Friday, April 20, 2007

Meet the Hounds, part 1.

Well, it is time to meet our four-legged campers, and by birth rite, I will start with our oldest, Kharma. She is a 9-year-old retired racing Greyhound.

First, bear with me as I share a bit of history as to how we came to adopt Kharma, which in turn, lead to my career as a dog trainer. I share this with you not just because I like to talk about my dogs (who doesn't?) but because the first step taking your dogs anywhere (the park, camping, grandma's house) is to know them, and to respect their perks and quirks.

In the Beginning...
When Mark (the Very Tolerant Husband) and I were engaged, we started talking about what types of dogs we might add to our family. I was (still am) dog obsessed. I had always been around dogs, and in high school I had worked at a kennel (my mom had hoped that working around 40 barking dogs would squelch my desire to bring home more... nice theory, but it didn't work). Mark had never had a dog. So, being the generous Significant Other that I was, I told him that he could pick whatever type of dog he wanted as long as we did the research together.

You want a what?
We started our research at the Detroit Kennel Club's annual dog show. We talked to breeders and met dogs. And then I spotted a co-worker at the Michigan Retired Greyhounds As Pets (Michigan ReGAP) booth, so I went over to say hi. I chatted with her a bit as Mark was petting her dogs. I knew she had greyhounds, and while I had always thought it was sad that there are more retired greyhounds than there are adoptive homes (I had even done a features article on the subject in Journalism School), I knew the greyhound was not the breed for me. Truth be told, I thought they were a little odd looking.

But as we looked at the Sporting Breeds, Mark wanted to go back to the REGAP booth. We talked to a Australian Shepherd Breeder, he was looking over his shoulder at a passing greyhound. We watched the Agility Matches... he wanted to go back to ask my co-worker with the hounds some question. Hmmm... either he had a crush on my co-worker or he wanted a greyhound. I am not sure which I would have preferred at that point, but as you have probably predicted, it was the latter.

And a promise is a promise. So we set out to adopt a greyhound.

Does she even like us?
We first met Kharma at her foster mom's home, and she wanted nothing to do with us. She wouldn't even acknowledge that we were there. Her foster mom said she was super shy. Growing up we had always had puppies that were rowdy and interactive, so I wasn't quite sure how to handle this aloofness. As we got up to leave though, Kharma threw herself in front of the door. She saw what I couldn't... that she was supposed to come home with us. She literally had to be dragged from the door. And that sealed the deal. She came to live with us a few weeks later.

Kharma still didn't interact with us a whole lot. She basically ate, slept and went outside. We took her to the vet who pointed out that her teeth had been worn to nubs, it looked like she had been chewing on her crate for years. Pretty good guess, as we soon saw for ourselves the panic Kharma would go into in the crate. She peed in the crate, she chewed on the crate, and the neighbors reported that she howled all day. Luckily for us, they were also very tolerant.

Since we were forcing her in her crate (something I would never do now), her panic escalated. She would poop in her crate, and chew through her paws. A few times I came home to what looked like a scene out of the movie Carrie. At that point, everyone kept telling us she had Separation Anxiety. Separation Anxiety? From us? I wasn't even sure she liked us.

But we had to help her, or re-home her with someone who could. She was not a happy hound. What was the point of rescuing a dog if she was miserable?

So, I took her to obedience class, which in itself did not address the issues (although it did help build confidence, which I believe was a part of the big puzzle), but it did introduce us to people who could help her. I became a volunteer trainer at Trainers Academy so I could learn, and tapped into the knowledge of the behavioral staff there. I decided I wanted to learn more, so I *gulp* quit my full-time, well-paying job to work in the office at Trainers. It was a HUGE pay cut, but Mark and I reasoned that if I studied and worked hard, by the time we had kids, I could stay at home with them, and teach training classes at night. This would not only allow me to be with our kids, but cut out daycare expenses. But the bottom line for me was that I had wanted to work with dogs my whole life, and I had a chance to live my dream. How many people get that opportunity? As a bonus, I could take Kharma to work with me, so I could gradually work with her issues without exposing her to the 'triggers' that sent her into her fits of anxiety. I was told that this was a vital part of a successful training program.

Long Story Short
I was lucky enough to immerse myself in dog training. I apprenticed under several of our seasoned instructors. And one of them, Lisa (who is now President of Trainers Academy), really helped me work Karma through her issues. One of the trainers I used to work with always told me, "you never learn anything from the easy dogs," and boy was she right. I sincerely believe that if Kharma had been normal, I would not know half of the things I now know about dogs. I would probably not even be doing what I am doing.

Oh, and in the process I fell completely in love with Kharma, and greyhounds in general. If someone tells me greyhounds are "funny looking" I immediately wonder if they were dropped on their head as a child. In fact, Kharma inspired me to start a class for Greyhounds that addresses the specific issues common in ex-racers.

Will someone shut that dog up?
And Kharma is no longer shy. Not even a little. Ask anyone that has ever taken my Greyhound-Only Class and they will tell you she is the comic relief. Clicker training, and understanding what was actually going on with her helped her become a new dog. She had more of a confinement issue with a dash of separation stress. I have worked her to the point that she can go into a crate at home, but she still gets stressed in crates outside of the house. And she is fine being left alone at home now, but when we go to new locations, she can get a bit stressed if left alone. So these are all things we have to take into account when we camp.

So we have had to do specific exercises to make sure that our home away from home really feels like home. But more about that later.

Thanks for reading about my girl!

1 comment:

Kathy said...

We love Kharma!!