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!

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!

 

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.

Be Responsible, Respectful, Safe: Ask First!

Presenting  the brand new DINOS Public Service Announcement: Ask First!

Check out this retrotastic poster from my favorite design geniuses over at Design Lab Creative Studios:

DINOS_PSA_poster

Want one?

You can get the poster for free on Flickr. Just right click, hit “save as” to download, and print!

There are also translations (Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese) of the poster available on Flickr

Or you can purchase quality prints of the poster, in various sizes, on Cafe Press.

As a companion piece, you can download and print this brand new Ask First handout.

And just in case you want more…there are Ask First tees and stickers.

 

Ok, that’s the business end of things, but let’s get to the heart of the matter:

 

Why Ask First?

Because whenever you see a dog, you should always ask permission before you approach them.

Never assume it’s OK for you or your dog or your kid to approach a dog without asking first. I mean, you know what they say about assuming right? It’s the truth.

When you see a dog walking on leash, sitting in the waiting room at the vet’s office, walking next to his owner in a pet store, working as a service dog, or just about any where, you should ask before you let your dog greet them or you make a move to pet that dog.

Just ask first.

AskFirst_DINOS

It only takes a very brief moment and with just one question, “Can I/my dog/my kid say hello to your dog?”  you’ll be respectful of others, responsible for your actions, and you’ll be safety first.

The nice thing about asking is that it’s something all of us can do at any time. All you need is your voice. It’s that simple.

This may seem silly – it is common sense after all – but I think that we’re all overdue for a reminder. Most of us are teaching children to ask before they approach dogs, but the adults need a refresher course too. And we all need to recognize that this applies to dog-dog greetings as well.

Let’s help people form a new habit. If they’re reminded enough, perhaps more folks will remember to ask permission before they let their dogs or themselves run over to say “hi” to a dog. They’ll stop making assumptions and start making responsible choices.

I know it’s a long shot and it won’t reach the truly reckless dog owners out there, but a friendly reminder can’t hurt right?

By the way, dogs don’t have to be a DINOS for this to idea to apply. Even dogs that are really social and able to meet others at any time deserve to be treated with respect. And all dog owners have a right to say “no thank you” for whatever reasons they choose.

It’s our right as dog owners to decide what’s best for our individual dogs and ourselves. Asking first allows all of us to make that choice.

So why not Ask First and be responsible, respectful and safe around all dogs, all the time?

If you think the public could use a little refresher on this idea, please print out a poster and hang it in a vet’s office, a pet store, a school, an on-leash area, or any place where folks need a reminder to Ask First!

And if you do, snap a photo and share it with Team DINOS on Facebook!

p.s. Some people have asked why there aren’t any yellow ribbons in this poster. I chose to leave them out because the public needs to learn to control their dogs, obey leash laws, and ask first around ALL dogs, not just ones that might be wearing a ribbon!

Pocket Sized Handouts

I whipped up a teeny tiny, business card size version of the DINOS Manifesto.  It’s available to all of you to download for free and print at home.

All you have to do is go to the Team DINOS Flickr page and you’ll see two images: DINOS Cards Front and DINOS Cards Back.

Download both images (choose “original” size), then print them out (double-sided style) on a regular sheet of paper or, better yet, business card paper.

Viola! You have a pocket-size handout to give out to MDIFs you meet on your walks.

Or, if DIY isn’t your thing, you can purchase business cards over at Café Press. Here’s what those look like on the back: 

dinos biz cards back

(p.s. If you’re like me and, while you’re with your DINOS, you can’t get close enough to a strange dog to hand these to the other person, feel free to stick them in mail boxes or leave a bunch at the local park.)

Here’s the text on the back:

(note: The text might look blurry here, but when you print it out, the words are clear)

If you live in an area without leash laws or if you use the term “lead” instead of “leash”, here’s a version for you.

And here’s the logo on the front:

Nifty, eh?

I know there’s much more we’d all like to say, but that’s all I could cram onto a business card in a regular size font!  There are more full length handouts here.

I hope you find these helpful as you spread the word that DINOS are GOOD dogs, they just need space!

(And special thanks to Team DINOS member Nadia B. for giving me the loving push I needed to finally make these little guys!)

Dog Walking Etiquette (A Message From DINOS)

A Message from DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space

There are many dogs that prefer not to interact with people or other dogs while they’re out in public. Dogs that are DINOS are good dogs, they just need space. For example, dogs that are ill, recovering from surgery, injured, seniors, fearful dogs, service and working dogs, reactive dogs, and dogs in training, are all types of DINOS. They have a right to enjoy walks in public without interacting with other dogs and unfamiliar people.

In order to create safe communities for everyone, Team DINOS needs your help! Here are some guidelines for polite leash etiquette that will benefit all dogs:

1. Obey Leash Laws: Outside of a dog park, or otherwise sanctioned off-leash area,  please leash your dogs. In many places, this is the law, designed to keep all of us (including your dogs) safe.

2. Ask Permission Before Approaching: Stop moving and ask, “Is your dog friendly?” or “Can my dog say hi?” before you allow your dog to greet us.

3. Listen to our Response: Give us time to respond. If we say “No”, please don’t be offended.

4. Respect Our Space: If we move to the side, so that you can pass, do not let your dog approach us. Please shorten their leash and continue walking.  Not all dogs are comfortable meeting strange dogs while on leash.

5. Do Not Give Chase: Please do not allow your loose dogs to chase us. Additionally, if we abruptly turn the other way or cross the street, we do not wish to interact with you or your dogs (for one of the many reasons listed above). Please do not chase after us, asking to meet our dogs.

6. Lock your Leashes: If you walk your dog on a retractable leash, please retract and lock your leash, so that we may pass by without engaging with your dog. This applies to indoor spaces as well, such as the vet’s office and pet stores.

7. Be Kind: While we understand that these guidelines may be frustrating at times, please refrain from arguing, name calling, or judging others. One day, due to illness, trauma, or other circumstances, you too may find yourself the loving owner of a DINOS.  Please be compassionate.

8. No Matter How Nice You Are, the Rules Still Apply: Dog lovers and those with friendly dogs often think they are the exceptions to these rules. Please understand that we know our dogs best and must make choices based on their well-being. It’s nothing personal. We believe that you and your dogs are really nice, but we ask that you respect our personal boundaries.

In return, the DINOS pledge to uphold the following standards:

  1. We promise to be responsible dog guardians, focused on creating safe interactions for all dogs, by following leash laws, as well as training our dogs and using safety tools (such as muzzles), if necessary.
  2. When it is possible, we will always create distance between your dogs and our DINOS, so that you too can pass us without incident.
  3. We will tell you that our dogs are DINOS and that we need space. No mind reading necessary.

The DINOS thank you for your support! Together we can create safe communities for ALL dogs!

Print it! A Friendly Message from DINOS

The Vet’s Office: Waiting Room or Dog Park?

I love going to the doctor. It’s my absolute favorite place to meet new friends.

I especially like meeting new friends at the doctor’s when I feel really sick or have a painful injury. I like to shove the icky, hurty part of my body in stranger’s faces, so they’ll poke at it, while slapping me on the back.

Sometimes I’m just there for an annual check up and I feel fine physically, but I’m nervous. I’m worried that I’m going to sit in the waiting room all day and be late for work. I’m anxious that I’m going to get a mean doctor that will pinch me and talk to me about my BMI again.

When I’m really stressed, that’s when I like to look around to see if there are any people I can make friends with in the waiting room. And when I feel this way, there’s nothing I enjoy more than when other patients run up to me and ask me to do a few Zumba moves with them before it’s my turn to see the doctor.

 

 

Yep, I love being sick and nervous, in a tiny space, with no way out, and meeting new friends at the same time.

And see that quiet lady in the corner who’s nervously eating a 100 calorie pack of almonds and trying not to make eye contact with me? I asked her to arm wrestle while I was waiting to pay my bill, but she said “No thank you”. The nerve!

So you know what I did? I turned to the receptionist and I said, in my best stage whisper, “Some people are so MEAN. I guess that patient’s not friendly, huh?” I sure showed her how rude she was for telling me no.

SCRREEEEECH! Hold the phone. This is bananaballs, right? No one wants to do group aerobics in the waiting room at the doctor’s. No one goes to the doctor’s to meet a new BFF.

So why are so many people doing this with their dogs in the waiting room at the vet’s office? If there’s ever a place where dogs need space from each other and the dog owners need to ask permission before their dog approaches another, it’s the vet’s office.

Seriously, why do I have to even explain this? But I do, because this happens constantly, every day, to DINOS owners at the vet.

Lots and lots of people seem to think that socializing at the vet is a good thing and dogs who can’t do that are “bad dogs”. Is it me, or do we have some totally out of whack expectations for dogs when they’re at the vet?

Dogs at the vet are sick, injured, anxious, stressed, or just plain don’t wanna play. It’s not the dog park. It’s a doctor’s office for dogs (and other small animals stuck in their carriers).

 

 

Next time you’re at the vet, keep in mind how much you would hate it if every time you went to the doctor’s office, you had to deal with a parade of “friendly” people who invaded your space, touching and poking at you, and talking non-stop. You would hate it and rightly so.

 

Common sense rules for the vet:

Keep your dog on leash when entering, leaving, waiting, and paying. That’s everything except the exam room.

Lock your flexi-leads. Don’t let dogs wander around, scaring cats and upsetting other dogs.

Ask permission before you allow your dog to approach another dog.

If they say “No”, just accept it.

Don’t call the other dog owner or the dog “mean”.

Don’t passive aggressively whisper about how “unfriendly” that other dog is.

News flash: When you do that, YOU’RE THE MEAN ONE. People go home and cry about how mean you were to them and their struggling dog.

 

To the staff at the vet’s office: please require and enforce the rule that all dogs must be on leash. Stand up for your clients when other’s treat them badly by reminding everyone that the waiting room is not a dog park and there are sick, injured, and stressed pets in the room – they have a right to their personal space. It’s just safer that way.

 

And a final note to DINOS families: If you can, wait outside or in the car with your dogs. Ask the staff to let you know when a room is ready, then go directly into the exam room. Ask if there is a back entrance (there usually is) that you can use, so you can avoid the waiting room entirely. Let the staff know ahead of time that your dog needs space – there may be a particular time of the day when it’s slow and you’re less likely to run into crowds.

 

Fair enough, right? We can do it folks. Respect, compassion, manners – we’ve got that.