Fundraiser: Prize #11 – Play Bow!

You may remember in a recent post (here) we talked about the important of stimulating our dogs mentally. We stressed that this is equally as vital as physically exercise! One of the quickest ways to exhaust your pup, is to work his or her mind. 1 tired dog = a happy dog & happy owner! This theory is catching on in animal shelters, where boredom and stress can run rampant. A tired dog will ‘show’ to potential adopters much better than one who is over-excited, mouthy, or jumpy. If we give shelter dogs a way to expel some energy through quiet play, we are helping them come one step closer to a forever families.

This interactive toy is Gaige's FAVORITE

This interactive toy is Gaige’s FAVORITE

Simple enrichment works wonders in shelters, but it is just as effective in our own homes! When we were expecting a large amount of company around the holidays, we were careful to think about all three of our dogs, but especially Georgia. While she had always been calm and friendly with strangers, we weren’t quite sure how she would handle excessive noise and foot traffic. Of course, she blew us away by displaying the best manners out of all three dogs, but it sure helped that we kept lots of ‘puzzles’ around for her to work on in case she became bored or anxious. For us, these puzzles were oftentimes just kongs with frozen ingredients inside, but rest assured that the animal market is catching on to the trend and need for such products!

Tonka loves it, too

Tonka loves it, too

Poochie Heaven – Interactive Toys for your dog!

Although we originally only planned to offer TEN prizes, while searching for a dog toy company that specialized in puzzles, I was delighted to come across Poochie Heaven. I couldn’t resist including them in our giveaway! They seem to take their business a step further, by truly understanding how dogs play and learn, and providing products that enhance the bond between dogs and their owners. While they carry everything from dog beds to collars and bowls, their toy selection was most impressive. They share their approach to toy selection, below:

“Interactive dog toys typically have some element of a challenge attached to playing. The dog must move pieces around in order to be rewarded with a toy or a treat. Many of the interactive dog toys act as puzzles which the dog must solve in order to be rewarded. Interactive dog toys are available at different levels of difficulty as some dogs need easier puzzles, and some need more advanced puzzles. The dog puzzle toys can be as simple as moving a ball a certain way to release a treat, to arranging pieces of a complex puzzle. As the dog completes the easier puzzles, they will happily move forward with the more challenging interactive dog toys.

It can be a very fun bonding experience to play with your dog using an interactive dog toy. The dog begins to learn through the toy that when he or she completes certain tasks, they are rewarded. If the owner helps the dog with the puzzle, the dog soon learns that if they listen to their owner’s commands, they will be lead to a treat. Therefore, an interactive dog toy can help make your dog respond more positively as you teach it other commands and behaviors. Interactive dog toys are suitable for dogs at any age; they can also be a great tool to use when developing a trusting relationship with a new puppy.”

You can head over to the Poochie Heaven website to check out their vast array of dog toy puzzles. However, if you are feeling lucky, simply make a donation to our fundraiser, here! You will be registered to win the Poochie Heaven interactive dog toy shown below, as well as ten other AMAZING dog-inspired products.

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This toy may look unassuming, but it packs a powerful punch when combatting your dog’s boredom or anxiety! By hiding treats beneath the hollow blocks, your dog will learn to remove the blocks with their paws or teeth to enjoy the morsels hiding below. As your pup becomes an expert, you can increase the level of difficulty so that only some of the blocks contain treats. This way, your dog has to use their sense of smell to uncover their reward.

This toy, at a value of $57 + shipping, was generously donated by Poochie Heaven!

Fundraiser: Prize #4 – Getting Playful!

I know that your dogs would all be thrilled if their owners won them any of the three prizes already posted this week (here, here, and yesterday). However, I wanted to make sure that I offered some items that would really excite the canine crowd!

Squishy Face Studio:

While searching for toys specifically directed at bully breeds, I came across Squishy Face Studio. I don’t know about you, but that name instantly conjured up images of all of my favorite lova-bull, snuggle-a-bull, cuddle-a-bull pitties! And I was ‘leashed’. (Get it?) After speaking with Jessica (the girlier half of owners Justin & Jessica Lohman) I was in love… not only with their products, but with her! I will let you read her personal description below, as I don’t think I can say it any better…

about

“Squishy Face Studio is a Florida-based, family-owned business started by Justin and Jessica Lohmann in 2009. Our mission is to create the most innovative and durable toys available for strong and active dogs. Our toys are designed to provide both physical and mental exercise, with the goal of keeping your dogs happy and healthy. Our products are proudly made in the U.S.A.

We are passionate dog advocates, specifically defending “bully” breeds and opposing Breed Specific Legislation. We feel that education is the key to changing the circumstances of these misunderstood animals. We also advocate adoption from animal rescues, shelters and the Humane Society. We donate frequently to organizations that promote these ideals and work to reach the awesome goal of No More Homeless Pets both in our local community and throughout the nation.

{You thought that was good? Here is where is gets really great.}

We are constantly inspired by our own small pack; Petey, Max, Lily and Mr. Kitty (who thinks he is a dog). All three of our actual dogs have been labeled “pit bulls” or pit bull mixes at one point or another. The truth, as it is with many if not most rescued and adopted dogs, is that they are MIOs (Mutts of Indistinguishable Origin). What DNA tests and conformation standards can’t tell you is that they are a perpetual source of happiness, a constant reminder of what is right with the world. They love us and we love them, and nothing in life gets any better than that.”

Sigh. Have you fallen tail over ears yet? If not, just wait until you see their products.

What I love about their toys, is that they offer a variety of ways to exercise your pet; both mentally and physically! Use their Flirt Pole as a fun, interactive way to play with your dog, building your bond and increasing their confidence. On lazy days when your pup isn’t quite ready to be a couch potato, send them out into your backyard to play with the Super Tug, solo. Either way, you can be sure that your dog is getting a great workout, while having fun, and supporting a company that support pitties!

Flirt Pole

Flirt Pole

Squishy Face Studio has generously offered to donate a toy bundle, consisting of their Flirt Pole and Super Tug. These are durable toys, made to stand the abuse that our active pups may throw at them! Win: Your pups have a blast. Double Win: They are dog-tired by the end!

Super Tug

Super Tug

By now, you should know the drill… simply click here to make a donation toward LCPO. We are working toward a goal of $500, and each $10 donation that you pledge, will give you one entry in our giveaway of 10 awesome prizes!

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!

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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Enriching our Animals!

The new hot-button word in the world of dog rescue and training is ‘enrichment’. It is a tool that has so many applications and approaches, but is endlessly beneficial in the world of animal behavior.

Animal enrichment first originated in the world of laboratory animals, particularly of the primate variety. It was soon apparent that the primates housed in the laboratories needed more than just the typical food, water, and shelter to contribute to their well-being. Not only did a lack of socialization and stimulation obviously contribute to their mental and emotional decline, but these issues also appeared dramatically in their physical health. It soon became common practice to provide mental stimulation to many animals housed in laboratory settings, and researchers now even go so far as to house most primates with other animals. This realization has spread to zoos and most recently, animal shelters.

The blogger that I consider to be the ‘queen’ of doggie enrichment is essentially a hero to shelter dogs, and pit bulls to be precise. Not only is she a blogger, photographer, and foster, but she herself works in a shelter! You can learn more about Juliana and her enrichment pointers here. It is certainly worth the read, and is where I’ve learned some of the information I will share with you!

Why is enrichment so important to a dog’s well-being? A dog, or wolf, in the wild is constantly searching for food, water, and shelter. They are probably interacting with their pack. Their senses are on overload. Compare that to a dog in a small, bland ‘jail cell’ for 23.5 hours a day, in many shelters across the US, and it is easy to see why behavior issues may quickly develop. Oftentimes, these negative behaviors, such as jumping or barking, are not indicative of the dog’s true personality, but simply a product of boredom, stress, and monotony. Enrichment activities are essential to a dog’s happiness and physical health, because they allow the dog to exercise their minds and their senses, and provide an outlet for excess energy. Not only does it make the dog happy, and keep their mind healthy, but it also improves the behaviors that they display to potential adopters. Win-win-win!

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How does this apply to those of us that don’t work in shelters? Very well, in fact! Enrichment can be great for puppies, or any dogs with higher activity levels, as well as foster or adopted dogs that may be learning to adapt to a new environment.

First of all, giving a pup toys or puzzles to chew on means that what they are NOT chewing on are your shoes, couches, walls, etc. You may have heard the training tip, that if you find your pup chewing something that they should not have in their mouths, you take that object away, and replace it with something more appropriate. While that is great advice, and a good example of positive reinforcement, what would be even better is to prevent that behavior before it starts! One way I approach training with my dogs is by not giving them an opportunity to make bad decisions. If, for example, your rescue puppy is working on a toy or puzzle, they are not going to be interested in going for Dad’s brand new, $400, insulated, steel-toe work boots. 😉 Not that we speak from experience, or anything.

Georgia already has a bone to pick...

Georgia already has a bone to pick…

Another great benefit to enrichment, is that it actually serves to tucker out your dog! Believe it or not, a great session with a puzzle oftentimes serves to make our pups just as tired as a long hike on the farm! Their brains are so busy concentrating on just how to destroy or discover or dismantle their toys. One of Juliana’s foster dogs stated it perfectly when he explained that he will, “lie there for hours, meticulously ripping and pulling at my toys, planning exactly which piece of string to pick apart next. I work really hard to be the best Captain Destructo I can be.” In most cases, once the puzzle is complete, your pup will pass out on the spot from the shear mental exhaustion!

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Now that we know about some of the applications of enrichment, what are some ways we can provide it to our dogs? Well, from the most basic of standpoints, a simple toy that your dog wants to chew on can be enrichment. The way they tear at it provides an outlet for their energy. But for dogs that have not been exposed to toys very much, or for dogs in a more stressful environment such as a shelter, we need to find more high-value benefits. In addition, heading to your local pet store and buying toys that you know your dog is just going to destroy, can really add up! Especially on the budget of a shelter or rescue. Therefore, we get creative.

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One common form of enrichment is frozen kongs. Kongs can be stuffed with anything; vegetables, fruits, peanut butter, meat, dog food (wet or dry!), cheese, or just about anything else! What is most important is that it is stuffed in tightly, and that there is a good ratio of liquid to solid, so that the contents will freeze inside. It helps to place a little bit of peanut butter around the openings, to lead the dog into the interior contents, and then place in the freezer for at least a few hours. Some shelters will use pvc pipes with various sized holes, in place of the kongs. Just a cheaper option! A simple google search for kong ‘recipes’ can give you some creative stuffing suggestions.

"Ok now Foster Dad, heavy on the cheese, light on those crunchy orange carrot thingies."

“Ok now Foster Dad, heavy on the cheese, light on those crunchy orange carrot thingies.”

A fun summer-time enrichment for dogs is to fill a bucket with hard toys, like nylabones, treats, etc. This bucket can then be filled with water, and frozen. Talk about a puppy popsicle!! A cold weather version of this game can be to stuff a bucket VERY tightly with various toys, ranging in size, shape, and texture. It can be a fun game for your dogs to work on pulling the toys from the bucket. This game can occupy hours of your dog’s time and energy, because each toy they pull from the bucket will require a good chew or sniff!

Some pet stores are getting on board with enrichment activities, and providing puzzles for your dog. You may remember that I told you yesterday about a fun outdoor toy that our dogs ADORE. It is the only toy that hasn’t resulted in boredom or complete destruction! It is a large plastic ball, with holes, and a smaller plastic ball inside. It is just the right size for two dogs to play tug-of-war, but also allows the dogs to spend hours trying to free the inside ball from the trap! You can find it here.

Gaige playing with their Paw-zzle ball.

Gaige playing with their Paw-zzle ball.

Another great pet store find was actually a gift to the pups from my own mom! It is a three-tiered star, with pockets for treats or dog food. A dog has to figure out how to move the star around with their paws or nose, in order to gobble up the treats! Not only is it an enrichment activity, but it also helps with a dog who eats their food too quickly. To learn more, it is sold here, but there are many variations in most pet stores.

Georgia working hard for her dinner!

Georgia working hard for her dinner!

(It is important to remember that when it comes to food-based enrichment, we don’t want to be adding unnecessary calories to our dog’s diet! Unless your dog is underweight, be sure to decrease the size of their meals, in relation to the amount of food they’ve received from their kongs or other food-related puzzles.)

Enrichment is one of the greatest ways to stimulate our dogs, and exercise their minds. Not only that, but it can be a wonderful way for our dogs to bond with us, and feel more comfortable in their environment. What enrichment activities have you tried with your pets? Which ones have worked for you, and which haven’t? We’d love to hear your ideas!