Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to me!!!
Six weeks seizure-free!!!

Now THAT is something to celebrate!  I honestly don't know why she's been seizure-free for so long.  It's the longest stretch she's ever had (5 1/2 weeks was the previous record and that was back when she first started having seizures - about 1.5 years ago now.  Maybe it's her diet?  Or the season change?  Her allergies have been better lately too, which I suspect is seasonal.  Or maybe still related to the increase in Phenobarbital a few months ago?  Who knows.  Everything about epilepsy seems like a bit of a crap-shoot sometimes. Regardless, I'm not complaining.  And I'm trying not to hold my breath for too long waiting for the next one...

So while I can't explain it, it's probably the best Christmas present I could get!

Iris says she'd rather have the present hidden under tree since waiting until tomorrow could take FOREVER!

Just in case you haven't seen enough of the red dog today...  The company I work for makes virtual tours out of 360 degree panoramas.  Every year they take a pano of the entire staff to send to clients as a Holiday Card.  This year's card was shot during our the Holiday party:

I'm also certain that Iris wishes we had parties at work more often.  I know she was getting plenty of handouts from my coworkers, but it's only once a year so everyone should get to enjoy themselves!  Even crazy dogs.

Today's Laugh

I saw this post on Craig's List and thought it was too funny not to share.  Just in case it gets flagged and taken down, here's the text from the post.


Please help! (Anywhere!)

Please help! After two long years of being on a waiting list for a dog, we have been notified by breed rescue that, at long last, our number has come up and ... WE ARE HAVING A PUPPY!

We must get rid of our children IMMEDIATELY because we just know how time consuming our new little puppy is going to be and it just wouldn't be fair to the children. Since our little puppy will be arriving on Monday we MUST place the children up for adoption this weekend!

They are described as:
One male -- his name is Tommy, Caucasian (English/Irish mix), light blonde hair, blue eyes. Four years old. Excellent disposition. He doesn't bite. Temperament tested. Does have problems with peeing directly in the toilet. Has had chicken Pox and is current on all shots. Tonsils have already been removed. Tommy eats everything, is very clean, house trained and gets along well with others. Does not run with scissors and with a little training he should be able to read soon.

One female -- her name is Lexie, Caucasian (English/Irish mix), strawberry blonde hair, green eyes quite freckled. Two years old. Can be surly at times. Non-biter, thumb sucker. Has been temperament tested but needs a little attitude adjusting occasionally. She is current on all shots, tonsils out, and is very healthy and can be affectionate. Gets along well with other little girls and little boys but does not like to share her toys and therefore would do best in a one child household. She is a very quick learner and is currently working on her house training. Shouldn't take long at all.

We really do LOVE our children so much and want to do what's right for them. That is why we contacted a rescue group. But we simply can no longer keep them. Also, we are afraid that they may hurt our new puppy.

I hope you understand that ours is a UNIQUE situation and we have a real emergency here! They MUST be placed into your rescue by Sunday night at the latest or we will be forced to drop them off at the orphanage or along some dark, country road. Our priority now has to be our new puppy.

PS - If you laughed or understood the seriousness of this posting, please repost it in other areas of the country as well as continue to repost it. It doesn't matter how quickly it was flagged (this has already been flagged twice within a matter of hours in Worcester) the point is that SOMEONE SOMEWHERE will have read it and thought about it for a minute. Maybe that person will look at the pets they are rehoming and reconsider giving them away or dropping them off at a pound. Maybe they will help counsel someone that they know is doing it. Keep the silver lining in mind, otherwise those of us in rescue will succomb to how incredibly morbid the whole situation is and we can't risk any good people giving up. I can't take credit for this posting, it was in the Best Of Craigslist section but this can and should be applied to EVERYWHERE and I think that the original poster would take it as a compliment to see that their ad helped someone along the way.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ode to the Red Dog

I meant for this to be a Thanksgiving Day post and even typed most of it up a few weeks ago, but I just haven't had a chance to get it posted.  Regardless, I think the entire holiday season is a good time to be thankful!  I've been thinking a lot about how much my little red dog has grown and I just recently remembered something I was told only a few months after I adopted Iris.

One of the first things I did with Iris was a beginner pet obedience class.  All of the dogs in class were adults and many were rescues.  During that very first basic obedience class, the instructor told the class that for most dogs it takes three weeks to get used to a new environment, three months to get used to new people, and three years to really bond.

Iris is seven now and the past summer was our "three year mark."  I remember thinking that strangely enough the three weeks and three months adjustment periods actually seemed pretty accurate for Iris.  But three years seemed like an eternity.  Well, it turns out that three years isn't an eternity.  It's actually pretty fast.

Fast forward three years, and here we are today.  The reason I've been thinking a lot about my crazy little red dog is because it just feels like in the last six months we've finally found the same rhythm.  Even though I didn't believe it at the time, the trainer who said "three years to really bond" just may have been right.  At least for me and Iris.  Sure, I've loved this dog for last three years and she's been my constant shadow, but it wasn't until recently that I think we've found the same tempo.  Ok, maybe I shouldn't say that I've loved her for quite three years.  You want to know my deep dark secret?  I really thought about returning her to the shelter.  She was crazy.  I mean, I wanted a fun dog.  Not some insane, aggressive nut job.  I felt like I was in way over my head with this crazy dog who exploded every time someone new came through the door, and exploded every time an unfamiliar dog was near her, and exploded every time she got stressed out about any little thing.  I just wanted a perfect agility dog and I somehow ended up with this crazy thing that ran back and forth and back and forth through the house all day barking at everything that moved outside.  The problem I kept running into is that as Iris' behavior problems were becoming more apparent, she was also opening up into a sweet cuddley wiggle butt.  When she wasn't being crazy.  Which was most of the time.  But I'm crazy too and I didn't want just "a dog."  I wanted Iris.  Just, it needed to be Iris with a whole lot less crazy if we were going to make it work.

And then it seems like all of a sudden (three years later...) she's really settled down and blossomed into a wonderful little dog.  I couldn't ask for a better companion.  I don't know if it's her getting older or us settling into a better routine, but in just the last few months I feel like I actually have the dog I was wishing for.  So many of her issues have melted away.  She's leaps and bounds better with strange people than she used to be, including strangers coming into the condo.  She comes to work with me regularly and sleeps quietly under my desk.  She no longer barks at everything outside the windows (I think mostly because she isn't allowed to look out the windows anymore, but she knows that rule and only rarely attempts to check the windows).  She's good on a leash and even gets to go hiking off leash.  Honestly, the only "issue" I would say she still has is being reactive with other dogs.  And while she's still a bossy bitch, she's far better than she used to be.

I look down at my little red merle shadow and I can't imagine that at one point I was seriously considering returning her to the shelter.  So my crazy-head red dog, here's to three years and hope for many more!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

National Sheepdog Finals

I know other people have blogged about this too, but just in case anyone hasn't seen it...

The National Sheepdog Finals are being broadcast live this weekend!  It's all Border Collies, but these talented dogs are a blast to watch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bored Aussie

Wow, it's been a long time since I updated this blog.  Things have been pretty quiet for Iris and pretty busy for me.  I've been putting all of my free time into getting my photography business off the ground while Iris has had a relatively uneventful summer.  She's had some allergies off and on for the last couple weeks, but other than that she's doing pretty well.  She still has seizures on a pretty regular regular basis (damn 4 week mark!), but at least she's very predictable.

For the last couple weeks, my company has been moving into new building so I've had to leave Iris home during the day.  And I've been spending nights and weekends working on my photography.  The result?  A very bored Aussie.  I've noticed that the last couple nights she's been very antsy.  I think she's just really not getting enough mental stimulation.  To top it off, we've battled against Iris' weight gain all summer, and she's actually looking pretty good right now.  She's lost 4 lbs since the beginning of the summer.  I think she could still lose a little more, but right now I'd really like to get some more muscle tone on her too.  But the combination of more time by herself and feeling better physically might drive me insane before it drives her insane!

I've been thinking about ways to get her out of the house for some mental activity.  I did some clicker training with her tonight and she threw herself into it.  Literally.  Like, throwing her entire body into it.  I haven't done much training with her this summer, and it seems like someone misses that.  Our last herding lesson was in June.  It's been five months since I had her in a class (Control Unleashed).  It's been over a year since we've done any agility.  That's the one I can't believe.  My plan was to take the CU class and then put her back in agility in the spring.

Her seizures became more frequent last spring before we decided to increase her meds.  The meds have such a negative effect on her balance and focus until she adjusts to them better.  I've really gone back and forth on whether I should be pushing her to do anything.  Her last couple of herding lessons haven't really gone well.  She just really lacks focus.  I'm not sure she had the intensity ro drive for it anymore.  If we tried to take a 6 week agility class instead, it's very likely that we'll only be able to make 4 or maybe 5 out of every 6 classes because of her seizures.  I'm also not certain if the meds would have a more noticeable effect on her balance if we were doing something like agility (a rather large factor in why we haven't gone back to agility).

I've been thinking about putting her back in the reactive dogs agility class I had her in at Dogs! Learning Center.  It's about a 30 min drive from here so it's not terrible.  Something closer would be easier with my work schedule, but the reactive agility class runs continuously and you pay as you go rather than paying for a 6 week block.  So that would be a lot better for Iris.  I have NO intention of ever trialing Iris, so I'd like to do a sort of "agility lite" class for her.  I want the chance to work her around other dogs and get her some mental and physical exercise.  But I don't care of she's jumping full height or doing every single obstacle (weave poles.......)

Friday, July 30, 2010

And We're Live!!!

I know I haven't been around much lately, but it's because I've been pretty busy with another project. Building the website was a much bigger project than I anticipated. But it's finally live!!!

Check it out, pass it along! Also, I'd really appreciate any feedback people have. My target audience is pet owners so what you guys think is important!
  • Is everything loading ok? Loading quickly enough?
  • Does all of the text make sense? Is there anything that's confusing?
  • How does the gallery work for you? Do you like the format? Does it load quickly? Do you like the way the thumbnails look? The way the images open in a new window?
  • Is there anything you think I should change? Anything that isn't there that you'd like to see?
And just in case anyone is wondering, yes the logo is Iris. :) Who else could represent the business besides my little red dog?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bring Your Dog to Work Day

Officially "Bring Your Dog to Work Day" is today, but lately it's been every day for Iris.

I got in the habit of bringing Iris to work in February when I was working late every night on a project that basically involved a lot of walking around Boston taking photographs. Iris was more than happy to be my walking partner, although there were more than a few nights when we both staggered back to the car exhausted. That project is finally over. As much as I like the city, February isn't really the best month to be walking around Boston at night. The red dog took it all in stride and at the very end of the project, I did manage to get her in one pano.

Since she's been such a help around the office, I've just continued bringing her with me a couple times a week (ok, sometimes more than a couple times a week).

She's likes to help with testing lenses.

(click on photo for larger view)

The other day, I left my desk for a few minutes and she hopped in my chair to help with some QA (I suspect she got some help from the guys).

Mostly, she's pretty content to hanging out under my desk acting as the resident foot warmer.

Since today is "Bring Your Dog to Work Day," I thought we'd share a few tips that work well for us.
  • This probably goes without saying, but make sure all of your coworkers are comfortable around dogs (and not allergic to them) before you bring you dog with you. I'm very lucky to be at a place where everyone loves dogs. Iris isn't the only dog who comes to work on a regular basis!
  • Dog proof your workspace. We learned this the hard way after Iris sat on the surge protector under my desk and turned off my computer... and the two other computers that are daisy-chained into my power strip. Maybe more important than dog-proofing is making sure your coworkers have a sense of humor. Other things to watch out for besides electrical cords are poisonous plants and toxic office supplies such as permanent markers.
  • Make sure your dog has a comfortable place to hang out. Iris loves hanging out under the computer desk at home, so it was easy to train her to hang out under my desk at work. If this isn't something your dog does naturally, it's something you might want to train beforehand. Most people who come into the office don't even notice there's a dog under my desk. Some alternatives would be training your dog to hang out on a mat, a bed, or in a crate. We also love frozen kongs and bullysticks for keeping Iris busy.
  • Don't give your dog unsupervised run of the office. I keep Iris tied to my chair so she doesn't wander off. Even if it seems like all of your coworkers are okay with you dog wandering around, you should still keep a close eye on your dog. Just because your cubicle is dog-proof doesn't mean your coworker's is (or that your coworkers even know what "dog proof" means)!
  • I keep a jar of treats on my desk for people to give Iris. Dog lovers are going to want to feed your dog. Since Iris is on a strict diet for her seizures, having a jar of "safe" treats is a good compromise. Also, having appropriate treats (and appropriate sized treats!) will keep you dog from looking like a beach-ball.
  • Teach your dog to drink out of a cup. I know I should bring a bowl, but sometimes I forget. In a pinch, Iris will happily drink out of a paper cup so my forgetfulness doesn't really matter.
  • Teach a down-stay. When I leave the room to use the kitchen or bathroom (my office shares a bathroom and kitchen with two other companies, so I do not bring Iris into the shared space), I put Iris in a down stay. Since she's tied to the desk, she will fidget and whine if I just walk away. If I put her in a down-stay, she'll hold the stay quietly. I think she feels more secure if she knows exactly what to do.
  • Get your dog out for a walk at lunch time. Tired dogs are quiet dogs! Also, make sure that your dog potties in an appropriate place (the garden next to the door is probably not appropriate) and that you ALWAYS clean up after your dog.
I am very lucky to have such a dog-friendly employer. It's a BIG perk for me and definitely ensures that I'm happy at my job. I do work hard to make sure Iris is as well behaved and unobtrusive as possible because I don't want to lose the privilege! I think everyone in the studio enjoys having her there. Dogs are great stress relief!

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Herding Lesson

    Iris had a herding lesson on the 5th. Actually, it was a pretty full day for her. We went to a horse show in the afternoon (Iris was crated in the car in the shade) and had a lesson at 5 pm.

    Iris did do better than last time. First, we worked on driving to try and build interest. Then Diane had us walk straight up to the sheep in a corner (holding them still in one spot). Iris was on a short line and when we'd get close, I'd encourage Iris to look at the sheep. After she looked at the sheep for a few seconds, we turned and walked away. Taking Iris away from the pressure was her reward for focusing for a few seconds. We did quite a few repetitions of this, moving the sheep around to different corners of the pen.

    Next we worked a little bit on fetching. Iris likes to dart in for a few seconds and then checks out again. This had been a chronic problem for Iris, but lately she checks out so much it's like she's quit completely. Diane had me get Iris interested and as soon as Iris started running around the sheep, I'd walk backwards toward the fence. Because Iris had already started going around, she'd end up on the opposite side of the sheep and bringing them to me. To keep Iris from checking out, I had her on a really long line that I looped around one sheep's neck. When the sheep started coming towards me, got tugged along behind them. I was walking backwards in a circle around the pen. I had trouble getting Iris to follow the sheep because she wanted to follow me instead. Because she was focused on me, Iris kept wanting to come inside too far, instead of walking directly behind the sheep. I tried to push her out more with the rake, but I didn't have much success trying to juggle the line around the sheep, the dog, and the rake. Oh well. At least she was "working." Or doing something beside eating sheep poop.

    After Iris' lesson, I chatted for a bit with Diane. We ended up talking about Iris' epilepsy and her medications. Diane really thinks that the meds are affecting Iris' working ability. Damn. I've been suspecting the same thing. Iris just doesn't have the same focus she used to, especially since starting the Pb. Actually, she doesn't have the same focus for training in general. This last lesson was better than the previous. That previous lesson was only a few days after a round of seizures (and the medication changes that go with that). Even though I thought it had been long enough for Iris to be back to "normal," it clearly wasn't.

    This last lesson was better. It was also later in the day, which is a factor we're going to experiment with. Iris normally gets her morning meds around 9 am. For a 10 am lesson, maybe she has more drugs in her system and is more spacey in general? She doesn't get her evening dose of keppra until 6 pm and her Pb until 9 pm. Maybe a 5 pm lesson has her more focused because she has less drugs in her system? I'm not even sure if AEDs work that way. I'll have to ask her vet. It is something to think about. Even if Iris never gets to the point where I could trial her, Diane pointed out that I'm learning a lot and I'll be a better handler for a future dog (Diane asked when I'm getting a puppy! Ha! My roommate would kill me if I brought home another crazy dog).

    We have another lesson this Sunday at 6 pm. This Wednesday is also Iris' 4 week mark since her last round of seizures. We're cutting it close. If she has any seizures towards the end of the week, I'll cancel the lesson.

    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Karate and Friendship Award

    We got an award from Julie at Run - Jump - Herd - Heal. Thank you Julie! It's the "Master of Karate and Friendship" award.

    Fun fact, I was in the Shotokan Karate Club while I was in college. I stopped taking karate classes after I graduated because I could really only afford one "class" at a time and I wanted to put the red dog in agility!

    And now to pass it on:

    Diana at Four Dog Craziness

    Nicki at Borderblog

    Paw It Forward

    We got a "Paw It Forward" package in the mail from James, Niche, and Monty! We actually got the package last week and Iris' bad mum has taken too long to post photos. But Iris has been enjoying the treats all weekend.

    Hey Iris, do you want to see what you got?

    Yes yes yes!!!

    Do you think you could look at the camera? Just for a second?

    All of the cookies belong to me!

    Fine. If you won't pose with the packages, I can find other ways to make you pose.

    I know where you sleep. I will get my revenge.

    Away with you, crazy lady.
    I am done with posing for your face-box now. Time for nom!

    A very happy red dog says THANK YOU to Katrin and her boys!

    Now for the next part of the game. I'll send a "Paw It Forward" package to the first two people who reply saying that they want to play. Then after you get your package, you "paw it forward" by sending packages to two more people. Very cool! Anyone want to play?

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Seriously? Sand?

    For some reason, Iris as been putting everything in her mouth lately.  Stuff that she wouldn't normally pick up.  The other day, she had a pen in her mouth.  A little while later, she had tweezers.

    The latest one is sand.  That's right.  Sand.  After Iris did her business this morning, I was picking up her poop and I noticed that it was full of sand.  I have no idea why she was eating sand or more importantly, when she was eating sand.  I live in a condo.  Iris only goes outside on a leash.  She is supervised.  A lot.  I do have a small container of sand that I was using for an art project, so I suspect that's where she got the sand.  I checked and the container is sealed, so I still have no idea when she was eating sand.  She's in a crate when I'm not home and locked in the bedroom with me at night.

    I really can't figure out when she could have gotten into the sand or what possessed her to eat it in the first place.  Maybe she's trying to tell me that she needs more minerals in her diet?

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Now I Do Have Something Nice to Say...

    Iris had a vet visit yesterday for bloodwork and while we were there I talked to the vet about her recent increase in seizure frequency. Once I know what schedule Iris is on, I can usually predict (within a few days) when she's going to cluster again. She's always been in the 3-5 weeks range. She was on an every 4 weeks schedule for the longest time. I thought we were making progress with acupuncture when she was going 5 weeks, but now we're back down to three. We've been on a three week schedule the last few cycles.

    It seems like Iris is one of the dogs that acupuncture just isn't making a big difference for. Sigh. I was really hoping for a miracle cure. We've stopped acupuncture and I really haven't noticed much of a change without it. The vet feels that she should be going at least a month between seizures. If she's having clusters more than once a month, we should change something. Now we're left with increasing her meds.

    The title of this post is that I have something nice to say, and I do! We got Iris' bloodwork results back today, and so far all of her liver values are normal! Did you just hear my sigh of relief? The vet prepared me yesterday by saying that he wouldn't be surprised if one of her levels (now I can't remember which one) was slightly high.  He'd consider slightly elevated to be "normal" for a dog on Pb. But, so far so good! We also checked Iris' Pb levels and right now she's in the low end of the normal range. Because her liver looks good and she's at the low end of the dosage range for her weight, we're going to try increasing her Pb dose from 30 mg twice a day to 45 mg twice a day. It's not the solution I was hoping for (and honestly, I'm not 100% certain it's the route I want to go yet).  But many dogs build up a tolerance to the meds over time and need their dosage increased. Maybe we're just at that point. We're going to check her Pb levels in a few weeks just to make sure we didn't increase it too much.

    I'm also making some changes to her diet and supplements, which really deserves a separate post. Keeping fingers crossed that we start making some progress.

    Monday, May 31, 2010

    If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...

    My mother always told me, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  That's maybe a factor in why it's been a month since I've posted anything here!

    Iris has been pushing all of my buttons lately.  It's not entirely her fault.  Her seizures have shifted to an every-three-weeks schedule (we do have a vet appointment on Wednesday to discuss that).  Seizures lead to stress, sleepless nights, and the post-ictal period when Iris forget any training, rules, and housebreaking.  Lately she's been better about the housebreaking at least.

    She's been a brat in general and has pretty much decided that listening to me is a "when she feels like it" option.  She's been really testing her boundaries in the house.  The one strict rule I have is that she can't sit and supervise the world out the porch window, a rule that she's been testing constantly.  She's getting into stuff that she doesn't usually.  The other day, I was talking on the phone and I looked over and she had a pen in her mouth.  I took it away.  A couple minutes later, I looked over and she had a pair of tweezers in her mouth.  She never puts random objects in her mouth.

    We had a herding lesson last week and Iris was so far in her own world, she wasn't responding to anything.  Diane actually asked me if I thought Iris' hearing was ok.  Yeah, this is the dog that will bark if she can hear dog tags walking past our second floor condo.  But nothing would hold her interest for more than a few minutes.  Not sheep, not ducks, not flanking, not driving.  This is the dog that was in the shelter for chasing and killing ducks.  They were cool for a few minutes, and then she was done.  Driving got the most interest out of her, so that's what we're going to focus on next week.

    Near as I can tell, the only thing she pays attention to is the guys at work because they'll feed her ANYTHING she begs for.  I cut them off last week because Iris desperately needs to lose weight.  I'm afraid of what she's going to weigh at the vet's on Wednesday.  I guess neither of those things should be a surprise.  Increased appetite and weight gain are both side effects of Phenobarbital.  She's definitely begging more than she used to (the fact that begging from my coworkers is very effective isn't helping).  It's one of the reasons I've been hesitant to increase her Pb, but we'll see what the vet says on Wed.

    We're working on some basic attention stuff and some NILIF around the house.  And really, life with Iris hasn't been all bad!  We went for a beautiful walk at Great Brook Farm State Park last weekend.  I admit, I wasn't very impressed with the park the first time I went.  The farm has an ice cream stand so the place was full of families with small children.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, I just like my walks to be quiet.  However, we discovered that if you go across the street from the farm, it's MUCH quieter and the trails are beautiful.  Plus, you can easily stop for ice cream on the way out and the place is actually really dog friendly.  You're supposed to go inside to get ice cream but if you have a dog, you can knock on the window and they'll serve you through the window.  There is a $2 parking fee. but the trails are meticulously maintained.  I think we will be going back to explore this park further!

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    In Other News

    Iris is back to herself after her seizures last weekend. She had 4 total, each about 5-10 min apart. Then the Valium kicked in and she was quite happy for the rest of the day. It had only been three weeks, but I think stress was a big factor this time.

    On Saturday morning, they were testing the fire alarms in our building. Because they needed to enter the condo to test the alarms inside, we had to be home. And because we're in an end unit, we ended up being one of the last condos in the building checked. We had to listen to the fire alarms come on and off for a few hours. Iris was really freaked out by it, but she seemed to be doing ok staying next to me, and we were stuck in the building anyway. She had the seizures at 4 am on Sunday. Generally with seizures, anything in the last 30 hrs could be a trigger (except for vaccinces, which can be up to 45 days). The stress from the fire alarms definitely falls into the right time frame.

    At least the fire alarm check only occurs once a year, and next year I'll know that Iris needs to spend the day somewhere else.

    On an unrelated note, I have a couple of (potential) freelance jobs coming up, so I needed to quickly get my act together. One aspect was making a business card. Recognize the model?

    I almost used the version with Iris lying on her back, but I thought it was a little harder to tell what she was doing in the small size. For the record, Iris is NOT allowed to sleep on the red futon. Her white fur really shows up on the red, so Iris is forced to sleep on the big fluffy white couch instead. If I fall asleep on the couch (which is more comfortable than the futon), the brat dog knows she can sneak onto the futon. As you can see, she clearly knows she doesn't belong on the futon and was very stressed out about the whole shoot. Yeah right. Who trained who?

    Surf 'N Herd

    It might be a publicity stunt, but it's still a great video. Here's an article about it: Ewe Won't Believe This. Iris says she's not herding anything in the water!

    Sunday, April 25, 2010

    4:30 am

    It's 4:30 am and I'm up with the seizure dog.  Sigh.  Maybe it is time to increase her meds.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    Trouble Makers

    Just a fun photo from when we visited my dad for Easter.

    The three stooges all hoping for a handout. Notice that Henry Beagle is the one who ended up in the dog bed.

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    Color Changes

    I'm playing around with some color changes. What do you think? I'm not quite decided on it yet. I wanted a warmer color because I think my photos will display better on that. Looking at it now, I think I chose colors that are too close to Iris' coat. Darn, I didn't even do that intentionally. I guess it means I like the color of my dog! But she isn't showing up quite the way I want. I think it's the main background color that needs to change. Also the heading photo will need to get updated to match everything else. Also, I think I can go in and change some of the template defaults via the html. Like those little green arrows in front of the links. I'll play with it more later.

    Somehow while changing the colors I managed to delete all of my blog links. I have no idea how it happened. I'll have to go through and see if I can fix that as well.

    EDIT: I think I've got the colors working better. I decided to try to keep the "red merle" look. Ha! Also got the blog list fixed too. Let me know if I missed you! I still want to change the heading photo, but I think I have an idea for that.

    Newest Family Member

    And now some good news! Introducing the newest family member, Galeru.

    "Galeru" is a dragon or rainbow serpent from Australian mythology. Budgies are native to Australia, and I wanted to give him a larger-than-life name because budgies have such larger-than-life personalities.

    Galeru came home on Friday and is starting to settle in. He's still pretty hand-shy, but he's gotten MUCH better since Friday (there has been a lot of millet bribery. I've yet to meet a budgie who doesn't love millet!) Once he settles in some more, I'm going to do some clicker training with him. I'd taught my last budgie to target, and he thought that was pretty fun. It should be pretty fun to see what this little guy can do.

    Iris hasn't shown much interest in Galeru at all, which is good. We did do some LAT when I first brought him home. Iris was more interested in the cookies than the bird, which is a really good thing!

    Running Out of Tricks

    Last weekend was a bad seizure weekend. It had only been three weeks since Iris' last round of seizures. Damn it. She had 6 seizures total over a 21 hour period, so most of her seizures were spread pretty far apart. The post-ictal period (time following the actual seizure when the brain is still recovering, can last minutes or hours) was pretty long this time. Her last seizure was at about 4 am and she panted and paced for the next 4 hours straight. Pacing is a pretty typical post-ictal behavior for Iris. Also, she does a lot of sniffing of various objects around the house, acting like she's never seen them before. She doesn't always respond to basic commands, sometimes has trouble with her name, and occasionally forgets her housebreaking (I think she just forgets all of it because she's so confused and her mind is so foggy). Things that don't normally scare her will make her jump. Lately, her post-ictal period has been pretty short. This time, it was long. The first 4 hours were the worst with the constant pacing. She was much better after that, but I don't think she was really back to normal until Monday.

    On Wednesday, we had an appointment with Dr C. He didn't like that she had so many seizures so soon. Unfortunately, he did say that we're starting to run out of tricks. Right now, Iris is on two medications (Keppra and Phenobarbital), a Chinese herb mix of Gastrodia and Uncaria, and goes for acupuncture every two weeks. None of it has significantly changed the time period between seizures. She's always been between 3-5 weeks. It seemed like the acupuncture was at least decreasing the number of seizures and shortening the post-ictal period when she would cluster. This last weekend it didn't seem to be the case. It feels like we get a brief "honeymoon period" with everything we try before we end up back at square zero.

    We're trying one more thing. Dr C wants to try keeping magnets with a gold bead inside Iris' ears. It will constantly stimulate the acupuncture point there. They're a bit like a band-aid with a small, pointed magnet where the gauze should be.

    Iris isn't bothered by them at all. They sit right inside and toward the front of her ears. Dr C showed me exactly where they go incase they fall out and sent me home some extra. I think the biggest problem will be keeping the fur clipped so the adhesive can stick to her skin. She already has some fuzz growing in.

    Dr C told me if she does have a seizure, I can put a little pressure on the magnets during the seizure. It might help bring her around. If you look closely in the next photo, you can see the magnets inside her ears. They're barely noticeable.

    We're keeping everything crossed that this helps. If it doesn't, we're starting to run out things to try. Dr C admitted that he doesn't have a lot of confidence in the magnets because we haven't seen dramatic improvement since starting acupuncture. It's still worth a shot. For now, we're still doing acupuncture every other week, but we'll see how she does between now and her next cluster. At least we're back to a more "normal" state for now.

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    Control Unleashed - Week Five

    I just realized that I'd almost finished writing this, but never actually posted it. It's been a crazy week.

    I think the format of this class makes it difficult to see the progress your dog is making. Each week, the exercises are more challenging and the criteria is higher. By the end of the week five class, Iris was right at her threshold. She was probably a hair's breadth away from melting down (we did end up lowing the criteria a lot for her). It felt like a less successful week than the previous one. But I need to remember, I don't think Iris would have been successful at any of these exercises a few weeks. Even though she didn't handle the class with flying colors, she did MUCH better that I would have expected five weeks ago.

    Car Crash Game
    Before we started this exercise, Emma talked about how important it is to communicate with other people when moving your dog through a tight space. This isn't always easy because I can be very shy, but it so important to set your dog up for success! Putting Iris in a situation where she'll react is worse than offending someone by asking them to give us a little space.

    Emma set up four jumps and had each dog/handler do this pattern simultaneously. We had to talk to each other to make a plan about how to pass safely (who was going to go first, whether one dog had to step to the side, etc).

    I was actually pretty worried about how Iris would handle this exercise. Dogs walking straight towards her is definitely a trigger. She ended up doing a LOT better than I expected. I had her sit slightly to the side when the other dog passed us and she did really well with it.

    Scramble Heeling
    We continued working on the scramble healing exercise from last week. Iris does pretty well with it. I'd like to try it in an outside-of-class situation. I think that would really change it for her.

    Parallel Running With Off-Switch Game
    Next we worked on parallel running with the off-switch game. This was REALLY hard for Iris. Emma had two dogs run from one end of the room to the other, play, and then stop play and get the default behavior. Dogs playing really pushed Iris right to her threshold. She was as close to her threshold as she could be without completely melting down. She was doing some barking but it would be one or two woofs and then I could get her to work again a little. She wasn't actually exploding at the other dog. Because Iris was having so much trouble, Emma had us stop and work on LAT while the other dog played instead of running with the other dog. Of everything we've worked on in class, other dogs playing is definitely the biggest trigger for Iris.

    Next we did a variation of the same game, but this time one dog ran and played parallel to a little agility course.

    When we started this, Emma asked me how I thought Iris was doing. I told her that I thought Iris was pretty much fried for the day. Emma agreed and Iris sort of sat this exercise out. I brought her off to the side and worked on LAT while the rest of the class did the exercise. When it was Iris' turn, we decided to have her do a little agility but not have another dog play while she worked. She was so brain fried by that point in class. Being around other dogs who are playing is definitely something we need to work on in the future because it's such a huge issue for Iris.

    Look At That! With a Person
    One of the other students in class has a very exuberant Aussie. He's really friendly but can get over-the-top excited when he greets people. His owner asked Emma if we could work on that a little bit. Emma walked around the room and everyone played LAT while she walked by. The goal was to have the dogs glance at the new person and then reorient.

    Also, Emma talked about ways to train an appropriate greeting. When strangers ask to pet your dog, they often bend over and stretch out their hand. Emma suggested teaching the dog to hand target the outstretched hand. For the greeting, you end up with a dog that touches the outstretched hand and then reorients to you for the reward. I hadn't thought of this before, but it is a really simple solution. Emma also talked about training reactive dogs to target a shoe instead of a hand, something she also teaches in her reactive dogs class. The reasoning behind it is if you ask someone to let your dog touch their shoe, the person tends to stand up straight with their hands at their side. It's much less threatening than leaning forward and reaching out for the dog, which is what most non-dog people tend to do.

    We're done with CU now and I would definitely recommend this class, especially for anyone who does dog sports. Emma isn't offering at the MSPCA until next fall, but she is offering it at Masterpeace on Thursdays starting in July. I might be crazy enough to drive down for it. The class was REALLY worth it for Iris.

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Control Unleashed - Week Four

    I'm getting behind on writing about Iris' CU class, so now I'm trying to play catch up a bit. Week four was on 3/17. Iris had a GREAT class on week four.

    Agility Sequence with Distraction
    Here is the sequence Emma had us work on. All of the jumps were at 4 inches and dogs stayed on-leash.

    One dog worked on the sequence on the right. At the same time, a second dog went back and forth over the two jumps on the left as a distraction.

    Iris did well. She was concerned by the other jumping dog but not overly concerned. She was able to work through it. The fourth obstacle was a pvc ladder, something Iris had never seen before. No problem! Going over the ladder meant walking straight toward Bowser (Aussie), so she was a little worried about that.

    One thing Iris has a lot of trouble with was the tunnel. One of the dogs who wasn't working was sitting fairly close to the entrance of the tunnel (the room we're in is small). Emma asked the other dog to move and as soon as she did, Iris had no problem doing the tunnel. I think Iris is more sensitive to things she can see than to sounds (although sounds can be an issue too). If Iris is doing any obstacle other than the tunnel, she can keep an eye on the other dogs. When she's in the tunnel, she has no idea where the other dogs are. I've noticed that sometimes Iris has trouble orienting to sounds, so maybe that why she's so visually focused?

    There's A Dog in Your Face
    Emma set up a ring gate at the end of two jumps. One dog sat on one side of the ring gate and a second dog went over the two jumps moving in a straight line toward the sitting dog. Iris did much better at this than I expected! When I'm out walking her, she has A LOT of trouble with dogs walking straight towards us. I think having the ring gate as a barrier helped her a lot. Also, she was paired with Bryce (BC), who is one of the dogs that Iris is least reactive to in class. And unlike the dogs we usually encounter when we're out walking, Bryce has very nice leash manners. She wasn't straining on the leash towards Iris.

    I was able to have Iris sitting fairly close to the ring gate, but I did keep her facing perpendicular to the ring gate. Bryce walked toward Iris' side, not head on. When Iris was the moving dog, she didn't seem to have any problems.

    Scramble Heeling
    This game isn't in the CU book. It's something Emma learned when she started doing Competition Obedience with her dogs. Emma had two dogs heel around the room (it didn't have to be perfect competition heeling, Emma told us to use whatever criteria we wanted as long as the dog was on a loose leash). Also, we were supposed to walk in a random pattern around the room. Periodically, Emma would give us instructions to change what we were doing: walk faster, walk slowly, change direction, sit, down, stay, and recall from a stay.

    I really like this as a CU game. While walking around, not only do you have to pay attention to where you are and what your dog is doing but also to where the other dog is walking. We've been doing a lot of agility in class because we have a class full of agility dogs. I think it was good for the dogs to work on something a little different. Plus dogs walking around on leash is something you encounter no matter what sport you're doing with your dog. Right now, we only worked on two dogs moving around the room. Ultimately the goal would be to have all of the dogs in class moving around at once.

    Iris did really well with scramble heeling. The Golden was the other dog heeling with Iris, and usually he's challenging for her (he's big and bouncy!) But she did great.

    More Agility
    We had a little bit of time at the end of class, so Emma had all of the dogs run the agility sequence with no distractions. She wanted to give all the dogs a chance to loosen up bit and it gave the rest of the class a chance to practice relaxing while one dog was running. Iris again had trouble going into the tunnel with another dog nearby. This time, Emma wanted us to work through it. She had me ask Iris to hand target near the tunnel entrance. Each time I asked Iris to target, I moved my hand a little further into the tunnel. After asking her to target inside the tunnel entrance a few times, I tried sending her into the tunnel again. Success! My little red dog was able to work through it! It was also a great example of how breaking something down into really small steps will help Iris succeed if she's stressing out.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Purple for Epilepsy

    Toby's Foundation is sponsoring Purple Day on Friday, March 26.

    Founded in 2008, by nine-year-old Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia, Canada, with the help of the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia, Purple Day is an international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide. On March 26, people from around the globe are asked to wear purple and spread the word about epilepsy.

    Epilepsy affects over 50 million people worldwide. That's more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease combined. (from the Purple Day homepage)

    Same disease, different species.

    Saturday, March 20, 2010


    This past week, it seems like the weather has really turned to spring. Knock on wood, I hope it stays this way. Today felt more like May than March. Nice weather really only means one thing: sheep! We haven't had any herding lessons since last fall. During our last lesson, it was really difficult to motivate Iris to work sheep. She acted very stressed and did a lot of sniffing.

    It seems like the winter off did a lot of good. Iris was like a different dog. She was very interested in the sheep. We started the lesson with driving and praising Iris for any interest in the sheep. We had plenty of interest! Woo-hoo! Then Diane had me drop the leash to work on get around. Iris did really well. She was definitely working better than last fall. There were still times when she would go off to sniff. Diane noticed that if the sheep stop moving, Iris thinks her job is done and she quits. So we need to work on keeping her interested in the sheep even when they're still.

    Diane wanted to get Iris to hold the sheep against the fence behind me. We want her to learn that keeping sheep still is as much a part of the game as moving sheep around. One problem I kept having was if Iris started sniffing (or eating sheep poo, snacking seemed to be a priority for her today) and I went over to her to get her moving again, she'd take that opportunity to dive straight back into the sheep. Brat. Diane had me lean a couple extra rakes against the barn so I could toss one at Iris if she started snacking. That way I wouldn't have to walk over to her to get her moving again. Iris was not phased at all by the tossed rakes. I think she lifted her head up to look at the first one. Then she didn't care. Diane didn't want me to move too much because if I started moving, the sheep would follow me. We don't want moving sheep to be the cue for Iris to work. Being in the pen with the sheep regardless of whether or not they're moving should mean work. Diane came in the pen and she got Iris to move when I stood with the sheep. We finally had success! Something clicked in her brain. I think once Iris understood what I wanted, she actually did a really good job moving back a forth in front of me to keep the sheep in once place. She even put back one sheep that started to break. Good girl!

    Then Iris got a break and Diane brought one of her dogs out to show me how I can practice having Iris move away from the rake at home. We also talked about using a food bowl to work on "walk up" and "out." I bought a small rake, so we'll definitely have to practice. Somewhere in with all the homework for the CU class! I also got a chance to see Diane's lambs. There aren't too many animals that are cuter than a lamb.

    I brought Iris back out and we worked on "get around" again. Diane pointed out that if I started cheerleading Iris right as she started slowing down, she'd get interested again. If I was too late with my praise, Iris would start to check out and then I'd be praising her for quitting. Timing is important!

    After the lesson, I was chatting with Diane and she mentioned that all her dogs were in the house during Iris' lesson so none of them were barking. Maybe in the past, the other dogs have been too stimulating for Iris? It's something we'll have to keep in mind in the future. This was definitely the best lesson Iris has had in a while! We go back in two weeks. Hopefully this beautiful weather will keep up!

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010

    Control Unleashed - Week Three

    Off-Switch With Obstacles
    The first thing we worked on was more off-switch practice, but this time we also added the excitement of obstacles. Emma had two 4" jumps, a tunnel and a low table set up. One at a time, the dogs did one obstacle, played tug for 15-30 seconds, then the handler stopped the game and waited for the dog to offer a default behavior (everyone in class is using either sit or down). Because playing dogs are a big trigger for Iris, she's getting lots of practice playing Look at That! She's doing pretty good. Definitely getting a little stressed but not to the point of barking. When it was Iris' turn to do the obstacle and then play, she pretty much refused to play. Emma pointed out that Iris seems very concerned about being in the middle of the room with dogs on all sides. Thinking about it, in Iris' agility classes the dogs were always on only one side of the room when Iris was in the middle. It was less for her to worry about. Going directly toward another dog, even if the other dog is stationary, is also a lot harder for Iris than moving parallel or away from the dog.

    Next, Emma had each dog preform two obstacles, play, then offer the default. This time I didn't try to get Iris interested in the toy. I asked her to do some hand targeting because that's usually one of her favorites, but even that was hard for her.

    Emma raised the criteria one more time and had the dogs do three obstacles, play, then get the default. For some dogs in class, the exercise is definitely about learning to get revved up and then settle down again quickly. For Iris, I think it's really about being able to be around other dogs who are getting revved up. Also, even just getting her to move into the middle of the room to play LAT with me was a bit challenging for her this week.

    Doggie Zen / Leave It
    Next we worked on the next step of Doggie Zen / Leave It. To practice this, we put a treat on the floor and then waited for the dog to give eye contact before rewarding. Once the dog is comfortable with you placing the treat on the floor, you can begin tossing the treat on the floor. In the book, Leslie suggests using your foot to cover the treat if the dog tries to go for it. For some dogs who were really excited about the treats, Emma had us toss the treat just out of the dog's reach and then wait for eye contact (sort of a cross between Doggie Zen and Leave It).

    One thing we talked about in class was how you really have three options for rewarding your dog after tossing the treat on the floor. You can give the dog a release (such as "take it") to go get the treat, you can pick the treat up and then give it to your dog, or you can give your dog a different treat and never allow her to have the one on the floor. Emma said she doesn't really think it matters which method you choose. I was thinking about it and I might practice with all three so Iris really learns to pay attention me to find out where the reward is coming from.

    Emma also talked about putting Leave It on cue and whether or not you really want to. Emma trains her dogs that when they find food on the floor, they should automatically make eye contact. She doesn't use a cue. In some ways, that makes a lot of sense. Especially when I was living the apartment complex, I had to be really careful about Iris grabbing things off the ground because the kids were so bad about leaving old food around. On the other hand, I like to be able to toss treats as a reward because Iris isn't very toy motivated. So I'm leaning toward using a cue.

    Start Line Stays
    Last we worked on start line stays. In the book, Leslie says that a lot of dogs she sees in her CU classes don't have a start line stay. The dogs get way too revved up or stressed out to be able to stay, so she teaches it in CU as part of learning self control. Iris has never had a problem with her start line stays. I think Katrin emphasizes start line stays right from the beginning in her classes, so Iris had one of the best stays in CU class.

    In class, Emma had us put the dog in a sit in front of the jump, take a step away, step back, and reward. Then, take two steps away, go back and reward. The dogs learn that staying in position will get rewarded (and it that taking the jump isn't the only way to get rewarded). I think we've done this game before!

    Overall, Iris seemed stressed out during class. I think starting class off with dogs playing definitely raised her anxiety level to begin with.


    In other news, Iris made it to five weeks and one day between seizures. Damn it. It really seems like her trigger is time. Her schedule is so regular.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    CU Homework

    I want to have some notes on how we're working on the CU exercises at home and how Iris is progressing. In a few weeks, I'd like to have something to look back on so here's where we're at now.

    Look at That
    This isn't something we've had much opportunity to really practice. There are no strange dogs walking around my living room. Well, there is one strange dog in my living room. But I need a second strange dog for practicing. I really need to make the commitment to take Iris out where we'll encounter other dogs that are not reactive. I'm amazed at the number of dogs in the condo complex (and the apartment complex too) that are very reactive and are NOT being managed by their owners. It's not a good situation for training Iris in. While I think she's at the point where she'll handle another dog walking past, she's not at the point where she'll handle another dog exploding and straining at the end of the leash. My homework for next weekend is to get out and go somewhere that Iris can succeed at LAT practice!

    Default Behavior
    I've been thinking a lot about this one. When I first got Iris, she was TERRIBLE about shaping. She would literally sit and stare at me without moving a muscle. She could handle luring but if I wasn't really actively helping her out, she got stuck in a sit. My first reaction was that I don't want to train a default behavior. It's been a lot of work convincing Iris not to just sit and stare, and she still isn't always great at shaping. She gets frustrated very easily and defaults to "sit still and make eye contact." After re-reading the section in the book on default behaviors, I've decided I am going to train a default behavior but not in a "formal" training session. I'm just going to have to carry treats around with me all the time and reward Iris when she offers the default (in this case, I am going to use a sit). For example, if I'm getting Iris' dinner ready and she happens to sit, she gets a reward. If I'm putting my shoes on and she happens to sit, she gets a reward. Hopefully, that will avoid the "stuck in a sit" problem during training sessions.

    Whiplash Turn
    We've had a really hard time working on this. We've only tried it a couple of times, and I've ended up cutting the session short because I'm getting frustrated. Not productive for either of us. What's happening is I toss the treat, Iris eats the treat, I say her name, Iris continues to look for crumbs, and only turns back to me she's decided she's done sniffing around. I think I need to do something similar to what I'm doing with the default behavior. If I walk into a room and say "Iris" she turns and looks at me. I think I need to make a point of always rewarding that rather than tossing treats. I need a wristband to attach my clicker to! The possibility of food on the floor is too exciting right now. The other thought I had was using two different treats for the tossing food method. Toss a really low value treat so she'll turn away from me to eat it, say her name, and give her really high value treat when she turns toward me.

    Doggie Zen (Leave It)
    Iris already knows the Doggie Zen game and does it without any problem. In the CU book, Leslie uses Doggie Zen as the beginning of Leave It. Iris' leave it is only mediocre. She'll do it for something low value but not something high value. We might be jumping ahead a little bit, but I started working on some of the Leave It exercises in the book. Right now, I can drop one treat and she'll leave it. I think the next thing I'm going to try is dropping the single (low value) treat outside of a training session. She knows when we're playing the "leave it" game. I'd like to work on her leaving it even when she doesn't think she's supposed to be "working."

    Go to Mat
    I've been working on moving Iris' mat to various places around the house and at work. She's done really well at home and had a little trouble with it at work. She really loves her mat now! After we finished practicing the other day, I got a phone call and forgot to pick up the mat. I looked over and Iris was patiently sitting her mat waiting for her next cookie. A few minutes later, I looked over again and she'd fallen sound asleep on her mat. Silly girl!

    I honestly haven't gotten the chance to work on this at home with her. It's sort of a low priority for me because Iris isn't highly toy motivated. It's tough to rev her up with a toy so usually once I get her playing I like to keep her involved in the game. Although now that I'm thinking about it, I'm wondering if this exercise would actually help build some toy motivation as well.

    When I adopted Iris, she would bolt out doors. Since Iris also really wants to chase cars, I had to do something to stop her from bolting out the door whenever anyone opened it. I trained her to stop and make eye contact until I say "okay" before going through doorways. It worked really well to stop the door bolting. The problem is that when I release Iris to go through the doorway, I completely lose her attention. I think I need to reframe the game. I'd like her stop and make eye contact before AND after going through a doorway. Because Iris has been practicing "make eye contact, go through door, stop paying attention to mom" for years, she's had trouble with the new rules. However, we have to go through two door to get outside of the condo so we have plenty of opportunity to practice.

    Looking over these notes, I realized how much I have to make this stuff part of our daily life. A lot of this isn't things that I can work on only as part of training session. It's things I need to be aware of working on as we go through our daily activities.

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Control Unleashed - Week Two

    The class is down to five dogs - two BCs, two Aussies, and a Golden. The 6th dog transferred to another class. The BC who was very reactive last week gets the award for most improved. The owner has clearly been spending a lot of time working with her dog. She mentioned they were doing private lessons in addition to CU class. It's definitely paying off!

    We started class with massage again. Iris was much more relaxed this week than she was last week. For the rest of class, one dog was working (or two for parallel games) and the other dogs were on their mats either working on attention or "Look at That."

    Parallel Games
    The first thing we worked on was parallel games. Emma had two rows of jumps set up (one row was three jumps, and the other row was two jumps and a table) parallel to each other. The jumps were set at 4 inches, so all the dogs in class just could just step over them. The dogs all stay on-leash.

    The first time we went, Emma had one dog start earlier than the other so we weren't exactly parallel. Next, we turned around and Emma had the dogs start together, so we were actually walking next to the other dog. I had Iris on the outside with myself between her and the other dog. She really didn't seem bothered by the dog walking parallel to her. I think the jumps helped because she had something to think about. Walking back was definitely harder for her because we were walking straight toward the dogs who weren't working. When Iris started to get stressed, Emma had us pause and play the "Look at That" game until Iris started focusing again. Each dog got to go down and back twice.

    Next we worked on the off-switch game. The purpose is for the dog to learn how to alternate between being revved up and then settling down quickly. Emma had a box of ring gates set up and each dog went in individually to work on this game. We were supposed to rev our dogs up by playing with them for 30 seconds. Then we'd stop playing and either wait for the dog to offer the default behavior or ask for the behavior we want to be the default (depending on the dog). As soon as the dog settled down and offered the default, we started playing again. The reason for the second round of play was so that the game wasn't ending after the dog offered the default. A fast was to ruin a good behavior is to have it mean the end of fun things! After another 30 seconds, Emma had us end the game, giving a release word in a neutral and uneventful tone.

    Other dogs playing is a huge trigger for Iris. I moved her away from the ring-gate box and worked on LAT while the other dogs played. She did a pretty good job. She did do a little bit of quiet woofing and huffing but not actually exploding. I could get her focused again pretty quickly.

    When it was Iris' turn to play, she refused to touch the toy. I brought her tuggy-fox to class, which is usually a favorite at home but I've never gotten her to tug in class before. Actually, I think the only toy she's ever played with in class is her screaming monkey (thank you Julie!) Screaming monkey is really her favorite, but I was worried about monkey being too much noise for the other dogs in CU class. Off-switch is something we'll have to practice at home.

    Most people used a toy for tug, but the Golden's owner did some gentle wresting with him. They were actually really interesting to watch. The Golden wasn't mouthy at all and he was clearing having a blast. We talked about different ways of playing with our dogs. Emma asked us to think about different ways to play with our dogs, whether we really needed a toy or not, and could we use a toy or game to distract our dogs from a situation if we needed to. She mentioned that being able to play with your dog without a toy can be a really good and useful way of engaging (and distracting) your dog if you need to.

    Emma set up two ring gates with a gap in the middle to make a "doorway." Emma had us take a step forward and then wait quietly for the dog to reorient ("reorient" depended on the dog. For some dogs, it was looking up and making eye contact. If a dog was really distracted, it could be just turning an ear toward the handler). We'd c/t for reorienting and after the dog reoriented a couple of times, take a step forward and repeat the process.

    Emma wanted us to make sure we didn't have anything in our hands and our hands were down by our sides. She didn't want us luring the dog's attention (so the dog isn't thinking "I'm only supposed to pay attention to mom when she has food!" It should be that you're acting not very exciting and then treats appear for reorienting!)

    Iris had a lot of trouble with this. The ring gates were in the center of the room and Iris started to stress as soon as I wasn't actively engaging her. She kept giving the deep little woofs at the other dogs. Not exploding but definitely treading right on her threshold line. She did manage to reorient to me a couple of times.

    Mat Races (more Parallel Games)
    The last thing we did was mat races, which is basically another form of the parallel game from the beginning of class. The same as before, we did this two dogs at a time. This time we had the dogs' mats at one end of the room and had to run to the mat from the other side of the room. When we got to the mats, the dogs had to down on the mat. Iris did really well with this. I didn't get her running, we just did a really fast walk. The other dog was running and Iris did manage to keep her attention mostly on me. I think by this point in the class she was starting to get a little brain-fried, so I didn't want to push it too hard.

    Overall, it was a really good class. Iris was a little more tense than she was last week, but there was also a lot more moving around this week.

    Saturday, February 27, 2010

    Control Unleashed - Week One

    Iris started her Control Unleashed class (taught by Emma Parsons) at the MSPCA on Wednesday. The class is based pretty closely on Leslie McDevitt's book, Control Unleashed. If you haven't read the book yet, I highly recommend it. The basic goal of the class is to learn focus and self-control.

    Our class is six dogs with a huge range of personalities. There's a sound sensitive BC who gets nervous around sudden changes in the environment, an very friendly Golden who wants to go say hi to everyone, an Aussie who also wants to visit everyone but not quite to the extreme of the Golden, and a VERY reactive dog who I think think is a BC (Emma had the dog stay mostly behind a barrier so the dog wasn't getting overwhelmed by all the other dogs in the room). There was also a mixed breed (looks a little like a Bearded Collie, but bigger with a coarser coat and all white) who is really pretty well behaved but is taking CU before starting agility.

    In her book, Leslie emphasizes starting each class with massage or TTouch as a way to connect with your dog. Emma told the class that she thinks this is one of the hardest parts of class for the dogs. Iris agrees! One of the easiest ways for me to manage Iris around other dogs is to have her actively doing something (hang targeting, the space game, etc). Asking her to "just be" while I massaged her on her mat was very hard for her. I'm thinking about picking up a book on TTouch.

    Look at That!
    The next thing we worked on was the "Look at That" game (LAT). Essentially, you click and treat you dog every time she looks at the stimulus (something that is either concerning or exciting). For Iris, this is other dogs. It's important to c/t before the dog starts having a reactive response so the dog learns it is possible to notice another dog without exploding!

    Emma said to feed the treat so that the dog has to turn back to you. In Iris' case, the other dogs were toward her right and I was offering the treat slightly toward her left. She had to break her stare (I was only letting her look for a second before I'd click, so it wasn't much of a stare) and reorient toward me for her reward. Emma told us eventually what will happen is the stimulus will become a cue to reorient to the handler. "Hey mom, did you see me looking at that other dog? Where is my cookie?" Then you can start to c/t the resulting eye contact. Emma mentioned in the future it will be good to start with LAT in any new distracting environment. When the dog relaxes, shift your criteria to rewarding for the resulting eye contact.

    Leslie says, "A dog that is strongly conditioned to watch his handler no matter what doesn't get the chance to learn to cope with his environment."

    I think that really sums up why LAT works. The dog learns a structured way to deal with the stimulus. "I look at the dog, I turn back toward mom, I get a cookie!" By c/t each time the dog looks, it becomes a trick instead of the beginning of a reactive response. Plus, you get the added bonus of classical conditioning - another dog appearing means cookies.

    Iris did really well with this exercise in class, although we went through a lot of cookies! By the end of class, she was actually alternating between looking at the other dogs and choosing to offer eye contact (depending on how much movement there was in the room). I was rewarding both. She made it through the entire class without exploding once!

    Default Behavior
    The next thing we talked about was default behaviors. The ultimate goal of a default behavior is that the dog will offer it when you haven't given another cue.

    Leslie explains it better, "These are behaviors that the dog automatically gives you when he wants something from you or doesn't know what to do and is asking for more information."

    So, if you stop to chat with someone while out of a walk, the dog will offer the default. Or if the dog is getting excited while you're making dinner, she offers the default. A few different behaviors you could choose from are sit, down, hand targeting, or eye contact. I chose to use sit.

    In the center of the room, Emma had set up a box of ring gates. She then had each student bring their dog individually into the box to practice the default. While one dog was in the box working, a second dog and handler walked around the box. The other four dogs in class were spread out around the room on mats working on LAT. The room we're in is the smallest place I've taken a class. Emma said it was about half the size of the other location she teaches at (Masterpeace), and I think she's right. The dogs are fairly close together.

    Iris did really well. When it was her turn in the box I was cuing the sit, taking a step back, and asking her to sit again. At this point, there was too much distraction for Iris to offer any behavior on her own. Having a cue helped. Actually, I was really happy she was able to be in the center of the room surrounded by dogs and still able to work with me. When it was Iris' turn to walk around the room, she also did REALLY well. I was more worried about this than being in the box. At least inside the box, she had a visual barrier between her and the other dogs. Walking around the room, she had to pass dogs without any barrier. She stayed with me and offered a lot of eye contact. Good girl!

    Iris is an old pro at hand targeting. It's one of the things I use a lot to manage her around other dogs. Before Iris explodes, she stares at the other dog for a few seconds. If I can break the stare by asking her to turn and target, I interrupt her explosion. I think partly because it's been rewarded so many times, it's one of her favorite tricks. One thing we did in class that I actually haven't really worked on with Iris is moving when I ask her to target. If I'm walking and ask Iris to touch, will she? She had trouble with it in class but has since done great with it at home.

    Whiplash Turn
    To get the whiplash turn in class, Emma had us toss a treat. After the dog ate the treat, we'd say the dog's name. As the dog is turning back to you, c/t. You want to c/t for the movement of turning toward you. Ultimately, you want to the turning back to you so quickly at the sound of her name, she might get whiplash!

    This one has been surprisingly hard for Iris. In class, I thought she was just very overstimulated, but she's also had trouble with it at home. I think I have to reevaluate how we're practicing this at home, but since this post is getting little long, I'm going to make a second post about our homework.

    In class, I had Iris wearing her Gentle Leader. While we were working on the whiplash turn, I noticed that Iris does not like to look up at me if she has the GL on. She will look up with her eyes, but she won't turn her head up to look at me. When we were working on LAT, I was sitting on the floor with her on her mat so I didn't notice this. I'm debating about whether I want to try her without the GL next week or not.

    Doggie Zen
    For doggie zen, you hold a treat out to the side and wait until the dog makes eye contact with you. The dog learns that making eye contact is the way to get what she wants. I've played this before with Iris, so she really didn't have any problem with it in class.

    Go to Mat
    We've been working on this a lot at home before class started. Mats seems like they're a pretty important part of CU - both going to the mat on cue and then relaxing on the mat. In the book, "go to mat" included in some of the more advanced exercises so I wanted to have it trained or at least mostly trained before class started. I'd just put it on cue at home a few days earlier. Since Iris is just starting to understand the cue with no distractions, I didn't even bother cuing it in class. I did get her to offer the behavior a few times and rewarded her for that. It was the very last thing we worked on in class, so we only went over it briefly. I'm glad I already have a head start with Iris.

    We have a lot to work on now! I already feel like I've gotten a lot out of this class.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010


    In case anyone hasn't seen these, I thoroughly enjoyed the Westminster photography from the Boston Globe. Very nice work!

    Sunday, February 14, 2010

    Vet Vist

    Time for a more positive update! Iris had a visit with Dr C on Wednesday morning. We had been planning on switching to acupuncture every two weeks with this week being our week off. With Iris' seizures last weekend, we decided to do a visit this week and have next week be the off week.

    We had a very nice appointment with Dr C, and I feel a lot better about her seizures last weekend. I felt like it was a big set back, but Dr C thinks we actually saw some good improvement. She went about 5 weeks between seizures, which is a little longer than her usual roughly 4 weeks. Also, she had 3 seizures with about 10 min between them. I thought this time period seemed worse than before when she was going 2-3 hrs between seizures. Dr C pointed out that last weekend her entire episode lasted about 20 min. In the past, it's been an 8-10 hour affair. Interesting, I hadn't looked at it that way. Also thinking about it some more, she recovered from her seizures faster than she has in the past. After the seizures, I fed her breakfast and we curled up on the couch and went back to sleep. No pacing, no desperately trying to steal food (in the past, even breakfast wouldn't have been enough). By the afternoon, she was acting back to normal. Not spacey like she usually is.

    We're going to continue with the acupuncture on an every-other-week schedule for now. Also, Dr C put Iris on Cholodin, a Choline supplement.

    Choline is a B vitamin-like molecule that is naturally produced by the human body. The body uses choline to produce certain brain chemicals, to mobilize fat, for normal transmission of nerve impulses, and is used for a range of body functions... Studies show that it may be an excellent memory tonic having positive effects on our thought processes and mental well-being, as well as muscle control. (

    In addition to being good for the brain, choline also has positive effects on the liver. Even though that's not the reason Iris is getting it, it's a nice little bonus given the possible side effects of phenobarbital she's also on.

    Dr C also wants to start Iris on a Chinese herb. I can't remember the name of it right now. It was back-ordered so Dr C didn't have any when we were in there. I got a call on Fri saying that they did get it in, so I have to go pick that up too. I feel like we're slowly getting on the right track even if my kitchen does look like a pharmacy of doggie prescriptions and supplements!

    Sunday, February 7, 2010


    Just to give everyone a quick update. Iris had three more seizures over the weekend. They were very close together - about 10 min between each seizure. That's unusual for her. She usually goes about 2 hrs between seizures. I am bummed. She was doing so well. I was thinking about it, and Iris did get a few different points during her acupuncture appointment last week. We were planning ongoing two weeks between appointments this time (we've been going weekly). That's why she got the additional points this time. Did that change things? I'm going to call Dr C in the morning to see what he says.

    I'm on a canine epilepsy email list and there was a recent discussion about dogs that were retired from agility after starting phenobarb because of the lethargy, ataxia, and weight gain associated with the drug. It made me a bit depressed. The list ranges from being very informative to being very sad. Don't get me wrong, the list members are extremely supportive of one another. It is just difficult to read about dogs deteriorating so quickly. I think in some ways it's not an accurate sampling of the population. The people with dogs that are doing well are not the ones posting on the list.

    The overwhelmed part is mostly because of a big project at work. Basically, I'm working for 8 hrs and then going into Boston to shoot restaurant exteriors from 6:00 to 9:30. Very long days and very cold nights! I am exhausted, but Iris thinks this new schedule is VERY cool. The only way I can manage to work the long hrs and still get Iris her meds on time is to bring her to work with me. She's thrilled! And she's getting tons of exercise walking around Boston, which is good because Dr C wants her to lose a few pounds. Just in case I disappear for while, it's because I'll be working late for the rest of the month most likely, not because anything has happened to Iris.

    On a much lighter note, the one night I won't be working late is Wednesdays. Iris is starting class again this week and I refuse to miss it! It will be the first time I've had her in a regular class since last summer (probably July?) Much too long. I miss being in a class. This one is a Control Unleashed class, and I'm really looking forward to it! After that, I'm hoping to get her back into agility. Maybe that's why the discussion about retiring agility dogs on phenobarb depressed me. Just because Iris will be 7 years old in May doesn't mean I'm ready to retire her yet.