Friday, March 20, 2009

Rewards from Rescue Dogs

Today was a very rewarding day at the Brown County Humane Society in New Ulm, MN. Two things of great importance happened. The first thing is that we have 3 pairs of dogs that walk well, and the second is that Boomer looks like a different dog when he wears the backpack. I don't know if it would be fair to say that either of these two discoveries is more important than the other but they both hold great importance in different areas.
First off I mentioned that we have 3 pairs of dogs that do very well. This means that we have 3 different cores into which we should be able to start introducing other dogs. Before we introduce other dogs into these pairs I it will be a good idea to mix and match the pairs we have so that each dog will become comfortable with a number of dogs. This will be good for their own individual psychology as well as for making them more appealing to those looking to adopt. If we can successfully mix and match our 3 pairs we will have one very strong core of six dogs into which we will be able to introduce the other dogs that may not do so well. The goal here will be to use the structure of the original core to rehabilitate the new dogs which we choose to introduce.
Now for the second great discovery of the day, Boomer and his backpack. As you may recall from previous posts Boomer is a very dominant dog which can easily turn him into an aggressive dog. While on walks it was very normal for him to pull on the leash, to lung after cars, birds, people, and other dogs. We had made some progress in the past. The last two times I walked him by the end of the walk he was choosing to walk behind me and give me full authority over him. But this didn't happen until the last half, or even quarter, of the walk. Today was completely different, in a much better way.
Since I was able to fix the dog backpack yesterday I couldn't wait to use it today and see how it worked. Boomer was my test subject. At first he didn't really like the idea of me putting it on him as he tried to run away from me but as soon as it was on him it was obvious that he was focusing all his energy on his new job which was to carry that backpack with two cans of dog food in it until I made it clear that he had finished his job. And as soon as I opened his kennel it became even more clear that he had already accepted the role of follower when he took on the backpack. The walk with Boomer today was the most enjoyable walk I have even had with him and I am convinced that this was the case for a couple of reasons.

1) I established myself as his calm-assertive leader the moment I picked up the backpack (before I even entered his kennel).
2) I did not give in to him when he showed me that he didn't want the backpack. Instead I insisted on putting it on him, but once it was on him I did allow him a couple minutes to get used to it.
3) The new object connected to him and swinging on his body gave him a new, more intense job to do rather than just walk.
4) We still followed the normal procedure set out for walks (He doesn't go through the door until I let him and he is always next to, or behind me among other things).

From the moment we walked out the door Boomer assumed a follower's position. As a reward I allowed him the full length of the leash to roam around next to or behind me. Through the entire course of the walk he did not lung at a single car, person, bird, or dog, and he never pulled.
A simple tool like a backpack can do wonders for releasing pent up energy in your dog as is clearly visible in the account of Boomer I have just given. Other accounts of this type of success can be seen in various episodes of Cesar Millan's show The Dog Whisperer among other sources.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dog Backpack

The Brown County Humane Society now has two dog backpacks. One of the dogs had chewed up one of the backpacks but I was able to fix it this morning. The backpack will become a regular part of the dogs' lives and the volunteers are thankful that we have them now.
The best part about the backpacks is that we now have a way to increase the intensity of the exercise of the dogs without increasing the length of the time doing it. At this point I do not know the time ratio for walking a dog with a backpack to walking one without it but Cesar Millan and other dog professionals advocate the use of backpacks to increase the amount of energy burned during a walk or just while the dog is going about around the house.
After I fixed the backpack that had been chewed through I wanted to see how some of the dogs reacted to having it on their backs. I picked Boomer and Chelsey. They reacted in completely different ways. When I put it on Boomer it was so foreign to him that he froze for about 2 minutes. The added weight of the backpack and the two cans of dog food that were in it were so strange that Boomer didn't know how to react. It was so strange that even though all four legs were not under him when I put the backpack on him he wouldn't move to a more comfortable position. Luckily though he did eventually become more comfortable and he did start to move around in his kennel with it on. Once he became comfortable with it I took it off so the next time I put it on him he will remember the relaxation he felt at the end of his trial run.
After I took it off of Boomer I went to put in on Chelsey. Like I said earlier Chelsey reacted in a completely different way than Boomer did. Chelsey welcomed the backpack and acted like it wasn't even on her back. As you may know from earlier posts Chelsey is usually very obedient and an excellent walker. In her kennel however she can get quite excited and loves to jump up to be close to you. The backpack didn't keep her from jumping, not even a little bit. For all I know she didn't even know it was there. It will be interesting to see how she does with the backpack when she goes for a walk.
I hope to have an update on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Rewarding Experience

Yesterday I had one of the most rewarding experiences I've had since I started volunteering at the Brown County Humane Society. I was walking Boomer with a choke chain like I usually do. I was keeping his leash real short to prevent him from being able to assert control over me. I don't want to give him the slightest clue that he is the one who needs to be in charge and not me.
For the first half of the walk he struggled against me. I exhibited the behaviors that I have come to expect from him, lunging after cars and animals, and struggling to take charge and lead. As usual I gave him corrections whenever he behaved in an unwanted manner. Finally at about the halfway point in the walk he settled down for about two minutes and I wanted to reward him for it to reinforce his good behavior. I didn't have any treats left because I had used them all up in the first half of the walk as I tried to reinforce the sit command so instead of giving him food I gave him the rest of the leash. What happened next was amazing.
Boomer took the freedom of the longer leash and reinforced the fact that I was his leader. He didn't take the opportunity to walk in front of me and sniff around but he went directly behind me. This was the first time that I knew Boomer was putting me in the position of his leader and he wanted me to be in that position.
I am not always the best at recognizing my own attitude, or energy as Cesar Millan would say. Sometimes I am very good at ignoring the dog but I think most of the time I focus on the dog. I like to see what the dog is doing so that I can correct bad behavior immediately before it gets out of control. These are the times I have the most problems with the dogs. When I focus on the dog I tend to worry about what the dog will do, but if I focus on the goal I am more calm and assertive. When I focus on the goal I know that I will accomplish it on my terms which gives me more confidence in my abilities.
Looking back at yesterday's walk with Boomer I can pinpoint the transition between Boomer pulling and following to the moment when I decided in my head that I was working toward the goal of a completed, well mannered walk. At this point I started not to worry about what Boomer was doing and I led with confidence rather than with worry.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Update/things to come

I arrived back in New Ulm about an hour ago (9:30 PM). This means that tomorrow I will once again be volunteering at the Brown County Humane Society. As it looks on we have some new dogs as well as some old ones. It looks like Chelsey is still there as well as Boomer with the addition of a couple others and still some more that I just haven't been able to mention yet.
As I said in my last post I hope to start doing some clicker work with one or more of the dogs. I am very excited to see how it goes since I haven't done clicker training before. I hope you are excited to see the results as well.
Another new feature that I hope to include in my posts are videos. I bought a flip video over my break so I now will be able to shoot short video clips of the dogs and and work I do with them.
Check it out in the next few days and see whats new and let me know how you like it. Your feedback is how I know what you want and what you don't. Thanks and enjoy.