My Cautious Canine #2 | Training on-the-go

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A lot of people with reactive dogs feel as though they have limited options when it comes to traveling with their furry friends.

-No busy cities or tourist spots

-No public stays such as hotels

-No way am I taking my dog on “vacation” when time away from home with them is anything but relaxing.

But the one thing I’ve been pretty diligent about is making sure I include Rufus in as many activities as possible, which has included his fair share of trips and vacations.

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Over the weekend, we took Rufus out of town with us. I knew this would be a great opportunity to work on his reactivity. And with the right tools, it was pretty stress-free.

We stayed in a very pet-friendly hotel. And because they were so accommodating, we actually had a personal entrance so that we wouldn’t have to walk through the main lobby. However, we did run into other dog owners and I’m proud to report this dude did pretty well with all of our encounters.

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My two tools:

  1. Lots of treats
  2. Head halter/gentle leader

That’s it. It has been years since I’ve used the head collar on him and wow! I can’t believe how wonderfully it worked this time around. Having control at that level made it so easy to get his attention and gently correct him when he was getting too excited. It was kind of like magic. Honestly, I feel silly that I waited so long to try this again. It’s a total game changer! He was calm, relaxed, and willing to work the entire weekend.

And at the end of every day, he was pooped. He wasn’t sweatin’ it.

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I know I’m lucky that Rufus is incredibly motivated by food. He will LITERALLY do anything for a nibble. It makes life and training so much easier.

And while we still have a long way to go, I have to say that I couldn’t have asked for more from this amazing dude. I love traveling with him and he made our trip so much more memorable. After all, he is my best friend.

Good boy, Rufus.

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The Cautious Canine | A Revisit #1

There are a lot of reasons why we as dog owners/parents/caretakers sometimes allow ourselves to slack on training.

Sometimes life gets hard or hectic.

Sometime we get lazy.

Sometimes we work with other dogs all day and we forget we have a project pup at home…:cough: 

Sometimes it’s easier to avoid our dog’s obstacles and triggers than it is to keep it up with hard work and consistency.

For whatever reason, sometimes we mess up. And while that’s completely fine in some behavioral cases, it really isn’t for Rufus.

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I know he looks smug and confident, but he’s really a total wuss.

This dude thrives on repetition and positive association.

So after a few incidents in which I found myself avoiding situations or completely shocked by Ru’s reaction to a trigger, I decided to dust off the old “dog behavior” book pile and strap on the treat pouch. Time to get back to work.

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The Cautious Canine outlines the most straight-forward approach to correcting unwanted behaviors rooted in fear. And for the most part, Ru’s behavioral quirks (to put it nicely…) are all rooted in fear. It’s a subtle fear, but it’s definitely there…

Here are our baby steps:

  1. Keep him a safe distance from his triggers and reward him for being brave and calm in those situations. In this case, that means FEED HIM ALLLL THE TREATS!
  2. Be consistent.
  3. Slowly shorten the distance from said triggers while continuing to build up his confidence and reward him for his progress.
  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat. 

 

It doesn’t seem like much, but it works! I plan on making this a mini-series and keeping all of you out there up to date on Ru-man’s progress. I hope you like this kind of stuff as much as I do. Dog behavior nerds unite!

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Happy Healthy Dogs<3 

 

 

 

A Good Dog | When a Fearful Dog Succeeds

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What makes a dog good?

I’ve written a lot about Ru’s behavioral quirks and obstacles and I’ve been really honest about how I try my hardest to work through and around them so that he can have as many enriching experiences as possible while also always being mindful of his boundaries.

We had a visitor this weekend. This person is someone that Rufus hasn’t been around in almost four years and even when he was around her back in Illinois, they met less than a handful of times. And even though I was super excited to spend time with her for a long weekend, I was a bit nervous about how Ru would take to a stranger (one that isn’t necessarily a “dog person”) staying in his house for several days. But! I didn’t let nerves deter me. I took the steps needed to make him comfortable and to set him up for success.

So what’d we do?

1.We met our guest outside. We took a mini walk in which no one interacted with each other. We just walked and talked and let Rufus sniff and get into his happy zone.

2.Then we walked inside and kept the mood neutral. She said “hello” to him but did not reach down to pet him. We put her stuff away, handed her some treats, and sat down to visit.

3.She fed Rufus treats as we praised him in our highest “dog mom” voices for being neutral. He licked her hand. Success!!

The rest of the visit was perfect. He would go up to her for a good neck scratch and then come back to me. He followed me around a lot more than usual, but he wasn’t fearful….just a little unsure.

Nothing happened. He didn’t “bond” with her but he also didn’t dislike her in the slightest. It went as perfectly as I could’ve hoped for.

A lot of people (especially those that aren’t completely nerdy over canines) expect a dog to WANT the attention. They expect to meet a dog that is incredibly friendly, excited to meet every single person ever, and that you can easily reach down to pet no matter who you are or where you are. That’s not Rufus. And honestly…that’s not a lot of dogs, now, is it?

Rufus will never be happy-go-lucky in the traditional sense, but I’m more than ok with that. I just want him to be comfortable and content when life hands him a curveball. Through tiny baby steps, he’s shown me that he is willing to do the work and I love that about him.

Rufus is a good dog because he’s mine. I take responsibility for him and I do my best to push him through those rough moments without forcing anything. Our bond is stronger because of these moments and I’m so happy to have him by my side.

My heart dog. 

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The Dog Goes | How to Travel with a Fearful Dog

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For anyone out there that knows about the anxiety that comes with loving a reactive or fearful dog, know that you are absolutely not alone. And your dog doesn’t have to be either…

I know that the easy solution can be to just leave your dog at home, but that may not be what’s best for you or your dog.

Rufus has some special needs when it comes to making him happy. While he is weary and often indifferent towards new people, he absolutely loves being with me and he loves exploring new places. Heavy foot traffic and city buzz doesn’t seem to affect him in the slightest. But a stranger bending down to give him attention? Well, that’s just not his cup of tea.

Taking him to new hiking spots is one thing. There is usually little to no human interaction and wide open spaces are a breeze. But sometimes we travel for longer periods, which means staying in hotels and exploring new cities and local parks full of people. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past several years about keeping Rufus comfortable:

  1. Keep him close. When navigating a new city, I keep Rufus close to my side. While I have a tendency to allow him to lead (without pulling) during our neighborhood walks at home, this just isn’t acceptable in new places. He seems to find comfort in letting me lead and I find comfort in knowing a person will have to approach me first before they reach for my dog.
  2. Keep him busy. If for whatever reason we need to stop somewhere and rest or eat, I make sure to keep Ru busy so that he’s not overwhelmed with obsessing over the people around him. I bring treats, keep him in long “sits” and “stays”, and interact with him constantly. It may make things a little less low-key for me but as long as he’s at ease, it’s worth it.
  3. Praise, Praise, Praise. No calm or obedient moment goes unnoticed! When he’s calm, I praise him. When he’s enjoying himself, I praise him. When he’s just being a normal dog and not focusing on a group of people approaching, I praise him. And when he meets someone successfully, I have a freaking celebration! I may sound like a lunatic, but who cares? I am not above making baby noises in public if it means my dog gets that being a happy, balanced dude is the best thing in the world. No shame here, people.

 

Of course there’s never a one-size-fits-all approach to handling a pup with behavioral issues, but this keeps us happy. Just by being cautious and alert, I have made sure Rufus has as many experiences as possible. He absolutely loves going to as many places as possible with me and these little tips make that possible. Of course he’s improved so much since we adopted him, but the truth is that he will always be a little “quirky” when it comes to socializing. And as long as everyone is safe and educated, I’ve learned that I can work with whatever quirky curveballs he decides to throw at me. And it turns out this guy really loves to keep me on my toes…

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Reunited with one of his favorites after four years! 

Peace, Love and Naps.

Over the past year, I’ve started to meditate more regularly. And while it’s had a ton of benefits for my own busy mind, Rufus has come to enjoy these quiet moments just as much.

If I even attempt to meditate without him in the room, he will stand outside the door and do his little under-his-breath whine that always melts me into a puddle of goo.

So he joins me, often laying by my side and completely still. I don’t know if you can tell, but the dude really loves to get his OM on. And if that can happen while also basking in a sun spot? Well, he basically reaches nirvana.

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Does your dog join you in any relaxing or another of your favorite activities? Rufus obviously walks and hikes with me, but it kind of means a lot to me that he seems to sense how peaceful this practice makes me – it just continues to remind me how incredibly intuitive dogs are.

 

 

Hattie in a nutshell

Here’s what I have learned about Hattie in the 3 weeks that she’s been hanging out with us:

-She loves Rufus. OMG, the dude can do no wrong. What he sniffs, she sniffs. What he wants, she wants. What he loves, she loves. Such a fangirl.

-She loves all people…unless you are very still or crouching down menacingly. But once you approach her with open arms and a smile, she forgives you. This girl is all heart.

-She REALLY loves food. Hattie has only shown signs of food “aggression” once (and I use that term loosely). She was crated, enjoying her Kong stuffed with kibble when Rufus had the nerve to walk by to get to his toys. She lunged at the kennel door and let out a not-so- nice bark/growl. Before I even had time to correct her, she seemed to be shocked at her behavior and put her ears back,stepping away from her food until I gave her the ok to continue eating. It was a random moment but definitely something I will be keeping an eye on.

-She’s fast! This girl can run her butt off. There’s nothing like watching a dog run at full speed, ears flapping in the wind and tongue hanging out carelessly. It warms my heart to see her so carefree.

-She would fit in just about anywhere. This girl loves everyone and everything. Even when she gets spooked by a loud noise or object, she recovers quickly. Crated trained, house trained and affectionate without being too clingy, Hattie is pretty darn perfect. Especially for a young puppy. I really can’t say enough good things.

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Oh and she’s freaking adorable. I mean…duh.

 

The Elusive Well-Balanced Rescue Dog.

This may sound super bizarre, but I just don’t know how to handle a dog that actually loves people. And not just people, but strangers! It’s so foreign to me and frankly, I’m baffled.

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Of course I’m being dramatic but as someone who has exclusively fostered timid and weary dogs, Hattie’s personality is unchartered territory for me.

Growing up, all of our dogs were super friendly with people. But as soon as I got into rescue, I realized this was not always the case.

And the truth is that rescues are full of dogs that love everyone they meet! But after fostering a timid pup and training her to come out of her shell, my rescue in Chicago saw this as my strength and we mutually agreed that this would kind of be my specialty. I’m not complaining at all – I absolutely love seeing dogs flourish and become more confident. The experience of training a dog to become comfortable in not-so-comfortable situations was so incredibly rewarding.

But Hattie? Hattie doesn’t need this kind of training. The girl is pretty darn easy going.

Of course, this doesn’t mean our little monkey is perfect. She certainly has some issues to conquer, but having her already socialized with new people is kind of a breath of fresh air.

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So my goal? Keep Hattie social and confident. This is kind of a juggling act when I’m alone with both dogs, especially on walks and hikes. I worry about Ru’s weariness rubbing off on her unintentionally. Since she looks up to him so much, I get nervous about her reading his negative signals and starting to doubt herself. That would be a super bummer, guys.

As of right now, my solution is to only let her interact with dogs and people I know that Rufus also trusts. And when I have an extra set of arms (in the shape of a handsome boyfriend), I can give her more spontaneous interactions when we’re out and about. And who knows? Maybe her confidence and trusting nature will start to rub off on my troubled little man!

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Maybe.