Falling in Love at the Emergency Vet

I told myself I would be better about posting every Wednesday like I promised. You probably (hopefully?) noticed there wasn’t a post yesterday morning. Well, here’s why.

I’m watching Paco again for a week while his family is on vacation, which I am absolutely thrilled about. Like I wrote about last time I got him for ten glorious days, he’s super easy and we have a great time together. Tuesday morning started out like every other day. I was going to attempt to bring Paco to work with me for the first time because my shelter’s kids camp had a “Meet My Pet” session that Paco and I signed up for (he loves kids, after all), so I got him up early to wear him out for the day. We were playing with the flirt pole. Paco loooves the flirt pole, and his manners when playing with it are impeccable – he always sits before chasing, he drops as soon as I ask and his arousal levels stay low. He just runs like a crazy dog and exercises himself quickly! I’m always careful to keep our flirt poles games horizontal (unlike how I used with JC last year, which I have since learned to be more responsible and safe with). Chase-catch, not jump-spin-catch, for the exact reason of what happened next.

photo 1

Paco was chasing and chasing and grabbing and shaking and having a grand old time. Like I mentioned, he was being polite and following all of our game rules. Then, all of a sudden, he was all four paws off the ground. My wrist must have flicked too much and the toy went flying a bit too high, and Paco followed. To say he crash landed would be putting it lightly. This poor pup splatted on the ground. I held my breath as he got up. Please don’t be hurt, please don’t be hurt. Sure enough, he was limping and visibly in pain.

I rushed him inside and quickly got ready for work. Working at an animal shelter meant I’d have more resources for me there than anywhere else, so I scooped him up and off we went. I had some coworkers check him out and he seemed to be improving throughout the day. We were able to squeeze in a quick vet exam and get pain meds, so I thought he’d be okay until the following morning at 7 am when we had x-rays scheduled.  The vet exam determined it was probably a shoulder injury, but we couldn’t know for sure what was wrong until further investigation.

After work I realized he wasn’t fine. His breathing was a bit labored and he started to not want to walk at all, even with the pain meds. He started whimpering when he moved too much. I panicked, cancelled my training client for that evening (who is actually a vet herself and was the most wonderfully supportive human I could have asked for in that moment), and rushed Paco to the emergency vet. Watching him be in pain like that was the absolute worse feeling in the whole world – I just wanted him to feel better!

photo 2

Arriving at the vet put him in better spirits. He loves people so, so much that greeting all the people in the lobby and the techs and doctors made his happy little tail go crazy. Just like with my foster dogs, it makes my heart swell when people compliment Paco. Whether they comment on his handsome good looks, his polite greetings or his general happy-go-lucky attitude, I cannot help but beam when people fuss over him (yes, I know he isn’t mine – but more on that later).  With another initial exam the doctor confirmed it was the shoulder, but radiographs were the only way to determine if there was something broken, so I handed him over to the techs.

So I’m going to take a minute here to ask how those of you who have gone through any sort of trauma with a pet (or human, for that matter) came out the other end in one piece. I was a mess! Luckily there weren’t any real tears, but I sure came close a few times. I was just so worried about my little guy. And yes, I know he isn’t actually my dog, but after all those hours we spent together for KPA and how many times he’s stayed with me I just feel so close to him. We’re buddies, ya know? I’m his safe place and he’s a pair of big brown eyes that will do anything for me. We’re a team. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I want to keep him safe, happy and healthy forever and ever.  What if it had been a worse situation!? I have a whole new perspective on pet owners who have to go through medical emergencies with their pets.

Two and a half hours after I handed him off, I finally got a groggy, wiggly Paco back. The radiographs showed no fractures – hooray! The verdict was just very sore, probably strained or a little torn soft tissue. Treatment? Lots of pain meds and two weeks rest. The rest part will be difficult for Mr. Bouncy, but thanks to the pain medication I have already seen an improvement in his spirits.

photo 4

It was a late night, but I was thrilled to have his sleepy head rest on me for the remainder of the evening. I set up a comfy bed on the floor next to me and he immediately curled up and went to sleep. Seeing him peacefully sleeping was such a relief just knowing he was more comfortable and that nothing serious was wrong.

photo 5

Throughout this whole ordeal I had some friends tell me I was being too worried and that he was just milking it and that he was being a big baby. Sure, a strained shoulder might not be too serious but my goodness there was nothing worse than seeing him in that pain! I would have done anything for him in those moments, even for a stubbed toe. Luckily I was able to get a hold of his family who are vacationing out of the country and they were 100% supportive of anything he needed and they thanked me for taking care of him (never mind the fact that I broke him in the first place, but hey).

Even though it was a stressful twelve hours and it puts a damper on our hiking/adventure plans for the rest of the week, this little ordeal made me fall even harder in love with my Paco Taco. I think I am going to be seriously bummed when my forever dog, whenever I end up getting him or her, is not exactly like him. He’s everything what I want in a dog, which is probably why the stars aligned to bring us together like they did – so I can have him in my life at a time when I cannot actually have a dog of my own. For that, I am so grateful! Love you Taco Man.

Vet1

Big shout out to my mama for being on call for hysterical-daughter duty, to my friends who gave in-person moral support or sent messages with well wishes and to Friendship Animal Hospital for treating him like one of your own!  I am one lucky stand-in dog mom.


Playing Catch Up

Whew… the Holidays are over! Life is back to normal, right? Sort of? I feel like I haven’t written a real blog post in FOREVER and that I need to just give you a long catch up entry about everything that’s been happening over here at PLF. However since I don’t want to bore you with those details, I’ll stick to one of the most major commitments in my life right now: the Karen Pryor Academy. I know you’ve read a lot about it over the past few months, but it’s still new and exciting and sort of scary so I want to continue to share my experiences with you all.

It feels like just last week that we had our second testing weekend. Well, it was much earlier than that because this past weekend was workshop #3! That means our next workshop in mid-February is the big exam weekend… YIKES.

This third weekend went much better than I thought it would. Unit three covered a lot of intense material, and I felt a little behind heading into the workshop. Turns out I understood the content better than I thought and had so many *a-ha!* moments that the entire weekend was extremely reinforcing for me. Just like weekend two, I left thinking you can do this, J.  I also left thinking wow, you really, really love this behavior stuff! Talking nerdy dog speak officially gets me going (speaking of: see you in March, Clicker Expo!).

This latest workshop left us both exhausted.

This latest workshop left us both exhausted.

We’ve covered so much in KPA up to this point. We’ve learned everything from proper clicker mechanics so that you’re not bribing your dog to how to build behaviors using shaping and capturing to how to teach cues to fluency (meaning they have precision, low latency, high speed and can be performed around distractions, from a distance and for whatever duration you choose) and put them under stimulus control to why building a relationship entirely around trust is so important for your dog’s ability to learn and be happy. I seriously CANNOT GET ENOUGH of all this knowledge. The fact that it is coming together so perfectly – all the long lessons and assignments and readings are finally all making sense in the big picture – is just so thrilling to me.

It hasn’t been easy though, and it won’t be easy moving forward. Not living with Paco has presented the challenge of scheduling and time. It’s funny to look back at our previous challenges though to the ones we are experiencing now. Before I couldn’t get him to focus on me, I couldn’t for the life of me find a reward that was exciting enough to keep him engaged and he would shut down after two minutes of attempted shaping.

Eyes

Now, I’ve got a bouncy, happy puppy on my hands who will work with me whenever I request it. It’s no longer a matter of what to use to keep him engaged. He’s happy to train, sometimes I just need that little bit of extra yummy to really keep his focus. I especially noticed our progress at the workshop this weekend when we were doing a shaping exercise. Shaping was one of the first topics we learned about in KPA, so Paco and I were still new to each other and never very good at it. He generally bowed out of the exercises pretty early and I would get frustrated – not a good combo. During this workshop exercise I successfully shaped a new behavior in a brief five minute session almost without even realizing. Working together has become so natural to us it’s hard to realize how in sync we are now! I touched briefly on our budding relationship after weekend #2, but holy moly do I love that little dog.

Love

Yes I am aware that he does not look thrilled in this photo. He loves me back, just not when I squeeze him like a teddy bear.

 

For the next six weeks, Paco and I will be tirelessly working on our ten-part chain, the ultimate test of our knowledge and skills from this course. You can see an example of a 10-part chain here on YouTube. Basically I have to teach Paco at least ten cues to fluency and then chain them together (a concept we learned about in our course). While the video you watch might not look *that* impressive, there are lots of technical details that make it the perfect way to showcase all that we have learned and taught our dogs. It is an impressive feat in the end!

While it’s a lot of work and stressful to fit in between my 9 to 5 and training clients, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered something that came so naturally to me (except maybe loving my foster dogs, but I think this is all related). The science behind animal training and behavior just makes sense to me, and I am realizing more and more that it will be yet another opportunity where I can help dogs – and people – in this world. How lucky I am to have discovered this passion (along with so many more) and been given this opportunity so quickly in life!

citydog2


Life Lessons Thanks to Dog Training

You had to expect it sooner or later, the deeper-than-dog-training post. I’m sure most people experience this feeling with their passions: the idea that the impact is much more than simply “I get to do something I love.” You learn lessons from your passions and often they translate over to the way you live your life and the person you become.

I’ve never been a super over the top positive person. I’m not a downer by any means, but I’d put myself pretty much in the middle of being a Negative Nancy and being that person you dislike because they’re always chipper. I’m average. Growing up, when it came to animals I found myself in the middle, too. I loved them deeply, but I didn’t exactly have the most patience for their animal-ness sometimes. My horse and I would get into knock-down, drag-out arguments during dressage lessons because I would take personally the fact that she wasn’t doing what I wanted her to. My trainer would actually need to tell me to dismount sometimes. I was emotional and I thought if I just tell her a little bit LOUDER (harsher), maybe she’ll get it!  It makes me cringe now, but the fact of the matter is that is who I was.

How I became so enthralled with positive training after coming from that background still confuses me, but I don’t ask questions. My point in writing about my history of positivity is to show that I was a skeptic at first too. I was not easily won over. What do you mean I cannot correct my animals? After years of wanting to “win,” I finally came to terms with working on the same team as my animals (thanks to many books, seminars, lectures from professionals, etc. – but still). And it has been changing me for the better ever since.

backyard03

Aside from just the dogs, positive training continues to impact my every day perspective. The philosophy of “focus on what you like, ignore what you don’t like” has changed my life. It is, after all, basic learning theory – but the transformation you begin to see in your relationships with friends, family, coworkers, etc. is remarkable. All of a sudden you start to notice a shift in their behavior or how you communicate or even the product of your work together.

I appreciate the improvement in my relationships, but it is the growth within myself that I am most thankful for. I think we as humans have a tendency to be so, so hard on ourselves. I didn’t do this right, I forgot to do this, I missed the opportunity for this, my weight changed to this, why didn’t I do this like this, I don’t like this about myself, why couldn’t I have been better at this. Since I’ve learned more about the benefits of focusing on the positive, I have tried my hardest to do away with that kind of talk. I know it sounds hard – impossible, almost – but hear me out.

In the Karen Pryor Academy we do an exercise during the “show and tell” portion of our weekend workshops where everyone writes down three points the student did well, and then we share. They can only be positive – no “you did this well, but….” There are no “buts.” Again, I was skeptical at first – but boy does it begin to change your perspective. Reinforced behaviors get repeated, and by focusing on the behaviors we like from ourselves and others, we are helping them to happen again. Slowly but surely the negative, nasty crap we say to ourselves every day begins to fade away.

Backyard02

I’m not saying we should eliminate constructive feedback. Obviously, we all need feedback. But delivering it in a way where it won’t negate all the achievements you’ve made is essential. Think about it, that “but” or “however” in the middle of a compliment and feedback can easily eliminate any feeling of accomplishment.

When I find that I’m being too hard on myself, I stop and take the time to give myself some credit. I’m currently doing it every night. What did I do well during the day? What am I happy about? What am I proud of myself for? Not only does it reinforce those behaviors and qualities and therefore make them more likely to happen tomorrow, but it also creates quite the list to look back on when I’m feeling sub-par.

I’ve found that a positive outlook is something I’ve owed myself for a long time, and I’m thankful and lucky that my training career led me this direction. I encourage you to try it sometime today: make a note of an action you took or a trait about yourself that you like.  At the very least you’ll have a moment of pride, or it could turn into a new outlook on the people and situations around you in life.

backyard01


There’s a New Pittie in the Neighborhood!

When my next door neighbors came to me saying they were looking into adopting a “pit bull” dog, I was elated.  They are the kind of laid back people who don’t care about stereotypes and just wanted a nice family dog for their kids to grow up with.  They headed to our local shelter and, after a slow moving search, finally found a pup that seemed to be the perfect match.

After meeting many dogs, they settled on handsome Rojo (pronounced Ro-ho). Rojo had been overlooked at the shelter for months because of his nondescript, brown-dog look. Even though he behaved like a gentleman during visits, he never caught anyone’s attention. Until this family stopped by and gave him a chance.

Rojo now lives with two kids and has a huge yard that backs up to woods.  He seriously hit the jackpot with this family. They’re so willing to accept him for who he is, and they’re ready to learn whatever they need to for him to be the best dog he can be.

They lost their last dog about a year and a half ago, so naturally they are experiencing some, “Oh yeah, he’s not Scooter” moments, but they’re working through those. We all know how hard it can be to not try and replace our last pet, but to realize that the new one is an entirely new experience to fall in love.  I have a feeling that Rojo will quickly turn into another beloved fur baby just like his predecessor.

I’d like to ask you all for some advice on their behalf: Rojo is a pretty consistent submissive/excitable wetter.  Do you have any ideas for curbing/curing that for me to pass on to them? Thanks!