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!


  1. Your portrait with Max really says it all. A good friend also has a rescue dog, and it's the one remaining challenge they have, is his behaviour with strange dogs. He does do okay with dogs he gets to know. I hope the training helps, fingers crossed.

  2. Hi Lori!
    We tried today with 3 different dogs on the other side of the fence and each time Max chose to look to me for a jackpot of treats on his mat, versus getting into it with the other dogs. I was so proud of him! He was pretty wiped out afterwards...mental work for dogs is hard work!
    You might tell your friend to try composure, it is available at most vets...its a natural product that just relaxes the dog a bit. I used it today and it seemed to work pretty well!

  3. Aw!!! I especially LOVE this post because I am an animal lover and particularly adore my dog Maya, a pit bull that is a bit reactive. With pits, you can never afford an incident, and if something were to happen to her, I would lose my mind, heart and soul. So I take every precaution, and fret when she behaves well with my boyfriend, and the dog walker, because they say, quite often, it's the handlers issues that the dog is reacting to. I guess I need to be more confident and firm, and believe that she can improve--and she has. She's considered a senior now, and adding a new k9 friend/brother in my bfs mellow pit rescue, has evened out her temperament and she takes the cue from the calm confident guys.
    When I had my surgery, the surgeons nixed activities that might delay healing, one of which was my volunteering at the Oakland Animal Shelter, where I work with dogs. That 8 weeks was hard, but I had my own at home, and Maya, my girl was so sweet and devoted and gentle--like she knew I needed her to be.
    I'd been warned that my oncologist might restrict me from the shelter volunteering because of possible infections, but she released me to go back to my normal routine, saying "animals are often cleaner than people", and take good precautions, and let your best judgement prevail. AND the doggies don't mind a bit that I shed on them for a change :)

  4. thanks for sharing this useful information, your blog is interesting.

  5. Thanks for the dog experience...I miss my dog, who is with a relative 5 hours away.
    Hello, my name is Ari, I am a survivor (so far...) of two cancers, a widower of a cancer victim (now re-married..) and is dedicated to fighting cancer, and helping others do so.
    I lived in Toronto, Canada (my family is in southern California), and last year, after marriage, I moved to the Philippines. I am majority owner of a Dialysis clinic, and built a unique cancer clinic, the one I dreamt of having when my first wife was struggling. I took her to Mexico clinics twice, for treatments (which were very successful!), talked to dozens of physicians, and always found lack of properly equipped clinics, which could do a lot better if they were.
    Along the way, I have gained insight of how proper Hyperthermia should be applied. This is a method which doubles the success rate of conventional therapies, and alternative ones as well, provided it is done properly. I have purchased the most powerful device for this, and added two other types of devices, which when applied in the right order, prevent a process of DE-sensitizing of cancer cells to the effects of specific frequency hyperthermia. We also do mild whole body hyperthermia in order to strengthen the immune system (with no side effects),and help reach the right thermo-therapeutic levels within the tumour.(the right temperature simply destroys the tumour...). There are also other aspects to this, biological ones, which for lack of commercial incentive (UN-patentable..) is not pursued by multinational pharmaceutical corporations which control all medical research in the field.
    I also introduced other forms of immunotherapy, and alternative cytotoxic elements, such as Helixor, a mistletoe extract, which has three times better success rate then most chemo agents, without the side effects.
    I can give information about many clinics I learned about, (mainly in Mexico and Germany
    If you are interested in getting free advice, please feel free to contact me, @
    Ari Idan

  6. Ari- thanks for the info. sorry for your loss, but kudos to you for following your dream. I've never heard of the procedures you mention, but I've been reading a lot about Rick Simpson oil...essentially, a very concentrated oil of hashish, that is supposed to make cancer cells behave like normal cells, and die. The part I like the most from reading this are the side effects from it: happy, hungry, sleepy....3 adjectives I could NEVER use during my conventional chemotherapy. It's so sad that something with such a great track record is being kept from people who need it because of Pharmaceutical company lobbyists, big money, and the misconceptions behind Cannibis in the states. How many more people will have to suffer and die from conventional chemotherapies because big Pharma execs want to make MORE money? sad, sad, sad. Sorry to get political, but's necessary. ~I put the B in BADass!


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