Sunday, January 24, 2016

Two Thousand Sixteen.

2015 wasn't my favorite year; it brought a lot of difficult realizations and changes based on those realizations. It brought real financial struggle despite graduating from college, relationship problems (both human and dog), and finding out who was going to be on my side through all of it. Honestly, it wasn't who I thought it would be.

Needless to say, I was glad to see 2015 go.

2016 will be better. I truly believe that.

Since this is still a dog blog, we'll focus on the dog-end of my goals for this year.

For Riko:

I couldn't name a single moment that Elli has surpassed the impact that Riko has had on me. Elli is my heart dog. She will always be able to make me feel warm, loved, or make me laugh out loud. But, honestly, she's very simple. She has a routine that she adores... so much so that she will pout if you deviate until you get your ass in gear. Riko is a very complex dog, with an intimidating amount of opinions and an unparalleled ferocity in defending those opinions... but he is also a major cuddlebug, a big time mama's boy... and he's affected me in a bigger way than I ever expected.

This year, I'm hoping to:
1. Enter at least one disc competition. I plan to put together a freestyle routine. For now, we've been working on the basics and he's been blowing my mind with the feats he's willing to go for a disc.

2. Pursue Mondioring. I have a bit of a problem selecting sports that are widely popular around my neck of the woods... I really dislike IPO's structure and strictness (there is only one club in MT that practices IPO, btw), but Mondio looks like a lot of fun.

3. Get Riko's NW2. NW2 trials are extremely hard to come by this year for some reason. We've definitely got some work in terms of controlling the BEAST I unleash when I do this sport with him, but I think he's going to take the NW world by storm.

4. Try herding. Riko's mom has her instinct title. I'm legitimately afraid Riko will attack a sheep, or be afraid of them, but I think he could do really well if he was stable lol. I don't think he's even noticed the sheep near the agility field, tbh.

5. Get running contacts on the dog-walk. Enter at least one agility trial - probably just the Tunnelers class unless we can achieve the contacts.

For Elli:

Elli will be 6 years old this summer... That really amazes me. She's still got her youth, though; her bouncy attitude hasn't changed at all since I picked her up from the shelter so many years ago. She really is one of the easiest dogs on the planet. I got so lucky with her. Still, we struggle with our trial relationship, and even often with our relationship. So, for her, goals are much more focused.

1. Get her NW3. I'm hoping to knock out her first NW3 title this spring. She came so close at our first NW3 trial... I still feel robbed.

2. Start working toward her NW3-Elite. I always dreamed she would get this title. There is literally no reason why she couldn't and I'm done doubting that she has the motivation to do it. She excels at this sport and she deserves to win this final title in style.

3. Complete her CAX title. Elli is X Q's away from her Excellent Courser title, which is comprised of 25 Qs. I want to make a quilt of her ribbons from these events to put in her crate.

4. Actively pursue Barn Hunt. I do consider this, like coursing, to be an almost entirely instinct-based sport. As such, Elli is a rat-sniffing super star. It's actually the other competitors who have kept me from entering many trials, if I'm being honest; their attitudes are not particularly welcoming. Whatever, though, I've decided that 2016 is the year during which I will just shut up and work my dog.

5. Successfully counter condition nail trims and feet shaves. I've been working very steadily at this for the past few days, and it has gone even better than expected. I've been filming every session, so watch out for a compilation video here soon. :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Our First NW3 Trial!

This was actually not supposed to happen. I entered on a long-shot chance. I was waitlisted as #20. In October, I learned that we'd been bumped to #10 as people ahead of us decided that they couldn't make it. Then, the first week of November, 10 people had dropped out... and we were given the chance to trial. I spent another few days thinking it over... was Elli really ready for this? Was I? There are "horror" stories about how hard NW3 trials are... did I want to partake?

I decided to enter on a whim. Ever since I brought Riko home, Elli's failures at trials don't hurt me as much as they used to. I used to be prone to a lot of frustration when she'd do something stupid like ignore odor in lieu of something else.

I spent the remainder of the month worrying about the skills she would need to succeed at a NW3 trial. I practiced with her all of three times. We practiced two hides on a single vehicle, 10 hides in several container searches, and 9 hides in several interior searches. Two days before I had to leave, I was freaking out.

On the day we left for the trial, I was calmer than I have ever been going into a trial. I couldn't explain it. I felt so confident that Elli was going to do well. I'm not sure where that confidence came from, but it was real, and it was true. Of course it didn't last. I nearly threw up waiting to start her first search of the day: Vehicles.

The wind hadn't picked up yet and the temperature was slowly rising. I thought I'd need to run Elli in her jacket, but we just waited in the car as long as possible and then she was ready to go. I will say that December in Montana is not normally like that.

Overall Results
4th place
Total time: 9:14.59
8 of 9 hides found
0 faults

The trial took place at a plumbing supply company store in Billings, MT. It was the first NACSW trial in Montana. Only 2 out of 27 dogs titled at NW3. Elli was not one of them.

Total time: 2:23.45
2 of 2 hides found
0 faults
11th place

Vehicle search area
It was a pretty basic search grid consisting of four vehicles, including a flatbed trailer with a tractor (green rectangle) strapped to it. Elli nearly missed the start line (!), but I pulled her back and she took us between the vehicles, just past the bumper of the blue pickup truck. I had to cue her back because she got off track, then she searched the front of the blue truck, came around to its left side, spent a good deal of time detailing along the running board until she found it and stuck to it. It was hidden inside the bottom of the truck's driver door.

The second hide was located on the maroon SUV's deer guard, on its right side. I made sure to check all the sides before I called finish.

I was a little sad that the Certifying Official hadn't put a hide on the green tractor, but we had several older dogs trialling that day and I don't think it would've been fair to them if they had had to climb on top to find odor.

Exterior search area
Total time: 2:11.08
1 of 1 hide found
0 faults
9th place

This was a fairly large area in the middle of the parking lot. The search area was clearly marked with small red soccer cones. The teal line at the bottom of the image is the start line.

There were two large cabinet-like structures holding black PVC pipes in each of their cubbies. The three long lines outside of the search area are PVC pipe as well.

I was really cautious with this search, paranoid that the CO would've left a hide in a sidewalk crack or something, so when Elli detailed for a really, really long time along the left edge of the search area (near those PVC pipes), I let her do it and I eventually even came back to it after we'd searched the right side of the search area. Elli checked out the pallet with a column of tires on it near the top of the search area, searched all the cubbies, and caught odor underneath the bottom cabinet structure in that little corridor between the structures. She wanted to crawl under, but quickly came around the opposite side and stuck to the one hide inside one of the black PVC pipes in the second cubby.

Total time: 4:09.61
4 of 5 hides found
0 faults
10th place

                                                Search area #1, 2 hides
The start line is the teal line at the top of the image. The big blue barrier is a desk. The orange rectangles are trash cans. The light green squares are chairs. The gray rectangle at the bottom is a commercial printer. The gears are there to represent a long wall of plumbing supply product.

There were two hides in this first room. I figured that the door to the left of the blue desk would be pulling air out of the room, so I took Elli all the way down to the bottom of the search area so she might catch odor faster. I was right. She hit on the trashcan hide really quickly, so I continued working her along the right side of the desk. She began detailing along the printer, and made her way back to the hide on the chair. Knowing that we had scoured that area, I called finish. We moved onto the second search area.
Search area #2, 1 hide

This was the first time that I had let Elli search off-leash at a trial. I had been told (rather rudely) by a judge at our non-titling NW2 trial that I should let her search off-leash more often. Elli and I had never worked off-leash before that trial, so it made no sense for me to do that at all. I also highly doubt it would've helped.

Anyway, this was a very small search area, so I needed her to search off-leash. Elli and I have worked now to the point where she is very reliable off-leash, so I wasn't worried at all about this. She darted into the room, hit the desk at the top of the image, then made a hard left and stuck on odor on the trashcan.

The pink line is the door which opened into the room. I had to push Elli (using slight body pressure, thanks agility practice!) into that small alcove to get her in there or she would've missed it entirely. This is how I knew that at our NW2 trial we would've missed that hide, too. She doesn't naturally pattern into small places. NW3 is almost 95% handler know-how. The gears are just basic office desktop stuff. Elli tried to leave the search area before I'd called finish! I had to call her back, but it's pretty clear to me now that she was a) curious about the other room, or b) strongly felt that there was no more odor present and wanted to keep searching elsewhere.

Search area #3, 2 hides, 1 not found
The final interior search was in a very large warehouse type room. During the walkthrough, I distinctly felt that I would place a hide on the flatbed trolley (purple rectangle), so I needed to make sure Elli checked it when we were searching. We came around the left side of the search area, past the desk (more quickly than I had intended) and into the top left corner, passing the hide on the radio (dark green rectangle). We continued around the perimeter of the room and I discovered that I was right about the flatbed trolley! The hide was completely inaccessible and Elli tried to go underneath the flatbed (maybe 3-4 inches off the ground, mind you) to get to the hide. I laughed at her and I heard the judge laugh with us after I'd called alert.

The silver boxes on the right side of the image were weird metal boxes. I made sure Elli checked even the little alcoves each made. We then circled around to search the very busy desk area. Two chairs (green squares) and two open cardboard boxes were the least of our worries. The desk had shelving under it, covered in tons of garage/workspace-type equipment. I had to make her check the top of the desk, too. The tiny brown square represents a wooden column holding part of the ceiling or loft up.  I was actually really certain that I would've hidden two hides in this room, so when I pushed Elli back into the top left corner just to make sure that she hadn't missed anything and she didn't show any signs of being in odor around that radio, I called finish and we left the room. I left with a weird knot in my stomach... it felt lackluster. It felt unfinished. Elli wasn't the only one who had missed that radio hide. Almost 50% of the dogs missed it. All of them ran this search in the afternoon. All of the morning dogs had found it. That actually leaves me with a weird feeling about the legitimacy of that trial... the judge had zero ideas about what had happened to the radio hide - heat, or cold, or air currents... she had no clue. I don't know that she even checked to make sure a dog hadn't eaten it or something. What if there was only residual odor there? I checked it *twice* with my dog and she didn't hit on it at all, not even in the vicinity. We were 1 hide short of titling that day and it really, really sucked to find out that we were basically robbed of our victory.

I didn't know that it was pretty pointless to even work this search at the time, but we went into the final element as happy as ever.

Container search area
Total time: 30.45s
1 of 1 hide found
0 faults
1st place

Because it was near Christmas, the CO laid 16 boxes out in the shape of a tree. This search was not a part of the walk-through, which really drove me crazy. The CO was *not* nice about when I asked whether we were going to see the container element search. She hadn't set it up then, but I figured eventually we'd get to see it. We didn't... until we had to work it.

There was a single distraction planted, as far as I could tell from Elli's behavior. We were not told what the distraction was. There was a single hide. Elli blasted past (nose down, it didn't look like she'd sniffed them, but she must have because she discarded them as unimportant rather quickly) the threshold boxes (trunk and lower branches, if you will) and very quickly to the hide. We spent the remainder of our time just making sure... she found the distraction (blue heart), sniffed the edges of the box but didn't stick to any part of it, then she just moved on. That is how I have trained her. She did so well! I called finish prematurely, because as I walked out of the search area, I was like, oh crap, we didn't search our thresholds... Elli had, I think... but I wasn't aware of it, haha.


Elli always walks away with at least one element placement at her trials. This one was especially pleasing because I was so worried about the element that she got first place in... previous to our only practice before this trial, Elli was false alerting on containers. I had confused her before then and it showed. Apparently a single practice fixed it though. Elli knew her job... and boy, was she ever SASSY about it. She was demand barking every time we had to wait our turns. I'd look at her, and she'd bark. I'd laugh at her, and she'd bark. I'd say, wanna do nosework? and she'd bark and bounce. I had so much fun with her at this trial. NW3 wasn't actually that difficult... I had my best girl by my side and she did not disappoint. We came so close to 1st place overall - if she had found that last hide in interiors, she would've won 1st overall by a full 3 minutes! I loved working with her; she had all the skills of a true NW3 dog, so watch out for us in the spring - we're gonna be slaying that title very soon!

Monday, November 30, 2015

This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: A Chewy Review.

This was entirely my fault.

The Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat is not approved for the jaws of a Maligator. Not even close. Riko was absolutely certain that the toy was trying to starve him... so it had to die.

The Twist 'n Treat is made for puppies. Riko is quite obviously no longer a puppy. He is a power chewer, without a doubt. I did not do enough research before I agreed to review this toy. Lesson learned.

For comparative purposes, this is what a Kong Wobbler looks like after a Mal has had his jaws on it.

Because this is how he thinks the food spills out:

Until he can get it all the way open.

I suspect he was trying to do the same sort of thing to the Twist 'n Treat. It didn't work out in the toy's favor.

I actually planned to gift this toy to a puppy client of mine, but Riko destroyed it before I could. With the damage he did to it, there's no way that I would feel good about giving this to an actual puppy... she'd just continue on with his work, possibly swallowing the pieces in the meantime. But I think it would've been great for her before Riko got to it.

+ Great for puppies whose adult teeth haven't come in yet, especially small breeds
+ Easy to make more or less difficult
+ Holds several different types of food, from smearables to kibble
+ Softer rubber means it's QUIET to play with, unlike the Wobbler

+ Only holds about 1/2 a cup of kibble
+ Not meant for adults, no option for a larger or more durable toy
+ Can get stuck closed rather easily

Show the nice people at Chewy what you did to their toy again, Riko.

Disclaimer: I was provided the Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat for free from but all opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Riko's First Element Specialty Trials!

Interestingly, I wasn't worried about my reactive dog reacting at this trial. I knew what I needed to do to keep him under threshold, and I knew that I could do it. I knew he would be fabulous and that these Level 1 searches wouldn't be at all difficult for him.

Level 1 Containers
I really hate the container element. It's amazing how a few containers can be so tricky at the higher levels, when you know that the odor has to be in one or a few of them. This was a pretty basic trial, though. At Level 1, they're mostly all white cardboard boxes. At least there's no luggage. There were a few tupperware containers stuffed with brown wrapping paper, with holes drilled in the sides.

Even if it is rather ORT-style at this level, if you haven't practiced containers in a while, you're going to run into problems. Riko's container focus has seriously withered. He was all over the place - fast, for sure - but very scatterbrained in his patterning. He often just hopped right over the containers, skipped the "threshold" containers, ran around in a big arch, boomerang-shape, a circle, or out of the search area entirely... Then he'd come back and alert. I'll say it again, I hate containers. He was very fast, often causing me to hop over containers, too, to give him more line or to reel him in (whichever the case may be). I was definitely worried about him (or me, really) disturbing the search area and receiving a fault. We didn't though.

His alerts were as solid as ever, and his enthusiasm was ridiculous high for every search, but the out of control sprinting was really getting on my nerves by the end of the day. Because of his lollygagging, his times for containers weren't stellar unless there was very little room for him to lollygag. His fastest search was just under 9 seconds, in a narrow hallway with only 6 or 7 boxes.

At Element Specialty Trials, they try to challenge the dog and the handler with weird puzzles. The only one I saw at this trial was, during one search, some of the boxes were placed on a table (about 2ft off the ground) while the rest of the boxes were on the floor. Riko found it easily.

Total time: 55.35 seconds. Four searches. 2nd place overall. Titled.

Level 1 Interiors
Interiors are one of my favorite elements. I work them more often than vehicles and containers combined. This is probably why Riko had such a problem with container focus... most of the searches were indoors.

Along with practicing threshold hides more often (something you typically don't see at Level 1 trials, so that was surprising) I am seriously considering allowing Riko to search off-leash when that's allowed. Either that, or starting him way further back from the start line than I do. He blasted past at least one hide that I know of and worked his way back to it (quickly, because he is a Mal, but still could've hit it MUCH sooner than he did if he wasn't so focused on entering the room as!fast!as!possible!

The final search for this title was really, really easy. Riko caught the odor from the start line. It was a very small area, and it took him all of 5 seconds to locate the source. He completed one bound, then turned and lay down to stick his alert underneath the chair near the start line.

Total time: 52.43 seconds. Four searches. 3rd place overall. Titled.

We had very, very few reactive episodes. They were very small when they did occur, mostly just staring or puckering from the car. When we were out, he'd get his ball and some tugging action any time he looked worried about a dog passing or a person staring at him.

He is now:
Rikochet, NW1, L1C, L1I, S.T.A.R Puppy

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fit Dog Friday: Muscle!

Keeping my dogs fit has always been a high priority for me. I am very careful about how much food is given every day relative to how much exercise (and type) they do.

Riko has been lean all his life. That's purposeful. But I've been disappointed with how little muscle actually shows through on him. Many other Malinois don't have the double-coat that he does. While it isn't a Tervuren-type length, it is much longer than I anticipated. His breeder feels his type of coat is the standard. I think it just means he overheats more easily. And, it also means I don't get to take photos of his pretty muscle. When he turned 6 months old, it became clear just how much muscle he did have on him... little man was a rock. He hit hard! And fast! Nothing was going to stop him... but until recently I haven't seen much muscle in the photos I take of him.

1 year old
16 months old
Elli is remarkably hard to get good muscle-photos of. Despite her lack of a coat (different from Riko), her coloring (contrasting) makes it immensely difficult to get good photos without proper light. The light has to be at a very specific angle in order to catch those muscles. I haven't actually shot any of her personally. But I recently discovered someone who had.

Elli went to a lure coursing event in San Diego when we vacationed there for a week. Sprinting in the sand (while barking her fool head off) was hugely impactful on her muscles that week. The photographer caught her flexing during her afternoon race... and my mind was just blown. Who knew she had it in her? She looks amazing.

I am currently working on a weight pull harness for her for the winter. I want to keep her as fit as she can be because when spring comes... it's what will continue to enable her to do this:

Love that double suspension
When I can afford to, Riko will have one, too.

Riko also double-suspends at a gallop

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Chewy Review: The West Paw ZogoFlex Air Dash Frisbee.

It's been quite some time since I've done a Chewy review, but I couldn't pass up the chance to test out a toy from West Paw: a Montana-based, eco-friendly and enviro-conscious toy company, especially since I have a very toy-motivated doggy these days. Elli was only impressed because she got cheese for returning the frisbee to me... Riko, however, was head over heels for the West Paw ZogoFlex Air Dash Frisbee.

Being that Riko is pretty hard on his toys, it wasn't as important that he "like" the toy as it was that it be able to withstand the jaws of a Maligator. With that said, West Paw did not disappoint. The Air Dash Frisbee is both somewhat flexible (has just enough give) and is made of a sturdy non-toxic rubber. After tossing it for Riko and Elli several times over the past few days, there wasn't a single tooth mark on it. It does not hurt my hands to tug on it with him and no damage was seen to the frisbee even after multiple sessions of tug. I was actually expecting it to pull apart like a sponge, but the material the Air Dash is made of is impressively tough. Toughness doesn't meant that it doesn't have great feel in the hand, or in the mouth. Elli has a pretty soft mouth, comparatively speaking, and she is definitely not a fan of the harder competition-style discs or even cheap plastic ones from a big box store. Her other favorite disc is made of cloth and has a velcro pocket for cheese. Even without the an ability to carry food, she was happy to pick up and hold the Air Dash without any fussing.

The most surprising thing about this frisbee was its weight. It was much heavier than I expected it to be and, as such, it actually doesn't fly that well. I had to really throw my weight into it to make it fly just over 80ft. I can make a .99¢ frisbee fly further. Riko loves those cheapo frisbees just as much and they're much easier to throw. The Air Dash is great for rollers, though, which both dogs enjoyed immensely. I am not particularly skilled at tossing discs, but I found it awkward to throw and annoyed by my inability to toss it any substantial distance before it would just *drop*.

I do appreciate the hole in the center for dogs that are less inclined than Riko (like Elli) because the hole makes it easier to pick up. Elli is very likely to give up on playing the game if she cannot pick up the frisbee easily. Riko will always try. The wavy shape of the disc and the center-hole meant that Elli was able to pick it up quickly and get paid with cheese sooner (which is the entire point, right?) :)

The hole in the center also means you can get hilarious photos of your dogs...
being total derp-faces for the camera.
Some other plus points include:
+    It is top shelf dishwasher safe. For all those Chuck-it owners, I'm sure this is a plus! The ZogoFlex accumulates slobber very easily.
+    It floats! I haven't tested it just yet (the water in Montana is getting ever colder as we prepare for winter to hit), but it's definitely surprising that it floats being that it is rather heavy.
+     It's easy to see (for both dogs and humans)!

At $17.99, however, the frisbee is more than I would spend on a toy for Riko for sure, especially when I can just use a piece of cardboard with him. Or a leaf. But I do like it because it is so sturdy! Up against a tiny tank like Riko, I was impressed. :) If you're looking for a super durable toy or for a frisbee that's relatively easy to roll (to create interest in a newbie disc dog), you should definitely consider the West Paw ZogoFlex Air Dash Frisbee.

Disclaimer: I was provided the West Paw ZogoFlex Air Dash Frisbee for free from but all opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Less Stress is More Success.

I recently took Riko off of his singular L-theanine supplement. I started him on another combo herb that contains L-theanine, because it did work somewhat, but this new one also contains GABA, Relora, Taurine, and Holy Basil. I really like combo herbs way better, even though it's not at all empirical. This way I'm not buying tons of single herbs in their pure forms and if one of them doesn't work, then having to wait 4-6 weeks to see the benefit (if any) of another one. Riko doesn't actually enjoy the taste of this one. He really likes the other one, that I posted about last time. This new one has been spit out a few times and I am having to reinforce him for swallowing it by throwing a toy for him afterward. Now, he swallows the pill without hesitation most of the time.

Each of these herbs has some documented effect in the treatment of reactivity/aggression/anxiety. I do still believe Riko's reactivity comes from a place of insecurity and uncertainty, moving forward with that understanding led me to this combination herb.

An amino acid derived from black tea leaves. It is primarily used to reduce mental stress. It raises dopamine levels.

A neurotransmitter that is most often associated with wakefulness/sleepiness. In animals, low GABA levels typically present in aggressive behavior. An increase in GABA (or a treatment that binds GABA receptors in the brain) results in lower incidences of aggression.

Another amino acid. This one is found naturally in red meat. It promotes relaxation; it's also great for muscle growth and heart health.

Holy Basil
An herb that has a long history of use in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. It is considered one of the most potent adaptogens, so named because this class of herb does not alter mood, but helps the body function at an optimal level during increased stress. It has been shown to decrease levels of corticosterone, one of the hormones that is released during times of stress.

I actually saw the difference within a week's time, which is really stupid quick as far as herbal medications go. Something seems to be getting through and he is so much better for it.

When I took him off L-theanine (pure), over the course of two days, he went from pretty acceptable to really easily frazzled. He would hackle and growl at just about every noise in the apartment, including noises I made when he was messing around in the other room without me... Riko-without-me is really a rather rare occurrence anyway, barking at my noises is really out of place. Going outside meant huge hackles as we stepped down the stairs and really quick, really fierce reactions. I couldn't get him on this new medication quick enough, but I couldn't risk overdosing on L-theanine, so I had to eliminate the pure form.

Once there was a pretty good concentration of the new combo herb in his system, I started seeing huge strides in his behavior that can only be described as a new sense of calm acceptance in the world around him. I have not pushed his boundaries just yet, but things have popped up every now and again that really solidify proof that this is working. Barking dogs from outside (when we're outside) cause only tiny hackles and that are not long-lasting. When we're inside, barking dogs cause no reaction at all. He can be cued back to me very easily even when he is threatened by the noises when we're outside together. Visual stimuli (namely, humans) have caused much less "friction-y" behavior than I am used to seeing. Like with audible stimuli, I can very easily cue him back to me. Seeing other dogs, especially if they are unruly or come within a certain distance, will cause big hackles and a high tail that is also hackled just over the base. I've noticed that his reactivity is much worse when we're on our apartment building's property. In other words, it's territorial in nature. Dogs far away really haven't been an issue. Dogs when I am asking for work are definitely not an issue because work is always more important (provided we're not on our home turf). It's during those times in between that he shows his worst sides. Again, the dogs that I am speaking of here are always leashed and always at a significant distance. We haven't worked on this much either though lately (re: not pushing his boundaries). I did experience a very happy decrease in his problems with seeing dogs a while back with training alone, so I expect a nice decrease when I actually get back to working on it.

At agility practice, we run into dogs every now and again. Riko has seen probably 5 different dogs there, usually in pairs or totally single. We walked about 20ft from another dog last week and while Riko was very interested, he did not pull on his lead or growl or bark. He watched. This distance was not purposeful and not ideal, and he did not cue back to me easily, but I did eventually get him back.

His big reactions now very rarely include alarm barking. More often, they include protective barking: deep, singular barks. He has barked in this manner at two people so far - when they surprised him - but is very quick to stop when he recognizes that he is not threatened (within 3 barks each time). He does have to be interrupted with kissy noises though every time.

Another wonderful thing I have been keeping off this blog for fear of jinxing it or realizing that it might just be a random coincidence... I have finally begun tackling Riko's separation anxiety. While I will not take any of the blame associated with Riko's fear of people or his aggression toward dogs, I will take responsibility for the fact that I probably messed up Riko's sense of self-confidence when alone when he was a puppy. Sure, I left him alone. He was introduced to his crate in a happy manner. He was fed in his crate all the time. But, he eventually learned that I might not come back for a very long time. An hour or two hours was too long. Tackling this issue now felt really impossible, but my life was so impacted by it that I was getting tons of grief from everyone I knew, my family included. I began leaving him alone, loose, in the apartment for short, short, short periods of time - literally, running to put trash in the dumpster, for example. Then I'd stay out for a little longer.

Every time I'd come back, he'd be at the door. Initially, I was met with panting, anxious, spinning, jumping, and appeasement-based behavior. I instituted a rule that he has grown to love: I come in the door, you sit and you get toy for quiet behavior. He is SO good at this now it's almost like I have a different dog. Now, instead of panting, he wags slowly at me and waits for me to put all my things down, then he gets his toy. Sometimes I take a longer time than I usually do. I have left him loose in the apartment for upwards of 2 hours maximum. He shows no signs of being anxious about the longer time period. What does still make him nervous are if sounds happen while I'm gone (neighbors' doors opening, traipsing up/down stairs, talking, etc). I'm pretty sure he still barks, maybe even rushes the door alarm barking. But, he might not. I haven't filmed him in this situation yet.

When I figured he was good loose in the apartment, I began the short, short, short outings with him in the crate. I'd come back, same rules apply as they always have in the crate (sit to be released), and he'd be let out immediately upon my return. Where before I was seeing him pacing around in the crate when I'd come back, I often return to him laying down now, totally content, though of course excited that I'm back and quietly alert-anxious to be let out and play.

I will never stop managing Riko; I never get to have a day off of that job. I have an immense disdain toward people who underestimate how stressful my life has been because of his separation anxiety and because of his reactivity to people and aggression to dogs. I also do not speak kindly of people that believe he's "just a dog" and "he'll have to get over it." Riko's emotional life is so important to me, and, especially in the case of people who know both him and me, I find it exceptionally rude and exceptionally condescending when those types of things are said. He has taught me a lot of things, truly, but that is the one lesson that has really stuck with me over the past year (and a few months), and I absolutely refuse to negate my responsibility to his emotional life because "he's a dog." With this increased success, I get to say: I told you so, to all those people and to anyone who ever says anything against him regarding his problems.