ACE Free Work, Ducky & Me

*ACE stands for Animal Centred Education, and is a program conceived and built from the ground up by a British gal by the name of Sarah Fischer.

To greatly simplify and shorten a long and complicated story, Sarah has been doing free work with many different animals for several years in an attempt to find reasons for their unwanted behavior, including reactivity and/or sensitivity to many things, people, and other animals. She also uses Tellington TTouch body work to introduce handling but ACE includes Free Work and detailed observations which give clues to a dog’s sensitivities. 

I first learned  about ACE and Free Work from my friend, Janet Finlay, who owns and operates Canine Confidence Academy in the U.K. and provides online learning as well as person-to-person workshops (up until the pandemic shutdown and will start again as mitigation makes it possible). I’ve taken several of Janet’s online courses over the years since we adopted Ducky, including the current (ongoing) one – Your End of the Lead 2.0 (an updated version of her original course by the same name) – to help me deal with Ducky’s reactivity. The courses also include private communities/forums where those of us taking the course can share our videos and stories without fear of judgment and form valuable alliances with other guardians of reactive dogs.

In some ways, Free Work for dogs is similar to beginner nose work; but instead of hiding treats, you put them in full view of the dog. Generally, we use a variety of surfaces, enrichment toys, etcetera, as the “course” layout so that the dog gets sensory information through its feet, nose, eyes, ears, etc.  Once the course is set up, you invite the dog to explore it.

If possible, video the session (so you can watch later to pick up on those things you might miss) while the dog is exploring and getting the treats and observe her/his movement and posture, noting things that they like, nervous system responses, preferences (with respect to the direction they move in, objects they interact with, etc). Don’t include items in the course that you know are concerning to the dog, or remove an item if the dog appears to be wary of it. And, importantly, observe without any expectations as to the outcome.  (Believe me, that last part takes some practice!)

The great thing about Free Work is that you don’t have to buy any special equipment – you can use whatever items you already own. And you can lay out just one or two items, or four or five, with enough room for the dog to move freely around them. (If your dog is super sensitive or tentative to her/his environment, it’s probably better to start with only one or two items so as not to overwhelm them.)

For Ducky, I needed a space where I could give her the freedom of eating her breakfast away from the main source of her anxiety – her “Daddy”. And, because she was so anxious at times that she wouldn’t eat out of her regular food bowl, I got out some different lickimats that I’ve purchased over the last couple of years. At first I just laid out the lickimats on the floor of my “office”. Then I experimented with different heights – like a 12-pack of toilet paper, an overturned Amazon box, and an agility cone (with the lickimat bowl inverted over it). Over the last several months, this has become Ducky’s preferred way to eat her breakfast. 

The ACE Free Work not only gave me a way to relieve Ducky’s morning anxieties enough for her to eat; but it also gave me a learning opportunity. While observing her movement around the room via the videos I posted, several of my course mates (and Janet) started picking up on clues that she had some definite areas of bodily discomfort. When those clues were pointed out to me – in addition to the clues I was picking up on myself – I saw something that greatly concerned me: that Ducky might have cruciate disease in her left hind leg. As you know from an earlier post, that didn’t turn out to be the case; but she does have dysplasia in her left hip and we now have options for relieving and managing the pain.

So, with all that said, if you’re interested in learning more about ACE Free Work, I suggest checking out Sarah Fisher’s website: http://www.tilleyfarm.org.uk.  There is a private group on Facebook, as well, called “ACE Connections” that you can ask to join.

We’re Homebound (Mostly) But Not Quarantined

First of all, let me assure you that we are all well and as safe as anyone can be during this pandemic.

A lot and almost nothing has been going on around here since our last post. Ducky’s been going back to daycare a couple or three times a month since the middle of May, depending on her mobility issues. And we’ve pretty much become homebodies to a greater extent than we ever were in the past.

Hubby’s dementia-induced alternate persona – who I named Poindexter – has been here off and on since the pandemic caused a short-lived shutdown here in South Carolina, causing a great deal of anxiety for poor Ducky. As if that weren’t enough……

At the end of May / beginning of June Ducky had an allergic reaction to something which caused a secondary skin infection. Poor girl. To top it off, the vet felt she might have some arthritis starting up in her left hind leg. We had put her on Carprofen for a couple of weeks, which helped a bit; but once we took her off of it (because of the antibiotic she was on for the skin infection), the slight, intermittent limp started again. So back on the Carprofen for another week, along with her then-current joint supplement.

In July we had to have a new commode and sink installed in our only bathroom, causing a great deal of anxiety for poor Ducky on a day when she couldn’t be at daycare because of her mobility issues.

It was also in July, while I was doing ACE Free Work with Ducky – a topic worthy of its own future post – that I noticed she was leaning forward and favoring her hind left leg quite a bit while eating her breakfast every morning. When it only seemed to get worse as the week wore on, I sent the vet a video. I was afraid she may have some cruciate disease, in addition to the presumed arthritis. He was concerned enough after watching the video to suggest taking some X-rays.

Thankfully, the “rads” showed no sign of cruciate disease in either hind leg. They did, however, show that the left side of her pelvis had not completely formed as she was growing from puppyhood to adulthood. As a result, her left hip has some dysplasia. Thankfully, there is very little arthritis in the joint at this point. With a new course of Carprofen, some Gabapentin, and continued use of joint support supplements she started doing better. I had to change supplements, though, because I noticed – once she finished the Carprofen and Gabapentin – that the ones I’d been giving her weren’t working as well any more. So, back on the Gabapentin until she moves from the initial dosage to the maintenance dosage of the new supplement. I *think* that it’s starting to work already; but I won’t know for sure until we stop the Gabapentin.

So there you have it – our last 4 or 5 months in a few paragraphs. I’m working on the free work post, but I need some input from friends (in the UK) who know more about it than I do. Trust me, though, it’s a great way to have fun with your dog and learn more about her/him in the process!

Sleepy Sunday

Such a sweet sight – you can’t really see Ducky’s face because her head is right next to Radar’s back.

We had a stressful day yesterday. After two full days of almost perfect behavior around her Uncle Doug, yesterday Ducky was grumpy and vociferous all day. Yet, she didn’t take it out on Radar like she used to do to poor Shadow at times. She even let him chew on her Nylabones. She never let Shadow do that.

Anyway, her loud grumpiness made hubby grumpier, and his louder grumpiness made me “testy“. Not a good day. My brother – bless him! – stayed in my office most of the day working on my computer. Smart man!!

Anyway, Ducky woke hubby and me before 5 am this morning – barking, crying, and whining – not really surprising considering she doesn’t like being closed in her crate, especially if I’m not nearby. But she had slept quietly in her crate all of the two nights before. I came out to the living room to calm her down, but five minutes later she was complaining again. So I grabbed my pillows and a blanket and came out to sleep on the couch. But even opening the crate didn’t settle the little princess. And I just gave up on the idea of going back to sleep. I got dressed, grabbed my jacket and the flashlight, and took her out to the back yard. She did her business and we came back inside. But she still wouldn’t settle down. And Radar started getting “antsy” in his crate, so I opened his crate too. Then we all made two more trips out to the yard (about ten minutes apart).

Finally! Peace and quiet, and an end to Ducky’s earlier restlessness. I was – of course – wide awake after three trips out to the sloppy, rain-saturated, back yard; but my dogs settled down in close proximity to each other. It was when I looked up from my reading – I was catching up on some blog posts – that I saw the image I captured in the first photo. Now look at them.

And here I sit, still over-tired, groggy, and on my second cup of coffee. I’m going to have to keep a watchful eye on Ducky today. Normally she’s not grumpy, just demanding. If she’s back to her normal self today, I won’t worry; but if she’s grumpy again, I’ll call the vet tomorrow morning. When this little girl is grumpy, it’s normally something physical making her that way. And hubby’s impatience doesn’t help, either. Maybe she just needs more “Mom and Me” time.

Oh well, the sun is trying to come out from between the clouds, so maybe we’ll have a brighter day. Happy Sunday Everyone!

Seven Years and Counting

Oh, Ducky! Seven years ago today I found your name (and photo) on the shelter’s super urgent list in the morning, and by 1 PM you were officially a member of our little family.

Seven years ago today, my life – and your Daddy’s, Callie’s, and Shadow’s lives – changed forever. I had no way of knowing then what it would be like raising a shelter pup. I started thinking you’d be better off with a different family; but then you spent a day at doggie daycare and your demeanor improved so much that I couldn’t give up on you.

Callie helped me so much with you. So did Maria and the other girls at A Dog’s Day Out. Daycare was great for you. It taught you how to get along with other dogs, helped you spend all that turbo-charged energy, and gave you some socialization time, too. And it gave Callie and Shadow a needed break from your rowdy puppy playfulness. As well as the quiet time together and with me that they cherished, that I cherished.

You were a little stinker. Always wanting to leave Shadow out of your fun with Callie. But Callie didn’t let you.

And that awful morning when we had to say goodbye to Callie. You gave her puppy kisses that said “I love you, sis.” And your attitude toward Shadow started to improve. Callie had taught you well.

You had your spats with Shadow over the next 3-1/2 years, but you always made up with her. And when I was at Uncle Doug’s house last year, you were a good girl for Daddy. Then, when Shadow got sick in February, you watched over her for me, along with Callie. You were always right there, keeping her company whenever we had to go out. And you looked for her that weekend when she was at the hospital. And that horrible Monday when we said goodbye to Shadow, you “protected” her in the exam room. And you kissed her, as you had Callie.

You’ve been my and Daddy’s rock since Shadow reunited with Callie. I don’t know what we would have done without you, especially those first few weeks. I know you’re fine on your own in the house when Daddy and I have to leave you for a time; but I miss you from the minute we leave to the minute we get home. If I could, I would take you every place I go, just so you wouldn’t have to be alone in the house. But, then you’re not really alone during those times. Callie and Shadow are here with you, in spirit, watching over you for me.

Ducky, you are definitely one of a kind! You exasperate me, you push my patience to its limits, and you make me question my sanity at times. BUT you are sweet, loving, fun, silly, challenging, and precious all wrapped up in one 30-pound package. And every day I thank God I adopted you from the shelter that warm September afternoon seven years ago!

Ducky’s Natural Curiosity

Ducky is a trip. I love this dog. I love her silly goofiness, her boundless energy – even though it makes me feel exhausted at times – her curiosity about everything under the sun, moon and stars, just everything about her. Even her occasional exasperating reactions to people and noises.

Her natural curiosity, though, tends to get her into trouble with the bumblebees that have made their nests in several holes in our backyard. (I can’t remember a summer when the bees have been so prolific in the back yard. I wish they would go back to the front yard and stay there!) I do my best to get her to stay away from those holes; but I can’t watch her 24/7. She just seems drawn to those holes at times.

Well, early yesterday evening, she got into trouble again; but I didn’t realize it. I didn’t see any bees bothering her, didn’t see her anxiously snapping the air around her, or any of the other telltale signs. But when we came inside after her post-dinner yard time, she started in with the reverse sneezing and the obsessive carpet licking, and then wanted to go back outside where she ate more grass than a goat. After she got rid of that mess, she continued the obsessive carpet licking and that’s when it dawned on me.  Darn bees! I got out a Benadryl tablet, wrapped it in a piece of peanut butter-flavored pill pocket, and gave it to her. Within minutes, the reverse sneezing and the carpet licking stopped. Literally within minutes. Maybe the pill pocket soothed her throat? I don’t know. I can’t think of another logical reason. Surely the Benadryl didn’t start working THAT fast. (Note to self: next time Ducky starts the obsessive carpet licking, don’t wait. Just give her a Benadryl.)

This morning, my crazy-goofy girl was her calmer, happy self again. And again I had to steer her away from the one bees’-nest hole a few feet away from the oak tree. I brought her inside and gave her some breakfast, and when she finished it we went back outside. After running after a squirrel or two, and running the fence with her little buddy next door (a sweet little senior Shih-tzu girl), she decided to lay down in the grass and relax. Do you want to guess where she finally ended up after trying out several unsuitable spots in the shade? Yup. Right in between two of the four nest holes between the carport and the smaller utility building. Just to be on the safe side, I brought her back inside the house.

Ducky’s curiosity presents me with a conundrum. I don’t want her stung again, obviously. At the same time, I don’t want to harm the bees. The environment – all of nature – needs the bees to do what bees do (when they’re not being bothered by a crazy dog). I’ve tried training her to avoid the nest holes, but that curiosity of hers is her own worst enemy at times. I could block the nest holes, but the bees would just make new ones elsewhere in the yard. At least I know where they are right now. So for now, I’ll just make sure I have plenty of Benadryl in the house. And I’ll hope that next spring/summer, the bees will go back to making their nests out in the front yard instead.

 

Oh, Ducky! Part 4 – The Progress Continues

And the progress continues…..

Since I “published” Part 3 (found here), Ducky has come a LONG way.

And hubby has been less grumpy with her (and even with me).

And my patience level – at least with Ducky and her daddy – has stabilized somewhat. In other areas not so much but I’m working on it.

But back to Ducky….


Since I started using the H-style harness, my little “demonbrat” has become easier to settle down. And my – and hubby’s – tone of voice has grown less harsh. And the tension has eased somewhat.

After re-reading the last paragraph of Part 3 -and really observing Ducky’s behavior patterns – I decided that the Trazodone wasn’t helping Ducky at all. So off to the vet we went. Again.

The vet suggested – and I agreed – to try Xanax instead of the Trazodone. The Xanax – I’m happy to report – started helping right away. Between it and the single daily dose of Fluoxetine, Ducky has been calming down much more easily. She hasn’t been as snarky with Shadow, which is good, but still needs improvement. These things take time, perseverance, and loads of patience. 

Plus, the UTI had come back – or never really went away – so, since we were already at the vet’s anyway, I brought up that fact. He said that the UTI is probably as much to blame for her tail tucks as our impatience. She was just plain hurting back there. And she’s much more forgiving of our failings than we are ourselves. He changed her antibiotic, and for the most part it helped. The wet leaves, dirt, and grass from all the rain we were having seemed to aggravate it a bit though. So I took to cleaning her after potty breaks, and that seems to have helped. We’ve had some pretty days again lately so the grass and leaves have dried out. That has helped, too.

As for the online course I was doing?  I had to put it aside for a little while. I haven’t stopped doing it altogether. I just had to slow down with it. After decades of “multitasking” at work, it’s hard to reset and focus on just one thing at a time. I have to make myself slow down and relax sometimes.  I can’t expect Ducky to relax if I’m hyped-up.