Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Debate Dominance

So I found myself searching the net for information on managing dog dominance after another frustrating walk with Gryffyn.  She's getting better--no doubt.  But she has been getting a little harsher on her brother and sister in the house--nipping them, keeping them out of rooms, worrying about their proximity to her food.  I'm always watching her and trying to determine what is herding and what is dominance, and how those two issues intersect. 

Betty is the unequivocal alpha dog of the house.  She is calm, but will give them the slap down when she's had it with the corgis acting out.  Sometimes she just comes down on them when they are playing to establish whose boss.  A couple of times she actually bit Gryffyn a little too hard and, after taking Betty to the vet, realized that our shelter cattle dog has the beginnings of hip problems.  So now we can determine her pain level by her patience with the corgis.  She's a very long suffering dog, often giving us a look that seems to say, "you know, it could have just been us and we would have been happy...but you had to get THEM."  Then she walks back to her pillow.

So in my search I found the inevitable dominance discussions which are COMPLETELY WRONG for our dogs--i.e. the pack leader sleeps on the bed (Rhys, the unequivocally low dog on the totem pole, sleeps on the bed every night); the highest position is by the pillows (Rhys sleeps on the pillow every night); the lower dogs sleep on the floor (Gryffyn sleeps on the floor and Betty actually sleeps under the bed).  Sigh.

I think that the question of dominance is complex with corgis because they don't actually see themselves as in an hierarchy--they see themselves as part of a partnership.  So the power negotiation is more nuanced--even Rhys, the sweetest of dogs, has clear ideas about when things should happen and complains LOUDLY if they are not taken care of (such as, watching tv during the day is UNACCEPTABLE because we only do that IN THE EVENING). 

Gryffyn's behavior on the walks (extreme anxiety to get loose from the leash when another dog gets in sight, displacing aggression onto Rhys if she can't get loose, biting our ankles if we aren't setting her free, trying to chew through the leash) all seem like fear/aggression issues to me.  We have had success modifying her behavior with other people...although just slightly.  She's just a little mellower. 

It's a fascinating puzzle, but for now the 'face prison' stays on for the walk!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Corgi Drive By

Those of us with corgis in the city are very familiar with a particular type of incident--the corgi drive by.  Most of the time it's cars slowing WAY down and looking at the corgis, pointing, smiling, and then speeding by.  When Rhys was little it was like walking a rock star--and, quite honestly, although he has grown into a VERY handsome dog, he was not the cutest puppy.  He had a skinny rat tail and no curls anywhere.  But still cars would slow, point, smile, and sometimes yell 'I love your dog!' out the window.

Walking Gryffyn puts a new twist on the corgi drive by.  The cars slow down, people smile, and then they see the muzzle.  Usually this results in a dramatic facial shift, either into laughing or into mild fear.  I think it's the dissonance between Gryffyn's extreme cuteness and the tiny 'face prison' as we call it.  It's a barbie dream muzzle, but a sign of potential danger still.

What amazes me is when it doesn't even phase people.  They come running up, wanting to pet her, talking about how cute she is--all the while she's attempting to leap at them, teeth bared, snarling.  Now Gryffyn is a very sweet girl...in the house.  But OUTSIDE she is very fearful of everything.  In some people's minds, though, the cuteness seems to cancel out all possible danger.

So my godson and I were walking the three dogs and we had a new spin--a woman stopped her car about 20 feet ahead of us, opened her door, and started talking to us.  She has a corgi, she said, that she adopted and that the dog has always nipped and bossed an herded to an extent that sometimes ends up with someone bit a little too hard.  She saw Gryffyn's muzzle and thought, maybe, we had an answer--a magic bullet to the issue.  I could only nod at her story, reinforce how great it was that she kept the dog and keeps working with him, and, then, when she asked for my help directly I said "you are not alone, that's all I can tell you." 

We have had some significant successes with Gryffyn this past year.  Her stomach is much better since we have put her on the prescription diet, she hasn't had a seizure since we got the right level of her medicine, and she is safe outside with the muzzle on.  Although this may seem like a lot to deal with, when I look at her, with her big brown eyes and her big ears, and she leans into me and licks my hand, I can't imagine a better dog in the whole world.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Happy New Year!

Over the past two weeks I've been trying out a couple of new rituals.  One has to do with exercise and the dogs.  I have been thinking a great deal about simplicity lately and how I make my life more complicated and stressful for ridiculous reasons.  So here I am, walking three dogs every day that really need more exercise, and then trucking off to the gym to do 45 minutes on the treadmill.  Now, if this time really gave me important alone/thinking/spacing out time, then I could see that it would be valuable.  But, really, all it does is stress me out because not only do I have the time taken up, but also the dogs still need more exercise.

So I've been doing three 40 minute dog walks every day, one with all three, and then one with each corgie (Betty would rather NOT have another dog walk--she's fine on the couch, thank you).  I space them out so they are nice brain breaks from my research and teaching prep, and also so the dogs aren't completely overwhelmed.  As far as exercise goes, this is exactly the same amount (in terms of weight watchers activity points) as going to the gym.  Plus, the corgies are MUCH saner.  Plus, I have bursts of exercise all day rather than one big push and then a sluglike existence for the rest of the day. 

To have my life match with my exercise seems an almost radical concept to me, and relates to a documentary I'm slowly making my way through called Homeland.  No, it's not the Showtime series (which is also really great).  It's a documentary about four Native American environmental activists who are fighting big energy corporations trying to impinge on their respective communities against their wishes.  Watching this clash of cultures I've been thinking about how I live in a counter-intuitive manner, always pushing to get more done, achieve more, reach more goals, and be productive.  All that activity leaves little time for being present with the people and animals in my life, acting in a responsible manner towards the environment (it's hard to decide to drive to the co-op to recycle that stuff that isn't taken curbside when I'm in a hurry, so it goes in the trash, and so it goes to a landfill...).  Living in an ethical and sustainable manner actually takes a great deal of time, which runs counter to the capitalist model of high productivity and excessive specialization.  I find it interesting that when I drop out of this pattern for a few days, it suddenly seems quite nuts.  I'm now wondering about how personal goals change within this different perspective.

And yes, the exercise has made the corgis more relaxed.  However, no amount of exercise will keep Rhys from barking at the New Year's balloons!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Blood-Curdling Scream

So a few words about Betty the cattle dog.  Betty is a relatively low-maintenance dog, in comparison to the corgis who require virtually contant interaction.  She will spend blissful afternoons laying on the couch sleeping.  Sometimes she wakes up when Gryffyn decides that she needs to bark at Betty just 'cause.  But Betty just looks at her, sighs, and goes back to sleep.
Her only soft spot is thunderstorms--she is terrified of them.  We have tried every kind of tool--thundershirt, rescue remedy, crates, xanax--and none of these have worked very well.  What has worked best, we discovered, is just letting her be scared and freak out.

The only problem with this is that she gets under things--like the bed in the middle of the night when thunderstorms tend to come--and starts jumping around.  However, with the new "just ignore her" high-tech solution, she has tended to settle down after five minutes and then just sleep under there. 

Which is fine.

Until now.

Now she has decided to start screaming--using a remarkably wide range of tones and volumes.  She will begin with a mild wimper, go into a low growl, and then finish off with a crescendo of rising, high pitched scream.  Last night it was the worst.  At one point, it was so loud that I thought someone might call the cops because the noise suggested maybe that someone was being bludgeoned to death. 

We began to wonder how we would explain to the cops that Betty--the bounding barking cattle dog with the happy dufus face in front of them was the one that had been screaming--because she would certainly get herself out from under the bed at the front door bell.  They would have to search the house to make sure there were no bodies tucked away anywhere.

I did at one point crawl under the bed and make sure she wasn't caught on anything or hurt in some way.  Then I popped half a xanax into her in the desperate hope that some sleep could be salvaged from the night (she had been screaming at two hour intervals--just enough time to fall asleep again, only to be woken up by another operatic series of screams).

After I popped the pill in her, she crawled out, got a drink of water, and went to sleep next to me. 

I have NO idea what this is about.  If anyone has any ideas, please send them!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gryffyn is EMO

In a flurry of activity yesterday, we decided to give away a treadmill that had been sitting in the middle of our small sun porch.  Of course, like everyone else, we never used it.  We joined a gym up the street and love going there.  But the treadmill stayed out of guilt as much as anything else.  What if there's a major storm and we can't get to the gym?  What if the gym closes?  But we spent so much for it?

Finally, we took the plunge, put it down on the sidewalk outside our house, put a "free" sign on it, and it was picked up within two hours.  I spent the rest of the day sprucing the sun room, moving some furniture around, and generally cleaning up. 

As I was doing this work, however, I noticed Gryffyn giving me a worried, perplexed look--first when I moved her water bowl from one side of the sun porch to the other, and second when her food and the bowls got moved to the same side.  She seemed a bit less energetic, but otherwise fine.  She just looked...well...concerned.

This morning, when I got up to feed them, Gryffyn flew at Betty as I went to put the bowls down, and tried to run her out of the sun room.  Betty, who remains fairly detached most of the time, gave her what we call the slap down.  Major growling, paw on Gryffyn's dead, and a squishing her into the floor.  She doesn't hurt her--just let's her know whose boss--so I let her do it.  I proceeded to feed Rhys and Betty first as always, and then fed Gryffyn, who gobbled down her food.

Gryffyn was obviously really worried that her food wasn't going to be there like always.  When we first got her she had some food guarding issues.  But she had begun eating at an almost leisurely pace, at least for a dog.  But the moving around of furniture (and the acquiring of birds--more in a later post) seems to have really thrown her.  We're trying to reassure without validating her feeling that SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG!!  The 14-year old boy looked at her this morning and said "Gryffyn has a very EMO expression this morning."  Yep.  But I'm hoping she'll move beyond it very soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Time Out!

When Rhys was a puppy his favorite pasttime was to wait for my partner to walk across from the kitchen to the livingroom, and then leap after her, grabbing her ankles with his teeth.  Herding, in other words.  He was a champion herder--the tiny puppy would enthusiastically try over and over again to make my partner do exactly as he wanted.

What he got was yelled at.

We tried every known solution to the problem.  Treating the right behavior (which was NOT braking the skin on the ankle), severe "NO" to the bad behavior (which was sometimes difficult while looking at the gleeful puppy so proud of himself for living up to his genetic gifts, although not so difficult when blood was running down into the shoes), more exercise, redirected herding instinct, etc etc.

What was NOT supposed to work was time out.  Many training guides scoffed at this option, rolling their verbal eyes at the idea that what worked for children would work for dogs.  Dogs, they say, aren't people. 

Also, the advice goes, NEVER use the crate for punishment.  NEVER.  The dog will then FEAR the crate and all will be lost.

Well, after weeks of this my partner finally snapped and went into parent mode.  She firmly declared "TIME OUT!, picked up the puppy, and put him in his crate for two minutes.  For the next few days this response was repeated over and over again.  Within three or four days Rhys had figured out that if he picked up a toy and bumped the back of our ankles, we would tolerate the behavior.  So his need to herd was finding an outlet, and skin was remaining intact.

To this day we usually only have to threaten time out to get Rhys to stop barking, which he can do incessantly. 

Time out has NEVER worked with Betty the cattle dog.  She just stands there looking quizzical.

Lately, Gryffyn has started barking madly out the front window at everyone that goes by.  This, as one can imagine, gets very tedious (and we don't even live on a very busy street), so I started implementing time out.  I pick her up, gently put her in the bathroom with the light on (this is VERY important--NEVER put a dog in a dark room) and wait 30 seconds.  Within an afternoon threatening time out got her off the couch.

Corgis, it seems, HATE being taken away from the pack--if even for a couple of minutes.  We never put them in time out for more than 30 seconds after they stop barking.  We always make sure the area is well lit.  And we are ALWAYS gentle when putting them in time out.  We have found time out by far the most helpful technique for training the corgis out of unwanted behaviors.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Disclaimers, and other such stuff...

So first, a disclaimer, being as we live in a litigious society.  Neither my partner nor I are trainers and thus offer nothing by way of OFFICIAL information regarding corgis.  We are, instead, providing one household's perspective of dealing with this breed.

Oh, and one cattle dog's perspective (such as we can discern) on living with corgis.  Same for two cats.

And speaking of lawsuits, yesterday was our first day of using Gryffyn's muzzle.  We've been working with her on what we've determined is leash aggression coupled with herding instinct.  People or animals will appear on the walk, she will go berserk (leash aggression), which involves biting us to get us to let go of her (the herding), and we then attempt to isolate and calm her.  This only happens on the walk--everywhere else she is a sweet and gentle pup.

This is particularly worrisome as she is VERY cute, and so people want to pet her EVEN THOUGH she is writhing and snarling.  See picture:

A typical interaction will be: lovely young man walks up, Gryffyn leaps up, teeth baring, grabs the metal leash (she has bitten through two cloth ones), she flails her whole body around, we then isolate her while she flings her open mouth around trying to bite us to let her go--all the while the lovely young man watches and says "so can I pet her?"

Are you kidding me?

What we realized is that our fear of getting bit or her biting others has made us so tense at this point that we're feeding the situation.  So the muzzle.

I had a hard time with the muzzle--I worried it was a sign of failure or oppression.  But it's working out great.  We got the plastic one recommended by Best Friends trainers, put peanut butter at the end of it (which makes her VERY popular with the other two dogs) and off we went.  She still goes nuts with other dogs or people, but now we can proceed with the walk, normalizing the process, and not feeding the anxiety.

So I'm now a fan of the focused and productive use of a muzzle for training.