Where on earth have we been?

I logged onto my dashboard to install some updates, and I realized that I haven’t posted since March of last year. I’ve meant to. I’ve wanted to. But the drive wasn’t there. I was more focused on everything life was handing to me (read: tossing violently at my head), and when the fog lifted, I had no words.

My dad had a bad fall in May; helping him recover took a lot of that time. Diabetic injuries are never straightforward. I had to take a break from taking classes at Fenzi to ensure he was getting the best care possible. He passed at the beginning of October. I went from parental caregiver to nothing (if you’ve been there, you know what I mean), and that caused a rift in the space-time continuum that I struggled with for awhile.

I am forever grateful for Rob (who became more than a rock… it’s more like he was Mount Everest) and for the compassion (at least I think it was compassion) I received from Blazer.

Last year, I enrolled in a class at Fenzi called Dealing with the Bogeyman. The focus of the class was helping your dog conquer his fears utilizing play (among other things). I really struggled with this class because I’ve worked with Blazer for so many years that it didn’t seem like the provided tools were going to work. A lot of the suggestions were things that I had tried with Blazer at the beginning, and because he was so stressed at the time, nothing stuck.

What the class did for both of us was magical. It didn’t help Blazer conquer any fears he had when we started the class, but it built a bond between the two of us that we never had before.

All the years of giving Blazer his space, of not touching him except to desensitize him ended up putting a wedge between us. The jealousy I felt when he greeted someone he cares for was, in part, my own fault. I didn’t realize leaving him alone discouraged him from engaging with me.

For the length of the class (and actually even now), I went into the bedroom when I came home and just sat. I didn’t say his name or encourage him. I just waited. I have to admit– this exercise was painful. For the first couple weeks, I’d get a small wiggle and a yawn, and then he’d go about his business.

A year later, I don’t even need to sit. He comes right to me, spins around, leans into me (in a “u” shape), and turns his head toward mine and gives me kisses and wiggles. We call it “huggy buggy”, and I can even say it (capturing at work!), he’ll come right over and get into position. Sometimes, I’ll get three huggy buggies in a row! He’ll walk away and run right back to me.

And if that gives you warm fuzzies reading it, imagine how I feel writing it!

He’s much more responsive when I call him. While he does still sometimes ditch before he reaches me, he’ll often come right up to me, give me a big kiss in the eye or up the nose, and then I’ll throw his favorite toy of the moment (currently it’s a toss-up between Bertle the Turtle and his brand new Rammy the 3rd) to reward him for my prize.

This is a dog who, for years, wouldn’t come if I called him. If he did, he’d reluctantly come like I was a scary aunt who was going to pinch his cheeks. He would barely wiggle if I tried to get his attention. But letting him decide whether it was worth coming to me made all the difference in the world. Now it’s Christmas every time he huggy buggies into my arms.

Again, this wasn’t exactly the point of the class, but this was such an accomplishment. You can’t fulfill the hierarchy of needs if you don’t have every piece covered. We had to work from the ground up to get things better.

And better they are!

Blazer officially switched to harness last year, and I am finally at a point where I don’t dread

Blazer hangs out with his best buddy.

the move. His decision-making with the extra freedom has grown leaps and bounds (and every so often goes backward). I will admit there have been a few cracked fingers and a lot of rope burn (we’re not perfect), but I think it’s worth it to allow him to pick up sticks and play while we walk.

Recently, out of nowhere, after a few days of being unable to tolerate bicycles at all, he suddenly became okay with bicycles again. If they’re moving slowly enough, we can even walk while they pass. In most cases, we move over and wait, but his body language is relaxed, and he’ll usually look up at me as they meander by (the ones that speed by loudly are still an issue, but baby steps!).

When joggers go by, Blazer barely even looks at them. Sometimes he’ll look at back at me, or he just keeps on going. I never thought I’d get to this point. It’s hard because I want to jump up and down and celebrate, but I don’t want to call attention to something he’s finally able to ignore.

He doesn’t even bark or lunge when someone tells him he’s a good boy! (I know that sounds weird, but trust me, it’s big.)

We continue to work on his backyard playing. His desire to sit under the azalea is still strong, but if we tell him to get out from under the bush, he’ll toss the ball to us. He almost always returns either to the bush or to us, which is an improvement. His frisbee returns (as long as we don’t push the play sessions) are fantastic now too. I think he may actually be starting to understand if he brings it back, I’ll throw it again. Maybe.

He’s been making better decisions at home. He has a lot more self-control when he it comes to animals walking up behind him or trying to take food from him. Outside of a couple bad decisions that weren’t entirely his fault (the cats almost egg him on), he has been a model citizen with the cats and Captain Awesome. Just a few days ago, Emily walked up to him while he was sleeping. She started sniffing his toes. This would have caused him to launch off the floor in an all-out war years ago. This time, he sat up, nosed her and returned his head to the floor.

About a week ago, we had an incident. After a walk, Blazer decided to throw himself on the ground and roll. We always get a kick out of him rolling (he seems to really enjoy himself), so I let him do his thing. When he jumped up and shook, his leash yanked out of my hand. When he realized he was free, he took off. Toward a woman and a toddler.

His life flashed before me. While I have worked endlessly with him and strangers, I can’t exactly train for this particular situation. He ran around them in herding fashion, barked. The woman yelled at him and threw a ball she had, and instead of trying to herd them or grab the ball, he came flying back to me.

There are a lot of things we can take from this. You can imagine I ran the scenario in my head a million times after it happened. But it’s the decision-making that I always come back to. He decided to come back. He came back. On his own.

We took the boys on our first “family vacation” last fall. This included bringing fifty-five foot leashes to have them out with us, as we rented a cottage in Maine. Being able to throw a frisbee for Blazer was a big treat for him. After the success we had while we were away, we used them all winter to play with the dogs when walking wasn’t feasible or all that much fun. Outside of an incident where the wind carried a ball much further than the leash and caused a rib injury I’m still healing from, it’s been working really well.

I’m still amazed at how well-adjusted Blazer is when we travel. He loved the place we stayed at, and as usual, he played non-stop. He struggled with the trails we hiked (Acadia National Park has gorgeous, wonderful trails, but a lot of them are very narrow), but as the week went on, he grew more comfortable with the terrain and the area.

That does appear the theme– he adjusts. This is a dog who couldn’t adjust to anything. Now, depending on the change, it can take him seconds to days to adjust. I would say it’s miraculous, but I know it’s all the hard work he and I have done.

Every day, we work. This will continue for his lifetime. But it’s incredible considering how far he’s come. How far I’ve come. How far we’ve come together.

Rob and I now joke that my “little angel” can do no wrong. But can you blame me for thinking that? Look at that face!

 

Spring Educating

The weather is uncharacteristically warm for early March. It’s wonderful because it means walks in the park without sixteen layers of clothes.

It’s difficult because it means everyone else has the same idea, and the parks are mobbed with people, especially families that aren’t dog savvy. This means lots of people not respecting space and allowing children to walk up to your dogs without permission.

We had one of these walks last weekend. The park was teeming with people. We weren’t even one hundred feet into the park when Rob bumped into a coworker with a dog and stopped to talk with him. This meant Blazer and I needed to stop too.

Captain Awesome has picked up some of Blazer’s bad habits when meeting dogs, so I was instructing Rob on how to handle Captain when he met his coworker’s dog. Blazer sat patiently (or maybe not so patiently) next to me, and I worked with him too as joggers, dogs, children and bicycles whizzed by (yes, all of them whizzed!).

Blazer waiting for the goods

Blazer waiting for the goods

Blazer was a champ through this. I set him up when I knew he’d have trouble to set him up for success. I stood in front of him if a large enthusiastic dog passed.  I cheerfully spoke to him and told him what a good boy he was as a child bounced by.

I noticed a family up ahead. They were staying put, and I wasn’t sure if they were trying to plan their next move or if we were in the way. I saw they had a dog. They looked a little perplexed, but when I’m at the park, I’m in the Blazer Zone, and I won’t compromise his training, safety, and comfort for other people, no matter how inconvenienced they become if they’re waiting for me.

Eventually, the group came a little closer and a woman said to me, “My dog isn’t friendly with other dogs, so I’m just going to pass.”

I smiled and said, “My dog is very fearful of other dogs, so I understand, and we’ll just stay back.”

She nodded and said okay, and the dog passed Blazer without any issue. (Yay for both of them!)

Then the dog passed Captain and the other dog Captain was meeting for the first time.

Someone barked, someone growled, and then the dog the woman was walking lost it.

I watched as she stooped down and rolled the dog on his side. I blinked a couple times. Could she actually be “alpha rolling” this dog?

I also noticed the dog was wearing a prong collar.

When I see these things, I often don’t comment. First of all, in most cases, the handler usually knows perfectly well what he’s doing and doesn’t want me butting in. It’s like trying to change someone’s political views. Second of all, if the person is over six feet tall and two hundred pounds and could look at me and I’d evaporate, I’m not going to risk my safety. Third, and most importantly, when I talk to other people, Blazer can’t handle heated conversations with a dog a couple feet away.

The woman eventually picked up her dog and she and her group walked away.

Another woman who was with them was watching me the whole time. She stayed back when they left. She asked me if I was a dog trainer.

I get asked this a lot. It’s not surprising as you don’t see many people with treat pouches working with their dogs in the park.

I am always conflicted as to how to answer this question. Dog training is not something that requires licensing. There are people all over the world, good and bad, that train dogs that don’t have any title next to their names. I’m not going to name names, as this is not what this post is about, but there’s a particular “trainer” out there who is very popular, and I would never in a million years institute any sort of training protocols that this “trainer” uses, and this “trainer” is not licensed.

So when I’m asked if I’m a trainer, depending on the context, I usually answer yes. I have worked with several dogs, some that aren’t my own, and I am, at the very least, a Subject Matter Expert, as they say. In most cases, the person wants advice, and I am more than happy to oblige. If it’s something I don’t feel I can comment on, I provide the person with contact information of a trainer that would be better equipped to handle the situation.

In this case, I did answer yes. She asked me, “What would you do?”

I told her that the first thing I’d do is get rid of the prong collar.

You could tell that she was very uncomfortable with using it, but she said that it’s the only way they can get the dog into the park. Beforehand, the dog couldn’t even go for walks. She said she didn’t like it, but the trainer that they worked with gave it to them, and they really felt like they didn’t have a choice.

I explained that the dog is more than likely making negative associations with every dog he sees. He sees a dog, get anxious, pulls to lunge, and then the collar hurts him. This happens every time he sees a dog, and he starts thinking “dog equals hurt”. In the long run, this is really creating more problems than fixing them.

She mentioned again that it helped them take him for walks. I defined learned helplessness and how the dog will do anything to prevent the hurt from happening. I told her that I try to provide my dog with choices– it’s so important to teach the dog there’s a good behavior, an expected behavior that gets rewarded versus teaching the dog that something bad happens every time he lunges.

I told her our story, that I couldn’t bring Blazer into the park four years ago, and look at him now. Even as I talked to this woman, a very large dog passed, as well as a child on a bicycle, and he didn’t react at all. I showed her how I rewarded him.

She pointed out, “Yeah, but it took four years for you to get to this point.”

I hear that a lot too. It really didn’t. It’s taken four years to get to where he is now, yes. But it came in stages. Adults were early on. Joggers, a year or so. We’re still working on dogs and children. Each thing takes its own amount of time, and every dog takes his own amount of time. There are dogs who are magically trained in days. It just took us longer.

She asked me what I’d recommend, and I gave her some starting points. Give the dog space. Move off as far as the dog can handle. Treat every time the dog doesn’t react. Treat every time the dog looks at her.

We talked about equipment. Harnesses, head halters, double-handled leashes. The importance of cultivating trust.

I always hope that when someone asks me for help, things change for the better. That I’m the impetus that puts them on the right track. It makes me so hopeful because most people don’t ask. There’s a very good chance that everything I said is gone now, and they’re back to the prong collar and the alpha rolls. But at least they want to try.

You should never have to resort to pain when training a dog. Never. There are millions of resources out there on positive reinforcement. Scientific resources that explain scientifically how classical and operant conditioning, counter-conditioning, and desensitization work. You may think that giving a dog treats is just spoiling her, but have you ever heard of Pavlov? There are real, and again, scientific reasons for why we do things the way we do.

If you meet with a trainer, and anything seems wrong, off-putting, makes you feel uncomfortable, leave and never look back. If the trainer suggests “balanced” or “dominance” methods, say “no thanks”. If the trainer hits or kicks your dog, run. Find a trainer that uses positive reinforcement and science-based methods. Good places to start: CCPDT and Positively/VSPDT.

You should never have to hurt a dog to teach him something.

Blazer is living proof that force-free, pain free works. No matter how long it takes.

What Winter Woes?

Life has definitely gotten in the way this year.

I won’t give you the laundry list. When people hear what my family has been through in the past year, the look of pity is so vividly strong that it may translate into bringing down the internet with the collective “Aww!” you may give me.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been running all over, trying to ensure that everyone who needs to be taken care of is. And this could be problematic when you’re working with a fearful pup. Especially during his least favorite seasons.

Blazer is now four years old. He still acts like a puppy, but there are subtle signs that he is

Blazer and his favorite indoor friend

Blazer and his favorite indoor friend, Sharkie!

getting older. I think the biggest one is he now eventually stops what he’s doing. He will lie down somewhere. Even if it’s only for five minutes. We have been engaging in a lot of play indoors recently, so he has decided that settle time isn’t quite as necessary as we think it is. But he still will eventually give up and heave a big sigh onto a bed. For five minutes.

If you’ve been following along these past couple years, you know that Blazer hates fall and winter. They drastically change everything he knows and understands, and as a result, he has banned them from the Library. That makes me hate them too.

But this time…

He didn’t hate fall as much.

Leaves falling on his bum? Yeah, that’s still the worst. But no leaves on the trees? The louder noise as a result? The different smells?

He was more okay with that.

How can I quantify this?

When we were out walking, he was still reactive. He still lunged at a few bicycles. He still yelled at a couple joggers. He still definitely did not like dogs.

But all this dislike was less so than other years. It wasn’t all bicycles. It wasn’t all joggers. Almost all dogs (nobody’s perfect). And it ran over into other places we walked, not just the park he did all his training at.

This tells me that the trigger stacking that fall provides is not as intense as it once was.

Huzzah!

But what about darkness?

Blazer doesn’t like the fall, but he really hates the winter. The snow, the time change, the darkness.

It’s understandable. Everything is bigger and scarier in the dark. I used to hate walking him on Monday nights because all the garbage bins would be out skulking, ready for attack. Or at least, that’s what Blazer thought.

Our first Monday after the time change, Blazer confirmed my worst fears. Everything was the same. Darkness is evil. He barked and lunged at everything, even things that weren’t there.

And then something bizarre happened.

Every night we walked the dogs, he got a little more comfortable. He barked less at people on the street. He reacted less to garbage bins. When cars with their bright headlights drove by, he walked onto lawns to avoid them (if you’re driving quickly, though, he will tell you to slow down). When dogs passed and barked at us, he immediately walked as far away on leash as he could reach and looked up at me.

Some Monday nights, when we’re running late, we bump into a mass of joggers on our street. They’re wearing all sorts of lighting devices to warn people of their existence. Blazer hates lights in the dark, so seeing all these jogging, levitating, sometimes pulsating lights can be traumatic. When Blazer sees this max exodus of light, his tail goes up, but no barking. No lunging.

When it first started happening, I thought it was a fluke. But then it became consistent. I’m not going to say he doesn’t bark at dogs anymore. He still does, sometimes with gusto. But I don’t believe the darkness has as much influence on this as it used to.

I haven’t had many of those teary revelations that I used to. It’s mostly been status quo. This is something we take for granted because status quo (in this case) means he’s been a pretty good boy. But I’ve been getting teary lately. I was very close to giving up on his fear of the dark, and as usual, he pulled the rug out from underneath me.

Blazer’s impulse control and confidence have grown leaps and bounds. When we’re eating on the couch and a cat tries to jump into whatever we’re eating, Blazer walks as far away from the cat as possible. He’ll hide behind Rob or me until the cat goes away.

If we’re in the same situation but Captain is sitting next to him, he ignores Captain or moves further away.

If Blazer is sleeping, and a cat stops to stare at him, his eyes open. He blinks. Then he closes them again.

He’s also become more comfortable with dogs not within his posse in our house with food present. He goes so far as to leave the room if he’s not comfortable with the situation.

This may seem like nothing, but three years ago, the conclusion would have followed a very different path.

I’ve focused so much on his reactivity over the years that I feel we haven’t been able to work with other aspects of his personality and bred skills. I ended up enrolling for a class through the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Fenzi is an online school where people can take classes on agility, nosework, canine anatomy, and canine behavior. The focus is often on dog sports (hence the name), but the uniting force through all the classes is kind focus-on-play training. You will not find one class that involves a heavy hand, and enthusiasm appears to be key in all classes.

I audited Cookie Jar Games, which was taught by Julie Daniels, who is quite famous in the agility world and also from New Hampshire (what are the odds that I would take an online class with a teacher who live hours away?). The focus of the class was to teach impulse control, but even more importantly, for your dog to wholeheartedly want to wait for his reward.

The class was very interesting and entertaining. I can’t say for sure if Blazer has generalized any of the principles of the class to our night walks. We have not yet “taken it on the road” as Julie says because of how icy it is outside right now (Rob said he’s been working with him and things are going well). But I can easily say that Blazer had too much impulse control when we started the class! Trying to teach a dog that you’ve been working with for years to stop him from following his impulses (especially unpleasant ones) to enthusiastically enjoy what comes after behaving is a lot harder than it sounds.

We will continue to work on those principles, especially when it comes to how he plays with his toys. He almost brings toys to us now when he wants to play. Almost. (There was one day he brought a toy to me and put it in my lap every time. Don’t know what happened after that, but we haven’t seen it since. Working on it!)

I’m excited to start working on new classes, and I’m hoping to fully participate in one on the Iliopsoas (groin muscle) as Blazer injured his as a puppy. I recommend checking out the Academy if you’re looking to enrich your relationship with your dog. You do not have to do dog sports to sign up, and there is affordable set pricing, depending on how much you want to participate. It’s amazing what’s on there.

If you told me five years ago that this is where my life would be now, I’d probably have laughed. But I am so grateful that we’ve come this far. My heart still bursts whenever I look at Blazer. Sometimes it cracks a little, and sometimes it burns (heartburn!). But I adore that little boy. Heartburn and all.

Happy Blazer

Happy Blazer

 

 

 

 

Blazer vs. the Vacuum Cleaner

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned Blazer is afraid of the vacuum. Not smacking-running- away-hiding-in another-room afraid. Claw-at-the-door-won’t-come-in-the-house-for-hours afraid.

We literally have claw marks on our door because whenever the vacuum was even rolled on the same floor Blazer was on, he’d race to the door and claw at it until we let him outside. Even after the vacuum was put away, he would refuse to come in the house.

It got the point where we would have to have elaborate plans to clean the house that usually involved one of us taking Blazer somewhere while the other vacuumed. We couldn’t even use a dust buster.

I tried working with him on it, but his fear was so intense that trying any sort of consistent counter conditioning or desensitization was too just difficult with the tools that I had.

We stuck with the management plan for years.

And then… every so often, Rob would leave the vacuum out, and Blazer would avoid that floor. Then it became that area of the room. Whenever he even looked in the direction of the vacuum, I’d praise him. If he walked near it, lots of praise. But it never occurred on a regular enough basis to call it training. I recognized that he was more accepting of it being in the same room, but he was always incredibly wary.

After some time, he seemed more willing to play out in the backyard if the vacuum were running inside (as long as the windows were closed). After baths, he’d hide in his crate if Rob vacuumed the bathroom floor (with the bathroom door shut). As long as Blazer didn’t have to see it move, he tolerated it.

This felt like a victory in itself. I never thought we’d get to the point where we could run the vacuum normally with him in the house.

Recently, the house really needed to be vacuumed, but the weather was volatile, and I had no place to take him because we had just visited the usual inside haunts. I suggested we put Blazer in the bedroom as if we were leaving for work– radio on, treat toys. Let’s just see.

I brought Blazer upstairs (or rather, he brought me upstairs, excited at the prospect of a treat toy), and he happily sat, waiting for his goody. Rob started the vacuum too soon, and Blazer’s eyes got wide, and he slinked down a little. I told him “okay”, and he went to the treat toy but looked back up at me. I nodded and said “okay” again and left the room.

I cursed myself for the situation because I thought the starting of the vacuum with the door open would ruin everything. I crawled onto my stomach on the floor, looking under the door for Blazer. I couldn’t see him. I kept scanning back and forth, looking for any sign of him.

And then I noticed a big nose and a tongue toward the back of the room. He was curled up on the rug, working on his treat toy.

VICTORY!

After Rob finished vacuuming, I went upstairs and opened the door. Blazer was standing at the door, wiggling a little too enthusiastically, giant pupils. I knew, and he knew, that it wasn’t a normal work day, but he was still able to finish his toy and not panic.

I honestly never thought we’d get to this point.

I’ve always been okay with how things have been. But knowing that he is more comfortable with the vacuum tells me he’s more comfortable about a lot of things. He’s strong enough to grow.

That’s all I have ever wanted.

(Well, that and a little wiggle for his mom every now and then.)

 

 

Month of May

It’s been a long time. I apologize for that. I got involved in a big project at work, and my time ceased to be my own. There were stories I could have told, feelings I could have shared, but it’s now many months later, and it’s probably not worth rehashing.

There are several things worth noting though:

– Blazer more than likely has a pork allergy. I probably touched upon this briefly, because we discovered it just before our first hotel stay with him. We were rotational feeding and moved onto an Orijen flavor that had everything he’s used to eating. Except for pork. We immediately stopped the food, but it was more than likely the longest eleven weeks of Blazer and my life. Watching him rip his fur out and scratch constantly was terrible. It was even more difficult trying to stop him from scratching when you can’t reason with a dog. Not knowing if it was the food was worse, but I had to keep the faith that nothing else had changed and stay the course. It worked.

I’ve found myself more reluctant to try new foods with him since. This was only reinforced when we tried giving the dogs rabbit Instinct Raw Bites with their regular meals, and both Captain Awesome and Blazer were sick for the rest of the day. They both recovered immediately, and all became right again with the world. But I hate seeing them sick.

Blazer sporting a bootie

Blazer sporting a bootie

– Blazer also had an infected toe, which easily describes the kind of autumn he had. Since he isn’t crazy about fall already, having to walk around with a bootie on his foot was not exactly a vacation.

He cracked a claw, and while the claw itself did not have an issue, bacteria got inside his toe and essentially obliterated the connective tissue between his claw and toe. He lost most of the claw, but he healed up pretty quickly. This was the first time I’ve ever seen him not want to do anything. He spent two weeks mostly sleeping. It alarmed me (and is what caused me to bring him to the emergency room on Halloween; I told Blazer there are easier ways to avoid children). He cracked another claw right after, but, thankfully, nothing came of it.

– We’ve added glucosamine and turmeric to his diet, and we have found he’s a lot happier dog as a result. Between the infected toe causing him to limp and old injuries haunting him from time to time, I opted to try supplementing him. Within a day, there was a dramatic difference. No more limping, and he was happier. A whole lot less whale eye. He and Captain get along a lot better (he avoided Captain like the plague while he was recovering, and for that, we were all grateful).

– Winter was a lot easier this year. It was milder in December, which made winter an extended fall. Blazer had an easier time walking as a result. He also was less reactive at night as long as all four of us walked together. Safety in numbers.

We all thought we’d be safe from winter after that December, and then bam, we got hit with foot after foot of snow in such a small time frame. This made it practically impossible to walk the dogs anywhere. Once the snow stopped, it got incredibly cold. We’d make it maybe twenty feet from the house, and Captain would lift his paws, unable to walk.

This meant that we spent most of the winter playing in the backyard. Captain had a blast, as he loves to play in the snow. Blazer had a blast, as all he wants is his frisbee. We found it a lot easier giving Blazer what he wanted than forcing him to work while setting him up for failure. We found other ways to work his brain by going to PetSmart and Home Depot. I did some obedience work with him, and we found a new game he absolutely loves playing– running up and down the stairs with a toy.

I still had the fear I have every winter. Will he remember how to behave once spring arrives? On the first very warm day this year (it just happened to be close to eighty degrees), we took the boys for a walk. It was wall to wall people. You couldn’t even walk more than a few feet without walking by someone. Captain didn’t make it three hundred feet into the park, and Rob had to turn around and go home. But Blazer was so good that I had to question if he was in meltdown mode. He ignored bicycles, ignored joggers, ignored dogs. But he did react to a couple of barking beagles, so I knew he was still with us.

– I can confirm that Blazer does love me. At least sometimes. With all the work I was doing, I wasn’t home very much. When I did come home, I got the greeting he gives to only those he absolutely adores. It was the only benefit to being gone so much, and it kept me going (that and Rob covering the home front).

– We may not have worked Blazer very hard this winter with his behavior, but I know he’s progressing. The day he was sick from the rabbit, he threw up all over our bedroom rug, and it needed to be hosed down. We put a bath mat in the bedroom so that Captain would be able to jump on the bed (hardwood floors scare him).

One evening, Blazer was on the bed already, and Captain wanted to be in the bedroom but only felt he could jump on the bed because of the bath mat. He jumped on the bed. This is an offense punishable by death to Blazer (he tends to resource guard it when I’m on it, and we are working on that. I was in the hallway this time), but Blazer went to the exact opposite side of the bed, giving Captain whale eye the whole time. Blazer still didn’t feel comfortable about it, and since Captain wouldn’t get off the bed, he burrowed under Rob’s pillows to avoid Captain.

This is the biggest victory we’ve had with him in ages!

Lots and lots of praise for Blazer.

We are moving toward four years with him, and I really do feel blessed having him, even with all the mud, the fresh face, the bratty behavior, the tough behavior. I think for all the gray hair he’s given me, he’s added at least a few days onto my life with all the zen I have to be/practice/embrace when he’s around.

And he’s not so hard on the eyes.Dirty Boy.

Ahem.

Sleepy BoyThat’s better.

 

 

 

 

ButtButt in Provincetown

After Blazer’s blazing success in Bangor, we thought it might be possible to move onto more difficult travel territory.

We started visiting Provincetown for the CASAS Pet Appreciation Weekend several years ago. It’s a fundraising weekend for the shelter with several fun activities to participate in. It’s a nice way to meet other pet people and animals. We’ve only brought Captain Awesome, since Tannis didn’t really care for other dogs and once Blazer came into our lives, he was too reactive.

This year, we decided we’d visit Provincetown before Pet Appreciation Weekend. It would give us the opportunity to go while the city was still active, but there would be a lot fewer dogs. We’d book one night, and if Blazer did well, and there was availability, we’d stay an extra night.

We stay at The Provincetown Hotel at Gabriel’s, which is a beautiful, unique, fabulous place that’s within walking distance of pretty much everything (except the more beachy beaches… please be aware that Provincetown maps are not to scale. We made the mistake once of thinking they were and had a very long walk in the dark). They don’t just welcome dogs, they embrace them. We haven’t stayed anywhere else.

My concern about Gabriel’s was the number of dogs and their close proximity there. I wasn’t sure if Blazer was going to be able to handle the noise and the sights (please note that when I say “noise and sights”, I’m not saying that you’re hearing a constant cacophony of sound… this is Blazer we’re talking about. He used to hide when my stomach growled; this is just a different environment for Blazer and anything new is at risk for being scary).

Blazer watching over his kingdom in the Montgomery

Blazer watching over his kingdom in the Montgomery

We stayed in the Montgomery, which is a two-floor apartment with a loft. Captain was not crazy about the stairs up to the loft, but Blazer… he thought it was Christmas.

He’d run up and down the stairs, mostly up, and he’d lie on the bed or sit at the top of the stairs to watch everything below.

 

I’ve never seen him so entertained with space before. I think he liked the idea of being “alone” but being able to keep an eye on us at the same time.

Blazer at the top of the stairs in the Montgomery

Blazer at the top of the stairs in the Montgomery

The room was only part of the equation, and once we got settled (which required at least five or six trips from the car to the room and putting together his crate), we moved onto the next phase — walking on Commercial Street.

Provincetown can be a fearful dog’s nightmare. There’s a lot of activity. A lot of different people, personalities, wheeled vehicles. It’s an extremely popular travel destination and very pet friendly. Dogs are welcome almost everywhere, including stores and restaurants (there are a lot of outdoor patios). For someone who is used to everything being “just so”, Provincetown can be overwhelming.

Imagine my surprise when Blazer (yet again) was more comfortable walking on the street than Captain was! Blazer was nervous, and he pulled through the streets to get to the next destination, but he managed in a way that showed he was less fearful and more excited. He wanted to go into every store, and he even wanted to say hello to just about every person he encountered.

Trying to explain to people that this wiggly dog is very fearful was pointless. I don’t think anyone believed me.

Blazer still had trouble with dogs, though he was reactive only with the Retriever-sized. He ignored smaller dogs, which was great. Since people still think Blazer is a puppy, if he barked and lunged at another dog (usually across the street), people would laugh (I wasn’t laughing). But he, for the most part, calmed down quickly and moved on.

Blazer on extreme alert at the beach.

Blazer on extreme alert at the beach.

I wish I could say the same for the beach. Blazer has visited a beach in Gloucester twice. He wasn’t keen on it. I figured he’d have the same reaction this time, but I didn’t think it would be so volatile.

We drove to Race Point Beach, and we walked down to the water. He hates waves. He doesn’t like how they run at him. He barks and lunges at them, and then he tries to run away.

He hates seaweed. While he was brave enough to pick up some once, he runs away every time he sees it.

He hates bobbing heads. There was a woman swimming (sixty-one degrees! Crazy!) in the ocean, and all Blazer saw was her head. He didn’t like that.

We barely walked an eighth of a mile, and his tail was so firmly in between his legs it wasn’t even visible. We walked up to the road and headed back to the car on firm ground.

(For the curious: Captain Awesome loves the beach and wants to spend every waking moment chasing rocks. It was sad having to take him away from his dream so quickly.)

We went back to the room for awhile to let Blazer and Captain rest. Blazer just wanted to hang out in his penthouse suite.

Enjoying the View

Enjoying the View

We needed to get dinner, but were loathe to try and eat at a restaurant. Surely Blazer couldn’t handle sitting quietly for an hour.

One of the outdoor restaurant patios is in a more enclosed area with fewer tables (some patios have tables so closely squished together that there was no chance of keeping Blazer calm). We opted to go there. We explained that we’d try to eat there, but if things didn’t go well, we’d take our food to go.

Two big bowls of water were immediately brought for the boys. Captain was very eager to see everything (read: food), but Blazer had a different response.

Blazer resting while we ate at a restaurant.

Blazer resting while we ate at a restaurant.

You’d think by now that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything Blazer does, but on the contrary, everything still surprises me.

He picked a corner spot next to me and crashed. He was interested while we ate, but he just stayed put and watched and waited for any goodies that might drop.

No other patrons came to the outdoor patio while we were there, so we ate in comfortable solitude and almost didn’t stress about anything.

Blazer had a great night, with the exception of our attempt to open a window; that didn’t last long. Too many different noises outside, so the windows remained shut.

In the morning, Rob took Captain Awesome to the beach near our hotel. This beach doesn’t have active waves, and there are off-leash hours first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I wanted to make sure Captain got some quality rock time, so I stayed back. I finished getting ready, and Blazer and I went to meet them.

Playing at the beach.

Playing at the beach.

I was curious (and terrified) about letting Blazer off. Everything inside me told me not to do it, but I did want to give him a chance. So I brought an insurance plan. Frisbee. Two, actually. One for him to play with and one to lure him back.

 

 

Happy boy

Happy boy

While he was nervous at first, Blazer saw nothing but frisbee and played happily. After ten (!) minutes of running around in the sand, he was panting so heavily, we decided to pack up shop and head back to the room. He was a very, very happy boy.

After we returned to the room, it was time to pack up the car (the room unfortunately was booked by someone else the day before, so we were unable to stay the extra night).

Provincetown has very little parking, and when you stay, you generally have to park your car in a nearby lot. Rob went to get the car while I finished packing up our things.

 

After a frisbee session at the beach

After a frisbee session at the beach

Blazer found this to be the perfect opportunity to take a much-needed nap.

After fifteen minutes, he was ready to go all over again!

After our five or six trips to the car, we loaded the boys in, and we were on our way.

 

Since the trip went so well, we decided to go again the following week (very good discounted rates!).

This time, we stayed in the Collette. This was a bottom floor room. No loft for Blazer to watch his people, but he still seemed to approve.

Snacking and smiling

Snacking and smiling

He really liked the couch and would sit on the top of it and watch us watch television.

Blazer in a Different Kingdom

Blazer in a Different Kingdom

Blazer did have issues with this room. The outdoor staircase that led to the room we stayed in previously was right outside our door. He’d see shadows through the blinds and hear people talking and walking up the stairs.

We ended up having to hang a towel over the door to cover the blinds, and we turned the air conditioner on full blast to hide outdoor noises. This helped, but he still had a few reactive moments, especially when he heard a dog barking.

The weather was not on our side this trip, and it rained the entire time. After walking Commercial Street for a couple hours in the rain, we opted to grab takeout from a nearby restaurant. After dinner, we brought the boys back to the beach (the walkable one), and Captain got to chase some rocks. Since it was evening and people were out, we kept Blazer on leash.

Between the rain, night, and some dogs we ran into, Blazer was not thrilled with being out, so we went back to the room shortly after and just watched television until we fell asleep.

Since he loved the couch so much, we left Blazer’s crate door open through the night, and he opted to switch back and forth.

The next morning, we went to the beach, and both boys had a blast. Blazer decided he liked the local beach and especially loved that frisbee was included. We played until leash hours ended, and we walked back to the room to rest a bit before packing up again.

The thing that impresses me the most about Blazer traveling is how much he seems to like it. He wants to check things out, he wants to meet people. You can tell that there is nervousness there, but he still is interested. Over the course of both trips, Blazer must have had at least ten to fifteen people touch him. In almost all cases, he engaged people first. He usually decided after being touched that that was enough, and he’d walk away, but people were okay with that and let him be.

Every successful trip reinforces positive experience. With every successful trip, it’ll be easier for him to travel. It’ll never be perfect, but I believe the limitations that he set, that we set for him are now being lifted.

It can only get better and better.

Beachy boy

Beachy boy

 

 

 

The Middle of the Night Routine

Waking up to Blazer crying in his crate in the middle of the night puts me into panic mode.

I immediately run through the contents of the previous day’s menu, wondering what could have caused an unfortunate case of gastroenteritis.

Then I sit and wait. If he whimpers for more than five minutes, I know he needs to go out.

He used to cry, and I’d take him out at one in the morning only to discover he wanted to play frisbee. Then when I finally got him back in the house, he just wanted to play.

Irritating.

But within the past year, something amazing happened.

When I open his crate, he runs downstairs to the door.

I let him out, he does what he needs to do and runs right back to the door.

He comes inside, takes a drink of water, hops on the couch and goes to sleep.

When I’m ready to go back upstairs (I am a wanderer and tend to like a frozen treat before I go back to bed), he follows me up and runs right back into his crate.

I close his crate door, and it’s back to bed for all of us.

This is a boy whose life is, very much like a human autistic boy, steeped in routine. If his routine is broken, he has a hard time accepting it.

Little did I realize that he would take our own routines and follow them so well.

I’ve found myself grinning from ear to ear when I climb back into bed. I have one of those “That’s my boy” moments; I have trouble sleeping because I’m too busy being proud.


 

It’s Blazer’s third birthday today.

My, have you grown. And yet, you’re still so much a puppy.

I love you dearly and apologize in advance for all the ucky mumma germs you’re going to have to deal with today.

Happy birthday, ButtButt!

Blazer starts to like the beach

Blazer starts to like the beach

 

 

Blazer the Rock

We had the unfortunate luck of experiencing a tornado warning this past weekend.

I’ve only heard of a confirmed microburst about a mile from us, but the storm itself was brutal anyway. We had a tree uprooted in our backyard (currently attached to another tree so it doesn’t fall on our house). We found several baby snapping turtles in our driveway, more than likely displaced by flood waters. (Don’t you love how I tell you the end of the story first?)

When you have eight furry pets, you have to make a firm decision quickly as to whether or not to heed a warning. I believe this was the third warning we’ve had since we moved into our house seven years ago, and this is the first one where we moved all eight into the basement. The weather outside our house indicated that something bad was going to happen, and trying to wrangle cats can be time-consuming.

At the point where we had two more cats to catch, I wondered if I should grab one and then get the other one on a second trip. Looking out the window and seeing all trees furiously blowing sideways indicated I should get them both downstairs as soon as possible.

We left Captain and Blazer last because Captain won’t go down the stairs and Blazer will just follow us everywhere. I leashed Blazer and easily guided him down the stairs. He thought it was exciting to clean up remnants of cat food on the floor and check out the litter boxes.

Captain, however, had no interest in going downstairs. Rob had to carry him down, and this terrified Captain so much that he peed everywhere. All over the stairs, the walls, the banister, Rob….

All the while, Blazer’s looking for more snacks.

I had to run upstairs to get Rob new clothes, and while I was up there, the lightning and thunder were instantaneous. During one crash, the entire house lit up as if a bomb went off. We lost power (we were lucky; our neighbors lost their television as a result).

This went on for at least another thirty to forty minutes.

Once we were settled in the basement, Captain paced and panted the entire time. We actually thought he peed again at one point because the basement floor was wet (unfortunately, it was water pouring in through the walls due to torrential rain). He was not happy. We brought treats with us and tried to work with him through the storm, but he wasn’t interested.

Blazer?

What was the dog who is afraid of laughter and gunshots do?

He slept.

Yes, my friends, Blazer laid down and slept through most of the storm. In the basement, a place he rarely ever visits, with all the cats whining and scratching and Captain pacing and panting, he saw fit to take a nap.

I want to say that it’s all the frisbee we played before the storm. But we went without power for almost eight hours, and we couldn’t do anything because it stormed for most of the evening. When we came upstairs, all we did was sit and wait, and Blazer still opted to sleep.

Blazer hates complete silence, so we always have the television or a radio on. We had nothing for eight hours. He could hear people outside, he could hear dogs up the street. He could hear all these little things that he can’t when we have ongoing noise in the house.

He didn’t make a peep.

I’m sure that the storm (and Rob and my activity during) was mental stimulation for him. But Blazer-from-two-years-ago would have barked through the entire event. He was calm. Even when I was a bit of a mess (I’m terrified of thunderstorms and will leave the room so my bad juju doesn’t rub off on Blazer), he was amazing.

I think I’ve stared at the screen for at least ten minutes now, just taking that in. I’m speechless. This was a dog who, if your stomach growled, he hid in the bedroom for two hours afterward. If someone tried to say hi to him, he barked for twenty minutes straight. Now he’s sleeping through possible tornadoes.

Blazer the Well-Adjusted?

Blazer the Well-Adjusted?

He’s had a rough summer with at least nine wasp stings (as of publication) and a possible food allergy. He still hasn’t figured out that dogs don’t [always] mean catastrophe. He could do without children.

I often tell Blazer he’s a rock star.

Now, I’m convinced he’s a superhero.

 

Blazer the Bostonian

I am obsessed with Georgetown Cupcakes.

Wasn’t expecting that introduction, huh?

If you know me, this is already a well-known fact. I absolutely love the place. The closest storefront is on Newbury Street in Boston. They offer special monthly flavors, and I am particularly smitten with August’s flavors (banana split and blueberry cheesecake, if you were wondering!).

We tend to drive down to Boston, pick up the cupcakes and race back home to take the dogs out. I wanted to try and find a way to incorporate the two this time. I thought a visit to the Arnold Arboretum would be ideal.

The Arnold Arboretum is basically an active “tree museum”. That’s really downplaying it, and I’m sure any botanist would smack me if he or she heard me say this. But Harvard uses the land to study plant life. There are trees from all over the world there, including an amazing bonsai exhibit (some of these trees are almost three hundred years old!). Visitors can view all the trees or just have a lovely walk in the park. Some trails are paved, others are gravel, others are just grass.

Given that Blazer was a rock star already on our trip to Bangor just the day before, I figured let’s try it out. This could have easily blown up in my face as he may have exhausted his good boy tank, but I was hopeful.

When we arrived at the arboretum (after I had already managed to devour a blueberry cheesecake cupcake), we encountered a crisis.

No leashes.

I was furious. This isn’t one of those trips where you can run home and come right back. We usually carry a spare leash, and even that wasn’t in the car. We were done.

Rob told me to wait. He could take a bungee cord and wrap it around Captain’s collar. He remembered Captain’s leash after all, and Blazer could use that.

But no Gentle Leader.

How on earth was I supposed to walk him through a place he’s never been without it?

Thankfully, I’m incredibly thoughtful and plan for everything, and while Rob was hooking Captain up, I found an old Gentle Leader in my backpack. Captain’s leash is a normal Lupine and not double-handled, but I could work with it.

Crisis averted (thank you to Rob for not letting me get back in the car)!

I’m always nervous about bringing Blazer to heavily populated areas. He’s so reactive, and I don’t want to spend the whole time trying to correct or calm him. But walks in the woods have been very difficult lately (he’s been stung by wasps at least eight times alone this season, and he drags behind me most of the time on walks [Rob calls it “having to eat his vegetables” to get his dessert — frisbee]). It’s almost painful to go hiking now. I was hoping this might be different.

Not that we have the option readily available to us close by, but we really have been missing out on taking him on walks in city parks! Blazer was, yet again, fantastic.

He was reactive twice. Both times were completely warranted.

The first was when we entered the park. A couple had a Golden Retriever on a retractable leash and allowed the dog to run directly up to us, leaving no personal space. I let Blazer say his piece, and I told him, “Enough,” and he stopped. When Blazer lunged at the dog, the woman laughed and said her dog “needed to learn” anyway (I really hate hearing this), and the man with her yelled to get away from us. We then watched as he yelled at the dog for being a dog (the good ol’ “You know better! Don’t do that again!” even when no one told her what was expected of her). You shouldn’t punish a dog for not having any direction. She was just doing what she wanted to because she was allowed to.

While I don’t want Blazer to be reactive at all, that was acceptable. I would get upset too if a stranger got in my face.

The second time was with an off-leash dachshund. His person kept telling the dog to come over to us and say hi. We were sitting on a bench, giving the dogs water. The dog ran half-way toward us and started barking frantically. Blazer barked right back, and the dog returned to his person. The man kept telling the dog over and over to go say hi to Blazer and Captain, but the dog kept his distance.

In other words, this was the first dog who took context clues, understood that he wasn’t welcome, and stayed back. And yet, his person kept telling him to ignore all that. I’m thrilled the dog didn’t listen.

I could have said something, but what’s the point? People don’t like being told in any fashion that they’re wrong or that they may not know something. I just kept focusing on Blazer and what he needed to be doing.

One of these days, though…

The rest of the walk, Blazer was an angel. He was also, more importantly, comfortable. I have not seen his posture on a walk (outside of the park by our house) so relaxed. This was an environment he could handle. He didn’t drag at all, and he seemed very interested in the trees and the grass.

The arboretum was full of dogs, families, and bicycles, and he handled all of them coolly, like he has been okay with them his whole life. There was a little girl who tried to chase Blazer to pet him (her legs were still too tiny; she moved like lava), and he just ignored her.

Blazer is teaching me things this summer.

I’m going to have to rethink the places we visit. Maybe I’ve been going about it all wrong. Maybe we need to stick to densely populated areas (less wasp-y! I wouldn’t want to go somewhere and get stung repeatedly either), rather than sparse, quiet trails.

I know that this wasn’t always the case. I know that two years ago, none of these factors would have come into play because he was reactive around everyone and everything. But he really is beginning to generalize with trails and people now, and this is making walking so much easier for him (and me!).

I know I haven’t written much this year, but I could probably re-post all of last year; I haven’t had anything new to report. There’s a reason for that. We were getting to this point, this precipice (Blazer wouldn’t like that… he hates climbing… let’s say “getting to this frisbee”).

I feel like we may be out of the woods now (Trees!), or more appropriately, we’re moving onto another part of our journey together.

Just in time to shake it all up with fall and winter again.

(What, did you think we’d get a break?)

Being Good Boys in Public!

Being Good Boys in Public!

 

Have Blazer, Will Travel

It’s very difficult to be spontaneous when you have pets. It’s possible to leave cats for days at a time (not ours, but we have Bengals) and not bat an eyelash. But when you have a dog, especially a sensitive dog, you can’t just up and leave.

Or maybe you can.

Rob and I went to a concert last week. We had such a good time that I wanted to see the band again. They were playing in Bangor, Maine the following night, and I managed to find two tickets for the price of one on Craigslist (thanks, Zoe!), as well as a pet friendly room at the Holiday Inn (thanks, bringfido.com!) in Bangor, only six minutes from the venue.

Could we really just pack up and make a four hour drive to Maine on a whim?

With Blazer?

I was terrified, but I was more worried about how I’d feel if we didn’t try, and within a few minutes, I had the tickets printed and the hotel booked.

An hour later, we were on the road.

I was trembling as we pulled out of our driveway. My head felt like it was going to explode. This was the experiment I’ve been wanting to do for years now, but we’ve been too scared to try.

I knew I needed to get all the nerves out in the car on the way because once we got there, I needed to be the Zen Mumma Blazer knows me to be.

It wasn’t easy.

I had under four hours to contemplate every horrible thing that could go wrong. I was mostly worried about the dogs barking in the room when we weren’t there. The Holiday Inn, like most hotels, has a “no pets unattended” policy. This particular Holiday Inn required a signature to an agreement that if you did leave the room and a complaint was received, you would be called and needed to return to the room. That is completely acceptable, and I would expect that (hence why we booked a hotel so close to the venue).

But what if Blazer was a mess even when we were there?

What if he couldn’t sleep?

What if we got thrown out of the hotel?

What if he couldn’t handle it?

As it turns out, Blazer handled the entire trip in stride. The only time he was reactive at the hotel was when Captain barked or oof’ed. Go figure.

When I walked him in the hallways, he wiggled and smiled at passersby. There was another dog staying at the hotel, and he barked a little at the dog outside, but ignored the dog inside.

He even got excited and pulled to the door whenever we left and returned to the hotel, as if he recognized it as home.

There was a wonderful park about ten minutes from the hotel. It boasted nine miles of trails, and it did not disappoint. Once we checked in to the hotel, we took the boys out for a nice walk there. There were lots of families, bikes, dogs, and children. Blazer wasn’t thrilled with some of the clientele, but he behaved like we were at the park near our house; he was fantastic.

Before we left, we crated Blazer with his dinner and some treat toys, and we left Captain free in the room with his dinner spread around the bed on a blanket. We had the fan/air conditioner on high as well as the television on for noise, and off we went.

I was a little nutty the rest of the night (though I promise I had a good time despite this). I had us both check our phones in between almost every song. Captain had barked at some noise in the hallway, which sent Blazer into a tailspin, right before we left. That seemed foreboding.

The hotel never called.

When we returned, Captain was at the door, but Blazer was asleep when I opened his crate. We took them for a walk around the hotel, inside and out, and Blazer was, again, as non-reactive as can be. He ears indicated that he was a bit nervous in the parking lot, but he’s never liked walking at night, so that’s normal. He even walked through the lobby, said hi to the man at the front desk.

Blazer at the Holiday Inn in Bangor

Blazer at the Holiday Inn in Bangor

When we got back to the room, he jumped on the bed we weren’t using and declared it his own.

He loved having his own space. I suggested letting him sleep there, but Rob pointed out if he woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t know where he was, he might get upset. Good point. So we put him to bed, and that was that.

Captain was up all night pacing, while Blazer didn’t make a peep.

Blazer was excited when we let him out, and he had fun eating his breakfast.

We packed everything back up, checked out, and we drove back to the park and took another great walk.

Then we were homeward bound.

We stopped at a service station on the way home. There was a man walking his lab in the parking lot. Blazer made a little fuss, but he stopped as soon as I said, “Enough.” He walked and sniffed and even made out with another man who wanted to meet him. Repeatedly.

Captain freaked out at a carved sign at the station and then proceeded to bark and growl until I put him back in the car.

Even as I write this, I shake my head at the complete role reversal between the boys. Captain used to be the world traveler but has gotten a lot more nervous over the years.

And Blazer… well, he was the perfect companion.

I think Rob and I might have a little to do with that. We have been told by certain people we’ve met over the years that we didn’t socialize Blazer enough. Anyone who knows us knows we socialized Blazer into the ground. We brought him everywhere (except a hotel) and introduced him to every possible situation we could. He just isn’t built like everyone else.

But really, are any of us equipped to handle everything? I hate sleeping in any bed but my own. Rob likes only certain pillows. I hate road trips. Rob likes vegetables (we can’t all be perfect).

Whether it’s having us in the equation or if he just is a lot more comfortable in his own skin, Blazer was okay. More than okay. I think he may have actually liked some of it.

Especially having his own bed.

I can’t wait to bring him on another adventure.