Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bad Dog School

Last year, before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I decided that I wanted to get more involved with my dog, Max.  We had to euthanize our other dog, Roxie, due to cancer, and Max had gotten a little crazy around the house, marking on weird things,  and generally exhibiting signs of missing his buddy. I had never taken the time to really pursue any training with my dogs other than the basics, sit, stay, down, come (sometimes), off, off the bed, etc. Roxie had spent 1/2 of her first 14 months in the world in a no kill animal shelter and was a little crazy about food and treats. Crazy like "I can't do anything but run around in circles and drool".

Max on his Roxie pillow
We believe Max was a 'drop off' dog, found wandering around Lowell with a Chocolate Lab and a collar.  No one claimed him.  He is a border collie/springer spaniel mixed with who knows what else, but the instant we saw each other it was love at first sight. Border Collies have to be one of my all time favorite dog, but I was adamant about not wanting one while we lived in town, without anything for a border collie to herd or do. I  read articles on the internet about the destruction bored border collies could wreak on a house. Yet, here I was bringing one into my own home, helpless to prevent it. Although he surprised me by being a lot less energetic in the house than I expected, when we left him alone during the day, he took the opportunity to rid my house of rugs, pillow stuffing, 100 year old oak floor molding and a few pieces of the wooden back stairs.  Max had separation anxiety.  Even with Roxie around.  After relating to my fellow co-workers the latest caper that Max had gotten into, they would laugh, shake their head and say...."and you wonder why he got dropped off....?"  Unfortunately, my son and I discovered his superpower was unbearable cuteness, and we continued to go rug free, patched up the stairs, and moved the dogs to a less damageable area on the 2nd floor landing with only 20 year old cheap wood molding.

Happily, Max and Roxie got along with each other, and when I took them to our new dog park, they both had a great time chasing around with all the other dogs.  A couple of years went by and one day at the dog park he decided to lunge at a cute little golden retriever puppy there.  I was really shocked and surprised, he had never done that before!  The next time I took him, he got into it with some Old English Sheepdogs about twice his size before the owner could step in and separate them.  Eventually I stopped taking him to the dog park because he would get into it with any dog that came near us.  Brian thought maybe he was protecting me, but I didn't know what was going on.  Additionally, he started having panic attacks during rainstorms and thunderstorms.  We always know when a weather front is rolling through because Max starts panting, drooling and shaking.
Sweet Max
When we had to put Roxie down, he seemed to get a little worse, but fortunately, Brian started a new job working at home so that Max wasn't alone all day long.  I decided that since Max was equally motivated by love AND food, I wanted to start working with training him to do a few more things besides the basics.  When we first got him I took him to basic obedience and he aced that. I signed him up for advanced obedience, though now with trepidation....what would he do around the other dogs?  In his house and yard, or around friends he was the sweetest dog, but as soon as another dog, small child or even unfamiliar adult would approach him suddenly he turned into Cujo!

After speaking with the owner of the training center, she thought that it would be ok to bring him, and we would just keep an eye on him.  He did really well, as long as no other dogs got too close to him.  Then he would put on his Cujo show.  We could reduce the tendency by putting benches in between him and the other dog, but at least once a class he would bring out his Cujo impersonation.

None the less, we ended up passing the Canine Good Citizen test at the end of the class, with the exception of the test of being left alone for 3 minutes out of sight of me.

The owner suggested that in the spring, he would be a good candidate for Rally, a competitive obedience sport, ON-leash, where dogs and owners run a course filled with obstacles like, sit, down and stay, turn in a circle, figure eights between cones, etc. all while heeling on a leash with their handler.  We signed up for it and had a great time.  Max did really well with the obstacles but still managed to pull a few Cujo's out each class.  In the middle of all this, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I missed the class the night I found out, but we managed to finish the class.

Max was definitely my cancer/chemo buddy, he was always there if I needed a snuggle partner. When I had the energy I worked with him on small tricks, my favorite one being "Wipe your Feet" when coming in from the winter rains and brief snows that we had.  I had already taught him to shake with both front paws, so I just added a sit on the mat at the door, and a back feet command to wipe all the mud, snow or whatever out of his furry little webbed toes. I also taught him to spin in circles and rollover, as well as relax, which HE actually taught me, and I went with it and made it a real rewardable trick for him to do.

Once my chemo was over, I started thinking about taking him back for some more training.  I didn't feel comfortable with going to the intermediate Rally class, so we signed up to do the Intro to Rally again.  This time, the class was held in the outdoor arena versus the indoor metal pole barn where we had taken all our classes before.

The outdoor training arena is WAAAAY more interesting and distracting than the indoor one, all sorts of outdoor smells, and countless dogs that had trained there before.  Additionally, they split the course in 1/2 to combine two different classes, our Rally class on the entrance side, and an Agility class on the far side of the arena, separated by a snow fence.  Max, true to form, had his little tantrums with each of the dogs in our class, luckily, only about 4 at any one time.  Unfortunately, he also had about 8 other strange dogs on the OTHER side of him that would cross back and forth in front of him periodically.  The last two weeks of the class, he had managed to drag me across the grass twice, and pulled the leash completely out of my hand, to get into it with a bigger border collie.  We had one class to go--the final exam as it were-- where we wouldn't have any instruction, just run a few courses for a score, just like a real Rally competition.  I got an email a few days before from the owner of the facility telling me that she and the trainer thought that Max's behavior was escalating and that he probably shouldn't come back in for the final class, due to safety reasons.  I was crushed, one, because I'm madly in love with my dog, but two because I had no idea what or why he acted the way he acted.  They recommended I see a behaviorist in town, who runs Reactive Dog classes, before he returned for any more classes at the facility.

I contacted Christine, who I had met with before, and she told me that she didn't have any classes running at time, but would be willing to work with me either privately or semi privately.  So I agreed, and we turned up at her house 2 weeks ago for "Bad Dog School".  Of course, since there were no dogs around, he was the perfect gentleman, sweet, doting, only slightly shell shocked when I put his Halti head halter on and took him for a walk. She gave us homework, a book for me to read and a recommendation for a product called 'composure', which is an all natural herbal supplement that helps anxious dogs.

I read through the book, practiced our exercises--go to place, and walking on a head halter-- even teaching Max a new trick..."is your nose itchy? scratch it" (it's adorable).  Tomorrow is our next appointment, and I think that there will be at least one other dog there.  I'm a little nervous how it's going to turn out.  I plan to stop off at the store beforehand for a canister of squeeze cheez bacon flavor to really motivate Max.  I hope it works.  I guess we will have to wait and see!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The return of Pixie Bad-Ass

TMI Alert: This blog contains content that may not be suitable for uptight viewers or children.

It's amazing what a cut and color can do to your spirit and attitude.The fact that I have enough hair now to allow a cut and color is also a spirit raiser. This is what I looked like last week after going to my oldest step-daughter's graduation honor ceremony. She is graduating Summa Cum Laude, also a member of NHS and plans to study Pre-law at Lake Forest University in Chicago. I'm so proud of her.  We've had our rocky relationship, but she has a good head on shoulders and I KNOW she likes to argue about everything so she might make a great litigator!  

Anyway, since I was all made up I thought I'd get a shot in of my ever thickening hair.  I love the style, it's so easy, and I feel chic when I'm all gussied up, but there was just a little TOO much salt in the pepper for my peace of mind.  So after consulting with my Oncology team (stylist's orders) I was in this past Wednesday for a "DO" over. And Voila! I suddenly have sass and attitude.  My stylist even managed a mini mohawk!
I was totally geeked.  In three weeks I will participate in the Lowell Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society.  I am planning on adding some purple somewhere on my head, I'm just not sure where. I need to get some pre-natal vitamins to get the hair and the nails growing back again.
I've been keeping my nails short and painted just because they look so horrible, but most are starting to look more normal.  I have a few that are probably going to need a few more months before they are back to normal.  My toenails, also have interesting white stripes across them, and my big toes the nail lifts all the way back to almost the middle of the nail.  I'm keeping THOSE painted as well....right now in "Troublemaker" Purple in honor of my girl Victoria, who is recovering from the first of her surgeries for stage 4 colorectal cancer.
She and her hubs went on an adventure vacation in between her chemo/rads and her surgery out to the Appalachians, and caught this lovely picture of her faerie sprite personality that portrays her perfectly.  Just add Glitter and fairy wings for the whole deal.

I haven't been writing as much because I've been doing a TON of things, and also NOT a ton of things due to my finally having my 2nd boob surgery, which is my last- Hopefully for awhile.  The surgery went well, I was on restricted activity for 4 weeks!  Almost killed me...but I got pretty adept at watching past episodes of Deadliest Catch on Netflix and also painting my son's Warhammer miniatures.....more on that in another post!.  Anyway. Here is the outcome the first day after surgery. As you can see, I'm symmetrical again....mostly...the difference being that the right one bounces and the left one....doesn't.  In this photo even though I'm trying not to flex my pectoral muscles, you can see a little of the wrinkling on the roboboob. That will never go away, thought I'm hoping that once I get the tattoo on it, it won't be as noticeable  The date for the girls inked-out rockin' roadtrip has been set for the weekend before the 4th of July.  I'm REALLY wishing it to come sooner, but then again, I told my boss that I thought I'd be coming back to work the middle of July, so the time remaining is bittersweet.

I've been doing so much more, but I think I will postpone the updates for another time, the baby bunnies I got the week I had my surgery, why my dog Max got kicked out of Rally class for being naughty and the potential of my son's Bretonian warhammer army may be completed before I go back to work.

And journey goes on......