“Dog Town”, Another Barking Great Read

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


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.


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!


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

“But what IS Phoebe?”

Phoebe is many things. She’s a companion, a friend, a protector and above all else, a loved and trusted family member. But I know that’s not what people mean when they ask this question. What they really want to know is how to classify her and pigeon-hole her by her supposed ‘breed characteristics’.

The answer is that she is an AfriCanis. Most people don’t know much about the breed, and because it’s only recently been added as an “Official” breed by the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA), people still tend to refer to her as a “township dog”, or more generally just as a “mixed breed Rescue dog” even after being told about her breed history. She’s so much more than a hodge-podge collection of other breeds – she’s unique and fits the wonderful characteristics of the AfriCanis to a “T”.

Phoebe: Proud and Beautiful AfriCanis

Phoebe: Proud and Beautiful AfriCanis


I’ve briefly touched on her breed specifics before during on Day 11 of the Blogtober Challenge, but felt this deserved more information on the little known facts of this wonderful breed.

I was going to try to explain the breed in my experience, but I found this excellent historical summary from the AfriCanis Society that explains in detail in a way much better than I ever could:


(This is attributed to Edith Gallant at the AfriCanis Society of South Africa facebook page)

“Subject: Revised draft of letter – Difference between AfriCanis and “township dog”

Let me try to explain the difference between an AfriCanis and a so-called township dog.

The AfriCanis is the traditional rural African dog found in traditional isolated tribal lands, such as the interior of Zululand, the former Transkei, Sekhukhuneland and Vendaland.

The apartheid regime kept such rural areas marginalized, and people living in these areas, notably in the former ‘Bantustan’regions, were relatively isolated. This isolation was extended to their dogs. From colonial times, white people looked upon these dogs with contempt, and any dogs found trespassing were shot. It is largely because of the isolation enforced by apartheid that these dogs, having been kept separate, still exist.

These dogs have also been called ‘Nguni dogs’ or ‘Bantu dogs’, because they migrated with the Early Iron Age Bantu-speaking people into southern Africa. They also occur in northern Botswana, Namibia,  Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland.

More information can be found on the AfriCanis Society’s website under ‘History’ (see http:// ………

The AfriCanis are not identified by standardised physical characteristics. They are a landrace and not a breed. They have not been selectively bred for their looks, but rather they exemplify survival of the fittest and are well adapted to the demands of their environment and their custodians. They differ from region to region, for example, they are generally taller in the desert and smaller in more forested regions. These dogs occur in a great variety of colours, as do the Nguni cattle. Genetic DNA research has found a specific DNA marker for the AfriCanis that differs from any other dog (see under ‘literature’ on the website). In the very near future we will be able to test individual dogs to see if they carry this marker or not.

AfriCanis are all-rounders. In the traditional tribal lands, each day they help herd boys bring the cattle to and from the grazing lands, and the dogs fiercely guard the animals in their kraals at the night. The dogs live alongside the farm animals, and although they are excellent rat hunters, they do not hunt large prey alone. Traditionally, they assist their owners when men and their dogs hunt for the pot.

Dogs in the rural areas are seldom tied up. Although they sometimes roam, each dog has an owner and each dog is named. Dogs are allowed to go to visit another homestead if a female is on heat. But if owners whistle for their dogs, they immediately respond and return home. Most commonly, the dogs are to be found lying around the homesteads, often keeping company with older women and children. This is a totally different environment to that of a township.

What is a ‘township dog’?

A legacy of apartheid, townships are urban or peri-urban residential areas housing people from different cultures and origins. Historically, under apartheid townships were zoned for Black and Coloured people. When moving to urban areas, people from the countryside did not usually bring their traditional dogs with them, leaving the dogs in the rural areas with their families. In instances where rural dogs did come to the townships with their owners, in due course they would breed with dogs roaming in the township areas. Dogs in the townships come from a variety of backgrounds and include a variety of breeds and cross-breeds of all shapes and sizes as well as some traditional AfriCanis. In the townships these dog interbreed and the ‘township dogs’ that result over time are not traditional Africanis dogs, though some can be described as the AfriCanis type or an AfriCanis-cross.

I hope the above explains the difference between an AfriCanis and a township dog, and that not all cross-breed dogs from the townships should be described as being AfriCanis.”


For more information you can also check out the Official AfriCanis historical reference page here.

I hope this has given you more insight and a deeper curiousity for these wonderful dogs. I can truly attest to the fact that you will never find a kinder, gentler and more loyal companion than an AfriCanis, so if you’re looking for a new dog to add to your family I urge you to look for one of these amazing dogs!

Phoebe passes the Silver CGC Test!

So many celebrations over here! Phoebe has made me so proud by going out there and getting her second Canine Good Citizen rosette!

Phoebe has officially received her rosette for passing the Silver Level of the KUSA Canine Good Citizen test!

Some of you may remember when I was so nervous about enrolling her for the Bronze Level KUSA Canine Good Citizen Test – which she passed with flying colours! As a reactive rescue dog seeing her achieve that was beyond my wildest dreams, and then she went ahead and once again overshot all of my expectations making me so very proud.

I once again went into it thinking that it would be totally fine if she didn’t pass first time round, participating is good enough, and I don’t mind a second go at it if we needed it. But of course she did great first time round at everything. But to be honest, I wasn’t quite as nervous this time because the biggest worry is her getting close to other dogs and only the Bronze Level had this one.

For those who aren’t sure what the Canine Good Citizen Test is, it’s an international standard test presented by Kennel Clubs to test if your dog can achieve the basic expectations of a ‘well-mannered’ dog. You can go here to read more about it.

So what did the Silver Test entail?

Similar to the previous test we had to hand over the vaccination cards to be checked before doing anything. Our Evaluator, Mrs Liz Chamberlain, was really nice and made sure we were all at ease with the dogs before starting so that there was no stress on either side of the leash! As she did this she was also walking around and observing the dogs for manners and sociability.

She first started by testing the two Bronze CGC participants (who also did Silver on the same day), and then commenced with testing us all for the Silver Level.

Then we were onto the formal part of the test:

Test 1: Play with Dog

This is to demonstrate that the dog will play with its handler. Play is an extra dimension to a dog’s life and can be a used to make training fun. When instructed to do so the handler should commence to play with the dog. Play should be under the handler’s control and if it involves articles the dog should readily give them up. Formal retrieves will not be deemed as appropriate play.

Suki and Mirco play with their Mom's for Test #1

Suki and Mirco play with their Mom’s for Test #1

Test 2: Roadwork

This is to demonstrate that the dog has the ability to walk on lead under control. The handler and dog should walk along a pavement, execute a turn, and then stop at the kerb where the dog should remain steady and controlled. Having observed the Highway Code, they should proceed to the other side, turn and continue walking. Distractions are incorporated, such as normal passing traffic.

All walk in a line around the block to test roadwalking skills

All walk in a line around the block to test roadwalking skills

Test 3: Rejoin Handler

This is to demonstrate that the dog will remain steady when the handler leaves the dog but the dog will rejoin the handler when instructed to do so. Having left the dog and moved approximately 10 paces away, when directed to do so, the handler should call the dog. Having rejoined, the dog should stop close to the handler in any position, the lead shall be replaced.

Test 4: Stay in one Place

This is to demonstrate that the dog will stay on the spot while the handler moves away. The handler should place the dog with the lead attached in any position of their choice. Upon instruction, having quietly dropped the lead, the handler will move a distance of 5 paces away for a period of 2 minutes.

*Note we did this in conjunction with Test 10. We took our clipboards, walked a couple of paces away and only when we finished the questionnaire could we rejoin the dogs

Phoebe, Emily and Mirco eagerly parctice their "stays" for a minumum of 2 minutes while we fill out the Q & A of Question 10

Phoebe, Emily and Mirco eagerly parctice their “stays” for a minumum of 2 minutes while we fill out the Q & A of Question 10

Test 5: Vehicle Control

This is to demonstrate that the handler can get the dog in and out of a vehicle in a controlled manner. Without pulling, the dog should be taken on a lead towards a vehicle and remain steady whilst the handler opens the vehicle door. The dog should not attempt to get in until instructed to and should enter willingly. Thereafter, the door should be closed. The handler, Evaluator and, if necessary, a driver will get into the vehicle. The engine should be started and run for a short time to enable the Evaluator to assess the effect upon the dog which at all times should remain quiet, relaxed, and under control. The dog will then be instructed to exit in an orderly manner.

Test 6: Come Away from Distractions

This is to demonstrate that the handler has control over the dog when there are distractions. The handler should take the dog, on lead, to a gathering of people with dogs also on lead. When instructed to do so, the lead should be removed and the handler should walk or run away calling the dog, which should return without delay and be placed on the lead

For this test we were all placed about 3-5 metres from each other in a loose circle in the shade with us and our dogs in a relaxed lie down, then we had to go through the middle with our dogs. This made me nervous as Phoebe’s reactivity is better, but still there – especially as there were two other dogs doing the test whom we didn’t know. Luckily we were allowed to run through, and not just walk slowly. I’ve learnt this is a key handling trick to keeping Phoebe’s attention on me when other dogs are around because her drive to stay by me when I run away is far greater than worrying about any other dogs she would have to turn away from me to get to. She flew through the path without even registering the 5 other dogs! How awesome is she? 🙂

Test 7: Controlled Greeting

This is to demonstrate that the dog will not jump up at visitors etc, The Evaluator will greet the dog as might be done when entering a house. During this greeting, should the dog jump up, the handler must be able to make the dog cease doing so.

Emily waits patiently as she waits to see what her Mom wants her to do while she greets the evaluator

Emily waits patiently as she waits to see what her Mom wants her to do while she greets the evaluator

Test 8: Food Manners

This is to demonstrate that the dog has good manners when aware of peoples’ food. Food should be handled or consumed while the dog, on a loose lead, is taken in close proximity to it. The dog should not unduly respond to this temptation (i.e. not to beg for food or steal).

This is one command our group is usually good at, as we do the “Leave it” command with the dogs regularly, but the evaluator had some treats that were apparently amazingly tempting! All the dogs passed, but only just. I need to find out what those magical treats were!

Those tasty treats were almost irresistable for all of the dogs, but when the tester accidently dropped them on the ground Mirco was amazingly controlled. Well done!

Those tasty treats were almost irresistible for all of the dogs, but when the tester accidentally dropped them all over the ground Mirco was amazingly controlled. Well done!

Test 9: Examination of the Dog

This is to demonstrate that the dog will allow inspection by a stranger as might be undertaken by a veterinary surgeon. The dog on lead will be required to be placed for inspection of mouth, throat, eyes, ears, and feet when standing, sitting or lying down as required. Other than mild avoidance the dog should allow inspection without concern.

Phoebe calmly stands for her examination

Phoebe calmly stands for her examination

Test 10: Care & Responsibility

This is to demonstrate that the handler has a good understanding of the responsibility required to care for their dog and the responsibility with regards to their neighbors and community. The handler will be asked 6 of the 10 questions by the Evaluator from Section 1 of the non scheduled document titled “Care and Responsibility”.

Learning these 4 pages for the test was very nerve wracking for us! The thing is, the questions are hard, basically because they’re all complete common sense, so it’s easy to forget to mention specific clauses. For example, Dogs Rights is a section of 7 different clauses to remember, included in these is the right to food, the right to water, the right to shade and the right to affection. They’re so straight forward they’re easy to forget!


… and with that, we were all done and we anxiously awaited the results of our test…

And then it happened! She came up to us one by one and we each proudly received the certificates on behalf of our dogs. What a great moment for us all!

Receiving Phoebe's Silver Canine Good Citizen Certificate and rosette

Phoebe curiously looks on as I receive her Silver Canine Good Citizen Certificate and rosette on her behalf

We were all so happy for our dogs, and each other! It’s such a rewarding feeling after all that hard work. Each one of us had specific areas of concern for our dogs, but they all shone and performed beautifully!

Do you recommend the Canine Good Citizen (Silver) to others?

I am still a big fan of this test because of all it represents to the dogs and other dog owners. And especially for those who have reactive dogs, getting these qualifications behind you is a real boost for your confidence. The preparation is also great because it gives you very clear and specific goals to tailor play and learning time with the dogs.

I think the Bronze Level is the basic one everyone should go for, but in all honesty, the Silver isn’t too much more difficult, so try getting that too (even on the same day, like two of our class members did!).

Will there be more?

Well, after looking at the requirements for the Gold Level I was adamant that it would be too difficult, but as it now turns out… we’ve decided that all four of us who got the Silver will go ahead and give it a try! Why not? It’ll take a few months of hard training, but we’ll get there, I’m sure!

The evaluator, Mrs Chamberlain, also encouraged us to all enroll for the Gold as she says so few people go on to complete this, and it’s a really nice test to practice for and judge. Looks like we’ll be fulfilling her wish!

And once we do that, who knows, maybe I’ll have time to fit in some training preparation for Cooper to try out since he did so well at his Obedience Class tests! Who knows what the future holds? 🙂

The Canine Good Citizen graduates from "Dog on the Couch" School! The two  on the left (Mirco, Suki and owners) got both their Bronze AND Silver, while the two on the right (Phoebe, Emily and owners) achieved the Silver

The Canine Good Citizen graduates from “Dog on the Couch” School! The two on the left (Mirco, Suki and owners) got both their Bronze AND Silver, while the two on the right (Phoebe, Emily and owners) achieved the Silver

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Obedience, Focus, Fun

Tool(s) Used: Obedience Training and Behavioural Training

Cost: Moderate (we go to Dog on the Couch school every week, so this can add up depending on your trainer)

Ease of Implementation: Moderate

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. Phoebe loves attending her classes, and through these guided lessons we both learn new coping methods and ways to have fun. Preparing for the Canine Good Citizen Test was sometimes difficult and stressful, but ultimately fun and rewarding for us both.

Note: This is a very overdue blog post because we did the test 3 months ago, but better late than never, right?! Practicing for the Gold Level is underway as I type!


Is the Canine Good Citizen Test something you’d be interested in doing with your dog? Do you think your dog would pass easily, or that there would still be a lot more work ahead of you?

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.

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

Blogtober Day 15: Your favourite dog blogs to read

"On the internet nobody knows you're a dog"

There are so many good blogs out there, it’s difficult to choose! Mom loves reading, bookmarking and thinking about all the new information, tips, and general stories everyone tells on the internet about what they know and learn from their dogs. With so many interesting blogs to read, the one thing Mom is really bad at is consistently commenting and engaging – but know that these blogs are enjoyed, and highly recommended!

Blogs about Training:

  • Fearfuldogs’ Blog: “Living with a fearful dog is a big eye opener and anything I thought I knew about dog training was quickly put to the test… I hope that my Fearfuldogs.com website and this blog help owners and rescuers of fearful dogs get some ideas about the best ways to work and play with their special needs dogs.”
  • Paws Abilities: “Whether you’re just starting off with a new puppy, looking to explore the world of dog sports with agility or rally, or dealing with serious behavior problems, we’re here to help. We help people enjoy their dogs.”
  • MyPositiveDogTrainingBlog: “The reason for this blog is to help dogs by educating people.”

Some of our favourite dog characters to follow are:

  • rachelmankowitz: Her stories about Cricket and butterfly are always funny, engaging, and entertaining.
  • Adventures at Run Amok Ranch: The stories about “Crazy Dog Lady”, her Husband “Crabby Man”, and the many different dogs that share the ranch. Posts are funny and touching at the same time.
  • My Imperfect Dog: Follow the tales of Silas as he slowly conquers his fears. Following his goals as they make them and reach them is inspiring, and reminds you that the realistic side of having a dog with fear “issues” can be a long, slow, slog, but it’s always worth it!
  • Phoebe’s Tales: Another rescue, with Phoebe’s name. Posts are informative, and entertaining.
  • Trevor The Rescue Dog: Trevor is an adopted Staffie who’s blog is filled with great pictures, posts and spot on insights.

And lastly, here are some favourite Instagram accounts you really should be following:

  • andrewknapp: Follow Momo, the border Collie who loves to play hide ‘n seek.
  • thedogist: Beatiful portrait pictures of dogs on the streets of New York
  • myregalbeagle: Follow Sid the cutest, sweetest and most vocal Beagle on Instagram! Beautiful pictures, and a remarkable recovery from a car accident that documented every step of the healing journey make him so loveable.
  • muttadventures: These four dogs are photographed in the cutest, most adorable poses – whether they’re playing dress up, getting their faces squished, or sticking their tongues out, they are always entertaining!


… and what about you? What are your favourite blogs and dog sites to follow? Please feel free to share your own, or your favourite blogs you follow in the comments section!


To see the full Blogtober Dog Blog List, click here