“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?

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Cooper’s Tummy Troubles

Poor Cooper recently had a bad bout of tummy troubles that at first I wasn’t too concerned about, but it soon reached a point that had me very worried.

It all started with him vomiting one Monday night at about 2am. I woke up when I heard the convulsing, and waited for him to finish as I soothed him in my half asleep state. The vomit was clear (like spit) with a few grass blades in it. I then took him outside where he happily ran around, sniffed a bit, drank water, and generally didn’t seem to bothered. We then both went back to bed and all was fine. I just assumed it was a normal bringing up that dogs often cure themselves with through eating grass.

I started to get a bit more concerned when this happened every night for the next 4 nights in a row. All the same story: happily fast asleep, the hurk-hurk convulsing sound, spit-like grassy vomit, frolic in the garden, water and happily snoozing again. Even though he didn’t seem very bothered by it, I figured something was a bit off. By the weekend he was vomiting like this twice in the evening and I realised I would be needing Veterinary intervention soon if it carried on.

Throughout the week I was monitoring his food and water intake, swapping to a day of only boiled chicken and white rice for both the dogs, and doing thorough sweeps of the garden to make sure there weren’t any old bones or pieces of stolen trash that Cooper was secretly snacking on during the day. All seemed good, and despite this rude awakening every night Cooper seemed to be in tip-top shape.

Until the next Monday morning (7 days since the first sign of tummy troubles). I once again woke up to the now familiar hurk-hurk sound and was slowly coming over to soothe him, clean up and take him out when the smell hit me like a double-decker bus. This clearly wasn’t just spit and grass that he was throwing up anymore. When I gingerly turned the light on I realised that he was now vomiting up a light brown sludge that looked and smelled awful. In fact, if I had not been there to witness it, I would actually have assumed that this was an accidental case of explosive diarrhea, and not vomit.

Clearly something was very wrong.

When we went outside Cooper vomited a bit more, but didn’t really want any water or to go back inside immediately. I sat with him for a while in my lap and then in a moment of panic woke up my Boyfriend and asked if he thought it was necessary to go to an emergency Vet. After spending a few more minutes with Cooper he perked up again, drank water and snuggled back on his bed as if nothing had happened. I decided it was safe to have an (uneasy) sleep for 2 hours until the Vet opened when we could take him during consulting hours.

We arrived early at the Vet and they were happy to take us. The Vet did a basic check of Cooper and decided it would be best for him to stay the day while they checked every option as there could be a number of reasons for his situation and all things had to be ruled out through different tests and procedures. We reluctantly said goodbye to Cooper and hoped that he wouldn’t have to be away for long.

Before we left, the Doctor explained the most likely causes and actions, as well as how they would test for everything. This really helped to set us at ease as we knew what was happening and the most to least likely diagnosis.

After spending the night under observation the Vet called us to collect Cooper and take him home for the rest of his recovery. It turns out that he had a bad case of reflux which was getting worse, and slowly disrupting his digestive system more and more. We were a bit worried, but the Vet put us at ease explaining the medication and food needed to make him healthy again, and as it was caught before any serious damage was done, he should recover fully within a week.

Combined with a diet of soft, saltless chicken and rice meals we were given a course of medicine for the week. The medicines were:

  • Amoxicillin: a penicillin-like antibiotic that fights bacteria in the body.
  • Lokit: to treat ulcers of the stomach and the first part of the small intestine that connects to the stomach. It is also effective in treating gastro-oesophageal reflux, the backward flow of stomach acid contents into the oesophagus. (Also called Omeprazole)
  • Metronidazole: antibiotic treat various conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, nonspecific diarrhea disorders, infections caused by Giardia, and periodontal disease
  • Ulsanic Syrup:  a gastro-intestinal medication, mainly used to treat ulcers
Cooper Medicine

The full medical treatment for Cooper’s tummy ache

So how is Cooper doing now?

After a week of the medicine and a careful diet Cooper has thankfully bounced back completely to full health once again! It’s great to have the whole house getting a full nights’ sleep free of any tummy aches, vomiting or general unease!

Cooper happy

“Woof!” A happy, healthy Cooper!

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Cooper’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Dog vomiting, Digestive reflux, Digestive health

Tool(s) Used: Various antibiotics and medications

Cost: Medium to High

Ease of Implementation: Moderate. If your dog is ok with Vet’s and taking medication then this is easier

Cooper’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This ailment was not one that could be solved at home and needed Veterinary intervention. At home I could take care of his diet, but he wouldn’t have made such a speedy recovery without the Doctor’s interventions. I’m happy to report that this was a simple problem that was nipped in the bud, and left Cooper finally feeling much better and healthier!

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Have you had an experience with similar ongoing digestive or reflux problems with your dog? How did you treat it?

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

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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

Blogtober Day 3: Something you’re afraid of

“There is no illusion greater than fear.”

– Lao Tzu

Cooper says:

I’m a very confident dog who doesn’t have many fears. And if I did, I wouldn’t admit to that on such a public forum! Oh, ok… if I must be honest, I think the thing that scares me most is when my Mom and Dad leave the house. It’s just that ever since I was a puppy I always had food and water, but was left behind and forgotten by my first owner, and then at the kennel I lived in for years the groundsman was a man I loved very much, but he would often leave me alone for 1-3 days on weekends when he went home to visit his family from far away.

My Mom says this is called “Separation Anxiety”. She also says my adoptive sister Phoebe used to have this fear too, but it’s mostly gone now. Hopefully I’ll also find a way to trust that my parents will come home every day without the panic that wells up!

I'm with you on this one McCauley! It's scary to be home alone! I think I would've handled this in a very similar way to how you did!

I’m with you on this one McCauley! It’s scary to be home alone!

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Phoebe says:

Luckily I’m not as afraid of everything as I was when I first arrived, but there are still some fears that I just don’t know if I’ll ever overcome. My biggest fear is of other dogs. This means I am defined as being “reactive aggressive” towards any and all other strange dogs, and is often misunderstood by people as me being just being badly behaved, angry and aggressive. Luckily my Mom got help so that we could both find better coping mechanisms when I’m out and about. The progress I’ve made is amazing! I still don’t like other dogs near me when we walk in parks or in the neighbourhood, but at least they can be a bit closer to me, and it takes a lot longer for me to lash out!

My biggest fear! Look at all those dogs!

My biggest fear! Look at all those dogs!

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Mom says:

We are constantly hard at work to overcome the fears in the house. Most of this blog chronicles this journey, but for those bookworms out there you can check my posts on the two books I read that really helped with these specific issues:

You can check out the full Blogtober 31 Day Dog Blog Challenge here

Spring is (almost) sprung!

There’s an electrical crackling in the air. That electricity is the sign that here in the southern hemisphere winter is quickly coming to an end and spring is on its way. What a wonderful time of year!

Some amusing seasonal humour...

Phoebe and Cooper can also feel the springtime static in the air and we all look forward to taking more walks as the days are longer again. I hope to increase Phoebe’s morning walks again, and The Greek and I will be able to walk the dogs in the afternoons as the sunset becomes so much later. I know we could walk at all times of day, but the cold and dark is really unpleasant for me, and I also have many safety concerns, even if our neighbourhood is considered “safe” by South African standards.

As happy as I am with the opportunity to get out there for some fresh air and much needed exercise for me and the dogs, there is one major drawback of this beautiful time of year… you see… we all love spring, and this is when everyone decides to take advantage of the beautiful weather with their dogs. Their dogs who are my dogs’ kryptonite…

*sigh*

Having not one, but two, reactive dogs is a real challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for it, and am amazed at how far we’ve come (and I’m sure will still go!). But there are days when I really just wish it was easier.

When I see those absent-minded people walking with their dogs off leash, listening to their iPod, texting friends while their dogs who have perfect recall and walking merrily alongside are oblivious to the impending doom I feel with each step, I must admit that I feel a little green with envy. Well, the envy comes after the dizzying split second range of thoughts about escape routes, where high and low value treats are, how loudly I need to yell at the person and their approaching dog, where the nearest vets are in case of a dog fight, if there may be other loose dogs in the neighbourhood, how much chaos will ensue if I don’t time my ninja escapes well enough etc.

But enough of the moaning! It’s time the family goes out to the nature park on the top of the hill to watch the buds of spring as the dirty brown scenery begins to slowly transform into explosions of green and all the other colours of the rainbow. Here’s hoping we have a glorious spring with perfectly mismatched schedules to all the other fur-parents!

Time to take in the wonder of nature as the world turns from a drab brown landscape and explodes into voracious animal and plant life within a matter of weeks!

Taking time to take in the wonder of nature as the world turns from a drab brown landscape and explodes into luscious animal and plant life within a matter of weeks!

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Phoebe and Cooper’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Reactivity, Boredom

Tool(s) Used: Exercise, Regular Walks

Cost: Low. Free!

Ease of Implementation: Easy. The most difficult part is planning your day so that you have enough time to take regular walks.

Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This helps to keep both Phoebe and Cooper much calmer and less stressed when it is time for me to leave. They also generally behave and sleep better on days where we take these long walks. A mental and physical benefit for us all!

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Do you have a favourite season to take walks? 

Scaredy Dog! Another Barking Good Read

Scaredy Dog: Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog – Ali Brown

I got this book a few months back when I finally accepted that Phoebe was truly a reactive dog and that the fear aggression wasn’t just going to magically disappear on its own – I would have to put in some serious work with her.

While scouring amazon this book caught my eye and I thought it looked like a good place to start.

scaredy dog ali brown

A great place to start when trying to understand and cope with your reactive dog

The Blurb: When dogs growl at other dogs, lunge at people and bark at everything it’s often mislabeled as “aggression.” But behavior that looks like aggression is often fear-based and should be treated as such. The appropriate term for this constellation of behaviors is “reactivity.” This book helps dog owners and trainers to understand the reactive dog and help him change for the better. The process is easy to grasp, and once the changes begin to take shape, owners become so encouraged that improving their dog’s behavior suddenly becomes fun and exciting!

If your dog can’t pay attention to you in public places, doesn’t behave like a good member of the family when guests visit, and loses control when other dogs are nearby, this book has a lot to offer. All training methods and classroom techniques are non-force and based on developing a ‘working relationship’ with your dog. Easy to read and understand, 148 pages, with 68 photographs and graphics to help you improve behavior and solve problems.

What I Thought: I’m happy I started here because this book is written in a way that is simple and easy to understand. The problems experienced by owners of reactive dogs are clearly spelt out and Brown covers all aspects that may affect your dog and your training decisions. She covers nutrition, environment, how positive reinforcement works, and the steps of training at a constant, but comfortable rate. There are also handy pictures to help you better understand the training method she’s explaining.

The training methods are all based on positivity and learning positive behaviours and responses, and explains why the “dominance” or “fear based” training methods that many (*ahem, I’m lookin’ at you Mr Milan*) espouse are actually harmful for dogs who are already in emotional turmoil.

Though I had heard a lot of the tips before, reading them helped it all to finally sink in and allow me to become more relaxed when walking with Phoebe. I had to learn that sometimes I need to calmly turn away from anything ahead that would potentially upset Phoebe, and get her used to the stimuli of another dog at a slow pace and in an environment that I felt I had as much control over as possible. Phoebe had to learn that I would always only make decisions that would keep her safe and happy, and that would mean not only having control over the situation, but also only ever setting her up for success.

A note on the title: this book is not for owners of dogs who experience general fear and anxiety, but specifically targets reactive behaviour. So if your dog is hyper reactive to dogs or people, lunges, barks and gets upset, then this is the book for you!

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Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Dog Reactivity

Tool(s) Used: Book Resource

Cost: I got the hardcopy edition from amazon for £11.05. You can also go directly to Ali Brown’s website here.

Ease of Implementation: Easy to Moderate. The training tips and suggestions are easy to implement, but you will need to be consistent and dedicate enough time to training.

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 4/5

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Have you read any good books or articles on Reactivity? Do you think they add value, or do you prefer “hands-on” learning?

The Healing Power of Touch

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia

When Phoebe first arrived in my home she was a nervous, terrified ball of nerves who was crying out for understanding from behind those beautiful eyes. She latched onto me immediately as the person who she would trust to feed her and look after her physical well-being, but I could see that emotionally she was far from secure.

The beginning of our relationship was scary for us both, and I had yet to find the coping mechanisms and support that would be needed to get her to where she is now. But what I could do was to get her to an emotional state where she could feel calm and trusting within the confines of her new home.

I had not yet heard about TTouch, but through my friends who became mommies, and from running the childcare section at the bookshop I had a little bit of knowledge about baby massage. I looked at poor heart broken Phoebe and thought Why not give it a shot? The worst that could happen is that she would shy away from me and then I’d have to find a different way to soothe her.

The benefits of touch and massage therapy are great. But what it did for Phoebe was:

– An almost immediate increase in her sense of well-being and ability to relax

– Deepened the bonding and trusting process between us

– Decreased anxiety about having people close to the her and fearing touch as she became desensitised to the fear she once had of hands, and learnt that it is a good thing to be handled.

In her first month she had a number of self-inflicted stress injuries (raw paw pads from trying to dig out the yard, open wounds from stress licking etc) and though she allowed me to manipulate the injuries and put medication on without a problem, I could see the fear as she threw those whale-eyes every time I picked up her paws or searched her for wounds. Though I knew she would let me touch her and even manhandle her if I truly wanted, I knew I had to start slowly and allow her to get used to touch at a comfortable rate for her, so that she would know that every touch didn’t have to be related to pain or an injury.

She had to learn that touch can be good.

I started by putting the tv on and sitting on the floor close to Phoebe – that way the sense of noise and normalcy was maintained in the living room, and I could have a my own distraction if I was going to be on the floor for a long time. She would lay on her pillow, groan, stretch and keep a constant eye on me. One of the cats would then stroll over with a sharp meow and a purr demanding to be rubbed – then she would zigzag between Phoebe and I, rubbing against Phoebe’s outstretched body and and my hand, clearly enjoying the attention and showing Phoebe the happiness that comes from a heartfelt belly and face rub.

Phoebe looked on with a mixed sense of curiousity and jealousy and would slowly edge closer. When she was within arms reach I would chat to her softly and just lightly tickle whichever paw or leg was closest to me. Slowly she would crawl closer and let out a big satisfied sigh when I started to gently massage her with an open hand on any leg, arm or tummy side she offered me.

I would sit with her every night for anywhere between 30min – 2 hrs and all I would do is lightly tickle her, softly massage her and gently manipulate her ears and joints. Soon she was in heaven! Her and Angel would snuggle up and wait for their mandatory massages before every bedtime.

massage therapy

I don’t spend as much time every night doing this as I used to, but I try to fit in a minimum of 10 minutes before bedtime, and in the afternoons I brush her bristly fur with a brush using the same calming movements. She is now truly and heaven when she gets these massage treats, and it’s one of the most effective ways for me to calm her if it’s been a long day, or if a particular walk or training session was a tad too taxing for her.

Since first getting Phoebe used to this kind of calming touch I’ve researched a bit more about TTouch, and would like to take her to a formal practitioner sometime soon. But in the meantime we just enjoy the soothing strokes of happiness whenever either of us need a “time out”!

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: General Anxiety, Fear of Being Touched

Tool(s) Used: A Calming hand, and occasionally her brush

Cost: Low

Ease of Implementation: Easy

Phoebe’s Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This wasn’t only good for her mental well-being, but has also been helpful in her preparations for the upcoming Canine Good Citizen Test, as one of the judging sections is how well your dog responds to being touched and will allow their face and paws to be stroked – this is to ensure they can be handled by others such as groomers or vets.

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Have you ever tried massaging your anxious dog, or gone for TTouch? Do you think it’s effective in calming your dog?