Monday, May 30, 2011


I am a member of the Imperial Polk Obedience Club (IPOC) here in Lakeland.

IPOC is an obedience club. People come there to train their dogs - for basic manners, and further on into dog sports, if they so choose to do so.

I joined IPOC three years ago, when I adopted Delilah. I did not know very much about dog training - I had read a little online, but had never seen it really applied. Cozmo was a fairly well behaved dog, but I did not really take any part of his training. He just turned out the way he is mostly out of luck.

Delilah is a big dog. I knew this when I adopted her, even when she was sick and skinny she was 94 lbs. I'm quite a bit heavier than her, but 94 lbs hitting the end of a leash can do a number on your arms. It can drag you to your knees when the dog at the end of the leash sees a squirrel.

It did not take me long to realize I needed help teaching her to walk nicely on a leash. I had heard of IPOC on the internet but never really checked them out - I thought $85 for an obedience class was pretty steep, and I wasn't sure they were what I was looking for.

Then I talked to a co-worker who had taken a puppy obedience class there and enjoyed it, and I thought I'd give it a shot.

Turns out Delilah qualified for a discount because she was a rescue dog. We paid $55 for our first class. It was an 8 week class and it covered basic obedience - sit, down, stay, walking nicely on a leash, leave it, and wait.  I was given instructions on how to teach the behaviors (mostly using rewards, luring, and shaping)  and then given 'homework' to practice throughout the week.

With this gentle instruction, after 8 weeks I had a dog who was able to do all the items practiced in class, so I decided to come back for a second round, and take their Advanced Basic Obedience class. She excelled, my confidence grew. I started to talk to club members and found they were like me - very much loved their dogs, and wanted to spend a lot of time with them.

Some of them did competition Obedience, some did Conformation, some did Rally, some did Agility. Everyone I talked to was eager to help me, and wanted me to succeed with my dog.

I decided I wanted to join the club. I would receive more discounts on classes, but I really wanted to get involved. I wanted to learn more, I wanted to work with my dogs and be around dogs.

I'm a very shy person, so even after joining the club I did not do much. I came to help with cleaning, with setting up, and then I volunteered to steward at an obedience trial. I thought dog showing was all Conformation. Ha! Crash course - dog sports are awesome!

I was blown away when I saw a dog retrieve a dumbbell over a jump. I was amazed when I watched a dog in the Utility ring select a scented article amongst a ring of others. I loved the teamwork and happy tail wagging of dogs in the Rally ring.

The more I learned - the more I wanted to do! I soon signed up Cozmo and Thunder for obedience classes as well, and all three dogs passed their Canine Good Citizen test.

I enrolled Delilah and Cozmo into their Therapaws program, and began visiting different nursing homes around my county with them. (And after another year or so of training, Thunder would join as well).

The first dog sport I fell in love with was Rally. Rally is sort of an obstacle course that the handler and dog must work through as a team. You start with 100 points, and points are deducted if you make a mistake, and if you score 70 or higher, you qualify. Three qualifying legs, and you earn a title. There are three levels of difficulty in Rally - Novice, Advanced, and Excellent, with Advanced and Excellent being off-leash.

Cozmo going through a Novice Rally course.

I loved Rally. I found the teamwork with the handler and the dog fascinating, and the more I worked my dogs, the more I wanted to do! My dogs were learning! I helped Delilah and Cozmo both earn their Rally Novice titles, and Delilah has two legs towards her Rally Advanced, though she is now retired and will not complete the title.

Because I found IPOC, I have learned so much about training, dogs, and myself. I've learned to push myself, and that dogs are smarter than we think. I've learned a new way to enjoy my dogs, to spend time with them and bond.

Then a few years later, I realized I had to give back. I volunteer a lot around my club - I often steward at trials, I help clean up, I am the Club Secretary, and I am learning to be a Trial Secretary for our upcoming obedience trial. I even teach the Kinderpuppy Basic Obedience class now.

The club is not perfect, but I have made a lot of friends there, and I feel really welcomed. I feel that after all I've learned from them, my input is just as valued now.

I love being a member of IPOC. I love what the club does - I love how much we give to the community. In addition to Therapaws, we give deep discounts to rescued dogs from our local SPCA and Animal Control. We attend various events in the community and offer help and advice to anyone who needs it. We want to help the public with their dogs - we want them to enjoy their dogs, love their dogs, and help them to be parts of the family.

This club means a lot to me.

There are dog clubs like IPOC all over the place if you look around. Some searching on Google will often yield results not too far, and you'd be surprised how many places like IPOC are actually out there.

Take a look at your local obedience clubs, see what they have to offer. See what you can learn, and in turn, what you can share. Dog sports are incredibly fun and I have met some incredible people since becoming involved. Maybe there is a club out there for you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I teach a small class at my local dog club for puppies six months and under.

In addition to basic obedience, we also cover general maintenance of dogs such as grooming, and feeding.

And in the process of discussing what to feed, the second topic that comes up is how often.

And often, I find out that a lot of people 'freefeed' their dogs. To put it simply, when I say 'freefeed', I mean to say that a person makes food available to the dog at all times, so the dog could eat as often as it wanted.

And freefeeding isn't a method I would suggest using with a dog, and here are a few reasons why.

Freefeeding lowers your dog's interest in food. When you make food available to the dog at all times, the dog is less likely to work for food. Where's the motivation? Why should he sit for you for a biscuit when he knows there is plenty to eat in the kitchen? You could use higher value treats, for sure - but the dog is not going to work very hard when he is constantly full.

I feed my dogs in three meals a day. Delilah, the Great Dane, eats 5 cups of kibble a day. Instead of giving her five cups at all once, I feed her 1 in the morning,  two when I get home from work, and two around dinner time.

It is harder to monitor how much the dog eats. Monitoring exactly how much your dog eats is very important. How will you know if your dog is suddenly only eating 3 cups a day instead of 5? 

When dogs become ill, they often won't show symptoms right away. Sometimes the only indication that anything is wrong at all is the consumption of food goes down. If Delilah did not eat breakfast, then I know she was down to 4 cups that day. If she skipped breakfast and lunch, then I know she's down to 2 cups a day.

Knowing how much your dog eats and monitoring the amounts will help you discover underlying problems much sooner.

Freefed dogs tend to be overweight. Not all freefed dogs are, some of them manage just fine with plenty of exercise - but some dogs, (particularly dogs prone to obesity, like Labs) will eat and eat and eat.

Delilah is the type of dog who would eat herself sick given the opportunity. Which presents another very, very dangerous possibility - bloat. Bloat occurs when the stomach flips on itself and traps gas inside of it -  and it continues to expand. It is very painful and can cause death within the dog if not treated immediately.

By limiting the amount of food my dog consumes at one time, coupled with limiting her activity for 30 minutes after eating, it lowers her risk for bloat. Large breed dogs are at risk for bloat, particularly those with deep chests.

It is much harder to keep your dog on schedule. If you let the dog eat whenever he or she wants, then the dog will also need to eliminate - and this may not be with any type of regular schedule.

What goes in the dog must come out. So if the dog eats breakfast, within an hour or so the dog will need to eliminate. I feed my dogs three times a day, so they need to eliminate three times a day. Like clockwork.

When freefeeding, it is not as easy to place the dog on a schedule. When was their last meal? Approximately how long can the dog wait? Freefeeding can make housebreaking tedious and messy because the dog's body does not have a reliable schedule of when to expect food.

Yes, I know there are some dogs out there who are in the ideal body condition, who have never suffered bloat, and train just fine when being freefed. (In fact, Cozmo used to be one of them) However there are no real 'advantages' to this method of feeding. (Except, perhaps, laziness. I know how much work it is to scoop dog food and put it into a bowl!)

In addition to decreased food motivation, an irregular schedule and not knowing for sure how much the dog is consuming - leaving food out constantly is an invitation for pests. Dog food is still food - and food left out can attract anything from mice and rats to ants and cockroaches.

I highly reccomend to the owners who take my class that they try to feed 2-3 meals a day. Even for little dogs! If your dog only eats 1 cup a day, divide it up into thirds and feed the dog small meals.

You could even turn meal time into a training session and make the dog work for every single little kibble!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thunder - German Shepherd

Thunder was my one-and-only attempt at being a foster.

I also failed at this attempt.

I found about the dog on August 10th, 2008. He was found wandering the streets in Orlando. A gentlemen brought him to his garage, but his wife was extremely allergic to him, so he contacted the German Shepherd Rescue of Central Florida for help... but they didn't have any fosters available.

With some outreaching through other rescues, I was sent his information. At first I thought, this poor dog! I was told that he was 9 years old and male, and nothing else at the time. I figured, fostering isn't going to be that long - and what's one more dog for a short time?

I met up with a volunteer in Orlando to pick up the dog, and she gave me some more information.

The dog's name was Thunder. The gentleman who originally found him took him to the closest vet - who knew the dog.

Thunder, the night we brought him home.
 He is a fairly recognizable dog with those ears, and coupled with the rabies tag he was wearing, it was no problem to properly identify the dog. They did try to return the dog to the owner, but the owner on file claimed not to be the dog's owner, and wanted nothing to do with him. So, Thunder was officially disowned.

The vet called the rescue, and from then I stepped in.

The poor dog, when I first met him his coat was a mess, he had large hot spots that were tender and oozing, and he was so crippled with arthritis he had a hard time walking. His ears were majorly infected, and he had a large infected hole in his gum, along with several broken and missing teeth.

He was a sweet dog, though. I gave him a bath to help with the smell and he stood there calmly. He was fairly affectionate towards us, gave us high fives, and he seemed to be a fairly nice dog. His nails were so long that it was causing him trouble walking.

Later that night was when I noticed the big issue with his mouth.

Large, disgusting hole in his mouth.
Lucky for him, he was in a safe place now, and the rescue was going to fix him up.

My husband and I paid for him to be neutered to help out the rescue, and we took him to a small clinic here in town to have his mouth fixed - he had to have an oral flap procedure to repair that hole.

The hotspots, it turned out, were caused by food allergies. It took a lot of testing and a lot of paitence, but eventually once we got him on Canidae, all of his hotspots cleared up, his coat grew glossy and a smooth, and he gained a little weight.

The first ever snuggle.
It took months of dedication, gentle coaxing, and positive reinforcement to gain Thunder's trust. There was not an aggressive bone in this dog's body, but he was always on the defense.

The first time we tried to clip his nails, for example. My husband was helping to hold him, and I was cutting his nails. Thunder apparently did not like his feet being handled, and he turned around and bit my husband on the arm. We were very grateful the dog did not have good teeth in his mouth, too.

There were several other bumps along the road, too. He startled easy. I once reached for a fly swatter in the kitchen and he responded by lunging at me from under the table.

Time went by, we kept working with him on his issues, and trying to get him adopted. We took him out to meet people, he was listed on Petfinder and on the rescue's website, and we took him to Inverness to the Cooter Festival to an adopathon... but no look. Everyone just looked past the poor old man to the younger, more beautiful dogs.

Still, as time went on, he became more and more trusting of us - my husband in particular.

By Christmas time, we were toying with the idea of keeping him. The bond we've been building was growing stronger by the day... and it felt like he was a part of our family.

A happy collective family.
 Christmas day that year, my husband and I decided to go watch Marley and Me. That was the day we decided to make it official - we called Raye at the rescue and told her that day. Thunder wasn't leaving us.

After his official adoption, I began training him. He passed his CGC, and later went on to be a Therapy dog. His arthritis is too much for him to have ever competed, so we let him be at basic manners.

To this day he's still fairly adorable, and we lovingly refer to him as the German Shedder. His bond with both my husband and I has grown stronger still, and I have no doubt about the dog's loyalty to us.

He is a wonderful dog, a great cuddle buddy, and we're so glad to have him with us.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Delilah - Great Dane

Delilah is the very special dog that is so rare and special that the only term that fits is 'heart dog'.

Photo by Jennifer Goodlet
Delilah is a black Great Dane, and she is approximately 11 years old now.

Photo from Polk County Animal Control
On March 24, 2008, a few weeks after my husband and I moved into our new house, I was looking for a Great Dane. I applied to a rescue as a foster home - I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but I was sure that fostering would be a good place to start. Then, a co-worker came across the above photo on our local Animal Control's website, and sent me a link.

Her page said only that she was 8 years old and female, and the above photo. I had no idea what she would be like, but decided to go visit her over my lunch break. Cozmo was older, she was older and female - I figured they would get along well enough. I knew Great Danes didn't live long from my research, but she looked so sad in that photo.

Well, a few of my co-workers went with me to the pound to see her. She had the most wonderful demeanor, she was a tad shy, but after a few minutes of talking to her gently she was leaning on me, and even gave me the very first kiss (of many to come!). I was sold.

I filled out the paperwork for her that day, was told I could pick her up in a few days after her spay, and I went back to work on cloud nine.

I started thinking of names, and a Dane-friend of mine suggested the name, 'Delilah'. I loved the name, it was so pretty! I talked it over with my husband, but we weren't sure. We wanted to see her personality more, first.

I went home, and my husband and I did everything we could to prepare for her. Set up her bed, purchased an elevated feeding stand, and moved furniture around. Because we were planning to foster, we had nearly everything we needed already.

Cozmo, enjoying Delilah's new bed
She came home with me April 2, 2008. I went to the pound to pick her up and paid her $75 adoption fee (what a steal!). We took off the collar she was wearing and placed a nice, new purple one one her and walked her out on her shiny new leash. We were not sure how she would taking getting into the car, but she climbed in slowly, still a little groggy from the spay.

She wasn't sure what to do in the car, though, so she stood there quietly in the back seat. My husband and I were so excited to have her, and the radio was playing quietly in the background. We were chatting back and forth to each other, when suddenly - the radio began playing 'Hey There, Delilah' by the Plain White T's, and that was that. She was Delilah, officially.

Now of course, there is much, much more to this dog then who she is and where she came from.

She is the reason I joined IPOC, and the reason I keep going. She is the reason I've become interested in dog sports, and while Danes have always been my favorite breed - she's the reason I will keep owning them.

Delilah has her Canine Good Citizen and Rally Novice title - and two legs towards her Rally Advanced, but her show career has been cut short when she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma.

She was a therapy dog for a few years, mostly through IPOC but also was certified through Therapy Dogs, International (until I let the registration lapse). She was the most wonderful Therapy dog I could have asked for, too.

Delilah on a Therapy visit.

She's a beach dog, a love bug, a bed hog and a messy eater. One day I'll write a book about her, because I can't tell you how amazing she is in one post.

She turned 11 this year, and I'm sure I'm going to lose her soon.. but until then, we'll keep on going and loving her, and I hope that from reading about her, you'll love her too.

Photo taken May 7, 2011

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cozmo - All-American Dog

This is Cozmo.

Cozmo was born October 28th, 1998.

He wasn't a planned pup, just an 'oops' litter that honestly could not have turned out better for me. (Or him, for that matter)

I was pretty young when he was born - 13. A lot of his upbringing was handled by my parents, such as his house-breaking. He didn't have much in the way of training until just these past few years.

Cozmo and I grew up in Altus, Oklahoma. He was my buddy through high school, various relationships and major changes in my life. He was with me when I left home and moved in with my grandparents. He went with me to college when I borrowed a room from my then-boyfriend's best friend's parents. He was with me to my first apartment in Houston. He was with me when I got married to said boyfriend, when we packed ourselves into the truck and moved to Florida. He was with me when I bought my first house.

His upbringing wasn't perfect - my parents did not have an effectively fenced in yard and he escaped often, and so had to be chained when outside. His first visit to the veterinarian wasn't until he was five, when I scraped up enough money to take him and have him vaccinated and neutered. He has eaten the worst of dog foods - all the way down to Ol'Roy. He's been at the pound twice because he escaped. He's even been run over once.

A lot of the above I'm not proud of, and I don't have the energy to try to remember the excuses I came up with. The only reason I put that out there is to show everyone that I'm not perfect, but I have certainly learned from my mistakes, and my dog is so much better for it!

He is a spoiled house dog now. He sees his veterinarian twice yearly and stays on flea and heart worm medication all year round. He eats the best dog food I can afford. I began really training him - and how he's changed!

He's an angel on a leash, always comes when he's called. He did not get the best socialization when he was young, but I've worked on it and he is friendly towards other dogs - even in areas with hundreds of dogs.

The first time he amazed me was when I took him to a basic obedience class - I pronounced him dumb as a box of rocks. Then Box of Rocks dog sailed to the top of the class. He passed his Canine Good Citizen test on the first try, then aced the requirements to become a Therapy Dog.

I started training him in Rally Obedience and Agility - and he's even earned one title so far, Rally Novice.

He has continued to amaze me, and the older he gets the more I've learned to appreciate what a great little dog he is. He's charming, he's adorable, and he's probably the brightest Box of Rocks I've met!

When I tried training him previously, he shut down quickly. I was forceful and harsh - I yelled at him often, and jerked him by his leash or forced him into position. The end result was that he hated training, he stared at me blankly, and would often urinate out of fear. I quit trying to teach him and labeled him stupid.

Then I did more research years later, and tried again. I picked up a clicker and put aside my expectations and decided to see what this dog can do. This dog is SMART. He learns things in a few moments - he may not be perfect, but that's what proofing is for.

He also loves agility. He's still very energetic despite his age - and if he sees a jump, he's going to jump it.

For fun, I even taught him to surf. No, really.

He turns 13 this year, and hopefully there will be many more years to come with this little guy. He's a goofy goober of a dog, but he's my goofy goober.