Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Loss To Our Community

I received a phone call yesterday at around 4pm from a local news station. They asked me if I was aware of what took place at Sea World Orlando earlier in the day. Having been at work all day, I was not.
The reporter informed me that a whale trainer had been killed by one of the whales at the park. She asked if I could comment on why this may have happened. I declined to comment, having never worked with marine mammals before, I didn't feel comfortable giving my input.

After hanging up the phone my thoughts immediately leaped to a colleague of mine who trained whales at Sea World Orlando. "What if it was her?" I thought to myself.

Upon arriving home and turning on the local news, I learned the sad truth that in fact it was my fellow animal trainer and dog lover, Dawn Brancheau.

My heart fell to the floor as everything around me became a blur. I phoned a co-worker who knew her as well to share the news and we commiserated.

I've spoken to many of my friends here in the Central Florida training community and we all feel her loss. We are, very much a family. One love, one passion. And yes there are dangers to what we do, but the joy of the job far out weighs them.

Dawn volunteered her time at her local SPCA, using her vast training knowledge to work with the homeless dogs and make them more adoptable. She truly loved animals. Her bright personality and infections spirit will be missed.

My only hope is that no rash decisions are made about the life of the whale...I hope that the whale is allowed to live out his life, as I 'm sure Dawn would have wanted it that way.

Swim in peace now Dawn, swim in peace....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Best in Show

Recently I was asked to speak about Dog Shows, Pure Bred dogs and...adoption....? I know, they don't seem to go together, at least not at first.
Every year, 'dog show season' brings it's champions, and we see a rise in popularity of whichever breed finds itself in the winners circle.

So when I was asked to to a spot on a national morning show regarding the adoption of pure bred dogs, I was intrigued.

The thing is, buying a dog should never be an option. No matter what breed of dog people think they want, one can always be found, waiting in a shelter or rescue.

But let's back up. The first question people need to ask themselves is: "Why do I want this particular breed?" Is it because it is the type of dog that the 'it' celebrity has? Did this breed just star in a movie? Or win Best in show?

The next question you need to ask is: "What do I really know about this breed?" If the only answer is: "They're cute", then further research will be needed. People need to evaluate their lifestyles. Do they want a high energy or low energy dog? How much time do they have to spend with the dog? Will they get a puppy or an adult? People looking to get a dog too often go by looks alone and not by traits or personality.

I can't tell you how many Border Collies are surrendered to shelters or put down due to their 'destructive behavior'. However, when one looks at the facts, they find that the poor dogs were kept in crates for 9 hours a day and then not properly exercised or stimulated on top of it. Border Collies are extremely athletic and intelligent, but people get them because: "Oh, look he has blue eyes!"

Once one has done the research, and a breed has been identified, the question should be raised: What about a mix of this breed? A dog who is MOSTLY German Shepherd or almost all Chow. These dogs can give you the same benefits of the breed but with less health issues.

Finally, when looking for a new friend, don't count out your local shelter or County facility. 25-30% of all dogs in shelters are pure breeds. Out of the 55 dogs we had here last week, 18 of them were a pure breed.

If a specific breed cannot be found at the local shelter, try a breed specific rescue. EVERY breed has one. will find one for you! Just enter your zip code and breed and they will find you a match!

And finally, just because that show dog looks like such a wonderfully behaved canine, doesn't mean that yours will be. Those dogs are worked with from birth to become a champion. Their owners lively hood revolves around them.

For the rest of us, our dogs should be a member of the family, a best friend and a constant companion. Sure they may never win a trophy, but honestly, that's just more to dust anyway.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stairway to Fear

Many dogs are frightened of stairs, and the reasons vary with each situation.
If you adopt a dog who has never lived in a home with stairs, they may be hesitant to go up them, down them or both!

On the other side, is a dog who HAS lived with stairs before, but has had a bad experience with them.

I will never forget the time an adopter called me about 45 minutes after adopting a beautiful American Bulldog. She was standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to her apartment and the dog would not budge. Another time, I received a call about a dog who went up the stairs initially, but now would not go down them. The poor thing hadn't been outside to go to the bathroom in three days!

Some people try to force a dog up or down the stairs, however this does not allow the dog to overcome their phobia. It also may end in a nip or bite, when the scared dog says: "No way I'm scared!"

Once again, positive reinforcement is the way to go, however, before implementing a training and reconditioning routine, make a visit to your vet to rule out pain as the issue. (For more information on positive reinforcement, see my previous blog on the subject.)

If you are starting with a young puppy, you can prevent the development of fear by properly socializing them. (See my blogs on puppies for more information.)

If you've got an older dog on your hands, who's fear is already instilled, remember to go slow. Start by just approaching the steps. Reward for progress no matter how small.

You can use a tasty treat or a favorite toy to lure you dog up the steps little by little.

Take this training one step at a time...literally. Up one step and back down. (Or down one and back up, depending on your situation.)

Make sure to have something very special (maybe dinner) waiting for the dog at the end of the steps. This way your dog can learn that going up (or down) the stairs leads to something good!

Be patient and do not rush the process.

If your stair way is "open" as in built without vertical panels, your dog may be scared of falling through! Try draping a sheet or blanket over the steps, so your dog can't see all the way down.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kitten Class 3

Welcome to the final instalment of my kitten class series. After this is back to what I know best...DOGS!

Let's start with the "milk myth". Did you know that the ONLY milk your kitten needs is it's mothers? Kittens do NOT need cows milk any more than we do....and no, we don't need it!

Beating Boredom: Plant an indoor garden for your kitten. Try wheat grass in small planters. Get a couple of cat tress and don't throw away those paper bags and cardboard boxes! They may great kitten forts! Change up your kittens play things regularly to keep them stimulated.
You can make cat toys out of pipe cleaners as well. They cost about 3 cents to make. I like to make little bugs, but feel free to get creative!

Remember to confine your kitten at night to where ever you are. Cats are nocturnal by nature and a small kitten can get almost anywhere!

Scratching is a natural and normal cat behavior and should be encouraged, in the right places. Buy a scratching post and show your kitten how to use it. Scratching allows your kitten to scratch and also leave their scent behind.

Kitty Signals: Quivering tail: "I love you!" Swishing or Wagging tail: "I'm annoyed." Ears Up: Curious, alert. Ears Back: "I'm not happy about something..." Low Purr: "I'm very happy! That feels good!" Low Growl: "Back off!" Hissing: "I warned you! Now I'm really MAD!" Meow: reserved especially for humans.

Litter Box Training: Finding the right location is important. Put kittens litter box in a place that provides privacy but does not totally isolate. Keep the box clean. Litter should be scooped every day and the box cleaned with soap and water weekly. Make sure to have as many litter boxes as you do cats and place a box on each level of your home. To train your kitten to use the box, place them inside when they most need to go. (Wake up, after play, after eating, after nap, before bed...)

Be prepared, your kitten will have accidents. It's ok. If you catch your kitten in the act of a mistake, interrupt them with a loud noise and then place them in the litter box. You CANNOT correct them after the fact.
Clean the area with a non ammonia based product. Enzyme eaters work great.

A note about de-clawing. It is cruel and inhumane. There are several countries where the procedure is outlawed. De-clawing removes more than just the nail, it removes the first bone of every 'finger'. Ouch. De-clawing can cause severe behavior problems and is unnecessary. Simply clip your cats nails regularly. Push out the claws by squeezing the paw and snip up to the pink. Do NOT clip the pink part, as this is a vain and will be painful. You can also put "pedi-paws" on your cat. Pedi-paws are basically a rubber nail cover. They come in all different colors!

Crate Training: Crate training your kitten is very important as it will make vet visits much easier for the both of you! Crate training cuts down on the stress of your cat. Start early with your kitten and go slow. Never force your kitten into the crate. They should always walk in willingly for a treat or their dinner.Proper crate carrying should be done AWAY from your body, and with the opening of the crate facing backwards. This minimizes kitty's stress immensely, plus it's a GREAT arm work out!

Problem behaviors to look out for include: Counter surfing, suckling, fights/aggression, night crazies, spraying and scratching. Counter surfing is not only annoying but can be dangerous to your kitten. (Think hot burner!) To prevent kitty from doing this, simply make your counter an un-attractive place to be. Try placing a plastic carpet runner upside down on your counter. You cat will not like the way this feels on their feet, there fore they will be less likely to jump up there in the future. Suckling is generally caused by a cat being taken from his mother too early. Most cats that display this behavior, do so their entire lives. Spraying can be controlled by spaying and/or neutering your cat.

To figure out what is causing your kittens 'bad' behavior you have to ask yourself a series of questions: Have you changed anything? Taken anything away? Added anything? Met a new person? The smallest thing can set off your cat. (Finally threw out that bean bag chair from 1993? Tried a new perfume?) Find the answer and fix the problem.

Aversives: An aversive is something your cat does not like. There are texture aversives (like the upside down carpet runner), smell/taste aversives such as citrus, surprise (a stacked pyramid of empty soda cans that falls over when your cat jumps on your bed) and human controlled such as a squirt gun. Be careful with human controlled aversives and they can back fire and make your cat fearful of you, instead of the action.

Managing rough play. Hands are NOT play toys and kitten should learn right away that it is NOT ok to bite them. If your kitten bites your hands, end the play session immediately. Always follow by redirecting them to an appropriate action, like chewing on a toy.

The importance of play: Play manages kittens stress and reduces ankle biting and scratching.

Prey Play: This should be done just before bedtime. Simulate a hunt with your kitten with a mouse toy on a string (or similar toy). Let kitty hunt the toy and 'kill it'. Follow with a high protein meaty treat. This will send signals to your kittens brain that it is time for sleep.

Always use positive reinforcement! Encourage the behaviors you want to see and ignore the ones you don't.

Hard work, responsibility and commitment = a life time of love.....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kitten Class 2

Thanks for coming back! Now, let's talk about introducing your kitten to your dog. Feed them both their dinner on opposite sides of a closed door. This way they can smell each other during a very important time of the day. Swap scents! Just like you did with your resident cats, swap your dogs bedding with your kittens. During the initial introductions, have your dog on a leash on one end of the room and your kitten being held on the other. Feed them both yummy treats such as chicken, beef hot dogs or tuna. Keep the sessions short and sweet. When it's time, let kitty go first, and ALWAYS supervise their interactions.
Your kitten and your kid: It is very important that your child understands the kitty rules. You must ALWAYS supervise your child when they interact with your kitten. Make sure you show them how to hold the kitten properly.

Early handling of your kitten is super important. The more the better, and always keep sessions positive. This is imperative for having a well socialized adult cat.

Kittens should stay with their mother and siblings until at LEAST 8 weeks of age. (12 is better). A kitten can be spayed or neutered as early as 8 weeks. It is extremely important to spay or neuter your cat. Did you know that for every person born, there are 65 cats!? That means for every cat to have a home each one of us would have to have 65 cats. We all know that is never going to happen, so we must do what we can to stem the feline population growth. SPAY AND NEUTER!

Kitten Developmental Stages:

0-2 weeks, neo-natal

2-7 weeks socialization period

7-14 weeks most active play period

3-6 months Ranking period

6-18 months Adolescence

Many people have 'indoor/outdoor cats', but this is not something I recommend. I believe that cats, like dogs, should be inside only. Out door cats do not live as long as indoor cats, and they face hazards such as Feline aids and leukemia as well as wild animals, cars and more.

If you already have an outdoor cat, make sure they have a break away collar, are microchiped and have a bell attached to them. Out door cats have decimated our nations small bird population. By belling your cat, the bird will have time to escape before it's too late.

Don't forget to vaccinate your cat, and take them to their annual vet appointments!

Also, start your kitten on a flea prevention program and a hair ball remedy. Most cats actually like the taste of the hairball paste, but if yours doesn't, just smear it on their paw, and they will be forced to lick it off!

Don't be alarmed if you kitten's heart is beating super fast, that's normal! Cat's hearts beat around twice as fast as a human heart.

Calculating your cats age is not as simple as calculating your dogs age. For more information go to:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Dog Diva on.....Kittens!

I know what you're thinking...this is a dog blog, and yes it is, but I wanted to take a moment to write a little something about that often neglected 'other pet'. Sure kittens are cute, and soon shelters across the country will be flooded with them as 'kitten season' starts. Yes, Kitten Season.
So, I figured why not arm yourselves with the knowledge it takes to have and raise a kitten into a well adjusted adult cat?

Let's get started.

Kittens need constant supervision. Remember: Curiosity killed the cat! Kittens can be very messy and destructive.

Before kittens arrival you will need to go shopping! Make sure to get toys, litter box, litter, food, treats, bowls, collars, tags and cleaning supplies.

On kittens first night home, confine kitty to a small back room that has been kitten proofed. Set up kitty base camp in that room with food, water, litter box and bed. Keep the door closed and let kitty adjust. (This also keeps any resident cats or dogs out of the room for now.) Make sure to play with and visit kitty many times during the day.

During the first week, keep the door shut, but use scent swapping to start introducing your new kitty to the rest of the household. Take the bedding from kitty's room and swap with your other cats or dogs bedding. This way everyone gets to smell everyone else, with out having to meet yet.

Week two, you can crack the door to allow kitty to come out if desired, but do not open the door wide enough for your larger animals to crawl through. Now it is kitties choice. Have patience and never force your kitten. As kitty becomes more and more adventurous you may begin to gradually move 'base camp' out into the house.

Come back next time for information on introducing your kitten to your dog and much more!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Puppy Class 3

Thanks for coming back for Puppy Class 3! As you can see by now, puppies are a lot of work!
Let's start today by going over some common problems that start off small and grow into a big deal.

Jumping: Is not cute. Period. If you do not want your full size dog to jump on you and others, you cannot allow your puppy to do so either. Jumping is an attention seeking behavior, so don't give your puppy ANY attention for doing it! (Not even negative attention.) Simply ignore the behavior, then praise them when the have all four feet on the floor.

Rough Play. Ouch, this can hurt, as puppies have very sharp little teeth! You should NEVER allow your puppy to put your hands or feet in their mouth. A puppy should learn that their teeth should never touch human skin. So, every time your puppy mouths you, YELP loudly and walk away. This way, puppy learns that he will have to play more gently if he wants the game to continue.
Always redirect mouthing behavior to an appropriate toy.

Puppy keep away: this is when your puppy grabs something you want, and that they shouldn't have. (your sock or remote control for example.) Then, you proceed to chase them all over the house trying to get it back. This is a super fun game for your puppy! One that they will most likely want to repeat every night. You cannot chase your puppy for the item...whatever it is. You must wait for them to get bored with it and drop it themselves. This is why it is so very important to puppy proof and supervise, so that puppy doesn't have access to forbidden items in the first place.

Teething: Puppies teethe just like children do. If your puppy is sore, you can wet a rag or a rope toy and freeze it. Then give it to puppy to gnaw on. Also, a cold carrot works too.

So in the end, work, responsibility and commitment equal a lifetime of LOVE.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Puppy Class 2

Socialization is the MOST important thing you can do for your puppy! I cannot stress this enough. You will need to expose your puppy to many different people and places, remembering to keep all activities positive and never to force your puppy.
Although dogs are removed from wolves by thousands of years, they are still a social pack animal. I discourage any form of 'dominating' your puppy to show who is boss. In stead, try the Nothing In Life Is Free method.

Basically, your puppy will need to work for everything he receives. (eating, playing etc...) Your puppy will have to preform a task for you first. (Ex: Sit.) Puppy will learn that YOU run the show, and they can remain clam knowing that they don't have to worry about shelter and other resources themselves.
Your puppy is a reflection of you!
The Puppy Test: Your child, your puppy and a chew toy...alone. Your child approaches the puppy and the puppy growls. Your child runs away. What did the puppy just learn? Well, he learned that growling is a good way to keep people away from his things! What should have happened? If you said that your child and your puppy should NEVER have been left alone together in the first place, then DING DING DING you are correct!
The Puppy Test Cont....You re-enter the room. Your child once again approaches the puppy with his toy, but this time he bites! What did you see? You saw your puppy biting 'out of the blue'. BUT did puppy bite out of the blue? The answer is no. The puppy already warned the child with the growl, but since you were not around to hear that, you now believe that you witnessed an un-provoked bite. (This is about the time that I receive a frantic phone call where you say something about being 'at your wits end...)
Anyway, I digress...your child and your puppy need to be supervised at all times. If you had been in the room when the puppy growled, you could have ended it with a stern NO! Then worked with the puppy on exchanging toys for treats! Simple.
Dinner time is a very special time for puppy and an important one for you and your family. The person who feeds puppy is a very special person, therefore your entire family should be involved. Place a hand full of food in puppy's bowl and set it down. When puppy finishes, drop by hand a few more kibble, then a few more. Have your kids do this too! This way your puppy will learn that hands near the food bowl bring GOOD things. This will prevent food aggression. Start handling your puppy while he eats. Touch him all over including his feet and tail.
The chew toy rules: The goal here is to prevent possessiveness. You will want to have around 20-25 toys for your dog and rotate them every month or so, so they don't get bored. Your puppy will need to learn to give up their toys when you ask them. (Note: never forcibly take a toy or chase puppy for it.) Simply offer puppy a yummy treat in return for the toy. Count to five and give the toy right back. Gradually increase the time you have the toy, but remember to always give it back.
Remember that your puppy will have problems and things will go wrong. Be prepared and remain calm.
Punishment must be given promptly followed by redirection and reward! (For more information about punishment, types and how to administer, see my blog devoted to the subject.)
Come back next time when we discuss jumping, teething and more!