Rescue Dogs published in UW journal

uppercut

I’m thrilled to announce that Rescue Dogs, an excerpt from my work in progress, has been published in the University of Washington’s Stratus: Journal of Arts and Writing.

Warning: The story depicts dog fighting, and includes some graphic violence. Read it here. (starting on page 67.)

I’ve been working on Fight Like a Lady since 2009 (it started as a NaNoWriMo book!), although not steadily: I wrote Bark and Lunge during that time. It’s so close to being done, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Dilly dog

I also entered the first several chapters in 2016 Ink & Insights Writing Contest, where it placed in the Top 10 of the Apprentice category. I was very flattered that one judge wondered why it wasn’t submitted in the Master category. (Because it wasn’t finished!)

More about Fight Like a Lady.

Three times I spoke up for my dog

dog park_2

 

Often, people with reactive dogs are overly concerned that others will judge us for the uncontrollable, barking, lunging, frothing beast on the other end of the leash. We need to get over that and just worry about our dogs.

I have gotten better and here are three examples where I was proud of speaking up on behalf of Leo.

1. For some reason, people like to ride their bikes on a path through our only unfenced off-leash area. This field happens to be next to a sewage plant. There’s signage at the top of a path, which I’ve wanted to supplement with “Off-leash dogs. Bike or jog at your own risk.” Or even “Walk your bike, please.”

Recently, we were working our way down the path when I noticed two bikes at the top of the path. They had a choice of directions; one featuring a view of the bay, the other the scent of sewage. If they came down my way, we were screwed. There’s no place to step off the path. I know because once I tried avoiding a jogger and fell embarrassingly down a hill. The jogger of course wanted to stop and help, and I was like, just go! Instead of letting the cyclists decide our fate, I called up to them, “Please don’t come this way. It’s an off-leash dog area.” And they didn’t.

2. Clearly I have forgotten what it is like to not live with one’s romantic partner, because it baffles me to see young people kissing and hugging in parking lots. So we’re walking up a path and I can see cars parked at the top, and the heads of a couple of people, and I’m thinking, whyyyyy are you parked there? when a shepherdy looking dog starts wandering down the trail. I called out, “Are you walking your dog down this way?”

The dude said, “No, we’re just hanging out.” And put his dog in one of the cars, and we were able to pass.

3. While this next one is a success story for Leo, it pissed me off to an unreasonable degree. It actually happened on the same walk as #2. We walk around a big sports complex where we can see triggers coming from a good distance. I had just bagged up some poop and was headed toward a trash can when I saw a 60-year-old guy on rollerblades, like it’s the goddamn nineties! I turned the other way and cheesed Leo while I tried to assess where Roller Dude was going. Of course his destination was the same trash can. Once he threw away whatever, he headed in our direction.

So we’re on the sidewalk, and he’s rollerblading down the middle of the street. Leo rumbles, like, a little bit, but honestly, I’d had more trouble managing him the night before during an encounter with a deer. Yay! Good boy, Leo. We throw out the poop and continue down the street. And then, Roller Dude skates back down past us again! And Leo rumbles again just a little bit and I’m cheesing the hell out of him, and he’s wonderful, but I’m watching this guy skate to the end of the block in the middle of the street like he’s motherfucking Gretzky. I mutter to my dogs, “This guy’s an asshole.” And he turns around again to skate past us a third time!

When he does, he turns to us with this shit-eating grin that probably wasn’t meant to mock me so much as to say either, “Ain’t life grand?” or “Look how cool I am on my rollerblades.”

I say to him, “Could ya not keep skating past us?”

We got to the end of the block before he had time to make it back our way again, so who even knows if he would have, or planned to but didn’t, because I so bravely spoke my mind. But it sure made me feel better.

Positive Training

This is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. All positive reinforcement training posts are welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

String Cheese: I’ll never let go

. . . one can never give too many food treats during temperament training exercises . . .
– Dr. Ian Dunbar

Squirrel?

.

A few weeks ago I received a very nice message from someone who had heard my two podcasts on The Great Dog Adventure with Fern Camacho. (This one and that one) She related to my struggles with Leo, because she has a reactive dog too.

I never leave my home with out a pocket full of treats. Now when we see a dog, he turns to look at me to get a treat. I was wondering with your training of Leo, have you gotten to the point where you can wean Leo off of the string cheese? I am thinking that once a behavior is reinforced for a period of time, you no longer have to reward it.

I told her that I do still carry string cheese on all our walks. I’ve been doing it for two years, and the thought hadn’t crossed my mind to try to phase it out. Ever.

I’m totally okay with buying two large bags of string cheese every time I go to the store, and peeling the plastic off about twelve sticks before each walk. I went from thinking we’d never be able to walk Leo past a bicycle to having him look to me for cheese before I’ve even seen the bicycle. Now, even if he barks, he calms down pretty quickly.

For example, recently I spotted a bike coming our way. I crossed the street and readied the cheese. Then another bicycle came from the other direction, with an off-leash dog running beside it! Leo was amped, but not barking, and I don’t think he would have if I hadn’t made the tactical error of positioning us next to a dude rummaging inside a sketchy van. I got distracted wondering what that guy was going to do, and Leo wound up barking at one of the bikes.

Who cares. There was a time this would have ruined my whole day. Whatever.

Back to the question from my listener, though. She asked whether once a behavior is reinforced, you can stop rewarding it.

This is true with obedience training, especially if you show the dog the treat before you cue the behavior, because then it is a lure. You want to phase out the lure, lest it become a bribe. I learned this from Dr. Ian Dunbar, the father of reward-based training. (The quote at the top of this post, in fact, is from an article about the importance of phasing out treats!)

To quote my own blog paraphrasing him:

The biggest mistake reward-based and positive-reinforcement trainers make is to not phase out food soon enough. A lure takes a willing dog and tells him what we want him to do. A bribe coerces an unwilling dog to act against its will.

The difference is, I’m not using the string cheese as a bribe, lure, or reward. I’m using it to counter-condition him to things that scare him. That’s why I give him cheese even if he barks at the trigger, because I’m not as much rewarding him for not barking as I am conditioning* him that bicycles (or whatever) mean good things. That’s why comforting a frightened dog (or human infant) doesn’t reinforce the fear. Fear is not a behavior.

In addition to their obvious applications in all aspects of teaching manners, food lures and food rewards may be more importantly used for behavior modification and temperament training. In fact, food lures and rewards are so effective, their use should be mandatory.

*So, shouldn’t Leo be conditioned by now? He’s getting there. When he sees something scary, he knows he’ll get cheese. And he has a much higher threshold for his triggers than he used to. Last weekend, we sat in the middle of baseball field while Rob practiced flying a drone, and Leo lay down very calmly. Bikes passed by on a nearby trail, at quite a distance, and he didn’t need to be cheesed.

Drone practice

Leo’s the one chilling on the left.

From the CARE for Reactive Dogs website:

You will need to continue to practice DS/CC (desensitization and counter-conditioning) and positive reinforcement of the alternative behaviors you have taught in new situations and locations in order to help your dog generalize the context. This will get easier and easier as your dog’s emotions change and his new behaviors are reinforced. As your dog becomes fluent in these new behaviors, you will be able to decrease the amount of food rewards you give him and use life rewards instead; these are things your dog finds intrinsically enjoyable, such as jogging a few steps with you, play, praise and sniffing interesting smells in the environment.

I still carry the cheese, because I can’t control the environment. It comes down to generalization. Leo could be completely desensitized to a 25-year-old woman traveling in our same direction on a bike at 37 feet away, but not to a 15-year-old boy traveling toward us at 26 feet away. Factor in speeds, and number of triggers he’s already seen that day… well, the cheese keeps him from barking most of the time.

Positive TrainingThis is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Tenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. 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 my positive training journey but any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are also always welcome. The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop goes all week long. Our next hop will begin October 3rd and continues for a week.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

That one dog who ruins it for everyone

A peaceful alternative to the noisy dog park: lying in the grass by a ball field while Rob practices flying a drone.

A peaceful alternative to the noisy dog park: lying in a ball field while Rob practices flying a drone.

Dog parks are risky for reactive dogs – all dogs, really – but we’re lucky to have three off-leash areas that aren’t usually too crowded where we can manage our well-socialized dogs. We leave as soon as a small, uncontrollable child arrives, or at the first sign of an unstable dog.

We tend to rotate between these three areas. I was thinking about taking the pups to one of these tonight, instead of the same exact walk we went on yesterday and the day before.

Perhaps the one that’s close to a new Poke restaurant in town. Oh, but no, I don’t want to go there because that’s where the weird lady with the reactive long-haired shepherd goes. (If your dog doesn’t like other dogs, maybe don’t bring it to an off-leash area where there are other dogs. People are always asking if our dogs are friendly. No, they eat other dogs. We just brought them here for a little snack. How does yours taste?)

And we can’t go to the Good Dog Park, because that’s where that dog goes who lifts his upper lip when Leo chases him chasing his ball.

Worse is the Bad Dog Park, monopolized during all the afterwork daylight hours by this ponytailed dude and his spazzy dog. She’s an overly friendly dog who runs up and wiggles against everyone. She gets in Mia’s face. When Mia snarls and tells her to back off, she gets in her face again! She has this crazed energy that infects the whole park, and if I’m feeling particularly empathetic, I can imagine that this guy gets home from work and his dog’s been cooped up all day, so he spends his entire evening with her at the park or else she whines and chews stuff. Except, he doesn’t even play with her! He lets her run rampant while he 1) chit-chats with other owners, usually women, or 2) naps on the bench. And you just know he thinks it’s wonderful she’s so friendly!

So, each of our parks has one (1) dog that ruins it for us. Of course, we’re probably ruining it for someone else. But hey, all of this will be moot soon as we lose daylight and will be walking them around the neighborhood wearing headlamps.

Looking ridiculous doesn’t make us unconventional

The theme for this month’s Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is Unconventional Training.

Even though I look strange squealing “cheesy” at my dog when strangers walk, run, ride, or roll past us, I don’t think my String Cheese Method is unconventional at all. Reward-based training, to me, is the most basic, obvious method of training anyone to do anything.

And yet, we still see prong collars and shock collars and people who think screaming at a stressed dog will de-escalate the situation.

I just got back from another flawless walk with my two German shepherds. For more than a year, I’ve had Leo’s leash reactivity fairly under control. We manage, we train. Two weeks ago, I would have said, “Leo does really well on walks when I can see the triggers coming. Of course, he’ll still bark if a bike or a jogger comes out of nowhere.”

Until last week when a jogger zipped around a corner at us. And I was doing the worst thing ever. I was distracted by Pokémon Go. (Shout out to ZoePhee for finding a way to use Pokémon to aid in training, not distract from it!) Fortunately, Leo was also distracted … by peeing. I saw the jogger before Leo did and I said Cheesy and Leo didn’t bark! It was glorious.

On tonight’s walk, he saw a couple of bicycles, and not only did he not bark, he didn’t even seem stressed.

At the risk of repeating myself: Reward-based training works.

If only there were a training guide to help people with reactive dogs who have been getting the wrong memos.

Oh, wait! There is!

dogwalkers-cover

Trainer Annie Phenix’s best-selling book The Midnight Dog Walkers has answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. As soon as I heard the title and saw the cover, I knew this was the book I needed when I struggled with my first reactive dog Isis.

My book about her, Bark and Lunge, is the story of what happens when owners follow “conventional” (old-fashioned) training methods. Now that The Midnight Dog Walkers exists, my greatest wish is that positive, reward-based training becomes the obvious, conventional solution for reactive dogs and their people.


The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are welcome. Linky List open through Sunday.

Positive TrainingPowered by Linky Tools
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Dog Park Art

While I’ve been trying to convince the Internet that saying Police Lives Matter as a response to Black Lives Matter is racist, and explaining that it’s not helpful to try to be inclusive by saying All Lives Matter, Rob has been creating Dog Park Art.

Kiddie-pool Leo

Kiddie-pool Leo (apparently Leo signed this one)

Katch

Katch

Sparkle Pups

Sparkle Pups

BlogPaws Wordless Wednesday Blog HopThis post is part of the BlogPaws Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop! Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Comfort a frightened dog

comfort

Have you ever heard the ridiculousness that you’re not supposed to comfort a scared dog, because it will reinforce the fear? So not true.

From 4PawsUniversityFear is an emotion. Emotions are involuntary responses. 
Reinforcement refers to an increase in behavior. Behaviors are voluntary responses.
Fear is something you feel. Behavior is something you do.

From Suzanne Clothier:


If fear CAN be reinforced, it’s not by having something nice happen to you while you’re feeling afraid. For example, I’m afraid of ladders. When a ladder got knocked onto my brand new car and dented it, I said, “Oh no, my fear has been reinforced.” But if you put your arm around me and said, “It’s okay. I’m not going to let the ladder hurt you or your car ever again,” that wouldn’t make me more afraid of the ladder. It would not reinforce my physiological feelings of fear.

Not to make this all about me, but I want to clarify this ladder phobia. I’m not afraid of falling off a ladder, I’m afraid of having my hands pinched in it. I’m also afraid of fireworks blowing off the hands or killing someone I know and love. I’m not scared of the sounds of the explosions, but I haaaate them. I also hate leaf blowers. Do not get me started on leaf blowers.

I’m noise-averse, not noise-phobic.

Many dogs are noise-phobic.

Somehow, despite Leo’s barrier frustration and Mia’s anxiety, I lucked out when it came to noise phobia. Fireworks bother me more than they bother the dogs. I wish people didn’t set them off themselves. Leave the pyrotechnics to the professionals, save your fingers, and allow people with fearful dogs to find a safe place away from those shows.

This year on the 4th, I was in an airplane from Portland to Bellingham between 10-11 pm. I could see blasts of light over one in every ten houses or so. It was incredible. I enjoyed it because I couldn’t hear them, but I felt bad for every dog between those two cities. These silent fireworks seem promising, but listen to the video – they still make noise when shot off.

Rob’s dad stayed with the dogs until we got home, “because of the fireworks,” but they couldn’t have cared less. I let them out in the backyard when I got home, and we could actually see fireworks over the roofs of our neighbors’ houses (which, btw is totally illegal), and the dogs were, like, “Whatever.” I told them how brave they were.

This post, rambling though it may be, is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop. Read PuppyLeaks’ post for a more thoughtful discussion about Comforting a Fearful Dog. Then hop on over and read the others.

Positive Training

The Positive Pet Training Blog Hop is hosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Any positive reinforcement training posts or comments are welcome. Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

Facing adversity with positive training and string cheese

Lovely Leo
Leo’s leash-reactivity has been so well controlled that I decided to increase the criteria with a more challenging walk.

Just kidding. We accidentally encountered unexpected triggers because we went later than usual.

We walk this route a couple of times a week, and it involves passing some sports stadiums. There are often games on these fields, but not usually on all of them at once. With members of the public attending. This evening, people had parked their cars along the sidewalk and were walking toward the entrance to the stadium in greater numbers than we’ve seen.

I successfully cheese-cheesed Leo from barking at the pedestrians, until one of them, apparently having forgotten something, turned and ran back toward his car. I saw him do it, but couldn’t get far enough away, so Leo barked and lunged. The ball-capped dude looked very apologetic and actually said he was sorry, so either he recognized that running at a German shepherd was not the best idea, or he was trying to get on my good side so I wouldn’t let my dog bite him.

At that point, we moved onto the grass in front of a fence around an apartment complex, to create some distance between ourselves and the pedestrians. The grass feels like a public space, even though I guess it’s not. My dogs shit here all the time. I pick it up every. single. time. But I have seen other dogs’ poop left behind there before. Which probably explains what happened next.

An old dude comes out of the complex and walks toward us. I’m strategizing the best plan of escape when he growls, “Get your dogs off the property.”

Okay, but I can’t because there’s nowhere for us to go that won’t lead to barking and lunging. I don’t say that, just turn and walk the other way, remaining on the grass until it’s safe to go back to the sidewalk. He mutters a couple of other things at me.

And Leo did not react! He only barked at the guy who ran directly at him, and only a little, and even that guy forgave him!

Honestly, I’m comfortable with where we’re at. I manage Leo pretty damn well. He doesn’t bark and lunge a lot, and when he does, I’m prepared, and I get over it. But that old guy bothered me.

Obviously, we couldn’t continue on our usual route, so I did something unorthodox and took them them down a wooded trail I’ve never been on before because I have no idea where it leads. What if joggers pass? Or bicycles? Couldn’t be any worse than the current state of our usual path.

We saw no one, and it was lovely, and I contemplated walking there again someday. We cut through the woods to a paved path that led back up to where I’d parked. A couple of bicycle cops looped around below me, and I had a flash of worry that the old guy had called the cops on the trespassing German shepherds.

As the cops started pedaling up toward us, I said, “My dog barks at bicycles, so . . .” And they kind of nodded, like, whatever. While they passed, I cheesed-cheesed him to a ridiculous degree, adding praise like, “I know! This is stressful! You’re doing so well!”

And. He. Did. Not. Bark.

Which would be a terrific happy ending, except then a kid whizzed downhill toward us on his bike, and I couldn’t get Leo cheesed fast enough to keep him from barking.

Oh, well. Two out of three ain’t bad.

Positive Training

This post is part of the Positive Pet Training Blog Hophosted by Cascadian NomadsTenacious Little Terrier and Rubicon Days. Please share your responsible pet owner positive pet training tips by linking a blog post or leaving a comment below. The Linky Link will be open through Sunday.

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

What happens at the dog park

Pups at the best park

I try not to write too many posts about the wacky and/or horrifying things that happen at the dog park. I know and trust lots of dog professionals who think off-leash parks are terrible places where bad behavior gets reinforced by clueless dog owners making the wrong choices for their dogs.

I agree. But I also have a well-socialized dog who is leash-reactive, so when the weather’s nice, it’s easier to exercise him off-leash in a park with other dogs than it is to walk him anywhere on leash. (Pacific Northwest people and their bicycles! Oy. They’re everywhere.)

And while it’s incredibly trite for me to regale you with anecdotes about the badly behaved dogs and stupid humans we encounter… I’m going to.

I’ve long since given up my dream of politely telling prong collar parents that it’s unsafe for their dog to wear the collar inside the park. (Trust me. I’ve been the idiot dog owner who leaves the prong collar on.) But a couple of times recently, I wished I had a tactful way to tell another dog parent that they’re doing it wrong.

1) Dog A was crouched in a hole of his own digging when Dog B tried to join in. Dog A got snarly. Dog Parent A said, “He hates to share. I wish he wouldn’t do that.” Dog Parent B: “The more you bring him, he’ll figure it out.” Dog Parent A: “Yeah, we need to bring him more.”

No! Bad plan!

2) This one really cleared the park. Our Best Dog Park has a significant design flaw: Only one entrance. Leo and I were chasing a ball at the opposite end, fortunately, when we heard a major Barkapalooza by the gate. Not your healthy, “Hey I’m at the park, yay!” barks, nor your “I have barrier frustration, but once I get in there, I’ll be fine” woofs, but full-blown reactive barking. Rob had a better vantage and saw the man enter with his dog on a long ropey leash. “He was pretty determined to barrel his way in,” Rob reported. This dog snarled and lunged at another dog, and the two had to be separated. The man continued to walk through the park with his dog on leash.

Now then. My guess is that his dog does not have good recall, so he planned to keep it on a longline at the park. My guess is also that he does not understand that his dog likely was barking and lunging because it was on leash. (Unless it always acts that way, in which case, it has no business at the dog park.)

But what can I say to that guy? “Hey, your dog is experiencing barrier frustration. He probably will be better without the leash.” Because I don’t know that. So I just said to Rob, “We should go.” And we went.

One more dog park story, but this one is a cautionary tale to myself.

3) We arrived close to sunset when no one else was there except for a couple sitting on plastic chairs looking at their phones while their dog lay down a ways away. Nothing inherently wrong with this behavior, but I dislike it when people expect their dogs to entertain themselves at the park. Of course the point is for dogs to play with each other, but their people should be alert and involved. Dog parks are not a substitute for spending time with your dog.

After a little bit, the man got up and threw a ball to his dog, which got Leo pretty interested in this dog he had been ignoring and who had been ignoring him. When Leo blocked the dog and prevented it from retrieving the ball so the man had to go get the ball himself, I muttered to Rob, “Whatever, I don’t feel anything for people who just sit around and look at their phones while their dogs do nothing.”

Then I realized the girl with him was young, probably his daughter. And I wondered what circumstances might lead a man and his daughter to spend a Friday night at the dog park with no other dogs, and not play with their dog. I imagined a divorced dad with the daughter for the weekend. Not much to do at his divorced dad pad. When they get back, she’s going to go to her room and not talk to him for the rest of the night. This time at the dog park is the only time they have together.

Turns out, I did feel something for them. I don’t know what their story really is, but it’s none of my business. There’s nothing to be gained by mentally criticizing anyone. You never know what they’re going through.

How about you, friends? How often do you judge your fellow dog parents? Can you hold your tongue when you see a disaster in the making?

 

Temple of the Dog

I recently had Lasik surgery.* Contact lenses had become really uncomfortable, so I preferred wearing glasses, but they interfered with my ability to take pictures using a DSLR. (Not to mention they got rained on and fogged up all the time.**)

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been slacking on taking pics of my pups.

No excuses now. Here’s the first batch of post-Lasik pics!

*Lasik is amazing, by the way. I highly recommend it. Find a good surgeon who’s done lots of surgeries. (I wouldn’t go to a discount place, but that’s just me). If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, go to Restore Vision Centers. The procedure couldn’t have been smoother, they were very calming, and they had chocolate and valium. Nothing but good things to say about the whole deal.

**I went on my first post-Lasik dog walk in the pouring rain on Sunday. It was magical to be able to see in the rain. It was also very cold and wet.

BlogPaws Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop

Join the Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop!
Powered by Linky Tools
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…