Julia Kamysz Lane

Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

News: Guest Posts
The Most Incredible Sit Ever
If London can do it, any dog can.


Before he turned six months of age, London lost the use of both front legs. It was not due to disease or an accident, but sickening abuse and negligence at the hands of his Northern California owners. A local shelter representative rescued him from the situation. Ultimately, he was placed in the care of Panda Paws Rescue (PPR), a nonprofit group in Vancouver, Washington, that focuses on special needs canines.

PPR founder Amanda Giese arranged for an evaluation with a surgeon Brandon Sherman, DVM, of Animal Care Clinic, who determined that both legs were shattered and required amputation. London had been suffering in this state for a month or longer. During that time, he had somehow managed to tolerate the pain and move using his hind legs and his face to serve as the third "leg."  

On August 1, 2012, Dr. Sherman performed a successful surgery. As you can see in the video above, London is adjusting well and thriving in his foster home. He will be fitted with a wheelchair so he does not damage his spine or back. 

Two weeks later, based on statements and evidence supporting that London was brutally beaten on two separate occasions, the Crescent City Police Department arrested multiple suspects who remain in custody and are being charged with felonies.

London's surgery was covered by donations totaling $5,000. This generosity lead Giese to start the Team London Scholarship, with a goal of raising $100,000 to help other special needs canines. PPR is an all-volunteer, nonprofit rescue, so all funds go directly to the animals it serves. To read more about London and his extraordinary spirit, go to We Are Team London.


News: Guest Posts
Shelter Euthanized Dogs It Claimed Were Adopted
Sponsors stunned by director deception

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Donors to Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter’s “Lucky Dog” program were shocked to learn that the dogs they sponsored in order to be adopted were in fact, euthanized. The northern Georgia shelter took in strays and owner surrenders and claimed to be no kill. 

The “Lucky Dog” program was a brilliantly simple scam. Good-hearted animal lovers gave the shelter $100 to sponsor a dog’s vaccinations, worming, spay/neuter and vet exam. Donors received a photo of their Lucky Dog, and a cheerful email when he was adopted.

In cooperation with a reporter, intake counselor Lynn Cousins admitted that those emails she sent were lies. “If I wanted to keep my job, I had to lie,” said Cousins. After two years of battling her conscience, Cousins decided to tell the truth.

I can see why the program would prove popular. In 2004, I found a female black Pit Bull dragging a leash behind her. She was friendly and appeared to be in good health. Surely, someone would be looking for her. I brought her to the Louisiana SPCA, where I volunteered several times a week.

After five business days passed and no owner came forward, I named her Kaldi and spread the word in hopes that a family member or friend would take her home.

A few days after Kaldi became adoptable, an approaching Hurricane Ivan forced the shelter to begin plans for evacuation. Dogs considered less adoptable would be euthanized; there simply wasn’t enough room on the transport trucks. A black Pit Bull had little to no chance.

If I had gotten there just an hour sooner, I could’ve saved her. The head veterinarian, who had marked Kaldi as one of the dogs to be euthanized, apologized profusely to me as I sobbed in front of her empty kennel.

I did not fault the vet, who was forced to make those terrible choices every day. In the moment, I blamed myself. By taking Kaldi there, I had made a promise that one of two things would happen – she would be claimed by her owner or I would find her a home. If there had been an alternative, such as a no-kill shelter, I would’ve taken her there.

This is why Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter was able to dupe so many people.

Given a choice between bringing a stray dog to a no-kill shelter or a kill shelter, who wouldn't opt for the former? If a monetary donation guaranteed that a dog would be safe and find a home, who wouldn't open their wallet? Shelter director Lowanda “Peanut” Kilby counted on human kindness, and Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter reaped the bounty that she sowed.  

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Trick Training
Promoting mental stimulation
In the classic game, a ball is placed beneath one of three pails. Your dog shows

One of the biggest challenges dog trainers face is how to encourage people to continue training their dogs. Not only will this help dogs remain well behaved, it gives them attention for a lifetime, not just for the course of a sixweek beginner obedience class. Watch someone who genuinely enjoys playing with her dog and you know that dog has a home for life.

No one understands this better than stunt-dog trainer and trick-dog performer Kyra Sundance. Together with her 10-year-old Weimaraner, Chalcy, she has entertained and educated thousands of dog lovers around the world through her live and televised performances, videos and books. She recently created Do More With Your Dog!, the only official sanctioning and organizing body for the activity of dog tricks. (To see Sundance and Chalcy in action, go to youtube.com/user/kyrasundance.)

“Teaching tricks not only teaches skills, but also teaches focus and establishes a pattern of learning in the dog,” says Sundance. “Tricks are taught through positive training methods, which promote a bond between canine and human.”

She shares the story of her two-yearold Weimaraner, Jadie, as a prime example. When Jadie came into her life as a puppy, Sundance was already under contract to complete a puppy-tricks book and DVD. “We started training right away with simple tricks such as ‘sit,’ ‘shake hands,’ ‘spin a circle’ and ‘fetch,’” she says. “We trained in many fiveminute sessions per day, and worked on several different tricks per session. We went through a lot of treats!”

Incredibly, at the age of four-anda- half months, Jadie could perform 50 tricks, including rolling herself in a blanket, getting the newspaper from the mailbox, tidying her toys into a toy box, wiping her paws on a doormat, ringing a bell to go outside and dropping litter into a step can.

“Spending this quality time together while she was a puppy built a bond between us that will last a lifetime,” says Sundance.

Don’t fret if your dog is well beyond the puppy stage. When my nine-yearold Dalmatian, Darby, retired from agility competition due to injury, trick training was the perfect outlet for her high energy and smarts. She already knew basic skills (see box), and eagerly learned more complex tricks such as “roll over” and “jump through a hoop.”

Sundance’s Weimaraners, Chalcy and Jadie, are accomplished performance dogs, having earned titles in agility, obedience, hunting and mushing. “But I’ve got to say, without a doubt, the activity they enjoy most is trick training,” says Sundance. “When you interact with your dog ‘eye-to-eye,’ your dog is staring into your eyes, looking for clues and enjoying your attention.”

While her training background is in competition obedience, in which dogs are expected to perform with exacting precision, Sundance wanted something more. “I sometimes feel constricted by the narrowly defined objectives— the human must get her dog to perform in one specific way,” she says. “In trick training, I feel a much more cooperative spirit. Your dog may offer behaviors that aren’t exactly what you had in mind … you have the freedom to allow the dog to add his creativity to the trick, to make it uniquely his own.”

Because I missed the joy of performance partnership with Darby, I was thrilled that we had a chance to earn “Trick Dog” titles. Instead of traveling to and competing at a traditional show, the handler asks a friend to witness her dog performing tricks appropriate for the required title level (Novice, Intermediate, Advanced or Expert). The handler then sends paperwork to Do More With Your Dog! or applies online (at domorewithyourdog.com) to qualify her dog for a title certificate.

Darby earned her NTD (Novice Trick Dog) title by performing 15 easy tricks, ranging from “sit” and “down” on command to “peekaboo” and “take a bow.” We’re currently working on her Intermediate Trick Dog title; if she remains physically sound, we’ll go for her ATD (Advanced Trick Dog) and ETD (Expert Trick Dog) titles. It’s exciting to see my senior Spot’s eyes light up when I bring out the clicker and a fistful of treats to try something new.

At the Novice and Intermediate levels, the dog may perform tricks while on-leash; the leash may not be used to physically manipulate the dog to do a trick. At the Advanced and Expert levels, the dog must work off-leash. Of course, physical or verbal corrections are not allowed. Treats are encouraged as a reward, but may not be used as lures beyond the Intermediate level. Tricktraining enthusiasts who earn at least an ITD title are welcome to pursue their CTDI (Certified Trick Dog Instructor), which requires completion of a written test and watching a video demonstrating your dog’s trick basics and how you would teach a new trick from scratch.

Regardless of the level and your reasons for pursuing it, you’re guaranteed to have a happier, healthier dog. “Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that training is fun!” enthuses Sundance. “This joyful attitude builds a bond that will extend into all areas of your life. Trick training teaches the dog that it is safe to offer behaviors, and that is what makes a really trainable dog.”

Shell Game
In the classic game, a ball is placed beneath one of three pails, or shells. The shells are quickly shuffled, and your dog shows you which one is hiding the ball.

What You’ll need: You’ll need three identical flower pots which have a hole at the base allowing your dog to smell the treat underneath. Heavy clay flower pots work well because they won’t overturn easily.

1. Start with just one flower pot and rub the inside with a treat to give it lots of scent. You can even tape a treat inside the pot. Show your dog as you place a treat on the floor and cover it with the pot. Encourage him to “find it!” When he noses or paws the pot, say “good!” (or click your clicker), and lift pot to reward him with the treat.

2. After your dog catches on, hold the pot in place and keep encouraging him until he paws at it. Reward any paw contact, and lift the pot.

3. Add two more pots and hold them in place so your dog doesn’t knock them over. Use the pitch of your voice to calm your dog as he sniffs each pot, and to excite him when he shows interest in the correct one. If your dog paws at an incorrect pot, do not lift it; instead encourage him to keep looking.

4. When your dog indicates the correct pot, encourage him until he paws at it, then say “good!” and lift the pot to reveal his reward!

What to expect: Be encouraging with your dog and avoid saying “no.” Practice only a few times per session and end with a successful attempt, even if you have to go back to using just one pot to get that success.

News: Guest Posts
Puppy Survives Chicago Expressway
A lesson in how not to catch a dog

Holiday traffic was tied up for an hour when a small mixed breed dog darted along the busy Stevenson Expressway in Chicago. State police troopers, road construction workers and passersby all attempted to catch the dog to no avail. It wasn't until he wore himself out and laid down on the grassy shoulder that nearby resident Jose Terriquez could grab him. In watching the video, I couldn't help but notice how the would-be rescuers were chasing him down, hoping to catch him. But anyone with a dog knows that most of them can easily outrun a clumsy, two-legged person, especially if the dog is scared. In an emergency, the best way to catch a dog is to run away from him. The motion grabs his attention in an instinctive way, an urge to chase prey. Unfortunately, our instinct is to give chase, which puts pressure on the dog and moves him away from us. To learn more about how to teach your dog to come every time, animal behaviorist Ian Dunbar, Ph.D., shares his emergency recall tips.  

News: Guest Posts
Charity Supports Ads, Not Animals
Terri Crisp again linked to fraudulent fundraising
terri crisp spca international noah's wish charity fraud

Terri Crisp, an officer with SPCA International, is back in the news for charity mismanagement. According to CNN, SPCAI raised $27 million to help animals around the globe, but paid nearly all of it to a direct-mail company for fundraising. Nearly five years ago, I blogged about Terri Crisp's settlement with the state of California regarding her misuse of funds raised for animal victims of Hurricane Katrina ("Noah's Wish Settles Katrina Allegations," August 10, 2007). At that time, she agreed that she would not "serve as an officer, director or trustee, or in any position having the duties or responsibilities of an officer, director, or trustee, with any nonprofit organization for a period of five (5) years from the execution of this Settlement Agreement.” Yet, a 2011 document filed with the North Carolina secretary of state lists her among SPCAI's officers and directors, which would seem to violate that settlement. To ensure your donations go to animals, not advertising, check out your charity of choice through the American Institute of Philanthrophy's Charity Watch evalution and rating service.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Bringing Dog Services to Your Door
A growing number of pet professionals are making house calls

Most of us are accustomed to taking our dogs for services, or handling routine maintenance tasks ourselves. But increasingly, daunting medical needs, complicated schedules and plain old compassion-based issues are creating a demand for a more retro approach: house calls.

Pat and Bob Engeman of Long Island, N.Y., doted on Riley, their small Shih Tzu/Maltese mix. When Riley was diagnosed with incurable transitional cell carcinoma (TCC), or bladder cancer, in 2009, they were determined to give him the best quality of life they could provide during the time he had left. However, the realities of what Riley needed on a daily basis were overwhelming.

“We had to give so many injections,” says Pat Engeman. “It was too emotional for us. We were afraid to do it wrong. He needed three a day when he first got home from the hospital. My husband was running home at lunchtime, then I would wait for him to come home after work. I thought, ‘This is crazy — someone should be able to come to the house.’”

After checking out options, Pat connected with Pet Home Health Agency, based in New York City. Owner Charlene Overcash had created the unique service when she realized that she could combine her love of pets with her long-time experience as a home-healthcare nurse. Today, her clients range from busy young professionals who can’t stay home to care for their convalescent pets to the elderly who are physically unable to tend to their pets’ medical needs. Further, Overcash provides veterinarians with a full report of each visit as well as assurance that their patients are receiving appropriate post-surgical treatment and/or rehabilitation.

Overcash herself made the hour-long drive to the Engemans’ Long Island home to demonstrate proper techniques and to give the couple an emotional boost. After a few visits, a vet technician who also lived on Long Island was entrusted with Riley’s care. Slowly, as the Engemans grew more confident about caring for him, the professionals were able to reduce the number of visits, which also saved the Engemans money. Thanks to his in-home care, Riley made it to his 10th birthday in January 2010 (he was peacefully put to sleep in April 2010).

The Engemans were touched that Overcash and Rose, Riley’s main vet tech, stopped by with cookies and flowers after Riley’s passing. “People probably scratched their heads over why we put so much money into this dog even though we knew he wouldn’t survive. Overcash and Rose just take that extra step and personalize everything. They know he’s not just a dog. He had a good extra nine months.”

Heeding the Need
While in-home pet services are more popular than ever, small-animal veterinarian Christine Foster had to wrestle with the state of Virginia when she first proposed Companion Paws Mobile Veterinary Service 16 years ago. There were many fine animal hospitals in her area, but no one offered a full-service mobile vet option because state regulations required the surgery suite to be separate from the exam room.

As part of a traditional veterinary practice, she recognized that it was a struggle for many pet owners to come to the office. Elderly clients could not drive, parents of small children found it difficult to get everyone in the car for a trip to the vet, and people who owned multiple pets had to make multiple visits. Also, when it came to euthanasia, many people balked at bringing their beloved companion into a sterile office and sharing such a personal event with a lobby full of strangers.

“Now, when I do euthanasia, they just feel so much more comfortable because they’re home with their pet,” says Foster. “Many times their pet will be on a blanket in front of the fireplace with the whole family gathered around. They share pictures and say goodbye. Then I do the euthanasia. We talk afterward and they get to a point of feeling better about making that decision. It’s very peaceful to be allowed the dignity of saying goodbye to a pet at home.”

Foster has also noticed that some people are more comfortable talking to her in their home than in an exam room. They share stories, and sometimes the details clue her in to things that are affecting the animal.

“Seeing puppies in their new homes is a perfect example of being able to really help a client get a good start,” says Foster. “For example, people tend to over- or underestimate the size of the crate they need for their dog. Usually, it’s too big to be a good housebreaking tool or too small for an adult dog to be comfortable in for any length of time. With their dog right there, I can show them how to better size the crate. I can also see the placement of the crate and help them learn how to use it as a positive place by making it the dog’s ‘den,’ a happy and secure place to go, and not a punishment.”

She also demonstrates a variety of training techniques — among them, how to teach a puppy to give up chewing on that slipper in exchange for a more appropriate toy. “Typically, I sit right on the floor, which makes dogs more comfortable and lets puppies act like themselves,” says Foster. “The client can watch me, and I think that helps reinforce the recommendations better than just talking about them in an office.”

Healthy pets and people were also on Mary Glenn-Rhodes’ mind when she founded Mary’s House Cleaning Service in Tucson, Ariz., 20 years ago. After she survived cancer and a stroke, her doctor advised her to find a low-stress career. A neighbor suggested that she clean houses, but she didn’t take it seriously until she realized that there was a customer base who desperately needed her: those who lived with companion animals. Not only could they use help keeping up with the fur, dirt and accidents, they needed someone who loved animals, too.

Before her staff comes in with cleaning equipment, Glenn-Rhodes makes it a point to meet the pets, talk to them and give them treats. She feels it’s very important not to barge in on animals, but rather, to give them a chance to adjust to the change in routine and new people in their home. After a few visits, she says, dogs typically get excited as soon as her truck pulls up.

She has also created her own natural, pet-safe cleaning products using essential oils, which she feels are calming for both companion animals and their people. “I bring longevity to my clients’ pets because of what I use,” says Glenn- Rhodes. When a client loses a beloved pet, Glenn-Rhodes admits that she cries. She understands that pets are members of the family and is often asked to care for them when the client needs to be out of town.

Solving Mysteries
It’s hard to live with dogs and not wonder about what affects their health and motivates their behavior. Sheila Saraceno and Kay Weber, both based in the Chicago area, could be thought of as sleuths who go to great lengths to help their clients find out the answers to these questions.

Saraceno opened Wagging Tails, a food, treat and toy delivery service, more than a year ago after being laid off from her job of 30 years. She first became interested in canine diet and its role in behavior and overall health when her late Golden Retriever, Casper, was plagued with mysterious gastrointestinal (GI) ailments. Searching for ways to help him motivated her to learn more about good canine nutrition.

After they lost Casper to bloat when he was five, she and her husband got another Golden Retriever, Timber, who also developed GI issues. “We took what we learned for Casper and applied it to Timber, but it wasn’t enough,” Saraceno recalls. “We kept learning, researching, adding holistic doctors to my list of remedies, and got him on the road to good health.

“A lot of dogs have GI issues and people don’t even recognize that they have them. Some think it’s okay for their dog’s stool to look like soft-serve all the time,” says Saraceno. “I educate people, give them the info they need to make good decisions, give them choices based on their circumstances and budget. Education is the key.”

Dogs suffering from age-related issues make up the largest part of her client base. As part of her service, she takes time to find products that will help improve the dogs’ quality of life and keep them free of pain. Others like the convenience factor of home delivery for everything from flea/tick preventatives and quality food and treats to toys and other must-have canine accessories. She says customers keep coming back because she cares about what happens to their dogs after they receive their home orders.

“When you go into a bigbox store to pick up dog food, no one ever questions what you do,” says Saraceno. “Someone at the counter will ask if you found everything you were looking for, but no one asks, ‘Does your dog like this food? Is he shedding excessively? How do his stools look?’ I talk about that all day long with my clients. I don’t want to just sell them food, I want to know how their dogs are doing.”

Animal behaviorist Kay Weber, who owns Kay-9 Petiquette, was also inspired by her dogs to make a career change. The former mechanical engineer was devastated when a friend decided to euthanize her three-yearold Labrador Retriever, Chelsea, after harsh training techniques used in the world of competitive obedience caused her to be dog-aggressive. Weber contacted renowned animal behaviorist and author (and Bark columnist) Patricia McConnell, PhD, for hwelp with Chelsea, but her friend declined to follow through.

When Weber’s Lab, Baker, presented with some ADD-like behavior, she again sought McConnell’s counsel, and with her help, Baker was transformed into a well-adjusted adult dog. Impressed, Weber went back to school and earned a master’s degree in psychology with a specialization in learning theory/animal behavior.

When Weber first goes to her client’s home, she observes and evaluates both the dog and the people. Ideally, all family members are present so they can share as much information about the problem behavior(s) as possible and learn how to be consistent in making changes.

“The dog is the easy part,” says Weber. “Trying to get the people to understand what’s going on, why it’s happening and how we can make it better is the hard part. Behavior modification is often common sense, but you need someone to guide you.”

Though some are looking for a “magic-wand” fix — wave the wand and make it better — she finds that most clients are sincerely concerned, and turn to her because their pet’s problem behavior and affects family life. Another thing she wants to know is how committed the family is to the dog. “When we make a plan, I ask them, ‘Is this realistic? What’s going to work for you and your family?’” says Weber. “I want the family to be happy with the dog, and I want the dog to be happy in the home.”

Only the Finest
In the high-maintenance world of canine conformation and performance sports, it’s not unusual for owners to hire inhome pet professionals. But a dog doesn’t have to be a beribboned winner to inspire special treatment.

Nail trimming or buffing is just one of the popular services offered by Beverly Hills groomer Steve Ogden, who owns The Spa Dog. He says that people who are stressed about cutting their dog’s nails inadvertently create stress in the dog, too, making for an unpleasant experience all around. Assisted by his Chihuahua, Golly Gee, he helps the client’s dog relax in the grooming truck, then methodically trims one nail at a time, offering a treat in exchange for each successful trim.

“I’m more about the relationship with the dog and the relationship with the client,” says Ogden, “Your energy has to be centered — LA is stressful. If you’re calm and centered and focused on what you’re doing, the dog will calm down.”

Typically “Hollywood,” some dogs put on an Oscar-quality performance when their people are present, but as soon as they get into the grooming truck, they’re ready for hair and makeup, so to speak. And if they’re still acting like little divas, Golly Gee sets them straight. “She barks if they hesitate to get into the van or the bath,” says Ogden. “Every dog needs a job, and she makes my job so much more fun. Clients love her.”

His client roster reads like a page out of People magazine: Christina Aguilera, Nicole Richie, Candice Bergen and Jaclyn Smith, among others.  But Ogden says you don’t have to be a celebrity to use his services. He believes groomers are the first line of defense in preventative health care. Many times, people are not aware of their dog’s hot spot or a foxtail between their pads until Ogden points it out. He says clients appreciate having help in watching out for their pet.

Mobile animal masseuse Kerran Ascoli also addresses dogs’ physical and mental quality of life. Owner of Spirit Animal Massage  in Rhode Island, she often travels to southern Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut for her clients. When she began studying massage and Reiki energy healing, she practiced on her Katrina rescue, a Shepherd/Chow mix named Cocoa. After Cocoa succumbed to cancer earlier this year, Ascoli rescued another dog, a three-legged Shepherd/ Corgi mix she named Sammie. Massage and Reiki have been especially helpful in keeping Sammie in balance.

Ascoli started her mobile massage service because she finds that animals are more comfortable in their own surroundings. Instead of using a massage table, she encourages the dog to relax on the floor. If the dog prefers to stand rather than lie down, she will accommodate that.

Scooby, a 13-year-old Golden Retriever with hip dysplasia and arthritis, is one of her regular clients. Unlike those who think canine massage is frivolous, Scooby’s owner recognizes that Ascoli’s work has all the benefits of human massage.

“I see him once a week. Now he can walk better, he’s less stiff and it’s a better quality of life for him,” said Ascoli.

While most people think of a pooperscooper service as a convenience, Dirty Work owner Cara Brown of Atlanta says she and her staff have also alerted clients to their dog’s need for medical attention.

“A few years ago, we found fresh blood in a dog’s stool,” says Brown. “Blood is one of those things you don’t mess around with. The client took the dog to the vet right away. Luckily, it was just some sort of tear in the lining of the intestines. But they may not have known about it if we hadn’t come over.”

On other visits, Brown and her staff have been told that the dog has swallowed something — anything from a diamond ring to money — and asked to keep an eye out to make sure it passes. “One dog swallowed a stuffed toy and when it came out, it looked like a face on the poop,” says Brown with a chuckle.

As one who lives with three rescued mixed-breeds, Brown understands that her employees bond with her clients and their dogs. In order to facilitate that relationship, each scooper has a regular client roster. Dirty Work attends to residential and commercial properties, including assisted-living facilities where elderly owners can’t pick up after their dogs. Most clients receive weekly visits, although occasionally, young mothers whose toddlers who have developed a fascination with poop request more frequent service.

There When You Need Them
Opening your home to a pet professional can be difficult, as they see both you and your pets at your most personal. But in addition to providing a convenient product or service, they tend to bond with the family and can provide much-needed emotional and social support.

“It is about trust,” says Ogden. “People and their dogs have a very intimate relationship, and I’m right in the middle of it.”

Perhaps that trust is most needed toward the end of a beloved pet’s life, when those who don’t understand that bond often underestimate the pain involved in caring for a sick or dying pet.

The complications of modern life help us appreciate the simplicity of canine companionship. Our dogs are always there for us, whether we come home late from work or are distracted by other responsibilities. An in-home pet professional can afford us more quality time with our cherished pets and in some cases, provide that extra care and attention that our dogs so generously share with us.

News: Guest Posts
Untrainable Breeds
Perhaps it's the other end of the leash
Dalmatian Dutch Shepherd dog training rescue obedience

My friend Pat recounted a conversation in which two strangers told her that Aussies are untrainable. Funny, because her Aussie, Scout, has an impressive list of agility titles. They did not happen without training! I often get the same comments about Dalmatians, of which I have two. Are they easy to train? Not particularly. But if you enjoy creative problem solving and find the right guidance, you can train any dog. To what level depends on many variables, but if we're talking basic good manners in public, it's within the realm of possibility. Has anyone ever questioned your dog's trainability due to its breed?

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Freestyle: Teaching Your Dog to Dance
Canine freestyle encourages you and your dog to move to the music

When you’ve done canine freestyle as long as Kris Hurley of Oklahoma, you’re bound to have some funny stories. Most of them involve her seven-year-old Pug/Dachshund mix, Roxie, and her obsession with food.

“We were doing a demo in Memphis with an open ring, no gates,” recalls Hurley, who has danced with dogs since 1996. “On one side, there were high-rise bleachers. Roxie was next to me in left heel position, like she was supposed to be. We spin at the same time and she spins off to my left. At one point, she’s behind me, but then when I look down, I realize my dog’s not there anymore. She’s in the fourth row of bleachers in this guy’s lap, feet on his chest, and he’s holding a turkey leg up in the air out of reach.”

Canine freestyle is choreographed trick training set to music. You’ll recognize some traditional obedience moves, such as heel position, but the overall goal is to get creative and put your dog’s best paw forward. Fans of the sport love the freedom of choosing their own music, designing a routine based on their dog’s strengths and using verbal encouragement during a performance.

Getting Serious
Joan Tennille, president and co-founder of the Canine Freestyle Federation (CFF), claims she defined canine freestyle as a competitive sport rather than as just entertainment. In 1993, four dog trainers approached Tennille, at the time, a professional dancer-choreographer, to help them create what would be the first canine freestyle demo. They wanted to showcase their dogs’ advanced obedience training by setting it to music and treating human and dog as equal partners. They showed her a video of a demonstration by a now-defunct Canadian organization.

“There was a woman in high heels and stockings doing ballet with a Golden Retriever,” says Tennille. “There were so many sequins and ruffles, you couldn’t even see the dog, and all the dog did was sit. Another woman had a well-trained Border Collie, but she had heavy sequins and balloons, so again, you couldn’t see the dog. I call that entertainment. That’s not what they wanted.”

Aside from the challenge of giving the dog equal stage presence, Tennille had to think about movement and flow. Four-footed dogs move very differently from two-footed people. Plus, a Border Collie is going to be more agile and light on his feet than a Bloodhound.

“Rhythm is a great organizer,” says Tennille. “Your heartbeat determines the rhythm of your body. You breathe relative to that heartbeat, and you move relative to the heartbeat. The dog does the same thing.”

The demo proved successful, and CFF was born two years later. It remains the oldest active canine freestyle organization, and is best known for what Tennille calls “performance attitude.”

Getting Organized
In 1999, the World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) made its debut and began offering worldwide competitions the following year. Two specialized divisions include “Sassy Seniors,” devoted to dogs over nine years old and/or handlers over 65 years, and “Handi-Dandi Dancers,” for the “creatively challenged” teams.

The Musical Dog Sport Association (MDSA) is a young organization, founded in 2002. Its website is a treasure trove for beginners, featuring resources such as a comprehensive (and ever-evolving) list of canine freestyle moves and advice on how to find a good freestyle trainer. MDSA also recognizes freestyle teams that perform at hospitals, schools and nursing homes through its Spirit of Sharing (SOS) program. Since freestyle classes are not yet available in some areas, its Circle of Friends program encourages members to meet and train with freestylers in their area.

Each organization promotes its own style and hallmarks of competition. Or, in the case of MDSA, the organization is so new that it’s still putting together titling competitions. In general, as you progress from one level to another, you’re required to perform longer, more challenging routines. Unlike dogs in many other sports, freestyle dogs must focus on their partner for a minimum of 90 seconds, and up to three minutes at the most advanced levels. The key is positive training using motivational methods.

“You can’t make a dog do freestyle,” says Hurley. “I don’t know how you could use correction to get the energy and teamwork. You can have all the technical precision in the world, but if you don’t have that connection, it won’t work.”

Getting Creative
Although most of the top competition dogs are Border Collies and Golden Retrievers, all breeds and mixes are welcome to participate, no matter the organization. Karen Lewis of New Mexico competes in WCFO and MDFA with her six-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bryce. He earned his AKC conformation championship and also competes in agility.

“The bond is even more important in freestyle,” says Lewis. “In agility, you pretty much do those obstacles the same way. In freestyle, you’re always doing new moves. The dog has to pay attention to you constantly to get the cues, either verbal or physical. Since you’re supposed to keep up, you’re constantly thinking, What am I doing now? When am I going to say it? It’s amazing what can go on during a one-and-a-half-minute routine. It’s important for you to know what you’re doing.”

Of course, mistakes sometimes happen. Once, Bryce decided to get creative and change the order of the moves. “He’s lying down and he’s supposed to crawl toward me, then we roll over together in the same direction and he jumps over my back,” says Lewis. “When we performed this in live competition, he didn’t crawl, he walked, jumped my back, then lay down next to me. I had no idea what happened. We got an award for the best beginning move! So when you have a plan and it doesn’t go well, just keep on dancing.”

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Ugly Dog Couch
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ugly dog couch

I'm an interior designer's worst nightmare (isn't clutter just another word for "Victorian chic"?), but even my eye is offended by the yellow mustard sofa squatting in our house. To say it is distressed is to be kind. It has been chewed up, peed on, destuffed, and muddied. Yet the ugly dog couch lives on! I've repeatedly fantasized about being selected for "Extreme Makeover." Ty Pennington would leap into my living room with a single bound, and heroically hurl that thing to the curb. Yes, the dogs would be upset; at least I would no longer be the villain of this story. Of course, whenever garbage day arrives, it only takes one sleepy dog stretched across it to transform it into the cutest loveseat I've ever seen.       

News: Guest Posts
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Like most dog owners who trust their vet, Ashley Sassaman didn't hesitate to follow her vet's suggestion that her two dogs, Jack and Katrina, be given a new heartworm preventative, ProHeart6, at their last wellness check up. The convenience of a shot every six months instead of remembering to give monthly medication was a big selling point for the working mom. A week after the shot, Jack grew lethargic. He no longer wanted to play fetch or go for walks. The family brought him back to the vet, but she couldn't find an explanation for the behavior change. Three weeks after the shot, they found Jack dead at home. Ashley began to ask questions - ones that she wishes she had asked before Jack received the shot - and discovered that the FDA had briefly taken ProHeart6 off the market due to adverse reactions, including death. Also, Pfizer, the company that made ProHeart6, advised vets that they should discuss possible side effects with the dog's owners, and have them sign an "Owner Consent Form" before the first injection, a protocol that Ashey's vet did not follow. Ashley has since changed vets and Pfizer offered to pay for Jack's necropsy. It is her hope that sharing Jack's story will encourage other dog lovers to ask questions and do research in order to keep their dogs healthy and safe.