Thinking Beyond The Daily Dog Walk: Uba’s Story

We do it every day (or at least we’re told we should be doing it every day), but do you ever stop to think about why we walk our dogs and if it’s really benefiting them?

As a professional dog walker, I can come up with tons of good reasons to take dogs for daily walks: for exercise, to go to the bathroom, to train them and teach them leash manners, to help them socialize with other dogs and people, to expose them to new things and environments, and to spend time enjoying their company.

But the truth is, for some dogs, going on walks isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And if that’s the case, there are lots of ways to meet the varying needs of dogs beyond the typical daily walk.

Last year at the BAD RAP Rescue Jam, I had the chance to meet Letti de Little, owner of former Vick dog, Uba. Word on the street was that her little survivor was a card carrying member of Team DINOS and wasn’t a big fan of going for walks in public.

I talked with Letti about how she fully supports Uba’s needs, without relying on a daily dog walking routine. These two are a great example of how thinking outside of the box (or walk in this case) might benefit some dogs. I think y’all will dig our conversation!

Jessica: Can you tell everyone a little bit about yourself and Uba?

Letti: Uba is one of the dogs rescued from football player Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation in 2007. He was quite young when seized, probably under six months old, and he was held in custody in a small kennel with no enrichment from April until October 2007. He did not have bedding, toys, walks or any of the other stimulation that is so important in a young dog’s development.

It was assumed while he was in custody that he and all the other dogs rescued in the Vick case would be euthanized once the case was over, as was the general rule for dogs rescued from fighting operations at the time.

Luckily, the Federal investigators, the prosecutors, and the judge in the case were willing to explore the option of saving the dogs and Uba and his extended family were given a chance at real life.

uba letti

When he arrived in California he showed everyone that he was a huge character. He had a very vertical approach to the world and would jump around rather than walk or run. After a wind storm he decided to collect the fallen sticks from the yard and fill his crate up with branches and twigs. Later he learned to unlatch crates and he would let himself out and then break in to other dog’s crates so he could borrow their toys.

Balancing out all this silly, ridiculous behavior were his worries about the big world. At home he was a party boy, but out in the world he was very anxious and would ‘pancake’ – shut down, freeze and be unable to recover.

I had been a BAD RAP volunteer for about a year and a half when the Vick dogs were evaluated for placement and I offered to foster one of the dogs. As soon as I met Uba I knew I’d keep him and I’m so glad I did.

I’ve learned so much from my funny, energetic, intelligent, sweet and worried little dude. I’ve fostered at least ten dogs and he is the highest energy dog I have ever lived with. It’s not always easy to meet his needs while keeping up with my sometimes demanding career, but we’ve muddled through it and I think we have done OK.

What were those early dog walks like for him? And why did you choose to stop taking him for traditional daily walks?

Uba made it clear from the start that he needed a lot of exercise. As a city dwelling dog owner my answer to that was lots of long walks.

Uba really didn’t have much of an idea about leash walking, let alone cars, buses, pedestrians and all the other sites and sounds of city living. He accepted some things, like garbage trucks, without question. Other city events, like groups of pedestrians, made him collapse in fear.

We would go on long walks and he would enjoy the parts of the walks in quiet and natural areas, but would shut down and ‘pancake’ in busy areas. Living in San Francisco, most parks are full of off leash dogs, and, although he’s not particularly dog reactive, it was difficult to find places to walk him where he was comfortable and we wouldn’t be accosted by MDIFs.

[Note from Jessica: MDIF stands for people who shout “My Dog is Friendly!” and let their dogs approach yours without permission. How rude! You can read more about them here.]

I used to have a roommate who is a psychologist working with combat veterans and she noted that his physical reaction on walks was very similar to her patients suffering from PTSD. Uba scans for trouble, shakes, and can’t focus on anything other than his fear. Once Uba is triggered into his scary place there is no talking him out of it. He won’t take treats or toys; even super high value treats like steak don’t distract him from his fear.

uba

I moved to Oakland after about three years with Uba, and my neighborhood is still pretty urban, although I have a much bigger back yard than in San Francisco. He had a hard time adjusting to the neighborhood and did not enjoy his walks at all.

After much debate and discussion with BAD RAP’s Tim Racer, I decided that we should re-set and not go for neighborhood walks for a month. We still went on weekend walks in places he enjoyed, where there is nature and limited MDIFs, but I didn’t make him go into the neighborhood at all.

In that month I found that he became more relaxed and our relationship improved when I wasn’t making him face his worst fears every day.

Instead of dog walks, how do you provide Uba with exercise, enrichment, socialization, and time outside?

Since Uba was so energetic as a youngster I started using a dog treadmill for exercise soon after he came to me. The first time I put him on the Grand Carpet Mill he was hooked. I didn’t have to teach him what to do, he just hopped on, let me hook up his harness and he ran as fast as he could with a huge smile on his face.

I also use a flirt pole and a spring pole. The flirt pole is nice as it can also give an opportunity for working on impulse control (not Uba’s strong suit) and other basic training. I have a spring pole set up near my treadmill and some days Uba runs to that instead of the treadmill when its time to work out. The tugging lets him use different muscles and makes him just as tired. He gets really excited when I say “treadmill” or “spring pole”, just like some dogs get excited when you pick up their leash.

Uba has always loved training and learning, so I have tried a few different activities with him. Vick dog Audie’s owner, Linda Chwistek, introduced me to K9 Nose Work as it was just developing as a sport and Uba loves it.

Nose work has built Uba’s confidence like nothing else. Before nose work, new environments and new people were very difficult and Uba would shake and pancake to avoid the new experience. Now, Uba can walk in to a new place and he wants to see if he can find a target odor, even if that’s not at all why we’re there. We take nose work classes at least once a week and he loves seeing all his friends as much as he loves searching.

uba and jamie

For socialization I have almost constantly fostered well-matched playmates for Uba and many of them have also been rescued from dog fighting busts. We stay in touch with former foster dogs and other friends he’s made along the way and meet in his comfortable spaces for walks and have play dates at home. Uba sometimes accompanies me to the BAD RAP Pit Ed training classes I teach to “supervise” and see his human friends (including his number one hero, Tim).

There’s a lot of pressure on dog owners to walk their dogs every day. Do you have any advice for dog owners who may be feeling like these walks aren’t benefiting their dogs?

We all need down time. I don’t feel like going out and facing the world every single day, and neither do some dogs.

I think we should be focusing on “all dogs need regular exercise” instead of “dogs should be walked daily”.

 

Yes! That’s really well said Letti!

Exercise is not opening the back door and letting your dog wander the yard, though. If you’re not walking your dog you need to consider how to keep yourself and your dog engaged in a healthy and happy relationship. If she loves fetch, that’s wonderful, but make sure you play other games too. Take that hour you would be walking and spend it with your dog – not on the phone or computer – but actively engaging with your dog. Learn a new trick or find a new game to play.

Remember that mental stimulation can be just as tiring as physical exercise, so find ways to combine both and see how pleased your dog is. Training classes of any kind are great ways to get your dog exercise, mental stimulation and socialization opportunities while working on useful and fun skills.

On the flip side, there are lots of dogs that could really benefit from more walks! But because they’re reactive or are lacking in basic manners, their owners avoid walking them.

You work with families like this in your training classes. Is there a difference between what they’re experiencing and what you experienced with Uba? Any advice for these folks to help them feel more comfortable walking their dogs?

I should be clear that Uba is not particularly dog reactive. He is a DINOS because I want to protect him from bad experiences that could make his phobias even worse or push him to be reactive. He collapses in fear rather than screaming at the end of his leash.

If your dog lacks manners, get to a training class! If you are too far from training classes or can’t afford them, You Tube has some great resources and examples of how to work on leash skills. Or hire a trainer for one on one help. I truly believe that any dog can be well mannered in public if their owner puts in the time and effort and effectively manages the situations the dog is in.

If the dog simply needs to get out for exercise right now, do some research and find places that are safe to walk. Be willing to take a short drive to your walking places if needed. Think outside the box about where to walk and try different routes. Just walking on a different side of the street can dramatically change the walk for your dog. Your neighborhood may be packed with challenges for your dog, but what about other areas nearby? What about the outside perimeter of a public park, golf course or a cemetery? Is there a downtown business district that’s super quiet on the weekend?

I advise people to stop worrying about what other people think. You are your dog’s only advocate. Speak up and protect your dog from MDIFs and mean people. If you encounter people who criticize you for something you’re doing or not doing, shrug it off. Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t conform to some general theory of what dogs should be and help your dog be the best dog she can be. So what if that means walks at midnight or running on a treadmill?

I also highly recommend nose work classes as therapy for the dogs and as a place to find solidarity with other owners of DINOS.

How’s Uba doing today?

Uba is still not a big fan of neighborhood walks. He will go with me once in a while and enjoy himself, but I don’t force the issue. More often we’ll hop in the car and drive to a cemetery that allows leashed dogs or one of the parks where leashes are required.

This means that in the winter when it’s dark after work he really only gets walked on weekends. During the week we go to nose work class, run on the treadmill and play at home.

He is getting a little calmer now that he’s eight, but he’s still more energetic than most dogs half his age, and I think he gets a good amount of exercise, is appropriately mentally challenged and gets out to see his friends regularly.

uba walk

We still have little moments of victory over his worry – just this morning we went on a very pleasant neighborhood walk. He sniffed things, peed on a million things and worked through his “oh shit!!” moments. I think he enjoyed it.

Earlier on, I came to realize that in my desire to have a walking companion I was ignoring Uba’s needs. I have learned to respect what my dog is telling me and now I really accept Uba for who he is and not who I’d like him to be. We are both happier and more relaxed and our relationship is much more fun for both of us.

Great advice Letti and thank you for sharing Uba with us!

Living with a Reactive Dog: Interview with Dog Trainer Sara Reusche

I’m not sure when or how I stumbled on dog trainer Sara Reusche’s blog, Paws Abilities, but I was psyched that I did. For those of you who don’t know her yet, Sara owns Paws Abilities Dog Training in Minnesota and is dual certified as a veterinary technician and professional dog trainer (CPDT-KA). Her posts about living and training dogs are beyond helpful, always compassionate, and so well-written. Not an easy hat-trick to pull off post after post.

Earlier this year, Sara wrote a handy three part blog series about living, managing, and training a reactive dog. I was relieved: finally, a straightforward starting place for anyone living with a reactive dog. In the first post Sara defines reactivity. You might want to read that now. We’ll wait. Go ahead.

Next up Sara wrote about how to manage your dog’s reactivity and then went over the foundations for training your reactive dog. Go on and read those two if you haven’t already.

OK, all caught up? Let’s head on down to the interview section of this shindig where I bother Sara with all of my questions about reactivity.


sara_layla_trout

Sara with her dogs Layla and Trout

Jessica: There are lots of books out there about training and working with reactive dogs. If someone is new to living with a reactive dog, what’s the first book you recommend that they read?

Sara: Honestly, I would recommend starting with “Don’t Shoot the Dog!” by Karen Pryor. It’s not a book about reactivity, but it does an absolutely wonderful job of covering all of the fundamentals of training.

I also really like Leslie McDevitt’s “Control Unleashed” books. She has two of them, and I would suggest starting with the “Puppy Program” book, because the exercises and information in there are really applicable to any age, not just puppies. The Puppy Program book is organized a little better, so it will be easier for you to find the exercises you need when you want to brush up on them, and the short chapters are a great example of “splitting” down human behaviors to help you feel successful right away.

J: One of the challenges to working with a reactive dog is that it can (sometimes) be a long road without a quick fix. Any thoughts on helping families to set realistic goals for themselves and their dogs?

S: Two things: keep notes and develop a support network.

I rarely have a student who’s excited about note-taking when I first suggest it (although there are a few geeks out there who start talking spreadsheets and charts right away, and I love ‘em!). That said, tracking your dog’s progress can really help to speed up your training progress and get you through those tough days.

By tracking your dog’s progress, you can oftentimes pick up on patterns that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. One of my clients had a dog who was intermittently destructive. Most of the time the dog was just fine when left home alone, but every so often my clients would return to find a disaster zone with shredded paper and chewed-up carpet. When we started to track the dog’s destructiveness, we found that she was destructive every single Wednesday and occasionally on other days. It turns out that she was terrified of the sound of diesel engines (such as the garbage truck), and only got into stuff when trucks came through her neighborhood. We never would have figured this out without notes. Other clients have figured out that their dogs are worse (or better!) for a few days after daycare, don’t like certain “types” of dog (ears sticking up, large dogs, small fluffy dogs, etc.), or react to specific types of clothing. Knowing what sets your dog off can be half the battle!

The other really great thing that notes can do is to give you a pick-me-up when your dog’s having a tough day or week. It can be so helpful to go back and realize that even though your dog reacted five times this week, she used to react 5-10 times every single week, and she’s improved so much. Progress isn’t linear, and dogs have bad days just like we do. Knowing that it’s just a temporary blip and reviewing just how far you’ve come can be immensely helpful.

Besides note-taking, building a support network is huge. Whether it’s a local network or an Internet community, connecting with others who understand can provide you with much-needed support. Our Growl classes oftentimes come to resemble a support group, since everyone cheers for one another’s success. Our students oftentimes develop friendships with one another and many of them have gone on to schedule training dates outside of class where they get together to practice with someone who understands throughout the week. If you don’t have anyone local to partner with, check out some of the wonderful online communities (such as this one and others in the links section of this blog!).

Remember that each dog is an individual, so as long as your dog is making progress you should celebrate her success. She may not make progress as quickly as other dogs and may make progress more quickly than others, and that’s okay. You probably learn things faster than some and slower than others as well. Focus on your own dog’s successes. If your dog isn’t making any progress at all, look back at your notes and touch base with your support group to see how you can tweak your training plan.

J: What’s the one mistake you see reactive dog owners repeatedly doing that makes life harder for them and their dogs?

S: One of the hardest things to do when you’re first starting off is to keep your dog under threshold. Remember that practice makes perfect, so the more your dog “practices” lunging or barking, the better they get at it. Figuring out how to prevent these behaviors by managing your dog or his environment will go a long way towards helping you get on top of his reactivity.

Not only do you not need to put your dog in difficult situations to train him, but doing so will slow down his progress. Start where your dog is successful and work up to the more challenging environments or situations.

J: Reactivity is a really broad label that covers a lot of very different dogs. What works for one dog, may not work for another. Can you speak to the differences in reactivity? How does that impact the approach you take when working with them?

For example: Do you approach working with a very sensitive, fearful dog, the same way as you would a reactive dog that is not sensitive to people or the environment?

S: Great question! Reactivity is definitely not one-size-fits-all, and it’s important to always remember that your dog is an individual. Some dogs are very specifically reactive – perhaps only towards other dogs or to men in hats or people wearing white lab coats – while others react to everything.

This is one situation where I think it’s very useful for us to anthropomorphize a bit. Put yourself in your dog’s paws. If you were your dog, how would you want someone to work with you? If you found the world really overwhelming and were on high alert every time you left the house, would you want someone to make you leave the house every single day and go on a long walk where you saw many scary things, or would you prefer it if that person took you on short little field trips and helped you feel brave a couple times a week? On the other hand, if you just got really excited when you saw specific people and had a hard time containing yourself, how would you like someone to help you learn to control yourself? Be as kind and fair to your dog as you’d want someone to be to you.

There are a lot of different approaches out there to working with reactivity, so educate yourself about them and choose the one that feels right for your dog. You are your dog’s advocate, so it’s always okay to change things up if that will help your dog be successful. If this is all new to you and a little overwhelming, a good trainer can be invaluable.

J: There are a lot of trainers offering classes and sessions for reactive dogs. But they’re not all equally skilled. How can someone determine if a trainer or class is the right fit for their individual dog’s needs?

S: Choosing the right trainer is huge in helping your dog to be successful. Talk to the trainer ahead of time and ask them a little bit about their experience and the methods they use. Ask if you can observe a class or a private training session and make sure you’re comfortable with that trainer’s interactions with dogs and people. The students – both human and canine – should both appear to be having fun and being successful. Look for a trainer who is kind and respects both ends of the leash.

One of the best questions I recommend people ask their potential trainer has to do with education. Good trainers continually work to better ourselves. Ask your trainer about the most recent training book she’s read or training seminar she’s attended. If she’s not committed to ongoing education, look elsewhere. No one knows everything.

Thank you Sara!

For those of you who haven’t already, be sure to stop by Sara’s blog and catch up on all of her posts. She’s an excellent resource for anyone living with dogs (even the ones that aren’t reactive)!

If you’re looking for more resources for living with your reactive dog, check out the Dogs in Need of Spacewebsite. Under the tab “Resources for Dog Owners” you’ll find books, articles, group classes, and much more to help you help your dogs.

Interview with Patricia Smith: Founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project

I recently wrote about my experience with Compassion Fatigue (CF) and burnout while working at an animal shelter. To learn more about CF, I reached out to Patricia Smith, founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project.

The mission of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project is, “To promote an awareness and understanding of Compassion Fatigue and its effect on caregivers.” Patricia is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with more than 20 years of training experience. She writes, speaks and facilitates workshops for all caregiving professions.

The interview focuses mainly on CF in the animal sheltering world, but Patricia’s thoughtful answers are relevant to many of you.

Before we get rolling with the interview, let’s go over CF and burnout:

Compassion Fatigue is a secondary traumatic stress disorder resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals. It is a reaction to the ongoing demands of being compassionate and effective in helping those that are suffering.

Compassion Fatigue is not the same as burnout, though they can co-exist. Burnout can happen to anyone, in any profession. It’s a cumulative process marked by emotional exhaustion and withdrawal associated with increased workload and institutional stress. It is not trauma-related. CF is specific to those who are working with a traumatized or suffering population.

If you work as a caregiver you may experience either CF and/or burnout. Compassion Fatigue has a more rapid onset while burnout emerges over time. The good news is that we can rebound from CF if we address and manage the symptoms (it’s more of a challenge to make a comeback from burnout).

Patricia writes in her book To Weep for a Stranger: “Compassion Fatigue is a set of symptoms, not a disease.”

Some of the symptoms of CF are:

  • Bottled up emotions
  • Loss of sense of humor
  • Chronic physical ailments such as gastrointestinal problems and recurrent colds
  • Substance abuse used to mask feelings
  • Sadness, apathy, no longer finds activities pleasurable
  • Poor self-care (i.e., hygiene, appearance)
  • Recurring nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or images
  • Relationship issues and co-worker disputes
  • Poor decision making and problem solving skills
  • Voices excessive complaints about administrative functions
Compassion-Fatigue-Diagram


– Interview with Patricia Smith –

Jessica: Are the professional challenges that animal welfare workers face different than those in other helping professions (nurses, social workers, EMTs, etc)?

Patricia: While many people wouldn’t agree, I definitely believe animal welfare workers have more difficult challenges. This is due to the fact that most animal caregivers go into the work carrying a true love for animals in their hearts. They certainly don’t choose the work because of the extraordinary benefits or high salaries.

I found in my work as training and development manager at a shelter that people enter this field very idealistic, really hoping to make a difference in the way animals are cared for and treated. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for that bubble to burst. Working with an uninformed public only magnifies how little most people know about the human/animal bond. In the shelter where I worked, the turnover rate was extremely high. It didn’t take long before new employees figured out how disrespectful society is toward not only the animals, but shelter workers as well.

In other helping professions such as health care, social services, law enforcement, teaching or firefighting, the workers are respected and even idealized. This is not the case with shelter workers. Most people believe they are part of the problem since they euthanize animals.

Most often, animal caregivers leave shelter work beaten down and disillusioned. The ones who stay grow the proverbial “thick skin” in order to deal with the negativity they face, day in and day out.

J: I can’t help but think that if compassion fatigue and self-care were taken more seriously in animal sheltering, employee retention rates might be higher, which would allow for staff to stay in the field longer, gaining additional skills, and contributing at a higher level. Any thoughts on employee turnover in relation to compassion fatigue?

P: You have hit the nail on its head! As I mentioned in the first answer, yes, turnover rates are extremely high most likely due to compassion fatigue, so are Worker’s Comp claims and high absenteeism among staff.

I firmly believe when the majority of workers in an organization suffer the symptoms of compassion fatigue, the organization itself takes on the symptoms of organizational compassion fatigue. This includes high Worker’s Comp claims, absenteeism, inability of staff and management to collaborate, inability of staff to follow rules and regulations, and lack of flexibility and adaptability among workers.

Eventually this all affects the bottom line and lack of funds creates another layer of challenges: paying decent wages and benefits, lack of quality in the care the animals receive, inability to retain talented workers – the list is endless.

J: Does management need to make self-care a priority in order for it to be taken seriously?

P: Yes! Turning around a shelter environment that is plagued with compassion fatigued workers is the job of management. Those in leadership positions need to understand and recognize the symptoms of compassion fatigue in themselves and their staff. They must educate themselves and others – that is the first step.

I have been working on creating a new hire guide to compassion fatigue that would be included in every single new hire’s orientation. That is where we need to start – in the schools and in the orientation. If that could happen, animal welfare workers could go into their new positions with eyes wide open. I believe that would make a huge difference in retaining people who care and want to make a difference in the lives of animals.

J: Neglecting self-care care can have negative consequences for the people and animals we care for. For example, compassion fatigue has been linked with ethical violations and impaired functioning. Have you found that compassion fatigue impairs our ability to do good work? If so, are we obligated to take better care of ourselves?

P: Authentic, sustainable self-care is the ONLY answer to healthy caregiving in the helping professions – but mostly in animal welfare. If we are “other-directed,” which means we care for others before caring for ourselves, it takes hard work to learn to become “self-directed” so we can be healthy caregivers. Self direction means that we have personal boundaries, we are able to say “no” without feeling guilty, we know our limitations and we honor them, and we practice self care daily. We need to heal our deep hurts and not allow ourselves to be re-traumatized by the work we choose to do.

We learn to focus only on the mission of the organization – which in animal welfare is to rehabilitate each and every animal to the best of our ability to prepare them for a successful adoption – without drama, without the symptoms of compassion fatigue directing our actions and behaviors. This takes work!!

I think the reason this is all so important in animal welfare work in particular is because the animals pick up on our feelings, emotions and actions. They are super-sensitive to us and how we react to our environment, to each other, and to them. A calm, peaceful environment when they enter the shelter, veterinary office, or animal hospital sets the tone. Nervous, unhappy, frazzled animal workers = nervous, unhappy, frazzled animals. And they deserve so much more!

J: Is there anything we can learn from other helping professions about support and self-care? For example, social workers often participate in clinical supervision or peer group supervision where they can have a safe place to talk about their challenges and learn from one another. 

P: While there is much to be learned within all areas of the helping professions, I don’t believe the necessary sharing is actually happening. And that could be that each profession has its own challenges, difficulties and unique environments.

The one thing I have seen in my 14 years of doing this work is the increased interest in compassion fatigue, its definition, symptoms and causes. I am asked to present workshops often and mostly from animal welfare organizations. I think this is due to necessity. Many shelters are suffering from decline in staff, decline in funding, and increased numbers of animals in their care – I think maybe we are hitting the tipping point. It is painfully obvious that something needs to be done.

My job as founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project is “to get the word out.” Since my background is in journalism, I write on the subject as often as possible to reach as many people as possible. Others are now doing the same. I helped edit a wonderful new book entitled When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession by Kathleen Ayl, PsyD. She did an excellent job of explaining compassion fatigue and how it affects animal welfare workers. While it is aimed at the veterinary profession, every animal caregiver will benefit reading this book. You, too, are doing an excellent job with this blog to get the word out.

We’ll get there – I know we will. I urge anyone reading this blog to organize a group and begin the much-needed dialogue about compassion fatigue and how your organization can support self-care for staff and management.

greater good

Engaging in regular self-care builds resiliency, which can help us bounce back from the stress of our jobs. The self-care tips above also cultivate happiness. Yay! Graphic from The Greater Good.


J: Some of my readers have started support groups for shelter workers or for families who are caregivers for dogs with behavior or medical issues. Do you have any tips for creating a successful support group?

P: This is excellent news. I have a number of tips to convey to your readers:

a) If you hold debriefing sessions following traumatic incidents at your organization, ask participants to share feelings and not details. Often when we are traumatized by situations such as animal abuse or animal hoarding, we want to give a voice to our pain and suffering. Unfortunately by doing that, we run the risk of re-traumatizing our fellow workers. Talk about how the incident made you feel – sad, frightened, alone, maybe even sick to your stomach. By sidetracking the gory details we are able to identify our feelings and, hopefully, apply our healthy coping skills to alleviate the pain and suffering we are feeling. Healthy coping skills include yoga, walking, massage, meditation, restful sleep, or seeking professional help if necessary. We can also turn to our animal companions for love, understanding and relief. Unhealthy coping skills include alcohol consumption, drug use, smoking, eating fast food, or isolating ourselves from others.

b) Select a facilitator who has both education and experience in managing a group. Managing traumatized/compassion fatigued people can be a challenge of the highest order. A good facilitator will be sure everyone knows the rules, everyone has a voice, and everyone is heard. Time management is also of the utmost importance.

c) Limit the number of participants. A group of 6-10 is ideal. Everyone deserves a chance to speak.

d) Never force a participant to take an active role if he/she declines. Some participants will be able to speak the first time, others will take longer. Be respectful of each person as an individual with specific needs and abilities.

e) Lay down the groundwork for success in the beginning by explaining the rules. If a participant shows an aggressive side or is disrespectful to others, the facilitator has the right to dismiss that person from the group.

 

J: Vet techs, rescue and shelter workers, animal control officers, individuals with pets who are suffering – compassion fatigue seems to touch so many of us. What can we do as individuals to reduce stress and avoid burnout?

P: You are exactly right. Compassion fatigue doesn’t play favorites.

First, are you at risk for compassion fatigue? One way to find out is to take Dr. Beth Hudnall Stamm’sProfessional Quality of Life Self-Test (you can take the self-scoring test here). More than fifteen years ago, it was this test that revealed my own high levels of compassion fatigue. This knowledge led me on a path to healing, but it took quite awhile and a lot of education on my part.

I truly believe the number one thing we can do to reduce stress and avoid burnout is to be self aware. What causes our stress? What are the triggers? How do we manage our stress? Or do we?

Stress is too much – too much work, too much pressure, too many deadlines.

Burnout is not enough – not enough time, not enough resources, not enough energy.

When you add compassion fatigue to that mixture, you have a crippled individual – body, mind and spirit.

Self awareness begins with education. Not only learning about stress, burnout and compassion fatigue, but learning about ourselves. By creating a Personal Mission statement (what is my promise to myself?), and following up with a Self-Care plan (start with one goal and make yourself accountable), we can begin the path to healing that will make it possible to continue to make a difference in the lives of our wonderful furry little friends.

J: Beyond increasing awareness and education about Compassion Fatigue, what are a few concrete, everyday ways for shelter staff and management to incorporate and support self-care in their work place?

P: Beyond awareness and ongoing education about CF, individuals need to do the following six things:

  • Create work/home/me-time balance
  • Create a self care plan and make a commitment to yourself to follow through
  • Identify your triggers and stressors that create stress and burnout in your life/learn to manage them
  • Build a healthy support system
  • Take the CF self-tests regularly. CF is never healed and it can creep back into our lives.
  • Raise your Compassion Satisfaction levels.

Organizations can begin to help staff manage compassion fatigue by taking the following six steps:

  • Allow flexibility in work hours
  • Promote breaks and lunch time daily
  • Management must take part and have buy in. Staff learns by example; leadership leads by example.
  • Offer corporate/organization Wellness programs: yoga, exercise, Weight Watchers, smoking cessation programs, time management classes.
  • Hold debriefing sessions following traumatic events
  • Provide adequate pay, PTO, vacation time, and benefits. Make vacation mandatory.


Many thanks to Patricia for this interview and her invaluable work through the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project! Please visit her Facebook page and website for more resources, including self-assessment tests. Her book To Weep For a Stranger is available on Amazon. If you’re exploring CF, this is a great place to start!


For further resources on this subject, please see:

The Humane Society of the United States has a collection of articles on CF

The Notes from a Dog Walker Amazon store has a collection of books on CF and self-care.

Vets and Vet techs: Continuing education in CF available here.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s thoughts on CF in the workplace.

12 Self Care Tips for Helpers from Françoise Mathieu

For caregivers of reactive, fearful, or aggressive dogs: TACT resources

 

Peace in the Yard: 7 Ways To Dog Proof Your Fence

Oh sweet, sweet fences.  How much do I love thee? Let me count ways:

  • Fences Keep Dogs Inside. My dogs are off leash, safe, and free to roll in dead stuff without getting tangled in long leads.
  • Fences Keep Others Out. Except for a family of Whistle Pigs and one mole with a grudge, no one is cutting through our yard.
  • Fences Provide Privacy. It is my right as an American to wear my pajamas all day and not have my neighbors see me slob out.

So clearly, fences are rad. They’re awesome management tools. Not only do they keep everyone safely contained, but they also allow you to do all kinds of fun stuff at home in your yard. Playing at home is super handy if you have a DINOS and need a break from walking your dog or you need to exercise them prior to a walk.
As you probably know, there are many different kinds of fences to choose from. Go check ‘em out:

Solid Wood

Chain Link

Farm Fence

Iron or Aluminum 

Invisible (I have some thoughts on those)

Vinyl

Plastic (affordable option alert!)

In the end, what you choose will come down to your personal needs in these areas: Privacy, Finances, Function, and Aesthetics.

As soon as we bought out first home last year, we hired some pros to install a fence. We have a few acres, but could only fence in part of the yard. We chose six foot, solid wood fencing for the portion of our yard that faces the street. The rest is six foot, 2”x4” galvanized, no climb, horse farm fencing from RedBrand. The majority of our fence is the wire farm fencing. This allowed us to save a ton of money, but also provides unobstructed views of the rest of our property. This is a good option if neighboring dogs/properties aren’t an issue.

Farm Fence

Boogie’s first time off leash in our newly fenced in yard. It was a good day.

No matter what type of fence you choose (or what you already have, thanks to your landlord or the person who lived there before you), you’ll probably have problems with it. That’s the way life rolls.

Maybe your dogs are fence fighting with the neighbor’s dogs or kids are sticking their hands through the fence and you’ve been finding tiny fingers in your lawn clippings. Or your dog is a jumper, a digger, or a Chris Angel impersonator. Maybe your dog screams at passing skateboarders or the ice cream truck.

Luckily, there are some ways to prevent these common dog-related fence problems (escaping, reacting, being tormented):

1. Landscaping: If you have a dog that is a jumper or likes to patrol the fence line, consider using landscaping as a way to keep your dogs away from the fence. By planting dense shrubs, like Boxwood, along the fence line, you’ll force your dogs to back up, making the jump further (aka harder). And if you have a patroller, the landscaping will make the buffer zone between the fence and your dog a few feet wider, which might help your dog take the day off from guard duty. Just remember to check in between the shrubs on the regular to make sure the dogs haven’t created a secret tunnel to Naughtyville.

 

2. Bamboo/Reed Rolls, Garden Fencing, and Slats: If you have a chain link fence and you find that your dog is reacting to stuff he sees on the other side of the fence, try zip-tying rolls of reed fencing onto the inside of your chain link fence. It looks nice, it’s cheap, and it’ll give you a lot more privacy (note: it’s not 100% opaque). The reed fencing comes in 4 or 6 foot high panels and can be cut easily. Bamboo looks nicer/is much sturdier, but is also more expensive.

bamboo or reed fencing

Or, you can feed plastic slats through your chain link fence. They even come in “hedge” (!) style. Either option will also stop others from putting their hands/snouts through the fence.

If style isn’t your thing, but function is, you can try a black plastic construction fence as a visual block.

And if you have a fence that your dog is able to stick their head through, but you don’t care about privacy, try adding rolls of garden fencing to your fence to block ‘em in!

 

3. L-Footer:  If you have a digger, consider an L-Footer. That’s wire fencing laid down against the base of your fence and bent perpendicular (90 degree angle) to it. You know, like an “L”. You can bury this fencing underground, but it doesn’t have to be buried to work. Some people just lay it on top of the grass and maybe add some rocks and garden gnomes to hold down the fort. This site explains it well (and has tons of other great tips). Also see Bad Rap’s rebar tip.

L Footer (source)

L Footer (source)

4. Concrete Footer: If you have a serious digger, consider pouring concrete along the perimeter of the fence line and sinking the bottom of the fence into the concrete before it dries.  It’ll take some work, but this is super effective.

5. Coyote Rollers: If you have a jumper or climber, you can try these rollers, designed to make it impossible for coyotes to get a grip on the top of the fence (the bar spins). Think rolling pins at the top of your fence. You can DIY this with PVC pipe, if you’re handy.

6. Lean-Ins: Another option is to build lean-ins using farm fencing, so that the top of your fence is angled in a bit horizontal to the ground. It’s like adding a little awning of security.  It’s also like a cat fence, only sturdier.

If your dog is a champion jumper, and none of this is enough, you may have to consider an expanded exercise area that is totally enclosed with a ceiling. Or a Bio-Dome (sans Pauly Shore, since you actually like your dog).

You can score this kit here

You can score this lean-in kit here

7. Redundant fences:  Redundant fences are the jam. I know of more than one family (mine included) whose backyard life got an extreme makeover when they put in one of these babies. So what is a redundant fence exactly?

It’s a fence within a fence. You can put up a secondary, internal fence on just one side of your yard – wherever the problems are occurring – or all four sides. Most people I know have it on just one side of their yard where they share a common fence with a troublesome neighbor, with a busy commercial building or street, or with a damaged or ineffective fence that can’t be changed for some reason (like when you rent or your neighbor owns the fence).

The idea is to manage the situation with a secondary internal fence, set back from the common fence line, thereby preventing your dog from making bad choices, rehearsing behaviors like fence fighting, or escaping easily. Plus it can help speed up training and will prevent other people/dogs from putting your dog in dangerous scenarios.

The redundant fence doesn’t need to be expensive.  We used to rent a house that had a rickety old wood fence that belonged to the next door neighbors. Since we couldn’t do any repairs to the fence, we put up a roll of green plastic fencing about 3 feet back from the common fence line to keep our dogs from poking their heads through the broken fence. We also used a plastic, staked-in-the-ground, corner piece at one point. Could I have trained them not to poke their heads through the broken fence? Sure. But putting up the cheap redundant fence was easy, cheap, fast, always effective, and did I mention easy?

Depending on what issue you’re trying to prevent and your dog’s personal kung-fu skills, the redundant fence may need to be as strong as the outer fence. For some dogs, just having the visual of light pvc fencing will work, for others, they’ll need a solid wood fence to contain them safely.

(source)

(source)

One more thing about redundant fences: do it. I think people feel funny about a fence inside a fence. It seems silly to have two fences, especially if you just paid to put up the first one! But the families I know that went for it are enjoying their lives again. So if you think it could provide you with some peace at home, just do it.

For more on redundant fences, please check out Puddin’s Training Tips for ideas and some examples. She loves them so much, she wants to start a double fence movement!

 

BONUS: here are two more ways to keep your dogs inside and safe:

Airlocks: These are perfect for areas without a fence. You’ve probably seen airlocks at your local dog park or boarding facility. These handy gated areas are built in front of your main entrance, so that if the door opens and a dog escapes, they are still contained by the small gated area (the airlock) right outside the door. For some dogs, this may be as simple as adding a sturdy baby gate to the opening of your front porch. In other homes with other dogs, this may mean building a small fenced in area with a locking gate in front of your door. Grisha Stewart’s BAT book has some more tips, including adding a doorbell to the airlock, so that visitors have to wait outside the airlock (instead of at your front door) for you to let them in. We did something similar with our enclosed porch that leads to our front door (see here).

If you have kids, this one addition could mean the difference between being able to keep your dog and surrendering him to the shelter. I can’t tell you how many families brought in dogs to the shelter where I used to work because the dog was always escaping when the kids opened the door. If you have an escape artist or kids that let the dog out, add an airlock.

Airlocks are commonly used at doggy day cares (like this one)

Airlocks are commonly used at doggy day cares (like this one)

Locks: They keep your dogs in and other people out. We have 10’ swinging gates on our fence and after a few bad storms we discovered that the gates would sometimes blow open. We added a second lock (on the inside) to help keep those bad boys shut.

Depending on where you live, it’s not uncommon for people to let themselves into your fenced in yard. Maybe they wanted to cut through your yard and throw empty 40 bottles at your wind chimes (it happens). Whatever the reason, you don’t want people to be able to let themselves into your yard without your permission. So consider adding locks on the inside of your gates. It may need to be a padlock or it can be as simple as a big hook and eye.

 

All that being said, prevention is awesome, but supervision is always super important. It’s not optional if you have a dog that might inflict harm on himself or others. Don’t leave your dogs unattended in your yard. Don’t. Especially if they fence fight or are canine Houdinis. Not only can they get into trouble sniffing snakes (I’m looking at you Boogie), but they’re likely to get bored. And bored dogs want to go on adventures. Give them a reason to stay inside the fence by hanging out with them and playing.

It’s our job to prevent, manage, supervise, and train…

So, training. Duh. Teach your dogs the skills they need to ignore dogs on the other side of the fence, to come when called, and to stop escaping. That’s really important too.

But all in all, training goes a lot faster when you can prevent your dogs from practicing naughty-pants behaviors like door dashing, tunnel crafting, and fence fighting. So no matter how much training you’re planning on doing, the solutions above will support your dog as they learn, keep them and others safe, and will only make things easier for you. And easy is my favorite.

Now go on and get! Hit the local hardware store and: Set your dogs up to succeed!

Dog Walker’s Hair Goes Gray Overnight: Says Invisible Fences Are to Blame

I’ve been trying to write a funny take on how ridiculously stressful it is to walk past yard after yard of dogs that are behind invisible, underground fences and charge me as I walk by. It’s like the ultimate game of dog walker chicken. The dogs are running towards me – there might be a fence to stop them, but maybe not – do I keep passing by or retreat?

Obviously I retreat, full of anxiety as I wonder if the dogs are going to chase us down the street. I age a year every time this happens. After years of playing dog walker chicken I look like Cloris Leachman’s older sister.

So, yeah, this was going to be funny, but then a dog I love got hurt this week. One of my clients was walking her dog when they passed by a house with a large dog and owner playing ball in the yard. The large dog saw my client and ran at them, slamming hard into her dog and grabbing a mouthful of fur.

Where was the other dog owner? Hiding behind a bush in her front lawn.  That my friends, is a whole different blog.

Why did the owner allow the dog to run loose? She didn’t. The aggressing dog was in his yard behind an invisible fence when my client walked by. He busted right through the “fence”, happily taking the shock in order to get to my friend.

My dog pal has spent the last week with a swollen shoulder. She’s unable to shake her head or be touched on her left side without yelping. It could have been worse. Oh wait. It was. She’s reactive around some dogs. Thanks to this encounter, we’ve likely moved back a step or two.

Nothing funny about that.

I’m super tired of walking by these fences. How about you?

Every time I walk past a yard where I see dogs charging across their lawns towards me and my dogs I have to think: Do they have an invisible fence? If so will it stop the dogs? I quickly scan for little white flags. Sometimes the flags are there, but sometimes they’re not. Are they not there because there is no fence or because the owners took the flags down? Are those pesticide signs? The clock is ticking. The dogs are charging. Twenty more of my hairs turn gray, my stomach flips, and I do an Emergency U-turn.

Playing dog walker chicken with overstimulated, unsupervised dogs just isn’t my steez.

white fence flags
There’s already so much written about these fences, but in case it needs to be said again: Invisible fences are not REAL fences. Traditional fences are designed to keeps dogs in, keep others out, and they provide a clear visual barrier so people passing by know the dogs on the other side are contained.

Hit pause: I understand that these fences work for some of you. I’m not calling you a bad dog owner for using them. But these fences scare me and my friend just got hurt, so I’m gonna call out some problems with them. Nothing personal, ok? You know I love you guys.

Ok, so while no option is perfect, these invisible fences fail the average dog owner in many ways. Allow me to elaborate based on my experiences with these fences (as a dog walker and shelter worker where I was a frequent host to stray dogs with failed underground fence collars):


They fail to keep some dogs in:

  • Plenty of dogs are happy to take the shocks in order to get to whatever high value item is on the other side. This happens a lot. A dog sees: squirrels, turkeys, dogs they want to play with, a dog they want to chase away, a kid on bike, an ice cream truck, the Philly Phantic, etc. and they’re motivated enough to take a few shocks in order to get to it. See also: my friend this week.
  •  Some of those dogs will leave the yard, but won’t take the shock to come back IN the yard. It’s not fun taking the pain just to go back and sit in your yard.  So now your dog is loose.
  • There are dogs that figure out that the batteries in their collars are dead (no warning beeps) or their collars are loose enough not to feel the shock. So off they go to explore the world!
  • When snow banks are high enough, dogs can walk right over where the invisible fence line reaches. And off they go again!
  • Some dogs will bolt when they are scared – thunderstorms, fireworks, etc. – and they don’t care about taking the shock if they think it’ll help them escape what’s frightening them.

 

They fail to keep others (animals and people) out:

  • It doesn’t prevent anything or anyone from entering your yard.  These fences don’t keep anything OUT.
  • Some dogs are perfectly happy to stay in the yards, dead batteries in their collars and all, but they are surprised to find other dogs have entered their yards.  Or wild animals, unwelcome people, or aggressive dogs that got loose from someone else’s house. Your dog will get shocked if they try to escape the yard/the threat.


They can cause behavior issues:

  • Some dogs are so frightened by the shocks they receive that they don’t want to go outside anymore. Like for days.
  • When dogs charge the boundaries of their yards every time they see a dog/bike/person and get a shock, this can cause behavior issues. Some dogs will associate the pain they feel with what they see. This can potentially lead to aggression or reactivity.
  • Some dogs won’t leave their yards for fear of a shock, even when they’re not wearing their collar. I knew a dog that had to be driven down the driveway, past the fence line, in order to leave the property for a leashed walk.
  •  Some dogs become afraid of beeping. Because their collars beep as a warning before they receive a shock, the dogs become fearful whenever they hear a similar beep. Like from the microwave.

 

They frighten people passing by who can’t tell if the dogs are really contained or not:

  • See: playing dog walker chicken. Also: delivery guy chicken, young children and senior citizens out strolling chicken, and jogger chicken.


Look, there are no absolutes in this world, so I’ll be the first to admit that some of these things can happen no matter how you contain (or don’t contain) your dogs. Dogs dig under wood fences, jump chain link, gates swing open.

And despite how much I can’t stand underground fences, I’ll acknowledge that there are two ways that these fences might not be totally unreasonable options for some families, provided the owners do the proper boundary training, have excellent recalls, and do not leave their dogs unattended in their yards:

  • As a secondary containment system for escape artists. If you have a dog that is able to scale or dig out of traditional fences, using an electric fences as a backup system, might be worth exploring.
  • As a containment system for rural properties with many acres. If you have acreage that can’t be fenced in because it is so large, using an electric fence at the far boundaries may be worth exploring.


And to keep the conversation rolling, here are two of the common reasons that responsible, dog-loving people I know pick Invisible Fencing:

  • Cost
  • Housing Associations

For cost: Underground fences range from $100 (for a DIY kit) to a couple thousand bucks. There are some affordable alternatives out there. Like these fence kits. My choice for affordable AND sturdy is farm fencing. I know because that’s what we choose for our yard. It’s comparable in price to a professionally installed electric fence. You can build it 4-8 feet high. You can bury part of it below ground if you have diggers. It doesn’t obstruct views and you can fence in just part of your yard if you have many acres.

We waited and saved for 5 years until we could put up a fence. This was Birdie's first run in her new, fenced-in yard!

We waited and saved for 5 years until we could put up a fence. Until then, we relied on leash walks and supervised time on tie-outs in the yard. This was Birdie’s first run in her new, fenced-in yard!


For housing associations: please talk with them. Nothing will change if no one challenges the rules. Ask if you are allowed to fence in part of your property (maybe just the back yard). Discuss different types of fencing options. Can you put up a low physical fence, perhaps with Invisible Fence as a back-up if your dog can jump it? Can you fence in a portion of the yard with non-privacy fencing, like the options above? I know it’s not likely to work, but please try!

In the end, if you do choose a hidden electric fence please: Go with a professionally installed product, preferably the Invisible Fence brand, rather than a DIY job. Do the boundary training, slowly and as positively as you can. Make sure your dog has an excellent recall. Never leave your dog unattended. You need to know if your dog leaves the yard. You need to know if another dog enters your property.  And know your own dogs. This just isn’t the right fit for every dog. For some dogs it won’t keep them in, for other dogs it has the potential to cause serious issues. Never use them with dogs who have a history of reactivity, fear, phobias, or aggression.

And for all of our sakes, can those of you with invisible fences (or no fences at all) stop leaving your dogs unattended in your yards? It’s crazy frightening to see dogs charging you at top speed, white flags or not. And if you think your friendly dog would never do such a thing, I invite you to nanny-cam your yard.

Betchya a five spot lots of your dogs are having a blast playing dog walker chicken while you’re gone.

Nose Works: Where Every Dog Is a Winner (Even the Naughty Ones)

Boogie and I just wrapped up a four week Nose Works class. For those of you that are new to Nose Works, here’s what it is, straight from the founders themselves:

“Inspired by working detection dogs, K9 Nose Work is the fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs and people. This easy to learn activity and sport builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through mental and physical exercise.

K9 Nose Work starts with getting your dog excited about using his nose to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward hidden in one of several boxes, expanding the game to entire rooms, exterior areas, and vehicles. As your dog grows more confident with his nose, target odors are introduced, and competition skills are taught.”

Now you know. You can also check out this Bark video to see dogs in action.

Unlike the Nose Works class I took with Birdie, where there were other dogs present in the room, this session was set up for reactive dogs. Each dog had the room all to themselves while they worked.


My camera’s died mid-class, so I only managed to grab a few not-so-great photos (none of Boogie – wah!)

truffle coached

That’s my gal pal Truffle. Her dad is helping her get to the treats she discovered in this closed box.

Now that I’ve taken two basic level Nose Works classes with two very different dogs (one senior, one reactive) and with two very different groups of dogs, I would like to share the following with all of you:

You should do Nose Works with your dogs.

Here’s why:

1. Just about any dog can do it.

2. Just about any human can do it.


Allow me to expand.

Your dog can do Nose Works, even if they are:

  • Ancient
  • Lacking manners
  • Oblivious to recall
  • Reactive
  • Dog aggressive
  • Scared of people
  • Afraid of novel objects or places
  • Recovering from an injury
  • Not that into food
  • Really into food
  • Terrible on leash
  • Bursting with energy
  • Overweight
  • Blind
  • Deaf
  • Missing a limb
  • Missing an eye
  • Missing teeth
  • Missing their favorite episode of New Girl


You can do Nose Works even if you are:

  • A terrible trainer
  • Out of shape
  • Out of cash
  • Uncoordinated
  • Kind of quiet
  • Working with dogs in a shelter
  • Not that into leaving the house
  • Not sure if you even like doing dog stuff


That’s because Nose Works is all about having fun, no skills necessary. 

birdie cone

If you have a dog that you’re not able to do too much with – because of any of the reasons listed above – youcan do Nose Works.

If you want to build a better bond with your dog, learn more about observing your dog’s body language, and enjoy watching dogs flex their natural abilities, you should check out Nose Works.

Here’s more about why this is the activity anyone can do:

For Nervous Nellie Dogs: Nose Works in a wonderful confidence builder for dogs that are afraid of novel objects and environments. Each week they’re slowly exposed to new things, can investigate at their own pace, and are rewarded for their bravery. Week one Boogie was afraid to put his head in the boxes. By week four Boogie was putting his head in cones, tunnels, bags, and anything else he could sniff around in. Like one of the normals!

For Reactive Dogs: This is an awesome way to let them cut loose in a safe, controlled environment. Those of us with reactive dogs are intimately familiar with feeling like failures. We show up for a class or a walk or a training session and our dogs lose their marbles and we go home stressed and sad. Not at Nose Works. Your dog will succeed at this. And honestly, I just can’t stress how important it is for reactive dog families to have successful, stress-free fun some times. It will bring some joy back into your relationship with your dog and give you a boost so you can face the tougher stuff together.

For Golden Oldies and Disabled Dogs: Nose Works is a way to try something new with your dogs that is physically low impact. They may be a little slower than the young whippersnappers in class, but it doesn’t matter because there’s no losing here. Birdie said it was almost as much fun as falling asleep in her recliner while listening to This American Life. She loved having a Girl’s Night Out with me and eating a lot of treats. Old and disabled dogs deserve to party too. YOLO, right?

For High Energy Dogs: This a great way to burn off that energy without exhausting yourself! It takes a lot of focus for the dogs to do Nose Works and they are tired at the end of class.  Also good if you have trouble finding safe places to exercise your dogs – try adding Nose Works to your toolbox to help tire your dogs out.

For Shelter Dogs: Because shelter dogs are bored and stressed and need to have mental stimulation in order to stay sane while they wait to be discovered by an adopter. Because even if you have very few resources, you can find a volunteer who will hide treats (in the Shelter Director’s office if need be) and cheer on a homeless dog for a minute. Because you don’t need any skills to help the dogs do this, so just go do it. 

For Broke Folks and Hermits:  Even if cash is tight, you hate leaving the house, and/or there’s no place to take a class in your area, you can still do Nose Works. All you need are treats and boxes. Here are some tips for playing at home and some more help. And here are some other ideas for different scent games. 

For People Who are Allergic to Dog Training: Here’s a little secret (just between you and me): I don’t like dog training. I’ll do it because I have to, but I don’t really enjoy it. I’d rather be at the library reading past issues of the New York Times Magazine. What can I say? I love dogs, I love playing with and walking them, but training makes me want to poke my eyes out. But I like Nose Works. Why? Because it’s an “obedience free zone” and your role, as the human part of the team, is to stand back and enjoy watching your dogs work. If they get stuck, you coach them using a happy voice and body movements. When the dogs discover the hide, you have a party to celebrate.  I like coaching. I like cheering on dogs. I like Nose Works.

I bet most of you will too.

So go on and have a little fun with your dogs now, even if you’re struggling with training or behavior issues. Do something you can’t fail at for once. Everyone gets a gold star in Nose Works!

 

Stop Caring What Others Think and Stand Up for Your Dogs

It’s almost dog bite prevention week, so I want to talk to you guys about one of the keys to reducing dog bites (as well as making life better for your dogs all around):

You need to stop caring what anyone else thinks about you and your dog.

If you do this, you will free yourself up to make better choices on behalf of your dogs. When you make better choices, you are setting your dogs up for success in our crazy world. And when you do that, they are less likely to get into trouble which they will wind up paying for big time.

Here’s what you need to do:

1. Stand up for your dogs. Be assertive in protecting your dog’s physical and mental health, as well as the safety of those around them. 

2. When you’re not sure if your dog can handle something, always err on the side of caution. Choose management over “I don’t know, so let’s find out!”

Dogs need us to do both of these things more often, so that they don’t feel like they need to take matters into their own hands teeth.

Obviously, dogs need lots of other things from us to: socialization, training, proper management, and a never ending supply of peanut butter that they can roll around in like it’s a canine version of that scene in Indecent Proposal. People also need to learn how to read their dog’s body language,  understand stress and fear, and not screw their dogs up in general. But we’ve covered that before, here and all over the web.

What I’m talking about now doesn’t really have all that much to do with the dogs. It’s about us humans and how uncomfortable many of us are with being forceful, direct, and making unpopular choices that we’re afraid will make people not like us. This is causing some problems for our dogs.

Too often we choose not to speak up for our dogs, even as things take a weird turn. We recognize that our dog is uncomfortable with the hyper kids running circles around them. We suspect that the unfamiliar dog approaching our dog isn’t as friendly as their owner is claiming. We don’t know if our dog is ok with the cleaning lady entering the house while we’re gone. But we allow it anyway.

We allow our desire to be perceived as friendly or nice or easy going to override our own gut instincts or what our dog is trying to tell us. Our desire to be liked – to avoid being seen as unfriendly or rude or “bitchy”  – is powerful stuff.

It’s so powerful, that humans will choose to ignore their own instincts and proceed into potentially dangerous scenarios, just so they don’t make a bad impression.

Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, says that unlike other living creatures, humans will sense danger, yet still walk right into it. “You’re in a hallway waiting for an elevator late at night. Elevator door opens, and there’s a guy inside, and he makes you afraid. You don’t know why, you don’t know what it is. Some memory of this building—whatever it may be. And many women will stand there and look at that guy and say,‘Oh, I don’t want to think like that. I don’t want to be the kind of person who lets the door close in his face. I’ve got to be nice. I don’t want him to think I’m not nice’.” More on that here. 

If we’re willing to walk right into a metal box with a stranger that totally scares us just so we won’t be seen as rude, imagine how difficult it is for many people to be assertive on behalf of their dogs with nice folks at the park, their neighbors, visitors, family, and friends. We’re willing to deny our fear around murderers. It’s no wonder we’re not comfortable speaking up for ourselves around people we pass on a dog walk.

The problem with our discomfort is that dog bites often happen when we are:

1. In denial about our dog’s limitations and/or their behavior issues. To be a good advocate for them, dogs need you to see them as they are, in the present.

2. We know their limits, but we still hesitate to take action.

And the flip side of suspecting or knowing your dog has issues and not speaking up is:

3. When we are in complete denial that our “good” dogs would ever bite someone.

Number 3 is a whole blog in and of itself. This blog is really about the first two points. But I’ll sum up #3 real quick for good measure:

All dogs have the potential to bite. ALL of them. Breed, size, age, zodiac sign – doesn’t matter. Push any dog hard and long enough or in just the right way (You mean it’s not OK for my 2 year old to crawl into my “good” dog’s crate while he’s sleeping?) and they run out of options and will bite. So don’t push any dog’s luck. Don’t allow them to be treated roughly or inappropriately or fail to properly supervise them because they’re such “good dogs.” Your dog needs you to stop thinking they’re a robot with no limits and respect their boundaries. Don’t fool yourself. Your dog will appreciate it if you help them out by setting them up to be good.

When we let dogs bite, the dogs pay for it. They might hurt a person or another dog or get hurt themselves. They might cause your home owner’s insurance to drop you and then you can’t keep your dog. They might be declared dangerous. They might make the news and inflame the public into calling for a ban on all dogs that look like your dog. They might be taken from you and euthanized.

Dog bites aren’t the only consequence, of course. When we don’t step up other not-so-great stuff happens, like we put our dogs into situations that make them stressed and miserable. Or they have a bad experience with another dog and then they become aDINOS. But this post isn’t about dog behavior. It’s about us and our malfunctions.

Sometimes, we have to step out of our comfort zone in order to be effective advocates for our dog’s safety and health. Do not let others pressure you. Stop caring what anyone else thinks and just do what you know is right for your dogs.

Channel your inner Ron Swanson:

ron swanson

Now, I recognize that there are things that happen that are beyond our control. Also, I understand that sometimes we genuinely think we’re making the right choice and it turns out to be the wrong one. And of course, I want you to socialize, train, and do new stuff with your dogs, which means that inevitably there will be goof ups. I get it. That’s life.

What I’m talking about here is when you’re hesitant to do what you know needs to be done or when you’re afraid to err on the side of caution because you think it’ll make you like a “square.”

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you all permission to stand up for yourselves and your dogs. You have to do it. Your dogs need you to do it.

The next time someone tries to force themselves or their dog onto your dog, you’re going to boldly step in front of your dogs and say “STOP.”  Say it like you mean it. Then drop the mic and walk away.

The next time someone comes over to your house and you’re not sure if your dog will be OK with them, you’re going to put your dog in another room or in their crate or on a leash.  When your friend visits with their little kids or the landscaper need to use your bathroom or the police* bangs on your door, you’re not going to hold your breath and see what happens.  You’re going to tighten up your core muscles and say, “Please wait while I put my dog away.” When they say, “It’s OK, I love dogs”, you will hold your ground and follow through with the plan.

And the next time you’re at the vet or the groomers and you don’t like the way they’re handling your dog, you’re going to say, “We need to do this another way.”I struggled with this one. But I’m over it now. Same thing goes for trainers. If you don’t like they way a trainer is working with your dog, you’re going to say, “Thanks, but we need something different.”

Yes, the other person may say nasty things to you or about you. They might call you a “bitch.”  I want you to not care. Because in that moment what you really are is your dog’s hero. You just took their well-being into your hands and acted with conviction. You made the right choice and they’re safe because of you. Bravo.

And who cares what people call you?  As my future BFF Tina Fey says, “Bitches get stuff done. Bitch is the new black

Tina Fey

Look, the other person will get over it. They might not even care at all. For them, the discomfort of dealing with hero-you won’t last long. Even if it does, even if your neighbors think you’re kind of stand-offish, it’s not rocking their world.  But for you, the consequences of not standing up for your dogs might be long-lasting and deep-cutting. Set those limits, then don’t give a hoot what anyone thinks about you.

p.s. There are other ways to set limits and not giving a crap what anyone thinks, like: if they need it, walk your dog with a muzzle on. You will get weird looks. But you don’t care, cuz you’re being Safety First.

Hey, I know this is uncomfortable for some of you. But I know you can do it because you love your dogs.

If it helps, I want you to think of me standing next to you, cheering you on as you stand up for your dog’s needs. I’m five feet worth of NJ/Philly-loud-talking-feistyness and I don’t give an eff about saying “No” to anyone if it means making sure my dogs don’t get into trouble or have a bad experience. So picture me there beside you the next time you need a boost. Know that every time you make that tough choice to stand for your up dogs, I’m yelling, “Rock Star!!” just for you.

Now go get ‘em Tiger.

 

* You have the right to secure your dog before letting the police enter your property.  ALWAYS do it.

 

PDF Version can be found here: Stand Up For Your Dogs

The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: Interview with an ACO

When I came across the book, The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officers Passion to Make a Difference, I wasted no time in reaching out to the author Shirley Zindler to ask if she’d like to send me a copy for review. She generously did and when I got it, I gulped the book down in three fast sittings.

cover book

Shirley is an animal control officer in Northern California, and in addition to her demanding job, her family has fostered and rehomed more than 400 dogs. Wow-wee. She blogs for Bark Magazine, has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Shirley is one busy woman.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a few fantastic Animal Control Officers (ACOs). In addition to their incredible skills (with animals and people), bravery, and professionalism, these good eggs have all had two things in common: endless compassion and a wicked sense of humor. Shirley has both in spades. In her book, she shares stories from the field and her home life that will make you tear up, bust out laughing, get angry and frustrated, and then get inspired. I suspect that Shirley feels all those things in the course of just a single day, judging by her heavy and varied case load.

Through it all – from comical calls in the middle of the night to heart breaking neglect cases and frightening stand-offs with criminals –  Shirley’s stories reveal she’s one of those rare people that can stay positive despite the never-ending challenges that she faces. When the rest of us would be throwing in the towel, Shirley keeps going, and then writes about her experiences so that we get to walk in her capable shoes for a while. You’ll happily go along for the ride as she investigates hoarders, raids a cock fight, rescues wildlife, and works with the coroner’s office.

If you’ve worked as an ACO or in a shelter, this book will be the perfect combination of the surprising and familiar. You’ll see some of your experiences reflected in her validating vignettes.  But whether or not you’ve worked in animal welfare, readers will be rooting for Shirley every time she steps up to the plate, trying to make her corner of the world a better place for animals.

After I finished the book, I was left wishing I could take Shirley out for a margarita. I have no doubt she has so many more great stories to tell!  Since we couldn’t meet for drinks, Shirley was kind enough to answer a few questions for me  about The Secret Life of Dog Catchers and her work:

shirley and her pets

Q: There are a lot of misconceptions about what an ACO does and what they have the power to do. From some of the stories in the book, it’s safe to say much of the public thinks that if a pet is in less than ideal conditions, ACOs can swoop in and remove the animals immediately. What would you like the public to understand about your ability to intervene?

Shirley: I often have to tell the public that I can only enforce the law. I try to educate people, but I can’t make them care for the animal the way the concerned party, or I, want it cared for, only the minimum that the law requires. I do everything I can to make a difference, but I often lose sleep about the things I can’t change.

Q: In your work you have to enforce the law and hold owners accountable, yet in many of the stories you write about working to provide resources, education, and support to families who want to do better, but need assistance. How do you determine when it’s the right time to provide education vs. punishment?

Shirley: I almost always try and help if the person is willing to work with me to improve the animals conditions. Many people want to care for their animals, but lack the knowledge or finances to do it right. I can sometimes provide the things they need to make things better. It might be management, training or nutrition advice, help finding a new home or occasionally, money out of my own pocket. I don’t want to seize their animal, I just want them to take better care of it. If the situation is severe, or if the person is unwilling to work with me, then I may seize or prosecute or usually both.

Q: Have you found that when people know better or have access to affordable resources, they do better?

Shirley: Many people do just need educating or help and I’ve seen things greatly improved plenty of times. Some people have no interest in doing anything different, so we use the law where needed to provide compliance.

Q: In the book, I was really struck by how the calls you receive often seem to be so subjective: reports of attacks, abuse, and grave injuries often turned out to be really minor, almost comically so – for example, a dog attack turns out to be a loose, but happy Mastiff. Or a dog dying from being hit by a car turns out to be a dog with a broken toe nail found by the road. In many cases the public’s perception of what they’re experiencing doesn’t match reality! How does that have an impact on your work?

Shirley: We get so many calls that are misinterpreted that sometimes we forget how serious a call can actually be! Its important to stay alert to the dangers and to the possibility of serious neglect or abuse.

shirley zindler

Q: Leash laws are a hot topic with Team DINOS. Many of us live in communities with leash laws, but they’re not enforced, making it difficult for us to safely walk our dogs in public spaces. Do you have any thoughts on the effectiveness of leash laws?

Shirley: Our leash law fine is around $250, so that gets peoples attention, but we don’t have the staff to patrol every problem area all the time. Our community has lots of great dog parks and one amazing dog beach so I always try and direct the off-leash people there. I will cite people who are repeat offenders, but often verbal warnings and making a show of presence in problem areas is helpful.

I spent many years taking my dogs to dog parks almost daily and had almost no problems. I presently hit an off leash beach several times a month with my four dogs ranging from 18 pounds to 120 pounds. My dogs absolutely love it and its a great way for me to blow of work stress, just watching a bunch of loved dogs running free and playing with each other. My dogs (mostly rescues from bad situations) have always been very well trained and well socialized, but of course some dogs don’t appreciate strange dogs regardless of their history.

I have seen problems with off leash dogs charging up to leashed dogs who are not comfortable with it, and some fights have resulted. I do what I can to get people to follow the law and be more respectful of others, but some just don’t care. And of course many of the dogs are completely out of control and the owners have no idea how to fix it.

Q: I’d love to hear your thoughts on dealing with loose dogs. We all run into them while we’re out walking our dogs and it puts gray hairs on our heads! What are some of your tips for safely evading loose dogs? How can we work with our neighbors and ACOs to get folks to properly contain their dogs?

Shirley: As a teen I had two large aggressive dogs run out of their yard as I was passing by and attack my small dog and nearly kill him. Even the owner could barely get his dogs off and it took a long time. They just hung on and pulled from each end. Truly horrifying. There probably wasn’t much I could have done in that case except maybe pepper spray, if I had had it.

Most cases are not nearly so severe but a few times when confronted with a truly aggressive dog I have removed my dogs leashes to use as a weapon, also freeing my dog to do  normal greeting behaviors, or possibly outrun the other dog if needed. I do think it’s important to stay calm and keep a loose lead if at all possible. I often see people getting hysterical and yanking their dog away from an approaching dog, causing an increase in agitation, disruption of normal greeting behaviors, and sometimes resulting in a fight that could have been prevented.

Teaching appropriate behavior to your own dog is helpful too. When a dog is lunging and snarling on leash, it may bring a fight from an off leash dog that might not have happened if the dog was taught to walk calmly. Thankfully my dogs all enjoy meeting new dogs and are very smooth with great social skills so they rarely have issues. I have had dogs in the past that didn’t like being approached by strange dogs, so I’m sensitive to those concerns.

Repeated polite calls to animal control can sometimes be helpful in bringing more enforcement. Sometimes it takes just the right person, timing, luck, or officer to make a difference. Many departments are understaffed and some ACOs have very little training. It’s important to try to work together rather than just berating the department for a lack of response. There are some uncaring ACOs out there, but most are doing the best they can with limited resources. In some cases, we cannot pursue an issue without written statements, but no one is willing to provide them.

Q: Your work often brings you into contact with dogs that are terrified and/or injured, which manifests as aggression. How do you stay calm and safely work with dogs in those scenarios?

Shirley: Some of my most rewarding calls are dogs that are aggressing because of fear (or pain, or both), but respond well to cookies and sweet talk. Most aggression is fear based. The dog is afraid so he charges, or even attacks to make you go away.  I have spent my life working with dogs and I have learned something from every single one. I love dogs, and respect them and do everything I can to make things less stressful for them. Dogs are far more predicable than people in most cases. Patience, knowledge and cookies go a long way in this business. For those few dogs who can’t be convinced, I usually have the skills and tools to confine them safely and humanely.  Often once you have a hold of them and haven’t hurt them, they come around anyway.
Q: Dog Bite Prevention Week is almost here, do you mind sharing any advice for how the public can avoid dog bites?

Shirley:  Here’s a link to a blog I did last year for Bark Magazine regarding dog bites. I investigate so many preventable dog bites each year and it’s unfortunate that dogs and children most often suffer the consequences of our lack of knowledge or understanding of canine behavior.

shirley after the raid

Q: I think many animal welfare workers (myself included) really struggle with compassion fatigue and/or feeling overwhelmed. How do you keep from burning out?

Shirley: I have my days where I can hardly bear the sadness and hurt that people wreak on their fellow people and animals. Dealing with the broken and neglected day after day takes a toll on the heart. Still, I feel like I’m making a difference. The smallest success is so encouraging.

I had some young teen girls call recently about a bird with thread tangled around its leg and then tangled in tree branches. I had one of them hold the bird while I spent about 5 minutes unraveling the thread and then let her release it. It was so great to see how helpful and kind they were, and so rewarding to watch the bird fly away unencumbered. It’s critical in this business to focus on the positive.

I can go a long way on the good stuff: One good rescue, finding someone’s lost pet, removing an animal from a neglectful situation and finding a great home for it, those are the things that keep me going. I could (and sometimes do) torture myself with the ones I can’t help, but it doesn’t do any good and its harmful to me, so I try and focus on the areas where I can make a difference and work really hard on them. It’s helpful to have supportive friends and family. My husband of 22 years does a great job of helping me keep things in perspective and my kids, although pretty much grown, are terrific as well.

I get a lot of joy in fostering needy dogs (along with cats, wildlife and other animals). I’ve taken in dogs with health or behavior issues, moms with underage pups and orphaned pups. I stopped counting at 400 dog and puppy fosters over the last 25 years or so. In all but a very few cases, they have gone on to wonderful homes and lives. A few came back and were re-homed successfully and a very tiny number couldn’t be saved, but I get so much satisfaction from seeing them living the life they deserve.
Thank you Shirley!

Order your copy of the Secret Lives of Of Dog Catchers here and help Shirley reach her goal of selling 1,000 books. When she hits that goal, she’ll donate $500 to the Love Me Fix Me spay/neuter program.  

Shirley shared that several people have also pledged to donate to the program as soon as she reaches her goal, including an additional $1000 donation.  A good read and a good cause! Follow Shirley on Facebook to cheer her on as she reaches her goal.

Our Rights and Responsibilities: Dog Law Q+A with Attorney Heidi Meinzer

When it comes to providing the best care for our dogs, we consider many issues: nutrition, training, socialization…but what about our legal rights and responsibilities as dog owners? We should be thinking about these issues too.

The Whole Dog Journal’s recent interview with attorney Heidi Meinzer about dangerous dog laws is a good place to start. If you haven’t read it, you should. Paul Miller, an animal welfare professional is also interviewed and it’s great stuff.  Here’s the link. Go on. I’ll wait.

Good, right? Heidi and Paul’s answers provide information that every dog owner should know, such as how to be responsible dog owners, understanding dangerous dog laws, what to do if our dogs are deemed dangerous, and how to avoid coming into conflict with the law in the first place.

While reading the interview, I suspected Heidi might be a member of Team DINOS when she said,“…always take care when interacting with dogs and people wherever you are, including in your own home. If your dog shows any hesitation when meeting another dog or a person, do not force her to interact. Be your dog’s advocate and kindly tell the person that your dog needs space.”

It’s excellent advice, so I wrote Heidi to find out more and she does indeed share her life with a DINOS!  She was kind enough to agree to answer a few legal-based FAQs for us too.

law book

Here’s a little more about Heidi before we start the Q+A:

Licensed to practice in Washington, Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., Heidi specializes in animal law issues. In addition to her law practice, Heidi is a member of the APDT and an Assistant Dog Trainer with Fur-Get Me Not, as well as a board member for multiple animal welfare organizations.

It should be noted that in regards to dog laws, there is a lot of variation from state to state and even town to town. Heidi’s answers are a great jumping off point, but each one of us still needs to research this issue locally in order to be truly informed.

 


Q: Let’s get started with the basics. What are our legal responsibilities as dog owners?

Heidi: Dog owners have basic responsibilities regarding care that are governed by neglect and cruelty statutes (such as Virginia’s “adequate care” statute). And of course, other laws govern issues such as liability for dog bites.


Q: If someone has a dog with a known behavioral issue, is there anything they should be doing to protect themselves legally?

Heidi: Ensure the safety of your dog and the public.  For instance, if your dog has a history of aggression, you should ensure your dog is properly confined (e.g., proper fencing) and is properly equipped on walks (e.g., double leash with harness and collar).


Q: What about DINOS gear? Does wearing a “Keep Back: My Dog Needs Space” t-shirt make someone liable if an incident were to occur on a dog walk?

Heidi: It should not make you automatically liable. There is a chance that a potential plaintiff could argue that you had reason to know that your dog had certain propensities (like viciousness) — but many dogs just need space without having demonstrated vicious propensities.


Q: In the WDJ interview you gave some very helpful advice for dog owners who want to avoid or are facing a Dangerous Dog citation, which I encourage everyone to read. In general, if your dog does bite someone or another dog, what do you suggest they do?

Heidi: If your dog bites someone or another dog, first and foremost — stay calm!  If you can, take your dog to a safe place to let your dog calm down and reduce the risk of any other incidents.  When your hands are free and your dog is safely out of the area, offer assistance to the person or the dog.  Also, be prepared to share proof of your dog’s rabies vaccination.  If there is any way to take photos of the injury and the area where the incident occurred without offending the person, try to do so.

Expect to be contacted by your local animal control officers.  Again, you will need to share proof of your dog’s rabies vaccination.  You may want to consult an attorney about what other information you should share with animal control.  Your attorney can also advise you on what to do about liability issues, including whether to involve your insurance company.


Q: One of the biggest challenges for DINOS families are loose dogs. In order to avoid them, many of us are intentionally only walking in areas that have leash laws, but they’re often ignore or are not enforced.  Is there anything we can do to increase their effectiveness in our communities?leash law sign


Heidi:
 If you see someone disobeying the leash laws, you need to work with your local animal control officers to report the issue.  If we don’t report, animal control won’t know about the issue and can’t take action!

Q: Many of us are calling to make reports, but we’re essentially being ignored or laughed off the phones by authorities who think leash laws are a waste of their time! Any thoughts on how we can effectively advocate for the enforcement of existing leash laws?

Heidi: If police or Animal Control Officers don’t want to enforce the leash laws, I would report it up the chain.  But who actually oversees ACOs varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so you have to do some research to make sure you’ve found the right source.  For instance, in Virginia, some ACO departments are supervised by the local police or deputy office, but others are supervised by the entity (often a nonprofit) that runs the local pound/shelter. You can also talk to the attorneys charged with prosecuting ACO cases — sometimes that will be the local prosecutors, and sometimes the local city or county attorneys.   Ultimately, you can work your way up to the county or city board.

In any event, try to make the ACOs’ job as easy as possible, by taking photos or video, gathering as much identifying information about the dog and person, keeping accurate records of when and where you see the dog off leash, and call the ACOs as soon as possible — while the dog is still off leash if at all possible.

If your jurisdiction does not have leash laws, alert your local legislators and educate them about the need for leash laws.

Note: you can find state dog leash laws here.


Q: Here are two generic scenarios that many of us have encountered. Any thoughts?

A dog on leash is approached by a loose dog and bites the loose dog. Who is legally responsible? And can a dog be declared dangerous when it was being properly managed by its owner at the time of the incident?

Heidi: If there is an applicable leash law, it is likely the owner of the loose dog would be liable.  Even with jurisdictions that have dangerous dog laws, typically protection is a defense, and animal control officers will likely consider that the loose dog approached and may not charge the leashed dog with dangerous dog proceedings if it attacked in that circumstance — especially if there is a leash law in that jurisdiction.

A person (with or without a dog) approaches a leashed dog. They are told to “stop!” and warned to stay back. If the other person ignores the warning and continues to approach, who is legally responsible if the leashed dog bites?

Heidi: It depends on the jurisdiction.  There are some jurisdictions with “strict liability” statutes — although many of those jurisdictions typically have defenses that may be applicable.  Also, the owner may be able assert other common law defenses such as “assumption of the risk” and contributory or comparative negligence.

 

Q: Let’s end on a happy note! Can you tell us about your dog, since she’s a DINOS too? What are some ways you set her up for success and advocate for her when you’re out in public?

Heidi: Sophie is a beautiful Shepherd mix who is very environmentally sensitive and can be reactive to dogs and people.  I initially used a Gentle Leader with her, but I didn’t do enough to desensitize her to it and she hated wearing it.  The last thing I wanted was to have her be uncomfortable and associate that with being out and about and seeing dogs and strangers.  So I now use a Freedom harness, which has a clip on the back and front, and I use two leashes — one clipped to the back of the harness, and one double clipped to the front and to her Martingale collar.  She also wears a red bandana.

I always take lots of high value treats with me any time I take Sophie anywhere, and I have done a lot of behavior modification exercises with her over the years.  I make sure to keep plenty of distance between me and other dogs.  I also make sure that I can see what is up ahead and that I turn corners ahead of her — otherwise, she is always on the lookout and could encounter something before I have a chance to see what is going on.  I don’t hesitate to let people know that she needs space, but I always stay calm and polite.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions Heidi! 

You can score more insights from Heidi on her Companion Animal Law Blog.

Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and intended to provide general information, not to provide legal advice. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.