Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Saying good bye to my dog

I'm getting divorced and moving to New York.
I started writing a new blog — both for the therapy of writing my way through all of this and to give the folks in my life here in Michigan a way to keep tabs on me while I get started on a new adventure in the big city.
It's been a while since I've posted here. First, adjusting to a new job. Then, wrapping my head around divorce and the awfulness of saying good bye to the dog that has always been the muse for this blog.
For the time being, I'll continue to post here every once in a while. There will be a dog in my life in New York and either way, I intend to start volunteering at a shelter once I get settled.
So there will be dog stories yet to come. And with or without Sensi, my love for learning about canine behavior will not be dampened.
In the meantime, here's an excerpt from my post about why I'm leaving my dog. Follow the link to read the entire thing.

Truly loving dogs, especially your own, means making sure that your decisions are based on what is best for the dog and not what is best for your own emotional wellbeing.
I’m not an idiot, though. I know Sensi is going to be depressed without me. Animals have emotions. It’s so much harder to think about the story of Hachi now.
This isn’t a situation where I can have it both ways — decide what’s best for him and not hurt him in the process. Whether I bring him or leave him, I hurt him. The decision left to make has to be based on what hurts him the least.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Doggie dental and ear surgery: Watch how it's done

Sensi just after receiving anesthesia
Today's post is more or less a video-blog (which I believe is called vlog), but I just wanted to add a bit of information to the video.
I took Sensi to Oxford Veterinary Hospital recently for two procedures — a doggie dental and minor surgery to fix a blood clot in his ear.
My veterinarian, Dr. Stephen Steep, is awesome and allowed me to film the whole thing.
The ear is a procedure we've had done once before — not on the same ear, but the other one. Essentially, Sensi's allergies are driving him to scratch and shake to the point that he's breaking the blood vessels. The blood clots up and if allowed to stay, would eventually wrinkle up his ear like what we call cauliflower ear or wrestler's ear in humans.
Besides being bothersome to Sensi, I just can't handle my good lookin' boy becoming all disfigured when it's something that can be fixed.
There is more than one way to tackle this problem, but considering it worked so well for us on the other ear, it was no brainer to employ the same method once again. Let's hope it's the last time!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Running from deer flies

My senior guy at Addison Oaks earlier this year
Deer fly season is here.
"I have a feeling we're going to be doing a lot of running today," I said to Sensi as I leashed him up for our daily walk/jog/hike (I never know whether we'll do one, a mix or all).
I was right.
I'm not sure how else to deal with the deer flies.
Too many of them attack us to wait for them to land and swat them away. And quite honestly, there are some bugs I don't mind swatting with my hand and some I do. Deer flies fall into that "I mind" category, yet I will swat them to avoid getting bitten or have my dog get bitten.
Those of you with long-haired pooches may not have as much of a problem dealing with deer flies attacking your dog, but for short haired dogs, it's so easy for the pesky bugs to land a good bite just about anywhere on my dog's body.
He's mildly allergic to them too, every successful deer fly bite leaving a nice big welt on him. (I give him Benadryl to help with that).
And as for me, well. I do love the great outdoors. Biting flies make me love it a little less.
I've noticed the deer flies out and about in increasing numbers every day this week.
Today's walk — we just returned from it — was particularly bad.
The only solution I can come up with is maintaining a decent clip. So we jog. At a few different points today, the flies were particularly nasty — chasing us fervently, determined to land a bite. So we ran. Fast.
One of the park deputies (driving a golf cart) spotted us at the very beginning of the 2.5-mile loop, just after hauling butt up a trying hill. It's a good way to get ourselves moving, I figure.
"You look more tired than the dog," he commented. Ha ha. Thanks for the reminder that my senior citizen and fur-coated dog is in better shape than me.
Half-hour later he saw us at the other end of the loop, just finishing up.
"Wow, you're making good time," he said.
I smiled. "Yeah, lots of running today," I said.
I wanted to say: "Yeah, lots of running from all the damn deer flies today."
The upside of all of this may just be that I could very well be in the market for a new belt pretty soon.
I've worked my way down not one or two or three belt loops, but I'm all the way to the tightest loop now. The downside is that I also need new pants (I don't like shopping). Even my blue jeans are all bunched up around my waist.
I hope it goes without saying that bug spray doesn't deter biting flies one bit.
So, Sensi and I will be running our little hearts out this summer.
And he, of course, will be making me look bad the whole while.

Do you have any deer fly solutions? Please, if you do, share them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Can dog breed impact who dates you?

Busy this week, but not busy enough to pass up blogging about this fun study.
Want to get married? Get a golden.
The makers of a new iPhone app called Klooff — I think it basically makes a social profile for you pet — conducted a survey of 1,000 single pet owners to figure out what kind of impact the breed of dog you own may have on your date-ability.
"The vast majority of men think that a woman who owns a Chihuahua is more likely to be dumb," states the press release. "Men are more than 5 times more likely to see a woman who owns a Chihuahua as someone to only have a one night stand with."
I am neither surprised nor offended by this.
As for where my dog's breed ranked on the list, I'd be in trouble if I were a single man.
"Women are 10 times more likely to see a man who owns a Pit Bull as slimy or sketchy than a man who owns a Siberian Husky," it reads.
Both sexes view Golden Retriever owners as marriage material, so if you're looking to settle down, there's one breed that may help you get there.
The Golden Retriever ranked as the top dog breed to attract men and the second top dog breed to attract women. For women, it was German Shepherds that made men most attractive.
Here's more:

Men are most attracted to women who own: 
1. Golden Retrievers
2. Labrador Retrievers
3. Chihuahuas (Hmmm, for that one night stand? Dirty men.)
4. Poodles (seriously?)
5. Beagles

Women are most attracted to men who own:
1. German Shepherds
2. Golden Retrievers
3. Labrador Retrievers
4. Siberian Huskies
5. French Bulldogs

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

New dog behavior question for read and win contest!

The first person to email me (karen@oakpress) a correct response to the below question can select a prize of his/her choosing from this list of available prizes.

UPDATED: We have a winner — Deb Runyan (three time winner now!) of Commerce Township, who emailed that number 4 is the correct response! Deb also said: "Wish people would give me some competition here!  I love doing stuff like this, but it's more fun if other's are making it hard." I agree. Where are all my readers?   

My post Even friendly dogs should be kept on-leash should help you answer it.

Today's question is multiple choice, and it is:

When a dog becomes extremely/overly-excited, it means ...
1) The dog is in a very happy and friendly mood.
2) The dog wants to play.
3) The dog is displaying obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
4) The dog is in an unstable mood that can quickly change.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Read and win contest to continue Wednesday with new dog behavior question

I still have lots of prizes and books available in my 'Read and win' contest.
The contest goes like this — I post a question about dog behavior and the first person to email me ( a correct response can pick a prize of his/her choosing from this list of available prize packages.
This week's contest question will be based off my post Even friendly dogs should be kept on leash.
So, read up.
The question will be posted promptly at noon tomorrow.
As soon as I have a winner, I'll update the post to reflect that.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Lab/pit bull mix from Clarkston area needs to find new home

Daisy, lab/pit bull mix, needs a new home
As noted in my earlier post about the pit bull overpopulation problem in Southeast Michigan, it can be difficult to get pit bulls and pit bull mixes adopted into new homes.
Every once in awhile, I hear from pit bull owners who, for one reason or another, need to find a new home for their dog.
Many good dog owners, faced with a situation that forces them to say goodbye to a beloved family member, will do everything they can to rehome the dog themselves to avoid giving it to a shelter. But when your dog is a pit bull, it's just not that easy.
The Starkey family recently reached out to me, hoping I could lend them some advice on rehoming their pit bull/labrador mix.
"It is with a heavy heart that we, as a family, have decided to find new homes for our dogs. Due to a loss of job and a growing family, we cannot financially support our dogs anymore," wrote Amy Starkey in an email to me. "Our chocolate lab has already found a new home with a great family."
The dog they are now looking to find a new home for is Daisy. She is 6 years old, spayed and up to date on shots.
"She is a sweet heart who loves to give kisses and likes lots and lots of attention. She will chase a tennis ball all day long," Starkey wrote.
Starkey said the dog has been with them since she was just six weeks old. The couple has two children, a 3-year-old and 9-month-old. 
"She does wonderful with (the kids)," Starkey said.
As for her temperament, it sounds like Daisy would love a low-key household. Since she has lived with another dog, she may enjoy having a canine companion again. Starkey wrote this:  "She does sometimes get nervous if there is too much going on around her, but she will generally just go lay down somewhere or curl up next to me or my husband. We have been a two dog household until recently and she has always gotten along with other dogs. She does put her gaurd up at first around new dogs, but will settle down after a little while."
As for cats, Starkey said: "She has been exposed to cats and gets really excited about them, but again will settle down after a little while."
She is certainly a pretty girl and I wish the Starkey family all the best in finding a good forever home for her.
If you're interested in being that forever home, feel free to contact me ( and I'll put you in touch with the Starkeys.
"Daisy needs a good loving family who will spoil her and give her all she needs," Starkey added.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Even friendly dogs should be kept on leash

Me and my on-leash dog enjoying a day at the park
The other day, I pulled into my favorite park and spotted a man sitting at a picnic table with his two dogs. One was on leash, the other was not.
I pulled the Jeep near him and rolled down my window.
"Excuse me, sir," I said to get his attention. "I noticed you have a dog off-leash and I'm going to be walking my dog. He's not friendly and I was hoping you could put your dog on leash."
Let's note that I totally went the polite route with this request. I could have scolded him for breaking park rules that require all dogs to be kept on a six-foot leash at all times, but I've always figured you get more bees with honey, right?
"It's OK, she's friendly," he said back to me.
"Well no, it's not OK," I said. "My dog isn't friendly, and if she approaches him, he'll bite her."
Sometimes you have to spell it out to get people to understand, and he did, and put her on a leash. Sensi and I went off on our walk without a hitch.
Unfortunately, this is situation that I hear about a lot from folks, even folks with pretty good, even-tempered dogs.
Even my husband and I debate this.
"Don't you think, if we had a perfectly friendly dog, that we wouldn't see things this way? That we'd want to let him off leash?" he asks me.
My reply is always the same: "No, because even when we do have a perfectly friendly dog, and one day we will, we will remember Sensi. We will remember that if that wonderfully friendly dog wanders up to a not-friendly on-leash dog, it will probably get into a fight. We will remember."

How dog behavior factors into on-leash aggression
OK, so let's start with some dog behavior facts.
One — A dog that charges head-on toward another dog is making a threat. The charging dog may not intend a threat; perhaps it is charging because it is over-excited and has poor doggie social manners. That is often the case, I think. However, the dog on the receiving end of the charge is likely to perceive the behavior as a threat. The only time that this may be entirely non-threatening and understood as such by both parties is amongst dogs who are good friends and play together frequently.
Two — Proper dog behavior protocol for introducing ones' dogself to another dog includes keeping a comfortable social distance and avoiding prolonged eye contact until proper signals have been exchanged. The signal exchange comes after dogs have had time to scent one another from a comfortable distance apart. After an initial whiff from a safe distance, dogs will give tons of tiny little signals that communicate whether it is desirable to decrease social distance. It is only after these things have been undertaken and both dogs have agreed to decrease social distance that butt-sniffing and rompin' good play takes place.
Three — Many dogs become overly excited upon meeting other dogs. This does not mean they are bad, aggressive dogs. It usually means they do not get to see other dogs very often or did not have a lot of doggie social contact in those formative puppy months when dogs learn how to properly introduce one's dogself to another. The danger of an overly-excited dog is that it is an unstable energy, it is not happy nor confident nor friendly. It is just excitement. This unstable state of mind can quickly devolve into aggression at the drop of a pin.
Four — Fight or flight. We are all familiar with this, right? In situations where an animal (even us) feels threatened, it will opt to either fight or flight its way out of the situation. When restrained on a leash, the dog effectively has no option to employ flight. This means if the situation suddenly turns from extreme excitement to slightly unsure or a little anxious, the dog will likely turn to aggressive signals to communicate to the other dog that it wants to increase social distance (get further away). Dogs in close physical contact who employ aggressive signals are much more likely to bite or be bitten, as these communications, and the behaviors they warn of, generally happen in mere milliseconds.

Analyzing the on-leash, off-leash meet that turns into aggression
So, let's say I'm walking a pretty friendly dog. This dog has never shown aggression to other dogs. It lives in an only-dog household, so the only time it gets contact with other dogs is when I have friends or family over who have dogs, or the occasional trip to the dog park. In all those instances, the dog has been friendly. It does get REALLY excited upon first coming into contact with other dogs, and I presume that means my dog is just SUPER friendly, especially considering the excitement has always led to playfulness and companionship with the other dogs it's around.
The dog park is a great place to let your dog off-leash
I overlook the fact that when my family and friends bring their dogs over to my house, none of the dogs are on leashes, or if they are, it is only for a brief moment while walking in the door and the visiting dog is almost always unhooked or has its leash dropped upon entering my house.
I also overlook the fact that while visiting the dog park, my dog is not a leash and has all the space in the world to let off steam, determine when it wants to make physical contact with other dogs and has plenty of room to distance itself from dogs it does not want to be close to.
Now, here I am walking my dog at, let's say, a state recreation area. Rules dictate that all dogs be kept on a six-foot-leash at all times. In addition to this, my dog is not very good off-leash — he runs and runs and runs, doesn't always pay attention when I call him and sometimes, I've had to chase him through some pretty thick brush or swamp because he wouldn't come when I called him. I get nervous that he might run off and not come back, so I decide to keep him on leash.
All of the sudden, a dog who did get lucky enough to be let off leash by his owner comes tearing through the bushes at full speed — no doubt exactly what my dog wishes he was doing.
The dog slows down only a little bit, from full-tear to slow run, and comes right up to mine.
My dog is startled, first of all. We were upwind from this other dog, so my dog had no scent warning. Plus, the dog couldn't be seen until he emerged from the bushes, and by that point, he was right upon us. So, the only forewarning my dog had was some startling thrashing noise and then boom! Dog in his face.
The dogs go right into the butt-sniff mode and both their excitement levels are rapidly increasing. They are jumping around a bit and other than having to hold on for dear life to the leash, I think everything is going to be just fine.
But then, something happens that I didn't even see. All the sudden, the hair on my dog's back is up and he's lifted a lip; I can hear a low growl.
Before I even see this other dog's owner, the situation has turned sour and both dogs are now snarling and lunging at one another.
I pray the other dog owner arrives in time to help me pull the dogs apart before the injuries get so bad we both wind up at the emergency vet.

What happened?
A safe bet would be that the dogs didn't get enough time and space to know whether they really wanted to be that close to one another. They became too excited, too fast, and were too close together. My dog was on a leash and so, when he starting having doubts about wanting to be this close to the other dog, he had no option to physically remove himself. All he could do was warn the other dog — hackles raised, snarl — to get away. But the other dog didn't get away, and instead, responded to my dog's threats with his own threats. One decided not to back down and the other one couldn't run away, so they got into a fight instead.
This doesn't mean that either dog is bad or unfriendly.
The only thing that was bad was the situation the dogs were placed in while they met for the first time. Had the same two dogs been in a dog park, both off leash, this probably would've never happened. They may have even become pals and romped around a bit.
But the element of surprise combined with the extreme excitement combined with the leash-factor turned it all to shit.
And here's the thing — it doesn't take a bunch of things to go wrong for a bite or attack to happen. Just one thing. And sometimes, that one thing is just the leash factor.

Keep your dogs on leash
So here's the simple solution, folks — keep your dogs on leash in public places where it's required you keep them on leash.
Beside the mere fact that there are rules for a reason, there is also the fact that even if you want to risk breaking the rules, other people don't. Other people will have dogs on leashes, many of them are friendly dogs too, but as we've just found out, even friendly dogs are more apt to get into fights while on leash.
Adding to this whole idea of following the rules is the fact that there are people out there like me with dogs who are less than perfect. So long as we are responsible with our dogs — we keep them on a leash and we keep them away from you and your dogs — there is nothing wrong with us wanting to walk our less-than-perfect dogs. In fact, if our dogs are ever going to become better, we MUST get out there in the world to exercise our dogs and socialize them to different scenarios. Our less-than-perfect dogs will never become better dogs if we keep them locked up inside a house all day.
The ironic thing is, it is we-owners-of-less-than-perfect-dogs who are more likely to follow rules than those who own perfectly-friendly-happy-go-lucky dogs.
And one more thing — there are a whole lot of dog owners out there who own less-than-perfect dogs and don't realize it or even refuse to acknowledge it. Now that is worth being scared of, and it's certainly worth protecting your dog from.
Leashes — a cheap tool to prevent expensive emergency vet bills. Isn't that reason enough to use them?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Caught hiking in a thunderstorm

Sensi and I, soaked but still smiling

Nothing's worse than a rainy weekend.
Last Sunday's forecast called for the storms to move out of the area after noon. The rain cleared earlier in the morning and still, I waited for noon. Just for good measure, I waited until 1 p.m. With no rain in sight and the sun peeking out, Sensi and I headed out to the trails.
About ten minutes into our walk, it began sprinkling. We were already out on our favorite (OK, my favorite. I shouldn't speak for the dog) trail in the woods and the trees provided good cover. A little sprinkling rain wasn't going to convince me to turn around, though I did pick up the pace a bit.
Just as I reached the point where the trail wraps around the lake's edge — this is about half way through the loop, the point of no return —the thunder began rumbling. I listened as it got closer and closer, the sprinkles turning to a light rain.
Where the trail departs from the lake's edge, it turns and goes up a rather steep hill.
This, of course, had to be where the storm hit us.
The rain began pouring down on us, a steady stream flowing down the center of the now muddy hill.
Since I'm not quite a serious hiker, I rely on basic old tennis shoes to get me around the trails. Bad choice for a steep incline muddied and slick.
Sensi scooted up the hill with no problem.
"No fair, buddy," I said, reaching out to a tree to help pull myself along (yes, I do sometimes talk to my dog. Even in public places). "Your nails are like built in cleats."
We eventually made it back to pavement, soaked and tired from our quickened pace.
I took Sensi's Halti off because 1) I figured no one else was dumb enough to be out walking with their dogs, 2) He was too tired to pull anyhow, and 3) I wouldn't like a wet strap around my nose.
We jogged the rest of the way back to the Jeep. Sensi thoroughly enjoyed being on a regular collar and leash and jogged proudly beside me.
All things considered, it was still a good hike.

Muddy mess
I lovingly refer to my Jeep as the 'dirty Jeep' after having pointed to it on many occasions and said: "The dirty one's mine."
The dirty Jeep
But I am trying to be better about washing it more frequently.
On Saturday, I took the dirty Jeep to the car wash. On my way home, I stopped by the Salvation Army and picked up Sensi four stuffed animals.
I tossed the "babies" in the backseat of the Jeep and figured they could be his prize on the way home from our daily walks, taking one baby inside with him upon arriving back at the house.
He was thrilled to see the stuffed animals in the backseat when I put him in the Jeep to head out for our walk Sunday. Of course, the walk was far more exciting.
On our way home, thunder and lightening and pouring down rain,
Sensi's muddy baby
the Jeep became a muddy mess yet again.
Still, I love living on a dirt road.
I pulled into the garage, parked the Jeep and opened the hatch for Sensi to jump out, the mud draining off the Jeep and on to the garage floor.
Sensi gingerly picked up one of his babies and during his leap out of the back, dropped it on the garage floor.
The new baby was instantly muddy.
Sensi looked at me.
"What now, Ma? I don't want to pick that thing up," his look said.
I picked it up and shook my head while wiping his baby down with a rag, telling myself I should be grateful for a dog with a sense of cleanliness.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Michigan Humane Society offers free spay-neuter program to reduce pit bull overpopulation problem

Kevin Hatman of MHS with an adoptable pit bull
Does Southeast Michigan have a pit bull overpopulation problem?
You bet it does.
This controversial breed has boomed in population. I remember, before we brought Sensi home nine years ago, I hadn't even seen a pit bull in living color before. We actually went to go visit one of my husband's coworkers who owned one so I could have my first pit bull experience.
Nowadays, it seems like I see more pit bulls and pit bull mixes than any other breeds.
Almost every dog I see while driving through Pontiac on my way into work is a pit bull. But there's hardly a difference when you get to suburbs — I live out in the country, in the very northern reaches of Oakland County — and I'd have to guess that one out of every three dogs I see being walked is some sort of pit.
I think I do understand the attraction to the breed.
For some, owning a pit bull is like a statement of toughness. A living, walking badge of just how bad ass you are.
For others, it's an effort to jump on the pro-pit bull bandwagon and prove to the rest of the world that if raised right, pit bulls can be great dogs.
Now, I'm going to quote a sentence from a recent post about a pit bull mauling in Rochester Hills that sums up what I think of all this: "I may own a pit bull, and love a pit bull, but I'm no idiot. Pit bulls aren't the dog for everyone and frankly, it scares me half to death to think of the powerful breeds, labs included, owned by the masses who don't know the first thing about dog behavior."
That means that whether you fall into one of either of the categories I mentioned above, I'm skeptical whether a pit bull is truly the right dog for you.
Again, quoting my earlier post: "Pit bulls need an owner who holds him or herself to a higher standard of responsibility and understanding of the breed they've chosen to make their best friend."
It's not good enough, not for me, to say that if you love the dog enough and don't abuse it, it'll be a great dog.
Pit bull or not, all dogs need more than love and lack of abuse to be reliably good and well-adjusted canine citizens.
So, I'm tipping my hat to the Michigan Humane Society, which has begun offering free spays and neuters to pit bulls.
One of our awesome interns, Brittany Wright, wrote a story for The Oakland Press and produced this video about Michigan Humane Society's free spay-neuter program for pit bulls.

Wright says that nearly one-third of the Michigan Humane Society's dog population are pit bulls. And because this is a tough breed to adopt out, I have to imagine it doesn't end well for many of the pit bulls that wind up in shelters.
The program is only a couple months old, if that, and already, it's been in huge demand — so popular, in fact, that there's already a waiting list.
Waiting list or not, it's a great program and the type of preventative effort that will make a difference in the pit bull overpopulation problem.
As far as bandwagons go, I hope this one that we see more rescue agencies jump on, and more pit bull owners take advantage of.
This is an excellent program to spend money on and so, I hope it leads to more financial donations for the Michigan Humane Society — hint hint, wink wink.
Way to go, MHS!

For more information on certificates for the spay-neuter program visit or call 248-283-1000 Ext. 127.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reader recalls being attacked by a Greyhound

After reading Monday's post about a pit bull mauling a 6-year-old girl in Rochester Hills, Dog Blog reader Deb Runyan emailed me her own story of being attacked.

It's pertinent to what I was trying to express, which is that all dogs of all breeds can have sets of circumstances — regardless of how narrow and unusual those circumstances might be —specific to the individual dog that can act as triggers for attacks.

Here's Deb's email to me:

Read today's blog about the Pit Bull attack, and thought I'd share my personal experience with a dog attack.

The background is I am fairly active in dog rescue, so I usually have my personal dogs (4) and anywhere from one to four foster dogs in the house.  This story goes back to 2009, when I adopted a retired Greyhound racer.  I named her Nova.  I adopted Nova because our 2 year old Bloodhound, Sexi, had died after six weeks of frustrating vet care trying to determine what was wrong, and I missed having a big hound in the house. Nova lived with us for 8 months very happily.  

Unbeknownst to me, my husband had mopped an area of our foyer, which is ceramic tile, and I walked through carrying a paralyzed foster dog.  I hit that wet tile and fell hard.  The little foster only made a tiny squeak, as I had not let him hit the ground, but for whatever reason, Nova came flying off the couch and to the foyer, and with awful growling, snarly sounds, grabbed me by the ankle and bit hard, not letting go.  My Dachshund Bizzy came running to protect me, the foster dog dragged himself into the corner away from it all...and as Bizzy rushed in growling, Nova grabbed him around the neck and clamped down.  I managed to get him away from her and shoved him into the bathroom which was right there, and shut the door on him.  I was on my hands and knees - with all my weight on my left hand which was supporting me.  She grabbed my arm and mauled it.  While biting, she started shaking her head, as if to try to kill small prey.  (all dogs do it when playing with toys)  I was yelling at her, but she would not stop, and the sounds were like something from a horror movie.  This all happened really fast, seemed like ages, but was more like seconds.  My husband and son came running in, and when they got there, she just stopped and acted like nothing was wrong.   My arm had a baseball sized lump on the under-side between elbow and shoulder, and long gashes where her teeth ripped my skin while she was shaking her head and pulling back on me.  

I called the rescue and told them she had to go and to come get her.  I couldn't chance her being in my house, I would never trust her again, and I didn't want to be responsible for anyone else getting hurt.  My arm had nerve and muscle damage, and took the better part of a year to totally heal - plus a nasty infection and I had to have it lanced.  My Dachshund, Bizzy, ended up with a crushed disk in his neck, and had to have a couple MRI's plus 2 surgeries to try to fix it.   He was in pain forever after.  12 months later he was dead.  Not as a direct result of the attack, but I feel if he hadn't had to endure that plus the surgeries, he'd have been strong enough to make it.  He developed an bowel obstruction, survived that surgery, but then developed pancreatitis, and he did not survive that.  He was only 6 years old.

Dog attacks do scar you emotionally.  For me, the biggest trauma was losing Bizzy of course, but as far as my emotional trauma from just the attack on me - there was this huge sense of betrayal.  I dog I rescued, nurtured, babied and loved had turned on me for no apparent  reason.  That was really difficult to deal with.  Even though I am still active in dog rescue, and own 4 dogs, there is always that little niggling thought about getting bitten again.  Not bitten, as a dog bite would have been a bite and done - but being attacked and mauled.  It all happens so fast, and is so vicious that you can't really free yourself from the attack.  It didn't hurt while it was happening, there was too much going on to feel the pain.  I can only remember the awful sounds she was making.  Like some wild animal killing it's dinner.  The disbelief was high - how could one of my own dogs possibly be not only biting, but attacking me?  My arm was deep purple/black from armpit to wrist.  I still have the scars on my ankle and arm, but the biggest scar is in my heart.  I almost wish I hadn't known the dog that did it, because then it would be a random act of violence rather than something I can't explain.   This was a Greyhound, a breed known for it's gentle and calm demeanor.  They aren't famous for their jaw strength - and this HURT - I cannot imagine how much more it would hurt if bitten by a stronger jawed dog.   And to be only 6?  Horrific for both child and parents.  I feel so bad for this child.  My experience has really brought home the fact that the breed does not matter - any dog, in the right circumstance can hurt you.  Yet I still love dogs, and I wouldn't change that.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pit bull mauls girl, 6, in Rochester Hills

Oakland Press photo of Aiden, the pit bull who attacked
Another pit bull mauling made the local news last week — this time, a 6-year-old girl in Rochester Hills was apparently severely injured by a pit bull in the attack.
As a human being, I feel terribly for the little girl. Beside her physical injuries, dog attacks are an emotional trauma too — one that, unlike her physical injuries, will take much longer to heal. She will likely never forget those terrifying moments and may never get to enjoy the companionship of a dog of any breed because of the fear she is likely to carry with her.
As a proud pit bull owner, it is also always saddening to hear of such reports.
And as someone who has studied dog behavior for many years now, it angers me too.

The blame game: where do we begin?
It is not certain from any of the media reports I read whether this was indeed her family's dog. In all media reports, however, it's stated that the dog was recently rescued.
Shame on the rescue agency, first of all, for allowing this dog to go into a home with small children, if that was indeed the case.
But that's not even what makes me angry, because the truth of the matter is, if all rescue dogs had to wait to be evaluated by someone who was actually qualified to do such evaluations, there would be no rescue agencies — not the way we know them. And that means there'd be a lot more dead dogs.
What makes me angry is that we, our society, our culture, calls the dog man's best friend without really knowing the first thing about them. We don't deserve to call dogs "man's best friend." And if we do, it is a joke. A complete joke. We make awful friends and we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

Video of the pit bull that attacked the Rochester Hills' girl

Pit bulls: Do you have what it takes to own one?
Reports like this are what motivates me to write this blog. Not because I want to tout pit bulls as the best doggone dogs around — I may own a pit bull, and love a pit bull, but I'm no idiot. Pit bulls aren't the dog for everyone and frankly, it scares me half to death to think of the powerful breeds, labs included, owned by the masses who don't know the first thing about dog behavior.
Most people just get lucky. The right circumstances for an attack never add up. But for damn near every dog, there is a threshold. There is something — some set of unique circumstances — a dog wasn't socialized to, prepared for or ready to cope with that could happen, but it may be a very narrow set of circumstances that just never occurs.
But for many dogs, the circumstances do occur. Many people have been bitten by dogs of all varieties and often, those bites never add up to anything. The dog was small, or the bite was half-hearted and motivated by fear; not serious enough to inflict grave injuries and hit the news.
Pit bulls need an owner who holds him or herself to a higher standard of responsibility and understanding of the breed they've chosen to make their best friend.
Most people don't have what it takes.
Most people hardly have what it takes, in my book, to be a responsible owner of any breed of dog.
And that is why I write this blog.

My contribution to our cultural deficit with dogs
I had a environmental science teacher in college who talked about global warming. Regardless of your political opinions, and without stating my own (though I will note, isn't it ridiculous that I have to reference global warming as a political issue?), the lasting impact she left on me had to do with our discussions relative to global warming.
She gave us statistics — frightening statistics — and she knew it was scary. She told us it scared her. And she realized it would scare her students too.
So she left us with this:
"Don't freak out," I remember her saying. "The point is, what has happened has happened. All we can do is contribute in any little way we can. The world is what it is; we need our cars and we can't change that. We cannot fix a problem this big on our own, and we cannot burden ourselves with the fear of believing we need to. But we can do little things, in little ways that fit our lives, that contribute to helping."
This blog is my little way of contributing to the dog problem, of trying to impart some knowledge of dog behavior to those who care to read it.
I cannot singlehandedly change the way our culture perceives and treats dogs, but maybe I can help a few people understand dogs a little bit better.
That will just have to be good enough for me.

Start learning about dog behavior
Want to be a better dog owner? So glad I could motivate you! I have two great books to set you down a path that will become an incredibly rewarding journey.
Check out my reviews of, and find links to purchase, Jean Donaldson's Culture Clash and Andrea Horowitz's Inside of a Dog.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

'Read and win' contest: question #3

All right, here's the third question in the "Read and win" contest series.
The same rules apply — first person to email me ( with the correct answer will get to choose a prize from this list of available prizes.

Today's question has been answered. Deb Runyan of Commerce Township is the winner, for a third time! She answered correctly, choosing number 5. 

As with the first two questions, the answer can be found in one of these three posts:
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part I
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part II
If the dog likes you, I like you

I will update this post as soon as the question has been answered correctly by someone.

Today's question is multiple choice. Here it is:

Dog owners are famous for allowing their dogs to have an opinion about people they meet, and giving that opinion credibility — call it the, "If the dog likes you, I like you" mentality. Why does this happen?
1. Dogs are incredible readers of human body language and are frequently quite good at picking up on a person's trustworthiness based on general body language cues.
2. The confirmation bias — the dog studies its owners response to a person and reacts accordingly.
3. Dogs have a sixth sense that guides them in determining the general goodness of a person.
4. Answers 1 &3.
5. Answers 1 & 2.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

'Read and win' contest to continue Wednesday

There are still six prize packages and six books available in my "Read and win" contest!
So far, Deb Runyan of Commerce Township has been kicking butt, being the first to answer my questions correctly.
This week, the third question in the contest will be posted at noon tomorrow (Wednesday, April 4).
The first person to email me ( with the correct answer will win a prize of his or her choosing, so review the list of available prizes.
As with the first two questions, the answer can be found in one of these three posts:
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part I
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part II
If the dog likes you, I like you

Monday, April 2, 2012

Another reason I love my pit bull

Sensi's ninth birthday passed recently.
Sitting, impatiently, on the trail
His face is peppered white where it used to be jet black. The skin on his underbelly is wrinkly; his armpits peppered with skintags. Gravity is taking its toll on him — not only are the flaps of fur hanging farther down around his collar, but his you-know-what has also taken on a rather aged appearance.
He is old. But not in spirit.
No, not my pit bull. Pit bulls are forever young.
I don't know that a dog of another breed but of similar size would be able to keep up with me at his age. But he does.
We've pushed ourselves this spring — or winter, if you want to be technical. I say "we" because truly, he pushes me as much as I push him.
Sensi and I have found some great trails this year. In all likelihood, we will be run over by a mountain biker before the season is done. It's worth the risk, I figure.
We're up to about four miles a day, sometimes five. We take routes that are half walks, half hikes.
On the pavement, Sensi likes to trot. I like to watch him trot. He prances like a prince. And so, my goal is to keep him at a trot — speed walking or half-jogging behind him so he doesn't have to slow down.
On the hiking trails, he is more reserved. He glances back at me often, as though the well-worn footpath isn't indicator enough as to where we're headed. But there is one thing we both agree on — steep hills are easier jogged than walked. I think we both just want to get it over with as fast as possible.
Enjoying the view from the top
He doesn't show his age on the trails. Sensi always wants to go faster.
One path we take cuts through a big meadow. I've always had a thing for meadows. However stupid we may look, I pick up the pace to a full run through the meadow — Sensi grinning and tail wagging wildly. He likes to run.
On those hot days we had a couple weeks ago, we'd climb down some a small ravine to a pretty little creek. Sensi briefly laps up some of the crisp water, his eyes darting after every frog that hops in from the banks, and then stands to cool off, looking up at me with a dumb smile on his face.
And so, I'm grateful I have a pit bull. I'm grateful my old man of a dog not only can, but wants, to keep up with me. And pushes me to go faster too.
It's not just pit bulls that you'll find this never-aging energy with — just about any terrier will be the same. 
The pit bull is just my terrier of choice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Read and win! Answer dog behavior question #2 for prize package of your choosing

Last week, Deb Runyan of Commerce Township won the first prize in a contest series for answering correctly that timing is "everything" in dog training.

I have question #2 ready for this week — WE HAVE A WINNER at 12:19 p.m. Tuesday. We also have a contestant to beat — today's winner is Deb Runyan, the winner who turned in the correct response first to last week's question too. Runyan selected prize package #5: pet clean up supplies from Purina.

The question was: Describe what it means to "shape" a dog's behavior. 

Runyan responded with the answer: "Shaping is rewarding any behavior/movement from the dog that is a positive step towards your desired end task/goal. Basically, "training" in small increments, working towards a new, and more complicated feat."

The answer is absolutely correct. 

Jean Donaldson, author of Culture Clash, phrased it this way: "Shaping is technique which involves rewarding the dog's best efforts and then gradually raising the standard until the behavior is as you wish."

Remember answers to the first few questions can be found among these three posts:
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part I
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part II 
If the dog likes you, I like you

The rules of the contest are this — The first person to email me ( the correct answer can select a prize package of his or her choosing. Check out the full list of available prize packages.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

When pit bulls attack: Sterling Heights dangerous dog ordinance in action

Andrew Serocki stopped the attack
The recent attack by two pit bulls on a woman walking down the street in Sterling Heights will show just what can be accomplished by a dangerous dog ordinance.
Sterling Heights' city council enacted a non-breed specific dangerous dog ordinance last year. A city official told The Macomb Daily that this will be the first time the city has had to enforce its dangerous dog law to its fullest extent.
The owners may face still fines and even jail time.
It'll be interesting to see what happens in this case.
Neighbors say that the attack was not the first time the dogs have gotten loose.
Whatever the penalties may be — and I do hope they're harsh — it is my most sincere wish that the couple are banned from owning dogs of any breeds in the future.
Clearly, the ante is upped when you own a pit bull. But the truth is, any dog can be dangerous in the hands of an irresponsible owner and this couple has clearly demonstrated their irresponsibility.
There are no valid excuses for allowing this to happen.

Interview with man who beat the pit bulls away with his cane

City official talks about Sterling Heights' response to the attack

Monday, March 12, 2012

Read and win! First question in contest series

This question is closed — congratulations to winner Deb Runyan of Commerce Township! Check below for the answer to the question. 

You've read last week's posts on behavior, and perhaps even picked up a copy of Culture Clash or Inside of a Dog.
Now, test your knowledge on dog behavior in exchange for winning a cool prize of your picking — check out the entire list of prizes.
The first one to email me ( with the answer to the question below will get to pick a prize from the list.
Don't forget to include your contact information and the prize package you'd like.

Dog Behavior question #1 
What is considered "everything" in dog training? Or, to phrase it differently, what is the single most important thing that will determine your success in shaping any behavior in your dog?

Deb Runyan responded first with the correct answer, which is "Timing."
Timing, folks, is absolutely everything in dog training.
Runyan selected the book "For the Love of Dogs" as her prize.
Check back next week for another chance to win!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Read and win! Prize packages for answering dog behavior questions

I hope everyone's ready for the chance to win some cool dog stuff, because I've finally gotten my act together and arranged prize packages for the kick off of this week's contest.
In short, I'll be giving away different packages for the first person who emails me ( with the answer to a variety of dog behavior questions that I'll post over the next few weeks. Read more about the contest (and how to give yourself an edge on winning) in my post, Read and win — answer questions to get cool dog gear.
And don't forget that last week's posts were a primer for the first few questions I'll ask as well.
Those posts are:
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part I
Behavior 101: Shaping vs. Training, Part II 
If the dog likes you, I like you

After tallying up the give-away gear that's been amassing under my desk, I decided to make one change to the contest — rather than have a specific prize package for a specific question, I'm posting information about all the available prizes in this post. Each winner will get to choose which package he or she wants.

Without further ado, here are the prizes:

This prize is no longer available!
Prize package #1
Prize package #1 — Food & water bags for travel by Planet Dog
Made for traveling with your pooch, these two bags are handy for trips to just about anywhere. Use the larger pink bag for storing your dog's kibble and use the smaller green one to feed him. The green bag is 100 percent waterproof and can be used for both food and drink. Both bags are fully collapsible, which means they're great for stuffing in a backpack and taking it with you on a hike. I've had a similar collapsible, waterproof bag for my dog for years and wouldn't be able to get through the summer without it. Spending hours on the trails on an 80-degree day isn't something you can do without having a water source for your dog. What I love about these collapsible bags is that I can fit them into my hiking backpack, toss in a couple water bottles and we're all set for a day hike. Both bags can be machine washed and left to air dry. Not to mention, I love Planet Dog because of its foundation that provides cash grants to programs that support dogs helping people in need. Find out more at

Prize package #2
Prize package #2 — Small food & water bag by Planet Dog with stickers
Similar to the bags in prize package #1, this is a smaller version of the collapsible food and water bag. It is also 100 percent waterproof and can be machine washed. Toss it in your hiking backpack with a bottle of water and you're all set for a day hike with the doggie. I'm including some neat little car stickers with this bag as well, one that says "Bring Fido" (to let everyone know that you're a great dog owner and they should be too!) and another that shows your support for Planet Dog, a cool company that produces some great dog gear. Additionally, I love that a percentage of every purchase goes toward providing cash grants to programs that support working dogs. Find out more at

Prize package #3
Prize package #3: T-shirt and toys
This package of dog-oriented gear has something for both you and your pooch. For you, there's a light blue t-shirt by (size medium) featuring a pug face that says "Neighborhood Watch." I've also tossed in a set of playing cards for the canine aficionado. Made by Laurence King Gifts, the Dogs: Best in Show trump cards feature dog breed illustrations and instructions for a lighthearted card game. For fido, there's a glow in the dark bouncy ball by Planet Dog. The ball is buoyant (for those water dogs), non-toxic minty. My favorite part — it's also made in the U.S.A.

Prize package #4
This prize is no longer available!
Prize package #4: T-shirt and bath products
Get the same "Neighborhood Watch" t-shirt as in prize package #4, except in a dark blue color. The shirt features the image of a pug, size medium, and is made by This package also includes an assortment of canine bathing products by Furminator, the maker of the ultimate dog de-shedding brush. Products include a waterless de-shedding shampoo as well as a regular de-shedding shampoo and an additional de-shedding solution for use during bath time. As an extra, I've including a sticker that can be placed on a window on your home to alert firefighters or emergency professionals that there is a pet inside — so important to have in case an emergency ever happens.

Prize package #5
This prize is no longer available!
Prize package #5: Canine clean-up products
Made by Purina, this handy kit is perfect for the new dog owner. Kit includes training pads (more commonly known as "pee pads") as well as a pet stain and odor eliminator solution. My favorite in this kit is the super-sized lint roller — unless you own one of the rare non-shedding breeds, these things are a must in a dog owner's household and, in my opinion, is one of the few items we Americans should be proud to have super-sized.

Prize package #6
Prize package #6: Calendar and coffee table books
Get a darling calendar (yes, it's for 2012. I'm late. But you can still enjoy this calendar for the bulk of the year!) based off the book Unlikely Friendships, which is all about — yep, you guessed it — documented cases of unlikely friendships in the animal kingdom. Also included in this package is a set of two adorable hardcover coffee table books: Puppies in 3D and Kittens in 3D, both by author Yoneo Morita. Every guest will enjoy picking up these books to browse through beautiful photos depicting our most-popular pets in their cutest form — as babies.

Prize package #7
Prize package #7: Crochet projects for dog lovers
These two books are called "Ami Ami Dogs: Seriously Cute Crochet" (get volume 1 and volume 2) and I must admit, there are some seriously cute patterns included in this book. The paperback books by Mitsuki Hoshi introduces readers to various techniques of Amigurumi, the Japanese art of crocheting stuffed animals. Both books have patterns for 12 breeds ranging from labradors to Bernese Mountain Dogs, Dalmations, poodles and more.

You may also choose from the following selection of books:  

Book 1 — Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog
By Garth Stein, this is a special adaption of the New York Times best selling adult novel The Art of Racing in the Rain. (paperback)
Description included on book: "Meet one funny dog — Enzo, the lovable mutt who tells this story. Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: most dogs love to chase cars, but Enzo longs to race them . He learns about racing and the world around him by watching TV and listening to the words of his best friend, Denny, an up-and-coming race car driver, and his daughter Zoe, his constant companion. Enzo finds that life is just like being on the racetrack — it isn't simply about going fast. And, applying the rules of racing to his world, Enzo takes on his family's challenges and emerges a hero."

This prize is no longer available!
Book 2 — For the Love of Dogs: An A-to-Z Primer for Dog Lovers of All Ages
Written by Allison Weiss Entrekin. Illustrated by Mark Anderson. (hardcover)
Description included on book: "For the Love of Dogs explores our canine obsession in a fresh and humorous way, using all 26 letters of the alphabet accompanied by rhymes, colorful illustrations and informative text. The result is a tribute to pooches that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. From barking beagles to dashing dachshunds, many of our favorite breeds are featured on this book's colorful pages. And because I is for 'Instincts' and O is for 'Obedience,' readers will learn about some of the traits that make dogs such fascinating friends."

This prize is no longer available!
Book 3 — Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors into a Family
By Glenn Plaskin. (hardcover)
Description on press release: "In KATIE, Plaskin tells the moving story of what happened over a period of sixteen years up and down his long hallway, his astutely-intelligent dog Katie, leading him to discovering an entirely new "family" in his New York City apartment building. At a time when people often feel estranged from their neighbors, this book is an affirmation a family is anything you want it to be, and that you might find a new one when you least expect it."

This prize is no longer available!
Book 4 — Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family — and a Whole Town — About Hope and Happy Endings
By Janet Elder. (hardcover)
Description on press release: It is "the kind of simple yet compelling, spirit-lifting tale that cannot be dismissed as merely another 'dog book.' It is more than just a story of one family going against the odds to find their lost puppy; at its heart, Huck is a story about the boundless love parents have for their children and the instinct of people to open their hearts to strangers in need. It is a story that you will have a hard time putting down or forgetting."

Book 5 — Roam
By Alan Lazar (hardcover)
Description on press release: "A beagle/poodle mutt named Nelson finds a happy home with a newlywed couple, Katey and Don. But when in trouble sets in, Nelson senses something wrong, and soon follows his nose outside of their yard and into the world. Over the course of eight years, Roam follows Nelson as he crosses the country searching for a way home, meeting people and animals along the way who teach him life's most valuable lesson. Roam is so much more than the story of a dog. It is an eye-opening look at the human condition."   

Book 6 — Hooper Finds a Family: A Hurricane Katrina Dog's Survival Tale
By Jane Paley (hardcover)
Description on press release: "He's endearing. He's funny. He's a survivor. In this moving tale of adventure and triumph based on a true story, a lovable yellow lab named Hooper tells his own dramatic rescue tale of being left homeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and taking a daring trip from New Orleans to New York City to meet his new family. He tells of the terrifying force of Katrina, his trials in the shelter, and being the new dog on the block in a city far from home. Hooper Finds a Family is  tale of survival that is sure to resonate with young readers and dog-lovers of all ages from New Orleans to New York City and beyond."

Book 7 — Ivan! A Pound Dog's View on Life, Love, and Leashes
By Tim McHugh (paperback, advance reading copy)
Description on press release: "What makes this book important is that it provides a voice for adopted dogs ... This book is similar to The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Dog's Purpose, in that it is told from the perspective of the dog. Ivan tells his story and that of his adopted family on his quest to answer the central question of life: why is he here? With optimism and insight he gives us all a great sense of appreciation for all that we have in life."

Friday, March 9, 2012

If the dog likes you, I like you

Dog owners are famous for letting their dogs have an opinion about people they meet.
"He just didn't like George," one woman might say to her friend about last night's date. "He wouldn't go near him, and you know, to be perfectly honest with you, I just had this feeling that something wasn't right about the guy." Do dogs have a sixth sense about people? My answer is no.
Does this make your dog less trustworthy as a judge of character? My answer, this time, is only slightly different — mostly no.
Alexandra Horowitz in Inside of a Dog brings up the story of Clever Hans the famous counting horse. There was a horse, a long time ago, who was said to be able to do math. He would tap out the answers to math questions and always got the right answer.
Clever Hans, the famous counting horse
Eventually, it was realized that the horse did not know the answers to the math questions, but he was simply reading the response of the human asking the question to figure out when to stop tapping. Not even the horse's owner realized this was taking place, because he was blissfully unaware of the tiny body language signals he gave when the horse reached the right answer.
What we have to take from this as it relates to your dog's ability to judge the character of others, then, is that there's always the possibility the dog is not making a judgment of the other person as much as he is picking up on cues you're giving about how you feel about that person.
Perhaps in the example I started with, the dog owner was the one who had a bad feeling about the guy and the dog, an excellent reader of human behavior, particularly its owner's behavior, picked up on it.
This is called the confirmation bias. Horowitz writes: "Dogs become amplifiers of our own beliefs; we can attribute to them that which we think ourselves."
After all, how often do you hear people say, "My date last night was amazing, I've never met such a wonderful man before. But the dog didn't like him, so I'm not going to see him again."
You just don't hear that.
Now, let's return to the idea that dogs are excellent readers of human behavior. They are.
Dogs study us and they learn a lot about us, particularly our body language.
Horowitz writes: "We all have characteristic behaviors we display when angry, nervous or excited. 'Untrustworthy' people often glance furtively in conversation. Dogs notice this gaze."
So, could your dog be able to pick up on who is good, and who is not?
Probably. But the point is, if your dog noticed, you probably noticed it too. Humans just don't always consciously process why we get these feelings that we have about other people.
You instinctively know that darting eyes and shiftiness is body language that expresses some nervousness that essentially indicates the person has something to be nervous about, and therefore is perhaps lying or untrustworthy in some manner.
You just don't process it. You don't automatically think, "his body language is giving me a bad feeling." Instead, you just chalk it up to this feeling you had — call it a gut feeling or an instinct, whatever.
Your dog is seeing the same things you see, but processing them more directly. And he's also paying attention to you to see if your body language is confirming what he sees.
Can we rely on our dogs to be good judges of character, then?
Perhaps, but not because of some sixth sense. And their opinion can be very much influenced by yours, so a better option may be simply relying on your so-called 'instincts' in the first place.
Go with your gut.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part II

When we start looking at training as shaping our dog's behavior, it then makes sense to conclude that this shaping can happen at any time, regardless of whether we're actively trying to train a command.
As an example, when my dog was a puppy, I thought that there was nothing cuter in the world than when he laid down with his legs stretched out behind him in what many call the "frog-dog."
Sensi "frog dog" at 3 months old
Whenever he did this, myself and just about any human around noticed it. The action of frog-dog earned my dog attention, and positive attention at that. It drew humans to him, earned him pats and affection and sometimes, even treats.
Now 9-years-old (but with great hips; dogs with bad hips can't do frog-dog), he employs frog-dog whenever he really wants attention. Whether I've just walked in the door from work or he wants outside and we're not paying attention to him, he'll give frog-dog a try to see if it gets our attention. Because usually, it does, right?
We have unintentionally shaped that behavior.
Of course, timing is everything. Let's say that as puppy, instead of giving praise to frog dog right when he went into the position, I didn't notice until he started stretching his front paws forward in an army crawl type move.
The timing didn't teach him that just frog dog was a rewardable behavior, but that frog dog followed by army crawl is the rewardable behavior.
So he does it a second time and we reward him a second time, but what we think we're rewarding (frog-dog) is not what he thinks we're rewarding (frog-dog followed by army-crawl).
And if that was the case, I'd have a 9-year-old frog-dog-army-crawling pit bull rather than a just a frog-dogger.
So, keep these two things in mind — 1) Behavior can be shaped by your response to any behavior at any given time, and 2) Your success in shaping any behavior comes down to the timing of your response in relation to the behavior taking place.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Behavior 101: Shaping vs. training, Part I

When we say we've trained our dogs to do something, what we've really done is shape a behavior.
But most often, our idea of training is basic — I ask the dog to do something, the dog does it, I give the dog a reward — and misses some crucial steps along the way.
Sit is a great example of how we get started down this path of "missing something" in our efforts to "train" our dogs.
We almost instinctively take the treat in our hand and put it over our dog's head when asking him to sit. In an effort to keep his eyes on that treat, the dog will sit down so he can lift his head more vertically to do so. And voila! You've got a sitting a dog.
So you're led to believe there's little more to it than that. You don't really think about how the placement of your hand may have prompted the behavior and the fact that your dog is not immediately associating the verbal command with the action of sitting.
You just kinda assume that dog training really can be that easy.
But, how would you, say, train a dog to do something more complex, like roll over?
If your answer is to keep asking your dog to roll over until he just does it, good luck.
More likely, you'll start by asking your dog to do something he already knows how to do, like lie down. Good first step.
Now, do you reward him for that? Do you wave the treat around hoping he'll flop his body over? Do you get down on the floor and start flopping around yourself in hopes he'll learn by observation?
You can roll over all you want, but chances are, your dog will just look at you like you're slightly odd today.
Any training begins with shaping, whether you realize it or not. The more complex a task you're trying to teach a dog, the more shaping you're going to have to do.
When trying to teach a roll over, you do want to begin with "lie down" considering your dog knows that command. Go ahead and reward him.
Now, you start rewarding for any little movements that are in the direction of a roll-over. Maybe he shifts his weight so he's lying more on one side than another — good, reward it. It's a step in the right direction.
And that's what shaping is all about, rewarding steps in the right direction and then rewarding steps that are better than the rest.
Here's how Jean Donaldson, author of Culture Clash, put it: "Shaping is technique which involves rewarding the dog's best efforts and then gradually raising the standard until the behavior is as you wish."
The most common mistake made during shaping, she says, is that the standard for a reward is set too high and behaviors that are on the right track are ignored.
With our roll-over example, then, perhaps you missed that first step in the right direction — rewarding the dog when he shifted his body to one side while laying down.