Saturday, March 31, 2012

Burnout Babies: Week One

It's been a week since the Burnout Babies came to stay with us, and tomorrow they'll head back out for an adoption event with Wags, so with any luck they'll find forever homes and our time with them will be at an end.

My early impressions of their personalities seem to have been more or less borne out by the intervening days. Razz is the smart, serious one, while Cerise is a cuddly little clownbaby and a bit of a drama queen.

I discovered that Razz is also a secret potty ninja. She doesn't like to potty inside the puppy pen, because that's where she eats and sleeps. Instead, she's learned to climb out of the puppy pen, potty on the floor outside, and then climb back in when her business is done.

It took me way too long to figure out what she was doing, but by the second or third mess on the living-room floor a belated lightbulb went off in my head and I started putting a weewee pad outside the pen to make both our lives easier.

Shortly after that, I caught her in action:

So that's where we are on the getting-to-know-each-other front. They're settling down and much less aggravating than they were at first, but they're still messy noisy puppies, and Pongu still does not like them one bit.

On the training end, we didn't do a ton of work over the past week, in part because the Burnout Babies continued to be distracted by mange and itching (although it's gotten considerably better over the past few days) and in part because I've mostly been working with my own mutts lately.

A couple of days ago I started platform training Pongu and Crookytail on a makeshift platform of two boardgame boxes taped together, with the end goal of teaching tuck sits and other improved position changes. So that's been occupying most of my time (it is really hard to find a good tutorial on tuck sits, btw; I've found plenty of demos on what the final product looks like, but not a lot on how you get it). I think I've floundered my way toward a workable training program, but it remains to be seen whether I'm actually on the right track.

So the Burnout Babies have definitely gotten the short end of the stick in training time, but we still managed to get a few things done.

Their Sits have progressed to an intermediate stage between empty-hand luring and a more formal hand signal:

(That's Cerise yowling in the background, loudly unhappy because it's not her turn to play the fun games and she has to sit in the puppy pen all alone. Her caterwauling is a constant in almost all my Razz clips and is why I haven't uploaded more of them.)

At the end of this clip, woeful Mr. Starfish makes an appearance and gets his legs chewed on. Cerise is only moderately food-motivated but loves playing biteytoy, so I'm trying to build that drive by letting her play tug with poor mangled Mr. Starfish during the training breaks. (Puppies have a pretty short attention span and need lots of play breaks between repetitions, but there's no reason you can't use those "breaks" to secretly train some more.)

We've also been doing a little socialization work. Here's a quick food bowl exercise:

The glass bowl contains a higher-value food than the puppies normally receive (it's the dog stew that Pongu and Crookytail eat, not the puppy kibble that the Burnout Babies get for their usual meals). While they're eating it, I gently pat their backs and talk to them so that they become accustomed to noise and contact while they eat and associate these things with extra-good food. The point of this exercise is to act as a low-level preventative against resource guarding and/or snappiness when disturbed at mealtimes. (The puppies don't seem to care at all about me doing it, so it's not much to look at, but this is exactly what you want: no reaction.)

And that's where we are at the end of Week One.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Introducing the Burnout Babies

Last Sunday afternoon we picked up our latest fosters from WAGS: two of the six puppies in the "Crayola" litter, so dubbed because each of the puppies is named after a crayon color. These six pups came from The Maggie Society, one of our rescue partners in North Carolina. Their mom was a treeing walker coonhound; dad's a mystery.

Ours are Cerise (tricolor black/white/tan) and Razzmatazz (black with white dot on chin). Both are female, about eight weeks old, and suffering from sarcoptic mange.

And both of them are loud. The first day they squalled nonstop at earsplitting volume about losing their littermates, being all itchy with mange, and having to choke down nasty pills. Also they'd just gotten their first lime-sulfur dip that morning, so they smelled fantastic. Really, if you've never had two incontinent shrieking puppies making your entire house reek of sulfur dip and dog pee, you are missing out.

I promptly dubbed them the Burnout Babies, because damn if they didn't burn me out on fostering within twelve hours of their arrival.

It's been a couple of days now and things are getting better -- they're (slightly) quieter, the itching has subsided enough for us to start working on some training foundations, and the sulfur smell is wearing off -- but boy howdy it's exhausting having these two around. I cannot wait for them to get adopted.

I just hope adopters are willing to look past the crusty scabby bald spots and see how sweet these two pups are. Because they are sweet dogs, under all the mangy misery, and they deserve good homes of their own.

Razz is slightly larger than her sister and is the calmer, more athletic, and more assertive of the two. I think she's a little bit smarter, too. She has figured out how to climb out of the puppy pen, whereas her sister has no clue how to escape.

Cerise is smaller, flightier, and friendlier (although they're both very friendly pups). She squeaks more often but not as loudly. I think she's the funnier of the two -- she has some amazingly goofy expressions and seems to have a clownier personality overall.

Here they are doing some foundations:

I doubt I'll make too much progress with these guys. They're very young, the mange is a constant distraction, and I don't expect to have them for long. We can't do a ton of socialization, either, since they're contagious and it would be irresponsible to let them wander around outside where they'd come into close proximity to other dogs.

But, as ever, we'll do what we can.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Crookytail (Resignedly) Watches The Happening

Busy again, so here are some quick shots of Crookytail (not) enjoying the M. Night Shyamalan opus "The Happening," a movie so profoundly awful that not even MST3K'ing it with our friends could make it bearable.

Not pictured: Pongu, who gave up on this thing considerably earlier.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jackie Goes Home

Puppies really are short-term tenants.

I took Jackie to her first adoption event with WAGS yesterday. Here she is in the car on the ride over, sitting in the puppy bucket so she can't pee in my lap.

It only took her half an hour to charm her way into a forever family. She is going to live with a nice couple and their older dog Miles (with whom she tried to play in the parking lot, although he didn't quite know what to make of this shrimpy little spaz at first) in York PA, where she will enjoy a lifetime of hikes and fun and maybe even some agility training.

...and that's it for our time with Jackie. I didn't even get to make a clip of socializing her to the nail clippers.

Now I have a week off until the next pups arrive. I'm told there is a puppy crisis going on around our rescue partners in North Carolina, so it is likely I'll be getting a foster mutt (or two, or maybe even three?) when the transport arrives next Sunday. I'll probably have that mutt-or-mutts for a very short time as well, and then... I dunno, guess we'll have to see who comes along.

Incidentally, yesterday's adoption event really brought home what a wimp I am when it comes to working at these events. I just have no stamina at all. Definitely need to do better than that -- other people are working at frantic intensity for six to eight hours nonstop, and I'm all "okay guys have headache going home now" after less than an hour. TOTAL WIMP.

(seriously though, sorry guys, I'll do better next time.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Socialization With Jackie

Since I have an adorable foster puppy at my disposal for the moment, I made some clips on socializing a new puppy to some of the things that you might expect her to encounter in her future home. These are all very, very basic introductions -- literally the very first steps you might take with a puppy who had no previous acquaintance with any of these ideas. Jackie hasn't even been here for 24 hours, so I figured she'd give a more authentic reaction than my other half-trained mutts.

We spent this afternoon out on the street, camped in an alley about 10 feet removed from the bustle of South Street (which was extra bustling today on account of being a street full of tourist bars on St. Patrick's). Jackie got to meet old people, young people, kids of all ages, people using mobility aids, people so drunk they probably needed mobility aids, people wearing huge green leprechaun hats and necklaces of flashing green Christmas lights, and lots more. I didn't want her to get overwhelmed, so we only stuck around for half an hour and left while she was still having fun, but she probably met over a hundred people in that span. A cute puppy in an "Adopt Me" vest on a crowded street grabs a lot of attention.

After dinner, with the average BAC on the street steadily rising, we retired indoors to do some socialization practice with objects instead of people.

To start, you need a drawer full of props (Kong rubber brush, Furminator metal brush, toothbrush with chicken-flavored doggy toothpaste, nail clipper, bowl of kibble, assortment of tasty treats) and one puppy:

The first exercise we did was just familiarizing Jackie to the grooming tools by giving her the opportunity to investigate them (and, being a puppy, chew on them) at her own pace. I scattered some kibble and treat pieces around the tools to encourage her to sniff at them, but as it turned out those weren't needed.

Once she'd lost interest in them, I moved to the next step: gently brushing her with the Kong rubber brush. The intent isn't to actually brush her (as a fuzzy puppy, she doesn't need a real brushing anyway), but just to familiarize her with the sensation. This is usually the least objectionable part of grooming for most dogs, so I think it's the best place to begin. The rubber Kong brush is less scratchy than the Furminator, so that's the one I used initially.

Next up: the toothbrush.

I put some doggy toothpaste on the brush and let her decide to eat it. While she was chewing, I moved the brush slightly to approximate the way it would move for a real toothbrushing. When the toothpaste was just about gone, but before Jackie lost interest in it, I took the toothbrush away, leaving her wanting more of the "treat." Next time the toothbrush comes out, she's a little more likely to regard it with anticipation.

Lastly we worked a few rounds of Doggie Zen.

The "official" game of Doggie Zen is to hold a treat in a closed hand so that the dog knows you have it but can't get it. The instant that the dog gives up trying to chew the treat out of your hand, you click that moment of acceptance and open your hand so the dog can get the treat.

As simple as this exercise is (and it is very simple, and most dogs grasp it very quickly, such that I've seldom had to play more than one day's worth of strictly defined Doggie Zen before shaping it toward Watch Me, Leave It, Look At That, or any of the other myriad concepts that Doggie Zen leads to), it's important because it introduces impulse control and the idea of "availability" -- that some good things in life may appear to be available but aren't actually available until the handler makes them so.

So while it seriously only takes about five minutes in your life to teach Doggie Zen to most puppies, it's five minutes you might as well spend, because a whole lot of other stuff builds off that simple idea.

Jackie Arrives

Late last night, a little after 11:30 p.m., Jackie came off the H.O.P.E transport van, crossed a Northeast Philly sidewalk, and toddled on home to stay with us for a while.

Crookytail loved her almost instantly, but Pongu didn't take kindly to the interloper. By the next morning he wasn't trying to kill her anymore, but he's still definitely the Jerk Uncle ("oh my god, don't touch that! No don't touch that one either! Ugh you little hooligan, when are you going home?!") to Crookytail's Cool Uncle ("yeah sure kid, you can play with all the toys").

After so much excitement, Jackie went back in the puppy box (aka Biscuit's guinea pig pen) and pooped out...

...although not so much that she couldn't wake up when she caught me taking pictures.

And that's where we are for now. I took Jackie out for half an hour this afternoon to socialize her to strangers by having them feed her treats on the street. She did a great job (pretty impressive on St. Patrick's Day with a bunch of noisy, half-drunk strangers coming up right to her face!).

We also started work on a couple of foundational games like Kibble Toss (three goals on this one: (a) priming the marker word "Yes!"; (b) teaching the dog to "learn how to learn" by building an association between cue from person = fun games and treats!!; and (c) laying some foundations for a true recall by repeatedly giving the puppy incentives to turn around, re-orient back to me, and return as quickly as she can).

I don't really expect to have her long enough to make much progress in training, but you never know, so we might as well do what we can in the time that we have.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Some Dog Park Observations

Let me preface this post by saying: I love dog parks. Love them. A good dog park presents great opportunities for dog-dog socialization, training in a distracting environment, and getting some off-leash exercise in an area that may not have many other options. It's also a nice place to meet other dog people.

Not all dog parks are safe, though, and not all dogs are suited for them. I feel like there is often a great reluctance on the part of some owners to recognize when their dogs are not enjoying the park, or are behaving in troublesome ways, even when recognizing potential problems and intervening appropriately could keep everyone playing together happily. And sometimes other owners are reluctant to speak up because, well, criticizing someone's dog is like criticizing their child: it feels rude and presumptuous.

But children don't have knives for teeth, and their body language is a little easier for most people to read, and generally we know when they need us to intervene well in advance of a fight breaking out. With dogs it's not always so obvious, and the potential damage is a lot worse.

So with that in mind, here are a few clips I recorded at our local dog park over the course of three days (last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday). Ours is a relatively safe park with a supportive, dog-savvy community of regular users -- it's certainly much safer than a couple of other nearby dog parks -- and yet scuffles and more serious fights break out frequently enough that I was able to capture several of them within a total of about three hours' time.

The first step to spotting potential trouble in the making is to familiarize yourself with canine communication. Brenda Aloff's book Canine Body Language and Sarah Kalnajs's DVD set The Language of Dogs are both excellent resources on this topic.

The next step is to observe canine interactions so that you can predict which scenarios are likely to erupt into fights and which can and should be left for the dogs to resolve between themselves. Not every exchange of stares and snarks needs a hovering human to step in; a certain amount of correction should be permitted so that dogs (especially young and under-socialized ones) develop their own understanding of canine etiquette. Knowing when to interrupt and when to leave things be is a skill developed with practice. The more time you spend watching dogs carefully, the quicker you'll be able to spot potential red flags.


Entrances and greetings are fraught moments for most dogs in the park. Getting mobbed by a bunch of strange mutts (often strange mutts who are very! excited!! to meet a new dog) right at the gate can be extremely intimidating, and many dogs will react with barks, growls, or exaggerated appeasement signals in an attempt to get space or defuse the tension. Always watch greetings closely, and try to keep your own dogs from overwhelming newcomers at the gate.

The black dog in the middle here is clearly uncomfortable at being mobbed. His posture is stiff, his mouth tightly closed with some tension wrinkles along the muzzle; his tail veers toward a vertical position and makes short sharp wags at a couple of points in the clip. His hackles are raised both on the shoulders and along the rump. He acts to increase social space: at 0:06 he chases one of the sniffing dogs away and at 0:11 he rebuffs their attempts to engage him in play by stiffening up again.

All the other dogs in the park were pretty relaxed and willing to respect this dog's social cues, however, so the tension didn't escalate. About a minute after I stopped filming, he relaxed enough to play.

In this clip, things didn't go so well.

The brown pit at the center of the dog mob in this clip was an intact (un-neutered) young adult male who presented a problem immediately: not only was the guy swimming in his own crazy hormones, but many dogs will harass and/or challenge an intact male (and, indeed, that's why this dog mob formed and swarmed him; these dogs were wandering around all over the park, ignoring each other, before he came in). Because of this, many dog parks specifically prohibit intact males. It's just not worth the risk of fights.

Additionally, this particular dog was tense and visibly wound up even before he came through the gates. He charged into the park with no apparent awareness of any other dogs' personal space, much less respect for their social cues. As soon as I saw him, I knew something was going to happen with this dog, so I got out the camera, and voila: within twenty seconds, something did.

All the other dogs swarming around him are curious, not threatening, but there are a lot of them and this dog isn't handling the stress well. Throughout this clip, his body language expresses a high degree of anxiety and agitation. He's pretty much frozen throughout, except for his upright tail making short, stiff vertical waves. His ears are pinned back in worry. He tongue-flicks at 0:01, 0:07, and 0:12. At the end, after breaking free from the ring, he provokes a fight by chasing another dog in a circle and putting his chin over its back.

My read on that scenario is that an unstable, stressed dog came into the park, was bombarded with more social tension than he could handle, and vented that stress by starting a fight. This dog probably should not have been in the park at all (at least on that particular day), and certainly his owner should have been keeping much closer watch on him. (In fact, the owner did not intervene even after the fight started, nor did he remove his dog or do anything else afterward.)

Excitement Barking

Many dogs bark or growl as part of their play. Many other dogs bark or growl because they feel insecure and are trying to warn other dogs away. The former can be harmless fun but can also prompt some dogs to respond as if the barking or growling were a threat; the latter may indicate that your dog needs to take a breather and, perhaps, return on another day at a less crowded time.

In this clip, the dogs are playing together nicely. Both have loose wiggly body language, bouncy strides, and the larger dog's mouth remains open in a relaxed smile for most of the interaction (this is important because, as the recipient of the barking, that dog's responses determine whether this interaction could become problematic). They pause frequently in mutually respected mini-breaks (0:03, 0:08, 0:19) and resume the game after a play-bow invitation. Halfway through, they reverse roles: the chaser becomes the chased. These are all good signs that both dogs are having a great time.

This clip, too, shows good play with an excitement barker. The black-and-tan dog includes a fair amount of growling with her barks, repeatedly leaps and play bites at the other dog's forequarters and ankles (a more physical play style than that exhibited by the two dogs in the previous clip), and does not reverse roles despite the other dog's invitation to do so at 0:15, but her play partner tolerates this well and is still having fun (loose, bouncy gait, floppy tail wags, relaxed smile, repeatedly re-engaging with play bows). With a less confident or more aggressive dog, this could have turned into a problematic interaction. As is, however, both dogs are having fun.

...and that's a lot of blatheration for today, so I'll pick up with more clips later.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Trailer Park Kids and Parvo

It's been a trying couple of weeks.

Since I foster failed on Crookytail and he became a permanent member of Team Stupid (which is itself a story for another day), I'm trying to foster small puppies instead of full-size dogs for a while. Puppies can live in the guinea pig pen and will most likely get adopted quickly, so I figured they'd be a less time/space-intensive way of continuing to foster within our condo's limitations.

My first few attempts at getting foster puppies bombed out, though, because these guys have to be little to live comfortably in Biscuit's pen, and there just weren't any small enough that were up for rescue at the time. A couple of weeks went by, and then the Trailer Park Kids landed at the Robeson County Animal Shelter.

These four baby mystery mutts were "found" in a trailer park and taken to the shelter as strays. It's likely that the person who claimed to have found them was, in fact, the owner; quite often people try to duck responsibility for abandoning their own dogs by claiming that they're strays. But regardless, the Trailer Park Kids hit the shelter in early February.

There were two males and two females in the litter. The males are slightly curly-coated and are on the left side of that picture. The females, Jackie and Erin, have slightly shorter, straighter fur and are on the right.

As more and more puppies flooded into the shelter, and it seemed like these plain brown mystery mutts might get overlooked while adopters lined up for the wire-haired terrier pups and eye-catching merle Aussies, I pulled the two girls. Erin and Jackie went to South Robeson Vet Clinic to wait out their 10-day quarantines. A few days later, the boys went home with private adopters.

One week after Jackie and Erin left the shelter, RCAS shut down because of a distemper outbreak. Canine distemper is a constant threat in Robeson County, where a dense population of raccoons acts as a year-round reservoir for the disease. Although distemper is easily prevented by a cheap and readily available vaccine, many people in the county simply can't be bothered to save their dogs' lives for $4.

Dogs are vaccinated against distemper and parvo upon intake at RCAS, but the vaccine needs time to be effective. The outbreak gave them none. Within a week, over 40 animals lost their lives to distemper.

Because distemper is such a nasty disease -- the estimated mortality rate is 90%, and even dogs who survive often have severe, lifelong neurological damage, leading most shelters to euthanize animals immediately upon diagnosis -- and the Trailer Park Kids left the shelter just before the outbreak was announced, they spent an extra week in quarantine as a precaution.

On the last day of that quarantine, Erin collapsed with parvo.

Canine parvovirus is the other major disease that afflicts Southern shelter puppies. Although less of a death sentence than distemper, it's more common, because the virus can live longer outside of its host. Provided the pups receive aggressive and prompt treatment, parvo's estimated fatality rate ranges from 20% to 50%, depending on the age, size, and health of the puppies afflicted. Without treatment, fatality can go as high as 80 to 95%.

It's probable that Erin and Jackie were exposed to parvo before they left RCAS. Both had loose stools and were not in the prime of health when they arrived at the vet clinic, although they were initially diagnosed with coccidia (an extremely common, less deadly bacterial parasite that causes many of the same symptoms as parvo) instead. If that's the case, I fear the worst befell their brothers. None of the local vet clinics reported receiving them (as other puppies came down with parvo at the same time that the Trailer Park Kids did, RCAS rescuers made an effort to tally the cases and measure the extent of the outbreak), and untreated parvo in puppies that small and that young is almost always fatal.

Even with immediate and aggressive treatment, Erin died 12 hours after being diagnosed with parvo. Hers was an aggressive and fast-moving strain, and she and her littermates were small, young, and susceptible.

Erin's death was the first time I have ever lost one of my rescue dogs. It is an unhappy milestone, but one that every rescuer and foster has to confront sooner or later. If you do this long enough, eventually you will lose. Even if you don't go out of your way to take the hard cases (and I definitely don't), eventually you lose.

It happens. But knowing that doesn't make it much easier.

I never even met Erin, but that didn't make it much easier either. You second-guess yourself: what if I'd had the puppies boarded at a different vet clinic? What if I'd had her in foster care? Would that have changed the outcome? Or would it just have exposed other dogs to parvo and made things worse?

There's no way to know, and no way to change what's been done.

And, anyway, the story's not all sad.

Although she didn't show any symptoms other than loose stool (which, as noted, was ambiguously attributable to coccidia and not a sure indicator of parvo), Jackie was put on Tamiflu as a preventative as soon as her sister was diagnosed. This turned out to be a wise precaution, as she came down with full-blown parvo a day after Erin died.

Perhaps because of the Tamiflu, or because she was a little bit stronger, or just through the random whims of fate, Jackie pulled through the disease after three days of touch-and-go doubtfulness. As of this writing, it looks hopeful that she'll make a full recovery and be able to take a transport up to Philadelphia at the end of next week. Two weeks behind schedule, but we'll be grateful to have her at all.