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The Best Laid Plans: When Life Doesn’t Go According To Plans

The Best Laid Plans: When Life Doesn’t Go According To Plans

Regular readers know that Mela the Chow was added to my household in late November. We had been on the lookout for a female addition once I felt comfortable adding to my household, after losing my sweet Siri. It seemed an act of the universe to find Mela in the manner that I did. Surely that meant that all would progress smoothly?

Not really. The world is not a vacuum and although some scenarios seem artfully arranged by the universe, that is not an excuse to believe that said scenarios will be problem free. Such was the case with adding a high energy dog that was to be the playmate for Kenzo, who was desperately missing his playtime.

Kenzo is slowly recovering from his ACL surgery.

Kenzo is slowly recovering from his ACL surgery.

As the fates would have it, just one month into Kenzo feeling enough kinship with Mela to engage in regular evening play, he tore his right ACL. The scream was telling, during the second yard play session of the first snowfall in my area. My heart stopped as Kenzo ran towards the stairs leading to the house from the yard and I hoped against hope that it was just a sprain. But I recognized the particular limp and the look on his face. I immediately called my vet for a referral to the specialty hospital in my town, so that I could secure an appointment with the surgeon who performed the previous ACL tear.

All I could think about, aside from the pain that he was enduring, was how on earth was I going to maintain their relationship during this tribulation? And how on earth was I going to keep Mela mentally stimulated enough without Kenzo’s assistance? This has proven challenging at best.

Mela could not immediately grasp why her new friend would not engage in play with her, when he had been doing so, with an eagerness, every night for the past month. It was a case of a young child not understanding what the older child was trying to say. I had to run interference several times a day, to prevent Kenzo from getting frustrated enough with her to lash out and to prevent her from injuring him further.

With little success, I tried to orchestrate the act of playing while lying down, which Kenzo was game for but Mela did not understand. They could have continued to play tug quite happily with Kenzo in a prone position. He did try to engage with her in that way and I tried to support that engagement. But Mela quickly went back to what Mela likes best, which is rough and tumble physical play. That was out of the question for Kenzo for quite some time.

It was a rough initial month after the injury, while waiting on the surgery date. With passing time, Mela understood that Kenzo was no longer interested in play but what was confusing to her was that it was evident that the spirit was willing but the body was unable, at least for now. On one day, with the pain dulled by pain killers, Kenzo did offer her a return play dance but I had to quickly intervene before things were made worse.

Fast forward to the surgery that has finally happened and things are moving along well. She now fully understands that he was somehow broken and now has been fixed but is still on the mend. She seems to know that play will again be in their future and for that, I am grateful. She is starting to try and engage him before he is cleared for play. That won’t happen for another month at least, but she at least finally seems to understand that the problem isn’t mental but physical.

As for what I have done to try and entertain her while he has been laid up, there are a number of things, none of which have been fully good enough, I fear. She and Trent have vastly different play styles and although he has shown some brief play while on leash during their now joint walks, that hasn’t transpired for more than a few seconds.

As for walks, until recently in Kenzo’s progress, the walks just consisted of just Mela and Trent. Crittering is Mela’s very favorite thing on this planet so crittering is what happens on most walks. What that entails is them deciding on where we walk, leading the way. They both get far more smells under their respective belts now. My goal is mental weariness from these walks so they are lengthier now and they were lengthy before! They all are getting quite a bit of mental stimulation in the way of puzzle toys in the house.

Mela has a favorite game in the yard that involves crittering as well. She stalks whatever critter that lives under my pool deck and follows it’s scent all over, ending up waiting by the lattice under the deck for him or her to make a move that has yet to happen. And of course, we play with toys in a seemingly endless manner, because Mela could play for hours.

Now that Kenzo is in the rehab portion of his recovery, he has started joining us on walks. But rather that enhance those walks. It shortens the conjoined ones. So I walk them all together for the equivalent of two city blocks. Then weather permitting, Kenzo goes back into the car and I walk Mela and Trent on another much longer walk. This seems to help Mela to relax far more than anything else does.

As for me, the extra walking is hopefully assisting with my spring weight loss goal. I count down the days until Kenzo gets cleared for not only longer walks, but actual playtime. I expect that both he and Mela feel the same. I look forward to the day that I can smile watching them reconnect with play.

Please feel free to tell me your own recovery stories with your own multiple dog crew below. I need ideas!

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An Addition to the Crew: Meet Mela!

An Addition to the Crew: Meet Mela!

I can’t pinpoint why the picture of a beautiful cream colored dog looking worried in someone’s car caught my attention, but I am very grateful that it did. I have been searching for an addition to my crew since a few months after losing Siri. We miss her every day but the sadness in my house was palpable. No playing, little in the way of smiles and just a lot of going through the motions without much enjoyment. I had talked to a couple of people about dogs fitting the general outline of what I was looking for and even arranged to meet a couple. The meetings never came to fruition for various reasons. There had not been a spark of recognition like I felt when I saw that picture. I like to think that fate intervened. The right dog was out there waiting for me. I needed her and she needed me.

Thankfully, my search onto the local lost and found dogs Facebook groups resulted in seeing the picture of the dog that would become Mela. I read through the thread and discovered that this beautiful Chow girl had been captured in a rough part of town by a good Samaritan. A call to Animal Control resulted in undesirable answers. She had been evidently running the streets for a couple of months so AC did not think that an owner was looking and that gave her very limited time in an ACO facility. This good Samaritan put out a plea for assistance on social media and one of my good friends came to the rescue. She came to take her until she could be transported to a local shelter that would care for her properly. I saw on the thread that my friend had her at the moment. I immediately texted her and asked with baited breath, whether she was friendly with other dogs.

My new addition, Mela,  feels safe at last.

My new addition, Mela, feels safe at last.

The ride to the shelter the next morning revealed her practicing avoidance with my friend’s dogs, along for the ride in the car. This was a good sign! The next step for me was sending messages to the three people I knew who worked at that shelter. I was invited to come down and evaluate her myself. She was not showing any concerning signs at the shelter other than being very scared. We spent some time in the shelter’s play yard. She appeared to be very housetrained as well as knowing how to offer some behaviors such as sit and paw. An interesting development since she had been on her own in the world. I excitedly stopped by soon afterwards and met her. I found her far more welcoming than I expected.

I soon brought Kenzo down to meet her. That meeting went well, although not as smoothly as I had hoped. Kenzo is extremely dog friendly, but his sheer size is imposing to so many dogs. Mela was in a precarious situation, not knowing what would come next in her life. Having spent a couple of months on the streets of a not so friendly town, she had learned to be very wary. Some very appropriate mutual sniffing was exchanged. Kenzo tried to show her he was interested in playing but she was ready to correct him if he should act inappropriately. I saw her get ready to correct once and then stem that urge when she realized that she had no reason to. She was obviously very savvy at making assessments, a skill that had served her well in her time on the streets.

After the meeting with Kenzo, I made the decision to get her a few days before Thanksgiving, as a foster to adopt. I wanted to make sure that everyone could be comfortable enough together before I made a full commitment. I could not even imagine that this could go wrong but my first loyalty had to be to Kenzo and Trent.

Kenzo wasn’t very polite over the baby gate when I arrived home and let him and Trent out. Trent was his usual self which is initially rude to other dogs. Eventually that day, I had them in the yard all together as comfortably as expected. Kenzo and Mela shared some sniffing and even the water bowl. But Trent had no interest in camaraderie.

A couple of days later led to a joint walk that was very successful. I was also now able to walk out of the room without worrying what might happen if I left them all together. However, Mela followed me anyway so that was a moot point!

Kenzo spent some time wavering back and forth between jealousy at sharing me and “his” things versus delight that he had a playmate. Never mind that the playmate was still not comfortable with his size and although very interested in playing, conflicted with his Jekyll and Hyde persona. He growled at her periodically when she approached the water bowl or some toys. He soon realized that behavior was not going to be supported by me or even by himself if he ever wanted her to trust him.

Fast forward about two weeks. While I would not call them best buds yet, they are definitely more comfortable with one another now. Mela has taken to prodding Kenzo to play from a frontal position as opposed to from behind. And he gets credit for exercising a huge amount to bite inhibition while being very tolerant of her very assertive play style that includes coming away with the occasional mouthful of Kenzo fur. She is learning what constitutes a too enthusiastic playbite, thankfully.

Mela’s addition to my crew feels like fate. I look for that feeling when it’s time to add to the family. I am glad that I did not rush things and waited for the right dog to find me. Tell me in the spaces below, how you make the decision to add to your crew?

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The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

The Chosen Ones: Breeder, Rescued or Both?

I feel like I am about to write about politics or religion or something equally controversial. This subject is so volatile, that I expect to lose a reader or two and probably be called some names that won’t make it to the comments section. Asking my Facebook page members where they got their dogs and why, resulted in more than 5000 people seeing my question and more than 100 responses. Surprisingly, I only had to delete two of those responses. I appreciate the tempered opinions on what is such an emotional subject. So I write this with full awareness.

Until the last not quite three years, all of my dogs have been rescues from various sources. I even ran a Doberman rescue for many, many years. But as regular readers know, after losing my heart dog, Merlin, I got the opportunity to be gifted with a wonderfully bred dog now known as Kenzo. You can read about that here if you so desire: Introducing Kenzo. So I fully get the emotional response that such a subject brings to those passionate about rescue. But despite the fact that rescue has always been a part of who I am, I have never accepted that all breeders should be painted with the same brush. Running a purebred rescue, I never viewed responsible breeders as the enemy because I met some of them. Responsible breeders are who started most original purebred rescues to help save the creations of their not so responsible counterparts. Despite what some of you believe or have read, responsible breeders are not the cause of shelter dogs dying no more than being a cat person is. It’s an absurd idea that needs tossed to the curb.

Adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter or a re-homing situation is an honorable action. As I mentioned, all of my canine kids up until Kenzo have come to me via varying rescue situations. I took in my first dog, Samantha, from a past friend who got a puppy at the same time as having a baby. Layla, my second dog, was found wandering the streets and rescued by my neighbor’s child, while I was still mourning my first dog. When no one claimed her, I gratefully called her mine. Merlin and Kera were both adopted mere months apart from the shelter at which I spent much time volunteering. Siri came to me as a foster puppy who never left, one of seven rescued from the irresponsible owner of a purebred dog who had an “oops litter” with the neighbor’s dog. Trent belonged to someone I knew who sent him into a rescue of my suggestion, when a baby’s allergy made keeping him impossible. The rescue turned out to be a hoarder and he came to me, never to leave. I have personally fostered literally more than a hundred dogs. Some ended up becoming family, even if for a short time. Damon, who my Doberman rescue was named for, was my foster failure for almost a year before I lost him to Wobblers.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

From the front, left to right: Luigi, Miley ( GSDX Rescue ) Gianna, Chesney and Denzel. Photo courtesy of Suzy Augello.

I will always have a rescued dog, very likely several rescued dogs. I love making a connection with a dogs who need help and watching them blossom with love and proper care. It’s an amazing feeling. If I had more humans in my home and more money and more time and more space (don’t we all say that?), I would have far more dogs than I should. Facebook shares are hard on the soul, with all the dogs in need. But my first responsibility is to my current dogs and I would never add a family member that would cause them too much stress. Read more on that subject here. The fit should be appropriate so that responsibility limits my desires. When the time comes, I will be on Petfinder looking for my next crew member.

Every dog person I know has a bucket list of dogs that they want to “have” before they die. I have not fulfilled mine yet. So I won’t rule out getting another responsibly bred puppy at some time in my life. Despite what you hear some rescuers state, you cannot find every kind of purebred dog in a shelter or rescue. There are hundreds of breeds that many people have never heard of, who are never going to find themselves in a shelter. Someone wants those breeds and that is okay. Everyone has the right to choose the dog breed that feels right to them. Some people choose breeds for utility such as herding sheep, guarding livestock, helping to hunt, and even guide dogs. Working lines, as they are called, are bred for generations for their jobs. There is nothing wrong with that. Working dogs cared for properly are a joy to watch.

Responsibly bred dogs are not causing dogs to die in shelters. Irresponsible breeders and irresponsible owners are. Insufficient laws addressing breeding are responsible for the over-population problem in this country. Lack of education in proper care and training of dogs are among the many reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters or rescues. A throw away society that wants a quick fix is prevalent in the American culture. None of these reasons are conducive to long term commitments for the lifespan of a dog. Shelters and rescue groups exist because of the irresponsible and uneducated, not the responsible.

Stable temperaments and sound health are the hallmarks of a responsible breeder. Without them, the future of dogs is in jeopardy. Breeds that you know and love will cease to exist without responsible breeders. Learning how to identify responsible breeders and how involved they are in the lives of the dogs that they create could be a pleasant eye opener.

Buying a puppy from a responsible breeder should involve en extensive questionnaire. You will be thoroughly screened with references checked and multiple phone calls back and forth before you are approved. You will meet in person or see via Skype, the puppy’s parents. You will get the appropriate health testing information for the breed. You will get questioned on your lifestyle and whether you are a good match for the breed. The breeder will have an ironclad and extensively worded contract with requirements that you must meet for the dog’s lifetime as well as a requirement to return the dog at any time in his or her life, should there be a need to do so. You will be asked to contact them throughout the dog’s life for questions on diet, exercise, health and any other subject that you can think of that pertains to your choice.

This chart can help people understand the difference between the type of breeders that exist. Supporting the last two columns should be your goal. Support of the other types of “breeders” is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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At this point, some of my rescuer readers are probably wondering if the above is a commercial for breeders. Not at all. It’s simply an attempt to educate that responsible breeders are not the enemy. Backyard breeders, commercial breeders, puppy mills and pet stores that treat dogs like a commodity rather than living sentient beings are the enemy. Don’t confuse them with each other. The goal of humane educators should be focused on eliminating the need for the aforementioned sources of irresponsibly bred puppies.

Since I procrastinated while writing this blog post, I had the opportunity to be thoroughly appalled and disgusted at what was meant to be a Super Bowl ad for Go Daddy. This sad excuse of an ad portrays a “family” who sells puppies online, with no regard for who they get sold to. This is not a responsible breeder. See above chart once again. Because of the huge outcry from dog lovers everywhere, the ad was pulled. This shows you do have a voice. Use that voice wisely. Don’t generalize. Support responsibility on the part of breeders and rescuers alike.

That brings me to responsible rescue practices. All rescues and rescuers are not created equal. Rescues should have a thorough screening process, with a questionnaire, a home visit, behavior and medical screening and treatments before placement, as well as putting the utmost effort into making appropriate matches. A good rescue will also be present for you for the lifetime of the dog. Responsible shelters offer the same comfort. What rescues and shelters should not do is be too stringent so that good solid homes get turned down for reasons such as no fences, working a regular job, having children, etc. Obviously, some dogs will require a fence, some will require no kids, some will need more attention than others. But blanket statements and requirements that are rigid regardless of the validity of the home, help no one but irresponsible breeders. Then there is the opposite end of the rescue spectrum; the rescuers who screen no one, adopt out intact and unhealthy animals as well as those with unaddressed behavior problems to people ill equipped to handle it. Read more about that subject here: Saving Them All: At What Cost?
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Responsibility is important on all sides of this equation. The only solution to this is education. Make it your goal to know more and you will make more informed decisions. That is always going to be a good thing. Diversity is also a good thing. Allow people their individuality. Judgments on others for their choices won’t help educate. So leave your ego at the door and please share your story on your canine choices in a respectful manner. Rudeness will not get your comments listed. Thanks in advance!

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The Golden Years: Having a Senior in a Multiple Dog Household

The Golden Years: Having a Senior in a Multiple Dog Household

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This blog post is very late in coming. I have had a lot of upheaval in my life in the last eight weeks or so. With apologies to those who subscribe, it was not the fault of the holidays. My mother passed away very unexpectedly only two weeks prior to Christmas. My mother was a senior citizen and while human rather than canine, obviously, there are similarities in care of both species. So I am taking this opportunity to add some very personal experiences to this post. Having a senior canine in your life can add such joy but it can also be fraught with worry.

Siri just turned thirteen years of age just four short days after my mother passed away. Like my mother, her age really started to show about six months ago. She has grown increasingly confused about day to day situations, but thankfully has shown some improvement on that front with some natural mental clarity remedies. She is happy to comfortably rest for hours around the house now instead of showing Kenzo who the boss is. But make no mistake, if the big lug bumps into her too harshly, she will take some of that fuzz off of him in a heartbeat! Preventing the bumping into is my job, however.

Like my mother, who was in assisted living until about six days before her passing, Siri increasingly requires hands on care and attention. I help her up and down stairs. I also help her get up from a lying position, particular when she is lying on hard surfaces like the kitchen tile floor. Sometimes I have to repeat her name in order to help her remain focused on her task such as moving forward towards the door to potty. The comparisons are so similar with my mother’s increasing needs as days passed. The supervision required was more hands on, as it is now with Siri.

A multi-generational multiple dog outing

A multi-generational multiple dog outing

In particular, what I have realized is of vital importance is the need to keep the mind engaged. That goal alone can result in more animation in your senior regardless of the species. Siri cannot move around well enough any longer to engage in physical play. But she relishes her puzzle toys and her rolling treat ball. With her rolling treat ball, she actually motivates herself to stand longer than during any other activity aside from walking. It’s a joy to watch. She grins with happiness after during this. I noticed the same difference in my mother when she was engaged with something she enjoyed versus just sitting and watching TV. Engaging the mind does so much towards keeping the body functioning better. I am convinced of this.

It’s hard to watch the dogs we love get older. They never live long enough and we almost always outlive them. I would much rather bear the pain of watching them get older than having to leave them alone by checking out first. So enriching their golden years is such an important responsibility to me I hope that it is to you as well.

With a multiple dog household, there are special considerations for the safety of the senior members. Of course, individual requirements depend on the dynamics of each household. In my case, I walk all of my dogs at once. We go outside of my basic neighborhood to walk so leaving anyone behind is not an option and would stress Siri considerably. In the summer, we just took shorter and slower walks. The beginning of summer was when Siri really began to slow down. So we adjusted our walk protocol accordingly. None of my dogs enjoy the heat much anyway so it all worked out.

When the weather starting cooling off, we changed the protocol again. We routed a shorter walk for Siri, and then returned her to the car to rest, while I took the boys for a longer and faster walk. That worked out really well for all of us. Siri gets just enough of a walk to get some necessary physical exercise and mental stimulation. And Trent, Kenzo and I get needed aerobic exercise.

As mentioned, Siri no longer travels up stairs by herself anymore so that has been another adjustment. I support her behind while she heads up any set of steps, though here and there, she feels spunky and does the steps up to my bed on her own. She maneuvers down steps on her own, though her confidence level varies with the day so I typically walk with my hand on her or stand below her to boost her feeling of security. The protocol depends on whether we are descending inside steps or yard steps.

Most of the time inside of the house, both Kenzo and Trent are fairly respectful of Siri’s space, taking some care to not knock her over. But exiting the house into the yard and exiting the car can often make them forget their manners. We practice the Wait cue most of the time for these scenarios so politeness can be at a maximum. I use body splitting to prevent most accidental bumps.

They do look out for her well being because we are a family and families do that. I noticed that especially when a friend visited who had not been here before. Kenzo was a bit wary of this friend until he watched her help Siri move around. He clearly approved of what she was doing. But this kind of family atmosphere does not come automatically to all multiple dog households. As with human blended households, it is up to the decision makers in the home to set the standards and guidelines so that the crew knows what is expected of them. Consistency and guidance are your keys to success with smooth interactions. Keeping your senior engaged in the crew is a vital part of quality of life and enrichment. I hope to keep Siri around a lot longer before she goes to keep my mother company.

Feel free to share how you help your senior to feel safer, happier and more comfortable.

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We Are Family: Are Your Dogs Family or Pets?

We Are Family: Are Your Dogs Family or Pets?

I have always disliked that word “pet”. It implies a relationship of servitude. Such a relationship is unequal is an unpleasant way. The existence of an animal for the sole purpose of the human. That’s not why I have dogs in my life. I want a mutual relationship with my dogs. They get a say in their life. I am their parent. I am not their master.

One of Merriam-Webster definitions of pet when used as a noun is as follows: a domesticated animal kept for pleasure rather than utility. Further google searches for additional definitions might include the notation that the affection is typically returned by the “pet” to the owner. How generous of that statement as an afterthought! Choosing to share our life with dogs should mean that the pleasure of both parties is of importance as a standard.

I asked this question on the How Many Dogs Facebook page: are your dogs pets or family? I did not calculate percentages so this is only a guess, but approximately 98% said family without question. Some even questioned as to whether I was serious in even asking such a question. Obviously, the majority of that audience is not who I have to convince.

The concept of dogs as family is not easy for some to wrap their heads around. Old traditions die hard. The traditional role of animals in the life of humans placed the humans in what was once referred to as an alpha role. That perception of our role in a dog’s life has been displaced by science. There are plenty of people still willing to cling to that role, however. Bad information presented on unfortunate TV shows contributes to antiquated information maintaining a place in the public eye. This contributes to the unbalanced relationships that many people have with their dogs.

Dogs aren't left out when friends come to visit.

Dogs aren’t left out when friends come to visit.

In human families, those who are closest are not always related by blood. Close friends are often considered family and non-traditional nuclear families are more common than traditional ones (with parents who are on their first marriage to one another with only shared children in the home). Blended families are far more common in this modern day and age.

Dogs are part of a blended family. You choose them. Unlike blood relatives, you have made the decision to add an animal to your home. In multiple dog households, that concept is even more front and center. A cohesive household should be your goal. There are always going to be spats in a family. Love doesn’t prevent other emotions. Conflict is part of life. Your goal as a dog parent is to minimize that potential. Be the parental figure. You can read more about that subject by clicking here.

There are hundreds of multiple dog households with dogs who don’t get along. It happens, but this is not the scenario that this blog post is about. I don’t judge households like this as inappropriate. Keeping the conflict to a minimum and keeping everyone safe should be a goal in such households. How do you create a more cohesive family if your current crew is unstable? A blog post recommendation can only deal in generalizations. The number one answer is get a professional behavior consultant to help you. Failing that, be a strong parental type figure who creates boundaries and is observant and there for all questions and answers. Provide the information that is relevant, provide training for all dogs who need it, provide safety as well as all the other basic needs.

Families celebrate each other’s successes and share each other’s pain. Families stick together when it counts. Families have fun together. Families mourn losses. If your crew is happiest when everyone is together, then you have succeeded in creating a family. If your dogs greet each other after one or more having been separated for one reason or another, then you have a family. If your dogs look out for each other in some way in some scenarios and have jealous spats in other circumstances, then you have a family. Pat yourself on the back, hug your dogs (if they enjoy that!) and celebrate your family. Give them the courtesy of calling them family rather than pets. I personally use the word dogs rather than pets when applicable. I am the human, they are the dogs. Together we are a family. No pets here.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject in the spaces below.

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From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

From the Frying Pan to the Fire: Adding a Dog When Your Current Dog Has Issues

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you have a human child who is difficult, with a personality disorder that needs professionally addressed. Yet you haven’t had the heart to take that step. Your child is antisocial towards everyone but your own family, and at times even them. He is disruptive in school, openly hostile and pro-active about avoiding interactions and generally challenges any form of authority. Would you think it a good idea to suddenly decide to adopt another younger child to shower with affection? Would you expect the interactions of the new child and the troubled child to go smoothly?

Strangely, many people do exactly the canine equivalent of this. They are then vastly surprised that they have a problem on their hands. The expectation is that if you have two of the same species in the house, they should automatically get along. Why? All humans don’t get along. It would of course be great if that were the case, but humanity has a long way to go before we get to that point.

No one understands more than I do the temptation to add another canine to one’s household. But even I did not reach this point without planning. My last “singleton” dog was adamant about remaining a singleton. I tried but at that stage of my training life, I was not skilled enough to “fix” her. Layla’s behavior near other dogs was fine. I “fixed” that very easily. She simply did not want to share her space with another canine and I respected that. She had no other issues. She was a delightful and charming dog, enchanting every human she met. Everyone loved her and she them.

Adding another canine to a household with a dog who not only dislikes other dogs but also most humans is a huge task to take on. Changing the behavior won’t happen overnight. There are no magic wands. Consistency and dare I say the word, leadership, are important. Because of my specialty, I get requests to help with such situations to varying degrees. I believe being truthful is important to achieving success. All family members must be on board in order for changes to take place. Realistic expectations are crucial and patience is key.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Teach delivers a correction to Tucker.

Managing the environment and setting each dog up for success is important. I often get asked, “How do I stop so and so from annoying so and so?” Easy, don’t let him in the first place. Setting up your household for success so that each dog feels safe and secure is important to success. Safety is high on the hierarchy of needs. Anxiety is off the charts without safety. The humans are in charge of safety. The dogs need structure, guidelines and safety. Rewarding for appropriate choices and providing an incentive for such will teach impulse control.

My job would be so much easier if simply integrating the dogs was my only requested task. Yet in so many of these cases, the resident dog in question dislikes all human strangers so that has to be addressed before I can even attend to fixing the dog/dog situation. I do have to get access to the inside of the house, after all!

In the worst scenarios, the owners have waited until the now larger and more confident dog has gotten fed up with the corrections he or she has endured at the paws of the older dog and has started to fight back. Get help before this point, please! Better yet, address your older dog’s issues FIRST, before you add gasoline to your fire. The amount of work that needs done once the deed is done is more than most people want to deal with. So do yourself a favor and think of what the resident dog needs rather than what you want.

If you lived through such a scenario, feel free to tell us all about it in the spaces below.

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Mythbusters, the Dog Training Edition: “Some Breeds Need a Firmer Hand”

Mythbusters, the Dog Training Edition: “Some Breeds Need a Firmer Hand”

Breed specific enthusiasts can have a narrow view on some aspects of their chosen breed. This is not limited to any one breed. I see it among many breed enthusiasts. Everyone wants to believe that their breed is more special than any other breed. So they say things like the above phrase to set their breed apart and in doing so, themselves as well. After all, they can handle this breed so they must be special too.

In truth, all dogs are special. There no need to make any one breed seem tougher than any other breed. To do so invites abuse of that breed in the name of training. This is unnecessary at best. It is a crime at worst.

Behavior is behavior. Modifying a behavior can be done with reward based methods regardless of the breed. Breed only matters in knowing where some behaviors come from and in how to redirect them more effectively. Of course plenty of breeds were bred for a certain job. Knowing what that job is and how certain behaviors fit into a breed trait are important considerations for behavior consultants. But that doesn’t change the methodology that one should use to modify errant behaviors that are unwelcome. There are plenty of choices on how to implement reward based behavior modification.

No force is needed to handle these two Cane Corsos.

No force is needed to handle these two Cane Corsos.

In fact, using punitive methods on strong confident breeds can create a time bomb waiting to go off. At some point, said strong confident breed will get sick of being forced and choose to fight back. Is this the kind of relationship that you want to create with your dogs? I sure don’t. All of my confident breeds have flourished when I finally got a clue with how to inspire them effectively.

Status breeds can often the choice of some people who want to use the perceived status of their dog to elevate how they are viewed by the world at large. Being able to “control” such a “tough” dog makes them tough. So they use methods popularized by a certain TV “trainer” with little background in dog behavior. These old fashioned methods have proven to be detrimental to having a trust based relationship with one’s dog. They also often create more aggression and a defensive state of existing in the dogs in question.

Among the fallacies I have heard are that Pit Bulls have necks so strong that they can’t feel prong collars and their jaws lock so that you have to be forceful with them in order to prevent that. Of course this kind of false information creates an adversarial situation with a breed already in a precarious position in the public eye right now. The truth is that this is one of the breeds that is the softest with humans. They are eager to please and take to reward based training very quickly. Thankfully most Pit Bull rescue and advocacy groups operate with modern methods these days, although sadly not all do. Do your research before supporting Pit Bull rescue and choose the ones who choose to train with their brains. Without that reassurance, you can inadvertently support very old fashioned methods that rely in abuse and call it training.

Dobermans and Rottweilers are two more breeds where you often see a heavy slant towards the old fashioned methods among their fanciers. Progressive owners choose positive methods because they work better without a need for manhandling one’s dog. Merlin introduced me to the Doberman world and fortunately for him, I wound up on the path to reward based training. I wish I could say the same for most Doberman fans.

Fortunately for Caucasian Ovcharkas, Kenzo’s breed, the original breeder in this country who wrote the book on the breed, was ahead of her time. Reward based training and even capturing, is mentioned in her book on the breed. Unheard of that decade, this is a boon to the breed. This breed tends to be the picture that shows up on the internet if you google aggressive dogs. Large and powerful, yet perfectly trainable with reward based training, once again.

The same is true of all breeds. Behavior is behavior. Expecting to have to be forceful with your chosen breed sets up an adversarial relationship from the start. This causes defensive behavior on the part of the dog and resentful behavior on the part of the human. If you choose to see believe that you have to use a hammer, you will see everything as a nail. Build a relationship, not a battle. If you have a breed perceived as “tough”, feel free share your reward based training path in the spaces below.

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Balancing Acts: Work, Play, Dogs, How Do You Fit It All In?

Balancing Acts: Work, Play, Dogs, How Do You Fit It All In?

Recently it was made clear to me that I had been neglecting my dog’s playtime. I had a friend come over to put my window air conditioners in and we had to go upstairs to my finished attic to get one of them. This also happens to be the location of my dog’s playroom. When that door opened, they were all up there in a flash. Even Siri, who often had to be persuaded and cajoled when we made this a daily event. I was chagrined.

It had been weeks, if not a month, since we had made the trip up there. Don’t misunderstand, we had most definitely played, but in the yard and in the living room. Those venues don’t generally invite the same intensity of play. And of course, we walk on a daily basis. But the attic playroom is where they are permitted to wrestle like idiots. They had clearly missed this time and I felt like a horrible dog mom.

I made sure that we headed up to that room two days later for a good hour or so of no holds barred play. Even Siri joined in and it had been a couple of months since she had shown an interest in joining in. She usually chose to lay on a dog bed next to me while watching. We stayed up there so long, that eventually Kenzo ran downstairs to get a drink. That was a rarity! I chose that as our cue to call it a day. I vowed then to not let life get in the way of play again. My dogs are only here a finite amount of time. I want to make that time memorable.

I see so many clients who confess to me that they rarely walk their dogs. But they make a point in telling me that they play with their dogs for hours in the yard. That’s great. But it’s not a substitute for getting their dogs out of their element. I wrote a blog about the importance of that, that you can read here in this website. My point here is about balance. Spend some of that playtime walking your crew outside of your own property. One method of stimulation isn’t enough. Playtime is aerobic exercise depending on how you are playing. Walking may be physical but it’s the mental factor of it that is important to your dog.

The crew in their playroom.

The crew in their playroom.

The playing portion is engagement with you as well as physical. I can see on my dog’s faces how happy they are when they get to really engage with one another and play unfettered. My mistake was trying to force that interaction daily. I was deluded into thinking they were no longer interested because I tried to enforce play daily. The true story was that they didn’t need it daily, Maybe your dogs do, maybe they don’t. I am certain that my dogs need a daily outing, away from our element. I need this as well. But they don’t need to wrestle like idiots daily. Younger dogs probably do. When Merlin and Kera were alive and younger, the crew played almost daily. But Kenzo is a low activity two year old. And Trent is nine going on ten and Siri is twelve and a half.

The message here is look for what your own individual crew needs. Look for balance. Make time for what they need. The time they have with us is limited. It’s not nearly as much as with the humans in your life. Before you know it, it’s gone. Life is hectic for most humans in this day and age. But I cannot think of a better way to slow it down than to force yourself to live in the moment for your dogs for some portion of every day. Take a realistic look at them and what their needs are. Carve that time out on a daily basis, some days more, some days less. You will be happier and so will they.

Feel free to share how you balance your dog’s lives. We all need fresh ideas.

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Graduation Day: Kenzo Transitions Out of the Crate

Graduation Day: Kenzo Transitions Out of the Crate

Today we folded up the crate and put it away. This was by no means an overnight decision. It has been on my mind but I had not taken any steps to start the process until a month or so ago. That was when Kenzo put his big boy pants on in a manner of speaking. He turned two years old. Coincidently he chose this same time frame to start protesting being crated when I left the house long enough for clients.

The routine up until this time had always been that Siri and Trent were loose in my bedroom and Kenzo was crated in the same room with that door closed. I have long since considered my bedroom the quietest and calmest seeming room in my house. Living in the city with guarding and guardian breeds meant that I tried very hard to reduce their need to feel that they had to guard the homestead while I was out. The bedroom has always been the logical choice to avoid the majority of the sounds of activity in my neighborhood.

Before Kenzo, Merlin, Kera Siri and Trent were loose together in that room for most of their life together when home alone. When Trent initially joined us, he was crated in that room until I was comfortable with their interactions.

For about the past year when I only planned on being gone an hour or two locally, I often left them all loose with the run of the entire house. I initially started that process with quick trips to the store down the street and progressed from there. That set up always went well, but my thoughts on that were that because they had the entire house to move around in, they were less likely to have any bad interactions between them. Kenzo would never harm Siri and vice versa but Trent is insecure and I wasn’t sure whether I was comfortable with them in less space when alone yet.

Trent likes to hang out upstairs a lot and Siri and Kenzo hang out in the kitchen unless we are all in the living room or bedroom. But when Kenzo initially refused to go into the crate after smacking himself in the bum with the crate door accidentally as I was leaving for a client, I was unsure how to handle it. He spooks easily about things like that and I knew he wasn’t going back in without some work on my part that I did not have time for at that very moment. So I settled on the whole house set up for the first couple of days. On day three, he again went into the crate but day four he said no again.

Day four gave me a new set up to try that I had been mulling over for several months. I left them all loose with access to both upstairs bedrooms and baby gated the top of the stairs. This solved the problem of the too close of quarters in the one bedroom for three dogs, with one male being twice the size of the other. And it also solved the problem of potential activity on my back porch where the mail and packages would be delivered, causing a need to guard the castle.

Kenzo in the spare bedroom with his Kong

Kenzo in the spare bedroom with his Kong

Kenzo automatically went into the spare bedroom to get his Kong as this is where he usually laid down while I showered. I gave the other two their Kongs in their usual spots. I had already set up another water bowl in the spare bedroom. I sprayed calming lavender essential oils and left many of Kenzo’s favorite toys and antlers out. The only thing that I worried about was Kenzo knocking the baby gate down to go downstairs. I needn’t have worried about that. Kenzo respects barriers. He also spooks easily about things such as that and if he had knocked the gate over, he would have steered clear of it and stayed upstairs.

So now we have a new routine and Kenzo no longer heads upstairs with reluctance when it’s clear I am heading out for a bit. They are calm and happy and this makes me happy. So the message here is integrating can happen easily if you take it step by step. Trust is earned. Good interactions between your crew members are crucial for such a step. Your crew must have some manners between one another before even considering something like this. Impulse control is key. As is trusting your instincts. Some households may never have the dogs loose together when home alone and that is okay. Do what is right for your own situation and you cannot go wrong.

Take a moment below to share how you handle your crew’s home alone set up.

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Better Living Through Chemicals: Why You Shouldn’t Rule Out Meds

Better Living Through Chemicals: Why You Shouldn’t Rule Out Meds

There is no doubt that there are many people benefiting from behavior modification medication. Lives have been saved. People are now leading productive lives when they were previously devoid of hope. Sadly, there are also probably nearly as many people misusing said meds. That is unfortunate but that doesn’t take away from the successes. Medication can get a bad rap. It’s overused but it’s equally underused. For as many people who are misusing it, I would venture to say that there are nearly an equal number who could benefit from it in their life.

Dogs are no different in this area. They can benefit as well. I can’t count how many times I run into resistance with some pet parents whose dogs are so stressed, they are not truly functioning. We expect so much of our dogs with what they “should” deal with yet we don’t see their pleas for help. If everyone had the ability to effectively communicate with their dogs, I have no doubt that the need for behavioral medication would drastically decrease. But the two way communication is lacking too much at this time to close that gap from education alone. Medication can be a real savior.

Image of Dover (white dog) finds peace in the crew with his meds. Dover is a white setter-like dog pictured laying down with 4 other medium sized dogs.

Dover (white dog) finds peace in the crew with his meds.

This is not to say that medication fixes everything. Not at all. The works still needs to be done. That’s where people like me come in. We teach the pet parents to read their dogs better, provide them safety and help them overcome or learn how to handle their fears and function better in their world. The medication, however, makes that path far easier in many cases. And in some instances, can mean the difference between retaining a loving home and losing it because of issues that are too hard to overcome.

My biggest frustration with this issue is when someone says that they want to try medication as a last resort. It shouldn’t be a last resort. If your dog has a physical ailment and needed medication for that ailment, would you withhold it to see if he could overcome it naturally? Of course not! Not if you are a responsible pet parent, that is! You wouldn’t give that a second thought, yet so many people are willing to let their dog suffer mental anguish when there is relief so easily accessed.

On the other side of this coin, just as in humans, are the pet parents who want everything fixed with a pill, without the modification part? There are no magic wands. Both have their roles to play. In most cases, medication is meant to be used to pave the way to better mental health. It’s not meant as a permanent solution. However, there are exceptions to this. Just as with people, there are dogs who simply have some crossed wires and are missing some vital chemicals in their brain. The medications supply those missing links and all is much better with their world because of them. These are the dogs needing seen by veterinary behaviorists who can give them the best of both worlds. My job is to determine which situation I am dealing with. In my own experience thus far, the issues have been environmental and adjustable.

The difference that medication can make in lives should be respected, not dismissed. There is a place for it. Balance is important. Natural remedies are crucial to many behavior modification plans but the use of one does not preclude the use of the other. I recommend both in conjunction with one another. I urge you to consider medication if your dog’s situation calls for it. It’s not a cop-out. It’s you respecting that your dog needs help. Feel free to comment about your own experiences with this subject in the spaces below. No judgments, only admiration for being open minded.

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