29 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Ticket for Dog at Large

Neighbors Complain Because Dogs Having Too Much Fun

    Gem now has a criminal record — Today we received his first ticket for "dog at large." We were playing in our usual location when an animal control officer arrived. Lucky for our play group, only three of us were on-site at the time.

We were as pleasant as we could be with the officer, who was clearly "just doing her job" and treated us with respect and a sense of humor. There was no point in arguing — what we were doing was wrong — that is, if you go by the letter of the law.

In my opinion, allowing dogs to play in a fenced-in field that no one is using at 7:30 in the morning shouldn't be illegal. We dog "guardians" (Boulder uses this label, rather than "owner") ensure the field is left in pristine condition; we keep it cleaner than do the young little league players and their families. A single-use field paid for and maintained by the city (but note the several sponsor banners that help pay for the various leagues to play) is rather a waste of resources.

But, I get it. If lots of dogs came, if it were truly allowed to be a dog park, it would start looking ragged, as do most of the dog parks in the area.

What bothers me is that the animal control officer advised us that "we have been getting a lot of complaints..." and "one person's dog, which was on a leash, was chomped on by a dog off-leash in this field." I'd like to know who was doing the complaining and where in relation to the field they live. This isn't so I can be vindictive or retaliate in some way. I just would like to be able to wrap my head around exactly what was the problem. If we were making too much noise, that's something I would understand. The field seems far enough away from residences that this shouldn't be a problem, but I remember working night shift and trying to get to sleep in the early morning. It's difficult.

I've never seen dogs get in a fight in the field and never heard about a dog getting bitten. And I've never seen a dog ON leash in the field, so I'm not sure how the leashed dog could have been attacked by some unnamed vicious dog during our morning play sessions. And really, that doesn't matter. Clearly, someone was upset by something that happened, but didn't take the time to talk to people about it — or, fabricated the story to justify making the complaint.

I wonder if the complaint was made just based on the fact that we were violating an ordinance, regardless of the circumstances. Some people get so caught up in rules that they forget common courtesy. I know it can create anxiety and feel risky to talk to people about their dogs, but why not give it a try rather than "calling the cops" as the first course of action?

I'd love to find some stats to back this up (research project?): It seems to me that folks who complain about dogs have the highest incidence of requested anonymity. People like to judge and complain but not confront and explain. Especially in Boulder.

Gem is about to turn 4 months old and get the last of his puppy shots. Once he gets those, he'll be free to go to the real dog parks around the city. I'll miss the group of dogs we've made friends with, but I'm sure we'll find new friends. It's kind of ironic though, that in a city like Boulder that encourages alternative transportation and local parks, we'll have to drive at least 4 miles round trip just to go where it's legal to have a dog off-leash.

26 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 8+

With a little help from my friends...
    I've been off writing a bit because of back and hip pain — doc says I have sciatica, most likely caused by, say, about 2 months of chasing a little puppy around. I'm trying to take it a little easier, and am also getting some help from my friends — our morning play group, my friend Karina stepping in to "babysit," and advice from a local dog trainer.

First, the morning play group: Here we have Gem, Misha, Ellie, and Kavik, the four regulars at our neighborhood pre-workday play group. The oldest dog is about three, I think, and of course, Gem is the youngest (he was born 7 March 2011, so he's over 3 1/2 months old now). These guys play really well together, but usually pair off Misha with Ellie and Gem with Kavik.

Kavik and Gem seem to have a special bond — I think it has something to do with the fact that Kavik is such a nice dog and Gem has a fascination for pulling on his incredibly fluffy white fur.

They have a great time wrestling and running and generally wearing each other out.

Gem especially likes to pull on Kavik's tail, and sometimes I wonder at the big dog's patience.

Second: My friend Karina loves dogs — we met while walking our golden retrievers several years ago. Since then, both our big guys have passed on, so now Karina has stepped in as "Auntie." Yesterday was Bear's and my 1st anniversary (we got married in Vancouver last year), so Karina helped us out by taking care of Gem. Everyone had a good time and I learned I need to stop worrying so much about whether Gem will be OK and whether he might be too rough... I'm not the "be all and end all" for Gem.

I was worried about leaving Gem alone with Karina because he has been biting — hard. I have some rather impressive bruises to prove it, and lots of torn clothing. I've been quite exasperated with this behavior, so I called in a specialist: Gigi Moss of Boulder, recommended by my vet and by word of mouth. Gigi came out to my house today and gave me some great advice. One: I do not need to try to assume an "alpha" role with Gem and fight with him physically. Prying things from his mouth and grabbing him by the scruff of his neck, or "clocking him one" as his breeder advised (which I did not do) will only serve to intensify his out-of-control feelings/behavior. If he's biting and pulling, "biting" and pulling back will not elicit the desired response, which is to get him to let go, to stop biting. He has to be "interrupted" — given something else he'd rather have in his mouth (and accompany that by saying "get it" or some other command that he will begin to associate with the redirect). I'll have to start carrying an arsenal of sticks and treats and toys — things that I know will catch his attention.

Gigi also explained that adult dogs will not discipline a puppy with force. At this age, they won't force him down or swat him or otherwise punish him. A well-balanced adult dog that has had enough of a puppy may say so with a growl, but the greater "punishment" is that it will simply get up and walk away.

The worst (and best) thing you can do to an attention-seeking puppy is to deny it attention! Pulling and yelling and pushing and begging and getting all wound up works great if you want the puppy to pull, bark, push, beg, and get more wound up. Of course, when you're out on a walk, you can't simply drop the leash and leave your pup, but you can redirect the behavior and, if nothing else, tie the leash to a tree and turn your back for a minute.

Caveat: I'm writing quickly and putting what I gathered from Gigi today in my own words, so any factual errors or misstatements are all mine. Gigi had more hints that I'll take more time to put into action and cover here in greater detail. Gem, Bear, and I will be meeting with her again in a couple of weeks to check in and learn some other skills.

The best thing about working with a trainer: Having another human to talk to. Reading is great; taking your dog to socialization classes is great — but sometimes you need the one-on-one discussion time to reinforce what you know, to ask questions, and to develop the specific skills you need to nurture a healthy, mutually enjoyable relationship with your pup.

Today I have a true sense of a bright future for me and Gem.

13 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 6 addendum

Just when you think you have everything right...

I'm coming to learn that raising a puppy is sometimes about taking two steps forward and one step back. Today was one of those days when I felt like we were sliding backward. Little pup has been nippy all day, and I have the torn shorts to prove it. Holding him down until he takes a deep breath is getting harder, because he's getting bigger and stronger. So, I have to come up with an alternate plan. That requires that I remember everything I have in my arsenal. One easy tool that's easy to forget when I have a puppy jumping on me: While he has no idea what "no" and "stop!" mean, he will sit on command. He will high-five and go down all the way. Next time he becomes a whirling dervish or a little Tasmanian devil, I will try using my commands. Right now I'm not feeling very confident, but we'll see. I have also been trying to redirect his attention to a toy or a stick, but currently this approach only has about a 25% success rate.

Speaking of confidence (or lack thereof): I'm reading Cesar Millan's book, Cesar's Way, right now. I've also watched several seasons of his television show, "The Dog Whisperer." Comparing how I'm doing with what Cesar says leaves me feeling very pale to the task. Every interaction I have with Gem I'm thinking, "Calm-assertive energy; I have to have calm-assertive energy." Then I'm thinking, "But I'm freakin' frustrated! How can I have calm-assertive energy when I'm so frustrated?" Can you be frustrated and calm-assertive? I'm working on it. I'll let you know.

And yes, Cesar Millan readers, I am remembering his other mantra: "Exercise, discipline, and affection, in that order." This puppy gets up to an hour of play and walk time in the morning and up to two hours of play and walk time in the evening, along with a midday break with brushing or exercise depending on his energy level. Sometimes I wonder if I'm giving him too much exercise. Discipline: When I get bored with exercise alone, we work on training. Until those things are done, it's actually difficult to give the puppy affection because his energy level is too high. That doesn't mean I don't encourage him and pat him when he does things right — especially when we retrieves the toy we are playing with. Affection and play and exercise kind of go hand in hand, but foremost is play and exercise.

If you read my last post, you'll know that one thing I am not doing according to the Cesar Millan plan is waiting to feed the puppy until after he has had some exercise. I know when Gem grows up, I will have to feed him after exercise in order to avoid bloat (a highly dangerous and often fatal condition that you can learn more about by following the link), but for now, it's better to feed him first.

These ups and downs are natural, but that doesn't mean they're easy. It's hard on everyone in the household, and that in turn adds to the stress. But when I find myself questioning whether getting this puppy was a bad idea, I realize I wouldn't want to be doing anything else. I would just rather I were doing it better — and that Gem would be, well, more of a gem and less of a fire brand. To think I almost named him Sparky...

Raising a Puppy - Week 6

It does get better... It does get better...

But how do you get to "better"? Lots of patience, energy, time, and consistency. And — now this sounds easy, but it's not always — you've got to pay attention. Just as much as you need the puppy to pay attention to you, you've got to pay attention to it.

I'm learning Gem's "moods" and mannerisms and how to interpret them. So far, I'm pretty clear on how he acts when he needs to "go to the bathroom" (starts nosing around the living room) so that we haven't had an accident in the house for a couple of weeks.

That down, I now need to pay attention to how tired he is. A tired puppy is a lot like a tired toddler — cranky and downright ornery. Gem snaps and jumps and even sometimes growls and bites when he's tired. My goal is to put him down for the night or for a nap before that happens, but sometimes I'm stuck outside with him trying to figure out how to get him back to the house. For now, carrying him is OK, but I'd rather lure him in with some tasty treats (make him follow his nose, as Cesar Millan recommends). Lesson: Always carry a handful of tiny but attractive puppy treats [list of favorites to come].

Also very important: Is he hungry? Have you ever noticed a young pup jumping up on its canine mom, grabbing her fur, and generally being a nuisance when it wants to nurse? Translate that to 3-mo-old puppy behavior and you have torn clothing and a frustrated human. I'm making it a priority to see that Gem has eaten a proper amount of breakfast or dinner before we head out on a walk. This makes life a lot nicer and easier for both of us.

What do I mean by "a proper amount"? Well, Gem sort of does what I call "drive-by eating" — he'll grab some food and then move on to play or go outside or fall back asleep. I have to set the bowl back in front of him (after making him sit-stay); usually, he eats all or almost all the food on the second go. Regarding quantity: I give him about one and a quarter cups of kibble at each meal (incl. lunch, which he'll get for another month or so), with some white rice and either a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or a tablespoon of canned puppy food on top to get him interested. He doesn't always eat all the food, but sometimes he licks the bowl clean (at which point I give him a little more). It's important for his growth and my peace of mind to see to it that he does eat a reasonable amount. When he gets older, I am sure I will have the opposite problem...

The good stuff: Gem is called "well-adjusted" in his puppy socialization class. He can go through the little agility tunnels all by himself (such a good boy!), and he learned to go up and down the stairs with almost no fear and very few treats. Gem is intrepid: He goes boldly forward into, say, McGuckins (a Boulder hardware store), and walks about calmly, but with keen interest in all the smells. He does not jump on people who want to pet him, nor does he shy away; he approaches with tail wagging. Gem is getting used to all kinds of activity: We have bikers, skateboarders, runners, and children going by our place all the time. Dogs and their owners pass by, and Gem will sit calmly and watch, or go say hi if I tell him he can. The best of the good stuff: I can pet him and brush him and even trim his nails while he chews quietly on a rawhide or even just lies back in the grass, gently nibbling it and stretching to show me his little tummy.

07 June 2011

Raising a Puppy - Week 5

This has been a very active week. I've been working on keeping Gem's mind challenged and his body ... exhausted ... OK, well not exhausted, but busy enough that when it's time to sleep, he SLEEPS. And yes! We have done it - he has slept through the night five out of the last 7 nights.

On a more basic level, Gem's new sleep pattern involves a learning curve on my part and a growth curve on his: (1) I learned that it's best not to give the puppy anything to eat or drink after about 7 p.m. so that he is more likely not to need to go out for several hours; (2) according to the vet, puppies Gem's age (3 months now!) can only go for about three to four hours at night before needing to pee, but Gem's little body seems to be getting used to things; he's down and out around 9 p.m. and of late has not been getting us up until about 5:30 or 6 a.m. (except this morning, of course).

Another reason for this is psychological: Gem overnights in his playpen now, with more room to stretch out so he is less likely to "object" when he tries to move around. This is one mobile puppy; when he's "sleeping" he often gets up and moves around, making about a 360 in his playpen over the course of a couple of hours.

Gem still remains in his crate when I am at work; it's safer for him and for the house (he may someday figure out how to jump out of the playpen). I make sure he gets out for a walk midday and then again as soon as I get home.

Firsts this week: Gem and I got to jump in the creek and play around this weekend because it has been so much warmer lately. Also, Gem enjoys "helping" me water the plants on the deck and then splashing around a bit in his wading pool, which until this point we have kept dry. The vet warned me that until he is a little older, Gem cannot be left alone in his little pool even with just a couple of inches of water. Puppies don't have the best memories... sometimes they just forget what they're doing and fall asleep. The vet also noted that he should not go swimming until (A) he has had all his shots and (B) he can be trusted to not fall asleep or otherwise lose his swimming concentration.

Another first (of the not-so-good kind): Gem is starting to growl when we try to take an especially tasty chew-treat out of his mouth. This cannot be tolerated! I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and pried the treat from his mouth. Now, whenever he gets a treat, I "practice" taking it away from him, then giving it back, and taking it away, so he gets used to the idea that giving up something isn't so bad. As well, while he is eating, I put my hand in his bowl, take the bowl away, and so forth, so it is crystal clear who controls his food.

Overall, little Gem has grown much sweeter. I can snuggle and kiss him (after exercise & discipline/training of course) a lot more, and no worries about being bitten. Oh the scent of fluffy puppy fur!