My Dog Molly: The Paradox

A girl's discovery about her dog and herself.


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10 things I love about you

Having a reactive dog can be a lot of work. It can be exhausting, frustrating, and heart breaking.

Knowing that exercise is critical for these dogs I walk Molly at least an hour and a half a day (often more) along with lots of play and training time. But while most people find walking their dogs relaxing I always have to remain aware of everything around me…aware but not ‘on guard’ as I don’t want her to feel that energy. And while most times she’s okay there is the occasional moment where all the training flies out the window and she’s regresses completely. It’s at those times I feel overwhelmed, scared, and…I hate this one…like I can’t do it anymore.

There have been a few moments where I’ve considered re-homing Molly, thinking there must be someone else better for her. But then she does something; something small and simple but it makes me love her even more. And while she’s been great lately I figured I need to keep those little things she does top of mind so I don’t feel like giving up again.

So here are 10 things I love about my girl Molly:

10. When she wants me to do something she will stand in front of me and stare with furrowed brow and ‘humph’…not bark, not whine, but ‘humph’.
9. How she nearly bounces out of her fur the moment I pick up the “chuck-it” and head toward the backyard.

8. Every time I give her a piece of cheese she performs every trick I taught her in such quick succession that she exhausts herself…and I haven’t even asked her to do anything yet.

7. Whenever we play soccer she always has to have a deflated ball in her mouth.

6. The way she latches on to my arm like a sloth holding a branch when I’m scratching her belly.

5. The sheer exuberance she shows when rolling around on a freshly mowed lawn.

4. When I come home and she’s laying on the floor with her bum and tail wiggling like mad.

3. The fact that she tolerates me ‘decorating’ her for special holidays.

2. How she loves to cuddle first thing in the morning or when she’s sleepy.

1. Her shiny black noes and loving eyes.

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i am rubber and you are glue…

For the last two weeks I got to enjoy family, friends, the ocean, seafood, hiking, and camping. The only thing missing was M. Because I had to fly for nine hours it was best that she stay at the kennel with people she knew and care about her. I try to tell myself she has fun there but she always comes back exhausted and longing for peace. This time she came back with kennel cough, or rather, Bordetella.

Yes, she was vaccinated but like the human flu vaccine it doesn’t protect against all strains. The owner of the kennel was upfront about the whole thing and already had the vet up to visit her and start antibiotics. She’s already on the mend but I can sense it is tiring her out a little. To sweeten the healing a little I’m also giving her some unpasteurized local honey to sooth the throat. She seems to like it.

We start back with the socialization training this week but instead of involving another dog and risking it getting infected we are just going to do a few walks and see how she interacts with the world. It’s a little less controlled but so too are our walks. And after last night’s walk I’m learning that sometimes people are more vicious than dogs.

Everything started out perfect. Molly was by my side the whole way just enjoying the world around her. Because of the heat I decided to take her on a lower pathway that was well sheltered by trees. I tend to avoid this path as it can make for some tight quarters should another dog come along and I don’t want to set M up for failure. But it was a quiet day and I thought I’d take my chances.

We were almost through the trail when I noticed a lovely little Boarder Collie coming towards us off leash…note…this is NOT an off leash area, I avoid those for M’s sake. I saw the owner and yelled out calmly, “my dog can be reactive, please call your dog back to you.” He didn’t respond so I yelled out again. Finally, he called his dog but she didn’t respond and kept coming towards us. It wasn’t until the dog was about five feet in front of us did M react, and not pleasantly. I proceeded to pull her into the shrubs and put myself between her and the approaching dog. Finally, the owner grabbed his dog’s collar and muttered something unintelligible. Frustrated I said to him, “You realize this is not an off leash park.”

Well, that set him off on a nasty, rude tangent calling me a variety of names and trying to insult me. Then he proceeded to say he was going to call the police because my dog should be muzzled. Now this confused me because I now had control over her and she was calmly sitting behind me as he continued to berate me with insults. I tried to engage him in an adult conversation but he seemed to only want to rant, yell, and scream obscenities. It was horrible. Even his dog was cowering…which concerned me especially if that interaction was indicative of his day-to-day temperament.

I did respond back to him and I’m not overly proud of it. Ideally I should have just moved on but I didn’t. I kept trying to get him to calm down and understand what I was trying to say but he would have none of it. Eventually, I did move on…shaken and upset that someone would behave that way. His words directed at me really didn’t hurt, I kept remembering that childhood rhyme “I am rubber and you are glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” What bothered me most was what he was saying about my dog–she handled herself extremely well in this scenario…better than he did!

All I can do is wonder what possesses a grown person to behave in such an awful manner. Perhaps I’m naive but maybe he was having a terrible time of things and I was his trigger and he now regrets his behaviour. One can only hope right?

In the meantime, my little girl is healing and playing quietly with her squirrels. 🙂

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it hurts me more than it hurts you

One of the pieces of advice Molly’s behaviourist, C., gave me was to kennel train Molly. I didn’t admit to her that when I got M she was familiar with the kennel and we used is for several of her first evenings and days she was with me. But she hated it. I had to pull and push her into the hard plastic container. So the idea of putting her through that didn’t appeal to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the need to kennel train a dog. I often see M. crawling in behind the sofa or into a dark tight corner to nap. The den concept rings true. But I’m a sucker for puppy eyes and the look she used to give me when I put her in that cage would break my heart.

Putting my own issues aside I went to my favourite pet store in the city and plunked down some cold hard cash for a new large cage-like kennel. Molly came to me with a kennel but it is one of those hard plastic-one-entrance-difficult-to-see-out-of contraptions. That wasn’t going to happen. I got M. a huge cage-like structure with two entrances. Then I bought a memory foam bed to lay at the bottom with several blankets. If I had to kennel her it was going to be in the lap of luxury.

Molly avoided the structure the first day it went up. Well, that’s not quite right. She sniffed around it and then turned to me with a skeptical look on her face and then turned and walked away. Then I started to only give her treats in the kennel. Leaving the gate open I’d tell her to “Go to your room”, have her lay down and then give her the threat. All to convince her it was a good place.

The “room” has been up for a week now and I’ve placed a blanket on the top of it so it’s more ‘den-like’. I haven’t been forcing her in, or locking the gate, but letting her explore it on her own. Then, last night, she walked into the room on her own, fluffed up the bed and blankets and lay down for a nap. I almost let out a ‘yelp’ of joy I was so proud but I’m trying not to make a big deal of it. This strategy seems to be working because she’s in there now sound asleep in her room on this rainy Sunday evening while I watch a special on Holyroodhouse, sipping tea, and sitting next to a cozy fire.

All is happy in my heart right now.

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A Walk In The Park

Today me and Molly took a walk in the park with her behavourist, C. Words can’t describe how nice it is to have someone see the potential in your reactive pup so much that she is willing to come for a walk with you once a week to assess your progress and give tips.

We talked a lot about the aggressive methods I was taught and why those haven’t worked with Molly–which helped me understand why we are where we are. And then there was much discussion about me setting more boundaries for her. This one is going to be interesting and tough. First up is getting her kennel trained. I can do it over several weeks but I have to create a safe place for Molly to retreat to when I need her to (i.e. when company comes over). I do have a big plastic kennel but I think I’m going to buy a cage one so she can at least see out easily.

Next, I’m to reduce the amount of space she has access to when I’m not home. Right now Molly has full range of the house when I’m gone. She claimed the sofa in the front early on as it provided a great view of the world out front. I am supposed to reclaim that space–she’s only allowed up when I let her. We’ve got that down pat throughout the rest of the house but that sofa…this one is going to be tricky.

Then, there are her toys. We normally keep her toys in one basket that she has access to. I’m supposed to move that basket up high. She’s only allowed access to her toys as a treat, not when she feels like playing.

This will be hard for me…I mean…how do you say no to this face?

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It’s all for the good though. And I feel good about this process.

Starting next week, we introduce Molly to one of C.’s boxers and begin socialization. Exciting! 


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Embracing Your True Self

When I first started going through training with Molly it was focused mostly on being the alpha, being the leader of her pack. The theory made sense to a point but what I struggled with was being blamed for my emotions…it was my emotions that were driving Molly to behave the way she does. And while I completely understand how emotions impact others I wasn’t convinced that’s all it was. Plus, my response to her misbehaviours was supposed to be aggressive. Hmmm…aggressive behaviour met with aggressive response…something seems wrong with that, at least for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen it work well for other dogs. Which is great. But maybe that’s because their human works that way. But when I look at my leadership style, at least with people, aggression doesn’t work–it just makes them negatively reactive, almost abused; so why should that work with dogs?

This isn’t going to be an easy process because I’ve now taught my reactive dog to be even more reactive. Which is not fair to her. I should have trusted my instincts more and sought out other behaviour-altering methods. My hope is that I’m not too late.

Later this week we are going for a walk with her behaviourist so she can see how Molly reacts and how I respond. There must be a balance.

On another note, there’s a chance that I may be moving to another province in the coming months and for M’s sake I hope I do. The area we’d be moving to is very dog friendly and open to alternative behaviour-modifying methods. Molly is trained, she is bright, and wise, and goofy…she can do tricks, she can walk beside me, she can heel. But her behaviour needs to shift. And the resources I have available to me here in the valley just won’t cut it.
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For both our sakes I hope this move happens.


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Shifting Behaviours

Last weekend Molly and I met with an animal behaviourist. Well, we’ve actually met her before but in the role of a groomer. It was only through conversations with her groomer, C., that I came to realize that she loves animals so much that she sought training in many animal therapy solutions. So, not only do I have someone who is already familiar with some of M.’s challenges and insecurities but she really wants to help. You have no idea how happy that makes me.

For our first season C. came to the house with one of her dogs to see how M. would respond. The intent was to leave her dog out on the front porch (sheltered and secure with lots of water) so Molly knew he was there but he wasn’t in her space…yet. This was all to see how M. responds. C. then came in and given that M. knew her she was all wiggly and happy. But then, as usual, gets so overwhelmed that she started to growl and snap. C. expected this and showed me how to correct her. This one may take some time though…tell her ‘no’ or ‘tsst’ sharply (sometimes with a small jab to collar bone area) then make her do something to obey me…like sit or lay down. It was the next part of the season that intrigued me most…when C. pulled out some jars.

We were going to try aromatherapy on my little girl. If you think about it, it makes sense. A dog’s sense of smell is so much greater than ours that they would be more susceptible to scent than we would–and just think of how some smells make you feel, like lavender or vanilla. C. then pulled out several viles and let M. sniff them in turn. Whichever ones she licked or tried to eat the air around them she marked down on a piece of paper; this was the selection process. Molly selected three in total: peppermint, yarrow, and nelori. Each of these are great for calming dogs and encouraging relaxation. For the peppermint I’m to put a drop in her water once a day. This will help the oil get into her system a little more directly plus help with digestion and doggie breath. 🙂 The other two I’m supposed to let her sniff which one she prefers at that moment, rub someone into my hands and let her sniff or lick (they’ve be diluted with 100% organic vegetable oil). We do this two or three times a day. Oh, and there’s a bottle of lavender oil…for me. 😀

Finally, I’m taking her off the correction/chain collar. Molly is fully trained and doesn’t need that anymore and we feel it may have been a negative reinforcement. There’s a chance she began to associate skateboards, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. with pain which just aggravates her more. So I bought her a Halti collar instead–one that gently pulls her head to the side when she lunges forward. We tried it today. She hates it and successfully pulled the harness off her nose. That’s when I found out the one I have is too big. But, after I got it back on her and took her for a walk she got used to…as long as I kept her focused.

I so enjoyed our little stroll with the halti so much that I called the vet right away when we got home and ordered the right size.

I’m excited by the shifting methods and hopes this modifies her/our behaviour. I feel more confident and secure with this approach. It has to work.

oes, oldenglishsheepdog, animal aromatherapy, halti

The tools to help me and Molly laid out for use while M takes a nap.


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Insecurities

We all have insecurities on some level; be it weight, height, hair colour, education, experience, whatever…we have them. I guess I never thought other animals would experience them as well. It makes sense that they do but we’re always taught not to ‘humanize’ animals so your mind just doesn’t go down that path. Recently, however, my mind was changed when an animal behaviouralist told me that my little puppy’s aggression is really tied to insecurity.

About a year and a half ago I was lucky enough to welcome a gorgeous 11 month old Old English Sheepdog/Boarder Collie mix into my life. When I first met her she had a different name but having only gotten a hint of the life she was living I decided that it had to be change…and thus on October 30, 2011 Miss Molly Sock Paw was born.

#oes #oldenglishsheepdog #fearaggression #dog

Taken Oct. 30, 2011 when I brought Miss M home for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t know much about Molly’s first 11 months other than she’d been living in a garage because she kept fighting with the family’s other (smaller) dog who was kept in the house. It was tough not to judge the family as this was a puppy so full of love and eager to make you smile. But, she is very high energy and incredibly smart…so you definitely need your wits about you.

For the first few months I thought I might be in over my head. While completely house trained and having only lost one pair of running shoes and two bras, she was a handful to walk. Not only was she a puller…she could make a play for the Iditarod…but she would go into full attack mode with any dog, squirrel, cat, bike, and most especially, skateboarder. A year in a half in we have the pulling under control (she mostly walks rights beside me now) but everything else is still a stressor.

I’ve worked a bit with a local trainer but I’m not sure if his methods are the right thing for the Divine Miss “M” as neither of us were making progress and I was losing patience. As anyone who has a dog knows, you need to stay calm and collected as they feed off your energy. So here’s our challenge. I need to learn how to manage my emotions while encouraging my little girl to be more confident. And so tomorrow I begin working with a behaviouralist and I’m so excited about this opportunity that I thought I would write about our upcoming journey.

So here we go…