Unraveling the Mystery Mutt

couchAt least once a week while out on a walk with Dahlia, someone stops me and says some variation of “Your dog is gorgeous” or “I had a dog who looked just like this,” which is often followed by the question I can never quite formulate an answer to: “What is she?”

I have, literally, had this question shouted at me by people on bikes, by people walking their dogs across the road, and once even by someone who was stopped at a stoplight and just had to know.

The answer? I have no idea. Dahlia was picked up as a stray as an adult. Her mix is entirely unknown to me. I have ideas of course, based on her looks and her personality (and ok, a bit of research into canine genetics because I’m an obsessive type) and I will share those guesses but really that’s all they are. I tend to call her a “Hairy Black Farm Dog” these days and leave it at that.

But then this Christmas my mother (bless her soul), got us a Wisdom Panel DNA test. For those who have never heard of this, the basic gist is you swab your dog’s cheek to gather up some DNA and send it off to them. Their lab analyzes it and sends you information on your dog’s ancestry. Are they a purebred? Are they a “designer” dog (a 50/50 mix between two purebreds) or is their mix a little more complicated than that.

Of course, there are a lot of discussions on how accurate these tests really are. Looking through the dogs on the Wisdom Panel site, some seem likely to match at least part of their ancestry. Some seem so far off it’s ridiculous (we’ll have Kelsey share her Wisdom Panel story in a followup post). But since I have the test, we’ll be doing it.

So I thought it would be fun to open this up to our TU readers to see what you think Dahlia might be before we get back the results.

Let me first tell you a bit about Dahlia: She’s currently approximately 7 1/2 years old (best guess). She weighs 50 pounds and measures 20.25″ at the withers. She is fairly mellow, but can get the energy up to do agility. She is a very quiet dog, unless the UPS truck comes by or she sees the horses at the agility barn. She is almost all black, except for some white at her haunches and on her belly, and she has a thick double coat. Her favorite things to do are play tug, squeak her toys, chase the geese and ducks at the park, and get belly rubs.

Below you will find a variety of photos that should give you a good idea of what she looks like.

First some front viewsfacefrontview2 frontview

And some side views.

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Winter coat not in all the way yet.

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Full winter coat

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Here you can see the color of her fur on her belly.
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And here you can see what’s beneath all that hair.
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And here are some action shots of her so you can see her moving.

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Note: The weird chunk of hair that seems to be shorter over her shoulders was because she had surgery and that patch had been shaved some months before this photo was taken.

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So tell us Team Unruly readers, what do you think Dahlia is? What do you think the Wisdom Panel test might say she is?

For results from this test, see the follow up post here.

So, You Want a Therapy Dog?

If you saw our Wordless Wednesday post this past week, you saw Perri laying on a blanket in front of a library shelf full of books.  This was a dream come true for me.  This was Perri’s very first night at work as a therapy dog.

When Perri came along, it was like I finally found a candidate for a “job” that I had been wanting to fill for many years.  I wanted Ein (my socially anxious corgi) to be a therapy dog.  We even had someone interested in using him for comforting neurologically damaged patients.  I wanted Molly (my 400mph pitbull) to be a therapy dog, too.  Since Ein, especially in his early years, became a shuddering mess of anxiety around large groups of humans – he was out.  Molly loves humans and being snuggled but she is also very high energy and we are still working on our years long process of getting her to keep “four on the floor” and her head out of the clouds.*  Perri is naturally gentle and polite.  She approaches me and others with excitement, but will be happy to give a gentle hand lick or bow her head on a chest and have her sides patted.  Of course she has her normal dog moments, that is what training is for, but as therapy dogs go – Perri is a “natural”.
[*I do want to point out that many “pitbull type” dogs are working in dog therapy and do an excellent job at it!  In fact, a few of the famous “Vick-tory” pitbulls have gone on to therapy work.]

My first step with Perri was to take her to Obedience Class.  Obedience classes are an excellent way to provide all dogs (not just therapy dogs!) with foundation skills for being polite in public and to socialize them with other dogs and people.  This means that Perri could practice learning her basic commands of “sit”, “lay down” and “stay” while learning to work with me in a controlled group of the “general public”.

My second step was to get Perri her AKC Canine Good Citizen certification (the “CGC”).  In order to earn this certification Perri and I had to be tested by an evaluator on “10 skills needed by all well mannered dogs.” – such as Sitting Politely for Petting, Supervised 3-Minute Separation, and Coming When Called.
Perri really breezed right through this test and had her certification.  Just like that.  Easy Peasy.  Like I said, she’s a natural where being a social dog is concerned.
That is not always the case and that is okay!  Molly has also become CGC certified and we took a class for it with a local trainer and that was very beneficial.  The AKC website concerning the CGC has resources for locating both a class and an evaluator.
And Ein?  Ein has failed the test twice.  Every dog is different, and Ein is not yet able to allow some evaluator to brush him just yet.  The audacity!
[For the story of Kelsey’s Lucy passing the Canine Good Citizen test please check out her July 2012 post, Normal Ain’t Easy.]

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The third step was the most difficult for me, Choosing a Therapy Dog Organization.  There are…a lot to choose from and that was slightly overwhelming.  I ended up choosing Therapy Dogs Incorporated.  TDInc is one of the more well known groups and there were plenty of local resources for testing*.
Becoming certified by a therapy dog organization was a must for me.  It provides a support network of like minded and experienced people, credentials to be handed over to facilities in which you and your dog will be working, and liability insurance coverage for dog/handler teams.
Perri and I needed a “tester/observer” – a person entrusted by TDInc to perform a behavioral test on the dog as well as the required three “observation visits”.
Our test consisted of basic manners: sitting and staying for petting, loose leash walking, reaction to medical equipment and a person behaving abnormally.  This test is then followed by three or four “observation visits”, and that is something that made me love TDInc.
My daily work is taking x-rays in a hospital, so I am no stranger to being around patients and people who are sick.  But when it came to taking my dog into a strange environment to cheer people up, I was feeling a little insecure.  I was grateful that instead of being tested and done, that TDInc offers more support for their new teams by requiring the tester/observer to accompany the dog/handler team’s first few visits under watch of an experienced eye before the team can become certified.
[*If Therapy Dogs Incorporated is something that you are interested in, the “How to Become a Member” section on their website contains all necessary information – with Tester/Observers searchable by state at the bottom of this section.]

And finally, I had to decide what type of therapy Perri would be best for.  There are so many options.  Nursing homes, hospice, rehab therapy, reading therapy.  Therapy dogs are being used to comfort emergency workers in crisis situation.  They are used to cheer students up in college who are studying for their final exams.  There are groups of people who take their dogs for therapy visits all together.  The list goes on and on.  There is no end to the list of people who can benefit from the simple comfort of having a dog to pet.
I know that I want to take Perri to nursing homes in time.  Since Perri can be an insecure dog, she is still a bit intimidated by wheelchairs and loud alarms and all of that normal background noise of a nursing home.  She is not debilitated, she just needs time to build confidence and work through.
With Perri’s calm and polite disposition, an area where I thought that she could really shine is with dog assisted reading therapy.  The idea is simple, and genius.  Children read books to dogs – dogs who don’t judge them and who help them relax – and it improves their learning progress and enjoyment of reading.
I knew that my local library had such a program and so I asked if they knew of anywhere else that was looking for a reading therapy dog.  By coincidence, the library was in need of a new reading therapy dog!  One thing led to another and Perri had her first “job” as a newly certified therapy dog.  She gazed at the children while they read to her.  She laid her head in their laps while they played with her curls.  She rolled belly up and her ear flopped open – “the better to hear you with, m’dear.”  Perri has found her calling, and my years long dream had come true.

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Perri is also an official “Agility NQ Comfort Dog” for me at Molly’s agility trials!