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Posts tagged ‘dog training’

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?

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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.



Nose Work: 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 Work, 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 Work 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 Work, 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 Work 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 Work 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 Work.

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 Work 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 Work 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 Work 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 Work. 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 Work. 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 Work!


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

And check out the professional version of Nose Works…meet the Arson Dogs who use their noses to catch the bad guys!

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

The Secret Life of Dog Catchers

When I came across the book, The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officers Passion to Make a Difference, I wasted no time in reaching out to the author Shirley Zindler to ask if she’d like to send me a copy for review. She generously did and when I got it, I gulped the book down in three fast sittings.

cover book

Shirley is an animal control officer in Northern California, and in addition to her demanding job, her family has fostered and rehomed more than 400 dogs. Wow-wee. She blogs for Bark Magazine, has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Shirley is one busy woman.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a few fantastic Animal Control Officers (ACOs). In addition to their incredible skills (with animals and people), bravery, and professionalism, these good eggs have all had two things in common: endless compassion and a wicked sense of humor. Shirley has both in spades. In her book, she shares stories from the field and her home life that will make you tear up, bust out laughing, get angry and frustrated, and then get inspired. I suspect that Shirley feels all those things in the course of just a single day, judging by her heavy and varied case load.

Through it all – from comical calls in the middle of the night to heart breaking neglect cases and frightening stand-offs with criminals –  Shirley’s stories reveal she’s one of those rare people that can stay positive despite the never-ending challenges that she faces. When the rest of us would be throwing in the towel, Shirley keeps going, and then writes about her experiences so that we get to walk in her capable shoes for a while. You’ll happily go along for the ride as she investigates hoarders, raids a cock fight, rescues wildlife, and works with the coroner’s office.

If you’ve worked as an ACO or in a shelter, this book will be the perfect combination of the surprising and familiar. You’ll see some of your experiences reflected in her validating vignettes.  But whether or not you’ve worked in animal welfare, readers will be rooting for Shirley every time she steps up to the plate, trying to make her corner of the world a better place for animals.

After I finished the book, I was left wishing I could take Shirley out for a margarita. I have no doubt she has so many more great stories to tell!  Since we couldn’t meet for drinks, Shirley was kind enough to answer a few questions for me  about The Secret Life of Dog Catchers and her work:

shirley and her pets

Photo credit: Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat


Jessica: There are a lot of misconceptions about what an ACO does and what they have the power to do. From some of the stories in the book, it’s safe to say much of the public thinks that if a pet is in less than ideal conditions, ACOs can swoop in and remove the animals immediately. What would you like the public to understand about your ability to intervene?

Shirley: I often have to tell the public that I can only enforce the law. I try to educate people, but I can’t make them care for the animal the way the concerned party, or I, want it cared for, only the minimum that the law requires. I do everything I can to make a difference, but I often lose sleep about the things I can’t change.


J: In your work you have to enforce the law and hold owners accountable, yet in many of the stories you write about working to provide resources, education, and support to families who want to do better, but need assistance. How do you determine when it’s the right time to provide education vs. punishment?

Shirley: I almost always try and help if the person is willing to work with me to improve the animals conditions. Many people want to care for their animals, but lack the knowledge or finances to do it right. I can sometimes provide the things they need to make things better. It might be management, training or nutrition advice, help finding a new home or occasionally, money out of my own pocket. I don’t want to seize their animal, I just want them to take better care of it. If the situation is severe, or if the person is unwilling to work with me, then I may seize or prosecute or usually both.

 

J: Have you found that when people know better or have access to affordable resources, they do better?

 

Shirley: Many people do just need educating or help and I’ve seen things greatly improved plenty of times. Some people have no interest in doing anything different, so we use the law where needed to provide compliance.


J: In the book, I was really struck by how the calls you receive often seem to be so subjective: reports of attacks, abuse, and grave injuries often turned out to be really minor, almost comically so – for example, a dog attack turns out to be a loose, but happy Mastiff. Or a dog dying from being hit by a car turns out to be a dog with a broken toe nail found by the road. In many cases the public’s perception of what they’re experiencing doesn’t match reality! How does that have an impact on your work?

Shirley: We get so many calls that are misinterpreted that sometimes we forget how serious a call can actually be! Its important to stay alert to the dangers and to the possibility of serious neglect or abuse.

 

shirley zindler

Pelican rescue: All in a day’s work for Shirley!


J: Leash laws are a hot topic with Team DINOS. Many of us live in communities with leash laws, but they’re not enforced, making it difficult for us to safely walk our dogs in public spaces. Do you have any thoughts on the effectiveness of leash laws?

Shirley: Our leash law fine is around $250, so that gets peoples attention, but we don’t have the staff to patrol every problem area all the time. Our community has lots of great dog parks and one amazing dog beach so I always try and direct the off-leash people there. I will cite people who are repeat offenders, but often verbal warnings and making a show of presence in problem areas is helpful.

I spent many years taking my dogs to dog parks almost daily and had almost no problems. I presently hit an off leash beach several times a month with my four dogs ranging from 18 pounds to 120 pounds. My dogs absolutely love it and its a great way for me to blow of work stress, just watching a bunch of loved dogs running free and playing with each other. My dogs (mostly rescues from bad situations) have always been very well trained and well socialized, but of course some dogs don’t appreciate strange dogs regardless of their history.

I have seen problems with off leash dogs charging up to leashed dogs who are not comfortable with it, and some fights have resulted. I do what I can to get people to follow the law and be more respectful of others, but some just don’t care. And of course many of the dogs are completely out of control and the owners have no idea how to fix it.


J: I’d love to hear your thoughts on dealing with loose dogs. We all run into them while we’re out walking our dogs and it puts gray hairs on our heads! What are some of your tips for safely evading loose dogs? How can we work with our neighbors and ACOs to get folks to properly contain their dogs?

Shirley: As a teen I had two large aggressive dogs run out of their yard as I was passing by and attack my small dog and nearly kill him. Even the owner could barely get his dogs off and it took a long time. They just hung on and pulled from each end. Truly horrifying. There probably wasn’t much I could have done in that case except maybe pepper spray, if I had had it.

Most cases are not nearly so severe but a few times when confronted with a truly aggressive dog I have removed my dogs leashes to use as a weapon, also freeing my dog to do  normal greeting behaviors, or possibly outrun the other dog if needed. I do think it’s important to stay calm and keep a loose lead if at all possible. I often see people getting hysterical and yanking their dog away from an approaching dog, causing an increase in agitation, disruption of normal greeting behaviors, and sometimes resulting in a fight that could have been prevented.

Teaching appropriate behavior to your own dog is helpful too. When a dog is lunging and snarling on leash, it may bring a fight from an off leash dog that might not have happened if the dog was taught to walk calmly. Thankfully my dogs all enjoy meeting new dogs and are very smooth with great social skills so they rarely have issues. I have had dogs in the past that didn’t like being approached by strange dogs, so I’m sensitive to those concerns.

Repeated polite calls to animal control can sometimes be helpful in bringing more enforcement. Sometimes it takes just the right person, timing, luck, or officer to make a difference. Many departments are understaffed and some ACOs have very little training. It’s important to try to work together rather than just berating the department for a lack of response. There are some uncaring ACOs out there, but most are doing the best they can with limited resources. In some cases, we cannot pursue an issue without written statements, but no one is willing to provide them.


J: Your work often brings you into contact with dogs that are terrified and/or injured, which manifests as aggression. How do you stay calm and safely work with dogs in those scenarios?

Shirley: Some of my most rewarding calls are dogs that are aggressing because of fear (or pain, or both), but respond well to cookies and sweet talk. Most aggression is fear based. The dog is afraid so he charges, or even attacks to make you go away.  I have spent my life working with dogs and I have learned something from every single one. I love dogs, and respect them and do everything I can to make things less stressful for them. Dogs are far more predicable than people in most cases. Patience, knowledge and cookies go a long way in this business. For those few dogs who can’t be convinced, I usually have the skills and tools to confine them safely and humanely.  Often once you have a hold of them and haven’t hurt them, they come around anyway.


J: Dog Bite Prevention Week is almost here, do you mind sharing any advice for how the public can avoid dog bites?

Shirley:  Here’s a link to a blog I did last year for Bark Magazine regarding dog bites. I investigate so many preventable dog bites each year and it’s unfortunate that dogs and children most often suffer the consequences of our lack of knowledge or understanding of canine behavior.


shirley after the raid


J: I think many animal welfare workers (myself included) really struggle with compassion fatigue and/or feeling overwhelmed. How do you keep from burning out?

Shirley: I have my days where I can hardly bear the sadness and hurt that people wreak on their fellow people and animals. Dealing with the broken and neglected day after day takes a toll on the heart. Still, I feel like I’m making a difference. The smallest success is so encouraging.

I had some young teen girls call recently about a bird with thread tangled around its leg and then tangled in tree branches. I had one of them hold the bird while I spent about 5 minutes unraveling the thread and then let her release it. It was so great to see how helpful and kind they were, and so rewarding to watch the bird fly away unencumbered. It’s critical in this business to focus on the positive.

I can go a long way on the good stuff: One good rescue, finding someone’s lost pet, removing an animal from a neglectful situation and finding a great home for it, those are the things that keep me going. I could (and sometimes do) torture myself with the ones I can’t help, but it doesn’t do any good and its harmful to me, so I try and focus on the areas where I can make a difference and work really hard on them. It’s helpful to have supportive friends and family. My husband of 22 years does a great job of helping me keep things in perspective and my kids, although pretty much grown, are terrific as well.

I get a lot of joy in fostering needy dogs (along with cats, wildlife and other animals). I’ve taken in dogs with health or behavior issues, moms with underage pups and orphaned pups. I stopped counting at 400 dog and puppy fosters over the last 25 years or so. In all but a very few cases, they have gone on to wonderful homes and lives. A few came back and were re-homed successfully and a very tiny number couldn’t be saved, but I get so much satisfaction from seeing them living the life they deserve.


Thank you Shirley!

Order your copy of the Secret Lives of Of Dog Catchers here and help Shirley reach her goal of selling 1,000 books. When she hits that goal, she’ll donate $500 to the Love Me Fix Me spay/neuter program.  

Shirley shared that several people have also pledged to donate to the program as soon as she reaches her goal, including an additional $1000 donation.  A good read and a good cause! Follow Shirley on Facebook to cheer her on as she reaches her goal.

Playing Tuba with My Dog and Other Stuff I Keep Meaning To Do

Hi! It’s been kind of quiet over here the past few weeks, huh?

I want to write, but I’ve been busy doing cool stuff: going to Austin, Texas and not so cool stuff: hanging out in airports for two days because a freak winter storm cancelled my connecting flight home and gross stuff: getting a cold.

I hate having my hermit-esque routine turned upside down, so it took me a while to get my act together. I’m back.

 

And now, here’s what I keep meaning to write about, in no particular order:

 

Fences: wood ones, metal ones, redundant ones, invisible ones, and ones with gates that fly open unexpectedly.

Leash Laws: enforcement, funding, and why there’s always a cop outside my house (hint: it has nothing to do with dogs).

Dog Nails: how much I hate to cut them, heaven-sent painkillers, and the trouble with posting photos of your dogs on the interwebz

Good Adoptions: stuff I learned from Birdie the Dog. About her adoption. Not about her new hobby: finding dead baby birds.

Relaxation Protocol: am I the only one that actually enjoys doing this? Judging by other blogs: yes, I am.

 

Plus much, much more!

I want to hang out with these two.

Also, I want to hang out with these two.

 

Now all I need to get this done is an extra day in my week and a butler to deal with the self-generating hair balls that take over my house every 36 hours. And one million dollars (just in case the Universe is taking requests today).

Stay tuned. I’m on this!

 

A Head Harness You Won’t Hate

I don’t know about you guys but I have a real love/hate relationship with the Gentle Leader (GL). One one hand, as a dog walker, it has allowed me to walk countless Tasmanian devils challenging dogs. So big ups to the GL for helping me handle some tough dog walks.

On the other hand, I HATE that the leash attaches to the GL under the chin. When a dog switches sides, I have to pause to bring the leash around, underneath the dog’s chin. Otherwise the dog gets stuck with their head cocked way over to one side, pulled up from under their chin, with one eye smashed shut, because the leash is now going OVER their head, not under it. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s the Tilt-a-Smush.

Smushed-faces aside, some dogs just really hate wearing a head harness and never get acclimated to it. The second you put the GL over their snout, the light goes out of their eyes, their head hangs down, and the joy of going for a walk is g.o.n.e. Instead of having a calming effect, it shuts them down. For some dogs (not all), the GL just isn’t the right option.

One of those dogs is my guy Boogie. He thinks the GL is the plague, despite months of trying to make it super fab for him. To this day, years after we abandoned it, if I bust out the GL, Boogie sneaks out of the room and pretends he’s dying of the sniffles.  Kind of like this:

Woe is Boogie.

It’s a bummer, because the Gentle Leader, for all the stuff I don’t like about it, is a good training tool option for dogs that are strong pullers and/or reactive. Head halters are especially handy in tight spots and crowds because they offer a lot of control.

So when I was on the Bold Lead Designs website, checking out their new “give me space” patches, I noticed that they sell something called the Infinity Lead. It’s a head harness – but it had some neat details that told me it might be the smarter, kinder version of the Gentle Leader. I asked about it and (full disclosure) they sent me a freebie to try.

First, let’s go over what an Infinity Lead is:

From the website: The Infinity Lead forms a figure eight around the dog’s upper neck and muzzle, crisscrossing under the chin. There is no pressure on the throat. The lead attaches at top of the neck. All-in-one collar and leash design means there’s no leash snap to get in the way, and it’s easy to use!

It looks like this:

cora-profile-rt

The Infinity Lead is one piece, so you basically make a big loop around their head (like a slip lead) and then twist it to loop over their nose. It’s very easy to put on.

cross-under-chin-rt

Then you tighten it by adjusting the slip behind their ears. The leash is part of the deal. You can choose between 4 and 6 foot leash options. It’s all one piece, without any clips or rings:

bold lead design infinity

Here’s what happened with Boogie:

I was surprised by his lack of “woe is me” theatrics. The fabric is much softer and way lighter than that of the GL. That helped. Boogie totally shuts down with a GL, but was  a little looser with the Infinity Lead. Not exactly full of joy, but not walking like he’s 100 years old either. I was happy to see that the second time I brought it out, Boogie didn’t try to hide behind the cat.

To give it a good road test, I brought it dog walking with me for a few days. I tried it out with one of the more reactive dogs I walk who is approx. 50 lbs and wears a Gentle Leader regularly for city walks. On our walks the Infinity Lead did what all head harnesses do: it reduced pulling, gave me better control, and directed my dog’s attention to me for training purposes. So far so good.

I did worry that the Infinity Lead would be too loose and the leash too thin, for walking a really rambunctious dog. Would a dog slip loose of the snout loop, in a  full blown dance-off with another dog? Would I have enough control during a really dicey moment?

While we avoided any major meltdowns, my friend did get worked up at the sight of another dog and tried to kiss a few squirrels. I had the lead fitted very snugly behind my pal’s head and I was pleasantly surprised by how much control I had. When she began to lunge forward, the leash tightened like a regular slip lead, reducing her wiggle room, and I was able to re-focus her attention.

p.s. This slip feature is handy if you need to quickly shut your dog’s mouth for some reason (like when a screaming kid comes running out of nowhere and tries to grab your dog’s tongue out of their skull).

The dog I tested this on has some good training under her belt. If she has enough space, she can stay calm around other dogs. Would the Infinity Lead be the right tool for a large dog with no prior training? My bet is that for straight-up pullers who are non-reactive, the Infinity Lead will be a good option, no matter how big or clueless the dog may be. But if your dog is large and really reactive and/or you’re just starting to work with them, I’m guessing you might need other options in your toolbox, like a more sturdy head harness and leash or, for smaller reactive dogs, a body harness with a two ended leash  might work, for added safety and better control.

Ok, back to what I loved the most about the Infinity Lead: I was connected to my pal at the back of her head, not under her chin. No more Tilt-a-Smush when she switched from side to side to smell stuff. We were tangle-free. It was amazeballs. The sun shone brighter and little birds sat on my shoulder to sing us sweet, sweet songs. I swear.

To be fair, there is another option in the behind-the-head category: the Canny Collar. I’ve tried it, but didn’t like it any more than the GL. Other people think it’s great. So there’s that.

Another thing that ruled about the Infinity Lead: the safety-first cord. The Infinity Lead has a safety-first piece that connects to the flat collar as a back up, in case they slip out of the snout loop. The GL does not have this and that stinks. (yes, the Halti also has a safety-first cord, in case you’re keeping track, but like the GL, the leash attaches under the chin). With the Infinity Lead I loved knowing that no matter what happened, if the loop came off her snout, we’d still be connected because of the extra safety bit, seen here:

lead-on-hazel-rt

There are some other handy features too: it’s one size fits all (for dogs 20+ pounds), so if you have multiple dogs or your dog is still growing, you don’t need different sizes. I can keep one with me and use it on all of the dogs I walk. Yay for adjustable tools.

It also doesn’t have any difficult latches or tiny buckles. Bold Lead Designs makes products for service dogs and they were thoughtful about making this tool accessible to those with physical limitations.

There’s more and you can read all about it here for the complete details. Oh, it’s $19.99 by the way. Totally affordable.

So, if you’re looking for a new training tool to try, I would recommend giving the Infinity Lead a test run. And if your dog fakes his own death at the sight of a GL, well I can’t say for sure how they’ll react to the Infinity Lead, but it is soft and really lightweight. For Boogie, that’s was enough to live for.

Wishing you all Happy, Safe Walks!

** One last thought for shelters: If you’re familiar with the Weiss Walkie, consider the Infinity Lead as a head halter equivalent for your dog walkers. Easy to put on in a kennel, adjustable sizing, all one piece.

*** OK, one more thought. Based on all the comments, their are some strong feelings about head halters out there! So I just want to be clear: I don’t think that there is one item that is the perfect tool for ALL dogs. Every dog is different and I use a variety of head halters, body harnesses, and collars with the dogs I walk. It all depends on their individual needs and preferences. I also use a variety of tools with the same dog, changing them up depending on the environment we’re in. So I might use a body harness in a quiet area, but switch to a head halter in a crowded spot for more control. And the funny thing about ALL of these options is that what one person loves, another hates! So much of it depends on the individual dog and the style/skills of the person when using the tool. The halter in this blog is just one option – I encourage you to shop around until you find what works best for you and your dogs!

Stuff Your Dogs Should Wear If…

I like to put stuff on dogs. I try to find real, legit reasons to put stuff on them, but sometimes, I just like to wrap dogs in towels and put their paws in my husband’s Doc Martins. So sue me. One of my favorite stuff-on-a-dog site is Trotterpup. Please enjoy it here.

All silliness aside, there are some really helpful things to put on your dogs.

So, in no particular order, here’s a list of  Stuff Your Dog Should Wear If…

They have a lot of energy: Backpack

If your dog is high energy and healthy enough to carry some weight, consider a backpack. Wearing a properly fitted backpack, loaded with a couple of soup cans (and by soup, I might mean beer), will help your uber energetic dog work twice as hard on the same stretch of terrain. That means you don’t have to work any harder, but your dog does. Nifty, eh? If you have one of those never, ever tired pups, the added weight will help them burn more steam and tire them out faster during your regular walks. Make sure to start off slow – introduce the backpack first, then add the weight gradually and top out at 25-30% of their body weight. Backpacks are also helpful: if your dog is calmer when they’re wearing their “working” gear, for turning your dog into a sherpa on hikes, and for carrying around litters of hitchhiking kittens.


They need a confidence boost: Thundershirt

thundershirt

If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms then a Thundershirt makes a lot of sense, no? But these slim-cut tops are also good for helping dogs feel more secure, which makes them helpful for some reactive, anxious, and fearful dogs. So don’t keep the shirt on hold for storms and fireworks, go on and bust it out for daily dog walks too. Thundershirts are also helpful: if your dog needs some help during vet visits, for dogs that need barf bags during car trips, and for creating a svelte silhouette for dogs who are self-conscious about their pooch.


They need skin protection: T-shirt

If your dog sunburns easily, try covering them with a t-shirt (in addition to dog sunscreen) to give them some extra skin protection. Or if your dog has environmental allergies, consider putting them in a t-shirt for their trips outside. When you go back inside, take off their t-shirt and you’re taking off the pollen or whatever else they’re allergic to with the shirt (wipe them down with a damp cloth too). If your dog is really itchy or has a skin infection, try putting them in a t-shirt to protect their skin from their teeth or nails. Healing skin needs air too, so be sure to take it off and let them be nudists on the regular. T-shirts are also helpful for: telling people to back off, covering up big nips on mama dogs, and hiding a bad hair day.


They are your co-pilot: Doggles

If your dog likes to hang their head out of your car window, Doggles will protect their eyes from flying debris. That pretty much sums it up. Doggles are also helpful for: dogs that ride in side cars, dogs that are blind and walk into things (it protect their eyeballs), and for any dog that likes attracting a lot of attention at stop lights.


They are scratching themselves raw: Baby Socks

If your dog has bad allergies and they’re scratching themselves to pieces, try covering their paws with baby socks. Allergies can take a really long time to sort out (both the cause and the solution) and dogs who are itchy will sometimes scratch their skin into ribbons, causing secondary skin infections. Try covering their paws with baby socks (size 0-3 months with sticky tread on the bottom usually works), then secure the socks to their ankles with no-stick vet tape. They’ll still scratch, but their covered nails won’t cause so much damage. Baby Socks are also helpful for: dogs that chew their paws, broken toe nails that are healing, and for dogs that can’t stop reenacting that scene from Risky Business.


They just had surgery: Pro Collars

pro collar

If you have a dog that is recovering from surgery, the vet may send you home with the plastic e-cone of shame, but most dogs can’t stand them. It messes with their peripheral vision, scrapes against things, and freaks them out in general. Plus, it’s cheap plastic that probably smells and feels yucky. If your dog will need to wear a cone for a bit, like after ACL surgery, buy a Pro Collar. It looks like a hemorrhoid cushion or a neck rest for travelling (are those the same things?) but it works. The best part is that your dogs can still see in every direction, they can pick up toys and food, and it’s comfy for them to rest their heads on while they sleep. For dogs that are afraid of a regular cone, this is much less scary. Pro Collars are also helpful for: dogs that have rashes they shouldn’t be licking, little dogs that squeeze through fences, and dogs with hemorrhoids who need a soft cushion to sit on.


They need to get adopted:  Tutu

Peaches the Pit Bull Photo Credit: Keith Kendrick

If  you have a foster dog or a shelter dog that isn’t getting a lot of interest from adopters, put a tutu on them and take them out on the town. Ridiculous though it may be, that dog is about to get more attention in one walk than it has in a month of “adopt me” vest outings. Be sure to bring business cards with your dog’s photo and info to hand out to anyone who stops to swoon over your pup. Yes, this is for boy dogs too (who cares about gender? this is about getting attention!). Tutus are also helpful for: dogs in parades, dogs doing humane education work with kids, and dogs that dream of starring in the Black Swan remake.

 

And that’s not all! There are muzzles, wigs, boots, sweaters, and plenty of other stuff dogs can wear.  I already feel a Stuff Dogs Should Wear If (Part 2) coming on…

What stuff does your dog wear? I want to see photos of them wearing their favorite stuff, so post photos over on the DINOS Facebook page for me to squeal at. Please?!

 

How to Exercise Your Dog Without Leaving the House

Some days, you just don’t want to walk your DINOS.

Maybe it’s because the weather is terrible, like the freezing rain we had here in Maine last week, or it might be because your neighborhood is filled with off leash dogs that terrorize you on your walks. Most of the time, we still grab our leashes and hit the streets, but there are some days we could all use a break.

So whether you’re looking for a safe way to exercise your DINOS without running into other dogs or you just want to avoid extreme weather, here’s a bunch of great ideas for indoor fun from Team DINOS on Facebook!

 

To get us started, here are some of my favorite ways to wear out dogs inside the house:

treadmill

Treadmills: They can be total lifesavers for DINOS.  With a treadmill you can safely exercise your DINOS in your home, with no other dogs to contend with, whenever your dog needs it. You can use the treadmill you already have, purchase a used one for cheap off of Craig’s List, or a buy treadmill specifically designed for dogs. Here’s some advice from Bad Rap for getting started with a dog-powered (no motor) treadmill.

Puppy Push Ups: Sit, down, sit, down, sit, down. Easiest “trick” in the book. It helps burn off a little energy, even if your dog only knows two commands!

Feeding all Meals from Frozen Kongs: If your dog has a lot of energy, I would suggest chucking your dog bowls all together and only feeding from dog puzzles. Firecracker Dogs has some great articles on this and a store filled with puzzles that are worth checking out. If you’re using Kongs, try freezing them, since it’ll take much longer for your dogs to work out their meal, burning more mental and physical energy in the process.

Rile/Recovery work with a Flirt Pole: You can go the homemade route or buy a premade “chase it” toy, but either way, if you have a dog that loves chasing stuff (and has healthy joints), this giant cat toy will rock their world and burn a ton of energy. What’s key to this? Your dog must know basic commands such as: sit, down, wait, take it and drop it for this to be a safe, fun game.  If you want to do this inside, get a smaller 2-3 foot flirt pole, for outside, you can go big! Before you try it, take a look at this video from Bad Rap and read this how-to.

Heavy Duty Chew Toys and Bones: Some dogs can work out an incredible amount of energy through chewing on toys and bones. Particularly helpful for barkers, to wear out those overactive jabber jaws.

Those are some of my faves, but don’t stop here, check out all the great suggestions from the rest of the group (keep in mind that all dogs are individuals and what works for some, may not be the best choice for others):

Heather Masch Nosework is a great activity to do indoors.

Juli Thompson Casey and I play hide and seek. She has to sit and stay while I go into another room, or closet, maybe hide behind a curtain. When I yell “come,” she has to follow my voice to find me. Body and brain both get exercised, and it reinforces “come,” which is still a problem command for us.

Lori Fricks I throw a tennis ball up the stairs, Marshall chases up after it and brings it back down for another go! We also play tug until my arms go numb!

Jo Maisey I do some clicker training to tire out their brains.

Ashley Oslund Laser light in small doses!

Kim Kusznir Odin likes to jump in the air and pop bubbles!

Alexis Bywater Laser pointer!! Keep “dot” sessions short and sweet! 10 minutes with the laser pointer can be a great workout (I combine obedience work with laser play which is a great way to proof commands on a really amped up dog).

Kristel Smart I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building and our stairs are indoors and carpeted. The stairway tends to be pretty deserted (most people prefer the elevator) so I practice send-aways and emergency stops and downs while I have Murphy run up and down the stairs (he has great hips and he’s young). When he’s tired out I let him relax with a good rib-bone.

Kelsey Gidley We play the box game, dinner from puzzle toys and lots and lots of tug.

Suzan Toscano Tug toys & balls thrown down the hall to be retrieved.

Julie Parker Rmdt We play “tag” in the living room. We also like the Kong Wobblers for mental stimulation.

Kathie McDermid Dierk Throw the ball, throw the ball, throw the ball…and then maybe “find it” (he sits in another room, I take a treat, hide it (like in a drawer or something) and then release him to “search”)

Kendra Roering Treadmill!

Jennifer Whitton-Trujillo We throw the ball (or whatever other toy Colby brings), but I love throwing it down the stairwell, so he has to run up and down stairs. Wears him out much better than just tossing it down the hall!

Jessie Copeland We play fetch in our kitchen with light plastic balls or a Kong frisbee, trying to continue basic drop, sit, stay, and other commands. Dash LOVES this game!

Judy Michaels Living Room Rally! My fave: One dog becomes a post, and a little yellow cone the other. Great way to work on Figure 8s and distraction work!

Barbara Lewis I don’t have stairs, so I set up a makeshift agility jump (broom held up about 6 inches off the ground by stacked books or whatever else) – then I toss pieces of dog food across the room so she has to run and jump over the hurdle to get it. It’s sort of ridiculous, but it works!

Laurie James Buchele Puzzle toys, brain games, tricks.

Laura Pescador Misha has the big egg-shaped FitPaws ball for strength and stretching, nosework, recall games with one human holding her and the other hiding, the big box home improvement store up the street still allows dogs (early on a weekday before work there aren’t a lot of other dogs), lots of training games like calling heel from anywhere in the house.

Brooke Palmer Lots of puzzles and messing around with the clicker to see what I can try to get my dog to do.

Violet Elder Run her up and down the stairway.

Celeste Schmidt We’ve had an oddly warm winter this year, but usually good ol’ tug, some shaping, nosework, and treadmill are what help. I’ve also had to jog in circles inside the house, usually I’ll have the dogs come along with me.

Michelle Doram K9 Nose Work!

A Better Life with Your Dog with Fernando Camacho I have done a number of sessions with dogs that become obsessive shadow chasers because of laser pointers, so my favorite indoor fun is bubbles. My dog will jump and pop them for hours. Great exercise!

Laura Elizabeth Mine loves to play tug game, so we play tug of war and some fetch inside.

Jill Michalski Hide n’ Seek, “Find it”, Kong Wobbler, and sometimes a bit of “doggie boot camp” practicing sit/downs (like doing pushups), stay, wait, place, etc.

Jennene Lausier My dog loves our treadmill! It’s his favorite!

Kris Hopkins My last German Shepherd police K9 was the “diggiest dog”. To channel it in non-destructive ways I bought him a small, thin heavy-duty crate bed and let him scratch it from one end of the room to the other. He was totally winded scratching at that scratchy pad for hours! When we could go outside, he got a sand box and it was the “dig patch”. All other areas were off-limits for digging or scratching. It worked and his front legs were unbelievably strong!

Jackie Hall-Reigle I had bought a treadmill for him and surprisingly he got right on it! He loves it, and when he hears it start, he comes running to get on it.

Sarah Power We hide toys while she waits in another room. We put the toy in a taped up box so she has to get it open, also bring out the agility tunnel to jump over and hide stuff under laundry baskets. Mental stimulation goes a long way, she doesn’t get tired without it.

Anne Davidson Indoors treiball (learn to get it out of corners); jump over boxes, legs both directions for fetch a toy. Sit and watch me hide toys (in sight at this point), then go fetch and put each one in the box. Boxes within boxes; prize inside smallest.

Jessica Healy We play fetch and chase up and down the stairs and also brain games.

Bonnie N. Davis Leo’s still too reactive to play inside, but has a mega thick coat, so he gets lots of trips outside during the day. But when he comes in or if it’s too frigid for him to stay out, he gets a huge bone or toy to chew.

Heather Staas Indoor frisbee with lids!

Lynda McLellan Susan Garrett’s Recallers (online classes) is all about games and most can be played in doors. Teaches self-control and focus while having lots of fun. I also use a Kong wobbler and hide and seek, which my son loves to play with the dogs along with Recaller games.

Danielle Cyr Nose works! Only need one room and my household junk! We also do small space shaping for competitions like retrieves, positions, rear end awareness. Keeps their brains warm!

Martha Knowles For some indoor thinking games and great ways to bond with your dog Playtime for Your Dog: Keep Him Busy Throughout the Day by Christina Sondermann

Jill Petro After tossing a toy or ball for a while, my dog is placed on a stay in another room while I hide the toy. Then I ask him to find it. Makes him use his brain!

Chris Jones We play hide ‘n’ go seek. I put my dog on stay and go hide then I call him. Sometimes he can’t find me and is extra overjoyed when finds me.

Cheryl Copenhagen Set up jumps or the tunnel and throw Kirby’s toys so that he has to jump over or go through!

Nicole De La Perrelle I pull out a couple of books and try to teach something new! Kyra Sundance’s books are good for this, so the other week (when it was hot here in Australia- over 40 degrees Celsius), I put treats in a few cups of a muffin pan and then put a tennis ball into each cup of the pan, so the dogs have to sniff out the treats, then use their nose or paw to push the ball out to get the treat. We also play “fishing” by hooking up a toy on a string to a stick and then flicking it around, getting the dog to chase it, try to catch it etc. You can buy toys like that or use a cat toy (Max loves the feather boa on a stick type of cat toy) or make your own. We also play “rev up and calm down” as part of the inside games.  We get the dogs really excited about the game, but then ask for a sit or a drop and wait for a bit of calm before continuing. This stops the games from getting too intense and the dogs from getting too excited. It’s really hard work so wears them out more!

Virginia HappyGirl Johnson We run up and down the stairs. She made up that game when she got the “zoomies” one night, and we’ve played it ever since.

Alison Garfat  On the rare day we don’t get at least a bit of outside time, Monty gets to learn a new trick – over the last couple of stretches of bad weather he’s learned “back up”, opening a cupboard door (“open”) and closing a cupboard door (“push”). Luckily he’s too short to reach the cookie cupboard! Playing “find it” is also a bad weather staple.

 

Thanks for sharing everyone!