Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shhh, Don't Jinx It!

I kind of don't want to write this post... If I say it out loud (or put it down in print) it'll turn back to a pumpkin. But on the other hand, the blog is here for a reason - and it's about exactly this... So... I probably should tell you, right?

Oh, would you just get on with it!

Here's what we'll do: I'll pretend I didn't write this, and you all don't look, OK? Also, no talking about fight club! Here goes...

Too late, I already fell asleep...

The past few days, Monster has been incredibly good on walks. It started with people, on one walk we encountered five different men, three of them complete strangers, all actively doing something, four of them looking at us and speaking to us, and two of them moving straight toward us. All close (the closest at leash length). And Monster didn't react! He didn't ignore them, but he didn't react badly. He was interested in them, he stuck his head out to get a better sniff of the closest ones, but no snarling, jumping, lunging, growling - not even tightened leash!

Are you still going on about that? Let's have some peace and quiet now...

And then it started happening with dogs... Today we suddenly met two dogs coming around a corner toward us, fairly close (about 8-10 meters maybe). Monster stopped, I turned around and tried to call him with me - well aware that that wasn't going to work. Only to look down and realize he hadn't even hesitated, he'd followed me right away! So we turn onto a side street, trying for a different route to where we were going. Unfortunately the two dogs follow us, and at the end of the road we have to squeeze by a fenced yard along a very narrow path, and in that yard were two rabidly insane terriers. Well, I tell a lie, one of them was rabidly insane, the other one was "just" a high level fence fighter. Still, complete chaos. Monster is very clearly disturbed by the dogs, especially the one who is actually attacking the fence, biting and pulling at it while just screaming rage, then running off to build some speed before launching himself at the fence... I was hoping the owners would turn up and call the dogs (that was a lot of noise, and this was in the morning), but no one turned up. I had to choose between forcing Monster to squeeze by the fence or turn back and have him meet and pass the two dogs following us. I chose the fence, at least the dogs were separated. Monster did pull toward these dogs, but he was also very clearly trying to communicate. He did some quick (and only half finished) play bows, he looked away, he sniffed, he turned to the side, etc - it was all on turbo speed, and he was clearly both uncomfortable and overexcited, but it wasn't lunging and snarling! All right, there may have been some lunging, but we're working our way up from a deep valley here people, so give me this one, OK? After we'd passed the fenced yard we took a little timeout at a distance, letting Monster look at the terriers if/when he wanted to (they were still barking/attacking the fence) and sniff around and pretend to ignore them if he felt like that. When he was calmer we moved on, turned a corner, and of course there were the two dogs from earlier, heading straight for us again. We were not going back to the terriers, but with the stress Monster had just been under there was absolutely no chance he'd be able to handle meeting and passing these dogs (I know, like he could have done that if he hadn't just been wound up - it's fun to pretend though). So, off to the side of the path we go - we can't get far, but by then I'm simply aiming for a distance where I'll be able to physically control Monster, and hopefully not frighten the other dogs (and owner) half to death. But again he surprises me! He takes a couple of steps toward the other dogs but keeps the leash slack, he looks at them interestedly (but not tense, not the "scare stare") as they move toward us (still calm...), draw even with us (still calm!), and move away from us (what the...?). Monster keeps looking at them as they walk away, while I stand there more or less stunned just looking at him until I come around from the shock and decide we shouldn't stand around in the bushes for the rest of the day. So, we move on. And walk not even two minutes, before we cross a bike path and I suddenly realize there's a woman right there, walking toward us with her two dogs. The group must have been about 4-5 meters away from us, walking directly toward us. Monster? No reaction. It's like he didn't see them, but he's a dog - he knew they were there, he just didn't want to acknowledge them. By then I was exhausted from all the excitement, even if Monster seemed to be doing fine, so I set the course for home. And come upon some small, fluffy, bouncy thing (poodle-something?), trying to walk backwards (his owner was moving away from us - thank you, universe!) while barking, bouncing, growling and just generally behaving like... well, like Monster. While Monster seemed confused more than anything else, and didn't respond in kind. Now, if I had written this, and if you in turn had read it, I'd ask you: how about that, people!?! But I didn't. And you didn't. So I won't.

Of course, when we were aaaaaaalmost home a cat ran past us, and there went our peace. But let's deal with cats some other day, OK?

Shut up! I'm trying to concentrate! There was a cat here...

(Oh, and in case you're wondering: yeah, the leg's still broken. Working on it.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Looking Back, I See Progress

Since I've been a bit negative lately, let's take a look at something I wrote almost a year ago (last summer) as a description of Monster, and compare it to how he is today. I was asked what it was like going for a walk with him, and this is how I described it:
What does he do when you leave the house?
He starts scouting the surroundings, searching for things to react to. His body is tense and his eyes are everywhere.

These days I look to Mom, to see where we're going and what we're doing!

How are his leash manners?
He does pull a bit, but it's gotten better. He's completely unaware of the leash, he gets tangled and stuck but remains unaware or uninterested in avoiding it - or even getting free. He just keeps trying to move forward, to the point of falling over if I don't get him untangled. 

That sounds really strange! Why would I do that? I know what a leash is and how to handle walking without getting tangled. And why would I pull you?

What does he react to?
Everything. Anything that moves, makes noise, or just plain exists - or may exist - is interesting. He reacts to different things in different ways, but he always reacts. Things he will lunge at are dogs, joggers, scooters, cars and cats; things he will try to chase are deer, hares, bikes, hedgehogs and cats again; he will freeze, fixate and stare at children, bags blowing in the wind, horses, machinery and rustling leaves. These are just examples, mind. He will react to anything. If there's nothing around he'll try to quickly get to a place offering a new view, like round a corner or a bush - maybe there's something on the other side. At worst he lunges and at best he's in a world of his own.

That sounds exhausting! Well, all right, I'll admit a lot of those things are still interesting... But I'm not crazy or anything, and I certainly don't wander around in a world of my own!

At what point does he become impossible to reach?
As soon as we leave the yard. I've tried to take the excitement out of it, tried moving the "border" further away, but he's completely on/off no matter what I do.

Naw... She's messing with you - she's got to be! No way would I flip out like that just from leaving the yard!

Anything to add?
Parts of our walk I demand he walks by my side on a short leash. He'll do it, but he keeps building stress and frustration throughout. Other parts of the walk I give him full length leash and he winds around in all directions to try to examine everything all at once (and in some areas I let him run on a long line, which actually makes him slightly more interested in me). It makes no difference if we walk the exact same route 20 times in a row, he never relaxes but keeps expecting something. Apart from training basic leash manners (which is more or less constant) I try to do short tricks and obedience here and there along the way, but he can't cooperate. Occasionally he'll focus enough to perform something very basic (like a 0.5 second hand target), if he realizes that's the only way he'll get to move forward - but he may just as easily just have a complete meltdown from frustration. Nothing works as a reward, except getting to move forward. This is a dog who - judging from the number of black eyes and nose bleeds I've ended up with - would kill for a frisbee. But out on a walk nothing is interesting, except for the entire world - which is too interesting.
From time to time I'll catch a small glimpse of the wonderful dog I know he is, but mostly he's an absolute nightmare to walk...

Oh, I get it! You're joking! Haha, very funny... Look, we both know I love working on tricks on walks! I keep the leash loose and I make sure to keep an eye (or at least ear) on you at all times - you might do something super fun, like a recall! And I keep pointing out anything I find, from sticks to someone's dropped glove, in case you'll want to reward me for it - or use it as a toy reward! And I'm fully aware of that bag of turkey meat you keep in your pocket...

Well, there you have it: a perfect example of why a written record can be extremely helpful. Without these notes, I doubt I'd think about just how difficult the simplest things were for a while. I wouldn't see the great progress we've after all made, instead just looking ahead at the goals we haven't reached yet - and getting depressed, because it'd seem like we weren't getting anywhere. After writing this blog post, I feel happy, and I'm actually looking forward to the progress we'll have made a year from now. Sure, Monster has some issues - some big ones, I'm fully aware - but that doesn't mean we're not getting anywhere! If you have problems with your dog, I can only recommend that you start keeping some sort of record of your situation. It's hard to see when things change, as usually it's not going to be through some dramatic breakthrough. And without noticing the little things - which over time build up to bigger things - you'll soon feel like you're going nowhere. And feeling like that, you'll probably make it true...

I feel free!

Me too, Monster!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Broken Leg Is Good For BAT?

Our awesome trainer came through for us and sent us some DVDs to relieve some of the boredom. I now have close to ten hours of BAT information to work through, which is - as I said - awesome. I have something marginally useful to do, and Monster has found some of the scenes very interesting too.

How come all those dogs are small, flat, and don't smell?

I find the DVDs both inspiring and depressing. The inspiring part is probably obvious: basically I want to make that kind of progress too, I want to get out and put it all into practice! So, since you all get that anyway, let's focus on the depressing parts.

Oh, come on, you can't be surprised!

Point the first: the dogs in the videos are ridiculously uncomplicated! Grisha says things like "You may have to start off at a great distance. 75-100 feet even"... That's where we are now - barely - and we started off at about, oh, 750 feet or so... And then there's a cut in the film and text informing us it's ten minutes later, and we see the reactive dog sniffing the trigger! Yeah, that's not happening with Monster. Look, I understand that these dogs are chosen because they illustrate the steps and the progress well, and they're not representing a set pattern or mold you can expect to follow with all dogs, but they're so mellow! I actually find it hard to believe these dogs have any real problems, and certainly not Monster level problems...

What are you talking about!? I haven't got any problems!

Yes, Grisha talks about bite history - Monster's possibly ahead there, as he's only bitten me when redirecting - so I get that there are other dogs out there with serious problems. But I still get depressed watching these super easy dogs (from my perspective) just fly through the exercises while at worst giving a small bark. Alright, there was one dog, illustrating the evaluation part (with a stuffed toy dog), who actually attacked and "killed" the trigger - something I don't think Monster would do - but to me Monster is still coming off as a... well, monster compared to these super friendly and calm dogs.

Point the second: God I've lost time! This is not a new realization, I know I'm far, faaaaaaaar behind the intended schedule. First there were the months up north last summer and fall, where there was very little to train against (not exactly a densely populated area) and what few triggers we came across were generally extremely ill suited for the purpose since there is quite a large disagreement between how I think Monster should be treated and trained (carefully, in controlled settings) and how people up there think Monster should be treated ("give him a whack", basically). Then, when I finally got back home, I was getting weaker and weaker. Turns out I had severe vitamin D deficiency, but before that was diagnosed and I started a treatment it was so bad I literally got lost on walks, couldn't remember if we'd even gone for walks or not, and I was so physically weak I had to crawl up the stairs and lie down once I got upstairs. In other words I had neither the mental capacity to plan and execute training, nor the physical capacity to control Monster's behavior if necessary. And once that was getting better I broke my leg! What the hell is going on, quite frankly!? Did I upset some deity? Does someone have a voodoo doll of me? Honestly, what is going on with my life?!

Hey, it's not just your life getting messed up!

Which leads us back to the inspirational part of it all. As I was taking a break from the DVDs and took Monster outside for a quick pee, I couldn't stand it any more. I decided to try some BAT training then and there - if I could only find some triggers. Right then, a neighbor's dog started barking. We trained against that (the dog was behind the neighbor's house, not visible to us). I spotted some neighbors down the street changing the tires of their car. We trained against that (they didn't seem to notice us, and Monster wasn't very interested at the distance we were from them). A cat crossed the road a couple of houses down. We trained against that. I remembered that a neighbor's dog has been charging the fence at us quite a lot lately, and winding Monster up a bit more every time. We trained against that (the dog wasn't there, just the empty fence). And this is where I tie it back to this post's title: It's difficult for me to handle any rough behavior from Monster right now, with a broken leg I don't have the agility or strength required to control him if he goes nuts - at least not without injuring myself further. What this meant was that I was actually cautious! I always try to push things just a bit more than I should. I'm aware of it, and I try to control it, but it still happens. Turns out a broken leg is a very good reminder! Every step I take reminds me to be careful, pay attention, and not push it. Excellent! Unfortunately there really are some serious drawbacks too, like how I can't pick up the pace to make a retreat quicker than an approach. And quite noticeably, when the neighbor's dog came rushing the fence after all, my ability to adjust to changing circumstances really kind of suck...

Where'd that come from!?!

But Monster totally surprised me! He did lunge, but somehow slowed down through the entire lunge so when he landed it looked like he was moving in slow motion. Then he stared at the raging dog behind the fence for a second or two, and then he veeeeery deliberately looked away to the side - almost back over his shoulder - and gave a huge yawn! My awesome little guy! (So of course this success meant I had to keep pushing it - apparently surviving the first lunge had gone to my head and the broken leg had become irrelevant - and I did two more approaches to the fence-mad dog... Fortunately I came to my senses and realized I was setting up for failure rather than success - as usual - and hopped back home again. No disaster, but not thanks to me.)

So, not exactly a very good training walk... But, I have to be honest, it felt good! And it was fun!

I thought so too! Can we go again?!

Right now I'm wavering. Should I try more even though I'm hobbling around on a broken leg (or even because I'm on a broken leg)? Or should I be more careful so I don't end up in a situation I can't control? Oh, who am I kidding, it's not as if I'm ruled by anything other than impulses anyway...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Belated Good News

I've suddenly realized that while I've been good with sharing complaints, I missed telling you the good stuff! So here's a little update. A week ago I went back to the hospital, where they found my cast had been done at wrong angles. I was given a new cast, and suddenly I could walk without pain! Looking back at it now, I can't believe how much pain I was actually in - but I thought it was normal (a broken leg should hurt, right?) so I just gritted my teeth and tried to bear it. Note to everyone: if you're in so much pain you're soaked in sweat, every time you put weight on your foot after resting for a while you think your leg is actually on fire, if it hurts so bad you seriously start examining the cast to see if you're bleeding under there, and if you find yourself fighting back panic wave after panic wave because you just can't stand it any more but you have no way out - all of this while on codeine - chances are there's actually something wrong. It's not supposed to feel like that - who knew!? So, as I said I was given a new cast, and half an hour later I walked out of there with just a slight limp... Such a relief! And I've stayed away from the painkillers since then (normal pain I can deal with, it turns out), as well as increased the distance I walk Monster.

What? We have? How much? Huh...

I still need to stay on hard surface roads, and walking up or down hills is ridiculously difficult, but it is a great improvement! Unfortunately this cast has a couple of weird little bumps inside it, under the foot, which are starting to press and chafe quite a bit. But I'm not complaining, it's still a 1000 times better than the last one. But I am still quite limited, and therefore quite bored. Among the many, many, many incredibly interesting, rewarding and self improving pursuits I've found (like figuring out (one of) the reason(s) I can't take Jonny Lee Miller seriously as Sherlock in Elementary - in the back of my mind there was something chafing, and it turns out it was his portrayal of Mr Knightley in BBC's 2009 adaptation of Austen's Emma: I hadn't realized/processed that it was the same actor until I rewatched it now. Phew, checked that off my list! Also, did you know this season of Survivor is really interesting!? Yeah, I've been busy...) *reeling it back to before the parenthesis* is exploring youtube. I'm bad at it. No matter what I search for, I get the most bizarre results. And when I try to watch something which sounds interesting, it mostly turns out to be weird, boring and/or bad... But on occasion (and completely by accident) even I can find something to watch, and here's a charming, simple little video I wish everyone would watch:

"What your dog is desperately trying to tell you" may be overly simple in some ways, but it's necessary - for a lot of people this information is a mystery - and this video is helpful, charming and easily accessible. I wish people who have no interest in dogs would watch it too. Dogs are in our society whether everyone wants it or not, and they are trying to communicate. The least people could do - if for nothing else, at least for their own sakes - is learn half a dozen "words"... Especially the photo of a baby hugging a dog should be everywhere!

And if more people could learn to understand/be aware of just these basics, they would realize what they're actually seeing when they're tuning in to the ever so "entertaining" Cesar Millan...

And since this is my blog, and I don't have to abide by my rules unless I want to, here's another little gem that has nothing whatsoever to do with dogs:

This is impressive to me: the guy has talent but loads of people have talent, what's great about him is that he's being original and using what he's been given (and worked hard for as well, if I'm any judge) to comment and criticize rather than the empty copies and echoes most people produce. You should watch it, if you haven't already (you probably have, I did see I wasn't exactly first to "discover" him - but you never know, there may be others out there as youtube ignorant as me). After Ever After made my day at least, so thanks for that, er... Paint?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Leg's Still Broken!

Sorry about not updating the blog much lately! Apart from our days being fairly repetitive, there's also a problem for me sitting in the desk chair by the computer. There's nowhere to put my leg up, and the chair being on wheels quickly makes... I dunno, something(?) ache.
(There, now you can't be mad at me, I pulled the "broken leg"-card!)

She does it to me too! I'm working my tail off here...

One thing I find incredibly annoying with my leg like this (apart from all the other millions of things which annoy me about a broken ankle) is how bound I am to certain pieces of furniture. Stuck in one position. I figured all this boring sitting around-time could be put to good use by making some treats for Monster. So, said and done:

[Monster:] Mmmmmm... *drool*

It takes a while to cook a turkey, and then it's a big, horrible mess with stripping the meat and cutting it into tiny treat bites. Excellent use of my time! Except... I usually sit on the floor to do this - I'm a vegetarian and I just don't want all that grease and, you know, corpsiness, to get on my table or work surfaces. I wavered a little this time, since it's kind of hard for me to sit down on the floor right now. Not to mention painful once I'm down. But my dislike for non-vegetarian protein (sounds so much better than "dead animals", right?) convinced me to do as usual. After an hour on the floor the turkey was stripped and packed away into plastic bags. Then followed The Question.

Mom... How are you going to get back up?

Yeah, that one! Let's just say I'm glad no one had a camera on me for that little exercise. Hands covered in turkey grease, one leg in a cast: how not to limit yourself if you want to get up off the floor.

In other, (slightly) less complainy, news I'm trying to find ways to have fun with Monster which allow me to stay seated. Bonus if it's also a bit of a workout for him. I've tried filming one such exercise, but as usual you'll see I'm not a particularly skilled videographer...

This is Monster basically not using an inflatable elephant as a position box. We normally do this in the living room, but the cheap video camera I have can't handle the low light so I moved us outside. Monster clearly thinks that's a bizarre idea and isn't overly interested in showing off how we usually do this exercise. It also doesn't help that I'm sitting off to the side, and completely (and repeatedly) fail to throw the treats so he can catch them. Obviously the flaw is my distance to the elephant, so Monster very cleverly decides to fix the issue for me...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Today's Cloud

I won't be posting clouds for a while now. Because let's face it, it'd just be a long winded whine along the lines of "Oh, my leg hurts!" (which it does), "Oh, I'm bored and frustrated!" (which I am), "Oh, it's so unfair to Monster!" (which it is), "Oh, I'm desperate to get out of this cast!" (which I am), "Oh, I can't do x, y or z!" (which I can't), and of course "Oh my god, my leg really HUUUUUUURTS!" (which it does, we're talking leg on fire here people). I'm very good at finding things to complain about when things really aren't that bad, so giving me space to just focus on the negative seems like a bad idea right now. No doubt I'll manage to sneak a bit of complaining into other posts anyway...

*SIGH*     Count on it...

So let me just get it out of the way for a while:

My leg hurts!

What!? Really? I had no idea! I'd never have guessed from all the cursing you've been doing...

I want to do things, but I can't!

Wait, have you had a broken leg for years? Cause I remember you liking to sit down and read and watch TV quite a lot in the past... Poor Mom, having a busted leg for so long!

Healing is taking forever, how come my leg's not better yet!?

Yeah, it's been a whole week today, right? So it's time to get up and go!

I can't even - plus it's... Argh, I give up! There is no way to describe just how bad everything is!!!

I think her head just exploded... That should mean she's all whined out for a while. Fingers crossed...

Today's Sunshine

I've just come back from walking Monster. Today I walked 1,5 kilometers! It took me an hour... And now my leg is on fire. In fact it was on fire as we were walking too (I take pain meds, but they seem to mostly take the edge off rather than actually keep pain away), but as long as we were moving it was manageable. This led to some conflicts when he wanted to stop and sniff a particularly interesting spot for a while, and unfortunately I have to admit the pain leaves me with a short temper... I find myself alternately berating him and whining at him, which is both unproductive and pathetic. I need to find a way to keep him moving - even though I normally want him to have some time to do things that interest him too - in a more effective way...

In a moment, Mom...

He was very good around cars today! I'd been worried that it would be a problem, since he's quite frustrated from inactivity by now, plus we're moving at a very slow pace (which has always been a problem for him, the faster we're moving the better he is at ignoring triggers). But the cars just driving by he didn't even glance at. One car was a huge pain in the rear, because it drove up to us, stopped, reversed, drove forward again, angled in to a mailbox, reversed again, and then drove past us. I stopped Monster for this, and sat him down. This is a bad idea, since it just creates focus on the trigger, as well as giving him plenty of time to charge up for a lunge, but I had to have him in a position where I could control the angles he would move, since if he pulls the wrong way I'm going to fall over - I have nothing to put against his strength as long as my leg is like this, it's basically like I'm a child walking a horse; what "control" I have depends entirely on cooperation... But, amazingly enough, Monster didn't lunge! He was clearly thinking about it, his butt lifted from the sit a couple of times, but he let me stop him! That was awesome!

That's me: Captain Awesome.

When we were nearly home again, a dog behind a fence suddenly appeared and started a ruckus. Monster really wanted to get to it (he looked like he wanted to greet), and pulled a couple of times toward it. Fortunately I'd seen the dog before him (before it started barking and lunging at the fence), so I'd taken a position bracing against my crutches in the direction of the fence, and managed to hold him and stay upright! Admittedly Monster wasn't really putting much effort into it, but I'm still happy. This can work, people! I hope...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Starting The Day Off Right

This morning I got up at six - it should have been five, but thanks to daylight savings it sort of was five - and went for a walk with Monster. Or, to be more precise, a hobble. A veeeeeery slow one. Thanks to it being Easter I was relatively confident we'd be out alone (we were) even though it wasn't as early as I'd originally planned. Monster was well behaved on leash and didn't pull me. I meant to time the "walk", but forgot about it as I left so I can only guess how long we were out... I'd say about 20-25 minutes? Felt a lot longer, though. I've measured our distance on a map and we covered an impressive 436 meters! Wow... Now I'm in throbbing, swelling pain in my ankle, which isn't very pleasant. The walk itself wasn't very pleasant either - but I did it, and I made it home! Hopefully this does me more good than bad (damn doctors at the ER would hardly tell me anything, I have pretty much no idea what I should be trying to do and not!), but according to the all-knowing Dr. Internet it's good to use a broken ankle as much as you can manage, keeping the blood flow going and keeping at least some of the muscles from atrophying... I have to honestly say I don't think I can do more than I managed this morning, but I can at least do that much. It wasn't a very long walk, in time or distance (especially distance), but it was something. And I think Monster was happy about it, even though he was very confused when we turned back home again...

Look at me, Mom! This is how you do it, run!

Poor Monster... I'm at my limit, he's bored. This is going to be a long, slow spring...