Wednesday, September 25, 2013

If You Were a Puppy Just Coming to Your New Home

I teach classes about dogs to kids K-3 and 4th-8th grades. Right now I'm teach a class I named Paging Dr. Dolittle. I'm pretty sure if I'd called it "Introduction to Animal Behavior" or "Beginning Behaviorism" my classroom would be empty but give it a fun sounding name and you can teach introductory animal behavior and beginning behaviorism in a full classroom. My goal in this class is to have kids think about the way we treat dogs and about how we interact with our dogs. It's my small contribution to improving the lot of pet dogs.

In class today we did what I found to be a really fascinating exercise. I asked my students, 9, 10, and 11 year olds for the most part, to imagine they were new puppies I'd just adopted and brought home. We repeated this exercise three times with three different scenarios.

In the first exercise I welcomed them in a neutral manner, provided no direction and ignored them for the next several minutes. Some students tried to engage me with questions, some sat quietly waiting for me to pay attention to them, some engaged each other in conversation and ignored me. At the conclusion I asked them how they'd feel about joining a house like that. The response was that it's very unsettling not to know what's expected, that they didn't like the complete lack of feedback.

In the second exercise I welcomed them in a brusque manner ordering them into their seats and giving them a firm "no" and rattle of the pencil box for any noise or wiggling. Some students froze, some leaned back in their chairs away from me and a few leaned forward across the table and misbehaved more and more. One girl, that I know to be extremely bright and confident, cowered in a corner. At the end of the exercise the students all told me how much they didn't like the noise and being corrected all the time. The ones that had escalated their misbehavior told me they'd wanted to push me into stopping what I was doing and that if I was going to correct them all the time they were going to fight back.

For the third exercise I welcomed the students in a friendly manner and encouraged them to sit in their seats. Sitting quietly and giving me eye contact was marked with a clicker and rewarded with an M&M. All the students sat quietly, leaning slightly forward in eager engagement. At the end of the exercise most of the students didn't know the entire criteria for what I was rewarding but they all knew sitting quietly was part of it. They all enjoyed the experience and liked that they were given positive, enjoyable feedback to help them figure out what to do.

I don't think anyone will be surprised to learn that the students unanimously preferred the third exercise. I love working with kids these ages. They're young enough that playing let's pretend is still interesting and old enough not to become too identified with who they are pretending to be. My bright, confident, young lady who cowered in the corner articulated her choice as "If I was a puppy and kept getting scolded, I'd feel like hiding in a corner and never doing anything."

It was an interesting class, in addition to the exercises we talked a lot about dog behavior, how to politely meet a dog, and what motivates dogs. We covered why dogs are often more leery of men, taller, looming, weight carried forward, and deep (growly) voices. We touched on why dogs bark, and jump on people--because it works they get what they want. And the kids were fascinated by the idea that I'd learned something new recently about dogs. When I explained that I'd learned that you have to ask both the person with the dog and the dog for permission the kids immediately grasped the idea. People don't always know how their dog is feeling or remember that the dog might not be feeling social right then so you ask the person and if they say it's OK you ask the dog by turning to the side and crouching down. If the dog wants to socialize with you the dog will approach if the dog doesn't want to socialize or be petted the dog will not approach. And over and over again we discussed the fact that dogs are going to repeat behavior that worked. The Chihuahua that jumps up on people to get attention is going to continue to jump on people. The St. Bernard that barks until he gets dinner is going to keep barking for his dinner. If it works the dog will keep doing it.

I'm going to really enjoy teaching this class.

Finna has finally learned how to cuddle. Here I am on the futon petting both dogs.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Dogs are Dumb Animals, Right?

Let's begin today's tale with the fact that I am a very intelligent woman. I have a doctorate in Political Science, I'm a teacher, I'm widely read on a variety of subjects including dogs and dog training. When I'm working with my dogs I try to plan and anticipate potential pitfalls and I pride myself on how successful I am. Successful that is until it came to Finna having knee surgery on her right hind.

When Finna first came up lame we tried restricting her activities but this wasn't a very successful strategy. Have I mentioned that this dog has enough drive for an entire fleet of Lamborghinis? Realizing that the solution was likely to involve surgery and  a long recovery time I started planning what we'd need to make this successful. First, Finna was going to need a strong crate. We'd been building her a crate out of plywood and it was clearly the new priority to completely finish it. We added the doors and a sturdy sliding bolt to secure the crate closed. Bolting the doors shut I grabbed them and gave them a powerful yank; a little bit of movement but the hinges and bolt hold. Good, she can be secured now to teach her to be comfortable closed inside. It's hot so we move her waterbed inside and we practice locking her in her crate for increasing lengths of time. She's very happy secured in her crate while life goes on around the house but we also need to be able to secure her in one room.

Open plan houses are more of a challenge when it comes to blocking off one room but two free standing puppy gate look like they'll do the trick. Part of the opening between the living room and the atrium is already blocked off by a bookcase and backed onto the bookcase is a computer desk, slide one end of a gate into the space between the bookcase and the desk and it's pretty well secured. Place the end of the other gate between the wall and the tall CD tower, overlap the gates in the middle and Finna is limited to one room.

We'd been giving her anti-inflammatories and pain medication since her first instance of lameness and while it had taken a bit of experimenting to figure out how best to give Finna pills we'd found that rolling the pill in chunky peanut butter worked great. The chunky texture disguised the shape of the pill and she'd gulp it right down. She was comfortable in her crate even with the doors closed. She accepted the puppy gates and stayed in the living room. We'd figured out how to successfully give her pills. We were as ready as we'd ever be and her leg wasn't getting better. Surgery was scheduled.

Finna is not a good or safe patient. She was raised by animal hoarders and never handled or socialized but everyone involved knew and understood her issues and the surgery went smoothly. In fact her veterinarian thinking about what a high drive dog she is opted for a double run of suture material to replace the badly damaged cruciate ligament. Still she did pretty well with the surgical prep, great during surgery, and when the vet's office called the report was that she was coming out of the anesthetic well and I could pick her up in a couple hours.

It should have been a warning when I went to pick her up and she'd already managed to remove the plastic cone. She was still groggy enough that she was having trouble with her coordination but she'd managed to get rid of the cone. Still, I'd known she wouldn't like the cone and had supplied myself with an inflatable cloud restrictive collar so I thought it was all going to be fine. Ha! Little did I know.

We brought her home and secured her in her crate where she snoozed away the rest of the day. After a short bathroom break and her dinner I attempted to give Finna the prescribed dose of pain medication. She was supposed to receive one and an half tablets twice daily. I wrapped the dose in chunky peanut butter and Finna eagerly gulped the resultant glob off my finger. Then she casually spit out the whole tablet onto the floor. I wrapped it in more peanut butter and Finna looked at me like I was crazy and limped back into her crate and flopped down. I threw away the pill and peanut butter, debated trying to find something else to package the pill but opted instead to just secure her for the night and head upstairs to bed.

Finna didn't want to be secured for the night; she barked, she whined, she cried, she pawed the crate and I huddled in my bed hoping and praying she'd settle down and go to sleep. I wasn't one of those mother's that let their child cry it out and listening to my dog carry on I remembered why I'd never been able to go that route. Then suddenly all was quiet either she'd finally settled or one of the children hadn't been able to stand it anymore and released her. I considered going to see which but if it was the former I'd only set her off again and if the latter, well, both kids, 14 and 20, were responsible enough that they wouldn't leave her alone to roam the house.

The next morning I came downstairs to discover Finna asleep on the couch. Less than 24 hours after surgery my dog that is supposed to be on restricted mobility is found to have been roaming the house and jumping onto furniture. When I questioned the kids both denied having released Finna, puzzled, I gave Finna a potty break, fed her breakfast and attempted to dose her with pain meds. She consented to take the whole tablet this time but spit the half back out. OK, I thought, I get the message, the whole dose is too much. I put Finna back in her crate and watched in astonishment as she leaned on first one side of the french doors and then on the other, back and forth. As she did this I could see the sliding bolt gradually loosing contact with the piece it slides into. The mystery of who let Finna out in the night was solved; she'd done it herself. OK, new plan, smaller doses of medication and opening the futon out so that family members could take it in turn sleeping with Finna and putting up the puppy gates so she couldn't roam the house.

The puppy gates worked great, right up until the moment Finna heard something that needed her to investigate immediately. She tore through the wooden puppy gates like they were tissue paper, raced down the hall, and bounded onto the couch where she danced up and down barking wildly. That night she refused to take her pain meds in any amount no matter what I tried. Next morning she still wouldn't take her pain medications. She wasn't having any objections to taking her post surgery antibiotic or anti-inflammatory but no way would she take the pain meds. I called the vet's office and explained the situation including my feeling that it wasn't pain that the was the issue that the issue was her incredible drive. The vet concurred and prescribe a sedative to be used for the next ten days. She took her first dose of sedative without complaint but was so groggy and unstable that I was afraid she'd hurt herself falling on something. I reduced the dose and for 48 blissful hours Finna was calm and spent most of her time sleeping on the futon. Then she decided she was done with sedatives and on a potty break outside did her best to chase a squirrel up a tree. She only made it about a foot off the ground but I really did not need my recovering dog climbing trees at all. I hit the exotic foods aisle of the local World Market and brought home every type of pate they carried. At bedtime she took her sedative in lobster pate. In the morning she wouldn't touch lobster pate but agreed to consume liver pate. Liver wasn't acceptable at bedtime but tuna pate suited. Next morning pate was not acceptable in any flavor or form. But I had a brilliant idea, chunks of hot dog! This will work, I thought, I have a plan. We cut up a hot dog and I carefully selected a piece and tossed it to her; I was going to set up a rhythm, tossing chunks of hot dog without medication in them until she was used to just gulping them down then I'd stuff her sedative in one and she'd gulp it down. I tossed, she caught it and carefully bit it in half, dropped it on the ground and scrutinized it for pills. None found she gulped it down. I tossed another bit, she again caught it neatly, bit it in half, dropped it on the ground and checked it for pills before eating it. So much for that plan. The next thing I tried was grinding the pills and adding them to meals. That worked for several days until someone got sloppy and just put the pill in whole. She didn't eat that one but Ranger did. That's when we discovered that a sedative dose that is barely enough to take the edge off of 50 lb Finna is enough to completely knock a 90 lb Ranger out. In fact it took him down so fast that we actually called the emergency vet who had us bring him in. That was a comedy of its own but the upshot was that Ranger had a really good night's sleep and when the emergency vet's office was done laughing they didn't charge us for the visit.

Finna stopped taking sedatives, my husband rebuilt the puppy gates, and I added additional sliding bolts to Finna's crate. She continues to mend; her leg gets stronger everyday. We restrict her exercise where we can but I've resigned myself to the knowledge that Finna's recovery period will be far less than textbook. And now when people say "dogs are just dumb animals" I shake my head in disbelief thinking, if only they knew.

Finna thought it was all a great joke, including when we had to add a soft cone on top of her cloud collar because she figured out a way to reach her incision with just the cloud collar.