dog behavior

Difficult times ahead

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Chili’s fear of vets got stronger (no wonder as I didn’t have any time to desensitise her) and now when I’m finally about to start working on it she has an ear problem again. It’s really bad luck. Changing the way she feels about vets will take really long time either way and now on top of this we will have to take her to the vet to get her ears checked first. I made an appointment on a day when a female doctor is working and in early morning so there are not too many people and Jochem can come with me. Hopefully she will feel more secure with both of us there. We will carry her in the exam room as last time she didn’t want to walk in there and I don’t want to struggle with her more than necessary.

Once this visit is done I will start behaviour modification plan based mostly on systematic desensitisation and counterconditioning. As she is generally anxious (in novel situations) I will have to start with working on our way to the clinic. We have to walk there (she is afraid of cars and we don’t have one, and she gets over aroused in trams) and when she has a worse day she will become anxious already on the way. So I will have to make sure that we are working under the threshold which means before she starts to show any signs of stress or anxiety. The next step will be getting her feeling relaxed by the door of the clinic (as she refused to go inside last time), then the reception area (slowly each part will be worked on separately) and eventually the exam room but I think it will take at least two months before we get to that stage. It will all depend on Chili and how she is dealing with it.

The important part is to not get her too aroused and stressed as in this situation her learning will be compromised. Additionally if she has other stressful experiences they might add up together  and make her react faster and stronger than she normally would. It’s called trigger stacking. It is really easy to understand from a human perspective. Last week I was flying back from the UK, I didn’t get enough sleep (one trigger), I lost my phone (another trigger) I could not fin my boyfriend at the airport (trigger as I was really tired and wanted to go home) by that time I was ready to explode even in situations that normally wouldn’t make me feel edgy. The same happens with dogs, and anxious dogs like Chili will be more sensitive to everyday life stressors. (For more info see “Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for dogs and cats” by Karen Overall).


Accept your dog

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Sometimes we just stumble upon right text at a right time. For me today it is a blog post about accepting the dog you have:

I had a conversation about exactly this topic minutes before I saw this post.

I think that (I hope) I do accept my dogs the way they are most the time but sometimes I just forget.

Today we had a situation with Chili that made me forget and wish she was different. Even though when I’m thinking about it now, and when I was there in the moment I didn’t think it was very bad I think that in my head I made it worse that it was.
We were in the park with Salma and Chili and an older gentleman with a hound female German shepherd mix approached us from behind. The dog was curious and young and she wanted to come up to our dogs, she met Salma first and while they were sniffing each other Chili run up to them and tried to displace the other dog. She jumped up twice to make herself taller and growled. The dog didn’t move, they continued to sniff and separated. We stayed behind and the shepherd and his owner continued on. I threw a ball behind us for Chili, I didn’t think the other dog will turn back and run after her. But she did and Chili got pissed. I can’t be sure but I think I heard the other dog growl when she couldn’t catch Chili and then Chili got angry and chased her away. It was loud but short and from where I was standing it didn’t seem dangerous. But the shepherd run away and didn’t want to come back (even though we walked away). She did come back after a while and they continued walking but I feel so bad that Chili scared her. If she didn’t run away I wouldn’t consider this as a serious fight but she must have been scared. And the thing is Chili isn’t really protective of her toys, she usually will spit them out when other dogs are around or just ignore them that’s why I wasn’t careful with throwing her ball in the park.

I can’t forget that Chili always will be a nervous dog never mind how much work I will put in her.

Additionally she got spooked by people just before we got in the park which I think could add up to her nervousness.

I have to remember that she is wonderful in so many other ways. She is very affectionate, she loves to learn, is very motivated and she listens well. And happy and playful most of the time.


One of those days

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I woke up with a painful throat which pissed me off, I don’t have time to get sick (and after 10 months since my last cold I though I was invincible). I had to finish my essay in behavioral problems in dogs and horses even though I felt like sleeping the whole day. And yes I had to walk Chili in the morning. If walking in a heavy rain and wind wasn’t bad enough she rolled in something very dead. I had to wash her as soon as we got home, I didn’t even take my shoes off. Even Salma was repulsed by Chili’s new fragrance. But well, too bad those things happen. Stupid enough I decided to walk both dogs together in the afternoon. I was even very proud of myself how well it was going. I lost my voice but still my girls behaved well… Till I decided to go home that is. Chili disappeared in the bushes and I could call her I tried but sound coming out of my mouth were disappointing. She did appear a minute later holding the biggest and dirtiest rabbit I’ve ever seen. I walked away, I knew I cannot catch her and that for her in that moment this rabbit is so important that I cannot compete with it with my stupid treats. She didn’t follow me and Salma so I came back to see that a woman with a pit bull is watching Chili eat. Nice. By that time Chili had only ears (and I guess a bit of head) left and was running after me and Salma but keeping safe distance. If I wasn’t vegetarian already this would put me of off meat for a long time. I was pissed at her but at the same time it’s not fair towards her. Let’s forget about our human expectations for a while. We had a good time walking all together and then Chili’s time got even better. She followed her nose and found a tasty dead rabbit. That’s what dogs have been selected for generations: to scavenge. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her behavior, she is an opportunistic scavenger and I’m the one who is crazy wanting her to just leave her treasure behind.
On a more serious note: I gave her a medicine for her stomach as a precaution and I will de warm her in two days (I want all the rabbit to go out first). I wonder though how she manages to eat a whole rabbit with the bones and fur.

Little balloon

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Chili woke me up today at 5 a.m. She was crying so I thought she might have an upset stomach (as she never cries at night I take it seriously). I took her out, and she kept on shaking her head from left to write so strong her ears were flopping around. In a light I also noticed that her left eye is almost fully shut. Left side of her face and both of her ears were swollen! I immidiately called emergency vet, but the earliest open spot was at 9 (they asked if she has problems with breathing and if she is eating and drinking). I managed to calm her down enough to fall asleep and we slept next to each other on the couch. Once I got up to get ready for the vet I’ve noticed that her eye is worse, and she was so annoyed with the itchiness.

As I thought it is a allergic reaction to something but we don’t know to what (as she didn’t eat anything new yesterday, we also don’t have new plants or detergents). She got an injection against swelling and itching. Now she is sleeping it off and her face is slowly starting to look normal.

On the other hand I had to take her to a new clinic she doesn’t know and she had to go through very unpleasant examination. It broke my heart to see how she was trying to turn away from the vet when she was looking into her eyes. Chili saying (in capitals) that she doesn’t want to be touched and still she had to be checked. I did ask the vet not to touch her or talk to her in the beginning to give her chance to explore the office on her own terms. Again another vet must think I’m crazy because I grabbed her hand when she tried to pet Chili on a head and told her “Please don’t pet her from the top”. It was a very stressful experience for her and I need to start taking her for training visits to our regular vet ASAP. The vet kept on saying that she did very good, but again the fact that dog is not growling during the examination doesn’t mean it is doing good. On a plus side Chili did eat a treat from the vet at the end.


Chili trying to make new (female) “friends”

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Let’s talk about my weird choice for the title. First of all I put information about the gender of Chili’s new social contacts. For a while I was in a camp that believes that it’s silly to pay attention to gender of the dogs. Now even as I type this I think it’s a ridiculous statement. How could gender not play a role? Of course I’m not saying now that female dogs hate other females same goes for the males (I encountered this view). But I am saying that a gender of a dog plays a role in interspecies interactions. And in Chili’s case she doesn’t have female friend yet. She can have proper interactions with other females but I haven’t seen something that I would call friendship or sympathy. It’s more in terms of either Chili being afraid of other female (and she is often picked on by them) or being neutral. Salma on the other hand likes female dogs most of her dear friends were medium sized females. She is not to keen on uncastrated males on the other hand (and Chili loves them!).

So, let’s move to the other part of the title, I put word friends in these “”. I did that because it’s difficult for me to describe what Chili did today in one word. Simply said I think she was trying to have a social interaction with two other dogs but was not going about it too succesfully (whats new? 😉 ).

We’ve met two female dogs, one golden retriever 1,5 years old and a village dog from Greece, 4,5 years old. Chili tried activating the retriever, doing her most annoying high pitched bark. I stopped her when she tried that. Why? Because, retriever female was a very soft and low in aggressiveness, and in my opinion she did send enough signals to Chili telling her she doesn’t want this kind of interaction. I used a word first (“ee”) and when it didn’t worked I took Chili on leash. Every time, I also verbally rewarded her whenever she passed by retriever or looked at her but didn’t bark. She was getting the message, but it took few times.

On the other hand when there was a moment when Chili and the other dog got excited by one of the owners and it turned into a disagreement between them I didn’t interfere. I didn’t even though it was loud and full of growling and showing teeth, but I was confident the other female will not get hurt by Chili, she was stronger and more stable than my monster. And also she responded only as strong as necessary, she didn’t escalate the situation but was stopping Chili.

There were also a lot of calm moments between them, just waling together, getting into the water, drinking, sniffing.

I know there is still a long road ahead of me and Chili, and I can only hope that her social skills will get better and she will get more secure without getting aggressive or becoming a bully.




Why do I always carry treats with me

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I always carry treats with me because a) life is unpredictable and b) you never know when a great training opportunity might happen.

I don’t think it is necessary or smart to be always dependent on food during walks but I think it’s good to be prepared to reward a dog for good behavior.

Unpredictable situations:
Just in last few days we had few if those. We had a close encounter with a fox and Chili didn’t even noticed him because I immediately called her to me and asked her to sit, I was rewarding her a lot, I wanted to make sure to keep her full attention as u don’t think it would be safe for her to have a meeting with a fox. And this gave the fox a possibility to walk away without being bothered.
We run into a dog that absolutely hates Chili and I had to quickly put her on the other side of the fence. And while the owner of the other dog tried to call her I was asking Chili to do simple commands to keep her occupied.
Yesterday night we were passing by a huge red cat, and Dutch cats can be very dog aggressive so again I got Chili’s attention and asked her to heal. And again she didn’t even noticed the cat.

Training opportunities:
I think everyday life is filled with them and it’s up to us to incorporate training into daily routine. I like to use parts of walks for simple training. Now additionally I want to work on Chili’s recall which is already pretty good but I want it to be faster and more reliable because in her case it can be very useful around other dogs.

Salma, long line and rabbits

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Today I took Salma and a 10 meters long line to the park. It used to be impossible to take Salma there even on a normal leash. At first we couldn’t even go to the industrial part of the park and now I can take her to the part for dogs where rabbits are at large and we manage. She still is mostly focused on searching for rabbits but she started doing normal dog things too, which is a good sign. She sniffs, marks, greets other dogs and today she even split two males that had a bit of an argument (one was trying to copulate with the other and he really didn’t like it). And this tells me that there is some part of her brain not focused on rabbits. And in the beginning this wasn’t the case, she looked stoned and she was not able to focus on anything else. We even had a close encounter with a rabbit and she recovered (also not possible before). She was 3 meters away from me, and she suddenly jumped in the bushes so I hoisted her back on the line, I am not naive to expect her to return when called in this situation, she is not ready for that and I will only spoil our recall by calling her. Once she was next to me I asked her to sit, which she while looking at the bushes. I know that she can sit and still be absent minded. So I asked her to target my hand. I used this exercise before. I put my fist next to her head but in a way that she needs to turn away from the stimuli (rabbit in this case) in order to touch it. This seems to do the trick. I had special sausage with me, so I can reward her in more difficult moments. And then we walked away. She was still a bit excited for a minute or so but managed to relax for remaining part of the walk. Again before this would be not possible and I would have to get out of the park as fast as possible dragging her behind.

It is a slow process and sometimes I feel like giving up. And I have given up few times, just avoiding places where there are rabbits (but there is not many of those where we live). But not slowly but steadily we are going in the right direction. I am realistic and I don’t expect her to ever be in this place of leash (a chance that I will not take with train trucks so close) and I am very happy with what we achieved so far. We went from not being able to walk in this park with Salma at all to walking her there on a long line.