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Thursday, October 7, 2010

SHOULD YOU GET A DOG?


Before you get a dog, make sure that you are ready for the commitment.  Dogs are living creatures, not property to be discarded when someone decides they are no longer needed or wanted.  They take time and money.  They require food, water, grooming, veterinary care, exercise, training and socialization.  Adopting a dog means making a commitment for the life of the dog.  Too many dogs end up in shelters because their owners decided they no longer wanted the responsibility of caring for them.  Before you take home that cute little puppy, be sure that you are prepared to make the necessary adjustments to your budget and lifestyle for the next  15-20 years.

Consider your current living arrangements.  Do you own your home, or do you rent?  If you rent, does your lease allow pets?  Do you have a fenced in yard?  If not, are you prepared to take the dog on long runs or walks so that it gets sufficient exercise?  A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.  A dog that doesn’t get enough exercise can easily become destructive, and your home may pay the price.

Make sure that everyone in the household wants the dog and that there is an understanding about who will be responsible for feeding the dog, grooming the dog (or taking it to the groomer), taking the dog to the vet, taking the dog for walks and training and socializing the dog.  Parents, before you give in to your elementary school age child’s pleas for a dog, remember that even if he or she promises that they will feed it and walk it and clean up after it if you will only let him or her have a dog, realistically, a child under the age of 10 is probably not old enough or mature enough to be consistent in attending to these responsibilities on a regular basis.  Having said this, I do believe that pets can play an important role in children lives and help them to learn many things,, but you will have to be prepared to monitor to make sure that the dog is being properly cared for and to gently but firmly remind the child of the commitment that he or she made and of the fact that the dog is dependent upon him or her to meet its needs.

And while you’re at it, be sure to consider any pets that are already part of your family.  Is your current dog a social butterfly who enjoys interacting with other dogs at the dog park or doggie day care, or is he an introvert who prefers lots of quiet time alone with you.  Is your older cat accustomed to living with a dog?  If not a new canine housemate will be a major adjustment for your senior feline family member.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Buddy's Story


In November of 2000, I went to the Montgomery, Alabama Humane Society Shelter to drop off some shredded paper, and was rescued by a nine-week-old puppy. I had wanted to get a dog for several years but really hadn't gone to the shelter planning on taking home a puppy that day. One of the shelter volunteers was outside with Buddy and he was romping happily in the grass. I saw Buddy as I left the shelter and headed toward my car and walked over to take a closer look. Buddy reminded me of a dog that we had when I was a child, and when he came running over to me wagging his tail, I picked him up and he licked my face. That was all it took. I was hooked.

Buddy is the first dog that has ever owned me, and I realized when I got him home that I really didn't know anything about dog behavior and training. If Buddy was going to be a part of the family, I wanted him to be a well-behaved family member, so when he was twelve weeks old, I contacted a trainer recommended by Buddy's veterinarian and asked her to come and do her Puppy Good Start program, which included some basic training and socialization.

Unfortunately, I found it very hard to look at those big brown eyes and be firm. By the time that Buddy was about 4 1/2 months and was going through the adolescent phase, he had decided that he was the leader of the pack, and I was not. When I tried to tell him what to do, in his eyes, I was challenging his role as pack leader and he had no choice but to put me in my place. He did this by snapping and snarling at me. It worked. I didn't have the confidence that I needed to address the behavior. Afraid of getting bitten, I backed off, he got his way, and his behavior was reinforced.

After several weeks of this behavior, I became concerned. I called the trainer and asked for her advice. I spoke to Buddy's vet. She recommended that Buddy be neutered as soon as possible. I took Buddy in to have him neutered, I pleaded with the trainer to let Buddy into her next Puppy Kindergarten class and I drove two hours to the nearest PetSmart to purchase a Gentle Leader, thinking that if I could teach Buddy that I was in control and he couldn't pull me when we went for walks, it would be the first step in taking back control of the household and reclaiming my role as pack leader.

Buddy successfully completed Puppy Kindergarten and the Beginner Obedience class. The classes were small, there was only one class at a time, and the trainer was patient and kind and tolerant of my use of the Gentle Leader and a clicker. Then, I enrolled Buddy in the next class, the Novice I class, which was taught by a different trainer at a different location. Two classes were taught in the same room at the same time. The were four times as many dogs and at least four times as many people. This trainer would not allow me to use the clicker or the Gentle Leader. All the people and dogs and activity were too much for Buddy, and he would bark. Instead of recognizing that barking was Buddy's way of telling us that he was overwhelmed and suggesting that I take him outside for a few minutes and return when he had calmed down, the trainer instead encouraged me to buy a prong collar. Poor Buddy just shut down.

Buddy had so much energy, and I wanted so badly to be able to participate in agility with him, but in order for him to be able to do that, he had to have a reliable recall. They recommended that I take Buddy to a trainer in a nearby town for private training. This trainer lived in a house with an unfenced yard in the middle of the city. He had me remove Buddy's leash and when Buddy did not come when called, he chased Buddy down, took him down to the ground, and before I knew what was happening, bit Buddy on the ear and had him cowering behind me. By the end of the evening, Buddy was healing off leash for me, but the behavior didn't last because it was motivated by fear. We never went back to that trainer.

The next trainer we tried recommended a shock collar. Buddy finally completed the Novice I class. He learned what to do to avoid getting shocked, but again, the behavior never became consistent and reliable because it was motivated by fear and a desire to avoid punishment. When he was not wearing the shock collar, it was C-O-M-E? What's that? Maybe later. See ya!

I began to realize that the "traditional" training methods weren't effective and that the people that I had once regarded as "the experts" really didn't know any more than I did. I finally had
enough self-confidence to realize that I spent more time with Buddy than anyone else, and knew better than anyone else what was best for him. I decided that from that point on, I would use only clicker training and positive reinforcement, no prong collars or shock collars allowed!

It has taken years to undue the damage done by "traditional" training, but Buddy has responded well to clicks and positive reinforcement. He has learned more through clicker training than he ever would have through "traditional" training and the behaviors are more reliable than they ever would have been with "traditional" training.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why I'm Writting this Blog

The blogosphere is now full of blogs on almost every topic, so why am I writing this blog? I'm writing this blog because for the last almost ten years, I have been blessed with a loyal four-legged companion and best friend to whom this blog is dedicated. He has enriched not only my life, but the lives of those in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and group homes where we have done pet therapy. It is my hope that this blog can serve as a resource of information for dog lovers on all topics relating to dogs from adoption and rescue to training and behavior to activities and travel with your dog.

Frequently, when I talk to people who are fellow dog lovers, or at least patient enough to listen and nod politely, questions arise about training and socialization. Part of being a responsible dog owner is making sure that your dog is properly socialized and understands his position in the "pack." The importance of this task is underscored by the number of dogs who are surrendered to shelters due to lack of proper training and socialization. Unfortunately, there are still those who cling to "traditional" training methods as the only acceptable way of training a dog. By sharing Buddy's story, I hope to be able to demonstrate the shortcomings of "traditional" training methods and show that there is a better, more effective way.

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