Monday, October 22, 2012

The Return (Bonus: Tips for Public Speaking)

I haven't been writing much for.... a while.   Life since March and the beginning of Dog Aide has been a non-stop onslaught of new, unexpected challenges, problem solving, and community activism.  I feel motivated to write, seeing stories in so much that I do.  But I've had a difficult time with balancing community outreach, rescue, my clients, and my travel for animal disaster and rescue response.  I'm finding that balance, learning how to get a little "me" time in now and again, finding time for my family and my animals, and doing things like walking meditations and (hopefully) more writing.

I do much better with the written word.  Over the last seven months, One personal issue I have had to face is my fear of public speaking.  I definitely didn't overcome this fear, but I am a little more comfortable after a couple times speaking in front of Detroit City Council and Oakland County Board of Commissioners.  Partially this is because I am familiar with the format and who I am speaking in front of.  I also realized quickly that City Council and other legislative and executive government officials are used to citizens being nervous.  I also realized that, as an animal welfare advocate, even animal lovers are not going to fight for your cause unless you can find a way your cause fits a larger purpose.

Here are my tips:


  • Use notes to keep yourself on topic if needed.
  • Be clear about your goals
  • Keep the issues current, within the immediate scope of your goal.
  • Keep the focus on citizens, neighbors, businesses, and property owners that have a stake in the outcome of your position.
  • With each of your points ask yourself, from both the opposing side and the legislator's perspective, "What is it in for me?"  Make sure you answer that questions.
  • Remember, a legislator's primary areas of interest are always financial, public safety, and needs of the constituents.  All your arguments should be centered around these concerns.


  • Get caught up in all the historical issues or a long list of minutiae or personal issues with leadership of your opposition.
  • Avoid repetitive testimony.  Help others who will be speaking on the same goal to make complementary but distinct points.
  • Focus just on your wants.  Show how a larger population will benefit from your plan through greater fiscal responsibility, increased safety, and meet the needs of the constituents.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Trainer, Consultant, Behaviorist: What Do These Titles Mean?

After having a rather interesting online exchange with a young lady who referred to herself as a behaviorist, I feel I should quickly address some confusion between the term 'dog trainer', 'behavior consultant', 'dog behaviorist' and all the acronyms related to training. Although she had quite a few years of shelter volunteer work with dogs, this woman had little practical knowledge of dog training, learning theory, anatomy, neurology, or ethology. She may have had a lot of practical experience and developed techniques that worked, but she couldn't explain why they work or any supporting science to support her claims that her techniques worked. It wasn't until a few emails later that I discovered her scholastic experiences were "reading all of Cesar Milan's books."

To your average person, this terminology doesn't matter. To people in the training/behavior fields, it matters quite a bit. The most accurate description for what I do is 'certified dog trainer' or 'credentialed dog trainer'. Occasionally clients or friends refer to me as a 'behaviorist'. It's flattering, but I am about four years and $40,000 away from that designation. A dog behaviorist is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant who has their Ph.D in psychology, sociology, zoology, or biology or their veterinary medical doctorate. There are less than 70 behaviorists in the United States.

A dog trainer can be anyone who has taken a class or set of courses on dog training, has apprenticed or worked with a trainer. Quite honestly, anyone who says they are a trainer is a trainer. Affiliation with Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is not a credential. The APDT
is a professional organization. Membership is available to anyone in the dog training, grooming, day care, or vet profession for $150 a year. Sometimes uncredentialed trainers appear to use 'APDT' in their professional names, such as "Suzy Snowflake, APDT" or "Joey Sunshine, Member APDT". I'm not sure why they feel the need to do that. ( For the record, my personal feeling is either be confident with your knowledge and experience, or get the actual credentials. Don't fake it.)

A certified dog trainer is nationally credentialed and has certification through Council of Certified Pet Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Designations are CPDT (certified prior to '08) or CPDT-KA (Knowledge Assessed) or CPDT-KSA (Knowledge Skills Assessed). Applicants must have 500 hours of relevant dog experience, 300 of which need to be teaching classes as a head instructor or private lessons. They must also include written references from a dog professional, vet, and client. They must pass a 250 question exam that covers husbandry (health/anatomy, breeding/gestation, tools used for grooming/handling), dog learning theory, human learning theory, ethology (study of evolution as a species), ADA law, and dog classroom management. You must re-certify every six years and do 30 hours of CCPDT approved continued education credits every two years.

A certified behavior consultant is certified through either the CCPDT or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). The official designation for a dog behavior consultant is Certified Canine Behavior Consultant --CCBC.

To be certified with the IAABC, applicants must have a minimum of 3 years and 1500 hours of relevant experience: 500 hours of coursework and 1000 hours with the animals in a behavioral capacity. They must apply and produce three written references and once application is accepted, they must submit 3 client case studies which are peer reviewed. Once certified, they must show proof of 30 hours of IAABC approved continued education credits every two years.

To be certified with the CCPDT, applicants must have 500 hours in canine behavior consulting on fear, phobias, compulsive behaviors, anxiety and aggression within the previous five (5) years OR a Master’s Degree or Doctorate in psychology, social work, a biological sciences field, or a life sciences field with three hundred (300) hours in canine behavior consulting on fear, phobias, compulsive behaviors, anxiety and aggression within the previous three (3) years. They must provide five references: one from a veterinarian, one from a colleague, one from a client, and two more from any of the three categories. After the application is accepted, they must complete a 250-question exam.

I am currently applying to take the CCBC exam with the CCPDT as well as writing my case studies to qualify for the IAABC designation as well. I will keep you updated on my progress with that testing as I go along. Believe me, when I qualify and pass, I will be shouting it from the rooftops.

Until then, I'm happy to be just a credentialed dog trainer.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What To Do When Animal Control Knocks

Note: This was taken directly from the Paws For Life Rescue and Adoption "Happy Tails" Weekly Newsletter.


What to Do When Animal Control Knocks on Your Door

by George J. Eigenhauser Jr., attorney at law licensed in the State of California since 1979 practicing in the areas of civil litigation and estate planning

ANTI-DOG ENFORCEMENT - What Every Dog Owner Needs to Know
Dog owners and ethical breeders are increasingly being targeted. Disgruntled neighbors may retaliate against dog owners and many other reasons drive complaints and anti-dog enforcement action, which many times may be conducted illegally. The following text outlines methods of inquiry and enforcement that may be used by local officials in attempts to enforce ordinances in your community and suggested techniques of response. These techniques are entirely legal and based upon the rights of citizens as stated by the U.S. Constitution.

No one wants to have Animal Control come knocking on the door ... but if they do, it will help if you know what your options are.

Remember, Animal Control is law enforcement. They are bound by the same Constitution as any other government agency. To protect yourself, you need to know your rights. These vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another, but some general principles apply. One rule applies everywhere: never physically resist an officer.

When Animal Control Is at Your Door:

1. Do not let them in, no matter how much they ask. Animal Control generally cannot enter your home without a warrant, or your permission. While regular police can enter in emergency situations when human life is at risk (i.e. they hear gunshots and a scream inside), there are few, if any, situations in which Animal Control can enter your home without a warrant. Simply tell them they may not come in.

2. If you let them in, anything they find in "plain sight" can be used against you. In some circumstances Animal Control officers, unable to find a legitimate reason to make an arrest, have reported building or zoning violations. This may include caging that you attached to a wall without a building permit, that extra outlet in the puppy room, having more pets than allowed by zoning, even extension cords in violation of fire codes. For rescues and fosters, no matter how clean your kennel, if they want to find a violation, they will.

3. Do not talk to them from an open doorway. Step outside and close (and lock, if possible) the door behind you. This is necessary because:
Anything they see through the open door is "plain sight" and may be the basis for an arrest or probable cause for a search warrant.
If they make an arrest or even feel threatened, they are usually permitted to search for weapons in your immediate area. Do you keep a baseball bat inside the door for your protection? Even if you don't, once they step inside to look, they are in your home and may continue to search.
It is hard not to be intimidated by someone in authority. Some animal control is even done by local police, who carry guns. It is easy for them to get "in your face," causing you to back up into the home. Once you go in, it will be interpreted as an invitation to follow.
4. If they claim to have a warrant, demand to see it. In general, a search warrant must be signed by a judge. A warrant to search your home for dogs does not include an inventory of your jewelry box. A warrant to search your garage or barn does not include a search of your home.

5. Warning - anyone in lawful possession of the premises may be able to give permission for a search. Make sure your roommate, babysitter, dog-sitter, housekeeper and others know that they should not let animal control into your home or on your property (i.e. backyard, garage, etc.).

How to Handle Questions:
Don't answer any questions beyond identifying yourself for the officer. Anything you say to the officer in your defense cannot be used in court (hearsay). Anything you say that is harmful to you will be used in court (confessions are not considered hearsay). You cannot win, except by remaining silent.
Be polite, but firm. Do not argue, bad-mouth, curse, threaten or try to intimidate the officer.
Do not lie to an officer, ever. However, it is NOT a lie to exercise your right to remain silent.
Keep your hands in plain sight. People have been shot by police when common objects, such as a wallet, were mistaken for a gun.
Do not touch the officer in any way. Do not physically resist an officer, no matter how unlawful his or her actions.
Don't try to tell your side of the story. It cannot help.
Do not threaten the officer that you plan to file a complaint for their actions.
If the questioning persists, demand to speak to a lawyer first. Repeat as necessary.
Gathering the Facts:
Get the name and badge number of each officer involved. If he/she does not volunteer this information, ask.
Ask the name of the agency they represent. Different agencies have different enforcement responsibilities.
Ask why they are there. Request the factual basis of the complaint and the identity of the complainant.
If they have other people with them (neighbors, press, etc.), get the names and organizations for all present.
Note the names (and addresses) of any witnesses to the encounter.
If you are physically injured by an officer, you should take photographs of the injuries immediately, but do not forego proper medical treatment first.
Write down all of the information, as well as the date and time of the incident immediately, while details are fresh in your mind.
If your rights are violated, file a complaint with the appropriate body. Consider when you may need to contact the media and the animal welfare community for assistance.
If You Are Arrested:
Remain silent. Answer no questions until you have consulted with a lawyer.
Don't "explain" anything. You will have time for explanations after you have talked to a lawyer.
Within a reasonable time, they must allow you to make a phone call to get a lawyer or arrange bail. They are not allowed to listen to your phone call to your attorney, but they may "monitor" the rooms for "your protection." Do not say anything you do not want them to overhear; save that until after you are out on bail.
Telephone Inquiries or Threats:
You may receive telephone inquiries. If your conversation indicates that the person is representing the county clerk's office or allegedly representing an official body, ask the caller for:
Full name, title and phone number
Agency's full name and full address
Their supervisor's full name and phone number
Nature of the inquiry (what it is about)
Why the inquiry is being made
How your name and phone number were obtained
Ask that all future questions from that agency be submitted in writing
Preventative Measures:
Always take good care of your animals.
Be fair and honest in all of your dealings, and be on good terms with your neighbors. Most animal control contacts are complaint-driven. Some complaints may arise as harassment by people with unrelated grievances against you. It may result from an actual incident or a cranky neighbor who doesn't like you parking in front of his house.
If you are confronted by Animal Control and turn them away, assume they will be back. Use the time available to get vet records organized, make sure everything is clean and presentable. If you are over the limit on the number of pets, find friends who can provide temporary shelter for your pets. Whatever you do, stay calm and keep your wits about you. Just say "no," no matter what threats or promises of leniency they make. When in doubt, say nothing and speak to a lawyer afterwards.
Do not ever, for any reason, sign anything, despite threats and intimidation, until you have consulted a lawyer. The moment you sign over ownership of your pets, Animal Control can legally euthanize them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blanca's Story: Cooperation, Education, Compassion

On the night of January 20th, my friend Margo was doing her rounds for C.H.A.I.N.E.D, a local organization that is committed to getting dogs off chains and properly housed through owner education and supply donations. Margo was dropping off straw and dog food donations for some families in the area around Greenfield and Joy Rd when she saw a man tossing bits of bread to an animal. Anyone who has spent time doing animal rescue in Detroit has seen any assortment of animals kept as pets: ducks, donkeys, horses, chickens. Margo has seen it all and was pretty much prepared for anything.

What she wasn't prepared for was seeing an incredibly emaciated seven-year old American Bulldog named Blanca. Her hips stuck out like a dairy cow, her ribs and vertebrae were showing. After talking to the man, she found out that he and his wife and two kids were on food stamps and so Blanca was getting fed Wonderbread and leftovers when there was something left for her. Margo had an extra bag of dog food in her car and gave it to the man and his wife. The dog approached with a full-body wiggle tail. When Margo could see the dog up close, she was even more shocked. This girl was imminently pregnant.

Margo explained to the owners that it was just too cold for her to be out. The temperature that night was in the single digits and if the pups were born, they would surely freeze to death. The couple said Blanca could stay in the basement, but it was still cold down there. Margo gave them a comforter she used to protect her car upholstery from her own dogs for Blanca to lay on. She also gave them her phone number and told them to call if they needed more supplies.

Less that three days later, Margo got the call that Blanca was in labor. Margo brought over a plastic wading pool and more blankets, then returned home. Margo wasn't familiar with whelping and called Melissa Borden, one of the founders of Devoted Friends Rescue, Inc and the writer of Shawn's Journey. Melissa called one of her volunteers, who talked Margo through setting up the whelping area. Margo answered the owner's phone calls throughout the night, passing along information she had learned. Over the night, ten puppies were born.

Within hours, one of the puppies started crying. The owners, not knowing how critical the first few hours are, waited to call. Margo called Melissa, who then called me to ask if I would come drive with her to check on the pups.

By the time we got there, it was too late for the littlest one. The owners made it clear that they wanted to keep Blanca but would be willing to let Devoted Friends place the pups. Melissa B. and I got baseline weights on all the pups, swabbed navels with alcohol prep pads, adjusted the pool so it wasn't directly on the concrete. This was the first time Melissa and I had actually seen Blanca. I had flashbacks of everything that can go wrong with an emaciated momma dog. We quietly identified the four pups that were the smallest and least responsive, and we prepared ourselves for the inevitable bottle feeding that was to come. We made a supply run, getting puppy wet food and dry kibble along with Nutracal for Blanca, more blankets, formula, and items for the puppies.

When we returned to weigh the puppies the next morning, not a single one had gained weight. One had even lost weight. A quick physical exam of Blanca showed she was not able to keep up the milk production necessary for nine puppies. We pulled the four littlest pups. Margo, Mallory, Panda, and Bernard came with me to be bottle fed, and Melissa put a call-out on Facebook searching for one or two newly-whelped momma dogs that would be healthy enough to take on two more pups.

FIDO Rescue answered the call. One of their newest additions, Jewel, was of similar size to Blanca and just had four puppies the day before. I drove out the hour and a half to Ann Arbor in white-out snow conditions to drop of Mallory and Margo. When I got there, I was surprised to find Jewel's foster mom Pam was a woman who I knew -- we had even been roommates while on a disaster deployment for HSUS's National Animal Disaster Response Team (NDART) in 2010.

Panda and Bernard stayed with me for almost a week while Melissa and Margo went back daily to weigh and assess Blanca and her five remaining pups. When they all gained weight for five consecutive days, we placed Panda back with her brothers for twelve hours. If all gained weight overnight and Blanca seemed responsive, the plan was to return Bernard as well.

As it turned out, all the puppies gained weight but Bernard just couldn't hold his own. He couldn't really find a nipple and when presented with it, he wouldn't latch. Margo, Melissa, and I decided to take rotating four-day tours of duty bottle feeding little Bernard.

After a few more days of weight gain, we decided to schedule home visits every three or four days. On Wednesday, February 8th, Blanca was shaking her head a lot and appeared to have the beginning of an ear infection. By Saturday, she was lethargic and depressed. Melissa, Margo, and I packed up the pups and Blanca and headed to an Emergency Vet.

The vet confirmed a severe infection in both ears. Blanca's ear canals were obliterated from scar tissue and consequently so narrow that they could hardly clean them. After four mini-sessions over two hours, Blanca's ears were professionally cleaned. During that time, bloodwork showed Blanca was anemic, her white blood cell count was elevated, she had a completely deteriorated cross cruciate ligament on her rear left knee and her right knee, now burdened with all the weight from limping, was damaged. Her muscles around her hips were so atrophied that it was causing curvature of her spine. And she was heartworm positive. The vet gave us ear ointment and antibiotics and sent us out the door.

Melissa, Margo, and I drove Blanca and her pups back to the owner's house. We were all very quiet. What were we going to do? Blanca's owners had been so responsive to all our efforts for care and education. They fed her like we said, checked the puppies, called or sent a text message if they thought something was wrong. They had grown up in a culture where street dogs were friendly but no one really had a pet. Dogs were fed scraps and all were skinny. The mother had fought her way out of abject poverty, living for two years on the streets and squatting in abandoned houses. Now on government disability due to a horrible car accident, this family was on a limited income that barely paid for the tiny two-bedroom home in a neighborhood of burned out houses. Blanca's family loved her, but they certainly didn't have the money to care for her.

That night I couldn't sleep. Where do we even start to help Blanca? And what about the health of those pups? How could we pull the surrendered puppies and just leave Blanca there to die? What is the most pressing health concern and how should treatment be prioritized? I needed more information, so I called my friend Lou out in Maryland. She is a vet tech with a ton of shelter experience and an NDART volunteer. She listened to me in her calm, assessing way, asking questions and easily dissecting the facts from my venting and emotions. Lou helped me prioritize and get out of my emotionally defeated state and back in the mindset of an animal rescuer.

When the owner called the next day saying the puppies were crying and Blanca wasn't interested in taking care of them, I knew it was bad. When I got there, the pups were chilly and the blankets in the whelping area were wet. Blanca was laying on the concrete floor six feet away from the pups by the heater. For the first time in two and a half weeks, she did not wag her tail at me. I changed the blankets and fed the pups. After a quick assessment of Blanca's condition I could tell she had mastitis and some kind of respiratory wheezing and cough, I explained to her owner everything that was wrong and why she was so sick. The owner cried and asked if Devoted Friends could take Blanca, too. "I just want her to get better," she sobbed. "I don't want her to die here, like this. I didn't know she could get so sick."

Linda, a co-founder of Devoted Friends, made some quick calls and a connection at Always Hope said they could take the six pups. Melissa B. came and we put the pups in a carrier to take to the foster. Then I drove Blanca to my vet where he confirmed she had mastitis and respiratory infection or possibly a cardiac issue from the heartworms. Rather than take diagnostic measures, my vet suggested just maintaining critical care. "X-rays can come later," he said. "Right now she just needs to eat, rest, and get hydrated." Blanca got IV fluids, antibiotics, steroids, and a B12 shot.

I set Blanca up in the guest bedroom and took my dogs next door to my in-laws. I sat up with Blanca half the night, listening to her wheeze, cough, and whimper. Around 1:30 AM, I remember thinking, "This is it. She is going to die right here in my arms." Her labored breathing fell into a quiet rhythm and I fell asleep with my hand on her chest, feeling her heart beat and counting her breaths.

At 5:30 in the morning, watching Blanca still sleeping, I imagined Miracle Max (Billy Crystal's character from The Princess Bride) chastising me. "Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive." I laughed out loud and Blanca wagged her tail then covered my face in weak, sloppy bulldog kisses. She slept most of the next day and I hand fed her wet food rolled into meatballs and syringe fed her warm water.

Today, Blanca ate small meals at breakfast, lunch, dinner and a little bedtime snack. She is also drinking on her own again. She explored the yard a little this afternoon, trotting down Ollie and Marshall's paths in the woods. She followed me around while I did dishes and laundry and cleaned the house. She had an afternoon nap on Ollie's dog bed. After dinner, I gave her a new stuffed toy and she carried it around and even invited me to play with her. She has decided it is bedtime again and has gone upstairs on her own to the guest room to sleep on the comfiest bed of all. I am confident she's going to pull through this setback. I don't know what is next for her, but I know she is loved.


Special Thanks To:

Devoted Friends: Melissa Borden and Linda Muiter-Carmean

Fido Rescue: Amanda Wdowicki and Pam Laird (and Jewel!)
Always Hope

Margo Schmidt (with C.H.A.I.N.E.D)

Lou Montgomery

And the countless people who shared and networked our calls for help

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Don't Invite A Bite!

I read an article today about an on-air bite incident that occurred at a Denver NBC affiliate, leaving the anchor severely wounded and needing cosmetic surgery to fix the damage. Gladiator, a Dogo Argentino, had just been through a horrible ordeal. He had fallen through the ice at a lake and was rescued by a caring firefighter. Gladiator's owner brought him to the studio for an interview segment and during their on-air interview anchorwoman Kyle Dyer bent over to hug and kiss the dog. Gladiator spooked and bit her in the face. Gladiator, who has already been through a traumatic situation, is now in quarantine because the owner did not make sure Gladiator was up-to-date on his vaccinations.

Here in Michigan, a situation has just been resolved regarding a dog, her owners, and Royal Oak Animal Control. Heidi is a Doberman pinscher who nipped a man in the face when he bent down to pet her at a local market. There are too many discrepancies from the owner's version of events and the victim's version, as well as the official statement from Royal Oak Animal Control for me to feel like I have an accurate picture of the events. Whether Heidi was over-excited or feeling defensive, the judge's verdict is Heidi must wear a muzzle when in public.

Those of you who read this blog know how dogs often misinterpret our primate need to hug and kiss. Hugs are often viewed as restraint and close face-to-face contact can be threatening. The online community has been blowing up com-boxes condemning Ms. Dyer and the 45 year old victim in the Heidi case, calling them everything from foolish to deserving for bending over to hug, pet, and talk to a dog face-to-face.

As a dog trainer, I'm around all kinds of dogs all the time and I frequently am inviting social interaction with dogs I hardly know. I can do that because I know dog body language and I know when bending over and putting my face in a dog's face will be welcomed with kisses or unwanted.

I don't think it is fair to expect the general public to be well-versed in dog body language. This is part of the reason I cover these subjects in depth here at Furry Four Paws. Most of my clients and other dog guardians (even rescuers!) have a very Disney-esque view on dog behavior and attribute all kinds of thoughts and emotions to dogs that are not part of a dog's thinking ability or emotional capacity. I have misjudged a dog's intention or body language on rare occasion, and I have narrowly missed a couple bite incidents myself. If people who should "know better" make mistakes, why are our expectations of non-experienced dog handlers so high?

I also feel that animal issues are people issues and when we, the animal rescue and welfare community, start throwing blame at anyone except the irresponsible owner, we look anything but compassionate. We have a responsibility to increase the human-animal bond and increase education efforts in out mission to prevent cruelty and neglect. We must not forget it was the owner in Gladiator's case who let an unvaccinated animal run at large and then bring that animal in an unfamiliar setting hours after a traumatic event. Education on vaccination and proper containment should be a key component of this discussion as well.

Because of this event, I will be writing all of my local news affiliates and offering a free 30 minute class on avoiding bites and other injuries when doing on-air interviews with pets. I encourage everyone to think of how they can be part of the solution to educate children and adults on my five best tips to avoid a bite situation.

1. Dogs Bite Because They Are Dogs.
Growling, air snaps, nose punches, and bites are appropriate means of communication to dogs. Never forget that biting is a species-appropriate way to tell you, "Back off!" or "I really don't like what you are doing!" or "I feel threatened right now!" All dogs can bite and will bite under the right conditions.

2. Always Ask First!
If the dog is with the owner, always ask, "Is it ok to pet your dog?" Notice I didn't say, "Is your dog friendly?" No dog owners ever want to say their dog is not friendly. Often dog owners can be just as uneducated about dog body language as non-owners and let their emotions or feelings of social acceptance overtake safety precautions. Asking, "Is it ok to pet your dog?" makes the owner think and gives them a socially safe option to tell you no.

3. Greet dogs appropriately
Standing on an angle so you are not face-to-face with the dog, offer the back of your hand to sniff. Permit sniffing without additional touch or talking. Remember that sniffing is a dog getting more information. A well-trained socialized dog should sniff for a few seconds and be able to disengage on command. Most of the dogs I work with do not have this level of socialization or training, so I will let them sniff for about 30 seconds before stepping away to signal I am done being sniffed. Avoid bending over the dog or petting the dog from above. Avoid prolonged eye contact and standing head-on or face-to-face.

4. Look for body language that signals the dog is inviting interaction.
Look for loose, wiggly body language with soft eyes and relaxed ears. A suspicious dog may approach you to sniff and get more information with a tense body and erect, quickly wagging tail. Tail wagging can be a sign of excitement, so be sure to look at the whole animal. As my dad always says, "The tail isn't the end that bites." Look for all-over loose musculature and curving body arcs.

5. Be aware of stressors.
Is this a new environment for the dog? Is this a highly stimulating environment like a busy day at PetSmart or an outdoor market? Are there other dogs around that the dog is focusing on? Are there intermittent loud noises like amplifiers at outdoor concerts or construction areas that could startle the dog? If yes to any of these questions, it may not be a good time to add more tactile (touching) information to the dog's already overloaded system.

One of my favorite community education programs on bite prevention is Franklin County Ohio's "Don't Invite A Bite". A downloadable brochure is available here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Letter to MI Senator Hune Regarding The Use of Gas Chambers in MI Shelters

Note: The information for this letter was found in an American Humane Association Fact Sheet. Parts of this letter have been borrowed directly from that document. There are many reasons to oppose gas chambers as a method of euthanasia. When speaking to legislators, I find the most effective approaches to addressing any animal welfare issue speak to public safety, economic reasons and cost-benefit analysis, and humane recommendations or position statements of reputable organizations that are recognized as leaders in the health and humane treatment of animals.

Dear Senator Hune,

My name is Melissa Szumlinski. I am a resident of Walled Lake, Michigan and I am writing you to please hold a hearing for SB 423/424. This bill addresses prohibiting the use of gas chambers in Michigan animal shelters. This bill would benefit the safety of humans operating the gas chamber, minimize cost to the community, and adopt the general standards of humane care recognized by national veterinary and sheltering organizations by using Euthanasia By Injection (EBI) protocols.

The American Veterinary Medical Association states, “Carbon Monoxide is extremely hazardous for personnel because it is highly toxic and difficult to detect.” Because carbon monoxide is colorless, tasteless, odorless, and highly explosive, gas chambers must be constantly checked and maintained to ensure no cracks in the structure or failing seals. An explosion in the Iredell County, North Carolina gas chamber in 2008 revealed that contrary to recommendations, the equipment in the vicinity of the chamber was not explosion proof. A shelter worker was injured and personnel had to be evaluated for CO exposure at the cost of the county.

Shelter workers are also placed in danger of bite incidents and other injury when they have to drag an unpredictable animal in to the gas chamber enclosure. Due to the available use of restraint poles, squeeze gates, and syringe poles, it is far safer for shelter workers to sedate an then administer EBI than it is to force an aggressive, frantic, or frightened animal into a gas chamber.

Secondly to human safety is the cost of gas chambers. As more and more Michigan counties experience financial strains, EBI also makes more sense economically. American Humane recently commissioned a study on the costs associated between EBI and gas. The study, which is applicable to other jurisdictions with cost figures similar to other states, shows that the cost to use carbon monoxide gas is $4.98 per animal. The cost to use carbon monoxide poisoning without a tranquilizer is $4.66 per animal. The cost to use EBI, however, was only $2.29 per animal. The savings of $2.39 per animal can save thousands of dollars at each of the shelters that use gas chambers in Michigan.

Gassing animals causes unnecessary suffering and results in an inhumane death. The American Veterinary Medical Association states that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide is not approved for use on medium to large animals, thus animal shelters must have an EBI backup system. If successful, the gas chamber can take up to 25 minutes to end an animal’s life. However with EBI, death occurs far more quickly. EBI brings about a rapid and painless unconsciousness, followed by a medical death within just a few minutes.

Widely respected and recognized professional veterinary and sheltering organizations have issued position statements to the efficacy and unilateral adoption of EBI as only humane method of euthanasia. These organizations include
The American Veterinary Medical Association
The National Animal Control Association
The American Humane Association
The Humane Society of the United States
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Only 7 Michigan animal shelters currently euthanize animals by carbon monoxide. The vast majority of shelters have already transitioned to EBI, giving the animals a humane death and shelter workers the permission to end the animals' lives with the dignity and compassion they deserve. Please hold a hearing on this bill to eliminate this unapproved and inhumane practice.

Thank you,

Melissa Szumlinski, CPDT-KA

*** UPDATE 2/3/12: I just received this email:


Thank you for taking the time to contact the Office of Senator Hune with your support of Senate Bills 423 and 424. We appreciate all the information you sent over. This has been given to Senator Hune for his consideration.
If you have any more questions, comments, or concerns please feel free to contact the office by email or by calling toll free 855-Joe-Hune. Again, thank you for taking the time to contact the office.

Sam Champagne
Constituent Aide
Senator Joe Hune

Monday, January 30, 2012

Deciphering the Difference Between Depression and Dog Issues

Lately a lot of press has been given to the story of Nick Santino's suicide. Santino was an unemployed soap actor and relatively unknown to anyone who hasn't watched All My Children or Guiding Light.

The story according to news media begins when his apartment building's board passed a breed-specific rule banning pit bull-type dogs. Santino's dog Rocco was grandfathered in and was excluded from the ban. The board began getting complaints about Rocco barking and behaving badly that friend and family sources say were unfounded. (The Daily Mail reported that a veterinarian told Santino that Rocco was displaying an increase in aggressive behavior.) Santino felt harassed by building management. His solution was to visit his vet and have Rocco euthanized last Tuesday.

Over the next few hours after putting Rocco to sleep, Santino became more despondent and on Wednesday of last week was found dead in his apartment. He had committed suicide, leaving behind a note that read,

"Today I betrayed my best friend. Rocco trusted me and I failed him. He didn't deserve this."

Animal advocates and anti-Breed Specific Legislation groups all over the nation have grabbed this story as an example of the enormous impact BSL has on the human-animal bond. What many fail to see is that BSL is only a minor factor in this tragedy. Santino was suffering from depression with suicidal tendencies. The real issue behind this story that is not being addressed is the serious issue of suicide and depression.

Major Depression Disorder (or Clinical Depression) is a serious mental illness that affects the way someone perceives their world. It affects a person's health, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This year alone, approximately 15 million will be diagnosed with MDD. Symptoms include depressed mood or sadness, poor concentration, sleep disturbances, fatigue, appetite disturbances, excessive guilt and suicidal ideation or preparations. Left untreated, episodes can last a few months or even years. Prolonged episodes of depression can severely impact the ability of a person to function in their daily life, leading to isolation, thought distortion, and in some cases suicide. Suicide is the seventh-leading cause of death for men and the fifteenth cause of death for women in the United States.

The first casualty of depression is often rational thought and perceptions about daily interactions. Santino's feelings of harassment may have been legitimate, but through the lens of depression were magnified so greatly that he no doubt felt paranoid. His problem solving skills and belief that he had any ability to impact what was happening to him made him seek a solution that seems unthinkable to most dog lovers. Many wonder why Santino didn't consider all the other options. Why not rehome his dog? Find a rescue group that might help with training or placement? Or even contact a bully-breed advocacy group to help him educate his apartment's board of directors on their discriminatory policy. The simple explanation is Santino would not have seen any of these possibilities.

One of the hallmark signs of suicide preparation is the dispersement of valuables items and possessions. Euthanizing Rocco could have also been an irrational way of saying goodbye in preparation for his plan. Or maybe even Santino felt he was protecting his dog from the hurt and mental anguish he was living with. After returning from the veterinarian's office, Santino even began dispersing Rocco's valuables, giving rawhides and treats to other animal lovers in his building.

People suffering from depression are often burdened with a tremendous sense of guilt. To an outside observer, this guilt often seems unwarranted, but to the depressed person, it feels intensely real. In the case where his decisions did leave him as the one who was solely responsible for Rocco's death, his guilt would be severe. Combined with the havoc depression plays with the ability to think clearly, possible suicide ideation leading up to this event, it is not surprising Santino's declaration of guilt was the last message left to his family and friends.

It is a lot easier to blame Santino's suicide on the breed specific policies that played a part in his decision to euthanize his best friend rather than look at suicide and depression. The BSL angle of this story lets us feel like there was "a reason" behind Santino's death. Addressing the issue of depression and suicide is far more complicated, nuanced, and scary. Depression is an invisible illness that we as outsiders can't control or completely understand. Focusing on the apartment board's no pit bull policy gives us a false sense of control, as if Santino would not have committed suicide had this policy not been in effect. Sadly, had this policy not been enacted, Santino would have just been one of the nearly 39,000 people who die from suicide each year.

If you or someone you know is showing signs of suicidal behavior , please call the 24-hour suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE or visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website for resources in your area.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Remedial Puppy 12 x 12 x12

There are a lot of different theories about how much a puppy should be socialized to by different time periods. A number of dog trainers have come up with great advice about socialization of normal puppies that we have the opportunity to work with from birth or a very young age. Seven things a puppy should know by 7 weeks and Meet 100 people by the 100th day of life are some of them. These are great tools to use with new pups, but can be overwhelming and even detrimental for special needs dogs from feral, neglect, or sensory deprived situations. To understand the thought process behind these guides, it is helpful to know a little about critical periods in puppy development.

0 to 7 Weeks: Neonatal, Transition, Awareness, and Canine Socialization.

During this period, puppy learns about social interaction, play, and inhibiting aggression from its mother and littermates. Puppies must stay with their mother and siblings through this critical period because this is when they learn to accept discipline and basic bite inhibition.

5 to 14 Weeks: Interspecies Socialization Period.

The puppy now has the brain waves of an adult dog, but his attention span is short. This period is when the most rapid learning occurs and socialization to sounds, people, objects, and textures is vital. Dogs that miss out on human socialization during this period tend to be on a spectrum from aloof ----> fearful -----> reactive to humans. Dogs that are removed from litter mates before 7 weeks are at increased risk of reactivity to unknown dogs.

8 to 10 Weeks: Fear Imprint Period

Any traumatic, frightening or painful experience will have a more lasting effect on the puppy than if it occurred at any other time in its life.

11 to 16 Weeks: Seniority Classification Period.

Puppy starts to cut teeth and apron strings and by the end of this period the puppy begins testing its position in the family unit. He will learn more about leadership during this time than at any other time in his lifetime. Dogs who have not been around humans but were around dogs at this time will need additional work on accepting and understanding leadership and guidance from humans and are more likely to take environmental cues about rules from dogs.

4 to 8 Months: Play, Fight, and Flight Instinct Period.

Puppy also starts actively deciding how to respond to uncertainty, startling events, and fear. By 20 weeks of age, the basic development of "being a dog" is set. Any puppy not socialized to humans at this point will be a remedial learner and require a behavioral modification program. This is also when adult males begin to correct adolescent males in a more direct, rough manner.

6 to 14 Months: Second Fear Imprint Period

Puppy again shows fear of new situations and even familiar situations. He may be reluctant to approach someone or something new. It is important that you are patient and act very matter of fact in these situations. Never force the dog to face the situation. This fear period is normally more marked in male dogs.


A feral, severely neglected, or sensory deprived dog has not had the benefit of being purposely exposed to people and novel items. Feral dogs might possibly be the most adept at responding appropriately to new objects as they have survived life on the streets and been exposed to any number of objects in their environment. However, they have not had the human contact or exposure to multiple humans. Dogs from sensory deprived environments (puppy mills, spent an entire lifetime in a kennel or on a chain) will have a very challenging time responding to novel stimulus. With that in mind, this is a modified version of the Puppy Rule of Twelve I have developed for remedial dog training for dogs like Shawn This is designed primarily for feral, severely neglected, or sensory deprived dogs.

It is important to remember when dealing with these dogs to go slowly and refrain from touch, talk, or treats when they show they are uncomfortable or scared. Be sure to reinforce "return to calm" behavior if they are fearful or uncertain. And, while a certain degree of challenging is appropriate, never force a dog to interact with a new object or person. Instead, make a note of the object and the dog's response and refer to a qualified trainer on desensitizing the dog to that object.

Because we should be flexible and patient with the needs of the dog, I am reluctant to put a time limit on when these special needs dogs should have experienced all these new things. I would say that exposure to a majority of these items and activities by twelve weeks in foster would be a good goal, but by no means should be a rule.

1. Experienced 12 different surfaces: wood flooring, carpet, tile, cement, linoleum, grass, wet grass, dirt, mud, puddles, deep pea gravel, wood chips, grates, uneven surfaces.

2. Experienced 12 different objects as enrichment: Kong, stuffed/fuzzy toys, hard toys, funny sounding toys, small tennis size ball, larger bowling ball-sized ball, wooden items, crumpled paper, cardboard items, milk jugs, pop bottles, metal bowls or pans, aluminum pie plates.

3. Experienced 12 different locations: kennel or crate, kitchen, living room, bathroom, basement, garage, laundry room with washer/dryer running, car (not moving, just get in), car (moving), veterinarian hospital (just to say hi & visit, lots of cookies, no vaccinations), walk in neighborhood.

4. Met and played with 12 new people (outside of family): adults (mostly men), elderly adults, people in wheelchairs, people who walk differently. Children and teenagers as appropriate for the dog and safety of the minor.

5. Experienced 12 different people movements: jumping up and down or jumping jacks, touching toes, twirling, reaching up high, reaching over dog, balancing on one leg, two people dancing, running in place, windmill arms, two people tossing a ball, people hugging, people tickling and laughing.

6. Exposed to 12 different noises (ALWAYS keep positive and watch dog's comfort leveled): cd of life sounds gradually on increasing volume, clapping, snapping, adults talking loudly at each other, children playing outside, doorbell, knocking, garage door opening, door slamming, dropping pie pan or cookie sheet, garage door opening, doorbell, children playing, vacuum.

7. Exposed to 12 fast moving objects (don’t allow to chase): rolling a ball or toy truck across the room, kids on skateboards, people on rollerblades, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, people jogging, scooters, vacuums, children running, children playing soccer, squirrels, cats (with dog on training tether), wheelchairs

8. Handled by owner & family 12 times a week, increasing touch as

9. Eaten from 12 different shaped containers: hand fed, wobbly bowl, metal, cardboard box, paper plate, coffee cup, coffee filter, china, pie plate, plastic, frying pan, Kong, spoon fed, paper bag,

10. Eaten in 12 different locations: back yard, front yard, crate, kitchen, living room, basement, laundry room, bathroom, friend’s house, car, school yard or park, bathtub.

11. Played with 12 different dogs as much as possible depending on dog reactivity and social needs.

12. Left alone (safely crated if needed) away from family and all other animals for increasing time periods 12 times a week.


This is modified from the "Puppy Rule of Twelve" behavior handout by Upper Valley Humane Society.

The concept for that handout was adapted from

Margret Hughes'

The Puppy’s Rule of Twelve Positive Paws Dog Training ©2002

The concept for that handout was adapted

with permission from Pat Schaap’s “RULE OF 7” for seven week old puppies

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dudes Are Scary!

I had three phone calls last Thursday about dogs that cringe, growl, or bark at men. As I ended the last phone call, I started thinking.

Have I ever gotten a call from a man telling me his dog cringes or hides when it sees a woman? No.

Have I ever gotten a call from a man telling me his dog aggressively barks or lunges at women only? No.

Even in confirmed cases of animal abuse and cruelty where the aggressor was a woman, have I observed dogs that react in a tense, frightened way to only women? No, not that I can think of. These dogs are almost uniformly afraid of all strange people.

So, what is it with dudes?

Often people see a dog cringe at the sight of a guy and assume that the dog was "beaten by a man". In some cases, that may be true. More likely, however, the dog was not socialized to men (or different types of men) during their critical fear period of 7-14 weeks of age. It may mean that they had a startling or scary experience with a man during that time, specifically during their fear imprint period on weeks 8-10.

Maybe it is the way men move. Or the way they smell. Or their facial hair or wardrobe choices. Dogs do not understand our ability to change our silhouette and are often suspicious of people in hats, puffy coats, sunglasses, or ponchos until they have been exposed to different types of clothing. Because of this, I routinely advise women who foster puppies to make sure their male family members and friends visit often and interact with the dog in a positive way. Keeping a box of goofy dollar store items and playing 'dress up' before starting a game can do wonders for a pup's socialization.

Another theory is that women's body movements appear to move away from the observer.

Patricia McConnell explains in her blog that

"Research published in Current Biology asked volunteers to guess the direction of motion of figures that were represented only by points of light placed at critical joints. (Similar to the motion capture process used to make movies like Avatar in which a real person moves around with points of light attached to hips, elbows, shoulders, knees etc, and a computer records the movement of the lights.)

When watching the points of light that represented a moving figure, the volunteers said that the figures made by men were approaching, while the figures made by woman were retreating."

I have looked all over the internet to read the actual study and have only been able to find articles that reference it. And I am always looking for research that can help me understand the 'why' behind this question. If you have resources or research on this topic, please include it in the comments.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It's all Talk, Talk, Talk

The last few weeks, the majority of my posts have been inspired by the socialization and behavior modification plan for Shawn, a 6-8 month old shepherd mix found in a junkyard in Detroit. Shawn was born in the junkyard and has not had close-quarters interactions humans before December 28th, 2011.

So far in discussing the human instincts that are in conflict with dog behavior, we've talked about hugging and touch, and eye contact. These posts are relevant to all dogs, but are especially important to be aware of when dealing with feral, unsocialized, or neglect dogs. Next, I'd like to look at the implications of human speech when interacting with special-needs dog populations.

When I was first beginning to make dog training a hobby, I read a book by the Monks of New Skete. As I learned more about the science of dog training, I dismissed a lot of the book as based in dominance theory. There were parts of the book I have always taken with me, however. From a spiritual perspective, I loved the New Skete practice when new monks joined the order. The new monks were given a German Shepard Dog pup to train. The dog went with them everywhere, participated in prayers and work and rest along with a human partner. This all occurs during the monk's vow of silence. Commands are learned through hand signals and other body language. The bond between monk and pup is intense and they learn to communicate on a deep level.

Talking is one of those primate instincts that we rarely think about. It is so much a part of "who we are" that many religions require some kind of vow of silence as part of the spiritual quest of those in leadership positions. Whether that comes in the form of meditation, silent prayer, or prolonged periods of not talking, the act of being silent often leads to profound realizations about our spiritual nature and the world around us.

Through experience with their people, pet dogs learn the signals that show our talking is directed at them. It could be body language or a change in pitch and tone of our voice. Outside of that connection, dogs ignore most of what we talk about and deem it irrelevant to their day. We tend to process what we feel, see, and experience through speech. We talk to each other, some of us talked to our plants, most of us chatter at our animals, and I'd bet I'm not the only one who has been caught cussing at inanimate objects. (Stupid bagel stuck in the stupid toaster...) Really, when you think about it, dogs have no choice but to zone out all this verbalization purely for the preservation of their sanity.

Unsocialized dogs are unfamiliar with human behavior, and as such are overwhelmed by our incessant gabbing. They are trying to read our body language and figure out what it means to them. Imagine their impression when they see face-to-face positioning, sustained eye contact, a human reaching out to restrain them and making weird noises that have no context. This is a scary combination of body language for an unsocialized dog. Fear makes them believe everything is relevant to survival and they are unable to process all this novel stimuli. They become too overcome with fear to experiment with the implications of human speech and will make false conclusions that talking means the same thing as all the other in-your-face, threatening body language we are showing.

An important part of rehabilitation for dogs like Shaun is giving an unsocialized dog a set period of time where talking is kept to a minimum. It allows for a routine to be established and for the dog to become comfortable in the environment. When a dog hears talking, it is best first observed between two humans interacting (benign event), as opposed to human talking to a dog (eye contact can make this a confusing event). This gives the dog an understanding that not all human speech is relevant. After a period when the dog is relaxed and calm when observing humans talking with each other, then we can start talking to the dog. (While being mindful of our body language and eye contact, of course.)

The dog has an opportunity after this point to learn when human speech is a cue about their environment without being overwhelmed with other stimuli. By this point, these dogs have had ample time to observe human body language, learned to experiment within their environment, and learned that taking risks with their individual space often pays off with a positive (treats). They have learned that their primary caretaker will respect their space and is the bearer of all good things (food, treats, water, mental stimulation.) And soon they will learn, like our pet dogs, that most of the time it's all just talk, talk, talk.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Look into My Eyes (Actually... Don't.)

In Western cultures, we value eye contact as one of the most important parts of communication. In our culture, eye contact shows we are paying attention, it is how we judge someone's character, it is the way we show how we are processing thought. We have a plethora of sayings about eyes, "Eyes are the window to the soul." "Don't believe it until you see it with your own eyes." "Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

The meaning of eye contact changes in different cultures, but one thing is for sure: humans value eye contact when it comes to bonding and affection. This is something that happens from a young age. In a 1977 study, scientists found that babies shift focus to the eyes upon hearing verbalizations as early as 5 weeks. As babies got older, eye contact intensified. A 2002 study showed that babies followed the direction of gaze rather than head direction. Long, loving gazes between people show an increase in levels of oxytocin (the bonding hormone) and dopamine (released when we engage in pleasurable activity). And this does not change with cultures -- eye contact between loved-ones is immediately rewarded in our brains with a rush of feel-good chemicals.

Dogs, however, do not share this affinity for eye contact. Unless they have been conditioned from a young age to accept eye contact, they quickly grow uncomfortable with prolonged periods of staring. For example, Ollie has learned through our training that eye contact is valuable to me and is important for him to make humans pay attention. Tonight, he shoved his nose in my face exactly 3 minutes past normal dinnertime and looked me in the eye. While he was looking at me for a total of fifteen seconds, he never held direct gaze longer than a second. He instead made direct contact in little flashes but mostly looked slightly to my right at my cheekbones.

Dogs that are friends will make quick eye contact to signal interest, excitement, or initiation of play combined with corresponding body language. For dogs, prolonged eye contact only comes as a hard stare. Combined with various other body movements, this hard stare can communicate:

I'm the boss.
I'm challenging you.
Don't test me on this.
You are a threat and I am deciding what to do about it.
You need to back off.

This is why, when dealing with all dogs but especially unsocialized dogs, we must be aware of what our eye communication says. This is exceptionally important when we are talking to a dog. Dogs are unsure of what our noises mean. Combine an unfamiliar action a with body language a dog believes has context of a threat, and you have a recipe for a miscommunication. At the minimum, a dog feels threatened. At the worst, you have a dog lunging at your face.

A soft gaze directed at the forehead space in-between a dog's ears is a good place to train your gaze when observing behavior. Any accidental eye contact you make will be contextually accurate to the dog. It will be "checking in" rather than a threat or stare.

Monkey Love

In the 1950s, Harry Harlow's experiment with infant macaques performed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison forever changed our ideas on animal emotions. One group of macaques infants were raise with a surrogate mother made of cloth. The other group was raise with surrogate mothers made of wire. Monkeys with the cloth mothers grew up to be fairly normal. Monkeys raised with the wire mothers grew up fearful and desperate. It was concluded at that point that there was something more than simply nutrition that was required for baby animals to be well-adjusted adults.

In primates, identifying the biological need to hug and to be hugged was reproduced during the most rigorous scientific experiments, over and over during the next 60 years. Eventually the study went beyond observable behavior and into the inner workings of the brain. Oxytocin (responsible for bonding, attachment) and dopamine (released in pleasurable activities) are the hormones behind these set actions. They are released when we hug and then are released again whenever we are around something or someone that we are attached to.

Animals that have higher social structures produce more oxytocin. This includes dogs. Studies show that dogs produce oxytocin when interacting with their humans: playing, petting, engaging in a group activity. However, in terms of oxytocin production, dogs respond either neutrally or negatively to any sort of physical restraint: hugging, reaching over a dog's head to pet, or collar restraint unless they are conditioned to accept this type of physical contact from an early age. These movements activate their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and huge levels of cortisol are pumped out. Cortisol, the major indicator of a response to stress, can remain in the dog's blood for hours in socialized dogs and days in dogs unfamiliar with human behavior.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to hold back when we interact with dogs is our primate need to hug because it is a highly rewarded instinct. We crave it from birth, it is necessary for proper brain development, and we are rewarded for it with the production of all the feel-good neurotransmitters that happen when we bond. But it is our responsibility to control that impulse, especially when dealing with dogs that are feral, neglected, or from sensory deprived environments like puppy mills. We can get them to start bonding and having significant emotional attachment by engaging them in problem solving activities, being a source of predictable interactions, and providing them with routines to help them explore and understand their environment, and eventually petting and non-restraining snuggles.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Power of Routine

What do we know to help Shawn on her journey?

We know that Shawn was born in the junkyard about seven months ago. Up until last week, there is no indication she had ever been touched by a human. By all accounts, she had spent her life as a feral puppy.

This means experiences with human behavior, body language, and movement has been unpredictable and limited. Shawn has never experienced pet dog comforts like regular food, clean water, daily walks, novel stimuli in the context of a home, play, socialization, training, or toys.

This means Shawn will be overstimulated by small changes in her routine and environment, which in turn means it is our responsibility to create a stable and controlled set of actions to show her that human behavior is predictable. This also means she is a novice learner. The act of "set activity + experiment + practice = learning" is new to her. We will have to 'teach her how to learn' by creating a predictable environment where she feels safe to take risks.

We can expect Shawn to begin interacting with her environment around days 3-5. We can expect that shortly thereafter, she will begin experimenting with vocalizations and body language to learn "what works" to get what she wants: excessive barking, jumping, body blocking, licking, mouthing, and nipping.

We know our plan to help Shawn will consist of contact only that is part of daily care routine: feeding, cleaning, and quiet sitting. We know to avoid high-energy body language and verbalizations such as fast walking, exaggerated arm movements, shouting, high-pitched voices. We know that forcing interaction with Shawn if she cowers, moves with head down, or changes positions to remain the farthest distance from the caretaker will break what little bond of trust we have achieved.

We also know we must keep our own human emotions in check. We need to recognize our tendency to empathize and put human emotions on a dog. We have to realize our human want to touch, hold, and maintain eye contact and understand that this is the opposite of what a dog naturally wants. This means being aware that dogs often see hugs as restraint, touches from above as a sign of aggression or dominance, and direct eye contact as "staring down". As difficult as it can be to restrain ourselves from putting our human emotions on Shawn, we have to meet our need to show her affection in ways she will understand: establish a routine, provide daily care, allow her to observe normal human behavior, and share the same space without touch unless she initiates it.

It all goes back to the most important piece of training advice ever given to me. "Do not underestimate the power of routine."-- Julie Castaneda, CPDT-KA