Helping an Angel Find her Wings

One of our concerns when we made the decision to adopt Georgia, was that we wouldn’t be able to make our mark in the world of animal rescue. However, that couldn’t have been further from the truth! Without all of the time I was devoting to her training and ‘rehabilitation’, as well as marketing her and working to find her perfect adoptive family, I am able to spend that much time volunteering in the rescue in other capacities.

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A few weeks ago, J and I were able to assist this sweet little angel on her path to a forever home!

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And when I say ‘angel,’ I mean spit-shined halo, fluffy wings, and stars in her eyes… this girl was about as close to perfect as I’ve seen! She was totally house-trained, mellow yet affectionate, and incredibly obedient. She was friendly with our cat and gently curious with the dogs (we chose not to allow them to meet face-to-face).

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She came from a shelter in Tennessee, along with the name Darcy, and 8 adorable puppies! They had been in the shelter since May, and the shelter workers and volunteers were desperate to get the little family out.

4Thankfully our rescue, A Positive Promise, stepped up to bring her and the pups to safety. She made sure that we were able to feel the full effects of her gratitude!

1We picked her up on a Saturday in State College (We are!) and brought her home for the evening. She snuggled right in bed with me, slept soundly through the night, and was ready to go only once I’d gotten out of bed the next morning. We loaded her up in the truck and made the trek toward OH, where her foster (to-adopt!) family would be meeting us!

Darcy's puppies, with their fosters!

Darcy’s puppies, with their fosters!

She has been in their home for a few weeks now, and after a little bit of a bumpy start, the future is looking bright for all involved! I have been counseling her foster family on the benefits of the two-week de-stress, as well as positive reinforcement training, slow introductions to their other dog (another APP alum, Ringo, a handsome deaf pittie!), and issues with mild leash-reactivity. They are so dedicated to helping make Darcy (now Ruby!) a happy member of their family. She is truly in ‘heaven’ and definitely seems to be in love with her brother. I call it a match made in heaven!

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6Let’s send lots of positive thoughts and warm-wishes their way!

 

Practice Makes Perfect

During our trip to visit my parents in Virginia last weekend, we were ‘forced’ to walk the dogs on-leash, as they live in a busy community neighborhood.

Look at that tired pup!

Look at that tired pup!

We look at our living arrangements as such a blessing… we live on a piece of property that is blissfully large and safe enough that we can walk and exercise the dogs off-leash most times. However, this trip brought us the realization that when you live in (or visit!) a place that requires you to walk your dogs on-leash, you are faced with a great opportunity to work on training each day. In some cases, the dogs in this circumstance may actually be receiving more exercise and interaction, than those who are just let out the door to a fenced in backyard, unsupervised.

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During our walk, a little white dog ran out from one of the yards, across the street, and up to our dogs. The owner was calling her (“Cookie!”) but she was not interested! Thankfully, J jumped in front of the Jeep that was headed straight for her, and was able to grab her collar. We were so proud of our dogs for reacting quietly and politely, even as the little dog would bark in their faces and run away, only to repeat the process!

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We really enjoyed the opportunity to share some focused training time together with our dogs, and were so impressed by how quickly they were able to refresh their polite leash-walking skills.

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Tonka found a souvenir on our walk!

Do you walk your dog(s) on-leash on a regular basis? Is it out of necessity, or because you realize the importance of these skills? How would your dog handle a change in the routine, or an impolite dog disrupting their walk?

Are we the only weirdos that go to the gym while on vacation??

Are we the only weirdos that go to the gym while on vacation??

Make a Tail Wag

You may remember that we asked last week for a few suggestions on some posts… and boy, did you guys deliver! Some of you had some questions about our pups specifically, while others were looking for some tips on training and behavior.

I want to preface these training posts by reminding you that I DO NOT by any means consider myself to be a professional. Because of that, I want to start by talking about some important terms in regards to dog behavior and training, as well as what you should be looking for in a dog trainer or obedience instructor. Whether you have come across some challenges, simply want the reinforcement to make sure you are taking the right approach to manners, or are interested in pursuing advanced training such as agility, it is important to choose a trainer that suits your needs (and your pup’s!)

However, even if you are not looking for a trainer to aid you in your training adventures, these points still exist as guidelines for what I consider to be the best approach an owner could take to training! More importantly, they are my ‘bible’ when it comes to my own approach with my own dogs. If you are interested in the training advice I will be offering, these methods are the backbone to all of the specifics.

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Training Methods

I strongly believe in force-free training. In fact, that is the only type of training that I tolerate with any animal. You may have previously heard this referred to as ‘positive reinforcement’ training, which is actually not accurately inter-changeable, but nor is it always incorrect.

There are four basic types of training methods, that any professional trainer should be able to use correctly.

1) Positive Reinforcement

2) Negative Reinforcement

3) Positive Punishment

4) Negative Punishment

What do those terms mean to you? If you take them at face-value, then you are probably not correct.

First, we must define the term reinforcement, which is simply something that results in the continuation of a previously displayed behavior. It does not necessarily mean a “reward” or something that the dog enjoys, but it is something that increases the likelihood that the behavior will be displayed.

Positive reinforcement (1) simply means that you are ‘adding’ something to the training equation, in order to elicit the desired response. An easy example of this would be that when your dog is lying down quietly on her bed, you could offer her a treat. Yes, this is a positive experience for the dog, but that is just coincidental… for example, dog fighters often use positive reinforcement, by adding aggressive dogs to the scenario, which will increase the likelihood that fighting will occur. (Positive Reinforcement: Adding something to continue the behavior)

Conversely, negative reinforcement (2) training does not automatically refer to abuse or aggression. It simply means that something is being subtracted from the equation. So, for example, if a dog is wearing a gentle lead halter, the behavior of walking by your side is being reinforced, because the pressure is removed when they do so. (Negative Reinforcement: Subtracting something to continue the behavior)

Then, there is training that revolves around punishment. However, this also does not mean that the experience is automatically unpleasant. It simply means that you respond to your dog’s unwanted behavior by doing something which causes your dog to decrease that act.

An example of positive punishment (3) (applying something that will decrease the behavior) would be the utilization of a shock collar. When the dog barks, the collar shocks the animal, and he therefore associates barking with pain… which is supposed to decrease the barking (at least, when the dog has the collar on, right!?) No promises that your dog won’t try to run from you, or even become aggressive, when you attempt to place the collar on them, however… (Positive Punishment: Adding something to decrease the behavior)

A quick example of negative punishment (4) would be that when your dog jumps on you, you turn your back to her, which is meant to result in her no longer jumping. You have removed attention for a decrease in her unwanted behavior. (Negative Punishment: Taking something away to discourage the behavior)

*It is important to note that the terms ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ have nothing to do with the dog’s perception of the training experience, but with whether you are adding something or taking it away. Similarly, reinforcement is not always enjoyable (though it can be) and punishment is not always painful or unpleasant (though it can be).

Quick chart:

What it means What it does not (necessarily) mean
Reinforcement Results in continuation of behavior does not = a reward
Punishment Results in extermination of behavior does not = pain or aggression
Positive Adding something does not = enjoyable
Negative Taking something away does not = painful or unpleasant

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Force-Free Training

Force-free training is a separate category entirely, which refers to the approach the owner takes in all training endeavors. It is training that refrains from using fear, intimidation, or force to manipulate the dog, physically or mentally. An emphasis is placed on the dog’s body language, as well as communication, and the human-animal bond.

Most often, those that believe in forceful training methods believe that animals have no emotions. While many of us may recognize that animals do not experience quite the range of emotions as humans (although, I understand, this is debatable!) we recognize that fear, excitement, loneliness, and loyalty are traits that animals can exhibit. If we look at animals as being devoid of emotion, we begin to look at them as mere machines, able to bend at our will and whim… and you can see why it may become easy for some people to inflict pain in order to effect their desired, and oftentimes more immediate, outcome.

The approach I bring to dog training comes from extensive experience with horse training. While we would use mild tools such as bits and spurs to communicate with our horses, these are only used as an extension of our arms and legs. However, less admirable riders and trainers would continue to advance to more cruel and severe tools when their horses did not respond in a way that they were seeking. There is a big difference between spurs with little rounded rubber ends, and spurs with sharp, jagged rowels. Personally, if my horses did not respond accordingly to my requests, I would first look to myself, rather than simply resorting to more severe tools … obviously I was not communicating my requests clearly. I learned early in life that animal training is pretty similar, regardless of species. Unfortunately, the humans involved are also similar, and when they lack in communication skills and understanding of behavior, they quickly resort to physical brutality and emotional intimidation…. AKA, they become big bullies!

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Do you want your dog to listen to you because they trust you, and know that you will reward them for their positive behavior? Or would you rather that your dog listens to you because they are fearful and intimidated? To most of us, it is obvious that we want our dogs to be happy and content. However, there is more to it than that. Fearful dogs are often more erratic and unstable than those with an established relationship of confidence in their owner. It has been shown that forceful training methods lead to aggressive animals. A confident dog that has built a good relationship with their handler will often look to the handler when faced with an uncertain setting, whereas a dog that is fearful will take that situation into their own hands, and make a choice to either fight or flee. In many cases (such as an animal that is in a kennel or leashed) the dog may not have the option to flee, and by training him to be afraid of you, you have therefore shown him that his only option is to fight. Your goal should be to make yourself the happiest and most exciting part of your dog’s life, while remaining a consistent and safe place for them. If you can achieve that, I can guarantee that there isn’t much your dogs wouldn’t do for you!

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Trainers that we would advocate would never support shock, choke, or pinch collars, or other devices that utilize pain. When faced with negative behaviors, they will usually ignore them, or remove something that the dog considers to be pleasant. They focus most on rewarding and reinforcing positive behaviors. Typically, trainers that advocate force-free training use lots of food for reinforcement, but the most skilled trainers will also reward the dogs with other things, such as play-time, toys, attention and cuddles. It is important to find out what works best for each individual dog! In our household, Tonka is all about attention, while Gaige responds best to play time, and of course, Gia is always interested in snacks. If I only used the same reward for all three of our dogs, our communication skills and advancement with training would most likely plateau.

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Individualized Approach

Along those lines, it is important that your trainer evaluate you and your dog individually, and formulate an approach that works best for your team. I have a frustration with trainers that try to take the same cookie-cutter approach with every dog. Even if the trainer is knowledgeable enough to only employ force-free training methods, it’s not enough if they expect the same exact training process to work for every dog… or, for that matter, every owner! Always be open-minded enough to take queues from your dog… watch their body language closely, embrace the communication signs they offer to you, and go from there. Use what works best for the two (or more!) of you, as a team. If you are paying someone good money for training tips, then they owe you an individualized approach… otherwise, you could get all of your information from this blog a book! Seriously though, your pup will thank you for it, and you will get a lot more knowledge for your money.

Real-Life Training

Finally, it is vital that your dog trainer understand that a dog requires consistency in training. This means that rather than just set ‘training sessions’ every few days at home, and/or once a week at their facility, they should help you set up your life so that it is one constant training session! Your dog should learn that rewards for good behavior can come at any time, not just when on a leash, at their center, or focused on the treat in your hand. This way, they learn to remain focused on you at all times. Examples of this would be teaching your dog to sit before being let outside, leashed, or given their dinner, or rewarding them when they choose to lay quietly on their bed, as opposed to begging for food or pestering guests. Play-time can be a great way to work in training, while exercising and engaging your pet… make them sit quietly before you throw that ball! For most of us, our initial goal with our dogs is to teach them to be happy members of our family, as opposed to teaching them parlor tricks.
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While this list has not been all-inclusive, by any means, it should give you a good guideline when seeking an appropriate dog trainer… who, remember, you are essentially paying to instruct yourself as the owner! However, please remember that these are the guidelines I try to hold myself to when working with my pets, so even if you aren’t seeking a trainer at this time, they may still apply to you!

In summary, you should look for these qualities in your dog trainer (even if that trainer is you!):

1) They are knowledgeable (and certified, if you are paying them as a professional trainer). They can use the below terms correctly:

-Positive Reinforcement: Adding a stimulus to reward a behavior (giving a treat)

-Negative Reinforcement: Removing something in order to encourage the behavior to continue (pressure on a gentle leader releases when dog is in proper position)

-Positive Punishment: Adding something to discourage a behavior (shock collar that hurts the dog when he barks)

-Negative Punishment: Taking something away to decrease a behavior (turning away when your dog jumps on you)

2) They believe only in force-free training methods. They will use food as a reward, but not as the only reward, and will never resort to inflicting pain or intimidation tactics. They will emphasize the building of your relationship with your dog, so that the dog develops confidence in you as a capable, fair, and loving leader, and begins to look to you in new situations, as opposed to being aggressive or reactive.

3) They look to the dog, utilizing his body language and communication signals, and teach you how to be aware of the same. While they are methodical, they may take a slightly different approach to training each dog, so as to find a method that will be most rewarding for all involved. They do not have a blanket approach that is hard-and-fast with all dogs and owners, because they understand that all dogs are different.

4) They teach you how to encourage good behavior in your dog every day and in every scenario, not just to elicit parlor tricks during specific training sessions. This is because they will understand the importance of a dog that is eager to learn and obey at any time.

Now that we’ve shared with you our foundation for training, tune in tomorrow for answers to some specific reader questions!

ConGRADulations!!

Ok, so I first need to start out by saying thank you. Really, what did I do to deserve such kind, caring readers? You all had such considerate and wise things to share with me after my post yesterday, and it was appreciated more than you know. I really needed to feel some support, and I was given that and more! It also showed me just how invested so many people have become in Georgia’s journey, and it is so nice to know that we have an army of people behind us. I owe you all a favor! xoxo
As if the excitement of yesterday’s post wasn’t enough, I need to share with all of you another big announcement… there is a graduate in the house!!

DSC_0001Miss Gia graduated from obedience school this week! Yay! She has always been a well-mannered dog, but we thought that taking her to a structured environment for training, would help increase her comfort level around other dogs, and also teach her parents (!) a thing or two 😉 It certainly served its purpose, and was an activity we have looked forward to every Wednesday night for the past 8 weeks.

Part of the graduation ceremony was a fun ‘competition’. I may be a bit biased, but Georgia was quick to show her talents with each event. She did the most ‘sits’ in one minute, and was also most willing to respond to our cues, even when only signaled or only spoken! What a good girl. Are you surprised? We weren’t.

The funniest moment of class, was when they had us walk our dogs with the leash in only one hand, and in the same hand, we carried a small margarita glass full of alcohol water. This was to show how well our dogs walked on their leashes, without pulling. Georgia did very well with this… that is, until the end, when she did a full SHAKE, which of course caused me to end up covered in water! Silly girl.

My favorite part of class was at the end. One of Georgia’s classmates was a beautiful young boxer named Rose. Rose’s family consisted of a mother & father, two young boys, and their little sister. The family was so kind and wonderful, but they had heard a lot of negative things about pit bulls. Apparently, Georgia was the talk of their dinner table each night after class! Although the oldest boy usually accompanied Rose and his mother to class, because it was graduation night, the whole family came. As we walked in, we heard the younger boy ask, “Mom, is that the dog you always talk about?” The mother had told us a few times how Georgia had completely changed her perceptions about pit bulls, and that she was just the sweetest and most loving dog. We tend to agree. 😉

The little girl was sitting off by herself, watching Georgia closely, yet cautiously. When we came to a break in the class, I introduced myself and asked what her name was. She softly told me her name was Grace, and we started to talk a bit back and forth. I eventually asked her if she wanted to meet our dog, Georgia. She was a bit hesitant, and so I told her how much she LOVES kids, especially our nephews, who are about her age. She came over, slowly at first… and well, I think I’ll just let the next few pictures speak for themselves 🙂

Can you spot a blurry tail?

Can you spot a blurry tail?

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Pittie kisses

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Tummy rub!

I believe that this is when she started asking Jonathan what those 'things' on her tummy were for ;)

I believe that this is when she started asking Jonathan what those ‘things’ on her tummy were for 😉

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Maybe pictures don’t quite do justice to the moments they shared together, but the whole class got kind of quiet, and watched the two with soft smiles. There’s nothing quite as sweet as children and dogs.

Hope everyone has a great weekend! Not only did I sign up for company to stay with us, but we will also be watching two puppies for a friend! We will be busy, to say the least 😉 I am excited for puppy breath and puppy tummies and puppy noises!! A few of my favorite things.

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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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!

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.

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!

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! 😉

Must Love Dogs

We have all heard the urban legend of the stunningly ideal ‘catch’ of a woman; beauty, brains, compassion, ambition, all in one package (no, I’m not describing myself!) This woman may complain that sometimes she is not approached by men, because they are intimidated by her perfection.

You are pawsitively beautiful.

After talking with Foster Dad, we think that this just might be what is going on with our precious little Georgia girl as she searches for her forever family. The dating world can be daunting, and while she has had a few casual suitors, there have been no potential matches that Foster Dad could entertain for devoted interest. That is to say, they must not have had the purest of intentions with our little lady. Or, maybe it is just that she has so many fabulous qualities, that they assume she will be scooped up by another family?

So, let’s break the illusion; while we know Georgia would make someone a fabulous four-legged family member, she is not perfect! There, we said it. And we would love your help as we improve her obedience training in order to make her even more adoptable!

When Georgia is comfortable in her environment, she is a very relaxed and low-key dog. However, when introduced to new situations or new people, she gets nervous. One way she displays this behavior is by jumping up on people when she meets them. She is full of love and kisses, but a large pit bull jumping up at someone with their mouth wide open is not everyone’s idea of a great first date!

We would like to enroll Georgia in some obedience classes in order to increase her confidence, which we think will go a long way towards helping her with this issue. But, we want to know; what challenges have you faced when training your dogs, foster or otherwise? Maybe you’ve had the same issue, or maybe it is a different one. How did you overcome it? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue we are facing with Miss Gia.

 

If you think you might know someone who would be interested in adopting our sweet girl Georgia, please share her story! Any questions about Georgia or the adoption process can be directed to me (Stephanie!) at sel1490@gmail.com.