Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pit Bull specific rescue & cool Great Dane in need of a home

So I've got a soft spot for big dogs, giant dogs and even pit bulls, which are actually quite small dogs by my standard.
In fact, I was not thrilled about getting a pit bull because I felt the dogs were way too small (some people think I'm a little nuts, others understand. There's just something about walking a 100-plus pound dog that is so awesome). Lucky for Sensi, he's got labrador in him to give him some extra height and weight, he was first born and far larger than the rest of the puppies in his litter, and he was an absolutely adorable puppy in looks and behavior. Had all of those elements not lined up, I probably would've turned my nose up at the idea of bringing home any of the puppies from his litter or any pit bulls period.
But eight years later, he's taught me to appreciate a type of dog I'd have never predicted becoming a champion of — terriers. And of course, pit bulls too.

When my friend and I stopped by Pet-A-Palooza (it was last weekend, June 25-26 at The Palace of Auburn Hills) this weekend, I managed to find a couple things that spoke to my soft spot for giant dogs and pit bulls. Now, I'll share them with you.

Adonis, rescued Great Dane available for adoption
First up is Adonis, who you simply couldn't miss. Adonis is a purebred Great Dane available for adoption through Last Chance Rescue out of the Howell/Brighton area. His foster mom said he was found severely emaciated in the backyard of a Saginaw home when he was rescued by animal control.

My estimation is that he is a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill Great Dane. When I went to a fundraiser earlier this year at Orion Healthy Pet, the Ohio Great Dane Rescue was present — meaning there were a whole lot of purebred Great Danes around. One local man, however, walked into the fundraiser with a Great Dane that towered over all the others. It was an enormous black Dane that was both taller, squarer and larger-headed than the rest of the Danes. I asked him why his dog was so much bigger than the rest.

"We had him imported from Europe," he told me. "The Danes over there are a little different, much larger."

Must've been expensive, I thought to myself. And it probably was. But I swear, Adonis looked like a skinnier replica of this European Dane (he still has some weight to put on before he's back to full health). My gut is telling me that some awful person spent a whole lot of cash to get Adonis, and then for whatever reason, decided he or she didn't like the dog and left the poor thing to starve on a chain in the backyard. Such a shame. But it doesn't have to be — this special dog has been given a second chance. Now is your opportunity to step forward and say yes, I'm ready to own one of the most unique dogs I'll probably ever own ...

OK, check out video of Adonis:

Next up is the pit bull rescue. Founded by Warren resident Jenn Morrison, Misfit Angels Rescue is a
Jenn Morrison with rescued pit puppy
pit-specific group Morrison launched after owning a pit bull of her own.
You have got to give kudos to her for doing this. There's an overwhelming number of pit bulls out there that need help, yet many organizations try to stay clear of the breed and some simply don't accept pits or pit mixes at all.
My friend made an observation that I've made countless times before in all sorts of shelter environments. She said, "These are the calmest dogs here. All day, all the dogs around (Pet-A-Palooza) have been barking and jumping and pawing. Leave it to the pits to present themselves as the well-behaved ones."

Here's video so you can see for yourself: 

Monday, June 27, 2011

What a feeling — helping rescue dogs get adopted!

On Friday, my friend Allison and I headed to K-9 Stray Rescue League in Oxford to walk some dogs for them. We are so glad we did it!
The last pair of dogs we were walked were adult labradors named Duke and Gracie. They were sharing a pen together and we asked what their story was.
"Their owner died," a volunteer told us. "They were surrendered to a shelter and the day before they were scheduled to be put down, K-9 picked them up."
Can I just say, "Whew!"
Those two definitely deserve better.
Walking rescue dogs is no easy task. No dog that stays penned up for any period of time can be expected to do anything less than tug and pull and be totally wild when let out on leash. We had plenty of dogs that were ready to pull our arms right out of their sockets, but not these two sweethearts.
They walked together, side by side, smiling and happy to be out and about, tails gently wagging. They didn't pull at all.
As we walked, chunks of old fur were flying off them in the wind. They were shedding and in need of a good brushing, so before we left K-9, we sat down on the deck and brushed out all that soft lab fur.
We talked about them all night, hoping to hear they'd been adopted.
On Saturday, we got the news we were looking for while stopping by Pet-A-Palooza at The Palace in Auburn Hills.
Carole Powell, founder of K-9 Stray, stopped us when we walked into K-9's area.
"You two brushed those labs out so nice they were the first ones to get adopted this morning!" she said.
Allison and I erupted in cheers and high-fives. What an incredible feeling it is to know you've helped two great dogs find a great new home after first losing their owner and then coming so close to losing their own lives as well.
Powell filled us on in the adopting family.
"They're just wonderful," she told us. "A nice family with children and a new baby. The dogs are going to do great there."
And I have no doubt that they will.

Video of Allison and I walking Duke & Gracie

Dusty still needs a home! 
Also on Friday, I met Dusty — a chocolate labrador and pit bull mix who is absolutely gorgeous. He really stole my heart.
See Dusty's Adoption Profile
Again, you expect penned dogs to pull like crazy. Dusty didn't.
Sure, he pulled a little bit, but he was very interested in what I was doing — that's a great sign, from a dog trainer's point of view. If I stopped, he stopped. If I said his name, he was at attention immediately. Having a dog that is very focused on and motivated by human attention is a huge bonus. It makes training so much easier.
Dusty needs some four-on-the-floor training and probably some work with mouthing too. He didn't really mouth me at all, but in playing with a potential adopter who encouraged the mouthing, he quickly delved right into it.
Either way, he's got great energy and excellent training potential. He is a total lover and wants to bond with every human he comes across. Top it all off with his attractive looks and you've got yourself a great dog, so what are you waiting for? Adopt Dusty!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Kiddie pools can be great for water-loving dogs

It was a few weeks ago when I finally purchased a kiddie pool for Sensi. It's something I've been wanting to do for years and for whatever reason, I never ended up doing it.
Not this year. And with the pool I bought costing just $15 at Meijer, I can't believe I didn't do this sooner.

Introducing a dog to a kiddie pool
The first day we filled it up, my friend Allison and I took turns encouraging Sensi to go into the pool and giving him treats. I later brought out his toys and that was a real hit with him.
It's just like in a big pond — he wants the toys thrown into the pool so he can jump in after them and retrieve them. In particular, he likes having his most-prized possession — the Jolly Pets Teaser Ball — tossed in there.

Many water dogs will take to kiddie pools right away. With Sensi, everything needs to presented the right way the first time to him.
He is very reactive and fearful and while he does love water, he could've easily developed a phobia of the pool.
But, a few treats and mingling the pool with playtime sealed the deal. The dog loves his little pool.

The perfect cool down
This year has brought many long, hot days spent trying to turn our enormous front flower beds from weed-haven to presentable.
Sensi wants to be outside with us, but it gets so hot. He has to be the 30-foot cable because we have no fence.
The pool is perfect for these situations.
On Saturday, we set him up under a tree with his pool full and a couple toys. I really enjoyed seeing him use the pool without any encouragement from us.
Since we weren't throwing the ball for him, he created his own little routine. He picks up the Teaser Ball, drops it in the water, jumps in after it, paws at it and pushes it around, then picks it up and jumps out of the pool, and then repeats the process.
Sometimes, though, he just went over there and stood in the pool. I'm still waiting for him to sit or lay down in it, as I have seen so many labs do.

Here's a video of Sensi (with the help of friend Allison) enjoying his kiddie pool: 

Breaking his hose fixation
Sensi has the potential to get a little neurotic about water.
He is fearful of sprinklers and stays away from them. But hoses, oh my goodness. It's pure neuroticism.
He's not necessarily aggressive toward the hose, but extremely fixated on it. He'll bark and lunge and try to bite at the hose — I know that all sounds like aggression, but it's different. It's a fixation; an obsession — an incredibly unhealthy and unstable state of mind for a dog to be in.
Sensi has made great strides this year. He needs very few reminders that when Mommy is watering her flowers, he need not pay any attention to that pesky hose.
The kiddie pool is helping this along too. It's a struggle for him to sit there and watch the pool get filled by his very nemesis the hose, but from a behavior modification standpoint, it's a golden opportunity.
He still needs lots of reminders, but he's come a long way. He can even stand in the pool while it's being filled without paying attention to the hose — as long as I'm standing right there, of course.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Boa constrictor loose in Addison Oaks won't keep me from favorite dog-walking trails

File this one under odd news.
Sensi and I at Addison Oak's disc golf course
I could hardly believe it yesterday when an editor emailed me an anonymous tip saying that a 12-foot boa constrictor was on the loose in Addison Oaks. In fact, I felt like there was a good chance this was either a big hoax on us, or a rumor.
Well, the 12-foot part is rumor. The boa constrictor loose in my favorite park, however? Not rumor. True.
The boa loose in the park is only 5-feet-long. I was told by park officials yesterday that it does not pose a threat to any humans, and that even small dogs and cats are unlikely to be bothered by this unwelcome guest.
So the big question is, how did the boa get into the park in the first place?
On the rock at Addison Oaks
Apparently, some guy thought it'd be a good idea to take his pet boa camping with him. It got loose. I don't know how that possibility didn't cross his mind before he packed up the boa in the pop-up, or if it did, why he didn't listen to that little voice ... Read the full story here, Camper loses boa constrictor at county park. 
Readers of this blog will be familiar with my favor for this park.
Ever since the weather broke, Sensi and I have been out there multiple times every week. I absolutely love the 2.5-mile Buhl Lake trail (I've never seen a dog off-leash there!) and in addition to that, my husband and I, our friends and dogs, usually play a couple rounds of disc golf on the beautiful and challenging 24-hole course at the park.
You can download a map of the Buhl Lake Trail by visiting my blog post, Know of a good place to walk dogs in Oakland County?
Now, I do have to say that I've been disappointed with the lack of leash rule enforcement on the disc golf course. In fact, it's darn near getting to the point that I'm afraid to take Sensi out there on the course with us.
Tree frog on hole 3. Photo by Allison Jagow.
I don't mind disc golfers whose dogs are trained to be off-leash while disc golfing and don't stray from their group, but that's frequently not the case.
Too often, dog owners think the disc golf course is the perfect place to let their untrained dogs off-leash to run around and explore the park. Newsflash: the disc golf course is not a dog park. We don't enjoy your dogs chasing after our discs and creating conflicts by approaching on-leash dogs.
And the bottom line is, park rules dictate all pets must be kept on a 6-foot-leash at all times. So keep'em leashed.
Cranes by the lake at Addison. Photo by Allison Jagow.
I don't feel threatened by the boa, especially since I follow the leash rules while at the park. My biggest concern is not for my dog — who would definitely fall into the too-large-to-be-boa-prey category — but for my friend's dog, a darling little pomeranian we fondly refer to as Sensi's girlfriend.
But again, we follow the leash laws. She's not running around exploring little nooks and crannies that may contain this 5-foot boa constrictor.
Blue Heron perched on tree. Photo by Allison Jagow.
I am a little excited about the rest of the summer at the park, now. My crew gets pretty deep into that park's natural areas and I think we have a better chance than the usual park-goer to spot this snake. I've programmed the park's number into my cellphone and if I spot it, I'll certainly be calling.
And taking video. And sharing that video with all of you.
Plus, if you're afraid of snakes, the boa constrictor should be the least of your concerns when it comes to visiting our county's incredible parks.
The county has confirmed that the Massausauga Rattlesnake — Michigan's only poisonous snake — is present among Addison Oaks' 1,140 acres.
Give me a choice between a 5-foot-boa and a rattlesnake and I'll take my chances with the boa any day over the poison-injecting rattlesnake.
Brent & I with our discs at Addison on our wedding day!
Neither snake is going to stop me from going to my favorite park, though.
Here's some dog blogger personal trivia: My husband and I even got married at Addison Oaks. After the wedding and reception, we even played a couple holes of disc golf!

Hope you all have enjoyed this selection of photos from my outings at Addison Oaks — the wildlife there is amazing without the help of this non-native boa!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crawford pledges not to hear statewide pit bull ban, effectively killing the legislation

State Rep. Hugh Crawford is stopping the bil
Legislation has been introduced to eventually ban pit bulls statewide, but with Oakland County’s Hugh Crawford chairing the committee it’s been referred to, the bill is not likely to see the light of day.
“The message from me, who’s chairman of the Regulatory Reform Committee, is ‘I’m not going to run the bill,’” said Crawford, the Republican State House Rep. from Novi. “It will just stay in committee. I will not even take testimony on this.”
Crawford has a couple reasons for not taking up the legislation.
“I think it’s a people problem problem, not a dog problem,” he said in a phone interview from the House floor on Tuesday. “It’s totally unnecessary to penalize a breed of dog, or really, a variety of breeds.”
Contact State Rep. Tim Bledsoe
The term pit bull is a classification that refers to one of three or four breeds — American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and in many cases, Bull Terriers as well.
The legislation introduced by Grosse Pointe Democrat Tim Bledsoe would ban only the first three, allowing Bull Terriers — the breed best known for appearing in Target commercials and ads — to remain in the state.
Bledsoe’s bill, House Bill 4714, would extend the ban to “a dog displaying the majority of physical traits of any one or more of the breeds (listed to be banned)” and “a dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics which substantially conform to the standards established by the American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club for any one of the breeds listed.”
If it were passed, it would be illegal to breed or sell a pit bull in the state one year after it takes effect.
Four years after taking effect, it would be illegal to own or possess a non-sterilized pit bull.
Ten years after taking effect, it would be illegal to own or possess a pit bull.
Crawford said another reason he won’t take up the bill is because, “The state has got better things to do than to be the dog police.”
Amen. (Watch my video editorial on this bill)
In terms of what the public response has been since word of the legislation prompted a media firestorm last week, Crawford said, “Oh my gosh, overwhelming.”
“I’m not one to react to polls and responses and to be clear, I made this decision before I received the first email,” he said. “Since then, I have gotten hundreds of emails. I would venture to say that about 98 percent of them are against a pit bull ban for all sorts of reasons.”
Crawford said he also has friends and relatives who own pits or pit mixes.
“They’re fine dogs,” he said of the pit bulls he knows.
Other media reports have said that Bledsoe was planning to meet with Crawford early this week. That hasn’t happened.
“He hasn’t contacted me,” Crawford said. “If he does, sure, I’ll meet with him.”
As for whether the bill could come back in the future, Crawford said he’s learned from being a politician to never say never.
“Sometime down the road for some reason unforeseen to me, somebody might say, ‘Take that bill up,’” Crawford said. “But I’m confident (current) leadership won’t do that. As it stands, I’m not going to take testimony on it.”
As for totally getting rid of the bill now, Oakland Press Political Reporter Charles Crumm said that may not be possible.
“I don’t believe you can withdraw a bill once it has been introduced,” Crumm said. “More likely, it lingers until the end of the two year session when all legislation not acted upon dies when the Legislature adjourns the session. The Latin phrase for that is ‘sine die.’”
The current session will end January 1, 2013.
Dreaming of a better world where dogs aren't banned because of their breed

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ewwww, ticks!

Bees bother me, deer flies and horse flies can drive me inside, but the only insect I can truly say I am terrified of is the tick.
Fleas on far left. Engorged tick second from left (so gross!)

And it's tick season. If you're a dog owner, you should know this already.

Unlike down south, where a variety of ticks thrive and can become such a pest that you have to pick them off your dog after every trip outside for a potty break (one more reason I will never live down south), we in Michigan have fewer varieties of ticks and it's not a constant battle to keep them off our dogs. Unfortunately, the deer tick is a particularly dangerous variety and may be the most common around here.

The deer tick can cause Lyme disease, which can be debilitating and difficult to treat.

I have never had a tick (knock on wood) and neither has Sensi. This year, we're using a tick collar as opposed to a topical or oral treatment to keep the nasty bugs off him.

What I like about the tick collar best is that I can feel quite confident in it's ability to keep ticks from attaching in the first place. What I don't like so much is that, well, it's a tacky collar. But whatever —  a package of two cost just $18 and will last me through the fall. And as long as I follow the instructions, I shouldn't have to risk having to pick any ticks off my dog.

Removing ticks can be tricky. If you don't get the tick to release before you pull it out, you can risk it's head being left in the flesh — if this happens, disease can set in. So it's very important to remove a tick properly, both from your dogs and if you happen to get any on yourself. I've never had to do it before and honestly, I think I'd just as soon make a trip to the vet or urgent care to have a professional do it for me. I'm just so worried that I could do it wrong!

Here's some need-to-know tick information: 
1) Tick risk goes up in wooded areas, areas with tall grass and shrubbery and areas with regular deer populations.
2) Protect your dog by talking to your veterinarian about what type of tick protection is best for your dog, and using some!
3) Protect yourself by wearing clothing in high "tick risk" areas that will cover you as best as possible. I've heard tucking your pants into your socks or boots can be especially helpful.
4) Ticks thrive in hot and humid temperatures, so keep that in mind as you plan walks and hikes.
5) Walk in the center of well-defined paths.
6) Check yourself and your dogs when coming in from the great outdoors this time of the year.

No, you cannot use tick preventatives on humans. I've asked. Trust me, if I could wear a tick collar, I would. The bottom line is, your dog has a shorter lifespan than you and the impact of tick preventatives on a dog's long-term health is not considered huge. If you used tick preventatives throughout your lifetime, though, the impact on your long-term health could be substantial.

Here's what my veterinarian Dr. Stephen Steep had to say about ticks during a late May visit to the office:

(Oh yeah, if you really want to be grossed out, the next time you're at your vet's office, ask them to pull out their supply of dead ticks for you. Imagine the engorged ones being attached to you or your pet. Gross!)

Resources for preventing ticks:
Centers for Disease Control: Human tick prevention (I really like the tips about how to set up your yard to keep ticks out)
Centers for Disease Control: Pet tick prevention

Last but not least, do you have a tick story to share? How about a tick removal tip? Let me know. Leave a comment here or email me,

Or, can you answer this question for me: Exactly what purpose does the tick serve in this grand circle of life? Really, I'm serious. I want to know. For instance, mosquitos feed frogs and dragon flies. This helps me wrap my mind around the greater purpose of a mosquito. Ticks, though, I have no clue. What is their purpose?

Monday, June 13, 2011

If only he'd gotten the mole ...

This is supposed to be one of those "heartwarming and comedic" stories I promised to share with readers every once in a while ...

So, I came down with a cold last Thursday. By midday Friday, I could tell bronchitis was settling in (I have lots of experience with it). By the time I got off work Friday, I took some cough syrup and slept. And slept, and slept, and slept.

I basically slept for all but three hours on Saturday. And anyone who has slept so much knows that after so long, your body starts aching from lying in bed so much. But battling intense pressure on my lungs, a painful cough and no voice to speak of (pun intended!), it's just easier to get through it sleeping.

When I woke up at 7:30 Sunday morning, I coughed. It wasn't as painful as on Saturday. I did my routine "hello" to test my vocal cord functions. It was scratchy, but working. And that's my test — if the cough isn't too painful and the voice is functioning, it's time to get back to life.

I don't normally rise so early on Sunday, but seeing as how I'd slept for almost 48 hours, I didn't even want to be asleep anymore. I walked to the refrigerator, poured myself a glass of orange juice, got the dog breakfast and rounded up some stray pieces of laundry from the living room.

Sensi, his breakfast now merrily in his tummy, trotted up to me.
"It's time to go outside, Mom!" he said, except he doesn't talk. But you know what I mean.

So I let him outside on the chain, picked up the laundry and walked back to the bedroom.

My thought: "I can get enough laundry sorted before he wants back inside to get a load started, then I'll make coffee."

And back to the bedroom I went. After about ten minutes of sorting laundry, I thought it was odd that Sensi had not barked to get back inside. He normally doesn't like staying outside without us — it's pee, then poop, then nibble on some blades of grass and bark to get back inside.

I moseyed back to the front door, still in my pajamas, and looked for the chain. It was still. My heart always flutters a bit when I don't see movement on the chain.

"Did it break?" I always wonder, even though the chain is actually a super-duper strong (though lightweight) cable with super-duper strong hooks on it.

I opened the door and hollered Sensi's name in my special sing-song voice that always garners a "full-charge ahead" response from him, watched the chain and ... nothing. No movement.

Now my heart wasn't just fluttering; it was beating rapidly. I was about to have a heart attack.

And so, with just my house slippers and pajamas on, I ran out the front door and around the garden bed. He looked up at me as though he wasn't expecting me to come running — surprised, taken aback and clearly caught red-handed.

I came to a screeching halt as soon as I saw him but I could form no words. My brain needed some time to process this scene I saw in front of me.

My dog, my black and white dog, now colored brown. Backing away from a corner of the house, in a garden bed, behind where the hose sits. Fresh dirt. Large hole. Brown dog.

"Oh my God, Sensi," I finally said. He didn't need to hear any "bad dogs" from me. He knows very well that digging in mommy's garden beds is not allowed, and from the way he was backing away from his deed, I knew he knew exactly where we stood.

If only I'd grabbed the iPhone and snapped a photo of him. That's my only regret.

And so, that is the story of how, at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday on the very first morning that I'd felt remotely OK after battling bronchitis for more than 48 hours — before I even got my morning cup of coffee — I wound up in the bathroom, dirt on my forearms as I sprayed the caked mess of mud off my dog.

Which, of course, also is the story of how I wound up cleaning the entire bathroom from top to bottom after that. But not before my morning cup of coffee — which, thank God, Brent had woken up and made for me while I bathed the dog.

I went out later to inspect the damage and that's when I realized the whole mole connection. Darn mole got into my garden beds and uprooted about 90 percent of my plants. I'm sure the dog either saw, felt or smelled it moving in the ground beneath him.

Now, if only he'd gotten the darn mole ...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Legislation introduced that would ban pit bulls in the State of Michigan

Pit bull ambassadors, it's time to take action.
State House Rep. Tim Bledsoe, D-Grosse Pointe, has introduced House Bill No. 4714 to ban pit bulls statewide.
The gist of the legislation is this: One year after legislation is passed and takes effect, it would be illegal to breed or sell a pit bull in Michigan. Four years after it takes effect, it would be illegal to own a non-sterilized pit bull. Ten years after, it would be illegal to own or possess a pit bull in the state.
Bull Terriers are not included, but American Pit Bull Terriers (APBTs), American Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Amstaffs) and Staffordshire Bull Terriers (Staffies) are.
Here are your need-to-know links:
Contact Tim Bledsoe
Read the legislation
Join Punish the Deed, Not the Breed - Fight MI House bill 4714
Best Friends' Animal Society Action Alert

Last but not least, here's what I have to say about this:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Believe in your dog

This continues the puppy saga that began earlier this month.

To recap, we introduced 8-year-old Sensi (my dog) to 10-week-old Reese (my friend's puppy) and immediately, Sensi hated Reese. He didn't want her near him.

But Allison and I are good friends, we do a lot of walking and hiking together and it was really important to us that, at a minimum, our dogs learn to tolerate one another.

The first thing we did was an exercise I crafted called "Picnic at the Park." You can read all about that in my previous post dedicated to it (Getting an adult dog to like a puppy: Exercise one "Picnic at the Park").

We walked, then "picnicked" on some blankets near each other — moving a couple feet closer every once and again — then walked again, more "picnicking" etc. We spent five hours at the park that day and the dogs loved every minute of it. I was really proud of Sensi. Though we never allowed them to physically touch other, we got them pretty close and Sensi acted like it was any ol' day at the park, relaxed and happy and totally comfortable. Of course, we were keeping the social distance for him. Had we not, I'm sure he would've taken matters into his own paws and tell Reese to stay away in a not-so-friendly manner.

Sensi looks on as Allison and Reese take a break on the disc golf course
The following day, Allison and I took the dogs out to the disc golf course with our husbands. We spent another couple hours out there. This time, the dogs had an expectation about being around each other. What was it? That they're going to be four-feet apart at times, but they're not going to interact and they're not going to misbehave because they can't. Once again, the outing was pure gold.

A couple days after that, we went for another two-hour walk. This time, we brought the dogs very close to each other. Allison would walk on one side of the sidewalk, me on the other, and both our dogs to the grass on either side. It was a bit of risk — if one dog lunged at the other, they were within leash-range to reach each other. But we'd already put in good work establishing expectations for the two dogs and were very vigilant about watching for any potential situations. We didn't have any. Both dogs were great.

The situation was hardest on Reese, who was desperate for an adult dog to play with. I'm sad that Sensi couldn't provide her with that. Had he been able to, who knows what would've happened — perhaps it would've been enough to meet her needs and she could've stayed with Alan and Allison. But that didn't happen.

When this all started, I wrote a lengthy email to my favorite dog trainer Nicole Herr (read it on my post Adult dog doesn't like puppies, what do I do?) that ended with me saying the experience had dealt a blow to my confidence.

It's a little ironic that in the end, the experience would have the opposite affect on me.

When you see an adult dog decide he or she wants nothing to do with a puppy, it's quite the predicament. If you let the two dogs go off-leash and unrestrained to work it out amongst themselves — which in many cases can be the best thing — you do risk the worst of outcomes. One bite from a dog as big as mine could kill a puppy as small as Reese. It's hard to think about bringing two dogs together at all when the risk is as big as life and death. And when you're determining whether the risk is that big, you've really got to know your stuff. If you misread the dogs and let them go to figure it out themselves, you could have a dead or badly injured dog on your conscience.

But, adult dogs disliking puppies isn't exactly an uncommon thing. Even my dog, when he was younger, was raised with two adult dogs who just despised him. In that situation, we let the dogs work it out themselves because we were confident that the girls wouldn't hurt him, no matter how nasty their snarling sounded. And that worked out very well. Sensi never got hurt by them and they taught him a lot about being a dog and being a respectful one, too.

I told Allison, Reese's owner, that I wouldn't consider the two dogs ready to be around each other freely until I saw a play bow from Sensi. Play bows are wonderful communications — they not only mean, "Play with me" but they also say, "I mean no harm to you."

It's hard to say whether we'd have ever gotten there; we'll never know for sure. But either way, I learned some things about my dog and myself from the whole experience:
1) He can be around dogs he doesn't like and be totally calm and comfortable in the situation so long as I maintain a comfortable social distance for him.
2) I can do this, and he can do this. And we can do more things like this too. As long as I'm my dog's rock, he will trust me to protect him in situations he's uncomfortable with. And he can even learn to be comfortable in those situations if I can be there to help him.

For someone who's dealt eight years with a fearful dog, that's a big lesson learned. And so, I leave you with this message — Regardless of your dog's behavior problem, believe in him. Believe he can change. Believe he can learn. Believe he can better, because I'm telling you, he can. He just needs your help to get there.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Picking the right puppy for you: it's all about energy

Do you have the right home for Reese? Check out her adoption profile!
Last week, I wrote about how my friends Alan and Allison worked to gain the trust of my fearful boy, how experiencing Sensi's calm temperament and good house manners encouraged them to get their own dog, and then how they did — they brought home a puppy, and two weeks later, returned it.

So, let's talk about how they chose the puppy.

It was a Saturday afternoon when they stopped by a pet store. Outside, a rescue organization had a litter of 10-week-old Beagle/Labrador mixes.

Reese tuckered out after a long day at the park
"Her sisters looked totally like labs," Allison told me. "Some looked like yellow labs, others were all black, and then there was Reese."

Reese is a beautiful puppy and she'll make a gorgeous, regal adult dog. She is a chestnut color with a white streak down her face and chest, white paws and a white tipped tail.

"She just connected with us instantly," Allison said.

The couple had seen some other litters that day too, but didn't feel that connection with any of the other puppies. Reese immediately gravitated toward them, crawling around in their lap and wanting to play. And so, the deal was done — they were taking Reese home.

Over the next two weeks, they learned things about Reese that had them second-guessing that first impression. She was a high-energy puppy, very focused on her nose and very deep into the puppy mouthing stage.

Without much of a yard for the puppy to romp around in, the couple was relying on walks to work out her energy. It wasn't enough. Reese was going stir crazy. With no other dog around to help out on the mouthing front, she was proving to be particularly challenging in that regard.

For Alan and Allison, who'd been dreaming of a dog like Sensi, doubt began creeping into their minds that Reese was the right dog for them.

A couple weeks ago, they made the decision final — leading to the tearful phone call where Allison told me, "She's just not the right dog for us."

She was right. Alan and Allison have expressed time and time again that they want a calm, mild-mannered, human-attentive dog. Reese was a high-energy dog and, in keeping with her hound heritage, independent and strong-willed. She is practically the opposite of my dog, who I'd describe as low-energy and very dependent on his social bonds with humans.
Beautiful Reese during our 'Picnic in the Park' exercise

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

"Looking back, I'm thinking, 'OK, she had already been worn out from being outside all day with her brothers and sisters,'" Allison said of first meeting Reese. "She was the only one with energy left, she was kinda picking on her brothers and sisters. It was hard to see her energy level in the moment, but now I'm thinking, 'She was the high-energy one, she was more dominant than her brothers and sisters.'"

This truly is a common mistake made by puppy and dog shoppers alike. The high-energy dog is so easy to connect with — he runs up to you, he jumps in your lap, covers you with kisses. Who wouldn't feel like that dog was screaming, "Take me home! I want to be yours!"?

But the question remains, are you a high-energy dog person? Do you want a dog that needs vigorous daily exercise? Is there something about your lifestyle that will help you meet the needs of that dog — be it another high-energy dog for the puppy to pal around with, a yard where you can work out energy with some good long games of fetch, etc.? Or, are you going to take that high-energy dog home only to find it is bouncing off the walls and driving you nuts?

She was responding to her new name, Reese, very well
In the case of Reese, a home with another adult dog, a yard and an active family is perfect. (If you can provide that home, check out Reese's adoption profile. She's listed as "Bubbies" but some focus exercises had her responding to "Reese" quite well by the time Alan and Allison returned her). Alan and Allison are active, but they're lacking the first two things on the checklist. It wasn't going to work out and frankly, it's in the benefit of both the humans and dogs that she went back to her foster home — where she happens to have an adult dog and a yard to help meet her needs.

A high-energy puppy, even if it doesn't appear so here!
The lesson is two-fold: 1) Make sure you're not falling for a dog simply because you feel it "connected" with you by jumping, licking, etc., and 2) It can be really tough to pick out the right energy puppy.

Yesterday, Allison and I were out shopping and came across another rescue group in front of a pet store. We stopped to pet the dogs and look at the puppies. Standing beside the puppy pen, I noticed one little lady slowly took a couple steps toward me. I put my hand down and she stuck her nose through the wires to sniff it, then continued standing there, looking up at me. Meanwhile, her rambunctious brother hopped over and jumped up on the wiring to lick and paw at me. It would definitely be easy to overlook the mild-mannered puppy who simply stood there and sniffed me for the rambunctious puppy who wanted to jump and lick and seemed to be yelling, "Pick me up! Pick me up!" at me. (Ironically, this puppy was the only one of the group who had so far been adopted!) But this is where you have to know what kind of dog you want in your life. If what you want is a calm, low-energy dog, you've got to set aside those emotions raised by the jumping puppy and pick up the mild-mannered one instead. My bet is that one look in her sweet, quiet eyes and you'll feel just as connected with her as you would the jumper.

Puppy shopping and dog shopping in general is tough because it's such an emotional thing. We go into it with our hearts, not our heads. But it is by using our heads that we'll save our hearts from aching in the future over having made the wrong decision, and realizing it's too late.

Do you have the right home for Reese?
Again, Reese will do best in a home with other adult dogs who will play with her and teach her all about doggiedom. She would also benefit from having regular access to a decent yard to get out some energy with puppy-zoomies and fetch — she's a natural retriever already. Reese is a perfect fit for an active family. She seemed to enjoy herself most on long walks in the park. She is super-friendly and had been great with meeting new people and children. As of two weeks ago, she was very deep into puppy mouthing. However, she has been staying with a foster home since then that has an adult dog and I'm sure this has helped her immensely on that front. Reese is a strikingly beautiful dog. If you're interested in adopting her, contact Whiskers Cat Rescue and Canine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Introducing my fearful dog to new people: a summer of hard work and great success

Last May, Brent's coworker, Alan, was in need of a ride home from work. We had just dropped off our truck at the shop to have some work done too, and Brent was also in need of a ride home. I arranged to pick him up and on my way, he called to tell me Alan needed a ride too.
"No problem," I told Brent.
Alan said his wife, Allison, could pick him up from our house — she worked nearby — and so it all worked out.
It was the first time I'd met the couple and instantly, the four of us hit it off as friends.
That first night, they admired the photos of our dog — who was put away in the bedroom, as he doesn't meet new folks very well — and asked us to bring him out.
Sensi & Alan in the car on the way to the park earlier this year
"He's fearful," I told them. "He doesn't do well meeting new people, but if you guys can promise to follow a few rules, I can bring him out."
The rules speech in my house goes something like this: "Don't touch him — I mean it, or he'll bite — and don't talk to him, don't make prolonged eye contact with him — it's OK to look at him and stuff, but if your eyes meet, just look away. Don't hold eye contact — and don't sit on the floor. Basically, just totally ignore him. Act like he's not there and he'll be fine."
They were fine with that, and we felt like they were the type of people who both heard us and would listen to us, so I brought Sensi out on his leash. I walked him around the table we were sitting at, stopping briefly at each of their chairs so he could sniff their feet, and then brought his bed next to where I was sitting and asked him to lay down.
Everything went well. They never made contact with him that first night and he was perfectly calm.
After a while, I let him off the leash and gave him some toys to play with and stuff to chew on. He was content and his playful antics garnered their admiration.
That was night one.
As is often the case when forging friendships, it took a little time for the bond between Alan and Allison and Brent and I to grow.

Night two: Around the fire
About a month later, we invited them over to a bonfire with some of our other friends. Again, we initially had Sensi in the bedroom.
"Bring your dog out, Karen!" Allison scolded me. "We know the rules, we won't break them. But how is he ever going to get used to us if you don't bring him out?"
"OK, I'll go get him — but remember, no touch, no talk, no eye contact and stay in your chairs, let us know if you need to get up to go inside," I said.
I brought Sensi out, first keeping him on his leash and again walking him past their chairs for a quick sniff of their feet. He eventually got put on the long chain, as we usually do around the fire.
Later that night, our little shin-dig moved to our open, unfinished basement. Alan and Allison watched while our other friends played with Sensi; Alan threw the ball for him a couple times, both of them were allowed to toss him some treats — which he gladly gobbled; a good sign.

Night three: Dinner and a dog kiss
A couple weeks after that, Alan and Allison joined us for dinner.
This time, we didn't put the dog away at all, but kept him on the leash as they entered the house. He was allowed another foot-sniff and stayed on the leash for a half hour or so before I let him loose on some new toys.
The same rules still applied, except this time, we let Alan and Allison throw the ball for him. And this time, Sensi brought it right back to them and dropped it in their laps for another go.
The couple really enjoyed interacting with Sensi, and we really enjoyed watching our dog take this big step in becoming comfortable around new people.
After dinner, we were sitting around the kitchen table chatting when Sensi suddenly walked up to Allison, put his front legs on the edge of seat and gave her a big kiss on the cheek. He immediately turned his head away from her and removed himself from the area after the quick lick — telling me he was growing trust, but still not totally sure.
Allison was pumped, though. She still talks about that first Sensi kiss.
"Who'd have thought he'd just decide to jump up and kiss me?" she's said to me. "I knew right then that we were going to make friends with him."

Sealing the deal 
By then, Alan and Allison and Brent and I were spending an increasing amount of time hanging out and taking turns cooking dinner. This meant Sensi saw them with greater frequency, and so the trust-building came a lot more quickly.
They got into the habit of picking him up tasty treats for whenever they stopped by. Pretty soon, we could tell Sensi "Your friends Alan and Allison are coming over" and he'd get all happy and butt-wiggling; racing to the windows to see if they'd arrived.
Within a couple more visits, they were allowed to pet him. By that time, Sensi liked them so much there was no fear.
They played with him, pet him, talked to him and Sensi was all about conning them into endless games of "throw the ball for me" when they came over.
In August, Alan asked if he could sit on the floor so he could work on his laptop from our coffee table in the living room.
"You know what?" I said. "I think that's going be just fine. Sensi has consistently displayed nothing but affection for you guys for the last few visits and shown no fear. Go right ahead."
So he did. Sensi came over and kissed his cheek, then ran and got a toy.
By fall, Alan and Allison had earned 100 percent of my fearful boy's trust. It might've been a summer of hard work and lots of patience, but in the end, it paid off tenfold.
Sensi has even slept in the bed with them on a couple occasions, and I've promised them that they're first in line to dogsit when the occasion arises.
They love Sensi. Sensi loves them.
"This is the first dog I've ever really bonded with," Alan told us. "I know he's got the fear issues, but aside from that, he is like the perfect dog. He doesn't jump or nip or beg or do any annoying stuff. Usually I get so irritated with dogs, but he's not irritating. I just get to enjoy him."
I appreciate the compliments.

The lesson
Meeting and befriending Sensi was a huge factor in Alan and Allison's decision to get a dog.
"We want our own Sensi," they so often told us.
Alan really wanted to ensure that he could get a dog to behave like Sensi, who is calm and lazy until you engage him in playing or walking, and has great house manners.
I promised to help them with training, but I cautioned them too.
"You have to understand that Sensi has always had a calm nature. As a puppy, he was very timid. So one of the things you want to look for is a calm puppy," I said. "But also understand that timid puppies are often or can easily become fearful, which can lead to problem behaviors like we have with Sensi now."
Either way, I promised them I'd be there for them.

Allison with puppy Reese, who is now available for adoption
A year later
In mid-May (a couple weeks ago), Alan and Allison brought home a 10-week-old beagle and labrador mix named Reese.
Right off the bat, Sensi decided he hated her.
"Kind of ironic," Allison observed. "We spent all last summer getting Sensi used to me and Alan, now we're going to spend all of this summer getting Sensi used to our dog."
Except it didn't wind up that way. Two weeks after bringing Reese home, they brought her back.
A tearful Allison called me last Thursday to say, "We just can't do it. She's just not the right dog for us."
Allison was right, and tomorrow, I'll talk about why and the implications their story has for just about anyone looking to bring home a puppy.

Read previous posts about Sensi & Reese
Adult dog doesn't like puppies, what do I do?
Getting an adult dog to like a puppy — Exercise 1 "Picnic at the Park"