Training Tipsters – Part I

With this being “National Train Your Dog Month”  (and with me being a passionate advocate of training), I thought I’d share a few training tips from fellow DVGRR colleagues. Dog training ideas are one of those things that – in my opinion – you can never get enough of. There’s always something new to learn, a different perspective to consider or try, an unexpected challenge to brainstorm solutions for. And when you’re feeling stuck or frustrated, often another dog friend knows just what to suggest.  So let’s hear what some of my rescue friends (aka “tipsters”) have to say…

“Keep Away” vs. “Come Close”

Tipster: Dennis Stauffer, DVGRR Kennel Manager

Here at Golden Gateway, there are always a few dogs that don’t want to come back in when playtime is over. They may be timid or scared, a bit on the stubborn side, or just plain untrained.  Usually, however, they would simply rather stay out and play instead of going back inside…quite understandable really.

But then the “keep away” game starts – after all, it’s far more fun to be chased around the exercise yard (and perhaps cursed at a bit!) rather than coming to the staff person trying to round them up. Why? Because as soon as they do come, the leash gets clipped on and the dog is led back to the kennel. So they quickly learn that coming to a person is a “bad” thing. They think: “Why should I come to you when all you are going to do is put me inside and the fun stops?”

Our staff counteracts this “keep away” game in a few ways:

1. First, we make sure the dog’s living conditions inside are as appealing and inviting as possible, with plenty of toys and comfy bedding. We want them to see their indoor space as a good place to go, not something negative.

 2. Second, we make going inside itself a rewarding event. We don’t just lead them in and shut the kennel door; rather we spend a few minutes petting and talking to the dog, then they get a special food treat before the door is closed.

3. Third, and most importantly, we work on getting the dog used to coming to us while outside playing, used to being petted while sitting or standing in front of us, and used to having their collar touched with no problem.  We do this by repeatedly rewarding them with praise or small treats whenever they approach – and then letting them go again!

Most of the dogs love playing ball, so we teach them that we won’t throw another ball for them if they stay away. Instead, we encourage them to come close enough for us to touch their collar, we make them sit, we pet and praise them, then we throw the next ball. This teaches the dog that coming to us is a GOOD thing. They get reinforced with pets, treats, and then the best part – they get to keep playing!  We do this over and over so when it is time to stop and go inside, we can easily put a leash on the dog and walk them back.

Any dog owner can use this same principle to teach their own dogs that playing “keep away” does not get rewarded, while “come close” is a very good thing!

Here’s a video of Dennis working with one of the “keep away” artists currently in our program and demonstrating some of these techniques:   Tennis Ball Loving Riley Learns a New Skill!

Potty-Time Pointers

Tipster: Kathy Gardosh, DVGRR Board Member/Volunteer/Adopter

I saw a post on Facebook the other day with a link to a professional trainer’s website. She had written a blog about house breaking puppies and recommended using a leash while doing so. It made me think back to house training my past and current dogs and what a blessing it is to have your dogs leash trained when you are out and about with them.

I was owned by my first three Goldens before I had a fence, so it was important to me that they relieve themselves before we headed out for a walk or a ride in the car. Car rides usually meant a trip to obedience class, a vet or groomer appointment, or a community event we were covering for DVGRR.

I was always a bit of a nut about taking care of potty time before a walk as a) I didn’t want my dogs going on a neighbor’s lawn, partly out of respect, but more importantly as b) you never know who chemically treats their lawn and c) let’s face it, the point of the walk is to get exercise so we can’t be smelling each and every blade of grass as we go.

As in all training, the reward for the desired behavior has to be worth your dog’s time and trouble. If your dog is food motivated, you are home free. If he loves his walks, you can use the walk itself as his reward.

With my Bridget (04-149), potty training on cue was fairly easy – although the first few days post-adoption were not easy!  She was too timid to walk through my sliding glass doors to the backyard, so I would take her out front, let her sniff around, and carefully watch her behavior. It took nearly 36 hours of doing this almost every hour on the hour when she first came home until she finally went pot for the first time. I praised her and gave her a special cookie treat right away!

Once Bridget got a little more comfortable, out the door we would go and I would again watch her behavior. As soon as she looked like she was squatting, I would praise her by saying “Good pot dog” (putting words to the behavior). I would then say “pot-pot” until she finally eliminated. After that, we would have a BIG celebration with many treats and go on to our walk or hop in the car for our outing. Soon all I had to do was start the car or say, “walkies” and off she would go to do her business in no time flat!

Now Sam (07-224) was a bit more challenging. He came to us three years after Bridget and of course, I needed to install a fence to be eligible to adopt him.  With the fence in place, I just opened the door and off he and Bridget would go into the yard. I realized later when I would take him off home grounds that he did not know how to go “on leash” and this was a big problem as we are always on the go. Believe me, it is no fun spending your first night out in a motel when it’s raining or snowing and your dog won’t go pot!

So…I basically, had to start from the beginning as I had done with Bridget. Out every hour on the hour with leash on, big time rewards for correct behavior, and finally adding the words “good pot” when I saw him about to eliminate. Because I do not reinforce this as often as I should with Sam, he is not as quick to respond – but, at least he is now comfortable going on leash. I just wish I had started from day one in the backyard, on leash, so that I could have a) trained him to go in one spot in the yard (easier pick up) and b) made him more comfortable going on leash when we were out and about.

One other related tip: I use a Flexi lead for my dogs when going pot and keep their normal leash around my neck. They quickly get the idea that the Flexi is for pot and the other leash is for fun stuff. Ordinarily, I really hate Flexi leashes as most dog owners do not use them properly and they can be quite dangerous for both you and your dog. However, they do work well for potty purposes. Please only use them for training and only in an area with low stimulation for your dog. Don’t use them in areas where your dog could get excited by passersby or by a squirrel or rabbit. The dynamic force of those leashes can pull you down or cause you to lose control of your dog. I have seen some very serious injuries to both humans and canines when such leashes pop.

Bridget and Sam Gardosh show off their gorgeous Golden smiles on one of their many trips with mom Kathy. Both attend many dog events (as well as enjoy lots of vacation time like this beach location) so it's essential that they know how to potty on cue.

Bridget and Sam Gardosh show off their gorgeous Golden smiles on one of their many trips with mom Kathy. Both attend many dog events (as well as enjoy lots of vacation time like this beach location) so it’s essential that they know how to potty on cue.

Bonus Tip: Kathy’s Recommended Training Treats Recipe

A gal I train with at the Suburban Dog Training Club in Wyndmoor, PA shared this relatively inexpensive and easy-to-make high value training treat. With all the recalls these days on commercial treats, I jumped on this one!

1 lb. of chicken livers

1 cup of tapioca flour (Whole Foods)

Puree chicken livers in food processor or blender. Mix in tapioca flour. Spread on foil lined cookie sheet with lip. Bake 1 hour at 250°. Turn off oven and let sit overnight. I cut these into strips and freeze. You can then take out the desired amount when ready to use and break off little pieces or use the long strip for luring. I have had many of the other dogs in class try to pick my pockets!

Healthy Indoor Fun

Tipster: Maurice Furlong, DVGRR Board Member/Volunteer/Adopter

My Tucker (09-152) may be getting older but he still has a couple of new tricks in him! Lately, I have been playing more indoor activity games with him.  As incentive, I use cut-up vegetables as treats and when he sees the carrots or broccoli come out he gets into “game mode” right away.

The game is very simple — I get a few cups out and put a carrot or some other treat underneath them on the floor. Tucker has a ball upsetting the cups and getting the treat. Sometimes I show him the treat and let him look for the previously hidden ones, He loves the hunt so he gets excited and runs around until all are found and then he gets the last one that I keep in my hand.

This is not formal training but he is sure using his brain while learning how to play! He gets mental exercise, a bit of physical exercise, and a bunch of healthy treats! Just the ticket at his age on a chilly winter day.

Here’s Tucker in his favorite winter hat. He is one stylish senior!

Here’s Tucker in his favorite winter hat. He is one stylish senior!

More tips coming in Part II!

Buddy’s Bumpy Christmas (It’s Not What You Think)

For those who know the story of Buddy, a formerly terrified puppy mill breeder dog adopted from DVGRR last summer, you might think the worst when you see the word “bumpy” used in this post. After all, Buddy’s whole life prior to rescue was one filled with much pain and little joy, and his homecoming to the Slawecki family was far from smooth sailing in the beginning.

But, rest assured, this is a happy story and any tears you shed will be ones of gladness for brave Buddy!

Since I last wrote about Buddy, his progress has been typical for a puppy mill breeder dog – he takes the proverbial two steps forward and one step backward. Chris and Jill have learned to quietly cherish each milestone, no matter how small, and Chris especially has learned many lessons about patience. Buddy is still much less comfortable around Chris than he is around Jill, but Chris, sharing in the qualities of others in the forefront today (i.e., a very wise man!), knows that won’t always be the case.

And today surely proves that point. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this lovely message from Chris describing Buddy’s first Christmas as much as I did when I received it this morning. It gives “bumpy” a whole new meaning!

Merry Christmas morning! 

Buddy’s first Christmas morning home was beautifully uneventful. I came downstairs at dawn and his tail began thumping as soon as he saw me touch down in the living room. (Right now, I am scratching and petting him with my left hand. He enjoys getting out of his safe spot, circling over to the computer to bump me with his nose/forehead, so I’ll pet him, then circling back to his safe spot and soon beginning all over again. I will signify with a ‘bump’ in this email each time he does this). BUMP. 

Got Buddy and Faith on their leashes and took a beautifully quiet Christmas morning walk. Bathroom and stretching. When I left them in the yard to dispose of trash in the dumpster, I saw Buddy leaping and pawing at Faith, racing up and down the yard, while she tried to keep up with him. BUMP. He really looked close to joyful.  

In the house for a special Christmas morning hamburger breakfast. Buddy just kind of casually strolls over to the water dish for a good long drink while I’m in the kitchen making breakfast. Breakfast gone within a minute or two of me putting it down in front of him. BUMP. 

The three of us enjoy some more petting and quiet talk and then we hear mom (Jill) coming down from upstairs. They bolt from me and sit (try to sit) at the bottom of the steps but their wagging tails and jumping for joy make it difficult. Mom comes down and sits on the landing and pets and pets and talks and cuddles. Now mom’s sitting on the sofa, drinking her coffee, and Buddy sits adoringly at her feet, every so often putting his chin on the sofa to let Jill know he’d like to be petted some more. 

A completely unremarkable wonderful Christmas morning. I never saw a morning like this coming last July, that is for sure. I guess after five and a half months you learn how to weave each other into the fabric of your own life. He seems more wildly handsome if that’s possible – his posture is straighter and more confident and his face more curious and expressive, his eyes more communicative. 

Thank you all for the gift this Christmas morning.  BUMP.

Even quiet Christmas mornings can lead to a nap! Faith on the sofa and Buddy ever close by.

Even quiet Christmas mornings can lead to a nap! Faith on the sofa, Buddy ever close by. May all your bumps be good ones!


Collective Wisdom … or, “These are a few of my fav-or-ite blogs!”

I love to write but I’m not a fast writer; I’m one of those folks who self-edits relentlessly as I go along, rather than just get the ideas out and polish later. So I’m often in awe of writers who seem to effortlessly and prolifically produce thoughtful/thought-provoking, well-organized, articulate blog posts that show up in my feeds or inbox. For my own post this time, I thought I’d share some of the bloggers that most inspire me, interest me, or get my brain cells working overtime with their provocative ideas.  So, in no special order, here goes…

My Favorite Training and Behavior Blogs

NOTES FROM A DOG WALKER — Jessica Dolce describes herself as “just a stubborn, high drive, well-meaning mutt,” but I’d give her a whole lot more credit than that. I started following her last July when I saw one of her posts on Facebook (“How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons From a Sanctuary”) and responded to it myself…along with hundreds of other readers, most of whom, but not all, applauded and supported her words. That post did create a lot of controversy as well and I had to figure out how to stop getting others’ comments sent to me automatically as they were truly clogging up by email! Nonetheless, I’ve continued to thoroughly enjoy Jessica’s posts and truly admire her knowledge, wit, and creativity. (She’s also the person who started the DINOS™ , or Dogs In Need of Space, movement, which addresses the issue of dogs who aren’t comfortable meeting other canines out in public.)

THE OTHER END OF THE LEASH – Written by noted behaviorist and author Patricia McConnell, this blog is very high on my list of recommendations. I love the down-to-earth but incredibly interesting way that Trisha helps her readers increase their understanding and appreciation for canine behavior, body language, and all kinds of dog-related issues. She’s not afraid to acknowledge her own challenges and frustrations with the dogs in her life, and takes the time to respond to many of the comments left on her blog – so you know she’s really reading and thinking about them. Make sure you peruse the rest of her website as well; you’ll no doubt find much helpful information and resources.

DR. SOPHIA YIN’S ANIMAL BEHAVIOR AND MEDICINE BLOGSophia Yin ranks up there with Trisha McConnell among my personal heroes in the dog training world. She is both a veterinarian and animal behaviorist so combines extensive experience in both arenas in her work. Her blog may be a bit on the “heavy” side for the average dog owner, but provides a wealth of great knowledge for those working in the field or those wanting to expand their personal knowledge and training skills. Dr. Yin’s videos are especially well done and fascinating to watch. Sign up for her email newsletter to keep up with her work.

MY SMART PUPPY — A fun and highly informative blog from trainer and writer Sarah Wilson.  Short, to-the-point, and valuable posts on puppy (and adult dog) behavior, training tips, and additional links. DVGRR has included Sarah’s book by the same name (co-written with Brian Kilcommons) on our list of recommended reading for puppy adopters. In addition, Sarah and Brian’s book on choosing the right breed for your lifestyle, Paws to Consider, is one of my absolute, all-time favorite dog books. I’ve loaned my copy to many people and every one of them has thanked me profusely.

CANIS BONUS — I’ve just started following this blog recently but really like the content. Very diverse and well-written. Don’t be put off by the fact that blogger Laure-Anne Viselé writes from The Netherlands as her work is extremely relevant to U.S. based dogs and dog owners. One of the things I like about her blog is the page she created to advise readers of her philosophical position on various, sometimes controversial, issues in the dog world. If you share her viewpoints, you’ll find the blog very affirming. If you don’t, she may win you over anyway!

VICTORIA STILLWELL POSITIVELY —  I’m not a big fan of dog training shows on TV, but I do have high regard for Victoria Stillwell’s approach and training style. I think she’s done a good job of helping to bring positive, rewards-based training into viewers’ living rooms and hopefully she counterbalances some of the ideas and techniques espoused by other, more force-based (in my opinion) celebrity dog trainers. Take a look at the blog, the website, and her show, if you aren’t familiar with it.

WILDE ABOUT DOGS – Lots of good stuff here from noted author and trainer Nicole Wilde. I really like Nicole’s book on separation anxiety as well. It’s called Don’t Leave Me: Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety and is a very comprehensive guide for dealing with this very frustrating behavior problem.

FEARFUL DOGS BLOG – Our Project Home Life Manager/Assistant Kennel Manager Heather Hatt first led me to an appreciation for the writing of Debbie Jacobs, a specialist in the area of fearful and undersocialized dogs. Heather and Kennel Manager Dennis Stauffer recently met Debbie at a conference where they were co-presenters on programs to assist fearful dogs. One of Debbie’s recent blog posts highlighted our Project Home Life program – a great boost to the visibility of this important DVGRR initiative! (Read the comments to see Debbie’s description of Heather after meeting her as “innovative and compassionate” – very true!)

My Favorite Health Care Blogs

THE PREVENTIVE VET – OK, let’s move over to the health care side of dog-related blogs. I love this blog and website written by veterinarian Jason Nicholas, whose primary focus is helping dog owners keep their canine companions safe with easy-to-follow preventive measures. His tag line: “Protect your pets. Protect your pocketbook.” Who can argue with that? From the website, you can purchase and download a very comprehensive Whole Home Pet Proofing Guide, with lots of great safety tips. Dr. Nicholas has also written two books on pet safety – one for dogs and one for cats – that will be published in the near future.

SPEAKING FOR SPOT – If you are looking for timely, succinct, highly relevant posts on canine health, look no further than this blog by Dr. Nancy Kay. I have the utmost respect for Dr. Kay after reading both of her books (Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health) and following her blog posts. She’s really in tune with what dog owners need as far as understanding the myriad of canine health conditions and communicating effectively with veterinary professionals. (Note: Should you purchase Speaking for Spot from Dr. Kay’s website, be sure to list DVGRR as your nonprofit organization of choice to receive a portion of the proceeds. We are a participating member of the Speaking for Spot Gives Back program.)

DOLITTLER BLOG – I first came across Dr. Patty Khuly when she was blogging for a site called Fully Vetted a few years ago. I found her posts highly enjoyable and quite witty, not to mention informative about many health and health-related topics. This is her own site, and well worth taking a look at. She’s a real multi-tasker so don’t read her bio unless you want to feel seriously inadequate!

Just for Fun

 NITPICKER’S NOOK  These last two have nothing to do with dogs, but I count them among my favorites anyway so thought I’d share. Nitpicker’s Nook is for grammar freaks, wordsmiths, and anyone who loves language and communication. Yes, I fall into all those categories! Seriously, this site also has great articles on workplace etiquette, getting along effectively with coworkers, and lots of other great resource info applicable to everyone who wants to succeed in their chosen profession.

MADE JUST RIGHT BY EARTH BALANCE – this food-oriented blog (people food, not dog food!) is published by Earth Balance, a company that makes healthy, plant-based alternatives to some popular dairy foods like milk, butter, and mayonnaise. I signed up to follow it as I like and use their products, but I didn’t expect to get so many yummy sounding recipes sent to me almost daily! Very tempting! For anyone who wants to improve their health and the environment, who eats (or would like to eat) a vegetarian or vegan diet, and who loves to cook (the last one is where I fall short, I’m afraid), check it out and enjoy!

If you find a blog you like, be sure to subscribe or add it to your feeds so you will be updated when a new post is published. Also, please add to my list by sending along your favorite blogs as well — I would love to hear what they are.

Alli and I wish everyone a very happy holiday season filled with lots of doggie kisses and Golden fur!

“Tails” From the Beach – Respecting Rules and Romping Safely

Yes, I know writing about the beach is a little out of season right now, but the information I plan to share can be adapted to other settings as well. And with the coming of chilly fall weather, it’s nice to think about beach plans for next year anyway!

My last trip to the beach was just a few weeks ago, in early October. A friend and I rented a house together in Sandbridge, Virginia– a lovely place that was new to me but already an old favorite of hers.  Our trip was a bit challenging with two dogs along, one of which (mine) is not a favorite of sharing her space with other canines.  Alli does tolerate Riley (my friend Denise’s 2-year-old Golden) better than most dogs, but we still needed to employ quite a bit of management and juggling during the week to avoid any skirmishes of the four-legged variety.

The judicious use of gates to create separate areas in our rental house worked very well. Here’s Alli hanging out in her designated portion of the living room.

Sandbridge is a very pet-friendly area and dogs are allowed on the beaches — only at certain times of the day in the high season but at any time in the off seasons.  Leashes, however, are required. This was not a problem for us, as 13-year-old Alli enjoyed leisurely strolls on her Flexi-lead and her younger cohort Riley (who LOVES the ocean) is used to being on a long lead for beach excursions. More on that later…

Given that most folks visit in the summer, not many other dogs were around during our stay.  On one of our walks with both Alli and Riley we met a young man carrying a baby and juggling two Golden Retrievers on leash. Another child skipped along beside them. The man’s dogs were very well behaved and we enjoyed chatting about the joys of Golden ownership with him. Riley wanted to play with the other dogs but since our new friend had his hands full (literally), we opted not to let the dogs engage each other.  We parted company with a wave and a smile.

Such a nice family! Dad had his hands full but managed his dogs very responsibly on the beach.

Contrast that encounter with one from  the following day – one I’m still fuming about when I replay it in my mind and one having to do with respecting (or not respecting!) rules. Denise and I were taking an afternoon walk along the beach, this time just with Riley as Alli was pooped from a morning excursion.  Ahead of us we spotted two men and two large dogs (a black Lab and an Airedale), both dogs off leash. I hoped the men would snap on leashes before drawing close to us but unfortunately they made no effort to do so.

When the dogs were about 50 feet away, they each stopped and assessed Riley with narrowed eyes. OK, I couldn’t really see their eyes from that distance but I could read the rest of their body language. Everything about their posture told me they were preparing to charge at Riley (who is on the small side for a Golden and can be skittish in new situations).  I yelled to the men to leash the dogs but they either didn’t hear me or ignored me. Sure enough, in an instant both still-unleashed dogs were running our way, skidding to a stop on either side of Riley and moving in to squish her like the filling in a sandwich.

I’ll grant you, their behavior at that point did not seem 0vertly threatening – I think they just wanted to make a new doggie friend. But poor Riley was overwhelmed, and justifiably so. A dog on leash surrounded by a dog or dogs off leash is a highly stressful experience for the leashed dog, who’s well aware they can’t get away.  Had that dog in the middle been my dog-reactive Alli instead of Denise’s dog-friendly Riley, I have no doubt Alli would have started snapping and lunging at her two would-be “suitors.” An all-out fight would likely have ensued, with one or more of the dogs sustaining physical or emotional injuries.

I’m normally a pretty tolerant person, but my “mama bear” instincts took over and I was furious that Riley was put in this situation. (Denise was too, of course, but she was focused on reeling Riley in closer to her.) In hindsight, I probably got testier with the other dogs than I should have, given that they were certainly not the ones at fault – their wayward humans were. Don’t worry, I didn’t do anything inappropriate, I just tried to sternly send them on their way with a lot of waving of my arms and upraised voice.  Not a very flattering sight, I’m sure.

Finally, the Lab and Airedale ambled back to the two men, who were just as casually strolling up to the scene. I approached the man who seemed to be in charge and told him that dogs were required to be on leash and that it was very unfair for his dogs to run up to ours. I naively expected him to apologize, but instead he looked me in the eye and said tersely: “We were having a good time until you two showed up.” Then he dismissed me with a cold, “have a good day” and turned to leave.

Wow. I started to argue the point but received only another, even icier, “have a good day,” so opted to leave well enough alone and chalk it up to a rude and inconsiderate dog owner.

The sad part is that even when owners aren’t as ill-mannered as this person, they often don’t realize the implications of allowing their off leash dogs to intimidate or frighten other dogs.  How many of us have experienced a distant owner waving an unattached leash and blithely calling, “Don’t worry, he’s friendly,” as their dog rushes up to sniff or jump on OUR dog? We all have the responsibility to respect the rules and ensure that dog-to-dog greetings – if they occur at all – are managed in a courteous, appropriate manner so all involved enjoy, rather than endure, the experience.

I know that some readers may empathize with the desire to let dogs run freely on the beach – maybe you’ve done so yourself, though I trust with far more consideration than “Rude and Ruder” (as Denise and I subsequently dubbed our two frosty beach “friends”).  Sure, it’s fun to watch a dog frolic in the water and sand, unencumbered by that pesky leash.  We want them to experience the joy of the ocean, splash gleefully in the water, and stretch their legs on that long expanse of sand.  (Or, run in that open field, play in that creek, hike that hill, etc., etc.)

At the same time, though, we bear the vital responsibility for keeping our dogs safe, AND making sure they don’t inadvertently cause safety issues for other dogs. Without trying to sound preachy, I believe we must keep those two goals always in the forefront. However, I ALSO believe we can easily combine safety and fun!

As noted earlier, Riley is a dog whose eyes literally dance at the sight of the ocean. She’s been on many beach vacations with Denise and her husband and she adores the whole experience. She’s also a dog who might easily take off for Timbuktu if given the chance to “run free.” So Denise keeps her on a long, 50 foot cotton leash that allows for plenty of frolicking but can be reeled in as needed when playtime is done or other people want to go by without having a wet, sandy Golden accost them.

Besides the ocean, Riley’s other love is her Frisbee! Put them together and she’s a happy, happy girl. The long lead lets her run and catch the Frisbee easily and could be used in non-beach areas as well.

I had such fun myself watching Riley romp in the water while still securely attached to her mom that I shot two quick videos with my phone. You can watch the first one by clicking here and the second one by clicking here.  Yes, it does take a little practice to avoid getting the leash tangled, but does this look like a dog that’s hampered in her playtime?? On the contrary, I would call this safe, fun, and respectful!

If you have your own stories of dogs romping safely on the beach (or similar places where off leash is tempting), please share them. If you’ve run into folks like Rude and Ruder, tell me how you handled it — I’m quite sure I could have done better!

Not Every Dog is a Bentley (or Shirley)

Last Wednesday evening, DVGRR participated in the Ephrata Fair Parade, a huge local event that turned out to be great fun and great exposure for our rescue. We drove our float to the parade starting point ahead of time, then put the finishing touches on our decorations, lighting, etc.

Lots of parade spectators were starting to make their way to the viewing areas and passing by us as we worked; many stopped to chat or admire the three dogs selected to ride on our float representing DVGRR.  The dogs took it all in stride, but one mom left me kind of shaking my head in frustration at her actions.

This enthusiastic woman came up carrying her young son, who I would estimate to be somewhere between 18 months and 2 years old. She plunked her son down right in front of 11-year-old Bentley, an adopted Golden belonging to Kennel Manager Dennis Stauffer and his family. The child’s nose was no more than half an inch from Bentley’s nose, given their respective heights. Bentley began licking the child’s face, which clearly the little boy had not anticipated. He wrinkled up his forehead and turned his head away, backing up towards his mother. Bentley, who loves everyone, followed happily, tongue still blithely outstretched in greeting. It took another few minutes before the mom seemed to realize her son wasn’t really digging the licking and she picked him up out of Bentley’s reach.

Bentley is the quintessential Golden — easygoing, sweet, well-mannered…and very handsome!

I must admit, I was among those of us who chuckled at the scenario – after all, it was comical in a sweet way to see Bentley trying to make a new friend. But at the same time, I was quite disheartened at this mother’s apparent lack of knowledge regarding how to introduce children and dogs.  In my opinion, she made two key errors in judgment:

  1. She never asked if her child could meet Bentley; she literally walked up and stuck him into Bentley’s face of her own accord.  At least four of us were standing right there and could have let her know if it was advisable to introduce them.  Bentley is a Golden who lives with a young child, has a fabulous temperament and gets along well with everyone – but not every dog fits that same description, of course.  With a different, less tolerant dog, the outcome could have been disastrous.
  2. She didn’t consider that her child might not want to meet Bentley, at least not in such an up-close manner. I hope the little boy won’t take away any negative reaction to dogs, and most likely he won’t, given that Bentley was gentle and loving (albeit a bit direct in his greeting). But I’m willing to bet the child won’t be thrilled about meeting the next dog he encounters, wondering if that sloppy tongue bath will be repeated.

At one time in my life, I carried the same implicit trust that this mother does, especially since my first Golden (raised from a puppy) absolutely adored children and could never get enough of those she met on walks or visits to friends. So I do understand the mindset of “what could go wrong?” When you work in rescue (or any other dog-related profession), however, your perspective changes quite a bit. Granted, I’m also particularly sensitive to the need for caution, since my current Golden (Alli) and her immediate predecessor (Morgan) both came with what might be called “checkered histories” regarding their past interaction with children. I’m therefore extra careful whenever we encounter kids while out and about.

On the positive side, the majority of children I personally run into on walks now know to ask, “Can I pet your dog?” – as compared to maybe ten or fifteen years ago when that question was much less often posed. I believe parents and educators are doing a good job of teaching children to be respectful of dogs and other animals, but certainly the road ahead still has some bumps and pitfalls.

One of the key skills in this area, for both adults and children, is recognizing when a dog is comfortable versus when a dog is experiencing stress or anxiety.  Some signals given off by dogs are pretty obvious – a growl or a snarl is generally not hard to misinterpret. But dogs communicate with many other subtle signals that can take experience and practice to pick up on.

For example, one that is quite easy to see once you know what to look for is a closed mouth versus an open mouth. That open-mouth, “smiling” look is characteristic of a dog that is relaxed and happy, while a tightly closed mouth indicates a dog that is feeling nervous or uncomfortable.  In many situations, an observant person will catch the precise moment where a dog closes its mouth in response to some stimulus in its environment (an unfamiliar person, a threatening dog, etc.). Often, that action (i.e., closing the mouth) calls for some intervention on the part of the humans to reduce the tension and avoid the dog moving on to a growl, snarl, or snap.

A resource that I love for helping people ensure that children have good experiences with dogs (and vice versa) is Living With Kids and Dogs, a website run by noted dog trainer/author Colleen Pelar. I’ve read several of Colleen’s books  and heard her speak at a conference and I can tell you that she’s incredibly practical, knowledgeable, and funny as well! I highly recommend her book of the same name as her site, Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind, available in paperback or downloadable e-book formats.

Colleen’s site also has a very nice, 3-step guide for parents to help teach their kids the best way to meet a dog. Similar information is of course available elsewhere, but I really like Colleen’s approach of asking the dog, as well as the owner – a step that I know I would have never thought to include myself if not for this advice!

Another great resource from Living With Kids and Dogs is the Dog Behavior Continuum, which very succinctly and clearly shows how a dog’s attitude ranges from liking an activity or experience (Enjoyment),  to merely putting up with it (Tolerance), to really wanting to be somewhere else (Enough Already).  I really encourage you to spend time looking at some of the pictures on Colleen’s site that illustrate these different stages as well as reading some of her excellent articles. Learning to “read” a dog’s reaction to children (as well as other aspects of his or her environment) is a process that can be as fascinating as it is important.

We use these bookmarks (personalized with our logo and ordered through Colleen Pelar’s website) to help children learn the three key steps in meeting a dog.

A second bookmark helps children (and adults) to more easily recognize stress signals given off by dogs. If you’d like either of these bookmarks for your own use, just email

In closing, I wanted to share this sweet photo of Shirley (11-197), a wonderful senior Golden who was adopted last November by Tim and Kathy Reeves. A real “character,” Shirley was adored by Tim and Kathy’s grandchildren and she never tired of being included in their playtime.  In this picture, despite the semi-indignity of wearing a toy for a hat, Shirley bears that open-mouth, relaxed expression that says she falls into the “Enjoyment” realm of the Dog Behavior Continuum.

Tim says he thinks the green toy is really a halo, as the day after this picture was taken, Shirley’s many health issues got the better of her and she left for Rainbow Bridge, tucked into Tim’s lap as she said goodbye. She’ll be dearly missed, but she made the most of every moment she spent in her adoptive home!

Golden Gadabouts – More Pics!

Steve Jackson loves taking pictures and videos of his three Goldens (two from DVGRR), and they love to accompany him on bike trips and other excursions. Steve sent this cute photo of the boys (Max and Harley) taking a dip after a six-mile hike at Atsion Lake, NJ last April.

“Although Harley is swimming fanatic (hard to get him out),” says Steve. “Max always enjoys a cool dip on a warm day.” The boys have a beautiful Golden sister named Katie at home too!

I also heard from adopter Kathy Sazonov, who adopted a puppy mill breeder dog from us (Sheela)  in April 2011. Kathy and her husband have another Golden (Shelby) and a Golden Doodle (Toby). A few years ago, they impulsively rented a car, packed up their dogs, and headed off on a road trip with no predetermined itinerary. Now, that is adventurous! The Sazonovs ended up at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, which Kathy says is gorgeous! Here’s a family photo taken on that trip — the Goldens are the two that preceded Shelby and Sheela in the family, but the Golden Doodle is Toby, still with them today.

Watch Hill, Rhode Island — a very nautical destination!

Oh yes, here are some more great traveling tips, courtesy of Dr. Nancy Kay, author of  Speaking for Spot: The Best Health Care Book for You and Your Dog  (a great resource for pet owners, by the way). Dr. Kay recently posted an article about On the Road Veterinary Emergencies that is full of excellent ideas. I plan to implement a number of them myself when Alli and I head off for our vacation next month.

More photos of Golden Gadabouts (and their non-Golden friends) are welcome!

A Passing of the Leash

Each Labor Day weekend since 2007, I’ve received a sweet note from adopter and volunteer Chris Slawecki, reminding me again how grateful he was to have adopted Buster #16 (07-126) on September 1, 2007.

This year, the September 1 anniversary of Buster’s “gotcha day” will be filled with bittersweet emotions. After almost five years of living with the Slawecki family and successfully overcoming the awful trauma of his previous life in a puppy mill, Buster left unexpectedly for Rainbow Bridge on the evening of June 6, 2012. There was virtually no warning; he simply threw up a few times that day and then rapidly went downhill. He died in Chris’s arms on the way to the emergency clinic, most likely from a ruptured internal tumor. To say that Chris and his wife Jill were devastated would be an understatement. Buster had a profound impact on their lives and the loss was heartbreaking.

Still, there is – as the saying goes – an amazing “silver lining.” I’m one of those people who believes our beloved dogs sometimes know when it’s time to “pass the leash” to another pooch in need; it’s happened in my life with my dogs at least twice. I know it sounds goofy, but I’m convinced that Buster ”knew” Chris and Jill were destined to help a dog with similar needs as his, and chose to let that happen – at his own expense.

If you’ve read my post about the video DVGRR created for an HSUS-sponsored contest earlier this year (“The Spirit Within”), you may have already guessed the identity of Buster’s successor. Yes, Buddy #70 has a new home, and what a wonderful home it is.

When the Slaweckis first came to meet Buddy at Gateway, we cautioned them that he had even less comfort with humans than Buster did – and Buster was one of our most severely undersocialized puppy mill dogs prior to adoption. Chris and Jill were undeterred. Living with Buster had taught them so much about the damaged, yet still treatable, nature of puppy mill survivors. In addition, Chris edited and contributed to Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!, a groundbreaking book for adopters and prospective adopters published in 2010 by author and pet behavior counselor Chris Shaughness.

If you are lucky enough to know Chris, you’ll agree he has a unique sense of humor! After observing Buddy pace endlessly around the exercise yard outside our Special Care Unit that first day, Chris inched his way close enough to sit on the ground about ten feet from Buddy and started talking softly to him. “What are you saying?” I asked curiously. Replied Chris: “I’m telling him, ‘Buddy, I sure hope they are paying you by the mile given all the ground you’re covering!’”

After that, it was just a matter of making sure that Buddy got along with Faith, the Slaweckis’ other Golden Retriever (he did), and setting a date for the official adoption (July 10). For Buddy to ever succeed in a home, he definitely needed the experience and commitment that Chris and Jill could provide; we were incredibly grateful for their decision to adopt him. (Or maybe, Buster’s decision….)

I sat with Buddy in Spencer’s Skool (training room) while he waited for Chris and Jill to arrive and finalize his adoption on July 10. As was his pattern, he paced and circled continually out of anxiety.

At this point, “relaxation” was not a concept Buddy understood

A Rough Start

All was not smooth sailing in the beginning. Chris and Jill needed all the fortitude they could muster during Buddy’s first two weeks at home. Although in many respects he adapted well to the new environment and routine, Buddy unfortunately decided to go on a hunger strike and basically stopped eating.

Loss of appetite is common in new adoptees the first few days, so here at Gateway we weren’t overly concerned at first. But Chris reported that Buddy’s refusal to eat was going on for far longer than typical, and with his already underweight build he really couldn’t afford to miss too many meals. I know from my own experience dealing with severe gastrointestinal issues in a Golden (Tyler, 01-047), it’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking to see a dog continually turn away when the food bowl goes down. You just want to cry every time another meal is left untouched.

Worse, Buddy began having multiple episodes of vomiting and diarrhea. This combination of challenges was really hard on Chris’s resolve. On July 22, he wrote via email:

So Buddy has diarrhea, and he’s going to the bathroom all over our downstairs. He just can’t help it and we know he just can’t help it but it’s not easy to remember he can’t help it when you’ve cleaned up the floor at 11:30pm, then again at 1:30am, and it’s 5:30am and you’re cleaning it for the third time since you went to bed.

Chris and Jill grew so concerned over Buddy’s physical decline that they ended up taking him to Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Trooper, PA, an emergency and specialty care clinic. Thank goodness they did, as Buddy was diagnosed there with pneumonia, a result of having accidentally aspirated some food or water into his lungs during one of his vomiting episodes. More worries, more stress, for this couple who just wanted to do right by Buddy.

Side note: While I was certainly worried about Buddy as well (Chris kept Heather, me, and other key parties updated by email), I have to confess it did not even occur to me until I was writing this post how incredibly emotional it must have been for Chris and Jill to leave Buddy at Metropolitan. Not only were they struggling with the anxiety of a newly adopted dog going through a health crisis, this was the same hospital where they had unexpectedly lost their precious Buster just a few weeks before. Talk about bringing back bad memories. Still, they never let that impede their focus on getting Buddy well and ensuring he had the best care possible.

A dog with pneumonia can deteriorate quickly, as I saw with my Tyler, who was hospitalized at the same facility with the same condition back in 2005. Dog folks will understand (won’t you??) that I therefore sent some special entreaties to my departed girl, asking for her help in sending strength and healing to Buddy. “You made it back then, T-ty,” I whispered in my head. “Now help Buddy do the same.” I suspect that in the Slawecki home, similarly whispered pleas were being sent to Buster.

With the quick administration of IV fluids and strong antibiotics (and maybe with the help of a Rainbow Bridge resident or two…), Buddy thankfully improved enough to come home within a few short days. Whew…crisis averted. Or was it?

Regrettably, Buddy’s interest in food was just as non-existent as before his stay at Metropolitan. He was sent home on a diet of rice, boiled chicken, and chicken baby food (normally irresistible to most dogs), but turned his nose away as he had before. I began fearing what I would read each time I received an email from Chris, with yet another discouraging report. Along with Chris and Jill, Heather and I were trying to figure out Buddy’s reluctance to eat and brainstorm ways to get past it.

Turning Point

Buddy did let Jill hand feed him for two meals and those of us following the saga via email rejoiced at this small success. Two meals was the limit, however; after that, Buddy started resisting Jill’s efforts to give him food. Back to the proverbial “drawing board.” Late in the evening of July 27, Heather wrote to Chris:

Could you try to keep Faith with you at night and keep Buddy with his food overnight? I know at the kennel, he and other really scared dogs would wait until the quiet of night to eat. Could you put up a baby gate or some other type of structure to keep Faith away from his food bowl?

I wasn’t sure Chris would even see this suggestion due to night-owl Heather’s timing of it. The following morning, however, I had tears in my eyes when I opened Chris’s latest update to read these welcome words:

Heather, it worked! 

Faith has been good and obedient enough to leave Buddy’s food alone. Last night, Jill fed him about half his dinner and we left the rest of it on his plate resting in front of him. Jill went to bed about 10:30pm and I “shut down the downstairs” but lay down on the sofa, just in case Buddy started coughing or vomiting or worse. 

I drifted in and out but about 11:45 I heard the wet, lip-smacking sounds of eating. I opened one eye and saw Faith lying on the floor next to the sofa, and Buddy licking at his plate. He saw me see him and immediately stopped, so I quickly closed that one open eye and began to pray I’d hear those sounds again. 

I did. Plate was just about completely clean. 

At last, the hunger strike was over. Buddy’s appetite returned and eating became part of his repertoire again, to the great relief of his devoted (but exhausted) adoptive family.

“Hanging in and hanging on”

That’s how Chris signed some of his Buddy updates over the past few weeks, and that tenacity has sure paid off in slow, but VERY steady progress made by Buddy. Recently, Buddy has:

  • graduated to eating in the kitchen alongside Faith, instead of in his “safe spot” in the family room.
  • started paying more attention to people and objects in his environment, even when he’s parked himself in that safe spot.
  • begun taking daily walks around the block, with Chris holding Buddy’s leash and Jill holding Faith’s leash
  • tentatively nudged a child that was paying attention to Faith on one of their walks. (Yes, he pulled away when the child tried to pet him, but just initiating contact on his own was huge.)
  • become, as Chris so perceptively puts it, “not really comfortable with us yet, but less uncomfortable.”

In early August, Buddy and Faith spent one night boarding at Golden Gateway while Chris and Jill were out of town. We kept them in the Project Home Life apartment to minimize stress. We were astonished (and thrilled) to see Buddy spend most of the time lying calmy next to the sofa. A BIG change from the pacing behavior we’d seen just a few weeks before.

Buddy allowed me to sit a few feet away to take this picture. When I sat in the chair next to the wall, he showed discomfort and started to get up and move away. With puppy mill survivors, progress is measured in “baby steps,” but each one is cause for celebration.

Faith’s Role

Chris and Jill have really helped Buddy get over that initial hump, but much credit also goes to Faith, a nearly ideal “mentor dog” (i.e., an existing family dog that helps a puppy mill survivor gain greater assurance and experience by virtue of the mentor dog’s confidence, patience and ability to model appropriate behavior).

Even mentor dogs draw the line at some duties, however. To end this post on a somewhat droll note, I offer this image of Faith “ratting out” her new brother when he became just a tad bit too laissez faire about his potty routine. Chris described the incident on July 30:

Last night, when we let Faith out for her final bathroom break of the night, Buddy didn’t seem to want to go, so we let him rest in his safe spot. 

We go to bed about 11:30pm. About 11:40, Faith comes running upstairs. Last time she did that, Buster had pooped all over the living room, so we went downstairs and found a spot where Buddy had peed on the rug. 

Two lessons learned: Buddy goes out with Faith for ‘last call’ whether he wants to or not, and Faith doesn’t want to be blamed for any of his monkey business.

Understood, Faith, and duly noted. But how happy I am that Buddy has the combined strengths, support, and guidance of you, Chris, and Jill!

Chris snapped this picture of Buddy in his “safe spot” just a few days ago. His expression is growing softer, his brow less tense. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s headed in the right direction and that’s all that counts.

There will surely be more challenges ahead, but Buddy is well on his way to that formerly elusive, but now quite real, new beginning.