Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year! (Twenty Ten!)

As I write this, my last blog entry of 2009, I am not as much looking back at the year I've had as I am looking forward to the year ahead. I feel that 2010 (that's twenty ten NOT two thousand ten) is going to bring great joy, change and advancement for myself, my blog and the world of dog. There will be obstacles and hurdles yes. Most likely I will find myself fighting BSL or even for some small policy change that if enacted could save at least one dog, and for me that's plenty.

In the past I have focused quite hard on all of the dogs that I didn't or couldn't save and it drove me down to a very dark place indeed. As of late, I have tried to focus on the ones that I have saved. The ones that are in their happy forever homes right now as I type this. The ones that if my life hadn't bumped into theirs, might not be of this earth anymore. So for the dogs saved, I celebrate. I will of course always continue to morn the fallen, but their sacrifice only gives me more courage, more stamina and more passion.
Things cannot go on as they are. Euthanasia cannot continue to be our main population control device. Our children must cease to be entertained by the cruelty of the circus, we must look long and hard at what or WHO we are eating, and we must not allow convicted dog fighters back into our hearts.

As a collective we have a long way to go, but I see bright spots in the tunnel. I hear every day from people trying to do the right thing. I hope that this decade will be one of understanding and compassion. A decade of respect for ALL living creatures big and small. Each and every one of them having the right to live out their lives in safety and in health.

A wise man once said: The greatness of a nation and its morals, can be judged by the way its animals are treated. (Gandhi)

Just something to think about as you make those annual resolutions come midnight.

And remember, if you only change ONE person, open ONE mind or soften ONE heart this year, count is as a year well spent. Do not allow your self to become focused on the millions you didn't change...there's always next year!

Have a Happy-yappy humane New Year!

The Dog Diva

Monday, December 28, 2009

Keep it Positive!

You hear the term "Positive Re-enforcement" a lot these days, but many people still are not quite sure what it means. I will do my best to explain this most important of dog training philosophies.

First let's not think of positive as 'good' or 'right' let's look at it like a + sign. We are ADDING something to a dogs environment that increases the likelihood that a desired behavior will occur again in the future.

Re-enforcers for dogs are things like food, toys and praise. Basically anything your dog values and will work to earn.

So then, to positively re-enforce your dog, you simply give them what it is they value immediately following a desired behavior.

Yes, it is that simple.

Now, you will want your dog to start offering the desired behavior for as little reward as possible. This way you wont have to have chicken in your pocket at all times for your dog to listen to you!

Begin a schedule of variable re-enforcement. That way your dog wont know when the reward is coming and will always comply hoping that this time will be THE time! When weaning your dog off treats for example, do not allow the to see the treat until AFTER the behavior is preformed. The dogs' behavior should earn the treat, the treat should not earn the behavior.

Remember that positive re-enforcement is NOT the same as physically forcing your dog into a behavior and the rewarding them afterward. Your dog needs to learn on their own!

Timing is imperative! You MUST reward your dog within seconds for them to associate the behavior with the re-enforcement.

Well, I hope that clears some things up...

Happy Training!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yappy Christmas!

For some, this time of year brings happiness, joy and laughter. For others (myself included) it brings stress, long lines and bills. If you are like me, and yearn for mid January when normalcy starts to take hold once more, then your dog is likely to be stressed out as well. Dogs are very in tune to us, and can sense our anxiety. To keep your dog calm this holiday season, do your best to keep their routine the same. With shopping, family and parties, this can be more than difficult but remember dogs thrive on routine so keep waking, sleeping, feeding and exercise times all as normal as possible. If you are expecting company, make sure everyone in the house knows what the doggy rules are. If Grandpa Joe brings along his big box of medications, be sure to keep them out of Fido's reach.

Also, some of your decorations can be hazardous to your pups health. Christmas tree needles and water can be poisonous as well as mistletoe and poinsettias. You may also want to forgo the tinsel on the tree.
Be careful when baking those Christmas cookies too. Chocolate and raisins can be toxic to dogs.
Don't forget to allow your dog to be a part of the holiday festivities. Going light looking? Bring the dog along! Opening got one for Max too right? Let them join in and everyone will have a 'howling' good time!

Remember those less fortunate than your Buddy or Daisy and donate food, toys, treats, cleaning supplies, bedding or time to your local Animal Shelter.

I wish all of you a very Happy-Yappy Christmas!

Peace On Earth....

Diane aka The Dog Diva

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ummm...That's my LEG!

Whatever you want to call it; mounting, humping or 'loving up' this behavior is un-welcome and un-necessary and can be stopped.
It's not funny, so get that out of your heads right now. I have seen this behavior lead to dominance, aggression, scratches and bites, so whether you have a Great Dane or a Chihuahua, put and end to it today!

OK, first things first. Is your dog spayed or neutered? If you answered NO, move back 10 spaces. Get your dog fixed ASAP as this may be the one and only reason they are exhibiting this behavior.

If your dog is spayed or neutered, good for you. Pass GO and collect $200! But don't worry. Mounting is not always sexually motivated. Some dogs mount to show control or dominance.
This behavior can many times be eradicated in much the same way as jumping. A stern OFF, a turned back and walking away. However this is not always the case.

I have seen some pretty severe cases of humping over the years, and the good news for you is that all of the dogs got over it. Even Chico...who is by far the worst humper I've ever come across in my career.
Chico was a large adult male Rottweiler mix with a severe humping problem. Chico would not hump other dogs (a different problem behavior that almost ALWAYS is sexually or dominance driven) he would only hump people.

I first came across Chico when I heard a volunteer yelling from the play yard. I came in to find her frantically trying to pull Chico off of her by the ears. He wasn't budging, and his nails were digging into her arms drawing blood. I immediately leashed him and pulled him off of her. Then I returned him to his kennel and thought about what to do next.

I placed a note on the exercise log stating that no volunteer was to get him out with out my assistance. We then started Chico on a stern regiment of being walked around the play yard on a leash, in between my legs. At first I did this solely for control, as he was a very strong dog, but over time, it seemed to have a different affect on him as he no longer tried to hump me. I could now walk him around the yard on a loose leash. However, if he got close enough to another person, sir hump-a-lot would make a return appearance.
Because he was on a leash, I was able to pull him off. He then ceased from humping anyone who entered the yard with him. Anyone who entered afterwards was still fair game. We continued to work diligently with Chico over the months he was in our care.
One volunteer had told me that in all her 14 years at the shelter, she had never felt that a dog was truly un-adoptable...until now. I wouldn't hear any of this as I knew Chico was a good boy some where deep...DEEP down.

Then one day, something amazing happened. Chico stopped humping. He became an ace at his manners and was ready to find a new home.
It was two days before Christmas when Chico's forever home came in for him. A family with young children who were able to boss Chico around, telling him SIT! and DOWN! And Chico was obeying like the good boy I knew he could be.

They took him home for Christmas, and that to me, is the best gift any of us could have hoped for.

Chico the reformed humper.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Motion Sickness in Dogs

Does a simple trip to the vet leave your dog feeling queasy and you cleaning up a mess in the back seat? If so, why not take the time to put your dog through the simple process of desensitization?
This is a proven process, and when done correctly is extremely effective. Make sure to devote the time necessary to do this right, and always keep sessions short and successful.

First, start by simply having your dog NEAR your car in the drive way. Because your dog already associates your car with feeling sick, time spent near it while feeling normal will be a key factor in your dogs rehabilitation.

After a few of these sessions, open the car doors. Don't have your dog jump in just yet, again just stay near the car.

The next step will be to turn on the cars' engine. This is still not the time to allow your dog into your car; wait until he or she feels comfortable with this step before asking them to get in. Once your dog is in your car, keep all the doors open and have them jump right back out again. Gradually shut the doors, and sit in the drivers seat. Do not move the car yet! Wait until your dog is ready.

When the time is right, back out of the driveway, and then right back in. Remember, small steps will be the key to success here.

Slowly add time and distance in the car; down the street, around the block and so on.
Your dog should slowly get used to the cars' movements and no longer become sick.
The entire process can take weeks, but the end results are worth it for the both of you.

Throughout the training, remember to shower your dog with gentle and encouraging words of praise!

If done right, you'll soon be able to take those paper towels out of your trunk!

Good luck and happy training!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Educational Struggle

Education is an important yet delicate thing. We value education in our society, yet many people are resistant to it. Whether they are aware of this or not, is not always clear; what is clear is that their minds are closed shut to new, and many times correct, information.
Anyone in the animal welfare business will tell you that educating the public on the many important issues is more than difficult.
People tend to resist change, it's human nature, so when a new and different idea is offered, it is many times ignored or even repelled.
I find this confusing because many times, these people have come to us because of our 'expertise' in the field. But when they don't like what they hear suddenly they know better.
Let me tell you now dear readers, just because your parents did it that way and their parents and theirs, does not make something RIGHT. I know I know, this can be difficult to swallow. So I'll give you a moment.....

(Duke (left) is a handsome young male Pit Bull/Lab mix, available for adoption from the SPCA of Central FL)

OK, so if you're still reading...good for you! You've passed the first hurdle in accepting that there may still be things out there in this world for you to learn. I myself love learning, and try to learn something new every day. This of course gets harder and harder with age.

Young people have the advantage of minds that are not yet chock full of useless information. That is why humane education focuses on school aged children so heavily. Young people are still forming their opinions and ideas about the world and are, at this stage, more than happy to contradict their parents. Giving a class to a group of young people can be so fulfilling because you can almost see them drinking in the new information. With adults, you can sometimes actually see them blocking it. It's not our fault though, you see we simply cannot over ride our formed schema's.
If you are asking..."Uh, Diane, What's a schema?" don't worry, I'll tell you!
I like to think of schema's as little labeled boxes in our brains. (Think about your attic, basement or back room/closet). We only have so many boxes, so we have to assimilate some things....every time we learn something new, we try our best to cram it into a box full of things we already know and are comfortable with. (Are you following me?)
So, when we come across a large oddly shaped object (or piece of different and challenging information) we just can't fit it in any of our boxes, so we throw it out, or reject it.

OK enough with the psychology lessons....the problem is much simpler than that: How to get people to open their minds and perhaps more importantly their hearts?

Some people respond to hard numbers and facts. So here goes....For every human born there are 13 dogs and 65 cats. That means for every pet to have a home EACH person would have to have 13 dogs and 65 cats. Not just every household or family but every individual. One pair of cats and their offspring can create up to 420,000 kittens in just 7 years. Millions of adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized every year in this country alone, while puppy mills and stores make millions of dollars make MORE dogs.

Some people learn through fear: Neutering your male dog will save him from testicular/prostate cancer later in life. A spayed female cannot get ovarian cancer. (Did I mention that cancer is the number ONE killer of dogs?) Spaying and neutering cuts down on aggression. Neutered males seldom mark their territories and spayed females wont bleed all over your rug.

Then there are the folks out there who respond to passion. I see good dogs die every day. Dogs who've never done anything wrong in their lives, dogs that some one at one time had promised to take care of, dogs with love, fear and uncertainty in their eyes. Dogs that willingly walk back to the euthanasia room, happy to be out of their kennel, not knowing these are their final moments on earth. How anyone could justify purchasing a dog, or breeding a dog when these wonderful companions are killed every day, is just beyond me. It just doesn't fit in any of my boxes or in my heart.
Perhaps I am too passionate about my work, and maybe I overwhelm people with my fervor.
Or it may be that people build a wall of guilt, telling themselves that the one litter they let their cat have really didn't take the homes of 7 shelter pets, who were then put to death when their time was up.
Whatever it is, guilt, indifference or plain old seems one simply cannot teach compassion.

Diane AKA The Dog Diva

Monday, December 7, 2009

BOING! Look at me!!!!

Jumping. This just may be the most complained about doggy behavior, and funnily enough, it's one of the easiest to fix!

No one (well most of us anyway) likes going over to 'that friends' house all dressed up, only to have our panty hoes ripped or dress shirts paw stained, all while 'that friend' clamors (always too late) to drag the dog away to confinement, while muttering something about how she just doesn't know why he does that and how sorry she is.
This whole ordeal is just not necessary.

Jumping up is an attention seeking behavior, therefore the way to break a dog of this is to withdraw ALL attention from them; even negative.
Some people will suggest pushing the dog off, saying NO or kneeing the dog in the chest. Even though all of this is "bad" attention it is still attention none the less.
(I know we all remember that kid from our elementary school who would act out just so he could see his name written on the board!) Thus, 'bad' attention is still......well.....attention, and therefore rewarding.

When your dog jumps up on you, simply cross your arms, turn and look away and say OFF! If your dog comes around to the other side of you and tries again, turn away once more and repeat until your dog has all four paws on the ground. Once this occurs you may praise your dog lavishly. If your dog becomes exited by this attention and jumps up again, simply repeat the off procedure once more. It wont take your dog long to figure out that he receives attention while on the ground and gets ignored in the air.

Off is an instructive reprimand and is better in this case because it tells the dog what to do, rather than just letting them know you are displeased.

Have guests coming over? Make sure they know the OFF rules so they don't un-do your training with a single "good doggy" while Fido has his paws on their shoulders.

This system works; period. I have used it on very severe cases and with time and consistency, OFF always wins out.
So good luck and as always, happy training!

Friday, December 4, 2009


A dog with hyperactivity can be destructive as well as pesty. Remember that many breeds of dogs have a psychological need to stay busy, and if you don't give them a job to do...they'll find one! And it most likely will be highly unpleasing to you.
Dogs need toys, (Chew, soft, KONG, balls, Frisbee's etc...) daily walks and play time with both you and with other dogs. Making your dog a part of your day to day family life can also help with hyperactivity. Instead of locking your dog in a crate and leaving, why not take them with you?! Your dog would surely love to watch little Johnny' s soccer game, or go through the bank drive through with you. Being a part of family activities will give your dog something to do and to look forward to, and you will notice an over improvement in your dogs' behavior.
Now, I know that you can't take your dog everywhere you go, so when you have to leave Fido behind, make sure that he's had plenty of exercise first. Confine your dog to a specific area in your home that is dog proofed (ie no trash cans left out or cords to chew...) and leave behind some fun toys. (A KONG stuffed with goodies should keep your dog happy and occupied.)
When you arrive back home play a game of hide and seek or "find the treat" with your dog for a little brain stimulation and fun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Let Me Touch Your Feet!

During the Holiday Season many people will be bringing a new furry friend home to join their families. There are many things to know and consider when doing this, but in an effort not to overwhelm my loyal audience, I will be taking these steps one at a time!

Today we will be discussing: Handling.

Handling is very important for all dogs. You can start this process whether you have a puppy or a senior. It's never too early or too late to start!

Handling is an especially important routine because all dogs will need their nails trimmed, their hair combed, teeth brushed and ears cleaned. Do NOT wait until these things actually need to be done to try them! Start getting your dog prepared today!

Get your dog used to having all parts of his or her body touched. Always be gentle and praise them verbally and with yummy treats for good behavior.

Toe nail clipping can make even the most seasoned dog owner cringe; and anyone who's ever "quicked" a dog knows why!
Start small by clipping just the tip of the toe nails. Do just one or two at a time, followed by praise, treats and/or play time. In other words, associate the event with something enjoyable for your dog.
If your dog has clear nails...lucky you! You will be able to see the quick (vein) in the nail, so you shouldn't have trouble avoiding it. For the rest of us, the best advice is to go slow and take a little at a time. Always have styptic powder close at hand to stop the bleeding in case of an accident. Quicks can bleed without stopping for quite some time without this.

Follow the same rules for teeth brushing and ear cleaning. Slow and patient with lots of "Good Dogs!"

You can practice handling whenever your dog is near you. Touch your dogs feet, look in their ears and open their mouths whenever you get a chance.
If you do this enough your dog will become desensitized to the process.