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).
Today I took Salma to the park alone so we can work on her rabbit issue without Chili stealing my attention. I had special treats and a 10 m long line with me. I’m surprised how much attention she payed to me. We worked on her recall (when she was not too preoccupied, baby steps) and I rewarded her every time she chose me over the environment. But most of all it was fun!
I haven’t been writing for a while, I’m busy with the studies (spent few ours on operant conditioning today and my head is about to explode) and Chili has been sick. Just after her visit to emergency clinic which was traumatic enough (I wanted to start working on her attitude to vets ASAP) she developed nasty wounds on both of her ears. There was no time to work on her fear I had to take her to the vet immediately and it was bad. As soon as she saw male vet she didn’t want to walk into the exam room and I had to force her in (it’s not something I ever wanted to do, I was being as gentle as possible holding her side with the harness). In the room she was standing in the corner and crying but yet the vet had to see her ears and check her temperature. She did get antibiotics and cream for her ears. And now I’m worried what’s going to happen next time we have to go there. I wanted to work with her this week but after some thinking I decided to start working after out visit on Thursday (this time with the female vet). I have to wait for the levels of cortisol in her blood to go down after so much stress and since she is getting a steroid that suppress her immune system even further I want her to rest and relax as much as possible (which is difficult enough living in a city). I can see that she is more alert since last week and I don’t want stressors to keep on stacking up. I am working with her with clicker getting her to accept me touching her ears I also want to introduce a symbol that she can associate with her ears being touched. I want to do this in order to make her visits to the vet more predictable and also that she will know that when the symbol is not there she won’t be touched. Hopefully in this way she will feel that she can know what to expect. This I will do through classical conditioning.
And on a positive note we received paintings of our girls today!
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.
Zafra is a young medium sized female dog that was found on Greek streets and brought to the Netherlands. She is a very kind and sweet dog and looks a bit like a miniature Labrador. When I visited her at home for the first time (to let her get used to me before I walk her) she sat next to my and leaned on me with her whole body. Yesterday I took her for a first walk. She was happy to see me enter the apartment even though she is not used to strangers coming in without her owner. She wears a harness with a leash attached in the front so I asked her to sit in front of me so I can attach the leash without putting my arms around her or leaning over her.
She has a very devoted owner that took her to two training courses already (they are together for 2,5 months only!) so I did ask her to sit in while waiting for the lights and so forth.
They are working on recall with a clicker so I took some nice treats with me and my clicker and we did few repetitions of the recall. She is still very much focused on her surroundings, I was walking her on a long line as she goes off hunting sometimes. I did reward her for looking at me and in general paying attention to me. And at the end of the walk she became more attentive and playful.
I enjoyed our walk a lot, and i think she did too.
I don’t think a dog needs to know many commands in order to function well in a human world, I am a bit lazy on the tricks teaching side. But I do think that there are few commands that make our life with dogs (especially in the city) easier.
One of them is “sit and stay”, we can use it in so many different situations, I love it. I thought about it today because after my morning run with Chili I wanted to buy coffee. We went to a small take away place that is also a bakery. As we walked in I asked Chili to sit and stay, which she did. A girl working at the place told me to watch out because their cat is in the room, and so she was, looking at Chili from behind a table. Chili didn’t see her because she was looking at me. In this situation Chili’s sit and stay was sufficient enough but would it be if she saw the cat? And the cat was creeping closer and closer to the point that she was behind a door few centimetres from Chili. At this moment I took Chili out of the bakery and asked her to sit and wait for me in fron of the door (this is still in our park, and there were no people or dogs around at that time). But this was too difficult for Chili and she did stand up, I got my coffee and the cat stayed inside but it made me think we need to get our stays more bullet proof. And this can be done by a lot of exercise in different situations with different level of difficulty. It is important to remember not to increase all the distractions at once. So if I step away farther than usual I will not increase the time I’m away I will actually make it a bit shorter.
Salma is a lot more advanced in her sit and stay but I will also work with her, there is nothing wrong with continuous learning. And actually a seminar by Ian Dunbar I went to was mostly devoted to working on that sit and stay with a very creative distractions, like playing musical chairs while dogs have to sit 🙂
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.