Monday, July 18, 2011

Wallaby in General

Just a progress report, but I wanted to keep my *Sunshine and Unicorns* post simply about how much I love Mr. B.

He is eating a lot more beef heart, almost daily, and gaining weight whilst requiring less food and less exercise. He is down to about a pound a day, from 1.4-1.8 on average. And he only goes on a short, 45-minute-ish walk about 5 times a week. Days that he doesn't walk, we play in the yard or I take him to run with his pooch friends. We do training on almost every walk we go on. That is, I take a clicker and my treat pouch and click him for things like being by me [but not looking at me for treats], or walking calmly with the leash loose, or stopping at corners, etc etc.

He is also needing a lot less bone in his diet. Which is great, just wonderful, really.

Yes. [Wallaby training #3]

I have the greatest dog ever. He is so smart and wonderful, and sometimes he can be frustrating. But not today. I love this boy.

Wallaby used to be very good at being a crazy nutjob. He's like so many rescue dogs out there, who just have not had proper training, exercise, attention, or all three. Some days he's lucky he's so cute and snuggly. But not today. Today I saw a glimpse of what lies ahead for Wallaby and I.

I saw a dog who was faithfully by my side, but not because I forced that idea into his little dog brain. And not just because I had yummy treats [beef heart and venison, aka dinner]. We went for a walk and he didn't yank me along. He didn't obsess over every.little. thing. He didn't spend the majority of walk in a constant cycle of getting to the end of the leash [16ft], sniiiiiiiiiffffffffing something or fixating on something, and then, because I was still in motion, feeling a tug on the leash and rocketing past me out to the end of the leash again, without so much as a sniff in my direction.

I now have a dog who can walk on a leash politely. I have a dog who can be in my house and not be bouncing off the walls,or getting into things he shouldn't [still working on some impulse control when it comes to low coffee tables...], or whining every time I go somewhere without him. I have a dog who does not jump up when he meets people, instead he sits or in the case of kids, he downs, and thus gets FAR more attention because "omg this dog did not assault my face as a greeting!" and the behavior is reinforced.

And not once, never have I had to yell at, pinch, choke, yank, kick, shock, or otherwise abuse my dog in order to get this out of him. All I had to do was trust him a little, and show him what I did want from him.

I love my dog.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wallaby's Training Journal #2

Since I last wrote I have done very few training sessions with Wallaby, but he has been improving nonetheless.

The past couple of weeks Wallaby has been loose in the house regularly. Prior to this he was always on a leash or tether in the house, for various reasons. The biggest one being my guinea pigs. He is all about them. Wants to eat them, and I'm just not really okay with that. As a result I moved them into a small but secure cage, and had Wallaby on a tether in the house.
The past few days, the pigs have been in a 3x3-grid pen in the cellar with the bunnies, where it's a nice cool 70F, and they have lots more room to run and play.

He was also VERY hyper in the house, and knew no boundaries. For him, inside and outside were the same thing. He would run, jump, hop up on tables and even people as he pleased. I taught him to replace jumping up with "sit" early on, so this was discouraging to see. My mother also runs an in-home daycare, and three of her kids are deathly scared of dogs, so I didn't want Wallaby getting loose/into the daycare and scaring the daylights out of them with his presence. Despite our best efforts though, this happened on two occasions.

When Wallaby first came to us, the kids' reaction to him was a bit off-putting. I was cautious around the kids when I had him, even a bit jumpy. Then I realized something: Wallaby is [i]amazing[/i] with kids. He would never hurt a child, as he has demonstrated many times [one of the babies likes to play with his face and tail] and my uptight manner probably wasn't helping the kids relax around him. Since I've changed my 'tude things have been a lot better between the kids and Mr. B.

Since March, Wallaby has calmed down so much it's hard for some people to believe. He used to be one of the most hyper dogs in the rescue. When he is in the house he is almost always sprawled out or curled up somewhere, usually on the floor or a bed. My mother doesn't want Wallaby on the sofa. He used to be rebellious and would sneak up onto the sofa when no one was looking. I don't care whether or not he's on the sofa, so I never did anything about it. Now he doesn't park himself on the sofa unless someone invites him up there.

So yeah. Wallaby has overcome one of his biggest obstacles with almost no help from me. I couldn't be more proud of my puppy.

I use only positive training methods with Wallaby. I never punish him for doing the "wrong" thing, I don't believe that you have to "forcefully dominate" your dog, in fact I think all that dominating, pack leader-ing stuff is a load of B.S.
Wallaby looks for me to guidance on his own accord, not because I forced him to.

So the things I want to work on him with now is his recall, which I have hardly worked on at all, and also building calmness and focusing on me in the presence of other dogs and small prey animals. The latter is going to be a loooong process, but my goal is to be able to take him on off-leash hikes at some point in the [hopefully] near future, so I need to start working on both of these things.
I'm also going to work on sit/stay and down/stay with him, since he's having trouble with the basic concept of just "stay". He does sit/stay without the verbal cue sometimes on walks, so I think this will be easier for him.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Wallaby's Training Journal #1

I should've started this a while ago... like, when I started training Wallaby. Months ago. But oh well. We don't usually do things in the correct order..

So here's a list of cues Wallaby has been introduced to so far, and the percentage is how reliable the behavior is. Unless otherwise noted it is an average--meaning that the behavior is likely more reliable the lower the distraction/stress level.
The list is only of practical cues that I use, not parlor tricks [which he knows a few]

Sit 85%

Down 70%

Come* 60%

Ladies First 90% - This means, "let me go through the doorway first, please!" I use this instead of Wait.

Wait 60% - I use mostly at street corners.

Go To Bed 70%

Off 30% - just introduced this week

Leave It* 80%

Take It 40%

Back Up 70% - used on walks, we work on this a lot. It means "Come back to me!" I use it whenhe hits the end of the retractable leash. He self-corrects[without being cued] probably 40% of the time.
*These behaviors need a lot of work in moderate to high distraction/stress levels.

I wanted to take a couple of days and look at everything Wallaby does well along with what he needs to work on, and what hasn't even been introduced to him yet.
The main things I want to work on in the next couple of weeks are:
-loose leash [explained below]
-doing sit/down in the car
-stay [we have worked on this a bit but not much]

I have done loose-leash training with Wallaby but I haven't enforced it much and he's gotten pretty sloppy. I walk him on a retractable leash because he is able to get a lot more exercise that way. So lately I haven't been asking him to walk "by me" [the cue I use instead of heel], I just let him do his thing.
I think mostly I just need to train more often. We used to train every day but now it's only about twice a week. I always notice that he is much more reliable with certain behaviors after we have worked on them.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rescue Me.

Tonight a vivid memory popped into my head, one I haven't recalled in a long while. It was the memory of my very first rescue.
Before Bellamonster, Tasha-Bea and Mister Milo, there were Spiff and Claire.

To make an excruciatingly long story short, by word of mouth I heard about two "loose" rabbits who'd been living under the shed behind a liquor store. It turned out the "owners" lived right next door. I'd not spoken to the owners at all, and only briefly with the liquor store owners, but I spent the better part of a month sitting in that small yard, waiting to catch a glimpse of the bunnies and hopefully, lure them to the safety of an open cage.
After it became painfully clear that these bunnies were perfectly happy where they were, thankyouverymuch, I sent out a plea for help to my friend Amber, who did all kinds of animal rescues and in those days, seemed like some kind of superhero. She wrangled a hav-a-hart trap and we spent the evening talking a little too loudly about what terrible people these rabbits' owners were, and casting many a wary eye at the small rabbit hutch and the two giant german shepherds in their yard.
The next evening was one of the most traumatic nights of my life up until then. I went to check the hav-a-hart [this was back before I knew you couldn't leave them for more than 2-3 hours], which was empty. Then I saw a little patch of white out in the grass. It was dusk, so a little hard to see, but I could tell that it was an animal. I crept over to it, not knowing that the white thing was immobilized.
It was Spiff.

He was dying.

I could feel his heart beating, faintly, as I gently picked him up and wrapped him in my handkerchief. I rushed him back into my mom's van and, trying so hard to keep the tears at bay, blubbered, "we have to take him home. I have to save him." He was probably dead by the time we got him home, which was only a few minutes away, but I sent a panicked email to our HRS chapter manager anyways. She shot one back within minutes, giving me the name and number of a local foster parent, who happened to be around the corner from where we'd found Spiff. We drove there and she determined that Spiff was indeed dead. Due to a small amount of blood in his mouth, she guessed it had been poisoning.

"What do we do now?" I asked.
"Well, I know how this sounds... but it is trash night." She said.
I recoiled in horror at the thought of tossing this poor thing into a dumpster. And I burst into tears. My mother tried to console me,
"No, don't worry, we'll find a nice place to bury him."

"I'm--not--sad--about him--dying... I'm--sad--because... because--we can't help--the other--one!" I sobbed. When we were driving Spiff home my mom had told me that this was it, this was the last night I was allowed to spend chasing these feral long-ears.

That is often how I feel when I am doing anything with one of the many rescue groups I work with. For every one you save, there are dozens that you can't. And as truly heartbreaking as that cold, hard truth is, you have to accept it and put your energy and love into the ones you can save.

As it turned out, Spiff had likely eaten part of a blackberry vine/bush/thing growing in the small yard. Claire was caught the next day and returned to her owners after a thorough home check and a promise that they would neuter their remaining rabbits and at least move them into the garage. We never did hear from them again.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Remembering Newman and Befriending Bella

Two days ago was a year since I lost Newman. I miss him so much.
Often when you lose a pet, or a person from your life, you're told that things will get easier, and eventually it won't be so hard to think about the loss. I so wish this were true for me.
It has gotten easier to wake up and go to work. It has gotten easier to walk past the painting that I made of his, Benner's, and Blizzard's fur patterns that hang on the wall, along with Newmy's favorite toy: a set of baby keys. It's gotten easier to see photos of him and not tear up.
But my heart still aches like it did in that moment when I knew he was dying.
And writing this post has proven to be terribly difficult.

Though I did lose a dear, dear friend that night, I gained a new one.

Bella had been attached at the hip to Newman from the day she met him. She shied away from me most of the time and didn't like to be held at all. Though I had worked with her a lot, but a lot of the time with bunnies, that's not enough. When Newman died, Bella spent a good long time trying to find him. I thought I was going to have to get another bun, something I just wasn't ready for.

Bells kept to herself the next couple of weeks, and the house was eerily quiet. Then, sometime between when Newman left us and Abbey came to live here, Bella and I became friends. She's my love, my baby girl, my little beast. She looks to me for leadership, like a dog does. She comes when I call her, she knows when I am talking to her. She likes being curled up in my hoodie, and she bows to me to let me pet her or pick her up. She has gained about 37 new nicknames, including...
Bells, Belly, Belle-Monster, BellaMonster, The Beast, and the Toe-Less Wonder [one of her toes was recently amputated due to a freak accident].

Today was the day that I realized how important Bella is to me. I brought a dog home to see how the rabbits would react, and Bella froze completely, and did not move for the four hours he was here. I had originally planned to keep him overnight, but because of my baby's reaction I didn't want to take that chance and wake up to find her dead from shock.
As much as I want a dog in my life, I am not willing to risk even the slightest chance that Bella [or anyone, obvs] would get hurt in the process. When that realization hit me, I began to think about all we had been through this past year. And then I realized, it had been a whole year that Newman had been gone.

This past November was my third Bellaversary. She is about four years old now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Misunderstood Souls (Cage-Aggression)

I have met hundreds of bunnies in my life, most of whom are down on their luck. They get dumped in parking lots, swamps, parks, school campuses, shelters and pet stores. The trend these days seems to be moving out and leaving your pet to fend for his or herself. Many of the bunnies that I meet are cage-aggressive. They can't help it, it's their way. Think of it from their perspective.
...Your eyes and facial structure were designed so that you could see and elude predators chasing you, so you can't see what's right in front of your face. A giant creature, all gangly and grabby and 20 times bigger than you, reaches its appendage right past your face. It could be a predator. It could be another rabbit, trying to assert itself. It's coming right at you, but you can't even see it. You and the creature don't speak the same language, or even behave the same way. Now, add to the mix that feeling of being abandoned and scared in a new place. Everything you know seems to have turned upside-down.
How would you react?
You'd want to defend yourself. To keep from getting hurt anymore.

Cage-aggressive bunnies aren't mean. They aren't stubborn or stupid. They are misunderstood.

Cage-aggression can be rooted in any number of problems. Is the rabbit used to being handled? Was it recently abandoned or re-homed? What has its confinement area been for its whole life [a hutch, cage, pen, stall, none?] How is the rabbit usually approached? Does he/she have a healthy social life [not being bullied]? The most common causes I see for cage-aggression are a rabbit who has just moved from a quiet home into the noisy, smelly shelter; or a rabbit who is picked up/fed/dealt with through the front of a kennel or cage, instead of through the top. What it always comes down to, though, is a simple miscommunication. Humans think that because rabbits "attack" them that it means they're mean, evil, rotten-hearted, stupid, stubborn creatures. When really, all the rabbit is doing is saying,"hey, don't do that. Don't shove your hand in my face and move all of my stuff around. Don't s
care me when you're trying to pick me up."
Abbey and Bella are both cage-aggressive. They came to me [and stayed with me] because of it. Bella's owner had long ago decided that Bella was an evil little critter and got fed up with not being able to go near the poor bun without getting her hand gnawed off. Bella, I'm happy to say, hasn't bitten me in over a year. When she does get startled she will "mouth", like a dog nips. Nothing that will break the skin just a little touch to say "yikes! where did you come from?! don't scare me like that!"
Abbey has never bitten me but she did used to lunge. After getting bounced between three foster homes, two shelters and two adoptive homes [all in 2 years] Abbey started to get very cage-aggressive, to the point where she was not considered to be adoptable anymore. After 6 months of having her I think she is 100% adoptable. She still lunges sometimes, and the other day I was holding a pellet of hay stretcher out for her and she nabbed my finger instead, but no one is perfect.

Cage-aggressive rabbits hold a special place in my heart, because even in the rabbit world, not everyone quite understands them, and not everyone has the patience for them. But I feel like I do. Figuring them out is a lot of guesswork and trial-and-error, which for some reason I enjoy.

This November I am remembering Benner, and celebrating my three-year Bellaversary.