Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Housebreaking, redux

My wife and I have fostered god-knows-how-many puppies over the last several years, keeping them warm and fed and socialized until they're big enough to be altered and adopted.  In the process, we've typically had them very close to potty trained by the time they went back to the shelter (by the age of 8-10 weeks, mind you).  Thus I've adopted a very smug attitude towards housebreaking:  "Oh, if you're having problems, you must not be trying hard enough."

Two weeks ago, we brought home The New Puppy.

(I think you can see where I'm going with this.)

It was so easy to house train the foster pups.  Ohhh so easy.  *sadly shaking head*  And I think this is why:  They were foster pups.  Of course we adored them and spent hours cuddling and playing with them, wishing they could be ours forever.  But we knew they'd be going back in a matter of weeks or months (even days, sometimes), and so we didn't mind putting forth the SUPERHUMAN amount of energy that is flawless housebreaking.  We also let our own pup, Mesa, the ridiculously cute Golden Retriever, toddle around much more of the house than the foster puppies ever had access to.

Typically, they were granted one new room (say, the living room, or the bedroom) after several days of no accidents in their current living spaces, and only for 15 minutes at a time--and only when we knew their bladders were empty.  Whereas I love having a new "Velcro Dog" and am delighted to have Mesa follow me around everywhere, even if that means I occasionally forget to make sure that whatever she's chewing under my desk while I'm working is okay.

The moral of the story is that puppy training is easy.  It's tedious, and it may occasionally require an egg timer, but it can be boiled down to a few simple rules.

1)  Never take your eye off puppy.

2)  If you're taking your eye off puppy for a second, put him in the crate.

3)  If you're taking your eye off puppy for more than an hour, put him in his comfy puppy-proof room (e.g, a bathroom, the laundry room) with his crate or bed, toys, safe chewies, water, and a potty area.


So far, while taking our eyes off puppy, we've sustained a chewed a/v cable, a chewed credit card, pee in the middle of our bed (no, it's not because she's salty because we pet the other dogs or other Cesar Milan-type nonsense), a joyously unfurled roll of toilet paper, a dug-up bed of moss roses (see photo), and a puppy garbage fiasco after she (very quietly) learned how to open the lidded trash can in the bathroom.  I blame the work-to-eat toys.

It's not as bad as it could be.  She is getting potty trained and chew-trained, slowly but surely, under the increasing diligence of the sheepish humans.  And hey, it's nothing compared to my first dog as an adult, who in our first two years together (yes, two years; I never learned) chewed up two cell phones, my eyeglasses, about sixty paperbacks, all the windowsills in my apartment, and a couch, down to the wooden frame.

Nope, this new kid's not bad at all. But maybe next time I can just remember to... oh, that's right.  Never take my eye off the puppy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Free classes for Pit Bulls this fall!

We love Pit Bulls and other bully breeds and mixes.  They tend to be sweet, people-oriented, and ready for adventure!  We're not the only ones--lots of people, including families with kids, seniors, and differently-abled folks, are in love with their "pibbles" and swear they're the best dogs around.

Even more than we love Pit Bulls, we love Pit Bull owners.  They face housing discrimination, jeers and horrified looks even while walking politely through their own neighborhoods, and are routinely denied access to places like... Denver.

So we're throwing you guys a bone.  Call or email any time to nab a spot in our FREE obedience classes this fall, exclusively for bully breeds and mixes.  All classes will be held in San Felipe Park, D Street, Hayward, rain or shine!

The first 4-week session will be on Saturdays, 1:00--2:00 p.m., from October 22 through November 12.
The second session will be on Sundays, 1:00--2:00 p.m., October 23--November 13th.

We're limiting class size to ten dogs in each session, and each class will have two experienced instructors present to ensure lots of individual attention for each dog.

We'll cover the basics: Sit, Down, Stay, Come, Wait at doors, walking nicely on-leash, polite greetings (not jumping on people), and even a couple of cute party tricks so you can convince Grandma that your beast is actually pretty tame.  Charming, in fact.  And he comes with his very own diploma.

P.S. Check out BAD RAP's excellent online database of SF Bay Area Pit Bull resources, like pit-friendly housing!

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Little Dog Lost

My beloved dog Daisy died suddenly this summer, on the fourth of July in fact.  We'd had a fun, relaxing holiday planned--search-and-rescue training in the early morning, some yardwork during the day, a small barbecue with friends in our quiet suburban cul-de-sac.  Isn't that how these things happen?  She started vomiting in the morning, and by late afternoon she was gone.

In the middle there were several hours at the emergency vet's, where they gave her some fluids and anti-emetics and pronounced her well enough to come home.  She passed away quietly soon after, laying on her dog bed in the living room where I'd been lazing on the couch with the newspaper.  When we rushed her back in, the clinic staff were stunned.

The two months that have gone by since we lost a healthy, vibrant, 4-year-old dog, my search-and-rescue partner in training, my wingman, have been a blur of shock and grief.  My wife and I cry every time we find a ball in the yard.  It's true we have two other dogs that we love to bits, but none that crawl up in bed at night to squeeze in-between us for cuddles.  None that I can take out for a ten-mile trail run, and that will turn around to look at me with that particular gleam in her eyes.

Maybe this is inappropriate for a blog post.  The relationship between technology and story-telling is a smoky one.  But Daisy, my "problem child," was the reason I clung so hard to any new scrap of dog behavior and training knowledge I could find; she's the reason for this business, the reason for this blog.  Dogs like her are maybe my reason for being.

I realized how lucky I am to be surrounded by friends and coworkers who know dogs as family members, as close friends, just as powerful and precious in their lives as their human loved ones.  My community blessed my household with company, phone calls, held hands, casseroles, and check-ins to see how we're doing even now, two months later.  For grieving families without that kind of community, or who just need more support, I've found the following resources.

The Pet Loss Support Page is a comprehensive on-line list of California hotlines, support groups, counselors, and cemeteries and cremation options for pet families.

Stacy's Wag 'n Train also offers an up-to-date events listing for NorCal/Bay Area dog resources, including a pet loss support group at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley and one at the San Francisco SPCA, both on the first Tuesday of each month.  On third Tuesdays, there's also a group at the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society.  These group sessions are free, typically offer printed handouts or other resources for you to take home, and are a nice way to feel you're not alone and to help other pet families feel heard and understood as well.  The grief counselor can also help you sift through difficult emotions about getting another pet, as well as offer ideas about rituals or other ways to honor your pet and come to terms with your loss.

Daisy's ashes are still in her urn in my office; we can't bear to scatter them yet, although my wife and I bought beautiful glass lockets to store a bit in, when we finally open the urn.  We plan to take a driving trip to lay her to rest in all her favorite places: Stinson Beach, Fort Funston, the In 'n Out Burger at the Oakland Coliseum.  She was a fierce, beautiful soul, a bright star, and she lingers still in all the places we knew her.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Genetically Poor Predators (except when it's a squeaky toy)

I was doing dishes this afternoon with the patio door open and the dogs puttering in and out, when I realized it'd been awfully quiet for a while.  I went into the backyard to investigate and found Daisy fussing over something in the grass.  It was a dead mole, its wet fur plastered to its fat little body on one side.  Once Daisy saw that I was just a passive observer, she went back to what she was doing: nibbling at its fur, then pawing at the mole and thrusting at its body with her nose.

Why didn't she eat it?  If she was playing with it, why didn't she rip it open and pull out all the innards, like she spends hours doing with her stuffed toys?

Ray Coppinger, in his book Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, says that perhaps our domestic dogs have lost part of their genetic code, the part that says "chase prey, then grab prey, then bite prey, then eat prey."  More or less.  He postulates that certain elements of the sequence have been added or lost, depending on what humans wanted dogs to do.  For example, what good is a retriever that retrieves a half-eaten duck?  Not much...  Thus, hunters bred retrieving dogs who would "chase, grab" but not "bite, kill, eat."  Border collies and other herding dogs have a special sequence of genetic code that says "eye-stalk, chase," the eye-stalk being that special lowered-head glare they use to intimidate the flock.

So what does that mean for Daisy?  Maybe that, as a (very) mixed-breed dog, she's retained the entire predatory sequence...except for "eat"?

But why, then, does she rip apart (essentially, play-eat) her stuffed toys?  One answer might lie in the sometimes-bizarre, sometimes-hilarious area of genetic drift.  Some genes get passed on kind of accidentally--that is, by chance--not because they help the animal survive or procreate, or do much of anything important.  This phenomenon is what causes dogs to spend an inordinately long time scratching a "nest" in a smooth couch cushion before laying down.  It would make sense in a pile of leaves, grass, or snow, but what the heck good does it do on the couch?  It's just a mostly-useless genetic remnant of a behavior that used to be very important, maybe even life-saving, to dogs (or wolves, or a missing link between them), but nowadays doesn't hurt (or help) dogs' chances for survival.

We're still anxiously awaiting a lot more research in the field of dog behavior.  At this point, it's hard to say much for sure.  Except rest in peace, Mr. Mole.  And Daisy: please don't lick my face for a couple of hours.

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Shelter Standards of Care Guidelines

Finally, from the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters!

A few excerpts that resonated with me:

"(T)here can be a large gap between adequate care and deficiencies serious enough to prosecute under existing cruelty statutes. This leaves the possibility that substantial numbers of animals will live in substandard conditions within organizations expected to protect animal welfare. In some cases, the organizations that are at fault for providing inappropriate or negligent care are governed by the same entity that investigates animal cruelty, creating a conflict of interest.  ...

Many factors can alter the capacity for care. For example, loss of animal care staff, or malfunctioning enclosures, can temporarily decrease the capacity for care until such time as new persons are hired and appropriately trained, or enclosures are repaired or replaced. Operating beyond an organization’s capacity for care is an unacceptable practice.  ...

Ideally, shelters should maintain their populations below maximum housing capacity to allow for daily intake as well as more flexibility when choosing appropriate enclosures for each animal. Maximum housing capacity must not be exceeded. Even though enclosures may be available, it may be necessary to leave some empty due to other constraints on capacity for care (e.g., staffing levels and opportunities for enrichment).  ...

Organizations that develop their own evaluation should do so in consultation with a veterinarian or behaviorist familiar with the science and theory of behavior assessment.  ...

Enrichment should be given the same significance as other components of animal care, such as nutrition and veterinary care, and should not be considered optional (ILAR 1996). At a minimum, animals must be provided regular social contact, mental stimulation and physical activity (ILAR 1996). For some animals, social needs may be partially fulfilled through interaction with members of the same species.  ...

Training programs for dogs and cats (e.g., to condition or teach basic obedience commands or tricks) also serve as an important source of stimulation and social contact (Griffin 2009a; Laule 2003; Thorn 2006). For dogs, such training has been shown to increase chances for re-homing (Leuscher 2008). Training methods must be based primarily on positive reinforcement in accordance with current professional guidelines (APDT 2003; AVSAB 2007; Delta Society 2001). ...  Sufficient resources (e.g., trained staff, time for behavioral treatment, adequate housing and working space) must be available to provide appropriate care if behavioral modification is attempted. The techniques required are generally labor-intensive and time-consuming and must be applied consistently over a period of time in order to be successful."

Friday, December 10, 2010

5 Tips for Teaching Your Pup How to Spend Time Alone

by Andrea Arden, reprinted from

I am convinced that sweet puppy breath is nature's form of Love Potion No. 9. Once exposed, you become intoxicated and powerless to do anything but reschedule your life so that you can spend as much time with your new puppy as possible. Days pass and you feel your mood and spirit lighten as you witness them romping about in their inquisitive, enthusiastic, and not yet fully coordinated manner.

These brief bursts of entertaining energy are balanced with hours spent watching the peaceful, deep slumber that is unique to a baby animal. Your hazy, love fog begins to clear when you realize you must head to work, school, or the grocery store. But, the thought of leaving your new little puppy at home by him or herself can be enough to send even the most rational pet parent into guilt overload. This is exacerbated once you head out the door and hear the whimpers, whines, howls and barks of a pup that suddenly realizes they have been left alone. What ensues is nothing less than mutual canine and human separation anxiety.

Puppies are programmed to seek out social connections for safety and comfort. Spending time alone is something that is inherently foreign to them and that they are unlikely to have experienced in early puppyhood while they are with their mother and littermates. However, as spending time alone will be a consistent requirement for almost all pet dogs, helping a young pup to develop the skill to self pacify and spend time calmly and quietly without their family nearby is a vital part of early puppy education. Doing so will take the stress out of separation for you and your dog. However, be mindful that helping your puppy learn this skill should be balanced with a well-planned and implemented socialization program so that they also learn to enjoy the company of a wide range of people.

In most ways, the dog's preference for sociability works in our favor. After all, they have been our devoted companions for years and will work by our side, alert us to intruders and otherwise be all one could hope for in an animal companion. However, this propensity for sociability also means that we must allow for a gradual adjustment to learning to spend time alone. Furthermore, each dog is an individual and deserves to be provided with all that it takes for them to learn in as stress free a manner as possible that is appropriate for their particular temperament and experience. So, be sure to proceed with the following tips at a rate that is appropriate for your pup.

1. Make the most of your pup's need for plenty of rest.
As wonderful as it is to cuddle with your sleeping pup, try to use vital nap times as opportunities for your dog to be separate from you when it is likely easiest for them. Resting in a suitably sized crate is usually the best option as it not only provides a safe resting spot, but when used properly will also be a useful housetraining tool. Start by placing your pup in his or her crate just after elimination in an appropriate spot and at times when they seem most in need of a nap. The crate should be nearby you or other family members. But, over the course of a couple of weeks you should be able to gradually move it farther away. When your pup wakes up, be sure to carry them immediately to their potty spot.

2. Use puzzle and chew toys to keep your puppy happily occupied when not engaged in play with you.
Dogs, especially puppies who are teething, love to chew. Have a selection of five to ten chew toys on hand for your pup to play with. The three general varieties are: toys which are hollow in the middle and dispense your pups dry or wet food (such as Busy Buddy Twist n' Treats, Kongs, and Activity Balls), toys which are hollow in the middle and can be stuffed with soft food which does not drop out when pushed about, but that your dog can work to get (such as sterilized white bones with a small opening at each end), chew toys which are digestible (such as Flossies and Bully Sticks). Providing your dog with these engaging chew options will keep them happily occupied when you aren't engaged with them.

For three more tips to help your pup become the happy, well-adjusted adult dog you know he can be, even when he's home alone, see Andrea's full article here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is your dog ready for the holidays?

From the Thanksgiving turkey to house guests to holiday decorations, temptations abound for the average pet. How will your dog's training stand up to the challenges?