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When my dogs were puppies I purchased an agility starter set for our backyard. It was summertime and I thought it would be an exciting activity for my high-energy pups. Fun was had by all as they learned to jump, run through the tunnel, and work the weave poles. I soon knew that I would look for an agility class once the girls were older.

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Aspen and Malibu enjoying a tug in the tunnel.

A year later Malibu and I began attending weekly classes and I immediately fell in love with the sport.  Initially, Malibu’s reactivity was kept at bay because her food motivation kept her focus on me. But it wasn’t long before Malibu began to make it clear that she did not enjoy playing with other dogs nearby. A few new dogs joined the class which worsened the situation.  Malibu would lunge at most of the dogs that got too close to her. Whenever Malibu went over threshold, the instructor, who I will refer to as Cindy, would ask me to take Malibu off to a corner of the room. While there, I would use attention games to calm Malibu down and regain her focus.

In short time, Malibu’s behavior began to put a damper on our group classes. It was hard to concentrate on the agility tasks while managing Malibu’s reactive outbursts. On top of that, I was embarrassed and wished that my dog behaved like the other dogs in class. I cannot say enough kind words about the other members of the group. Despite Malibu’s issues, I was never made to feel unwelcome.

In fact, I became close friends with another woman in the class. Joanne attended class with her Shetland Sheepdog, Charlie. For some reason, Malibu never reacted towards Charlie. In fact, she was so comfortable with Charlie that they could take walks together and even share an ex-pen.  Joanne was able to empathize with my situation since her other dog had reactive tendencies. Once in awhile Joanne and I would rent the agility facility or field for private practice. When it was just Joanne, myself, and our dogs, it was perfect. Malibu was able to relax and practice the agility skills that would be required if we were to begin competing.

 

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Malibu works the weave poles during a private practice session.

 

Over time Cindy, the instructor, began to lose her patience with Malibu. During one class Malibu stole a treat off of another dog’s target plate so Cindy picked Malibu up, rolled her on her back, and held her there. That really ticked me off because another dog had done the same thing and it either went unnoticed by Cindy or it didn’t warrant a consequence.  After that incident Cindy no longer suggested that I separate Malibu from the group. Instead, Cindy wanted me to correct Malibu the way she had demonstrated, but I was not comfortable doing that to my dog.

Cesar Milan’s show, The Dog Whisperer, was popular during that time so Cindy’s technique was not foreign to me, but I preferred that it not be used on my seven pound dog.  At the time it just seemed mean to do that to a dog. Being naive, I did not understand the emotional and psychological damage that is inflicted upon a dog when they are on the receiving end of an individual who utilizes dominance theory in order to change a behavior.

The final straw broke during an agility workshop at Cindy’s house. It was a hot summer morning and we had decided to take a brief break. We all knew that Cindy had recently gotten a puppy, but I had no idea that she would bring it out while we were there. As soon as I saw the puppy enter the backyard I became nervous. I knew  how Malibu would react if it came near us. There was no time to exit before Cindy began to proudly parade her puppy towards the group. Malibu lunged and growled as soon as the puppy invaded our space and Cindy went off on us in front of everyone. She screamed, “You’re not going to do that to MY dog”. There were a few more words from Cindy as all eyes were on me. I stayed for the rest of the workshop, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Looking back, I wish I had just taken Malibu and left with my head held high. Why did Cindy need to show off her puppy while Malibu was present? Cindy was fully aware of Malibu’s reactivity and should have known better. If she had asked me to take Malibu and leave the backyard for a few minutes while she brought her puppy out to meet everyone I would have been fine with that.

After that experience I knew that I would be ending my relationship with Cindy. Malibu deserved better, and so did I. From the beginning, Malibu was treated differently than the other dogs in our class. She was bullied by Cindy and I allowed it to happen. To this day I feel tremendous guilt when I think about Malibu’s first agility class. I assumed that the instructor had Malibu’s best interest in mind and knew what she was doing. This was my first foray into any type of dog sport, so what did I know? Since then, I have learned that it is my job to be my dogs’ advocate. If something doesn’t seem right I need to speak up, and if deemed necessary,  take my dog and just walk away.

Malibu

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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