Lucy At The Fair: LAT in Action

My dog Lucy was recently diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in one hip. It’s a bummer, but we’re doing a series of cold laser treatments, changing up her supplements and doing a lot of conditioning work, and all of that seems to be helping tremendously. During the active phase of her treatment, I’ve been doing my best to keep her active, engaged and happy while minimizing the hip-reouchifying things she likes to do (namely, tearing around fenced areas like a maniac, twisting around awkwardly to catch balls and frisbees, leaping onto everything). This, plus my new resolution to start trusting my dogs more, means that we’re starting to do more stuff that’s outside our comfort zone. And all of this is how, on a recent sunny afternoon, Lucy and I found ourselves at my town’s annual Pecan Festival.

Continue reading

Project Liberty – A Puppy Mill Rescue Story

Four months ago, before Perri, I knew nothing about dog grooming.  Nothing beyond bathing, brushing and nail clipping.  I have a friend who is a dog groomer and she has a huge heart for dog rescue.  One day I received an e-mail from my friend with a request for help.  A Pennsylvania rescue was taking in thirty one neglected puppy mill castaways.  The groom shop that taught my friend everything that she knows was going to be “Ground Zero” for the clean-up of thirty dogs in unknown condition and health.  The effort would be called Project Liberty.

How could I say no?  For whatever reason, a handful of mill owners were willing to surrender their unwanted and used up breeding dogs to a rescue instead of killing them.  The day approached fast.  What started as two groom shop owners, their friend and myself turned into a full scale volunteer operation.  The parking lot filled with six mobile groomers.  The groom shop filled with groomers, grooming tables, bathers and “transporters” to get the dogs wherever they needed to go within the grooming area.  Standing room only.

And then the dogs arrived.  They smelled horrible.  Some were wet from urine.  Some had matted coats.  Some were fear aggressive.  Some had tails wagging and just wanted a cuddle.  Oh, the resilience of dogs.  All of them had chains around their necks, complete with a USDA ID tag.

The Project Liberty “passport”.

The triage began.  Dogs were checked over physically for any glaring medical problems or wounds.  They were given Capstar pills for fleas.  They were assigned numbers and names, all within the Liberty theme, and given cards with their breed, sex and any other important information noted.  This was part of my first job.  The other duty was to use metal cutters to snip the chains off of the dogs’ necks.  I had to scissor through heavy mats for some dogs.  Some dogs wanted to bite me.  Some chains were extremely tight, or even grown right into the skin.  One by one, the chains were cut free and thrown aside into an unwanted pile.  A volunteer sweet talked a frightened dog with, “Welcome to the first day of your life, baby.”

Sweet Freedom from Puppy Mills

A poodle in desperate need of some TLC.

Things were in full motion beyond where I was.  From triage the dogs were placed into ex-pens or into clean crates.  They were then taken to one of many waiting groomers to have mats cut, coats shaved or trimmed up.  From there they were taken to bathers and dryers.  People were constantly at work walking the dogs to their different stations, or cleaning crates.  I took up work as a bather after triage was completed.  One very frightened pomeranian tried to escape from the bathtub and bit me when I tried to stop her.  It was all over within two hours, much thanks to the large volume of groomers and volunteers.  All thirty one dogs were on their way to a local veterinarian office where they would be checked over more closely.

The groom shop was put back in order, deep cleaned and flea bombed.  All volunteers socialized outside and enjoyed a free lunch donated by a local grocery store.  We learned that throughout those two hours of work, all thirty one Project Liberty dogs had found foster homes.  Out of neglect and into the hearts and homes of rescue volunteers.  Mine was one of those hearts.  Dog #20, “Bravery”, would be coming home with me in two days after her vet check and spay surgery.

“Bravery”,  my Project Liberty foster dog.

By now, four months later, many of the dogs have found their forever homes.  Some dogs are still waiting.  Bravery was with me for only two weeks before a special Pekingese-loving couple with a heart for puppy mill dogs adopted her and named her Poppy.  Throughout the weeks and months that followed, it has been very touching to see how each of the Liberty Dogs are coping with their new lives.  Being involved with Project Liberty was something special.  It was an honor to welcome thirty one dogs to the first true day of their lives and I will never forget it.

The Journey to the Level 1 Title

dahlia-crateI started taking agility class in the summer of 2010.  I can’t really say what it was that made me finally bite the bullet and do it.  The idea sat in the back of my mind for over a year before I got up the nerve to contact a place about trying it out.

Once I did finally sign up and started taking classes, I thought it might be something fun I’d do for a little while until we had learned a few things and I felt done with it.  I made it perfectly clear to the instructor that I was just there for fun, that I was not interested in going to a trial, in competing, in ribbons or getting qualifying scores.   She was perfectly fine with that, but always worked with Dahlia and I no differently than her other students.  She talked frequently of when we went to our first trial, not if we ever went.  And I just let it roll off my back.  Dahlia and I were not going to any trials.  I was satisfied with letting her run in class.

Continue reading

Real Quick: Selecting toys for your “Power-Chewer”.


v. chewed, chew·ing, chews

1. To bite and grind with the teeth; masticate.


1. To make a crushing and grinding motion with the teeth.

Most dogs chew. It’s a natural behaviour, after all. There are dainty, well-mannered dogs who take hours/days to work on a store-bought rawhide chew or bone. There are dogs who can put a reasonable dent in most toys, given an hour or so of dedicated work, but who inevitably get bored and wander off to do something else.

Then there are “power-chewers”. Those dogs who make it their mission to kill, maim or otherwise destroy every toy you give them within the first five minutes. Or, if they get bored, your furniture.

I had the pleasure of coming home to this one evening when I first got Tayla. Needless to say, toy shopping was in our immediate future.


Every dog-owner with a power-chewer has to learn the Toy Lesson the hard way. It goes something like this:

You bring home a sideshow/garage sale/pet store stuffed toy that first (and last) time, hoping they’ll do something cute and photogenic like curl up in their basket cuddling it forever and ever like a child with their first teddy bear. Instead, you get gleeful, energetic ripping-tearing-crocodile-rolling carnage from one end of the house to the other. It’s all over in fifteen minutes, tops, and as you spend the rest of the afternoon picking fluffy innards and buttons out of your carpet, you wonder if you were somehow an accessory to murder. You’ll never look at a stuffie the same way again.

This was a cheap stuffie from the $2 shop. It took Freak all of about 2 minutes to disembowel it.

Owning a Staffordshire Bull Terrier means going through (cheap) dog toys like toilet paper. They are tough little dogs, and they are infamously tough on their toys. Over time, I have learnt a few things about purchasing toys for power chewers.

1. Save your pennies. Cheap toys are just that, cheap. In some cases, cheap toys can be dangerous too (choking hazards or toxic material). Research and buy quality products with good reviews. You’ll often get the best bang for your buck this way.

2. Be prepared to forego the instant gratification of purchasing a toy from a shop and research online options before you buy. A lot of the time, you can get the same toy significantly cheaper, including postage, from an online store.

3. Supervise your dog with their toys. Not only will this make the toy last longer, you can also make sure they’ve learnt how to play with it correctly and therefore get the most use out of it. This is especially relevant if you’re going to improvise with things like shoes, tyres and bottles.

A happy Tayla with her Red Dog Tug.

4. Find your interactive-play staples and make them fun. For power-chewers, sometimes the best option is to divert their focus into a different activity. For example, I’m doing my best to wear Tayla out with ball-throwing (I personally recommend Kong Air-Dog squeaker balls, as they fit into a chuck-it and hold up to weeks of daily hard play), sticks (I supervise closely using real sticks, but there are plenty of man-made alternatives to choose from) and tug (I love my Red Dog Tug!).
5. Avoid toys that will obviously break, shatter or disintegrate (such as smoked bones, hard plastic frisbees and the like). The last thing you need is a trip to the e-vet for mouth wounds or an obstruction.
6. Find a few home-alone staples that are safe and rotate them regularly. I have a few Kongs that I stuff and freeze the night before and a sturdy Starmark Bob-A-Lot treat dispensing toy that Tayla is very fond of. Bully sticks are great too, with the added benefit of teeth cleaning.

A few of Tayla’s favourite toys. From L-R: Starmark Bob-A-Lot treat dispensing toy, Nuts for Knots knot ball, Beyond Tough tug (which incidentally isn’t very tough ;D), Cuz (medium), My Dog Cozy Critter (EXCELLENT toy but very hard to find), Kong Air Dog Squeaker balls, Extreme Kong (large), Puppy Kong (large).

[A brief word on recommendations: I have not received any free products from any of the manufacturers mentioned here. All my recommendations are made based on my experiences purchasing products at retail price and I retain full editorial control over this blog entry.]

The come and go game.


Out of reach puppy.

I took Bean for his first solo hike last weekend.

And we discovered that while he has a very nice recall in a fenced yard and in the training building, he has no recall in the woods. Whoopsie!

Oh, he didn’t go anywhere, and he turned and came toward me when I called him, but he would not come to me and he would not allow himself to be caught. Not even for a food bribe. Instead, he’d come to a distance of five or ten feet and we’d play the “neener neener you can’t catch me” game.

Naughty puppy!

(In order to emergency catch the unruly beast, I ran away from him and “fell” down. He immediately came and jumped on me and he was nabbed! This trick works great for a lot of dogs. Curiosity caught the puppy.)

I absolutely need my off-leash hiking dogs to have reliable recalls. They need to turn and come immediately, at speed, and end up close enough for me to get hold of. This is non-negotiable. So the baby will need to learn if he is to be allowed off-leash privileges.

One game I like a lot for recall work is the “come and go” game. For so many dogs, “come” means the fun is over. The dog is only recalled when it’s time to be leashed or go home or even, for some dogs, when they’re in trouble. Of course they’re not going to come promptly and happily if it signals the end of playtime!

So I like to make a game of calling my dogs, taking hold of their collars or harnesses, and then immediately sending them away. Come! Good job! Go! We do this in the yard (and Bean is funny in the yard– he’ll come, but then I can’t get rid of him) but he hasn’t had very much experience doing it elsewhere. My failing and laziness.


Steve going.

Steve, my adult Border Collie and superduper hiking buddy, loves this game. We play it nearly every hike, just to keep in practice. And because “come” most often dictates that there will be “go”, he has no reason to hesitate or second guess. And yes, sometimes he gets held because there are people coming toward us on the trail and I need to get him out of the way, and sometimes he gets leashed because the trail is twisty or tight and I can’t see ahead of us, but other times he’s rewarded and re-released and it’s fun to run.

With Bean, we’ll start working this game on a longline or a Flexi attached to his harness, so that he can have more freedom than a regular six foot leash will give him, but so that he doesn’t get the choice to not come, and so I don’t risk losing him. Once he’s reliable with that, we’ll start trying it off the leash again. I guess because he’s generally so very good, I had too much faith in him last weekend. He’s come back in the past because he’s just following Steve’s lead, and Steve is reliable. But when left to his own devices, his lack of training in new places– and simply his youth– showed. So leashed hikes it is for awhile, until he’s more invested in the recall game.

Our Favorite Useful Everyday Cues

Patricia McConnell recently did a short series on her blog where she talked about some of her/her readers’ favorite “non-traditional” cues (which is to say cues that fall outside of the standard litany of sit-down-stay-come.) Her post started a conversation within the Team about the cues we’ve taught that have been the most useful for us in our everyday life-with-dogs. Here are some of our favorites!

Continue reading