Friday, February 10, 2012

So Your Dog Needs Some Training...

I had a friend ask me to do my next post about training since her doggie needs some training.  Of course, I couldn’t wait to recommend Rachel Bowman, so I texted her immediately.  Still, I feel like I’d be doing everyone with a dog a disservice if I didn’t post about training immediately. 

As not only a first-time dog owner, but a first-time pitbull owner, I knew that I wanted to get Chief into training as soon as he was old enough (which ended up being about 3 months old for us).  I wasn’t sure where to go, how much it would cost, if I could even afford it, and if they’d be able to handle a pitbull.  Now, granted, Chief isn’t aggressive or anything like that, but pitbulls have a bad reputation connected with them.  If I took him to a group class at Petco, where he was training with Pomeranians, I was worried I’d get some glares, or that if anything happened during socialization or during the training that the group would automatically blame my pup because he’s a pitbull. 

So I found a San Diego Pitbull meetup group and scoured their message boards for recommendations about trainers.  I found a few and did some research; one of the few that were recommended was Rachel Bowman.  I checked out her page and saw that she not only ran a rescue as well, but also specialized in issues ranging from dog-dog reactivity to fear based human aggression.  Knowing what I know about the public’s perception of pitbulls I decided that she was the one for me.  Like I said, Chief wasn’t dog reactive or human aggressive; he was just a normal, happy puppy (and he still is).  However, he did seem to be pretty timid when he was out in the world.  So I sent her an email and said I was interested in private half hour sessions (since he was still too young for a group class).  We booked an appointment for that same weekend and I’m SO glad I did.  I can’t say enough great things about Rachel; in fact, I wrote a client testimonial for her not too long ago.  Here it is!

Reason You Started Training: I wanted Chief to learn some basic commands as soon as possible.  I figured the younger we started on obedience training and socialization the better.  As a responsible pitbull owner I wanted to instill confidence, as well as obedience, into my pup.

How Has Your Dog Improved Since You Started Training with Bowman's Canine: Chief is a wonderfully behaved puppy.  He does so well with "sit" and "watch" that it is very easy to get and keep his attention when there is chaos surrounding him.  Not only has Rachel helped with training but she's given me a ton of insight into dog behavior.  With her help I am constantly in tune with Chief's body language.  I am able to spot his stress signs so that I can remove him from stressful situations and/or praise him when he removes himself.  We also work on his confidence a lot since he tends to be a very timid puppy.  Working with Rachel has helped Chief blossom and he looks to me as his leader which makes our relationship very beneficial to each other.

Would You Recommend Bowman's Canine To Others: In a heartbeat, over and over and over.  Rachel not only provides easy to follow training methods, but she provides real insight into dog behavior.  As a dog owner, I'm not just learning commands, I'm learning to spot stress signs, read dog body language, understand methods of play, and overall learn how to be a better and more responsible dog owner.  Rachel understands and has experience with bully breeds, as well as understanding that not every dog learns the same.  Her training isn't the cookie cutter training you would get at a huge brand name store; it's personalized to your dogs personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.   Rachel doesn't just bring out the best in a dog, she brings out the best in their owners as well.

Update: Chief is now also pretty good at “come” and “stay”.  When we are out and about I always keep him on a leash for his safety, as well as others.  Like I’ve mentioned, he isn’t dog or human reactive, but as a new owner it’s tough to tell what situations make him uneasy, so for now I keep him on a leash unless we’re in the backyard or on a hiking trail by ourselves.  I strongly believe that in order to help change the public’s perception of a pitbull (I’ll blog about this one day for sure), I need to be overly responsible.  I’m ok with that.  I don’t want Chief to spot a squirrel and run out into traffic.  While I’m confident about his ability to “come” and “stay”, we haven’t yet tried it with distractions.  But that’ll be another thing I’ll have Rachel help us with.  I don’t believe in just training your dog as a puppy, I think training should be a life-long learning experience.  Just my opinion =)

Ok so that’s my recommendation in a nutshell.  However, I love so many other things about Rachel, I think I’ll just bullet point them.  If you want more information or want me to rave about her personally, then please feel free to contact me.  Otherwise, visit her website and see for yourself!

Things I like about Rachel Bowman
    ·    She owns 3 gorgeous pitbulls of her own
    ·    She rescues pitbulls (PS: she has two up for adoption, if you’re interested check out her page—they’re beautiful dogs, I’d take them if we didn’t already have 5)
    ·    She rescues chickens and roosters too (I don’t know why but I weirdly love this)
    ·    Her hubby is a tattoo artist (Good Neighbor Tattoo)
    ·    She has a killer sleeve
    ·    She loves little Chiefster and he digs her too (sure, she’s the lady with the treats but he’s not responsive to everyone)
    ·    She’s super knowledgeable about dogs and dog behavior
    ·    I can write her an email or a facebook message with questions and she always gets back to me
    ·    I bring her lists of personality traits, questions, habits, etc of all the dogs we own and she helps me with them also
    ·    She introduced me to Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth, which is a WAY cheaper method of preventing parasites and deworming dogs (as well as many other health benefits).  We just can’t afford Sentinal for 6 dogs.  Oh and the dogs freakin’ LOVE it
·         Her training methods are easy to learn and convenient.  I say convenient because I don’t always have treats on me (although I’ve learned now it’s best to just keep treats on me all the time); but all I have to use with Rachel’s style of training is my words and my hands.  I can tell Chief ‘Yes, good boy’ and press my palm against his nose with no treat and he still associates it with doing something right.  Of course, every so often I have a treat, or kibble, or just a bunch of pets to reward him with (he LOVES to be loved—trust me, it’s the top tier reward for him).
·         She doesn’t just work with my dog on “sit” and “stay”, she helps with his shyness, his separation anxiety, his tendency to growl when he’s unsure of things, and his need to finish his food as fast as possible so he can eat the other puppies food.
·         Rachel is passionate about her work.  It’s obvious that she loves dogs, she loves pitbulls, and she genuinely loves what she does.  Her passion comes through in her conversations and her training sessions.  It seems to me that she never stops learning so she can continually be an amazing trainer and up-to-date on the latest and greatest methods.
·         On top of ALL of these really awesome traits, Rachel is just a cool person.  I don’t know the last time someone offered me a service that I paid for and I thought to myself “omg…I want to be her friend!”.  No really, I want to like…hang out with her, and have doggie dates with her.  That’s how cool she is. 

So that’s it.  If you need training for your dog or puppy, go to Rachel Bowman.  I can’t stress it enough.  Trust me…I drive an HOUR from Julian to train with her, that’s how worth it she is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Introducing: My "Pack"

For my first post, I will start simple. Just a teeny tiny (ok I lied, it's kind of long) introduction for those of you who are new to my most recent adventures. It would seem to most people that I now travel with a "pack". I guess I can't really call them "my" pack, because they are actually Jared's pack (Jared = boyfriend). Really, I'm a part of their pack, but now we are splitting hairs.

Jared is the obvious leader of our pack, so I'll briefly introduce him. Jared is my boyfriend. We met through a mutual group of friends and nothing about our relationship is traditional. But I like it that way. Our first date was a lovely 4 mile round trip hike. It starts out with a friendly elevation loss of about 1000 feet. You understand what that means right? That there is a 1000 foot elevation gain on the 2 mile hike back out. Nothing says first date like dirt and sweat. Add in 2 dogs and you have our first date in a nutshell. Oh wait, I forgot...there are no bathrooms at Three Sisters on our first date I had to pee behind a rock, straddling what seemed to be normal plants with just a sprinkling of poison ivy. Once Jared realized I was cool enough to pee behind a rock on our first date, he realized I was cool enough to meet the rest of his dogs.

 Since this is really about "my pack" I'm going to skip the introduction of 3 of the dogs that were living in his house when we first started dating. Long story short, Jared was fostering 3 of his landlord's pitbulls; Roxie, Sarge, and Apache. Long story long, none of them were fixed (until we got to them) and Roxie was pregnant when I first met her. Really pregnant. Less than a week after our first date...13 puppies were born. Ok--to finish this long story quickly, I helped Jared raise and find homes for the litter of puppies. Obviously it took some time but we have managed to find homes for 12 out of the 13 puppies so far!  Needless to say...we did end up keeping 2 of the puppies...dang those cute faces!

NOW here is my introduction to the pack...

Burmie (on the left)
This is Burmie, the original founder of the pack.  She's 7 years old, fawn colored, and so well-behaved that I almost can't believe it.  I can't say enough great things about this dog, she truly is a breed ambassador for pitbulls.  Rather than giving you a complete history of all these dogs, I will instead list a few of their funny personality quirks.  Burmie wants nothing more in life than to be covered with a blanket.  Whether she's trying to burrow between the covers with us or just begging to be covered with a blanket while she's on the floor--that is when she is happiest.  I will be sure to add a picture of this burrowing in a future blog post--maybe I'll devote an entire blog post to it, who knows.  Burmie is also a toy tweaker.  If you throw a ball, you better plan on throwing it 100 more times.  Trust me, you'll want to quit playing fetch before she ever will.  She's so crazy about it that I've seen her put her head underwater, to rip out a stick, by the root, to play with.  Literally, she will bring home tree branches if you don't keep an eye on her.  So you think you want to throw a football around?  Think again, she'll take it.  But...she does it with a smile :)  And it's a great way to keep kids busy if you have to.  Most of the times you see Burms she's got one of those huge pittie smiles (that all pittie enthusiasts know and love); however, there are times when she pouts.  Literally, she sticks her bottom lip out and turns up her sad little "eyebrows".  She's good at it too. 

Maples aka Mamas
This here is Maples.  You can also see her in the picture with Burms (see above).  Maples is also about 7ish years old, maybe older and is half Bull Mastiff.  She lived in the wild for a year after her owner banished her for one reason or another.  Maples also had a litter of puppies while she was living in the wild, at which point Jared decided to take care of her and her pups.  That is how he came to own Maples and Kingston (who I will introduce next).  Maples is an amazing dog.  She is VERY timid around people and therefore is happiest in nature (when there aren't any people around).  She warmed up to me, although my excitement can sometimes still spook her.  The most amazing thing about Maples is her ability to rock climb.  I'm not kidding, she can climb things that some people can't.  We will be on hikes and I'll be taking a headcount wondering "Where the heck is Maples".  Look around, look down, look up--there she is!  On top of a rock somewhere.  She must have been a goat in her past life.  In addition to being an amazing climber, Maples is also an amazing mom.  The pups annoy the crap out of her sometimes, but I've caught little moments of her licking them clean and snuggling up with them.  Maples definitely beat the odds living out in the wild for a year; she is a true survivor.

My sweet, sweet Kingston.  This is one of Maple's pups.  I believe he is about 5-6 years old, born in the wild like I mentioned.  He is also a bit timid around people, but if you can get him to high five you, then you're on his good side.  After a few weeks of showing up at Jared's each weekend, we finally bonded over a quiet high five.  Kingston is one of the most beautiful dogs I've ever seen.  Tall, dark brindle, deep orange eyes, and the most beautiful canines I've seen on a dog (that seems like a strange thing to notice but whatever).  Kingston loves to give kisses if you say "little kiss"--but it has to be with the Nacho Libre accent.  Like I mentioned he does high five, as well as low five.  While Kingston is more of a "flight" in the whole "fight or flight" theory, he is still an integral part of the pack and a protector in his own right.  I contribute part of this to his being born and living in the wild for a short time.  We went on a camping trip once and as we were settling down for bed (under the stars, no tent), I looked around in the darkness trying to get comfortable with where we were (I watch a lot of scary movies).  I noticed Kingston was sitting with his back to us watching the darkness also.  When he was content with one area, he would get up, walk to the next corner, and watch.  He continued this until he had apparently secure the perimeter.  Nothing makes me more comfortable than knowing Kingston has my back.  After that, I fell head over heels in love with him.

This little girl has been melting my heart since she was born 7 months ago.  She was the runt of the litter (along with her sister Kali).  Always getting pushed back during feeding time, always getting trampled on, but she grew up into a strong, fearless pup.  I named her Peanut long before we decided to keep her because she looks like a little peanut.  All brown, with the coolest markings I’ve seen on a pitbull to date.  She has the squishiest little face and the beautiful green artichoke eyes that so many pups in this litter had.  Jared renamed her Ambrosia, which is good on paper, but we still call her Peanut.  This dog LOVES to cuddle.  So many times she has wormed her way into bed with us and we just can’t say no!  We try, believe me try, but 9 out of 10 times we give in and let her up.  Sometimes we wake up with her in between us, she’s very sneaky.  When she gets excited her entire body wiggles with happiness and she can’t decide if she should point her butt or her face at me so she just wiggles around pointing both.  Jared was already set on keeping her long before I brought it up.  He likes the runt of a litter (Burmie was also a runt), but really...who could say no to that squishy little face?

Chief (also 7 months old) is essentially my dog and I only mean that if Jared and I broke up tomorrow, I'd take Chief and he'd keep the rest (even though I've become so attached to all the dogs that my heart would be broken...I guess I have no choice but to never break up with Jared).  I never understood what it was like to be "chosen" by an animal, but Chief chose me.  I don't have any pictures of him as a puppy because we never bonded until he was about 3 months old.  I don't know how I missed this gorgeous face in all my pictures of the litters but somehow I did.  I took him to a company picnic to socialize him and hopefully get him adopted out, but we bonded so deeply that I couldn't bear the thought of parting with him.  He was very close to finding a home when Jared offered to keep him for me until I could find a dog-friendly place to live (which, as it turns out, will probably just be with Jared).  Chief is...a funny puppy.  He has the most beautiful face, and a little Sherrif's star on his neck.  He melts my heart every time he sits at my feet and looks straight up at me with those light green eyes.  But this dog is special.  He's weird about crossing thresholds (which makes doors really fun).  He's weird about changing textures (going from grass to concrete).  He's weird about car rides.  He's just a weird little boy.  But man he loves his mom.  He's the definition of a "velcro dog" especially if it's just me and him.  He will NOT leave my side.  I could write a whole entry on Chief and his funny personality quirks, probably because I've spent the most one-on-one time with him out of all the dogs, but I will get into that another day since this is only an INTRODUCTION.

So there you have it--5 dogs and I couldn't be happier.  Are they a lot of work?  Yes.  Do they sometimes eat my shoes and upset me? Definitely.  Would I trade it for anything?  Absolutely...NOT.  Sure cats are easy, one dog is nice, two dogs is fun, but I would never ever trade my new pack in.  Not only has caring for this many dogs made me a better, more patient person, but it has also taught me to be compassionate and responsible.  Do I want to buy those new Betsy Johnson shoes?  Sure, but I'd rather buy two bags of Canidae dog food and keep my pack healthy and happy.  That's what sacrifices are all about.  That's what being a responsible owner is all about. 

So--stay tuned because I plan on blogging about the following subjects in the near future:
Training (and a personal recommendation of who to go to)
More puppy stories
Responsible Dog Owners
Pitbulls in general
Updates on the litter
And of course...the other crazy adventures of my life :)