Living with a Fearful Dog

May 7th, 2015 No comments

Imagine that you are someone that has a fear of spiders. Now imagine that you are in a room filled with spiders. You encounter one spider and get weirded out and turn in another direction. Low and behold there are more spiders in your path and you get more creeped out. You turn again in a different direction. You can’t escape them. They’re everywhere you turn. You’re in a constant state of panic and all you want to do is to find a space to hide from all of the creepy crawlies. The fear you are feeling isn’t logical, but yet to you is very real. This is the mindset of a fearful dog.

There are varying degrees of fearfulness in a dog. Some might only be fearful of a specific trigger like loud noises, sudden movements, other animals, etc. Once the trigger is removed, they go back to being a happy go-lucky dog that enjoys life and the people around them. Then there are other dogs where everything in its environment causes the dog to be afraid and apprehensive. Some might refer to the dog as shut-down.

Training can help fearful dogs, but training alone might not be enough. Depending upon how advanced their fearfulness is, you may need to consider consulting a veterinarian about pairing training with anti-anxiety medication. Anyone that takes on the guardianship of a fearful dog must realize that despite all of your best intentions and training, this dog may never become a happy, normal dog. Even if training does help, it will not be a quick process. You may spend the entire rest of the dog’s life training it how to cope with living in our world.

Allow me to introduce you to Sherman, my current foster dog. He’s been with me since August of 2014. He’s listed as a Sheltie/Spaniel mix that is around 4-5 years old. Sherman is unlike any other dog I’ve ever fostered. His level of fear is high. He’s on alert most of the time, and is spooked by so many things…noises (they don’t have to be loud noises), sudden movements (or any movement towards him), cars, any object you’re holding in your hand and humans…including me. You’ll want to check out the video below of me trying to coax him to come towards me.

He’s not completely shut-down to humans. He is capable of being relaxed and happy. There are times where he is content to have me pet him. Then there are other times where he stays about 5 feet away from me just wagging his tail. He acts like he wants to come toward me, but he stays where he is. He more readily approaches me if my other dogs are already around me. This would be the reason why the rescue is looking to place him in a home with another dog.

There are two times of the day where I witness him in a state of mind where he truly seems relaxed and happy to see me: first thing in the morning before I get out of bed (check out the video below); and then first thing when I get home from work. He gets super excited in both instances and eagerly greets me with tail wagging and body relaxed. During the morning greetings I actually witness him play with a dog toy. It makes me so happy to see him like this, and then so sad to see him once those endorphins wear off. After the euphoria is over he reverts back to this dog that would rather go off into another room by himself.

Given the fact that he does seem capable of being happy around humans, the rescue took him to the veterinarian to be evaluated for anti-anxiety medication. After his evaluation, the doctor prescribed Fluoxetine (i.e. Prozac). He started the medication this past January. I haven’t tried to push any behavior modification training on him yet. I wanted to give the medication some time to kick in and see how he would respond to that alone. I’ve seen some mild improvement. He’s a bit more confident around me and his surroundings.

The next step is to work with him on behavior modification. The doctor recommends starting with  clicker training and getting him to hand target (i.e. touching his nose to my hand). Sounds simple enough, right? I’ve tried the clicker briefly with him already. Getting him use to the sound of the clicker in and of itself is a major challenge. One click and he’s off and running. And that happens even when pairing the click with the yummiest treat imaginable. Once that one click is done, he wants nothing more to do with me.

It breaks my heart to see him like this, and makes me wonder what kind of past he had. Personally, I’m okay with him being who he wants to be, but I’m not a normal dog owner. Most people want a sociable dog that loves attention and human interaction. I hope whoever adopts Sherman will be okay with him the way he is today. If they’re expecting more from him, they’ll be setting him up for failure right from the start. Stay tuned. I will post updates.

Categories: News & Views

Six Year Anniversary of Being Bit by a Dog

June 15th, 2014 No comments

It was on this day 6 years ago that I was bit by a dog. Not just any dog. It was my own dog and his name was Abbot. It wasn’t the kind of bite a band-aide could take care of either.  It was a bite involving lacerations above the eyelid and on the scalp, plus a badly bruised wrist with puncture wounds. I remember that day like it was yesterday. The physical and emotional scars still remain.

I don’t talk about it much because it is not an easy thing to talk about for a lot of reasons. The post over on No Dog About It titled The burden of euthanizing an aggressive dog” does a good job of summing up the guilt, the multitude of “what if’s” and the feelings of failure you go through after an event like this.  It’s given me the courage to speak up now, as I feel there are probably others out there struggling with these issues.

It is very hard to reconcile how a dog you love, that can be super sweet and affectionate, is capable of such an action. After something like this, your trust is broken and your nerves are shot. The physical wounds heal, but the emotional ones…they stay with you. To this day I still tense up anytime I hear a dog getting snarky about something.

As sweet as Abbot was, he had issues.  He was territorial, shy and had major separation anxiety. He was a stray at the shelter I volunteered for. He did not “show” well at the shelter. He would charge the cage door anytime someone would pass by. That is the reason I wanted to foster him. He was never going to get adopted as long as he stayed in the facility. Once out of the cage, he was super sweet and affectionate, but potential adopters could never get past the image of him being an ass in the cage.

I fostered him for 3 months before deciding to adopt him. My head was telling me that I was not the right owner for him, but my heart was telling me otherwise. I worked all day, which is not a good scenario for a dog with separation anxiety.  I had a dog sitter come during the day, but in the end I really don’t think that helped any. If anything, I think it just added to his anxiety. I’m sure Abbot was thinking: “Yay, someone else is here to play with me. Wait, you’re leaving now too? Nooo! Come back!“.

He really should have been in a home where someone was around most of the day.  I justified keeping him as my own by telling myself there was no guarantee that the shelter would find him a home which would meet that criteria. Even if they did, that person is bound to leave the home every once in a while to run errands. How would they handle his separation anxiety? Maybe this issue is why he landed in the shelter in the first place.

The separation anxiety wasn’t his only issue. I wasn’t his first bite either. He bit the neighbor kid through the fencing. I was outside standing next to Abbot at the time monitoring and in a blink of an eye it happened. Thankfully the bite did not cause any damage, but it was still a scary moment. I explained this one away as him being territorial. From that point forward, if the kids were outside, Abbot was on a tie out so he could not reach the fence line. I’m managing the environment. Everything is going to be fine. Now I’m starting to wonder “Had he bitten anyone long before we ever met? Is that the reason why he landed in the shelter?”

Then comes the incident with my friend’s little girl, who I’ll refer to as Ann. She was around 7 at the time. They had come in from out of town for a visit. I kept Abbot on a leash the entire time because I was unsure how he would be around her.  There was a moment where Ann went to give my parents a hug, and Abbot went berserk over it. If he had not been on a leash that day, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have attacked her.  Not good! I couldn’t even begin to explain his actions on this one.

I took him through dog training classes and consulted with the trainer on this. The separation anxiety never got better, but I told myself I was managing the situation and it would be fine. During the periods of time when he was alone, he would have potty accidents and he would destroy things. He just couldn’t help it. The anxiety was too much.  I resigned myself to the fact that I would be cleaning up after him on a daily basis. Not just the accidents, but the destruction too. Take a look at the picture to the right. His crate started out where you can see the Collie standing. By the time I got home the crate was in the kitchen with the carpeting pulled into the crate. How the heck did that happen?! This was a common occurrence.

The day he bit me, was quite frankly, my own fault. We had come home from a visit to my parent’s house and I let him and my other dogs outside for a potty break. Abbot did both while outside. I brought everyone in and went upstairs to work on my computer. The dogs aren’t allowed upstairs. I was upstairs for maybe 40 minutes. Not long in my terms, but long enough for Abbot to have a panic attack. I came downstairs to find pee and poop in the house. I got mad. He was outside not even an hour ago and did both! Why would he do this now? I was at a loss.

I yelled at him and he went running into his crate. I don’t hit dogs, that’s not my style, but he doesn’t know that. I should have known better and taken a second to cool off, but I didn’t. I approached his cage still mad at him. I wanted to get him out of the cage to go back outside. In his mind my body language was communicating to him that I was a threat and he is now trapped in his cage. He had nowhere to go, so he did what he thought he needed to do to protect himself. As I reached in to get him, he nailed me.

I understand why he did what he did that night, but there were too many things going on with him prior to that night which I couldn’t understand. His reaction to Ann hugging my parents being one of them. Some dogs just aren’t wired correctly. How can I justify keeping an aggressive dog, when so many well-adjusted dogs are dying in shelters every day?

Rehoming him was not an option. He was a time-bomb waiting to go off. The next time it could have been a child. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone. Keeping him was no longer an option for me either. My nerves were shot. I no longer trusted him, and I was now afraid of him. That’s not a good combination.  This was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and I did not make it lightly.

I used to believe that all dogs could be saved. They just needed time, love, training and patience. Between what happened with Abbot and what I’ve witnessed in my rescue work since then, my opinion on this changed. I have a new found respect for what dogs are capable of doing.  Some dogs will just never fully adjust to living harmoniously in our world. It’s been a hard pill to swallow.

This all happened 6 years ago. I’ve learned a lot about animal behavior and options for aggressive dogs since then. If I had known then some of what I know now, I might have handled things differently. Would it have made a difference? Obviously there’s no way to know that now. I made the decision that I felt was the best one at the time for him, for my family and for the public in general.

I’m sure there are many of you out there that will disagree with my decision to euthanize him, and feel he had a right to live out his life. I understand where you are coming from. If I had not gone through this myself, I would be feeling the same way. The only thing I can say is this, until you can walk a mile in my shoes, you really have no idea how you would handle the same situation if the roles were reversed. I hope you never have to walk a mile in my shoes.

Categories: News & Views

Dogs that Eat Cat Litter

August 24th, 2012 No comments

How many of you live with dogs and cats in your home? For those of you that have both, how many of you have dogs that enjoy eating cat litter? Both Charm and Daisy enjoy eating cat poop, and it’s been a constant source of frustration for me. I did switch over to a corn based litter a long time ago, because I felt it was a bit more consumption friendly than clay.

Having said that, I’m also trying various things to deter them from even getting into the litter box. Currently, the litter box resides inside a soft-sided crate and I have it wedged in the corner of the room. I didn’t think they could get to the entrance of the crate, but I was wrong!

My latest attempt was to install an extra tall baby gate with a small pet access door to the room that has the litter box. The small pet access door would let the cat come and go as he pleases, but would keep Charm out. I knew keeping Daisy out would still be an issue, because she’s small enough to fit through the pet access door.

So my next brilliant idea was to also install a regular sized baby gate at the entrance to the hallway which leads to the room with the litter box. This one would keep Daisy out, but not Charm. He can jump over this one. No worries though, because he can’t jump over the extra-tall one.

So between the 2 baby gates I thought I had my problem solved. I should know better than that! Charm’s one smart/determined dog. Check out the video below, and you’ll see why I’m back to square one. Does anyone have any dog-eating-cat-litter deterrent ideas that actually work? Please post in the comments below. I would love to hear about them.


The Incredible Journey – by Duke

August 13th, 2012 No comments

Life is a journey with lots of ups and downs. As we go on this journey, the path we take isn’t always the easiest one, even for us dogs.  But we trudge on because we know there’s a purpose and the turn up ahead will lead us to where we’re supposed to be.

My journey certainly wasn’t an easy one. The first two years of my life are a blur, but I do remember being homeless and my fur being badly matted. But I didn’t let that get me down. I knew there was someplace better I needed to be. I just wasn’t sure where it would be or when I would get there.

Duke's First Day Home - September 11, 2002

The first stop in my journey was at a rescue group. They cleaned me up and ridded me of those horrible mats. I was starting to feel better about myself and my future. I had a good feeling that things were looking up for me.

On September 11, 2002 I met my Mom. The problem was she didn’t realize that she was my Mom. She was there to meet other dogs. I had to act fast! I stood up in my crate and flashed her the biggest smile I could muster. She smiled back at me and said I looked goofy all shaved down, but I was still cute. Then she left the room to visit with the other dogs.

I was bummed! I thought for sure that I had won her over.  I chilled out in my cage thinking I had lost out on my chance. Several minutes went by and the next thing I knew, one of the workers came in to take me outside. I thought it was just time for my potty break, but to my surprise there stood my soon-to-be Mom waiting to visit with me! Woo Hoo!

We had a blast out in the yard, and I made her laugh a lot. She still thought I looked goofy, but I had officially won her over! She put me in her car and off I went onto my next journey. I never had to worry about being homeless again.

I was totally devoted to her and the family. Grandma and Grandpa spoiled me rotten! Mom took me to see them every weekend.  Two cats already resided in the family when I arrived. Shortly thereafter, Daisy joined the family, then Charm and then Franklin. Not to mention a string of foster dogs coming in and out of the house.

You could feel the love at every turn, and it was the best 10 years of my life. But sadly, if you’re reading this now, I must tell you that my journey must continue on in another realm. I am no longer on this earth.  My body just could not function anymore. Walking was difficult, and I could no longer get myself up from a sleeping position. My kidneys were shutting down as well.

Mom was very heartsick watching my health decline, but she did the best thing in the world for me. She got me to a vet and they helped my pain and suffering go away. I was able to cross the Rainbow Bridge. She was there for me in those final moments, just like she was there for me over the last ten years.

Her heart aches for me. But rest assured, even though I’m no longer on this earth, I will continue to watch over her now just like I did for the last ten years. Thank you to everyone that helped me on my journey to find my way home. I love you all.

 

Categories: Duke's Stories

Angel Among Us

July 12th, 2012 No comments

Brandy - In loving memory (1998 - 2012)

Brandy - In loving memory (1998 - 2012)

I started to write this post on May 8th. The day after my beautiful Brandy passed away. I didn’t get very far, as it was just too difficult to put everything into words. Now here I sit a little over two months later, and not only am I still struggling to find the words, but I still find myself preparing two plates of cat food instead of one. How can a house still filled with a cat and 3 dogs feel so empty and quiet?

Brandy battled kidney disease over the last several years, and she was alert and active up until the final days.  She stopped eating on Friday, and she progressively got weaker over the weekend. I knew it was time, and I didn’t want her to suffer, so I took her to the vets on Monday and had her put to sleep. This is never an easy decision to make, even when you know your pet is suffering. In a perfect world Brandy would have passed away peacefully in her sleep, but this isn’t a perfect world, and we as pet owners have to do what’s best for our pets. Which sometimes means making the decision to assist them to the other side.

Daisy and Brandy sharing the chair. An unusual occurance, and not one of Daisy's good hair days.

Daisy was with me at the vet appointment because she had medical issues that needed tended to as well. It’s a bit ironic that Daisy was with Brandy in her final moments, as Daisy hated Brandy for about 6 years of their lives. It wasn’t until Frankie was added to the family that Daisy started to come around and accept Brandy. Frankie’s cute little kitten ways won Daisy over instantly, and she started to realize that Brandy wasn’t so bad after all.

After Brandy passed away, I was sitting on the floor of the vet clinic holding her when Daisy decided to walk up to her. She sniffed Brandy and then licked her on the ears. It was very sweet, and it just made me cry even harder. I left Brandy with the vet clinic so they could cremate her, but I made sure to return home with the towel I was holding her in. I wanted to make sure I had her scent on something so that the “kids” would have something to sniff when I came home without her. I placed the towel in a crate which ordinarly Frankie avoids, but now I catch him sleeping  in it. The dogs sniffed at it and could sense something wasn’t right, but in general they were pretty unfazed by everything.

Double Rainbow

Probably the most peaceful thing that happened during this time was the day after her passing. I was working late and the weather outside was mostly overcast with some sun peaking through and a light rain. I looked out the window at work and saw a double rainbow. Not only was it a double rainbow, but you could see the complete arc for the brightest one. I’ve never witnessed a double rainbow nor a complete arc rainbow until that day. A feeling of peace washed over me and the only thing I could think of was that Brandy crossed the Rainbow Bridge and hooked up with her sister Sunny that passed away a few years ago. It was an experience I will remember for a lifetime.

One other thing I will remember is what I found when I got home from work the night of the double rainbow. I found a piece of black plastic on my living room floor. It was the back of a battery cover to one of my portable clocks. It had dropped behind some furniture in the bedroom, and I had never bothered to retreive it. Now here it was smack dab in the middle of my living room floor, and I have no idea how it got there. When I left for work the house was closed off in a way that Frankie was in the bedroom area and did not have access to the living room. The dogs were in the living room and did not have access to the bedroom. The logical side of my brain says that at some point in the last several days Frankie played with it and it ended up hidden under some furniture in the living room. One of the dogs must have kicked it out of its hiding place that day. The other side of my brain says that Brandy came back home and left me a present to let me know she’s okay. I prefer to believe the latter. What do you think?  Here’s a video of Brandy’s last few hours.

Categories: Brandy's Stories

Fun for Your Friday!

January 20th, 2012 No comments

Charm just finished up a bath (he doesn’t like them), and decided to voice his opinion on whether his sister Daisy should get a bath too. Enjoy!