Safe Travels, Everyone!

Sasha’s longest car trip (that we know of) was our first day together, when we drove hours through the Ozarks and across Oklahoma’s tallgrass prairie to bring her home. For a rescue dog that had been handed off from one place to another, a long car journey with strangers was one stress too many.  Since then, though, we’ve taken short trips about town to gradually acclimate her to car travel. Nowadays, “Car” means another happy adventure is on the horizon. She’s equally comfortable secured with her seat harness or zipped into her travel crate, although she clearly prefers being right next to me. We’ve gone to training, the park, pet store, and her favorite Lowes store. We’ve even visited the vet clinic just to say hello and step on the scale, and those casual visits resulted in a calmer dog come annual check-up time.  In the photo here, she’s at the drive-through, waiting patiently for her post-training reward of cheese while I pick up lunch.

Even though she’s a much better traveler now, we’re staying close to home. According to the American Auto Association a record-breaking 107 million people will be on the road and in the air in the coming days, and many will be traveling with pets. If you plan to be among those traveling, here are some tips from AKC GoodDog! Helpline Trainer Breanne Long to help ease the stress of travel for our four-legged family members.

The best way for any pet to travel is in a crate or seat belt harness. This is safest for you. You won’t have a pet bouncing around the car distracting you (or worse, in your lap!), and safest for your pet since he could get banged up or even ejected from the car in the case of an accident. If your dog is uncomfortable in the car, try feeding him his meals in the vehicle, first with the car off, then gradually work up to the car running, and then driving slowly. Make sure to have a second person driving the car, so you can keep an eye on your dog without driving while distracted. Throughout this process, as your dog eats his meals, drop treats into the crate or into his bowl.

Breanne has excellent tips for air travel with dogs, too. Check out those tips and the rest of the article here.

Some good reminders:

  • Be prepared. Take food, water, and bowls, any medications, and a first-aid kit. Remember extra collars, leashes, and tags. Toss in some cleaning supplies, too; I keep wet wipes, white vinegar, baking soda, and old towels in the car in case of accidents. And remember to take along vet clinic and current microchip info. If your dog is lost while you’re traveling, a microchip may be his best chance to getting home to you.
  • Keep photos handy. I keep Sasha’s AKC registration photos on my phone; they show her standing in profile and face-on. I also have photos of her in sit-stay and down-stay positions to make it easy for someone to recognize her if she’s ever lost.
  • Schedule breaks along the way. Choose a safe place and always keep your dog leashed while out of the vehicle. Avoid high traffic areas whenever possible, and give your dog time to explore. The few extra minutes you spend at a rest stop can help your dog enjoy the journey.

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For more tips on traveling with your dog, visit http://dogsaholic.com and learn how to manage hyperactive dogs, backseat barkers, and more. You might also enjoy reading TripAdvisor’s tips from experts for safe travel with your pets. For more, be sure to check out the AKC’s complete guide to traveling with your dog.

And whether you’re planning a cross-country trek or a jaunt across town, remember that a little planning can lead to better travel experience for all involved. If you’re venturing out to someplace new, check out the pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, events, and more along your route at https://www.bringfido.com/.

Whatever, wherever, and however you celebrate, Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat join me in wishing you the merriest of holidays!

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The Big Bang: Tips for the 4th

Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat will be celebrating the Fourth of July indoors with plenty of sound camouflage in the form of music, movies, and one particularly loud standing fan that’s reminiscent of a C-130 in flight. The freezer is well stocked with ice cubes (Buddy likes to bat them across the kitchen tiles when he’s not pushing them around in his water bowl) and the fridge has low-fat cheese and cucumbers for Sasha’s snacking pleasure. Add in treat balls stuffed with special yummies and these two will be able to tune out the scary sound of fireworks.

Here are a few reminders about pet safety on the 4th:

Whatever and wherever you celebrate, here’s wishing you a safe and happy holiday!

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!

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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:

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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

It’s Official!

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

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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!
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Historic FUN Obedience Event at Westminster

Obedience is much on my mind these days, and I’ve been scouring the Internet for stories, strategies, and tips to help Sasha and I learn the fine art of PAYING ATTENTION. I think we’ll both be watching this clip for inspiration! (Find the link at the end of the post.)

Photo: Cathy Sheeter Fine Arts Photos: Cathy Sheeter Fine Arts

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Never say never. That’s what I learned this week at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. The nationally recognized Westminster show takes place every February in New York City. For nearly a week, dog people from across the country descend upon New York and the city is abuzz with everything dog.

For many years, I’ve heard obedience people say, “wouldn’t it be great if some day our sport could be at Westminster to show the public about the benefits of training dogs?” And every time, someone would inevitably respond, “It will never happen.” That’s because Westminster has been a club steeped in tradition and that tradition has always been conformation shows.

But then, there was a change. Westminster Kennel Club decided to add AKC Agility to the show, and this year, everyone cheered at the show (and at home as they watched via television) for this…

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