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Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backwards: Even Trainers Have Problems Sometimes!

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backwards:  Even Trainers Have Problems Sometimes!

My blog posts updates have been far less than timely and for that, I profusely apologize. Life and clients intervene and exhaustion takes over but I will do my best to write more frequently for this platform. My last post was about Kenzo’s second ACL tear and how I would keep Mela, our newest addition sane during his recovery.

I am not sure that I succeeded as well as I could have I could. I cite work and life again, but it is my responsibility as a dog parent to keep my crew members sufficiently engaged. If engagement is less than stellar, I must take the blame for that. And indeed I will.

Let me elaborate. Several months ago, Mela started experiencing what I call frustration intolerance. How that manifested in her was in moments of extreme over-stimulation, she started to redirect on Kenzo by biting him in the cheek. Now that sounds worse than it is because for one, he weighs 175# to her 46# and for two, he has more fur on every part of him than most creatures alive. He just turned his head most of the time. All she got was a few snippets of fur in her mouth if that.

Side by side comparison

Kenzo and Mela enjoying the trail together

Of course, I interrupted this behavior. And in any situation that I could do so, I rearranged how I handled it to prevent this from happening at all. For example, when I allowed her and Trent to jump into the car first for a trip to the park, she was obnoxious to Kenzo when he entered after her. So now he goes to the car first and all is well. But on walks, when a critter was sighted or scented, it was less predictable at how stimulated she would be at any given sighting/scenting. The same could be said for mutual barking at the door when the mailman was doing his job.

Of course I know what I would advise my clients to do so I went to work. But it took far longer for me to work on this than I would have liked if I had been a client of mine. The cobbler’s kids and all. But also like I sometimes hear from clients, Mela is surprisingly unmotivated by food. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I say it too. All dogs eat. Yes, they do but I have never seen a dog less interested in seriously high value food when they have a history of life on the streets of a rough part of town for a minimum of three weeks. You’d think she would think what I was offering her was the equivalent of a doggy smorgasbord. Not so much though. I hate to say it but Miss Mela is quite the diva.

Normally, I would create interest in food as a reward by charging the clicker to make that a valuable sound. Kenzo and Trent love the clicker. Yet the first time I tried it, Mela fled from the room and remained spooked for the balance of the evening. In fact, it took me nearly a month to get her to even take a treat in the kitchen again. I had to start practicing fun cues in the living room instead of the kitchen, in order to be able to cue a hand targeting behavior. She is again comfortable in the kitchen but it was a long road to get back there so I won’t be trying the clicker again just yet. And yes, I have tried all of the quieter clicker options such as a muffled I-click and a ball point pen. She is noise startled for what should be benign noises and fine with loud noises such as thunderstorms. Go figure!

I had hoped that when Kenzo was fully healed from his second TPLO surgery and the ensuing infection that followed in the other knee and a few other sensitive to bacteria body parts, that he would be interested in engaging in play again. But the over-stimulation assaults that Mela subjected him to, although not frequent, were enough to make him uninterested in returning to play with HER. A catch 22, when one is aware that one will make the other go away. But no amount of force can create a playful mood. Quite the contrary actually.

So I scheduled an appointment with my veterinarian to discuss behavior medication. We decided to put Mela on ten milligrams of fluoxetine. I saw enough of a change within the first day that I was hopeful that this would allow her to be at the right stimulation level so that I could work with her more successfully. That hope was dashed when she stopped eating everything four days into the meds. When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. The only things she consented to put into her body for five long days were a doggy ice cream cup and a dehydrated trachea. She skipped all but part of one meal. She turned down chunks of cooked chicken and her favorite treat of dehydrated liver. At only 46#, she could not afford to practice that kind of anorexia.

So I took her off the meds and asked my vet to switch the capsules to tablets so that I could try her at a dose of five milligrams instead. I am happy to say that she has been on that dose now for about three weeks and her appetite is good. Her stimulation level can be a bit more than I would like at times, but after being on the meds again for about two days, she was more consistently walking away from Kenzo when they were both sniffing something intense. Kenzo is now showing signs of interest in play.

Every evening after dinner, which is when they used to play, we go into the living room and the crew gets their after dinner goodies. That might be anything from doggy ice cream to a bully stick, beef tendon, trachea or dehydrated chicken foot! Kenzo then lays there for about ten minutes after he is sure that everyone is done and there won’t be any leftovers for him. Then he exits to lay in the short hallway that separates the living room from the kitchen. This past week, he has been coming back in after a short time laying in the hallway and looking engagingly at Mela.

She pawed him gently once, trying to ask for play. That gesture is far removed from her usual M.O., which is snarling (her version of play) and biting at him somewhere on his body. He did not return the gesture but did play with a toy briefly before leaving the room again. The next day or so, when he returned to the room and looked at her, she grabbed a toy and brought it to him, offering it to his face, with no snarking thankfully. He nudged it and then exited the room. Neither of those instances offended her. It’s obvious when she is offended, thankfully!

But we had a slight setback the other day. Mela, being the diva that she is, rarely consents to urinate in the yard. But this time, she did and Kenzo was crowding right behind her and being rude so that he could pee over her spot when she was done. I told him to move away but by the time I stood up from my spot on the porch, she was done and scooted away towards the steps. Then she turned around on a dime and headed straight back at him and laid into him forcefully! I had to scurry down barefoot and pull her off of him. Thankfully, Kenzo just turned his head. He went up the steps and stood by the door and grinned, appearing to realize that he had it coming for being intrusive! There were no play gestures that night but interactions since then have been great.

In conclusion, for now, I believe that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I will continue to try and recapture the bond that these two had so that they can have a better relationship with one another again. And I will continue to help Mela make better choices when she is over-stimulated about something, as well as to reintroduce some sort of marker sound aside from a verbal one, so that her brain can be more easily reached in times of higher excitement.

Fell free to share your own story in the spaces below.

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The Best Laid Plans: When Life Doesn’t Go According To Plans

The Best Laid Plans: When Life Doesn’t Go According To Plans

Regular readers know that Mela the Chow was added to my household in late November. We had been on the lookout for a female addition once I felt comfortable adding to my household, after losing my sweet Siri. It seemed an act of the universe to find Mela in the manner that I did. Surely that meant that all would progress smoothly?

Not really. The world is not a vacuum and although some scenarios seem artfully arranged by the universe, that is not an excuse to believe that said scenarios will be problem free. Such was the case with adding a high energy dog that was to be the playmate for Kenzo, who was desperately missing his playtime.

Kenzo is slowly recovering from his ACL surgery.

Kenzo is slowly recovering from his ACL surgery.

As the fates would have it, just one month into Kenzo feeling enough kinship with Mela to engage in regular evening play, he tore his right ACL. The scream was telling, during the second yard play session of the first snowfall in my area. My heart stopped as Kenzo ran towards the stairs leading to the house from the yard and I hoped against hope that it was just a sprain. But I recognized the particular limp and the look on his face. I immediately called my vet for a referral to the specialty hospital in my town, so that I could secure an appointment with the surgeon who performed the previous ACL tear.

All I could think about, aside from the pain that he was enduring, was how on earth was I going to maintain their relationship during this tribulation? And how on earth was I going to keep Mela mentally stimulated enough without Kenzo’s assistance? This has proven challenging at best.

Mela could not immediately grasp why her new friend would not engage in play with her, when he had been doing so, with an eagerness, every night for the past month. It was a case of a young child not understanding what the older child was trying to say. I had to run interference several times a day, to prevent Kenzo from getting frustrated enough with her to lash out and to prevent her from injuring him further.

With little success, I tried to orchestrate the act of playing while lying down, which Kenzo was game for but Mela did not understand. They could have continued to play tug quite happily with Kenzo in a prone position. He did try to engage with her in that way and I tried to support that engagement. But Mela quickly went back to what Mela likes best, which is rough and tumble physical play. That was out of the question for Kenzo for quite some time.

It was a rough initial month after the injury, while waiting on the surgery date. With passing time, Mela understood that Kenzo was no longer interested in play but what was confusing to her was that it was evident that the spirit was willing but the body was unable, at least for now. On one day, with the pain dulled by pain killers, Kenzo did offer her a return play dance but I had to quickly intervene before things were made worse.

Fast forward to the surgery that has finally happened and things are moving along well. She now fully understands that he was somehow broken and now has been fixed but is still on the mend. She seems to know that play will again be in their future and for that, I am grateful. She is starting to try and engage him before he is cleared for play. That won’t happen for another month at least, but she at least finally seems to understand that the problem isn’t mental but physical.

As for what I have done to try and entertain her while he has been laid up, there are a number of things, none of which have been fully good enough, I fear. She and Trent have vastly different play styles and although he has shown some brief play while on leash during their now joint walks, that hasn’t transpired for more than a few seconds.

As for walks, until recently in Kenzo’s progress, the walks just consisted of just Mela and Trent. Crittering is Mela’s very favorite thing on this planet so crittering is what happens on most walks. What that entails is them deciding on where we walk, leading the way. They both get far more smells under their respective belts now. My goal is mental weariness from these walks so they are lengthier now and they were lengthy before! They all are getting quite a bit of mental stimulation in the way of puzzle toys in the house.

Mela has a favorite game in the yard that involves crittering as well. She stalks whatever critter that lives under my pool deck and follows it’s scent all over, ending up waiting by the lattice under the deck for him or her to make a move that has yet to happen. And of course, we play with toys in a seemingly endless manner, because Mela could play for hours.

Now that Kenzo is in the rehab portion of his recovery, he has started joining us on walks. But rather that enhance those walks. It shortens the conjoined ones. So I walk them all together for the equivalent of two city blocks. Then weather permitting, Kenzo goes back into the car and I walk Mela and Trent on another much longer walk. This seems to help Mela to relax far more than anything else does.

As for me, the extra walking is hopefully assisting with my spring weight loss goal. I count down the days until Kenzo gets cleared for not only longer walks, but actual playtime. I expect that both he and Mela feel the same. I look forward to the day that I can smile watching them reconnect with play.

Please feel free to tell me your own recovery stories with your own multiple dog crew below. I need ideas!

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Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

Pack Them Up: Leaving Old Fashioned Dog World Words Behind

There are a few words in the world of dogs that will incite an eye roll in many a modern dog behavior professional. Pack is among them, as is dominant, alpha, command and in many cases, obedience. Faces twist, sighs are emitted and words form in our heads that we struggle to keep unuttered. While it’s a frustrating feeling, taking the dog parenting public to task over these words is not helpful because they simply don’t know any better. Professionals in the world of positive rewards based training, however, should know better and as the compelling words of Maya Angelou suggest, when you know better, do better.

For the dog parenting public at large, education is key but endless. It is a subject that screams exhaustion to every trainer who has to continually bring the facts to the forefront. I am sure that I am not alone in wishing for a way that I can educate a huge amount of people at once so I don’t have to repeat myself so often I feel like a recording. I honestly don’t think I will see an end to the need to educate on this subject in my lifetime. And that makes me feel tired.

Graphic Dominant Pack Alpha Obedience Old School Command

The unfortunate fact that a self proclaimed dog trainer in the national spotlight sadly uses many of these terms makes it harder to make them go away. After all, if they are on TV, they are accurate, right? Nope. Said trainer in the national spotlight has literally no formal education in dog behavior. Furthermore, he failed a test for such in Germany when it was required for him to be able handle dogs in his show that had a tour stop in that country. A full education in dog behavior would erase those terms from the language of dog trainers when discussing the dogs they are attempting to help or even when referencing their own dogs.

I am sure that there are some people who although educated in this subject, simply stick to the words that they have always used. There cannot be any harm in that, can there? Yes, there actually can and is harm in that habit. Words decide how you feel about a subject. Words have great power. Words have strong associations that cannot be easily changed. Some words have been so poisoned with inappropriate meanings that they are better off left behind. Words that conjure a feeling that is no longer applicable, can and do give the wrong impression to those who know less on the subject, but are sponges looking to take in information. Making better and more modern choices with your words will create a kinder future for all dogs.

For example, dogs are not pack animals. That has been determined for many years now yet the number of people who still call their multiple dog household a pack is truly alarming. You are not a pack leader, you are a dog parent. You can also be the dog owner if you prefer a less relationship based term. The relationship that a dog parent/owner should aspire to is however similar to parenting. I have written at length on this subject so instead of reinventing the wheel, I give you links to previous works on that particular subject as well as a compelling study.

Parenting your dogs.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/10/executive-decisions-why-do-you-have-to-parent-your-crew/

Dogs are not pack animals
New York Times: The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From

What is a leader.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/03/leader-of-the-pack-there-are-leaders-and-then-there-are-leaders/

http://www.howmanydogs.com/2014/01/the-elephant-in-the-room-leadership-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

If you by some chance had a group of dogs trained to hunt together en masse, then you could technically refer to them as a pack when they are doing what they trained for. That is the only dictionary definition of the word pack that applies to dogs at all. Otherwise, choose a more accurate term. If you read my book, then you know that my preferred term is crew, as in crew member. We are all in this together and we all have a say. We work as a team. Family works as well. After all, that is what you consider them to be, correct?

As for the dominance debate, I have also addressed that before as well. It would again be a waste of time to rewrite the facts. You can read more on this subject here.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2013/02/dominance-redux-words-and-consequences-aagain/

The term alpha is very much in the same category as dominance. However, far more people use that term than dominance simply because it’s just so sadly ingrained in the culture of dogs. But we are well past time to toss it to the curb with the others. It’s meaningless. Again, you are not an alpha, anymore than you are a pack leader. You are a parent/owner/team leader. Chose whatever compassionate and kind term you that most resonates with you. But you are NOT an alpha. There are no alphas in the dog world. More on that subject below.
http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/Alpha-Dogs_20416-1.html

Another word that is still in use by some is the word command. I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally want a relationship with my dogs that involves commanding them to do anything. I call the term I use to signal my dogs to utilize a behavior, a cue. More on the inappropriate use of this word below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2012/11/command-performance-do-words-have-consequences/

And finally, the word that is very likely in use most frequently among even the most educated rewards based trainers is the term obedience. Unless you are actually competing in Obedience trials and are using that term to describe that activity, then toss this word aside PLEASE. Similar to the term command, obedience implies servitude. I don’t want a relationship based on servitude with anyone, especially my beloved dogs. I do, however, want my dogs to have manners so that is what I call them. Furthermore, when done correctly, you don’t have to use cues once manners are taught because you will have taught your dogs to make good choices about life’s moments. What could be easier than that? Imagine, not having to continually tell your dog what to do! More on this subject below.
http://www.howmanydogs.com/2011/09/to-cue-or-not-to-cue-manners-in-the-multiple-dog-household/

So let’s lead by example and toss antiquated terms to the curb. Choose words with their meaning based in the relationship centered world of modern dog behavior knowledge. Your dogs will thank you and you will leave a path of more knowledgeable and kinder-to-their-dogs people that you have influenced by your actions. Feel free to take the spaces below to tell me how you have moved beyond these old school terms.

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An Addition to the Crew: Meet Mela!

An Addition to the Crew: Meet Mela!

I can’t pinpoint why the picture of a beautiful cream colored dog looking worried in someone’s car caught my attention, but I am very grateful that it did. I have been searching for an addition to my crew since a few months after losing Siri. We miss her every day but the sadness in my house was palpable. No playing, little in the way of smiles and just a lot of going through the motions without much enjoyment. I had talked to a couple of people about dogs fitting the general outline of what I was looking for and even arranged to meet a couple. The meetings never came to fruition for various reasons. There had not been a spark of recognition like I felt when I saw that picture. I like to think that fate intervened. The right dog was out there waiting for me. I needed her and she needed me.

Thankfully, my search onto the local lost and found dogs Facebook groups resulted in seeing the picture of the dog that would become Mela. I read through the thread and discovered that this beautiful Chow girl had been captured in a rough part of town by a good Samaritan. A call to Animal Control resulted in undesirable answers. She had been evidently running the streets for a couple of months so AC did not think that an owner was looking and that gave her very limited time in an ACO facility. This good Samaritan put out a plea for assistance on social media and one of my good friends came to the rescue. She came to take her until she could be transported to a local shelter that would care for her properly. I saw on the thread that my friend had her at the moment. I immediately texted her and asked with baited breath, whether she was friendly with other dogs.

My new addition, Mela,  feels safe at last.

My new addition, Mela, feels safe at last.

The ride to the shelter the next morning revealed her practicing avoidance with my friend’s dogs, along for the ride in the car. This was a good sign! The next step for me was sending messages to the three people I knew who worked at that shelter. I was invited to come down and evaluate her myself. She was not showing any concerning signs at the shelter other than being very scared. We spent some time in the shelter’s play yard. She appeared to be very housetrained as well as knowing how to offer some behaviors such as sit and paw. An interesting development since she had been on her own in the world. I excitedly stopped by soon afterwards and met her. I found her far more welcoming than I expected.

I soon brought Kenzo down to meet her. That meeting went well, although not as smoothly as I had hoped. Kenzo is extremely dog friendly, but his sheer size is imposing to so many dogs. Mela was in a precarious situation, not knowing what would come next in her life. Having spent a couple of months on the streets of a not so friendly town, she had learned to be very wary. Some very appropriate mutual sniffing was exchanged. Kenzo tried to show her he was interested in playing but she was ready to correct him if he should act inappropriately. I saw her get ready to correct once and then stem that urge when she realized that she had no reason to. She was obviously very savvy at making assessments, a skill that had served her well in her time on the streets.

After the meeting with Kenzo, I made the decision to get her a few days before Thanksgiving, as a foster to adopt. I wanted to make sure that everyone could be comfortable enough together before I made a full commitment. I could not even imagine that this could go wrong but my first loyalty had to be to Kenzo and Trent.

Kenzo wasn’t very polite over the baby gate when I arrived home and let him and Trent out. Trent was his usual self which is initially rude to other dogs. Eventually that day, I had them in the yard all together as comfortably as expected. Kenzo and Mela shared some sniffing and even the water bowl. But Trent had no interest in camaraderie.

A couple of days later led to a joint walk that was very successful. I was also now able to walk out of the room without worrying what might happen if I left them all together. However, Mela followed me anyway so that was a moot point!

Kenzo spent some time wavering back and forth between jealousy at sharing me and “his” things versus delight that he had a playmate. Never mind that the playmate was still not comfortable with his size and although very interested in playing, conflicted with his Jekyll and Hyde persona. He growled at her periodically when she approached the water bowl or some toys. He soon realized that behavior was not going to be supported by me or even by himself if he ever wanted her to trust him.

Fast forward about two weeks. While I would not call them best buds yet, they are definitely more comfortable with one another now. Mela has taken to prodding Kenzo to play from a frontal position as opposed to from behind. And he gets credit for exercising a huge amount to bite inhibition while being very tolerant of her very assertive play style that includes coming away with the occasional mouthful of Kenzo fur. She is learning what constitutes a too enthusiastic playbite, thankfully.

Mela’s addition to my crew feels like fate. I look for that feeling when it’s time to add to the family. I am glad that I did not rush things and waited for the right dog to find me. Tell me in the spaces below, how you make the decision to add to your crew?

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The Wanderers: Multiple Dog Traveling

The Wanderers: Multiple Dog Traveling

I made it a point to plan the vacation I have been dreaming of for so many years to help reboot my brain. This blog post is about that trip. I am actually wrote most of this from Lubec, Maine. We loved it there.

Planning a dog friendly vacation is far easier these days that it used to be. A quick search of lodging on BringFido.com revealed a number of dog friendly rentals in the area of Maine that I wanted to visit. The first one that I emailed responded quickly and arrangements were made for the dates that I wanted. I don’t recall much in other areas of my life being that easy. This felt like it was meant to be.

Next up however, a sudden roof leak that scared me silly, thinking there goes my vacation money. But a seriously affordable estimate lifted my spirits. Vacation planning resumed. Driving nearly 1000 miles one way with two dogs is a serious matter. I wanted my car to be as safe as possible so I had some maintenance things done in advance of their need. We headed out with new brakes all around and fresh fluids. I even cleaned my vehicle thoroughly though that was a moot point when traveling that far with a hairy dog of Kenzo’s size.

Kenzo and Trent at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Park, Lubec, Maine.

Kenzo and Trent at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse Park, Lubec, Maine.

Luggage was gathered and meals for the dogs were planned. I feed raw and we were planning on visiting a very small town. I could not take the chance of running out where we were away. I thawed all of our 5# bags of their ground raw and repacked them in empty yogurt containers and refroze them. I planned to pack them all into a cooler for travel. It was the largest item that I would be taking in my vehicle. It was space well used. I ended up planning the portions perfectly.

I carefully planned placement of everything I was taking. My Nissan Murano is too small for crates for my dogs and my dogs are never crated anymore anyway. Crating in the car would have caused them additional stress. But I wanted them to be as safe as possible should the unthinkable happen. My solution was a leather leash attached to the hand straps above each back door with those leashes in turn attached to the front circle on their front clip harness. I realize that this isn’t ideal as far as safety goes but in the event that we are hit and a door comes open, they are still attached to the car rather than running in traffic. On long trips I drive super carefully and take zero chances with my dog’s lives. Getting there is more important than getting there fast.

Since it was nearly 1000 miles from my home to Lubec, Maine where we visited, I planned a stop over for sleeping at about the half way point. I was assured via Facebook that a dog friendly choice close to a major highway would be fairly easy and it was. Right where I wanted to stop and rest was a Motel 6, very dog friendly and very affordable and at that location, individual entry to each outdoor accessed room. Exactly what I wanted. A tip when you travel with dogs and choose a motel with more than one floor; specifically ask for the main floor as the stairs are not only usually metal, they are open backed. The combination of those two gave Kenzo enough pause that I actually tried to cancel our already paid for room to avoid more stress for him. But the clerk magically found a ground floor room and we gratefully took it.

A word about stressed dogs when traveling. If your dogs typically love riding in the car, it’s no guarantee that a long trip will go just as smoothly. My dogs are in the car every single day. There has never been a hint of stress from Kenzo over car rides. He normally loves them as they not only serve to take him somewhere he deems fun but they also function as a portable crate that allow him and Trent to go with me to many places that I need to run errands to, weather permitting. On a regular basis, we travel about an hour north to a state park with a lake that my dogs adore. It never entered my mind that this trip would be stressful on my boys. But stressful it was to Kenzo. With few exceptions, he spent the majority of the time in the car on the way to Maine in the spot on the floor behind my seat. I am short so that spot is wide but it would have been far more comfortable for him to simply lay down on the folded over back seats and cargo area like he usually does. I would have done anything to help him feel better.

I brought calming flower essences, calming essential oils and I talked to him and played mostly soothing music when I could. I stopped every three hours at minimum to let them stretch their legs and potty and sometimes more frequently. But I seriously considered calling my vet for a Xanax for the way back. I had hoped that eventually finding out that we were headed somewhere fun would allay his fears. The trip back did seem to stress him less but I still should have called for that Xanax.

A severe rainstorm at dusk while driving on Connecticut highways caused him (and me!) more stress and we had a heck of a time finding a place to sleep that day. I ended up at a wonderful Motel 6 after 9PM, that did not have outdoor access rooms. However, a tearful call on my part while sitting outside in my car resulted in the night desk-person offering me of a room right next to the lobby with easy outside access. There are not enough words to describe how grateful I was for that angel in disguise. We were finally able to relax and awake with renewed enthusiasm to the balance of the drive home.

I did discover that Trent is an adventurer. He clearly enjoyed all aspects of this trip. Even during the car ride, he watched the scenery with a relaxed smile most of the time. Kenzo loves the smells of any new area and was definitely happier every time we stopped on the way here. After our arrival at the cottage that I rented, he was delighted. We did twice daily jaunts around the area since every day but one when it rained all day after out morning hike. They both loved these adventures. This fact made my heart soar.

On the chance that some things that I chose to do in the name of safety while traveling with dogs can help someone else, here are they are. My dogs have a great “Wait” cue so that gets used every single time I open a door, be it the door to the cottage or the door to the car. They don’t go through doorways until I release them. It doesn’t matter in the least who goes through a doorway first. What matters is that they wait until I cue them to move forward. There are few behaviors more important to teach your dogs than this one.

The cottage that we rented had a yard that wasn’t fenced. My dogs are on leash at all times without secure fencing, aside from a couple of specific secluded locations close to home. I place my arm through the leash loop for both dogs. I would far rather face-plant in the event of a sudden tug from one of them or trip on my part, than lose my precious dogs. Especially away from home.

I already mentioned my makeshift car safety precautions, but there are better options depending on your vehicle. Mine isn’t suited to regular dog car seat belts and Kenzo’s size make that solution impractical anyway. At rest stops, I parked as far away from other cars as possible. When there were other travelers with dogs on potty breaks, I waited until they were done before taking my dogs to the dog potty area. I figured that it was a safer option in case both parties were stressed. At one glorious rest stop in Massachusetts, there was a fenced in doggy potty area. My heart be still! What a treasure to find. Keeping my dogs safe is my number one priority.

Maine’s coastal trails have some serious cliffs and we hiked those trails. I am a little weird about heights so I was even more anally careful on these hikes. I kept them closer to the landlocked portion of the trail. I also asked for a sit whenever I needed to orient myself to our location in order to avoid being unexpectedly pulled too close to a rocky cliff.

As mentioned, I made sure that I brought their usual diet with me. I also brought my own homemade treats as well as my bait-bag and all accoutrements that go with that. I kept to our usual schedule albeit with many more physically challenging outings than usual. My dogs, however, welcomed those outings. I would not have subjected them to extra physical activity if it stressed them. I also brought their usual chew items with me and they had one each night as it typical at home.

The only thing that we did a bit differently than a home was an earlier to bed and earlier to ride schedule because we did not want to miss anything during daylight. Being the eastern most portion of the United States, it gets darker earlier, even with daylight savings time still in effect at that time. Sunset was about 5:15AM every day and sunrise about 6:45AM. I wanted to experience all that we could while there.

Traveling with your crew can be very rewarding. I highly recommend it. Planning everything down to the last detail possible takes as much stress away from it as can be done. Get out there with your crew and the road! Have fun but be safe!

Feel free to take the spaces below to share any adventure stories of your own.

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The Grand Illusion: Multiple Dog Household Aggression Issues Can Be Confusing

The Grand Illusion: Multiple Dog Household Aggression Issues Can Be Confusing

I have written several blog posts on the subject of preventing multiple dog household conflict but none on resolving it. There is a reason for that. Most dog parents who are not behavior professionals are not well versed in the finer points of determining the true cause of the issues at hand. I cannot count how many times I have been told that one dog is at fault only to arrive and see a different story entirely.

Of course, rarely is one personality in the household solely at fault for conflict. It usually takes two to tango. But without a plethora of dog body language knowledge, most people just don’t see the true initial cause. Behavior better off nipped in the bud early on is permitted to continue and tempers rise. The dog that is eventually blamed for the starting things is often only responsible in varying degrees from not at all to an equal partner in crime.

A situation that could quickly get out of control.  Photo courtesy of Kate McGill.

A situation that could quickly get out of control. Photo courtesy of Kate McGill.

I often see posts on the internet in various venues with multiple dog household parents asking how to solve a conflict within their household. Responses that are in any way different than “Get professional in-home help” serve to frustrate to me to no end. These issues cannot be solved by “dog trainer Facebook” or “dog trainer Yahoo group”. You need experienced eyes on the situation at hand to determine what dynamics are in play. Anything less and not only are all dogs in the household in danger, but so are the humans who happen to be present when any conflict takes place.

Redirection onto a human is a real danger when you are dealing with inter-household aggression. Relationships are not enough to ensure safety when emotions are at a high point. I happen to have a different opinion on dogs and their use of their teeth than some professional trainers. I do agree that if a dog wanted to bite you in most circumstances and if you just get a muzzle punch or a snap close to skin, then they certainly are just warning you. That is where my agreement usually ends on this subject.

With a dog fight, all bets are off. You CAN get accidentally bitten by the love of your life. Teeth are flashing fast and if you reach in to separate the feuding parties in the heat of the battle, it’s easy to get bitten. Think about a human in the same circumstances. Your emotions are high and a perceived rival attacks you. Someone you love reaches in to prevent you from retaliating and while you are wildly swinging, you give your beloved a black eye. It happens. Very easily. Don’t assume you won’t get bitten because you and your dogs have a great relationship. That would be a very dangerous assumption.

There is no general guideline that exists to repair the divide in inter-household aggression. Relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. The dynamics of any household are complex and complicated. You would not expect to resolve conflict among human household members based on some pre-existing formula that you could refer to. Give the canines in your life the same respect for complexity. You need professional eyes on the situation to determine the root cause of the issue at hand. No two conflicts are identical in any species.

Often, the dynamics that are causing the problem are not immediately evident even to the professional. My initial presence alone will change the dynamics in such a way that just listening and watching while waiting for the dogs in the home to get more comfortable and act more naturally is an important part of the resolution. As is often in these scenarios, the behavior at the root of the issue is something that a dog parent simply considered normal dog behavior. We could be better dog parents overall with an approach to dog rearing that mirrors human parenting. The comparisons are very similar.

In conclusion, I will reiterate that if you have inter-household aggression, then you owe it to your family, both human and canine, to get professional help. If you are not experiencing all out combat in your home but things could be a little less tense, then avail yourself of the previous blog posts that are written to prevent combat and instill a feeling of safety and peace in your multiple dog household.

Fairness in the multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/fairness-among-the-crew-alls-fair-in-love-and-war-or-is-it/

Bully dogs in a multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/an-intervention-is-in-order-canine-bullies-in-a-multiple-dog-household/

Stepping in as needed in a multiple dog household. http://www.howmanydogs.com/executive-decisions-why-do-you-have-to-parent-your-crew/

Why safety is important to dogs. http://www.howmanydogs.com/2014/10/safety-zone-why-safety-is-so-important-to-dogs/

Feel free to share your inter-household aggression story below.

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Take Me Away! Vacationing With Your Crew

Take Me Away! Vacationing With Your Crew

If you are like me, you have separation anxiety with regards to leaving your crew to go somewhere, even for pleasure. While I enjoy some non-dog related activities as much as others, my thoughts are that almost all activities are better when shared with a dog or two, three, four, etc. When possible and practical, that is! Of course forcing an activity onto your dogs is never a good idea. But vacationing with your crew can be one of the best shared bonds ever. My crew loves a good road trip just as much as I do.

Before I go much further, let me clarify that I am solely referring here to car trips. And furthermore, I am referring primarily to dogs that enjoy car rides. If you have a dog with a phobia about the car, then you need to address that well before you consider a long road trip. That isn’t going to be the subject of this post.

Dog Friendly Vacation in Upstate New York.

Dog Friendly Vacation in Upstate New York.

Now for safety considerations for your road trip, there are several areas that you should take care of to ensure a positive outcome for all. Long road trips require that you secure your crew in some way, inside of your vehicle. This not only prevents them from becoming a dangerous projectile should you get into an accident, this prevents them from getting loose in the same scenario. Some people swear by crates in the car. That simply isn’t a practical solution for everyone though, due to both size of the vehicle in question and size of the dogs in some families. Kenzo’s crate would be car sized so obviously, that won’t work for me. I choose to use harnesses with the leash attached both to the harness and the inside safety straps, secured with a carabineer. This solution also prevents excess moment by a restless dog during actual travel time.

One of the most important safety considerations when traveling away from home base is a clear tag on your dogs with your name and cell phone number on it. Having just a home landline number on a tag will cause a serious delay in the return of a dog should the unthinkable happen and your dog get lost when you are away from home. Additionally, make sure that if your crew is chipped, that the chip registration company has your cell phone number in their records.

The next consideration should be adequate control on leash. Outside of securely fenced in areas and inside your accommodation of choice at your destination, your crew should always be on leash when far away from home. All it takes is one mistake and one of your crew can be lost for good. This is a nightmare of every loving dog parent. Don’t let it happen to you. Make sure that your crew has solidly fitting harnesses and/or collars and their leashes are sturdy and in great condition. Always carry extra collars and leashes in case of emergency need.

Having a few long lines with extra carabineers can be very helpful for outdoor relaxation purposes such as camping and on unfenced decks. Always supervise as inappropriate attention to nearby wildlife can be problematic and can cause a multitude of undesired issues.

Where you choose to spend your vacation with your crew is important. Obviously, you have to choose a dog friendly accommodation. It goes beyond that however. The activities that you have in mind to participate in should be investigated as well if you plan to share them with your crew. Many restaurants have dog friendly patios in season and outdoor festivals can be dog friendly as well. Hiking is a wonderful shared pastime but sadly, some state parks don’t permit access to dogs at all and many others don’t permit overnight access. Knowing the regulations of where you plan to be is crucial to sharing a vacation with your crew. Research in advance can save frustration later on.

Another important consideration is understanding the physical limitations of your crew members. Perhaps Fluffy can’t do long distance hikes but Spot can. Then you must make sure that Fluffy is safe and secure both emotionally and physically wherever he is at while you and Spot are hiking. It is equally important to be aware of what each crew member actually enjoys doing. Not all activities are suited for all dogs. This article by yours truly can help with that decision.

https://positively.com/contributors/does-your-dog-really-love-that-activity/

Knowing where an emergency vet is at any locale you will be in is a time saver that you will hope not to need. Panicked situations progress far more smoothly if you know where you are going in advance.

Last, but not least, consider the season that you are traveling in. Stopping for a human potty break is a lot easier when the weather permits leaving your canine family members safely in the car without the threat of overheating. Having more than one human family member on the road trip makes it easier to leave the air conditioning on in the car while the humans take turns using the restroom on the road. If that isn’t an option, then take care to experiment ahead of time with extra keys and emergency brakes or even leaving one door unlocked with a window cracked so that window can be easily broken if needed. Parking out of the active area discourages passbyes from bothering your crew. Knowing your crew when doing this type of set up is crucial. If doing this would panic your crew, then don’t. Simply plan your road trip accordingly and make stops matter.

If you haven’t spent a vacation with your crew, I strongly encourage it. Adventure awaits and out of the ordinary but relaxing and fun stimulation for your crew gives them the same happy exhaustion as it does for humans. Have fun! Feel free to share your own shared vacation stories below.

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The Search is On? Adding to the Crew

The Search is On? Adding to the Crew

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I only have two dogs. This is not a scenario that has existed in my life for almost twenty years. The grief is still very fresh. It’s also compounded by what I view as the end of a huge part of my life with the three dogs that taught me so much more than I could ever begin to pay them for. The lessons were abundant and endless and life changing. I feel lost in a world that changed far too fast for my tastes. When I lost Merlin and then Kera just nine short months later, this house was in a sad state of depression. Siri, Trent and I had lost our zest for life. There was little laughter and fun. There was no inclination to smile. Adding Kenzo to our life was a survival necessity. We needed laughter and smiles to move forward.

A similar scenario is unfolding in my life just three short years later. Every day brings multiple reminders of my new two dog life: counting out only two vitamins to add to the daily rations, grabbing two leashes off the hook rather than three, only two bowls in the dishwasher now, I could go on and on. The biggest hole is perhaps the ability to finally sleep in my own bed after three months of couch dwelling, now that Kenzo has received the go ahead to climb steps again. But that first sleep in my sorely missed bed was bittersweet without Siri, who had shared my bed for thirteen years, all 95 pounds of her. I am still getting used to the difference.

Kenzo and Trent wonder who will be joining them.

Kenzo and Trent wonder who will be joining them.

So many tugs at my heart throughout every single day. I know this my cue to think about adding to my family again. Trent and Kenzo are reluctant to play now. They actually have been this way since Siri started declining about six months ago. She wasn’t able to participate so they just stopped trying. Kenzo wants to but Trent has always had Siri on his side, keeping Kenzo in check should he need it. Please don’t misunderstand me. That is certainly my job as well, as the parent here but for play purposes, Siri made sure that Trent felt safe. Kenzo never did anything inappropriate. It is his sheer size that worries Trent so he almost always waited until Siri got him into a comfortable play mode and then Trent joined in. Without her to set the tone, he isn’t accepting Kenzo’s play invitations. Not that Kenzo can actively play right now anyway. He has another five weeks to go before that is on the menu. But Kenzo has always been very good at handicapping his play for other dogs. He lays down and lets them basically play on him but Trent isn’t terribly good at that without a partner to guide him.

So we need a new playmate in this house. When Kenzo gets cleared for more active play, my search for the right female will become official. Right now, it is just casual, with an eye towards what we need. I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t want to put my memories too far behind me. But I don’t want to dwell all the time either. I want to hear laughter and play sounds in my house again. I want my dogs to roll around happily in my yard and share toys and feel comfortable and bonded again. I want my family as whole as I can make them again ASAP. Short enough order, right?

In order to avoid having all sorts of available dog listings sent to me, let me clarify what my goal is. I am looking to add a Doberman to my life again. Female only, probably under five years of age, color, ears, tails don’t matter though I won’t deny a special fondness for those who are black/tan or fawn/tan though. A mix is a possibility. Even other breeds such as Rottweilers or German Shepherd Dogs are a possibility. I will know when the right dog shows up in my consciousness.

Of course, our new girl MUST be wonderful with other dogs. All else I am willing to work on but I refuse to compromise on dog sociability in my own home, especially at this time in our lives. Let’s not forget to mention that local to me is important and for those who don’t already know where that is, it’s the Pittsburgh PA area. I will keep you all posted and I am sure that Siri will help lead the right dog to use just as I am sure that Merlin brought Kenzo into my life. So please resist the urge to send me every dog in need. 

Feel free to share how you chose your addition in the spaces below.

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The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

The End of an Era: Losing Part of Yourself

My heart is broken once again. I have lost another love so dear to me. On Friday, April 10th, not long before midnight, my beautiful sweet 13 year old Siri passed away in my arms. I have written about her struggles recently. Aging is a harsh reality that loving dog parents would prefer to do without. First her mobility was compromised with increasing restrictions placed upon her body. And to add insult to injury, her brain betrayed her and allowed dementia to take hold. Dementia meds helped greatly with the latter but an ever rotating protocol of medication, supplements and other treatments could not reverse the lack of strength on her hind end.

In the weeks leading up to this moment, Kenzo and Trent showed increasing stress about her condition. It was interesting to note the completely opposite choices they made to deal with the situation. Trent chose the loner position, opting to retreat to the second floor where he knew that neither could venture. Kenzo opted to spend nearly every moment near her in some way.

After a medication error on my part a couple of weeks ago, where I accidentally gave her his Tramadol, I rushed her to the ER because of the contraindication between that medication and her brain medication. It was a confusing and chaotic time with my hysterical phone call to the ER and fast exit from the house. I returned an hour and a half later with Siri in tow, with her having thoroughly enjoyed the car ride. Upon seeing Siri be carried back in the house with the help of her harness, Kenzo promptly plopped down on her mat set up along side of her and offered a huge grin of relief.

20150415_SiriKenzo1200Her condition deteriorated since that day (unrelated to my mistake) and I was torn about what to do. She was not in any obvious pain but her quality of life was so back and forth. But she smiled so brightly with any attention; it was obvious that she was still happy enough. When she started refusing most meals a week or so ago, I suspected that she would not be with us much longer. I made an appointment to have my vet see her to help me decide whether it was time and then canceled it because I wanted her to pass at home. I tried to make arrangements to have my vet come to my house but she wasn’t available for a home visit until several days later. I no sooner made that appointment then she surprised me and not only ate a full dinner but had a dessert of Wag-Gurt. The happiness that small success gave me cannot be overstated.

The next day she refused food once again and my reality set in more starkly. I started to worry about leaving the house for fear of returning to her having died alone. I tried to arrange for other vets to come sooner, without success. I was not willing to end her life in a vet’s office. I wanted her to pass in comfortable surroundings with her “brothers” nearby.

The last day of her life, I agonized about leaving for the three clients I had scheduled. I was frantic and sobbing constantly that day and could not have functioned at my job anyway. My clients thankfully understood. I spent the day lying with her on the floor. We laid on her mat and padding in the sunlight shining through my kitchen door and my sweet girl smiled all day. I had not seen her look that happy in weeks. After the dinner she refused, we moved into the living room as usual. She had trouble getting comfortable and I lay besides, her holding her close. She seemed to settle finally and then got restless again. She suddenly started moving her head to one side and with a great gasp, she went limp in my arms. She was gone. I sobbed uncontrollably while the boys slept nearby, seemingly fearful of confirming what they expected that I couldn’t accept sooner. I don’t think that I have ever felt more alone, with my two living dogs and my dead dog in my arms at almost midnight on a Friday night. But the power of social media is great. That same connection is available by texting close friends. Within seconds of my cry to the world, I had offers of immediate help from those close by and emotional support from those at a distance.

After being reassured that she would be fine overnight, I cleaned her up and covered her body leaving her head on her pillow. I surrounded her with her favorite things. I lit a candle and anointed her with essential oils. I urged the boys to pay their respects but they were not ready. They remained where they were. We slept restlessly that night.

A good friend arrived the next morning to assist with getting her to crematory. As we paused before taking her to my car, I wanted Kenzo and Trent to say their goodbyes. They both came and sniffed her and Kenzo bowed to her. A touching gesture to be sure, I wish it had been caught on camera.

My house is so empty even though it is full with my two boys. Siri was one of my original crew who started me on the path that brought me here. She taught me so much about fearful dogs. She came so far from where she started, as one of seven puppies rescued at six weeks of age, from a woman whose Rottweiler mated with the neighbor’s German shepherd. She threatened to a co-worker to drown them and that co-worker’s internet plea led to all seven of the “dwarves” finding their way to a network of foster homes, with four of the puppies ending their initial journey at my house for fostering. She is the one who never left. A dear friend has two of her surviving brothers.

Everywhere I look, I see her contributions to my life. Her “big balls” that she carried around constantly from room to room, until the last 6 months of her life, are scattered in various rooms. The products of our final months together are abundant. Laundry baskets with freshly cleaned towels and hospital pads, a full doggy pharmacy with every possible medication and supplement that could ever be needed by a senior dog, disposable pee pads by the pound, her Help Em Up harness draped over a kitchen chair where I laid it to dry after washing it that fateful night. I wanted it to be dry by morning so I could move her from her bed to her regular daytime spot. It will not be needed now. Her orange Kong, so uniquely colored and chosen just for her, will go unused and tucked away in her memory. Her ceramic bowl will not be needed. Her leash hasn’t been used in months. Even taking her with us on the car rides, it wasn’t needed. She could not walk by herself anyway.

Every moment brings another memory. So many things that I miss: how she would bark at the boys when it was time to come downstairs in the morning, her chasing me and barking when I ran around with them at the cemetery off leash, calling her Baby Button, her head tucking under my chin after sneaking a quick kiss when I greeted her after returned from working, seeing her and the boys play so vocally in their upstairs playroom, seeing her eat snow and grass with gusto, walking her with such ease because she was perfect, having her “tell off” one of the boys because they were too careless with their body awareness, how she used to bark fiercely at anyone who had the audacity to come too close to my Xterra. I vividly remember the way that she acted when Kenzo first arrived to live with us, hiding under the end table for a bit every evening until she finally came out to “put him in his place”. They were fast friends from that moment. She was once deemed imposing by a past boyfriend. She lived fully and deeply and with a zest. She was imposing. She aged gracefully and with kindness. I will miss her so much.

There are of course things I won’t miss. Mountains of laundry, worrying myself sick when she wouldn’t eat, the calluses on my hands that developed from carrying her with the harness and most distressing, worrying about whether I would come home and find that she passed away without me here. I would gladly take all of those on again to have more happy healthy days with her.

I have just two dogs now. This is foreign territory for me. Every evening, I get the supplements gathered in a small cup, to go with their breakfast. Every evening without fail, I count out three pills for each rather than two and I cry a little. Every workday I start to prepare 3 Kongs and then catch my breath, a huge lump where my throat should be. I know this will pass. But what won’t pass is how much I miss Siri and that is okay. I want to know that I loved her that much.

So many people offered me so much support. I cannot properly thank each one of you. But this particular sentiment really resonated with my soul so I share this with you all. Thank you Rachel, who so recently went through the same heartbreak, for knowing how this would help.

Aaron Freeman, You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4675953

Please feel free to share your own losses below, coping strategies, remembrances, etc. And love your dogs fiercely. Every. Single. Day. Their time on this earth is far too fleeting.

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Trials and Tribulations: Multiple Mobility Issues in a Multiple Dog Household

Trials and Tribulations: Multiple Mobility Issues in a Multiple Dog Household

I wrote about Siri’s aging related woes in a recent blog and how it related to the rest of the household. Since that post, her mobility has declined as has her cognitive powers. After trying several natural remedies to restore some brain power, with some small success, I settled on prescription Anipryl. I have used this medication in the past, first with Layla, my second dog as well as Kera, with great success. The word miracle is not an overstatement with regards to its restorative powers for cognitive skills in an aging brain. Siri is now almost as mentally present as she was before the mental decline, with a couple of caveats.

I have thus far failed at restoring her mobility. I have spent many dollars on remedies for this issue as well, so far with limited success. Right now, we are in our 3rd week of Adequan shots. The vet advised me that I won’t see any signs of improvement until the first month is complete. Some friends have seen some success at two weeks, however so I remain hopeful. Siri wears a wonderful invention called the Help Em Up Harness, which enables me to lift her up to move her around and help her walk. She willingly walks on her front legs most of the time. The back legs are the culprit here. Without this harness, my size in relation to her size would present a serious problem for her care. At times it still does.

The complication to having Siri in this condition is that Kenzo is now mobility challenged as well. Several weeks ago, he began limping on a back leg. My heart froze in my throat when this cropped up. He has limped on and off on a front leg since he was six months of age. Pano was suspected and nothing was ever proved, despite x-rays and multiple examinations by various vets. But a back leg limp means something different and it’s rarely something inexpensive. His initial visit for the limp was misleading. A sprain was mentioned, with some pain meds prescribed as well as a lighter exercise routine. He seemed to get better. Then two weeks later he very suddenly refused to place any weight at all on the leg right before bed. Despite the meloxicam, he was very restless and vocal periodically all night. The vet was my first phone call the next morning, followed by a trip there that very morning. This visit was less optimistic. After palpation by a different doctor that we usually don’t see, the dreaded ACL word was mentioned.

Siri wears the "Help Em Up Harness" so that Debby can help her get around.

Siri wears the “Help Em Up Harness” so that Debby can help her get around.

So many suggestions were thrown at me, after sharing this info with friends and acquaintances. I felt incredibly overwhelmed. After countless hours of my own research, I grudgingly accepted that TPLO surgery seemed to be the only solution. As I counted down the days to his surgical consultation, a new routine developed on our lives. One I hope to put behind us someday. We now sleep in the living room. With Siri not able to assist much in her descent down the stairs anymore and Kenzo’s knee in more danger with excess stair usage, it was the only logical solution. I refuse to sleep separately from my dogs. It would cause both sides of this equation far too much emotional trauma. It has certainly been an adjustment, however. The first night caused me to wake up with some incredible neck pain that I never want to experience again. Now that I have determined how to successfully create a peaceful sleeping experience in the living room, things are much improved.

I will confess that occasionally, after a middle of the night trip to the bathroom, I stumble to my beloved bed to complete the night’s sleep. But when I come downstairs in the morning I find Siri and Kenzo have repositioned themselves to face the stairs. This instills such guilt that a repeat of this decision is unlikely.

Kenzo finally had his consultation with his surgeon and it was determined that he has a full ACL tear. His surgery date is set. My mind will be increasingly panicky as the day grows closer, but this remains the best option for the strongest outcome. For two months, Kenzo will be sentenced to the house/property. Siri very much enjoys her outings in the car but that takes a lot out of me to lift her in and out so she will be his companion when I take Trent for his much needed exercise. Here’s hoping that things progress smoothly.

It was also discovered during the pre-surgical exam that the probable cause of Kenzo’s on and off front leg limping is some early arthritis and knee dysplasia in the front legs. He will get appropriate supplements for this that will hopefully help. I know first hand how stressful it can be to have multiple medical issues at once in a multiple dog household. The amount of work that needs done for Siri alone is staggering some days. Add Kenzo’s upcoming surgery and the potential for caregiver meltdown is very high. I recently expressed my stress about this on Facebook and got an amazing outpouring of support that helped me so much. So if you are also experiencing a similar scenario, please don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to people who care. You will be surprised at how many offers of assistance you get. It will warm your heart.

I will update on this subject as possible. In the meantime, if you have a similar story to share, a suggestion or a word of advice, please take the time to share them below.

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