Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday Training Tip

Recently, a dog owner described a behavior problem with their pet. While some problems are more complex than others, a simple place to start redirecting a dog's energy and attention is simple.

Twenty Sits a Day.

That's right. Every opportunity you have, tell your dog to sit. Five times in the morning - before the dog goes out, before the dog eats...etc. Five times in the afternoon...five times in the evening. The dog has to work for everything it gets - to play, affection, any attention at all.

This makes the dog's brain work. The dog also recognizes that YOU are the one in control. Often, this is the beginning of turning around a dog's problem behaviors.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Equipped for the Day

Do you get sinus headaches like I do? Do you ever wake up cranky?

These situations, along with others, make going to work difficult. If you walk into a room, wake up twenty-some dogs that simultaneously start barking, each demanding your immediate attention, such complications make even the best day a challenge.

However, if you have the right equipment, then the day is better. After having my toes smashed and my feet scratched, I've learned it is far better to wear sturdy shoes, not flip flops, in the kennel. To prevent pounding headaches from worsening, I wear earplugs. In order for my hands not to ache constantly (so I can do important things like blogging), a good pair of work gloves reduces the wear and tear.

Perhaps you've heard some people talking about making sure they are "prayed up" before they head out the door. Maybe they put on the "full armor of God." Those are all fine strategies, once you decipher the ''Christianese."

Finding some time in your day to seek God in prayer, to read something calming from Psalms, and to just realize that the day may test your patience and abilities helps give one's life a sense of preparation. Sometimes, it is also restorative.

What do you do to make the challenges of your day easier? Every job, task, and situation presents obstacles. With the right "tools," a day's challenges aren't so overwhelming.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Dog's Memory

There is a wide range of opinions on how a dog's memory and sense of time works. For the kennel, some owners worry their dog will forget all about them.

This is something I've never witnessed. It is rare for a dog not to wag its tail at its owner at the sight and smell of them! If they pass their owner at all, it is only to get in the car. If they had thumbs, many a dog would take the keys and start the car themselves.

Sure, they put up with me, and some will even admit they like me. However, when the owner shows up, I'm pretty much chopped liver.

Which is just as it should be.

There's just no substitute for the "real thing." When you want Dietsch's ice cream, will sugar cubes and sugar work instead? As beautiful as this world is, as wonderful as our very best relationships can be, eternity promises all these things foretell something even better. Perfect. The Maker and Perfecter knows that every good thing here is only a foretaste of what is to come.

It's enough to make your tail way.

Nathan Alan Willoughby - The Beginning

Like many of us, Nathan Alan Willoughby's life began in a dumpster.

The employees of Mamma Lolla's Pizzeria made a lot of mistakes. Those mistakes were thrown away, providing the majority of meals for stray cats of the neighborhood. Nathan Alan Willoughby was one of these cats.

Born in a nearby park, a little girl found him when he was a tiny kitten and took him home. She named him "Fluff." He enjoyed their apartment until the girl developed allergies after a couple of months. Abandoned in the parking lot of Mamma Lolla's, he'd been sustaining on scraps of pepperoni and sausage for weeks. For a growing cat, he ate heartily.

Still, he missed people. They were so interesting. He would take up a post near the entrance of the pizzeria and look hopefully at the people going in and out. Certainly one of them would want to take home a cat as handsome as himself. He was mostly black with white boots and mittens, with a white belly and chest. To be technical, he was the classic definition of a tuxedo cat.

As the weather turned colder, two young men stopped to talk to him before picking up their pizza. "Hey little man, you need someone to pick up your order? Alan, come here and look at this cat," the one yelled to his friend.

"Come on, Nathan, no more cats," said Alan.

"We can't leave him here. It's supposed to snow tonight."

The men went in the pizza shop where the cat heard, "Of course you can take that cat. In fact, please take it. It's a pest."

The man named Alan picked him up as he left the pizzeria. The man named Nathan said, "We better hurry, the cat shelter closes soon."

The three of them walked down the street a few blocks. "I can't believe how calm he is," Alan said.

"Yeah, he's making bread with his paws," Nathan noticed as they entered the elegant Victorian home.

"Where did you find this cat?" the shelter worker asked.

"Mamma Lolla's - the one on Willoughby Street," Nathan answered.

"Look at those paws. He's going to be a big guy," the shelter worker said.

And that's how a cat who lived in a dumpster found himself with the long and illustrious name "Nathan Alan Willoughby."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Dog's Fear of Storms

It's summer and the heat and humidity deliver powerful thunderstorms, with all the sights and sounds that comes with it.

Many dogs have a fear of storms. I've boarded dogs whose fear is so bad, they had to be medicated. Many of them know a storm is coming before it even is on the horizon as the air pressure changes. These dogs don't even want to go outside when they sense a storm's approach.

One of the worst things we can do for our fearful dogs is to "coddle" them. In other words, petting them soothingly and speaking softly is actually a bad idea that makes a dog's fears worse rather than better. Some dogs even become physically ill and/or destroys furniture, etc.

They do not understand your words and reasoning. In their brains, they react with fear and the response is reinforcement that seem like praise for their fearful behavior. Fear doesn't need to be completely ignored, however. It just needs to be handled with confidence in the face of the storm. The dog is looking to YOU to lead. Since every dog is different, talking to your vet or a dog behaviorist is the best place to start discussion of your dog's specific behaviors and symptoms.

Sometimes going to the "safe room" that will protect the dog from the sound of thunder and the sight of lightning flashes is a good strategy. There are now special "jackets" made for dogs that lightly squeeze the dog, as if they were being held, to reduce anxiety during storms.

How do you handle yourself when a storm of life comes along? If you're like me, you'd rather run and hide under the bed, like the dog in the photo. Or, perhaps anxiety and frustration tempt you to "destroy" and "rip up" things that are nearby. For me, this is tempting to be upset with people close to me. What works best, though, is to run to my "safe room" and trust that God will "hold me" in His grip to ride out the pounding thunder, the unpredictable flashes of light, and the downpour. That is the safest place I can be.

Long Term Visit to the Kennel

This is Lucy. Lucy is thirteen years old now. Doesn't she look good for her age?! Julie adopted Lucy from a shelter in Columbus many years ago. Julie got married and eventually moved to Florida. Then, Julie and her family moved to Grand Cayman Island. Then, it was time to move back to Ohio, and has finally ended up in Pennsylvania.

You just never know where life may take you...

Lucy stayed at my kennel from April through August. She did remarkably well being away from her family for this long. She got along well with one of my dogs, even when my other dog bullied her. In other words, she made the most of her situation, even though she would rather be laying on her couch with her own family.

This is lesson worth remembering as oftentimes, life gives us situations we don't choose and don't want. Wouldn't the time be better, and maybe even enjoyable, if we simply adopted Lucy's attitude of "Well, I'm here, might as well make some friends"?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Dog's View of the Kennel

Often, owners want to visit the kennel with their dog before they schedule a stay. This is a very important component of choosing a quality kennel for your dog. It's very important to see where the dogs will be staying, where they will go out, and meet the person or people who will care for the dog.

I'll be the first to admit that my kennel is not fancy and doesn't look clean and tidy. I describe it as "cleanish" and "highly functional." And it is. It's easy to keep sanitary, which is extremely important for the health of the dogs.

However, when people see the concrete floor, brick walls, and pebble outside runs, it screams "austere" and maybe even "prison-like." Sure, it is not like our homes, which is where the dogs normally dwell.

But from their point of view, they have their own space, which usually has a dog bed from home in it. There's food. There's water. There's a nice person patting them on the head when they go outside and come back in several times a day.

In other words, it's a lot like home. There's even a radio playing.

A dog's needs are very simple. Yet, when we put our own ideas on what the dog experiences and sees, it is not always accurate.

This is how life can be often for us. If we put our own expectations on other people's experiences, we can't imagine they are content with their lot in life. Yet, often times, they have what they need and maybe a few perks too. In other words, they are very content.

My problem is when I put my expectations on God for what my life is supposed to be like. However, I've had to trust that God has a better idea of what my true needs are, and that these are better than my own. They are sufficient, and even better, than my own ideas and plans.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday Training Tip: Break Your Dog's Begging!

Remember the days when you ate a meal in peace? There was no one staring at you with doleful eyes....no hot breath on your kneecaps...no drool on the floor.

Unless this is a description of your current dating life, it's an undesirable situation in which your dog relentlessly begs while you are eating.

What do you do?

Most likely, this habit began as a result of actually GIVING IN to the begging. The easy solution, then, is to stop giving in, right? Oh sure, I say that at a distance, not seeing Sassy's brown eyes pleading with you to share your tuna melt. Okay, maybe you are not the guilty party and someone else in the household is responsible. Regardless, it's time to end people food for your dog. Right Now. Today.

Not only do table scraps promote begging (whether given at the table or while the meal is being prepared, or even after), it also adds more pounds to your dog's body. To maintain an appropriate weight for your dog, feed a quality dog food. Scientists have worked really hard formulating and studying the best balance for your pet, so show them some respect and feed that only.

If you must throw caution to the wind and wish to give your dog something, then stick with simple things such as carrot sticks. Only give them this as a treat, and giving it to them in the dog's bowl is ideal.

While you are suffering through the time of detoxing your dog from table scraps, avoid eye contact with your dog. If what you are doing is very boring to the dog, they will lose interest. No pay off means no begging.

Keep your eyes on the goal: no drooling, no begging, a peaceful meal.

Happy Tails to you....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dog Hot Spots

Perhaps your dog, or a dog you know, is plagued by what is commonly called "hot spots." There's a really long scientific name for it, but if you need that information, ask your vet.

Generally, a hot spot is a patch on the dog's body that the dog keeps licking and/or biting. It may be due to nerves or allergies. In people terms, you may have heard "quit picking at it!" Except dogs don't stop. The hot spot can actually grow and spread if left unattended. It also can become infected and require an antibiotic.

Other dogs are very aware of a dog with a wound. They sniff it, sometimes reacting negatively to it. Other dogs may lick the wound, in its own effort to promote healing.

Removing the dog from the stressful situation, if possible, is one way to reduce them. However, it may just become a habit for a dog to chew at its hot spot. There are effective sprays that reduce the itching and swelling, usually with the result the dog will leave it alone and the wound will heal.

This had me thinking about the wounds that people receive. The wounds I am thinking of are the ones we do not see in each other. Some tragedy that we've experienced or other circumstance that has caused serious impact can leave us permanently wounded. These experiences are profound and no matter what, we can not escape that this "thing" happened to us. They become our hot spots.

Yet we can't tell people we've just met that we carry around this serious "woundedness." Yet, it's so much a part of who we are. What is one to do with all the pain, even if it happened years in the past or even in childhood?

There are many angles with this. If it's something that a person has dealt with, the best they can, and are in a healthy frame of mind, then why not disclose it, in a proper circumstance? This is tricky, of course. It's not the sort of thing one leads with, of course!

It seems that one of two things will happen as we get to know others better. If we tell the person of this circumstance, some people may visibly be shaken, feel uncomfortable, and even back away, speechless. In other words, it doesn't go so well. It's happened to me. While some of the people who react like this may eventually be friendly, usually it is the sort of person who avoids dealing with anything too difficult. While I understand this, these are not generally people I spend much time with socially.

The other option is that once the vulnerable spot is bared, a person will react with compassion. They may even share their own situation that was painful. These people can experience a little bit of their own healing by hearing of our pain. And, if you're very fortunate, that person may become a dear friend.

It's made me think of how do I react to others who show me where it hurts? How willing am I to share my own pain? Am I willing to go one step further, to explain that, if I look hard enough, and trust fully, even the pain can be redeemed.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Foster, First Dog of the Gold Coast

Foster is my Australian Cattle Dog. He is ten years old and I've owned him for nearly that long. He was first owned by one of my clients here at Good Shepherd Boarding Kennel.

When I first watched Foster as a two month old puppy, it was love at first sight. I'm not one who normally goes bananas over puppies, but Foster was different. He was in a little harness and was constantly moving. The owner picked him up by the harness and all four legs were still in motion. I was charmed.

One day I commented that if the owner ever wanted to get rid of him, I'd take him. The day after I made this statement, the owner announced she was moving and needed to find a new home for Foster, who was then known as "Bear."

I resisted for a month. I had a busy boarding kennel, a neurotic Newfoundland mix of my own, a sick husband and about five or six cats. I really didn't need a puppy. While trying to make a final decision after the owner again asked me to take the dog (before she headed to the local animal shelter), I went out to get the mail. My latest issue of a dog magazine had arrived. On the cover of it was a picture of an Australian Cattle Dog.

By the end of that day, Foster, with his new name, was running around my property as if he owned the place.

He has ruled the roost ever since.