Indoor Fun

Between the pandemic, rising temps, and the dust from the Sahara, our outdoor activities have been curtailed through June. In pursuit of new ways to keep Sasha entertained–and exercised–I turned to the American Kennel Club’s website and discovered cool tips and tricks for indoor fun. I compiled a few of my current favorites here. Enjoy!

Search & Snuffle

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you may remember that the coffee bean grinder initially terrified her. (See, for example, posts here and here.) These days, she knows coffee time equals treat time and comes running in to wherever I might be to claim her prize. I usually roll a tiny treat across the oak floors so that she has to search for it. Great game for kitties, too! When I’m tossing a treat for Buddy The Wonder Cat, I make sure it lands in an open area so he can pounce and pat and knock it all about before he eats it.

Snuffle mats are another way to keep your dog mentally stimulated. As I mentioned in previous posts, snuffle mats can be a great way to distract your pup while you’re working at home. And with you close by, you’ll both enjoy the activity.  Some like to hide the breakfast kibble in a mat and let them forage for their food. There’s a rich variety of mats available online, and you can easily find sources with a quick Google search. Personally, I prefer the “use what you have” approach. I alternate between an old, loosely woven throw rug, a blanket from Sasha’s crate, and a large bath towel. This morning I used an extra-large old towel and rolled it very tight, tucking treats in at random intervals. It took her nearly ten minutes of concentrated attention to discover the treats.

Scent Games

Snuffle mats can be a great introduction to scent work. I like to give Sasha time with the Muffin Tin game (supervised by Buddy The Wonder Cat, of course.) I’ll hide a bit of hot dog or cheese in a few of the cups, while others use this as a way to make dinner time fun. Here’s a great video from YouTube showing how it works:

 

For more fun ideas, check out https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/indoor-scent-games-for-dogs/

Ready for more advanced scent work? Here’s information about the sport of Scent Work, courtesy of the AKC:

Fascinating fact: Dogs have a sense of smell that’s between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours! The sport of Scent Work celebrates the joy of sniffing, and asks a dog to sniff to their heart’s content; turning your dog’s favorite activity into a rewarding game. It is a terrific sport for all kinds of dogs, and is a wonderful way to build confidence in a shy dog.

In so many dog sports the handler is in control but this isn’t true in Scent Work. Neither the dog nor handler knows where the target odor is hidden. The handler has to rely on the dog, and follow the dog’s nose to success. In Scent Work, it is the canine who is the star of the show.

The sport of Scent Work is based on the work of professional detection dogs (such as drug dogs), employed by humans to detect a wide variety of scents and substances. In AKC Scent Work, dogs search for cotton swabs saturated with the essential oils of Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. The cotton swabs are hidden out of sight in a pre-determined search area, and the dog has to find them. Teamwork is necessary: when the dog finds the scent, he has to communicate the find to the handler, who calls it out to the judge.

Learn more online.

Shape Up!

Whatever your dog’s age, you can help them stay toned and limber with conditioning exercises. Use whatever’s handy around the house as props, and grab some yummy treats. If you’re counting calories or just not a fan of treats, use your happy voice, or reward your pup with a favorite toy you’ve tucked away and bring out only on special occasions.

Sasha and I have just begun working on the “step stool stroll.” Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The expression “Yeah, no” seems an apt description, at least for my efforts here. Give it a try and see for yourself. Here’s info from the AKC:

The idea is for your dog to walk around a step stool with their front paws on the stool and back paws on the ground. Although it may sound easy to you, dogs generally lack rear end awareness—where their front paws go, their back paws follow. This exercise really gets your dog thinking about what each paw is doing. If you have a small dog, try using a large book that has been duct-taped closed. For large dogs, an upside-down storage bin can do the trick.

Start by teaching your dog to place only the front paws on the prop. Once your dog is comfortable, encourage movement to either side while the front paws stay elevated. You can do this by luring your dog with a treat. Or you can shape the behavior by capturing any back paw movement and slowly building to a 360-degree turn around the stool.

There are more exercises and “how to” instructions available online. Check them out!

Multiply the fun with dog agility!

And finally, here’s something for the humans in the household. Learn about dog breeds and sports while strengthening math skills–a great idea for these learn-from-home days. According to the AKC:

Math Agility features fifteen playable dog breeds, as well as 60 different breed cards to unlock. To advance in the game, players solve quick math facts, with the option of focusing on addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Players take twelve tours across the game’s map to compete in different agility trials across the United States, eventually ending up at the National Championship in Perry, Georgia. Tours are available in three skill levels, appealing to students of various ages and academic levels.

 

I hope you found the information and ideas presented here useful. Whether indoors or out, there’s plenty of ways to keep you and your dog active and happy!

Breed and Behavior

Photo courtesy of PetPlace.com

In Dangerous Deeds, residents are divided by a proposed ordinance to ban what some consider “dangerous dogs” in the county. Those in favor of the ordinance believe some breeds can never be trusted, while others disagree and refuse to endorse the proposal. When asked her opinion, dog trainer and owner of Waterside Kennels Maggie Porter has this to say:

“Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only breeds on somebody’s banned list that can be dangerous. Any dog that’s not properly trained or supervised or exercised regularly is capable of harming others. The answer isn’t a ban. The answer lies in better training for dogs and education for everyone in the community.”

Maggie’s stance on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is similar to the positions held by the American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AVMA’s published position statement argues that “breed does not predict behavior” and offers a thoughtful and comprehensive review of BSL and offers cogent alternatives.

And while some people think bans are limited to what they consider dangerous breeds, research by groups such as the Responsible Dog Owners of The Western States suggests at least 75 breeds are listed as either banned or restricted. You might be surprised to learn that two of the most popular breeds—the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever—are included on the list. Even more troubling, many bans extend beyond named breeds and instead rely on physical descriptions. Consider this excerpt from the article Why Breed Bans Affect You published by the AKC this year:

Does your dog have almond shaped eyes? A heavy and muscular neck? A tail medium in length that tapers to a point? A smooth and short coat? A broad chest? If you said yes to these questions, then congratulations, you own a “pit bull” …At least according to the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control.

The American Kennel Club takes exception to this generalization. In fact, AKC does not recognize the “pit bull” as a specific breed.  However, across the country, ownership of dogs that match these vague physical characteristics are being banned – regardless of their parentage. The City of Kearney, Missouri, for example, only requires a dog to meet five of the eight characteristics on their checklist before they are banned from the city. Would your pug with its broad chest and short coat be in danger of getting banned under these requirements?

Whether you support or oppose breed bans, I hope you’ll agree that responsible ownership can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for people and dogs alike.

Responsibilities evolve over the lifespan of your dog. Check out the AKC’s 75 Ways to Be a Responsible Dog Owner for a comprehensive overview. A great read for anyone new to sharing their life with a dog, and a great reminder for all of us!

Photo courtesy of AVMA.ORG

Celebrating Birthdays and Books

Sasha is officially four years old today! When we applied to the AKC via their Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program, we opted to rely on the veterinarian’s estimate of Sasha’s age because we don’t know much about her life before she came to us. We chose July 4th for her “official” birthday in celebration of her new life. She’s now formally recognized as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha.

For those new to the blog, here’s a quick recap of the story behind her name:

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 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.

***

We have bestselling author Susan Conant to thank for guiding us through the PAL application process. Susan has a Sheltie of her own, and I’m grateful for her generosity in sharing her expertise. Many of you will recognize her as the author of the Dog Lover’s Mystery Series. (Want to catch up? I’ve previously featured Susan here on this site with a follow-up post here.)

Susan, who is a seven-time winner of the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious Maxwell Medallion for excellence, is also the co-author of The Gourmet Girl Mysteries which has earned high praise. Here’s a sampling:

“The authors serve up another delectable dish of detection.” —Publishers Weekly

“Packed with delicious recipes . . . the Gourmet Girl Mysteries have quickly become one of my favorite culinary mystery series.”  —Roundtable Reviews

“Famous writer of mysteries involving cats and dogs, Susan Conant teams up with her daughter to write a refreshingly charming chick-lit mystery. . . . There’s no doubt about it—this is the start of a great new series.” —Midwest Book Review

 

This new-to-me series is a perfect fit for today, as Sasha loves to snooze after a good meal while I’m reading. We’ll round out the day’s celebration with backyard frolics and be safely indoors long before fireworks boom across the county again.

Happy birthday, sweet dog!

 

Taking control

When you share your life with a dog, some things are essential responsibilities. For me, the list starts with love and attention. Add in good nutrition, regular veterinary care, and frequent grooming. Obedience skills and good manners are on the list, as well; these provide terrific opportunities to bond with your dog.

I’ll add control your dog in public to that list.

I live in a dog-friendly community. From trails to outdoor markets to parks, you’re likely to find nearly as many dogs as people. Some events, such as the annual Dogwood Walk, are all about dogs and raising both awareness and money to support our local animal shelter. When I take Sasha to a crowded event like this—as I did yesterday—I have multiple strategies planned to help her enjoy herself.

Sasha’s irritation with unleashed dogs extends (no pun intended) to dogs on retractable or overly long leashes. Knowing that, we always give a wide berth to such dogs, and to anything that might trigger stress. We settled on a bench off the walking path and beyond the reach of dogs on a standard leash. The exhibitor booths ringed the big meadow on the opposite side of the path. Sasha parked herself at my feet, clearly content to see the action without actively participating. Dogs and people passed by on the path, which gave me plenty of opportunities to say “Look at that” while doling out bits of Ziwi treats—her favorites, second only to cucumbers. All went well until a dog on a long leash came from behind us and rushed Sasha who, predictably, panicked.  When we told the owner, “Control your dog” the woman said, “Shut up.”

No.

I’m not going to shut up. I’m not going to allow any person or dog to abuse my Sasha. Instead, I’ll use this forum to remind people of a few basic facts of responsible dog ownership.

Respect space. Don’t assume all dogs—or people—are comfortable being crowded by strangers. While I was still calming Sasha, a woman we’ve met before came by with a lovely Sheltie and a Pomeranian. She stopped beside the path but came no closer, and all three dogs sat calmly during our brief visit.

Some dogs feel the need for personal space more than others. This is often misunderstood—or ignored—by people who insist their dog is friendly and just wants to play. Those folks would be well served by learning more about Dogs in Need of Space (DINOS).

Be polite. Four Great Pyrenees came strolling along. (I’m not sure Sasha knew what to make of anything that big.) The dogs were on long leashes and one headed our way at a leisurely pace. When I told the owner, “We’re keeping our distance” he said, “Understood” then nodded and moved his dogs along. No fuss, no drama, just good manners and thoughtful behavior.

Practice Responsible Ownership skills, and be courteous to others in the community.

Control your dog. Unless you’re at a designated off-leash dog park, keep your dog on leash and under your control. Save those long lines for open meadows and fields, and use retractable leashes only when it’s safe to do so. Be aware of your surroundings, and accept responsibility for your own actions as well as your dog’s behavior.

You might be familiar with the AKC Canine Good Citizen program. Practicing the skills required for each test can help you control your dog.

***

Sasha is a smart dog. I’ll keep working every day to help her feel comfortable and confident in her surroundings. And until others learn to be responsible owners, I’ll continue to protect her from scary dogs and careless humans.

Dangerous Deeds

One of the most common questions asked of writers: “Where do you get your ideas?”

As a professor and research geek, I love this question. Maybe I’m genetically wired this way; my dad was brilliant with crossword puzzles and my mother excelled in finding creative solutions to vexing problems. That’s as good a reason as any to explain why I’m prone to wonder who and how and why and what if. I might see a headline, visit someplace new, overhear a conversation, sift through photographs, encounter someone unusual, or dream a tall tale—any or all of these  become grist for the proverbial mill. For me, the answer to  “Where do you get your ideas?” changes from one writing project to the next. The idea of breed bans as a plot for Dangerous Deeds (book #2 in my series) started with news headlines.

The Plot Challenge

Breed specific legislation (BSL) has been a controversial issue in many communities, including mine. A nearby town’s efforts to ban pit bulls caused an argument that went on for months. When unleashed dogs attacked cyclists and joggers on roads and trails, elected officials were challenged to reconsider the county ordinance. They struggled to find reasonable common ground, balancing owner’s rights with public safety. Not an easy task! These and similar events prompted me to wonder how the folks in my fictional world would react to a proposed ban.

Search the Internet and you will likely find hundreds of articles and stories and websites focused on this issue. Tempers run hot on both sides of this controversy, and the thought of researching a topic steeped in such graphic violence left me downright queasy. Still, the idea lingered. I spent months searching for credible information about BSL from advocates and opponents alike, trying to figure out how to tackle the issue in a way that wouldn’t offend readers or my own sensibilities. The AKC’s issue analysis of BSL published in 2015 gave me the hook I was looking for. Read on for a glimpse of how the AKC position and citizens’ comments at public hearings inspired the primary plot line of the book.

Excerpts

There’s a scene early in the book where the sheriff warns my protagonist, Maggie Porter, about a sleazy local attorney:

“Simon Tate claims to have a client whose dog was attacked at the county park.  No witnesses, mind you, and no injury to the dog according to the vet. Still, the suit claims negligence on the part of the county, and he’s demanding we outlaw what he calls vicious breeds. He convinced the Quorum Court to hold a public hearing. My gut tells me he’s after a whole lot more than just a county ordinance, but darned if I can figure out his motive here. Gotta say, that worries me some. Seems like whenever Simon Tate profits, somebody loses.”

Fast forward to the public hearing, where Maggie does her best to explain her opposition to breed ban.  She’s blindsided, though, when Simon Tate uses the event to attack her reputation with a barrage of lies and innuendo. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the scene:

“These breeds have a known history of attacking others. Killing machines, that’s what they are, and you let them in your kennel, side by side with beloved family pets.” Turning to face the crowd, he had to shout to be heard. “Until we get the Dangerous Dog Ordinance signed into law, I challenge everyone to take a stand, show your support for our community. Vote with your wallet—boycott any place that puts profit over safety! Don’t take your business to any animal clinic, pet shop, groomer, or kennel that won’t stand up for our pets, our children, our community!”

Simon pointed to Maggie. “We’re going to shut you down.”

***

Maggie soon discovers the boycott is just the start of trouble. When a body is found on her property, suspicion turns to Waterside Kennels where everyone has motive and nobody has an alibi. Can Maggie unravel the web of deceit in time to save herself and everything she loves?

Dangerous Deeds is scheduled for publication this year. Stay tuned!