Love the Leash!

Responsible owners know their dogs need daily exercise, and a walk provides that for dogs and people alike. Whether you prefer strolling through your neighborhood  or trotting briskly along a trail, loose leash walking is a safe, responsible way to enjoy yourselves.

For some, though, leash walking can be an exercise in frustation.  If you’ve ever found yourself rushing to keep up with a super-excited dog or tried to hold onto the leash as your dog pulls ahead, you probably don’t find walking with your dog a joyous adventure.  And if your dog is one of the herding breeds–as my own Sasha is–passing vehicles, cyclists, and even running dogs can trigger the “chase” response (some call it the predator/prey response). When that happens, walking can become a downright chore. Let me assure you that you’re not alone, and there are simple strategies to help you and your dog learn to enjoy leash time. Read on to learn two fun and easy exercises I came across while browsing through AKC Dog Training Basics:

Who’s Walking Who? Tips to Teach Loose Leash Walking

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I’d add one suggestion to this excellent advice. I’ve learned that Sasha is highly reactive when walking in our neighborhood, and perfectly calm and polite anywhere else. That tells me her herding instinct shifts into high gear when we’re in “her” territory. If you’ve had similar experiences with your own dog, consider a vigorous round of indoor training before venturing out into the neighborhood.  I put Sasha through some Rally Obedience basics and work on sit/stay, down/stay, and a variety of heel and come exercises. That gives her the mental stimulation she needs and releases some of that marvelous Sheltie energy!

Is it working? Stay tuned for further updates…

Take Responsibility!

akc-responsble-pet-ownership

My own sweet Sheltie Ozarks Summer Highlands Sasha (as she’s known to the AKC) is bursting with energy now that cooler temps are upon us, and we’re getting out and about to enjoy the turning of the seasons. And we’re not alone–the parks, trails, and sidewalks are crowded with people and dogs. We’re happy to report that most owners we meet honor the leash laws, pick up after their dogs, and are good ambassadors for the dog world.

Some, though, need a bit of a tune-up when it comes to being a responsible dog owner. I hope you’ll share this Responsible Dog Owner’s Pet Promise with your social media friends, post it to your blog, and include in newsletters and posters wherever dog owners gather.

First, some helpful links:

pet_promise

Here’s the link to the AKC’s Pet Promise to download, save, and share. Sasha and I both appreciate sharing our world with happy dogs and responsible owners.

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

“Pets in Vests” – the damage caused by fake service dogs

“Pets in Vests” – the damage caused by fake service dogs

Here’s an important message for everyone. Please take a few minutes to read about this issue.

The Dog in the Blue Coat

August 7 – 13 is International Assistance Dog Week (IADW)! Per IADW, “International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) was created to recognize all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability related limitations.”

This year’s theme is public education around “fake” assistance dogs, raising awareness about the harm caused by people posing their untrained pet dogs as “assistance dogs.”

Next week, we will post more pictures like these of Helping Paws service dogs in action.

           image    IMG_2354

Here is a press release from IADW and Assistance Dogs International (ADI) about this issue:

Fake Assistance Dogs Cause Legitimate Harm

International Assistance Dog Week and Assistance Dogs International plea:

Don’t be a part of the problem. Fraudulent service dogs create serious issues.

July 24, 2016 | Santa Fe, NM and New South Wales, Australia—As more and more people with disabilities are paired with assistance dogs to…

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“And I’d Do It Again”

In the six months that Sasha has been with us, we’ve encountered dozens of dogs and their owners. (Hundreds, if you count the veritable sea of wagging tails at the Humane Society of the Ozarks’ fundraising celebration in the park.) We’ve encountered them on neighborhood walks, along the trail system, in community parks. We’ve met them in kennels, vet clinics, and in training classes. We cross paths at Lowes, PetSmart, and a few other dog-friendly businesses. Usually, the dogs are leashed, the owners are polite, and everyone goes about their day. Good dogs, responsible owners. Those are the happy times.

And then there are the dog owners who are, frankly, clueless. You’ve seen them, and I’ll venture a guess you’ve seen them more often than you’d like. The clueless are often glued (metaphorically) to their smartphones instead of focusing on their dog. They’re the ones using fully-extended flexible leashes in crowded locations, leaving them too far from their dog to intercede if trouble begins. And then there are the owners who think leash laws apply to everyone except their dogs.

When Sasha and I come across those clueless ones, I’ll change direction to avoid crossing paths or getting tangled in those long leash lines. If a detour isn’t practical I’ll move off to the side and out of their path, then put Sasha in a sit-stay until they pass. When an unleashed dog comes our way, I do my best to warn them off with a loud “NO!” or “GO BACK!” Add a sharp thump of my walking stick and that’s often enough to deter a dog that’s unwilling to confront an angry human. Sometimes, though, that’s just not enough.

Make no mistake: I am my dog’s advocate. I will not allow any person or dog to cause her harm in any way. And that most certainly includes those clueless owners who allow their dogs to run unleashed, and who think they can excuse themselves by yelling “It’s okay, don’t worry. He’s friendly!”

News flash: it’s not okay, and I worry about owners who don’t respect boundaries, or who are offended when told to control their dog. If I’m in a good mood and know Sasha is safe, I tend to view these interactions as “teachable moments” for both human and dog. But if I have the slightest doubt about our well-being, I’ll do whatever’s necessary. And after reading the following post by Doranna Durgin (dog trainer, writer, and overall peace-loving person), I’m thinking of adding a few items to my dog-walk kit!

And I’d Do It Again

Congratulations, Dog Owner! You pushed your dog’s luck until you broke it.

You know, eventually you were bound to run into someone who was ready for you. Today, that was me.

Of course, you knew there would be trouble the instant you saw us. I saw you freeze as your off-leash dog noticed my quiet smaller dog. I heard the hint of panic in your voice as you said, “Dog! No!”

Undoubtedly you already knew that even from a mere ten feet away, you would have no control over your pet. I also saw your failed body block, your full-length attempt at a tackle. You are young and athletic, and the tackle was impressive.

But your dog had no trouble evading you.

Dog Owner, there’s a reason I carry a handful of surveyor flags when I track on campus, and you are it. Your dog is it. Of decent size, of a lineage that includes reactive, snappish, and intense behavior. And, of course, off-leash.

Usually when a dog comes our way, I have time to smack the ground with those surveyor flags, or swish the air. Little orange flags on short wire sticks—they make a satisfying swoosh and a big lot of noise, and no dog has tried to get past them. But your dog ran at us with such speed and intensity that for the first time ever, I had no choice but to strike.

I whapped my surveyor flags hard across his nose. It probably hurt. Maybe even a lot.

Your dog was stunned. He tucked tail and ran back to you, just as I meant him to do.

You were stunned, too. You said, “You hit my dog!”

I said, “Yes I certainly did.”

You said, “He wouldn’t have hurt you!!”

Let us both stop and absorb the absurdity of this claim for a moment. Never mind that my dog was still baying alarm and warning, and would never, ever have welcomed yours. What, exactly, did you think your dog intended to do at the tooth end of his charge? Do you have any understanding of dog body language at all?

No, don’t answer that.

I said, “This is a leash area. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near me.”

For instance, closing in at top speed so I didn’t even have the time to warn him off. My arms are only of a certain length, you know. If your dog isn’t well inside my bubble, there’s no way I can do anything but warn him. That’s certainly the way I prefer it.

By now you were trying to collect your dog, but since you had no leash and no control, your only option was to pick him up. You said, “You HIT MY DOG!!”

I was moving on toward my start flag. I said, “Yes, and if he comes back over here I’ll do it again.”

You said, “Shut up!!”

I said, “No, I won’t. He shouldn’t have been anywhere near us.”

You repeated yourself and I said again, still moving on, that I wouldn’t be silenced.

Props to you. You didn’t resort to cursing or try to intimidate me. Mostly, I think, this was because you were trying to gather the Frisbee while still carrying your dog. Once you had it, you left, forced to carry the dog all the way back to the pleasant spot you and your friends had staked out as Frisbee Base One.

Look, Dog Owner. I get it. I actually think you reacted pretty well in the aftermath—given your state of cluelessness, I mean. You contained your dog; you didn’t shriek or scream or threaten. You were truly horrified that your dog had been hit. And then you left.

But here’s the thing. I’m not sorry I hit your dog.

I did the right thing, with exactly the right force, at exactly the right moment. I protected not only myself, but my own dog. It’s possible that your dog carries welts; it’s even possible that an eye was scratched. You’re incredibly lucky that I had the presence of mind to bring those flags down across his muzzle instead of across his head and eye area, or it could indeed have been worse.

I’m pretty sure you don’t see it that way. I don’t imagine you have even one friend in the Frisbee crew with enough sense to say, “Dude, your dog went for her. What was she supposed to do?”

I’m not sorry I hit your dog.

However, I’m very, very sorry that you failed your dog so badly. I don’t dare to hope that you learned something from it, but I hope that he did. Because the next person you come across might not have any protection at all, or she might have a gun (it is, after all, an open carry state). Either way, you don’t often get second chances.

And yes, I’ll do it again.

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My thanks to Doranna for generously allowing me to repost this in its entirety. If you’d like to read more of Doranna’s work, be sure to check out her website or her Amazon author page. My personal favorites are her Dale Kinsall mysteries featuring a Beagle named Sully. Give them a try!

It’s Official!

7-14-16 smiling at park

I confess: I wanted an official portrait shot to commemorate this special  occasion, but life (as it tends to do) got in the way of my plans. So instead of delaying the announcement, I chose to include this candid shot taken at the park. More than any other photo I’ve taken, this one captures that lovely “Sheltie Smile.”

And what’s so special, you might ask?

Sasha is officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha.

We chose Ozark for our locale and Highlands for her heritage; we’re actually in the Ozark Highlands, so it’s a bit of a double play on that last word. We included Summer because we chose July 4th as her official birthday (independence, after all!) and because she has a warm sunny spirit. And I wanted her call name included because she came to us with that, so including Sasha gave us a bridge between her past and present.

If you’re new to the world of purebred dogs, you might not know the AKC is a non-profit organization dedicated to  “championing canine health research, search-and-rescue teams, acceptable care and conditions for dog kennels, and responsible dog ownership.” (See more details here.)

The organization sponsors many terrific programs all around the country, including many family-oriented competitive events. Two of these are Agility and Rally Obedience which both promote performance skills and opportunities for handlers and dogs to work as a team. Sasha got a taste of Rally Obedience as part of her “final exam” in the Intermediate Obedience class and she clearly enjoyed herself. To participate in the AKC events, though, I needed to have Sasha recognized as a purebred Shetland Sheepdog–more commonly known as a Sheltie. And that’s where I ran into a glitch.

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you may remember she came to us six months ago in poor condition after being surrendered to a rural county sheriff’s office with no documentation. Since then she’s been evaluated by breeders, groomers, an AKC judge (who breeds Shelties too), and other Sheltie owners. They all agree that she reflects the physical characteristics of the breed, and her temperament and habits are consistent with the breed as well, right down to “herding” anything that moves and that oh-so-distinctive piercing bark!

Fortunately, the AKC offers a Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program to recognize purebred dogs of AKC-recognized breeds who, for various reasons, were not registered with the organization. Sasha certainly qualified and the application process was easy with a super-quick response from the AKC.  (If you’re interested in the PAL program, you can find eligibility details here.)

I’ll close with this series of photos taken over the past six months as well as my sincere thanks to everyone who’s helped us along this journey!

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Summer Smiles

Sasha made it through the marathon of fireworks with only a few anxious moments, and seems to be settling in well to the summer routine. It’s too hot for walks after 8 a.m., and by the time the pavement cools off in the evening she’s usually already settled in for the night. The weather and some other issues have caused us to limit our outdoor exercise to early morning jaunts and intermittent bursts of playtime and training time in the yard. We’re fortunate to have plenty of shade, and she’s quick to retreat inside when she’s had enough.

We hit the park early this morning, long before anyone else was out and about. I took the long line and we did some basic training, but for the most part I just let her run at the end of the 30′ line and enjoy herself. Here’s proof:

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Color me biased, but isn’t she beautiful? Compare these photos to those taken back in February when she first came to us, and the difference is amazing. Her Sheltie sense of humor is shining through now, and she keeps me laughing. What a gift she’s been!

How do you manage to keep your dogs entertained and exercised during the heat of summer? Inquiring minds want to know!

The Big Bang: Managing Your Dog’s Fear of Fireworks

flag and firecracker

CC0 Public Domain

 

Anyone following Sasha’s journey knows my Sheltie is no fan of noise. She was hypersensitive to clickers, coffee grinders, and any number of household sounds. (Want to know how we’re managing those? Catch up on that part of her journey here.) So it’s no surprise that fireworks invoke an Aaugh!!! reaction.

Before the storms rolled in last night and sent the celebrants scurrying for cover, it seemed half the neighborhood was setting off bottle rockets, roman candles, cherry bombs, and any other sort of firecrackers guaranteed to delight thrill-seekers. Everyone else? Not so much.

We’d done our best to create a calm environment for the holiday weekend. Even without knowing Sasha’s past, we already knew Buddy the Cat’s attitude toward fireworks. Buddy was a rescue who came to us at just three months of age, so we’ve had lots of time to create positive experiences for him. Still, those first three months on his own are etched in his memory, and the Feral Cat Within emerges in times of stress or pain and his first instinct is to hide.

My Rescue Kitty Buddy

“Make that noise go away, Momma!”

We’ve managed his anxiety by keeping fans running and doors and windows closed, Willie Nelson on the stereo (Buddy’s a big fan) and a movie he gets to choose from the cabinet. (Hey, everyone gets a vote in this household!)  He still dives under the covers now and then, but that tends to happen when he just feels the need for solitude. As those solitary periods tend to coincide with linen change, I suspect he’s successfully overcome his early trepidation.

Sasha, in contrast, was on high alert and making the rounds with every bang until I distracted her with beef jerky strips–something new for her. An instant hit, making me grateful once again for all the delicious treats we received as part of Sasha’s goody bag at the Humane Society of the Ozarks’ annual Dogwood WalkAnd since Sasha’s idea of her “safe place” is wherever I am, I positioned her bed next to my recliner, close enough so she could snuggle as she liked. Once she realized the rest of us were calm and relaxed, she settled into her bed to enjoy the movie.

Not every cat or dog has the same luxuries during fireworks season. Some reports suggest dogs can be frightened by the fireworks and often escape the yard, winding up lost, injured, or worse. I hope you’re taking whatever precautions you can to keep your furry family members safe and secure this weekend. As this graphic from http://www.thatpetblog.com/ shows, being prepared and holding to a relaxed routine can go a long way toward helping pets:

pet safety 4th july

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Here are more useful tips to help keep your dog safe, courtesy of the Such Good Dogs blog:

Have ID on your pet:
This is the number one most important thing!  More pets run away on July 4th than any other day of the year.  Be sure that your pet has proper identification tags with updated contact information.  On the 4th, be sure to keep your pet on a leash and keep a close eye on him when out and about.

Preparation:
The best thing to do for a dog that gets nervous, anxious, or fearful during fireworks is to properly prepare BEFORE the day arrives.

Try Lavender Oil:
Lavender is a naturally calming scent for both humans and dogs.  I have recommended lavender in the past for dogs with arthritis.  To use lavender for your dog, take some time to give your dog a massage and give some good petting.  Put just a little dab of lavender oil on your hands before massaging your dog and/or petting him in his favorite spots.  Use nice, calm, slow strokes.  Slowly massaging the outsides of the spine from the neck down is another proven approach.  Be sure not to use a lot of lavender.  A little dab will do just fine.  You do not need a lot to get the smell, and we do not want to have dogs licking excessive amounts of oil off themselves.  The point of this exercise is to associate the smell of lavender with a nice calm, relaxed state of mind.  You should do this for a few days (or more) prior to the fireworks on July 4th.  Your dog will build an association to the smell of lavender and being relaxed and calm.  Before the fireworks begin, put your dog in his “safe place” with the scent of lavender.

Have a “Safe Place” for your dog:

For many dogs the thing that makes them feel best and most safe is to be able to get as far away from the sights and sounds as possible.  Have a spot ready that your dog will enjoy and be comfortable in.  Make it somewhere far away from outside walls and windows.  This will make it easier for him to relax.  The best thing would be a kennel or crate.  Dogs generally enjoy den-like enclosures, and having your kennel or crate set up before the 4th will help them have a nice spot to go.  It is also helpful to place sheets or towels over wire crates to help block sound and lights.  Be sure to take the temperature into consideration.  It is summer and things get hot quickly.  Do not make your “safe place” uncomfortable for your dog by making it too hot.  You are most looking for a den-like area for your dog to feel safe.  If possible feed and/ or treat your dog in this area prior to the 4th.  Make sure the area is lined with a bed or comfy blankets for your pup as well.
Also remember to try and give your dog something he enjoys to help occupy him such as a chew bone or Kong filled with some yummy treats or peanut butter.

Communication & Energy:
If you will be around your dog during the fireworks, the best thing you can do for them is to remember to remain calm and feel like the fireworks are no big deal.  Dogs react to energy.  If your energy is telling your dog that you are calm and not at all worried about the sights and sounds, your dog will feel that it is okay for him to relax as well.

Exercise your Dog before Dusk:

A fantastic way to help your dog is to thoroughly exercise him before the fireworks begin.  Be sure to get your evening walk in before it starts to get dark.  The less energy your dog has, the less energy he has to put towards being fearful.  A tired dog will be more comfortable and will be able to more easily ignore the sounds and sights of the night.
Read the entire article at the Such Good Dogs blog.
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The American Kennel Club always has helpful information about canine care, and they’re put together a sensible list that’s worth keeping for year-round reference. (New Year’s Eve, for example, often ends in a frenzy of fireworks.) Find that here. And here’s a great graphic, courtesy of the AKC, that sums up the key points to help keep our beloved pets safe. Wishing everyone a happy and safe celebration!
INFO_Fireworks_201507_Infogfx