Pup links!

The Amazing Shepherd Balancing Act! Source: Lovinmansbestfriend

Hennessy Grape Harvest in Cognac. I love the images of the winery owner with his pack of spaniels and setters. All the images are just beautiful. (The Selby)

Do Dog Shelters Make it Too Difficult to Adopt? Dog walker and trainer Lindsey Stordahl raises an interesting question about the adoption regimens for shelters. I don’t think my local SPCA has a very difficult standard for potential adoptees, but I do feel like many of the breed-specific rescue agencies may go a bit overboard with their requirements. Regardless of what you think, it’s an interesting perspective. (That Mutt)

5 Ways You Can Train Like a “Pro.” Basic but great points to remember while training. I always have to work so hard at not repeating cues over and over again. (Success Just Clicks)

How to React When Your Dog Begins Resource Guarding Against Other Dogs. A very thorough article about how to prevent and train away from resource guarding. This is a behavior that I’ve always imagined would be difficult to train a dog out of; I think I may appreciate re-reading this article in the future. (The Whole Dog Journal)

Toronto Council Bans Pet Shop Sale of Dogs, Cats Unless They’re from the Shelter. This is great progress in putting puppy mills out of business. If only it would spread to the States! (The Hydrant)

Fetch. This place looks like my idea of a really good time: A pack of happy, eager dogs, ready to play. (Paws on the Run)

Review: Adopting a Dog

Adopting a Dog, by John Ross and Barbara McKinney

Since I’m leaning more and more into the adoption camp, I thought it would be a good idea to read a book specifically about adopting a dog. One of my primary hesitations about adopting a dog from the shelter is handling the behavioral baggage that these abandoned dogs may come with. I picked up Adopting a Dog from the library and looked forward to learning more.

The beginning of book provides some helpful insight on choosing a dog and bringing it home from the shelter or rescue agency. For instance, Ross and McKinney point out basic facts, such as that it’s probably unwise to choose the dog who cowers at the back of his kennel when you approach. Even though your heart may be moved by his fearful display, this will be a dog who will–most likely–be extremely difficult to train.

Ross seems to have written most of the training chapters and I wasn’t hugely impressed by his methods. I’ve been completely sold on positive training methods since the first serious dog book I read and so I get suspicious when people like Ross criticize positive training as being unable to produce results and insisting that dogs need physical discipline. Ross commonly recommends physical corrections like leash pops and forcing a dog into positions (like sitting, down, etc.).

Suffice it to say, I wasn’t very impressed with his training regimen. Unlike positive trainers like Pat Miller and Patricia McConnell, who are actually certified in their fields, Ross does not appear to have any serious credentials–aside from the fact that he’s owned a lot of dogs. This is certainly more than I have, but I’m not inclined to take his advice too seriously–especially when he maligns positive training methods and encourages physical punishment.

Overall, I was disappointed by this book and was hoping that it would provide some more useful information about issues like house training an adult dog, working through separation anxiety, and discerning a dog’s behavioral background. Have you read a good book on dog adoption? If so, please share! I’m still eager to learn more.

(Also. There’s a seriously unfortunate typo on the cover of this book. Can you spot it? As a copy editor, I just have to wonder how this stuff gets by. Did no one proof the cover??)

6 types of people who shouldn’t get dogs

Being friends
Pyrrha and our friend.

In all of my reading and all of my hours spent volunteering at the SPCA, I think one of the main lessons I’ve learned about dogs is this: Many people should not get a dog.

That sounds like an extreme statement. Let me qualify it.

The more I learn about dogs, the more I take them seriously. I used to think dogs were easy pets to have. Just grab a puppy anywhere, bring it home, and it’s your best friend for life! Turns out it’s not that simple. Dogs are complex animals who require a great deal of love, attention, and training. Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us Human even made me seriously question whether I should get a dog. Her recommendations for dog ownership are somewhat extreme in this modern age. Grandin seems to wish that all dogs could roam free around the neighborhood, like they used to do a few decades ago. Otherwise, she asserts, dogs are not enjoying a joyful life as they are locked up in a crate for 12 hours a day. She has a point.

A cultural misunderstanding of a dog’s complexity is why we have so many truly incredible dogs waiting in the emotional wastelands of our shelters and humane societies. Granted, the shelters are doing the best job they can with the resources that they have–but not even the best shelter can provide a dog with all of its emotional needs. Only a human family can do that.

But what kind of human family should get a dog?

It’s a difficult question to answer, and clearly, everyone has to make that decision for themselves, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m always dismayed by the number of people I meet who seem fundamentally unsuited to caring for a dog–the people who abandon that briefly loved dog a few months later. I probably see a disproportionate number of these people because I’m a part-time shelter volunteer, but I still think it’s an important issue to address.

It always breaks my heart when I hear about people giving up their dogs. I understand that, in this economic climate, many people can no longer handle the financial burden of a dog (or cat, or gerbil, or what have you). In this respect, it is wise to give up one’s dog to someone who may be better equipped to care for him. However, I am generally appalled by the pet ads on Craigslist from people who are abandoning their animals. These are common excuses that I see:

  • “We don’t have room in our apartment anymore for our Great Pyrenees.” No, duh. Maybe you should have considered that before you brought that white fluff ball home. That sweet, cuddly pup that looks like a stuffed animal is going to turn into a 130-pound yeti in a matter of weeks.
  • “We have to get rid of our dog because I’m allergic.” I understand that some people may not know they’re allergic to dogs before they bring them home, but test this one out a bit. Ever stayed at someone’s house and felt congested from their pet’s dander? Maybe dog ownership is not for you. Spend some quality time with some dogs before you commit to bringing one home.
  • “The puppy is nipping at my children.” Yep. That’s what puppies do.
  • “We’re moving and so we have to get rid of our dog.” I understand that there may be extenuating economic circumstances, but in general, I think it’s cruel to abandon your dog because you’re moving. I myself wouldn’t dream of moving into a place that wouldn’t allow me to bring my dog with me.
  • Or, the most infuriating: “We just don’t have time for her anymore.”

Frustrating Craigslist posts aside, here’s my amateur’s vision of the types of people who shouldn’t get dogs:

  1. People with young children who want a dog–or worse, a puppy–to be a playmate/guardian for their children. These people really make me the most anxious. I see them come into the shelter with their little kids and ask if we have any puppies available. My guard goes up instantly. There is nothing wrong with getting a dog so your kids can enjoy canine companionship. However, many young parents seem to underestimate the commitment that a puppy demands. It’s kind of like having an infant all over again. And your kids are not going to raise and train that dog for you, no matter how much they beg and plead (trust me. I was that kid once! My mom was the primary caretaker for our dog, and she wasn’t really keen on having that job in the first place). Parents buy a puppy for their kids and then realize a week later, “Oh, crap. This creature needs a lot of attention that I’m not willing or able to give it.” And the dog or the puppy ends up at the shelter, confused and bewildered.
  2. People who travel a lot for work or are never home. A dog will not have a high-quality life if she lives the majority of it in a crate. Dogs are social animals. They need our daily companionship and interaction.
  3. People who don’t have a clue about a dog’s emotional, physical, and mental needs.
  4. People who won’t take the time to train their dog or think that training is “cruel” or somehow makes the dog less happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. A well-trained dog is a happy dog, because she knows where she belongs in the family order. A well-trained dog is mentally balanced, content, and a respectable member of society.
  5. People who will neglect the physical health of their dog. The more reading I do about dog food, the more I am appalled at what we’ve been feeding our pets.
  6. People who won’t spay or neuter their dogs because they think it’s unkind or depriving. Unless your full-time job is a reputable breeder, please, please spay and neuter your dog. The world is filled with unwanted dogs who are the result of irresponsible humans. I see their sweet faces every day at the shelter. Think of them before you hesitate to spay or neuter.

I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental or cynical, even though it probably does. This post stems from my deep wish that people took dog adoption more seriously. I think dogs in America would be so much better off if their humans took the time to do a little more research. I’m always very encouraged when I do meet other dog owners–like many of the incredible dog bloggers that I link to on my site (on the right sidebar)–who understand, even better than I do, the tremendous commitment we must make to our dogs. I hope I will carefully and judiciously consider all of these elements before my husband and I bring a dog into our home. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. And that’s the main thing I’ve learned.

How about you? What kind of people make the best dog owners, in your opinion?

What I learned this week

Fernando. I'm kind of in love with him.

This was my weekend at the shelter. The weather was very pleasant for walking and the dogs were especially eager to get outside and stay outside.

I fell in love with Fernando, pictured above. Of all the dogs I’ve met at the SPCA so far, he’s the first one that I would unquestionably have taken home if I had been able to. The picture does not do him justice. He’s tall and graceful and absolutely beautiful in person. I don’t even know where I’d start in guessing what he’s mixed with. The shelter description says he’s an Irish wolfhound mix, but I find that highly unlikely. It’s not like there are a ton of Irish wolfhounds running loose around here impregnating strays. I would guess he has some setter in him, from the freckling on his back and legs, but he looks like he has some shepherd, too. What would you guess?

He’s quite young and was dropped off at the shelter a couple of weeks ago with his brother, Alejandro. Alejandro was adopted a few days ago, and I can only imagine that Fernando will be picked up soon himself. I should be happy for him. Instead, I’m just extremely jealous of his future owners.

From my half hour with him, I’ve decided that he might be the perfect dog. All of the other shelter staff also commented on how wonderful he was and how they too wanted to take him home. His temperament is absolutely golden. He’s lively and sweet and so attentive to people. Even though he is still very young, he walks beautifully on the leash and doesn’t tug at all. He’s also very smart and communicative. If I paused for just a second when we were passing through a door, he’d wait and then paw at it and look up at me, as if to say, “Um, you need to open this now, please.” Killed me.

I wish I could adopt him today. If I could, I would seriously leave work right now and go over there and get him. He’s just the kind of dog I want one day. I’m trying not to be bitter about this. See how hard I am trying?

All the best to you, Fernando. I hope you will find a home with people who are worthy of you.

Meeting Fernando gives me a lot of hope of finding an exceptional dog at the shelter. I’d been waffling a lot in the purebred camp lately, but now I’m feeling like I will probably adopt a dog instead. Even though it feels like betrayal, I’m wondering if an Australian shepherd would be a bad choice for us right now. I know first-hand what high maintenance dogs they are. And after all, I’m realizing that breed doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is temperament. And I want a dog with a temperament just like Fernando’s. Sigh.

Here are some other sweet, adoptable boys I spent time with this weekend:

Phantom.

Phantom, like most of the shelter dogs, is highly reactive. He jumps and barks up a storm as soon as you pass by his kennel. When I walked in to his kennel to take him out on Saturday morning, he excitedly mauled me and left me with very painful red welts down my left arm. Even though it hurt terribly and started to bleed, I had to remind myself not to be angry at him–even though that’s your first human reaction when a dog hurts you. Phantom wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me; he was trying to show me how THRILLED he was that I’d decided to walk him.

Once we did get outside, he was great and not as bad as I thought he’d be on the leash. I could tell he had a lot of pent-up energy, so I took him to the fenced enclosure with the agility jumps and tunnels. He wasn’t interested in retrieving or jumping, so I walked around with him and had him sit for a treat. He delicately took it out of my hand and then walked over to a far corner of the lot, placed the treat on the ground, and began to bury it. While funny, this action also broke my heart a little bit. Phantom was clearly anxious that he might not get a treat again and so he would bury this one for safekeeping in case he was to return. Heart warmed, when he returned to me, I gave him another treat, which he happily ate right there.

Max.

I think it takes a dog of an exceptionally noble nature to remain calm while living in the stressful shelter environment. Max is one of those noble natures. He looks like an older dog because of his graying muzzle, but his mobility and temperament seem to fit a young adult. He walks very well on the leash–a gift to the tired shelter volunteer whose arm has been repeatedly yanked out of its socket. Max has a spring in his step and wisdom in his eyes. He will make a wonderful dog for someone very soon, I hope.

I will be volunteering again with the SPCA on Friday. There will be an adoption event on the downtown mall and I’m looking forward to seeing some of these deserving dogs find homes.

First day as a shelter volunteer

On my first day as a volunteer dog walker for the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, I learned that:

  • The people who work here are doing their utmost to care for these many homeless animals.
  • Sometimes, the dog you’re walking doesn’t want to run around. Sometimes they just want to sit beside you and be stroked.
  • Hounds can retrieve quite well. I bonded most with Oliver, a small and young hound mix, who was adorable and played fetch with me and then chased me around the pen, play-bowing the whole time. Stole my heart.
  • The pit bull I walked had the sweetest and quietest demeanor of all the dogs I interacted with.
  • Dogs become highly reactive when in the presence of dozens of other agitated, barking dogs.
  • I can’t wait to go back next weekend!