The Neighborhood Watch

Our neighborhood watch was decommissioned last weekend.  I don’t think he was too happy about it but we went from this (thank you Miss Kari for your help):

To peace and quiet in less than 4 hours.

You know when you have a mile long to-do list and things just keep getting put off and put off until something finally lights that fire under you?  That’s what happened with “put up window film” on our to-do list.  We’ve had the window film sitting in our storage closet for at least 6 months but every time I looked at it, I would say, “maybe next weekend.”  That’s until Miss Peg lit that fire…

I had posted this picture on Facebook with the caption:

Scanning the neighborhood for those evil four-legged beasts.

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Well, Miss Peg commented and referred us to a blog about a woman who also has a reactive dog and fixed a lot of the problem by putting up window film.  That was all the fire I needed-it was time to tackle the window film project!

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.  The hardest part was cutting the film, which wanted to roll back into itself.  With the help of Steve, we had the project done in about 4 hours and that included a trip to Home Depot to grab another roll of window film.

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We haven’t had a single episode of barking, snotting all over the windows, and scratching the wood window sills for a whole week!  I’m just kicking myself we didn’t do this sooner!

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The Last Stand

This is it.  This is our last attempt at winning the fence wars that Pongo has been waging with the dogs in the back corner of our yard.  We’ve tried landscaping fabric.  We’ve tried plastic snow fencing.  He’s careened through both of these, tearing a Pongo-sized hole in the middle of each structure to get at the fence.  Nothing stops this little solider.

Until…

My Dad, Steve and I put our heads together and came up with a plan.  A plan that just might work once and for all.  I’m not expecting miracles.  I know he will probably not give up the thrill of running mach 2 at the fence but I am hoping he will realize it’s not as fun anymore, and focus back on what he was suppose to be doing: going potty, bringing the frisbee, etc.

While Pongo wasn’t much help, we may have created something that is going to bring Operation Squelch to a successful close.

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Winding Down and Gearing Up

If you listen closely enough, you may be able to hear the wails of a grieving school counselor.  Summer is coming to a close.  I can’t complain though because we were blessed with a summer like there’s been no other: sun and temperatures in the 70s, sometimes 80s.  And not just one or two days but day, after day, after day.  It was spectacular!

Besides celebrating an amazing summer, Steve and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary at the beginning of August.  To ring in our ten year anniversary, we thought it would be fun to pack up the camper, along with Pongo and hit the road for a 750 mile trip to Haines, Alaska and the Southeast State Fair.

We took our time getting to Haines, which is something very different for us because driving the Al-Can for us always seems to be a hurried death march with deadlines to meet.  Taking our time meant we could stop and explore places we had never explored, like Dezadeash Lake in the Yukon Territory.

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Pongo was more than happy to get out, stretch his legs and cool off with a swim in the lake.

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After a two and a half day journey, we finally made it to Haines, a.k.a Dog City.  We weren’t anticipating everybody in Southeast Alaska attending the state fair.  But, that appeared to be the case and low and behold, so did their dogs.  Why not bring your dog when it’s just a short ferry ride from where you live?

We camped at the Haines Hitch Up RV Park, which is a well-run and well-maintained RV Park but hell for a D.I.N.O.S.  Our space was right in front of the dog walk area, with no option to move.

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It was a test of patience managing our dog, who needs a very wide berth of space and clueless people who don’t understand, or maybe even know, that there are some dogs who need space.  I think Pongo probably gained about 5 pounds with all the treats we used to distract him while dogs walked by!

We tried to get out as much as possible-trying to find areas where Pongo could get out and play without running into other dogs.  This was very difficult as the population of Haines probably doubled in the two-legged population and positively tripled in the four-legged population because of the state fair.DSC_0079 DSC_0074 DSC_0082 DSC_0070

While down in Haines, we were also on the hunt for bears.  Haines has a lot of bears and Steve ran across two last year, while working on a job.  I wanted so desperately to see a bear (from the truck) and every day we would drive the route where Steve saw his two bears.

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Did we ever see a bear?  Nope.  And along with that, we didn’t see a single piece of wildlife the whole ten days we were out!  I was so disappointed!  Despite the lack of wildlife, we had a wonderful time camping and exploring Alaska, while celebrating ten incredible years together.

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Our extremely peaceful campsite, in comparison to our site in Haines, at the Sourdough Campground in Tok, Alaska.

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Pongo’s first taste of raspberries.

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Matanuska Glacier

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Now, it’s time to get back into school mode and get ourselves prepared for the Nose Work 2 trial coming up in September.  We’re hitting the nose work practice hard in order to redeem ourselves from the Nose Work 2 trial last May.  Pongo will by-pass the buttered wheat toast this time!

The Fence Wars

We are in the midst of a full-blown battle waging on 3 sides of our home.

Private Pongo instigates battles with our neighbors’ dogs on a daily basis, and sometimes vice versa: they instigate wars with him.  It’s gotten to the point where he has pretty much lost all privileges to go out potty like a big boy should be able to. Instead, Lieutenant General Mama and General Papa have to pull on the snow boots, leash Private Pongo up and take him out potty each time. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and let’s not forget COLD!

Lieutenant General Mama schemed up a plan this past fall to block off access to the back fence, where the action is most frequent. As you can see…mission failed.

IMG_1881So today, Lieutenant General Mama launched Operation Squelch: install a stronger fencing, that cannot be run through like a finish-line ribbon.  The fencing was erected in the back corner and along the side fence, where Private Pongo likes torpedo over to when he hears, smells, or senses the neighbor’s gorgeous husky is out.

IMG_1951 IMG_1950 IMG_1952Besides putting up new fencing, Lieutenant General Mama marched over to the neighbors, with the husky, waving the peace flag and ensuring them that we were working to get Private Pongo back onto the straight and narrow.  Private Pongo will be participating in some hardcore behavior boot camp, while Operation Squelch commences.

We can only hope that our trench lines hold fast and Private Pongo cools his jets when it comes to The Fence Wars.

Pongo’s Big Day

It’s been some time since I last blogged.  My shortfall in blogging can’t be correlated with a lack of excitement around Pongo because there is still plenty of that!  But, it has to do with my lack of time lately.  Sadly when life gets crazy, blogging is put on the back-burner.  I just couldn’t let today’s success of a day go by without sharing.  Today’s agenda included one of Pongo’s favorite things to do: Nose Work class and then a trip out to the Valley to visit Miss Sue and her crew.

We are in the process of getting ready for the NW2 (Nose Work 2) trial in May.  In NW2, the scent of anise is introduced.  There can be up to 2 hides of either birch or anise or one of each scent.  The dogs also have to work around distractions such as toys and concealed doggie snacks.  After the first couple of practices with toy and food distractions, Pongo has been a rock star about ignoring them and sticking to his job.  He loves his Nose Work job and we love watching the wheels turn as he tracks down those scents!

Photo courtesy of Mike Lewis

But, the biggest event of the day was going to visit Miss Sue and her crew of 5, yes you did read that right, 5 dogs.  Miss Sue and her husband, Ken are going to care for Pongo while we are cruising the Panama Canal later this winter.  Both Steve and I have some anxiety around doggie meet and greets when it comes to Pongo.  It can be hit or miss with him and we really wanted this to work.  We put our trust and faith into Miss Sue and Ken when it came to “the plan.”

When we arrived, there were five furry faces peeking at us from behind a gate.  My first thought was, “Holy crap!  That’s a lot of dogs!  How is this going to work?”  I quickly let that doubt go because I didn’t want Pongo picking up on my anxiety.  Steve and I went in the house, sans Pongo, to meet Ken and hear how they wanted the meet and greet to proceed.  The plan was to bring Pongo in and let him explore the house while the other dogs waited outside.  One by one, the dogs would then come in to meet Pongo.

Steve brought Pongo in, past the 5 dogs peeking at him through the gate with absolutely NO reaction, and unleashed him to explore.  And, explore he did!  His nose was working overtime as he took in the all the new smells.  He was very appropriate in meeting one of their two cats but was a little too interested in the parrot squawking at him from underneath a blanket covered cage.

Then it was time to meet the dogs.  The first meet and greet between Pongo and one of Miss Sue’s dogs went well.  He looked a little stressed but held it together.  Another dog was let into the house and that greeting went well too.  Steve and I did notice that Pongo’s stress level was rising some as he moved between greeting the dogs and checking in with us.  Steve and I decided it was best to take ourselves out of the equation so the final three doggie greetings would go smoothly.  We stepped outside and pressed our ears to the door, in hopes of catching tidbits of how things were going inside.  After a good 10 minutes of meeting everyone inside and then some playtime outside, we came to realize that all of our anxiety was unfounded; Pongo was going to be OK.

We learned that we have to trust the process and just do some legwork when it comes to Pongo meeting other dogs.  As much as I would love to be able to have him jump out of the car and walk into a house five dogs full, it just is not going to happen.  What works for some dogs, does not work for Pongo and dwelling on the “what ifs…” is not going to move us forward.  He is a unique little guy who filled our hearts with joy and made us so proud today!

And, all the excitement of today has left our sweet boy beyond exhausted!

Meet & Greet

Living with a reactive dog is a learning process, especially when that dog is Pongo.  You never know what he’s going to be OK with and what is going to send him over the edge. Sometimes it’s a big guessing game and unfortunately, there are times when my guesses aren’t spot on.

Pongo and I drove out to the Valley today to meet my girlfriend Audra and her two Golden Retrievers, Phoebe and Greta to go for a walk.  We wanted the dogs to meet before we do a bigger hike together where Pongo might have to be on-leash.  The whole way up I contemplated how to best introduce the dogs.  I decided that I would let Pongo out of the car, off-leash and then Audra could let her girls out.  Well, that didn’t work so well.  Pongo got snarky with both of the girls and ended up sitting in the car for a time-out and some cool down time.  I was prepared to leave Pongo in the car, while the four of us enjoyed a walk, if he couldn’t behave himself.

When it was time to try the meet and greet again, I asked Audra to walk down the road a little with her dogs and Pongo and I would follow.  That seemed to work.  When we caught up with Audra and her girls, Pongo appropriately greeted Phoebe and Greta and the rest was history…they had a blast exploring, running, and playing together.

Phoebe and Pongo deciding who was going to bring the stick back to shore.

They came up with a good compromise.

The dogs were always on the move so it was hard to get a shot that wasn’t one of their backsides.

Pongo’s new BFF, Greta.

While there was a small bump in the road upon initial meeting, I think it was a very successful meet and greet.  Plus, it was a great time had by all!

Clueless

It’s always a crapshoot going into our small-spaced vet’s office.  It could be completely empty or it could be like running the dog gauntlet.  Today, it was the latter. Pongo and I walked up to the door and saw a woman with her dog standing at the front counter, which is right smack as you walk in the door.  Pongo saw the dog and seemed to just shrug it off–no reaction whatsoever.

We didn’t want to take any chances of an incident, so we decided to take a few minutes outside to give them some time and give Pongo some space.  After a drawn out potty break, we walked into an empty waiting room.  I grabbed some scrumptious looking treats out of the jar on the counter and chose a seat the farthest away from the front door and exam room doors as possible, which is only like 5 feet.

Pongo knew there were dogs in both of the exam rooms; he could hear their little tags a tinkling.  The sound of dog tags usually riles him up but he was too focused on those soft, meaty treats I was holding in my hand…basically torturing him with so he would pay more attention to me.  He was actually being a REALLY good boy.

Then it happened…I heard the doctors finishing up with their respective patients and knew the perfect storm was brewing.  Both dogs came out of their exam room at the same time.  I was trying to keep Pongo focused on me and not on the two, big dogs that had just exited and were basically invading his very large space bubble.

Pongo looked at the dogs then looked back at me.  “Good boy!” and treats galore poured from the sky.

Look at the dogs…look back at me.  TREATS!!!

Look at the dogs…look back at me.  MORE TREATS!!!

As I am praising and stuffing treats into my dog’s face, one of the owners asked the other if their dogs could meet.  “Oh yes!  He’s SO friendly.”  The dogs greet each other politely as Pongo and I look on.  All of sudden, I see this woman and her dog turn around and walk the 3 feet we had between us.  I immediately knew her intentions and gave her a firm, “No.”  It didn’t register, so I said it again with a little more oomph, “NO!” Then, the lightbulb turned on: she gave me this eat-you-know-what look and said something to the effect of-Oh, I guess your dog isn’t friendly as she walked off.  Really?!? I’m the bad guy?!?  You just assumed my dog wanted to meet your dog without even getting my permission!  She was the classic case of a My Dog Is Friendly owner, and there were a few choice words I would have loved to have said to her but I kept my mouth shut.

This whole time, while a dog slowly invaded his personal space, Pongo sat quietly watching for more treats to come his way.  No snarling.  No growling.  No barking.  No lunging.  Not a single peep out of him.  I was dumbfounded that this was my dog attached to the end of the leash I was holding!

I am SO proud of our boy for keeping his cool under some pretty severe pressure for a dog in need of space (DINOS)!

DINOS

Ever feel like you are the only one in the whole wide world who is experiencing what you are experiencing, even though you logically know you aren’t/can’t be the only one experiencing this?  That’s what it often feels like dealing and working with a reactive dog: everybody else’s dog is well-behaved and can handle being around other dogs.

But maybe that’s because all of us with reactive dogs are doing the late night walks, the walks on the most deserted trails we can find, sticking to playing with the dog out in the backyard because you aren’t in the mood to deal with his/her reactivity, avoiding any situation where you might encounter a dog.  All of this is so very limiting, exhausting, emotionally draining.  It’s frustrating that 99.9% of the people we encounter don’t get to experience the sweetness, the goofiness, the fun-loving dog we get to experience when we are tucked away in his/her safe place: home.  Instead, they get the barking, lunging, Tasmanian Devil on the other end of the leash.

Dog Tired Doggie Daycare sent out an email on Friday about a movement that blossomed from a blog posted on Notes From A Dog Walker.  The writer, Jessica Dolce has hit the nail on the head when she describes in her post My Dog is Friendly! A Public Service Announcement the stress that is caused when people allow their dogs to approach, run up, try to meet a Dog In Need Of Space (DINOS).  She terms these sometimes well-meaning but oblivious dog owners My Dog Is Friendly (MDIF).

We have run into many a MDIF out on the trails or even walking in the neighborhood.  And, what astounds me is when people just don’t get that my dog, Pongo does not want to meet, need to meet, or even like (GASP!) your dog. We try to make it as clear as possible by turning and walking the other direction, and if that doesn’t work we resort to verbal attempts (“Please put your dog on a leash!”); that’s when the judgements come flying and now we’re the bad guys.  It’s not a good feeling.

Click HERE to go to a larger, more readable version.

Created by artist Lili Chan www.doggiedrawings.net

We were at Denali Park Strip on Saturday to try out Pongo’s new Freedom No-Pull Harness.  As we were getting out of the car, a woman came running up the road with a dog.  Pongo reacted.  She turned around and went down another street.  My first thought was, “Does she know about DINOS?”  Then I wondered, if she was avoiding us because Pongo can look pretty scary when he reacts.  As we walked around the Park Strip, we could catch glimpses of her and her dog running down different streets to avoid us.  It makes me feel better if I make the assumption that she was thankfully giving us space because she knows about DINOS, and not that we were scary.

I am super excited to know that there are others out there.  We can support one another, empathize, and share our stories and tactics for working with a DINOS.  I think what is most important though is Pongo has helped us realized what it is like to own and to love a DINOS.  It’s not an easy job at times but he is so worth it!

Count Your Blessings

…if you have a dog that you can walk any time of the day, anywhere, and your walks are actually pleasant.

…if you have a dog that calmly exists around other dogs without going absolutely berserk if one looks at him funny.

…if you don’t have to do U-turns when you’re out walking your dog because another dog is coming toward you.

…if you don’t give a sigh of relief when you pull into an empty daycare parking lot.

Which is what I did when I pulled into daycare today–gave a sigh of relief because the lot was empty.  I was going to get Pongo into daycare and off to my early morning meeting stress-free. But, we all know things don’t necessarily go the way we expect them to.  As I was unloading Pongo, I realized someone had pulled in to our right.  The driver and I made eye contact and gave me a little nod, which I read as: go ahead and finish unloading your dog; I’ll wait.  I unloaded Pongo, walked up to the door and all of sudden Pongo was going nuts.  I thought he had noticed the dog getting out of the car that had pulled in.  I think I’m pretty good at reading non-verbals but I guess I was way off today because when I turned around, the dog and owner were less than 2 feet from us waiting for us to go in the door.  There was NO way Pongo was going to make it in the door calmly so I walked down the sidewalk, telling the owner and dog to go ahead.  While Pongo continued to flip-out, a car pulls into the parking lot with two big dogs barking at him through open windows.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  There was no reeling Pongo in; no getting his attention in attempts to calm him down.  So I awkwardly scooped Pongo up, got him into his kennel, and told him, as I backed out of daycare and drove to work, he could spend the next couple of hours in the car thinking about his poor behavior.

Living with a reactive dog is frustrating and exhausting at times.  What is most frustrating is not knowing what’s going to set him off and then not being prepared for the reaction you get.  It is very apparent Pongo chooses when to be leash reactive and when not to.  If he’s working (i.e. Nose Work) or has other distractions, he is 95% OK with being on a leash around other dogs given he has enough distance between him and the other dog.  If we are just walking or he sees another dog out the window, he immediately amps up and is out of control.  It’s embarrassing and I’m more than sure pretty scary for others to watch. He spins, he lunges, he growls, he barks all out of pure frustration.  But, less than 20 seconds after he’s had his blow-out, he’s fine.  I, on the other hand, have to deal with the residual feelings of my own frustration and anger.  The self-doubting and ruminating of what I could have done differently, and the constant questioning of WHY?  WHY such a sweet, tail-wagging, kiss giving little guy can be hell on wheels when he’s around other dogs?

Just an FYI: Pongo did make it to daycare today and had a good day.  I do believe he was somewhat remorseful about this morning’s outburst…or at least it makes me feel better thinking he felt just a little bit guilty.

Walking Reflections

There are times when I should roll up a newspaper and swat myself with it…more than just once.  I’m positive I am 99% of the problem when it come to Pongo’s leash reactivity.  My anxiety of us crossing paths with another dog on a walk impedes my ability to relax, walk with confidence, and just enjoy our walk.  And when we do pass another dog on the trail, Pongo never fails to react with his lunging and barking.  Although, he is able to calm himself down more quickly now which is some progress.

But unlike Pongo who lives in the moment and is done with the drama of passing a dog 10 steps down the trail, I tend to hold onto the negative feelings the encounter created for hours.  I ruminate on how I could have handled the situation differently: I should have done this or I should have done that.  I think this ruminating frustrates me even more than his reactions.  Steve doesn’t have problems walking Pongo to the degree I do.  He’s definitely more in control and is able to let things go; he embraces Pongo’s live-in-the-moment mentality.  I know it all comes down to me needing to woman it up and get over it!

This afternoon Steve and I took Pongo on a walk.  We chose a trail that has low foot traffic.  We want walks to be positive practice for both Pongo and myself.  Unfortunately, we had two incidences with dogs on the trail.  The first one, we pulled way off the trail into a parking lot to let a family and their off-leash dog (ARG!!!) go by.  Low and behold, we were standing roughly 25 feet from their car.  Pongo did OK until the dog invaded his very large space bubble.  Steve was able to step in between and we were able to calm Pongo down quickly and get on our way.  The second dog encounter we saw coming: a woman handling 3 large dogs, all on leash (bless you, stranger lady). We tried to make a plan, which was difficult as we were stuck between the fences that parallel the trail and had no real way to pull off the trail.  I had Pongo and was going to hug the trail snow berm and attempt to quickly walk by. Unfortunately, Pongo didn’t get the memo that we were going to quickly walk on by and decided he was going to go absolutely berserk because there was not just one but three dogs.  This time it took him a lot longer to calm down but he did, and we were able to finish our walk in peace.  It appears Pongo was able to shake it off no problem.  Me, on the other hand popped two Cortisol Managers and a Longboard Lager when we got home.  I know I’ll get there…it’s just going to take time, practice, and a lot of patience.

Here’s Pongo practicing recalls between Steve and myself, leash on but loose.