Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Confronting Fears with the Thundershirt

I've got one dog who is unfazed by fireworks and one who is only interested in them if they're in cookie form. Our house is about half a mile from where fireworks are set off in town and our neighbors are quite fond of setting off some of their own as well, so July is a long month for my Barley girl.

When our friends at asked if we'd like to try the Thundershirt, I hesitated for a minute. We'd actually purchased a Thundershirt several years ago because we were visiting my parents during a particularly stormy period. When we'd tried it on a beautiful sunny day so that Barley didn't immediately associate it with scary things, she had shut down and refused to take a step while wearing it and she wouldn't take treats from me until I took it off her. We returned it the same day because they're not cheap and I couldn't see the point of keeping it for a stormy day if she hated it so much.

But I decided that this might be a better time to try the Thundershirt. For one, we were going to be in our own house while trying it instead of traveling. Also, we hadn't tried it for fireworks and the Fourth of July was quickly approaching. 

When we got home from our trip to my sister's on July 2, the Thundershirt was waiting for us. My neighborhood started shooting off fireworks days before the actual holiday, so we immediately pulled it out of the box and tried it on. 

The first thing I noticed is that they've changed the design since our last try. The Thundershirt is in some light, breathable, moveable material that reminds me of my favorite jersey dresses. They've also changed from boring grey to blue or pink--we were sent a blue one. The insert in the packaging provided illustrated instructions on how to fit the Thundershirt, but I still struggled a little bit with fitting it. Part of that is because Barley is oddly shaped with a tiny head, a huge neck and chest, and a teeny tiny waist, so the very end of the shirt was really loose and kept flipping up further on her back. Part of that is because Barley wasn't thrilled with being dressed up and I think she held her breath to keep me from getting a good fit around her middle. Another part of it is that there are three flaps that you have to wrap around the dog and the inner flap kept going to the wrong side, so I was trying to keep Barley still and readjust the straps so I could velcro them.

We also had a little thunder early in the month. Normally, Barley panics at the first sound of thunder, but I actually got her to go out long enough for a bathroom break while she was wearing the Thundershirt. 

But did the Thundershirt really work? Yes and no. When there were sporadic fireworks or far-off thunder and Barley had the Thundershirt on she'd stay in the room with me instead of hiding under the bed or in the bathroom. She wasn't her normal happy, wagging self. We tried to practice noseworks one day and she refused to sniff anything while wearing the Thundershirt. But the fact that she wasn't in hiding was a pleasant surprise to me. 

She often hangs out on the cooling mat while I cook, but usually she watches me to see if anything will drop.

When there was a big storm or fireworks going off more consistently, Barley was back under the bed. Of course, this meant that I didn't sleep much at all because I didn't want her wearing the Thundershirt all night long, so I'd half sleep and wait for her to come out in the middle of the night so I could tackle her and take the shirt off her before she decided to go back under the bed.

The insert in the box mentions that dogs might have an adjustment period where it takes several uses to see any difference and also includes some tips for helping your dog embrace the Thundershirt, but we've tried the Thundershirt several times a week all month and haven't really seen much difference except for during minor storms and sporadic fireworks. Thankfully, when Barley is bothered by the storms, she does seem content to just go under the bed or in the bathroom and sleep until it's over. Since she's not destructive or hurting herself, I can live with her napping through storms and fireworks (honestly, I am pretty content to nap through storms myself). 

Overall, the Thundershirt was relatively easy to put on, it was easy for Barley to move in, and it didn't seem to make her hotter even during the heatwave we've had, but I don't think it's quite the right solution for Barley. I did put it on Rye when she was having a conniption fit over a squirrel she could see through the window. Our shirt is a large, so the neck was a little loose on Rye, but the body of the shirt fit her well when wrapped as tightly as the velcro would allow. As soon as the shirt was on her, she settled right down and watched the squirrel quietly from her perch. 

We'll continue to try the Thundershirt for Rye's squirrel-induced excitement to see if that was just a coincidence or if the Thundershirt really did help calm her down. I'm happy we had the chance to really try out the Thundershirt because I've spent the past several years wondering if I should have given our original one more of a chance.

Disclaimer: We were provided with one Thundershirt in exchange for our honest review as part of the #ChewyInfluencer program for 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Nights One and Two of Our First C-WAGS Scent League

Since Rye and I have been spending so much time at agility trials, I've been trying to find ways to get Barley a little more solo time. When I saw that our friend's training center was offering a C-WAGS scent league, I knew that we had to sign up. A scent league is similar to a bowling league. It lasts for a set amount of time--ours is 6 weeks--and each week the same dogs show up and complete one search each. Since Barley had earned her Level 1 title last year, this was a good opportunity to try out Level 2 for the first time.

There were two choices for the league: Sunday mornings or Monday nights. Since I had plans to visit my sister and go see Reba McEntire on the first Sunday and Rye was already registered for some Sunday agility trials, we chose the Monday night league. We were leaving my sister's house in Virginia the morning of the first night, but we were all set to get home with plenty of time to unpack the car and stretch our legs before heading to the league. 

Unfortunately, the universe had other plans.

About halfway through our trip, the a/c quit working. I wasn't too concerned about it. The temperatures were close to 100 the whole time we were in Virginia and that day was in the 90s--my little Ohio car has not had to deal with that kind of heat often, and I figured she was just tired. We rolled down the windows and I made a mental note to call and make an appointment to get that fixed on Monday.

Then about an hour and a half from home, we went through a toll plaza and my car stalled. I thought maybe I'd just let the clutch up too early, which surprised me because I didn't think I'd done that, but I turned the car back on and she came back to life. But another mile or so down the road, she kept getting slower and slower and the engine temperature, which had been fine, had suddenly skyrocketed. I had to pull over.

After waiting for an hour for AAA's tow truck to arrive, we got towed to Firestone. I was panicking the whole time because the dogs had to stay in the car for the short tow. The windows were partially down, but we'd already been hot from sitting on the side of the road with no a/c for an hour. Even if the dogs had been allowed in the tow truck, though, there was no way Rye was going to ride that close to the tow truck driver. She was doing her best to make sure he didn't get anywhere near the car while he was hooking it up. 

The adventure continued with the Firestone crew saying they couldn't have my car ready that day, but they called to book a rental car for me. We quickly realized, though, that the rental company probably wasn't going to be very excited about the dogs hopping in their transport van or a rental car, so I had to trust my gut and leave the dogs in the Firestone office while I went to get a car. Despite Rye's meltdown over the tow driver, both dogs were quickly enamored with the whole shop, so I just held my breath the whole ride to the rental and booked it back to Firestone as quickly as possible.

Instead of dropping Rye off at home, we had to go straight to the scent league. Luckily, we made it there right as they finished the Level 1 searches, so we had plenty of time to check in, go to the Level 2 briefing, and then we were the second dog up in Level 2. Barley was so excited to be out of the car that she sniffed every single container and object thoroughly. Her alert is so subtle that I couldn't tell which ones actually held the odor, so I called two false alerts. In C-WAGS, you can have one fault, so we failed.

Week 2 was much better, though! We practiced more throughout the week and we had a completely uneventful day leading up to the scent league. Barley found the first odor really quickly. Then I had another false alert, but we quickly found the second odor after that and got our first leg of Level 2.

In C-WAGS, you have to have 4 qualifying scores to move up to the next level, so we're 1/4 of the way to Level 3 now! 

Barley was so proud of herself and we both loved having a little one-on-one time. We decided to extend that happiness a little longer with a short walk at the arboretum to celebrate.

We can't wait to see how things go next week!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Welcome Gladys

My sister has been a foster for the rescue that brought her dog Maddux to her for years. Recently, she became a foster failure when she officially added Gladys to her family. Gladys' adoption came shortly before the dogs and I had planned to visit my sister to see Reba McEntire. While I was super excited to meet my first niece, I was also nervous about how the dogs Barley would react to having a new cousin.

Thankfully, my sister is super understanding about my crazy girl and was willing to go along with whatever crazy plans I had for introducing them. When we arrived at her house, I sent Rye out in the backyard with Gladys and my sister. Rye loves other dogs, but she doesn't do well with seeing them when she's on-leash--even if there's not an official greeting. While Rye and Gladys romped around, Barley and I unloaded the car and set up her crate. 

Sometimes Rye decided to back Barley up if Barley is upset about another dog, so I didn't want to overwhelm Gladys with both dogs right away, so when the playful pups were tired, we brought them in and put both of them in crates. 

Since Barley had done well with meeting Rye while Rye was in a crate, I thought that would be a good approach with Gladys, too. Barley hardly even noticed that Gladys was there! She ran to the basket of toys, found my nephew's treat ball, and started to play. Then we took Barley and Gladys on a walk together so they'd have some time to move near each other, too. They walked beautifully together. When we were just relaxing, Barley was not happy if Gladys approached her and she'd growl and bark at her as soon as she got a few feet away. Then Rye would start barking, too. Luckily, everyone in the house was good about reminding Gladys not to get too close and I kept Barley on leash any time all of the dogs were in the same room. By the end of our visit, Barley would nap on the chair while Gladys played with her toys a few feet away. 

Even though they weren't best friends by the time we left, I was so pleased with how well they did. It took weeks before Barley would relax near Rye while she was in a crate--and that was with multiple daily "please love your new sister" training sessions. The fact that Barley would take a nap while Gladys moved around was amazing to me.

Rye loved having a new playmate. At first, Gladys wasn't quite sure what to think of Rye bouncing around the yard, but they found their groove pretty quickly.

Play mostly came in quick bursts because it was in the high 90s and humid every single day we were there, so there was a lot of darting under the big tree or resting in the shade to cool off. 

When all three dogs were around each other, Rye still mostly chose to stay near Barley, but Rye thinks Gladys is the perfect addition to our family! And I couldn't agree more--I'm so excited to have a niece and I can't wait to spoil her rotten!

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Perfect Day

This summer has been filled with so many activities that there just haven't been enough hours in a day to actually blog about everything we've been doing, so over the next few days we'll be trying to play catch up since I'm sure one day I'll want to look back and refresh my memory on everything.

This past weekend, Rye and I entered our fourth CPE agility trial. Our usual venue didn't have any CPE trials on the calendar between May and September, so we decided to check out another venue a tiny bit farther away that a lot of people we'd met at our first 3 CPE trials really loved. I'd heard that this venue was much smaller, so I wanted to get there extra early to snag a decent spot for our crate. 

Of course, things never go as planned. We left the house in time to get to the trial site a good 30 minutes before the morning briefing, so I was confident that we'd be there in plenty of time. I typed our location into my Waze app and it's pleasant pop star voice sang each turn and exit to us the whole way there. Then suddenly we were going through a cute downtown and residential area and I was sure Waze had led us astray. I hadn't seen any images of the outside of the building when I'd used Google Maps to make sure this was a reasonable drive for us before entering, so I expected it to be like the other facilities we've been to, either a big warehouse type thing or a sports complex. There were several old, big brick buildings that looked like they could be breweries or loft apartments, but certainly not an agility gym. I didn't see any sign for an agility facility, either, so we drove until we got to a spot we could pull over and check the address. The website for the facility was the same one Waze had used, so we tried again and I inched through town. Still nothing. I decided to try my Apple Maps app. The same thing happened, so I pulled into an empty parking lot of one of the brick buildings that had an address a couple numbers off from the agility facility. I looked up and in the second-story windows was the name of the place we were going. But there was no visible door. It took another few minutes to find the actual door and where everyone else was parked. We'd gone from getting there long before the morning briefing to arriving 5 minutes into the briefing.

I rolled down the windows for Rye and rushed inside to see if there was a spot for our crate--and it was not looking good. They were also ending the morning briefing and getting ready to start the walk-thru for the first course. I did a quick walk-thru and then grabbed our crate from the car and squished it in in the only spot left that I could find and one of the busiest spots in the building--right in front of the results table. Thankfully, Rye doesn't mind a lot of activity around her, so I think I was the only one that was stressed by the amount of activity around us.

Our first course was Full House. This is a game that's all about getting points. There's no set course and you have a certain amount of time to get as many points as you can; for 16-inch dogs, that's 30 seconds. You also have to complete a certain number of different types of obstacles. Certain obstacles like contact equipment, weaves, and big jumps like the double are Jokers, which count for 5 points, and tunnels and panel jumps are circles, which count for 3 points, and then regular jumps are 1 point. You have to get at least 3 single jumps, 2 circles, and one joker as well as meet the minimum number of points for your level. This was our first time trying it, so we needed to get 19 points total for level 1. Rye was a little wild and didn't do exactly the course I'd planned out in my mind, but we ended up getting 31 points to qualify and end up in first place.

The next course was Standard. I really liked the course when I looked at the map. There weren't many traps where Rye might make some choices and take obstacles I didn't want her to take. We've been struggling with our start-line-stay at trials recently, though, so I haven't been able to get any distance at the beginning of a course and I've had to start with her. That means that I'm behind her for almost every single course. On this course, the one trap was going from the A-Frame to the last obstacle. The A-Frame faced an off-course jump and the actual final jump was kind of hidden between one of the columns in the middle of the building. I didn't get to where I needed to be quickly enough and Rye decided to go with the jump in her sightline. We got 5 faults for that, so even though we finished 18.12 seconds faster than the other dog that qualified, we ended up in second place. I was still really proud of how Rye did, though!

Our third course was Colors. I don't know why, but I really like this game. In Colors, there are two courses to choose from and they have to overlap a couple times. When I looked at the course map, I knew I wanted to do the circle course. The other one looked fun, too, but the circles were just a nice figure 8 and we practice figure 8s in class all the time, so I felt really confident going into that course. Colors courses are pretty short--this one was only 11 obstacles--so they always go quickly, but Rye was on fire for this one. She read me perfectly and we finished the course in 14.42 seconds! 

Our fourth course of the day was Snooker. We hadn't ever tried this CPE game, either. When I read the description of this one in the rule book, I had no idea what the game was supposed to be, so I watched it during our first two trials to figure out out. Snooker is a two part game. There are 4 red jumps on the course, so in part one, the goal is to go over one red jump and then a non-red obstacle, a second red jump and a non-red obstacle, and then a third red jump and a non-red obstacle. Once you've done those six obstacles, there's a 6-obstacle sequence you try to get through. To qualify, you have to get through the first part and have at least the minimum amount of points for your level. Each red jump is worth 1 point and then the non-red obstacles are worth whatever number of points is beside them on the map (which is also the order you do them in for the mini-sequence in part two). I had a plan for this course, but Rye was ready to rock and roll and she jumped really big after our second red and I had to think quick and readjust the plan. On the map below, my original plan is in blue, starting with the left jump at the bottom of the map and what we actually did is in pink. Rye's plan actually got us more points than my plan, too, so we qualified with 43 points. 

Snooker was really intimidating to me the first couple times we watched it, but it was actually a really fun game. We're looking forward to trying it again at the next trial!

Our final course was Jumpers. Once again, I got way behind Rye and she ended up taking one jump twice because of that, but we still qualified with the 5 faults for that. We ended up having a perfect day by qualifying in all 5 of our courses! With our Q in Jumpers, we can move up to Level 3 for future trials and we're now in Level 2 for everything else. 

We had a really fun day together. It really felt like Rye and I were clicking. Each trial, we seem to become a stronger team. I'd really like to get our start-line-stay back so that I can start out ahead of her, but right now, she seems to need me to start with her and that's ok--we'll keep working on it. 

We ended the day with a book and a rye IPA and then turned in early. Such a successful day wore us both out!

We've got our next AKC trial coming up and after the fun we had at this trial, I'm really looking forward to getting back out there!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Rye, A Story of Loose-Leash Walking

When I got Barley, I thought loose-leash walking was one of the easiest things to train. Barley has always liked to just be near me--even when she was snarling at other dogs, she was almost always doing it right at my side. We'd do a quick little refresher each spring when the squirrels came back out and then wouldn't think about it again for another year.

Even when the snow is coming down and it's her favorite time to walk, she doesn't want to be far from me.

When I got Rye, I learned that loose-leash walking is a HUGE challenge. Most people that know Rye think that she's a really excellent loose-leash walker. In our first obedience class, we were working on different heeling patterns and our trainer said, "I'd kill for that kind of focus from my dog." In classes, Rye walks beautifully at my side and she watches me to see if we're changing direction or stopping.

On actual walks, though, she turns into some sort of monster. She strains at the end of her leash. She lunges after squirrels, chipmunks, cats, and cars. Heel is a word she acts like she's never heard. Normally, I'd think it was the fact that we were outside with distractions, but she's perfect and responsive when we walk around the grounds at agility trials. There's just something about an actual walk that turns her into a different dog.

Rye's leash is usually so tight you could hang clothes on it.

Walking with Barley has always been my way to find my zen. Walks with Rye have kept us from achieving that peace because I've spent so much time battling with her over loose-leash walking. We'd either need a pound of treats to convince Rye that she needed to stay at my side or I'd end up getting really frustrated every single time we left the house as we continued to fail at loose-leash walking. Neither one of those options really worked for me, so we needed a new approach.

Every dog is different.
For Barley and me, walking is the way we connect. We literally gaze lovingly at each other as we trot down the sidewalk. For Rye, walks are a way to connect with the world. At agility trials, she knows she's there to work with me, so those walks serve a different purpose than walks in our neighborhood or on a trail. When I finally accepted that Rye didn't want to bond with me on walks, I started making some changes.

Change the rules.
For Barley, loose-leash walking was equivalent with heeling. We also used the leash clip to evaluate the loose leash because when we got our Canine Good Citizen certificate, we had to make the leash clip stayed pointed at the ground. Now, I think about it differently. There are some times when heeling is non-negotiable. Rye needs to stay close to my side on busy roads or if we're passing other people. But when we're in a safe spot, there's no reason she can't follow her nose and use her whole leash. I even started occasionally walking her on a long line. What I've found is that when Rye has a little more independence, she doesn't ever pull on the leash. On a long line, she rarely even uses the full length of the line. She also doesn't really check back in with me, but if I call her, she'll come back for a snack before following her nose again. Barley still trots along beside me and she seems to enjoy having a little more space from Rye, too, so walks are a lot happier for everyone when I'm not trying to force Rye to walk right beside me.

Keep things fun.
Since there are times when I do need Rye to walk right beside me, we do still need to practice loose-leash walking in a heel because it is no fun to walk with a dog that's straining on the leash beside you. We try to work in games to practice this when Rye and I are on solo walks or when we're walking at agility trials. One of our favorites is where when Rye starts pulling, I turn into her and change directions; then she runs to catch up to me and when she does, I repeat the process. Usually, after we've done this three or four times, she falls into step with me and walks much better. We also play a game where I encourage her to go out ahead of me by throwing a treat ahead of us and then when she comes back beside me after getting the treat, she gets a snack in heel position. That keeps her focused on me because she's waiting to see when I'll throw the next treat and she learns to check back in with me after getting ahead of me. (But we have to make sure that we're in a safe place because sometimes treats bounce!)

Every now and then, we get two loose leashes at once.

Don't be self-conscious.
The hardest part of loose-leash walking with Rye is that a lot of times we look ridiculous. When we turn the corner from our house, we're on a main road through town, so we see a lot of Jeep Wranglers and mail trucks that cause Rye to react. Four houses into our walk, there's a miniature pinscher who lounges in a window and barks at us, which causes Rye to meltdown. When we're playing the change direction game, we look crazy. We'll walk three steps and then turn around, walk four steps in that direction and turn back around. It can take us 10 minutes to walk by four houses with all of our turning around. I hate having attention drawn to me and on a busy road there are a lot of opportunities for people to see us walking like we have no idea where we're going. But I just try to remind myself that they are also watching when Rye is lunging at Jeeps or the min pin in the window and if we're going to draw attention to ourselves, I'd much rather it be because I'm training my dog than because my dog is acting a fool.

Be consistent.
When Rye and I walk by the min pin's house every day, there are times when we can make it down the street without having to change direction more than once or twice. I often find myself thinking that it would just be easier if we went the other way out of our driveway and avoid that block altogether. Sometimes when I have both dogs, we do avoid that part of the neighborhood just because it's a lot harder to work on the training with two dogs, but when I find myself thinking that with Rye, I try to plan routes that will take us by that house twice so we can get in a little more practice. That's when I really start to see improvement with her and sometimes that transfers to walks with Barley.

Loose-leash walking has not been an easy road for us. I've had to reevaluate the purpose of our walks and redefine what I'm looking for when I'm thinking about loose-leash walking. After doing that, walks have become more enjoyable for the whole family even if we do occasionally still have moments of frustration. 

Be sure to visit Wag 'n Woof Pets and Tenacious Little Terrier, our co-hosts for the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop, as well as all of the other bloggers joining us this month! Our theme for July is Loose-Leash Walking, but we welcome any positive training posts.

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