Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I'm back.... sort of

Wow, I can't believe how much time has lapsed since I blogged last. There must be a name in cyber speak for us bloggers that just stop blogging. I would love to know that name, must be a funny one. My dad has taken ill and it has consumed much of my free time. Time that includes working with the shelter dogs. I am heart broken about it but I don't have any options right now. My Luke has been adopted. I am thrilled about this. I am sorry I was not able to meet the family but from what I understand they have another dog that got along well with Luke as well as a child. I hope he is doing well. I haven't heard anything so I will assume that no news is good news. If I do hear I will be sure to write and let you all know.
Romin is still waiting. Romin came to the SPCA walkathon with me in early May. He spent the whole day and was a very good boy. He met lots of people, including children as well as little dogs who he was very appropriate with. It was a long day for him but good for me to see him in this environment. Romin needs a quiet home with people who are willing to give him the time and nurturing he needs to be able to develop his confidence and lessen the anxiety that is always with him. I hope to be back to the shelter soon to continue to work with Romin and help him find his way out.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Play date

Today was a really good day. It was clinic day so again we worked mostly outdoors but luckily it was a beautiful day. Romin had a visit in the pen with a dog named Elvis. Now Elvis is a bit shut down and overwhelmed with shelter life. He does respond to dogs and seems more comfortable around dogs as opposed to humans. Romin had his tennis ball in his mouth when we started the meeting so he was happy. They spent a lot of time walking around the pen sniffing and peeing but not much interaction. Romin was very polite, never taking issue with Elvis when he went near the coveted tennis ball. After our play date with Elvis, Romin and I sat in the parking lot and watched the clinic clients come and go. I think affable is a good word to describe Romin, as he sat and wagged his tail at all who walked by. Love this dog.

Luke also had a chance to play with Elvis. Luke was MUCH more in to playing and Elvis responded in kind. A few times Luke tried to hump Elvis (he can be so rude at times). Elvis let him know he was having none of that and Luke very appropriately backed off. He is such an awesome dog. So full of life and always ready for fun.

This exercise today reaffirmed what I already thought about these two dogs. Luke needs a home with another active, playful dog and a backyard. Romin doesn't necessarily need to live with another dog, but he would do well with a mellow dog who is not so in to crazy playing.

Romin will be attending the SPCA walkathon with me on 4/30. I am hoping someone will meet him and fall in love. I initially thought that the event would be too much for Luke but I am beginning to rethink that. He is so appropriate with other dogs that he just might do well at the event if only for a short period of time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Counting on me

I almost didn't go today. I was feeling pretty crappy. Lots of stress in my personal life and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I didn't go yesterday because I had to go visit a college with my son (part of the stress in my life). I felt really guilty about not going but I knew the boys were counting on me.

I am such a Pollyanna. When I took this project on I honestly believed that things would turn around for these dogs and they would somehow magically get adopted. Well it has been over a month and I have to admit, the daily trips to the shelter are becoming increasingly difficult to manage. I have a part time job and manage a busy household so there is not much left of me to go around. But it's too late now. I have a relationship with both these dogs. I know them and they know me. There is no turning back. They count on me to come every day. I am their person. Huge responsibility and not something you can easily walk away from.

Romin and Luke are both coming along so well. They try so hard to please but they are battling the stress of life in the shelter and that is very difficult to overcome. They do the best they can under the circumstances, but they both need out. It is the only way they will learn to relax, trust and enjoy life.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sorry I haven't written

This has been a really crazy week! I have senior child in high school so I am doing the crazy college stuff right now. I didn't see my four legged boys on Saturday as I was visiting a school. I did work with them on Thursday and Friday but those days were crazy at the shelter so I didn't get to use my "training" room.
Updates on what we are working on....
For Luke I have decided that he needs to have a default behavior of carrying a toy in his mouth when he is excited to see you. When I got to the shelter on Thursday he was out already and being walked by one of our volunteers. She knew I was working with Luke and asked if I wanted to take him. I asked her to continue her walk and I would meet her in the pen. When I got in the pen Luke proceeded to jump on me and grabbed my treat pouch, ripping it down the side (cheap pouch!). The walker said that he did not get too mouthy with her when she took him out and our resident trainer, upon my behest, took him out at another time and also said that he was not too mouthy. This leads me to believe that he does this with me because he is especially happy to see me as I am the one who works with him every day (or as close to every day as I can get!). I have a dog at home that can get very exuberant and over the top. It is very helpful to be able to tell him to go get his cat (a stuffed cat) at which point he does and returns shaking and tossing his stuffed cat. I am hoping this will help Luke in his future home.

I continue to struggle with Romin. He just wants his tennis ball and I have to compete for his attention. He is such a sweet dog and I am sure this obsession would go away once he had a family of his own. It is just all he has now that brings him any contentment. Some days I just toss in the towel and forget the formal training. We hang out, Romin chews on his tennis ball and I sit next to him giving him lots of rubs and love. He couldn't be happier. There is no schedule or definitive time line with training. You can have your plans and goals but ultimately the dog tells you when they are ready to work, or not, and that is just fine by me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Have Contact!

Today was very exciting. Our normal routine was thrown off a bit. The dogs were being treated for heartworm and fleas today so everyone was being rotated through the clinic. When I got to the shelter Luke had just been seen. I took him out first and he was wired for sound! I just love this dog, so smart and ready to work. If you don't stay two steps ahead of him he will let you know! I tried to go to the next level in "mine/take it" but he wasn't ready. The next step is treat held between two fingers, way too tempting. That's okay, we went to the step below that where he was successful and worked there. He is just an awesome dog. Love his intelligence.
Romin is where we made great strides today. When I went to get him from his run he already had a tennis ball in his run. I guess when he went for his treatment they gave him a ball as a reward. Well we changed things up a bit and went straight to the exam room to work rather than the pen. What was exciting about today was that even though Romin had the tennis ball in the room he was able to leave it and focus on me and he actually became operant and began targeting the mat even with the ball sitting right on it! That is big progress for Mr. Romin. When we went outside and worked for a bit in the gazebo he had a tennis ball in his mouth. I asked him for a drop and he did it for a c/t. We were able to leave the gazebo without the ball in his mouth. Another big step for him and I am so proud !!!!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reaching Mr. Unreachable

Today was a good day. It was hot, but I wasn't complaining. I had to wear my jacket to "hide" the tennis balls from Romin, but like I said, the warmth was welcomed. Every day I go to work with the dogs I ask myself what I want to work on today. I am keeping progress charts on each of them so that eventually other people can pick up and begin to work with them as well.
Luke is coming along very nicely on the "mine/take it" exercise. When I present a fist full of treats to him, say "mine" he looks at me, sometimes with duration and then he gets an even better treat from the other hand with my saying "take it". Our next step is to offer the treat between two fingers, a little more tempting. We are also working on the cue "settle" where Luke goes to lie on his mat, which he does no problem. We are working on duration and distraction and using the release word "okay". He is doing brilliantly. I have decided that Luke needs a job. I may start scent work with him. I am thinking bed bugs.......
For Mr. Unreachable, aka Romin I decided to use tennis balls to my advantage today. When I take Romin out he has one thing in mind, get to the pen and get my tennis ball! We walked along the path, Romin doing his dutiful sits along the way, but not much acknowledgment of me. When we got in the pen I decided to do something a little differently. Normally I take out the two tennis balls and begin a game of fetch where I toss one ball and on his return say "drop" and click toss the other ball. This time I kept the balls in my pockets and Romin proceeded to search the pen for a tennis ball. Whenever he looked my way I would click. Sometimes he would come and get the treat and other times he would look at me then continue to search. That was okay, as long as he was "checking in". At one point he was at the far end of the pen. I called him. As he came running to me I pulled out the tennis ball, showed him the ball and then tossed it. I am hoping to teach him that all good things come from me and that his behavior results in consequences that he finds reinforcing. His progress is slower but there is progress nonetheless. He enjoyed a rub down in the gazebo today and when I stopped he turned to me asking for more. That's progress!
I know this is a long post but I have to say one more thing. I love working with shelter dogs. It is some of the most challenging and emotionally draining work I have ever done. Because my time with them is so limited I have to make sure that every interaction counts. The clicker is wonderful for this because the effects are cumulative, like pennies in the bank. Every interaction is building a foundation these dogs can rely on when they move on to their forever homes. Good stuff.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend updates

I worked with my two friends both yesterday and today. Interesting stuff. Working with shelter dogs is challenging to say the least. Mostly because you have to try to work through all of the stress and anxiety the dogs are experiencing. The stressful environment affects their behavior and impacts on their ability to learn.
Romin is a very anxious dog. He is very sweet, open to meeting new people and willing to learn, but for him the shelter environment causes him much angst and it is difficult to get him to a state of mind where he can truly focus and learn. I have to say that he is great on his walks. There are points on the walk where we ask the dog for a sit in order to continue on the walk. Romin knows these spots and his ears will tilt back in my direction, I say "wait" and when I catch up to him he sits automatically. Such a good boy. He will blossom in a home environment with structure and love. He needs a family, truly what he is missing most.
Luke is a different dog all together. Suuuuper smart and ready to go at moments notice. He is much easier to train because he has less anxiety and is more in need of direction and stimulation. He would make an awesome working dog for someone, drug sniffing, bomb detecting etc. Super drive and intelligence, he just has to learn his limits and he would with the right family. With that said, he is a super mush when you start petting him. Give him a toushy rub and his eyes roll back in his head and he is the calmest dog ever!