Skip to content

Posts from the ‘training’ Category

Look Ma, No Hands! [contest]

Last week, I told you about a sweet deal Fit For A Pit is offering you guys: $10 off any purchase of $20+ through 7/31/14. See that blog for details + promo code to get your deal. 

Pretty swell me thinks!

But when it comes to you guys, I go for all the freebies I can get. So this week lovely Heather, owner of  Fit For a Pit, is giving one of you a FREE Squishy Face Studio Hands Free Dog Leash Belt.

squishy face belt

oooh, pretty.

Want to win one? Contest details are at the end of the blog. First, let me tell you about the belt, so you can decide if you want one.

Jessica, owner of Squishy Face Studios (another awesome small business) sent me a belt to test out last year before they were made available to the public. I got the belt for free in exchange for giving them my feedback on their new product. Guess what? In my opinion, they didn’t need to make changes because they got it 100% right.

This is not me or my dog, but they're both cute, right?

This is not me or my dog, but they’re both cute, right?

 

3 Reasons The Squishy Face Hands-Free Belt Rocks:

  • It’s super strong. Jessica shared that the belt had been tested with three dogs at once and they’d done a 165lb strength test.
  • It’s really comfortable. The belt is 2″ wide, so it doesn’t cut into your chub (not that any of you have any chub, but if you did, it wouldn’t bother you). And, it’s pretty darn cute.
  • It’s simple to use. You put on the belt. You open the colored nylon strap via the quick release buckle. You loop the handle of your dog’s regular leash handle in there and snap the buckle shut. It works with any leash.

Here’s how it works:   Simply put the belt is: Easy, Comfortable, and Safe.

8 Reasons to Give a Hands-Free Belt a Try:

  • You aren’t holding the leash, so you won’t be sending your tension down the line to your dog.
  • Your hands are free to give your dogs treats, wipe ice melt off their paws, scoop poop, or pull chicken bones out of their mouths (city dog walkers I know you feel me on that last one).
  • They make it easy to obey leash laws while doing whatever you want to do with your dog – hiking, running, snow shoeing, biking, pushing a stroller, or yoga. No excuses, yo.
  • Instead of dislocating your arm, your dog is attached at a spot lower on your body, closer to your center of gravity, where you are stronger and more stable.
  • If you’re teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash, this will help because you won’t be pulling and jerking the leash.
  • You can use this with a new dog in the house when then aren’t crated. Back when I fostered dogs, I would attach the newbie to my waist for the first few days to help them avoid making naughty choices around the house (like tasting my cats).
  • If you take your dog to a picnic, eat too much macaroni salad and fall asleep under a tree, your dog will remain attached to your waist until you wake up and get your act together. Not that any of you would ever do that.
  • Here’s the #1 best thing: You don’t have to worry about dropping the leash. This is a big one for any of us that are anxious about walking our reactive dogs. With a hands-free belt, you don’t have to worry that the leash will be ripped out of your hand because you were relaxed (for once!) while walking your dog, when — BOOM! another dog sneaks up and your dog goes bonkers and you drop the leash. Yeah, you won’t have to worry about that.

BTW, If you want to, you can still hold the leash in your hands while it’s attached to the belt. Whatever floats your dog walking boat.

leash-belt-standardi-dog

Dog (and lovely small waist) not included.

 

The contest has ended. Booo.

Congratulations to Sarabeth Tolbert  who won the prize!

Here’s the CONTEST!   

Leave me a comment answering the question below and one lucky person will be chosen to win a Squishy Face Hands Free Belt from Fit For A Pit!

A movie about your dog is about to hit the big screen. What’s the title?

Share your answer in the comment section between now and Thursday, July 10th at Midnight EST. One entry per person please (you can name as many movie titles in your comment as you’d like though!). One comment will be chosen at random and the winner will be announced here and on the DINOS Facebook page on Friday, July 11th.

You know, you’re already all winners because with that special offer from Fit For a Pit, you can take $10 off any purchase of $20+ this month (including this belt)! See this blog for your promo code + offer details.

(p.s. My dog Birdie’s movie would be called “The Moderately Paced and The Curious” – kind of like The Fast and The Furious, only with an old Beagle – and Boogie’s would be “Romancing the Ball.”)

Interview with Janet Finlay of Your End of the Lead [contest]

janetandlewys-300x237

This is Janet! I’d go for a walk with her.

So, the other day I told you guys that Your End of the Lead is now being offered as an on-demand online class and that I’ve partnered up with the creator Janet Finlay, to offer you a great deal on the class through April 30th, 2014.

You can read all about that here, if you missed it.

I had some questions about the class and I figured you’d want to know the answers too, so I put together this interview with Janet for all y’all.

Wait a sec! Before you start reading, there’s a contest too. You can win a free spot in the class! Details are at the end of the interview.  But check out the Q+A first (you might learn something):

 

 

Jessica: You’re a certified dog trainer, but Your End of the Lead isn’t a training course. Why did you choose to focus on addressing the human end of the leash?

 

Janet: In my work as a trainer, I was regularly meeting people who were stressed out by their dog’s behaviour. They could no longer even enjoy going for a walk with their dog and often things were also difficult at home so they had no break from it. Even the most committed owners, who were working really hard to help their dogs, were telling me they felt guilty because of what their dog couldn’t do and many felt that it was their fault. And of course well-meaning people – even trainers – often reinforce that feeling by saying things like “he’d be better if you could just relax…”  – but of course you can’t just “switch off” all that stress. So it becomes a vicious circle that leaves people feeling useless and isolated.

While there is a lot of help out there for how to train your dog, I couldn’t find much specifically helping people with this problem. As a qualified coach for people, I know that reframing the way we think about a problem can fundamentally change how we respond to it. And as a TTouch practitioner, I have a whole toolbox of techniques for reducing tension and stress. So I put together a face-to-face “Your End of the Lead” workshop, which was very popular – and later this online course.

 

 

J: The new version of the course is “on demand.” Can you describe what that means and how that’s different than the full support version?

 

Janet: I’ve run Your End of the Lead Online twice now as a fixed session course, where all the students start at the same time and work through the lessons at the same time, as if they were in a class. This works really well but limits numbers and isn’t very flexible. Each time I have run it I have had people ask if it was it possible to do the course at a different time or to fit their particular schedule – and up to now this hasn’t been possible – partly because I feel strongly that online courses are next to useless if they just provide content without any support structures to help students actually complete the course. But I’ve now come up with a support package that will allow people to choose to do the course when they want but without being left to do it alone.

So with the On Demand version you get the whole course immediately and you can follow it at your own pace and in your own time. You’ll get prompts by email reminding about the course, there’s a Q&A page, and I’m running monthly webinars to answer questions live. And as a bonus I am also including 6 months’ membership of my private online community, so that people can discuss what they are doing on the course with other students, past and current. And I’m there daily too. So I am confident that the On Demand package has the flexibility people wanted, but without losing the support that is so important.

 

J: You’re a TTouch practitioner. Can you tell us a bit about TTouch and why it’s included in YEL?

 

Janet: TTouch is a very respectful and gentle training approach that recognizes the connection between physical state, emotional state, and behaviour. It uses a combination of observation, light body work, body wraps and leading exercises to increase an animal’s awareness of themselves, to reduce physical tension and to shift them out of habitual responses. It is well known as a way of calming dogs (and people – it works on any animal that has a nervous system), but it can also help change behaviour by improving the animal’s physical and emotional balance.

It’s included in Your End of the Lead because it offers a really valuable set of tools for owners of reactive dogs. It can really help with stress reduction for both dogs and people – it can reduce the overall level of stress, as well as providing tools to help owners calm themselves and their dogs before, during and after challenging incidents. It is also a great foundation for other forms of training as it reduces physical tension, pain and postural imbalance, all of which can make behavioural issues worse. And the leading and handling techniques we use in TTouch really enable people to keep a loose lead and avoid introducing the tension in the lead that can often trigger reactive behaviour.

 

parallel walking-footloosiety

Photo credit: David J Laporte on Flickr – CC-BY 2.0 license

 

J: What does it mean for a dog to be out of balance in their body – particularly for dogs that are fearful or aggressive? How does TTouch help?

 

Janet: A dog may be out of physical balance in many ways. They may have tightness in the muscles, which limits free movement and results in stiff posture. They may be weighted unevenly, so they are putting more stress on one or more limbs. They may have poor awareness of some parts of their body, so they may appear uncoordinated. They may have tension in the body that makes them uncomfortable about being handled or touched in that area. They may be out of balance for lots of reasons – such as old injuries, their physical conformation or life experiences – or we can inadvertently throw them out of balance by the way we lead them (pulling into a collar for instance or holding their head up and back).

These physical issues affect how a dog feels and how they behave. For example, if a dog is tight in the neck and head, so that their posture is stiff and their head carriage inflexible, they can be reactive when approached and their posture is also more challenging for other dogs. If we can reduce that tension then we not only make them more comfortable and less defensive, but we also change their posture to make them less threatening to other dogs. Fearful dogs often have tension in the hindquarters and tail – again we can release that tension and enable more relaxed posture.

TTouch helps because it gives us a set of tools to work on these physical and postural issues and ways of leading and handling dogs to encourage them to stay in balance.

 

J: I love the sections of the class that cover human psychology – from why people invade our dog’s space to how our own thinking can get in the way of positive changes.

One lesson covers the power of language and labels. With DINOS, I’ve tried to give people a more neutral or positive label for their dogs, but as you say in one of the YEL lessons, all labels (positive and negative) can affect our behavior and thinking about our dogs. I agree! Can you share a little more about that idea?

 

Janet: When we label our dogs it can make it more difficult for us to see them clearly. We tend to interpret their behaviour according to our labels. So if we call our dog “stubborn”, for instance, and they stop in a particular situation, we are likely to think it is because they are being stubborn and so may miss the fact that they are actually frightened.

The same happens with positive labels. How many people tell us their dogs are “friendly” when in that moment they are being rude and inappropriate? Positive labels can also be deceptive.

So I would rather ditch labels altogether and focus on learning to be more observant of actual behaviour. That way we don’t fall into a fixed mindset about our dogs. We can see them as they are in any given moment and can more easily notice when they change.  And we can respond to how they are actually behaving rather than to what it is we think they are.

 

J: If there’s one thing you want DINOS families to know about the YEL class, what would it be?

 

Janet: Just one thing?

That it is possible to enjoy being out and about with your dog – even if he or she can be reactive.

The secret to being able to relax is to know you are able to manage any situation you find yourself in calmly and confidently. This is what Your End of the Lead aims to do for you. It will complement whatever training you are doing  to work with your dog, by making you a more aware, calmer and more effective handler, enabling you and your dog to really make progress.

 

Thank you Janet! 

logocompleteyeotl

 

Want to sign up for Janet’s class?

You can register for Your End of the Lead using the DINOS affiliate link. Through April 30th, the class is only $99! That’s a savings of 40% off the normal price of $165.

There’s more – you’ll also score a free 6 month membership to Janet’s ACE Owner’s Club which offers a ton of extra support, monthly training challenges, and a community forum. All for $99

Update May 1st: The “early bird” special is now over, but you can still register to take Your End of the Lead anytime! For $165 you’ll get all 15 lessons, monthly webinars, and 6 months FREE access to the ACE Owners Club. A great deal!

And here’s the CONTEST!   

The contest has ended – thanks to everyone who entered. Congratulations to Val Appiani and her dog Lilly – they won the free YEL class!

Leave me a comment answering the question below and one lucky person will be chosen to win registration to Your End of the Lead for free! And, because so many of you have registered already, we want to open it up to you too. If you’ve already paid for the class and you win the contest, Janet will refund your $99 so you can take the class for free.  So everyone gets to play. Neat, right?

Leave a comment between now and Wednesday, April 23rd at Midnight EST. One comment will be chosen at random and the winner will be announced here and on the DINOS Facebook page on Thursday, April 24th.  Please make sure your comment or gravatar includes your email contact info, so we can notify you directly as well!

Tell us your answer in the comments for your shot at the prize:

If your dog won a gold medal, what talent or skill would it be for?

 

(My dog Birdie would win a gold medal for staging an effective  nonviolent  pool resistance movement or maybe couch cushion management. Boogie would win for completing a successful Wubba water extraction mission.)

 

 

 

Your End Of The Lead Class: A Very Special Offer for DINOS!

Put down your kale chips. Remove your cat from your keyboard. I’ve got some news:

Your End of the Lead is being offered, for the first time ever, as an on-demand online class. And to celebrate, I’ve partnered up with the founder, Janet Finlay, to offer you some really sweet deals.

This unique online course will change how you think about yourself and your reactive dog. 

 

logocompleteyeotl

 

First things first.

What is Your End of the Lead?

This is not a training class. Your End of the Lead was designed to complement the training you’ve done or are already doing with your dog. Created and taught by professional dog trainer, coach, and Tellington Touch practitioner Janet Finlay of Canine Confidence in Wales, this is for YOU. The lessons are there to help you become a more aware, calmer, confident, and effective handler.

I’m really excited to share this class with you guys.

 

For a long time, I’ve wanted to offer Team DINOS (that’s you!) something more than what’s on my website and social media, like: an online forum, classes, support groups, a junior prom, and at least one national holiday.

But I know my limitations. I’ve never felt comfortable creating and offering those particular kind of resources. Still, I knew there was a gap and I really wanted to fill it because many of you need more support. I wanted so badly to offer it to you!

So imagine how stinking happy I was when Janet started offering her online class Your End of the Lead last year and I began hearing from her students that they loved it. Janet let me audit the course a few months ago and in all 15 lessons, you could hear me shouting at my computer “Amen!!” and “I meant to write about that for DINOS!” and “Oohh, that’s a great idea!”

I immediately started putting some of her suggestions to use, particularly her calming practices. And not just when I’m dog walking. It’s good stuff for all the time.

 

your end of the lead

This looks nothing like me and my dogs, but HIGH FIVE y’all!

 

Your End of the Lead covers, in depth, a lot of what I just touch on over at DINOS, along with other stuff we never really get into – thanks to Janet’s TTouch and dog training expertise. So if you find DINOS helpful, I think you’ll really dig YEL.

YEL covers everything from understanding your dog’s triggers and thresholds to dealing with other dog owners out in public to learning TTouch wraps and breathing exercises to help you relax. Each lesson is overflowing with information, thought provoking prompts, and exercises for you to try.

Janet is really talented. She put all of this together in such a professional, yet compassionate way.

That’s why I’m promoting the class as an affiliate partner. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to all of you, so I don’t take promotions or sharing other people’s work lightly. I hope you know how much I want things to be better for you and your dogs. I think this class can help many of you.

If you’re stressed out by your dog’s reactive behavior, this course is designed for you.

 

Ready to sign up right now? Don’t let me stop you! Hop on over to the DINOS affiliate page to learn more about the class and register now.

 

Living with a reactive or fearful dog can be really hard and isolating. Maybe you’ve gone to dog training classes already, but found there really isn’t anything out there that directly supports you. Now there is! Your End of the Lead is really special in that it addresses your needs. And you can take the class on your schedule, at home, no matter where you live.

 

Using techniques from Tellington TTouch, coaching, and positive-based dog training techniques the class will:

Increase your awareness of yourself and your dog

Teach you how to be calm under pressure

Show you how to handle your dog with kindness and confidence

Not sure if you should take the class? Go on over to this page and watch Janet’s special video just for Team DINOS to hear more from her about why this class rocks and how the lessons are formatted.  You can also access a free sample lesson on TTouch.

Who is this class for?

This class is for you if any of the following apply:

You live with a dog that is reactive, fearful, anxious, or aggressive.

You want to learn relaxation techniques that you can apply to yourself and/or your dogs.

You’re interested in learning and incorporating TTouch techniques.

You work with reactive dogs, especially those of us that walk them.

You’re interested in becoming a better observer – of our dogs, our environment, and ourselves.

You work with owners of reactive, fearful, aggressive, or anxious dogs and you want to learn new skills to help dog owners stay calm while working with their dogs.

 

I think most folks would benefit from the class. Even if you’re already an experienced dog trainer or have owned reactive dogs for years, I bet there’s more than a few week’s worth of lessons that will be fresh material for you. Like Lesson Five on Limiting Beliefs or Lesson Ten on Practicing Calm. This is not your average class about living with dogs.

But it’s not for everyone. You’ll only get out of it as much as you put into it. There are no magic potions or quick fixes offered in this class. You have to dedicate time to each lesson. You still have to do dog training and management. You have to be interested in exploring your relationship with your dog.

 

Ahh, I feel better already!

Ahh, I feel better already!

 

Thinking about signing up?

 

Just for you! A special DINOS offer:

The class is normally $165. But for the next two weeks, through April 30th, the class is only $99.

That’s 40% off the normal price.

You’ll get 15 lessons that include multimedia teachings, weekly prompts, monthly live webinars with Janet, and so much more.

You’ll even get 6 months of FREE access to her ACE Owners Club. This club has additional resources and mini training challenges, as well as a private community forum where all of her students – past and present – support each other.

Starting May 1st, the class goes back to $165, so why not sign up now and save 40%?

Here’s the thing: even if you don’t have time to take the class right now, you’ll have access to the course materials for a full year. So you can buy it now to save some dough, then start the class when you have the time to devote to it.

Update May 1st: The “early bird” special is now over, but you can still register to take Your End of the Lead anytime! For $165 you’ll get all 15 lessons, monthly webinars, and 6 months FREE access to the ACE Owners Club. A great deal!

Bonus time!

The first 10 people to sign up using the DINOS  link will win a FREE 40 minute, private Skype coaching session with Janet so you can discuss your questions related to the class and your dog’s reactive behavior. For real! Watch the video here and at the end, she’ll tell you more about the one-on-one session 10 lucky people will win.   All 10 spots have been filled!  Thanks to everyone who has registered so far. For those of you that won the free session, enjoy your time with Janet! If you’ve missed out on this bonus don’t worry – there is still lots of opportunity to get feedback and support through the ACE forum and the monthly webinars – all included in the course fee.

 

You can only get these offers – the $99 price and a chance to win a free session with Janet – through the DINOS affiliate link, so be sure to access the YEL registration page through the links provided here, ok?

 

logocompleteyeotl

 

Do you have questions about the class? Take a look at Janet’s class page and watch her video for more info. I’ll do my best to answer any questions you have here in the comments section too. And stay tuned – I’ve got an interview with Janet coming in a few days that you won’t want to miss!

 

 

Use It Or Lose It

Spring. It’s right around the corner. At least, that’s what the calendar tells me. We just got a bunch of snow yesterday. But before that, I saw a patch of grass. And we had a bunch of 40 degree + days here in Maine.

You know what happens when it gets even a little bit nicer out, right? All the dogs come out.  All. Of. Them.

I don’t know where these dogs come from. All winter long, I’m out walking the same dogs, along the same quiet streets. It’s just us, the mailmen, and a few manic speed walkers on their lunch breaks.  We see other dogs too, but it’s the same crew every day. Then spring hits and a tsunami of new dogs hits every neighborhood.

Where are all of these dogs for months and months? Do their people train them to poop in a bucket in the basement until its warm enough for them to go outside again?  Do they all have one of these?

I don’t how it works, but it’s the same every year.  The temperature goes up just a little bit and suddenly my afternoon walks go from being calm and routine to a game of Donkey Kong.

All of the dogs I walk are reactive to some degree. Many of them have some solid training under their belts and are able to stay relatively calm when we pass by dogs on the street (as long as we have some space). Our walks are pretty laid back all winter and we get to be on autopilot.

But when spring comes and the number of dogs they need to deal with is suddenly 1 billion times higher than what they’ve been dealing with all winter, they struggle a bit. They need a little time to acclimate to the deluge.

And I can see the same thing happening for all the basement bucket poopers too. They’re out and about for the first time in months and, while they might normally be very cool on leash, they’re a hot mess at the beginning of spring.

In my experience, the ability to stay calm on leash around other dogs is like a muscle:  If they don’t use it, they lose it. This goes double for reactive dogs.


useit


A lot of people I know are surprised by this. They think that if they take their reactive dogs to a class or two and their dogs improve, then they’re set for life. But in reality, it takes regular practice. You have to keep working at it.

We wouldn’t go to the gym every day for a month, never go back again, but still expect our bodies to stay in shape forever. I have tried this so, so many times and, I swear, it never works. We have to exercise consistently in order to maintain and build our muscles.

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Gretchen Rubin


That’s why so many reactive dog owners keep going to classes, join group walks, and do other structured activities around other dogs. It allows them to practice in a safe, structured environment around other dogs. It keeps other dogs from becoming a total novelty (aka a really big deal!) to their dogs. And that helps their dogs stay “fit” so that when they’re out taking a walk in a more hectic environment, their dogs are better equipped to handle the challenges that pop up.

If your reactive dog made huge strides for a while, but then you kept them inside most of the winter (that polar vortex was NO JOKE), then you might experience this sort of “muscle atrophy” when you start going for walks again this spring.

Your dogs haven’t flexed their “I totally know what to do when I see another dog and it is NOT to fling my turds at them” muscle for a while. Every dog they see is a novelty and they’re having trouble remembering the game plan. Don’t panic. Your dogs are  just out of shape.

No judgement. It happens to all of us.

Same goes for the dogs that have been walking all winter. If they’re anything like the dogs I walk, then they’ve been using those muscles, but at the same low level for months. When springtime hits, it’s like jumping up a few levels on the old stair climber. The dogs need some time to gently reacclimate their muscles to this increased challenge.

So if you and your dogs are a little rusty – for whatever reason – don’t freak out. Spring might be a good time to take a training class to ease back into hanging out with other people and dogs again. Or take a few walks with your friends and their dogs. Or if your dog would be up for it, try a structured group walk. Add some sort of regular practice into your routine.

And don’t forget to bring more treats on your walks for a while. There are at least a gazillion and half more dogs out there, plus joggers, that you’ll want to reward your dog for staying cool around. Be sure your pockets are well stocked. No one said we can’t have a snack while we’re working out. So go ahead: Use it, reward it, keep it.  

In the comments tell me: Has this happened with your dogs in the spring or after a dog walking sabbatical? How have you helped them?

DIY Wobble Board For Your Dog

Birdie is doing well these days (knock on all the wood) and she’s been fully mobile for a while, so our new goal is to rebuild muscle in her leg. In order to do that, she has to learn that’s it’s ok to use it again, since she’s been avoiding putting weight on it for so long. (Need to catch up? You can read about Birdie’s ACL tear and rehab here and here)

One way to do that is to use a Wobble Board. At physical therapy, our therapist had Birdie stand on one as we gently moved the board around. This forced Birdie to shift her weight to the atrophied leg and activated those weaker muscles as she balanced herself.

I don’t have any photos of Birdie on the board because my hands are always full – I’m holding her in place so she’s secure, but you can see a Wobble Board in action here.

We wanted to keep this up at home, but money is tight, so I couldn’t buy a new Wobble Board. Birdie’s therapist suggested I make my own.

I found a piece of kitchen counter top from the 1950’s (check out that mid-century metallic flecking) sitting around the house and it practically screamed “I wanna rock your dog’s world!”. Who am I to deny an old kitchen counter a new life as physical therapy equipment for my dog?

And so it was born: The Kitchen Counter Weeble Wobble. Also known as the DIY project for people who don’t want to measure much or cut anything.

This is how you can make something similar at your house:

1. Find a piece of counter top, a table top, or get some plywood. It should be big enough that your dog can stand on it with all four legs.

wobble board

2. Next you’ll need a softball, an approx. 4 inch screw, and a couple of washers. Find the center of the ball and with a drill, screw that, uh, screw through the ball and into the center of the board. We stuck a washer between the board and the ball for good measure.

board back

3. Now you’ll need something to act as tread for your dogs. I used rubbery shelf liners. You can also use adhesive stair treads/strips or any variety of gripping, non-skid tape. To get my drawer liners to stick, I used Gorilla Glue (with rubber gloves because I prefer my fingertips with the skin on them).

board supplies

4. After I laid down the tread, I smushed it down real good. If you’re wondering, that’s exactly how Bob Villa describes this step in “This Old Wobble Board.”  And then I let it dry overnight.

board front

5. Done! Wobble it Baby.

board pinterest

Note: this is a pretty steeply angled board. I hold Birdie while she’s on it so she doesn’t hurt herself launching off of it. You can learn how to make a real deal, cut your own pieces of wood, lower wobble board here so you can do more rehab exercises like these.

Don’t want to make one? You can buy a Wobble Board. Check out this one from Fit Paws.

Not sure if you need one of these bad boys in your life? Here’s a few ways your dogs might benefit from the Wobble Board:

1. They improve balance, mobility, and joint strength.

2. If your dog wants to impress all the other dogs at Pilates, they’ll need one of these to work their core.

3. They can help boost your dog’s confidence. Shy dogs can benefit from from tackling weird stuff like this. Start slow and reward generously. Next thing you know, your shy dog will be boldly asking the head cheerleader to Prom.

4. They can help get your dog ready for the Teeter Totter in agility. This is a good intro to all moving thingamajigs.

5. They increase body awareness which can be helpful for just about any dog. Working with the board helps them to become more aware of all four of their limbs. Or two limbs.

 

In other Birdie-Busts-a-Move news, her physical therapist got a brand new, state of the art space ship  hydrotherapy treadmill which we got to try out for the first time last month.

birdie treadmill 2

Birdie, who is as excited about swimming as I am about doing my taxes, did much better on the treadmill than in the pool. I think she liked that she could keep her head above water. She walked at a good pace for 10 minutes. The point? To rebuild that skinny leg!

birdie treadmill

Wobble On!



Let The (Dog) Games Begin!

Remember that time I wrote about Dog Walking Social Groups? Not really? Here you go.

I’m a big fan of these groups for a lot of reasons, but mostly because they provide safe, structured socialization for dogs. Of course, sometimes group walks just aren’t possible. Like right now, it’s 7 degrees out.

That’s right: 7

So maybe you and your groupies (question: what’s a nickname for group members that doesn’t make them sound like they hang out in the back of tour buses?) are looking for something new to try indoors. Or maybe you and your fellow classmates have graduated past basic Reactive Rover type exercises and y’all want to cut loose a little with your new skills.

Enter group games! Games can be a fun way to practice what you’ve learned in class or on group hikes. They keep your dog working around other dogs in a positive and controlled setting. But they’re also pretty silly. Which can be a nice change of pace.

Also, you can pretend you’re Katniss. Only instead of a bow and arrow, you have a treat bag filled with stinky tuna.  Bad. Ass.

Will your dog volunteer as tribute? Mine neither. That's cool.

Will your dog volunteer as tribute? Mine neither.


Wanna try? Here are a few silly games I’ve played (or watched others play) that might be a good fit for your crew:

‘Red Light, Green Light!’

This is my personal favorite. I’ve had a lot of laughs playing this game with leash reactive dogs and their owners.  Here’s how it’s done: Each on-leash dog stands with their person on a start line. An instructor stands (without a dog) at the other end of the room or field with their back to the group.

The objective is to be the first pair to reach the instructor/finish line. Along the way, you’ll be practicing stuff like “look”, “down” and “let’s go”.

The instructor will call out “Green Light” and the teams will walk quickly towards the finish line while engaging their dogs and encouraging loose leash walking.

When the instructor calls out “Red Light” and turns around to face the group, all the dogs must be lying down. Any pair that is caught in motion, not lying down, has to go back to the starting line. This continues until one pair makes it to the finish line and puts their dog in a down stay.

Ring Around the Rosie’

Each on-leash dog stands with their person in a large circle. The instructor (and maybe a few friends) sings the song “Ring Around the Rosie” as the pairs walk around the outside of the circle practicing loose leash walking and eye contact.

When the song ends with the line “they all fall DOWN”, all the dogs must be in a down position. The last dog to lie down is eliminated. Be mindful of space between dogs, so that you don’t run into anyone when that “down!” gets hollered.

Musical Hoops’

Another childhood favorite adapted for dogs, this game is the canine version of Musical Chairs. You’ll need as many hula hoops as there are dogs participating in the game. To give the dogs some space from one another, you can place the hoops as far away from each other as you need and they can be set up in a circle or in a row.

The dogs are on leash with their owners and, as the music plays, the dogs walk around the hoops practicing loose leash walking and eye contact. When the music stops, the dogs are asked to sit or lie down inside the nearest hula hoop. The dogs must have at least two paws inside the hoop. If a dog does not have at least two paws inside the hoop, they’re out. One hoop is then removed and the game continues!

Again, be mindful of the other dogs. Don’t run to the same hoop with nothing but the sweet taste of victory on your lips. Winning isn’t worth a head on in-hoop collision.

Hide and Seek’

If your dog prefers solo time with you, play at home! Ask your dog to sit or lie down and put them in a stay. Hide in another room and then call your dog. Wait for him to find you – try not to laugh and give away your hiding spot! It’s that simple.


Depending on how challenging these activities are for your dogs, you may need to refrain from lots of hollering, high-fiving, and giggle fits. It’ll be helpful to stay calm and cool, so the dogs don’t get too psyched (especially if you’re playing inside). But as time goes on and the dogs settle in, I highly recommend laughing and cutting loose a little. Also, there needs to be an instructor or two (or someone else without a dog), to help troubleshoot/declare the winner.

And remember different games work for different dogs. It’s cool if these aren’t your dog’s thing. Don’t give up on games all together though. Have you tried Nose Works? I haven’t met a dog yet that doesn’t like that one. And it’s the perfect winter-time activity.

But if you do decide to play, games like these can be as challenging as regular training classes and as social as a group walk. Give them a try and may the odds be ever in your dog’s favor!


p.s. If you’ve got a favorite group or solo game that you like to play with your dogs, let us know in the comments, ok?

Living with a Reactive Dog: Interview with Dog Trainer Sara Reusche

I’m not sure when or how I stumbled on dog trainer Sara Reusche’s blog, Paws Abilities, but I was psyched that I did. For those of you who don’t know her yet, Sara owns Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota and is dual certified as a veterinary technician and professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA). Her posts about living and training dogs are beyond helpful, always compassionate, and so well-written. Not an easy hat-trick to pull off post after post. 

Earlier this year, Sara wrote a handy three part blog series about living, managing, and training a reactive dog. I was relieved: finally, a straightforward starting place for anyone living with a reactive dog. In the first post Sara defines reactivity. You might want to read that now. We’ll wait. Go ahead.

Next up Sara wrote about how to manage your dog’s reactivity and then went over the foundations for training your reactive dog. Go on and read those two if you haven’t already.

OK, all caught up? Let’s head on down to the interview section of this shindig where I bother Sara with all of my questions about reactivity.

sara_layla_trout

Sara with her dogs Layla and Trout


Jessica: There are lots of books out there about training and working with reactive dogs. If someone is new to living with a reactive dog, what’s the first book you recommend that they read?

Sara: Honestly, I would recommend starting with “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” by Karen Pryor. It’s not a book about reactivity, but it does an absolutely wonderful job of covering all of the fundamentals of training.

I also really like Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” books. She has two of them, and I would suggest starting with the “Puppy Program” book, because the exercises and information in there are really applicable to any age, not just puppies. The Puppy Program book is organized a little better, so it will be easier for you to find the exercises you need when you want to brush up on them, and the short chapters are a great example of “splitting” down human behaviors to help you feel successful right away.


J: One of the challenges to working with a reactive dog is that it can (sometimes) be a long road without a quick fix. Any thoughts on helping families to set realistic goals for themselves and their dogs?

S: Two things: keep notes and develop a support network.

I rarely have a student who’s excited about note-taking when I first suggest it (although there are a few geeks out there who start talking spreadsheets and charts right away, and I love ‘em!). That said, tracking your dog’s progress can really help to speed up your training progress and get you through those tough days.

By tracking your dog’s progress, you can oftentimes pick up on patterns that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. One of my clients had a dog who was intermittently destructive. Most of the time the dog was just fine when left home alone, but every so often my clients would return to find a disaster zone with shredded paper and chewed-up carpet. When we started to track the dog’s destructiveness, we found that she was destructive every single Wednesday and occasionally on other days. It turns out that she was terrified of the sound of diesel engines (such as the garbage truck), and only got into stuff when trucks came through her neighborhood. We never would have figured this out without notes. Other clients have figured out that their dogs are worse (or better!) for a few days after daycare, don’t like certain “types” of dog (ears sticking up, large dogs, small fluffy dogs, etc.), or react to specific types of clothing. Knowing what sets your dog off can be half the battle!

The other really great thing that notes can do is to give you a pick-me-up when your dog’s having a tough day or week. It can be so helpful to go back and realize that even though your dog reacted five times this week, she used to react 5-10 times every single week, and she’s improved so much. Progress isn’t linear, and dogs have bad days just like we do. Knowing that it’s just a temporary blip and reviewing just how far you’ve come can be immensely helpful.

Besides note-taking, building a support network is huge. Whether it’s a local network or an Internet community, connecting with others who understand can provide you with much-needed support. Our Growl classes oftentimes come to resemble a support group, since everyone cheers for one another’s success. Our students oftentimes develop friendships with one another and many of them have gone on to schedule training dates outside of class where they get together to practice with someone who understands throughout the week. If you don’t have anyone local to partner with, check out some of the wonderful online communities (such as this one and others in the links section of this blog!).

Remember that each dog is an individual, so as long as your dog is making progress you should celebrate her success. She may not make progress as quickly as other dogs and may make progress more quickly than others, and that’s okay. You probably learn things faster than some and slower than others as well. Focus on your own dog’s successes. If your dog isn’t making any progress at all, look back at your notes and touch base with your support group to see how you can tweak your training plan.


J: What’s the one mistake you see reactive dog owners repeatedly doing that makes life harder for them and their dogs?

S: One of the hardest things to do when you’re first starting off is to keep your dog under threshold. Remember that practice makes perfect, so the more your dog “practices” lunging or barking, the better they get at it. Figuring out how to prevent these behaviors by managing your dog or his environment will go a long way towards helping you get on top of his reactivity.

Not only do you not need to put your dog in difficult situations to train him, but doing so will slow down his progress. Start where your dog is successful and work up to the more challenging environments or situations.


J: Reactivity is a really broad label that covers a lot of very different dogs. What works for one dog, may not work for another. Can you speak to the differences in reactivity? How does that impact the approach you take when working with them?

For example: Do you approach working with a very sensitive, fearful dog, the same way as you would a reactive dog that is not sensitive to people or the environment?

S: Great question! Reactivity is definitely not one-size-fits-all, and it’s important to always remember that your dog is an individual. Some dogs are very specifically reactive – perhaps only towards other dogs or to men in hats or people wearing white lab coats – while others react to everything.

This is one situation where I think it’s very useful for us to anthropomorphize a bit. Put yourself in your dog’s paws. If you were your dog, how would you want someone to work with you? If you found the world really overwhelming and were on high alert every time you left the house, would you want someone to make you leave the house every single day and go on a long walk where you saw many scary things, or would you prefer it if that person took you on short little field trips and helped you feel brave a couple times a week? On the other hand, if you just got really excited when you saw specific people and had a hard time containing yourself, how would you like someone to help you learn to control yourself? Be as kind and fair to your dog as you’d want someone to be to you.

There are a lot of different approaches out there to working with reactivity, so educate yourself about them and choose the one that feels right for your dog. You are your dog’s advocate, so it’s always okay to change things up if that will help your dog be successful. If this is all new to you and a little overwhelming, a good trainer can be invaluable.


J: There are a lot of trainers offering classes and sessions for reactive dogs. But they’re not all equally skilled. How can someone determine if a trainer or class is the right fit for their individual dog’s needs?

S: Choosing the right trainer is huge in helping your dog to be successful. Talk to the trainer ahead of time and ask them a little bit about their experience and the methods they use. Ask if you can observe a class or a private training session and make sure you’re comfortable with that trainer’s interactions with dogs and people. The students – both human and canine – should both appear to be having fun and being successful. Look for a trainer who is kind and respects both ends of the leash.

One of the best questions I recommend people ask their potential trainer has to do with education. Good trainers continually work to better ourselves. Ask your trainer about the most recent training book she’s read or training seminar she’s attended. If she’s not committed to ongoing education, look elsewhere. No one knows everything.


Thank you Sara!

For those of you who haven’t already, be sure to stop by Sara’s blog and catch up on all of her posts. She’s an excellent resource for anyone living with dogs (even the ones that aren’t reactive)!

If you’re looking for more resources for living with your reactive dog, check out the Dogs in Need of Space website. Under the tab “Resources for Dog Owners” you’ll find books, articles, group classes, and much more to help you help your dogs.

Peace in the Yard: 7 Ways To Dog Proof Your Fence

Oh sweet, sweet fences.  How much do I love thee? Let me count ways:

  • Fences Keep Dogs Inside. My dogs are off leash, safe, and free to roll in dead stuff without getting tangled in long leads.
  • Fences Keep Others Out. Except for a family of Whistle Pigs and one mole with a grudge, no one is cutting through our yard.
  • Fences Provide Privacy. It is my right as an American to wear my pajamas all day and not have my neighbors see me slob out.


So clearly, fences are rad. They’re awesome management tools. Not only do they keep everyone safely contained, but they also allow you to do all kinds of fun stuff at home in your yard. Playing at home is super handy if you have a DINOS and need a break from walking your dog or you need to exercise them prior to a walk.


As you probably know, there are many different kinds of fences to choose from. Go check ‘em out:

Solid Wood

Chain Link

Farm Fence

Iron or Aluminum 

Invisible (I have some thoughts on those)

Vinyl

Plastic (affordable option alert!)

In the end, what you choose will come down to your personal needs in these areas: Privacy, Finances, Function, and Aesthetics.

As soon as we bought out first home last year, we hired some pros to install a fence. We have a few acres, but could only fence in part of the yard. We chose six foot, solid wood fencing for the portion of our yard that faces the street. The rest is six foot, 2”x4” galvanized, no climb, horse farm fencing from RedBrand. The majority of our fence is the wire farm fencing. This allowed us to save a ton of money, but also provides unobstructed views of the rest of our property. This is a good option if neighboring dogs/properties aren’t an issue.

Farm Fence

Boogie’s first time off leash in our newly fenced in yard. It was a good day.

No matter what type of fence you choose (or what you already have, thanks to your landlord or the person who lived there before you), you’ll probably have problems with it. That’s the way life rolls.

Maybe your dogs are fence fighting with the neighbor’s dogs or kids are sticking their hands through the fence and you’ve been finding tiny fingers in your lawn clippings. Or your dog is a jumper, a digger, or a Chris Angel impersonator. Maybe your dog screams at passing skateboarders or the ice cream truck.

Luckily, there are some ways to prevent these common dog-related fence problems (escaping, reacting, being tormented):

1. Landscaping: If you have a dog that is a jumper or likes to patrol the fence line, consider using landscaping as a way to keep your dogs away from the fence. By planting dense shrubs, like Boxwood, along the fence line, you’ll force your dogs to back up, making the jump further (aka harder). And if you have a patroller, the landscaping will make the buffer zone between the fence and your dog a few feet wider, which might help your dog take the day off from guard duty. Just remember to check in between the shrubs on the regular to make sure the dogs haven’t created a secret tunnel to Naughtyville.


2. Bamboo/Reed Rolls, Garden Fencing, and Slats: If you have a chain link fence and you find that your dog is reacting to stuff he sees on the other side of the fence, try zip-tying rolls of reed fencing onto the inside of your chain link fence. It looks nice, it’s cheap, and it’ll give you a lot more privacy (note: it’s not 100% opaque). The reed fencing comes in 4 or 6 foot high panels and can be cut easily. Bamboo looks nicer/is much sturdier, but is also more expensive.

bamboo or reed fencing

Or, you can feed plastic slats through your chain link fence. They even come in “hedge” (!) style. Either option will also stop others from putting their hands/snouts through the fence.

If style isn’t your thing, but function is, you can try a black plastic construction fence as a visual block.

And if you have a fence that your dog is able to stick their head through, but you don’t care about privacy, try adding rolls of garden fencing to your fence to block ‘em in!


3. L-Footer:  If you have a digger, consider an L-Footer. That’s wire fencing laid down against the base of your fence and bent perpendicular (90 degree angle) to it. You know, like an “L”. You can bury this fencing underground, but it doesn’t have to be buried to work. Some people just lay it on top of the grass and maybe add some rocks and garden gnomes to hold down the fort. This site explains it well (and has tons of other great tips). Also see Bad Rap’s rebar tip.

L Footer (source)

L Footer (source)

4. Concrete Footer: If you have a serious digger, consider pouring concrete along the perimeter of the fence line and sinking the bottom of the fence into the concrete before it dries.  It’ll take some work, but this is super effective.

5. Coyote Rollers: If you have a jumper or climber, you can try these rollers, designed to make it impossible for coyotes to get a grip on the top of the fence (the bar spins). Think rolling pins at the top of your fence. You can DIY this with PVC pipe, if you’re handy.

6. Lean-Ins: Another option is to build lean-ins using farm fencing, so that the top of your fence is angled in a bit horizontal to the ground. It’s like adding a little awning of security.  It’s also like a cat fence, only sturdier.

If your dog is a champion jumper, and none of this is enough, you may have to consider an expanded exercise area that is totally enclosed with a ceiling. Or a Bio-Dome (sans Pauly Shore, since you actually like your dog).

You can score this kit here

You can score this lean-in kit here


7. Redundant fences:  Redundant fences are the jam. I know of more than one family (mine included) whose backyard life got an extreme makeover when they put in one of these babies. So what is a redundant fence exactly?

It’s a fence within a fence. You can put up a secondary, internal fence on just one side of your yard – wherever the problems are occurring – or all four sides. Most people I know have it on just one side of their yard where they share a common fence with a troublesome neighbor, with a busy commercial building or street, or with a damaged or ineffective fence that can’t be changed for some reason (like when you rent or your neighbor owns the fence).

The idea is to manage the situation with a secondary internal fence, set back from the common fence line, thereby preventing your dog from making bad choices, rehearsing behaviors like fence fighting, or escaping easily. Plus it can help speed up training and will prevent other people/dogs from putting your dog in dangerous scenarios.

The redundant fence doesn’t need to be expensive.  We used to rent a house that had a rickety old wood fence that belonged to the next door neighbors. Since we couldn’t do any repairs to the fence, we put up a roll of green plastic fencing about 3 feet back from the common fence line to keep our dogs from poking their heads through the broken fence. We also used a plastic, staked-in-the-ground, corner piece at one point. Could I have trained them not to poke their heads through the broken fence? Sure. But putting up the cheap redundant fence was easy, cheap, fast, always effective, and did I mention easy?

Depending on what issue you’re trying to prevent and your dog’s personal kung-fu skills, the redundant fence may need to be as strong as the outer fence. For some dogs, just having the visual of light pvc fencing will work, for others, they’ll need a solid wood fence to contain them safely.

One more thing about redundant fences: do it. I think people feel funny about a fence inside a fence. It seems silly to have two fences, especially if you just paid to put up the first one! But the families I know that went for it are enjoying their lives again. So if you think it could provide you with some peace at home, just do it.

For more on redundant fences, please check out Puddin’s Training Tips for ideas and some examples. She loves them so much, she wants to start a double fence movement!


BONUS: here are two more ways to keep your dogs inside and safe:

Airlocks: These are perfect for areas without a fence. You’ve probably seen airlocks at your local dog park or boarding facility. These handy gated areas are built in front of your main entrance, so that if the door opens and a dog escapes, they are still contained by the small gated area (the airlock) right outside the door. For some dogs, this may be as simple as adding a sturdy baby gate to the opening of your front porch. In other homes with other dogs, this may mean building a small fenced in area with a locking gate in front of your door. Grisha Stewart’s BAT book has some more tips, including adding a doorbell to the airlock, so that visitors have to wait outside the airlock (instead of at your front door) for you to let them in. We did something similar with our enclosed porch that leads to our front door (see here).

If you have kids, this one addition could mean the difference between being able to keep your dog and surrendering him to the shelter. I can’t tell you how many families brought in dogs to the shelter where I used to work because the dog was always escaping when the kids opened the door. If you have an escape artist or kids that let the dog out, add an airlock.

Airlocks are commonly used at doggy day cares (like this one)

Airlocks are commonly used at doggy day cares (like this one)


Locks: They keep your dogs in and other people out. We have 10’ swinging gates on our fence and after a few bad storms we discovered that the gates would sometimes blow open. We added a second lock (on the inside) to help keep those bad boys shut.

Depending on where you live, it’s not uncommon for people to let themselves into your fenced in yard. Maybe they wanted to cut through your yard and throw empty 40 bottles at your wind chimes (it happens). Whatever the reason, you don’t want people to be able to let themselves into your yard without your permission. So consider adding locks on the inside of your gates. It can be as simple as a big hook and eye.


All that being said, prevention is awesome, but supervision is always super important. Don’t leave your dogs unattended in your yard. Don’t. Especially if they fence fight or are canine Houdinis. Not only can they get into trouble sniffing snakes (I’m looking at you Boogie), but they’re likely to get bored. And bored dogs want to go on adventures. Give them a reason to stay inside the fence by hanging out with them and playing.

Of course, if nothing else, I’m a realist. So I know that most of us do leave our dogs unattended in the yard sometimes (even if it’s just for a minute) and that’s why all the above stuff should be considered. It’s our job to prevent, manage, supervise, and train…

So, training. Duh. Teach your dogs the skills they need to ignore dogs on the other side of the fence, to come when called, and to stop escaping. That’s really important too.

But all in all, training goes a lot faster when you can prevent your dogs from practicing naughty-pants behaviors like door dashing, tunnel crafting, and fence fighting. So no matter how much training you’re planning on doing, the solutions above will support your dog as they learn, keep them and others safe, and will only make things easier for you. And easy is my favorite.

Now go on and get! Hit the local hardware store and: Set your dogs up to succeed!

 

7 ways to dog proof fence

I Was a Teenage Gap Girl

UPDATE: As of October 2013, Amazon has banned all residents of the state of Maine from their affiliate program. It’s a gigantic pissing match between a giant corporation and our state government over the “unconstitutional Maine state tax collection legislation passed by the state legislature and Governor LePage…” (quote from Amazon). So the store still exists, but I no longer earn any commission on the products you purchase there. Fun times, right? Stay tuned for updates!

I want to warn you: This blog post is going to result in a shameless self promotion that may make me wealthy one day. And by wealthy, I mean not rich at all, but more like the kind of woman who owns multiple pairs of flip flops simultaneously, including a pair of “dress” flops. You should stop reading now if that makes you uncomfortable. No hard feelings. Promise.

Before we go any further: I have to tell you about working at the Gap when I was in high school. This was weird, because it was the 90’s and I didn’t look like I worked at the Gap. I dressed like a boy. A boy who alternated between farming (overalls and flannel shirts) and skating (huge jeans and ringer tees) and apprenticing at a funeral home (black, black, black, and Docs), while rapping on the side (puffy vests and Africa medallions – just kidding! I never wore a puffy vest).

But I was a teenager in New Jersey and that means the majority of the jobs available to me were at The Mall. When the Gap offered me five dollars an hour, how could I refuse?

So I worked at the Gap and I was a really, really good salesperson. I sold a lot of clothes because I told people not to buy stuff.

I always gave people my honest opinion about how they looked, which if you’ve ever worked a dressing room, you’ll know means I had to tell people they looked terrible a lot. For those of you who have never worked a dressing room, I’ll just say this: it’s never a bad idea to wear clothes in your actual size, not the size you wish you were or the size you were when you were three.

You might think that I got slapped a lot. Nope! People were tired of corny salesgirls telling them to “just cinch it!” and they appreciated my honesty. When I suggested different clothes, ones that looked good on them, people trusted my opinion.

I genuinely wanted everyone to look nice. Especially all the middle-aged ladies that were going on dates. I really wanted to help them because I thought they were super brave to be out there dating when they were so clearly vulnerable to breaking a hip. Looking back, these women were probably 26. But still. I wanted them to feel fierce (I can say “fierce” because it was the 90’s and RuPaul taught me everything I knew about being a woman).

 

All of my teenage fashion influences, in one photo. (source)

Almost all of my teenage fashion influences are in this photo. (source)


This radical honesty, combined with my drag queen-like dedication to empowering women to look their best, led to loyal customers and many sales. Occasionally, it also led to people not buying anything. This annoyed my managers.

Shockingly, I never got fired. Not even when I showed up to work dressed like Columbo (brown wool pants, crumpled white button down shirt, cigar in my pocket). I’d like to think that was because the corporate offices at the Gap were monitoring my new approach to sales: honesty, empathy, and relationship building. But it was probably because I left for college a few months later, before my managers could come up with a plan to fire me without triggering a law suit (discriminating against an employee for being a Peter Falk impersonator is serious business).

So all of this is to say: I’m not comfortable selling stuff just for the sake of the sale. I have to believe that it’s really looking good on you/making your life a little easier/getting you laid on your date tonight.

And the point of saying that is because: I wanted to tell you that I started an Amazon affiliate store filled with some of the stuff I mention here on my blog, as well as some of the stuff that you’ve told me is awesome, and I hope you’ll check it out some time. I thought it would be helpful to have some of the products I write about all in one place for easy browsing and linking.

 

Notes from a Dog Walker Store


Full (Monty) Disclosure: I earn a little advertising fee when you buy stuff in the store – it’s not so much that I can buy an Airstream, but it’s a little pocket change to go towards paying the bills. The less time I spend rolling pennies, the more time I have to write. Which, after reading this, you may or may not want me to do. (10/7/13: Not anymore. See update at the beginning of the blog).

I feel like I should say, just for the record: affiliates doesn’t change what I write about. I share stuff here that I think will be helpful and that I really like, whether or not it’s for sale in the store. Some of what I mention here is for sale in the store, some of it is for sale in other people’s stores, and some of it is being sold out of the back of a truck by that cousin of yours that no one mentions by name anymore. I like to spread the business around. 

No pressure to visit the store. I just felt like it was self-sabotaging to not even announce that I’d made one. So there:  I made a store

Phew!

p.s. It’s not your hips. No one looks good in a treat pouch. But, wear it anyway, because Supermodel, You Better Work.

Also, I know you want to watch this right now. I just did:





The Nose Knows: State Farm’s Arson Dog Program

Did you know that Maine is home to the State Farm Arson Dog Program? Me neither! That’s why I was beyond excited when I got a rare invitation from Heather Paul of State Farm to observe the program in action. Let’s go check it out together!

First, some basics: The State Farm Arson Dog Program was established with direction from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.  There are only two ways to become a certified Arson Dog. One is through the State Farm program in Maine and the other is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

From State Farm, “To help combat arson fraud and increase community awareness of the problem, State Farm has been providing financial support for the acquisition and training of an arsonist’s worst nightmare: accelerant detection canines, better known as the arson dog. Since 1993, the State Farm Arson Dog Program has put more than 300 dogs and their partners to work in 44 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces.

Arson dogs are trained to sniff out minute traces of accelerants (gasoline, lighter fluid, etc.) that may have been used to start a fire. Each arson dog works and lives with their handler, a law enforcement officer or firefighter trained to investigate fire scenes. The canines and handlers are required to complete four weeks of training in Maine, training every day during those four weeks. The intensive training school is led by Paul Gallagher, Owner and Head Trainer of Maine Specialty Dogs.”

State Farm Arson Dog Spring Training 2013

State Farm Arson Dog Spring Training 2013


I was invited to observe one day of the 2013 Spring training session. Here’s what I learned:

Arson dogs are fast: The teams can work an entire scene in less 30 minutes. It can take humans days to do what a dog does in minutes.

Arson dogs are accurate: At best, humans can make educated guesses about possible accelerant use and will need to collect an average of 20 samples to send off to a lab for testing. With an arson dog, their nose narrows down the guess work and they wind up taking 3 samples on average.

Arson dogs save time and money: Fewer (but better) samples saves money at the lab. The dog’s work speeds up investigations and provides for a higher conviction rate. Often, arson dog teams are brought in to rule out an arson. This allows the claim process to move forward more quickly.

Arson dogs know how to work a crowd:  At a fire scene, the dogs are encouraged to mingle with the crowds and give them a good sniff. If the arsonist is in the crowd watching (a common phenomenon, especially with kids aka “firebugs”), the arson dogs will alert to smell the accelerant on their clothes, shoes, or body. The dogs may be brought in during a suspect’s questioning to do a sniff as well. And the dogs also make appearances in courtrooms when their handlers present evidence (which may include the dog’s training, experience, and the procedure followed at the incident in question).

Arson dogs are unbiased: The dogs just stick to the truth. If there’s an accelerant present, they alert. The dogs are simply communicating that something is there (or not there), without any personal basis or judgement.

Arson dogs are valued members of their communities: In addition to averaging 90 fires a year, in their off hours, Arson Dog teams head out into their community to teach fire safety and prevention to kids. These local heroes even get to strut their stuff in parades.

The handlers love working with their dogs: Being a part of an Arson Dog team is no small commitment. Once an arson dog is certified and placed with a handler, he or she works every day of the year and must be recertified annually. Handlers make a five year commitment to working with their dogs. Most of them stick around a lot longer!

The handlers live and work with their dogs 24-7.  It’s a deep bond. One handler, Assistant Chief Steve Gallagher of the Chillicothe Ohio Fire Department, chose to retire from arson investigations when he lost Winchester, his partner of 11 years. He just couldn’t imagine working scenes without his dog. Lucky for Chillicothe, Steve was at the Spring 2013 training with his new partner Gunther. This is a man who loves the work and the dogs too much to stay away.

Assistant Chief Steve Gallagher and K-9 Gunther with the Chillicothe Fire Department (photo credit: State Farm)

Assistant Chief Steve Gallagher and K-9 Gunther with the Chillicothe Fire Department (photo credit: State Farm)


The day I visited the dogs were doing searches in a structure set up to look like a fire scene – complete with terrifying mannequins lying around looking like they just ran out of a burning mall.

Arson Investigator Mitch Kushner and K-9 Zoe with the Illinois State Fire Marshal's office

Arson Investigator Mitch Kushner and K-9 Zoe with the Illinois State Fire Marshal’s office


Before each team entered the building the instructors placed finds among the rooms and marked each spot with a chalk “S”:

state farm arson dog training

S marks the spot


The teams entered one at a time and the dogs went to work.  The encouraging word “Seek, Seek, Seek” was all I heard as the handlers allowed the dogs to work the scene.

Just like in an amateur nose works class, the handler doesn’t direct the dog – they don’t pull on the leash – they let the dogs do the work. The handlers might tap on the walls or floor to engage the dogs, but they never tap the evidence itself. The handlers keep their feet moving, watch the body language of their dogs, and allow the dogs time to work.

state farm arson dog training

Special Agent Brett Ellis and K-9 Pippa with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation


When a dog detects the accelerant they alert by sitting.Then the handler swoops in and rewards them with a handful of kibble and praise.  The dogs were so pleased with themselves!

state farm arson dog alerts

Pippa sits to alert and gets her reward


The dogs, who had received training before being placed with their handlers in the Spring camp, knew what they were doing. The training was primarily for the humans. So if a handler struggled, the instructors reminded them to be patient, let the dogs do the their jobs, and to reward them big time when they alerted. It was hard work – these guys were sweating – but the dogs were having a great time and seemed to know that the newer handlers would eventually have the coordination and skills to keep up with them!

After they leave the training programs, the teams continue training together every day to keep their skills sharp. Everything they do is recorded in detailed training logs, including how much the dogs eat. That’s because the dogs get all of their food fed to them by hand, during their multiple training sessions per day. Until the dogs retire, they’ll never eat out of a bowl.

By the way, this type of feeding and training routine makes going on vacation pretty much impossible for the handlers. Unless they’ve trained a secondary handler to feed and train the dogs while they’re away, the handlers stay put.  Like I said earlier, this is no small commitment.

Deputy Chief Barry Overman and K-9 Ranson with the Elizabeth City Fire Department

Deputy Chief Barry Overman and K-9 Ranson with the Elizabeth City Fire Department (photo credit: State Farm)


As for the dogs themselves, both the ATF and State Farm prefer Labradors or Lab-mixes for their programs. One reason they choose to work with Labs is public perception. If a Shepherd-type dog were to walk into a crowd at a fire scene, people may suspect that the dog is working for law enforcement and leave. But a Lab? People – including arsonists – are more than happy to let a Lab approach them, without ever suspecting that the Lab is searching them for clues!

Guide dog training “dropouts” are favorite candidates for arson detection work. Generally, it’s the guide dog with too much prey drive or one that’s too focused on food that makes the switch from service to arson work. The dogs need to be very high energy. It’s the kind of dog that may be considered a challenge by the average dog owner.

Occasionally, State Farm is able to pull a shelter dog for the program. But why not more? When I asked Paul Gallagher about this he explained that in the past, animal shelters haven’t been very enthusiastic about releasing their dogs to the program. Again, it’s a perception issue. The shelters perceive that all law enforcement-related agencies train their dog using force (even though that’s not the case with Arson Dogs), and some aren’t comfortable signing the dogs over. As a former shelter worker, I have to admit that I hope that changes, so that more shelter dogs might find their way into this amazing program.

Special Agent Brian Wright and K-9 Gunner with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (photo credit: State Farm)

Sitting to alert. Special Agent Brian Wright and K-9 Gunner with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (photo credit: State Farm)


Beyond watching the dogs and handlers work, what I found interesting was State Farm’s commitment to the program. State Farm covers the cost of training each dog (tens of thousands of dollars) for fire departments and other public entities around the country. The dogs go where the need is, not necessarily where State Farm writes polices. For example, they’ve trained dogs to work in British Columbia, where they don’t even offer insurance.  This program is a real investment in our communities and I have to admit, it makes me proud to be a State Farm customer*.

It was a real pleasure to spend the afternoon with these dedicated, compassionate, hardworking guys. It’s a joyful thing to watch working dogs do what they do best, all while bonding with their new handlers.  And it was cool knowing that each team was just a few weeks from heading to their new homes, where they’re all destined to become local heroes.

Here in Maine one of the State Farm teams, Dan Young of the Maine State Fire Marshal’s office and his dog Shasta, were on the scene during a recent string of fires not far from my town. Having just seen the program in action, I was so glad to know they were there, using that amazing nose to help keep our communities safe.

To learn more about Arson Dogs or to find our how your agency can apply for the program, please visit the State Farm website. You can see more photos from the Spring Training here. 

*This blog is not a paid endorsement. I received no compensation for writing about the State Farm Arson Dog program.



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 16,321 other followers