12/21/2016: Current “Projects”

Right now I’m mainly focusing on Abe, my lab/BC mix. Here’s his story, as far as I know it.

Abe was transferred from a high-kill shelter when he was about a year old because he was heartworm positive. The shelter he was transferred to treated him for heartworm and adopted him out; at that point, he was a normal dog. The adopter returned him, and he was absolutely terrified of people, especially men. He was sent to a prison program where he learned basic obedience, but someone other than his main handler went to pet him, and he nipped, so he was returned to the shelter. That’s when I met him, in November 2016. I went to go see him after seeing his petfinder ad online. Both myself and my boyfriend graduated from the school of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, colloquially abbreviated ABE, so I just had to go see him. Of course, I fell in love immediately, especially given his unique set of “quirks” and “issues.” I specialize in timid horses, so a dog couldn’t be that much different!

Abe has some fear aggression issues, as I found out when I brought him home. He will bite if he feels cornered and endangered, and it doesn’t take much for him to feel cornered and endangered. He has bitten my dad, after he did exactly what I told him NOT to do, and he’s bitten me when I’ve been too careless about how I handled him.

A few weeks after bringing him home, I had to take him to the vet to get him established in their system. During his physical exam, he screamed, shook, and cowered like he’d been hit every time the vet touched him. He became very aggressive, and even though he was muzzled, he tried to bite the vet and the techs. After the limited exam, he continued to growl at anyone who came in the room. The vet prescribed Prozac for him, and we started him on a very low dose. It has turned him into a different dog, but we still have some work to do. He’s more relaxed now and is handling being touched better. He still has an issue with having his feet touched, but he’s okay with being touched elsewhere, and we’re working on his feet.

The goal for Abe is to get him to essentially function as a “normal” dog; that is, be able to process and experience normal, everyday experiences without a lot of anxiety. These normal, everyday experiences include, but are not limited to:

  • Being petted all over
  • Being picked up
  • Being bathed
  • Having feet touched all over
  • Having nails clipped
  • Having guests over to the house
  • Allowing strangers to pet him, or at least interact with him in some way

How I’m going to go about getting him to this point is a two-part approach. One includes medication to get his anxiety under control. I am very open about the fact that I’m on medication for my anxiety, too, so I have no hesitation about doing what Abe needs to help him feel secure and less anxious. Being on an SSRI has changed my life; he deserves to have his life changed for the better as well, and if medication is the way to go, we’ll do that. The second part of my approach includes positive desensitization to the things that make him nervous. He’s an incredibly fearful dog, so everything must be approached with that in mind. Trying to “dominate” him or force him to do anything he isn’t comfortable with will NOT work; he will only get worse. I have to build up his confidence in me and lead him through situations where he can learn to be confident.

My secondary focus is Piper, my mini. I’ve worked with her a lot already, but since it’s winter now, I’m not super motivated to go out in the cold to work with her more. As of now, her basic skills are fairly solid while on a halter and lead. She stands tied, loads in a trailer (and hops up into the back of my pickup), and lets me handle her without a whole lot of fuss, although she’s still nervous about it. Her main issue is with being caught, and with allowing me to touch her face and head. I have been able to figure out why she’s so scared: she has a huge scar running between her ears and down the center of her forehead. Something, or someone, made that scar. I don’t blame her for being scared to have her head touched!

For now, her issues are not hindering my ability to care for her, so I’ll resume her training in the Spring when it gets warmer. In the meantime, she still gets daily handling and attention, but I’m not terribly worried about progressing her training at the moment. The goal for her is largely the same as Abe, but the approach is a bit different. She doesn’t seem to need any medication to help her cope, so I will continue her positive desensitization process as with Abe. Watch for more updates on Piper in the future.


08/21/2017: I failed.

A year go today, I brought Piper home. And today, on the anniversary of saving her life, I failed.

I pulled Piper from a yard of horses bound for slaughter in August of last year, exactly a year ago today. She was thin, terrified, and had scars to tell her story. She was so small that she would have gotten crushed by the other horses on the truck on the way to the slaughter plant. So I bought her instead. The plan was to fatten her up, work out her issues, and find her a new home where she would be loved and cared for. I named her Piper after my favorite character in the TV series Charmed, hoping that the name would give her the powerful desire to overcome her past like her fictional namesake. It seemed to work; she slowly became a curious, exuberant, beautiful little horse. She is still wary of people, but she’s gotten so much better.

I started fostering Scarlet, an 9-year-old tricolor mini, from the Indiana Horse Rescue in April of this year to keep Piper company. Scarlet was a fat, snuggly little pony that had too much personality and sass to measure. Because of Piper’s status as a rehoming project, I didn’t adopt Scarlet – I wanted to leave the option open for Scarlet to be adopted by the right family while I was working with Piper to get her ready to be rehomed. They became like sisters immediately and have been inseparable.

In early May, Piper got her leg tangled up in a fence. Her right rear leg had the circulation cut off for several hours, but no skin was broken. Over the next weeks, the skin sloughed away and started regrowing, requiring hours of daily care. After spending thousands on vet bills, medications, wound dressing, etc, we thought she turned the corner and would fully regrow the skin and hair on the leg. I was elated! It was almost over!

Then her pedal bone came through the bottom of the hoof. The connective tissues in the hoof had separated as a result of the loss of circulation, causing the bone in her foot to come through to the outside. I almost had the vet euthanize her on the spot – I really considered it. But I gave her a shot. Daily bandage changes, special boots, different medications, and countless vet bills continued for months. I really thought I would lose her, but she remained her normal self, despite her injury, so we continued trying. I did literally thousands of hours of research to understand what was going on in her hoof, and I refused to be helpless. I developed a plan to tackle the problem, learned corrective trimming techniques, and shaped her foot on a daily basis to encourage the most efficient regrowth. I was willing to try anything.

Through this whole process, Piper was stall bound, which meant that Scarlet was as well. Scarlet provided Piper with a solid, calm presence in their isolation. Without Scarlet, I have no doubt that Piper would have turned into a manic, anxious mess if I had to keep her stall bound by herself while the other horses got to go out and play. Scarlet also gave Piper the confidence to approach people on her own, something she never did before. They are quite the pair.

Today, on the anniversary of saving Piper’s life, I failed with them both. I am a failure.

…a foster failure. Today, Piper has progressed to a point where I can confidently say that she’s going to be okay! She has been brought back from what could have ended her life, and would have if I didn’t approach it just right. I can’t even consider rehoming her after bringing her back from this. I have failed in my mission to rehab and rehome her. She’s mine! I also can’t imagine letting Scarlet go after she kept Piper sane while I brought her back. So today is not only Piper’s adopt-iversary, but also Scarlet’s. She’s mine too!

When I get a horse or a dog with an interesting story, I like to give them “full” names. I gave Piper the name Forever Charmed; that’s the name of the last episode of Charmed, when everyone gets their happily ever after. I wanted to give Scarlet a related name. I scrolled through the episode list of the series until I landed on the perfect name: Charmed and Dangerous. This name encapsulates the attitude and personality of this little pony, and it also gives a nod to the badass character “Black Widow,” played by Scarlett Johansson. It’s perfect. I have name plates on order to make it official.

Today their brand-new, matching leather halters hang on hooks at their barn, below handmade plaques where their new name tags will be mounted. Along with the halters, there are new, handmade lead ropes.

These plaques and leads have one special characteristic: they’re blue.

Blue is my “forever color.” A horse of mine only wears blue if they’re here to stay. When I got them, Piper’s color was green, and Scarlet’s was red. Now that they’re here to stay, they’ve both been upgraded to the official color of the rest of the herd. Welcome to the family, girls. I’m so glad you’re still here.




06/20/2017: Piper’s injury

I’ve been chronicling Piper’s injury and progress on my Facebook page, but I haven’t posted photos of the injury site itself because of their graphic nature.  Continue to scroll to see the photos of her progress.

On May 7, Piper got her right hind leg wrapped in a fence line. I use elastic polymer fencing that doesn’t cut skin, but it does stretch. Because her leg is so tiny, she was somehow able to wrap it completely around her leg, piano-wire-around-the-neck style. It cut off circulation for an unknown amount of time before I found her and cut her free. The best estimate is six hours, based on the amount of poop there was in the area where she was caught; horses poop about every two hours, and there were three piles.

The fence didn’t cause any internal damage, but she was very sore, and the tendon was contracted. I trimmed around the area and didn’t see any broken skin.


A few days later, the skin started to slough off. I expected this because of the length of time she had lost circulation.


Over the next days, more skin came off in chunks.


We also ran into a disgusting problem: maggots. Because I had left the leg open while the skin was coming off in the beginning to keep it from rotting under a bandage, flies had a chance to lay eggs in the tissue. It’s a common issue and easily fixed, but it’s disgusting.


The rest of the skin came off quickly after.


The challenge became allowing granulation tissue to fill in the gaps without letting the bandage stick. But it did fill in with the proper care.


There are grass clippings in the wound in the above photo because I would let it go bare for a few hours each day while she grazed. Before being bandaged, I would clean the wound and clear out the debris.



It was at this point that I became concerned about her hoof. The coronary band was turning black, and the hoof didn’t seem to be growing out as one consistent piece. The new growth was separate from the old. Nothing to be done, just monitoring.


Keeping granulation tissue in check is difficult. The nature of the tissue means that it is fast-growing and can grow excessively out past where it is needed. This is what is called “proud flesh” colloquially in the horse industry. The use of the proper topical application (bandage and ointment) is pretty important in preventing proud flesh. Piper had not grown much proud flesh and was coming along nicely.


On June 6, her leg was looking really good and was beginning to grow hair!


However, when I picked up her foot to inspect the backside of her leg, I saw that her pedal bone capsule was starting to penetrate the sole.


Not good. The foot was dying because of the extended loss of circulation, and the laminae that hold the inner structures were separating. This continued to get worse, despite our efforts.


All the material on the bottom of her foot was sloughing away, exposing the inner structures. Her pedal bone was rotating downward, much in the same way that a laminitic horse’s does when it founders. It became very important to dry out the foot so the tissues wouldn’t deteriorate as quickly and to increase blood flow to the foot to try to save as much tissue as we could.


Her hoof had become very soft and could be squeezed and manipulated much more than what should be possible. This was because of the separating tissues.

The foot did dry out a bit, but the pedal bone continued to rotate.



The sole continued to bulge outward more and more as the inner capsule rotated.


It was, however, drying out.


We’re at a point now where we can treat it essentially like a foundered hoof that has solar penetration. The plan is to trim down the walls to even out the weight distribution on the foot and support the hoof as it tries to regenerate the sole. We will have to address the pedal bone rotation eventually, but right now, I just want to prevent any more laminar separation and get some sole beginning to regenerate.


Update: June 21

Last night I trimmed away the excess wall so that her weight would be spread over the remaining sole, bars, and frog as well as the wall.


The edges are a bit rough still because I didn’t want to torque the foot too much by rasping. I put a soft foam pad under her foot to help cushion it since I dramatically changed the way her foot bears the weight by trimming that wall. After a few days I think I can take that pad off.


Update: July 11

Trimming the excess wall helped a lot. There is new growth underneath flaps in the sole that have developed from the old sole material coming off.




I left them intact as long as they were willing to stay on there on their own. I also got her a little rehab boot so I didn’t have to continue going through rolls and rolls of vetrap.


I continued to trim away excess wall as it grew out, and I’m keeping her booted with a shock absorbing pad to keep her walking on the foot and a cotton pad (changed every 12 hours) to absorb any moisture.


Last night, I took a hoof knife to the foot and took off any material that was ready to come off on its own.


The foot will likely grow out in an odd shape and/or grow at different rates, and it will need weekly trimming to keep it on the right track.

July 27:

After I trimmed off the excess dead material, the foot really started looking healthy and pink.


The frog was also peeling up, exposing new frog growth underneath. I left it alone, letting it come off on its own.


As the foot dried out and healed, the tissue changed color and got darker. It also got harder!


Her hoof was growing at an incredible speed. The heel is growing faster than the toe, which is normal because of the trauma the toe sustained. You can see the capsule of the old hoof being pushed off by the new growth.


At this point, she was ready for some controlled exercise. I started taking her on walks down my rural road, along with her “sister,” Scarlet and my dog, Abe. I ordered her another boot for this purpose. This one is more sturdy and allows more movement without rubbing like the rehab boot does.


Her frog finally came off! Underneath was an underdeveloped, but developing, frog.


Her sole is growing nicely, but it has a few splits in it that have grown out from the interior tissue.


I’ll have to monitor these splits carefully. We’re not out of the woods by any means, but she’s looking promising!



04/04/2017: Abe’s second agility class + a pony update

Last night was Abe’s second agility class. We worked on our handling skills, and I helped Abe gain confidence on the scarier obstacles: the tunnel and the dogwalk. We have more work to do on the dogwalk; he’s really anxious about getting up on high surfaces because of his past experience with the vet exam table. I’ll be working on that at home. We’ll get there!

At the start of class, each handler individually showed off one of their dog’s tricks. This was new to me since I’ve not done this class before, so I was unprepared! I thought about showing Abe’s “left” and “right” cues, but I hadn’t worked on it for a while, and I didn’t have time to get him focused enough in time to show it off. Next week!


Another recent development includes Piper, my mini. I’ve decided to foster a miniature horse from the Indiana Horse Rescue, where I got Billy, to keep Piper company this summer. Because Piper is a mini, she has a tendency to get fat on air… She can eat just as much as the big horses, even though she’s so tiny, so I need to keep her on a dry lot most of the time and limit her access to grass. As of now, she’d be by herself in the dry lot while the others got to go out to the pasture, and that’s not fair to her. So I decided to foster some company for her. The mini’s name is Scarlett, and she’s a tri-color paint. That’s legitimately all I know about her! I don’t even have a photo! I’ll be picking her up this weekend, and I’m sure she’ll have some issues we’ll have to work through as well, so I’m sure she’ll end up on my blog. I’m excited!

03/30/2017: Timing in Training

I was watching a youtube video a few days ago of a well-known trainer in which he answers questions that come in on an hour-long live stream. One question (and his answer) stuck with me and has been bothering me.

Question: If you correct a dog for digging in the yard, or for jumping on a person, will the dog learn to avoid the behavior, or avoid the location? Will they understand that I’m correcting the behavior, or will they just learn to avoid the area they were corrected in or the person they were corrected for jumping on?

Answer: I’ve never seen it happen. Dogs are smart.

This really bothers me because it ignores one of the most important parts of training any animal, not just dogs… TIMING! If you correct your dog at the wrong time, you can absolutely make the dog avoid a location or a person instead of the behavior!

Timing is everything. EVERYTHING. In both rewards and corrections.

When you’re training a new behavior or command, the timing of your marker word (or click) is the most important thing to help the dog understand what you want. For example, when I taught Abe to touch something with his paw on command, I would click the instant his paw touched the object. If I waited a few seconds before clicking, he could have already had his paw off the object and moved onto something else. There’s no way to get a consistent, correct response to my cue if you aren’t consistent and correct when you mark the behavior you want.

When you’re correcting a behavior you don’t want, the same thing applies! If you wait a few seconds after the dog starts the behavior you don’t want for the correction, there’s no way the dog can possibly understand! For example, I’ve discussed before how Abe has to wait to be invited up onto my bed. He can’t just jump up on his own. After we spend the weekend at my boyfriend’s apartment (he’s more lax with this rule and lets him jump up on his own sometimes), Abe will sometimes hop up on my bed on his own. As soon as his little feetsies hit my bed uninvited, he gets a sharp “NO! Off!” If I were to wait until he laid down and got comfy before telling him no, there’d be no way he would understand which behavior I was correcting.

In the example of jumping on a person, if you were to wait until the dog had jumped up and the person had started interacting with the dog for a few seconds, you can absolutely make that dog avoid that person instead of the behavior of jumping! Because you’re correcting the interaction with that person! Long story short, I realize that in the fast-paced question-and-answer live stream setting it’s easy to give incomplete answers, but that answer really bothered me. I hope this offers some clarification.

03/28/2017: Abe’s Agility Class + Another Update

Yesterday, I got an email from the instructor of the beginner agility class saying that I could join the new class starting last night because someone had dropped out of the class at the last minute. So of course I did it!

The goal of the class is to introduce the dogs to the agility obstacles in a calm manner and to build the dog’s confidence on these obstacles. We started with basic jumps, walking on a plank on the floor (beginnings of the dogwalk), and starting the weave poles. Abe LOVED it. I took his leash off immediately and started sending him over jumps within a few minutes. He had such a good time! I’m excited to see where this takes us.

Another update:

I decided to register Abe with the AKC Canine Partners so that we can eventually compete in local trials. I decided to register him under the name Boiler Pup. I did this for a few reasons… 1. It’s a play on (my alma mater) Purdue’s trademark chant, “Boiler Up!”, and 2. I met my boyfriend on the Purdue Practical Utility Platform (PUP) team! We are now officially a family of Boilers 😉

03/08/2017: Abe updates

Few updates…

I’ve gotten on the list for the next beginner agility class at my local kennel club. It should start up here soon. In preparation, I’ve been working on his “right paw” and “left paw” cues, and I decided that I needed a new harness for him. He has three harnesses:

A step-in harness that I bought to bring him home in


On this harness, the strap that goes between his legs is too short. This pulls the rear strap into his armpit (seen in the photo). So I bought his next one.

Unfortunately I don’t have a good photo of the next one. It’s the same step-in style, but it matches his padded collar and has a longer connecting strap. It helped, but it still rubbed his armpit. So I got him this one:


This one isn’t a step-in, so it sits even further behind his elbow. It’s padded and reflective, so I use it on hikes.

His padded outdoor harness fits him really well. However, it’s kind of bulky for agility, so I decided to turn his ill-fitting step-in harness into a Roman style harness that actually fits him.


It sits way back from his elbow and is custom fit for him, since I made it myself. 😉

This harness will only be used for agility training. I’m using a harness to avoid pulling on his neck as he’s learning. I want to keep him sensitive to leash pressure on the collar. In situations where I expect him to wear a harness for an extended time, I’ll use his padded one.

Another update… I sent a sample in to a company that analyzes a dog’s cheek swab for their breed makeup, and I recently got the results! I am absolutely floored. According to DNA My Dog, Abe is:

  • 20-36% Beagle
  • 20-36% Dalmatian
  • 10-20% Pit bull
  • 10-20% Border Terrier

Dalmatian?? Really?? There are a few traits of those breeds that I see in him, but I’m honestly not convinced that those results are totally accurate. Beagles and Dalmatians are notorious for being intelligent but hard to train due to their lack of focus. Abe is the picture of focus… He has no problem maintaining eye contact for ten minute stretches, even in high distraction environments. As such, I decided to order another DNA kit from another company to compare results. We’ll see how they come back!