fearful dog

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).

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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:

http://blog.chako.org/accept-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.

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Never ending story with a fearful dog

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Early separation form the mother

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“There is also some evidence that taking puppies out out of their litters before eight weeks of age predisposes them to become fearful of other dogs…” 

In Defence of Dogs. John Bradshaw

Oh how I wish people working in rescues will take more time learning about dogs. Chili and her siblings were separated from their mother at 6 weeks of age, and they were put in foster homes, even though their mother stayed in a dog hotel for another year.  And many litter of puppies were dealt with in the same way after and before Chili. Salma and her siblings were placed in a metal cage in a shelter cellar with cats, they didn’t have day light most of the day and didn’t meet any adult dogs. After we managed to get all of them out of there, there were many more puppies in the same situation. 

I know that working in shelters, helping rescue dogs is a very hard work, I know because I did it. However, with more knowledge it is easier to avoid simple mistakes and some of them can make a difference for the rest of dog’s life. I went through hell with Chili, and I will work on her for the rest of her life. I absolutely adore her but my heart breaks when I think what kind of dog she could have been if she had a chance to stay with her mom and siblings longer. I love rescue dogs but they have enough issues as it is and it is unnecessary to add more. 

 

On the picture Salma (right) and her sister Katya (left) minutes after I brought them home. They were 4 weeks old and Katya was very sick, but she made it 🙂

Salma and Katya, our first day

 

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 😉