Don’t wait until disaster strikes: Be prepared

With the videos from Hurricane Harvey and now the anxiety over Hurricane Irma; it would be an excellent time for all of us who love our pets to figure out a plan in case of disaster. (And you should have a plan for the humans as well)

You certainly do not have to be in the path of a hurricane in order to need to evacuate: tornadoes, fire, flood, earthquakes and even chemical spills could force you from your home with little notice.  If you are asked to evacuate; what will you do with your pets? Even if you think you will only be gone a few hours; your should always remove your pets as situations can change quickly and you could end up being away from home for weeks or even longer.

condor in water

Don’t wait until the water is at your doorstep to figure out how you will save your pets during an emergency

Here are some ideas to help prepare you and your pets in the event of an emergency:

  • Make sure your pets are microchipped and that all microchip information is up to date. Ensure you have emergency backup phone numbers on your chip information in case you are without cell phone service. If someone can’t reach you; they could perhaps reach another family member. Choose someone who does not live near you to up your chances someone you’re your contact list will be out of the danger zone. You should review your microchip information at least once a year to ensure everything is correct.
  • Have enough crates or other forms of carriers to safely contain all of your pets. Cats, dogs, rabbits and even ferrets can generally be safely transported this way. Other small pocket pets may need different types of containers. Know what you need before you need it.
  • Crates and carriers not only will keep your pets safe; they can also act as a home away from home once you reach safety. Collars and leashes can slip off animals; pets can quickly escape a vehicle if they are stressed. Having a pet safely contained in a crate is the best option for most animals.
  • Condition your animal to enjoy being in his carrier BEFORE you ever need to evacuate with him. Five minutes before your home is flooded is not the time to be stuffing your terrified collie into a crate. Cats are also notorious about hiding when pet carriers come into view. Take time to teach your pets that crates are safe and fun. Even if you don’t use a crate for your dog on a regular basis, it is still a good idea to teach him to enjoy going into a crate on cue. For a free hand out on crate training, just shoot me an email at iclickdogs@gmail.com. For cats; take crates out periodically and feed cats high value treats in the crates while the doors are open. You want the cats to see the crates as something to check out for food rather than to run and hide at the sight of a carrier.
    cat in crate

    Take time to teach cats that crates can be fun. Cats need a carrier large enough to hold a litter pan and allow them a space to sleep. 

     

  • If your pet has never been in a vehicle; teach her that getting into a vehicle is fun.
  • Ensure you always have enough medication on hand to safely see your pet through at least a week (and two weeks is even better).
  • Keep a bag of food in a container such as a plastic tote. Add some jugs of water and some bowls in the tote as well. Have the tote in a location where you can quickly reach it in an emergency. Just make sure you rotate the food out of the container on a regular basis so it won’t become stale.
  • Have a pet first aid kit. You can buy great kits at just about any pet store as well as at numerous online sites. If you have a special needs pet; talk to your veterinarian about what types of items you will need in the first aid kit. Rotate the medicines out on a regular basis as well to ensure they are not expired.
  • Keep calming products such as ADAPTIL and Feliway in your emergency kit. You can use these products to help ease pet anxiety.
  • Have a copy of your pet’s medical records in a watertight container or plastic bag. Some facilities may not wish to house your pet if it is not current on shots or if you cannot prove its vaccination record. A Rabies tag is rarely proof of vaccination. You need a veterinary record that describes each animal with the Rabies vaccination information.
  • If you have multiple dogs; ensure that each dog has a readily accessible collar and leash. The collar should have updated contact information (even if your pet is mircochiped it is also recommended to have ID on a collar as well.). Cats should also have breakaway collars with ID tags.
    harley

    Have leashes and collars for all of your pets; even those that may not got on walks on a regular basis. 

     

  • If your pet has special needs; either in terms of behavior or medical, write out clear information and attach it in a waterproof container to the pet’s crate or carrier. For example; if your dog is afraid of men or your cat hates dogs; make sure people have access to that information.
  • Once you get to a safe location; do what you can to minimize stress for your pets. Use blankets, cots or other items to form visual barriers around your pets so they can have a break from seeing the chaos or being constantly stared at by other pets. This is not a social; do not let your pets mingle with other pets. Even pets current on vaccinations can easily become ill in stressful situations.
  • Even the friendliest of pets may become stressed in an unfamiliar location surrounded by chaos. Keep him safe from being handled by lots of strangers.

It is better to be prepared and never need it; than to find yourself frantically trying to save your family and the family pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has an amazing free pamphlet called Saving the Whole Family, Disaster Preparedness. You can download it from the AVMA website at  https://ebusiness.avma.org/ProductCatalog/product.aspx?ID=140

The pamphlet covers everything from saving your fish to your pasture animals.

Doggy daycare: Does your dog want to go?

Let’s put on our Imagination Caps. I want you to imagine yourself in this scenario.

You have a 5-year-old son. He is the apple of your eye. You want the best for him. But, you work 8 to 10 hours a day. You need to make sure your son has fun while you are gone. So, you enroll him in daycare. He will have fun, right? Be with other kids his age; play games, etc. But, what if your daycare just put all the kids in one big room; some of the kids are younger than 5; some were older. There is only one person to watch all the children. There are no structured activities, no nap time, no breaks, no lunch and some of the kids didn’t speak your son’s language and he can’t understand them. Some of them are bullies and push your son around. New kids keep entering the room; or a child leaves just when your son is getting to know him. Sometimes an adult walks through and shouts “Quiet” or picks up a bottle of water and sprays some of the kids.

No one would subject their child to this. But, many of us do this to our dogs on a regular basis. For some reason, many people think their dog should go to doggy daycare and play nonstop for four to eight hours. We feel guilty for leaving him at home while we work. Or we don’t have enough time to exercise our dog, so we put it in doggy daycare and hope it comes home exhausted.

This is not a slam against doggy daycares. There are awesome ones out there; there are also not so awesome ones. I was recently asked to consult with a daycare to help its employees learn more about canine body language and brainstorm ways for dogs to have more fun and less conflict.

three dogs running

These three dogs are having fun. There is no conflict over the stick. They played for less than 20 minutes.  The three dogs have similar play styles and energy and all three are under 18 months of age. 

It turned out one of the major stumbling blocks to many of my suggestions were the dogs’ owners. No one wants to find out his dog isn’t the best-behaved dog in the room. Many owners want their dog out in the play room playing for the entire time they are at daycare. For the daycares that have video cameras so people can see their dogs; owners will call and ask why their dog isn’t playing or why he is in his kennel so much.

From the other side of this coin; I meet with many training clients whose dogs have either been kicked out of daycare or who are using daycare to exhaust their dog so they don’t have to deal with it. Or people are sending their dog to daycare out of a misguided notion that the dog will love it and have a great time. Over the last eight months, I’ve met with 15 clients who were devastated because their dog was kicked out of daycare and who wanted training help so their dog could go back to daycare.

So, first, STOP and ask yourself why you are sending your dog to doggy daycare? Is it so you will feel better about leaving him all day? Do you not have time for him when you come home from work so you want him tired? Or is your dog a super social butterfly who enjoys playing with all dogs, is highly confident in play and can handle an occasional rude incident from another dog?

If you fall into categories one or two of the above paragraph; you may want to rethink

silas resting

For many owners a tired dog is a good dog. Appropriate play is a great activity for your dog; but you want to make sure your dog is enjoying his play time. 

your options. Most dogs probably do not want to spend hours and hours playing with other dogs. It is just too stressful. Many dogs may prefer to be home in a crate or loose in the house with a bone or frozen Kong to entertain them. If you don’t have time to walk your dog or provide adequate mental stimulation; then you need to rethink owning a dog or look into a dog sitter who comes to your home.

 

 

If you want to send your dog to doggy daycare; do research. You would research anyplace you were sending your child. Do the same for your dog.

If I ran a dog daycare here is what it would look like:

  1. There would always be at least two people in the play room. There are daycares that are allowing 20 or more dogs loose with only one person watching them. If a dog fight breaks out; one person cannot stop it. And that one person could be in danger. What if that person goes down before he or she can make a help call on a radio? I don’t care if the room has two dogs or 10 dogs; it should have at least two people in the room.
  2. There should be a cap on how many dogs are in a playgroup at any one time. I personally have a difficult time keeping track of more than 10 dogs. Also, how many dogs depends on space as well.
  3. The people watching the dogs should be confident in their ability to read canine
    20170114_131311

    A great doggy daycare staff will know when it is appropriate to step in and redirect a behavior or when to let it go. 

    body langue and know when to step in and when to leave things alone and let the dogs sort it out. I see too much talking by the staff to the dogs and too much stepping in when the dogs growl (which is ok with me in many circumstances) but not enough stepping in when a dog is clearly bothering another dog but the other dog is too polite to say something about it.

  4. The doggy daycare should have time limits on play and a quiet place for each dog to rest based on how long it will be in the facility on a particular day and how much fun it is having in play. Some dogs only want to play for 20 minutes and then they get stressed. But, they have a great deal of fun in those 20 minutes. Maybe they take a two-hour break and come back and play again.
  5. More than one play area so dogs can be grouped by age, playstyle or size as needed. Putting adolescent, high-energy dogs into a room with older dogs probably is not fun for the older dogs. Dogs under 10 or 11 months probably should be together and anything under 6 months definitely needs its own play area with age appropriate playmates. Small dogs may be confident, but can be accidently injured by larger playmates. Various dog breeds have their own playstyles and may not enjoy playing with other types of dogs. I watched a border collie annoy the heck out of 10 other dogs and the humans because the border collie was barking into the face of every dog and then rushing in and grabbing the dog’s hindlegs. No one was having fun, not even the border collie because she was just becoming more and more frustrated.
  6. I would have a program for dogs that had issues playing with lots of dogs; but who could play with some dogs. Staff would work on helping the under confident dog learn to play with other dogs by slow introductions and limited numbers of dogs in the group.
  7. My staff would be certified in canine CPR and basic canine first aid.
  8. My staff would not encourage behaviors most owners would not want to see in their homes. Or if an owner was reporting nuisance behaviors; the staff would be proficient in working on these issues and helping the owner have a better dog at the end of the day.
  9. If your dog just didn’t enjoy playtime, then there would be walks, fun time in a play yard with enrichment equipment and human contact throughout the day.

Hopefully, there are doggy daycares out there like this, but all my ideas are extremely expensive to staff. However, if you are looking for a good daycare, see how many of my criteria they are utilizing. And if the doggy daycare staff tells you your dog isn’t having fun; don’t be mad at them. Recommend that daycare to anyone who is looking as that is the mark of a great daycare. Don’t be cheap either; the great daycares are going to be more expensive. But, most of all; don’t send your dog to doggy daycare just because it makes you feel better.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t let your pet become a July 4 statistic

I spent an hour last night rubbing the belly of Harley, the Chihuahua. Outside, fireworks were booming. Inside Harley was jumping up each time he heard a loud boom and racing frantically from window to window. When I went to bed; he followed me as usual; but could not settle or relax. Each new bang brought shivering and barking. I found that rubbing his tummy helped him relax. Every time I heard a boom; I started rubbing his belly and after about half an hour the noise of our neighbors celebrating the Fourth of July early wasn’t as stressful for the little guy and we were both able to get some sleep.

harley napping

This is Harley after an hour of belly rubs. He was able to go to sleep despite the continuing fireworks.

Statistically; more pets go missing in the days leading up to and following the Fourth of July than any other time of year. The ASPCA says July 5 is the busiest day for U.S. animal shelters in terms of people bringing in lost pets or people searching for their lost pet. It is estimated there is a 30 percent uptick on July 5 of lost pets.

Sadly, the statics of people who find their lost pet are not so encouraging. The ASPCA estimates between 15 to 20 percent of lost dogs are reunited with their families and only two percent of cats find their families again.

It isn’t just the fireworks that cause this upswing in lost animals. We LOVE to travel with our pets. Many people take the family pet to their favorite holiday spot or to visit family and friends. If the pet goes missing he is now in unfamiliar territory with no idea where home is.

Here are some tips to keep your pet safe this holiday season.

•••• Identification: seems simple, but so many people forget about it; especially for animals that rarely go outside. Animals have been known to go to great lengths to escape during fireworks including going through screened windows and even through glass. All pets should be wearing some form of identification.

I recommend two forms: A collar with an ID tag and a microchip. The collar with the ID tag will help someone locate you quickly. More people are likely to stop and help a pet if they see an ID tag because they know there will be a way to contact the owner. Don’t rely on your Rabies’ tag. Yes, it can help get your pet home; but the person finding your pet would have to wait until your veterinarian is open to get contact information. Your pet’s ID should have your CURRENT phone number. It is amazing how many pets are found with ID that has an outdated number. My ID tag also says Alone = Lost so anyone finding my dog will know if he isn’t with me; he is lost.

However, you also need a microchip on your pet. Lots of animals lose their collars when they are lost. I deliberately have my collar loose enough so my dog could get out of it if he became stuck. A microchip is a tiny device (the size of a grain of rice) implanted under your pet’s skin. A special scanner can find the chip and read the information. That information then has to be called into the chip company so the owner’s contact information can be located. Again, during holidays it might be 24 to 48 hours before someone can be found who can scan the pet. Veterinarians and animal shelters have the scanners and the information needed to retrieve the owner contact information. If your pet is microchipped now is a great time to log into your microchip company’s website and ensure your contact information is up to date.

There are also lots of GPS tracking systems now available for pets as well. These go on your dog’s collar. Again; only useful if your dog does not lose the collar. Don’t wait until your pet is lost though to try and figure out how the software works.

•••• Does your pet have to travel with you? While you love the companionship of your dog; and you know your dog loves you; is he really going to have as much fun as you are traveling to a Fourth of July Celebration? If he does travel with you; make sure he has a very safe and secure place to be anytime he is not with you.

•••• Don’t take your dog with you to the firework’s display. Even if he seems ok with loud noises, the flashing lights; people screaming, children rushing around with Sparklers, etc. are stressful to dogs. Believe me, your dog does not want to see the fireworks display.

•••• Bring outdoor cats inside. Put them in your garage if there is no other place to keep them. Not only are cats also afraid of fireworks, but each year there are horrific stories of people taking cats and doing horrendous things to them during the Fourth of July.

•••• Bring outdoor dogs inside. Dogs can easily break chains when they are terrified. Imagine being scared and being tied up. It is horrific for dogs. And if you have an invisible fence; forget it. Something like 30 percent of lost dogs are wearing invisible fence collars. Four years ago on July 3 I stopped at a four way stop sign and a huge dog came barreling out of a field frantically jumping at my windows. He was covered in drool and shaking so hard he could barely stand. He jumped in my car as soon as I opened the door. He was wearing an invisible fence collar, but no other ID. Luckily he was microchipped. Sadly, the primary contact number was no longer in service. Luckily, the secondary contact number still went to a relative of the owner and after three hours I was able to contact the owner and get his dog home to him. He said the dog had been out in the yard and had “never gone through the electric fence before.”

•••• If you know noises are problematic for your pet; spend some time preparing for the Fourth of July. Get some of his favorite chew items and stock up. Chewing can be very calming. If your dog heads to the bathtub when he is scared; line the tub with blankets and some chews for him. Do not allow children to bother the dog while he is scared.

harley belly rub

Harley says it is hard to be stressed if you are getting lip licks from Skywalker and belly rubs from Mom.

Some websites still advocate not consoling the animal when it is scared. The thinking is that if you pet the dog or tell him it is ok then you are rewarding him for being scared. This is hogwash. If you were terrified of a spider and I hugged you; would you be more or less scared of the spider? Rubbing Harley’s tummy is a perfect example. Instead of making his behavior worse; I was able to reduce his anxiety because I was pairing something he loved (a tummy rub) with the sound of the bangs. If I was rewarding his barking behavior; then it should have gotten worse, not better.

•••• If your dog is truly phobic of loud noises; please seek the help of a veterinarian. There are several great products available. You can also look into products such as the Thundershirt and ADAPTIL. My previous dog, Condor, was terrified of fireworks. He would pant and drool. The Thundershirt definitely brought down his anxiety. He was still afraid, but it lessened the panting and drooling and allowed him to be in his crate curled up in a tight ball.

I generally don’t go to the local fireworks displays. I stay home and make sure the pets are ok. When I got pets I realized that they were a commitment that would sometimes mean that I had to think of their welfare.

 

 

 

Conflict can be so conflicting

 

I met with a client yesterday who spent most of our consult saying “but that’s not what the other trainer told me.”

There is a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to dog training and dog behavior. There are at least two trainers in my geographic region who could not be more different from me in terms of our philosophies. Several times I have gone to someone’s home who has hired one of these other trainers in the past and it is obviously very confusing for the person to hear me say something which turns out to be vastly different from what the other trainer told them.

Who is right? Who is wrong?

First, where I live there are absolutely no regulations overseeing dog trainers. Anyone can be a dog trainer. Many of us who are trainers don’t agree about training procedures. We tend to use words that the average person may not understand. And we don’t all agree on the definitions of the words we do use.

No wonder our clients are confused. I try really hard never to bad mouth a trainer who has come before me. For one thing; I’m sure there are times when that trainer is the person who is called after me. I would hate for him or her to bad mouth me. Instead I try to provide information so clients can make up their own minds.

I explain why I use positive training methods and why I don’t recommend dominance based or force based training methods. I can do that without specifically slamming the other trainer.

For example, with the client I spoke with yesterday; the other trainer told the client that he needed a prong collar on the dog so the owner could do a better job of “asserting dominance” over the dog. The other trainer also slapped the dog on the nose when the dog did something the trainer did not like. The trainer told the client that by slapping the dog on the nose, he (the trainer) was mimicking how dogs communicated with each other.

I could explain to my client that what we know about dominance and how it is applied to training has changed dramatically over the years. The dog was not dominating his owner. No resources were involved. Dominance needs a resource such as a mate; food, a place to sleep. Instead the client had an 80 pound adolescent dog that was destroying furniture. The dog was bored out its mind. He wasn’t eating the table because he wanted to dominate his owner. He was eating the table because he wasn’t being walked enough and he wasn’t being given enough to do with his brain.

Likewise, smacking the dog on the nose isn’t going to help the dog learn not to eat the table. It is just going to make the dog know that his owner is scary and unpredictable. Dogs may sometimes nip each other as a warning and a mother dog certainly could grab a puppy by the snout. But, that has nothing to do with boredom. And dogs know their owners aren’t other dogs. So, even trying to mimic what dogs do to each other probably make zero sense to a dog. Plus, we aren’t fast enough. If you watch dogs interact, when they correct each other it is lightning fast. Humans will never be that fast. So, when we do correct a dog; our correction is often so far behind the behavior we are trying to correct that we end up punishing the dog for something else entirely.

Also, when dogs and wolves interact; there is always a choice when it comes to who is dominate and who is submissive. For example, if I am the dominate wolf in a group; and I see another lesser ranked wolf with a tasty bone, I might decide I would like that bone. I am not going to rush in and smack the other wolf on the nose or grab his neck and pinch him. Instead I am going to walk over in a confident manner and look at the bone. I might raise my front lips and show my canines. I could ruffle up my fur to make myself look taller. The entire point is I want to AVOID a conflict, not start one.

The wolf with the bone now has a choice. Does he want to let me have the bone? Does he want to avoid a conflict? Or, has he decided the time has come for him to take over? If the wolf with the bone wants to avoid conflict and if he has decided he can’t win a fight; he will submit. He may roll over and expose his stomach. He may just slink away and leave the bone. But, it is his CHOICE. The dominant wolf didn’t force the issue. The wolf with the bone could decide he does not want to give up the bone. He could whine; show his teeth back; try and take the bone farther away. The two wolves might engage in a lot of posturing. But, whatever happens it almost always ends without a fight. One wolf just says “fine, let’s not fight about it.” Sometimes it might end in a fight if the two wolves both decide they won’t back down. However, it is still a choice.

So, if you alpha roll a dog (force him to lay on his back and expose his neck and stomach); you are NOT behaving like a wolf. No wolf would have forced the other one on its back. Instead you are acting scary. You are not following canid protocol. You are dangerous and your dog may decide he has to bite you.

But, don’t take my word for it. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has some awesome information on the subject and you can take their word for it. According to their website, “The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is a group of veterinarians and research professionals who share an interest in understanding behavior in animals. Founded in 1976, AVSAB is committed to improving the quality of life of all animals and strengthening the bond between animals and their owners.” These people often have very advanced degrees in both veterinary medicine and behavior related fields.

To read the awesome position statements the AVSAB has put out on dominance and punishment click here.

The bottom line is; do your own research. If a trainer tells you to do something that makes you uncomfortable; then ask the trainer not to do it. That’s what happened in my client’s case. He was not comfortable with a trainer hitting his dog on the nose. So, he looked around for a different kind of trainer and found me.

Reward the good; ignore the bad

Does your dog drive you crazy sometimes? Is he constantly barking at you; pawing you; grabbing things and running around with them?

puupy-boot

Give  a dog or puppy something to do before it does something you don’t want it to. While this tiny pup is very cute with the big boot; it won’t be so cute when the puppy is older.

 

Dogs do many things that annoy us; and unfortunately; we trained the dog to do most of them without realizing it. Dogs are so smart; they put together what rewards them and what doesn’t reward them.

For example; you are cooking dinner and the dog is pawing at you; barking, jumping up on the counter, etc. You may respond with: “stop it;” “bad dog;” “get out of here” or you may push the dog away from you. You might give the dog something to do to make him stop bothering you. Excellent. You just taught your dog how to get you to interact with him. You gave him attention. Negative attention is still attention.

I just worked with a client whose dog has started humping her leg when she ignores it. The woman knew to ignore attention seeking behaviors; but the dog upped the game and started humping. Humping is one thing people have a hard time ignoring. This dog was not dominating the woman; he was learning. He learned that humping got the attention he didn’t get with his previous behaviors. The owner would push him away; tell him “no,” etc. Again the dog got attention.

I asked the owner to just walk away from the dog; cross into a space where the dog could not go (over a baby gate) and ignore the dog for a few minutes. I just got an email from her saying how awesome this worked. The dog figured out quickly the humping behavior not only didn’t get him any attention; but it made his owner go away. This is definitely not what he wanted to happen.

Attention seeking behaviors can be very difficult to ignore because we have done such a great job of teaching the dog they work. Barking is especially difficult because it is so annoying. The same client also had an issue with her dog barking at the back door to be let back inside. If the woman wanted to take a shower while the dog was outside; she would get out of the shower to hear a dog barking and know the neighbors had been listening to the dog bark for the entire time she was in the shower.

The dog knew barking worked. It brought the owner running to open the door and let the dog inside. We put the dog outside and it immediately started barking. I stood just inside the door; but in a position so the dog could not see me. The second the dog took a breath during a huge barking tirade; I opened the door and tossed a treat five feet from the door. The dog ran to get the treat; spent a few seconds eating and sniffing (and not barking). I threw a few more treats. I then waited and the dog began barking again; he stopped for a second; I opened the door; tossed treats. I repeated this several times and gradually went from one second of no barking to six seconds of no barking. The dog began to stand away from the door instead of rushing in and pawing at it (because the treats were falling behind it). Over time the dog will learn barking does not make the door open.

Sometimes we inadvertently train the dog to annoy us so he can get something fun to do. For example; if your dog annoys you and you get up from the couch to get him a frozen Kong; then he just learned how to get the frozen Kong. Instead; put the frozen Kong down before you sit down. The dog will learn to settle when you settle. And think about this: Do you say “good dog” when your dog gets down after he jumps on you? Most people do. The dog may learn he loves to hear “good dog” and make you happy; and the way to do that is to jump on you so he can get off and then hear “good dog.”

Instead; say “good dog” right before your dog jumps on you when he still has four feet on the floor. Ignore him or walk away from him if he does jump on you. He will soon learn “good dog” happens when four feet are on the floor.

Think about what you want your dog to be doing instead of annoying you. When you find him practicing that behavior reward him for it. Believe me; your dog does sleep sometimes or lie down and rest. Find those times and give him a treat or praise him. Your dog does what gets him what he wants; which is your attention. Give him the attention for what you want him to do and life will be happier for both of you!

 

Just say ‘no’ to saying ‘no’

As a trainer, one of the top questions I receive is, “how do I teach my dog the word ‘no?’”

My response is usually, “how well did that work out with your children?” We tell children “no” often, yet they still will sometimes repeat the behavior. Your child speaks a verbal langue and is smarter than your dog. So, how can we expect an animal that does not speak a verbal language to understand something as complex as the word “no?”

harley-trash

Harley decided the time is right to get into the trash.

Dogs live in a world of safe vs. unsafe. A behavior is either safe to perform or it is unsafe. Imagine you are in the kitchen when your dog sticks his head in the trashcan to go after that pork chop bone he smells. You yell “no, bad dog, get out of there,” often while raising your voice and approaching the dog in a threatening manner. The dog just learned it is unsafe to be in the trashcan while you are near it. You leave the kitchen for a few minutes and when you come back, the trash is everywhere and your dog is happily holding that pork chop bone.

Most people become angry at the dog for “disobeying” them. But, in the dog’s world he did not disobey. You told him not to get in the trash when you were around. When you left the kitchen, you made the trash safe. In the dog’s world, leaving something as tasty as a pork chop behind would mean you didn’t want it anymore. If it had been important you would have taken it with you. If you punish the dog at this point, he will not understand what he did wrong.

If you yell at your dog because he pees in the house, he doesn’t understand you are saying it is wrong to pee in the house. He just understands it is not safe to pee in front of you, so he will learn to be in a different room where you can’t see him because it will be safe to pee when you are not in the same room. And if you try taking him back and showing him a potty accident that already happened, your dog will not understand that you are punishing him for going inside the house. He will learn instead you are scary and he should run from you if you approach him when you are angry. Often dogs respond to our anger by offering submissive gestures such as lowering their heads, tucking their tails, etc. People often read these gestures as “guilt” and assume the dog knows it was wrong. Instead it is the dog’s way of trying to appease you and beg you not to hurt it.

We also get into trouble with our canine companion because we send him mixed signals. For example, if he jumps up on you when you come through the door, it is an attention seeking gesture. If you say “no”, you are giving the dog attention. You spoke to him, you most likely looked at him and you may have touched him when you pushed him away from you. To the dog this was all a win. If you truly do not want him to jump up on you, you have to ignore the dog completely. Don’t look at him or talk to him. Stand still and after several weeks of this new behavior, your dog will learn this game no longer works. When he greets you with four feet on the floor, then give him lots of praise and he will figure out this is the new way to get your attention.

What happens if your dog brings you something he shouldn’t have such as your shoe? If you get up out of your chair and chase him through the house and then try and tug the shoe out of his mouth, you just played the best dog game ever invented: run and chase and tug. Your dog just learned if he is bored and you won’t play with him, he just has to bring something out of the bedroom and you will jump up and play with him.

Instead give your dog a long-lasting chew or a puzzle toy before you sit down so he has something to do while you are relaxing.

Trying to see the world as the dog sees it rather than trying to fit the dog into a human peg will go a long way to helping you have an awesome relationship with your canine companion.

 

That time I bought a dog

I grew up in Parke County, Indiana, on a road with only four other houses. Our road was a favorite for people who no longer wanted their pets. We even found a pony one year that someone let loose in a field.

We never lacked for a dog or a cat. I never picked out a dog of my own until I was 23 and had graduated from college. I went to the Vigo County Humane Society and picked out a fluffy puppy and named her Pica (I was a journalism major and starting a career in the newspaper business).

She was followed by a succession of animals; all from animal shelters. I got a border collie from the Mount Vernon Humane Society; another border from a rescue that had pets at a PetsMart on Washington Street in Indianapolis. I adopted Batman from the Humane Society of Indianapolis as well as a few cats from that facility.

While I had always adopted pets, I didn’t get into animal welfare seriously until around 2010. Then I was really on the bandwagon: Adopt Don’t Shop. Spay and Neuter. Dogs die when you don’t adopt.

And yet, in December of 2008 I bought a puppy. Even my Mom was incredulous and read me the riot act. I remained in animal welfare and even become more of an advocate for shelters and shelter pets. And yet I had this dog that I bought. When I was first offered a job at the Humane Society of Indianapolis, I brought up the subject in my interview because I wanted to be transparent and I wanted to show I was not ashamed of what I had done.

To top it off, I had a purchased male dog that I didn’t neuter until he was four years old. I was always thankful that Condor had really long fur so when I had him at the shelter no one could tell he wasn’t neutered.

I ended up walking a line between the world of working/sport dog people and animal welfare people. Having Condor helped me bridge this fairly wide chasm. I tried to help both sides of the line take a breath and see the gray and not just the black and white.

Animal welfare people often take a dim view of purchasing a pet and a dimmer view of having unaltered pets. I know several animal welfare organizations that have a hard and fast rule that they will not adopt a pet to any household with an unaltered animal in it. I had to go to bat for an adopter once because she had world-class border collies that she bred, but she wanted a rescued dog for a pet for her son. The shelter was set on not allowing her to adopt because her breeding dogs were unaltered.

I know sport dog people who think dogs in rescues and shelters are there because they have some type of serious behavior or medical issue that caused them to be given up. Also, many sport/working dog lovers don’t want dogs that have been spayed or neutered. So often they bypass dogs in rescue or shelters for that reason.

Condor taught me you have to see both sides and understand each other to have a meaningful dialogue.

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Batman carrying a bite sleeve that was almost as big as he was.

So, why did I buy a dog? At the time I was into a dog sport called Schutzhund. I was using Batman, who was 40 pounds on his best day. Schutzhund is a sport built around larger dogs. They don’t change the jump height of obstacles if you have a smaller dog. Batman had the heart and soul of a Schutzhund dog, but jumping a meter-high jump carrying a dumbbell was just too much for him. If I really wanted to be serious about this sport I knew I needed a bigger dog. This is a sport dominated by German shepherds; so at trials we would often encounter other shepherd owners.

One day the Schutzhund club I belonged to hosted a trial and a man showed up with several dogs including two 12-week old puppies. The man was there to get some titles on the mother of the two pups. The mother dog was super sweet and did well at the event. I also watched several videos of the father of these puppies doing Schutzhund in Colorado.

It was a two-day event and it is hard to resist something as cute and fuzzy as a 12-week old shepherd puppy. But, I was adamant I would not be buying a dog.

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Condor as a puppy. How could I resist this fluff ball?

Because the female had not titled at all until this trial, the puppies were less expensive than many working line German shepherds would normally be. People in the club kept telling me I should consider getting one of the pups. They had awesome pedigrees. I met the mother and she was great. The pups were both great temperaments and loved fetch. The father of the pups was fairly well ranked in Schutzhund and the pedigrees of both parents were impressive.

I finally decided to seriously consider getting one of the pups. Luckily, the club members were thinking with their heads and not their hearts and suggested a couple of simple tests to see the individual personalities of the pups. It turned out the black fuzzy teddy bear puppy I had fallen in love with was not very confident when it was dark. On a long walk he stayed between my feet and wouldn’t explore. The sable pup was more confident. He would go into the grass and explore, but come right back and check in with me. The sable puppy also had an automatic fetch. Whatever I threw, he went to get it and brought it right back. And he wouldn’t stop.

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Condor running through the woods on a search

And that’s how I came to buy Condor. It is something I will never regret. I soon gave up Schutzhund however as Condor and I both decided it wasn’t our thing. We moved into the world of search and rescue and found our home. Condor certified several times in human remains detection with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and through Law Enforcement Training Specialists. I have no idea how many searches we have been on, but it was a lot. And Condor had some finds over the years. He was an amazing dog. I knew nothing about Search and Rescue before I got into it with Condor. Now I know countless people who devote their lives to a job that pays nothing, requires you spend a lot of your own money, requires countless hours of training each week and at times puts you in situations where the police are wearing bullet proof vests and you are wearing a bright orange shirt that says K9 Handler.

I have gotten to work with numerous police organizations and a few fire departments. I have a tremendous respect for law enforcement. I feel so bad for them now as all anyone hears about are the few unfortunate incidents in which a police officer made a bad call. But, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that the vast majority of police officers are simply amazing. The police I worked for were always kind, patient, grateful and loved working with us. On Condor’s last search, we had to cross a railroad trestle and Condor fell between some slats. I was panicked thinking he was stuck and a train could come along and hit him. One of the officers with me assured me that if Condor had truly been stuck he would have made sure no trains came down that track until he was freed. All of the police officers I worked with would have protected me and my dog; I have no doubt about that.

Condor also gave me a family. My teammates at Midwest Search Dogs are more than people I train with. They are a family. My teammates helped me move two years ago when I divorced. Like any family, we don’t always agree with each other and we all have individual personalities, but cross one of us and you have the entire team to deal with. My search brothers and sisters have my back and I have theirs. When I was deployed on a search one of my teammates (and often more than one) would be with me helping  keep me and my dog safe and helping me by allowing me to just handle the dog while my teammate took care of navigation, note taking, safety, etc.

SAR isn’t easy and over the last seven years I’ve thought about quitting a lot. I don’t mind

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SAR is rain or shine, snow or sleet. Condor LOVED this weather.

the searches and the training, but I have serious test anxiety and the certification process is terrifying for me. I’m also one of the oldest people on our team and I am definitely the most out of shape. Training is physically difficult for me. After you fall down a hill a few times you have to wonder if you are just insane to keep going. When it is 10 degrees with a 20mph wind you really have to wonder if you are insane. Our team trains all year no matter the weather. The only time we call off training is it would be dangerous for the dogs.

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Condor lived for tug and a toss of his ball.

Condor on the other hand loved every minute of training and all of the searches. He lived for his ball and he knew that there was always a good chance he would find something that resulted in me throwing that ball when we were working. He climbed ladders, he swam rivers, and he jumped on shifting debris. He crawled through the smoking ruins of a home. He worked no matter what; including when he was dying. He went on a search one week before he died. We were out for a couple of hours and he worked as he always did despite the fact that there were tumors I didn’t know about growing inside of him.

On Thanksgiving Day, one of those tumors burst filling his belly with blood and I made the difficult decision to relieve him of his pain and set him free; even though I did not want him to go.

Condor taught me not to be so black and white.

I do have several things though to clear up before some of the people on both sides of the fence start yelling at me.

One: I do NOT condone buying a pet from any pet store. The vast majority of those dogs are from puppy mills (I don’t care what the pet store tells you). The parents of those dogs lead horrible lives. You did not “rescue” your dog from a pet store. You bought that dog and condemned his parents to breeding more puppies. I also do not condone buying puppies for some person who had a boy dog and a girl dog and decided to let them have puppies. I do not understand paying $1,000 or more for some made up breed like a chiwennie. You can go to any animal shelter and find a made up breed for a lot less.

If you are going to buy a dog from a breeder; do your research. Only buy from a breeder who stands behind his or her breed. A good breeder only breeds to put something back into the bloodline, not to make money. A good breeder will have breeding records that show their dogs are free from whatever ailments might be common to that breed. A good breeder will have dogs that are house pets and not living in a kennel in the barn or the back yard. A good breeder will allow you to meet the parents of your puppy. A good breeder will not meet you in the parking lot of McDonalds and give you a puppy once you hand over some cash. A good breeder often is active in breed rescue for their breed as well. A good breeder makes sure you will be the right owner for that puppy rather than a person willing to pay a fee. Two of my favorite German shepherd breeders have a long questionnaire that you have to fill out to even be on the list for one of their litters. You have to wait for them to find the right pup for you. A good breeder will take your puppy back, no matter what, if something doesn’t work out. A good breeder will ask you for progress reports and want to keep in contact with you. A good breeder will have a limited number of litters and ensure the females are not bred every heat cycle. One of my favorite breeders neutered her breeding male after one of her litters produced a puppy with a serious issue even though there was no true science to say if the parents could have produced that issue. She didn’t even want to take that chance.

Second: Can you find a working dog through a rescue? Absolutely. I know several police and fire departments that scout shelters for dogs. A friend of mine just adopted a dog for the Indy Mega Adoption Event who turns out to be a natural in several sports. I am seeing promise in Skywalker in terms of search and rescue training.

Third: in regards to spaying or neutering; I am absolutely for the spaying and neutering of shelter pets. Yes, there are responsible people like me who can have unaltered dogs without ever allowing them to breed. However, the vast majority of people who adopt don’t realize what it takes to keep dogs from succumbing to the call of nature. I also think science is changing and showing us that there are consequences in terms of long-term health especially in cases of pediatric spaying and neutering. So, sport and working dog people who responsibly choose not to s/n are not the enemy.

Thank you Condor for showing me a path. Walking the path without you is going to be very lonely.