail. Sometimes, Leo succeeds even when I fail, which you can read about in Leo vs. the Track Team.

I hadn’t seen the track team yet this year, and the bottom of that uphill trail was so muddy I didn’t think any joggers would be coming that way.

Of course that meant two joggers came up behind us, but one happened to be a friend of mine. I held Leo back while he barked at the first jogger, and then welcomed my friend to cross the muddy moat to say hello.

“Are your dogs going to attack me?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” said the reactive dog mom who knows better than to make promises her dogs might not keep. Ha ha ha.

My friend came closer, Leo said hello and I stood and talked to her longer than I should have given that I’d already seen a jogger cross the swamp to go up the hill.

A young girl rounded the corner, and Leo barked and I said, “Are you going this way?” and held Leo back by his harness, and yeah, she looked scared, but she passed.

A minute later, a very angry dude approached and yelled that he was going to call animal control.

Now. I know I shouldn’t have a German shepherd barking at people on a jogging path. But couldn’t he have said, “Hey, I have a bunch of joggers headed up there. Could you move?” or even “Get out of the fucking way!”

Threatening to call animal control seemed a bit extreme. And frankly, I didn’t care for his attitude.

So I argued with him that I have a right to walk my dogs, and they’re on a leash, and chill out, dude.

And he said “That’s not just barking. That’s a dangerous dog.” And I said, “Go ahead. Call animal control.” And he gestured like he was going for his phone and I knew he wouldn’t really call.

Of note: Leo was not barking at him during all this.

We turned to carry on with our walk and the dude shouted, “You’ve been warned. If anything happens with that dog. You’ve been warned.”

I deduced that this guy coaches the aforementioned track team. And I get where he was coming from. I really do. I don’t want my scary dog to interfere with other people’s right to jog. But as Midnight Dog Walkers, our options are limited. That was a walking path that worked for us. Until it didn’t.

I’ve been walking reactive dogs for 10 years. I thought I’d gotten over the feelings of humiliation and guilt when other people think my dog is dangerous. But in the following days, whenever I tried to think of someplace else to take the dogs, I got scared.

Everywhere I could think of carried the risk of a jogger leaping out at us out of nowhere. There are no dog trails where joggers are banned. I ordered a basket muzzle, something I’ve never felt was necessary, because what if a jogger gets too close? After all, I’ve been warned.

And then I realized, my anxiety was not about Leo, or about joggers. It was about that dude rudely getting in my face.

Realizing this reinforced how easy it is to regress. One bad experience can create negative associations. As positive dog owners, we work hard to make sure all our dogs’ experiences are good ones. At least in this situation, I was the one with PTSD, not Leo.

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, hosted by Wag ‘n Woof PetsTenacious Little Terrier and Travels with Barley. Pet bloggers, please join us in this hop by posting your positive pet training stories. The hop remains open through Sunday. Our theme this month is Dog Sports, but all posts are welcome.

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Top 5 Positive Pet Training Tools for Reactive Dogs

harnesses

This month’s theme for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is training tools. I thought I’d give you the rundown of five things that have made a huge difference in my life with my dogs.

5. Food puzzles

In the wild, animals spend most of their time looking for and eating their food. When we feed our dogs a cup of kibble in a bowl at 7 a.m., and they’re done by 7:05, what are they supposed to do with the rest of their day? Stuffed Kongs are popular. We’ve been feeding our dogs dinner from puzzles for a few years now, and as I mentioned in last month’s post, I got them Nina Ottosson Dog Pyramids for Christmas.

Dinnertime now lasts, like, 20-30 minutes as my guys fling these guys around the house, grain-free kibble spewing every which way. Reminscent of Isis and her Squirrel Dude.

Last week we could not find the red one anywhere. And it’s not a small thing! Usually we can find them under a chair or something, but it was nowhere! Until I walked into the bedroom after dropping Rob off at work and found it wedged under a dresser drawer in the bedroom. Last time I saw Mia with it, she was in the kitchen.

4. Freedom Harness

Neither of our dogs right now are pullers, but even if you “just” have a Barker and Lunger, it’s really great to have a leash that fastens on the front and back of their harness. Freedom Harnesses fit my dogs better than that other brand of front-fastening harness that was bought by a company that sells shock collars, so I no longer endorse it.

3. Halti

civic field

Not for every dog, but I thought I’d tried everything to get Isis to stop pulling. A head halter collar, in combination with a back-fastening harness, accompanied by a reinforcing clicker, changed the game for us. Some argue that Haltis are aversive, but I think it depends on the dog, and Dr. Sophia Yin says it depends on how you use it. Certainly it’s less aversive than the other stuff recommended to us.

2. Calming Cap

Another game-changer. We use it primarily in the car to reduce the stimulation for Leo. Thanks to the Calming Cap, he’s no longer in the habit of looking for things to bark at out the window. Funny story, some “trainer” found my earlier post about the Calming Cap and posted it to her FB page, saying something like “Seriously? This is a thing? How about you try training your dog instead of blindfolding it.” I wrote a very helpful comment explaining how we use it, and that it’s handy in situations when you are not able to focus on training (like when you’re driving a car), and she deleted the comment. Troll.

1. Cheese.

You knew it was going to be cheese, right?

Positive TrainingThis is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier, Wag n’ Woof Pets and Travels with Barley. Join the fun! Our theme for this month is Training Tools, but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long.

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