Monthly Archives: March 2013

I’ve Moved!

To all you lovely people who have been ‘following’ my blog, I’ve now moved to a self-hosted wordpress.org website.  I’m still working it out, but I think it means that I lose all my previous followers.  So if you would like to keep following my blog, please re-subscribe by hitting the follow button again.  I remain at http://www.humanrescuesdog.com

Thanks! 

4 Things You Must Teach Your Dog – TODAY!

image040There are thousands of dog training articles online. But here are 4 practical things that really helped me.

1.  “On your bed!”

This has saved my sanity time and time again.

Have a place in  your living room where you dog can relax (crate or bed). Every time your dog goes to his bed, say brightly “On your bed!”. Reward with a treat. When he’s doing this consistently, increase your expectations, so that he only gets a treat if he has spent a minute on the bed.  If he tries to get up before that minute is up, redirect him (you can use a collar and leash  or interrupt him as he’s getting up with a sharp ‘Ah-ah’). Have a ‘release word’ which signifies that you’ve allowed him to come off the bed. We use ‘OK!’ but you can use any word you like.  Do this dozens of times every day.

Incrementally introduce distractions, so he learns to stay on his bed, even when you wave a toy around or when guests arrive.

2.  One great trick

Teach your dog one great trick.  Expending mental energy will improve his behaviour at home.  A dog that can do a cute trick will endear himself to your guests and reduce the fear factor. I personally love Kyra Sundance’s book, but there are thousands of youtube videos and books around. And get a clicker!

3. Recall

Charlie is very food-oriented, so we taught him to ‘Come’ to a whistle. Whistles are great, because the sound travels through long distances.  Start with using the whistle at home and encouraging your dog to come to you when he hears it. Each time he comes to you, give a treat. Slowly increase the distance.

A very famous and helpful DVD for recall training is Leslie Nelson’s “Really Reliable Recall“.

4. Walking well on a leash

There is nothing worse than walking a dog (much less two dogs) who pull on the leash.  We struggled with Charlie and Hannah for a long time.  What worked? Initially, we used a no-pull harness but it was a band-aid solution.

The only thing that helped long-term was investing in excellent dog trainers, privately rather than in a big obedience club. They taught us how to give a couple of firm corrections (rather than the infinite small corrections we were giving) and had our dogs walking gently in a matter of minutes. It was mind-blowing.   Training your dogs to walk well will motivate you to take them for walks. This, in turn, will tire them out, meaning less problem behaviours at home!  A walk with your dog can be a bonding and meditative experience.

What is your best dog training tip?  

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The Great “Dog Whisperer” Hoax

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The Myth Of The Dog Whisperer

When Charlie was a puppy, we decided to shell out hundreds of dollars for a visit from a ‘dog psychologist’.  She came, she saw, she did not conquer.  His problem behaviours were jumping, nipping at our clothes and barking.  Her solution? Keep him outside and ignore him.  I wish I was kidding.

In time, and with experience, we came to realise that Charlie’s ‘problem’ was loneliness. Keeping him outside, as per her advice, was the worst thing we could do.  A labrador thrives on  human company. “Ignoring” him only added to his sense of isolation and frustration.  This lasted a few days, until we decided to bring him indoors.  Miraculously, all his problem behaviours subsided.  Charlie has remained a happy and loving pooch.

This “dog whisperer” came with a ton of qualifications.  She presented as extremely professional.  She had great reviews on her website.  All this served to make us ignore the fact that she was just plain wrong about our dog.

The Media

There are now an abundance of TV shows which feature famed dog whisperers or dog psychologists.  Their ‘techniques’ appear so impressive on TV.  This, in addition to the trainer’s charisma, makes for compelling television.  But invariably, when the dogs are visited a few weeks later, the problems have recurred.  A one-hour visit from a dog trainer will usually not solve serious behavioural issues.

What worries me is that we take advice from these people.  People will watch these shows and try and emulate the dog trainer’s technique on their dogs at home.  This is inevitable, despite the legalese saying “Please do not try at home”.  It’s human nature.

Do not ignore your gut feeling when choosing any trainer for your dog.  Remember that often, the emperor has no clothes.

What makes a good dog trainer?

A good trainer takes time to work with your dog.  She gets to know your dog’s personality so that she doesn’t adopt a blanket training approach.  She gives you practical information that you can use and will keep you safe (NOT ‘alpha rolls’).  Most of all, she will respect the bond between you and your dog.  This means she does not subject your dog to unnecessary pain or distress, all in the name of ‘training’.

Dominance theories

I’m not a big fan of the ‘dominance’ theories or pack theories.  They feel outdated, and much damage has been done to dogs in the name of these theories.  There has been a huge amount of research into dog behaviours since these archaic theories were formulated.  There are more humane ways of training your dog.

What you can do

One thing I found very helpful is educating myself on dog behaviour and training.  I read tons of books. I visited dog forums.  I became obsessive about knowing things for myself, rather than blindly trusting the experts.  That way, I was armed with more information when meeting a trainer and I knew what I would find unacceptable in training.

I have personally found Dr Sophia Yin’s website very helpful.  She’s got lovely, positive methods of training dogs and writes great articles.

But make up your own mind. Whatever you do, stay educated on what’s best for your dog.

What are your thoughts on dog whisperers? Have you had any bad training experiences? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t?

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Could Dogs Be A Solution For Bullying?

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The scope of the problem

One in four Australian children, in years 4 to 9,  report being bullied every few weeks (Australian Covert Prevalence Bullying Study).  Older children are more susceptible to cyber bullying. Children who are bullied may grow up with low self-esteem, and the effects of bullying can haunt them for the rest of their lives.  For those of you who have had a difficult time growing up, you will know all too well the lingering effects of bullying.

Luckily there has been more focus on it in the media.  Various initiatives have been started to reduce bullying in schools.  Parents and teachers are more aware of the early warning signs that a child may be bullied.

How can dogs help bullied children?

I think dogs might be an under-used resource in helping children who have been bullied.  How can dogs help?

Have a look at Dogs of Character, a marvelous initiative in Texas.  Previously abused dogs, who have been rehabilitated, are brought in to school assemblies and spend time with children.  The aim is to help children understand that you can survive traumatic experiences and have a beautiful life afterwards.  For those children who are themselves the bullies, seeing an abused dog may lead them to reconsider their bullying.

How dogs can impact the social development of children

Caring for a dog may, in itself, be a healing experience for a bullied child.  The child that feels unloved, unwanted and criticised, finds in his canine companion unconditional love and acceptance. The child learns to love and learns what it is to be loved.  Another effect of dog ownership, if the child is adequately educated on responsible pet ownership, is that the child learns to treat animals with respect.  I think this is the first step in becoming an empathic person, who is sensitive to the needs of others.

A child psychologist in New Mexico published a paper in 2000, where he looked at the impact of dog ownership on 10-12 year olds.  He found a significant difference in empathy and self-esteem between the adolescents who owned a dog and those who did not.

Society is becoming increasingly narcissistic (just look at the abundance of reality TV shows).  I love to imagine a future where every child understands that he is not the centre of the world and that great good can come from treating your fellow earthlings with respect.

If you think your child may be bullied, visit Bullying No Way.

Have you found any positive changes in your child as a result of dog ownership?  Do you think dogs can help bullied children? What are your childhood memories of dogs?

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Do You Have a Favorite Dog?

I swear I love both my dogs equally, but some people think I might favor one over the other.  I looked through the blog and saw that I had more photos of Charlie than Hannah.  My guilt was overwhelming and I started to imagine that Hannah was looking at me reproachfully.  Sometimes I thought I saw her look away sadly, with the glint of a tear in her eye.  So, in the interest of mending Hannah’s broken heart, and proving that I love both equally, here are some of Hannah’s cutest moments, captured! Tell her how cute she is, so we can undo the damage caused.  OK , so Charlie squeezed his way into a couple of these 🙂

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How To Write A Book About A Dog – And Make Millions Doing It!

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I was at the airport bookshop today and noticed that three of the bestselling books were about dogs.  You know the ones…”heartwarming story of how Fido saved man’s life” etc.  It got me thinking about how genuine some of these tales are.  Most of us have loved dogs deeply and yet few have thought to write about their experiences and make a few bucks off it.  Am I being too cynical? Here’s my formula for writing one of your own:

1.  Call it a ‘memoir’. 

People love true stories.    Make sure you write ‘true story’ on the cover; even better, write ‘the amazing true story’ or ‘the unbelievable true story’.  Doesn’t matter if some of the details don’t add up.  People will get lost in the emotion and forget the loopholes in the plot.

2. Choose a cute dog.

Nobody wants to hear how much you love your Doberman.  Small and fluffy works best (think poodle).  Bigger dogs can work, but make sure they are popular dogs eg golden retrievers or labradors.  A cute name helps too.  “Banjo” is good.  “Cujo” is bad.

3. Throw in some “life lessons” for good measure.

It’s always great if your dog has taught you the meaning of life. If your dog hasn’t, it’s OK, just make some stuff up and attribute it to the dog.  Try and keep these lessons as non-specific as possible.   “Make sure you floss your teeth every night so that you don’t end up with bacterial endocarditis” = boring and too practical.  “My dog has taught me how to really love someone” …now we’re talking! So how do you really love someone? No need to go into details here.  Think big picture people!

If you want to know if the ‘life lessons’ will resonate with people, try to read it in a slow, South American drawl.  E.g. “My mama always taught me that only a dog can teach a man about life…Charlie was that dog for me, and in all the years I knew him, he never let me down…” (think My Dog Skip).

4.  Include a sob story. 

You can’t write about how you and your dog lived happily ever after. No-one wants to read that.  Make someone get cancer or die (either you or your dog).   Failing that, talk about how difficult it was for you to deal with your dog’s naughty behaviours.  Be careful here.  You want ‘naughty but adorable’ eg some chewing of furniture.  Don’t talk about how your dog became aggressive and bit the neighbour’s child, and then turned on you.  That’s just too much.

I hope this guide has been helpful for those of you who want to become published.  Good luck and look forward to reading your next novel!

Do you have any other tips for the aspiring writer of dog memoirs?

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How Safe Is Your Dog From Dog-Theft?

I don’t even have the heart to add a photo to this post.  A few days ago, there was a spate of dog thefts in the Western suburbs of Melbourne. To say this sickens me is a huge understatement.  Although the reasons for the thefts are unclear, there are often disturbing motives behind these acts.  In many of these cases, pet dogs may be stolen in order to be used as breeding dogs in puppy mills or used in dog-fighting rings. There are some even worse motives (if you can imagine that) but I won’t delve into that here because it is too horrifying.

These dog thefts are happening in suburban Melbourne! I know I shouldn’t ruminate on these things, but I am filled with anxiety about the fate of these dogs.  To keep myself sane, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at ways in which we can keep our dogs safe.

1. Don’t leave your dog in  your car.  

This is a bad idea on many levels (dogs have died of heatstroke in cars, even when you don’t think it’s that hot), but dogs alone in a car are a prime target for thieves.

2.  Do not leave your dog tied to poles outside whilst you shop. 

Theft is one concern. Another is a child going up to the dog and surprising the dog (when the dog then growls or bites, it will be put down).  Some people might be cruel to the dog or taunt the dog. Anything can happen; please avoid doing this.

3.  Ensure your yard is gated properly and secure. 

Better yet, don’t leave your dog unattended in the yard when you’re not at home.  Try and train your dog to be able to stay inside the house when you’re away.  If you’re worried about your dog being destructive inside, consider investing in a crate, which can be a good method of short-term containment of a dog for a couple of hours whilst you’re away.

4. Make sure your dog has all identification tags and paperwork.

Ensure your dog is microchipped, wearing his collar with tags and is registered with the council.

5. Keep recent photos of your dog, in case the worst does happen.

Try to take photos of any identifying features. For instance, Charlie has a white streak of hair on his chest.

6.  Consider installing pet cameras at your home to keep an eye on things when you’re not there.

Do you have any other tips?  Let’s add to this list to keep every dog safe.

If anyone has information on the dog thefts in Melbourne, please contact:

 Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit http://www.crimestoppers.com.au

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They Tried To Make Me Go To Rehab…And I Said ‘No, no ,no!’

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by life, I watch this video of Charlie and it makes me smile in 2 minutes.

Charlie had hip dysplasia and had a big operation for it when he was a puppy (triple pelvic osteotomy).  He could not weight bear for 8 weeks after the surgery.  We had to keep him in his crate for most of the time as per the surgeon’s instructions.  Imagine you’re a dog, and you wake up one day being unable to walk! We had to lift him outside to do his toiletting.  It was an unbelievably stressful time for us.  But Charlie took it all in his stride, no pun intended.

This video was taken soon after the surgeon gave the ‘OK’ for Charlie to start weight-bearing and suggested hydrotherapy. The hydrotherapist-lady in the video was absolutely wonderful with him, as you can see.

In the video, Charlie reminds me to take life step-by-step.  He reminds me to persevere even when things seem dismal.  His beautiful face and wagging tail remind me to remain optimistic.

Charlie ended up making a great recovery and can now be seen in parks all over Melbourne, running to his heart’s content.  And he did it by taking things step-by-step and facing the world with courage.

What has your dog taught you?

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What I Know For Sure

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When you are young, you see the world in black and white.

You say things like “I would never….” or “I will always…”.  As you get older, life becomes peppered with more shades of grey.  Your ‘nevers’ turn into ‘maybes’ and your ‘always’ turns into ‘sometimes’. All the things you used to know for sure become uncertain.

The dreams and ambitions of youth begin to lose their meaning. Other things become more important, like love and family.  You no longer need a thousand people to tell you they love you before you believe it. The love of one good person is enough.  You realise that being kind may not be trendy, but is the best way to survive in a cruel world.

I have been wondering about what it is that I know for certain.  I no longer have the reckless confidence of youth.  I don’t believe that I have exclusive rights to correct opinions in the world.  Half the time, I am completely confused about my own beliefs and values.

But this is what I do know to the core of my being:

Being good to the animals that share our world is one of our most important responsibilities.

I’m not religious, but I think caring for an animal is a spiritual experience.  I’ve been given the gift and privilege of the companionship of animals. I don’t think there is anything more healing or more pure.

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The Skinny On Losing Weight With Your Dog

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I’ll admit,  Charlie has a few ‘love handles’. On an average dog, this may be OK, but Charlie has had hip dysplasia, so it is crucial to keep him at a good weight to ease the stress on his joints.

I have fallen for those pleading labrador eyes many times and often thought ‘one more treat couldn’t hurt him right?’.  Charlie has mastered the art of pleading for food – sometimes he looks at you like “how could you be soooooo cruel? You can’t spare another few crumbs of that burger? What sort of person are you? How can you SLEEP at night?  I’m DYING of hunger.”  This is two minutes after he’s had his dinner.

Well, those crumbs can hurt.  It is estimated that up to 40% of American dogs are overweight.  We’ve all seen those awful photos of overweight dogs and I won’t repeat them here.  But suffice to say that an overweight dog can suffer with all sorts of physical issues, not to mention the impact on their quality of life.

*Sigh* I also have  a few love handles.  In my head, I think they’re kind of ‘cute’ and I am OK with them (I’m delusional that way), but I figure, if Charlie is going to lose some weight, I could too.  So I’ve done a bit of research and here are some tips on how to get skinny with your dog:

1. Pooch to 5k 

I love this concept.  There are many ‘couch to 5k programs’ and this is the doggy version.  You start incrementally building short runs into your walk, over a number of weeks, until you and your dog can comfortable run 5k.  Check out the website for more information: Pooch to 5k.   Don’t have a dog? Call up your local shelter and see if you can walk or run one of their dogs regularly.

2. Stop giving in to the pleading eyes

OK, this is a really hard one.  No. More. Treats.  None.   I think Charlie trained me very well.  Sometimes I give him a treat for the ‘peace-and-quiet’ factor.  I want to just chill out, and there he is, begging for food, or doing small whingeing noises, and I think ‘Well, a rawhide chew will keep him busy for the next hour’ and I cave in, for selfish reasons.  He has trained me, by upping the ante with his whimpering/pleading until I cave.  Don’t fall for it!

Also, stop giving  table scraps.  At dinner time, your dog needs to sit on his bed until you’re finished.  This has been the hardest thing for me. I almost feel we should have a support group for dog owners who can’t say ‘no’ to their dogs.  “Weak-willed People Anonymous” or something.  STAY STRONG PEOPLE!

3.  Feed less

This one’s not rocket science.  Feed less than what the food package tells you (they always overestimate the food requirements for dogs).  Feed at fixed times (no ‘grazing’).  For us, we’ve found the best way to get Charlie to lose weight is to actually halve his food, but it really depends on what you’re feeding and your type of dog.  Ask your vet for advice.

4. Mix up the exercise and move more

If you’re always going for that 30 minute walk around the block, take your dog to parks where they can run free for a bit.  Also, increase the walk duration, or go twice a day if needed.

Do you have any tips for a fit, slim dog (and dog-owner)? Have you successfully made your dog lose weight? Are you struggling with an overweight dog?  Talk to me!

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