I am not a dog.

Monday, 23. August 2010 22:26 | Author:

We’ve all heard it.  If you promote positive training methods you are constantly accused of anthropomorphism.  Yet the same people that accuse me of humanizing my dog tell me I’m supposed to correct her the way a Mama Dog would.

Ummm, guess what?  I’m human.  I don’t have to act like a Mama Dog to help my dog understand how she needs to behave.  So I’ve invented a new word.  Caninification.  The verb shall be caninify.  I do not humanize my dog.  I will not caninify myself.

In spite of all the rhetoric about humanizing our dogs the simple fact is we expect dogs to behave like humans.  Whenever a dog actually acts like a dog we get all freaked out.  What happens if a dog chews up our stuff, gets in the trash or digs holes in our yard?  If they correct another dog, or worse if they dare to correct a human?  The same way we’re told to correct them because it’s perfectly natural for a dog, right?  They’re punished, banished or, at worst, sentenced to death.

Not only do we demand that they understand a very human concept like respect, we expect them to offer it to us without question even when we are punishing them for behaving like, well, dogs.

In return for their companionship we’ve completely changed their world and not always in good ways.  It’s up to us to teach them how to behave in our world.  I choose to respect my dog for what she is, for the joy her doggy-ness brings to my life.  But I will use my bigger human brain to search out the kindest and gentlest ways to teach her how to survive and thrive in our confusing human world.

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Zazzle Products Slide Show

Tuesday, 1. December 2009 0:56 | Author:


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Demon Kitten

Sunday, 11. January 2009 23:00 | Author:

We snatched a feral kitten from one of the stray kitties that hide in our shed and Misha is going absolutely BONKERS. She is terrified of him, yet fascinated. The first couple of days she would not budge from the door to the kitten-room:

Whine. Whinewhinewhine. Whine. CanIseethekittenprettyplease.


CanIseethekitten, canIcanIcanI? Whinewhine YIP whine YIP whinewhinewhine.
Prettyplease I’llbegood letmeseethekitten. Pleeeeeease letmeseethekitten.


Whine. Hoooowwwwl. Whine. CanIseethekittenpleasepleaseprettyplease?

No, you can’t carry the kitten around in your mouth, even though you aren’t going to eat it it. No you can’t paw at the kitten, you will break it. No you CAN NOT clean the litter box for me.  EWWWWW!

I got some of those cute little heart and fishy shaped Whisker Lickins treats.  Feed one to the dog for quietly sitting or laying down next to us while I hold the kitten.  Feed one to the kitten so he thinks doggies mean good things like food.  Great idea, right?  Misha is so good about food, no resource guarding at all.  I’m very proud of her.  The kitten was very brave and snatched them right out from under her nose.  The only problem – the treats gave BOTH of them stinky farts.

Update – Tinky, short for Tinker, short for Little Stinker was fostered until he was old enough to be neutered and he now has the best home ever with Scamp and Scout and Molly!  Mama Kitty is too feral to ever be a pet, but still lives in the shed.  She will NOT be presenting us with any more kittens.

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Fraidy Cat

Wednesday, 23. July 2008 23:48 | Author:

Yesterday morning I let The Meesh into the back yard to do her business. When I realized she hadn’t come back in for breakfast, I was concerned. My little food hound is usually back inside rooroororoooo-ing at me to hurry up before I can even get the kibble open.

From the side of the house I could see her across the yard. She’s sitting and trembling as bad as she trembled the first time we went to the vet! My heart dropped, OMD, what happened?! I pass the corner of the house and see, not a burglar, not a scary veterinarian, not a big snarling dog. I see – a kitty. A very small kitty. Even all puffed up with it’s hair standing on end, this is one scrawny little scrapper. My sixty pound dog was cornered in her own yard by a kitty.

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Canine IQ Test

Wednesday, 23. July 2008 23:14 | Author:

Recently I found a link to a doggie IQ test. It sounded like fun, I think my girl is very smart when she isn’t too overwhelmed with timid-ness to function. I was positive she’d do REALLY well.

Canine IQ Test

First test – Show your dog a treat, put it on the floor under a cup and see how long it takes them to get to it. Misha pushed the cup all the way across the kitchen before she finally ran in into a cupboard and knocked it over by accident.

Next, you show them another treat and put it under a towel. How long does it take the dog to get the treat out from under the towel?  Misha tried repeatedly to eat the treat through the towel.

Number three is to put the towel over their head and see how long it takes them to get out from under it of it. Misha thought that was a really fun game.  She tossed her head around and chewed on the towel and didn’t even try to get out from under it.

Never mind.  We went for a walk.

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A little TOO confident

Monday, 2. June 2008 12:17 | Author:

So, we were feeling pretty good about how well Misha was doing. While we had been working hard on her reactivity to other dogs, she had been getting less shy with people too. So we decided to go on a field trip. There is a big home improvement store near us that allows dogs inside. We went early so there wouldn’t be a lot of customers yet. The employees were very sweet to her, and they all have dog treats. She was a little shy at first but not nearly as bad as she has been. In fact she was maybe getting a little too friendly – a little pushy about sniffing.

I had been very watchful of people coming up to her, but got to fumbling with my wallet and didn’t realize there was anyone behind us until I heard someone start to giggle. I turned around to see a tall tough looking guy behind us. Why was tough guy giggling? Because my very shy dog had her nose up the leg of his shorts, snuffling his leg.

So now we will be working on people manners a little more. Silly rules like just because there is room for a both a big dog nose and a human leg in walking shorts does not mean you are supposed to stick your nose up there.

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Finally – a glimmer of hope

Thursday, 29. May 2008 23:28 | Author:

So. Misha was not getting better. She was now MORE reactive and fear aggressive when she saw other dogs. For a few weeks we didn’t do any training and completely avoided ‘dog yards’ because I didn’t want to make her miserable any more. We just walked the same ‘dog free’ route every day and played together.

After a few weeks I got myself together and found a Canine Good Citizen class with a trainer that was willing to take a chance on us. The teacher was a huge help to us (even though I was pretty much a disaster). Misha behaved badly towards the other dogs but we learned some more basic obedience with lots of positive reinforcement and had fun. Somehow, on test day, everything came together.  If you had never met Misha you would never have guessed she was afraid of other dogs.  And then there was an incident with another dog that distracted the trainer for just a couple of minutes.  It gave Misha an extra minute or two relax to realize the new dog walking towards us was not a threat and she did the exercise perfectly.  We passed and Misha now has her CGC tag.

Now CGC class was over – what to do next? I posted on a local message board asking for advice on more classes or places where I could continue to expose her to other dogs in a controlled atmosphere. A very kind trainer/behaviorist replied with a a bunch of amazingly good information. Her most important advice was to buy a little 50 page booklet named Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell.

We started working on the program in the book, techniques called desensitization and counter conditioning.

We worked on lots of basic stuff at home. It didn’t take over our lives but we spent at least a few minutes practicing basic commands every day. I realized how easy it was to work in a ‘watch me’ just walking past her. We did happy stuff, lots of treats and praise. No harsh corrections this time around. More than one person told me I was just ‘bribing’ her. Oh well, bribery was making us both a lot happier than punishment did.

Our daily walks had a zigzag pattern to keep us on the opposite side of the street from all the dog yards. For a few weeks I saw no real difference in her reaction to other dogs. We could stay far enough away that she wouldn’t bark and lunge – but she wouldn’t ‘watch me’ or even pay attention to a treat until we were completely out of sight of the other dog.

On the good side, with the more positive training style we were both enjoying our daily walks and training sessions a lot more. But I was getting discouraged by her continuing dog reactivity. I was beginning to think we would just have to ‘manage’ her, keep her out of situations with other dogs. Honestly, there were days where I just kept up the program because I had to feel like I was doing SOMETHING.

Then one day we passed a previously dog-free yard and a dog rushed the fence and barked at us. I turned us to the side and headed across the street. Misha’s hackles went up a little – but she didn’t bark or lunge back towards him. She followed me across the street and nudged my hand to request her liver treat. I was too startled to play it out exactly right but we did get headed in the right direction. She made eye contact with me and sat when I stopped walking. She most definitely got a whole handful of liver treats. Do I believe I can bribe a dog not to be scared? Oh hell yes!

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Taking Charge

Thursday, 29. May 2008 23:08 | Author:

So, what do you do when your beautiful, sweet, timid dog turns into a snarling, snapping dervish when she feels threatened by another dog doing something terrible, like, say, glancing in her general direction?

I had been looking forward to training together but I knew I was in over my head with her reactivity to other dogs. We needed help from a trainer/behaviorist. I got a good referral to a nice, knowledgeable fellow. We learned about pack leadership, I was told I needed to show her I was in charge, I was too easy, I needed to be strict and no-nonsense with her. We didn’t cause her physical harm but the corrections were enough to make her fairly uncomfortable if she misbehaved. This was especially important with a nervous dog, to teach her to be more independent. If I coddled her I would be reinforcing her fear. It was similar to the training style used in a class I took 20 years ago. It was a lot like the trainer we’d seen on TV. It looked like what I knew about dog training.

We also used a technique called flooding, taking her near yards with dogs. She was sitting and staying instead of barking and lunging by the second session. I thought she was still kind of scared, but she was absolutely doing what she was asked. She’d sort of turn her head away and lick her lips. She yawned a lot.

She responded very quickly. She was behaving better right from the beginning, even during the very first session. It was a miracle. Just like on television.

After a few weeks things I realized the changes weren’t all good ones. Don’t get me wrong, she was behaving. But even though our daily walks and training sessions were getting easier for me, they just weren’t the highlight of her day anymore. Instead of letting out a happy ‘waroooroo’ when I picked up her leash she would just sit and turn her head away while I buckled her up.

By our last scheduled visit, she was clearly afraid of the trainer even though he never physically harmed her. She wouldn’t go to him at all, and she would back away when he took her leash to show us something new. She really didn’t want anything to do with him and I wasn’t comfortable forcing her to deal with him. I didn’t schedule another session.

Then, a few days after that last session, we walked past a yard with a dog. I was confident and unconcerned, we’d walked past this dog with no problems before. He was NOT cranky with us. He was woofing a little, but playful. As we passed the first corner she startled me with a low growl.

Then – She lost it. She barked and lunged and snarled at the poor fellow behind the fence while she abruptly and completely emptied her bladder on my shoe. I’m not talking about a shy little piddle. She seriously pissed herself.

We got around the corner and sat down on the curb. She was still trembling but she licked my face and let me hug on her while I told her I was sorry and cried.

My sweet girl had been doing her very doggy best to behave the way I expected her to. What did I give her in return? I let her be terrified.

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Saturday, 19. April 2008 16:15 | Author:

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Misha Jekyll and little Miss Hyde

Saturday, 22. March 2008 22:47 | Author:

Misha took over our house, I mean Misha came to live with us in March of 2007.

I knew Misha was a very timid dog and we had a lot of hard work ahead of us to help her gain some confidence. It seemed like we were off to a good start, she accepted us as bearers of treats and food in just a few days. She was even starting to wag her tail for us and greet us with ‘rooororoororoooo’ when we came home. Of course there were some problems, some destructive separation anxiety and/or bored puppy chewing. She managed to find stuff to shred on a daily basis – no matter how many toys she had available and how careful we thought we were at putting everything out of reach. But heck, we don’t have nice furniture anyway. As long as the electronics were safe and she didn’t ingest anything that had to be surgically removed, it was nothing we couldn’t live with. Honestly, she was doing much better than we expected. And best of all she was already housebroken, not a single ‘accident’ in the house.

About a week after we brought her home she started having some female problems. I’ll skip the gross-out details, let’s just say my first thought was that she was in heat even though I knew she was fixed! I felt really bad that we had to put her through a scary vet visit so soon but I knew she needed antibiotics. So I made her an appointment where she had been spayed. I didn’t know much about the office. Turned out they were very nice, competent folks at a VERY BUSY low-cost clinic. Translation – longish wait with LOTS of doggie traffic.

Of course I knew Misha was timid. I knew she’d be scared. I knew she’d put on the brakes when we tried to go in those big glass doors. I was a bit more worried – though not completely surprised – when she wedged her terrified self underneath the plastic waiting room chairs. But the vicious growling snarling barking fit from under that chair at the first dog that *dared* to look at her? Nope. Wasn’t expecting that at all. I did know she wasn’t people-social. But she was raised with three little dogs and an occasional canine visitor, so I did assume she was dog-social. (And maybe she was fine with other dogs before she was taken away from her ‘pack’. She didn’t trust me to protect her?)

Well, I got her out from under her chair and into the exam room. She promptly curled up like an armadillo. I unrolled her so the nice vet could look her over. He was very kind, and so gentle with her. She was petrified but sweet, even bravely licked his hand. Waiting in the lobby for her antibiotics, Misha Jekyll disappeared and Little Miss Hyde returned, zealously defending herself from all those scary, scary dogs. From behind my legs she barked and snarled at a little fluffy white mop, a goofy-cute clumsy English Bulldog puppy, and a sweet Pit Bull named Biscuit that whined and wagged her tail at Psycho-Misha.

We had to put obedience classes on hold. The training class we were going to take didn’t want a scared, grouchy snapper. We did continue to walk every day, venturing further out as the weather warmed up. Like most dogs, Misha loves to walk. She takes her ‘walkies’ very seriously. She starts to whine when I sit down to put my walking shoes on. If I take too long fumbling with my shoelaces, the whining escalates to howling. Did I mention she really, really loves her walks?

Unfortunately I started to dread the walks as we ventured further. Anywhere you go there are dogs. I learned where the crankiest dogs were and avoided those routes, but they were still everywhere. Dogs in yards, dogs on leashes, and the very worst – dogs running loose. Tail waggers or fence fighters, didn’t matter to her.  We kept a healthy distance but even a dog spotted a block or more away earned the same dramatic performance: Growl, lunge to the end of the leash, snarl, air snaps. I was in denial for a few weeks, thinking she would calm down and just get used to seeing other dogs. Nope. Getting worse, not better. We had to get some professional help.

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