Dogs and Babies: Part 2

This is something that is very hard for me to write about because I’m so invested in it emotionally. However, I’ve decided that it’s more important that I share what I’m going thru and perhaps help someone else out than to be slightly embarrassed as a trainer and Mom.

Things with dog and baby are not going as well as I’d hoped. The last few weeks have been stressful for Miss Evey. We’ve had several other dogs in the house (whom even if she likes them she worries), and we’ve also had several visitors, some of whom were toddlers. I may have mentioned this in my previous post but Evey has never been a huge fan of children but she’s always made good choices. These choices have included retreating, coming to me, and taking treats from me or the toddler.

However, with Baby Amelia, Evey’s choices are limited. Amelia sleeps in our bedroom, so does Evey. Their beds are on opposite sides of our bed but it’s not really a safe zone for Evey any more. I’m usually holding Amelia so when Evey comes to me Amelia is there, again foiled in her attempt to seek comfort. Amelia isn’t eating a lot of people food yet, so she’s not dropping yummies for Evey yet so Evey doesn’t realize what a jackpot Amelia is yet.

So what has me so concerned? Well, Evey hasn’t growled, snapped, or bitten Amelia. Her signs are much more subtle. Her mouth is closed, her forehead is wrinkled, her tail is tucked, and she often puts herself in between Amelia and myself (especially when it gets noisy). You might argue, “she hasn’t done anything” or “she’ll just get used to it”. To be honest, there are two reasons I don’t agree with those statements: 1) Evey has snapped and scratched children who got in her face twice so I know she will “go there” and 2) I don’t want anyone in my family (including my dog) to have to feel stressed out while living at home.

What are my options? Because I’m so close to the situation and it’s so emotional for me I did seek professional counsil from two trainers I really trust and respect: Lindsay Wood, ACAAB (animal behaviorist) and Aimee Bonnain, KPA-CTP.

  1. This thought did cross my mind and it brought me to tears: Rehome Evey. Lets be honest, this really isn’t an option for me! I love my dog, and I would feel like a failure as a Mom, trainer, and dog guardian.
  2. Continue doing what I’ve been doing, supervising and cuing Evey to go to mat, which has become harder to do as Amelia gets more mobile and Evey gets more anxious, and hope that a bite does not occur. Again this is not working, so while I will keep it as a tool in my box,  I’m not going to continue that as a primary strategy.
  3. Classical Counter Conditioning: Pairing something Evey wants with something that worries her. For the last 3 days Evey has not received a single piece of kibble from a bowl! I’ve mixed her kibble with some hot dogs (to increase the value) and when Amelia is out and around I am constantly dropping “treats”. This was working well. I feel better and Evey is starting to realize that Amelia brings her good things.
  4. Number 3 was working well until this morning (a grand total of 3 days). For whatever reason Evey stopped eating the treats I dropped and started putting herself closer to Amelia again. This makes me really uncomfortable and nervous and I start to lose my patience. I start to cue Evey to leave and when she hesitates my cue escalates and she gets more nervous and I get more nervous – you can see the vicious cycle can’t you? So I’m implementing barriers! I have an exercise pen and a baby gate both of which Evey respects as long as I’m home. So I have now made a huge room where I can feel safe that Amelia can get important floor time while Evey can’t get near her.
The baby gate at the top of the stairs. We will also have to add something to keep Amelia's head out of the rails but that's around the corner.
The baby gate at the top of the stairs. We will also have to add something to keep Amelia’s head out of the rails but that’s around the corner.
The exercise pen set up around Amelia's bouncer.
The exercise pen set up around Amelia’s bouncer.

So in all honesty, right now, I’ve implemented option 2, 3, & 4! And I’ll keep doing it until Evey and Amelia can respect each other happily. Eventually, the exercise pen will probably need to be changed to something sturdier as Amelia starts to pull up on things and walk but for now it’s serving it’s purpose; keep Evey out and Amelia SAFE.

Back On the Agility Course

Evey and I have been training in canine agility since 2009. We began to trial in 2011 or at least that’s what my NADAC card says. Since our agility trialing debut we’ve been to a handful of trials earning an occasional Q (Qualifying score that goes towards earning a title) but always having fun together. In the fall of 2012 our agility trialing days got put on hold as we found out that we would be expecting a new family member the following summer.

After a 6 month hiatus from all agility Evey and I competed in our first trial in 18 months! She was AH-MAZE-ING! I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. Not only did she earn a Q in 3 of the 6 classes we entered but she did so with style and grace also getting our first blue ribbon! This was a big accomplishment given (what some would consider) her disadvantages. I’ll let you in on a secret… Evey is not a herding breed dog, she’s a husky mix.

In addition to doing well on course, Evey also excelled on the sidelines. On Saturday, the first day we were there, Evey’s 6 month old human sister also joined us which meant that I was unable to give Evey all of the attention she used to demand at such events. This also meant that I had to juggle all of Evey’s equipment (crate, treats, water bowls, exercise pen, toys and leashes) with all of Amelia’s equipment (diaper bag, stroller, car seat, toys, feeding routine, and changing routines). I’ll admit, I had some help. I happen to have amazing agility that are approaching their own agility debuts who came along to see what a trial is all about. Thank you Becky and Aimee! Your turn next time :-)

I wanted to share with you a few videos from that weekend!

Jumpers 2 Video – Evey did really well but knocked a bar down just before reaching the final sequence so didn’t earn a Q

Tunnelers 1 Video – We had a hiccup at the 3rd tunnel because I got lost between the space between 2 and 3 causing Evey to pop out of the tunnel but her time was still fast enough and the run clean enough to earn a Q and 2nd place.

Tunnelers 2 Video – This was our last run and by far our best! We had a clean run and not only earned a Q but also a 1st place!

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to the trial to support us in one way or another. I can’t wait to keep going this year!

Dogs and Babies

It’s been awhile since my last post. I guess I’m just recovering from all of the non-stop blog writing. It could also be the fact that having a 5 month old keeps you on your toes. Or that the holidays are extremely taxing on your ability to get anything done. Oh, okay, it’s probably all of the above. Apologies aside… I want to share my experiences and plans for keeping my dog happy and my child safe as she grows up.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas. I know our little family did. Evey enjoyed something special (a pigs ear). It was Amelia’s first she’s almost 6 months old now! Noah and I just enjoyed watching our girls play and be happy.

Every day Amelia does something new. She grabs things like toys and wrapping paper. She unwrapped all of her toys this year, although she had a lot of help :-). Amelia is also experimenting with new noises, squeals and grunts. Soon she’ll learn to roll over and crawl shortly followed by walking. Jeeze, I really can’t believe it! As I watch Amelia grow and learn new things everyday it reminds me how careful I need to be with her around Evey.

Evey is tolerant of children but she doesn’t love them, at any age. When Amelia first came home Evey showed a healthy interest in her new baby sister. I also notice that when I play with Amelia and Evey thinks I’m getting too rough she displays a natural “splitting” behavior. This means that she places herself between me and Amelia in an attempt to calm us both. Splitting is common between dogs when two dogs are getting too excited the third will put herself in the middle.

The dangerous part about splitting between me and Amelia will happen when Amelia begins to grab and hold herself up on things. Amelia will eventually grab Evey out of necessity and interest. I am quite confident that Evey will not appreciate this. For now as prevention, when Evey splits, I give her permission and assurance she can leave by asking her to go to her mat. Go to mat is a behavior Evey has known and practiced for years. She has a very strong reinforcement history with it.

When Amelia starts to cry Evey quietly leaves the room and finds her happy place. This is something I appreciate and reinforce as well. I make sure that leaving is always an option for Evey not just with my own child but with visitors as well. My reasoning behind this is that, once leaving no longer relieves Evey’s worry about children she will escalate her behavior to snarling, growling, snapping and then biting. Unfortunately, this theory was proven when I was in the hospital delivering Amelia. The good news: 1) she showed great bite inhibition 2) she had an excellent warning chain (she snarled first, snapped second, and then bit without breaking skin) 3) since this incident, Evey she has been able to tolerate the same children she snapped at and bit as long as she has the option to leave.

Don’t get me wrong, Evey is a great dog, but I’m not disillusioned that she is trustworthy around them despite her reinforcement history with children. Evey’s volunteered and done well at a children’s camp. At camp she showed campers how to run an agility course and then she did a trick for each of the campers. This was not a free for all. I have also always been cognizant that when children get past me and hug Evey (a never behavior with dogs IMO), she always gets lots of high valued treats and the child is taught a better way to interact with Evey.

Back to Amelia: Right now Amelia is learning a lot of things but one thing she does not know is how to follow directions or even understand them. For me that means STRICT management until she can follow directions, which will probably be a few years, longer if we decide to have a second child. What will my management look like:

  • Decrease Magnetization
    I don’t ask Amelia, “Is that your doggie? Do you want to hug/kiss the doggie?” I tell her, “that’s Evey, your sister. We don’t hug/kiss/touch doggies.” This is so that as Amelia grows up she doesn’t feel like Evey is something to chase around. Not only will this make her safe with Evey but it will teach her good dog manners and keep her safe should she go to a friends house that also has a dog that doesn’t love children.
  • Strict Supervision
    Evey and Amelia (and any other child) will never be left alone together. This means that when they are allowed together I or someone else (who can and is willing to intervene) is watching. Should Evey start to show signs of discomfort I (or the other person) can tell Evey to go somewhere else. This is why I’ve trained go to mat with multiple locations and different cues. Since I’m watching, should Amelia corner Evey I can also go and pick Amelia up and redirect her interest to something more appropriate.
  • Separation
    When I cannot be watching them both they will be separated by a physical barrier. Amelia isn’t quite here yet but I’ll be getting plenty of baby gates and playpens to keep her separated from Evey. I’ll also have to do some training with Evey so she is comfortable being separated from me as well. I will most likely make is a really good thing to be on the other side of the gate by giving her a food puzzle to do (KONGs, and the sort). For now Amelia has her Exersaucer and she is usually entertained and restrained.
Amelia restrained in her Exer-saucer!
Amelia restrained in her Exer-saucer!
  • Time with Mommy
    Amelia gets a lot of one on one time with Mommy. However, Evey has been a bit neglected in this aspect. This means that I have to make sure that I am making time for Evey. This might be in the form of an enrichment walk, training, a run, food puzzles, throwing a ball, or agility practice. Evey may be 7 years old but she certainly still has a lot of energy physically and mentally that needs to be burned or she’s going to regress in her training.
This is Amelia seeing Evey for the first time at about 3 months old. Evey is actually trying to get my attention by putting her chin on the crib. Evey does chin targeting as a known behavior and she’s just trying to get my attention. I guess it was time for a walk!

If you find yourself with a dog and pregnant, the best time to prepare for baby is now, before baby is here. Picture what your family will look like. What is your house layout like? How will you keep the dog and baby separated and safe? What does your dog need to learn before baby comes; go to mat, door greetings (there will be a lot of guests coming over)? If you need help please contact me, I am happy to help!

Day 30: It’s the Last Day! AHHHH!

Today’s the last day of 30 days to a better dog! Can you believe it? Neither can I.

My parting advice to you on your road to a better dog is: HAVE FUN!

Noah tossing snowballs for Evey. She loves to catch them!
Noah tossing snowballs for Evey. She loves to catch them!

Training should be fun. It should be fun for you and it should be fun for your dog. If either of those statements is not true that something is wrong. Take a break, reorganize your training plan/strategy, and if need by get in touch with a trainer that can help you to figure out how to make it fun.

Ultimately, remember that your dog is always thinking, “what’s in it for me?” If they are working to avoid pain it’s not fun and chances are they aren’t going to do anything for you, and you’re going to get frustrated (also not fun).


Day 29: Training Success

In the dog training world we talk about this funny thing called thresholds. The saying goes, “Keep your dog under threshold”. Well for those of you who aren’t professional dog trainers, what is a threshold and how to you keep your dog under it?!!!

Ok the threshold, in relation to training your dog, is the place where your dog can learn. The mental state that he is in when he can think. How do you know your dog is able to think and learn? He’s probably paying attention to you, offering behaviors (if he’s trained using positive reinforcement), or he’s responding to cues. If he is over threshold he’s not paying attention to you, he could be barking, lunging or growling, and he’s ignoring any treats shoved in his face or jerks on his leash.

Why is it so important to keep your dog under threshold? Well, so he can learn. If he’s too distracted by something that worries him or even something that excites him, he’s not learning anything other than how to be excited. By keeping him under threshold you’re allowing him to think and respond to you appropriately.

What can you do to keep your dog under threshold? Think about the “3 D’s” duration, distance, and distractions.

Duration refers to how long you expect your dog to do something for. You wouldn’t be expected to do burpees for 7 minutes straight on your first day of exercising, you train up to that. Don’t expect your dog to hold a sit for 10 minutes the first time you ask for it, train for it.

Distance refers to two different aspects of training your dog. 1 – How far from you will your dog respond to a cue? 2 – if the behavior is a moving behavior, such as back up or crawl, how far will your dog travel in that position/direction? You wouldn’t be expected to run for 13 miles on your first day of training you again would train for a ½ marathon, would you not? Train your dog to perform over a distance.

Distractions refer to what’s going on around you. You can change the level of distraction by increasing or decreasing distance from distractions, changing the intensity of the distraction (sitting person vs. jogging person), or by changing your location (inside vs. the dog park).

So, this is all well and good but what if your dog knows how to sit inside but can not sit at the dog park? How do you get a dog that will respond in any situation? The answer, slowly work up to it. Your dog can sit inside. Then next step would be to train him to do so just outside your house with little foot traffic nearby. Move farther away from your home. Will he sit in the car? Allow your dog to graduate to the next level of distraction before you force him into a situation he will ultimately fail in.

Remember, keep your dog under threshold and slowly increase the duration, distance and distractions you ask your dog to perform under. This will give you rock solid performances that you can be proud of.