Alvin sticks out his tongue when he is nervous

Monday, July 23, 2012

Alvin Finally Has a Toy!

I have wanted to find a toy for Alvin to play with because there are videos of him playing with toys in his former foster home.  In the videos he clearly observed and imitated the other dogs in the home but because I don't have any dogs here that play with toys, Alvin hasn't shown an interest in anything I offer him, other than my hand.  But my wish has finally come true and Alvin has a toy!!!  Okay, so the toy turns out to be a gait belt.  If you don't know what that is, don't feel bad.  It's the cloth belt that is used in physical therapy and nursing homes that is wrapped around the waist of the patient and used to help hold up their weight.  I have the one that we used to use for my grandma and Alvin recently discovered it.  Why would a dog use a cloth belt as a toy?  Beats me!  I now leave it on the floor in his favorite place to rest and he loves to do that odd, light chewing thing he used to do on my hand.  He then does his odd neck lunge and then again lightly bites the belt.  This keeps him busy for quite some time every day.  I want very much to video him doing this, as well as many other things, but the minute I get the camera out, he stops what he is doing and runs to examine the camera.  Unfortunately, his curiosity doesn't go away after a few minutes, but instead he will doing a staring stand off with me until I give up.  So, when considering a new toy for your dog, consider stopping by your local nursing home and requesting a gait belt because it seems to provide hours and hours of entertainment for at least one dog.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Can You Touch Your Face With Your Own Butt?

After having great success on our regular walks, I decided that we should all hit the trail.  I have a lovely walking trail near my house and so Alvin, Stevie, and I all went for our newest adventure.  It went quite well and Alvin was very interested in all the new sights.  I can't say that he was interested in the new smells because to add to his mystery, Alvin is the only dog, not to mention cocker, that doesn't stop to smell everything.  Although he can't be dragged away from wanting to sniff my mom's legs and feet, when we are out on walks, Alvin never tries to smell anything. 

A few people were taken aback because when Alvin spots a new person he beelines towards them while doing that spooky stare of his.  People tend to look a bit concerned as though he might be aggressive and I don't have the words to explain that not only is he not aggressive but in actuality, he is afraid of people. 

We were plodding along just fine until a man on a bike came up from behind and passed us.  Due to the fact that Alvin can't locate the direction of sound, he had no warning and he reacted by shoving his bottom so far forward that it just about met his face.  I have never seen a dog be able to touch his face with his own butt.  He was a bit shaken up by it but recovered within seconds and wanted to keep going.  We will be using the trail much more because it's good for him to get more accustomed to all different people, noises, and bicycles.  Stevie thought it was just grand but it was a bit challenging because she is the number one cocker sniffer of the world and so trying to drag her along, while Alvin was making beelines for frightened people left me looking as though I was trying to land surf, with my legs and arms spread in opposing directions.  But all of this is just part of our little family now.

I am only sorry that we can't take Maddie, the cat.  I used to live in an area where there was a contained walking trail and every time I took my dog for walks (about four times a day), she would come running when she saw the leash and then follow us the whole way and turn back with us as we headed for home.  My favorite part was that inevitably when my dog would go up on the grassy section to urinate, Maddie would follow, squat, go potty, and then come back down to resume the walk.  She had a genuine fan club of other walkers who had never seen anything like it and just couldn't get enough of watching her.  I am sad that where I live now deprives us all of her dog walks but she got a big, fenced back yard in the deal and so I think she has forgiven me.  Maddie recently turned 16 and I guilted my mom into throwing her a Sweet 16 party.  I wasn't going to do it because it's crazy to throw a cat a party but I suckered my mom into it.  Maddie got a Hello Kitty balloon and numerous treats.  The party was two weeks ago and she still goes to the special spot where we gave her the treats and begs for them......she is such a dog in a cat's body!

Alvin, the Bucking Dog

My computer has been on the blink and so I have been unable to update, but oh boy, have there been happenings around here.  I will try to post them all in the next week or two but for starters, Camp Cocker was kind enough to send Alvin a Thunder shirt.  For those of you that don't know what that is, basically, it's a shirt that gets velcroed on and is supposed to help anxious dogs feel contained and safe.  The philosophy behind it made sense to me because when I worked in foster care and we had newborns that were going through drug withdrawal and cried continuously, there was a specific way to tightly wrap them (very much like a burrito) that seemed to give them instant relief.  It was always a marvel to see because if you did it wrong, the baby kept screaming but if you undid it and got it right, the baby almost instantly stopped.  There are similar methods used for autistic children and when they receive constant pressure to certain parts of their bodies, they tend to be very soothed.  The Thunder shirt idea comes from Temple Grandin, who is the autistic woman who was able to write about what it feels like to be autistic and came up with specific techniques for anxiety ridden animals.  There is a belief that autistic humans have a much broader, better understanding of animals and from the reading I have done, I suspect that is very true.  So, the idea seemed like a good one but it kept nagging in my head that Alvin doesn't like being touched and so how was that going to work?  Well, it didn't!  Let's just say that putting Alvin in a thunder shirt resulted in a lot of crying, running, and tripping, and that was just me.  Alvin responded by turning into a bucking bronco and ran around the house bucking his back legs out from him.  He then resorted to his circus pony routine and ran in tight circles while still bucking like a maniac.  I wonder if I should have left it on longer but the two times I put it on, he seemed so wigged out that after a few minutes I took it off.  I have a feeling that a thunder shirt could be helpful for many dogs and according to the manufacturer, 80% of owners report a decrease in anxiety when they put it on their dog, but I read nothing about a bucking, circling, pony routine. 

Speaking of touch, Alvin has responded very well to going out on walks more often.  He thrives on the additional stimuli and he seems the happiest he has ever been when out walking.  What recently occurred is that when we are on our walks I can reach down and pet his back and head as much as I want without him shying away.  We have a routine of going for our walk, going to the "park" (grassy area in the middle of my neighborhood? and us both sitting down facing each other while I just pet and pet him.  I have had my mom come out with us and she gets so tickled at being able to pet his head and back.  She always shows him her hand so that he knows it's her, in the hopes that the behavior will transfer when we get in the house.  As soon as we come back in the house and my mom inevitably tries to pet him, he runs away and won't let either of us near his head or back.  My mom tries to shame him into complying by telling him that he is being just plain weird but he won't conform to her expectations.  It is odd and mystifying to have just pet a dog on his head and back with absolute ease and then walk 20 feet into the house and have such a different response.  With that said, he has started to be more receptive to allowing me to pet his head and back inside the house.  I have posted in the past about him being an utterly different dog on the bed and allowing me to pet him all over but he gets far more skittish on the floor, particularly when I am standing.  We have experienced a bit more progress in that area but it's just too much to ask him to let me pet his back right after coming in from having done it outside. 

What I have found particularly interesting is that whenever I pet his back or head when inside, he immediately has to shake his whole body, much like a dog does when they get wet.  It is as if the touch itself is irritating or itchy to him, but when I touch him outside he does not shake it off.  Who could even guess why?

There is much more to report, particularly our first try at taking a walk on the walking trail but I will leave it for another time.  In the meantime, it is bedtime and Alvin is going to need to get his cute little self up on my bed so he can be my cuddle partner.........does anyone else see the insanity of all the contradictions?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You All Saw This One Coming

I know, I know, you all knew this post was eventually coming and I was the only one that was clueless.  After reading a lot more about autistic type behavior in dogs, I have decided that it would be cruel to make Alvin go to a new home, with a new person.  All of the literature kept emphasizing the importance of not changing the dog's home and/or owner.  It all said to try to keep everything in the house in the same place and that just isn't ever going to happen here but I realized that I could prevent him from having to go through something as scary and confusing as a new house and a stranger as an owner.  So, I wrote to Camp Cocker and said that I would like to keep him..........I can hear your cheers from here.

When he first came here, he ran in a large circle all night long and cried like a puppy all night.  He didn't sleep for three days and was just a mess.  His former foster mom and I had no way of knowing what his issues were and how he would react to leaving her home, but it wasn't good.  I can't bear to make him go through that again.  He had no way of knowing that his time here was supposed to be temporary and making him leave here feels like I would be betraying all the trust he has put in me.  He wouldn't understand and with his world already being confusing, for me of all people to add to that would break my heart. 

I was very hesitant to consider keeping him because he wasn't my idea of the dog that I wanted.  I wanted a dog that would let me hold him/her like a baby and cuddle on the couch with me.  Alvin is never going to be that dog but I realized that I deeply love Alvin and he makes me laugh all the time.  He is also the most gentle and purest soul I have ever known.  I said at the beginning of this journey that I was certain that Alvin would teach me far more than I could teach him and he certainly has.  He has taught me a great deal about courage, not giving up, and that trust has to be earned.  He has also taught me that sometimes it's a blessing when you don't get what you thought you wanted.  This morning when I woke up to hot breath on my neck and looked down to see a sleeping Alvin lying across my chest with his face nuzzled in my neck, I realized that he is perfectly imperfect and he's perfect for me.  I am blessed.

I will write an update soon about how Alvin is doing.  I am convinced that Victoria Stilwell is magic and that just writing to her results in her waving a magic wand and heals dogs from afar.  Either that, or it helped for me to go back to the basics and by incorporating a couple new things, Alvin appears to be responding very well!  There have been no miracles because just tonight I called him, he ran right passed me, headed away from me, and started looking outside for me.  We're emphasizing progress, not perfection.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Bit Discouraged

I have been a bit discouraged lately in regards to Alvin because it seems as though much of his progress has already taken place and I don't know what else to do to help him.  I went back and re-read my first five blog entries to remind myself of how far he has come and read about some of his behaviors and issues that I had completely forgotten.  Although he is doing far better than when first arriving, I get the sense that this may be about as good as it gets.  I worry that I am missing ways to help him and that I am missing important communication cues.  I actually wrote Victoria Stilwell about him.  She hosts the show on Animal Planet called, It's Me or the Dog.  If you haven't seen the show, it's a must see!  She is simply amazing and I adore her training techniques and her ability to understand dogs.  It was her technique of the sit command that I used to teach Alvin how to sit on command.  She is terribly busy but I gave it a try anyway because I think if anyone could give me insight or tips, it would be her. 

There is more literature out on canine autism and I spent much of the day reading about it.  Alvin clearly seems to fit the criteria, which makes me sad because there is no medication or cure.  I am secretly, and unrealistically hoping Victoria will write to say that she doesn't think Alvin's autistic and that there are numerous interventions.  Although he has improved, his world is still a scary, confusing place far too often.  I have no desire to change Alvin but I do have a strong desire to understand and help him, if I am missing anything.  There was some literature about giving autistic dogs a grain-free, meat only diet.  He has been on a grain-free diet since arriving in rescue, but that meat only part would require me cooking and I fear that could kill him.  I was the only female to flunk home ec. twice and resorted to paying a girl to complete my "projects".  Camp Cocker is sending me a Thundershirt.  I tried just a tight tee-shirt because some people suggested it but it resulted him him bucking and hopping throughout the house.  Wouldn't 'ya know it, all the literature speaks to the importance of not moving an autistic dog from their home or owner........great! 

Alvin has another behavior I haven't previously written about.  When I put him on the bed, he sits down and wherever he is seated, he remains.  I try to strategically place him but sometimes he moves and then sits down again.  When I go to get into bed, he simply won't move and a couple of nights ago, I tested it and ended up lightly laying on his front paws and he still wouldn't budge.  He then laid on my head and went to sleep.  It couldn't have been comfortable for him, but for whatever reason, he just won't move.  If I move him, it freaks him out but after trying to endure an Alvin hat, I finally had to move him.

It is the 4th of July and Alvin is afraid of the noises.  I am actually comforted by the fact that he is having a normal reaction to loud noises.  I did not anticipate it because of his unusual reactions to noises and didn't give him a sedative until about 9:00 PM, after I saw him pacing, circling, and the ever-telling stress signal of his mouth half open.  He doesn't jump or startle at the noises but he is now lying down asleep but panting in his sleep.  It takes so long, and so much, for the sedative to kick in and so we are going to be in for a bumpy ride for another couple of hours.  At least I will know for next year, because Lord knows he will probably be here.