Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Very Sad Day in Pibble Land


Otto was a beautiful, kind soul of a dog. In all honesty, he was never meant to be. He was the result of poor breeding, inbreeding at that. He was rescued at 4 weeks old - if he had been left, he would have passed with the rest of his litter due to parvo. Instead, he spent a year with our family, terrorizing stuffed animals and chasing figments of his imagination. I think he knew that, though he had a lot of great things on Earth, he was meant for something more. Even as a young puppy, he had a distant, sad look in his eyes. Nothing anyone did would take it away. Nothing on this Earth could.

The perfection I saw in him did not save him from his problems - he was dog/dog and people aggressive. He had hurt other dogs, and snapped at people. Anywhere else, that was grounds for putting him down...my vet even advised it on more than one occasion. Being human, and being selfish, I thought living was in his best interest, of course.

I worked with training. He was very intelligent. He knew several signs in modified ASL that I taught him. His favorite things included kisses, Elmo, clean sheets and car rides. He didn't care whose car it was...if the door was open, or even a window, it was an open invitation for a ride.

I thought if the Vick dogs could be rehabilitated...and if other deaf dogs turned out fine...so would Otto. I was wrong. The older he got, the worse he got. If he didn't like something, he would grab your hand with his teeth and put pressure on it until he got you to stop whatever you were doing. He had to muzzled just to go to the vet...and I mean muzzled before he got out of the car. If any other dogs were around, he would try to attack them.

He would bark at us when we walked into the room or into the house. He would bark first, wag later. He was fine with strangers...as long as they came to HIS house. He would bash his head senselessly into the side of Axle's kennel, growling and barking because he wanted at him so bad. He would snap at the hands of strangers...and sometimes of familiar people.

When a vet told me I should put him down...I switched vets. Even the one I trusted the most told me it would be the best decision. I just wasn't ready for that.

I worked harder, tried harder, everything, but nothing worked. If you only had contact with him through Facebook, sure, he was the sweetest thing in the world. If you met him in person? You probably saw some of the behavior issues we talked about. I was videotaping Otto and Axle discovering a gopher turtle in the woods one day when it turned into a fight. It's graphic, and I won't post it, but it's there, plain as day. I knew my sister had a dog once that was a lot like Otto. Her dog made it to the point where she had to live outside in a kennel. She got out and killed another dog, and they had to make the decision then. Knowing that would be Otto's fate, I had to make the best decision, though it was the hardest one.

There was 101 great things about Otto, but his flaws were fatal ones. I couldn't bear to think of him hurting another dog, another person...even me. Sometimes, if you truly love something, you have to let it go.

We laid his body to rest in the ground last night, his big white paws curled around Elmo, his eyes closed as though he was asleep. I know that if anything on this planet has a soul, it's a dog. They love unconditionally, forgive everything and are loyal to their last breath. I know Otto's soul is at peace now. He is having his first Christmas in paradise, and I know he couldn't be happier.

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Take on Cesar Millan

I'm part of a bully breed discussion group on Facebook. A topic that recently surfaced was about two dogs (1 older, 1 younger), both male, getting into a fight that lead to blood shed. She was concerned that it would happen again and didn't know what to do. She received a lot of advice...and some of it was pretty good. Cesar Millan came up...and I don't like him. I was bashed a little hard for it, but here's how I view it.

Cesar uses the term "pack leader" a lot...and I do mean a LOT. That's a good thing to be. You want your dogs to look to you for everything. You are to be their most trusted and most respected pack member. To reach this point, you have to earn their trust and respect. Cesar's Way employs more of a dictatorship approach to being the pack leader - Cesar's Way or the highway. He uses short kicks, leash jerks, finger pokes, alpha rolls, etc to get his point across. He insists that the dog walk behind him, however slightly. There's very little chance to sniff along the path, which is entirely natural for a dog to do.

Here's how Axle learned to walk on a leash:

Prerequisites to leash walking: sit, watch me.

1) Associate the leash with good things - treats/praise.

2) Make dog sit before leash attached to collar. Praise.

3) Start with dog on left side, in a sit position. Use a phrase like "Let's go!" or "Axle, heel!" to cue the dog to begin walking, along with you taking the first step with your left foot. If the dog takes off before you give the command, start over in the sit position. Remain calm...if you begin to get upset about the dog needing to start over, take a break.

4) As your dog walks along side you, praise him/her

Make sure you reward the dog with praise or treats throughout each part of learning to walk. If you begin with treats, try to wean them off of the treats as they begin to get the hang of what you want them to do. If a dog only gets treats as a reward, he/she will always perform with the sole purpose of receiving that treat.

Cesar also really downplays aversive dog training. He claims the leash jerks and kicks he uses are good because they imitate behaviors displayed in a natural pack order. All aversive actions cause an unpleasant sensation, which is what makes them work. Causing pain or fear in a dog only works to weaken the bond you have worked so hard to create.

Cesar doesn't explain the equipment he uses very well. I let everyone know what equipment I use, how I use it and why. I don't just accept whatever they are using, as that simply reinforces in their mind that the equipment they are using is okay.

I don't use choke collars. I have used a slip-lead on Axle, but only after he had completed walking training. I prefer Martingale collars that are custom built for my dogs. They fit lose around the neck and tighten when walking so the dog cannot slip leash.

Basically, Cesar isn't all bad, but I can't support a "dog whisperer" that is more interested in kicking, tugging and other aversive actions than actually dealing with their individual needs and personalities.

For a lot of great training tips and more information on Martingale collars, go to www.badrap.org I use www.bigpawk9.com for my collars.