Welcome to my journey! This blog is about my adventures in dog training, pet therapy work, rescue work and life with my menagerie of animals. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

We could all use a reminder sometimes...

Recently I went through a period of questioning myself. Questioning whether I was "real" trainer material or if I could really call myself and "animal rescuer". From the moment I got set on this path of training I have felt it is what I should do, what I want to do. I have always thought of myself as an animal rescuer, it's how I identify myself internally. So when recently my family adopted a dog from out of state that we had never met, a thing I had always been leery of, and then a week later made the decision to return her to the rescue group, my whole identity came into question in my head and heart. She had issues that I most certainly am knowledgeable enough to deal with, however the conclusion I and my husband came to was that we were not willing, nor did we have the time and energy, to deal with the significant issues she presented and the effect it had on our currently harmonious home. So after returning her I thought to myself "If I were a "real" trainer I would have jumped at the challenge she presented" and "What kind of animal rescuer returns an animal they adopted?" A mini crisis of identity commenced. I say mini because while I still fell terrible that we had to make that decision it absolutely was the best thing for us and quite honestly for her as well. Life with us would have been boring, restrictive and tense for her. She would have been regimented, monitored and redirected constantly...not much fun for a 10 month old husky pup! As it turns out she found a foster home with no other dogs or cats and one person all to herself who enjoys taking on the challenging, rough around the edges dogs, a near perfect spot for her. I came to remember that being an animal rescuer means a lot more than just "rescuing" the animal, it means making the decisions that are best for the animals in our care no matter how hard those decisions may be. I am definitely an animal rescuer. As far as being a "real" trainer? I have come to the conclusion that even though I can teach owners how to handle the issues in their homes and I can practice it with foster dogs or board and trains, it is important to know my limitations, as well as that of all the members of my family, on what I want to fill my home with longterm. I will, and have, absolutely work with foster dogs that need help making them into model pets, or even just helping them learn the rules of a home, however when the day is done and I am relaxing on my couch with my kitties in my lap and a dog or two at my feet I don't want to be in a constant state of worry about whether or not, there is a coveted pig ear on the floor, or who gets fed in their crate or behind a gate, or live with a dog that spends it's life on a leash so it doesn't terrorize my cats. My home is my haven and I require peace inside it at the end of the day. I have decided it's ok to require that and strive for that. Our next dog is out there and you can bet I will be more vigilant in selection and personally, will never adopt sight unseen again. I need to observe and handle a dog, especially if it's out of the puppy phase, to determine if it will fit into our home and life. Picky? Maybe, but it doesn't make me any less of a trainer or animal rescuer!

This video idea has been rattling inside my head for some time now and recently I heard the perfect song for my idea, 'I Won't Give Up' by Jason Mraz. This latest bump in my road has been a catalyst to get it made. I needed a little visual reminder of all I have done and accomplished in the last 4 years of my life. I think we could all use a little reminder of our achievements and a good old fashioned pat yourself on the back moment! I hope you enjoy this video, while there are some faces whose memories sadden me, I am still so grateful that I knew them and they will live on in me forever. I Won't Give Up!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Kids and Pets

There is not much sweeter than seeing a child interacting or snuggling with a beloved pet. However that relationship must be allowed to blossom under close supervision by adults and with clearly defined rules for both parties. Before bringing a pet into the home sit down with your children and have a discussion about what is expected of them in terms of behavior with the pet, if they are old enough for such a discussion. The younger the child the more vigilant the supervision should be. Figure out as a family what the house rules will be; will your new pet be allowed on the furniture, will they be allowed to sleep in the child's room, walk to school with the family? Try to have all these things worked out BEFORE bringing a pet home.

 Including your children in the daily care for an animal can teach them responsibility, compassion and go a long way to having that wonderful bond between child and pet that is the ideal in our mind. However, getting a pet and expecting a child, no matter the age, to do all the care and upkeep for a pet is a recipe for disaster. Children do often lose interest, especially when the chores are not fun ones, and again age doesn't matter often a 7 year old can be more dedicated than a 15 year old. Ultimately it is your responsibility as the adult to care for the pet, just include your child as much as possible.

Children are great playmates for pets! Children rarely get bored of throwing a tennis ball over and over and over. They are really excited about teaching their dog or cat new things (YES, you can train a cat. It just takes a little more patience!) Children often have better timing than adults too! There are lots of fun things your child can teach your pet. Get them involved in the training classes, a good trainer will welcome well behaved children to class. Usually a good age to bring to a formal class setting is 7 and over, but depending on the child you could go as young as 5. Just remember you need to be able to focus on the trainer and what you are being asked to do, so your child needs to be able to allow you to do that! One of my favorite games to have my girls help with is 'round robin recalls'. Each child and/or family member goes to different corners of a room (or out in a fenced yard if you've progressed to the distraction phase of training) and each person takes a turn calling the dog to them and rewarding him when he gets there. This is a great game for kids because they are usually very excited and animated which makes the game more fun for the dog which in turn creates a much more solid recall! This is also a great game for rainy, cold or super hot days when outside play is not possible.

Having your child teach your dog a trick is a great way to incorporate fun into the training! Kids LOVE when their dogs do tricks, they don't care about perfect loose leash walking or a 30 minute down stay, they want a dog that can high five, roll over and crawl on their belly! Having a child teach your dog how to 'shake' or give a 'high five' is a relatively easy process and happens pretty quickly. **Caveat: if your dog is sensitive about their feet being touched have your child pick a different trick that doesn't require foot handling, an adult should work on body handling before a child gets involved** To teach shake, have your child ask your dog to sit, then, with a treat in your childs' closed hand, hold that treat to the dogs nose while gently reaching for one of the legs. Gently touch the back wrist area of the dog and when he lifts it, say, "shake" and deliver the treat. A handful of repetitions should have your dog lifting his paw as your child reaches for it and then with practice your child can then hold out his hand say the command and the dog will offer his paw!

There are so many other great tricks you can have your child work on with your dog(remember a cat can do this stuff too!), that I could go on for days! Instead I am going to give you some good links to check out and have you discover for yourself all the wonderful ways kids can interact with their pets!

ASPCA website has some great ways kids can get involved in caring for their pets.

AKC has a lot of great information on junior handling, safe behavior around dogs and some fun coloring sheets teaching about dog safety.

Kiko Pup if you look this up on Youtube you will find a ton of really fun, positive training tips and games

Kyra Sundance has a whole Trick Dog program, you can purchase the how-to book and workbook and at the end you can earn a trick dog title of various levels! Sure to make any child proud! She also has a puppy trick book too!

So have fun with your kids and pets and watch their bond grow into a lifelong friendship!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Who are you...

The next topic I want to talk about in my series on being a responsible pet owner is identification! Every year 5-7 million pets enter animal shelters nationwide. 3-4 million of those animals are euthanized every year. Shelter animal intakes are about evenly divided across the country between animals relinquished by their owners and those picked up as strays. *According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP), less than 2 percent of cats and only 15 to 20 percent of dogs are returned to their owners. Most of these were identified with tags, tattoos or microchips.* (taken from the ASPCA website)

Those are alarming numbers! The single most loving act you can do for your pet is to give it an identity in the great, big, scary world. I can't even begin to count the number of dogs I have found wandering the streets with collars on but no tags or microchip! And cats? Forget it! I have yet to even see a cat with a collar on! Microchipping is great and oh so easy! Your vet can do it at the time of a regular vaccination appointment or it can be done when they are spayed/neutered. Over the last 10 years or so animal shelters have begun chipping every animal that leaves their building and goes into a new home. However, chipping should not be your pets only line of identification. A collar with tags are vitally important as well, even for cats! I will admit my cats don't wear collars, but they are microchipped and are not allowed outside. If I were someone that allowed my cats outside you can be darn sure they would be sporting a pretty collar with a tag! Your tag doesn't have to be fancy or announce to the world where you live, but it should have every single phone number you can possibly fit on there so if someone were to find your pet they could try a number and reach you. Most dogs have a rabies tag, and that is a good identifier too…IF you haven't changed vets and IF your dog is found during veterinary office business hours! It is so important to make sure all your pets tags are kept up to date and that you also alert the microchip company if you move.

I have heard excuses recently of "oh, my dog never leaves my side" or "he's never outside without me" That is all well and good, but it only takes one time and your pet could be lost forever. Is that a risk you are willing to take?

You made a commitment to take care of your pet for its' life; you work on training and socializing and exercise and mental stimulation but don't forget the other piece to the puzzle…IDENTIFICATION!! It's what all the responsible pet owners do, join the club!!

Here are some of my favorite sites for collars and tags, as fancy or as plain as you want! Check them out and then outfit your dog/cat with his very own sign of your undying love! =)

Lupine collars/leashes/harnesses (I love this line, they have great designs and have an awesome guarantee on their products)

Pet tags: they have regular and designer tags as well as collars that can be embroidered

Premier : Another great source for collars/leashes and harnesses, as well as other dog and cat related products

Another great place to look is your own local pet store! Get to know the staff and hopefully you will find a wealth of support and help!

Monday, May 7, 2012

National Pet week!!!

May 6-12th is National Pet week so I thought it would be fun to do a series of posts talking about our relationship with our pets! I'll touch on bringing a pet into your home, responsible pet ownership and kids and pets too!!

Today I want to talk about one of the most important elements to bringing a pet into your home and family. Commitment! Adding a pet to your life, whether it is your first or 12th, is not a decision that should be entered into lightly or on an impulsive whim. Here are some major factors to consider in adding a pet to your family.

  1. Take an honest look at your lifestyle and home environment before choosing your next family pet. It is very easy to fall in love with a sweet face (happens to me all the time) or a sad story but choosing a pet that does not fit well into your life and family can mean heartbreak for everyone! For example; do you live in an apartment building with lots of close neighbors where barking could prove to be an issue? Maybe you should stay away from the happy, barking dog in the kennel! Perhaps a cat or better yet a bonded pair of cats may be the perfect addition! Is your home like Grand Central Station with kids and activities going on all the time? That sweet, quiet dog that seems shy might not appreciate the business of your home! Adding a pet to your home is an exciting event and should be met with joy but try to think with your head as well as your heart and truly give your life and home an honest look before bringing in a new pet to make sure the match is one everyone can be happy with.
  2. While adopting an animal is admirable be aware of your financial limitations as well. The mindset of trying to "save them all" can lead you down a path where everyone suffers. Being a responsible pet owner is expensive. Proper veterinary care such as yearly exams, vaccinations and preventative medicine can run up a big bill, not to mention any emergency needs that arise on top of toys, food and pet care when you travel. If you get in over your head with the amount of animals in your home, their health, as well as yours can suffer consequences. Give your financial health an honest assessment before bringing in another animal to make sure you can adequately and properly care for them.
  3. Bringing a pet into your family is a long term commitment. Pets are not fashion accessories, child substitutes or short term fun. Some cats can live to the ripe old age of 20, are you prepared to care for your pet for its' entire life? If not then perhaps it is not the right time for you to add to the family.  Sometimes our lives are busy and committing to something long term is just impossible. If that is the case with you don't feel bad about that. It's good to be honest with yourself and not get into a situation that may require you to give up your pet. If you feel you don't have the time to commit long term, you can still get your "pet fix" in other ways! Volunteer at your local Humane Society to walk dogs and socialize puppies and kittens, volunteer for a local rescue group as a foster home for a dog in need, you get the joys of having a pet in your home but it's not a long term commitment and you are really helping so many when you foster! The benefit of volunteering is it also gives you the ability to meet many different animals and personalities so that when you do have the ability to make the long term commitment you know exactly the kind of pet and personality would best suit you and your family! It's a win-win situation!
  4. Another important factor to think about; do you have the time and willingness to provide your pet with the appropriate amount of exercise and mental stimulation that they require? I'll give an example: I LOVE Border collies and BC mixes, I think they are amazing, beautiful and sweet animals, however, I could never own one. There is no way I could give them the amount of mental and physical stimulation that they would require to be a happy member of the family. It would just not be a good fit, I am not that active! Give me the energy level of the Great Pyrenees any day! So be honest about your physical abilities, age, time allowances and desire to provide your pet what it needs to thrive and be happy in your home! Remember a bored pet will find something to do…and it's not usually anything constructive! =)
  5. Last but certainly not least, are you prepared and willing to properly train and socialize your new pet. This goes even for cats as some people like to have their cats travel on vacations with them or act as therapy animals! As a trainer I of course think this portion of the commitment equation is super important but don't take my word for it, look at the stats…80% of dogs don't live out their lives in the home they started in! 80%!! That is crazy and very, very sad. The main reason for dogs being surrendered to shelter is for "behavior issues" these usually encompass; too energetic, jumping, destruction and potty training. All of these "issues" could be helped or eradicated all together had the dog had the proper training from the beginning! So even if you don't ever want to compete with your dog in all the fun, new dog sports that are all the rave now, training your dog is still vitally important so they understand how to be a happy member of your family and you aren't tearing your hair out and threatening to send him to the pound! Get in touch with a trainer in your area, learn how they train, observe a class so you feel comfortable with their methods and teach your dog the basics of being a polite canine member of society and your family! It is one of the best things you can do for your dog and family!
So Happy National Pet Week, do something for the animals in your life this week! Check back for more posts about our lives with pets!