Monday, December 26, 2011

Ranger Recommends: Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home

Ranger is always glad when I find another resource that makes me a more effective trainer for him and the rest of the menagerie. Our blog is going to be doing a series of these reviews as I look at resources that can help with Ranger's little sister and her issues. Today I finished reading "Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home" by Patricia B. McConnell and Karen B. London. Puppies are all potential and clean slate but what happens if you're adopting an older dog one that has some history and maybe some baggage? There are lots of resources for how to raise your puppy but so far as I know "Love Has No Age Limit" is the only book devoted to what to do with your newly adopted dog who's beyond the puppy stage.

Finna, our 15 month old half German Shepherd half Corgi mix has been with us a not quite eight weeks now so she definitely fits the intent of this book. I love the fact that McConnell and London start at the very beginning with bringing the dog home and then go step by step through the process of integrating your new best friend into your household. Preaching a continuous mantra of patience, patience, patience, this short, easily read booklet covers the basics of house training or retraining, where the dog should sleep, what to feed the dog, training, equipment, etc. Basically, they've done a great job of putting together a easily absorbed how-to manual. It was nice to see that we'd done most things right as far as getting off on the right foot. However, much as I would recommend the initial section to anyone adopting a dog rather than a puppy, I wasn't reading the book for the how-to adjust to your new dog section I was more interested in the second section of the book: Behavior Problems 101.

It was reassuring to read that it can be three days, three weeks or three months before your dog's true colors may emerge. I'd been wondering what we'd done to turn Finna into a resource guarder and why she's started to be even more explosively reactive to other dogs on leash. We knew about the separation anxiety problem and that she was leash reactive to other dogs but the resource guarding was new. McConnell and London explain how a dog adjusts to a new family and why some dogs take longer to settle in and why a new dog might not initially show you who they really are until they are comfortable and feel safe. It's nice to  know that she feels comfortable and safe enough with us now to start showing us who she really is but some of who she really is isn't very nice.

In Behavior Problems 101 McConnell and London provide excellent overviews of the the most common behavior problems. They address everything from separation anxiety, to chewing, to resource guarding to fear of strangers and a host of other problem behaviors. Each one of these problem behaviors needs a book of its own to adequately address but this booklet doesn't aim to cover the problems in detail it aims to provide a clear explanation of the nature of the problem and to provide an easily understood description  of the basics of treatment. The  information is enough to help me get started figuring out what we should be doing to help Finna overcome her issues and to help me decide if the issue is mild enough that I can design my own treatment program or sufficiently severe that I need to seek professional help. In Finna's case we will be seeking professional assistance. Her resource guarding is limited to my husband, Ranger and occasionally at the cat, The Great Catsby. but it is sufficiently intent that I'm worried what may happen if we don't get it under control.

The final section in "Love Has No Age Limit" is devoted to resources. This section is, in my opinion, worth the cost of the book all on its own. These two highly regarded professionals with a wealth of knowledge and experience have assembled a list of resources to get you started in training your dog, learning about positive reinforcement, understanding dog psychology, and dealing with all the problem behaviors they discuss in section two.

If you are adopting a dog, have adopted a dog, or are thinking about adopting a dog Ranger and I highly recommend "Love Has No Age Limit." It's an excellent resource that is well-written and readable.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Finna After One Month

Finna has lived with us for a month now and I'm seeing such huge improvement. I remarked to my family the other day that I think she's actually to a point where we can start training her. They looked at my blankly and asked "what have we been doing so far?" It's a good point, we have been teaching her all along. What I meant by being at a point where we can start training her is that she's starting to realize that here it's possible to figure out the system and that she can do things that increase her rewards. For example, if she jumps on me I turn my back and ignore her but if she sits quietly she gets praise and petting. If she wants to increase the praise and petting she needs to sit; if she wants to see my back and be ignored she should jump on me. She's learning that it is possible to work the system to get what she wants.

I don't know what her previous life was like but I suspect that it was pretty inconsistent and that sometimes she'd get attention for a behavior and other times she'd be punished for that same behavior. I've seen dogs that never know what to expect and Finna acted a lot like that, stressed, anxious and neurotic. Knowing that she can affect the outcome by her own behavior is making a tremendous difference in her. I think it also helps knowing that she can mess up without severe consequences. At our house if she makes a mistake no one slams her to the ground on her back and yells in her face. The worst thing that happens to her for peeing on the floor is some grumbling in her direction. The worst that happens if she breaks a stay is a negative reward marker, we make a sound like a wrong answer buzzer on a game show, and she's asked to sit again. The worst that happens if she jumps on me and really hurts me is a scream of pain and the worst that happens for a typical jump is seeing a back and being ignored. The worst that happens for barking at people on a walk is being turned and marched away from the person. And when she doesn't bark she gets loads of praise and a chance to keep walking. When she doesn't jump she gets petting. When she holds her stay she gets treats and lavish praise. When she goes outside to potty she gets praise. Finna is discovering that it is possible for her to take actions that result in getting things she likes. Since she's not experiencing random reinforcement and punishment cycles she's been empowered. It has made a world of difference.

Finna hasn't pottied in the house in a couple of weeks and that includes days when she was kept in much longer than the every four hour potty breaks she's been getting. And it includes times when she's been subjected to Ranger's discipline for rude behavior and moments of family conflict. These are things that almost always resulted in submissive peeing when she first came to live with us. She's more relaxed and has stopped her hyper-vigilance on walks. She's actually sniffing things and tracking interesting smells. About a week ago  she put her nose down and sniffed along the ground and I almost cried. There's a real dog in there after all. That she's pulling and dragging on the leash to get to an interesting smell or to follow a track rather than trying to get to something that frightens her so she can deal with it or trying to rush home where it is safe is wonderful. And a new thing as of yesterday, she went to sleep in a part of the house away from her boy and me. The separation anxiety is apparently diminishing. Prior to yesterday she'd been sleeping on someone's feet so this was a huge improvement.

Not that it's all champagne and flowers living with Finna now but she's come a long long way. She still wants to bark and growl when she unexpectedly sees people getting into and out of their cars and she barks and growls at anyone walking on the street. I notice though that if we can warn her that it's coming the barking is much less so we're extra aware of people out and about. I'm hoping that doing this is going to help her understand that she can trust us to keep her safe and early indications, less barking and growling if we warn her, are that it does.

She still tends to bark and growl at my husband and she won't let him touch her. I've had to laugh at her though as some of her behavior is so contradictory as it relates to him. He'll come home from work and she'll bark and bark at him then sit politely and wait for him to give her treats. And when he's petting Ranger she'll go over and intently watch what is happening and run her nose up and down his arms. Ranger adores my husband and considers him the easiest family member to train so he's always pleased and delighted to have Dad come home. Dad will give Ranger lots and lots of loving and attention. Watching Finna I think she'd like to get in on that loving and attention but that in her previous life the man was the unpredictable disciplinarian and she can't quite bring herself to believe that this new man isn't going to be like that. It's funny watching how intently she studies Ranger getting pets from Dad it's like she's waiting to see my husband go crazy and start screaming or something. Interestingly, when we're out for walks and Ranger solicits petting from men Finna will hesitate then push her way in to get her fair share. It's the man in her house that she's reluctant to trust.

I love my husband. I know it can't be easy being greeted by barking and carrying on and that it is frustrating to have an animal living with us that he can't touch but he's been wonderful. He responds to Finna's barking with a mild "And Hello to you too, Finna" and treats her don't touch me attitude calmly  asking her when she's watching Ranger getting love if she wants some too and reaching slowly toward her so that she has plenty of time to shy away. When she does he simply returns his attention to loving on Ranger. One of these days she's going to take a chance and let him touch her and after that there'll be no looking back.

Finna still doesn't have much in the way of manners and her out of control greetings when we get back are not any fun. She's started a new thing that we are working hard to put a stop to; when I come down in the morning to take her for her morning walk and potty break she's started nipping at my clothes. I think in part it is related to the play behavior she engages in with Ranger--grabbing at his fur--and in part herding instincts trying to drive me out the door faster. The only time she's come even close to getting me was the morning I was settling my arm into my coat sleeve just as she grabbed it and I ended up elbowing her in the mouth. Clothes nipping isn't appropriate though and we're working on eliminating it so now my clothes have feelings and if she nips them I cry out with high pitched yelps. She's getting it. And her desire/need to have my hand in her mouth is steadily decreasing.

Ranger is putting up with a lot still as Finna continues to be quite rude and pushy with him. She resource guards chews and desirable spaces when he's around. And she shoves him out of the way to get out the door first. Ranger is amazingly tolerant with her. I do notice that he's begun enforcing expectations of polite behavior more and more and that her resource guarding is diminishing. I've been entertained by Ranger's reactions to her resource guarding behavior. He rolls his eyes and walks away with a look of disbelief; if he was human  I imagine he'd be shaking his head and muttering about how he doesn't want her stupid treats he just wants to go to his comfy place. Ranger does, however, take chews that she is not guarding outside and bury them. I wonder if he's stashing them for his own later use or just removing things that inspire her to behave badly. Or maybe it's both.

Finna is surprisingly good with the cats. The Great Catsby regards her as his personal plaything and Meowzart, the older cat that does NOT do dogs, is actually being seen in the main part of the house again. It took almost six months before he was willing to be in the main part of the house if Ranger was inside when Ranger came to live with us. Finna and Catsby get a bit rough with each other sometimes so I like to supervise their play and make sure it stays play. Still it can be quite entertaining watching Catsby rolling on his back as Finna stands above him trying to poke her nose into his belly before he can slap her head away with his paws. Or their newest game that I'm less happy about where Catsby tries to claw Finna's tongue before she can nip his paws. They're both very relaxed about it but it still looks like tempting fate to me so I usually try to redirect that one.

Finna loves to chew but she confines her chewing to legal chews. In the first few months after we adopted him Ranger ate the only decent piece of furniture we owned. So far Finna has not been very destructive, a new leash, the shoulder strap to my laptop case and the cord to my son's netbook are the only casualties of her teeth. I'm hoping that remains the case. She's death on soft toys but despite the fact that the dog toys are all in an old canning kettle readily available the only ones she's destroyed were the ones she was given to play with.

Having a consistent set of parameters within which to act has made a big difference for Finna. And, all credit to my son, he's done a fabulous job of setting specific goals for her and working toward them. His first month's goals were 1) a reduction in barking and growling on walks (reduced but not eliminated), 2) elimination of barking and growling in the house (again, reduced but not eliminated), 3) teaching her to sit (accomplished), 4) teaching her to come when called (accomplished), and 5) teaching her to fetch (accomplished indoors needs work outdoors). His December goals for his dog 1) Continue to reduce/eliminate barking and growling indoors and out, 2) continue to practice and perfect sit, come and fetch, 3) teach walking on a loose leash, 4) teach stay and 5) teach wait at door. I love the fact that he is setting clear goals and that at the end of the month he's able to look back and evaluate how successfully he's achieved them.

I'll end with one of my favorite Finna photos.

I love the way her black lips look almost like a painted clown smile. I keep referring to her black lipstick. I'm also amused by her heavy hand with the black eyeliner.