Saturday, March 6, 2010

Feeder Problem Solved

For months we've been looking for elevated dog feeders for the pups, at the insistence of our vet and trainer. When dogs have to lean down to eat, not only do they risk muscle, joint and bone damage, but they risk bloat that can be fatal. However, after perusing every pet store from here to Timbuktu (okay, really from Mesa to Phoenix) we discovered that most raised feeders go up to 15" in height. That didn't meet the needs of our dogs.

So we began searching online, and found a little more selection of feeders that were still not tall enough, or that stood on a pedestal that would blow over if Pivot breathed on it too hard. We did discover a few people who custom made elevated feeders, but we simply didn't want to pay $80 or more for a feeder.

I wondered if, with my limited carpentry abilities, I could make a feeder myself. One idea I found online was to use a 5-gallon bucket, with a hole cut in the lid to hold the bowl. This would have worked for awhile, until the pups grew and even this would be too short, and while my decor isn't extremely fancy, I just couldn't picture this in my kitchen.

With a little more thought and creativity, I found the supplies to make this feeder. I bought the stools, recruited Kevin to help me cut holes in the top for the bowls (which hold 10.8 cups of food each, which is plenty for our pups), trimmed the tall one down to fit Pivot, and Voila!

The dogs are now proud owners of their unique and custom elevated feeders, making their meals more comfy and safe.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Puppy School Progress

Bella has just finished her third class in puppy school. We are glad we decided to skip the beginner class and go into the puppy class. Our trainer, Michelle, has started teaching us techniques that are from the intermediate class. She said Bella and Pivot are the first dogs in all her years of training that she has given advanced training to.

So far the class has reinforced many of the commands we taught the dogs; sit, lay, stay, and loose-leash walking. We are able to take the dogs to parks and playgrounds and know they will behave the way we expect them to.

Today in class, Bella learned the Leave-It command. This means that they have to leave whatever the item is, and they never get it. This is handy if you drop people food on the ground and don't want the dogs to have it, if you drop medicine, if the dogs like to eat socks or shoes or toothbrushes or any other thing that the dog may find tasty.

The first time we practiced Leave-It in class, Bella was all about the treat, trying to use her mouth to get it, and when that failed, using her paws to try to grab it. By the fifth time practicing, I could do this:

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Time to Start {Puppy} Kindergarten

In the first week of the new year, our family has decided to contract a variety of illnesses; we have the common cold, respiratory infections, and ear infections running wild in our house. So updates haven't been kept current, but the puppy training continues.

With Pivot very near ready to take his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) test, we had to reevaluate our plans for training and certification for the puppies. Bella simply isn't learning as quickly as Pivot, and needs some additional work. She is more typical of a five month old puppy, whereas Pivot is reminiscent of the honor student who aces the pretest so he can skip the real test altogether.

After talking to the trainers some more, we came to the decision to enroll Bella in puppy school rather than do in-home training. We believe the extra socialization and distraction training will benefit her the most, and the trainer has so much faith in Pivot that we were advised to keep him out of school, just teaching him what we learn from the class. Because Pivot goes to work with Kevin on a semi-regular basis (Kevin now gets requests from his regular customers to bring Pivot on certain days), we know his people skills are in order. In fact, Kevin let me know last week that Pivot passed the "Toddler Test." A three year old tried to ride Pivot like a horse, and poked him in the eye, and our big boy never flinched.

So with that, Bella is scheduled to begin her two month long class January 18th, and we are very excited to begin this next step of the process.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Right Place, Right Time

Did you ever find yourself somewhere - not anywhere special, not even anywhere significant - and then think that you were somehow meant to be at that exact spot, at that exact time?

A friend called Kevin and asked him to visit, so Kevin decided to go and take Pivot along with him. When Kevin got to his friend's apartment, there were several children out playing, including his friend's son, who Pivot has met and played with several times.

Pivot bypassed all of these children, and made a straight path for one particular boy. The two of them started interacting with one another, and they both lost interest in everything around them except each other. Pivot, who had decided he was tired from a long day of socialization training and had quit obeying awhile before, followed this boy and his every command (the boy had asked Kevin for the commands).

The boy lit up as Pivot sat and gave high fives and gave love, and did it all over again. They went for a walk, did some more tricks, and then the boy laid down with Pivot, and fell asleep using him as a pillow.

The boy's mom came down to get him and began talking with Kevin. She had seen the way they were interacting, and Kevin explained our plans to certify both Pivot and Bella, and during the conversation he mentioned that we would like to include our faith in some form when we begin taking the pups for their therapy work.

She told Kevin that he could come pick up her son anytime; to go to church with us, to come to our house to play with the pups, to go out to the dog park with us, whatever we wanted to do. He was surprised, because this mother didn't even know his name, and asked her about that. She said she didn't need to know his name. She said she had lost her faith, and that she hadn't seen her son smile that much in years.

Somehow, Pivot knew tonight which child he could affect in a positive way, and again he showed how intuitive and how influential he can be. We know that he, not us, is destined for wonderful things, and are just glad to be a part of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Pawgress" {of four-month-old pups}

The pups continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and continue to make wonderful progress in all aspects of their training.

Bella has started to show her size. When we got her she seemed very small for a saint bernard, and it was especially hard to see the rate of her growth next to her monster brother, Pivot. She is making improvements with potty training, crate training (she never minded the crate, but preferred sleeping outside at night and now enjoys the sanctity of her crate during the wee hours), and with her behavior training. She sits and heels well, and is still practicing stay. She prefers being at your side at every moment! Socialization is easy with her; anyone who will pet her is an instant friend. She has also decided she doesn't mind a bit of pampering now and again.

The trainer we've consulted with directed us on how to help the pups master basic commands before he begins working with them himself. Pivot has done this, and then some. He does the basics on verbal command, and can do most of them with visual (silent) commands, as well. Then he decided, in typical child-like fashion, that he was bored and challenged us to keep him interested. He will sit and lay down, stay in position with distraction and when you leave the room for several minutes, roll over, give high fives, and give love (good old fashioned puppy kisses). Here's a sample of what our pup has been working on:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Crate Training a {LARGE} puppy

Last week Pivot turned four months old. He also outgrew his crate. His crate that our full grown collie, Chloe, happily fits into. Ruh-roh. So much debate ensued about how to handle this situation.

The crate training is going extremely well. All three dogs use their crates as their own comfy little den. In fact, two nights ago when Pivot had had enough training, he went and climbed into his crate, knowing once he is cocooned in there, we won't bother him with sitting and staying and giving high fives. And we know that when he is in there for the night, we won't wake up to find he has used our furniture as a chew toy.

We definitely don't want to give this up. But do we go up one size, knowing that in two or three months, we will have to upgrade again? Or do we just bite the big one, and buy the crate that we know will fit him comfortably and reasonably six months down the road?

So we do some measuring. We measure Pivot now. 30" tall. Wait... 30 inches? At four months? But the vet told me last month that Pivot hasn't even hit his growth spurt yet! Surely this is wrong. Measure again. 30".

So I google Great Dane and height. He should be between 20-25" and be between 30-36" at his full grown height. Okay, so maybe my tape measure is wrong. Again. 30"

Wowza. So, we go for the crate that will fit him in six months. Assuming he doesn't get taller than the highest point on the average growth chart that I'm looking at. Assuming he isn't some mutated ninja dane of some sort that consumed massive amounts of super growth hormone while in the womb. Assuming he doesn't grow to be larger than my sofa. Speaking of that, it's hard to type when fingers are crossed. ;)

Here is the result:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Potty Training... {and training... and training}

So my adorable fluffball, otherwise known as Bella, accompanied us on our three hour rainy day trip from Mesa to Thatcher today. We had an important birthday party because one of our little boys turned four. We now have a three-year-old, a four-year-old, and two five-year-olds. Yup, that's a total of four children. Add in the three pups (we haven't introduced you to Chloe, our border collie yet), the oversized cat, the Russian tortoises, the fish and the crab, and we have a full, interesting and entertaining clan.

Bella is a fantastic companion in the car (once you convince her that she is not allowed to ride co-pilot, that is). Jonas, the birthday boy, was thrilled to have Bella attend his celebration. Bella enjoyed the cold weather and got a bone as a treat for her car ride, which she proudly carried into the house, to have bogarted by her pup siblings. And Bella got to socialize at the park, which is an important part of her training.

After a very enjoyable day out, we walked back in the front door and.... Bella promptly peed on the floor in the entry. Chloe came to us potty trained, and Pivot was fully trained in about three weeks. A simple combination of crate training and bells on the back door for the dogs to alert us to their needs led to success with Pivot. Pivot uses the bells to let us know he needs to go. Bella, however, had a different purpose in mind for the bells, and uses them to let us know when she is thirsty. So she can go outside and drink. And later come inside to pee.

So here I ask you to share some potty training tips that have worked for you and your own pups.

Friday, November 27, 2009

{Healing} Paws

It's not very often in life that we get a firm affirmation that we are on the right track, that what we are doing is what we were meant to do. Most of the time we just have that feeling, or that faith. Some of us just move forward off of a hope and a prayer. But this week, we received that affirmation that what we have planned for our lives, and for our pups, is exactly what we are intended to be doing.

As part of the puppies' training, we take them to lots of different places to help socialize them and get them accustomed to being in many different environments while still being expected to follow their commands.

Pivot is farther along in his training, and Kevin is able to take him to work with him about once a week. This weeks' trip to work resulted in a life changing opportunity for Pivot and one of Kevin's customers. A woman started to walk into his shop and exited when she saw Pivot was inside. Pivot is a fairly mellow dog. In fact, his name came from his habit of "pivoting" on his bottom to turn around because it was easier than getting all the way up. It is his mere size that intimidates others.

This woman was headed into the mechanics' bathroom- if she would brave going into that bathroom rather than be in the same building as Pivot, you know her fear of dogs was very real! Kevin asked what was wrong, and she explained that she had been mauled by a dog a long 25 years ago. But to her, the fear was real, and the memory raw as she took off her sunglasses to show her scars.

Kevin assured her he would move Pivot so she could safely use the restroom. In doing so, she witnessed Pivot's obedient and calm demeanor, how he followed Kevin's commands to come when he was told, and to lay down calmly. Then a conversation ensued about Pivot's training and our hopes for he and Bella to become certified therapy dogs. This must have comforted the woman a great deal, because she asked if she could meet him.

At first, she reached out a single trembling finger and touched his ear. Just a quick and short contact, as fear and determination both surfaced. I can't tell you what happened next, though I presume it had something to do with Pivot's puppy dog eyes and wrinkly grin, because before long, the woman sat on the floor and let Pivot snuggle his head into her lap, and she sat petting him for quite some time.

It was the first time she had gone within arms' distance of a dog in two and a half decades. This experience, which proved to be just as therapeutic for us as it was for her, ended with a kiss. She allowed Pivot to "give her love," on the same face that had been mauled by a different dog all those years ago. And the two of them showed us that this is truly our destiny.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fulfilling Dreams

Let us introduce ourselves. We are Pivot and Bella, and our people have dreamed about having us for a long, long time. We are both young puppies, who love to play, explore, follow our people everywhere they go, and invade the most personal of spaces. Here are a few things you should know about us: we are LARGE, as well we should be. After all, we are a great dane and a saint bernard. Our people made the mistake of trying to "free feed" us, and we ate a 40 pound bag of dog chow in about five days. Our people realized that was anything but free and decided to put us on a feeding schedule, measuring our food out according to weight. Speaking of weight, we weigh 57 pounds (for Pivot) and 34 pounds (for Bella) at a mere three months old. We love stuffed animals and things that crinkle, we really like electrical cords, we love chasing our smallest people around (we're so glad that our big people have four small people for us to play with, because play we do!), and we love the oversized chair that our people bought (they must have known we would need a large chair- aren't they sweet?!).

Our owners have told us that we are going to be therapy dogs. We aren't sure yet what that means, but right now it means we have to practice sitting and staying a lot, and we get treats when we do. We're so young that we get easily distracted, though, and our people have to have a lot of patience with us. We've heard our people consulting with puppy trainers, and we will start formal training after the holidays.

When we are certified, we would like to go visit children in hospitals and other facilities. Please check in, because we will be sharing our misadventures in training, in our explorations, in our interactions with people, and in our growth and development.