Hero Pit Bull Saves Deaf Owner In House Fire [VIDEO]

No surprise to us bully fans!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A dog’s life well-lived to the end

Mac came into the shelter in very good condition. He hadn’t been tied to a chain, made to guard a junkyard, abused or otherwise neglected. He was given up by a sobbing owner no longer able to care for him.  This was 2007, and I was looking for a racy, sleek, show-off type of dog to work in all kinds of training scenarios. Earlier that week, Michael Vick apologized for his ‘immature acts’ on national TV. These acts, as we know now, included clubbing dogs, drowning them, and hanging them from trees. I walked into the shelter with Vick’s speech still prickling the hairs on my arm and saw my new dog. No racy type he; instead he was low to the ground and built like a barrel with a head as thick and heavy as the ever-present anvil heaved over cliffs in Roadrunner cartoons. Mac was the type of dog short-sighted insurance companies like to exclude from policies.
Mac showed real class from the first day. He was paraded up and down our street with neighbor children and their dogs. Parents who nearly gasped when they looked into his half-blue, half-brown eyes were soon petting him two-handed. The grin on the dog matched those on his admirers. Back in the house, I couldn’t find him for half an hour, until soft snoring finally alerted me to his location: our cream-colored sofa in the living room, head nestled and slack lips flopping over the arm cushion. I pointed him to his brand-new dog bed on the floor.
The next seven years went by far too fast. He became a certified Therapy Dog and loved his visits to nursing homes, where he plopped his big head into the laps of wheelchair-bound residents like the 104 year-old  woman everyone called Grandma. She would light up and rub him vigorously with both hands, proclaiming, “He’s wearing me out!” Mac showed special calmness when out in public at our bank (thanks, Suntrust!), in the post office, at Reading To Dogs events at the Boys and Girls Club, and on window shopping with me on Ocean Drive, where he was invited inside by shop owners unable to resist his masculine charm. We hiked in parks, lounged at the beach, and otherwise watched time pass.
In May, I was very busy with training clients. I remember thinking I needed to spend more quality time with him as he aged. It looked as if he was slowing down just a little more than normal aging would indicate, but I still believed we had lots of time left. An ultrasound showed the bad news: a fast-growing cancer in his spleen, already showing signs of moving into other organs. Just three days before this diagnosis, he fairly flew around the yard, wind inflating his jowls and paws thundering after a ten-month old golden retriever female that caught his fancy.( Mac liked them young, blonde, and pliant.)  He had a weakness for young puppies, and they knew it. Their soft, squirming bodies and tiny teeth fastened onto his ears seemed to bring out the kindly grandfather in him. After play sessions the puppy-of-the-moment would often curl up with him on his soft bed.
During his last week, we took him to the beach each morning and let him stay as long as he liked, digging at the waterline and standing chest-high gazing eastward as if a swim to Africa might be just the tonic he needed. He looked quite good except for a tiredness around the eyes. His lopsided smile was still there even when the vet came to the house so we could say good-bye in his favorite sunny spot on the porch. I think of him as robust and happy, and am thankful his illness was not lingering and painful. Sometimes the owners have to take that pain on, and that’s just what we did.
Mac grins on his last day at the beach.

Mac grins on his last day at the beach.

Two nights after he was gone I had a dream in which Mac sped off unleashed down the street, ignoring my “No, No!” and “Come!” commands, just as he did when I first acquired him seven years previous. In the dream, he finally turned and trotted back triumphantly. I said, “jump up” and he sprang up on a large stool next to me. I kissed the top of his head, where the muscle gave him a sort-of cleavage, and smelled his wonderful, wafting hound-ness and felt the specific coarseness of his coat. I woke smiling.
Posted in dog love, dog rescue, dog school, dogs get along, dogs in the news, dogs on TV, loyal dog, new dog, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to Build a Retriever

How many times have you wished you could exercise your dog without pounding the pavement on yet another trudge past the same old light poles? Teach your dog to retrieve and you have instant, interactive playtime. My bully mix, Mac, has exactly zero retrieving genes in his short and stout body, but I used his love of treats to build this skill starting with baby steps. To build Mac’s desire to retrieve, I had to build his desire to hold something in the mouth.

My toolkit: Clicker, delicious meaty or cheesy treats , (I use bacon for slavish devotion) retrieving dumbbell and a chair and end table. Keep your treats on the end table where you can reach them.

Step 1-I sat facing my mellow Mac and held out the training dumbbell about 12 inches from his nose. He sniffed it delicately and I instantly clicked and treated him.

Step 2, 3 and 4- I repeated the above until my dog was wide awake and actively seeking the dumbbell. Sometimes he would skip this step and just stare at the table where the treats lived, but if I ignored this, he’d touch the dumbbell again. Yes!

Step 5- Now that Mac was reliably reaching for the dumbbell, I waited for a little more intense interaction before producing the treat. He stamped his feet and huffed a little in frustration, and then put his mouth around the dumbbell. Click and insta-treat!

Step 6- Here comes the hard part. I had to motivate Mac to hold the dumbbell until I clicked. As he placed his mouth around the dumbbell again, I rolled the dumbbell in, gently lifted his chin a bit and lightly petted him there, saying “Hold it”. After two or three seconds, I clicked and treated him a few extra pieces.

From this point on, I could ask Mac to hold the dumbbell until I clicked, as shown in the photo. Now I can place the dumbbell nearby on the floor and say, “Take it!” He scoops it up and brings it to me proudly. Build this skill with your own dog one brick at a time. If done correctly, this should take weeks to accomplish. Remember, your dog wants to please you, so be patient and

Mac is no retriever, but he can fake it until he makes it!

show him some love!

Posted in dog love, dog manners, dog school, dog training, dog tricks, loyal dog | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Disfunctional dog behavior

ImageDogs have their own personalities (dogonalities?), likes and dislikes, but as their owners and constant companions, we have great influence over them.  Sometimes the behavior we think is cute is actually disfunctional.

A potential client called me while I was making dinner to report that her dog of three years had bitten her son on the hand, and her son thought the dog had been aiming for his face. No one saw this except the son (13 years old) and the daughter (11 years old). She then asked me what would cause something like this. If I knew that just from her description, I would never need to leave the house. I begin with the appetizer.

Q. How long had she had the dog?

A. Since a puppy.

Q. Breed?

A. Collie mix.

Q. Where did she get it? (dogs from pet stores statistically are more prone to aggressive displays and bites)

A. From a shelter

Now for the main course.

Q. What were the exact circumstances surrounding this event? (Here I picture myself adopting a Sherlockian pose; pensively gazing out the window on Baker St. while wearing a tweed hat.)

A. Well, I wasn’t there, but my son said he and his sister were sitting on the sofa and the dog walked up. His sister started petting the dog and my son reached over to pet him, too, and the dog lunged and bit him on the hand.

At this point, I know there is more, but like a good detective I will extract the story slowly and with great patience as the rice I am boiling for dinner dries to an unpleasant-smelling lump.

Q. Was the dog on the sofa?

A. Noooo…

Q. Is he allowed on the sofa?

A. Yes.

Aha! This could be territorial in nature but I must delve further. Meanwhile, the rice is now inextricably linked to the pan, forever.

Q. What about food and bones? Does he defend his bowl?

A. No, never. There is one thing, though. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with it, but…

Spidey senses tingling, I grip the phone tighter. I prompt her to go on. She does.

Well, my son and my husband wrestle on the living room floor, very rough. We move the furniture so they can do it. My husband will pin my son and the dog circles them and barks. (Wait for it…) My husband will say, “Get the boy, get the boy” and the dog bites his ankles. Do your think that could be part of the problem?

I picture my Sherlockian self turning slowly from the window wearing a smug look and raising my pipe to my lips. I don’t have to possess a doctorate in animal behavior to figure that one out. I tell her that wrestling must end today, never again, no mas. She suggests that if they wrestle the dog could be put in the yard. I emphatically tell her that the dog is not deaf and that father-son cage matches should occur in only one of two places. 1, At the local park, hopefully blocks away and well out of earshot of the dog, or 2, At the YMCA.

She goes on to say that the dog has always been protective of her and her daughter,, and that the dog doesn’t want to be away from her and follows her from room to room. I am getting a good picture of a dog that doesn’t have a clear leader and has tried to take over, and will challenge the teenaged boy for dominance. This is not uncommon since that is the age boys get hormonal and start to become young men. It is clear, however, that the dog has been encouraged, even ordered, by the head of the household, no less, to ‘get the boy’. We all know that dogs retain traits and tendencies from their wolf ancestors, so imagine a wolf pack with an older Alpha male being challenged by a younger, adolescent wolf. The dog in this circumstance is almost certainly channeling his inner wolf while he tries to curry favor with the Alpha. I can picture the family laughing as the dog bites the boy’s ankles in a hit-and-run approach, which sounds to the dog like approval from other pack members.

In this case, stopping the wrestling will not be enough. We make a plan to get together and I start to list all the adjustments they will need to make in order to change the dog’s behavior and reduce the stress the dog  is feeling. Among these will be increased exercise in the form of leash walking, light training from the boy using a pocket full of tasty treats, and a no-paws-on-the-furniture rule. I am confident that these steps, if done consistently, will help dog and humans relax and enjoy each other on a functional level.

Rice and pan are dead. I open the windows and suggest we order pizza.

Posted in children and puppies, dog love, dog manners, dog rescue, kids and dogs, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dog as Woman’s BFF

Dog as Woman’s BFF

We don’t need chick lit or the Lifetime network to tell us that dogs can be woman’s best friend. The role of dogs in the household has changed drastically in the last few hundred years. Prior to their pampered lives as household pets, dogs fulfilled a working role in the family, usually disappearing with the man early in the morning to hunt, herd or do draft work, and returned home only to sleep and eat in the barn, or if he was really lucky, grab a snooze near the fire.

Now that most of us make a living not off the land but in an office, dogs wait quietly at home (we hope) while we toil to bring home the biscuits. For women especially, dogs act as exercise motivators, stress relievers, non-judgemental listeners and support systems (Hey, you look fantastic in sweatpants!). Add the protection element, and men may worry they will be replaced by a well-bred German shepherd. Actually, guys have long known the draw of the cute dog. What single guy hasn’t toted their rescued pooch around town as a ‘chick magnet’? In fact, a person with a dog in tow is much more likely to be approached for light conversation by someone of the opposite sex. Dogs start conversations between humans as easily as we pick up the remote to mute the commercials. No dog minds personal questions like, “What breed is he? How old is he? Is that his natural hair color?” This gives dog owners a perfect excuse to chat, and even set up dog play dates at the park.

Women admit to talking directly to their dogs as they would to small children. Dogs listen to our problems with suitably furrowed brows and even seem to empathize. Talking during the playoffs or Fox news brings no sour look from a male quadroped lounging on the sofa.  Part of this wonderful connection occurs because dogs sense the nurturing side of women and take full advantage. Dogs are an opportunistic species, and they know how to work the ladies. The nurturing sex is more likely to be emotive, seek comfort, and be demonstrative in their affection. Dogs know this through their excellent powers of observation, and forge close relationships with women to get more petting, more attention, and more treats. Try not to feel used. We get much more than we give when it comes to our dogs.

Check out the link below to see a recent news story where Amy appeared as an expert on Women and Dogs.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Therapy dog or Service dog?

Mac loves his job as Therapy Dog

It’s hot. July in central Florida hot, and I am scrunched under a breezeless tent in the only patch of shade available. My dog, Mac, pants at my feet, nearly shoulder to shoulder with about ten other dog/owner teams waiting to take the Therapy dog test.

The heat and hassle is worth it. Therapy dogs offer comfort and companionship to those in need, from bereft disaster victims post-911 to nursing home or hospice residents. The job description for these love machines on four legs has widened considerably. Therapy dogs now act as a calming presence for victims in courtrooms, with armed forces veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and as non-judgemental friends to at-risk children.

It’s finally our turn. The evaluator, an older man, is sweating, and I can’t help but worry about his sunburned neck. Mac runs through his obedience commands with ease if not haste (the heat is oppressive) and aces the test. When the time comes for me to ‘leave’ him for three minutes to check his stress level, Mac sensibly lies down in the shadow of the assistant holding his leash. I am thrilled at our accomplishment. Mac was a Humane Society dog that was not in demand. I was his only inquiry the entire three months he was there, but he is mine and perfect. And now I am beyond proud of him. Even though the job of Therapy dog is not physically stressful, Mac is exhausted after a round of petting from heavily veined and papery hands at the nursing home where we go with two other dog/owner teams. He rests his broad head in the laps of wheelchair-bound old folks and sighs heavily. This delights everyone, but I know Mac is absorbing some of their need; taking it off their thin shoulders and onto his own.

I became an evaluator for TDI, (Therapy Dogs International) after a lengthy interview and test process, in order to help other dog/owner teams share the love. I am often asked if this means dogs can ride on planes with you, and be allowed into stores and such, and I have to bring up Service dogs. A Service dog, which is, by law, allowed to accompany the owner virtually anywhere, performs a service, act or assistance to someone who cannot do it themselves. Service dogs are seeing eye dogs, hearing assistance dogs, epileptic seizure detection dogs, and the like. These are the dogs you will see on planes and in grocery stores, not Therapy dogs. Therapy is a volunteer calling; a wonderful reaching out to share all the happiness your dog brings you with others in need. The picture tells the story. Mac was made for this, but he needed manners and obedience skills to do it. Maybe your dog wants this job, too. After all, it involves lots of petting and attention!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

So you want to show your dog- Westminster style

Watching the Westminster Kennel Club dog show every year brings out the stage mother in many of us. Our dogs are gorgeous, smart, and every bit the champions we see on the most famous dog show in the world, right?

Let me recount my first showing experience way back in 1990. I had a lovely Rottweiler puppy named Maura. So convinced was I in her superiority that at the tender age of six months, I decided she was ready for her first show. Since I was already a full-time dog trainer, I confidently entered her in puppy conformation and obedience.

First: conformation. This is when the judge looked at my dog’s general appearance, including body style, eyes, ears, teeth and girlie parts. I had taught Maura to stand without me propping her up, and she stacked rather nicely, with back legs extended behind her and head held straight. I stood there with a loose leash, waiting for the accolades I was sure would be coming our way. All went well until the judge, a no-nonsense woman in a powder-blue pantsuit, cupped her hand under my puppy’s aforementioned girlie parts. My cute little Rottie let out something between a belch and a growl that only lasted a second, but I felt it resonate all the way up the leash. The judge paused, cocked her head and cupped between Maura’s back legs again. I actually coughed loudly to try and cover up any sound that may come from the puppy’s mouth. The judge  looked balefully in my direction and moved on. OK, I thought, onto the obedience ring, where we’d really shine.

Next: obedience: This was my wheelhouse. I had this. Maura was young, but I had lots of time to work with her and she knew her commands. She flew through the easy stuff: Sit, Come and Stay. Then came the off-leash Heel, where she was required to match my pace exactly, turn with me, and sit when I stopped. She did me proud until a full-on fight broke out five feet from us between two Briards. This is a breed that looks much like cousin It from the Addams family: we assume they have eyes but they are hidden behind lots of straight hair. Maura jumped out of the way, but in dog show land, this was no excuse for not staying in formation.

We still had the last obedience exercise to show off: the down-stay.  In this exercise, the dogs are lined up about three feet away from each other and asked to lie down by their handlers. Then the handlers leave and helplessly observe from about twenty feet away. My Maura was placed between a mastiff puppy, all floppy legs and heavy head, and a peppy cocker spaniel puppy. The three minute wait is an eternity in the dog show world. Witness what happened during this seemingly brief period: A lab puppy began to whine, and eventually got up and simply left, the handler hustling after the puppy before he got to her car. Another pup, this one a tiny Chihuahua, stood up, walked over to the German Shepherd pup next to her and began to lick the other dog’s ear. The German Shepherd pup groaned happily and laid over on his side. Meanwhile, my puppy was holding her down-stay beautifully until a fly began to buzz around her head. Only I knew that insects of any kind were an intolerable interruption in Maura’s world. Flies must be snapped at repeatedly until caught, chewed, and loudly hacked up onto someone’s shoe. This is exactly what she did, snapping so precisely and with such gusto that the puppies on either side of her began to creep away so that Maura was soon by herself. In spite of her mission to catch, chew and release, she held the down-stay and completed the exercise. We made haste back to the car before the other handlers could run us out of town. Now

Maura at just eight weeks of age

I watch the handlers at Westminster and feel their pain. Dog showing is no walk in the park!

Posted in dog show, dog training, new dog, puppy training, show your puppy, Westminster dog show | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment