Can You Dig It?!

Spring has sprung here in OK!  Eddie and I started our garden planning by growing some seedlings and decided how and where we want them planted.  One sunny Saturday, Eddie went into the backyard with the mindset of digging up a patch of grass for a garden, but his plan was sidelined after seeing Bernie in action!  Bernie is an expert digger.  He can practically create a hole as big as he is in minutes.  He loves digging for the energy release and how it creates a cool place for him while he’s sitting outside.    Like Bernie, most dogs possess the desire to dig.  Dogs bury and unearth bones or other valuable resources, they dig if they sense little critters roaming their yard and yes they dig out of boredom.  I’ve seen dogs dig underneath fences so they can have an escape route.

Eddie and I understand and appreciate Bernie’s expert abilities, so we decided rather than reprimand him for digging, we will use this as a training opportunity and redirect Bernie’s inappropriate digging into an area where it is appropriate like a digging pit.  The digging pit then became the area of focus and the garden was put on the back burner.  The main reason for changing our mindset in the short term was we looked to set Bernie up for success.  Since the digging pit is what we would use for redirection, we needed the pit built before we started planting.  This way if Bernie began digging up our plants or creating holes in our garden, we would have the opportunity in encouraging him in moving towards the digging pit.

This began our Home Depot trips.  Eddie decided on having wood cut into 4×4.  He bought some screws and we wanted it to look decent in the backyard, so he picked up some polyurethane and wood stain.  We know Bernie loves dirt, but he goes crazy for sand.  I’ve taken him to beaches and into the desert and once his paws touch the sand, he takes off! He romps around in the sand and quickly digs and sniffs and digs and sniffs and then darts off sprinting.  As Eddie was digging up the backyard for the garden, he placed the chunks of grass into the pit.  He leveled off the first layer and added a second layer all the way until it was 3/4 full.  He topped it off with a few inches of sand.  In the matter of a weekend, Bernie had his very own digging area and he couldn’t be happier.  Eddie even said to me, “its as though Bernie knew it was for him”.

Jack and Bernie having fun in their DIY digging pit!
Jack and Bernie having fun in their DIY digging pit!

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Even though Eddie built this on his own, a digging pit can be as easy as filling a kiddie pool with dirt.  You can also bury raw bones and treats in order to encouraging the digging in this area.  Remember, also give praise when your dog is digging in his/her designated area!  This will establish boundaries and rules with your pup!

Now, the next thing is a top for the pit!  To be continued….

Working with A New Rescue Group: Rainbow Bridge Can Wait

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been volunteering my dog training skills with a local rescue group, Rainbow Bridge Can Wait, out in Carnegie, OK.  I offered my services in hopes of helping some rescue dogs become more adoptable.  Its an extremely difficult job for rescues in not just providing a safe haven in the interim for dogs rescued from horrendous situations, but its a whole other ensuring a furever home is just that, FOREVER.  Many rescues find themselves caught between the race of getting dogs adopted to making sure the new family is a right fit for everyone.  Sometimes, its an ethical dilemma, and you just hope it works out.

I reached out to Rainbow Bridge Can Wait a couple of months ago.  I was excited, Carol, the founder had me come on board.  When we initially spoke, she told me about a rescued a German Shepherd named Zack.  She found him with rope burns around his neck and he was only 4 months old at the time. After she brought him back to her facility, it took 8 days for him to become more welcoming towards her.  Now, 4 months later, he rubs on her for attention and has the most relaxed body language of a German Shepherd I’ve ever seen with her.  This is great for him in developing a bond with another human, but she can’t keep him.  Carol asked me to help him with some behavior modification because he is terrified of unfamiliar people, things and other animals.  Many fearful dogs do end up becoming aggressive because of their lack of socialization to anything unfamiliar.  Dogs who are fearful can become reactive in new situations, especially high energy and highly sensitive dogs like a German Shepherd.  They are working dogs breed to herd.  They are sensitive to movement and reading body language of others, people included.  I’m familiar with understanding working dog breeds.  I enjoy their energy and their attention span.  Its amazing when a dog can become motivated, but when training a working dog breed, its a different dimension, you’ll have to be on your toes to find out what you can teach them next.

I’ve been going out to Rainbow Bridge Can Wait for the last couple of weeks.  The first time I met Zack, he was so anxious and jumping on the fence.  He was barking and so very tense.  He would bark nonstop when I first arrived.  I spent the first session just walking slowly and whenever he barked, I would stop and look away.  Looking away is a calming signal to a dog.  It communicates to them I’m not a threat.  As soon as he stopped barking, I would walk closer.  Zack allowed me to come all the way to the fence.  I took some time giving him some treats when he was quiet through the fence.  We worked for several minutes at a time and then I would walk away.  Repeating the steps as I initially approached.  My goal was I didn’t want to reinforce the idea of the stressor (me) moves away when he barks.  I wanted to get across, barking doesn’t get him what he wants.

I felt pretty successful after the first day.  I knew my presence alone caused him a ton of stress and I wanted our time together be something relaxed and positive.  After the first meeting, I wasn’t sure how long it would take for him to feel comfortable with me.  I let him take the lead and Carol and I were both comfortable with this.

As I was driving up to RBCW for my second session, I wasn’t sure how the day would go.  I felt resigned in taking some more time and just repeating the steps we did from last week.  Well, it was a different story.  As I approached his kennel area, he barked a few times, but stopped pretty quickly.  He responded to me when I called his name, I was able to maintain direct eye contact (which is more threatening for a dog) with him while working on a Focus cue and worked a bit on BAT training when unfamiliar came by to meet with Carol.  Zack even laid down and relaxed and at times sat for me when I asked for a sit cue.  I was blown away.  He was ready and that much more comfortable with me.  I contribute this to letting him lead and not pushing him more than what he was capable of doing.  By the end, I was thinking the following week, he may allow me to meet him in his kennel.

Well, the following week was today!  I arrived and suggested to Carol for us to go into his kennel together.  I don’t know if she recognized her response, but she kind of smirked at me when I suggested this.  She told me previously, Zack is attached to her and will react to others when she was around.  I observed Zack in our recent encounters and saw he showed me his wiggly body when she was around, but also showed his same level of awareness of me when I sat by her.  His behavior wasn’t more exaggerated when she was close, so I thought it was still ok to go in to the kennel with her.  I still remained calm, quiet and I let him lead.  When I first went in, he went behind me and nipped me on the back of the leg.  I didn’t react and I wasn’t concerned.  Many dogs who are insecure and or fearful will react in this manner.  It just reminded me to keep it calm and slow.  After about a couple of minutes, I was giving him sit commands and working on stay and release commands.  By the end of our time together, Zack was rolled over and showing me his belly and wanting attention from me.  He would rub his body up against my legs and he allowed me to stroke his body and touch his ears.

Truly amazing.  Not amazing because of anything I did, but the sheer fact of how trust can be developed through respect.  Zack’s trust in me was developed because of my unwavering respect for his boundaries and I took the back seat in our blossoming relationship.  The act of building consistency and maintaining an established level of expectation built the trust between Zack and I. I know today when he was rolled over on his back with his mouth open all I wanted to do was take a picture of him and capture the joy he was expressing.  We’ll work up to the camera in his face, but seeing how he felt so safe with me and I felt honored he did will be forever imprinted in my memories.  Zack, like any other dog, just needed time.  He needed time in becoming familiar with someone new and learning someone new will be ok and treat him well.

If you live near Oklahoma City, OK, check out  Rainbow Bridge Can Wait.  You can also find them on Facebook: Rainbow Bridge Can Wait Facebook Page.

The “Felicity” Story

In the late summer of 2013, I began my volunteer hours with Howl A Day Inn as part of my graduation requirements with ABC.  The volunteer hours were hands on in training shelter dogs in basic obedience.  HADI isn’t an official dog rescue, but Melina extended herself and her kennel business in providing shelter to adoptable dogs either she personally rescued or were placed in her facility in a foster care capacity, so I gave some volunteer time in exchange for absorbing some of her canine knowledge.

During the entire book learning with ABC, I applied my studies in practical settings by working with Jack.  As you know, he TOTALLY needed it.  I felt resolute in my application of the theory when it was just me.  Now, being in front of a seasoned trainer on her turf with the dogs she already established trust and a relationship with, this completely intimidated me.  I’m no stranger to new and challenging situations, so I remained humbled and open during this new experience.

I know I was passionate about learning, but I also knew I wasn’t an expert and I was a little afraid of making mistakes.  I was glad my first day was with Glenda from Heeling Hounds. She gave me some time with her walking a few of the dogs and gave me guidance which I grew more confident as our first session at HADI progressed.  After a couple of more times at HADI with Glenda, I was set free and I began my time there as what became a long term volunteer.

The first day on my own, “on the job”, Melina was ready for me to get started even if I was a bit hesitant.  Yes, i already had a couple of hours under my belt in working with some of the dogs.  As I entered into one of the yards where many dogs hung out during the day.  I knew no direct eye contact and I refrained from granting any immediate attention to any or all of the dogs.  I also followed the number one rule, keep walking and ignore!  I was making my way into the kennel area and out of nowhere, Felicity came to say “hello” by jumping off her paws as though they had springs in them and landed right on me, practically taking me out.  I was beyond a little shocked, but from that point on, I fell in love and was intrigued with her level of energy.

Such a smarty!!
Such a smarty!!

From that day forward until I moved, every Tuesday, I arrived at HADI at 8am, excited to see what Felicity had in store for me.  I worked with her on leash walking, sit, stay and maybe a few other basic commands which for a novice like me, she tested my abilities. She hardly looked at me, she sometimes didn’t respond to her name, she acted like I didn’t exist.  I continued trying and working out new ways in getting her attention.  Melina offered her wise experience and at one point even watched us as I tried to get Felicity to sit before I opened the gate to come back inside.  Felicity just stood there waiting for the door to open.  Melina suggest I walk her away and come back and try again.  At some point in the following 10 minutes, she sat and her reward was coming inside.  Felicity forced me to dig a little deeper and have patience for myself.  Now, looking back, what she taught me was trust.  Trust in my growing skill set and seeing trust as a vital component in the animal/human bond.

Trust is such a huge component in the relationship between dog and its human.  Its something created by building consistency, affection and above all else, mutual respect. Trust seems to be the most apparent when the least expected happens.  One Tuesday, Felicity and I went for a walk around the fields.  We were working on pulling on a leash, for a pit/boxer mix, she has some serious muscle.  As we were walking, the buckle on her collar broke off and there she goes, full out sprint.  I wasn’t sure what she was after, maybe the peacocks peeked her interest or if she saw a loose dog.  Whatever the case, She was too fast for me.  I was unable to catch up with her, so I stopped.  I thought to myself, how will I get her back.  Melina will be expecting me to arrive back at HADI with Felicity, what do I do.  So, I proceeded to walk in the general direction she ran to and I called her name only once or twice and what do you know, she full out sprinted back to me.  I was utterly surprised.  I didn’t practice recall with her and up until that point, I didn’t think she even acknowledged our relationship.  From that day forward, I felt the strong connection with her.  I walked and sometimes ran with her every Tuesday.  Felicity enjoyed her time with me, but I know I learned the most from her and loved every minute of it.  By the end of 2014, she would clear a 6ft fence just to come and say hello when I came by HADI.  I would sometimes help Melina clean kennels and here she was right behind me following me around and checking in with me.  Trust is the most vital in creating a bond. Trust is something where I will take with me and hold in my heart with every dog I come into contact with in my work and with my own pups.  Trust will be what moves me in making decisions for a dog who doesn’t have a voice otherwise.  Its something which needs nurturing for any deepening relationship.

I planned on adopting Felicity and include her in our move to Oklahoma.  Eddie and I looked for a house with a backyard and a fence thinking and planning for a three bear household.  We talked with new property managers and explained our situation.  We remained honest someone will rent to us with three dogs.  In the end, in the county where we live, we were not allowed more than 2 dogs and on top of that the owner of the home we liked wouldn’t budge on a 2 dog maximum.  I was devastated and I didn’t know how I was going to break the news to Melina and I wasn’t prepared for how much my heart was going to hurt when I saw Felicity for the last time.

The last morning in El Paso, Eddie was packing up our last bits and I was off to pick up Jack and Bernie at HADI.  As soon as I walked in, what do you know, Felicity hopped over the fence and was so happy to see me.  Her wiggly body, her ears back and tail wagging. In that moment, I gave the sad news to Melina and I honestly believe Felicity heard me too.  With tears streaming down my face, practically in a full out bawl, I said goodbye to Felicity.  My heart still hurts, tears still streaming as I recall this moment and my hope is for someone who has room in their heart to adopt her.  Someone who can be active with her, train her and show her as much love as she will give you.

Her sweet and happy face!

If you’re interested in adopting Felicity, please contact Melina Garos at Howl A Day Inn. HADI’s number is 915-355-7949.

If you have any questions or want additional information, please contact me directly.  I would be happy to talk to you about her.

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