12 November 2015

Perrito the Toughest Tiny Terrier

Perrito has been one of my foster dogs for over six months now. I will say upfront that he is a challenging dog. And I will also say that this tiny guy has the biggest, toughest spirit I’ve been privileged to know in a long time. He is eight pounds of muscle and resilience.

Perry has chronic pancreatitis that is being managed through diet, supplements, and as much predictability as I can provide so as not to rock his world. Because Perry also has anxiety and some serious compulsion issues. Over the last six months, he's worked hard and I've learned to work smarter on behavior interventions, and it's become clear that he needs additional help in the form of pharmaceutical support. Part of his visit to the vet today was about that support.

Currently, Perry is terrified of restraint, grooming, and exams. We've come a long way with body handling and I can touch and massage him just about anywhere and pick him up if he's in the mood. Anything else requires a muzzle and nail trimming is right out. For our vet visit, he had to wear a basket muzzle before we'd quite finished with muzzle conditioning to make it a "fun tool" that predicts lots and lots of meat bits. It was not fun.

The little guy had a rough night of no sleep in a different place, wasn't feeling well, had to travel without an anxiety-soothing bone, had to wear a muzzle, got poked and prodded, and was pretty scared in general. After all I put him through, he leaned against me and asked for pets. And then when we got home, the poor guy fell out of the truck. He got up, shook himself off, and went to check out any changes in yard scents. As you can see from the photo, Perry is exhausted. And he'll be the first one up and trotting outside as soon as I move toward the back door.

Perry gets himself into trouble sometimes by barking in the faces of terriers who don't put up with such stuff. They roar at him and he retreats, but it doesn't get him down for long. He has clocked himself in the head with his own heavy rubber toys, knocking himself to the ground. He gets right up and charges the toy again. He has been severely ill with vomiting and diarrhea. It didn’t keep him from hauling his short self up onto the nearest chair for some desk explorations. 

Perrito says, "You can't keep a good dog down!"

28 March 2015

Goat Milk Good!

One of my goals for Belle is repeated experiences feeling safe around anything new. Since she began at the extreme of having a phobia of anything new, encouraging her to engage her seeking system and her curiosity continues to be an incremental process of teensy, tiny steps. Of course I have used her meals as one avenue of introduction. I'm sure not going to pass up something that easy!

Belle and eating go together like classic rock and air guitar. Food is this girl's number one passion. She has a breakfast dance, a dinner dance with adorably goofy grunts, and a "Hey, treats would be so amazingly fabulous right now!" bouncy dance that works on me every time. However, she has also been extremely picky and intolerant of even small changes. Has. Past tense. Belle hasn't refused a meal in quite a while.

In the beginning, I only added a few drops of a new food at a time and then it was about a teaspoon left in the bowl for her to choose to taste. Or not. Sometimes it was just an added scent. The day she tried ground venison for the first time was a day I had to hold back a laugh. She licked it in my hand, jumped back in surprise, circled round, and dove back to my hand for more. I swear her eyes bugged out. "Whoa! What was THAT deliciousness?" It happened again when I offered the warm liquid just poured off of cooked beef. As I fed her by hand, food dripped on the floor, all over me, and on her, but the mess was totally worth it. She was a full, happy girl as her whiskers glistened with beef fat in the evening sun.

Usually, a new taste sensation goes more like this. About a teaspoon of the new food item is off to the side of her regular food in her bowl. After handing her a few dollops of regular food, I grab the next dollop and brush it across the new food. She sniffs, retreats, whirls around in a couple of circles, and considers whether she'd like to continue eating. It is eating, after all. With food. Ah, food! She returns and scoops up what's in my hand. She eats the new food and the old food with perhaps a pause or two, depending on her gustatory evaluation of the new food.

Belle found cooked pumpkin sneeze-worthy, but then decided it was not that bad. She was clearly horrified by her first taste of canned salmon, so I didn't hand her a second taste. She did clean it out of her bowl, however, and has eaten salmon since then. She even eats a bit of granulated seaweed as a regular part of her breakfast now.

Her discovery of fresh goat milk was practically a blissful experience. I dredged the dollop of food in the goat milk and offered it in my palm. She stayed near my hand to take in the scent. She let it roll around in her connoisseur nose and light up her brain before snapping up the goat-coated goodness and giving a little foreleg bounce before diving in again. "Mm, tangy!" 

Belle gets a little goat milk with her meals often now, since she likes to hover near the bowl, which also happens to mean hovering over my lap. She is still nervous about even a silenced, no-flash camera phone, but she let me take the above photo for goat milk. Goat milk good

01 February 2015

Morning, Belle

Finally, a spy photo of BlueBelle on the bed that isn't so much like a grainy spy photo. This sound-muted, no-flash, sneaky phone photo shows one of Belle's visits to the rest of us -- dogs and human -- as we are all waking up.

For months, I baited my bed with treats and soft chew bones for her to find during the periods that she roams most of the house alone. Soon, she began sleeping on the bed while I was home. A few months ago, she was so excited that we were awake for the day that she suddenly leaped onto the bed. I froze. The dogs froze. Belle froze. My movements were slow as cold molasses as I gingerly inched out of bed and Belle jumped down to join us on the way to the backyard.

Eventually, she made it part of her routine to jump onto the bed and greet the dogs in the morning. She began walking within inches of me to sniff anything new like a book or the phone in a different place. She would settle in and take a nap with us if we all got quiet again. I rolled out of bed increasingly later. Yawn.

Occasionally, Belle stays on the bed with us all night. If she is on the bed when the rest of us head to bed, I turn my back to her and glide discreetly past her into the room. If I am suitably careful, she will stay. She is adamant about keeping her space bubble free of dogs, so the dogs move carefully, as well.

Morning blooms with a brighter Belle mood. She stretches long, wags her blue-grey nub of a tail, greets her favorite dogs, and responds to my praise by moving toward me. She is tolerant of my moving around and of having dogs play around her some. Belle's large, sparkling eyes and curious face are lovely sights first thing in the morning.

11 January 2015

Guess who got her last nails trimmed today?

Belle, a bit tense about the camera, is on the left

That would be brave Miss Belle. I am so proud of this girl! A few months ago, nail trimming for semi-feral BlueBelle was a big deal, with ongoing discussions and planning between her vet behaviorist team, my (sainted) vet, and me. It was to be combined with another exam and involve sedation at the car and on and on. It was a good plan, but I secretly wanted to see what I could do by applying my skill set alone. So I dropped the subject with the vets and started to work.

It was slow going and I did not have the option to whip out the standard (and faster) clicker counter-conditioning from my tool box. But I did have time, patience, and food. God bless that little Belle, she does love food! Without boring you with all the tiny steps, I'll just say that there were a LOT -- hundreds -- of teensy, tiny steps toward helping her feel secure enough to adjust her emotional responses from fearful to tolerant to even positively accepting in some cases.

I confess that I don't have dozens of pages of meticulously charted, preplanned behavior modification records to show. I wish I were that kind of trainer, but I'm not. I didn't show my work in Trigonometry, either. While preplanning is necessary when working with a fearful (any) dog and a variety of proven methods must be ready for use, when it comes to the actual dance with the dog, flow and intuition take over. When I count seconds and analyze every muscle contraction, I lose her. When I feel into her as a beautiful being in need of safety, she will dance with me.

Obviously, we've been working on touch. First, I had to be able to get close enough to her. Most of the time she got treats for choosing to come to me or letting me sit next to her briefly. Other times the reward was me moving away from her. The goal is to push only a fraction each time, or sometimes not at all and leave her wanting more. The first day that she felt fingers rubbing her ear and leaned into them was a good day indeed. I quit while touch was still desired so she allowed me to briefly touch her at other times, too.

Working up to holding Belle was too much of a leap. I would do that a great deal more gradually next time. She is not at all comfortable with the hold. She tolerates it, but she's still scared. It jeopardizes our relationship and I don't want that. So we have many, many more tiny steps to go for more touch and a comfortable hold (if that is ever possible).

The nail trimming was not actually that scary. Belle was focused on treats each time and we'd negotiated the aforementioned hold that needs more work. Getting a nail trimmed also meant getting to freely leap around the living room, receiving handfuls of treats while the whole doggy family enjoyed a food party. This was promptly followed by a ground venison dinner for Miss Belle. She decided that the food part was a pretty sweet deal and worth anticipating.