Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ticks and Fur and Fights!

I'm finding out that there are a few things I was unprepared for after moving to the country and getting a second dog.  I've always lived in suburban developments and I've never had more than one dog at once.  There are a million things I love about the country and multiple dogs, but there are things I definitely didn't consider.

First off -- TICKS!  I've never had a problem with ticks before.  I found one tick on Kyra the whole two years we had her in the old house, and we'd never found ticks on my parent's dog in the 14ish years we had her.  Following the recommendation of my vet, I don't Frontline my dogs.  There are more natural ways to prevent fleas and ticks, but I had not utilized any since I'd never had a problem previously.  Well, we went on a hike in the woods a week ago, and they came back covered in ticks.  OOPS!  And now every time I think I've gotten rid of them I find another one.  So I've put together a plan of action and we'll see if it works: I've started giving them supplements with brewers yeast and garlic which are supposed to make them unattractive to ticks; I bought Sentry Natural Defense Natural Flea and Tick Squeeze-Ons and applied them over the weekend; and I bought some yard spray with the same ingredients as the squeeze-ons, but I haven't used that yet since it was rainy over the weekend.  I also bought Natural Defense spray to spray on the dogs coats in case we go hiking again.  I'll let you know if we end up defeating our tick problem.

Next, fur.  You would think having two dogs would mean twice as much fur.  I was prepared for twice the fur.  I was not prepared for the fur explosion that has taken place at my house.  I can't clean fast enough!  We were spoiled with Kyra, she defies her breed and does not actually shed too much.  She doesn't have the thick undercoat that most GSDs have.  Marcus does.  Boy, does he.  It's coming off in fist-fulls around my house.  I really need to start brushing him on a daily basis, but I've been lazy and I'm paying the price by having to vacuum every 5 minutes.

Finally, fights.  Dogs get into scuffles, and mine have snarked at each other a few times over toys or because one ran into the other too hard, etc.  This morning they had what was, to me, a fight ... although anyone who has dogs that actually fight would probably laugh at me.  They were playing around in the family room while I was checking my email, and I don't know who ticked off who but suddenly they were both on their back legs snarling and in each others faces.  It probably only lasted 5-10 seconds but it seemed like a lifetime.  Like I said, I've never had more than one dog so I've never had to break up a fight (or scuffle, which is all it really was), and at dog parks Kyra will back down if a dog even glances at her wrong.  So I was totally unprepared and a little freaked out!  I just stood there yelling and clapping my hands which didn't work at all, while repeating to myself that I shouldn't pull them apart unless I wanted to get bit.  Thankfully it was over as suddenly as it started and they were back to kissing and snuggling within minutes.  Marcus does have a little war wound - a scratch under his eye that was probably from a nail or being smacked by a tooth, definitely not an actual bite.  Next time I will be more prepared with a squirt bottle or a blanket to throw over them or something other than yelling helplessly.  Although I hope there's not a next time, realistically I'm sure they will have arguments again.

So, does anyone have any good tricks for dealing with ticks, fur, or fights (aka scuffles)?  Anything you use to break up dogs that are arguing?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dog Blogs Week in Review: 5/15 - 5/21

Each Friday I plan on listing my favorite blog posts from the past week.  Here's the first installment!

  • Dog Star Daily had a good article about the 3 D's of dog training (duration, distance, and distraction), how to train them, and why they are important: Dog Star Daily: 3 D's of Dog Training

  • Laurie Luck at Smart Dog University posts about puppy socialization, and how to socialize your puppy at his or her own pace: Smart Dog Blog: Puppy Knowledge 

Hope you enjoy them!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What the Breed Books Don't Tell You

Before we committed to adopting Kyra, I wanted to do some research and make sure the breed was right for us.  I thought I did the right thing by reading all the GSD breed books and magazines I could get my hands on, and by talking to people who had owned GSDs.  Unfortunately, I was not looking in the right places or asking the right questions (although I wouldn't trade Kyra for the world, she was NOT what I was expecting!).  I will list the different ways to get information about a breed, and my opinion on their usefulness.  Hopefully what I've learned can help someone else out!

Breed books and magazines:  Good for a general overview of the breed, its history, form and function, common health problems, and the ideal temperament.  Not so good at telling you the down and dirty about average temperament and behavior problems.  They will often show the breed through rose-colored glasses.

Past owners of the breed:  Take with a grain of salt.  When I talked to people before getting Kyra, I heard a lot of "I had one when I was a kid, it was the best dog I've ever had!!".  You ever notice how the dog someone had as a kid was always the best?  It's nice to hear the fond memories, but doesn't give much useful information.

Breed specific yahoo groups:  These can be a great resource for finding people who actually live with the breed.  Since it is the internet, some groups are nicer and better moderated than others, so if you find a group to be unhelpful just move on to another one.

Dog trainers and training yahoo groups:  Trainers often know the down and dirty about a huge assortment of breeds, but especially the most popular ones.  A good trainer who has been around for a while should be able to give great advice on what breeds fit your lifestyle the best, and which would be a struggle for you.

Current breed owners:  These can be a good resource IF you ask the right questions!  This was my downfall.  I asked people how they liked their GSD, and the answers were all a version of "Oh he's wonderful!  Best dog ever!"  However, once we got Kyra and started having problems, I went back to these people and asked if they'd had the same problems.  The answers I got the second time were very different!  "Oh yeah, he doesn't like strangers so we have to lock him in the basement when company comes over," and "We don't take her for walks anymore because she lunges at every person and dog she sees.  She's very mean."  So make sure you ask specific questions!  "How is your dog with strangers?  Other dogs?  Kids?  How much exercise does she need?  At what age did she calm down?" and so forth.  People mean well, but often they tell you what they think you want to hear, so make sure you dig deep and get the real story.

Here's a quick example of breed book description and reality.  AKC defines the GSD temperament as: "...direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them. [...] The dog must not be timid, shrinking behind its master or handler; it should not be nervous, looking about or upward with anxious expression or showing nervous reactions, such as tucking of tail, to strange sounds or sights." (akc.org)  However, talking to people who own and work with the breed, a dog of this temperament seems to be the exception!  GSDs have been irresponsibly bred for so long that most of the things the description says are in reality the exact opposite.  Many GSDs are plagued with anxiety, fearfulness, over-arousal, and sound sensitivity.  Are there GSDs with sound temperaments?  Of course!  But they are harder to find than the breed books would have you believe.

A final note:  Remember, no matter how much research you do, every dog is different.  I've known Labradors who hate the water, and mellow Jack Russell Terriers.  Doing your research correctly will put the odds in your favor, but to paraphrase good ol' Forest Gump, a litter of puppies is like a box of chocolates: you never quite know what you're going to get!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Story of Marcus

Pretty much ever since we got Kyra, we've said that as soon as we had our own house we would get a second dog.  Almost two years later, after markets crashing and contracts falling through and 6 months of renovations, we finally have our house.  Perfect for dogs, the house is on almost an acre and we have fenced in most of it with a 6 foot wood privacy fence (hooray for the first-time homebuyer tax credit!).  I had been scouting shelter and rescue sites for weeks in anticipation of being ready for our new addition.  I'd fallen in love with dogs who were adopted before I could go visit them in person (very happy for them!).  I know exactly what I want - a pittie or bully breed mix between 1-2 years old (I'll go into why that was my first choice in a later post).  I know exactly what I DON'T want - another German Shepherd.  Although I love Kyra to death and wouldn't trade her for the world, I did not want another neurotic, fearful, anxious dog.  I wanted a stable, happy-go-lucky, solid dog who could be a rock for Kyra and not add to her stress level.  From talking to other dog trainers and GSD owners over the last 2 years, I've found that there are many that have similar temperaments to Kyra, and I did not want that.

Well, my carefully laid plans were disrupted when I got an email from a relative whose neighbor needed to find a home for his 2 year old male GSD.  Did I want him?  Please help!  Knowing that this dog had been stuck in the back yard most of his life, and that the family was going through a very rough time, I was very skeptical that this dog (Max, at the time) would be a good fit for us.  However, he passed all my preliminary questions (is he good with kids?  Does he like people and other dogs?  Is he scared of anything?) so we went to meet him.

Fully prepared to say thanks but no thanks, we were totally blown away by Max.  I couldn't find anything wrong with him (and I tried!  Pinched his ears, picked up his feet ... all the things Kyra hates).  We decided to take him home to see how he got along with Kyra, and if they were good together we'd keep him.  Well, they were unsure at first, but after a few minutes they were inseparable and have been ever since.

Marcus, as he's now known, is kind of a miracle dog.  Who knew a dog, especially a GSD, could come from such neglect with such a stable temperament?  He isn't scared of anything, he loves people, he doesn't bark at other dogs, he plays well with Kyra, he rarely jumps, he doesn't steal food, he doesn't chew things he's not supposed to, and he's cool with just chilling while we watch TV.  He's not perfect, of course.  He doesn't know any of the behaviors we take for granted with Kyra (leave it, off, etc.), he has NO leash manners and pulls like a beast, and he gets way over excited when he's out of the house (which is understandable, since he's probably never been to Petsmart, training class, or a hike before, which are all things we've done the past few weeks with him.  It's like ).  But these are all easily trainable, especially with a good stable temperament to work with.

I am looking forward to getting to know Marcus better, teaching him how to be a good K9 citizen, and getting him out of the house and into the world as much as possible.  He's got some catching up to do!

World, meet Marcus:

The Story of Kyra

My first dog as an adult, Kyra has been a learning experience!  My boyfriend and I adopted her from a coworker of mine at the tender age of 6 weeks.  She had been taken from her mother and littermates at 5 weeks old by my coworker, who then decided a puppy was too much work.  For those who aren't aware, puppies should be left with their doggy family until at least 8 weeks, for many reasons - one of which is it's the law in Maryland!  So Kyra came to us with some built in separation anxiety, fear of strange people and dogs, non-existent bite inhibition, and poor doggy social skills, all of which stemmed at least partly from her being taken away from her mother and siblings too young. 

We have been working on all of those issues for the last two years, and she has come a LONG way.  She plays well with other dogs now after intense socialization when she was a puppy.  Her only dog issue is she will occasionally flip out if she sees another dog and she's on a leash (she barks and turns into a bucking bronco).  It used to be she would do this every time she saw a dog, so there's been definite progress.  Her separation anxiety is very mild now, especially since we got Marcus.  She gets over-aroused and/or anxious in public, so we are still working on how to relax and be calm when we're out and about.  Her biggest issue now is being afraid when trucks and buses go by the house - she gets very scared and shakes.  However, this has also gotten a bit better since we got Marcus, so I'm hoping that as we work on it the fear will eventually go away. 

Her various issues notwithstanding, Kyra is a great dog, although not the dog I had expected.  Kyra has given me a lot of reality checks.  Before I got her, I had a very tabula rasa view of puppy raising - puppies are blank slates who with proper training can become anything you want.  Kyra was most definitely not a blank slate!  Whether due to her being taken so young or an innate temperament (or a bit of both, which is my opinion now) she came to us with a lot of baggage already at 6 weeks old that we have been working on ever since.  She will never be a competition dog - noisy crowded environments stress her out, and even with a lot of work she will never be completely comfortable in such chaos.  But she is an awesome pet dog.  She is very loving, loves to cuddle, loves to be with people.  She is in love with everyone she meets.  She learns fast, and has mastered a huge number of behaviors, and could learn an infinite amount of new ones if only I had the time.  She will always be my first dog.

World, meet Kyra: