The Kind of Post I Never Thought I’d Write

My friend Morgan, over at Temporary Home, Permanent Love, wrote a really difficult piece last week (here). While she struggled with sharing the contents with her readers, it gave me the courage to share with all of you something I have definitely been procrastinating. Usually when I begin to write a post, I am anxious to get my thoughts out on paper the screen, because it is clear to me what the ‘mood’ will be… sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes serious, sometimes silly. Rarely, is a post such a mix of emotions. And I don’t really know where to start. So I guess I will just say it, and hope that you, my readers, will be gentle and understanding… at the very least, I hope that you will read through to the end before you judge. Here goes nothing.

Georgia's first night in our home

Giving kisses

We. Are keeping. Georgia (. or ! or ? or ?!)

Where We are Now

We are thrilled! Georgia has become an integral part of our family, and of our pack. She came to us a worried little bundle of rolls and wrinkles, who didn’t know how to play, was scared of raised hands, and would rather be alone than in the company of others. She was so intimidated by other dogs, that she would snarl and snap if they came too close… but we learned pretty quickly that she really was all bark, and no bite. These days, it is rare to find her anywhere but cuddled up on top of you, and when she is not cuddling, she is wrestling and bitey-mouthing and tug-of-waring with our pups over toys. She is truly like an entirely different dog. While I always held out hope for her improvement, Georgia now possesses a confidence that I truly never could have imagined that she would acquire. She wags her tail when passing even strange dogs on walks, is friendly with other pups at obedience school, and is happy to do anything we ask.

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Once upon a time, many people urged me to consider placing Georgia as an ‘only-dog’. While I appreciated their guidance, in my heart, I couldn’t resign her to that fate. I felt strongly that if we took things slowly, she would be able to face her demons and overcome them. Most importantly, in the back of my mind, I even believed that she would one day learn to find solace and comfort in the company of other dogs. Not a day goes by, that I don’t feel pride and satisfaction in the outcome we have all achieved together. Still now, months later, I make Jonathan come running into the room each evening, when I see the dogs curled up in a puppy pile, or sharing their toys. We ooh and ahh, and bask in the glow of our little pack’s happiness and contentment.

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How We Came to this Conclusion

When we had our first meet-and-greet (back in November, I think?!) Jonathan brought up the idea of making Georgia a permanent member of our family. I know I sound like a crazy person, but each time we took her to meet an adoptive family, she was petrified. Although I tried to deny it, for the sake of our sanity, neither of us could ignore the signs. She would cling to us, looking worriedly back and forth between our two sets of eyes, and sometimes even refuse to leave the car… it was like she knew we were considering sending her someplace else. We would try to make it a happy and pleasant experience, and I certainly don’t think we were exhibiting any negative body language that would deter her from feeling comfortable. Finally when we got home, she would velcro herself to our sides, following us even to the bathroom, and keeping her eyes on us at all times… ever our lazy couch potato, her anxiety even prevented her from sleeping soundly. Worse still, her digestive system would take a cruel hit, and it would take a few days for it to recover.

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Nevertheless, I was convinced that once we found a family that was an ideal fit, it would feel right. We had a number of meet-and-greets, and they were all unsuccessful for varying reasons. One did not work out because Georgia was not friendly with their dog. In a few instances, the adopters backed out just before the meet and greets, for personal reasons. One adopter, whom I had my heart set on, felt that it was just not the right time for her to bring home a new dog. Jonathan would always give me a million reasons why each family wouldn’t fit, but I would quiet his fears, and I remained optimistic that we would find a family that could give her everything she deserved.

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Finally, we found a family that was perfect on paper, and ended up being even more ideal in person. Jonathan and I woke up early one sunny, Sunday morning, and drove 4 hours (one way!) to meet them. To say we were invested and hopeful, would be an understatement. We met them, and it was a great match. Georgia was, of course, sweet and gentle with their children. She still clung to us, but the mother had experience with force-free training and the two week de-stress. It was all so perfect, and yet something just did not feel right. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, and literally experienced a moment of sheer panic. My head started to spin, my vision tunneled… I needed to get out of there. We politely said our goodbyes to the family and the people from the rescue, and got in our car to hurry away. We both sat in momentary silence. It felt like someone was trying to take OUR dog away. It was in this moment, that I knew we just couldn’t let her go. On paper, everything was perfect, and there were no excuses that either Jonathan or I could come up with. But somehow, we were panicked at the thought of saying goodbye.

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Why We Ultimately Made this Decision

Over the next week, the topic of saying goodbye to Georgia was never far from my mind. A Christian at heart, I prayed daily for clarity in this decision. It was almost uncanny (or, as my mother-in-law would kindly remind me, perhaps providencial) but throughout that week, we took Georgia more places than usual; the vet’s office, local parks, the pet store, etc. Each time we went out, more often than ever before, people came up to us and asked to hear her story. By the end of every conversation, each person kindly and gently left us with words that were eerily similar… “But she looks like she’s meant to be with you,” “it seems like she’s already made the decision for you,” and “I think she is right where she belongs“. Before he left for work in the morning, when he called me around lunch time, and when he arrived home at night, Jonathan and I would always discuss her future and our decision. While he was adamant that her place in life was with us, I couldn’t shake the worry of disappointing everyone. A people-pleaser by nature, I didn’t want to think about delivering the news to the prospective family, my friends at the rescue, and of course, to all of you here on the blog. I had made a commitment to fostering, and I was going to stick with it. I was NOT going to be one of those ‘foster-failures’. I am not self-centered enough to believe that you all follow this blog with such loyalty that you would take our decision personally. However, with my dedication to fostering, and my previous “rants” against becoming a foster-failure, my pride had prevented me from considering this option all along.

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I reached out to a few people about my struggle. One of them was my friend Morgan, and the others were friends from the rescue, Alanna and Casey. Everyone reminded me that I needed to put Georgia first. But what does that mean? To me, that was my greatest struggle… It had always been about Georgia for me, and in my mind, it would be incredibly traumatic for her to go to another family. At this point, she was finally integrated with both of our dogs in the house, and I was so proud of the strides she was making. She was completely settled into our family, and the thought of putting her into a whole new environment sounded cruel. When I thought about dogs like Gaige, I thought about dogs that were hardy and resilient. Put Gaige in any situation and environment, and she was likely to come out unscathed and happy. Georgia just isn’t that type of dog. She is sensitive and gentle, and always worried about having approval. You could even go so far as to call her emotionally needy… at least when compared to our little spitfire, Gaige. Maybe I was anthropomorphizing, but I thought that Georgia would be sitting in her new house, missing Jonathan, Tonka, Gaige, and me, and wondering what she did wrong. I couldn’t get her sad little face out of my head.

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Where did we go wrong?

I’ve asked myself this question many times. I know some of you, particularly those hardened foster families, have been reading this post and are rolling your eyes. You think I’m making excuses for keeping our foster, when in reality, I just couldn’t let her go. Guess what? Maybe you’re right. I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that my decision was 100% selfless. What I can tell you is that I did not want a third dog. I especially did not want a third dog that wasn’t always fond of other dogs. But when I thought about Georgia, and Georgia alone, I kept coming back to this decision. It was the only one that felt right.

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After having Georgia as a part of our household since October, perhaps the problem is that we kept her too long. Especially being our first foster, having her with us for 5 months makes her feel like one of the family. At the same time, it only took a few minutes for us to fall head over heels in love with her, so maybe the length of stay had little to do with it.

Georgia says thanks!!

Another possibility is the investment of time and effort we made in overcoming her struggles. I know from my years spent competing with horses, that achieving a lofty goal with an animal is the surest way to form an unbreakable bond. We spent so much time breaking down Georgia’s walls and building up her confidence, that I felt we had become a team.

With his girls

 

Worse still, maybe I am just not cut out for this lifestyle. I hate to admit that to myself, but perhaps I am not capable of loving and letting go. Finally, ome of you may have guessed that Jonathan and I experienced some unsettling loss this year, shortly after Georgia came to our home. I certainly would be naive if I did not believe that this had an effect on our attachment.

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Yes, there are still times I feel immense guilt over our decision. Typically, that is when I am glancing into pleading puppy-dog eyes, staring out from behind bars, on my computer screen. But when Georgia was brought into my care, my commitment was to make decisions that were in HER best interest… not anyone else’s. I will always stand by the fact that I have done just that. This decision was not the ‘easy’ one. I didn’t make this decision because I needed Georgia in my life, or because I didn’t trust anyone to care for her the way we would. I made it because I believed in my heart, that this was meant to be, that she would be happiest with us. When Georgia faces a situation that is new or challenging, she always looks to me for guidance. Each day, she looks at me with grateful eyes, tail wagging gently against her sides, and I could swear she was thanking me from her heart. So while there are days that I wonder where we went ‘wrong,’ I can’t help by think that just maybe, this was part of someone’s plan all along… though whether that someone is Georgia or the Lord, I’m not sure we will ever know. Maybe there is a reason that God is dog spelled backward…

 

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Disclaimer: I wrote this all as it came to me… no editing or deleting or re-reading. I needed to be as honest as possible with all of you, and I felt that was the only way to do so.

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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The Vow

As we approach February 14th, whether single or otherwise attached, it can be automatic for our minds to wander to the mystery of relationships. When a couple gets married, they are pretty clear on what kind of commitment they are making. (I consider myself an expert, considering it was only about 9 months ago that I said my own vows!) They know that they are agreeing to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness or health, and for richer or poorer. They commit to being faithful, all the days of their lives.

Photo courtesy of Jenni Grace Photography

Photo courtesy of Jenni Grace Photography

Somehow, some people seem a little bit confused about this, and 50% of marriages sadly end in divorce. (Stick with me here, dog-lovers, I’m not attempting to start sharing marriage advice on this page!) However, as much as some individuals in our society have a problem with loyalty in human relationships, there is an equal (or greater? certainly more deadly…) problem with our commitment to animals. I thought that perhaps, if we wrote out the commitment being made, both by the animal and the adopter, that it would be a bit more clear. It will certainly bring me some peace of mind in giving up our girl. In this case, I will define the promises I know Georgia is willing and able to make to her adoptive family, and, in exchange, the commitment that I expect the adopter to uphold.

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I am sharing my sweet baby girl with a family, giving them a big chunk of my heart, because I believe she will bring endless joy to them. It is a truly unselfish act, and because of its worth, it does not come without expectations.

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Georgia:

I promise to gobble up any crumbs you drop, before they even fall to the floor you try to clean up. I promise to protect my family from loud noises and dark shadows, including the scary, noisy, tall, moving box that tries to eat the floor and all of my crumbs.

I promise to try my hardest to remember everything you teach me, especially when it earns me treats or pets. Please try to be patient with me. I will try to be gentle when you are quiet, and playful when you are active. I will try to remember to play with my body, and not with my mouth, like dogs do. Even though off-leash walks are my favorite, I will try to remember that you are busy, and not always able to entertain me. In those times, I will learn to entertain myself.

I will always kiss you, especially if you have salty water spilling out of your eyes, or food on your face. I’m a good friend that way. I will always be able to tell when you are sad, or when you have had a bad day. I will respond appropriately with quiet cuddles and snuggles on the couch or bed… I’ll even let you choose which! When you tell me all of your deepest, darkest, secrets, I will never, ever tell anyone. Not even that nosy poodle down the street. I will love your human puppies just like I loved my doggy babies, and I will teach them how loyal the best dogs really are.

I promise to always look at you like you are the Best Person in the Whole Wide World. Because you are. And I will always love you more than anything. Even more than my elk antler or nylabone. Please remember that you are everything to me, and that when you are not here, my world seems empty. Please don’t leave me for longer than you really have to, or lock me up for long when I misunderstand. Know that I am convinced that my presence is necessary in the bathroom, but I will try to be patient if you disagree.

I will trust you to protect me, and to finally give me my real, honest-to-goodness, forever home. Please trust me, too. I am a good dog. I know because my foster mom told me so, every day. If you lose your temper with me, I will never retaliate, and I may not forget it, but I will always forgive. Please remember that when I make mistakes.

When I get old and gray, please don’t grow tired of me, or frustrated with the conditions age brings. Remind me that you love me, and of all of our fun times together. Carry me outside to enjoy the sunshine and green grass, and maybe even the water now and then… you know it is my favorite. I will join you on all of life’s journeys, as a willing and loyal partner… please be the same for me. Everything in life is better for me if you are there too.

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Adopter:

We promise to bring you into our home as our forever friend. We will never leave you for long, and will always provide for you as a member of our family, even if our lives get hard. We will always remember that your life has been hard before, and we will never again let you know hunger, fear, pain, or loneliness. We will always remember that our commitment to you is as important as any other we have ever made. We will teach our children how valuable your presence is in our lives, and show them how to be kind and caring toward you.

We promise to keep in touch with your foster family and blogging friends, and let them know how wonderful your life is with us. We will send pictures when we can, and maybe even arrange for reunions whenever possible. We will remember that were it not for an army of individuals, we may not have been blessed with your presence in our lives.

We will bring patience to all of our endeavors together, and use training to improve our relationship. We will become careful students of your body language, and work to communicate on your level, not our own. When it is obvious that you are not understanding our requests, we will remember your want to please, and look first to our own actions for miscommunication. We will never use force or isolation in an attempt to convey our requests.

We promise to offer you as many cuddles and tummy rubs as you could ever want. We will let you snuggle up on the bed or couch, at least some of the time, or we will crawl down to the floor to join you for a cuddle session. We will never yell at you for the millions of kisses you might try to offer to us, even if we are on the way out the door and you are covering us in slobber. We will understand that you just wish we wouldn’t leave again, and want other dogs to know we are ‘yours’. Even when we are busy, we will remember that you have needs in terms of social interaction, physical activity, and mental stimulation. If we do not provide for you in these ways, we will be prepared for repercussions of chewed pillows.

We promise to speak to you like a friend, because you are that for us. All we ask in exchange is a wag of your tail or your protection by our bed. We will always remember that for what we offer to you in shelter, food, and water, we are more than repaid in your endless love and loyalty. We will always be indebted to you. When you remind us that we are your whole world… please remember that while we may fill our lives with other things, you are what makes our lives whole.

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“The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take the wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens . . .”

Everyone’s Best Friend

It’s just been one of those days. You were late for work because of construction, your boss blamed you for something caused by a co-worker, you forgot your lunch, had a fight with your husband, and were late to pick up the kids from the babysitter because of a flat tire on your car. You can’t wait to get home and put your feet up. Once you do, your dog jumps up beside you to cuddle your stress away. They look deep into your eyes, and let out a deep sigh as they snuggle up against you. You stroke their soft fur coat, and are immediately taken away from the worries of your day.

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If this is a common occurrence for you (the snuggling part, not the bad day!) then you might be able to understand why the use of dogs as therapeutic treatment is growing in many different circles. It has been scientifically proven that animals can decrease depression, lower blood pressure, and increase immunity. As if you didn’t have enough reasons to be grateful for your pet!

Walk into any progressive school, and you might just find a few four-legged counterparts. Some counselors and psychologists now employ the use of animals in treatment for children. Nothing can make a child open up quite like a furry friend. Growing in popularity are programs called ‘Reading with Rover’. In this instance, certified therapy dogs are brought into schools to assist children with learning disabilities. The kids often find it less intimidating to read and explain stories to the pups, as opposed to their potentially judgmental peers. This not only assists in reading speed and ability, but also retention and cognitive processes.

It is not uncommon to find animals in nursing homes and hospitals. However, it is now becoming more commonplace to see therapy dogs in schools, physical therapy offices, and mental health clinics. When the dog first prances into such a clinical environment, most people do a double take… a split second later, a broad smile will likely spread across their face. Most likely, you have seen a therapy dog out and about, but did you ever think about what hurdles they (and their owners!) had crossed to get there?

One way to gain access to many places where pets are typically off-limits, is to achieve certification through Therapy Dogs International. This is the organization that facilitates the testing and approval of the prospective therapy dogs. The testing is incredibly demanding and in-depth. It includes simulations of hospital environments, as well as testing the dogs’ reactions around children, medical equipment, and other dogs. There are also phases that included ‘unexpected situations’ (such as loud noises, people running, dropping objects, etc) as well as a ‘leave it’ phase (they have to ignore a yummy piece of food!) and a phase where they are handled by a stranger. Of course, throughout the testing, they are looking for specific behaviors, including a quiet disposition, a willingness to be around people, and obedience toward the handler.

One subject addressed on the TDI website is that therapy dogs are born, not made. These dogs must be predisposed to this lifestyle. Of course, it is possible to teach a dog mannerly behavior (did you hear that, Gaige?) but you cannot change a dog’s inherent temperament. The dog should have a natural need to be with people.

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So, you may be asking why we are choosing to discuss this topic today. It is because we have some very exciting news! TWO of Georgia’s potential adopters have a strong interest in pursuing therapy work with their new dog, whichever that may be. While we would never think to require such effort on the part of an adoptive family, we do feel as though this is a ‘meant-to-be’ situation for her. Anyone who has met Georgia, can see instantly that she has an absolute longing to be around people. Cuddling, petting, playing, tummy rubs… she doesn’t care how you’re touching her, she just wants to feel you nearby! Everyone from our rescue, LCPO, (myself included!) has always held aspirations for Gia to continue on to be a therapy dog. It is a beautiful thing that she may just be able to meet that goal!

Do you think that your dog might have what it takes to become a therapeutic dog? A great first step is the Canine Good Citizen certification. Classes for this designation are offered in most areas. Even if you do not have plans to achieve therapy dog status, CGC dogs make fabulous ambassadors for any breed!

(Never really) Wordless Wednesday: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

Why do all of our photos feature sleeping pups? Is it because they are that lazy, or just extra-adorable when silent still snoozing? Either way, I love them all to pieces! Now, what do you think they are dreaming about?

Look at that little paw... Gaige and her daddy

Look at that little paw… Gaige and her daddy

I can't get enough of those ears!

I can’t get enough of those ears!

She buried her head under the covers... not ready to wake up!

She buried her head under the covers… not ready to wake up!

Even the kitty cat Bella gets in on the snuggle-bug action

Even the kitty cat Bella gets in on the snuggle-bug action

Big dog in a little chair...

Big dog in a little chair…

Makes my heart melt... even if their large and in charge presence did kick me to the couch!

Makes my heart melt… even if their large and in charge presence did kick me to the couch!

Comfy, G?

Comfy, G?

Look at those lips!

Look at those lips!

My own real-life teddy bear!

My own real-life teddy bear!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frogs, Snails, & Georgia Tails

One of the reasons that you may not have heard from us every day this past week, is because we got to spend a wonderful week with our nephews! While their mama was out of town, the boys, who are 5 and almost 3, taught me all about race cars, trucks, and hide-and-seek. Let’s just say, we were busy! (On that note, please excuse the mess that was our house! I promise, things are more tidy now. Who knew how difficult it would be to keep up with 2 kids, 3 dogs, a cat, and a husband?!)

Georgia has only had a little bit of experience around children. In one of her previous foster homes, there was a young member of the family, and we have also had her around children occasionally. However, since we don’t have any “two-legged puppies” in our household, it can be hard to find the opportunity to expose her to youngsters. (I’m not sure it would go over well to ask strangers if we could borrow their kids to be our potential chew-toys. 😉 KIDDING, of course!) Regardless of all of that, we can gather a lot about her potential compatibility with a busy family, just from her everyday personality. In our home, Georgia is about as quiet as a lamb, so we were pretty confident that she would do well around children. She is not a hyper-active dog, and has basic manners in place, including polite behavior around food and toys. She is also an absolute cuddlebug, that craves human attention. She has no problems with her face, tummy, ears, feet, etc being played with or touched, and she rides well in the car. There are certainly no red-flags that come up with her behavior that would make her automatically unsuitable for family living.

Even more applicable, is the behavior she shows us when out and about. Of course, Georgia loves everyone she meets, so she is excited when passing adults. However, if she sees a miniature human (or tricycle motor, as Foster Dad lovingly refers to them!) she becomes a wriggling ball of puppy happiness, and tries her best to get closer. Somewhere in her life, she has had really great experiences with kids. We wanted to make sure that in her excitement to be around children, she would keep her licking and jumping at bay. To keep everyone safe and happy, we employed a shortened version of the procedure we outlined last week, for introducing the dogs.

Our first step was to set up the baby gates, so that Georgia could see the boys playing or running or jumping, without having access to unlimited licks-a-lot. During this time, she offered plenty of adorableness to reassure us that she would love to join in on the fun! Lots of bottom-wiggling, tail-wriggling, and all around happy body language. We began the training process by asking her to sit, and then lay down, and giving her treats when appropriate. This was followed by what some trainers refer to as ‘posturing.’ This is where you wait for your dog to offer the appropriate behavior (calmly laying down, in this case) without specifically requesting or commanding it, and then rewarding them for making the right ‘choice’. The method behind this procedure, is that it teaches the dogs to use their canine noggins to choose positive behaviors when faced with new situations, without always needing to look to you for guidance.

"Pleeeease can I play?"

“Pleeeease can I play?”

Once Georgia was consistently displaying calm body language at the gate when the boys were playing, it was time for the baby gates to come down. My next step was to keep Georgia on leash in the same room as the boys. While I was typing on the blog, to be honest, I kept her leash attached to me. She was not within reaching distance of the boys, and I had control of her if they chose to come near her. We repeated the above procedure, and I gave her treats or praise for sitting quietly. The boys eventually began approaching her, and I could easily use the leash to correct her if she tried to lick or got too excitable around them. She was rewarded for sitting quietly while they pet her, or laying beside them while they played. Eventually, we graduated with having Georgia loose, but with a leash still attached. This way, if her kisses got out of control, I was able to apply quick response, but still allow her to move freely around the room.

That's not a dog, it is actually a mountain. For driving cars. Duh.

That’s not a dog, it is actually a mountain. For driving cars. Duh.

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Obviously, the third and final step, was to allow Georgia to remain off-leash in the same room as myself and the boys. We started with a down-stay, a verbal command from me, where she had to stay laying in one spot while they played around her. Eventually, as her behavior was increasingly calm and quiet, I allowed her to wonder around the room while they played. It wasn’t long before they were laying on the floor together, or using her as the ‘mountain’ for their cars.

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

As she is with almost every situation we have faced with her, Georgia was a total rock star. Of course, you could attribute this to her stellar personality (duh!) or you could blame it on Foster Mom’s skills luck. However, my personal reflection on Georgia’s success in all she does, is not just her attitude, but that we approach things very slowly, and constantly look to her for queues on when to proceed. We are careful to never set unrealistic expectations with our dogs, and always willing to slow down if things seem to be overwhelming them. I believe strongly that when dogs are approached as unique individuals, there is very little that cannot be achieved with most pups.

Wasting no time, snuggling commensed almost immediately.

Wasting no time, snuggling commenced almost immediately.

While corresponding with a potential adopter in regards to her young, active son, we came upon a topic that struck a nerve with me. I felt that it was something that was imperative to convey to Georgia’s audience, and particularly any other families that might be hoping to adopt our girl. While Georgia has a great personality, that should be a wonderful fit for any family, she is not a dog that comes with a ton of child experience. She has so many admirable qualities, but we are working on her licking and jumping. This should not disqualify her as a candidate for a family with children, but it just means that her adoptive family should be prepared to put in the effort it requires to make her a happy member of their household. Rescue dogs do not come as ‘insta-pets.’ Really, no dogs do. Sure, one perk of a foster dog, is that they have some basic training, and you are equipped with knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. However, every new family member deserves to be given understanding in the adjustment period, as well as a willingness to enhance their training.

In addition to that, as much as every parent adores their children, it is important that while being mindful of the child’s safety, it is also vital that we ‘protect’ the dog from the kids. If the child is playing too rough or is obviously overwhelming, they should be immediately corrected and removed. As ‘cute’ as it can be when a dog puts up with obnoxious behaviors from children, it is not fair to expect this out of our pups. While we might know that the kids are just trying to play, it can sometimes seem threatening to the dogs. Dogs should be rewarded for patient behavior, but not made to endure unnecessary poking, prodding, and/or riding. If the dog learns that the adults will ‘protect’ them from the kids, they will come to you if they are uncomfortable, rather than resorting to defending themselves by barking, growling, or biting – the only method of communication that they have! Furthermore, a dog should always be given a ‘safe’ place in the house, such as a private kennel or bed, where children are never permitted to play. This gives the dog a location that they can find peace if the children are overwhelming, rather than feeling obligated to defend themselves. Finally, it is just common sense to give a dog a private place, away from youngsters, to enjoy their meals and special treats.

*It is important to consider safety anytime you are introducing a dog to children. Of course, Georgia is not a dog that has issues with guarding her food or toys, but it is important to take these factors into account when considering introductions. However, because she can be wary of other dogs, we were sure not to overwhelm anyone, and kept the dogs separate around the children. Also, particularly in our situation, when dealing with children that are not our own, at NO POINT were the children and Georgia unsupervised. When it is your own child, and a dog you have owned for many years, you may feel more comfortable leaving them unattended. Regardless, in our home, none of the dogs were in the same room as the boys unless I was right there to supervise. This is not because I have any reason to think that there would be an issue, but because I believe that this is the role of a responsible pet owner and child guardian.*
 

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Dogs can be an incredibly special part of a family unit. For many of us, our favorite childhood memories often highlight a particular dog. Perhaps they were our pillow for late-night TV watching, our companion for outdoor adventures, or the willing friend while we dried our tears in their fur. Do you have a pet that is an integral part of your childrens’ lives, or of your own childhood? If so, were they added as a pup or an adult? How did you manage the introductions and adjustment? We’d love to hear you stories!

In the meantime, we are happy to report that Georgia has a few qualified, interested applicants, and we are very hopeful that among them will be someone who is a worthy match for her love and devotion. We fall more in love with her every day, and know she will make a perfect addition to the right family.

The Holiday Season

Does anyone else out there feel like they are just now recovering from the hectic holidays? Or is it just me… NOT that I am complaining, however. To be honest, I basically threw a full blown temper tantrum when taking down our Christmas decorations last week. I love the way the twinkling lights emit a soft glow throughout our home. And while I’m being honest, I may as well just admit that while the ornaments are stowed safely away, the strands of lights have been carefully wrapped and stored, and the stockings folded together, our Christmas Tree still stands in all its glory… dripping needles need not be mentioned.

In case any of you are feeling the same post-holiday depression that I am, I thought I would share some details of Georgia’s first Christmas! You heard yesterday how perfectly she behaved with all of the activity, and many people entering and exiting our home. I thought I would share some of what I would imagine to be Georgia’s best memories!

I may or may not have spent a night in the hospital just before my family arrived for the holidays. All I wanted was to be home & healthy; baking, cooking, cleaning, and preparing for our first Christmas as newlyweds. When I finally got back, the dogs were on hand to spoil me with cuddles and kisses. I’m telling you, at this point, whomever adopts our girl is not just getting a great family dog, but pretty much a registered nurse as well.

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Who needs a blanket?

Who needs a blanket?

Once I was home and on my way to recovery, we were able to enjoy the family that was in town, and include the pups in our celebrations.

Sleeping while we open presents

Sleeping while we open presents

Opening her first stocking gift, from her family in VA ! This may have been her favorite.

Opening her first stocking gift, from her family in VA ! This may have been her favorite.

:)

🙂

PLEASE tell me... does it get any cuter than this??

PLEASE tell me… does it get any cuter than this??

What I really wanted to share with all of you is a fun video of the pups playing in the snow! Be prepared to watch Georgia get super adorable.

Interested in adopting our precious girl Gia? Of course you are!

Read more about her here, or check out our facebook page here.

If you are already in love, you can email Stephanie (Foster Mom) at sel1490@gmail.com, or you can talk with the rescue president Christine, at nepabullies@gmail.com.

Finally, you can check out her Petfinder profile, where you will find adoption applications and additional information.

 

Top 10 Reasons to Add Georgia to your Family!

Want to hear something crazy? We are approaching Georgia’s ONE YEAR anniversary of rescue. Can you believe it? We certainly cannot.

It was a cold December afternoon, just a few days before Christmas, when LCPO heard of a little red pit bull with newborn pups, slated to be euthanized at a heart-sticking shelter in Georgia. After scrambling to bring them all to safety, the rescue has worked diligently to bring mom and babies back to good health. While all of her pups have found wonderful, forever homes, poor Georgia seems to have been overlooked. Honestly and truly, I cannot think of ONE reason someone wouldn’t want to adopt her. She is about as close to perfect as it gets. (Don’t tell Tonka I said so.) However, I thought I would be proactive, and deliberately tell you all just why we think she is so wonderful.

10. Grooming. Georgia has a shiny, sleek coat. What does this mean for you? She is a VERY LOW shedding pooch, so that means less vacuuming, brushing, and blanket washing! You won’t be carrying little ‘pieces’ of her (hair) around on all of your clothes and coats, either. She feels like velvet under your hands, and is a festive red and white! She also LOVES baths, and sits quietly in the tub for them.

Sitting patiently for her bath

Sitting patiently for her bath

9. Highly Trainable. Georgia is a people-pleaser, and is very motivated by food rewards. This, coupled with her intelligence, makes her a great candidate for easy training and obedience!

Training session with Foster Dad

Training session with Foster Dad

8. Low-maintenance activity level. A short game of fetch and one walk a day are more than enough to keep Georgia’s mind and body active, which is rare for a dog of her age and breed. This makes her perfect for a busy family or college student. She also walks well on her harness and leash without pulling.

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7. Cuddling. Georgia is a professional cuddle bug, who loves nothing more than a lazy Sunday spent cuddling on the couch. She does a great job of finding the perfect spot to snuggle in close beside you!

Cuddling with her favorite.

Cuddling with her favorite.

6. Cats. Georgia lives very successfully with cats! She doesn’t bother or try to chase them, but is content to let them lay down beside her, or even climb on top of her!

Cat's got your tail?

Cat’s got your tail?

5. Training. Georgia is already 100% house-trained and crate-trained. This will ensure a seamless transition into your family, without the worry of stained carpets and chewed furniture that might come with a younger pup! She has even had some professional training classes.

"Look into my eyes, and fall in love."

“Look into my eyes, and fall in love.”

4. Travel Companion. Georgia is very calm and quiet in the car, content to fall asleep in the back seat. She would make a great co-pilot for someone who travels often! At the same time, she has been great for our dog-sitters during extended trips.

Look at all of those smiles!

Look at all of those smiles!

3. Age. At approximately 2.5 years old, Georgia is of the perfect age, as she is young enough to still be spunky and silly, but old enough that she understands most of what is expected of her as a family pet.

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2. People. Georgia absolutely adores people! Although her appearance might seem intimidating to intruders, she would only try to lick your guests to death! So while she probably would not excel as a guard dog, this makes Georgia a great candidate for an adopter that enjoys entertaining or has children. She loves all people, male or female, young or old, from the next door neighbor to the vet!

Georgia loves children

Georgia loves children

1. Mental health. A dog like Georgia is the perfect prescription for your mental health! With Georgia in your home, the stress of a bad day never lasts for long. She is such a clown, enjoying a quick bout of the zoomies each night, and even happy to dress up for Halloween. With her pittie smile and kissable-huggable-squeezable self, you can’t help but be happy when you are around this sweet girl!

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This Old Dog Learns New Tricks!

(Meaning me, people. Gia is only 2.5, after all!)

This past Saturday, we had the unique opportunity to experience a private training session with Debby McMullen of Pawsitive Reactions, LLC. I had never before hired a dog trainer, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect! I feel like I put my whole heart into training and socializing our dogs. I do a lot of research and am constantly researching to learn new techniques and understand canine behavior more thoroughly. I am always open to learning more, but I also hoped that the trainer would be able to recognize that we were very invested in the well-being of our dogs. Once Debby walked in the door, all of these fears were cast aside.

When Debby and Georgia met, somehow Georgia was immediately on her best behavior, and I am pretty sure that the two fell instantly in love. (Although, it probably didn’t hurt that she brought homemade liver treats and peanut butter along.)

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We got right to business, working on Georgia’s jumping. Of course, she was showing off for Debby and wasn’t jumping as much as she usually does on newcomers, but she did offer a few leaps & licks when Debby stopped lavishing her with attention. Debby taught us that rather than directly acknowledge Georgia’s misbehavior by correcting her with ‘No,’ ‘Down,’ or pulling on her collar, we were to turn around. This would, essentially, remove the ‘reward’ (our attention) until she was displaying more appropriate behavior, like a sit or down. At the same time, it would stop the jumping in its tracks. With repeated practice the past few days, we are definitely noticing an improvement in more appropriate greetings.

We are taking applications, however, for local friends that would like to help us with this issue! We need new people to stop over to meet Miss Gia, and not come near her until she is sitting and waiting patiently. The friends and family that have met her have been so kind, but simultaneously, are always telling us ‘Oh, it’s okay! Don’t worry!’ when she jumps up on them. Instead, we need someone who understands that this is only perpetuating her lack of manners. It is one thing to train her not to jump on us, but we need her to understand that this behavior won’t be tolerated towards anyone, including newcomers.

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Once Debby had given us some new tools for the jumping issue, we began talking about Georgia’s basic obedience. Georgia is a very kind dog, and she is always looking to please. When you ask her to sit, or lay down, she is very willing to do so. However, Debby explained to us that we want to teach our dogs to ‘offer’ these good behaviors, rather than always having to request them first. This way, they will learn to make better decisions on their own, and be rewarded for them. This was the main technique that Debby wanted us to utilize was, and she called it ‘capturing’. She stressed that we must notice and mark all behavior that we want to see more of, and pay less attention to the behaviors that we want to see reduced. To put it simply, reward the behaviors that we like, and ignore the ones we don’t! Any attention, even more negative recognition like ‘No!’ is still conveyed to the dogs as attention.

Debby explained that the capturing technique was especially applicable when handling the interactions between the dogs. She complimented us for completing the two week de-stress prior to Georgia’s introduction to our dogs, as well as taking their interactions very slowly so as not to create tension between them. She wanted us to be sure to recognize any positive body language between Georgia and our perma-dogs, however discrete. This could be as minor as moving closer to one another, and as major as tail wagging and licking. It is important to note that the dogs have NEVER displayed aggressive, or even threatening, behaviors towards one another. However, we notice Georgia avoiding the other dogs occasionally, or stiffening when they bump into her accidentally. In this case, Debby recommends ‘splitting’. This is using our own body language to interrupt inappropriate behavior, such as a ‘mom stance’ (hands on hips or arms crossed, looking down at the dog). Not only does this communicate to the dog that their behavior is unacceptable, but it also shows all of the dogs that we as the owners can be trusted to protect and lead them all. Additionally, we are not using a stern voice to correct these interactions, which would only add more tension to the situation.

Cuddling with her favorite.

Cuddling with her favorite.

As per Debby’s direction, as well as advice from the team at LCPO, we will be doing more ‘tethering’. This means securing the dogs by leash to an immovable object, and then having them lay on their own mat or blanket. We will reward good behavior with high value objects such as bully sticks or stuffed kongs. Not only do these serve as a reward while the dogs are in the presence of one another, but they are also are exercising their minds, and recognizing that they are safe when together.

The session culminated with Debby expressing to us that she thinks with more socialization, Georgia should do just fine in a home with another dog, particularly if that other dog is a male. However, she also suggested taking her to some group training classes to work on her socialization. This would enable her to be around other dogs in a controlled setting, without the pressure to interact with them. Our goal will be to reward all positive attention to other dogs, as well as any time she looks to us for information on how to handle herself. Similarly to her interactions with our own dogs, this will show her that her humans are the ones that will keep her safe, and that she does not need to resort to proactive action on her part if she feels threatened.

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Private training is not something that is affordable on every budget. For our scenario, I picked up a few extra hours of nannying and riding lessons, and certainly appreciated a generous discount from Debby. She has a love for pit bull dogs, and anyone that wants to help them, and so she offered us a discount in additional time. I really recommend Debby’s service, or the service of any trainer that utilizes positive reinforcement, to offer you a one-time evaluation of your training methods.

I am happy to have been able to share our experiences with all of you, and I hope that you have taken a few tips from our lessons with Debby!