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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.

colorado 3 stroller

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.

 

colorado 10 telluride

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.

 

colorado 17 aspen

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!

Aspen in window

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.
DSCN1613

 

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…

The Bottom Line

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It has been six years since Bob and I embarked on this life-changing journey.  To say it has been a wild and crazy ride would be an understatement!

Do we regret the decision we made to keep the litter together? The answer is a resounding, “No”.  The past six years have been anything but easy.  In fact, they have been the hardest, most trying time of my entire life. But if I could go back and change anything, I would not.

Parenting our Min Pin crew is a full-time job. In the first couple of years, Bob and I said, “What were we thinking?” more times than I can count. What kind of people fly halfway across the country to pick up a litter of puppies? Obviously, we are those kind of people.  Well, it has been a bumpy ride, with extreme turbulence along the way.

The first few months with the puppies were exhausting – we did not get a lot of sleep, but were so elated to finally have them that it didn’t matter.  Aside from our jobs, Bob and I spent every waking moment with the pups.  Having multiple pups under one roof was no easy task, but we managed and believed that the hardest part was behind us.

It was not until the puppies turned five months that we noticed trouble may be brewing. It seemed that all of a sudden, the pups realized that there was a whole world outside of our doors.  The crew began showing signs of what I now know is called reactive behavior.  Reactivity + pack mentality = trouble!!

Bob and I quickly learned that raising three Miniature Pinschers was going to be very different from caring for just one, as we had in the past.  The challenges have been almost insurmountable.  Torrents of tears and fits of frustration have been a common theme, but the sweet sprinkles of happiness and joy have made this difficult situation worthwhile.

As we continue our journey we are certain to experience more failure, but we will also celebrate success.  Sometimes it will seem like two steps forward and four steps back. That has pretty much been the status quo from the beginning.

The bottom line - we love our dogs. They are our world and we couldn’t imagine our lives without them.

For Keeps

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Did you ever want something and get more than you hoped for?  Well, that is exactly what happened to me.  All I wanted was advice on dealing with mouthy puppies, but I got so much more.  In one short afternoon, my life went from trying to find a solution for a minor puppy issue to thinking that we may have to separate our litter.

What were we going to do? What was best for our puppies? After going back and forth, Bob and I still did not have answers to these questions.  It was kind of strange to think that we would even consider taking advice from people we have never even met.  But how could so many people be wrong?

Having had the litter for a couple of weeks now, the realities of life with three puppies was beginning to set in. “Your new puppy will sleep about eighteen hours a day”, stated one of the puppy training books I had recently read.  Well, the author of that book obviously had not based her information on a litter of Miniature Pinschers.  Sleep deprivation was yet another issue we were dealing with since the pups seemed to be awake more often than not.

Bob and I talked for hours on end and made a pro/con list in an attempt to reach a decision. The deck was clearly stacked against us if we based our decision on our pro/con list.  Basically, our “pros” for keeping the pups together included the fact that they were related to our first dog, Twinkie.  Also, we did not want to separate the litter. Our “cons” list was longer: three dogs are more expensive than two, traveling with multiple dogs is difficult,  taking care of three dogs during their geriatric stage could be challenging, and if the information we received was accurate, the puppies could grow up to be aggressive towards one another.  The problem with pro/con lists, in my opinion,  is that I am never able to weigh my decision according to quantity.  One “pro” alone can be far more significant than all of the “cons” together which makes the list useless.

After much discussion, Bob and I made the heartbreaking decision to rehome Malibu. Hoping that we could place her with a family we knew, we began making phone calls.  I  wrote a letter that would be posted at the school where I taught.  How perfect it would  be if a colleague adopted Malibu.  This would allow us to remain in Malibu’s life and always know how she is doing.  Bob also had a co-worker who was considering the possibility of taking Malibu and we were waiting to hear back from him.

Once we had made our “final” decision, Bob and I continued asking each other if we were making the right choice.  We did not seem to be 100% committed to the idea of giving away one of the  pups.  It was time for the puppies to visit their veterinarian again, so we figured that it was a perfect opportunity to get another opinion. In fact, Bob and I decided to let the vet make the decision for us.  We were too emotionally involved and needed the assistance of an impartial individual with experience in such matters.  Basically, we planned to ask the doctor if he believed that our puppies would grow up to become aggressive dogs with the potential to seriously injure or kill one another. His answer to this question would determine whether Malibu would be rehomed, or remain with Aspen and Quest.

Feeling hopeful on the drive to the vet’s office, but also prepared to do what was best for the puppies, Bob and I were anxious to hear the verdict. “Pure silliness”,  is what the vet said when we relayed the negative information we had received about raising litters together.  He discounted the theories regarding the likelihood of serious dog aggression and totally put our minds at ease. Bob and I felt like a weight had been lifted and were ecstatic to learn that our litter would remain together. Whatever the future held, we would deal with it together.

pups at high point

Tip of the Iceberg

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My, what sharp teeth the puppies had! The pups were extremely mouthy, especially Aspen.  She was like a piranha! I know this is typical puppy behavior, but the tops off my hands were soon covered with bite marks. “What happened to your hands?” a student in my class asked.  At a vet appointment, the tech inquired if we had a cat after glancing at my hands. I became extremely self-conscious of how bad my hands looked. Our first Min Pin, Twinkie, was not mouthy at all, so this behavior took me by surprise.

I began to wonder if this mouthy issue was normal.  What do inquiring minds do when they are searching for answers?  Why, they turn to the Internet, of course.  The pups had been in our possession for about a week and a half when I received an unexpected gift, school was cancelled due to a snow day. I was ready to do some research and hopefully find answers to our pressing issue. I spent several hours on my computer hoping to get advice on the mouthy behavior.  I explained our situation so many times that afternoon that I lost count. My scenario described how Bob and I had just acquired three female Min Pin littermates and were seeking advice on how to best handle mouthy puppies. I emailed breeders and trainers, and posted on various dog forums, oblivious to the fact that my picture perfect vision of our little family was about to be shredded into a million pieces.

Responses began arriving so quickly that it was almost as if these faceless, anonymous individuals had been waiting for my emails and posts. As I began reading the emails my hopeful state of mind instantly changed to complete and utter shock. With the exception of a few, the emails were full of doom and gloom.  The mouthy issue was pushed aside by most responders and attention was directed at the fact that we had made a crucial mistake with the purchase of littermates, female littermates.  I was berated for being so clueless and outrage was expressed toward the breeder who sold us the puppies.  Comments included, “He could not be reputable if he was willing to  allow you to purchase more than one puppy”, and “Professional breeders would never sell a litter of puppies to one family.”  Negative feedback kept coming, email after email, painting a bleak picture of how our lives would be should we keep all three puppies.

According to the emails, mouthy behavior was just the tip of the iceberg.  Serious fighting among the dogs was not only probable, but a reality we would have to accept if the litter remained together. Horrific stories of dog violence were told that gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Littermates, particularly females, do not do well together as adult dogs was a common theme among those who wanted to chime in with their two cents. Although none of the responses were positive,  a few attempted to let me down more easily.  Others appeared to take joy in their delivery of such upsetting news.

I was basically told to get my head out of the clouds if I envisioned peaceful neighborhood strolls with my dogs and frolicking dogs playing together in the backyard.  “Sure, you can keep all three pups if you don’t mind living like you are in a military camp”, stated a responder.  A strict and regimented environment was described that focused on keeping the dogs separated at all times and how gates and barriers would be required to prevent the dogs from killing one another.

Now, at this point, many people may point out that you cannot believe everything you read on the Internet.  I did not want to believe any of this negativity, but some of the responders were not so anonymous.  One of my emails had been sent to a well-known dog trainer who was the author of a puppy training book I was currently reading.  After exchanging several emails, her bottom line was that our situation was not likely to turn out well if we were to keep the litter together.

In a few short hours my entire outlook of our lives with the puppies had been dramatically changed.  Excitement over finally bringing the puppies home was cast aside as worry and apprehension set in about what the future may hold.  Devastated, I felt like we were experiencing a cruel twist of fate.  Important, possibly life-altering, decisions had to be made, but I couldn’t even think of parting with any of our pups.

pup family pic

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