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Kuranda Dog Beds - Rethinking dog beds
Kuranda Dog Beds
Each week, we will bring you an article or short story.
Discussions are welcome on the coinciding post on our FACEBOOK Wall.
You may submit an article or short story of your own by emailing it to email_us@barkavenueplaycare.com.
If we use your submission, we’ll give you a $25 Bark Avenue Gift Certificate!


— June 2, 2015 —
Deference vs. Dominance
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Dog trainers used to teach dominance, now days that is a dirty word in dog training circles. I still believe in deference, but how does “deference” different from “dominance.”

I read a book once that explained training in terms of dominance theory. The author related that if you stood over your dog and commanded “down” in a strong voice, the dog would lie down. If you were to lay on your back under the same dog’s head and commanded down, the dog wouldn’t comply. This was their proof that dominance was the key in getting our dogs to follow commands.

Now days, we understand that dogs, like humans, are usually responding to our body language more than our spoken commands. Dogs are usually “reading” us for visual cues more than listening to us for “language” clues. For an example of this, tell your dog to sit. If they have done any amount of training, they are likely to comply. Now, try turning your back to the dog and give the same prompt. If your dog complies, try going into another room. What you’ll find is that your dog’s ability to follow prompts will go down as the visual cues become less obvious.

Researchers tell us that over 90% of human communication is non-verbal. Our “body language” tells us more about what we are trying to communicate to each other than the words we use. Imagine how much more important this is to our dogs. They don’t talk…at all. The vocalizations our dogs make, barking, wining, etc are like laughing and crying. We have an idea what those sounds mean, but they are not “language” in the true sense of the word.

This principle is a small part of why the old school “dominance theory” isn’t really part of modern training methodology.

Deference is subtly different. Deference is a dog that, for lack of a better term, respects the hand that feeds it. When dominance demands compliance, deference inspires cooperation. When dominance relies on force, deference exercises leadership and technique. In simple terms, we want our dogs to defer to us, not feel dominated by us.

Another way to put is it is this. An average teacher explains, a good teacher demonstrates, a great teacher inspires. That is deference vs. dominance. A dog respects a trainer he defers to, a dog fears the trainer who dominates him.

The key to obtaining deference is learning to communicate with your dog. Trainers, if nothing else should be able to teach you how to explain your instructions to your dog.

Dominance relied of physical superiority, deference relies on communication. I hope to teach the latter.

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— May 26, 2015 —
Training Your Dog is Never Finished. It’s Always a “Work In Progress.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

There are many different schools of thought on dog training, but I think its at least as much art as it is science.

One of the things I hear people say pretty often is, “My dog is fully trained.” It bothers me because it carries the connotation that training a dog is a one-time task that can be completed and then we don’t have to worry about it any more. Depending on what you need your dog to learn, or what his behavioral issues are, training is something that is never really finished. Like the artwork in our illustration, it’s always a work in progress.

When an artist starts out to create an image, regardless of whether they are painting or drawing it, the process often involves similar steps. First, they must have a canvas, a blank page or some other medium upon which to create the image. For the dog trainer, a young, healthy dog is a perfectly black canvas.

Once we have our canvas, we need to start setting down the outline. This will guide the rest of the project. Having the outline in place allows the trainer to keep the project on track. That outline is the “foundation” of the piece. The foundation is where you teach the dog that you will be teaching him things. Puppy class is a great way to do this, but eight weeks of puppy class does not a “trained dog” make. Over the years I’ve had a number of folks come to me with serious behavioral issues. I would ask them if the dog has had any training and their answer would be, “Yes. He’s trained. We did puppy class when he was younger.” In their mind, the dog was taught to sit and lay down, so he was “trained.”

Once the outline is in place we, like the artist, fill in the details and finer points. The glint of light in the eyes, the eyelashes, the details of the fur. The details are what an artist wants people to see when they look at the work. People looking at a piece of art may not specifically notice the details, but the details make the picture. For the trainer, this is the specific behaviors you will need your dog to perform to be compatible with your daily routine. For me, I need my dogs to heel nicely in public, behave with manners and not approach strangers unless invited. Since they are large dogs, I make it a point to not let them make people uncomfortable. They also learn some specific behaviors to help demo our training at Bark Avenue. You may need your dog to learn different behaviors. If you are a fan of off-leash dog parks, your dog should have a very reliable recall. If you are a runner, a nice heel would be a very helpful behavior. The details of your dog’s training can include pretty much anything that you can think of. It can include dealing with problem behaviors as well, things like separation anxiety, lunging or destructive behavior.

Once the artist has completed the image, they frame the piece. For us, the frame is the “trim” of the training. Examples of this would be ongoing training like agility, trick training, flyable or protection sports. Those are the little fun things you do with your dog like tricks, little in-home routines or whatever you do with your dog as part of your day-to-day routine. Basically, its the fun stuff we do with our dogs. Things that make our dog “ours.” I like to teach a few tricks, but my dogs don’t know a lot of them. Gunnie used to do shake, dance and bang (play dead) and crawl. Peace and Jelly both whisper, and Jelly learns a new trick at every Canine Therapy Corps semester that she completes. You may want your dog to learn every trick in the book, and I support every bit of it. It’s all valuable training. Any time you teach your dog a new, positive behavior, it helps them learn how to solve problems and think just a little more intelligently. I think that teaching your dog tricks is a good thing.

Then there’s the maintenance training. Maintenance is important. You may think that once a picture is finished, there is no real maintenance, right? Well, not so much. The best pieces of artwork in the world need to be maintained, especially the ones that last. The Sistine Chapel, one of the most spectacular pieces of artwork ever created, has had to be restored so that it can still be appreciated today. Many other impressive pieces of art, from The Statue of Liberty to Mount Rushmore have had to be maintained. If you want your dog’s training to last, to be enjoyed for many years, it will have to be maintained as well.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I got reminded why maintenance training is so important. I had a young couple come in who were interested in doing some protection work with their puppy. I looked at their dog and did a little testing. Then I did a short demo with my male, Peace. He displayed his defensive behavior well, and “turned off” as I instructed. Then I took him back to his bed and told him to lay down. He looked at me like I had spoken to him in a foreign language. He stood there looking at me as if to say, “I wasn’t done. I want to do more.” I had to give the command a couple of times.

Admittedly, at ten years old, he’s pretty much retired. He hardly has to do obedience commands any more and he display any problem behaviors. I wasn’t particularly worried about his lack of response. He is still a pretty responsive dog, but when he used to work regularly he would have been much better about following commands.

Maintenance applies to more than just obedience commands, though. If you’ve had to work out problem behaviors with your dog, the very things you had to do to eliminate those behaviors may need to be done regularly to keep them gone. If your dog jumped on guests and you had to practice calm sits for company, you may have to occasionally remind him to sit calmly when the door opens. If you had to deal with separation anxiety, you may have to refresh those exercises occasionally as well. With Peace, our maintenance revolves mostly around his reactivity. He used to be pretty reactive when he saw other dogs. That is where I do have to maintain his training, otherwise he may start to give me problems with it again.

In the end, no training is ever “finished.” It must be kept up with, maintained and advanced. Your dog’s training is always a “work in progress.”


Artwork by Jessica Lennox. To see more by Jessica,
visit her website here or Like her Facebook page here!


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— April 28, 2015 —
Dealing With The Loss Of A Pet
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We have had to say goodbye to a lot of great pets over the years. Not everyone deals with it the same way. Here are a few resources that can help.

Three weeks ago, we said goodbye to Della Rae Bug, a very long time resident of Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc and our home. As sad as it was to see her go, we got a great deal of satisfaction that we gave her the best life she could have had. With her slightly unpleasant behavioral issues, many places would not have kept her around. Additionally, we were able to bring her to our home for the last few months of her life and she truly enjoyed herself here.

We have also, sadly, had a few clients lose dogs over the last few weeks and months. We remember and miss all of them.

When we lose a dog, we talk about them and remember all of the things that we enjoyed about them and all the things they taught us. This seems to help us go from missing them sadly, to remembering them fondly. Some people may not have family and friends around to help them with this process. When we got Della’s ashes back, there was a package with information on resources that are intended help people to cope with the loss of a pet. I will post a few of the resources below. Hopefully it helps someone who may be going through the loss of a pet.
This site helps to understand the process of loosing a pet.
Preparing For The Loss Of A Pet: www.veterinarywisdomforpetparents.com/preparing

We all know when it is coming. Sometimes wondering when to “make the decision” is as hard as actually loosing our pets. This site will help you determine when your pet’s quality of life is no longer there and when it is time.
Quality Of Life Scale: www.allpetcareanimalhospital.com

Young children may not understand the process of death and loss. This site may help.
A Guide to Help Children Cope With The Loss of A Pet: www.childpetloss.com

Many people may want some sort of memorial to remember their pet. These sites offer urns, plaques and so forth.
www.pet-loss.net
www.petcemetery.org/products
In the end, losing a pet is a tough thing to deal with. Personally, very few things have been harder for me to deal with than losing a dog that has been with me for a decade. Someone once posted a statement that summed it up perfectly. I wish I knew who wrote it.

“The pain you feel for them when they’re gone is your thanks to them for all that they gave you while they were here.”

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— April 21, 2015 —
Mobile Influenza Shot Clinic
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

This Thursday, Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc will host Partners and Paws, a local mobile vet service for an influenza vaccination clinic. We want to discuss why we are hosting this and help you decide if you should get your dog vaccinated.

First, we have to point out that we are strictly offering our location for Dr. Neumann as a place to have dogs come for the vaccine. Bark Avenue is not providing the vaccinations or charging for the service. Dr. Neumann is handling all of that.

We have had a few folks ask if A) Should they get their dog vaccinated and B) Is there a way to get the shot without going to a vet’s office and possibly getting their dog exposed to the flu.

The answer to A is, “It depends.” We believe the current outbreak is an Asian flu strain that has never been seen here, therefore we don’t have a vaccine that is specifically designed for it. The current vaccine is being tested to determine if it has any benefit on the flu virus, but according to this article, the current vaccination does seem to offer some protection from pneumonia. Since the possibility of pneumonia is the greatest risk from this virus, that alone may make the vaccination worthwhile for dogs that have not already contracted the virus.

If a dog has contracted the virus and still has symptoms, they are not a good candidate for the vaccination. The vet won’t give the shot to sick dogs at this clinic.

If your dog has already recovered from the flu, there may be a benefit to getting the vaccination because some vets are saying that we may be dealing with two different strains at the same time. A dog that had one strain may be at risk for the other, but again, testing is being done to determine what kind of cross-immunity is happening. I am personally not vaccinating my dogs this year, since they have recovered. They will be tested for immunity at their next annual vet visit.

The answer to B really depends on where you live. If you can make it to the clinic, it would be a great way to get your dog vaccinated without going to the vet. If your area has been hit, but you can’t make it on Thursday, give a call to your vet’s office and ask they how they are handling isolation procedures. Many vets were having coughing dogs come in through a dedicated side entrance and not sit in their lobby coughing.

The flu seems to be moving out of the area and unfortunately is now hitting suburban areas and even other states. We have seen first hand how contagious this has been and we will be following the news to see when a vaccine is developed. We educated ourselves early on the importance of aggressive treatment and every sick dog was put on antibiotics as soon as they showed symptoms. We believe this has played a role in preventing any fatalities in our population of dogs. When it becomes available, we strongly recommend having your dog vaccinated for the Asian flu, especially if you live in an area where there are not yet cases. Chances are, it will show up in your area.

Details and how to participate in Thursday’s Mobile Influenza Shot Clinic here.

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— April 14, 2015 —
The Passing Of One of Your Favorite Students
by Daniel McElroy Jr. & Mike Kolos

That was the title of an email we recently received from a long time client at Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc. Below is the email that was sent along with it. The email came through a few weeks ago, but with the canine influenza that has been going around, we have only now been able to post it.

We really will never forget this dog. He was a Chow mix and he was in a word…challenging. We learned things from him that are hard to put into words, mostly about the value of having truly committed owners who are serious about working through problems with their dog. If it were not for the dedication of Mike and Alvera, Simba’s training would not have been successful. We are overjoyed that he was able to live out his life with his family.

Rest In Peace Simba. You taught us as much as we taught you.
Although Kodi was always believed to be your “favorite”, Simba was possibly one of your biggest challenges. They both trained under you in 2006, and it was that training that made them both a pleasure to have in the family for all the years since.

It is with a heavy heart that we must report to you that we had to have our dear companion of 10 years, Simba, euthanized Monday afternoon. We know that most dog owners have to go through that with a loved one at one point in their life. We now know what a difficult time that is.

Simba, who was always so athletic, energetic and spirited, developed an autoimmune disease back in 2009, which took away much of his mobility. You suggested it may have been Wobblers’ Syndrome. His problems became many, over the years, including hip dysplasia and eventually diabetes in Sept, 2014.

The diabetes, diagnosed at Labor Day, had continued to take a toll on his body. And through it all, he was never a complainer, and bravely fought it to the end. We were never able to get him “regulated” and the diabetes led to cataracts, amongst all his other problems. His cataracts, originally “immature” got worse and worse, until he became “probably” totally blind, unable to process any light. (It was also determined that he had glaucoma with an eye pressure of 50.) At first he was able to adjust using his other senses, to maneuver through familiar areas in his own home. But on walks, if I was not watching he would walk into a tree, pole, or stumble on a crack in the pavement. Recently he started to develop eye infections, and so besides injecting insulin twice daily, testing glucose levels multiple times a day, he needed to have a medication applied twice daily to his eyes.

Despite all this he got to the point where he would aimlessly walk around the house, trying to process information with his other senses and give direction to his movement. He would constantly head into dead-end locations, and repeatedly head-butt walls and appliances. It broke our hearts to watch him do this, sometimes an hour or more. We were often required to crate him to avoid his getting hurt, as well as keep our own sanity. Alvera and I would pray daily that he would die a natural death, but that was not to happen.

So Monday it became apparent that it was time to say goodbye. And that we did. It is the final chapter in the life of one of your most unforgettable students, who gained considerably from your training. You and your school have helped so greatly to give this shelter dog (once deemed un-adoptable) a full life of 10+ years. Thank you again to you all at Bark Avenue.

Update from last week's Tail about the Canine Influenza Outbreak

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— April 7, 2015 —
Outbreak 2015: Q & A with Dr. Krol about Canine Influenza
by Daniel McElroy Jr. & Dr. Joanna Krol

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about the current canine influenza outbreak. We tried to pass on good and current information, but like most of you, we have heard a few different versions of what is happening. This week, we’d like to update you with the most current information we could find so we got in touch with Dr. Joanna Krol, co­-owner and Medical Director of Animal Care Center of Chicago, to help answer our questions about the current canine influenza outbreak. We have used their clinic for a couple of years, for our personal dogs, referred Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc clients to them when necessary, and we use them for the rescue dogs of K9 4 KEEPS. We like the clinic a lot and can’t recommend them highly enough.

  1. How/why did this happen this year?
    “Canine influenza is a virus that relatively recently began affecting dogs. It was first discovered in 2004 and was thought to cross species, originally from horses. This means that the general population of dogs has not been exposed to influenza, nor been vaccinated against it, resulting in dogs that have no immunity to the disease. Chicago is a dog friendly city that makes it very easy for a virus to quickly infiltrate a large population of dogs. Our canine companions gain exposure through casual contact among other dogs at parks, boarding facilities, and local neighborhoods. This is a dream for an emerging virus. We will probably never know the exact source of the infection.”

  2. How is it transmitted from dog­ to­ dog?
    “The virus can be spread via direct contact with respiratory secretions from infected dogs, and by contact with contaminated inanimate objects such as clothing, equipment and hands.”

    Follow up question: We understand there is a possibility of airborne transmission. How would you describe that?
    “Airborne transmission can be described as direct contact with aerosol droplets released, for example, when an affected dog coughs or sneezes on or in the vicinity of other dogs. Nose-to-nose contact can result in transmission of the virus through nasal secretions.”

  3. How long does the infection last and how long are dogs infectious?
    “The infection can last an average of 10­-14 days, with more severe cases extending to 30 days. The dogs can be infectious up to 10 days past onset of clinical symptoms.”

  4. How long is the incubation period from exposure to when the dog is able to spread the disease? Can dogs spread the disease before they show symptoms?
    “The incubation period is short, being 2–­5 days from exposure to onset of symptoms, with peak viral shedding occurring within this time frame, often before any clinical symptoms are noted.”

  5. There is an influenza vaccine. How effective is it? Does a dog that has already recovered from this year’s flu need to be vaccinated in the future?
    “The vaccine is effective at reducing the severity of clinical signs and mortality from influenza, but will not prevent the disease completely. We do recommend yearly vaccination for influenza, regardless of any previous exposure since immunity is not lifelong.”

  6. Can this outbreak happen next year? How likely is it to happen again?
    “We have seen outbreaks in 2004, 2008 and 2015 since the virus was first discovered. We can see an outbreak every year, although perhaps based on this history it is not likely to be this prominent each time.”

  7. Do we know if there are multiple strains or mutations like in human flu? Will the doggie flu shot be a different shot every year like in humans?
    “As far as we know, this virus is caused by one strain, influenza A H3N8. The vaccine itself will not be different each year as is the case with the human influenza vaccine.”

  8. I have 4 dogs in my house. Della, the oldest dog lived through the canine influenza outbreak in ’08. She has had no symptoms this time. Peace had a minor case compared to the younger dogs. He was 3 years old when the ’08 outbreak happened. Could Della and Peace’s previous exposure have provided them some amount of protection from this outbreak?
    “Yes, previous exposure to the virus will provide protection against future exposures. Immunity will become stronger with subsequent repeated exposures, for example, with regular yearly vaccination.”

  9. A couple of rescue dogs have gotten the flu, recovered a bit, and then seemed to get sick again. Have you seen this as a pattern, where dogs start to recover then seem to get sick again?
    “This has not been the classic course of the disease for most cases, however, we have seen cases where it can take up to 30 days for many dogs to clear the infection, with waxing and waning symptoms.”

  10. If this is an influenza virus, and viruses aren’t treated with antibiotics, why are vets prescribing antibiotics for sick dogs?
    “Once a virus has taken hold over a patient, the normal bacterial flora may become out of balance and allow a secondary bacterial infection to develop. Antibiotics are prescribed to prevent or treat this secondary infection.”

  11. Is there anything you would like to add to this?
    “The good news is if your dog contracts the virus, the chances are your pet will make a full recovery. Mortality rate is still very low. In our current outbreak, 1,000 cases of influenza have been reported with 5 of these being fatal in Cook County. Please vaccinate and isolate!”


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— March 31, 2015 —
The Working Malinois, A Cautionary Tail…
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

A few years go, the dog breed “Belgian Malinois” was thrust into the public eye. Most people had never heard of the breed, but the famous raid on the Bin Laden compound made the breed famous overnight.

Fast forward a few years to today. There is a movie coming out about Max, a Malinois that survives a bomb blast that kills his military handler. From watching the trailer, it looks like Max comes back to the US and goes to live with his deceased handler’s family and does a bunch of heroic stuff like rescue the father in the movie.

I have only seen the trailer for the movie, so I know very little about the movie, but already I am a bit worried about what is going to happen. Just like “101 Dalmatians” did a great disservice to Dalmatians and “Lady and The Tramp” hurt Cocker Spaniels, this movie will do a great disservice to the Belgian Malinois. Any time a breed becomes very popular quickly, there are those who rush to produce as many copies of the breed as possible with little thought given to breeding healthy animals with a correct temperament. Add the naturally “sharp” nature of the Malinois to this mix and it will be a recipe for disaster.

It seems this movie portrays all of the good parts of living with a Malinois, but probably doesn’t adequately express the training needs and psychological requirements that come with owning a working breed dog. These same talents that make them such great working dogs are the same traits that make them pretty difficult to live with in “pet homes.” Unfortunately, we are starting to see sale ads for Malinois and they are showing up in shelters already. This is not a breed that can be just a “pet.”

This Bay Area Dog Trainer article, from 2011 explains the mind of the working Malinois very well. The article discussed a Malinois and Ring Sport specifically, but you could easily substitute Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds or any other working breed when discussing the working dog’s need to work.

A well bred Malinois, or any well-bred, working breed dog for that matter needs the psychological development that comes with working. Working, in this case refers to protection work or a protection-sport program. Describing those programs is an article unto itself, but basically, it allows the dogs to do what they were bred to do. Here are a couple of videos of Anja, one of our club dogs. She will be competing in PSA (Protection Sport Association) this year.


Here is a video of the same dog in a family setting.

A dog from working lines will generally have the drive to protect his home and pack, but if those drives are not developed, they tend to stagnate into weak nerves and create a fearful, insecure dog. Exactly what you see in the first video, the high-drive work, which encompasses obedience and aggression work is what the Bay Area Dog Trainer article is referring to when he discusses the “forge” of working sports. This same dog, without the intensive training might not have grown up to be as stable, strong and confident as she is today.

So, if you want to truly get into the hobby of working a dog, then by all means, get involved. Get a great dog and train him to the best of your ability. Get professional help where you need it, but whatever you do. Don’t get a Malinois as a pet.

Photos and videos by Karrie O’Donnell



Public Service Announcement: Two weeks ago, we wrote about the city wide “kennel cough” outbreak. We’re following up to post new information that we have learned. Rather than a true “kennel cough” (Bordetella Bronchiseptica) situation, this year seems to be a particularly virulent strain of Canine Influenza. While we use the term “kennel cough” that is not technically correct. Kennel cough usually refers to a bacterial pathogen. Our vet is leaning towards this being a viral influenza outbreak. With early, aggressive treatment, we have had good outcomes on the cases we have seen. There is a vaccine for Canine Influenza and we will be researching it to determine if it should be one of our required vaccines.

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— March 24, 2015 —
Don’t Let Other People (Un) Train Your Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.
Reinforcement is reinforcement. Where it comes from is irrelevant.
How a dog will behave is based on two very simply equations.

Equation #1: What dog wants + the action dog performs to get what he wants = behavior dog will do. (This is the effect of reinforcement.)

Equation #2: What dogs does not want + how dog avoids that = behavior dog will NOT do. (This is the effect of punishment/deterrence.)
That pretty much sums up how dogs (and people and cats and horses and goldfish for that matter) will generally behave. I read a great quote once that sums up our dogs’ behavior and training aptitude perfectly. “Your dog is completely and innocently selfish.” He does what he does for what it gets him. He may “love” you, but he will only perform behaviors for you if you pay him. The other side of that coin is this. He will perform behaviors for just about anyone who pays him, as long as the payment is enjoyable and worth the effort.

Often people think of a reward as a thing you give your dog, like a treat or a pet. A reward, however is ANYTHING the dog gets for a behavior that makes him want to do that behavior again. Counter surfing is a very difficult behavior to stop in a dog, until we remove ALL rewards from the counter. According to Equation #1 above, the smallest bit of reward, tiny crumbs of bread, scraps of food or even a smear of bacon grease on the counter can be rewards for counter surfing. On the flip side, Equation #2 states that correction can be used to make the dog stop counter surfing. My preference is generally to remove the reward, but in the case of an especially tenacious dog, a bit of deterrence may be called for.

Think of it this way. If you’re trying to stop your counter-surfing dog, but your roommate leaves her ham sandwich on the counter and he eats it, your dog is getting un-trained by her. He’ll never stop counter surfing until either the reward stops or the correction starts. Again, I think being diligent about removing the reward (cleaning the counters) is usually the best approach, but your mileage may vary.

We’ve all seen the experiment where a mouse is trained to run a maze. Generally it comes up in movies and T.V. shows and there is a scientist in a lab coat teaching a mouse to run a maze for a bit of cheese. The cheese at the end is reinforcement. The scientist isn’t offering the cheese with a “good boy” and a pet. It is simply there as something the mouse wants. Reinforcement doesn’t have to be given intentionally to solicit a behavior. It just has to be there. A dog that jumps up for pets from strangers is getting reinforced for jumping. If anyone pets him when he jumps up, he’ll keep jumping. I have had moms complain that the dog wouldn’t stop jumping on them at the same time their children were petting the dog for jumping…

In much worse situations, people can do real damage (un) training our dogs. I am currently involved with a case where a bulldog mix allegedly bit a child. In spite of the fact that the bite was pretty minor, the dog has been branded as a dangerous dog. The dog’s owner is involved with a court case to save her dog from being seized. The problem started because the dog was teased in the back yard through the fence. When I evaluated the dog, he was anything but dangerous. The dog was a bit timid, but he let me touch him over the head and body and allowed the staff to approach him and pet him. I took it a step further and even tried to solicit aggression with a hard stare and an aggressive posture. He wanted nothing to do with it and tried to run away.

Unfortunately, this dog was “trained” to be aggressive at the fence (or un-trained to be friendly). He wanted to avoid the kids teasing him so he would bark at the fence. Eventually, the kids would leave. In the dog’s mind, the barking at the fence removed the thing he didn’t like. Over time, his behavior got stronger and the alleged bite occurred. The dog’s owner reports that she even approached the kid’s parents and asked them to stop it, but the teasing continued.

In this case, I obviously fault the kids for teasing the dog and their parents for allowing the teasing, but unfortunately, the owner should have figured out a way to terminate the teasing before the bite occurred. In her defense, she may not have realized how things could play out, but she inadvertently let someone (un) train her dog. Now that she understands the potential outcomes, she has been very diligent in her training. I am happy to report that the dog is doing much better. He is being supervised in the yard and is being trained to recall from the fence rather than charge the fence and display negative behavior.

In the end, understanding reinforcement can help prevent or eliminate bad behavior. Realizing what our dog gets out of behaving badly, and eliminating that reward may just help you solve issues that you are struggling with.

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— March 17, 2015 —
Current Event: Kennel Cough Outbreak
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We recently received an email from our vet. There seems to be a city-wide outbreak of kennel cough.

Every couple of years, it seems that there is some kind of outbreak that affects our dogs. This year, we seem to be having a particular wide-spread case of kennel cough. Our vet is telling us that they are seeing kennel cough at almost unprecedented levels this time of year. There is a bit of a stigma when it comes to the term “kennel cough.” Now days, since our dogs are going to many more places that they used to, we are understanding that dogs can contract these infections literally anywhere. More recently, vets are starting to use the more technically correct term “canine upper respiratory infection” or “canine infectious tracheobronchitis.” For the sake of brevity, I’ll still refer to it as kennel cough.

Kennel cough is a catch-all term. It technically refers to Bordetella bronchiseptica, but the term is often used for a number of bacterial and viral infections that make dogs cough. Kennel cough can be caused by the Bordetella bacteria, but coughing can also caused by viruses such as canine influenza.

Kennel cough can sound like anything from a throat clearing cough to a “honking” sound. Sometimes a coughing dog will become a bit lethargic and may have a slight decrease in appetite. Simple kennel cough usually lasts from 2 to 4 weeks, but elderly or immunocompromised dogs can take longer to get over it. Also, elderly or immunocompromised are more likely to develop serious secondary infections.

The coughing symptoms are usually not serious and most dogs recover, however these infections can develop into secondary infections such as pneumonia. If your dog develops a cough and starts to show a nasty, green nasal discharge, we recommend a trip to the vet. In the case of this particular outbreak, we are erring on the side of caution and putting all coughing dogs on antibiotics, nasal discharge or not.

Kennel cough is impossible to eliminate entirely, because dogs can be contagious without showing any symptoms. Also, as an airborne illness, it can be transmitted through the air even if surfaces are kept immaculately clean. Bacterial and viral kennel cough can be transmitted through the air. If you walk by a yard with an infected dog, your dog can be infected. If you go to a dog park, or live near one, your dog can catch it. Dogs have been shown to catch canine influenza from simply living near greyhound racing tracks, where canine influenza is believed to have originated. I have even read anecdotal reports of dogs being infected by sick dogs over two miles away. If a dog at our facility shows symptoms of kennel cough, we isolate them and ask the owners to come and get them as soon as possible.

Kennel cough is called “kennel cough” because many dogs come home from a boarding situation with a cough. We find this to be most common with dogs that have not had interaction with large numbers of dogs. If a dog lives in a yard or home, and never goes anywhere, he won’t get the immune system challenges that a more socialized dog will get, therefore he never develops immunity to these various minor infections.

There are vaccines available for the Bordetella version and influenza version of kennel cough. Unfortunately, since there are multiple strains of both bugs, the vaccines don’t fully protect our dogs. There is no way to absolutely ensure that a dog won’t develop a cough. We recommend vaccinating dogs for the life-threatening bugs though, and protecting them from as much as possible. In this case, I did recently vaccinate my dog for Bordetella although I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t catch it without the vaccine. I think socialization and exercise, good healthy food and a strong immune system are really your best defense for kennel cough, either viral or bacterial.

My own dogs, Peace and Jelly are at our facility weekly. They are in contact with a large number of dogs. If we have a coughing rescue dog in the facility, we often bring them to our house while they recover. My dogs have not shown symptoms of kennel cough in many years, but we do two very important things to help protect them. First, they are fully vaccinated for the life-threatening illnesses (distemper, parvo etc.) and second, they have been exposed to dogs for as long as we have had them. They are in the facility literally two to three days every week. I firmly believe that the exposure to other dogs has helped to strengthen their immune system. Yes, they both had kennel cough symptoms when they were younger, but neither dog has contracted “kennel cough” through numerous sick dogs being brought home.

Lastly, there are other, more significant illnesses that can cause coughing in the early stages. Distemper can first present with a cough. Distemper in an unvaccinated dog is often fatal. My dogs are vaccinated for distemper and we check titers for immunity every year. If their titer is low, we booster their immunity. Some cardiac issues can also cause a cough. This can only be determined by a vet and a dog with a cardiac cough will have other issues to deal with.

This round of kennel cough seems to be very wide spread. As far as we have heard, dogs are recovering well with veterinary care. Please keep an eye on your dog for symptoms and if they do become ill, please keep them at home while they recover to help minimize the spread.

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— March 3, 2015 —
Rat Picnics and Poop Soup
Originally posted this article 2/7/2012
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Spring is my favorite time of year. The snow melts, the trees start to bloom and we can take our dogs for long walks without bundling up. Spring, however, comes with a few seasonal concerns. The main concern with spring is the poop. The poop I’m referring to is the stuff left over from winter walks. I make it a point to pick up ALL of my dogs’ poop, every time I walk them…year round. I even dig it out if it happens to sink into fluffy snow. Some folks, however, seem to think that snow on the ground creates some kind of magic portal that transports poop into another dimension. Like it actually disappears. Like through a poop wormhole…

Well, that ain’t the case. Poop freezes solid just like everything else. It sits there like a little germ time capsule and waits for the weather to warm up. As soon as the melt water hits the poop-sicle, it breaks down and voila, you have poop soup.

There is a good chance that the puddles you and your dog will walk through this spring may contain giardia…a parasite that could get your dog very sick. This parasite lives in feces of infected animals and can live in water for a very long time. So when the poop soup joins with the mud puddles of spring, it can give a whole new meaning to the term “Spring Fever”. If your dog drinks from puddles, or licks their paws after walking through them, they could get infected. Giardia is extremely contagious. Humans can catch it too, either from direct contact with the contaminated water or from your dog. If you happen to touch your dog’s paw while it is still wet and touch your food or mouth, it can be transmitted to you. The symptoms of giardia can include loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, bloody or pale-colored or strong-smelling stools. I’ve never had it, but I hear it’s no fun.

The vet may have a difficult time making a diagnosis because the cyst is only shed during part of the life cycle. If the test comes up negative, the vet may diagnose gastroenteritis and treat with antibiotics. Metronidazole (Flagyl) is often prescribed for gastroenteritis and for giardia.

Another serious concern about poop not being picked up…is RATS! Nobody wants those nasty critters crossing their path. They come out when nobody is looking and feast on the poop left behind. Yep, rats eat poop. It’s like a picnic for them. Dog droppings are mostly undigested dog food and rats thrive on it. Wherever rats go, they leave behind their droppings…which carry lots of diseases. Then next time you walk your dog along your usual route, you and your dog will come into contact with the rat droppings. Basically, leaving poop attracts rats to spread diseases that can kill dogs. Rats are an “intermediate host” or “reservoir hosts” for some germs. In other words rats can carry things that would kill a dog (or in some cases a person), but the rat is immune to harmful effects. Leptospirosis is just one example. Rats can carry lepto, rabies, distemper, giardia and the list goes on. Remember, most of these diseases are zoonotic. Zoonotic diseases are diseases carried mainly by animals, but are transmittable to humans.

Some people may be lulled into a false sense of security that they can ignore the warnings and picking up is unnecessary. Their dogs are vaccinated against all these diseases. The last point I HAVE to make is that vaccinated dogs can still get sick! No vaccine is 100% effective and if your dog does catch lepto, parvo or rabies it will very likely be fatal. Dogs that do survive require very expensive treatments. The cost of treating a dog for parvo can run into the thousands of dollars.

This is all too easy to avoid. Please educate your neighbors and fellow dog owners on the importance of picking up after their dogs. Let’s not have another year of rat picnics and poop soup.

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— February 24, 2015 —
Resource Guarding, Causes and Cures.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Some dogs never learned to share. Here’s how you can help.

Resource guarding is a condition where a dog will guard, sometimes aggressively, an item like a toy, treat, bone or food. It can also relate when a dog guards a person, like their mom or dad. It can be pretty serious and some dogs can do real damage when they bite over these items. Resource guarding is much easier to prevent than it is to fix. We recently had a litter of rescue puppies here at my home. You can bet that I spent a number of the puppies’ feedings with my hands in their food bowl and petting them while they ate. This is the first step in dealing with resource guarding. Teaching the dog that your approach to their resource is not a bad thing.

There are a few competing thoughts on how to deal with this issue in adult dogs. I will say that the level of severity will dictate the approach that I take with any particular dog. Today, I’ll describe the work we are doing with one of our rescue dogs to help with his resource guarding.

Before I go any further, the standard disclaimer applies. If your dog is prone to resource guarding, see a professional! Any behavioral issue that includes a dog biting a person needs to be evaluated by someone with experience dealing with it.

There are a number of techniques that we can use in teaching a dog to be less possessive. I like dogs to learn to drop things on command just as a matter of training. Teaching a dog to drop lower-value items, like toys or ropes, might help when trying to get the dog to give up a chicken bone that they shouldn’t have. For some dogs, however, toys are pretty high value. If this is the case, teaching the dog to “trade for a treat“ can help them give up something like a toy. For some dogs, having a second, identical toy can be a sufficient trade. The key is to experiment and see what will get the dog to drop the item. Then, by practicing regularly, the dog will learn to drop on command even if you don’t have a trade for him.

Toy resource guarding and food bowl guarding are similar, but they each present their own challenges. The rescue dog we are working with is a resource guarder when it comes to food. On a scale of 1–10, he’s probably a 4. His most serious incident was one where he stole a treat pouch then nipped the employee who came to take it from him. No broken skin, some bruising, etc. I think it’s workable, but needs to be addressed before he can be adopted out.

Our program for this particular dog starts with obedience training. After all, obedience is a communication system that you teach the dog, right? If there is no obedience training, we don’t have any way to “talk“ to the dog. We used food treats throughout the obedience phase and have started working on the food bowl issues. We have started giving him a bowl with a few kibbles in it and letting him finish the bowl. When it is empty, I have our rescue volunteer add a few more pieces of food. When he got comfortable with that, I had the volunteer start adding a higher-value item to the bowl as he ate from it. Finally, I held a handful of food in my closed hand in the bottom of the empty bowl. He sniffed and nuzzled my hand for a bit, then I let the food go and took my hand out of the bowl so he could eat it. I have not reached the point that I feel comfortable leaving my hand in the bowl while he eats the food. We’ll get there.

The next phase will be teaching the dog to walk away from a bowl of food that is not yet empty. We’ll work on this by giving him dry food and having him leave that bowl for a better treat using a come command. Finally, we will have him back away from a bowl while someone approaches him and his food bowl. In this case, the higher-value treat will be added to the bowl and he will be allowed to go back to the bowl and finish eating. The point is that the dog needs to understand that the food is not going to be taken away, just upgraded.

Overall, the process will take a few weeks, maybe longer. I also plan to have a few different volunteers work with him so he generalizes the lessons to more than myself and our current volunteer. He needs to understand that all humans will feed him and no one is after his kibble.

Notice that I haven’t talked about making him give me the food or taking his food away from him as an act of “dominance.“ I am quite confident that I could do this, but the problem could reoccur after he get’s adopted. If he goes to someone who is less experienced or confident, they would struggle with forcing him to surrender his resources. This would teach him that the guarding behavior is the right one and he would probably go right back to it. I think it would be preferable if he learns to willingly give the item up. After all, if he’s concerned that he will get his food stolen, then I go ahead and take his food, that just reinforces the guarding behavior.

There are many ways to work with resource guarding. Obviously, a pound of prevention would have been great in this case, but we didn’t have him as a puppy, so that option is out. Since he’s pretty low-level about the whole thing, I think this approach will do the trick.

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Today’s Tail was written by Ann Davidson. We thought it would be a perfect way to finish this series about dogs and nerve issues. In this article, Ann is discussing Swindle. Swindle is a dog that has shown exactly what training can do for a weak-nerved dog.

Swindle lives with Callie, the director over at Canine Therapy Corps. When he was first pulled from Chicago Animal Care and Control, he had some pretty serious behavioral issues. He had clearly not been treated well. He also suffered from some genetic temperament issues. With training and years of work, he has come quite a ways from his old self. Is he “cured” of all of his issues? I think Callie would tell you that he is not. He still has pretty serious separation anxiety and some stress related issues. These things will likely be something they have to deal with for the rest of his life.

In the end, though, this is a dog that has come a long way and made major improvements. It’s been years since Swindle started on the long road to recovery. Please take time to read his story.

— February 17, 2015 —
An Inspirational Connection: Veterans and Rescue Dogs
by Ann Davidson

Dear supporters of Canine Therapy Corps,

We’re a month into the New Year, which means that many of our animal-assisted therapy programs around the city recently kicked off their first 2015 sessions. One of those programs was our psychosocial program at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. This program assists veterans being treated for a myriad of mental illnesses, including PTSD. I’d like to share a touching story from that program with you today.

During this program, the veterans work with one dog for ten weeks, allowing them to develop positive relationships with their dogs and volunteers based on trust and respect while learning how to confidently and proficiently handle and train their dog. During our first session with the participants, we have a “doggy speed dating” session which allows the veterans to meet each of the dog teams and give us their preferences of who they would like to work with.

While one of the veterans began interacting with Swindle, a pit bull, our program leader told him the dog’s story. Swindle was impounded in a court case, and for six months, he was not touched or let out of his cage—a very difficult experience for a social animal. After all that time, he was approved for a court case dog program and allowed to come out of isolation and work with one of our volunteers through Safe Humane Chicago. This volunteer saw great potential in Swindle, and eventually adopted him, saving him from euthanasia. While you would never know it seeing him today, working confidently in his CTC program, Swindle suffers from canine anxiety disorder, likely as a result of his experience in isolation.

“You mean, he has doggie PTSD?” asked the veteran.

It was an extremely touching moment. Our volunteer was able to explain that Swindle does in fact have the dog version of this debilitating disorder, which several of the veterans we have worked with suffer from. Further, we explained that while Swindle still has difficulty being left alone, he has progressed miles beyond the state he was in when he first left isolation. In fact, he was able to pass CTC’s certification test—a feat which is very difficult, even for the healthiest and best trained of dogs. He’s gone on to lead a very fulfilling life and helps many others who needed assistance overcoming their challenges, just like he did.

You could see what a bonding moment this was between the dogs and the veterans. Swindle is living proof that they too can overcome the roadblocks hindering their recovery and go on to reach their life goals. In Swindle, they saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

While Swindle still struggles with isolation, when he works with veterans at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, he is truly his best self. He is highly motivated and thrives on having a job to do and friendly people to do it with and for. The same is true of the veterans in our programs. Every week, they show up to program at their best, not giving a hint of the myriad of issues they are dealing with on a daily basis. We are able to see all the potential in them to achieve the recovery they are working towards.

All of our therapy dogs have amazing and unique stories, skills, and personalities that touch individual patients and participants. Thank you for seeing how our therapy dog teams and our participants work together towards recovery, whether physical, emotional, or behavioral. Your support helps us continue to provide free, goal-directed programs which motivate individuals to regain health and well-being.

Please consider donating today to help us continue forging inspirational bonds as we accompany participants on their road to recovery.

If you are interested in getting more information about Canine Therapy Corp, visit their website here: www.caninetherapycorps.org. If you’d like to have your dog evaluated for therapy work, please contact me directly at danielm@barkavenueplaycare.com. I will get back to you within a day or two. More info on Bark Avenue’s therapy dog preparation training on our webpage here: www.barkavenueplaycare.com/training/therapy.

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— February 10, 2015 —
What is a “Weak-Nerved” Dog and how can you help him?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We’ve been talking about exercising your dog and exercising his brain. Here are some thoughts on how training can help the “Weak-Nerved” dog.

In training circles, we have a term for dogs that are flighty, nervous or fearful. It can also include dogs that act out aggressively without any provocation. We often call those dogs “weak-nerved.” A weak-nerved dog may be any breed, size or gender. I personally have not seen a particular pattern as to male v/s female dogs. There are some types that tend to be weak-nerved, but not the ones you might think. These types follow patterns that are common through the entire animal kingdom. While not a guarantee as far as temperament goes, skinny, thin-bones dogs (and animals in general) are often more likely to be fearful while heavy bones dogs tend to be more confident.

Think about an elephant and compare his temperament to that of a gazelle. Which of this two tends to be more “flighty?” That’s easy. The heavier-boned animal tends to be much less flighty. This pattern of behavior has been discussed in the book “Animals In Translation” by Temple Grandin. She mentions that fine-boned animals are usually the more flighty, even when referring to horses. In one extremely interesting passage, she discussed the Russian Silver Fox experiment and mentions that after decades of breeding only purebred fox to purebred fox, the more tame, ergo more confident animals have started to develop thicker bones! As the animal’s temperament changes, so does its skeleton…or maybe, as its skeleton changes, so does its temperament.

I’ve heard a million times. Someone will say, “I want to get a puppy so I can raise him the way I want.” They think that if they get the dog at a young age, they will be able to control exactly how the dog turns out. This is only true to a certain point. If you have followed our Tails, you know that I regularly preach the importance of genetics to a dog’s temperament. When I advise people who want to adopt or buy a dog, I generally recommend that the new dog owners do their best to do one of the two following things. A) meet the puppy’s parents or B) get a dog that is about a year old. That way, you can have a better idea how confident the dog will be as an adult.

A dog’s confidence level can be graded on a scale. There are dogs that we call bulletproof. Dogs that can handle any situation that the world throws a them. Nothing upsets them. Our old boy Otto was pretty bulletproof and our current girl Jelly is as well. On the other end of the spectrum are dogs that spook very easily. They may or may not be aggressive, but they are very reactive to things that happen normally in every day life. The dog that panics when the wind blows a plastic bag or when a door closes might be an example of the other end of the confidence spectrum.

Usually, people think fearful dogs have a history of abuse. I believe this is usually not the case. Dogs that are weak-nerved are usually born that way. We have seen terribly abused dogs recover to be excellent, social family dogs. We have also seen dogs that were treated very well end up being very fearful and aggressive. Usually, but not always, we can see some warning signs in a dog when it’s young. I recently evaluated a 1 year old dog that was adopted at 8 weeks old. The owners reported that he was shaking and fearful when they met him at the shelter. He went home with them and they treated him well by their own account. When I met the dog, he was healthy and did seem well cared for, however he was extremely aggressive to everyone and everything that moved in our lobby. In fact, he panicked so badly that he lost control of his bowels for the same evaluation techniques that I attempt with every dog I meet at our open house.

Helping a weak-nerved dog is a challenge for any trainer. I will generally take on a dog like this, but only as long as he is not so aggressive that he can’t be handled by our staff. I have turned a couple of dogs down for training that I determined were either too fearful/aggressive to be handled by our staff or just too damaged to be helped by training. This is always a difficult decision from a personal standpoint. I am a dog trainer after all, and I am loath to admit that a dog is beyond my capabilities. Some dogs, however are just not candidates for training. Some dogs are just so mentally damaged that they are very much like humans that suffer from serious mental illness. These dogs may be helped by medications and even that is sometimes difficult.

So, how does training help the weak-nerved dog? The dog’s brain is like a muscle. It has to be worked to get stronger. Strengthening the dog’s nerve generally starts with obedience training. Obedience training, at it’s core, is a communication system that you teach your dog. This will ultimately allow you to tell your dog how to handle the world around him. By training him, you develop confidence in your dog and you develop your dog’s confidence in you. Training also allows you to socialize your dog to new situations, but on a deeper level, it challenges your dog. Every single time you teach your dog a new skill, you strengthen his nerves. Every time you ask your dog to perform a certain task to a certain standard, you are making his brain stronger. This increases the dog’s nerve strength.

There are literally limitless options for training to help strengthen your dog’s nerves. Obedience, agility, flyball, rally, you name it. (There is also the concept of desensitizing your dog to various environmental stimuli. If your dog is scared of dump trucks, you can work on that particular issue. For this Tail, I have focused on the dog’s overall mental strength versus individual issues.) They can all help your dog. The trick is to find something that he isn’t already good at, but likes to do. Just last night, I had a dog that I have been training for a few weeks perform a couple of simple of agility exercises. He just wasn’t ready for it before last night, but he thoroughly enjoyed himself. He charged across the balance beam, which scares many dogs at first, happier than I had ever seen him. I strongly suggested his owner take him through our formal agility program to further his training after his initial program is complete. This is exactly what I’m talking about in this Tail. Training the dog to get through new experiences helps him to be more confident in himself AND in you. If you tell him to do something, he knows he’ll be safe and get through it just fine…because YOU told him to do it.

So, just how far can you take a weak-nerved dog through training? That really depends on the dog. Every fearful dog will have a limit on what they can learn to tolerate. The dog that did agility last night has become much more confident through his training, but he’ll probably always struggle with some of his fears. His owner is committed, though and I am sure he will keep working with his dog over the long term to keep him moving forward. This is one of the tricks to working on a dog’s nerve strength. You have to constantly move forward. Look for new things to help build confidence. If you stop working his brain, like his muscles, it will atrophy. The gains made in nerve strength can be lost.

If you’re not living with a nervous dog, please keep this stuff in mind when you run across a dog that seems fearful or reactive. Take some time and perhaps give him (and his human) some space. Most likely, neither of them want to be difficult and hopefully they are working on strengthening their dog’s nerves.

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— February 3, 2015 —
Don’t Just Exercise the Body, Exercise the Brain
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Last week we discussed exercising your dog to reduce problem behaviors. This week, we’ll take it one step further with a discussion of our dogs’ brain. Our dogs’ brain is just like a muscle. I needs to be exercised as well.

Sometimes, like right now in Chicago, we can’t really take our dogs out for the kind of exercise we’d like. The parks are covered under a couple feet of snow and the sidewalks are covered in salt. For walks, I use paw protectors on my dogs, but nothing I can do is as good as a good long walk in nice weather. Fortunately, my dogs are older and don’t have as much energy to burn off as some dogs. Some folks have a bit more of a challenge.

I have a couple of clients who have young, high-energy dogs that need more to calm them down. For those folks, I recommend mental exercise. Mental exercise is simply the process of making your dog think. “Think about what?” you ask. Good question. Glad you asked.

Teaching new behaviors and doing ongoing training is mental exercise. Cleaning up their “heel” command in the hallway of your building is mental exercise. A long “down” on their bed while you eat dinner is mental exercise. A new puzzle toy, such as this ingenious device is mental exercise. If you have a dog that tears things up while you are at work, imagine feeding him his entire breakfast in this device. This is mental exercise and it might very well keep him busy enough to spare you a couple of pairs of shoes.

If you have been reading our Tails, then you know our dog Jelly is a therapy dog. She volunteers once a week here in Chicago at the V.A. Hospital. She does about an hour of work, but only about a half of that hour is her actually moving around. The rest of the time, she is laying down on her bed while we discuss the day’s activities. For about a half hour of activity, I can tell you that she leaves exhausted. The behaviors she has to perform, combined with the distractions of the environment make her mentally exhausted. I like to compare it to driving on a long road trip. If you are the driver, you really don’t do much physical activity, but you end up exhausted due to the mental focus required.

I once had a client who’s dog was always tired by pick-up time for her training program. We decided one day that we would leave her dog in a run, giving her less play time so that she would have energy to do the training upon pick-up. At about 5 pm, I got a call from the owner saying, “I’ve had something come up and I can’t do a lesson today. I’ll be there in a half hour. I have to go somewhere tonight. Can you wear Lady out for me?” What did I do? I had Lady do a long down on one of our training boxes for that half hour. She went home and passed out. That’s what this article is all about.

There is another component to this that I’d like to discuss. Let’s say that your dog has a particular behavior that you’d like to work on. He runs away, or digs in the yard. If you give him lots of physical exercise, thinking that this will solve the issue, you may be missing a very important component in your training. Without the mental exercise and training, all you’ve done is gotten your dog in better shape so he can misbehave even better…for longer. So now, the dog that would have been tired of digging after a few minutes can dig a bigger hole and the dog that ran away can run away further and faster. Not a very good solution to the problem behaviors, is it?

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— January 27, 2015 —
Pay Now or Pay Later…with Interest!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Over the last two weeks, I wrote about good and bad habits some dog owners may have regarding their dogs. I made a statement that your dog will get the exercise he needs one way or another. Here is what I mean by that.

Often we see advertisements for merchandise like computers, furniture, televisions and so on. “BUY NOW, PAY LATER” they all say. Sounds great, right? What they aren’t telling you is that the cost of these items ends up being WAY higher than if you saved up your money and paid up front.

Many years ago, when I was a young Private in the Army, I bought my first car. It was brand new and I felt like I had accomplished something for myself. I went in, picked it out and got financing on it. I thought I had figured out the downpayment, insurance costs and monthly payments. I could afford it and I was good to go.

When we got to the signing of the contracts, the salesman pointed out a line that showed how much I would actually be paying in interest after I paid the loan off. I was quite surprised. The interest over 4 years would increase the total price of the car by thousands. I had not factored that into my calculations.

Now I know that everyone can’t pay up front for major purchases like cars, houses and such, but in some cases you can. Our dog’s well being is one of those areas. That, like our houses and cars, can have interest payments attached to them which are totally avoidable. Like the old adage states, “Time is Money” and there are ways that we can “Pay Now” with our dogs and avoid those costly interest payments down the road.

Exercise is one of those ways. Exercise is an often-overlooked component of our dogs well-being. I made a humorous point about the cooped-up dog exercising by destroying the couch, but that is exactly true. Think of it this way. If you pay up front, by giving your dog regular, vigorous exercise, he will be tired and satisfied. That’s a pretty cheap investment with a nice pay off. If you wait to exercise him, and he takes it out on your couch, you’ll still have to spend time on him…cleaning up the mess. Then comes the interest payment; buying a new couch. I always say, “A tired dog is a good dog.” There are things that exercise can do for your dog that no amount of training will ever give you.

In real terms of dollars and cents, it makes sense to give our dogs the exercise they need. Besides being destructive or possibly developing other bad behaviors, an exercised dog will be healthier and stronger. This means a longer life with less trips to the vet. How’s that for saving money by paying up front?

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— January 20, 2015 —
Top Five Ways to Mess Up Your Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Last week we wrote about the Five Habits of Highly Successful (Dog) People. This week, the top 5 ways to really make a mess of your dog.

What do I mean when I say, “Make a mess of your dog?” What I am referring to is the things we can do to make our dogs neurotic, fearful, self destructive, aggressive and/or unhealthy. Some people come to me with a dog and say, “But I didn’t have to do ANYTHING as far as training with my last dog, he was perfect.”

To those people I usually say, “Congratulations. Those perfect dogs are few and far between. This one is normal.”

Generally when we trainers meet a dog with major behavioral issues, there are some patterns that we see which contribute to those issues. Here, in no particular order are 5 ways to mess a dog up.
  1. Feed them as much as they want, all the time…and get the cheap stuff. No need for that $50.00 a bag dog food. As far as feeding time, there should be no feeding time…free feeding is the way to go and it’s so much less work.
    Free feeding is generally a bad idea. Feeding time is a great time to do some positive training. After all, what better reward is there than a big bowl of dinner? Another way to ruin your dog is to get the bargain store brand food. I think the majority of kibble is made from the things that cannot be used for human food. Major increases in cancers, allergies and other heath issues are linked to the increase in feeding poor quality commercial dog food. Here is a link to a dog food rating system that we like to share. It helps you determine if what you feed your dog is of good quality. www.abouttimecanecorso.com/KibbleQuality

  2. Grooming isn’t important. Let your long-coated dog develop dreads. They’re fashionable and groomers are expensive.
    Ever had a knot in your hair and tried to comb it? Hurts, huh? Well that is what happens every time a dog with mats walks or moves. Imagine that the hair on your forearm is tied to the hair on your head…or back ;-). Every time you move your arm, it pulls the hair and hurts both areas. Also, severe mats can trap moisture on the skin and cause some very nasty infections. Often when we find a matted dog, the horrible smell coming off of them is from the infected sores under their mats. Mind you, this is severe neglect, much worse than a few painful mats, but we have taken dogs surrendered out of homes with this condition.

  3. Exercise? Forget it. A fat dog is a happy dog, right?
    I admit it, my dogs got a little heavy last year. I was working on adding some variety to their feeding with raw and some kibble and the measurements were not exactly right. We have made some adjustments and cut back, and they have trimmed down a bit.

    Every time I see a fat dog with behavioral issues, I immediately start to think about exercise. Pent-up dogs have to exhaust their energy somehow. If they don’t get to run and exercise, they will “exercise” on your blinds, rugs, table legs, whatever. They may “exercise” by becoming defensive or aggressive. They may exercise by digging up your begonias. So, you’ll be putting time in somewhere. It might as well be time spent doing positive exercise, not cleaning up his mess.

  4. Training is for suckers. My dog can already sit…as long as he isn’t distracted. Oh, and I carry him everywhere because he’s scared of things.
    A dog that is fearful may be genetically challenged, or maybe it just needs some training. I am currently working with a big beautiful pit bull who is fearful. To his owner’s credit, he does exercise his dog and his dog already knows how to sit. He also recognized that his dog needed something he didn’t know how to provide. Now after 5 or 6 lessons, he reports that his dog is much more confident “out in the world” than before. We have about a dozen lessons left to go. What did I do to help this guy? Simple. I helped provide an additional level of communication between dog and human. I showed the human how to communicate with his dog more effectively. This gave the dog a higher level of trust in his human to keep him safe. Over time, the dog will see the world through this new filter and his confidence will continue to grow.

  5. I want my dog to portray my tough guy image. I don’t really want him to be tough. I just want him to look tough.
    This may be my biggest pet peeve. Every breed that has developed a “bad rap” has generally had something like this happen. A tough-looking or muscular breed is discovered and the wrong people are drawn to it. Years ago, German Shepherds and Dobermans were the tough dog of choice. Now it’s Pit Bulls and eventually some of the working mastiffs will be on the banned breed list. Literally thousands (or millions?) of dogs have died because of the image that people want to portray with their dogs. Nat Geo put out this video a few years ago, and wouldn’t you know it, I actually had a guy come in with a Dutch Shepherd who bought his dog specifically because of it’s “attack style” as demonstrated in this video. He had done absolutely no training and was not happy with his dog’s behavior. Not that the owner alone was to blame for his situation. I also blame the breeder who sold him a dog that he was completely not equipped to handle. I preach it every time I get the chance. Educate yourself about the characteristics of the dog you want to adopt or buy and be realistic. I have had a couple of people say, “When I read they could be dominant, headstrong, defensive, etc I thought I could handle it. Now that I see what they meant, it’s more than I am ready for.”
It’s important to educate yourself about the dog you want and what the dog will need to be a good companion. Read up on dog behavior and learn about selecting a puppy. Also, I usually recommend adopting a slightly older dog if you are going to rescue. If you can meet a dog’s parents, you can get a great deal of information about your puppy’s adult behavior. A puppy can change a LOT from 8 weeks to 1 or 2 years of age.

I recently had a very unfortunate case where a couple selected a very scared 8 week old puppy from a rescue and that dog grew up to be a flat out dangerous adult dog. This was nothing they did or didn’t do. Their dog was genetically fearful and quite aggressive, perhaps one of the worst I have seen…and he wasn’t a Pit Bull or Rottweiler or any other breed you think of as dangerous.

So there you have it. Five ways to mess up a dog and the reasons not to do it. Hopefully it will help someone, somewhere to think a little differently about the time and effort that their dog requires.

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— January 13, 2015 —
Five Habits of Highly Successful (Dog) People
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Some dog people just seem to have it all together. They have great, friendly dogs and you rarely hear them complain about problems with their pets. Here are 5 things, in descending order that those people tend to have in common.
5: They are not terribly worried about having the nicest things.
Dogs are destructive, especially puppies. I mean, let’s face it. When was the last time you heard of a puppy that DIDN’T chew something up? Seriously, if you have a dog, they are going to destroy something once in a while. Plan for it. I mean, really, isn’t your dog more enjoyable than that brand new pair of $400.00 shoes?

4: They aren’t “germaphobes.”
Dogs can get dirty. Not all the time, but every once in a while your dog might just decide to roll in a tasty dead thing or some poop. Once we hired a guy who was a serious germaphobe. He went through hand sanitizer by the gallon and about 10 pairs of rubber gloves a day, and all this just to pick up a little poop. Needless to say, he didn’t last long.

Once we had a dog roll in a “flattened rat” of some sort while on a walk in the city. This thing was truly nasty and to make things even better, it go hooked onto his collar. He had to “carry” it on his neck until we got back to the kennel and found a knife to cut it off of his equipment. No one wanted to touch it…I never said we were completely immune to the nasty stuff. That was a bit much even for me.

3: They feed their dogs the good stuff.
I don’t follow the “My dog never gets people food” axiom. My dogs get human grade chicken and other snacks every day. The chicken just happens to be raw. I think that dog do much better on real food than the brown stuff in the bag. Also, I research safe human food and make sure they only get things that are appropriate for them. That makes them happier and healthier and allows me to enjoy living with them for as long as possible.

2: They train their dogs and work them.
     They develop a stronger bond through getting to know their dog.
Training isn’t teaching your dog to sit. Sorry, but there is more to it than that. The longer and more regularly you work with your dog, the better you will understand them. The puppy class you took at 16 weeks is not a sufficient amount of time to truly get to know your dog. Take that next class, or get into agility. Better yet, take your dog for long walks regularly and teach them new behaviors. Go sightseeing. Remember, everything you show your dog adds to the experiences they learn from and helps to make them well-rounded dogs. I am happy that my dogs get invited to go places, but that is directly related to the fact that they have been so many places that they can be well behaved pretty much anywhere I want them to go.

1: They select the RIGHT dog for their lifestyle and they maintain their dogs for their entire life.
I get it. Sometimes life throws us a curveball and we simply can’t keep our dogs. Hopefully, there are family or friends who can take our beloved pets until we are back on our feet, or forever if necessary. Often however, we see dogs given up for the weakest of excuses. “He barks.” is one, or “He sheds” are things we hear. (See Number 5) I think that often when a dog is given up, it really boils down to one simple fact. The human went and selected a dog based on cool factor, color or something other than the most important factors when choosing a dog. Those are, does this dog, its temperament, grooming and exercise/training needs fit into my lifestyle? If you go and buy a high-drive, imported, working line German Shepherd because it’s cool looking, but don’t plan to spend a few thousand dollars on training, sweep up mounds of dog hair every day or so and go for lots of long walks or runs to tire him out, then DON’T BUY THE DOG! Seriously…don’t.
You will be most successful with your dog if you get the dog that fits your lifestyle. It may even be worthwhile to go to a trainer before you even have a dog. I have helped a number of families select a puppy. I ask them what they want to do with the dog and we search the rescues or breeders for that kind of dog. An hour or two consultation fee is a small price to pay for the years of enjoyment you’ll get by being a highly successful (dog) person.

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Since we had a litter or rescue puppies in the house and this was during the busy holiday season, we had to take some time off of writing Tuesday’s Tail. Now that the puppies are all out in great forever and foster homes, things have settled down a bit and we’re back!!

Today’s Tail is a little off the cuff. It was in an email written last year by Patience. Patience was one of our training apprentices and she has gone on to have a successful business of her own. It’s a pretty candid example of a “Golden Moment” one of those little insights that helps a trainer make sense to a client. It’s some insight into how we dog trainers think. We hope you enjoy it as well.

When we dog trainers take on a dog, we often say that it’s more important to train the human. This is a very true statement. We even use a lot of the same thought process to train our human clients. It’s important to accept the dog you have and use their natural talents to help them succeed. You can’t make a dog something he isn’t. The same goes for the human in the relationship. The best way to help everyone succeed is to use their pre-existing talents and show them how to work with the strengths they already have.
Happy New Year,
-DM

— January 6, 2015 —
A Note From Patience

I’ve learned a lot from you.

……like how to take what your client does for a living and remind them of their powers.


I have a client who survived brain cancer and is a nurse.

She pumps iron in the gym.

Physically, she’s a rock.

……but her dog is nervous.


I can see that some of this nervousness comes, in part, from Mama.

Maybe Mama is under pressure, working full time as a nurse, AND also on her doctorate.


Maybe she feels guilty that her schedule is so tight that she can’t spend the time she’d like to with her dog.


She makes up for it with loads and loads of affection for her dog.

Guilty affection followed by nervous dog—a natural progression.


I remind Mama how strong she is, what a fighter she is, what she has survived, what she deals with every day at the hospital, how she manages her toughest patients……


……that she truly IS the strong leader that her dog needs her to be.

The change won’t come overnight, but I know that I have planted a seed.

I’ve done this before.


Ultimately my pep talks take hold, and I see my client stand taller and smile more.

Their training techniques improve and they begin to feel their power.

I will continue to remind her of her own inner strength.


This good thing will happen.
This technique—this way to draw from your client’s life experience is one of the great things I learned from you.


 Thank you Daniel McElroy.

Sincerely,
Patience
Doggie Manners With Patience



— October 21, 2014 —

What does an Etch-A-Sketch have to do with dog training?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

The other day, I was having a conversation with Jon, our AM manager. I think I was bathing a puppy that had, as puppies tend to do, found something stinky to roll in. I don’t remember the exact conversation that that led up to it, but he said, “I thought they (dogs) had an ‘Etch-A-Sketch’ brain.”

I had an Etch-A-Sketch as a kid. I think just about everyone my age had one. They were a toy that allowed you to draw a design on a screen by etching a pattern. You turn these little knobs at the base and a pointer moves beneath the screen to draw the pattern. As soon as you shake it, though, the pattern you drew disappears. All the information on the screen was lost.

Although I never experienced it, I would imagine that if you kept moving the pointer back and forth on the same spot for long enough, you could make a permanent scratch on the screen. That scratch wouldn’t go away when you shook it. With consistency and repetition, the scratch would become permanent.

It immediately struck me as an ideal way to describe training your dog. Their brain is sort of an Etch-A-Sketch. You make an impression and as soon as something else happens, it’s like the Etch-A-Sketch gets all shaken up. It washes away what you just did. However, if you keep doing the same thing, if you’re consistent and repetitive, your work will become permanent. Your dog will eventually retain the information you gave it, but only if you’re consistent through all the situations and distractions that happen. Those distractions are like someone shook your Etch-A-Sketch. If that happens, you have to go back to drawing your picture for the dog until it becomes permanent.

Now, Etch-A-Sketch screens were pretty consistent and all made of the same stuff. Dogs, not so much. How long it will take for your dog to permanently retain the info you give him will depend on his temperament, intelligence level and desire (drive) to work at whatever job you give him. Teaching a Golden Retriever to retrieve will become “etched” much faster that trying to do the same training with a Husky. However, teaching a Husky to pull a sled through the snow will probably happen pretty quickly. The reason is that these behaviors are sort of pre-etched in the dogs through selective breeding for hundreds of generations. All we have to do is uncover them.

So, the next time you get frustrated because you know you taught your dog something, but they are not doing it, take a minute to think about the Etch-A-Sketch. Maybe someone just shook yours.

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— October 14, 2014 —

Let’s Find a Cure for Big Black Dog Syndrome (B.B.D.S.)
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

It’s known by many names, but B.B.D.S. is a leading cause of great dogs spending way too much time in shelters.

Big Black Dog Syndrome, (aka. Black Dog Disease) is an inherited genetic condition. It’s what we say afflicts great, fantastic, highly adoptable (black) dogs that end up sitting in a shelter or rescue for way too long. Sometimes, B.B.D.S is fatal…

Anyone in rescue can tell you that B.B.D.S is real. Black dogs, especially large black dogs are just harder to adopt out. Why? Well, your guess is as good as mine, especially since I’m partial to Rottweilers.

While researching this article, I learned that Winston Churchill referred to his depression as his, “Black Dog.” (See: www.healthieryou.com/exclusive/chanceth0196.html). Black as a color has a sort of mystique to it. That is sometimes viewed as a bad thing. Black also has a number of superstitions and negative labels attached to it. One need only think about the black cat superstitions to realize how disadvantaged black dogs are in the shelter setting.

There are irrational fears that black dogs will be more aggressive. One of the coolest dogs we take care of, Brixton, is a black brindle mix breed dog with a bully, boxer kind of look. Despite his dark, “tough guy” appearance, he’s a very social dog and has never given us the least bit of trouble.

K9 4 KEEPS currently has 4 black dogs available for adoption (Capone, Sophia Loren, Onyx & Luna). Capone has been with the rescue for over 2 years now (well, Capone is a black brindle, but that counts). He is currently living with me, getting a significant amount of training and even still, he gets very little interest or inquiries.

As much as there are irrational superstitions, black dogs can also be hard to see, lurking in the back of dark kennels in a loud, frightening dog shelter. They don’t photograph well and that can lead to less interest. If you’re looking for a dog, look past the cute photos of the fluffy white dogs. They’ll get adopted. Read a description and maybe decide to go meet the dogs that lots of other people overlook. A dog’s temperament matters way more than their color and you just might find a “black beauty” that has been overlooked. Let’s work together to find a cure for B.B.D.S.

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— October 7, 2014 —

Stop carrying your dog!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

A brief description of one way to NOT make your dog a codependent wreck.

I am currently working with two dogs that are kind of neurotic. They are both very insecure and both, coincidentally enough, are similar in breed (chihuahua-terrier mixes). I will leave out any identifying details so as not to embarrass the owners. They are working on improving this situation after all.

Both dogs are small terrier mixes and they could be brothers, right down to their behavior. They are both generally nervous, anxious and show some slight fear aggression. I say slight because they will bark and threaten a bite, but don’t actually follow through.

The other thing they both share is the need for physical contact. They HAVE to be in someone’s lap or they will shiver in fear. Now, I’ve discussed how genetics can cause fear and aggression in the past. I do believe genetics plays a large part in most fearful and aggressive dogs, these dogs included.

The thing about these guys is this. As soon as we start asking them to perform obedience behaviors, they stop being so fearful. This tells me there is hope for them.

Once we give them a task to focus on, their shivering stops. Of course it does return if we let them return to their normal mindset. If we pick them up and hold them for a bit, they shiver as soon as we put them back on the floor…until we give them something to do.

My theory is that both of these guys, being small dogs, were usually carried and held as young dogs. They were conditioned to always be in physical contact with their human. Being put down on the floor, when they should be on someone’s lap, is not normal to them. Additionally, they were never taught the normal coping skills that a dog needs to have to live in a human world. Since they may have been pre-disposed to nervousness, this tendency was exacerbated by the lack of exposure to well…life.

What to do about this is simple. We will train the dogs to do a job. Obedience training is a job for the dogs and this will fulfill their need for structure and guidance. Second, we will help the owners understand why their dogs need to learn a bit more independence, physically AND emotionally. Lastly, we will try to help the owners become consistent in how they handle their dogs. The dogs will need to adjust to the “new normal” and they will be better off for it.

I have had a number of cases like this in the past and I foresee a better life for these little guys. Once they learn to become more independent and confident, they will be allowed to go to more places. Their confidence will become a self-reinforcing cycle and they will certainly have a better quality of life…as will their humans.

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— September 30, 2014 —

Microchip your dogs…and update the info!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Last week, a board member for K9 4 KEEPS found a stray dog. The dog was very sweet and ran right up to her when she stopped her car. She was a Basset hound mix and was very well cared for. She was clean and actually smelled like she had been bathed recently.

This didn’t seem to be a real long-term stray dog. We’ve seen quite a few and this was someone’s pet. We knew they must be missing her.

I asked Caroline to bring her over to Bark Avenue so we could scan her for a microchip. A microchip is a tiny device that is implanted under a dog’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades. It stays there for life (although they have been known to shift position a bit). The microchip has a serial number that is linked to a data storage service. The data storage facility keeps the owner’s information on file so they can be contacted if the dog is ever lost.

The dog was chipped and this was great news. We would call, get the owner’s number and have her home in time for dinner.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. We got a number and left messages. I even sent a text message. I got a reply from the dog’s previous owner. She had been surrendered to a shelter two years prior and was quite surprised to hear from us. The information on the microchip was not up to date.

Through social media, we were finally able to get in touch with her current owners. They picked her up her the next morning.

Recently, a video made it through social media that showed a dog being re-united with her owner after being lost for 7 long months.



Because this dog was microchipped and her owners kept their contact information current with the microchip company, this dog was able to be reunited with her family. If this dog’s info wasn’t correct, she might have never made it home. The sad truth is that most strays that do end up in shelters never make it out alive. Thankfully, this was a very happy ending for Dora and her family.

If your pet isn't microchipped, make an appointment with your vet today…and if your pet is, please take a moment to make sure the contact information you have on file with your microchip company is current. It could save his/her life.

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— September 23, 2014 —

Fall and Your Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

It’s Fall in Chicago. The weather is changing and so are the leaves.

Like it or not, Summer is pretty much over. The cooler weather of Fall reminds us that Old Man Winter will soon be paying us a visit. Fall brings us changing leaves, great holiday meals and crisp mornings. The cooler weather is also a welcome relief to those of us who own breeds that are less-tolerant of hot weather, myself included.

For all it’s great weather, awesome color and tasty dishes, Fall and Winter do pose some hazards to you and your furry best friends.

The holidays bring Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah and other celebrations which include meals with family and friends. We’ve touched on it before, but please keep an eye on your dogs to make sure they don’t get ahold of anything toxic or dangerous. This is a list of many, but not all common foods that can be dangerous to your dog.



Winter leads to cold days where we really don’t want to go out. all that much. Remember to keep your pets active in winter and possibly reduce their feedings to prevent unwanted Winter weight gain. Of course, if you do remain active, your dog may actually need more food to help them stay warm outside.

If necessary, start getting your dog used to wearing booties now, before there is snow, salt and ice on the ground. Here at Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc. we just restocked our supply of PawZ Dog Boots, a very effective paw protecting product. It’s designed like a rubber balloon and keeps salt and ice from between your dog’s pads. We swear by them in our household.

In the fall, your neighbors may replace the antifreeze in their vehicles. Antifreeze contains a chemical that can be both attractive to dogs and lethal in small doses. If you see any discarded antifreeze bottles, please remove them. Also, keep your dog away from spills. There can be enough antifreeze in a small puddle to do serious harm, especially if you have a small dog.

So, enjoy the Fall and plan for Old Man Winter too. Just keep an eye out for a few dangers and both you and your dog will have a great season.

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— September 16, 2014 —

Help a Veteran and His Service Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

As you may know, in addition to operating Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc, Amy and I along with our Board of Directors also operate K9 4 KEEPS, NFP. K9 4 KEEPS is a 501 (c) 3 charity organization. Being a Veteran myself, this week’s Tail is about a cause that means a lot to me personally. I hope you will support it.

At K9 4 KEEPS, we have a mission. That mission is to help people keep their dogs for life and help those dogs to live the most fulfilling life possible. To that end, we have included in our mission statement that education and training of dog owners is the foundation of responsible pet ownership. As an organization, we have always included the possibility of helping owners obtain training even if they had financial limitations.

As part of that commitment, we are taking on Athena, a dog owned by Corporal (Cpl) R. Athena is not available for adoption. She is currently Cpl. R’s companion dog and will be trained as a service dog for him.

Cpl. R is a U.S. Army veteran of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is asking to remain anonymous, which we will respect for obvious reasons. Cpl. R. has obtained a dog with the intention of her being his service dog for PTSD and some combat-related physical disabilities. Since getting his dog, he has been unable to work due to these injuries. While the U.S. Army is providing some disability payment, it is not nearly enough for him to support his family and get the training his dog needs.

We asked Cpl. R. to describe what having this dog means to him. Here is what he said in his own words:
“Here I am several years later after the military with PTSD. That’s what I was diagnosed with while I was in the military. I suffer from certain things due to what I did, saw and experienced. Some of things I go through is anxiety, always on guard, hesitant to go places with large crowds, and the one that gets me the most is excluding myself from everything and anything because of all I mentioned above. It’s a big burden on my life because I don’t like to leave my home, which also puts a burden on my wife and kids. However, I will go places that will allow me to take my dog with me. I feel as if she gives me a sense of security, and provides a good distraction for me to forget about all the things that hinder me from going places. But for now that’s as far as I can go with my pup. I think with the proper training for my pup she can have a huge impact on my rehabilitation.”
K9 4 KEEPS is holding a dedicated campaign to raise the necessary funds to get the equipment and training for Cpl. R’s service dog. Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc with help from Windy City Working Dogs Inc, Amy Pawlik of 4 Paws K9 Training and Emily Stoddard of Canine Sports Dog Training will be providing the training. Both Amy and Emily are service dog trainers who specialize in some of the specific areas of service work that this dog-handler team will need. Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc, Windy City Working Dogs, Inc, Amy and Emily have all agreed to donate significant portions of their fees to get this hero and his dog the help they need. Even with all of this, we are looking at a 4–6 month training program and are looking to raise approximately $3,000.00. Any funds raised above and beyond this amount will be held in reserve and used for another Veteran’s Service Animal.

Tax-deductible donations can be made here: Help A Veteran and His Service Dog and THANK YOU in advance.

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— September 9, 2014 —

Peace’s Tail
by Peace

Hey y’all. This is Peace. I’m a dog. You probably have seen some pictures of me on the stuff my human posts online. I had an awesome trip last week and I thought you might like to know about it.

We went camping, the two-legger and me. We went up to Minnesota to a place called The Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It’s very nice up there and really quiet. We drove up after work on a Saturday and stayed for a week. I have been up there before, but this was the first time it was just my dad and me. We canoed around during the day and slept in a tent at night. There were a few trails we walked on, but I was a good boy and listened and never went too far ahead. Fortunately, well before this trip ever happened, my pops took the time to train me so I could be safe on the trails.

I met a few new friends…well, they were pretty shy. There was some little dude that looked like a miniature squirrel. I think dad called him a chipmunk. Anyway, those little critters didn’t want to play. There was also some kind of bird that teased me on a trail. We didn’t hit it off either…

I think my favorite part of the trip was sleepin’…er, uhm riding in the canoe. I tell you, I never slept so good as when the two-legger paddled us around in the canoe. As soon as I got in that boat, I had the best nap of my life, and I know a thing or two about naps.

The whole week, we had awesome weather and lots to eat. I got to eat wild blueberries, fresh fish that my dad caught and this special freeze dried stuff. It was quite tasty. I think I talked my dad into selling it at Bark Avenue. You’ll have to ask the folks about it. It’s called The Honest Kitchen. I just called it awesome.

Speaking of awesome, the awesome weather didn’t hold out the entire time. We did get rained on one day. Fortunately, we were able to get a shelter up and dry out. I tell you what. I got pretty cold, but my pops gave me his sleeping bag and I warmed up nicely…and had another really nice nap there.

So, all in all, I liked camping. We got to see some great new places, met a few new buddies and enjoyed the fresh air. If your dog can be safe an listen to you, I highly recommend you try taking him out to the great outdoors. You both will love it!

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— September 2, 2014 —

The Vet Clinic is Not the Dog Park
by Caroline Bodnar

I have spent my fair share of time at vet clinics. I have 3 dogs of my own and I also volunteer for K9 4 KEEPS Dog Rescue. Nearly every time I take a dog to the vet, someone wants their dog to be best friends with mine. I am always flabbergasted that people think this is a good time and place for face-to-face leash meetings with unfamiliar dogs.

First and foremost, the vet clinic is one of the most stressful places your dog will ever go. When a dog is under a lot of stress and anxiety, their behavior can be much different than when you are walking down your street. Just because a dog is “friendly” on an everyday walk does not mean they will act the same while meeting others in a high-stress environment. I’ve been asked many times, “Are they friendly?” (And yes, I have even been asked this as the dog I am handling is lunging at their dog, hackles raised.) Sometimes, yes, I am with a very friendly dog. But that still does not mean I want the dog to meet your dog. I don’t know your dog and I can never be 100% sure how the dog I am handling will react, either.

Many vet visits are for routine check-ups and vaccine updates, but I have also been to the vet with some very sick dogs. Not only should people respect that some dogs may be feeling pretty crappy and will not want other dogs rushing up to their face or sniffing their backsides, but they may be very contagious as well. The vast majority of dogs pulled from an open-access shelter by K9 4 KEEPS has kennel cough. We have had dogs with pneumonia, giardia, ringworm, scabies, and a variety of other communicable diseases. It is never a good idea to have a sick dog interact with another dog! I don’t want my dog to get sick, and I certainly don’t want your dog to catch something from my dog. It is not easy to tell just by looking at another dog if it is contagious or not. Many times, when we bring rescued dogs directly to the vet from the shelter, we have no idea what they could be carrying until they are seen by the veterinarian.

In my experience, no matter how polite I am people are usually very put-off that I don’t want the dog I am with to interact with anyone else. People have also had negative reactions when I correct the dog I am handling for unwanted or inappropriate behavior. If I am with a dog who blows up when another dog walks in, I am going to give them a leash correction and redirect them. If I am with a dog who lunges at a cat inside a travel carrier, I am going to give them a leash correction and I am going to relocate. I was once with a dog who was frantically trying to get to a woman’s cat inside a carrier. The dog’s eyes were bulging out of her head and she was pawing at the floor trying to climb on top of the carrier. The woman tried to pet her and said “Oh it’s ok! She’s just trying to play!” Petting a dog in that state could lead to a number of bad things. It’s also not a good idea to encourage unwanted behavior by petting, but that is a Tail for another Tuesday.

I have been at the vet with an un-spayed female dog and a woman with an un-neutered Bernese Mountain allowed her dog to mount mine. That encounter was about a half-second away from becoming a full-on dog fight in a crowded lobby. The bottom line is, dog-aggressive or unsocial dogs have to go to the vet, along with sick, injured, or anxious dogs, and the already-stressful experience will be much safer and easier for everyone involved if all animals are kept separate. The vet clinic is not the dog park.

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— August 12, 2014 —

Stuck in Limbo
by Amy Kelley

Since we opened our doors in 2002 we have offered deeply discounted boarding to many local rescues and given hundreds of dogs a place to crash until a foster or forever home could be found for them. Some have stayed with us for a few hours and others have stayed for years. We’ve seen firsthand the challenges that rescues face. One huge challenge is the difficulty placing “less desirable” dogs. A dog may be considered less desirable because he is old, or a bully breed or just not the typical idea of “cute.” Maybe he needs to be an only-dog…whatever the challenge, some of these dogs languish in the system and that can serve to make the adoption even more difficult.

All too often, once the dog is “safe” from being euthanized at the kill shelter he/she was pulled from, those who were advocating for them and sending out pleas for someone to help move on to the next dog…so what happens to that dog after they’ve moved on? Most of these dogs end up being taken in by a rescue who provide for their basic needs and finds them their forever home. Some dogs are lucky enough to be placed directly into a foster home while others are put in boarding where they sit until their picture or story crosses the path of someone who might be interested in them. Some dogs wait “stuck in limbo” for a really…really long time.

We learned early on that boarding just isn’t for every dog…and that boarding long term can sometimes cause harm to a rescue dog. Some dogs can get depressed and shut down and others can develop neurotic, unpleasant behaviors which in turn makes them more difficult to find homes for.

Not all dogs that live in boarding are having a “bad” life. There are “working dogs” all over the world who live in runs or kennels when they are not “working”. Whether it be an outdoor or indoor run, a large facility or in someone’s home, these dogs are well adjusted, balanced and happy dogs. This works for them because when they are not resting in their run, they are out doing whatever job it is that they were bred and/or trained to do. The working of the dog’s mind is what makes these dogs well adjusted and happy.

There are non-working-dogs who are also perfectly fine boarding long term. We have taken in a handful of dogs over the years who have lived out their natural lives with us because they were deemed un-adoptable for various reasons. We call them “Lifers” and every one of our Lifers (all but one have passed) had a good life with us and our employees.

The one Lifer we currently have is our little senior dog Della, otherwise knows as Bug. To her, life is great! She is as happy as can be every single day!!! She always greets us with the biggest smile, is always up for a game of fetch…and heaven forbid you don’t give her a treat when she wants one (which is always). She truly has a great time living at Bark Avenue and loves the staff here—just don’t try to cut her nails ;-). However, as I mentioned earlier, some dogs don’t do so well with long term boarding. This happens to be the case for K9 4 KEEPS Morgon. He has been boarding at Bark Avenue for over 3 years now.

Even though Morgon gets out with our handlers 6 times a day to exercise and/or hang out, that simply isn’t enough for him. Sure he has human and dog friends who love him, but he is going stir crazy having to live day in day out in a kennel environment. Morgon has the will of a working dog and the heart of a loyal companion and is just not cut out for a life in boarding. One of our employees recently posted on social media that “earning Morgon’s trust is the best feeling in the whole world”. He needs a person he can devote himself to and a life outside of a kennel with someone who will work his brain and let him be the dog he was meant to be.

Ours and K9 4 KEEPS usual avenues of finding dogs a home has not yet worked for Morgon so we are asking for your help in reaching beyond our current network. We don’t feel that a dog is truly “rescued” until they are placed into their forever home. Please help us get him out of boarding by sharing his story far and wide. Please don’t let Morgon continue to be stuck in limbo. Thank you in advance.

Morgon’s webpage: www.k94keeps.org/dogs/0008_morgon.html
Morgon’s flyer to print/post: www.k94keeps.org/dogs/morgon_flyer.pdf
Morgon’s Facebook photo album: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.469776269733804.109609.263518410359592&type=3

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— August 5, 2014 —

How young is too young?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

So you have a puppy. What age should you start to train them?

Everyone knows that you need to train a puppy. Also, everyone knows that puppies need to learn to sit and lay down on command. A question I get often is “How old does a dog need to be to learn this stuff? Isn’t X number of weeks too young?”

In a word, no. Your puppy is an absolute sponge for information and what they learn at a young age will be with them forever. I recently posted a video to our Facebook page that shows a young Rottweiler pup (Iggy) doing obedience for a child. The video is cute, but it demonstrates just how young a dog can be and perform some rather complex behaviors. Honestly, if every adult dogs could reliably do what this pup is doing in the video, humans everywhere would benefit.


Another important point is this. This young Rottweiler will very soon outweigh the child in the video. Iggy needs to learn at THIS age to follow commands by the kids in his house. If this Rottweiler started to act out as a young adult, the family would likely have a difficult time reigning him back in. By training him at this age, they are very likely eliminating a number of problems down the road.

The bottom line is this. Your puppy is NEVER too young for training! Of course, the lessons may need to be tailored for his developmental stage, but as soon as you bring a puppy home, start training him. Always remember, for better of for worse, anything you teach a young dog will be him for the rest of his life.


Note: Iggy is enrolled in our Lifetime Obedience classes which is On and Off Leash Obedience. Our next 6-Week Puppy Training class is starting Tuesday, August 12th at 7:00pm.

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— July 29, 2014 —

Goodbye to an old friend.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

A few weeks ago, we got word that our old friend Isis had passed away. She was an American Bulldog from a litter we helped rescue about ten years ago. Leo and Angelique, her humans, had been looking for a dog for a long time. When they met Isis, they knew she was their girl.

Isis was an exceptional dog. If you know American Bulldogs, you know that they can occasionally have issues with other dogs. Not Isis. She never once got into a fight or lost her temper with the dogs at daycare and training. She was always a perfectly good girl.

Just a couple of days ago, we received this card from Leo and Angelique:
“Dear Daniel, Amy
and Bark Avenue —

Leo and I will never be able to express our gratitude for you bringing Isis into our lives. You taught us to teach her, and she was the most amazing and loving daughter. With this note, please find pictures of her and Capote. She had a beautiful life. Capote has been a strong trooper through it all. Thank you again for all you have done!

Much Love
Leo, Angelique & Capote Lara”
It’s a touching reminder of why we work so hard to rescue dogs. For every frustration, there is one dog out there enjoying their life. For every difficult day, there is a dog that is making someone’s life that much better.

So, Rest Easy Good Girl. As much as we all miss you, we appreciate everything you taught us while you were here.

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— July 22, 2014 —

The dangers of tethering your dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Tethering is the practice of tying your dog out on a long leash. It can be short-term, like when you run in for coffee or long-term, like dogs who live outside most of the time. We think that there are serious dangers with the practice.

I’m on the board of a local dog rescue, K9 4 KEEPS. Our adoption contract specifies that we don’t allow our dogs to be tethered out in the yard when not being supervised by the owner or at any public place like a store. Now, we know that not everyone has a fenced yard and not every dog is trained to recall reliably. If someone is working in the yard and wants their dog close by, a tether is not a bad idea. If you need to keep an eye on a young dog a a family cookout, then by all means, tether the dog to the nearest tree. What we specifically prohibit tethering for, however, is for when the owner is not in the immediate area and supervising their dog. We object to this even more in public, like at a coffee shop.

There are many reasons (excuses) that people use for tethering their dogs. Sometimes dogs are destructive or lack house training, leading owners to tether them outside. Some owners think that the dog will get more exercise if they are tethered. Some folks just want to go for that cup of coffee before they walk their dog. Unfortunately, the risks strongly outweigh the benefits of tying your dog up outside of Starbucks.

There are two main problems that can occur when a dog is tethered without supervision. The first is theft. Dogs are stolen every day for a couple of reasons. Dogs are often stolen for the reward money that desperate owners will pay to get their dog back. They are also stolen to sell to dog fighters and testing labs. (Google “Class B dog dealers.”) Either way, a dog that is tethered and not supervised is an inviting target to dog-thieves.

You may be tempted to think that you are keeping an eye on your dog, and could intervene if you saw this happening. What you may not realize is that dog thieves are sometimes pretty well organized groups. They are not just people who happen to see a dog and take it, sometimes they are organized and out intentionally looking for dog. One person drives the vehicle and one person cuts the leash and steals the dog. It takes only a split second and they are gone. You could even watch the whole thing and not even realize what was happening until it was too late.

The other reason not to tether your dog is behavioral. While it is somewhat complicated to explain, a tethered dog can become constantly overstimulated. Tethered dogs can also be teased by neighborhood children and this can have a very bad outcome. A tethered dog, especially dogs that are teased, are regularly agitated and may begin to associate all children with the ones that tease him. This can have very negative consequences and can cause kids to get injured.

The mechanism at play is the dog’s general tendency to live in the mindset that we put them. If we work and train our dogs to be calm, then they will tend to live in a more calm manner. If we constantly amp them up, then they will tend to live in a more stimulated way. Now, add the potential for aggression from a frustrated dog and you get the potential for real tragedy. This is the behavioral component to the tethered dog.

Lastly, quality of life matters also. A constantly tethered dog is often ignored and lonely. I personally enjoy having my dogs in the house. They are my constant companions and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If your dog is destructive, exercise him. If he is not house trained, train him. If you want to get a cup of coffee for the walk, pick him up after or make your coffee at home before you walk out the door. Whatever you do, please don’t leave him tied out for the short or long-term. The results can be disastrous.

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— July 15, 2014 —

Is your dog, “friendly” to other dogs, or “too friendly” to other dogs?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Last week, Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc shared the following blog post on our Facebook page:
“Your dog isn’t being friendly. He’s an asshole. And so are you.” from The Dog Snobs.

I was worried that it might get a negative response…after all, it is sort of blunt. Despite my worry, it was actually liked and shared a few times and no-one said anything bad about the post. I took this to mean that perhaps there are a few people out there who understood and could relate to the points made by the author.

I can relate myself. I have a 9 year old Male Rottweiler who is extremely social with dogs, cats, bunny rabbits, people, you name it. Peace loves everything except rude dogs. What I mean by rude is this. He meets dogs properly and has good social skills, but he won’t tolerate a dog that charges up to his face, jumps on his neck (Ooohhh no you didn’t!!!!) or, God forbid, tries to hump him. As my own little confessional, he wasn’t always so polite. He used to be that pushy dog that would shove his whole head under a new dog practically lifting their back feet off the ground. Maturity and a lot of training on impulse control has done him a world of good.

All of these things constitute poor social skills or in the dog’s world, they are simply rude things to do. As dog owners, we are responsible for making sure our dogs display proper etiquette when meeting people or dogs. As much as you may be mortified if your dog runs up and jumps on a stranger, you should be equally as mortified if your dog jumps on another dog. It’s rude.

Sure, many dogs will tolerate rude behavior from another dog just fine, but there are some that won’t. Some dogs will correct rude behavior and THAT dog is usually the one who gets the blame. After all, he was just being friendly? Right?

Wrong.

The overly pushy dog that gets snapped at is just like that “touchy feely” guy who ladies can’t stand. He’s taking liberties and violating the personal space of others.

If your dog is often snapped at during greetings, perhaps it might be time to take a look at his behavior. Is he greeting dogs calmly, respectful of doggie social norms? Perhaps the other dogs are trying to tell you something. It doesn’t mean that he’s a bad dog. It just means that some training may be in order…for both of you.

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— July 8, 2014 —

Training Collar Damage, Fact v/s Fiction.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Recently, this image was circulated on social media. It shows a dog’s neck with a line of regularly-spaced holes, which look like puncture wounds. It purports to be damage inflicted by training a dog with a pinch or prong collar (the two terms are interchangeable for my purposes here).

This Tail is not intended to be in support of training with pinch collars or not. (Full disclosure: I have used prong collars and have had dogs that have needed them. I have also trained dogs that have not needed a prong collar. I believe the collars are tools and tools are defined by the user.) What this Tail is intended to be is an explanation of what actually happened to the poor dog in the above photo.

When we first got involved in rescue, we ran across a dog named Lexi. Lexi was a female Rottweiler who had been left in a pinch collar for way too long. Her neck had actually grown INTO the prongs of the collar. In fact, the collar was so deeply embedded that the vet said the collar was actually protruding into her airway. This is the unfortunate situation that we see in the photo. The collar was put on a young, smaller dog and never removed. The dog essentially grew into the collar and the collar embedded into the dog’s neck. The above photo is not the result of training with a pinch collar, this took weeks or months to happen. It didn’t happen overnight or in a training session and it is the result of neglectful abuse, plain and simple.

Pinch collars should never be left on a dog that is not supervised or tethered in the yard. We generally recommend against tethering in any case, but especially not on a pinch collar. Also, a growing dog needs to be monitored to make sure the collar is not becoming too tight.

Lastly, whatever training equipment you choose to use, please be aware that anything can be mis-used. If you are having behavioral issues with your dog, please look up a qualified trainer in your area and get help. No equipment, treat, pill or anything else can replace the guidance of a trainer who has experience with your dog’s particular issues.

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— July 1, 2014 —

Boom, Boom, Boom July 4th is coming.
Is your dog afraid of fireworks?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.
Originally ran this article July 2, 2013.

Every year about this time, thousands of dogs are terrified by the sound of fireworks. I’ve had a few questions about this and I’d like to answer them and give a couple of tips for the 4th of July celebrations.

Fireworks, thunder and noise phobia in general are unfortunately all too common. Oddly, I have met dogs that were specifically fearful of only one or the other. Usually it’s all or nothing.

Noise phobia can be a very serious issue. Dogs may hide, engage in destructive behavior or injure themselves. I have heard of dogs with noise phobia doing nothing more than panting and pacing. I have also heard of them breaking out of the house and trying to run from the storm.

In May 2012, we featured an article by Patience Hayes re. thunder phobia. I’d recommend reading that if you get a chance. She discusses how to NOT reinforce your dog’s fears and gives some tips on how to distract him with training or tricks.

This is all good information. I have a few other ideas that I’d like to add. The main idea is that you can’t just work on this during the fireworks. There are great ways to train for the noise before it’s overwhelming.

The best way, of course it to socialize your dog as a puppy to the loud noises of thunder and fireworks. When you know a situation is about to bring loud noises, bring your pup out for a great game of whatever he likes the most. Running after a favorite toy, doing sit and down for treats and so on can distract your puppy so the fireworks become part of the background noise.

If you adopted your dog as an adult and missed out on the early socialization period, there are still things you can do to help your dog.

There are recordings of fireworks available online and you can play these sounds, low at first then raise the volume. While you are doing this, distract your dog with training exercises. If your dog likes to play tug, this can be an effective way to distract him from the sound. (I know there are old theories about never playing tug with your dog. I consider this outdated information. I will discuss this at a later date.) As he gets more into the tug, you can raise the volume. If you see any signs of fear, flinching, panting, refusing to engage you, turn the volume down. You want to work at the highest volume your dog can ignore.

Another remedy is melatonin. If your dog if very fearful, melatonin is an all natural substance sold as a supplement over the counter. For a medium size dog, 3–6 mg is an appropriate dose. Some people swear by it.

When it comes to noise phobia, a combination of these techniques may be needed to help your dog resolve his fear. The last thing you want to do is try to calm your dog by petting. This will do one of two things. It will at best make you the security blanket your dog needs during the storm. When you aren’t home, your dog will still experience the fear. At worse it will intensify the fear making your dog more likely to panic or engage in self destructive behavior.


NOTE: Even if your dog is very well trained, please make sure to leash your dogs during this period. Years ago, we had a neighbor who had a 14 year old dog who was never on a leash. The dog never left her owner’s side and seemed to be very well trained. One night someone threw fireworks too close to her and she spooked into oncoming traffic. It was a very sad way for someone to lose a dog.

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— June 24, 2014 —

Five Ways to be a Responsible Dog Owner
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

As a dog owner, I strive to be responsible. I want my dogs to be enjoyable, not only to me, but to everyone who they might encounter. It’s very easy to get a dog we think is cute and feed it without taking all of the steps necessary to ensure your dog is a well balanced and enjoyable member of society. Being a responsible dog owner requires a bit more effort.

So, here are the Top 5 Steps you can take to ensure you are a Responsible Dog Owner:
5. Take your dog for necessary veterinary care.
Hopefully anyone would know to take their dog to the vet if it becomes seriously ill, but dogs need regular check ups and testing, especially as they age. A dog that is at the last 25% of their life expectancy is considered a senior. These older dogs need check ups to make sure everything is working properly and that they are as comfortable as possible.

4. Walk your dog (and pick up after them).
Even if you have a large yard and a tall secure fence, your dog needs to go for walks. Walks are important for enrichment and socialization. The “bigger” your dog’s world is, the better off he will be. As I mentioned in the title for item #4, picking up after your dog on your walks is an important part of being a responsible dog owner. Dogs can carry diseases and dog poop attracts rats, which are a whole issue unto themselves. All of this can expose us humans to diseases that we can catch from our dogs. Germs and parasites like leptospirosis, rabies and some worms can all be transmitted to humans. Cleaning up after our dogs does MUCH more than just keep us from stepping in poop. It can save lives, both human and canine.

3. Help your dog maintain a reasonable weight and feed good quality food.
A too-skinny dog is a neglected dog, but I believe a fat dog is also a neglected dog. A fat dog will suffer joint ailments and health issues that will reduce his quality of life and possible cause an early death. Proper nutrition and exercise are critical to helping your dog maintain a healthy weight. There are way too many products out there that claim to be “balanced and nutritious” while a quick check of the ingredient list would show you that the food is not good quality at all. Please research your dog’s food and make sure it is of good quality. If you choose to feed a dry food, this link will give you an easy, impartial way to judge the quality of your dog’s food: www.abouttimecanecorso.com/KibbleQuality.html.

2. Train your dog and be aware of the dangers that face him.
We all have them…the dog in the neighborhood that explodes every time they see another dog, or the dog that charges the fence whenever a dog walks nearby. I have to admit, my Rottie “Peace” was extremely dog reactive when he was a younger dog. I worked very hard to train him and I am very happy that he no longer explodes when he sees a dog while on a walk. We (unfortunately) do have a couple of neighbors who let their dog charge the fence when we walk by and they simple don’t understand why it’s a problem…after all, It IS their yard, right? Here’s the issue. I have personally known of at least one dog that was very seriously injured in a fight through a wrought iron fence. The injuries were so severe that the dog had to be euthanized. The four inch gap in the average city fence is plenty wide enough for a dog to get a hold of another dog. Reactive dogs can start fights even if they are restrained. Leashes can break and collars come off. Training to reduce reactivity can help to reduce the risk of fights and injuries.

1. The number one way to be a responsible dog owner is…
Select a dog that is appropriate for your handling ability and lifestyle. Learn about your dog and seek guidance for behavioral problems early. This means to go and get the dog that is right for YOU. Picking a dog based on looks or his “cool factor” is a recipe for disaster. If you want an active companion, then research the breeds, types or mixes that tend to have those traits. If you are rather sedentary, select a dog that will enjoy that lifestyle. If you don’t have a lot of money for training, selecting a very high drive, working breed dog is probably a bad idea. Also, it’s a great idea to develop a relationship with a trainer before you even have a dog. A good trainer can help you go through the local humane society and meet a few dogs. They may see things in a dog’s behavior that you might miss. Some warning signs are subtle and the fee you pay for a trainer’s help may save you a lot of money or heartbreak down the road when you feel you have to return a dog that you have become attached to.
So, there you have it. Five simple steps that can make life better for you, your canine companion and your neighbors. It’s all our “responsibility.”

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— June 17, 2014 —

Warning about a danger to your dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Recently we were made aware of a new (to us at least) situation that we wanted to inform everyone about. We were made aware of this by a social media post made by Chicago Canine Concierge.

Evidently, a dog owner was in a local pet supply store and was accused of letting her dog bite someone. The photo they sent as evidence is the image on the left hand side of the picture you see here (photo credit withheld by request). This shows a pretty nasty bite but here’s the thing…this is NOT a dog bite. It is a HUMAN bite. On the right hand image (photo credit: Leslie Wooldridge), we can see an actual dog bite.

The teeth on the first bite are clearly not in the same configuration as the dog bite. Also, if the dog had bitten deeply enough to inflict the bite we see, the canine teeth wounds would be clearly visible. As you can see, the canines are not present on the human bite. At least one canine tooth puncture wound is obvious in the photo of the dog bite.

As luck would have it, the store’s cameras were not working at the time of the incident, so the dog had to be quarantined on a “rabies observation” for ten days. This was not an inexpensive proposition and of course the dog will have a bite record if this is not judged properly.

Why would someone do such a thing? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is money. Possibly they were hoping the owner would just give them some cash on the spot to make it go away. They may even go as far as to try to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner or the store.

What’s my advice for situations like this? Good question. This situation underscores the importance of always watching out for your dogs when in public. I ALWAYS supervise who my dogs meet. In fact, some might think of me as a little paranoid. Unfortunately, this type of situation happens and by being diligent we can hopefully avoid someone getting scammed and a dog getting a “bite record.”

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— May 20, 2014 —

Bad Legislation and how you can help.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We, as a community of interested pet owners, need to be more involved in the legislation that affect us, our dogs and needy animals throughout our state.

In Chicago, as well as other cities in Illinois, small, privately run pet rescues like K9 4 KEEPS, NFP are able to pull dogs and cats from death row at city pounds and find them homes. Usually, these animals need medical care, shots, neutering and so on. These animals usually end up costing rescues anywhere from $500 to $1,000.00 to rehab and make adoption-ready (the sky is the limit really if an animal gets sick or has medical needs above and beyond standard care).

Rescues raise money for these activities by soliciting tax-deductible donations to pay for the care that the animals need. This takes a HUGE financial burden off of city pounds and saves dogs and cats that would have otherwise been euthanized.

Recently, a very bad bill (SB0648) was introduced in the Illinois legislature. It would have basically (among other things) made it illegal for publicly funded animal care facilities (read: the city pound) to transfer dogs and cats to smaller private non-profit rescues in Illinois. The dogs and cats in the pound could only be transferred to out-of-state rescues, which have their own pet overpopulation issues.

Even in Illinois, every bill that is proposed has to have some perceived benefit to someone…somewhere. Otherwise they wouldn’t have proposed it, right? This bill seemed to be an exception. I asked around and I couldn’t get an answer at to why this bill was proposed in the first place. In all my posts on social media, and in private messages, not one person could give me an answer as to what this bill was actually intended to accomplish. I assume SOMEONE thought this bill was a good thing, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what that was!

Bill SB0648 passed the Illinois Senate and went to the House where it was assigned to the Agriculture & Conservation Committee on 5/13/2014. Fortunately, the bill has been “tabled” by the committee which is a term meaning that it is not up for consideration at the current time. It can be tweaked and reintroduced at a later date during the legislative session, but shelter animals are safe from this particular danger for now.

How do I know all this? Glad you asked.

The following is a link to the Illinois General Assembly “Bills and Resolutions” web page for the Bill Status of SB0648. This site basically gives you all the information you need to see every law that is being proposed in Illinois and where they are in the voting process. It has handy links to contact the people who are sponsoring and voting on bills. Lastly, it tells you where the bill is as far as being passed or not.

Considering that many people are pretty uninvolved with what the legislature/government does on a daily basis, I believe a polite, yet firmly worded email from a few thousand registered Illinois voters would have a significant effect on how our legislators vote.

I recommend that everyone get familiar with this site. As a general rule, I think that we should be keeping a close eye on the people who are elected to public office and this is one way to do just that. Bill SB0648, if not opposed could lead to thousands of animals being euthanized needlessly. It’s our job, as rescuers and animal lovers to protect these animals, even from the misguided attempts of those that think they are doing something good when they are not.

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— May 13, 2014 —

What happens when we put a “Good Quality” dog in a “Poor Quality” situation?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

In the dog training world, you may often hear professional trainers discussing breeds, breeders and bloodlines as being or producing “good quality” dogs. How can trainers say such a thing? Doesn’t every dog have qualities and deserve respect? Well, yes. Every dog is a life and needs to be treated as such, but there is more to the concept and hopefully this article will be food for thought.

What we mean when we discuss “quality” is this. In the simplest of terms, if a dog is of a certain breed, and if that breed was developed over hundreds of years to perform certain tasks, then every example of that breed “should” be capable of performing that task to some degree. The better that dog is at that task, the better his “quality” would be.

I won’t discuss health issues in any depth today. It goes without saying that a German Shepherd with hip dysplasia will not be able to work as a Police K9 as well as a German Shepherd with properly-formed hips. The health and structure of a dog is most certainly a factor when discussing his “quality.”

This ultimately will lead to a discussion on genetics and breed tendencies and this is a discussion that needs to happen. Far too often, trainers are asked to deal with behaviors in a dog that the owner finds undesirable, but the dog finds perfectly natural, even necessary. Generally, dogs that are of “good quality” are purpose bred and their genetics rule the majority of their behavior. I like to say that, “Fighting genetics is like swimming up stream. You’ll work your butt off and get nowhere.” (Note: Nothing in this article is meant to apply to the genetically unstable or serious fear biting dog. These dogs are a topic all their own.)

In this blog post, the author discusses what seems to be a great dog put in a bad situation:
I once worked with a fabulous specimen of a dog, from a breed and bloodline where they are intended to bite. And they do, well.

This dog was selected for a job where the animal is required to be gentle and kind to people. This dog was given great training, mastered the complex tasks of the work, yet was unable to be kind and gentle to people. Genetics took over, and bites were given instead of kisses.

I was asked to assess if we could make the dog become sweet and gentle, rather than wanting to bite. My answer was 'Yes, however, one day when the environment is more stimulating, his ancestors will override your training and he will go in and bite ".

This dog was euthanized. A totally healthy, nice dog, who was bred to bite, was euthanized because he did what he was bred for. This case still haunts me.

If you want Cujo, get Cujo. If you want Lassie, get Lassie. But don't be so naive that you think because Cujo is sold from "Kissing Lines" that you can turn him into Lassie. You might be able to 9/10 times, but the one time he does what his ancestors tell him to do, he will be a dead dog.

A fabulous, young, healthy spirit is dead for being a perfect specimen of their breed. We, as humans, can be so unfair to dogs.

Monique Anstee
Victoria, BC
www.naughtydogge.com
Like The Naughty Dogge on Facebook too!
This post describes the challenges of trying to force a great dog into a role for which it is not suited. It seems this was an attempt to make the dog something he wasn’t and it cost him his life. The dog wasn’t wrong. The humans were.

Part of understanding what a “good quality” dog is understanding that we as humans MUST select the correct dog for our living situation.

Just because the Navy Seals took a Belgian Malinois on a raid in Pakistan, it’s absolutely NO INDICATION that folks should run out and buy one for the “cool factor.” In fact, most “good quality” Malinois generally make pretty difficult house pets. We don’t call them “Maligators” for nothing. I know of one that isn’t doing high level protection work and he does well with his owners. The thing is that they are involving him in lots of other activities, which help to satisfy his genetic drives. Despite this, I believe even they would tell you that he has had a few challenging moments.

Similarly, an owner who wants to primarily sit on the couch and watch The Dog Whisperer with his dog has absolutely no business buying a high drive working line German Shepherd or Rottweiler. If you like the look of the dogs, but don’t want to adjust your lifestyle to suit the dog, then unfortunately there is no way to responsibly own said dog. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

The best breeders of “quality dogs” will know what their dogs are supposed to do and what kind of temperament they will tend to have. They will help guide a buyer to selecting the proper dog and I have known a few who refuse to sell their puppies to non-working homes. This applies to all breeds, from Working Group dogs like the German Shepherd or the Rottweilers to Sporting Group dogs like Labrador Retrievers.

There are breeders who are “breeding down” their lines to create less “drivey” versions of working breeds. This is what we see in show line German Shepherds. While this may sound like a perfect solution to the issue, it actually creates another set of issues. Since these breeders often focus more on looks than physical ability, these dogs often end up with serious health issues. The show line German Shepherd’s notorious back and hip issues are a prime example. Also, some of these dogs end up with some of the drive, but not quite the edge of their working line cousins. This can lead to owners having a false sense of security and dogs ending up in bad situations and people getting bit.

What all of this is intended to say is this. “There is a dog for every purpose and a purpose for every dog.” It is our job to make absolutely sure that the dog we select suits the purpose we get him for. If he is to be a couch companion, then we need to select a dog with qualities such as, “likes to lay around” and “champion level napper” not, “will play tug all day” or “enjoys agility training.” If you want to live with a particular type of dog, then it is best to learn what he will need to be a happy well-adjusted companion animal. It is our responsibility to provide a “quality situation” that matches the “qualities” of our dog.

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— May 6, 2014 —

Does your dog love you?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

There have been differences of opinion on whether your dog “loves” you or not. Is it love and affection or is it simple opportunism and manipulation?

I for one don’t really care. I don’t NEED an answer to the question. I enjoy my dogs’ company and I think they enjoy mine. (If not, they sure aren’t trying to go anywhere else.)

While neither I, nor my dogs tend to spend a great deal of time pondering existentialist topics, the affection I feel for them is as genuine as any other. When I was asked this question recently, I initially dismissed it. I don’t care really to think about something I can’t every REALLLY know, right? After all, my dogs can’t talk. I’ve decided to answer it though, just because I think it’s time to put this to rest once and for all.

Kind of like how my dogs want to be around me…just because. I do feed them. I walk them and I give them affection and attention. Some say that that’s all there is in it for them. They love to eat, they don’t love ME.

In this article: http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2009/05/your-dog-does-not-love-you-and-other-cold-nosed-truths.html. The author says that your dog doesn’t feel any “real love” for you. It’s all just a highly developed game to get them the things they need. He says that it all just because they need food, the proof of this is that if someone else came along and started feeding them, they would “love” that person just the same. Well, this is true to a certain extent, but is there a human parallel? If a person has a life-long partner who passes on, would the fact that they can take on a new partner mean they never “loved” the first? I say no, and most would agree.

This article says something different: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2546493/Your-dog-really-does-love-Research-finds-brain-associated-affection-similar-pets-humans.html. With this new research into animal brain function, it seem that your dog might just feel some real, measurable affect for you…that they understand friendships on at least a rudimentary level.

I’d like to applaud these researchers for answering a question that most dog owners have known the answer to all along. Yes. Our dogs love us. They feel real affection when they are with us as real as the affection we feel for them. We could have saved you a lot of effort, but since you did the study anyway, we’d like to thank you. We love the results.


— April 15, 2014 —

“Train the dog you have in front of you.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

A friend of mine is fond on this saying. What does it mean?

Canine Therapy Corps is an organization that provides therapy dogs to hospitals, retirement facilities and rehab facilities. My dog Jelly volunteers with CTC (she volunteers, I’m just the driver). The director, Callie is a good friend and we’ve worked together on various things for over a decade.

I have only brought Jelly to therapy work with Callie for about the last year, and I have heard her say “train the dog you have in front of you” a few times. It was a cool saying at first and I like it. So much, in fact, that stole it.

I got a reminder of this tonight. I took in a new puppy for training and she demonstrated exactly what I’m talking about. I had a great time playing with Bella, a husky/bull terrier mix. She sat nicely and gave me good focus, she took a few treats and gave me a few sits. It didn’t last very long. We worked as long as she would perform, then I put her up.

Every week, I have a dog that shows me this concept, the idea of training the dog I have in front of me. Olive, a 1 year old basset mix is another example. She is going for her Canine Therapy Corps certification and is actually a fantastic candidate. The problem, however, is that she doesn’t have a tremendous amount of focus or endurance. She works very well, but has not made it through the entire test in practice yet. She just gets too tired. Since our training program includes daycare, she is usually too tired by the time her mom picks her up. To counter this, I’m actually asking her mom to leave her home until lunchtime, then run her over so she isn’t in daycare all day. Hopefully she will be less exhausted and be able to complete the entire test.

Train the dog you have in front of you, right? Even if it means leaving her home to rest so we can get through the entire test??? You bet. If that’s what it takes, we’ll do it.

Dogs are just like us. Sometimes they are “switched on.” Sometimes, not so much. They have good days and bad days. Sometimes their bad days are on a day when we reeeaallly needed them to perform, like at a therapy dog test. Unfortunately, our dogs don’t always realize that today is “special.” So we plan for the next event and train accorndingly.

Harvey, a mix breed is another dog who is usually a great student (he’s another CTC candidate, in fact). A couple of weeks ago, he was just off. We tried and he stopped. We cajoled and he laid down. No matter what we tried, he was not interested. He didn’t want treats and he didn’t care for pets. It was a fluke. Since then, he has participated in his lessons and made real improvement. Such is the nature of training dogs.

If we keep at our training and give the dog time to learn, I really do believe that if we rush the dog, the end result will suffer. Sometimes it’s best to take a break, both for you and your dog.

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— April 8, 2014 —

Composure.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

What is it and how does it apply to dog training.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines composure as “calmness of mind, manner or appearance.”

By definition, composure means to have self-control. The thing is, unless we have control of ourselves, we’ll never effectively teach, train or manage our dogs. Composure is sometimes the missing link when a handler takes a dog to a trial. It can’t be measured objectively, but you can see when it’s missing.

A problem dog or an aggressive dog can test your composure. A dog that just can’t seem to “get it” can test your composure. A handler with a bad case of “trial nerves” may lack of composure and this in turn takes the dog off their A game.

I am also involved with a training company called Windy City Working Dogs. We preach composure during training every session. When a dog is super excited and driven to do the bite work (cool bitework photo here), they often give their handler a great deal of difficulty during the obedience portion of the training. Composure here is critical. If the handler is feeling overwhelmed by the dog’s excitement level, and looses their composure, the training will not be very effective. Occasionally, I will stop a training session and ask the handler to take a second to gather themselves, to regain their composure. When it works, the results are immediate and obvious. The dog responds and training becomes productive.

As important as composure is in training. I can’t teach it. I don’t think any trainer can. It’s something you have to learn. To this day I am still working on it. The more you practice with your dog and are mindful of your mindset, the better your composure will become.

The next time you feel yourself getting frustrated, or feel like your dog is completely out of control, stop, gather your thoughts and do your best to regain your composure. Your dog will thank you for it.


Follow Up info re. Bailey.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about a dog that I turned down as a training client. I suspected that the dog had medical issues which were contributing to his recently increased aggressive behavior. I have gotten an email from the owners and he has been diagnosed with arthritis and since being on anti-inflammatory medications his behavior has been much better.

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— April 1, 2014 —

How to handle crossing paths with a Service Dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

As we learn just how much dogs can assist us, Service Animals are becoming more common in the U.S. How should we handle encountering a Service Animal when we are our with our dogs?

I recently got a call from a young lady who is confined to a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury. She lives with a dog which she has had for a few months. She took Kay in as a rescue and intended to have the dog as a comfort animal for her nerve pain and needed the dog to perform a couple of simple assistance behaviors.

I got the call, though because Kay had been displaying some lunging behaviors while on leash. We did an evaluation and determined that the reactivity was not severe.

I thought that we could help her past the lunging through training and behavioral modification.

After only one lesson, I got a call from the owner. She was upset and said she could not keep her dog because she had been in a fight.

While talking to her, I learned that Kay had pulled her down in her chair and gotten in a fight with a dog. This had happened because someone had allowed their dog to run up and jump on Kay’s back.

We determined that in every instance of lunging, Kay was subjected to an unruly dog that was not being controlled by its owner.

I decided to take Kay in for boarding and training to truly get to the bottom of her behavior. Kay has been totally solid around dogs in the facility. She is essentially ambivalent towards dogs, which is the perfect demeanor for a Service Animal. She has shown zero aggression, and is pretty dis-intereted in interacting with other dogs. This goes doubly when she has her “Service Dog vest” on. When she is working, Kay never leaves my side and will hardly look at dogs.

I have gone so far as to take her out into the playgroup to work. While she initially had a difficult time with the large number of loose dogs, she has gotten more confident with ongoing experience.

In another life, I was an X-Ray Technologist. In fact, I occasionally still work part-time in the field. I had a visually impaired patient recently while working at a local hospital. After my conversations with Kay’s owner, I asked this lady what she has experienced with her Guide Dog. I asked if people ever let their dog do inappropriate things with her and her Service Animal. She said absolutely. She had been charged by off leash dogs, had playful dogs jump on her dog and had people try to pet her dog while it was working.

Why I tell these stories is to demonstrate a point. Service Animals are critical parts of their human’s life. A Guide Dog who is attacked or harassed by an off leash dog can potentially lead his human into danger. A Service Dog with a young girl in a wheel chair can injure her owner if a loose dog is allowed to jump on her back.

Service Animals are not pets. They are performing a very important job and it is imperative that we as dog owners do not interfere or allow our dogs to interfere with them. If I see a dog in a working vest or harness, I pretend the dog is invisible. If I happen to have a dog with me, I will make a concerted effort to avoid my dog engaging the Service Animal in any way. I advise everyone to do the same.

Some folks have told me that they pity the dog, like maybe the dog just wants to run and play. I can guarantee you that a Service Animal is happy with their life and they do have times to just be a dog. While they are helping their human cross Michigan Avenue is not that time.

So please, remember. Service Animals, while working should be invisible. They often have a life on the line while they are working and it is our job to let them do theirs.

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— February 25, 2014 —

I turned down a training job last night.
Why would a dog trainer turn down a training job?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

As a trainer, one of my biggest challenges has been to recognize my own limitations. When I first got started training, I really wanted to be able to fix every behavioral issue and save every problem dog. I have since learned that I can’t.

Last night, an old client came in with his girlfriend. She has a 7 year old beagle named Bailey with a few behavioral issues. Basically, Bailey bites his mom. He bites her over toys, bites her over his position on the couch and he recently bit her boyfriend because he tried to break up a fight between the beagle and his now senior English bulldog. Bailey had attacked the bulldog seemingly out of nowhere.

When I got the phone call, I immediately suspected that there were issues at play that were deeper than what training/behavior modification could fix. Bailey was a senior dog that was described as “nervous and high strung” by the owner. She had adopted him three or so years ago. When he was first adopted, he experienced a couple of siezures. There had only been two that she knew of, so they attributed it to the stress of the adoption and moving into a new home. Bailey had displayed some resource-guarding issues when she first adopted him, which had been worked out. He had also been defensive about being moved from the couch, but she had also made major improvements on that by working with him.

A critical point was made during our discussion. The owners related that Bailey had been much better on his “issues” up until about 3 weeks ago. That was when he had suddenly started showing the old bad behaviors. The bites aren’t extremely damaging. It’s scary and there are scratches, but nothing requiring a trip to the hospital.

During the evaluation, the dog did seem somewhat stressed. He was uncomfortable in the lobby, but never displayed any aggression. He let me pet him and seemed friendly enough. I tried a few tests and never solicited anything more than a startle. He never stiffened, barked or snapped. If I had not heard the back story, I would have thought he was just a normal dog who was nervous about being in a new place with lots of strange dogs.

Whenever a dog shows aggression, especially when it is part of a rapid temperament or behavioral change, the problem needs to be evaluated as a behavioral cause v/s a medical cause. Is the issue caused by simple behavioral changes, or is there a medical issue at play? The thought did cross my mind; the old, “He just needs someone to show him whose boss” idea. Some folks would just think that this dog is just being “dominant” and needed firm training and a more assertive owner. I discarded that idea pretty much immediately for two reasons.
  1. The dog was biting his owner, not a stranger. As a training issue, I generally feel that it is more serious of an issue when a dog bites their owner vs. when a dog that bites a complete stranger. Of course, biting anyone is bad, but biting the “hand that feeds” is to me a bigger challenge as far as training/behavior modification goes.

  2. The dog had suddenly started showing aggressive behaviors that had been successfully dealt with in the past. Since the initial issues were essentially corrected, the sudden increase in aggression indicated that the dog needed to be evaluated by a vet. Chronic pain, hypothyroidism and epilepsy, among other things, can all trigger aggression in dogs. This dog was certainly old enough to have arthritis or thyroid issues and had experienced seizures in the past. All of this pointed to a possible medical cause for his aggression.
Lastly, any time a dog displays aggression, there may be a learned component to it. What this means is that there actually may be a need for additional training once medical causes are either ruled out or addressed. I did ask the clients to follow up with me after the dog had been seen by a vet. If there is a medical issue that they can address, it may be the end of his issues. However, Bailey may have re-learned some of his old, bad behavior. The work that was done years ago may need to be refreshed to help him become re-desensitized to his triggers. However, without addressing the medical stuff, no amount of training is likely to help.

If I get an update from the owners, I will post a follow-up to this Tail. Please check back over the next few weeks to see what we learn.

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— February 18, 2014 —

“I can’t get a dog until I have a fenced-in yard for him.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I hear it all the time. “I have to wait to get a yard before I get a dog.” I can tell you for a fact that that is not true. A yard can be a nice perk for your dog, but a yard can also cause serious behavioral issues for your dog.

I don’t have a yard, and I have dogs. Actually, I have two large dogs and a foster dog in a 2 bedroom apartment in the city. I also volunteer with K9 4 KEEPS and try to help dogs find perfect homes with people in Chicago and the surrounding area.

As a rescue, K9 4 KEEPS (unlike some rescues out there) doesn’t require an adopter have a fenced-in yard in order to adopt from us. I walk my dogs and as a dog trainer, I recommend EVERYONE walk their dogs — whether they have a yard or not.

I have had a number of clients come in with dogs who have behavioral issues. Sometimes it’s a simple issue of not having gotten the dog out for enough socialization in the real world. Often these clients have situations that have resulted from using the yard as an exercise area, a potty area and a training area. Basically, all the dog ever knows is the yard that they grew up in. They never get to experience the “real world” and all the things it contains. A dog that has grown up in the ’burbs and learned to walk, potty and sit and lay down in their yard never learns to deal with the rest of the world.

About a year ago, I had a dog that moved to the city with his young owner who had been raised in a yard in the ’burbs. Cammy is a mixed breed dog that was raised in just that type of situation. She was basically a yard and house dog and never went many other places. When her young owner got her first job and moved out of her parent’s house, Cammy moved to the city with her. The move triggered all sorts of behavioral issues. She was very reactive to other dogs on while on walks and God forbid she see a jogger. We have worked together for quite a while to help resolve those and she’s making progress. Of course, Cammy’s owner didn’t foresee these issues, but this is exactly why we are writing this Tail today.

Having a yard, in and of itself isn’t an issue. It’s relying on the yard for all of your dog’s training, housebreaking, exercise and socialization needs that is the problem. I say it all the time, “Your dog needs a BIG world, not a small world.” What this means is that your dog needs to experience lots of new things, people and places. If all your dog ever experiences is what happens in your yard, he’ll be woefully unprepared for the boarding kennel, doggie park or even a visit to the next family reunion.

Another thing is this. A dog behind a fence can become overstimulated by seeing exciting things outside his fence. Even worse, a dog that gets teased by kids through a fence can develop serious issues with youngsters. If a dog is let out in a fenced yard, I strongly recommend that the human stay out with the dog to supervise him. The fenced-in yard offers nice containment, but terrible training.

Lastly, no matter how big your apartment, house or yard is, you still have to take your dog outside for exercise. Keeping the last couple of paragraphs in mind, this means that your dog will need you to take him lots of new places. Ultimately, in order to have a well mannered and balanced pet, you will have to walk your dog. So, whether or not you have a yard need not factor into your decision to get your new best friend now or later.

So, if you think you’d like add a dog to your family, but think you need to wait until you have a yard, don’t wait. Do it! Your best friend is waiting.

P.S. If you happen to need some help finding that perfect companion, please check out K9 4 KEEPS Adoptables!

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— January 28, 2014 —

Train, Don’t Restrain
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I have a million of ‘em. Little quips that I repeat constantly. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but there are a few “Daniel-isms” that help people understand what I am trying to explain.

“Train, Don’t Restrain” is one of them and may be my favorite. All too often, people unknowingly cause and encourage bad behavior in their dogs by the simple act of holding them back. A dog that is excited to meet another dog will often pull, lunge and bark at the other dog. This behavior is rooted in the dog’s natural desire to interact with the other dogs it will encounter.

That excitement can become a serious issue when it builds up to the point of causing a fight between the dogs. When the dog is restrained, the excitement causes frustration, which in turn increases the stimulation level of BOTH dogs and can spiral into aggression very quickly.

You may have seen a protection-trained, police or military working dog that charges down field and bites a bad guy. I have some experience with these dogs and contrary to what people often think, these dogs do not bite because they are scared or angry. The biting that these dogs do is created by stimulating (exciting) the dog with a training toy. Usually, we start when they are pups. As young dogs, they are teased with tug toys while the handler restrains the dog. The trainer gets them to bark and lunge while the handler pets the puppy and encourages them. Over time, this builds stimulation and a desire to bite. That stimulation (excitement) is channeled into the needed behaviors like biting a bad guy who is threatening the handler. This obviously skips over a lot of the details, but it’s basically how young working dogs are started off.

So, the next time you hear someone say, “I don’t understand why my dog is so good off-leash, but tries to attack every dog he sees when he is on-leash, you’ll know why.” It GENERALLY happens when the owner, unwittingly encourages more stimulation and frustration in their leashed dog, just like how working puppies are started. (I say generally, because there are exceptions to every rule.)

What are the options if holding your dog back is such a bad idea? Simple. Training. A well-trained dog is one that has learned to self-regulate in stimulating situations. A well-trained dog can absolutely maintain it’s composure in the presence of another dog. I was at a vet’s office last night and saw this exact thing play out. The poor owner had been through a couple of trainers, but whenever any dog got within 10-12 feet of her dog, he would explode. I got the feeling talking to her that she was about to give up and just accept that this was who he is. Hopefully we’ll see him for an evaluation soon. I feel for people who think that they have no choice but to deal with behavior like this. It is at best uncomfortable and at worst dangerous.

So, remember, “Train, Don’t Restrain.” Your dog will be better for it.

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— January 21, 2014 —

Private Jelly, Reporting For Duty!
by Jelly Belly Butterfly

Jelly here. I’m not really in the Army, but tomorrow, I get to hang out with a bunch of guys and girls who were in the Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy, and maybe a Coast Guard guy or gal too. I will be once again reporting for duty to Jesse Brown VA Medical Center for Canine Therapy Corps’ animal assisted therapy program!

I’m very happy to be “getting back to work.” This will be the second 10 weeks that Canine Therapy Corps has had at JBVAMC. I was practically just a pup last time, but now I’m all grown up and ready to show the new dogs how it’s done.

They tell me that this therapy program is good for the veterans I work with. I think they like it, but I can tell you that it’s good for me too. Since I’m a dog, I like having new experiences. Some of it can be stressful, but like you humans, I learn and grow from new experiences.

The work itself requires a lot of concentration, but I am rewarded generously for my efforts. Between the treats and attention, I practically feel like a rock star. You wouldn’t believe how happy people are to see me. I can hardly get into the hospital without getting stopped every few minutes with people asking about my job, my training or my cool blue vest. (Well, I think it’s blue. It’s kind of hard for me to tell, being partially color blind and all.)

My humans are there too, but they basically sit back while I do all the heavy lifting. I mean, they wouldn’t even fit through the tunnel that I go through. Seriously, while I’m out there performing my obedience and even doing agility, all they have to do is sit and watch. How boring it must be for them… They don’t even get treats until graduation day. Really, I feel a little sorry for them.

Whatever, I’m enjoying the job and the veterans seem to love seeing me every week. Can you blame them? I think I’ll try to get the humans more involved this time around. I think they could at least do the agility jumps, don’t you?

There are other dogs there who do the same job. Last time, we had a pit bull, a hound dog and a spaniel girl with some serious fur. We all got paired up with a veteran for the entire 10 weeks. I got to meet all of the people and dogs, but I primarily focused on one guy. He was my person for the entire time. We learned to work together and he taught me a new trick. Hopefully he comes to visit while I’m there for the next session.

Well, hope you all enjoyed reading this. I’m off to the spa at Bark Avenue Playcare now. Have to get my hair and nails done for my big day tomorrow. Woof!

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— January 14, 2014 —

The Momentary Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I recently had a client who signed up for training. After 4 lessons, they wanted to quit without warning. I was taken kind of by surprise. We had really just started and things were going well, as far as I could tell. He had only one setback with me. On his fourth lesson, he bit me while I was getting him ready to go home.

I wrote an article a few months back about asking your dog trainer how many time they had been bitten by the dogs they trained. How they answered that question would tell you a lot about their experience and skill level. It was intended to be a slightly funny, but also somewhat serious article. I mentioned in that article that I had been bitten a few times, but it doesn’t happen all that often any more … two weeks later I get bit. That’ll teach me to be cocky, won’t it?

Sparky, the dog that bit me is a houndy mixed breed that came in for fear based aggression in the first place. His aggression was obvious, but the bites were pretty minor. He would grab but slip off. He didn’t bear down or puncture the people he bit, so I felt comfortable accepting him as a client. (DISCLAIMER: Please do see a professional if you have an aggressive dog. Every aggression case is unique. There are aggression cases that even I couldn’t take on.)

After 4 lessons, Sparky and I had gotten to be pretty good friends and he actually barked for attention when he saw me come into work. He has 2 dads, Bob and John (not their real names of course). John does most of the pick ups and I work mostly with him directly. Due to scheduling issues, Bob has only been to Bark Avenue twice.

John and Bob, by their own admission have coddled Sparky a little. I think that a big part of his issue is from that and we have discussed it and his dads are working on being less “coddly.”

The day Sparky bit me, he was being picked up by Bob. This was Bob’s second time at Bark Avenue. I had been working Sparky on a slip lead, which is usually how I start new dogs. We did our lesson and I brought him over to Bob. As we were both working on swapping Sparky’s slip lead for his personal equipment, I saw him stiffen. In my head I thought, “He tensed up, we’re both hovering over him....Oh, he won’t bite me. We’re buddies now.” At about that time, he bit me. It was a typical bite for him. Scratching but no punctures. I pulled him back, got him away from his dad, finished switching the equipment and sent him home.

That was the last time I saw him for a while. John and Bob decided that Sparky must had gotten scared by being at Bark Avenue all day which was why he bit me, which means he shouldn’t come back. I followed up with them after a bit and got their side of it. I’m really glad I did.

I read a statement once that went like this. “Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you went in there? Well, your dog lives his whole life that way.” I don’t know who came up with that, but it’s brilliant.

What I mean by the title, “The Momentary Dog” is exactly that. Your dog lives moment to moment and is reacting to whatever he sees, feels, hears right then and there. How he reacts to those stimuli is dictated by his genetics first and foremost, then guided by his training or lack of it. Sparky did not bite me because of ANYTHING from earlier in the day. He didn’t care about last week or anything before that moment. In all honesty, I made a mistake. I saw the bite coming, but made the incorrect assumption that he would not bite because he was generally fine with me.

The real reason Sparky bit me was the hovering. Bob and I were both crowding him and that made him uncomfortable. Another point that needs to be made is this. If you have a concern with your trainer. Talk to them. John and Bob were uncomfortable with a situation, but if I had not followed up, we would have no idea why. The bite scared them and rightly so. If your trainer is a true professional, they will discuss your concerns. If they refuse to talk or belittle you, find a new trainer. I know that Bob and John may read this. Since we have discussed all of this, I think they will understand why I chose to write about their story. Hopefully it will help someone who may not understand why their dog can be one dog one moment and a completely different dog the next.

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— January 7, 2014 —

This week’s Tail is brought to you by Doggie Manners with Patience. Patience apprenticed at Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc and learned about the “Long Down” as part of our program. Many trainers use the Long Down, or a Place command. I happen to use my famous green boxes at Bark Avenue. Here is part of the reason why.

The Long Down
by Doggie Manners with Ms. Manners
(Patience Hayes)

What is a Long Down and What is it Good For?

I can see it my client’s eyes; they are watching me and they are kind of listening, but they have questions. “Why are we doing this?!” While I am working with their dog and explaining, I can see that they’ve already tuned out, not hearing my explanations…not that I worry, mind you; the dogs always learn the task, owners generally include this exercise in their training homework, but many remain slightly puzzled about its benefits.

The short answer is, “Try this at home on rainy days and see if you can tell the difference.” The results, however, may be too subtle to tell in one afternoon. I can relate this to a doctor’s anecdote: Dr. Smith prescribes pill-x to Mr. Grubbs; Mr. Grubbs calls Dr. Smith two days later to tell him that the medicine is not working…

Mr. Grubbs: “This pill is not doing anything!”
Dr. Smith: “Well, how are your symptoms, Mr. Grubbs?”
Mr. Grubbs: “Oh, them, why, they’re about gone. That’s not the problem; it’s this medicine; it’s not doing anything….”

Pill-x works without any noticeable side effects, so the patient assumes that pill isn’t working. In the meantime, his illness clears up!

Now, I’m not going to promise you that regularly practicing “long downs” with your dog will fix all ills, but I will tell you that such practice will improve the life of your dog and help to curb unwanted behaviors. Huh?!

First, let me explain what a “long down” is: It is otherwise known as a “down-stay”, but generally, I will have your dog perform this for longer periods — a half hour minimum. Yes, an hour or more. At this point, some of you might be thinking that my “long downs” are just too much for your sweet doggie, but, trust me. They are not!

There are two major benefits to the long down. One is that your dog learns restraint. He learns to hold himself back. That is a big deal! If a new person or a new dog walks in the room, your dog is likely to be up and investigating. If a ball rolls in front of him, or a cat runs through the yard, dogs are up and on their feet, checking things out, or chasing, whichever the situation requires. Once your dog learns to maintain his position in a down, until your release command, he must hold himself back through whatever happens. This is no easy task for most dogs! If you stepped into my parlor on any given day, you might see a “newby” to the practice, practically trembling in his long down! He may look scared, if you didn’t know any better, but, actually he is working harder than he’s ever worked before, which brings me to the second major benefit…

Long downs make good dogs. That’s right! A favorite saying of dog-trainers is, “A worn out dog is a good dog!” It might surprise you to hear that staying in one place can wear a dog out more than a brisk walk, but it’s true. Most dog behavior is based on instinct, but the long down tires them out, because it makes them use their brains! Today, I put my dogs in a long down, while I cooked. It was a rainy day, and they hate rain, so there wasn’t much exercise, but as soon as dinner was over, they passed out as if we’d walked for miles! Every time you take advantage of a long down, your dog’s obedience will get a boost! Practicing long downs is also practicing restraint. Practicing long downs gives your dog an “activity”. He may not look active, but he sure is doing something! Every time you give your dog a job, he has an activity. With every activity, the chance of your Jimmy Choo’s survival is increased! Now do you see the benefits? :-)

Happy training,
“Miss Manners”


For more info about training in the Augusta, Georgia area please contact Patience at Doggie Manners with Patience. In Chicago contact Daniel at Bark Avenue Playcare.

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— December 3, 2013 —

In loving memory of “Big Bud.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.


We just got some sad news. Our old friend “Big Bud” passed away on Thanksgiving Day. Bud’s mom Kelly is one of our oldest clients. She’s been with us since our humble beginnings on Madison St. Her first dog Winston passed a few years back and when she got Bud, she brought him right in. He’s been a fixture in daycare ever since.

Bud was about the mellowest (If “mellowest” isn’t a word, it is now.) boy we ever did meet. His name came from the fact that when she first adopted him, he was just the tiniest bit overweight. Kelly took care of that and got him down to a much healthier weight. His strong affinity for food made keeping him trim a challenge, but Kelly did a great job.

Big Bud was one of our “tester dogs.” If we ever needed to see how social a dog was with a big, friendly, mellow dog, Big Bud was the first one I wanted. He was non-threatening and calm. He was a gentleman to a fault.

We learned a while back that Bud was having liver issues. He was a senior dog by then, so we knew the inevitable outcome. Unfortunately, these things always come too soon and Kelly has had to say goodbye. We offer her and her family our deepest condolences.

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— November 26, 2013 —

Turkey Day Delights.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

The Holiday edition. When you are enjoying your holiday meals, please know that there are certain tasty treats that you SHOULDN’T give your dog.

Every year folks ask me about the things they can give their dog to eat during the holidays. After all, Thanksgiving Christmas and Chanukah celebrations as well as many other celebrations this time of year revolve around food. When we are enjoying all the festivities, it’s only natural to want to share the feast with your best friend.

It’s important to realize that not everything that is delicious and nutritious for us is safe for our dogs. In fact, some of the food we eat without a second thought may be downright dangerous to our dogs. Some of the things that we can eat are toxic enough to make our dogs sick, even toxic enough to be fatal.

Almost everyone knows that dark chocolate is a no-no for dogs, but did you know that grapes can be fatal? It seems that not all dogs will react to grapes, but there have been cases of fatal kidney damage after dogs have ingested grapes. This holds true of any grape product, raisins, wine and so on.

The list of dangerous items that you may be eating this holiday season is long and may be somewhat surprising. It includes (but is not limited to) grapes, onions, garlic, chocolate, macadamia nuts, and avocados. Sugar free sweets such as gum and hard candies pose a very serious problem. These often contain the food additive Xylitol. Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs and can be lethal in very small doses.

Fatty foods and spicy foods also pose a danger as too much fat or pepper can cause pancreatitis in dogs. Pancreatitis is something you want to avoid. Although it can come on idiopathically (without known cause), there’s no reason to increase the risk by feeding fatty or spicy foods.

Something most people don’t think about is the relative size of your dog to the portion you choose to feed. While a small bit of turkey skin isn’t much to my 100 lb Rottweiler, that same piece of skin can represent a huge fat intake to a 15 lb dog. A little bit of mashed potatoes with gravy to you may be three days worth of calories to your small dog. All of this needs to be taken into account when you decide to give your dog a little “holiday treat.”

This is not to say that you can’t give your dog anything special during the holiday season. If your dog isn’t particularly sensitive to new foods, a small portion of lean meat makes a fine treat. (I just recommend that he get the treat in his normal bowl, so he doesn’t start to beg at the table.) Many vegetables are fine for your dogs as well. I give my dogs green beans and carrots and they always seem to enjoy it.

This article isn’t intended to make you aware of ALL the things you shouldn’t feed your dog this holiday season. I just want to make people aware of risks and encourage you to only feed items you know are safe. When it comes to giving my dogs different food items, my motto is, “If in doubt, leave it out.”

If your dog does happen to get into something and get a little gastric upset, canned pumpkin mixed in with a bland diet of beef and cooked rice helps to settle the gut tremendously. Don’t get pie filling with the spices. Plain old pumpkin does the trick. Of course this is not meant to be used if your dog gets ahold of the dangerous stuff mentioned above. If that is the case, a visit to your vet may be in order.

So, as much as you think Fido just can’t live without his own Thanksgiving plate, with all the “fixins” please do both of you a favor and only give things that you know are safe and healthy.

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— November 19, 2013 —

Who’s therapy is it anyway?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Canine therapy work is interesting, demanding and rewarding, but who gets the most out of it? I really don’t know.

Tomorrow is my first graduation. Not from high school or college, but from my first every therapy program. My dog Jelly and Amy and I have been volunteering at the Jesse Brown Veteran’s Administration Medical Center (JBVA) for the last ten weeks. This Canine Therapy Corps program is the first time JBVA has had a goal-directed, group therapy dog program for the veterans there, and tomorrow we graduate.

I think the graduation is really intended to be for the veterans and the dogs, but I feel like I’m graduating as well. In the dozen or so years I’ve been training dogs, I’ve trained them to be in magazines, on T.V. shows and I've competed in obedience and protection trials. Despite all that, I can honestly say that I have not enjoyed anything I’ve done with my dogs more than this program.

I’ve trained quite a few dogs to be “therapy dogs” for Canine Therapy Corps. I have long appreciated and supported their mission. The dogs that they certify are very special animals and I have known all along that they bring a great deal of comfort to the patients they work with. I have a whole new level of understanding now that I have participated in a program first hand.

The certification test to be a Canine Therapy Corps dog is tough. When most people think of “Therapy Dogs” they imagine a happy dog that visits hospital patients and nursing homes to brighten the patients’ day. That is correct for many therapy dog programs. With Canine Therapy Corps however, Jelly’s job is different. Her leash and the responsibility for her for the hour is turned over to her veteran. The goal is to help the veteran build a mutually trusting and respectful relationship with her. This is done through obedience and agility exercises, as well as trick training. Teaching the dog something new teaches the human at the same time.

As an evaluator for Canine Therapy Corps, I have had to (unfortunately) tell a number of people that their dog wasn’t quite ready. It’s a let-down, but it just means that they will need to get back to training and prepare their dog a little bit better next time. I am a tough evaluator because as an x-ray technologist, I’ve worked in hospitals for over 20 years. I have a pretty good idea of what kind of chaos can actually happen in a hospital and I never want to certify a dog that might cause a problem in that setting.

But doing all of that never quite gave me the appreciation that actually participating in a program has given me. On the first day, Jelly was absolutely overjoyed to be there…she got to meet new people. After all, that is her favorite thing. Once the dogs got paired up with their veteran, we tell them that it’s “their dog” for the hour or so that they are working. We, the handlers, are there to support, instruct and facilitate, but the dog and veteran relationship should be at the forefront. We should be in the background.

I’m not trained in psychology, so I can’t explain all the complexities of a program or why it accomplishes what it does. I can only tell you what I observe. I have observed a guy who was a little nervous about a big, black, vocal dog become completely comfortable with her. I have observed a young woman go from being scared of big dogs to falling for a beautiful red pit bull. I’ve seen the quiet guy talk and crack a few jokes. Basically, I’ve seen people overcome things that they are uncomfortable with and I’ve seen barriers come down. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Watching Jelly go from looking to me for direction or trying to run back to me in the middle of a session, to learning that she is “working” for, someone else was an interesting experience as well. At first, as soon as she got the chance, she would run to wherever I was sitting. Now, after 10 weeks she really gets that she’s supposed to be working with “her” veteran. I don’t know if she realizes that she is doing “therapy,” but she is working for him AND enjoying it.

Part of our work includes sessions where these men and women discuss why they are there and what they are learning from the program. These sessions are a lesson in “stop my whining.” I am a veteran myself, but I served during the wind-down of the first Gulf War. My service was essentially a routine job where I got to shoot guns every once in a while. Some of these veterans are from the Vietnam era and some from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their service experiences are far different from mine. I respect them greatly.

I leave JBVA each week with a renewed sense of purpose. I feel like I am meant to be involved in this. As I walk the halls of JBVA, I am approached weekly by veterans who are interested in the dogs. They often express interest in having their own therapy or service dog and I try to guide them to people who can help. There are programs that place shelter dogs with veterans and provide training to the dogs so they can be of service to them. It’s a win-win and I am looking to get involved with a program like this as well.

The amount of time that goes into volunteering at the hospital is pretty minimal. It’s about 2 hours a week in total. What I get out of it lasts a lot longer, so I really do wonder. Who’s therapy is it anyway?

If you are interested in getting more information about Canine Therapy Corp, visit their website here: www.caninetherapycorps.org. If you’d like to have your dog evaluated for therapy work, please contact me directly at danielm@barkavenueplaycare.com. I will get back to you within a day or two. More info on Bark Avenue’s therapy dog preparation training on our webpage here: www.barkavenueplaycare.com/training/therapy.
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— November 12, 2013 —

by Lita Peterson
with Chicago Pet Care Examiner
Click here to go to the full article.

The Internet has been abuzz with reports about a potentially deadly “new dog virus” since dogs in Ohio and Michigan were struck with a serious and mysterious illness a couple of months ago. The suggested culprit? Circovirus, and it’s been alarming dog guardians ever since. However, there is an abundance of misinformation out there. Don’t panic; let’s look at some of the facts.

Is circovirus new?
No. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Circovirus was first identified in pigs more than 30 years ago. It has also been known to infect birds. However, it was first reported in dogs in June of 2012 as part of a genetic screening of samples for new canine viruses. In April of 2013, a similar virus was detected in a California dog that presented with severe vomiting (containing blood) and diarrhea at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

What is canine circovirus?
It is a small virus that infects dogs. Even though circovirus itself has been around for many years much still remains unknown. What is known is that the canine circovirus shares more similarities to the pig circovirus than to the avian one, but it is not exactly the same.

How are dogs being infected?
Click here to finish reading this article.

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— November 5, 2013 —

House Training for the Adult Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

One of the common issues I am asked about is house training. While house training a puppy is challenging, house training an older dog can be particularly challenging.

Capone is at my house right now. He’s a two year old shepherd mix that we are fostering for K9 4 KEEPS until he finds a home to call his own. He’s been with our rescue for a while now and we’re hoping the right place comes along soon. He has lived mostly in a kennel and at a vet’s office for the majority of his life, so as you can imagine, house training Capone has been a challenge.

Capone was rescued from an accidental breeding where two neighbors had unaltered dogs. Capone ended up with parvo, and fortunately he survived. He stayed at a vet for a while before he made his way to us. While living at a vet with parvo, he basically had no choice but to stay in a kennel all the time. Parvo gives a dog serious diarrhea, so he would just eliminate in his cage. Since he learned to eliminate in the cage, his house training was made that much harder.

When I think of house training a puppy, I generally think of crating the puppy, both for his safety when I can’t watch him and to encourage the pup to hold his bowel and bladder. Puppies (usually) have an instinctive resistance to eliminating where they have to sleep, so the crate facilitates this. I make sure to take the puppy out every couple of hours, with a sigh of relief when the puppy can finally hold it through the night.

Once the pup makes the connection, we give more and more freedom as we realize the pup is learning to hold himself. The idea is to avoid giving the puppy any opportunity to eliminate in the house. If it happens, we make no big deal about it and clean it up. Make a mental note and try to figure out what the time limit or situation was that caused it. Of course, we know we need to take a puppy out as soon as he wakes up from a nap, after eating or drinking and after vigorous play sessions. All of these things can make the puppy “go.”

(As a side note, I cannot over-stress the importance of NOT punishing your puppy if he has an accident. Your puppy most likely won’t figure out that it is because he is inside. He will just figure that he shouldn’t go in front of you. Therefore when you walk him, he’ll think he shouldn’t go in front of you. Dogs that have been punished often run in back the house and hide to do their business, even after a very long walk. You will make your house training that much more difficult if you punish your puppy for “accidents.”)

There are a few things that can screw up the puppies natural desire to not soil his sleeping area. Living in a pet store cage is one of them. Hopefully you don’t plan to buy a dog from a pet store, but if you do, know that living in a kennel at a store forces a puppy to eliminate where it sleeps. This can really make the house training difficult since they have overcome the desire to have a clean sleeping area.

Capone basically had the same situation with the added challenge of having lots of messes in his cage. It was unavoidable due to his illness and we’re making significant progress.

I mentioned before that certain things trigger the dog to have to go. Eating and playing can get even an older dog to have to go. I have observed also, that in a well house trained dog, the simple act of going out can have a similar triggering effect. My older male rottie can pretty much hold it forever, but will go number 2 every time I take him out, even if he has gone pretty recently and he hasn’t had anything to eat. He just has to do it. Capone has a similar reaction to going in a kennel. It makes him poop, even if he doesn’t really have to.

Going to the bathroom on a leash was also a challenge for Capone. He just didn’t know what to do when he was outside on a leash. We have overcome this through the use of treats. He goes outside and if he does his business, he gets a treat. He’s figured out how to make the treats appear by doing his business. He even tries to get an extra treat occasionally, by squatting after he’s completely finished.

Capone is about 3/4 of the way there. He is now going to the bathroom outside with consistency. He seems to know what he is out there for. While he’s not completely against the idea of going in the house, he is getting better. He sleeps in bed (yes, we allow that and I don’t care what the “old wives tails” say about him dominating me for it) and will hold it all night. Also, we have been waiting a bit to take him out in the mornings. As long as we make him stay in bed, he will hold it. It’s like using a kennel. He doesn’t go where he sleeps, but we can’t use an actual kennel as I noted earlier.

We don’t give Capone a lot of freedom. If he doesn’t do his business on a walk, he is leashed to Amy or me and kept very close. I have a few times not taken him out after 30 minutes inside and the next walk was successful. Also, we make a point to take him out every 2-3 hours. As a rule, I don’t depend on my dogs to tell me when they need to go out. I have an idea when they need to go and I take them. In general, if they have to tell me, I feel like I’ve made them wait too long. When we can’t keep Capone tethered to us, he is confined to a bedroom where we have piddle pads. He tends to have his accidents in one corner, so that corned is covered in piddle pads. After going through a case and a half of piddle pads, I can say that our piddle pad usage does seem to be declining. So that’s good.

House training a dog like Capone is difficult, but it can be done. If you understand how not to make the job harder, you can get good success. Capone has been with us for about 4 weeks and he has made major progress. I really think that if we stay consistent for a couple more weeks, he’ll figure it out.

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— October 29, 2013 —

What is BSL?
by Tim Wienckowski


BSL is the common acronym for Breed Specific Legislation and refers to laws passed by a legislative body against a certain breed or breeds of dog. The laws generally include restrictions or bans of breeds. Restrictions can include banning the breed from public areas, mandatory muzzling, posting signage at your home and registering your animal. The US military has banned “large dog breeds with a predisposition toward aggressive or dangerous behavior,” from military housing and have clarified this definition to include Pit Bull type dogs. The same dogs who were once decorated war heroes and stared in military ad campaigns. Although most of the attention is focused on Pit Bull type dogs, breeds of dogs that have legislation against them include: American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinchers, Shar Peis, German Shepherds, Belgian Malanois, Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Great Danes, Irish Wolf Hounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Mastiffs, Boerboels, American Bull Dogs, Akitas, Chow Chows, English Mastiffs, Tosa Inu, Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, Cane Corso, Bull Terrier, Wolf Hybrids, and any Pit Bull mix or dogs with the characteristics of a Pit Bull. BSL assumes that certain breeds of dog are inherently dangerous by their nature to the public. Further, if dangerous animals are not permitted to be owned or are registered and monitored, it would certainly reduce the number of incidents and protect the safety of the public. That is if the targeted breed is inherently dangerous.

Studies have shown that BSL is not effective at reducing the number of bites, fatalities and is an inefficient way to address dog bites/attacks. The American Bar Association produced a study on breed specific legislation and they state “the American Bar Association urges all state, territorial, and local legislative bodies and governmental agencies to adopt comprehensive breed-neutral dangerous dog/reckless owner laws that ensure due process protections for owners, encourage responsible pet ownership and focus on the behavior of both dog owners and dogs, and to repeal any breed discriminatory or breed specific provisions.” In this report, it was found that one county in Maryland spent more than $560,000 in two years to enact their Pit Bull on maintenance of the dogs. They seized over 900 “Pit Bull type dogs”, which were not necessarily Pit Bulls by DNA testing but by the eye test. More than 80% of these dogs were maintained for processing, trial and eventually euthanized, not because of history of aggression or posing a threat, but because of their appearance. It is estimated that Pit Bulls account for 5 million of the nation’s 72 million dogs. The cost to enact BSL would come with a staggering price tag.

Dangerous Dog Laws have been in place in Europe for a number of years and are now being found ineffective in studies in the UK, Spain and the Netherlands. It has been found that breed bans have not reduced the number of incidents and had no effect on stopping dog attacks. Studies found that regulation of breed or appearance was not effective and recommended education on proper animal care and handling to curb attacks and bites. Further, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that you would have to eliminate 100,000 dogs of a particular breed to eliminate one serious bite. In a 2009 article discussing the impact BSL has had on Denver, Colorado twenty years after the ban was enacted, the director of Denver Animal Control admitted that “he is unable to say with any certainty whether it has made Denver any safer. Labrador Retrievers — the most popular dog breed — are the most likely dog to bite in the Denver metropolitan area.”

It’s clear that what these laws do not do, is target bad or irresponsible owners or dogs with a history of aggression. Many well meaning, but uneducated or inexperienced owners do not know what it takes to properly raise, train, socialize and manage any dog. A powerful breed in their hands could result in a serious bite (approx. 1 in 100,000 per the study discussed above). This doesn’t address the problem of lack of education and proper handling skills. These owners would likely create a dangerous dog of any breed. A Pit Bull or Rottweiler in the right hands is far less dangerous than a Labrador or Golden Retriever in the wrong hands. These laws also don’t target individual dogs with a history of aggression, only breeds. Bite data only records an incident and breed. It doesn’t account for repeat offenders. Some dogs, regardless of breed, can have serious behavioral issues that can be responsible for several bites while most Pit Bulls, Rotties and Doberman Pinchers are loyal and loving family dogs.

In the US, many states, counties and towns have their own versions of BSL. Many of these laws include bans forcing families to part with their pets, restricting where families owning these breeds are able to live, include hefty fines for violations, or could have pets removed from their family by law enforcement. Few jurisdictions have laws that evaluate dogs “dangerous” or “vicious” based on personality or history of aggression. Many laws include common Pit Bull breeds but also note that dogs with the characteristics of a Pit Bull could be determined a Pit Bull for enforcement of the law. Dogs that are not Pit Bulls but could be misidentified as pit bulls face the same danger as no DNA testing is done. Which is why this isn’t just a Pit Bull problem, but every dog lover’s problem.

As kids we learn to never judge a book by its cover. We are taught to judge people by their actions and not physical appearance. Yet BSL and the bad rap of these breeds are fueled by a rush to judgment. Do the right thing and meet a few Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and German Shepherds before passing judgment and understand that there are good and bad dogs of every breed and ultimately, every dog is different. The responsibility for a dog’s actions should not be shouldered by dogs based on breed or appearance. It is an individual responsibility. As owners, we must be accountable for our actions or lack of action and what we create or fail to create.

Resources
AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION RESOLUTION
American Humane Association
BadRap.Org
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— October 22, 2013 —

What it means to be a foster.
by Tim Wienckowski

I started fostering almost two years ago. In that time, I fostered several dogs, each with different personalities and needs. Buster was a goofy puppy born to a stray dog who needed to be housebroken and socialized. Bella was a deaf and active puppy who needed to be exercised and learn to calm down in the house. Chooch lived almost all of his life in a kennel and needed to be socialized and learn to trust people. Above all else, every foster dog needed love and a stress free environment for them to recover from the shock of being impounded or discarded by their former families.

There are many benefits the dogs receive being fostered. When you become a foster, you welcome a homeless pet into your family to provide love, structure and a little training. You don’t have to be Cesar Milan, but dogs with basic obedience are much more adoptable and that is the goal after all. Training can include basic obedience (sit, down), house breaking, leash etiquette, minor behavior modification (to correct problems such as jumping, mouthing, barking, destructive chewing, dashing through doors, etc.) as well as socialization and assessing their temperament to determine whether the dog is good with different types of people and other animals. Foster dogs gets a chance to recover from the stress of being kenneled and can learn some house manners so they have a better chance of a successful transition when they find their forever homes. Even a little time with a family, away from the confined space of a kennel and the continual barking, can improve an animal's disposition.

For many foster parents, the biggest concern is falling in love. You have to keep in mind, if you adopt the dog, you may not be able to keep on fostering. It might not be easy to give up a dog that has become part of your family temporarily, but each dog you foster is a reflection of all the work you accomplished together and a piece of you will forever be with that dog. You should take pride in knowing this and that you helped to find your foster a loving forever home. And if that home should end up being your own, I can think of worse outcomes.

Dogs aren’t the only ones who benefit. It’s very rewarding to be a foster parent. I was able to watch each dog I fostered grow to become a better dog and find their way into a loving home. I really enjoy every chance to hear about how they are doing and see pictures of them in their forever homes. My dog loves playing with her foster brothers and sisters and has helped with training. She has been a great model of what is expected and the fosters learn fairly quickly to follow her example. If you already have a dog, it’s a great way to provide play time and exercise while also working on socializing both dogs.

Rescues also benefit greatly from fosters. Fosters provide much of the day-to-day care, some transportation, socialization, and training. Rescues simply cannot provide all of these services for all dogs on their own and the cost involved can limit the services and number of dogs a rescue can help. Fosters also become an expert on their dogs behavior and can provide a more accurate description of the dogs personality and temperament in a home environment. This helps the rescue in finding a suitable, forever home for their dogs. Additionally, a rescue can expand the number of dogs they can take on at one time if they have a strong network of foster homes to help.

Finally, future adopters benefit from dogs being in foster homes. Their new pet will have a strong foundation of home skills and maybe some basic obedience to work with. Adopting a dog that was in a foster home will give you the most accurate picture into what that dog will be like in your home. Often, dogs full personalities do not show in a shelter under all the stress of that environment. Some dogs who appear rambunctious may settle down in a home while some that shut down turn out to be very playful and sweet and some are exactly as they seem in their kennel. You really never know for sure.

I would like to encourage all dog lovers with the time and space to open your home to foster a dog to give it a try. While all rescues hope foster homes are available until that dog finds a home, some rescues may be flexible with your time commitment so don’t be afraid to ask. If you travel for work and can only foster the weeks you are in town or have a busy weekday schedule but can provide a vacation from the kennel on weekends, all time spent is valuable to the rescue and especially to the dogs.


Interested in fostering for K9 4 KEEPS? Fill out their online application here.


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— October 15, 2013 —

Pit Bulls Then and Now
by Tim Wienckowski

A hundred years ago Pit Bull type dogs were as much of an American classic as baseball and were used to represent the bravery and reliability of Americans in WWI posters. They were in old family photographs with children hugging their block-headed pup, they were referred to as “nanny dogs” before Nana the Newfoundland was in Peter Pan and Petey from Little Rascals was famous on television. At this time, no one worried about Pit Bulls being aggressive killers with locking jaws. Before Pit Bulls were the bad dogs it was Rottweilers, before them it was Dobermans, before them it was German Shepherds. How did our perception of these dogs go from a popular American breed to unpredictable killers?



There is no doubt that Pit Bull type dogs can be considered intimidating in appearance. They are big- headed, muscular dogs and most have lots of energy. Everyone has heard that these dogs were bred for fighting which adds to the intimidation factor. The ancestors of modern day Pit Bulls came to America from England. The English immigrants used these dogs for a “sport” called baiting which involved pitting one or more dogs against wild animals such as bulls, bears or other large animals. When this was outlawed in the 1800s, people turned to dog fighting. What some people may not realize is that at this time dog fighting dogs were bred to be trustworthy and friendly to people. Any fighting dog that turned on a handler during a dog fight was put down in order to breed out human aggression or reactivity. Most of these dogs lived in the home of their owners with their children and were trustworthy and loyal members of their families.

By the 1860s most states made dog fighting illegal. At this time, Pit Bulls took on a broader purpose. Their size, strength, intelligence and loyalty made them the perfect dog for any task. They herded cattle and sheep, protected farms from thieves and predators, and were faithful guardians of their families. This is where the reputation grew as the iconic American dog of the late 19th and early 20th century. While most Pit Bulls were just family dogs at this time, underground dog fights were still popular in some circles and had a resurgence in the 1980s even though in 1976 dog fighting was outlawed federally.

Pit Bull type dogs’ intimidating appearance and history of dog fighting became a macho status symbol and dogs were often encouraged to act out aggressively. Pit Bulls’ popularity grew in low income urban communities where many were not trained properly, were not spayed or neutered and were hastily bred to make money on this new popularity. In the early 2000s law enforcement began to link dog fighting with criminal activity such as gambling, drugs and gangs. While serving an unrelated search warrant, Michael Vick was arrested for owning a dog fighting operation in 2007 and the media fallout seemed to blow the roof off the dog fighting and animal abuse problems in this country.

Sadly, this media attention also increased the buzz around Pit Bulls and the bad rap they had as being terribly aggressive dogs. The truth is some Pit Bulls are dangerous. Some Labradors are dangerous. Some mixed breed dogs are dangerous. This can be from a poor upbringing and no training or due to inherited traits from their parents. Some dogs with great heritage and all the training in the world end up being aggressive to the dismay of their owners. Two major factors involved in dog bites/attacks are whether children are supervised with dogs (88% of bites to children are unsupervised) and whether the dog has not been spayed or neutered (97% of fatal attacks in 2006). The breed alone is not the only factor that determines an animal’s level of aggression nor is it the best gauge of the likely hood of aggression. Each dog should be assessed as an individual because as most dog lovers know, each has its own goofy / happy-go-lucky / grouchy / aggressive personality. And within each breed this is also true.

Some of the same traits in Pit Bulls that were exploited for dog fighting are traits that make them terrific family dogs. In addition to being pure athletes, Pit Bulls inner qualities of confidence, strength, loyalty, intelligence and determination have saved numerous lives through the police work, military service, and search and rescue. These same qualities also make them great therapy dogs, service dogs, running partners or stand-outs in dog sports like agility or flyball.

Pit Bulls are a powerful breed of dog and respect for that powerful breed should not be lost. I do not recommend anyone run up to random Pit Bulls on the street and give them kisses or hugs. For that matter, I don’t recommend doing this to any dog as it’s inappropriate to do to a dog you don’t know. Because of the popularity discussed above, the breed is quite overpopulated. Many Pit Bulls were poorly bred for profit. Of nearly 11,000 cases of animal abuse through July 2012, 77.5% of cases involved Pit Bulls. Due to this there are dogs out there with behavioral issues (yet another reason to spay and neuter). This doesn’t inherently make them dangerous. There are also millions of adorable, cuddly, face lickers.

Most of the Pit Bulls I have been around want nothing more than to lean in for pets and kisses. There have also been several that came with some baggage. These dogs became very loving and loyal once you gained their trust, but they took a little longer to warm up. My own Pit mix, Sally, had a couple rough stops in her life before she got to me. She is now a certified therapy dog, one of the most social dogs at daycare and excels at snacks and nap time.

The important take away should be that Pit Bulls, above all else, are dogs. Their owners have some additional responsibility in understanding what they are capable of as a powerful breed (the same goes for owners of Dobermans, Mastiffs, Rotties, Huskies, and any other large or strong breed or mix). Obviously, a Cocker Spaniel or Chihuahua can be a dangerous dog, but aren’t physically capable of the same damage as a powerful breed. I think anyone owning a Pit Bull should be willing to put in a little extra work in socializing and training their dog to be sure they become the best they can be. I also think that saving a Pit results in more smiles and kisses, but I might be a little biased on that one.

Resources:
1. Aspca.org “The Truth About Pit Bulls”
2. Badrap.org “Breed History”
3. “Pit Bull Myths and Facts”
4. Cesarsway.com “How Did Pit Bulls Get Such A Bad Rap”


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Bark Avenue Playcare’s rescue arm, K9 4 KEEPS is an all-breed rescue. Neither Bark Avenue nor K9 4 KEEPS discriminates against pit bulls or any breed of dog. October 1, kicks off Pit Bull Awareness Month! Each day, we will post something pit bull related on K9 4 KEEPS Facebook page, such as information about the breed, adorable pictures of pitties, or stories about some of the wonderful pit bulls or pit mixes we know and love (and some who need homes, too!) We will share these posts on Bark Avenue’s Facebook page too. This Tuesday’s Tail is today’s post by Caroline Bodnar, one of K9 4 KEEPS board members.
— October 1, 2013 —

Pit Bull Awareness Month
by Caroline Bodnar

I have always been an animal lover, especially partial to dogs. Growing up, I remember being a little bit scared of my friend’s German Shorthair Pointer, and my cousins’ Golden Retriever. These dogs never harmed me, and were actually very nice dogs, but for some reason they made me a little nervous. Who knows why?! As I got older and was exposed to more dogs, German Shepherds made me a little nervous too. This fact has proved to have great irony, since I now have a big, smushy, hairy, male GSD who loves to lick my face, lay in my lap, and show me his belly.

A lot of people see a pit bull and they automatically think the pit bull is aggressive. I attribute this to the very negative way the media has portrayed this breed. My knowledge of pits started from watching Animal Cops on TV. Instead of seeing pit bulls as mean, scary dogs, I saw them as a breed that has been severely mistreated and exploited by humans. Watch Animal Cops, or look at any website of shelters or city pounds, and you will instantly see the staggering number of pit bulls who are emaciated, abused, neglected, and discarded.

I have encountered hundreds of dogs of all breeds, ages, and sizes as a result of my position in dog rescue as well as being a former employee of Bark Avenue Playcare. I have handled, played with, and helped train many, many pit bulls. I am now the proud owner of a deaf pit bull myself (K9 4 KEEPS alum Gypsy, formerly Bella). What I have learned is this: any dog of any breed can have any temperament. Sure, breeds have characteristics. That being said, the vast majority of pit bulls I know are friendly, wiggly, confident, and snuggly. Owning a pit bull is not for everyone, just like owning a small dog, or a dog who sheds a lot is not for everyone. What I do wish is that people who think pit bulls should be banned, and people who are scared of the breed in general, would take the time to get to know a pit bull or two, and see that these dogs can be sweet, social, wonderful family dogs, just like any other breed.

I hope you enjoy our Daily Pittie Posts! I’ll leave you with this adorable picture of my pack, which of course includes a little white pit bull who loves her brothers very much.

Please like our Facebook pages and check back all month long for a Daily Pittie Post:
Bark Avenue’s Facebook page
K9 4 KEEPS Facebook page

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— September 24, 2013 —

What is my dog eating?
by Tim Wienckowski

Searching for the right food can get complicated and making the right choice is as important as any decision for your dogs health. A trip down the food aisle at your pet store can be overwhelming with all the food choices. Labels are written in another language and all the advertisements show happy, healthy and energetic dogs running around loving their food. We all want that dog, but what food is the right choice? A fast food commercial always shows healthy people and we know that fast food isn’t healthy.

When I adopted Sally, I knew that I wanted to feed her quality food that she would love and would be good for her, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on the top of the line products. I received advice from several people on what they feed and what is good for their pups: grain free, omega 3s, raw diet, wet food, dry food. It seemed like the more information I received the less clear I was.

I decided to do a little research and find out what I can about the benefits and risks involved with different food choices. The first step I took was to understand what’s in dog food. Dog food contains a meat source, vegetable source, vitamins and minerals, preservatives and usually filler. The first ingredient you want to see are high quality proteins, high on the ingredient list. Meals, like chicken meal, lamb meal, etc. can contain several times the protein content per weight of meat (chicken, lamb). This is because meat is mostly water which is included in the weight, but cooks off in the process. Both are considered high quality sources of meat but ingredients are listed by weight so often, low quality dog foods will list a meat ingredient first, which will be followed by several by-products and fillers.

The second thing to look for are grains and fillers. Examples include corn, wheat, oats, rice and any processed version of grains. These ingredients bring minimal nutritional value to dogs and have been shown to cause diseases, cancer and obesity in dogs. The reason they are used is because they are cheap and marginally increase the protein content. Dogs are carnivores by nature and the majority of their natural diet is meat, bone and organs. The small portion of vegetables they do get usually is from the stomachs of their prey. It’s a little gross, I know. But understanding what they naturally would eat is vital to understanding what you should be feeding them. At no point prior to commercial pet food have cats or dogs ever eaten grains as part of their diet. The best options here are grain free. These foods are made using a pea or sweet potato base mostly which are much friendlier to a dogs digestive system.

Most dog foods will use preservatives as necessary to keep the food edible, however preservatives should not be artificial chemicals that might be cancer-causing agents. Avoid pet foods that use chemical preservatives BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin. Natural preservatives such as vitamin E and vitamin C are great alternatives that are much better for your dog.

I found a great site that reviews dog food (www.dogfoodadvisor.com). This site breaks down the ingredients of hundreds of different dog food options and discuss the health implications, positive or negative, of each ingredient. There is a simple five star rating system to rank the quality of the food. Another area of this site you may want to keep tabs on is the section on dog food recalls. It seems there are an increasing number of recalls the more big labels buy small labels and outsource the manufacturing to other countries where food safety is less regulated. Keeping tabs on recalls can help ensure you pet doesn’t get a bad batch of dog food.

Another option is feeding a raw diet. This has been getting more popular lately. I decided a few months ago to switch Sally to a raw diet due to the increasing number of dog food recalls. I was concerned that I wouldn’t keep up and she would end up getting sick. I purchased a book that a friend recommended, Raw Dog Food by Carina Beth Macdonald, and have been following that diet plan. A raw diet isn’t for everyone or every pet. I discussed this with my vet prior to starting the diet to ensure that she was healthy enough and that all dietary requirements were covered in her new diet. Please discuss with your vet prior to any drastic changes in your pets diet.

There are a few myths to a raw diet that I want to address. A raw diet is not necessarily more expensive than quality dry dog food. I was spending over $50 per month on dry dog food and now spend less than $40 on raw. Eating a raw diet has not turned my dog into a blood craving Kujo dog. Eating raw chicken is ok for dogs because they have stronger digestive enzymes than humans and a shorter digestive tract as well. Just think about all the other stuff they ate without getting sick (socks, sticks, poop, etc.). Chicken bones are not bad for dogs to eat raw. Cooked ones splinter, but dogs love raw meaty bones.

I don’t have any affiliation with the book or website I mentioned in the article. These are just what I used. I’m sure there are other options out there if you choose to do your own research. I hope reading this will inspire you to find out what is really in your dogs food. The answer may be shocking.

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— September 17, 2013 —

The high cost of (not) training your dog.
by Daniel McElroy

It can be expensive to have a dog trained by a professional, then again, it can cost a whole lot more to not have your dog trained.

I just had another conversation with a guy I see regularly. We’ll call him Sam. Sam works in my neighborhood. He has often related the problems his brother is having with his young German Shepherd Dog. He started talking to me a few months back when the dog was in his chewy, puppy stage and I gave him some advise on appropriate toys and how to manage the puppy to reduce and redirect the pup’s chewing. I think it helped because I never heard about it again.

A few months later, Sam starts to tell me that his brother’s dog had been lunging at dogs on the street. It sounded like the typical over-excited playful lunging, but I couldn’t be sure unless he brought the dog in for an evaluation. He asked lots of questions about training, times, style of training and the cost associated with training. I explained a range of options and how classes could be individual, private lessons or he could do a package of training days with daycare, whatever he wanted to do...

I think the prices I quoted him may have been a bit more than he expected to pay. Sam told his brother all of this information and I never did hear from the dog’s owner. I heard a few more complaints about the bad behavior and tried to offer advice. The most important thing I told him was that his brother needed to bring the dog in for a meeting.

Sam even started to hint that his brother might be thinking about getting rid of the dog. His behavior was becoming a problem. Then, a few weeks ago, I ran into Sam again. He tells me that his brother’s dog is, “Doing much better. He is not lunging as much.”

“Great”, I think. “Hopefully the dog is coming around.” Even if I don’t get a client, I like to hear that a dog is getting better and hopefully won’t end up in a shelter.

I didn’t see Sam for a few weeks after that. Fast forward to today. I see him and he tells me that his brother’s dog has bitten another dog and he had to pay the vet’s fee. It was between two and three thousand dollars!!!

What a great deal. Sam’s brother saved a few hundred dollars on training, but ended up having to pay a couple grand to the vet and someone’s dog got injured in the process.

I can’t say with absolute certainty if training would have prevented this from happening. I’ve still never met the German Shepherd. I think it probably could have helped prevent this, but I won’t be so bold as to say it with certainty. What I can say with absolute certainty that good training is an investment that will pay you back over the life of your dog. If good training prevents only one fight, or one foray into a busy street you just got your money back. If it stops one dog from running away, or one dog from getting injured in a fight, your investment just paid out a dividend. Enjoy it. You earned it.

In all honesty, you may not even know when your well-trained dog made a good decision and saved you a thousand dollars.

I don’t know where things will go with this German Shepherd. I told Sam that if his brother doesn’t bring the dog in, there isn’t any more I can do.

Training your dog is an important investment. Sure, there is a cost involved, but it will make both of your lives better and just may save you a lot of money in the long run.

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— September 10, 2013 —

Training Setbacks
by Daniel McElroy

Training a dog is not a linear process. It’s a, “Three steps forward, one step back” kind of a deal.

I recently had a conversation with a client. She has a big beautiful German Shepherd Dog who is usually excited to see her. Excited may actually be a bit of an understatement. By excited, I mean when she has been away for any amount of time, he goes absolutely nuts when she returns. We have worked on this and made some improvements, in fact, she says overall he is getting much better.

A few days ago, however, her husband took the dog to the park. She met up with them an hour later and he went completely insane. He was barking, screaming, lunging like he would absolutely die if he didn’t get to her right away. It was so bad, someone actually offered her my business card for help! (I think I know who you are and thanks!) We are still working on this guy and will be for a while yet.

In another situation, we have a nice American Bulldog mix who lunges at dogs on the walk. She is dog selective and the owners have experienced her having squabbles with some dogs. In playtime, I do get a “vibe” from her that makes me think that we have to keep a close eye on her. As she has progressed in her training, she has been getting better and better with her lunging. They also have related that she has had better days and then there are days where she acts like there has been absolutely no progress.

The reason I am writing about these dogs is to illustrate a point. I tell every single training client that training their dog is something they do for the life of their dog. It is not a linear process with a beginning, middle and end. It is an activity that will be with you for as long as you have him. You will absolutely have better and worse days. You should expect this and be prepared to work through the rough patches.

Our boy Gunnar, who was highly dog selective, never got over his desire to fight with dogs who he viewed as “out of line.” He didn’t exactly correct the dogs that annoyed him. He really let them have it. He had to be handled carefully around other dogs for his entire life. While we didn’t really have to set a training schedule with Gunnar, he always had to be managed and yes, this is still training.

So, if you have a trainer and you are working on an issue, evaluate your progress objectively. If you can honestly say that the training is working, and your dog is getting something out of it, then stick with it! Yes, there are lots of trainers out there and you may run into the end of a particular trainer’s ability. If this is the case, then a change may be in order. You cannot, however expect every day to be better than the day before. If you stick with the training and do the work, you will get through it. If you let your dog frustrate you and give up, your problem behaviors will return with a vengeance.

So keeping this in mind, go out there and train your dog. Work with them and show them how to handle situations. If they do well reward them, if not work through it. It reminds me of a picture I saw recently. The caption was, “If at first you don’t succeed, try doing what you trainer told you to do in the first place.”

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— September 3, 2013 —

Living with a Deaf Bully
by Caroline Bodnar

My boyfriend Chris and I spent several months and a lot of patience acclimating our 2 male dogs (Louie, a 20 pound spaniel and Kaiser, a 75 pound shepherd) to living harmoniously together. Then we got the bright idea to get a third dog.

At the end of May, K9 4 KEEPS took a little deaf white pit bull mix into the rescue family. Chris and I fell in love with her sweet squishy face and silly little flop-forward ears. When we brought her for a sleepover and our boys loved her, we named her Gypsy and the rest was history.

If you’ve ever spent any time with a bully breed or bully mix, you probably know how stubborn they can be. Pair this with the inability to hear and we’ve found we have quite a little stinker on our hands. Good thing she’s the snuggliest, sweetest, cutest thing in America.

We named the little terror Gypsy but we nearly always refer to her as White Fang. Not that she can hear what we call her, anyway. Gypsy knows some hand signs, like sit and down. These work nicely if she’s looking at you.

Gypsy’s favorite pastimes are napping, disassembling the pantry door to get to the trash, and stealing socks and underwear out of the laundry. Calling “Leave it!” or “No!” are entirely ineffective when she’s getting into things across the apartment. We’ve both become accustomed to jumping up at the first sign of naughtiness so we can run over and correct her with a touch. She always acts shocked, as if she had no idea we were sitting 10 feet away watching this go down.

Once she gets ahold of a prized piece of laundry, she is not interested in giving it up. There’s that bully stubbornness. Teaching her “out” is trickier than it is with a hearing dog. It is totally doable; just trickier.

Gypsy is not a morning person. I can totally relate. Louie and Kaiser always jump up and are eager to get their leashes on for 7am potty. Gypsy, on the other hand, is either dead asleep under the covers and has no idea it’s potty time, or is nicely nested into the down comforter, giving me a stare that says “Yeah, right.” I usually have to put her leash on while she’s in bed and then start walking to the door holding the leash. Some mornings are easier than others.

We couldn’t imagine life without our princess. (Well, we could imagine it. We would have fewer broken headphones and fewer holes in our t-shirts, but also a lot less love and not nearly as many laughs.) Living with a deaf dog is a challenge, but one we are happy to face head on.

We have an electronic remote collar that we often put on her to use the vibrate function. She knows vibrate means “Come find me for a treat.”

Gypsy is a social butterfly. She loves other dogs and loves play group at Bark Avenue Playcare. She also loves people and is extremely affectionate and friendly. We know she will make an outstanding therapy dog and we plan to take her through training to get her certified. I think it would be incredible to have her visit and interact with children who are deaf or have other disabilities.

All humor aside, deaf dogs are just as trainable as their hearing counterparts, just with a little creativity and extra effort. Don’t overlook a deaf dog the next time you are looking to add a new furball to your family!

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— August 27, 2013 —

THE QUESTION …
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

If you have a dog with aggression issues, there is one question you need the trainer to answer. That ONE question is this. “How many times have you been bitten recently?”

This week’s Tail is more of a humorous thought than a Tail. Recently, I was evaluating a young dog for aggression issues. He was a little prone to guarding toys and treats. We determined that his issues were workable and that they stemmed from a lack of training, rather than him being a truly aggressive animal.

During the eval, the owners asked all the usual questions like, “How many dogs have you seen like this?” “What kind of success have you had in training these dogs?” and the best one, “Have you ever been bit?”

That got me to thinking. Over the years I have developed a reputation for dealing with “problem” dogs and yes, I have been bitten a few times. There are basically three groups your prospective trainer will fall into when he/she answers that question.
Group 1:
“I have NEVER been bitten by a dog I’ve trained, but I did have a close call once with a dolphin.”

Group 2:
“Oh, I get bit all the time …”

Group 3:
“Well, I have been bitten, but it’s been a while.”, or “Not very often these days.”
If you really do have a “problem” dog, you want a trainer who falls into Group 3. Here’s why.
If your trainer falls into Group 1, they haven’t seen enough “problem” dogs. No one is a magician and if a trainer deals with true “problem” dogs, they’re going to get bit eventually.

If your trainer falls into Group 2, they haven’t learned to be smarter than the dog. This trainer needs to figure out how to be effective without getting into fights with difficult dogs. A couple of puncture wounds will be a great teacher for this trainer.

A trainer who falls into Group 3 is a trainer who has learned to gain compliance, trust and respect with technique and teaching rather than force. They are willing and able to give a correction when necessary, but they have learned that technique trumps force and they can truly connect with a dog in a way that the dog understands.
So, this is meant to be a little tongue in cheek, but if you’re having issues with your dog, I think it truly illustrates the levels of what you can expect to run into while interviewing trainers. I hope I fall into Group 3 and I sure hope I’m not jinxing myself … I have an evaluation later today. I guess we’ll see.


P.S. In all seriousness, I truly believe that too many dogs with totally trainable “issues” are given up to an uncertain fate. Unfortunately, they are generally euthanized. I strongly encourage owners of these dogs to look for help and not just fall into the “revolving door” of problem dogs. The fact is, if they have one messed up dog, it just might be something they are doing. Chances are they will experience issues with the next dog also.

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— August 20, 2013 —

Daphne’s Story: Part Four.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

As we have been discussing, Daphne was a dog reactive hound mix who trained with us at Bark Avenue. If you missed the last couple of Tails, we recommend going back and reading them for the background on her behavioral issues (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). This week, we’ll go over the last couple of phases of her training program and explain why the final phase will never end.

I keep getting updates from Daphne’s mom. Daphne keeps improving and is now allowed to play with the family dog off the leash and without the muzzle. You may think that this means that she’s “cured.” That would not be the case. Daphne is in Phase Four of her training program. That training and management phase will last the rest of her life.

We’ve talked about the first two phases of Daphne’s four-phase program. The first two phases revolved around making sure she had good understanding of obedience commands and using those commands to keep her from reacting every time she saw a dog.

This week we’ll discuss the final phases of Daphne’s program. Phase Three is “Desensitization.” This is the phase where we really expose Daphne to as many dogs as possible. The goal is to reduce her initial excitement and allow her to experience dogs in a calm state. This was intended to prevent her from having her initial overstimulated reaction. In this phase, we began to allow Daphne to get close enough to dogs to allow for some social interaction. We took her on long walks with other dogs. She was allowed to walk very close to dogs as long as she ignored them. She seemed to enjoy having other dogs around and as she got calmer, she was even allowed to get some sniffing in. She continued to show more tolerance and improvement, so we decided she could be allowed out in the play groups with the right dogs. In all honesty, I was not originally sure that she would ever be able to go into a large group of dogs. It can’t stressed enough that this should only be attempted under the guidance of someone who is experienced with this type of issue. If we had misread Daphne or put her with the wrong dogs, there could have been a fight which could have resulted in injury to people and dogs.

I mentioned putting Daphne with the right dogs. It was critical to select the right dogs for Daphne’s play group. We had to avoid dogs that might cause her to become overstimulated. Overstimulation could cause Daphne to react badly and basically destroy the progress that we had made. We had spent all this time teaching her to be calm around dogs and a fight in this phase of her training could have set her all the way back to day one. Since we still didn’t fully trust her, Daphne had her play dates in the muzzle. By this time she seemed oblivious to it.

For the play groups, Daphne also wore the electronic training collar that we discussed earlier. By now, she was fully conditioned to respond to the collar, even if she became very excited. The collar allowed us to communicate with her when she was too stimulated or distracted to hear us.

As Daphne got more freedom with the dogs, she actually started to engage in play behaviors with the other dogs. We allowed her to engage and romp a bit, but regularly recalled her from play and had her sit for a short cool-down period. Practicing the recall regularly was important. In watching her body language, we saw a couple of instances where she started to stiffen up. This is a warning that she was possibly becoming aggressive and we used the recall to remove her from the situation. The electronic training collar is invaluable in these instances. As Daphne was going into her aggressive mode, she would be much less likely to even hear us communicating with her. The collar allowed for immediate physical contact. That contact is what allowed us to get through to her and keep her from going further into her aggressive zone.

Phase Four: “Rehearsal” is the final phase of Daphne’s training. It will never end. As I tell everyone who trains with me, “Training is a lifestyle, not an exercise.” Every time Daphne crosses paths with a dog, every time she sees a dog through the window and every time she doesn’t react, she is rehearsing proper, calm behavior. Every time this happens, she becomes more likely to behave properly with the next dog. As I mentioned last week, “Certain terms and conditions do apply” to Daphne’s acceptance of other dogs. If Katie isn’t diligent about keeping Daphne calm, or if she allows her to charge at dogs through a fence, Daphne will regress back to not tolerating dogs. If Katie puts Daphne in a situation with untrained or unstable dogs who attack her, Daphne may regress in her behavior. The bottom line is this. Daphne will be training for the rest of her life to tolerate calm dogs. Training a dog like Daphne is a lot like practicing for any event or sport. If you don’t practice, you loose the training. Even Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player to ever live, still had to practice to stay at the top of his game.

Daphne’s story shows us that even though we don’t always get a perfect well-behaved dog, there are things that can be done to help dogs with serious behavioral issues. Someone once said, “You don’t get the dog you want. You get the dog you need.” I think that Daphne came along to help Katie learn some important lessons. I don’t think she’s finished teaching her mom yet, either. Only time will tell where their story goes.

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— August 13, 2013 —

Daphne’s Story: Part Three.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been discussing Daphne, a very dog-reactive hound mix who was rescued from a local shelter. Daphne’s reactivity came as quite a shock to her new mom, since she was described as, “The sweetest dog here” by the volunteers at the shelter.

If you listen to trainers discuss the type of problem behavior that Daphne displayed, you hear the term “Correction” thrown around. Correction is the wrong word for the techniques we used with Daphne. In cases such as Daphne's, a more accurate term would be “Interrupter.” The idea is to interrupt the dog’s bad behavior and install an acceptable behavior in the same situation. We then teach the dog to handle the situation through this correct response. The correct response is usually an obedience command, like sit or down. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the correction doesn’t teach a dog anything. It only serves to interrupt the bad behavior. When the behavior is interrupted, you can use that moment to give a command. By practicing this regularly, the dog learns to react differently to the given situation. (As a side note, many people try to pet and soothe their dogs during explosive behavior episodes. This also does not have the desired effect. It usually teaches the dog to become more and more reactive.)

An obedience command that is used to stop bad behavior is called an “Alternative Incompatible Behavior (AIB).” In other words the dog cannot sit and lunge at the same time. In teaching Daphne to sit around other dogs instead of lunging, we taught her how to remain calm. This calmness, or Impulse Control, is the primary goal of training a dog like Daphne. As Daphne develops better impulse control, we are able expose her to more dogs and to desensitize her further.

In last week’s article, I talked about how we introduced Daphne to the e-collar, the muzzle and the concept of obedience. We made sure that she understood very basic commands and taught her how to respond to the commands when the collar was being used. We call that process “Loading the Collar.” Loading the collar is kind of like “Loading the Clicker” in clicker training. The collars that we use have a vibrate function, which only allows Daphne to feel the collar shaking on her neck. We start with the process of giving Daphne obedience commands and giving her treats as well as vibrating collar when she does what is asked. In short order, Daphne figured out that the collar is part of our instructions and the vibrate of the collar signifies a reward. The process was repeated with the electric stim function. We generally like to set it to a level where the dog barely feels it, and may flick an ear when the stim is applied. A major part of learning Daphne’s sensitivity level to the stim function was figuring out how she reacted to the collar when excited. When Daphne got excited, she didn’t feel the collar at all unless the level was increased.

Once Phase 1 was accomplished, we began Phase 2. The goal of this phase was to expose Daphne to the dogs in our facility. We had already established that she could sit and give eye contact on command, but the sight of another dog caused her to break focus and lunge. So the Training and Exposure Phase of the program consisted of bringing her into an area where there were dogs and having her work on eye contact. We were careful to only expose Daphne to very calm dogs that she could ignore successfully. It was a very delicate balance of getting her close, but not so close that she would react. In the beginning of this phase, we kept the dogs at quite a distance. As Daphne learned to control herself, we moved closer and closer until she could be right next to another dog without reacting. There were a few explosions, but overall we managed to keep her reasonably calm. In cases where Daphne lost it, we used the stim function at a level high enough to “Interrupt” the unacceptable behavior and get her to sit and give eye contact.

Throughout this phase, we constantly looked for ways to push Daphne a bit further and increase her tolerance. Since she was doing well with very calm dogs, we started exposing her to more active dogs. Again, we started with the dog across the room and slowly decreased the distance. Also, we began to work on other formal obedience commands like the “Heel” command. We taught Daphne to walk nicely next to her mom. First this was taught without distraction, and later we had Daphne perform the heel command in the presence of other dogs.

The second phase was all about teaching Daphne to respond to obedience commands while there were other dogs in the room. If the other dog was very active or very close, it was harder for Daphne to comply. The more she learned to ignore the other dogs, the less reactive she became. As Daphne became less reactive, she learned that social interaction with other dogs was a positive thing. Daphne was starting to learn to like other dogs.

Next week, we’ll tie all of this together and explain the final two phases of Daphne’s program. We’ll also discuss the “certain terms and conditions” that apply to Daphne’s acceptance of other dogs.

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— August 6, 2013 —

Daphne’s Story: Part Two.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

If you didn’t happen to read last week’s Tuesday’s Tail, we wrote about Daphne. Daphne is a young female hound mix that was rescued from a local shelter approximately 3 months ago. Daphne’s mom Katie wrote a letter detailing her experience in training with us at Bark Avenue. The reason I write this Tuesdays tail is because I want to encourage people who have dogs with behavioral issues to try training before they give up their dog. Too often, people who have dogs with “issues” don’t think they can be fixed and end up returning a great dog to a shelter. If Daphne’s mom had returned her to the shelter, with her level of animal aggression, she very well may have been put to sleep. Not only is this not necessary, it would have been terribly unfair for Daphne to be euthanized over behavior that could have been dealt with through training.

While we’re on the topic of animal aggression, Daphne very clearly demonstrates something that I have said a number of times. She is ANIMAL AGGRESSIVE. She is not the least bit HUMAN AGGRESSIVE. People often think that an animal aggressive dog will likely be dangerous to people or kids. These two things are not necessarily linked. I have no reservations about allowing Daphne around people. She is completely trustworthy. In fact, Daphne was described as the sweetest dog in the shelter. The volunteers there were probably being totally honest. Many shelters don’t have the space to let dogs interact socially. Even if Daphne had a temperament evaluation upon intake, there is a good chance that she didn’t display dog aggression in the stressful new environment.

While she didn’t mention it in her letter, Katie has told me that during the initial evaluation she was concerned that we wouldn’t accept Daphne at all. In all honesty, Daphne did put on quite a show in our lobby. Anytime a dog walked into her view, she basically exploded. It didn’t take long to determine that it wasn’t an, “I’m excited and want to play” kind of behavior. Daphne was displaying true reactive aggression towards the dogs by standing on her hind legs, pulling, lunging and barking uncontrollably.

In dealing with difficult training cases, I may strongly suggest or even require, that the owner take the dog through both of our training levels. We believe in keeping things simple, so we have two training levels. One is On-Leash and the other is Off-Leash. Both of these programs are handled through a daycare based and private lesson format, that enables us to modify the program to deal with individual behavioral issues such as Daphne’s. If any of Daphne’s story sounds familiar, please consider coming to one of our open houses on Saturdays for a free evaluation. If you are not in Chicago, please contact a competent trainer in your area and discuss their experience with dogs like Daphne. This is not something that should be attempted if you have not had experience with dog-reactive dogs.

Through our initial evaluation, we determined that Daphne needed to go through both levels of our training program, On and Off leash training. In the Off Leash program, we utilize the remote training collar. The remote training collar is one of the most misunderstood devices in all of dog training. Electronic collars started off as a relatively severe &ldquoshock collar” type device and quickly gained a bad reputation. That was 25 years ago and today this device has evolved into an extremely effective, yet subtle and very humane training tool. I strongly recommend that anyone with serious behavioral issues NOT go out and buy an electronic collar and start using it on their dog. The remote collar is a very good tool, but without a proper understanding of the process of teaching the desired behaviors, it can be misused. Misuse of the collar can create as many problems as it can solve. In fact, I generally refuse to sell remote collars to the public. I only sell them to individuals who have committed to training at our facility or with another professional trainer.

Below is the four-phase program we designed specifically for Daphne:

During the On Leash portion of the program, we would cover the first two phases of this program.
Phase 1. On Leash Review-Remote Collar intro/Focus. Muzzle acceptance.
Phase 2. Training and Exposure.

During the Off Leash portion we would work on the final two Phases.
Phase 3. Desensitization.
Phase 4. Rehearsal.

Please note, there is no “Dominate the dog” phase. While training a dog like Daphne requires a strong personality, that relates more to the owner being willing to stick with the program and actually do the work every day. Technique and education trumps force every time. Traditional “Dominance” will only serve to demoralize the dog and may not ultimately succeed in teaching a dog to accept and even like being around other dogs. Katie gets more than 50% of the credit for this outcome. Without her personal fortitude, dedication and consistent effort, Daphne would not show such an improvement.

This week, we’ll talk about Phase 1. In Phase 1, I wanted to make sure Daphne knew the basic commands of Sit and Look while on a leash. I then began using the remote collar on the vibrate function to get her attention. In this Phase 1, whenever I gave Daphne a command, I vibrate the collar on her neck. Also, when I gave her a reward, I would vibrate the collar on her neck. So, it goes like this. (vibrate on) Daphne, Sit (vibrate off). Once she sits, as I give the treat, I say “Good Sit” and vibrate as she takes the treat. I do the same thing with the “Look” command. I worked on the behaviors separately, then integrated them so that “Sit” and Look” happened as one behavior. I asked Katie to practice this exercise at least three to four times a day for five to ten minutes. In the beginning, she was supposed do this with no distractions.

The goal in this phase is to get the dog to immediately turn to the handler any time the collar activates. When Daphne feels the vibrate on her neck, we want her to forget about everything else and turn towards her mom for a reward. This immediate response, through training, is linked to the verbal command. Ultimately, Daphne will respond to the verbal command whether the collar is used or not.

Once Daphne is very comfortable and clear with the vibrate function, we do the same with the electronic stimulation or “stim” function. We find a level where she barely feels the electric stimulation and follow the same procedure. The goal is not to make her afraid of the stim, but to relate it to working for her mom just like with the vibrate function. It should be noted that some dogs are naturally put off by either of these new sensations. If this is the case, the intro phase may take longer with any particular dog.

As a safety precaution, we taught Daphne to wear a muzzle comfortably. We did this by feeding her treats through the front of the muzzle. We would tell her “muzzle” and give her treats through the open muzzle. Eventually, on the word muzzle, she would put her face into the muzzle and take treats. This was built up to her having the muzzle strapped to on and quickly removed, then finally, we could leave it on with little resistance. We still use the muzzle when she is around strange dogs and this will likely continue for a while longer.

So that’s Phase 1. It lasted about two weeks for Daphne and was the foundation upon which we built the rest of her training. If we could get Daphne to sit and look at her mom on reliably on command, she’d cease to display aggression. Next week, we’ll discuss the next phase of Daphne’s program.

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— July 30, 2013 —

Daphne’s Story
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

This week’s Tail is a letter sent to me by Katie, Daphne’s mom. Katie adopted this sweet dog, Daphne from a local shelter and fell in love with her. The problems started right away, when she realized that Daphne was highly reactive to dogs on leash. She called me not knowing if Daphne was trying to play or if she was truly aggressive. After about 4 minutes, we determined that Daphne was not trying to play. She was overstimulated to the point of aggression and would need serious help. I required that in order to train her, that Katie commit to both the On and Off leash programs due to the severity of the issue. I am happy to report, that after 6 weeks Daphne was actually allowed to play off leash in a group of dogs for the first time (still in a muzzle, just in case).

This week, we will post Katie’s note. Next week, I will begin to outline the exact steps taken to help Daphne overcome her reactivity and help her remain calm enough to engage in appropriate social behavior towards other dogs. Here is Katie’s letter:

I adopted Daphne from my local shelter. She is a 1 yr old hound mix. I had two meetings before I took her home. At each meeting a different volunteer told me that Daphne was the sweetest dog there. She certainly seemed so. She was energetic and friendly towards everyone (human), and still is. She didn't seem to notice or care about all the dogs that were there. That changed immediately once we got home.

It was obvious she had an issue with any and every dog. Walks were impossible. As soon as we saw a dog, she would stand on her hind legs, lunging, barking, baring teeth. She would be choking and even that wouldn't stop her from trying to get to that dog. Even if the dog was a block away, I was forced to literally drag her home. It was hard to hold her back, and I started getting mad at her. Hearing dogs bark while we were inside set her off to attack the door and windows. Our walks had to be really early and really late.

This went on for a month before my Dad brought me an article about Bark Avenue and Daniel. Seems there may be a light at the end of the tunnel! There was a free open house that Saturday so I went. I walked in to scope out the scene while my sister kept Daphne at bay in my car. There were 2 other dogs in the room, so I was glad I didn't have her with me! In fact, I had to have Daniel go to my car and bring her in! She wouldn't take her eyes off the dogs and she stayed in attack mode the entire time. Daniel confirmed that she wasn’t playing. She was aggressive, like a 7 out of 10. I felt like it was a prison sentence for us, or worse.

After talking with Daniel we decided to get her started on the 2 month training program. He suggested a remote training collar and a muzzle. After the first week with the collar I felt so much more confident on our walks. The first day of her second week, she was sitting on a box with a handful of other dogs next to her!

It only got better from there. We have her socializing with other dogs from Bark Avenue without a leash on! Yesterday, she was actually in a play group! She is going on walks with my moms dachshund! This week is her last week of training, and we will forever be grateful to Daniel and his team for showing us how to live a better life together.

Katie and Daphne Z

Check back next week for more details on the story of Katie and Daphne.

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— July 16, 2013 —

These days, we hear daily adds from FEMA on the radio advising us to have an emergency plan, make a kit and talk to our family. While most of us realize what that means for our husbands, wives or children, does anyone every stop to think about the four legged family members? This week we are featuring an article by Lita Peterson. We’ll call her the “Pet Doomsday Prepper” for this one. She is also our friend and the owner of Hello Kittie Sitting.

Please click this link and read her article about making a prep kit for your pet.
Creating an emergency preparedness kit for your pet
by Lita Peterson

Recently we have seen areas all over the world devastated by tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires or floods. If there was an emergency and you had only minutes to evacuate your home with your pet, would you be ready? … continue reading here


— July 9, 2013 —

This week’s Tuesday’s Tail is brought to you by Caroline Bodnar. Caroline is on the board of K9 4 KEEPS, NFP, the dog rescue affiliated with Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc.

A Good Family Dog
by Caroline Bodnar

I often hear people saying they want “a good family dog.” Many of these people mean they want a dog who will tolerate any and all forms of uncomfortable or painful physical contact from their human children. When the dog growls or nips at the human children when they are crawling all over the dog, pulling its tail, or testing the dog’s personal space, the dog gets blamed. This is inherently unfair.

People seeking a good family dog will probably consider that dog a family member. But if these same people want a bulletproof dog who will allow children to poke and prod do they also expect their human children to abuse each other and tolerate it? Not likely.

When siblings wrestle, fight, or bother one another, they can speak their minds about their dislike of the situation. “Mom! Make her stop!” Well, dogs of course can’t do this. When a dog growls, grumbles, or nips, he is giving a warning that he doesn’t like what’s going on. Some dogs may even bite. Then, even though the dog was being antagonized, the dog becomes the bad guy.

At K9 4 KEEPS, we recently had a family interested in adopting one of our rescue dogs. The dog was undergoing a difficult and uncomfortable medical treatment. The family allowed their toddler to crawl all over the dog, and returned the dog to us when he growled at the child. Does this mean this dog is not a good family dog? Definitely not. If a dog is expected to be gentle to kids, then kids should be expected to be gentle to their dog.

When kids are taught at a young age how to safely and respectfully interact with dogs, and time and care is taken to integrate a new dog into the family, there will be a high level of success at achieving that “good family dog” status.

To me, a good family dog is one who is comfortable and happy around kids. A dog who will run and play without hurting the children. A dog who will lay in bed next to a child while they are reading a bedtime story, or lay on the floor while the kids play with their toys. A dog who will protect the children should harm ever come to them.

There are countless dogs looking for homes who WILL make amazing family dogs. Just make sure they are given a fair chance at doing so.

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— July 2, 2013 —

Boom, Boom, Boom July 4th is coming.
Is your dog afraid of fireworks?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Every year about this time, thousands of dogs are terrified by the sound of fireworks. I’ve had a few questions about this and I’d like to answer them and give a couple of tips for the 4th of July celebrations.

Fireworks, thunder and noise phobia in general are unfortunately all too common. Oddly, I have met dogs that were specifically fearful of only one or the other. Usually it’s all or nothing.

Noise phobia can be a very serious issue. Dogs may hide, engage in destructive behavior or injure themselves. I have heard of dogs with noise phobia doing nothing more than panting and pacing. I have also heard of them breaking out of the house and trying to run from the storm.

In May 2012, we featured an article by Patience Hayes re. thunder phobia. I’d recommend reading that if you get a chance. She discusses how to NOT reinforce your dog’s fears and gives some tips on how to distract him with training or tricks.

This is all good information. I have a few other ideas that I’d like to add. The main idea is that you can’t just work on this during the fireworks. There are great ways to train for the noise before it’s overwhelming.

The best way, of course it to socialize your dog as a puppy to the loud noises of thunder and fireworks. When you know a situation is about to bring loud noises, bring your pup out for a great game of whatever he likes the most. Running after a favorite toy, doing sit and down for treats and so on can distract your puppy so the fireworks become part of the background noise.

If you adopted your dog as an adult and missed out on the early socialization period, there are still things you can do to help your dog.

There are recordings of fireworks available online and you can play these sounds, low at first then raise the volume. While you are doing this, distract your dog with training exercises. If your dog likes to play tug, this can be an effective way to distract him from the sound. (I know there are old theories about never playing tug with your dog. I consider this outdated information. I will discuss this at a later date.) As he gets more into the tug, you can raise the volume. If you see any signs of fear, flinching, panting, refusing to engage you, turn the volume down. You want to work at the highest volume your dog can ignore.

Another remedy is melatonin. If your dog if very fearful, melatonin is an all natural substance sold as a supplement over the counter. For a medium size dog, 3–6 mg is an appropriate dose. Some people swear by it.

When it comes to noise phobia, a combination of these techniques may be needed to help your dog resolve his fear. The last thing you want to do is try to calm your dog by petting. This will do one of two things. It will at best make you the security blanket your dog needs during the storm. When you aren’t home, your dog will still experience the fear. At worse it will intensify the fear making your dog more likely to panic or engage in self destructive behavior.


NOTE: Even if your dog is very well trained, please make sure to leash your dogs during this period. Years ago, we had a neighbor who had a 14 year old dog who was never on a leash. The dog never left her owner’s side and seemed to be very well trained. One night someone threw fireworks too close to her and she spooked into oncoming traffic. It was a very sad way for someone to lose a dog.

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— June 25, 2013 —

It’s not ALL in how you raise them.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Many dogs who are “raised” properly end up with behavioral problems. Many very abused dogs turn out just fine.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it, “There are no bad dogs. It’s all in how you raise them.” While I love the sentiment behind this statement, I can’t completely agree with it as a fact. How a dog is raised early in life is important, but to attribute every thing to their upbringing does dogs a great disservice.

As a guy who has had a couple of problem dogs, I prefer to point out that it’s very important how you manage your dog on a day-to-day basis. Saying, “It’s all in how you raise” the dog gives the false impression that once you raise and train your puppy, your job is finished, that once you have an adult dog, you can just forget about all that work. This would be wrong. Training and management never ends. You will have to train, manage and yes, “raise” your dog for his entire life. If you subscribe to the, “raise them right” mentality, you will possibly end up putting your dog into situations where bad things can happen. Even good dogs have their limits. A well-raised dog may still not like a toddler climbing all over them. A well-raised dog may not react well to a stranger giving him a kiss on his face. Knowing your dogs limits and managing them properly can prevent issues in situations where even a well-rasied dog may bite or snap.

Another issue with the “how you raise them” philosophy is the poor dog sitting in a shelter. In 2012 PetSmart Charities did a study of people who had recently acquired a dog and “you never know what you are going to get with a shelter animal” was cited as a main reason for not adopting. See, no one knows how the shelter dog was raised. There is a common perception that if you didn’t raise them from a puppy, a dog may suddenly turn into a monster or develop bad behaviors. This is simply not true. If you meet an adult dog, there are very good methods to determine what his temperament will likely be. While nothing is foolproof, not adopting a dog because you don’t know how he was raised should not dissuade you from adopting. Unless we change the, “It’s all in how you raise them” mentality, many great dogs will end up dying in shelters because people are just too afraid to adopt them.

Lastly, we all know about dogs that were most definitely NOT raised right. We know that some of the disgraced football player’s fighting dogs, whose name I won’t soil my computer screen with, went on to become therapy dogs. Dog fighting and properly raising dogs do not go hand in hand. We know that many of these dogs were abused horribly, yet went on to be extremely friendly, trustworthy dogs. I have personally known rescued fighters who were some of the most amazing dogs ever. We used to take Dutch to The Taste of Randolph yearly as a demo dog. He was a client’s dog and has passed now, but he was amazing with everyone he met…adults, kids, you name it. Dutch was most certainly not raised right before his final, committed owner took him in.

So, the next time you hear someone comment that, “It’s all in how they are raised” maybe take a little time to help them see things a little differently.

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— June 18, 2013 —

I OWN my dogs.
I do not subscribe to the theory of “animal guardianship.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

There is a subtle agenda behind the concept of animal “guardianship.” It is not simply about political correctness.

This article will probably surprise some people. It may also upset some people. I hope that it educates a whole lot of people to the fact that they are being lied to. I have heard the term “guardian” relating to pets for many years now and on the face of it, it seems like a nice, caring position to take. After all, we own cars and trucks. We own clothes and houses and we generally don’t care about how our car “feels” about a particular issue. Animals on the other hand are living, breathing, feeling creatures and we need to take those feelings into account as we deal with them. While I agree that we should all care about our pets and work to ensure their well being, there are other ideas at play regarding the term “guardian” which we will get into.

Before I go any further. I will make a very important statement. The fact that I say that I own my dogs does not demean their value to me. Neither does it eliminate my responsibility to care for their well being. My claim of ownership is based on the fact that I value them greatly and understand the technicality of property rights. Those rights give me additional leverage to protect my animals and I wish to retain that legal protection for my animals.

The concept of animal “guardianship” was started by a group called In Defense of Animals (IDA). The IDA was founded in 1999 by Dr. Elliot Katz. He equated animal ownership with human slavery, declaring that we don’t “own” our animals, we simply have “guardianship” of them.

There is a great divide between animal welfare advocates and the extreme “animal rights” activist. The former are true animal lovers who want to reduce suffering and neglect of animals, and the latter want to confer upon animals all of the rights of human beings. There are certain well known organizations that are actually lobbying behind the scenes to eliminate ALL private ownership of animals. They equate pet ownership to slavery. Most notably, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and HSUS (Humane Society of the US). These groups are well funded, well organized and are very good at hiding their true agenda.

The ultimate goal here is to basically create an animal-free world, except for animals living in the wild. From a PETA handout titled “Pets Or Prisoners?”

“In a perfect world, animals would be free to live their lives to the fullest: raising their young, enjoying their native environments, and following their natural instincts. However, domesticated dogs and cats cannot survive “free” in our concrete jungles, so we must take as good care of them as possible. People with the time, money, love, and patience to make a lifetime commitment to an animal can make an enormous difference by adopting from shelters or rescuing animals from a perilous life on the street. But it is also important to stop manufacturing “pets,” thereby perpetuating a class of animals forced to rely on humans to survive.”

Another quote:
“I don’t use the word “pet.” I think it’s speciesist language. I prefer “companion animal.” For one thing, we would no longer allow breeding. People could not create different breeds. There would be no pet shops. If people had companion animals in their homes, those animals would have to be refugees from the animal shelters and the streets. You would have a protective relationship with them just as you would with an orphaned child. But as the surplus of cats and dogs (artificially engineered by centuries of forced breeding) declined, eventually companion animals would be phased out, and we would return to a more symbiotic relationship — enjoyment at a distance.”
—Ingrid Newkirk, PETA vice-president, quoted in The Harper’s Forum Book, Jack Hitt, ed., 1989, p.223.


The true intent behind re-labeling the relationship as a guardianship v/s ownership is to chip away at the rights you have as an animal owner under the law. The law affords you certain property rights which means that your property can’t just be taken away at the whim of a bureaucrat or politician or activist. In order for someone to come and take anything from your house without your permission, there is a lengthy process involving the courts and laws and lawyers. These things are put in place to protect your property rights. To give up the concept of ownership is to give up that protection for your animals. This animal-free existence would go far beyond pets. There would be no farming, no agility or sporting dogs, no seeing eye dogs, no police dogs and no hunting or fishing. There may be things in that list that some people would be fine with not having. You may not participate in hunting or farming, but these groups view all of these things the same. Ultimately, the loss of ANY animal related activities could lead to the loss of YOUR animal related activities.

I can hear it now. Someone is reading this and saying, “Doesn’t PETA and the HSUS raise lots of money and save lots and lots of animals?” That would be half right. They do raise lots of money. What they do with that money is lobby for laws against your rights to own animals, raise more money and euthanize animals. PETA is registered with the state of Virginia as an animal shelter and they operate a facility there. According to a Virginia Department or Agriculture investigation report dated 07/07/2010, 290 animal custody records were audited. Of those 260 intakes, 94% of the animals were destroyed within 24 hours of custody. Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture


What you also may also not realize is that the The Humane Society of the U.S. doesn’t operate a single shelter, not one. The local humane society in your town is in no way affiliated with the The Humane Society of the U.S. While your local humane society is probably run by volunteers who work tirelessly (and for free) to rescue homeless animals, the HSUS has over $100 million in assets and pays out over $11 million in salaries and $3 million in benefits…and since they don’t operate a single animal shelter it doesn’t sound like a whole lot is being done to rescue animals, does it?

What these organizations have is great marketing. The public has been duped and they are using their name recognition and popularity to push their true agenda even further. While the “guardian” term sounds good, please look a little deeper. As with most things, there is more to it than meets the eye.

P.S. The next time you see the commercial with a sad song playing over a slowly scrolling slide show of abused, suffering animals and think, “I need to do something to help.” please send your check to a small, local animal rescue. K9 4 KEEPS, NFP is a great choice. Every dollar you send will go to feed, house and medically treat an actual animal somewhere, not to fill the war chest of an organization that is actively working against your ability to even have a pet.

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— June 11, 2013 —

Summer Heat Precautions
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I have only once seen a dog suffer from serious heat related injury. It was a terrible thing to witness and I hope I never see it again.

Sarge was an American Bulldog, about three years old. His owner was playing tug with him outside in the spring. The weather was beautiful, about 75 degrees, sunny and mild. Sarge loved tug, he really got into it. After a couple of minutes, he walked off and went to lie in the shade. This was recognized as a sign of him getting hot, but no one realized how severely hot he was. Sarge was taken into air condition, but he kept getting hotter. He started to have trouble breathing, which is how dogs cool themselves. Because he could not breath properly, he became hypoxic (not enough oxygen in his blood) and his mucus membranes turned blue. He was staggering and unable to stand. The owners tried everything, removing all his collars and immersing him into a luke warm bath. As soon as he was able to walk, he was taken to emergency vet. Since he had suffered such a lack of oxygen, Sarge’s brain had become damaged and he had become a franticly fearful, aggressive dog. He was no longer himself. The vets also thought that with the signs of severe heat injury that Sarge showed, he would ultimately succumb to massive organ failure within the next few hours. Sarge had to be euthanized.

I use this story to illustrate just how dangerous heat can be to dogs. This time of year, we need to be very aware of how our dogs are dealing with heat. There are many signs of over heating and Sarge didn’t actually display any of the classic signs. Knowing his usual behavior, this behavioral change was the only warning sign. Unfortunately it came too late. The vets surmised that Sarge likely had an underlying condition that we didn’t know about. This could have contributed to his severe reaction, or that he had experienced heatstroke in the past. This would also make him more likely to suffer severe heat injuries.

As we start taking our dogs for those summer excursions, we need to remember the following signs of overheating:
  1. Excessive drooling, often the saliva will have a pasty, thick quality to it or may be frothy.

  2. Heavy panting, especially if you hear the dog having trouble inhaling. If a dog can’t exchange air properly, it can’t cool itself.

  3. The gums and conjunctiva around the eyes can turn dark red. If these tissues turn blue, as in the case of Sarge, there is a severe oxygenation issue.

  4. Confusion or a vacant stare. May also be combined with trouble standing or walking.

  5. Shaking or seizures.

  6. Petechiae (pa-TE-ke-a). This is a condition where tiny blood vessels burst open in the mucus membranes. It looks like the dog was stuck with needles and you will see multiple tiny red pin-pricks. This may be subtle or obvious. A vet may be able to point this out.
A heat injury should be treated as an IMMEDIATELY LIFE THREATENING situation! Even with effective first aid, you will still need to get your dog to a vet as quickly as possible.

First Aid for heat injuries center around cooling the dogs CORE body temperature. I emphasize the core, because you do not want to cool his outer body temperature first. If the dog is placed in very cold water, this can throw him into shock. The best thing to do is to move the dog into a kiddy pool of room temperature water and offer cool drinking water. Wetting his feet, chest and belly will draw heat out fastest and safest. Again, use room temperature water. Do not ice the water. If you don’t have a kiddy pool available, wet towels around the dog’s trunk, changed often, can help draw heat out. In any case, get the dog into shade and use a fan to circulate the air.

Even if your dog seems fine after a while, you will need to take him to a vet. The real damage of heat injuries can take a while to show themselves. Your dog may need support for organ damage/failure throughout the next 24–48 hours.

Lastly, any dog that has had a heat injury is much more likely to have another one. If your dog has survived heat stroke, you will have to be even more careful in the future.

In Sarge’s case, everything was done correctly. He was supervised the whole time, first aid measures were implemented immediately and he was taken to a vet. Despite all of this, the outcome was still bad. Please be aware of how serious heat injuries can be. Every year dogs die from being left in the car or from owners not recognizing he signs of heat injury. When it comes to an overheated dog remember, “If you’re going to make a mistake—be too careful.”

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— June 4, 2013 —

A few weeks ago, I was approached by a writer for the Chicago Tribune. Nancy Simon was interested in doing a piece about dog park safety since warm weather was approaching. I don’t know what happened to the warm weather, but Nancy came through with a great article. Here it is.

More dog parks means greater need for dog training.
By Nancy A. Simon, Special to the Tribune May 22, 2013
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-x-dog-park-etiquette-20130522,0,7211374.story


Kevin Tan and his wife, Felecia, knew Jersey, their 2-year-old mixed breed dog, had a problem getting along with other canines at a dog park in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

“Jersey would get hold of a ball and lash other dogs that tried to take it away,” said Kevin Tan, a first-time dog owner. “He had serious ball aggression, and I did not want it develop into something more serious.”

So the Tans decided to take themselves and Jersey to Daniel McElroy, the owner of Bark Avenue Playcare in Chicago’s West Loop, to learn how to control their pet’s behavior around other dogs.

During the first session, McElroy watched Tan from a distance as he interacted with Jersey. “At the dog park, Daniel would see me with my dog and revise how I was doing it,” Kevin Tan said.

McElroy told him to soothe Jersey when he got really excited and fixated on a ball. McElroy also recommended Tan use timeouts when Jersey failed to relinquish a ball and to toss out several other balls to prevent him from getting overly possessive with any one ball.

As dog parks in the Chicago area and across the nation grow in popularity, an increasing number of owners are turning to animal trainers like McElroy to learn how to control their dogs’ behavior when they are not on a leash. As of 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, there were 569 dog parks in major cities across the nation, according to the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco that helps obtain land for public use.

McElroy encourages dog owners to take their pets outside, including to dog parks.

“Dogs need a big world. They need to meet lots of people and go many different places. It is their primary method of socialization,” he said.

But dog parks might not be suitable for all dogs, McElroy said. Should a dog feel the need to show dominance by jumping on other dogs, coveting balls and other toys, engaging in stiff-tail stare-downs with other dogs or barking other dogs into submission, then the owner should avoid taking the animal to a dog park until its behavior improves, he said.

“Dogs don’t have the equipment to act like humans… They don’t automatically know the right things to do, so they rely upon the owners for direction,” he said.

At his dog day care center, McElroy, like other dog trainers, teaches dogs how to behave while on a leash, off a leash and in a dog park. The all-day training sessions are held three days a week for four weeks.

McElroy requires that owners work with their dogs to reinforce the lessons taught during the day. Like other trainers, McElroy also teaches dog owners a list of essential dog commands: sit, down, come, heel and free (which means a dog is permitted to go off and roam).

“Daniel makes you stay and go through the entire lesson. He said, ‘I’m not taking him home, he’s going with you,’” said Marcia Bilkey, who brought Jonah, her 100-pound-plus bull mastiff/boxer mix to McElroy. She wanted Jonah to calm down in public and, eventually, accompany the family to the park where Bilkey’s children participate in a range of sports.

Bilkey, who adopted Jonah three years ago as a puppy, said that because he never received proper training, he would react in a hyper fashion whenever he saw a rabbit or a squirrel or someone wanted to pet him.

“I felt like he was a 3-year-old who never been taught manners,” Bilkey said.

After the initial session when she arrived to pick up Jonah after a full day’s work, she witnessed an amazing change: Under instruction from McElroy, Jonah remained in a seated position for a half hour while McElroy talked with her, Bilkey said.

“He never would sit like that. So uncomfortable for me to keep talking while Jonah sat there shaking all over. But he never got up,” she said.

Now, when she is walking Jonah and he zeros in on a rabbit or another dog and wants to go after it, Bilkey quickly refocuses Jonah’s attention so they can continue uninterrupted on their walk.

Jonah should only pay attention to Bilkey, McElroy said.

“Owners need to get good control of their dogs to the point where they relax and come out of their rabbit hole. Over time, dogs can learn to be in any natural environment without escalating the problematic behavior,” he said.

Rick Ricci and his fiance, Veronica Torres, said the training their Boston terrier, Baby, received from McElroy means they will soon be able to take the dog to a dog park near their home in Hoffman Estates.

“At home we kept her mentally busy, and if she got too hyper, Daniel instructed us to place her in the down position (lying on all fours) and not let her get up until we said she could,” Ricci said.

Now, Ricci and Torres are much happier dog owners.

“We are able to focus our energy on doing more of the (outdoor, social) things we want and can now bring Baby with us rather than leaving her at home,” he said.

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— May 21, 2013 —

ROTTWEILER ATTACKS TODDLER!!!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.


In honor of Dog Bite Prevention Week, we are posting this video on what NOT to allow your kids to do to ANY dog.

Headlines like the one above grab readers’ attention and sell newspapers. What they don’t do is tell the whole story. In this video, we see a young child doing very bad things to a Rottweiler with the encouragement of, presumably, the child’s parents. This video had me on the edge of my seat and not in a good way. I kept saying to myself, “This is where she is going to bite…This is where she is going to bite…” For the record, we didn’t film it and we don’t know who did. It came to us through social media.



Amazingly, this dog never did bite the child. She showed outstanding tolerance, even though she was clearly uncomfortable with the child jumping up and down on her back. When she moved away, the parents went so far as to encouraged the child to chase the dog and keep harassing her.

This video represents every thing that is wrong with being an uneducated dog owner. The humans were just having a great laugh while not recognizing that they were putting their chid and their dog in grave danger.

If you want to own a dog, any dog, be it a Rat Terrier or a Rottweiler, please take the time to become educated on your breed of choice and learn a little about dogs in general. Don’t be these people.

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— May 14, 2013 —

A good trainer is always learning.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.


Every dog in your life will teach you something. Gunnar taught me about accepting a dog for who he is.

There was no Tail last Tuesday. We posted that we had gotten bad news about our little guy Gunnar. He had been dealing with chronic hepatitis and we thought we might only have a couple of weeks with him. Amy and I decided to spend as much time with him as we could and make sure he had the best few days possible. We took the morning off from working and took Gunnar on a long walk to the park.

A couple of weeks ended up being only a couple of hours. Gunnar had a great morning then came home and crashed. His liver failed completely and we had to take that last painful drive to the vet’s office.

Gunnar came into our lives in May 2002. He was a tiny puppy, fat (which we very quickly found out was worms) and feisty. He was delivered by a couple of Chicago cops who had confiscated him from a squatter in a project building. Gunnar got his name because the officer put him on the floor. When I bent down to pet him, the officer turned sideways. When I looked up, his holstered sidearm was right in my face. Gunnar was named Gunnar and that was that.

We raised Gunnar to be obedient and social. We also wanted him to get along well with other dogs. As I was getting into protection dog training and working dogs, I had high hopes that Gunnar would be an impressive demo dog for that program. That was never to be, as Gunnar didn’t possess the necessary temperament for that kind of work.

What he did possess was a sassy, witty personality. There is no other way to describe him but cute. He knew how to get our attention and he knew how to get his way. He was often coy and would pretend to ignore us, but couldn’t keep his tail from thumping on the couch when we talked to him or about him. He liked having the sides of his muzzle scratched. If we stopped, he would wipe his eyes to ask for more. He was a show-off, happily displaying his repertoire of tricks for anyone who might offer a treat.

Gunnar was also life changing. We got many touching comments from friends after his passing, but one saying that he had actually altered the course of someone’s life is particularly touching to me. He was a special boy and lots of dogs (and people) are better off today because of him.

As much as we loved having the little guy, he started showing some…we’ll call them minor issues in getting along with other dogs. Basically, if a dog got in his face, even puppies, Gunnar would put a smackdown on them. He was definitely NOT the social dog we had hoped to raise. We obviously never encouraged fighting. It was simply something that his genetics had put there. Since we were already attached, we never even considered giving him up. We just found ways to keep him out of trouble. We simple had to accept the fact that our puppy was growing into a highly dog-selective dog. We could introduce him to some dogs, but it took weeks to get him to accept them.

With his obedience training, Gunnar was quite responsive and was a very good show-off when it came to his little routine. Also, he loved to lay on his table in the lobby at Bark Avenue. He would climb up there and stay pretty much as long as I wanted him to. After meeting with a client, he would jump down and return to his post behind my desk. I could heel him all over the lobby, even around dogs. He would ignore them all together and stay exactly where he was supposed to. He would pay no mind to other dogs, so long as I kept the dogs at a respectable distance. In a way, you could say that we had an arrangement. I would give him a place to be where other dogs wouldn’t bother him and he agreed to stay there as long as I needed him to.

It all boiled down to accepting Gunnar for who he was. I know there are people with much more serious issues, and they may not be able to do the things we did with Gunnar, but before you give up on your dog, please do give a great deal of thought to whether you can make adjustments to accommodate their needs. We got so much out of having Gunnie that we adjusted our goals in order to accept his limitations.

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— April 30, 2013 —

Outdoor Pursuits.
A traveler’s guide to camping with your dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.


I like to take my dogs camping. In fact, there were a few years where my dog Peace and I went up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for a week every summer. We haven’t been for a couple of years and we both miss it. Hopefully we can remedy that this year.

For those who haven’t heard of it, The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is a section of The Superior National Forest. If you like untouched wilderness, clean, clear lakes and fresh air, a trip to the BWCA should be on your bucket list. For the dog lovers among us, it may seem like the perfect getaway for our dog as well and it is. As intimidating as it seems, the BWCA offers trips that are suitable for the novice as well as the expert outdoorsperson. A good outfitter can help set you up for a trip that meets your experience level. I happen to be partial to Seagull Outfitters. There are just a few things that you need to do to ensure a safe trip for everyone.

The BWCA is very much a “one with nature” type experience. Your dog will need to be vaccinated for rabies, distemper, etc. All the shots you need for city life apply out here, too. Also, I put a tic repellant on my dogs before the trip. I also take a good look at my dog’s conditioning. It is a very physical trip and he will need to walk a fair distance over the portages (portage means to carry your canoe from one lake to the next via hiking trails) that you will encounter. If your dog is carrying a few too many pounds, this is a great reason to trim him down a little and go for longer walks. It’ll do you both some good.

The BWCA is truly a remote wilderness destination. This means that if you need it, you have to carry it. If you forget something, you’ll be doing without it. There isn’t a corner store to run to if you need toothpaste. Your trip will teach you the meaning of self sufficiency and fortunately your dog is pretty low maintenance. Fido won’t need the fancy designer dog collar or fifty dollar dog sweater. A simple nylon collar will do. I do attach a bear bell to the collar so I can keep tabs on my dog. It also makes noise constantly to alert wild animals to your presence. (A surprised bear would not make a pleasant camping companion.) A nice dinner after a long day of paddling and hiking will be much appreciated, but he also won’t care if you don’t have the fourteen types of treats you generally stock for him.

As you will spend a lot of time on the water, a lifejacket for you AND your dog is a good idea. Even if your dog is an avid swimmer, you will find yourself far from land while canoeing. Even strong swimmers may become exhausted and need the lifejacket to stay afloat should you capsize in the middle of a large lake.

Since you’ll be completely self sufficient on this trip, you’ll need to prepare for emergencies. While the BWCA is a pretty safe destination, accidents can happen. The most common injuries there are minor cuts and sprains. The rocky terrain can be blamed for both of those and a good first aid kit is mandatory. I also usually carry something for upset stomach and allergic reactions. Wildlife is usually not an issue. I have been lucky enough to see a wolf once, a number of deer and countless chipmunks. I have never encountered a bear or moose, which I hope to do some day (from a safe distance). Peace got to meet a turtle once. It ended well for both parties with the turtle making off at breakneck speed and Peace retreating as fast as he could as well.

Having your dog out in nature can be an eye opening experience. On one trip, I took my pit mix Gunnar. Normally a city dog, I saw Gunnar display behaviors that he never showed in the city. I had brought along a four pack of raw bones for him on the trip. At each camp site, Gunnar would run off to the edges of the camp site and bury his bones. As we packed up to move camp sites, Gunnar would go around and collect his bones from their hiding places to take them along.

You will probably not run into another person while you are in the BWCA, but if you do, your dog will need the basics of good obedience training. Since dogs are allowed off leash at camp sites, a solid recall, sit and down are minimums is training. A command to drop things can also come in handy in case your dog picks up something he shouldn’t have. If you have a dog that might take off after a rabbit, you should consider a long leash so he can enjoy some freedom, but not bother the natives of the BWCA. We are guests in their home, after all.

With good planning and the help of an outfitter, camping in the BWCA can be an amazing experience. In the end, you’ll return with a deeper understanding of your dog and memories that you will enjoy for a lifetime. Your dog will return happy and tired.





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— April 23, 2013 —

The Technique of the Week.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.


There seems to be a new “fad training” technique just about every week. Regardless of the latest trick, the fundamentals of dog training never change.

There will undoubtedly be a new one soon, the newest, latest, greatest dog training technique that will take the world by storm. Some of these techniques are designed for training traditional obedience and some are supposed to be used for dealing with problem behaviors. I’ve been training full time for a little over a decade now and I’ve seen a number of techniques gain recognition. I’ve seen whisperers, listeners, purely positives, pack leaders and dances-with-wolves trainers and anything else you can imagine. Some of these things pre-date my training career and some of them are pretty new. While some of them are unique, many of them are nothing more than recycled explanations of standard training techniques. They all promise some accelerated, better relationship that happens every time, with every dog, but only if you follow their technique to the letter and ignore everything else you have ever heard from any other trainer.

The fundamentals of dog training revolve around a simple theory. A quote by the late Max Von Stephanitz (developer of the German Shepherd Dog) says it best. “Whoever can find the answer to the question “How shall I say this to my dog?” has won the game and can develop from his animal whatever he likes.” What that means is, if you can explain what you want to your dog in a way that he understands it, you can get your dog to do anything. It is really all about developing communication with your dog, that “feel” for what he’s thinking, what will motivate him and what will get him to perform for you. As much as you love your dog now, working with your dog will strengthen that bond even more. When you bond with your dog in this way, you develop that “feel” for your dog that many people never get to experience. This is the true goal of dog training. No “technique of the week” will find it for you. There is no way to rush it and only putting in the time and working with your dog will make it happen.

Dog training is as much art as it is science, maybe more art than science. However, the fundamentals never change. I think I’m going to upset a few people when I say this, but here goes. All of the techniques that get marketed are just that.....marketing. They are usually little more than a way to sell a book or get people to come to a seminar.

Any decent trainers can teach the dog behaviors and get them to do it. The deeper connection, however, that “feel” for your dog cannot be taught. You have to learn it on your own. THIS is why trainers want their clients to practice with their dogs. THIS is the real goal of training. When I see a client develop that “feel” I can see it like a neon sign. That’s when I know my job is done. It’s a milestone in training and once you find it, you can never loose it.
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This week’s Tail was written by Jelly, with a little help from her favorite handler, Lori Schneider. Jelly wants to explain how important it is for you to give your dog a job. No dog wants to be, “just a pet.” As the human, it’s your responsibility to find the job your dog is best suited for.

— April 16, 2013 —

JELLY BARKS OUT ON “SAY WHAT YOU MEAN,
MEAN WHAT YOU SAY,” and do it with authority.
by Jelly (with a little help from her favorite handler, Lori Schneider)

Hey everyone, this week’s Tuesday’s Tail is coming from me, Jelly a 2.5 year old Rottweiler girl who found my forever home one year ago with Daniel McElroy and Amy Kelley. For those of you who are regular Bark Avenue Playcare (BAP) customers, you have undoubtedly seen me in my gatekeeper position eager to greet and take treats from training, daycare, boarding, and grooming customers. This is a busy place, and I have many friends here and well, you might say my eagerness for treats has added a few pounds to my girlish figure. Hey, I want to keep the customers happy!

You might have read about me in last week’s Tuesday’s Tail when my Dad wrote about my therapy dog training and the difference between humans handling dogs versus dogs handling humans. I love to speak so I’m barking out the canine perspective on the subject of handling.

From my front desk location at BAP, I get to witness my Dad’s training with dogs and their handlers and often times I play a role in his training exercises. This is a lot of fun and why? A. I am learning. B. The reward for showing my understanding of commands is praise and more treats. Sure, I love treats but along with all my other canine friends, we love to learn and receive high fives and hugs from our human handler for our accomplishments. Having a great human handler is pawsome but the alternative is frustrating as it denies us of achievement. Let me ask you, would you like to go through your entire life without any personal achievement? Of course not! So now that I am convincing you of becoming a great human handler let’s go over a few things. We canines get confused when handlers want us to do one thing yet their direction is different from what they mean. Think of it this way. If someone asked you to get them a cup of coffee and when you came back with the coffee, they say “I didn’t want a whole cup of coffee, I just wanted a half cup,” obviously, the direction for what they actually wanted was unclear. In the canine world, clear direction is a key element to our consistently following the commands of our handlers. When I attended the Canine Therapy Corps (CTC) practice and test sessions this last March, I saw some great dogs taking the test. They all had the potential to pass like me but their human handler’s direction confused them. Some dogs received multiple commands for the same exercise. Yikes! As an example, my understanding of the “heel” command is to walk together with my handler on their left side. This begins when I receive the “heel” command while my handler is stepping forward with their left foot. I stop when the handler stops and wait for the “heel” command to begin walking again. If my handler said “heel” and then changed my command to “come” but meant “heel,” and then added in “let’s go,” I would start doing my own thing and in fact become the human handler. We really need our humans to be consistent with saying what they mean.

Once your commands are consistent, say what you mean with authority. Dogs have a pack leader mentality, therefore we’re smart enough to know when a human has leadership mentality. Of course, my Dad as a trainer has leadership mentality and I am never confused about when he is commanding me to do something. This is for the simple reason that he starts every command with my name. “Jelly sit” versus “sit” gives me great clarity that he wants something from me. It also creates urgency in me to respond so I can receive his praise. When I took the Canine Therapy Corps test, there were nine dogs and many handlers gave their dogs commands without addressing them by name. While waiting my turn, my ears perked up when I heard a handler say “sit” but which one of us should sit? Was the handler talking to all nine of us? Unfortunately, the dog that was testing did not experience human leadership and possessed confusion about who should sit therefore the response was no response.

Training is hard work but once we reach our potential, it makes us happy and confident dogs. Not every dog at the CTC test had a raised head and lifted tail like me revealing confidence in my handler and myself. Unfortunately, some handlers expressed how they were there just to have fun with their dogs. Mixing playtime with work is confusing to us. If you want to have fun with us, take us to the park, swimming or shopping for a new toy. If you believe in us as great working dogs that can be of service to others, then commit to being a great handler. Remember, saying what you mean and meaning what you say makes us a great dog team. Not all of my canine pals want to be couch potatoes. Some are scratchin’ for your leadership so give it to them! If they pass the CTC test too, it will open doors that are fun for both of you.

Hope to see you at Bark Avenue Playcare soon and don’t forget the treats! Woof!!!

THE END

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— April 9, 2013 —

Are you a “Dog Handler” or is your dog a “Human Handler?”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

The difference between your dog failing and succeeding at a given task may just depend on how you handle the situation…and how you handle your dog.

I recently had my dog, Jelly, go through Canine Therapy Corps’ (CTC) certification test. She passed on her first attempt (This is a pretty big deal, only about 15% of dogs pass the CTC test on their first attempt). She’s a 2.5 year old female Rottweiler that I’ve had for just over a year. She is very outgoing and social, calm (most of the time) and she possesses a strong work ethic. Jelly will make a great therapy dog and I hope her companionship bring lots of comfort to the people she visits.

Canine Therapy Corps’ test is a demanding test of a dog’s obedience skills and their temperament. It consists of the usual, sit, down, heel, etc. In addition to the obedience work, there are a number of distractions that the dog has to deal with. There is an exercise where the tested dog has to walk up to another dog-handler team and both dogs are expected to maintain obedience positions rather than interact. There are exercises that involve dropping metal bowls and a person using a walker. All of these exercises add significant challenges to the test. Oh, and another thing…it’s pass/fail. If the dog doesn’t perform all of the exercises correctly, they fail the entire test. Jelly trained specifically for the test for about 6 weeks. She had a pretty good foundation in her training, but she still needed a little fine tuning for certain exercises.

The CTC test is held in two parts. There is a practice test on a Saturday and the actual test is held the following Saturday. I generally work weekends. Every Saturday is a training day at Bark Avenue and I can’t take off two in a row.

Enter Lori Schneider.

Lori is a client who trained her dog, Stanley (a 2 year old Golden Retriever), with us at Bark Avenue about a year ago. Stanley went through our On-Leash program. Lori and Stanley are very involved with a number of charity organizations. In addition to their Canine Therapy work, they volunteer together with As Good As Gold Golden Retriever Rescue (www.asgoodasgold.org). Lori writes about Stanley’s rescue work in the book, “Stanley’s Tails of Love.” She signed up for our training with the CTC test as her goal. Stanley, being the rockstar that he is, passed the CTC certification on his first attempt. While that is quite an accomplishment, the really impressive part is this. Lori trained her second golden, Sedona, to pass the therapy dog test pretty much without my help. Sedona also passed the CTC certification on her first attempt.

Since I can’t take weekends off, Lori offered to take Jelly through the CTC test. She really enjoyed training her dogs for the test and thought it would be fun to take another dog through certification. It was Lori who trained with Jelly for those weeks prior to the test. Lori has a natural talent for dog handling that just needed development.

Even a well trained dog needs a good, competent handler. A good handler can make an untrained dog look good, while a less skilled handler can make a well-trained dog look untrained. I often explain it by saying that getting your dog trained is not like getting your car fixed. It’s more like learning how to drive your car in the first place. I also often say that all good dog training is, is good dog handling…consistently.

Lori didn’t show up to Bark Avenue as a great dog handler. What she showed up as, was a person who was very interested in training with her dog for a specific goal. She was a great client and she was very personally involved with working her dogs. She was also very diligent about following through with the homework and really put the time in to practice with her dog. All this practice was just what she needed to develop her natural talent for dog handling.

This is why I structure my training program the way I do. I focus my training on developing the handler’s skills first, and the dog’s obedience commands second.

When you go through training with your dog, realize that the handling instructions are the real value of the program. The commands that your dog learns will be secondary to the ability to handle your dog. This is because no matter what your dog learns as far as commands, there will always be situations that you didn’t exactly train for. In those “surprise scenarios” good handling skills will pay huge dividends.

If you are looking forward to an activity with your dog, look forward to learning new handling skills. Those skills are what are going to enable you to successfully help your dog accomplish whatever goals you set for both of you.

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— April 2, 2013 —

“I Don’t Want to be my Dog’s Boss! I Want to be His Friend!”
by Patience Hayes

I once had a client with a little pistol of a dog. Her dog, “Buttons” was a high-energy, mixed breed with a defensive-yet-bossy nervous quality that sometimes resulted in people getting bitten. This is where I came in. Funny thing: Buttons was, of course in love with her human “Mama”, but not so much fun for her “Mama’s” friends, yet “Mama” was a very reluctant participant, early in the game of obedience. She voiced her concerns: “But, I don’t want it to be all about work; I want him to have fun!” Usually, my clients get on board with my program, but for some, unless their interactions with their dog is anything other than cooing, stroking, cuddling, feeding, baby-talking, and snuggling, they simply feel that they are depriving their dog. Why can’t all of our communications with our dogs be like a lovely, flowery, sunny day T.V. commercial? In this article, I will try to make some sense of the answer to this question, but, for now, what if I told you that you will actually get a closer, deeper bond with your dog if you don’t do that? What if I told you that your dog will be more relaxed, more fun, if you train him?

Some of it is in the language. Words like “leader” make some people think cruel “task-master.” Dominance is another scary word for people who think that dominance necessarily means using undue force or having to “talk mean” to their dog. Some people believe that even asking their dog to sit is too bossy? You’ve heard it, haven’t you? “Can you siiiiiiiiit???” they say, with a pleading in their voice. To me, it sounds like they’re saying, “I do hope you sit, but you don’t have to if you don’t feel like it; I was just hoping you would…” Oh, barf! If I am describing you, let me tell you that depriving your dog of leadership is really cruel. As much as we tend to think of our dogs as furry humans, there is a very important area where dog and human diverge… Two things: 1. What is good for the pack is good for the dog, which is why pack members obey the leader, typically without question or resentment. The pack works as a unit. 2. Most dogs are not cut out to be a pack-leader; there can only be one. (One per pack!) Yes, I am referring to a natural “world o’ dog”, which hardly exists anymore, but evolution has yet to eradicate this dynamic. It is in your dog’s DNA.

You bring home a new rescue dog, and you love him and do everything you can think of to give him a good life — lots of love, good food, toys, a great bed, so why, oh WHY is the dog so nervous? What went wrong?? My first guess is that you didn’t provide a leader for your dog. Huh?! Yes, your dog craves leadership so much, that if he doesn’t sense one, he will become one. I’m going to steal a most brilliant analogy to this situation. (Thank you, Daniel McElroy!) Provided that you are not a pilot, ask yourself how you’d like it, if, while in flight, the flight attendant came to you and informed you that, now YOU had to go fly the plane? Would you not be nervous? Can you imagine trying to fly that big jet! I think you’d be a nervous wreck! That’s what happens to lots of dogs; having to take over the job of Top Dog is beyond your dog’s capabilities, like you at the controls of an airplane, when the most you know of it is how to ride in it, not fly it! Really, should your dog make the decisions in your world? For your dog, just because you came home with the food and the toys, that doesn’t make you the leader. He has to know that you’re in control of the situation. If you’re asking your dog to sit, instead of telling him, he will know it. It’s not about how bossy or mean you sound; that’s how you feel about it. If you feel as if you’re asking too much of your dog, so will he, which naturally knocks you right out of the leadership role. Game over!

Let me address my former client’s specific concerns over the “fun” issue. Keep in mind that the actual training part goes on but for mere minutes a day! When you were nothing but a tender child, you were going to school 5 days a week, for at least 5 HOURS a day! But, I still haven’t gotten to the best parts… Many dog breeds were created for specific work. Think herding dogs, retrieving dogs, or guard dogs. They cannot shake what is an integral part of their being. For them, having a job is nearly as important as having food to eat. It’s essential, period. Without it, lots of dogs get in into all kinds of trouble, like destructive behaviors or separation anxiety, for example. For most dogs, giving them a job, is a reward in itself! This here is the best part! When you invest in dog training, you will achieve a bond with your dog that no special toys, massages or treats can ever, ever compare! You may not see it on your first day. In fact, you may not see it until after “graduation”, but if you are sincere in your training, you will see it. There will be a moment — oh, I just LOVE this! — you will tell your dog to heel, or sit or down, he will do it, you’ll tell him what a good job he did, and, then you will see it. The moment is this: Your dog will understand what you wanted and know that he DID it and that he did it WELL. THAT is the moment! You’ll see it in his eyes, and once you are able to recognize it, you’ll see it over and over again. Your dog is incredibly turned on by this phenomenon! Anyone who tries to tell you that dogs have no pride have never experienced this! They’ve never seen it. Granted your dog loves you, already. Surely he thinks you hung the moon, but even so, unless you can be that kind-yet-strong pack leader, and let your dog know exactly when, how, or what he’s done right, the two of you will never know this joy. There is no replacement for this bond-strengthening experience!

So, when you find you may be in need of a professional dog trainer, do not fear the obedience! Even if your trainer tells you to reward calm behavior, don’t worry. Your dog will not loose his fun, silly side. There’s always time for that — AFTER school!

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— March 26, 2013 —

Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control —
Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 5.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Over the past 4 weeks, we’ve discussed a few thoughts on dealing with problem behaviors, specifically leash aggression between dogs. Leash frustration is one of the most common things I get as a training issue.

We started off talking about Sidney, a dog that can socialize with groups of dogs and is considered dog-friendly. When she sees the neighbor’s dog Bella, however, she turns into a lunging, barking, seemingly aggressive dog. How do we reconcile these two seemingly different dogs and more importantly, what can we do about it.

First, obedience training is critical. Good solid obedience training can teach the dog to do what is it instructed to do, instead of what it wants to do. If you will recall, this is the definition of Impulse Control. A major reason for leash aggression is the simple fact that the dog is being restrained by the owner. If the dog is restraining himself by doing obedience, he is much less likely to become frustrated and react badly. Even in the absence of a problem behavior, training is important. With good training earlier in life, many problem behaviors might never surface as a positive side effect of the Impulse Control that the dog learns.

Second, problems need to be dealt with early on, not avoided. One major roadblock in helping Sidney is that Bella’s owner just keeps avoiding the situation. Whenever they see Sidney, they just drag Bella away and never take the time to work with their dog to reduce the reaction. This not only doesn’t help solve the problem, it actually reinforces the bad behavior.

Third, you must be consistent, not only in the immediate problem situation, but in related situations. If you need to work with your dog because he gets overstimulated at the sight of a dog, think about this in other situations where he gets amped up. You should work to reduce your dog’s stimulation level in EVERY situation where he becomes impulsive. For example, if your dog drags you out the door to go for a walk, he is probably overstimulated. For that entire walk the chances of a bad reaction will be higher. Training him to sit quietly before you walk out would be a way to teach him Impulse Control. For the entire walk he will be less likely to respond to the Icons that would normally Trigger bad behavior.

In Sidney’s case, I would approach this by getting both dogs out of their normal environment. That simple change in location would disrupt the normal pattern (Icon) and likely reduce the reaction the dogs have to each other. If they can tolerate being in the same room with each other at Bark Avenue, I would work towards having them interact in a large group of social dogs. (Assuming Bella is also dog friendly.) This may take one session or it may take a number of sessions. Next, I would remove the other dogs from the play group until only Sidney and Bella are left. I would let them interact and become familiar with each other until they were pretty much ambivalent to each other. Finally, after a number of positive meetings in a social group setting, I would work on re-introducing the dogs to each other in their home environment. Bear in mind, it Sidney and Bella have had years to practice this bad behavior. It may take more than a few lessons to get them to un-learn it.

All of this would obviously have a much better chance of success if Bella also goes through some formal training. I have never met her, so I don’t know exactly what level of training she has had. If she can hold a sit or down without being restrained, the entire situation would likely be less intense. I have encouraged Sidney’s owner to invite Bella’s people in for a free consultation. Hopefully they will take me up on it.

The bottom line in all of this is this. By recognizing the Icons that our dogs are reacting to, and changing or eliminating them, we can reduce the chances of a bad behavior being Triggered. With a little forethought and solid obedience training to help with Impulse Control, we can reduce and eventually eliminate certain problem behaviors in our dogs.

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— March 19, 2013 —

Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control —
Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 4.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Impulse Control is an often overlooked component of training. Impulse Control simply defined is one’s ability to delay gratification or resist their immediate desires, impulses or temptations that could harm themself or others. In other words, Impulse Control means simply self-control or self-restraint.

One of the things I enjoy most is training working dogs. Through another business I operate with a couple of partners, we train dogs for personal protection, protection sport and police patrol. You may have seen these dogs on television or in movies, chasing bad guys and biting them. Often these dogs look very aggressive and intimidating. This is of course by design. A police dog that doesn’t scare bad guys isn’t much of a police dog. It’s intense and physical training and the dogs truly enjoy their work.

To the casual observer, these dogs look to be attacking with reckless abandon, like an out of control beast. When trained properly, however, nothing could be further from the truth. The dogs are working under the direction of their handler and their behavior is completely predictable and under control.

While the average dog owner may have very little interest in sending their dog to bite bad guys, there is a lot to be learned from how working dogs are trained. When in “work mode” these dogs are extremely excited and easily Triggered to bite. What keeps them from attacking unpredictably is Impulse Control. That same Impulse Control can help dogs like Sidney who aggressively lunge at dogs for no apparent reason.

A discussion of Impulse Control cannot be had without mentioning the concept of stimulation level. A dog’s given response to any situation will be determined by how excited he is about that situation. That excitement level or stimulation level is dictated by a dog’s genetic makeup. A high drive German Shepherd Dog will respond differently to a strange noise than will a large laid back English Mastiff. This natural variation in stimulation level needs to be accounted for in training. Also, this discussion of Impulse Control will not relate to dogs who react out of fear. Determining whether a dog is reacting out of fear or from being overstimulated may require a visit to a professional trainer. If your dog is fearful, different techniques and methods will be called for.

In very general terms, if a dog is excited and acting out, petting during these moments will increase the dog’s excitement level. Whatever behavior the dog is displaying will intensify. If there is lunging or snapping, it will get worse with petting. Petting serves as reinforcement and we generally don’t want to reinforce bad behaviors.

Another topic that needs to be discussed in dealing with Impulse Control and stimulation level is the concept of correction. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I do not claim to be a “purely positive” trainer. I won’t go into the validity of the concept or how I feel about it, I will just say that I believe it is important to be able to give a dog an appropriately timed and properly delivered correction. A key point that must be made to avoid any misunderstanding is this. “You cannot teach a dog any behavior simply by correcting it.” In most cases, the correction is intended to reduce the dog’s excitement level in order to give it a command. That command will Trigger a behavior that was previously taught using positive reinforcement techniques. If a dog is overstimulated, however, you might as well be yelling at the wall. Your dog won’t even realize you are talking to him until you are able to reduce his excitement level.

Now, let’s go back to the police dog training. The dogs that do this work don’t bite because they are angry or scared. They bite because they are highly stimulated. When we initially start training a young dog for this, we tease him with a toy to excite him. This is called agitation work. While the puppy is pulling towards the toy, we pet him and encourage him to get more and more excited. That excitement gets channeled into the bite on the toy. The dog is then trained to bite different pieces of equipment, like the sleeve or bite suit and ultimately a real life bad guy. The concept of control is important when the dog needs to NOT bite, or to release a bad guy after biting him.

In order to gain that control, there is a point where we begin to introduce obedience to the dog during the bitework. Usually this is done with some amount of correction. The dog is worked up (agitated) into his high drive state (bordering on overstimulation). A command is given and the dog sometimes ignores it because he is too excited. If this occurs, a correction may be delivered by whatever training device is appropriate for the dog. Once the dog complies with the command, he is rewarded by being allowed to bite the equipment. This concept of obedience for bites is expanded upon and the dog eventually learns that the entire working scenario relies upon him exercising Impulse Control in order to receive the delayed gratification of being allowed to bite the equipment after he follows obedience commands.

A lot of this applies to dogs that get very excited very quickly and display possibly aggressive behavior. I decided to use the most extreme example, that of a working dog, to give some perspective. If these dogs can learn to be responsive during this intense type of work, I believe the average pet can learn to have some Impulse Control as well.

If you have a young dog, there are things you can do now to help prevent your dog growing up into a reactive nut-ball of a dog. There are games you can play with your young dog now, that will help develop Impulse Control later in life. If your dog loves to fetch, making him wait to chase the ball is a great way to teach him to reign in his excitement. Teaching him to wait to grab a treat on the floor is also a fine game. These games, if introduced to a young dog, will help to teach Impulse Control as the dog matures. They basically set your dog up to understand delayed gratification later in life. One of my favorite exercises is the “long down.” When the dog learns to hold his down for extended periods, he is exercising Impulse Control. Having to hold his down while everything happens around him can be very challenging, but the dog will always benefit from this exercise.

So, how does one use all this information to work on what can be a rather difficult situation? Next week, we’ll put it all together.

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— March 12, 2013 —

Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control —
Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 3.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Have you ever walked into a room and forgot why you went in there? Well, that’s pretty much how your dog lives his whole life.

Most people who come to me for training have some very detailed questions. They ask me what their dog could possibly be thinking to do such and such problem behavior. The first thing I have to explain to them is that their dog isn’t really “thinking” about anything before they do it. The majority of problem behaviors that dogs exhibit are simply reactions. I used Sidney as an example at the start of this series because she is a classic example of a dog that reacts badly in pretty specific situations. Seeing Bella in her building causes Sidney, a normally social dog, to act aggressively.

Problem behaviors aren’t the only behaviors that are “Triggered” in our dogs. The basic obedience commands we give are essentially triggers. A well trained dog will Sit on command. He doesn’t have to think about it, he simply reacts. The word “Sit” functions as a Trigger.

If you look back at the 26 Feb article, I mentioned what might happen if someone kicked a soccer ball and it came directly at your head. If you were lucky enough to see it, you would likely raise your arm to block it. This illustrates a Trigger perfectly. You don’t think about it, you don’t debate the best reaction, you just raise your arm and (hopefully) block the ball.

Triggers can act alone or in concert. When we watch a dog that is performing what seems to be a very intricate routine in an obedience show or competition, what we are actually seeing is a string of behaviors that are being Triggered in a sequence. It may be an over-simplification, but this is known as “chaining” behaviors. When we watch this performance, what we are really seeing is a complex chain of simple behaviors.

Another part to this discussion that has to be mentioned is the concept of thresholds. Every dog will have thresholds where behaviors will be Triggered. A great example is the age-old question, “Does he bite?” The answer to that question is almost always yes…if you find the threshold where that behavior will be Triggered. Some dogs will have a very high threshold before a bite would be Triggered, others will react easily, ie. at a lower threshold. In Sidney’s case, the threshold could be determined by evaluating how close Sidney has to be to Bella before she reacts. The distance where she reacts to Bella could be called her threshold.

Thresholds and the reactions they Trigger can be influenced by training. My own dog Gunnar is dog selective and can be dog aggressive. I have mentioned this a few times in previous articles. His big Trigger is when a dog gets too close to his face. If he gets sniffed or licked directly on his muzzle by a new dog, it can Trigger a fighting incident. With lots of training, we have gotten him to a point where he can learn to accept new dogs. With a proper introduction, he has bonded with a number of dogs. Once he is familiar with a new dog, they can approach him and direct contact with his face and muzzle is accepted. Each new dog he meets has to be handled like a new training scenario. His threshold for aggression gets a little higher with each exposure to the new dog until he can accept them in his face. Also, with each new dog, he learns to accept the next new dog a little more quickly. Introductions that used to take weeks, can now be accomplished in a few well-managed meetings. Of course, there are still dogs that will Trigger him. Large, overly excited dogs are pretty much a no-no and any dog that doesn’t have good social skills is out. We don’t even bother to try introducing him to those dogs.

In the example where the soccer ball is suddenly flying at your head: If you were an experienced soccer player, you may not reach up to block the ball. You may instead head-butt the ball back to the playing field. This is a example of training. A person who plays soccer a great deal would be trained, through regular practice, to react differently. Training allows you to manage how you react to Triggers. The same can be true of a dog with problem behaviors. Next week we will explore the idea of how training can affect stimulation level and how stimulation level affects Impulse Control.

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— March 5, 2013 —

Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control —
Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 2.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Last week, we started a series on understanding your dog’s problem behaviors. This week, we’ll dig a little deeper into the idea of Icons and how they relate to your dog’s behavior.

The dictionary definition if Icon lists a few different meanings. One is: A painting of Christ or another holy figure, used as an aid to devotion in church ceremonies (not terribly applicable to your dog). The other is: A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something else (getting closer). The one I am most interested in is this one that actually relates to Computer Science: A picture on a screen that represents a specific file, directory, window option or program (bingo!). So there you have it. An Icon is a visual image that represents an option, thing or behavior.

I see it all the time. A dog is misbehaving and their people are trying to have conversations with their dogs to get them to stop. “Come here and behave, stop doing that and calm down!” would be a common one. The problem with talking to a dog like this is none of it makes any sense to the dog. Think back to last week’s article. If you remember that your dog “reads” the world as a series of Icons, you’ll understand why talking to them in long strings of words will never work to correct problem behavior. The example of the WALK sign at the street crossing is a perfect analogy. It’s simple and very easy to understand. This Icon-based communication is what your dog needs in order to understand what you want from him. Icons, by definition, are very brief, very direct and very specific.

As you work with your dog, keep this in mind. Your dog has almost zero capacity for understanding English…or French or German for that matter. Language is a very human-specific phenomenon and no other member of the animal kingdom has the capacity for language that we humans have. While dogs do vocalize, their vocalizations are more like laughing and crying than what we think of as speech. The sounds have meanings which we understand, but they are not language. When we teach our dog a command, we are artificially attaching a behavior to a sound. Be it English, German or the sound of a treat bag opening, the dog has attributed a meaning to a sound, but it is not perceiving the same meaning that we humans do. The first associations a dog makes are usually visual. A dog will learn to sit easily if we use a treat and raise it up over a its head. The head goes up, the butt goes down. Pretty quickly, the visual cue (Icon) of the hand coming up causes the dog to sit. Once the dog makes the connection to the visual cue, we can attach the meaning of words to behaviors.

An example of this is Blue, a young pitbull that I have in for training. He is just starting and we are working on “Come” and “Sit”. Yesterday, I had the owner walking backwards to get the puppy to come towards him and have him “Sit” when he got close enough. I noticed that if dad was fumbling with his leash, the puppy would not sit when asked, but if dad was all set up properly, not tangled up in the leash, the puppy would sit right away. Why was this? It was because if dad was fumbling with his leash, he could not reach out with his hand. He had been training with treats and baiting his dog with the treat. The puppy had learned the meaning of the raised hand, but was paying no attention to the word “Sit.” I had the owner demonstrate this by repeating the exercise and making a point to NOT raise his hand. The puppy didn’t sit, then I had him repeat the exercise while raising his hand, but not saying a word. Blue promptly sat. This is a very normal stage in training and we will ultimately have him sitting for the word only. It was just a great example of this Icon principle in action.

Another example of this is when I teach the “Down” command. With a puppy, I will often teach the down after the dog learns to sit. I do this by sitting cross-legged on the floor with the puppy in front of me and having the puppy sit. I then drop a tasty treat just out of the puppy’s reach and hold him back by the leash. (If you pull the puppy straight down into the position, you will inevitable get resistance which is better avoided.) If the puppy really likes the treat, they will pull towards it and stretch out trying to reach it. They will usually scamper towards the treat until they end up on their belly. (A hardwood floor helps in the process.) As soon as their belly touches the floor, I deliver the treat. In no time, the puppy learns that having his belly on the floor gets the treat. They start to lay down as soon as I drop the food. This is when I start to attach the word, “Down.” The puppy’s visual reference is so specific, however, that if I simply go from sitting to kneeling on the floor, they loose track of the exercise. When I drop the treat, they will generally no longer lay down. Just changing my position can change the Icon and the puppy may not respond in the same manner.

Getting back to Sidney from last week’s Tail. While the situation is more complex than teaching a simple command, Sidney simply reads the situation and reacts to it. In helping her mom cope with Sidney’s reaction to Bella, my first thought is to get both dogs to my facility. This is because if I can change the visual reference, it will probably change the Icon or eliminate it all together. If we can get both dogs into a different location, the chances of a bad reaction will go down considerably. Once the dogs have become familiar with each other in a different setting, the chances of them interacting better at home increases. Of course, it may take a number of positive meetings to counter Sidney’s conditioned reaction to the sight of Bella in the hall.

Most bad behaviors, like Sidney’s, take time to develop. They become part of a pattern and the key to fixing the issue is to break the pattern and help the dog learn to react differently. Using the fact that the dog reacts to such specific cues can help us break patterns of bad behavior. Once you understand the cues, you can start to prompt a different response.

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— February 26, 2013 —

Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control —
Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Sidney has an issue with the dog across the hall, Bella. When they see each other, she reacts badly. As I write this, however it’s the middle of the day on a weekday. Sidney is probably napping on the couch while her mom is off working. At this moment, Sidney is not thinking about the her future walks. She is not planning for tomorrow and at this moment, she is most definitely not worried about Bella.

I had a very long conversation with a client the other day about her dog Sidney. Sidney kind of reminds me of a dingo. She’s medium sized, medium coated and a beautiful red-fawn color. She has a very nice, calm sweet temperament and is a little shy with new people. To see her, you’d think Sidney is the nicest dog in the world. That is until Sidney sees the dog that lives across the hall in her condo building. I don’t know her name, so we’ll call her Bella. When she sees her arch enemy, Sidney erupts into the kind of display that makes you think she wants to eradicate the evil Bella from the face of the earth…that her whole life revolves around that one, singular goal. Her mom wanted to talk to me about why Sidney hates that one dog so much and what can be done about it.

First, I’ll backtrack. We did a significant amount of training with Sidney a little more than a year ago. She is also a semi regular daycare client and she is considered “social” by our staff. So, why and how could she be a “sweet, slightly shy, social” dog in one situation be so mean in another?

As I said in the opening, Sidney doesn’t have any preconceived notions about the dog across the hall and she doesn’t “hate” her. She probably wouldn’t say mean things about her, even if she could. What Sidney has done, however is this. Sidney has become conditioned, through repetition to react aggressively at the sight of Bella whenever she sees her in a particular setting. It should be noted that Bella is not innocent here. Both dogs react to each other. I won’t go so far as to say who started the whole thing. Plus, it’s really not important or helpful to lay blame.

Our dogs, Sidney included, do not live in a world of thoughts. They don’t have conversations with themselves and they don’t decide things in advance. They simply react to stimuli that they take in from the world that they observe. Over the coming weeks, I will try to give some insight into how to work on your dog’s problem behavior.

The first step to this is to understand how your dog conceptualizes the world. That is, how does your dog “see” things. I often use the example of the walk sign that we see when crossing the street. We all know what the sign “walk” and “don’t walk” mean. This is what I mean by an Icon. There is no need for a long explanation next to the walk sign and we could probably understand the Icon even if we were in a place where we didn’t understand the language. Dogs basically interpret their entire world through these Icons. What they see starts to take on specific meanings and they assign reactions to them. Also, these Icons are very specific to the environment where they are located. Moving the Icon to a different place, or even changing something about the location can change the meaning if the Icon for a dog.

As I said, these Icons are assigned specific meanings by your dog. This essentially becomes a Trigger for behavior. There is no forethought, the dog is simple Triggered to react. It’s no different than when someone kicks a soccer ball and it comes at your head. You would likely move your hand to block it out of reflex. There is very little conscious thought involved. When your dog observes an Icon that has specific meaning, this Triggers a reaction/behavior.

Next is Impulse Control. If the dog is very excited, or is in a state of high arousal, it will likely not display good Impulse Control. In this state, a dog may react unpredictably, or “blow up” like what Sidney does when she sees Bella. Good training should include some amount of work to help the dog learn to control their stimulation level and by association, the dog learns Impulse Control.

In the coming weeks, I would like to give my take on dealing with these the Icons and Triggers. We do this by controlling the environment and teaching Impulse Control.

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— February 19, 2013 —

Bringing Home the Baby.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

So, you already have one baby with 4 legs. How do you prepare him for a human baby?

I recently got the nicest Valentine’s Day card ever from a dog. Well, not just a dog, but from a dog and her family. They wrote to say thanks for helping with a problem.

Willow, their 7 year old female American Bulldog, had been an “only child” for a few years and about 2 years ago, there was a new baby in the house. Willow’s people had asked me to come over, even before the baby was born, to help set up a good situation for everyone.

Going by what is says in the card, Willow is now, “…so patient with the baby, and we never thought we could all co-exist so peacefully…”

I was very happy to hear that all of our efforts had paid off so well. Even though we started training early, Willow showed some signs of discomfort once the baby was born. While she was never aggressive, she would avoid the baby at all costs. Of course no trainer can be successful without diligent owners. Without good follow-through, the best training advice in the world will fail. Willow’s humans deserve a large portion of the credit.

Today’s Tail won’t cover ALL of what it takes to introduce a baby to the dog. Also, I can’t possibly describe everything I would do if the dog has any serious problem behaviors. It will be a pretty basic overview for the average dog. Any particular questions can be directed to us here.

The first thing we have to do when introducing a baby is to take an honest look at our dog. If the dog is very social, low energy and adapts easily to new situations, the introduction should go relatively smoothly. If the dog is highly prey driven, defensive/nervous by nature or aggressive, the introduction may be considerably more difficult. In these cases, professional advise will be needed.

If you are at all concerned about the introduction, the training should be focused on rules about how the dog will interact with the baby. I like to establish places that are off limits to the dog and get the dog used to the fact that he may not get as much attention as he is used to getting. Baby introduction training should start before the baby is born. Also, I write this assuming that the dog has had some amount of obedience training. If the dog has not had obedience training, basic, reliable obedience training needs to be completed ASAP. Your dog should “Sit”, “Down” and “Heel” reliably before any of these techniques are attempted.

(As a side note: It’s not unusual for a pregnancy to cause very obvious behavioral changes in a dog. Dogs may become more protective of mom during this time. Additionally, a lack of attention and exercise after the baby is born can cause behavioral issues to surface. More on this later.)

Before I even show up for training with a dog, I advise owners to find recordings of babies crying and vocalizing. You can download them or buy them on CD. Probably the first thing a dog will notice about a baby is the smell of a new person and the sounds the baby makes. The high pitched sounds of a crying infant can trigger a prey-type reaction in a dog. This can result in injury to a very young child. The recordings are intended to de-sensitize the dog to these new sounds. I generally advise playing them as low as the dog can hear them-perhaps so low that you can barely hear them or not at all. You’ll know he hears them when his ears perk up. He may cock his head to the side and look towards the CD player. Play the sounds for a few minutes a few times each day. After a few days playing the sounds at a low volume, turn the recording up in increments until it is about as loud as a real baby crying or a little louder. Ultimately, we want the dog to ignore the recordings.

We do similar things with the baby’s items. Strollers, swings, walkers and so on all need to be introduced before they are holding a real baby. I generally advise placing these things in the house where the dog can see them motionless for a few days. Once the dog is used to them, turn the swing on or push the stroller around. The more your dog reacts to these things, the more training you will need to do.

What I usually do when I arrive at a home for this type of training is to inspect the nursery. I advise owners to train their dog that the nursery is off limits unless they are invited into the room. There will simply be times that the parent and the new baby can’t have a dog involved with a particular situation. This is accomplished through teaching the dog to “Wait” at the door to the nursery (Your command word may vary. “Sit”, “Down”, “Stay” will suffice so long as it is reliable.) I also teach the owner to “Back” their dog up out of the room if it enters uninvited. By repeating this, the dog learns not to enter the room unless permission is given. This will also help the dog accept the fact that there will be times where you will need space. A dog that requires constant physical contact can make it difficult to care for a newborn.

I do a similar thing with the baby’s blanket. I actually teach the dog that they are NOT to step onto the baby blanket when it is laid out on the floor. Yes, your dog can learn this, although it’s hard to describe exactly how to teach it. It’s more of a demonstration-type thing.

There are trainers who advise carrying a baby doll around to desensitize the dog to having mom or dad carrying a child. The idea is to put baby powder and baby oil on it to make it smell as real as possible and let the dog watch you feed, change and take care of the “baby.” I personally don’t know if that is the real value of this exercise. I think the real value is practicing carrying the baby while dealing with the dog. In other words, if you drop a baby doll because the dog tripped you, no harm done. You know what to avoid doing next time. I usually advise owners to practice moving their dogs while carrying the “baby”, both on and off leash.

One interesting tip that actually has helped is this. Start scenting your dog’s toys with almond oil. Baby toys and dog toys look remarkably similar, especially to your dog. The baby’s things will smell like baby powder. The dog will learn that he is only allowed to play with ie. destroy things that smell like almond oil. You can put almond oil on everything that is for your dog, beds, toys, food dishes, etc.

If your dog is resource guarder, this can lead to bad situations. This should be worked on well before the arrival of the baby. Babies have a knack for getting into things when your back is turned and feeding time can become risky. There are techniques for dealing with this which we will discuss in a separate article.

As I mentioned before, a new baby may decrease the amount of time you have to spend with your dog. This can cause an increase in bad behavior due to the dog feeling cooped-up. If possible, increasing your dog’s trips to daycare or the length of the walks can help. A more vigorous exercise routine which takes the same amount of time can be beneficial to dog and human alike. Another benefit of having that good obedience I mentioned earlier, is the ability to take your dog for long walks with him “Heeling” next to the stroller. This could be very helpful in reducing behavioral problems caused by lack of exercise. Perhaps there is even a dog walker or responsible teenager in the neighborhood who would love to take your dog for a run.

With time and effort, your transition from a “dog” to a “dog and baby” household can be accomplished. While everyone will need to adjust to the new situation, these tips can make the transition go as smooth as possible for your dog.

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— February 12, 2013 —

Stray dogs, how can you help?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We have a few friends who help with rescue dogs. Some of them are particularly passionate about stray dogs. This week, we’ll discuss how to catch fearful stray dogs. (If your city has an Animal Care service, they may be able to assist you. Here in Chicago, the Animal Care and Control budget is stretched so thin that calls for strays may not be answered for days. We often have to take matters into our own paws.)

There is not much that I dislike more than seeing a picture on Facebook of a stray dog, or running across one in person. If you’re a dog person, the sight of a dirty, skinny, possibly injured dog makes you want to help. Some stray dogs are just dogs that have gotten loose from their yards by accident and will happily run to the first person they see. In my experience, however, this is rare. Most strays are fearful and difficult to catch. They may have been mistreated, causing them to fear humans, or may have just been neglected, left in a yard to fend for themselves. This can also cause them to not trust a potential rescuer.

The more fearful a stray is, the more I want to help them. A year or two ago around Christmas time, there was a female Rottweiler mix hanging out in the parking area of a local community college. It was cold, rainy and miserable for the humans. There were about 8 people communicating about the dog and trying to catch her. I went myself, but couldn’t get within 50 yards of her before she would move off. We had to come up with a plan. As I stood watching her in my warm, waterproof jacket, I could only feel pity for this scared dog who was trying to roll up in the smallest ball to keep warm in the rain. (The photo to the right is Noelle, just after being caught.)

There are a few things you can do that will increase your chances of capturing a fearful stray and a few things you shouldn’t do. The first thing you should know about catching a fearful stray is this. DO NOT TRY TO CHASE IT! If you run after a scared dog it will absolutely outrun you. You will cause the dog to try to find a new area where it feels comfortable and you may loose track of it all together. Also, you may push the dog into traffic. Getting a stray hit by a car is pretty much counterproductive to the goal of rescuing it.

You should also, not try to corner a scared dog with a bunch of your friends. Forming a “human wall” around a dog is probably not going to actually stop it, and may get someone bit badly. Then the stray you were trying to help may be labeled a “biter” and that may lead to it being put down if you do catch it.

The first thing you should do is realize that catching a stray may take hours or even days. While you may not want to leave a stray outside overnight, you must realize that giving him time to get comfortable with you is more important than catching him right now. Yes, there are dangers to the dog, but making him panic is the most dangerous thing you can do.

What a scared stray is looking for is the same any dog wants. It wants food, water, shelter and a place where it’s not feeling harassed. Try to provide those things. If the dog is not in immediate danger, provide food from a distance. Like the old saying goes, “Feed a stray and it’ll never leave.” This is the best way to get the stray to establish a home area where you can keep tabs on him. He’ll want to stay near his food (and water) source. After a few days feeding him, you MAY be able to get close enough to leash the dog and that’s that. I can’t overstate the need for caution here, as a dog that is suddenly leashed may react aggressively at first. If you have never captured a stray or are inexperienced with dogs, I’d strongly recommend getting help from someone experienced in this.

If the dog is just too scared or aggressive to be leashed, trapping it becomes the next best option. There are a variety of humane live traps that can be set to catch dogs. These traps are basically wire cages with a spring loaded door. When the dog hits the trigger, the door snaps shut. If you have been feeding the dog, it should be no problem getting him into a trap baited with food. In our area, there are a couple of humane societies that will actually loan traps for free to catch strays. The trap should be set as close to where you are feeding the dog as possible, without spooking him.

Once the dog is in the trap, the real work begins. I could write about what to do if the dog is aggressive in the trap, but the bottom line is if the dog is aggressive in the trap, do not release it unless you are in the company of professionals. The trap can be carried safely to a vet’s office or to your local animal control facility. The dog will likely need vetting anyway, so a trip to the vet is probably for the best. Also, your town may have rules on what needs to be done to unite strays with their owner. This is with the assumption that an owner is looking for it. If the owner is not looking for the dog, it may be released for adoption. In Chicago, all strays need to go to the pound for a 5 day hold, after which they can be pulled by a rescue to be re-homed.

With a little forethought and patience, you can catch that scared stray dog. Just take the time to let him get comfortable and ultimately you’ll be able to help him. Oh, and that stray Rottie mix, Noel? Well, she was adopted and is no longer scared of people, starving or freezing in a field. She has a home with a nice warm couch, regular meals and lots of love. For her, life is good. (The photo to the right is Noelle in her forever home.)

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— February 5, 2013 —

We don’t like discrimination in our world.
Why do we accept it in our dog’s world?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

There is a well documented issue with discrimination in the dog world. All too often, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and other fine dogs are labeled and dangerous just because of their looks. This is unfair and ultimately dangerous for these dogs. Often they actually loose their lives simply due to their looks.

Recently our rescue arm, K9 4 KEEPS filled out an application for a new insurance quote. Since K9 4 KEEPS is a non-profit, we are always looking to save a few bucks on our expenses. The underwriter denied us coverage because we wrote that we work with and try to rehabilitate “aggressive” dogs.

I wrote in the application that we attempt to work with “aggressive” dogs, because I define aggression very broadly. As a trainer, I regularly have to convince owners that their “nippy”, “scared” or “grabby” dog is in fact aggressive. It’s like the old saying, “The first step to fixing a problem is to admit that you have one.” Once the owner has accepted that there is an actual problem, we can start to define the root cause and begin to work with the dog. I use those broad definitions with dog owners and I used the same definition in dealing with the insurance company.

Now, I understand that these companies are in business to make a profit, and dog bites do very little to help them achieve that goal. I have a hard time accepting the refusal of service based on my definition of aggression. I wrote them to explain my definition and we’ll see what their reply is. I think the main problem is that an insurance company is strictly looking at the dollars and cents and has no-one who is truly educated on dogs making these decisions. To the uneducated, ALL teeth showing or snapping is the same, but if you can read what the dog is actually saying, you may see fear, uncertainty, possession or truly dangerous aggression. A professional consultation may be required to determine if the dog can be worked with.

I started this article to discuss how to decide whether a dog was dangerous or not … I mean, is a particular dog, with a particular behavioral issue trainable or is the dog just too dangerous to live in a human world? That is a question that can never be answered in one simple article. I couldn’t answer it that on their application form and I can’t answer it now. Are there dogs that are aggressive and can be helped? Yes. Are there dogs that are simply too dangerous, aggressive and unpredictable to be worked with? Unfortunately the answer there is yes too.

In the years I have done this, I have had a very small handful of cases that have been extreme, requiring the dog be euthanized. What I have never done is decide based on a “breed” or a “look” or any thing besides the temperament of the individual dog I was evaluating. In dogs and people alike, I don’t let appearance cloud my decisions. In either case it’s an unfair kind of discrimination.

In the article linked below, the author postulates that perhaps we as dog owners should vote with our dollars and spend our money with companies that don’t discriminate. I agree and if this denial were based on something as superficial as “breed discrimination”, I would have no interest in using their services. Hopefully, the letter I sent will help educate their staff … time will tell.

http://notesfromadogwalker.com/2013/01/14/money-talks-supporting-companies-that-discriminate/

These days, the consumer has the ultimate power to influence corporate behavior. If we decide that we won’t accept discrimination, then companies will stop doing it. If this starts to hurt their bottom line, then the policies will change. Even if you have a Labrador Retriever, it would be a good idea to tell companies that you won’t do business with them if they discriminate against other breeds. Why? Because one day your lab might be on the list of dogs that someone wants to get rid of.

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— January 29, 2013 —

Focus and Recall.
A brief explanation of how those dogs learn to be so darned attentive.
by Patience Hayes

Like most dog trainers, I typically start my new obedience clients off with “Recall and Focus” exercises, which incorporates focus work into the basic “Come and Sit”. By now, you’ve guessed that the “recall” refers to the “come & sit” part, but you might be asking yourself, “What’s she mean by ‘focus’, and why should I care?” Well, just as we trainers are fond of telling you that “come” is the life‐saving command, focus may also serve you well in the future, so we set the groundwork for focus early in the game.

If you’re already in my program, you know that when you call your dog to come, you have your dog come in very close to you, sit, and look up into your eyes. This is “focus” work, and it is altogether a different thing from your dog, coming, sitting, and looking around at, well, ya’ know, whatever he feels like looking at, which is exactly what he would be doing, if you let him! Picture your dog sitting at your feet and looking all around, thinking dog‐thoughts, seeing some squirrels…… “WHAT?!! SQUIRRRRRRRRRRRRRL!!!!!!!”, as he takes off, full speed toward the street……

O.K., O.K., so that example might be a little extreme, but you catch my drift. For our purposes, in basic obedience, that focus — that paying attention to YOU, instead of distractions — is, at the very least, helping your dog stay engaged with you. Here’s another scenario: You’re doing “recall and focus” training in your kitchen, the cat slinks in and starts to sniff around your dog’s food bowl, your dog wants to go after kitty, and the next thing you know, he’s up and off and you’re feeling a bit like an ineffective goof. You get frustrated and perhaps think that your dog is willful, dense, incorrigible, or just a big jerk…! Or, maybe you think that there’s some magic trick that the blasted trainer has that you don’t. Nope! It’s just a little understanding of “Doggiedom”. If you don’t ask for that focus and make it rewarding for the dog, you may never get it when you want it — or more importantly, when you NEED it!

If you’ve ever watched an obedience trial and seen a dog focusing on his handler, it might look like a case of an extraordinarily devoted dog. You might, then, take a glance at your dog on the sofa, drooling and snoring, and think to yourself that there’s no way you could ever have a special dog like the ones you’re seeing on TV. Maybe you just have a “regular old” dog or that you lack the special magic to get your dog to be that engaged with you. What if I told you that it’s not magic? …… that you, too, can have an obedient dog who looks up at you like you hung the moon?! It’s simple! You can start, today! I’ll break it down in the paragraph, below. Read on!

In most cases, the easiest way to start incorporating “focus” into your basic obedience training, is to use a lure — in this case, a treat. As your dog comes into his sit, directly in front of you, bring that treat right up beside your cheekbone or your eye — anywhere close to your face. Your dog will be looking right at you. (“Treat, treat, treat!!!!! Right up there is a TREEEEEEEEAT!!!!!!!!!” Yup! A treat!!!!)

Most trainers start with a “Look” or “Watch me” command. We generally integrate that into the basic, “Sit” command. Keep that sit/focus as long as you can. (For our purposes, here, focus, “Watch me” is included in the "sit"command.) If your dog looks away, redirect him: "No, sit!" He should turn his gaze back up to you. IMMEDIATELY praise that: "Good sit!!" You can also reming him to “Watch me” if necessary. Soon enough, you won’t have to add that additional command. Your very smart dog will integrate the two.

Keep the gaze with the treats and praise for a good 20-30 seconds. Never mind that you are using a lure to get him to perform; you are establishing a good habit with praise — “Good sit!” — and treats. “Fido” or “Fionna” will get into the habit, and, in no time, you can phase out the lure. Meanwhile, you are deepening the bond with your dog, as well as starting a good habit of your dog paying attention to YOU. Now, you are on your way! When distractions happen — and they will — “Buddy” or “Bella” will certainly be interested in them, but, as you work to deepen and intensify your dog’s focus upon you, your pup will be much more inclined to be tuning into your next command! Good Luck and Happy Training!


Visit DoggieManners with Patience on Facebook! Contact Patience at (312) 720-9561 or email her at doggiemannerswithpatience@yahoo.com.

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— January 22, 2013 —

There’s something about Sally.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Sally is a pit bull mix. She’s had it pretty rough in her life. She’s about 4 years old, but we have only known her about 11 months. We first heard about Sally when Anna, a young friend of a K9 4 KEEPS board member, mentioned this poor dog in Kentucky that had captured her heart. Anna had seen Sally on a social media site. Sally was living in neglect, without shelter and being attacked by the other dogs in the yard where she was living. Needless to say, Sally needed help. Anna lobbied hard to get us to help Sally. She pretty much moved heaven and earth to get her transported to Chicago, all the way from Kentucky.

Sally’s story is one that is all too familiar in the world of dog rescue. There is hardly a day that goes by that we don’t hear about a dog being left out in the cold without any shelter, or a dog that is not getting fed enough. It breaks our hearts to see the pictures that go with these stories. These stories of neglect drive us. Often the owners just don’t know any better and they correct the situation when they become educated. Many times, however, these stories are the result of absolute disregard for the fact that these dogs feel pain and suffer just as we do.

Sally had originally appeared on a farm in Kentucky a few winters ago. She was covered in ticks. She greeted some children on this farm who gave her food and water and then picked the ticks off of her body, one by one. They even had to remove ticks from her eyelids. She was eventually adopted by friends of that first family. Sally made herself very valuable by alerting her diabetic mom if her blood sugar dropped, even waking her in the night if she sensed it.

Things changed for Sally when her mom died suddenly. Sally’s mom had told her (human) daughter Kathy that if anything ever happened to her, she wanted Sally to be euthanized rather than letting her fall into neglectful hands. Kathy simply couldn’t imagine putting her down, so she found her a home with people who promised to care for her for the rest of her life. When the family who adopted her moved, Kathy assumed Sally would continue to be cared for as promised.

After the move, Kathy got word that Sally was not getting the care she deserved. She was living in a yard full time, being attacked by the other family dogs and wasn’t getting enough to eat. Sally had actually lost 20 lbs and her wounds weren’t being cared for. Needless to say, Kathy went and took her back. She boarded her at a vet clinic to get her wounds cared for and to get her back to a healthy weight. She contacted the local rescues and was told that basically no-one wanted a pit bull with a history of fighting. Social media was her next attempt at finding a good, forever home for Sally. She posted her story on the internet on various sites.

The story was spread far and wide and eventually made its way to Anna. Anna was 14 years old at the time and a strong advocate for animals in her own right. She lobbied hard for Sally, even raising money to get her transported to Chicago. Sally arrived in Chicago in February of 2012 and became part of the K9 4 KEEPS family.

Sometime around March 2012, Tim walked into Sally’s life. Tim had just started his search for his future dog and randomly stopped in at Bark Avenue Playcare one day to check out the facilities. Sally just happened to be boarding with us, as many K9 4 KEEPS dogs do prior to finding their foster or forever homes. Since he was interested in adopting a dog, we couldn’t let him leave without meeting Sally first. It was pretty much love at first sight. Of course Sam, Tim’s girlfriend had to meet Sally first, but we were sure she would win her over too, which she did.

Tim was very interested in Sally’s background, especially the part about her alerting her former mom about her low blood sugar. This got him thinking that Sally might like the chance to keep helping her human friends. Tim signed Sally up for training (with yours truly) and completed our On-Leash Obedience training program.

Sally was a great student. She already possessed a very calm temperament and, despite her earlier abuse, absolutely no aggressive tendencies. She learned quickly and Tim was great about reinforcing her behaviors at home and in public.

Just this past weekend, Sally passed her certification test with Canine Therapy Corps. She is now a certified therapy dog and will shortly begin visiting patients in hospitals and other facilities in Chicago. In over a decade of training dogs, I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud than when Sally finished the last exercise of her test. To see a dog come from such bad conditions to accomplish what she has reminds me why I train dogs. It’s because they remind us that in a world filled with daily concerns, most of which aren’t really that important, the best way to make ourselves happy is to help another living creature that deserves it — be they two legged or four.

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— January 15, 2013 —

“My Leash Failed, but the Training Didn’t!”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Just this weekend, I saw a note on our Facebook wall by a friend. Louie is a 20 lb or so mixed breed. He’s cute, spunky and really, really fast. His mom is Caroline, who brought him for training with us a while ago. On Sunday, Caroline posted that her leash had failed, but her training didn’t. It probably saved her dog’s life. She was walking Louie next to busy Lake Shore Drive when his leash popped off without warning. Little Louie bolted, but Caroline called him just out of reflex. Louie returned and sat in front of her like a good dog. Stories like this make me feel very good about what I do. Every time I hear of this happening with a dog I trained, I feel personally rewarded.

The logic often is that small dogs couldn’t hurt anyone, or that small dogs don’t really “need” all that training or whatever. That belief couldn’t be more wrong. Often the owners of small dogs treat them very much like human babies. Unfortunately, treating a dog like a baby will usually create neurotic behaviors and can even lead to aggression. How many tiny dogs have you seen that were totally nasty while being held by their “mom”? While the overall damage tends to be less, a bite form a toy breed is no more enjoyable than a bite from a large breed.

Louie’s situation brings to light a much more common issue with smaller dogs. While they may never hurt anyone else, an untrained small dog may very likely hurt himself. A dog that is used to being coddled and carried may freak out if a leash fails, as in Louie’s case. Had Louie not been trained, he may have ended up in the middle of 6 lanes of traffic. A small dog has a much lower chance of survival if he is hit by a car. It’s a sad thing to think about, but it is something that must be discussed.

Ultimately, training any dog is for his own good. Training provides the dog with structure, a communication system and in some ways a coping mechanism for the world it lives it. All dogs, be they big, small, confident, fearful or anything else can benefit from formal training. It’s a gift you give your dog … and yourself.

Click for information on Bark Avenue Playcare’s training programs.

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— January 8, 2013 —

Should you adopt a dog with “issues”?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Every year dogs languish in shelters and at the pound. Often, those dogs would make fine companions, except for one or two behavioral issues. Should you overlook these dogs? We think not.

Sam is a cool dog. He’s probably a bulldog mix of some kind and he’s very good with people. He’s probably two or three years old and he is a handsome beast. Sam got adopted by a very nice couple, John and Dennis. They love him to death and probably spoil him a little bit. He’s their constant companion and our regular guest at Bark Avenue.

Sam has one minor issue. He seriously dislikes other dogs. He can’t go to dog parks, and he only has play dates with one female dog that he has known his whole life, but he doesn’t get to socialize with other dogs as a general rule.

John and Dennis knew this going into the adoption and they accepted the fact that Sam might always be an only dog. They had plans for one dog only, so Sam was a good fit in that aspect. Lastly, since they spend a great deal of their time in the country, dog parks were not an issue.

Dog aggressive dogs like Sam are regularly overlooked because people misunderstand the issue. Often people think that a dog that is dog-aggressive will also be human-aggressive or kid-aggressive. This is simply not the truth. Think of it in this way. Jack Russell Terriers are very likely to be rat-aggressive and beagles usually chase rabbits, but neither would be assumed to be human aggressive. Animal aggression and human aggression are two different things in the dog’s mind. Some dogs have both problems, but this is rare. Sam is the perfect example of this.

Other issues could be house training, separation anxiety or destructive behavior. The fact is, even if you went to a breeder and bought a fancy purebred puppy, these things can all surface. Our dog Gunnar was given to us at 8 weeks old or so. At about 1.5 years, little Mr. Gunnar started getting into fights. We had done all the right things to socialize and train him to be around other dogs, but he is dog aggressive. He simply wasn’t going to have any of it. We made adjustments and he has been a great dog. He has been a huge part of our life and I wouldn’t change any thing about him.

Most of the issues I listed are fixable through training. Training is important for any dog and should be factored into your “dog budget” right up there next to vet care and dog food.

Next time you’re looking through all those pictures of homeless dogs, please don’t let the behavioral notes throw you off. Most of these dogs can make great pets. You should give one a chance.

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2012, looking back.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

It’s been just over a year since Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc. and Windy City Working Dog Club officially launched our non-profit arm, K9 4 KEEPS, NFP. Amy and I have been involved in rescue the entire time that we’ve had Bark Avenue, but finally, with the help of some very special people, we have fulfilled a dream that we have held for over a decade. Today, at the beginning of a new year, we would like to look back at the faces of the dogs we have helped during 2012 and say thank you. If you have helped in any way, by donating time or money, attending our fundraisers or even sharing a dog online, we want to thank you.


Hopefully, at the end of 2013 we will have an even bigger collage and more faces to look back at and remember.

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— December 18, 2012 —

To Crate or not to crate: Part 3.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

This week we will discuss using the crate to introduce a new dog into your home. (This week’s article should not be construed as training advice. If there is any chance that your dogs may fight, you should seek one-on-one help from a professional in your area.)

Some folks can just bring a new dog into their home with little effort. Some dogs are so affable and social that they accept the new dog with little issue. Since we have worked in rescue, however, we have had to introduce dogs into our household that have not always been the most social dogs. Often, even though the dogs in question were not truly “dog aggressive”, the initial introductions were a little dicey. In situations such as these, crating one or both dogs can be helpful.

Of course, before you can use a kennel to introduce dogs to each other, both dogs should be comfortable in the crate. Crate training is something we advise all of our training clients to do. If your dog is comfortable in the crate, it is very helpful in many situations. The following assumes that your dogs can be crated without issue.

The root cause of fighting during an introduction can be anything from resource guarding to insecurity to over-stimulation. In any of these cases, the kennel can be used to help the dogs acclimate to one another.

Just the sheer excitement of having a new dog in the house can lead to aggression during an introduction. Even if both dogs are friendly, over-stimulation can cause one or both dogs to display “bad dog manners”, leading to the possibility of aggression. This is fairly common and fortunately, it is pretty easy to deal with. Basically, if your dog is generally social with other dogs, but snaps or growls during an introduction, you may be dealing with simple over-stimulation. In situations such as this, long walks together are very helpful. This is partially why trainers recommend introducing the dogs on neutral territory. Neutral territory means there should be a nice long walk back to the house, during which both dogs have a chance to calm down.

If the dogs are still very excited when they get home, this is where the crate comes in. During the times where the dogs are indoors, one or both dogs should be crated. Once the excitement of the new dog wears off, the dogs should be able to be socialized without issue. One concern here would be “crate aggression” or “barrier frustration.” The fact that the dogs can see each other through the kennel bars, but not meet each other can cause them to display aggression. In cases where the dogs are “fence fighting” in the home, training is very important. Proper obedience training should help your dog deal with his excitement level and should be started sooner rather than later.

In cases of insecurity, where one dog is simply nervous about the other dog, it’s usually a simple matter of letting the more nervous dog be around the other dog in a neutral setting. In cases such as this, I advise long walks together. Dogs in general do better with introductions when the introduction is part of a walk. Human greetings, where we walk straight up to each other with direct eye contact and facing each other can be viewed as aggression by dogs. A long walk with both dogs defuses this dynamic and helps the dogs become more familiar with each other. When back inside, having one dog in a crate and one dog loose in the same room allows them to become familiar with each other. As they become more familiar with each other, the insecure dog will become more comfortable.

The resource guarding dog, one who views the house, humans or the food bowls as his and his alone, is another case where meeting on neutral territory is helpful. A dog that displays resource guarding may also need additional training and behavior modification beyond simply crating the possessive dog. Sometimes, but not always, when the original dog has time to bond with the new dog, these issues will get less severe. Training for resource guarding is a whole subject unto itself. While I cannot discuss all of this in this article, using the crate to keep the resource guarder away from the other dog can prevent fighting while the training is happening.

This whole series started as a way to refute the, “crating is cruel” myth that has been pushed by certain groups. I hope I have shown that if we eliminate our ability to crate our dogs, we loose a very important tool in managing them.

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— December 11, 2012 —

To Crate or not to crate: Part 2.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Crates can be a very helpful device in training your dog. This week, we discuss how to use a crate as part of a plan to help a dog with separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is a very perplexing issue in pet dogs. In my experience, separation anxiety is exhibited in different levels of severity, much like other disorders. Most trainers will advise you to deal with separation anxiety by leaving the dog alone for short periods of time and slowly increase the amount of time that you are away. Also, general obedience training and socialization can help a normal dog deal with being left alone. While this is all valid advice, I would like to expand on it for today’s article.

The lowest grade of separation anxiety is not what I would actually call separation anxiety at all. A dog that is bored and has not had enough exercise may exhibit destructive behavior when left alone. Sometimes they are searching for their owner. Sometimes they are just bored and searching for something to keep themselves occupied. These dogs will often find and destroy a shoe or some of your clothing. Usually the item destroyed is something that carries a strong scent of the owner. This is NOT because your dog is mad at you and trying to get even. He is bored and lonely and looking for you. Since his sense of smell basically guides him, he finds your clothing (usually certain pieces-if you’ve had this problem you know what I mean) or shoes.

If tearing up a couple of pairs of shoes is the worst thing your dog does, consider yourself lucky. This is pretty easy to prevent and a plan usually starts with picking up your things and closing closet doors. These dogs almost always need more exercise. A tired dog tends to be a less destructive dog. Also, providing your dog with appropriate and interesting chew items also helps. Of course, if you are very careful and your dog still destroys things, a crate may be necessary. The crate in this situation is an easy way to keep your dog safe from chewing something that may hurt him. A piece of shoe or a piece of clothing can cause a serious bowel obstruction, which is very much life-threatening.

Some dogs demonstrate separation anxiety through self destructive behavior. A lonely dog can lick themselves to the point of causing skin lesions, called “lick granulomas” which can be serious. Again, this can often be cured by providing the dog with more exercise and preventing boredom. A crate may not be of much use here, but a “Stop Bite” collar can help. These collars actually do work. We have used them on dogs following surgery. They keep dogs from reaching their legs or other body parts to habituate a licking behavior.

A dog that may bark, whine or howl when left alone may be helped by crating, if we use it properly. First, the crate should NOT be used only when the dog will be left alone or as punishment for bad behavior. I usually advise people with dogs like this to put the dog in the crate a portion of the time when they will actually be at home. The dog should view the crate as a positive experience, and you might want to give treats or tasty chews while the dog is in the crate. Another part of this trick is to block the crate so the dog can’t see what is happening in the house. You can use cardboard (or a sheet, if he doesn’t pull it into the crate) or put the crate in another room. If he can hear you, he may just go to sleep or relax in his space. While he is in the crate, we play music, run the dishwasher, open and close the main door, or do whatever else that will make noise for the dog to know that we are home. If we can convince the dog that we are home through these sounds, we can start to leave him alone (in the covered crate with the T.V. playing) and he will be none the wiser. Of course, this would be combined with slowly increasing the amount of time the dog is left in the kennel.

The most severe cases of separation anxiety are very difficult to deal with and may require veterinary intervention. As a trainer, I am the last person to advise drugging a dog instead of training, but sometimes drugs for anxiety combined with training may be required. Some dogs have such severe separation anxiety that it can only be described as a mental illness. These dogs, when left alone may be so stressed that they loose control of their bladder or bowels. Often an owner will come home to urine or feces spread on the walls and doors. Some of these dogs will actually injure themselves trying to get out of the house. Again, we must not view this as a dog that is intentionally “trying to get even”, but a dog that is extremely disturbed. While all of the things advised above are valid, these severely anxious dogs tend to need medication to help them cope with being left alone. Some of these dogs can be weaned off of the drugs, but this can only be decided after careful treatment.

With an honest evaluation, we can determine whether a dog can simply be trained to accept being left alone or if more drastic measures will need to be taken such as medication. Rather than viewing a crate as a bad thing, we need to see it as a step in the training of some dogs. While serious separation anxiety may require more intensive measures, in the moderate cases a crate can be an invaluable tool in training your dog.

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— December 4, 2012 —

To crate or not to crate.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Recently there was a post that went around from a well known animal rights organization. It concerned crating dogs and likened it to a prison.

First, let me say this. I have a crate in my house. I am involved in rescue and I have, more than once, had a dog in my house that had, “issues” of some sort. I have taken care of puppies and their over-protective mothers, I have had dog aggressive dogs visit as well as dogs that were not yet house trained. For all these reasons, the crate helps me to manage many different situations.

What some so-called animal rights advocates fail to realize is this. All dogs are not just like their dog. Not all dogs are super sweet, friendly, playful puppies for life. Some dogs are difficult. Some dogs are less social. We have to have options for taking care of these animals and providing for their security. Some dogs will require means and measures that the average dog doesn’t need.

We also have crates at our business. We cannot be a “cage-free” facility for a couple of reasons. One reason is that as a trainer, I tend to deal with “difficult” dogs pretty regularly. I need a way to keep ALL of the dogs safe while I work on training these dogs. Crates allow me to separate dogs that cannot be around other dogs or people for whatever reason. Another reason is that dogs need to rest. I can’t tell you how many dogs we have seen that would literally play themselves sick. In hot weather, dogs need to be rested and a kennel is the best way to ensure that they lay down and rest. We provide them water and a cool breeze so they can allow their body temperature to go down.

One argument against the crate is that if a dog likes the crate they only like it because they are too insecure to deal with the real world. Crating them has made them “under-socialized” and that is cruel in and of itself. This argument turns out to be strangely circular and the only thing that supports the argument is the argument itself. We watch throughout the day and the dogs at our house will go in and out of the crate as they please. We do have to close the door upon occasion to keep them in the crate and they are no more unhappy about it than if the door were open. Saying that my dogs only like the crate because they are too insecure to deal with the real world is simply not accurate. My dogs are my constant companion and I take them pretty much everywhere a dog is allowed.

As I write this, we have a senior dog, Gunnar, who is laying in a crate. The door is open and he is resting comfortably. He generally hangs out on the couch, but while we treat him for hypothyroid, he is feeling a little down and wants some space to himself. He chooses to lay in the kennel with the door open. He’s sleeping soundly and since he’s in the crate, the other dogs are leaving him alone. This raises a good point. Even in a perfect “cage free” world, dogs at the vet would have to be crated. They often have IV lines and would pull them out if they were allowed to roam free in a room. Training them to accept the crate is a good thing in the unfortunate situation where a dog needs to be admitted to veterinary hospital.

This is not to say that the crate is a immediate fix for every issue that a dog owner faces. In the coming weeks I’ll write about how to use a crate appropriately to help with some common behavioral issues. A crate can be helpful with separation anxiety, house training and aggression, just to name a few things. A crate is not a 24 hour a day dog-sitter. Dogs do need time out of the crate for exercise and enrichment, but it is not cruel, it is not unusual and it is not punishment.

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— November 27, 2012 —

How to take care of your old dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

We currently have a senior dog. This week, we discuss how to decide what’s best for the older dog in your life.

Gunnar is almost 12 years old. We got him when the police confiscated him as a puppy. He was about 8 weeks and had been living in an abandoned project building with some folks who were living there illegally. He was intended to be a foster dog for us, but after 4 weeks of fostering him, we failed miserably. Gunnar was ours to keep.

Fast forward about 11 years and Gunnar is still with us. He has been our constant companion and is almost never away from Amy or me. He has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and is hypothyroid. He has liver issues and possibly some arthritis. Needless to say, we’re constantly worried about his health.

Counting Gunnar, we have dealt with three of our own dogs as they have gotten older and learned a lot about a senior dog’s medical needs. While we aren’t vets and don’t intend to give medical advice, there are a few things we think that everyone should know when it comes to caring for the senior dog.

If your dog is suddenly acting “old” there may be a medical reason for it. A year ago, Gunnar suddenly stopped being himself. He wasn’t as active and stopped eating. (Gunnar lives to eat. This was a significant sign that something was wrong.) Turns out that he was dealing with hepatitis, a possibly fatal condition if left untreated. With good vet care and holistic remedies, he recovered and has been with us for another year.

Older dogs are going to be a little slower, but a significant personality change can be a sign of serious medical issues. Personality changes can include wandering, lack or response to commands and not recognizing family members. Aggression can also occur in a dog that has not previously been aggressive. Things like thyroid disease, liver issues, stroke, or toxins can all cause mental status changes and only your vet can help determine the cause. In some cases, the simple fact that the dog is aging can cause CCD (Canine Cognitive Dysfunction), similar to senility or Alzheimer’s disease. Even this can be helped with medications, prolonging your dog’s quality of life.

As I mentioned, traditional vets are very important in caring for the senior dog but we have become believers in non-traditional care as well. We have learned that herbal remedies, acupuncture, cold-laser therapy, etc. can positively impact their quality of life.

When Gunnar was first diagnosed with hepatitis, we treated him with antibiotics and struggled to get his liver values down to the normal range. We saw the best lab test results and recovery with herbal supplements given by Dr. Mike, the herbalist at Wag Your Tail.

Otto, another one of our other senior dogs was 11 years old when we lost him. He suffered from wobbler’s disease and had severe arthritis in one of his elbows. The traditional vets recommended a fusion surgery, a highly invasive and expensive procedure. Through research, I learned about Gold Bead Implant Therapy, a permanent form of acupuncture. Otto benefited greatly from this, as well as traditional acupuncture and cold-laser therapy. I truly believe that these things added years to his life (as a side benefit it is significantly less expensive). The reason I bring this up is that most of the traditional vets we spoke with were unfamiliar with any of the non-traditional treatments. It can be very helpful to do some research on alternative treatments before giving up on a senior dog.

Ultimately the therapies and treatments stop working and our dogs just get too old or too sick to go on. When to say goodbye is a highly personal decision and I would never fault anyone for making the decision too early or too late. My personal belief is that dogs should enjoy dignity and self reliance. I always say that as long as he can eat and go for walks on his own, he’s good to go. If he can’t do those things without being carried, I know it’s time. I stay with my dogs until the end. They take their last breath with me and I will be the last thing they see. When I see posts about very senior dogs left at the pound, it infuriates me. As hard as it is to say goodbye, no dog deserves to feel abandoned in his senior years. This is the last kindness you can give to a dog that has been a loyal companion.

In the end, we all want to care for our pets the best we can. With a little research and an open mind, we can often give our dogs a longer and better quality of life. This quote about sums it up:

“He is your friend, your partner, your defender-your dog. You are his life, his love his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.&tdquo;
—Unknown

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— November 13, 2012 —

When are you going to get your dog “fixed”?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

In all the time I have been working dogs, there have been few issues as contentious as the subject of spaying and neutering pet dogs. The prevailing logic in the rescue community is that all dogs should be sterilized as soon as possible. This is intended to prevent the dogs from adding to the pet overpopulation problem and help reduce the number of dogs euthanized every year.

For the record, let me say that I wholly support the concept of spay/neuter. All of my dogs are fixed and I couldn’t imagine living with an unaltered dog (especially a female). There are a few things, besides preventing a mess on my carpet, that I think about when planning to fix my dogs.

Now, I’ve heard just about every reason imaginable for why people choose to not neuter their pets. Some of the worst are, “I just want to have one litter of puppies. I love puppies.” Well, puppies turn into dogs. Then what? Another one is, “I just don’t want him to die a virgin.” (No really, stop laughing. Someone actually said that to me with a straight face.) And lastly. No, he won’t miss them.

Of course, someone has to breed dogs or we’ll eventually run out of them. I won’t attempt to evaluate everyone’s reasoning as to why they want to breed or be the guy who decides if they’re right or wrong. I’ll just say this. If you can’t ensure the ENTIRE litter will be cared for, for their ENTIRE life, before you breed the dogs, then you probably shouldn’t do the breeding.

There are some good reasons to neuter your dog aside from the overpopulation issue. The intact male dog will present unique challenges to the owner. Generally, an intact male will be less trainable, more prone to aggression and more likely to mark his territory —ie. pee in your house. Add a female in heat in the neighborhood and your nice, well behaved, intact male may become an entirely different dog. He will likely ignore you completely and may exhibit downright heroic efforts to get out of the house for a hook up. Attempting to get an intact male away from a female in heat has gotten at least one person I know bitten by their own dog.

Intact female dogs can demonstrate problem behaviors as well. A female who is in her estrus cycle can be in a word, bitchy. The discharge of body fluids creates a real mess in the worst places, on your clothing, carpet and couch. In addition to the issues with staining the carpet and couch, they can have abdominal cramping, aggression issues and may attempt to escape the house. Some people may be tempted to leave a female in heat outside to prevent a mess in the house. We would call this a very bad idea. You will be almost guaranteed to have a pregnant dog. A female in heat can attract males from a mile or more away!

There are a few valid reasons to wait on neutering. I personally wait for my dogs (male and female) to be fully grown. Sex hormones tell the dog’s body when the bones should stop growing. Without the sexual hormones neutering the dog before the skeleton in fully grown will cause the bones to grow longer than normal. Dogs that have been spayed or neutered at an early age will be “leggier” than normal. They will have thinner bones. In the case of the lower leg, the two bones (tibia and fibula) will grow at different rates. For this reason, they are more prone to CCL ruptures. They are also more likely to develop hip dysplasia. For these reasons, I tend to wait until my dogs are a little over a year old before I sterilize them. At that age, their bones are fully grown and these ill effects can be minimized.

In females, the idea that a female should have one heat cycle has pretty much been debunked. Many females will have their first heat at 6 months, but larger breeds can take up to a year or a year and a half. I personally don’t base my decision on whether she has been in heat, just whether her skeleton has finished growing. Also, since I tend to have large breed dogs, the ill effects of early sterilization are magnified. Large breed dogs are already more prone to hip and knee issues so I don’t want to magnify them.

In some cases, such as with rescue dogs, sterilizing will have to be done at a very young age. By law in Illinois, dogs have to be sterilized within 30 days of their adoption, if it hasn’t already been done. Since this is the case, we will sterilize dogs as early as vets are willing to do it. If you adopt a dog that was fixed early in life, don’t worry. There are still a few things you can do to help reduce the risk of joint issues. One is to regularly exercise the dog as he is growing. Strong muscles will help create strong joints. This doesn’t mean to run your puppy for miles, but do encourage the puppy to run and play daily. The other is to NOT feed puppy food-particularly if you have a large breed dog. Puppy food causes the puppy to grow faster than necessary and may add pounds that young joints don’t need.

I also give this one major warning to people who ask me when they should have their dog neutered. If you start to see behavioral issues associated with an intact dog, neuter him immediately. The same goes for females. I remember Gino, a very large Cane Corso. When I met the puppy, I gave my standard talk about waiting until he was fully developed, but I made sure to tell them the part about behavioral issues. His behavior as a young dog threw up some red flags for me. A few months later, my predictions were proven true. Gino grew up to be quite a handful. He showed all the dominant, overly defensive traits that we had talked about. Gino made it to a year old (and beyond) but his manhood didn’t. He’s now about 2 and he’s been much easier to live with since the big snip.

As you can see, getting your dog fixed isn’t as simple as just having a minor surgery. There are things that need to be considered besides the surgery itself. Overall, the benefits outweigh the risks and your dog will be happier and healthier.

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— November 6, 2012 —

Building confidence in your dog through distractions.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Usually “distractions” are thought of as a difficulty associated with training. Today, we’ll talk about how to use distraction to your advantage in dealing with a less confident dog.

Mia is a mastiff. She is about two years old and her owner came to me for help getting her through the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. She is not an aggressive dog in the least, but she has some fear issues. Basically, she’s scared of new things. The CGC is a test administrated by the AKC for what I consider the minimum level of training that a dog should have. It is comprised of sitting, walking nicely on leash, being friendly with strangers and a few other simple exercises. Mia, being a large dog, should be able to complete this test to prove that she is capable of behaving appropriately in public. The problem is that she’s scared of the entire testing scenario. The strange location, filled with strange people and strange dogs puts her on edge.

Upon meeting Mia, I struggled to find a way to relate to the dog. Her nervousness made it hard to get her to bond and without any bond between us, training was not going to happen. Food and toys were hardly interesting and petting was, well, scary. There was one thing that got her attention. She would barely play tug … barely. So that’s what we did. We played tug a little at a time until she got pretty into it. As she got to know me, I became that guy who played with her. Now, you may wonder what tug has to do with her passing the CGC. Wouldn’t tug make her more aggressive and less controllable? Isn’t tug a bad thing? Thoughts on tugging with your dog is changing. It’s not really seen as a competition between you and your dog.

Trainers used to preach that tug was a bad thing. Unfortunately, some still do. Playing tug does NOT make your dog dominant to you or make him more likely to be aggressive. What tug does do is bring the dog into a very aroused mental state. If we regularly elevate our dog’s mental state without learning how to direct that excitement, we can run into problems. This is what I am talking about when I discuss the overstimulated dog in previous Tails. Playing tug without rules can be bad. Tug as a drive and confidence builder can be very positive for a dog.

In the case of Mia, I wanted to use the excitement of playing tug to increase her stimulation level. While she is very excited and focused on the tug, we introduced her to new situations like walking past a loud motorcycle. I basically distract her from her own fear. Over time, the tug game becomes more important than the big scary world. Every time she gets through a new situations, she is stronger for the next new situation. Today, Mia’s owner takes her tug on walks. If she gets nervous, out comes the tug and she uses it almost like a pacifier. Her owner tugs with her a little and she forgets about the big scary … whatever. The CGC is still a ways off, but she is learning every day that the world is not such a bad place. Distracting her is, in this case, a good thing.

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— October 30, 2012 —

Holiday season precautions.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

This time of year brings lots of new things into your home. Here are a few things that can be dangerous to your dog.

Starting this week, Halloween will introduce a few things into your home that you may not have around during the rest of the year. Halloween decorations are where it starts. Many of the plastic decorations are attractive to dogs. They think these things are toys and may chew them. Some humans may think these are fine dog toys and give them to their dogs also. The danger here is two-fold. First, the hard plastic decorations, if swallowed can cause obstructions and bowel injuries. Second, the stuffing in children’s toys are treated with a flame retardant. This material, which is not intended for consumption, is dangerous to the bowel and has been reported to cause the bowel to die. This in turn would be fatal to the dog. Please only give your dog stuffed toys that are designed for dogs and in any case, avoid letting them consume the stuffing.

While halloween candy is not exactly healthy for humans, it can be downright fatal for dogs. Xylitol is a sweetener that is used in candy and gum. When dogs ingest xylitol, they can experience low blood sugar, liver failure, depression and collapse. Of course, chocolates can be dangerous to dogs. Grapes, raisins and foods containing macadamia nuts are also dangerous to dogs.

Kids coming and going in scary costumes may present behavioral issues in normally calm dogs. Remember to supervise your dog carefully when costumed children show up at your door. A nice long walk is never a bad idea but if your dog is unsure around new situations, he’ll be much more well behaved if he’s nice and tired when Trick-or-Treaters show up on your door step.

Thanksgiving also poses a few hazards. While many people may want to give their dog a tasty treat from Thanksgiving dinner, the cooked bones from Thanksgiving Day turkeys can cause bowel obstructions and present choking hazards. Dogs should never be allowed access to alcoholic beverages. Also, foods cooked with onion as well as butter or other fatty foods (pieces of turkey skin) can harm your dog. Lean bits of meat are a fine reward for good behavior and your dog will thank you.

Christmas brings all the same food concerns, with cooked bones and dangerous foods, but has the additional concerns of holiday plants, gift wrapping (ribbon, tape and staples) and decorations. The electric cords for Christmas lights are often chewed and dogs get shocked. Small dog are at greatest risk for serious injury from chewing electric cords. Those beautiful Christmas tree ornaments are potentially dangerous to dogs, and should be well secured to trees. The tree itself can also be a hazard. More than one dog has been trapped under a fallen Christmas tree.

New Years celebrations bring bottle caps, champaign corks and fireworks. Ingestion of caps and corks can cause obstructions and fireworks have caused panicked dogs to run from home. If you are having guests for New Years Eve, please be aware of how this can affect your dog. If your dog is social and outgoing, this may not be a big deal at all. However, we see dogs given up regularly because a well-intentioned (and maybe drunk) holiday guest tried to kiss a dog they didn’t know or made some other human mistake that inadvertently threatened a dog. If your dog may be spooked or panicked by the celebration, please consider a night at the local boarding facility. It’s up to you prevent these types of injuries, either by educating your guests or removing your dog from the situation. Lastly, remember that the Tylenol or Advil you may need after New Years celebrations is very dangerous to your dog.

While the holidays are a great time to be with family and friends, please keep these dangers in mind so you can protect your four-legged friend.

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— October 23, 2012 —

Do you really need to take your dog for training?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

If it’s small, young, old or “nice”, is training really necessary? In a word, yes. At Bark Avenue, we believe that pretty much every dog and every dog owner can benefit from a formal dog-training program.

There is a website I check out occasionally. Leerburg.com is a large retail site run by a guy named Ed Frawley. They sell training equipment, toys, videos, books and so on. I hesitate to send people to Ed’s site because he can be in a word, blunt. Also, while I agree with him in a few areas there are few areas where I see things differently. There’s an old saying, “Put any two dog trainers in a room and the only thing they’ll agree on is that the other one is wrong.” All differences aside, we can learn a lot from his site.

What I find most interesting and entertaining on his site is the question and answer section. He has questions from well intentioned folks who have behavioral issues and he tries to give advice and sell a few of his videos at the same time. He also has some questions from people who must have just fell off of a turnip truck. I read one from a lady who thought she should train her German Shepherd in German because he would understand it better…being that he’s German and all… Or the one from a guy who bought a German Shepherd for $150.00 and wanted advice on how to select a proper female for breeding. Ed’s profound, and very appropriate answer was (paraphrased), “Don’t breed your dog. You will be adding to the dog overpopulation problem.”

My point is that there are so many misconceptions that are passed around these days, so many pieces of bad advice that it’s impossible for the average dog owner to sort through it all. This is where the dog trainer comes in. A good, professional trainer will be able to help you wade through the mountains of misinformation and bad advise out there. I have personally witnessed well-intentioned people give extremely bad advice in the name of helping a fellow dog owner. When you get right down to it, the main reason we train our dogs is for their own good. A trained dog is more balanced, safer and happier. A well-trained dog is likely to have more freedom and a better quality of life.

We routinely field calls from owners of small and toy breeds that are neurotic and aggressive. When these owners bring their dogs in, they are usually being carried like children and pet constantly. They are often dressed in cute clothes and fancy jeweled collars and harnesses. Often the owners of small breeds get them to treat them like babies. This is a mistake. I have a saying, “Treating your dog like a kid is like treating a fish like a dog. It doesn’t work.” You cannot make a dog into a different species and trying to humanize any dog is a recipe for problem behavior. Another general idea about toy dogs is that they are harmless so training isn’t really necessary. Unfortunately for those dogs, they end up living years in a fearful, desperate state. Good training can help a toy dog cope with the world, while sheltering and coddling creates a weak-nerved paranoid dog. They are simply are not enjoying their lives. While it’s true that they aren’t generally as dangerous as an out of control large breed, they can and do bite. A trainer I knew years ago was fond of saying, “What would you prefer, 5 stitches from a Pomeranian or 5 stitches from a Pit Bull?” Either way, it’s 5 stitches.

There are special individuals who adopt older dogs. The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks needs to be forgotten. Older dogs are learning things every day and are perfectly capable of being trained. The trick here is to start training immediately and set up a good, positive routine in the new home. If an older dog has learned bad behaviors from a previous living situation, the first thing he will do is try to recreate those conditions that he is used to. It’s much easier to teach a new routine from day one.

Of course, the best time to train a dog is when he is young and malleable. The first 4 or so months of a puppy’s life is the “imprinting” stage. This is the time to start training! A young dog is a sponge for information, and what they learn while they still have their puppy teeth is learned forever. You may be surprised at how fast you can teach an 8 week old puppy to “down” on command. During this period is where we like to expose the puppy to the sights and sounds that he will be exposed to in day to day life. The importance of training a young puppy cannot be over-emphasized.

Even the nicest, sweetest dog can benefit from training. I know of too many stories of dogs that were very friendly that fell victim to a dropped leash or a collar that popped open. Even responsible dog owners can have equipment failures. It is imperative that dogs be trained well enough to respond and recall in case equipment fails.

Finally, even if you have the easiest, nicest, most naturally obedient dog in the world there is another great reason to take your dog to training. Because it’s fun! I am currently working with a rescue Rottweiler right now named Gunnar. Now, Gunnar is not exactly that super easy dog that I was describing, but it’s amazing to watch him as he figures out that we are teaching him things. He has become a completely different dog since training started and I believe that he honestly enjoys his lessons. Training is enriching to dogs and adds to their enjoyment of life. If your dog does obedience great, what about a trick class, of teaching him nose work. A well tempered, trained dog can also work as a therapy dog. Your dog can visit patients in hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers. Canine Therapy Corps is one local organization that we work with and reccommend. You and your dog can brighten someone’s day and help them get back on their feet. This is one of the most rewarding things any dog can do.

Once people complete any of my training programs, I always send them away with the same piece of advice. “Your training didn’t end today. Your training starts today.” You see, if you live with a dog you are his primary trainer. For better or worse, you are ultimately responsible for his behavior. A good training program should help you be the best trainer you can be.

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— October 17, 2012 —

Some service dogs that you may not think about.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

It’s not unusual to see a guide dog leading his owner down the street in Chicago. I see them a few times a year. I am always impressed by these special dogs. I recently saw a visually disabled individual with not one, but two seeing eye dogs. It wasn’t until I got close that I realized what was happening. The owner was out with his young guide dog, walking a very senior dog. He and the new dog were walking the retired guide dog. It was a touching example of the bond that develops between the working dog and the human who depends on him.

Dogs fulfill many roles in their service to us. When we think of service dogs the common ones come to mind, but what about the less known service dogs?

With their keen sense of smell, dogs can detect hidden bombs and drugs, but did you know that a dog can detect cancer? Cancer cells emit a different waste product than normal healthy cells. Dogs have such a keen sense of smell, they can detect the unique scent of this waste product on the breath of a person with cancer. According to an article in National Geographic, Stefan Lovgren National Geographic News January 12, 2006, the trained dogs could detect the cancers regardless of the stage and were 88 to 97 percent accurate.

Another less known service dog function is that of a seizure response or seizure alert dog. A seizure response dog is trained to help it’s owner during a seizure. They will do such things as pull dangerous items away from a person who is having a seizure, fetch or activate a specially programed phone or even lie on top of the person to give comfort.

It is believed that some dogs are able to predict an oncoming epileptic seizure and warn their owner before it happens. This is obviously very helpful in preventing the person from falling or being injured during the seizure. These dogs are not breed, gender or age specific and there is no “training” to teach a dog to predict a seizure. Often a seizure response dog will develop the ability to actually predict a seizure after working with an individual over time. The actual effectiveness of seizure prediction is still somewhat murky, and there is some controversy as to whether the dog is actually predicting the seizures.

Dogs are also able to alert their owners to the fact at their blood sugar is low. Hypoglycemia is the condition where a person’s blood sugar drops below safe levels. A specially trained dog can sense this and alert their owner. These dogs can also be trained to alert when the person’s blood sugar becomes too high. Trained diabetes alert dogs dogs will whine, pace or paw at their owners to alert them to the situation, allowing them to take necessary measures. As an interesting aside: I once had a diabetic relate a story to me where her dog “alerted” on a complete stranger. That person had never been diagnosed as diabetic, but described that they were feeling the symptoms of low blood sugar.

Search and rescue dogs are exceptional in their training and in their physical ability. These are hearty dogs of many different breeds, but usually Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers and Border Collies are used for this type of work. (This is by no means an all inclusive list of SAR breeds.) They track by scent, often through very difficult conditions to find lost individuals. These dogs are trained to lead their handler to people who have been lost, either in the wilderness or as a result of urban catastrophe such as an earthquake. They have to be extremely strong nerved and able to operate in conditions that would intimidate many dogs.

Of course, even untrained dogs provide us with service. Merely petting a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure and children living with dogs are known to be healthier and have less issues with infections and allergies than children who do not live with dogs. You see, the most common service dogs provide to us is just being dogs. Anyone who has lived with a dog knows that they add value to every one of our lives. Whether they have had any special training or not, just being themselves is often service enough.

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— October 9, 2012 —

Put a Leash on That Dog!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Well, it happened again. Just this week my dogs were charged by an off-leash dog. I hate when this happens for a number of reasons. I have two dogs that are pretty social. I also have one that is what I like to call, “dog-selective”. Peace, a 7 year old male Rottweiler likes other dogs just fine. He’s a little pushy in meetings, which can bother some dogs, but he generally doesn’t initiate any aggression. Jelly, a 2 year old female Rottweiler basically has no interest in other dogs, preferring to stay with her own pack and let dogs go on about their day. I honestly believe that if she never met another dog she would be just fine. She never behaves aggressively, but will give an, “I’m uncomfortable” growl and back away if a strange dog invades her space.

Gunnar is the one who I am most careful with. He’s an 11 year old pit bull mix. He’s actually more mix-breed than pit-bull. He is not terribly social, but can be introduced to dogs slowly. After taking a few proper introductory steps, he accepted Jelly into the house last year and I think he genuinely likes having her around. What he doesn’t like is having a super-excited, strange dog run up and get in his face.

So in this particular scenario, I am walking Gunnar and Jelly out in front of our building. They are leashed, as usual, and a new dog (off leash, of course) charges over. I see him coming and start to tell the owner to stop his dog. The response I get is, “He’s fine.” I say, “He won’t be if he comes over here.” Of course, the dog is not trained to recall properly, and I was left to deal with three dogs who are about to have “issues”. Fortunately, the little dog is deterred by a firm “NO!” and a stomp of the foot. He turns tail and heads back to his owner.

Now, there are a few things that could have gone wrong with this scenario. First, if the dog had not retreated, a fight may have happened. Second, what if my actions had made the little guy run out into the street? I decided the best action would be to send him away to prevent a fight, but since he was not well trained, what if he had gone the wrong way? All of this could be avoided by simply leashing the dog.

I could spend all day telling stories of off-leash dogs that have ended in tragedy. A number of years ago, we had a neighbor who would walk an old brown pit bull off leash all the time. “Coffee” was very friendly and mellow. One evening a few kids were playing with fireworks. They threw one at the dog and she spooked into the street. She was hit by a car and killed. Sure, the kids were wrong and it was a terrible thing to do. The dog also should have been on a leash. The point is, even a well trained dog can spook or be startled.

There are dogs that operate with a very high degree of competence in the city. Seeing-eye dogs actually help their visually impaired owners navigate traffic, crowds and buildings.

At Bark Avenue, we have trained dogs full-time for over a decade. Dogs we have trained have been great pets, therapy dogs and competition obedience dogs. We train dogs to be obedient on-leash and off (where safe and legal). We still advise our clients to put a leash on their dogs in the city. I won’t walk my own dogs off leash anywhere that a startle or quick reaction could get them hurt. Our dogs aren’t equipped to handle the dangers that exist around them. It’s our job to protect them.

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— October 2, 2012 —

See something, say something.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

If you suspect an animal is being neglected or abused, here are a few resources available to try and help.

At Bark Avenue Playcare we occasionally get calls about a dog or cat that someone believes is being abused. Many times, people are at a loss as to what they can do to help these animals. The state of Illinois and Chicago both have resources to help people report animal abuse.

Often, owners are unaware that they are not providing proper care for their animals. These cases of neglect, while still considered abuse, can often be corrected through educating the owner. The State of Illinois requires that animals kept outside (we do not advise it, but some people still do this) be provided with adequate shelter from the elements and have access to food and water. If an owner is unaware of these things, often education is all that is needed to correct the situation.

At Bark Avenue we regularly get dogs in for grooming that are severely matted. This matting is painful for the dog and can lead to serious skin infections. I am always sure to educate the dog’s owner about the need to properly groom a long-coated dog. Issues like proper vaccinations and under-feeding (and in some cases over feeding) are all issues that may be corrected through simply educating the owner about the best way to care for their dog.

More serious abuse, like dog fighting or dogs left out in unsheltered yards for extended periods of time may require legal enforcement.

An dogfight in progress should be immediately reported to 911. The police tend to take dogfighting complaints seriously, if for no other reason that dogfights often go along with other serious criminal activities. Also, the Humane Society of the United States has a program offering a reward of up to $5,000.00 for reporting a dogfighter who gets convicted. See the following link for info: http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/dogfighting/tips/dogfighting_action.html

Chicago’s Animal Care and Control can be contacted by dialing 311. The city has resources for dealing with animal abuse complaints, but due to budget cuts, these resources are severely limited. Many local humane societies, like The Anti Cruelty Society on LaSalle, have trained Humane Investigators on staff. Our rescue arm, K9 4 KEEPS is in the process of sending some of our volunteers to become trained Humane Investigators. Humane Investigators respond to reports of cruelty in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. In cases such as a suspected dogfighting ring, they can contact the local authorities to investigate.

In other cases, where neglect is suspected, Humane Investigators track complaints and assist owners in correcting violations. As a last resort, the Humane Investigator has the authority to remove the dog from a dangerous situation. Hopefully this will help people who wish to report animal abuse. It’s our duty to speak up for these animals. They can’t speak for themselves.

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— September 25, 2012 —

Introducing a dog to a cat.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Sometimes, dogs and cats get along right away. Often, there are a few, “minor issues” that need to be ironed out. This week’s Tail is about introducing your new dog to your cat.

Dogs and cats don’t always fight like cats and dogs. Sometimes, dogs and cats are great friends from the get-go. If you’re someone who was lucky to have this, we’re all jealous. Usually, integrating a new dog into a home where there is a cat (or vice versa) takes a bit of work. Disclaimer: If you have any serious concern for your cat’s safety, please contact a professional. They can help you apply what you learn here.

Generally, the reason dogs chase cats isn’t from some insatiable hatred or malice. Usually, dogs chase cats as a function of their prey drive. Dogs are predators, from the biggest German Shepherd dog to the cutest Pomeranian, and each of them will have a certain level of prey drive. It varies by individual dog and if someone wants to live with both a cat and a dog, understanding the concept of prey drive is crucial. There are exceptions to this. Years ago we had a dog, Pauly, who would go into an absolute rage any time he saw a cat. His eyes and ears would turn blood-red and he would do everything in his power to get to the cat. I doubt that any amount of training would have gotten him to be trustworthy with a cat.

First and foremost, a successful introduction is based on solid handling skills and good obedience training. Generally, dogs coming out of a rescue situation won’t have a whole lot of obedience training. Knowing that, it may take weeks or months for the dog and cat to be totally trustworthy together.

For the average dog, however, their interaction with a cat can usually be managed. The first thing I usually do is evaluate the dog’s reaction to the family cat. This is a straightforward process of putting a leash in the dog and walking him into the room in view of a cat. If you come across a dog like our boy Pauly, you’ll know right away.

Ideally, you will have a cat that is dog-savy and calm around the dog. If the cat runs at the sight of a dog it will complicate the situation. (If the cat attacks the dog —yes it happens— this will also complicate the situation.) It may take a week or more for your cat to get comfortable enough to not run from or agitate the dog. During that time, the dog can be kept on leash or kenneled to help the cat become more comfortable.

If the dog gives any reaction to the cat, you can judge the level of interest by how easy it is to get the dog to turn away from the cat. If calling the dog by name distracts him, then I’d say he has a pretty mild interest. If he only turns away from the cat for the smell of a treat, then he may be a bit more interested, but still manageable. If he cannot be distracted from the cat with a treat, and continues to pull towards the cat, a correction may be in order. A correction is not dragging the dog away from the cat. A correction is a sharp pop on the leash. If you drag the dog away from the cat, this will only serve to intensify his drive to get to the cat. The correction I am referring to should serve to “snap him out” of his drive to chase the cat.

The equipment on the dog is important. If the dog has a flat collar on, the “pop” will be less effective than using a prong training collar. The choice of equipment will be dictated by the dog’s reaction to training. A dog with a “harder” temperament may require one these training devices.

The key here is allowing the dog and cat to be near each other under controlled circumstances. Once the dog is past the initial excitement, we reward the dog for ignoring the cat. By the time you start allowing the dog off leash near the cat, you should have done some formal training. This will include recall training. You can check how trustworthy your dog is with the cat by letting him drag a long line. If you can recall him away from the cat without having to use the leash, then he’s getting ready to be off-leash with the cat. I would be sure to have at least a dozen good situations where the dog recalls before I’d let him off the leash. Also, make sure you can recall him when the cat is running. This presents a whole new level of distraction for your dog.

With enough patience and consistency, most dogs can learn to live with a cat. Hopefully, if you have a cat and you are thinking about adopting a dog, this will help dispel the myth that cats and dogs can’t live together. With training and a little effort, you can have the best of both worlds.

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— September 18, 2012 —

Dangerous foods.
There are many everyday foods that our dogs can’t eat.

I wrote a while back about what I feed my dogs and gave some advice about finding a good food for your dog. This week we’ll talk about a few everyday foods that we shouldn’t feed our dogs.

There are many great things that we can eat that our dogs cannot eat. Everyone knows about chocolate, but what else do we need to be careful about?

One of the most common poisonous foods that people feed their dogs is grapes. Anything containing grapes like raisins, wine and oatmeal cookies (with raisins) are potentially toxic to dogs. Scientists actually haven’t figured out exactly what it is in grapes that harms dogs. We have actually given a few grapes to our dogs before we knew about this. Luckily we never had a problem and have since stopped. Symptoms of grape toxicity include vomiting and lethargy.

Avocados contain persin. Unless you’re allergic to it, it’s harmless to you. It is dangerous for your dog. Also, the entire plant contains persin. If you have an avocado plant in the yard, make sure Fido can’t get to it and eat the leaves or chew the branches. These parts of the plant also contain persin.

Onions and garlic (cooked, raw and dehydrated) can cause severe anemia. Anemia is indicated by pale gums, weakness and shortness of breath. Side note: Since dogs’ gum color varies by individual, it’s a good idea to know what your dog’s gum color is normally as a base for comparison.

Candies and gum are possibly the scariest of the human foods that a dog can get a hold of. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener common in these items, can be deadly in very small doses. It tends to raise insulin levels and can cause complete liver failure. Please read labels and keep these items from your dog.

Fatty foods can be dangerous to dogs. A piece of steak trimming occasionally is no big deal, but too much fat can cause pancreatitis. I was told a story about a dog that once ate a whole pound of cooked bacon. At autopsy, the dog’s pancreas was discovered to be completely destroyed. Too much fat causes the digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas to digest the pancreas. It is very painful and can be life threatening such as in the case of the dog I mentioned. It should be noted that spicy food can have a similar effect.

While many dog prescriptions are actually human medicine, some “people drugs” can be fatal to dogs. Tylenol and Advil, for example, depress liver function. Human medicine should never be given without consulting your veterinarian.

This is by no means all inclusive, I just want to touch on the most common things we see at Bark Avenue. Also, there are lots of great things you can feed your dog to give some variety to the same old foods. My dogs love carrots, brocolli, and one even likes watermelon. I often give lean cuts of meat or cooked noodles. These things are treats, not meal replacements and my dogs love them.

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— September 11, 2012 —

Heroes of 9/11

Today is 9/11/2012. Eleven years ago today, the U.S. suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history. We have nothing but respect and admiration for those police officers, firemen and paramedics who ran towards danger that day. This Tuesday’s Tail is dedicated to all of the first responders, both human and canine, who worked tirelessly to find those trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Please watch these videos:





We will never forget.

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— September 4, 2012 —

What does your dog eat?
The very confusing topic of dog food.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

This week, I would like to discuss the things that people feed their dogs. Lots of people wonder if the dog food they are giving is really the best. A lot of people go out of their way to provide the highest quality, all natural diets for their dogs. There are people who just try to do something of decent quality and there are those who simply fall for the best advertising.

Before I begin, I will say this. I am not an expert on dog nutrition. I am not trying to say that you should feed your dog this one food and he will live a long healthy life and I am most certainly not a vet. I have done a fair amount of research and I have seen good results. My dogs tend to live to the high end of their life expectancy and they are generally healthy throughout their lives. What I AM saying is this. You should take a little time to research what you are feeding your dog and know if it is healthy or not.

There are a million and one options for feeding your dog. There are kibbles, frozen raw patties, freeze dried raw and canned foods. Add to this the option of making home-made dog food and you could wind up spending forever deciding what is best. I have fed home-made raw for many years and have been happy with the results. It is a little more work, but I believe it’s worth it. Again, I won’t tell anyone exactly what to feed, but there are many great websites that can help you decide how to do a healthy home-made diet.

When it comes to kibble, there are just too many choices out there to discuss them all. What I will say is this.
READ THE INGREDIENTS! If it contains corn, corn meal, sugar, flour and so on, it’s probably not a great food. Another general rule of thumb is if your kibble is more than one color, it’s probably not good food. If the manufacturer dyes the food pretty colors they’re trying to appeal to you, the human, not your dog. A quick google search of, “What’s really in dog food.” will also be an eye opener. I dare say that if you have a weak stomach, you may not want to read the results.

Even among quality foods, there will be foods that just don’t agree with a particular dog. Some foods are just too rich, or may contain something a dog is allergic to. Here again, researching the ingredients of your dog’s food can help. Blue Buffalo, a relatively high end food, has had numerous complaints from dog owners saying it is too rich for their dogs and had caused their dogs to have diarrhea.

A great resource is this dog food rating system:
(copied from www.abouttimecanecorso.com/BreedInfoKibbleRating.shtml)
Dog Food Quality Rating System

The quality of the kibble you feed your dog is extremely important to his well being, and will play a big role in his health and life span. With so many brightly colored and heavily advertised kibble brands available, most people have a difficult time determining which are actually quality healthy nutritional foods, and which are simply well packaged and marketed fillers and by-products. Whether you are curious as to how your current brand measures up, or simply trying to make the best well informed decision for your new pet, we’ll give you the tools you need to make the best decision for your dog.

We recommend only feeding kibble that rates an A or A+ per this system to ensure optimum health and wellness for your pet. Innova/Evo, Canidae, Natural Balance, Foundations and Solid Gold are among the highest rated foods. What may be surprising to many is to see Science Diet, Purina, and Pedigree at the bottom, with an F (Failed) rating, and Iams & Eukanuba with very poor quality D ratings. Don’t be fooled by advertising that you see everywhere promoting kibble brands. Quality food companies put their money into the best quality ingredients for your pet, not into mass advertising and marketing.

How to grade the quality of your dog food brand:

Start with a grade of 100 points:
  1. For every listing of “by-product”, subtract 10 points
  2. For every non-specific animal source reference, such as “meat” or “poultry”, meat, meal or fat, (not to be confused with actual protein source stated such as chicken, lamb, turkey etc), subtract 10 points
  3. If the food contains BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin, subtract 10 points for each
  4. For every grain “mill run” or non-specific grain source subtract 5 points
  5. If the same grain ingredient is used 2 or more times in the first five ingredients (i.e. “ground brown rice”, “brewer’s rice”, “rice flour” are all the same grain), subtract 5 points
  6. If the protein sources are not meat meal and there are less than 2 meats in the top 3 ingredients, subtract 3 points
  7. If it contains any artificial colorants or preservatives, subtract 3 points for each
  8. If it contains corn (ground corn, corn gluten, whole grain corn etc) subtract 3points
  9. If corn is listed in the top 5 ingredients, subtract 2 more points
  10. If the food contains any added animal fat other than fish or flaxseed oil, subtract 2 points
  11. If lamb is the only animal protein source, subtract 2 points
  12. If it contains soy or soybeans, subtract 2 points
  13. If it contains wheat, or components of wheat such as gluten, subtract 2 points
  14. If it contains “digest”, subtract 5 points
  15. If it contains salt, subtract 1 point

Extra Credit Bonus Points:
  1. If any of the meat sources are organic, add 5 points
  2. If the protein source is meal vs meat, add 5 points
  3. If the food is baked not extruded, add 5 points
  4. If the food contains probiotics or prebiotics, add 3 points
  5. If the food contains fruit, add 3 points
  6. If the food contains vegetables (NOT corn or other grains), add 3 points
  7. If the animal sources are hormone-free and antibiotic-free, add 2 points
  8. If the food contains barley, add 2 points
  9. If the food contains flax seed oil (not just the seeds), add 2 points
  10. If the food contains oats or oatmeal, add 1 point
  11. If the food contains sunflower oil, add 1 point
  12. For every different specific animal protein source (other than the first one; count “chicken” and “chicken meal” as only one protein source, but “chicken” and “fish” as 2 different sources), add 1 point
  13. If it contains glucosamine and chondroitin, add 1 point
  14. If the vegetables have been tested for pesticides and are pesticide-free, add 1 point
  15. Bonus credit — If the food contains NO grains, add 10 points

Kibble's Quality Score:
100 + = A+ (Excellent Kibble Quality!)
94–100 = A
86–93 = B
78–85 = C
70–77 = D
69–below = F (FAILED — Very Poor Kibble Quality)

A couple of examples of ratings from kibble you may be feeding:
Innova Evo / Score 129 A+
Canidae / Score 117 A+
Natural Balance Duck and Potato / Score 114 A+
Diamond Large Breed 60+ Formula / Score 99 A
Science Diet for Large Breed Puppies / Score 69 F
Science Diet chicken adult maintenance / Score 45 F
Benful (Purina) / Score 17 F
Ol Roy / Score 9 F

You may ask, why does it matter? The dogs don’t know what the rating is. All they care about is if they like it. When you feed your dog keep this in mind. Everything that happens to humans in 70+ years will happen to your dog in 10–15 years. That is their average lifespan (relative to breed and size) and the effects of poor nutrition and poisonous additives in magnified in dogs. That extra $5 to $10 you spend a week on feeding your dog will pay you back in longevity. It will also save you money at the vet because better food makes for healthier dogs. Whether you decide to feed homemade raw, cooked or a commercial dog food, we hope you will take a little bit of time and research what you are feeding. Your dog will thank you.

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— August 28, 2012 —

Why do we rescue dogs?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I looked at all the caged animals in the shelter…the cast-offs of human society. I saw in their eyes love and hope, fear and dread, sadness and betrayal. And I was angry. “God,” I said, “this is terrible! Why don't you do something?” God was silent for a moment and then spoke softly, “I have done something,” was the reply. “I created you.”
—Jim Willis
We hear questions all the time, from our family, or friends or whoever. “Why do you spend so much time on rescue dogs?” or, “Don’t you get attached to them?” “Isn’t all that vet care expensive? It isn’t even YOUR dog?”

What they’re really asking is this. “Why do you rescue dogs?”

There is a ton of effort that goes into every single rescue dog. Some have medical issues and need veterinary care. Some have behavioral issues and need training and guidance. Sometimes they just need a second chance. Some need a warm, dry place to sleep and the rescue facility is full. Those extra walks with the rescue dog in your house can add up to less time for other things.

We laugh at the antics of puppies and we cry at the death of a friend. This is part of rescuing dogs.

We follow up with adopters until all hours of the morning. This is part of rescuing dogs.

We invest our time, our money and our emotions. This is part of rescuing dogs.

We get snapped at, yelled at and bit. This is part of rescuing dogs.

So, why do we do it?

The answer to that question is two fold. We do it for the dogs and we do it for the people. There’s a saying that dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole. (Roger Caras) I believe this is the case. For every dog we have rescued, there is a family somewhere that appreciates them. For every little girl who has a best friend and for every teenager who has someone to talk to; for all of those people, this is why we rescue dogs.

We also do it for the dogs. If you are disturbed by the pictures you see of starving dogs, abused dogs or dogs at the pound then do something. There will always be more dogs than there are homes and you can do something to help. If you don’t have free time to volunteer, then donate. If you don’t have money to donate, then educate yourself and help educate your friends. Learn about puppy mills. Help your friends understand why they should know exactly where the puppy they are buying came from. Just drying up the market for puppy-mill puppies would rescue thousands of dog a year. Promote spay neuter programs. That helps also.

There are rescued dogs that have been family pets, police dogs, therapy dogs and service dogs. No matter what their contribution, they are valuable. Rescued dogs fulfill millions of lives and help countless people every day. We could list the dogs we have helped (and been helped by), but there are too many to list them all. I think back to Karl—a former junkyard dog who now has a great life in California. He taught me that even hard cases have a home out there somewhere. Sampson, the rottie mix in Illinois living with his parents and his human babies. I remember our own Max and Otto, who we lost over the years. My life would be completely different if they had never come along. These dogs would have likely suffered and died a long time ago, but someone stepped up to help. They paid their rescuers back a thousand times over.

There is a need to be filled and you can help. No matter what you put into it, you will get back more than you can imagine. That’s why we rescue dogs.

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— August 21, 2012 —

How to transition a new dog into your home.
Here are a few things that new adopters need to know.

Over the years that we have been operating Bark Avenue Playcare, Inc. we have worked with a number of dog rescue organizations. We have helped many dogs go from unwanted stray or pound puppy to beloved family pet. Rescues work very hard to pick the right homes for their dogs. Usually it’s a great match. We have also witnessed our share of failures, where dogs were returned to the rescue for one reason or another.

Sometimes the new owner just didn’t realize how much work it is to take care of a dog. Sometimes the dog had serious behavioral issues that were only discovered after the dog was taken out of the pound-type situation: being in the home exposed something like serious separation anxiety or some other issue. Sometimes it was due to simple human error. I’d like to discuss a few of those mistakes and how not to make them.

Some dogs have such an affable temperament that they adjust and accept everything that happens. They take to a new home as though they belong there and the transition is a non-issue. On the other hand, there are dogs that need more time. They have no idea what this new place is and they can be very uncomfortable for a while. I generally advise new adopters to ere on the side of caution.

One of the most important things a person can do when they take a new dog home is to make the conscious decision to let the dog adjust on his own. You cannot make the dog get comfortable any sooner. In fact, hovering over the dog is likely to make him less comfortable than just leaving him alone. I generally recommend a period of a few days where we let the dog settle in. During this time period, the dog should essentially be kept calm and left to his own devices. If he is house trained, letting him have a quiet room to himself may suffice. If he is not house trained, kenneling him and going for long walks is ideal. The only direct interaction I recommend is these long walks and feeding. Excitement and affection should be kept to a minimum and rough play should be avoided all together.

Once your new dog begins to settle in, he will come to you looking for bonding and affection. Now is the time to begin your training. Instead of immediately delivering boatloads of treats and affection, be more conservative. If he wants petting, he should sit calmly for it. If you decide to give treats, practicing a few simple commands makes for good training.

So, what are some of the things that we would say NOT to do? Well, here are a few examples of mis-steps that we have witnessed and some ideas how to avoid them.

A couple of years back, two young ladies who were roommates adopt a dog from a rescue we were working with. They took her home and had a party with all their friends, THE SAME NIGHT! Needless to say, someone got snapped at and the dog got returned. Everything about this was wrong and the dog suffered for it. The rescue tried to do all the necessary things to ensure a smooth transition, but no one could have imagined that they would do something so irresponsible.
The issue: This dog had NO time to settle in. The fact that she went from a boarding kennel to a hectic house party with loud music and drunk people was completely inappropriate. This dog had no idea what was going on.
The fix: Have a party later, after you have gotten to know your dog. Take time to train and bond with your dog so that you’ll have a better idea of his/her limitations.

On another occasion, a newly adopted dog was in her home laying on the couch with someone she had bonded with. She had lived there for a few days. A guest came over and tried to give her a kiss on her muzzle. That guest got bit and the dog got returned.
The issue: This is actually two fold. First, the dog had only been there for a relatively short time frame. Two, it’s always a bad idea to kiss a strange dog. I generally tell strangers to, “Stay away from the sharp end.” Kissing a dog you don’t know is like kissing a person you don’t know. It often leads to bad things.
The fix: Again, too much contact and the wrong type of contact. If you have a dog, it is your responsibility to educate people about things like not getting into your dog’s face. Many people are bitten in just this type of situation.

Lastly, a dog who got adopted out was taken home and the new owner tried to play dress up by putting a nice pretty martingale-type collar on the dog. The collar was slipped over his head and she tried to tighten it. She got bit. Once she became intimidated by the dog, he read her nervous behavior as a problem and the issue compounded itself. He came back to the rescue.
The issue: Again, stay away from the sharp end. This dog was only there a few hours and this act was like tightening a noose around his neck while hovering over him. It would make anyone uncomfortable and it was too close to his face.
The fix: Wait. Just wait until the dog is comfortable and bonded to you. After the adjustment period you will be able to do all of this with your dog, but in his mind, he’s in a new place with a stranger. Give him time.

Adopting a new dog is a great time. We are getting a new family member and that can be very exciting. We just have to remember that the dog may not understand how wonderful all of this is. We have to give them time to adjust to their new environment and family.

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— August 14, 2012 —

Walk the Walk:
What your walking style says about the relationship between you and your dog.

Ever pass a jokester on the street while walking your dog who felt the need to ask, ‘who’s walking who’? Well, before you scoff at the guy, you need to know that there’s a little bit of truth to every joke. There’s definitely a right and a wrong way to walk your dog. You may discover a whole new side to the relationship you share with your furry best friend once you begin to take steps in the right direction.

You walk the dog, the dog doesn’t walk you.
The classic stock image of someone walking their dog shows the dog in front of the human on a lead, everyone’s happy, tails are wagging and pony tails are swinging. However, your dog should not be walking in front of you— ever. There are many reasons for this but the first and most important is that the pack leader leads the pack. If your dog is walking ahead of you, he is also alpha over you and that could potentially lead to other behavior problems, if they’re not prevalent already when at home. As you can imagine, leading the pack is a huge responsibility and it weighs heavily on a dog, causing more tension and anxiety than anything else. Daily walks are one of the most vital things you can do for your dog, and they should be productive, relaxing and a means of exercise. If you are letting your dog lead the course, pull you in different directions and choose when he’s going to stop and sniff or turn the walk around, you are being taken on a walk, not the dog! Another reason why your dog should walk in a heel at your side is that turning corners into the unknown or passing street alleyways, especially in the city of Chicago, can be extremely dangerous when your dog is the first one in sight. You don’t know if there’s another dog, a car or something else that could potentially cause harm waiting on the other end. Always walk your dog in a heel position when he’s not actively looking for his potty spot; it’s the first step to getting on the right track.

Getting out the door.
When you’re leashing up to go on a walk, call your dog over to you. Don’t chase after your dog to put on a leash or collar. A few treat rewards should fix any problems until more obedience is instilled. Retractable leashes are fundamentally unstable and not recommended for any dog of any size, EVER. They can snap, they provide constant tension pulling back on the dog’s neck and of course, this provided that they are walking in front of you, which is incorrect all together! Most importantly: NEVER ever put a pinch collar on your dog with a retractable leash connected. It defeats the purpose of the training collar and you can cause damage to your dog’s neck. Consult with a trainer on how to properly use a pinch collar, and throw your retractable in the trash (don’t donate it either; no one should be using them!)

Before you take your first step outside, make sure you’re walking out of the door first. So many dogs, especially eager, excited puppies want to bolt through the door, almost knocking you off your feet. If this is the case with your dog, make sure he sits and waits until you are ready to walk out. This may take several tries and some treat rewards, but dogs generally catch on pretty quickly. Summon your patience. Being the first to walk out of the door will set the tone for the duration of the walk so make sure you leave on a good, strong note.

Off to the races.
While walking your dog (in a heel) your leash should be slacked and loose. Many people have issues with dogs that pull relentlessly on their leads during a walk and this can be corrected easily with some adjustments to what kind of collar they’re wearing, placement of the collar and also making sure to give corrections to help them understand that pulling is unacceptable. For a dog that typically likes to lead, the first few walks in a heel are going to require some correction. If you have your dog wearing a harness, you may want to reconsider your choice. Harnesses are MADE for pulling. They give the dog a feeling of stability and strength because the harness distributes the weight of him dragging you behind him across his entire body, making it easier for him to pull you around town. There are several different kinds of ‘no pull’ harnesses on the market but none of them will enable you to correct your dog in order to teach them what you like and what you don’t like while on a walk. In fact, some of them can even potentially cause harm to your dog because of the mechanism that causes the harness to pull your dog’s gait together, potentially flipping them onto their backs like a pancake. Once you get walking, don’t praise your dog too much, you’ll snap them out of their rhythm and potentially excite them which will cause them to revert to their old ways. This is hard work and they need to focus! You will see a difference after just a single walk in your dog once you’ve returned home. Your dog will be tired and ready for a nap because not only did they have to work to earn your respect and follow your lead, but they finally got in some good exercise.

Once you start walking your dog correctly, you’re going to become so in tune with their behavior that you will start to notice other things that they may react to and do out of anxiety or habit. A great way to start altering these bad behaviors is to correct your dog when the behavior is presented. It’s not ‘mean’ to correct your dog. They can’t read our minds. They don’t know when they’re doing something wrong or inappropriate unless we tell them in that exact moment. Spanking, yelling and wagging a finger in their faces or having a human conversation with them is completely ineffective and ultimately frustrating for both parties involved. Ignoring a bad behavior, especially if it’s a dog pulling, nipping and lunging at another dog is the same thing as accepting the bag behavior. The basis for all things dog comes down to obedience. If you want to begin to get your dog on the right track, no matter what the dog’s age may be, walking properly and effectively is the perfect springboard. Get your walking shoes on and get started, it’s never too late to walk like a pro.

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— August 7, 2012 —

Now That I Have Your Attention (follow up to Silent Killer)
by Tyler Muto

Last week we posted an interesting article by Tyler Muto. He asked at the time that I also post his follow up to that article. Here it is.
—Daniel McElroy

Go to Tyler Muto’s blog or read below:
My recent post A Silent Killer, created quite a stir as anticipated. The words within contained a pretty serious charge: That a very small faction of trainers, who believe that no dog should ever be trained with the use of aversives, regardless of the situation, are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of dogs.

Of course there was some pretty heated criticism of this assertion, unfortunately much of that criticism was unjustified. There will be more to be said on this matter, but for now I only have the time to address one of the main concerns.

Of the critiques, the most popular seemed to be the misinterpretation that the above statement somehow translates to “Positive reinforcement training is bad.” I’m not even sure how someone could draw that conclusion based on what was actually stated in my post, but let me be the first to straighten out the confusion:

Positive reinforcement training is great. I love it, and I use it every day. It is a vital component of any overall training program, and in many situations it may be all that is necessary. There has been so much advancement in the realm of rewards-based training that we are able to do so much more than we ever could before.

Where I differ from some of my critics, is that I do not believe that reward based techniques will work with every dog/owner in every situation. In fact, I don’t believe that ANY tool or technique or philosophy is going to work ALL the time.

To be clear, what I am saying is aversive free techniques by themselves do not work all the time, and neither do tools such a prong collars or e-collars.

And here we come to an important distinction: Although positive techniques do not work all the time, I do believe that they should ALWAYS be employed, even when utilizing other tools as well. Aversive techniques do not work all the time either, and should NOT always be employed for every situation. However, there are some situations in which aversive techniques are necessary and preferred (in conjunction with positive techniques.)

No single technique, philosophy, tool, method or approach is going to be the holy grail of dog training. My personal belief, and what I have seen in my daily practice working with dogs, is that the best chances of success occur when we utilize several techniques in varying proportion based on the individual dog. In fact, in my experience (yes, my subjective experience) is that the whole is often greater than the sum of it’s parts. In other words, by combing techniques I have experienced that the outcome is far better than the outcomes of the singular techniques. The more tools that we understand and utilize, the better the likelihood of success.

To be fair, there are many traditional “punishment” based trainers that really need to educate themselves better on the modern aversive free techniques.They may try to use rewards in training, but they do it rather poorly. These trainers could be far more effective if they were able to employ modern learning theory and operant conditioning into their protocols. But again, at least they try, and they are not attempting to rid the world of clickers and cookies.

“So,” one might ask “why are you saying that the trainers who oppose aversives are responsible for the deaths of dogs, and not the trainers who oppose positive techniques.”

The answer to this is simple, and it is entirely based on my own subjective experience. I have met many trainers who oppose all use of aversives. Many are my critics, and they claim to take their position on ethical grounds. However, I have never met a trainer who opposed all uses of positive techniques. I have never met someone who points at the person using a clicker and says “That’s inhumane and abusive.”

If I ever did encounter the person who held the belief that “No dog in any situation should be trained with aversive free techniques ever.” Then I would hold them just as responsible and place as much of the blame on them.

My standpoint is simple. See, no one who is reasonable will claim that they are successful 100% of the time. No one who is reasonable would even say that the techniques that they use are always successful 100% of the time (Not even the ‘science’ would support that claim). We all fail sometimes. So my question is this: In those instances when you fail, can you say honestly that you exhausted all possibilities that are within your ability?

If the answer is no, then I wonder how that answer is justified in the name of ethics.

What I am pushing for is a bit more open-mindedness. A bit more willingness to try techniques that you may not love, but that could mean the difference between success and failure. A little bit of understanding that by abolishing a tool or technique completely, we may actually close the door for a lot of dogs.

This is not a debate over which technique or tool is the best. In fact it’s the opposite. Far too much time and energy is wasted between trainers arguing over methodology. Somehow it gets forgotten that we are all in this working towards the same goal: We are trying to improve the lives of dogs. While well-meaning trainers are arguing with other well-meaning trainers over who’s methods are better/more scientific/more humane/more effective, there are real evils out there such as puppy mills, hoarders, neglecters, abusers, and breed specific legislation that we should be uniting against.

If you read between the lines of my original post the message is clear: Close-midedness and hatred amongst dog trainers is responsible for the deaths of hundred of thousands of dogs.

Yes, I made a very jarring statement. But it got your attention didn’t it?

Post Script:
I purposefully interchange between labels such as “positive training,” “Reward-based training” and “Aversive Free training“. There were tons of critics who decided that it was more important to argue about the terminology of my original post rather than the principals at hand. I get it, I know that some of these labels aren’t accurate descriptors based on the proper use of learning theory terminology. I also don’t give a hoot. There are more important things to discuss. I know learning theory and the appropriate use of terms like the back of my hand. If you are going to comment and argue about terminology, please go elsewhere and don’t waste our time.


Post Post Script:
This is my opinion. If you don't like it, you are free to read something else.

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— July 31, 2012 —

A Silent Killer
by Tyler Muto

This weeks Tail is a blog post by Tyler Muto. It is bound to be somewhat controversial, but I find it fascinating. I believe that the best way to train a dog is to use the most positive approach possible. I want the dog to want to work for me. However, in my experience there are dogs that simply need to be corrected. Unfortunately, there are some who believe that ANY amount of aversive technique is inhumane. This approach limits the trainer to only one side of the behavioral spectrum. Correction is natural and humane…dogs correct each other.
—Daniel McElroy

Go to Tyler Muto’s blog or read below:
The post is very important to me, and it is likely to upset some people. Those involved will not admit their guilt, will deny every aspect of what I am about to say, and place the blame elsewhere.

There is a silent killer in the dog training world. It is not a virus, not a piece of equipment, not a bacteria.

It is an idea.

It is the idea that all dogs, in all situations, should be trained with nothing other than rewards, and without ever the use of aversives. “Reward what you like and ignore what you don’t” is the mantra that is preached, and all will be well in the world. In the dog training community this philosophy goes by many names, some call it Pure Positive (which is not an accurate description), some call it Progressive Reinforcement, some call it Reward only, but for the purposes of this article I will refer to it as Aversive Free or AF.

*Aversive Free (AF) Training can be defined as training which involves only the R+ and P- quadrants of learning. When I refer to Aversive Free (AF) Trainers in this article, I am not referring to those who simply choose this approach for themselves, but I am referring to those who vehemently oppose the use of aversives for any dog in any situation.

Let me be clear, what I am referring to is not the idea that reward only techniques are good, and work in some cases. What I am referring to is the dogmatic belief that this is the ONLY way to train a dog, or deal with behavior problems. The aversive free philosophy is that any type of consequence other than simply removing the reward, is cruel, inhumane, and barbaric.

I want to avoid going into a dissertation on learning theory here, but let me also be clear: If you think rationally, and apply simple logic, it becomes clear that this approach to training dogs will have significant limitations. ‘Contrary to their claims, a aversive free (my edit to terminology) training approach is not as effective and takes considerably longer to reach any level of reliability even close to what a balanced approach can produce. In some instances, reliability cannot be realized using a positive only approach and some dogs will not be trainable at all until appropriate corrections are included.’ (Quoted from Roger Hild.)

“Well,” you might be asking at this point. “What does this have to do with death and killing.”

Quite a bit in fact. You see, rewards are used primarily to create new behavior and offer little to no assistance in communicating to a dog that a certain behavior is unacceptable. However, millions of dogs are killed in this country every year because of behaviors that are deemed “unacceptable.” The AF fanatics have made such a roar that the majority of shelters and rescues have adopted an aversive free philosophy within their organizations. Why? Well probably a few reasons. For one, it sounds great on paper to say that you only reward dogs, and never punish with aversives. Secondly, they have drank the kool-aid. The aversive free proponents have created such a buzz, and are so good at promoting their philosophy that they have many people believing that anything can be accomplished with reward based techniques, and that corrections are always bad and will ruin your dog forever.

Yep, shelter staff, daycare owners, breeders, veterinarians, and many others (most of whom have only trained a handful, if any dogs in their life. And likely have never worked a dog, hands on, through a serious aggression problem.) have been duped into believing this non-sense.

Many well meaning dog owners have also been sucked in, believing that, armed with cookies, hugs, and rays of sunshine they can transform their aggressive, unruly pooch into a well mannered pet.

It’s an easy argument to sell. After all, rewarding dogs is fun, and correcting is not. So when people are told by a professional that they never have to correct their dog again, they are all ears.

Unfortunately, most dogs with serious behavior issues will not be helped with this approach.

And then come the excuses, “This dog needs medication,” “He was traumatized too much as a puppy and will never recover,” or the classic “It’s not the dog, it’s the owner.” the list goes on and on.

When the AF approach fails, the only other option is euthanasia. After all, it would be unheard of to just give a dog a simple correction, to help it understand that there are certain behaviors in life that have consequences. Simple, immediate, consequences.

Luna the Aussie has a history of biting eight people and dogs, Georgia has attacked several dogs, now they are rough housing together without a problem.

Use a leash and prong collar to create momentary discomfort…Oh no, anything but that. Death is certainly a better option.

Don’t believe me?

I am a member of many online dog forums, one of which used to be over-run by the AF cult. (For more on the ‘cult’ of aversive free see here). One woman had a young dog who she was having some trouble with. Even though she was using the aversive free techniques that supposedly can fix any problem, she was continuing to struggle with her dog. Several people on the forum advised her that she should try a prong collar to correct her dogs behavior. “No way,” she said, “I’d sooner put him to sleep than do that.”

Well folks, guess what wound up happening to that unruly pup? That’s right, euthanasia. (Murder if you ask me.)

Needless to say, she was subsequently kicked off the forum, and other members stopped listening to the AF nonsense.

More recently, I was brought a foster dog by a rescue volunteer. The dog had been showing some fear aggression and no one had been successful in making any progress in the months that he had been with the rescue. The volunteer had been a client of mine with her own dogs, and seen success with similar issues, she had also been to the AF trainers that the rescue recommends, and seen no success. The rescue coordinator had already made it very clear that this dog was “running out of time.” (That means either he will be euthanized, or dumped on another rescue.) Several of the rescue’s volunteers had pleaded with the coordinator to let them bring the dog to me, because it is well known that I have a very high success rate working with aggression cases. “Out of the question,” they were told. Simply because I apply a Balanced Training Philosophy. In other words I apply both reward and consequence (beyond the removal of reward) to help create understanding. Yep, the rescue would rather give up on the dog, than send it to a trainer who doesn’t conform to their religion. Then, in subsequent emails, they blamed the volunteers. The very people who reached out to help this guy, took the blame for his failure.

Over 50% of these dogs have histories of aggression to people and dogs. By enforcing rules and leadership, every one can be together peacefully. (At our Pack Socialization Class)

Unfortunately, this dog’s fate is likely doomed now.

The other unfortunate thing is that these “trainers” who claim to be so positive with dogs, are often not so positive with people. The same trainer who yesterday recommended euthanasia to a dog, today will publicly bash me and call me cruel and inhumane for rehabilitating the same dog, all because I gave a small correction. I save the dogs life, but I’m the cruel one! Myself and thousands of other Balanced trainers have had to deal with name calling, accusations, slander and defamation by the AF. I even had another local trainer say to a client of mine “I recommend euthanasia for him, but whatever you do, don’t go to K9 Connection.”

As Josh Moran The Barefoot Dog Trainer has said, “The Aversive Free mantra should be ‘Death Before Discomfort!’”

The Black dog in the back had been told by other trainers that he should be euthanized due to dog aggression. After ONE correction, he is able to exist happily.

Of course if you talk to any Aversive Free trainer, they will never admit this. Why would they? It would put an end to their reign of terror.

Even in the situations were an AF only approach can work, it often takes a very long time. and time is something that many shelter dogs just don’t have. If they don’t show quick improvement, then off to the chopping block they go.

This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of dogs in this country.

Let me say that a bit more clearly: Aversive Free dog training is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of dogs every year.

I am tired of this issue being pushed under the rug. I am tired of clients coming to me in tears after being told by positive dog trainers that their beloved pet could never be helped. And I am sickened to think about the numbers of innocent dog owners who actually took their advice.

The Aversive Free Trainers say they never punish, I guess capital punishment doesn’t count.

Gracie the Pit Bull would have died in the shelter if a volunteer hadn’t pulled her out and brought her to me.

Again, I must restate. I have nothing against positive, rewards based dog training (I myself use positive dog training every day, it is a necessary component of a balanced approach), or those who choose the positive approach for themselves. It is the dogmatically Aversive Free mentality that I am speaking against. Those who force this philosophy on everyone around them, believe that it is the only way, and bash other techniques.

We need to wake up and realize that there is a balance. Using corrections does not mean you must cause pain, fear, and intimidation. Aversive free training has a place in the dog training world, but it is not the only place. We need to return to open-mindedness in dog training. After all, lives are at stake.
Tyler wrote an important follow up to this which will be posted next week.

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— July 24, 2012 —

So, you want to get a second dog.
How will you introduce it into your pack?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

In this week’s issue, I’ll discuss the right way to bring a new dog into your home. For a lot of people, a second dog is no sweat. If you have a super social, affable dog and he readily accepts a new dog into the pack, this Tail isn’t for you. If you’re like me, with a dog that can be ”selective“ then read on.

Gunnar, my little pit mix is not exactly a social dog. He’s not super dog aggressive, but he occasionally gets into fights and usually he starts it. Late last year, when Jelly came to live with us, we had to work diligently to ensure that he didn’t end up in a fight with her. The fact that she is naturally social and super friendly didn’t hurt.

The classic advice about meeting on neutral territory is good, but there are a few other steps that will make the introduction go more smoothly.

First, your current dog needs to be well trained. Gunnar’s training and my ability to direct him verbally make the whole process of introducing a new dog much easier. If I instruct Gunnar to lay down, he will do so and he will stay there while I deal with the other dog. If you are struggling to handle your current dog, it may not be time to get a second dog yet.

Be realistic when it comes to evaluating your dog’s obedience level. If your dog won’t at least hold a sit or down while in public, then more training is in order. Also, I have written about stimulation level in previous Tails. If your dog is constantly overstimulated, introducing a new dog is going to be much more difficult as overstimulation can make a dog unpredictable. If you have a dog that is dog selective, overstimulation could cause a fight during the introduction. This is another thing that can be dealt with through training.

Second, by going through training you will learn your dog’s triggers. If your dog is toy or treat possessive, removing those items from the environment would make the introduction go more smoothly. Once the dogs have bonded, toys and treats can be reintroduced under controlled conditions.

Third, and this is the most overlooked part of introducing dogs, I NEVER allow dogs to meet by dragging me to the other dog for a face-to-face meeting. Meetings (especially between less social dogs) should ALWAYS happen through a walk. Through the training business and the rescue that we operate, we often have families who come in to introduce their dog to a potential second dog. When I have a family who wants to introduce their dog to a new dog, we take the dogs for a walk together.

Think of it this way. In dog society, the pack moves together. They are usually going in the same direction. When they confront a threat, they stand together facing towards it. When we allow dogs to meet face-to-face, we can set up a confrontational dynamic. Certain dogs automatically view a dog facing towards them like a boxer in the ring and it triggers them to become defensive. Often these same dogs will be dis-armed by setting up a situation where they simple go for a walk with the other dog. This walk that I’m describing is done a certain way. We don’t go for a slow, leisurely walk and let the dog sniff each other. This walk is done at a fast pace and the dogs are kept moving the whole time. Once we have gone a few blocks and the dogs have calmed down and are basically ambivalent to each other, we’ll allow them to greet and sniff each other. Some dogs require a number of walks to get through the introduction phase. If this is the case, we keep the dogs separated during the day by kenneling one or both dogs.

Even with the best of efforts, a fight may still happen. I have been asked many times how to break up a dog fight. I hate to answer that because there are just too many variables. Here is a link with a few ideas. This link seems to be directed at dogs fighting that do not live together. http://www.wikihow.com/Break-Up-a-Dog-Fight. If you can find something to separate the dogs with like a box or chair, etc use it. It’s generally a bad idea to get in between fighting dogs or to try to grab the dogs’ collars. The one thing in that link I don’t agree with is to immediately separate the dogs in different rooms. If the dogs are to live together, then as soon as you have stopped the fight, they should be leashed and made to sit or down in the same general area, but far enough away to avoid a rematch. The reason for this is as follows. If the last thing they remember is fighting, they may ”pick up where they left off.“ The idea is that if they calm down before they are separated, then they will be less likely to keep building upon the bad experience.

How long will the introduction take? That depends on the individual dog. I do know that after living in multi-dog household, I could never have just one. There is a lot of work involved, but the rewards are even greater.

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— July 17, 2012 —

Why is this dog in a shelter?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I meet homeless dogs every week that are awesome, amazing, cool dogs…and I wonder how anyone could have given them up to a shelter.

Jelly is my newest dog. She’s a female Rottweiler. She thinks people are the coolest thing in the world. She is a cute, super friendly, pure-bred dog (as close as we can guess without having papers). She’s about a year and a half and we got her from a high kill shelter last year. She had 45 minutes to live when we got the email.

Every time I see her, I wonder how someone could have given her up.

Last week, we had a couple come into our facility because they heard about our rescue. This nice mother and her teenaged daughter wanted to “trade” their unruly pit bull in for one of our calm dogs. Really, this is what they were suggesting. They had a young dog, about a year old and since he was so out of control, he was basically living in a crate. He was (probably still is) un-neutered, untrained and young-all things that create problem behaviors.

Just a few days ago, we had a nice young couple surrender a beautiful male Rottweiler to us. Again, Tank is about a year and a half, un-neutered, untrained and missing shot records. Tank was surrendered because he bit a kid in the face. Now before you say, “Why would you take in a dog that bit a kid in the face?” I’ll say this. This bite was the result of extreme human error and a lack of education on the part of the ADULTS in the situation.

There is a saying, “There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.” If you’ve read my past Tails, you know how I feel about that statement. What I do believe is that there are lots of people who are bad owners, and they don’t even know it.

Sure, we all know that dog fighters are abusive to their dogs. We know people who starve their dogs are neglectful, but how about those un-educated owners who just don’t know any better. Lack of education also leads to poor treatment of dogs. In the case of the pit bull above, the family who wanted to give him up simply have no idea what they were doing with a young dog. A dog like this needs to be trained and neutered. With proper exercise they can be great companion dogs.

Tank is the classic case of a working breed dog that never received the training that he deserved. These dogs start to hit maturity and are often given up at about 1 to 1.5 years when they make the transition from “puppy” to “dog”. Also, to anyone knowing dogs would know that it is inappropriate to allow a young child to run up and “hug” a strange dog. This is often seen as aggressive by the dog and many kids get bit in exactly this scenario.

Lack of education can lead to dangerous dogs, too. I personally believe that this is a much more pressing issue when talking about dogs that seriously hurt or even kill people. I live three doors down from a family with three pit bull mixes. (Actually, one of them is pretty much a true pit bull and that is the nicest one. The rest are mixed breeds.) The problem is that they don’t recognize the fact that their dogs are dangerous. The dogs charge the fence when anyone, human, dog or both, walk by the yard. I have more than once had to chase the dogs back into their yard when they have gotten out of their fence. A person or a child who runs from the dogs would likely be mauled. The very fact that these dogs are not being trained or handled properly is what is allowing this situation to develop. Now, I know these people love their dogs. They walk them and the dogs appear well fed. The dogs’ owner simply doesn’t understand what could happen after these dogs spend years frustrated behind a fence. As much as I have tried to educate them, the dogs’ behavior just gets keeps getting worse.

Lack of education costs dogs homes and sometimes their lives. Every year I meet hundreds of owners who are willing to work through problem behaviors, but there are many who aren’t. Just as likely, some people just don’t think their dog can be helped. So, if you have a dog, please know that there are a few things you need to be willing to do, in addition to regular feedings, if you want to be a responsible owner.

  1. You need to understand your dog’s breed, type and temperament. While I have said many times, breed based legislation/discrimination is wrong, there are a few things that are specific to breeds and types of dogs. If you have a working breed, they will probably be more protective than a sporting breed. If you have a terrier, it will likely have a high prey drive. You should know what that means and how to deal with it. Often times, just these types of issues causes a breed to get a bad reputation.


  2. You need to understand the medical needs of your dog and accept the responsibility that comes with it. Tank had never been vaccinated by his owners. That is not appropriate or responsible. Also, unless you have a good and specific reason, neutering will make your dog easier to live with and much less likely to display aggression.


  3. Training is not optional. Training is also not supposed to start AFTER your dog has developed problem behavior. Training needs to be done early and consistently. There are a few people who come to me and say, “My last dog was perfect. He never did (insert whatever problem the new dog is doing). My response it always the same. “Congratulations, you HAD a perfect dog. This dog is normal.”


I know that the people I talk about here loved their dogs, but just loving your dog is not enough. In the case of Tank, they cared about him enough to be heartbroken over giving him up. I wish I could go back in time and explain to them what would happen down the road if they didn’t do a few very important things. Since that is impossible, I hope this helps educate a few people about the importance of training, neutering and proper medical care to prevent problems for other dogs.

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— July 10, 2012 —

Should we go to the vet for that?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Sometimes, we run into the question of whether an injury or illness is serious or not. This week, I’d like to discuss my criteria for when a dog needs to be seen by a vet.

Let’s say your dog is sick. He hasn’t eaten for a few days, he threw up and now has diarrhea. Does he need to go to the vet? Is it an emergency, or can it wait until next available appointment?

What about the dog that is limping? What if he has a cough? He got into a fight and has a cut/scratch. Do I need to get him antibiotics? All of these questions may or may not require a vet visit.

Before I go any further, I must say this. “I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on T.V.” Use this information combined with good judgement and common sense. My general attitude towards medical issues is to be conservative when I can. I don’t run my dog the the vet for every scratch or upset stomach, but when there is a real problem, I want to be as aggressive with treatment as possible. Generally speaking, if I wouldn’t go to the doctor myself for a condition, I don’t take my dog to the vet. That being said, here a few guidelines that I use to determine whether a dog needs to go to a vet.
Throwing up/refusing to eat:
A very serious symptom, that may be misunderstood is when a dog is vomiting or refusing to eat. I know some dogs are less food motivated, but if your dog is usually a good eater and refuses food, pay close attention to him. When it comes to G.I. symptoms (vomiting, lack of appetite, diarrhea-with or without blood present) I tell people that any two symptoms at the same time is a cause for a vet visit. Also, any one symptom that goes on for a couple of days requires a trip to the vet. My male Rottweiler will vomit bile if he doesn’t get fed regularly. An empty stomach for him equals an upset stomach, but he will eat right away. A few months back, however, Gunnar our 10 year old pit mix seemed a little lethargic and refused to eat a couple of meals in a row. There were no MAJOR symptoms, but this was very unusual for him. We took him straight to the vet. Turns out it was caused by hepatitis, which can be fatal if left untreated. Other causes of refusing to eat may be blocked intestines, infection (parvo, distemper, etc), gastric torsion (flipped stomach) and other serious illness like cancer. All of these are very serious and a vet can help you figure out what the problem is.

Cough:
Coughing is a tough one. Puppies will often develop “puppy cough” when they are first exposed to other dogs. This is analogous to the kid who goes to daycare and catches a cold. There are many germs that will make a puppy cough. Bordetella is the one most people know about. Generally it is not dangerous unless it develops into a secondary infection like pneumonia. The bordetella vaccine can reduce the severity of the infection, but it is not effective in preventing it entirely. Other germs, like distemper also cause coughing. The distemper infection is usually fatal, but fortunately the vaccine is very effective. So a cough by itself, in a well vaccinated puppy or young dog needs to be watched. If the dog develops any other symptoms (discharge from the nose, lethargy, lack of appetite) he should see a vet right away. Also, any puppy that is coughing is very contagious. Please do not bring him around any other dogs until the symptoms are completely gone. In an adult dog, coughing can be anything from “kennel cough” to allergies or a serious heart condition. Coughing for more than a couple of days requires a trip to the vet.

Cut or bite wound:
As a rule, I do not put my dogs under anesthesia or give them antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. If a dog has been in a fight, first check the dog over for injuries. Injuries can range from superficial scratches (wounds that do not puncture completely through the skin) to shallow punctured to deep punctures. Deep punctures should be seen by a vet. If you can see the layers under the skin, or if a wound doesn’t stay closed, that would be what I am describing. Obviously, bleeding that can’t be stopped would require a vet visit. The main reason for seeing a vet with deep punctures is the potential for serious infections and abscess development. The vet will often surgically implant a drainage tube to prevent this. This will require the dog to be sedated. Sedation has it’s own risks, so I have to be certain a wound is severe enough to put my dog under anesthesia. (While anesthesia is safer than ever, we have had more than one client have their dog sedated for elective procedures with the dog not waking up from anesthesia. Anesthesia must be viewed as a serious issue.)

Superficial wounds are things I describe like a skinned knee. They are caused by the outer layers of skin being scraped off, but without penetrating through it. With these types of wounds there is no need for stitches, because there is nothing to close. With superficial wounds, I clean with diluted iodine or peroxide (peroxide is controversial-never use it on a deep puncture) and let the wound air dry. If the dog has a long coat, clipping some hair around the wound will help keep it clean. A topical cream can be used, but is usually not necessary. Once the scab has formed, don’t mess with it. This is nature’s bandage. It will fall off when it is no longer needed. Again, if the skin is completely punctured, it doesn’t fall into this category. I would personally take my dog to the vet for a superficial wound only if it develops an infection. Swelling, increased redness or pain, development of pus are signs of infection. Pink tissue around the edges of a wound and scabbing are part of the normal healing process.

The use of antibiotics is a topic I would like to briefly discuss here. The human medical field has long recognized that the overuse of antibiotics as a very serious problem. Regularly now, we hear about a new “drug resistant” super-germ that is defeating modern antibiotics. The reason these germs exist is mainly due to improper antibiotic usage. When we go to the doctor, we expect to get a pill of some sort to magically cure us. Often times, a wound is not actually infected, or a condition is viral. In both of those situations, antibiotics are not necessary. Fortunately, human doctors have learned to not prescribe antibiotics unless they are actually needed. Some vets are still catching up. I routinely hear of vets prescribing antibiotics “just in case”. THIS IS A BAD IDEA (Please see: http://www.aafp.org/fpr/20000300/01.html for an article about the risk of overusing antibiotics). A vet may have two reasons to give antibiotics when they are not actually needed. They want to keep their clients happy and its easier to just give a drug than educate the client. The other reason is that they are selling these medications and there is a profit motive. Like I said, I try to work with good honest vets who do the right thing but there are some out there who don’t. If your vet wants to prescribe antibiotics “just in case” I would question them to decide if it’s really necessary.

Limping:
A dog that is limping can be serious or minor. If your dog refuses to put any weight on a limb following an accident or injury, there may be a serious injury. Obviously any deformity would call for a trip to the emergency vet. If he will walk on it, and there wasn’t an injury or incident, give him a few minutes. Often, arthritis will cause a dog to limp right after getting up from resting. If this is the case, anti inflammatory drugs can help. DO NOT give your dog over the counter human medications like ibuprofen. Tylenol and Ibuprofen are very toxic to dogs. Aspirin is generally safe, but you should look for a dog-specific one at a pet store to make sure you give the correct dosage. If your pet is aging and over the counter medicines don’t relieve his pain, a vet may be able to provide you with something more effective. If you have a senior dog with arthritis, I would recommend looking into cold laser therapy and acupuncture. While acupuncture has done some good, we have had truly amazing results with cold laser therapy. Integrative Pet Care in Chicago provides these services and we recommend them highly.

As I said earlier, this is not meant to be an all-encompasing article on when your dog should go to the vet, but a general guide. Next time your pet refuses to eat, or has a cough, hopefully this will help you decide how to proceed.

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— July 3, 2012 —

Boom, Boom, Boom July 4th is coming.
Is your dog afraid of fireworks?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Every year about this time, thousands of dogs are terrified by the sound of fireworks. I’ve had a few questions about this and I’d like to answer them and give a couple of tips for the 4th of July celebrations.

Fireworks, thunder and noise phobia in general are unfortunately all too common. Oddly, I have met dogs that were specifically fearful of only one or the other. Usually it’s all or nothing.

Noise phobia can be a very serious issue. Dogs may hide, engage in destructive behavior or injure themselves. I have heard of dogs with noise phobia doing nothing more than panting and pacing. I have also heard of them breaking out of the house and trying to run from the storm.

Recently, we featured an article by Patience Hayes re. thunder phobia. I’d recommend reading that if you get a chance. She discusses how to NOT reinforce your dog’s fears and gives some tips on how to distract him with training or tricks.

This was all good information. I have a few other ideas that I’d like to add. The main idea is that you can’t just work on this during the fireworks. There are great ways to train for the noise before it’s overwhelming.

The best way, of course it to socialize your dog as a puppy to the loud noises of thunder and fireworks. When you know a situation is about to bring loud noises, bring your pup out for a great game of whatever he likes the most. Running after a favorite toy, doing sit and down for treats and so on can distract your puppy so the fireworks become part of the background noise.

If you adopted your dog as an adult and missed out on the early socialization period, there are still things you can do to help your dog.

There are recordings of fireworks available online and you can play these sounds, low at first then raise the volume. While you are doing this, distract your dog with training exercises. If your dog likes to play tug, this can be an effective way to distract him from the sound. (I know there are old theories about never playing tug with your dog. I consider this outdated information. I will discuss this at a later date.) As he gets more into the tug, you can raise the volume. If you see any signs of fear, flinching, panting, refusing to engage you, turn the volume down. You want to work at the highest volume your dog can ignore.

Another remedy is melatonin. If your dog if very fearful, melatonin is an all natural substance sold as a supplement over the counter. For a medium size dog, 3-6 mg is an appropriate dose. Some people swear by it.

When it comes to noise phobia, a combination of these techniques may be needed to help your dog resolve his fear. The last thing you want to do is try to calm your dog by petting. This will do one of two things. It will at best make you the security blanket your dog needs during the storm. When you aren’t home, your dog will still experience the fear. At worse it will intensify the fear making your dog more likely to panic or engage in self destructive behavior.


NOTE: Even if your dog is very well trained, please make sure to leash your dogs during this period. Years ago, we had a neighbor who had a 14 year old dog who was never on a leash. The dog never left her owner’s side and seemed to be very well trained. One night someone threw fireworks too close to her and she spooked into oncoming traffic. It was a very sad way for someone to loose a dog.

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— June 26, 2012 —

Dog Aggression v/s Human Aggression
Are they the same?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I have a dog that is too dog-aggressive for the dog park. Does this mean he is dangerous? I’m about to have a baby. Should I get rid of my dog? Can he be fixed? These are all very common questions. Given only the information presented above, I would answer them as follows. While his dog aggression can be managed, he probably can’t be “cured” and no, you don’t have to get rid of him.

I say this knowing that some people will refuse to believe it. After all, a baby is so important and so fragile, even one slip up by a dog could be very dangerous, right?

Right, but dog-on-dog aggression is not as indication that the same animal will display dog-on-human aggression.

Dogs have been bred for generations to possess certain traits. Border Collies herd, Rottweilers guard and Beagles hunt. Another breed, Jack Russell Terriers, were specifically bred to kill rats and other pests. No one thinks immediately that a Jack Russell who kills rats is immediately dangerous to babies. A dog aggressive dog is no different. It’s an isolated trait that has little bearing on other traits like human aggression.

First, I would like to define what I mean by dog-aggressive. A dog that snaps at the other dogs when cornered at the park is not dog-aggressive. It’s scared. A dog that fights with another dog over food is not dog-aggressive. It’s a resource guarder. A dog that lunges while on a leash, but can socialize off leash with dogs is not dog-aggressive (This is one of the biggest training issue I run into). It’s frustrated and needs training. What I am calling a dog-aggressive is a dog that will bite or attack a dog simply because it is there without any other aggravating factors. The bite is usually silent, immediate and severe.

Sam, a rescue that we recently adopted out is a good example of this. He is bulldog mix of some sort. We aren’t sure exactly what his mix is. When we got him in, he was the absolutely sweetest dog we had ever met. He loved everyone and introduced himself with big tail wags and loose posture. We had him a few days before we decided to introduce him to a dog. Since he was so friendly, I broke my rule and allowed him to meet one of my dogs without a leash. I realized my mistake almost immediately, but by that time the fight was on. He had grabbed Jelly by the back of her neck. It was a for-real bite and I was forced to actually pick him up by his tail to get him to release her.

Because Sam had been so perfect with all the humans he had met, I allowed myself to trust that he would be fine with dogs. When Sam was adopted out, we were overjoyed that he found a home in the country with a couple who didn’t need to have a “doggie park” dog. Sam is a perfect pet for them, and he is a danger to no-one as long as he is not put in the wrong situation.

The separation of dog-dog and dog-human aggression is something like the separation between the prey drive of a dog and it’s desire to eat. I know of many dogs that will kill a rabbit or squirrel (or a lovely skunk…) in their yard, but then not eat it. The drive to hunt and kill comes from a different part of the brain than the drive to eat. Likewise, the drive to attack animals (dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, etc) is a different behavior than aggression to humans.

There are dogs that possess both traits, dog and human aggression. I have also seen dogs that were human aggressive, but got along well with other dogs. These dogs have tended to be fear biters, not outright aggressive to humans like Sam was to Jelly. If your dog has shown any aggression you should meet with a trainer who has experience with aggressive dogs to help get to the bottom of it.

So, what do you do with a dog-aggressive dog? Can dog aggression be cured? Training can be helpful, depending on the level of aggression. The more severe the aggression, the less likely it will be “fixable”. With the more severe cases, I basically train owners to manage the behavior. I tend to ere on the side of caution and help owners accept their dog’s limitations. I believe any dog should be able to walk down the street and pass other dogs. I do not push owners of very dog-aggressive dogs to try to “socialize” their dog. Generally, through training I have been able to teach owners to handle their dogs in such a manner as to reduce lunging, and teach the dog to focus on them rather than the other dog. Also, dog-aggressive dog owners in more populated areas will need to be more proactive with other dog owners. If you have one of these dogs, you will need to educate other owners so they don’t allow their dogs to approach your dog. A friend with a very dog-aggressive dog actually had another dog owner bring his small dog up and put it right in her dog’s face without asking. She was taken completely by surprise. Needless to say, this didn’t go well for the little dog. She has since become much more proactive when she encounters other dogs on her walks.

Whatever you do, please don’t judge your dog’s suitability as a pet based solely on whether it gets along with other dogs. Meet with a good trainer, work on finding the root of your dogs aggression. If your dog is actually motivated by fear, you may be able to do a great deal to help him get comfortable with other dogs. Ultimately, while you may not be able to take your dog to the dog park, there is no reason that a dog-aggressive dog can’t be a great companion for you and your child.

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— June 19, 2012 —

So you want to give up your dog, huh?
by Amy Kelley

You can’t keep your dog and you want to give it up… it should be easy, right? He’s so cute and has a great personality so someone must be looking for a dog just like him. Before you read further, go to petfinder.com and enter your dogs breed, age and your zip as if you are searching to adopt a dog just like yours. How many come up in your search? Exactly. Many of them have been sitting in cages for a very long time waiting for someone to come along and add them to their family…that is, IF someone finds them before their time is up and they get euthanized. There are far too many dogs available and not enough homes…do you want to risk this happening to your dog?
  • There are 18,000 animals put to death in Chicago each year.

  • Most no-kill shelters are full beyond capacity and have a waiting list.

  • A stray dog is sometimes given as little as 5 days to be adopted… if that dog is not adopted, it could be put to sleep, sometimes as soon as that first day. Your dog (an owner turn-in) could be euthanized at any time and yes, cute, special, happy dogs are put to sleep every day.

  • The shelters are full of young and old dogs, purebred and mixed, sweet and shy… don’t assume your dog will be easily placed just because he’s cute or has a great personality.

  • When you adopted or bought your dog, you took on the responsibility of that dog for the rest of its life. Remember that a dog is an actual life — not a piece of furniture to be given away when it no longer fits. Dogs are such wonderful, compassionate, giving souls… they deserve someone to promise them forever.

Here at Bark Avenue Playcare and K9 4 KEEPS, we share the belief that once you decide to add a pet to your family, that it should be a lifetime commitment. Too many beloved pets are given up year after year for reasons that baffle us. Here are some of the most common, in no particular order:

You’re moving and can’t find a place that accepts pets.

My dog bit somebody. I can’t keep it.

My dog is destructive (or insert other behavioral problem here). I can’t keep it.

I’m having a baby so I need to get rid of my dog.

My dogs don’t get along with each other. I need to get rid of one of them.

I just don’t have time for my pet… or my apartment is too small…

It’s me or the dog

We do understand that there are special circumstances that may require someone to give up their beloved pets: seniors moving into assisted living where their family member can’t/won’t take care of their pet; an owners passing; life-threatening allergies, etc. However, most of the problems that cause people to give up their dogs can be solved with a little thought and effort.


You’re moving and can’t find a place that accepts pets.
Most of the people who have this reason for wanting to give up their pet follow that statement with something like “If you can’t take it, then I’m taking it to the pound”… (and most only have a week or two before they move). There are actually a multitude of resources for people looking for pet-friendly apartments. If you are searching online, many have “dog” or “cat” as a specific search function. Here are a few resources, but don’t forget to also spread the word and network with your family and friends. They may know of an available apartment that just might be perfect!

Chicago Apartment Finders
Craig's List
Chicago Reader
Chicago Tribune
Chicago Dog Pads
Anti-Cruelty
Rent.com
Show Me The Rent
apartments.com
Apartment Finder
People with Pets
The Humane Society
Pets R Welcome

(if you are not in Chicagoland, just google “dog friendly apartment” for your area. Many, many resources will come up.)

If you are moving to a smaller space and don’t think it will be fair to your dog… think about the size of the cage at the shelter or pound that your dog will live in while it awaits its fate. Even a studio apartment is bigger than that cage AND your pet gets to stay alive and keep the only person that ever mattered to them. YOU! And remember, you can always take your dog on a longer walk!

Some places require a pet security deposit. Your dog is worth it!!!

It shouldn’t be an option for you to even consider an apartment that wouldn’t allow your family members. This may take a little more time for you to find the right place that fits your budget and timeframe, but plan ahead. You owe it to your pet.


My dog bit somebody. I can’t keep it.
First of all, most dog bites are caused by mistakes that PEOPLE make. Blaming the dog is irresponsible. Don’t blame the dog for something that you could or should have prevented. If you have a nervous dog or a fear biter, do the responsible thing and seek help from a trainer. If your dog is starting to show signs of aggression do the responsible thing and call a trainer. Many problem behaviors are fixable through training. Are you scared of your dog now? Learn to take the reins and be your dogs leader. What makes you think somebody else is out there looking for a dog that bites anyway? Go back to the first paragraph on this webpage, and do the petfinder search… and add bite history to the scenario. What kind of chance do you think your dog has now of finding a new home? Fortunate for your dog, he/she currently has a home unlike the hundreds/thousands of dogs like him that are sitting in limbo hoping for that home to come along. Keep your dog and work through your problems with a trainer.


My dog is destructive (or insert other behavioral problem here). I can’t keep it.
Seek out training advice. Most of these problems are fixable with training and you will end up with the dog you wanted in the first place.


I’m having a baby, so I need to get rid of my dog.
Do you think one day down the road, you may want to get that precious human child a pet? How about KEEPING THE ONE YOU HAVE!!!! Honor the commitment you made to that pet when you bought or adopted it. It was suppose to be forever, and was a choice you made when you looked into those eyes and took them home. Sometimes we should do the right thing, and live with our choices. Are you going to give your first child to someone when the second comes along? Then don’t do that to the family members you have now.


My dogs don’t get along with each other. I need to get rid of one of them.
If your dogs used to get along and now fight, you may need a trainer to help you sort things out. If you are integrating a new dog, they may just need a slower or more appropriate introduction. We have had dogs that had to be kept apart for weeks while we socialize them to each other. While there are dogs that are simply too dog aggressive to live with other dogs, most of the time it’s a simple matter of understanding how to properly introduce and train them.


I just don’t have time for my pet… or my apartment is too small…
Life always throws us curve balls. What is the norm today won’t be tomorrow. Readjust things. Your pet is much better off staying with the you than the alternative… unless you know the people you give him/her to will give it more than you will. If you aren’t sure of that, don’t risk it.

If you think your apartment is too small and don’t think it will be fair to your dog… think about the size of the cage at the shelter or pound that your dog will live in while it awaits its fate. Even a studio apartment is bigger than that cage AND your pet gets to stay alive and keep the only person that ever mattered to them. YOU! And remember, you can always take your dog on a longer walk!


It’s me or the dog.
Shouldn’t someone respect and love you enough to accept the fact that you have a pet that you love with all of your heart? Ripping out part of your heart shouldn’t be an option. If there are problems with the dog, seek out a trainer to help with the transition, but you and your pet should be a package deal.


I hope we helped you reconsider giving up your pet and that you will promise your current and future pets “FOREVER”.

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— June 12, 2012 —

How to handle a fearful dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I had a very interesting evaluation this weekend. It was a dog I know. We adopted him out through our rescue
K9 4 KEEPS. We’ll call him “Toby.”

Toby is a “pit bull” mix and he is fearful. One could hardly blame him, though. He was fought, abused and abandoned with his femur bone sticking out of his leg. Toby’s owner is a very caring, responsible, careful owner. He takes great care of his dogs and Toby has picked up a few extra pounds to prove it.

I was included in an email thread last week that explained that Toby has been lunging at and trying to bite people. Now, before you start to blame the “pit bull” let me say this. The problem was immediately obvious to me when I walked in the room where Toby and his owner were sitting. Toby was barking fearfully and his owner was restraining him with the leash and petting his dog. He was talking to him in reassuring tones, telling him that everything was fine. Within 5 minutes of taking Toby from his owner, I had him under control and sitting calmly next to me as I had people walk all around us both indoors and outside. Toby never acted inappropriately.

I don’t possess any special animal communication powers. I didn’t “whisper” to him. I simply took his leash and told him to sit. He didn’t ask why. He didn’t argue, and he stopped lunging. I started to lead him around the room and kept his attention on his obedience. After a few minutes, I pet him for following my instructions. I NEVER acknowledged the things he was scared of. I never told him everything would be ok. I simply told him what I wanted him to do. This is the whole point of that first Tail. Generally dog owners are reactive. I train dog owners to be proactive. You should fly the plane (for more info, please see Tuesday’sTail: 10 Jan, 2012). Don’t wait to see how your dog will handle any given situation. Tell him how to handle it. I also advise people to start this as soon as possible-even before the dog starts to display problem behaviors. This will prevent issues before the dog requires hundreds of dollars worth of training.

There is still a genetic layer to all this. On 8 May, 2012, I wrote about how the dog’s genetic make-up will dictate how he reacts to to his experiences. I used Olivia as an example, another abused pit bull in our rescue. While Olivia was severely abused, she has not retained any ill effects of her negative experiences. Toby, with his specific combination of nature and nurture, has developed fear-based aggression issues. The last thing he needs is an owner who (inadvertently) reinforces the fact that things are scary and dangerous. One line I often use with the owners of fearful dogs is this. “If you can control your dog, your dog thinks you can control everything else.”

While the owner was trying to do the right thing, his reassuring the dog was basically telling the dog that the behavior was not only acceptable, but desirable. It was the classic mistake of rewarding negative behavior. I don’t particularly fault Toby’s owner for this. It’s an intuitive reaction and lots of people do it. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong reaction. Instead of reacting to his fear, proactively showing him how to handle the situation helped him to relax.

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— June 5, 2012 —

Take your dog with you, or leave him home…but whatever you do, don’t do this.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Imagine this, you are going out to run a few errands and you want to take your best friend. It’s a little too hot to leave him in the car, so you just tie him up outside the store. You’re only going to be in there for a few minutes, right. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, the worst thing that could happen is a nightmare. Not just for you, but for your dog, too.

Recently Amy and I were out running errands and came across a dog tied up outside a drug store. The little Dachshund was there when we went in and she was still there when we left. We actually waited with her for a while. Her owner must have noticed us. He came out to check on his dog. This little girl was quite fearful and I actually thought she might bite someone if they tried to pet her. Of course, this would open the owner up to liability, especially if she bit a child.

Another serious issue is the rise in dognappings. Every year, dogs are reported stolen in Chicago. That’s right, dognapping is real and it could happen to you. I won’t leave my bike outside a store without locking it up, but I’m constantly amazed that people will leave their dog outside a store secured with nothing more than a thin leash or an even thinner flexi leash. Just for the heck of it, I googled “dog tied up at store stolen” and I got over 5 million hits. Dogs are stolen from cars and have even been taken directly from their owners as they are walking them.

According to a Huffington Post article, first posted on 08/16/11, the American Kennel Club says that dog thefts were up by 32% in 2011. This is a national statistic, but I’d bet that the stats are similar locally. Most people think that dog theft just happens when someone happens to see a cute dog outside the store and they untie it and walk away. If you’re watching your dog you can go out and stop them, right? The fact is that there are organized groups who drive around looking for dogs to steal. They pull up, cut a leash, toss the dog into a vehicle and drive away faster than you can get the license number.

The reason for this is MONEY, pure and simple. Dogs can be sold for a few reasons and none of them are good. Some animal dealers collect dogs and sell them to research labs. Personally, I couldn’t imagine my dogs being used for animal testing. I also couldn’t bear the idea of my dogs being used for bait for dog fighting, which is another thing that stolen dogs can be used for. Pets are often used for fighting dogs to “practice” on. The dogs are often put into pits with their teeth removed or their mouths taped shut. It’s an ugly truth and it shouldn’t happen to any dog.

Even in the best case, stolen dogs are often held until the thief finds a Lost Dog poster. The cunning thief then calls you up pretending to be a good samaritan and returns your dog; after you promise them a handsome profit for their troubles of course.

What do you do if you’re a victim of dognapping? First, call the authorities! Even if it seems like a waste of time, the police do track trends and if there is a rash or dog thefts in an area they can increase awareness in their patrols. Second, contact the local shelters and vet offices. Your dog may show up as stray or be found and turned in. There are also websites like Lost Dog Illinois and Fido Finder that can help you locate your dog. Another important step is to have your dog microchipped. This way if he turns up at a shelter you will be contacted. I recently read a story about a cat that was returned to its owner after being in another home for ten years.

Pet theft is on the rise and is a crime of opportunity. Don’t give the thief the opportunity and NEVER leave your best friend tied up outside a store or left alone in your car or yard. If you need to run errands, please leave your pet at home.

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— May 29, 2012 —

Summer Heat Precautions
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I have only once seen a dog suffer from serious heat related injury. It was a terrible thing to witness and I hope I never see it again.

Sarge was an American Bulldog, about three years old. His owner was playing tug with him outside in the spring. The weather was beautiful, about 75 degrees, sunny and mild. Sarge loved tug, he really got into it. After a couple of minutes, he walked off and went to lie in the shade. This was recognized as a sign of him getting hot, but no one realized how severely hot he was. Sarge was taken into air condition, but he kept getting hotter. He started to have trouble breathing, which is how dogs cool themselves. Because he could not breath properly, he became hypoxic (not enough oxygen in his blood) and his mucus membranes turned blue. He was staggering and unable to stand. The owners tried everything, removing all his collars and immersing him into a luke warm bath. As soon as he was able to walk, he was taken to emergency vet. Since he had suffered such a lack of oxygen, Sarge’s brain had become damaged and he had become a franticly fearful, aggressive dog. He was no longer himself. The vets also thought that with the signs of severe heat injury that Sarge showed, he would ultimately succumb to massive organ failure within the next few hours. Sarge had to be euthanized.

I use this story to illustrate just how dangerous heat can be to dogs. This time of year, we need to be very aware of how our dogs are dealing with heat. There are many signs of over heating and Sarge didn’t actually display any of the classic signs. Knowing his usual behavior, this behavioral change was the only warning sign. Unfortunately it came too late. The vets surmised that Sarge likely had an underlying condition that we didn’t know about. This could have contributed to his severe reaction, or that he had experienced heatstroke in the past. This would also make him more likely to suffer severe heat injuries.

As we start taking our dogs for those summer excursions, we need to remember the following signs of overheating:
  1. Excessive drooling, often the saliva will have a pasty, thick quality to it or may be frothy.

  2. Heavy panting, especially if you hear the dog having trouble inhaling. If a dog can’t exchange air properly, it can’t cool itself.

  3. The gums and conjunctiva around the eyes can turn dark red. If these tissues turn blue, as in the case of Sarge, there is a severe oxygenation issue.

  4. Confusion or a vacant stare. May also be combined with trouble standing or walking.

  5. Shaking or seizures.

  6. Petechiae (pa-TE-ke-a). This is a condition where tiny blood vessels burst open in the mucus membranes. It looks like the dog was stuck with needles and you will see multiple tiny red pin-pricks. This may be subtle or obvious. A vet may be able to point this out.
A heat injury should be treated as an IMMEDIATELY LIFE THREATENING situation! Even with effective first aid, you will still need to get your dog to a vet as quickly as possible.

First Aid for heat injuries center around cooling the dogs CORE body temperature. I emphasize the core, because you do not want to cool his outer body temperature first. If the dog is placed in very cold water, this can throw him into shock. The best thing to do is to move the dog into a kiddy pool of room temperature water and offer cool drinking water. Wetting his feet, chest and belly will draw heat out fastest and safest. Again, use room temperature water. Do not ice the water. If you don’t have a kiddy pool available, wet towels around the dog’s trunk, changed often, can help draw heat out. In any case, get the dog into shade and use a fan to circulate the air.

Even if your dog seems fine after a while, you will need to take him to a vet. The real damage of heat injuries can take a while to show themselves. Your dog may need support for organ damage/failure throughout the next 24–48 hours.

Lastly, any dog that has had a heat injury is much more likely to have another one. If your dog has survived heat stroke, you will have to be even more careful in the future.

In Sarge’s case, everything was done correctly. He was supervised the whole time, first aid measures were implemented immediately and he was taken to a vet. Despite all of this, the outcome was still bad. Please be aware of how serious heat injuries can be. Every year dogs die from being left in the car or from owners not recognizing he signs of heat injury. When it comes to an overheated dog remember, “If you’re going to make a mistake—be too careful.”

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— May 22, 2012 —

Dog Trainer, Train Thyself!
(or, Is That a Thundershirt you’ re Wearing?)
by Patience Hayes

Last Summer, I went on vacation for the 4th of July. My nephew stayed at my house to care for my animals—3 cats and two dogs, THOR! and GoGo. THOR! and GoGo are Cane Corsos. THOR! was abandoned by his original owner, and GoGo was previously a drug house dog. This was in Chicago, and my home was very close to “the lake”, as we call it, ’cause everybody knows it’s Lake Michigan! As you might imagine, the lakefront is a hot bed of celebration and activity on the 4th of July! We are talking unleashed fireworks! Anyone who can get ’em can set ’em off on the beach. Allan, my nephew had been staying with me for a brief period. During that time, we frequently took the dogs to the lake. Allan thought nothing of it when he took them to the lake early that evening. He quickly realized his mistake, when the fireworks began to go off. (Lots of people simply cannot wait for nightfall and are anxious to get an early start on the merry-making!) THOR!, being named for the God of Thunder, himself, thought it was a barking contest and joined in to “throw down his hammer”! As for GoGo, my most recent rescue, the story was different. She got nervous and her nervousness began to escalate. For his part, Allan thought of the “gangsta” drug house in which GoGo had reportedly been living. “Gunfire!!”, he thought. “That’s probably what she thinks this is! Gunfire! No wonder she’s scared!” He couldn’t get away fast enough! In order to control the “panic”, Allan kept both dogs in a “heel” for the entire walk home—about 6 blocks. (Looks like some of my training paid off!)

They spent the rest of the evening inside, all the while, Allan winced every time a loud boom went off, feeling much empathy for GoGo’s fear. He did what he could to soothe her. When I got home, a few days later, Allan thought it very important to report about GoGo’s phobia. But, here’s the thing: GoGo had been living with us, since early March; surely there had been some thunderstorms; Why had we not noticed this before? Well, Chicago isn’t the South and, unlike the South, thunderstorms seem to be restricted to Summer months. Perhaps we hadn’t had any thunder, after all…

Fast forward to late July. Allan has returned to the hills of North Carolina, and I am on my own again. One night, there began a mighty thunderstorm! I mean, one of those pre-boom cracks was enough to make me jump out of my skin! The boom that followed really was scary, even for someone like me who doesn’t have even have a healthy fear of thunder! GoGo got up and went to her bed, in my bedroom. I want to interrupt my story, here… By now, I had advised many a friend and client on how to deal with their dog’s fear of thunder. I had done loads of research on the matter and had given loads of advice. What I hadn’t had, up to that point, is personal experience. Wow! Now the know-it-all dog trainer has a thunder-fearing dog! What’s she gonna do? Now, back to GoGo…

Well, I’d be darned if I was gonna let GoGo go to her bed and cower!

“GoGo, what are you doing in here?”, I asked. She lay on her bed and cut her eyes at me, wondering what the heck I was saying.

“Come on!”, I said. “Let’s go to the kitchen!”

“Huh?” see said with her eyes.
“Seriously! C’mon!”, I said and went off toward the kitchen. GoGo followed, and THOR! joined in. Again, GoGo looked at me with uncertainty. “BOOM!”, went the thunder, and GoGo cowered. Without hesitation I laughed and acted like we were having a party. “Really??”, she seemed to say with her eyes. “Really!”, I thought and started giving both dogs treats. Her eyes brightened as she and THOR! ate treats. She gave a tentative wag of her tail. I laughed again; more treats, more tail wagging, and praise, then, BOOM!, we were having a “thunder party”! “BOOM” went the thunder; laugh went the Mommy; and the dogs got treated. We all trotted back to the living room—well they trotted, while I skipped, but you get the idea… more treats… more laughs…

While THOR! was already thunder-proof, so-to-speak, the thunder on this particular night was enough to intimidate King Kong! And, GoGo was another matter. Still, I had to wonder just how much Allan’s empathy played a part in GoGo’s reaction on the 4th of July. I was practically giddy, except for the fact that there were no witnesses. There was no video to play for clients. Was it really that easy? Here was solid proof that NOT coddling your dog’s fear actually works! I gave her fear no credence in my household; I told her how to feel about it; I set her attitude in motion. I had given all this advice, yet had no idea just how easy it is to do if you believe in it! (One cannot go through the motions and expect it to be effective.) There was absolutely no room for any “Poor Baby” attitude! If you show your dog that there is nothing to fear, your dog will fear nothing. Well, kinda…

Obviously, with old Sadie, who is 13 years old and has had thunder fear for years, and had Mommy stroking her and getting nervous at every approaching storm, silly laughter and treat-pumping probably won’t work overnight, but there are a number of desensitizing exercises that can be very helpful. There is a product called the “Thundershirt” that some people use with success, and there is loads of sound advice on the internet. The reason that I tell this story is because it so clearly demonstrates what we dog trainers have been saying for years: “Don’t coddle your dog!” It is truly NOT the kindest thing to do! It does not mean you love your dog more than the next guy. So, go on; be bold! Be strong for your dog, because that is the kindest thing you can do for him or her. You are, after all—just as with your human children—the leader. Who needs a wimpy leader?

PLEASE NOTE: The purpose of this story is to demonstrate the value of strong and kind leadership for your dog. It is not a how-to for dealing with extreme cases. Veterinarians and animal behaviorists believe that some dogs fear storms, because of the static electrical charges. Such dogs may be comforted by hiding in a bathroom, particularly in an interior one with no windows. Hiding or lying in the bathtub can be very comforting for some dogs. For those of you seeking help with your “thunder-struck” pup, here are some links.

http://charla-dawson.suite101.com/calming-a-dog-scared-of-thunder-a24579

http://www.puppymatch4you.com/blog/puppy-care/is-your-dog-afraid-of-thunder-5-tips-to-ease-his-fears

http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_FearOfThunder.php

http://www.thundershirt.com/DefaultReturning.aspx

Patience Hayes “Canine Etiquette Consultant” is the owner of Doggie Manners with Patience in Augusta, Georgia. She can be contacted at Beasty914@yahoo.com or 312-720-9561.

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— May 15, 2012 —

GoGo’s Transformation
by Patience Hayes

The first time I thought I could touch GoGo without getting bitten, I did so by lightly brushing a small spot on her side with my fingertips. Immediately, she dropped to her side - trembling, cowering, begging, pleading with her eyes. She turned her chest toward the ceiling, submissively. Her forepaw lightly waved in the air in peace and in her defense. A puddle of her urine spread out where she lay. To me, it looked as if she knew a beating was coming and that she just hoped it wouldn’t be too terribly bad this time. GoGo had been in our facility, Bark Avenue Playcare since the night before, when she had been the subject of a high-speed police chase, all in the effort to get her off the street and safe in human hands. GoGo wasn’t so sure about the “safe” part. It looked as if she hadn’t touched her food or water. Catatonic was the word that came to mind. She wouldn’t even go potty (voluntarily), as long as anyone was around. I so wanted her to relax for her own good.

This was what it was like for three days. It hurt me to see her suffer. I was impatient. Enough was enough. “Can I introduce her to THOR!?”, I asked my boss. “Yes, the sooner the better”, was his reply. THOR! a very well-tempered Cane Corso Mastiff who stayed in the lobby with the trainers, —(Daniel & I)— on training days, often acting as the “tester dog”, assisting other dogs in our training. “Bullet proof” was the term we used to describe his temperament. I leashed up GoGo and brought her into the lobby and ordered THOR in a “down”. I led GoGo up to his hindquarters for a sniff. Then, a small miracle happened… … GoGo’s thus far perpetually bowed head rose up, her mouth opened and relaxed in that “doggie smile”. Up came the tucked in tail, and it began to wag! At this point, clients were starting to come in to pick up their dogs from daycare. I released THOR! from his “down”, to let him greet clients, as he so loved to do. Anyone that THOR! greeted was instantly OK in GoGo’s book! She was right along side of THOR!, wagging her tail at whomever got the THOR! endorsement! After the evening rush died down, GoGo relaxed on THOR!’s bed with him. She simply slipped her body in the narrow space that was between THOR! and the wall, effectively “spooning” with him, looking as about as contented as any dog possibly could.

While this was a lovely beginning, GoGo was by no means ready to be adopted. She wasn’t much good around people, if THOR! wasn’t right at her side, and any dog that was overly excited got the look-o-death from her. Little dogs were unmistakably regarded as prey. GoGo was living at Bark Avenue and, like THOR! stayed in the lobby with the trainers on training days. We had to monitor all contact with humans and dogs (except THOR!). With few exceptions, no one was allowed around her. She was threatened very easily. No one could hover or bend over her in any way. You couldn’t touch her backside anywhere. Really, without THOR!, Daniel, or me right next to her, she was a danger —her savage-sounding low growl telegraphing this fact. Not even all the staff at Bark Avenue was safe with her. Generally, the trainers or a female member of our staff handled her, and I mean gingerly!

It was obvious that GoGo had been treated very roughly. Furthermore, it was apparent that she’d not been socialized to other dogs, during that important time in her puppyhood. She’d never be a candidate for a dog park! A couple of the policemen who took part in her capture, had recognized her as a former “crack house dog”. She’d gotten loose, when the place was raided. She was a mess! It was easy to imagine the rough treatment she might have received by drug “gangstahs”. In contrast, the posh home that THOR! had come from was responsible for THOR!’s afore-mentioned “bullet proof” behavior. Or was it?

Fast forward to today: It’s been a year and four months, since GoGo’s “capture” and a little over a year since I officially adopted her. She has proven to be quite biddable and easy to train in basic obedience, which, along with good everyday treatment, has boosted her confidence tremendously. GoGo no longer tolerates people; she likes them! She seeks out the attention of passers-by! The biggest surprise of all —and this part just keeps getting better— GoGo LOVES other dogs! What once made her nervous now piques her interest. Off-leash dogs, galloping at full speed towards her once made her body go completely tense and made her ready for attack. Her tail now wiggles back and forth in controlled excitement/anticipation when a new dog approaches. If she’s already familiar with and likes the approaching dog, she might let out a happy whinny and the little short, stubby tail goes nuts!

Was GoGo truly abused? Probably, judging by her knee-jerk reactions to certain stimuli. But how did she recover so beautifully? Certainly basic obedience training gave her confidence, but can it truly explain such an immense transformation? I doubt it. I have seen hand-raised puppies, exposed to nothing but tender treatment and loving attention show extreme fear of strangers, as if they had seen years of bad treatment. Anyone who has gone to pick out a puppy from a litter has probably seen the varying personalities of the puppies in that litter. Furthermore, getting to know the litter’s parents can give you insight as to the puppies’ temperaments. Google “choosing a puppy”. There are reams of information on the internet on observing puppy behavior and picking out the best puppy for you and your family. Observe a litter of three-day-old kittens and you will see who is the boldest, the shyest, the one who wants to snuggle the most, the show off, the nurturer, etc. If you are lucky enough to observe the cats from that same litter ten years later, (as I have), you will see the same personalities. They will be more developed and more complex, but essentially the same.

GoGo: my sweet gem… … She wants to eat, sleep, guard, play, get lovin’, work for Mommy, and be silly —one of her favorite things! If I were some animal behaviorist and could back it up, through research, I would even say that GoGo has a great big sense of humor! I firmly believe that my sweet GoGo-Girl was born a happy, well-balanced pup. I believe that she was prevented from showing her best side, because of the ill-treatment and crummy environment she once endured. The best sunflower varietal will not die in the shade; it will twist, underfoot, along the ground and give you a pitiful blossom, resting in the dirt. Transplant it into the sunlight, and it will stand tall and give you a big, bold bloom like my GoGo Girl. I’m looking at her right now and talking to her. She’s wearing that doggie-smile and wagging her whole rear end and I am shedding tears of joy!



Patience Hayes “Canine Etiquette Consultant” is the owner of Doggie Manners with Patience in Augusta, Georgia. She can be contacted at Beasty914@yahoo.com or 312-720-9561.

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— May 8, 2012 —

“He’s scared of (insert phobia here). He must have been abused.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Nature v/s Nurture. It’s the eternal debate. Let me settle it once and for all. I am totally convinced that in the debate of nature v/s nurture, nature wins as it relates to the temperament of dogs. I know this is a bold statement, and I totally expect to get tons of comments about it. What I mean is this, how your dog handles things like noise, thunder, strangers and so on is primarily influenced by his genetics. His confidence (or lack of it), attitude, aggression, intelligence, willingness to train, and most other things about his “personality” are related directly to his parents and how they viewed the world. There is an old saying in dog training and it took me a while to really understand it. That saying is this, “You can change a dog’s behavior, but you can’t change its temperament.”

I wrote a few weeks back about selecting a dog to adopt. I mentioned then that if possible, you really should meet the parents if you are looking for a puppy. This is because the parents’ genetics will influence the puppy as he matures. If you adopt a puppy from parents that were friendly the puppy will have a much better chance of having that trait. If the parents are nervous or biters, the puppy may turn out just like them…even with the best care and training. I hear it ALL the time, “He doesn’t like men, a man must have abused him.” Or people say, “She doesn’t like brooms. I think she was beat with one.” While dogs can remember negative experiences with specific people or items, the vast majority of these issues are genetic in nature. Think of it like this. If your dog got scared by a broom, the very fact that it became a phobia in your dog is linked to his genetic makeup.

The whole idea of breeding for desirable behaviors or temperament is nothing new. If you think about it, the very concept of selective breeding started with selection of specific temperaments and behaviors. Herding dogs even today are selected for the desire to work the flock and their ability to follow instructions. This selective breeding is why border collies tend to be more trainable. Hunting dogs are selected for interest in prey animals and their ability to make chase regardless of the conditions or terrain. It makes for a very independant, but sometines less trainable, dog. Things like confidence, fear, aggression and so on are just as linked to the dog’s DNA as the other traits I described.

Lucy, a little brown mix breed female came to us very pregnant. Lucy is quite fearful and cowers to everything and everyone. She is not at all aggressive and would run from a leaf blowing in the wind. She gave birth to 6 male puppies a couple of day after we rescued her. Of the 6 most of them are pretty brave, others have serious confidence issues. The nervous ones are just like their mom. They don’t bite whatever scares them, but would run if they could. Since mom is only half the genetic material, some of them took more after the dad (who is unknown). An interesting factoid is this, of the 6 puppies, the ones who look most like Lucy are the ones who also act most like her.

One of the toughest stories I can remember is a dog owned by a friend. I actually met her because she came to me as a client. She brought her dog Jimmy to me for serious biting. If anyone or anything surprised this dog, he would attack it. If you were standing outside the elevator or around the corner from this dog and he suddenly caught sight of you, you got bit. If the door opened to his house and he wasn’t expecting to see you there, you got bit. If a kid ran by, totally ignoring this dog, the kid got bit. Biting was his immediate response to everything. There was another issue that was relevant. When the owner would leave home, this dog would climb into the bathtub. He would spend his entire day in that tub because there were no sights and few sounds. He could not handle thunder, fireworks or anything else out of the ordinary. Even with my and his owner’s best efforts, this poor guy was eventually euthanized. He was 5 or 6 years old and otherwise healthy. However in this case, I believe it was a kindness to the dog. He was totally unable to cope with the world. I believe he was truly mentally ill. Here is the point to that whole sad story. This dog’s mom was also euthanized for biting people without reason or warning—the same genetic defect. I firmly believe that the genes passed on to him from his mother caused his aggressive behavior.

I have another story to demonstrate the point. Olivia was adopted out through our rescue, K9 4 KEEPS. She is a cool dog. I mean the kind of cool that makes you want to give her a big hug and take her home. If you met her, you’d think she was a pampered pooch, living in the lap of luxury all her life and never knowing bad treatment, neglect or abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. Olivia has scars from bullet wounds, was malnourished and had to live for an unknown period of time with a torn CCL (canine cruciate ligament). This is a painful condition and she has the joint degeneration to prove it. Olivia is the most people-friendly affectionate, outgoing dog you could ever meet. Despite her history of abuse, she holds no grudges, and is not fearful of people at all. This is a dog that has recovered from some very traumatic experiences. It’s a testament to her genetic stability.

There is a range of severity as it refers to instability. With a very severely unstable dog, like Jimmy above, there is really no “cure.” With most dogs however, training can help to improve the dog’s quality of life. Obviously, the earlier training happens, the better. One of the benefits of training is that it gets the dog out of the house and exposes them to the world. This is important because even with a fearful dog, socialization can help. There is a finite period of time from birth to about 20 weeks where puppies are learning about the world. This “imprint stage” is where puppies are at their most trainable. Even if you get the dog later in life, I recommend training as soon as possible. This way, you can show the dog that it will be safe and cared for. The longer the dog can rehearse its insecurities, the more deeply ingrained they will become.

Another benefit is that many times, a good trainer will recognize issues and assist you in minimizing them before they get out of hand. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a young dog with a behavioral issue and owners who didn’t recognize it. One of the most recent, Sasha—a blue female pit bull puppy, came to me with serious fear issues. Her dad was an previous client, but her mom had never had a dog before. Mom’s instinct was to hug and coddle Sasha whenever she was scared of something. Fortunately, through training, she has learned how to help her dog accept new situations. Today, Sasha still has a couple of things that set her off, but she has come a very long way from the cowering puppy I met five months ago.

The bottom line here is this. We cannot make a dog something he isn’t. If he is nervous, training and management can help (whereas coddling and feeling sorry for him will certainly make it worse); but the underlying issue will always be there. If a dog is strong and stable, any abuse history will likely be forgotten. When someone comes to me and says their dog is nervous and must have been abused, I try to educate them on the things I’ve discussed here. Your dog is generally not thinking about the past or whether he was abused or not. What he is doing is observing the world in the moment and reacting however his DNA tells him to.

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— May 1, 2012 —

Coddle Monster — Part 2
by L.M.

Last week we covered the ever-popular topic of coddled dogs and the negative effects of encouraging codependent behavior. This week we’re extending the topic and again, some of those very same dog owners are on the hot seat! Typically, undesirable behaviors in dogs come with a list of common excuses. It’s a touchy subject to say the least, especially when you notice that a family member or friend is clearly in denial of their dog’s bad behavior. Naturally, owners guilty of coddling their dogs (causing them to develop most of their bad behaviors) are going to be defensive when confronted with these issues. Note this list of common excuses to prepare for a rebuttal and a way to get them to seek help.
  • “I don’t have time, or friends to help me socialize my dog.”
    This is probably the most universal and commonly heard list of excuses coming from people who are not taking the proper steps to develop a puppy’s social skills, even an older dog that is in dire need of the right kind of attention—not just affection. Joining social dog groups won’t just help the dog, it’s almost impossible to not make fast friends in that kind of atmosphere so the dog owner can benefit as well. How many times have we heard that ‘dogs are pack animals’? Well, that also means that these pack animals are social and they crave that attention and interaction. Giving a puppy an opportunity to be social on a regular basis is vital to their future, while older dogs that have been isolated for a longer time will need help easing into a social atmosphere. If an owner doesn’t have time to socialize their dog, then they should reconsider why they got a dog in the first place.

  • “He’s fine with me” or, “I like that he’s protective”
    Having a dog be ‘fine’ with his owner is great, but neglecting the fact that this dog will potentially come into contact with new people, family, friends, and their children will turn into a harsh reality later. These people mistake unsocial behavior and fear aggression towards other people and dogs as being ‘protective’. While there’s an emotional aspect that comes into play here, people are again projecting their inner human needs onto their pets. In this case they are looking for security or the feeling of being watched after by their dog. If someone wants a protection-type dog, they should do the research, find a suitable candidate and enroll their dog into the proper training courses. These programs produce dogs are actually trained to protect on command and are healthy, balanced dogs. Anything else is an excuse for having created an insecure, untrusting and possibly volatile dog. This excuse in particular seems to fly with those who own smaller breeds, thinking that they are harmless due to their small stature and loud bark. “He is all bark, no bite. Really, he’s harmless, he’d never bite anyone”. We’ve all heard it at least once. A dog that acts protective over their owner needlessly (out of fear), and is doted on by their owner, praised for their ‘bravery’ or simply isn’t corrected properly is not harmless. This is the start of something much bigger. This type of dog may have not bitten anyone yet, but is very likely a biter in the making.

  • “We have our routine and he knows what to do, adding new things will confuse him
    and make life complicated.”

    Why is it that so many newlyweds and new parents decide to give up on their dog? They’re afraid the dog will hurt the baby or they haven’t felt comfortable cohabitating with the spouse’s dog. Does it seem fair that the dog then gets the boot and ends up at a shelter with no promise of finding a new home? This is a heavily debated topic among those who feel that a relationship and new child take ultimate precedence over a pet. Those people should have considered their opinion prior to owning a dog. When someone commits to a pet, they’re looking at about 10+ years of life together; they need to prepare themselves and their dog for the road ahead. Not doing so may lead to consequences where they’re left to choose between a lifestyle, and their dog, in most cases leaving the dog out on the curb. Why not avoid having to deal with that all together by taking the proper steps with dog socialization early on? If it hasn’t happened early on, introducing a new structure to a dog isn’t going to confuse him/her. Dogs are animals that are capable of adapting to new environments provided that they have a stable pack leader aka owner. Showing a dog new ropes and rules will tap into their instinctual love of challenges and a job. It will make the dog happier over all, and their future more secure and sound.

  • “I’ve had dogs my whole life, they’ve all been good.”
    This logical fallacy is more common than we want to believe. Somehow, people really believe that because they’ve been lucky enough to have previous dogs (usually family dogs that were raised by a family) that, in their opinion, were well behaved, that their future and/or new dog(s) will be just as “good”. Either this owner is the type that is overconfident in their ability to train the dog and scoffs at traditional ideas of socialization and obedience or they’re completely disillusioned from the get go and have really never been exposed to a properly behaved dog. These people often tend to be the hardest to reason with, because their preconceived notions related to their dog’s bad behaviors prevents them from ever realizing that there actually is a problem. Usually it takes a bad bite, dogfight or major accident resulting in serious injury (or worse) of the dog for them to wrap their head around it. Other times, if the dog’s behavior becomes bothersome enough, they will blame the breed, the particular dog and flawed genetics and abandon the dog at a shelter or worse. Those people will move on and buy another dog, which they will also proceed to raise improperly, until they’ve sworn off several types of breeds, or sizes, deeming every other factor to be at fault besides their lack of dog-savvy or responsibility to seek proper training.
No matter what category of coddle monster you may be encountering in your life, whether it be your friend’s dog, or a family member’s, approach the situation with tact to ensure the betterment of the dog’s future.

Next week, we’ll take this a step further and discuss the idea that if a dog is fearful, “it must have been abused” and why coddling this type of dog is the worst thing you can do for it.

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— April 24, 2012 —

Coddle Monster
by L.M.

Bringing your puppy home is an exciting time and surely everyone involved is anticipating hour-long cuddle sessions and puppy kisses. Puppies can make even the most hardened tough guys swoon with their floppy ears, fumbling run and affinity for crawling into your lap for a nap. Puppies ignite an unavoidable maternal/paternal instinct in their new owners, which begins the process of bonding. It may seem absurd to have to remind folks that their puppy is indeed not their new human baby. However, the ample cases of fear aggression, separation anxiety and other intricate undesirable social disorders that trainers are presented with from dogs that have just developed past puppyhood really define the root of the issues: CODDLED MONSTERS.

Let’s talk about the word ‘coddle’ before we dive into the effects, since ‘coddling your dog’ can carry positive and negative connotations. It’s one thing to take exceptional care of your dog: impeccable grooming, brushing, baths, and extensive toy selections, but being a ‘helicopter parent’ is something different, and should be avoided. We’ve all witnessed the dog owners that cradle and bop their dog in their arms, hushing it as if it were a cooing baby. Usually, this tends to happen most often with small dogs since large breed puppies often grow quickly and are not as easy to scoop up off the ground, but helicopter parents still find ways to coddle large breed dogs, which create future consequences that are much harder to correct.

Naturally, we want to protect our puppy from potentially harmful situations like a serious injury, dog fight, poisoning, etc but there are times where we need to let dogs learn things on their own and find their ‘inner canine’ and make sure we protect them from something that can potentially cause emotional harm in a dog: anxiety and lack of confidence. In nature, mother wolves take their pups along on a hunt. The pups observe cautiously while stumbling along as their mother stalks prey, prepares to pounce and they practice with her towards the kill. These are what we can consider to be survival skills, on a very primitive level since hunting is a food source, thus vital for sustaining life. Domestic dogs have it easy, they’re fed in pretty bowls and sleep on silk beds, but there’s still a lot that a dog needs to learn that will help build confidence and social skills for the rest of their life and possibly to SAVE their life even when it seems that being a domestic dog means that they have been given any and everything they could ever want. But do they have everything they need that’s not tangible but rather instilled in their personalities during development?

There has to be a clear distinction between seeing your dog handle and overcome new situations, without running over and giving them the solution immediately and comforting them because we see this as our dog suffering and in need of our help. It’s ok to show your dog that they can crawl under the couch to retrieve their toy, but refrain from running over and fetching their toy without having them figure it out first because this is directly conditioning your dog to develop a codependency. This goes for a lot of things like; feeding, playing, reacting to a scary noise or object in the house, storms, other dogs and potentially people. If your dog finds him/herself being ‘unsure’ and runs to you instead of using their instinctual canine curiosity and rationale, you’re not doing your dog any favors but instead, reinforcing paranoia, fear and potentially bad behavior. Your dog will essentially not be able to live without your constant presence over him/her in order to feel safe, which means that the dog has not had the chance to develop their independence and self-assurance. The best way to cover some of the most common mistakes is to list well-intended human reactions to dog situations:

  • Dog barks or reacts to another dog while on leash and owner coos ‘Noooo’ into the dog’s ear gingerly while stroking them, or worse, picking them up and cradling. The owner is reinforcing the dog’s behavior by giving affection and speaking in a soothing voice, thus feeding the dog’s fear or anxiety towards the other dog.

  • Dog jumps on owner upon returning home after being away and owner encourages what they project to be the dog’s ‘excitement’ with high-pitched tones and affection. In reality, a dog that is jumping and yelping upon the owners return is actually having a mini panic attack. What may seem to be loving and ‘happy to see me’, is actually separation anxiety and showing affection to a dog that is jumping onto their owner, or other people, is also encouraging the anxiety and bad behavior. Double detriment.

  • While on a walk, dog is several feet in front of owner tugging on leash walking frantically on all sides of the sidewalk while owner jogs behind dog to keep up. The dog is lost and has no direction from his owner, but instead is leading his owner. This is causing the dog to become insecure and over stimulated which can potentially encourage leash aggression towards other dogs and humans.

  • Dog repeatedly displays bad behavior and owner corrects by screaming dog’s name and giving dog chew or toy as a ‘distraction’ to stop the bad behavior. The owner has just rewarded the dog for behaving badly by calling the dogs name and giving them a toy/treat. The dog will begin to associate behaving badly with reward.

  • Dog becomes scared of noise or object and runs to owner. Owner immediately crouches down and sooths dog with soft voice and hugging. This is the single most common and detrimental error. Showing a scared and anxious dog affection only intensifies their insecurities. The dog is looking to feed off of their owner’s strength but their owner is being weak, thus making the situation twice as stressful.

  • Small dog or puppy lunges, growls or aggressively approaches an unsuspecting person or dog –the owner scoops dog up and presses them to their chest and may or may not also give the dog a smack. The owner just showed affection and protected their dog from a non-threat but also at the same time smacked their dog causing confusion. Just because the dog is small or is a puppy doesn’t mean that this behavior is harmless. A dog that displays dominant and aggressive behavior has the propensity to bite, if not this time, maybe the next with more and more encouragement from their owner after displaying aggressive behavior.

  • Dog displays small injury or ailment such as limping after a small stumble or vomiting, owner runs to the dog and cowers and/or picks the dog up anxiously asking the dog if he/she is ok and holding the dog. Never pick up a vomiting dog! Dog’s bodies are created by nature to maintain a level of homeostasis. When a dog vomits it can be something as simple as a hair in their throat picked up off a toy on the ground. Picking up a vomiting dog can cause them to choke or damage their diaphragm. Also, a dog that is showered with attention and affection upon slipping, stumbling or falling can develop intense confidence issues and will be unable to explore the world around them without their owner helicoptering over them. This also includes hovering over the dog while he/she is eating. Soon, the dog will be unable to eat without his/her owner present. Will the dog starve to death if his/her owner ever needs to leave town and the dog stays with a relative or in boarding? This will also encourage unnecessary fears and anxiety.

  • Owner can’t help but bring puppy along everywhere they go to prevent having to leave the puppy home alone. Neglecting to give a dog his ‘alone time’ can develop not only into a strong codependency but also extreme separation anxiety. There will come a time that you cannot bring your dog with you and that’s when you will either become a prisoner in your own home for fear of your dog’s separation anxiety (whether it be destructive, self-mutilation, or a noise complaint from the neighbors) and putting your dog through a rollercoaster of anxiety when they are suddenly placed in a crate for several hours after never having to be crated previously.

  • Dog must be touching owner at all times while at home or outside of the home together. For small dogs, this means being a ‘lap dog’. While this is something others may find endearing, having a velcro dog is beyond loving your dog. The dog has not only established dominance over their owner by standing on them and requiring their owner to tote them along at all times, but also encourages needless possessive behaviors that may cause the owner to constantly compensate for their dog’s bad behavior, and find excuses to not correct it. This will lead to many issues down the line, including making the dog owner feel isolated and unable to control their dog’s behavior around friends and other family members and potentially a bite.
There are many more specific examples that all run along the lines of showing a dog affection (coddling) at inappropriate times. Humans feel the need to express their love in human ways to the dogs. That’s where a major disconnection is created between dog and owner. The key to giving your dog love is to find out what your dog loves, rather than just smothering them with hugs and kisses. Dogs enjoy learning, working, activity and most importantly- a challenge.

The realities of early developmental coddling can get ugly before your dog turns just a year old. What may look like to some as a very dedicated and caring dog owner being extra bonded and loving with their dog, can actually hinder their dog’s entire future—and the dog owner’s own sanity. So many dogs are dumped at shelters each year with claims of behavioral shortcomings. What people fail to realize is that dogs are not a pre-programmed product based on breed or size. What you put into our dog is what you will get out. Next week’s article will be an addendum that includes common dog owner excuses to rationalize their dog’s bad behavior. Excuses will only work for so long. Eventually, bad behavior will push a dog owner to seek help from a trainer or relinquish their pet because they seem to think the dog is ‘ruined’. It’s much easier to prevent dogs from ever developing bad behaviors instead of rewarding and rationalizing their inappropriate behaviors for years and then attempt to work backwards to ‘fix it’.

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— April 17, 2012 —

Where did the first “Pure Breed” of dog come from?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Last week, I started a discussion about the domestication of the modern dog. Many folks don’t realize that what we know as a dog is actually the product of thousands of years of human influenced selective breeding. Basically, we humans have modified wild canids and created the modern dog. As I mentioned, there is some disagreement as to whether the dog comes from only the wolf, or if the other wild canids (foxes, coyote, etc) played a part in our modern dogs.

What is pretty much known is this, for thousands of years, humans selected dogs as companion and working animals. The dogs that were best suited to a particular task were fed and cared for. As time passed, these dogs became more and more specialized. One of the first “jobs” that domesticated dogs had was that of the hunting dog. In fact, there are portraits of what we now recognize as Ibizan hounds and Pharaoh hounds that have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back over 6,000 years. Imagine, the Pharaoh hounds and Ibizan hounds of today may be direct descendants of a bloodline that dates back to the time of the Pharaohs.

Between the time of the Pharaohs and today, many changes occurred in how humans selected dogs for breeding. During the Medieval period, dogs were further specialized between “types” from hunting to herding to guarding type dogs. Each type of dog was selected for it’s ability to perform a particular task. The one overarching principle was that form always followed function.

The true modern concept of a pure breed of dog dates back to the Victorian era. This is where dog breeding first started to become popular. Many dog owners wanted an exact type of dog. This created a demand for certain breeds. In response, the breeders began to specialize on one type of dog and care was taken to make sure that there was no mixing between the breeds. This idea of the “pure breed” became the normal way of identifying a dog that had this type of pedigree.

This leads us to modern times and the pure breeds we know of today. Many people thing of the German Shepherd dog as a breed that has been around forever, but in fact the GSD breed has only been around for about two hundred years. Even in this relatively short time, the breed has undergone significant changes.

Looking back at old pictures, one can easily see the changes that have occurred in the breed over time. The original German Shepherd dog has a distinctly different look than the show dogs of today. The angle of the shoulders, back and hips have changed quite substantially.


As importantly as the physical appearance of the dog, the temperament of dogs are very related to selective pressure as well. If you think about it, the type of work a dog is intended to do will also dictate certain behavioral characteristics. A herding breed will be more responsive to a handler’s instruction that a sight hound. A guard dog may naturally be slower to make friends than a companion breed and a hunting dog will probably have pretty high endurance and energy level. Some of these behavioral characteristics, while beneficial to the working dog owner, can present challenges to the average dog owner. Herding dogs can nip at children, while guard dog types can become over protective. Often training is necessary to help the owner understand their dog’s instinctive behavior.

Today, there are in a whole new crop of “breeds” that are becoming popular. Golden-doodles and Puggles are all mixes of pre-existing breeds, but in time, these new breeds can be recognized just like any other pure breed.

In the end, are pure breeds better than mixed breed dogs? No one will ever be able to answer that. I have had great dogs that were both pure breed and mixed. When you get right down to it, they all came from the same place.

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— April 10, 2012 —

Where do dogs come from?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

My dog is part wolf. So is yours. One of the most fascinating things about domesticated dogs is that they all come from wolves. I don’t want to get into a wholesale discussion on evolution, but even in documented human history, we see the effects of intelligent design when it comes to “pure bred” dogs. Dogs are not a completely natural phenomenon. In the truest sense, we have manipulated their genetic make up and “created” the dogs that we know today.

Here is a basic, although very much abbreviated, history of where we think modern dogs come from.

Many thousands of years ago, when our ancestors were living in caves, we humans were hunter-gatherers. We basically traveled around eating whatever we could get our hands on. That meant fruits and berries and also included animals (hence the hunter in hunter-gatherer). Animals contain parts that prehistoric humans couldn’t or wouldn’t eat called offal. Things like bones, organs and tough bits were tossed aside. Wild canids (wolves, and other dog-like creatures) would travel, loosely attached to humans to scavenge for food and would survive in part on this offal. Those items that were cast off just happen to be the things that these wild dog-like creatures liked to eat.

A symbiotic relationship developed. Dogs knew that humans provided them with a steady supply of food and eventually humans realized that the canids were good for a few things as well. The packs of wild canines provided an alarm system for humans, alerting them to the presence of danger. Also, unbeknownst to these early humans, the dogs that ate this cast off material reduced the spread of disease within the human population. Researchers have theorized that humans exist today, due in part to the fact that these early canines cleaned up after our prehistoric ancestors.

There is some disagreement on whether dogs come from wolves exclusively, or if there are other species like foxes and coyotes in the mix. What is known is that somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, humans began inviting these pre-dogs into their camps. The friendlier pups had an advantage over their more aggressive siblings. They were closer to the food supply. They also became more and more closely bonded to the humans. This was the beginning of domestication. The most social animals from early breedings were kept as “pets” and the aggressive offspring was rejected. Over the centuries, human intervention swayed the course of genetics and the domesticated dog was born.

Of course, this is a nice story, but is there any sort of verification? Conveniently enough there is.

In the 1950’s in Russia, a geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev began a project that ran for over 40 years. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domesticated_silver_fox) Descendants of the original foxes are still alive today. Essentially, Belyaev attempted to recreate the selective pressure that would have been demonstrated by early humans or their wild canine companions. Specifically, he bred the foxes that showed the least fear and aggression to humans. From those offspring, he selected and bred the most friendly offspring and so on. Since temperament and behavior is a product of biology, selecting the least fearful pups caused a literal shift in the neurochemistry of the offspring. Probably the most interesting part of the experiment is this. When the neurochemistry and biological response was manipulated, the physical appearance of the foxes changed as well. The domesticated foxes that were produced by the experiment began to look less foxlike and more doglike, with traits such as mottled coat color, floppy ears and a more puppy-like tail carriage.

So basically, dogs wouldn’t exist without us (and just maybe we wouldn’t exist without them). We know that they are good for us. They get us moving, reduce our stress and provide companionship. Maybe that’s their way of repaying the favor.

Next week I want to take this a step further and talk about how this whole notion of “pure breeds” came about.

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— April 3, 2012 —

Doggie Parks. Fun or Folly?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Going to the doggie park might be the most dangerous thing you ever do with your dog.

This is an article that I hate to write. It seems that once again, a dog has been killed at a Chicago Dog Park.
http://www.mondog.org/component/k2/item/577-pit-bull-attack-on-small-dog-3/17/12#itemCommentsAnchor

What most people don’t realize is that this happens once or twice every year. I personally avoid dog parks. I have not taken my dogs to one in years and I recommend my clients use extreme caution if they visit dog parks.

This advice holds especially true if they happen to have a pit bull type dog. Now, I know I have said in the past that pit bulls are great dogs and they should not be banned and they have a bad rap and all that. I still stand by that. What I have also said is that even if you have a dog-friendly pit bull, you need to be cautious in how you socialize your dog.

I consider myself an advocate for the American Pit Bull Terrier, the “pit bull”, and any other short haired muscular dog that gets judged based on its looks. I have a couple of pit bulls currently and have owned and rescued many other pit bull types that have gone to be great companion dogs. What I am NOT is a member of the “Pollyanna Pit Bull Brigade.” These are the people who claim that a pit bull is just like any other dog. Well, they’re not. Every breed has specific requirements that have to be addressed through training. The pit bull is no different. Specifically, I accept the fighting history of the breed. There are variations within the breed, from dogs that would not fight unless truly provoked, to dogs that fight over anything or nothing at all. It is the owner’s responsibility to be educated on this and handle their dog accordingly.

The owner of the pit bull in this instance said (paraphrased), “The other dog started it.” Well, that may or may not be true, but his dog finished it. This is the main reason for my concern with pit bull types at dog parks. The pit bull has been selected for hundreds of years to not back down from a fight.

I also believe that this individual dog probably had some history of dog aggression. I know what assumptions are worth, but I’d bet any amount of money that this dog had been in fights before. Generally, a well raised pet dog doesn’t kill another dog the first time it has an altercation. A responsible pit bull owner knows their dog. If it has begun to show dog aggression, the dog park would be the wrong place to take the dog. I myself have a 10 year old pit bull mix who is dog aggressive. Gunnar demonstrated to me, many years ago, that he should not go to dog parks. He didn’t have to kill a dog for me to “get it.”

Lastly, many of the dogs at the park are likely getting their only taste of real exercise and stimulation for the week. It makes for a very excited dog with low impulse control and possibly bad “dog manners.” This hyper-stimulated mental state is the main behavioral issue that I have been writing about. Imagine a bunch of those dogs thrown into a dog park together. You can now see how it only takes a small spark to set off a major incident.

Even knowing all this, I’m sure that many people will continue to take their dogs to off leash parks. If you are one of those people, I’d like to recommend the following things to help keep your dog safe.

1. SUPERVISE YOUR DOG! Too many people drink their latte and read the paper instead of watching their dog. Remember, not all dogs at the park are as nice as your dog. You can only be responsible for your dog, but you can watch out for other dogs that shouldn’t be there.

2. Learn to recognize problem behaviors BEFORE they turn into a fight. Resource guarding, humping, stare downs, overly excited wrestling and intense tug are a few of the things that can evolve into a real fight quickly. In our daycare, we train our employees that if two dogs are playing and they cannot be stopped verbally, it’s too rough. At that point, we break them up and have them take a breather.

3. Your dog must recall immediately, every time. If you see a problem starting, you should be able to call your dog away from it. If your dog doesn’t recall reliably, more training is in order. I was once told by another owner that doggie park was “their time” and that I shouldn’t expect my dog to listen there. Please re-read the opening line for this Tail.

4. Don’t ever, “Let the dogs work it out.” It’s just a bad idea. Someone said this to me at a dog park many years ago. Moments later I found myself pulling his dog off of my dog as he stood by frozen. I had recognized that his dog was about to become aggressive and asked him to get control of his dog. This idea of letting dogs work out their differences means we are trusting animals to behave like humans and discuss issues in a rational manner.

5. Dogs should be separated by size. I know of one dog park in Chicago (Wiggly Field) where there is a small section fenced off. Owners of very small breeds should seek out these separate areas and use them, especially if there is a less social dog at the park that day.

6. Learn to recognize the less social dogs. Avoid them. If you see the dog at the park who is walking around stiff, head up high, tail very erect, (possibly un-neutered) being a tough guy, pick a different park. After seeing these displays many times, it’s like a neon sign. I can walk to a dog park fence and pick him out in a second. Learning to recognize if he’s there can be a life saver.

7. If you have a dog that has been in a couple of fights, SEE A TRAINER! You may be unintentionally encouraging aggression, or you may have a dog that is growing into a less social dog, like my own dog. A qualified trainer can help you decipher what is happening and be able to help modify your dog’s behavior.

8. Exercise caution if a dog walker shows up with 10 dogs. Not only is this illegal, it’s dangerous. There is no way one person can properly supervise that many dogs.

I hope that I never read about another dog being killed at a dog park again. With better understanding of dog behavior and an honest assessment of our own dogs temperament we can avoid another family loosing their dog to a fight at the park.

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— March 27, 2012 —

Dominant, Stubborn or Uneducated? Which one is it?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

One of the biggest misconceptions I come across in my training it the concept of the “stubborn” or “dominant” dog. I don’t mean that dogs can’t be stubborn, because they definitely can. It’s just that many times when we think they’re being stubborn, they really have no idea what we want. This week, we’ll try to decipher whether your dog is being stubborn, dominant or just has no idea what you’re asking him to do.

The majority of my training is for the average person who just wants to have a better relationship with their dog. While I do a fair amount of advanced training (service dogs, working dogs, etc.) the majority of my work is pet dogs. Basically, I train people to “handle” their dogs and I train dogs to accept and respond to handling. Then, I teach this “team” how to operate in the real world. Pet dog training is very simple. Good training is nothing more than good handling-consistently.

For years now, there have been three rules I tell almost everyone when I first meet them. These handling rules are applicable to pretty much all dogs:

1. If you move away from a dog, the dog will be inclined to move towards you.
2. If you move towards a dog, it will be inclined to move away.
3. If you try to move a dog with steady pressure, the dog will likely resist.

There is a natural attraction between dogs and their handlers. I generally demonstrate the first rule by walking backwards with the dog on leash. Almost invariably, the dog will drift towards me. If fact, try this next time you walk your dog. Stand still with your dog on a loose leash. Then, take a quick step backwards. If your dog steps towards you or turns his head to you, that’s the beginning of what I’m describing. Through training, we work to strengthen that natural attraction.

The second is common sense. If you walk towards your dog they will move away to avoid being stepped on. There is, however, a deeper behavior in play. A lower ranking dog will retreat from a higher ranking dog. We can use this concept in training as well.

The third rule is that if you pull on your dog, he will resist. Dogs, like humans, have a behavior known as “opposition reflex.” One example of this is when we are trying to teach our dog to perform a “down.” If you try to pull a dog into a down, he’ll invariably resist and possibly go into a wild bucking frenzy. This does not indicate a stubborn or dominant dog. It’s just a natural reaction to being pulled.

I think it’s time to add another rule.

4. Dogs watch us more than they listen to us.

In the last couple of Tails, I started to discuss how dogs don’t talk, rather they communicate using body language. Sometimes, our whole impression of the stubborn dog is based on the disparity in how our two species communicate differently. Sometimes we unintentionally say one thing with our commands and something completely different with our body.

This helps to explain another supposedly stubborn behavior. It’s when we “mis-cue” our dog. What I mean is this. If you have taught your dog to “down” with a sweeping hand motion, then try to tell him down with your hands in your pockets, he will likely not perform. To him, it’s not the same command that he was taught to respond to. Here is a simple test. If your dog will lay down happily with a hand motion, try to tell him to “down” without moving at all. If he fails, try to do the hand sweep without talking at all. If he only responds correctly with the hand motion, you will see what I’m describing. This is not a stubborn dog. He is simply uneducated to the spoken command. Next time your hands are full and you need your dog to perform, you will understand why it’s important to teach your dog to listen to spoken commands.

There is a whole training process (fading) that teaches the dog to listen to commands v/s watch for hand signals. Without going through this fading technique, we can end up with a spiral process of giving the dog a command which he doesn’t listen to because he really doesn’t understand, then we grab the leash and try to pull him pull down and he fights more and more until everyone is exasperated with this stubborn dog.

So next time you think your dog is just being stubborn, take a step back and think about these four rules. Is it possible that he’s confused, or could we be saying something with our body that contradicts what we are saying with our mouth?

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— March 20, 2012 —

What’s that bark saying?
by Daniel McElroy Jr

This week, I’d like to discuss a little about what a dog’s vocalizations mean.

We all know that dogs don’t actually talk. Researchers have said that over 90% of all human communications is non-verbal (body language, inflection, tone, etc). Keep in mind that dogs don’t even have spoken language, so the vast majority of their communication must be through body language also.

With that being said, it is possible to decipher a couple of things from our dog’s vocalizations. As I mentioned last week, the first thing you will need to do is to pay attention to individual dogs in a group. Watch how they interact and listen to their vocalizations. Just like with body language, vocalizations can be very short and easy to miss.

The first and most obvious thing you will notice is the pitch of different sounds. The concept of how pitch influences meaning is very simple. In all of nature, big things tend to create lower pitch sounds. Tap on a tin cup and kick a water barrel and you will get a clear example of how size influences pitch. The pitch of a dog’s bark should be evaluated relative to its own bark and not all dogs. In other words, a deep bark for a Chihuaua will not be as deep as a high pitch bark from a Rottweiler. An American Pit Bull Terrier can have a very high pitch bark for its size so you have to evaluate it based on the individual dog.

The rules relating to pitch are universal through the animal kingdom, including humans. A small, harmless animal like a mouse will have a high pitch whereas a lion, which can be quite dangerous, has low pitch sounds associated with it. What this ultimately means relating to dogs is this. When a dog wants to sound dangerous, it tries to sound bigger. A dog will alter the pitch of its vocalizations to fit whatever the situation may be.

To distill this all to one main point, a dog that is friendly and approachable will emit higher pitch sounds, whereas a dog that is either defensive (guarding) or fearful will emit a lower sound like a growl. This may seem obvious in situations where a dog is guarding a yard, but keep in mind that dogs on the street can emit sounds very subtly that are warnings to stay away.

The bark is a treasure trove of information regarding our dogs’ mental state. Deciphering how high pitched, rapid, prolonged and forceful the barking is tells us many things about what your dog is trying to “say.”

Say you’re in your house and your dog starts barking in a series of rapid barks. He hears something and the rapid series of barks says that he’s excited by it. The pitch of the barks can change as the dog identifies what is out there, if pitch of the barks lowers, that excitement can be related to a perceived threat (Stranger-Danger). If as the barking continues the dog demonstrates ascending pitch would be translated as happy excitement (Mom is coming home!). The more forceful a bark, the more intense the feeling behind it.

Growling is almost universally perceived as a threat. It generally means the dog is uncomfortable, but can be combined with other things that tell you how likely the dog is to become aggressive. Growls also have pitch variations that can tell us a little about what the dog wants to say. Growls MUST be observed in combination with body posture. A growl that comes from deep in the chest is a confident growl. When combined with a strong, stiff posture and direct eye contact it is a threat. The dog is saying back off. Failure to heed this growl will almost definitely result in an attack. A more throaty growl comes from a dog that is not looking for a fight, but may bite if cornered. One growl that is harder to describe is an undulating growl that changes pitch. I have seen it a few times in dogs that were recently rescued and find themselves in a completely strange environment. It is almost always combined with a cowering body posture and exposed teeth. This comes from a very frightened or terrified dog. This dog would prefer to run from a fight, but will absolutely lash out if cornered.

Like barks, growls need to be interpreted based on the individual dog. I happen to own Rottweilers. They are known as a breed to “purr” when they are happy. My Rotties purr when they are content and being petted at home. This is always combined with very relaxed body posture, usually with the dogs laying on their side or back. This playful growl is completely separate from all the warning growls mentioned above. However, if you don’t know the dog, I would advise caution with any dog that is growling.

Yowling, squeaking and squealing usually comes from a happy dog that wants to play. One of my favorite things is when I come home to my dog, Gunnar doing his “yowl-ah-rooo” yodel. He makes a very similar sound when it’s feeding time. Contrasting this a short yelp or series of short yelps usually mean discomfort of some sort. They may also emit a sorrowful wail that cannot be misinterpreted.

Probably the most disturbing dog sound, the scream, comes from a dog that is experiencing severe trauma. It can sound like a screaming baby. This sound can trigger aggression in other dogs. (It is a known fact that high pitched crying sounds from a baby can trigger prey-based aggression in dogs. If you have a very prey driven dog, some training may be in order before you bring a new baby into your home.) I was at a dog park once, when a dog severely injured its knee. The dog began to scream uncontrollably and was instantly attacked by a nearby dog. The attacking dog was not aggressive in general, but the scream triggered its prey instinct. This is why dogs are almost universally interested in squeaky toys. It “turns-on” the hunter in them.

I hope next time your dog talks to you, you’ll have a little better idea of what
he is trying to “say.” With a little practice, you can definitely learn to understand
him better.

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— March 13, 2012 —

How to speak “Dog”.
by Daniel McElroy Jr

For this tail, I’d like to explain a little about dog’s “language” and how to interpret it. I’d like to focus on a couple of pre-bite indicators that everyone should learn to recognize. I firmly believe that most dog bites are avoidable and it is human error that is to blame in many cases.

As a trainer, I have made a study of reading dogs and their “language.” It helps me to decipher how they are feeling about the training and whether they are absorbing what I’m trying to teach.

I am often asked questions like, “What does it mean when Fido does this or that? What is he trying to say?” I often recommend Dr. Stanley Coren’s book “How to Speak Dog” because it helps the reader actually read a dog’s behavior.

I suggest that if you want to learn how to read dogs, go to the dog park and watch them. Don’t just watch the group of dogs, but watch individual dogs. Look at their posture and their facial expression. Pay special attention to their eyes, ears and tail. The majority of their expressions are fleeting, lasting only a few moments. If you aren’t really watching, you’ll miss it. I also try to explain to people that dogs do not have quite the same thought process that we have. While everyone knows this on the surface, we still try to attribute human meaning to every nuance of canine behavior. What I have learned over the years is that most canine communication breaks down into a few general ideas.

1. I’m happy.

2. I’m playful.

3. I’m not happy.

4. I’m excited/stimulated

5. I’m stressed.

6. I’m angry.

7. I’m uncomfortable or scared.

8. I give up.

9. Warning. Danger!

In general, we can usually figure out what is causing each of these signals. If there is a sudden noise outside and our dogs start barking, we know what they are warning us about. Sometimes however, the causes may be more subtle. A dog that isn’t feeling well may simply lay down and pant for no apparent reason. While I don’t expect to cover all of this in a single article, I would like to discuss some of the most common missed signals that dogs give. This week, I want to cover the ones that may predict aggression. (This is by no means all inclusive. There are entire books on the subject. I hope this encourages the reader to do more research.)

Everyone knows a dog guarding a yard, giving off ferocious barks may bite, but a calm dog can bite as well. Everyone also knows what a happy dog looks like. They are loose in their posture and their eyes convey a soft expression. Generally they will have a calm demeanor, but calmness doesn’t always predict friendly. Here are two examples where the dog seemed calm, but was showing signs which predicted aggression.

By now you’ve probably heard about T.V. reporter Kyle Dyer who was bitten in the face by an Argentinian Dogo. If not, here is a link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TABUKagZ5mA (warning-graphic)

To every dog trainer out there, this was a comedy of errors. The dog warned her before the bite, but she didn’t read the warning signs. There was lip licking (uncomfortable, pacifying) looking away as she first leaned in (avoidance) then he stiffened up and flashed his teeth. When that didn’t work, he bit her. Most people recognize what the flash of teeth means, but by then it was too late. She had already leaned in too far and the bite was coming. Recognizing the dog’s signals (lip licking, avoidance) prior to the bite could have prevented this all together.

Here is another video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6SDOTzmbSs (warning-graphic)

In this video, the signals are even more obvious. The lip licking is evident, as is the avoidance. The dog in the video is a police dog. Despite the comment made by the narrator near the end of the video, the dog’s training is irrelevant here. The reporter is invading the dog’s space. That is threatening and this dog is reacting like any other dog in a threatening situation. Pay close attention during the slow motion scenes. You can see the dog try to back away, but the reporter keeps advancing. Finally, with nowhere to retreat, the dog strikes out at the reporter.

What most people don’t realize is that to the dog, the mouth and teeth are weapons. When they intend to be non-threatening, they will point it away from other dogs or people. My own dogs will lean away and avoid looking at me when I hug them. They accept it because they trust me, but they don’t love it. If you look at the videos again, you will see instances where the dogs try to avoid or point away from the reporters. (This is not to say that all dogs dislike hugging. There are dogs that do like to be hugged, but their reactions will be different.)

This attempt to point the mouth and teeth away from the human while still watching our every move leads to another sign that can predict aggression. “Whale eye” or “half moon eye” is where the dog’s eyes show only a narrow slit of white around the colored portion of the eye (iris). The reason for this is that the dog is trying to see what you are doing without escalating the situation. The dog is trying to watch us by turning only their eyes towards us NOT their mouth. Many times this will be combined with widely dilated pupils.


If you notice in this pictures, the human is pointing her mouth directly at the dog. It is the dog who is trying not to aim his weapon at the human.


This dog is showing the two main signals we are discussing. He is licking his lips and glancing at something to the side.

This is only a small portion of the information that could be discussed with regards to dog bites and reading pre-bite indicators. Next week I will talk a little more about predicting bites and how to avoid children getting bit.

In his book, “How to Speak Dog” first published in 2000, Dr. Stanley Coren discusses the concept of how dogs communicate. Dr. Coren is a noted researcher in the fields of psychology, including human vision and hearing, neuropsychology, brain, laterality, handedness, birth stress, sleep, behavior genetics and cognitive processing. Dr. Coren has won a number of awards for his research, and the quality of his contribution to science has been recognized by a number of major scientific organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, the Canadian Psychological Association, the American Association of Applied and Preventative Psychology, and others, which have conferred upon him the title of Fellow. In addition his ability to communicate with people has been recognized by his winning of the Robert E. Knox Master Teacher Award and by his service on the American Psychological Association's, Public Information Committee.

While his profession is mostly human-related, Dr. Coren has turned his keen eye to the interactions that dogs have with each other and with humans. He has attempted to decipher the subtle “language” that dogs possess. In his book, we find a translation guide of sorts that may help us hear exactly what our dogs are trying to tell us.


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— March 6, 2012 —

Shop or Adopt (Part Three)
by Daniel McElroy Jr

This week, we’d like to discuss the idea of buying a puppy from a breeder. While we do support rescue and the idea of adopting a homeless pet, there will be those who need a special type of dog for a specific purpose. Those whose interest include dog shows, hunting, protection/police work or even search and rescue work may find it necessary to purchase from a breeder. Someone who breeds dogs for a specific type of work will be much more likely to provide you with a suitable working companion.This article will help you determine if a particular breeder is producing the dog that you are looking to buy. The overarching principle of this entire article is this. A good breeder will be someone who is working to improve the breed they love. They will have specific goals for their breeding program and will be able to articulate what those goals are. They will not be someone who happened to buy a male and female of a particular breed and started making puppies for a little side cash.

“First, if you have a specific “job” in mind for your dog, you will want to discuss this with the breeders that you contact. For example, if you intend to buy a dog for duck hunting, and you have decided upon a Labrador Retriever, you would want to ask the breeder how many of his dogs are actually being trained and worked for that activity. Also, you would want to know if the breeder has had any dogs that have won awards in field trials. A breeder who is working to improve the breed will be active in things that are designed to improve the quality of the bloodlines.

Another topic for discussion would be health issues within the breeders blood lines. Most breeds of dogs have some type of health issues associated with the breed. For example, German Shepherds have notorious hip issues, English Bulldogs have issues with breathing and allergies. The list goes on. A good breeder will be informed of these issues and will be able to tell you exactly what steps they have taken to eliminate genetic health issues from their bloodlines. Whether it be getting hips x-rayed on every dog they breed or having blood work done to test for genetic markers, a good breeder will have taken specific steps to reduce the risk of health issues. A couple of years ago, we had a client who purchased an English Bulldog puppy from a breeder for about two thousand dollars. By the time the dog was a year old, they had spent ten times that amount on vet bills. While they were able to do the necessary things to save their puppy, there are many people who would have had to deal with the heartache of euthanizing a young dog due to genetic health issues.

Once you have interviewed a few breeders, you will have narrowed your choices down and it’s time to visit the facilities. What you’re looking for here is the overall conditions that the puppies are raised in. A professional kennel or a home situation will be clean, with healthy looking mom and pups.The puppies should be handled regularly. If the pups are exposed to children and allowed to explore the yard or house with supervision, those are good things. A breeder who refuses to show you all of the pups’ housing facilities is throwing up a red flag. Once you are there, meet the dame (mother) to the pups. She may be protective of her pups, but she should give you some idea of what the pups’ temperament will be. If you are not allowed to meet her, or if she is fearful or overly aggressive, that would be a red flag. As I have written in the past, fear issues are a serious genetic flaw and even with good upbringing, genetic fear issues will always be present in a dog.

I don’t have any specific feeling towards a professional kennel setting v/s a home based “hobbyist” breeder. Both can produce excellent dogs, with proper care taken to selection of bloodlines and health. If the breeder can discuss the previous concerns, I would not be terribly biased towards either situation.

If some breeders wants to “meet you somewhere with the puppies.” This is a MAJOR RED FLAG! Do not, under any circumstances, buy a dog from this person. If a breeder refuses to show you their facility, they probably have something to hide.

A good breeder may take a deposit from you and tell you when to expect a breeding. Basically, a well known breeder will not need to sell you a dog, they will have a reputation for producing excellent dogs and you will have to wait your turn. They will often, but not always, take deposits until they know they can place every dog in a litter before they even breed the dogs. Also, a breeder generally wants to know that their puppies will be cared for properly. You can expect some kind of interview before you are allowed to buy a puppy. Lastly, a responsible breeder will generally offer some contractual guarantee that your puppy will be free of genetic health issues common in the breed. They may offer a rebate, free replacement or a combination of the two if your pup develops a health issue within a certain time frame.

I’ve talked about pet stores in the past. Basically, there is no good way to buy a dog from a pet store. You cannot meet the parents, see the upbringing of the pups (during the critical imprint stage at that) or evaluate the experience level of the actual breeder. Also, even though every pet store claims not to deal with puppy mills, the very act of selling puppies to pet stores are one of the things that defines a puppy mill. Pet stores tend to sell to pretty much anyone who has the money and there is little care given to selecting a quality home. Also, some people get the feeling that they are “saving” the puppy at the pet store. The fact is that if we all stopped buying from pet stores, we’d be saving a lot more dogs from a miserable fate. If you really want to save a dog, there are hundreds of dogs at your local pound that do need to be saved.

For all the bad things that are said about dog breeders, we understand that there will always be a need for dogs specifically bred to do certain jobs. If you need a job done and are looking for a dog, we hope this will help you pick the right dog the first time.

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— February 28, 2012 —

Shop or Adopt (Part Two)
by Daniel McElroy Jr

Last week, we started a series on getting a new dog. We talked about adopting from a rescue versus buying a dog from a breeder or pet store. This week, we’d like to “dig a little deeper” into the idea or adopting from a rescue.

Let’s say that you’ve made the decision to get a dog (great) and the decision to adopt a homeless pet (even better). Now, where do you start? This week, we’ll discuss what to look for when deciding which dog to adopt.

First, what are you looking for in a dog? Are you a health nut, who wants a running partner, or a senior citizen who would like a calm companion? Do you go to the office 40 plus hours a week, or work from home? Do you like a fluffy, long coated dog, or do you want to avoid the grooming requirements that come with the long coat? All these issues, and many others will factor into your decision. It’s wise to write down a list of your needs and concerns. Once you’re made a checklist of exactly what you are looking for, it’s time to go and meet some dogs.

The options here are endless. If you have decided on a particular breed and found a pure breed rescue, they will arrange for you to meet their dogs. This is often a good option. Since the local rescues usually know their individual dogs very well, they can introduce you to dogs matching your lifestyle. They may also be able to give you more background information on a dog. There are wide variations in the adoption process between rescues, but a responsible rescue will have some formal adoption standards. They will also want to check your references and do a home check.

If you decide to go to your local animal control adoption center, you will likely have the option of walking through the rows of needy dogs. As you walk through, you’ll probably be overwhelmed by the sheer number of dogs there. I’ve been there and there are literally hundreds of dogs all barking and jumping, seemingly all saying, “Take me, I’m the one!”

If a dog catches your eye in either of these situations, you will be given a chance to meet the dog one-on-one. This is where the true evaluation begins. Whatever you do, don’t just pick the cutest one, or the happiest (or saddest) one. There are a few things you should look at that will help you make the right choice.

There are volumes of information on how to evaluate a rescue dog. I’ve tried to condense it to a few simple observations you should make with a dog to evaluate it’s potential for your home. Some of these things are red flags. Most are simply to evaluate the lifestyle that a particular dog will need. They are just to give an idea of what kind of temperament/energy level the dog might have. This is written assuming that the shelter has already done basic evaluations and is not offering dangerous or aggressive dogs for adoption. I like to start off with the dog in a quiet, secure area where the dog can be off leash.
  1. Does the dog generally interact with you calmly or excitedly right out of the kennel? Does it settle down within 1 minute, 5 minutes or longer? If a dog that has been kenneled for an extended period comes out and behaves calmly, then you can infer that it will be a pretty mellow companion. Keep in mind this may be the first time this dog has been out of it’s kennel in weeks. Some extra energy can be expected since they may not have had sufficient exercise for a quite some time.

  2. Is the animal scared or timid? How long does it take for the dog to gain it’s confidence? Does the dog avoid you? While it is not uncommon for a new area to be intimidating, if a dog does not become comfortable quickly in new environments you should consider this in your evaluation. Fearful dogs can be good pets, but often they require a more experienced owner. Lastly, if a dog simply refuses to come out of the kennel due to fear, this could denote a serious issue. If you are inexperienced with fearful dogs, it may be best to look for a more confident dog.

  3. Startle test: Drop a metal bowl onto a tile floor, and evaluate the dog’s response. An ideal response is a slight startle, then an investigative sniff. If the dog responds with growling or complete panic, that would be a red flag.

  4. Once the dog has become comfortable with you, try tossing a toy. If he ignores it, he’ll probably not be terribly possessive. If he brings it to you, he wants to have a job. A dog that takes the toy and runs, trying to keep it away from you, may be a bit mischievous. While this is not a bad thing, he may require more exercise and training to prevent problem behaviors.

  5. If the dog is a young puppy, you are looking for friendly and outgoing behaviors. Any puppy should be happy to meet new people. Avoidance is not normal in a puppy. On this note, if you can meet either of the puppies parents, do it. The parents give you an idea of how your puppy might turn out. If the parents make you uncomfortable, this should be noted. (A mother dog with her puppies may be protective. This is normal and an experienced shelter should not introduce you to a mother and her pups too early.) Try rolling the puppy on it’s back. There should be a little struggle, but no major protest. The sooner it settles down, the more compliant the puppy will be as an adult. Also, a puppy that play bites is normal. This alone does not signal that he will be aggressive as an adult, but he will need some training on bite inhibition.

  6. Offer the dog a suitable treat. If he snatches it, then he will need training to take treats softly. Children love to give dogs treats, but are often not good at presenting them properly to avoid being scratched. A soft mouth is desirable if you have young children in your home.

  7. How has the dog responded to petting. I’m sure you have offered pets by now, but was the dog’s posture “soft” to your hand or did his body stiffen? I always advise potential adopters to look for a dog who softens up and allows petting all over the body. Also, make sure you can inspect the dogs ears and feet without too much resentment.

  8. Lastly, put a collar and leash on the dog. Does it allow you to lead it around for a walk? If he pulls, he may just need training. If the dog bites at the leash aggressively or panics at the idea of being led on leash, there may be bigger issues. See whether the dog understands any basic obedience commands. If he can sit or down, then he may have some training already.
These are a few of the things that I look for when I evaluate a dog for a pet situation. As I said earlier, no one thing is an immediate disqualifier, but they help to determine which dog in a particular group would be the best fit in your home.

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— February 21, 2012 —

Tuesday’s Tail. Thinking About A New Dog? Shop or Adopt (Part One)
by Daniel McElroy Jr

As spring approaches, lots of people will start thinking about getting their new puppy. House training and obedience training is much more enjoyable in spring and a new pup gives us just that much more reason to get outside.

The first question to ask is this. Should I buy a dog from a breeder or adopt from a shelter? While we know that some people will want to buy a certain type of dog from a breeder, we strongly support rescuing a homeless dog.

The very first thing I advise people to do is avoid the pet stores. Period. There is not a single pet store I know of that operates responsibly. I dare say that pretty much every dog in every pet store came from a puppy mill; even if they say they don’t. The basis for this claim is that no responsible breeder would ever sell it’s puppies to a broker who in turn sells them to pet stores. There are responsible breeders out there, and they will want to know where their puppies end up. With pet stores, anyone who walks in with the money can buy a puppy.

You may be asking, “Is there a dog in rescue that is suitable for me?” The short answer is yes. There are probably thousands of dogs in rescues in your immediate area. We are located in Chicago, but we regularly get posts from around the country for great dogs in rescue situations. No matter if you want a purebred dog, a fluffy mutt, a big or small dog, high energy runner or low key couch potato, they are all available in rescue. If you do decide to adopt a homeless pet, there are a few things that you should consider.

The first thing I would want to know is the dog’s age. While young puppies are generally seen as very desirable, I often advise people to look for a dog over a year old. A very young puppy, while extra cute, will present a whole set of challenges that you could avoid with an older dog. Chewing, house training and play biting are pretty normal issues with young puppies. A dog about a year old may have been house trained already, making the integration process easier. Play biting may cause discomfort for a human child. A slightly older dog might be pass this stage. Destructive behavior can happen at any age, but it’s much more common with young puppies.

The most important issue related to age is temperament. A very young puppy can be friendly and outgoing, but develop into an anxious adult. If I am taking on a very young puppy, I prefer to meet it’s parents. This may not be possible in a rescue situation. A dog that’s about a year old has pretty much developed it’s adult personality. The importance of this cannot be overstated. A dog’s temperament is guided more by genetics than upbringing. I’ll explain this shortly.

Some folks have the mistaken idea that a pound puppy must be defective; that a dog from a breeder will be somehow superior. While there are some dogs in rescues that have been through horrible abuse situations, the vast majority of them were just puppies that were bought by people who didn’t know what they were getting into. They got the puppy not realizing the requirements of raising it and decided to give it up to the rescue. Also, we have gotten beautiful pure breed dogs from rescue situations. I have seen German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and just about any other breed you can imagine in shelters. If you care to own a particular breed of dog, a quick Google search will likely turn up a rescue dedicated to that breed. Of course you may not get the dog’s actual registration papers with it, but those papers won’t make your dog a better companion.

Even if a dog in a rescue does come from an abusive background, this isn’t an automatic disqualifier. I have seen many severely abused dogs recover. We have all seen recent cases of rescued fighting dogs in the media that prove this. These dogs, many of them horribly abused have developed into therapy dogs, service dogs and great companion dogs. I’ve also seen puppies that were bought from breeders and raised responsibly, become fear biters as adults. These dogs invariable came from fearful parents and the temperament was passed to the pups. While an experienced trainer can spot signs of temperament issues in a puppy, to many these signs go un-noticed. If you adopt a dog that’s about year old, things like fear or aggression should be evident.

Some folks have specific concerns regarding allergies. I recently spoke to a young lady who was allergic to dogs, but had no symptoms with Schnauzers. Right now 1,580 available dogs come up on Petfinder when you search Schnauzer.

The point I’m trying to make is that no matter what your needs are, there is a rescue dog out there for you. Please consider adopting a homeless dog. You’ll never know the difference, but you’ll make a difference.

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— February 14, 2012 —

Tuesday’s Tail. The Affection Issue.

In light of the recent public dog bite on national TV, when a Denver news anchor went in to smooch a stressed, scared Dogo on the air and consequentially was bitten in the face, this Tuesday’s Tail will discuss dog contentment, behavior and how it is affected by the human projection of affection. Humans are an expressive and affectionate species that crave intimacy with fellow people and, of course, pets. That’s why we have them right? Well…the answer is really more complex than obvious.

There is something to be said about the way some dog owners project their desire to derive and provide affection in regards to their pets and all of the not-so-obvious negative implications that result because of it. Dogs are pack animals, we’ve heard this time and time again, but to really understand what that means we have to look into instinct, rationale, pack mentality, and the human infliction of emotion, affection and comfort unto a dog, and the unfortunate consequences.

What does this all mean? Can’t we just love our dogs? They�re family after all…

“Dog society” operates on a constant drive for power. In the ‘pack’, whether it be amongst humans, other dogs or intermixed, dogs instinctively test the authority above them in the pecking order of the pack. Meanwhile, they are being tested by the member of the pack behind them in the chain of command. The instinctual ‘pack mentality’ driven power struggle serves to ensure the strength and survival of the pack. Don’t forget that dogs are animals, and even though we may not realize it, their life priorities are based on life, death and survival… even if they’re sleeping on plush beds and chew on the most expensive antlers on the market.

What does this mean for the average dog owner? Our dogs test us, with their behavior, to ensure our ability to lead the others (the family and household), and if they find that we�re not in fact strong enough, then the whole pack’s safety is compromised and the second in order of succession should take over as leader- which is when problems with your dog’s behavior may arise.

When the pack leader, which should be the dog owner, isn’t providing their dog with the rules, orders and limits the dog craves, an undesirable imbalance occurs and the dog becomes confused and troubled in understanding who the boss is and what he/she expects of them. Once we notice these issues, we further emphasize and inflame the insecurities of our dogs in these tricky imbalanced situations by doing what we do best- trying to fix the problem with our ultra-soothing human ways of providing support.

How did we get here?

So many dog owners give their dogs excessive love and affection it creates further disproportion and confusion in the dog’s psyche. This is especially true of a dog whose behavior is erratic and out of control. People need to understand that affection is a human desired trait, not canine. Dogs desire fulfilling their instincts- that makes them ‘happy’- not the human implication or understanding of affection. This doesn’t mean you should be harsh or unaffectionate towards your dog, but it does mean that affection should be given at the right times and that it’s important to effectively balance expressing love, from a human perspective, with also giving dogs work, rules and order (the way dogs understand love) so the devotion to your dog is not counterproductive.

It’s almost second nature for humans to console others and especially our dogs in time of distress, illness or when we just plain feel like it. They’re our babies right? Providing solace to our dog at a time we, as humans, would most want to be comforted, can be the single most detrimental behavior in dog ownership. We think showing kindness, understanding and support is a way to alleviate the stress of someone that’s grieving, troubled, or in pain. Dogs, on the other hand, see the human expression of comfort as weakness. You know the saying ‘you’re my rock during hard times’? Think about what that phrase is really a testament to. When your dog is sick, injured or scared, comforting them in a human sense, is showing them ‘hey, I�m weak with you, too’; that’s not going to help your dog feel better, less scared or bounce back from a traumatic experience. You need to be your dog’s ‘rock’ when they’re insecure, as any natural leader should. Don’t make your dog worry about who is going to carry on the strength for the pack when they’re too weak and you’re weak along with them. You need to assure your dog that you’ve got it all under control with another positive effect being that your strength is going to also ‘snap’ the dog out of the current negative state of mind and help them overcome their troubles.

Going back, quickly, to the news anchor that absolutely felt the need to handle the Dogo’s head with both of her hands and guide his terrified, stiff face into hers so she could kiss him hello on the mouth. Her human desire to show affection towards a dog that she had never met was a perfect recipe for disaster. The dog was, understandably, completely petrified on the news set with lights, tons of cameras, crew and his owner (who was also probably nervous about discussing a rather uncomfortable incident involving his dog on national television), all setting the tone for his dog’s dismal state of mind and ultimate reaction. Although she meant well, the anchor’s human terms of endearment towards the Dogo set him off and he reacted instinctively. How would you feel if a complete stranger went into kiss you on the mouth in public? In all seriousness, this was a perfect example of human affection- and the reality that dogs do not process emotions with the human rationale, but instead, feed their actions from their primal instincts and understanding.

The most important mistake dog owners can collectively avoiding making is turning their pets into ‘dog babies’ or ‘little dog humans’ that they coddle and dote after constantly. No matter how deep the level of communication you feel you have with your dog is, it’s important to remember that dogs do not possess the same level of reasoning and rationality as humans. If we really want to do right by them, we need to understand that dogs live in the moment and are driven by instinct. They don’t plan ahead, or reflect on the past in either a positive or negative way. They are simple creatures that only ask us, as dog owners, to allow them to balance their drive and instincts while being under our lead as a member of the household. Express your love in a way that will satisfy your personal needs for affection but, at the same time, won’t be detrimental to your dog. Being realistic with yourself and your expectations of what you can derive from dog ownership can really strengthen the bond and understanding you have with your dog, and further solidifying that thing we call LOVE in a way our dogs can understand!

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— February 7, 2012 —

Rat Picnics and Poop Soup
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Spring is my favorite time of year. The snow melts, the trees start to bloom and we can take our dogs for long walks without bundling up. Spring, however, comes with a few seasonal concerns. The main concern with spring is the poop. The poop I’m referring to is the stuff left over from winter walks. I make it a point to pick up ALL of my dogs’ poop, every time I walk them…year round. I even dig it out if it happens to sink into fluffy snow. Some folks, however, seem to think that snow on the ground creates some kind of magic portal that transports poop into another dimension. Like it actually disappears. Like through a poop wormhole…

Well, that ain’t the case. Poop freezes solid just like everything else. It sits there like a little germ time capsule and waits for the weather to warm up. As soon as the melt water hits the poop-sicle, it breaks down and voila, you have poop soup.

There is a good chance that the puddles you and your dog will walk through this spring may contain giardia…a parasite that could get your dog very sick. This parasite lives in feces of infected animals and can live in water for a very long time. So when the poop soup joins with the mud puddles of spring, it can give a whole new meaning to the term “Spring Fever”. If your dog drinks from puddles, or licks their paws after walking through them, they could get infected. Giardia is extremely contagious. Humans can catch it too, either from direct contact with the contaminated water or from your dog. If you happen to touch your dog’s paw while it is still wet and touch your food or mouth, it can be transmitted to you. The symptoms of giardia can include loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, bloody or pale-colored or strong-smelling stools. I’ve never had it, but I hear it’s no fun.

The vet may have a difficult time making a diagnosis because the cyst is only shed during part of the life cycle. If the test comes up negative, the vet may diagnose gastroenteritis and treat with antibiotics. Metronidazole (Flagyl) is often prescribed for gastroenteritis and for giardia.

Another serious concern about poop not being picked up…is RATS! Nobody wants those nasty critters crossing their path. They come out when nobody is looking and feast on the poop left behind. Yep, rats eat poop. It’s like a picnic for them. Dog droppings are mostly undigested dog food and rats thrive on it. Wherever rats go, they leave behind their droppings…which carry lots of diseases. Then next time you walk your dog along your usual route, you and your dog will come into contact with the rat droppings. Basically, leaving poop attracts rats to spread diseases that can kill dogs. Rats are an “intermediate host” or “reservoir hosts” for some germs. In other words rats can carry things that would kill a dog (or in some cases a person), but the rat is immune to harmful effects. Leptospirosis is just one example. Rats can carry lepto, rabies, distemper, giardia and the list goes on. Remember, most of these diseases are zoonotic. Zoonotic diseases are diseases carried mainly animals, but are transmittable to humans.

Some people may be lulled into a false sense of security that they can ignore the warnings and picking up is un-necsssary. Their dogs are vaccinated against all these diseases. The last point I HAVE to make is that vaccinated dogs can still get sick! No vaccine is 100% effective and if your dog does catch lepto, parvo or rabies it will very likely be fatal. Dogs that do survive require very expensive treatments. The cost of treating a dog for parvo can run into the thousands of dollars.

This is all too easy to avoid. Please educate your neighbors and fellow dog owners on the importance of picking up after their dogs. Let’s not have another year of rat picnics and poop soup.

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— January 31, 2012 —

The Working Therapy Dog
by Polly Dake-Jones

You may have volunteered your time and services in the past – giving back in one way or another, but you may have a resource that you had not thought about before. Did you ever have a bad day at work or have a stressful encounter with someone? When you came home were you still bothered by whatever it was the turned your good day into a bad one? Then, your dog met you at the door, wagging its tail, happy that you are home. Did this greeting relieve some of the stress of your day? Did you forget about all the unpleasant events and just enjoy the moment?

What if you could share the feeling of that moment with others?

Having a “special” dog that just wants to make you feel better is a privilege that can be shared with others by turning this wonderful creature into a Therapy Dog. You don�t need to have perfect obedience skills with your dog. What you need is a well-mannered dog who loves to make people smile.

There are many ways you can volunteer with your Therapy Dog to make a difference in people’s lives. You and your Therapy Dog can visit a friend in the hospital or a relative who is rehabbing after surgery. Many residents of our local nursing homes and assisted living facilities had to leave their faithful companion with someone else when they moved. What a delight for them to see the happy face of a Therapy Dog. Some other folks might not have had a dog for quite a while, even since their childhood, and a Therapy Dog may bring back happy memories.

Therapy dogs can also be used with children. Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ dogs) and their handlers have special training in how to help children read. This interaction with a dog can have other positive results as well. The child can have their confidence boosted, and they can learn tolerance and trust. These are skills that will help them throughout their life.

If you think your dog is a good candidate for this work and you would like to be involved in these programs, you should contact one of the Therapy Dog registries such as Therapy Dogs Inc., Delta Society or Therapy Dogs International. Each registry has its own type of testing; check to see what the best fit is for our and your dog. There are local evaluators that will help you through the steps of testing. These evaluators are trained not only to evaluate your dog, but also to assist with areas where your dog may need a little help. These professionals really understand dogs and have a good idea how they will react in different situations. This is important for the main concern of safety for all involved in this work.

After you and your dog are tested and pass, you can join a Therapy Dog group and go on visits that are scheduled by the group or you can go off on your own and visit places that aren’t lucky enough to have a scheduled visit. If you go on your own, please be sure to contact the Activity Director of the facility before your first visit as some places have their own resident therapy animals.

If READ is what you are interested in, there is further training for the handler; however, you do need to be a Therapy Dog team before you can be certified as a READ team. READ is a program that was started by the Intermountain Therapy Animal group and the dogs and handlers are certified through the ITA. Training includes a manual to read and a DVD to watch followed by a written test that the handlers need to take. The test is mostly on the procedure the READ team needs to follow, but the test also touches on how to start a READ team at local schools and libraries.

Overall, dogs can elicit a positive response in so many ways and in many situations, whether it’s a child reaching out to a dog looking for interaction and acceptance or an older person reliving a happy moment from their past.


Polly Dake-Jones is a Therapy Dog Evaluator through Therapy Dogs Inc. Polly and her partner Lisa have an active Therapy Dog group in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Three years ago they started a READ dog program in the Beaver Dam School District. They also own a training facility, Canine Solutions, in Beaver Dam. Please contact them if you want more information, you can reach them at 262-490-3736 or e-mail them at canine_solutions_llc@yahoo.com



For information on local volunteer opportunities with your dog, please contact Canine Therapy Corps. Bark Avenue’s entire training staff, Daniel McElroy, Emily Stoddard and Callie Cozzolino work with Canine Therapy Corps.


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— January 24, 2012 —

Let’s Ban Pit Bulls.
(and other dumb ideas)
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

Well, this Tuesday’s Tail is really only about one dumb idea, the title is just to add a little humor to a very serious subject.

I’ll admit it, I am a Pit Bull lover. I think they are some of the best dogs ever created. I choose the term “created” intentionally. Remember that. I’ll explain why later.

First I want to dispel a few rumors about the “Pit Bull.”

Myth 1: There is a breed known as a Pit Bull.
Truth: The breed “Pit Bull” doesn’t exist. There IS a breed known as the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT). There are similar breeds like the American Staffordshire Terrier and the diminutive Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but they are not “Pit Bulls.” What the media identifies as a “Pit Bull” is any short haired muscular dog that does something bad. Recently a friend in Georgia told me that someone accused her of having “Pit Bulls.” Her dogs are Italian Mastiffs (not even close). This indicates just how easy it is for the public to be mislead about what a “Pit Bull” is.

Myth 2: “Pit Bulls” are aggressive/dangerous/baby killers, you name it.
Truth: The APBT, which the media blames for everything from baby killing to jogger attacks, has little resemblance to the mongrels that do these terrible things. There’s a saying, “Dog bites are not news. Pit Bull bites are news.”

Myth 3: Locking jaws....really? Do I even have to go there?

This is just a little example of the intentional misinformation that happens to get people excited about “Pit Bulls” and by extension the actual breeds associated with muscular type dogs. Stereotypes and mistaken identity are not what this article is about. How many nice Pit Bulls I‘ve met is not what this article is about.

(I will continue to use the term “Pit Bull” in this article strictly for illustration. I will try to draw a line, where necessary between “Pit Bulls” and the actual breeds that get lumped together. For an interesting exercise, try to pick the actual American Pit Bull Terrier out of this lineup.)

This article is about using breed bans to eliminate dog attacks v/s addressing the real problem.

When I was a kid, my mom taught me a few things about dogs. She taught me not to tease dogs, to treat them the with respect and to ask before I approached a strange dog. Those were good rules and they probably saved me from many dog bites. Today, however, I read of bite after bite that could have been prevented if only the person bitten had followed those simply rules of doggie etiquette.

We also made it a point to keep our dogs on our property. Dogs running at large always present a danger to the public or themselves. I remember one sad day where my family’s car accidentally struck a dog on the highway. It was an accident and we couldn’t have avoided it. It also made me very aware that it’s my responsibility to keep my dogs safe and under control. Coincidentally, while your dog is properly secured at home, there is absolutely no chance he’ll be out with friends attacking joggers on the lakefront.

If only everyone followed those two simple lessons, we would see significantly less dog attacks.

Banning Pit Bulls, however, will have ZERO impact on the problem of dog bites for a few reasons. The main reason is that not all bites are committed by Pit Bulls. While the media is busy demonizing muscular dogs, there are hundreds of cute fluffy dogs out there biting people.

A more important fact is this. We humans created every single pure breed dog in existence. Two hundred years ago, there were no Puggles, Teacup Yorkies or Shia Lhassa Fluffler Doodles. Remember where I said I’d get back to that earlier point? Here it is. We created these breeds and we’re still making new breeds.

Breeding and genetics are easily manipulated. Even if it were possible to eliminate a particular breed, the plasticity of genetics means that another, more dangerous breed could be created to replace it. Within the last few decades there have been a few of these new breeds (Canis Panther, Dino Dog, Donovan Pinscher) that have come along. While there are great dogs from these programs, some of these breeding experiments have produced truly dangerous dogs.

This raises the following questions. Where do we draw the line? Do we ban only registered pure breeds? Do we ban all 50% Pit Bulls? Do we ban any dog that looks like a Pit Bull? How can we do a breed ban that actually works?

Glad you asked. It’s been tried before.

In September of 2003, Italy placed into effect laws that banned or restricted 92 breeds including not just controversial breeds such as the Rottweiler and Pit Bull, but breeds such as the Corgi and Border Collie. In April 2009 Italy dropped the deemed dangerous list to 17 breeds and later removed the restrictions all together. In light of the the ban being lifted, Italian Health Undersecretary, Francesca Martini said “This is a historic day because we have established for the first time the responsibility of the owner or the person who is momentarily in charge of the animal.” (Source: Charlotte Enos Dog Rescue Examiner June 30, 2009)

I only hope that we learn from Italy’s mistake. If not, thousands of great dogs will die for our ignorance. Today countless Pit Bulls, both American Pit Bull Terriers and look-alike mix breeds are working as therapy dogs, guide dogs, Police dogs and family companion dogs. There are literally millions of Pit Bulls out there that have never hurt anyone.

There are many other examples of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) being lifted because it has proven to be completely ineffective. I truly believe that education is more effective than legislation. Education is the solution. Owners need to be educated on what it takes to properly train their dogs and keep them secure. Owners who refuse to responsibly secure their dogs should face real penalties versus a slap on the wrist. Children should be taught the same simple rules I learned as a child and dogs should go through training to help them relate properly to humans. These are things will apply to all breeds, not just Pit Bulls. Right now Pit Bulls are the breed of choice, but the next popular breed will benefit from this as well.

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— January 17, 2012 —

Winter Wonderland v/s Winter Woes
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

So, old man winter has finally descended upon us. With the recent snowfall, you may be tempted to go out and let your dogs run and play. If you’re dogs are anything like mine, they’re ready to go as well.

As much as this is a great time for everyone, there are a few things that we have to keep in mind before we head out.

First, consider that our dogs are usually barefoot. In the winter, as in summer, dogs vent body heat through their feet. This is necessary to prevent overheating in the summer. In the winter, however, the cold ground draws heat out of the dog very quickly. This can lead to dangerous cold weather injuries.

Dogs can suffer hypothermia and frostbite just like we can. The problem is that they are able to ignore their discomfort for longer than we can. Because of their stoicism, our dogs can be in real trouble before we notice it. A mildly hypothermic dog may at first seem tired or shiver. More severe cases may show dilated pupils, lack of coordination or collapse.

You can bring a mildly hypothermic dog in and warm him up. Use dry blankets or warm water bottles that are no more than warm to the touch. This should be done slowly. Don’t risk burning him with overly hot items. The more severe cases are veterinary emergencies and are immediately life threatening.

Frostbite is the freezing of tissue. It is just as dangerous as severe hypothermia. When your dog’s tissue freezes, it looses blood supply. This may lead to tissue death and can be recognized by a pale very cold skin surface. It may be difficult to see this, since most of our dogs are covered with fur, we have to check them regularly if we stay out for any period of time. Like severe hypothermia, frostbitten dogs should be taken to the vet immediately.

I’ve been asked how long before we need to worry about our dogs. I hesitate to give anyone any specific time frame since each dog/breed is different and the actual temperature plays a huge role in the level of risk. A Husky can practically live in the snow, while a Pointer will not tolerate it nearly as well. Of course, even the Husky can get into trouble if he gets wet. I usually check my dogs every few minutes or any time they show signs of discomfort, like lifting a paw.

The toes are often the first area to show frostbite. Other areas of concern are the ears and tails. These areas have less blood flow therefore are more prone to the effects of freezing temperatures. Remember, if your dog has ever had a cold weather injury, they are much more likely to have another one. Owners of these dogs must be doubly vigilant.

The thing my dogs most hate about winter is road salt. I find that my dogs are usually pretty comfortable walking in the snow until AFTER they have walked through a heavily salted area. In the winter, a dog’s pads can crack much like dry skin. The road salt gets into the these cracks and causes painful burning. If your dog’s paws are burning, they may lick them and ingest road salt. While road salt comes from the same places that table salt comes from, it is not nearly as “clean” as table salt. There are also chemicals added to road salt that make it unsafe to consume. As much as they hate it, I have my dogs wear Pawz paw protectors when we have to walk through salted areas. If we happen to stumble upon salted areas without the paw protectors, I make sure to rinse each dog’s paws when I return home. I have found the easiest way to do this is to use a large bowl of lukewarm water. Also, there are paw creams that help heal the dry pads. These can be used in winter too.

So, while winter can be a fun time for everyone, there are risks. Fortunately, it just takes a few simple steps to help protect your dogs.

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— January 10, 2012 —

Whose’s Flying the Plane?
A brief explanation of dominance.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I tend to do a lot of training with “difficult” dogs. I deal with dogs that have been kicked out of classes, or that wouldn’t let trainers in the house. What you hear about dogs like this is usually, “You have to show them who’s boss. You gotta be DOMINANT.”

In recent years, there has been a mountain of paper used defending and debunking the concept of dominance. Old school trainers cling stubbornly to the concept that “dominance” is critical in dog training, while modern “behaviorists” say that it’s all hogwash.

One exercise which was used to support the old school dominance theory was this. Give your dog a command, which he knows, like “down.” If you stand over your dog and tell him “down” he’ll do it. Now, lay on your back, under your dog’s nose. Tell him down. He’ll more than likely look at you like you’re crazy. Some trainers point to this and as evidence that you must be in a “dominant position” to get your dog to comply.

What we now understand is that dogs are hyper-specific. If you taught your dog to do the down position while standing over him, he will be confused by you laying under him. It’s not your submission that causes him to disobey, it’s that he’s confused.

Does this mean that we can throw everything related to dominance out the window? Not so fast. There is still a need for dominance, it’s just not what you may think.

Imagine you’re a passenger in an airplane. You’re enjoying your flight and anticipating your arrival. The pilot is in charge and you accept it. Suddenly a flight attendant runs into the cabin and says to you, “We need someone to fly the plane. You have to do it!” Now imagine you are sitting at the controls trying to fly the plane. I imagine you’d be pretty stress and uncomfortable, right (unless you happen to be a pilot). Being shoved into that situation might just cause you to act in ways that you wouldn’t normally act, right?

This sounds ridiculous, I know. But we do it to our dogs every day.

When trainers use words like dominance, it sometimes conjures up the image of harsh, forceful treatment of dogs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dominance simply means that we are in control of our dogs everywhere we take them. It also means that we control the resources that we give our dogs. It means that we don’t allow our dogs to demand that we do things for them or give things to them (like petting or treats). Dominance means that we expect our dogs to sit before running up to meet someone on the street.

A big mistake new handlers make with their dog is this. They wait to see how their dog will handle a situation versus instruct the dog on what is expected. One of the things I stress in my training program is to tell your dog how to handle any given situation. Obedience commands, when applied properly, can help eliminate a majority of bad behavior.

What happens when we allow our dogs to demand resources or control situations is that we give up our seat at the controls. Our dogs are then forced by their pack nature to assume leadership. This is not a good position for a dog, because they are not equipped to handle the responsibility. They often begin to exhibit any of a number of problem behaviors. A strong confident dog may become over-protective and a timid dog may become a fear biter.

By teaching our dogs certain behaviors like sit, down and so-on we begin the process of teaching our dogs to follow us through situations rather than lead us through them. The way this works is this. If your dog wants a treat he has to down. If he wants to get petting from a stranger, he has to sit. This will help you in two ways. It gives you ample chances to show your dog that you are in control and it helps with the whole consistency and repetition thing. Also, it helps you keep your dog from approaching people you don’t think he should approach. (Remember, Fido may be adorable to you, but some people are going to be afraid of him.)

Another benefit of all this instruction throughout the day is that it causes your dog to work his brain. When he has stuff to do, he has to expend mental energy. Draining this energy off may help reduce other problem behaviors like separation anxiety and destructive behaviors.

The last point I will make is this. It’s the little things that matter most. Alpha rolling your dog does nothing to teach him that you are good leader and it might just get you bit. (Yes, I know there are trainers that still tell people to do it. Please don’t listen to this little piece of outdated advice.) It’s what you do from morning to night that trains your dog. Make no mistake about it: for better or worse, you are your dog’s most important trainer.

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ARCHIVES:
— May 26, 2015 —
Training Your Dog is Never Finished. It’s Always a “Work In Progress.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 28, 2015 —
Dealing With The Loss Of A Pet
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 21, 2015 —
Mobile Influenza Shot Clinic
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 14, 2015 —
The Passing Of One of Your Favorite Students
by Daniel McElroy Jr.
& Mike Kolos

— April 7, 2015 —
Q & A with Dr. Krol about Canine Influenza
by Daniel McElroy Jr. & Dr. Joanna Krol

— March 31, 2015 —
The Working Malinois, A Cautionary Tail…
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— March 24, 2015 —
Don’t Let Other People (Un) Train Your Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— March 17, 2015 —
Kennel Cough Outbreak
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— March 3, 2015 —
Rat Picnics and Poop Soup Originally posted this article 2/7/2012
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 24, 2015 —
Resource Guarding, Causes and Cures.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 17, 2015 —
An Inspirational Connection: Veterans and Rescue Dogs
by Ann Davidson

— February 10, 2015 —
What is a “Weak-Nerved” Dog and how can you help him?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 3, 2015 —
Don’t Just Exercise the Body, Exercise the Brain
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 27, 2015 —
Pay Now or Pay Later…with Interest!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 20, 2015 —
Top Five Ways to Mess Up Your Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 13, 2015 —
Five Habits of Highly Successful (Dog) People
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 6, 2015 —
A Note From Patience
by Patience Hayes

— October 21, 2014 —
What does an Etch-A-Sketch have to do with dog training?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 14, 2014 —
Let’s Find a Cure for Big Black Dog Syndrome (B.B.D.S.)
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 7, 2014 —
Stop carrying your dog!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 30, 2014 —
Microchip your dogs…and update the info!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 23, 2014 —
Fall and Your Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 16, 2014 —
Help a Veteran and His Service Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 9, 2014 —
Peace’s Tail
by Peace

— September 2, 2014 —
The Vet Clinic is Not
the Dog Park

by Caroline Bodnar

— August 12, 2014 —
Stuck in Limbo
by Amy Kelley

— August 5, 2014 —
How young is too young?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 29, 2014 —
Goodbye to an old friend.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 22, 2014 —
The dangers of tethering your dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 15, 2014 —
Is your dog, “friendly” to other dogs, or “too friendly” to other dogs?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 8, 2014 —
Training Collar Damage, Fact v/s Fiction.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 1, 2014 —
Boom, Boom, Boom July 4th is Coming. Is your dog afraid of fireworks?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 24, 2014 —
Five Ways to be a Responsible Dog Owner
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 17, 2014 —
Warning about a danger to your dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— May 20, 2014 —
Bad Legislation and how you can help.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— May 13, 2014 —
What happens when we put a “Good Quality” dog in a “Poor Quality” situation?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— May 6, 2014 —
Does your dog love you?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 15, 2014 —
“Train the dog you have in front of you.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 8, 2014 —
Composure.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 1, 2014 —
How to handle crossing paths with a Service Dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 25, 2014 —
I turned down a training job last night. Why would a dog trainer turn down a training job?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 18, 2014 —
“I can’t get a dog until I have a fenced-in yard for him.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 28, 2014 —
Train, Don’t Restrain
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 21, 2014 —
Private Jelly, Reporting For Duty!
by Jelly Belly Butterfly

— January 14, 2014 —
The Momentary Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 7, 2014 —
The Long Down
by Patience Hayes

— December 3, 2013 —
In loving memory of “Big Bud.”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— November 26, 2013 —
Turkey Day Delights.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— November 19, 2013 —
Who’s therapy is it anyway?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— November 12, 2013 —
Canine circovirus: new to dogs, not a new virus.
by Lita Peterson

— November 5, 2013 —
House Training for the Adult Dog
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 29, 2013 —
What is BSL?
by Tim Wienckowski

— October 22, 2013 —
What it means to be a foster.
by Tim Wienckowski

— October 15, 2013 —
Pit Bulls Then and Now
by Tim Wienckowski

— October 1, 2013 —
Pit Bull Awareness Month
by Caroline Bodnar

— September 24, 2013 —
What is my dog eating?
by Tim Wienckowski

— September 17, 2013 —
The high cost of (not) training your dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 10, 2013 —
Training Setbacks
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 3, 2013 —
Living with a Deaf Bully
by Caroline Bodnar

— August 27, 2013 —
THE QUESTION …
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— August 20, 2013 —
Daphne’s Story: Part Four.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— August 13, 2013 —
Daphne’s Story: Part Three.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— August 6, 2013 —
Daphne’s Story: Part Two.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 30, 2013 —
Daphne’s Story
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 16, 2013 —
Creating an emergency preparedness kit for
your pet.

by Lita Peterson

— July 9, 2013 —
A Good Family Dog
by Caroline Bodnar

— July 2, 2013 —
Boom, Boom, Boom July 4th is coming. Is your dog afraid of fireworks?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 25, 2013 —
It’s not ALL in how
you raise them.

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 18, 2013 —
I OWN my dogs.
I do not subscribe to the theory of “animal guardianship.”

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 11, 2013 —
Summer Heat Precautions
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 4, 2013 —
More dog parks
means greater need
for dog training.

By Nancy A. Simon,
Special to the Tribune 5/22/13

— May 21, 2013 —
ROTTWEILER
ATTACKS TODDLER!!!

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— May 14, 2013 —
A good trainer
is always learning.

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 30, 2013 —
Outdoor Pursuits.
A traveler’s guide to
camping with your dog.

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 23, 2013 —
The Technique of the Week.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 16, 2013 —
JELLY BARKS OUT ON
“SAY WHAT YOU MEAN,
MEAN WHAT YOU SAY,”
and do it with authority.

by Jelly (with a little help
from her favorite handler,
Lori Schneider)

— April 9, 2013 —
Are you a “Dog Handler”
or is your dog a
“Human Handler?”

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— April 2, 2013 —
“I Don’t Want to be
my Dog’s Boss! I Want
to be His Friend!”

by Patience Hayes

— March 26, 2013 —
Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control—Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 5.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— March 19, 2013 —
Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control—Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 4.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— March 12, 2013 —
Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control—Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 3.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— March 5, 2013 —
Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control—Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior. Part 2.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 26, 2013 —
Icons, Triggers and Impulse Control—Keys to understanding your dog’s problem behavior.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 19, 2013 —
Bringing Home the Baby.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 12, 2013 —
Stray dogs, how can you help?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— February 5, 2013 —
We don’t like discrimination in our world.
Why do we accept it in our dog’s world?

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 29, 2013 —
Focus and Recall.
by Patience Hayes

— January 22, 2013 —
There’s something about Sally.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 15, 2013 —
“My leash failed, but the training didn’t!”
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 8, 2013 —
Should you adopt a dog with “issues”?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— January 1, 2013 —
2012, looking back.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— December 18, 2012 —
To crate or not to crate:
Part 3.

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— December 11, 2012 —
To crate or not to crate:
Part 2.

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— December 4, 2012 —
To crate or not to crate.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— November 27, 2012 —
How to take care of your old dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— November 13, 2012 —
When are you going to get your dog “fixed”?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— November 6, 2012 —
Building confidence in your dog through distractions.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 30, 2012 —
Holiday season precautions.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 23, 2012 —
Do you really need to take your dog for training?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 17, 2012 —
Some service dogs that you may not think about.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 9, 2012 —
Put a Leash on That Dog!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— October 2, 2012 —
See something, say something.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 25, 2012 —
Introducing a dog to a cat.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 18, 2012 —
Dangerous foods. There are many everyday foods that our dogs can’t eat.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— September 11, 2012 —
Heroes of 9/11

— September 4, 2012 —
What does your dog eat? The very confusing topic of dog food.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— August 28, 2012 —
Why do we rescue dogs?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— August 21, 2012 —
How to transition a new dog into your home. Here are a few things that new adopters need to know.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— August 14, 2012 —
Walk the Walk:
What your walking style says about the relationship between you and your dog.


— August 7, 2012 —
Now That I Have Your Attention (follow up to Silent Killer)
by Tyler Muto

— July 31, 2012 —
A Silent Killer
by Tyler Muto

— July 24, 2012 —
So, you want to get a second dog. How will you introduce it into your pack?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 17, 2012 —
Why is this dog in a shelter?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 10, 2012 —
Should we go to the vet for that?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— July 3, 2012 —
Boom, Boom, Boom July 4th is coming. Is your dog afraid of fireworks?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 26, 2012 —
Dog Aggression v/s Human Aggression
Are they the same?

by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 19, 2012 —
So you want to give up your dog, huh?
by Amy Kelley

— June 12, 2012 —
How to handle a fearful dog.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— June 5, 2012 —
Take your dog with you, or leave him home…but whatever you do, don’t do this.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— May 29, 2012 —
Summer Heat Precautions
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

— May 22, 2012 —
Dog Trainer, Train Thyself! (or, Is That a Thundershirt You’re Wearing?)
by Patience Hayes

— May 15, 2012 —
GoGo’s Transformation—The Rehabilitation of a Crack House Refugee.
by Patience Hayes

— May 8, 2012 —
“He’s scared of (insert phobia here). He must have been abused.”

— May 1, 2012 —
Coddle Monster — Part 2

— April 24, 2012 —
Coddle Monster

— April 17, 2012 —
Where did the first “Pure Breed” of dog come from?

— April 10, 2012 —
Where do dogs come from?

— April 3, 2012 —
Doggie Parks. Fun or Folly?

— March 27, 2012 —
Dominant, Stubborn or Uneducated? Which one is it?

— March 20, 2012 —
What’s that bark saying?

— March 13, 2012 —
How to speak “Dog”.


— March 6, 2012 —
Shop or Adopt (Part Three)

— February 28, 2012 —
Shop or Adopt (Part Two)

— February 21, 2012 —
Thinking About A New Dog? Shop or Adopt (Part One)

— February 14, 2012 —
Tuesday’s Tail. The Affection Issue.

— February 7, 2012 —
Rat Picnics and Poop Soup

— January 31, 2012 —
The Working Therapy Dog

— January 24, 2012 —
Let’s Ban Pit Bulls.
(and other dumb ideas)


— January 17, 2012 —
Winter Wonderland v/s Winter Woes

— January 10, 2012 —
Whose’s Flying the Plane?
A brief explanation of dominance.