Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: The Babuska edition


YakTrax: A winter dog walker's life saver

This is my third winter with Dahlia.  The first winter I had her I discovered something about my neighborhood.  Many people don't bother shoveling their sidewalks.  This may not seem like a really big deal but trust me, when you're trying to walk down those sidewalks it's a really big deal.  Often I was trudging through snow a foot or two deep or walking on snow that had been unevenly packed down by many people walking on it.

And then the worst thing happens.  It gets above freezing, the sun comes out.  That snow melts a bit and then at night it gets back below freezing and all that water on top of the snow becomes ice.

The first winter I had Dahlia I slipped on that ice multiple times. I fell a handful of times, though I never really hurt myself.  The following winter one fall wrenched my ankle really good and while it wasn't broken or sprained, it was sore for a few days.  Another time that second winter I fell and landed with most of my weight on one elbow.  I'm sure I tore something in my shoulder on that one and I still sometimes get pain from that fall.  I've never done any major damage but I'm all too aware that it's a possibility.  Fall enough times and one time you will really hurt yourself.  The last thing I need is a broken bone!

Last winter when I was hobbling around a neighbor of mine said "You really ought to get YakTrax."  She told me they would make walking on the ice really simple and much more stable.  She hadn't fallen since she had picked up a pair.  I was skeptical.  Who wouldn't be?  I've been walking on snow and ice all my life with boots of various traction levels and none kept me 100% upright.

But I picked up a pair that was on sale at the end of last winter anyway.  I got them for $15 (they retail for $20) so I figured even if they helped a little bit, they would be worth the investment.

This winter I used them.  And I was amazed at how much they helped.  Since the snow began falling on December 4, my little city has gotten over 70 inches of snow and the sidewalks are covered with ice and snow.  My YakTrax have gotten quite the workout and I can tell you this much: I have not slipped or fallen, not even on the worst of the ice.

I do not get any money for endorsing this product.  This is just from one dog walker to anyone who happens to read this blog.  If you live in a snowy or icy area, get some YakTrax.  I just have the basic Walker model, but they also come in a Pro model for people who do running or spend more time outside and an Extreme model for people who go into deeper snow and harder areas.

You can buy them direct from their website or find a retailer near you that sells them.  Trust me.  You won't regret it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Snow days!

We have been inundated with snow where I live.  We're generally known for a lot of snow in this part of the country, but the past few days have been crazy.  Dahlia's been loving the snow, at least until today.  It's now taller than her in many places and even where it's not it's often still up to her shoulders.  Allow me to show some photographic proof of the insanity of our snow!

Here's Dahlia on Saturday.  This is the day the snow began to fall.  As you can see, there's not much out there.  You can still see the grass poking through and if you step on the snow, it melts it right away. 
Dahlia says "This is barely snow, Mom.  You shame your people by calling this little bit of white stuff snow."

Ok Dahlia...we can have some snow!  Here she is on Monday.  As you can see, the snow has risen quite a bit and there's no sign of the grass beneath it!
"Ok Mom, this is starting to look like snow!"

Here she is on Tuesday.  Getting higher!
"Mom, I can almost swim in this stuff!  Looking good.  You can turn the snow machine off now!"

Sorry Dahlia.  The snow machine is still churning. Here are some pictures from today.


David put her hat on! She is NOT amused.

Holy *bleep*!  Look at how deep that snow is! 

Dahlia is through. She got so sick of the snow, she laid right down in the middle of the road. She loves the snow but this is too much even for her.  And yes, that is the middle of the road.

One last try with the hat!
"Geez!  Enough with the darned hat!"

Bonus! Hershey picture! Hershey lives across the road (some of you might remember Douglas, Dahlia's "boyfriend" who passed away last year...Hershey is their other dog). Hershey likes to hang out outside while our neighbor shovels.

Wordless Wednesday


Monday, December 6, 2010

Just how much English can dogs understand, anyway?

I took Dahlia for a nice long walk in the early part of the afternoon yesterday.  We got back around 2:30pm and I thought perhaps that might be enough for her, especially as 6:00pm rolled around and then 7:00pm with no dog telling us she wanted to go out for a walk.

And then at 7:38pm, while I was resting comfortably in my recliner, wrapped in my bathrobe and electric blanket and ordering a few last minute Christmas gifts on my laptop, I felt like someone was watching me.

I peeked around the corner of my laptop and there sat Dahlia.  As soon as she saw me notice her, she sat up a little bit straighter and smacked her paw down on my foot.  This is, for those who do not know our dog, her signal that she wants to go for a walk.

"Not this late, Dahlia!" I cried.  "It's dark and snowing like crazy."

Her head cock to the side clearly said "Yes"

She hadn't done some of her...erm..."business" earlier in the day and so I assumed that she needed to go out and do this, so I stood up and told her, in no uncertain terms: "Dahlia, you better not drag me around the neighborhood and not poop.  In fact, if you need to, you better find a spot quick so we can get back out of the snow."

So there were two conditions that she must meet on our walk: (1) She must poop.  (2) She must poop quickly and not insist on a 45 minute walk just to find the exact right spot to leave her "present" (which will immediately get picked up and brought home with us unless she poops on the jackass's lawn who lets his dogs out so they can poop on other people's lawns).

Do you really think I expected her to understand what I said?  Of course not!  But what happened made me shake my head in amazement.

We headed out in our usual direction, took a left at the first block and then she did something unexpected.  Instead of heading down toward the park, she turned to walk around the block.  Just a short walk?  Around the block?  No way.  This never happens.  Not with my dog at least!

And then, even more amazingly, she found a spot right around the corner, did her business, and finished the loop back around to our place.  All told, we were out for 15 minutes.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I swear this dog understands every single word I say.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My dog is a quirky bitch

What IS it with my dog an the UPS truck? While on our walk last night we were passed by many cars and trucks. The FedEx truck went by. A least two full size buses went by. A bus for the disabled went by and that's about the same size as the damned UPS truck. But those? Ignored.  She didn't even look up as they passed us by.

But the UPS truck? Dahlia couldn't wait to get over to it. We saw the first UPS truck early in the walk. As soon as she saw the guy delivering packages and saw the truck, she rushed over and sat near it, leaning forward, ears alert. She just couldn't wait until he started the darned thing up. The guy looked at her and laughed. He's the one on our usual route and he's seen her do this before. So he started up the truck.

And what does Dahlia do? "BARK BARK BARK BARK!!!!!" And she raced after it like it was the best thing ever.

We saw the second UPS truck as we were heading back to our apartment. We ended up having to walk out of our way to go over to it.

Now Dahlia got close to it and she went into "creeping" mode as she came up along side it. She moved in slow motion, her body low, her eyes focused on the truck. She looked like these dogs in her movement. That's right...what makes my dog go into border collie herding/stalking posture? THE UPS TRUCK.

My dog is so weird.

So she slinks up near it and then lays down. She's waiting for it to start up. The UPS guy is still in the truck getting his packages out and he sees my stupid dog laying there staring intently at his truck and he gets out and offers her a biscuit. A plain old regular milk bone dog biscuit. Which Dahlia takes. She won't eat them if we offer them to her. But she takes it from this guy.


She ate the biscuit. Right down. I think she was biding her time because soon he came back to the truck and when he saw her waiting and excited, he started it up and took off with great flair (as great of flair as one can in one of those lumbering vehicles).

And what did Dahlia do? "BARK BARK BARK BARK!!!!!" And she raced after it like it was the best thing ever. Again.

But best of all! THE TRUCK PULLED OVER! OMG EXCITEMENT FOR DAHLIA!!! He had more packages to deliver down the road. He rushed out and delivered them all and by the time he was back, Dahlia was ready to go. He took off flying again and...once more...

"BARK BARK BARK BARK!!!!!" And she raced after it like it was the best thing ever.

Sadly for Dahlia, he continued on his way and we had to turn toward home, but she had a huge spring in her step and raced all the way back to the apartment.

Just what is it about those UPS trucks?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why the "positive only" community is losing to Cesar Millan

I belong to a community on Facebook that is there to debunk Cesar Millan's methods.  This community currently has about 4,100 members.  This seems fairly significant.  4,100 people devoted to positive training and to getting the word out that many trainers and behaviorists do not approve of Cesar Millan's dominance-based theories and harsh punishment-based training methods.  But when you compare this to the over 820,000 people that are in the group devoted to his show and teachings you realize there's a major problem.  Even Victoria Stilwell, TV's voice for positive training, has only a little over 27,000 members in her facebook group.

Positive training is losing.  Cesar Millan is winning.  This is a huge problem and I've been wracking my brain to try to figure out why people gravitate to Cesar and are devotees of his training but will not adopt more positive training methods.  After all, to those of us who use various forms of positive training, from clicker training to lure/reward styles, it's the most logical way to train.

It's based in science.  Operant conditioning uses the four quadrants (positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment) to influence behavior.  While all of the quadrants are valid and science-based, positive trainers focus on positive reinforcement (rewarding the desired behavior) and sometimes negative punishment (removing something the dog likes when he does something that is not desired).  It is not based on outdated dominance theories or the idea that one must be the "pack leader" (there has been much evidence today that dogs do not form packs like wolves do; for some good information on that check out Raymond Coppinger's Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution).

It's dog-friendly.  Positive trainers do not use things that will cause pain to their dogs.  The use of shock collars, choke chains or prong collars is not a part of positive training.  Because the dogs are never punished in such a way, they're often more open to offering behaviors and trying new things.  A "wrong" behavior will not received a painful shock or a leash pop and so dogs become more willing to experiment to find the behavior that will gain them the reward.  When you see a dog offering behaviors willingly and with great excitement, it's a reward all its own.

Positive training is hugely rewarding for both dog and human.  When I go into training my dog I'm excited and even better, she is too.  When I mention "doggy class" she dances around the apartment with a grin on her face and attempts to herd me right out the door.  For those of us who see that "reward" when we train, we can't imagine why anyone would want to train using punishment-based methods.

And yet Cesar Millan has a huge following.  His marketing machine is massive (I've seen his books and cardboard cutouts everywhere from Petsmart to Borders and I've seen him on such shows as Bones and The Daily Show; he even had a cameo on South Park!).  He's won over countless people to his way of training.  Hardly a day goes by when I don't read about someone attempting to alpha roll someone else's dog or using Cesar's "shhht" on a dog they meet at the dog park.  I see him consistently quoted in dog communities and the words "calm assertive" are seen almost as often as cries for help.  More people believe in the concept of the alpha than do not.

To those of us who train using positive reinforcement methods it is inordinately frustrating to see someone with such outdated theories, so focused on dominance, and using punishment to train having such a huge following.  It makes no sense and so we find ourselves shaking our heads and getting riled up in frustration.

So where do we go wrong?  Why can't we win more people over to our "side"?  I've seen a fair amount of people who have said "Wow I'm so glad there are better ways to train...I didn't like doing that to my dog."  But I don't see that nearly as often as "But Cesar Millan's methods work!" and a complete unwillingness to entertain the idea that there are other, more dog-friendly methods out there.

One of my latest conclusions as to where we go wrong is that, as a group, positive trainers seem to be a snarky bunch.  We see red if the name Cesar or the word "dominance" comes up and instead of stating why we believe positive training is a better method of training, we attack.  I've been as guilty of this as anyone else in the community, but I've been trying to make a conscious effort to take a breath and write more on why I think positive training is such a great thing and less on why I think Cesar Millan should be ripped apart by rabid wolverines (I jest!). 

But this is sadly not true of many in the community.  I've seen countless people join dog training communities and leave because of the attitude that was given them.  They made mistakes.  We all do.  But instead of people saying "What you're doing really isn't going to work and may backfire; let me give you some really good solid methods of working on this issue" they get rude responses and accusations.  They get told that they're harming their dog for life, that they are abusive, or that they should never have gotten a dog in the first place.  No one wants to come to a community for help and essentially be chased out by this sort of attitude.  And even worse, this is not going to convert them to positive training methods.

The problem appears to be that many people in the positive training community do not know how to relate to human beings.  We use positive training with our dogs, but do not use the same concept of positive reinforcement with people.  Instead we use positive punishment (positive punishment is where an animal gets a punishment inflicted when they do something we have deemed wrong; e.g. a leash pop for not staying in heel position).  If there are better ways to train our dogs, sure there are better ways to relate to other human beings than through the use of punishment?

So here's my challenge to the community: Think before you write.  Consider your words carefully.  Instead of punishing those people who you disagree with, try to reinforce those people when they do something right.  When someone is training in a way you don't agree with or cites Cesar as their greatest influence, count to 10 and then explain in a calm, rational way why you think that positive training is a better method.

You catch more flies with honey, after all.  You may not catch them all, but you might bring more people over to our side if you use honey instead of vinegar.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Living in a backward world

Some of the most common complaints I see on message boards devoted to dog behavior and training are the following:

  1. How do I stop my dog from jumping up on people?
  2. How do I stop my dog from getting up on the couch/chair/bed?
  3. How do I stop my dog from barking?
  4. How do I stop my dog from going to the bathroom in the house?

There are others, of course, but these seem to be fairly common complaints among dog owners.  When we agreed to get a dog, I assumed I would be dealing with these issues too.  They're so common that it seems pretty much every dog has at least one of these issues, if not all four.

However, Dahlia is Dahlia and she is not other dogs.  When we first got her she wouldn't get up on the couch or the bed.  We would pat the couch or the bed and she would just lay down on the floor.  Now, as we discovered, she would get up on them when we weren't home.  I once parked a few houses away from ours, sneaked up to the back window and looked in to see what she was doing.  She was sprawled out all over our couch.  By the time I went back, got the car, and pulled into the driveway, she was laying on the rug and then raced to the door.

But get up on the couch or bed while we were at home?  No way.  She wouldn't do it.  So instead of training her to get off the couch or bed, we had to train her to get on.  We did this by coaxing her up onto the couch and bed with treats of various kinds, rewarding her for getting up and staying up.  Now, some years after we first got her, she is at home on both the couch and the bed.  She does sometimes "ask for permission."  She will stand up, come to the couch, shake her ears for attention, and then stare at us expectantly.  When we invite her onto it, up she goes.  But most of the time, if no one is sitting on the couch. she hops up and curls up without feeling the need to ask for permission.

Another thing we noticed quickly about Dahlia: When we came home she was very excited to see us, but she didn't jump up on us.  Instead she wiggled about with all four feet on the ground and sometimes rolled over for a belly rub.  We decided that her jumping up on us would be occasionally ok, so we taught her to jump up on command.  That's right: we taught our dog to jump on us.  She only does it on command and only with us.

As for barking and house training issues?  Dahlia rarely barks.  If someone knocks at the door she gets up to go see what's going on without a sound.  If they ring the doorbell, she'll let out one woof and then go investigate.  We've never sought to teach her to bark more.  She also came with no house training issues.  Obviously we're not going to teach her that!

So it's a backward world here with Dahlia, the dog like no other.  When we first got her someone said "Are you sure she's a real dog?  Are you sure she's not a robot in a dog suit?"  Sometimes we wonder...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dahlia: A different kind of "bait" dog

Last night while out on our walk, we were just getting to the end of the street when this pit bull comes around the corner. He's off leash, no collar. He freezes. I freeze. I have no idea if he's dog or people friendly, but I don't want to leave him if I can catch him and try to find out where he belongs. It is, after all, going down to 29 degrees at night and this dog is slender and has a really short coat.

So finally he breaks the freeze and comes over slowly to greet Dahlia. Who is happy to see him of course.

They sniff. He's friendly and greets well. Dahlia decides it's "PLAY TIME OMG!!" and jumps at him. He jumps back at her. She jumps and play bows. And he play bows and takes off at a dead run away from us.

OH NOES!! My dog is always so calm and NOW she decides to play? And the dog takes her invitation and is off like a shot. He's gone in like 2 seconds flat. Down two blocks and around the corner. *smacks forehead*

I decide to go after him, hoping he'll stop and maybe I can catch up to him. While he and Dahlia were playing and sniffing I was trying to reach around and unhook her collar so I could put it on HIM. Obviously no luck there.

So I'm heading down the street in the direction the dog went when I come across his owner. She's out with collar and leash looking for him. Apparently Artie, the dog in question, leapt a baby gate while the door was open and got out. She didn't think he could jump the gate and her older dog, an Australian Shepherd mix never jumps the gate. Artie is a pit bull though and one thing I'm finding out about pit bulls: They are SMART dogs with an overabundance of curiosity. So he out he went before she could stop him.

I stop to chat with the owner for a moment and let her know which direction he has now gone in. She couldn't believe he ran not 10 feet away from her and she didn't even see him. But he's that fast. He really is. I'm always amazed at the speed pit bulls can run at.

She says "He always comes back when this happens." I'm thinking "Maybe it's time for a better baby gate?"

And then, lo and behold, he does indeed come racing back. She calls to him, he comes to us. And while he's stopped and again greeting and sniffing Dahlia, she manages to reach out and get the collar (with leash attached) around his neck. Artie is now safe.

Dahlia, rescuer of pit bulls*, has done her civic duty for the day and we were able to head home.

*this would be about the 5th or 6th time that she's played "bait" to catch someone's loose, friendly pit bull or pit mix. She's pretty darned good at it!

Wordless Wednesday


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On loving your vet and knowing your vet loves your dog!

Most dogs hate the vet.  At least, this is what we're led to believe.  And sitting in the vet's office, seeing the dogs shaking in their carriers, hiding behind chairs, and generally looking miserable, I can believe it.

Which is why I'm always so thankful that Dahlia can walk into the vet's office so calmly.  Granted, she usually hesitates at the door, but she often does when I'm struggling with a heavy door with one hand and trying to get her to go through.  She doesn't like the movement.  I think she's worried it's going to close on her.

We had to visit the vet last week as Dahlia has developed a lump between her shoulder blades.  First she was taken back for weighing and while she hesitates because she wants to stick with her mother, she went back easily enough.  The vet tech returned her to me and said "What a sweetie!"

The vet came in shortly thereafter and squatted down to talk to Dahlia.  She petted her for a moment and said "What a nice girl she is!" and then finally found the lump.  Dahlia stood there, patiently allowing her to move it around, feel around it, and generally check it out.  A fine needle aspirate was suggested and off she went to the back for that.

The vet returned with her and told me she was fantastic.  "She took it like a pro!"  She showed no fear, no stress, no worry, and happily accepted her ear scritches afterward.

While standing in the office paying for the visit and lab work, one of the techs came up to pet Dahlia, told me what a pretty and nice dog she was.  She asked if she could offer her a treat.  I acquiesced and she fed her a few small treats.  As she was doing it, she said "Wow she takes them so gently!"

I imagine that vets and vet techs often see animals at their worst: when they're in pain, sick, or just generally stressed.  Everyone in the office was completely enamored of Dahlia and it was so nice to leave there knowing everyone cares about her and thinks she's a wonderful dog.

She is, really.  Some of it is her personality, some of it is her training, but much of it, I think, is how secure she feels in her home.

The diganosis, by the way?  Benign, though removal has been recommended.  We may or may not pursue the removal aspect.  At this point, we're waiting to see if anything happens to it and waiting until we're done with our current agility class before taking it more seriously.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bad dog!

Dahlia is, normally, a good dog.  No, wait, normally she's a very good dog.  She doesn't destroy things.  She doesn't get into things while we're gone.  She's friendly and calm and sweet.  We can leave her alone in the house for a few hours with no problems.

But, like all creatures, she has her downfall.  That downfall is, of course, butter.

Yes that's right...butter.  That lovely, creamy, slightly salty substance that one would never imagine a dog could go ga-ga for.  But Dahlia does.  Which is why we try so very hard to put it away.

Last week, however, things didn't quite go as planned.  My partner cooked his breakfast and in his rush to leave the apartment to go to work, forgot to put it away.  This was, of course, exactly what the Butter Bandit was waiting for!

At some point during the 5 hours she was left home alone, she stole the butter.  Now, could she simply take it to the living room and eat it?  No.  That would be too easy for the Butter Bandit!

Instead, she took it into our bedroom and got on our (unmade) bed.  Somehow during all of this, she managed to cut her nose.  She cuts it every single time she steals the butter (which, according to photographic evidence, is about once every 6 months).  She then proceeds to track bloody paw prints all over the bed.  We found blood on both the top and bottom sheet and on all four pillows.  I have no idea what she did.  It's like she had a big butter-stealing party all by herself and raced all over the bed with her prize.

Our guess is that she cuts her nose in the attempt to remove the butter from the wrapper, which she is never successful at.  She ultimately ends up chewing some out of the side of it and then hiding it deep beneath my pillow.  When we arrive home, the cut on the nose is the first indication that something bad happened while we were out.

She is never punished.  It's our fault, after all, that the butter-stealing happened.  Instead, the butter is thrown out, the sheets changed, and Dahlia is given something more appropriate to chew on as she has to wait until the clean-up occurs before going on a walk.

So is my dog a bad dog?  No, not exactly.  But she certainly has her moments!

Wordless Wednesday


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Agility photos

This weekend was beautiful. Temperatures near 60, sunny. It was the perfect day to take Dahlia out and get some photos of some of her new agility moves. I only have one jump (which I bought from Affordable Agility) and a cheap tunnel (which I got off eBay for a whopping $24!), but that was enough for some good photos.  As the person who has been working with Dahlia in agility class, I ran her through the jumps and tunnels.  Photos were taken by my partner.

The first thing I did was to set Dahlia up in front of the jump. I turned around and saw THIS look. I'm so glad we got a photo of it.  Some people thought this look was disgruntled.  But it's not.  It's her happy excited, something fun is going to happen crooked "Elvis grin."  I often get it when I pull out treats or grab a tug toy to play with.
(The bottom looks kind of weird and crooked because one of the bars of the jump was there.)

Dahlia looks up at me while I get her into position.

We started with the bar fairly low. She had to jump, but it wasn't a huge jump.

She cleared it rather easily.



So then we raised it up quite a bit. As you can see, she cleared THAT rather easily too. Go Dahlia!

Then we pulled out the tunnel. It can extend to 18 feet and bend, but we're not quite ready for it to bend just yet, so we left it out mostly extended and straight.





We went back to the jump for one last try.


And then got this!

Awww Mom I'm tired.

After that, she just basically collapsed into a puddle of Dahlia and we packed up and headed home.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The HSUS Pet of the Week!

Dahlia is going to be the Humane Society of the United States's Pet of the Week this week.  If you already receive their newsletter, watch for her!  If you don't, you can sign up to receive it here.

I'm very excited to have my girl featured!

Adopting from a shelter, Part III: How did Dahlia fit with my plan?

I promised a third blog post on how Dahlia fit with my three-part list that I had made up prior to getting a dog.

Things I must have in a dog

  1. Size: Medium (30-60 pounds) ► Dahlia is 50 pounds.
  2. Coat: Long hair ► Dahlia is long-haired
  3. Behavior: People friendly ► Dahlia absolutely adores people and greets them all nicely.
  4. Behavior: Active enough to go on long hikes ► Absolutely
  5. Behavior: Rides well in the car as we like to drive to plenty of places to go hiking ► This was one of the first things I noticed about her.  Since I met her on a transport, I had her in the car for over an hour.  She settled down in the back seat and slept the whole way.
  6. Behavior: Affectionate ► Absolutely.  This dog lives for belly rubs. 

So how did we do?  6 out of 6.  Excellent!

Things I can deal with/bend on/work on
  1. Breeds: Prefer Herding dogs or Retrievers or mixes of those breeds, but willing to step outside that idea (especially to dogs like Poodles or Huskies) ► Dahlia is a mix of Border collie and some sort of retriever.  If I want to be totally honest with myself, I was unsure about getting a Border collie mix but it turns out that they are absolutely the dogs for me.
  2. Color: Would prefer a black dog as they have the hardest time getting out of shelters, but willing to adopt a dog of any color ► Dahlia is black.
  3. Age: Prefer 1-3 years old, but could get a somewhat older dog ► Dahlia was 2 to 2 1/2 years old when we adopted her.
  4. Gender: Prefer female dogs, but would be willing to get a male dog ► Dahlia is female.
  5. Behavior: House training issues ► Dahlia has no house training issues.  She never had an accident in our place.
  6. Behavior: Jumping/mouthing/chewing/general "unruly" behavior ► Dahlia did not jump on people and her only "unruly" behavior was a nipping at our heels when we ran away from her.  That was quickly stopped.
  7. Behavior: Dog aggression (I would prefer a dog friendly dog, but could work with a dog on this) ► Dahlia is not dog aggressive at all.
  8. Behavior: Afraid of children (We have none and will not have any, so this is not a huge deal, would work on it nonetheless) ► Dahlia is not afraid of children and, in fact, adores them.  She's quite popular with the kids in our neighborhood.
  9. Behavior: Poor leash manners ► Dahlia was leash reactive when we first got her.  This issue has been worked on and she's mostly good.
  10. Behavior: Bolting out the door ► Dahlia did bolt out the door once, but not to gain her freedom.  She wanted to stick by our side.  It was seeing this that made us think she could be good off leash.  She is.
  11. Behavior: Mild fears and sound sensitivity issues ► Dahlia is noise-sensitive and has some threshold issues.  She is afraid to go into some places, like our bathroom, for absolutely no reason and she has issues with going into places where things have scared her before (like the back of Petsmart because she had a bad experience with a groomer there).  All of this is manageable.
  12. Behavior: Digging ► Dahlia is not much of a digger, but will dig a hole under bushes in the heat.
  13. Behavior: High prey drive ► Dahlia has a low to middle prey drive.  She will chase squirrels, geese, ducks, and other small animals, but can be called off of these chases.  She does not see cats or small dogs as prey.
  14. Medical issues: Diabetes (my partner is diabetic; we're used to diabetes in our household) ► No.
  15. Medical issues: Deaf (we would be comfortable adopting a deaf dog) ► No.
  16. Medical issues: Epilepsy ► No.
  17. Medical issues: Skin issues/allergies ► Dahlia has issues with chicken-based products.  While not easily avoided, we have managed to do so.
  18. Medical issues: Mange (we have no other pets so there would be no need to quarantine; we would be happy to help a dog heal from this) ► No.
  19. Medical issues: Three legs ► No.

So really?  Not bad at all.  She has a few of the "can work on this" behaviors but fits much of the profile we were looking for.

As for the last list?  Dahlia has none of the things I knew I couldn't deal with in a dog.

So is Dahlia the perfect dog?  Of course not.  She has her issues (one of which is stealing butter every chance she gets), but she fit in almost perfectly with what we were looking for in a dog.  And we couldn't be happier with her.

I hope everyone who goes to a shelter or a rescue finds a dog that they feel this happy about!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Adopting from a shelter, Part II: My plan

Now, I will begin this with a bit of a caveat:  In the end, I did not get my dog directly from a shelter.  I had a list of shelters in hand, ready to head to as soon as I was ready to adopt a dog.  I had been looking at dogs on for ages.  And then I went on a transport and met a dog who was traveling from a shelter to a rescue and realized I had found the right dog.

So with that in mind, here was the list I had come up with prior to finding Dahlia:

Things I must have in a dog
  1. Size: Medium (30-60 pounds)
  2. Coat: Long hair
  3. Behavior: People friendly
  4. Behavior: Active enough to go on long hikes
  5. Behavior: Rides well in the car as we like to drive to plenty of places to go hiking
  6. Behavior: Affectionate

Things I can deal with/bend on/work on
  1. Breeds: Prefer Herding dogs or Retrievers or mixes of those breeds, but willing to step outside that idea (especially to dogs like Poodles or Huskies)
  2. Color: Would prefer a black dog as they have the hardest time getting out of shelters, but willing to adopt a dog of any color
  3. Age: Prefer 1-3 years old, but could get a somewhat older dog
  4. Gender: Prefer female dogs, but would be willing to get a male dog
  5. Behavior: House training issues
  6. Behavior: Jumping/mouthing/chewing/general "unruly" behavior
  7. Behavior: Dog aggression (I would prefer a dog friendly dog, but could work with a dog on this)
  8. Behavior: Afraid of children (We have none and will not have any, so this is not a huge deal, would work on it nonetheless)
  9. Behavior: Poor leash manners
  10. Behavior: Bolting out the door
  11. Behavior: Mild fears and sound sensitivity issues
  12. Behavior: Digging
  13. Behavior: High prey drive
  14. Medical issues: Diabetes (my partner is diabetic; we're used to diabetes in our household)
  15. Medical issues: Deaf (we would be comfortable adopting a deaf dog)
  16. Medical issues: Epilepsy
  17. Medical issues: Skin issues/allergies
  18. Medical issues: Mange (we have no other pets so there would be no need to quarantine; we would be happy to help a dog heal from this)
  19. Medical issues: Three legs

Things I cannot deal with in a dog

  1. Size: Giant dogs (no dogs larger than approximately 80 pounds)
  2. Size: Small  dogs (no dogs smaller than approximately 25 pounds)
  3. Breeds: No terrier/terrier mixes as they don't gel with my life; no short-faced dogs
  4. Age: No puppies!
  5. Age: No seniors...I'm well aware they need homes too but this is my first dog and I'm not ready for heartbreak so early on in getting him/her
  6. Behavior: Separation anxiety (I live in an apartment, this would be bad)
  7. Behavior: Fear aggression (my partner used to be afraid of dogs so this would be a bad mix)
  8. Behavior: Afraid of men (this dog is going to a home with a couple and again, with my partner being afraid of dogs I didn't want him to not bond with the dog right away)
  9. Behavior: Excessive barking (our landlord specified this one – if the dog is barking too much and neighbors complain we cannot keep the dog or have to move, so we need one who is not overly barky)
  10. Medical issues: Blind (my partner and I are too scattered with our musical instruments and books/papers from grading and class planning; it would be a poor home for a blind dog who needs things to stay where they are)
  11. Medical issues: Hip dysplasia (at a young age; obviously hip problems can happen when a dog is older, but would prefer to not adopt a dog who already has it)
  12. Medical issues: Heartworm (this can just be too heartbreaking to deal with; I couldn't deal with losing the dog so soon after getting it as the treatment can be rough)

A couple things to note: (1) This list is clearly not comprehensive.  There are many other behavior and medical issues one might come across with dogs in a shelter or rescue.  But these are either common issues or ones I took into consideration as I was making the list.  (2) My list of what I "must have" is fairly small.  My list of things I can bend on is the largest and my list of things I can't deal with is fairly large, but not as big as the middle list.

All of this was carefully considered before I even met Dahlia.

Coming up in the next post: How well does Dahlia fit with my original list?

Wordless Wednesday: Dahlia the Giant Tailed Butter-Herding Retriever


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Adopting from a shelter, Part I: Go in with a plan!

You have finally made the decision.  You're going to get a dog!  The first place you head out to is the local shelter and there you are confronted by dogs of all sizes and shapes.  

A tiny older Chihuahua huddles in the back of his kennel, looking up at you with big eyes.  "That one!" you think.  "I would love a small lap dog."

In the next kennel, a young pit bull jumps up against the bars when you get close, his whole body wiggling with energy, his tail going a mile a minute, flashing you that great big bully smile.  "That one!" you think.  "I love his energy.  I'd love to come home to that sort of excitement."

In the next kennel, a small Border collie mix is turning in circles, barking madly.  She hasn't even noticed your arrival.  "That one!" you think.  "She has so much energy and she's beautiful!"

In a kennel further down sits an old Lab, her muzzle grey, her eyes rheumy.  "That one!" you think.  "She's so sad.  She needs me."

Each of those faces, so very different from one another, are just some of the dogs you're likely to come across in a shelter.  There are dogs of every size, breed, and mix in shelters in America.  There are puppies, adults, and seniors alike, all looking for a great new home, all hoping you're going to be the one to take them home and love them for the remainder of their lives, whether it's 16 years or 6 months.

I will say this about shelters:  It is very easy to fall in love there.  But it is also very easy to fall in love with the wrong dog.

The wrong dog? you ask.  Is that possible?  How can any of those dogs be the wrong dog?  

According to the ASPCA, "More than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters adopted them from a shelter."   2 out of every 10 dogs left at a shelter were adopted from a shelter.  Obviously some families believe they are the "wrong dog" and return them to the shelter.

So the question is, how do you walk into a shelter and find the right dog?

When I was looking for a dog I used an idea obtained from a counselor who worked with people trying to find out why they hadn't found "Mr./Mrs. Right."  I found the idea worked just as well when looking for a dog as it did for a life partner of the human variety.

Take out a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns:

1. Things I absolutely must have in a dog.
2. Things I absolutely cannot deal with in a dog.
3. Things I would like/would not like but can bend on.

Items that go into these lists can include looks (size, coat color, coat length, etc.), breed or breed mixture, temperament (mellow, energetic, friendly, aloof, etc..), behavioral issues (fear, fear aggression, separation anxiety, jumping, mouthing, etc.), exercise requirements, animals or people the dog needs to be good with (good with children, other dogs, cats, etc.), medical issues (deafness, blindness, hip or elbow problems, diabetes, etc.), and anything else you consider to be pertinent to your life.

Once you begin to outline what you think the perfect dog for you and your family is, you'll have a much clearer picture of what you need and want.  Finding a dog to meet your needs if you are overly specific may be difficult (though not impossible), so think hard about what you absolutely must have or must not have before putting them in those categories.

When you go into the shelter with this list in hand and talk to the workers about the dogs in the shelter, you may be less likely to go home with that 80 pound Shepherd mix when you really wanted a 10 pound lap dog.

In the next blog post, I will offer up my original list and let you see how it matches up with the dog I ultimately ended up with.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's a beautiful thing (aka A little bit of Rebel)

Ever since I began agility classes at the place I'm currently taking classes at, I've noticed a change come over Dahlia.  It happened quickly and it took me by surprise.  She was never a timid dog, but she was a soft dog who was overly sensitive to certain things: being run into, loud noises, and dogs who wanted to play rough, specifically.

I had her for over two years before we began classes here and she had yet to overcome any of these things.  Some of that was because I simply allowed to it be.  I didn't work on acclimating her to being run into.  I didn't work on getting her used to loud noises.  And I kept rougher dogs away from her.

The first of the trio of "issues" she has (being run into) has been successfully solved through this class.  We got her so involved in tug that I started to incorporate running into her as part of the game.  We'd play tug for a time and then I'd step forward and run into her side, or use my legs to manipulate her side.  She would hang into the tug and growl and start tugging harder.  It was a signal for "amp up the play, girl!" and she took to it brilliantly.  Once she was comfortable with my running into her during play, I would begin to run into her on purpose and then offer her the tug toy.  She'd grab onto it and play.  Now she sees running into her as a signal to play and she is instantly up and excited.  If I don't have a toy there, she settles right down.  But she's not shutting down and that's the important thing!

The second of the trio I'm only beginning to work on more, so we'll leave that for another day.

It's the third of this trio of "issues" that is the real subject of this post, though seeing her play with the tug toy the way she has been is also beautiful in and of itself.  But this last one, playing with dogs who are rough, has been something that has weighed on my mind for some time.  Generally, interaction with a wrestle play type dog goes like this:

1. Dog approaches.
2. Dahlia gets super excited about meeting this dog.
3. Dog jumps on Dahlia.
4. Dahlia issues a pretty clear warning growl.
5. Dog either persists and gets more warning growls or the owner pulls the dog away because my dog is "aggressive."  (This depends on the person at the other end of the dog's leash.  More knowledgeable people recognize the warning.  Less knowledgeable people think she's starting a fight.)

I've gotten used to this.  I really have.  And I've explained to other people so many times that my dog "is really just a chaser and doesn't like to be jumped on."  I've apologized countless times and tried to explain to the less knowledgeable that "no, she's really not aggressive...this is just how dogs communicate."

Saturday morning before class we saw one of the other dogs approach us.  Rebel is a lab puppy who is approximately 8 months old at this time.  Dahlia has met him before and he has certainly gotten the warning growl.  His owner is, thankfully, one of the more knowledgeable people and recognizes that Dahlia is helping to teach him something.  On Saturday morning Rebel clearly had a lot of excess energy to burn because as soon as he saw Dahlia and I, he took a flying leap...straight up into the air.  And then he came bounding toward Dahlia, alternately leaping in the air and rearing up.

I was expecting to experience my list above, step by step.

But I didn't get that.

Instead, he immediately rushed up and jumped on Dahlia.  Dahlia backed up briefly, but then launched herself at him with a big excited growly play face on and leapt on him.  She just pounced, like she pounces on her stuffed toys.  He jumped back.  She rushed forward and jumped on him again.  And they briefly wrestled.

It brought tears to my eyes.  Yes.  For real.  I admit to being a complete sucker when it comes to my dog.  Any time I see her grow like this, I get all teary-eyed.  I told Rebel's owner that this was amazing and I'd never seen her do that before.

And her response?

"I guess all she needed was a little bit of Rebel in her life."

Yes.  I think we all need a little bit of Rebel in our lives!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday


The UPS truck

The walk begins and it's fairly normal.  Stop.  Start.  Stop again.  Sniff a lot.  Pee on bushes.  Sniff some more.  Start walking again.  Walks with Dahlia are fairly slow and this one is no different.

Suddenly she rushes forward onto the grass between the sidewalk and the road and sits.  Her ears are up and forward.  Her eyes are bright and focused.  Her whole body quivers in anticipation.  And that's when I spot it.  The Holy Grail of vehicles: The UPS truck.

It's sitting on the side of the road, currently driverless.  He's delivering a package in one of the houses nearby.  But this doesn't stop Dahlia from staring in excitement.  She knows what's coming.

The driver returns to his truck and smiles at the dog whose tail has started to wag, while the rest of her body remains in the seated position, quivering from barely-contained excitement.

He turns the key and starts the truck up.  VROOM!  It makes a huge sound, a gigantic thundering sound of what, to Dahlia, must surely be sheer awesomeness.  She jumps up and immediately starts to bark.  This is not a bark of fear.  This is not a bark of aggression.  This is a bark of pure joy!  Her face is set in a smile, her eyes are bright and excited.  As the truck moves off, she races on ahead after it, barking all the way.

When finally the truck has pulled further away than her leash will extend, she rushes back to me with a huge grin on her face as if to say "Mom, that was awesome!"  I squeal in delight, for I share her joy and love to see her like this.

And then she spots the truck parked further down the road.  Another package to deliver.  She races on ahead and looks back to me as she does so.  "Mom hurry up! We can do it again!"  I run with her.  Her excitement is infectious. 

We stop just slightly in front of the truck and Dahlia immediately goes into her sit, quivering with excitement yet again.  The whole process repeats itself until the truck has driven on, around the corner, and is no longer of interest to the crazy black dog who is left panting at the side of the road.

The UPS truck is endlessly fascinating to Dahlia.  Other trucks (including those of Fed Ex and other package delivering vehicles) are passed by with barely a glance.  Why the UPS truck holds such a fascination for her when the others do not will likely remain a mystery to me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The dog is back!

Every summer, David and I look at each other and say "I'm worried about Dahlia."  Why?  Because she's listless.  She lays around the apartment, looking sad and miserable.  She walks slowly, ploddingly.  We worry that she's getting older (we don't know her real age, though we're guessing she's somewhere between 4 and 5).  We worry that something is wrong with her.  She has little interest in exercise and would much rather just lay in the grass for a belly rub.  In fact, she usually looks a little like this.


But then there comes a time when I leave the apartment on a walk with Dahlia and she simply races down off the porch.  She'll stop and sniff and when I say "Are you coming?", she'll jump up from her sniffing and race on ahead of me.  Everything she does is with a bounce in her step and she's moving fast, excitedly.  She wants to run and chase and jump.  She looks joyous, thrilled with life.  Her face is set in a huge grin.


What has resulted in such an amazing revival?

The weather.

It's suddenly dropped to around 60 degrees for a high and Dahlia, ever the cold weather dog, loves it.  She'll be even more thrilled come winter, when she tends to get even more excited and get the zoomies.


Here's a little secret, though.  Her mother feels the same way.