Tag Archives: Aslan

Who’s training who? (or “How I taught my dogs to give them a cookie for eating breakfast”)

Long ago, we used to let the dogs out into the front yard — the area between the dog fence and the road — for a good airing after meals. At the time, the area was *mostly* dog fenced, but there was an area, if the dogs ran to the northeast side and allll the way down the length of the dog fence, where they could get into the horse pastures.

With Pax or Rain, this was never a problem. Great recalls. Heck, I can call Pax off a deer. (Or at least I could in the past. Been a long time since I tested that.) Aslan was another story. There was a certain imaginary line on the way to the horse pasture. If I called him before he got to that line, he would come back. If not, he was gone. And gone meant gone. Over half our property is populated with thick woods and swamp (and various wild animals), and once there, he had no desire to come back to the boring people and the irritating fence.

So every day (weather permitting, which means it wasn’t every day, but this is my story and every day sounds better) we would let the dogs out to have a good run. The area in the front of the house is big, and since the horses occupied it occasionally, it always had lots of fun things to smell and entertain them. They would play for five minutes, and then I’d call them in with the never-fail recall word: “Cookies!” The dogs would RUN back to the house, and we’d have a ritual handing out of their favorite cookies as a reward for the lovely recall.

This was a great ritual until Aslan ran away once too often. (It was probably the time he ended up in the middle of the swamp at laste dusk, and Jay not only had to crawl through a dark swamp to find him, but then we had to lift the muddy smelly [giant] dog over the fence to get him home.) I declared that he would never, ever have free run of the front area again.

And he didn’t.

But somehow the cookie tradition didn’t change. The dogs would eat their meals, go out to pee, and then come back and demand cookies. And I… gave them to them. Eventually, smart dog that they are, they skipped the whole go out for a pee part, and simply demanded their cookies at the end of their meal.

And that’s how my dogs trained them to give them cookies for eating breakfast.

Things are better with River. Starting Wednesday night, things got really, really hard. He wanted nothing to do with that new crate, so sleep-time became protest time. I’m working a lot of hours, and I just can’t handle significant lack of sleep. On top of the sleep issues, the housetraining took about a dozen steps back. It seemed no matter how hard I tried to watch him, how many gates I set up to keep him contained, he was peeing and pooping everywhere but outside. That last straw was the lake he peed in my bed at 2:30 Saturday morning. I broke down. I’d had it.

Jay is the best husband in the world. He had a doctor appointment on Saturday morning, but when he got back, he took over puppy duty. Really took over. He watched River with 100% focus. He made sure River went potty outside every time and was rewarded mightily for it. I went back to bed and slept, Pax curled up beside me. (Pflouff takes care of River, and Pax takes care of me.) In the afternoon, after my nap, he and I took turns with the puppy. I have a big project due Monday morning, and without complaining, Jay took more than his share of puppy time so I could work. When he wasn’t watching the puppy, he was running errands — like driving to town to bring back Mexican food for me.

He’s the best. Really. (Did I mention that he’s doing all this while SICK?)

By the end of yesterday, I was feeling a lot better. I had slept. I had accomplished a fair amount on my project. River had had no potty accidents in the house. We had even done a few (very successful) training sessions. But I dreaded nighttime. I knew we would be back to screaming in the crate and no sleep.

But it was perfect. It was like the prior three nights had never happened. He barely whined, even when brought in after peeing in the middle of the night. He slept in the crate until 6:30, then came up on the bed and let the family doze (more or less, as much as possible with a shark in the bed) until 7:30. And the morning has been easy since.

Do I think our problems are past? No. Tomorrow Jay will be back at work, and I expect the backslide in housetraining will begin anew. But maybe he’ll surprise me. All I can do is take it a day at a time. Puppyhood *does* pass, and soon I’ll wonder where my baby went.

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My first Great Pyr was Satch, and he was an amazing dog. What I didn’t know was that he was anything but a typical Pyr. So I was woefully unprepared for Aslan. He was different, and he was difficult. But I loved him. God, I loved him.

Aslan was dog aggressive, and he was a severe resource guarder. Fighting is hard-wired in his breed, but in-pack fighting like that likely is not normal behavior. Normal or not, it was part of him, and when you put those tendencies in a guardian breed, it’s a dangerous combination. I knew it, but I thought if we could just keep him from practicing the behaviors and manage the heck out of his triggers, we’d be okay.

And mostly we were. As he aged, he gained more self-control. You could see him struggle to control himself, see him calm himself, see him choose to leave rather than escalate. We were so proud, and we reinforced the hell out of those behaviors. But still, management can never be perfect. There were incidents. We’d gotten to the point where the incidents were about a year apart, but they were escalating. The last time he’d fought with Pax, they both ended up in emergency care. The last time I pushed him over something he was guarding, he lunged at me and went up my body to force me away.

99.9% of the time, he was fantastic. But that other tiny percentage, he was dangerous. I knew it. But I loved him.

Friday afternoon, management failed. It was my fault. I broke my own protocol, and I fed them in close, uncontrolled quarters. Aslan felt crowded, and he jumped Pax.

I was home alone.

Neither wore a collar.

All I could do was scream while they tried to kill each other.

It finally occurred to me to open the door into Jay’s office, hoping that Pax would try to escape, and I could separate them. Ironically, it was Aslan who ultimately tried to flee. (Twice he has taken on Ghandi, and yes, twice Ghandi kicked his ass.) As soon as I had the gate closed, I knew. I knew I couldn’t do this anymore. His chances had run out.

Pax will be all right. He’s beaten up. He has a bunch of punctures, and he’s all gimped up. He’s terribly sore — has to be helped up and down from the bed, and he can barely get down the stairs. But he’s alive.

Aslan isn’t. I hate playing God. I hated taking a healthy animal into the vet and holding him while they pumped blue juice into his veins. Some friends have said that he got more chances with me than he would have with someone else, and that’s probably true. And they’ve said that he probably wasn’t very happy in his own skull, feeling like he always had to guard and control. I don’t know about that; he was a hard dog to read, but he didn’t seem unhappy.

I know that I hate myself because I’m as relieved as I am sad. I know that I miss him. I hope Aslan can forgive me for what I did, though I can’t forgive myself. I hope he’ll be waiting at the Bridge for me, but somehow I doubt it.

I love you, Azzie. I’ll always love you. And I’m very, very sorry.

Aslan, 9/30/2004 – 12/11/2009

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Pflouff and Aslan

Aslan has been smitten with Pflouff since she entered this house. Just one or two “lessons” from him early on (roaring, not even putting his teeth on her), and she has been the perfect playmate — completely respectful, but a great wrestling partner when he wants one.

Sigh. Until today.

Aslan got his summer haircut today. A couple of years ago we began shaving him for the summer. Murder on the coat, but he’s just a pet, and he’s sooooo happy when he’s cool and comfy. Well, he came home from the groomer tired, cranky — and looking completely different. As soon as he got out of the car, he and Pflouff were fence fighting.

I’m used to him being growly after grooming and vet appointments, so I just separated him from the others. I’m using an ex-pen, so he’s not banished… just not able to interact with them.

Problem is, PFLOUFF won’t let it go. He has had a nap and dinner and a chance to stretch his legs and relax, and he’s feeling much happier. But Pflouff apparently thinks he’s the devil incarnate. She went charging up to him hackles raised and barking when I went up to feed him a treat. (He, I’m glad to report, was more interested in the food than in her. So he got extra!)

I’m hoping that with a few more hours this evening plus a good night’s sleep, they’ll be back to normal tomorrow.

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Nice morning

Aslan and Pax have had ups and downs in their relationship in the past, and so, not surprisingly, Pax isn’t often willing to play with Aslan. And when he does participate, Aslan’s play style isn’t particularly fun for him. Aslan plays very much like a lion — grabbing at back legs and other moves that would be practice for later hunting and fighting behavior. This makes sense, since Great Pyrs have, for two thousand years, guarded sheep flocks from bears and wolves.

Today, however Pax and Aslan really played — and they played in a way that was clearly fun for both of them. It’s not often that you see Aslan willing to roll over on his back, but each of them took turns in that vulnerable position. Their play was quiet and — for them — remarkably gentle. It was truly PLAY.

Pflouff very much wanted to be part of it, but the other dogs didn’t want to play with her right then. Since letting her continue to try to butt in would have ended the play session between Pax and Aslan, I held Pflouff at the sidelines and tried to convince her that she wasn’t being abused by being left out.

When Pax and Aslan took a break, Pax lay down with a toy called a Kong Wubba (which is my favorite name for a toy EVER). That was Pflouff’s invitation. The toy can be both a chew toy (with an awesome squeak) and a tug toy. Pflouff grabbed one end, and they played a delightful game of tug. Pax doesn’t always want to share his toys with her that way, but he was totally into this.

After a couple of minutes of tug, Aslan came back. They tried to all three play together, but without the tug toy, Pflouff was going for Pax’s ears. At the same time Pax was trying to “defend” himself from Aslan. It really wasn’t fair to Pax, so I took Pflouff onto the sidelines again (much to her vocal dismay). Another round of gentle, fun play between the big dogs ensued.

A couple minutes later, Aslan went outside. So Pax and Pflouff played together again. When Aslan came back this time, I took Pflouff upstairs for a drink of water — Hey! She learned how to drink out of the toilet! My, she is a big girl! — and her first heeling lesson.

Now we’re all downstairs, and everyone is crashed out at my feet. I do love it when there are happy dogs in the house.

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I knew when I decided to get a puppy that doing so would add a significant level of stress to the household for a while, and that would likely create issues with Aslan. When Aslan is stressed, he redirects his stress onto Pax. I’ve worked pretty hard to minimize this problem since it began about three years ago, and at this point, both because he rarely gets to “practice” acting out and because he has matured, we rarely have an issue.

When we do, the issue is potentially serious. The last real fight we had was last February, but that one resulted in trips to the vet for both dogs. More than that, it created tension between the two dogs which lasted for several weeks. During that time, they had to be separated, and their reintroduction was phased and carefully monitored.

Since we brought TenTen home, I’ve watched Aslan carefully, particularly when Pax is around. He has been great with the pup herself, but there have been moments where he growled at Pax. Until yesterday afternoon I’d had enough time/space to redirect and jolly Aslan out of his reaction, or to remove him so he could calm down. I could, however, see that his stress level was building — which is predictable and expected. I’m surprised he was able to be “in the general population” this long!

Yesterday afternoon, I was playing with the pup on the stairs to the basement. Aslan was at the head of the stairs. I think Pax ran into the middle. Aslan growled, but Pax was RIGHT THERE in a small space. Aslan jumped him, and I reacted by standing and reaching out to separate them.
Aslan nailed me at least three times. To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how many times he bit me. I know I was darn thankful that I was wearing a heavy long-sleeve fleece. Great Pyrs have a very hard, crushing bite — he’s a livestock guardian breed used for predator control. His bite style was developed to be used against animals that were going to fight back and try to kill him.

I got hold of their collars and managed to separate them. Aslan didn’t bite me “accidentally.” Dogs know EXACTLY where their mouths are and what they’re doing with them. He was telling me to get out of his way because he was going after Pax. I was able to get them apart though, and neither redirected their aggression to me. (That’s really important. Had he redirected to me in that situation, not only would I have been injured far worse, I would be truly frightened of him and the situation. Our problem would be much, much more serious.)

Adrenaline or endorphins kept the bites from hurting much. I was actually surprised he broke the skin, but he did. He got the side of my hand at an angle, so there’s a groove, rather than a puncture. I went down to my doctor’s office and got it cleaned up. He wanted to put in a couple of stitches, but I opted for the tape stuff. I’m not worried about a scar, and I want it to be able to drain.

It bled a fair amount initially. I still had Aslan’s collar, so my white dog had blood all over him. I told Jay on the phone not to be worried by the blood on Aslan — it was mine, not his. Somehow, that didn’t reassure him.

Anyway, I’m not terribly concerned. I’d hoped to avoid an actual fighting incident, but I stopped it quickly. Now the big dogs are separated. Aslan is very stressed, and we’ll work on that. It will take some time for the household to return to normal — it’s stressful on everyone when a new one comes home — but it will happen. I just need to take steps to minimize stress and prevent incidents until then.

I suppose the worst of it, from my perspective is that I got nothing accomplished yesterday. I worked until 3, and then almost immediately got bitten and lost the rest of the afternoon dealing with it. By evening, I was mostly concerned with keeping the puppy awake, so we’d all get some sleep last night.

Guess what? It worked! TenTen and I went to bed at 8. She slept without needing to potty until Jay came up at 2:30. He took her out, and she slept until 5:30. I took her out, and then took a chance on putting her back to bed. She slept again until 7!

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