Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Solgave Story...Part One :)

For anyone that is friends with me on Facebook, you probably know that I love my dogs. Really, I love almost all dogs. Shortly after arriving in California, I decided I wanted to start a pet sitting business. There were a variety of reasons...but before I jump ahead of myself with all of that, I wanted to share my story as to the "how" and "why" I became part of Solgave Animal Solutions :)

After I started writing this, I realized just how long was going to have to be to share as much as I want to this is going to be Part One :) Some of this I have already written as a "testimonial" for the Solgave Animal Solutions website, but I wanted to give a little more details here.

I have two very smart, mostly trained Pit Bulls – the kind that I can leave out in the house all day when I am not home, without crating them, and don’t have to worry about coming home to messes to clean up or chewed up shoes to replace. However, they are also very strong and VERY stubborn (perhaps they get that from their momma? ;) I had never been able to teach them to walk calmly on a leash without pulling – and my 5’3”, 127 lbs self was no match for a combined 117 lbs of solid muscle…  
Also, while my dogs are very people friendly (they love humans of all shapes, sizes and colors), they are pretty selective when it comes to new dogs. Being a Pit Bull owner, I try to be as responsible as I can to not contribute to the negative image that so many already have about the breed I have come to adore. That being said, I had a tendency to not take them on walks as often as I should for adequate exercise, mostly due to my fear of not being able to control them in the event that we came across a loose dog in my neighborhood. This really was not fair to me or my dogs. My husband and I are very much the type of people that consider our dogs to be more than just pets; they are part of our family. I love being able to take them for rides in the car, and take them the places I go that will allow them to be with me. I knew I needed to do something, I just didn't know exactly what.
I had been considering doing some sort of “training” with them for quite some time to work on their leash behavior, but unfortunately, it seemed like everything I found was either a group setting, or a basic obedience class where they would learn simple commands, like “sit”, “stay”, “lie down”, etc. My dogs already knew those things…and it was not worth it to me to spend a fortune on an obedience class that would not really target the thing(s) I needed help with most. Not to mention, I knew that with the excitement of other dogs being present, it would be quite difficult to get my stubborn dogs to stay focused and have a chance to really learn.
A couple of months before we moved to California, I stumbled across the Solgave Animals Solutions business page on Facebook. After doing some reading on their page and their website, I had a good feeling they were exactly what I was looking for. They offer "Behavior Modification" where they do one-on-one sessions to work with you and your dog on a specific thing you are having trouble with. No other dogs around. No group classes where someone was going to make me tell my dog to "sit" and "stay" over and over to the point that they would get bored. An hour session where they would focus completely on me and my dogs and our needs!
I contacted them and set up our first Behavior Modification session. Sunniva and Jared (the founders of the business) came to my house, and since I was expecting them, I had my two dogs on their leashes, ready to go outside to greet them. I opened my front door, and as usual, my dogs pulled me out of the house as if I were on water skis. I was mortified. But I knew I had to recognize that they weren't there to judge me (or my dogs). They were there to HELP! They spent one hour with me (my husband was away for military training) and our two dogs. Sunniva was fantastic, and helped me learn a lot more about myself and my dogs, which I found impressive considering my dogs are 5 and 6 years old and I have had them since they were puppies, and well..I have lived with me my whole life...
The thing I appreciated most was the way they not only helped to train my dogs, but they equipped me with the knowledge and confidence to be able to continue working with my dogs without needing a trainer. I started out taking each dog on a walk individually, almost every day. I learned that when I walked them together, they would feed so much off of each other’s energy that it would make me extremely frustrated, and then the walks became no fun for any of us (especially me). By taking the little bit of extra time to walk them individually, I was able to spend more quality time with each of my dogs, and work with them individually to improve their behavior. While we are still constantly improving, I can now walk both of my dogs on a leash at the same time, without the fear that I am going to lose control of them. I have become more confident, and my dogs can feel that, so they now trust me more to lead them. 
My female is definitely the more stubborn of the two, and she can still be a pain at times, but it is such a relief to now know what can and need to do differently to get her to respond. My male is like a completely different dog – to the point that less than 2 months later after only one session to focus on leash training, my 10-year-old nephew can walk him without me. It’s almost surreal!
Jaxon taking Koda for a walk a couple of weeks before we left NW Arkansas :)
 What Sunniva and Jared taught me was that the issues had far less to do with my dogs, and much more to do with me and my lack of understand on how to teach them effectively, AND letting them know that I was confident in handling them.

After I gained some confidence on handling them on a leash, I decided it was time for the next step: dealing with their behavior with other dogs. This one scared me, and was a major issue. They have always been okay with small dogs and puppies, but with big dogs, they sometimes got aggressive. Again, trying to be a "responsible" Pit Bull owner, my way of dealing with their issues were to not expose them to situations in which they would act like fools.

Let me give you a little background on Aspen and Koda...

When they were young pups, they were both super friendly with everything and everyone. They loved other dogs, and made new friends easily. The first time I noticed an issue with Aspen was when she was about 2-3 years old. I had taken both dogs to the University of Arkansas campus to have a play date with my friend's dog, Darwin. He is a Doberman that was less than a week apart in age from Koda. We were letting the dogs run free without being leashed, and everything was going fine until she saw another dog (also off leash) that had a tennis ball. It wasn't even her tennis ball, but she decided she was going to make it HER tennis ball. She didn't attack the dog, or bite it or anything, she just growled and stood over the top of her...scared the poor dog to death until the dropped her tennis ball. Then Aspen stole it and ran off. I was so surprised, because I had never seen her act that way. It scared me. So after that, I would never let her run free without being leashed. She never was very good on a leash (she pulled like crazy from the time I got her at 4 1/2 months old) either.

I had heard horror stories about how a girl in Fayetteville once was required by a court to put her Pit Bull down after she had been walking her dog at a local park, and another dog coming up to it and growling, and the Pit Bull growling back. I was so scared that was going to happen to me if Aspen ever did something to another dog in a public place. I stopped taking them to places as often, because I started to worry about how Aspen would react to a new dog she didn't know.

Koda has always been a really good dog. I didn't know much about Aspen's history, because she was a rescue, but Koda actually came from a good breeder, and from what I could tell, had good genes. I had never really had any issues with him, other than the fact that he had some separation anxiety as a puppy. I would come home from work and he would have destroyed his dog bed in his crate (happened on several occassions until I stopped buying him new beds). He also chewed up a leg on my kitchen table when I had given him a trial run of leaving him unattended in my apartment and out of his crate for only a couple hours. Anytime I would leave him at a boarding facility, he would come home and be bad at me and not eat for a week. But that seems like ages ago. He got to where he could be left in the house with no problems, and I had never had a single issue with him and another dog. He usually loved other dogs!

Until my husband got activated to deploy with the Army. Walter had left for pre-deployment training in January, and came home intermittantly on weekends to visit, but left in February for more training in Texas. Koda didn't see him again for a really long time. In late March, I took in a stray Pit Bull that had been found by the Johnson Police Department (that was my first foster dog! I actually wrote a blog about that ages can read about him here :). They had had him for two weeks and were unable to find his owners. So they were going to have to put him down because they just didn't have room to keep him any longer. So I took him home with me with the intention of fostering him until I could find him a new home. I picked him up really early on a Friday morning, took him to the vet and got all of his shots taken care of and got him tested for heartworms. After I knew he was healthy, I took him home, and because I didn't know what his name was, I just called him "Big Dog" (he weight 87 lbs...he was huge). He was really good with my two dogs, but for some reason, Koda did NOT like him. Koda would growl at him anytime I gave Big Dog attention, or if I was giving Koda attention, and Big Dog walked up, he would growl. Big Dog was usually pretty submissive, and would just kind of roll over on his back and let Koda have his way. Koda wasn't trying to fight or anything, so I figured he was just being a little territorial because it was a new male dog in his home. So I didn't really think too much of it. The next day was a Saturday, and I had to go to Oklahoma for a family thing, and I left all 3 dogs in the house like I normally did when I left. I was gone for about 12 hours, and came home and everyone seemed to be doing fine. After being home for about 30-45 minutes, I was sitting on the couch just watching some TV, and I heard Big Dog drinking from the water bowl behind the couch, and then I heard a little growl (Koda), and then a huge fight broke out...

It was terrifying. Big Dog had been so patient with Koda, but I think he had finally had enough and decided he was going to put him in his place (being that Big Dog outweighed Koda by about 30 lbs). I leaped off the couch and tried to get them to break it up. Big Dog had Koda by the neck and was strangling him. I seriously thought my dog was doing to die right in front of me. I even tried to physically pull Big Dog off of Koda. I know...everyone always says to not get into the middle of a dog fight...but he had my BABY. I had to do something. I tried hitting Big Dog with a leash. I tried grabbing his collar to pull him off, but his mouth was so much that Koda just came right up with him when I pulled. There was blood EVERYWHERE. All over the walls, floor and couch. Koda was gasping for air. We were right by the back screen door, so I tried opening that and pulling the dogs outside to see if maybe giving them so more space would help. Nope. I just started screaming for help, and fortunately, my next door neighbors were outside grilling, and one of the guys jumped over my privacy fence and helped me pry Big Dog off of Koda. Koda had lost his collar in the chaos, and he was covered in blood and slobber and super I couldn't hold on to him. He got away from me and they went at it again. Koda lunged at Big Dog multiple times. He tore up the skin around one of his eyes and ears. We finally ended up getting them separated...the neighbor's wife came in the front door and got Aspen in the bathroom to keep her out of it. Big Dog stayed in the back yard, and by the time I got back in from taking Koda into the garage, there were police sirens and two officers at my front door. Apparently one of the other neighbors heard them fighting and called and reported me to the cops...

I was terrified that they were going to take Koda away from me. I couldn't lose my babies...especially after Walter had left...they were all I had. I needed them. So I blamed everything on Big Dog and the animal control officer took him away. I felt terrible, because it really wasn't all his fault...but I didn't know what else to do :(

(For what it's worth, I was able to get Big Dog back after a couple of days of quarantine. I took him to the vet and they gave him a medical bath and some antibiotics to keep his wounds from getting infected. I took him to my sister's house and she fostered him for a couple of weeks until she found him a new home. She renamed him Konan, and he got adopted by a family in McAlister, Oklahoma, that had just lost their beloved 13-year-old Pit Bull a few months prior. They had a 6-year-old boy, and they found Konan to be a perfect addition to their family. Yay for happy endings!)

Anyways...I digress. Since then, Koda hasn't been the same. He has still been great with small dogs, and though he finds them annoying at times because they have so much energy, he tolerates puppies just fine. But when he would see a dog that is around his size or larger, he would lose his mind. Never barking, but growling, crying, and behaving horribly on the leash. It actually just dawned on me a few weeks ago that his daddy's deployment was actually probably what triggered his was like his separation anxiety came back with a vengeance.

There were two other instances where Aspen actually bit another dog. The first was my first summer internship in California two years ago (just a few months after Koda's debacle). I had found a roommate for the 12 weeks I was going to be here, and thought it would be perfect because she had an empty bedroom in the house she was renting, and it had a fenced in yard. She had two dogs of her own. We had been driving for 3 days straight, and when we finally arrived, we wanted to get our dogs acquainted so they could start coexisting in the house and yard. Because I was nervous of how Koda would react, I decided to introduce Aspen first to my roommate's male dog. We had them both leashed, and she walked right up to him, tail wagging and everything. They seemed fine for about 5 seconds, and then out of nowhere, she just jumped up on him and bit his neck. She let loose immediately when I yelled at her, but I felt horrible that she had bit my roommate's dog. Koda actually got along fine with her two dogs after being carefully introduced. I guess he just didn't feel threatened by them. We kept Aspen separated at first, but after a few days, she warmed up to them and they got along just fine for the remainder of the summer.

Then, a few months after that, one day while I was gone to dinner with a friend, apparently the front door did not latch properly, and while I was away, one of the neighbors was running with his 3 dogs. My dogs would usually bark at the front window when they see people/dogs walking in front of our house. But this time I guess they realized they could get out the door. I obviously wasn't there, but I came back to a not from a police officer to call him when I got home. Apparently Koda didn't do anything, but Aspen got aggressive with my neighbors female beagle and bit her leg. She didn't do a lot of damage, and my neighbor said she released quickly when he got on to her, but she did leave a puncture wound. The neighbor called the police to let them know there were two Pit Bulls loose in the neighborhood. I lived in a really small town, so it happened to be one of the same officers that had come out before when Koda got into the fight. He recognized my dogs, so he put them back inside and locked up the house. Thankfully, my neighbor was really kind and understanding, and did not press charges. He had taken his dog to the vet after the incident, so I wrote him a check to cover the vet bills, and other than that, came out completely unscathed.

I could have been forced to give up my dogs after any of those instances. That terrified me. Even thinking about it now scares me. After such a great experience with Sunniva and Jared for the leash training, I booked another session to work on my dogs' reactions towards new dogs. We went to a local park. Sunniva evaluated how each of my dogs responded to new dogs as they would walk past. As usual, it was embarrassing. Aspen would be wagging her tail, but she would just pull like crazy. That dog gets so insanely focused on something, that she can become nearly unmanageable. Koda would snarl and cry and whine and get super anxious. People would be so scared of him. They brought one of their dogs and Sunniva taught me good techniques on how to correct their behavior when they react badly when they see a new dog, as well as how to introduce them to new dogs so that they don't get anxious and do something dangerous. She also helped me realize that a lot of the "reaction" had to do with my fear - I was so fearful that they were going to do something, that they sensed my worry. The negative energy I was expressing was telling them I didn't feel safe, and they took that as "We need to protect Mom. She's afraid." I have learned that by staying calm, I can help them. Every time I see a new dog, I no longer think, "Oh great, here we go again..." but I see it as a perfect opportunity to work with them and improve their behavior. It is still a work in progress, and since every new dog is a little different, we have to take it slowly and build their confidence in order to overcome their anxiety. But words truly can't express how much better they are doing, and how much more I enjoy getting to take them for walks and activities where I know other dogs will be present.

However...since a picture can say a thousand are a few :)

Koda at the dog park in Fayetteville before we moved

Hanging out with our friends' dog, Boone
Group walk with two of my favorite pet sitting clients, Molly & Alex

Koda with Brina, one of our In Our Home Boarding clients!

Aspen sharing her toys with our foster pup, Diesel :)

Koda at the Just For Fun Dog Agility group that meets on Tuesday nights (about 10 other dogs were present...I would like to point out the wagging tail!)

They became quite fond of Radar, our first foster pup after moving to California :)

Koda playing with our newest foster, Layla :)

Aspen and Layla snuggling (Aspen normally doesn't like other female dogs!)
I seriously can't thank Sunniva and Jared enough for what they have done for our pack. Aspen and Koda are completely different dogs than they were when we first started working with Solgave Animal Solutions in April of this year. We still have battles, and there are still things we are constantly working to improve. But I can legitimately say my life has been changed. My relationship with my dogs has changed. My definition of being a "responsible Pit Bull owner", and even my commitment to do so, has changed.

So there you have it...Part One of my Solgave story :) I know this has been kind of long, but I wanted to give everybody some insight as to what brought about this amazing change in my dogs' behavior and in my mentality - both towards them and myself. When I have some time to write Part Two, I will share with you how they invited me to be part of their team, and a little bit of the beginning steps we have taken to create what has become Solgave Animal Solutions - Ridgecrest, CA.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Reviving the ol' blog...

I am a terrible blogger.

I go through phases where I really like the idea of blogging, and I go through others were I think it's silly. Part of me thinks, "This is a great outlet." - another part of me thinks, "In some ways, this is kind of a version of vanity...posting about my life, thoughts, etc., so that other people will read it." Other parts of me think, "This is surely a way to attract a creepy-psycho-stalker because I'm sharing details about my life and all the crazy thoughts floating around in my head." But I have decided that maybe, for me, blogging is going to be a writing outlet. Journal of sorts. Not so much for other people, but for me. To record my thoughts. Have an easy place to come back to and look back on memories. I used to love to write. I kept a journal and wrote in it almost every night. Now, my life is crazy busy and I feel like I never have time. Typing is much faster. And it doesn't hurt my hand and my neck, or waste trees... ;) So I am going to blog again. Well, I am going to try at least.

If you are reading this, please understand that I am doing this more for me than I am anyone else. I can't promise that I will always have some exciting story to tell, or any words of wisdom to inspire you with. Quite frankly, I can't even promise that what I write will make sense to anyone but me. Just know that I think having a healthy outlet is good for all of us. If something I write inspires you, I'm honored. If something I write offends you, I apologize. If something I write makes you laugh - thank you for understanding my sense of humor! If something I write is so completely boring and dull...well, I would encourage you to just skip it and find something more productive to do than read about my life - I am really not that exciting, so I won't be offended :)

I like to think of myself as a thinker. I like to think about things, ideas, values, journeys, goals, and the list goes on and on and on. I love...deeply. I laugh...a lot. And though I probably won't tell you much about my adventures as a rocket scientist...I am keeping that as part of my blog title to remind you that not everything is rocket science, and often times we make things far more difficult than they really are or need to be. The things I will share are most likely going to be things that fall more in the category of "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out" type things.

But I want to share. I want to keep a record of this phase of my life. I just went from being a grad student that lived less than 2-3 hours from nearly all of my relatives, in one of the most beautiful parts of the country in my opinion (Northwest Arkansas) to moving 1500 miles across the country, becoming a homeowner, starting my first "big kid" job working full time, opening a branch of a company that I have come to respect and appreciate so much (all the while learning more of the craziness that comes with living in California - the good, the bad, and the ugly) and learning how to manage a small business, and so much more. I would be crazy if I didn't do something for myself to look back on, share with my kids someday, and keep my family and friends that I can genuinely say live all over the country - and even in some scattered throughout various parts of the world - updated on the changes in my life (if they choose to read it) and the things I am constantly pondering/evaluating in order to allow my thoughts, experiences, etc., to continually improve who I am and become the best version of myself I can possibly figure out how to be.