Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Our Weekend Adventures...

I love weekends, but they go by way to quickly for my liking. Weekends give both of us some time to hang out with our dogs together. Normally I'm home alone with the dogs while Nigel is working. Saturday morning is usually taken up by hiking with HikeABull or close friends. Sunday is training day with "Our Pack" . Although Jake and Abbey are well trained you can never get enough training or break the consistency. The other aspect of taking the dogs to training is that we get to meet and hangout with an awesome group of people, who have helped with our development to become responsible dog owners.

HikeABull at Joseph D. Grant County Park
It's through the Our Pack training group that we first learned that there were local dog hiking groups, later on we joined the HikeABull group. We started hiking when Abbey was around six months old. At this time Abbey was a rambunctious puppy, full of life and ready to play with any dog or person. Abbey couldn't resist meeting other dogs. Hiking within a group provided an environment in which Abbey could learn that it was okay to be around other dogs without the need to meet all of them. 

Exploratory hike at Loch Lomond Recreation  Area
Unfortunately, not long after we started hiking, Abbey suffered a knee injury that stopped us hiking with the group for several months. Abbey did eventually recover from her injury, which allowed us to start hiking again. During the time we weren't able to hike with adopted Jake.

Hiking with a group of well managed dogs is so beneficial to Jake and Abbey. For Abbey it allows her to further develop her manners around other dogs. She's so much better these days then when we first started hiking, she no longer tries to rush up to the other dogs. Although, she still tries to steal the occasional sniff and kiss from dogs that walk along side her. Jake lacks confidence but in a pack he's the most confident, happy dog around. He loves walking with other dogs but unlike Abbey is less inclined to meet and greet them. While walking with the group he holds his head high and proud.

HikeABull at Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve
After regularly attending hikes organized by Lark for several months, we felt the need to pay something forward for the work that Lark had been doing for quite some time and so offered our services as hike organizers. We've been organizing hikes now for around nine months without too many problems. The biggest problem we face is Jake and Abbey are so tightly bonded that it's sometime hard for us to be separated in the group. When we're out hiking with HikeABull, we like to have an organizer at the front and back to ensure all members return safely. If Jake and Abbey go out sight they will either start pulling towards each other to catch up or simple put the brakes on so the other one can catch up.

Exploratory hike at Mt. Madonna
Another difficulty is making hikes enjoyable and interesting. We don't like to use the same hikes repeatedly, so we're also on the lookout for new places to go. Tracy, the forth HikeABull organizer has a great knowledge of the county and national parks and is an excellent map reader. Frequently, the organizers together with a small group of members will go out mid week searching for new hikes that would be suitable for a larger group. Sometimes the exploratory hikes are successful and other times they're not. We have to take quite a few things in to account when searching for new hikes, including, difficulty, parking, making sure dogs are permitted and that the park is strictly on-leash only. We also need to think about how busy the trails will be at the weekend and whether we're going to be sharing the trail with mountain bikers or horse riders.

Exploratory hike Butano State Park
All in all HikeABull has been unbelievable helpful in both Abbey's and Jake's development. We've also used HikeABull to help with our foster dogs as it's an excellent way to socialize dogs in a safe and friendly environment. We have such an amazing group of people within HikeABull that the hikes are always over way too soon.

~Nigel and Alzbeta

Abbey and Kelly on their exploratory hike at Almaden QuickSilver County Park. We found a secret trail .

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Introducing Penny Foster Dog

This post is a little overdue, but we thought it was about time that we introduced our latest foster dog 'Penny' foster dog.

Penny was originally called Breeze, but as she was starting out a new life with us we gave her a new name. And going with our tradition of using our favorite TV characters as inspiration, we came up with Penny who appears on 'The Big Bang Theory'.

Since Penny arrived she's been attending the Our Pack training class, her she is today in front of Chubby, and Harley (a Pug and French Bulldog).

Penny has also started hiking with us and HikeABull, her she is with Abbey on an Elderbull walk.

Although Penny is much happier chilling out in the garden on a warm day with her foster brother and sister.

Penny is a city girl and likes nothing better than to stroll down the high street window shopping, and hanging out at coffee shops.

And what could be better after all that walking (and sleeping)....a personal cat massage...

You can check out all the adventures Penny has on her very own Facebook page

If anyone out there is interested in giving Penny a permanent home she is available from Our Pack Inc. 

American Shelter Dog

When we're out walking, most people call our dogs pit bulls. I don't mind them being called pit bulls, however, I no longer find this an accurate description. To me, the two dogs above are very different, in both appearance and temperament. Abbey (the black dog on the right) is tall and leggy (confident yet very excitable) and Jake (the dog on the left) is shorter and has a more stocky build (he's also very shy of strangers). 

Earlier this year, we performed DNA testing on our two dogs. When Jake's DNA results came back we were pretty excited and were pleased that we got at least one of his breeds right - American Staffordshire Terrier. His second breed is American Bulldog.

Jake's DNA results

When Abbey's DNA results arrived, you could say we were a little surprised. We thought she was a American Pit Bull Terrier mix. So when we looked at her DNA, we couldn't believe our eyes! I could believe she had some Doberman Pinscher in her as she has long legs, sleek body and long nose. But I failed to see Cocker Spaniel in her at all.

Abbey's DNA

It is said that only a small percentage, about 5 or 10% accounts for their look. You could chose to believe the DNA result or not. But Abbey's DNA results show that it's extremely difficult to guess the breed based on looks alone. I looked at Abbey's DNA and thought to myself, eight breeds! What kind of the dog are you? Are you a Doberman or Cocker Spaniel? In the end I came back to the same conclusion as before, she's a good dog.

Even though I have a rough idea of the breeds that make up Jake and Abbey, I'm still aware that in public they'll be judged simply by their looks and not whether their a good dog or bad dog. So whenever we're out in public we always make sure our dogs are well behaved in public.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Saying goodbye...

It's been a while since our last post. One reason behind not writing for some time was related to having to say goodbye to our foster dog, Maddie. Unfortunately, it wasn't the happy goodbye that we all hoped for. We both loved Maddie for who he was, and treated him as though he was one of our own. Unfortunately, a few weeks after making the video to help him find a permanent home, a number of worrying behaviors started to show.

Before going in to detail on what happened, it's important to understand where Maddie came from. Maddie wasn't a fighting dog, he wasn't a bait dog, he (probably) wasn't an abused dog, he was a dog that had been passed around between several families before finally ending up at the HSSV Humane Society of Silicon Valley).  We didn't know Maddie when he first entered the shelter, we came to know Maddie by way of the training class that we attend with Jake and Abbey. A number of volunteers would bring Maddie to the training class as a way to improve his chances of getting adopted. At the training class Maddie would occasionally have moments where he would breakdown and react to the other dogs around him, but overall he did well at these classes. One thing to say, Maddie was a definite people pleaser. However, as time went by, shelter life took it's toll on Maddie. At the shelter he was starting to react with ever increasing intensity. An amazing group of volunteers worked tirelessly to keep Maddie's spirits up and keep him adoptable.

After about eight months of living at the shelter we were asked if we would take Maddie as a foster. We knew that if we didn't his days would be numbered at the shelter. We agreed to give it a try. This was our first foster and being a little naive we didn't ask all the questions we probably should have. 

Maddie's spent the majority of his first week with us sleeping in his crate. He was exhausted and needed time to de-stress. Over the coming weeks, we spent time introducing Maddie to Jake and Abbey, although at the shelter he was reactive to other dogs, we didn't see any reactivity towards Jake and Abbey. After several weeks of working with Maddie, Jake and Abbey behind a baby gate we took the next steps and moved on to face to face introductions and play sessions. Whenever, Maddie played with Jake and Abbey we were careful not to leave anything of high value lying around. Maddie progressed from just being in the yard with our own dogs to being able to play tug with both Jake and Abbey. 

One thing we noticed in the early play sessions was that Maddie would occasionally react if Jake or Abbey encroached on his space. Sometimes, Maddie would stiffen and give a glare to Jake or Abbey, at other time it would be snarl. One problem we have is that Jake and Abbey have no boundaries in terms of personal space and are quite happy sleeping on top of each other. For Maddie, it appeared that he liked his personal space and didn't like our other dogs being so close to him. We spent time working with Maddie and over time it appeared that he overcame his space problems and would from time to time snuggle up to Abbey on the couch.

Even though we were working with Maddie on a daily basis we couldn't overcome his reactivity to cats, other dogs, squirrels and really anything that moved. But we loved him. On walks he would be constantly on guard, never relaxed, as though he was looking for the next thing to react too.

After Maddie had been with us for a little over six months we started to notice changes in his behavior, subtle at first, a glare (or snake eyes) at either Jake or Abbey when they came to close to his crate. We didn't see these behaviors initially, they were very subtle, but both Jake and Abbey could read the signals and luckily they made the smart decisions and would walk away (submissively). By chance, we stumbled over the fact that Maddie had started to resource guard his food. While he was eating you would start to pet him, Maddie would stiffen up, if you continued to pet him, his lip would curl and a low growl could be heard. At this point we still wanted to work with Maddie and sought advice from our trainer. For the next couple of weeks, whenever we fed Maddie we would offer words of encouragement and drop pieces of bacon or cheese into his food to show him that when we were with him (at feeding times) good things would happen.

If this had been the only problem, we would have kept working with Maddie, but as we started to watch Maddie more closely, we started to pick up on the subtle behaviors that Jake and Abbey had probably been observing for some time. On one particularly occasion, a freshly washed and dried cat bed was on the floor our breakfast area. Maddie claimed the bed for himself. Abbey happened to walk in to the same area as the cat bed. Maddie probably saw Abbey coming for the cat bed and let out a loud snarl, alerting Abbey that she should stay away. As you can tell by reading this blog, what started out as a dirty look had escalated to a growl and a snarl. Maddie's behavior started to make us feel uncomfortable in terms of the safety of our own dogs and also ourselves. 

Taking everything into account, including, the time spent in the shelter, his reactivity levels, his resource guarding to both humans and other dogs, and that only a single couple had paid any attention to Maddie in the seven or eight months he was with us, forced us to make (what was probably the hardest decision of our lives) and say goodbye to Maddie. It's a hard thing to say that Maddie had become un-adoptable. We questioned ourselves constantly as to whether we made the right decision, we could have quite easily have kept his guarding issues to ourselves and not told our trainer or the HSSV and life could have continued on as normal. However, neither of us wanted Maddie to become a headline in terms of a pit bull biting someone (whether and adult or small child) and we certainly didn't want Maddie to be returned to the shelter if a new owner couldn't deal with the reactivity issues.

It's a horrible thing to say, but Maddie's last day was probably one of his happiest. In the morning we took him to the coast. I doubt Maddie had ever walked on sand or seen the ocean. In the afternoon one of the volunteers who had spent many hours with Maddie while he lived at the shelters came around and played with him, and fed him lot's of cookies while he laid on his back having his tummy rubbed. I hope this is wat he remembers. I'm not sure how either of us kept it so together that day, but when it was over, it was clear that Maddie was a much bigger part of our lives than we realized. For days, well more like weeks our house felt empty. Maddie had the biggest, brightest smile, he was always so happy to see you and no matter how bad your day was going, Maddie would be there and everything would seem so much easier.

I hope Maddie is now relaxed and running free over the Rainbow bridge.

R.I.P. Maddie, you'll be missed by many 
(2008 - 10/30/2011)