Dog Play

Play is a diverse subject and is starting to gain more attention among scientific researchers. Recently I attended a seminar by Pia Silvani discussing the topic of play with dogs. This two-day seminar offered some of the latest data surrounding play. Although most dogs owners would not argue that their dogs play, many may not be skilled in understanding what play body language looks like and the benefits to play. There are benefits to playing with our dogs and for dogs to play with other dogs. Play can be used as a strong reinforcer for some dogs. Through play, dogs can learn calming signals and coping mechanisms for greeting other dogs and people they are unfamiliar with.

In order for behaviors and actions to be constituted as play, individuals involved must all be active and willing participants, otherwise the behaviors and actions could be something entirely different, like bullying. Most often you’ll see the following behaviors and actions amongst dogs during good play:

  • Role reversal e.g. dogs will take turns chasing one another or rolling on their back
  • Mirroring one another’s behaviors e.g. play bows towards one another
  • Open mouth, neutral tail positions and relaxed ear set
  • Self-handy capping e.g. large dogs laying down to play with small dogs
  • Start-Stop action e.g. dogs will run, then freeze, run, then freeze.

For play between humans and dogs, certain guidelines should be followed:

  • The human starts and ends the game, this prevents a dog from becoming pushy and helps in instill leadership without force
  • No teeth on skin is allowed, this will immediately end the game
  • Teaching impulse control by having a dog “sit” or offer another behavior before receiving a toy, game of tug or fetch
  • People should avoid rough physical contact with their dogs and chasing their dogs
  • Play everyday! This will enhance the bond between people and their dogs
  • All family members must follow the same guidelines

Play is a great outlet for energetic dogs and/or unruly dogs. Teaching a dog to grab a toy and redirect their energy onto it rather than a guest can be very useful! Play can also be a useful tool for helping dogs with aggression. Teaching a dog to “play-bow” on cue can help to diffuse situations where two dogs may escalate into unfavorable behaviors. Teaching dogs to look away, paw lift and/or turn sideways are other useful body language cues to diffuse situations. Lastly, play is enriching for dogs and, I believe, people as well. So get out there and PLAY!!!

(pictured: Katie Kelly from K-9 Karma with Rusty, Pia Silvani, Aditi Terpstra with Chance)

There’s a new rose in town

After a bit of a hiatus from fostering, MN Pit Stop has taken a new foster dog into the program. Meet Lacy, an 11 month old American Pit Bull Terrier. She is very sweet, spunky and fairly well-mannered for a young thing! If not exercised and left to her own devices, she may do some wood work or decide that every toy must be de-stuffed! Overall she’s been a pleasure to foster. She is dog social and very playful with others. She elicits play from other dogs by play-bowing, wiggling around  and flopping herself on the ground in front of her target playmate. She is cohabiting nicely with our three cats as well. Lacy is very food motivated, quick to learn and willing to please. We’re unsure of her history, but she can be hesitant in new situations and sometimes a bit fearful of strangers. But her reaction is to become a “pancake” dog and hit the deck. She is not reactive towards things that scare her, rather she shuts down. With patience and reinforcements, she is learning to be more confidant. We have high hopes for this girl, she is such a doll!

Current Stats on Lacy:

  • Breed: APBT, Female (Spayed)
  • Age: ~11 months old
  • Coat Color: Black with white on chest and tips of toes
  • Current Sociability: Dog Social, good with dog-savvy cats, No Children or 15+ years old
  • Training: Understands the basics, crate trained, house trained, car rider savvy

To inquire about Lacy, please contact MN Pit Stop.

New Year’s Resolutions

When January 1st rolls around, everyone seems to have new resolutions on their mind. Whether it’s to lose weight, quit smoking or watch less tv, people are pretty diligent about it for the first few days… and then quickly go back to their old habits. My message for people this New Year is to turn resolutions into good habits and stick to them. In addition to making resolutions for yourself (which I hope you stick to), make resolutions for your pets.

Training our dogs is an ongoing process. We don’t bring a dog home, train it for two weeks and then call it quits. Every interaction we have with our dogs is essentially a training session, which means we are training our dogs throughout the dog’s lifetime. As a New Year’s resolution for my pets, I want to spend an average of fifteen minutes a day working on fun and/or meaningful behaviors with them. The fifteen minutes can be spread out, in fact, it’s probably more fun and effective if the sessions aren’t always blocked into one formal training session time. Instead, training is woven into our day and by keeping it random and spontaneous, the animals never know when they will be reinforced! It’s this same concept that makes gambling on slot machines so addictive for humans!

Let’s not forget about our other furry and feathered friends. Parrots, cats, rabbits, etc. can all be trained using positive reinforcement training methods and most excel with the use of marker signals such as a clicker. So be creative and have fun. Get out there and train with your pets. Not only will it give your pet some mental stimulation and exercise, it will help reinforce the bond the you have with your pets and have them respect and be more attentive to you!

Happy Training!!!

Keep Your Pets Safe this Holiday

With the Holidays upon us, it’s important to not forget about our furry and feathered friends. During the Holidays it can be easy to overlook potential hazards for our pets.For instance, Poinsettias, Holly and Mistletoe are toxic plants if eaten by cats and dogs. Chocolate, artificial sweeteners, grapes and onions are also poisonous for furry companions.

Many people include their pets in their festivities and plans. In doing so, it’s important to understand basic animal body language so you’re better able to read your pet’s mood. Many animals prefer a quiet spot, away from commotion and people they may not know. Give your pets a safe haven that they can retreat to. Provide them with enrichment toys to keep them entertained and stimulated.

Try to keep to your pet’s normal schedule as much as possible during the Holidays. If your dog is used to being walked daily, continue taking him on his scheduled walk. If your cat normally enjoys some cuddle time in the morning, be sure to allow for those extra few moments with her.

For bird owners, be careful to not use air fresheners, scented candles or potpourri, many of which are dangerously toxic for birds. When heated, many non-stick cooking pots and pans emit toxics into the air that are dangerous for your bird as well. Be sure that your bird is in a separate area of the house when cooking and that your kitchen has been well ventilated before bringing the bird back into the area.

Keep an eye on Holiday decorations. Cats, dogs, bunnies and birds often find shiny decorations to be interesting and fun. Bunnies love to chew through cords, cats enjoy tinsel, dogs and birds like plucking ornaments off the tree and then chewing them into tiny bits that they may or may not ingest.

Lastly, it’s best to not feed your pets many leftovers, if any. Most Holiday dishes are rich in ingredients and contain a lot of sweeteners, sodium and fats, all of which are not healthy for your pets. If you have some lean meat leftover, you could use a small amount of it to stuff a favorite enrichment toy or use cut up bits as training treats. No big meals for Fido or Fluffy though, they could get sick and put a damper on the Holiday fun!

Keep your pets safe this Holiday season and everyone will be  happy!

Happy Holidays.

Giving Thanks

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I wanted to do a post in honor of the day. I am fortunate to be surrounded by loving companions, both human and non-human. My dogs, cats and parrot provide me with constant companionship, love and laughs. In return, I make sure they are well taken of by providing them with love, food, playtime, comfy beds and awesome collars 🙂

This Thanksgiving don’t forget to be thankful for your animal companions as well. Keep them safe too. If you are having guests over for the Holidays, be sure to provide your animals with a safe, comfortable place to sleep and rest, away from the hustle and bustle of festive activities. Some pets enjoy being right in the middle of it, while others choose to stay clear. Respect the ones who choose to stay clear, don’t force them participate in anything they don’t want to.

If you want to give your pets a Thanksgiving feast of their own, be careful not to overdo it, for a swift change in diet could upset their digestive track. For dogs, you could stuff a Kong with some morsels of Turkey, mashed potatoes and steamed veggies (prep some Kongs with your leftovers and freeze them for future use).  For cats, they would best enjoy small morsels of turkey as well. Cats may pick around other foods offered unless it’s all blended together. Again, moderation is key when offer these rich foods to pets! Avoid using foods that contain a lot of salt or preservatives (such as, pre-prepared Ham). Also, avoid sweets. We all know chocolate isn’t good for pets, but what some people don’t know is that Xylitol, a sweetener and baking ingredient found in many candies, pastries and gum is very toxic for animals too!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Enjoy the day with whomever you’re spending it with and do not forget to tell and show your pets how much you appreciate them!

Beyond the Myth

Today I watched the film Beyond the Myth: A Film About Pit Bulls and Breed Discrimination. It was premiering at the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin, WI. Libby Sherrill, the film maker, did a great job with gathering factual information about the breed and breed specific legislation combined with personal stories and experiences different community members across the country have had with their Pit Bulls and BSL.

I do not expect everyone to like Pit Bulls, but what I do expect is for people to be reasonable and to not make rash decisions or laws based on a few bad experiences at the hands of irresponsible people. This film gives the facts about BSL and how it affects responsible dog owners and their canine family members.

What we do know from research and data collected from communities that have enacted BSL is that it does not work. Bite reports in these communities have not changed. People still own these dogs, but instead of properly socializing them, vaccinating them and registering them with their communities, the dogs are kept hidden. Huge sums of tax payers money is spent on trying to enforce BSL, which is not easy since the officers in charge of identifying Pit Bull type dogs are not skillfully trained. Countless pit bulls that are family pets living with responsible people are the ones who suffer. Meanwhile the demographic that BSL is targeted for, bad dog owners, continue to have dogs and cause issues in their communities.

The main question that every dog person needs to take away from BSL is who will be next? If you don’t speak up about the pit bull type breeds, your breed could be next! That’s the truth. BSL doesn’t stop bad dog owners from owning dogs, so if having a pit bull is difficult than they may choose another breed to demonize next and make a public figure for status symbols or gang activities…could it be the Rottweiler again, the Doberman, the German Shepherd? How about a Black Labrador Retriever or German Short-hair Pointers? Money from BSL would be better spent on educating people on how to properly care for dogs, especially the youth and for targeting irresponsible dog owners from having dogs at all.

Know the facts, don’t believe the media hype and subjective coverage. The media does a great job of blowing stories out of proportion and drumming up fear in people. Pit Bulls are a journalist’s gold mine right now. If another breed of dog attacks someone, there is rarely coverage about it, but if it’s a Pit Bull type dog than it makes national news, what is wrong with this picture?!

Today is National Pit Bull Awareness Day! So please keep an open mind about the breed and do some research if you want to know more. Pitties are not for everyone, but for those who want to share their lives with them, they should have that right, provided they are responsible owners (but then every dog should have a responsible owner)!

Tether Training

Tethers can be a useful training item, just like crates (when appropriately used). They are handy because they can moved from room to room more easily than a large crate can be and they take up hardly any storage space. How can they be used and when? If you’re unsure on how to properly train your dog, seeking help from a professional Spectrum Canine dog Trainer is best.

When to use a Tether

Tethers are great for teaching dogs to settle and for keeping them out of trouble. Young dogs or newly acquired can often get themselves into trouble by venturing into areas where they are prohibited, chewing on items they aren’t allowed to have or relieving themselves indoors. By keeping your pooch on a tether when you aren’t available to supervise, you can keep your dog safe and your belongings in-tact. Tethers also come in useful for when guests arrive. Your dog is kept from greeting inappropriately and your guests are allowed the chance to make it through the door safely. Then training can begin; guests can be instructed to ignore the jumping, overly excited dog and only give attention to the dog when he contains himself. Quickly the dog will learn that the only way to get guests to approach and give attention is to remain with all four feet on the floor!

How to Make a Tether

Tethers can be purchased, but are also easy to make yourself for a low cost. I create tethers out of 1/4″ coated cable, a few fasteners and some snaps (see pictures below). Tethers ranging in length from four to six feet seem to be the most convenient and useful. I typically attach the tether to a sturdy piece of furniture or I will screw an eye-hole screw into a stud in wall and attach it to there. I then supply my dog with a comfortable spot to lay down and some chew toys and/or enrichment toys. I typically do not leave my dog on tethers for extended periods of time, nor do I leave the house with them attached it. In the beginning, I will mark the behavior (e.g. Click or YES) and treat the dog whenever they are calmly laying on their bed or engaged in chewing/interacting with something appropriate. Gradually, as the dog learns how to settle in the house and how to entertain themselves with appropriate items, the tether will no longer be needed.

horse play

This past weekend I attended a seminar taught by Alexandra Kurland. The emphasis was on clicker training with horses, but most of the material covered and lessons learned could be applied to any animal. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with my friend’s POA, Glasswing. This little pony did an excellent job. I, on the other hand, seemed to fumble a bit more. Even though I’ve been clicker training for a number of years and have used clicker work a small bit with my own horses, I still felt like a complete amateur at this clinic. The amount of information one has to remember is overwhelming at times; where to hold your hands, how to walk smoothly via the Tai Chi walk, breathing, where is your horse and what is she doing? Whew. But when it all comes together, Magic. We walked in sync; Glasswing aware of my subtle movements and I of hers.

Over the weekend, I made some great new friends and had a more balanced walk and self carriage. Alexandra is a wonderful teacher and it was a great pleasure to work with her. I will definitely be heading to the barn more often to see what behaviors my horses and I can play with. I’ll also be able to add some new ideas to my dog classes as well. There is so much information that can be communicated through a lead line or a leash that is important for people to feel and see the difference between having a light, loose, relaxed feel and a heavy, tight, anxious feel. And check out these lovely horse throw pillows as we got some recently and they are amazing.

In one of Banixx’s recent blog posts, they highlighted the world’s smallest horse: Einstein Horse: This cute little stallion has people lining up around the block to get their picture with him. And who can blame them? Everyone loves tiny horses 🙂

Well Bred


I’ve been out of touch for the last month, probably because it’s been pretty busy. In my last post, I talked about Miss Sweet Honey-Dew, my foster dog. I’m happy to report that she found a lovely new home. During the beginning of August I had the great privilege to travel to CA and train with one of my alumni dogs, Luna, for a friend who adopted her from me. Luna and her dog sister, Lenore, were becoming challenging for their “mom” after she had her first-born son. I helped by first working with the dogs and teaching them to walk nicely side-by-side, then added the stroller and finally the baby in the stroller. Last update is that mom, dogs and baby are now able to all take strolls together! While I was in California, I also traveled to visit my friends who recently moved to Ojai, where they work at a turtle conservancy.  I was able to volunteer some time at the turtle center, which 500 turtles and tortoises call home. It was an amazing trip overall. When I returned home, I had one week of catch-up before starting college again. Yep, I’m back at school, and it’s been interesting:).

Breeding: good, bad and ugly

In the Summer issue of BARk, Dr. Patricia McConnell wrote an article titled Well Bred. She discussed a three-pronged approach for keeping dogs out of shelters: being/having good breeders, shelter adoptions and spay/neuter campaigns. Her article was great, but I’m sure it may have caused mixed feelings for others. Many people may think of me and other rescue/animal welfare workers as anti-breeder, but for me that’s not the case. I’m not anti-breeder, I’m anti-bad breeder!

So what makes a good breeder? Well, here’s what I recommend clients look for when searching for a puppy from a breeder.

  • A good breeder is one who looks to improve their dog’s breed in terms of physical health and temperament. It does not matter if there are champions in the dog’s lineage if that dog bites!
  • Good breeders will study their dog’s lineage, being careful not to closely line breed (in-breed) or over breed.
  • They will give the dam proper vet care and nutrition from start to finish and make sure the puppies are well socialized and vetted.
  • The puppies will come with a health guarantee and the breeder will take back the puppies/dogs for the life of the dog (maybe not refunding, but at least taking the dog back).
  • There will be a contract requiring that the dogs be spayed or neutered within a certain time period, unless breeding arrangements are made.
  • The sire and dam of the litter will be available to meet and will have solid, well-adjusted temperaments.
  • The grounds or home where the dogs are being kept will be clean.
  • A good breeder will only focus on one or two breeds and will only have one or two litters at any given time. Too many breeds or puppies means the people don’t have the proper time to devote to socialization, the quality of care is probably lacking and the research into the lineage is probably non-existent.

In the end, a good breeder is not breeding for profit and are probably not making any money if they are doing things properly. Too many backyard breeders breed for profit and that is where the dog breeds & individual dogs suffer. We see ill-tempered dogs and unhealthy dogs as a result. That is also why we end up seeing more dogs in shelters too. I applaud Patricia for writing this article and agree with her wholeheartedly.

I have had personal experience with a breeder who is breeding dogs that, in my mind, should not be bred. This breeder has dogs that are dog-aggressive, and dog-aggressiveness can be genetic. To create dogs with solid temperaments around all creatures, people need to stop breeding dogs that exhibit any type of aggression. Yet, this breeder bred the first dog and the first-generation litter had puppies that exhibited dog-aggression in it, just like their dam. Then a bitch from the first-generation was bred and the second-generation litter again had puppies exhibiting dog-aggression issues. Some people may say, well it’s just the breed. But studies have shown that dog-aggressiveness can be bred out of lines of dogs, such as pit bulls, within only two to three generations, by selecting only dogs with dog-social tendencies to be bred.

And now… Pit Bulls!

This brings me to my next topic, Pitties! I heard from someone recently, “well, it’s a pit bull, so I expect him to be aggressive”. AHHH, No! This is not right. A pit bull is a dog, first and foremost, and in terms of learning or behavior does not function any differently than any other dog. If a person’s view is that a dog will be a certain way just because it’s a certain breed, they’ll be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Pitties are individuals and learn and function just like a mixed breed, Labrador or Chihuahua does. That’s not to say there are not aggressive Pitties, but we can’t throw labels on dogs just for being a certain breed; that’s a form of prejudice.

Okay, so this post was random, but that’s what was on my mind! Lastly, we have a new foster dog! His name is Harvey, and he’s a five-year old, neutered, chocolate and white male. I rescued him out of a neglectful situation. He is very sweet-tempered, gets along well with other dogs and does well with dog-savvy cats. Harvey was a bit aloof the first night he came home with me, probably because he hasn’t known humans to be reliable, but after two short days, he is starting to look to us for guidance. Such a handsome guy, we hope he finds a loving family soon!

Sweet Honey-dew

Two weeks ago I received a phone call from a representative from Hiawatha Valley Humane Society regarding a pit bull mix. Two dogs had been confiscated from a neglectful situation where the man was not providing proper care for them. In fact, when the county sheriff first stopped by to investigate the property, all the dogs had to eat was ketchup and Cheerios. Both dogs were emaciated and very under weight. One dog, a pointer mix, was taken into the humane society, but the second dog, a little pitty mix, was not allowed due to a recent ban on all bully breeds at their facility. Bans are not a good solution and are discriminative, but that’s another story.

I was contacted to see if I’d be willing to take this girl into MN Pit Stop. The first step was to assess her and check for any aggression issues. A week later after she was spayed, vaccinated and micro-chipped I went to meet her. Honey, as she appropriately named for her color and sweetness, was being fostered by a rep of the humane society whom also does not agree with the ban and wanted to offer support. During Honey’s week stay there, she was exposed to numerous neighborhood dogs and young children, all of which she did fine with. Things were looking promising! I always use the ASPCA’s SAFER assessment to assess dogs prior to agreeing to take them into the rescue. A dog showing any people aggression or a high level of dog aggression will not be accepted. Honey scored very well, she received ones on every item of the assessment. The previous foster mom had nothing but good things to say about her as well. Honey’s only vice it turns out, is traveling in vehicles. She becomes panicked and looses all inhibition. If given the chance, she chews everything in sight and very quickly. The half hour ride home was a lot for her. I crated her in a hard-sided plastic crate and covered it with a dark blanket. This seemed to help her anxiety a bit, but I could still hear her obsessively licking and trying to chew the sides of the crate. Behavior modification here we come!

Once I brought Honey home, it was time to introduce her to the three cats. Cats, what cats? That seemed to be her attitude; Honey didn’t bat an eye at them and displayed absolutely no prey drive. Emma was the next concern but the girls, through a proper a dog-to-dog introduction, did just fine! Over the past week, we’ve started to work on foundation behaviors and basic manners. Learning to say “please” by sitting for desired objects, food and attention. She is being tethered and crated for short periods of time, even while I’m present, so that she learns to settle and not be under foot. Finding treats she was interested in was a bit challenging at first. You would think a starving dog would eat anything, but no, she wouldn’t even take roasted chicken! Freeze-dried beef patties by Stella and Chewy’s and Natural Balance turkey rolls were the ticket! Honey’s recall is great and she sticks close by, so I’m able to let her off-leash to romp with the other dogs. She retrieves well, which makes playing Chuck It a fun way to burn off some energy. Honey acts and looks a lot like a puppy still, even though it’s apparent she’s had a litter of puppies and looks to be roughly 12-18 months old when assessing her teeth. She is small, petite and hasn’t filled out much, but this could be do a variety of reasons…runt of the litter, malnourished, having pups when she was still a puppy herself? Who knows? I hope that now with proper care and love, she’ll fill out and grow into her ears.

If you or anyone you know of are interested in adopting Honey, please contact me through email or phone 507.494.0325.