“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?

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?

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


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!


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!


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!


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


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!


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?”


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