Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's Always Good to Learn from your Mistakes

When we first got Lainey she was such an easy dog to take on walks, take hiking through the trails, or even to public events.  She loved everyone and was never reactive towards any humans or other dogs.

Hiking through one of our State Parks with Lainey's boyfriend Kappy

Doing a very good Sit-Stay for mommy

After Lainey's first ACL surgery last fall, our trips around the city came to a halt.  She could no longer hike through the woods, walk on the trails or even attend doggy daycamp.

The most we could do with all of her surgical complications, was to walk up and down the street we live on.  Or on a good day, make it around one block in our subdivision.

I began to notice during this time, that I was having to pay special attention to her body language while we were walking.  She would become very stiff and inattentive whenever anyone approached our direction.  She wouldn't bark or get loud....her tactic was more of a stare-down.

One evening early this winter, it was just getting dark and I had decided that once we got to the end of our street we would turn the corner and head to the next side street before turning around to head back.  Just as we turned the corner, a very tall man dressed in a lot of heavy clothing (it was cold) with a big furry hat on, was about 30 feet away and running straight towards us.  I pulled Lainey into the grass and away from the sidewalk and put her in a sitting position.  I assumed that once the man saw us, he would transfer to the road or at least pick up the pace and run right by us.  He did not!!!

The closer he got to us the more agitated Lainey became.  She was barking, lunging, growling....I had never seen this side of her.  I used my body as a blocker between her and her site line to the man, kept a loose leash and tried "leave it" and "look", but nothing worked.  I just needed him to get by us and keep moving on. 

Instead, he stopped literally 2 feet away from us and asked me if I needed any help.  I explained to him that I would just appreciate it if he could move along due to the reactivity from my dog.  By this time, I am walking away from him through someones yard, just trying to put some distance between us.  Instead of getting the hint, the man just simply stood there trying to talk to Lainey.  This of course, was causing more harm than good.

After a good few minutes, the man finally continued on his way and Lainey and I headed back home.  I was exhausted, nervous and of course scared of what had just happened.  The next morning I called our dog trainers.  They seemed to think that since Lainey and I had been walking the same street over and over the past several weeks that she had grown to think that she "owned" them.  That this was an extension of her property.  They also stated that due to her medical issues and surgical complications that she was probably feeling a bit nervous that she could not protect herself (or me) if anything was to happen.  Her barking at the man, was her way of "protecting" and giving the man a warning.

This was the only time this has happened and I am much more aware of our surroundings whenever we walk.  At each corner I stop and look to see if there is anything that might make her uncomfortable (people, dogs, bikes, etc).

Unfortunately, months later and two more surgeries later, we are still only able to walk up and down our street or our block.  I have made some changes in our routine that I think have helped.  We don't walk the same "direction" every time.  We also change it up between walking on the sidewalk and walking in the road.  We also switch up on which sides of the street/sidewalk we walk on.  And most importantly....we have been working on loose leash walking along with a solid "look" command. 

I think that all of these changes has helped.  She is much more relaxed and our walks are very enjoyable.  We have come in contact with multiple people, dogs, bicicyles, etc. and she has not reacted at all.

I can only hope that a year from now when she is all healed with 100% mobility, we will be able to get back into hiking, walking the trails and enjoying nature as much as we both want to.  I think we are both ready for some new scenery!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It Ain't Easy Being A Pit Bull Mama

We all know that it's hard to be a Pit Bull Mama!  You have to be well-educated on the breed, be willing to put in the time training and advocate as much as possible.... and you MUST have thick skin because people WILL talk bad about your dog (most of them without even having met him/her).

The joke in our house has always been, that if you come to the front door, you should be more afraid of our Jack Russell than our Pit Bull.  The most dangerous thing our pittie would do, is lick your face inappropriately (on your mouth) or bruise your leg from her tail wagging so hard.

Unfortunately, the stigma around these dogs and the way the media portrays them....makes people believe they are vicious killers and should never be trusted.

The way I see it....NO DOG should ever be fully trusted.   

Pit Bulls need early socialization, but I believe that EVERY dog needs it.  Pit Bulls are terriers which means they are strong, stubborn and determined.  And since they are a terrier, they also can have a high prey drive.  But, so can a Chihuahua, a ShihTzu, Jack Russell or even a Greyhound.

Due to the incident last week between my dogs....people have assumed that our Pit Bull MUST have been at fault (She IS a vicious killer after all).  This couldn't be farther from the truth, but I've quickly learned that no matter how many times or in how many different ways I tell the story....I'm not going to be able to change their mind.  Does it bother me? Yes!  Will it ruin my day? No!

As long as I know I have provided them with nothing but the facts from that day...they are allowed to see things how they want.  What more can you expect from people who have an irrational fear and hatred for a breed due to all the media hype.

I can say one thing....I've received more love and loyalty from my Pit Bull than I have most people.


What have been some of your biggest obstacles to overcome being a Pit Bull Mama?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Good Signs

After last week's debacle, things have been pretty smooth around our house.

We took Stewie to the vet and he has been on his new medication for a week now.  I can't say that I have noticed any huge changes, but it is still early.

We started to "re-introduce" the dogs this week and it went well.  We began with leashing each dog and letting them sniff each other from opposite sides of a gate.  They were each rewarded for proper behavior, but as soon as one of  them seemed to become stressed or high-strung in any way, we ended it and took them each to their own spaces.  We did this over and over until we were confident that each dog felt secure.

The next step was taking down the gate and allowing them to meet without any barrier.  Each dog was leashed and again, rewarded for proper behavior.  As before, as soon as one of the dogs became too hyper, too rambunctious or too stressed, we ended the drill and took them each to their safe zone.

We have become better pet parents and are paying closer attention to any tell-tale signs that either dog is uncomfortable.  I think it was a big wake up call to us both and we need to "do better"!

Here are the both of them last night.....

Playing nice with their tennis ball

Cuddling on the couch watching Animal Planet

I can only hope that these are signs of good things to come!  We will continue to pay closer attention to their needs and hopefully, life will keep on keepin on!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Does this mean War?

Our household is in shambles....and is crumbling more and more every day!  The overall dynamic has been off for quite some time and I think every one (and every pet) is at it's breaking point.

If only I could go back 9 months and do things differently.....

It all started back in September when Lainey had her first ACL surgery.  We had to keep the dogs separated and Lainey was caged or leashed at all times.  We would have random "play" with both dogs together, but it was quiet play and not the "run around the house playing catch me" kind that they really like.  Stewie was often times corrected for trying to "rough house" with Lainey, so most of the time they just cuddled and Stewie would give her comfort.

Lainey (left) & Stewie (right)

Then came November and the nightmare I will never forget.  After the loss of Walker, sadness seemed to overcome each of us (humans and animals).  It was a very dark time for us and you could really feel the dynamics between all the animals start to shift.  Tucker, our other cat, was mourning the loss of his brother and would take it out on the dogs.  The dogs could tell that mommy and daddy were sad and would feed off our energy.  I don't think I realized how bad things were getting.

Walker ~ RIP & Tucker
December rolled around and we decided to adopt Dasher.  We thought that Tucker would appreciate having a play mate and after hearing his story from the shelter, we had to bring him home.  It took about a month for him to settle in, but now he is the happiest cat I've ever seen.  He is so loving and isn't at all afraid of the dogs.  Unfortunately, between still taking care of Lainey and now giving a lot of attention to the new member of the family...Stewie once again was getting the short end of the stick.


In January, Lainey tore her other ACL and needed surgery on both legs.  For the couple weeks leading up to her surgery we finally let the dogs get in some good old fashion play time together.  I mean, what was the worst thing that could happen...Lainey was already going in for surgery, so we thought it would be good for them.  They absolutely loved this time together.  They were both so happy.

Then....everything changed!!! 

After surgery, Lainey spent 2+ weeks at the hospital.  During the time that Lainey was gone, Stewie received the most attention he has gotten in a long time.  We had so much more free time on our hands now that we didn't have to spend it on Lainey and her recovery.  Everyone in the house was happy!!!  Unfortunately, Lainey was stuck in a hospital, around strangers with her mama no where to be seen.  I would visit her on the weekends and she was so sad.  She had become a totally different dog and the vet explained it was most likely due to the meds, her pain level, etc.  For such a young pup, she had gone through so much in life, so they told me not to worry. 

The first night we brought Lainey home from the hospital, there was an exchange between the dogs that we had never seen before.  They both growled, got loud and it made me nervous.  I called the vet the next day and they said this was normal for our circumstances.  We were told to keep the dogs separated for a few days and let Lainey start her recovery stress-free.  We did as instructed and Lainey spent her days in a cage in my office at work and her nights in her pen in a room that is gated off from the rest of the house.  The dogs could "see" each other, but they couldn't get near each other.

Those first couple weeks passed without incident so we began slowly introducing the dogs into the same space.  It was a success!  They spent the next couple weeks loving each other and playing (as much as Lainey can play right now).

Unfortunately, this is where the story gets ugly.....

Sunday night I was home alone.  I had fed the dogs, walked Lainey and was doing a training session in the living room with both dogs.  As I always do, I had them both sit on the rug (one on my left side and the other on my right side).  I give each dog a command and then reward with a treat. After treating Stewie, I give Lainey a command and then treat her.  Then go back to Stewie and repeat the process.  After about the 4th-5th command, I gave Lainey a treat.  Unfortunately, I missed her mouth and the treat dropped on the floor.  As Lainey bent her head down to pick it up....Stewie attacked her.  He locked onto her neck and wouldn't let go.  Lainey was thrashing her neck around, but Stewie was not letting go.  I immediately stepped in and got Stewie to release.  The dogs were then separated, but Stewie was still "revved up" and he latched onto my arm.  I screamed, and before I knew it, Lainey was attacking him.  I know she was just trying to protect me, but it got!  Stewie ended up with a cut on each ear and a small cut on the top of his head.

You would think that this was the end of the story, but unfortunately, it is not!  Later that same night, Stewie attacked one of the cats.  He grabbed onto it's neck and would not let go.  Once again, thank goodness I was "right there" when it happened, so I was able to release him from the cat pretty quickly.

Since this incident, we have spoken to the vet and Stewie has been checked over. The vet thinks that not only are we dealing with some aggression issues, but we also have some OCD issues with the dog too. He prescribed clomipramine which treats canine obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety produced by phobias, and aggression. We are going to try the medication for a month and see if there is any improvement and then move on to some behavior modification training techniques. This medication should allow Stewie to learn new desirable behaviors that replace any undesirable behaviors, while calming his fears enough to make the learning process easier for him.
There has been a lot of change in our household over the past 6 months with Lainey's surgery ('s), the loss of one cat, the addition of another cat, etc.  Stewie's anxiety has increased significantly due to all of these changes, along with all of the emotions that we (humans) are feeling due to all of these issues and he may be feeding off of us, leading to an extreme level of anxiety, fear, etc.

We will continue to keep the animals separate for a couple more weeks and assess the situation at that time and see how he is reacting to the new meds.

I'm so afraid that the dogs will never be "best buds" again.  That they will have to be separated at all times and never left unsupervised.  This will be my worst nightmare.  I wish someone could tell me that this happens and that things will get better!  I know I'm not the only one who has dealt with aggression/fear in a dog, but I feel that way.  How did they go from being best friends to worst enemies?  I am stressed and my heart is breaking.  If I could go back to last year I would have never taken Lainey hiking that day that she tore her ACL.  It seems like everything has snowballed since that day.  If she wouldn't have torn her ACL she wouldn't have needed surgery...which means we would have never had the Rimadyl in the house...which means the cat would have never ate it...which means the cat would have never died...which means we would have never gotten another cat...which means that Lainey's "good" leg would have never taken on all the stress causing another ACL tear...which would have meant no hospital stay...etc!!!