Canine Good Citizen

Every now and then, I pull up the list of criteria for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen award. I have to be in a certain mood, wherein I’m willing to laugh at my very imperfect dog’s imperfections, rather than be annoyed by them. Today was a good candidate.

So, here are the parts we would fail (there are ten criteria):

1. Will your dog let someone come up and talk to you, without acting like a crazy? Nope. Not by a long shot. If Silas approves of said person, he wants to jump all over them. If he disapproves, he barks his head off.

2. Does your dog sit nicely to be petted? (Excuse me while I clean the coffee off my monitor.) Um, no. If–big if–Silas likes you, he will sit nicely, until you get distracted by how cute and sweet he is, and then he will LEAP with great joy. Alternatively, he will appear to be sitting nicely, when in actuality he is peeing on your shoes. I suspect the pee would get us kicked out of the test.

3. Does your dog walk on a loose leash? HAHAHAHAHAHA. No. For a while I thought Silas had the worst leash manners ever, then I worked with a rescue for a while. It gave me some useful perspective, but “loose” our leash is not.

4. Can your dog walk through a crowd or past strangers? You know, maybe. It seems like Silas’s fear of people diminishes when they aren’t paying him any attention. As long as no one startles him, he’d be okay. He might be able to handle the kind of artificial crowd that the test would have.

5. Can your dog meet another dog, in a walking-type situation, without getting too interested in the dog or its owner? In real life he can, but in the test you walk all the way up to the other owner and shake hands. Not sure. When Silas ran out the garage and met the lady walking her pug, he was very interested in the lady, but not the dog.

6. Can your dog stay with the evaluator for three minutes while you leave the room? I’m not sure about this one. Silas seems to go with the vet tech without causing any drama, but we don’t have much occasion to try this one.

So, out of the ten criteria, we could do probably four of them and might squeak by on one or two more. In real life, everywhere that I’ve seen do the test does it at the end of a six-week training class. If the class instructor is also the evaluator, there might even be a little hope. A little.

How about you guys? Any CGCs out there? Have you done the class? Or is your dog, like Silas, such a hopelessly bad citizen that you would never bother? Or such a desperately good citizen that you don’t need no stinking award?

Marvelous Monday: September 17

Today’s marvels:

Silas is still walking on the sidewalk! I’ve been afraid that he would go out a few times and then get spooked by something and stop going, but so far so good. We’ve even seen a few cars. No dogs, though. My neighbor with the Westies and I spotted each other around the corner (before the dogs did) and we started walking opposite directions so fast it was comical. Not that Silas minds dogs, but I don’t want another dog to mind him and scare him.

Now, there’s nothing dramatic and exiting about these walks. I’d guess we’re walking 100 yards. Max. Our walks go out the garage, around the corner, back in the front gate, across a little yard, and in the front door. Silas can’t (or won’t, whatever you want to call it) walk past the gate. But, he no longer darts under the gate at top speed; he’s willing to wait for me without being terrified.  So, yay!

Otherwise, we’ve been stumped by the weather, which has been unremittingly rainy, but I’m willing to call 88 degrees a Monday Marvel of its own.

House Training

This is a longer version of the story I tell people who wonder why we don’t have children. I am a short-tempered control freak, I tell them.

When Silas was a puppy, I read Ian Dunbar. I have a serious love/hate relationship with that man. After You Get Your Puppy made me crazy with its bizarre, perfectionist demands. I could talk about the coulda/woulda/shouldas of agreeing and disagreeing with Dunbar all day, but that’s for another time.

Like most puppy owners, the place Dunbar and I butted heads first was over house training. Dunbar tells you quite sternly that if the dog has an accident it is YOUR FAULT. Furthermore, every time you let the dog have an accident, the ultimate goal of reliable house training slips further and further away. A dog who pees in the house, Dunbar says, will do it forever.

I was home with Silas all day. I let him out constantly. I was so anxious, in fact, that Silas learned to fake-pee just so that he could get a cookie. Then I was afraid he had a bladder infection, since he was walking around the yard squatting and nothing was coming out.

After being on high alert all day, every day, when my husband came home I would gleefully turn Silas over to him. “Here! Make sure he doesn’t have an accident in the house!” And Silas did, every single day. My husband wasn’t as attuned to Silas’s little signals as I was, and there was dinner to get ready and stuff to do. Both of us assumed the other person was watching, etc. So, every day, sometime around 6:00, we had one accident. I could feel Ian Dunbar breathing down my neck about that one little puddle.

Until the day we had three accidents. My husband was out of town. For the first few days, we didn’t have any accidents at all. I felt a little smug. I knew it was all his fault. I guess I lost my vigilance a little after that, or Silas was trying a few last times just to make sure that I really, really meant he had to pee outside. So he went in front of the window, and I cleaned it up. Not long afterwards, he went in front of the fireplace, and I cleaned it up. Then he went in the kitchen. And I got really, really mad. To get to the kitchen he had to walk right past the door to go outside. It was the last straw. Oh, I was so mad. Completely, irrationally livid. I screamed at him, grabbed him up, and put him outside none too gently.

I left him outside for a long time, while I cleaned up his third mess in one day and cried.

With a very few exceptions, he never used the bathroom in the house again. I lost my temper at him a few times when he was little, but none of them stand out like the day when I threw all my principles out the window and screamed at my puppy for doing something he didn’t understand was wrong. And it worked. That’s what kills me, all this time later. It worked. I tell myself that the three-accidents-in-one-day was an extinction burst behavior, and that he would have been done after that anyway, but I can’t really, truly make myself believe it.

How does your garden grow?

Until we moved here, I had never lived in a house where I had both a yard (of any size) and control of that yard. So when we moved here, I was excited. I bought some books on container and small-space gardening, I made a list of plants that would thrive in my climate, and I bought a few flower pots. About the time that I would have planted said plants, I got Silas.

Now, our back yard isn’t much. We have a concrete patio, with a strip of dirt for landscaping that’s about 18 inches wide down two sides. The third side has our air conditioner. There’s a decently size area of dirt, but that side is inherently unattractive. The fourth side is paved all the way to the house. When we moved in, there were three of four small box elders, a few ornamental grasses, a magnolia tree, and some ferns of some kind. It was a garden much in need of improving.

Silas was quite happy to “improve” it. By pulling down the box elders, digging up the dirt (we strongly discourage this; nowadays he’ll go weeks without digging), eating the grass, and peeing on everything else. It’s a miracle that we have any plants out there at all. Those ferns are apparently sturdy, unappealing stuff. As an added bonus, he chewed the corners off the wooden patio chairs before we realized he was doing it.

So while I had a beautiful ideal that looked something like this:

The Dream Patio, Courtesy (of course) of Martha Stewart

(except with no lawn), the reality looks pretty pathetic.

I’m trying to come up with some workable, not too expensive ideas to improve things out there, but short of training Silas to use the bathroom in the storm drain, I’m not sure that anything will make it. Maybe it’s time to build a collection of tacky cement yard statues.

Do your dogs destroy the landscaping? Have you come up with any great solutions?

Landscaping Day

I’ve mentioned before that we live in a townhouse. In the “pros and cons” breakdown, “landscaping” goes firmly on both lists. On the one hand, I don’t have to do it myself. On the other hand, it gets done with a regularity and vigor that I think is really unnecessary.

Practically this means that every Tuesday afternoon the landscapers come, with a full range of power equipment.

Silas, as you can imagine, does not approve of Landscaping Day. It starts out with some generalized anxiety, as we can occasionally hear the work from the other end of the townhouses. Then it picks up in intensity as they get closer, until we have full on hysterical barking while they run the leaf blower near the door.

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What, me? Paranoid?

The one thing I try to be the most careful about with Silas is not to reinforce his inappropriate reactions. More importantly, I try not to let the environment reinforce his reactions. Barking dogs love to bark, because eventually the thing they’re barking at goes away. “Look what I did! I made that thing go away!” they think. “Barking is awesome!”

We’ve tried a few things to get around this phenomenon with the landscapers. There was some scolding (I never said I was perfect), there was some rewarding for being quiet, and then there was, finally, some throwing up of hands. It’s not like it’s a nuisance for my neighbors; they can’t hear him over the power equipment.

For the last month or so I’ve been doing something different, though, with a page straight out of classical counter-conditioning. Silas barks at the landscapers because he’s afraid of them. So, the second that they start running their machinery near our house, treats begin raining from the sky. Miraculously! We don’t use as much counter conditioning as you would think, with a dog like Silas, because he refuses to eat in 90% of the circumstances where it would be useful. In our own house he’s amenable.

The exact mechanism of treat delivery took a while to perfect. Silas’s special allergy treats are pricey, so I can’t be as willy-nilly with them as I would like. If I handed them to him, he would either 1) gobble them all up instantly or, if I moved more slowly, 2) have time to start reacting while I got another treat out. Instead, we go for the good-old scatter method. I toss three or four treats on the ground, in a small but not tiny area. I want him to take a few steps going from treat to treat, but not to lose sight of that yummy thing over there. The goal is to slow down the delivery, but to keep him feeling like he has an endless supply of goodies. By the time he eats the last treat, I have a new handful ready to go.

I wish I could say that we’d already seen a miraculous turnaround. We haven’t. But it’s less stressful for everyone this way, which is a very promising first step.

Would You?

A friend’s puppy was bitten by a rattlesnake this week. Everything is fine now, after a few scary days and a scary vet bill.

As she was going through this, the question of rattlesnake training came up. In the scenario outlined (note: I haven’t done my own research on this; I’m casually reporting hearsay) for rattlesnake training, a shock collar is used in a controlled exposure scenario to teach the dog to never approach a snake. The shock collar is run quite high; a second friend who had done the training said it was enough that the dogs cried out.

Which raises a question: would you do it? Would you deliberately hurt your dog (in reality, have someone else do it), just one time, to teach them to be afraid of something deadly? What chance of exposure would convince you?

With Silas’s temperament, I would have to say no. He’s so scared of so many things already that I would never deliberately add a phobia to his list. More importantly, with all punishment-based training, there’s a possibility that the dog will misunderstand the thing he’s supposed to become averse to. It would be devastating for us if Silas became even a little more afraid of strangers or being in new places.

If I had a sturdy, even-tempered dog, and we lived in a place where exposure was likely, I don’t know.

Marvelous Monday

I’ll never succeed at Wordless Wednesday, so I’m starting my own DIY theme day. Marvelous Monday, for celebrating all the little (and big) things. Hey, Monday needs all the help it can get.

First up, we won a blog award! Thank you very much for the award, Jodi. I’m sure you all read her already, but just in case: Jodi blogs her adventures with Sampson and Delilah in her shiny new space at Heart Like A Dog. If you haven’t updated your blog reader to her new address, you’re missing out!

Addictive Blog Award Badge

I’m supposed to

1. Thank the giver who has bestowed on us this award. (Of course!)
2. Link back to the blog who gave you the award. (Definitely!)
3. Talk about why I blog and why I started blogging. Which I guess I’ll answer here: I was making people in my life crazy talking about dog stuff all the time. I thought if I started a blog for the dog stuff, I could project some kind of non-dog “real life” on Facebook and Twitter. I was wrong. Also, I used to write a good bit professionally (goodbye, incredibly specialized career, hello, chronic unemployment), and I miss it.
4. Post the Award. (Done.)
5. Nominate 10 other bloggers for the award.

Now then, I’m new to this, and Jodi nominated most of the people in my blog roll, so I’ll stick with four, instead of ten:
Married with Dawgs, who kept me on tenterhooks last week with her dog-sitting emergency.
Of Pit Bulls and Patience. Parker and Skye are my new favorite big-little dog pair.
Spotty, Spotty Polkadotty. Who will be Blueberry’s new sibling? Gage, or Clutches? Or someone else all together?
and The Elka Almanac. Smart Elka is one of Silas’s role models.

Other marvels: Sidewalk walking is continuing apace! We’ve been out a couple of times. Silas even peed on a bush out there. (He has a shy bladder. It’s bad enough that we almost didn’t neuter him. When he was four months old, he held it for an entire 15 hour road trip, and then went in my mother’s kitchen floor. It was the first time she’d ever let a dog in her house.). The biggest marvel is that a car drove by while we were out on Saturday, and Silas didn’t run for his life. He didn’t like it, but he did okay.

Also, Silas met our neighbor and seemed happy about it. He knows and likes this neighbor, but he hasn’t seen her in a while. She’s usually out with her own dog, who can be a little territorial. Sometimes he forgets that he likes people. Every good encounter is good news for anxious boy, since it reinforces the idea that people are okay.

Episode Two: Revenge of the Hives

So, the hives are back.

Not the huge, quarter-sized hives, but a sprinkling of tiny hives all down Silas’s back. It started off with one or two. “Is that a hive?” we asked each other, “or just a bump?” Now it’s up to probably two dozen.

There are two likely scenarios, both fairly unpleasant.

1) Silas is allergic to ragweed. On Monday, our ragweed count per cubic meter of air was 6. On Wednesday, it was 68. 6 was “low,” 68 was “high,” according to the reporting service. Wednesday is when we started noticing the little maybe hives. Since then the local pollen collection data has been broken, but the prediction is for an upward trend to continue.

This is bad news for two reason. First, it sets a bad precedent for the rest of our year. That is, pollen season is basically year round here. If Silas is going to develop “year two” allergies, we may be in for a bad, bad year. Secondly, it would mean he’s getting small hives with the ragweed count less than 100. Last year we were in a drought so bad that thousands of trees died, and the ragweed numbers still hit four times that. Year before last, a “regular” year, the number got as high as 850. That’s in one day.

2) Silas is having a mild reaction to his antibiotic. He started a round of Simplicef on August 29. At the same time, he was taking Temaril, an antihistamine/steroid. Tuesday was his last dose of Temaril, and the hives appeared on Wednesday. It’s possible that the Temaril was masking an allergy to the Simplicef. Hives are one of the medicine’s potential side effects.

An allergy to Simplicef is bad because this is the very, very effective standard treatment for his skin infections. There’s also some data saying that people who react badly to cephalosporins may also be allergic to penicillin. I’m not sure if a similar study has been done in dogs.

Because it could be the antibiotic, I’m a little hesitant to give him an antihistamine. That is, I don’t want to mask the development of more serious symptoms. But, because he has a history of environmental allergies that cause this symptom, and there has been a corollary allergen spike, I’m not comfortable discontinuing his antibiotic without veterinary advice. I guess we’ll be back at the vet on Monday. Sigh.

Christmas Presents

We got our first Foster’s and Smith catalog with the Christmas costumes yesterday, so I feel free to mention the “C” word. We don’t dress Silas up for Christmas, but we do buy him gifts.

As a childless-by-choice couple, we don’t get to buy many “fun” gifts. My husband has one cousin, past the age of getting gifts from us, and my family is so big that we don’t buy gifts outside of the immediate family. Even my nephew is a teenager (!!) these days.

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Christmas 2011

So we buy presents for the dog. He doesn’t know it’s Christmas, but it’s a nice to have some low-stress, whimsical shopping. (I think half the presents Silas got last year were directly correlated to failures to shop for my mother-in-law.) As you can see in his action shot, he even opens them.

Do you buy presents for your dog? Do you already have plans for this year?

Training Goals: Week of September 7

I’ve been remiss on posting these. We finished obedience class, then went on vacation. Immediately after vacation Silas started taking a lot of medicines, and one of them turned him into a zombie. He barely wanted to play, much less to work. The last day of zombie meds was Tuesday, though, and he’s back to normal now.

Our temperatures are supposed to drop as much as ten degrees over the next week, to something more like a seasonal average.That means outside time!

Instead of really formal training goals, like working on our down-stay or somesuch, I’m wanting to do two things.

1) Give Silas more opportunities to choose to walk on the sidewalk. “Oh, look, the garage door is up, and you just happen to have your leash on. Whatever shall we do?” When we came back from vacation he insisted that we walk that way, so I’m hoping he’s still willing.

2) Try to do some training outdoors. One day last week he took a treat at the park. As far as I can remember this is the first time he’s ever done it. I’m not going to go so far as to ask for things, which is more pressure than I want him to feel right now. Instead I’m thinking of something like offering him a treat when he walks next to me. (Young, independent, anxious dog who refuses treats outdoors and doesn’t go on regular walks = very spotty leash manners.)