Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Training Goals on the Web
Using social media for a push

As someone who works in professional development, I always tell people that in order to reach your goals, you have to hold yourself accountable. This looks different for every person and committing can be as simple as writing your goal down on paper.

Goal setting is also important when it comes to our dogs because it motivates us to carve out time to train and develop our relationships with our pups.  While dog sport people may have lofty goals, like to qualify for nationals, a goal can be anything from improving your recall to making more time for walks.

In today’s age of social networking, a great way to share goals is to post them on Facebook or a blog, as well as share pictures, videos and get advice from dog lovers around the world. 

One of my agility friends is working on heeling with her new puppy, Griff. She’s been documenting their progress on her blog, Dog Nerd 101, and has decided to inspire others to work on heeling by holding a contest for Most Improved Heeler through her blog.

Many people think heeling is just for obedience, but it’s an invaluable tool for other dog sports and for everyday life. Navigating a crowded street becomes a piece of cake if you’ve trained a heel behavior. Dog Nerd 101’s contest is a great way to encourage others to practice this important skill.

How do you commit to your dog related goals?

News: Guest Posts
Blanket Lust
An (seemingly) unstoppable obsession

I am obsessed with blankets. Turns out, so is Leo. My blanket obsession began with a passion for textile design, which developed into a habit of buying any blanket, comforter or quilt that caught my eye. Leo’s blanket habit is related to mine: Whenever I bring home a gorgeous coverlet, he has to chew a gigantic hole right in the middle—as soon as he is left alone with it for more than 20 seconds.

  Sometimes I think fate must have ironically brought Leo and I together, or that maybe Leo is saving me from the fate of being crushed under an avalanche of blankets when I open the linen closet. With Leo’s blanket-munching, I recognized there were two issues that needed to be addressed. First, Leo could not be left alone with blankets until he learned chewing on them is inappropriate. Secondly, he needed a positive outlet for his chewing, such as a chew toy.   Keeping Leo away from blankets worked for like a week. His tenacity for finding unattended blankets was borderline inspiring. I’d leave the bedroom door open for a minute while I went to grab clothes from the dryer: Gigantic hole in the blanket. I’d take a catnap on the sofa: Down feathers everywhere when I awoke.   Since keeping him away from blankets wasn’t going to happen, I tried taste deterrents, like bitter spray misted onto the blankets. Apparently, the only one affected by this was me. Many a nap was rudely ended by a bitter taste. After falling asleep in a blanket cocoon on the sofa (exhausted from watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Cake Boss), my open mouth would inevitably make contact with the surface of the blanket. It was heinously gross. Meanwhile, Leo would power through the nasty flavor. For my sake, I gave up on the bitter spray.   My plan to redirect Leo’s affection from blankets to toys has been even less successful. Even after taking Leo to training specifically to pique his interest in toys, he drifts after more than 20 seconds unless it is something he can eat (like a bully chew or a Kong toy). I see a future with a morbidly obese dog curled happily on elegant, intact quilts.   The reality is Leo and I both have issues that need to be dealt with (though I’d like to think that I can curb my blanket-purchasing habit as soon as I can curb Leo’s blanket-eating habit). What next? Do I give Leo one blanket and designate it as his? Do I continue my two years of attempting to interest him in toys? Do I concede that maybe I won’t have nice blankets ever? Any suggestions?


News: Guest Posts
A New Job for Pearl
Second graders illustrate book about Haiti SAR dog

Allyn Lee has volunteered for 16 years, teaching second graders about animals and the environment. In January, she was teaching Connie Forslind’s second grade class at Rancho Romero School in Alamo, Calif., about wolves—a subject, she says, always segues to dogs—when Haiti was hit by the devastating earthquake. Lee followed the coverage, in particular stories about the canine search teams, including California Task-Force 2 (CA-TF2), trained by the Search Dog Foundation. CA-TF2 saved 11 lives in Haiti and learned a great deal about saving more lives in future disasters. Lee decided she wanted to write the true story of a Pearl and her handler, Fire Captain Ron Horetski.

  When she told her students they became enthusiastic supporters and illustrators. They studied photos of Horetski and Pearl and watched Search Dog Foundation videos. Every student provided at least one image for A New Job for Pearl: A Homeless Dog Becomes A Hero, and they participate in book sales events nearby. “They are fully involved and determined to sponsor a search dog!” Lee says.    Lee and her students hope to sell 1,000 copies at $10 each to raise the $10,000 needed to sponsor the training of a search dog. To support the kids, SDF and/or to learn Pearl’s wonderful story, visit ANewJobforPearl.org.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping One Another
Homeless dogs help injured soldiers learn a new vocation

The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. is on the forefront of using the human-canine bond to help soldiers. Previously, I wrote about research being done on the effects of service dogs on post traumatic stress disorder, but recently I found about Dog Tags, a partnership between the Walter Reed and its neighbor, the Washington Humane Society. 

Developed by the Humane Society, Dog Tags is a program that teaches soldiers the basics of dog training, while providing homeless dogs with training and socialization. Dog Tags gives soldiers the opportunity to pursue a future career in the field of animal training, care and welfare while increasing the dogs’ adoption rate and retention in their new homes.

Participation in the program is voluntary and requires the solders to come across the street to the Washington Humane Society’s Behavior & Learning Center twice a week. The certificate based program has three tiers, each lasting eight weeks. Even better, the certificate based educational curriculum uses all humane, motivational training methods.

I saw a presentation last year at ClickerExpo about a similar vocational program done in prisons. Listening to some of the participants, it was amazing to hear the life transformations they had from working with dogs and caring for another living being. The inmates learned compassion and empathy, while developing an optimistic outlook on life. Learning a career skill is only a small part of what participants receive from these types of programs. I can only imagine the benefits Dog Tags has for soldiers who have gone through so much trauma in their lives.

To learn more about Dog Tags or to donate, visit the Washington Humane Society website. The program is entirely funded by the Humane Society. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Zoom Room
New franchise brings pet lovers together with dog sports

Animals have always been a part of Jaime Van Wye’s life, so it’s only natural that she would grow up to become a dog trainer. Through her work, she’s trained dogs in search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, criminal apprehension, tracking and even taught a Labrador how to pee in a urinal—and flush. 

Through her interactions with people and their pets, Van Wye identified the need for greater training opportunities in Los Angeles, but also the need for a place where pet lovers could connect. As a result, in 2007, Van Wye founded Zoom Room, the first indoor agility training center in the area. 

But Zoom Room offers much more than just agility. The company’s mission is to develop the bond between pets and their people by offering classes and activities in a modern, social environment. Visitors to Zoom Room train their pups in obedience, therapy work, scent tracking, Pup-lates and skateboarding. 

The venture was so successful that Van Wye turned the business into a franchise last year. This year, two more locations are set to open in Austin, Tex., and Hollywood, Calif. Locations are also underway in Colorado and Florida.

Besides working with my pups, my favorite thing about participating in dog sports is the community. I’m usually wary of franchises, especially when they involve animals, but it sounds like Zoom Room has a great mission: To encourage pet lovers to become more active with their pets, while meeting like-minded people.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs at the Farmer’s Market
Handling dogs and crowds

In my town, Flagstaff, Ariz., dogs are welcome in many places, and one of the hot spots for dogs is the Sunday morning Farmer’s Market. It’s great to see people and dogs out enjoying the beautiful weather and the purchase of fresh foods. Regrettably, what’s not always so great is seeing people frustrated or angry with one another because of the dogs.

  Sometimes people, especially kids, pet dogs without asking permission first, or dogs jump up on people or lick them while a guardian is busy picking out heirloom tomatoes or the perfect bunch of basil. I regularly see many dogs who are stressed out in the crowd at the event or dogs greeting each other in a tense way that makes me concerned that the interaction might escalate into trouble.   When dogs and people are interacting at any sort of community event, following a few guidelines can make the difference between a positive experience for everybody and a situation full of tension and bad feelings. My top tips for people who want to take their dogs to such places include: 1) Crowded situations are not for every dog, so if your dog is not at his best in such situations, don’t put him in them. 2) Don’t let your dog jump on people or lick them unless you know they are okay with that. 3) Know the signs of stress in dogs. Watch for any indications that your dog is no longer having a good time, and if that happens, be willing to leave even if you’d rather stay a bit longer. 4) Don’t let dogs greet each other unless both guardians have agreed that it’s okay.   If you like to take your dog to various events about town, how do you make it work for both you and your dog?  


News: Guest Posts
Extreme Pet-Proofing
Beyond bitter spray and baby gates

Before adopting my first dog, I did what any soon-to-be dog parent would do, I pet-proofed my home. I was vigilant. Exposed electrical cords were tucked out of sight, my favorite white shag rug was Scotchgarded and put in a room where my dog would never go without supervision, and I bought a baby gate for confining him in the kitchen when I was out. I felt extremely satisfied with my preparation, and thought about what an excellent dog parent I would be. Perhaps it was hubris, but God or the universe or whoever decided that no matter how hard I tried to pet-proof my home, I would be given a dog that would constantly prove me wrong.

  My first dog, Skipper, was a breeze to pet-proof for, although he did show me he could easily jump over the 3-foot baby gate. Then came Leo. Problems that had never seen imaginable suddenly needed to be addressed immediately, such as the fact that Leo can scale vertical chain-link fences like Spiderman. Or the reality that even though my fence goes several feet underground, Leo will dig like he’s Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption until he is free. Containing Leo has been like plugging a cartoon water leak: Once one rupture is stopped, another pops up out of nowhere, then another, and I’m left scrambling to fix them all at once.   Leo seemed to know no limits or bounds, until finally he went too far. One rainy afternoon, he tried to follow me outside and down the stairs leading to the garage. I closed the wooden gate at the top of the stairs, and told him to stay. When I got into my car, Leo was in the backyard and I assumed he would use the dog door to go back into the house. Instead, he scaled the gate (with his aforementioned Spiderman abilities), slipped and fell down the flight of stairs. I returned home an hour later, entering through the front door and not immediately seeing Leo. It seemed strange. I couldn’t find him anywhere in the house, so I panicked and went to the backyard, imagining he had escaped. Then, I spotted him. Leo was at the bottom of the stairway to the garage, shivering. My heart broke. I felt that in spite of my efforts, I had failed. Though Leo wasn’t seriously injured, he sprained three ankles and scraped the front of his face. We were lucky, as his injuries could have been much worse. After taking him to the vet and confirming he would make a full recovery, Leo spent the next few days curled up in a ball on the couch, seeming to consider what he had done.   Though it’s been challenging to pet-proof my home, I think we’ve finally reached an understanding. For me, pet-proofing is not about creating impossible challenges for the dogs to defeat (because my dogs have proved time and again that nothing is impossible for them) and it’s not really about protecting my property (no matter how much I love that rug), but instead it’s about ensuring the protection of what is truly important—my dogs. And they seem to recognize I put in place to keep them safe and comfortable, even if one of them had to learn this the hard way.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trainers, Vets, Behaviorists—Together
American Humane creates new committee

The Animal Behavior and Training Advisory Committee has been set up for many purposes, one of which is to foster collaboration and cooperation. The members of the committee include trainers, veterinarians and behaviorists that are all well respected experts in their particular areas.

  The committee will offer guidance in areas as diverse as pet dog training summits, content of American Humane’s Animal Behavior Resources Institute Online, their Human-Animal Interactions program and their principles and position statements.   I love the idea of putting together a diverse group of individuals who are all concerned with training and behavior and their considerable impact on animals and people. Good things tend to happen when expertise and teamwork come together.      


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Visual Versus Vocal Cues
Dogs watch us and we talk to them

There’s a little list in my mind of information that dog trainers know and that they wish everyone knew. At the top of that list is the fact that dogs primarily communicate with visual signals whereas humans most often express themselves vocally. This difference explains so much of the confusion between our otherwise largely compatible species.


Dogs often pick up on visual cues that we use, inadvertently or not, when training them. So, if during training, we use a hand gesture while saying "sit," most dogs will learn that the hand gesture means to put their bottom on the ground long before they figure out that the word "Sit" means to do the same thing.


Research has shown that dogs learn visual signals faster than vocal signals. Therefore, it is most likely that if your dog is sitting when presented with both cues, he already knows the visual cue on its own. To check for sure, you can experiment by giving just the visual cue and see if your dog sits.


We often think our dogs are responding to what we are saying, but often they are actually responding to what we are doing. Dogs are watching us and we are talking to them. Dogs can't figure out what their humans are trying to convey and we can't figure out why our dogs aren't listening.


Simply being aware of this difference between dogs and people helps avoid the problems that often result. For more information, check out this short article I wrote for my local paper about visual versus vocal cues.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Leave It
The best cue for showing off with your dog

If a piece of hot dog or other delicious treat is on the ground and you tell your dog to “Leave It,” will your dog do as you ask or will he run to the food and snarf it up? If the answer is that your dog will eat the food, that is a shame for two main reasons: 1) If the food was spoiled, poisonous to dogs or simply fattening, you missed an opportunity to protect your dog from harm; 2) “Leave It” is easy to teach, yet one of those impressive cues that makes any dog look well trained.


I like having a dog who knows the cue “Leave It” because I can prevent my dog from eating something that could hurt him, because I enjoy having a dog who can do things that make other people think well of him, and because if I happen to drop something (like a whole steak!) while I am cooking, I don’t want to have to go the grocery store again just because I have a dog.


Here’s a video of Tyson, a Pomeranian who visits our family from time to time when his family travels. (They are a military family and sometimes duty calls on short notice.) When told to “Leave It,” Tyson does not go for the cheese I have put on the floor, even though that is one of his favorite treats. (He does, however, receive cheese from my hand to reinforce him for making the right choice.) He is showing how well he can “Leave It” after just a few lessons.