A Dog by Any Other Name…

One of the best things about working from home, and having a husband who works for a family business on the same property, means that we get to have breakfast or lunch dates some days. 🙂 This morning over a yummy breakfast of egg sandwiches, fruit, and cheesey hashbrowns, we happened upon today’s blog subject. We were laughing over how many nicknames we have for our dogs. It’s actually pretty embarassing. (Jonathan may or may not have started rapping to Gaige on his way out the door. More on that later…)

Even more strange? As I prepared to type this for the morning, I checked some of my favorite blogs for additional inspiration. It is no secret that one of my favorite blogs, and the one that inspired our journey of fosterhood, is Love & a Six-Foot Leash. Their blog post for today? “What’s in a name?” They talk about their two precious pooches, and the origination & evolution of their names. Theirs was actually the title I had already typed up for today! Too cool… if it is true that great minds think alike, then I am feeling extra bright today 😉 (PS: If you like my blog, please don’t read theirs. You will love it so much that you will feel no need to keep up with ours! I have major blog-envy.)

Anyways, back to the main subject. I am a nickname person. It’s like a ‘thing’ of mine. People, pets, foods… you name it, I probably have some weird name for it. They tend to start as a variation of their given name, and continue to deviate to the more ridiculous. I even call my own parents Mambo and Daflop, and my brother Trevor is T-Bone. Jonathan is J, or Skin, or Bear… I think you get the idea. It is actually one of the first things Jonathan and I had in common. He called me Gwen (as in Stefani) for a solid few weeks before I knew he ‘liked’ me! 😉 As for the dogs? See below…

Handsome Tonka-Tue!

Tonka: Tonka Tue, Tue, Tonkinator, TMan, Tuka. If he is in trouble (which is SO rare, as he is the wonder dog!) he has always been Tonka James. No idea where the middle name came from, but I highly recommend the trend.

Gaige: Jeejer, Weeje, Louise, Weezy (So what if Jonathan stretches this to include “Fo’ sheezy my neezy keep my arms so breezy…”? You didn’t hear that from me. Maybe his new nickname should be J.Z.)

No, he doesn’t love her at all!

It is a wonder that our dogs don’t have split personality disorders! In reality, they come to any name we call them… as long as we are happy when we say it! Jonathan disagrees with my theory, and insists that the more names you have for your dog, the more ways they know you love them! He is such a silly doggy dad.

Do you have nicknames for your pets? If so, what are they? How did they evolve? We’d love to hear your thoughts! As always, thanks for stopping by.

Yeah, he’s a tough guy…

Dog & Pony Show

Some of you may know that my love for animals originated in the world of horses. I began riding at the age of 7, and soon started competing nationally. For the majority of my life, I slept, rode, ate, rode, slept… not necessarily in that order. I even graduated high school a year early in order to afford me the ability to travel to compete for a national title. My hobby was one that necessitated receiving judgement on a regular basis. My horse’s talent, as well as my own, were constantly under scrutiny, from my trainer, the judges, and even the other competitors. Riding is as natural to me as walking, and the thrill I got from competition required me to remain open to criticism.

My most recent show horse, Shadeless

One of the things I so love about spending time with dogs, whether it be attending training classes or volunteering at local shelters, is the lack of judgement. While this was never something that I felt bothered by while riding and showing, I realized what it was like to come in to a group of people that offered no criticism. The other volunteers, and of course the dogs, were just happy to have another set of willing hands.

However, if any of you readers out there share an affinity for pit bulls, you know that what I’m writing about may not always be true. Unfortunately, pit bull type dogs are judged on an almost constant basis. Whereas the ‘popular’ breeds like Golden Retrievers and Labradors may have the freedom to act out on occasion or misbehave in public, the same is not true for our dogs. If our pitties even let out a low warning growl to another animal they can be considered aggressive.

My favorite example of dog breed discrimination occurred at the Jeep festival last summer. We had only had Gaige for about a month, and it was her first public outing. We took her to the busy festival, not sure what to expect, but we wanted to start socializing her as soon as possible. Surprise? She was. an. angel. (Note: as much as we love her, this is not how she regularly acts at home!) She sat any time someone wanted to pet her, walked patiently on the leash, and was all around a fabulous representative of her breed. We had recently learned how much Gaige adored children, and this festival was no exception. Anytime she saw a pint sized human, she sat her butt down, wriggling her tail and front feet with anticipation. When one particular little lady came up to us with her grandmother, they politely asked us if they could pet our puppy. As Gaige sat down, soaking up the little girl’s lovin, they remarked on how sweet and well-behaved she was. They asked us a few questions about her, until they got to asking what breed she was. We told them that we didn’t know for sure, but we thought she was probably a pit bull – black lab mix. The grandmother glared at us, grabbed the little girl’s hand, and  dragged her away, muttering “How could they bring that dog in here in good conscience…” Poor Gaige just laid down and watched the little girl walk away, presumably wondering what she’d done wrong to scare her off!

Gaige’s “please, pet me” face

Of course, it is not fair that we as owners have to deal with the scrutiny that our dogs come under. We love our pups, and know that if others would just take the time to get to know them as they are, they would probably love them too. However, you can put a positive spin on the negative publicity, and use it as encouragement to make your relationship with your dog the best it can be. Attend obedience classes and work on socialization. Start training for agility competitions. Perhaps even make it a goal for your pittie to be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. Any of these things will strengthen your bond with your dog, and also show the public one more positive ambassador of the breed we know to be loving, loyal, and strong.

Where these stereotypes really hurt is in the shelters. Unfortunately, pit bulls fill most of the shelters across the US. Even worse, most of these animals never find loving homes. It is estimated that 1 million pit bulls are euthanized in shelters ever year, some of them just puppies, and many of them without ever having known the love and protection we so willingly offer to our four-legged family members.

Recently, after sharing some of the issues we face in Animal Welfare, a well-meaning family member asked me, “Well, what can you do about it?” I know that my blog may only average 100 readers a day, but my hope is that I can help even just one animal through what I do. Perhaps our stories will inspire someone else to foster an animal in their home, or even to just consider a rescue instead of a breeder when looking for a new pup for their family. I don’t think what I do will put an end to animal abuse or to the unwanted animal epidemic, but maybe if we all did our small part, we would see a large change for the better.

Without a Rudder

Here in the “S” household, we have two very sad puppies. Our boats are without rudders. That is to say, Tonka & Gaige may have overdone it with their water adventures yesterday. Both dogs seem to have sprained their tails, giving them extra paw-thetic body language.

Have your dogs ever sprained their tails? The first time I noticed it was when Tonka was just a puppy, and we brought him on our family vacation to the beach. He loved every second of jumping in the waves, trying to catch them as they rushed to shore and then were sucked back into the open. After a long evening nap, he woke up to the smells of dinner wafting from the grill on the back deck. We noticed as he lazily wondered out to join us, that there was no customary tail wag in greeting. His tail hung low at his hocks, not varying its angle or movement.

My only explanation for this is that when dogs swim, their tails move somewhat like rudders. They also may use their tails for balance when on dry land, and when jumping onto furniture or maneuvering up and down stairs.

Of course, dogs use their tails as one of their most obvious forms of communication. When they are guarding their homes or their people, and notice potential danger, their tails may elevate in warning. This warning may notify their fellow home-dwellers of imminent threats (typically of the chipmunk and bunny variety, in our home), but it can also be a sign to the challenger, of potential aggression. A dog that is dog-aggressive may often lift their tail, a typical indicator of dominance. Most of us know that a fearful dog will tuck their tail between their legs. A happy, confident dog will often maintain a level tail with a quick wag. However, a wagging tail does not always indicate a pawsitive pooch. A dog with threatening body posture may elevate their tail and wag it slowly, and this can be a sign that he or she is threatening aggression.

Our home has been quieter than normal as far as body-communication goes. There are no wiggly tails in anticipation of breakfast goodies, or waggly tails high in the air during play bows at play time. The pups have been lying low, acting extra cuddly, and avoiding jumping onto furniture or negotiating the stairs. Poor babies!

In other news…

Introducing Miss Georgia!

The sweet Georgia girl

Georgia is a little lady that has had a hard life, which is unfortunately so typical of so many dogs that are unlucky enough to look like her. Our rescue pulled Georgia and her six puppies from a high kill shelter in Georgia. They were all set to be euthanized. Worse still, this particular shelter still utilized the heart stick* procedure of euthanasia. Once she was safely pulled from the shelter, it was found that she was also infected by heart worms. The process for treating this is long, risky, and painful for the animal. She is now free from parasites, and her puppies have all found homes, so now it is finally Georgia’s turn! She was a wonderfully caring and attentive mother. Her nurturing nature is evident in her interactions with humans and animals, as she loves other dogs, large and small, and also adores children. We will be posting additional pictures of her in the coming days. She will be joining us in early October, and we are so excited! We are slowly acquiring the necessary supplies to keep her happy and healthy in our home. Stay tuned for more!

Heart stick euthanasia: A syringe filled with sodium pentobarbitol is plunged through the animal’s chest wall, passing through layers of muscle and nerves, until it reaches the heart. This can be a difficult process for those that are not properly trained, and the medication will cause a searing pain and produce acid-like burns. A statement from the American Veterinary Medicine Association says “Intracardiac injection is acceptable only when performed on heavily sedated, anesthetized or comatose animals, owing to the difficulty and unpredictability of performing the injection accurately.”

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World

Hope everyone has been enjoying a beautiful and relaxing weekend! At least here in PA, the weather has been perfect. So perfect, in fact, that we decided to head out on a new adventure with our darling pups. We took Tonka and Gaige about 45 minutes away to Misty Pines Dog Park. We had never been there before, but were impressed by their website and wanted to check it out.

The dog park is a full service facility that includes a dog park, dock diving and pond, agility courses, training classes, boarding, and a retail store, to name a few! They are vigilant in requiring every visitor to bring updated proof of vaccines, including bordatella. Additionally, they welcome dogs that are working on socialization issues, simply requiring that they be fitted with a Gentle Lead halter that prevents biting.

We pulled in to a beautiful 25 acre wooded property, complete with safety fencing and many trails. Much of the doggie play areas are set in heavily shaded areas, allowing for fun to be had even in inclement weather. Sunday is the only day of the week that Misty Pines is open by appointment only, which allowed us to enjoy the facility with limited traffic by other visitors. We registered at the main office, and were checked in by a very friendly and helpful staff member. We then walked down to the pond area, which was complete with a covered pavilion and multi-level diving dock! Of course, Tonka was in doggie heaven! He showed off his skills, making impressive leaps and dives to catch toys off of the dock. Gaige watched in appreciation, and tried her best to copy her big brother. There were only two other dogs at the lake, and they politely kept their distance from ours.

Once the dogs had their fill of the water (or, more accurately, once we were soaked and decided we had had enough), we followed the trails to the fenced-in agility area. Although Tonka has been properly socialized from a young age, he has been twice attacked by an intact yellow lab, so he can have some fear issues with other dogs. We let Gaige watch from the sidelines, as this was her first time in an area with many other unfamiliar, unleashed dogs. Tonka entered the area confidently, and was greeted by a young yellow lab. This dog was boisterous and untrained, but harmless, and perceptive to the body language of the other dogs. They played well together. After a few minutes of introductions, we brought Gaige in, leashed. Things went well for a while, until an older woman came in with her aged shepherd mix dog. This dog was unleashed and also harmless, but a bit of an instigator. Gaige, who was still leashed, was working on an agility obstacle with Jonathan. The shepherd rushed up to her from behind, and began barking and nipping at her sides. Gaige turned away multiple times, and let out a low growl. The woman saw all of this, but never once called her dog away. Neither did the dog hear Gaige’s signals, and back off. He kept barking at her and pushing into her space. Jonathan pulled the dogs apart, looked pointedly at the owner, and went to another obstacle. The shepherd lost interest for a short period of time, and then came rushing back to bark and nip at Gaige. She growled again, and when the other dog still would not back off, she did try to bite. Although she never made contact, and calmed down as soon as the other dog backed away, we ended up taking her out of the park to cool off.

We really need some help here from our readers. What are your reactions? We need to take Gaige somewhere to improve her social skills. She has never had an issue with other dogs, and my instinct is that this dog was a bit of a bully. If someone got in my space and refused to back off when I made repeated requests, I can only imagine that I would react similarly. My new worry is that her only association with a dog park is now a negative one. I know that many responsible dog owners swear off of dog parks entirely, due to issues such as these. Do you feel that we could have done something differently? What do you suggest for socializing our dogs in the future? Do you take your own dogs to dog parks? Why, or why not?

I do NOT think that this was a situation of an ‘aggressive’ dog, or a terrible owner. Rather, I think she lacked the control over her animal, and worse, lacked the acknowledgement of this fact. Tonka listens well, and so he has the privilege to go off-leash in safe areas. Gaige, however, has a much shorter attention span, and sometimes lets her own free will over-ride her obedience. Because of that, we do not allow her off-leash in areas other than our own property. She has never displayed aggression with other dogs, but has not been exposed to a large variety of new animals. I am really anxious to hear what some of you might suggest for us.

In other news, we will unveil our foster dog on Monday! Please tune-in then 🙂 Enjoy some pictures of our pups until then. Thanks for stopping by!

Playing keep-away!

That’s one happy pup!

Best friends, always.

Fall into Fostering

Hello! Happy almost-weekend. Did anyone else wake up this morning, and suddenly feel like they’d fallen into fall?! I certainly did, as the following photos will attest. As autumn is my favorite season, there are no complaints from me! Fall boasts the perfect weather to enjoy the outdoors with your pups.

Tonka James, ever the dashing gentleman!

Gaige’s turn…

Vicious pitbull!

Daring you to steal her toy

They share well!

Run Tonka, run!

Gaige loves to steal from the fire pit

Best friends, always 🙂

While this may not be the excitement you were hoping for, I do have some good news. Drum roll, please! ….. We have found our foster! I will bring you all the background on our special pup with the next blog post. Please tune in then!

Four-legged Heroes

I am a Very Bad Blogger. My beautiful sister-in-law married her best friend this weekend, and the wedding happened to take place on the same piece of property where we live!

Our Family (we are on the far right)

While it was a joyous occasion, it certainly caused my blogging to take a back seat. Now, after a celebratory weekend of love & family, it is time to get back to the blogging basics.

I’m sure you all are well aware that today marks the 11th anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon. Today gives us all an opportunity to remember those affected by the tragedy, and also to stand proud in observance of our nation’s pride & heritage.

Without fail, we remember those individuals who sacrificed their own lives, or the lives of loved ones, during the events, as well as in response to the attacks. We can never repay the debts we owe to the courageous soldiers, fire fighters, and police officers, to name a few.

While it is expected that we pause in rememberance of those who gave their lives, often times we forget to recognize those four-legged heroes. These animals may not have made the choice to defend our nation’s honor, but they certainly contributed to the cause nonetheless.

In the wake of the attacks, over 350 search & rescue dogs responded to the scenes of Ground Zero and the Pentagon. These dogs were responsible for identifying 1/3 of the remains that were eventually discovered. The canine responders worked for 16 hours a day, and typically stayed on site for 7 to 14 days each. In 2011, it was reported that only 12 of the dogs that reported to Ground Zero in response to the attacks, were still alive. Among the most popular dog breeds to be used were German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, Yellow Labradors, Black Labradors, Chocolate Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Portuguese Waterdogs, Belgian Malinois, Border Collies, and Rat Terriers.

One such rescue dog, a belgian shepherd named Hansen, stands out for his incredible dedication and longevity to the search. Although he passed away in 2004, Hansen received a replica statue on Long Island, for 150 days of service at Ground Zero, the longest of any canine involved.

Hansen & his statue

In addition to the search & rescue dogs, 300 trained therapy dogs were deployed to aid in the comfort of victims. Not to be forgotten are the seeing eye dogs that rescued their companions. Salty & Roselle were two labrador retrievers that guided their blind owners to safety, maneuvering them down thousands of steps, through blinding smoke, deafening noise, and trembling ground.

Salty & Roselle, posing with their owners, after leading them to safety down 71 flights of stairs

My favorite story from the tragedy? At least 3 of these brave search & rescue dogs were  American Pit Bull Terriers. Their names were Cheyenne, Tahoe, and Dakota, and they travelled all the way from California. Not only did they aid in the search & rescue portion of the efforts, but these brave pooches are also certified therapy dogs.

Dakote, Tahoe, & Cheyenne

Let us all take a moment to remember all who have sacrificed & served to protect our country and our freedom… both of the two-legged and four-legged variety. Hug your family and pups a little closer tonight.

Barking up the Wrong Tree

This post is coming to you later in the evening, as it was not easy for me to write. We have experienced our first fostering disappointment, and I debated sharing it with all of you. However, I made the decision to document our journey, and that means disclosing the highs as well as the lows.

We had our home visit Monday, and all went well. We had been discussing with the rescue the possibility of taking on a beautiful one year old female dog that was already placed in a foster home. This dog, whose name I will not disclose, had a really rough start to her life. She was found by animal control after her original owners left her out in the elements (rain, hot sun, etc) enclosed in a small wire crate, filled with feces. As in, that is where she spent all the hours of all her days. Poor baby. In spite of her neglectful past, this girl scored impressively on her evaluation while in the shelter, and was recorded to have tested well with other dogs. How amazing that her resilient spirit was not crushed by the mistreatment she received early on in life. What a testament to her, and also to the pit bull breed.

The LCPO rescue pulled our Foster Girl from the shelter, and placed her with a foster family that had 3 other dogs, 4 children, and a few cats. She reportedly got along very well with all of the above. However, at some point in her stay with the family, she started to experience issues with one dog in the home. Reportedly, this dog is a larger, male black lab. He is older, perhaps a bit cranky, and prefers to be left alone. The foster dog is a young, spirited pup who loves to wrestle and may not always remember to respect her elders. Unfortunately, the two dogs have at this point had two separate altercations, in which the male dog ended up having to visit the vet for stitches.

Hearing this information did not discourage me from considering this girl as a foster. As the rescue reported, it very well could be as simple as a personality conflict with the other dog. She does well with the other dogs in the home, dogs that she meets during play times, and dogs she was with in the shelter. This girl had a few medical issues that may have caused her to be less agreeable, and certainly the stress of being transferred to yet another location could not have been easy. The fact that this little girl had had an aggressive exchange with another dog did not originally deter me. I knew that this could have been for any number of unknown circumstances, and I did not want to write her off as a lost cause.

So, as is typical of me, I did some more research. I tried to talk with the current foster family to figure out what had triggered these issues between the dogs. The foster family told me that when Foster Girl got excited, she would jump on the other dogs and become spirited. Most of the dogs enjoyed this behavior, but the older male did not react the same. He would let out a warning growl, a dog’s polite way of communicating, “Hey, I’m not cool with this, so please knock it off.” If you speak dog, you know that for some pups, this is a precursor to a snap, which may be followed by a bite. In this scenario, according to the foster family, Foster Girl responded to this warning by choosing to engage in a dog fight. It was not pretty for any of them to watch. Additionally, now that the aggression has occurred twice between the dogs, they remain separated. Obviously, this is not an ideal situation for anyone in their family, 2-legged and 4-legged alike, so they are trying to find the little lady a new foster home.

When it comes to the dogs in our home, Tonka has always been a ladies’ man. He enjoys playing with female dogs. When it came to males, he had no problems for many years. Unfortunately, about two years ago, Tonka was attacked twice by an aggressive male labrador that lived on our property. Since that time, he has been cautious when meeting other male dogs, particularly if they are still intact.  Conversely, Gaige has never met a dog she didn’t like. However, she can be rough & overbearing, and does not always recognize warning signs from other animals.

In spite of all that, T + G = L.O.V.E. Tonka and Gaige never leave the other’s side. They eat in the same room, and never approach the other’s food bowl. They share bones, beds, toys, water bowls, etc. Their favorite past-times include wrestling each other, cuddling with each other, chasing each other, and playing tug-of-war together. I believe that this works, like any truly great relationship, because they communicate well with each other. Gaige is always up for play time with Tonka, which usually means that she chews on his legs like bones, hangs off of his ears and neck, and sometimes even climbs on top of him. However, if Tonka is not interested in rough housing, he simply disengages. If she does not get the hint (what woman does?) he will avert his eyes, and lower his head. If she continues to mouth at his ears and neck to inspire some play-fighting, he will let out a low growl. Never has this growling escalated to snapping, biting, or fighting, nor do I believe it ever will. This is not only because Gaige respects Tonka and leaves him alone when he exhibits these signs, but it is also because Tonka has known Gaige since she was a puppy, and truly loves her.

Are you noticing the issues that concerned me? Tonka, a large black male dog, exhibits certain signals to our lively pittie pup when she is wearing his patience thin. Unfortunately, these signs happen to correspond exactly with the Foster Pup’s triggers.

While it is certainly possible that similar ingredients may not add up to an identical recipe, it is worrying on a number of levels. Obviously, I must consider our two perma-dogs. Putting them into a situation that could potentially escalate to injury would not be fair to them. Furthermore, keeping them separated in case of disagreements would not be ideal either. Finally, you must remember that I am only one person. I am often here alone, and it would not be possible for me to control three dogs, should a dog fight break out. Additionally, this is our first foster dog. I want to make this a positive experience for all involved, which includes my husband Jonathan. While he loves our dogs like children, he is very new to the training and rescuing side of things, and I do not want to overwhelm him too soon. One day, I would love to take on a more challenging case. I’m just not sure that now is the right time…

What is even more concerning than all of that, is the effect it would have on Foster Pup. To me, we would be placing her into a home that had some very similar environmental factors to the home where she was currently having issues. If for whatever reason, she does not appreciate growling from a black male dog, we would be setting the poor girl up for failure. She would be transferring homes yet again, which will continue to wear on any animal. Furthermore, the rescue’s policy is that if a dog has the same issues of aggression in more than one foster home, they must be placed in a boarding facility. While these are more ideal than most shelters, she would not receive the same amount of attention as she would if kept in a foster home. This would also come at a more extreme cost to our rescue.

After discussing our options with Casey, our contact from the LCPO rescue, as well as sleeping on it for a night, we made the decision not to bring Foster Girl into our home. This was a really tough decision for me, especially. As a people-pleaser by nature, I hated disappointing the rescue. I want them to recognize just how committed we are to being capable foster parents. More difficult than that, was the feeling that I had given up on Foster Girl without ever meeting her and giving her a chance to be successful. I feel like a foster failure, before I’ve even brought a dog into our home! 😦

What I had to remind myself, was that the decision we made was in large part with Foster Girl’s best interests in mind. My hope is that she will be able to find a home with perhaps one other submissive dog. She is truly a sweetheart. Her distaste for one type of dog should not make her unadoptable!  I do not believe that she is a dog-aggressive dog, I just feel that our environment would not be best for her future.

Aside from the obvious, this also means that we are back on the market for a special foster pup! We are in contact with our rescue, looking to pull from a shelter in Ohio. We will keep you posted on our search! Until then, I will leave you with some pics of our pups, courtesy of our new camera.

Gaige, waiting (patiently?) to go outside

The progression of “No dogs on the couch”…
1…

2…

3…

4…
“If I don’t see you, you don’t see me…”

How much is that doggy in the window?

Tonka didn’t want to be left out of the photo shoot!