Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What's The Best Way To Travel With Your Dogs?



My husband and I travel with our dogs a lot. We visit family, take little vacations and do sightseeing together. We’ve had Mocha four years now, and we’ve learned a lot about taking trips with our dogs.

When we first got Mocha, we tried putting him in the crate in the car. Well, he didn’t like that very much and would just bark at me from inside the crate. That’s a little unsettling when you need to drive six hours!

We realized that we couldn’t just leave him out on the seat to fend for himself while we were driving. The interstate speed limit is 70mph (can you imagine what would happen to him if we got in an accident?), and he’d thump face first off the seat at just about every stoplight. Plus, if we ever got pulled over or in an accident, I wanted him secured down so he couldn’t just run right out of the car.

The hovering car seat thing. It hooked into his harness. Mocha was really good at throwing up over the edge onto the seat...
Yes, that's the same dog...
We started out with this hovering car seat thing. I think he liked it, for the most part. Problem was, since he was up high and could see out the windows, he would throw up. A lot. Like, every time. And sometimes he’d throw up when we got to our destination too.

Then one time we left him hooked in there while we went in a restaurant to eat. (It wasn’t too hot or cold out, I promise, and he could see us through the back window the whole time.) Well, it got dark and he completely freaked out. From that point forward, any time we hooked him in that car seat he shook so hard his teeth chattered. (He’s a little sensitive…)

Then we got Ninja. Now there were two! They couldn’t both fit in the carseat, so we got them harnesses that clipped into the seatbelts. Mocha figured out how to slip out of that in about five minutes and Ninja would twist around so many times he couldn’t move, so that didn’t work.

Here’s our solution: We got a bigger crate and put them in it together while we travel in the backseat. It’s secured by bungee cords and has a blanket in it.

Mocha is calmer when they’re together. We tried separate crates and Mocha had a panic attack: panting, shaking, and drooling. It was bad.

See? Room for both plus a cozy blanky.




Why crate your dogs in the car?

An airbag will kill a small dog, just like it could injure or kill a small child. If you drive with your doggie on your lap or in the passenger seat, you risk them getting really hurt or even killed if that airbag goes off.

The crate keeps them safer if we get in an accident. It’s protection for them and peace of mind for us. They have a little bit of protection in the crate, and they also can’t be ejected out the window or thrown off the seat. Also, if we get stopped by the police or open a car door, we don’t have to worry about them bounding out.

What if my dog freaks out?

Start with small trips to somewhere fun. If the only time you put your dog in the crate in the car is to go to the vet, they’re going to be upset. Go across town with your dog to see friends or to hike.

Also, make sure you’ve exercised your dog first. Here is a video of my former foster dog Fozzie. I took him on a 20 minute car ride to go on a super fun hike. About 10 minutes in he started singing to me:


Believe it or not, on the way home he was sound asleep. The hike wore him out! And I didn’t give in to or patronize his panic attack. There was nothing to worry about, we went somewhere fun, he had a good time and we came home. Next time I take him somewhere, he’ll probably handle it a little better.

I’ve found that the best thing to do when your dog is singing or crying in the crate is to ignore it. If you try to coddle them or pet them you’ll just positively reinforce the behavior. Start with short, fun trips where they don’t have enough time to stress out, and eventually you’ll be able to drive for hours without a peep.

Another idea (some people won’t agree with this) is to give your dog a calming herbal remedy or a wee bit of Benadryl. Some dogs do actually have an anxiety problem and that could help keep them calm if they really need it. We gave Mocha Benadryl when he was a puppy but it didn’t really seem to help so we stopped.

However you choose to travel with your pup, remember a few things:

Don’t leave them in the car when it’s hot out (like above 70), especially if it’s sunny. Dogs can’t sweat. They’ll overheat and die.

If you don’t secure your dog in a crate or with a harness, beware of loose leashes and collars. I saw a terrible story on Facebook where this lady went into a store and her dog hanged himself with his leash from the clothes hook in the backseat. OMG, I can’t even imagine…

Bring water if it’s a long trip, over 2 hours, and a dish to pour it in.

Let them out to stretch their legs every 2 or 3 hours. You think your butt hurts from sitting in the car? So does theirs. Our dogs start to sing us the song of their people when they need to stretch their legs. At first we think it’s the radio…

Have some poop bags in your car and a towel too. Nothing like visiting a friend and leaving your dog’s crap on their yard. Or you take them out in the rain and they get your backseat sopping wet.

Don’t obsess.

Now, I’m not saying you should crate your dog that every single time you get in the car. I definitely take them to the park or the pet store and let them hang out on the back seat. But if you’re on the highway with your doggie, please consider crating them for their own protection.

How do you travel with your dog?

Do you crate your dog in the car? Do you board your dog instead so you don’t have to worry about it? Or do you have one of those little doggies that lays in the back window? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Do I Really Need to Crate Train?

This was one of my first questions when we got Mocha as a puppy. I mean, I didn’t get this little 3 pounds of love to have him in a crate all day while we worked. But we did crate train him because if we left him out he’d get into trouble. One day I came home and he’d pulled out all my yarn and was playing with it like a cat!

Also, I always use a crate with my foster dogs. Most dogs that come out of a shelter need a little time to decompress. For some, the crate works wonders and will always be a safe place when they need some quiet time. All my foster dogs go in their crate for a little quiet time every day.

Let’s break down this crate training thing a bit:

What is crate training?
This is where you train your dog to spend some quiet time in the crate every day. Most people crate their dogs while they’re at work. We did this when our boys were young. Some people don’t want the dog in the bed, and crate them at night. If done properly, the crate will become a safe haven for the dog. It’s their quiet place.

Crate training pros:
  • Great potty training resource
  • Nice to have if you need them out of the way (painting, teaching, having guests over)
  • Safety feature for car rides
  • Safe place for your dog

Crate training cons:
  • Dogs can get a little stir crazy, especially if they’re crated for many hours at a time
  • May exacerbate separation anxiety, especially if you crate train wrong
  • Can be seriously messed up, and mess up your dog

Types of crates:
Mocha in his wire crate as a puppy.

Wire – These are pretty cheap and common, but I’m not a fan of the wire crate. Puppies will chew on the wires, and can really hurt their teeth. Also, if they have a tray that slides out of the bottom, dogs can really make a mess with that, pushing it out, chewing on it and getting stressed out.  

I’ve also found that a dog is less calm if they can see out of the crate at all angles. If you get a crate like this, you’ll want to put a towel or blanket over part of it.

A word of warning about the wire crate: I’ve heard of dogs getting stressed out and hooking their collar on the crate wires and hanging themselves. This was one of the lovely horror stories we heard at puppy kindergarten. If you do use this type of crate, please take off your dog’s collar before leaving them in it unattended.

Plastic – If I use a crate, I prefer the more solid, plastic kind. Less visibility means they’ll be calmer (generally). It’s also darker inside and noise is better muffled, all leading to a safer atmosphere. You can put a towel over this one too, maybe over the door, to reduce what they can see.

Mesh/soft – We have a pop-up X-pen that we use for agility trials, for when we have guests or for when I’m teaching piano. We spent some serious time training the boys to sit nicely in it. They’re never left in it unsupervised because they can open the zipper or chew/scratch right through the mesh. This is not for long-term, unsupervised crating.

End table/other – There are some cool designer crates out there that fit right into home d├ęcor. I saw one recently that was wood and looks like an end table.

Crate training 101:

1. Get the right sized crate. The crate should be big enough for the dog to walk in, turn around and lay down. That’s it. Any bigger and they’ll have room to potty in there.

2. Feed your dog in the crate. Some trainers swear by this. Giving them their food inside their crate is instant positive reinforcement because at least this one wonderful thing happens in their crate. Feeding your dog in their crate also helps with potty training because the dog won’t potty where they eat and sleep.

3. Start small. When you first start crate training your dog, do it in short increments. Five minutes at first, then 10, then 15. Don’t let them out while they’re barking or crying because then you’re reinforcing that behavior. Also, make sure you’re in the room at first, it helps keep them calm. If you put them in the crate and leave for three hours the very first time, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

4. Make sure they’re comfy. Give them a couple toys, some treats and something soft to lay on. We ended up having to take the bedding out of the crates because our boys ate it.

5. Reinforce while you’re home. This one was key for us. We always crated the boys while at work, so they came to understand that if we were crating them, we were leaving. Then they didn’t want to get in the crate. So every weekend we would spend a little time at home with our dogs in their crates.

6. They don’t have to live like this forever. I feel like once a dog hits about a year to 18 months old and is reliably housebroken, you don’t have to crate them all day while you’re gone.

Here’s my opinion:
I think crating is a useful tool, especially for puppies. It keeps them from getting hurt (hopefully) when you’re not home. It also helps to house train your dog if you do it right. However, I don’t feel like dogs were designed to live in a crate most of the day, like many dogs do. An adult dog that is properly trained and exercised every day shouldn’t need to be crated on a regular basis.

Un-crate training.
Ok, you made it! Your dog grew up, doesn’t chew on the furniture when you’re not looking, and they haven’t peed in the house recently. I think that this is the time you can ease up on the crating.

What not to do – Don’t just leave one day without crating them if they’re used to being in the crate! 
And don’t give them the run of the house at first. Maybe just the kitchen or the dining room at first. You can also attach a wire pen to the crate and leave the crate open to the pen. Just make sure they can't jump out of the pen.

We started small, leaving the boys out when we went out to get the mail. Then we left them out when we got dinner or went to the mall.

Our boys at their customary place: right near the front door.
One day, I came home from work at lunch to walk them and didn’t crate them when I left. They did just fine (I think…). If you’re nervous about what they’re doing, you can set up Skype to automatically answer and go to video when you dial in. We did this for a while with a laptop in our kitchen until I realized they just lay by the door the whole time we’re gone.

Remember, every dog is different. My in-laws’ dog loves her crate, she wants to sleep in it every night and goes in it on her own when they’re not home. My dogs, on the other hand, are much more restless and anxious in the crate, so now we use it sparingly when we need to.


Have you used the crate to train your dog? Share your success or obstacles in the comments below. J

Monday, March 16, 2015

5 Steps to a Healthy, Pet-safe Lawn


We just bought our house last year, in 2014. Before that, we’d rented for… well a decade! My husband grew up in a condo, so yard work isn’t really his thing, but I grew up in the woods. We had a lawn, a forest, a couple gardens and a driveway to take care of. So I thought I knew a thing or two about taking care of our yard.

Boy was I wrong. We just have a little house in the city, so a small yard by my estimation, but mowing that thing every week is a pain! And then there’s mulch. My parents never worried about mulch, but our new house came with landscaping that I had to figure out how to maintain.

Anyway, I thought I’d done a pretty good job until September rolled around and our yard started to look awful brown. It dawned on me that mowing might not be enough. But I don’t want to put those chemicals on my lawns that so many of my neighbors do. You know, the ones that smell really strong and they put those little flags on the yard to tell you to keep kids and pets off it.

So I did a little research and put together a few simple steps to keeping my lawn healthy without hurting my pets or any other wildlife. I’m going to explain the “why” behind each step a bit, so if you just want to know the “what” I’m making it super big. Skim on through. 
Step 1: Water in the morning.
This is the easiest step. Water once in the morning briefly, wait an hour to let the water soak in, then
come back and do a deeper watering. This helps the water soak in better. I’m going to try to do this once a week to start and see how it goes.

Why water in the morning? You have less chance of mold developing because the sun evaporates excess water. Also, the later in the day you water, the hotter it is, so the more water will evaporate before hitting the ground. Seriously, like half the water coming out of your hose will evaporate. Why are you paying for that? Water early!

Step 2: Don’t cut grass shorter than 3 inches, and leave the clippings on the lawn.
Yes, this means you’re going to have to mow more often. But it also means you may have to buy less seed and fertilizer every summer. Why 3 inches? It’s tall enough to keep weeds from getting enough sun to grow, and also tall enough to keep from burning out in hot weather.

Leaving grass clippings on your lawn is a natural fertilizer as long as the grass clippings are short. If you have a mulching mower and you cut your grass regularly, you’re doing it a big favor.
Last summer, I waited until the grass was ridiculous to cut it, then it left huge clumps of grass behind which killed the grass underneath. Whoops…

Step 3: Aerate your yard in the spring and fall.

What is aerating? Ever go walking with your dog and you come across a yard with huge clumps of dirt pulled up all over it? They look like little dirt-poos. That’s aeration. It keeps the soil from getting too compact. Compact soil can strangle the roots of your grass.

There’s a couple ways to aerate. You can hire someone to do it. Or, you can buy an aeration machine that pulls behind your lawn mower or that you push by hand. The way we’re going to do it is to buy shoes with spikes in them designed to aerate. I’m going to wear them when I mow once in the spring and once in the fall. These are the shoes I’m going to try. The reviews say they work best if the lawn isn’t super dry.
                           


                                                             

Step 4: Put down compost in the spring.
Ok, so this one you’ll want to keep your pets off it for a day or two so they don’t get sick or track animal poo all through your house. I think organic compost is the way to go. Some people make their own. You only want it ¼” thick, which isn’t thick at all, so you can probably throw some clumps out there and rake them out.

Step 5: Fertilize with organic fertilizers in spring and fall.
Probably going to do this right after we aerate. Why organic? Because they have less nitrogen, so there’s less nitrogen runoff into the ground water. Also, they don’t contain those synthetic pesticides that were developed during the World Wars. Those are some nasty things, those pesticides, and are really bad for your pets.

This is another one where you’ll want to fertilize and keep your pets/kids off the yard for a day or two.


So there are the 5 basic steps, and it doesn’t cost much at all. I’m thinking of putting down some grass seed too after I aerate to fill in the sad brown patches. If you put down seed, be careful what you buy. Kentucky Bluegrass is the most popular type, but it also needs the most water out of any type of grass. Also, last fall I bought seed and it was bright blue. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think plants make seeds that color. Freaked me out a little bit, I felt bad for all the birds consuming those neon blue chemicals.
What works for your lawn? If you have any quick, pet-safe lawn care tips, please share!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Finding a Respectable Breeder

Shih-poo puppies at the breeder we got our boys from.
Breeders – What’s the big deal?

What’s the big deal with breeders? Why are so many people convinced that’s the only type of dog they can get? Why are other people convinced that it’s the most terrible crime in the world to adopt a dog from a breeder?

Not all breeders are created equal.
That’s it in a nutshell. There are some great breeders out there who have been breeding for a long time, treat their animals like family, and take great pride in what they do. In my opinion, these breeders are in the minority. There are a couple different types of breeders:

A good breeder.
This breeder breeds dogs for temperament and health. They’re usually very involved in dog events and especially with breed specific organizations. So if they breed labs, then they’re usually a member of a national Labrador club or association.

A breeder with good intentions.
I think this is the type of breeder we got our boys from. They were a nice couple, and I think they really loved their dogs even if they don’t treat them quite like we do. They just loved having puppies and were hoping to make a little money selling them.

A greedy breeder.
Have you ever heard of a puppy mill? I’m going to post about them one day, but they make me sick. It’s a terrible terrible place, and it’s where all those little doggies in pet stores come from. A lot of dogs sold online come from puppy mills too.

In a nutshell, a greedy breeder has lots and lots of dogs. Way more dogs than they could ever take care of properly. The dogs are always in wire crates. They don’t get held, petted or walked. Many of them have automatic feeders and huge water bottles that don’t get cleaned. The only time a human touches them is to take them out of the cage to breed.

These breeding dogs don’t get shots, don’t see a vet and often have eye/ear/jaw infections. I could go on and on, and one day soon I will, but for now you can learn more about puppy mills here.

How do I find a good breeder?

This is the tough one, especially for people who really haven’t gotten into the dog world yet.

Beware the internet – We can say anything we want on the internet. If you find a breeder for yorkies, for instance, that only has pics of the puppies in a basket or something, beware! Never ever EVER buy a puppy sight unseen over the internet. NEVER. Please never do this.

Let me see! - You want to be sure to see and be able to meet both parents and see where the puppies are being raised. A good breeder will be very happy to welcome you into their home to see their awesome parents and pups. Don’t buy dogs off a lady in a parking lot, ok?

Inside, please – Please don’t buy from a breeder that has their dogs in a shed in the backyard. These puppies should be in the house, that way they’re learning socialization and training skills right from the beginning. Pregnant moms should be inside.

Quality over quantity - There should be one, maybe two litters at a time at the very most. Watch out for places that offer 10 different types of designer dogs. Overbreeding causes health problems in the puppies. And there’s no way a respectable breeder could properly take care of 4 litters of pups plus all the parents they would need to have on hand to have all those different mixes.

Learn about mom - Be sure to find out how often the mother breeds and how old she is. Most dog breeds shouldn’t have their first litter before 18 months, some people say two years. And she shouldn’t be bred every heat. (Dogs go into heat twice a year or so.)

Don’t ever buy a dog from a pet store. EVER. – A good breeder does not take their dogs to a pet store. A good breeder wants to carefully screen every person who adopts a dog. And I’m going to stop there before I get angry…

OMG I just want a dog…

There are great breeders out there, and the right people know them. Go to a local training club or an AKC dog show. These are the people who love their pure bred dogs and take great pride in pedigree. Yes, these dogs will be expensive. But, they’ll also be healthy and have a good temperament.

Why does this matter? Because if you get a dog from a bad breeder, it might be aggressive, have anxiety, or have health problems. I think it's especially important to be careful with the big dogs like labs and German Shepherd that get hip dysplasia.

Learn from your mistakes.

We got Mocha and Ninja from a breeder in Missouri. They’re Shih-Poos. I’d never owned a dog before and was afraid of getting a rescue dog. I only really knew of the dogs in the pound, who can come out a little… wild… Also, I have some serious pet allergies, so I needed a dog that didn’t shed. And I wanted a small dog because my husband was in medical school and I knew his hours would get crazy eventually, so I looked for breeds that would be small and good with kids if trained properly.


I found the breeder on Google, which was quite a feat since most nothing is on Google in north east Missouri. She had a litter and we went up to see them. Really nice old couple. I believe they love their dogs, I really do. But in hindsight, they weren’t the best example of a breeder.

The adult dogs were only in the house when pregnant, other than one little poodle who was their indoor dog. The other puppies and dogs were kept in an outside kennel, and the youngest puppies were kept in kennels in the garage. These dogs were in crates with no bottoms so they didn’t need cleaned as often… And I distinctly remember the lady complaining when we got our second dog from them that the state was requiring that they heat the outdoor kennels.


It hurts me inside today to think of the dogs at her home. They’re not socialized in any way before adoption. She also adopted to us even though we lived in a place that didn’t allow dogs. (I would not adopt my foster dogs to us as we were then.) Mocha has severe joint problems and arthritis in his back, and he’s four. Ninja has seizures and a collapsing trachea, which our vet says you don’t tend to see in a dog younger than six. He’s three.

One final note.

Last week I talked about animal rescue. This is a great option for finding a pure bred dog. You know, some dogs live a long time. Just because a dog is over 1 year old doesn't mean they're not worth having. And senior dogs have a lot of love to give.

Right now at this very moment, the Lake Erie Labrador Retriever rescue has 11 pure bred labs up for adoption. Want a poodle? Google poodle dog rescue, you'll find a rescue group near you.

Not all breeders are bad, and not all rescues are good. (Don’t even get me started on shock collars…) Do your research and listen to your instincts. Talk to people, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and do what is best for you and your family. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Where to start with dog training.

My little Mocha Bear that first week we got him.
I've talked a bit about specific training ideas, including teaching your dog to come to you, and teaching them to go outside in a way that is easy to handle.

When Nathan and I were planning on getting Mocha, we got a book by Victoria Stilwell. We'd watched her show, It's Me or the Dog, on Animal Planet, and we got her book as a kind of "in print" version of her advice. We read it cover to cover, and it helped so much. I love that she always uses positive reinforcement. I think that's the best way to train a dog that's forever loyal. This is the book we got:

                                                                   

The book did not, however, prepare us for Mocha's little personality quirks. For example, Mocha learned super fast that if he went potty, we praised him and gave him attention. This resulted in him trying to pee every 15 seconds or so, and if we didn't pay attention to him, he'd bark at us until we looked at him and then go pee.

One night, I got up to go to the bathroom (Mocha was sleeping in his pen in our bedroom at the time), and by the time I came back, Mocha had laid out a huge poop for me. He knew that if he pooped, I'd come back and give him lots of attention.



Needless to say, we needed professional help! (Mocha has always been smarter than me...) We took him to puppy kindergarten, the S.T.A.R. puppy program, in Columbia, Missouri. It was a great experience for him, even though he was the teeniest, tiniest dog there. (This picture on the left is Mocha at about eight months old next to a four month old lab,)

 The S.T.A.R. puppy class focuses on socializing your dog with other people and dogs. This is so so important. Mocha learned that it was OK to be petted by other people and to greet other dogs. He also learned sit, down, and how to walk on a leash. You can see everything on the test here.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you are lucky enough to get a puppy, either from a breeder or a rescue, please enroll them in a class. There are just some things that dogs learn better in groups, and it will help your dog a lot with behavior in the future.


Finding a dog training facility.

Honestly, the way we found ours was by doing a Google search for dog trainer. You can also search for All-Breed.The AKC has many clubs with good trainers, you can do a search for their training facilities here.

Do be sure you read the reviews. The first place we tried, the people were super nice but it wasn't very clean. Because we lived in a rural area at the time...let's just say there were bug problems. 

Also, sometimes dog people/trainers can be a little...socially awkward. Sometimes they're downright rude. I'll get into that another day, but it's not you, it's the people who treat dogs poorly that have turned otherwise caring, compassionate people into short-tempered people who can be more direct that we're used to.

Good luck! And let me know if you have any trouble finding a class, I'll try to help!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Teaching your dog to go outside nicely

I think there are some basic doggie manners that every dog can learn. These manners make the dog a joy to live with, and make the owner’s life easier. Today I’m going to be talking about training your dog to go outside nicely. For my dogs, training all the different parts of this took years. Literally, I’m not joking, it took us a couple years to get them (ahem, NINJA) to behave the way we want consistently.

So, what are these “let’s go outside” manners?
  • Come to me and sit still while I put on the harness, collar, leash, coat, boots, and anything else they need decked out in to go outside.
  • Stay right near the door and wait for me to get my stuff together to go outside.
  • Wait for me to open the door. No rushing at it, jumping, climbing on it.
  • Go through the door when I tell them to.
  • Wait on the other side of the door for me to go through, shut the door, and lock it. We start the walk when I’m ready.
You can see my dogs going outside nicely with me in this video:





Here’s an example scenario:

I walk my former foster dog every day at lunch. He’s so happy to see me, I usually give him a big hug and hook his harness in while I’m holding him. He knows we’re going walkies and is ready to go.

Once I put him down, he waits by the door for me to open it. He knows that I won’t open that door if he’s standing on it or scratching at it. (This took at least a month for him to figure out.)

Now he gets a little bit excited once we get through the door. If there’s a person or a squirrel, he’s going to be racing off as fast as his little feet can take him. So I hold onto that leash real tight and make sure I have his attention before I try to shut the door behind me. He knows to wait on the front step, he just forgets in his excitement.

If I didn’t remind him of this behavior every time, then one day I’m going to go walk him, and he’s going to race out that door and rip the leash out of my hand. He’ll be long gone before I have time to say “WAIT!” So I practice with him every day, and one day it’ll just click and he’ll get it.

All the steps to get your dogs outside nicely:

All leashed up and waiting for me to tell them what to do.
1. Get leashed up - The first step is to get them to come to you when it’s time to go out. I talked about training your dog to come in a previous post, you can see it here. They don’t have to sit, but they need to understand that they need to stay near you, especially once they’re leashed up.

2. Open the door – Make sure they’re not jumping at the door or scratching at it. This takes a lot of practice. Be patient. If they jump at the door, shut it, get their attention with a “sit” or “watch me,” and try again.

3. Getting through the door – I’m a little lenient on this one. You can train your dog to wait for you to go through the door first. I wouldn’t recommend training that on an outside door, train it going into your kitchen or something, then reiterate the skill going outside. I have trained them to “wait” for my command to go through, and that’s good enough for me.

4. Waiting on the front step – I think this is the most important and the hardest skill to train. Have a good grip on their leash and plenty of treats. Once your dog is through the door, call him back to you, preferably have him sit, and treat him. Make sure he doesn’t just get up and rush off. He needs to stay right there while you lock the door.

5. Release – They don’t get to go until you tell them. They’re on the step waiting, you give them treats, tell them to wait again, lock the door up, treat again and say “ok.” Now you’re ready to be in control of the walk.

Do you want this hot mess rushing around your house?
NO! Make them wait by the door so you can clean them up.
On the same lines, you want them to get in the house nicely. No scratching at the door to get in, no racing around you and tripping you to beat you in the door, and no racing off once they get in. This is especially helpful if they’re muddy or snowy or just sopping wet. You can keep them near the door and towel them off before they go traipsing through the house.

I’m going to tell you again, it took us years to get both our dogs to do this consistently, and they still need reminded. Sometimes Mocha really has to go and he just pulls and pulls to get at the grass. (Or snow, this time of year.)
Hooray now we're walking and
I love you and you love me
and I love to walk OMG
this is awesome!

That’s a lot of skills to learn, where do I start?

Start small with these two key points:

1.  Don’t let the dog jump or scratch at the door. Be very consistent with this, it will pay off. If he’s not listening to you, you need a better treat to start out with. How does your dried little processed brown lump compare to the great outdoors and all those squirrels to chase? Get some cheese or a hot dog and get his attention.

2. Make him wait on the front step every single time. I’m not saying he has to be in a perfect sit looking at you with adoration in his eyes. Many of my foster dogs stood at attention looking out at the yard. But they stood on that step and knew they couldn’t go till I told them. Again, if you have something very tasty this will be easier.


Finally, be patient, especially if you have a puppy or a rescue. They only know what their instincts tell them and what you tell them. Give them time and be consistent by doing the exact same thing every single time. You’ll be surprised how fast they’ll learn.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Animal Rescue - Finding your next best friend.

Dog breeder or rescue – What’s right for me?

This is the first in a series of posts to help you decide if you should get a rescue dog or a dog from a breeder. There are a lot of people passionate on both sides of this topic. Breeders and people who show dogs of pedigree will tell you to get a pure bred dog. People who work in rescue and see those sweet little faces will tell you that you can get a dog that’s just as good from a shelter or rescue.

Before I get too into this, I have two disclaimers. The first is that we bought Mocha and Ninja from a breeder when we lived in rural Missouri (I’ll talk more about that in a bit). The second is that I’ve been volunteering with animal rescues for a couple years now, and that we’ve had four foster dogs successfully adopted out in the past year.

Let’s talk about rescue.

Which rescue? Why are there so many?

There are a couple of different types of facilities where you can rescue a dog. The first is a dog warden, or the county pound. These dogs are often surrendered or found roaming the streets. They can also pull dogs from abandoned houses, although the laws about that vary from city to city. The pound holds strays for a time, generally 7-10 days, and then puts them up for adoption. Most county pounds euthanize when they run out of space. This means they have too many dogs and cats and not enough kennels. The dogs that are oldest and have been there the longest are the first to go because they’re the hardest to adopt out. Some pounds euthanize humanely, but there are still those out there that use a gas chamber. 

-Why is the gas chamber bad? Lots and lots of reasons. Can't believe it's still in use? Me neither. Here's a little article with more information: Bringing an End to Inhumane Euthanasia.
This is Sally. We fostered her last summer. She was 10+
years old and would have been one of the first in line
to be put down at a kill shelter.

Most other rescue organizations are non-profit. A non-profit has 501(c)(3) status, which means that
they are a charitable organization. Many of these rescues only have a handful of employees that are paid and rely heavily on volunteers. Two of the best known non-profit rescues are the SPCA and the Humane Society. They often rescue animals from hoarding situations and have large facilities where they can provide veterinary care and adopt out the animals. Both of these organizations are no-kill, meaning that animals won’t be put down due to overcrowding.

There are also many smaller rescue organizations. Some of them are grass-roots, starting with just a couple people pulling dogs off the streets or out of the pound and screening people who want to adopt. Many private rescue organizations do great work, pulling animals that are on the euth list at shelters or taking in litters of puppies. Some of them grow to be big rescues that make a huge impact in the community. I live right near One Of a Kind Pets in Akron. They have a beautiful big facility for cats and dogs and even a little store inside where you can buy your food and toys, knowing that part of that purchase goes toward helping those animals.

Other rescues are breed specific and/or only have dogs in foster homes. Our last foster dog was through the Shih Tzu Rescue in Cleveland. Their dogs are only in foster homes, which I think is wonderful for the dogs for several reasons. For one, they’re not all penned up and restless. Many dogs in a traditional shelter are so wound up from stress and fear when you go to meet them that you just can’t tell what type of dog they really are. Another benefit of the foster system is that you can train the dog a bit to make him more adoptable. For instance, with our last foster dog we taught him basic manners. He had to sit and give his paw before he ate, wait for permission to get on the furniture (usually), and we spent a LOT of time teaching him not to bark his face off at absolutely everything. (We’re still working on this one!)

See the pink on his nose?
If you do choose to adopt from the pound (and please I hope some of you do, there are so many great dogs at the pound), know that your dog will probably be a wound up ball of energy when you get him home. Think about it: He was taken from his family and doesn’t know why, put in a little cage with his daily exercise dependent on goodhearted volunteers, and he spent all day every day hearing other dogs bark and cry. This is a very stressful and confusing environment for any dog. Be sure to give him a few days to unwind.

Our last foster dog, Fozzie, was unbelievably wound up when he came to us. He had been in the Cleveland pound and then boarded while he had kennel cough. As much as he didn’t enjoy it, he spent about a week in the crate unless he was under very close supervision. Everything he did, he repeated multiple times in a row. I almost took him to the vet because I thought he had some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder. You can see in the picture to the right that he rubbed his nose raw on the bars of the crate that first week. It was just nervous behavior. He didn’t even eat for the first couple days. This is really common too! But with a little time and patience, he started to calm down and trust us and now he’s a fantastic dog.

Choosing your rescue dog.

So, you want to get a rescue?! Great! Where do you start?

This could be the grateful little face you see as you take your new best friend home.

Get on Petfinder. Seriously, any reputable animal rescue is on Petfinder. You can search by location, breed, age, sex, name, anything you want.

Do a search for rescues that are breed specific. Have you always had Shih Tzu’s? Love a Maltese? These organizations usually have more breeds of small dogs than they know what to do with. Our former foster Fozzie was a Shih Tzu Poodle mix. If they have room, these rescues will take in any little dog in need. There are also rescues for labs, poodles, shelties, duck tolling retrievers…

Check out the pound. If you have experience with dogs and see a breed you like at the pound, please consider giving that dog a chance. I don’t recommend getting a dog from the pound for people who have never owned a dog before unless it’s a puppy or a senior dog. They come out of there so wound up, it can be really overwhelming. They often need a lot of training and patience. Yes, they will be fantastic dogs in the right home, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone.

Go to an adoption event and talk to everyone. Petsmart hosts adoption events often. You can almost bet there will be a rescue there one Saturday a month. Rescues also go to local fund raisers and dog park events.

Email or call the rescue, or stop on by if you can. Talk to them, tell them what you’re looking for. You never know what little wet nose you might fall in love with while you’re there.
Don’t forget, rescues have cats too! Way too many cats. Lots and lots of cats. One of the rescues I volunteered with last year had a waiting list to take in kittens because they just didn’t have anywhere to put them.

One final point:


NBSTR Adoption event.
Look at all those pretty dogs!

As someone who’s been to plenty of adoption events, I have to say this: If you meet a dog at an event or at the pound or wherever, and walking away from that dog absolutely breaks your heart, please go back and adopt that dog. On the other hand, if you met him and think he’s absolutely adorable and exactly the breed and age you want but something just didn’t click, then keep looking! There are so many dogs out there. Seriously, SO MANY DOGS. You can’t save them all, so pick the right one for you and give that dog the best life EVER.



Here are some of my favorite rescues:



The National Mill Dog Rescue - These are the folks I donate to each year.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Training your dog to “leave it”.

At first glance, "leave it" may not be the fanciest trick you teach your dog, but it is incredibly important. Our goal is for you to be able to say “leave it” and your dog stops what he’s doing. We’re going to start with food, but with a little practice you can get your dog to leave the window, stop barking at people or other dogs, and come away from objects that you feel are unsafe.

Before we start, your dog needs to know how to sit. Make sure if you have a puppy or other high energy dog that he’s had plenty of exercise. It’ll be super hard to do this if your dog keeps leaping at you!

All you need for this is a little pile of treats. With my dogs, I sit on the floor with them because they’re so small. Feel free to sit in a chair if you have a bigger dog, this one takes a few tries.

Keep the treat a safe distance away and at eye level.



Step 1: Have your dog sit. You’re going to need a treat in each hand. Hold one hand out at eye level several feet from your dog’s nose with a treat on your palm, like your hand is a little plate. Your dog will probably leap at it. Just close your hand over the treat, taking it away and saying something like “nope” or “oops.”


After a few tries your dog will realize he can’t get the treat by leaping at your hand. Stay patient, he’ll figure it out. But we’re looking for one more step. When you hold out the treat on your hand and he stays seated, wait until he looks away from the treat. Then, immediately say “yes, leave it” and give him a treat from your other hand. Don’t give him the treat you showed him, always give a treat from the other hand.

Practice this step two more times then take a break until later, especially if your dog is young. In other words, quit while you’re ahead. Spend 5 minutes a day once or twice a day on this step until it’s very comfortable and your dog knows what to expect.

Keys to success:
1. At this step, keep the treat at eye level a few feet in front of your dog’s nose.
2. Always treat from your other hand, not from the treat you’ve been telling him to leave.
3. Work for short periods of time – 4 or 5 successful “leave its” in a row should do.

Lower your hand to the floor. (Ninja thought this meant "down" lol)


Step 2: We’re going to do the same thing as step one, but move your hand to your dog’s chest level. If he can successfully “leave it” a couple times, then progress to having your hand on the floor. Believe it or not, every time you change the position of your hand, you need to retrain this a bit. That’s ok, our dogs just don’t think the same way we do. Spend a couple days transitioning slowly from having your hand at chest level to having it flat on the floor.



Step 3: This is the trickiest step. Some dogs are super smart and won’t have a problem, some dogs will completely forget what you’ve been working on.

Put the treat on the floor. Set yourself up for success by
keeping the treat a few feet from your dog's nose.
You can move it closer later.

Practice “leave it” once or twice with the treat on your hand on the floor. Be sure you’re a couple feet in front of your dog so you can snatch the treat away if he goes for it. Now, slowly put the treat on the floor while saying “leave it.” You want him to look away from the treat, hopefully at you but any direction will do. If he lunges for it, pick it up and say “nope.” Put him back in a sit and try again.
It may take a couple tries, but he’ll get it, I promise.






That’s it!

Those are the basics, and you should be able to train this in a week, maybe less if your dog is super smart and you work on it every day.

How does this translate into real life?

There are a lot of foods your dog shouldn’t eat. Have you ever dropped some onion you were chopping? Do you have a toddler that pushes food off the table? I’ll bet you’ve accidently knocked something over or spilled pop on the floor. These are the times that you want to be able to say “leave it” and not have to wrestle your dog away from what he shouldn’t eat.

You can also use “leave it” in other contexts. In our house, it means “please stop barking at the mailman.” Because when you say “leave it,” they know to look around at you and expect a nice treat. I also use it with Mocha when someone doesn’t want him to sniff them or if I drop my chapstick or something.

Such a good dog! 
Turn it into a cool trick:

When we only had Mocha, we did a lot of training with him. If you go back to step 3, you can move the treat closer and closer every time you train. Eventually, we had the treat on Mocha’s paw and told him to leave it and he totally did. One day, my husband lined treats all up both his paws, poor thing. He’s so devoted he just sat very very still until we gave him the treat he had earned. So when people put a treat on their dog’s nose and the dog waits until they’re told to eat the treat, that’s “leave it.”

As a therapy dog:

“Leave it” is one of the key points in a therapy dog test. Your dog has to be able to “leave it” to pass the test. For our test, they put a piece of cheese on the floor and I had to walk Mocha past it twice. He was allowed to look at it, but had to come away when I told him to “leave it.”

He also had to be able to “leave it” when offered food from a stranger. This was hard for him, he’s a very trusting dog, and she offered him more cheese. But we’d practiced and he did listen.

Why is this important? When you’re visiting a nursing home or a hospital, or any other medical facility, there are lots of things on the floor you don’t want your dog to lick up. Patients bleed and throw up and ooze on the floor. They can drop their medications too, and you really don’t want your dog to eat that. People drop random things too, like bits of paper, pen caps, or used tissues. It’s really important to be able to keep your dog away from things that may be harmful, and to keep a sharp eye on the floor when you’re visiting.

A video on “leave it”

Here’s a nice YouTube video by Victoria Stillwell for all you visual learners on how to train “leave it.” Every trainer will be a little different, but the principle is the same. I like her because she only uses positive reinforcement. You may wonder why I don’t use a fist like she did. Honestly, I don’t like to be licked that much. Also, I’ve worked with rescues that would just start gnawing on my hand, and that’s no fun at all. So I skipped that step. If you go to 4:20 in the video, that’s my step 1.




Good luck! And feel free to ask if you have any questions.