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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Nutcracker
Group raises money for therapy work through their holiday performance

If you love the popular holiday classic The Nutcracker, you have to check out the canine version being performed by 29 dogs in the Chicago-area. And these pups don’t just perform for fun, they're all volunteer therapy dogs that use the show to raise money for their work with the PAWSitive Therapy Troupe.

The Nutcracker features Gracie the Sheltie as the Sugar plum Fairy, Bailey the Shih Tzu as the Nutcracker Prince, Sam the Golden Retriever as the Mouse King, and Lily the Pug as Clara. Amazingly 12-year old Gracie is deaf, but you would never know it from her beautiful solo dance. It takes about 1,000 hours to prepare for the big performance where the dogs are clicker trained to follow hand signals in synchronized precision.    

The PAWSitive Therapy Troupe first performed the canine Nutracker back in 2000 to cheer up sick kids living with their families at a Ronald McDonald House. It was so popular that they expanded production to fundraiser shows to raise money for their therapy work. The first year they sold 800 tickets in the first couple of hours and had lines down the street. This year their shows are sold out, but you can support the cause by buying a DVD of the show on their web site.

Actors, therapy dogs... is there anything that these pups don't do?!

News: Guest Posts
Family Dies to Save Dog
Tragic ending to heroic efforts
dog swim ocean

Tragedy struck a northern California family when their dog, Fran, was swept out by a wave while playing fetch at Big Lagoon state beach. Sixteen-year-old Gregory Kuljian immediately dove in to save her. Seeing his son struggle in the eight-to-10-foot surf, Gregory's father, Howard Kuljian, 54, quickly followed. Gregory made it out, but returned to the churning waters along with his mother, Mary Scott, 57, to rescue his father.

All three drowned as Gregory's 18-year-old sister, Olivia, and girlfriend watched in horror. The group had gathered at Big Lagoon state beach near Arcata, California, for a leisurely stroll where signs warned of dangerous sneaker waves. The dog, Fran, safely made her way back to land.

News: Guest Posts
Take a Study Break with a Dog

Final exams at college are always stressful. You’re studying far into the wee hours, cramming facts and formulas into your tired brain, worrying about grades, neglecting your nutrition, sleep and exercise needs, and counting the days until your last exam is done and you can go home. Add to all of that stress the fact that you’re away from the comforts of home, including your beloved family pet.

Dalhousie University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has come up with a creative solution for some of its students: Puppy Room. As the Dalhousie Student Union Facebook page poster says, “Yup, it’s a room full of puppies.”

Or more accurately, the students will hang out with some certified therapy dogs, coordinated by the local chapter of Therapeutic Paws of Canada. That program places therapy dogs with people suffering from high blood pressure, depression and loneliness.

Now they can add final exam-related stress to that list.

As soon as the Student Union posted about the idea on Facebook, it went viral. The therapy dogs will be on campus for several hours on three separate days during exam week. All of the dogs are at least a year old, so while they might not technically be puppies, I doubt any of the students will care.

My thought? Other universities and colleges should jump on this wagon. They could use therapy dogs, or better yet connect with local shelters which might actually have some real puppies that could use the socializing and play time with the students. The puppies gain people skills; the students do better (we hope) on their exams. A big win-win.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lab Mix Included in Restraining Order
Panzer becomes the first dog to be protected under a new law in Mass.

This summer Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a new law that allows pets to be included in domestic violence restraining orders and it's already been put to good use.  

Just before Thanksgiving, a Labrador mix named Panzer became the first animal in Massachusetts to win protection since the new legislation passed. A Marshfield, Mass. woman filed the restraining order against her boyfriend, who had a history of abusing both the woman and Panzer. The 6-year old pup is now staying in a foster home while the woman and her son are in a domestic violence shelter. Once they find a safe place to live, Panzer will be reunited with his family.

Less than half of the United States currently has similar legislation in place. With 85 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reporting pet abuse in their family, we have to get that number up to 50.  It's critical that we protect the ones we love--both two and four legged.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Festive Canine Decorations
Bo Obama at Christmas

When First Lady Michelle Obama guided visitors through the White House to see the Christmas decorations, it was easy to see that First Dog Bo Obama had a starring role. He accompanied the first group to see a preview of the holiday décor wearing jingle bells, but his presence extends far beyond that.

There is a large statue of Bo next to the 300-pound gingerbread White House in the State Dining Room. In the East Garden Room, there’s life-size model of him holding a string of lights in his mouth. Dozens of cut out pictures of Bo are on display throughout the house in what are referred to as Bo-flakes. Visitors can go on a scavenger hunt to search for the Bo ornaments that are in eight rooms. The guide to the scavenger hunt is on a Bo bookmark.

If you decorate for the holidays, do you use images of your dog in any way?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What a Good Dog

On a recent dark, chilly fall evening, a three year old child wandered out of his home un-noticed by his parents. His departure was, however, observed by the family dog, a large neutered  male Pit Bull, who took it upon himself to follow the little boy and stay close by his side. They were a good distance from home before they were seen by some passers-by who stopped to help. The child was unable to tell them where he lived or give them any other information so deputies were summoned. The dog stayed by the child’s side the entire time, friendly but watchful.

The child was going to be taken into protective custody so one of my fellow animal control officers was dispatched to pick up the dog. The officer scanned the dog and found a microchip which had been implanted by our shelter during a free neuter clinic that we had offered a few years previously. Thanks to the chip, one phone call was all that was needed to get the pair home safely. The situation is still under investigation but could have been much worse had the dog not chosen to stay with the little boy.

I was so touched by the way the faithful dog stayed with the child the entire time and by the way, once again, a microchip led to a happy ending!

I would love to hear from readers about things your dogs have done to be there for someone in need. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Taking Cues From Humans
Dogs look to us for guidance in times of uncertainty

My new rescue, Scuttle, is the bubbliest, most energetic puppy I've ever met--until something startles her. Then she freezes or runs into the corner and hides. I've never had a dog that was quite as fearful as she is, so I was often caught off guard when she reacted to something I wasn't expecting. I think I probably froze and then went into overcompensation mode, trying to feed her treats to reverse the negative experience. As you can imagine, it doesn't sound like such a pleasant experience!

After a training buddy helped me take a step back and realize I was acting way too serious, I changed my response to help Scuttle understand that these things weren't a big deal. I've since noticed she’s much better when it comes to handling uncertainty.

It seems that our behavior really does influence how our pups act--a trait canines may have developed by evolving alongside humans over time.

A team of psychologists at the University of Milan noticed that dogs often look to people when they're uncertain about something, a behavior that's called social referencing in young kids. Children often use an adult's emotional reaction to help understand a situation that they're unsure about and use that information to guide future behavior.  

The team of researchers set out to see if dogs exhibit social referencing only in situations of uncertainty, as it appears in children. The study used an oscillating fan with flapping streamers as the object in question since it would be something most dogs hadn't seen before.

The canine subjects were then brought in a room off leash with someone from their family. If the fan was not present, the dogs typically wandered around, rarely looking back at their person. If the fan was in the room, almost all of the pups took a few steps into the room and immediately looked back at their handler, and then back at the fan.

The next part of the experiment tested how the dogs would act based on their handler's response. The people were told to deliver a message in either a positive or negative tone, saying, “that’s really pretty” or “that’s really ugly.” Interestingly, when the handlers expressed displeasure, the dogs tended to freeze in space. In the case of the positive message, the pups didn't change their behavior much and started moving around the room after checking in with their person.

When taken a step further, the dogs usually mirrored their handler's behavior. So if the person either approached the fan or walked away from it, the dog would usually do the same.

This research has really interesting implications on the human-canine bond. Knowing that our pups look to us for guidance on how to interpret new situations puts puts a lot of responsibility on us as their guardians and teachers. It really influences the way I think about working with my crew! 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Teaching Chemistry
Two talented pups make learning science fun
Chemistry was one of my worst subjects in school, but maybe if my teachers were dogs, I would've paid attention in class!

Lauren Girard has been training her pets to do cool tricks ever since she got her Border Collie, Paige, five years ago. Her pups are so fun to watch that Lauren's sister shows her junior high school students videos of the dogs performing as a reward for good behavior. This inspired Lauren to combine her own science background with her love of trick training to make a You Tube video called Dogs Teaching Chemistry.

The first clip on chemical bonds was an instant hit, gaining over half a million views in less than a week and encouraging Lauren to create a second installment on the atom. Both videos feature Paige and her two year old mixed breed, Dexter, teaching an entertaining chemistry lesson in under two minutes. Lauren taught everything seen in the videos through clicker training. She believes that positive training is not only a way to teach your dog a cool trick, but also facilitates a trusting relationship that creates self-confidence.

The bond Lauren has with her dogs can be seen in their enthusiasm both in the chemistry videos and in the many other activities that they do. When Paige and Dexter aren't "teaching," they're participating in everything from agility to freestyle. The talented duo is even involved in print and television work. Is there anything that these two pups don't do?

Stay tuned to Lauren's You Tube channel, snuggliepuppy, for more videos from these superstars!

News: Editors
The Yellow Dog Project

Tara, a trainer/dog walker in Red Deer, Alberta has come up with a good idea about ways to alert others about a dog who might need a little “space” from another dog on a leash. She calls it the Yellow Dog Project and founded this movement only a couple of months ago. As you know, there are many reasons why a leashed dog might require a safe distance from another dog—health and behavioral reasons, primarily. Our dear Lenny, a little Terrier mix who died last year at 19, was that kind of dog, he was reactive towards most other dogs. There were many times when a friendly dog would approach us and I would have to call out something like “my dog isn’t friendly,” most of the time the response would be “but my dog is friendly.” How much easier it would be if we all understood that a dog with a yellow ribbon or something in yellow on their leash, said it for us instead. So hooray to Tara—help her spread the word.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When Breed Bans Complicate
Dog loving baseball player is traded to an area with breed specific legislation

Breed specific legislation is unfair to the dogs who are automatically categorized as dangerous, but it's also unfair to the families who share their home with these banned breeds. Bully lovers have to worry about where to live and even where to vacation. The rich and famous are no exception.

Last year, when MLB pitcher Mark Buehrle signed with the Florida Marlins, he chose to move to Broward County with his wife, two kids, and four dogs since Miami-Dade County, home of the Marlins' stadium, doesn't welcome their American Staffordshire Terrier, Slater. Moving to an area without breed specific legislation lengthened Mark's commute but it was a small price to pay to keep his family intact.  

However, now the Buehrle family has a new housing challenge. Last week Mark was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, where the entire province of Ontario has had breed specific legislation in place since 2005. Mark's only options are to live hours from the stadium.

The breed ban puts Mark in a really difficult situation, but he's made a positive difference for animals in each of the cities he's played in. In Florida, the Buehrles led a petition to end breed specific legislation in Miami-Dade County andin Chicago, Mark started the "Sox for Strays" charity when he was playing for the White Sox.The pitcher has also been outspoken in criticizing NFL quarterback Michael Vick on the subject of dog fighting.

Hopefully Mark's dilemma will bring attention to how discriminatory these laws are and maybe he can even inspire Ontario to reconsider their breed ban!

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