We added a new dog to our family on July 4, 2009. She's an 11-week-old Golden Retriever pup. Our kids named her Sunshine, which seems to fit. This page documents various things about our experience.
We want our dog to be able to do certain things in our house…like sit, “drop it”, shake, and so on. So we enrolled in Beginner Education classes at Pet Smart.
Amazing progress in a week. Housebreaking is going well–only mistakes are when we don't follow our routine. Here is what we do.
This will probably work during the summer while the family is home. Hopefully it will be a long enough time to establish a pattern.
Sunshine started showing resistance to entering her create. I bought a large dog pillow and placed it by the fireplace for a day. She loved it and started taking her naps there. The next day I moved it into her crate. Now she enters the crate freely. I guess there's a comfort factor involved.
Looking back to our first attempts at walking Sunshine on a leash, she's made great progress. She resisted fully in her first few days, digging her heels into the ground and fighting the leash regardless of our attempts to praise or encourage her. Now (10 days later), we can walk at a normal pace and she willfully walks with us. She hasn't mastered the art of walking in a straight line yet (understandable) and is frequently underfoot.
We started Sunshine on a wellness plan at Banfield Animal Hospital. Our cats are already on Banfield plans. The plans are a great way to levelize the financial spikes that happen when a pet gets sick or needs vaccinations. Here are my thoughs on Banfield Plans.
We started taking obedience classes (they call them “puppy classes”) at PetSmart. Topic #1 is about crate training. Dogs must be taken outside immediately after being let out of their crate. We'd already learned that lesson the hard way, but it was good to know we're doing the right things on our own. Some dogs get distracted when they go outside and don't do their business. So for those dogs, owners are told to stand in the same place each time, repeat the same phrase, and only play with the dog or praise it when its done. And if the dog doesn't do its business, then it goes back inside and into the crate. The process is repeated until the dog does what it should.
Obedience topic #2 is the “sit” command. We had already worked on that too. Not too hard to encourage Sunshine to sit when you have treats in your hand. Pieces of Milk Bones work well.
I forgot to mention previously…Sunshine was diagnosed with a parasite called Giardia after we bought her, so we gave her medicine for the first 2 weeks we had her. Near the end of that period, she developed a deep cough so we took her to Banfield. The vet did several tests and found that Giardia was still present. So due to the timing, we got several meds:
Once we got home, we quickly realized that its tough to force-feed pills to a dog. We went back to PetSmart and found something called Pill Pockets. They are a soft, hollow dog treat. We stuff the pills inside, close the treat, and give it to Sunshine. Mmm…she likes them. She's even started barking in anticipation of getting her treat. How cool is that?
Obedience topic #3 is leash training. Large dogs can be dangerous for kids or non-athletic adults when not well trained. (I have this Farside cartoon in my brain of a dog running down the street, dragging a leash with an arm connected to it, while a man on the sidewalk says to his wife “I told Frank he should train that dog”). So we practice walking at a calm speed. If Sunshine tugs hard on the leash, we stop and pull her back gently while calling her. Her reward is for the walk to continue. We've been walking several times a day for a month now, so Sunshine knows the routine. All is well until she sees a person or another dog, then all her training goes out the window while she practically strangles herself to reach the person/dog and say hello. We're working on that part.
Obedience topic #4 is the “down” command. Surprisingly, this is easy too. We use treats to guide her to the floor while saying 'down'. Right now, it only works if we have a treat in our hand and we physically put it down near the floor.
Very unusual…Sunshine woke up on Wednesday morning, August 5, and had more energy than ever before. Its like someone flipped a switch. I think all the medicines & vitamins she's been taking have finally kicked in. Anita took her for a walk in the morning; the kids took her in the afternoon, and I took her in the evening. I took her on the longest walk she's had to date…over a mile. Its not really a “walk”, but kind of a run-walk-sniff-walk. And she still had energy to burn when we got home. Amazing improvement. The same high-energy has been present all week, so we're getting used to that.
Sunshine has learned to stand on her hind quarters this week. She's using that skill to reach counter tops, torment the cats, beg for food, etc. We need a strategy for dealing with that.
Obedience topic #5: “Leave it”. This is a verbal command for making a dog leave something alone. Our trainer tempted Sunshine with a piece of beef jerky. When she went for it, the trainer put her hand in front of Sunshine's chest and pushed her back while saying “leave it”. After a few attempts, Sunshine stopped going for the beef jerky and got a treat instead. This seemed fairly easy in class.
Obedience topic #6: “Drop it”. Similar to the above, but used when a dog has something in its mouth that you want it to release. We gave Sunshine a piece of rawhide and let her start chewing on it. Then we placed a dog treat against her nose and said “drop it”. Something with the strong scent of the treat caused her to forget about the rawhide. Two or three repetitions of this and Sunshine was dropping the rawhide in anticipation of the treat.
We started the week by taking Sunshine to the vet for a checkup and vaccinations. The Giardia parasite is gone from her system…finally. She received all of her immunizations (I can't name them all), including rabies.
Obedience topic #7: Sit-stay. Basically we tell the dog to sit, then use any method possible to make the dog sit for longer periods. Goal is 15 seconds. Holding a treat almost directly over Sunshine's head works really well. We were able to reach 10 seconds on the 2nd or 3rd try. Other dogs would barely sit, so we were proud of our dog.
Obedience topic #8: Down-stay. Same as above, but maintaining a down position. Similar tactics are necessary, depending on the dog. We reached 10 seconds on the first try.
Obedience topic #9. Come. Our trainer held Sunshine's leash. We let Sunshine sniff the 3-4 treats we held in our hand. Very strong smell, so we got her attention. Then we ran quickly to a spot about 30 feet away (the running motion grabs most dog's attention). Then we knelt down and called Sunshine to “come”. Luckily for us, she came to us quickly every time. Other dog owners weren't so lucky.
No new topics this week…just more reinforcement of the previous lesson. They are difficult lessons to learn, so they merit more time.
A few of our classmates have dropped out by now. Sad situation, but it doesn't surprise me. Some dogs don't respond well to obedience training, and some people aren't focused on doggie discipline and training. So there's a drop in attendance as people become frustrated.
We were told that Sunshine would be expected to sit/say and down/stay for 30 seconds in order to graduate.
Graduation week! Sunshine and 3-4 other dogs were there. Our instructor brought several other people to watch (new course attendees, I imagine). The class was challenged with a task, and each owner would take turns showing that his/her dog could perform the task. And the cycle repeated. Our very last task was to keep our dog in down-stay position for 30 seconds. We were able to do that, and even placed doggie treats on Sunshine's paws while she was waiting. Sunshine got her training certificate.
Since we want our dog to be well-trained, we decided to enroll her in intermediate training. She has the aptitude for it, and we (as a family) are continuing to work with her at home. So…off we go into intermediate training.
Our new class had only 3 other dogs on the first day–the trainers dog, a German Shepard mix, and a Bull Mastiff (who likes to eat drywall when he's bored). The German Shepard is full grown (2-1/2 years old) but is still highly trainable. The Mastiff is only 10 months old, weighs in at 110 pounds, and is the friendliest dog you've ever seen.
Lesson #1 is 'heel'. We practice this by using dog treats. Call the dog toward us, holding a treat in the left hand. As the dog approaches, hold the treat out for her and pull it away slowly. Use your fully extended arm to make a circle, ending up with the treat at your side. If the dog follows your hand, she has done a 180 degree turn and should be facing the direction you are facing. Give the treat at this point.
Comment 2 weeks into it: I do lots of morning walks with Sunshine, so I practice this with her a lot. I let her get out ahead of me on her expandable leash. Then I stop and tell her to heal. She was already conditioned to come to me and sit for a treat, so I had to pull her by the leash to get her to heel on my left side. It took several days days, but she got the hang of it. Now she knows the drill. I'm not sure if she will do it automatically unless I have a treat, but she's close.
We're enhancing our 'heel' command by waiting for the dog to heel (last weeks lesson), then walking a step forward and waiting for the dog to heel up. This isn't hard for me since my hand hangs down exactly where her nose is. She just follows the treat. I'm hoping the Pavlovian-style conditioning is working.
During our advanced training class, we realized that Sunshine was sitting with her back legs more underneath her than other dogs. Our trainer suggested this might be a sign of hip dysplasia. We made an appointment to have Sunshine's hips X-rayed by our vet, and she confirmed the diagnosis–Sunshine's hips are very loose, or dysplastic. But she wanted us to see a specialist who could perform surgery since that might be an option for us. So we contacted the veterinary surgeons in town and took our X-ray images with us.
They re-confirmed the diagnosis and recommended a procedure where her hip socket would be rotated downward. This would create a larger surface for the hip bone to sit on and should reduce the symptoms of dysplasia. The surgery is only possible on puppies up to 10 or 11 months old. Once they stop growing, this surgery is not an option. So we had to consider our options quickly.
Of course we want the best for our dog, but at the same time we need some answers about how much benefit the surgery will offer. My meeting with the surgeon was quite frustrating. I wasn't able to get the information I wanted. I was hoping to hear something like ”We see about a 75% recovery rate with dogs in Sunshine's condition”. But the best I got was ”some dogs recover better than others–its all up to nature”. Very frustrating! Neither the analytical nor the emotional sides of my brain were satisfied with that answer.
Cost is also a factor. The surgery runs $2500 per hip, and both of her hips need surgery. Unfortunately, one hip can't be operated on because it has scar tissue around it (the body's natural attempt to grow the hip joint). ”So doctor…you mean we could spend $2500 and still not have the problem resolved?” Yes, thats right. Again…very vague. So we decided to wait and try other options. Surgery is still an option in the future, even when she is an adult dog.
We put Sunshine on Glucosamine and Chondroitin when our trainer first told us she might have hip dysplasia. She had been on it for 3-4 weeks when we took her to the surgeon. Up to that point, we had seen no benefit from the supplements. Her behavior hadn't changed–she still appeared 'stiff' to us when getting up in the morning. And her energy level hadn't changed.
After a bit of internet research, I discovered a product called Cetyl-M. I googled it, YouTube'd it, and found site after site after site with rave reviews about it. This was very different than the reviews for Glucosamine and Chondroitin. And I even found pet owners with my exact problem who said their dog had incredible results on the medication. So…we gave it a try.
Our package of Cetyl-M arrived in the mail on Friday, Feb 12, 2010. I started giving Sunshine the “loading dose” immediately, which is 2 tablets per 25 pounds of body weight. We saw an improvement in her activity level in 3 days!! By Monday, she was more energetic at home, had more stamina during her walks, and didn't go to sleep right after them.
Two weeks later, she has so much energy that she hops with excitement. She chases things for longer distances (like blowing leaves, squirrels, etc.), and she plays harder with other dogs. I hope these results continue. Best of all, Cetyl-M is fairly cheap–$35 for 120 tablets.