Proud Mama

Alternate title: We’re Alive.

Quite a gap between posts but a lot of relaxing has been going on over here. The athletic year is done as of tonight when the final track & field athletes compete at Nationals. Once I post those recaps, I am officially done with the year! Despite tonight’s events, life has gradually been slowing down for a few weeks which is glorious. Last weekend Lucy and I traveled to New Jersey to visit my parents for a belated Mother’s Day celebration. Lucy had a blast away from Isaac and she was the perfect guest.

Because I wasn’t around last weekend, Isaac wasn’t able to get back to the free dog walk. Why couldn’t Marty take him, you ask? You’d have to ask Marty. But I digress. These walks are super important for Isaac to try and get him almost desensitized to other dogs, in a way.

Today we made our way there and Isaac was awesome. Truly. He did not snap at a single dog and even walked right by several dogs that were snapping at him!

"I know how to pretend to look good."

“I know how to pretend to look good.”

He’s not “cured” by any means. When it’s just the two of us on walks he’s still hit or miss but it’s obvious he can be around other dogs. And the other benefit to the walks? This is what he looks like for the majority of the afternoon:

Melting.

Melting.

Seriously, I was ecstatic and so proud of him. He has no idea why I was happy but hopefully the more positive experiences we have the more progress we’ll continue to make. A well-behaved dog is in there, we just have to keep working at it.

And because I don’t want Lucy to feel left out, here’s a cute picture to end today’s post!
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We Survived

Isaac and I survived our first group dog-walking session!

“‘We’ survived? I did all the work!”

So here were my expectations heading into the morning: show up at 11. Get Isaac out of car. Isaac proceeds to bark, lunge, snarl, snap, etc. Get back in car at 11:10 and drive away without going on the 11:15 dog walk.

While some of that happened, spoiler alert – we finished one loop of the walk! We got there just after 11 and I purposely hung back away from other dogs. Isaac roamed but we were pretty far away from any other dog. As people started to gather at the starting point, I slowly walked over with Isaac, dread in my stomach. And Isaac proceeded to lunge, snarl, snap, etc. at another dog.

Lovely.

However, it was a fairly short lived outburst and the trainer immediately paired Isaac and me with another dog walker and her dog who I was told (correctly) was non-reactive and basically wouldn’t give Isaac the time of day no matter what. What happened next? Isaac walked four feet from the dog and her owner for the entire walk. My jaw just about hit the ground when Isaac did not react one bit to the other dog.

“I like to make you look like you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Now, as far as the actual walking goes, he was a disaster. He was pulling and so excited for the first 3/4 of the walk that he pretty much died in the final five minutes. I seriously thought I was going to have to carry him back; it was a warm day and pacing is a foreign concept to Isaac. I’m also lucky my arms are still attached as he pretty much yanked me around the majority of the course. When all was said and done, though, Isaac had walked for a good 20 minutes four feet from another dog and with plenty of other dogs in the vicinity without a single incident.

What does all this mean? I don’t really know. We didn’t run into any other dogs on our walks the remainder of the weekend so I can’t say he’s magically cured. But it was definitely a step in the right direction. Unfortunately I can’t take him next weekend as I’ll be out of town but it is definitely something we’re going to do many more times. Maybe we’re making progress after all.

Types of Dogs

I’ll have an update this weekend after Isaac and I attend our group dog-walking session tomorrow. I’ve narrowed down the trigger for Isaac’s aggression to me (or maybe all females but no other female has walked him) so I’m both nervous and looking forward to the walk so we can get a handle on Isaac’s behavior around other dogs.

Anyway, that’s a post for later this weekend. Today’s post came to mind when the trainer said that Lucy was an omega dog. Here a definition I found online:

These dogs are what I consider, to be the “low man on the totem pole”. They quite often can be very sweet, but lacking in self-confidence. They choose to move through life, trying not to create a fuss. These dogs can be challenged or even attacked, by the classic Beta dog. The Beta dog knows that they can dominate or rule this personality and quite often, choose to do so. 

Ok, first – not all of this applies to Lucy 100 percent, but it’s awful darn close. Second – our trainer believes the use of the word dominance is overused with dogs and isn’t the case with Isaac. However, a lot of what is stated above is absolutely true of Lucy. She’s always been the low (wo)man on the totem pole although as negative as that sounds, before Isaac (B.I.), it worked out beautifully with our other fosters. She was more than happy to be lower than Cindy/Nellie (who was a Beta dog but was far more “nice” in expressing that than Isaac). I believe both Snowy (now Violet) and Buddy were omega dogs, as well, and thus everyone got along – they were ALL low on the totem pole, so to speak! No one tried to fight for a higher position. They were happy not to have that stress. Violet and Lucy were two peas in a pod. There was never, ever a single issue between them. It was glorious, especially now that we have Isaac against which to compare things.

I mean, come on! They were best buds.

I mean, come on! They were best buds.

Essentially, Lucy is obliviously happy as the only dog or with another omega dog. And she’d probably be in heaven with an alpha dog (which as the trainer explained are very rare).

Now, here’s Isaac, the Beta dog, according to the same website:

This is the dog that I see more frequently in our Board and Train program.This is definitely the dog that challenges the companion dog owner over and over. Quite often, the Beta dog is also very dominant and may need to be on a strict Nothing In Life is Free program.The Beta dog may be barky, mouthy, reactive, and unwilling to accept the human as its leader. This dog spends its life, if untrained; challenging every day any form of control. These dogs are quite often, given up to Breed Rescue or to Shelters, as they are “too much” for many dog owners to handle willingly. Quite often in dog play, they cause fights by playing too rough or intense, they do not read nor accept other dog’s body language. They may be clearly possessive of prized items such as toys, rawhide, food, or even fighting to get all the attention from their owners in a multi dog household.

Um, yeah, that’s Isaac and it’s clear why we have issues at home.

The reason I believe that Cindy was a beta dog is that she did not hesitate to put Lucy in her place; the difference was it took one snap from Cindy and…that was it. Lucy backed off, Cindy laid back down and things were back to peace and quiet. And the two of them got along beautifully 95 percent of the time; they snuggled, they went outside together, they took walks together before Cindy had to undergo heartworm treatment.

And the reason Lucy and Isaac don’t get along is that Isaac is much more physical in his beta dog ways and he can physically overpower Lucy. Cindy absolutely could not do that.

I love(d) Cindy but physically she was no match for Lucy.

I love(d) Cindy but physically she was no match for Lucy.

Anyway, I meant for this to be a much more lighthearted post; I mean, essentially I’m calling Lucy a stupidly happy dog! Which is a good thing, really. And part of the reason I want to “fix” Isaac so badly is that I hate for that happy part of Lucy to be lost, even if temporarily.

Putting a Plan in Place

Yesterday Isaac and I (and Lucy) met with a new trainer who is more than equipped to deal with Isaac’s behavioral problems. See, obedience training with Isaac wasn’t (and still isn’t) my top concern – he’s learned sit, down, touch, etc. I needed a trainer who could work with Isaac’s behavioral issues and we found a great one!

For three-and-a-half hours yesterday, we did a lot of talking – some training, sure – but a lot of talking about what might have caused Isaac’s behavioral problems, what I can do myself to help things, what I can do with Isaac to help things, what Marty and I can do with both dogs to help the situation, etc. So, so informative.

To backtrack a bit, I had two main concerns going into yesterday – getting Isaac to stop humping Lucy and getting him to be less dog-aggressive on our walks.

“But I love humping Lucy.”

Hang with me for a minute on this analogy: you know how when you have a computer issue, call IT, they come down and all of a sudden your computer is functioning perfectly fine? Well, that was Isaac yesterday. The trainer took Isaac out for a walk without me; they saw other people and other dogs and apparently Isaac was a perfect gentleman. Of course he was.

Despite Isaac’s good behavior outside the home, he still spent the majority of the three-plus hours intermittently humping Lucy so at least the trainer got to see him in action on that level. :-P

For the next few days I’ll start incorporating the tips I learned yesterday and then on Saturday, Isaac and I will go to the trainer’s dog-walking class a few towns over. Gulp. Isaac around a bunch of dogs?! It’s a nerve-wracking thought but it honestly is going to be great in the long run; the trainer will get a glimpse at Isaac with me around other dogs (and a lot of them!).

I don’t want to say I’m the problem but I think I’m the trigger when it comes to Isaac’s aggression; he tends to flip out at other dogs only when I’m walking him. Marty said Isaac will sometimes growl at other dogs when he walks him but none of the lunging, snarling and snapping when I’m walking him. So our main goal is to get Isaac to the point where he’s non-reactive no matter who is walking him. Oh, and to stop humping Lucy, of course.

Oh, Isaac. What a project. Totally worth it, though.

How can you NOT want to help this face?

How can you NOT want to help this face?

D-Day

Tomorrow is D-Day for Isaac. He (and I) are going to go through some pretty intensive behavioral training tomorrow.

We’ve been fostering Isaac for over nine months now and while obviously things are liveable, we still have a very long way to go until I believe Isaac will be adoptable to a wide variety of homes. Right now he’s limited to a home with no other dogs, no small children (because he’s so strong) and a semi-rural area. And clearly after nine months we haven’t found a home that fits those requirements.

"I like it right here."

“I like it right here.”

He still flips out when we meet other dogs on our walks and still humps Lucy, although it’s not quite as frequent lately (it does tend to go in waves, though). And sometimes (honestly, very rarely) he’s not exactly friendly to people we encounter on walks and it’s always on our walks – he’s perfectly fine in our home, other peoples’ homes, etc. It’s just in neutral territory he’s too hit or miss for my liking.

Because I have no idea if or when Isaac will finally be adopted, I need to make our current situation as liveable and stress-free as possible so that is my one and only main goal tomorrow.

I expect it to be a tiring day but I can’t state enough how much I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have a good report. :-)

PS – I got this adorable photo of my first foster, Cindy (now Nellie). She doesn’t walk well so she now has her own personal ride – what a cutie.
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When Life Gets in the Way

Let’s face it, this is a pretty superficial blog. I don’t dive into anything serious, life-changing, thought-provoking, etc. I mean, I hope people enjoy it for what it is – a dog blog. I love my dogs and I love to write. But the mindset behind just about every post I write is generally, “how does this topic relate to my dogs?” Even personal posts, if you can call them that, tie back to the dogs because, well, it’s a dog blog, not a diary.

Sure, every once in a while I dive into personal stuff but even then it’s not really about me. It’s about events that happen.

You may have noticed that for the past few weeks the blog has been relatively quiet; part of it because work is insanely busy; part of it is because there isn’t anything of note related to the dogs to write about. I took Lucy to Petsmart last night to get her nails ground down – not exactly good blog fodder, wouldn’t you agree?

But a big part is that I have a life going on outside of this blog which, at times, affects my motivation to write. While I’m contradicting my previous statement about not writing about anything personal, I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and depression/anxiety for a good part of the last 10 years. Through a lot of work I’ve been able to (mostly) get past the eating disorder (and CrossFit has had a TON to do with that). But the funny thing about depression is that, even if on medication, just when you think you have it under control, it rears its ugly head.

A small part of me hesitates to put this out there; depression has such a stigma but I’m also beyond that. If people have a stigma against it, that’s their problem.

Anyway, obviously I’m implying the past few weeks have been one of those down times. There have been issues in my personal life (not related to work) which have forced this most recent bout of depression. There was serious thought to a complete upheaval of my current situation (again, not work related) but I made the decision to seek help to get through this most recent down time and then reevaluate when I’m in a better frame of mind.

Fortunately, my dogs always put a smile on my face and in a few weeks, once the spring semester is over, there will be a lot more time to spend with them!
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Seeking Answers

I hesitate to post too much about Isaac because, while very few people read this blog, I don’t want to taint anyone’s opinion of Isaac (or anything about my life) by reading small snippets. Most posts are written because at the time of writing them, a certain issue is really bothering me. Writing as always been therapeutic for me. But as happens in life, a few weeks later what was really bothering is now in the rear view mirror. But here we go anyway…

Something in Isaac’s behavior lately indicates that he needs some help. What kind of help is the million dollar question. His aggression (outside the home – always outside the home) has gotten a bit worse and now we need to figure out why – is it behavioral and therefore able to be alleviated through training or is it health-related? Is there something going on in his little peabrain that’s making him act differently?
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His thyroid tests came back and while the base levels are slightly low, his TSH (thyroid stimulation hormone) levels are perfectly normal, meaning his thyroid is actually functioning at a normal level. Our vet believes that the next step is behavioral training. If we keep up with training we should see a difference.

The elephant in the room? What if we don’t see a difference in his behavior? Then what? Then we have to continue digging. I’m hoping to see the behavioral trainer within the next 7-10 days and really buckle down on training. A SNORT board member sent me this article which is a training technique I can – and will – immediately implement.

Our walks might look a little different from now on...

Our walks might look a little different from now on…

I’m not going to go into the possibilities if we find out we’re dealing with something that can’t be rectified with behavioral training. That’s too far down the road. But I love Isaac and I so desperately want to help him. While he can be aggressive, do you know what I found out last week? Big, rough, tough Isaac is petrified of thunder storms. He was shaking so hard the other night he woke me up! I can hug and kiss him (and frequently do, more than is normal or acceptable) and smother him with love. I can take random chicken wing bones he picks up on our walks (I know, gross) right out of his mouth without so much as a snap from him. I know he is a sweet dog and I want everyone else to know that, too.

Oh, I love him.

Oh, I love him.

Determined

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Not that there isn’t stuff going on but nothing terribly interesting. For a week or so the weather was gorgeous so we had the dogs outside a lot for walks and playtime, the latter of which Lucy enjoys.

Strutting her stuff at the dog park.

Strutting her stuff at the dog park.

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We spent a quiet Easter at home; with our work schedules we weren’t able to make a trip back to New Jersey to see family so we had a surprisingly relaxing weekend at home.

But now for the title of this post. Isaac is of course still with us and there isn’t an adoption in his near future from what I know of the applications (or lack thereof) that have come in for him. We’re closing in on nine months with him and there are still parts of his behavior that I’m convinced have to be “fixed” or at least alleviated before he’ll be a successful adoption story.

Isaac definitely needs more obedience training; while he loves to walk, he loves to walk where he wants to walk. And if I try to guide him toward the route I want to take, it’s a no go. Obviously I’m supposed to be the one leading Isaac, not the other way around, so there’s one area on which we can improve.

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But what I’m most concerned with, honestly, is his behavior. He has never, ever been friendly toward other dogs (except Lucy, but we all know that Isaac’s version of friendly doesn’t go over well with Lucy…). From day one we picked up on that and I chalked it up to him allegedly having been attacked as a puppy.

Lately, though, he’s been hit or miss with people for no reason I can determine and I’m not going to let him continue being that way. I took Isaac to the vet today for some routine bloodwork to make sure there isn’t an underlying health concern that’s making him crankier than normal and then I’m going to try my best to enroll him in a behavior training session (or two, or three).

Hamming it up at the vet.

Hamming it up at the vet.

I’ve never met a sweeter dog when he’s inside his home. Around myself and Marty he’s a total marshmallow. He cuddles with us, lets us get close to his face, give him hugs and kisses, etc. Outside the home, though, he’s too hot and cold for my liking. I refuse to believe he can’t change so I’m going to exhaust all options. I love him to death and that’s why I’m determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on inside that head of his!

Survey of Threes

Three Things I Did Tonight:
1. Took Isaac for a walk. I hadn’t seen him practically all day!

I missed him.

I missed him.

2. Watched NCAA basketball. #marchmadness
3. Worked, unfortunately. Three game recaps to write tonight for our athletic teams.

My Three Spring Must-Haves:
1. Warmer weather (duh). I spent five hours in 31 degree temps at work today (real feel temps of 19-21 degrees. Balmy.).
2. Skirts. I love wearing skirts but really wear none in the winter. Kind of obsessed with this skirt right now:
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(source)
3. New sandals. I seem to have a need to buy a new pair each spring.

Three Foods I Eat Everyday:
1. Almonds
2. Lara bar
3. Baby carrots. Not because I like them all that much but because they’re the most convenient veggie to eat. I would much rather eat this every day:
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(source)
Three Things I Am (was) Excited for This Weekend:
1. Friday night TV (Marty gone = Say Yes to the Dress marathon)
2. Saturday morning CrossFit class. Open workout 15.5 complete!
3. Posting my final recap on Sunday night so I can truly relax.

Three Books I am Reading Right Now:
Going to cheat because I never read three books at once! I am, however, reading one book and occasionally skimming through another:
1. The Paris Winter
2. The Mental Athlete (because I am a mental midget when it comes to athletic endeavors).

Isaac’s Early Easter

One thing I love about volunteering with SNORT – they do so many special things for their fosters. One of which is gifts at holiday times and that includes Easter!

Which is a roundabout way of saying that Isaac got a package from his Secret Bunny! He got every single thing on his wish list – treats, coconut oil and, most importantly, a new Nylabone!

The most important gift...

The most important gift…

Isaac (and Lucy) will love the treats and Isaac loves his coconut oil rubs but let’s face it – the highlight of the package was his Nylabone!

Clearly I was starting to annoy him.

Clearly I was starting to annoy him.

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This has been a rough week for me (and yes, it’s only Wednesday). For the past three nights I haven’t been home before 6:30/7 and/or not able to make it home at lunch (don’t worry, Marty let the dogs out for me!). I haven’t had a car since Thursday night (in the body shop because someone hit my bumper) and I’ll be working roughly 10 hour days straight through the weekend. But it’s little things like tonight – giving the dogs new toys and treats – that get me through weeks like this!