Posts in category Kira

Letting Go and Holding On

I almost missed it. There’s a seminar next weekend with a trainer I really admire and she rarely does seminars on the east coast. I came very close to signing up this morning. I was actually looking at the registration information when my phone rang.

It was my friend calling to tell me she needed to cancel our dogs’ play date for the afternoon. Her 12 1/2 year old dog was mysteriously lame. He’d gone to the vet yesterday for a Rimadyl refill; it seemed his arthritis was acting up. This morning he had gone out to use the bathroom and walked around a bit in the grass. Suddenly, he was horribly lame, unable to put any pressure on his rear leg and seemed unable to move the bottom half of it.

My friend rushed her dog to the emergency vet clinic by her house and texted a short time later. X-rays confirmed the vet’s suspicions. The leg was severely fractured and an aggressive bone cancer was spreading. My friend would have to let her sweet dog go within a few hours.

I was stunned. Her dog was getting old but he still seemed in good shape; he’d just enjoyed a trip to the beach and I saw him just the other day in pictures with her other dogs. He was one of the first dogs I introduced Gambit to as a puppy and one of Clover’s first dog friends. He was a sweet, gentle soul and he will be greatly missed.

Gambit and Louie

Prim, Louie and Clover

My friends’ day and mine ended very differently then I thought it would when I woke up this morning. I thought I was getting ready to go hang out and let our dogs play. I had no idea she would have to say good bye to her wonderful boy a few hours later.

It seems that even when we lose our dogs they leave us with a precious gift, their constant reminder to be as present as possible and to enjoy the moments together.

So, I’m not going to the seminar next weekend. It’s Kira’s birthday weekend. We’ve been through a lot this past year. It was a close call, but I’m not missing Kira’s birthday for anything.

My heart aches for my friend and I will miss her boy. Thank you for the reminder to hold on to these moments.

*You can read more about Kira’s story here:
We have a sit!, Enjoying the Sunshine, Life Lessons From Kira, Kira is getting old, and it is mostly wonderful

Kira is Getting Old, And it is Mostly Wonderful

Kira snored softly while I spoke to my husband on the phone last night. He asked his usual question, “How is she doing?” She’d fallen a few times outside and a few times I’d barely managed to catch her inside but overall she is doing well. Over the past year Kira has been plagued by very serious and mysterious illnesses. We’ve twice been strongly advised to let her go. Thankfully, Kira had other plans.

She is a tough old girl. Kira is 12.5 and will be 13 in June. And last night my husband made a very astute observation. We are lucky that now Kira has a typical old dog issue. The vet diagnosed her with old dog vestibular disease. Kira has a head tilt, is wobbly on her feet and seems to have some vertigo, especially when she first gets up from lying down. Several times she has had nystagmus, where her eyes rapidly flick back and forth. All of this will likely greatly improve within a few weeks. And it is something old dogs get. Kira has stuck around long enough to have a condition that commonly affects old dogs. That is pretty remarkable. And my husband’s one observation greatly shifted my perspective. I’d been focused on how it was much harder now to get Kira up and down the one step into the garage to take her outside and how I often had to race to catch up with her to keep her from bumping into corners as she made staggering turns. I was thinking about how Kira slipped in the garage last night. Of course, Kira has not slowed down because she is wobbly and unsteady on her feet. She still moves at the same speed, Kira speed – fast and determined.

Kira head tilt

But just like Kira, we are adjusting. We bought a bunch of rug runners so she now has a runway through the garage. We moved things around so there is nothing to bang into when she careens wildly around a corner. We added another large dog bed that is fairly easy for her to get up from. We spend a bit more time bringing her toys and rubbing her ears. And I try not to groan when she barks wildly outside, telling the neighborhood she has her ball. But mostly we are just thankful to still have our old girl.

*In typical Kira fashion, she’s adjusted amazingly well and once she’s been standing for a bit can still move pretty well.

Stop Bothering Me!
Our patterns of behavior shape our dogs’ predictions

Identifying patterns and predicting what will happen next can help our dogs feel good and more comfortable. As Steven Kotler writes in his book,The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, “So important is prediction to survival, that when the brain guesses correctly-i.e., when the brain’s pattern-recognition system identifies a correct pattern-we get a reward, a tiny squirter of the feel-good neuro chemical dopamine.” Unfortunately, sometimes we find our dogs’ predictions of our behavior annoying and inconvenient.

At my house, Gambit will go to the back door and look at me eagerly in the morning. He’ll wait for me to go play soccer with him, or if the weather isn’t nice we train inside. But once we are done with soccer and our walk, that’s it. There’s no whining and obsessing over the back door. Inside my house Gambit amuses himself with chewing on one of his many bones or playing with my Golden Retriever, Clover.

But when we visit at my friend’s house, Gambit whines incessantly at her back door until I go outside and play with him. His whining is very annoying.

Why does Gambit whine to play ball at my friend’s house but never at home?

Gambit with ball

Similarly, my German Shepherd, Kira continually paces and pokes at my husband when he tries to work on his computer at night. She makes it very difficult for him to get his work done. When I came home from teaching the Mica Dog Sports Club Class the other night, my husband asked if I had exercised the dogs as much as usual. I’d given the shepherds their usual walk in the morning and trained them and played soccer with them in the afternoon. When I’d been home with them earlier, before leaving to teach class, they’d been relaxed and laying around. Yet, they’d been pacing and poking him.


So, what is the difference? Why does Kira harass my husband endlessly but fall asleep when I sit down to read a book?

The answer lies in our patterns of behavior and our dogs’ predictions. Kira and Gambit are predicting what will happen next and the majority of time they are correct. We have built expectations with our patterns and created whining and harassment.

Gambit knows that I sometimes play a second or third round of ball with him at my friend’s house. If he waits long enough at her back door I will go back outside. At my house, after we exercise in the morning we are done until the afternoon. There is no reason to whine because Gambit has no expectation of playing ball again.

Kira’s pattern is to continually convince my husband to get up to get her things. And it is hard not to give Kira whatever she wants. We have almost lost her several times to serious illnesses and she is 12.5 years old. My husband enjoys giving her ice cubes, cucumbers and other treats. Kira has learned that if she pokes him enough his pattern of behavior is that he will get up to give her something and that he will usually get up more than once.

If your dog is persistent and continually harassing you to play ball, feed them, etc., try taking a look at your patterns of behavior. How does your dog predict when food or play is coming?

My husband acknowledges his pattern of behavior but he is unlikely to change. He likes seeing Kira happy so he will have to put up with her pacing and poking at him as he works. If Gambit’s whining at my friend’s house truly annoys me then I will have to be clearer about when we are and are not playing ball. We will both need to change our patterns of behavior to subsequently alter our dogs’ predictions. Our behavior patterns are the key to quiet visits and sleeping dogs.

Fetch is overrated! Try Soccer!
There are lots of ways to exercise your dog

Roka outside with ball

I don’t play fetch very often. I’m not against fetch. I just think soccer is often better. It takes a lot of effort for a dog to chase a ball and not all dogs find it equally rewarding to run back and give their precious ball to someone. If there is enough room to play fetch, then there should be enough room for soccer.

With soccer, there’s no conflict. I kick the ball, my dog runs and he gets to keep the ball he has. The main difference with soccer is it involves me moving around, which is probably not a bad thing. After I finished playing soccer today my phone informed me that I had walked for 12 minutes. That’s not too shabby. I walked half a mile, just walking around my back yard kicking the ball for my dog, playing soccer. My dog got exercise, I got exercise and he got to hold on to his ball. Everybody wins.

My young dog Gambit likes to run very, very fast and is not as good at deceleration. With soccer, the game is a bit more controlled and Gambit is less likely to hurt himself. I’ve trained Gambit to return the ball to my hand but soccer is still a fun activity for us.

My older dogs, Roka and Kira, are typical possessive German Shepherds and definitely prefer soccer or retrieving with 2 balls to returning and releasing one ball. My Golden Retriever, Clover, is mostly blind and playing ball is very arousing for her. She does much better when she holds the ball in her mouth and I kick a second ball that she runs toward by locating through sound.

Exercise solutions can be different for different dogs and soccer is only one solution. It just happens to be one of my favorites.

Here’s a super short video of Roka and I playing our version of soccer and Kira cheering in the background.

*Some dogs like to play goalie so be careful when kicking the ball and in some cases it may be helpful to teach your dog to back up before kicking the ball.

Life Lessons From Kira

As we enjoy today’s sunshine, it seemed appropriate to share some life lessons from Kira 🙂

1. Don’t Give Up
Bloating is tough and so is becoming completely paralyzed and unable to hold your head up on your own. It’s also rough to be told your gall bladder has ruptured and you should be euthanized immediately.  But there are still people that love you and will help you through the dark times. They will prop your head up with towels and cook you meals. Just because things look bad on paper, doesn’t mean you are done.

Kira in her cart in December 2015

“If you’re not dead yet, you’re not done yet.” ~~ Elizabeth Gilbert’s Mom

2. Keep Your Friends Close
Friends are entertaining to watch chase the ball and bark at the deer. They will keep you company when you feel vulnerable.

“I awoke this morning with devout thanksgiving for my friends, the old and the new.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

3. Take some time to sit on the hillside.
Don’t forget how beautiful it is outside and how much it can lift your spirits. A beautiful day is such a gift.

Kira and Roka 20160324

“To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.” – Milan Kundera

4. Chase the Ball
Even if your legs don’t work quite the way they used to and it’s more of a galumph then a gallop, make the effort. You will find a way to get the ball. It’s worth it.

Kira with her ball

“What if I fall? Oh my darling, what if you fly?” – Erin Hanson

Sunshine and Tail Wags,


Enjoying the Sunshine

Our dog Kira’s health has been very poor lately and yesterday we had a heartbreaking appointment with an internal medicine specialist. We were told that Kira’s gall bladder has likely ruptured and the only hope would be surgery that would be excruciatingly painful and would only give her a 5-10% chance of recovery. She is weak from previous illnesses and not a good candidate for surgery. Last night with broken hearts we prepared to say goodbye to Kira this evening.

Kira has always been a challenging dog, from the moment we took her home and she paced around our TV room continuously for hours. We had dogs when we got her but I was not yet a trainer and her behavior was far from what we were used to. At 7 months old, when she came home with us, she thought it was okay to use the bathroom in the house and jumped over any gate we put up as if it were a fun obstacle. She was indifferent to us and would stand and stare at us while we called and tried to entice her to come over. She lunged and barked aggressively at other dogs – anything that wasn’t another German Shepherd – and horrified us and our neighbors.

She taught me to look beyond her scary display of aggression and see the fear underneath. She taught me to find new ways to help her when nothing I knew was working. I learned the value of working to form a relationship with a dog that was indifferent.

Finding ways to help Kira led me to meet some of the best people in my life. Through classes and training and becoming a trainer I have formed friendships with amazing people and I feel so lucky that Kira led me to them. My desire to find a way to work with her without force pushed me to learn more, read more, train more. It made me want to share what I learned.

I am so grateful for this crazy, strong, willful girl. It has not been an easy ride. But it has been worth every second.

This morning, after a tearful evening, Kira surprised us with her bright eyes, desire to enjoy the sunshine and trying to steal Roka’s ball. We will give her her wings when she is ready. But we are on her time and we are taking it one small step at a time.

Please think of Kira today and if you can, enjoy some sunshine with your dogs.

Kira this morning, deciding this is a day to enjoy
Kira and Patrick walking

Kira and Roka 20160324

We Have A Sit!

This morning was a very exciting morning at our house. Our 11.5 year old German Shepherd, Kira, became mysteriously paralyzed in all of her limbs in early December and this morning she was able to push herself up into a sit. This is huge progress from 5 weeks ago when she was not able to hold her head up unless we propped her up with several rolled up towels. We are making small steps toward our big goal of her walking again on her own.

Kira’s small step toward walking again made me think about the steps Gambit and I are taking with the car. Dog training, like a lot of things, is all about small steps. And it is so important to stop and celebrate along the way to the big goal.

Gambit has severe anxiety about the car. He’s thrown up multiple times and even with medication he has severe diarrhea after car rides. He doesn’t want to go anywhere near the car. I am trying to remember to take small steps with him and today we worked on just hanging out by the car and putting his front paws up for a few licks of peanut butter out of his Kong. And then we celebrated. Being willing to get in the car on his own is the goal. Our small step today was about first being able to be comfortable near the car. Like everyone else I would love to just pick him up and put him in the car and go. But if I bypass the little steps I may never reach my bigger goal.

I really didn’t want to be outside on this super cold morning working on this, but I promised myself a hot chocolate as soon as we went inside. So while I drank my hot chocolate, Gambit finished the rest of his Kong inside and I watched Kira resting in the other room. And I feel good. Small steps towards our goals.