A Year with Julio

This entry is overdue. Julio’s one year anniversary with us was on July 7th. The time has flown by. When he first showed up in our yard, I didn’t even think of keeping him, but it didn’t take long for me to start aching to add him to our family. At the time, it seemed impossible. We were looking for a place to live, I was recovering from a broken leg, and we were basically broke. When we finally decided to give it a shot, someone told me, “Before you know it, you won’t be able to imagine life without him.” Those words ring so, so true. Mike and I have grown to love this dog so very much. It has been a roller coaster year full of love, learning, and adventure, and I think it’s high time I reflect on it.

Having a second dog has not been easy. When we decided to keep Julio, I just figured, “Having one dog is a bit of work. Having two dogs will be twice as much work. That’s not terrible.” Wrong! Having two dogs is way more than twice the work of having one dog! It requires additional dog food, additional toys, additional crates, additional everything. It also means more planning when we go on road trips. It means extra time spent on the daily routine. Keeping an eye on one dog who I’d raised almost from birth was never a problem. Trying to keep an eye on two dogs who are egging each other on and distracting each other, and one of whom has a questionable recall, is much harder. Gone are the days of throwing my dog in the car in the morning and going about my business with her tagging along.

Julio has been a challenging dog on pretty much every level. He came to us with no apparent house breaking. He will still occasionally pee in the house when he gets excited, or has had too much water to drink because ‘I’m a lab’. He chews on things. All things. From tennis balls to shoes to blankets. His favorite thing of all is dirty underwear. In fact, he just ate all the underwear in the hamper in the five minutes my boyfriend left it unattended. Julio is also an escape artist. He will go over, under, or through most fences if given enough time. He can slip a harness like a pro. He even opened his crate one morning and jumped in bed with us while we were sleeping. He is definitely not a dog you can leave unsupervised! That coupled with the fact that he’s ‘scary looking’ and tends to alarm other dogs with his boisterous, no-holds-barred play style makes it tough to take him out in public sometimes, something I never had to worry about with Herbie. In fact, if I walk them both together, people will actually cross the street to get away from us.

This has definitely been a learning experience.

I have learned that most, if not all, of Julio’s bad behaviors stem from his separation anxiety. He was dumped. We know that for a fact. We also suspect that he was basically ignored before that. He has been abandoned, and he’s such a people-oriented dog that I can’t even imagine how badly that hurt him. He is afraid that you will never come back. He is afraid that he’ll be alone forever. And he has good reason to believe this. Learning to deal with this anxiety has been an adventure all on its own. It is only within the last month, with the help of a close friend who has been an amazing dog sitter, that we’ve been able to leave Julio at home while we go away for long weekends of horse competition. Now, when we come home, we are greeted by a happy, relaxed dog. He is thrilled to see us, of course, but it’s more of an “I was wondering when you’d be back” than a frantic greeting by a dog who thought he’d been left forever.

I try not to compare and contrast Herbie and Julio very often, but it’s hard not to when they are such polar opposites. Having Julio has taught me how to dog proof a house (and a car), something I never had to do with Herbie. It has taught me how to explain things to a dog who has a hard time learning (Herbie is very trainable). It has taught me how to feed a dog who gains weight just by thinking about food (Herbie has always been fit and slender, and used to get ‘free choice’ kibble during the day).

I have learned a lot about myself, too. I have learned where the holes in my training are. Julio is a big, powerful dog, and I wouldn’t be able to physically stop him if he wasn’t listening to me. I have learned that I’m happier taking the extra time to take the dogs walking separately rather than together.

I have learned the importance of a leash. Herbie is trained to walk on a leash, of course, but she spent most of her early years romping loose around us.

It has also been a learning experience for Julio. And this is where the beauty lies. Julio has learned about love, affection, butt scratches, ear kisses, and morning snuggles. He has learned that the crate is a safe place where there is no temptation to do bad things. He has learned that people come back. He has learned about car rides and hiking. He has learned about rivers, oceans, and lakes, and swimming. He has learned about climbing mountains. He has learned about horses and cats and sheep. He has learned to play with other dogs. He has learned not to jump on people. He has learned that police officers and animal control can be our friends. He has learned that not all men are going to hit you. He has learned about bully sticks and marrow bones and Kongs.

He knows sit, down, stay, come, leave it, wait, and ‘go to your den’.

 

He still hasn’t really grasped the concept of fetch, though we are two thirds of the way there. “Mom throws the ball. I get the ball. I drop the ball somewhere and she throws it again.” Now he just has to learn how to bring it back to me!

It has been a struggle at times, and I have often wondered what I got myself into, but at the end of the day, it’s the very best thing we could have done. I don’t think Julio would have been easily placed, and I suspect there would have been a lot of shuffling from home to home if we’d let him go.

Plus he makes us so very, very happy. Herbie has always been Mike’s dog, even though I took her in before we were dating, but Julio has his eyes set on me. He would follow me to the ends of the earth. He is a complete snuggle bug and nothing makes him happier than laying on the couch beside me for hours while we watch movies. He is also Herbie’s best friend. They play relentlessly. He lets her be the boss she’s always wanted to be.

And when he looks at me with his big, brown eyes, I just melt.

My friend was right. I cannot picture my life without him.

So You’re Thinking About Breeding Your Dog!

This post is for people who are thinking about breeding their dog, but aren’t really sure whether that’s a great idea or how to get started if it is.

If you’re already deeply involved in a breed club or working endeavor, have two bowls’ worth of alphabet soup surrounding your dog’s name, know his five-generation pedigree and health test results inside and out, understand the tradeoffs in planning prospective matches, and have homes lined up three times around the block waiting for your puppies, this post ain’t for you. You don’t need to hear from me. Carry on with what you’re doing, godspeed and good luck.

If none of that previous paragraph made much sense to you… then sit down and get comfy, because we are gonna have a talk.

I’m going to start, as I often do, by laying my cards on the table. Like a lot of dog people, I’ve got a foot in both worlds. I’m heavily involved in rescue, strongly advocate adoption as a first choice for most pet homes (and many sport homes, for that matter, if you have the ability and connections to find a diamond in the rough), and believe that there are many, many wonderful dogs in rescue that are every bit as loving, sweet, and smart as any purebred in the world. Moreover, I hold a strong conviction that indiscriminate, ignorant, and commercially motivated breeders are actual evils in society. Such breeders produce unhealthy and unsound puppies whose lives are crippled by poor breeding, they cause grief to the families that buy those puppies, and they actually do, in fact, cause shelter dogs to die.

But I also have tremendous respect and appreciation for knowledgeable, ethical breeding programs that produce healthy, structurally sound, solid-tempered dogs with the character, instincts, and drives that make their breeds so special. I love well-bred purebred dogs. I really do. My next dog will be a carefully chosen performance purebred from the very best breeder I can find.

For me, these two positions are not in conflict. A well-bred show or performance puppy is not “taking the spot” of a mixed-breed shelter puppy (they’re aimed at entirely different types of homes), and a good breeder is not filling shelters with unsold puppies and cast-off breeding dogs.

What this means is that if you are reading this post, I am not going to automatically try to talk you out of breeding your dog. I don’t know you, and I don’t know your dog. Maybe your dog is awesome. Maybe she deserves to be bred, for the betterment of her breed and for dogdom as a whole.

But if she doesn’t, then I implore you to be brutally honest with yourself about that, because otherwise you run a very real risk of producing less-than-stellar puppies, being forced to consign some of them to less-than-stellar homes, and contributing to the preventable deaths of shelter dogs, some of whom may be your own pups.

Not all dogs — not even all good dogs — need to be bred. The point of this post is to talk about how to differentiate those that do from those that don’t — not only for your own knowledge, but as part of the system of signals that will tell other responsible owners and breeders that you’ve put due consideration into the decision, and that will inform educated puppy buyers (i.e., the ones you want) that this is a litter worth a look.

So let’s talk about some of the things you should consider when deciding whether to breed your dog.

1. Why Are You Breeding?

What is the goal of the proposed breeding? What are you trying to produce that is so special that it can’t be found in a sweet, healthy, adoptable shelter dog?

If the answer is that you don’t have a clearly defined goal — if you are thinking of breeding your dog because you want your children to witness the miracle of birth, or because you believe that a female dog needs to have a litter before spaying (which is a complete myth, by the way) — STOP. Don’t breed your dog. It’s not going to accomplish anything besides filling the world with another litter of puppies that doesn’t have any particular reason to be there, and you will be contributing to shelter overpopulation and the killing of adoptable dogs. Sorry to be so blunt, but if you’re breeding without a good reason that this particular dog, out of all the 70 million owned dogs in the U.S., needs to produce something special, that’s the truth.

Are you breeding to produce a dog that will be truly exceptional? If you are, go forth to glory!

If you want your kids to watch puppies (or kittens!) being born and growing up for two months, foster a pregnant dog (or cat!) and raise those puppies. Rescues are always looking for foster homes that have the capacity to handle pregnant mothers. They’ll be glad for the help, you’ll do a good deed, and the kids will get to witness the miracle guilt-free.

“I love Fluffy and she’s the nicest dog in the world” is not a valid reason for breeding, by the way. It is a valid reason to love your dog, absolutely. But there are tens of thousands of equally nice dogs dying in shelters every day. As long as “niceness” is not enough to save a dog, it’s certainly not enough to breed one.

Having said that, if you do have an answer to this question, move on to the next step. Note that I’m agnostic about what your answer might be; I don’t particularly care if you’re choosing to breed your dog because of his exceptional scent trailing abilities, because she has a supernatural death grip on the bite sleeve, or because his ear set and coat colors are the most beautiful you’ve ever seen. The specifics of the reason are much less important than that you have a reason that this individual dog contributes something special, distinctive, and clearly defined to the gene pool for her breed.

2. What Are You Breeding?

What I mean by this is: have you tested your dog appropriately for all relevant considerations in her breed? Have you had her hips checked? Elbows? Eyes? Heart? Markers for genetic ailments?

Every breed has its own unique health problems — some more than others, but every breed has something. (This is true of mixed breeds and crossbreeds too, incidentally. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of doodle and poo breeders tell their puppy buyers that they don’t need to do OFA hip checks on their breeding stock because “hybrid vigor” means that labradoodles can’t be dysplastic. This is, bluntly, false. Any breeder who tells you otherwise is either ignorant or dishonest, and in neither case is that someone I’d want a puppy from.)

If you have not gotten appropriate health tests for your dog, do not breed until — at an absolute minimum — you have those results in hand.

I got OFA hip certifications on my neutered pound mutts just for the sake of planning their futures. There is NO EXCUSE not to have certs on actual breeding stock.

Even then, do you know what her relatives have produced? If you have one dog that tests OFA Excellent, but both of her parents, all her aunts and uncles, and all her nieces and nephews came out as dysplastic, then that is probably not a dog that ought to be bred, because the chances of her reproducing her one outlier good result are much, much lower than the odds that her puppies will revert to the family’s average. If her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all died of the same type of cancer at age 5, again, that probably isn’t a dog you want to breed.

It’s unlikely that such an extreme hypothetical would ever exist in the real world, of course, but the point stands: if you don’t have any idea what’s lurking elsewhere in the family tree, it might not be a great idea to breed until you do.

Do you know the temperament traits that your dog is likely to pass on? Do you know what traits her relatives share, and what their progeny might have produced? Fear issues are highly heritable and are probably the number-one temperament reason I would suggest knocking a dog out of consideration for breeding, but they are hardly unique. Reactivity, aggression, environmental stability, even things like jumping style and fullness of bite — these all have genetic components.

Unless you have thoroughly tested your dog for a wide variety of character traits under a wide range of circumstances, and really know that dog inside and out, I would not recommend breeding. Again, this is where pedigree analysis can also be important.

3. The Value of Registries

I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on this one because I think the value of having a dog with “reputable” registry papers (AKC, UKC, FCI, etc., — in other words, NOT garbage puppy mill registries) is pretty easily defined and black-and-white.

Having AKC (or UKC, FCI, etc.) papers does not mean that your dog is automatically a well-bred dog, much less a breedworthy one. There are any number of poorly bred BYB and mill dogs who “have papers.” So just having an AKC registration on your dog does not inherently serve as a stamp of good quality.

However, not having AKC registration closes a whole lot of doors. Most educated puppy buyers will stop there and go no further, because the lack of those papers is an obvious red flag that often indicates a particularly egregious puppy mill or BYB. Virtually all show and performance breeders will refuse to use your dog, or any dog descended from your dog, in their programs, because if they do, those doors will close for them, too. This pretty much forces your dog’s genetic contribution out of the mainstream pool.

If you are breeding and selling exclusively to working homes and sport homes that don’t care at all about AKC registration — military and police brokers, flyball homes, ranchers or farmers, and so on — then this need not be a concern. But if you’re already established in those markets, I don’t know why you’d be reading this blog post anyway, so I’m going to assume that you are not, in fact, already semi-famous as the best producer of flyball mixes across half the United States. And if you are not in that position, then the lack of good registry papers is effectively a slow death sentence for your dog’s legacy.

Personally I think that’s pretty crappy for a lot of reasons, but that is the world in which we live, so until the AKC and/or breed clubs change their rules and open their registry books, it is generally not worthwhile for the average person to breed an unregistered dog.

4. The Value of Training and Titling

Fundamentally, I think the value of training and titling a dog that you intend to breed is threefold: one, it gives you an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate and get to know your dog; two, it operates as a check against personal bias and kennel blindness by submitting your dog to the scrutiny of an objective, external judge (more or less); three, it signals to other people that you are serious and committed about whatever it is you’re doing, and that your dog is capable of achieving a certain amount of success in that endeavor.

Training a dog from zero to competition-ready is a long process, during which you will get to know your dog very, very well. You will learn what motivates her, what worries her, what demoralizes her, where her natural talents lie, where her innate weaknesses are, how she works under different types of stress in different environments. If you are honest with yourself, by the time you get to the end of that road, you should have a pretty clear idea of whether or not your dog is genuinely of a quality that makes her breedworthy. The more different sports you do, and the harder they are, the more you’ll learn.

Trialing forces a certain amount of honesty on you. If you think your dog is awesome, but you’re consistently bombing out in competition, then either something is profoundly wrong with your training and handling (or, possibly, the venue you’ve chosen, if you’ve done something as foolish as entering a working-line GSD in AKC conformation shows), or it’s time for a cold slap of reality. Maybe your dog isn’t all that. Maybe you need to step back and reassess whether you’re really being completely candid in your judgments.

And, finally, titling (or earning working certifications, which is pretty much the same thing for purposes of this discussion) proves to the world that your dog can do whatever it is you’re asking him to do. A lot of people will claim, either ignorantly or dishonestly, that their dog could totally do XYZ “if I wanted to.” But they have no proof.

Without the title, claims about what a dog could do are meaningless (and may even serve as a signal that lowers your dog’s credibility in the eyes of some, since that kind of empty boasting is commonly found among the least educated and least ethical BYBs). Even videos purporting to show your dog’s skills won’t convince a skeptical eye. It’s not hard to make a dog look better than he is if you can make the video on your own familiar training grounds, with your own familiar assistants in place of a strange judge, and with unlimited takes if your dog doesn’t put in a good showing the first time.

With the title, however, you have concrete proof to back up your assessments. Thus, titles primarily serve as a signal to owners of prospective mates that your dog is breedworthy, and to knowledgeable puppy buyers that this litter is of proven quality.

5. How Do You Find a Mate?

Unfortunately this is not a topic that I can really discuss in a general blog post, because I don’t know your goals and I don’t know your dog and I don’t know the spectrum of possible matches available in your breed. All I can really say here is that if you have the appropriate health tests in hand, you are active on the show or performance circuit for whatever it is your dog does, and you’re known to other people in the same breed, you should be able to get some decent guidance from sources better able to evaluate your options and goals.

If you don’t have the tests, aren’t on the competition circuit, and don’t have any real-life contacts in the breed, then that’s a pretty good sign that you need to step back and take care of those things before looking for a prospective mate. Responsible owners of desirable breeding dogs do not, in general, rush out to pair their dogs to whatever other dog in the same breed happens to own a functioning pair of complementary genitalia.

6. Are You Prepared For Complications?

Breeding is not a risk-free proposition. It doesn’t happen often, but dogs do get injured while mating sometimes. There are canine STDs. Pregnant mothers can have complications in carrying or labor; sometimes they die. Puppies may be born malformed, sickly, or just plain wired wrong in the head. They may get hurt in accidents, crushed if their mother rolls over on them, infected by communicable diseases, ill-treated by owners down the road.

If you are not financially and emotionally prepared to face all of the many, many things that can go wrong during the breeding, pregnancy, puppy rearing, and placements, then do not breed your dog.

7. Where Will You Place The Puppies?

I’m grossly overgeneralizing, but there are basically three types of puppy buyers in the world: (1) pet and casual sport homes who would be perfectly happy with either a purchased dog or a shelter dog that fits the general profile of what they want in terms of personality, size, energy, etc.; (2) pet homes who only want a specific breed, and might have preferences relating to size, color, or personality, but are not tremendously demanding about the quality of their puppy; and (3) specialized, highly selective homes who are looking for very specific traits and qualities (these are your Seriously Serious sport and show homes, working buyers, etc. If the dog cannot do a particular job at a very high level, these homes are not interested).

Again: if you’re not breeding for excellence, why are you breeding?

If you are marketing primarily toward homes in the first group, then you’re in direct competition with shelter dogs, and in my opinion you shouldn’t be breeding, because you are needlessly taking homes away from dogs and puppies who will die without them, and those owners would have been just as happy with a nice shelter or rescue dog.

If you’re breeding with an eye toward the second group, then it’s more of a gray area. Your puppies may still be in competition with shelter and rescue dogs; Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Chihuahuas, and many other purebreds inundate shelters across the country. The world’s not hard up for more of those. Unless you are producing special dogs in those breeds, rather than average pet-quality dogs, I don’t personally see a need to add to their number — and, on a more practical than moral point, it may be difficult to find enough homes for your puppies. On one end, you’ll lose some puppy placements to adoptable shelter and rescue dogs. On the other, breeders aiming for specialized goals will almost certainly have “overflow” puppies better suited to pet life than work, show, or sport, and you’ll probably lose some placements to those.

If you are marketing primarily toward the third group — which, in my view, is what any good breeding program should be aiming to do, since the goal is to produce dogs that truly excel in some endeavor — then it helps a whole lot to have spent some time establishing yourself and your dog in your region’s breed and training scene. It helps to have those registry papers and to have the titles and certifications verifying whatever claims you want to make about your dog’s conformation, athleticism, working aptitude, or whatever else. Without those things, it is likely that you will not attract as many prospective puppy buyers, and the ones you do get will not be as good.

Do you have a plan in place to connect your puppies to good prospective buyers? Do you have contacts in the local dog world who might be able to help? Do you feel comfortable screening buyers and deciding how to match individual puppies to homes that want specific traits? Do you have (or do you plan to use) a contract? Do you feel equipped to take back any puppy, at any time, for any reason? Do you have any safeguards (such as pre-purchase microchipping) that will enable you to find your puppies if a buyer breaks your contract and dumps your puppy at the pound?

If the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then it might be best to hold off until you can get a little closer to “yes.”

 

…and that, all together, is my list of points to consider before deciding whether to breed your dog. It’s long, I know that. It involves a lot of work.

But the decision to bring new lives into this world — lives for which you will be responsible, and which have the potential to influence many, many others — is a weighty one, and not one to be undertaken without due consideration. If you’re not prepared for that, you definitely shouldn’t breed.

Fit Dog Fun: Basic Equipment for Body Awareness and Balance

Whether you have a highly competitive sports schedule or just prefer a few weekend outings, all dogs should have a good sense of balance and a strong body to remain healthy and avoid injuries. There are several inexpensive pieces of equipment that you can use at home to get your dog in shape. Not only do these exercises build muscle and body awareness, but they are fun to practice with and also help to raise confidence as well.

Having a fit Corgi is a sure fire way to confuse the general public.

Having a fit Corgi is a sure fire way to confuse the general public. (Photo by SunRunner Photography)

As with anything fitness related, it’s a good idea to consult with your trusted vet or physical therapist before starting a conditioning program. Proper body alignment is very important too. Try to avoid your dog scrunching up their body – keep their neck and spine in straight alignment when doing these moves, and start off slow so they do not become sore.

1. Wobble Board

The wobble board is a great introduction to moving platforms under a dog’s feet. They are most commonly used in agility foundation training but are a fantastic way to increase body awareness and muscle tone for all dogs.

The basic idea of a wobble board is a non-slip surface (usually round or square) that is big enough for the dog to comfortably stand on with all 4 feet and move around on. An easy way to build one at home is to find some sort of wood surface (pre-cut small table tops at the hardware store work well for this) and cut a 2 inch diameter circular hole in the middle. Then all you need to do to have an adjustable height wobble board is to put a tennis ball under the board. You can use different sizes to make the wobble board easier or more difficult (small to large). River’s favorite is a small traffic cone filled with cement – that results in a fairly tall wobble board. If your dog is at all unsure about moving surfaces, start small and work your way up.

Puppy's first introduction to a wobble board. If you have a very young dog, make sure the wobble board is used sparingly as the repeated motions can be hard on their joints. (Super cute photo by TU's Michelle)

Puppy’s first introduction to a wobble board. If you have a very young dog, make sure the wobble board is used sparingly as the repeated motions can be hard on their joints. (Super cute photo by TU’s Michelle)

When first introducing the wobble board, give your dog lots of treats for just checking it out and putting one or two feet on it. Always give them an “escape route” and do not hold them by collar or leash to stay on the board; if they want to get off that’s perfectly OK, just try again. Once they are putting all four feet on the board and looking comfortable with doing so, start asking them for different behaviors like position changes, spins, and hand touches. Ask them to run off the board for a cookie and then back on. If they like to tug, play while having them stand on the board. You can put your foot underneath the side of the board to move it gently up and down as well – only do this if your dog is very confident, otherwise it can be a little scary for them to suddenly lose control of its movement.

2. Ladder / Cavaletti

Ladder work is extremely beneficial for hind end awareness. Most dogs, if they have never learned otherwise, have NO idea what’s going on back there! Using a simple ladder or Cavaletti poles is an easy way to make your dog think about where their feet are going. This in turn will help them move around easier in daily life and in any sports they do.

For this, you can use any regular sized ladder you have hanging around, a specially made ladder found at agility websites such as cleanrun.com, or just large diameter PVC pipes that are laid on the ground and spaced apart. To get a decent amount of extension when the dog is trotting through the poles, measure from their elbow to the ground and double that – place the poles that distance apart. Start with about 6 poles and work your way up to 12 or even more.

To do the cavaletti exercise, just slowly walk next to the poles and reward your dog for walking over them. If they are extra clumsy (like Owen as a puppy!), start with only two or three poles and walk slowly until they are carefully stepping over instead of just dashing through. Once they understand that concept, add a bit of speed and more poles until they are going through the entire line without hitting any of the poles with their feet. Reward and play at each end!

Do the same thing with ladders – start slow and reward for careful placement of the foot. Try not to reward “bunny hopping” through the poles because that doesn’t help them gain a better idea of their hind end; you want your dog to place each foot with thought.

photo 3

River has cues for “back feet on stuff” and “front feet on stuff,” which is very helpful for balance exercises!

 

3. Balance Discs

Balance discs are one of my absolute favorite pieces of balance equipment. They are fairly inexpensive so you can buy several and really have fun with it! Work on having your dog be comfortable with placing their front feet on the disc, one at a time at first, and rewarding heavily for staying on. If the disc is large enough, try having them put all 4 feet on or only their back feet if you have a smaller version. Placing two a short distance apart, so your dog can place their front feet on one and their back feet on the other, is also an excellent way to work their entire body.

photo 5

Position changes – standing and laying down while still balanced on both disks.

 

This is such a great muscle toning tool – even just standing with two front feet on the disc really makes your dog work. Since River and Owen both tend to do activities that place weight forward onto their shoulders, I use the balance discs a lot for shoulder stretches and strengthening the front end to remove stress from the area.

 

4. Peanut Ball

I cannot take my dogs’ peanut ball out of its hiding spot without them wanting to jump on it IMMEDIATELY. This piece of equipment is extremely versatile and can be used with dogs who are just starting out on the road to fitness as well as your most seasoned canine athlete. We use ours several times a week to work on areas of weakness (like Frankie’s bad knees), general whole body toning, stretching, and balance work.

While you can certainly use a regular exercise ball for body awareness work, I highly recommend putting in the extra cash for a peanut ball. Purchase one that is large enough so your dog can comfortably stand on with a straight spine in order to avoid that “crunching” we talked about earlier. Make sure you steady the peanut against something so your pup doesn’t go flying off – leaning the ball against a couch, wall, or your legs works very well. You might also want your dog to wear a body harness so you can help to keep them steady until they gain enough strength to keep their balance while standing.

Combining two pieces of equipment can made a simple stationary exercise slightly more challenging. Frank LOVES his peanut time!

Combining two pieces of equipment can made a simple stationary exercise slightly more challenging. Frank LOVES his peanut time!

Similar to the balance discs, simple exercises like position changes are an easy and quick way to get a good work out on the peanut. Even just standing still on the ball engages their core muscles, and you can help to challenge their balance by carefully swaying the ball back and forth so they have to work harder.

 

A fit dog is a happy and injury free dog, so go out there and get started on some body awareness and balance work! These are just beginning ideas; you can take all of this equipment and do tons of different/challenging exercises. Making an appointment with a knowledgable physical therapist who can tailor a fitness program to your dog’s specific needs is an excellent idea. Custom conditioning lessons can sometimes even be done online with professionals. These exercises are also a great bonding time with your best friend, so have fun with it!

Growing Up Guide Dog Puppy: Dierdre Goes to the Fair!

This month in puppy land, Dierdre goes with the puppy club to the South Florida fair (they hold those in the winter here because of the heat). But first, you can check out what I got in the mail from the guide dog school:

Baby Dierdre at about 5 weeks of age

Baby Dierdre at about 5 weeks of age

Right around when your puppy turns 4 or 5 months old, and you’ve gone through the worst of the housebreaking, crate training, whining, crying and nighttime potty trips- the guide dog school sends you a baby photo of your puppy with a guide dog harness and a thank you card. It comes in this nice card stock photo card, with a space on the opposite side ‘reserved for the puppy’s in for training picture.’

 

Picture Frame Card

Picture Frame Card

It’s quite a nice gesture to receive after the most trying stage of puppy raising, and who doesn’t love puppy pictures?

And now, onto the fair. Every year at the South Florida fair, the puppy club does a puppy demonstration to educate the public and expose the puppies. This year the ‘show’ was in one of the livestock pens, with tons of amazing smells to tempt the puppies!

We were allowed some time to go into the ring and let the pups smell before putting on vests to signal it’s ‘time to work.’ We did some practice obedience to focus the puppies.

Dierdre ignores the smells

Dierdre ignores the smells

When it was time to present, all the puppies were lined up in age order and our group leader gave a talk to the public about what puppy raising is, what puppy raisers do, and reviewed etiquette with the audience. After she was done speaking, the puppies demonstrated some of their obedience skills.

Obedience

Club pups in age order! Dierdre is the second puppy from the left, all the way at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see from the picture, we are a club of mostly black labs! Besides Dierdre, there is one other yellow lab and a golden retriever. Dierdre was nervous of the audience applauding at first, but with some treats and redirection, she forgot all about them.

Puppies!

Puppy lineup after being given the “break!” command- signaling break time. Dierdre receives praise for being such a good puppy.

After the puppy raising portion, an obstacle course is set up and a friend of the puppy club- a man named Allen, works his guide dog, Jolly, though the course as a demonstration. He gives a presentation about Jolly and what guide dogs do in their everyday lives, and shows off Jolly’s impressive guide skills.

Guide Dog Handler Allan and his guide dog, Jolly, navigate an obstacle course

Guide Dog Handler Allan and his guide dog, Jolly, navigate an obstacle course

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the presentation, the puppies make their way through the fair to explore the sights and sounds. Dierdre navigated the exhibits well, and even ventured into the midway. She met some large stuffed animals, as well as visited the Farris wheel and stood next to the kiddie roller coaster to experience the loud noises. With each pass of the roller coaster, Dierdre was offered kibble, and she quickly began to look to me with each pass of the car.

Walking through the food aisle proved to be the largest challenge, and not for the reason you’d think! While many of puppies were very interested in the delicious smells, most of the food was being cooked in the open, on smokers and over open flame. While passing the BBQ vendor Dierdre slammed on the breaks, tucked her tail, and tried to flee, hitting the end of her leash unexpectedly, before doubling back and fleeing straight into my knee caps. While Dierdre had the most extreme reaction, two of the other puppies reacted negative to the smoke, so we retreated o a further area to allow Dierdre to regain her wits, and then slowly reintroduced her to the smoke in a most positive way. After working the area for a few minutes with lots of praise and kibble treats, Dierdre was able to comfortably sit several feet from the smoke without showing any signs of stress. Not wanting to push her any further, I counted that a success and we went on our way. When a puppy has a severe reaction, a puppy raiser makes a note of the conditions and reports the problem to the area coordinator, who will offer suggestions, or help design a training plan to slowly and positively expose a puppy to the scary thing. Often video of the reaction is taken for the puppy’s file, and if it’s severe enough the video and write ups will be sent to the guide dog trainers, who will offer input or make the decision to career change a dog.

Such a case happened recently with a club puppy who showed fear of riding in cars. After attempting a few weeks of counter conditioning, the puppy was still urinating when approaching vehicles and would often tuck his tail, so the decision was made to release him from the program. The trainers at the guide dog school will work a bit more, even on career changed puppies, to help a puppy that’s been dropped for such a reason before they adopt them out. While many dogs, with this extra trianing, may get over their fear enough to make a good family pet, the trainers don’t want to push a dog, especially when it’s something that dog will be exposed to quite a lot as a guide dog. They want all guide dogs to naturally love their job, so no puppy is forced into the role if they don’t exhibit positive body language and appropriate reactions to the big, wide, scary world.

After the scary smoke, the meeting was over, and the puppies were allowed time to relieve, drink water, and socialize a bit (with vests off, of course!) before taking a group photo and heading home. Someone spelled Dierdre’s name wrong, but she won’t hold it against them ;)

Group photo!

Group photo!

“I want a small dog because…” [*eyeroll*]

About one year ago (funnily enough, on Mother’s Day), a crazy little seventeen week old cattle dog/Jack Russell cross showed up at the shelter I volunteered at on the day I happened to be volunteering.  She’d been adopted as a tiny pup to a quite elderly couple, and after what I can only imagine were 11 weeks of hellfire,  they quite sensibly decided that she was not the right fit for them.  When I got her, she hated any kind of handling, would happily use her teeth to express displeasure, never stopped moving, and enjoyed shrieking in a way that I can only describe as blood-curdling.  She was also outgoing, funny, would chase a ball and tug on a toy until she was about to keel over, was gregarious and polite with other dogs, and even as a little baby, she loved to work.   Obviously she had to be mine.

One year later, Enya the shelter puppy has become my Widget, the dog who is simultaneously one of the most frustrating and joyous things about my life. She is still outgoing, funny, great with dogs and super worky.   Since coming to live with me, she has played around with herding, agility, rally and a little bit of flyball, and she’s racked up a couple of letters next to her name (beginner titles in herding and rally, plus a CGC).  She has a beautiful, full-speed recall that puts my older dogs to shame.  She will let me put a harness on her now and pet her and ruffle the sticky-uppy fur between her ears and pick up her paws (as long as I don’t linger too long on them).  She is horrendous for anything medical, is a bit of a resource guarder, still enjoys screaming, and the teeth thing….well, I guess the best thing I can say is that it’s slowly improving.

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Widget, May 2013

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Widget, May 2014

This is Widget the week I adopted her and Widget this May.  16 month old Widget’s ears have decided they want to go up, she’s developed some grownup looking musculature and all her rolly-polly puppyness has disappeared, leaving a sleek, lean, well-built dog where there once was a goofy little baby.   One thing you might also notice, however, is that even though she’s more adult looking these days, she’s not demonstrably bigger.  When I adopted her, she was 12 lbs., but I felt sure that her cattle dog genes would kick in soon and that she’d end up a nice medium sized dog on par with my older girls, maybe 40 lbs or so.  Last week at work, I weighed her: 19 lbs.  She wears an extra small harness, she’s going to jump at either 8” or 12” (depending on venue) when we start competing in agility.  She is 19 lbs and 11 inches of chaotic energy and pointy teeth, but no bones about it: Widget Quigley is a small dog.

I’ve spent the last several years working at shelters:  I love the work and we have fantastic adopters, but I think it’s inevitable that if you work at a shelter, you develop a couple of pet peeves.  I save the vast majority of my irritation for people who come in and say dumb thing about pit bulls; however, one other thing that makes me sort of internally sigh is when people come in with bizarre ideas about small dogs.  The last shelter I volunteered at was in an area where small dogs are hugely in demand and are generally adopted out very quickly. At that shelter, a dog could be feral, they could be a traumatized puppy mill rescue, they could have massive health problems, they could be 20 years old, they could have a bite history, it does not matter: if they were under, say, 25 lbs, they were generally going to be adopted within the month. And boy oh boy did I hear all manner of “explanations” for why people were picking the small dogs they were picking, and boy oh boy did I sigh when the dogs were returned for being too….something. Too different from what was in people’s heads when they thought about small dogs.

Though Widge is my first little dude, I have known a fair few crazy awesome sporty small dogs in my life, and I’ve very often enjoyed the small dogs that have wandered through my frame of reference (bratty dogs are brats regardless of size.) I count many small dogs among my good pals; just to name a few, there’s my dad’s new Papillon and his floofy little mix who just recently passed away, there’s my childhood Cocker, there’s the Basenji I lived with for years and there’s my grandmother’s awesome Chihuahua.  Besides the fact that they are all small, none of these dogs I have known have the slightest thing in common: they have radically different temperaments, radically different responses to new people/dogs, radically different interests, radically different drives, etc.  The same is true with the population of little dudes at the shelter: they are just as varied as any of our larger dogs, and they all have their own individual needs and quirks and challenges and positive qualities. And yet, we often get people coming into the shelter who haven’t considered much beyond size in thinking about what they want in a dog.  We’ve written before about going in with a plan when you’re adopting from a shelter (same thing goes if you’re buying a dog, imo): there are a ton of different things to consider when you’re thinking about a new dog, and size is only one of those.  Of course, there are a lot of reasons to look specifically for a small dog, just as there are a lot of reasons to look for a big dog: maybe you live in an apartment with size restrictions, maybe you’re very frail and need a dog who is not physically capable of pulling you over, maybe you travel a lot and want a dog who can ride in the cabin of the plane with you.   That said, it’s important to avoid eliding size with behavior or temperament: just as a big dog is not necessarily going to be a hyperactive, uncontrollable maniac, a small dog is not necessarily going to be a mellow little lapdog who’s content to hang out at home all the time.  So, without further ado, and in honor of Widget The Tiny Terror, here are some myths about small dogs* that I wish would go away.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Hiking with Fido

The Bay Area of California boasts some amazing hiking spots, and we frequently take advantage of them by hiking with the dogs. There is nothing I love more than seeing my three buddies chase each other up and down hills, explore every inch of gorgeous shaded redwood forests, and wade through cool creeks on our weekly adventures. It is something our little family holds dear, but hiking with dogs comes with a few added concerns and takes some extra planning to ensure your outing is a successful one. Here is my quick guide of do’s and don’ts to keep both you and your dog happy and safe in the great outdoors!

First rule of dog hiking? Take as many cute photos as possible.

First rule of dog hiking? Take as many cute photos as possible.

Do respect leash laws.  

Don’t be that person who makes all responsible dog people look bad to outsiders; leash your dogs where posted and mandated by law. I hike my own guys almost entirely off leash, but only where it is legal to do so. Check the park’s website and read all the available signs if you have any doubt!

Even if the trails are legally off leash: it is ALWAYS a good idea to keep your dogs on leash in parking lots and when first entering a trail entrance. The last thing I want to happen when I’m getting ready to get my dogs out of their car crates is to have another dog come trotting over to us, and I especially don’t want to nearly hit them while trying to enter or exit the lot as well.

 

Don’t overestimate your dog’s recall skills.

Found an awesome off leash legal hiking trail? Great! But make sure your dog’s recall is top-notch before you unclip that leash. If you have any doubts about whether or not Max will come back to you when called, use a long line instead and work to improve his recall before going completely off leash first.

These dogs all have excellent recalls. The puppy who is not reliable yet is on a long line.

These dogs all have excellent recalls. The puppy who is not reliable yet is on a long line.

While out hiking there are a million and five things to attract your dog’s attention, and unless they have a solid recall foundation complete with plenty of well reinforced proofing, coming back to you immediately may not be included in their hiking agenda! Off leash hiking is a privilege for trained dogs, not a right. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean your dog is ready for that kind of freedom. This is essential for their safety and also for the well being of any wildlife and other dogs/people you may encounter.

 

On that note… Do leave wildlife and any other animals alone!

Never allow your dog to approach another dog unless the other handler gives their verbal permission. Assume all other dogs are unfriendly (or just normal dogs who don’t want Lucky bounding into their personal space bubbles) and take appropriate steps to ensure your dog ignores them. Trust me, as the person who has two reactive dogs that love to go hiking, the person you are passing on the trail with a death grip on their dog’s leash will appreciate plenty of space and respect. Don’t think your dog will recall off another? Return to the previous point, please. Typically I step well off the trail and put my (now leashed) dogs into down stays until the other dog passes, rewarding all the while. It’s easy, it is a good distraction training exercise, and no one has to do the awkward “my dog isn’t friendly!” dance.

No, I promise, those grazing cattle really don’t appreciate your dogs running up to them and trying to give chase. Horseback riders also really hate to have your dogs harass them while trail riding. Be polite to all other animals, humans included! No one likes a nasty creek soaked dog jumping all over them, and some people don’t appreciate dogs approaching them at all (I know that is unthinkable, but just go with it, ok?) My dogs and I practice their “leave it” constantly while hiking and I keep them at heel position while passing anyone else; it is an excellent time to polish up those particular skills.

 

Don’t be ignorant of environmental risks!

Be aware of the temperature, any additional elevation that your dog may not be used to, poisonous plants, ticks (we love neem oil spray around here!), and other grasses and weeds that can get caught in your dog’s mouth or nose. Foxtail season is REAL around here and can include many expensive vet visits if you are not careful. Make smart decisions about which trail you choose. The single track that is bordered with poison oak and ends in a field of burrs is probably not your best choice if you know your dog wants to off road it.

We always try taking swim breaks if the location allows it. River says she wasn't trying to drown her brother, only to help... keep him cool, of course!

Swim breaks are excellent for warmer days, if the location allows. River says she wasn’t trying to drown her brother, only to help keep him cool, of course!

Hiking at 7am on a summer morning is probably a much better idea than trying to brave a 95 degree trail at 2pm. Heat exhaustion happens quickly and can be deadly, so know the signs and keep your buddy cool. Dogs, like people, can be very affected by high elevation. Go for short walks until they get used to it and make sure they drink even more water than usual. Owen didn’t seem to mind last year when we hiked in Colorado during our nose work camp, but some of his friends were exhausted easily; it varies by the individual. Know what normal for your dog is and be able to watch for signs that they aren’t feeling up to a big hike.

 

Do work your way up to very long hikes.

A well conditioned and healthy dog can hike much longer than a pudge-y Pug can, so be realistic about your own dog’s limits. They can get muscle soreness and strains too, so take it easy on them until they’re used to long outings. Old dogs, young puppies, and out of shape individuals should only go on hikes with caution – shorter hikes are best for these guys.

River's very first hike at 13 weeks old.

River’s very first hike at 13 weeks old.

This should go without saying, but plenty of water and a decent first aid kit are both essentials while out in the wild. Be prepared! Dog backpacks are growing in popularity as well, and I do use them myself. However, this is again something that needs to be conditioned. Start with an empty pack and slowly work up to a maximum of 30% of your dog’s body weight. Sloooowly, I mean it. Make sure your pack fits well and isn’t putting excess weight on the spine; this is really where “you get what you pay for” comes into play. Products like cool coats for warmer days and booties for paws to protect against things like sharp rocks and thorns can be helpful additions to your hiking gear.

 

Got all that? Good!

Seasoned trail dog.

Your dog can be a seasoned trail master like Owen in no time!

Hiking with dogs can add some additional planning and thought to your trip, but it is an excellent source of mental and physical stimulation for your best friend. Be safe out there and have fun!