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.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Happy Fourth Birthday Finna

Today is Finna's fourth birthday and I've been rereading the posts from the time we brought her home. Wow, has she ever come a long way. Three years into this adventure and I no longer recognize the dog we brought home. The Finna of today is a happy and generally relaxed dog. When she gets over threshold she can recover. At home she can make good choices and when she does make bad choices such as barking at the dog being walked down the street past our house she doesn't do it in a completely out of control and frenzied manner. I'm no longer terrified that she'll go over the fence after them. Don't get me wrong it's still reactive barking but when I walk up near her she remembers that she can go away from the fence back into the yard where the pressure of a strange dog that close to her territory is significantly lessened.

We're no longer seeing just flashes of sanity from Finna, today we see a dog that is sane 65-70% of the time. She still barks at Dad more than we would like but rather than running to him to confront him she'll bark sitting on the futon or from within her crate. Physically she's sound and her gait is smooth and confident. She actively solicits petting and massage of her lower back and hips rather than tolerating it for brief periods before getting overwhelmed and snapping.

Finna is no longer taking her Chinese herbs having reached a point where their support is no longer required. At a recent vet visit for a urinary tract infection she was soliciting attention from the techs and letting them pet her. She was sedated for her visit but 50mg of Acepromazine didn't do much more than take the edge off for her, she walked in and out under her own power. For contrast 25mg puts Ranger completely out, he's unable to stand under his own power much less walk.

Finna still has plenty of areas that need significant work and we're still working with our trainer on Behavior Adjustment Training but the improvement is pretty steady now. We're no longer seeing the two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, three steps back, three steps forward, one step back of the beginning. Progress might still be measured in millimeters but the progress is pretty steady.

She's not ready for prime time yet but give us another three years and see what we have then! It's a wild ride Finna but you're going to make it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Finna Progress Report

It's been awhile since I reported on Finna's progress. Mostly that's because it seemed like all we were doing was trying to keep her from re-injuring her knee yet again. Finna has so much drive that keeping her quiet so her knee could recover was a task in and of itself. Every time she'd be making progress she'd be climbing on the footstool and fall off, or she'd try to put too much weight on her bad leg trying to pivot  and wipe out, or ... But finally she seems to be making real and steady progress and each day she's a tiny bit closer to sound.

Now that she finally seems to be getting sound again she's getting to spend more and more time off leash outdoors. She's even playing fetch for a few minutes at a time several times a day. It's a good time to work on her reactivity issues. Since reading Karen Pryor's book "Reaching the Animal Mind" we've been using a lot of clicker training rather than the marker training we were doing before. The two are very similar in that both use a marker to indicate that the behavior is the one being rewarded. The difference is that in marker training the marker is verbal, we use the word "click" since it isn't a word we say any other time. Many people use "yes" but that's something I say too many times a day and in too many contexts for it to be of use for Finna. In clicker training the marker is a staccato click sound made by a little clicker device. In both types of training the marker is followed by a reward/reinforcement. Recent scientific evidence, however, has shown that dogs learn and retain the behaviors taught with either type of training but dogs trained with the clicker learn it about 40% faster. Look for Ranger to Recommend  this book soon.

Finna loves the clicker. And the day she discovered that the click could happen in any context was a banner day for her. Now she can try something and if she receives a click she knows it's something that will work to get her a reward, food or the ball thrown are the two used most often although we also use games of tug and anything else that Finna likes.

Finna has learned to handle a lot of the noise from the noisy neighbors but she's still very reactive to unusual noises, their two chocolate Labradors, and most especially when the neighbors yell at their dogs. We're working on having her look at me when she's worried about what's going on; she looks away from what she's about to react to, toward me, she gets a click and I throw the ball as far as I can. Finna is also reactive to things happening on the street despite the fact that our fence is well back from the edge of the road. And she is reactive to things happening next door; that house has been empty for about a year except for random visits from people checking on it.

Today was a real test of Finna's learning as the Chocolate Labs were out and their people were yelling at them, there were kids playing basketball across the street, and a three cars worth of people doing something next door. She went over threshold a few times but saying "Fizza, Ready?" was enough to remind her that there was another option and she'd run back to me, look at me, and wait for me to throw the ball again. The one time I was caught without a ball ready I threw a treat instead and that was almost as good in Finna's mind.

Finna still isn't a safe or sane dog but in tiny increments she is getting better and having the click to tell her "this behavior gets rewards" is helping a lot. It feels a lot better to know what to do and being rewarded for it as well makes it a choice that is getting easier for her to make.