dog emotions

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).


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.




I hate being a stupid owner

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I made a mistake today. I wish I never made stupid mistakes when it comes to dogs, but I’m only human. But man this one was really stupid. I cant even understand why I would do something like it. Chili has been a bit restless lately, I’m not exactly sure why but I have been feeding her more lately (as she lost more weight) and we did go to holiday where she had more exercise. She is also urinating more, marking after other dogs more. Something is definitely up (and yes we are checking if it is not medical). Because she has been restless I decided to take her for a bike ride in the morning. Nothing really crazy, just an of leash run through the park. And that’s where my mistakes takes place. As we were going downhill I saw two dogs in front of us. We’ve met them once before and they rushed at Chili barking and growling. But as we were walking away Chili gained confidence and chased the bigger dog back to its owner, doing a wide bow at the end. Knowing this alone I should turn at all costs. But no, I decided to just past them by, which put Chili in a very bad situation. I forced her to approach them, and they did go for her again (they are a small pinscher and a medium pinscher). And she first got a bit scared but then she got angry, and she run them back to their owner, barked at them and did wide bows in front of them. I had to call her away. She didn’t behave wrong in this situation, but she did behave intensely because she doesn’t have skill do deal with this. And I should never put her in this situation, I set her up to fail, and man it will take time to fix.

Soon enough I realised what will be the immediate consequences. We were walking past by a medium female dog, and Chili stayed next to me and ignored the other dog. But as I turned and got on my back Chili rushed at that dog (that was on the other side of a path) and barked at her. I called her back, immediately. I don’t rise my voice at my dogs but I did use a low tone of voice. She was next to me in a second so I asked her to sit, so I can gather my thoughts. Ok, so walking by dogs is ok but when I’m biking it’s not. My conclusion? Because of the situation with the pinschers earlier she associated me biking and her meeting dogs with a conflict situation or a situation where she is not able to NOT interact with dogs. And I spend months to teach her that she can be safe around other dogs. First of all I made sure I was not on the bike when we saw any dogs, and yes it worked, Chili behaved normally. There was one moment when she saw a dog below a hill and her shoulder blades tensed so I called her to me and asked her to heel. 

We did have another incident but not so negative, surprisingly. As we were heading home, I saw a woman with a young puppy on a path below the hill, but we were moving fast and we were on top so I though we wont meet them. But seconds later puppy was running at us. I managed to get Chili on the leash, she is not very good with puppies, she doesn’t know how to stop them. For a moment I thought the puppy will follow it’s owner and we will be ok, but he was more interested in us them his owner. So I let Chili off leash. Why? Because I don’t think it’s fair to keep her on a leash while another dog is jumping all over her body and her face. And I literally mean jumping. I did say to the owner that they are not playing and that Chili is not good with puppies. But she didn’t walk away. So I sad down. Of course I wouldn’t do this if I thought that Chili can actually hurt the puppy or really scare him. She was displacing him, and trying to get him back to the owner. And she also would stop whenever he stopped. She did get him back to the owner and the owner put him on leash so I called her back. And we waited a bit so the puppy can walk away. But as we continued on our way home I saw that the woman with the puppy is walking back, straight at us. She saw us, and she didn’t put the puppy on leash. I had Chili walking next to me but the puppy run straight at us. And again we Chili went into displacing him, growling (a growl I see often adults dogs do towards puppies), trying to get him back to his owner. She again would stop when he did, and wouldn’t start chasing him. She only replied whenever he jumped at her. And I think that she did very well. As soon as the puppy went to the owner and didn’t chase Chili she walked away. And as we were walking away I saw the puppy running up to other dogs and being growled at some more.

I wish I didn’t make that mistake with the bike today, and many many others. But I will do my best to stay positive, and focus on ways to work on it. Chili is still work in progress and I’m still learning who she is, and she is learning too. Trying out different strategies, testing her environment. I feel like we are getting into yet another phase, a phase where she is more confident and more independent. Fair enough she haven’t really gone through a typical puberty so I guess I deserve this now 😉


On a journey to adulthood

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I see rising a dog as a journey, a long one. Salma was around 2 years old when she started to behave like a mature dog but it still took a year for her behaviour (especially towards other dogs to settle), and she did become a lot more confident in a past year. Now I feel that we know each other well, I know what I can expect from her. But the most importantly I trust her fully when it comes to interactions with other dogs. I know she is very skilled, and confident so she knows when to participate in interactions. She prefers to avoid conflict and uses running as a way of getting rid of some dogs, especially adolescent and puppies, at the same time she is not afraid of confrontation with dogs that are pushy or bully other dogs. She will displace the, and she will not let them displace her. Salma was really scared of dogs when she was young, she was separated from her mom at 4 weeks and didn’t have a good dog role model while growing up. I worked on her as well as I could, but put too much pressure for her to have contact with dogs, and for a while she was obsessed with meeting other dogs. From the beginning she was more interested in her environment than working with people, so when dogs came into play I was probably the least interesting thing on the menu. Back then I was really into clicker training, and training in general and I was missing the knowledge to see our relationship as something more complex than positive reinforcement. And don’t get me wrong I really loved her and I think she loved me, and we did have fun together I was just too focused on training my dog and not focused enough on helping her become a well adjusted adult. Slowly, my attitude changed and I become more interested in dog communication, and focused more on just being a unit with Salma. I remember the switch, how I felt that now we are a group going together for a walk and not just dog and a owner. And Salma is just a wonderful dog. Yes she has issue with chasing trains (which she doesn’t do but would love to) and rabbits and she is a bit emotional when she gets excited. But she is so cool and sweet. I was very lucky to find her. And she must have good genes as her sister is also very skilled in interactions with dogs.

Funny enough this post was supposed to be about Chili. But I guess most posts are, as she is still work in progress and I’m still trying to figure her out. 

She is a year and 10 months old now and far from being an adult. I see changes in her behaviour after we came back from Communication Classes, she is more confident and more interested in other dogs. I let her explore her personality and learn how to interact. Because she is a bit more outgoing those last two weeks, I interfere and protect her less. I see it this way if she is hiding behind me when a dog comes by that dog is not getting to her, because I need her to feel safe with me. On the other hand if she approaches a dog herself and that dog chases her away or scares her I don’t interfere. I want her to learn that her behaviour has consequences and to pay attention to the body language of other dogs. On the other hand I don’t think she is ready to deal with unstable dogs so I do make sure (as much as possible) that we avoid those. 

Salma during the communication classes

That’s were the magic happens

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Below you can find a link to a blog post by Alexa Capra. She was our host and mentor during the communication classes and I am a big fun of her work. I think she understand dogs on a level that most can’t achieve. I love what she does. Below you can read a story of Zolty (Yellow).

I saw him last year and this year, and I had tears in my eyes during his second interaction with Mila. It was a truly magical moment. 



Be rude, impolite and antisocial

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Yes, be all those things if it will help your dog feel better. We are social animals and we are under pressure to fit in, to behave in socially acceptable ways. I say try to get over it. I know it’s difficult but it is worth it, especially if you have a fearful dog. Our dogs should be able to trust us and it is our responsibility to keep them safe. There is absolutely nothing wrong in telling people they should not touch your dog, or talk to eat (for some dogs that’s already too much), and it is not ok for another dog to bully yours even if their owner is trying to convince you that “He just want to play” and your dog has learn how to be tough.

I wanted to write about this topic today because I just had two situations when I behaved impolite because it was in Chili’s best interest. First when we went to the vet (she lost more weight recently and we dong know why 😦 ). Unfortunately, the vet was a man, normally I would only make an appointment with a female doctor but it had to be today. Chili stopped at the door for a second, which she doesn’t do with female doctors so before even saying “Good afternoon” or “Hi my name is Kat” I said “She is afraid of people so please DO NOT touch her unless it is necessary for the examination”. I could see that he was a bit taken aback by it and didn’t respond to my request but introduced himself. But I made my point and he did not touch her unless it was necessary, and that’s what I need for Chili. And in general this vet was better than many that I’ve met over the years, so we were lucky. White coat or not no one should manhandle your dog, and yes sometimes unpleasant procedures are necessary but it is important to make them as comfortable as possible for the dogs. 

Second situation happened when we were walking home, and I felt worse about it. We were passing by our distant neighbour who has a young golden retriever. This dog is all made up out of excitement, and he is very social and playful but he is way too intense for Chili. He also drags his owner behind him on the leash and I was worried that if I try to explain in word why I don’t want him to come up to us his dog will already get to Chili. So I nodded at him and quickly passed by, he looked a bit confused and was still walking behind us for a while, but I kept on going. And I feel bad because he probably felt ostracised, and I think he is already struggling with his dog, he is sweet but really strong and doesn’t listen at all. But I had to choose Chili over social norms or expectations, and I will do it every time I need to.