Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Guide Dogs for the Blind changes training methods, and the results are amazing.
In the dog-training world, “crossing over” refers to switching from using old-school traditional training methods (catching the dog making a mistake and correcting that mistake) to modern positive- reinforcement methods (catching the dog doing something right and rewarding those good choices).
Quietly and without fanfare, Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB)—an organization with a rich history and proven track record of training safe and effective guide dogs—began the process of crossing over almost a decade ago. The results have been nothing short of astounding.
According to Michele Pouliot, GDB’s director of research and development, Karen Pryor Academy faculty member, international Freestyle champion and the force behind the switch, success rates have soared. Using traditional methods, roughly 45 to 50 percent of the dogs entering the formal training process made guide dog status. With the incorporation of clicker training (one type of positive reinforcement), 60 to 85 percent graduate and are successfully paired with a blind partner.
The transition officially began within the training department in 2006. Then, in 2013, GDB adopted an organizationwide mission of maximizing the use of positive reinforcement in all departments. Their current goal is to roll out the changes over a five-year period. All of the dogs in GDB programs— the dogs in formal training, of course, but also the breeding dogs, the smallest puppies and even career-change dogs— will benefit from the commitment to clicker training. For those in the formal training program, the advantages are already clear.
“The dogs are more enthusiastic, better thinkers and problem solvers,” says Pouliot. “Their attitude is over the top. They are confident of the job. They want to do it—they can’t wait to do it!” Pouliot says that dogs who are not part of formal training, such as the breeding dogs, will also gain from the transition. For example, rather than being wrestled on and off exam tables, breeding dogs will be taught to happily get on and off by themselves. This will eliminate some of the stress experienced by both dogs and veterinary staff.
People will also be affected by the switch to clicker-training protocols. Puppy-raising families, volunteers and the blind partners with whom the dogs are paired will all be learning the power of positive reinforcement training. As they are exposed to positive reinforcement, they will learn to notice and acknowledge what the dogs are doing right, rather than looking for mistakes. Those of us who have experienced this transition know that it has the potential to be life altering.
Karen Pryor, CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training, author of Don’t Shoot the Dog and the person largely credited with bringing clicker methods to dog training, is equally excited by how positive reinforcement training affects people. Pryor says that learning to train this way is rewarding, and the training itself can be a powerful experience.
As an example, Pryor says she watched a blind handler learn to teach his dog to find things like the mailbox and a signal- crossing button. “What was really amazing was watching this well-dressed man and the expression on his face when he got to reward his dog. He was empowered in this process, too.”
Pouliot says that the impact of clicker training on the dogs has been more than she originally expected. “We hoped we’d get the same performance, but a happier dog. What we didn’t expect was how much better the performance would be.”
One of the initial challenges Pouliot faced was teaching the dogs to ignore food in the environment. Trainers were concerned that using food in training might make it more difficult for the dogs to learn to leave other food alone—a fair concern, to be sure. What they discovered, however, was just the opposite. Clicker-trained dogs were much more successful at this than dogs trained with traditional techniques.
Part of what worked was having a specific food-delivery protocol—a list of food do’s and don’ts that helped make it clear for the dogs. For example, the dogs are not rewarded on the ground, only by the person handling the dog and only when the dog stands in a specific position. Pouliot says that consistency with the protocol is important to a dog’s success.
Like many monumental changes, GDB’s crossing over had humble beginnings. “I started with Guide Dogs for the Blind in 1974,” says Pouliot. “I grew up with them, learning traditional training techniques: waiting for the dog to do something wrong, correcting it and then praising for the right response.” She was entrenched in traditional training, as was the rest of the organization.
For Pouliot, the change began in 2000 when she explored clicker training with her own dogs and horses. Pouliot says that when she clicker-trained her horses—not just one, but all of them—to retrieve objects from across a field, she knew she was on to something very powerful. “That was my big ‘a-ha’ moment. I was so impressed with the success.”
Inspired, Pouliot went to work trying out clicker training with the guide dog program in mind. She conducted a few unofficial trials, training dogs who had already been dropped from the program for various reasons. One, a young female yellow Lab, was too afraid of other dogs to be successful as a guide dog. Pouliot began clicker training her with the primary goal of reducing her fear. Not only was Pouliot successful in turning around the dog’s fearful response—the young Lab went from being scared to actively engaging with the other dogs—but also, the Lab was able to finish training and go on to be a career guide dog.
This and other equally exciting results encouraged Pouliot and others at GDB to begin an official pilot program. Pouliot and one of the training supervisors, Lori Brown, would formally train two dogs using clicker techniques. Because she had previously worked with dolphins (where positive reinforcement training is the norm), Brown was a natural choice for the pilot program.
The other trainers chose the dogs who would take part in the program; their candidates were considered difficult to work with, which set a very high bar for success. But after just one week, the transition in attitude alone spoke in favor of clicker training. The dogs had switched from being low energy and lacking enthusiasm to being animated and excited.
Following the initial success of the pilot program, Pouliot and her colleagues began working on specific procedures and techniques. By 2006, GDB was educating all 65 trainers on two campuses in this “new” method.
“The transition wasn’t instant,” says Pouliot. “In fact, it has been a long journey.” Because they couldn’t stop the training program long enough to establish the new routines and teach all the staff at once, progress was incremental. “We had to teach the staff in small chunks. Each year, we would add new pieces.”
Pouliot acknowledges that it was a challenge at times. Consider trainers—good trainers with 20 or more years of experience— being asked to learn and embrace new methods. But once they saw for themselves how powerful the method was, everyone got excited, and the transition moved forward at a steady pace.
Guide Dogs for the Blind’s organization-wide crossover to clicker training has and will continue to have a tremendous and powerful effect on the people and animals associated with its programs. But the reach of this transition has already been felt far beyond the immediate scope of the organization. Pouliot and GDB have shared the success of their program with guide-dog trainers worldwide through a series of weeklong seminars.
Pryor says that what GDB and Pouliot have done is not just develop a model for training guide- and other service dogs, but also showed how to reach people and organizations entrenched in traditions, and how to help them successfully make changes.
She also points out that the success of this program and the lessons learned about working in a positive manner for positive changes have had a big influence on her own life, giving her better tools to help with organizational transitions.
The magnitude of change brought about by the use of principles of positive reinforcement will continue to ripple outward to the larger guide dog world, the even larger service-dog-training world and beyond. How far? Imagine the power when a family-dog trainer can say to a doubting client, “These are similar to the methods used by Guide Dogs for the Blind. Let’s give them a try and see if they might work for your dog, too.”
Special thanks to Michele Pouliot and Karen Pryor for their contributions to this article.
The Puppy Handoff
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Garden organically, for the sake of both the planet and your dogs.
Raised beds protect plantings from scampering paws and swinging tails. Dogs can be taught where they’re permitted and where they are not.
Digging pit, preferably in shaded locations, give dogs places to practice their excavation skills without disrupting your garden beds. You might entice them to use it by lightly burying (as they watch you) a treat-filled Kong.
Leave a plant-free “patrolling” area around the perimeter of your yard; dogs instinctively (and repeatedly) cruise boundaries and fence lines.
Construct a barrier around plants of the nightshade family, including eggplant, tomato and potato; their foliage and stems contain dangerous alkaloids that can kill a dog. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Larkspur (Delphinium ajacis) have toxic effects on the heart and circulation. When dogs eat large amounts of onions, they may suffer red blood cell destruction. Rhubarb leaves (Rheum rhabarbaram) contain oxalic acid. In quantity, it damages kidneys.
Avoid cocoa bean mulches; their chocolaty smell makes them pup catnip, but they contain theobromine, which is toxic for dogs.
Cross almond or walnut trees off your list for areas used by dogs; tannin is a canine toxin, and almond and walnut hulls contain it; moldy walnuts are also a problem. Avoid trees with toxic bark, such as cherry (contains cyanide-like components). And, some stone fruit trees (apricots, plums) can provide raw material for obstruction by indigestible pits.
Do not use snail bait containing metaldehyde, which is highly poisonous to dogs and cats. Copper barrier tape is a good alternative; slugs and snails are deterred from crossing it by the tape’s tiny positive electric charge.
Protect young trees, especially if you have a male dog. Be sure to frequently rinse the trunk and soil with fresh water. Or, secure a copper or galvanized splash guard of appropriate height and circumference around the developing tree the first couple of years to divert unwelcome attention from your pup.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Is there something more we can do to help our pups?
Warmer days tempt us to spend more time outdoors, frequently in the company of our dogs, who enjoy running and rolling in the grass and sniffing the flowers. The downside of this wonderful time of year is the potential for all of those lovely growing things to provoke allergic reactions.
Like us, dogs develop environmental allergies. Is this a condition we just have to contend with year after year, or is there something more we can do to help our pups?
In an allergic condition, the immune system overreacts to a perceived invader. Normally, a dog’s immune system can distinguish between a threat and a nonthreat. Pollen and other mild allergens are essentially non-threats and really shouldn’t cause an immune reaction, but in some dogs, they do, for reasons not yet fully understood.
Allergy symptoms come in many forms, from increased sneezing and running eyes to itchy skin and rashes. Humans reach for tissues, but dogs don’t have this option, so they rub their face on the floor or ground and paw at their eyes. In cases of atopic dermatitis, a skin disorder, increased ear-scratching and foot-licking are common; all of this scratching and licking can result in secondary bacterial skin infections, which further complicate the overall problem.
Veterinarians traditionally rely on either antihistamines or corticosteroids to ease the symptoms, and prescribe antibiotics in cases of infection.
Antihistamines, which are not as effective in dogs as they are in people, commonly have side effects—drowsiness or, occasionally, hyperactivity. Steroids are often used as well; many dogs are put on a low-dose regimen to control clinical signs associated with allergies. Other treatment options include medications such as cyclosporine and hypersensitization injections. Regardless of the strategy, we need to consider whether we are correcting the problem or just covering it up. In most cases, we are simply managing the clinical signs; once medications are discontinued, the problem resurfaces. Antihistamines work directly against a type of immune cell called a mast cell. Mast cells contain histamine granules that, when released, trigger symptoms such as itching and nasal discharge. Steroids act directly on the immune response; their mission is to suppress the immune system or put it into sleep mode so that it doesn’t react to nonthreat invaders (for example, pollen). The problem with steroids is that they have many side effects, ranging from increased appetite and weight gain to greater susceptibility to infection and even the possibility of organ damage when used long-term.
Tissue in the intestinal tract is thought to have an important immune-system function. Thus, a faulty immune response may be linked to poor gastrointestinal (GI) health, or what has been termed “leaky gut syndrome”; I tend to approach my allergy patients from this perspective. The GI tract normally maintains a distinct barrier between the bloodstream and what is ingested. Poor GI health, thought to be the result of chronic inf lammation, compromises that barrier and allows many different antigens, bacteria and proteins to cross it. This elicits an ongoing inflammatory and immune response and precipitates allergies as well as a host of other health conditions.
Repairing this gut barrier takes time and, in most cases, requires a total change of diet as well as the use of supplements. I ask owners to switch to home-cooked diets that incorporate a variety of protein sources as well as fruits, vegetables and some starches. Many commercial dog foods are full of preservatives, dyes and other additives that contribute to the problem, but a home-prepared diet ensures that the dog is getting only what is needed, and also aids in the delivery of vital nutrients.
Fed this way, many dogs respond within 30 to 60 days, but others require additional support, which usually correlates to the severity of the damage. Among the supplements that I have found useful are various mushroom polysaccharides, which help modulate the immune response; curcumin; green tea extracts; and a variety of antioxidants as well as other nutritive-type herbs such as spirulina (blue-green algae). Human research points toward the value of L-glutamine, an amino acid that has been shown to help repair the GI barrier as well as enhance overall immune response, and I often add this to an allergic dog’s regimen.
In the end, allergies are, unfortunately, common in both dogs and their people. Those who are willing to dig down and address the root cause of the allergic response may be able to not only improve the immediate condition, but also have a dramatic impact on their dogs’ health and longevity as well as reduce the need for many prescription medications.
Pet-friendly shelters can be lifesavers for victims
We caught an interesting story on the National Public Radio's Latino USA on Sunday … the report discussed the connection between domestic violence and pets. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NVADV) finds evidence that many women at risk of spousal abuse refuse to leave out of fear for their pets — studies show that between 18 and 48 percent of pet-owning women at domestic violence shelters had delayed their escape from their abusers because of their pets. Providing shelter and services to victims of domestic violence that include accommodations for their pets can be key in these life or death decisions. The numbers are still small, but some shelters like New York City's Urban Resource Institute are beginning to open their doors to pets—first cats, and now dogs. Listen to how the bond between survivors and their pets is an important part of the healing process.
Culture: Stories & Lit
One lick at a time, a reformed Terrier helps the unemployed find reassurance.
Einstein greets my clients with an enthusiasm no paid receptionist could match. I mean, even if I paid a receptionist $100,000 a year, he or she wouldn’t give each client a big sloppy kiss. He then escorts the client to the sofa, sitting right next to him (if not on his lap) and bestowing another round of kisses. An occasional client prefers career counseling without a face-washing and eases Einstein off the sofa. Undeterred, Einstein assumes the position: head on the client’s shoes.
Sometimes, a client gets anxious during a session. After all, it’s not easy to discuss having been unemployed for eons and trying to land a good job at a time when they’re harder to find than a perfect (and cheap) dog-sitter who’ll stay at your house 24/7. When clients feel stressed, they often pet Einstein; if they were already petting him, they tend to speed up—a useful anxiety detector for me.
Einstein is also my stress management consultant; I’ll often snuggle up to him on the floor, nose to nose, and rub his belly. Thirty seconds of that makes anxiety a physical impossibility. He’s my fitness trainer as well. Without him, it would be too tempting to stay on my butt, but Einstein needs his exercise, so we take walks four times a day.
Lest you think Einstein is the perfect dog, let me tell you what he was like before he matured into a multitasking professional.
When I walked into the shelter’s adoption area, I was greeted in the first cage by a Pit Bull, who sort of snarled. I sped up. In the next cage, a Rottweiler retreated in fear. I walked on by. But in the third cage, a little white Terrier with a Poodle-y face stood on his back legs and pawed the cage, squealing: “Please take me out. Puh-leeze!” The attendant told me this sweet dog had been thrown over the fence into the pound’s parking lot in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, the shelter policy required My Doggie to stay there for seven days lest the owner decided to reclaim him. The nanosecond the pound opened on the seventh day, I phoned: “Is that white Terrier/ Poodle mix still available?” Yup. I jumped in the car and retrieved him. He jumped happily on me, then equally happily into the car. He didn’t, however, like our next stop—the vet, for neutering—quite so much. But he handled it without a hint of a growl.
Alas, while his trials were over, mine were just beginning. Although he was almost a year old, he still had a bad case of puppy hyperactivity on top of new-home anxiety. Within the first week, Einstein had eaten the only pair of eyeglasses I’ve ever felt looked good on me, and chewed a hole in three, yes, three, carpets.
And those weren’t the worst things. He decided to make a meal of my medication. The fact that it was in a sealed pill bottle didn’t stop my goal-oriented boy. He treated it like a chew toy. Alas, his reward was 20 pills. Off to the vet to get his stomach pumped.
But the scariest episode of all happened one morning when I opened the door to get the newspaper. Einstein escaped and tore down the street. I—in T-shirt, shorts and slippers—raced after him. While there are many turns he could have chosen, he picked the one that put him on the freeway on-ramp. I chased him up the ramp and, for the first time in my life, was grateful for traffic. Cars on the freeway were at a dead stop. Knowing Einstein likes being in the car, I yelled, “Someone open your car door!” Miraculously, someone did, whereupon Einstein jumped in and was saved.
Believe me, it’s all been worth it. Einstein is a beloved family member. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I care more for him than I do for most people. (I love him almost as much as my wife.) He’s a true member of the family, not to mention the world’s best receptionist, co-counselor, stress reducer and fitness trainer
Dog's Life: Humane
Many of us have experienced this conundrum: We love animals and want to help them— especially our local shelter animals, many of whom experience trauma, confusion, pain and fear. And yet, the very thing that drives us to help—their suffering—can also be the thing that prevents us from actually going into the shelters to help. It’s hard to witness suffering, plain and simple. It’s hard to stand in the midst of such need and fear and sorrow and not fall apart. Suffering can make us feel helpless, which in turn makes us feel that we cannot help other helpless beings. And ’round and ’round it goes.
Two years ago, Pamela Fisher, DVM—a holistic veterinarian and founder of the Rescue Animal Mp3 Project, a nonprofit organization that distributes free music-loaded Mp3 players to animal shelters across the country— found herself in a similar situation. As she says, “I, along with many people, had trouble going into animal shelters. I wanted to help the animals [with Reiki and energy healing], but it tore at my heartstrings to see all those animals shaking at the back of their cages. And the barking can be deafening. I thought, there’s got to be a way I could help the animals feel better and be calmer. All I could think of was music.”
Dr. Fisher has used vibrationalhealing music—music specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions, but also, to help regulate the immune system—for years at her Ohio-based holistic veterinary practice. Thus, she has witnessed its benefits firsthand. These days, most of us are aware that science has proven that listening to specially calibrated music can help lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system, stabilize emotions and reduce anxiety. This applies to animals as well as humans; the animals who visit Dr. Fisher’s practice, even the vet-phobic ones, always become significantly more calm in the presence of the healing music.
One of the first vibrational healing CDs Dr. Fisher discovered was Healing Touch for Animals (Volume I). Composed by Carol Komitor and Inner Sound (Arden Wilken), this music is specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions; but to help regulate the immune system as well. “Of all the CDs I play at my office,” says Dr. Fisher, “I probably play this one the most. In fact, this is the one that helped inspire me to create the Mp3 project for shelters. At first, I figured I could donate some of this [Healing Touch for Animals] music to my local shelter. Then I found out that I was required to get permission to distribute all this copyrighted music. I figured if I was going to do all that work, I might as well try to find a way to distribute the music to all the shelters in the United States.”
Thus, the remarkable Rescue Animal Mp3 Project was born. Dr. Fisher began contacting musicians, sound healers and producers, asking them if they would be willing to donate the use of their music to this project. She focused animal-specific, sound-healing CDs. Most of the musicians Dr. Fisher contacted were thrilled at the idea of being able to help shelter animals. Eventually, she secured the rights to reproduce and distribute almost 30 hours of music.
The current Rescue Animal Mp3 is a “best of” compilation in animal sound healing therapy. Selections include tracks from Pet Calm and Pet Healing by Rick Collingwood, Canine Lullabies by Terry Woodford, Harp Music to Soothe the Savage Beast (gotta love that title) by Alianna Boone, Animal Angels and Connecting with Animals by Stuart Jones and Margrit Coates, Animal Healing and Music for Pets by Perry Wood and Margrit Coates, and the Healing Music for Animals and Their People (Healing Touch for Animals®) series mentioned above. (For a full list of music included on the Rescue Animal Mp3).
It took Dr. Fisher almost eight months to acquire the music and complete the necessary paperwork. Once that was accomplished, she went on to raise funds for the project and apply for grants so that she could purchase the Mp3 players and other necessary equipment. Finally, she loaded the players with the music and begin distributing them to shelters. When asked how many hours she put into the project in its preliminary stages, she says, “I won’t even venture to think about it. I work on it nonstop. My mission was to make it easy for the shelters. They don’t have the time or resources to acquire this music, so I did it for them.”
And when Dr. Fisher says easy, she means easy. All the shelters need to do is fill out an application. Project volunteers ship the pre-loaded Mp3 player at no cost, and provide easy installation instructions along with an FAQ page on their website. Typically, the shelter is required to provide its own amplification system (dock, CD player, speakers or computer), which most institutions already have in place. Sometimes, Fisher says, she donates speakers to shelters in need.
The response has been nothing short of remarkable. Survey responders consistently report that the music’s effect is overwhelmingly positive. Dogs have shown signs of reduced anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors such as barking, scratching, pacing and whining. Aggressive animals have mellowed out, traumatized dogs seem less fearful and storm-phobic dogs are noticeably calmer. Shelter workers have even noticed physical improvements in the form of increased appetites and more speedy recoveries from injuries and illness.
“Overall,” says Dr. Fisher, “the animals are better able to cope with the stress of shelter environments, and in turn, this improves their quality of life and increases their chance of acquiring forever homes. It’s part of a whole program. The Mp3 project is helping the animals get adopted.”
Currently, Rescue Animal Mp3s have been distributed to more than 800 shelters in 50 states, calming more than 87,000 animals. The Humane Society has endorsed the project, and the players are in use at such highprofile shelters as the New York CACC and the ASPCA. The project’s calming music can now be heard in animal sanctuaries as well; as of this writing, lions in Zimbabwe are listening to and benefiting from the music.
These statistics are remarkable, considering that the project—conceived and founded by one woman acting with one mission: to help animals— has been up and running for less than two years.
“The whole process of designing this project, starting a nonprofit, raising funds and applying for grants has been an interesting and difficult challenge for me,” Fisher admits. “But so rewarding for the animals’ sake.”
I hope you are as inspired by this woman and her project as I am. To find out more, donate or volunteer, visit rescueanimalmp3.org.
Dog's Life: Travel
Woman and dog sail the Atlantic Ocean.
Zach didn’t want to go. I was about to embark on the sailing adventure I’d dreamed of for 20 years when the first mate jumped ship.
It was 1991 and we were going from Key West to the Mediterranean by way of Bermuda and the Azores. Departure day was the culmination of weeks of preparation. I had made lists of the lists that had to be finished and things that had to be crossed off. Supplies, new equipment, bottom painted, sails double-stitched, on and on. Finally, it was all done. Friends were on the dock wishing fair winds and bon voyage, but we couldn’t sail because the ship’s dog was on the other side of the marina, dodging the captain’s every effort at capture.
There have been few times in my life that I have been madder at another creature than I was that day at him. This was so unlike Zach—he loved to go sailing, would go into a barking, wiggling, tail-wagging frenzy when the lines were being untied and we were pulling out of the slip. Throughout his whole seven years with me, I had run a charter boat business; he’d been going sailing many times a week since he was a pup.
Finally, he surrendered. I think he finally realized how much trouble he was in. I carried him back to the boat, put him below (not in irons) and closed the hatch. Saying my good-byes, we got underway. It wasn’t until later, when the sails were up, course was set and I had calmed down, that it dawned on me that my crew was saying in the only way he could, “I don’t want to go.”
I’m sure he wasn’t objecting to sailing the Atlantic Ocean. After all, he didn’t know exactly where we were going; he sat on charts, he didn’t read them. It was going offshore—which always happened after this kind of preparation—that he didn’t like. Offshore meant leaving trees, dock pilings and a host of vertical things he could heist his leg on. Zachary did not believe in peeing where he lived. It was, I think, a moral issue with him: You don’t soil your nest. He would hold it into the next day and finally, when he couldn’t stand it any longer, would go stiff and let urine run down his leg. After that, it wasn’t okay, but he was resigned.
This would, of course, make me frantic, since I worried about bladder infections. There are no vets offshore. I would offer an example, squatting myself and peeing all over the deck. “Look, honey,Mommy does it.”He would cut me a look and go below. It was truly no big deal. A bucket of saltwater—god knows we had plenty —one whoosh, and it was out the scuppers. Tell him that.
We also went round and round about his pooping. All sailboats have extra sails tied down at the bow, ready to go up if a change is needed. And this is where he’d choose to poop. To raise one of these sails, you turn into the wind, and the sail flaps wildly going up. Which also sent the poop flying and caused me to swear like a sailor at top volume. I learned to keep my potty mouth shut when, one day, some of Zach’s “offerings” flew into it!
A Close Call
One beautiful afternoon, about 400 miles out from the Azores, things were perfect—the wind was just right and the skies were blue, with puffy tradewind clouds.We were rocking along making good time, right on course. I decided this called for fixing my favorite lunch—yellow food. Eating out of cans is monotonous even when, like me, you can’t cook, but I never got tired of macaroni, tuna and peas.
As I was fooling around down below, waiting for the water to boil, Zachary, who was in the cockpit, started a low, mean-sounding growl. I glanced up at him and saw the hair raised along his spine. He was always on watch for dolphins, gulls and great big imaginations. I said, “Take it easy, big guy, there’s nothing around here for hundreds of miles.” But he kept it up, so, to please him, I popped my head up to see what he was looking at. There was a gigantic sea monster! It was headed right for us.
There are sea monsters in the world, and for small sailboats, they’re called freighters. I dived for the engine switch, pushed the throttle down hard, threw the tiller over and got the hell out of there at a 90 degree angle. I watched the freighter’s wake and saw that it never changed course or speed. The big ships are run by computers, and the lookout, if there is one, is watching for something big enough to hurt the ship. This one wouldn’t even have noticed running us down. The thing was huge; it was like a city going by. The flag of registry—red with a hammer and sickle—flying off the back was as big as a house. She was a Russian ship bound for the Americas. I could’ve used a jolt of vodka myself about then.
When my heart rate returned to something compatible with life, I was able to fix and eat my yellow food, but the crew dined on a large can of chicken breast, a meal befitting the best lookout and first mate in the whole Atlantic Ocean.
Zach wore a bandanna (regular collars stayed wet too long) and it was a measure of his charm that someone was always adding to his collection. He had all colors and designs. As we started to motor out of the Horta, Azores, marina, someone I didn’t know came running down the dock behind us, yelling in a heavy accent, “Come back, come back!” Now, sailboats are not made for backing up, there wasn’t room to turn, and we were surrounded by multimillion-dollar yachts, but this guy was excited. I slowed, shifted into reverse, and made a wobbly, nervewracking retreat to the dock.He wanted to give Zach a bandanna and have one last chance to pet him! I didn’t remember the guy, and don’t think I made much of an impression on him either. He barely spoke to me, but he was sure sorry to see Zach go.
Something similar happened later when we were in Spain. An older English couple on holiday had heard about us and knocked on the boat late one night after we had gone to bed. I sleepily went on deck to see what they wanted; Zach, for once in his life, stayed below. They chatted me up briefly about the Atlantic trip, and then there was a long, awkward pause. Finally, the woman said, “Really, luv, we came to see the dog.”
The dog and I had many more adventures; he was always up for anything new, always in a good mood, never borrowed money, never got drunk. Zach was truly the best first mate on any ocean.
Dog's Life: Travel
Care and boarding alternatives.
If chartering a private plane so your dog can see the world with you seems reasonable, you’re either very wealthy or really love traveling with your pup. Since most of us don’t have a Learjet at our disposal, eventually there will come a time when we’ll have to leave our dogs behind while we embark on extended travel (a week or longer).
The best way to ensure that your time away is fun and stress-free for both you and your dog is to have a good game plan in advance of departure. Though dogs have very different personalities, maintaining a sense of normalcy and routine during owner absences is beneficial for every type of dog.
Also, a confident, happy dog will have a much easier time with an extended absence than one who has had little socialization—one of the many reasons training and socialization are beneficial for dogs and humans alike. A visit to a familiar dog park will reconnect your dog with well-known scents, activities and other canine friends.
Recently, we spoke with Abbie Mood, Canine Behavior Science and Technology diplomate/owner of Communicate with Your Dog in Westminster, Colo., who offered some useful insights.
Mood stresses the importance of maintaining a routine with your dog. “Anyone who has a dog likely wonders how the dog knows when it’s time for dinner, for a walk, to go to sleep. It’s because your dog has a routine. Keeping this sense of normalcy is a good way to help your dog stay on schedule and feel a bit more comfortable in your absence. For some dogs, especially those with separation anxiety, the preparation and the leaving ritual themselves can induce anxiety, so varying your [pre-trip] routine can be helpful. The best thing you can do to prepare your dog is to set up the logistics ahead of time so you aren’t rushing around at the last minute, and staying relaxed yourself.”
When it comes to care, the best-case scenario is one in which the dog remains at home with a trusted friend or family member; second-best is a pet sitter. As Mood notes, “Being able to be in the home environment is the best situation. That being said, a dog who is distressed or shows anxiety while you are gone (tearing things up, urinating or defecating indoors), will probably do better staying with a friend or family member who is home more often, or even at a doggie day care, where [he or she] will be around other dogs and people all the time.”
Clearly, having an established network of trusted, responsible pet sitters can make your absence much easier on your dog. Familiar human and canine friends can greatly reduce a dog’s anxiety, especially if the dogs already share a bond. For this reason alone, it’s worth volunteering to watch your friends’ dogs to help establish your own dog’s sense of comfort with being part of another “pack” for a time.
Whether your dog is staying at your home or a friend’s house, making a list of detailed instructions is very important. “If a pet sitter is coming to your house, make a list of phone numbers— the vet, poison control, closest friend or family member (think about the list you would create for a babysitter). Also, write out instructions for feeding, exercise, special requests/requirements, or any reminders that might be important (don’t let the dog meet other dogs, the location of the closest dog park and so forth),” suggests Mood.
Dogs have incredible scent memory, so it also can be helpful to provide a shirt, blanket or other article of clothing with your scent. Some people even leave a “fresh” used shirt to be introduced at some point through their time away. Boarding at a kennel is another option, and for some dogs, the chance to play with other pups all day is as fun as it gets. However, it’s best to give your dog a few nights at a trusted kennel before your trip so the change isn’t as abrupt.
Whether your choice is pet sitter, day care or kennel, do your due diligence before making a decision. Mood says that while she asks candidates “tons” of questions, the most important relate to discipline and training policies. “If they are going to be walking your dog, how do they practice looseleash walking? What happens if two dogs get in a scuffle? Can you handle my dog with anxiety/dog-dog aggression/door dashing? Other questions might include, can you administer my dog’s medicine or accommodate a special diet? For a doggie day care (or kennel), always tour the entire facility—they shouldn’t have anything to hide.”
A trusted friend, family member, pet sitter or kennel staff member, or other friendly face will keep your dog in good spirits, as will mingling with canine friends. While your dog will, of course, notice your absence, extra attention or longer walks can help. And once you’ve found reliable and trustworthy pet sitters or other services, stick with them.
Sometimes being apart is tougher on the human than on the dog. Luckily, technology gives us ways to deal with this. “Regular check-ins with the pet sitter, getting photos from family or friends, or even Skyping or Facetiming with your dog can help the person,” says Mood. “Some doggie day cares have [real-time] video, or at least post pictures throughout the day, which can put your mind at ease. It is important to find someone you trust so you don’t have to worry about your dog’s safety and well-being. If you are trying a new sitter/day care/kennel, do your research ahead of time, and trust your instincts. If there’s anything you don’t like, find a new source!”
Finally, establish a budget in advance, not only to pay for care but also to provide cash on hand for emergencies or if supplies run low (though you’ll be stocking up on food, treats and pick-up bags before you leave).
While parting with your dog can be such sweet sorrow, having a system to keep him or her happy and healthy in your absence will make your travels much easier. Yes, it’s quite normal to miss your dog, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Plan ahead and look forward to a joyous reunion upon your return—oh, and be sure to bring home treats!
Dog's Life: Travel
Dogtrekking through the Indian Garhwal
India. Our dream had finally come true.
We did not hesitate for a moment. The dream had just come true, and this was our call. The only obstacle had four paws and a wet nose. But was it a real obstacle? Leaving our dog was not an option. When we’d made the decision to have a dog, we knew she would accompany us everywhere. Even when we heard questions like, “India with a dog? You cannot do it.” Of course we could. After several months of preparation, in mid-January 2013, we landed at the international airport in New Delhi.
We climbed a few times during our stay in Delhi: First, at an outdoor artificial wall in the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Later, outside Gurgaon and New Delhi, at the rocks in Dhauj, a desert area with an old, dried-up lake and 10- to 30-meter-high rocks. Climbers from abroad look like aliens among the women in saris passing by with brushwood on their heads, children herding goats, and “city people” who come to Dhauj to speed up and burn rubber (the flat sandy area is perfect for the motorcycle sports so popular nowadays in India). In the middle of this madness were two Polish climbers and a dog.
Apart from those short climbs outside Delhi, it soon became clear that life in the big Indian city with a dog would be difficult. After three months, we’d had enough. We wanted to go back to Warsaw, a city that seemed gray and dull at our departure. Now, Warsaw shone again in our dreams. We missed the European lifestyle of Poland and Warsaw, but most often, our thoughts turned to the Tatra Mountains, our idyllic place. The decision was made: we would go back. But then it turned out that our “fairy tale from One Thousand and One Nights” was more like Shrek.
How’s that? In the European Union, companion-animal travel is subject to strict laws and regulations in order to avoid spreading or reintroducing rabies. Conditions for the non-commercial movement of pet animals have been harmonized under the rules laid down in Regulation 998/2003 of the European Parliament. Pets should be identified by an electronic identification system (transponder) or by a clearly readable tattoo applied before July 3, 2011. For all travel, the animal needs to be have a passport and have a valid rabies vaccination. Pets coming from third-world countries should have a positive serologic test, a blood sample taken at least 30 days after vaccination and three months before movement. This can be certified only by an approved EU lab. We had all the papers but not the blood test. Nobody told us in Poland that it’s required to reenter the European Union.
So we had to spend another three months in India.
“What shall we do?” we asked each other. Going back and risking quarantine for Diuna was not an option. Easiest solutions are always hardest to find. We thought, Let’s spend those three months in the Himalayas. Let’s go dogtrekking! After all, Garhwal is only 500 kilometers from Delhi.
We bought a tent; packed our backpacks with basic and essential gear; and headed to Munsiari, a town in the border triangle of India, China and Nepal. From there, we headed west on foot, living as nomads on the roof of the world. Most nights we spent in the “many-stars hotel” in our tent; sometimes we sought refuge in Hindu temples, village huts made of clay and stone (which often lack toilets, though a satellite dish is a must) and, rarely, cheap hostels for backpackers. We tried to avoid major hiking trails. All the food for us and our dog we carried in our backpacks, then cooked over a campfire. We did not use porters and guides, traveling on our own.
Every morning, we wake up to a view of the 5-, 6- and 7,000-meter-high peaks of Maiktoli, Bhagirathi, Trisul, Nanda Devi, Shivling. We performbasic duties: pitch a tent, set a campfire, cook, feed Diuna, pack our gear and walk through the mountains with our dog. Clear the mind and follow the sun, forget about our problems and live with nature. Walking up and down, through villages, meadows and high passes, heading west of Garhwal. After 55 days, we have trekked through a Himalayan range (from Munsiari toward Gangotri), walking 500 kilometers (the other 500 kilometers were spent in buses and jeeps). During those two months, we visited 12 Himalayan valleys suspended between 6- and 7,000-meter-high mountain peaks, occasionally losing the trail and surviving moments of true horror at being lost. We have climbed 63 kilometers vertically—it’s like summiting Mount Everest seven times, starting from sea level—accompanied by Diuna, our brave Czechoslovakian Vlcak, the first Polish dog in the Garhwal Himalayas.
One day, on the way to Pindari Valley, an unleashed Diuna (we had to go down a very steep, slippery slope) chased a herd of goats grazing nearby. She was gone for a half-hour. When she finally came back, her jaws and front legs were full of blood. Fear paralyzed us. Had anything happened to her? Maybe she was attacked by another dog defending its goats? Or maybe … no, she could not have hunted. But it turned out to be true. For the first time in her life, Diuna unleashed her wolf ancestors’ instinct to hunt and kill a fleeing animal.
In a short time, we were surrounded by a dozen residents of a nearby village, Lahur. An elderly woman, the owner of the herd of goats, wailed on a mountain slope. After several hours of negotiations conducted in Hindi (a language we did not know), English (known by one inhabitant of the village) and international body language, we were able to come to an agreement: we paid for the damage, and the goat would be eaten by the people of Lahur.
From now on, we promised ourselves not to unleash Diuna below 3,500 meters. Even on the steepest slopes, we walked with Diuna strapped to our backpack hip belt. It worked well provided there was no wild animal nearby.
After two months of trekking, we reached the holy place for the Hindu religion: Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges, which comes from the melting glacier of Bhagirathi. On June 1, Diuna scented the presence of a herd of Himalayan tahrs (rare animals resembling mountain goats). Suddenly, she dragged Agata so hard that Agata fell and hit her shoulder; the collarbone was broken. This was the end of our adventure; now was the time for rescue. The nearest town of Gangotri was 16 kilometers. There was nobody in this pilgrimage area, no cell phone coverage, no help available. We managed to go down to the village and went the next day to Uttarkashi for emergency medical help.
It’s been five months since the accident. The collarbone was eventually operated on in Poland. We cannot be angry with Diuna; we believe fate rescued us from Garhwal. The day we left Gangotri, the Himalayas experienced an early monsoon (usually it arrives a month later), bringing heavy rain and causing flooding. Thousands of people were trapped in the place we had been a few days earlier. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from the mountains by military helicopters. A month later, in Poland, we learned that 5,000 people missing in the “Himalayan tsunami” were considered dead. We live, thanks to Diuna.
Trekking with a dog might not be easy. But we cannot imagine doing it without Diuna. She is a part of our family and we are responsible for her. Our 500-kilometer dog “walk” gave us a lot of experience and taught us a lot too, so now we know that you can follow your adventure dreams with a dog at your side.
This year, we’re planning a 1,000-kilometer trek over the Mongolian Altai—with Diuna of course. Please help us inspire more people: igg.me/at/dogtrekking
For more photos of this incredible adventure, see The Bark Issue 77, Spring 2014.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Leash
The San Francisco Bay Area is blessed with a majestic natural setting. Thanks to forwardthinking citizen activists and environmentalists, generations have been able to enjoy the scenic beauty and open spaces of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
In 1972, Congress established Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a unit of the National Park Service—to, among other things, create an area that “concentrate[s] on serving the outdoor recreational needs of the people of the metropolitan area.”
For decades, these traditional “outdoor recreational needs” have included off-leash dog walking. In GGNRA’s San Francisco-based sites alone, off-leash areas (OLAs) from Crissy Field to Fort Funston occupy prime spots along the bay’s shoreline. Currently, a little less than 1 percent of all of GGNRA’s approximately 80,000 acres of protected lands are accessible for any kind of dog walking, and now even this small amount is in jeopardy.
In 1979, GGNRA adopted a Pet Policy that outlined off-leash rules and defined OLAs in its San Francisco and Marin County sites. However, over time, GGNRA began closing some of these off-leash areas and, in 2001, rescinded the 1979 policy. During this period, and throughout several subsequent legal challenges, howls of protest were heard across the region. Consequently, GGNRA stopped enforcing leash laws and began the long process of creating a special rule to manage dogs in its parklands.
In 2010, GGNRA released its draft dog-management plan, in which they proposed restricted alternatives in 22 areas. After roughly 4,700 people submitted comments regarding this deeply flawed document, GGNRA went back to the drawing board and recently released a supplemental plan.
Unfortunately, the new plan is just as restrictive, proposing extremely limited off-leash and on-leash areas, as well as no-dog areas, for historically dog-friendly Crissy Field, Muir Beach, Baker Beach, Mori Point and Rancho Corral de Tierra, among others.
In its attempts to balance off-leash dog recreation with other park uses, it appears that GGNRA is abusing its discretion by curtailing this use without adequate scientific support for the impacts they claim, and ignoring or discounting the demonstrated impact on existing recreational uses. The outcome of this final plan could have repercussions nationwide as policymakers watch to see what kinds of restrictions to dog-walking access the public will accept.
Crissy Field Dog Group supports a modified alternative to the 1979 Pet Policy that includes responsible offleash dog-walking in GGNRA lands (including those in San Mateo County), provides clear and concise signage and continuing-education opportunities such as fee-based off-leash training classes, allows each permitted professional dog walker to handle up to six dogs, and creates a monthly recreation roundtable so that different user groups can address visitor concerns.
We need you to become involved in this process. Please write to your elected officials and let them know what you want. The current deadline for public comment is December 4, but we have requested an extension.
If dogs are this severely restricted in GGNRA, city dog parks and neighborhoods bordering the parklands will be inundated with dog walkers, and there will likely be more conflict. Let’s create a dog-management plan that protects these scenic areas and allows everyone to enjoy them.
Details on the current proposal can be found at parkplanning.nps.gov/ dogplan. Go to crissyfielddog.org, eco-dog.org and saveoffleash.org for more information on the commenting process.
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