Blue "The Blueminator" Lewis

Blue "The Blueminator" Lewis

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dealing with a high anxiety dog

The jury is in and it's what I expected.

I've had Blue since October of 2013. That's 18 months of him living here, being loved, cared for and taken to classes. I've read everything there is to read and learned as much as I could. I'm still learning and always will, but I started to realize a few months ago that he would never be "right." By that I mean, he'll never be well-adjusted like a normal dog.

The trainer's and I agreed that he is a high-anxiety (fearful) dog and always will be. That's not something that ever goes away. It's a matter of managing it within the dogs comfort zone.

Blue has not progressed enough in the last 18 months to even get through the beginner's class, which is simply having the dog stay calm and relaxed. Blue can't do it for more than a few minutes. After that, he gets overwhelmed and pushy.

He has a very small threshold of calmness and has a hair trigger. Once it becomes too much for him, he "checks out" and begins to panic. That's what we've called his tantrums, but they really are his version of a panic attack.

Once it hits, there's nothing I can do except physically pull him away from it and wait for him to calm down. He starts pulling at the leash, his eyes dilate and it is impossible to stop. It's one of the few times I will purposely raise my voice at him. It's my way of trying to snap him out of it. These attacks last anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. If you've ever been around a dog who is panicking, a minute is an incredibly long time.

You see that look in his eyes in the picture? This is common for Blue. He has a sweet and gentle nature about him. He is loving, affectionate and a huge cuddle bug, but the reality is this: the world is a big and scary place for him and he worries all...the...time. He never feels secure. Not really. He was left alone and neglected for too long. The damage was done and cannot be undone.

He's never shown any aggression and its not something that I've worried about. But I know people and I know dogs and the fact is, anyone or anything that is scared will not always react appropriately. Fearful people and fearful dogs cannot be trusted. They react and don't analyze. There's no logic in many of their reactions.

At first, I was sad when I realized the true state of his condition. I was sad for him. I was sad that I'd never be able to haul him with me anytime I wanted. I was sad that he had been hurt so badly. I was sad that I would always have to run strict control on everything around him, even the cats, who he adores.

And then I realized that I love him, no matter what. I've had difficult dogs before and I always worked around it. I always did what was best for them.

I have a dog because I love them. I love what they bring to my life and I've learned so much from them.

Blue has the biggest heart and yet is afraid. When I brought out the ironing board and it squeaked, he ran into the bedroom and wouldn't come out until I put it away. He won't walk past the broom if he sees it. Often times, he bolts on our walk if he hears a strange noise. When he meets people, his head is down, his ears are down, and his tail is tucked in between his legs. Yesterday morning, for no reason that I know of, he was afraid to eat. I don't know why but I could see it. I coaxed him as best as I could, but something had kicked in, something that is bigger than him, so I took the food bowl away and told him it was fine.

He will always be like this and it's fine with me. I've learned to accept it as I love him just the way he is. I will work around all that I can.

If my dog can give me unconditional love, the least I can do is give it back to him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blue and Boots

These are my two nurses. Blue is easy to spot. Boots is on my legs and since I'm wearing black jeans, he's a bit hard to see.

Scout, as always, is off to the side, silently observing and judging.

As soon as I lie down, I am pounced upon. I'm sure it's for my own good, right?

Animals can and do sense our feelings and perhaps our thoughts. 

This photo was taken after having been in bed for most of the evening.

I can't say that their attention and demands for pets and belly rubs helped.

But it sure didn't hurt.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know I am incredibly grateful for my friends and family.

Especially the four legged ones.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A year ago today, Mr. Blue arrived and he's still a goober

I can't believe it's been a year since Blue came to live with me in his forever home.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday - his running around full speed in the yard with his toys, people all over the place, my cats locked in the bedroom and me sitting on the porch and wondering how I was going to do it.

When I first met Blue, he was too afraid to walk on a leash. His foster dad got him through that. Now he prances and sniffs and smiles during his walks.

It took about 9 months of living here before I saw his first true smile. You know the one. It goes from ear-to-ear and is accompanied with a happiness that radiates from within. It's not just the grin. It's the joy also.

The first night I had him, I crated him. He was wild and out of control. I had to keep him away from the cats. He cried all night. I got up a few times, but that seemed to make it worse for him. He eventually stopped early in the morning.

I never crated him again, though I've come close. He will occasionally go into his crate and sleep, but for the most part, he's my shadow when I'm home. He is currently stretched across my legs as I write this.

In the last year, he's gone from being frantic and needy to calmer and happier. He's a fearful and anxious dog, but much of it has abated. Loud noises scare him and yet the fireworks on the 4th of July didn't. 

I have blogged about a few things here and there. I follow a lot of Facebook pages about rescued pit bulls and see the amount of work that goes into posting and taking pictures. I have never wanted this to overtake my life or feel the need to keep up with it.

I have learned so much over the last year, about myself and my dog.

Blue's betterment has been a slow and gradual journey. At first I thought it would only take a few weeks to get him to be "normal" and by that I mean a well-behaved and happy guy.

But that was not to be the case. I learned that he's just like anyone else. He is who he is and has a basic and core personality. He is a sweet and gentle soul who doesn't always know how to act.

Over the last year, he has calmed down and settled in. He knows this is his home and he trusts me but he worries. I call him my "Nervous Nellie" because he is only relaxed when he is sleeping.

He's been a great comfort to me over the last year. He's made me smile when I was sick with worry on paying my bills. He wouldn't leave the bedroom when I was so sick earlier this year and was in bed for 4 days. He's licked away my tears when I felt so alone and scared. He's jumped up and down when I was happy and he is always checking in with me when we are together.

He's brought joy and companionship to a life that was afraid and alone. Through our training classes I've learned more confidence and happiness in being with him and taking care of him. Even when he misbehaves I know his heart is good and pure.

He's a simple creature that has helped this complicated creature learn an easy and relaxed life.

He's given me more than I had ever hoped for and he has no idea.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blue started talking

I know, sounds weird, doesn't it?

But it isn't. Not for a rescue.

Blue finally started to talk to me and by this I mean, he has started to play growl/bark. That means he has something to say and says it. Tail wagging and grinning, he now lets me know he has something to say. It almost sounds like a purr.

He's never done this before. He's never really indicated what he wants, unless it's for me to get his Kong. Then he marches over to the cabinet where it is kept and looks back and forth at it and then me, rapidly.

Blue learned to accept and deal with whatever came his way. Being crated for a long time, he would just lie there and wait.

When he first did it, it startled me. I looked over at him and waited. He wagged his tail and smiled. He came over and I rubbed his face. He talked again and smiled bigger.

We had a conversation. I don't know what it was about, but we had one.

He finally felt safe enough to talk to me.

Hopefully he never shuts up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

To prong or not to prong?

 There has been quite a discussion going on over at Bad Rap's Facebook page about the use of e-collars (they shock the dog) and prongs. I've included a couple of links to read.

When I first saw Blue, he had his prong collar on. I was appalled. I was assured that it didn't hurt him (via a vet and a trainer) and it was used on him until I got him last year.

I continued to use it and then switched to the collar he now has. I agree that these can be used incorrectly and that the best way to go is proper non-force training.

But I also brought his prong with us on our hike yesterday.

Why? Because he pulls like crazy when he's around other dogs. Our last long hike (6 miles) just about wrecked my shoulder.

I also brought his head halter, just in case.

As with many things, abuse can occur. I have not put on his prong collar for over 6 months.  We go to training and the way to teach a dog to not pull is to stop walking when they do. It might take you 20 minutes to walk 10 feet, but MOST will eventually get it. Blue does.

But I was hiking in a group with a time schedule and did not want to be in the position of taking 3 times as long to finish the hike because I would be stopping every 10 feet.

He did well yesterday and I did not have to use it. He still pulled because he was excited. He rarely pulls me on our walks together, so the training is working.

But I keep the prong for occasions such as yesterday. I am a responsible dog owner and the collar had never hurt him. It has never left a mark, he has never cried and it takes a strong collar to manage an incredibly strong and powerful dog.

If you've not been around a pit bull, you've not seen how they were bred for a high pain tolerance and strength. The muscles on him are to be envied and respected. This does NOT justify being lazy and careless with the training of a dog.

Would I like to see these banned?

On one hand, yes because they would no longer be needed because everyone would learn a better way to train their dog.

On the other hand, some dogs need it (used correctly) as they are over-excited and bouncy and I would rather see that then having the dog euthanized.

What do you think?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Blue is coming right along

Been a while since I blogged, but mostly because I prefer Facebook and Google Plus for random updates.

Blue did very well in class yesterday. I had a long talk with the trainer and she agreed that he is an amazing dog, sweet as can be and fearful.

He doesn't have tantrums as much as they are anxiety attacks, which makes a bit more sense. For some reason, taking him out of the circle and having him walk in front of others sets him off.

I learned to not wonder why he does what he does. I'll never get the right answer. I just see what he does and work with him.

So we do small bits of sitting and staying and then walk. Then we come back to the other dogs, do a bit more and then walk some more. I have him sit and just look around, sniff things and keep it all very relaxed.

I love this dog with all my heart and soul JUST AS HE IS.

That's the biggest thing. Acceptance.

When he developed a bit of food aggression, I changed what I did. He's always been a nervous eater. He has to be coaxed and he won't eat unless I sit with him.

He either wants to play with everyone or he pins his ears, tucks his tail and cowers. No rhyme or reason and that's fine. I watch his body language and deal with it as best as possible for him.

Fear in dogs is almost impossible to get rid of, so we ignore it. I put NO attention on it and keep everything positive.

Blue is incredibly affectionate, playful, and smart. Stubborn too. I've found treats that are like crack for him, so those are working better.

When I see people approaching, I pull him off to the side, make him sit and stay and feed him treats for being a good boy. I'm trying to teach him that he does not need to react to external motion.

He's a high anxiety dog with a huge heart.

That's just fine with me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Blue's future friend - Miss Betty Boop

Mr. Blue is coming along. Best class ever Sunday. You know what we did?

Nothing. Just walked around, up and down the street, and let him look at the dogs and people. Let him sniff the grass, wander and just relax.

Let him be a dog. No commands, very little attention on him and enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air.

We worked with 2 other dogs by just walking past them, over and over, while the foster parents helped them to stay calm and correct them when they became reactive. This was interesting to Blue. Of course, being Blue, he wanted to walk over and say hello.

Not once did he jump on me, or pull the leash or do anything but walk and smile.

Then the instructor came over. Blue was lying in the grass and chewing on a stick. She showed me how to be able to take it away and give it back to him. Blue can get a tad reactive when anything is taken away from him. It bothers him. You can see it. So he got a treat every time I took the stick and another one when I gave it back to him. Back and forth, quietly with very high praise.

Then she wanted to see how he was with another dog. This is a big thing and takes intelligence and being able to read a dog perfectly.

So nose-to-nose he went with Miss Betty Boop. Blue was ecstatic and immediately jumped and hugged her. She hugged back. I was trying to stay relaxed and trust. I held tight as he was pulling the leash with everything he had.

Betty was fine. She is used to work with other dogs. This is Miss Betty Boop:

We finally pulled them apart because Blue doesn't know when to stop. That's his problem - no "off" switch, which we have to find and cultivate.

So little steps based on tons of praise and fun when he's good and ignoring him completely when he misbehaves. He hates to be ignored, so it works well.

We will slowly have Blue be around Betty. She will not put up with any nonsense but Blue has no idea what that is.

That's OK. We'll get him there and my hope is he will soon have a friend to play with, to learn from and to just be a dog with.

That would make me the happiest person around.

Monday, May 5, 2014

No treats for you!

 This is Blue pouting.

Had a most interesting time with Blue yesterday in class.

Actually, saying he was in class isn't exactly correct. We stood on the sidelines and walked up and down the street for class. Marthina spent the hour with us and watched.

Yep, little Blue gets too excited and demanding in class. That's when he throws his tantrums. He is a "treat whore" and when he wants one - no, when he feels he DESERVES one - nothing will stop him.

Being in class with other dogs and people is just a bit too much for him right now.

We had all noticed that he wasn't behaving better; he was getting worse. I mean, we had to spray him with the water bottle!

Walking him up and down the street, easily and without much restraint, he began to smile. He looks at other dogs and people, but isn't particularly interested in them. We walked on the grass and then back off before he started to jump. When he gets near grass, all he wants to do is start running.

Marthina saw how great he is AS LONG AS I IGNORE HIM. The minute I lean over (to fix his leash) or say anything to him, he starts in.

He is a typical teenager AKA brat. Wants his own way NOW.

Marthina thinks he may have had some extremely strict obedience training before arriving on my doorstep. I don't know but it's possible.

So Blue needs to learn how to relax, amuse himself and not look to me all the time for attention and entertainment.

As soon as I ignore him, not even give him a command, he relaxes. If anyone comes up or gives him any attention, he acts up.

He lunged at someone when he came up because the man bent over to pet him.

Blue was all over him, wagging his tail and trying to lick the man to death.

Of course, I had him on his leash, so I get pulled right into it.

Marthina said "Nope, ignore him. Walk away," and the man did.

Blue knocked it off.

On our walk last night, Blue was fine when he saw another dog with his person. I felt him tug a bit on the leash. I stopped walking and he knocked it off.

But as soon as the other dog barked at him, Blue wanted to play.

I pulled him back and casually walked away. Blue followed. I didn't say a word.

So, no treats for him, no commands or praises. Just calmly and with some degree of boredom, walk down the street. If anyone approaches, immediately tell them to ignore him.

Operation Blue - ignore completely and help him to learn how to be a dog.

That means no treats.

Only I would have a dog that you do the opposite with.

Just like me.