Supporting Loss

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Regal, a liver color flat coated retriever tongue out smiling

It’s been a rough month around here. Between my gram passing away after a long fulfilling life and a few friends in the process of shifting into hospice care mentality for their geriatric dogs, it’s been a rough go of it. I’ve found myself asked more than usual my philosophy on end of life decisions for our canine companions.

Having been through it too many times with my own pets over the years and supported friends and clients through such difficult times with their dogs, at this point my philosophy is rather simple.

It boils down to this for me: what ever decision made is the right one.

Simple as that. I don’t care what your family thinks you should do, or your neighbors, or a vet, or even what you may have done with a past dog. As long as you feel you are doing as best you can to honor that individual dog and your relationship with them, any decision you make is the right one. Each relationship we have with a dog is an intensely personal and individual one and at the end of the day when such difficult decisions are made from a place of love, whatever decision made is the right one.

No one else has the right to judge you for any decisions made in such circumstances. There are so many factors emotional, financial, location, behavioral, physical, personality and more. None of which are ever the same for any case. Anyone expressing judgment or shoulds is saying more about their own fears, discomfort or insecurity than about you and your decisions surrounding your dog during such a difficult time.

For each of my dogs, I have based the decisions I’ve made on what I know of that individual dog, their personality, their way of going about life, their relationship with me, others and the world around them, plus whatever medical diagnosis they have, and the realities of our life situation at the time. Every single dog I’ve personally had to date, none of the end of life care decisions have been the same, yet all have so far felt right for that particular dog at that particular time.

And yup, I’ve had times where I’ve disagreed with the vets on our case in treatment approach, which may have been a wonderful approach with another dog, knowing my particular dog as I did, would have been a form of torture for him. So I found a vet team that would take more than my dogs diagnosis into consideration. instead of having 3 months of his version of torture followed by maybe an additional 4-6 months of life, we were able to have 6 months of palliative care and excellent quality of life the entire 6 months. A decision I’m glad I made for that specific dog, knowing with a different dog I may very well have made a completely different decision which would have then been right for that particular dog at that particular time.

Hopefully I won’t have to make such decisions again for my own pets for a good many years in the future, (knock on wood) but when the time comes I will do the best I can to do right by my dog and know that whatever decision I make will be from a place of intense caring and love. And I’m doing my best currently to support my friends going through such difficult decisions with their wonderful dogs knowing and believing fully whatever decisions they make are the right ones for them and their pets.

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Where’s the water dish?

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I’m a big fan of modifying environments so you don’t have to train the dog.

Or more a big fan of modifying environments so you don’t have to train the dog on niggly bits of life that go against what the dog naturally wants to do because the environment now minimizes or prevents such behaviors and now I get to spend time and energy and thought on training stuff that I get more fun and enjoyment out of.  Like how we have an in cabinet kitchen trash can, so I don’t have to actively train dogs to stay out of the kitchen trash.  Or how we don’t have a door bell so I don’t have to actively counter condition the dogs to that sound.  Because training dogs to do those 2 things isn’t really fun for me, and simple environmental modification means I don’t have to.

A friend with a new to her adult dog recently reached out to me about her dog’s habit of tanking on water that isn’t a medically related behavior.

I asked her, “where’s the water dish?”

“In the kitchen”

“In the kitchen, where you spend about 75+% of your day?  With the dog hanging out there with you too?  In your tiny little kitchen that doesn’t fit much else but you, the dog and a water dish?”

“Yes”

“Move the water dish to the bathroom.”

Environmental modification.  Now when the dog wants a drink he has to make more of a conscious decision to get up and seek out the water dish, rather than ‘oh we’re in the kitchen again, I’m kind of bored, oh look here’s my water dish, drinking water is something to do…’

She’s been data tracking since we chatted to try to get a better handle of his patterns.  Sure enough, since the water dish has been out of the kitchen and in the bathroom his drinking, just with that simple environmental shift, has decreased to closer to normal levels for a dog his size.

Thoughtfully change the environment, change the behavior.  Awesome.

DIY Dog Bandana

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Over Halloween my nephew wanted me to put a Bandana that had been kicking around in the kid’s toy box on Tom. So I obliged, and Tom sported spooky ghosts and jack O lanterns for the next couple of weeks. He looked so cute and got many compliments so I thought I’d see about getting him a few more. Well, the cost was more I was willing to cough up, so time to figure out how to DIY some doggie bandanas. Now there are many other even cheaper and less involved ways to make these, but the plan I came up with was budget friendly enough and met my criteria for easy to maintain. Also I decided I liked having the colorful fabric pattern on both front and back of the bandana and not having to make any cuts beyond the first sizing one. I think they came out just as I was hoping. And Tom looks adorable. Goal met.

Zora sitting next to Tom who is sitting wearing a light blue bandana with penguins and polar bears on it

Step 1: figure out the size. I measured Tom’s neck loosely plus an inch and got 24″. Using the bandana he currently had as a base to work from I figured out fabric sized 24×18″ would work well as I wanted a thicker collar like band at the top which would take additional fabric folds. The thicker collar type top I figured would help the structure of the bandana hold it’s shape even with daily wear. We shall see how that thought pans out in real life over time.

Step 2: after establishing which way I wanted the fabric pattern to go, I placed the fabric pattern side down. I marked 5″down from the top long edge. Then folded down the top edge 2″ and ironed it. Then folded in each side about 1/4″ to the mark I made and ironed that. Finally folded up the bottom long edge about 1/4″ and ironed at.

Fabric on desk folded as described in instructions

Step 3: first bit of sewing. With my sewing machine I sewed the bottom edge, and the top 2 sides down to the mark. Did not yet sew the entire top long edge.

Step 4: fold down the top edge once more, this time to the mark, and iron. Then take the bottom left corner of the fabric and fold it up to the center meeting the bottom of the folded down top crease. repeat for the right edge. The right edge should overlap the left slightly. Iron smooth. You should now have your fabric in the shape of a bandana with triangle bottom.

Fabric on desk folded as in instructions

Fabric on desk folded as in instructions

Step 5: back to the sewing machine. Sew along the 2 sides of the triangle that will make the hanging part of the bandana, do not yet sew the top edge.

Step 6: more folding and ironing and sewing. One last time fold down the top edge. About 1.5″. Iron that fold. Then sew the top fold. This fold creates a tab on either end of the bandana out past the hanging pendant which you can then use for the closure.

Fabric folded and sewn as in instructions

Step 7: closure. I decided to sew my bananas closed, and just slide them on and off Tom’s head. If you wanted to use hook and loop or snaps you could instead. Or could use fabric length long enough to be able to tie it closed. A couple of different bandana plans I found created a pocket to thread a collar through, but as my dogs don’t wear collars in the house and the collar Tom does have doesn’t have a buckle that type of bandana wouldn’t work for us, hence my sewing it shut and creating a bandana with a more collar like top band for structure.

Close up of fabric in sewing machine

4 bandanas of varying patterns on a wood desk

The Smell

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There is a certain series of smells that I’ve come to know well over the years.  It begins with a specific permeating offense the fills the car ride home from the park, causing windows to open no matter how chilly it is, and humans to gag.  It is shortly thereafter followed by a certain floral scent, and the resuming of human breathing.  And finally by the ever classic few hours of damp dog.

It is, alas, turkey poop season.

Zora’s #1 favorite thing to roll in.  A certain short dog believes it is the most delicious of eau de parfum.  But the certain short dog also believes she should have access to such things as comfy beds and couches.  Unfortunately for her, the folks she co-habitates with on such comfy beds and couches disagree with her choice of cologne.

Let the month of corgi baths begin.

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Tom, the good dog lying on his dog bed, Zora the now freshly laundered clean dog lying on the floor staring at the camera

Capacity to Normalize

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If you haven’t seen it already, Pick of the Litter is a cute, educational film.  A documentary that follows from birth through formal training at matching a litter of future guide dog puppies from Guide Dogs for the Blind out in California.  Last weekend, Tom, hubby and I attended a showing of it hosted by our regional Guide Dog Users group.  (it is playing at select locations around the country but can also be found on iTunes and I think Netflix)

At the showing, they had the film set up to play with Audio Description.  I knew audio description was a thing, but never thought it would be a help to me.  Oh how wrong I’ve been.  I had no idea how much of movies and TV I’ve been missing!  It was enlightening.  Last night we figured out how to turn on Audio Description on our TV.  I have to say I am disappointed how few shows have an audio described track, but the couple that did again WOW!  had no idea how much goes on on the screen.

Sometimes I forget how well we humans have a capacity to normalize.  I mean I experienced it all the time when I was working with clients.  I lost count the number of cases over the years where dogs had been for real biting their owners for years (real serious bites) but the people had normalized the behavior despite the safety issues.  Often what brought them in my door was some other seemingly minor behavior compared to the biting from my professional perspective, or an even more serious escalation of the behavior the family had normalized for a very long time.

And in my own case, how much I’ve normalized about life with impaired visual processing.  As well as how much I’ve normalized life with a guide dog.  After the movie I asked my husband his thoughts.  The movie shows a portion of how guide dogs are traffic trained to avoid cars and in intelligent disobedience.  My husband had no idea!  I was surprised he had no clue about that.  I guess I kind of figured he knew.  I mean he knows Tom and I have traffic checks when we are out and about, he knows they stress me out and how immensely glad I am Tom is so on the ball.  But apparently he hadn’t ever really grasped what really it means.

The experience with Audio Describe is getting me thinking, maybe I’m at a point where re-exploring some different assistive tech might be useful.  Who knows what else I’m missing that I don’t even realize.  Assistive Technology has grown in leaps in bounds especially in the past few years, maybe it’s time to take a new look at what’s out there.

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Tom dressed up as the Magic School Bus from the books of the same.  Yellow felt vest with black school bus markings and some colored sea life painted on under his guide dog harness.  For an event we are volunteering at.

The Devil is in the Details

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I’ve yet to work with a new agility student who didn’t start off thinking agility was about dogs doing obstacles.  Little secret: it’s not.  A few days ago I started with a great new student who has a really fun dog, who started off our first session with, “I went to a trial recently to watch, it looked too simple, too easy for my dog.”  I smiled.  And we began.

A slight change of foot direction, a flick or drop or raising of the arm, a turn of the head, shoulders went that way, and whoops, where’d the dog go?  Why’d she do that?  The jump was right there!  Quickly beginners get an inkling, wow this is more challenging than it looks!  Not just point and shoot.  There is finesse, communication, dance, a whole new language to learn.  And so much fun!

In agility, the devil is in the details.  The obstacles are generally the easiest part to teach.  What really makes agility fun and addictive is the nuances of handling and path.  Agility is really about what happens between the obstacles.  Amazing how much can occur in a scant 20′.

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Zora lying in front of a jump in the grass with her new V-NATCH 2 and All Around NATCH 2 rosettes from the trial last weekend

 

Not Being Terrible Cookies

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The past couple of weeks have been busy and chaotic.  Between a brief VT vacation around labor day, workshops to teach, a steady stream of extra dogs, starting a new volunteer gig (that is Amazing!!), agility trials and oh Tom being injured it’s been a month so far.

The Tom being injured.  After years of managing to successfully navigate glass shard covered sidewalks, thanks to irresponsible dumb ass humans thinking tossing their glass drinking containers out the car window is a suitable alternative to a trash or recycling bin (news flash: it’s not!!), he cut his rear foot.  Not badly, think goodness, but enough to mean he’s been undergoing bandage changes every couple of days, boot wearing 24/7 and massively limited activity for the past 2 weeks.  (if I can get there via transit and then minimal walking around for him once we are there, he comes, otherwise he’s left home and the cane comes out of the depths of the closet, and we are both then annoyed).  Sliced pads take forever to heal fully.  And then once the pad is healed, it’s still very soft so have to protect it for another 1-2 weeks after that.  At this point I’d say it’s 90% healed which is great.  Probably 1 more week of bandages for him, and 2-3 more weeks of protective boot wearing (also dogbooties.com boots and Pawz dog boots are awesome, for starters they actually stay on Tom’s feet!  Easily, without constant maintenance from me!  Can I tell you how many kinds of boots refuse to stay on his feet?  Too many others to tell about).  What is also great is he is the most tolerant dog in the entire world with the highest pain tolerance who graciously allows me to do anything to him without nary a flinch.  Seriously best dog ever, as if we didn’t already know that around here.

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Zora sitting, Tom standing with purple boot on his rear foot, Dulce spaniel lying down

Tom of course gets cookies for allowing me to fuss around with his foot. And the rest of the dogs, when I’m done, get cookies for Not Being Terrible.  Not Being Terrible cookies work.  Seriously.  Over the past 2 weeks we’ve had a high turn over of visiting dogs, and every single one of them has quickly figured out that when I’m fussing with Tom, if they lie down quietly for the length of time it takes, they will get Thank You for Not Being Terrible cookies.  I pay up for the effort it takes to Not Be Terrible.  Not stealing bandage material, not knocking things out of my hands, not jumping on Tom, not jumping on me, not being nudgy, not barking.  It’s hard work Not Being Terrible when someone else is getting undivided attention!  We set the bar high around here, all you have to do is Not Be Terrible.  😉

 

Think about the Dos

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When thinking or talking about a behavior your dog does that you want to change, do you think about the dos or the don’ts?  The things you do want your dog to do?  Or the things you don’t want your dog to do?

Trying to plan the don’ts is a common thought process.  What do I mean?  Let’s recount a conversation I’ve had endless number of times over the years.

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golden retriever sitting against my leg for some pets

Client comes to me with a behavior they’d like to change with their dog.  Let’s say how the dog greets people.  The conversation goes something like this,

Me: “What would you like your dog to do when they see other people?”

Client:  “I don’t want him to jump on them.”

Me: “I understand that’s what you don’t want him to do, but what do you want him to do?”

Client: Pause.  “I don’t want him to jump on people…” (clearly thinking, “Katrin what are you not understanding about what I just said!”)

Me:  “Ok, that’s what you don’t want.  What do you want?  Would you be ok if instead he barked at people?  Or sat in front of them?  Or looked at you?  Or stood behind you?  Or….”

Client:  “Well I don’t want him to bark at people!  [silent, ‘duh, Katrin!  of course I wouldn’t want that either!’] I don’t know what I want him to do, how about sit?”

Me:  “Great!”  Now we are getting somewhere…we can make a training plan for a dog to practice sit when he sees people.  (and depending on the dog and what I’ve seen thus far, I then likely make some recommendations on what alternative behaviors this particular dog would be more comfortable and successful with)

My point is if you focus on the don’ts, the door is open for many other dos.  If you only focus on that you don’t want the dog to jump on people, is the dog barking at them ok?  Is him biting them ok?  How about him peeing on them?  Or running around them in circles?  Or digging a hole when he sees people?  Or running away from them?  If you focus on the don’t, how can you help prevent many other behaviors you likely wouldn’t want either?

My encouragement for the day, think about the dos when you want to change a behavior.  What behavior do you want to increase in frequency?  Then make a training plan around that.