Thursday, December 30, 2010

No, I have the best cookies...

Both Abbey and I are allergic to gluten. You find gluten mainly in wheat, rye, barley, and other related grains. From my personal experience I avoid gluten at any cost, as I know the consequences. Although, at times it can be tricky to ensure I avoid products containing gluten, it's much harder to keep on top of what Abbey eats when she's out and about. 

At home we're very careful what we feed Abbey. Our preferred brand of kibble is called Taste of the Wild which is wheat free and agrees with her sensitive stomach. We like to have a variety of dogs treats to be used when we're training. Whenever we come across a new brand of dog treats, we're careful to check the ingredients in order to be sure they're suitable for Abbey. We look for treats that are as natural as possible. Lots of commercial brands are full of meat by-products, fillers (wheat, soy or corn), artificial flavors, harmful additives (i.e. propylene glycol), colorings or sugar. My rule of the thumb is, if you don't understand the ingredients or they don't explain how it's derived, I just leave it and move on to some other product. I don't want to carry a dictionary around in order for me to understand the ingredients. If I see anything man made as the first ingredient than I move on.

One of favorite brand for treats is by Zuke's. We also use dried liver, freshly cooked chicken or just Taste of the Wild kibble. There was a time when Abbey would do anything for a piece of carrot, but she's acquired a more sophisticated pallet, probably from us spoiling her with tastier treats.  

This is more expensive treat, but Abbey would do anything for it.

Our homemade peanut butter cookies. They are so good! All organic and human grade ingredients... so good that  we keep some to ourselves. 

When we take Abbey to her weekly training class she seems to be great at finding free food on the floor. All it takes is just one "bad" cookie to upset her stomach (the consequence being  bloated together with diarrhea). The training takes place at a local park. During the training class we move around a lot and it's impossible not to drop cookies on the way. Abbey enjoys the challenge of finding all the treats dropped by other people (unfortunately not many treats are gluten free). 

Occasionally while we're out walking Abbey will pick up tasty treats off the floor and left over food on the floor. Even though Abbey's good at the leave it and drop it command, I don't always see what's she's picking up. She loves the food that people leave out for feral cats. All of these things give her bad stomach, I only wish she knew how bad it is for her.

It usually takes three days to get the junk food out of her system.  We try to help her by supplement her with organic pumpkin puree and organic plain white yogurt with her food. 

It appears that the more we cut gluten out of her diet her sensitivity to gluten increases. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rain, rain, go away...

The last three days we've had a great sunny spell in the Bay Area, with temperatures around  60°F/ 16°. Somehow it's hard to believe that it's winter. When I was growing up in Europe, I had to put up with blistering cold winters, which seemed to last forever. The move to California was a definitely a good move; the cold weather doesn't suit me at all.

This photo is from my brother, they're having a nice white Christmas. 

Even though we have nice, mild winter's here, we miss the warm summer weather. Lately we've had quite a bit of rain, which has prevented us taking the dogs out hiking. Abbey and Jake refuse to go out in the rain, even for a short potty breaks. They won't go outside unless one of us accompanies them... I guess misery likes company :o)

So this week when it wasn't raining the dogs took the opportunity to stop and soak up the sun in our garden. The first day without the rain they had a hard time finding a dry place, they both ended up squishing their big butts on top of the coffee table in our garden. 

After three days of no rain, the cushions on the benches dried up and Jake and Abbey spent the day soaking up the sun. It's a hard life being Abbey and Jake :o)

Jake was sniffing out something good in the air, Abbey just laid around.

 Too bad the good weather didn't last, it's now raining again. I guess Abbey and Jake will have to make it by snuggling with each other until the summer comes back. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Testing my new camera Nikon S8100

Abbey and Jake make the perfect subject to test my new camera... kids and animals are usually hardest to photograph.

I was worried about buying a small camera because they always fall short of the mark when I compare them to our Nikon D70 (6.1 MP) which is a digital SLR camera. It's hard not to compare when you get used to the quality and the sharpness of the photos that the D70 takes. My previous small camera was Nikon Coolpix 4200 (4 MP), it was a bit of a disappointment. It would be great at taking panoramic views or something that wasn't moving, but put dog in front of it and you end up with the blur. The biggest disadvantage was that you had to wait several seconds before you could take another shot.

My new toy is Nikon Coolpix S8100 (12.1 MP), so far I'm amazed what this little camera can do. I took a HD video of our dogs playing in the garden.

Photos of the dogs inside of the house at night, surprisingly the quality of the photos is astonishing. You can see every detail and it's very sharp considering the low light condition. My favorite thing is that you can see Abbey in the photos! It's hard to photograph Abbey because she's black and absorbs the light, she usually ends up looking like a black blob.

Abbey catching the spider in our living room...

Two nylabones in one room, yet Abbey is waiting for her turn to chew on Jake's Galileo bone.
 I can't wait to test Nikon S8100 how fast it can take the photos...

Monday, December 20, 2010

And than there was Jake...

Growing up as the only dog in our house, was for Abbey probably quite boring and a little lonely. We obviously played with her as much as possible and spent many hours training and teaching her new tricks to keep her busy. Although, she didn't have any dull moments, she rarely had any dog to dog socialization.

Going to the Our Pack training on a Sunday was the one day a week when Abbey really came close to meeting other dogs. However, there is a rule about dog to dog interaction during the training. We were fortunate enough to be able to take Abbey to a supervised 'Pitty Playgroup', where Abbey had the chance to meet and play with other pit bulls. Although, Abbey had a blast, it was obvious Abbey lacked (dog) social skills and had zero manners when it came to playing with other dogs. 

Abbey's first play group, as you can see she was a exuberantly happy...

Trying to teaching a dog social skills when she is the only dog is pretty much impossible!

We've already blogged about Abbey's 'bratty' stage in 'One year since we adopted Abbey...the first six months', as Abbey turned one she started to behave again and leave this (horrible) life stage behind. It was at this point we started to consider fostering a second dog. 

We asked our trainer, Marthina McClay, who runs the  Our Pack pit bull rescue, if we could enroll to be a foster family. Marthina thought it would be great for Abbey to have another buddy to play with and that she would keep an eye open for a suitable dog. Marthina was thinking that a mellow male dog would help Abbey to calm down and teach her the social skills she was lacking.

One day, Marthina posted a link on Facebook relating to a sweet dog called Jack that was available for adopting at Hayward animal shelter. After seeing the post on Facebook, we slipped in a comment saying what a cute dog Jack was, in the hope that Marthina would see the posting and ask if we wanted to foster him :-)

And it worked :o). Marthina responded to our comment saying that it might be wort introducing Jack to Abbey. We arranged a dog to dog meeting between Abbey and Jack the very next weekend.

We weren't sure how the dogs would react to one another, especially with Abbey and her lack of social skills. As it turned out, we had nothing to worry about! Jack and Abbey saw each other in the car park and before we could even make it to the dog socialization area they were best buddies. You could say love at the first sight. We didn't need to do any big introduction, they  hit it off immediately.

Marthina asked us what we thought about taking Jack home with us, and if we needed more time. Without hesitation, we simple said 'we'll take him'. Marthina, then caught us off guard a little, when she said we'll do a foster to adopt program! At the time we thought, we would be fostering for a few months (maybe six months to a year) and then handing Jack to his forever home. Although the foster to adopt was a bit of a curve ball we hadn't expected, it didn't put us off. We agreed to take Jack and changed his name to Jake almost immediately. Driving home from the shelter was fun, Abbey was in the trunk of our SUV and Jack on the back seat. Jack couldn't stop checking Abbey out and making sure she was still there.

The first couple of weeks were quite long, whenever, Jake and Abbey got together all they wanted to do was play. If it wasn't for us they would have played 24/7. It was also obvious that for the fourth time in our lives we'd been duped by a shelter animal. At the shelter, Jake was this mellow, super calm guy. After catching up with his sleep, he turned out to be bouncy and full of energy; one day we'll catch him on video hopping across our yard or kitchen.

 Within a few weeks of taking Jake home, we were back on the phone with Marthina asking if we could complete the adoption process. There was no way we were going to hand Jake over to someone else!

After a couple of months, Abbey and Jake started to settle down and get in to a routine. Although they still loved to play, they could also relax and settle down next to each other on the sofa and fall asleep. Jake loves to be next to Abbey, and whenever he see's her sleeping, will try and cuddle up next to her. 

And that's the beginning of happily ever after for these two crazy and lovable dogs....

Jakes been with us for around six months, the following is Jake's before and after shot. He's now around two years old and is started to mature into a great boy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's a scary world out there!

In the house Jake is a sweet and gentle boy. You can pretty much do anything you want to him, and won't bat an eyelid. If you've looked at our other blogs, you'll see that Jake is a great looking dog and often displays a quiet confidence when photographed. 

Jake was around a year and half when we adopted him from the Hayward animal shelter. As far as Jake's background, well, we know he spent a month at the shelter before he came to us, other than that, we can only make assumptions. Based, on what we're seeing our main assumption is that Jake was probably a back-yard dog with little to no human interaction.

We live in a residential area, and never had any problems walking Abbey. When we started to walk Jake on our tried and trusted routes, we noticed that Jake didn't have the air of confidence that Abbey displays. Abbey walks with her head held high, and loves to meet new people. Jake appeared to be the complete opposite of Abbey, and  didn't appreciate being stared at. These situations would cause Jake to have a bit of a meltdown, often pulling on the leash as a way to try and leave whatever it was that scared him behind.  

To help Jake gain more confidence, we limited ourselves to walking Jake on two quite routes around the local neighborhood. We learned to give Jake extra time, and not to rush him when we out walking. At first, it seemed that we were take one step forward and then two steps back. One day he would do awesome, the next day something unexpected would happen and we would have to start all over again.

Over time, we've increased the number of routes we walk on, whenever we can we take both dogs out together, as Jake feeds off Abbey's confidence. For Jake, Abbey makes everything in the world less scary.

We're now coming up to the six month mark since adopting Jake, less and less these days we find ourself in the situation where Jake get spooked. His confidence at meeting new people has greatly improved. We're still working on sliding doors and gates. His first reaction is to run away, but as he's on a leash that simple means jerking me all over the place. One improvement we have seen is the length of time it takes Jake to recover. When problem situations arise, we simple move Jake a little further away, ask him to sit and wait. We then let him observe what's going on around him. Within a minute or so he calms down and realizes that nothing bad going to happen to him.  

As you can see, we've acknowledged that Jake lacks confidence and we're working on it. The frustrating part of this process is getting people we meet on the street to listen and understand us when we tell them that Jake lacks confidence and we're working on it. If Jake panics while we're outside, people often stare at us while we calm him down. They often ask 'what's wrong with our dog?'. We explain about his background, that he came from a shelter and we're rehabilitating him and he's making great progress. They start to 'pity him' which serves no purpose. Jake's certainly not neglected or being abused, we're not sure of his past and so don't dwell on that. 

What people need to realize is that Jake is experiencing many things for the very first time, and it simple takes time to get used to all these new experiences. We're not going to confine Jake to the house. So, we're working with him, day by day, step by step, trying to give him as many new experiences as we can to help build up his confidence.

In the last week, Jake now appears to be comfortable standing by a post box while letters are being sent. A few weeks ago this situation would have terrified him. To many people this may seem like no big deal. But, to us it's a huge achievement on Jake's part!

Our current challenge is to get Jake to walk by a local Starbucks without pulling on the leash. If Abbey is with him, Jake will walk calmly by without a care in the world. On his own Jake is like a worried old man. We're making progress and are seeing some big improvements. The other day, Jake walked calmly between the outside tables while a number of people were coming in and out of Starbucks. 

We're looking forward to seeing where Jake is in another six months and then looking back to where he is today and where he was in the first month or so after we adopted him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Getting festive!!!

We moved to California six years ago, it's still hard for us to get into the Christmas spirit when the rest of our family live over in Europe.  Each year we try something new...

We used to decorate a Christmas Tree but we stopped after we adopted our two cats, Bailey and Percilla. The cats thought it was a great toy, we spent more time guarding it rather than enjoying it. Percilla kept eating the silver tinsel while Bailey spent many an hour knocking down the ornaments. 

Now that we have we have the two dogs, Jake and Abbey (in addition to the two cats) there's no way I would consider getting a tree, not even a small one. It may possible in a few years, when our dogs are calmer. We do enjoy the stories posted by our friends on Facebook (especially Hector the Pit Bull), describing the mischief their pets have gotten into. And feel very relieved that we don't have to go through the same.

This year, purely for the fun of it, we dressed our dogs up. Jake wore a candy cane headband, while Abbey was a snow queen. This photo then became the center piece for our own handmade Christmas cards. Our dogs are so easily amused, I find amazing what they would do for a small piece of chicken or a peanut butter cookie!

Earlier in December, we went to our first holiday parade in Los Gatos, see Los Gatos, Holiday Parade. This was definitively an interesting experience that we won't forget for a very very long time. It was however fun and something different to do.

Recently, I've been walking our dogs in the evening, I love seeing how creative people are with their Christmas decoration. The following images are some of my favorites...

It's a Santa's sleigh with reindeers, it's quite a large display. It's as tall as the one story house and spans several front yards. 

Willow Glen has a tradition called "Christmas Tree Lane". The idea is that every house in a street will have a Christmas tree in front of their house. In my opinion, the only thing that seems to be missing is the snow!

I thought I would include a few photos of our cats as it a Christmas time as they're part of our family.

Bailey is 20 years old

Percilla is 12 yearls old

Have a Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday Training Class

Most Sunday's we take our dogs to a local training class. It's not that they're bad dogs, but we enjoy the training our dogs and always seem to learn something new. 

The training class is called Dog Training for People, it takes place at a local park. The training class focus's on teaching owners how to handle their dogs, using positive reinforcement techniques. Dogs and their handlers are split into two groups, beginners and intermediates. I love that no matter what level you and your dog are at, they'll never make you look bad or feel out of place. The trainers are always available to give you great advice and guidance whatever your problem.

This is not your typical training class. They don't teach you how to make dog sit, lie down or twirl around. They teach you the key skills necessary to handle your dog in situations faced on a daily bases. Your dog will learn how  to behave on the leash around other dogs and people. The benefit we've found with this training is that you start to enjoy walking and being seen with your dogs in public.

A couple of key rules make this an extremely safe environment in which to train your dog; dogs are not allowed meet or stare at one another. Staring is anything longer than three seconds. 

Marthina McClay in 'Dog Aggression or Leash Reactivity?' writes: -
"..When he sees the other dog “staring” at him, he may see it as the rude, offensive staring behavior mentioned above. He pulls forward and feels the pull of the leash. He feels restrained from being able to approach. Frustration ensues, and after a number of times he begins to feel frustrated seeing other dogs while on a leash at a distance. This is what is called conditioned frustration or leash reactivity."  

The training has taught us how to read our own dogs body language and has given us the techniques to keep them calm and under control in every day situations. Under control, means that our dogs stay focused on us even when passing other dogs on the street. Even when the other dog(s) are riled up or staring at our dogs. Abbey and Jake have learned several commands, one of the most important is the "look" command. 'Look' means make eye contact with us and hold it until we reward them. "Sit" and "wait" , when we're meeting other people and their dogs. In order for Abbey and Jake to meet other people they have to be calm and sitting otherwise they don't get to meet the person. In such a case, meeting the other person is the reward for sitting calmly. 

I believe positive reinforcement training works so well, because the dog gets rewarded for good behavior rather than being punished for mis-behaving or not doing what they've been asked to do. Positive reinforcement doesn't mean we're soft with our dogs. We just teach them what's appropriate. For example, jumping up at person, results in being ignored. Sitting calmly results in getting nice attention from the person. You can see their little brain working hard to work out what it is they need to do to get the reward. 

We've been training Abbey this way since she was four months old, she enjoys working hard for us. She's growing up to be a well behaved, well mannered dog. We're very proud of her for what she has become and how well she's handling the various life situations thrown at her. You can read about one of our proud moments from the previous blog called Look! I have manners.

Jake also enjoys this training too. He's very food motivated and loves to work for his food or simple to hear "Good boy!" 

I think if Abbey and Jake were to give a rating to this training, they would rate it 10/10. When we take them to training, they recognize where we're going and start singing (whining) in excitement for the last half mile. They look forward to seeing all of their friends. Probably the hardest thing for Jake and Abbey is to keep it together during the training class when one of the trainers walks by, for them this is the biggest distraction and the hardest test each week ;o) 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Boredom Busters

Last week Abbey and I went shopping for dog toys, at our local Pet Food Express (in Campbell) . They have a great range of products and the store is laid out in such a way that I don’t feel confined.

Abbey loves shopping there; it’s always a big adventure for her. I'm always on the lookout for extra tough toys for our dogs. I used to think Abbey was bad enough, but after we adopted Jake, we seem to have a shortage of toys. The only survivors are a couple of black kongs and one or two nylabones. Jake is a very powerful chewer and no toys seem to be safe from him!

Last week, I talked to a sales assistant who has three pit bulls of his own. He seemed to understand exactly the pit falls of the breed and how tough they are on their toys. He gave me a tour of the store and showed me which toys he had tried and liked for his own dogs. I now have a few new toys to try out. And the bonus! He said that if I’m not happy with the toys I can always return them for an exchange, even when it’s damaged. I was thinking, don’t tempt me! I could be here every other day, exchanging toys J

Three of my favorite boredom busters for Jake and Abbey include; the Premier 'Twist n' Treat', The StarMark Bob-A-Lot and The Buster Cube. What they all have in common is that you can fill them with dog treats or kibble and then the dogs have to work to get the treats out.

The first toy that we bought for Abbey was the  Twist n' Treat LARGE (about $13) by Premier. We used this product in two ways. Firstly, by placing a small handful of kibble inside, it would make Abbey work a little bit harder to get her treats. When Abbey got overexcited we used to put Abbey's complete meal inside. Doing this allowed Abbey to focus on something else and allowed her to calm herself down.

We had this product for several months and used it frequently when Abbey was growing up. Than we tried it with Jake, and well you can see the results below.

Premier Twist (as tested by Jake)
I guess Jake got bored or frustrated and took his frustration out on the 'Twist n' Treat', Jake proved that the Twist n' Treat, doesn't stand up to powerful chewers.

The Bob-A-Lot Interactive Pet Toy by Starmark (about $20), has a larger capacity (up to 3 cups of kibble) and it's a little harder to shake out the treats than the Twist n' Treat. Abbey loves the challenge and enjoys playing with this toy (sometime we mix in some cat kibble for extra flavor). But she doesn't appreciate it when we give her full meal this way, she finds it too hard and too time consuming to get all her food and oftens leaves a 1/4 to a 1/3 of her food behind.

At first Jake didn't know what to do with this toy, he knew that the tasty treats were inside, but he didn't know how to get them out. So we got Abbey to demonstrate. Than he started to enjoy playing with it. Unfortunately Jake discovered a second use for this toy. When he's done emptying it of kibble, he uses it as a chew toy. Considering Jake's been using it for the last four months, it's still holding up pretty well.

The video below shows Jake and Abbey having fun with the Bob-A-Lot:

The latest toy that we've bought is the Buster Food Cube Large (about $17). It runs on a similar principal to Bob-A-Lot, except that the Buster Cube has a smaller capacity. Both dogs enjoy playing with Buster Cube. Fingers crossed, but so far Jake hasn't been able to fit this toy inside his mouth, the lack of teeth marks appear to confirm this.

Here's Abbey showing her skills with the toy, she's very good at sending the cube flying across the room, and emptying the cube of treats.

Finally, here's Jake showing off his skills with The Buster Cube:

Feel free to add comments with your successes (and failures) in the dog toy department.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Naming your dog after a TV Character...

How to say this, we're not very imaginative with our pet names. Most of them already came with a name that we thought was okay, i.e. our cats Bailey and Percilla. When it came to naming our dogs, we named them after our favorite TV characters. As it came out, they even assumed the characters personality.

Abbey was named after NCIS forensic specialist called Abby. The TV character Abby, is smart, upbeat and is addicted to "Caf-Pow", a caffeine filled soda. 
Our dog Abbey is always always buzzing around with never ending optimism and always ready to have some fun. Quite often we find ourself out smarted by her too.

Jake was named after Jake Harper in the  TV series Two and a Half Men. Jake Harper gets really bad grades, is always eating, and very lazy
Jake (the dog Jake) is just a simpleton who loves his food and is eager to please, he's a big lovable boy.

How did you name your pets?

What would you do for a ride in the car?

Jake loves nothing more than going for car rides and there's nothing that will stop him from his favorite activity - not even the cat door J

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It's okay, my dog is friendly

I sometime wonder how many other people are effected by the 'it's OK, my dog is friendly' sydrome?

In my case it usually goes something like this....I'm walking along with either Jake or Abbey at my side. From time to time they check in with me, sometime I have to ask for the 'look' but life is good. Distractions can occur but both Jake and Abbey are now at the stage where they'll glance for a second or two and then look back at me. And then it happens!

So we're walking along, and then up ahead we see another dog walker, but rather than having their dog by their side and under control, their dog is at the end of the leash, be it a six foot leash or a retractable. At this point I'm usually making a conscious decision to either hide behind a parked car, dive into an alley way or if possible cross the street. Now, back to the other dog walker, who if they're paying attention must surely see that I'm trying to get out of the way, does what?

You've guessed it, absolutely nothing!

Rather than shorten their leash and take control of the situation. They just leave their dog at the end of the leash. As the distance shortens, their dog will start to hard stare before starting to bark in excitement.

These days Jake and Abbey are doing much better at ignoring these dogs. They still have days where they're react  to the other dog. When this happens, I do my best to get Jake or Abbey under control and away from this situation, using a high value treat (dried Liver or fish oil capsules) makes this easier as both dogs are highly motivated by food. The most frustrating part of the encounter is when the other owner comments 'it's OK, my dog is friendly and just wants to meet yours' or due to walking a pit bull we get a dirty glance as if to say 'oh, it's a pit bull'.

Now, neither Nigel or myself are trainers and so we're not trying to give out any advice or training guidelines, this piece is more about a pet peeve of ours. Both our dogs are very social and love to meet other dogs. However, through experience gained by volunteering at he Humane Society of Silicon Valley and through attending the weekly Our Pack training, we've learned that not all dogs get along. We therefore like to control which dogs Abbey and Jake socialize with. Our primary reason for this is to ensure that every experience encountered by Jake and Abbey is a positive one.

For great advice on how to manage a dog to dog greeting take a look at the Pleased to Meet You written by Marthina McClay for Bay Woof, a Bay Area information source for dog owners,

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One year since we adopted Abbey...the first six months

A couple of months ago, Abbey's one year anniversary came around. I can't believe that it's been only one year since we adopted her, it feels like a very (very) long year!

This is really the first time I've put pen to paper to describe some of those memorable moments. However, to start, I should give some background as to how we came about adopting Abbey. The story really starts more that four years ago. After moving to California for Nigel's job, we had a zero credit rating and so buying a property was out of the question. In one way renting is great, if you get bored of where your living you simple give notice and move on. However, when you have pets, it gets so much more difficult, there's pet deposits and breed restrictions for a start. As a way to meet new people and find a way to spend my time, I started to volunteer at the local Humane Society (Humane Society of Silicon Valley). Initially, this volunteering was limited to socializing cats. As time passed, socializing cats turned into photographing cats which led to photographing dogs. In Europe, pit bulls have the same bad rap as they do here, and many people start to shake as soon as you mention the word pit bull. Although I was nervous about the breed, I did want to find out what the fuss was all about. One day while volunteering at the HSSV, I asked Anna if I could meet a pit bull, at the time Anna was fostering a blue nose pit bull called Tinkerbel. I can't remember much from the encounter, but what I can remember is a 55lb pit bull running towards me, knocking me over, she then preceded to lick me all over. This was the start of my love for the breed.

Fast forward a few years, the HSSV moved location and I was unable to volunteer at the new location, so rather than give up volunteering completely, Nigel and I started to volunteer and the San Martin shelter at the weekends. Whenever we could, we'd spend time socializing and taking photos of the San Martin dogs as a way to improve their chances of adoption. Secretly, we'd always try and focus on the pit bulls, I'm sure Bridget Wasson the shelters supervisor knew what we were up too. But anyway these dogs need all the help they can get.

Eventually, our credit ratings and savings improved enough for us to buy a property, we kept saying that we wouldn't rush into adopting a dog (over the last few years we'd adopted two cats from the HSSV). And then one day.......

We adopted Abbey when she was just four months old from the San Martin Animal Shelter. She seemed like a perfect little girl, sitting calmly at the front of her kennel, those large, soft brown eyes saying please take me home. It was a Saturday morning, Nigel and I we're meeting other volunteers at the shelter to take a number of dogs out for a short hike to remove some of their built up kennel frustration. We took Abbey along, not really knowing how old she was. She did fantastic on the walk, great walking on the leash, no reactivity towards the other dogs and from what we could tell, wouldn't grow much bigger (yeah, we got that a little bit wrong). She was very people oriented and would confidently greet everyone.

The first couple of weeks were quite tough, we adopted Abbey with the onset of Winter and the prospect of a couple of weeks of rain. Nigel had to go back to England for a couple of weeks, so I was left to house train Abbey. I had to set an alarm to remind myself to take Abbey out to the garden every hour on the hour to do her business. There were a few accidents in those first few weeks. In order for me to track when and what she did, I started to keep her potty schedule on a white board. Anyway, she did learn very quickly, in fact it became obvious, quite early on that she was definitely an intelligent girl. By time Nigel came back home, Abbey was pee'ing on command, could shake and roll over. Tricks I had to teach her to stop her going crazy. Oh, did I forget to mention that she couldn't go out for walks due to requiring a couple of extra vaccines.

As January rolled on, we were thinking we had the perfect dog, well trained, well mannered and loved by all who met her. And then overnight it all changed. Her personality became bratty, and she started to follow her own agenda and interpreted our commands in to whatever she felt like. Sit no longer meant sit, it meant jump up and mouth us. We lost count the number of times, we had to put Abbey on a tie down in the house for doing something naughty.

This is where we can't say enough for the training group we belong too. While Nigel and I were volunteering at the HSSV, we were introduced to Marthina McClay, the founder of Our Pack, a local pit bull rescue group. The HSSV, used Marthina to evaluate the behavior of some of their dogs to judge whether they were suitable for adoption. As soon as Abbey was cleared to go out side we enrolled her in the training course run by Marthina. The group 'dog training for people' doesn't focus on training your dog to sit, lie down, jump up and down and spin round and round, rather it teaches the owner how to manage their dog, and act appropriately in all situations.

We have to thank a number of the trainers at this stage, Marthina (obviously), Mary Campbell and Anna Morey Seekamp. If it wasn't for the advice these people gave, we would have given Abbey back to the shelter from where she came.

We were simple told, this behavior is expected!

All dogs go through this adolescent stage, where they act like a bratty teenager and simple want to push the boundaries (and the buttons of all those around them). It's simple part of growing up. It's a good job that dogs grow up several times faster than humans! We were told that we had to be more assertive, and Abbey had to understand what behavior would and would not be tolerated.

It was good to hear that Abbey wasn't turning "evil" and that she would grow out of this. This was tough for Nigel and I, neither of us, really raise of voice, arguments between us are rare and are often over before they  development into anything major. Now, we had to be firm, assertive and direct. All the things we weren't.

Over time, we became tougher or rather, more disciplined and consistent. Consistency was a key part. Neither one of us let Abbey get away with anything more than the other. Over time Abbey got the message, and started to behave and act more like she did when she was six months old.

These days, it's hard to tell that for around three months she was the worst behaving dog in the class. On one occasion we were about to quit, and were ready to through Abbey in the back car and drive off home. Marthina spotted us, stopped us and spent the remainder of the class teaching us techniques to deal with Abbey's behavior.

Abbey, still has her issues, she get's over excited very easily, she doesn't like off leash dogs or dogs fifteen feet in front of their owners on those retractable leashes (they are called retractable for a reason, maybe retractable should be capitalized on the packaging), but overall, she's making good progress in her development.

You'll have to wait for further posts relating to Abbey's continued development, adopting our second pitty (Jake) and where Abbey is today with her development. 

Los Gatos, Holiday Parade

We've been living in California for last six years, we left England due's to Nigel's job. In England, holiday's are celebrated very differently. Yesterday, we attended (what I believe is called) a Holiday Parade in Los Gatos. 

This was our first Holiday Parade that we've attended, we weren't quite sure what it was all about. The parade consisted of people (the local dignitaries), cars (and floats), dancers, youth groups, scouts, brownies, marching bands and animals (dogs, ponies, goats, (possible a sheep), and a guinea pig . If I've missed anyone out, then I'm sure someone will let me know.

We didn't take our dogs with us on this trip, Los Gatos, has fairly narrow streets and many people walk their dogs on the end of a six foot or stretchy leashes, and have no problem with nose to nose greeting; another pet peeve.

Our main reason for going to the parade was to see some friends, who were taking part in the parade with their Great Danes. They have a local Great Dane drill team, which is sponsored by a local pet store. A couple of the Great Danes come along to the same training class that we attend, run by a local pit bull rescue group Our Pack.

Pet People is a wonderful local pet store, who carry a fantastic range of products

We believe this 'cow' is called Brenda's Star.
This Dane/Mastiff mix is called Zion and is one super mellow guy. 
Although, there wasn't a group parading pit bulls, we did manage to spot a couple that took part in the parade. Our favorite was this singing pit bull.

When this guy wasn't singing along with sounds of parade, he was smiling away.

We're not entirely sure if this little guy is a pitty or not, but he looks close enough to be considered.

What about this moose-dog, walking calmly 'off leash' (panic bells going off in our head again!)

I need to mention the several groups that were showing dogs as service or therapy dogs and the animal hospitals.

Here's some of the dogs that took part

Although, the weather was a little grey, with a slight chill in the air, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The photos used are just a small selection of the ones that were taken, the remainder will posted to our Flickr account and pushed to facebook later today.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Look! I have manners.

If I was grading Abbey, I would give her A+ today!

We were shopping at the local pet shop looking for some new dog treats. while, I was carefully examining the various dogs treats the store had to offer (Our little girl has a very sensitive stomach), I kept Abbey sitting by my side. Every now then she'd get a cookie as a reward for being calm and paying  attention to me.

Little did I know that somebody else was watching me...feeding my dog. To my surprise, when  I looked down there was another dog sitting by my feet! 

It was a cute toy brown Poodle. At first I thought that this dog was off leash and my blood pressure and anxiety went through the roof. I then noticed the retractable leash. Still not my favorite scenario (those leashes drive me crazy, dogs may as well be off leash, as owners have little to no control over their dogs). The owner of the poodle was at the counter busy paying for her shopping and didn't seem to be worried at all. While I stood there, telling myself to be calm, when really alarms bells were going off in my head. Abbey was perfect! She just sat there, making a new friend, both dogs were perfect in terms of greeting. The lady at the till finally noticed her dog was missing and called her dog over. I let out a big sigh of relief, and gave Abbey a big handful of cookies for being so good.

This what imagined would happen. Abbey would give a poodle play bow and than jump on his head, to show him how happy she's too meet him and that she's ready to play. 
Why the panic you may ask, well its not that Abbey is dog reactive, dog aggressive or human aggressive in any way. Its just that she get over excited so easily and when a dog that's a 1/4 her size comes up to her, all I can see is Abbey bouncing all around the smaller dog, with the possibility of knocking it for six. To see Abbey calmly meeting a dog so much smaller than she is, is such an awesome feeling, it's like my little girl has finally grown up and is starting to mature.
Adopting Jake made all the difference in Abbey's life. She learnt to be calmer and better behaved around other dogs.