Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Doggy Zen by Virginia Wind

One of the biggest issues that complicates our connection with dogs is pushy, jumpy, grabby, bouncy behavior that is rude in both the dog and human world.  It's as if our furry friend has turned into a 6 year old at a birthday party, high on cake and clowns and animal balloons and bounce houses.  He gets too close to your face, grabs at you because "YOU HAVE TO HAVE THAT THING RIGHT THERE RIGHT NOW!" and then has a meltdown because you said no.

Basically, the secret to beginning to modify this unwanted behavior boils down to teaching impulse control.  Jazz Up/Settle Down and Doggy Zen are my two favorite methods to teach a dog clearly that calm behavior opens the door to everything his little heart desires.

This is Doggy Zen, as instructed by Virginia Wind.

Doggy Zen Steps 1-10

General rules:

Always be calm.
Other than when instructed, keep your (very verbal species) mouth closed We always want to talk to “help” our dogs get it right. Self-control is best learned by the dog learning to make the right decision without interference. That’s what the clicker or marker word does, it “marks” the right behavior.
Always end on a positive.

To avoid excess typing, when “mark” is used, it means click or say your marker word.

(Melissa's Note: I like to use marker words like "Nice" or  "Yes."  "Good" is used so frequently in our conversations with our dogs, the value can be reduced. Remember to keep your marker word in a praise tone, but without a lot of excitement or fanfare. )

Doggy Zen Step 1

Put a treat in your hand and close your fist.
Put your fist right in front of your dog's nose, I like to be sitting and rest my forearm on my leg.
Let the dog sniff, nibble and mouth at your hand. If the dog is mouthing or pawing hard, put a glove on. Fireplace/barbeque gloves or heavy winter ski gloves are thick enough to protect your hand.
Be patient. Dogs who have not ever learned self-control take a while to figure this out.
The instant the dog moves the head away from your fist, mark, open your fist, drop the treat on the floor and cue the dog to “go get it”.
When the dog does not mug your fist three times in a row in a cold trial, move on to the next step. Note: a cold trial is the first “trial” in a session.

(Melissa's note:  Trainers really aren't kidding about being prepared with a glove for rough mouthers and pawers.)

Doggy Zen Step 2

Hold a treat in your open palm right in front of the dog's face.
If the dog tries to grab it, close your fist. Do not pull your hand away from the dog.
When the dog backs off, open your fist.
The instant the dog backs away from your open palm, mark, drop the treat on the floor and cue the dog to “go get it”.
When the dog does not attempt to snatch the treat three times in a row in a cold trial, move on to the next step.

(Melissa's note:  It is a good idea to keep the success rate at about 80% or 4 out of 5 repetitions prior to moving on to the next step.)

Doggy Zen Step 3

From now on, all treats are fed from your hand, you do not drop anything on the ground.

Put a treat on the ground and cover it with your hand.
The instant the dog stops trying to get the treat out from under your hand, mark, pick up the treat and hand feed it to the dog.
When the dog does not attempt to mug your hand three times in a row in a cold trial, move on to the next step.

Doggy Zen Step 4

Put a treat on the ground with your hand right next to it. If the dog tries to grab it, cover it with your hand. When the dog backs off, uncover the treat.
The instant the dog pulls his head away from the uncovered treat, mark, pick up the treat and hand feed it to the dog.

Doggy Zen Step 5

This is the same as step 4, except wait until the dog looks at your face before you mark and hand feed the treat.
If you feel like you are waiting forever, you can make little noises (do not say the dog’s name), the first one or two times.

(Melissa's note:  Kissy noises or tongue click should be enough to get the dog's attention directed at you.  Do not repeat the noises after one or two trials.  The dog has to problem solve to learn eye contact   and focus is the desired response.)

Doggy Zen Step 6

Hold a treat in both hands.
As you are feeding the dog with one hand, drop the other treat on the ground.
As this is difficult for everyone except the most coordinated people in the world who use a clicker, unless you have a second person to click, use a marker word.
If the dog grabs the treat off the ground, do not feed the treat in your hand, just do it again.

Doggy Zen Step 7

Drop the treat first, then feed from your hand, then pick up the treat and feed the dropped treat.
The period of time in between hand feeding and the dropped treat will become a "stay".
Increase the duration of the “stay”, but don’t verbally cue the dog to stay until the duration between giving the hand feeding and the dropped treat is increased to a count of 5.

Doggy Zen Step 8

This is the same as step 7, except wait for the dog to look at your face before you hand feed the treat, then pick up the other treat.
And it’s time to name it. “Leave it” is the most common name used, “mine”, “not yours” are also common names. It doesn’t matter what you name it as long as it is something you will say consistently, so make it something familiar and easy for yourself.

Doggy Zen Step 9

Put a wad of treats in one hand.
Drop a treat and then back away from the dog, saying “Leave it!” (or whatever you have named it), “Come!” in your happy voice.
If the dog comes with you, feed the wad of treats, then pick up the dropped treat and hand feed that.

(Melissa's note:  This is called a 'jackpot'.  Dogs understand gradient praise and reward.)

Doggy Zen Step 10

Put some low value treats (kibble is often a low value treat) in a bowl on the ground.
Walk the dog past the bowl, staying out of leash range of the bowl. If the dog tries to get to the bowl, be a tree (stand still, no talking).
The instant the dog looks at you, mark and treat with a high value treat (steak, chicken, cheese, hot dogs, etc).
Repeat, repeat, repeat until the instant the dog sees the bowl, the dog looks at you.

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