The First Days

We got our new dog! We adopted Gandalf on Saturday after meeting several dogs available from rescue group (Greyt Expectations). We selected Gandalf, at that time named Las Vegas Express, for his age (2 years on March 29) and apparently easy-going nature. Despite having just arrived from the track, he was social and interested in everything that was going on. Overall, we had a wonderful opportunity to meet a number of dogs, get great greyhound advice, and pick up some supplies, including a new dog bed that Nefertiti immediately claimed as her own. And in the end, we came home with our new dog, which was what we really wanted. Something I expected but did not get: A dog that didn't eat for a few days, due to the anxiety of transition. He ate treats at the rescue, on the car ride home, in the house, and would happily eat any and all food he was offered more or less immediately. Something I...
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Preparations Underway

Written March 29, 2017. As many of you know, we lost Sirius Black to illness back in February. Every loss is unique, and this one continues to hit us hard. When I am not concentrating, I still find myself glancing around the room, looking or listening for what Sirius is up to, and it's a new blow every time I don't see him and everything hits me again. That being said, we are a dog household, and, within the Sirius-shaped hole in our lives, is a dog shaped hole. Therefore, we decided to move forward with a process we had been exploring for some time, and we are hoping to bring home our new retired racing greyhound this weekend. At this point, we don't know the age, sex, or size if the dog we will be adopting. Nor do we know whether the dog has been in foster or will be coming directly from a track environment. This means there will be more...
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A Painful Goodbye

I have spent the last week looking for words more elegant than “I feel like someone ripped a hole in my heart,” but I haven't found any. Perhaps there aren't any. Last fall I shared a bit of the experience we had been going through with Sirius Black. After he went blind, it was initially diagnosed as SARDS, a poorly understood condition, but one that has few side effects besides the blindness itself. Over time, he should have adjusted to the blindness and generally resumed generally normal activity. He didn't. Over the last few months, his condition gradually deteriorated. He could walk less far and became confused more often. Eventually, he could not walk or even respond at all. Looking back, we can even spot signs of deterioration in June of 2016 or possibly earlier; before he showed overt signs of blindness. Frequent vet visits and repeated tests brought us no closer to a firm diagnosis, while gradually eliminating possibilities that promised...
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Day 29: Use Outside Cues

We make heavy use of visual and verbal cues in dog training, but we often see the other cues in the environment as an impediment rather than a help. We complain that our dog won't sit in an unfamiliar location or come in the face of a competing distraction. These are issues that we have to train to overcome, but we can also build situations that allow us to use outside cues in our favor. One of my personal favorites of this type is the use of a special bed or blanket for relaxation exercises. When consistently used for this purpose, the bed or blanket becomes an independent relaxation cue, reinforcing the cue you are giving. ...
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Day 24: Practice Something Fun

Sometimes it's important to remember that dog training is also about fun. It's best experienced as an enjoyable way of bonding with your pet. To remember that, make sure to practice things you both enjoy. I love Sirius's turn and he loves it too—as he has been known to express by trying out the turn when I have asked him for something else, although that wasn't the case tonight. ...
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Day 14: Equip Yourself

You need to have the right equipment for what you want to do. I don't recommend trail hiking in dress shoes, and I don't recommend walking your dog without the appropriate gear. We used to use a harness for Sirius Black, but after he lost his sight, he found the harness stressful, so we switched to a wide martingale collar that he seems to find easier but doesn’t put too much pressure on his throat. ...
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Day 11: Be Prepared

If you have been following these posts about incorporating dog training into your daily routine and thinking, "But how will I reward these behaviors?" the time has come to address that question. What rewards do you use now? Do you have levels of food rewards? Do they need to be refrigerated or can some of them be kept at room temperature? Does your dog have any dietary sensitivities? Personally, I use different food rewards for different contexts. When going to class or out to a high distraction environment, I pack my high-powered treats, including cheese and hot dogs. For very basic activities when my dog is hungry, I use kibble. For the in between times, I have some relatively high value treats that do not need registration. I keep one in the pocket of my jeans or in a container on my bedside table to have them available as needed....
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Awareness

The way you see the world changes when you have a dog. Suddenly, you are aware of the movement of squirrels, the presence of rabbits, and deposits of trash and litter in a way you haven't been before. Many people find this startling the first time they get a dog. Of course, even experienced dog owners can be surprised by how interested their new hound is in scents or their new greyhound in quick-moving animals. Getting a new pet is not the only time we can have to make these types of adjustments. Changes in the family situation can require similar adjustments. Introducing a new cat or small animal into the family? You will need to be aware of it's location relative to your dogs. Having a baby or have a small child visiting? You need to arrange for constant supervision. Changes in your pet's health can also require adjustments. Currently, we are learning to be aware of potential dangers we've always...
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Something Unseen

Something Unseen

Sorry that I haven't written in a while. It has been a bit of a rough period. As you're about to read. I have discussed before what happens when we change the rules for our dogs, but the truth is, we don't have to change anything: life is always changing. A few months ago, we started noticing some changes in Sirius Black’s behavior. He was no longer reacting to, or even seeming to notice, wildlife along our walks, unless it crossed directly in front of us. He also showed some hesitancy on walks, above what could be expected from the hot weather. He also had accidents in the house at times when he never would have normally. We had no reason to particularly link these behavior changes, and, at first, we didn't. Then, about two weeks ago, he started walking into things. This wasn't just an enthusiastic dog who wasn't watching where he was going. He was walking straight into trees. He...
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Origin of a Bad Habit

This is a story about a pizza. Fortunately, given the fate of the pizza, it was not mine. But that's not really the point of the story. Once upon a time, let's say in June, someone left a pizza on the counter in my house and walked away from it. At this point, we had had Sirius Black for six years and eleven months, and he had no history of going after things on the counter. In fact, I had a somewhat problematic habit of forgetting things on the counter, and he never went after them. On the other hand, before this, they weren't ever hot delivery pizza. This time, they were. When the owner of the pizza returned, some period of time later, the pizza box was on the floor and the pizza was almost completely gone. Before pizza, Sirius had no history of reward for grabbing things off the counter. Frankly, the counter wasn't all that interesting to him. After the pizza, there...
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