activities & sports
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
A program for children with special needs.
For the past 14 years, my Bernese Mountain Dogs and I have been involved in animalassisted therapy activities through Marin Humane Society’s Special Human-Animal Relationships (SHARE) program. Together, we’ve visited senior residential facilities, our local hospital’s critical care unit, reading programs, classrooms for children with special needs and those involved in humane education, programs for at-risk and troubled youth, and Marin Humane Society (MHS) summer camps. My youngest Berner, Charlotte, has been part of the SHARE program for three years. She’s a gentle soul who makes an immediate connection with everyone, especially children, whom she loves.
In April 2012, Rachel Blackman— whose mother, Darlene Blackman, heads the MHS SHARE and Community Service programs—invited five SHARE teams (including Charlotte and me) to participate in a program she developed for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. Inspired by one of her cousins, who is autistic, and her participation in MHS summer camps, she named it Jumping for Joy.
Jumping for Joy focuses on children with autism and learning disabilities and their families. The six-week program, which is offered at no cost to the participants, provides the children with an opportunity to work with trained animal-assisted therapy (AAT) teams on a canine agility course. Before and after the agility-course work, children and dogs spend time together in the “therapy” part of the program, during which each child receives reassurance, nonjudgmental acceptance and unconditional love from the canine teams.
During the first week, the children and their families meet and spend time with the dogs and watch demonstrations of the equipment they will be using. The focus is on simple cues for each station. Weeks two through five are dedicated to helping the children learn to navigate the jumps, tire, tunnel, A-frame and table with the dogs. Each class involves a demonstration, practice on the course and learning a new skill, as well as time spent with the dogs. To assist the children, Rachel prepares laminated cue cards that show a dog on a particular piece of equipment and the single-word cue that should be used. The final session is attended by families and friends and includes demonstrations and practice. Then, each child takes a dog through the complete agility course and receives a special certificate and medal.
The children in the first session were all from the same school and were well known to each of the SHARE teams from our visits to their classroom. It was rewarding to watch the even deeper bond that developed between the children and the dogs throughout the six weeks of the program. The learning styles and attention capabilities of each child guided the manner and method of their instruction. As a result, all were successful; in the photos taken during the classes, their attention and focus on the dogs and equipment are obvious. Even more telling are the smiles and looks of relaxation and enjoyment on their faces. During our earlier classroom visits, one of the boys was usually reluctant to approach Charlotte. We returned to his class after he completed the program, and what a change! He wanted her to sit right next to him as we worked on his math and writing assignments.
The second session brought a mix of students from three different schools, which provided a few new challenges. Rachel was quick to identify each child’s needs and learning style and provided us with guidance on how best to work with them. A white board with a simple class agenda was helpful for one. For another, having a glove to absorb dog slobber made a huge difference. Each child worked with all of the dogs; however, the children were free to choose which dog they wanted to work with on any individual exercise.
When I reflect on the many AAT programs Charlotte and I have participated in, Jumping for Joy is one of my very favorites. It combines the best of everything: children with special needs, dogs who love and respond to children, and opportunities for the children to be successful in learning new and fun skills. And I absolutely love the fact that the program evolved from the dream of a 15-year-old animal lover. The joy on the children’s faces says it all.
If your local animal-assisted therapy organization would like to learn more about starting a Jumping for Joy program, please email Rachel through the Marin Humane Society; send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Rainy day play by the numbers.
Have wet conditions gotten in the way of your normal walk, run or play time at the park? Are you in search of some ideas for entertaining your dog when the weather outside is “frightful”? There are lots of stimulating activities that will keep you and your dog happily enjoying one another’s company, no matter how gloomy it is outdoors. It’s all about spending time together in interesting ways.
1. Take your dog to visit a friend, relative or neighbor who would be cheered by some dog-petting therapy.
2. Teach your dog a new trick, such as lying down and resting her head sadly on her paws when you say, “It’s raining.”
3. Go outside and play in the snow or splash in the puddles. (If your dog had her way, this would probably be her first choice.)
4. Have a canine spa day at home—give her a bath, clean her ears, cut her nails and brush her coat.
5. Play a few rounds of indoor hide-andseek. Have your dog stay, and then hide. Release her and call her to you. When she finds you, greet her with something that will make her happy, like treats, a game of tug, a chew toy or a belly rub.
6. Buy a new toy for each of you and hang out together while you enjoy them; better yet, buy a toy you can share.
7. Practice the art of canine massage. To learn, start with a great video, Bodywork for Dogs: Connecting through Massage, Acupressure, and Intuitive Touch by Lynn Vaughan and Deborah Jones.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It makes sense after all
We were playing fetch with Super Bee, a friend’s dog, and her unpredictable behavior was making the game less fun for us. All was smooth when we threw the ball and she went to retrieve it. One hundred percent of the time, she gleefully ran it down, picked it up, and brought it back. The difficulty occurred in the transfer of the ball back to us so that we could throw it again.
Though she reliably dropped the ball and let it fall to the ground, she sometimes darted at the ball and snatched it up again, only to drop it once more. She didn’t do it every time, but she did it enough that it was a problem. Besides interrupting the flow of the game and being a little annoying, this glitch in the game created a risk that she would hurt my sons if either of them reached for the ball at the same time that she went for it.
I adjusted the game so that I was always the one to pick up the ball, and then I handed it to my sons alternately to throw it. I only reached for the ball after a pause of a few seconds, which seemed to be after she had made her choice about whether to go for the ball again or let me pick it up so it could be thrown for her. It didn’t guarantee my safety, but I managed to avoid trouble. I also noticed a pattern.
Whenever the ball stayed in place on the ground or rolled toward her, Super Bee let me pick it up without making an attempt to take it again. However, if it rolled away from her, she charged at it and grabbed it in her mouth. My best guess is that when the ball rolled away from her, she acted as she did when the ball had been thrown—she retrieved it. The ball was moving away from her, which seemed to be the stimulus for that behavior. It was as though she was on autopilot and couldn’t stop herself from retrieving a ball moving away from her.
Super Bee is an enthusiastic and possibly obsessive fetcher who can’t help but chase after a ball when it is thrown. Even when she is hot and tired enough that she might rather rest in a cool spot, if someone throws a ball, she will go after it. When we play with her, we make sure to stop fetch games long before she becomes fatigued or overheated.
Now that we understand her tendency to “retrieve” balls that roll away from her after she drops them, we only reach for balls that don’t do that. If a ball is moving towards her or is not moving, it’s safe to pick it up. (Another option would be to cue her to drop the ball directly into our hands, which would eliminate the possibility of it rolling.) Taking the unpredictability out of the game makes it more fun and safer, too. Because we understand what is happening, my sons and Super Bee can play fetch without my intervention (though I still supervise!) When it seemed like she was grabbing the ball again instead of letting us throw it, her behavior seemed irksome. Knowing that she is simply retrieving a moving ball because she can’t help it, it’s easy to find the behavior interesting and to wait patiently until she drops it again.
Does your dog ever do this?
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Downward dog, anyone?
Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.
The lights are dimmed and the candles—strategically placed on the agility equipment pushed to the room’s perimeter—are lit as people and their pups (ranging from pampered purebreds to rescued Pit Bulls) make their way to a circle of cushions. Here at Andrea Arden’s training facility at the Animal Haven shelter in Manhattan, yoga is about to begin. The instructor is agility legend Chris Ott, though most of those in attendance don’t know her reputation; they’re just here for their dog’s yoga class.
Ott’s accomplishments include representing the United States on the USA/AKC Agility World Team, holding a Guinness World Record for weave poles, and numerous appearances and wins at national championships. Her experience extends beyond the agility arena, however. Most recently, she brought her three decades of dog training know-how to the creation of what she calls Four Paw Fusion yoga. The class, originally designed for high-level performance competitors and their handlers, was so successful that Ott modified it for pet dogs.
Companion dogs who take part in Four Paw Fusion enjoy many of the same successful outcomes the performance dogs experience, including increased flexibility and decreased rates of injury. Ott says that she was most surprised at “how quickly the dogs took to it and how much they enjoyed it, right from the beginning.” Yoga leaves dogs more flexible and focused, less prone to injuries, and calm; it also increases their bond with their humans.
Like all yoga instructors, Ott leads participants through a series of stretches. But unlike yoga for humans, in Four Paw Fusion, participants lure their dogs into place with treats and praise, enticing them to hold the position for optimal stretch. Some of the positions start with the dog on the ground, while others utilize pillows and FitPAWS Balance Discs (inflatable rubberized cushions originally developed to help humans tone and increase balance) for support.
Because dogs are gently lured into position, even those without extensive training can be very successful in the class. Ott says that, much to her surprise, the dogs who are anxious and struggle to relax are often the biggest beneficiaries of the course. “The dogs we see the most dramatic improvement in are those who start out stressed and are described by their owners as ‘difficult’ to live with and train. To see a dog who was previously uncomfortable with any kind of touching now able to lie on his back in his owner’s lap while doing stretches is a wonderful experience.”
Ott punctuates her calming instructions with lessons in canine anatomy; descriptions of what a particular stretch is designed to achieve; and important reminders about not pushing a dog too far, which could cause injury. Similar to human yoga classes, everyone works at their own pace.
As the session goes on, the dogs visibly relax, and by the end of the twohour workshop, even dog-park warriors who require marathon games of fetch are panting. Although the dogs aren’t running around or doing activities that on first glance seem strenuous, they leave class happily tired.
And it isn’t just the dogs whose attitudes are changed. Even the most distracted human participants—those who entered class sipping lattes, texting and chatting with one another— pocket their phones and turn their attention to the eager dogs, influenced by Ott’s gentle demeanor and the energy she creates. Although the class is designed for canine relaxation, the peace, tranquility and connection that develop between dogs and their people are delightful side effects. The stress of big city life falls away, and they’re able to refocus on one another—what could be better?
News: Guest Posts
Good things can happen when people join together and walk for a cause. Like moving towards a no-kill nation. Like educating the public about the root causes of homeless pets. Like helping fund those organizations on the frontlines of animal rescue and adoption. Last year, nearly 11,000 people nationwide took part in Best Friends Animal Society’s Strut Your Mutt events. Together, these two- and four-legged walkers helped save the lives of pets in shelters all across the country, earning nearly $1.3 million for homeless pets and 180 animal welfare groups who serve them.
Every day, more than 9,000 pets are killed in America's shelters simply because they don't have a home—that number should be zero, and it can be. Best Friends Animal Society and local animal rescue organizations and shelters (No More Homeless Pets Network partners) have joined together to reach that goal. The donations raised through Strut Your Mutt will be used to fund lifesaving adoption programs and spay/neuter services, which will ultimately impact the number of pets entering and leaving shelters. This year’s events, expanded to include 11 cities, kicked off this past weekend in Kanab, Utah, the home base for Best Friends. We encourage everybody to join — as a participant walking with a favorite pooch or as a donor or sponsor. The bar has been set high, organizers hope to raise $2 million to assist pet shelters across the country — and help us move closer to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America's shelters.
Strut Your Mutt Events 2013
Kanab, UT – Aug. 31
No Strut in your area? No problem! Join Strut Across America, the virtual Strut Your Mutt open to anyone anywhere! For more information go to: strutyourmutt.org/BarkBlog
A good way to start the week with an adorable pup doing downward-facing dog and so much more. Stretch along with this charming duo!
Monster Milers Saves Shelter dogs' Lives
Philly's First 5k for Animal Rescue Coming this September
We were asked to post this notice of an upcoming event/race to help a remarkable organization in Philadelphia, Monster Milers. Hope you can come out to show your support, or get inspired to start a "chapter" in your city.
Editor, The Bark
Philadelphia, PA — Fill up water bottle. Lace up running shoes. Fix the leash and martingale on their running buddy.
This is the pre-running routine for Monster Milers volunteers, whose primary mission is to connect Philadelphia runners with homeless dogs as running companions. Over 330 “Milers” or volunteers take out pre-screened dogs from PAWS Wellness Clinic in Grays Ferry, the PAWS Adoption Center in Old City and the Street Tails Animal Rescue shelter in Northern Liberties on runs throughout the city and nearby parks.
Dogs grow anxious, bored, depressed and stressed after spending the majority of their days in small, confined spaces. When they receive a visit from a potential adopter, they either give off the impression of being depressed and aloof or wild with excitement. To take the edge off, “Milers” take dogs on daily runs, anywhere from a half mile to eight miles depending on the dog.
In addition to giving dogs much needed exercise, dogs gain basic training, social skills and exposure to thousands of potential adopters during runs and adopt-a-running-buddy events at area races. Calmer shelter dogs result in quicker adoptions and more room for the 30,000 animals that flood Philadelphia’s shelters each year.
"We are an all-volunteer organization and this race is going to be our first big kick-off fundraiser. Specifically, the funds will be used to keep this all moving. Let's be frank— it's going to cover not-so-glamorous stuff like liability insurance and our volunteer management software,” said Carrie Maria, Monster Milers’ CEO and Founder.
“On a more exciting front, we'd love to set up a fostering arm of The Monster Milers in which we'd pull animals directly out of the city shelter, but we can't do so without a stable funding base. This race will help move the Milers into our next phase of development. We want to go beyond adoption advocacy and actually start placing vulnerable animals into loving homes."
Monster Milers will host The Rescue Run, Philadelphia's first 5k to promote adoption and rescue on Sunday, September 29 at 10 a.m. at the Navy Yard. During the post-race Rescue Rally, hundreds of runners and spectators will greet adoptable dogs, enjoy favorite foods from area food trucks, and meet local vendors and rescue organizations. Early bird registration is $25 until July 31st, $30 after August 1st and will increase to $35 on race day.
The Rescue Run 5k will be chip-timed and all runners who register online will receive a race tech-tee. Running isn't the only way to get involved in the Rescue Run: Monster Milers is looking for day-of volunteers, 501(c)(3) rescue organizations to participate in the Rescue Rally and race sponsors.
To learn more about Monster Milers: call 267-282-1270, email email@example.com or visiting their website or facebook. Since Monster Milers hit the ground running in 2010, they’ve helped hundreds of dogs find their forever homes, one step at a time.
Dog's Life: Travel
Bark editors share their summer picks.
Unleashing our inner farm dog
Trailer Life Lite
Al fresco film
TIP: Do not wash the antlers, just dry-scrub off any dirt or plant material. Water might cause mold.
Community dog wash
TIP: Tick season is here, so check your dog thoroughly for signs of ticks — and remove them properly and immediately. If a tick is attached for more than 48 hours, it might infect your dog with Lyme disease. Bring along a tick removing device on hikes.
Dog's Life: Travel
If you and your dog enjoy off-leash parks, traveling and outdoor activities, dog camp is for you!
Good socialization and play skills make dog camp more fun for everyone. Your dog should enjoy playing with — or at least be neutral toward — other dogs and people. Young dogs should be able to read cues from other dogs and older dogs should be able to tolerate jostling by faster, younger dogs. Small dogs should be comfortable around big dogs. All dogs should be willing to share toys, and possibly cabin space.
Solid, basic obedience skills — sit, stay, coming when called — are critical for off-leash games, heavy-duty play, hikes, swimming and other activities. Good manners help everyone relax.
Research dog camps to determine which best meets your vacation goals. Some focus on competitive agility and obedience, others on off-leash games and hiking, and some are quite rustic. Then, sign up and give dog camp a whirl!
It’s all here. The classic summer camp experience you remember from childhood — swimming, hiking, boating, rustic cabins, campfire songs and lots of socializing — tailored to four-footed guests. That means days packed with agility, flyball, Rally-O, lure coursing, dock diving, clicker training, freestyle, even painting, not to mention well-earned naps. Two-footed campers can bone up on animal communication, Tellington TTouch, canine massage and much more. Each camp has its own flavor, style and emphasis, but here are a few favorites: Camp Dogwood, Ingleside, Ill.; Camp Gone to the Dogs, Stowe and Marlboro, Vt.; Camp Unleashed, Asheville, N.C., Berkshires, Mass., and Sequoia, Calif.; Camp Winnaribbun, Stateline, Lake Tahoe, Nev.; Canine Club Getaway, Lake George, N.Y.; Dog Scouts of America, St. Helen, Mich.; Happy Tails Daycamp for Dogs, Fennville, Mich.; and Maian Meadows Dog Camp, Lake Wenatchee, Wash.
News: Guest Posts
A fine memoir of a road trip with dogs to the World Sheepdog Trials
Not far into Mr. and Mrs. Dog, Donald McCaig says of himself and his talented “Blockhead” of a Border Collie, Luke, the male of the title: “I’ve never done as well with Luke as a better handler might have, but Luke adores me. When I go out at 2 a.m. to check lambing ewes, Luke comes too. When I wake with the night sweats, Luke wakes. He thinks I am a better man than I am. If I sold him, his earnest doggy heart would break.”
It is a tribute to McCaig’s capacity for self-reflection and humor that he is willing to admit his own failures as an occasionally over anxious sheepdog handler. He knows that dogs are not machines and we are not infallible. Ultimately all you can do is the best you can do under sometimes disastrous circumstances.
Upon reaching 68 years of age half a decade ago and finding himself with two quality border collies in their prime, McCaig decided the time had come to launch a campaign to fulfill his dream of the worlds.
Traveling 34,000 miles in his twenty-year-old car, McCaig, Luke, and June (Mrs. Dog) compete in sheepdog trials around the country hoping to compile enough points to secure invitations to join the American team in Wales. At the last minute, June garners the invitation, and Luke gets to compete as McCaig’s second dog.
If his best-selling Nop’s Trials is McCaig’s contribution to “lost dog” literature—think of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang—Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies is his homage to an equally venerable tradition, the “the dog road trip,” of which John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is perhaps most famous. McCaig is on the road not only to qualify for the worlds but also to broaden his dogs’ experience of different sheep and environments—in a fundamental sense to educate them so they will be better able to cope with situations and varieties of sheep they have not seen before.
Although June pulled them through on cumulative points for the year, her most memorable performance came at a trial in West Texas when she decided to forego herding sheep and goats in favor of far bigger game--a huge, ground-thumping oil exploration seismograph truck. “June wanted, nay NEEDED to fetch that big thumping, flickering weirdness,” McCaig writes, “and nothing I said—neither my shouts nor redirects—swayed June from her goal.”
Once abreast of the thumper, June realized she had not a clue what to do with it and returned to McCaig, but there were no longer any goats to fetch. Her assault on the seismograph thumper had disqualified her.
Hoping to further his own education, McCaig periodically detours from the sheepdog circuit to visit trainers known for their skill in training methods they have developed or adapted. Along the way, he correctly points out that the battle between practitioners of what we might call punishment-based training and those who prefer awards-and rewards-directed training is now more than 100 years old.
For much of that time it appears that punishment has ruled—aversive training, as it were. McCaig himself is something of a follower of William Koehler, the Disney animal trainer from the mid-twentieth century, who developed a method of obedience training relying on long lines and various chain collars and leashes. Even today, most people attending obedience classes probably follow some version of Koehler’s method.
McCaig is looking for training epiphanies; bright moments of understanding or enlightenment that will help him better train and manage his dogs. He meets animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, and attends sessions given by trainers using the dog’s ‘innate’ drives, rewards, the Koehler method, and shock collars, which so engage him that he adopts the industry’s terminology and calls them e-collars.
Over the years, McCaig and I have agreed to disagree about shock collars, and in future postings, I hope to examine different approaches to training. For now, I’ll just say that people searching for a blanket endorsement of shock collars or other training devices or methods will not find them here—with the possible exception of the thirty-foot long line, which need not deployed in punitive fashion.
McCaig’s book arrived shortly after I had visited my favorite trainer, Lourdes Edlin. She is one of those gifted people who will have a dog literally eating out of her hand within minutes of meeting it. She understands that to train a dog, she must learn what motivates it—food treats in many cases, but in others a ball or Kong® or simply praise.
Edlin said that she was growing tired of teaching people basic obedience—sit, stay, heel, come—and becoming more focused on “teaching people how to do things with their dogs.” The basics would follow from that.
I was reminded of Edlin’s comments when I read McCaig’s reflections on his forays into the world of training. “Though each trainer believes his or her method is best, I don’t think it matters which method the pet owner adopts so long as that owner finds a capable mentor and sticks with the training,” he writes. ”Eventually you will learn to see your dog and when that happens the richness of your and your dog’s lives will tell you what to do next.
“Neither Luke nor June was ever trained to ‘heel’ nor ‘sit’ nor ‘stand for examination.’ They have never retrieved a ball or dumbbell. They rarely play with each other and never play with other dogs. Yet they would be mannerly in any human environment. Not because they were ‘trained’ for good manners, but because they were properly socialized, exercised daily, and have a job—stock work. Mannerliness is a by product of that training.”
A few paragraphs later, he concludes, “Have the highest expectations, do the work, and your dog can walk at your side anywhere on earth. He’ll become the dog you’ve empowered to change your life. As Luke and June have changed mine.”
McCaig’s account of the trio’s trip to Wales is informative, amusing, and somewhat sad. The two males manage to win a local Welsh competition, the South Wales Sheepdog Trials Hafod Bridge, where McCaig penned his sheep brandishing his Stetson® hat instead if the traditional shepherd’s crook. A revolution was doubtless averted when McCaig confessed that he simply had deemed his crook too difficult to manage on the flight across the pond and he had neglected to obtain one. Clearly a telescoping shepherd’s crook is in order.
Luke, June, and McCaig washed out in the first round of the big show. McCaig blames himself for failing to meet his expectations, but he should not.
He’s written a fine book and made a most excellent life with Mr. and Mrs. Dog. Moreover, they have had many an excellent adventure. What more could a dog or human want?
This blog originally appeared on Psychology Today. Reposted with permission.
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