Freestyler Leonard Cecil Pays Tribute to His Crossover Dogs

Leonard is a fantastic freestyle trainer in Switzerland and a devoted and tireless advocate for positive training.  Leonard used traditional training methods with his first dog, Luna, and now trains using the clicker for his current dog, Vela.

Below is the lovely Luna.

You can read Leonard’s tribute to Luna here. Here is the story of crossover dog Vela’s reactivity training, and here you can read about and see Leonard and Luna’s progress as a freestyle team.

Thank you for sharing the story of both of your lovely ladies, Buzz! It’s an honor to have you participate in Project Monte!

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Trainer Ada Simms Pays Tribute to Crossover Dog, Simon

I received this lovely tribute from Ada Simms, a positive trainer working in Rochester at a positive training facility in Rochester, New York, Boom Towne. Simon and Ada’s relationship certainly went full circle – from positive training and happy puppy, to traditional training and reactive dog, back to positive training and a dog that now competes and thrives as part of a team with his handler.

Thank you, Ada, for sharing Simon’s story with us.

Riding home from Buffalo was so exciting with my new 8 week old AKC registered Golden Retriever. Just what I wanted..big blocky head, giant feet. I knew he was going to be gorgeous. I just had to learn how to train him. Simon was happy and loved to play with other puppies and go places. I was socializing him just as I was told.

He was a puller and getting very strong. At 6 months the instructor said I needed a choke chain to control him. Ok, your the trainer and I know nothing. The choke chain was useless. Now I needed a prong collar. The trainer came to my home to teach me how to walk him and pop the collar so he would stop pulling. Hey it worked!! But deep in my heart I was aching because I knew I was hurting my puppy, but this was the only thing that worked.
At 12 months he passed his CGC and TDI (Therapy Dog). Then I knew this must be the way to train. We started doing visits to nursing homes. I would hide the choke collar under a fuzzy cover. No one knew. Simon loved people.

Fast forward to 18 months. In class, Simon wanted to go visit dogs. Every time he pulled toward the dog, I would pop the prong collar and drag him back. Never seemed to bother him. But at this age when he was feeling his oats and manhood, he started to react to other dogs. It started with little growls, that I would correct. In a matter of two months, it was full blown attack mode when other dogs approached. I was told to Alpha roll, and pop harder, that I wasn’t giving good corrections.

I was taking a Novice Obedience class and the instructor said “Your dog will never be able to show. He is unmanageable”.

My heart sank. My lovely therapy dog has turned into a vicious monster. I was so careful and told people to give us room in class because Simon is aggressive. When entered the training building on a certain night, I didn’t know it was going to be our last. I saw a Golden puppy coming down the narrow aisle. I had told the puppy owner to keep her distance. This was the third reminder I had given her. Simon and I ducked into a ring to let them go by. Her dog was pulling on the end of a 6ft leash. They started going by and dog back tracked pulling the owner and came at Simon head on. Simon gave a warning growl which the dog ignored. Simon and the dog connected and the other dog got a 1/2 scrape on his cheek. Simon could have chewed him up but he has great bite inhibition. The other owner freaked out. All eyes were on me for having such an attack animal.
That was my last time there.

Going home that evening, I just cried. My lovely Golden turned out to be an attack dog. That is what I was told. I started searching the internet for help. Hmm, clicker training sounded interesting and I was desperate. I found a trainer and a behaviorist in this area that practiced both. I was committed to changing my training style. Simon and I practiced and played. Everthing was a game. I learned about disensitizing and counter conditioning. We started about 50 ft away from other dogs and kept on shortening the distance.

At age 4 I decided to take classes again. I knew now how to read my dog, redirect, protect my dog and how to tell people to back off. From not being able to be with dogs and now to do long stays with dogs 4 ft from him….I was might proud. The class I took was Novice Show Preparation. The class was 8 weeks long. Our AKC Obedience trial was coming up in 6 weeks. Will I have learned enough by that time?

I entered Simon in Novice class both days at the trial. I had thought he did very well. At the titling ceremony with 8 other dogs, we waiting for the results. First place was announced. I clapped for the winner. Suddenly, people were shouting, “Ada, that is you!” I was in shock and gladly accepted the blue ribbon. Next day, we ran again and yes….another blue ribbon for first place. What was most rewarding was doing so well in the same training club that used aversives and where I was told I had a dog that could NEVER be a show dog. Simon finished his title with a 3rd place.

We then did Rally. Winning a ribbon every time. He obtained his Rally Excellent and we are working on our RAE of which we have 4 legs. We started agility in my backyard. The clicker way of course. I took classes to use the contact equipment. Our first agility trial, Simon got blue ribbons in Standard and Jumpers/Weaves class. We went onto Open Standard at one of the biggest shows in NYS, last autumn. Simon just got his last leg for Novice. I was nervous about moving him up to Open, but I did. There were 15 dogs entered. Simon got first place and only one other dog qualified on this course.

My groomer loves Simon because he so well behaved. She started to recommend me to her clients. I started doing home visits and then started to teach group lessons.

It has been a long journey and now a happy ending. If I didn’t learn about clicker training and embrace the method, Simon would just be a backyard dog. He is 8 years old now and we recently adopted a young golden retriever, that Simon just loves.
Yes he can play with some dogs, but I never thought he would have another dog in the house.

I am committed to spreading the word about positive training and I am delighted that I do get to teach the public. I tell my story the first night of class, hoping to prevent the same tragedy that happened to me.

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“To Make You Feel My Love”

I’m making a playlist on my iTunes of songs that make me think of my boy, and wanted to share this song by Adele that is absolutely beautiful and exactly how I feel when I think of my angel.

That’s all for tonight on Ode to Boy. I need to hug Mokie now and stop writing for the day.

Give your dogs a smooch, treat, and scratch from the Lomonaco family!

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Mokie misses you too, boy

Bestest Friends

If anyone seriously believes that dogs don’t grieve, I invite them to come visit my beautiful Chow girl, Mokie.

Monte spent his last night in our home after Dr. Beaulieau came to Maison de Lomonaco to send him to the Rainbow Bridge.

Mokie and Monte were both very excited to see Dr. B, on her first visit to our home. Monte tried to bow to her, yelping and quickly collapsing in pain. We sat with him for a while, Jim, Mokie, Dr. B and I. He quickly relaxed, and readily accepted scritchies on his ears, bum, belly, and under his neck. His tail thumped as he received bits of forbidden fruit, chocolate chip cookies.

Dr. Beaulieau asked if we could walk him for a few steps. I encouraged him to get up, and he actually took a few steps before his legs started sliding out from underneath his body and he crumpled onto the hardwood. He yelped, fell, and sighed. I looked at Dr. B beseechingly, “What would you do if this was your dog?” She reassured me that if Monte were hers, my decision would be hers as well.

I thought of the first time Monte met Dr. Beaulieau. If all worked well, she was to be my new vet and colleague. Eventually, Dr. Beauliaeu, Steve, and I hoped to open a facility together where we could work as a team to bring dogs to physical and behavioral wellness. Our first appointment was on a hot day in August. Monte, as all Saints do, was slobbering mercilessly in the heat. Jim and I were well equipped with slobber rags.

Dr. Beaulieau was nice enough to move her office fan from the counter of the examination room to the floor for Monte and provide him with a drink. He liked this, as it is what I used to do when I brought him and Mokie to work at the publishing company with me to hang out in the office for an afternoon.

Dr. Beaulieau was talking to us and suddenly, as her mouth opened, Monte shook his head and flung a ping-pong sized wad of slobber directly into Dr. B’s mouth. Jim and I gasped, I think my heart briefly stopped. Dr. Beaulieau quickly turned pale, running from the room. Looking a bit wan, she returned later and thankfully did not press charges or kick us out as we showered her with apologies.

As the years went by, many of the clients she referred to me would nod knowingly when I would mention Monte, saying “Dr. B told me about his slobber.” It was so fitting that he left her with that story, because everywhere he went he made a big impression. Most reactive dog in Click to Calm ever at Clicking with Canines. Only dog to ever fling slobber in Dr. Beaulieau’s mouth. Walking him past the local elementary school at lunch time, dozens of kids would start jumping and screaming “Beethoven! Beethoven!” as their teachers laughed and waved while Monte beamed with pride, as if he knew his devastating handsomeness made him  the center of attention. Even the burliest and gruffest of road crew workers would quickly burst into laughter at the sight of him trotting along in his back pack. I doubt if a single person that spent time with him would ever forget him.

Right before Dr. Beaulieau pulled the needle from her bag, she looked at Monte, tears in her eyes, throat, and voice, and said, “Who will fling slobber into my mouth now?” I knew exactly how she felt and laughed through the tears. To the uninitiated, it surely would have sounded so disgusting, but I had to laugh because even despite such a memory, you’d have to have a heart of coal not to fall in love with this beast that lay suffering before us, wagging his tail and smiling through the pain.

I’ve often thought since, “who will slobber on my pants, walls, floors, halls, doors, ceilings, and heartstrings?”  Who will pant heavily in the background of my training videos, steal food when I accidentally leave the garbage on the floor or the oven cracked, who will knock things off the coffee table to have them shatter on the floor weekly?  Yes, I miss these things.

Of all his many admirers, perhaps his most devoted was Mokie.

She sat with us as we said goodbye to him, ears back and whimpering softly. Despite their undeservedly bad reputation, Chows are really remarkably sensitive and, at the risk of anthropomorphizing, I’d say she was every bit as sad as the two-legged fans which saw Monte take his last breath.

She sniffed him carefully after Dr. Bealieau left, from nose to tail. The entire time, her ears were back, her eyes closed, her face unspeakably sad. She retreated to the foyer, lying approximately 6 feet from Monte. She spent the rest of the night in this position, watching over him. She would not move, take her eyes off him, or come into the living room. She would not walk near or past him, even when called.  It was as if it hurt her too much to walk past him, knowing his tail wouldn’t begin thumping in earnest, his eyes sparkling, his pink belly on full display. I knew exactly how she felt.

After Dr. Beaulieau left, I laid with him for what seemed like hours, trying to imprint on my soul the feeling of his fur between my fingers. Not wanting him to sleep alone on his last night with us, Jim and I crashed in the living room; I on the loveseat, he on the couch. I laid awake for hours, staring at him and crying. Reluctantly, I fell asleep.

When I woke the next morning, I spent another hour staring at Monte before I even got up. When I rose, Mokie was in the same position, frozen, staring, sighing when she’d look at her brother. I went to her and we cried together, I in my own way and she in hers.

When we returned home from taking Monte for his last car ride, she promptly went to the spot where he had spent his last night and hardly budged from this location, with the exception of trips out for potty breaks, for days.

Last weekend, Jim and I went out of town for his family reunion. It was the first time that Mokie had been without Jim, myself, or Monte in 4.5 years. Even when Monte was with us, she disliked being separated him for any amount of time and would be anxious without him. While we were gone, my pet sitter said that she laid in the back yard at the bottom of the stairs, staring at the drive way. She did not want to come in the house or eat the entire time.

Normally wild, playful, impulsive, independent, and somewhat indignant, Mokie is much more sedate since Monte has left the house. She seems to have, for the time being, lost some of her “spark,” a syndrome I think everyone in our home with the exception of Eartha Kitty is experiencing in Monte’s absence.  She is tired and seems to have aged significantly in the last few weeks.  Monte brought the puppy out in Mokie, and vice versa.

Some may say I’m anthropomorphizing, but I truly do believe that Mokie is grieving with us. Watching her, I’m realizing now that I have many new training challenges – I have to prepare her for our eventual addition of a Saint puppy, make sure I provide her with plenty of fun experiences, practice many controlled separations to help reduce her anxiety.  I have to reciprocate her patience with me in my grieving process by allowing her time to process and heal from this loss. She is an “only child” now, an unfamiliar lifestyle to her.

She lost a friend, a confident, a wrestling partner, a teammate, a brother. I swear more than once I saw her rolling her eyes at Monte when I made training mistakes, making a polite joke of my own bad behavior as if to say, “Be patient with this reactive one. She’ll learn if you are patient and loving.” She truly is wise beyond all five of her years..

I am sorry for your loss too, Mokie. You taught Monte as much as I ever did and were his very first and best doggy friend. I know you miss your brother. Before long, you will help me for the second time in raising a Saint Bernard to be a Saint in the truest definition of the word. I have a lot of faith in you, you’re one of the best dog trainers I know.  That’s a good girl, cub.

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Happy Birthday, Angel!

Bacon Cake for the Boy

I was researching Saint Bernard breeders today, and came across this quote (author unknown):

“A Saint is a friend for life. They hurt us only one time in their life, and that is the day we lose them.”

So true, as I celebrate your sixth birthday without you today.

I think you must have sent me a gift recently.  Funny that I’ve never had a Saint Bernard in classes or private lessons until recently, when I received a Click to Calm application for a 9 month old Saint exhibiting reactive behavior toward men.  I meet him for a private lesson on Monday, and hope that I can a) make it through the lesson without crying, and b) not commit a serious breach of professional ethics by stealing my client’s dog.

For your birthday, I will honor you by doing everything I can to help save this Saint’s life and his owner’s sanity.  It will be a healing experience for me to help a piglet like you and a frazzled dog parent, much like your dad and I once were.  I’ll also give the cub lots of yummies, you’d want her to have them I’m sure.  Once she won you over, you would give her the meatball out of your Kong you loved her so much.

Today, I should be feeding you meals worthy of a Saint; a breakfast of home made, organic peanut butter banana ice cream and free range buffalo and venison ribs that have been waiting in the freezer for this day since last year’s hunting season’s scraps.  I’d especially like to make you a bacon cake, I always liked to give you bacon on your birthday – it was a special treat that you only got on this special day.

Instead, I will be looking through your pictures, laughing and crying and remembering each of the approximately 12,000,000 important lessons you taught me in our short time together and planning on how I can share the most critical of them with my new Saint-in-Training.

Tonight, before bed, I’ll remind dad that since I can’t hook you up with your favorite yummies on the birthday, he’ll have to do so over the bridge.  I hope you are able to hump the legs of lots of hugging people, deliver a toy to everyone you greet as you so loved to do, steal twizzlers, gourmet candy apples, and breakfast pastries to your belly’s content, and that you plaster the heavens with slobber.

I miss you.  Happy birthday, angel.

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From “I can’t live with this dog,” to “How am I going to live without this dog?”

I remember the first time I saw Monte on petfinder.  I nearly fell out of my desk chair (yes, I was snooping on petfinder when working at the publishing company) when I saw how handsome he was.  Flip-flop, flip-flop, went my heart, nearly as “twitterpated” (old Bambi definition, nothing to do with modern social networking sites) as I was when I met the most handsome human man I’d ever met, the man who was to become my husband.

I filled out an application for him immediately.  When I received the approval notification, I asked my friend Brenda if she would be willing to take a five hour road trip with me to get him.  It was Valentine’s Day, 2006.

The drive there seemed really long, because of the excitement and anticipation.

When we finally arrived, it was dark.  I was greeted by a very nice lady, who said she would go get “Beethoven” and bring him out to me.  Brenda and I waited together in the garage.

Not two minutes later, the door opened.  My heart leapt, and then fell.  Even from across the room, I could smell him.  When I saw him, my excitement quickly turned into apprehension, when then quickly turned to resignation as I saw his smile.  He bolted out of her hands, rushed over to me, and leaned his frail, skinny, dirty, smelly body into me as hard as he could.  He looked up at me, I down at him, and we both smiled.

“Let’s go home, boy.”

We stopped at McDonald’s and purchased some chicken McNuggets to teach him his new name on the ride home.  We rode with the windows down to dissipate the stench, despite the cold, upstate-New-York-in-February chill that quickly filled the car.  Because it was such a long trip, we stopped at a rest area on the way home, Brenda and I taking turns peeing and baby-sitting.

When we finally arrived home, Mokie and Jim rushed out to greet us.  Monte reacted with what seemed like astonishing ferocity.  Mokie, luckily, responded favorably and had him wrapped around her Chow-y paws within approximately five minutes.  They were fast and forever friends.

The next day, we gave him his first bath.  I had worried that perhaps he would hate it. Instead, he looked at us with relief in his eyes as the black, oily, water ran from his skin for what seemed like days.  It probably did feel good, since only days earlier he had enough ticks to fill a coffee mug pulled from his skin.  His back, from the base of his shoulders to the base of his tail, was one bald, open, oozing, smelly, weepy hot spot.

One of the most tangible emotional memories I have of the early weeks of bringing Monte home was the response I got from others in my community when I’d take him for walks.  Often, I got terribly dirty looks from people in the neighborhood.  “Look at that skinny dog.  He looks abused.”  They would shake their heads, rubbernecking, tongues clucking, slowing down their cars as they passed looking at me, disgusted, as though I had done all of this to him.  Walking him was very shameful for me.

Things got a lot worse before they got a little better.  Because he had been so malnourished, Monte’s body just didn’t know how to process good food.  For the first four to six weeks, he would have diarrhea about four times a day.

I was lucky enough to work at a publishing company which was within two miles of my home at the time.  I would leave for work at about ten of 8 each morning, returning home at 10 a.m. during my 15 minute break, again at about 12:30 for an hour lunch break, back at 3 for my second 15 minute break of the day, and then home again at five.

Each time I would unlock the door, my nostrils would be assaulted and my heart would drop.  Yet again, Monte had defecated all over himself.  His feces were practically liquid – they were mashed into his crate, the walls, the floor outside the crate, and all over his fur. His body didn’t know what to do with regular, quality nutrition, despite the fact that I tried to transition slowly and carefully.  Additionally, he’d never lived in a house before, so he didn’t know that toileting should ideally be an outdoor activity.

I would come home on lunch break with my friends, ready to watch an episode of Montel and relax for a bit.  I would apologize profusely through my tears and embarrassment as I tried to clean up the inevitable lunchtime mess.

It wasn’t until about three weeks after Monte had come home that he began exhibiting his true reactivity to other dogs. He dragged me into city traffic after another dog, leaving scars that will last for a lifetime.  He went after my scaredy cat Eartha Kitty, and my lip got sliced open, leaving another lovely scar in the process of trying to keep her safe.  He had my friend’s skull in his mouth.  He bit my brother-in-law.  Two other friends were also bitten.  I thought I was going to lose my house, my husband, and my mind.

He broke everything within paw or tails’ reach, and he could reach virtually anything I could reach.  He mounted and held on for dear life to the leg of anyone in my house with the audacity to hug someone.  He chewed up expensive chews.  He learned how to open the oven and steal home-made breakfast pastries.

This may not be politically correct, but blogging as much as I have I’m fairly used to and expect my share of irate reader emails from people who disapprove of my opinions or decisions.  While many may judge, honestly, the only way I can possibly describe life with Monte, in the first year, is how I would imagine it would be for a human raising a child that had severe physical and behavioral abnormalities.

Continue reading

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Jamie pays tribute to crossover dog Risa

Since Jamie is a great clicker trainer, I’m not surprised that her timing is impeccable.  Returning home from the family reunion to find that dogster had honored Monte as their first “Dog of the Month,” I also received a new submission for Project Monte from my friend, Jamie.

Jamie is mom to dogster <a href=”http://www.dogster.com/dogs/417572″>Risa</a&gt;.  Risa, like Monte, was rescued with some reactivity issues.  Having had the pleasure of spending time with Jamie and Risa, taking Ris and Mokie on walks together, I can say that what Jamie and Risa have accomplished as a team in Risa’s rehabilitation is nothing short of inspirational.  Risa is one of my favorite dogsters, and Jamie one of my favorite dog moms/fellow behavior (and Harry Potter) nerds.

Below you will find a picture of Risa shortly after her rescue:

Jamie has offered to share Risa’s story with all of you.  Trust me, this is a gift, as Risa truly is a diamond in the rough and luckily, found a mom who is similarly distinguished.  Thank you, Jamie and Risa, for the inspiration and support you gave Monte and I and continue to give other pet parents.

Here is a picture of Risa now:

I had wanted a dog for as long as I can remember.  My parents always said “No.”  So I spent most of my life learning all I could about dogs.  Reading dog books, hanging out with friends’ dogs, researching online, and watching dog training shows on TV.  I thought I knew all I needed to know about raising and training a dog.

As soon as I got my first real job, I started looking for my dog.  My patience was waning when I finally saw her listing.  She was listed as a 2.5-year old Border collie mix.  It said she was okay with dogs and kids, though a bit shy, with a sunny personality.  She sounded like exactly what I was looking for.

I called about her and was told she was no longer available.  Crushed, I emailed the shelter employee I had been in contact with.  She sent me a couple emails about other dogs they had available.  Then I got another email informing me my dog was at the shelter and to call immediately!  My heart leapt!  I spoke at length with the shelter worker and she sounded like the perfect dog for me.  I took a 3 hour drive just to meet her and I knew she’d be coming home with me.

The shelter was honest with me about her fears.  I knew I was going to have some work to do and I was dedicated to the work ahead of us.  Unfortunately, I was soon to realize I was in over my head and ill-equipped to deal with my new dog’s problems.

I knew Risa needed some remedial socialization but I went about it entirely wrong.  I placed her in overwhelming situations shortly after her arrival.  We hadn’t even had a chance to bond yet.  In my ignorance, I inadvertently showed her I would not protect her from scary things.  That she needed to take things into her own paws.

Though she may have been predisposed to being reactive from the start, I did nothing to help her out.  She started out very stiff and fearful in dog-dog interactions.  From there, she progressed to snapping at dogs who approached her as I sat her alongside the path at the park.  Soon, she was putting on a huge display at the mere sight of another dog.  I was at a loss as to what was going on.

While I was knowledgeable about teaching behaviors like ‘sit’ and ‘down,’ I had no idea how to fix a reactive dog–let alone know what one was!  I had been walking Risa on a prong collar so I started correcting her for the out of control behavior she exhibited.  This only lead to more frustration for both of us.  I had no idea why she behaved the way she did and she didn’t know what I wanted. I spent many nights crying in desperation unable to help my dog.

We were already enrolled in a clicker training class by the time I realized we had a serious problem.  I talked with our trainer about Risa’s behavior as well as consulting with friends online.  Initially, I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer or game plan.  I bought some dog training books about reactivity and finally the light bulb went on.  Risa behaved the way she did because she was afraid.

It seemed so obvious all of a sudden.  She was afraid of so many things; why wouldn’t she be afraid of dogs too!?  I finally had an answer.  A reason why.

I started working on a new training regimen based on suggestions in the books I’d read.  I needed to prove to Risa that other dogs weren’t scary and that I would protect her if she felt overwhelmed.  I also had to learn to control my frustration with her behavior.  Getting upset didn’t help either one of us!  Most importantly, I had to learn to listen to my dog; an alien concept at the time.  After all, wasn’t I the one in charge?  Shouldn’t she listen to me no matter what?  It was a major mentality change for me but it was the leap I needed to make.  I needed to become my dog’s partner, take her thoughts into account, and be less concerned about being an alpha.

I tried various methods, all focusing on creating positive associations or giving her alternative behaviors to her reactions.  I ditched the prong collar early on and started using a martingale.  Soon I switched to a front clip harness to keep Risa from hurting herself when lunging and to give me more control over her if she reacted.

After a year of hard work, we really started to get visible progress.  Her reactions were much more subtle.  She recovered quicker.  Risa was able to meet other dogs while on leash.  She could be in tight spaces with them without being overly worried.

Her training went into overdrive when we moved back east to a busy city.  There we saw countless dogs and people daily.  I started doing some classical conditioning with her; stuffing her full of goodies whenever she saw another dog.  Soon, she was able to walk past other dogs without blinking an eye.  It was still hard for her to not react if another dog stared or reacted first.  But she was much easier to control and it didn’t put her on edge with any dogs we saw afterward.

Risa’s transformation has been amazing.  I started off with a fearful dog.  One who was only comfortable inside.  Outside she was distractible and always on the lookout for the scary things.  A dog who soon became reactive to other dogs.  Risa even thought people were terrifying especially if they tried to pet her.

Today, she almost looks normal!  She can walk through crowds of people, dogs, and kids without worrying.  Risa actively investigates new people and can quickly become friends with them.  She even has some dog friends she can play with!

I knew when I read her Petfinder listing that Risa was the one for me.  I knew we had been brought together for a reason.  I often joke about who taught whom more over the course of our 4-year friendship.  If I’m honest, I learned more about myself and about dogs in general from Risa.  I am a better person for having known this dog.  She truly is the dog I needed.

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