Thursday, January 26, 2012

Timber's Non-Results

I suppose it's time for an update on Timber.  He has been to the vet, at Aloha Dog and Cat Hospital, here in western Beaverton.  We have a very nice veterinarian caring for him, Dr. Heather Hershey, and she has been running a variety of tests trying to figure out what is going on with him.  So far we have come up with nothing - negative test after negative test.  Which, in reality, is something, because it eliminates some potential problems.

The first order of business was a physical exam (he passed), then a urinalysis (which Timber so kindly provided a sample of all over the floor of the waiting room - maybe he needed to prove that he has a problem with drinking and peeing too much).  We also ran a urine culture to ensure that we weren't missing an infection, because of the dilute pee he offers.  Finally a full panel of blood work, exchanged for half our savings account (just kidding - it wasn't that bad!).

The results - negative, negative, negative.  On to the next test, dropping him off at Aloha Dog and Cat Hospital for the day to have a series of blood tests done, checking him for Cushing's Disease.  Again, negative.

Next test, a urine concentration test.  This test was done by withholding water overnight (just long enough for the test, not so long that he would get sick from dehydration), then taking a urine sample first thing in the morning, before he had a drink of water.  The results from that - rather inconclusive.  He managed to concentrate his urine somewhat, not definitively telling us anything.

So, that means we've worked our way down to about 4 or 5 possible diseases, according to Dr. Hershey.  Our next test will be a two week trial of a medication that treats Diabetes Insipitus.  This form of diabetes is not the same as the sugar imbalance - it is a disease of either the brain or the kidney (depending on the type) which causes excess drinking and peeing.

See the picture below to get an idea of how bad the peeing has gotten.  Timber was left alone in the house for about 4 hours while I went to a doctors appointment and picked Ethan up from school.  He was wearing the belly band we purchased, and that was supplemented with two super-absorbent adult incontinence pads.  I came home to pee all over the living room - Timber had soaked through the two pads, through the belly band, and still had enough pee to leave puddles all over.  What do I do about that?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Introducing Dogs and Babies, Part One

My wonderful friend, Kathy Nolasco, is getting ready to welcome her first child into the world.  Well, her first human child that is.  Kathy is also the proud parent of a beautiful German Shepherd Dog named Linda.  Which is what prompted Kathy to send me a message the other day, the gist of which was "How do we introduce our dog to the baby?"

It's a question I get a lot, at least from those who are expecting, or know someone who is.  So I thought I'd share my answer with everyone.

A little background first.  Kathy and her husband Gerson have a one-year-old female German Shepherd, Linda, from the Dominican Republic (a Dominican Shepherd I tease her).  They are also expecting a baby boy in about 20 days, should he cooperate with his due date.  Kathy has made arrangements for Linda to stay with her parents while she is in the hospital after the baby is born, and they are already planning on bringing baby blankets to Linda so she can smell the baby before she meets him. 

But Linda's already nervous, and the baby hasn't even been born yet.  According to Kathy, Linda is scared of the new baby things in the house, especially the stroller and the swing.  So this is where the training needs to start.  I'll tackle part one - fear of the stroller and swing - in this post, and part two - introducing Linda to the baby - in a later post.

The first rule of training Linda to accept the new baby should be "100% positive."  Because we want the relationship between dog and baby to be a positive one, the training should always be positive too.  We don't want Linda to make any associations between bad things and the new baby.

To teach Linda to accept the baby stroller and swing, get some really yummy treats (PureBites, Natural Balance Rolled Dog Food, Charlee Bears, or Wellness Wellbites).  If she is clicker trained, grab the clicker, but if not, Kathy can tell her "yes" every time she would get a click (for more on clicker training basics see Karen Pryor's website, Start out with either the stroller or the baby swing (tackle one before the other - the second time around will be easier). 

Let's say Kathy picks the baby swing.  Have the swing set up, but not activated.  Bring Linda into the room where the swing is, and the instant she looks at (or near) the swing, click (or say "yes!") and give her a treat.  Stand in such a way that Linda needs to look back to get her treat, away from the swing.  When she looks at the swing again, click and treat.  Repeat the exercise a couple more times, then take a big step towards the swing.  Kathy should click and treat for Linda looking at the swing, again, the instant they move towards it.  Do another 3 or 4 rounds, then move closer and closer.  Eventually they should be able to stand right next to the swing.

When Kathy is beside the swing, she should reward Linda for looking at the swing once or twice, but then hold off and see if she'll voluntarily lean towards it, sniff at it or even touch her nose to it.  If she does, definitely click and treat!  Work on getting as much interaction as possible, without resorting to bribing or luring (an example of that would be putting the treat on the swing).  Be patient - it will pay off in many ways!

The first time Kathy moves Linda towards the swing the swing should be turned off, not moving at all.  Once Linda masters the exercise with the swing off, start over with the swing turned on low - bring Linda into the room and click and treat the instant she looks at the swing.  Continue progressing until there are no issues with the swing.  Then it's time to move onto the stroller.

If Linda gets nervous at any point, things have gone a little too fast.  Keep things light and fun.  There don't need to be any commands, and don't force her at any point. This exercise is so effective because Linda is in control - something that goes a long way towards building confidence and eliminating fear.  By rewarding her every time she looks at the baby swing she'll start to have a positive association with the swing.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's Not Easy Getting Old

Poor Timber.  Tomorrow is the visit to the vet to check up on why he is drinking and peeing so much.  In the meantime, we're all about ready to be done with the accidents.  When Timber has to pee I'm not sure he always knows or has control over it.  The good news is that because he drinks so much his accidents are practically just water.  But we did need a solution.

There's a great pet store on the north east side of town called Pets on Broadway.  When I went in to pick up dog food for the boys (they eat Fromm Gold and no one on our side of town carries it) I decided it was finally time to get Timber a belly band.  For those of you not in the know when it comes to belly bands, well... be happy about that.  It is a simple device that literally wraps around the belly of a male dog (similar products are available for females, but we won't go there today) to prevent him from peeing inside the house.  It's essentially a diaper for males who are problematic markers (which I think is really any male that marks inside instead of out!) or incontinent dogs.  I've also known of people using a belly band during house training, but please, if it comes to that, call a professional (like me)!

It's awkward enough buying a diaper for your male dog, but standing in the aisle reading the packaging to figure out what size you need and exactly how much liquid the thing will be capable of holding, you feel pretty strange.  Fortunately Pets on Broadway has great staff, and one of them (sorry I didn't get your name!) patiently helped me through the whole process.  The icing on the cake was one brief line on the instructions.  To quote the Simple Solution Washable Male Wrap, "Position the wrap so the microfiber pad covers your dog's masculinity."  Oh my goodness, is that what we call it?

Next it was time to try convincing Timber that this belly band was a good idea.  I mean, hey, he doesn't care if we are wearing out the mop. I affixed a pad to the proper place on the wrap, then proceeded to cover poor Timber's "masculinity."  Timber was indulging to a point, but would not be convinced that it was safe to lie down with such a dangerous piece of fabric attached to him.  So I did what any good dog trainer would do.  I got out the chicken and gave Timber the "down" command, thinking that if I directed him to lie down a few times he'd understand that it was okay.

Now, Timber's not a huge fan of obedience training, but fortunately for me, he is a huge fan of chicken. 

"Down," I said.  Thunk went Timber. 

I did it!  He smiled up to me.  Chicken now!  Timber was pleased with himself, but something was missing from the equation.  His back end.  Timber had happily performed the portion of the "down" exercise he was comfortable with, and maybe he thought I wouldn't notice the rest.  He was in a very nice play bow, front end down on the ground and butt (and belly band) up in the sky.

At least he got a laugh out of me, because that much effort didn't earn him the piece of chicken he had been hoping for.  We tried again.  And again.  We were finally successful, and Timber got lots of chicken for his tolerance and obedience.  Tonight we've had one near accident (fully caught by the belly band, hooray!); tomorrow will be our trip to the vet, and hopefully a solution that Timber is more accepting of.

Timber doing "down"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Product Pick: PureBites

I have a new favorite training treat.  PureBites are made by a Canadian company, and the beauty is in their simplicity.  Each treat is a single, freeze-dried ingredient.  The chicken treats are freeze-dried chicken, the cheese treats are freeze-dried cheddar cheese.  PureBites also come in Ocean Whitefish, Beef Liver, Duck and Trail Mix (which is actually a whopping 3 ingredients - sweet potato, beef liver and green beans).

The best thing about training with PureBites?  It's hard to say without sounding like a spokesperson for the company (though I assure you I'm not), but dogs LOVE PureBites.  I have seen some of the most finicky dogs go bonkers for PureBites, and if a dog really wants what you've got, you can teach them to do just about anything.

Since they don't need to be refrigerated, PureBites are easy to take on a walk, to training class or just to keep a few in your pocket.  They aren't stinky (with the exception of the Beef Liver, though it's pretty mild smelling for liver).  Usually, while unappreciated by owners, stinky is a good quality in a training treat.  But dogs can tell when you get out PureBites.

The last feature I want to highlight: the single ingredient.  It's tough to find treats that can be tolerated by dogs with allergies, but one of the PureBites should work for just about any dog.  If your dog tends to have a sensitive stomach or gets car sick, you may want to try the chicken.  And if your dog needs to loose weight (or just not gain any extra!) chicken is pretty low in fat.

If you are going to use PureBites for training you may want to break the treats into smaller pieces ahead of time.  PureBites can be found in a variety of stores across the U.S., including Petco and Petsmart (try their website to search for independent stores near you) and online at

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Sensitive Our Dogs Are

It never ceases to amaze me how "tuned in" our dogs are to our lives.  They have a wonderful understanding of any patterns and routines we follow - what time we get home from work, when it is time to get up in the morning or eat dinner at night.  I don't know how you'd prove it, but I'm sure our dogs understand many more things, like our favorite spot on the couch, the order in which we clean the house, and what we do when we get upset.

So it should be no surprise that events which throw us off (a new baby, a change in jobs, the death of a close friend) also disrupt our dogs.  And so it happened that two days after my hip surgery (which went very well by the way!), Pistol and Timber got into a fight.  A big ugly fight. 

The boys have never gotten along particularly well, something I blame on my "not-positive-enough" training when they began living together.  They have always had the occasional spat, something that used to be ended with some loud, stern words from me.  Just a few weeks ago they got into a fight when the pet sitter was here, a fight that was a warning to me because it was more intense than usual and actually resulted in some scrapes and scratches on each dog.

And now, after my surgery, the dogs lit into each other again.  They show me just how much chaos I have caused in the house with my crutches and a funny anesthesia smell, visitors bringing pre-cooked meals and my mother filling up our guest room with a month's worth of belongings.  The dogs are unhappy about the shift in our normal routine.  Life is off kilter, and when the dog-to-dog relationship is barely peaceful to begin with, a big ugly fight is the end result.

Pistol and Timber barked and growled and snapped and snarled.  My mother yelled at them to stop, and I yelled at her to not get her hands in their way.  Fur literally flew.  I found my crutches and managed to hobble over to the anarchic crime scene.  My mother had somehow pinned each dog apart from the other.  We separated the dogs to different rooms and I examined both of them from nose to tail, checking for blood and holes and any other injuries.

The end result is some painful looking bite wounds, but fortunately all surface scrapes and no expensive (veterinary visit worthy) puncture wounds.  What do I, as a dog trainer, do?  First, I grimace with embarrassment at the horrible behavior of my personal dogs.  Then, since I'm bound to the couch for recovery time, I'll make some changes to their living arrangements until life returns to "normal" and I can work on some behavior modification (couples counseling I suppose) for Pistol and Timber.  There will be separate sleeping quarters at night, and any unsupervised time (that includes time when I am around, since I am useless to control two ornery dogs right now) will be spent in different rooms.  For now it's management, not training.