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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.

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