Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Loving other dogs - by Nessa

I am spending the week loving and looking after another dog. This is Boxy. She, too, is a marvelous mutt, like Olive. She is super sweet, but makes sure you know that she's the guardian of the house. Her specialties are alert barking and barking to let you know she needs something. I like this, because she always lets you know if she needs to go out to use the grass.  She is also a great snuggler, which I am a sucker for.

Boxy's house mates are three kitties, which I won't post pics of, since this is a dog blog. 
When I was younger, I always thought of myself as a cat person. I grew up with cats, so their body language never eluded me. It seems like I've always known just the right way to pet a kitty to make it purr, and I've been told that I can handle cats in ways that other people would never get away with. 

However, since working in the vet industry (I'm a lab tech and a tech assist) and getting Olive, I have come to really love dogs. Don't get me wrong, I still love me some kitties, but I really enjoy communicating and interacting with dogs.  Getting to understand canine body signals has been a fascinating experience and any fear or trepidation I once had towards dogs, due to their power and size, has been expelled by that knowledge.

Now I'm just left with a whole lotta doggy love <3

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

i can has cookies? - by Olive

There is no thing that is better than frisbee. It is the best. But my next favoritest thing it is cookies! When my mum makes cookies, that is the nicest smell. I know the taste is good so I drool a lot when I smell the baking.
Here is how to make them so you can have some too!

Olive’s Tasty Tuna Treats!
Bite sized tasty treats for clicker training

1 can of tuna in water (don't drain)
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil (as needed) (You could use fish oil for smellier snacks)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together. Mix oil and tuna together, mashing tuna well. Add dry mix to tuna mix slowly (you may not need all of the flour) and mix well with kneading. This will yield a sticky dough that holds together well. Roll to ¼” thickness on an oiled surface and cut into small 1”x 1/4” squares. Place squares on a non-stick baking pan with 1/4 inch between them. Bake until puffed up and golden (~15 mins). While cooling, place treats together in an unsealed container. I used a Tupperware container. This keeps in some moisture and leads to softer, chewier treats. Store in the refrigerator. They are freshest when consumed within 1 week (but in our house, never last that long) ;-)

Makes ~ 2 cups worth of bite sized treats. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Focus on the positive. It's not just for clicker training!

Sometimes, when you own a "problem" dog, you begin to focus on the negatives. This is also the foundation of training methods which use aversive techniques. You hone in on everything the dog is doing wrong and take for granted everything the dog is doing right.

For example:
Olive barks at the neighbours when she is out in the yard.
She tried to lunge at that bicyclist who just rode by.
She is object guarding her chew bone.
She just seems to dislike that one friend of ours that comes by sometimes.

It is a downward spiral of negativity.
I have to admit, I am feeling that way today and it is hard to not take her behaviour personally (as silly as it seems).

Olive at 1 year, May 2011

But I had an idea. Imagine if instead of focusing on what she can't do I focused on what she CAN do.

Olive CAN leave pizza on a plate right in front of her nose if you say "leave it".
She CAN sit quietly on her cushion in the living room while I watch a two hour movie.
She CAN come immediately when called from outside, even when she has begun to bark at something/someone, or she is having a fun play session with another dog.
She CAN bring me her bone from across the room and drop it in front of me when asked to (even though she doesn't really want to).
She CAN drop a prized stolen possession on the floor when you say "drop it".
She CAN walk away from an aggressive dog who is trying to pick a fight with her.
She CAN go eagerly into her crate when you say "kennel".
She CAN remain in a down-stay position in the yard while I walk out of site.
She CAN do lots of cute tricks.
She CAN refrain from chewing an entire rack of shoes  left out by the front door.
She CAN make me laugh like crazy when she tries to crawl under my arms and lick my face while I am doing my nightly push-ups.
She CAN look me in the eyes when asked to "look", even when she is near something scary out on a walk.
She  CAN go off-leash at the park when we play frisbee, with no worry of her leaving the field.
She CAN be relied upon to always follow me when I run away from her.
She CAN walk reasonably nicely on-leash and is getting better every day.
She CAN close her mouth the instant you tell her to, even if you are tickling her toes and she wants to chew on you.
She CAN touch a "scary" person's hand with her nose, when given the "touch" command.

      Look at the size of that list! And it doesn't even cover the basics.
See, already I feel so much better about my dog. I can notice several things on my list which are very challenging and I can take pride in the fact that I never used force or aversive punishments to shape the behavior I wanted. Perfect examples of this are "leave it" and "drop it", which are pretty tough ones, since the dog has to practice self restraint in the face of something they really want.
       I can look at that list and see how far Olive has come in a year. Almost one year ago, she was a naughty little puppy... peeing in the house and chewing up slippers if you didn't watch her 24-7. She was so shy that she would submissive pee every time you tried to introduce her to a new person and even with friends she already knew. Now she is a lovely, obedient dog, albeit still shy with strangers, but we're working on it.
        If she could come this far in one year, I can't wait to see her after another year of training together.

Olive at 10 weeks, June 2010

Friday, May 27, 2011

success smells sweet- by Nessa

Today we went on our usual walk. It kind of felt like a video game, because "challenges" kept popping up for Olive to deal with. 

The object of the game: successfully walk around the neighbourhood on a loose leash and do not bark or growl at anything. Also, do not attempt to chase anything.

Bonuses: clicks and kibbles or chicken flavoured soft treats.

Challenge 1: man mowing lawn.
Challenge 2: lady walking down the street towards us with bags (extra scary).
Challenge 3: people getting into car ahead of us.
Challenge 4: various people walking past us.
Challenge 5: lady standing still at bus stop (very scary).
Challenge 6: motorcycle, heavy traffic and public bus passing near us.
Challenge 7: people coming in and out of local bakery while we walk by.
Challenge 8: two kittens springing out of the bush at us while we walked by (tempting).
Challenge 9: kitten #1 stalking us down the street (very tempting).
Challenge 10: man walking parallel to us across the street.

I am happy to report complete success on our walk today! 
This past weekend, Olive and I spent time our friends Debby and Ginny (the German shepherd). Ginny is weak on obedience skills but very friendly with humans. Whereas, Olive is good at obedience but has weak people skills. I think they help each other out a lot. On our big walk together, we faced packs of runners, bicycles, other dogs and walkers. Only a few barks or growls were elicited from Olive, despite the extreme challenge conditions. I think this is because, when she saw that Ginny wasn't concerned about the strangers, she became less concerned, too.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dog Appeasement - by Nessa

Today I got a D.A.P.collar for Olive. D.A.P. stands for dog appeasing phermone, which is a calming hormone released by mother dogs during lactation. This collar releases a synthetic version of the phermone, and is reported to cause a significant calming effect in dogs. 
A friend at work suggested it to me, since she has a dog with much the same anxieties as Olive. She said that her dog is ~25% more calm with the D.A.P. collar, and I figured that I would give it a try. I am going to combine this collar with my usual clicker training to see if Olive handles stressful situations better. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

sunshine smells nice - by Olive

Today we played frisbee. Frisbee is the best thing to do. When we play frisbee, mum makes me do tricks to earn each throw. Today we worked on "avoid". This means mum turns her head away and then looks back at me. Then I turn my head away. Then I get a click and frisbee toss! This will help me someday to avoid conflict by using the calming signal of turning my head away on request.

Afterwards, we went walking. I am learning about "stay by me", which means I walk beside mum without pulling. Also, I am learning not to bark or growl at strangers when we are out. When I do well, I get clicks and tuna treats! I only forgot to stay calm and growled a couple of times...oops.

We got to play at the hill with pretty blue flowers and oak trees. It is on some nice rocks, too. I like it here because there are good things to smell.

I like walking here a lot. Sometimes I forget to listen to mum here, because it is so interesting.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Introducing Olive

my name is Nessa and I have wonderful dog named Olive. Olive is a marvelous mutt whom I adopted from a local animal rescue organization.

Olive is highly intelligent and a bit goofy. She loves frisbee, treats and cuddles (in that order) and is very loyal to her family. She knows loads of tricks and is very well behaved for the most part.

 However, she is quite shy and is fearful of strangers. She will growl and act aggressive towards them when she is frightened.
 I am teaching Olive to be non-aggressive towards all people, using the clicker training method outlined by Karen Pryor (an amazing animal behaviourist and ethologist), This is an ongoing process, which takes up a lot of my time.

 It is worth it for me, because I love my dog and I see her amazing potential. My goal is to help her feel secure, so that she can reach that potential.. I have learned so much about dog behaviour and body language, since "saving" this little mutt, and she is still teaching me more every day.