Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is Dog Reactivity Part 2- Maizey's Reactivity Defined

Maizey is daily teaching me about reactivity. An interesting part of Maizey's reactivity has required me to learn to distinguish between true reactivity and a very interesting behavior chain of "pretend reactivity".

The first thing I noticed her reacting to was other dogs. This started in her puppy class. She reacts instantly to a strange dog, but once they meet she calms noticably and over time will become comfortable.

Maizey's true reactivity has now transferred to many animals from cows to horses and even a moose! The most obvious sign of true reactivity in Maizey is what earned her the title "princess-of--the-shrill-bark". It is a bark that is higher pitched and more intense than her normal bark.

Body posture is also a very evident signal in that she leans into the stimuli, stretching her body forward to the point where from nose to tail you could almost draw horizontal line down the length of her body. This was an important sign for me to pick up on as when I see that posture start I am learning how to help her stop the reacting before it escalates.

The reactive posture looks like this:
photo taken 9/2009 at 9 months old
You can see how she is hunched back on her haunches yet at the same time stretching toward the trigger. Her tail is a key signal here because it is stiff at the base and standing straight out from her body.

This is the face of one stressed out Maizey
photo taken 9/2009 @ 9 months old
Signs of stress can be seen in the tenseness of her jaw and what we call "whale eye" or "pop eye".

Another less obvious sign shows up in a general jumpiness. This can show up even in completely calm situations, like when she is laying on the bed, hears a strange noise and visibly jumps as if startled. But it also manifests itself in true reactivity around other dogs. Mainly this shows up as her running and playing with all appearance of calm, but she startles easily at the other dogs movement and responds with a twitch, or jump. Then I know that she is still feeling stressed but on a much smaller scale and she is managing it herself.

For my own record keeping purposes I measure what I observe in her on a 0-10 scale. Its technically called the "Maymay can't think anymore, help me Crazymomlady my brain is exploding" reactive scale. As is sits better on the tongue and the typing fingers, we'll just call it the "reactive maymay scale" The stretched out princess-of-the-shrill-bark gets a 9-10/10 on the reactive maymay scale. Depending on other signs the jumpiness may get as low as a 2/10.

Knowing these signs, and many others, has an interesting place in our calming process because Maizey has learned a fascinating behavior chain that starts with barking. It looks like this: see something, bark, look at crazymomlady in an imitation 'watch', get a treat, immediately go back to barking and start the whole thing over again.

This is "pretend reactivity". She is not really anxious over anything. She has simply learned, because I unwittingly taught her this and she is simply brilliant, that "watching" mom after barking gets rewarded. Thus you can see how discerning between real, ("help crazymomlady lady I'm flipping out and can't calm down") and pretend, ("oh good crazymomlady wants to play that game where I make an unholy racket over nothing and she gives me treats") reactivity has become very important in our life.

So what does you 4legged friend look like when reacting to something? What are the signs you see  in them when they see something they aren't happy with?

You will see just how vital it is to accurately read your reactive 4legged friend when you check back tomorrow for "What is Dog Reactivity Part 3- Anecdotal Evidence Illustrates Maizey's Reactivity."

What is Dog Reactivity Part 1

Reactivity in dogs is a very complicated subject. This will be the first in a series to explain what I have learned and what Maizey and I are doing to help each other learn how to calm reactivity, ironically in both of of us!

Reactivity is really just the manifestation of stress in a dog. It involves stress hormones, such as adrenaline, in much the same way those hormones affect humans. It involves learning how to deal with new and scary, or perceived scary, situations.

A reactive dog is one who reacts strongly, in human terms we may call it overreacts, to certain stimuli in the environment. Dogs can be reactive on many levels and to many things. A Labradoodle we met yesterday was reactive to men with canes, hats, beards, or any combination there of.

An interesting case, that one, because the man to whom Luke the Labradoodle reacted to was someone he knew, but when seen with his hat and cane the man became unfamiliar and "threatening" thus Luke's eruption of barking.

Reactivity can be shown in any number of ways from vocalizing, body posturing, and even completely shutting down. A dog showing these signs of reactivity is really showing you dog signs of stress. And needs your help as the 2legged member of the team to learn how to calm down and feel confident again. Learning to identify these signs is the first step in learning to help your 4legged friend to calm their stress.

There is a valuable 4legged lesson here and it is that stress in life, no matter how many legs you have, is inevitable. But living over threshold and stressed out is unhealthy and miserable regardless of what species you are so learning these calming skills can only benefit us all.

For more information on what Maizey's reactive journey looks like come back for: What is Dog Reactivity Part 2-Maizey's Reactivity Defined

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Don't Throw Me In the Deep End of the Lake!"

Maizey had her first real swim in the lake. Since I don't believe in the "throw the baby in the deep end of the pool" school of thought and since she has never got into deep water like that before, we let her take it slow. At first she wasn't so sure.
"Are you sure this is going to be fun crazymomlady?"

But since she really does love water and she'll do anything for food we gradually got into the deeper water.

"Mmmmm. . .Cheerios!"

Meeka however does not think dogs should go in water deeper than their ankles, no matter what you try to bribe them with.
"Uggg dirty lake water! This is soooo not worth a measly cheerio!"

So she spent her time being the sunbathing beauty on the beach and generally thinking Maizey and I were insane.

"I'm too beautiful to get wet!"

It was a beautiful evening and the lake was gorgeous, and not even too cold.

"Why go in that yucky water when there are so many good sniffs out here?"

Eventually after Maizey had waded around as deep as she could go and still touch the bottom I carried her out to the deeper water.

She seemed a little nervous, but being such a water lover soon got the hang of it and took off on her own. I was like proud momma watching her baby swim for the first time! Pathetic I know, but I can be such a sap!

Of course Maizey being Maizey as soon as the life jacket came off headed straight into the deepest sand she could find for a good roll in the dirt to dry off.
"Aaahhh dirt! Princessface looooves dirt!"

It was a wonderful day surrounded by beauty and being with mehusbandy and my girls.

"Thanks for taking us to the lake crazymomlady and crazymoneybagsdad!"

Friday, June 25, 2010

Maizey's Level 2 Video-Part One

Time for the L2 video of Maizey's Training Levels progress. She has tested 8 out of the 16 behaviors. So we are half way there.

She tested her first behavior on April 1, 2010 then the last behaviors we tested were on June 6, 2010 so 8 behaviors in 2 months is pretty good. Keeping good records, which I admittedly am not great at, does help. It's quite encouraging to look back and see how fast her progress really was.

The video shows the tests as outlined for L2, I view it as sort of the basic foundation to build on.

Then after you lay a firm foundation the levels outline a "Continuing Education" section. We are working on much of the continuing education skills for the skills she has already tested. These are some of the great ideas:

COME: call her with my back to her, and recalling her and gently grabbing different parts of her body helps her learn to be caught.

DOWN: work on using other forms of payment. Try a back scratch or Maizey loves it when I clap for her, apparently she loves applause! A toy, or before being released to go through a door are some other ideas.

PARK IT: This has been a really fun one. Part of it is too move the mat around and teach them to figure out where it is and go to it. One time her floppy lion was a few feet closer to her and in front of the mat so she ran over and pounced on it in perfect park it position and just grinned up at me like, "How 'bout this? good enough?" Such a silly girl! This has proved a very practical skill also to help with her reactivity so we have been doing a lot of mat work out side and in many locations.

CRATE: Location of the crate becomes very important now and so far she has learned to be crated outside in our yard, at numerous other peoples houses, at a training field, and in the car to name a few.

To really understand the depth of the levels you really have to just visit Sue's Training Level book and dive in, but it is a great program, especially if you aren't in a position to do a lot of classes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Cavalier Version Of "The Princess And The Pea"

In the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tail, "The Princess and the Pea" a prince is searching for a true princess to marry. Apparently in 1835 there were a plethora of imitation princesses and the discriminating prince had to exercise due caution.

During a thunder and rainstorm a princess just happened to seek out shelter at the castle, but still he wanted to be sure she was the genuine article. So to discern the trueness of the bedraggled princess the old queen devised a test for her. She put a pea under a pile 20 mattresses and 20 eiderdown beds. Which makes me feel very bad for the poor eider ducks who had to give up all their eiderdown.

In the morning the old queen asked the princess how she slept and the princess said she slept very poorly indeed, for there was something very hard in her bed. Strangely this was the correct answer for the prince for only a true princess could be so sensitive as that!

At this point I would like to interject that in 2010 some would refer to this as "high maintenance" instead of princess like.

I'm sure there is a moral to Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tail but the moral of this story is one you may have heard before:

I keep telling you not all cavaliers are princesses!

We hope you enjoyed this bedtime story of "A Cavalier Version of the Princess and the Pea" as much as Maizey obviously did!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Look My Girls Are Famous!

So a very long time ago, before I joined the world of blogging and started plastering my girls faces all over the place, Resq Tails posted some pics of Meeka when she was visiting them. Typical of all of Resq Tails pics they are beautiful and for weeks I went are around telling everyone that Meeka was famous.

Now we found this way cool site called Cavalier King Charles A Day where you submit your photo's and they choose a new one to post. Very cool! So now Maizey is famous too! And because I'm a picture glutton and couldn't decide which pic to enter I entered two and they posted them both!

So just click the links to see my famous 4legged friends!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Cocklebur Debacle

It is a humbling and yes, slightly humiliating thing when your 4legged little girl schools you in L2 handling.

Anyone with a 4legged friend know ALL burs are evil. On the scale of evil burs cockleburs rate right below foxtails.
Maizey's front leg and the cockleburs

Basically cockleburs work like really mean velcro to Cavalier hair. It's not pretty. Especially when the 2legged member of the team is wailing and bawling about cutting off Cavalier ears and split ends.

Let me paint the picture. On our recent jaunt in the mountains Maizey, Dare and Layla met a cocklebur bush. Before I knew what had happened Maizey was trotting off down the trail with both ears, two legs and a tail full of cockleburs. Of course Layla got her fair share, and even Dare couldn't manage to avoid them completely.

Enter the humiliating part. That would be me with the wailing and bawling. Of course I scooped her up planted myself on a rock and flopped her over to start taking them out. Yes, still with the wailing and bawling.
"crazymomlady, please quiet the wailing and bawling!" 

Maizey? She was completely fine. I laid her on her side on my lap and she munched the field grass next to us the whole time Marie expertly removed them. As Marie says, "L2 handling? This is L33 handling and she passes with flying colors!" I however failed. Even L2 handling specifies "There must be minimal fussing." I guess wailing and bawling does qualify as fussing.

Meanwhile Dare was a great help as she got in the bag and brought first the comb and then the slicker brush to us. When we didn't seem to use them she also helpfully brought us a poop bag and finally her leash. We tried to show our gratitude, but she did seem a little peeved when we didn't use her helpful contributions.

Thankfully, due to Marie's experienced removal, some deep conditioner, and some more Cowboy Magic all is well in the continuing saga of the Cavalier ears.
Layla and Dare say, "Don't worry we're all still as gorgeous as always!"
Maizey says, "And I still have my ears!"

The 4legged lesson? Cockleburs are not your friends!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How 'Bout 21 Miles In 30 days?

Our 40 Miles In 30 Days Challenge is over. It turned out to be a 21 miles in 30 days challenge. But it was 21 miles we really enjoyed. And a great thanks to everyone who joined or supported us!

One thing I like about the challenges for myself and the girls is that at the end it gives a great chance to look back and evaluate how it went. This time I just got distracted. There are so many things I want to learn and so little time sometimes I have a hard time focusing!

I also found that with the weather getting nicer we were doing many more outside activities, and while not the physical exercise of walking, it is still good time together. Especially the training we are doing out on the yard now.

Its interesting how even the daily life lessons are different now that we are out and about more. A small thing, but very important to me, is the time spent in the garden which has led to a whole new kind of Zen, garden zen. As in, "No Maizey you and the Nellie monster can NOT have the zoomies in my newly planted garden!" Another garden lesson, "go out!" As in, "UGG! Quit rolling in the newly watered seeds and getting all muddy! In fact just GO OUT of the garden!"

Have I mentioned not all Cavaliers are princesses?

And overseeing it all is my serene Meeka, surveying her kingdom.

As for walking challenges? We will do a new one, and maybe next time the miles won't win!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Millions Of Ways To Train A Dog

It has been said that there are a million ways to train a dog. Spend any amount of time online and you'll quickly know this is true. So how can the average girl know which way is best for her four legged friends?

I honestly have no idea.

But I'm trying to figure it out. Although there is so much science in training, training is not an exact science. You will meet people who are pure clicker trainers or cross-over trainers. Some subscribe solely to one persons philosophies while disdaining all others. And the debates can get quite heated, to say the least.

My philosophy? No one is one hundred percent right one hundred percent of the time. For sure not me! I  do think that dog training should be less about what the two legged member of the team thinks is the best sounding theory and more about what works for the four legged team member.

Each of our pups is so individual and what works for one won't work for the next. And the challenges for one will not be the challenges for another. For instance Meeka rarely barks. Except at airplanes of course! But when she does bark it just takes a little "uh-oh" and she quiets right up. But Maizey is a whole different picture when it comes to barking.

Since I needed new skills to know how to help her hit the calm button we took a lesson with a local trainer. It was invaluable. She gave us many new skills to use and helped me access some calming skills I had laid the foundation for but didn't know how to apply and use.

One of the new tools we are using is a Halti. Having never used a head halter on any dog, and certainly never expecting to use one on my little girl this took some getting used to. For me. Maizey was fine from day one and now rarely even fusses it at all. Now I know many out there in the positive world will frown on my use of such a "cruel" and "harsh" device. All I can say is results show the big picture and after hours of use now I can see it really does increase my control. More importantly it decreases her drive thus giving her more control. Along with the other things we learned in her lesson I am already seeing a quieter and more peaceful Maizey.

All theorizing aside, results are what really matter to me. Having a happy calm girl is what really matters to me. Will I keep doing all that I am now? As long as it works and keeps her happy and calm. And if it changes? Well, I'm really used to going back to the drawing board. I seem to spend a lot of time there!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Learning To Be Calm And Having Fun

Starting with the progress:

Ok, so I know that looks like very boring progress, but that is the princess-of-the-shrill-bark quietly sitting in her crate after starting to learn that barking at Belgian Malinois puppies just doesn't pay.

Why doesn't it pay? Barking get you covered up. Being quiet gets you uncovered. Simple equation, easy lesson. Unless your 10lb nervous system is in anxiety overdrive and the only thing you know to do is yell about it. But in the end she did lay down and rest peacefully. I was very proud of her.

After our difficult puppy class episode we had a chance in a much less stimulating environment to let Maizey hone her social skills a little more. We went with Dare and Layla to their on the road agility practice. Also there, were the two Malinois she had so disliked at the puppy class, and their mom.

This time I'm glad to say, I did not make all the same mistakes again and I did protect her better. If nothing else it was a good start to calm her little reactive self down.

But onto some fun stuff from our country getaway. Our favorite time was just lounging in the yard "tree dreaming" at the blue sky.

And of course hiking and jumping on every rock to be the perfect pose for crazymomlady and her camera is great fun.
"How 'bout this crazymomlady? Wanna take my picture?"

I just couldn't stop laughing at Maizey, every rock and boulder that she could get on she would plop into a sit and flash me her picture grin.
"I'm ready! Snap away and I'll sit here looking pretty!" 

Even when I didn't have the camera out she would run ahead of us, find a rock, hop up, turn around looking, and wait to see if I would cue her to 'wait' for her picture. It was adorable and a far cry from the last time we hiked here and her wait was about 2 seconds long. Now I think she's trying to compete with Dare, who has the best picture posing abilities of any of our 4 legged friends.

And in the end we all ended up tired, satisfied, and looking it.

Can you hear the snores?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sometimes Practice does Not Make Perfect

Tonight was a hard night for my baby girl. It would have been an easier night if she had acted like a baby girl instead of a raving maniac. Okay raving maniac is a slight exaggeration. Very slight.

I'm not feeling very objective right now as I am mostly feeling like I did everything wrong that could be done wrong. And if I can't apply what I learn what in the world have I been researching and practicing with the princess-of-the-shrill-bark this whole time anyway? Thus the lack of objectivity rears its head.

The story? Oh just that story where you get to go to someone else's puppy class and you know you have a dog reactive little four legged friend, but you've been working on it. You've been practicing mat work, watch-me's, and reorienting. You're reading Control Unleashed and The Relaxation Protocol. You've studied the straining-at-the end-of-her-leash-barker's body language and you for sure know when she's going over threshold, and you are positive beyond a shadow of doubt you won't let that happen to your little hyper girl! It will be the perfect relaxed situation with very understanding people to see how far all your hard work has come, right?

Well, the very understanding people part of that story was true.

I feel like we did everything I know to do and the result? Basically there were some good highlights in between her barking and lunging to the end of her leash. I did keep backing away until she could reorient to me. And I was amazed at how fast she came back into her head and could give me some basic skills. That was definite progress. She even got to the point where we were in the training field with the other dogs and offered a down and held it while being c/t.

So why the utter despair? I broke reactive dog cardinal rule 101:don't work too long. I should have stopped and left the situation at least 20 minutes earlier. Uggg. . . writing 20 minutes sounds horrible-like such a long time. But 20 minutes in the moment seemed just that-a moment.

I could write all night with the questions and second guessing and the "have I ruined her forevers?" But what I feel worst about is that I did not control the environment well enough, I didn't take it slow enough, I asked too much of her and for too long.

I would like to write:

So I will write it, and mean it, but with a reality check: I am only human and she is dog. We can both try again tomorrow and who knows maybe I WILL NOT MAKE THOSE MISTAKES AGAIN! I WILL PROTECT HER BETTER! At least I will try.

Not Sure Of The Purpose, But We Have A Plan!

So I have done some thinking and planning since last night and once again I am realizing how well Maizey is actually doing.

So more for my own information than because it is very entertaining I wanted to get down what I would like to accomplish this week.

Grooming with distractions.
A note on this we just did a long grooming session that included her ears (a major endeavor no matter how often we brush them). We also trimmed her long toe hair. I've tried explaining to her that it isn't lady-like to have toe hair, but alas she cares not at all about anything lady-like. The distraction was Lucy and Layla milling around and for the toe trim and toenail clipping we went out side. There were horses and cows and all kinds of sniffs, and it was gorgeous. So I'm counting that as distraction for me and Maizey!

Walking with distractions
I hope to test and film her LLW using the horses or the dogs in the fence as the distraction.

We will have many opportunities for dog socialization. Not only here with our "headed south getaway friends," but we also have a chance to go to puppy class and work while some friends practice agility at the park.

As for new Levels behaviors I want to work on target, trick, watch, go-to-mat which we cue as "park it." I am hoping to get some help on her stays.

There I feel better already, and even if we only get a fraction of that done it will still be good for both of us.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What Is My Purpose Here Again?

Lately I have been really struggling with where I am going with Maizey's training. The Training Levels are a great program and we are still working our way through them. That's not really where the problem lies at all.

The problem lies more with me. Because when I got Maizey I had hopes of doing agility with her I started all my plans for training around that from day one. However after two patella surgeries agility doesn't seem to be in our future. 
"Having broken knees is bad-bad. I stick my tongue out at broken knees."

Of course that would never be a reason not to train her, but it seems that much of what we are getting to in training is passing "the basics" and seems more applicable to agility or obedience. I seem to have a hard time figuring out where those skills fit into our everyday "pet dog" life. 

She is doing great with a lot of important skills. Today on our country walk she gave me a lot of wonderfully enthusiastic recalls.
"At least I love to "comecome" crazymomlady"

Another issue with these more advanced skills is that I have never trained them and don't have a very clear idea of how to go about it. I've never been very good at just diving into things I don't know how to do so I think regardless of what we are going to do in the future it is really time for us to have a class or maybe a private session with a trainer.  

I also think the problem lies with me in that I tend to see the problem areas and end up only working on them, neglecting the more fun things. 

Generally I feel very unfocused. Generally that is never a good feeling for me. In no way do I feel she is a disappointment to me because of any of this, she is wonderful and perfectly happy the way she is.
"Ya crazymomlady, lets pay more fun games then I'll be even happier!"

But I see people who have performance dogs and they really have a structure and purpose to their training.  I also know people who have pet dogs and they are perfectly happy and loved. Certainly the problem is not in her but in my lack of direction for myself.
"Look out I'm gonna give you some direction!"

And then there's Meeka. For once instead of bringing me clarity she really clouds the issue for me. Because she has never been to class, doesn't have "training sessions", was trained mostly with methods I would never use now and look at her:
"It just doesn't get more perfect than me."

So the four legged lesson? I really have no idea. I have no more clarity now than when I started this blathering. Huff and sigh. Maybe someone else can straighten me out?

A small post script: I apologize for the crazy layout of this post, I have no idea why it is double spacing every paragraph break, but suspect it has something to do w/ my HTML script. If There are any HTML geniuses out there who can tell me how to fix it I welcome the input.:)
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Lessons From and For 4 Legs has moved to a new address: Where we will continue to learn life's lessons from my little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel's, Maizey and Magnus. Don't miss Meeka's lessons too, by checking the archives of my big girl rescue Rottie. They all teach me so much!