Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Weekly journey is uplifting
The dogs that Shannon Johnstone takes on walks are experiencing a freedom that they haven’t known in a long time, if ever. Each week, she brings one dog with her to a park that was built on top of an old landfill and observes the dog enjoying a rare moment of happiness. She photographs them on their walk and once they reach the top, which is about 500 feet up and one of the highest places in the area.
Johnstone is an art professor and professional photographer who has been photographing dogs, many of them Pit Bulls, from the Wake County Animal Center for over a year. These dogs have been living in the shelter, and some have been there over a year. A lot of the dogs she has photographed have been adopted. Some are still waiting for a family to choose them. A few have been euthanized.
The old trash pile turned landfill where they walk reminds Johnstone that people have treated these dogs as disposable and tossed them away just like we pitch trash. She emphasizes that these are good dogs, but that they’re just unlucky. Her experience, perspective and photographs reveal that well-known truth: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I've always been fascinated by watching dog friends together. They play, they cuddle, even lick each other. Many dogs are very bonded with their fellow canine housemates but its funny how sometimes dogs have a special friend who doesn't live with them. I love to see how dogs will find a friend at a dog park or other social gathering and pair up, just as people connect with certain other people. Once they've connected, when they see that dog again, they rush toward each other joyously and spend all their time together until they must part.
My own dogs enjoy each other very much although any of them will gladly ditch the others for a day out with me. They do sometimes find another dog who fascinates them for whatever reason. I once had a large spayed female Borzoi who was rather reserved with most new dogs but small intact male dogs were her thing. Let some little un-neutered Chihuahua come along and she was head over heels, acting flirtations and comically silly. My current dogs love to meet and greet other dogs at the off-leash beach. Occasionally one of them really hits it off with another dog for no rhyme or reason but it's always fun to watch.
I recently had the joy of watching two young dogs meet each other for the first time and make that instant connection. One dog was Lily, a one year old, Pointer/Lab mix who I had fostered since birth and who was adopted but back for a short visit with me. The other was Spur, a friend's five month old Cattledog pup. They were in a group of other dogs of all ages and sizes but the two youngsters bonded immediately. My friend and I must have sat for a good hour watching them wrestle, run together and thoroughly enjoy themselves. They paid very little attention to the other dogs and spent the entire time in close physical contact. I don't think they ever got more than a few feet apart and their play was spontaneous and joyful. There was no posturing for dominance, no competition or concern for who was in charge, just dogs having fun with each other. It was a delight to witness.
Does your dog have a special canine friend?
Kudos to Trupanion, the pet insurance company based in Seattle, Washington, for walking the talk and offering employees’ dogs free health insurance as a benefit. Each day, the company welcomes a menagerie of dogs, cats and even a few birds to their office headquarters. Among the perks offered to employees who bring their dogs to work are dog walking services (trips to the park are extra) and pet bereavement time off. With over 60 dogs in their workplace, the company realized that they didn’t have an adequate fire and evacuation plan in place that included companion animals. In response, staff volunteers organized a safety evacuation plan. Watch their drill in honor of Pet Fire Safety Day.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs with extreme social enthusiasm
It’s almost a cliché—Golden Retrievers who are so friendly, so eager to greet people that they seem in danger of wagging their entire back ends off. Such behavior is by no means confined to this breed, and it’s not exhibited by all Goldens, though it is undeniable that some of them do typify it.
I recently met a Golden Retriever who was as lovable and friendly as any I’ve known. It was fascinating to watch him control himself because although he could do it well, it was obvious that it took a lot of effort. He is a well-trained dog who behaved beautifully, but without that high level of training and lots of practice with self-control, it probably would have been a very different social experience for the both of us.
I suspect that if he had not received the training to back away, to sit and lie down on cue, and to settle and stay, he would have looked like a cartoon dog—leaping high in the air with all four paws extended and a cartoon bubble over his head with the word “Wheeeeeeeee!” in it. As it was, he was wagging his whole body so hard I really did wonder if he had ever hurt himself doing so, and he was looking at his guardian repeatedly as though asking permission to launch himself at me. Despite the restraint he showed, there was something in his expression that made me feel as though he was bursting with desire to leap into my arms or on my lap. It’s to his credit and that of his guardian that he did not do so.
Dogs with extreme social exuberance and their guardians have been criticized. Of course, that’s only when the enthusiasm leads to behavior such as knocking over small children (or even adults) and it is excused with the remark, “He’s just so friendly!”
I love a friendly dog and I don’t consider any dogs TOO friendly. However, I have met dogs with an excess of enthusiasm who would benefit from some training in basic manners. If dogs are prone to boundless social fervor, they need to be taught self-control and to perform acceptable behaviors during greetings rather than being allowed to plow into or over people.
Do you have a dog who is socially enthusiastic?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
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
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
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
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?
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