Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Waiting for fall

A discouraging week. Erica, our trainer, came over last night to see how Zorro is doing. She was impressed that we made it through the 15-day protocol and Zorro showed her he knows the "touch" command. But when she suggested we try to do some exercises out on the desk, he "shut down," as Erica puts it. Her basic message: let's hope the Prozac works.
Of course, it doesn't help that we're in for another round of thunderstorms. Today is cloudy and threatening so I haven't been able to get Zorro out of the yard.
Erica also gave us the name of a veterinary behaviorist (in Gaithersburg, ugh) we could consult if the Prozac doesn't help. She suggested that this problem could be caused by everything from faulty mental wiring to food allergies.
Everything I've been told and read says that it takes two weeks to a month to see results from Prozac so I guess we have to be patient.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The tyranny of fear

The list of border collie phobias continues to grow. So far, I've heard about border collies who are afraid of:
--Cell phone rings
--Ceiling fans
(that last one reminded Denny of this:
I received an interesting email from Sallie, who fostered Zorro before we adopted him. She said his behavior is classic border collie. Some studies have suggested that BCs are so wired for sound that when they don't have sheep to herd, the sensory overload leads to fears. If we could trace Zorro's bloodlines I'm sure he has very strong herding blood in him," she said. "You have a true Border Collie."
We started Zorro on Prozac on Friday, which Sallie thinks will help. Too soon to determine whether it's working. Luckily, he doesn't seem to be suffering any side effects. Maybe a little more tired than usual but it's almost August in Washington so everybody is moving pretty slowly.
This morning, he was anxious and fearful and at first I thought I wouldn't get him out of the yard. Then he smelled something interesting near the fence so that got us outside the gate. Once on the other side, we found a couple of dogs to tailgate for a while, so we got some running in. As long as he has a dog to focus on, he forgets about the sky. But we can only get away with this for so long, because once we catch up with the dog, Zorro wants to herd him, and Zorro is faster than most dogs. Maybe we can rent a greyhound.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Odd behavior

Border Collies may be weird, but I think some of their owners are even weirder. Too tweets I found today after doing a Twitter search for "border collies:"

pilates in the same room as my ridiculously codependent border collie getting out of control. An hour in the yard wont kill her.

My countenance and soul is an internal struggle between a large angry black woman and a border collie.

Blind rage

OK, so maybe I should have anticipated this.
While we were at work Monday, a "stump jumper" came to our house to remove some woody old azaelas that have become magnets for invasive weeds. These azaelas are located on the side of our house.
Because it's so narrow there, the stump jumper was unable to use his equipment; he had to remove them manually. This cost extra. On the upside, we figured, the process would be quieter, and wouldn't unsettle Zorro.
Late Monday, I discovered that the lower slats of blind over the window in the guest bedroom--which looks out over that section of the yard--was covered with teeth marks and gashes. Pieces of the blind were on the floor. (note: this is not a cheap blind).
Denny called the stump jumper, who said Zorro was highly agitated by the axe he used to remove the azaelas. Every time he swung the axe, he could hear Zorro raging on the other side of the window and said he feared he would come right through the screen. He said he felt sorry for Zorro--he's the owner of a rescue lab, which speaks to both to his character and common sense--and tried to calm him from the outside, but was unsuccessful.
So now the cost of our stump removal has gone up by $150. Off to the vet today for blood tests.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Plays well with others (most of the time)

Friday was Zorro's first experience with doggie day care. Dogtopia is located near our office in Tyson's Corner, so putting Zorro in there on Fridays allows us to go to straight to WV after work. Snoop was a regular there before he died and was much loved by the staff. I had some worries about Zorro, though, given his recent aggressive behavior towards dogs on the path and overall anxiety.
I took him in Thursday for his evaluation, which involved introducing him to six of their regular dogs. The staffer, Mark, said he growled at a couple of the dogs "when they got up in his face," but he didn't seem to think that was a big deal. They also check the dogs for "handling" and Zorro passed that with ease; he loves people.
We dropped him off there on Friday morning and I kept my cellphone close by all day, half expecting to get a call telling me to come get my crazy dog. Fortunately, that didn't happen. When Denny went to pick him up, the staffer at the desk told him it was an "eventful" day. They started him in the lounge, on the theory that it would be less stressful, but he got into a stand-off with a "bully boxer" (does that mean the boxer started it? I hope so). Then they moved him into the gymnasium, where, according to the staffer, "he made lots of friends." He also humped a lot of his new friends, she said, so I guess he felt the need to assert dominance. The staffer mentioned that there's one dog there "that everybody humps," which is pretty sad.
Anyway, he was tired at the end of the day, which is always good, and I'm hoping being around other dogs will make him less aggressive on our walks. He was pretty anxious this weekend; didn't want to go far on the towpath or on walks in near our home. Talked to the vet about starting him on Prozac to see if that will reduce his anxiety.
I've become somewhat obsessed with a border collie message board. Partly, I use it because I find a lot of good advice about training, behavior, rescue dogs, etc. But it also helps me to read about dogs with problems that are worse (or weirder) than Zorro's: dogs that are afraid of men, dogs that are afraid of men wearing hats, dogs that twirl, dogs that guard their food and toys, dogs that bite. Someone once pointed out that people only write about their problem dogs, so reading the boards can give someone an unfairly negative view of border collies (or dogs in general). But I still find it comforting to know that it could be a lot worse.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Morning moon and other trials

A tough week. On Monday morning, we drove back from WV, with Zorro in the back of the truck. Ordinarily, he's great in the car or truck. But this week, the moon sets late in the morning. He could see it from the truck window, and went nuts, resulting in a harrowing drive for driver (me) and passenger (Denny). Denny got him to stop temporarily by swatting him on the nose with a magazine, which he did not like at all. But after a few minutes, he would start up again. Looks like we may need to get curtains for the truck.
Walks have also been a challenge this week: he's started jumping and leaping at other dogs. He isn't aggressive: given the opportunity to get up close to a dog, he usually just wants to circle it in a playful way. But other dogs and their owners don't know that. They just see a 56-pound black and white dog straining against his leash and are rightfully intimidated. As of yesterday, we are back to using the head halter, which he doesn't like but does help maintain control. We encountered a brown and white spaniel on our walk this morning and I successfully got him to sit and stay until the dog passed.
Other rescue dog adopters tell me that a certain amount of backsliding isn't unusual. Even the Adopt A Pet Bible says that some dogs will show some JD tendencies after they've settled into their new home.
Meanwhile, we are on Day 7 of the Protocols of Relaxation. Hard to say it's working, given recent events. But he's doing pretty well with the exercises, which now involve me disappearing for a few seconds while he remains in stay position. Mostly he looks bored which I guess is the goal.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pavlov's coffee grinder

Denny reminded me to write about the coffee grinder.
Every morning, after his walk, I give Zorro his breakfast. Then I put the beans in the coffee grinder and turn it on. This causes Zorro to bark a couple of times. Then he runs to his dog bowl and eats all of his food.
This reaction is so predictable that on a couple of occasions when I wasn't making coffee but wanted him to finish his food, I turned on the grinder. Worked every time.
We have wondered whether this goes back to his time in the shelter: maybe someone rang a buzzer before bringing in the dogs' meals.
Somewhat of a setback yesterday afternoon: when Denny took Zorro out for a walk, he saw someone walking two dogs and completely lost it. Went into his crouch, then leapt at the dogs so intensely that Denny could hardly control him. That was a disappointment because I thought he was getting better around other dogs. Maybe two looks like a herd to him. But if this continues, we'll have to go back to the Gentle Leader collar, which he doesn't like but offers better control.
Brief fireworks last night which caused him to run around the house but they ended early and Zorro was quiet all night. The moon rises very late now, which helps. Did Day 2 of the Protocols; he was a little more distracted last night (probably because of his earlier encounter with the dogs) but we got through all of the exercises, which included running in place, clapping, and feeling slightly ridiculous.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Relaxation therapy

At the advice of our trainer, Erica, we're putting Zorro through the Protocol for Relaxation, a 15-day program that's supposed to teach anxious dogs how to relax. It was developed by Dr. Karen Overall, a veterinary behaviorist. The idea, as I understand it, isn't to teach discipline: it's to teach the dog how to block out distractions and chill. Not sure what it does for anxious owners.
Basically, you're supposed to put your dog in "sit" or "lie down" position and go through a series of activities, such as a 5-second "stay," a 10-second "stay," etc. After each activity, the dog gets a treat (I think a dog came up with this, because by the time the day's activities are finished, he gets A LOT of treates).
Here's the activities for the first day, which I went through yesterday:

DAY 1:
o Sit for 5 seconds
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit while you take 1 step back and return
o Sit while you take 2 steps back and return
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit while you take 1 step to the right and return
o Sit while you take 1 step to the left and return
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit while you take 2 steps back and return
o Sit while you take 2 steps to the right and
o Sit for 15 seconds
o Sit while you take 2 steps to the left and return
o Sit while you clap your hands softly once
o Sit while you take 3 steps back and return
o Sit while you count out loud to 10
o Sit while you clap your hands softly once
o Sit while you count out loud to 20
o Sit while you take 3 steps to the right and
o Sit while you clap your hands softly twice
o Sit for 3 seconds
o Sit for 5 seconds
o Sit while you take 1 step back and return
o Sit for 3 seconds
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit for 5 seconds
o Sit for 3 seconds

Day 2 follows a similar sequence, but also involves walking halfway around the dog, jogging in place, then jogging halfway around the dog. Each day involves more complicated activities. By Day 15, I may be doing the chicken dance.
One of the challenges is that you need to keep referring to the list while keeping the dog from wandering away. But since it only takes about 15 minutes and doesn't hurt (and Zorro doesn't seem to mind), I guess it's worth a try.
OK night, although I ended up having to shut the windows and turn on the AC because someone in the neighborhood thinks it's still the 4th of July and the lovelorn fox was on the prowl.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A calm night

Finally, a good night's sleep. The last week has been a trying one. Zorro's reaction to fireworks is different from his response to thunderstorms: instead of cowering in the bathtub, he runs around the house, barking, whenever an explosion occurs. And there have been a lot of explosions: our neighbors in WV set up fireworks past midnight on July 4, and on Sunday, someone was lighting up M-80s in the park near our house. People still had some fireworks to blow up on Monday, and there was a lovesick fox in the park, so that was another sleepless night.
Zorro's trainer, Erica, says these responses are actually two sides of the same coin: in both instances, he's highly agitated and unable to focus on us. So our homework assignment until our next training session is a behavioral technique called the Protocol for Relaxation, which was developed by an animal behaviorist. Basically, you put the dog in "sit" or "lie down" position for five seconds, then ten seconds, etc. Over a 15-day period, you go through an exhaustive list of different activities: walking around the dog, clapping, jogging in place, etc. After every activity, he gets a treat for staying in sit or lie-down position.
It's a long, complicated list and I bet a lot of people don't stick with it. But Erica says it's effective way to teach a dog to relax so he can focus on you, not the sky or the moon or another dog. So we will give it a try. Just when Zorro is at his most exasperating, he does something that endears him to us. After walking him yesterday morning, I collapsed on the upstairs bed, desperately trying to grab a little more sleep before work. He hopped up next to me (this was unusual; he usually gets on the beds when we're not in them), laid down and snuggled against my chest. Irresistable.