A dog’s life

A dog’s life

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Or to be exact: Two dogs lives in our house.

Sam (right) ist the youngest furbaby here, but he has to battle the most health issues. One, he has vasculitis at the ears. Vasculitis is an inflammation of the blood vessels, which results in bad itching in his case. Back in the shelter, the diagnosis was confirmed, but Sam’s head shaking and scratching were explained with nervousness and stress. When it got worse, we mentioned this to our vet. He gave us a lotion to put on the ears twice a day, and head shaking and scratching stopped… I am so sorry he had to live with that for two and a half years. But we trusted the vet from the shelter.

Second, he suffers from hypothyroidism. This condition is also chronic and has to be treated as long as he lives. But like the vasculitis, we got it under control. I would say, he can live well with his health issues right now.

Janet (left) is twelve years old, but in very good health. Sometimes her teeth cause trouble. When she came to live with us, her teeth were in a very bad condition, and four of them had to be removed.  Last week we had her teeth cleaned properly, and one tooth had to be extracted, but she can live with this and recovered well from surgery.

In my opinion we are responsible for the health of our pets. They rely on us to look after them. In the future I will ask for another opinion and listen to my heart if I think something is wrong.

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Meeting the dog trainer

Meeting the dog trainer

It was very interesting what the dog trainer found out about Sam in a few minutes. She didn’t ask us about information before the meeting, she just wanted to meet Sam “in person”.

She confirmed what we already knew. Sam is a very sensitive soul, he would do everything to protect and please us. It’s now up to us to make him realize that the humans are in charge and that he can trust us. We have to mind our body language very closely, there’s a food supplement we can try, and we should change his diet to venison.

Minding my body language will be a challenge. The dog trainer told me to call Sam, and he came to my side, but the dog trainer told me my posture wasn’t very welcoming, and she was right.

She also said, there is definitely a bond between Sam and me. I really liked to hear that, because we didn’t have an easy start.

When love isn’t enough

When love isn’t enough

Yes, there are moments like these on the picture: Lots of snuggling and love. And the love goes both ways.

But there are also the moments where Sam makes a ruckus at the door, pulls on the leash, or barks loudly at everything on the street. This is when love alone doesn’t help.

We have been looking for a good dog trainer for quite some time. It’s not easy, because it has to be a match for Sam AND for us. I don’t approve some methods. I don’t want any violence. I need somebody who understands Sam and tells me how I can help him. One thing is sure: Sam doesn’t like these situations either, he is full of fear. I want to change my attitude, so Sam can change his behavior as well.

The big problem is, my energy level needs to be high enough to work with Sam. And I don’t know how long the good times will last. But this is something nobody knows, so I might as well start now. Maybe it’s no coincidence that our friend introduced me to a very nice dog trainer on Sunday. I can imagine working with her. Maybe the time is just right to tackle this problem 😀.

Me and eight paws…

Me and eight paws…

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…are strolling around the neighborhood every day. Since I returned from my last inpatient stay last summer/fall I really stayed on the ball, not walking the dogs is a rare exception from the rule. My form of the day decides how long our walk is.

Dealing with Sam still can be difficult. But my biggest fear, not being able to handle him, didn’t come true. I deal with the tricky situations the best way I can and am able to calm down quickly afterwards. And the daily excercise is good for all of us.

During the last months, I attended seminars about handling difficult dogs. My goal is to understand Sam better, because this will help me to react in the best possible way. Sam has two faces: At home, when everything is quiet, he is very cuddly and listens to commands very well. Outside, or if somebody comes near our house, he is tense and anxious and tries to scare away every human (especailly the mail man, cyclists and joggers) or dog by barking loudly. We try to show him that these situations are not dangerous, but his fears run deep.

It’s a good thing Janet is the complete opposite. Her good spirits and zest of life make us all very happy. Two problematic dogs would be too much for me to handle, but so everything is balanced out.

Since I was a little girl, animals had a positive effect on me. It doesn’t matter if it were budgies, hamsters, horses, cats or dogs. I don’t care what happens to me some days, but our furbabies always are important. On the other hand, some pets from the shelter found a new home and live with us now. Win-win!

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Update on Sam

Update on Sam

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It has been a while that I mentioned Sam. This is because making progress takes lots of time for him. But progress DOES happen, and this is what matters.

For a long time, it was a real challenge to take Sam on a walk with other dogs. We had to use a muzzle, and he nearly panicked when other dogs came near him – or even worse – wanted contact with him: Then he yowled, growled or bit.

Every Sunday the shelter organizes a walk. My husband participates with Sam an Janet. Janet is very easy going with other dogs. She is not dominant, but she is always friendly and very clear about what she wants or doesn’t want. What makes her a good teacher for Sam, who grew up without contact to other dogs in a killing station.

On these Sunday walks mostly the same dogs and humans are there. So Sam noticed finally, that nobody wanted to harm him. He calmed down, and we didn’t need the muzzle any longer. Last week all humans agreed to let the dogs play together without a leash on a meadow. And the miracle happened: Sam behaved as if he had done this all the time. He very kindly asked other dogs to play with him, and ran around absolutely carefree. One dog tried to make eye contact with him, he just ignored it.

We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

There is still a lot to do, so it is nice when progress is made, and this was a big step!

And when he looks at me like on the picture above, I think we will reach a lot more with him in the future.

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Y is for YELLOW RIBBON

Y is for YELLOW RIBBON

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My motto for this year’s A to Z is “Animals in my life – stuffed or alive”.

In the picture above is Sam’s yellow ribbon, not very tidy, but well worn 🙂 . A yellow ribbon or bandana on a dog is a sign that this dog needs space. The dog can be in training, and every distraction would complicate the learning process. The dog can be old and therefore easily be overwhelmed. The dog can be recovering from illness or surgery and just not be in the mood to play. There can be many reasons to ask for space. More information about the idea behind this can be found here: Yellow Dog.

In Sam’s case, he still is very unpredictible. On some days he tolerates other people, dogs, joggers and bikers well, on others he just can’t stand them, barks and would try to chase them away. Even though we are very careful and attentive, we don’t take any chances, and more space makes the situation easier to handle for us humans and Sam.

In my opinion it’s a good idea if everybody can recognize a struggling dog from a distance. Pedestrians know that it wouldn’t be a good idea to pet this dog, and other dog owners are given enough time to put their dogs on the leash, so the meeting doesn’t escalate. Win-win for everyone, I would say.

So, the next time you see a dog wearing yellow, think of the possibility that this dog isn’t just a fashion victim, but that it maybe needs space.

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Hard times for Sam (and for us)

Hard times for Sam (and for us)

Some former shelter animals quickly adapt to their new, secure enviroment, others need more time. While Janet belongs to the first group and is calm and relaxed, Sam still gets stressed easily. When he feels overwhelmed, he just reacts without looking at his humans for guidance. He reacts very strongly to everything that happens in front of our house, or on the street. We live in a cul-de-sac, relatively quiet. But even here the newspapers and mail are delievered every morning, the garbage truck drives through the street, people go by our house, and so on. If we don’t stop him, Sam runs to the nearest window or the front door and keeps barking until everything is quiet again. This kind of territorial behavior made his former new family bring him back to the shelter, and it is really nerve wracking.

It was very important for us to get to the real root of this problem, which is not disobedience, but naked fear. This rules out punishing him, because this would make him feel even worse and add to his anxiety. His breed may add to his behavior, Sam definitely is a herding dog mix (the head of the shelter guessed he is part belgian shepherd, or Malinois). Unfortunately, fear is more difficult to treat than disobedience, and it will probably never go away completely.

At first we tried a collar that exudes pheremones, but to no avail. But we can influence his behavior.

  • We have to react as quickly as possible, so Sam doesn’t get worked up.
  • Tell him “No!” in a calm way and block him from window or door, to show him that the humans are in charge and his behavior is not appreciated.
  • Order him to sit or lay down, and insist on him doing so.
  • Praising him when he calms down.
  • Staying near him until the situation is over.
  • Praising him again.
  • Going on with life.

We know from experience this helps and things settle down quickly. But we have to stick with it, and it is not always possible. When I am alone and have to go to the door to get a parcel, I can’t correct Sam’s behavior at the same time. The same applies for the times the dogs are without human supervision (we installed a camera to watch them, and Sam barks and runs to the door/window when we are not there, too).

Since last week, the roofs of two houses across the street are repaired. This means nonstop stress for Sam, and paying continuous attention for me. He has calmed down though, and even plays fetching ball with me. But we are still far from chilling. It doesn’t keep us from loving our “little man”, of course. Who can resist this hangdog look?!