Saturday, June 4, 2016

I Want My Dog's Life: A Day in the Life of Ranger Reprise

Both Ranger and Finna live pretty good lives since we adopted them but recently I find myself envying Ranger's life just a little bit. Let's look at a day in his life.

I get up and let both dogs out. Ranger patrols the yard and then finds a comfy place to lounge while I play ball with Finna. When it's time to take Finna in Ranger sets himself where he can see the door hoping this will be one of those great days when The Great Catsby decides to make a break for freedom so Ranger can herd him back inside. This is one of Ranger's great joys in life. It's a good day, the cat obliges. Today Ranger decides to follow the cat back inside and chooses to doze at the top of the stairs until breakfast. After breakfast Ranger goes out to hang out in the yard until later.

Today Ranger will be listening to kids read at the library. As we load him into the car he gets a few minutes of grooming.
This is the only part of Ranger's day he won't really enjoy.  He'd rather not have the grooming rake drawn through his coat since it does find all the snarls and pull them out but he knows this is what happens so he tolerates it.

At the library Ranger settles happily into his listening spot and enjoys the attention that comes his way. The great thing about the library is that most of the kids come with an attached parent and Ranger knows that parents are wonderful at petting. Ranger enjoys the petting, the stories, and accepts as his due the staff members that sneak over to love on him and whisper that Ranger is their favorite.

From the library Ranger goes to the Farmer's market. First stop at the market Ranger checks in with his good buddy that sells grass fed beef. While they're having their reunion the guy from the food booth next door slips over. "I've got this one little piece of meat left. Can Ranger have it?" We give permission and Ranger makes friends with his new buddy. We wander through the market and Ranger greets his friends, makes new ones, says hello to a few dogs and leads us back to the food booth belonging to his new buddy. We are hungry so we order our food and settle at a picnic table to eat. Ranger accepts the few bits that fall his way as his just due and then another friend Ranger hasn't seen in awhile shows up and they have an affectionate reunion.

Finally it's time to go. Ranger gets home, greets Finna, enjoys another opportunity to put the cat back inside and settles in a shady spot to doze and keep an eye on things. Later Ranger joins Finna on her late night walk. Since Ranger discovered that late night walks involve lots of training and lots of treats he's eager to join in. Dad has Ranger's leash and The Boy has Finna's leash. Mom has the treats. The rule is first dog to complete the requested behavior gets their treat first. Both dogs seem to enjoy the friendly competition and they really enjoy the high value treats.

After the walk comes dinner and bedtime. My dogs like a nap after eating so feeding them at bedtime just follows their natural inclination. Tomorrow will be another great day in Ranger's life.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like My Finna

At my house we often parody songs suiting them to the dogs and cats as the spirit moves us. Lately I find myself humming the tune to "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" from Sound of Music and changing the words to fit Finna. I recently discovered that Finna can learn in a flash as long as it's relevant to her. I discovered this by accidentally teaching her the cue 'give me some slack.' We've been working on leash manners specifically not having Finna dragging me around on leash. When she starts pulling hard I stop and wait for her to come back to me and see what's wrong, as soon as there's slack on the leash I start moving forward. One night (because Finna is still so reactive to people we're walking her at midnight--quite literally) she'd reached the end of the leash and was pulling as hard as she could trying to drag me forward she was so focused on whatever goal she wanted to reach. Just to be doing something I said, "Finna, give me some slack." She turned back to me, probably in response to hearing her name, and I started moving forward again. Seconds later she reached the end of the leash again and started trying to drag me forward. I said, "give me some slack." and she did so I started moving forward again.That's all it took, just two repetitions, because getting to continue moving forward is very relevant to Finna, it's what she wants to do. Now if she's starting to pull I just tell her to 'give me some slack' and she eases the tension on the leash.

Thinking about it, everything Finna has learned has been because she wants to, because in some way it's relevant to her. And that's where the problem of my Finna comes into play. Finna has her life organized pretty well the way she wants it and strange people aren't relevant to her; in fact getting strange people as far away from her as she can is really what Finna wants. How do I make strangers relevant, how do I make strangers ignoring her relevant, and how do I keep everyone safe while I figure it out. If she was an adorable 10 pound puppy with her huge ears and paws she'd need to grow into some day this would be easy, I'd have everyone we met toss her treats. All her meals would be feed to her by strangers. Unfortunately, she's no an impressionable 10 pound puppy she's 70 pounds of teeth and muscle who doesn't want treats from strangers she wants strangers gone from her presence and she knows just how to get it--bark fiercely and show them your teeth and they'll go away or Mom will drag you away; either way no more strangers in her presence.

Ranger likes people. He never meets strangers just people who haven't fallen in love with him yet. To him new people are all potential sources of interesting things, maybe treats, maybe petting, maybe new behaviors. To Finna they are unpredictable monsters who might hurt her and will certainly push her outside her comfort zone. So how do I solve a problem like my Finna, how do I stop the barking and the growls. How do I solve a problem like my Finna. Can she learn to mind her Ps and Qs and even vowels?

It's an interesting challenge. We're starting with something that is relevant to her and that's her walks. Finna likes going for her midnight walks. We live near a busy church so throughout the day there are people coming and going and in our neighborhood the mail is delivered not to individual mailboxes at each house but at two central mailbox stations so all of the neighbors are likely to visit that area frequently. Walking her at midnight we're pretty certain that there won't be a lot of people to contend with but there will be lots of scent of people. I encourage her to explore the areas of the church where people have congregated and to spend time around the mailbox stations. Sometimes I'll see her tracking someone's trail and learning about them through their scent. The hope is that learning about people through her nose in their absence will make their presence less threatening.

It may be helping. I'm taking her out during the morning to collect the newspaper at the end of our driveway. Several houses down someone was out working in the yard. Rather than the wild barking that would typically have resulted from seeing someone I saw Finna watching carefully and sniffing the breeze. I'm hoping she was making the connection, that this was someone she'd smelled by the mailbox station and observing that this somewhat familiar through scent person was paying no attention to Finna so was clearly no threat.

Finna really makes me think about things. Ranger finds cooperating with me and doing the things I ask interesting. He enjoys the puzzle of figuring out what I want and seeing what happens when he does what I ask. Finna, though doesn't care about figuring out what I want she cares about what's in it for her and whether or not what I ask is relevant to her getting what she wants. Ranger enjoys the cooperation. Finna is all about the results. Lots more thought is going to go into how I solve the problem of motivating my Finna and how I make other people relevant to her but knowing that it's the relevance that's the key faction should help.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dogs at Play

Part of the reason we adopted Finna was as a playmate for Ranger. Unfortunately, Finna's efforts at wrecking her knees have made playing together less of a constant than we'd like. At the moment though Finna seems to be fairly sound so I've been encouraging them to play together. I'm sure my cheering for "dog fight, dog fight" to encourage some play fighting is very politically incorrect but Ranger and Finna seem to enjoy it. And in the context we all know that it is a play fight that I mean and that if things get out of hand or either of them seems to be getting too amped up I'll be putting an end to the game.

Today I was encouraging them to play and Ranger got just a little too rough for Finna's taste. I was fascinated and impressed with how they both handled it. Ranger was popping Finna with his paws and hit a little hard. Finna whirled around clearly irritated and bit the fur around Ranger's ruff about four times really hard and really fast. She wasn't making contact with any part of him that she would hurt just making it clear that he'd played too rough and if he didn't play nice she could hurt him. After she finished explaining that with her bites she stepped away and Ranger turned to her and gave her a couple quick apology licks. Then they raced around the yard a bit and I called them to come in. No one held a grudge, no one escalated, no one went off to pout, both clearly communicated and they worked it out.

Here's a video from a couple years ago of Ranger and Finna playing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juXAQYwE3oA

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Genius of Ranger

Everyone knows that Ranger is an exceptional dog but from time to time he goes beyond even our expectations. Case in point. 

Yesterday my husband and I took Ranger out to the pet food store to buy more cat food. The store was having their customer appreciation sale and offering $5 nail trims with the proceeds supporting the local Humane Society. Since all our current menagerie came from the Humane Society we like to support them. And $5 for a nail trim is a good deal. It isn't Ranger's favorite thing but he stood patiently while the groomer clipped his nails. In fact she kept remarking that it was the most effortless nail trim all day. 

When we'd finished buying cat food we needed to go to the grocery store. Trying to be efficient and knowing how much my husband hates shopping I offered to drop Ranger and him off at a nearby nature preserve so they could have a walk while I did the grocery shopping. I dropped them off and told my husband which grocery store I was going to. They set out on their walk and I drove to the store. 

At the grocery store they had a Bar-b-que grill set up outside and were bar-b-queing ribs that smelled amazing. When I was done with my shopping and carrying the bags back to the car they offered me a sample of the ribs. How could I resist. They were so good I decided they'd make an excellent dinner but I didn't want to leave husband and Ranger standing in the nature preserve parking lot waiting for me so I gave my husband a quick call. They were heading back to the parking lot but could take another loop through if I wanted to run back for a rack of ribs. 

I ran back in to get the ribs and the lasagna noodles I'd forgotten on my first trip through. Meanwhile Ranger and Dad headed back into the preserve with Ranger leading the way. When they got to a trail intersection Ranger stopped, considered for awhile, and then insisted they take the trail to the south. This is a favorite place to take Ranger so we all know the trails pretty well and it's hard for us to get lost so Dad agreed to go that way and then to take a little used side trail off that. My husband had forgotten that the grocery store I was going to backed up onto the preserve until Ranger led him out into the store parking lot. That's when he called me. 

I was just putting the ribs into the car when my phone rang. Thinking he wanted to know how soon I'd be there to pick them up I told my husband I'd just put the ribs in the car and would be there in a couple minutes. That's when he told me not to bother that they were coming to me. I looked up and there they were heading across the parking lot. 

So, how did Ranger know where I was? How did he choose a route that would bring them to me? Does he know the name of the grocery store and keep a map in his head of where it is in relationship to the preserve? Did he smell me or the ribs and follow his nose? As the crow flies the distance between the parking lot of the preserve and the store is probably half a mile or more but the trails meander so the distance by trail is more. I have many more questions than answers perhaps it was all coincidence and we're just reading too much into it but this is Ranger we're talking about and these days I put nothing past him. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Millimeter by Millimeter: They Add Up

It has been a long slow process rehabilitating our profoundly damaged Finna and our progress has been measured in millimeters. I've been looking at Finna over the last few weeks and realizing just how much those millimeters have added up.

Today when she's barking at something I can say in my happy voice "That'll Do" and she stops barking and waits for  her reward of having the ball thrown. This is the dog that previously was so far over threshold that she needed to be physically hauled away to a distance where she could recover herself.

The dog that would rather lose all her teeth fighting you for a tug toy now responds to the cue "Give" by giving up tug toy when asked. Relinquishing the toy is almost always followed by another game of tug so she is continually reinforced for doing what I ask.

Our resource guarder who always wanted to control all available resources can now be seen contentedly chewing bully sticks side by side with Ranger. She's still a pushy bitch and doesn't like it when Ranger gets something she doesn't but millimeter by millimeter things improve.

At her last vet visit she was much less dangerous than she has been. We even forgot to put a muzzle on her until it was time for her to go in the back (she's a better patient if I'm not around). The vet reported that she actually allowed him to handle her!! It's heartening to see so many many millimeters of improvement.

Of course Finna remains a work in progress with many issues. She's still highly reactive to strangers and other dogs. She continues to react to my husband when he has anything in his hands. And she's in the process of wrecking her left knee. When her knee is especially painful she gets very crabby and snappish. She's come a long long way and for the first time since we discovered what a white hot mess we'd adopted I honestly believe she may reach the point of being a good canine citizen. That's pretty amazing.

One of my commitments this year was to actually finishing projects. That part hasn't been going so well as the lack of blog posts for the last several months can attest. My goal was to write at least one per month.

I also made some commitments to my dogs. That part has been going better although still not what it should be. Having the dogs practice taking turns has been my most successful effort. I'd committed to once a week but they are probably averaging three times a week. And it is going well. Finna will now wait patiently while Ranger licks a plate because she knows she'll get a turn next. It's been a long slow process getting to this point. We still have some crowding issues when I'm trying to pet Ranger but even those are diminishing albeit slowly.

Finna was supposed to practice being in the car at least once a week but sadly that hasn't happened at all. Finna appears to be in the process of shredding the cruiciate ligament in her left knee (you might remember she shredded the one in her right knee until there was only about 15% left and had surgery to replace it.) I've been letting that be an excuse to avoid this training. We have been working on some flashy recalls with Finna. There are three that we use at random. First is "Finna Come" where she is to run to me, go between my legs, around to my left side and sit. The sitting part is still a work in progress but she's mastered the rest of it. Next is "Finna, Front" where she runs to me, sits, and makes eye contact. That one is nearly perfect I just want to polish up the distance at which she sits so that it is consistently right in front of me not anywhere from one to four feet distance. Last is "Finna On" where she is to come and put her nose on my left hand. This is her least favorite and she's been known to punch my hand with her open mouth so that I feel that she has teeth. She doesn't actually hurt me just makes it clear she's not thrilled. It's improving millimeter by millimeter.

Ranger tricks training has been spotty but I was pleased to note the other day when I had him showing off for his veterinarian that his "say your prayers" is looking much better. We need to work on getting his head down between his paws more but it looks pretty good otherwise. We haven't been working on take a bow at all. I have, however, been working both dogs on heeling together, one dog on each side. It's slow but they're getting it.

The Great Catsby was to learn to walk on a leash. We haven't been working on that very much but he will wear his harness and walk around some. He's not entirely comfortable in it but he will move when it's on so that's some progress.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year's Commitments

On her blog Patricia McConnell was recently discussing the New Year and her preference for making not making vague resolutions but for specific commitments. She invited her followers to share their New Year's commitments in comments. - See more at: http://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/2015-new-years-resolutions#comments
I decided it would be a good idea for me to share mine here as well and to further commit to posting regular updates here on how I'm doing at sticking to my commitments. 
I have a penchant for almost finishing projects; I get them to the point where all they can be used but they lack the finishing touches and get distracted by something else. For myself this year I commit to finishing completely one project per month.
For the dogs I commit to having them practice taking turns at least once per week; Ranger enjoys the training time and Finna needs the practice in self-control. I was pleased, the other day when I had them taking turns walking front feet only on the treadmill one dog on each side and I was able to cue them on and off. Of course the dog waiting for their turn is also getting rewarded since, especially for Finna, waiting is also a skill that needs practice and reinforcement.
I’ll also commit to putting Finna in the car at least once a week. I want her to learn the car is a safe place for her so she can go more places.
I’ll commit to spending weekly training time with Ranger perfecting his ‘take a bow’ and ‘say your prayers’ and teaching new tricks. Currently Ranger believes that ‘take a bow’ means to down slowly front end first and saying his prayers is pretty sloppy although still a crowd pleaser at the senior daycare.
And finally, I’ll commit to teaching The Great Catsby to walk on a leash and to join the dogs in walking on the treadmill. That’s going to mean dedicated training time at least once a week. At the moment I’m able to put his harness on so that’s a start in teaching the cat to walk on a leash and he’ll at least come close to the treadmill when it’s running so a start there as well.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Finna Tail

Finna doesn't really have a tail; she has a stub and after years with Ranger's magnificent and expressive plume it took me awhile to begin to decipher Finna's tail commentary. It's only been recently that I realized why it was so hard for me to read her tail language. For years Finna's stub was stiff; whether sticking straight up in arousal or clamped to her rear in fear her stub was never relaxed.

Watching her stub of a tail the other day I was thinking to myself how much easier it is to read Finna's stub today than it was in the beginning. That's when it hit me; Finna's tail today is relaxed most of the time. That's what time with us has done for Finna most of the time she's in a relaxed state and not the over stimulated, over aroused, crazed state she lived in for so long.

There really is hope for this crazy little psycho bitch from hell. More and more often I'm seeing a dog with bad habits and less and less I'm seeing a dog that's out of her head nuts. Don't get me wrong her bad habits are plenty scary and we don't take any chances with her but each day sees more tiny improvements.

Just today she was able to choose coming away from barking and leaping at the fence when the neighbors were out. She still couldn't sustain the choice but she was able to turn away and come almost to me before the territorial impulse kicked in again and drew her back to the fence. After a couple of times I got smart and ran to the enclosure when she tried to come back to me. The enclosure is in the back of the house and is a safe place with much less stimulation. It is so heartening to see her trying to make better choices even if she can't always keep those choices in place. At least today she knows there are options.

It's good to look back and know that the dog in this photo is not the dog we live with today.