The Nose Knows!

Last week I told you that we had begun taking Georgia to obedience classes at Ringer’s Pet Dog Training. We have been having a great time enhancing our bond with her! We wanted to also bring you some information about a fun new way to interact with your dogs, while simultaneously enriching and exercising their minds & bodies. It is called Canine Nosework, and it is the new up-and-coming sport in dog training and competition.

Look at that sniffer!

Look at that sniffer!

Canine Nosework is regulated by the National Association of Canine Scent Work. Essentially, dogs use their natural abilities of scent identification and retrieval to find essential oil scents of birch, anise, and clove. They are then trained for proper searching and alerting techniques to communicate these findings with their handlers. The dogs start small, by first searching in boxes, and will then advance to searching in a large room, and even on vehicles!

While these training techniques were first employed in teaching search-and-rescue dogs, as well as dogs used for bomb and drug-detection, all dogs possess a natural ability to ‘hunt’… just think about the last time your pup’s favorite toy slipped beneath the couch or behind the desk! Your dog will really enjoy pursuing the scents, and it proves to be a wonderful way to exhaust them. You may remember that in a recent post, we spoke about some ways to enrich our dogs. Nose work is an ideal way to enrich your animal. Sure, they will exert themselves physically, but the exercise provided for their brains will be immeasurable! You will have one tired pup on your hands for a few days after a Nose Work class.

Unlike some other canine sports, where certain breeds excel, almost any dog will do well with scent work. Whether your dog is a Purebred or mixed breed, and regardless of size or age, you will both enjoy these classes immensely. Furthermore, it is a great exercise for dogs who are reactive or mildly aggressive with other dogs, as only on dog works at a time. You will probably notice your dog’s comfort level increase around other pups, as they learn that fun times happen in their presence, without pressure to interact face-to-face. These exercises are a great way to build confidence in your dog!

Our dogs love to 'hunt' in the bushes...

Our dogs love to ‘hunt’ in the bushes…

These classes are available at Ringer’s in Tarentum, PA, but most local obedience schools offer them. If this turns out to be something at which your dog really excels, there are even competitions and trials held nationwide and year-round. Have you ever heard of, or tried, a scent class? Do you think you might? Share your thoughts with us below!

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday : Birthday Tutu

IMG_0426It’s a big dog. In a little pink tu-tu. Come on, does it get any cuter than that?!

Actually, it does. I celebrated a birthday last weekend, and my amazing brother sent me this card. Not only that, but he also sent a little bit of moolah for me (because he said I do too much for the dogs, and should have something to spend on myself) and ALSO pledged a donation to our rescue, in my name. Can you say, “Awwwww“?! And yes ladies, he is single. 😉 But I must warn you that the application and interview process is stringent…

Thanks T-Bone! You are the best brother ever, and I didn’t need this card to prove it!

 

Pit Bulls and Dog Aggression: Dispelling the Myth

If we hear the term ‘pit bull,’ in the media, it is not uncommon for it to be used with a negative connotation. If you are reading this post, you probably know about a million reasons that these stereotypes are untrue. In fact, perhaps your ‘vicious’ pit bull is curled up, sleeping on your lap as you read…

Regardless of the many facts and statistics we can spout in regards to our breed’s positive traits, even ardent supporters of these dogs can recognize that some pit bulls are aggressive to other dogs. Of course, we all know tons of pitties that live happily with other pooches. Usually, these dogs have been well-socialized and slowly introduced, and live with owners who are cognizant of dog behavior and management… as is typically the case with ANY peaceful multi-dog household, regardless of breed. As we have always shared on this blog, it is so important to judge each dog on a case-by-case, individual basis. That is the only way to be fair to the dog in question.

The question remains, are pit bulls unique? As a pit bull lover and long-time proponent of the ‘breed,’ the words I am sharing may sound contradictory to my self-proclaimed title. Some of you bully breed lovers out there may feel that I am doing a disservice to the dogs, and simply perpetuating the stereotypes we work so diligently to dispel. If you are in that category, I ask you to stick with me… While I do not want to perpetuate any myths, I also think that it is vital to be objective and honest with anyone when discussing our pitties, whether they are lovers or haters.

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Are Pit Bulls Unique?

It is important to note that dog-aggression is a completely normal canine trait, present in virtually every breed in varying quantities. The fact is, this is a very common behavior in numerous breeds, including and especially working dogs and terriers. To compare, the recommendations offered by reputable pittie rescues are mirrored in websites and books, and by trainers, that focus on any other breeds of working dogs and terriers. These breeds include Jack Russels, Akitas, Huskies, Boxers, Ridgebacks, Australian Cattle dogs, Shar Peis, Poodles, German Shepherds, Dobermans, Chows, Tosa Inus, Rottweilers and many others. We can all read this list, and probably come up with many dogs we know, in each breed, who are incredibly friendly and receptive toward other dogs. (Tonka, the boxer cross, anyone?!)

In some cases, those who dislike pit bulls have used this trait to condemn them and even to justify breed specific legislation, including bans. For me to get into all of the reasons why breed specific legislation is ridiculous and ineffective would take about 5 long posts, but it is important to explain that if we allow banning based solely on breed of dog, we are enabling these bans to spread to any other breeds, due to past precedence. If you have a problem with pit bulls, and vote in support of BSL for that breed, you are one step closer to legislation that will allow your Boxer or Cattle Dog to eventually be taken from you.

It is not how dogs are raised, but how they are managed, that matters most.

*It is not how dogs are raised, but how they are managed, that matters most.*

Additionally, dog-aggression is a trait that can often be managed. Many dogs that come from cases of neglect or abuse, will not display positive reactions to other dogs. However, through repeated positive exposure to other well-mannered dogs, they may learn that there is nothing to fear in interacting with other pups. It is common for even bully lovers to say that it is how a dog is raised that matters most in their dispositions. However, this is not entirely true, and can be downright dangerous when evaluating rescued dogs. A dog with an abusive past can still be successful with other dogs and people, even if their past would suggest otherwise, given proper training and management.

The important message that we need to convey to those that are unfamiliar with our baby bullies, is that there is nothing about the pit bull breed that makes them any more unsafe or unpredictable than any other type of dog.

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While many reputable pit bull rescues recognize the breed’s potential for dog-aggression, it is important to note that dog aggression is a completely separate genetic trait than aggression toward humans. Though it is unfortunate that some dogs may have been bred to be aggressive toward other dogs, even they have always been bred to be loyal to their human counterparts. 

Trials & Tribulations

Many of you that read this blog have either adopted a dog from a rescue, or currently foster dogs through a rescue. I have encountered a question through our experiences, and wanted to get the perspective from some of you who may have more, and/or different, experience. I have had a few adopters inquire about whether or not we offer a ‘trial-period’ when our dogs are adopted. While this is absolutely a reasonable question, I am really on the fence about this, and so I want some insight from other individuals.

On the one hand, I absolutely want the best for Georgia, and also for the adoptive family. I want them to build a lifelong partnership, and be a perfect match for one another. Of course, it is our rescue’s policy, and my own personal policy, that any dog that we place, will always be welcomed back. We would first offer any resources available to ensure that the dog is able to stay in its adoptive home, but the dog in question will always be brought back to the rescue in the event that disaster strikes their family. In fact, it is written in the contract that the dog is never allowed to change families without explicit permission from LCPO. This ensures that our dogs don’t end up back where it all started… Basically, if Georgia goes to her home and it is not a good fit, or the family’s situation changes, of course she will be welcomed back into our home. I would never want her to stay in a family that doesn’t embrace her for the dog that she is. If it is a question of incompatibility with the other animals or children, I would never want to jeopardize the safety of Georgia or the other individuals involved. Furthermore, if she isn’t the right fit, we can probably work to match the family with another needy dog who might be.

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On the other hand, the term “trial period” just gives me the heebie jeebies. A few days ago, in a post called ‘The Vow,’ I compared dog adoption to a marriage. While some people out there may consider that to be a bit theatrical, that is truly how I hope Georgia’s family will view their commitment to her, and to us. I would imagine that if someone enters into a marriage with the idea that divorce is always an option if things don’t work out, they are probably a lot more likely to seek that outcome when things (inevitably) get hard. I see the commitment to a dog in the same way. Things with any dog, adopted or otherwise, are going to be hard at times. I promise. A puppy is going to chew your shoes and pee on your carpet. An adult dog may experience separation anxiety, reluctance in warming up to your family, or issues with other animals. If you know that the rescue is willing to take the dog back if when things ‘get hard,’ are you really going to be that willing to work through the issues?

If one of your first questions to us as the foster family is about the potential for a “trial period,” does that say you are simply taking a conservative and realistic approach for all involved? Or, does it suggest that you are looking for a ‘perfect’ dog, and an easy way out if the animal doesn’t meet your expectations?

If the rescue has taken the time to explain the process of the two-week de-stress (which we, and many other reputable rescues, require) and you ask for a weekend trial period, it is probably pretty clear that the dog’s best interest is not at the forefront of your consciousness. A short trial period would not allow the dog sufficient time to integrate with your family, other pets, and home environment through the two-week de-stress process.

Furthermore, experiencing struggles with your dog is an optimum opportunity to build your relationship and increase your communication skills together. Taking a training class or devoting time to getting to know your new pet can prove to be immeasurably valuable to your bond. Once you come out on the other side of an issue, and have conquered the fear or improved the communication, you will experience a stronger bond and deeper understanding of one another. To allow a new owner the flexibility of giving up easily and sending the dog back when they experience challenges, is robbing them of a potentially wonderful relationship, and of an opportunity to improve their dog training skills.

Also, many dogs in the rescue system have experienced traumatic lives in one way or another. Perhaps they have been abused, neglected, or bounced between homes. It is likely that at some point or another, they have known the chaos and isolation of a life behind bars. While we love dogs for their trusting nature and resiliency, any pup with some recollection of their negative past may take time to unveil their true personality in their new home. For us, it took almost a full month for Georgia to begin cuddling and playing with toys around us. Additionally, it took almost THREE whole months before she was comfortable around both of our dogs indoors. While this may seem like a big sacrifice on our parts, it was worth every second to see her laying on her back, tummy up in the air, snoozing beside Tonka & Gaige, without a care in the world. Not only will it take some time for a dog to truly let down their guard in your home, but the idea of bouncing them around between homes is literally petrifying to me. I know that were Georgia to go into an adoptive home that was not the right fit, it would be much harder for either of us (myself, and Georgia!) to trust that the next home would be. I can’t imagine how she would regress in terms of her training, and her comfort levels with people and other animals.

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Now that you know where I stand on this… well actually, I don’t even know where I stand on this. Of course, Georgia will always be welcomed back into our home and into our rescue, should an issue arise in her adoptive family. But the idea of a specified trial period just sets off all kinds of alarms in my head and in my heart. Where do you stand on this issue, personally? Does your rescue have a specific policy? Do you have stories of trial periods that were either absolutely successful, or completely detrimental? Did I neglect to bring up an important point on either side of the argument? I would love to hear your input!

“Character cannot be developed in ease & quiet. Only through experiences of trial & suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

-Helen Keller

 

Warming Up

I wish I could say that I am referring to the weather here in Pennsylvania, but in reality, there is still a lot of this…

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and this…

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and this…

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Which has all resulted in a lot of this…

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and this…

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and this…

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Wait… what?!

If you are very observant, you may notice that the last photo shows three… count them, THREE, pups all cuddled together indoors. If you are even more observant, you may have recognized that such a photo has never graced the pages of our humble blog! What must this mean??

The frigid temperatures have kept us largely indoors. Because of that, the dogs have been extra cuddley, and needed even more attention than usual. You may remember that while Georgia has been integrated with Tonka, the male, indoors for a while now, we have closely monitored her indoor interactions with our female, never letting them off-leash inside, unless closely monitored or behind respective baby gates. The nasty weather has relegated us indoors, and forced me to focus on proceeding with their integration. While working with them off-leash this past week, Gaige and Georgia both finally decided to break down their barriers… with a BANG! Not only were they interacting indoors, but they were playing, cuddling, wrestling, and even sharing toys! We could not be more impressed or surprised by this sudden transformation.

Every pittie's favorite game: bitey-face

Every pittie’s favorite game: bitey-face

The swiftness of their friendship had us scratching our heads a bit, so we were cautious to take things slowly at first… they still were never together while unsupervised, and still required some direction from the two-leggeds. However, after a solid week of playing and cuddling and learning one another’s limits, with no arguments in sight, we think it is safe to say that they are total BFFs.

All four of our "dogs" waiting (patiently?) to go outside.

All four of our “dogs” waiting (patiently?) to go outside.

You can check out a funny video of the girls here. This was the very day, the very minute, that they decided that playtime was a better option than being constantly separated. Therefore, you can hear the surprise (anxiety?) in my voice. Please ignore my excessive verbal input, but enjoy their friendship. They are now absolutely inseparable… can anyone imagine how this has Georgia’s foster parents feeling?! Ugh… let’s just say, the idea of giving up our baby girl gets more bittersweet with each passing day!

Learning New Tricks

You may remember us mentioning our plans to enroll Georgia in obedience classes. This is not because we think she is difficult to train, but rather because we would like to make this an automatic step for each foster pup that comes into our lives. It is a great way to spend focused time on their training, while also exposing the dogs to new people, environments, and dogs! We have gone to two classes so far, and are really loving it!

Our classes take place at Ringer’s Pet Dog Training, which is a quick drive for us, as they are located in Tarentum, PA (just outside of Pittsburgh). They bring a fun, practical, and of course positive, approach to dog training. We have a great time during our class, and we think the dogs do, as well! Not only do they do a great job of helping our dogs (and their owners!) reach their full potential, but they are extremely friendly towards mutts, fosters, and rescues. They gave us an incredibly generous discount on our rates, because Georgia is a foster. They also offered to refund or roll-over the classes, if she is adopted before the class concludes. (Ringer’s also offers a really cool class called Nose-work… check out their page for more info, but we plan to do a post on it at a later date.)

The instructors utilize clicker training as a method of positive reinforcement. Georgia, being the… ahem… little piggy that she is, is of course ALL ABOUT this. Essentially, you are teaching the dog that the clicking sound is their reward. So of course, we teach them to positively associate with this sound by giving them treats… lots, and lots of treats. Last night was only our second class, and while we did our best to remain impartial, we have to say that Georgia was the rock star. While most of the other dogs were barking and trying to get to the other pups, Georgia was content to sit or lay quietly at our sides, with a wagging tail. Not only was she friendly yet aloof with the other dogs, but she also made a total liar out of us, and didn’t jump at all. She was absolutely a great representative of her breed, and picked up on each cue with ease.

Ignoring the barking dogs... what a great student!

Ignoring the barking dogs… what a great student!

As the owners, we were given homework to work on for the week. Georgia is a master at sit, and some of the other simple cues, but the ‘down’ request seems to be a bit difficult for her. You may remember that we have taken her to our friend Dr. Dave, who is a fully-licensed canine chiropractor. We are thinking that her hesitation with the down cue may be due to some lingering back pain, so we plan to take her for a visit to his office, to see some improvement.

One main theme of the exercises dictated in our classes, is to teach your dog to look to you for reassurance and guidance. This is a great tool for dogs who are reactive to other dogs, or just a little A.D.D. easily distracted. Below, check out a brief summary of our classes so far.

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Clicker Training

  1. The first step of clicker training, is to reward your dog for focusing on you. If you get a head turn in your direction, you are to click, and then feed your dog a treat. You will then advance to rewarding the dog only when they are looking at your face. It is important that the dog is associating the ‘click’ as the reward, as opposed to your hand movements or rustling treat bag. Therefore, keep your empty hand at your side when clicking, and don’t reach for a treat until you have achieved the behavior and applied the click.
  2. The next step is to reward the dog for a ‘sit’. If you have been working on step 1 for very long, your dog will probably fall into a sit on their own. The reward is the same; click, then treat. Once it is clear that your dog understands your cue, work on allowing them to figure out the behavior on their own, by not verbally or manually requesting that they sit. They should fall into it on their own, which shows confidence, independence, and intelligence. If your dog gets ‘stuck’ in the sit, try dropping the treats to the ground, rather than feeding them directly. This will get them moving, so that they must then exhibit the behavior independently.
  3. Once the above steps were achieved, we advanced to a head turn. Putting either hand out to the side, the dog was supposed to turn his or her head in the direction of the hand. This was rewarded, and we progressively worked to rewarding the dog for leaning toward the hand, and eventually moving their feet so that they came closer to the hand. This is especially great for timid or fearful dogs, as it gives them confidence when greeting new people. It can also help for positioning your dog, which could help in an environment such as the vet’s office.
  4. The next step was to work on the ‘down’ command. First, the dog was guided down into the laying position by dragging the treat slowly from their nose to the ground. Once the dog was making full body contact with the ground, they were rewarded with a click and then the treat. This was repeated 2 more times, to help the dog understand the behavior. Then, the handler was to stand in front of the dog with the treat visibly in hand, and the dog was to (ideally) figure out what they needed to do to earn the treat. This step required a lot of patience for some teams!
  5. We finally worked on an off-leash ‘come’. This can be intimidating and distracting in a classroom environment! For some dogs, the temptation of play-time with other dogs seemed more intriguing than their owners with a pocket full of treats! Person 1 would hold the dog on-leash at one end of the room, while Person 2 was positioned about 15 feet away, with the clicker and treats. Then, Person 2 would say the dogs name, and the command, just one time (Georgia, come!). Once the dog was moving in the commander’s direction, Person 1 released the leash, and Person 2 was only then to begin rewarding the dog verbally (Good girl, that’s it!) in a high-pitched voice. Once the dog met Person 2, they were given lots of treats and lots of love. This distance could be widened with each successful attempt.
Playing with the instructor

Playing with the instructor

While these steps may seem pretty intuitive, the classes are a great way to cover all of your bases in a focused setting. I really recommend them for any dog owner! It added a degree of difficulty to work on Georgia’s obedience with the temptation of other dogs, new people, and interesting smells. I cannot wait to see what kind of dog is on the end of our leash at the culmination of these classes!

PS- Did I mention that she is still conked out after all of her hard work last night?!

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Doggie in the Window

We are so excited and flattered with the amount of interest being expressed in Miss Georgia girl! In the mean-time, I thought we should share the wealth and try to spread awareness to a few of our rescue’s many other pups, who are still waiting for their forever homes. For some reason that we cannot surmise, these pups have little to no interested applicants 😦 Help us change that by sharing this page!

If you are not in a position to adopt these precious pups, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to LCPO here. With an influx of needy pups, their funding is running low this time of year. It would be greatly appreciated!

{You would be my personal hero!}

Jake is one of 4 puppies found running as strays, and covered in painful demodex mange. You can see how he has flourished in the care of one of our special foster homes, not letting his condition get him down. He is house trained, and working on his crate training, but is especially skilled at cuddling! Jake is also working on his obedience skills, and excels at sit and giving paw. Jake loves to play fetch, and is very toy oriented. He is very playful with other dogs and is fine with cats. As precious and perfect as we consider Jake to be, he has been with us since he was 4 months old, and is now approaching his ONE YEAR birthday!

Upper RH corner shows Jake at his first vet visit. The bottom photo is Jake with a real, live puppy! What a gentle guy.

Upper RH corner shows Jake at his first vet visit. The bottom photo is Jake with a real, live puppy! What a gentle guy.

 

Jora is actually Mr. Jakey’s sister! They were found together, and so much of their information is the same. Jora has been through a lot in such a young life but she is resilient, loving, playful and a joy to be around. Jora loves to cuddle. She is very affectionate and will gladly lay on your lap, follow you around the house, or cuddle next to you in bed. Jora is a typical, high energy puppy. Jora’s ideal foster home would include another playful pup for tug-of-war and wrestling! Jora is crate-trained & house-trained. She knows sit and is working on down and stay. She loves to chew on toys and will carry them around the house all day. Her forever family will be very lucky because she is truly a special little girl.

Upper RH corner is Jora when first brought into LCPO! Look what a cuddle-bug she is, and how far she has come.

Upper RH corner is Jora when first brought into LCPO! Look what a cuddle-bug she is, and how far she has come.

 

Hogan is a 5 or 6 year old male pittie mix who came from a shelter in Ohio, where he was dumped by his previous owners. Unfortunately, this gorgeous boy was scheduled for euthanasia, and while he found a rescue, it fell through at the last minute. Thankfully, LCPO stepped in just in time! There was not a foster home available for Hogan, so he went to stay in a boarding kennel. While this prevented Hogan from losing his life, it does not satisfy his urge to be around people. Hogan has proven to be an endlessly sweet, loving, and obedient boy during his time with LCPO. He has always been the perfect gentleman. While Hogan is an older guy, he enjoys playing and long walks, but he is also an excellent cuddle buddy! Hogan is tall, dark, & handsome, and he has the most gorgeous deep brown eyes. He does will with humans of all ages, especially children, and is house & crate-trained. While he would prefer to be the only pet, Hogan would loving nothing more than to be adopted into a home that will love him, keep him exercised and keep up on his training so he can be the very best he can be!

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If interested in any of these love-a-bulls (who wouldn’t be?!) please contact myself at sel1490@gmail.com, or LCPO president Christine, at nepabullies@gmail.com.  

Adoption application, reference check, home visit and adoption fee required for adoption!