Over the next several weeks, I will be migrating the content from this blog over to my new website and continuing to post new content there.
The link to the site is here.
Stop by and say hi!
Over the next several weeks, I will be migrating the content from this blog over to my new website and continuing to post new content there.
The link to the site is here.
Stop by and say hi!
They keep popping up in my Facebook newsfeed almost daily – photographs of children and dogs together, intended to elicit a smile. Some of the time the photographs involve older children, but mostly they are of very young children in the personal space of large dogs…and they make me cringe.
As much as we demand respect for our personal space from dogs, dogs are equally entitled to their own comfortable distance from people. As owners, we go to great lengths to train our dogs not to jump up on others or us. We work with them from puppyhood to not be mouthy with human beings. Our dogs deserve just as much from us as we expect from them.
Even dogs with the most even of temperaments cannot be trusted unconditionally around small children. Emma, my Labrador, has never exhibited anything but complete and sincere love for every human she has ever encountered, almost to a fault. She is gracious and submissive. The very last thing I could ever imagine her doing would be to show aggression towards a child, but I am also aware that given the right set of circumstances, she is capable of causing injury to anyone. If, for example, a child accidentally and unexpectedly hurt her in some way, her response may very well be to bite him.
Dogs give subtle warning signs of their discomfort prior to any overt action such as biting, but the average owner may have a difficult time identifying the important cues their dog is providing them. Behaviors that a dog may give indicating he is uncomfortable include lifting a paw, turning his head or body away from the “threat,” freezing his motion, nose/lip licking, yawning, or having a “whale eye” appearance. One or more of these signs is an indication that the dog is uncomfortable and should be given his space.
It is crucial that children be taught very early on to respect that space. For my clients who have both small children and dogs living in the same household, I suggest that a crate is provided somewhere in the house (with the door always left open) where the dog can voluntarily retreat when it feels the need for some space and quiet time. Likewise, the children should be taught to respect the dogs’ need for a safe place (especially if the dog is sleeping) and to not bother with the dog in any way when it is taking a self-imposed time out.
Last week, I spent three days sitting at the bedside of my best friend back in California as she continues her struggle through the final stages of liver cancer. It was the most difficult and painful experience of my life, but I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time with her, tell her I love her and say goodbye.
I’m not much in the mood to write about dogs right now, and tried hard to come up with something dog-related to post until my brain returns to normal. Here’s what I managed to come up with:
Live each moment to its fullest and cherish life, health, love, and family.
Norm’s Island is a local off-leash dog area that provides a trail that winds around the outer edges of the island. The almost 2-mile loop is large enough that although the parking lot may be full of vehicles, you may not ever encounter another person or dog. The walking trail runs along the perimeter of the island, and the brush and trees are thick throughout the rest of the park.
During a recent walk around the island, Emma and I encountered an Aussie walking with its owners. As we approached each other, both the Aussie’s owners and I were careful to assess whether or not the dogs would be an appropriate match for a quick wrestling match or game of chase through the brush. We watched closely as the dogs greeted each other, making sure that neither dog was uncomfortable with the other. Once their compatibility was obvious, we stood chatting while Emma and the Aussie played together for several minutes.
Just before we were going to part and go our separate ways, two other dogs came running up, with no owner in sight. Emma took notice, and left her Aussie playmate to investigate the newcomers. She took an instant liking to one of the two, and set about initiating playtime with it. Something about the developing interactions between Emma, the Aussie and one of the newcomers bothered the forth dog, who went directly to Emma and put its mouth on her, twice, in a fairly aggressive manner. Although there were no injuries, it was a stressful and potentially volatile situation. As I moved quickly to separate Emma away from the group, the owner of the two newcomers was still nowhere to be seen.
The Aussie and its owners continued on their walk as I distracted Emma away from the newcomers, all the time still waiting for the owner to show.
He finally arrived…several minutes after his dogs.
As he approached, I let him know that one of his dogs had put its mouth on Emma. He appeared to be underwhelmed by the news. Apparently, he had been calling to his dogs (to no avail) but figured he would catch up with them eventually.
I find a lot of value in taking Emma to Norm’s Island in that she is able to interact with other dogs in normal dog play activities. However, all owners should make sure to take complete responsibility for their dogs when in such an environment. It is critical that owners watch their dogs carefully at all times. It only takes a second for the dynamic in a group of dogs to become such where someone is going to wind up getting injured. The assumption should never be made that all dogs will get along with each other, and when new dogs are meeting each other, they should be carefully supervised as to whether there is potential for a problem. I am quick to remove Emma from situations that she looks even the slightest bit stressed about. During one of our more recent walks, a young male golden retriever wanted to focus all of his efforts in maintaining his nose on Emma’s hind end, which was making her obviously uncomfortable. I am quick to remove her from every stressful situation, even one so benign as that.
In an off-leash environment, one of the most important tools a dog owner must have is a reliable recall. The individual who allowed his dogs to go so far out of his sight (because he has no recall on either of them) ran the risk of several serious potential outcomes: his dogs could have been involved in a fight with another dog (which just as easily could have been initiated by another dog, not his own), they could have gotten injured in the thick brush which is not an uncommon occurrence during games of chase, they could have slipped off of the ledge above the river and gotten swept out of sight, etc.
If your dog is not under direct supervision, it is impossible to react appropriately and in a timely manner should dangerous situations arise. Additionally, if the dog does not reliably return to you when called, it should be leashed for its protection.
We did it!
My hope was to try for Emma’s AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification before she reached the end of her second year, a goal we met with two months to spare.
I have mixed feelings about the AKC in general, but I do find value in their CGC evaluations. The 10-part test puts a handler and their dog through a series of exercises that mirror situations that they may face in everyday life. The successful completion of the 10 exercises reflects the dog’s ability to face everyday situations as a calm and well-behaved companion.
What I have found during my work in dog training is that most people just want a pet that is well-mannered, that can be taken into a variety of situations and (reliably) behave appropriately. No jumping up on people, no aggression, no hyper-sensitivity to other dogs, no panicked responses to unexpected noises, and some basic obedience to make handling the dog easier.
The CGC exercises are:
1) Accepting a Friendly Stranger: The evaluator approaches the handler/dog team and exchanges pleasantries with the handler. The dog must not show any signs of resentment and must not break position to try to go towards the evaluator.
2) Sitting Politely for Petting: The evaluator approaches the handler/dog team, and asks the handler for permission to pet the dog. The handler may interact verbally with the dog during the time the evaluator is petting it, but the dog must remain sitting at the handler’s side during the exercise.
3) Appearance and Grooming: The evaluator mimics a very superficial veterinary exam by looking in the dog’s ears, touching its paws, and grooming it gently with a brush provided by the handler. It is not required for the dog to hold a particular position during this exercise, but it cannot jump on the evaluator or show resentment towards being examined.
4) Out for a Walk: The handler/dog team is asked to walk around the ring, maintaining a loose leash. The dog can be on either side of the handler, but there must be no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding appropriately to the change in directions, etc.
5) Walking Through a Crowd: The handler/dog team maneuvers through several people, as if in a public place. The dog may show interest in the people as it passes, but cannot be over exuberant, shy, or resentful.
6) Sit and Down on Command Staying in Place: The dog in placed in either a sit or a down “stay,” and then the handler leaves the dog for a distance of 20 feet. The handler then returns to the dog’s side and releases the dog.
7) Coming when Called: Again, the dog is placed in a “stay” (or “wait”) and the handler leaves the dog for a distance of 20 feet. The dog is then commanded to “come” and should return willingly to the handler.
8) Reaction to Another Dog: Two handlers and their dogs approach one another and pause to exchange pleasantries. The dog being evaluated is expected to show no more than a casual interest in the other dog and to remain at the handler’s side.
9) Reaction to Distractions: A visual and/or an audible distraction is chosen to test the dog’s ability to remain calm and confident at all times when faced with common distractions. In Emma’s case, the evaluator dropped a metal chair onto the ground from a distance of about 10 feet away from us.
10) Supervised Separation: The handler leaves the dog on a “wait” command with the evaluator and steps out of sight from the dog for 3 minutes. The dog must remain calm and not bark, whine, howl, or pace during its handler’s absence.
During our evaluation, Emma’s biggest challenge turned out to be me. As the evaluator approached us at the beginning of the test, she pointed out how tense I was…which was having an obvious impact on Emma. Once I was able to relax myself, the rest of the test went very smoothly.
I am proud of my girl.
Since day one, I knew that Lucy’s hip dysplasia or her luxating patellas (or both) would give her trouble some day down the line, but that day always seemed too far in the future to pay much thought to. She’s always been active — willing to play fetch with the stamina and persistence of a retriever each and every day of the past seven years.
Three weeks ago, that all changed.
She would run after the ball only two or three times before asking to be let back into the house.
The rest of the day, she slept.
I took her in to see her veterinarian just in case it was something else. After blood work, a urinalysis and a complete physical (which was billed as a “senior pet exam;” the label of a sobering new reality), we agreed that she was finally suffering the painful effects of her origins as part of a litter produced by irresponsible backyard breeding. Adjustments will have to be made to help her through this part of her life, and I am willing to do whatever will make her finals years as comfortable, dignified and enjoyable for her as possible.
We started her on a chronic dose of NSAIDs, and I ordered the fluffiest, warmest, most cuddly fleece jacket possible to help keep her painful joints warm.
Shortly before our trip into the vet, I met Rick and his crew during one of Emma and my morning walks around Norm’s Island. Our meeting was timely. Rick owns three dogs – Spice Girl, Marne, and Maggie May. Spice Girl, a 7-year-old Doxie, suffers occasionally from problems with her back – something not uncommon for her breed.
When it became too difficult for her to join the rest of her pack on their morning walks, Rick (doing what he thought to be the right thing for Spice Girl) would leave her behind while he took Marne and Maggie May, something Spice Girl took immediate issue with. He said that on such occasions she would ignore him for up to a day and a half, even refusing to take food from him (luckily Lucy doesn’t hold grudges quite as easily as Spice Girl, and is perfectly happy to stay home under the warm blankets).
Not wanting to run the risk of hurting her feelings further, he purchased a cart (normally used as a way to carry children behind a bike) for Spice Girl to ride in, tucked in under a big warm fleece blanket. She rides like royalty as he pushes her around the trails – perfectly content to watch the other dogs play from the comfort of her throne. Rick periodically takes her out and lets her walk a short distance before tucking her in again. Problem solved; no more cold shoulder from Spice Girl.
Even though Spice Girl is not physically capable of some of the things she used to be in her younger years, Rick is going to make sure she is still able to be active – to the extent that she can be comfortably.
Many years ago, when I understood just how many problems Lucy was going to ultimately face due to her faulty genetics, I made a promise to myself to keep her comfortable, not to put her through any painful surgeries, and to accommodate for whatever she needed to live a contented life. During this transition into the next phase of her life, I will defer to her as to what she is comfortable with – even if she only fetches the ball twice before wanted to return to the warmth of the house.
It is a common misconception that dogs are comfortable being around all other dogs. That is not always necessarily the case — and that’s just fine.
During a few recent visits to dog-friendly Cabelas (where we go to work on distraction training), Emma and I have encountered someone else with their dog. The assumption on the part of the other person is routinely that the two dogs should meet (“Come on, Fido, let’s go say hi!!”) and they inevitably start to head in our direction. As politely as I know how, I attempt to dissuade them from approaching – a reaction which is generally interpreted by the other owner as my being rude. I have received some pretty strange looks as they wander away.
Likewise, Emma and I occasionally take our morning walks around a local island that is designated as a dog park, of sorts. A trail that winds around the perimeter of the island serves as the perfect environment to walk dogs and socialize with other dog people. When we cross paths with other dogs, it is usually immediately apparent to me when Emma feels secure, and when she does not. She is transparent about her feelings in any given situation, and I pay close attention and am mindful when she is feeling uncomfortable.
If I see a dog approaching that has routinely made Emma feel anxious in the past, I bring her to me and place her in a sit stay at my side until the dog has passed.
There have been some owners of dogs that we avoid who have expressed their interpretation of the situation as my not liking their dog, which is never the case. My reaction is dedicated strictly to Emma and Emma’s comfort, and nothing more. I don’t find the need to subject her to interactions with other dogs that cause her to hide her tail between her legs and bow her head. Dogs should not be expected to get along with or interact with all dogs.
And that’s okay.
Socialization with other dogs is a vital part of any dog’s development, something that dog parks provide. However, it is critical for an owner to pay very close attention to how their dog is interacting and responding to the presence of other dogs, and to remove their dog from situations that are causing overt stress. A better alternative may be to allow play dates with dogs that are known to you — whose personalities are compatible and that are known to get along well together.
This handsome boy is London.
When London was just a few months old his original owners came home to find that he had chewed their couch. In response, an eyewitness said they took turns slamming London on the floor numerous times, severely fracturing both of his forelegs in multiple places.
Then they waited several months before taking him to a local shelter.
The shelter contacted Amanda Giese, founder of Panda Paws Rescue. Panda Paws is a small nonprofit rescue that caters specifically to dogs with special needs — those requiring extensive medical support, rehabilitation, and hospice care. The dogs, often coming from horrific conditions, live with Amanda in her home. There, she can provide a loving, safe and stable environment while the dogs heal and begin their new lives.
Shortly after London came to Amanda, it was determined that both of his front legs were so badly injured that they would need to be amputated.
Amanda nursed London after his surgery, supported him through his physical and emotional rehabilitation, and helped him learn how to maneuver his new world with the support of an all-terrain wheelchair. His forever mom has since adopted London, and his progress is updated frequently via his Facebook page.
Because of the overwhelming outpouring response of donations from people wanting to help with London’s care, Panda Paws was able to set up a scholarship fund to help other dogs in need. Recent recipients have included a puppy with a cleft palate, a 3-month-old puppy that had been shot and left for dead, and two Chihuahua sisters who were both born with debilitating front limb deformities as a result of backyard breeding. All of the scholarship recipients receive the necessary medical treatments, subsequent supportive care, and are then placed in their forever homes.
The dogs receiving assistance from Amanda’s organization would have otherwise been euthanized.
I consider Amanda a true hero. Having once worked in a veterinary emergency practice for many years, I know firsthand how intensive the care for a critically injured animal can be. Once the physical issues are addressed, the emotional ones can be even more difficult to treat. Amanda is able to see past those challenges and to recognize the potential in each of her rescues. With her efforts, these dogs have a second chance at life.
London’s jury trial date begins on November 19th, and Amanda will be there with London at her side.
Someday, when the situation and timing is right, I plan to do my part in helping dogs like the ones saved by Amanda.
Making its way around the Internet recently was a video of Cesar Millan working with Holly, a yellow Labrador with serious resource guarding issues. In the original video, Cesar’s methods are similar to what is normally employed during his show, The Dog Whisperer — but leaves Holly looking like a vicious beast and Cesar as the innocent victim.
Here is the original clip (an interesting stance on the part of Cesar, I might add):
A dog behaviorist took the time to dissect the “training session” and edited the video into slow motion so that Holly and Cesar’s interactions could be examined. The results were both fascinating and startling. Holly never had a chance.
During the edited video, Cesar places a bowl of food in front of Holly and after she begins consuming it, attempts to reclaim it. She snaps at him (normal for resource guarding) and he hits her on the side of her neck and moves forward, putting himself in between her and the bowl.
At that time, Holly immediately honors Cesar’s claim of space, and exhibits obvious signs of wanting to avoid further conflict. She flicks her tongue out over her nose multiple times and blinks quickly, both signs of her acquiescence.
He keeps coming.
She continues to back away, reiterating her request for space. She increases her attempts to prevent any further issues with Cesar by continuing her tongue flicking and rapid blinking, as well as softening her face, looking away from him, and lowering her head and ears…to no avail.
He completely disregards her repeated attempts to maintain space from him by reaching out (with the same hand he hit her with originally) and seems surprised when she latches on to him.
After her attack, he continues to back her into a corner, ignoring her repeated efforts at diffusing the situation. She continues licking, blinking, looking away, and keeping her head, ears, and tail lowered.
This dog never had a chance, and with Cesar’s methods could very easily have been deemed too dangerous to continue to be a part of her family.
It could have cost Holly her life.
Here’s the edited version with the analysis of Holly’s body language:
Update 10/15/2012: Here’s a perfect example as to why these training techniques should not be used for resource guarding: Article: Celebrity dog trainer’s techniques end a young dog’s life
This past weekend, Emma and I participated in the 2nd annual Doggie Dash (formerly Run, Dog. Run!) event in Bozeman, Montana. It was a 1-mile fun run/walk, with proceeds benefitting the Stafford Animal Shelter in Livingston and Heart of the Valley animal shelter in Bozeman. This is the second event of this kind that she and I have done together in the past month. In participating, not only are we helping local animal shelters, but it has also become an excellent environment in which to continue to refine Emma’s ability to be polite around other leashed dogs.
About half of the participants ran the course; the rest of us used it as a bit of a social event, chatting with each other and walking our dogs. Emma and I ended up walking the entire course with Tiffany and her Corgi, Cabo. Coincidentally, Cabo is reactive too. Unlike Emma, though, he has very clearly defined personal space issues, and would prefer that other dogs give him ample breathing room. Emma, on the other hand, likes to take advantage of every opportunity she can to impose herself (her way of showing love) on everyone and everything around. I have been working to distract her from being so fascinated with every dog or person that passes by, and it was a great opportunity for her to walk politely next to Tiffany and Cabo. I don’t know if she sensed Cabo’s reluctance towards interacting with her, but she minded her manners and kept to my side.
After the finish, there were contests that owners could participate in with their dogs. The first was a rendition of musical chairs, only when the music stopped, the owners had to “down” their dogs. The winner was a lovely little Staffordshire bull terrier by the name of Mr. Peabody. He and his owner had the definite competitive advantage in that he was proficient at achieving the down position without benefit of transitioning through a sit first. Boom, he was down every single time. The connection that he had with his owner was impressive – as he pranced around the circle, his eyes never left her face in anticipation of her next command.
Later, came the peanut butter eating contest. As I watched I thought, “only true dog people would be willing to kneel down on the ground, grasping the handle end of a spoon slathered in peanut butter in their mouths, while their dog worked assiduously to be the first to clean the other end of the spoon of its contents.” A non-dog person passing by would have been baffled by the scene.
If you can imagine, there was one dog that refused to participate. I think he should have won a prize for being the only dog on earth with an apparent disdain for peanut butter.
And then there was Lil’ Moe.
Moe is a bulldog with an affinity for skateboarding. Well, perhaps the word “obsession” would be more accurate.
Moe makes appearances at various events to raise awareness about the importance of spaying and neutering pets. He is a delight to watch. Without much prompting from his owner, he would maneuver the board back and forth in front of the crowd. Once the board was moving fast enough, he would climb on with all four paws, seemingly posing for pictures as he passed by.
Emma and I are already registered to participate in the next event, Comics for Courage 5K on October 27th. A portion of the proceeds from that particular event will benefit VetDogs.