Friday, June 25, 2010

Take Your Dog to Work Day

Today is Take Your Dog to Work Day. It began in 1999, and was created to celebrate the bond between people and their dogs, and encourage adoptions from shelters around the country. On June 25 every year, businesses are encouraged to open up their doors to the furry friends!

I was fortunate to be working in a place able to participate this year, and here is a photo of the lucky gal!

So, how did I make this happen?

Well, for starters, I asked my boss!

Two weeks ago, I sent a link to the website to my boss, telling him about the event, what it was, and why I would like to participate. My boss is a dog lover, and I hoped it would go over well. I work in an office building, we don't see customers on a daily basis, and we don't handle food. Because we work on computers, it is a quiet environment that would be easy and relatively stress-free for a few dogs.

However, the day  before, I had gotten some bad news. Due to the number of employees, we could not sanction the number of possible dogs, so the overall event could not take place. There could be possible allergies, someone could get bitten, no way to ensure everyone's dogs would be well behaved, too many dogs could show up and there is no way to be sure they all behaved. Alright, those are all valid reasons - but he gave me a light at the end of the tunnel - since I did ask so politely, he agreed to let me bring my dog over my lunch break.

I talk about my dog often - she is a 10 year old Great Dane who has earned her CGC, passed the Therapy Dogs International certification, and earned her RN title - and he felt comfortable that one well-behaved dog during a lunch hour would not be a fuss.

When I arrived with my dog over my lunch break - he was so taken with her manners, how well she sat quietly in the corner, how she listened, stayed out of the way, and was an overall pleasant office companion - he quickly changed his mind and allowed her stay the remainder of the afternoon.

A well-behaved dog turned 'no-dogs' into a very happy Take Your Dog participant!

Had she been ill-mannered, noisy, not house-broken, jumping all over the place and an other-wise nuisance, I would have been told to take her home much sooner.

Here's to hoping next year is as fun and welcoming as this one!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rescuing or hoarding?

A few weeks ago, in my county, 261 dogs were seized from a rescue.

This was a an actual rescue organization, operating with a 501c3 status out of Central Florida for some time. They would take in dogs in need, perform needed medical operations, spay and neuter as needed, place the dogs in foster situations, and adopt them out as they found homes for them.

The couple running the operation were quite a lovely couple, and they were well known in the area.

So what went wrong? At what point did they cross the line into hoarding, so badly that Animal Control felt the need to step in and seize the dogs?

I can only speculate as to exactly what happened in this case, but I can give some information rescuing dogs and how easy it can turn into hoarding.

Rescuing dogs is wonderful, difficult, yet rewarding work. You take in dogs who need you, who are maybe injured, or just homeless. People may have abused them, or people are just dumping them, or people just can't keep them. The reasons dogs end up in rescues are as endless as there are dogs.

The people running rescues have big hearts, but limited incomes. They have to balance the number of incoming dogs against incoming donations, and what their own budgets allow them to handle. The amount of food they have coming in and the amount of space they can allow, and the amount of foster homes (people within the rescue organization who are willing to let the dogs stay in their homes) available to them. Some rescues are so small they can only handle 10-20 dogs at a time, some large enough to take up to 100.

Rescues often operate as 'safe havens' for dogs, a place to go when no one else will take them - many rescues operate as 'no-kill' shelters, promising not to euthanize any dog for any reason other than medically required.

The rescues usually have web sites, and attend events at pet stores, adoption expos and other locations to get their name out and try to adopt the dogs out. Many rescues are listed on websites such as Petfinder or Dogster and list their dogs available for adoption for a small adoption fee, and they all have the same end goal - getting those dogs into forever homes.

There are dog rescues all over the country - breed specific rescues, group specific rescues, area-rescues, branches of the SPCA and various Humane Societies (NOT to be confused with the Humane Society of United States), and they are really wonderful organizations. Some rescues can be as small as two people working together out of their own house to save dogs, as in the case with the couple in the news article above.

So at what point does it become hoarding?

Hoarding compulsively is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary - and this applies to animals.

It is very important to point out that people who hoard animals are not necessarily bad people, but they DO need help. Hoarding begins to occur when a person reaches the point when they have accumulated so many animals they can no longer care for them all properly. If you have seen any episodes of Animal Cops on Animal Planet, you have probably seen the home of someone who has hoarded animals.

They tend to have excessive number of animals, they no longer seem to notice that the environment has become unsanitary, they are no longer able to properly feed them all, keep the animals nor themselves clean and the house begins to deteriorate all around them - and yet they remain convinced that everything is okay and they are doing the best they can, and that the animals are still better off in their care.

Again, hoarders are not "bad people". In fact, they think they are doing the best thing for the animals - many times they have accumulated so many by just not being able to turn away one more hungry mouth.

In the event you suspect someone is hoarding animals, you see that they have an exceedingly large number of animals and seem to have less than minimal amounts of care, sanitation, and food, you may want to contact your local Animal Control to get the animals the help they need - as well as the people involved!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The AKC: Mixed Breed Edition

The AKC has been a long time registry for purebred dogs in America. Awesome.

They also host a lot of events; like Rally, Agility, or Obedience, in which dogs can compete against each other and earn titles, and Conformation - where dogs are judged against a breed standard.

However, the AKC has never been very friendly towards mutts. (I don't say this as a four letter word, either) Mutts were not allowed to compete against the purebreds for a very long time in AKC sanctioned events. (My guess is simply that the AKC does not want their purebreds to be shown up by a mongrel)

They put in place the Indefinite Listing Privilege (ILP, sometimes referred to as Purebred Alternate Listing, or PAL) to allow dogs who looked purebred but came from shelters or rescues, or other situations where papers may not be available to compete in the events (Excluding Conformation). This was a great step in the right direction, since they are after all, touting themselves as 'The Dog's Champion'.

But what about the mutts? The thousands of shelter dogs who also want to compete in Agility, Rally, or show off in Obedience? Are they somehow inferior because of unknown heritage?

Not anymore! The AKC has decided to change their mind about something: let the mutts play! (It is more money for them in the end, after all!)

The mixed breed program originally meant that mixed breeds were allowed to compete - however not directly against the purebreds. Again, once can only assume this must be to protect the dignity of the purebreds themselves. Mixed breeds were to compete in a separate class and earn different titles. Separate, but equal?

After a bit of an outcry, it seems the good folks at the AKC have changed their minds again, and starting April 2010, mixed breed dogs will be allowed to compete at AKC events (excluding Conformation, of course) on the same level as the purebreds.

What does this mean for the casual dog owner? It means nothing is off-limits to you! The AKC is NOT the only organization around to host such events, but they're the most wide spread, and most dog clubs host their events. (You may also want to check out CPE or APDT if you want to give your money to someone who could care less about the breed)

The AKC has hopes that allowing mixed breeds to compete will show people how much fun you can have with a purebred. I say we go out and show them how much fun you can have with your mutt!

I know this little guy is going to be upsetting quite a few of the purebreds this fall.

Here is the link to register your mixed-breed dog for upcoming events, if you feel so inclined. Happy Competing!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Importance of Training: Wait

Part of owning a dog is training your dog. Dogs are not born knowing what is expected of them or how you want them to act - it all must be taught.

Training your dog is easy. So easy, you can begin the first day you bring home your new dog.

It does not need to be stressful on you or the dog, and you can spend as little as five minutes a day teaching your dog to be a wonderful canine citizen.

I'm not joking!

This post features specifically, the 'wait' command.

What it is: The command 'Wait' is given any time you want your dog to pause and wait for a signal to go.

How it is useful: 'Wait' can be used in a variety of ways. You can use it to tell your dog to wait while you put his food in the bowl, so he isn't clobbering you or trying to shove his face in the bowl while you fill it. Maybe you dropped something dangerous on the floor and you need your dog to wait while you pick it up.

It can be used for the dogs safety. You put a leash on your dog, tell him to wait, and then safely open a door without the dog bolting through, then ask him to follow you.

Maybe you need to have the dog wait while you open a car door, or lower the seat for them to get in or out.

How to teach it: 'Wait', in my experience, has been the easiest command to teach a dog so far.

Start with your dog's food. All dogs eat. All dogs want to eat. They are programmed to want food, so let's start there.

If you free-freed your dog (allowing access to food all day), that has to stop. Free-feeding allows your dog the opportunity to over-eat, it prevents you from having a handle on his elimination schedule, and lowers the their drive to perform for food.

If you have a large dog, it's best to break it into several small meals (I give three small meals a day to my dogs) rather than one large one. This can help prevent bloat by not letting the dog gorge himself all at once, and helps you get them more interested in food overall.

When you are ready to feed your dog, have him in the feeding area with you. Pick the bowl up off the floor, and fill it. It is your choice to have your dog sitting or standing when you ask them to wait, I ask mine to sit first.

When the dog is in position (either sitting or standing), slowly lower the bowl to the floor. The dog is likely going to immedieatly break position and go for the food. Do not let him have the food. Just stand back up and pull the bowl out of each, and don't say anything to the dog.

Start again, put the dog in the position you want, and lower the bowl again. In the begining, the criteria must be kept low, so I suggest only asking the dog to wait long enough for you to put the bowl on the floor.

Repeat as many times as it takes for the dog to let you put the bowl on the floor. When you've got the bowl on the floor, the reward is the food. No treat needed!

If it takes a long time, don't be discouraged! The dog needs time to think about what it is doing, and figure out what you want from him. You don't want to punish any incorrect behavior at this stage because it can make the dog afraid to fail. You want the dog to figure it out on his own, and encourage him to think.

The next few feeding sessions repeat this, with no command. When the dog waits for the bowl to be on the floor about 80% of the time, then add the command to this.

While you are lowering the bowl to the floor, tell the dog 'Wait', in a calm, firm voice. Lower the bowl. When the bowl hits the floor, tell the dog a release word (I use 'Ok') and allow him to eat.

Repeat this as many times as it takes, until again the dog is doing the action correctly about 80% of the time.

Then we increase the criteria. Lower the bowl, telling the dog to wait - but do not give the release word right away. Wait two seconds, then release. If the dog is successful, great! Chow time!

If he is not successful, take up the food and begin again. When success is achieved about 80% of the time again, increase time.

Slowly, the dog will begin to understand that when you say 'wait', you mean 'wait until she says ok!', no matter how long it takes.

When you are able to reach an increment of about 10 seconds with the dog successfully waiting, you can begin to add distance.

Ask the dog to wait, lower the bowl, and take a step back. Wait 2 seconds, then release.

Any time you add criteria, make sure you set the dog up for success. You are adding distance but decreasing time so the dog can understand that no matter where you are standing the command means the same thing.

Here is a video of one of my dogs, Thunder, learning the 'Wait' command.

If you are feeding your dog three times a day - you're getting three daily training sessions with your dog. Training improves the bond between you and your dog, and helps keep your dog mentally stimulated. Mental stimulation is every bit as important as exercise in keeping dogs happy and healthy - it's bored dogs with pent up energy who turn destructive.

Remember in every training session to keep it short and positive. If you begin to get frustrated, stop. If your dog is frequently giving an incorrect behavior, back up a step and start over. Don't forget he is a dog, and english is not his first language.

Happy training!