Good Dog: Behavior & Training
You have questions, she has answers
You’ve no doubt seen Victoria Stilwell in action on It’s Me or the Dog, where, using positive reinforcement, she shows wayward pups and their sometimes equally wayward guardians how to get along. Now, Victoria joins our roster of training experts in offering sound and practical advice on a variety of, shall we say, behavior faux pas. Please join us in welcoming Victoria to The Bark.
Q: My dog’s barking is driving me (and my neighbors) crazy. He’s a healthy, two-year-old Sheltie mix, and I’ve been told that it’s impossible to train him not to bark—that I should have him surgically debarked, something I find completely appalling. Please tell me there’s a way to teach my dog to control his noisy self.
A: Dogs who bark excessively can cause big problems for owners, but even though it may seem completely out of control, this behavior can be modified to a bearable level. Sometimes barking dogs can cause such distress that people resort to having the dog’s vocal chords surgically removed, but I’m glad that you find that idea appalling, because most trainers and veterinarians would advise against taking such a drastic measure. Debarking can cause immense anxiety, as it takes away an important part of the dog’s ability to communicate. I do recommend, however, that you take your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough medical check up, since any extreme behavior can be exacerbated by a medical condition.
Shelties are working dogs and are known to be vocal. These days, most dogs who were once bred to do a certain job find domestic life boring, and barking relieves that boredom. If this is the case, increased exercise and mental stimulation will refocus your dog’s mind onto something more positive and help tire him out.
Dogs bark for many reasons—to get attention, as a warning, in response to other barking dogs, out of anxiety or when excited—and it is important to identify the triggers before training.
If your Sheltie barks to get attention, don’t reward his demands. Telling your dog off is inadvertently rewarding him for barking even if the communication is negative. In this case, it is best to ignore the barking, wait for five seconds of quiet and then reward him with attention. This way, the dog learns that he gets nothing from you when he barks but gets everything when he’s quiet.
A dog who barks when excited (i.e., before going for a walk or being fed) is harder to work with because an owner’s pre-departure or pre-food cues are usually highly ritualized. Again, do not reward your dog with the things he wants until he is calm. For example, if the barking happens as soon as you go for the leash, drop the leash and sit down. Keep repeating this until your dog is quiet. If you successfully attach the leash but he barks as soon as he gets outside, immediately go back inside. This technique requires patience, but if you are diligent, your dog will quickly learn that quiet equals a walk.& Dogs who suffer anxiety when left alone will often bark a lot during the first 30 minutes after departure, while others continue until their person comes home. If this is the case, you must get a trainer in to help, as separation anxiety can be a very difficult behavior to modify.
Shelties tend to be particularly sound-sensitive, responding to noises that the human ear cannot hear. Also, because they were bred for herding, some Shelties have a high chase and/or prey drive and are easily stimulated by fast-moving objects such as squirrels or birds. If your dog barks excitedly in the back yard, for example, immediately take him back into the house and only allow him out again when he is quiet. Keep repeating if necessary and never leave him in the back yard unattended. If your Sheltie reacts and barks at other dogs or people in or outside of the home, it might be because he hasn’t received adequate socialization and feels uncomfortable. In this case, he needs to go on a desensitization program so he can gain the confidence he needs to cope in a social situation.
As you can see, there are many reasons why dogs bark, but please don’t listen to those who say that extreme barking can’t be modified, because there are lots of ways to reduce what is a very normal but sometimes annoying behavior.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What to do when a dog is part alligator
Question: My dog takes treats so hard that she’s hurt my hands on occasion. I’ve had the same thing happen to me to varying degrees at the dog park or in classes when I give a treat to another dog. I dread training sessions with my own dog, and I’ve become hesitant to give treats to other dogs. Is there a solution to this problem?
Answer: I sympathize! Your experiences with dogs who chomp enthusiastically are universal among those who spend time with dogs. Many dogs regularly grab treats without taking the care required when dealing with delicate human skin. (On the other hand, some dogs are only “chompy” when revved up, so this can be a good assessment tool; in these cases, the intensity of the alligator-like behavior can indicate a dog’s arousal level.)
Some dogs are naturally gentle with their mouths, but most need lessons to achieve this skill. Dogs should be taught the cue “Gentle,” which simply means to take the treat nicely. Having a dog who takes treats gently can relieve much of the conflict-induced frustration that occurs when you want to reinforce your dog’s good behavior but also want your fingers to remain intact and connected to your body.
Avoid confusion by teaching the cue “Gentle” as its own behavior rather than during a training session for some other behavior. Commit to the idea that your dog needs to take the treats gently or she doesn’t get them at all. In other words, don’t allow the snapping behavior to work for her. Until now, she has been getting the treat no matter what she does, but we want her to only get it when she takes it gently.
To teach your dog what “Gentle” means, hold a treat in your hand, close your fist around it and offer it to your dog. If your dog bites at your hand, keep it closed; this means either toughing it out or wearing gloves, depending on your dog’s behavior and your tolerance. When she stops biting and licks your hand (or even nibbles gently and painlessly), say “Gentle” and open your hand completely to give her the treat.
Keep saying “Gentle” each time you offer her a treat to help her associate the word with the behavior. If she has a relapse and returns to her former finger-gnawing ways, pull your hand away and then offer the treat again, using the cue “Gentle” to remind her of what you want. This will keep you from dropping the treat in response to her snapping.
Until your dog knows how to take treats gently, there are a couple of ways to protect your fingers when giving treats outside of training sessions. At home, put cream cheese or peanut butter on a wooden spoon and offer your dog a chance to lick this food a few times. This is a way to reinforce your dog without putting your hands near her mouth.
In a dog park or class setting, offer the treat on your flat palm. Many dogs who will snap at treats held in the fingertips are able to take them properly when they are presented on an open hand. A final option is to drop the treats on the ground rather than giving them directly to the dog. It takes a lot of repetition for most dogs to learn to take treats gently, and the occasional effort to teach someone else’s dog by, for example, holding them in your closed hand is unlikely to be effective. Unless a dog’s guardian is teaching this at home, save your fingers by either flat-palming the treats or tossing them on the ground. These techniques won’t teach your dog or her dog park friends to take the treats politely, but they do keep your fingers safe!
Q&A with Alexandra Horowitz
In her new book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz—author of the wildly popular Inside of a Dog—enlists the attention and insights of others to discover more about the neighborhood in which she lives. But when it comes to really getting the inside scoop, who better to turn to than dogs, those “creatures of the nose”?
Bark: What was the inspiration for your new work, On Looking?
B: In one of the chapters, you “look” as you see your dog does, more by smell than by vision. How were you able to get into a dog’s “nosescape”?
B: What did that tell you about a dog’s experience of the walk?
B: Did you observe other differences in the ways a dog perceives the landscape/environment? For example, in the time it took to do the walk?
B: Did your dog linger at landmarks, and if so, why do you think he did that?
B: Do you think we can refine our sense of smell by watching our dogs? Perhaps using our sense of smell differently, or doing more sniffing?
The singer and her, dog, Juliette — rock on.
Say the name “Rickie Lee Jones” and a swooping, sailing, raw and tender voice comes immediately to mind. This singer-songwriter has been on the cover of Rolling Stone, won two Grammys and a bucket-full of nominations, and otherwise entertained and surprised us for more than three decades. (Her most recent album, The Devil You Know, was recently released by Fantasy Records.) Rickie Lee and her dog, Juliette, are regulars on LA’s Los Feliz Boulevard, where she knows all the best places for coffee and corn muffi ns with raspberry jam. Her take on her dog is much like the artist herself: a little unpredictable, irreverent and, in the end, poetic.
You know, the joy of the dog’s life is in the normalcy, the strangers’ footsteps they warn you of, the way they know you’re tired or sad, or when you’re on the phone and your voice changes and they start poking you with their nose and wagging their tail extra loud to remind you not to take things seriously. The respect — my dog insists I eat before she does, or at least be cooking. She does not want to be pack leader.
My dog tries to teach me her language (even though she has not had consistent luck), and I see her eyes, or the way her head is raised, and I know she feels ill. She knows about 100 words and 50 more phrases; she knows when I’m leaving for long or short. She knows “scoot over,” “give it back” and “drink some water.” She knows the names of places and people in her life. She loves the recording studios, and the live shows make her crazy excited.
She is not a “licker”; she doesn’t see the point, and neither do I, but once in a while, a small kiss. Maybe a second small lick. She’s a lady and her name suits her. She has pain, but she insists on walking with the horse, running near the beach. She is present every day, and I have learned a lot from sharing my home with her. When I contemplate the nature of dreams, she runs and barks in her sleep. When I feel besieged, she wants to comfort me.
The story of Juliette is in her kind, kind spirit; her motherlove wakefulness; her baby dreams. I care for her, little pains and big. And she is a companion to me every day of my life now.
Robin and Linda Williams have been making music together for almost 40 years. Their new CD, These Dark Old Hills (Red House Records), is a vibrant collection of original folk and bluegrass tunes, one of which especially caught our fancy. The couple praises the charms of their rescue dog, Tessie Mae, in a song.
What surprised the couple most about this sweet stray, whom they adopted from the Charlottesville, Va., SPCA, was her independent streak. As they told us, “We couldn’t leave any door open or else she would take off, and no amount of calling would make her stop. Just like we say in the fi rst verse of the song. ‘You’re an angel and a little sneak/A sweetheart with a stubborn streak/Good at following your nose/Out any door that wasn’t closed.’”
While we found this song to be a real toe-tapping, paw-thumping delight, Tessie has another idea about what the couple should be doing. “She doesn’t particularly seem interested in our music other than in the fact that it takes our attention away from her. When we’re rehearsing, she’ll come in the room wagging her tail and look at us as if to say, ‘Okay, it’s time for you guys to focus on me.’” Hard to not to do that with a chorus that goes, “Hey, Hey your straying days/Are over Tessie Mae/ Hey, Hey sit and stay/Don’t turn your head away …”
Listen to it on YouTube.
Q&A with Kim Kavin, author of Little Boy Blue
When journalist Kim Kavin decided to adopt an adorable pup on Petfinder.com, she didn’t realize that her good deed would lead to a book exposing shelter practices as well as reporting on the amazing canine rescue network responsible for saving that pup. We talk with the author about her book, Little Boy Blue: A puppy’s rescue from death row and his owner’s journey for truth about what she learned on that “journey.”
Bark: Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve been seeing more purebreds especially with first-time dog people, than I have in the past (historically, mixed-breeds have been the city’s top dogs), and it’s a trend that concerns me. What’s your take on the best way to get the word out about shelter adoption?
Everyone I interviewed for Little Boy Blue told me that education is the answer. They were thrilled to hear about the book; they said they’ve been screaming like banshees about adoption for years, and finally, people are starting to take notice. We need to keep that level of education going, and growing. If people simply understand the options—what they’re buying into when they acquire a purebred from a breeder versus what they’re supporting when they adopt a rescued dog—most do the right thing. Education is the key.
B: What five things can shelters do to improve their adoption rates?
B: How does a dog benefit by being fostered?
When they see how calm Blue is, they begin to understand that they are somewhere happy and good. In a very short time, each one turns into a completely different dog. Sometimes it takes a few days, or a week with the shy puppies or those who need medical care, but it happens every time. They know they will get their own bowl of food at mealtimes. They have a sunny, grassy back yard to run and play in. They have me hugging them and giving them toys. They have a big, clean crate where they feel safe and can take a nap in peace and quiet. They ride in the car, they go with us for walks at the park. They learn basic commands like “sit” and realize they can do things to earn treats.
That’s when their real personalities come out—the personalities that we can tell potential adopters about. We have a much better chance of matching people with the right dogs if the dogs come out of foster care, because we have a better sense of who the dogs actually are compared with what they were like in the shelter.
B: What tips would you offer those who might be interested in a shelter dog?
B: Any ideas on how to improve spay/neuter rates? Groups around the country have promoted low-cost, accessible services but still, many people won’t neuter their pets.
There are a number of reasons why. First and foremost is a lack of education. People don’t realize that they are contributing to a massive national shelter crisis when they allow their dogs to produce unwanted puppies. This can be overcome. Education takes time, but it does work. As the founder of Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass., told me, education has gotten through in the Northeast, where spay/neuter has become as routine as daily tooth-brushing—and where shelters typically have far lower kill rates than in some other parts of the country.
Another reason I’ve heard more than once has to do with religion. I’ve had people tell me that encouraging spay/neuter is akin to “playing God.” They feel that it’s just as immoral to spay or neuter a dog as it is for a human to take birth-control pills or have an abortion, because God and God alone should decide which puppies are born. This is much harder to address, and I don’t know that anything will ever change those opinions. It’s like trying to convince pro-life and pro-choice activists to see eye-to-eye. It’s just not likely to happen.
B: Beyond spaying and neutering, what more can be done to control pet population in shelters?
The other main reason that people give dogs back to rescues or shelters, is that they say the dogs “turned out” bad. This tends to happen when the dogs are two or three years old—and almost always a result of the human failing to train the dog when he was a puppy. If a dog doesn’t know how to sit or where to go to the bathroom after you’ve had him for two or three years, it’s because you failed to teach him. The dog isn’t bad. It’s a lousy dog owner. If more people took advantage of training classes, which are usually just one hour a week, then far fewer people would be complaining they had “bad dogs.”
B: Did you gain any insights into why the AKC pushes back so vigorously on spay/neuter laws and puppy-mill legislation?
My suggestion to people who find this situation untenable is to adopt rescue dogs and mixed-breeds like Blue instead of buying purebreds. Encourage everyone you know to do the same. There will then be a point at which demand slows for the product that the purebred industry has marketed and sold for such a long time. Without customers, breeders will go out of business. We don’t need to pass laws to effect this change. We just need to educate more people about what they are buying into when they acquire a purebred dog from a breeder.
B: What are the most important things people can do to help their local shelters (along with adopting from them, of course)?
B: What do you hope to achieve with your book?
First Lady Michelle Obama talks with us about two of her favorite subjects—healthy children and a happy dog.
Bark: Have you discussed walking or playing with dogs as a part of “Let’s Move” and the fight against childhood obesity in the United States? Do you see children’s relationships with their dogs as playing a role in this aspect of their health?
Michelle Obama: Through Let’s Move! we encourage families to find creative ways to stay active whether it’s through riding their bikes, walking together or dancing to music at home. For our family, having Bo has taught our girls about being responsible because Malia and Sasha are charge of taking care of him when they get home from school. And since Bo is an energetic dog, I know that when the girls take him out for his nightly walk they also run around and play outside with him.
B: Many studies have looked at the health and social benefits to dog ownership, including that walking with a dog increases the time spent in that activity and the degree of commitment to it, have you seen evidence of this in your own family?
MO: Bo has been such a positive addition for our family. I think of him as my third child because we all love him so much. Whether we’re teaching him how to roll over, swimming with him in the summer, or watching him greet kids who are visiting the White House, he constantly keeps us smiling.
B: Where does Bo sleep? Does he have a favorite trick/ behavior that your family finds especially endearing?
MO: Most nights Bo can be found sleeping in one of the girls’ rooms. I’m proud to say he is a really smart dog and is known for his tricks, but it is the simple things he does like climbing up in our laps to cuddle that we love the most.
Dog's Life: Humane
We talk with organizers of the Best Friend’s Society 2012 No More Homeless Pets conference to be held in Las Vegas, Oct. 25 to 28. Learn how to part of the solution— attend this important and informative conference.
Q. How did the No More Homeless Pets Conference come about?
A. The No More Homeless Pets Conference is legendary in its ability to bring together like-minded people who want to make a proactive, sustainable change for companion animals. Its sponsor, Best Friends Animal Society was founded on this premise. In the beginning, their origins were as grassroots as they could get. They saw the problem—stray, abandoned, neglected and abused animals—and created a sanctuary. They provided the local animal care and control around Kanab, including Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. When we say they built the Sanctuary, they did everything from creating the blueprints for the specialized buildings to physically constructing the buildings.
While building the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary, they also started sharing the information on how they were able to work better and smarter for the animals People from different countries, socioeconomic and education backgrounds came together and dove headfirst into working to realize a time of No More Homeless Pets. The conference was a next logical step in bringing these like-minded people together. The conference started more than 10 years ago with about 250 attendees. Last year’s had more than 1,300 attendees.
Q. How important is sharing success stories at the conference? Does it help to build a sense of community?
A. Sharing success stories is very important. From the very beginning the emphasis on hope and solutions is what attracted supporters to Best Friends and shaped the editorial content of its magazine and website.
From its start, No More Homeless Pets Conference has carried the message that ending the killing of adoptable, treatable animals is absolutely a goal that can be achieved. The sharing of the successes and innovations from across the U.S., Canada and other countries is one of the hallmarks of the conference and what keeps people coming back.
Q. Is there a long-term strategy or a multi-tiered plan to solving the problem—addressing key links in the process, such as, transportation, fostering, training—to reduce the number of pets who enter shelters?
A. All of these are important components. Each community has its own unique needs list so community-based solutions that look at the local needs and how to devise strategies that address those needs are best.
For instance consider the success of the city of Calgary in Alberta. Bill Bruce, director of Animal Services there, has approached ending the killing of shelter animals with a top-down, integrated community-policy approach. The department is funded entirely by pet-licensing fees and animal-regulation enforcement fines. A pet license is $30 for a fixed dog and $52 for an unaltered canine, and registration can be done online, in person and even at the bank. To encourage compliance, a fine for not licensing a dog is $250.They focus on public education about responsible pet ownership, pet-licensing compliance and addressing as many animal issues as possible out in the community before the animals become shelter problems. Bill has turned the “dog catcher” into a genuinely helpful community animal care resource.
The return-to-owner rate for cats in the U.S. is a miserable 2 percent. In Calgary, 49 percent of cats are returned to their owners and 29 percent are adopted. That’s a 78 percent save rate. An amazing 90 percent of dogs are returned to their owners in Calgary, 9 percent of impounded dogs are adopted and only 5 percent are put down.
More impressive still is the fact that Calgary accomplishes this with no taxpayer dollars at all, which protects animal services and the animals from political wrangling over budget cuts and economic trends.
Q. What changes have you seen in public awareness of adoption and rescue, spaying and neutering and are you seeing an impact?
A. When the No-Kill Movement first started about 17 million animals were being killed in the nation's shelters. That number is still about 4 million, a number that is not acceptable.
Best Friends started the first statewide coalition of rescue groups and shelters in Utah in 2000. Over 46,000 animals were euthanized in shelters throughout the state (1999 baseline). Today, that number has decreased by 49%. This year twelve communities achieved a 90% or higher “save rate” for the first 6 months of 2012. And slightly more than ten other communities were in the 80-89% range for the same period. In New Hampshire, Peter Marsh was a founder of Solutions to Overpopulation of Pets, the group that spearheaded the establishment of publicly funded pet-sterilization programs in that state. During the first six years after the programs were established, shelter euthanasia rates dropped by 75 percent and have been maintained at that level since that time. For more than 15 years, Peter has helped animal care and control agencies, humane organizations and advocacy groups establish effective shelter overpopulation programs in their communities. Marsh’s analysis of the impact of targeted spay/neuter services states that spaying or neutering five animals per 1,000 people in low-income areas will reduce shelter intake by as much as 33 percent over a five-year period. Jacksonville, Florida, reduced shelter intake by 23 percent in four years, and New Hampshire reduced shelter intake by 33.6 percent in six years. In Los Angeles the NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles) imitative is a coalition close to 50 local rescue groups Through the first five months of 2012, there has been a 15.7 percent reduction in the number of animals euthanized at LA city animal shelters—that’s 1,080 less in the first five months of the year compared to the same period in 2011. On top of that, the Coalition partners alone (separate of Best Friends or Los Angele Animal Services) placed 426 more animals than last year so far from January through June
Q. What are some of the success stories and evolutions of no-kill communities?
A. Here are four success stories, among the very many, that we are proud of.
1. Cheryl Wicks, founder of Sammie's Friends in Grass Valley, California, in 2000, Cheryl moved to the foothill area after living for decades in the fast-paced corporate world. She went to her local animal shelter to begin volunteering and found that not only were they killing 68 percent of the animals, she was also their only volunteer. In ’02, she attended the No More Homeless Pets Conference and received important information to help take her work to the next level. So she set about putting together a volunteer program and then things started going in the right direction. With the help of social networking, she was able to rally 100 people who wanted to end the killing of healthy pets in her community.
To help raise money for the sick and injured animals, Cheryl started a 501(c)(3). She was looking to change the overriding mentality toward animals from being “killable” to being “adoptable.” The organization she named Sammie’s Friends, after her very special Shar-Pei, Sammie, was on a roll. In ’07, she approached the city to run the shelter. It took two years, but in ’09, Sammie’s Friends officially took over the animal control contract.
Sammie’s Friends, now running the municipal animal control shelter, euthanizes less than one percent of the animals.
Cheryl explains, "After I attended my first No More Homeless Pets Conference, it made me start thinking, ‘What can I do to get animals out of the shelter?’ It made me realize the animals are the clients, and we’ve got to do everything we can on their behalf."
2. Zach Skow, founder of Marley’s Mutts in Kern County, California, had been a volunteer with Best Friends’ Los Angeles programs for a few years when he went to his first No More Homeless Pets Conference in ’09. He went because he wanted to learn how to do more for the animals.
“Going to the conference is like going to spring training for sports teams. You hone your skills by learning from the best. We learned how to expand our foster network to save more lives,” shares Zach.
While Zach has attended other animal welfare conferences, he said none has come close to this conference in terms of the quality and accessibility of the speakers and the feeling of camaraderie the event cultivates. He went back to California with “a renewed vigor and (motivation) to take lifesaving to the next level.”
3. Denise Bitz, founder of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue in Asheville, North Carolina, is coming to this year’s conference, which features sessions that are divided into seven main tracks: building a no-kill community, marketing, keeping pets out of shelters, adoption and fostering, fundraising, animal care and behavior, and new solutions to old problems. She says, “The tracks allow you to take exactly what you need in areas that can use the most improvement.”
Denise cites shelter enrichment (creating a mentally stimulating environment for her charges) as something she was able to put into practice after attending a previous year’s conference. Lessons she learned continue to pay off as well, including mailing and marketing techniques.
4. The Fetch Foundation’s founder, Marie Peck, had an epiphany: “The first time I was at the conference, it was overwhelming. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be with your people. I learned the best lesson: Be nice. It sounds simple, but it changed everything. From the quality of volunteers to the quality of donations, when we changed our attitude, our ability to do more just opened up.”
The Fetch Foundation is a “boutique rescue,” pulling dogs who are good candidates for search and rescue from shelters. But sometimes they get hit with an unexpected situation, like a hoarding case, and the information they learned at the conference is invaluable in helping them place multiple animals.
Q. What are the top things that people who support the cause can do on their own?
A. Become a supporter of Best Friends Animal Society and your donations support innovative grassroots programs including spay/neuter and TNR (trap/neuter/return) programs, promoting shelter adoptons, fighitng breed-discrimnatory laws and puppy mills, educate the public, holding major adoption events, and conducting large and small- scale animal rescues.
Q. Can you give us a preview of this year’s conference, what are you most excited about?
A. We’re excited for the sessions geared toward people who aren’t necessarily deeply involved in animal welfare but who want to make a difference in their communities. We’re featuring some unique success stories of individuals who have taken the initiative in their communities to help animals and have made a big impact—from creating multi- group adoption events, to helping promote spay/neuter programs, to starting programs that help lost pets find their homes, to programs that provide temporary foster to keep pets out of shelters when their people are in temporary crisis. Leading a community to no-kill often seems like a daunting task, but it can start with one individual, one program or one idea. Often these are ordinary individuals who have achieved extraordinary results for the animals, and we're excited to be showcasing many of these individuals at our conference.
We would love to hear from Bark readers about success stories on how their shelter, rescue group, spay/neuter program etc. is helping to move the needle toward no-kill. We would love to hear all the ideas and successes that other have had. (You can add your comments below.)
Author of The Call of the Mild
In her thoughtful and provocative new book, Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner, Lily Raff McCaulou— raised as a gun-fearing environmentalist and animal lover—meditates on the ways her perspectives on hunting and her place in the natural world have changed. We talk with her about her experiences, and her non-hunting fishing dog, Sylvia.
Bark: You contributed the endpiece for this issue, and in it, you talk about your dog, Sylvia. What can you tell us about her (besides the fact that she’s a great fishing companion)?
I spent months browsing Petfinder. com, where I eventually came across a photo-less profile of a female Flat- Coated Retriever mix named “Missy.” She was young but not a puppy. She’d been picked up as a stray; a couple of weeks had passed and nobody claimed her, so she was scheduled to be euthanized. Just in time, a group called Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals pulled her, took her to a foster home and listed her online.
Her profile was short but mentioned that she liked cats. It reminded me of Bob’s ad, and made me wonder if they were kindred spirits. (The funny thing is, we don’t even have cats.) The following weekend, we went—with Bob, of course—to an adoption event at a pet store a few hours from our house to meet her. We drove her home that afternoon.
B: What does Sylvia do while you fish?
B: You not only fish, but hunt as well. Was that something your family did? Does your husband hunt or fish with you?
B: What made you want to become a hunter?
Meanwhile, I was spending time with ranchers and loggers, many of whom hunted. I had always considered myself an environmentalist, but these hunters made me question what that really meant. They respected the animals they hunted, a paradox that intrigued me. Although I was more sentimental about my toll on the planet, they seemed to intimately understand that we all need natural resources—water, wood, oil and wildlife—to survive.
Farming—even of vegetables—is rife with death. Fields are tilled with blades that also slice voles. Combines harvest grains, shredding groundhogs along the way. To make our magazines and toilet paper, trees are logged, slaying owls. To charge our iPhones, coal is mined, destroying coyote dens. The roads we drive on, the lawns we play on—all of it used to be wildlife habitat. Hunting offered me a rare chance to come face-to-face with the animal life that sustains my own. I thought it could make me a better, truer environmentalist.
B: And did it?
B: In April, the New York Times ran your op-ed piece, “I Hunt, but the NRA Isn’t for Me.” What kind of reaction did you get?
B: What do you come away with from being outdoors—does the experience vary, depending on what you’re doing?
One challenge of hunting is to achieve this perfect state, a place between calm and alertness. If you’re too alert, you get jumpy. It’s exhausting and you can’t keep it up all day. If you’re too laid back, you miss the signs and can’t find an animal or get a shot off in time. There’s a sweet spot in there, but it takes a lot of practice.
B: I believe the number of hunters is on the decline, at least in California. Do you think the locavore movement is changing attitudes, something like the back-to-the-land movement of the ’60s and ’70s?
Some of my own reasons for learning to hunt do align with the locavore movement and its predecessor, the back-to-the-land movement. Hunting isn’t necessarily that different from, say, keeping backyard chickens, planting a garden or taking a butchery class. All are paths toward selfsufficiency, better understanding where our food comes from and procuring meat from animals that weren’t tortured in a factory farm or flown halfway across the world.
B: Did you try to teach Sylvia to hunt with you?
I did save the wings from some birds that I shot and used them to try to teach Sylvia to track a bird’s scent. I would drag a wing around the backyard and hide it behind a shrub. Then I’d let her into the yard and tell her to find the bird. This sounds odd, but she was very reluctant to use her sense of smell. Excited by the tone of my voice, she would just look all over the place. I gave up pretty quickly.
B: At some point, would you like to hunt with a dog?
My next dog will be a hunting dog. I have so much fun with Sylvia, just hanging out and playing. Fishing with her is pure, endless entertainment. But unlike a hunting dog, she isn’t making the activity any easier for me. I suspect that if we worked together as partners, as in hunting, our relationship would be even deeper. I look forward to experiencing that with my next dog. For now, though, I couldn’t be happier with my fishing dog. Not many people can say they have a dog who shares their hobby.
B: What made you decide to write The Call of the Mild?
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Interview with the President of Dogs Scouts of America
Summertime brings back childhood memories of swimming, hiking and summer camp with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of crafts, campfires and sleeping under the stars. Like many youngsters, these activities revolved around scouting … troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Today, our dogs keep me company on my outdoor adventures, but I sometimes miss the camaraderie of my fellow scouts. Imagine my delight in discovering Dog Scouts—a national organization that promotes a variety of pursuits for dogs and their owners. I had the opportunity to find out more about this exemplary organization recently when I spoke to Chris Puls, President of Dog Scouts of America.
When and how did the Dog Scouts in America start?
DSA was established in 1995 for people and dogs of all ages and abilities. It was started by Lonnie Olson because of her dog Karli. Karli had been active in several dog sports and she had excelled in many other areas which did not offer registered titles. For example, she was an outstanding frisbee dog. She was the lead dog on Lonnie’s sled team, and she had starred in stage productions and television commercials. She performed tricks and entertained people in hospitals, schools and nursing homes with her therapy visits too. This dog was like an Eagle Scout (the highest rank in Boy Scouts), she had done it all! Lonnie decided that there should be an organization for dogs like Karli or dogs who aspired to Karli’s many accomplishments. And an organization for people who just wanted to have more fun with their dogs and learn new things.
The concept of having a single organization that gave recognition to all of the various activities which dogs become involved in was just too profound to ignore. Lonnie jumped on the idea of Dog Scouts to recognize all the dog activities under one organization (at a time when dog sports outside of obedience were just getting started and when many were breed restrictive). Rally had not yet been created and Agility had just been introduced in the U.S. a few years earlier. The only other “dog camp” had just recently started on the East coast and was geared toward serious competitors in various dog sports.
The idea of pet dogs coming to camp with their owners to learn skills, for which they would get recognition in the form of merit badges, was, as Lonnie says, “the best idea I’ve come up with in my lifetime.” Everyone loves the concept. Everyone wants their dog to be a Dog Scout. And now that concept has spread across the country and even to other countries with troops currently in 22 states plus Canada and Puerto Rico.
Much like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Dogs Scouts is more than fun and games, it involves a lifelong learning, enrichment and dedication. Can you talk about the organization's mission and focus on responsibility?
I think the Dog Scout owner’s motto sums up the mission: “Our dog’s lives are much shorter than ours—let’s help them enjoy their time with us as much as we can.” But the official mission we strive for is: to improve the lives of dogs, their owners, and society through humane education, positive training and community involvement.
We stand for responsibility—to the dogs in our care, to our communities, and to each other. We recognize the importance and benefits of the relationship between people and companion animals, and seek out ways to enrich this bond. We believe encouraging compassion and kindness toward our canine companions builds a more compassionate and kind world. We strive to create a better understanding and quality of life for our dogs and all animals in our world. We believe that our members make a difference by setting an example, developing skills and embracing opportunities to share our philosophy with each other and inspire people to join us. We know that sharing positive ways of training and problem-solving helps to keep dogs in lifetime homes and out of shelters. In Dog Scouts, people help dogs, dogs help people, and the whole community benefits.
We envision a future where dogs remain in happy, lifelong homes with responsible owners. In this vision, all dogs are seen as a useful and welcome part of the community, because people take responsibility for socializing, training, containing and caring for them. We strive to create a world where people view their dogs as part of their family and all dog owners have the knowledge they need to raise well-mannered canine citizens.
There’s an entry point to membership and level of commitment to Dog Scouts, correct? What are the first requirements upon joining Dog Scouts?
All participants must first earn the title of Dog Scout. They do that by earning the Dog Scout badge. This title/badge (and all the other badges) have components for both the dog and the person to learn and demonstrate so that both ends of the leash are involved. The Dog Scout badge requires the owner to learn about responsible dog care and positive training while the dog needs to demonstrate basic obedience like sit, down, stay, come, heel and leave-it as well as showing they are safe around people and dogs.
And like young boys and girls in scouting, there are lots of badges to earn by the dogs and their human companions. What kinds of badges are available?
After the Dog Scout badge is earned, the team is free to learn/earn just about any of the other badges (some have pre-requisites that need to be earned first). Earning badges are optional and not required, but offer a wide range of challenges for dogs and owners. The badges are categorized into the following areas:
There are 88 badges (including the 10 new badges that will be introduced this year, but are not yet present online).
Some of the more popular are the Backpacking and Hiking, Puppy Paddler (swimming), Manners, First Aid/CPR, Agility (all levels), Community Service and Art of Shaping (teaching the dog to wear a bootie that gets dipped in paint, that the dog then swipes at the canvas to create a masterpiece.)
Community involvement is a big part of Dog Scouts as well … how do the Scouts impact their communities?
Many troop members help out in their communities, this includes individuals who participate remotely, without having a troop nearby. Troops have raised funds for bullet proof vests, vehicle temperature warning systems and door poppers for police K-9 units. They have organized drives for specially shaped pet oxygen masks for fire departments and cool bed equipment and vehicle temperature systems to search and rescue teams. And some have secured food and toys for the pets of people in need and low cost spay/neuter programs. They visit hospitals and nursing home with certified therapy dogs, and are active in educational presentations at a variety of events. Plus, DSA members often pick-up dog waste left behind by other, less responsible dog owners. We even have a badge for this! It’s the Clean-Up America II badge (level I is picking up cans and bottles).
I understand that there’s plenty of time for fun and games as well ... can you talk about some of the outings, camps and outdoor activities?
DSA national provides two summer camps each year in June and July at the 70-acre camp facility in St. Helen, MI. These camps run Monday to Saturday and allow the owners and their dogs to experience many sports and dog activities that they might otherwise be unable to do. If a medium sized dog wants to try Earthdog/Go-to-Ground, which is typically limited to small terriers, the dog can try it out because Dog Scout camp has larger tunnels for the big dogs. If a Chihuahua wants to try carting, we have some tiny carts for them to try. DSA encourages the dogs and people to try any activity that is safe for their dog. The camps are $650 for the week and that includes all the activities from 8 am – 8 pm and all meals (lodging is extra and available on-site ranging from $8 per night for a rustic camp tent site or $75 per night for a one-room private cabin with A/C. There are also private and group rooms in the main lodge and a few RVs to rent. People can also bring their own RV—we have sites with electric hook up.
DSA national also holds Spring, Fall and Winter outings that are fun get-togethers and free for DSA members (lodging extra). Members may rent the camp facility for their own use or use it to hold a seminar, troop camp out or other learning activity.
There are also two mini-camps held by troops near Pennsylvania/Massachusetts and in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. These are 3–4 days and include several badge activities and learning sessions.
We have about 40 troops that hold various activities for their members—everything from hikes and parties to community service events and fundraisers. The number of events a troop has per year varies by troop. People can see a map and a listing of troop locations and troop leader contact information online (scroll down under the map box for contact info).
Are there age restrictions for children joining with their dogs?
We have a Jr. Scout program that is open to children from 6 to 18 years of age. A child of any age can be a member of DSA (with parent’s permission), but some troops have rules about minors attending troop events. This might include the parent needing to stay with the child or the child demonstrating a certain level of competence in controlling the dog. At camp, anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult that must be responsible for them. We usually have a few kids per camp, but mostly it is an adult activity.
Can people participate in Dog Scouts online or virtually ... if they live in remote areas or don’t have a troop nearby?
Absolutely! All the badges can be earned by submitting video of the dog doing their part and written answers for the owner’s part of the badge. Individuals are encouraged to participate in activities like the DSA National Hike-a-Thon, which takes place every May and individuals can organize activities and fundraisers for their community.
We also have various competition and titling events that are open to everyone (with discounts for DSA members). Currently, we offer titles for backpacking, scent detection, carting, treibball (ball herding) and IMPROV (a fun, useful and varied form of obedience). The guidebooks and rules for these can be found at: dogscouts.org.
The dogs must love scouting ... any stories stand out?
We have had a number of dogs who try a dog sport for the first time at Dog Scout camp, and then go on to compete and earn titles. Several have even made it to the National level. This has happened with a number of dogs in Dock Diving, but also in Rally and Frisbee. And dogs of all breeds have found they LOVE lure coursing!
Usually at least half of the campers during the summer camps are people who have attended our camp before, sometimes well over half are repeat campers. And some of the campers have attended every year since the start and are now on staff! Many have attended multiple years and we give out “Happy Camper pins” that award a new “bone” for every 3 years of camp attended. Many people have multiple bones hanging from their pins. The Texas mini-camp filled in less than 3 days last year and this year it filled (50 campers) in just a single day! We often hear from the campers that Dog Scout camp is the best time they have with their dog.
What’s on the Dog Scouts calendar this summer?
We offer camps and events throughout the year—our popular Michigan summer camps held in June and July are currently full as is the Texas mini-camp this fall, but space remains at the Blue Ridge mini-camp in Western Maryland, Aug 16-19, 2012. The DSA Leadership Retreat and two Canine Freestyle camps with WCFO Judge Gloria Voss are offered every April and May.
Current and future outing dates are posted online: http://dogscouts.org/
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