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.)

DSC_0013_2

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.

DSC_0009_2

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.

DSC_0018_2

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!

Busy as bulls! (pit bulls, that is)

Woo! It has been an exhausting few days around here. This weekend, we enjoyed time with friends, did some Christmas shopping & decorating, took lots of family walks, and even had a visit from a special guest… a local celebrity dog trainer! (We will save that last bit for tomorrow’s post, however.)

There is ALWAYS time for snugglin'

There is ALWAYS time for snugglin’

The hectic schedule didn’t end there. Today began with an early morning trip to the vet. Georgia was due for her rabies shot, and had also been itching more than usual. She was an angel for her exam, took the shot like a pro, and shared lots of tail wags and kisses with the staff. Of course, they just couldn’t get enough of our girl. We received a few comments on what a BIG girl she was (don’t they know it’s just plain rude to comment on a lady’s weight? Really… 75 pounds is not that bad!) We only encountered one other dog while we were there, and while Georgia didn’t seem entirely eager to investigate the stranger, she stayed relaxed and quiet. We also have a new anti-yeast shampoo to try, in order to combat the itchies, so we will keep you posted on that!

After our adventures at the vet were through, we took a trip to Petsmart. Georgia’s previous foster had warned that Georgia could get uncomfortable at public adoption events, so she hasn’t been out and about much since coming to live with us. I figured that a quiet Monday morning would be as good a time as any to give it a try, and so I hooked up her harness and had a buddy for my shopping trip. I armed myself with lots of treats to reward positive behavior. Again, we didn’t meet too many other dogs during our excursion, but Georgia was a model mutt, even sitting politely when presented with a treat from the check out girl.

Georgia does so well in the car. She loads quietly, waiting for her cue to step up. She even waited patiently while I ran in to a store and then the post office. She was content to sleep in the back seat for most of our travels, checking in with me occasionally for a pet or a kiss. Can’t you just imagine her as your permanent co-pilot?!

And there is always time for play!

And there is always time for play!

Please stop by tomorrow for a big fat post with the full run-down of our time with a special dog trainer. We will share our new-found ‘expertise’ with all of you… and don’t worry, it’s free only to our readers! 😉

There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Dog

A few weeks ago, I shared a link on our facebook page, that had been shared first by one of my daily reads, Peace, Love & Fostering. The original post was from the blog, Notes from a Dog Walker, and it is probably one of my favorite blog postings I’ve read thus far in our fostering experience. I urge you to head over there to check out the piece. For even some of the most seasoned dog lovers, it just might change your perspective forever.

If there is one thing I could convey to all of you, it would be this… “It’s not how they’re raised, it’s how dogs are managed, that matters most.” A dog with a terrible past can still make a wonderful addition to your family. At the same time, unfortunately, sometimes a dog raised with all of the right tools, whether pit bull or black lab or poodle, will not be successful. Don’t stereotype ANY dog, for ANY reason… it is dangerous, and unfair. Give them a all a fair chance. The Vicktory Dogs & BAD RAP dogs are just two perfect examples of this! These dogs were rescued from the most cruel and outrageous fighting operations. Yet through careful and dedicated rehabilitation, they have become loyal and gentle family companions. If I took the time to list every popular story of a dog fighting victim that went on to live happily with other animals and children, this page would be full.

DSC_0001

I don’t believe that either Georgia or Gaige were ever involved in dog fighting cruelty. Yet if I had a penny for every time someone asked me if my pit bull was aggressive, or had been a ‘fighter’… well, I would have a lot of pennies. And while I don’t like to focus on the negative, I think it is important to note that those questions have come even from those that claim to like pit bulls! The point is, we love dogs because of their loyalty and resiliency. Give them a chance to prove it to us!

– – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – –  –

In other news, please check out our facebook page here. We shared a few videos of lucky boy Cash, from yesterday’s post, who has begun his new life! One shows him playing exuberantly with a toy, while the other shows him interacting happily with his new foster sister.

Finally, we are very excited to announce that we have a two-hour training session scheduled tomorrow for Miss Georgia! We will be working with the talented Debby McMullen of Pawsitive Reactions, LLC. Debby specializes in positive reinforcement dog training, as well as management of multi-dog households. She has even written a book on the subject! You can even follow her blog here, and she also maintains a facebook page.  We are planning to focus on Georgia’s issues with overly enthusiastic greetings towards new humans, and also narrow down her discomfort with some other dogs. We are hopeful that we will learn new tools to manage her introductions, and also identify what sort of doggie household she would be most comfortable in. We are anxious to see whether her issues with female dogs are simply a matter of additional socialization, or something that would be best avoided for her comfort level. Wish us luck! We know this will only add to her repertoire of skills and talents, thereby making her more adoptable.

Are you my forever family?

DSC_0014

We hope your weekend is kind to you!

A Dog’s Life

I have a story to share with all of you today, that I am SO excited about! As in, I woke up in the middle of the night to type it out, because it just couldn’t wait any longer.

Some of you may be followers of New York’s Animal Care & Control Urgent facebook page. If you aren’t, you may be ‘friends’ with me on facebook, and have seen the posts I share regularly. Most states or counties have some sort of group like this, but essentially, the volunteers at the shelter run a facebook page dedicated to bringing exposure to all of the shelter’s residents. They will include lengthy write-ups, behavior evaluations, and flattering photos of each dog, in an effort to find them a home, foster, or rescue before it is too late. Unfortunately, this shelter seems to have more problems than most. Rumors of abuse, neglect, and poor management run rampant, and it is said that many of the shelter’s actual employees have no real interest in saving the animals in their care. While this may or may not be true, it can’t be denied that there is a serious problem of animal overpopulation in the city, and the euthanasia list is often extensive. A group of dedicated rescues also team up to help save most of the more promising dogs, but this time of year, funds and resources are limited. More importantly, even the rescues can’t offer much help without dedicated foster families stepping up to the plate.

With that being said, I still peruse the lists most evenings, my heart breaking with each click through the photos. These are mostly good, sweet dogs, that have had a rough path in life. In the stressful shelter environment, the behavior evaluations they undergo are rarely indicative of a dog’s true personality, but still, some rise to the top of the pack, with glowing evaluations and personal volunteer recommendations. Each night, I select a few, sometimes the neediest, and sometimes the most impressive, and share them on my personal page. It could (and has!) been argued to me, that this is a waste of my time. Sharing dogs on my page, every night… I’m exposing them to the same people, over and over. However, I have noticed a funny phenomenon; more and more of my facebook friends are taking an interest, and spreading the posts I share with them, exposing the pups to new faces across the internet, and around the country.

Regardless of the receptivity from the facebook community, this still often feels like a fruitless cause. While I can’t sit by and do nothing, more nights than not, the list suffers a few casualties each following morning. But this week, all of those doubts escaped me because we did it. We directly helped to save a life on the list, and I feel so blessed to have been part of this miracle.

While perusing the list on Monday, I was struck with the largest number (18!) of highly adoptable dogs that I had ever seen on the list at one time. One of these pups was Charlie.

Charlie at ACC

Look at that tongue, the wiggly body, bright eyes, his feet lifting off of the ground in anticipation, and of course, his striking markings! Nevertheless, the shelter gave him an ‘experienced’ rating, and described him as ‘nervous and tense’. Well, duh! Who wouldn’t be, given that environment?! As if that wasn’t enough, they consequently called him ‘extremely exciteable’…. what a conundrum! To me, it was almost like poor Charlie was being set up for failure. In spite of all of this, he scored all 1’s and 2’s on his SAFER evaluation, happily sharing his food and toys with the assess-a-hand, willing to play with the evaluator, and even displaying playful interest in the test dog.

In a rare stroke of luck, not only did Charlie catch my eye, but his post on my page also then caught the attention of my facebook friend K. K was an acquaintance from my Penn State days, as we had shared many of the same Animal Science classes. Originally from NYC herself, K was a regular follower of the ACC dogs, and had always planned to adopt a dog from there once her life was more consistent. The instability in her life was due to the fact that she is dedicating her life to these beautiful animals by pursuing a career as a veterinarian. K is currently in vet school in St. Kitts. So while she fell instantly and madly in love with Mr. Charlie upon seeing my post, she was desperate to find some assistance. Of course, I would have helped in a heartbeat, but our foster spot is (obviously) full.

K stayed up through the night, eventually scheming with our former classmate and her former roommate L. L graciously offered to drive from PA to NYC to rescue Charlie, filling out the appropriate paperwork and fronting the funds, all for a dog that we knew little about. As if that wasn’t enough, L also would foster Charlie until K could find a more permanent solution. It sounds like such a Cinderella story, but can you believe, that it gets better?

L picked up Charlie just in time, and secured him in her vehicle for the long trip ahead. The exhausted pup passed out in the back seat, and slept the whole way to Pennsylvania, seemingly recuperating from his arduous ordeal. Once they arrived, Charlie was a bit nervous and quiet, but L described him as intelligent and kind. He is settling in quietly, but quickly, and while Charlie is being kept separate from L’s female pit for a short adjustment period, he has already attempted to initiate play with her through their containment. He also does well in his kennel, and appears to be house trained. Really, he is a dream adoption candidate, and none of this would have been possible if K had judged him from his evaluation.

Settling in with L

Playing with a chew toy

Charlie will be renamed ‘Cash,’ to mark his new journey in life. His ‘moms’ are both already head over heels for him, and K is anxiously awaiting her return to the states later this month to meet her dream boy in person.

While Cash’s story might sound far-fetched and fantastic, the reality is that this is much more common than it might appear. Another example is a pit mix called “Lola,” now Mellie, who found herself on the euth list in the NYACC system, with a rating of ‘experienced- no child’. Essentially, this can be a death sentence for many dogs. Fortunately, a kind woman saw something more in this deaf little white pit bull, and brought her home to live with her family anyway. Mellie has since proven to be endlessly gentle with the family’s 2 and 4-year-olds, even spending the days of Hurricane Sandy curled around them in bed to keep them warm in spite of power loss.

Mellie

These are love stories. These are family stories. And these are pit bull stories. ❤ Please don’t hesitate to get involved, however small your contribution may seem. You never know what lives will be touched.

 

Wordless Wednesday: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

..Oooh, girls just wanna have funnn! (You know you read that in a singing voice… don’t lie!)

You all know that Wednesdays never stay wordless for long around here, but I do my best to keep it short & sweet. I spoke in this post about how Gia is quite the little lovebug, when it comes to flirting with the men in our house… or, the ones she meets on the street. Not to call her easy, but let’s just say that our girl doesn’t discriminate!

However, I must say that Georgia can also be a girl’s best friend… and I think I am perfect proof of that!

Playing nurse

Big thanks to Foster Dad for capturing all of these special moments 🙂 Now if only we could get a few with ALL of us in the shot… but that would be some sort of Christmas miracle!

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?

…Or at least, that is my hope! I could give you a million excuses as to why you haven’t heard from us in such a long time, but I think we would all prefer that I get down to business… let’s talk about the dogs!

It has been a frustrating few weeks, filled with a few leads to prospective adoptive families. Unfortunately, they all ended before they even began. For various personal reasons, none of the families that expressed interest even came to meet our girl! I wish I could say that we have been taking advantage of this time nevertheless, by working on Georgia’s obedience and introduction skills, but with lots of traveling, some unexpected vet visits for Tonk, and changes to our work and personal schedules, we have not been devoting as much time to training as we would like. Therefore, we are biting the bullet and officially pursuing some professional training classes. I am very excited about this. Georgia has so many wonderful traits to offer to a family, but I know these classes will give her the polish that will help someone to fall madly in love with her.

This time of year, I am always especially cognizant of the many blessings that we have been given. It is clear to me every day that the gifts in my life far exceed my requests or expectations. The biggest change in my life this year has come in the form of a little big brown bundle of love, who reminds me every moment to enjoy the little things in life. Georgia takes such delight in tummy rubs, expresses uncontrollable joy over bully sticks, and savors daily walks on the farm with the other dogs. While it will literally break my heart to say goodbye to her, I can’t help but pray that she finds her forever home in time for Christmas. She deserves nothing but the best, and I know that she will make the perfect family so, so happy. Santa, do you hear me? As the year’s first snowflakes drift down and stick to the ground, the best Christmas present I could have is a home for our girl.

 

Bittersweet

I typically do not post on the weekends, but since I skipped out yesterday, I figured that I owed you all one today! 🙂

I will keep it short & sweet, but I wanted to let everyone know that Georgia has her very first meet-and-greet tomorrow! We will be traveling a few hours away to do a home visit simultaneously, so Georgia will have the opportunity to meet the family’s 7-year-old son, female pit bull, and cats as well! I am very excited, as the family seems to be a wonderful fit for our girl. They have experience with pit bulls and the fostering process, and they live on a very large piece of property… perfect for long hikes and family time outside!

Blanket-head

At the same time, I need some help here. I have to admit that I am also a little bit nervous! I have never done this before, and I want to make sure that I show Georgia in the best possible light. For a pooch that can be easily overwhelmed by new situations, how do you other fosters approach introductions with prospective adoptive families? Georgia still has a tendency to jump on new people, although she has improved dramatically in this area. The family is aware of that, and told me that they have the same issue with their other dog! Nevertheless, it still takes Georgia a bit of time to trust, and to really let her guard down. I am worried that she won’t be able to relax enough to show this family her huge heart and sweet personality, which would thus make them fall desperately in love with her! Any advice?

Every day I’m snugglin’

Finally, I am starting to have foster-doubts. You foster families out there have got to know what I mean… she is our first foster, and of course we are attached! However, I find myself worrying more about her than I am about myself. Of course I will miss her, but what concerns me most is the level of trust she has built with us. It took a few weeks for her to truly let down her guard, and now that she has, she is flourishing. I know I may be anthropomorphizing here, but I am just so worried that she is going to feel abandoned by us. That she is going to wonder what she did wrong to make us lose interest in her. More importantly, will this make her take longer to trust her new family? Georgia has been bounced around so much (we are her THIRD foster home!) and I worry that this might be the final straw for her.

I hope that I am just being overly dramatic and reading into this way too much. In fact, I would love it if you would tell me that I am being crazy… Georgia is a fabulous dog, and if she had become best friends with Tonka & Gaige, I’m pretty sure that there is no way we could have given her up. But while they all get along well, and there have been no scuffles, it just does not seem to be a love affair between any of them. I want Georgia to find the perfect home for her, and I do not believe that we are it. I just hope she can find a family that sees her for who she is: perfections, flaws, and all. I hope that they will love her for it, and embrace a lifestyle that can ensure her success.

I could really use some advice from our blogging family right now! How difficult was it for you to give up your first foster? What was your most heart-breaking goodbye? Do you have any tips for successful adoption introductions? And please, tell me that she won’t miss me…

Wordless Wednesday: Sweet Dreams

With the cold, rainy weather we’ve been seeing around here lately, we’ve been doing a lot of this…

Three of the ‘dogs’

Gia cuddling with J.

Bella snoozing

Tonka’s turn

Happy Wednesday everyone!

I hope none of you out there get your hopes up, expecting our W.W. posts to actually be wordless. You should know better. You’re lucky we actually get them up on Wednesdays!;)

Election Day!

We will keep this post short and sweet, because we’d rather you be out voting than reading our silly blog! If you remember one of our early posts, which can be seen here, you know that Georgia probably wouldn’t judge you for not voting.

Georgia already has a bone to pick…

But as her foster parents, whomever you choose to support, we urge you to remember that if the economy improves, the condition of animal welfare in our country will typically improve along with it. Please, make a decision that YOU feel is best for our economy! If you were not planning to vote, please at least research this issue and make a vote that supports your position.

In more light-hearted news, I have to brag for a second. Last night, Foster Dad & Georgia were playing in the living room. It took Jonathan all of about 5 minutes to teach Georgia to play fetch. Not sure who I am more proud of! But I know that at least one of you out there can just imagine your kiddos throwing a tennis ball for our little lady.

Are you my forever family?

So thankful to live in a country where we are all free to vote in ways that support our individual beliefs! God Bless America.

Smells like Thanksgiving…

When the Foster Gods giveth, they giveth in bounty!

1. Today, we are thankful for not just one, but TWO families who are interested in Georgia. 🙂 NOT that we are surprised, but it is great to realize that other people are seeing what we see in our lovebug.

2. We are thankful for foster siblings that are so willing to share; their toys, their beds & couches, their treats, and their time with mama. You two are the best foster siblings we could have asked for. Tonka, ever the kind & gracious gentleman, and Gaige, a little socially awkward, but always ready to wrestle and play. You are wonderful examples to Miss Georgia, and have welcomed her beautifully into our family. We would never have been able to help her without your enthusiastic cooperation. She is so lucky to have you both.

3. We give thanks for our Cat that Thinks She’s a Dog, Bella. From eating my slippers, to playing with tennis balls, and from sleeping sprawled out on the floor, to wrestling with Gaige… we can’t blame you for your weirdness in thinking you’re a dog. In fact, we love it. In a family that likes cats, but never considered ourselves to be ‘cat people,’ you fit right in. I guess we are cat-dog people, instead.

Didn’t believe me?

4. Every day, I count my blessings for a foster dad that loves our furries almost just as much as I do. No matter what crazy schemes I come up with, you are always ready; not just to cheer me on from the sidelines, but to jump right in and help me reach my goals and dreams. You came into this as green as can be, and now I catch you giving me advice. It warms my heart that you put so much effort into making all of our aminals productive members of society. Whether you are pooper-scooping, working on obedience (the dogs’, not your own!), bragging to strangers about our ‘kids,’ or cuddling with one of the many in our big bed, you can’t hide your soft side… and I love you all the more for that!

5. In the wake of the hurricane, it is easy to remind ourselves of our many gifts and blessings. We are SO thankful for a warm, dry home, with working electricity, clean water, plenty of nourishing food, and even some of life’s extras (like Tempurpedic dog beds, big fields for running, and new squeaky toys). It breaks our hearts to see all of the beings, both two and four-legged, that are going without. Worse still, are the dogs and cats on euthanasia lists by the HUNDREDS due to the aftermath of the storm. If you can give, in ways of time, physical donations, or monetary gifts, please do not hesitate. It will save lives.

6. When counting our blessings, we could never forget our wonderful rescue organization, LCPO. They stand by us through everything from adoption questions to health issues and training techniques. You brought us into this journey, and have stood by us every step of the way. We are so thankful to have found a strong organization, run by individuals that are truly caring and endlessly dedicated. This goes out to Julee, Casey, Kaelyn, Christine, Kate, & Patti, just to name a few! If you are interested in adopting a pittie, but for some crazy reason don’t think Georgia is the right fit for you, please check out LCPO’s other adopta-bulls.

7. The most surprising, or at least the most unexpected, thank you, goes out to our blogging family. Really, when I started this journey, I thought that my only reader would be my mom (actually, I’m not sure that she even reads this regularly). However, we have been welcomed by a community of people who have been in our shoes. The guidance and support you all have offered us is so refreshing and inspiring. I am so glad we are all in this together!

8. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my most heartfelt thanks goes to Georgia. You have been the sweetest, easiest pooch we could have asked for in a foster. Really, you’ve spoiled us. We were prepared to take on stained carpets, chewed shoes, and terrible manners… the worst you’ve ever offered were enthusiastic greetings and hundreds thousands millions of kisses. We have enjoyed every step of this journey with you, and while we have tried our best to make you even more adoptable than you already were, we want you to know that we are the lucky ones in this relationship. You have changed us so much as individuals and as a family. I had myself convinced that I would not get too attached, that this giving up process would be an easy one… but even thinking about a morning without your kind eyes, warm kisses, or soft tummy, makes me teary-eyed. You are such a special girl, and you are going to continue to do special things in the lives of the family who is lucky enough to end up with you.

Our cuddle bug