Friday, September 14, 2012

Even Well Trained Dogs

In a lot of ways Ranger is like another grown child in my family. He respects the rules: he isn't a teenager who wants to test them or a toddler who is figuring them out and looking for boundaries. If Ranger thinks I'm wrong he'll tell me so very clearly but he'll still defer to me if I insist. I trust Ranger to behave as an adult. I don't think twice about leaving him alone with food that he's not supposed to eat. He has adult-like self-control.

Finna is very much the toddler, into everything, figuring out where the boundaries are, testing them. I don't trust her any further than I would any toddler. With Finna I'm careful to never leave her alone with food that she shouldn't eat. If there's anything tasty left within her reach I anticipate that she will eat it. She has virtually no self-control especially around anything as valuable as food.

This has been a rather crazy week at my house. Tuesday morning my husband called moments after he left for work to say his car had died. The timing belt had broken, fortunately it's a Toyota so all that happens is that the car ceases to function; the engine remains intact. A visit with the mechanic later we learned that his elderly Celica needed parts that would have to be special ordered. We were going to be down to one car for most of the week. Wednesday I got up and took Finna out for some play time as usual but instead of being able to come inside and have a nice breakfast I brought her in and hopped in the car to drive my husband to work. By the time I'd dropped him off I was starving so pulled into a McDonald's drive through and got a sausage McMuffin and a couple of hashbrowns. I'd eaten the hashbrowns by the time I got home but hadn't eaten the sausage muffin yet. Wednesday is also the day the dairy delivers to our house. I parked the car, grabbed the rest of my breakfast and a couple half gallons of milk. I brought those in through the gate and set them on the porch and went back to get the rest of the dairy delivery. Ranger was in the yard but he doesn't go out the gate without permission and he doesn't take food he hasn't been given. Two more trips with more items from the dairy and I could close the gate and start taking things inside. I picked up milk, opened the door and Finna dashed outside immediately sticking her nose into my McDonald's bag. I growled a leave it to which she obediently abandoned the bag and followed me inside.

When I came back out for the second load I had to laugh. Ranger was in the middle of the yard with the McDonald's bag lying abandoned beside him and the sausage muffin carefully unwrapped between his paws. Before I could even open my mouth to say anything one side of the muffin and the sausage had disappeared in a gulp. As Finna ran to see what Ranger had the other half of the muffin similarly vanished. Ranger, being a dog and not the adult child that I sometimes consider him, had fixed things so that Finna couldn't get the sausage muffin I'd forbidden her. He was very satisfied with himself and I found something else to have for the rest of my breakfast. Dogs, gotta love them.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ten Month Finnaversary: The Saga Continues

We continue to make slow step by step progress in our efforts to rehabilitate this severely damaged dog we've named Finna. Before our most recent lesson the trainer and I amused ourselves by speculating on the various high strung breeds that went into Finna's mix. Finna's paperwork says she's half GSD and half Corgi but we decided there's probably Cattle Dog, Belgian Malinois, JRT, and Border Collie in there as well. We agreed that Finna is certainly crazy enough to be all of those mixed into one high strung petite package of issues.

Everything we've been able to expose Finna to she takes in stride. Vacuuming withing a few inches of her, using power tools within feet of her, bicycle pumps, etc. are not a problem for Finna. Things about which she had formed an opinion before she came to live with us are a problem. That tells me that if we'd raised Finna from a puppy she'd be an awesome dog but being raised in an inconsistent environment by animal hoarders she's a dog with massive issues.

I learned something important at our last lesson. My previous experience in training a dog is not a good guide for training Finna. Training Ranger is a hugely different experience than training Finna. We adopted both dogs at about a year of age from the Kitsap Humane Society. They are both very smart herding breeds/mixes. But that's where the similarities end. Ranger came from a great beginning with lots of socialization and positive experiences. He learned early on that it was possible to affect his environment to create positive outcomes and that people are partners. Finna learned that what she most wanted was to keep scary people and things away from her and that that was the best outcome she could hope for in her efforts at affecting her environment.  Ranger came to us predisposed to working in partnership and relying on me to give him clues about what I wanted. Telling Ranger "no, that's not the behavior I'm looking for" was useful for Ranger. Finna has no understanding that it's possible to be partners and that my feedback has any value. Finna needs to figure out everything for herself. I can reward success but I can't offer any other feedback. If I want Finna to down from her sit and she stands up instead; telling her "no" isn't helping her. Taking a step back and starting over is the only help I can give her. Please, note when I say telling Ranger or Finna no I am not talking about screaming or shouting at them I'm talking about a conversational tone indicating that the behavior offered was not the one requested. Ranger can be coached in this way and he understands that I'm helping him decode the requested behavior. Finna needs to work it out for herself.

All dogs require patience when training them but in Finna's case it will need to be endless patience. There was a Dogster blog awhile back that summed it up especially well. The subject was why clicker training would be a ratings disaster on TV. You can find the article here. The author described in the article about helping his dog learn to focus everywhere.  They went out to a field with interesting smells and tied the dog's long line to a tree. The trainer set down and watched his dog sniff around for 8 minutes before the dog checked in. Clicked and rewarded. Dog sniffed around for another six minutes then checked in again before being clicked and rewarded. Eventually the dog was focused on the trainer and they moved to another spot in the field and started over. It isn't exciting but the dog learns to figure it out and what it is that gets rewards, in this case focused attention. This is what I need to be doing for Finna, I need to give her as much time as she needs to offer me the behavior I want. Coaxing her or otherwise trying to short cut the process isn't doing her any favors.

Another thing we need to be working on is making Finna feel completely safe in her house even when Dad is home. She feels pretty safe with me and the children but much less so when Dad is home. We don't know why she often feels unsafe with him around. It might be the way my husband moves, some studies have shown that men carry their weight forward as if they are about to suddenly lunge forward which is going to feel more threatening to dogs especially dogs like Finna. It's also possible that Finna is reacting to the extra testosterone he has compared to anyone else in the family--Finna can smell that very easily. Or it could be that her previous life taught her that men cannot be trusted, that they are unpredictable and inconsistent--imagine if you are rewarded for jumping up and solicit petting but the next time you do it you're grabbed and thrown on your back on the ground and the same person that was petting you for jumping up before is now holding you down and yelling in your face; would you know how to behave or would you start to be afraid of that person and maybe generalize it to all people of that type? I know that back in the days when I was in college and built like a barbie doll it didn't take me long to reach the point where I crossed the street to avoid walking near construction sites. In my world at that time construction workers were sources of discomfort; I didn't enjoy the catcalls, wolf whistles and multiple propositions. Having passed my half century mark and broadened into more of an Earth Mother shape I no longer cross streets to avoid construction sites; I no longer get the same reaction I did as a twenty-something babe. Maybe time will help lessen Finna's fear of men. Meanwhile, I'll be thinking about ways to help Finna feel safe when Dad is home. Feeling safe in your own house should be a fundamental expectation for everyone two footed or four footed.

I notice this blog entry has been more focused on the problems of life with Finna. It isn't all bad. In fact our last lesson with our Trainer turned out to be the best yet. Finna was able to exhibit a new behavior that we'd worked on a little bit at home a few months back and touch my hand. She was able to sit and actually offered sits and watches in an effort to get treats. And Finna was able to down even with the Trainer sitting in the room. It was really heartening; Finna was acting like a real dog and not like a Finna dog. She was focused, paying attention and giving me the behaviors I asked for. She wasn't stressed out and over threshold. Shade, our Trainer, and I were both delighted with how well Finna did! There's hope for our psycho bitch yet. Maybe someday, I'll be writing blogs about Finna our super bitch instead of calling her psycho bitch. But that day is a long ways off. In the meantime we'll celebrate our tiny victories and be proud of any advance. That's life with Finna.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Wish for All Dogs

I hope you can read this. I had to make it small enough to fit within the text space and that made the text in the image a bit small. I found it in my Facebook newsfeed one day and I loved it. It captures exactly my wish for all dogs but especially for my fearful Finna. Here, is the place where she will be part of a family and where she will be safe and loved. We will not abandon her just because she's much more of a challenge than we anticipated. Here she will be taught patiently, kindly, and lovingly what she needs to know to be the best dog that she can be. Here she will belong and she will be home.