Archive for September, 2011

One step at a time: how a little dog made big leaps

We moved into our new home six months ago and is in need of professional help; it needs a lot of refurbishing and one of the things which needs replacing is my flooring. The previous occupants had installed cheap laminate flooring downstairs and tiling on the kitchen floor. These tiles get very slippery when wet and I will be replacing the flooring throughout all the house in time, I’m just useless at DIY so it’s not done yet. So over the summer the dogs have had the luxury of access to the garden and often come running in after a good play in the garden, all full of beans and excitement and sometimes muddy or grassy too! A few times the floors have just been mopped and they have all slipped a bit, Koda more than any of them. Sometimes with the doors open if the front door is open the back doors will slam and a few times this has happened when Koda has been eating. His feeding station is in the kitchen next to the back door.

Just over a week ago I noticed he was slipping and getting stressed and panicky when coming in from outside, I had cleaned the floors again as Tallulah is in season so mopping the floors a couple of times a day is nothing new. However this particular day when it was time for a walk Koda refused to come out into the kitchen then as the day progressed he would not come into the hallway either and stood shaking at the living room doorway for a few moments before returning to his bed. This was distressing for me to see but hoped he would be ok a bit later on. Teatime came and I had to carry Koda into the kitchen where he refused to eat; he kept looking at the back door and looking at me and making stressed noises, his fur became dull and his tail tucked up under his bum. The poor little lad seemed scared of the door which I could only assume had slammed one too many times while he was stood next it. The straw had broken the camels back and my own dog had a behaviour problem.

Not one I can’t fix though! Initially we all tried encouraging and enticing him with his favourite treats and toys, his meals etc but the fear was overriding the desire to eat and please us. Then I tried clicker training him using praise as a reward but still he would move from one rug to another but freak out, panic and begin slipping and skidding along the floor. I tried ignoring it and using over the top praise when he made any attempt to go into the house or into the hallway. Nothing was working. Over the week my ideas crashed and burned. Then I realised he  has a fear, I need to work with him like I would any other fearful dog. So I began initially walking behind him, literally walking him forward one step at a time physically moving his two front legs which brought his body upright a little and speaking in hushed tones. I was attempting to recreate muscle memory for him as he was seizing up his back legs, splaying his back feet up and then would begin shaking meaning his motor coordination was reduced. I then moved onto allowing him to do this on his own but with encouragement and physical help. Then came the magic. I got an ACE wrap which is thick elasticated bandage about 2 foot long and stretchy enough for me to use.

dog behaviour

What I did was simple yet effective. I put the wrap under his belly, holding it above his hips so that it supported his rear end. By keeping this end up it allowed Koda to walk, fully supported by the bandage which had enough give to tighten if I needed to give him further support but loose enough that it seemed he was doing all the work. I walked along slowly telling him ‘one step’ which I had previously conditioned and he could walk forward one step at a time without panicking and slipping plus it had the added bonus of me not actually bending over him as he walked. Within just three times of using the wrap Koda walking back into the house by himself and after the fourth time he was going into the hallway on his own. I was delighted for him! If he continues to improve and remembers to go slowly and one step at a time and not run (I have also taken the added step of removing the water bowl from the living room where I put it during this retraining period and also I removed the kitchen door to prevent it slamming!) then he should be fine long term and prevent a recurrence. What a result! I’ve filmed as much as I can as I can which once I’ve sorted out things with my new web design company will be available for everyone to see on YouTube. I’d love to hear if others have similar experiences!

UPDATE: Nov 2011-

In September I visited Tilley Farm for a client day where TTouch students can practise their skills on real animals. There I met another Bull Terrier admirer, the lovely Sabina from Holland. This is her website BullysCastle Sabina and Christine who acted as her translator gave me some great TTouch advice including changing Koda’s harness which I did as soon as I got home and began practising the TTouches immediately which Koda and my other Bull Terriers have always enjoyed.

Koda continued to improve using the conditioned cue and TTouch ACE wrap and TTouches. I also moved a small rug for the last hurdle as he would into the hallway on his own but would pull short of the kitchen and begin panicking again. The rug was removed 8 days ago and he has been walking into and out of the areas perfectly normally with no visible signs of distress. Go Team Koda!

He has since has surgery to remove a tumour on his elbow, which thankfully and much to my enourmous relief was benign. Thank you to my brilliant vet Martin Brice and his team at Emerson Vets who have once again helped me with one of my dogs with sincerity and professionalism most deserving of their Vet Practice of the Year 2011 Award.

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Dogs and preference choices

Long time no blog!

Once again I am asking questions about how dogs think. There is more to the dog than meets the eye and I know I have so much more to learn about them, my current knowledge and experience is expanding daily and yet still there is more.

To my current thoughts: I have recently adopted another rescue Bull Terrier, a red female called Tallulah which is fateful as Jellybeans’ kennel name was Tallulah Sunrise. Tallulah has a fantastic temperament and I knew as soon as I met her she would fit into our family and would be accepted by my other Bull Terriers. They took to her immediately and in no time at all Tallulah made herself at home running upstairs and sleeping on our beds. Given her history I chose to allow this while she was in transitional period and I could work on retraining her as time goes on.

Tallulah took a few days to settle but her potential as another co-star was obvious so I began planning her re-training. This got scampered by her damaging her knee: not a cruciate injury as suspected but after a week of 10 minutes of exercise a day and strong anti inflammatries the diagnosis from @emersonvets was a sub-luxating patella. Basically her ligaments were not where they should be and I needed to be careful with her exercise. Darn it! Ok so not the end of the world but potentially a problem if she has recurring injuries.

So I altered my plans for her training and decided to film it for prosperity, learning and see if anyone liked it on YouTube. This went quite well until I ran out of handycam discs and had to wait ages for new ones to arrive in the post! A harness with 2 points of contact arrived for her which helped improve her lead walking skills along with my 19 year old daughters’ help and a tube of prawn flavour Primula cheese!

She had no problems meeting other dogs and very quickly learned to leave my cat Lego alone! She did have a rather dangerous habit of running out of open doors and taking herself for a jolly around the neighbours houses over the road. She also had pretty poor recall and still running upstairs every opportunity she could take. All this (aside from the recall which is still on hold while she is in season) has been achieved through positive reward based training, patience and consistency. I’ve had to get to know her and she has had to get to know us as humans and this has been utterly fascinating I will never tire of this feeling when taking in a new rescue dog. The recall training will begin next month and I will try to film it!

I mentioned she is currently in season. Now when my Jellybean was in season my male neutered dog was not in the least bit interested in her often desperate advances. However Koda has paid a lot more interest in Tallulah and even seems more respectful of her than he does with Cassini whom I have always jokingly referred to as his wife. Even Cassini, which by the way is knocking on for 10 years old is keen on Tallulah in this way, so I have to be mindful of how much time I allow them unsupervised as Cassini may hurt Tallulah due to her sheer weight and muscular difference in size to both Koda and Tallulah. I don’t want any more knee injuries and Cassini seems blissfully unaware she is getting tighter in her hips!

There is also the sweet moment the other day. Tallulah had begun humping her duvet (she has thus far got through 2 duvets, a furry dog bed 4 cushions and a dog igloo in her day long humping epics) Tallulah was lying on my rug exhausted and Cassini came up to her, nudged her then sat next to her sniffing her and nudging, even gently pawing at her. My daughter and I found this a tender moment and another demonstration of how empathic dogs can be. I did begin filming but as luck had it she moved away to come and lick me instead.

This raises questions for me:

Do dogs understand if a sick dog is not worth mating with? Is this why Koda would not mate with Jellybean?

Do dogs have favourite housemates (not human) in that do they have predetermined preferences?

Are dogs truly capable of empathy toward each other? I have seen many videos attesting to this as well as the actions of my Jellybean when she was alive.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this!

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