off topic

I notice when I'm incredibly sad or moved...I have to write! So, my apologies to anyone that has clicked and thought that this was just a dog trainer writing about trainery things. Not today. My thoughts and love goes out to the Dimmack family of Washington, PA who just lost their oldest son, Richie, husband a father of three. His death has brought together a lot of hearts and thoughts- messages posted here and there from high school and family friends and "summer" friends from the pool and such. I will remember Richie fondly as a curly headed cutie with a smile that lit up a room- every room. Peace and love to his family.

boys, dogs, scarcity and hope

I got a call today from a local mental health counselor who has a client that is a little boy, (14 years) that is hitting his dog (a pit bull). She has been working with the family for a few months and routinely asks about animals in the home to get a sense of the overall "history" and dynamic of the household. The dog is living in a fence yard and chained near a dog house. He or she is jumping, biting and likely pent up and under exercised- a recipe for avoidance because the dog is probably unpleasant to be around.

This universal "neat-o" factor is that she immediately saw an opportunity for this little guy (the boy, that is). Despite the fact that he hits his dog, he also said, "we keep the dog outside, and I wish he could sleep in my bed."

Bingo, flashing lights, and an "in".

She got on the phone and started calling local dog folks.

Perhaps I'm the only one naive enough, nah, I don't think it's naivete, because trust me I've fire and I've seen rain, as Sir James Taylor would say, especially in the realm of animal welfare.

But, the possibility that we could change something, even if it's just teaching this boy and family how to properly care for their dog, how to help him or her burn energy, to chew on something appropriate, to learn some manners, well it lit me up. It's been a long while since I've felt pulled toward something... but this grabbed me. She'll be giving them my number and we'll see!
Stay tuned.

do your homework (and trust the process)

Whew, it's been a while since I've posted, more a lurker than a writer lately, and with things a swirling around in Philadelphia- the animal welfare ups and downs, the never ending puppy mill seizures and a Mr. Vick riding into town, the dog folks have been tense. I, in the meantime, have just buttoned up and continued on with my work. More and more these days, I'm working with challenging cases (i.e.- not your run of the mill 5 mo. old puppy with a jumping problem, if you catch my drift). Lots of stress, anxiety, reactive behavior, controlling behavior and the like. And I wonder- is it the dogs, the people, a fateful combo?

I'd say both. And what I'm finding is that whatever may have "worked" in the past with other owned dogs, isn't working with the current dog. Worse are the novice dog owners with hearts bursting at the seams ready to hunker down and enjoy dogdom, and a few days into dog ownership, they have rescued a dog that isn't a good fit, is often a training project at best and seldom has been temperament tested (surprise). Grrrr....

That actual scenario has happened more than I care to remember and the latest victims in the "adopt this dog or it's going to die" game were an amazing family, with a young son that were absolutely committed to this dog in every way. Within a week of having adopted her, she needed cruciate surgery and they didn't blink. Within two weeks of adopting her, they noticed that she was scared to take walks, reactive towards people and other dogs, biting dog walkers, shadow chasing, protecting/defending the house and though she was amazing with the family, was often anxious and unpredictable around new folks in the house. She had snapped previously...then she bit. And they (understandably) we're done. They examined their options, got several opinions and ultimately decided to humanely euthanize.

The odds of her being successful in many homes, were slim, and the option to return her to the shelter (with a bite history) and place her were...dreadful.

These adopters wanted a companion. And our shelter system failed them.

And it happens again and again. While we're yelling, "ADOPT!" from the rooftops. If there is no quality control, it's no different than selling a car with no warranty that is suddenly bursts into flames when you pull it off the lot. There is no integrity and it doesn't work. And it's the people that get burned. And when they get burned, they often never adopt again (and why would they?)

"Excuse me Waitress, can I have an order of completely smitten followed by conflict, heartbreak and total devastation?"

In the wake of all the emotional roller coaster, there was a miracle.

The miracle was that this family was willing and open to adopting again.

And there was a happy ending.

They were willing for a second roll of the dice. This time on a 2 year old, temperament tested pit mix that was being fostered by Philly's finest- Portia Palko.

After her first day in the house I got an email update...

"I'm sitting on the couch with her big head in my lap. I love this dog.

Thanks so much for putting us in touch with Portia and telling us about Betty.

We've gone for a walk, destroyed a soccer ball. Met some people and been very calm, including people coming into the house, kids, people on the street. Met some very large dogs -- two St. Bernards, two big Dobermans, a Great Dane -- and did great. She kept getting up on a bench, I think to meet them eye to eye. She's been great in the car, she's nibbled my chin a bit. I am so glad she's here. We're working on sitting. She's doing very well.

Love. Her. Thanks again."

Cheers to Betty and her new life with an amazing family who's hearts are as big as her pittie head.

Cheers to the shelters and rescuers that are doing the work with integrity.

Cheers to many more happy endings.

play more

This past summer I had two amazing clients, two young girls...and their dogs. It was our first "Kids and Dogs" Camp and we tailored a program for these two gals and their pit bulls (gasp, yes pitties).

Day one we sat down and got to work. The dogs, Jed, Stella and Roxy suffered from a case of "happy tail" which could at worst leave welts on your legs! We got right to working on some "self control" or basically- rewarding the dogs for doing, well, nothing (but being calm).

Once the dog settled in, we got to talking.

I asked the girls, "do you have a favorite teacher in school?"

(ok, ok, we're getting somewhere)...

"Well, why are they your favorite?"

"Well, Mrs. So and So is really nice, she doesn't yell a lot."

Note to self.

"Ok, what about a favorite Uncle or Aunt?"

Emma says, "Oh yeah, my favorite Uncle lives in Colorado."

"Why is he your favorite?"

"Well, he's a really busy guy, he has this real important job, but when I'm with him, he always makes time for me."

I waited a second while I was impressed by the sheer brilliance of what she said, so simple, right?
Making time (with your dog or your favorite Uncle).

So, thanks for Emma and company, I've been making sure I'm making time for my dogs and having more fun. The last few days we've taken swimming breaks during the day. And instead of slowly tip toeing down from the shallow end of the pool- I jump right in, (and yeah, I've done a few cannonballs). And yes, my dogs are having fun.

houston we have a ratter!

Sweets was flagging her tail by the pool fence today and at first I just blew it off, "what does she know?"
Then my sense kicked in, and I thought, well, if the tail is moving in true propeller fashion, there is something in those weeds. So I helped by pushing the Queen Anne's Lace out of the way and I saw a pounce, and then a mouse running towards the pool- drop! into the water and paddle.

Meanwhile, Sweets had missed the mouse completely. So, on borrowed time, I fished the little guy out, he heaved and was dead.
I called the dogs over- Tater runs immediately for a good sniff from the pool skimmer. Sweets is still obsessing in the weeds.
So, I let the little guy linger, she gives up and then comes over for a sniff from the skimmer.

RIP little guy!

dog dog interaction

Navigating the waters of off leash dog play can range from being easy breezy to socially awkward or embarrassing depending on your relationship with your dog.

Relationship with your dog, wha?

Yep, your relationship with your dog can in many cases influence their behavior off leash. Do you set any boundaries? Do you have clear communication or consequences (times outs or leaving the park)? How do they enter a place like a dog park- like a freight train or tail tucked having to be coaxed inside the holding area?

Dog parks have often sparked controversy. They are mostly great for very tolerant dogs, afterall, it's a never ending cocktail party, sometimes with very limited space. If the drinks aren't great, and the dogs at the party aren't your dog's cup of tea, that's fine, hit the road.

If you find yourself with a wall flower or a dog that appears to prefer the human social scene, that's okay. Scan the dog to see if the DOG is having fun or if they appear stressed. Common stress signals include: more than normal panting, pacing, sniffing the ground or body language that appears "shut down"- tail tucked, ears plastered, body hunched. No number of Cosmos is going to work with this dog, perhaps find some size appropriate play mates and an meet up at off peak times at the park.

If on the other hand, you find you have the rowdy rover at the park, that's tenderizing Bichons or "he's just trying to play", the crux of the problem is that if it doens't look relaxed- it ain't. Or, if your dog doesn't read cut off signals from other dogs (head turning, sniffing, avoidance) and still is coming at them to "play", that's when human intervention IS needed.

Really, is his just trying to play? Don't think so. Mom? Dad? Where are you?

In an ideal canine-human relationship, dogs will look to their owners to determine how to react. If you feel like you have "no signal", connection or little control with your dog, I'd take a step back and look at what you can to do cultivate a connection.
If you abide by the "let them work it out" mentality, that can work, but it depends on the other owner's idea about what's play and what's "aggressive". Trust me, it can get very sticky before your dog is even IN the park!

And sometimes, you have ultra sensitive dog owners that expect that your 80 lb dog should be able to play football or dance ballet with their very small dog. It's not that we don't like our small dogs folks, but just as the big boys need size appropriate play mates, so do the little guys. And not everybody at the party always picks on someone their own size! It's just as important for small dog owners to be aware that their dog could look like running prey and therefore larger dogs are practicing prey sequences- stalk, chase, muzzle tap. Just be aware and protect your own dog as well.

So back to navigating this dog eat dog world. Here are my words of advice: Be proactive; be sensitive and watch the body language of other dogs (and their owners); cut your losses and leave before you outstay your welcome; don't be afraid to have rules and boundaries. After all, clear communication can be the key to cultivating a connection.

find sweet meat

Alas- a rainy day, plenty of running with our house guests and one of two tired dogs...Find Sweets!

peepers and ducks

I've been routinely woken up by the "cardinal" alarm these days. A female cardinal that keeps flying or faux "fighting" with her mirror image in my dining room window. The first day, Tater mistook her beak hitting the glass as a, "knock, knock, knock", which sent him out of bed yodeling at the top of his Tater lungs. A few days later- hardly a head lift.

If you live in the country or near some water in the country, "peepers" may be a familiar term. No, we're not talking about the "Tom" variety, but rather small frogs- spring peepers. In late March, when you hardly think any frog would be a' singin' they start to sing at night. Probably some approaching spring mating ritual, because they barely make a peep after late May.

Laying in bed last night, I heard one wayward "peep" and could only assume that maybe there was a frog living in the "pond puddle" in the driveway...

This morning on our way down to the barn, we had a little surprise. A pair of ducks landing or fleeing into the water on top of the pool cover...Sweets was on a mission to eat grass and barely noticed, while Tater just stared, front paw raised as if to They soon waddled out of the water and back to the concrete and pebbles that surrounded the pool.

We also have a mourning dove nesting in the scraggly bush in the front that we'd like to cut down (but apparently not this year). She watches us come and go with a slight head turn and a blink of the eyes.

So, while we have nature happening all around us, Sweets and Tater are content to nap in the sun spots and soak up the rays.

Cold Weather Can be Fun

When it's chilly outside, may folks may see slip ups in house training, or simply more destruction from your run of the mill cabin fever. If you're dog certainly doesn't love to romp outside, here are a few things to ease the pain.

1. Try an all weather or rain coat. It may look silly, but can make all the difference.

2. Slippery sidewalks? Paw wax can be used as needed to give your dogs a little extra grip on the icy streets.

3. Find it! If you have a pup or a dog that is new to the snow- toss bits of hot dog or cheese outside to make the outside a bit more attractive and a "good thing".

4. If you see an increase in house training mishaps, go back to basics and keep an eagle eye on your dogs (or simply use gates, crates and tethers to manage and prevent accidents).

5. Also if your dog refuses to go in the back or front yard- try mulch or a piddle pad to give them options outside (that may save the carpet).

Now that we curbed the accidents, let's look at what we can do to keep our dogs busy.

1. Feed your dogs from toys that dispense food- Kongs, Tricky Treat Balls, Kibble Nibbles or even containers headed for the recycling bin.

2. Play games- tugging, hiding treats, toys for shredding are great for stress relief.

3. Tricks and Training- 5 minutes of basic training is probably equivalent to about 10 minute walk. Train some tricks and tire out the dog.

4. Long lasting chewies- frozen beef bones can be a good 30-40 minutes of chewing!

Stay warm, and keep those puppies tuckered!

beach dogs on the loose

This past Saturday we took a day trip to Delaware to let the dogs live it up running full out on the sand, while we eat, drank and were merry (and relaxed) for the evening. The Delaware shore points are very dog friendly. In fact, Dewey beach is dog friendly in the peak season (almost unheard of unless you go to the Carolinas- where people can fish WHILE you swim, and have dogs and fires on the beach). On Dewey, peak season: before 9 am and after 5:30 pm.

I was disappointed at the scant number of gulls to chase into the air (or rather I was disappointed for the dogs). But we had a great time. Tater had a short lived fling with a female english pointer, while Sweets met some cool dogs and fetched tennis balls like a pro.