“Dog Town”, Another Barking Great Read

DogTown: Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Redemption Stefan Bechtel

covers_dogtown_hp

The BlurbA national rescue organization with more than 200,000 members, DogTown is the area where dogs live at the nation’s largest companion animal sanctuary run by Best Friends Animal Society. This informative, inspiring book presents representative stories of dogs considered unadoptable by other shelters. They come from many backgrounds: some were abandoned; some prowled the streets as strays; others suffer from mysterious illnesses, serious injuries, or antisocial behaviors that discourage potential adopters. But good fortune led them to Best Friends and the dedicated people devoted to helping them recover and find welcoming homes.

These compelling, winningly illustrated true stories, each uniquely moving and inspirational, draw upon the experience of veterinarians, trainers, and volunteers to probe a range of tough, touching cases that evoke both the joy and the occasional but inevitable heartbreak that accompanies this work. Each chapter follows a dog from the first day at Dogtown until he ultimately finds (or doesn’t find) a permanent new home, focusing both on the relationship between the dog and the Dogtown staff and on the latest discoveries about animal health and behavior. We learn how dogs process information, how trauma affects their behavior, and how people can help them overcome their problems. In the end, we come to see that there are no “bad dogs” and that with patience, care, and compassion, people can help dogs to heal.

What I Thought:

Sometimes I avoid dog books because I become upset when reading of an animal’s suffering and the cruel things people can do to them. However, I’m happy to report that this isn’t one of those books that focus’ on the suffering – it rather focus’s on the dog’s recovery and it’s “happily ever after”. It is filled with life affirming moments both from the actions of the wonderful staff and the dogs themselves. Even when dealing with a death there is great solace that the dog found its way to a place where it could experience happiness, comfort and a fulfilled life.

After reading this I too want to pack up and head to DogTown to not only help out in caring for the animals, but to also meet the amazing, dedicated people who care for them.

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Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Rescue Dogs, Various Behavioural Issues

Tool(s) Used: Book Resource

Cost: I got the kindle edition from amazon.com for $5.79

Ease of Implementation: Not applicable. Though there were some really great tips in the book, these are aimed more at dog owners and inspiring them when things are tough, as opposed to a “how-to” guide.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. Effective mainly because it inspired me to carry on and realise that there honestly is a light at the end of the tunnel and that with time and effort I just know we’ll get there – she’s already made so much progress!

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Have you read the Dogtown book, or seen the TV series? What do you think of it?

DIY Puzzle Food Dispenser – Filling Bottles

An affordable alternative to the Kong! This easy to DIY food dispenser is great for improving those sniffing skills, mental stimulation, and providing slow feeding.

When Phoebe first came to me she was struggling with a number of issues, but the most lingering of them was her severe separation anxiety. I checked the internet, read books on the subject and consulted our trusty dog Behaviourist to find solutions to her extreme distress at being left home alone.

On the advice of the Behaviourist I decided that first and foremost I needed to find a way to distract Phoebe in a way that would keep her mind and body occupied. The discovery of the Kong was heaven-sent for me, but I needed more to keep her busy. My budget didn’t allow for the purchase of multiple Kong‘s, so a new plan had to be made.

The Behaviourist had a great suggestion – using plastic bottles as an alternative to the Kong. And what a great idea it is!

All I had to do was portion out Phoebe’s dry food for the day and place them in the bottles, add a taste of something that smells and tastes delicious then scatter them across the yard before leaving.

Here are the simple steps to creating puzzle bottle dog food dispensers:

Step 1: Find a suitable plastic bottle. Any bottle will do. Here I used some of kid’s sparkling juice bottles as they were small, but I usually use empty water bottles that have been washed and dried.

phoebe bottles

Step 2: Take empty bottles, wash and wait for inside to be completely dry. We keep a bag in the kitchen where all the emptied and cleaned bottles are kept to be used whenever we need them.

bottles

Step 3: Fill bottle with small-medium size kibble. Quantity will depend on how many bottles you are using and how you have measured out the full food intake for the day. You don’t need a lot in the bottle – just enough to rattle around and fall out when manipulated.

kibble bottles

Step 4: Take a teaspoon of anything that your dog thinks is tasty and will be able to sniff out in the yard and slather it over the top part of the bottle (don’t close the bottle top as kibble still needs to fall out easily). I usually swap between cream cheese, anchovy spread and peanut butter.

kibble bottle flavour

Step 5: Scatter bottle(s) in the yard and watch as the dogs enjoy sniffing them out, licking off the delicious paste, and then playing with it until every single bit of kibble spills out and is eaten!

kibble bottles

And there you have it! A quick, easy way to give your dog a treat while exercising body, mind and soul! 🙂

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Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Separation Anxiety, Mental Stimulation, Play

Tool(s) Used: Any empty drinking bottles; various food ingredients

Cost: Low.

Ease of Implementation: Low. You can premake it by filling a number of bottles with measured out amounts of kibble to just grab and go

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5 for Mental Stimulation and Play. Phoebe enjoys rolling the bottle around the garden until there is nothing left inside, then goes of exploring for the next filled bottle!

Note: Surprisingly neither Phoebe nor Cooper has ever tried to just rip the bottle in half with their teeth, opting to naturally rather enjoy the puzzle side of it by throwing it around and rolling it with their paws and mouth. I suspect most dogs like GSD’s or Pitties would probably be impatient and just rip the thing in half, possibly cutting themselves on the exposed plastic bits. So I recommend you supervise your dog the first few times just to make sure they have the hang of it, if not, rather stick to the hardier and stronger Kong.

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Have you got any other DIY ideas for play and stimulation? I’m always looking to try something new so feel free to leave suggestions!

New Years’ Fireworks Coping Mechanisms

Happy 2015! Here’s wishing all you bloggers and visitors out there a joyful and happy 2015! Whether you are staying in for a quiet night with the family, or going out for big New Years’ celebrations, be sure to spare a thought for your furry loved ones who may experience a lot of stress if there are fireworks and noise in the neighbourhood.

Where I live the use of fireworks is thankfully very limited and regulated by the police and city council, but on special occasions there are still some people who shoot off fireworks illegally. Since you do not always have control over this, and might not be able to pinpoint the location of people setting them off, here are a few tips that might help to calm your anxious animals who are afraid of the loud noises:

  • Use herbal anti-anxiety medications such as Calm Eze or Rescue Remedy. Be sure to test it’s effectiveness before hand so that you know what works and in what dosages.
  • Use Vetrinary prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Again, be certain of dosages and only use exactly as prescribed by the Vet.
  • Put a thundershirt on your nervous dog or cat
  • Play calming music or other sounds above the noise of the bangs as a distraction
  • If you are with the dog do something to make them feel less stressed. I personally don’t think that soothing a dog is a terrible thing that teaches them fear is to be indulged – fear is real and soothing calms them. But rather than just coddling them, distract them through play and activities they enjoy
  • Give a Kong that will keep them busy and focussed
  • Keep them in a safe place like their crate or a locked room where they can’t hurt themselves should they get spooked. Many dogs get injured trying to run away from the noises by jumping over fences, through windows etc. On that note, also make sure your pets are tagged and chipped so that if they do manage to escape they can be safely returned as soon as possible.
  • Report any unsafe fireworks to your local authority or City Council. If you are in Pretoria, note that bylaws clearly state under the Explosives Act 26 of 1956. article 10.34: “it is unlawful to discharge any firework in any building on any public thoroughfare or in any public place or resort without prior written permission of the local authority” and “no person may discharge fireworks on any property without the consent of the Chief Fire Safety Officer.” Any complaints can be referred to: Chief Fire Safety Officer Pretoria on (012) 3586255.
Fireworks awareness  poster created by the Animal Anti-Cruelty League Johannesburg. https://www.facebook.com/AACLJHB/timeline

Fireworks awareness poster created by the Animal Anti-Cruelty League Johannesburg.
https://www.facebook.com/AACLJHB/timeline

May you all have a wonderful, fear fee night for all family members!

Blogtober Day 28: Any advice for future / present dog owners?

10 canine commandments

Phoebe says:

I won’t harp on about the obvious parts of being a dog owner (or Pet Parent as my Mom puts it), as I’m just going to go ahead and assume that everyone knows that food, vet checks, water etc are the basic essentials. My advice is more about become a parent to a Rescue Dog, as this is my own experience.

My top things for you to consider are:

  1. Know that rescue/shelter dogs are all capable of loving and being loved. You may need a little more patience with us in the beginning, but we’re just as full of love as the next dog!
  2. Understand that it may take time for us to be 100% comfortable in our new surroundings and relationships. We can’t tell you about everything that happened in our past to make us scared and fearful, but if you’re kind, patient and observant you’ll soon see what we are trying to tell you and what we need help with.
  3. Get professional help when you aren’t sure what is wrong with us. Remember that a single visit to a Vet, Behaviourist or Trainer could easily solve most problems in no time!

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Cooper says:

I’m not usually one to give advice, but I think some important things for you to remember when getting a new (adopted) dog are:

  1. Don’t be afraid of adopting a rescue or shelter dog. It’s true that many shelter and rescue dogs have long and sad histories, but I think this is a big problem that created a stereotype of us by many well meaning rescue organisations. Some dogs are perfectly fine, puppies are a clean slate, and sometimes we end up in kennels because our owners got very ill, passed away, or had to move unexpectedly – many of us know love and a warm house, so being in shelter is scary for us, but being in a home again is second nature! Take me for instance – I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect (but who is?!), but I’ve known love and protection so I’m not scared, I just have a few dog greeting issues because I missed out on proper socialisation!
  2. Think long and hard if you are ready for the challenges that a new dog may present. Take the ability for them to socialise with other dogs, cats and children into account, and be ready to either work with a behaviourist to solve them, or take other measures to keep everyone involved safe and secure.
  3. Spay and neuter. Seriously. Unless you area registered breeder and have homes for all the puppies you are breeding, there’s no reason to overpopulate!

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Mom says:

Exercise!

  1. Good for the Body: The obvious. Most of our dogs are cooped up in our yards with no access to the outside world. They also need to stretch their legs and get a gulp of fresh air!
  2. Good for the Mind: A bored dog is a destructive and “naughty” dog. Keeping their brain exercised comes not only from physical activity, but also from puzzle toys such as muffin pan games and Kongs.
  3. Good for the Soul: Some dogs have very real afflictions that cause them to feel more than just bored or “blue”. Examples of these are severe anxiety and Separation Anxiety. A good walk can help the dog tremendously.

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You can view the complete Blogtober Challenge here

Blogtober Day 22: Biggest behavioural challenge already overcome

“In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.”
– Edward Hoagland

Phoebe says:

There’s oh so much progress that I’ve made! I’m really proud of myself, and so is my Mom! I arrived a terrified, unsocialised dog, and now I’ve gained tons of confidence and have very few lingering problems in comparison.

My biggest challenges that I’ve overcome are:

  • Totally getting over a fear of water – drinking it and going near it.
  • Not being afraid of people touching me
  • The extreme reactivity and aggression. It’s still there, but much, much better
  • Separation anxiety when my Mom leaves. Again, this one is still there a bit, but I’m much better, and our neighbours have reported to my Mom that I no longer howl mournfully all day long!
One of the many ways we can keep track of my progress - entering and conquering Canine Good Citizen programs

One of the many ways we can keep track of my progress – entering and conquering Canine Good Citizen programs

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Cooper says:

I’m also a rescue dog like Phoebe, but I don’t have near as many issues as she did when she arrived. Though I have the occasional behavioural niggle, none of these are major, and Mom keeps on working with Phoebe and I to make sure we only learn positive behaviours.

If I’m pressed, I’d have to say that the biggest behavioural challenge I’ve overcome is learning to listen 😉 Through doing, and successfully completing my Basic Obedience Certification I’ve learned how much fun it is to work with Mom and Dad when we go about our day. Also…. I learned very quickly that when I listen to them, I get two of my favourite things in the whole wide world: Treats and Love!!

My Dad and I on the day I achived my BAsic Obedience Certificate. We were both very happy!

My Dad and I on the day I achived my BAsic Obedience Certificate. We were both very happy!

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To see the full  31 Day Blogtober Challenge click here

Blogtober Day 21: Biggest behavioural challenge to overcome

Cooper says:

My biggest behavioural challenge to overcome? Well, I think I’m perfect, but I know that there’s always new things I can learn that will make both me, and my family, even more proud of how far I have come. 😉 I think the Meet ‘n Greet of other dogs is what I struggle most with. I need to learn to greet other dogs in a way that is more socially acceptable.

The signs I need to learn for happy, healthy greetings with other dogs

The signs I need to learn for happy, healthy greetings with other dogs

You see, even though I love having other friends, I learned through my struggles in my previous life before I was rescued that it was important to assert myself as the most important dog in the room before we can get round to the playing business. This means that I need to learn not to rush at dogs, put my head over them and snap if they challenge me. Hopefully through all the (careful) socialising we do in class, and on walks I’ll learn the proper rules of Meeting and Greeting!

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Phoebe says:

My issue is similar to Cooper’s in that I have a problem with other dogs, but it’s not just the greeting that’s hard, I’m actually scared of other dogs all the time – not just the first few minutes. This makes me what is called a “Reactive Dog”, so I lash out barking, lunging and trying to fight whenever I see other dogs.

What I look like when I'm scared. Most people confuse this for me being "agressive", but all I want is space!

What I look like when I’m scared. Most people confuse this for me being “aggressive”, but all I want is space!

But Mom and I have been working hard at this, and we continue to work at it. I may never be 100% ok with other dogs, but the progress we’ve made already in the past 2 years is pretty amazing! Mom can even take me on walks and to class with almost no incidents as long as the situation is controlled – you see, Mom has learned the art of desensitising me, distracting me, and keeping me generally in my comfort zone as we learn to get closer to other dogs. As long as they don’t rush at me, I’m even usually ok with them being in my space! Progress!

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You can check out the full 31 Day Blogtober Challenge here

Blogtober Day 4: 3 things you want to say to people who annoy you

dog_talk

Phoebe says:

  1. “I really don’t want to hurt your dog, but he’s scaring me. Please listen to my Mom when she tells you to Back. Up.”
  2. “I’m allowed to be here too. My Mom and I are working hard on being ok with other dogs, but I’m unpredictable when scared, that’s why we’re at on ON LEASH ONLY park. Stop being bitchy to my Mom, put a leash on your hyperactive Labrador and Back. the Frack. Up.
  3. Back. the Frack. Up. No really, I mean it! I need lots of space between me and your dog!

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Cooper says:

  1. “But Mooooooooom! The roast was just sitting there! It’s soooooo unfair that you’re angry now and adjusting my dinner portion!”
  2. “Why are you yelling at my parents?! Your unleashed Scottish Terrier came bounding up to me! Phoebe and Mom ninja-stealthed out of here because of it, leaving me and Dad a bit confused and worried, so clearly I need to put your scary dog in his place for being so rude!”
  3. ” Not all Rescue Dogs are abused and beyond emotional repair. Sure I have a couple of issues, but not more than the next dog. Don’t be scared, give us a chance. Please?”

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You can view the full Blogtober 31 Day Dog Blog Challenge here