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365 More Chances

2013 xmas card 2

“Know how to live the time that is given to you.”- Dario Fo

 

A New Year. Another turn on the Pale Blue Dot. I’m feeling grateful for 12 fresh months of chances: to learn new things, make more mistakes, and spend time with my friends and family. Wishing you and your loved ones health and happiness in the New Year. Happy 2014 Everyone!




Animals From History: Interview with Artist Christina Hess

In another lifetime I worked at an Irish bar in Philadelphia called Moriarty’s. The staff back in those days was a pretty awesome bunch. One of them was the artist Christina Hess.

More than a decade later, Christina is the brilliance behind the recently released project Animal From History:

The Fitzgeralds - Copyright Christina Hess - All Rights Reserved

The Fitzgeralds – Copyright Christina Hess – All Rights Reserved

 

I love this series of illustrations. A lot. Lucky for me (and you) Chris was up for a few questions about her work. Let’s dive in!


Jessica: What was the inspiration behind Animals From History?

Christina: Animals and history always interested me, but this project came together for a few reasons. I painted a white cat (Queen Elhissabeth) for a client who wanted his cat immortalized as a queen. I did some research and felt that a generic queen would not have been as fun to do as someone that actually existed.  So I researched Queen Elisabeth and I found wonderful imagery that I could pull from. It ended up resonating with many people.

Copyright Christina Hess All Rights Reserved

Queen Elhissabeth – Copyright Christina Hess – All Rights Reserved

 

Another inspiration was our Basset Hound, Roscoe. He was a character and gave me a lot of stories. I often wondered what he would be saying if he were human and I coincided his rumbles with famous quotes or lyrics from songs.

At that point I felt like it would be a really fun project to bring together animals and history to make a world that I could continue working with.


J: Now that I’ve seen William Wallace as a scruffy terrier and Joan of Arc as a dignified German Shepherd, I can’t imagine them as any other kind of dog. How do you choose a particular animal and historical figure pairing? Does the person’s animal alter ego speak to you or vice versa?

C: It’s funny because when I first started this idea I had wild animals involved and had animal/human personalities match up. But then it took a domestic animal turn. I had used Kickstarter.com for funding the project and through that I offered original artwork of people’s pets as their choice of historical figures.

What I found is that people did not associate their pet as a personality because of looks or general attitude – it was all about the individual animal. Sometimes the choice lined up perfectly – like Kiddy Roosevelt. The cat really looked like Teddy Roosevelt!

It really became a community project and I learned so much about people’s pets. For example, the dogs behind Joan of Bark and Henry V are canine siblings in real life. When “Henry” moved in with “Joan” she terrorized him quite a bit.  So their owner and backer thought that two opposing personalities were appropriate for both of her German Shepherds.

Joanof Bark - Copyright Christina Hess - All Rights Reserved

Joan of Bark – Copyright Christina Hess – All Rights Reserved

 

With the wild animals I wanted to pair the personalities of them with the people. Snow leopards rarely stay together, as The Fitzgeralds did not. Mountain Lions are loners who are ruthless, hence the portrayal as Steve Jobs.


J: Your late dog Roscoe, an adorable Basset Hound, is depicted as Napoleon. What inspired that particular pairing?

C: The obvious short man syndrome applies to his breed a lot. Those Bassets act like big boys, including my Roscoe! He was also very vociferous and had a bit of prissiness to him that reminded me of Napoleon and his pushy personality. He was short, pushy, loud, obnoxious and loved french bread. I’m not kidding…bread was his catnip! He had a big personality, as did Napoleon.

Also, I really wanted him to hide his paw, so it appears he is scratching his own belly.

Copyright Christina Hess - All Rights Reserved

Napoleon Boneapart – Copyright Christina Hess – All Rights Reserved


J: Is there an animal or a historical figure you’re dying to bring to life next?

C: Many! I’m currently working on a pit bull as Queen Bessie Coleman and have many others on the list. Mary Shelly as a skunk. The Wright Brothers as Kiwi birds. Frank Lloyd Wright as a Greyhound, John Smith and Pocahontas as a deer and wolf. The list goes on…

William Pawllace - Copyright Christina Hess - All RIghts Reserved

William Pawllace – Copyright Christina Hess – All RIghts Reserved


J: Where can we see more Animals From History? Is the Ebook available to purchase?

C: Right now the images are online at ChristinaHess.com and AnimalsFromHistory.com. I also have them for sale in print form and in a 2014 calendar. I had to postpone the eBook, because I’m reworking some of the writing in order for my agent to pitch it to publishers. Hopefully it’ll be out by next year. I’ll keep you posted. Wish me luck!


I can’t wait for the book – I have no doubt it will be a huge success! Thank you for the interview Chris!

Mom Was Right: It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

A good friend of mine is about to bring home her very first dog. As you can imagine, I want to give her buckets of advice to help make this an awesome experience. I want to tell my friend everything I know, so that she can avoid all the mistakes anyone has ever made in the history of owning a dog.

I bet you guys can relate. If you’re involved in animal welfare or a pet-related business you’re probably doing a lot of knowledge dropping. From trying to explain the problem with puppy mills to trying to convince someone to leash their dog, we all want to get others to listen to us. It’s not easy!

It got me thinking: How can we share information with others in a way that’s truly helpful and well received? How do we keep the conversation going and create the right conditions for learning?

Over the years, I’ve picked up some tips that have helped me to get better at talking with others about stuff that I’m passionate about.


Here’s one thing I know for sure:

Being right is not enough. What good is being right if no one sticks around to listen?

How we give people information is as important as the information itself. Mom was right when she told us, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!”


These are the four nuggets that I try to keep in mind, so that I’m not just talking to my cats:

  1. Avoid Information Overload
  2. Personal Experience is King
  3. Help Them Save Face
  4. Small Steps Deserve Big Cheers



Avoid Information Overload

You can’t know too much, but you can say too much. – Calvin Coolidge

When sharing information, particularly with a newbie, we have a tendency to blast the pants off of them with information. One sure way to kill a learning buzz is to overwhelm someone. When I’m overloaded, I just shut down. Like a fainting goat.

Myotonic fainting goat

too. much. information. (source)


One of the hardest lessons for me to learn back when I was working at the shelter was that adopters can only take in so much information at once. I wanted to tell them EVERYTHING they might ever need to know right then, while I had them in my clutches sight. So I would start burying them in information: health and medical needs, behavior and training advice, favorite toys, treats, tools, books, what the dog’s poop looked like, and a brief history of how man domesticated the dog.

What they wanted was to get their hands on the dog in front of them and experience it for themselves. They could only absorb a tiny smidgen of what I was saying.

So, I learned to tell them just the most important information and then put a cork in it. This was excruciating. Cutting to the chase is not my strong suit (see: this blog). But I knew that if I wanted them to hear the really important bits, I had to cut back on what I said overall.

Avoid overloading your listener. They don’t need to know everything all at once. Try to let the newbies – whether they’re new dog owners or new to a challenging experience or an animal welfare issue –  get their footing before you slam them with everything you know.

Keep it simple, give them a few concrete actions steps, and send them home with stuff to read later. Patricia McConnell says so. If the situation allows for it, make yourself available for a follow up. The follow up is important because…


Personal Experience is King

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by readin’. The few who learn by observation.
The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
― Will Rogers

I have to pee on the fence. So do many adopters, clients, advocates, and probably your uncle Larry too.

We learn by doing and we’re not the only ones. Remember learning to drive?  No matter how good the manual may be, it’s not the same as actually driving a car. Once you have some time behind a wheel, then the manual suddenly makes a whole lot more sense. Oh, you think as you hit your first patch of black ice, that’s what skidding feels like. Which way do I turn the wheel again?!

It helps to acknowledge this need for experience, so you can let go a little.

At the shelter I learned that people needed to experience living with the dog before they could truly make sense of the resources they’d received.

Before: it was me yammering at them while their brains were hijacked by shmoopy-faced dogs. What I was saying couldn’t compete and didn’t feel relevant in that moment.

After: they had experienced the shmoopy-faced dog taking a dump on their rug and it became real (and smelly). They could put what I had said about house-training into context. It was suddenly personal, relevant, and really believable!

Once I understood this need for experience, I did two things: I incorporated hands-on learning during the adoption counseling (ex: I would have them put the harness on the dog themselves to learn how it fit) and I made myself available for help after they brought the dog home.

Is that lady saying you need to crate train me? She's crazy. I'm perfect and I never poop.

Is that lady saying you need to crate train me? Don’t listen. She’s crazy. I’m perfect and I never poop.


Until we’ve experienced something for ourselves and figured out how it’s relevant to us personally, it’s tough for us to understand something new or believe it to be true. There’s a kinesthetic learner in all of us.

That’s why it’s such an a-ha moment when someone lives with a reactive dog for the first time. Suddenly, they understand everything anyone has ever yelled at them, like “my dog needs space!” because now they’re living the DINOS-dream for themselves. It wasn’t real until then. Personal experience is king.

I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t try to help others understand things in advance. Anyone who is a little further along in the journey should try to put down gutter bumpers to help newbies do the right thing and prevent anything truly bad or dangerous from happening. But we also have to accept that people need room to do some learning on their own. Which means that mistakes are inevitable…

 

Help them Save Face

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

When people make mistakes, your job (if you want them to learn anything) is to protect their dignity. Help them save face, so they’ll stay in the conversation.

In other words, try not to shame the shit out of them. If you do, you’ll lose them in a heartbeat.

Years ago I met my now-BFF while she was working in a Philly pet store that sold only very high quality food. The brand my family had fed my childhood dog (it rhymes with Defiance Riot, which is also the name of my imaginary hardcore band) wasn’t for sale. I mentioned that the food must have been OK, since we bought it from our vet.

My friend, who probably wanted to vomit all of her holistic health and nutrition knowledge at me, simply said, “Yeah, it’s not so great.” And she causally pointed to a book Food Pets Die For, if I was interested in learning more. The book was also her way of saying, it’s not just my opinion. Check out this expert.

Her super laid back brilliance allowed me to absorb this surprising new knowledge while maintaining my dignity. I was privately embarrassed that I knew so little about dog food. My friend, who wanted me to learn more, helped me to see where I had room to improve in such a generous way. She didn’t put me on the defensive. Instead, she opened the door a crack and gently suggested I take a look.

And I did, because I didn’t have to admit I was an idiot in order to do it.

So hard to do, isn’t it? I know. But we have to remember this isn’t about us showing off how much we know or how skilled or smart we are about a topic. It’s about helping someone else feel comfortable enough to check out what’s on the other side of the door.

Help others save face when they share something that you may not agree with or when they make a mistake.

If you blast them with negative information – telling them how wrong or dumb they are or how horrifyingly awful that product/trainer/idea is that they like – you’ll run the risk of shutting them down in embarrassment and shame. It doesn’t matter how right you are, if the person you were trying to reach has left the conversation because they hate they way you’ve made them feel.

I’m still learning how to do this, btw. It is hard.

side note: Have you guys heard about “spontaneous trait transference“? That’s the phenomenon where people spontaneously and unintentionally associate what you say about other people with you yourself. So if you’re talking about a certain dog trainer or co-worker’s negative qualities, guess what? The people listening are associating those negative qualities with you. It works in reverse too, thankfully.


Small Steps Deserve Big Cheers

“Nine tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

So you’ve got someone who’s listening? Cool. Here’s my favorite way to keep people interested in learning: Be a cheerleader. Pom poms are optional, but kind of awesome.

Celebrate whatever it is that you want them to do more of – no matter how small – and build the foundation of a genuine and positive relationship with your adopters, clients, friends, and neighbors (maybe even your adversaries!). When people feel good, they stay engaged.

Don’t wait for them to get it all right before you start celebrating their accomplishments. Remember these words, spoken by the great sage Bill Murray in What About Bob?:  Baby steps.

Small steps deserve big cheers. Even if you’re dying for them to speed things up and get to the other side, keep rooting them on if they’re headed in the right direction (p.s. they may never get to the other side, so try to accept that not everyone will do things exactly as you do). They’ll appreciate your support and encouragement. It will make them feel good about themselves and their choices. And that will help them stay motivated to continue, even if things get more challenging. They may even allow you to continue on the journey with them.

baby-steps

“I feel good, I feel great, I feel wonderful.” – Bob


There’s tons more advice out there about how to effectively share what we know, but those are my guiding nuggets. The truth is that I still fail at all four of these steps all the time. But I’m always trying to improve, because every once in a while I really want to help someone learn something new or useful. I bet you do too.

So consider how you’re sharing what you know. If you don’t, you might get pegged as the Crazy Dog Lady. That’s an easy way for others to dismiss all the great stuff you have to share. And that would be a bummer for the dogs. They need you!



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: the store 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:





Accepting Reality: I’m a Crazy Dog Lady

Well, it finally happened. Today I officially became a Crazy Dog Lady.  I’ve been teetering on the brink for years, but this afternoon I went ahead and jumped the shark.

Picture this: There I was, driving down the road with Mr. Dog Walker (aka the Snow Ninja).  I looked over to the right as we cruised by a sweet little house that we’ve passed before. Once or twice, I’ve spotted an old black Lab lying out in the driveway of this house, sunning himself. Today as we approached the house I spotted my friend again. Thinking of him enjoying this sunny day, warming his senior bones on the blacktop, I felt my heart swell up a little.

“Aw, look,” I said to Mr. Dog Walker, “I love that dog.” And I pointed towards the driveway as we passed in front of the sweet little house.

Mr. Dog Walker looked at the driveway and looked back at me. He was looking at me like he thought maybe I was having a little bit of a mild stroke. One glance at his face and I knew I had done something weird. Again. Let’s face it, I see this look on his face a lot.

So I slowed down and looked more closely at the dog, lying there in the warm mid-day sun. And to my utter horror I realized that this dog, the one who I thought was taking a peaceful snooze was actually a…

wait for it…

wait.

for.

it.




A duffle bag.


A black gym bag, if you will.  Some discarded luggage behind a parked car in a driveway.

Crap.

Yes, there had been a dog there in the past. But not today. My crazy dog lady brain had taken one look at this slouchy duffle bag and transposed the body of a resting dog.

Not only had I seen the dog instead of the bag, but I was moved by this bag. The sight of this bag at rest had made me feel all warm and fuzzy.

I was touched by a duffle bag.


black duffle bag


“Oh ha! It’s a bag,” I said to Mr. Dog Walker who was now laughing partly at me, partly in fear of me.

“There was a dog there before. I swear.”

Right. Like it mattered.

In one brief moment I had rocketed over the line from: Professional Dog Lover to Crazy Dog Lady. The kind of dog nut that sees dogs everywhere and in everything. The kind of person that is moved to the brink of tears by the sight of a Lab-shaped duffle bag “napping” in the sun.

Oh man. The first step is admitting you have a problem right?

So where do I register? Is there a certificate that I should apply for, so that I can make my new status as a Crazy Dog Lady official? Will the DMV stamp a turd-shaped stencil over my photo? Do I register with local law enforcement to warn them of who they’re dealing with if they encounter me on the loose?

Really, I do feel like I earned at least some sort of official acknowledgement.

I certainly reached a new level of…something.

Should I add CDL to the end of my name? Jessica Dolce CDL (Crazy Dog Lady).  Or like dog trainers, it could be CDL-KA for Crazy Dog Lady – Kraziness Assessed.

Maybe this was meant to be and I should roll with it. I can take inspiration from the “Lab” that changed it all. Aka my Heart-Duffle.

We recently bought some land, with a barn. Perhaps it’s time for me to open my own rescue. I could start by taking in small purses from last season. Maybe a clutch or two. Then move on to unwanted messenger bags, moldy gym bags, and backpacks. If I can secure 501c3 status, I might be able to raise funds to support a sanctuary for unwanted steamer trunks and unclaimed luggage.

They could live out the rest of their days in my fenced in yard, sitting in the sun, and capturing the eye of other Crazy Dog Ladies who drive by my house.

Sigh. Welcome to my new reality.

I mean well, I swear.

Yours Truly,

Jessica CDL

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.



Dog Walker’s Hair Goes Gray Overnight: Says Invisible Fences Are to Blame

I’ve been trying to write a funny take on how ridiculously stressful it is to walk past yard after yard of dogs that are behind invisible, underground fences and charge me as I walk by. It’s like the ultimate game of dog walker chicken. The dogs are running towards me – there might be a fence to stop them, but maybe not – do I keep passing by or retreat?

Obviously I retreat, full of anxiety as I wonder if the dogs are going to chase us down the street. I age a year every time this happens. After years of playing dog walker chicken I look like Cloris Leachman’s older sister.

So, yeah, this was going to be funny, but then a dog I love got hurt this week. One of my clients was walking her dog when they passed by a house with a large dog and owner playing ball in the yard. The large dog saw my client and ran at them, slamming hard into her dog and grabbing a mouthful of fur.

Where was the other dog owner? Hiding behind a bush in her front lawn.  That my friends, is a whole different blog.

Why did the owner allow the dog to run loose? She didn’t. The aggressing dog was in his yard behind an invisible fence when my client walked by. He busted right through the “fence”, happily taking the shock in order to get to my friend.

My dog pal has spent the last week with a swollen shoulder. She’s unable to shake her head or be touched on her left side without yelping. It could have been worse. Oh wait. It was. She’s reactive around some dogs. Thanks to this encounter, we’ve likely moved back a step or two.

Nothing funny about that.

I’m super tired of walking by these fences. How about you?

Every time I walk past a yard where I see dogs charging across their lawns towards me and my dogs I have to think: Do they have an invisible fence? If so will it stop the dogs? I quickly scan for little white flags. Sometimes the flags are there, but sometimes they’re not. Are they not there because there is no fence or because the owners took the flags down? Are those pesticide signs? The clock is ticking. The dogs are charging. Twenty more of my hairs turn gray, my stomach flips, and I do an Emergency U-turn.

Playing dog walker chicken with overstimulated, unsupervised dogs just isn’t my steez.

white fence flags


There’s already so much written about these fences, but in case it needs to be said again: Invisible fences are not REAL fences. Traditional fences are designed to keeps dogs in, keep others out, and they provide a clear visual barrier so people passing by know the dogs on the other side are contained.

Hit pause: I understand that these fences work for some of you. I’m not calling you a bad dog owner for using them. But these fences scare me and my friend just got hurt, so I’m gonna call out some problems with them. Nothing personal, ok? You know I love you guys.

Ok, so while no option is perfect, these invisible fences fail the average dog owner in many ways. Allow me to elaborate based on my experiences with these fences (as a dog walker and shelter worker where I was a frequent host to stray dogs with failed underground fence collars):


They fail to keep some dogs in:

  • Plenty of dogs are happy to take the shocks in order to get to whatever high value item is on the other side. This happens a lot. A dog sees: squirrels, turkeys, dogs they want to play with, a dog they want to chase away, a kid on bike, an ice cream truck, the Philly Phantic, etc. and they’re motivated enough to take a few shocks in order to get to it. See also: my friend this week.
  •  Some of those dogs will leave the yard, but won’t take the shock to come back IN the yard. It’s not fun taking the pain just to go back and sit in your yard.  So now your dog is loose.
  • There are dogs that figure out that the batteries in their collars are dead (no warning beeps) or their collars are loose enough not to feel the shock. So off they go to explore the world!
  • When snow banks are high enough, dogs can walk right over where the invisible fence line reaches. And off they go again!
  • Some dogs will bolt when they are scared – thunderstorms, fireworks, etc. – and they don’t care about taking the shock if they think it’ll help them escape what’s frightening them.

 

They fail to keep others (animals and people) out:

  • It doesn’t prevent anything or anyone from entering your yard.  These fences don’t keep anything OUT.
  • Some dogs are perfectly happy to stay in the yards, dead batteries in their collars and all, but they are surprised to find other dogs have entered their yards.  Or wild animals, unwelcome people, or aggressive dogs that got loose from someone else’s house. Your dog will get shocked if they try to escape the yard/the threat.


They can cause behavior issues:

  • Some dogs are so frightened by the shocks they receive that they don’t want to go outside anymore. Like for days.
  • When dogs charge the boundaries of their yards every time they see a dog/bike/person and get a shock, this can cause behavior issues. Some dogs will associate the pain they feel with what they see. This can potentially lead to aggression or reactivity.
  • Some dogs won’t leave their yards for fear of a shock, even when they’re not wearing their collar. I knew a dog that had to be driven down the driveway, past the fence line, in order to leave the property for a leashed walk.
  •  Some dogs become afraid of beeping. Because their collars beep as a warning before they receive a shock, the dogs become fearful whenever they hear a similar beep. Like from the microwave.

 

They frighten people passing by who can’t tell if the dogs are really contained or not:

  • See: playing dog walker chicken. Also: delivery guy chicken, young children and senior citizens out strolling chicken, and jogger chicken.


Look, there are no absolutes in this world, so I’ll be the first to admit that some of these things can happen no matter how you contain (or don’t contain) your dogs. Dogs dig under wood fences, jump chain link, gates swing open.

And despite how much I can’t stand underground fences, I’ll acknowledge that there are two ways that these fences might not be totally unreasonable options for some families, provided the owners do the proper boundary training, have excellent recalls, and do not leave their dogs unattended in their yards:

  • As a secondary containment system for escape artists. If you have a dog that is able to scale or dig out of traditional fences, using an electric fences as a backup system, might be worth exploring.
  • As a containment system for rural properties with many acres. If you have acreage that can’t be fenced in because it is so large, using an electric fence at the far boundaries may be worth exploring.


And to keep the conversation rolling, here are two of the common reasons that responsible, dog-loving people I know pick Invisible Fencing:

  • Cost
  • Housing Associations


For cost: Underground fences range from $100 (for a DIY kit) to a couple thousand bucks. There are some affordable alternatives out there. Like these fence kits. My choice for affordable AND sturdy is farm fencing. I know because that’s what we choose for our yard. It’s comparable in price to a professionally installed electric fence. You can build it 4-8 feet high. You can bury part of it below ground if you have diggers. It doesn’t obstruct views and you can fence in just part of your yard if you have many acres.

We waited and saved for 5 years until we could put up a fence. This was Birdie's first run in her new, fenced-in yard!

We waited and saved for 5 years until we could put up a fence. Until then, we relied on leash walks and supervised time on tie-outs in the yard. This was Birdie’s first run in her new, fenced-in yard!


For housing associations: please talk with them. Nothing will change if no one challenges the rules. Ask if you are allowed to fence in part of your property (maybe just the back yard). Discuss different types of fencing options. Can you put up a low physical fence, perhaps with Invisible Fence as a back-up if your dog can jump it? Can you fence in a portion of the yard with non-privacy fencing, like the options above? I know it’s not likely to work, but please try!


In the end, if you do choose a hidden electric fence please: Go with a professionally installed product, preferably the Invisible Fence brand, rather than a DIY job. Do the boundary training, slowly and as positively as you can. Make sure your dog has an excellent recall. Never leave your dog unattended. You need to know if your dog leaves the yard. You need to know if another dog enters your property.  And know your own dogs. This just isn’t the right fit for every dog. For some dogs it won’t keep them in, for other dogs it has the potential to cause serious issues. Never use them with dogs who have a history of reactivity, fear, phobias, or aggression.


And for all of our sakes, can those of you with invisible fences (or no fences at all) stop leaving your dogs unattended in your yards? It’s crazy frightening to see dogs charging you at top speed, white flags or not. And if you think your friendly dog would never do such a thing, I invite you to nanny-cam your yard.

Betchya a five spot lots of your dogs are having a blast playing dog walker chicken while you’re gone.


More on fences and fence problem-solving coming to the blog soon!

Nose Works: Where Every Dog Is a Winner (Even the Naughty Ones)

Boogie and I just wrapped up a four week Nose Works class. For those of you that are new to Nose Works, here’s what it is, straight from the founders themselves:

“Inspired by working detection dogs, K9 Nose Work is the fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs and people. This easy to learn activity and sport builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through mental and physical exercise.

K9 Nose Work starts with getting your dog excited about using his nose to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward hidden in one of several boxes, expanding the game to entire rooms, exterior areas, and vehicles. As your dog grows more confident with his nose, target odors are introduced, and competition skills are taught.”

Now you know. You can also check out this Bark video to see dogs in action.

Unlike the Nose Works class I took with Birdie, where there were other dogs present in the room, this session was set up for reactive dogs. Each dog had the room all to themselves while they worked.

My camera’s died mid-class, so I only managed to grab a few not-so-great photos (none of Boogie – wah!)

truffle coached

That’s my gal pal Truffle. Her dad is helping her get to the treats she discovered in this closed box.


Now that I’ve taken two basic level Nose Works classes with two very different dogs (one senior, one reactive) and with two very different groups of dogs, I would like to share the following with all of you:

You should do Nose Works with your dogs.

Here’s why:

1. Just about any dog can do it.

2. Just about any human can do it.


Allow me to expand.

Your dog can do Nose Works, even if they are:

  • Ancient
  • Lacking manners
  • Oblivious to recall
  • Reactive
  • Dog aggressive
  • Scared of people
  • Afraid of novel objects or places
  • Recovering from an injury
  • Not that into food
  • Really into food
  • Terrible on leash
  • Bursting with energy
  • Overweight
  • Blind
  • Deaf
  • Missing a limb
  • Missing an eye
  • Missing teeth
  • Missing their favorite episode of New Girl

You can do Nose Works even if you are:

  • A terrible trainer
  • Out of shape
  • Out of cash
  • Uncoordinated
  • Kind of quiet
  • Working with dogs in a shelter
  • Not that into leaving the house
  • Not sure if you even like doing dog stuff

That’s because Nose Works is all about having fun, no skills necessary. 

 

birdie cone

Birdie hits the wrong end of the cone. No biggie. She’ll figure out that the food is hidden on the other side.


If you have a dog that you’re not able to do too much with – because of any of the reasons listed above – you can do Nose Works.

If you want to build a better bond with your dog, learn more about observing your dog’s body language, and enjoy watching dogs flex their natural abilities, you should check out Nose Works.

Here’s more about why this is the activity anyone can do:


For Nervous Nellie Dogs: Nose Works in a wonderful confidence builder for dogs that are afraid of novel objects and environments. Each week they’re slowly exposed to new things, can investigate at their own pace, and are rewarded for their bravery. Week one Boogie was afraid to put his head in the boxes. By week four Boogie was putting his head in cones, tunnels, bags, and anything else he could sniff around in. Like one of the normals!

For Reactive Dogs: This is an awesome way to let them cut loose in a safe, controlled environment. Those of us with reactive dogs are intimately familiar with feeling like failures. We show up for a class or a walk or a training session and our dogs lose their marbles and we go home stressed and sad. Not at Nose Works. Your dog will succeed at this. And honestly, I just can’t stress how important it is for reactive dog families to have successful, stress-free fun some times. It will bring some joy back into your relationship with your dog and give you a boost so you can face the tougher stuff together.

For Golden Oldies and Disabled Dogs: Nose Works is a way to try something new with your dogs that is physically low impact. They may be a little slower than the young whippersnappers in class, but it doesn’t matter because there’s no losing here. Birdie said it was almost as much fun as falling asleep in her recliner while listening to This American Life. She loved having a Girl’s Night Out with me and eating a lot of treats. Old and disabled dogs deserve to party too. YOLO, right?

For High Energy Dogs: This a great way to burn off that energy without exhausting yourself! It takes a lot of focus for the dogs to do Nose Works and they are tired at the end of class.  Also good if you have trouble finding safe places to exercise your dogs – try adding Nose Works to your toolbox to help tire your dogs out.

For Shelter Dogs: Because shelter dogs are bored and stressed and need to have mental stimulation in order to stay sane while they wait to be discovered by an adopter. Because even if you have very few resources, you can find a volunteer who will hide treats (in the Shelter Director’s office if need be) and cheer on a homeless dog for a minute. Because you don’t need any skills to help the dogs do this, so just go do it. 

For Broke Folks and Hermits:  Even if cash is tight, you hate leaving the house, and/or there’s no place to take a class in your area, you can still do Nose Works. All you need are treats and boxes. Here are some tips for playing at home and some more help. And here are some other ideas for different scent games. 

For People Who are Allergic to Dog Training: Here’s a little secret (just between you and me): I don’t like dog training. I’ll do it because I have to, but I don’t really enjoy it. I’d rather be at the library reading past issues of the New York Times Magazine. What can I say? I love dogs, I love playing with and walking them, but training makes me want to poke my eyes out. But I like Nose Works. Why? Because it’s an “obedience free zone” and your role, as the human part of the team, is to stand back and enjoy watching your dogs work. If they get stuck, you coach them using a happy voice and body movements. When the dogs discover the hide, you have a party to celebrate.  I like coaching. I like cheering on dogs. I like Nose Works.

I bet most of you will too.

So go on and have a little fun with your dogs now, even if you’re struggling with training or behavior issues. Do something you can’t fail at for once. Everyone gets a gold star in Nose Works!


Will you tell me about your experiences with Nose Works in the comments section? Plus, check out these stinky Nose-Work-worthy Tuna Fudge treats you can make at home.

And stay tuned for more on the professional version of Nose Works… In June I’ll introduce you to some Arson Dogs who use their noses to catch the bad guys!

10 Signs The Other Person’s Just Not That Into You (or Your Dog)

It’s Dog Bite Prevention Week again and lots of good lessons about understanding dog body language are being shared. We all need to learn dog body language.  Life would be grand if everyone understood and respected what dogs are trying to tell us.

But have you noticed that some humans pretty much stink at understanding human body language…or even spoken language (aka “language-language”)? Maybe we’re expecting a lot of  those folks to ask that they become fluent in dog body language. For them, we might need to start with some same-species tips. This one is for them:

Hello humans. Many of you love meeting new dogs and people while you’re out walking the dog. That’s neat!

But here’s the thing: some people just aren’t that into meeting you or your dog. It really doesn’t have anything to do with you. You’re awesome. It’s just that some of us prefer solo time when we’re out walking. Not every dog can socialize on walks. Some dogs need a little space to stay safe and healthy and don’t want to be approached.

In other words: there are people who don’t want to say hi, even if you and your dogs are super friendly.

But how will you know who’s down for a jam session with you and your pup? All you have to do is pay attention to the person holding the leash. They’ll let you know.

Here are 10 clues that the other person’s just not that into you or your dog:


Clue #1:  A furrowed brow (also known as the “11”) in between the eyebrows. This indicates annoyance. Or that your brights are on.

Bonus Clue: There are some people who can’t warn you off this way because of Botox. Tricky, right? 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/emerycophoto/3092372870/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Emery Co Photo (Some rights reserved: Share Alike, Attribution)



Clue #2: Eyes that are wide open are a sign of fear or shock. The only time a person is shocked in a good way is when they find money. Are you a bag o’ cash? Then keep on going.

Also, notice the open mouth.

Are words coming out? If so, listen to them. They may be saying something important such as, “Please stop. My dog needs space.”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/chaparral/1217286092/

Photo credit: Chapendra (some rights reserved: attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #3: If you heard words, but are still not sure what they mean, look at their face again. People who are horrified that you’re not listening to them may look like they accidentally got wet cat litter in their mouths.

If you think this expression means, “Let’s get a man-pedi on Friday after work!” you are mistaken.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/527326068/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger (Some rights reserved: share alike, attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #4: Nope. Still not psyched to see you and your dog.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenna77/458620318/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Photo credit: CapturingJenna (some rights reserved: share alike, attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #5: Words spoken at a normal volume are often misinterpreted. Is that other person making a joke? Is it Opposite Day? No. 

If ignored, many humans will shout. Do you see the fillings in their back molars? This is a sign to retreat. You may compliment them on their dental work, but only from a distance.

Buster Benson: http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikbenson/490822943/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Buster Benson (some rights reserved: share alike, attribution)

 


Clue #6: Still not sure if they want to hang out or not? That’s when a good detective of human body language looks at the person’s hands. 

When a person’s requests are ignored and they feel trapped, some humans may go nuts and start to pull out their hair. Or punch you in the crotch.  

http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcymet/3292063588/

Photo Credit: B. Cymet (some rights reserved: attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #7: Wait, there’s more! Keep looking at their hands. Do you see a palm? If the other person raises their hands, showing a flat open palm, it means “Stop!”

It does not mean “How long is my life line?”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevensnodgrass/3570379993/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: Steven Snodgrass (some rights reserved: attribution)



Clue #8: Finally, if you’re looking at the back of a person they are now ignoring you. They can still hear you. They aren’t turning around because they don’t wanna. 

If you see a person’s back while they are running away, do not follow them no matter how friendly you and your dog may be. 

Accept that this fleeing human is not your new BFF. 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thestarmama/69575028/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Photo Credit: StarMama (some rights reserved: attribution)



Clue #9: Let’s put it all together now. This person’s body language says, “Leave me and my dog alone!”

Or possibly, “Do you know who got eliminated on The Voice last night? I’m rooting for Team Shakira!”

credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bo47/6087907898/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Photo Credit: Bo47 (Some rights reserved: share alike, attribution, non-commercial)



Clue #10: Don’t worry nice folks with dogs! There are plenty of people that want to hang with you and your dogs. Like these dudes. This is the loose body language of people who want you to know that they give out free hugs. So bring it on in, nice and close. These are your people.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/peterbaldes/3908166694/sizes/o/in/photostream/

Photo credit: PJ Baldes (some rights reserved: attribution, non-commercial)


Want some real thoughts on how to prevent dog bites and make our communities safe and enjoyable for everyone? Check out my real PSA: Ask First! and learn more about how being respectful and responsible is super cool. Really, all the cool kids are being polite these days.

p.s. If you’d like a little help telling the world that your dog needs space, there are all kinds of nifty items to check out here. 

Stop Caring What Others Think and Stand Up for Your Dogs

It’s almost dog bite prevention week, so I want to talk to you guys about one of the keys to reducing dog bites (as well as making life better for your dogs all around):

You need to stop caring what anyone else thinks about you and your dog.

If you do this, you will free yourself up to make better choices on behalf of your dogs. When you make better choices, you are setting your dogs up for success in our crazy world. And when you do that, they are less likely to get into trouble which they will wind up paying for big time.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Stand up for your dogs. Be assertive in protecting your dog’s physical and mental health, as well as the safety of those around them. 

2. When you’re not sure if your dog can handle something, always err on the side of caution. Choose management over “I don’t know, so let’s find out!”

Dogs need us to do both of these things more often, so that they don’t feel like they need to take matters into their own hands teeth.

Obviously, dogs need lots of other things from us too: socialization, training, proper management, and a never ending supply of peanut butter that they can roll around in like it’s a canine version of that scene in Indecent Proposal. People also need to learn how to read their dog’s body language,  understand stress and fear, and not screw their dogs up in general. But we’ve covered that before, here and all over the web.

What I’m talking about now doesn’t really have all that much to do with the dogs. It’s about us humans and how uncomfortable many of us are with being forceful, direct, and making unpopular choices that we’re afraid will make people not like us. This is causing some problems for our dogs.

Too often we choose not to speak up for our dogs, even as things take a weird turn. We recognize that our dog is uncomfortable with the hyper kids running circles around them. We suspect that the unfamiliar dog approaching our dog isn’t as friendly as their owner is claiming. We don’t know if our dog is ok with the cleaning lady entering the house while we’re gone. But we allow it anyway.

We allow our desire to be perceived as friendly or nice or easy going to override our own gut instincts or what our dog is trying to tell us. Our desire to be liked – to avoid being seen as unfriendly or rude or “bitchy”  - is powerful stuff.

It’s so powerful, that humans will choose to ignore their own instincts and proceed into potentially dangerous scenarios, just so they don’t make a bad impression.

Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, says that unlike other living creatures, humans will sense danger, yet still walk right into it. “You’re in a hallway waiting for an elevator late at night. Elevator door opens, and there’s a guy inside, and he makes you afraid. You don’t know why, you don’t know what it is. Some memory of this building—whatever it may be. And many women will stand there and look at that guy and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to think like that. I don’t want to be the kind of person who lets the door close in his face. I’ve got to be nice. I don’t want him to think I’m not nice’.” More on that here. 

If we’re willing to walk right into a metal box with a stranger that totally scares us just so we won’t be seen as rude, imagine how difficult it is for many people to be assertive on behalf of their dogs with nice folks at the park, their neighbors, visitors, family, and friends. We’re willing to deny our fear around murderers. It’s no wonder we’re not comfortable speaking up for ourselves around people we pass on a dog walk.

The problem with our discomfort is that dog bites often happen when we are:

1. In denial about our dog’s limitations and/or their behavior issues. To be a good advocate for them, dogs need you to see them as they are, in the present.

2. We know their limits, but we still hesitate to take action.

And the flip side of suspecting or knowing your dog has issues and not speaking up is:

3. When we are in complete denial that our “good” dogs would ever bite someone.

Number 3 is a whole blog in and of itself. This blog is really about the first two points. But I’ll sum up #3 real quick for good measure:

All dogs have the potential to bite. ALL of them. Breed, size, age, zodiac sign – doesn’t matter. Push any dog hard and long enough or in just the right way (You mean it’s not OK for my 2 year old to crawl into my “good” dog’s crate while he’s sleeping?) and they run out of options and will bite. So don’t push any dog’s luck. Don’t allow them to be treated roughly or inappropriately or fail to properly supervise them because they’re such “good dogs.” Your dog needs you to stop thinking they’re a robot with no limits and respect their boundaries. Don’t fool yourself. Your dog will appreciate it if you help them out by setting them up to be good.

When we let dogs bite, the dogs pay for it. They might hurt a person or another dog or get hurt themselves. They might cause your home owner’s insurance to drop you and then you can’t keep your dog. They might be declared dangerous. They might make the news and inflame the public into calling for a ban on all dogs that look like your dog. They might be taken from you and euthanized.

Dog bites aren’t the only consequence, of course. When we don’t step up other not-so-great stuff happens, like we put our dogs into situations that make them stressed and miserable. Or they have a bad experience with another dog and then they become a DINOS. But this post isn’t about dog behavior. It’s about us and our malfunctions.

Sometimes, we have to step out of our comfort zone in order to be effective advocates for our dog’s safety and health. Do not let others pressure you. Stop caring what anyone else thinks and just do what you know is right for your dogs.

Channel your inner Ron Swanson:

ron swanson

Now, I recognize that there are things that happen that are beyond our control. Also, I understand that sometimes we genuinely think we’re making the right choice and it turns out to be the wrong one. And of course, I want you to socialize, train, and do new stuff with your dogs, which means that inevitably there will be goof ups. I get it. That’s life.

What I’m talking about here is when you’re hesitant to do what you know needs to be done or when you’re afraid to err on the side of caution because you think it’ll make you look like a “square.”

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you all permission to stand up for yourselves and your dogs. You have to do it. Your dogs need you to do it.

The next time someone tries to force themselves or their dog onto your dog, you’re going to boldly step in front of your dogs and say “STOP.”  Say it like you mean it. Then drop the mic and walk away.

The next time someone comes over to your house and you’re not sure if your dog will be OK with them, you’re going to put your dog in another room or in their crate or on a leash.  When your friend visits with their little kids or the landscaper needs to use your bathroom or the police* bangs on your door, you’re not going to hold your breath and see what happens.  You’re going to tighten up your core muscles and say, “Please wait while I put my dog away.” When they say, “It’s OK, I love dogs”, you will hold your ground and follow through with the plan.

And the next time you’re at the vet or the groomers and you don’t like the way they’re handling your dog, you’re going to say, “We need to do this another way.”I struggled with this one. But I’m over it now. Same thing goes for trainers. If you don’t like they way a trainer is working with your dog, you’re going to say, “Thanks, but we need something different.”

Yes, the other person may say nasty things to you or about you. They might call you a “bitch.”  I want you to not care. Because in that moment what you really are is your dog’s hero. You just took their well-being into your hands and acted with conviction. You made the right choice and they’re safe because of you. Bravo.

And who cares what people call you?  As my future BFF Tina Fey says, “Bitches get stuff done. Bitch is the new black

Tina Fey

Look, the other person will get over it. They might not even care at all. For them, the discomfort of dealing with hero-you won’t last long. Even if it does, even if your neighbors think you’re kind of stand-offish, it’s not rocking their world.  But for you, the consequences of not standing up for your dogs might be long-lasting and deep-cutting. Set those limits, then don’t give a hoot what anyone thinks about you.

p.s. There are other ways to set limits and not giving a crap what anyone thinks, like: if they need it, walk your dog with a muzzle on. You will get weird looks. But you don’t care, cuz you’re being Safety First.

Hey, I know this is uncomfortable for some of you. But I know you can do it because you love your dogs.

If it helps, I want you to think of me standing next to you, cheering you on as you stand up for your dog’s needs. I’m five feet worth of NJ/Philly-loud-talking-feistyness and I don’t give an eff about saying “No” to anyone if it means making sure my dogs don’t get into trouble or have a bad experience. So picture me there beside you the next time you need a boost. Know that every time you make that tough choice to stand for your up dogs, I’m yelling, “Rock Star!!” just for you.

Now go get ‘em Tiger.

* You have the right to secure your dog before letting the police enter your property.  ALWAYS do it.

Want to give this blog to your clients or friends? Here’s a printer-friendly PDF version: Stand Up For Your Dogs

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