Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

No News…

September 9, 2010

I strongly hesitate to even tap out these words: no news is good news. Because the minute I do so, you know something is going to happen. But I’ll risk it because I feel like I haven’t posted in this blog in ages.

But the reality is: Stella is pretty much not a problem. I really get why people will rescue one Greyhound and then go back again (and again–and again.)

The only real issue she has is that she can be growly on lead. This, I have learned, is something that just comes with the dog or doesn’t. The best thing to do is to just avoid extended “meet and greets” with other dogs if she’s on lead.

The therapy work we do at the psych facility is challenging and I question how long I’ll continue. The people act funny, smell funny and, as much coaching as we do, asking them to be gentle in their approach, there is generally at least one person who comes at her and frightens her. I’ve shifted to letting her walk around without her leash and I believe she feels more secure without it. And I’m reducing her sessions from an hour to 30-45 minutes. We’ll see…

I’m training for another half marathon and Stella has been training right alongside me. I’m now up to 9 milers for my long runs–I sort of wish I could take her with me on the actual day of the race. It feels odd not to run with her, like I’m missing a 65 pound, four legged, black and white appendage.

So yeah, no news is good news. And honestly, I’ve been writing a lot less and “arting” a lot more. Check out Wildpots, my latest endeavor!

So You Want To Rescue A Greyhound Pup?

August 17, 2009

Lately the rescue group I got Stella from has gotten a lot of litters coming in. This has meant a few things for me: 1. I’ve needed to resist getting another pup on a near daily basis and 2. I’ve been asked to talk with prospective owners about the joys (and miseries) of raising a Greyhound from scratch.

There’s not a lot out there about raising a Greyhound pup because nearly all rescued hounds are track dog rescues and hence adults.

But occasionally there’s an “oops litter” or some backyard breeders or some circumstances that lead to pups needing adoption.

So I gathered my thoughts about raising a Greyhound pup to put them out into the world for anyone who is considering adopting a Greyhound puppy. Or anyone who’s just interested the hell and gone trip I went through. Kidding!

Although not someone with huge amounts of dog experience before I got my pup, (I’m the Dog Virgin) I have learned some things along the way. These things may help you decide whether or not a Greyhound puppy is for you.

If you’re on the fence hopefully I won’t scare you off it though. Because watching your puppy grow from deliciously cute to an exquisite, lightning fast dog, is an incredible experience to behold.

So here’s the little ditty I put together about Greyhound pups…

1. Greyhound Pups Turn Into Greyhounds

Know that your puppy will turn into a Greyhound one day so if you’ve fallen for a pup but don’t know a lot about Greyhounds you’ll want to, hem, bone up. For example, if you’re big time into a people-obsessed, dying to please Collie or Lab type of puppy this here’s a whole other ball game. Think cat versus dog and you’ll begin to get a feel for a Greyhound’s tempermant.

Hard to believe but the fat little pup you take home will someday be a tall, long legged, pointy nosed Greyhoundie. It’s especially good to keep this in mind when you go shopping for your pup. If you’re buying a crate, buy for the future. This means buy a huge one. Same goes for dog bowls, pillows and cushions they’ll sleep on. In twelve short months your 20 pounder could easily be 80 pounds.

Your pup will likely be high energy. All pups are. But your puppy will eventually turn into a Greyhound and 18 months down the line you’ll find that your dog is sleeping 23 hours a day just like those retired racers that sleep like cats all day long.

Your puppy will bound and run around like a goofy dog but somewhere at about a year old you will see that your puppy’s gait has changed and he’s running like the wind, or more accurately, like a Cheetah. This sight is absolutely thrilling. Congratulations: you now own the fastest dog on the planet.

2. Greyhound Pups Are Pups First, Greyhound Pups Second

Pretty much everything you read about raising any puppy applies to Greyhounds. So read anything and everything you can about raising a puppy. There is no shortage of books and there’s no shortage of free information online.

As for me, I kinda like the Dog Whisperer’s philosophy, especially as it applies to puppy raising: it’s all about exercise, discipline and affection—and in that order. If you can get your pup out at least once a day for a long romp (an hour minimum) plus a few walks, you will have a worn out and obedient puppy (they can’t argue if they’re exhausted.)

Puppies will chew regardless of how much you exercise them, so make sure you’ve got plenty of stuff for them to chew on and puppy proof your place beforehand so there’s nothing they can chew that will be harmful to him.

In terms of discipline and training, since you’re getting a puppy take advantage of it: sign up for Puppy Kindergarten. Keep an eye on behavior you find troubling. Research it online. Get help with a trainer. Problems with pups are hugely fixable if they’re caught quickly! Note: no dog is perfect. Your pup will come complete with quirks and a few things to work on here and there. No need to panic. Just be observant and take any concerns seriously.

Also, socialization is so key. The key to having a really great dog experience is to get your dog socialized as much and as often as possible. This can happen at parks, on walks or in classes like Puppy Kindergarten. Your pup will learn how to be in the world which will make him a happy guy. And you’ll have a dog that other dogs (and their owners) will want to be around.

Speaking of other owners, here’s another great thing: while your dog is socializing you get to socialize too. And what might start out feeling like chores (the walks, the park, the classes) actually may turn into a hugely positive addition to your life. You’ll thank your pup for the latest cool person you met on your last walk.

Take your pup places—to friends’ houses if they let you, eat at a restaurant outside where they let you have your dog—get them exposed to any and everything you can. You have the cutest puppy on earth and you’ll have swarms of people asking you about him. It’s a blast for you and it’s great for your pup. And it gets the word out about Greyhounds which is always a good thing.

3. Don’t Let House Breaking Break You

House breaking will feel like it’ll never end. Stella took a few months but we were down to a mistake or two a week with a couple of weeks. But it was a bit consuming at first. Keep it in perspective if you can.

The one tip I got that worked great: jot down when your dog pees for the first week or two you have him. You will quickly note patterns (Stella peed right after eating, right after exercising, right after walks.) Soon you’ll be able to get them out to the yard proactively. Note: every mistake they make is your fault. Yup, sad but true.

You will need to show your pup the doggie door or take him outside but you need to proactively get him out to do his business. From what I experienced and what I have heard, most of the Grey pups sleep through the night without incident. We also crate trained Stella (see crate training section below) so she never went in her crate.

There is a lot of information online and in books about housebreaking and I don’t think Greyhound pups really differ much from any other dogs. Except my bias is that I think they may be easier to break as they tend to be pretty clean dogs.

4. Leaving Your Pup

This goes for any breed but I feel it’s worth pointing out. You have a puppy now. Eventually you will have a dog. But you also have a life and you need to go out and live it, at times, without the dog.

We opted to crate train Stella which means when we leave she’s left in her crate. Dogs like dark caves so a crate feels good to them. They also won’t go to the bathroom in their crate. A dog is taught by their mother to not soil the place they sleep in. So you will not come home to a mess.

One advantage of crate training your dog includes always knowing where your dog will be when you’re gone. You will also know that your house and its contents will remain in tact while you’re away.

If you do decide to crate train your dog never ever make the crate a punishment. A crate is a safe, happy place with treats, soft bed, darkness and quiet. We direct a fan in our dog’s crate to keep her cool if temperatures rise. She sleeps in it at night and relaxes there when we’re gone. And it’s never a problem when we ask her to go in.

The disadvantage of crating is that you can’t go out for huge long stretches of time–especially when you’ve still got a young pup.

The other way to go is a doggie door—that gives you more flexibility, for sure. You just need to make sure your pup doesn’t destroy things in your house when you’re gone.

Some people also opt to have a dog walker or friend come in and take their dog out for a break. Doggie daycare is another option if you need to be gone for longer stretches. Some of these options come with a price but having a strategy of how you want to handle leaving your dog is definitely something to mull before you bring your bundle of joy home.

Finally, if you are leaving your pup at home whether it be in a crate or not, start out with very short stretches of time. And do not make a big deal of leaving or coming back. If you want your pup to think it’s no big then act like it isn’t. Note: even if you don’t ever have reason to leave the house leave anyway. Get your dog used to you being gone. You do not want a dog that cannot ever be crated or left alone. You want a happy dog but you also want a happy you and happy you is one that can leave your house without a big scene.

5. Leashing Your Pup

As mentioned, eventually you will own the fastest breed of dog on the planet. You will also own a dog without a real great sense of direction or concern for anything in the way of what they want to chase. Your dog will run after a cat or squirrel with so much focus and speed that nothing else matters to them in the world—and that includes cars. These dogs are bred to hunt by site so when they see something interesting move they’re off to the races.

Given that you have a pup, do tons of recall training but still, unless you’re in a very safe area away from harms way, you gotta keep your pup on lead.

Recall training tip: go out to a safe enclosed area with your pup, a friend and some treats. You stand way at one end, your friend at the other. One of you calls the pup and he comes running to you. Treat him. A minute later your friend calls your pup and she treats him. Within just a few minutes you’ve accomplished two things: you’ve gotten some training under his belt and you’ve exhausted him!

Sweet Sixteen?

March 29, 2009

I have this drinking ritual. But it’s not how it sounds.

At about mile six of a hilly eight mile run, there’s a place where I can get water. And Stella can too. In fact, in the middle of a beautiful Redwood grove, there’s a drinking fountain and a metal dog bowl. Bliss.

While we were headed to the bowl this morning, a bike rider came up. He was exhausted and exhilarated. Stella played with him on his bike with such joy I figured she’d be better off going home with him rather than me which is often times the case on outings.

In the meantime, I went over and filled the dog bowl up with fresh water. A few minutes later, Stella came to get some.

At about the same time a woman and her two dogs—a small black and white terrier and a shepherd looking dog also approached.

Stella had taken two gulps of water when the little black and white dog nosed in. Stella air snapped the dog twice. And the dog went away. To me it was a four second doggie version of, “wait your turn.”

I didn’t think too much of it but did say, “Eh, she can be a little bitchy.”

The woman then said, “My dog is sixteen.”

At first I thought it was an odd non sequitur. I then thought she was trying to say, “Here it is. My dog is sixteen and he still can’t keep his head out of the dog bowl when there’s another dog there.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The woman came up to Stella, pulled her off the bowl and said, “Get outta here you bitch. You *are* a bitch you know.”

She looked up at me and added, again, “My dog is sixteen.”

The guy on the bike and I just looked at each other like, “WTF?”

The woman went on to yell more at Stella for being a bitch and at me for allowing such behavior in a dog. She called me the dog’s “mom” which I always find a little cringeworthy too. I’m her owner. I love my dog. But Emma, a large black Greyhound now living up in Seattle, is her Mom.

Anyway, the woman then reminded us all again that…you got it…her dog was sixteen.

Uh, can anyone explain what her dog being sixteen has to do with anything? And if being sixteen was relevant, how were we (me and Stella) supposed to know? And really, who’s in the wrong here? Is it Stella for telling the dog to wait its turn? Or her dog for nosing into the bowl when Stella was drinking? From what I can gather, the dogs got it all figured out. And the only thing that felt really wrong was this woman’s behavior.

But instead of dissecting this in front of her. Instead of defending my dog. Instead of wanting to throw the bowl of water in her face for being so reactive and nasty, I said as cheerfully as I could muster, “Thank you for your advice. I really appreciate it.” ‘

And, as I was jogging off, “Have a great day!”

At the bare minimum I should have given her the Southern version of Eff You which I’ve come to learn is: “Have a blessed day.”

Hey. I’m open to being educated. Should I have thrown Stella down for TeethFacing a dog who went into the bowl while she was drinking? She didn’t hurt the dog, the dog got the message and waited, it was all over in four seconds or less. But still, I am open to seeing where my dog needs improvement. Just not from someone who shoves my dog, calls her a bitch and screams at me. It may be normal for dogs to growl, grunt and on occasion teethface. But that’s just no way for a human to communicate let alone educate.

Reality Bit. Twice.

October 8, 2008

No, Stella didn’t bite anyone. But both she and I got bit last Friday by an elderly dog that just freaked out.

Here’s the deal. Stella got toothy and protective of me and her treats. The older dog didn’t take kindly to her and bit her on the snout–twice. I was collateral damage and got whacked in the finger.

Stella seemed to be unaffected. In the dog world I’m guessing this is a pretty minor deal–maybe one step up from a growl.

As for me, I’m on antibiotics for what appears to be a pretty small wound but I’m told that dog bites, especially to a hand, are not to be messed with.

This was a learning experience–big time. Yeah, the treats were working great in gaining control of her and getting her to come my way when she was getting too amped. But in a relatively narrow, crowded environment, treats can be a cause of stress and can accentuate possessive behavior. And in a narrow, crowded environment, Stella’s propensity to get amped is huge.

I realized that taking Stella to a beach, one without a huge amount of running room other than along the shore, can be very uncomfortable for her. *We* love the beach but maybe, in many instances, it’s been stressful for her to negotiate. Take her off the beach and put her in a nice big open space and there’s no growling, no TeethFace. No Hannibal Lechter appearances.

So no more beach unless we proceed with a lot more caution. And maybe it’s best to only do the beach once in a while and head towards more open spaces.

Dogs are always honest. Stella, now that I understand a piece of the puzzle better, has been saying to us, “I”m not comfortable here.” She’s been saying it in lots of ways. But I dunno–we’ve just not been listening. Last week was an eye and ear opener. Finally, we listened. And maybe, finally, those lambs will stop screaming.

Reality Bites (If You Don’t Deal With It)

September 30, 2008

One dog year is equivalent to seven human years according to the experts. This puts Stella in the fourth grade en route to college in a year, marriage a year later and a full blown mid life crisis a year after that. But for the moment she’s an adolescent, a near teen. Which makes it easy for me to want to write off a lot of behavior as age related. But this latest issue, aggression, I couldn’t chalk up to an age or stage. Its consequences are just a little too steep to ignore.

The issue is she’s been going Teeth Face way too easily, snapping very quickly at other dogs both on and off leash. At first I buried my head in the sand, hoping it would pass, hoping it was due to a stomach ache or fleas but eventually I decided that reality in this case, could bite if I didn’t deal with it. So I put on a virtual rash shirt and started surfing–online.

What I learned is this: Dog aggression is a lot like ice cream–31 flavors and then some (apologies Ani.) There’s a variety of types and you can read a general description by clicking right here. You got your dominance aggression, defensive aggression, dog on dog aggression, dogs aggressive towards people.

Seems to me that Stella’s got a touch of the defensive agression going on. While she’s the fastest dog on the beach (hell, she should be, she’s a Greyhound) she’s still young and she’s a bit scared of the big dogs.

When insecure she protects herself by going Teeth Face. It reminds me of Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lechter in Silence Of The Lambs. She waits for a moment, the eyes focus, the fur rises on her back. I can almost here the words…

“Well Clarice, have the lambs stopped screaming?”

The teeth come out–no biting–just those sharp Hannibals and big explosed pink gums. And, every time, she effectively sends the other pooches scampering off in fear that she’ll have them (with a bottle of chianti and some fava beans) for dinner.

After a few difficult days I think we’ve got the two word solution: Liver Treats. I bring a few chickens’ worth to the beach. I walk her in on leash—let her know I’m around and supplied with liver treats. I let her go but I call her frequently and nail that recall down. Before she can get into any sort of skirmish she’s called. She comes running. She gets distracted. She goes back and plays, never getting amped up.

Distraction is a beautiful thing.

I wonder if some day she’ll eventually be easy. But most of the day she is easy. I mean how much trouble is it to deal with something passed out in your living room as long as it’s not dead, doesn’t smell too bad and isn’t wanted by the authorities? But really I think I was pondering if she was always going to have one problem or another. Hell. I dunno. I’m the Dog Virgin, the anti Cesar Milan, the one you call when you need the questions, not the answers.

Crate Expectations

September 12, 2008

Note: This post could also be titled, Separation Anxiety In Your Young Greyhound. Or, Maybe It’s Not A Good Idea To Crate Your Dog Only Two Hours After You’ve Left Them In A Completely New Environment. Or, Live and Learn.

Poor Stella. Poor friends who so generously said Yes to keeping her for the weekend while we visited Sin City (me for business, P for tag-along purposes.) I thought I thought of everything (another good post title, actually.) Food, chewies, stuffies, phone numbers, detailed instructions, pillow, portable crate. Ah yes, the portable crate.

The last times we’ve left Stella she stayed with Greyhoundies who have, in addition to two hounds, a huge warehouse which is home to Barkstix, a business that makes yummy all natural dog treats. In other words, dog heaven. And then we left her with friends who were remodeling their place. Doggie daycare, never a problem. Smooth sailing. Never any separation anxiety. Separation affinity, in fact.

Well, I guess I was wrong. Turns out the key to making these things work out has been that Stella was not left alone. Stella’s not really attached to me or P. in as much as she just needs some company. Something three dimensional with a pulse will work.

So our friends who said they had to go to a play that evening that I left her, the ones I assured could go to that play and just crate her, did like I said and put her in. Not so fast. Within about a minute, after walking down the stairs, they heard barking, whining, blood curdling screaming going on. And then, she appeared, escaped from the travel crate and likely ready to destroy everything of value in the house if they were to leave her unattended.

Needless to say, they never got to the play.

Fortunately, I was able to get doggie daycare to take her so my friends could get on with their lives. But things continued on a downward spiral over there too as she could not shake the separation anxiety (“SA” as those far too in the know call it.) She gracefully jumped high fences, whined, barked and simply would not crate for love nor money. Basically, she was a huge pain in the butt–you know, the kid that the teachers call you in about–the kid at private school they have to put up with because the parents are paying the tuition.

Fast forward and she’s back at home not having really skipped a beat. As the Dog Whisperer likes to say, “Dog live in dee moment.” Owner, however, live in the dee past. And I’ve become way too well versed on SA but maybe, hopefully, better equipped to diminish the chances of putting Stella and friends in this situation again.

Let’s Make A Deal

February 4, 2008

zebrarug.jpgNot one to dwell much on life’s happier moments, I quickly moved on from the Llew victory to the next challenge: maintaining a urine free home. I’ve always had indoor/outdoor cats. The disadvantage is that they may live a shorter lifespan due to environmental concerns—cars mostly. The advantage is that they can live a happier life climbing trees, chasing rats and using the world as their litter box instead of my living room.

When driving up to Auburn, we thoroughly discussed go word options. Go words are what you say when you want your pup to, well, “go.”

Note: When you pick your “go words” choose wisely. Just like a name, these words will stay–some would say haunt–you and your pup for a long time. You will be saying these words over and over and over again.

P. suggested, “Do your business.”  But I’d heard that one so many times before. It was so old and so tired. And what if we were out and there was another owner telling his dog to do his business?  And another owner out a few feet down doing the same?  If we all had the same go words we could potentially set off a cataclysm of dog urine throughout the city.

It was my duty to think of something original to keep my neighborhood from washing out under a sea of pee. I wanted something dignified, mature and original.

After some thought I offered, “Close that deal.” 

While P. didn’t exactly bring the car to a screeching halt to celebrate my genius, he did nod and smile which was enough for me.

I was especially concerned about accidents as a few months prior to getting Stella I’d finally made the huge decision to buy a zebra striped rug for the living room. It had coffee and cream colored stripes.  I decided, worst case, I could handle Stella having an accident on this rug—but only on the darker, coffee colored stripes. I hoped she would understand.

Unfortunately, I was to learn that dogs don’t speak English and they definitely don’t have an eye for style. Puppies speak the languages of food, water and full bladders every 15 minutes.

Not long after Stella arrived, the zebra striped rug became a target with no regard to at least hitting the coffee stripes vs. the cream ones. But, in fairness, every area was a target.  This is because Stella, and all other puppies, pee like there’s no tomorrow.

Stella peed before, during and after eating. Before exercising and after. She peed after getting up from naps. And she napped constantly. Turns out, she was the best saleswoman in town; she was closing deals left, right and center. So much so that I began charting her sales levels to see how she was doing:

Day 1: 11 deals closed,  1miss (living room.)

Day 2: 15 deals closed, 2 misses (kitchen and dining room)

Day 3: 14 deals closed, 2 misses (zebra rug and dining room.) Managed not to mame her.

This charting would go on for weeks. And each miss, every time, was my fault. I didn’t let her out quickly enough. I didn’t recognize the signals. It was never, ever her fault. Ever. This was and is, I think, the number one take home lesson to learn on this issue.

As the charting continued the days turned into weeks. And then the weeks into months. And finally, we were in December when, at about the six month mark in her little cowprint life, all of Stella’s deals were being closed out doors.

The technical term for this, I believe, is house trained. If your dog doesn’t close a deal in your house for 30 days straight, she is house trained.

Hallelujah.

To celebrate this momentous occasion I made the phone call I’d been waiting to make since nearly day one. Nope, I didn’t call P. right away. Nor did I call any close friends or family. I called the carpet cleaners and had  the zebra striped rug professionally cleaned. For $109, I was left with only a faint, faded splash of yellow as a reminder of the deals Stella closed as a pup indoors.

The rug didn’t actually look all that bad before the cleaning. But for me it was important to realize a few things. One, the rug’s perfection was no longer of great import to me. And two, I did like being able to have some sense of control. I didn’t have to have a beat up looking living room. I didn’t have to have my hardwood floors scratched into oblivion. I didn’t have to put up with a couch coated in dog fur. I was beginning to understand that, with some diligence, some training and some patience I could, unlike all those puppies are hell articles, have my greyhound puppy cake and eat it too.