Posts tagged dog
How much is that doggie in the rescue?

Rescue work with dogs makes me grateful every minute of every day.

I'm lucky to meet these resilient and audacious dogs.

I'm lucky enough to have the means and space to run a small sled dog rescue with my partner.  We have enjoyed countless hours on a dog sled, the thrill of which is unparalleled, in my view.  As a way of paying this love forward we obtain, train, and place dogs from racing kennels into pet homes. 

I'm also lucky enough to be connected to people who work in shelters, pounds, and rescues around the continent.  These colleagues are hard-working (generally overworked), underpaid, under-appreciated, and absolutely essential to the quality of life of hundreds and hundreds of dogs.  There are no thank-you cards big enough. 

I am fiercely grateful for our adopters, even those who ended up returning a dog.  They have brought a sled dog into the circle of their family.  They are loving, they are caring, they ask questions, they go for long walks.  And they send pictures. 

And finally, I'm grateful for each and every person who inquires about our dogs.  Most do not end up adopting a sled dog, because they are just not a good fit.  Many of our dogs are not good with cats, they love hard exercise just as much as they love snuggling time, they tend to be a bit 'skittish' or anxious, and they almost always roam, given the chance (oh those sled dog genes... the answer to "should I head north or south" is usually both lots now.)  Some people want another dog for their recreational sled dog kennel, and we only place in pet homes.  Some are sure we have mislabeled the dogs as Huskies and they want our Border Collie cross or Saluki cross.  Some have toy dogs in the home, or cats.  Some want an intact dog to have puppies. 

But each time an email comes in, it is the start of a conversation where they open themselves up just a tiny bit - a small, breathtaking vulnerability exposed.  "I want that dog."

The initial email almost always reads "How much is that dog? When can I pick them up?", but as we get further into our conversation, I come to realize they are saying "my last dog passed away.  I'm ready."  Or maybe "my husband has been gone five years.  I'm ready."  Or "I jog by myself at night.  I'm ready."  Or "I'm 25 now.  I'm ready."  Often, it's a version of "I'm drawn to the mystique of sled dogs, and I have room in my house and my heart. I'm a bit unsure about the reality."  Each email is an opening for me to shine a light on the parts of their lives that make them a good choice for a sled dog home, or not.  I am the dog professional in the equation, after all.  I do this (I hope) by being the most respectful, gentle, and thoughtful person I can be, no matter their approach.  Before I hit send I review my wording with a critical eye.  The interaction is inherently unequal because I have the dog and the decision-making power.  Any response to an adopter can be read as judgmental despite my intentions.  Judging another human is not in my job description, nor is it generally my right.  My job is to educate and empathize, just as much as it is to place these sled dogs in the homes that are the best fit for all parties.

So a big thank-you to everyone who asks How Much Is That Doggie In The Rescue.  Our interaction might only be a single email, but I welcome the view you give me into your life, however small.  It's special and I treasure it.  And even if you do not end up with a sled dog, or any dog for that matter, I hope we are both improved by knowing each other. 

Happy trails!

How to forge a Poke-A-Bot

Or, Pestering Prospers when Paid

Cream is now a playful and active 11-year-old retired racing sled dog.  She came to us when she was two years old, right out of a competitive racing kennel.  She was, in sled dog terms, 'skittish.'  She didn't like interacting with us, she didn't like approaching us.  She pranced away, ducked her head, flew upstairs if we looked at her - all the hallmarks of an anxious dog.

As Cream aged, she got a variety of nicknames, including CreamBot.  When she was four or five, she started poking us with her slender nose, and the Poke-A-Bot was born.  Having an anxious dog initiate contact is such a big deal that we would immediately lavish her with praise, and pet her in the way she likes - a good scratch on her chest and neck.  We noticed, much to our delight, that she would poke us more and more.

And more and more.

And then she started to poke our guests.  Our shocked amazement that she poked a guest would always prompt them to shower her with affection.  It felt special, having an anxious dog with such a colourful history poke you so determinedly.  As a bonus, she seemed to get the most enjoyment from poking parts that were, in human terms, a mite irreverent.

Poke-A-Bot is a perfect example of how humans foster a dog's behaviour, intended or not.  We trained Cream to poke us by reinforcing it - "paying" her - with something she likes.  We inadvertently followed all the rules of reinforcement - we waited until she performed the behaviour of poking, then immediately afterwards we coughed up reinforcement.  And true to the laws of animal learning, nose touches increased.  As time went on, the poking was easier to ignore, so we only paid attention to the firmer prods.  You guessed it:  the firmer prods soon replaced the tentative bops. 


If You Pay A Pestering Poke-A-Bot, Pestering Proliferates.

The moral of the story is, if your dog is pestering you, you are likely paying it somehow.  Teach your dog to do something else to get that reward instead.  If you're stumped, call a pro.  We are here to help.

Of course I'm in the kitchen. I am dog.


Most dog owners are familiar with this scenario.  Doing dishes or wiping the counter is lonely, lonely work, but as soon as the vegetables hit the cutting board, a close friend appears: dog.  It doesn't seem to matter how much the chef begs or pleads, or if the dog ever, ever, snags some of that delicious human food. 

So, what's up with that?

If you have ever seen dogs who find their dinner as scavengers from a dumpsite, you have seen part of the answer.  If your dog's great-great-great-great-great-grandpa was not an efficient and capable scavenger, he may not have left behind any puppies to carry on his line.  Polite, discerning dogs who stayed away from the scrap heap were not successful in the romance department.  Your dog inherited this - "if there is food nearby, act and act quickly, KitchenDog!  You may never get another chance."  Many dogs simply do not need the payoff of occasional table scraps to keep up their eternal and hopeful kitchen vigilance.  Although of course that helps.

Another part of the answer might be right in front of your dog's face: his nose.  Are there scents you love?  Freshly baked cinnamon buns, smoke from a campfire, a particular flower?  If you would detour out of your way and take a few minutes to just enjoy a scent, you can imagine how your dog, with his powerful nose, would do the same.  It is payoff enough to be close to those delicious smells.

That's all well and good, but I want him out of the kitchen!

There are a couple of ways to handle this issue.  The easiest is to just shut your dog out of the kitchen.  Bonus points if you can toss his evening meal all around the backyard for him to find or feed him in a stuff-able toy, which will scratch his scavenging itch. 

You can also train him to stay outside of the kitchen while you cook.  Call on a pro dog trainer or take an obedience class for this one, although you will get some mileage from just "catching" him being good.  If he does eventually give up his hopeful quest and go lay down outside the kitchen, zip over with some of what you're cooking and give it to him.  This seems counter-intuitive, and will likely result in him immediately returning to the kitchen.  Be zen about it and wait.  You'll see a trend of his hopeful behaviour becoming oriented more and more often to the spot where he gets fed.  Then just stretch the amount of time he must stay out of the kitchen by a second or two each day. 

Photo: Janlee © Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

She won't drop the ball! Doesn't she like it when I throw it?

My dog loves playing ball.  But... she plays keep-away or drops it and snatches it right back up.

Our lives as humans are loaded with conflict between what we want to do, and what we've learned to do.  Wasn't it just last week that you thought: If I eat all that delicious fried food, experience says that I'll feel sick in a few hours.  And I'm not even hungry, and it's expensive.  But it smells so good!  Just one more bite...  It was completely natural for our ancestors to love high-calorie foods - we have inherited that love, even though it doesn't serve us well anymore. 

Your dog is feeling the same kind of conflict.  I know from experience that if I drop the ball, he'll throw it again, and I love that!  But it's just perfect to chew on...  When we play fetch with our dogs, they love it because the ball acts like a fleeing bunny.  It was completely natural for dogs' ancestors to love chasing and catching bunnies - dogs have inherited this as a love of toys, even though it doesn't always serve them well anymore.

How can I ask her to drop it and override the system?

The easiest way is to bring some delicious treats when you play fetch.  Say "Drop It Please!" with the treats hidden behind your back.  Count to two in your head, and then show her the treat - put it on her nose if you have to!  After she drops the ball and you pick it up, she gets the treat.  Keep at this until she learns the game, and starts dropping the ball during the time you are counting silently in your head.  When she's had a few days of practice, you can fade out the food treats if you wish to, by sometimes offering them and sometimes not. 

Or, you can just grab a bag of your favourite guilty snack, and enjoy watching her keep-away game.  It's a peek into her amazing and distant past, bubbling up right in front of your eyes.   

Photo: Tamarabauer| © Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Rufus is on the couch. Again.

Why do dogs love to hang out on the couch?  We all have our pet theories - I think it's because the couch is comfortable, it's high up, it offers a great look-out point to see the world outside the living room window, and you're there... In other words, dogs just like the couch. 

It's absolutely fine if you allow your dog to lounge on the couch, with or without you.  Sometimes, though, we don't want Rufus on the furniture.  If this sounds like you, and you're ready to make some changes, read on.

The easiest way to get Rufus off the couch is to buy him a comfortable dog bed and put it close to the couch.  Every day, lure him onto the bed, then reward him with a nice stuffed dog toy or rawhide to chew on.  Whenever he volunteers to get on his bed, make the effort to give him a nice treat or go over and pat him for a few minutes, if he's the type to enjoy a belly rub.  Over time, he'll orient more and more to his bed.

It can also help to keep the blinds closed so the couch isn't as attractive as a look-out, or to re-arrange the furniture. 

If you secretly enjoy having him on the couch but don't want him there when the mother-in-law arrives, you can keep him in the back room with a nice stuffed dog toy when she's around.  You can even train him to lay down in his own spot when guests are around, if you enjoy training (a good positive dog class or a private trainer can help with this one).  Keeping Rufus clean and brushed will help to reduce his shedding, and certain couch materials, those that are smooth, are easier to keep clean. 

If you punish Rufus when you find him on the couch, he will likely learn that it's only safe to snooze there when you're not around.  Hey...  That's not what we're looking for!  This isn't because he's evil, it's just how their very smart doggie brains work.  That's why meeting his need for a comfortable lounging spot with another bed is the best way to go. 


Photo: © Dan70 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images