Back to the New Normal

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Well, I decided to have Jedi neutered.  I made this decision, because I have researched nature vs. nurture.  Even though, these issues may have been caused by nurture, they can start to bleed into the DNA and be passed down to Jedi’s pups.  I knew this would be hard on all of us; I did not take this decision lightly.  I scheduled the appointment 2 months out, so I could think about it.

My biggest concern was how hard it would be on Jedi physically; he cannot leave things alone.  He is always overly concerned with his and everyone else’s injuries.  He over thinks everything.

Oh lord, true to form! I had to return the first cone, because it wasn’t long enough.  I proceeded to get the longest cone available…once he figured out he could simply push it out of the way with his knee, the battle was over.  It was suggested I try tying shirts and towels around his neck.  With the cone on, I tied one towel and two shirts around his neck…that didn’t stop him either.

He found a way.  He always finds a way.  I so admire his tenacity.  There was a point where for about 4 hours, I had to lie next to him and gently hold him around his neck to stop him from licking.  Did I mention he removed his own stitches on day 2-post surgery; he didn’t like ‘em you know.

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Yes, he could still lick!

After all of that, about 2.5 weeks after the surgery, I found a huge lump on his neck. I was devastated.  I took him into the vet.  The vet said he could see mast cells.  He said it was either a huge allergic reaction or a fast growing tumor. We put him on prednisone for 5 days to see if that would shrink it.  It won’t shrink if it is a tumor.  If it didn’t shrink, the vet wanted him back in 6 days to have it removed.

It was difficult, but I saw no reason at this point for me to think anything other than it was a reaction to a bug bite.  I just went with that, after all no one said it was a tumor…yet.  I hardly told anyone about it.  I didn’t want to talk about it, it was too upsetting and we really didn’t know.  I kept this thought out of my head.  Jedi’s sister from the first crossing, died of lymphoma at a youngish age.  Also, I couldn’t look into Jedi’s eyes if I thought anything else.

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I waited 3 days before I felt it again.  It was way smaller.  YES!  I had my husband feel it and he said it was no different.  NO!  I began to think I was unconsciously making it up that it shrunk, to protect myself somehow.  When I called the vet on Friday to say I thought it shrunk, but my husband said it was the same.  He said, well, don’t argue with him.  LOL!! He said it was probably a losing battle.  Just find a way for him to measure it and call me back on Monday.  I love my vet, he is awesome!

Monday rolled around and my husband said he could barely feel Jedi’s lump.  It had shrunk!  Whew, because I was about to voluntarily check into the funny farm.

I have an appointment scheduled in August with a vet behaviorist. In the meantime, I have now given him about a month to adjust to his new hormones.  I am going to start taking him to the park again.  Pick up where we left off.

Where did we leave off?  One of our biggest issues is the one that ironically gave Jedi his full name.  That is “Unstoppable Force”.  He always had trouble with me pushing him backwards.  It took me 4 months to train a backup in heel position.

Why did it take that long?  Because, whatever I tried caused a reaction.  He went into herding mode.  His drive would spike through the roof.  I didn’t push him on it.  I worked the position so subtly; he didn’t know he even did it.  Now, whenever we heel backwards, he puts the side of his face on my leg.  Yes, that is from his herding drive.  It’s our compromise.  He moves backwards, but I am allowing him to express his drive with that behavior.  It’s an acceptable behavior that we can agree on.

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I don’t feel good enough to go outside yet.

I think I mentioned in previous posts, the way I help students correct pushy behaviors, is to push your dog backwards until they reconnect with you. It works so well. There is no collar popping, no anger and no physical pain. Just body talk. Your dog understands body talk. I need this behavior from Jedi. We need to work it below threshold, to get the routine down. I truly believe this will help us progress, when things get stressful.

There is a huge baseball park near us.  We can be so far away from everything.  I am going to work at getting him to back up for me, when I move into his space.  I will ssllllllooooooowwwwwwwwwwwlllllyyyyyyyyyy, up the ante.  I will add in small distractions, we will move just a bit closer to things.  Before he shows signs of excitement, I will push him backwards.  I have to make it a game for him.  The key to training, make it fun for you both!  Get your dog to work for you.  Everybody wins!

I find with this very specific training, a clicker works best.  He knows clicker training; it is a very good communication tool.  I am not inadvertently confusing him with my body or voice.  It will clarify for him the exact moment he gives the desire behavior.  This may take 3 or 4 months, it might take a year.  I don’t care.  I don’t care if we ever completely work him through this.  The important thing here is for us to have the best relationship possible.  I am not willing to sacrifice that.  It is truly why I have dogs.

I can also so clearly see, how I can contribute to his reactions. I have stopped frantically moving us away from everything concerning to him. At first, everyone said do not let him practice that reaction!  He learned his reaction got us out of there.

I have learned to breath deep. I keep all of my tingly freaked out emotions at bay.  I know what I need to do and won’t second-guess myself. I have practiced the best ways to handle him when he reacts and feel confident in my decisions.  No right or wrong, just the trial and error.  We go with what works for us.

I glance at what he is reacting too, to be sure it is safe.  Then I gently call him to stay with me, purposefully, mindfully careful, not to contribute to his emotional state.  I never look at the offending object again.  For a herding dog, where you are pointing your body matters greatly.  If you are herding, you can use your body to direct your dog.  Same with agility, it is all about where your body is pointing.  I don’t want to continue to point my body at the object, as if that is what he should be concerned about.  Nope, I want him to be concerned with what cool fun thing WE are going to do together next!

Many times, he wants to watch what is concerning him, so he sits.  I did give him this alternative behavior when it all started. I would have him sit whenever he started to show signs of concern.  I love that he is giving me this signal, before he goes over threshold.  I understand his threshold better now. I want him to see nothing bad is going to happen.  He is safe.  I watch him closely.  If he looks at something and he snaps his head to me, eyes meeting mine.  He gets a reward, whether I catch why he is doing it or not.  I know he needs me to assure him; there is nothing to worry about.  I want to foster that behavior of him looking to me.

I have also stopped reacting to the perceived offenses that I believed were happening around me.  For example, if you let your dog loose leash try to approach us, I don’t see it as something to get upset about.  I simply see it as a challenge for us.  Can we hold it together and make it through.  I changed my attitude.  We remain in our own zen.

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If we are going to have a trusting, healthy relationship, I must let him make some decisions for himself, ones that I deem safe of course.  If I do not, it is a dictatorship not a partnership.  He will always fight me; he will always see a war.  I must be firm, not angry, not hostile, not forceful, not a dictatorship.  I must be calm or he won’t believe it is ok.  I must know I can handle whatever comes our way.  I have asked him to have confidence, but I must bring that for us first.  Dogs that are this sensitive demand these things of us.

I am searching for nose work classes.  I am finding the beginner classes have a waiting list for new students.  This is fine, because he isn’t ready quite yet.  Nose work is done one team at a time.  We should never see another team. We desperately need to work together outside of our safe little home.  I know this will help him with his confidence and help move us forward. Especially now that home is a place with nothing to react to.

I finished up an eight-week rally class yesterday.  Afterwards, one of my students thanked me for helping her learn to trust her dog.  She started to tear up, it was such a genuine moment.  That is why I teach.  You cannot describe it.  My dogs are the reason I have this knowledge to share, I would not be the person I am today without them.  I would never have come so far on this journey, surpassing some of my life goals that I never imagined I could overcome.  It sounds silly, they are just dogs right.

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So, I am going to trust the universe.   I will release my death grip on this issue, I am holding on too tight.  All expectations for us have fallen to the wayside.  I am going to trust that whatever it is we need, we will find it.  We will find it, because we aren’t giving up.  We will find it, because we believe it.  We will find it, because no matter how dark it appears, we know we have to walk toward our fears, to pass them by.

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