Monday, November 30, 2009

Just a Monday Night

What am I doing? Right now I'm sitting in my den (can't get used to using the word "den"). It's quiet. I've paused the dvr right in the middle of "So you think you can dance." Five dogs are in here with me, but it's quiet. Heidi's in the middle of a bed that is way too big for just her. Kenzie, with front foot wrapped in pink vet-wrap (hurt her toe), is laying in the bed beside her. Jersey, who stays too hot for beds, is laying on the floor very close, close enough that she is resting her head on Kenzie's bed.

Wait...Merlin just sat up...yawned and is staring at me. Since we've noticed each other I wiggle my fingers towards him as a sign to come here. He does, I pat his afro and now he's back to lay down. Bailey is behind my chair on the rug. I can hear the heater and my typing, but other than that, it's quiet. Kinda spooky, Merlin's eyes have rolled back and all I see are the whites. I stare at him, not wanting him to go. My eyes are tearing as I type this. No, don't want him to go. Want to keep him safe here with me. Me and the girls. It could be "the girls and Merlin." Not wanting him to go. Only good applications have been from far away. Great family contacted me today. They are probably the ones. His family......but I'm crying.....because I don't want him to go. "Gotta make the smart decision, gotta make the smart decision," I say to myself to convince me not to keep keep Jersey's brother.

No...I don't want him to go. In this second all I know is that I don't want him to go. His feet are twitching and he's barking in his dream. Don't want him to go.

I must not love my dogs.....

There's this underlying feeling, belief maybe, that I notice among many dog owners. It has really come to light these last couple of months. Now it's time to address it. I must not love my dogs......

How can I love them? My dogs aren't what people would define as spoiled. Let me tell you why I don't love them:
-I don't allow them on the couch (not even the tiny Miss Heidi)
-I don't allow them in my bed
-I don't allow them to lick me (especially in the face)
-I don't allow them to jump on me
-I don't give them tons of treats (maybe one or two if they're lucky and of course lots when we're training)
-I don't pet them and love on them all day
-They're never allowed to pull me on the leash and most of the time I want them beside or behind me

Here's what they do have to do:
-Wait at doors, no darting through without permission, no going out in front of me
-Wait in the living room while I fix their dinner
-Stay out of the kitchen while I'm cooking and/or eating
-Stop licking/playing/making toys squeak when I'm trying to watch a movie

So it's official....I must not love my dogs. You see in this society we define love in the ways humans define love and we do this no matter the species. We take pride in how spoiled our pets are. I have numerous customers come in and say, "My baby is so spoiled, I've never left her at a kennel. You better take care of my baby." And then they plop up a bag of crappy food and tell us to feed it to their dog and when another dog walks in their dog growls and misbehaves...but, hey after's their baby.

If human parents were to say to you, "I spoil my kids. They don't have any rules in the house. I let them do whatever they want. No, they don't have to go to school and I really don't mind when they pee on the rugs. I let them eat oreos all day because it's their favorite. " We would immediately label them as bad parents. Why? Because everyone knows that children shouldn't be raised that way. But why do we have such a hard time using that same common sense with our dogs?

The reason I believe is that humans use pets to fill up the emotional needs that humans so desire. They want another species that will forever be their baby and love them so much for it. But here's what's missing....what's in it for the dog? Owning a dog is a two way street. Your dog provides you with unconditional love and it is your responsibility to give back to your dog what he/she really needs. That is for you to understand that she is a dog. That's right a dog. And a dog's needs are much different than a humans. Dogs need to have rules, dogs need to have structure, they need to have a clear leader in their lives. If they don't then they can't be as well-balanced as they were meant to be.

Yes, yes, you could be one of the lucky ones that found yourself a calm submissive dog and without so much a tiny bit of effort on your part your dog is well-balanced. But for most of the dogs it's not like that. So let's really take a look at it. Let's really take a look at what can happen when dogs' true needs aren't fulfilled and then take a look at your dog and see what fits.

First: Stop right now and make a list of rules your dog has. Don't make any new ones up and don't list rules that you wish your dog did, but real actual rules that are enforced 100% of the time.

Second: Is your dog well-balanced. You may think your dog is. Below are some behaviors that will let you know your dog is not well-balanced.
-Growl at other dogs when on a walk
-You would be afraid to take your dog to a dog park because they would either be too aggressive or they would freak out due to fear
-Barks non-stop at any small noises
-If they are doing a behavior you do not like you are unable to stop it (like non-stop barking)
-Isn't housetrained
-Is anxious, high-strung, paces, whines, digs, etc. when left alone
-Doesn't have a healthy appetite (you have to "convince" her to eat)
-licks obsessively (really any obsessive behavior)
-Can't learn to respect boundaries (escapes from crates, scratches doors, etc.)
-A prey drive so high you cannot get the dog out of the fixated state once she has spotted "prey"
-growls/bites at humans
-would take off running away from you given the slightest opportunity

These are just a few examples but there are hundreds more. The reason I am doing this is to say ultimately...I don't care if you "spoil" your dogs. But if that "spoiling" gets in the way of them being healthy well-balanced dogs then I do have a problem with it. You know I was joking when I said I didn't love my dogs. I mean really, how many of you can say you built a business around being able to bring your dogs to work? But how does that love rank with others? To me I would have to say, "I love my dogs more." Why? Because I don't give them what I want to give them; I give them what they need. And because of that my dogs are happy, healthy, at a good weight and most importantly well-balanced.

What this gets me in return is an amazing group of dogs. Who else do you know that can take 5 dogs off leash and trust them? It's because I provide such a structured life for my dogs that they are able to reach their full potential. Their real potential. Not just well-behaved for me, but that they can be happy in their own skin. Dogs doing the above aren't happy; aren't truly happy.

Now that I've laid the foundation with them not only do I reap the benefits but they do too. They get to travel with me, go to work with me, go walking with me, go to family's houses, get to hang out off-leash while I work in the yard, they get to eat downtown with me when the weather's nice, they get so much more because of the work I've done...we've done really; as a pack together.

I don't write this to say, "I'm a better pet owner, ha-ha." I write this so that you can take a second to re-evaluate the relationship you have with your dog. Perhaps your dog isn't as well-balanced as you know she could be; perhaps you realized you don't even have one rule in your house. Perhaps you realized you are one of the lucky ones with the ultimate well-balanced dog with no effort. But either way, I hope it gives you pause and most importantly makes you redefine what "spoiling" your dog really means.

I briefly mentioned above about the customer that says their dog is their baby and then throws the crappy bag of dog food on the counter for us to use. This is one of the biggest mistakes owners that "spoil" their dogs do; horrible diet. It's not good to throw in horrible wet food just to make them eat it or buy the bag that has the prettiest label. You HAVE to learn how to pick the right food. Please don't invest all your love into your pet and then feed them garbage. I am so happy to help you with this, just ask. Also, having an obese pet is just as neglectful as having a pet that has been starved. It does significant damage to your pet. When I see a pet that is so fat, I literally hold back tears. You might as well be beating your dog in front of me. Please, if you take nothing else out of this take a look at your dog's weight and take a look at your dog's food. They'll thank you for it. And then feel free to smack me as well if you see me eating a doughnut.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Emotional stages when your dog misbehaves

It happened to me just the other day. I looked out my bedroom window and saw my pup Jersey and foster dog Tux digging a hole in my newly sodded backyard. I was furious. So much so that I immediately put them both in time out where they stayed for about an hour. I stared at this hole in my yard.

A few months before: I had my four girls in the front yard to go potty and have playtime. No leashes. The neighborhood dogs came towards us and off went Jersey chasing after them. I did her special recall command and everything, yet further she ran. I followed her in my pj's furious the whole time. Once I caught her it was angry mommy all the way home ( my pj's.)

So here's my stages of emotion:

1. Anger! Boy was I furious "how dare they dig a hole in the yard I spent so much money on?!! They have this whole yard to run and play yet they dug a hole!" "How dare Jersey not come when I call!! She knows this command!"

2. Fear and relief (only in some cases). Once I settled from the chasing Jersey incident I felt fear and sadness. She was so close to the main road, what if she had gotten hit. How scary. I would be devastated if anything happened to her.

Now if you're a good dog parent, especially if you're a dog trainer, hopefully you will end with the following emotion:

3. Acceptance and guilt. Once all the anger settles, the nerves calm down, after all is said and done and you can look at what happened, I mean really look at what happened. You realize it was all your fault. You accept it, feel guilt and do better next time.

Wondering how it was my fault? Let me explain using the above two examples.

-Hole in yard. I put a foster dog into my backyard in the morning. The very reason he was with me was because he is an insanely high energy dog and is driving everyone nuts at Pawtropolis. I then put my 8-month old puppy out there with him. So what did they do? They did what dogs do. It is natural for them to explore and play in nature. Smell a strange scent? Let's dig to investigate. If I didn't want them to dig the hole I should have taken them for a long controlled walk before just throwing them into the yard. But I didn't. So it was my fault. They didn't do anything wrong. They were dogs. Now, yes, I should have disciplined them and used it as a training opportunity to teach them not to dig, but I shouldn't have gotten as angry as I did.

-Jersey not coming. Yes, I had trained Jersey with her recall command. I trained her everyday. I trained her at Pawtropolis and I trained her at home. But I had never trained her not once to come to her recall command when the neighborhood dogs were inticing her to play. My fault. My solution, get a long training line, hook it to her and wait till the dogs came around again. When they did, I called and when she didn't come I pulled her in with the rope. Did this a few times and now her recall command is stronger than ever.