Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month

In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat Month, I thought I’d share Yeti, Jezebel and Steve’s stories. All three of our cats were rescue cats. Yeti and Jezebel are litter-mates that were born to a semi-feral mother six years ago. Since I did not want to see the kittens become feral and add to the overwhelming number of homeless, breeding cats, I decided to take in mom-cat and her litter. It was love at first sight when I saw Jezebel, she was the only black kitten of the bunch and all she needed to do was look up at me and give a little “mew”, I was a goner! It was decided on the first day that we would keep Jezebel and that we’d find homes for the rest of the kittens and mom. During their time with us though, we fell in love with Yeti too (named after the white, snow-country big foots…Yetis). He was the only male kitten and the only one with long hair. His forehead seemed abnormally large, but he eventually grew into it! Mom cat went to the humane society after her kittens were weaned and was adopted shortly after arriving to the shelter. I screened potential adopters for the kittens and found homes for the rest of the litter.

Yeti and Jezebel’s father, a very feral tom cat, was a polydactyl cat. Since polydactyl’s carry the dominate gene for extra toes, “dad” passed that physical trait onto all his kids! Jezebel has six toes on all four paws. Yeti has six toes on his front paws and five toes on his back paws.

Both Yeti and Jezebel are extremely loving cats. They are more dog-like than cat-like, maybe that has to do with the fact they were raised around my last German Shepherd, Indy, and my mother’s dog, Delilah. I have done a small amount of clicker training with Yeti. He knows Sit, Down, Target,  sit Pretty (begging position-upright on back feet) and Come. Our cats are indoor cats since I feel strongly that domestic house cats should live indoors for a variety of reasons. I will however let my cats venture outside while under supervision. Yeti and Jezebel can be trusted to be outdoors with me without a leash on. They come when called and don’t travel to far from me. Steve on the other hand is a different story!

Steve arrived into our home this past November. He was brought into the shelter very emaciated and we were all concerned he wouldn’t make it through it the night. Fortunately, he did and once he was feeling better, he was happy to let people know about it by greeting them with a Siamese Yeowlll. Since he seemed unhappy at the humane society, I brought him home to foster him and get him healthy again. This is how he failed as a foster and become a permanent addition to our household. Shortly after bringing Steve home, Brett and I watched the movie Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and loved it. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the monkey in the movie is named Steve. Brett thought it was a great name for a cat. I wasn’t on board at first, but he’s actually grown into the name!

Steve fit in our home from day one. Emma, our Pit Bull, became his guardian right from the start and looked over him while he gained strength and put on much needed weight. As Steve started to feel better he started to engage in play with Yeti. This proved to be great for Yeti since he and his sister had grown apart over recent years and he really seemed to enjoy having a playmate again. Jezebel was not so thrilled with the new arrival and showed her disgust by not talking or interacting with me for several days while at the same time hissing at Steve whenever she had the chance. Over time though, all the cats grew to co-exist with one another and can now all be caught sleeping on the same bed together and eating in close proximity.

There are thousands of cats that need homes. Many are sweet, cuddly and just want to be loved by a family of their own. For anyone considering getting a cat, I strongly urge them to check out their local shelter or humane society. It is often times much less expensive to adopt cat than it is to get a cat for free from an advertisement, since “free” cats rarely come vaccinated and neutered/spayed. Most facilities alter cats before they leave their place and make sure they are up-to-date on vaccinations. These fees alone cost the average person several hundred dollars or more, where at most facilities the adoption fee for cats one year old or older is $100 or less. In some places, such as the WI Humane Society, adult cats are available at no cost.

Meow!

Prevention and Remedies

Last week was National Dog Bite Prevention week and, as if on cue, I was faced with an urgent phone call from a woman whose family had adopted a dog several months ago from the humane society. The dog had just “bitten” her four-year old son. I put “bitten” in quotations because the dog did not actually bite her son, he scratched him, but fact is we don’t know exactly what happened because she had her back turned to them at the time. This is why it’s so important for parents to not look away from their child and pet’s interaction even for a second. It’s very easy to get complacent when you have a pet that seems very easy-going and tolerant of everything in their environment. The very important key to remember here is that every animal has the capability and capacity to bite or cause injury to a person. Many animals will never do so in their entire lifetime even under extreme circumstances, but it only takes one time to do severe damage if they happen to be pushed past their threshold.

Fortunately after reviewing the circumstances of this isolated incident, I believe the dog showed immense bite inhibition. Provided the parents are more diligent about watching their children so that they’re not hugging a very tired, possibly frustrated dog’s neck, this will probably stay an isolated one-time incident. It is also very important for people to learn dog body language and signs of stress or appeasement in a dog (lip licking, yawning, paw lifts, look aways etc…). Dogs never bite without warning. If someone claims a dog has bitten without warning, I can guarantee you that the dog probably gave warning signs in the past but was most likely reprimanded for it. In doing so, the dog learned not to give proper body cues to indicate when they were stressed for fear that they would be punished. This is when the phrase “he bit without warning” comes up! Don’t reprimand your dog for walking away from something it perceives as scary or for growling, these are great ways for us to know the dog is uncomfortable and needs to be worked through these situations in a positive manner. Getting upset with the dog or showing the dog “whose boss” will only exacerbate the problem. The dog is not trying to dominate you, the dog is most likely fearful and/or has not been taught proper ways to deal with their emotions. Here’s a great article that gives an in-depth look at why a popular television show will have people believing that their dogs are being “dominant” and why this train of thought is dangerous, out-dated and could lead people to receiving a bite!

Here are a few links regarding National Dog Bite Prevention week. Dog Star Daily and KPCT.

Today I received another inquiry from a friend who recently adopted a Labrador mix breed puppy name Lily. Lily is enjoying excavating the lawn to her “mom’s” dismay. Digging is a natural instinct for dogs, although not all dogs have a propensity for it. As for the dogs that clearly enjoy slinging mud and grass, it can be very tricky to extinguish this behavior. So rather than spend countless hours or money on trying to prevent digging from happening, it’s often easier to provide the dog with a outlit by means of their own sandbox! The sandbox space does not have to be large, just wide enough for the dog to lay in if they’d like. Make the space more appealing by mixing in some sand with the dirt to make digging easier and toss some toys in the area to encourage the dog to dig there rather than some place else. Offer praise when the dog chooses their sandbox to dig in and redirect them to the spot if they show signs of digging elsewhere. For best results, don’t leave your dog unattended while they’re in the yard until you know they’ll choose the correct location to dig.

In other news this week, Taffy and her brother, Tator, were both adopted. Taffy is enjoying life as a pampered farm dog and Tator is the center of attention in a household full of six dog-savvy kids! Ali, the beautiful German Shepherd Dog puppy, will be headed to Michigan next week to live with his new “dad” and dog brother! Today, I assessed three dogs at the humane society, two of which already have adoption applications on them. The third dog, a little American Pit Bull, named Maeby was a complete doll to assess and is a classic Pitty with her goof ball antics, sweet disposition and kiss-a-bull face! For those who might interested, during the ASPCA’s Meet Your Match assessment, Maeby scored as a Green dog with a Life of the Party canine-ality!

Responsibility

These past few weeks have been very busy, hence the delay in blog posts. Unfortunately, since I want to keep on top of blogging about events, when I fail to do so in a timely fashion, events compound and I’m faced with trying to summarize everything that’s happened over a two-week time period whilst trying to not write a thesis in the process. So I’ll do my best to recap major events and leave out the fine details. If any of you are curious about hearing specific details, feel free to contact me.

Two weeks ago I started another round of training classes. One is Puppy Kindergarten and the other is Basic Manners. I decided to change a few things for these classes. I’m always tweaking my curriculum and advancing my teaching skills each time I run a new class, I think that’s par for the course for any good teacher to do so, but this time I really changed things up. In the past, I’ve always had people bring their dogs with them to the first night of class, but this time, dogs stayed home and I had people work on their own skill sets and timing before adding dogs into the equation the following week. Sure, I would love to be there the first time a person incorporates a marker signal into their dog’s life, but if the person’s timing is so completely off, what’s more damaging? Even though this is the first set of classes I’ve done this way, so therefore I don’t have much in which to compare, it seems like people walked away satisfied and with a better understanding of what non-force based training is, why it’s endorsed by the scientific community and what marker signals are, along with their importance for accelerated learning.

Which brings me to my next hot topic…animal trainers, more specifically dog trainers. The more I learn about animal behavior, learning theory, training and how to bring it all together, the more it bothers me that there are no regulations for people calling themselves dog trainers or animal trainers. Any John or Jane Doe can claim to be an animal trainer without having any education or formal training. That would be like someone claiming they’re qualified to be an elementary school teacher because they went through elementary school themselves. Or someone claiming they are a doctor and can treat people because they’ve watched ER on television and read web M.D. Taking dogs through classes, seeking training advice or hiring trainers privately plays a very important role in how that animal is shaped and viewed by its people. This in turn, leads to how the animal lives its life and whether it’s a healthy & enriching life or a life full of fear and uncertainty. So I urge people to find trainers that are professionals and have a certification to back up their knowledge. Two reputable certifications for people seeking help with their companion animals are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists and Certified Professional Dog Trainers. Each website lists current members of their organization by state and location. Also, both organizations require continued education units (C.E.U.) to stay certified. This means members are attending lectures, seminars and conferences to stay current with humane and ethical means of working with companion animals.  Unfortunately, since there currently are no regulations when it comes to people calling themselves trainers, many people still promote out dated training methods based on falsified dominance theory. This often involves force based training and the person showing their dog who is “boss” by controlling their dog in a forceful manner, such as, use of  “alpha” roll overs, scruff shakedowns, use of choke chains, prongs and worst of all, shock collars. (On a side note, shock collars have recently been banned in the country of Wales due to them being deemed as inhumane and cruel. APDT supports the ban on shock collars). It saddens me to think of how many dogs fear their people because of the owner’s lack of education. And that the people think they’re doing right by their dog because that’s what their trainer said to do. I also find it disturbing when veterinarians give out behavior advice if they’ve never taken any courses on behavior. It hasn’t been until very recently that veterinary schools have incorporated basic animal behavior courses into their curriculum. So, veterinarians that have been practicing medicine for over five years most likely did not study animal behavior when they were in college, that’s not to say certain vets don’t seek out continuing their education in the area of animal behavior, many do. It simply brings up a concern when vets offer behavior advice; are they really skilled in that area or not? And if they’re not, they could be potentially putting an animal or people at risk, since most people will not question their vet and will take the vet’s word as though it were written in stone.

I am not saying people should only follow my training style or advice, that’s not it all, I would love for people to find competent trainers & animal behavior consultants that follow that same code of conduct and learning principles. Each trainer has their own unique style and offer animals and people alike a variety of training tools to choose from, which is important, since, every creature learns slightly differently. So it’s necessary to have many tools in your tool box to handle an array of issues. As one friend of mine cleverly named her business Collected Wisdom, that’s exactly what it is, a collection of thoughts, methods and principles universally accepted by the scientific community and always changing due to new advances in research, testing and findings.

So much for not having this become a thesis! In other news, Miss Bella Babe came for a visit last weekend and it was splendid to have the little peanut back in the house for a few days. It didn’t take long for Bella and Steve to resume their wrestling matches, although now Bella may have the upper hand, er, paw!

Bella Babe now weighs slightly over seven pounds. When she first arrived at the end of March, she didn’t quite weigh two pounds. Even though she’s still small, she’s grown by leaps and bounds, literally and figuratively 🙂

This past Monday, we acquired a new foster puppy. I’m still pondering on a name for her. For humane society records, she was named Taffy and her brother was named Tator, but Taffy doesn’t seem to fit her personality. Three puppies were found abandoned in a culvert. A good Samaritan found the pups and took them to a local vet clinic upon which time WAHS was called in to take them. One pup stayed with someone at the clinic and the other two came back the shelter with me. The boy went into foster care with a family that will be adopting him and the female came home with me. Both puppies were fairly shy, not socialized well with other animals, but seem comfortable with people. They are roughly twelve weeks old and appear to be German Shepherd mixes. The female already weighs 18 pounds, so I think she’ll be a fairly decent sized dog when full-grown. Over the past week, she has slowly come out of her shell. She is starting to play with toys and run after Chance and Emma. This is a big improvement from her first two days where she was basically a pancake and wouldn’t move unless the human that she was “Velcroed” to did.


I’m happy to announce Emma made her debut as my side-kick, training assistant. I had a client and his dog that were on their forth training session, working on dog-to-dog arousal issues. We had already used Chance for two training sessions, so it was time to bring in a new face and smell. Emma, who has had her own dog selective issues, was wonderful. We were able to bring both dogs into close proximity of one another while keeping their focus on us and having them be appropriate with their body language. Yay Emma!

Spring has Sprung

This past week has been gorgeous here in the Mississippi valley. Mark Twain once described the area as being one of the most beautiful places that he had ever traveled. We experienced our first thunderstorm of the year last night and it was a phenomenal show of lightening and cracks. I am grateful that my pets seem un-phased by such storms. Storm phobia can be difficult to manage and very stressful for animals and their human companions.

On Tuesday, I visited Babe, now renamed Bella, at her home with her new mom. We went on a lovely hike together where Bella ran full tilt, tripping over branches and in holes, but would jump right back up and start running again! After expending some energy, she and I worked on the “Leave it” cue. This video is taken after a few minutes of us working together on it. I would toss a treat or her toy out of range, she would attempt to get in and when she couldn’t would refocus on me, giving me her auto-sit and then I would reward her with a yummy treat. After a few repetitions, I added the cue “Leave it” and repeated the same steps.

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It was lovely spending time with the little peanut and seeing her growth, both physically and mentally, in just a few short days. We will continue to work together and keep up with updates!

Chance and I are getting a little bit of fame, or at least, our photo is! A picture that was taken of us during the Sophia Yin seminar was posted on Sophia’s last blog post, Circus School for Dogs Recap. The same photo was used in a blog post done by HAWS (Humane Animal Welfare Society) that hosted the two day seminar. Chance was learning to go through a hoop by use of shaping and approximations using Positive Reinforcement (R+). It took him only a few short minutes to learn this new behavior. He loved it and by the end of the day he was completely exhausted from having his brain worked throughout the day!

On Wednesday, it was time to visit the horses and do some spring cleaning. I love seeing the horses shed their fuzzy winter coats. Underneath is a glossy, smooth finish that invites you run your hands across it. For the next week I plan to make several trips back to farm in preparation for the vet that will be coming to do annual vaccinations. Cajun, the bay mare, is not keen about the vet or being poked and prodded. So it’s back to the clicker basics with her. Counter conditioning and desensitizing her to the presence of syringes and having her neck pinched. She did well for her first spring session after being hands off with people for the winter months.

Here are Buster (sorrel gelding), Cajun (bay mare) & Chance (sorrel gelding-old man)

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While brushing the horses in their pasture, Buster, the “I act like I’m a two year old, even though I’m 18”, went and tipped my tack bag upside down and shook all the contents out of it! Naughty boy. But it’s enrichment I guess. Here we are taking some smiling pictures. Unfortunatley my arms weren’t long enough to capture it all in one photo.

On the walk back to car I found an open robin’s egg, a very true sign Spring has Sprung! Lastly, my two hounds and my guest dog were happily loaded into the Pathfinder for their journey back home. A tired dog is a happy dog and these three were dog tired after their romp in the pasture!

Bittersweet Sunday

This past Sunday, Babe went to her new home. It was a very emotional day for me, since I had grown very attached to her. I feel empathy for anyone who’s ever fostered a young animal and can’t begin to imagine what it’s like fostering children and then having to see them leave, I’m honestly not sure I could handle that. Having a foster puppy in my home for three weeks was a big enough heart break when she left! But Babe was adopted by some pretty great people and I have the privilege to continue being her life, watching her grow and aiding in her training.

So now it’s time to refocus my attention onto my own “kids” again. Emma has become a dog-tolerant dog and I want to work on her dog approach issues. Although she has great bite inhibition and has never caused physical harm to another dog, she looks awful pinning another dog down whilst growling. If she were a Labrador Retriever people would most likely laugh or shrug if off, but because she’s an American Pit Bull, people freak out and call her all sorts of names I care not to repeat. Another behavior that Emma could use some work on is her door greeting with guests. She’s just so enthusiastic to see people, she just can’t contain herself. Unfortunately not everyone wants to greet her back in the same fashion. We’ve worked on fetching a toy when people come over, which is working about 75% of time. She will run and grab a toy and zoom around the room with it versus jumping on the guests. But I’d like to teach her a reliable Down-Stay. So I just ordered the MannersMinder, formerly known as the Treat & Train to start Emma’s training. Chance will benefit from this too, as he to likes to run up to guests, but at least he sits politely and doesn’t jump on them 🙂

I’ve also ordered some Buddy System leashes to use for my next round of dog classes. I look forward to having people use these leashes with their dogs and not having them unknowingly pulling on their companions. I used to use the Ruffwear Roamer Leash for class, but found the bungie to be to flexible for letting unruly dogs roam farther than I wanted, not to mention the handle doesn’t expand far enough for my more girthy client’s waists. I do really like the Roamer leash, just not for unskilled handlers and their dogs.

What type of leader are you?

This past weekend I attended a behavior conference with lecturer Dr. Sophia Yin. It was a great refresher and rejuvenated my love of training, shaping and behavior modification. One statement sticks out in my mind that Sophia said, “What kind of leader do you want to be? One like Ghandi or one like Castro?” Both are leaders and both get results, but in completely different ways. One becomes a leader by being positive and benevolent, the other becomes a leader through force and fear. To me the answer is simple, I’d rather be a benevolent leader. I’d rather have a relationship with my dog, cat, horse etc. built on trust and not fear.

Twenty years ago there were not many options for people seeking training advice for their pets. Traditional training was the primary option. People were told to be Alpha leaders and show their dog who is boss by any means necessary, which meant Alpha roll overs & shake downs, choke chains, ear pinches etc… Traditional trainers will argue that they are following the same hierarchical system that wolves use and since dogs are descendents of wolves, we should carry out that same hierarchy in our homes. There are a few problems with this theory. First, the wolves originally being studied were not a family unit as you would find in the wild, instead they were individually-captured wolves thrown together, so the behaviors seen by researchers were not ones that would happen between naturally formed packs. In more recent years, researchers have found that wolves living together in the wild function much like human family units. There is not a rigid dominance hierarchy, but rather a flexible social hierarchy. Physical force among wolves is rarely seen. Instead there is a lot of body language and learned behaviors as pups watch closely how the older wolves behave and follow suit. Second, although wolves may be ancestors of our modern-day dog, this does not mean we should follow the structure that wolves use with each other on our dogs. Dogs have been domesticated for over 13,000 years and through those years they have been carefully selected to have behavior traits that don’t exist in wild wolves, such as looking to humans for help and following human body language cues more accurately than even our closet related primate friends do.

Dominance is another BIG word that get tossed around and used way to often in the animal training world. Most of the time it is inaccurately used and defined. So let’s set the record straight. Dominance by definition in behavior terms: Dominance is defined as a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates. Rather than have me explain the fallout with using Dominance Theory in training and behavior modification, I’ll let the American Veterinarian Society of Animal Behavior explain it in their Position Statement.

Here’s an example of what it’s like to be a dog in our world. Let’s say you were in New York city and got into cab. Rather than tell the cab driver exactly where you want to go, you tell the driver everywhere you don’t want to go. It will take forever to get to your destination and, most likely, you and your cab driver will be frustrated. It’s a lot easier to show or tell people and animals what we’d like out of them and not just telling them what they’re doing incorrectly.

For my animal update news: Babe is looking more and more like an Australian Cattle Dog/ Blue Heeler each day. She went to the vet clinic to have her first set of vaccinations and to have her eyes rechecked. I paired her receiving the vaccine with liver treats, so she didn’t seem to notice the prick of the needle. A few hours later, though, she had a lump on her side at the injection site, and I felt awful when I reached down to pick her up and accidentally squeezed her lump, causing her to yelp out loud in pain. I don’t like seeing animals in pain, especially babies! She was pretty tuckered out and slept hard last night. Today she is not quite back up to normal speed, but seems to be well otherwise. Her tear production is not at normal levels yet, so we will continue to put drops in her eyes daily.  The vet says it may be a lifetime deal for her. Babe is nearly five pounds now, more than double her weight from a few weeks ago. She continues to work on foundation behaviors, like Sit, Down, Target and Come. Chance attended the conference with me this past weekend and participated in the training lab during the second day. He is truly a clicker trained dog, so doing shaping exercises with him is very fun!

At home, I am going to implement the Learn to Earn program with Emma and get her back into training shape! In the meantime, we still like to have fun with enrichment. Babe has learned to use food enrichment toys and Emma loves her “flirt pole” workout and playing with giant balls (out of context, that could sound very bad)!

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Big Dog in a Little Package

Babe continues to grow and develop. She does not think of herself as a small dog.  Often times Babe takes on Emma, our American Pit Bull Terrier, and harasses her to no end.  Emma is way more tolerant than I would be if I had pint sized munchkin hanging from my ears or jowls. Last week marked a shift in the roles between the animals in our household.  Steve, the cat, is not rumbling with Babe as often, fore Babe has grown by one pound and is testing her baby teeth out more often. So Emma has stepped up to the plate as playmate for Babe.

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At the beginning of last week, I introduced Babe to clicker training.  I choose to use a tongue cluck as my marker signal with her. The first session was spent charging the marker signal by pairing the cluck with some freeze dried liver. Babe caught on very quickly, so the next step was to use the marker for behaviors I wanted to capture. Babe started offering sits more regularly when she realized sitting got her attention. I now captured the sits with the marker signal and followed it up with a treat. Ah ha! Now I could use the cue Sit, mark it and reward it. With in minutes Babe understood the word and now does it on cue more than 90 % of the time.  For the second clicker session, I taught Babe to Target onto my hand.

(if you turn up the volume, you’ll hear me tongue clicking Babe and then later giving her the cue “Target”.  You will also hear Jasmine, my parrot in the back ground making noises as well. At one point, early in the video, she says Good Girl)

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Puppy Zooms

Tomorrow will mark the first full week that I’ve had a puppy in the house and it’s been a joy for me at least, I won’t speak for my husband or the other animals 🙂  Babe, as we’re affectionately calling her, makes me laugh and smile everyday.  She is starting to potty train by gravitating towards the back door when she needs to go outside and at night she is using her puppy pads.  I have not been crating her at night; she gets to sleep on her own bed with the big dogs in our bedroom.  And she has been sleeping through the night until about 6 AM when she makes it clear that she needs to go potty and then eat breakfast.

This past week it’s been absolutely beautiful in Winona, so the dogs and I have been enjoying the warm, sunny weather by playing in the yard and going for hikes.  Since Babe hasn’t had her puppy vaccinations yet (she’s too young), I am careful as to where I let her roam around since Parvo and other illnesses are a risk for pups her age and can be deadly if contracted.  Monday, I take her to the vet to have her left eye and both her knees checked out.  She appears to have Entropion, an inward folding of an eyelid where lid hairs contact the cornea.  And her knees pop out funny, like she had luxating patellas. Poor pup, good thing she’s cute!

Tomorrow I will begin clicker training with Babe.  She is already grasping her name and to sit politely for attention and food.  I think clicker training with her will be a breeze and I’m excited to get rolling with it.  Videos to come!

An unexpected foster puppy

It’s time to jump on the bandwagon and start my own blog. This blog will detail some of happenings in my life as I share it with my own companion animals, client’s companions and friends & family.

On Friday, I brought home a foster puppy. She is very tiny, only two pounds, and is around five weeks of age. Someone found her on the side of a back country road in Iowa with no other animals or houses within sight. The name given to her at the humane society is Bindi, but I’ve just been calling her “puppy” and “little one”. It’s been an adventure thus far with her. The other animals in the house have adjusted to her presence quickly. The most comical relationship that’s formed has been between, Steve, our new addition to the family, the ten pound Siamese and the puppy. Steve follows the puppy around and often engages in play with her. He’s very gentle with her and if the puppy gets to be to much for him, he simply gets up and walks away.
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