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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week
How to help without adopting

In celebration of National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, I just found out that the Karen Pryor Clicker Training store is offering free shipping to any domestic shelter with the code SHELTERTHANKS. What a cool and easy way to send much needed supplies to animals in need!

The Clicker Training store's promotion got me thinking about other ways to help homeless animals this week.

  • Share a picture of a homeless pet.  Whether you post a photo to your Facebook newsfeed or email a Petfinder link to your friends, getting the word out can help connect a dog to a much needed forever home.
  • Make a donation.  Every little bit counts. Make a monetary contribution online (usually tax deductible!) or pick up a few extra toys or bags of food on your next pet store visit. Most shelters have a wish list on their web site and would love help checking off items.
  • Volunteer.  Take this opportunity to find out how you can donate time to a good cause. From walking dogs to stuffing envelopes, your local shelter would love your help.
  • Get creative.  I've blogged before about making braided tug toys from old t-shirts, but I recently stumbled upon the ingenious idea of making ADOPT ME vests to donate. There are free directions online for both sewing and non-sewing versions.
  • Of course it would be great to provide a home for a shelter animal this week, but for most of us it's not possible. Hopefully this has given you some ideas on how to celebrate National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week in your own way.
    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    School Safety Dogs
    Training pups to protect children

    Imagine going to school, a place that's supposed to be safe, only to be welcomed by a metal detector and security guards. That's unfortunately the reality at many schools these days, including the elementary school that I attended as a kid.

    I strongly believe that violence breeds more violence, so I've always thought there must be a better way to prevent gun tragedies in schools. Dogs are great at assisting police as well as creating goodwill in the community, so why not use them in schools?

    Two new companies, American Success Dog Training and K9s4KIDs, are setting out to explore the possibility of using specially trained dogs as an alternative way to protect schools. Their pups can be trained to detect weapons and can even learn to disengage a person with a gun, just like police dogs. They can also be used in lessons to teach compassion.

    After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mark Gomer decided to start American Success Dog Training and use his experience training dogs to help protect school children.

    Mark's first full-time safety dog, a one year-old Dutch Shepherd named Atticus, reported to duty this September at Oak Hills High School in Green Township, Ohio, at a cost of $10,000. Atticus trained during the summer, learning to perform his duties among distractions like marching bands, school bells, and locker door slamming. Atticus spends the day with two security guards and goes home with Principal John Stoddard at night. The kids love him and many parents have expressed comfort in knowing Atticus is at their school.

    For districts who can't afford such a hefty price tag, Kristi Schiller began her non-profit, K9s4KIDs, after law enforcement agencies applying for trained dogs through her K9s4COPs program suggested she expand to academia. If a school applies for and is chosen to receive a dog, K9s4KIDS provides the training, but it's up to school officials to decide who will be the handler, who the dog will live with, and what specific tasks will be taught.

    There's a lot of potential for school safety dogs to prevent tragedy by helping with security and providing education and comfort. I'm looking forward to seeing more schools take advantage of these talented pups.

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    The Importance of Context
    He was talking about a dog

    It’s a good thing his kindergarten teacher knew that Carson was talking about a dog when he burst into the room Monday morning and shared his news:

    “We got a sh*tter!”

    His teacher had been hearing for weeks that they were going to add a new dog to the family. This allowed her to probe into the situation to find out what he meant rather than send him to the principal’s office because of what he said.

    So, she was prepared to ask him things like, “Is your new puppy a setter?” “Does the puppy shed a lot?” and “Did you get a Shih-tzu?” That last one was the right question because it prompted Carson to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s it. We got a Shih-tzu. Her name’s Coconut.”

    Coconut is now over three years old, and every time I see her, it makes me happy. Mostly, I feel cheerful around her because she is sweet and sociable as well as soft and adorably fluffy. (Really, I defy anyone to visit with her and NOT be happy!) But part of the reason, she makes me smile is that it always makes me remember Carson’s gleeful and well-intentioned—if not totally appropriate—announcement in kindergarten.

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Explaining a Glitch in Fetch
    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?

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Pit Bull Rescued from an Ariz. Mountain
    A family gives a dying dog a second chance

    Last month Andi Davis was hiking in Arizona when she discovered a Pit Bull, shot and left for dead on the trail. All alone, Andi knew she couldn’t leave the poor pup behind and proceeded to carry him a half-mile down the steep mountain. Her husband and 10-year old daughter, Jessi, met her at the bottom and brought the nearly motionless pup to the Arizona Humane Society. The shelter’s vets found a bullet in the middle of his neck and fragments in his shoulder. The proximity of the pieces to his spinal cord prevented the vets from operating, but the dog was able to recover on antibiotics and pain medication.

    The ordeal reminded me of Missy, the German Shepherd rescued last year from a mountain in Colorado. This particular story makes me even sadder because this Pit Bull was intentionally hurt and abandoned.

    Fortunately there is also has a happy ending. When the Davis’ came to visit the animal shelter, the recovering dog greeted Jessi as if they had been best friends. The family instantly realized that they needed to open up their home to this special dog and gave him the name Elijah.

    Andi has since earned PETA’s Compassionate Action Award for her heroic rescue!

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Do You Play Bow to Your Dog?
    Starting play the canine way

    If you want to extend a special kindness to your dogs, consider communicating in ways that naturally make sense to them. Play signals are one opportunity to do this. When dogs want to play, they let others know with play signals, which they use to get play started and to keep it going. These signals can mean different things, but the message is always aimed at keeping play safe by telling other dogs that intentions are playful. A play signal tells another dog “I want to play."

    It also communicates that even if the behavior to follow is borrowed from other contexts such as fighting or predation and involves biting, chasing, shaking, or slamming into one another, it is playful in nature. There is no intent to cause harm. Using play signals to communicate makes it less likely that a dog’s actions will be misinterpreted, which can cause play to escalate into aggression.

    By far the most common play signal is the play bow, which consists of a dog getting down on her elbows with her back end higher than her front end. This posture is often assumed abruptly, as though the suddenness of the movement is part of the signal as well.

    Though the play bow is a universal invitation to play among dogs, people can do it, too. A human can imitate this action by getting down on all fours, putting both elbows on the ground and leaving the bottom up in the air. Dogs usually perform play bows in a springy, fast motion with a bounciness to it, so if you want your play bow to be as well-received as possible, try to mimic that rather than calmly moving into the posture like you are doing flow yoga.

    A modified play bow for people is possible, too, and it’s a little easier because you can remain standing. All you have to do is lean over from the hips, bend both legs, and spread your arms out at a 45-degree angle. To appear most playful to the dog receiving this signal, go into the pose quickly, perhaps even doing a little jump to go into the pose. Then, do something playful, like run away from your dog to start a chase game.

    Many dogs love it when people do play bows, modified or not. I’ve seen dogs whose faces light up when their guardians first play bow to them. I’ve often wondered if seeing their humans perform a play bow makes them happy because there is no confusion—they already know what it means. In any relationship, it’s beautiful to understand and to be understood.

    Do you play bow to your dog? If so, how does your dog respond?

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Canine Car Restraints
    Center for Pet Safety tests products

    Lindsey Wolko knew that dogs are safer in cars if restrained, which is why her cocker spaniel Maggie was in a safety harness the day Wolko braked hard to avoid an accident. Despite that, Maggie was seriously injured and very scared when she slammed into the driver’s seat and her legs became tangled in the harness. She has since fully recovered from the damage to her spine and hips, but many dogs sustain even more serious injuries and not all of them recover.

    Since then, Wolko has learned that all too few of the products that are sold to insure dog’s safety actually do what they are supposed to do, in part because they are not properly tested. She is determined to change that in order to keep dogs safer and prevent injuries to them. That’s why she founded the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety.

    Preparing to test products involving designing canine crash test dummies in three different sizes. There are model dogs of 25 pounds, 45 pounds, and 75 pounds. All of the crash test dummies have a steel frame and accurately recreate the true center of mass and weight distributions of dogs.

    In a recent series of tests that made up the 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study, most of the canine restraints experienced catastrophic failure. That means that either the restraint allowed the dog to become a projectile or it released the test dog from the restraint. Only one product, the Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility Harness, consistently performed successfully, offering protection to the dog and to other passengers in the car by keeping the dog from leaving the seat.

    Has your dog been injured in a car accident despite being restrained with a product that was supposed to offer protection?

    News: Editors
    Cats Stealing Dog Beds

    Just in case you missed the newest youtube sensation of cats who just love to steal or bogart dog beds, and the ingenious maneuvers that dogs go through trying to get their beds back—give this a look. I love it that most of the cats seem nonplus by the "attention" they are getting from their dog pals. Really cool cats.

     

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Halloween Costumes in NYC
    Humans and dogs go all out at the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Parade

    Saturday I had the honor of judging the 23rd annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade in New York's East Village. It was quite the challenge, as many of the 250+ entries had costumes created by some very clever and creative humans.

    The costumes ranged from the cute--a dog with a paper mache snail shell on its back--to the elaborate--a couple dressed as Cinderella and Price Charming with their dog in a horse outfit pulling their other pup in a princess carriage. There were also many people wearing complementary outfits to their pups. One amusing costume featured a woman dressed as Dennis Rodman and her dog as Kim Jong-un.

    My other favorites were a dog perched inside a handmade life sized Zoltar fortune telling machine (rolled onto the stage with a hand truck), a canine hot dog cart with tiny condiments and rolling wheels in the back, and a giant cardboard Empire State building with a human gorilla clutching a dog dressed up as the blonde heroine, Ann, from King Kong. More photos here.

    The contest really showcased how much fun people were having with their pups. The proceeds from the event benefited the park's dog run, started in the mid 1980's as the first official off-leash space in New York City. The two fenced areas (one for all dogs and one for small dogs) have been managed and funded by the community since the very beginning.  

    The parade was also a reminder to be thoughtful about how we celebrate Halloween with our pups. Some dogs seemed happy to don a costume and bask in the attention, while others seemed annoyed. As we get into the Halloween spirit with our pups, it's important to remember to pick costumes that don't restrict your dog's movement and to slowly introduce them to any outfits with positive reinforcement.

    Enjoy the holiday!

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Canine Character in Call of Duty
    A military dog is featured in the latest installment of the popular video game
    Call of Duty: Ghosts, the tenth iteration of the popular warfare video game, features a unique character that defends himself without a gun and runs around on four legs. Riley the military dog has managed to become the breakout star of the game, even though "Ghosts" doesn't come out until next month. The working pup represents one of the biggest, and most popular, technological leaps forward in the next generation of Call of Duty.

    After footage released earlier this year revealed that "Ghosts" would feature a four-legged soldier, Riley quickly inspired fan art, doggy cosplay, and an unofficial Twitter account, @CollarDuty, which has over 28,000 followers.

    Canine characters are not new to video games, but Riley uses cutting edge technology to create an experience where he actually feels like a real partner. "Ghosts" developers wanted to create a canine hero that would not only assist players, but could be directed to carry out missions at certain points throughout the game.

    Early video clips show Riley taking a helicopter down by lunging at the vehicle and biting the pilot. The courageous pup can also create distractions to thwart enemies and is able to give players a unique view of the battlefield through a camera mounted on his back.

    The "Ghosts" developers took great care to make Riley as realistic as possible. First they met with a retired Navy SEAL and his former military dog to learn about how the two worked together in action. They then cast two Schutzhund champions, Ruger the German Shepherd and Rico the Belgian Malinois, to have their movements digitally captured for the game.  

    Ruger and Rico were outfitted with custom motion-capture gear made from form-fitting suits intended for animals with skin conditions. The team later nixed booties because the dogs didn't move naturally in the footwear.

    I'm not a fan of violent video games, but knowing all the work that went into making Riley come to life makes me want to pick up a controller!

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