My new client had obviously had a tiring day with her rescue dog. We had been working on some reactivity issues with visitors, and unfortunately Thanksgiving got in the way of our teaching plan. While the day wasn’t a failure, both POG and dog tried hard but also made mistakes throughout the day. By the time her relatives left, my client was burnt to a crisp.

She emailed a report to me, and she ended with a question: “…have you ever worked with a family who isn’t able to turn this behavior around?”
I knew this was a bad-day/exhaustion-based question, so I gave her my usual responses (yes, but: rarely; you didn’t fail, nothing bad happened so something good happened; this is expected; you did fine; she did fine; you can do it; back to work!). My answer satisfied her; in fact, she reported she had since had a great session with her dog. We were back on track.

Yet, for some reason, her question niggled at me. Of course, I had clients who couldn’t reach their goals for their dog. The reasons varied from life changes to “I am afraid she’ll hurt someone.” The common thread comes down to the POG being physically and/or emotionally unable to continue. Essentially, they give up.

It happens to all of us, DLSIs/trainers and POGs alike: We get that challenging dog, and/or we have a spectacularly bad day, and/or a series of bad days/events, and we run out of coping juice. We go into meltdown mode, selecting from the despair menu of crumpled crying, primal screaming, boisterous swearing, redirected anger, manic cleaning and/or yard work, and extreme self-doubt (that’s my list anyway). Generally, after a while, we pick ourselves up, shake ourselves off and get back to work.

But not always. And that got me to wondering: What if I had given up? 

The Tawny Test

My darling girl Tawny was a challenging dog. And that is putting it mildly. She had a lot of issss-ues, if you will, and she was stuck with someone who had her own issss-ues plus, unfortunately, a similar personality–quick-reacting, impatient, intolerant. We were gasoline and a match. Bad combo! Add in the fact that I was wet behind the ears as a trainer, just starting out and with a lot to learn about what “dog training” really was, and oh my, what a recipe for disaster. 

In my group glasses, I would hold up a piece of paper with stuff written on both sides. This was Tawny’s “bad dog” list–all the behaviors we had fixed, from jumping and digging to separation anxiety and reactivity (“aggression”). I stated I had to write it down so I wouldn’t forget any of it because the problems were all gone, but emphasized that it didn’t happen overnight.

In fact, it was often a slow, hard slog for both of us as we worked to understand each other and learned how to communicate. I was slower on the uptake most of the time, and amazingly Tawny for some reason was very tolerant of my flailings and failings then. And still is, I might add. There were times when I blew it, she blew it, and we both blew it. There were times when something would work for awhile and then suddenly stop working. There were times when I questioned whether I should even have a dog, much less try to teach one anything.

But each time, after the ceremonial wailing and rending of garments, in fairly short order, I slid back into the driver’s seat and eased back onto the course. It was unthinkable to me to do anything else. Tawny was depending on me to sort this out with her. Had I given up, I would have let her down, and also let down all the other dogs who needed my help. I would have let myself down too. I couldn’t let that happen. Quite simply, failure was not an option. 

What I didn’t know then but know now is that arduous, tortuous journey produced marvelous, far-reaching results. I have the dog I always wanted–safe, reliable, well-mannered, a joy most of the time–an achievement I could barely have imagined at the beginning. Even more unimaginable is how much she changed me, pushing me to be a better trainer, better POG, and better human being. Had I not kept trying, neither of us would be the beings we are now. We both hung in there, and today we both are reaping the rewards. 

This is especially meaningful to me now, because I am in a personal situation that allows me little time to manage anything in my life, especially an ill-behaved dog. But she is performing majestically, and I thank her every day for it.

Learning resilience

In trainer circles, we talk about the resilience of dogs, how some bounce back better than others. My dog taught me how to be resilient, and I will be forever grateful I didn’t give up on her, or me. I judge no one who makes a different decision. This is simply my story. I hope it helps someone else struggling to hang on in a bad moment.

More help can be found on my Trained With Kindness (TWiKi) site (“Frustration Emergency?“) [http://www.trainedwithkindness.com/take-action-now-heres-how/frustration-emergency-read-now/] and my CP-HIP site (Problem-Solving Formula e-booklet on my Store page). [http://cp-hipdogs.com/train/shop/]

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Recently, I read an article in my local paper that my state, Ohio, is number two for dog bite insurance claims (“Ohio 2nd in insurance claims for dog bites,” The Plain Dealer, 9/5/15). It included a list of breeds insurers shy away from which is full of the usual suspects, ranging from #1 “pit bull” (which is not a breed but a description) to #10 Siberian Husky. 

Having had a biting dog for 17 years, now living with a reformed snapping dog, plus having dealt with a lot of biters, fighters and snappers over the past 12 years as a DogLife Skills Instructor (aka “trainer”), I have a few pointed comments about this statistic. 

There is absolutely no excuse for this. When a dog bites, we parent/owner/guardians (POGs) have failed. I get a lot of weird looks when I tell people that, when their dogs bite, they should apologize to the dog for putting him in such a bad position. He either felt it was acceptable or necessary to bite, and I never want a dog to think that. 

However, this is exactly what we often inadvertently teach our dogs, that under certain circumstances, they can, should, or must bite. How does this happen? 

POGs fail dogs by:

• Ignoring or minimizing the behavior, assuming the dog will “grow out of it.” To paraphrase a wise trainer whose name I have forgotten (please ID yourself and I will amend this post), dogs don’t grow out of aggression, they grow into aggression.

• Not educating themselves about how dogs think, learn and express themselves. There is a lot of old, outdated, completely wrong and very harmful information out there (e.g. the dominance thing, a wagging tail means a happy dog, he knows it’s wrong but does it anyway) that current research shows should be jettisoned for good. Using this stuff can escalate the behavior.

• Assuming the way to train is to strongly correct “bad” behaviors when they happen instead of concentrating on prevention, management and giving them “right” behaviors that are well rewarded. Behaviors fade away when they are not practiced, so allowing the “bad” behaviors to happen and then attempting to walk them back can actually encourage the dog to repeat the behaviors (if you are still trying to get rid of jumping, having tried “everything,” you are a victim of this thinking). This assumption makes biters even more dangerous.

• Assuming all trainers are the same. Sadly, it is the wild West out there for POGs looking for help. Anyone can put up a trainer shingle! There are people out there who have trained exactly one dog — their own — and believe that gives them the chops to do it for others. Others have trained for years but have stopped learning and are using old, outdated harmful methods. There is no national certification for trainers. Terms are tossed around like confetti; an alphabet’s worth of letters trail some names. None of it guarantees they can help you or know what they are doing. (Note: Vets, groomers, daycare providers, petsitters, etc. are usually not trainers. Unless they are, do NOT ask them for training advice! But do ask them for a referral.)

• Assuming some dog breeds are more likely to bite, have stronger bites, and/or should be allowed to bite under certain circumstances. I will be extra careful with my words here. Some breeds have certain tendencies that could make them more likely to bite under certain circumstances. Most of the dogs on that insurers list fall into that category: these dogs tend to be smart and sensitive; they process quickly, and react quickly and often strongly. But these are only tendencies that may never/don’t have to ever develop in your dog. No dog should be allowed/encouraged to bite a human, even in play. Between dogs, I discourage roughhousing/wrestling (it so easily can erupt into a fight), preferring instead object-oriented play (i.e. a toy is always used so they grab the toy instead of each other). My exception to this rule is the dog who has not learned how to inhibit his bite (e.g. a dog who left the litter too soon sometimes bites hard all the time), so some contact is necessary at first to teach him that valuable self-control.

Oh, and no dog’s bite is substantially stronger than any other, and there is no special “locking” bite out there. “Pits” are terriers, which tend to grab and shake prey. 

• Getting dogs for the wrong reasons. Some people want “tough-looking” dogs so they can feel tough. (The irony here is that many of these tough-looking dogs are actually big mooshpits inside.) Others want a dog “for protection.” I cannot say this strongly enough — you never want your companion animal to be trained as a protection or guard dog. They are taught to attack, and they are not perfect, which means there could be a catastrophic mistake. Not worth the risk. Most dogs will bark if someone they don’t know comes into the house, and come to your assistance if you cry out. If yours doesn’t, get a security system. It’s cheaper than a lawsuit. 

Professionals fail dogs by:

• Clinging to old, outdated, completely wrong and very harmful information that current research shows should be jettisoned for good. One of the biggest responsibilities we have as professionals is to continue our education so we have all the best tools at hand when trying to help a dog. Just because it works for you doesn’t mean it’s the best solution. The end does NOT justify the means.

• Assuming the way to train is to strongly correct “bad” behaviors when they happen instead of concentrating on prevention, management and giving them “right” behaviors that are well rewarded. (See above.)

• Giving POGs the how but not the why. “Do this and this” fixes one problem. “She’s doing it because” fixes many problems. If you don’t know why, you should find out why before you get into how.

HOW TO TURN FAILURE INTO SUCCESS

Turn failure into success by:

Changing your perspective. I often find it helpful to explain a dog’s behavior by making a comparison to humans. If this dog were a child, how would you handle this situation? If you wouldn’t do it to a human, you shouldn’t do it to a dog.

Learning to read body language, and by that I mean going beyond hair up or snarling. Find out the subtle signals that will tell you your dog needs help before there is any outward display. There are some super books and videos out there (check out my Recommended Reading [http://cp-hipdogs.com/train/resources/recommended-reading/] page for some), or you could schedule a single session with an experienced pro who can read your dog for you (I always do this in my first session; the more the POG sees, the better the result). 

Socializing your dog properly. The well-socialized dog understands his environment, isn’t scared of it, and knows how to act in it. To accomplish that, she needs help from us. That means not only exposure to a lot of different situations, but proper exposure (i.e. not just taking her places so she can “get used to it,” because that may never happen!). Read more about socialization in my book, Reverse Dog Training: A Fresh Perspective for Solving Common Problems.

Searching for a trainer who will help you change your dog’s behavior using the latest science-based methods, not perpetuate old, intimidation-based techniques. See my article How to Choose the Right Trainer for more pointers.

Never saying never! I searched for years before finding the solutions for me and my dogs. My 17-year-old boy died before I found the right stuff. Yet, because of him, I am a trainer, my current girl (still developing at the ripe old age of at least 12) has become the dog I always wanted, and I get to help other dogs and POGs experience the same joyful success. If I had given up, I would not be in this great situation now, doing work I love. Sooo worth it.

Lowering the number of dog-bite claims depends upon the actions of the humans, not the dogs. Let’s get on with it.

Warning: I am jumping onto my soapbox with both feet!!

If I were made queen for a day, one thing at the top of my to-do list — besides beheading any critics — would be to forbid anyone from ever establishing any routines for their dogs other than those for teaching a specific behavior.

I am on my soapbox today because I just spent a considerable amount of time with yet another client who is mystified as to why her new puppy, who was fine at first with going into the crate when she left, suddenly is freaking out about this process. She described to me the routine she carefully followed every time, right down to the puppy “lullabye” CD she put on for her, then asked if there was anything else she could do. Imagine her stunned silence when I said yes, definitely: Dump the routine. NOW!

“Everyone” had told her that routines are good for dogs. (Everyone except a trainer, I hope. Why does everyone think they are dog training experts just because they have a dog? I have a car, but I don’t for one moment think I am a mechanic. But I digress.)

I explained why I said it, then gave her suggestions about how to bust up the routine and work on what really needed to be done, which is to teach her pup to be okay by herself and to self-amuse so she is not dependent on interaction with a human all the time.

What’s wrong with routines?
There are many old beliefs that undermine your relationship with your dog, creating training challenges and missteps. The dominance myth takes the top prize — don’t get me started — but the second-place award in my view goes to the benign-sounding, but truly insidious and slyly damaging, “routines.”

What’s wrong with routines, you ask? After all, humans love routines. We take great comfort in our rituals, plus they help us to remember stuff, like locking our doors and not leaving our coffee cup on the roof of our cars.

But, to state the obvious, dogs are not humans. And they do not see routines the same way we do. For example, you may be shocked to learn routines are a huge contributing factor to separation anxiety. Here’s why:

Human thinks: I’ll do everything in the same order so my dog knows what to expect in the morning, so he’ll be okay with my leaving.

Dog thinks: Oh no, he’s doing all those things that end up with him leaving me! No, no! Don’t go!! I can’t take it!!

When you create a routine, the dog knows exactly what is going to happen. If he doesn’t like what happens, he is going to have a bad reaction to the routine. He doesn’t want you to leave, he wants to be with you. So with every step in the process, he gets more and more nervous. By the time you pick up your keys, he’s a basket case. Let the crate escape, peeing, pooping, chewing and curtain shredding begin!

This very same type of pattern, if used to teach a behavior like a sit/down or pottying outside, is how you get your dog to reliably respond when you ask him to do something: Just like he is sure you are leaving in the prior example — bad for him — he is sure a good thing will happen once his butt hits the floor or he pees in the back yard. The key difference is, once the pattern is established, we start to change it so we can progress — wean off treats, do behavior longer, ignore distractions, etc. In other words, this is not a routine but rather a progressive exercise. It changes, and the dog adjust to the changes, improving his response. In trainerspeak, this is called proofing or generalizing.

When you do the same things in the same way, your dog then expects that same pattern every time, along with the same result. Even when it’s a good thing — you pick up the leash, he’s going for a walk! — if the routine gets altered somehow, he will not handle it well. Put the leash back down without taking him out, and what happens? He might start pacing and panting, going over to the door and back to you as if to say Hey! Why aren’t we going? We always go when you pick up the leash!

(I cannot tell you how many clients tell me they have never used the leash for anything other than walks. I often ask them to leash up inside for work on specific issues, and it gets messy real quick because the dog lathers up when the routine is changed.)

Routines are rigid patterns that can create rigid dogs — they don’t bend, they break. They are incapable of flexibility, become beside themselves when presented with it, and can become quite insistent about returning to the usual pattern. A common example would be the dog who tells YOU when it’s time for dinner or for bed. A less-common example would be the dog who lays across your feet, and if you try to move, growls and snaps.

Create a ‘whatever’ dog who is calm and confident
Breaking up routines allows you to develop a “whatever” dog, the go-with-the-flow pup who adjusts to whatever is going on around him. (“Going with you? Staying home? Eating now? Eating later? Whatever!”) It’s actually a critical part of socialization, but one that is often missed by humans. Socialization is showing the dog the world so he is not afraid of it and knows how to act in it. A well-socialized dog is calmer, more confident, and very much a “whatever” dog.

This is so important that I am getting up on this soapbox and shouting, trying to get everyone’s attention: STOP WITH THE ROUTINES ALREADY!!! Your dog will be happier, and so will you.

So, to recap:

— Routines are BAD!

— Break up your routines to help your dog become a “whatever” dog.

— To teach specific behaviors, use progressive repetitions, slowly changing one detail at a time to help them generalize the behavior (e.g. Sit is the same no matter where I ask for it).

Need more help? Ask a professional — but be sure to ask them if they think routines are good or bad. If they say good, keep looking!

Ah, spring! 

As  the weather warms, and the spring flowers bloom, another less heralded spring event begins: the rush of panicked calls and emails I receive from dog POGs wondering what is up with their pooches.

They are terrible walkers; jumping all over everyone; charging fences; going after people, kids, dogs; destroying the back yard; barking nonstop; not listening; not coming. I could go on for days, but you get the idea.

They weren’t doing this before, you cry. Why is this happening? 
Ah, spring. Or rather: Uh…spring. 
I live in Northern Ohio. We have winter here, and this year like many other places, we had a fairly nasty one. So we tended to stay in, hibernating, seeing and doing less, hunkering down, waiting for…spring!! Then we burst from our house-caves, raced to the garden centers, parks, ball fields and all that other outdoor stuff we haven’t been able to get to for months. And many of us took our dogs with us. More fun with a dog along, right?
Maybe. See, we happily adjust to the new circumstances, but many dogs don’t. If your dog is new to you, or a puppy, she may have never seen all these places, activities, people before. And she doesn’t know what to make of it. And you did not tell her what it is and what to do with it because you didn’t realize she doesn’t get it. It’s outside! She’s been outside! It’s all great, isn’t it??
I walk my dog Tawny every day, 365, unless it is life-threatening to one of us or she doesn’t want to go. In the winter, I see absolutely no one else. Fine with me. Not in a mood to be neighborly in 10 degrees and a wind-whipped snow storm. Come spring, the fair-weather walkers come out, and Tawny and I have to review our exercises for how to act around other dogs (she is scared of them and gets defensive), while working to avoid as many bad walkers as possible (defined as person casually holding leash loop, usually on phone, and dog yee-hawing all over the place. Danger, Will Robinson!).
In plain terms, most people stop socializing their dogs during the winter (and other times too) and think the dog will be just fine when they pick it up again months later. But think of it this way, if your dog is less than a year old, most of his life has been spent isolated in a house. How would he know what to do in a park, in a crowd of people, around other dogs, around screaming kids, around a ball game, when squirrels and birds are racing around? Same thing for an older dog who has been with you for less than a year. 
They don’t know!! And we, instead of realizing and helping, freak out. Many thankfully call a DogLife Skills Instructor/trainer for help, but many more try to deal with it, mishandle it and make it worse. Suddenly, they have That Dog. They are mystified as to how it happened.
That’s how, people! The solution is proper exposure. The well-socialized dog is the one that has experienced the environment, understands it’s not a threat, and knows how to act when she’s in it. Happy news: It’s never too late, so get going! You want to be outside anyway, right? Fix the problem, and you will enjoy it much more.
Want to know more about dealing with bad reactions? Visit my store http://cp-hipdogs.com/train/shop/ and look for the DogLife Skills Guide “Fear and Overreaction!”

When you are in this business for awhile, you see a fair number of dogs cross over the Rainbow Bridge. This is a tribute to two extraordinary dogs with whom I have had the privilege to work. Both have recently passed. I want to share a little of their second-chapter lives with you, and to celebrate them and the humans who never gave up on them.

SNICK

SchnickReitzloff

Snick was an old boy when he came to me. His parent/owner/guardian (POG) Barb had taken him in after her mother died and was struggling to make him into a safe dog. He had bitten her and others, snapped at people who reached to pet him, bark-lunged at other dogs and was pretty much a doggie train wreck. When I suggested trying him in my group class, Barb was unsure, concerned they would be thrown out because of his appalling behavior and non-stop barking. I assured her that wouldn’t happen. I had a nice, big room in the Cleveland APL building that would allow me to separate him from the class while I assessed him.

Snick came rampaging into his first group lesson, in full-throttle defense mode, pulling poor Barb, who had an apologetic smilie frozen in place. We went to work immediately, and, by the end of the hour, Snick was on his back with Barb rubbing his belly. We had cracked the shell and found the real Snick, a funny, silly boy just dying to trust someone. That’s the boy you see in this picture.

I saw Snick on and off over the next few years, as Barb continued to work with him. What a great time he had with her in his second chapter. Yes, there were bumps in the road, but because Barb was determined to do right by this dog her mother adored, she kept going.

I loved Snick. He was the one and only dog I allowed to jump on me. Every time he saw me, he immediately rushed over, put his paws on my leg and licked my fingers till I petted him. I asked Barb to never correct him for that. Because he had been so distrustful of humans, I wanted him to feel completely secure around someone. So I made sure he never attached a negative to me. Interestingly, that allowed me to trust him completely.  Snick had a profound impact on the way I looked at other “doggie train wrecks” that have rumbled my way since we met.

—————

PRETTY GIRL

Pretty Girl and Me

Pretty Girl was actually gorgeous–a striking black/white, 90-pound pit who was taken in by Mary even though she had bitten. She had also passed two separate temperament evaluations. Mary, a huge animal lover, felt PG had been wronged. Instead of allowing her to be put down, Mary took her home to add to her furry family. She called me in for help in making sure Pretty reached her full potential.

That was nearly six years ago. I had been working steadily with them ever since.

When I first met her, Pretty was a tornado encased in dog skin, possibly the most hyper, overstimulated dog I had ever seen. I could see every bone in her body; she seemed to be vibrating away every calorie she took in! Mary and I stood outside her kennel, waiting for her to calm down a bit so I could reward a better behavior. That was a loooong wait. After 15-20 minutes of bouncing on her hind legs and barking, I was finally getting what felt like nanoseconds to stuff treats through the fence.

She had come a tremendously long way since then. The super-hyper girl had calmed a lot and gotten more focused. She still struggled sometimes with self-control (for example, she would sit but tap-dance with her front feet, waiting to be released), but she always worked very hard to do what we wanted. She built a strong bond with a small group of trusted humans who helped her understand and cope better with our world. She became good friends with Mary’s cat Smokey, who liked to follow her around the house and roll on his back in front of her, batting at Pretty’s nose. She was smart, sensitive, goofy, fun. She improved to the point where I felt comfortable bringing my frail 84-year-old mother to meet her. The only challenge we had that day was Pretty showing how eager she was to meet Mom by plowing her head into her chair…and moving Mom and chair a good foot before we restored order. Mom petted her the whole time; she thought that it was all pretty funny.

That was Pretty Girl — she put her whole heart into everything she did. That heart gave out way too soon. There was so much unexplored potential in her. I still can’t believe she’s gone.

——-

I make no secret of the fact that I feel the dogs I work with are part mine. If that’s unprofessional, so be it. This is the only way I can work. I half-jokingly say these are my dogs too.  I’ve been honored with the trust of both human and dog, which has allowed me to do my job to the best of my ability, and to keep improving through all I’ve learned from these marvelous creatures. And occasionally to connect with extra-special dogs like Snick and Pretty Girl.

Rest easy, pups. You’ve earned it.

———

Some people talk to animals. Not many listen, though. That’s the problem. 

– A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

At a client’s house recently, working with her adorable nine-month-old, 95-pound puppy.

She mentioned that, after early success following my instructions, her dog was once again bothering/chasing their cat. “What’s going on?” she asked with exasperation.

Diagnosing time! Here’s roughly how it went (my questions, her answers):

Happening in specific places/situations? No, random.
Cat starting any of it? Possibly, somewhat.
Pup runs up and what happens? Bugs, starts pawing, cat doesn’t leave but starts hissing.
What do you do? Yell and charge over there.
Is that effective? No.
How much are you telling pup she’s wonderful when she exists peacefully with/doesn’t bother the cat? Not at all. I thought that was fixed.

Ah. There it is.

I titled my book Reverse Dog Training for a very good reason: because I believe most people, when faced with a behavior problem, don’t just do the wrong thing, they do the exact opposite of what they should to solve the problem.

This client is further proof of my point. The kickers here are:

– She had already been given the right thing to do, had used it, and it had worked beautifully. The cat was left completely alone.
– After a brief period of success, she stopped using the mark/reward system completely. Dog was “fixed” in her view. (Wished she had told me this!)
– The dog, no longer getting the attention reward she was getting used to for ignoring the cat, slides back into the old habit of going after the cat, which she knows will get the desired results (yelling is attention).
– Everyone is back doing the same thing, and getting the same bad result. And she is wondering what went wrong?

Good/bad of marking
What is wonderful about a mark/reward system is it can work really fast. This can also be a bad thing if you don’t realize that to keep it working, you have to keep doing it (albeit slowly scale back on how often, aka progressing) and permanently change YOUR habits.

When something works immediately, it is thrilling to the owner/POG and makes us trainers/DLSIs look like geniuses. But we — or at least I — always caution that the problem is not gone. We have started the process of eliminating it. It is “fixed for now.”

How to ‘fix forever’
To get “fixed forever,” you have to continue to follow the instructions you were given, slowly varying the exercises and making your dog aware that s/he should do this same thing no matter the circumstances (“proofing” and “generalizing” are the words trainers use).

Put simply, a new habit usually will not erase and replace an old habit in a matter of days or even weeks. And I would contend the longer the old habit (problem behavior) has been in place, the longer it will take to get a reliable new-habit response.

Instant success may be fun — heck, it IS fun! — but long-term success is sooooo satisfying. Well worth the extra work.

If you need help expanding your exercises to get your dog “forever fixed,” see my e-booklet Next Steps! How to Progress Beyond Treats.

One of my favorite lines about getting older is that we are like fine wine, getting better with age. I also like to think with age comes wisdom, and that thought is leading me to believe I need to be a little more specific in my statements.

As I and my beloved friends and family grow longer in the tooth, I notice while the mind might be expanding, the body is wilting in some highly unpleasant ways. The aches, the pains, the injuries, the “conditions,” the loss of control in certain embarrassing areas.

Fair warning, one thing I am going to talk about is incontinence. In hopes you will stick with me, I will tell you the topic is dog incontinence, and there is a happy ending to this story.

Still there? Okay, thank you.

This tale is about my darling girl Tawny. She’s around 11 now, and doing quite well (you may have seen my recent YouTube/Facebook video post of her racing around my back yard; crazy puppy still there!). She is still developing and growing behaviorally; I am sometimes awestruck at the decisions she makes these days (another post for another day, for sure).

But she is burdened with two problems. One has been a lifelong struggle getting worse: skin allergies that cause her to scratch and scratch, especially during the winter, sometimes bloodying herself, in particular her ears and tail. The other is more recent, and it is nighttime incontinence.

The struggles, the discoveries, the victories
I need to say here I am no vet, and I am not recommending anything. Tawny goes regularly to the vet, and they are well-versed in her life and health. But in my quest to help my girl (and before her, my darling boy Jaspar who was with me 17 years), I will look everywhere for potential solutions, especially those that avoid strong medicines/chemicals. I do this for myself, so of course I will do it for Tawny.

Over the years, in my quest to quell her infernal itching (I have eczema, so I relate), I have run through: topicals ranging from vitamin E to various things in squeeze bottles and moistened towelettes, to salves and cortizone creams, to plain water; not bathing and bathing frequently; brushing little and brushing a lot; every shampoo and conditioner on the planet; making my own dry shampoo; many, many commercial dog foods, vitamins and supplements, and a lot of money with no good results.

What I have finally found that put the brakes on it:
1) A round of antibiotics in case there was an infection.
2) Making her food myself (see my “Goofy dog love” posts for that story)
3) Baking soda, water and a washrag.

That last one, believe it or not, has become my miracle, and it was a total desperation move on my part. Tawny was worse than ever this ling, cold winter, her black skin testifying to total loss of her golden coat on the back of her ears and the tip of her tail. As I was researching my latest thought, dry shampoos, I keyed in on the baking soda part. The dry shampoo itself was a bust, but the baking soda intrigued me because it has a cleansing effect AND a soothing effect.

So the next time I saw Tawny scratching something, I dumped some baking soda in some cool water and simply blotted the area with the mixture, making sure I thoroughly soaked the skin, towelled off the excess moisture and let her dry.

After about three days, the miracle: I didn’t see her scratch all day. I checked with my mom and sister, who also spend a fair amount of time telling her to stop scratching, and they reported the same thing: virtually scratch-free. Soothing the skin kept her from bothering it, allowing it to heal. The hair is growing back on her ears and even the end of her tail!

I need to treat every other day at least. If I go more than that, the scratching starts. But I will happily blot her for the rest of her life if I get this result.

Pee problems peter out, too
Now a recent problem: Nighttime accidents. For the entire time she’s been with me, Tawny has not drunk much water, and just plain didn’t ask to go out much. Most mornings she wouldn’t go out first; she wanted her breakfast instead. I called her the Exxon Valdez — a super tanker who could hold it forever.

So I literally got a rude awakening when she started having deep-sleep whoopsies. I wasn’t thrilled when she let go on one of her dog beds. But I was supremely miffed when she released on my side of my bed (this is NOT the way I want my spot warmed!).

Because she had already had the antibiotics to address any skin infection, I knew she didn’t have a UTI. Something else was going on. But could I do anything about it beyond cutting up shower curtains for bed liners? (What? They work great and it’s cheaper than pee pads.)

Back to the Internet I went. I knew this was a common problem in older females (dogs and humans!), but didn’t know how many different factors could be involved. After doing my usual obsessive analysis (mild OCD is helpful sometimes), I decided to try a couple of natural remedies that were given credence by some vets. And also vowed to let her out as late as possilble for that one last pee.

First up was apple cider vinegar. I added some to her dinner and crossed my fingers that 1) she would still eat it and 2) it would do some good.

No worries for the first part; she snarfed it just as fast as always. And I am relieved to report she hasn’t had an accident since I started adding the vinegar. However, after two weeks of treatment, though she was dry through the night, she was still doing a lot of “tidying up her downstairs,” as my British friend puts it.

So I went after the second remedy: powdered cornsilk. Apparently, it’s been used for a long time by different peoples for urinary stuff. And interesting to note, though corn is a common allergen for dogs, they haven’t shown a similar reaction to cornsilk.

I kept the vinegar going and added the cornsilk to her dinner, and crossed my fingers again.

Long story short, she still ate it and — drum roll — stopped over-attending to her personal area. She is not only dry overnight, but she is not dribbling.

Is she fixed forever? Of course not. But we have beat back the beast for now, and both of us are happy about that!

Told you it was a happy ending. 🙂

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