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Malibu

Malibu

Malibu came into my life purely by chance. Originally, my husband and I were only taking two Min Pin pups out of a litter of three. It was only at the last moment that we changed our minds and said, “We’ll take the third puppy, too.”  Call us crazy, but it is a decision that we will never regret.

Malibu is my cautious canine. Highly suspicious of strangers and extremely wary of most dogs, Malibu prefers to keep a safe distance between herself and anything that she deems to be a threat. New situations and sometimes even familiar ones tend to stress Malibu.

Since puppyhood, Malibu has been reserved, even standoffish, towards people. She took much longer to warm up to me than the other two in her litter. Even today, Malibu is not a cuddler, preferring to sit next to me than on my lap.

At home, Malibu is the quietest of my girls. Even when my other two are barking up a storm, Malibu usually chooses to remain quiet.  A clever dog, Malibu enjoys being challenged and learning new skills. Of my three Min Pins, Malibu is the one who grasps new concepts the fastest.  She seeks stimulating activities and one of her favorite things to do is play with her doggie puzzles.

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Puzzle Time

Walking with Malibu requires dialogue, specifically,  “No”, “Drop it”, and “Leave it”,  since she likes to put everything in her mouth.  Management is also required to keep Malibu from becoming reactive at the sight of her triggers: certain vehicles, bicycles, skateboarders, strangers, and dogs. For a long time, Malibu would lunge at any passing vehicle. As with Aspen, behavior modification has helped decrease Malibu’s desire to react, but the inclination is always there, especially if I let my guard down. Yummy treats provide a great distraction for Malibu and keeps her focus on me.

Although riding in the car is a regular event for the crew, Malibu is usually anxious during car rides and lets us know how she is feeling with an annoying whine or whistle. She continuously surveys her surroundings as if waiting for a monster to jump out from under the seat.

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Is something down there?

 

Scaredy Dog

Scaredy Dog

While driving, if we pass anything that sets Aspen and Quest off, Malibu just sits quietly. Maybe Malibu is conserving her energy because she is the one who reacts if anyone comes too close while we are parked. Malibu will bark, lunge, and basically make a spectacle of herself if I fail to capture her attention before she erupts. When the crew is getting out of the car, Malibu is my Min Pin who makes sure that everyone within a five-mile radius knows our exact location. To my embarrassment, her shrieks pierce the air for the first few moments until her initial excitement subsides.

A little joker, Malibu’s silly Min Pin antics provide me with comic relief. In the morning, if I don’t get out of bed quick enough, Malibu is the one who will pull the blankets off of me. Of course, while it is happening, I see no amusement in that particular talent, but always laugh about it later. Malibu also loves a game of Catch Me if You Can when she has gotten her paws on something of mine. I adore the way Malibu play bows and wiggles her butt when she is ready to have some fun.

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Malibu shows off a trick that she can do with her ears.

 

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Malibu like to dangle things from her mouth and wait to see how long it takes before I notice.

Out of my crew, Malibu seems to be the least complicated dog. Sure, she has her quirks, but most of the time they are easier to deal with than those of my other two.  The spontaneous decision to take Malibu with the other two pups was one of the best decisions of my life. Malibu and I share a special bond and she will always be my buddy.

Aspen

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Aspen in Ft. Collins

Aspen

Aspen is my most affectionate Min Pin.  She loves to cuddle and wants to befriend everyone she meets.  Aspen is an amazing athlete and truly fearless when running her backyard agility course. Always eager to play Frisbee, she performs fancy flips in the air while enjoying her favorite game.  Aspen seems too good to be true, right?  Well, truth be told, Aspen has issues.

Aspen is the noisiest of the crew, and at times, her incessant barking has me at my wit’s end! At home, she is the Min Pin who needs the most management.  During her barking frenzies, I attempt to distract her by redirecting her attention elsewhere.  Fortunately, food is a great motivator!

Aspen shows a different side of her personality when out in public.  Her leash behavior is far superior to my other Min Pins. Aspen walks politely and remains calm, even when people and/or dogs are spotted. If anything, Aspen will whine to go and greet those she sees while out and about. Usually, I cannot give in to her request because Malibu is walking with us and likes to keep distance between herself and other dogs/certain individuals.

Aspen did not always behave appropriately in public.  Years of desensitization and counter-conditioning helped Aspen overcome many of the reactive tendencies that were present when she was younger. Although behavior modification continues to be a key component of my dogs’ rehabilitation program, it is not the only method that I have used in an effort to help my dogs.

While researching different strategies for my Min Pins’ reactivity, I came across Tellington Touch. Tellington Touch, or TTouch as it is commonly referred to, is a unique, force-free approach that addresses specific physical and behavioral needs of pets through the use of  TTouches, Leading Exercises, and a Confidence Course.

In July 2010, Aspen and I went to Ft. Collins, CO to attend a TTouch workshop.  I had met the presenter, Kathy Cascade, a few months earlier while she was conducting a training seminar here in New Jersey.  I chose Aspen to accompany me since she is my Min Pin who can best handle the stress of traveling and being around other dogs.

 

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At the workshop, I learned how to apply a bodywrap to calm Aspen.

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Aspen was selected to be the demo dog for the Thundershirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kathy Cascade, TTouch instructor (left side)

The TTouch workshop was an enriching experience that provided me with fresh ideas to use with my reactive Min Pins. Kathy is an experienced instructor whose caring nature is evident as she strives to assist her students and their pets. Kathy’s calm and patient nature provides dogs with a sense of security as she works with them on their individual needs.

While discussing Aspen’s penchant for barking, Kathy helped me see the situation from a different point-of-view.  She reminded me,  “Aspen is just barking.”   That statement may be the single most important piece of information that I took away from the workshop.  Yes, barking can be very annoying (I am hearing it now, as I type!), but there are other canine behaviors that make my situation seem like a picnic in the park. I met a fellow workshop participant who had a dog with such severe aggression that she was considering euthanasia for her pet.  Considering her story, my problems are nonexistent.

Aspen enjoyed a game of frisbee at Fossil Creek Park.

While in Ft. Collins, Aspen enjoyed a game of Frisbee at Fossil Creek Park.

In addition to over-the-top barking at home, Aspen has a conflicted relationship with Malibu that has escalated over the past couple of years. Unprovoked, Aspen will intimidate and threaten Malibu for no apparent reason.  Aspen will growl, lunge, and pounce on Malibu without warning. A visit to a veterinary behaviorist was long overdue, so an appointment was recently scheduled and off we went.  The details of our meeting will be the topic of a future post.

Aspen has a few character flaws, but the good definitely outweighs the bad. I have learned that the most productive way to deal with her barking is through management. Some dogs just like to bark more than others and Aspen is one of those dogs. As far as tension among the crew, Malibu may never be Aspen’s best bud, but if I can keep the situation down to a dull roar until a solution is found I will be satisfied. Aspen may be a handful sometimes, but at the end of the day when she snuggles next to me and lays her head on my pillow, I am very grateful to have her in my life.

Road to Rehabilitation

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For the past six years, I have been on a journey. My destination is a long way off, perhaps unreachable, but I continue heading toward it because it is the only direction I can go. This journey of mine has taken a toll on my body, mind, and spirit. “I can’t do this anymore – I give up”, has been declared countless times.  But I can do this – because I have to.

Making the decision to rehabilitate three reactive Miniature Pinschers is an undertaking of epic proportions.  It requires a commitment of vast amounts of time and energy, as well as patience and perseverance.  For me, this was never a choice, but a responsibility that was owed to my dogs.

The rehabilitation of reactive dogs is a long, arduous process and my journey has been a continuous uphill trek from the beginning.  For starters, Miniature Pinschers are extremely hypervigilant dogs, and mine have the watchdog act down to a science. Always on high alert and extremely wary of strangers, the traits of a Min Pin appear to be the perfect ingredients for reactivity.  Not only do I have one of this breed, but a litter of three!

Pack mentality has been a roadblock to progress as well.  It is difficult enough dealing with one reactive dog, but when you are attempting to train a trio, it raises the challenge to a whole new level.  As discussed in a previous post, Reality Barks, one of my greatest enemies has been the doggie domino effect.

I realized early on that my crew would need specialized training if we were to have any hope for success.  But what did I know about dog training, let alone the kind of training that would be required to rehabilitate my dogs?  The puppy training books that I had read were useless since they did not discuss the reactive behaviors in which I was dealing.  What I needed was a manual that focused on raising multiple reactive dogs. Well, as it turns out, none exist.

Educating myself was the first step in attempting to meet the unique needs of my dogs. Searching the Internet, I found articles and books that focused on specific canine behavioral issues. The concepts and methods presented are geared towards fearful/reactive dogs who require more than basic obedience training.  Authors including Pat Miller, Leslie McDevitt, Patricia McConnell, and Jane Killion became my mentors while Amazon became my new best friend as I amassed a compilation of books that would rival your local public library.

With my guide books in hand, I began the monumental task of rehabilitating my reactive dogs.  Progress has been painstakingly slow, and regression is too frequent.  I have taken wrong turns, encountered detours, and reached dead-ends while on this journey. Frustration and exhaustion have become second nature and are a part of my everyday life.

Currently, I am reading Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out by Laura Van Arendonk Baugh.  A true gem, this book first hooked me with its title which seemed to capture the very essence of my Min Pins.  The theme of this book is “training crazy dog from over-the-top to under control”.  This recent addition to my collection may  become my bible!

Always a realist, I know that my dogs will never be “bomb proof”.  After all, they are Miniature Pinschers! As I continue striving to rehabilitate my dogs, I try to remain optimistic about the future.  The road I am on stretches before me, so I will keep walking forward with faith, determination, and three Min Pins by my side.

Colorado Barkation

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My favorite time of the year has arrived – school is out and it is the start of summer vacation.  I should be preparing for a trip, but I am not.  Since acquiring my Min Pin crew, traveling has taken a back seat. It’s not that we can’t take a trip, but it would not be worth the aggravation and stress that would be packed along with our luggage.

Reactive dogs change the way you live.  Things that were once simple, such as a neighborhood stroll, become more complicated than you can imagine.  Things that you did with little thought now require careful planning with every detail micro managed.  I love my dogs, but miss the life I used to have.  Traveling is one of the things that I miss the most.   For many years, a summer trip was on the agenda.  Bob and I traveled all over the country, with our choice destinations being California and Colorado.

When the crew was about seven months old, we took them with us on a trip to Colorado. The vacation had been planned shortly after bringing the pups home.  Including our dogs on a vacation seemed perfectly normal to us since our first Min Pin, Twinkie, went everywhere with us. Two months prior to the trip, the girls began showing signs of reactivity. I was not worried because I figured that once school was out, I would have a couple of weeks to train them and get them under control before the trip.

Well, my head sure must have been in the clouds! It is now six years later and the girls are still running the show.  Sure, there have been improvements, but I am consistently challenged by their reactive behavior.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have laughed out loud at my naivety.  We are talking about multiple dogs with pack mentality.  Each dog would need to be trained individually before training in pairs, and finally as a group.  Due to Quest’s hyper-reactivity, we have yet to reach the group phase!

I was extremely nervous the day of our departure.  As the plane taxied down the runway,  I remember thinking, “This may have been a really bad idea. We are taking a trio of reactive puppies on a vacation!”  Aspen and Vail were two of the towns we would be visiting, and having been to both before, we knew that it was not going to be easy to avoid seeing dogs.

Since the girls were still puppies, we brought along a stroller for crowded areas and when a lot of walking was planned.

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Vail, Colorado

 

We tried our best to avoid dog sightings, but were not always successful.  A barking frenzy would erupt anytime a dog was spotted, much to our embarrassment.  The girls did have romps in local parks, but only after we scouted them first to be sure we would not have any unexpected meetings with fellow canines.

Early morning walks was another way to avoid seeing too many dogs.  Rising at the crack of dawn (while Bob slept in!), I would take one girl at a time for her morning walk.  This was a practice that I began back home once the reactivity seemed to be here for the duration.  I quickly learned that one reactive dog is easier to handle than three.

In addition to walks, the girls also needed time to run and play leash-free. Bob and I came up with some creative solutions that gave the girls a chance to have fun on their vacation.  Isolated tennis courts and empty soccer fields became playgrounds for the girls.

 

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The girls enjoyed playing on a soccer field in Telluride (until Malibu escaped and Bob had to chase her down!)

Bob and I were able to have puppy-free time in the evenings.  Since the girls were crate-trained, we could leave them at the hotel for short periods of time while we went out to dinner.  The girls were usually exhausted by the end of the day and probably happy to rest in their crate.

One of the biggest vacation disappointments was not being able to participate in a Race for the Cure event in which we were registered.  Months earlier, when I realized that we would be in Aspen while it was taking place, I signed us up for the dog walk portion of the event.  Wearing our Race for the Cure shirts and with the girls each sporting a pink ribbon bandanna we arrived at the location.  We had the girls in the stroller, but planned to take them out and let them walk. Well, we weren’t there for five minutes before all hell broke loose.  As soon as our girls spotted a couple of dogs, the barking and shrieking began.  Of course, everyone turned to see the cause of the commotion.  Red-faced, Bob and I made a hasty retreat before our girls completely lost their minds.  So, knowing that the crew is dog-reactive, why did I sign us up for a walk where they would see multiple dogs?  Wishful thinking, maybe? I really wanted to participate in the event and hoped that things would go smoothly.  You would think that a lesson would have been learned here, but in the past six years I have really had too many wishful thoughts!

To my surprise, the trip did not turn out to be a total nightmare.  The girls were well-behaved at the airport, on the plane, in the rental car, and at the hotels.  Walking around and seeing the sights (the whole point of a vacation) was where we had trouble.  It is not very relaxing when you are constantly scanning for canines or when people are staring at you because you appear to have no control over your dogs.

Although I have traveled with one dog at a time since the trip to Colorado, Bob and I have yet to take another vacation with the entire crew.

So, the end of a school year is now bittersweet.  We are no longer able to hit the road when the last bell rings as we had in the past.  It doesn’t seem to affect Bob the same way it does me.  My sense of wanderlust is hard-wired and cannot simply be cast aside.  For now, I will remain in a holding pattern until we are sure that our next trip will not turn into another barkation.

 

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Aspen, Colorado

 

 

 

Triple Trouble

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Raising multiple dogs is no easy task, but when the dogs are a high energy, reactive breed it increases the challenges astronomically.  With three Miniature Pinschers under my roof, I have first hand experience with complete and total anarchy.

My dogs’ reactive behavior has been a thorn in my side since first rearing its ugly head when the girls were puppies.  Living with reactive dogs has created a crazy and chaotic home where stress sprinkles down in a drizzle or a waterfall depending on the day.  Every detail of daily life must be micro-managed in order to prevent the girls from gaining the upper hand, or in this case, paw.

Min Pins are a breed of dog that require constant supervision and management is key to keeping the girls out of trouble.  Baby gates are utilized to prevent access to the front entryway and the second floor of our home. The gates are also used when my husband and I need to contain the girls in one room. I could not even imagine the mischief that would ensue if the girls had run of the entire house!

A primary source of frustration in our home is the living room windows.  The windows sit low and the girls can easily part the vertical blinds in order to see outside.  A favorite spot of my furry trio, their “window on the world” is where they can go from zero to sixty in less than three seconds. Of course, these episodes usually occur when I am upstairs or on the opposite side of the house!

Various items have been used to block the girls’ view, but Aspen usually outsmarts me and figures out a way to beat the system.

Most dogs go through agility tunnels, but Aspen likes to show off with a balancing act!

Most dogs only go through agility tunnels, but Aspen likes to show off with a balancing act!

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A sheet, really? This was way too easy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The girls currently have “supervised visitation” while they take in the outside scenery and this latest strategy has worked the best thus far.
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All three of my Min Pins exhibit reactive behavior, but to varying degrees. A puzzle yet to be solved, Quest is the most reactive of the three and the one with which I have consistently struggled to make progress.

I usually avoid taking Quest on walks with the other two because of her reactivity.  At full throttle, Quest will bark, lunge, and spin if she goes over threshold. That is all it takes to bring Malibu along for the ride.  Although Malibu has made huge strides to overcome her reactive tendencies, if Quest is singing a song, Malibu wants to make it a duet.

Aspen’s reactivity is different from her sisters.  She is our best behaved dog in public situations, but the noisiest of the three at home.  Stimulated by outdoor sights and sounds, Aspen will frequently erupt into a barking frenzy.  She also barks at her sisters – a lot!

I am proud of how far Aspen and Malibu have come since puppyhood.  They are still reactive, but it is more manageable now.

Since taking on this pack of puppies, my world has been turned upside down. I had no idea how incredibly difficult it would be to raise three Miniature Pinschers.  Not one to give up, I will continue to utilize the strategies that have worked while seeking additional ones to place in my ever-expanding toolbox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dirty, Little Secret

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I have a confession to make. It is a rather dirty, little secret.  I have been keeping something from many people for the past six years. My dogs EAT poop! They eat their own poop and each other’s poop. The first time I observed this most disgusting indecency was shortly after bringing the Miniature Pinscher pups home. Horrified, I could not believe my eyes when I saw Aspen walk over to a piddle pad and eat a fresh stool as if it were a delicious delicacy.  It was the grossest thing I have ever seen in my entire life!  To say that I never again saw such behavior from Aspen or her littermates would be a lie. Before long, Bob and I were witnessing all three girls participate in poop eating parties on a regular basis.

I know now that this heinous habit is not as rare as I first believed.  Many dogs eat poop, perhaps even your own dog! This poop eating picnic even has a name: coprophagia. If you research the topic of canine fecal ingestion, you will learn various reasons as to why dogs participate in this “activity.” For my girls, it has become a game to see which one of them can get to the poop before the humans.  Appearing to truly enjoy snacking on morsels of the turd variety, the girls will grab a tidbit, run with glee around the backyard, and celebrate their victory.  The Min Pins score one for the team, again! Hanging our heads in disgust, we resolve to beat them next time.  We can always dream, can’t we?

Many products can be found in pet stores and online that claim to put an end to poop eating. We tried one and it seemed to work, but it upset our Min Pins’ stomachs. The irony of that still astounds me! Therefore, for us, the only solution that is 100% effective is to remove the poop before any of the dogs can get to it. In our backyard, Bob and I have learned to be lightning quick and scoop the poop before it becomes a tasty snack. If two dogs are going at the same time and I am flying solo, a split decision must be made as to which direction I should head.  A word to the wise, always go towards Malibu first!

Over the years, there has been a significant decline in poop eating. Mostly, because we have learned to watch the girls like hawks. One eye taken off of them for an instant is all it takes. We have been taught that lesson on more than one occasion.   Teaching basic commands, such as “drop it” and “leave it” have helped too. Although I must admit, sometimes the girls pretend that those phrases have never been taught. Quest is the most obedient when it comes to obeying those commands.  Once, I believed that she had a rock in her mouth and asked her to drop it into my hand.  Well, she did what I asked, but the object did not turn out to be what I thought it was!  Quest was praised for obeying and I went into the house to vigorously scrub my hands.

So, I have just shared my deepest, darkest secret with you. Can we keep it between us?

Reality Barks

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Here in our home, where Miniature Pinschers out number the humans, reality may not bite, but it barks –  a lot!  Raising three reactive Min Pins has brought much more noise into our lives than I could ever have imagined.

Barking is definitely one of the hardest challenges we have faced while raising this litter.  When you have multiple dogs, one barking dog can create a domino effect. A “woof” is all it takes to get the party started. Every dog is eager to chime in and let her bark be heard. And it is heard, indeed.

With an uncanny ability to hear a sound from far off in the distance, I believe my Min Pins can hear a leaf falling from a tree ten miles away.

Equal opportunity barkers, my girls will alert me to any suspicious activity happening in our neighborhood.  A plastic bag blowing down the street is cause for concern, as is a squirrel climbing a tree in our backyard. Of course, the loudest sirens are saved for people walking their dogs and the neighbor’s cat who teases the girls with her tantalizingly slow stroll past our front windows.

My Min Pins are always on high alert while standing at their “window on the world”.

With sunset, usually comes peace.  The few hours before bedtime is the calmest and quietest time of day in our house. The girls usually burrow under blankets, even in the summer, and snooze until we announce that it is “bedtime” and herd the crew upstairs to their crates.

Once the girls are tucked away for the night, I am eager to crawl into bed and enjoy the sounds of silence.  If only Bob didn’t snore…

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