Friday, December 29, 2006

Out With Old In With New...sssshhhhh

As the year wanes we purge out the old -- decaying Christmas Trees, piles of collected trash, etc. -- in hopes that the new year will bring us health, happiness, hopefulness and good cheer. When ringing it in, don't forget that, like Independence Day Celebrations, loud noises of good cheer can scare your beloved dog(s). So take care, stay safe, and see you on the new datebook side soon.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween & Dogs

"Is the boogy man coming to take my pumpkin?"

"What's in those pumpkins over there?"

Halloween is around the corner. I know my kids are getting excited for that annual adventure of dressing up, knocking on doors and being given candy. They are finally at an age where they don't wonder why you can't just do that any ol' day and get candy.

Dogs are not as sophisticated at watching the calendar for the grand adventure of either going on the walk of all walks -- trick or treating or, for some dogs, the horror show of people endlessly parading up their walk in scary costumes, ringing the bell and yelling "TRICK OR TREAT". While it can be a wonderful socialization opportunity, for those who missed the boat or whose dogs find the stress too much to bear, management of the dog(s) away from the hordes is advisable.

After the treats have been accumulated (Trip and Bean collect them in the pockets of their Har-Vest), please be mindful of the possible toxicity of the treasures for your dogs and again, use wise management to keep eager noses and mouths away from the chocolates and candy.

Have a great holiday, and enjoy!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Growing Up

You care for them, feed them, help nurture them from helpless orphans and they start to take off on their own. Little Anna Heather, the orphaned kitten who came at the tender age of 3 weeks has been here almost half her life. From the scraggly little 6.1 oz critter she has gained more than a whopping 7 oz. and now is a footloose and frolicsome 14 oz. youngster. She has gained more sure footing, trots about fearlessly, eats solid food, uses a litter box, tries to clean herself (but still falls over more often than not), commanding the dogs to her bidding, winning the hearts of all who meet her. Needless to say I'm getting fond of her. But knowing I have to set limits, I have weeded through interested adopters and settled on a couple who live on my block. They will give her a loving and active home and the best part is should the kids and I want to see her, we'll be able to. The best of all words. I'm selfishly keeping her through Halloween to see what she'll think of trick and treaters and the pumpkins that will be flickering their orangey glow. Hopefully I'll be able to add updates on the little one over time.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Who's My Mama

As an ancillary part of dog training I often help with rescue efforts -- mostly to rehome unwanted dogs and cats, sometimes to help someone find a new dog or cat for their home. I'm often riddled with phone calls and emails asking me to take in an unwanted animal and most of the time I state that regrettably I cannot do that. I do have a petfinder site that has been very successful in finding homes for these animals, and because the results are usually so positive, I keep at it.

The other day my oldest daughter's best friend's father caught me in a vulnerable moment and I agreed to take an orphaned kitten off his hands with the caveat that he provide some kitten formula and a bottle.

Anna Heather, aka AH, has been here nearly a week. She has thrived with regular round the clock bottle feedings and the gentle rubbing of her privates to stimulate her peeing and pooping needs, and she has grown from a scrawny 6 oz. to a whopping 9.1 oz as of this morning. She frolics around the house and seeks out any warm or potentially warm body as if to say, "are you my mama?"

Unfortunately, cats that are orphaned so young who don't benefit from the ministrations of a decent mother and the shared experiences of littermates often develop behavioral problems later on. We're hoping to offset that as much as possible by having her experience different people and animals who are gentle so she can minimize the emotional trauma of being wrenched away from her mother so young.

Tomorrow I estimate she'll be about 4 1/2 - 5 weeks old. We may crack open a can of kitten mush and see how she does. Unfortunately, I'm unwilling to wash her off with my tongue so frequent water based baths and quick drying efforts will hopeful make her look a little less scraggly over time!

We'll keep updates on how she does.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Measuring Accomplishments

I was talking to a friend the other day who was making the difficult but necessary decision to euthanize a beloved companion dog of very old age and seriously failing health and had some questions about the process. One of her concerns was a surviving also old dog -- would she become distraught and should she go and watch her canine friend go to the rainbow bridge?

I said I felt that unless an animal died in the home and surviving animals might want to sniff for closure sake or whatever you want to call it, I didn't think taking the dog into the hospital to "watch" was a good idea at all. Dogs do mourn, and do have feelings, but I don't think they need to have the stress of watching it happen in a vet hospital no matter how humane the process.

I recommended some rescue remedy could help for both the dog and the people involved and some special treats or a walk or a belly rub or something the dog valued before the euthanasia and I think it helped my friend and her dog.

I was talking to a friend of mine today about how one values accomplishments. I argued it's not in the # of degrees or formal education you have, the $ you earn, the things you own, but by the way people think of and/or remember you when you've gone from their lives (because of life changes including moving away, evolving, up to and including death) or even how they value you when you're an active person in their life.

Dogs don't generally receive degrees or careers from informal or formal education, very few have jobs so to speak, but I would have to say, in my experience anyway, they accomplish a whole heck of a lot just being loyal, true, honest, funny and simple in the way they need their needs met and the way we feel by meeting them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Back to School

It's been far too long since I've posted and summer has sadly vanished leaving fall in it's place. I learned on the news recently that it's not really fall, it's more like cut off -- there's apparently some biochemical reaction in each and every leaf on each and every tree that dispenses its colorful leaves upon the ground that literally cuts the leaf off and sends it on its way.

I have sent on their way my 3 daughters off to school. One, a 2nd grader, brought home a poem that I thought worthy of posting. It's called THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK by Sara Holbrook.

The Dog Ate My Homework

The dog ate my homework
You're heard that before?
This one at the table,
then chewed through the door.

Broke into the living room
with his munch mouth,
snacked on some carpet
lunched on the couch.

He chewed up some albums,
then swallowed the mail,
even ate pretzels,
though they were stale.

He garbaged down everything
left in his path
and still wasn't full
when he found my math.

He chewed tops off bottles,
then drank all the pop,
as far as I know,
he still hasn't stopped.

If you don't believe me,
then give Mom a call,
if she still has a kitchen,
or phone on the wall.

She'll answer and tell you
my story is true.
The dog ate my homework.
What could I do?

Now I was suitably impressed that my 7 1/2 year old could read the poem and with feeling and proper inflection but being the behaviorist and nag I am we then had to have a chat about how poorly managed and anxious this poor dog was, homework or no! We also had to define what albums were and discuss the history of phones that aren't cordless, but that's beside the point.

I certainly am seeing an influx of anxious and poorly managed dogs lately. Perhaps it's the changing of the seasons exacerbating things or the change from a more lax summer schedule to fall without actually helping the dog understand. But before winter hits with even more restriction it's a good idea to figure out some things the dog can do with pride than wait for the dog to do things that are less than acceptable! We'll have to come up with some ideas in a future blog entry. Here's one you can try now.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Garden Redux • Measuring Change

Exactly two months have passed since the garden was planted and things are certainly blooming under hot, sunny, and watery conditions. The corn is as high as an elephant's eye and the teepee is producing zucchini, beans, peas and shade. The squash, peppers, corn,tomatoes and other stuff are coming soon.

I always have trouble remembering that if you plant something it grows. I do know the plant needs water and sunshine. I know because I have often had what I affectionately referred to as "the curse of the black thumb". Fortunately I know how to care for dogs.

Speaking of dogs, and our society's "want it now" attitude, I use my own burgeoning knowledge that yes, plants do grow (as evidenced by pictures taken over time) and apply it to measuring change in my dogs' or client's dogs' ability to learn, over time and with practice, improved behaviors.

If you create a goal, figure out the way to achieve the steps towards that goal, and factor in the time element, you can come up with new things to teach your dog for fun (i.e.,dancing) and function (i.e.,coming when called).

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Family Reunions

Extended family get togethers are often fraught with highs and lows and can revolve around events (weddings, funerals, graduations, anniversaries) or just time to visit the hometown for the far flung. When out of towners bring their dogs in tow it's always hoped there is a welcome place for the canines to visit too. Prepare your dog for visiting or being visited upon by socializing your dog as often as possible. You might notice your dog is more protective of its home turf, even if only for a few moments, than it might be when going somewhere else. Reinforce what you like with praise, treats, belly rubs and other positives, and manage where it seems to be needed. There's nothing like an unwelcome growl to put a damper on an ol' family reunion. And just like hooking up with adult siblings or cousins, don't assume from one visit or opportunity that might not have gone smoothly, that it's necessarily destiny to be repeated.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Excess Dog Hair Options

Many people desire non shedding or short coated dogs to minimize the trauma of grooming or vacuuming. I have short coated dogs and one dog that requires some grooming. One of my dogs is black with white, one white with black and the other liver and white. I sweep my floors quite regularly (it's very therapeutic) and the color of the hair swept up is always gray. I haven't figured that out yet. But I just had to share an alternative use for all that excess dog hair and some creative uses for the end result.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dogs Days of Summer

Although at least in my neck of the woods it's been unseasonably cool and wet, we are now, by the calendar at least, fully immersed in summer. In fact, there are 79 days until autumn! Fireworks are behind us, and although we can't control for those pesky thunderstorms, we can start thinking of those lazy summer nights, watching for fireflies, sipping lemonade and bantering with neighbors who suddenly seem to be out in force! And of course, just chillin'!

There are more active fun things to do with your dog, too. Daytime activities could include:

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Is it Thunder or Is It Practice Fireworks? Does it Matter?

It's that time of year again. Celebration of this country's independence with bbq's, picnics, reunions, parades and yes, fireworks. Not to mention, well, I have already in previous posts, the plethora of thunderstorms and accompanying weather conditions in at least parts of this country in this still very young summer season.

Now there may be those for whom this time of year evokes warm fuzzy memories or not such great ones but the activity of living through another Independence Day Holiday may be:

Do I or don't I

go to the parade
go to the picnic
go see fireworks
remember to take along my umbrella
remember to take along my bug spray
Other ________

There are those dogs for whom this is no big deal and the biggest thought bubble is whether or not that errant hot dog or even hot dog bun might make it near my oral cavity.

But then there are those dogs for whom this holiday evokes terror, horror, anxiety, dread and massive discomfort. It is for those very dogs this entry exists.

And for those with those dogs I say:
Leave them home. If you can stay with them, and be calm, do so. If you need or want to go out, put them in a quiet place, draw curtains, keep space safe (if your dog is comforted by a crate, crate your dog.) Play soothing music or the tv -- perhaps Animal Planet, maybe Cartoon Network or C-Span. Whatever most comforts the dog.

And be safe, have fun and take stock in the freedom this holiday represents. And don't forget to give your dog a thanks for the interplay of dependence and independence (s)he gives you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Art Takes Many Forms -- Here's one

I went to a lovely dinner party the other night and, as is often the case, the hosts were former clients of mine. Their two dogs, a most serene yellow lab named Boomer and an irrepressible bichon bolognese named Gracie, were delighted that in lieu of wine or salad I brought dog chews.

Gracie had settled in after arriving into their lives several months earlier and was fulfilling their desire to be a soft lap dog with the panache to work the dog door, eliminate in the right place, and help entertain Boomer.

She also had developed alter egos in the form of a paper mache creation and a soft purse that if you weren't looking carefully could be thought of as a real dog! But the real pleasure other than great food and company is seeing how an awkward unmannered dog can integrate into a home and not only be a delightful companion for her people, but to be a charming hostess as well for company coming into the home.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Take Your Dog To Work Day coming tomorrow

A recent survey indicates that the majority of dog owners would put in longer hours if their pet could accompany them to work, and one out of three said they'd take a pay cut for the perk. While most pooch acceptance is found in small businesses, a few large companies welcome employee dogs.

June 23 is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Check with your employer to see if your company is willing to participate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Weather Anxiety

Weather figures in life because if you're out and about it affects decisions. Summer roared into town this morning in the shape of thunderstorms, sheets of heavy rain, cool temperatures and a kibosh on summer activities like outdoor swimming and picnicking. I like a good thunderstorm and my dogs enjoy it too. They don't go splashing about in puddles, although my brother's dog Ender would find one in a desert.

But some dogs develop storm anxieties -- sometimes from early puppyhood, in others it could develop later in life. Manifestations of anxiety can be as minor as a bit of panting and neediness to downright hysteria that can be debilitating.

Knowing the source of the anxiety is helpful -- is it sound based? Is it the change in barometric pressure? Is the dog conducting electricity in the air and getting zapped. Does your dog seek out porcelain surfaces (bathtubs or sinks) to quell stress? Or does the dog hide in the closet and resurface only after the storm passes?

If your dog's issues are severe, there are some remedies that can help. Training, management and the use of tools. One such tool that has proved successful is an anxiety wrap Flower essences can help too. There's a lot of info available online. Here's one link to get you started.

Have a safe and happy summer season. Wherever you live and whatever the weather.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Travel Talk

Driving the westward horizontal stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Philadelphia back to Cleveland much of today involved the need for frequent stops to both intake and outflow caffeine. Although it's officially 3 days away the day was a preview of summer. The sort of day where heat waves radiate up from the acres of cement at those turnpike rest stops. You know, the waves that generate color if oil slicks are nearby.

I didn't have my dogs on this trip. But there were others sharing a similar journey in their cars and trucks and vans and many did have canine companions. I was pleased to note, when I paid attention while carefully juggling my iced lattes, that the dogs I saw were kept shaded and offered water.

It's important to know a few things. The interior of a car heats up fast and furious, even with windows cracked open, so it's NEVER safe to leave dogs in a car even for a few minutes when it's hot out. Remember, a hot car is like an oven, with temperatures that can rise an astounding 34°F per minute! Hot asphalt can burn tender paw pads. And last but not least, know the signs of heat stroke and dehydration. Some symptoms include: excessive panting, glassy stare, dizziness, vomiting or collapse. If your pet shows ANY of these symptoms of heatstroke, move it in to a shady area and reduce its temperature by soaking it with cool water and go immediately to seek medical attention.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Possible careers for Frisky Dogs

If you think your dog is too energetic and destructive, you might want to think about giving it a job. Who knows, it might earn you a second income. Check this out

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Touch as Recall

We all want a dog who can reliably come when called. Calling "come here, come here, $*&#$ come here" is one way people try. It's not very reliable. It's hard for people to realize that dogs might think sniffing another dog's butt is more desirable than coming to a screaming panicky owner.

I teach a cue called "touch" (see June 7, 2007 entry). Train your dog to touch your hand -- palm, finger, fist or all three -- and make it a very fun game. Once your dog understands that amazingly wonderful things happen when a cool nose is pressed to a human hand, then start making it more challenging. Layer in distance and distractions AT THE RATE YOUR DOG CAN HANDLE IT and always humble yourself because it's a hard cue to RELIABLY train and should take months of regular practice. As the distance increases and your dog responds to the "touch" cue by COMING WHEN CALLED, you now have a recall.

Friday, June 09, 2006

"Go to Your Bed"

Last night I bought myself new summer sheets. 500 thread count cotton ones. Now the sheets are washed and placed on my bed and I can hardly wait until bedtime when I can crawl between them and see if my dreams improve.

Long before I dared splurge (I did have a discount coupon on top of a sale price so the price was very reasonable) on my own bedding, I confess I have often indulged my own dogs. I have bought round beds, square beds, corner beds. Big puffy beds, beds with bolsters, beds with attached pillows. Solid colors and patterns. Beds covered in polartec fleece, cotton, faux sheepskin, corduroy. Mostly I try to find beds with removable washable covers. I always find big beds so they can be shared. Sometimes it's nice even to sleep near the bed.

Training a dog to "go to bed" or some variation can be very handy. I think it helps if the bed is cozy, comfy, and desired as a place of goodness by the dog. You don't have to break the piggy bank to afford one either. If you look around, and you don't have to look all that hard, dog beds are easy to find and can be very affordable.

Help encourage your dog to go to his bed and have all manner of goodness happen there. Treats, chewies, belly scritches, massages, "good pup" comments happen on these soft cozy places and before long, your dog will go there regularly. Get your dog to think, "when in doubt, I go to my soft cozy place". That way when you have company, or you're busy, your beloved dog has a reliable and happy place to go.

And now to bed. Happy dreaming.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Applying Training to Real Life

Skills drills in dog training is practicing basic obedience with various levels of distractions and incorporating distance and duration. For example, training a dog to sit, down and stay while walking away a certain distance and then calling the dog to come and sit and down again. Perhaps the dog can do it from a distance of 3 feet while staying for a few seconds with all the other dogs out of sight and after time and practice, work towards the goal of coming straight to the handler through a gauntlet of dogs from 40 feet away after being asked to stay for two minutes. Arguably much harder.

So tonight it's the 4th group class (out of 6) and the dogs are all developing sounder foundation skills within class. Most of the dogs are coming, sitting, lying down, ignoring their doggy friends during work time. Handlers are pleased with results and clearly aware measurable improvement is occuring.

But then there's this problem and I can't figure out how to fix it. It happens in group and private training sessions. During the drills, when being given a set of directions to follow, the handlers do pretty well. But then when real life rears its ugly head they completely forget what they've been working on and revert to their instinct which is usually counter productive to training the dog.

Example 1:
Adolescent chocolate lab who has typical lab enthusiasm but when able to focus does a very amazing job at all the skills -- he'll sit, down, stay, and when asked to "touch" will come flying over to his handler, touch her palm gently with his wet nose and grin. Handler practices several times, always the dog does well.

Handler comes to class tonight and dog gets loose in parking lot before she comes into the training class. I watch her from a different part of the parking lot. She says nothing and immediately starts chasing the dog, finally catching up and grabbing his leash. He gets away again and starts running about again. She says nothing, chases after him and grabs his leash.

I asked her, "why didn't you ask him to 'come' or 'touch'?" She looks at me with a look that says, "oh, why didn't I think of that?"

Example 2:
Single woman in large studio apartment with a small toy dog. She complains that the dog plays keep away games when it's time for her to leave to go to work and she chases the dog for a long time. I learn that the dog understands come and sit and down and short short stays. I'm pretty impressed. I ask the owner, "when do you practice or use these skills?" "When my friends are over or I'm at my friends' houses with the dog."

I ask, "why don't you practice these things when you're alone with the dog so she'll listen to you?". "Oh, why didn't I think of that?"

So feel free to comment and share your thoughts on how to help me understand how to get people to understand that the reason you teach or train your dog for certain skills is so that in real life the dog can be safe to others, itself and be a pleasure to have around. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, but if it is, do.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Beyond Dogs

This has some cool videos of a trained cat. I think anything with a brain stem can be motivated (usually with food ) to learn new behaviors. Our companion animals are often better at training us than we are at training them. The video cat, Annie, is actually quite sophisticated. BTW, this cat is NOT Annie. Just an all knowing cat I knew.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Structure - Garden Style

Structure can be literal and metaphorical. Something made out of parts -- like a crate or a teepee.

Structure can refer to the day to day routine.

If I build my teepee well enough and take proper care of the structure, within a few weeks it should start becoming something more substantial.

If I am clear to my dogs on what the routine is and make what they want (as The Keeper of Good Things That They Want) dependent on what I want, we all get along just fine.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Training - Garden Style

Training is teaching the dogs what you want them to do. I want Lily and Bean to be the Garden Guardians and keep the bunnies away. Here they are at Day 1 of their training: Staying at the Corner, and Keeping Watch.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Management • Garden Style

There are several key elements that help people communicate with dogs. Structure, training and management.

Management includes the use of tools like leashes, gates, doors, collars, harnesses and in tonight's episode, the use of a fence to protect this year's crop.

In my own gardening universe, I prefer the use of landscape fabric and good ol' weeding. For those who prefer mulch, be warned that cocoa mulch, sold in many gardening centers and home improvement stores, can be unsafe and downright lethal to your dogs.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Weather Yin Yang

The yin yang of unseasonably hot and sunny with bouts of cool and rain are confusing the dogs. Just as our mood and energy levels can be affected by weather, so too do the changing of the seasons affect our canine friends. If in your neck of the woods the seasons are in transition from one to the next, try to be aware of that change's impact on your dogs. Your dog's yawning may not be tiredness or boredom. It could be a sign of stress. Indoor,mind-challenging games can be a big boredom buster. Turid Rugaas has some great insight into the calming signals of dogs. Check 'em out.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Welcome to A Better Blog Dog. A way to explore from my corner of the world to the outer reaches of the world the ways and means to help you help your dog be a better dog -- whether your canine is your friend, accomplice, co-worker, guide, source of joy, source of angst -- it is a journey nonetheless.

Advice, resources, products, inventions, humor, pathos, and who knows what more in store.