Dog's Life: DIY
Crocheted Dog Bed
Use up your yarn scraps or color coordinate with your dog

The interior is stuffed to about 1 1/2" thick, while the trim is about 2 1/2" thick. Made with a tight single crochet (sc) stitch, it’s built to last, and—depending on the yarn you use—is machine wash- and dryable (gentle cycle).

• About 20 ounces of worsted-weight yarn*
• About 32 ounces of polyester fiberfill
• Size I or 9 mm crochet hook
• Yarn needle

*Adjust amount of yarn to size desired

For the interior tube, using any color and size I crochet hook, chain (ch) 2
Rnd 1: 5 sc in 2nd chain from hook
Rnd 2: 2 sc in each sc (10 sc)
Rnd 3: *sc in 1st sc, 2 sc in next sc,* repeat around (15 sc)
Rnd 4: *sc in 1st sc, sc in next sc, 2 sc in next sc* repeat around (20 sc)
All rounds should be done in continuous loop. Do not join rounds with slip stitch and ch 1.

Continue crocheting in a continuous 20 stitches around until the tube measures about 80" inches long. Stuff it with the polyester fiberfill
as you go (for about every 6" of tube, pause and stuff). Don’t overstuff, as the tube needs to be flexible enough to coil and stitch together. To seal off the end, decrease the tube, or just stop, finish off and stitch the end together by hand. Coil the tube starting at the center, stitching it
together with yarn and yarn needle from the inside, working outward.

For the outer tube: ch 35, join together with slip stitch to make a loop. Continue working even sc in each stitch until the tube measures
about 55" long, stuffing it along the way. Lay the thicker tube around the coiled interior tube to make sure it’s long enough. When complete,
stitch the two ends together, making it into a circle.

Place the outer tube around the coil and stitch the two together with yarn and yarn needle.

Finished size: 18" x 20"

Wellness: Healthy Living
Sleeps with Dogs

A snoring spouse, sirens and glowing electronic screens can all make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Research from the Mayo Clinic finds that pets can be part of the problem, too.

Patients at the Mayo Center for Sleep Medicine were asked about causes of interrupted sleep in 2002, and only 1 percent mentioned their pets as an issue, though 22 percent had pets sharing their beds. When patients were asked similar questions in 2013, 10 percent reported that their pets disturbed their sleep.

Dr. Lois Krahn, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Dogs disturbed sleep by wanting to sleep in a particular place on the bed (where the sleeper would prefer to place their feet, under the covers, on the pillow), needing attention and creating sounds [such as] whimpering during dreaming.”

One benefit of having a dog is having a warm body to snuggle up with at the end of a long day. But sometimes, what you love gets in the way of what you need. In a 2009 survey done by Kansas State University, Dr. Kate Stenske found that more than half of dog owners allow their dogs to sleep in their beds.

How can you reconcile your need for solid sleep with the comfort of your canine companion?

First, take an honest look at how well you sleep. Do you fall asleep quickly, or do you spend a long time tossing and turning? Are you up in the night, for your own needs or to take care of something else? In the morning, are you energized or do you rely on coffee to get going?

If your dog is getting in the way of your falling or staying asleep, it’s time to make some changes. Try moving her from your bed to her own bed in the same room; create a comfortable space near you but on the floor. This is a hard habit to break, so plan to work on it. You’ll have to keep moving her back to her bed when she climbs up with you, but be patient and offer lots of praise.

What about doggie sleep sounds? If you don’t want to use earplugs, try white noise from a fan or other appliance with a constant humming sound.

Once you take back your sleeping space, you may realize that the dog wasn’t the problem. Dr. J. Todd Arnedt of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Michigan has tips for what he calls good “sleep hygiene.”

• Avoid evening exercise.
• Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable: reduce external light sources, turn off the TV and find your best sleeping temperature.
• No caffeine after mid-afternoon, and no alcohol in the evening.
• Make the bedroom a place for intimacy and sleep only; leave work outside.
• Establish an evening wind-down time. Lower the lights, do quiet activities, have a light carbohydrate snack.

If you make these changes and insomnia is still stalking you, it’s time to talk to a professional for more in-depth study.

Most dog owners can continue to enjoy the comfort and companionship of their furriest family member through the night. But if sleep is evasive, you may want to take a closer look at what’s keeping you up at night.

News: Editors
Tom Brady’s Best Friend Is a Pit-Mix Named Lua
Today’s inbox brings us a special bit of eye-candy (also known as publicity pitches) that we think is worth sharing. It’s a video featuring NFL quarterback Tom Brady playing fetch with his dog Lua. This short contemplation on hard work, success and man’s best friend is a promotion for UGG, the Australian shoemaker who employs Brady as their official pitchman. We don’t know if it will make people run out and buy their shoes, but maybe a few will be inspired to adopt a Pit or Pit-mix ... like Tom.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Autumn To Do List

As late summer’s dog days drift into fall, it’s time to try something new.

Learn | Sign up for obedience, agility or another canine-centric activity, and crack open the Internet to expand your dog-cog information base. (Patricia McConnell is an excellent guide; visit patriciamcconnell.com for leads.)

Refresh | Toss the flattened stuffies and stock up on new chewables, DIY a toy storage box, or take the washable pooch bed to a commercial laundry and fluff it up.

Volunteer | Stop by your local shelter and offer yourself as a dog walker, or a dog talker; dogs benefit from having someone sit nearby and talk (or read) to them.

Foster | Partial to a particular breed? See if its local rescue group needs foster homes for dogs-in-waiting. Better yet, make the same offer to your shelter.

Unwind | Give doga a try; get out the yoga mat and do a few downwardfacing dogs with your in-house dogini.

Leaf Peep | Fall-color hot spots abound; google “fall foliage” for your region, then hit the road, co-pilot in the car and camera at hand.

Have Fun | Rake leaves into billowy piles for your dog to jump into … then rake them up again.

Light Up | Days are getting shorter; make sure you’re visible on late-afternoon or early-evening walks. Put new batteries in your flashlight and invest in reflective vests: one for you, one for the pup.

Look Up | Sirius, the Dog Star, is the night sky’s brightest, and easy to spot (plus, stargazing is a good way to pass the moments while your furry friend checks her p-mail).

Dress Up | Make your dog a costume and take part in a Halloween dog parade. NYC’s Tompkins Square Park hosts one of the most venerable, and other cities and groups also sponsor them. Or, try your hand at carving a dog-o-lantern.

Freeze Up | Fall is prime time for pumpkins, one of canine nutrition’s high-antioxidant, high-soluble-fiber wonder foods. Puree fresh cooked pumpkin and freeze it in silicone ice cube trays or muffin tins for future meals. (Organic produce seems to provide more good-guy antioxidants, so go organic when possible.) For recipes: thebark.com/pumpkin

Plan Ahead | Popular dog-friendly resorts and vacation venues fill up fast; make your holiday reservations now. Or, if you know you’ll be traveling sans dog, reserve time in your favorite pet sitter’s schedule.

Get Started | Winter and its seasonal celebrations are coming, so put on your DIY hat and make something special. Knit a sweater, felt a woolen ball, crochet a colorful dog bed, assemble a keepsake book.

PS | Stay safe. Along with summer heat’s last hurrah come potentially dangerous blue-green algae blooms, particularly in freshwater lakes and streams. Read up on their hazards at petpoisonhelpline.com.

Dog's Life: Travel
Fall Viewing with Dogs
Leaf-Peeping with Pups

Fall is go time. Sunny, crisp days and aromatic leaf piles inspire dogs to leap into the season. Why not follow their lead on a leaf-peeping adventure built for two?

Black Hills, South Dakota
In the fall, the Black Hills are all about yellow — the shimmering gold of aspen, birch and oak. Avoid crowded and dog-restricted destinations such as Mount Rushmore in the south, and head north to Spearfish Canyon, a scenic byway with 1,000-foot limestone cliffs and waterfalls for you and miles of pine-scented trail for your buddy. The Old West–style Spearfish Canyon Lodge welcomes dogs and offers several excellent hikes just steps from your room, including a short walk to the lovely Roughlock Falls, setting for the final winter camp scene in Dances with Wolves. spfcanyon.com

Eastern Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Orange hillsides reflected in midnightblue water, picturesque lighthouses and moose are among the autumnal highlights of the Eastern Upper Peninsula. Make a loop to Sault Ste. Marie and Drummond Island from your base on Mackinac Island. At the confluence of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, this tiny isle harkens back to an era when leaves were the big show. There are no cars, just walking, cycling and carriage rides (dogs permitted). Treat your pup to a classic Great Lakes lodge experience at Mission Point Resort, where the huge front lawn provides a great runway for diving into Lake Huron. missionpoint.com

White Mountains, New Hampshire
Crimson? Check. Burnt orange? Check. Deep purple? Check. Brooks, falls, covered bridges? Check, check, check. Savor a quintessential New England autumn, plus craggy, mossy peaks and plenty of hiking trails for sniffing and stretching, on a loop through the White Mountains in north-central New Hampshire. Then kick back in Rollover Rose, Little Fala or another of the dog-inspired rooms at the Lazy Dog Inn. Housed in an 1845 farmhouse in Chocorua, this seriously dog-loving bed and breakfast (which offers dog daycare and a fenced, off-leash play area) welcomes all shapes, sizes and breeds. lazydoginn.com

Hocking Hills, Ohio
Crisp, short days set the lush deciduous forests of southeast Ohio ablaze. There’s plenty to admire from the car, but hit the trails to discover hollows, caves, cliffs, waterfalls and strange rock formations tucked here and there. Include a side trip to the nationally acclaimed scenic drive from Marietta to Woodsfield, which passes through the Monroe Lake Wildlife Area. Be sure your dog’s recall is sharp — wild turkeys, red foxes and beavers will be out enjoying the shoulder season too. Dog-friendly cabins and cottages are available through Old Man’s Cave Chalets. Or, check out Beagle Hill Lodge, a Beagle-themed five-bedroom rental with canine murals. Oldmanscavechalets.com 4seasonshideaways.com (Look for Beagle Hill in the Rentals drop-down menu)

Taos, New Mexico
Aspens and cottonwoods shimmer a little brighter at the crisp, high altitudes of Taos and the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Bag the best roadside vistas on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway or earn your views with hikes in the Rio Grande Gorge’s Wild Rivers Recreation Area, where dogs can snuffle absolutely ancient piñon and juniper trees. Many Taos inns, resorts, spas and B&Bs — including Taos Adobe and Stars — have at least a couple of rooms set aside for guests with furry friends. Plus, the city boasts more than its fair share of pet-friendly patio eateries. Be sure to stop by the Stray Arts Gallery, where sales of previously owned art benefit the nonprofit Stray Hearts Animal Shelter. Taosadobe.com

Cascade Mountains, Washington
Get a hawk’s-eye view and savor the full sweep of an alpine autumn aboard the dog-friendly Mount Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain Resort, about an hour and a half southeast of Seattle. This no-sweat, 2,500-foot ascent gives you a knockout view of the iconic, snow-covered dome of Mount Rainier. Hike down to take in the mountain’s meadows and lakes and marmots. Nearby, Alta Crystal Resort offers dog-friendly suites and easy access to National Forest trails. altacrystalresort.com

News: Guest Posts
Jedi Surfs
Surfers get furry

We were first introduced to Jedi through our Smiling Dog submissions, and we think Jedi Seja may be the next worldwide furry celebrity. Born on a puppy mill farm and surrendered to a rescue, Jedi had a rough start. Luckily he was then adopted by his parents Katie and Patrick Seja, and they’ve turned his life upside-down. His surfing career started in 2011, and has taken him across the nation for many surf competitions. Jedi’s interests include surfing, being an advocate for animals, working with charities, and smiling while having fun.

News: Guest Posts
Play Ball
Mascot of the El Paso Chihuahuas

He sports a side-of-the-mouth snarl, nicks in his right ear, fiery eyes and a menacing spiked collar.

 The face of the El Paso Chihuahuas, the newest team in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, “Chico” is the creation of Brandiose, a San Diego design firm owned by longtime friends Jason Klein and Casey White.

“He’s been in a few alleys in his time, and sometimes he’s even come out on the positive side of a fight,” explains Klein. He and White got their inspiration for Chico by asking themselves, “What would the Oakland Raiders look like if they were a minor league baseball team and their name was the Chihuahuas?”

The product of a “Name the Team” contest, Chihuahuas was chosen to reflect the scrappy spirit and fierce loyalty for which El Pasoans are known, as well as the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. From these elements, Brandiose then created the team’s colors and a marketable family of logos to appeal to kids and families, including Chico swinging a bone bat, crossed (and gnawed on) dog bones below a chewed baseball, and Chico’s signature fierce face.

 The team takes its “canine culture” seriously.

 The four-level pavilion in right field is the Big Dog House, and the open-air top level is the Wooftop. The game program is called “The Paw Print,” fans park in the Barking Lot and among the concession items are nachos served in a dog bowl. Among their social media hashtags is #FearTheEars, which has also become a hand signal.

The first of two “Bark in the Park” nights, during which accompanied dogs were welcome in two reserved sections of Southwest University Park, attracted more than 300 pooches of all sizes. 

Brandiose’s brainchild now is known worldwide. Before the season’s first pitch, orders for Chihuahua merchandise came in from all 50 states and eight countries, and sales have remained strong.

Chico now has many amigos.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Puppy Raisers Wanted
Volunteers teach young dogs new tricks

Picture your dog in a high school cafeteria at lunchtime. A food fight breaks out. Muffins fly, meatballs roll. Would your dog watch with stoic composure? Silvia Lange, of Nicasio, Calif., tells the story of a teenage puppy raiser in her local Canine Companions for Independence group who found herself in this situation. “I doubt many other service dogs are socialized to food fights. It was a lucky break.” The puppy in question reportedly handled both the temptation and the bedlam with aplomb. And Lange, an eight-year veteran of puppy raising, knows that a wide range of experiences is key to preparing a puppy for life as a service dog.

The subject of service dogs—whom the ADA defines as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability”—triggers predictable reactions in dog lovers. Tribute is paid to the good-naturedness of the dogs. Admiration is expressed for the ingenuity of the trainers. All very true, of course. Service dogs often spring from marvelously mellow-tempered parents and have gone through intensive and complex training, carried out by gifted animal trainers. But if the first step on the journey to a great service dog is careful breeding, and if the last mile is training at the highest level, the considerable distance between the two is socialization.

According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, socialization is “the developmental process whereby puppies and adolescent dogs familiarize themselves with their infinitely varied and ever-changing social and physical environment.” In layman’s terms: Anything you want a dog to calmly accept as an adult, you must introduce him to repeatedly and in a positive manner during the first 18 months of his life.

Consider what that means for puppies in service dog programs: They have to ride in cars, buses and trains; perhaps do some sailing; and ideally, become familiar with an airplane cabin or two. They must visit restaurants and hotels as well as libraries, movie theaters, shops and supermarkets. They need to be utterly comfortable with crowds, escalators, fountains, skateboards, strollers, toddlers, and construction noise. They have to go to school, go to the office, go to the basketball game. And naturally, the home environment must be as mundane to them as their own noses. The vacuum cleaner? So what? The next-door neighbor’s cat? Couldn’t care less. But most service dogs are born on the campuses of the organizations that train and place them. They first open their eyes inside a kennel, not a living room.

That’s where puppy raisers enter the equation. They are volunteers—school-age children or retirees or anyone in between—who give puppies loving temporary homes. What’s more, they teach their young charges basic manners and arrange for a steady stream of educational experiences. When you see an adolescent dog wearing the telltale service dog jacket, there’s likely to be a puppy raiser at the other end of the leash.

A puppy raiser’s responsibilities differ from one program to another, but some requirements are practically universal. For example, most organizations ask their puppy raisers to feed a particular brand of food, use only an approved style of training, have the puppy sleep indoors and agree to provide daily exercise and socialization. Costs for food, transport to and from training classes, and veterinary checkups rest with the puppy raiser, too. The duration varies, but 12 to 18 months is common, and the work usually begins when the puppy is eight weeks old. In return for all this, the organization provides ongoing support, training and community.

Silvia Lange, who began raising puppies as a retirement project, was unsure at first about taking on such a big commitment. What if she wanted to travel, or even move? “That was before I realized what a great network of people Canine Companions have nationwide,” she said. “I could move anywhere in the U.S. and find fellow puppy raisers to connect with. And we all dog sit for one another.”

Smaller service dog organizations also tend vigorously to their volunteer flock. “We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,” says Jorjan Powers, communications director at the Assistance Dog Institute at the Bergin University of Canine Studies, whose program depends on a handful of dedicated puppy raisers. “We want them to feel supported.”

Unsurprisingly, the question most often asked of puppy raisers by the general public is, “How can you give up this gorgeous puppy?” According to Blancett Reynolds of San Francisco, Calif., a puppy group leader who has raised six puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, it’s never easy. “How do I deal with it? I don’t. I cry. Actually, I can’t even say goodbye to the dog. Someone at the kennel has to take the leash from my hand because I don’t want the dog to see me lose it.”

But she adds that people often imagine the surrender of the dog to be much worse than it actually is because they don’t know how the program works. “It doesn’t involve someone handing you a puppy and then showing up at your house 15 months later to rip the dog from your arms. It’s a collaborative project with a lot of support.”

When asked for her advice to people thinking about becoming a puppy raiser, Reynolds doesn’t hesitate. “Do it!” she says. “Pick up the phone. Puppy raising isn’t always easy, but it’s fun and very rewarding. The experience is valuable for anyone. It’s all about doing something for someone else and having a great time while doing it.”

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
The Making of a Guide Dog
From puppy to partner, guide dogs are a special breed

Each year, guide dog schools—independent nonprofit organizations that provide guide dogs for blind and visually impaired individuals—breed close to 3,000 dogs. When so many intelligent, loving shelter dogs are in need of homes, why don’t guide dog schools rescue dogs like some of the other service-dog programs? The answer lies in the nature of the work guide dogs are required to do. Dog jobs, like people jobs, are task-specific and require specific temperaments, some of which can be selected for through breeding.

The term “service animal” was first used in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act to describe an animal individually trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability. While at that time, guide dogs for the blind were the most familiar type of service animal, over the years, the variety of tasks service dogs carry out has increased to include dogs who perform some of the functions that an individual with a disability cannot perform for him- or herself, such as alerting people with hearing impairments, pulling wheelchairs, or carrying and picking up things for people with mobility issues.

Watching blind travelers confidently make their way through busy city traffic, you might think that the guide dog is doing the same thing—performing a task that the blind person cannot perform for him- or herself. In other words, it may appear that the dog is leading the blind person, but that’s not the case. Both of their lives depend on what the other one does, and neither is in total control at any given time. Neither dog nor person can cross the street alone without risk, but together, they do it efficiently and safely.

Purpose-Driven Programs
Prior to the mid-1960s, when schools began dedicating resources to in-house breeding programs, guide dog schools routinely employed rescued shelter dogs. Schools worked closely with shelter staff, who would periodically line up dogs they considered to have potential for evaluation by guide dog trainers. Dogs were tested for confidence, initiative and trainability. On average, one out of 30 shelter dogs drafted into the guide dog program finished the training.

Terry Barrett, director of training operations at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in San Rafael, Calif., says, “In our earliest days, the 1940s, most of our dogs came from animal shelters. It soon became evident that we were looking for something very specific: Dogs who not only had excellent health, intelligence and temperament, but also exhibited a willingness to work and thrived on praise.” GDB’s breeding program was started in an effort to ensure a consistent supply of dogs with those specific traits.

By the late 1970s, new socialization methods (raising puppies in home environments) were proving so successful that shelter dogs, most of whom came from disadvantaged or unknown backgrounds, became less likely candidates for the work. As guide dog work intensified and breeding programs were beefed up, opportunities for shelter dogs all but disappeared.
Although German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are the most familiar types of guide dog, any confident, friendly, intelligent and willing dog—large enough for the harness but small enough to lie comfortably under a bus seat—is eligible. Boxers, Smooth-Coated Collies, Poodles, Dobermans, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are increasingly finding employment as guides, as are their more genetically sound hybrid offspring.

Labrador Retrievers, who constitute about 60 percent of these working dogs, have proven to be the most successful guide worldwide, mainly because there is enough variation within the breed to meet blind students’ myriad needs. “The vast majority of our dogs are bred from our own specially selected stock, but a percentage are donated from other schools, through international programs and other means,” Barrett notes.

Regardless of lineage, guide dogs have distinct counter-intuitive characteristics in common. Because they are, to great extent, bred for a specific temperament, they are more like one another than they are like others of their particular breed. If they were children, their report cards would read: “Follows instruction, participates in class, very creative, assumes responsibility when necessary, shows leadership and works well in a group.”

Breeders aren’t selecting for these traits as much as they are selecting against others. They want a German Shepherd who is tractable, a bird dog who is not prey-driven, a herding dog who won’t nip people to negotiate busy pedestrian traffic. Unlike traditional breeders who select for niche traits such as pointing, herding or wire-haired coats, schools select for temperament characteristics that are broadly adaptable.

For decades, guide dog schools have conducted and recorded detailed observations on many thousands of dogs. This volume of information and the length of time it’s been collected have allowed schools to reliably classify and quantify temperament traits. Their ultimate goal is to find measurements that will predict guide dog success and estimate heritability of temperament traits that are important to working guide dogs.

Generally speaking, many dog temperament tests have proven to be ineffective and controversial. In addition, few tests account for the dramatic behavioral differences seen from one breed to another; what’s acceptable in a German Shepherd might be abnormal behavior in a Golden Retriever.

According to an article by Taylor and Mills in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Clinical Applications and Research (2006), what’s needed are systematic scientific tests that focus on the five key measurements of the quality of a temperament: purpose, standardization, reliability, validity and practicality. It would take a large number of dogs in a consistent setting to devise such a test, and this is where guide dog schools are getting involved.

For example, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, based in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., is working with trainer Suzanne Clothier on a novel temperament evaluation project that tracks the behavior of hundreds of dogs from puppyhood through maturity, investigating how best to identify, and then select for, a set of traits that reflects flexibility of behavior. As Jane Russenberger, senior director of the canine development center at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, observes, “Because we believe in it and, like other schools, need better temperament measures, Guiding Eyes is providing that opportunity by allocating large amounts of resources to conduct the temperament tests.”

Part of the drive to refine this process comes from the financial and emotional commitment made to each dog by both the school and the eventual handler. Although it varies from school to school based on geographic region, on average, it costs about $50,000 to graduate a person/dog team. This figure includes all costs divided by the number of teams the school graduates each year. (The 11 schools in the U.S. graduate about 1,500 to 2,000 teams annually.) The cost just to prepare a single dog for class is about $23,000.

Direct costs—breeding, feeding, vet care and puppy-raising expenses—consume about 25 percent of the budget. Another 20 percent goes into training dogs for class. About 35 percent goes into student selection, dormitory and class expenses, and follow-up services. Once the training is complete and the team returns home, it can be six months to a year before they are functioning optimally together. To assist in this process, schools continue to work with their graduates in their home locations. Some of the larger, better-funded schools provide follow-up services for the working life of the team, which can be eight years. (Everything is provided free of charge to qualified blind and visually impaired students.)

From Puppy to Partner
After being specifically bred for guide work, the young dogs spend more than a year in the home of puppy-raising families, where they learn good house behavior, form relieving patterns, and are socialized and introduced to the different environments in which they may someday be working. (Read more about puppy-raising here.)

Careful control of what happens to a young dog during this critical phase of development is a crucial part of producing sound guide dogs. This is the time during which youngsters learn the canine equivalent of “please and thank you.” It’s also the best time to evaluate their health and identify risk factors that could lead to problems later in life. As Barrett notes, “From the earliest stages of their lives, GDB puppies and their moms are cared for by a team of experts, including full-time veterinarians and technicians supported by consulting specialists and volunteers. As the pups grow, our veterinarians continue to monitor their health and well-being.”

All dogs are born with default positions that they revert to when stressed. The reaction can be anything from anxious whining to more serious issues such as biting. The higher the stress, the more pressure on the trigger. Puppy socialization programs provide an opportunity to identify environmental stressors and modify the reaction, or failing that, release the dog from the program to a companion home.

Training Days
Whereas a seizure-alert dog is like an analyst who predicts a problem to reduce its impact, a guide dog is more like an air traffic controller who bears responsibility for the team’s safety as it moves from one place to another. The dog monitors the “air space” and gives feedback to the handler, who is the pilot. Errors can be life-threatening and near-misses can lead to early burnout. The cornerstone of the training work is to, through repetition and praise, teach the dog to learn to judge a barrier or dangerous situation—for instance, the speed and distance of moving vehicles—and if need be, to respectfully disobey the human partner’s command, an act known as “selective disobedience.” The handler not only directs the dog but also supports his decisions, even when he disobeys.

As a handler explains, “Because we can’t see, we don’t know the particulars of what we’re commanding our dogs to do. The dog has to stand up to us, to get it through to us that something is there that we don’t know about, then find a way to get us out of a dangerous situation. A dog that isn’t comfortable holding his ground isn’t suited to the job.”

Guide dogs have to be able to generalize to new, complicated and sometimes abstract situations. It’s easy to train a dog to take someone to a chair. Training a dog to take a person to a place where no one else is sitting, whether it’s a college classroom or restaurant, is a more abstract concept.

Training cycles vary slightly, but generally, puppy raisers return 15-month-old dogs to the school, where they begin 18 to 20 weeks of formal training in the technical aspects of guide work. Using affection and positive reinforcement, the instructor trains the dog to respond to about 35 different commands such as forward, right, left, and find the door.

Weeks one through nine include obedience training, directional turns, negotiating obstacles, light city work, and street crossings. During week 10, dogs are introduced to traffic training. This is the point at which instructors determine whether or not the dog has the confidence and initiative to make the independent decisions needed to override many of the commands he’s learned in the previous nine weeks of training.

To traffic-train a dog, instructors capitalize on what comes naturally: Dogs will move away from an oncoming vehicle. By instinct, the dog will attempt to escape by running around, backing away from or bolting in front of the car. The trick is to control the dog’s movement with reinforcement, encouraging him to back up into the rigid harness handle even though he’s been instructed to go “forward.”

The dog doesn’t know he is signaling (indicating that it’s unsafe to go forward) but he “gets it” soon enough. The light bulb moment—when the dog realizes he is responsible for the person at the other end of the handle—is a deal-breaker for some dogs. They understand the dynamic of the partnership, but they don’t want to do it. It’s a moment puppy raisers anxiously await with mixed feelings. They want their dog to make it through training, but if he fails, they have an opportunity to keep him as a pet. Dogs who don’t want the responsibility go home to be companions. Dogs who meet the challenge move on to learning how to negotiate buildings, busy city traffic, larger street crossings, longer routes, escalators and elevator work.

After the dog is trained, the instructors teach students how to work with the dog during a four-week in-residence class. Person and dog work as a team, each contributing to a relationship built on trust that begins during class and deepens and broadens over time. Handlers are given surprising reminders of the trust they must have in their dogs, and those reminders usually show up the first time they override their dog’s decision to disregard a command. Tripping over a garden hose is minor compared to the consequences of stepping off a curb in front of an SUV making an illegal turn, but the lesson is the same.

Guide dog handler Sheila Styron, past president of Guide Dog Users, Inc., the largest organization of dog handlers in the world, explained what it’s like from the other end of the harness handle. “If a handler sits at a desk all day, his or her guide dog needs to be able to lie quietly for hours, and then be able to confidently guide the blind handler on to a noisy, crowded subway. It’s important to consider the wide array of other factors and interactions within the relationship between dog and handler that can contribute to the team’s success, difficulties or failure. The dance is extremely complex, and the magic extraordinary when all the elements fall into place.”

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
The Politics of Creating a Dog Park
Round two in the urban debate

This is a follow-up article to our political primer on dog park campaigning. We hope that you found some of the information helpful and that you are now ready to sit down with town planners and design that perfect dog park.

Let’s start by suggesting a different term for dog park. We know it’s an easy term to use, but it often evokes irate comments like: “What do you mean you want to spend my taxes on a bunch of dogs?”; “What about safe playground equipment for my kids?”; “Drinking fountains for dogs, you gotta be kidding!” Play it safe—try using terms like “off-leash” or “multi-use area,” stressing the human component at all times. The acronym-clever COLA people (Citizens for Off-Leash Areas in Seattle simply call theirs OLAs (a convention we’ll adopt here). In Berkeley, “multi-use area” refers to the multiple legitimate uses, including our leashless dogs, that are allowable in sections of the park. In Indianapolis they refer to their recently inaugurated area as a Canine Companion Zone.

In doing the research for this article and in talking with many of you who have contacted us for more information or to share your wisdom and experience, we realize that this material cannot be easily condensed into just two parts. So we will be turning this into a regular feature, with future reports including case studies from your parks.

A recap from last time: because most cities have leash laws that outlaw dogs running “at large,” you’ll need to change this policy.

But few policymakers or administrators are risk-takers; they’ll need reassurances that they are not the first to be confronted by a citizenry asking to use public land to recreate with a pack of off-leash dogs. This is to be followed by gentle and constant reminders that your request isn’t coming out of left field and you have the numbers to support your proposal (with signed petitions in hand), that you do pay taxes supporting everyone else’s recreational activity and, lastly, that you regularly consult with your dogs before voting. By doing most of your homework online you can find many excellent examples of successful programs (see resources) to bring to your town’s decision-makers. Now that you have piqued their interest, the next step is to lead them to the drawing table with design guidelines and planning criteria.

Guidelines can help move the process along but keep in mind that, as Mencken noted: “For every complex, difficult problem, there is a simple, easy solution … and it is wrong.” One of the first things we learned in gathering this information is that while it is tempting to use guidelines from other cities or even from other parks within the same city, they should be used judicially and only as outlines to help shape the planning process and not as across-the-board standards. As Judy Green, a veteran of off-leash planning in Virginia, cautioned, “it is important to remain as flexible as possible,” leaving room for “fine-tuning afterwards.” Site-specific and community-specific needs must be addressed. A fifty-acre area within a five-hundred acre park might be too small for one city, but in a dense urban area like New York it could be positively palatine.

It is beyond the scope of this space to write about macro-level planning issues or site analyses—we all know that a city should provide a series of neighborhood parks accessible to the daily needs for all its citizens, including those with dogs, with major municipal or regional parks available for special jaunts. In the ideal world, dogs would be welcomed to share the total park experience with us, as they do in Australia, and not only be limited to permitted sectors. Taking these limitations into consideration, we’ll concentrate on some guidelines for a prototypical off-leash park, if only in the abstract. Operational topics, such as sponsoring groups, user-permits and maintenance issues will be discussed in the next issue.

If your OLA is located on a new site or built within an established park, size is the single most important and probably the most contentious criterion to be decided. Let it be suggested as a rule of thumb that the bigger the better. An off-leash area is similar to a computer: the day you buy one is the day it becomes outdated. With a smaller area (especially if it is the only facility servicing a wide area), you will quickly find that supply can’t match demand. Indianapolis experienced this when permits to their first Canine Companion Zone were sold out almost the day of the opening. They are now looking to open a second, larger canine zone in another park.

Some suggest that the auxiliary (i.e., neighborhood) off-leash parks be a minimum of three to five acres. Even though we agree with the larger end of this range, in many urban areas this is probably unattainable. For smaller parks or for the ones that can’t be easily “divided” into specific usage zones, a “time share” arrangement might be possible, with the park available to dog use in the early mornings and early evening hours. If this is your only option, as it is for many New Yorkers, try to obtain a liberal frame of permitted times (perhaps before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.), factoring in seasonal day length changes. The town of Petaluma, north of San Francisco, reports very successful results with a time-share program that is operational in all of its parks.

We disagree with policy papers that suggest that OLAs be restricted to a maximum of five acres. The rationale behind this limit is that a larger area would make monitoring more difficult. But there is abundant and convincing long-term evidence to ameliorate these concerns, coming from larger dog-friendly parks such as Pt. Isabel in Richmond, California (with nearly a million visits a year), Fort Funston in San Francisco, Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington, Shawnee Mission Park in Johnson County, Kansas, and others. Ideally, OLAs should be large enough not only to accommodate human-with-dog recreational activities, like walking and jogging, but also to provide enough space where some of us can spend private time away from the fetch-and-chase set. Also, the larger the park the less likely that its resources, such as turf, will suffer from overuse.

Another bone of possible contention is fencing. In parks close to traffic, fencing—with consideration for aesthetic concerns —might be necessary. In these cases, double entry, self-closing gates are recommended. Unless your dogs are into high hurtling, a four-foot fence should be adequate. Chain-link (vinyl-coated) fencing is probably the least expensive but some parks, as in Sacramento and Dupont Circle in DC, are looking into other alternatives like wrought iron (beware of the pointy pickets). Arlington Dogs’ Judy Green adds that fencing must extend to the ground and that if using chain-link, the bottom must be crimped to avoid injuries to the dogs. In larger multi-use parks, especially in areas away from traffic which have terrain features that provide natural demarcations and barriers away from other park uses, fencing might not be necessary. There are often serious disagreements over fencing. It can be the single most expensive item in the construction of OLAs, so securing the funding can hamper the progress of projects, especially if communities balk about paying for it. Sometimes dog people are asked to contribute to this expense. Putting aside the fairness question—are tennis players asked to pay for the fences on public courts?—some of you have turned into amazingly effective fund-raisers, getting financial assistance from local businesses. Pet stores and pet food companies should be eager to contribute and perhaps even sponsor your park. In some cases, fencing can also help allay fears of liability.

Even though allowing children into OLAs is more of an operational than a design issue, is it usually during the design stage that this issue is addressed. Again bringing up the specter of liability issues, some communities have opted for not allowing children, even those accompanied by an adult, into their OLAs. We think this is unfortunate. It can add fuel to the children versus dog debate, and Judy Green thinks that it “doesn’t serve the dog community to perpetuate this idea that dogs are always to be feared.” Children should obviously be closely supervised in parks from all recreational activities, such as bicycling, inline skating, kite flying, as well as from dogs. Also, many families with dogs cannot afford the luxury of providing quality park time to their dogs, separate from the time they can spend with their children. Most parks do allow children but some take the precaution of noting on their signage that children under a certain age must be accompanied by an adult. Personally, we love seeing young parents with those new sports-model baby strollers wheeling their charges on the paths of the off-leash area with their dogs merrily running alongside. This goes to the essence of what these areas are all about—having a good time in our parks with those we love.

Other design considerations:

• Available parking that will not interfere with or disturb neighbors
• Compliance with American Disabilities Act requirements—service dogs and their companions should be urged to use OLAs
• Buffer Zones from neighbors who might be concerned about barking
• Conveniently-sited, covered trash receptacles and poop disposal product dispensers
• Bulletin boards for posting notices, raising public awareness, announcing training classes, etc.
• Shade trees, good drainage, maintain-able turf
• Water fountains with both human and dog-level spigots
• Clear, concise and aesthetically pleasing signage
• Benches, tables, agility equipment, swimming ponds