Friday, February 15, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog: Part 7: What the K9 Guy Said

Kai in the truck on the way to boarding school

First, let me say that leaving your dog with a total stranger, even if the dog is kind of a brat and the stranger really seems to get dogs, feels like you're leaving your baby in a basket on someone's doorstep.

Unfortunately, even though Kai's behavior has improved since we committed to keeping him, it's still not good enough to make a comfortable life for the three of us, particularly as Old Dog and I age and  have less ability to physically control him as time goes on. The problems fall into three categories:
  • Aggression toward other dogs.
  • (Less frequent) aggression toward people
  • "Orbiting the yard"--that is, running in circles at full speed and then skidding to a halt, to the point that all the boundary areas of the yard, and some additional paths where he's created cross-town paths, are now rutted mud holes where there used to be lawn. (I once bathed him three times in one day. Not only does it tear up the yard--he comes in slathered in mud.)
So, we loaded him up and took him to a K9 Guy in northern Kentucky, about an hour and a half from where we live.

In the training building, he trotted around, sniffing everything while keeping an eye on where Old Dog and I were, while K9 Guy explained the plan: he would keep Kai for a week, working with him on the problem behaviors. He would also evaluate his potential to become a rescue dog or a drug-sniffing dog. He said only a very tiny percentage of dogs have the capability to do this kind of work and Kai's dog-reactivity issues made him unlikely to be one of them.

K9 Guy said that when people domesticated dogs and took them into their homes, they "humanized" them. He says approximately 80% of all dogs can be humanized. The other 20% make up most of his practice. Kai, he said, was in that 20%.

I noticed, without giving it much thought, that as Kai checked out the training building, he stepped on K9 Guy's foot. Kai is a very athletic dog, who moves with a lot of precision. The first day we had him (before we realized how bad he is with other dogs, we took him to a public agility course. He could do everything there with no previous training that I'm aware of.)

Then he stepped on K9/s guy's foot a second time. I couldn't remember Kai ever doing that to me or Old Dog. He's not a clumsy dog.

"Did you see him step on my boot?" asked K9 Guy.

I nodded.

"That's his way of saying, 'You ain't nothing. I don't even notice that you're here.'"

Yup. That sounded like Kai.

Even though Kai checked out the room like he was just curious, his anxiety  was very clear: he salivated so heavily he was literally (not figuratively) foaming at the mouth.

K9 Guy instructed us to say goodbye and then walk out the door without stopping to pet Kai. I've given that same advice to parents of toddlers when I've worked church nurseries--"Say a cheery goodbye and walk out the door without looking back or lingering--the kids do much better when you do that." Unfortunately, when toddlers are going through that separation anxiety phase, most parents can't seem to do that. Instead, they drag it out and leave me with a screaming toddler whose belief that something awful is happening was just reinforced by his parents' behavior.

So, we ignored the foam on Kai's muzzle and his look of betrayal and hit the road. 

K9 Guy said I could text to check on him as much as I wanted, so when we stopped for dinner a half-hour later, I pulled out my phone. Old Dog gave me a look and I put it back away. I did text when we got home. K9 Guy said Kai was finally laying down and settling in. And, presumably, no longer foaming at the mouth.

Next week: How Kai Did His First Week in Training





Friday, February 8, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 6--What the Trainer Did

Kai after the February thaw
(If you want more of the background on this story, please read my previous posts so we don't bore everyone who has been following along.)

We wound up rescheduling the trainer a couple of times due to weather (I hear you, Minnesota. Ohioan are wimps. A little -10 temp mixed with 30 mile an hour winds and we stop going outside.)

Anyway, the trainer came on Saturday after it warmed up a little, bringing a training collar, a shock collar and a couple of her own dogs.

She started out with the training (aka prong) collar by putting it around my wrist and demonstrating what it would feel like when popped gently (barely noticeable, and I bruise/cut really easily) and more firmly (definitely something I'd pay attention to, but with Kai's heavy coat of fur, still no more than uncomfortable).

Then she showed me the shock collar, which I could use to gain control when he's at a distance. Its settings ranged from 0 to 100. Up to 5, I felt only a vibration. At 7, it gave me a little shock, less than what I get when I shake out rugs and then touch the metal door handle. (Note: I haven't invested in one of these and I'm not sure I will.)

We then tried to lure Kai into a behavior that warranted a correction, but even when I set a peanut butter cookie at the edge of the counter, he didn't try to snatch it. You could see him thinking about it, but then he gave us the side-eye and walked away. (Which obliterates his "I didn't know any better" defense, by the way.)

So, we took him for a walk in the neighborhood. He continued to be angelic--right up until we got to the house with the barky little hound dog inside the underground fence. Kai was convinced he was a threat and tried to rush him, giving the trainer a great opportunity to show me a firm correction. I'm not sure how well it worked, because for the first time, the owner of said barky little dog called it into the house.

So, we decided to bring Remi, the trainer's Aussie, into the house to meet Kai on his own turf. Kai had met Remi previously, at the PetSmart near Cincinnati. Their first, face-to-face, encounter there did not go well, but when I turned Remi around and he presented his hindquarters for sniffing, Kai was able to accept him.

So we tried all that again, with not great results. Face-to-face, Kai was very aggressive and only a combination of training collar and shock collar correction finally got him to back off. At the trainer's direction, I turned Remi around so that he didn't present any kind of threat--and Kai bit him on the butt. Only the fact that Remi has an extremely dense coat of fur (the dog looks like a tumbleweed with legs) saved him from being hurt.

In dog world, biting another dog who is presenting his butt is an act of aggression and a breach of basic canine etiquette. It's the human equivalent of shooting an unarmed man. And the spookiest part was that up until the split second before he attacked, Kai appeared to be simply sniffing curiously.

So, I muzzled Kai (which he doesn't love) and we took them out for a walk together. Over the course of the walk, he stopped snarling at Remi--at least until we passed a yard with barking dogs, which got him all riled up again. I was grateful for the muzzle when one of my neighbor's dogs ran out of her yard. If Kai hadn't been muzzled, she might have been hurt.

From now on I will muzzle Kai when he leaves the yard. He hates it, but I can't risk him hurting someone or someone's dog.

In other news, the training academy placement came through. Yesterday, Old Dog and I took Kai to Kentucky for a week of onsite training and evaluaion for his potential to become a working dog with an actual job.

If you're curious about the place, here is a wonderful success story about the place.

Next installment: What the K9 Academy guy said.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 5: The "E" Word

Kia's favorite toy, Julius


Last week when we left off, I had contacted the rescue organization to say I couldn't keep Kai after he got expelled from obedience class. I had then taken him to Cincinnati to be evaluated by a trainer, who felt that he had a lot of potential in the right kind of home.

In fact, she knew someone who ran a K9 training school who might be interested in acquiring Kai to train as a drug/cadaver-sniffing dog. He didn't have a current opening, though, so we were waiting for him to give us a date when he might want to meet Kai to assess his potential.

And we were trying to keep it low-key until we knew for sure.

That was on Friday.

On Sunday evening, I got a call from my rep at the rescue organization that went something like this:

Her: Where's Kai?

Me: On the couch.

Her: What?

Me: He's on the couch. (Wondering: do they have a rule against allowing your dog on the furniture?) Why do you ask?

Her: We heard that you'd given him away.

Me: Nope. He's right here.

Her: We heard you gave him to someone who runs a dog training business.

Me: Nope. I'm looking at getting him into a training program, but nothing's happened yet. Have you found a home for him?

Her: No. Are you sure you still have him?

Me: (Looking over at the couch, where he's sacked out.) Yep. I'm sure.

Discussion revealed that the woman who had accused me of drugging Kai and thought I was an idiot for taking him to obedience class had since quit the organization in a snit and was spreading false rumors.

My rep then confided that she wasn't sure they were going to be able to place Kai again, due to the nipping incident. (Note: He did NOT bite anyone. He nipped at my granddaughter and tore her shirt in the process of herding her back to be with the other kids.) The Bite Committee, she said, would have to make a decision.

That didn't sound good. I hung up feeling bleak.

A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time, it was the lawyer from the rescue organization.

Her: Where's Kai?

Me: Still on the couch.

Her: What?

Me: He's right here. Lying on the couch. The rep just called and asked me the same question.

Her: We heard that you'd given him away to someone who runs a K9 training organization.

Me: Nope.

Her: Because the contract you signed with us said that if you decide not to keep him, you have to return him to us.

Me: Which is exactly what I tried to do. You don't have a place for him.

Her: Well, I'm not sure we're going to be able to place him again. We don't place dogs that bite.

Me: He didn't bite anyone.

Her: What's your definition of "bite?"

Okay, my definition of a dog bite is that it leaves a puncture wound, not a small tear in a t-shirt and a microscopic dot of blood.

Me: He didn't bite anyone. He nipped at my granddaughter.

Her: That's not okay. Dogs are not allowed to put teeth on anyone.

Me: I know that. Unfortunately, no one taught him that when he was a puppy, so he's having to learn it now.

Her: Well, we heard that you gave him to someone else. If you did that, you would be in violation of the contract you signed with us.

Which, coming from a lawyer, sounded a little threatening.

Me: You know what? I'm not comfortable with the communication in your organization. I just got off the phone with my rep, who appears to have heard a slightly different story. How about if we set up a conference call so that we all hear the same story at the same time?

So, we did. And the upshot was, they wanted to take him back and euthanize him. At least, the lawyer did. The rep was heartbroken but probably wouldn't be able to prevent it.

I got off that call feeling even bleaker. They didn't want him back, but they weren't willing to let me find another placement that might be a better fit for him.

Here's the deal: Kai is kind of a brat, but he hasn't done anything to deserve the death penalty.

So, I talked to Old Dog, who said, "If we send him back, do you think they'll kill him?"

That's exactly what I thought.

Old Dog looked over at Kai, peacefully snoozing on the couch. "He doesn't deserve that."

I called the rep back told her we'd decided to keep him.

So, here's where it gets interesting. Pretty much the minute we made that decision, a lot of his bad behavior disappeared. It's like he knew he'd been accepted, warts and all, and he could relax.

The creepy mounting behavior? Mostly gone. A simple, "Off" makes him get down. The destructive chewing. Mostly gone. Getting into stuff when he's left out while we're gone. Okay, he ate an entire box of peanut butter cookies yesterday, but i his defense, I did leave them within reach.

Tomorrow we do our first session with the trainer from Cincinnati.

Next week: What the Trainer Did




Friday, January 25, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 4: What the Trainer Said

Here's a video to show how smart Kai is:


At the request of the rescue organization, I put Kai into the back seat of my Subaru, fastened his seat belt, and drove 40 miles south to the West Chester PetSmart to meet Paula, the professional dog trainer they wanted to assess Kai's ability to be successfully placed with another family.

When we got there and Paula got out of her SUV, she was about 5 feet tall and maybe 100 pounds. She did not look like someone who could readily command dogs to do her bidding, but I figured the rescue folks knew what they were doing.

She gave me a training collar and instructed me to put it on Kai and leave him in my car. I would get into Paula's truck with her Aussie, Remy while Paula would then get into my front seat and determine how she wanted to proceed. The thought was that without me there to protect, Kai would be a lot more open to meeting a new person.

And he was. He was actually delighted to meet Paula. (She later told me that anytime he meets new people when I'm at the other end of the leash, his instinct will be to protect me. Because, she says, he's In Love With Me. I'm his person and no one else is supposed to come near me.)

Paula directed me to take Remy into the store while she conversed with Kai a little on proper etiquette. Essentially, she gave him a couple of quick pops on his training collar, accompanied by some firm commands and he instantly turned into St. Kai. (Seriously.)

Once they came inside the store and he saw me with Remy, he went back into his barking/lunging routine. Another couple of pops and he reverted to Kai the Perfect.

I started to see that a lot of our problems might not be at his end of the leash.

Paula said one of Kai's problems is that he never learned to meet another dog face-to-face, so when he's put in that situation, he freaks out. She had me turn Remy around so Kai could meet him face-to-butt. Kai found that a lot easier to deal with (and Remy was completely laid back about what felt to me like a first class invasion of personal space). I won't say that Kai got chummy with Remy, but they were able to wander around PetSmart without any further altercations.

I've taken Kai into my local PetSmart twice and it did not go well either time. The first time he heard another dog yelping and flipped out. The second time he seemed to do a little better until we were standing in the checkout line and he suddenly turned and lunged at the guy in line behind us. (Who was an incredibly good sport about it.)

This time, with Paula at the other end of the leash, he trotted happily around the store, sniffing everything he could get his big beak on and wiggling his stubby little tail a hundred miles an hour.

Paula's take is that inside Kai there is a really wonderful dog who was not socialized as a pup. Consequently, he frequently gets into situations that he doesn't know how to handle and behaves badly.

Her recommendation to the rescue organization was that he needed to be placed in a very specific kind of home--one where he has a "job" to keep him busy and someone who will know how to work with him to overcome these deficits.

Unfortunately, the rescue organization doesn't have a home like that available for him. And, because of some of the bad behavior I reported (he nipped at one of the grandkids on New Year's Eve and tore her shirt), they aren't very interested in placing him again.

Meanwhile, Paula contacted a colleague she's worked with in the past, a man who runs a K9 school where he trains dogs for drug/cadaver/bomb sniffing. After she described Kai, he was very interested in assessing Kai's potential for this type of work. Right now, however, he doesn't have an opening.

So we're in a holding pattern.

Next week: The "E" word

Friday, January 18, 2019

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog, Part 3--Things Go Downhill

If you've read my last couple of posts, then you know about Kai, the Australian Shepherd that Old Dog and I adopted via a rescue organization. We brought him home the day after Thanksgiving.

Kai had a lot of behavioral issues from the very beginning. Most of them weren't directed at Old Dog or me, but manifested when Kai encountered other people or animals. Because he found these interactions so stressful, I contacted the vet and got a supply of Trazadone, aka doggy downers, to help him manage his anxiety.

On Christmas Eve, when Old Dog's kids and their kids traditionally get together with us to celebrate Christmas, I gave him the first round. Even with the drugs in his system, Kai had to be kept on a leash most of the day--which created its own issues, since he's very protective of me and didn't want anyone near me.

On New Year's Eve, for my annual sleepover event with all the grandkids, I tried administering more drugs, and sooner. That seemed to help some. I also left him off the leash. He wasn't overtly aggressive with anyone, just displayed typical herding behavior common in Aussies. I've spent the past eight New Year's Eves yelling, "No running!" all evening. This year, it was like I had a furry 50-pound bouncer enforcing that rule.

My own personal worst week with him was Week 2, when he began mounting me to assert his dominance whenever I didn't do what he wanted--which usually meant I wasn't taking him outside to play ball 500 times a day. I finished the week riddled with bruises down my back, ribs and legs. After I watched a couple of YouTube videos on how to manage that behavior though, (just tell him, in a firm, calm voice, to sit) it quickly tapered off.

Through all of this, I kept my hopes pinned the obedience class that started after New Years. If I could get him through the basics, I could take him on through agility classes and/or scent training. He's very bright, so either of those would give him the "job" that I understand is critical for keeping Aussies engaged and out of trouble.

On January 3rd, we went to our first obedience class. In preparation, I gave him 90 mg of Trazodone three hours ahead of time and then walked him for a half hour. Despite my precautions, as soon as we got out of the car and he saw the other dogs, he started barking and yelping and lunging.

The instructors funneled us off to a separate room to see if he could calm down. He did, somewhat, but when one of the instructors came in to talk to us, he lunged at her face. She said she felt a tooth graze her cheek. She left the room, very shaken. A few minutes later, the other instructor came in an coached me through calming him again, using the sit command and frequent treats. He seemed to be fine until, out of nowhere, he lunged at her, too. She said they'd refund my training fee and recommended private training. She said their greatest concern was his unpredictability--that he seemed okay one second and would attack a second later.

Private training is expensive--the local trainer I've found charges $1500. It's just not in our budget, particularly since there's no guarantee it would help. Correcting his behavior is beyond my skills. I was really counting on those obedience classes.

So, I contacted the rescue organization about returning him. They asked me to meet with a trainer so they could evaluate whether he can be placed with another family.

Next week: Part 4: What the Trainer Said


Saturday, December 15, 2018

Chronicles of a Rescue Dog--Part 2

Kai, the Australian shepherd rescue that came home with us the day after Thanksgiving, has now been here for three weeks.

(If you'd like to know what's going on in my writing world, you can always check the Tuesday entry each week on Eight Ladies Writing, a blog I co-write with my fellow students from the McDaniel Romance Writing program.)

Things that are good/better:
  • Despite his social anxiety issues (i.e. he barks and lunges at dogs and people), he's been accepted into the Adult Basic Class at Gem City Dog Obedience Club. We start Thursday, January 4th.
  • Working at home, he's gotten a lot better at sit, stay and down. His sit is now good enough to let me get this picture!


  • We've also started working on "muzzle"--getting used to wearing a muzzle, which I suspect he'll need at Gem City.
  • The other command he understands is crate. Yesterday as I was getting ready to go meet friends for lunch, I filled his Kong (a hollow hard rubber dog toy) with peanut butter--something to keep him busy for a while in his crate. When he saw me he sighed and plodded over to his crate and went in and lay down, looking dejected. It was heartbreaking, but really convenient.
  • The mounting behavior that showed up in Week 2 is almost gone. Thank goodness. I spent most of week two shaking him off my leg and peeling him off my back. I understand this behavior is dominance, not sex, but his nails left me covered in bruises. I did not like it.
  • His fear aggression on a leash has gotten slightly better. I watched some YouTube training videos on this topic and learned that if I walk him away from things that trigger him or insert myself between him and the so-called danger, with my back to the danger, it calms him. Unless he's really keyed up (like first thing in the morning), that can be enough to calm him. 


Things that are neutral:
  • He doesn't chase the ball as much as when he came here. At first, it would require 30 throws down the length of our yard, with him running full out, before he was remotely willing to go back inside. Now, after a throw or two he settles down to chew on the ball, or wanders around the yard looking for a place to hide it. 
  • He still barks and lunges at the neighbors at the back fence, but I can read his bark and his body language well enough now to realize he's not really doing the fear-aggression thing, he's just amusing himself. Unfortunately, the neighbors don't really see the nuance--they just know he still barks at them. We've started using the penny can (an empty tennis ball can with pennies in the bottom--he doesn't like the noise it makes.) and the spray bottle (he also doesn't like being hit with a stream of water right between the eye) to provide negative reinforcement for this behavior.
Things that are worse:
  • When he first arrived, if we left the house for a few hours we would leave him free to roam. Lately, though, he's become a bit destructive--he removes the insoles from my shoes and slobbers on them and he pulls the nap from the throw rugs. One day he found a bag of potatoes. He shredded the plastic bag and ate the eyes out of the potatoes. Just the eyes. Very weird. So now he has to be crated. Hoping that will reverse once he's more accustomed.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Dog Day Afternoon--and Morning and Night!

And now for something totally unrelated to writing...

Last Friday, Old Dog and I drove to Cleveland to meet and, as it turned out, adopt a one-year-old Australian shepherd named Kai (pronounced to rhyme with the last syllable of bonsai).

Here's a picture of Kai lying outside the bathroom in our back hallway:



If you're a dog person, you're probably wondering why anyone would give up such a beautiful dog.

His original family had a couple of small children and two Aussies. At some point last summer they decided that was all just too much, so they gave the dogs up for adoption. 

So far, he's been a mixed bag of joy and frustration/anxiety--but with a definite bent toward joy.

  • He is absolutely obsessed with playing ball. If someone will throw it for him, he will gladly chase it till he has no energy left (which takes around 30 throws down the length of our big yard).

  • If no one will throw it, he will play by himself. Kind of. What he actually does is shove the ball beneath some piece of furniture and then try to get it back out. If he can't (about 70% of the time) he cries and yelps until his new mom comes and digs it our for him. Then he immediately shoves it back into the same spot.
  • He's a very cuddly bed buddy. He's staked out his spot in the middle of our king-sized bed and he happily lies there all night, alternately pressing his warm little back against my calves or Old Dog's. (Who made the decision to let the dog sleep in our bed, you ask? That would be Old Dog.)
  • He's a nightmare on a leash. Today we invested in a corrective harness that apparently makes it uncomfortable to jerk and lunge. Things got much better and we were actually able to go for a walk.
  • At the vet's on Tuesday, he was doing great until she leaned over and made eye contact. That's apparently some kind of trigger, because he instantly transformed into a barking, snarling monster. He did the same thing when our dog-loving neighbors leaned over the fence to pet him.
  • He finished his well visit to the vet in a muzzle. The vet says he wasn't properly socialized as a puppy. She says, because he's still young, this can be trained out of him with enough patience and discipline. She says we need to take him into as many social situations as possible and help him learn to cope.
After the first of the year, Kai and I will start obedience training, with the intention of moving on into agility work or nose work once he's mastered the basics of good doggy behavior. 

If anyone has any suggestions around taking a very active, very bright dog who was never properly socialized as a puppy and turning him into a good canine citizen, I'm all ears!

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