Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fifteen pit bulls found frozen in Pontiac

Talking with Pam Porteous, manager of the Animal Care Network, for today’s story Volunteer group finds growing number of pets frozen to death was absolutely heart wrenching.
This freezing pit bull had to be euthanized
As sad as the published article is, there’s a lot about the conversation we had that I left out.
Take, for instance, Porteous recalling the most emotional situation she’s encountered during her regular visits trying to save the lives of Pontiac dogs.
“Last winter, we found one address with two dogs and we had continuously reported this address to the city,” Porteous said.
After last winter’s first major blizzard, the team of volunteers set out to visit homes in the city and make sure dogs were doing OK. They went to that house and found the heavy snow had snapped one of the dog houses in half.
A pit bull was inside that dog house, trying to take shelter. Once it broke, snow fell inside and around him. At some point, his back became frozen to the ground.
“He was on his back; still breathing, still moving,” Porteous said. “His eyes looking at us ... I think that hit everybody the hardest.”
Unfortunately, the dog couldn’t be saved. Volunteers were able to get the owner to sign over the dog to them, but in the end, he had to be euthanized.
This dog was rescued and adopted to a new home

Because the Animal Care Network volunteers don’t have any legal authority to seize animals or charge owners with cruelty, all they can do is try to reason with owners and sometimes, plead with them as well. Getting animals signed over is a “huge challenge,” Porteous said.
“A lot of these people claim these are their babies and they love them,” she said.
How those loving emotions can coincide with the way the owners treat their dogs is a mystery to Porteous.
“These people, they come and go, they see their dogs,” she said. “We don’t understand it. We’ll never understand it. We don’t even try to understand it anymore.”
After so many years of walking Pontiac neighborhoods, passing out dog food, providing dog houses and even helping arrange things like vaccinations free of charge to residents, Porteous said she often feels hardened to what she witnesses.
In fact, she said that at times, it’s a relief to see a malnourished, neglected or abused dog has died.
“The dogs we see in the backyards of these homes, they have a horrible life. These dogs just live on a chain, they don’t get fed or watered. They’re just languishing there,” Porteous said. “It’s not that we want them to die like that, but they’re not suffering anymore.”
More than anything else, though, Porteous said it makes her angry to find dogs frozen to death or so frost-bitten and hypothermic they need to be euthanized.
Pam Porteous, manager of the Animal Care Network
“There’s so many resources for food — we deliver food, we deliver straw — there’s no excuse,” she said. “I probably get more mad now than anything else because I tried so much already. I just get angry.
“If you couldn’t keep these dogs, couldn’t feed them, call somebody. Call us — we pick them up for free.”
All 15 of the frozen dogs discovered by the group this year have been pit bulls, a breed notoriously unprepared to weather cold temperatures.
Pit bulls have extremely short hair, no undercoat and in most cases, may be practically hairless on their stomachs and underside.
As the owner of a pit bull myself, I have a hard time imagining my dog trying to live outside. I told one my coworkers yesterday that, upon realizing he wasn’t going to be let back inside, my dog would probably die of heartbreak and a panic attack even before hypothermia sets in.
I can always tell how cold out it is by how quickly my dog manages to take care of his business and what his bark sounds like letting us know he wants back in.
The past couple of weeks, in these frigid temperatures, he’s hardly been outside for more than a minute at a time and barks anxiously, sounding quite panicked, until we let him back in.
It’s really, really hard for me to think about the poor dogs who don’t even bark about being outside because they’ve never known anything else. I just want to round them all up and plop them in front of my wood stove, wrap them in blankets and try to show them that life can be better than they know, and so can humans.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How do I potty train my puppy?

Sweet little Gidget
One of our newsroom staffers recently got a puppy. Gidget, the little girl puppy, is 13 weeks old now. Her owner has had a rough start with potty training — moreso with poop than pee.

I’ll paraphrase what she told me:
“Inside, she’ll poop when we’re not looking and get all excited afterward. Yesterday, we finally got her to poop outside, but when we praised her, she got scared and was upset. What is going on?”

First of all, per my previous advice, the puppy is not being reprimanded for inside accidents. This is good.

Now, let me remind you of two golden rules when it comes to potty training a puppy:
1) Timing is everything
2) The number one association dogs have with punishment is the presence of the owner

Unfortunately for Gidget’s owner, she came to them with one of the hardest behavioral imprints to overturn — the puppy had already learned that pooping around humans means a punishment will be quickly doled out. This is why she poops only when they’re not looking, and why the attention — even though it was positive — she received after pooping outside spooked her. Her association of poop = punishment is stronger than praise = reward.

So, how do you turn this around?

First, you must make the praise = reward association strong enough to trump other associations, like poop = punishment. Begin strengthening the praise = reward association by practicing repetitions of praise = reward for the dog. The dog must be absolutely confident that “Good girl Gidget!” means good things will happen for the dog. Since the puppy got scared after being praised for pooping outside, she has a very, very strong association telling her that if a human catches her pooping, bad things will definitely happen. Poop + any human attention = horrible, scary outcome for puppy.

This must be countered by making the association between praise + reward stronger.
To start, put treats on the floor, hand, etc. Anywhere you can put a small pile that will take the dog a few seconds to gobble up. As the dog is gobbling, lay the praise on thick and be sure to use the same praise that you would instinctively use in random situations. This means, if you’re most likely to react naturally by saying, “Good girl Gidget!” then you want to use exactly that, exactly how you’d say it as a kneejerk reaction.

Do this at least three times a day for a couple days. Follow up each exercise by doing an exchange rather than simply praise while dog is already in the midst of gobbling up the reward.

For the exchange, give the praise cue immediately followed by dispensing a treat, keeping in mind that TIMING IS EVERYTHING! This means, it is not praise, then a quick pat, then the treat. It’s got to be praise, treat. Praise, treat. Praise, treat. Give the treat as quickly as possible following the praise.

I’m also recommending that toys/play become part of the praise association. Follow the same steps above, but replace the food reward with the toy. Say, for instance, a tennis ball.

Throw the tennis ball. As the puppy chases it, give praise. This gives you some extra ammo in the praise = reward association. Now, praise isn’t just an indicator that a food reward will soon be delivered, it means a other good rewards — playing with owners and toys — could also pop up. Suddenly, praise becomes an incredibly exciting thing for the dog (Think, “What’s it going to be this time, Mom? A treat? A tennis ball? Maybe you’ll throw it for me? Gee, I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself!)

Once the praise = reward association is strong enough, the puppy should stop running in fear when praise is given while the puppy poops in the right spot. She may be a little unsure at first — remember, that behavioral imprint between poop + human = punishment is incredibly strong — so don’t expect to see a sudden switch in behavior.

But, the more instances of poop outside + human + praise = reward (and no punishment) the dog experiences, the more you’ll be changing those associations the dog makes. At some point, there will be an awesome switch — the dog will have had enough repetitions of the right association to begin leaving its old associations behind.

In Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson, she compares associations to blazing a trail with a machete through a dense jungle. The more times you go back and forth down that trail, the easier it becomes to travel. Conversely, the less often you go down a trail, the more it overgrows and eventually it will disappear. Think of the poop outside + human + praise = reward as the trail you’re trying to blaze and the poop + human = punishment as the trail you want to become overgrown.

If you go down that trail at all (by giving punishment), you’re keeping it alive and cleared for traveling. And on the other side, if you don’t travel the path you want to create enough, it’s going to take a lot longer to establish it as a clear, regularly-traveled path.

Meanwhile, I’ve advised her to continue ignoring accidents made in the house. Today, I told her she can take it one step farther than just looking the other way and cleaning up the mess — I told her to use the cold shoulder as the punishment.
Basically, you’re still doing the same thing, except you’re pointing it out a little bit to her. For a few minutes during and immediately after an indoor poo (but NOT ten minutes after the poo is discovered, because the dog won't make the association then. Too much time has passed and, what is the golden rule with dog training? That's right — TIMING IS EVERYTHING), ignore the dog — no touch, no talk, no eye contact, no feedback whatsoever.

This will help her learn poop inside + human = no social companionship.
A lot of people scoff at this as a punishment, but those people just don’t understand dogs. To a puppy, there is no greater punishment than losing social companionship, even if for just a few moments.

It’s effective and it allows you to not make the same mistake that most owners make and most dogs get screwed up by, which is that the NUMBER ONE association DOGS have with PUNISHMENT is the presence of the OWNER.

Last but not least, this is an excellent case-and-point as to why training methods that avoid food/toy rewards just aren’t good enough. Lots of people like to say, “Praise is all a dog needs as motivation to work.”

If that’s the case, then why would a dog run in fear while being praised? Clearly, it’s because one negative association is trumping the positive association that’s supposed to come from praise. In this case, praise alone is not enough and it needs to be turned into an indicator of things that are more positive — food, toys, play — in order to start trumping the negative association.

I suppose you could spend months on end working with praise alone, but why? It’s more wear and tear on your dog, on you, and on your carpet. Potty training is not something to gamble on a praise-only method, especially when you’re trying to rehabilitate a negative behavioral imprint — and presumably, as quickly as possible!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Getting a lost, fearful dog to come to you

The sweetheart dog in my passenger side seat
I was on my way home from work on Saturday when fate put me on the front line to help out a shivering cold, frantic and fearful lost dog.
As you near my house, you pass by a large chunk of state land open to hikers and hunters. There’s several areas to pull your vehicle over and enter the land via a vast network of trails.
I came up over the hill and saw a sedan parked in one of the pull-over areas. Then I spotted a mostly white dog, jumping on the car’s back door and scratching like it just couldn’t wait to get inside.
At first, I assumed the dog’s owner was either in the car or getting ready to get in the car. As I got closer, though, I could see there was definitely no one in the car, and in fact, no one in sight. I could also see, even from a distance, that the dog’s whole body was shaking with cold as it bounced itself off the car doors.
I slowed down as I passed the heartbreaking scene and decided to stop my car. There was a good chance the dog was really pawing at its owner’s car, I thought, and even though the dog probably would’ve stayed by the car until its owner arrived, I wanted to at least get the poor thing warmed up.
In my rearview mirror, I could see the dog looking curiously at my vehicle. It had stopped jumping on the sedan and was now facing me, it’s body language entirely conflicted.
This is a common sight among fearful dogs. Not that most people would have the knowledge to pick up on it, but conflicted body language is fairly common among fearful dogs who cope with their fear primarily with “fight” rather than “flight.”
The dog’s head was up, ears erect, eyes locked on my car and chest pushed forward — the dog is trying to tell me to stay away because it is ready to defend against advances I make.
At the same time, its tail is tucked as far underneath its belly as possibly can be and the entire back half of the dog is crouched low to the ground — the dog is also saying, “I’m entirely unsure of you and very scared right now. Don’t come closer.”
Now, my gut tells me fear motivates a lot of behaviors in this dog that are probably misconstrued by its owner as territorial aggression. But that’s besides the point.
Regardless of its day-to-day temperament, the dog was definitely experiencing high levels of anxiety over its current situation — losing its owner, freezing cold, unable to get in car. Even if it’s not generally a fearful dog (which I do believe it is), in that situation, it certainly was.
If I had gotten out of my car and tried to catch the dog, it would’ve ran from me. No question about it. And if I’d somehow managed to corner it, things could’ve gotten dangerous.
Luckily for this sweetheart, I know fearful dogs.
I opened my car door and remained facing forward, away from the dog. Cautiously, skittishly, the dog ran to the open door. With her nose quivering at the new scents and her tail still tucked, I carefully lowered my hand.
This is a crucial moment. If you stick your hand out, moving it directly at a fearful dog, you will very likely be bitten. The best case scenario would be the dog fleeing from you, but the most likely scenario is your hand will get bit.
So, I was careful not to stick my hand out to her. I just lowered it, keeping my palm on the side of the seat.
She sniffed my hand, then stepped up into the car with one paw as she continued sniffing past my hand and up to the side of my thigh. Her body was still shivering with cold and I swear, in that moment, she decided my car was “safe enough” or maybe “a good bet.”
She hopped right up into my lap and immediately jumped to my backseat, her nose going a hundred miles a minute — partly because she was smelling my dog, partly because ground/floor sniffing is a calming mechanism often employed by dogs dealing with fear.
I decided to turn my car around and park behind the sedan she’d been jumping at. She seemed pleased with this decision and decided to join me in the front seat. At first, she hopped into my lap and covered my face with kisses. Then, she curled up on my passenger side seat and started licking at her cold, red paws.
Eventually, I was able to get the phone number off her dog tag and called it.
“I’m not sure if this is the right number, but if it is, I think I have your dog,” I said when a man answered the phone.
“Oh thank God,” he said. “Thank God. I’ve been out in the woods searching for her.”
“OK, well I think she was waiting by your car,” I said. “We’re parked right behind it and I’ll wait here for you.”
In a matter of minutes, he came walking out of the woods. Her butt started wiggling at the very sight of him.
“She’s usually so good out here,” he told me. “I don’t know what happened; she must’ve gone chasing after something.”
I’ll save my off-leash diatribe for another day. Meanwhile, I’m still reveling in the beauty of being in the right place at the right time. I gave that dog the opportunity to warm up and then reunited her with her owner. A good deed makes a good day.
He thanked me profusely and I left it at that.
I wonder if he’s curious how I managed to make friends with her. If I had to bet, I’d say probably not.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Miniature poodle in need of new home

Last week, I visited Airport Veterinary Hospital in Waterford Township to watch a presentation put on by Barkbusters of Oakland County (More on that later this week).
During the visit, I found out one of the staff members there is fostering a miniature poodle.
Her name is Clementine and apparently, her elderly owners passed away, leaving her with no home of her own.
The veterinary clinic is getting her up to date on everything, from vaccines to a teeth cleaning, and looking to get her adopted out.
Anyone interested in giving Clementine a new home can call Airport Veterinary Hospital at 248-666-1510.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ride on a dog sled and learn to skijor with your own dog

Snow Bound Adventures in Grayling
This sounds like a really cool event, and your dogs are welcome.
From noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 30, Oakland County Parks and Recreation will host dog sledding demonstrations at the Orion Oaks County Dog Park (located on Joslyn Road just south of Clarkston Road).
You can pay a nominal fee to be taken for a ride on the dog sled and, you can bring your own dog and take part in workshops teaching you how to sled and skijor with your pup.
Snow Bound Adventures, a Grayling business, will be giving the presentation.
The Rileys, who own and operate the business, look like a relatively young couple who have been able to make a decent living from their kennel, breeding dogs, and alternately getting the dogs involved in events like the one coming up at Oakland County. From what I see, it looks like they also host groups frequently and do some canoeing in the summer. Oh, the life.
It sounds like they genuinely enjoy what they do. In a blog post from earlier this week, it was written: “Glad to see so many folks interested in getting out with the dogs. Truly fun to watch someone get on the runners and experience this for the first time. I wonder if anyone will jump right into the lifestyle like I did so many years ago after Russ and Sherry hooked up that first team for me.”
Will you be one of those to take the jump? Find out for yourself by heading to the event and giving dog sledding a try.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re going to go:
The workshop — where you’ll learn how to team up with your own dog to take part in sledding and skijoring — will be from noon to 1 p.m., followed by sled rides from 1-2 p.m. Another workshop will be from 2-3 p.m. and the day will wrap up with more sled rides from 3-4 p.m.
If you miss the event on the 30th, don’t worry — the same event, same schedule and all, will come back to Lyon Oaks County Park from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 13.
And, this is the same group that does the demonstrations at Rochester’s Fire and Ice festival on Saturday, Jan. 29.
Another need to know: Even though the events are being held at the dog park, your dog needs to be on a six-foot leash for the event. Another area of the dog park will be available for your dog’s off-leash needs.

What the heck is skijoring?
I’ve heard a lot about this sport in recent years. If I had the money to buy a pair of cross country skis, you can bet Sensi and I would be a skijoring like mad. I can’t imagine anything he’d like more (OK, actually, I can think of lots of things — swimming, juicy dog bones, tanning on the deck ... but whatever, he’d still love to skijor!)
Basically, skijoring is when you use an appropriate harness on your dog, strap a leash to it, pull on your cross country skis and go — your dog pulling you, of course.
Doesn’t that sound exhilarating?

One more event at Lyon Oaks in Wixom
If you’re not so keen on the dog sledding and skijoring stuff, check out the Lyon Oaks Dog Park in Wixom for a more laid back outing at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22.
Dogs and their owners are invited to take part in the “Happy Trails Dog Walk” — a group fitness walk heading through Lyon Oaks. Meet at the small parking lot near the park office.

What does it all cost?
A daily pass to Oakland County Parks costs $5 or you can pay $30 for an annual pass.
Other than that, the event is free with the chance there may be a “nominal fee” to ride the dog sled.
Equipment, training and practice will be provided during the workshop, so don’t worry about dragging out your own skis.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Readers think Rochester dog shouldn’t be returned to its previous owners in Caro; slamming family for its care of the dog

Family photo

When I came into work yesterday, I had a message from a nice and very concerned sounding woman. In short, she told me she believed her dog had been wrongfully adopted out by the animal shelter in Tuscola County.
I wasn’t sure if it was story material, so I brought it up during our morning news meeting and asked for the opinions of my coworkers and editors. Immediately, debate on the matter sparked.
“Based on the conversation here at this table, it’s definitely a story. Go ahead,” my editor told me.
I began making calls and talked with the owner. You can read the full story, Family believes missing dog to be living in Rochester, which published today.

The basic facts of the story are this:
Family photo
Family with sweet young kids living on 27 acres in Caro adopts dog. Dog is initially allowed to roam free, then begins “snacking” on the neighbor’s chickens. Dog is chained during the day, put in the garage at night. Dog walks freely with owners down driveway to drop kids off to bus stop. One day, dog trots off and doesn’t return to the house before owners must leave for work. Owners leave anyhow. Dog never returns.
Owners look for dog; don’t find it. Someone suggests they call animal shelter; they do, but several days after the fact. Shelter tells owner: “Yes, we have a dog matching the description; we found it 14 miles away from your home.” Owner goes to shelter to get dog, physically sees dog, is sure it is his dog.
But by then, a person from Rochester has arrived to adopt the dog. That person takes the dog home while owner watches. Owner then fights to get dog back. Prosecutor’s office has several veterinarian opinions determining, based on the photos shown here, that the dogs are not one and the same. Owners don’t believe it. Owners veterinarian says it probably is the same dog.

And that’s the story.

Family photo
Readers today have really been slamming this family. Before I post their comments here, I do have some clarifications to make:
  1. The owner told me he didn’t know to call the shelter because he thought the shelter was closed. The animal shelter had been closed due to funding issues several years ago. It has been open for a few years through a partnership with Sanilac County.
  2. The owner told me he thought dog licenses are sent in the mail with your tax bill and that he wasn’t aware he needed to get a new license. Also said the dog came with a license from its previous owner; the tag fell off and the guy decided to bring it inside for safe keeping.
  3. The owner, on several occasions, said he’d learned a lot from the experience — that if he could do it all over again, he’d have the dog microchipped, using an invisible fence and wearing dog tags.
Shelter photo

Shelter photo
He did not, however, say the dog — if he got it back — would become an indoor dog. And that seems to be one of the biggest criticisms readers have.

Without further ado, here’s what folks are saying about this story:
dipchitblonde wrote, “the dog deserves to stay with the NEW mystery family. 1, you let your newly adopted dog run loose and you lost it. 2, you were standing right there at the facility and let a strange man drive away with your dog. if you were so concerned about the well being of the dog you would have practiced better control of the whole situation in the first place. put up a REAL fence instead of zapping a poor animal in the neck. (if the dog wants to get away, its going to break through that invisible fence anyway) prepare yourself BEFORE you get a dog. this was a valuable lesson at the expense of a lost, wandering and probably frightened dog and of your children.”
arizona wrote, “Must be nice to have enough money to spend on lawyers fees over something like this. Move on, get a new dog and learn from your misstakes!”
freedomlover wrote, “You're going to ‘sue’? Who? And for what? Get another dog, dude. And don't leave him outside in the freezing cold all night alone. And don't electrocute him, either. On second thought, don't get another dog. Just move on.”
mhelm1 wrote, “I'm sorry but these people shouldn't own a dog. An animal is part of the family, would you go to work after your little one wandered off? would you wait a week before calling the authorities? nuf said.”
On Facebook, Crystal Richards commented: “I don't think the point should be whether they are even the same dog, it should be what is best for the dog. If the previous owners let the dog roam free, without tags or anything to identify it, kept it chained up outside or in the garage... the rest of the time, and took so long to check and see if a shelter had the dog, past the point that it could have been put down or adopted out, maybe the dog is better off with a new family. If you want to keep your dog so badly, maybe you should take better care of it in the first place. None of this would have happened, had the dog been wearing tags, not allowed to roam free and had they checked sooner to see if the dog had been picked up.”

What do you think? Should the new owners return the dog?
Does the fact that this was an outside dog, and would be again if returned, impact your view?
Based on the photos, do you even think it’s the same dog?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is your dog safe to be on ice?

It must be that time of the year to talk about dogs and ice.
This morning, my coworker told me about bringing his dog down to the lake to see if the refreeze had created clear ice conditions — something he said has happened in the past and can be really neat to see.
Though that wasn’t the case, he talked about how his dog ran out confidently on to the ice and promptly spun out on all fours like Bambi in the Walt Disney cartoon.
I told him about the old days when Sensi used to play hockey with us.
“He managed to get some traction by really digging his nails in and taking short steps,” I told my coworker. “It was kind of funny to watch him figure out how to get his bearing on ice.”
Sensi’s dogpal didn’t get the hint, though, and wound up much the same as my coworker’s dog — splayed out on all fours.
So, is it safe for your dog to be on ice?
Well, that depends. First, it depends as to whether the ice is safe. If it’s safe for you to walk on ice, then your dog’s weight should be supported as well.
On the other hand, if you’re walking in an area with a wetland or lake and you’re unsure whether the ice is safe, I recommend keeping your dog on leash and off the ice. Unless you’re sure, it’s better to be safe than sorry. A dog is not going to understand you saying, “Stay off the ice, it’s dangerous.” They don’t know.
That much may be obvious, but what about the slipping and sliding that dogs are prone to on the ice? That also can be a major danger for your dog.
Wendy Gibson, a Clarkston resident, shared with me the story of how a neighbor’s dog became stuck on ice covering a pond behind her house.
“I heard whining all night long,” Gibson said.
With dogs of her own, she assumed the whining was coming from her dogs somewhere inside the house. But when it continued the next morning, she checked outside and saw her neighbor’s dog, Shelby, stuck on the ice covering a pond in her backyard.
“It was like her back legs gave out on her,” Gibson said. “She’s an older dog, so maybe she slipped and fell and couldn’t get back up.”
That’s probably exactly what happened.
A lot of dogs have issues with arthritis and hip dysplasia when they get older. They feel pain from these conditions and many may eventually stop walking all together when the pain becomes too intense.
So it’s easy to imagine, then, that if your dog is aging and has hip problems or arthritis problems, a spill on the ice wouldn’t be something to laugh at and reminisce about the Bambi cartoon. Your dog may wind up in serious pain, and like Shelby, may be unable to move as a result.
Thankfully for Shelby, Wendy grabbed some towels, got her warmed up and returned her to her owners.
“She seems to be doing good,” Gibson said.
It’s a happen ending to the story and a great reminder for all of us dog owners to be extra vigilant about icy conditions this winter.
Even if the ice is safe to walk on, a simple spill can put an arthritic dog in a lot of pain. Keep that in mind when out with your dog this winter and he’ll certainly thank you for it (in sloppy kisses, of course!)