Monday, September 5

Desensitizing a Dog to the Bike for Jogging

I recently discovered the joys of biking with my dogs, through use of a Walky Dog. As I have herding dogs, this tool has been a blessing for me - I never realized how much exercise they WEREN'T getting until we began jogging regularly. My dogs are all happier, I feel less like a lazy person, and I've seen health improvements in my older dog as well. Walking is a wonderful form of exercise, but I have a cattle dog, who I was walking 3-4 miles a day, and no matter how far or how long I walked him, he had scores of energy to spare, and I never felt like he got all he needed, and it took SO much time!

Getting your dog to the point that they can jog comfortably beside your bike on the Walky Dog might be a bit of an issue, particularly for fearful dogs. I took a few steps to ensure that my Dax would have a successful introduction to it before I even received it, so I'd like to share that information for anyone else who might have a similar issue. Most dogs you can just hook up and go, but it never hurts to slowly introduce something totally new, particularly if you think there might be difficulty. This is intentionally a very gradual process I outline below.

Step 1 - Introduction to the bike
For this step, simply wheel the bike into the backyard, park it, then let your dog come up to it. Stand or sit beside it, not on it, and whenever the dog shows interest in it, reward. If you use a clicker, click when the dog is even looking at the bike. When the dog is clearly comfortable with the bike, not moving, go to the next step.

Step 2 - Sit on the Bike
With the bike not moving, sit on it. Reward dog for interest. It's amazing how simply sitting on the bike can totally change the dog's emotions toward it. Again, if clearly uncomfortable, go back a previous step. Be very casual about sitting on the bike - it's a nonevent, no big deal.

Step 3 - The Moving Bike
For this exercise, you are simply walking the bike slowly around your yard. As with the first exercise, treat the dog whenever s/he is close to you. Don't give any commands, let the dog approach at their own speed. If clearly uncomfortable, go back to the first step and reward heavily for interest in the bike.

Step 4 - Ride the Bike
Get on the bike and slowly walk it (with your feet) around the yard. Reward dog for interest. Do not reward for any tire biting or barking. Once the dog is comfortable or indifferent about it, try pedaling very slowly around the yard. You might find it hard to treat your dog while going very slowly - put some cheese or something your dog likes in your mouth and blow it out into your yard for your dog, if necessary. You can also stop and reward, but we don't want the dog to get the idea that stopping the bike is what's getting them the reward.

Step 5 - Hook the Dog to the Bike
Now, for this step, you actually need the bike jogger. Hook the dog up, with a harness, to the bike, and reward heavily. When comfortable, begin walking the bike around the yard, rewarding the dog for being calm and walking with the bike. Mount the bike a few times and reward, but don't actually take off until the dog is clearly comfortable. You might have to mount the bike from the same side the dog is on, sometimes swinging your leg over towards the dog can be scary for them. We don't want bike riding to be scary, it should be lots of FUN!

Step 6 - Riding With Your Dog
This is the step you've been waiting for - hook up the dog, walk beside it for a little way, and when your dog is comfortable, get on the bike and pedal. You may want to add periods of getting off the bike and walking it if your dog is especially timid. As you bike more and faster, remember that your pooch needs a warm-up period and a cool-down period on each ride. The ideal speed is a fast trot for your dog.

I don't recommend any sort of shifting with a fearful dog. Even now I ride in first gear, only very occasionally shifting to second. The noise of the chain moving around can be quite traumatic. Only try a shift after you've gotten your dog extremely comfortable with the bike. Make sure your bike is adjusted correctly so it shifts quickly and smoothly.

I hope you have great success with these steps, this is what I used to get my own fearful dog Dax comfortable with a bike jogger, and now we very much enjoy our time biking together. The important thing to remember is to not push your dog too fast, or it may take even longer to get them used to it, as you'll have to start all over again!

As with any exercise regimen, ask your veterinarian before you begin if bike jogging is right for you and your dog. It's not recommended to bike a dog under one year of age or under 20 pounds.

Thursday, March 3

A fun Dax walk

Fun Dax walks are few and far between, I'm sad to say.

He's incredibly fearful and reactive towards people (the main issue) and dogs (less of an issue to me since I have another one like that (but not quite that extreme) and I'm used to avoiding dogs on walks). Whenever we get within sight of another human being, Dax goes into frenzy mode. Bark bark bark bark lunge bark bark insanity bark bark bark. And by sight, I literally mean sight. His threshold for strangers on walks can be as far as the eye can see, when they're coming towards him. He actually is LESS reactive towards dogs. If I walk him with Popper, he can actually get closer to people (around the neighborhood), but I can't really work on anything when I'm walking him with another dog because my hands are tied up with two dogs.

My friend Trish asked me last night, as we walked Dax with his best buddy Raleigh, why I don't click Dax as soon as a person comes into sight, and just rapid fire click-treat until they're gone.

The answer is simple and sad: because when he's out on a walk, he's already over his threshold. He won't take treats, he's not interested in them even a teensy bit. Steak, hot dog, even his favorite duck - they're not important. I can't *not* walk Dax. I suppose I could continually drive him to my parents' big yard to play lots and lots of ball for exercise, but right now it's muddy so that's off limits. Dogs over their threshold aren't supposed to be "training" because they won't learn anything. I can vouch for that. But I can't stuff a young cattle dog in my house and tell him he has to be a perfect angel with no hope for exercise, either. A little bit of cat teaser isn't going to remotely tire him, or some Nina Ottosson games. He needs simple, sheer exercise to be satisfied. He'd also never leave the house if I waited until he took treats from me.

The reason I mention it is because today, for the first time ever, Dax was so entirely relaxed that I was able to train correctly on a walk (no half-assing it today!!). I met with my parents and their two confident cattle dog mixes for a walk in the park. It took a mile in, but Dax starting responding to clicks, looking for treats (has NEVER happened on a walk, I usually have to shove them in his mouth), offering behaviors. He was a different dog. And it enlightened me to how freaked out he normally is on walks. Which makes me sad. Because walks should be fun for both of us, not torturous. Not scary.

Dax was able to confidently walk past strangers (except for one jogger who was too too close - next time he came by I moved Dax over four feet and Dax didn't even pay him any attention) without barking at them at all. He was still pretty barky at other dogs, but I felt like if I really wanted to press the issue (and I didn't at that time, I was thoroughly enjoying the stranger-barking-free walk) we could have had some success to build upon in the future. And I've never felt like he could have that issue in control.

I wanted to go on forever, but my parents are old and their dogs are fat, so we called it quits after a couple of slow miles.

I've discussed this weird reaction with my friends and trainers before.. Why does Dax NOT bark at strangers when walked with my parents and their dogs? Everyone suggests that the two dogs are confident enough that Dax doesn't feel like he needs to go into berserker mode. I wonder something else entirely, and a bit more ominous.

Dax has never been walked with another man that I can recall. He's slightly spooked of all men, even my husband. I kind of wonder if it's my dad that Dax is responding to, and not the dogs. Because when I walk Dax with Raleigh and Trish, I don't get the same reaction. And Raleigh is fairly confident around strangers and other dogs (at least, his threshold is a good deal higher than Dax's).

Easy enough to test, I suppose. I'm going to haul hubby out with Merlin the corgi for a short walk with us to see what happens, clicker and treats at the ready. Unfortunately it's going to rain for the next few days, but I really want to see what happens. Maybe it is the two older, wiser, secure dogs sending him good vibes. Or maybe Dax is afraid to "misbehave" in front of Grampy. I don't know. Maybe I'll never know for sure. But I'd love to know what secret ingredient it is, so I can be sure to include it on all our future walks!

Tuesday, March 1

Making Nail Trims Fun

Well, at least "less likely to have gaping bloody wounds after angry cattle dog mix ravages your hands."

That's a pretty good intro. :D

See, when I got Popper at 6 weeks old, he was insanely insane about his feet. Insane. Being the good little dog owner, I massaged his little tootsies daily so he'd learn that it was okay. I also daily was chomped, bitten, and maimed. Usually, I am sad to say, with broken skin. He was a very small puppy. With very sharp teeth.

As time wore on, I had my husband wrap him up like a mummy in a blanket, and then we put a muzzle on him. He turns into little Cujo and froths at the mouth, but I get all his toenails cut and dremeled. If he were any bigger (he's only about 26#, keep in mind) and he acted this way, I have NO idea how we would trim his nails.

Then my friend Trish shared this video. It was a similar story (except I am not intimidated by Popper - I am bigger, I am stronger, and daggonit I'm smarter!) though it didn't sound like the dog had nearly the foot aggression that my dear little buddy does. I've seen a lot of clicker videos for the issue, and this particular one struck a chord with me. Everything was sooo slow. I decided to give it a shot.

So today, I took 30 minutes and played the nail clicker game.

First off, I discovered that Popper is indeed much, much worse than the dog in the video. If I would try to get my hand REMOTELY near his feet, he skittered off instantly. I could get about 8-10" away, and that's it. So we had to try a new tactic just to get to the first part of the training.

Popper loves to play. Popper loves to target. And Popper love love LOVES food!! So I would throw my hand down beside him (palm down), and he would POUNCE on it. If he pounced with his paw, click treat. He loved the game. So after he was awesome at it, which didn't take too long, I changed to slamming my hand down palm UP. He handled the switch just fine. The key here is that he is GIVING me his paw. He WANTS to play. The next step was to just lightly grab his paw, starting with a little thumb stroke and working up to a full grab. He was shocked. Mom grabbed his PAW. Click treat. :) Oh, wait... I got a treat. So we played that game for a looong time, just getting him comfortable with me grabbing his foot for an instant. No toe playing, no massage. Grab and go. He started rolling on his back and batting at me - honestly, any foot grab was my goal. I'd grab, click treat, and he'd bat me again.

That took quite a while. When I left the game, after 30 minutes (and Popper's tail wagging madly once he understood the "rules"), we had worked up to grabbing AND holding his paw for 2-3 seconds. Without rolling over. Popper discovered that he could just lay there and let Mom do all the work and get a click treat. As he is always looking for shortcuts, he was perfectly fine with the new way the game was going. With his right foot I can even massage it a little bit. Unfortunately, I kept playing with one foot more than the other, so his left foot he is still kind of dodgy on, but I CAN grab it. Without so much as a snarl. Which I can tell you I never thought was remotely possible.

So we are not going to progress at the same rate as the dog in the video. But that's fine. I never thought Popper would willingly give me his paw, so I am willing to be unusually patient with this new game. :)

Tuesday, January 11

Dax Breaks Out - Again!

Dax broke his crate. Again. Pulled the front wire off from their supports. While it's not really a "necessary" wire, and a major flaw in the Midwest Lifestages crates, IMO, he pulled off the weld with it too so there are sharp bits, so I have to have my dad weld it back. Again.

This is the second time he's broken this particular crate. I had him in Roofus's old crate before, to give him more room - but it just gave him more leverage, apparently, because he broke out of that one pretty quick, and it was a crate designed specifically for large, powerful dog breeds. Ripped the entire front panel off, including many welds.

My dad sees this is a challenge to his intelligence, taking it personally that Dax has yet again broken a crate, and swears that he's going to weld a 2" bar of steel there so he can't mess with that particular weakness again.

Dax doesn't break out of his crate because there's nothing to do in it - I leave all his favorite toys in there, at least two different nylabones, at least one thing freshly stuffed with peanut butter, a dog bone... but he won't play with them. At his ex-owner's house, he was abused while in his crate, left in it for extremely long periods, and he also has separation anxiety. We don't have these issues at night - he trots in happily and starts chewing on a bone or toy. He doesn't try to escape. But then, I'm right there beside him too.

I've tried working with him by putting him in it randomly for short periods, with a chew or a peanut butter stuffed toy. He's fine with that. But if I leave the house, he doesn't play with anything, doesn't chew on the peanut butter toy... he grabs the front of the crate and tugs backwards as hard as he can to escape. I've tried DAP collars, calming music - but he panics and wants out. NOW!

If he weren't an insane puppy, I'd have no problem leaving him out while I'm not at home. But now that I've seen what he's capable of doing to his crate, I'd hate to come home and see what he's done to my house!!

Sunday, January 9

Don't mess with my stuff!

Today, I started giving my bedroom a much needed going over, throwing lots of stuff away, organizing, and otherwise leaving my room looking like a hurricane went through it.

Merlin, our Pembroke Welsh Corgi, always gets a little freaked out when we clean or move things, and will usually find a "safe spot" to hide until we're done.

Dax, our Australian Cattle Dog, well, gets more than a little freaked out. But he was handling it remarkably well.

First, he dashed in and out of my room looking at everything I was tossing. Then, he decided the best place for him to be was in the center of my bed, snuggled around all the piles of junk I was throwing out, and watching me carefully.

That bit was fine.

Then I had to move his crate for a few minutes. I think the little dog went into full-out panic mode. First, he kept slinking in and out of the cage. Then he began sneaking out all his toys (I keep his crate well-stocked with his favorites) and piling them up near the door. When I put his crate back in its original position, he started moving all his toys back in, and settled down inside to chew on his nylabone, keeping an eye on me while I tidied up a few last things.

While I don't follow his logic, thankfully I am finished for now with my cleaning. He's tired from being watchful and worrying, so he's napping comfortably beside me on the sofa.

Friday, January 7

Playing Agility with Roofus

Yesterday I took Roofus, my Old English Sheepdog, outside to see if I could get him started in agility. He's freaking humongous (30" or so at the shoulders) so I don't really want him doing most things in agility. Like contacts. Or weaves. And if I run him in CPE, he can do 16" as a specialist, so the jumping part isn't too bad. The only thing left that I don't really like is the tunnel - it's 24" tall, so giant dogs like Roo have to literally crawl through them, while every other dog can take them at a run. I'm still waiting for a "Giant Dog Breed Agility Association," but one does not look forthcoming. :( They have teacup dog agility, why not giant breed? Lower jumping heights (it is NOT necessary to jump a dog at 24", I'm sorry), bigger tunnels, wider dog walk and teeter, 30" weaves, and maybe a lower a-frame with a longer contact.

Anyhow, Roofus can be a dim bulb. And I say that in the most loving way imaginable. I wouldn't change a thing about him (except his recent leash aggression issue), I picked the breed knowing he was not going to win any IQ tests.

After he got used to the first jump back and forth a few times, I tried to step it up by running beside him. Going from one direction, that was fine. But going the other direction, he would run around the jump, no matter how nicely I lined him up or made it so the jump was impossible to run around. I started laughing because he's just a big fluffy goofball and he was having a great time running around the jump. :)

Eventually we worked it out, and I added in a tire jump, because I don't currently own more than one 16" jump (my other dogs jump 8" and 12"). Santa brought me a competition tire jump for Christmas, but it is at my in-laws, and alas, I had to use my cheesy, piece of crap tire jump that is roughly the same size around as Roofus is.

Our sequence looked like this - an enormous bunny butt running at the first jump, doing a tiny little hop, galloping towards the tire jump, EEEERK, slamming on the brakes, and walking daintily through the tire jump one leg at a time. :)

I love my Roofus!

Tuesday, January 4

One step forward... two steps back.

Now that the holidays are over, I'm hoping to blog a big more.

They are doing construction down the street from my house, in this lovely, big field that will now be filled with cookie cutter, overpriced houses. Joy.

The best part is that I can clearly hear all of it from my house. We had a nice hiatus with the holidays, but they're back in full-swing, and Dax is going nuts.

We had finally gotten to the point where he might stand on my chair once or twice in the morning, and a repeat in the afternoon, just as a little "check-in." He'd lay quietly or entertain himself, and then when work was over for the day, happily participate in whatever was planned (or happened).

Now with all the machinery moving around, he's nervous and hyper. He continually stands on my chair and slurps me in the head. He's bringing me all his favorite toys, dropping them into my lap or nudging me with them. Whether he's trying to bribe me to get the noises to stop, or just get me to play so he can forget his troubles, I've no idea.

Hopefully he can adapt to the new noises (which irritate me as well), otherwise it's going to be a very long year until those houses are built.