Walkies!

I had hoped to have an interesting post up for today, after nearly a week of silence. It kind of flopped.

Two weeks ago, I thought about starting a dog-walking group, inspired by Two Pitties in the City‘s dog-walking group. Last Sunday I had two people contact me who were interested in the idea, people who had their dogs through obedience and into agility classes, and were looking for some good small-dog socialisation opportunities. We were all set to take an hour-long walk at 1 today, but the temperature dropped dramatically in the last two days, and the other dogs would have been uncomfortable being outside for so long.

So Peach and I took a half hour long walk together instead. It was frigid outside! I put her old sweater on (She’s about two times too big for it now) and we explored down along the river for a bit. I meant to get pictures, but my cell phone politely informed me that it was low on battery life when we hit the bike path.

Peach seemed very disappointed with the short walk. She’s been feeling poorly for the past week and yesterday was her low point, but she’s bouncing today. Hopefully next week more exciting things will happen, and maybe this dog-walking group will actually be able to meet for the first time!

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Don’t you put that in your mouth

I swear, at least forty times a day I ask Peach, “What are you eating?”

Alternatively, I’m telling her, “You don’t always need to have something in your mouth.”

The crime scene.

Peach has all kinds of toys. She doesn’t want for entertainment, either, as she has two people and two cats to keep her occupied during the day. But, inevitably, she finds something to play with that really doesn’t belong in her mouth. Up there? She has a toilet paper roll (Which she is allowed to play with) as well as her Skinneez duck, but instead, she chose to play with an arm torn off of another toy. That toy has been reassembled since.

"I didn't do it."

Often, what’s in her mouth has an unknown origin. A stick, a rock, a piece of plastic. About a quarter of the time it’s a piece of cardboard, and maybe one in ten times it’s an actual toy. She can be running around right in front of me, put her face down, and when it comes back up, there’s something stuck to her nose! As if she conjured it from thin air. And of course, when I try to get my boyfriend to look at her, she’s removed the unknown object… Usually into her mouth.

Puppies, like babies, explore their whole world with their most easily manipulated tool: their mouths. Peach really takes her job as a puppy seriously… Everything ends up in there.

1 Month with Peach

It was actually December 31st that Peach came home to live with us, but today is somewhere between her Gotcha Day and her actual birthday- the 6th- so I felt it was appropriate to post today. Also, until I looked at the date, I hadn’t realised that it had already been a month.

Day 3

This was the first picture I took of Peach, a couple of days after she came home. Such a little fluff ball! She was wearing a way-too-big “original” design of my collars, it looked ridiculous on her. Of course, I had been lucky enough to meet Peach before bringing her home, and even have her week-by-week photos stashed away for future “aww”ing. She already knew who we were, she was just unsure of the environment she was now exploring.

Today.

What a difference a month makes. It’s hard to see in the picture, but Peach’s fur has started to do what every good Pomeranian’s fur does: get ugly. She’s growing some adorable mutton-chops on the sides of her face, her butt-feathers stick out crazily, and the rest of her body has gone from baby-fine fluff to wooly, thick, and luxurious. I’m not sure where that’s coming from, since both her predecessors never went wooly, and both of her parents had fine, silky fur. I’m hoping it bodes well for a gorgeous adult coat! Easier to see are that her ears no longer flop cutely, and in the background, that her tail feathers are starting to make an appearance. No more little otter tail! She actually has a very long tail, it almost curls twice.

I like her expressions in both pictures. The first was very Peach: trusting, sweet, her brain a little learning sponge. Peach today looks at mw like she’s plotting something silly. In fact, I actually got down to take a picture of her napping in her basket, and when she spied the camera, she hopped out, laid down, and posed for me. Diva! She did just happen to lay down in the mess of torn-up cardboard rolls she has been gathering.

In a month, Peach has discovered that she loves Cesar’s treats more than anything in the world, especially the filet mignon flavour. There’s a close tie with peanut butter for second place. She has also outgrown her sweater as of last week (We got about three weeks’ wear out of it) and started to put her brave pants on for every walk. Most times she’ll ring the bell to go outside to potty, though there is that rare occasion where her brain slips out of her ears and she forgets, but it’s not as often as 9/10 times, or we’d be having an accident each day, and we really don’t. We get maybe two accidents a week, where she rings her bell to go out at least six times a day.

She has also been able to graduate from being crated in the kitchen, to being crated in the bedroom, because she is very quiet at night, and wakes up at about 8:30 to let us know she has to go to the bathroom. Peach sits on a dime, and loves to “up” for extra treats, though “down” is a bit troublesome. She’s now big enough that we let her play with the cats without intervention: if they need to sort out their business, no one will get seriously injured doing so.

Lots has changed in the past month, but Peach is still a lovable, squishy little furball. I hope that never changes.

Modifying Your Dog

This isn’t about anything heinous, I swear: this is about language and dogs.

I’ve mentioned that Peach is a soft-natured dog. She is very docile, sweet, easily reprimanded, easily redirected. Alongside these positive qualities, she is also easily frustrated, easily scared, and requires reassurance to be comfortable in new situations.

When I walk Peach, and meet a new person, I let them know, “She’s shy!” One word, and suddenly, their demeanour towards my puppy changes. It goes from a robust, rambunctious greeting, to a much quieter one. Most people kneel down, reach out, and make small noises, either soft or high-pitched. The kneeling and soft noises are attractive to Peach, but she is still nervous by body orientation (Normally towards her) and the reaching out.

When I haven’t told people she is shy, they tend to lean over or forward, and make louder noises. Very threatening, when you’re less than a foot tall!

I noticed that the language was what changed people’s reaction towards her, thereby opening her up to more positive encounters with new people. I know if I said, “She’s scared,” or, “She’s nervous,” people would take that in a different way. Fear and nervousness are considered negative, and most people consider themselves positive: there’s no reason to be scared of me! They want to “fix” the fearfulness, and in doing so, often over-compensate and push a pup over-threshold.

People have their own vocabulary to associate with dogs. My in-laws’ Pomeranian, Gypsy, is reactive. She enjoys hearing her own voice, and dislikes strange animals. Many people consider her aggressive, when in reality, she wants nothing at all to do with other animals and is simply telling them to go away. If they approach, she has a little fit trying to escape from them. She isn’t fearful, per se, and definitely not aggressive. But people will approach, apply a label (If they do not understand what “reactivity” is) and then suggest “fixes” for the behaviour. If she’s aggressive, she needs to be dominated; if she’s afraid, she needs to meet other dogs. Neither thing would help Gypsy.

You’ll also see this when you tell someone the breed of dog you own. Today, a very nice lady told me Pomeranians are only good with children if raised with them. Jasper, my first Pom, never got that memo! He met his first child at over a year old, about the same age as the child in question, and proceeded to love the snot out of him. Pit bull dogs are vicious, labs are loyal, German shepherds are protective, Border collies are smart.

We use a lot of words to describe our dogs, and sometimes, the words make all the difference in perception of the dog itself. Even in training. Evaluate your language… And see what can be modified to be more positive.

Might as well be walkin’ in the snow

"Agh! It's got me!"

I’ve been meaning to do this one for a while, but today I actually remembered to whip out my cell phone on a walk (Something I never do: I’m walking my dog to walk my dog, not to play on my phone) and snap some pictures of Peach. For the past two weeks, Peach has been taking longer and longer walks, and being asked to accept more novel experiences while on them. At first, there was a whole lot of cajoling, bribing, and tugging to get her to walk along behind me ten feet away from the house.

Then, we started to cross the road and walk ten feet away instead- this, coincidentally, always lead us past an outside dog who is dog-reactive to large dogs, but generally accepting of small ones, so Peach was able to get some no-pressure experience with interacting with dogs, just by walking past her and looking at her.

"What's over there?"

Next, we walked up the road a whole block, and turned back. This lead to us being able to walk around the block, and this morning, we went for a longer walk of about 20 minutes around the neighbourhood. This one was hard for Peach, because it was the first time she was asked to walk on a busy road, and there were many cars and trucks driving past that made her nervous. Whenever Peach gets to the point of happily walking ahead of me, I change things up. Life is filled with novel experiences, and I want her to know that a walk will never be the same twice.

"More ducks!"

So this afternoon, I decided she needed a good, long walk, so we went up our street, and crossed the busy road, and crossed through a quiet neighbourhood with dogs barking indoors. Peach got her first taste of ducks. Our town has lots of ducks, geese, and seagulls, and a small group of ducks was hanging out near the entrance to the bike path. Peach was amazed when they quacked and flew away. More, she wanted more! She was so excited to get onto the bike path and see even more ducks, and the water, and the rocks. It was quiet, and there weren’t other people. She was in her element.

Frankly, being a rather a-social person, so was I. I love a good trail walk or quiet city hike, alone with my thoughts and my dog. It was very refreshing to be able to take a dog for a long walk like that, as my male Pom had had health issues that precluded him from having a good time on a long walk, and my female was reactive to everything under the sun and could never enjoy a walk without having twelve meltdowns.

"It's all water out there?"

We were even able to cross over the floating bridge, which Peach bravely peed on and peered into the water over. Once we had crossed it, I saw behind us a woman approaching with her standard Poodle. We continued on, and her and her long-legged dog passed us quickly. Peach was happy to walk alongside the Poodle- about 10 feet separated them- and watch him. It was exciting to her to have company on the walk, that she did not directly have to interact with. I think I may be putting too much stock into solid introductory socialisation with other dogs. Peach is very happy to share space with them, but she wants her own safety bubble, as well.

"Look, I thound a theather!"

Our walk ended after we left the bike path and went back up the busy street. By now, Peach was a Master of the Walk, and she was strutting along like she owned everything. A nice lady bent to say hello, and Peach charmed her by licking her fingers and hiding under my coat. She is the kind of pup who needs lots of reassurance, but is happy to enjoy life and the world around her once she has it. We passed all manner of person and loud car, and finally came to our door, where Peach took a final piddle before she came inside to have a snack, and a nap.

Myself, and my 4 pound puppy, were out on our walk in the snow for an hour. She’s a regular itty-witty snow dog.

“Bad dog!”

"Who, me?"

Could that sweet face do a single bad thing? Of course. She’s a dog, and what humans consider bad, dogs consider normal parts of society, culture, and growth. Canine culture includes many things humans aren’t fond of: barking, digging, guarding. It’s how the human interprets and corrects the behaviour that makes the good dogs. There are no bad dogs, only bad trainers.

Tonight, Peach was very excited. It was raining and snowing out and she wanted to take a third walk in twenty minutes to run in the slush. I had the genius idea to take her Kong, and fill it with peanut butter to distract her. Of course! Give an excited, frustrated puppy her favourite exciting thing! It was a dumb move, but I at the time, I thought a distraction was a great idea. I was wrong.

Within a few minutes, peanut butter-loving Astrid was trying to share the puppy’s Kong with her. The cat meant no harm, and often actually shies from sharing food with others, but Peach was already in a state of heightened arousal, and the cat sniffing at her Kong was just too much. She growled, barked, and chased Astrid a few inches away from her Kong, and then went back to it.

We interrupted her, and I quickly formed a plan of attack. Kong, kitty, and pup were taken into the kitchen. I tried to recreate the scene to no avail: now that Peach had let off some steam, she wasn’t inclined to tell her feline friend off. Nothing I or Astrid did caused Peach to react. In fact, Peach backed off of her Kong at one point and let Astrid have a go at it. I wanted to know precisely what had created the moment, to avoid it in the future. I posed the cat. I played with the Kong. I had the cat play with the Kong. Nothing!

So I began to “rough up” Peach. I admit, I played dirty. I ruffled her feathers and poked her and took the Kong straight out of her mouth without warning. These are things I am generally not wont to do, nor things that the cats would ever do. It took about five minutes of me shaking and fluffing her for her to react, and it was nothing more than a growl. “Hey, STOP it!” she was saying. I immediately stopped what I was doing with my hands on her, and told her, “No, thank you.”

Within a moment, she got her Kong back. Next time, it took me specifically ruffling her head to have her react, and it was turning her head towards my hand with an open mouth, as if we were playing. I repeated my freeze-frame and she made a pitiful sound. Again, “No, thank you.” And she had her Kong back. I was unable to get her to growl again with her Kong or with peanut butter at all, although she did repeat the growl with a different treat about a half an hour into our experiment, mostly because she dropped a piece and was unable to reach it while I ruffled her.

It was all frustration. Frustration at being unable to let out steam outside, frustration at the cat trying to take her thing, frustration at being ruffled while trying to snack, frustration at being unable to reach her snack.

So I took some training treats and began to rough her up, and she got a treat for each ruffling, getting rougher and rougher. Then I’d ruffle her while she was still snacking. She became accustomed to the ruffling and sat back when I had no more treats. By then, it had been so long, she had to go out again to have a pee and play in the snow. Ultimately, Peach got everything she wanted, and more, but we both learned something.

Peach learned that growling is a good communication tool- it gets people to stop doing uncomfortable things- but also that she has less need to do it than she thinks. I learned that being a soft-natured dog doesn’t necessarily make Peach a pushover. It means that her threshold for rough handling and frustration is lower than a harder dog, and so she’ll need to be managed to make sure she learns to retreat before she reaches critical status.

I’ll be repeating further desensitisation exercises with her over the next few weeks, getting her used to rougher handling than she’ll normally experience in our home, as well as some frustration tolerance, so she can back away when something happens that she doesn’t like.

Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now!

Peach is steadily on her way to earning her “Master of the Outdoors!” achievement. She is a rather good girl, house-training-wise, especially considering she has every ability and opportunity to wander into a quiet corner and piddle where we’ll never find it. Instead, she is predictable. She stops to drink and snack about twice a day, between her two large meals, poops about twice a day, and pees at least six times. She is taken out first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and either after a long nap, before or after we leave, or if she just asks.

How does Peach ask to go outside and tame the great, snowy Canadian wilds? With music.

Poochie Bells

To the left, you’ll see some Poochie Bells. Poochie Bells are not a new idea, but they’re one great and functional take on it. When I was a kid, our dog had a bell, and she rang the bell to let us know she wanted to go outside. My last two dogs never really caught on to the idea. The male had a health issue that caused him to be unable to control his bladder, so he didn’t really have the option of asking us, and the female thought the bells were just a thing to get our attention in general.

I don’t actually have any Poochie Bells (Though I would like some!) but I do have some jingle-bells on a string, attached to my front door. I showed Peach they were there, had her ring them for a few treats, and left it at that. I figured she would someday ring them by accident while playing, and learn that her action had a positive consequence. Boy, was she quick on the uptake!

About ten days after the bells went up, Peach used them. I wasn’t home, but my boyfriend was, and he said she rang the bell, and went outside, and peed. She then proceeded to ring the bell three more times last night. And today, she continued her ring-a-dingling. She does it with a purpose. She rings the bell loudly, then sits oriented towards the door and looks back at us. She has a purpose: to pee. She has a tool to tell us she has to pee. And she will use it.