Safety First

We feel right in tune with our friends at Doggerel, because they wrote a great post last week that has been on our minds for a while. We want to know… how did you train your dogs to have a solid recall? Do you have any tips or tricks you could share with us? And what do you think contributes to a dog having a really solid or easy acquired recall?

Tonka has the most consistent recall of our group, and was also the easiest to train. He is a dog that doesn’t need much in the way of treats during a training session… he is happiest and most focused when his reward is just attention and praise. He is the dog that can be in hot pursuit of a rabbit, and still turn on a dime to come running if he hears his name being called. On top of that, he’d really rather never be out of sight range from his mama, so I never have to worry about our boy. Have I mentioned lately just how awesome he is? If not, let me remind you… we shared a photo last week of a water excursion.

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What we did not share was that we encountered a black snake in the water! Never in my 23 years of existence has this happened. Not only that, but it happened again this past weekend on our own farm! Both times, Tonka was within a few feet of the snake. Scary, right? Thanks to his strong recall, we were able to call him quickly to safety.

What scares me, is if it had been either of the other girls, the results may not have been so positive. I’m not sure if it’s because they were added to the pack later on (both later in their lives, and later as far as our multi-dog pack), or if it is because they are females, but they just really can’t seem to get the recall thing down. It doesn’t matter what treats we use, how excited we pretend to be, or how often we work on it… recall just isn’t their thing, even if they are both food-motivated! We feel like we have tried it all (the games, the treats, the works!) While Gaige is the more consistent of the two, sometimes her disobedience is just that… a nah-nah-na-booboo sass that she doesn’t wanna listen! As for Georgia, there’s no attitude, but I swear some days it’s like the girl just doesn’t hear us!  IMG_1459 IMG_1460 IMG_1461 IMG_1462 IMG_1463

So we wanna know… do you have a Top Secret training tip or idea that we could try? Maybe something that isn’t the run of the mill sit-stay-come-treat? We have faith in our readers! While we are responsible owners that leash our dogs when out in public or on public trails, we’d rather our girls not be relegated to on-leash living for the rest of their lives, or worse yet, experience a safety issue while roaming free. Because of that, we are open to any and all advice!

Fundraiser: Prize #4 – Getting Playful!

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

Squishy Face Studio:

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

about

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flirt Pole

Flirt Pole

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

Super Tug

Super Tug

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

Pit Bulls and Dog Aggression: Dispelling the Myth

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

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

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

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Are Pit Bulls Unique?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three’s a Crowd… Or is It?

We are lucky to be involved with LCPO, the rescue that saved Miss Gia from certain death. We foster through their organization, and they in turn offer us endless training advice, in addition to other crucial resources. LCPO brings a lot of experience to the table, and therefore they require that each dog placed into a new home, whether as a foster or a permanent family member, completes the two-week de-stress upon entering the new home. To put it simply, this is a process in which the new pet is kept separate from any other pets for at least two weeks. Sounds fun, huh? It may not be easy, but this is to help ensure success and happiness for all family-members; both two and four-legged! Utilizing the advice from LCPO, as well as tips we’ve picked up along the way, we wanted to share our experiences in achieving peaceful interactions in a multi-dog household.

1. The first step to happy interactions in a multi-dog household is to understand your dogs’ personality and tolerance levels. Every dog is different! It is vital that we be receptive to our dogs’ reactions around other animals, even when it comes to the most subtle body language!  This bell curve, designed and described by BAD RAP, is used to show the varying tolerance levels of the pit bulls that they encounter while rescuing. However, in truth, it can apply to many breeds of dog.

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  • “dog-social” : These are dogs that truly enjoy and seek-out the company of other dogs, including housemate dogs. These pups are very easy-going, willing to forgive even the rudest of dog manners, and are often happiest when in the company of other dogs. This category would include most puppies, and a smaller percentage of socially mature dogs (14 months+).
My sweet boy Tonka falls into this category

My sweet boy Tonka falls into the first category

  • “dog-tolerant”: These dogs are typically non-reactive on leash, and either indifferent or friendly to other dogs. They show relaxed, easy body language in the presence of new dogs. While these pups may not ‘love’ dogs that they don’t know, they would have decent tolerance for rude behavior (a long fuse). It can be gathered that these types of dogs enjoy known dog friends when properly introduced, and in general, succeed with housemate dogs.
Gaige's designation can vary, but she is mostly dog-tolerant.

Gaige’s designation can vary, but she is mostly dog-tolerant.

  • “dog-reactive”: In this case, the dog would likely have some dog friends, but be more selective in their pairings. He or she may dislike certain ‘types’ of dogs (male/female, large/small, hyper/mellow) and be easily offended by rude dog manners. Can be described as grumpy or sassy, dominant. This dog likes to be in charge and dictate the rules during playtime, and must be reminded by their human to use good manners during play. This dog can succeed with housemate dogs, with supervision.
Because we manage Georgia carefully, she probably can also be placed in the same category as Gaige. However, without careful training, she could fall into one of the latter categories.

Because we manage Georgia carefully, she probably can also be placed in the same category as Gaige. However, without careful training, she could fall into one of the latter categories.

  •  “dog-aggressive”: These pooches may have a limited number of dog friends, or even none. They may be leash reactive if the opportunity arises (weak handler, no training). This dog may have a short fuse during play, even with dogs that it knows. This dog requires heavy supervision during player, and a good leader when out on leash. Many live successfully with housemate dogs (typically opposite sex) with proper supervision and management.
It can be easy to read these descriptions, and draw hard conclusions. However, it is important to note that with proper training and management, which includes structured and slow introductions, most dogs can still be safe members of multi-dog households; it just requires more knowledge and effort on the part of the owner. A dog that has been dog-aggressive, may be managed to be dog-selective. Also, as dogs age and their environments change, so to may their tolerance classifications. Additionally, these traits only apply to interactions with other canines, and in NO WAY guarantee a dog’s attitude toward children, small animals, or people. Those are all separate traits, and must be evaluated separately, in order to set the dog up for success. It cannot be assumed that a dog that is aggressive with dogs will also be that way towards children, and likewise, a dog that behaves well with other dogs should not be guaranteed to be gentle with small animals.

When looking at our own dogs, it can be difficult to place labels on them, but it is imperative for the sake of peace. For example, I would probably put Tonka in the first category. He enjoys the presence of other dogs, has excellent manners around them, and is willing to overlook almost all negative behavior. However, there was a period of time where he was twice attacked by a male labrador. It took many months and positive experiences before we were able to build his confidence back to a friendly level.

Gaige and Georgia (typical women!) can be a bit more difficult to categorize. Gaige enjoys other dogs, but has terrible manners with them. She likes to be in charge, but is submissive to Georgia. While she treats Tonka like she rules the roost, often stealing his toys or chewing on his limbs, she defers to him when he does stand his ground. I would probably consider her to be dog-tolerant. Georgia, on the other hand, is even more of a challenge to define. She is not aggressive, but has a low-tolerance for lack of manners (ahem, Gaige!) She is happy to be around other dogs, and cries when separated from ours, but doesn’t seek out the company of new animals. She is not leash-reactive, yet will defend herself if she feels particularly threatened. However, when she ‘defends’ herself, it is nothing more than a retreat, loud growl or snap… she never tries to bite or fight.

2. The next step in dog-integration is a slow introduction. In the case of multiple puppies, this may be as slow as a few minutes, but when it comes to mature dogs, it may take months! We are in the latter category. Why so slow? When integrating dogs, prevention is key. What I mean by that, is that once dogs have had a serious altercation, it can be very difficult to repair the relationship. Most pups aren’t big on ‘forgive and forget’. If two dogs have had a rough introduction, you may not be able to achieve successful interactions without lots more effort, and perhaps some professional intervention. For us, we decided that it was better to be safe than sorry, and have decided to take things as slowly as possible.

  • The first step to dog introductions is for each dog to have a ‘safe’ place. For most homes, this is a room or secluded kennel. It should be comfortable, and free from many distractions (a sheet or blanket over the top works well). Most importantly, the dog should be allowed to be somewhat protective over this space… it is theirs, after all. Children and other animals should never be allowed play near or inside your dog’s kennel. When not together, the dogs should be placed in their respective kennels. This shows them that while their crate is safe and comfortable, it is not as much ‘fun’ as being social around the other animals.

OUTDOOR INTRODUCTIONS

  • The next step to the introductions, occurring once the dog has begun to feel comfortable in the new environment, would be group walks. These walks should begin by walking the dogs parallel, with humans and a significant distance, placed in between. This allows the dogs to get used to the sight and scent of one another, without the pressure to interact. As the dogs become more comfortable, the distance between them will decrease. Any positive behavior, such as calm tail wags, should be praised by the handler. It is important to be aware of subtle cues of stress, such as yawning. These signs can vary between dogs, but a low tail with a steady stare can indicate aggression. In this instance, you should redirect the dog without rewarding their behavior, perhaps by turning them in a circle, or stepping in front of their stare. These walks may need to continue for a few days or a few weeks. They can be considered successful when neither dog is overly-excited at the presence of the other, nor aggressive or fearful.
  • Following the group walks, it is important to again evaluate your dogs’ comfort levels around other animals, before proceeding. At this point, we had learned that Georgia liked other dogs. She was not aggressive with them, but was also not completely comfortable. We knew that if she was faced with an uncomfortable situation, she would first try to flee (the term fight or flight is important here!). Gaige had no discomfort with other dogs, but lacked proper manners. Therefore, we decided to keep Gaige leashed while walking, but allow Georgia to be loose. If the dogs were to get stressed, Georgia could retreat, while we retained control of Gaige’s behavior, and could correct her whenever necessary. (Of course, evaluate this step at your own discretion. It is ideal to be in a fenced area for this step, or at least to have a strong recall cue on both dogs.)
All three pups collaborate for group 'hunting' in the bushes.

All three pups collaborate for group ‘hunting’ in the bushes.

  • Once you can be sure that all dogs are comfortable in the presence of the others, and that you also have retained control over the animals, it may be time to graduate to off-leash interactions outdoors. During this time, it is important to watch for warning signs, and manage triggers. For example, many dogs will display issues when another dog tries to take their toy, eat something yummy, or approach their favorite person. You can manage these interactions to avoid confrontation (hello, put the toys away!). We know that Georgia becomes uncomfortable when Gaige rushes toward her, and so we try to manage Gaige’s behavior in approaching Georgia. Not only does this show Georgia that we will protect her, allowing her to let her guard down and not stand in defense of herself, but it also is teaching Gaige how to have more polite interactions with other dogs.

We will be back to continue this subject, and discuss integrating dogs indoors! If you this subject is interesting to you, check out the blog written by Debby McMullen. She is a positive-reinforcement dog trainer who specializes in multi-dog interactions, and has given us a lot of insight and tips toward integrating our household.

A successful multi-dog (and cat-dog?) household

A successful multi-dog (and cat-dog?) household

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!

Labor of Love

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Our Labor Day weekend was full of fun, friends, and family, with a little bit of rest & relaxation thrown in for good measure. We hope that yours was, too! While we enjoyed our long weekend to the max, there were a few moments that made me think about my blogging family…

At a party on Sunday evening, we announced to some of our friends our plans to take on a foster dog. Keep in mind, present at this party were 3 young pure-bred dogs, of whom the owners are very proud. We listened politely to discussion of breeders and acknowledgement of superior lineage, etc. While I in no way look down on those that decide to go the route of breeders, it does twist my heart to think of the many dogs, purebred and otherwise, waiting patiently in shelters… and then of the many dogs who are never rewarded for their patience.

So many of the behavior traits and congenital disorders we see in unwanted dogs, are the result of careless breeding. While it would not be fair of me to look down on our friends, or any of those who choose purebred dogs, it is so important to me to get the message across that we all choose to be conscientious and selective when taking any dog in to our families. It is vital to conduct the proper research, whether you are adopting a dog from a rescue, or purchasing one from a breeder.

For varying reasons, you may decide that a purebred dog is the best option for your family. I am not one to judge that decision! However, it is imperative to all involved that you research your options thoroughly. Please do not acquire your pets from retail pet stores and internet options, as typically, you are supporting puppy mills. Puppy mills are by and large backyard breeders that do not follow proper protocol when housing and breeding their dogs. These dogs are often kept in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, and bred excessively, as the main goal is high profit for the owners. In choosing a dog from a pet store or online ‘breeder’, not only are you supporting inhumane practices, but you are also taking on a dog that is at higher risk for medical and behavioral problems, due to indiscriminate breeding and lack of proper socialization. Rather, research breeders carefully, ask for references, and even visit their locations if possible. This will allow you to see the living conditions of the pups, and also view their parents in many cases.

Finally, just remember that purebred dogs come through the shelters on a much more regular basis than you might expect. Many times busy owners give up their purebred dogs due to lack of time or financial reasons. You may be getting the breed you prefer, but avoiding the puppy stage of chewed shoes and stained carpets! And of course, you are saving lives at the same time. Another option would be to contact local rescues that specialize in purebreds. For example, my family has an obsession with the Bernese Mountain Dog breed, so if we were to take on one of these beautiful dogs, we would search for a nearby Bernie rescue, first.

While I try to come across as being understanding of all dog owners, it was interesting to note that some of our friends did not offer us the same benefit of the doubt. Of course, we have had strangers give us a hard time about pit bulls. While we have come to anticipate some negative reactions from strangers, we were confident that our friends and family would remain much more open-minded. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Many of our friends and family asked us why we would want to help such mean, aggressive dogs. One woman told us she was deathly afraid of these dogs (as her purebred obsessively humped and mouthed at another party-goer’s pooch, with no correction from the owners.) and that they were only used for fighting. We were told multiple times to ‘be careful,’ and had more than one person assume that we were being paid to do this. These are people that we love and respect, in a variety of age, income, and education levels. We were astounded to get such reactions from them! However, we can only look forward to proving their stereotypes wrong. We are eager to make our foster pup a special representative of the pittie society!

On to today’s feature foster 🙂 We chose to feature this girl, first because she is precious. However, her story also alludes to some of the issues we discussed above… she is the poster child for today’s post! Please check out her special story…

Introducing baby doll Kentucky. This sweet girl has had a hard life. She was rescued from a construction site, after apparently being bred repeatedly and then dumped when she was no longer of use. Her foster mama, Kelly, rescued and fostered her, until they were lucky enough to find what they thought was a reputable rescue to take her in. That rescue was Splindetop Pit Bull Refuge. You can read more about it here, but essentially, 300 malnourished, ill and injured dogs were recently seized from this ‘rescue,’ after the founder left the dogs to fend for themselves. Luckily, after a long process of tracking down Miss Kentucky, she was reunited with her original foster, Kelly. Kelly loves this girl dearly, but feels she really deserves to find her way into a forever home. Here is a note from Kelly: “Despite all Kentucky has been through, she has such a great spirit and outlook about things. She loves all people equally. She’s affectionate and cuddly without smothering you. She is calm and gentle, but still has a playful side too. She’s around 6 yrs old at best guess. She was retested for heart worms and is by no small miracle, negative! She has been vetted and is ready for a family of her own. It’s long overdue! She is house and crate trained. She loves small dogs and does well with children.”

For more information about Miss Kentucky, please visit her very own Facebook page. (Yeah, she’s kind of a big deal…)