It was a day like any other in the summer of 2007. I got home early (around 7;30) and was greeted by my dog with her same happy attitude that she always had. I loved coming home to her. I poured her dinner from the kibble bag and went to check the mailbox. Something odd caught my attention when I looked at my dog. She seemed uncomfortable and really BIG.
When did that happen? HOW did that happen. I was stunned for a second. Then, after shaking the confusion out of my head, I realized that she was in real trouble. I just didn’t know what had happened. I called the Vet. They were closed. I called the emergency dog clinic and described the very strange symptoms: Huge belly (like watermelon size), panting, whale eyes, obvious discomfort, pacing, and reddish gums. I was instructed to hang up and rush her to the clinic. She was 90 lbs and I was home alone with her. I hoped she could walk. She could — but barely. When I arrived, we we taken to the back immediately and I was asked to wait outside. I was told that she had Gastric-Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV)-more commonly known as bloat. What was this? I had never heard of this before. Basically, it is when the stomach twists and can cut off circulation and kill the animal very painfully.They tubed her and were hoping for the best. Surgery during the night might be needed if the tubing didn’t work. They told me that the bill could be $3500 and she might not survive. Did I still want to proceed? I had a commission check in my purse for that exact amount. Yup. I wanted to take a chance and try to save her. So, I went home with a lot of anxiety and questions. I started trying to figure out what I did wrong. Here is what I discovered are the things that put your dog at risk for bloat:
While bloat can occur in any dog, large deep chested dogs are more at risk for bloat. (Nikki was large and had a deep chest)
Rapid eating or drinking. Have you ever had a Labrador that didn’t eat as fast as they could? They make puzzle bowls to slow them down. (Nikki always ate too fast)
Eating one large meal per day. This was the accepted feeding recommendation for adult animals when I had Nikki. Most recommend twice per day feedings nowadays.
A dry food only diet. (Her food was dry)
Heavy exercise after a meal (she didn’t have time to run around after that meal)
Anxious or stressed-out personality. (yup for Nikki)
Abnormal gastric motility (genetics)
Hormone secretions (genetics again)
Male gender (My dog was a female and it still happened)
Being underweight (My dog was not underweight)
Advanced age (not in our case)
Nikki did not have all of these. She did have #1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. She could have had #7 and 8 without my knowledge.
I was lucky. The tube that they used to untwist her stomach worked. They did not need to do surgery. They warned me that once a dog has bloat, they are prone to have a repeat episode. Nikki never had another episode of bloat. We were very fortunate. I could afford her care at the time and she recovered. Many people cannot afford the vet bill and dogs die from this. I hope you never see what this looks like first-hand. Know the symptoms though. Take precautions where possible. Taking quick action can mean the difference between life and death to your dog. All of the pictures in this article were taken after Nikki recovered.
Nikki was a Labrador Retriever puppy that was brought home by my ex-husband one day while we were still married. She was about 8 weeks old and super cute. He brought her home as a surprise. I love dogs and we didn’t have a dog because we both had agreed that we moved too much because of his job. A co-worker had told him that if he didn’t find a home for her that day that he would hit her in the head with a shovel and bury her in the woods. Of course we kept her. She became my dog very quickly. I fed her and trained her. I walked her. When our marriage started falling apart several years later, she was my companion. When he would yell at me or get angry, she would sit at my feet between us. She was protective of me. I loved her. After my divorce, I moved to California to be closer to family.
Nikki came with me. My ex wanted nothing to do with her. I went through a seriously depressing period in my life during that first year after I divorced. I was running out of money and I had a job that I worked 14 hour days with one day off per week. Nikki had been a house dog. I took a job a few hours away from family and Nikki stayed with my very pregnant daughter while I found a house to rent. Nikki joined me after a few weeks. She was stressed out from being left behind and all the changes. While I was at work the first day, she ate the metal mini blinds in the living room of the home that I was renting. I figured this out when I came home at lunch to check on her and let her out. I didn’t have a crate back then. People were just starting to take their dogs to doggy-day cares — but I couldn’t afford it. I didn’t even know about crates. I couldn’t tie her outside. I didn’t have a kennel. The backyard was not fenced completely. The second day she tried to eat her way out of the front door and damaged much of the door frame. I tried putting her in the backyard next and she ran away two days in a row. I had to leave work to get her from the local pound — twice. I had a terrible boyfriend at the time that was completely wrong for me. Dating too soon after my divorce was just one of many bad choices I made that year. The job didn’t work out. The boyfriend left (thank goodness). I ran out of money and I couldn’t afford my rent. My son had just joined the Navy. My daughter had just had her first baby and had moved to Washington with her husband that had just joined the Navy too. I had no friends or family that could or would take Nikki. I didn’t know where I was going to live or work. If I could have thought of ANY way to keep that dog, I would have kept her. Looking back, I probably should have stayed in California. I ended up moving back eight years later anyway. I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight back then though. But, at the time, I felt like my best choice was to move back to Arkansas where I knew people in the car business (my line of work at the time), and could afford the cheaper cost of living (my rent went from 2000 per month to 800 per month). I knew I could work there and afford it. I also knew that I would be living out of a very cheap hotel for the first couple of months and dogs were not allowed back then. I made the choice to find my dog another home. I hated the idea. I couldn’t think of any other way though. I found a lab rescue group and they took my dog. A week later, they told me that they had found a retired couple living near the beach that wanted Nikki. I still miss that dog. I still feel guilty about having to give her up. My children were mad at me. I was mad at myself. It wasn’t a decision that I made lightly for a dog that had been there for me for 7 years. I received a very kind letter from them telling me what a great well behaved dog she was and how happy they were to have her with pictures of their grandchildren playing on the beach with Nikki. I know that Nikki had a better life with them than she would have had with me post-divorce. So, when I hear about someone that has to make that choice, I go a little easier on them. Many people are very quick to judge anyone that says that they need to re-home their pet. I have been that person. It was not my first choice. It was my last resort. It was a terrible decision for me. It was the right thing for my dog though. I hope I never have to make a decision like that again. I am glad that there was a rescue group to help me. Five years later, when my circumstances had changed, and I could be a good pet owner again, I chose a rescue group for this reason. I have been on both sides of the rescue process. I don’t judge Betty’s former owner for surrendering her. He did the best thing for her if he could not care for her. I am thankful.
I wrote about estate planning yesterday. It started a conversation that I was not expecting. I did not realize that a growing trend is to be buried with your pet. In the last few years, laws have been changed in the UK and New York (among others) to allow the burial of cremated pet remains with human remains. Several articles have been written about this lately. On the surface, it seems like a sentimental notion. What is not mentioned is very dark in my opinion and was shared by friends that work in veterinarian offices across the country.
Do you know that people are putting directives in place to euthanize their healthy pets to be buried with them? Yes. You read that right. They are putting in their wills that when they die, to euthanize their pets so that they may be buried with their owners. Some of these people have older pets and believe that their animals are better off dead that with someone new. In fact, convenience euthanasia is common. Thankfully, not all veterinarians perform euthanasia on healthy pets. But, unfortunately, many do. The thinking is that if the owner wants their pets to die, at least they can die in peace rather than be possibly tortured and neglected by owners that are “stuck” with them. Animals are property by law in most areas. But, these stories are animal cruelty in my opinion. I have heard stories where a woman brought a cat to the office and was embarrassed that the cat had fleas so she requested euthanasia for the cat. Another had a puppy with a broken leg and couldn’t afford the medical bill so they requested euthanasia. It is no wonder that veterinarians have higher than average suicide rates.
Some veterinarians work with rescue groups and have the owners sign the pet over to them so they can coordinate with a rescue group to save the pet and place it with an adoptive family that can afford medical care. Many people refuse to place their pets up for adoption though. They would rather euthanize their pets than have them re-homed. I don’t understand this kind of “love”. I don’t want my pet killed so it can be buried with me. If I was unable to care for my pet and had no family or friends that could care for my pet, I would stipulate in my will that my pet be put up for adoption. Many seniors do not want a young active dog but would like to have a senior pet. I know when I get much older, I will not be able to handle a large active dog like I have now. I plan to have a dog in my family for as long as I can care for it properly. If the time ever comes that I cannot care for a dog in my home, I will find it another home. Things happen that are out of our control. We may have a dog that is aggressive or has behavior challenges that are beyond what we can handle. Thank goodness we have other options. There are trainers and rescue groups that are devoted to saving as many pet lives as possible. At some point, a pet may be too sick or injured to recover and euthanasia may be kinder and more merciful. If you can’t manage your pet or care for it, please try a rescue group before euthanasia if the pet is healthy. My birthday is this month. I am donating my birthday to Best Friend Animal Society. They are a group dedicated to saving the lives of as many animals as possible.
I don’t think that anyone gets a pet with the mindset of not being able to take care of the pet. Sometimes a pet turns out to be more than you can handle or dangerous. You can lose a job or home unexpectedly, get divorced, get sick or injured. Whatever the reason and in spite of good intentions, you may need to re-home a beloved pet. I don’t understand how you could have a healthy and balanced pet killed because you don’t want it to live with someone else though.
I met a new client this week that has had two strokes in the last six months. She wants someone to help guide her as she walks her dogs. Since her stroke, she has become blind and uses a walker. She didn’t want me to walk her dogs for her. She wanted someone to help her walk her dogs. But then she got sick again. She cancelled the walks. She was worried about what would happen to her dogs if she had to be hospitalized again. She is 60 years old and had been a nurse and was considered healthy prior to her strokes — not overweight, no diabetes, no diagnosed health issues. It got me thinking. How many people are ready to get sick? What happens to your pets?
My daughter wants my dog. She would take Betty from me now if I let her. She jokes about getting Betty in my will. I have always talked about the importance of making arrangements earlier rather than later so my kids are not afraid to speak of these things with me. I have recently moved and a few other things have changed so I need to update my will. I am not sick. I am healthy and have no reason to think that anything is going to happen to me. I think this is the perfect time to put my wishes down on paper and let my kids know what I want to happen “someday”. I also have a mother and grandmother alive that do not have wills. I am not looking forward to dealing with either of their estates eventually — so I understand that most people simply do not want to face their immortality. Here are a few of the reasons that I hear from family and friends that don’t have a will and what I say to them…
I don’t have anything. Maybe you don’t have much cash. But do you own a home, have kids, or pets? Do you want the state to decide in time what will happen to any of these? Do you want your kids to end up in foster care or with a relative that is not your choice to raise your children? What about your pets? Do you want them to end up in a shelter? Many older pets do not get adopted. I see pets posted regularly for adoption from owners that have become ill or deceased. Post stickers on your front door alerting first responders that you have pets. Keep a card in your wallet that says that you have pets at home alone. Have emergency numbers on this card. Give them a key so they can get into your home and feed, water, and let your pets out if you become hospitalized or worse. Please talk to your friends and relatives and figure out who wants to make your pets part of their family.
I can’t afford a lawyer. Maybe you don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to spend on something that you don’t really want to do. Do you have $39? There are online forms that are state specific that can write a basic will for you. You can take the forms and get them notarized for about $10. For most people, a cheap will is still much better than no will.
I’m too busy. I’ll do it later. I’m healthy. This is a bad idea for most things. You know that this is a huge risk to put something so important off for another day. We never know when we will be too sick to handle this. My Grama cannot execute a will because she has dementia. We talked to her about it for years and she waited too long to get her affairs in order. The idea scared her and she never wanted to think about it. So, now, she is 94 years old, sick and we will have to deal with her estate without a will.
It won’t matter to me, I’ll be gone. Seriously? Thanks! You are getting socks for Christmas.
I know nobody wants to think about being gone or hurt. It isn’t a fun topic. I also know that if you get it handled, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. That is the great thing about handling it. You can just enjoy your day doing something else and know that if the worst happens, your family and friends know what you want.
Therapy dogs, Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) Service Dogs, or family pets… Life is better with dogs. I think everyone should be allowed to have a dog live with them. If it was up to me, they would be allowed in all housing without an additional pet fee or pet rent. I don’t think you should have to have a mental health diagnosis to have an emotional support animal. I think we all benefit with dogs in our lives. I know some people have pet allergies or fears. This article is not about people that do not want a dog. I am talking about people that do want dogs. While, I am making my wish list, I would love to see affordable dog obedience classes offered at community centers and senior centers. For those that are confused about the different classifications, click here for definitions. It is important to know the legal difference between the classifications covered by the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act). As a pet sitter, I meet all kinds of people. I know a stroke patient that can no longer walk her dogs. People with PTSD benefit greatly from the company of dogs. I have helped all sorts of people that travel frequently for work. I know firsthand how much dogs enrich the lives of their owners. We know that dogs are loyal and faithful.
I am blessed to have five generations of women living at the same time (shown in the photo below). I can see in my family how much a good dog can add to life at any age. My grand-daughters love to learn about dogs, my daughter loves to play with them, my mother loves the companionship, my grandmother still enjoys the comfort. Dogs are happy to be part of the family. In my family, most of us have dogs that we think of as family. We all love our dogs. How many of you have felt like your dog or cat is your only friend at least once in your life?
I live in Los Angeles and it is a very dog-friendly place. But, I have lived many places that were not dog-friendly at all. So, what can we do to help our animals be more welcome in even more public places (and at homes)?
Obedience train your dog. A well behaved dog is more pleasant to be around. This is true regardless of the size of your dog. Larger dogs are scarier to a lot of people so people tend to take training them more seriously. Small dogs need obedience training too. If your dog is reactive or aggressive, work with a trainer to minimize this behavior before you bring them around other dogs and people — especially dog parks.
Train your kids how to behave around dogs. Kids need to learn how to treat animals for their own protection as well as the animal’s safety.
Follow local animal laws. Leash your pet. Scoop the poop. People that believe these laws are for other people are the problem — not their pets. Even if your dog is friendly — follow the leash laws.
Avoid the scams. There are many scams out there to “register” ESAs. There is NO legal registration for ESAs. Scammers out there are taking your cash to “register” these animals.
Don’t lie about it. It makes it so much harder for people with genuine Service Dogs to travel when people try to pass off family pets as service dogs. Don’t be part of the problem. If you don’t legally need an animal to perform tasks for you, don’t pretend that you do. It is illegal and it is really wrong.
These few things can make living with pets easier and more pleasant for everyone. We owe it to our pets to do our part. They do so much for us.
I am a pet sitter. As a pet sitter and a dog owner, my first priority is the safety of the pets in my care. I connect with many other pet sitters and I hear of sad stories every single week about dogs that have become injured or have escaped a yard because someone left a door or gate open. The saddest of the stories are the accidental deaths that occur: the dogs that run out a door and into the street, the dogs that run away and are lost forever, the dog that slips out of a loose collar while walking, the poor dogs that fall into a pool and are not discovered in time to be saved, and the list goes on. How can you keep your pet safer at home, when visiting family and friends, or leaving your pet with a sitter?
First off, let’s examine the potential dangers and ways to prevent a tragedy:
Escaping the yard or front door — This happens far too frequently. If you have a dog that wants to dart out of the front door or backyard, teaching the dog to wait and not bolt is the best choice for when they are home. However, if you are dropping your dog off at a different location, assume that your pet will have some anxiety initially about being in a strange place and is much more likely to try to escape. When you meet the sitter, do they have baby gates blocking the front door? How do they handle drop-offs and pick-ups? Do they separate multiple dogs to minimize the chance of an escape with crates or kennels? How many people live in the home? Do they have gardeners, housekeepers or others that might let your dog escape? Are there kids in the home that might be more likely to leave a door open? Is there a doggy door? It is harder to keep track of dogs if they can come and go as they please. For this reason, I am not a huge fan of doggy doors. Not to mention, I have seen videos online of coyotes following small dogs into homes. Is the backyard securely fenced? Are the gates solid and locked? When you meet a potential sitter or visit a friend, walk the perimeter of the yard and look for any places where a dog could escape. Will the sitter ever allow the animals alone in the yard unattended? An anxious dog will look for ways to escape. A visiting dog should never be left outside alone or with other dogs unattended — not even for 5 minutes. Is the fence high enough to avoid a dog from jumping over the fence? How about squeezing under the fence? Can they easily dig their way under the fence? Small dogs can and do escape through some very small holes. It happens all the time.
Swimming pools — Will the dog have access to a swimming pool? Is the dog a great swimmer?Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a good swimming dog can be fine in a pool alone. Dogs that are great swimmers can and do drown. If the dog has a seizure or some other medical event while swimming, if no one is there to scoop them out, they will drown. Can the dog find the stairs? If they can’t get out of the pool, they will tire eventually and still drown.
Predators — Birds of prey and coyotes are in many neighborhoods now. They don’t just pick up dogs out of backyards in the movies. I live in Los Angeles and we have urban coyotes pluck small dogs from their yards weekly — and it is increasing.
Poisoning — Dogs can easily get into things that are dangerous. Your neighbors may have a rodent problem. Rat poison and antifreeze are both highly poisonous to dogs. If your dog captures a poisoned mouse or rat, they can consume a fatal amount of poison. Many fertilizers are also lethal. A garage can be a very dangerous place.
Theft — There are evil people out there that will steal or poison an animal left in the yard unattended. I have a friend that had her dog stolen from her front yard this year while she was standing there! A few weeks ago, a handyman that I met at a client’s home lost his dog to poisoning. He suspected a neighbor’s kids. Watch for any unusual activity or people. Cameras have gained a lot of popularity for this very reason.
I wish that I was being overly cautious — but I am not. Dogs are dying too often because we are not being careful enough with their surroundings. Our animals trust us to keep them as safe as possible. We would do just about anything to keep them from harm. It hurts my heart every time that I see another post on Facebook or the local news about a dog that was accidentally hurt or killed because someone thought a dog could be safe in a yard. Everyone that has experienced this says the same things, “It happened so fast” or “I only left them alone for a minute.” Don’t be afraid that you will offend a pet sitter by asking too many questions. Any professional pet sitter will want to keep your pet safe above all else. If their yard or home doesn’t seem safe, get someone else. Accidents do happen. Let’s prevent as many as we can and be ready for the ones that we cannot prevent. If you move to a new location, get recommendations for a new Veterinarian. Locate the closest 24-Hour Veterinarian Emergency Clinic. Take a First Aid/CPR course for pets. Prepare a first-aid kit for your pet (and your people). I keep mine in a backpack in my car. It is amazing how handy it can be to be prepared. I am a strong believer that many accidents can be prevented or minimized with some good preparedness and constant vigilance.
More dogs run away on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year. Fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud explosive noises are terrifying to many dogs. About ten years ago, I had a golden Lab named Nikki. She was a great, easy-going dog most of the time.
The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I love fireworks, summertime, picnics, and barbeques. I decided with my family to go see fireworks out on the Arkansas river from our fishing boat to celebrate the holiday. We loved taking Nikki with us on the boat and she always enjoyed a nice boat trip too. We spent the day fishing and swimming. It was perfect until the sun went down and the fireworks started. My poor normally calm dog, panicked. She desperately wanted to escape the boat and the exploding fiery sky. She tried to crawl into any hiding space that she could find. She tried to create hiding spaces. She was panting heavily and trembling. We had made a huge mistake subjecting her to fireworks. We had no idea that she would react so badly. We probably should have thought it through better — but we didn’t. She was fine around shooting, thunder and lightning so we thought it would be okay. We were wrong. If we had not been on a boat, she would have bolted. I hated seeing her so frantic while knowing that it was completely my fault and could have been easily prevented. I should have left her at home where there were no fireworks going off in our neighborhood.
I have a border collie now named Betty that is afraid of thunderstorms. I rescued her when I lived in Arkansas where there are frequent storms. She trembles and hides under the bed or in her coveredcrate until the storm has passed. Her fear is not nearly to the same level of panic that Nikki had during fireworks. Still, this is not a dog that I would take out in public on the Fourth of July. Because fear of fireworks and thunder is so common among dogs, I would not recommend taking any dog out to enjoy fireworks. As much as we may love fireworks, we have learned to love them. Fire in the sky is what dogs see. It is unreasonable and unfair to your poor dog to think they will share your love of fireworks. I learned this the hard way. Some dogs can be destructive when fear turns into panic. Betty gets crated if we are having a storm. If my neighbors decide to set off fireworks, I will put her in her crate to keep her safe. Her level of fear can be managed with these simple precautions.
For some dogs, this is not enough. There are several other things you do to try to help calm dogs that are extremely fearful during storms and fireworks and to keep them safe:
Crate train your pet. A crate can be calming to a dog that is already accustomed to being in a crate. It can also prevent your pet from running away or becoming destructive.
Thunder-shirts help calm dogs in the same way that swaddling comforts babies.
Calming collars are infused with naturally calming smells like lavender.
Turning the television or music on low helps drown out some of the scary noises.
Placing the dog in a quiet room (preferably in a crate).
Giving the dog treats during storms and other loud noises can help improve the association that they have with storms and ultimately help desensitize them.
Make sure your pet has a collar with your current information should they become lost. Make sure they always wear a tag on their collar with your phone number on it.
Microchip your pet. If they lose their collar -or someone takes it off, a vet or shelter can still determine how to get your pet back to you. Make sure that your microchip info is up to date. If your pet is already micro-chipped, have your vet check by scanning your pet during your regular exams to be certain that the chip has not migrated out of your pet. This can happen! My Betty was micro-chipped by the rescue group before I got her. When I took her for her first vet visit, the vet could not locate the chip, so we chipped her again. The vet explained that sometimes the chips do work their way out of pets.
Know your pet. Building trust is calming to a pet. Do not expose them to more than they can handle like I did with my old Lab. Most dogs, even if they are trained to tolerate fireworks, will not actually enjoy the festivities like we do. I hope you and your family (and pets) have a very happy Fourth of July.
Wish you took better pictures of your furry friends? I take a lot of pet pictures to send to dog owners that miss their pets. Here are a few basic tips that I have learned to help capture your pet’s best side:
Location — Look for colorful and pretty backgrounds. Pets look great outside in nature. Don’t take them somewhere scary. I took Betty on a road trip from Texas to California during the blue bonnet bloom. I tried to get good shots in the beautiful blooms. None of my pics turned out great because the traffic noise terrified her. She could not wait to leave the side of the road that I selected. If you can catch them having fun naturally — that is even better. Always check out what is lurking in your background also. I have taken what I thought were great pictures only to later see too much clutter in the background ruining my shot. Things like poop bags on your leash and trash in the yard won’t make for a great picture. Fallen leaves can be really pretty though.
Time of day and lighting make a huge difference. The “Golden Hour” is the hour before sunset. Everything is bathed in a perfectly golden light. Cloudy days can make for some pretty awesome pictures too because you don’t have a lot of shadows.
The classic “sun behind you” angle makes for great clear shots. Sometimes taking a picture facing the sun can be very beautiful too though because it can make the picture glow from behind. Play around with lighting. Natural lighting is the prettiest. Try to avoid using a flash. It will annoy your pets and make their eyes look funky.
Composition matters. Try using the rule of thirds in photography. It gives you a nice balanced picture that is pleasing to the eye. When you are looking at your picture in the camera, imagine your photo divided into 9 equal squares and arrange things in the shot so that they line up at the inter-sectional lines where the thirds meet. Click on the link above for more details. Try to get things lined up in the frame so that you need to do minimal cropping. This will help keep your photos crisp.
Get down at their level instead of taking the picture from above them. If you can zoom in, do it. It makes it easier to catch your dog doing something naturally cute.
Teach a good “stay” and a good “look”. Makes it much easier to get a good clear shot. Treats definitely help too. Some people tape a treat to the camera near the lens.
Make sure the eyes are in focus and open. The eyes tell a story in pictures.
Play with your dogs or take them for a short walk before photographing them. A panting dog looks like it is smiling. Open mouths always look happier.
Use the burst feature on your camera or camera phone. This comes in very handy with active dogs. Take numerous pictures while they are running around. I often take 20 pictures to get one great one.
More bad news… Anybody that promises you that if you follow their advice, your dog will be completely trained in a few months is, more likely than not, lying to you. Yes, we have all seen the puppies that are a few months old and seem to be completely trained. I don’t have one of those dogs. And, you probably don’t either.
Don’t get me wrong. Someday, I hope Betty will be much closer to a perfectly well-behaved dog. I do train with her most days and she has made wonderful progress when I compare her now to what she was like when I first brought her home 18 months ago. Her first year of life was spent being ignored in a backyard and escaping that same backyard. She has a typical rescue dog story. Too much work and energy for her previous owners to handle.
I met Betty when she was 11 months old. She has always been sweet-tempered. But, she had not been exposed to very many things so she was reactive to most noisy common things. Babies crying, small children running, bicyclists, skate boarders, cars, other dogs on leash, leashes, and collars were scary things. She also barked at coffee pots and ceiling fans. She had terrible nightmares every night. During these nightmares, she would bark ferociously in her sleep. I got her a crate. This helped her as she was already used to this from being in the shelter. We worked on potty training. She learned basic commands so quickly that I thought I had a genius on my hands. She learned all the basic obedience commands the first week that I brought her home. She dug holes in the yard with true passion. She jumped up on every person she met with exuberance. She barked — like a fiend some days. She tied herself up in curtains after months of being good in the house and chewed up a windowsill trying to free herself. I kept training her. After about 9 months of exposing her to new things and training her at home, she had overcome many of her initial fears. She was really great at home and with low distractions. It was time to up the distractions. We signed up for group classes. We have been taking group classes for about 6 months off and on now. We took some time off during a major move. The training never stopped though. She is a pretty great dog nowadays — not perfect yet though. I spent a lot of time training my grandchildren how to be calm around dogs and they are a large part of the reason that Betty is great around kids now. We have done a ton of training at parks full of kids playing. We started far away and have gotten closer and closer.
I know that I am on the right track with Betty. I also know that it takes time to work out the kinks. She still pulls a little (sometimes a lot) when we go for walks. We go on four walks per day on average. She still is leash-reactive if you walk your dog too close to us. If I pull to the side to give you room to pass, that is not a cue to come over and say hello to us. If she was in a backyard or at the dog park off-leash, she would not bark at you or your dog at all. She doesn’t dig anymore. She doesn’t bark at home unless she has a good reason. She might still jump on you if you greet her with an excited voice. So, please be calm. Don’t tell me that it is okay for her to jump on you as you pet her. I am training her to not jump on anybody and you are making it take longer. I will try to step on her leash and keep her from jumping up on you in the first place if you insist on greeting her. I am trying to teach her that she doesn’t get to greet everyone. So if she is already worked up and you ask to pet her and I say no… it is not about you. She is in training. If you greet her calmly, she will sit (most of the time) and wait for you to pet her. You can bike past her and skate past her now. She can watch your kids playing at the park and not bark. Yes, I work with dogs full time. I love what I do. No, my dog is not perfect and may never be. I know that people will judge my skills with animals based on the manners of my own dog. After all, Betty is the face of my brand. The one thing she has always mastered is making me smile. Please go easy on us if you think she should be better after all these months. We have come a really long way already.
Most people realize that dog leash laws exist to protect all dog owners. The majority of dog owners say that they always leash their pets when taking their dogs with them into public places. A relatively large percentage of dog owners actually ignore the leash laws at least some of the time. You may be one of them and it could cost you your dog’s life. Are you guilty of any of the following justifications?
“Don’t worry, my dog is friendly”. Great! You have a friendly social dog that doesn’t want to start a fight. Even if that is true (and I’m not saying that it necessarily is), can you vouch for the other dogs? Dogs, like people are not all social butterflies. Some want or need to be left alone for too many reasons to list here. Service dogs need to be left alone to work. Is it so important to let your friendly dog run free that you are willing to risk their lives? Friendly dogs are killed every single day. Just today, I heard about a puppy that was killed when it ran up to the wrong dog that was leashed. We want everybody to rescue a dog and save them. Once we rescue these poor dogs, they often need rehabilitation and socialization. They are not instantly friendly. Please respect that all dogs should have a chance to take a walk without your friendly dog testing their level of socialization. You set their training back by weeks every time your dog spooks these fearful dogs.
“I only let them off-leash when I am hiking and nobody is around.” Are you sure? If you are out walking or hiking, can you see around every corner and under every bush to determine that you are truly alone? Seriously? I live in Los Angeles and urban coyotes, mountain lions, skunks and gangs are a real risk here. When I lived in Arkansas, wild hogs, deer, and bears were among the real risks on every trail that we hiked. Do you live somewhere where wildlife isn’t a concern? How about that other hiker around the corner with the dog-aggressive dog? Or, is that you?
“I can’t believe my dog did that! They are never aggressive!” I have heard this one before and so has everybody else. We know you are lying. So stop it. Really. Just. Stop. Don’t let your dog that is aggressive hurt or kill our dogs. Please. Our dog is everything to us. Plus, Animal Control or the police will take your dog. It isn’t fair to your dog either.
“I only let him off-leash in my own front yard.” No I don’t have a fence. Of course my dog would never run into the street after a ball, cat, bird, or another dog unexpectedly. His recall is perfect. I am envious. I have never met a perfect dog. Have I mentioned the story about the Maltese that was taken by a coyote while his owner stood in the yard. This dog was taken two weeks ago in within 5 miles of where I live. A small poodle was also taken a few weeks ago within a few miles of my home from the neighbors yard.
If you want to enjoy your dog running free, and your dog IS really friendly and well socialized, go to a dog park or off-leash dog beach. Please don’t risk your dog or mine. If this article gets one person to re-think their leash habits and it prevents an injury or death, then it is worth it. This article is not aimed at service dogs that legally are allowed off-leash to perform their tasks.