Writing in the time of SARS-Co2

It’s been over a month of the stay-at-home order since the disease Covid19 has caused a pandemic. We’re in NYC the epicenter of the disease in the U.S. I think I may have contracted the disease as well but, fortunately, I only suffered a fever, headache, body aches, and the loss of smell and taste. I’ve fully recovered except for my ability to smell. The world is still very neutral to me through my nose and while I can taste and identify sweet, salty, bitter, sour, etc. without the smell food does not taste the same. I miss enjoying food, I miss enjoying a simple cup of coffee in the mornings. I’ve decided to start olfactory training once my essential arrives. Hopefully, this smell retraining will have me back to normal.

There’s still no vaccine, lockdown is still in effect, but things are looking better little-by-little. Life with Jimmy hasn’t really changed much, we still go on long walks, still train, and our life with him at home is as it has been. The only thing different is that more people are outside walking, jogging, cycling, etc and so his exposure to people in the mornings has been more frequent and his ability to cope with people popping up has much improved. Another difference is we’ve made friends with a dog named Raisin, a 5-year old female. We have been allowing them to run in our local high-school football field and it has been awesome! Their play dynamic at the moment is all about chasing than wrestling. I can’t wait to see how their relationship develops over time.

As the weather warms up we’re going to expect to run into many dogs. Last week we ran into 10 dogs and Jimmy was able to keep his composure for all of them which was awesome! Today we only ran into 3 dogs but also great maybe his testosterone level is dropping now that he’s older and other dogs are finding his smell less intense and that he’s also less intense in his response. Anyhow, still inconclusive and needs more supportive evidence 😀

I have been enjoying our mornings together a lot more, our off least walks by the water, our fetch games, over slow strolling for him to sniff about it has all been marvelous. I think we’re growing together just fine and at the moment I’m not too concerned whether he’s going to be reactive for life or not. I mean I want to help him overcome his reactivity so that he is comfortable with himself and not so that I’m comfortable with myself if that makes sense. Here’s a photo of James Robert.

Jimmy by the pom


Not Slacking

OK it’s 2020, I promised myself to write more and I can’t believe it’s been several days already since my last post so definitely not a good sign! Anyone else has this problem? Any tips to help push oneself to write daily? I remember being able to write and write and write and now it’s like pulling teeth.

So, in other news, Jimmy used his buzzard the other day and we were just so thrilled. I have to remember to continue to add more verbal communication with him as we start to introduce more words to the board. I’m just so thrilled that he is looking more and more at the board. It hasn’t come naturally yet but I can see him mentally referring to the word-board already.

Last week my partner left for Miami. It was a rather abrupt trip and I think Jimmy felt the stress. That night he vomited and the following morning it was followed by some stress diarrhea. He hasn’t had this for a long time and after some careful thinking, it may also be linked to the stress of looking for a mate. I’ve seen a change in his behavior I mean he was interested in females in heat but before it was only if they were present. He was curious but now his drive for them, when he has found a scent of them, is tremendously strong to the point where he is continually seeking them out. I think this drive may have driven him to become stressed. I’m not sure it will get any better soon. I’ve also asked around and from other people’s experiences, it doesn’t seem like it will go away either. We’re seriously considering neutering him at this point because it doesn’t seem fair for him.

This week has been exciting I have started to volunteer at our vet’s clinic. The vet is going to hire me as a part-timer so I’ll start working at the clinic twice a week beginning in February.  I’m super excited I think it’s going to open so many new learning experiences for me. I get to see behavior and health at play. I’m also thinking of some research questions that may help me build up my application into vet school. I’m really grateful because, I’ve known this vet since 2013 and I’m so familiar with the neighborhood, and I’m so familiar with the staff already. It’s going to be a fun year — I hope!



Here is Plato’s man

“Plato proposed that humans were the only creatures at once naked and walking on two legs. Diogenes brought a plucked fowl to the lecture room, setting it loose with the words, ‘Here is Plato’s man.'”

The above quote is probably one of my favorites in 2020. Currently, I’m reading, “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” It’s written by, Frans de Waal, a Dutch-American ethologist, and primatologist. I enjoy his writing very much it has humor and leaves behind the snobbery of someone that has many years of experience, research, and knowledge of how animals think. I’m sure he would say he’s not an expert on that either and I’m sure we humans can never fully get down to understanding other species I mean we hardly understand our own kind. The book so far is such a joy to read and I would recommend it to everyone. I mean I would even recommend folks to read it to their young ones.

Meanwhile, Jimmy continues his bed rest.

It’s the 4th day of rest for Jimmy he has been doing great no complaints or feeling of restlessness. His limping has become less and less he’s putting more weight on this left shoulder. This morning however he requested to go out early, his stomach was gurgling a lot. I took him out and we walked for a little more than an hour around the neighborhood but again at his pace and allowed him to sniff as much as possible. His stomach did bother him but once he was able to eliminate he felt better. I think it was the new biscuits that I’ve baked for him it contains a lot of fiber a little more than he’s used to. We were on a biscuit binge the night before — he and I that is — I don’t mean to promote my own skills, but the biscuits were pretty darn good!

He came home I fed him his breakfast and we practiced a little more of our mouth opening routine. He’s understanding the concept a lot better these days and once I get him to open wide I’ll add duration. It’s going to be a challenge, but we have to start brushing soon. I don’t think this routine would necessarily be used for brushing but having him be comfortable with his mouth being opened and prodded might help make the concept of brushing less stressful.

Do you brush your dog’s teeth and how comfortable is your pooch with it? We brushed before when he was much younger but stopped and we regret stopping! I mean Jimmy’s 4 years old now his teeth are not bad but we’re seeing some tartar and we need to get that under control ASAP. So if you have a puppy now please start as soon as you can and continue so that your puppy grows up with great dental hygiene.

Yesterday’s Vet Visit

The visit was a success there were no other dogs scheduled and we had a nice walk to the vet. It took us about an hour to walk to the vet; we intentionally walked slowly allowing him to sniff as much as possible. We saw a few dogs along the way. It also helped that it was a gloomy day so most people stayed indoors.

At the vet, he was a little over-aroused but still took treats from the vet tech so he wasn’t over the top. He was happy to beg for treats too which was a good sign, but he was antsy waiting since he kept getting up and walking around. I obliged his exploration I know most folks would prefer their dog to remain in a stay position but since there was no one in the waiting area it was perfect to let him explore. I don’t find it helpful to make an anxious dog compliant to commands during anxious moments. It is a new place and allowing him to explore helps him more than harm.

When the vet was ready to see us in his new exam room Jimmy was excited to enter and be handled by the vet tech. He was also begging the vet tech for more treats, which the vet tech kept in his shirt pocket. The surface of the examining table was steel so made for a less comfortable rest. He did sit and lie down on his own, but when he was needed to be moved it was not as comfortable. He drooled a bit during the drawing blood segment of the exam. It may also be because the doctor couldn’t find a vein at the first try. The rest of the exam was less stressful at the end we couldn’t find out why he was limping, we did order a Lyme disease test to be done just in case since stiff joints are one of the symptoms of Lyme. Jimmy received all of his updated vaccines and a full blood panel test was ordered as well. I can’t wait to see the results I hope all will be good. He is also 64.4 lbs he gained 6.4 lbs since his last visit 1.5 years ago. The vet said he is in good shape though so not to worry about the weight gain.

We left the vet with some goodbye treats and a cute photo. We also had a nice walk home lots of sniffing and when we got home he went straight to bed. We also had another moment for Jimmy to vocally request for water and me pressing the buzzard.

Another Moment Missed

This morning we decided to give Jimmy a break from the park. I called his vet at 10am to make an appointment, unfortunately, the vet is still on vacation so our appointment has been scheduled for tomorrow at 1:30pm.

I decided to take the moment to do some free shaping. This time we set up two stools in front of his favorite chair. Our goal is to have him use the stools to step onto his chair to prevent him from jumping onto his chair. It took him 11 minutes to complete the goal and we both enjoyed it. In general, Jimmy is a calm guy not going to the park for one day won’t turn him into a wild doggie, but it’s always nice to be able to provide him with indoor activities to pass the time. You can watch the whole process here.

We managed to remain calm throughout the day and I took him outside for a short walk around 2pm. I was very relieved that he did not fight me to stay outside but happily obliged to go home. His limping seemed to have improved so that was a good sign that it was probably just a sprain from playing with Sandra. Anyhow, we will still go to the vet to check on other things and probably get updated vaccines, etc. We haven’t seen his vet for almost two years. Our vet has moved to a new location, hopefully, there won’t be too many encounters tomorrow and our visit remains as peaceful as possible.

On another note, this evening while I was preparing dinner Jimmy requested water but still vocally. My hands were busy with prepping and I didn’t get to go to his board in time.  I also wanted to film Jimmy vocally requesting for water, but I couldn’t either yet another moment missed. My partner was there but after he repeated the word, “water,” he pointed at the buzzard which was not part of the process. Jimmy went over to press the buzzard and we poured water for him. After he drank Jimmy stood in front of us for a little bit and went to his word board to touch the buzzard on his own and walked to his water bowl. At that instance, I let out an excited scream which also excited Jimmy and he returned to his bowl but did not drink. I’m not sure if my excitement thwarted his plans or it was just a fluke, but I’m excited to see where this will lead us.

First Day of 2020

We went to the park this morning per our usual routine. Last night’s NYE get together with Sandra was lovely, Jimmy and Sandra played a lot but there was a moment when Jimmy got up from rest with a limp. So now we have to worry about a limp that coincidentally also occurred last year. Hopefully, this is only muscle soreness from rough play and will go away.

The park was quiet Jimmy doing his sniffing (video of Jimmy doing nothing but sniffing) which at a point he spent roughly 4 minutes at the same spot sniffing something very interesting whilst I carry on a conversation with myself about sniffing. I don’t think the folks that have altered their dogs understand the difference in sniffing of an unaltered dog, particularly, males.

It got me thinking about how we get our information — we get it via language. We read or listen to the news, we talk to our partners, friends, co-workers, teachers, etc. to gain information. I mean, of course, we also get it with body gestures, and maybe subconsciously via smells too. But mainly through some kind of verbal or written or sign language. Dogs, on the other hand, get their information mainly from smelling the world. So while we develop our oral/written communication since whenever it was that man started using language the dogs have been doing the same via their nose. I felt as if we think somehow verbal speech or written language is superior but to get information simply from a whiff of something is pretty darn advanced if you ask me. The only caveat is we’d have to get down and sniff, might be something of an inconvenience, LOL.

This self-conversation got me thinking of a research I read about the heritability of smell in rats. The parental rat (father) was trained to fear a cherry-blossom smell called acetophenone. These rats then had pups and it turned out that his pups inherited the same fear towards the smell of acetophenone. Mind you the pups were not raised by dad so there was no way that they were taught by dad to fear the smell. So does it work similarly in dogs? Have the dogs been inheriting information of a variety of smells over thousands of years? I mean that’s pretty awesome, right? Humans have to learn a language but maybe for rats, and dogs and other creatures they just inherit information.

In other news, the day before yesterday was the first time Jimmy pressed the button with his nose to indicate “water,” but I don’t think it was his understanding but rather him copying what I was doing. Jimmy went to his bowl, looked at it and barked. I asked him, “Do you want water?” I went to his board and pressed the buzzard, which he then followed me and also pressed the buzzard and I dispensed water for him. It was exciting to see our first session in action. I’m excited to see more.

Oh and if you’re here for the link to Patricia McConnell’s post about sniffing the link is here.


Wow! Another Long-Time-No-See Post

Hey! Hey!

Goof ball

Look who is back with another of these annual update post. Except this time we’re not really going to do an update post but rather a start of a project. 

Oh, what the heck.


So Jimmy is 4 years old now. He turned 4 this month. Jimmy had a healthy 2019 and we hope it continues this way to 2020. We moved to a new location a much quieter building and street and he has been so much calmer and loves his apartment so much. He literally is the happiest thing when he comes home. He’s mastered some body awareness that I thought he would never be able to do like backing up into something you can watch that video here. Also, he learned to do that prancy heelwork that you see those dogs do at obedience rally competitions. One of my proudest moments you can view that here. We continue to work on his leash reactivity and anxiety but he’s gotten so much better.

While he’s become a lot better off-leash he recently discovered unaltered females which have made it nearly impossible to let him off-leash. His drive to find the females is something I’ve never experienced before. It is SO STRONG, which has brought us back to discussing the possibility of having a chemical castration done. We are seriously considering this because of the way he is when he catches the scent. Some unaltered males are not sex-driven but I don’t believe I have one of those males haha.

We go to the same park and we’ve met new friends and have lost a few as well. We met Alexa, a two-year-old husky, and several other huskies, actually, at the park I can’t even keep up with names. We met Willie a young doodle of sorts very rambunctious but fun. We’ve also met Noodles an older hound mix, his nickname is “Pothead,” because he found some pot and ate them and had to go to the emergency vet. Luckily, he was fine just a bit stoned.

Jimmy with SandraOn the homefront, Jimmy’s relationship with Sandra continues to be stronger and stronger. She still rules, but she does so with much more communication.  Their relationship has become more and more dynamic, for example, Jimmy is now confident to yell at her when he feels she is being too much. Or if the humans are in the kitchen Jimmy will run and climb onto the bench where I’m sitting to be with me in order to take a break from Sandra’s wild playing methods. They rough house all the time and we hardly have to separate them because we trust them completely. Even when they do get upset at one another we know that it will sound crazy but it won’t be anything physical. We just love their relationship so much and hope that 2020 will bring much more happiness to both of them.

We lost Sophie and Reggie. Sophie’s passing was expected as she was getting old but I think she was ready for her next journey. Reggie passed last month and his passing was very unexpected and was shocking and heartbreaking. We’re all still healing and we think of him all the time. As a pet parent, we do our best to keep our pups healthy, strong, happy and safe but sometimes the universe has other plans and when we least expect it we have to learn how to say goodbye.


So, last month we saw a video of a dog named Stella who belongs to a speech-language pathologist, Christina Hunger. You can go to their page here. She and her dog received a lot of buzz because she was able to give Stella the power of words. Stella can communicate using a word board that her human created for her. It was amazing and I couldn’t stop watching their videos. So … if you’re thinking we’re going to be doing the same thing then you are absolutely correct!

We bought the Recordable Answer Buzzards  and have decided that our first three words will be, “water,” “play,” and “help.” Today was the first day that I set up the buzzard but we’ve been getting Jimmy used to the word “water” beforehand already. I know a lot of people ask whether the dog really understands the word or they have been trained to understand the word. Now if you read Christina’s posts you’ll see that it’s really learning and processing and understanding rather than a trick for a treat. Since, first of all, the process does not involve any rewards. Stella isn’t being rewarded for pressing a button but rather she is learning that a certain word means she gets what she is requesting.

For example, we’re going to start Jimmy off with the word, “water.” He usually asks for water when we come back from the park. He’ll go over to his bowl, look at the bowl, and bark at the bowl. So we’ve been using the situation to ask him, “Do you want water?”

Jimmy’s word-board

After saying the word, “water,” we pour water into his bowl. Now we’re going to add the buzzard. The next time Jimmy requests for water, I’ll just press the buzzard and deliver his water. Hopefully, with many repetitions to the same situation, he’ll learn to understand that pressing the word, “water,” will get him water. We also had to get him used to the buzzard which was really easy. Jimmy knows to tap on things and also use his nose to press things so it was easy-peasy to get him to tap on the buzzard or use his nose to press the buzzard. We’re still deciding whether to leave his word-board on the floor or mount it on the wall at his level. What would you do?

It might take him a little it might take him forever, but I’m excited to see where this will lead us. So please check back to our page to see Jimmy’s developments with his word board.



Long Time No See!

Wow, it’s been a year since my last entry! I hope everyone is doing well in their respective corner of the globe.

We’ve been doing well, lots of things have changed and lots of things have remained the same, but to recap, we’ll focus on health, behavior, friendship and new endeavors.


Jimmy went through three major health concerns: (1) elbow of his left foreleg, (2) digestive issues, and (3) minor stroke (YIKES).


Elbow: Jimmy started with a limp, especially when he would get up from rest. I remember it was on his Gotcha Day in February we were at the park and he ran through some construction netting, got his legs tangled and slammed his face and shoulders to the ground. His chin was bleeding and for a few seconds, he was pretty stunned. Anyhow, after this incident his limp became more and more visible. Instead of limping once in a while it became a few more days in a week until it became every day. We shortened his walks and rested. We took him to the vet but our vet could not pinpoint any obvious injury. He did not show any signs of pain during the check-up and walked normally. Then in March while playing with his friend, Sandra, he gave out a loud and painful cry. Eventually, he would give out a third cry that landed him at Blue Pearl Animal Hospital for an x-ray. The x-ray did not reveal too much and so we were sent home with Rimadyl and more rest. His body responded well to Rimadyl and rest, and for a while, it seemed like he was back to normal, but alas the limp came back and it was back to the hospital this time to see a specialist at VERG. Once again the specialist could not give us any diagnosis and he suggested two things: (1) strict rest and Rimadyl or (2) make him use his legs until he came to the office in obvious pain and limping! We opted for strict rest and Rimadyl <– more on this later. That was in May and by July he was all better. We still don’t really quite know what was wrong. It could be a number of reasons, it could be that we made him walk too much during his puppy period (long walks, running, jogging and long extended plays at the park was probably not the best idea for a young developing puppy, read here). It could also have been him tripping over the construction netting, and it could also be his play with Sandra but we can’t really pinpoint since his limping started before all of those events.

Digestive Issues: Okay so before all the limping Jimmy went to the park regularly, ran off leash regularly and got his nose in a lot of trash (including wax paper, various food, and POOP –> dog poop, cat poop, even human poop) regularly as well! Unfortunately, he started to develop a few things: vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. At first, it was here and there and then it became a regular thing. Let me tell you, his diarrhea was not the regular type of diarrhea, it was the mucus-vomit-sometimes-bloody kind of diarrhea and often times it would shoot out like the exorcist girl did with her vomit (sorry for the description!). His urine sample came back with some concerns, the vet said the number of white blood cells was high so his body was fighting an infection (I was suspecting he was developing something like IBD.) Now, some of you might go straight back to the vet and probably be put on antibiotics, etc. And that’s absolutely fine! I’m not suggesting anyone do what I did. What did I do? Because all of this also coincided with his limping his access to the park off leash was cut off, which meant less trash eating, which meant giving his digestive system a break from all the garbage. We also started him on CBD oil and colloidal silver and I have to say it has done an amazing job (I also use colloidal silver as a toner and it has been magical)! He’s no longer nauseous, his stomach does not gurgle, no more scary diarrhea. He still manages to eat garbage but his system is so much stronger than before.

Minor Stroke: So his limp went away (but he’s still on Rimadyl), his stomach issues subsided, he’s back to the park, we’ve moved to a new apartment and we bought two new Polypropylene rugs. Things were looking good, then mid-July a few days after getting adjusted to our rug we noticed something odd. He wasn’t catching treats anymore, and he was turning to his right more and more like as if he were doing a spin trick. Then a major scare he wasn’t seeing from his left side. We took him to our vet to get his vision tested, everything clear. We took him to the ophthalmologist at VERG and his eyes were healthy but the specialist feared the issue was neurological and we had better schedule an appointment with a neurologist. We were so scared! So four day straight of vet visits. We met with Dr. Crook a neurologist at Blue Pearl in Manhattan. The possible diagnosis was scary: (1) brain tumor, (2) meningitis, or (3) stroke. Luckily, it was just a minor stroke. The specialist said he should recover in 7 to 8 weeks time. It was such an alarming moment for us because he’s so young. He’s since recovered, he can now catch his treats and his left side vision and use of his left hindlegs seem to be back to normal.


Jimmy continues to be anxious and fearful. His major problem is with Sudden Environmental Contrast or Sudden Environmental Change (SEC). He continues to do a “woof woof” or a “whooo whooo” if he sees people or inanimate objects presenting themselves in a strange manner a.k.a jaywalking, wearing frumpy clothing, walking in an unusual manner, weird looking objects, etc but these situations are sudden, hence, SEC. For example, over the summer we had a chance to take Sandra and Jimmy to the beach and while we were walking along the water we chanced upon a dead horseshoe crab. Jimmy was so alert and suspicious of the creature, barking and going back and forth, creating a dramatic scene while Sandra was confused as to what the commotion was about. She walked and stepped on the horseshoe crab as if it didn’t even exist!

Jimmy continues to be defensive with other unneutered males especially with young unneutered males and since we live in a neuter/spay culture it’s rare to find one around so when one does pop up (SEC) he is unable to cope so his leash reactivity can be explosive. However, if we are able to slow down and allow him to sniff and take in information he is able to walk past one calmly so long as the other male isn’t intensely eyeballing him the entire way or is also experiencing his own reactivity.

I find it most stressful for him if we take a new avenue or street. He goes over his threshold immediately and starts to become hyper-vigilant of his environment. For example, this morning on our walk the second we ventured onto a new path his discomfort becomes immediately visible, ears back, eyes wide, looking behind him at every sound. I try to keep the pace as slow as possible so that he is able to take in as much as possible, then a block away from a familiar street you could see he begins to ease up and as soon as we step foot on the familiar street it is as if the veil of uncertainty had lifted he became immediately comfortable; body loose, tail wagging and wiggly, and walking happily forward.

However, despite all his setbacks with his anxiety when he is at the park during off-leash hours and when he is able to get over the initial hump of uncertainty he is able to make new dog friends (so long as it’s not an unneutered male, not yet at least), and he plays and communicates very well with them and it’s so lovely too when he does.

Friendship: I love seeing Jimmy make friends and run around. We’ve had a few scuffles here and there but what is life without a few disagreements. He’s made some new and has lost a few old ones. This year we lost Nella and Brutus to unexpected health issues. However, new friends that came into our life are Luna, Norman, Leila, Daisy, and Lucy. He continues to be best friends with Sandra they frequently visit us at home and will look forward to her sleeping over tomorrow for 12 days while her mama is away. It’s going to be a riot!



The interactions between these two have taught me so many things about the way dogs communicate during play. Sandra is definitely very rambunctious but they understand each other well, otherwise, they wouldn’t be friends, right? I mean they started with a muzzle, then no muzzle but with a lot of management, and now a lot more freedom to make choices of their own during their play sessions. There are still moments where we have to manage a little more, for example, playing at the beach is a little more arousing than playing in the house. The most important thing I’ve learned though is to trust their ability to communicate with each other. We’ve learned to see that roughhousing and a lot of growling and bitey-faces does not necessarily mean that their relationship is falling apart. Regardless, they are still young and I can’t wait to see them both grow up together.


New Endeavors: We continue to work with Jimmy. He’s learned so many tricks and has been working hard with his anxiety and fear. For the coming new year, we look forward to introducing Grisha Stewart’s B.A.T 2.0 into our training routine. I have the very basic and foundation down, but it has been a major challenge to set up a real B.A.T setup, however, I would really like to push myself to do this with Jimmy. Has anyone out there found a training center that has been amazing at using B.A.T.? Won’t you share with us?

Another exciting endeavor is our vegan dog treat company. That’s right! We’ve teamed up with Sandra’s mom and we’ve launched our very own training treats. Our brand is Stone Pups Inc, thus far, we have two flavors on the market, Carob Things and Herbalicious Things. Carob Things is our dessert line and Herbalicious Things is our savory line. So before you wag your finger at us for pushing our own beliefs onto our dogs, Sandra and Jimmy are both raw-fed dogs so we are in no way advocating that owners should have their dogs be on the vegan diet, however, we do want to advocate for reducing the use of animal products in the treat-making industry.


It has been an exciting adventure, we are still in the developmental stage so lots of things going on. As of right now, we are only available for purchase in New York but would hope to raise enough money to open our online store. If you would like to be part of our growth and development please consider going to our Kickstarter page to support our adventure so that we can make available delicious training treats to your pups! So far our biggest challenge would be promoting ourselves. We’ve donated to two events recently, both events were fundraising type of events to benefit dog shelters in Brooklyn. The other promotional efforts have been sending stores our samples, but with so many different brands already out there we will have to work extra hard to make ourselves known. I feel like this business venture would require another blog of its own! It has been quite a challenge and something to definitely look forward to as 2018 comes to an end.

I hope you all out there are doing well! Send us a comment or two and share some of your stories with us. Until next time, happy tails!


Who Called My Name?

Jimmy turned 22 months almost a month ago. Where did the time go? He started out as a scrawny little fella and transformed into a 65 lb manly dog–but typical of me to say, he’ll always be a puppy to me! We’ve been through a lot and we will continue to grow together and maybe there are days where I wish our training would stop but there are more days where I am grateful that we are constantly learning and pushing ourselves to experiencing new things.  8AC7C3CF-C3AC-42E8-9722-DEA460F46DC2

One of our most interesting learning experiences has been recall training. It is not as simple as calling your dog’s name; for us it has involved so many layers of bonding and relationship building with Jimmy. While he was a puppy between 5-8 months we did very little recall training. Between 8-15 months we did more long-line work and really started to go full force with recall training from 15 months onward and believe it or not continues to this day. I’m not sure when it will ever end but I can tell you that it’s very important to practice, practice, practice!!!

For some lucky dog owners recall training just comes natural to their dog. We know one such lucky pair and I hate them … said with A LOT of LOVE hahahha. Really! The handler said he did it three times with his dog and that was it no treats needed!!!! Zippo, nada!! Grrrrr…… 🙄

For other NORMAL people [rolls eyes] I’m sure many of you going through recall training are fully aware of how difficult and frustrating it can be when your pup has selective hearing. For us recall training is CRUCIAL but to be honest ALL dogs should come when called PERIOD!!

Our journey started with the regular long-line work we would take him to the baseball field after hours and practiced for at least an hour with breaks of course. Our sessions were simple, let him explore and then call him. His name was sacred and we tried to always set him up for success. When we got our first trainer for private lessons, our trainer labeled us as “boring” because our voices were monotone and compared to his environment not as rewarding to come to 😂 It was true, we were very stoic and not very dynamic. So she said we should call his name in a high pitched and exciting manner with added dramatic body gesture as well as some “woo-hoos!” So if you identify as being boring, like us, please be sure to take a few notes. There were also a few other things that were added to the recalling exercises including:

  1. Restraining: papa would hold on to Jimmy while I called for him excitedly. Jimmy would be very excited and would try to break free from his papa. Then papa would release him and he would zoom to me for lots of praises and high-value treats.
  2. Hidden toy: I would hide a squeaky toy in my coat and call for him and once he comes to me I would whip out the toy and we would have a tug session.
  3. Hide-n-seek: I would hide behind something (i.e. tree, rock, bushes, etc.) call for him and he would try to run to find me.

As we practiced this in low distraction areas (an empty field), we also brought him to high distraction areas, like around his dog friends. Everyday was recall practice but it also didn’t mean that we were outside with the long line calling his name all the time. We did other things too that I think helped us a lot with recall. Here are a few activities that we did and that we continue to do with him:

  1. Offering us eyes without our request: when he turns around to look at us we treat him. I know this is more for focus, but treating him for looking in our direction or even walking in our direction without being called is tremendously helpful! I didn’t want him to feel that coming to me meant the end of fun.
  2. Tug-o-war: I saw this great video on teaching a dog how to play tug-o-war. I bought a tug toy like this one French Linen Dog Tug Toy and watched this video Tug Playing Tips One of the coolest ways to play with your dog and a great way to teach a retrieve without all the commands.IMG_4248.JPG
  3. Ditched the food bowl: As a great way to build our relationship, we stopped bowl feeding instead he earns his meals everyday. We use his feeding time as training time and I literally become the dispenser of the ultimate high-value treat (his raw food). If you are wondering what about the mess. It is not really messy; I mean I won’t be able to touch many things around us with my raw fingers 😛 but his food is semi-frozen and I cut them into bite-size morsels to keep them neat and simple during our training sessions.
  4. Into the woods: So at our park we have this wooded area with a small trail probably takes 10 minutes from finish to end. We started taking this trail first with our biothane tracking long-line (so snagging is at a minimal). We walked through the trail and practiced recall. When he would zoom in front of me or stay way behind me to sniff something I would call him. Because of all the trees and thick bushes I was really hidden most of the time which meant it was like a game of hide-n-seek each time I called him, which meant constantly reinforcing his recall with me each time we took the trail. I also used the woods time to play “find it games” with him. It involved a lot of other things too like learning to stay, learning to retrieve, and learning to remain calm. You can watch a 7-minute glimpse of our into the woods moments here. The video doesn’t show us doing any games, but just strolling through the woods. However, you can see how he checks in with me and really just hangs out with me and coming when called looks really easy too. He also graduated from the long-line so you can see that he is totally off leash.
  5. An emergency word: His emergency word is PIZZA. He LOVES pizza! We started in our apartment (low distraction) by giving him little bits of pizza, then we said the word pizza and gave him a piece. Then we walked away to another room and called out pizza. It was really easy because he just goes nuts for pizza. It took us literally a few minutes for him to get that when he heard PIZZA he would be getting some. Watch his emergency word in action here. You can see him bolting off across the field to an on-leash dog but zooms back to me when I use the magic word. Try it!

It has been 11 months of this and I can attest that it REALLY is paying off!!! While it’s not 100% and we continue to strive for that 100% I can say it’s way better than 70%. But most importantly, I also noticed a few things that I just adore about our relationship. He comes to me on his own now while off leash. He looks for me, he checks in with me, and during play he would stop and come running to me–all without being called!!! You can watch those moments of him here and here. If you’re just starting out with recall and feel like it’s never going to happen, don’t lose heart keep at it and I promise you it is WORTH every moment!! Build that relationship with your dog and you’ll see how much it can really make both your lives a happier one and don’t let anyone get you down.

Believe us when we say, we also had our moments of ignorance. When Jimmy was young and had the happy-go-lucky attitude we felt recall was the least of our worries. Afterall, he was a happy puppy how can anyone resist him barreling towards them. I will always have the memory of him giving himself a mud bath and running here and there while we were in the background calling him and he could careless about us. Or that awful time he bolted down hill following his friends in pursuit of a squirrel, except he was side tracked and was not at all interested in the squirrel. Instead he was interested in the little Chihuahua down hill. When this Chihuahua mom saw this white pitbull dog running at full speed down the hill her natural reaction was to pick up her little dog, which of course was a natural reaction for Jimmy to jump up at them which of course caused a lot of screaming and yelling which of course was terrible for all parties!! Luckily, a few people nearby recognized Jimmy and was able to grab his leash and keep him calm while we came running down after him apologizing.

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It could have been worse but because of how scary it could have been that moment was a HUGE wake up call for us to get his recall straight!!! People can really misinterpret a large breed’s intentions particularly one with an already terrible public reputation. Unfortunately, life isn’t fair and we must do all we can to protect him and advocate for him.

Regardless, whether your dog is a cute poodle or a cute little chihuahua or even if you’re just planning to get a dog I beg of you please READ READ READ all you can about dog behavior, about what it means to be a dog owner before you get that puppy!!! And if you already have a puppy please READ READ READ about your next steps to make your puppy a happy and balanced one!!! I hope this post has really helped you get motivated to recall training. Leave a comment and share your experiences with us! Happy training and good luck!!

Name Calling

Jimmy in the woods

A few days ago I read an article by Karen London, PhD, “Dog Behavior: Beware of Simple Names for Complex Problems,” and the article really resonated with the experiences that we go through with Jimmy and I’m sure to other dog handlers with interesting quirks. We want to guide our dog to be their best selves, but sometimes things get complicated. I really appreciated the article for pointing out that we are too quick to “put a name on a problem.” Labeling a behavior might be an “intuitively obvious approach,” but it can have us “focusing our attention on pathology and turning the dog into an example of a specific behavior problem rather than what he or she actually is: a complex individual and a unique case.”

The stars must have been aligned because I came upon this article not too far from a recent event. Just a few days ago, I stumbled upon an Instagram account, nothing special, I scrolled through the photos and one photo caught my attention because I recognized the vet’s office. I clicked the photo and the dog in the photo was being treated for a bite wound caused by another dog. It turned out that I knew the story it involved dogs I’m familiar with. I did not agree with the description of the dog that delivered the bite wound so I gave my two cents: (1) The dog was NOT a pit mix but a Catahoula mix and (2) the dog was NOT big but tiny in frame, but unfortunately, the dog DID have a set of issues.

I wrote a set of issues because calling a dog aggressive can spiral to uncontrollable name calling and labeling of dog behavior that we simply do not understand. I’m definitely not an expert and there are a host of things that I wish I could understand particularly since Jimmy came into the picture. Jimmy has been called aggressive before. The scenario may sound familiar to some readers and if you’re not familiar it goes something like this:

Do you know so-and-so? She’s really nice?! Well her dog was attacked by a white pit bull puppy.

Meanwhile, I was like, wait a minute that’s my dog! And no he didn’t attack any dog! In fact, he was being bullied and stood up for himself, but his actions were interpreted as being aggressive. Why does this happen? Maybe because he’s a pit bull type dog and their behaviors tend to be exaggerated by other people. Whatever it may be we are all guilty of it even when we mean well. It happens!

Don't Look
I’m not scary, but scared.

What issues does Jimmy have? Maybe you are wondering. He has some reactivity issues, luckily, his case is not severe, but when he does have an outburst I do get asked, “Does your dog have dog aggression?” A very legitimate question for sure, very logical, but at the same time missing a lot of backstories. Is it because he is un-neutered? Is it because he’s a pit bull type dog? Is it because he is a “dominant” dog? Is it because I did not socialize him? Is it because he went through some kind of traumatic event (a broom did fall on him when he was either 9 or 10 weeks of age)…I don’t know, it’s not that simple. But read these two articles about aggression and dominance, maybe we are getting better at understanding what is “aggressive” and “dominant” behavior in dogs? There is a lot to think about before we can simply label a dog to be anything.

I remember it must have been around January of 2017 when Jimmy was 13 months old. We were walking Jimmy at night. We passed an Akita name Cody (un-neutered) Cody was pulling towards us a bit. Jimmy was tense but under threshold, then the next block a standard Schnauzer also male and un-neutered the same scenario, but still under threshold. We crossed to get to our block, a friend was coming out from her apartment and she approached us to say hello. As we were talking to her a neighbor of ours who also has an un-neutered pitbull male named Brutus approached us. They have met before but was never fully introduced at that moment it was Jimmy’s last straw he lashed out, lunging, snarling, growling, showing teeth, and redirected his frustration at his papa. The other handler and our friend didn’t understand what was happening because up until then, Jimmy has always been so friendly and there he was clearly going berserk.

What happened? At that moment, we could only come up with one conclusion; Jimmy was on his way to becoming an aggressive dog. But what we never thought about was that he was really going into his adolescent phase of life, the awkward phase where hormones raged and the world was scarier. In fact, it was scarier! We were exposing him to dogs that growled, snapped and lunged–was that a clever idea? Could you blame Jimmy for feeling anxious and nervous in a new setting? He is now 21 months and while he continues to be a nervous dog I am helping him make good decisions by teaching him how to cope when he is stressed (a.k.a sniff around). It has been working for us we can walk pass many dogs whether friendly or unfriendly without episodes so long as I am able to set him up for success. But we couldn’t have done it without a lot of reading, but here are a few of the readings that I have found really helpful:

  1. Fight! A Practical Guide to the Treatment of Dog dog Aggression
  2. Behavior Adjustment Training 2.0: New Practical techniques For Fear, Frustration, and Aggression
  3. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know
  4. Decoding Your Dog

There are still moments where he does go over threshold and react, but those days are slowly dwindling–I hope. We still have a long way to go, I know it takes time, but I know we are moving slower because I need to step out of my comfort zone and expose him to new things in a safe way. I just need to get over the fear of public judgment! Hah! Maybe if he didn’t look like a pit bull I would be more comfortable, but alas, I can’t hide behind these excuses forever. However, I’m proud of our progress, thus far, for a 21-month old he is rather mature sure there are moments of immaturity but he is still young 😊!

Anyhow, the article really helped put things in perspective as a handler I should first consider his personality/temperament, his history, his training, his overall physical well-being along with my own projected energy as factors that may or may not have contributed to his current way of responding to the environment around him. I will not be bullied into feeling ashamed when he feels nervous and needs to express his feelings. I will remind myself that I am his advocate, I have to help guide him so that he feels safe. I will not let the comments or stares of others deter my goals to help him become a confident dog! Like Karen London wrote,

” If people understand that dogs are barking, growling or biting because they are desperate to increase the distance between themselves and whatever scares them—other dogs, people, trash cans, bicycles—and will only stop if we can help them overcome their fears, there are less judgment and more hope. Focusing on the behavior itself— what the dog does—and discussing the motivation behind it avoids problems that can arise with simply labeling the behavior.”

I think what is also important is that handlers should consider building a better sense of community. We can’t all be trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, experts, etc…but we can be understanding, patient, respectful and kind.

The Duke of Bay Ridge on the prowl
Here I come!