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Perhaps we're not so different after all...a dog mom's- thoughts on losing a child

June 30th 2010 8:05 pm
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From Project Monte

These last four months have been difficult for the Lomonaco family.

In February, my father was murdered at 52 years of age. Somehow, our small family struggled through, bolstered by the love of our friends, family, community, and colleagues. Now, four short months later, I have lost my child, suddenly and painfully.

That's right, I said it. I lost my child.

When speaking with other pet parents, there is no need to explain the use of this word to describe my dog. Yet for many others, some pet owners and petless persons alike (yes, on occasion, I do associate with people that don't share their lives with animals), using such semantics to describe my dog is seen as me being "overly dramatic."

It is easy to tell the difference between these two types of people. Pet parents understand when I use the term, nodding sympathetically, imagining their own pain after such a loss. The latter category, those that don't "get it," simply respond with a restrained eye roll and some level of discomfort or disbelief...did she really call that dog her child?!

To those people, I ask, how is my experience as a dog mom that much different from the experience of a human parent?

As a parent, when your child is an infant, you carry around a diaper bag full of supplies - ointments, wipes, spare diapers, burp clothes, perhaps a pacifier or a prepared bottle. As a dog mom, I carry a leash, treats, a clicker, poop bags, and toys everywhere I go with my dogs.

When you were expecting your child, did you lose sleep from worry, excitement, anticipation? Did you look at your ultrasounds frequently, thinking about the new life you were bringing into your home nearly constantly? Did you go through dozens of names before you chose the right one? Get lots of advice from every parent you came across, some of it good, some bad, some desired, some unwanted? I felt all those things too, staring at their pictures as I waited to bring home my animals from the shelter.

Many parents choose to feed their children the best food they can possibly afford. Nearly every parent would gladly go without a meal to provide for their child. Similarly, there are weeks when our budget is stretched - Jim and I go without many luxuries (and a fair number of basics) to keep two freezers full of raw meat stocked to provide the best nutrition we can afford for our pets.

You think carefully about where your child will go to school. I think carefully about how I will train my dogs and yes, where I will take them to school. You want your child to grow up to be a productive, polite member of society. I expect and train for the same in my dogs.

My mom drove a Mustang Shelby until she had three children, at which time the Mustang was traded in for an S.U.V. Similarly, the Lomonacos drove a sedan until bringing a Saint Bernard home, at which time we had to upgrade to a minivan so our family could travel together. I like to take my kids with me when I run errands or go on vacation with me much as you enjoy these activities with your child, and even more than many parents of human children I know.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to make sure that your child is safe when riding in the car. Your child likely rides in a car seat, booster seat, or seat belted. My dogs are seat-belted too, in one of the few harnesses on the market that is impact tested for dog safety.

You take your kids on play dates so that they can socialize, play, learn manners and life skills from their peers. I searched far and wide until I could find well-mannered, healthy, socially appropriate play mates for my Saint Bernard as he progressed through rehabilitation for his reactivity. You enroll your child in ballet, karate, horseback riding or baseball, mine learn agility, tricks, how to play various games, solve puzzles, and yes, even are able to "read" a few words.

Perhaps you read books about parenting or consulted with more experienced parents when you were newly blessed with a child. As a dog mom, I consult with trainers, breeders, other pet parents, books, videos, and magazines to learn how to better raise my furry kids.

You probably bought your children backpacks. I bought some for my kids as well. You buy your baby a crib, I buy mine a crate. You buy clothes, I buy leashes and harnesses. You are responsible for doctor's visits, keeping your child well-groomed, finding a baby-sitter.

Are your kids the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of when you go to sleep? Mine are. Do you find it hard to relax when your child is sick, stressed, or in pain? I do. Do you wipe teary eyes, clean up boogers or vomit (and in my case, slobber as well), brush your toddler's teeth, bathe him, gently brush his hair until it shines? Me too!

Do you sometimes have to do things you don't want to do to take care of your children, like get out of bed and take them to soccer practice when you have a fever, cold, or broken leg? I know that for me, there have been days that I felt like hell and got out of bed anyway to give my dogs a walk in the middle of a snow storm, so I think I can empathize with how you feel on those days.

When Monte came to me, he was very ill. I likened the experience to adopting a special needs child - a nearly 100 pound child who was so ill he'd defecate all over himself numerous times a day, would need constant bathing and cleaning, expensive vet appointments seemingly every other week, scrapes, cuts, bruises, injuries that needed maintenance and attention, recovery from surgery, treatment for an oral tumor, hundreds of dollars in "treatment" from behavioral specialist, hours of work bringing him through that "therapy," trips out to the bathroom at 11:00 p.m., 1:30 a.m., and 4:00 a.m.

I've kissed my share of boo-boos, hung doggy "fingerpaintings" on my fridge, called a friend to brag and celebrate when my dog surpassed my wildest expectations. I've made doggy birthday cakes, bought birthday and Christmas presents, planned vacations around my dogs, turned down social engagements which forced me to leave them alone without care for long periods of time.

Have you ever had a bad day, lost your temper with your child, and felt bad about it later, apologizing? Me too. Do you have dreams and hopes of the future, fears and worries, or watch your child affectionately as he sleeps?

If so, perhaps we have more in common than you think. So to parents who do not have pets, try to have a little empathy when a dog mom or dog thinks of the family dog as a child. Imagine how you might feel if human children had a ten or fifteen year lifespan (or, in Monte's case, not even six full years) and how hard it must be to love so deeply, knowing you will almost certainly eventually have to make a decision to compassionately end their life.

Perhaps we're not so different after all. Maybe we pet parents, too, deserve to celebrate Father's Day and Mother's Day with our four legged children, celebrate their lives, grieve and mourn their loss, without judgment.

 

Ode to Boy: my tribute to the dog of a lifetime

June 28th 2010 8:29 pm
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*I originally wrote this yesterday*

Yesterday, I said goodbye to you, Monte.

You were my best friend. My hero, my hope, my inspiration, my rock. This last week has been really hard, watching you get worse, slow down, fall apart, and knowing that there was little I could do to take your pain away. I so hoped we could save you, $12000 of surgery would have been a bargain to have even one more happy day with you, but sadly this was not to be.

What an adventure we had, what a wonderful journey we shared together. I thought I knew a lot about dogs until I met you. Thank you for being so gracious in showing me my ignorance and inspiring me to learn more about dogs and how best to love them. Thank you for your unfailing devotion to and patience with me – brilliant dog that you are you saw potential in me – even this primate is a trainable animal. Your love was the strongest positive reinforcement I’ve ever received as a pet parent.

I remember the first time I saw you on petfinder. Looking at your face, I knew you were the dog I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. I remember picking you up at the shelter, so sick, bones hanging off skin, never bathed or vetted, covered in ticks and fleas. Hungry and sad. And yet, as soon as I came to get you, you ran across the room and leaned against me with all your body, looking up as if to say, “can we go home now, mom?”

I remember teaching you your new name on the car ride home with a six piece chicken McNugget from McDonald’s. I remember feeling so sad when your body didn’t know how to process good food – the months of diarrhea as your body adjusted to a regular, healthy diet. I remember the frustration of my failed Dog Whispering attempts, and my subsequent guilt at having put you through all that when I better understood you.

I remember all my hopes for you. I thought to myself, if we just feed him well enough, exercise him well enough, train him enough, I would be one of the lucky few that got to see her Saint thrive until 13. Sadly, you will not see your sixth birthday next week.

Yesterday, I buried my nose in your fur. I wanted to breathe you into me, to absorb the memories of a thousand adventures, a million smiles, waterfalls, woods, creeks, play dates, untold laughs and fun times. I wished I could have breathed some of my life into you and given you more time. The least I could do was give you lots of lamb, barbecued chicken, and some chocolate chip cookies.

Truly, nothing in life is free. Today I pay for each of those shining, sparkling memories with a tear. Yet, my pain is a bargain, the best deal I ever made and a worthy exchange for the honor of loving you for four and a half years. Far more than I ever saved you, you saved me.

I will never forget you, angel. Truly, I will remember you each time I help a pet parent choose empathy over confrontation, each time I see a smile bursting with pride at a dog’s good behavior, each time i see a little girl thrill at her puppy’s new trick, each time I help save a dog from the fate I was forced to resign you to yesterday. Teoti was right – the price of rescuing from your pain was a lifetime of my own. Again, a bargain.

You were not only my angel, but a hero and an inspiration to dozens, if not hundreds, of dogs and their people. I remember celebrating your honor last year in San Fransisco at the APDT conference, my heart swelling with pride as I saw your picture twenty feet tall in front of hundreds of the country’s best dog trainers, all applauding the relationship built from our teamwork. I remember all the people your story has helped, even if only to let them know there is hope for reactive dogs and that hope is based in compassion, understanding, empathy, forgiveness.

I wouldn’t trade one second of the sunshine you brought into my life. You made every second I spent with you sparkle. When dad was murdered, and I hurt so much I could hardly walk or breathe, you were my salvation. We laid together for hours, until your soft fur was sticky with my tears. This has been the worst year of my life, and I really don’t know how I’ll get through it without you, friend.

Of course, your happy spirit shone through until your last breath. Unfailingly thankful, the last part of your body to move was your tail thumping, as if you were trying to give me your last bit of strength to make the choice I had to make. Until the end, you supported me and gave me strength to survive.

Perhaps we loved each other too much. I think you tried to cram twenty years of love into the four years we had together, and that all the strength in your body went to loving and taking care of us. Everything I had went into giving you the best care I could, as well.

I am eternally thankful to Dr. B, who made the trip to our home yesterday so that your last moments could be spent with your family, where you were happiest. Before you left me, I told you, as I had so many times before, “I love you, boy. I’m your momma, I take care of you. That’s what I do.”

I laid with you for hours afterward, thankful to have one last chance to kiss you, to feel your fur in my fingers, to breathe you in to the Monte-shaped hole that will always be in my heart.

My heart broke and soared at the same time as we took you for your last car ride today – breaking with my own pain, and soaring with gratitude that I was able to rescue you from yours. I just didn’t have the strength to see you hurting anymore, boy. I owed you more than that, the last gift I could give you was dignity and freedom from agony.

You were my hero, my rescuer, my confidante, my fuzzy body pillow, my inspiration, my hope, my mentor, my trainer, and my best friend. Truly, you helped me to become a well-trained human, and for that every dog I ever meet will carry your legacy. I would not trade any second of our shared joy, and would gladly relive this pain for another four years with such a brilliant, noble, loyal, and honest animal. It was an honor to walk this earth with you.

Perhaps you were called home because my dad needed a friend. If this is the case, I have given him the best gift I could ever give him, the gift of you.

Mokie and I sat on the back porch today and smelled you on the wind. Someday I too will be ash, and my wishes then are to have my ashes scattered with those of my dogs, someplace where we can always wander the creeks and forests together, for eternity.

That’ll do, piglet. You’ll always be momma’s angel.

 

New article for www.petexpertise.com

September 16th 2009 6:34 pm
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Is Training Always the Answer? Training vs. Management

Enjoy!

 

Is your dog stubborn or just uncomfortable?

September 16th 2009 6:34 pm
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It's a cold Saturday in upstate New York, the kind of day where everything is covered in ice, deicing salts, or both. Four future training superstars gather at the Clicking with Canines facility in Endicott, NY to attend a KPA workshop weekend presented by my business partner Steve Benjamin.

KPA is a lot of work for both the dogs and the people, so we took a short break to allow the students to take their dogs out for potty breaks and get some fresh, if not bitter cold air and stretch their legs a bit. Many of the dogs live further south than Binghamton, and are no more pleased with the bitter winds and cold temperatures than I. Some of the dogs with shorter coats are, in fact, shivering and can only be outside for a few minutes at a time.

The KPA students attending are talented trainers with a great understanding of dog behavior. They understand one of the fundamental differences between positive training and traditional training: positive trainers blame a breakdown in the training process when a dog doesn't respond appropriately to a cue, traditional trainers blame the dog. We are taught to tape ourselves training and review the tapes to evaluate the clearness and precision of our cues, to be quiet with our bodies and "let the clicker do the talking." If the behaviors are proofed for all aspects of fluency, and the cues are clear, why on earth would our dogs ever NOT respond to the cue?

Some people attribute poor cue response to dominance, some to spite, some to stubbornness or willfulness. I am guessing that 99% of the time the response is: either you haven't proofed the behavior well enough or something about offering the behavior makes the dog uncomfortable.

One student learned the hard way, a lesson well-taught from his beautiful but very short haired mix breed dog.

We approached the building together, eager to get some relief from the cold. Like many of the students, this particular individual has their dog on a "Nothing in Life is Free" protocol, which means the dog earns life rewards through the performance of cued and desirable behaviors. Think of all the things you give your dog, and all the things that your dog can give you. You should expect something from the latter category in return for giving your dog something from the former category.

As we neared the door, the student cued his dog, "sit." I would bet that this dog had performed "sit" thousands of times, in dozens of different environments. The behavior was well proofed, so why wouldn't this dog sit?

I asked for the dog's leash. Once I had the leash in hand, I turned to the student and said, "you know how to sit, right? You know what the word means?"

"Yes."

"OK," I said, "take your pants off and sit on the ice in your skivvies." I think he thought I'd lost my mind. I was hoping to teach him to think about things from his dog's perspective.

Needless to say, the student did not respond to my cue, even though he understood the cue and its connection to the behavior. Why didn't he want to sit on the ice in his undies? Because ice is cold, and it is uncomfortable to sit on. So are deicing salts, I'd imagine.

It is always important to consider, if you are cueing a behavior that you have proofed well and your cue is clean and clear, environmental factors and stressors which may make it difficult, uncomfortable, or impossible for your dog to comply with the cue.

Example: Dogs don't like to sit on ice.

Example: Reactive dogs are not disobeying a cue if you ask for a down stay in the presence of another dog; you are simply asking for an operant behavior in a situation where your dog is responding emotionally.

Example: A student was teaching her dog to leg weave, but was lined up incorrectly, effectively asking her dog to walk into a wall. Needless to say, the dog did not respond to the handler's weave cue.

Whenever you are cueing behaviors, evaluate the situation and note carefully differences between your dog's usual response. If you have practiced to the level of distractions in the environment and your dog shuts down, maybe something is wrong. Maybe your dog is not disobedient but is in fact in pain or experiencing a high level of stress.

If there are behaviors your dog usually performs with joy and suddenly you get no or lackluster response to the cue, consider if something in the environment may be discouraging your dog, and think too about your dog's health - is there something painful or uncomfortable about responding to their cue?

Some dogs want to respond to a well taught cue so badly that they will do so despite physical discomfort. This can end up backfiring and poisoning your cue, the dog will associate the cue with discomfort and thus will not respond as reliably to your cue in the future because sometimes, responding to the cue hurts!

In any training, make sure that your cues are clear and concise, and that you are realistic about your dog's response to the cue in relation to how well you have proofed it. If your normally enthusiastic jumper all of the sudden lays down or goes into her crate when you cue her favorite behavior, it may not be a training problem, but a physical problem.

Training should be fun for you and your dog, but will not be fun for your dog if it hurts her. Remember the KPA student, who was well-intentioned, tried hard to be the best student he could be, understood the cue very well, and still could not comply with my request for a cued behavior because it would have been both socially and physically uncomfortable for him; and keep this in mind if your dog's normally enthusiastic cue responses start to break down.

 

A good deed for dogs in need, a good deed for your country!

August 24th 2009 10:04 pm
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PERMISSION TO CROSS POST w/ credit to Casey Lomonaco, KPA CTP, Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training (www.rewardingbehaviors.com).

Regardless of your political views on the war in the Middle East, I believe we can all agree that the men and women who serve in our country's armed forces are courageous patriots and deserve the full support of those who they defend.

How can we as pet people help out the brave soldiers who have vowed to protect us? Consider fostering an animal for armed forces personnel serving overseas. Soldiers who have human families may be lucky enough to find that a caring relative will offer a place to live for a beloved pet while the soldier serves on active duty. Others are not so lucky, having no human family or no family members who are able/willing to bring one or more dogs and/or cats into their homes. These soldiers find themselves facing an incredibly difficult decision - what happens to a soldier's dog when he leaves for Iraq?

It is difficult enough to leave one's home for dangerous combat half a world a way. The world each soldier is entering into is foreign and dangerous, and each must say goodbye to the things that make his country worth defending - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For those of us who share our lives with animals, it is difficult to imagine how happiness can be pursued without them, and they are certainly a vital part of our lives.

It is no different for the men and women in our armed forces. Many are placed into situations where the only apparent alternative is to turn their furry best friends over to an animal shelter. Most will pray that their dog finds a new family. Many of these prayers will go unanswered, and the dogs and cats of heroes end up as statistics; one of faceless millions who travels to the Rainbow Bridge at the end of a needle, victims of the devastation that is pet overpopulation.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
What can you do to help these men and women? Consider opening your home as a foster home for a serviceman or servicewoman's companion animal. There are wonderful organizations which specialize specifically in finding temporary foster homes for the pets (dogs, cats, chickens, horses, and a variety of other species) of military employees serving active duty.

OPERATION NOBLE FOSTER -
specializing in finding foster homes for cats belonging to servicemen and servicewomen

Operation Noble Foster specializes in finding temporary foster homes for cats belonging to military personnel. Check out their page "Basics of Fostering Cats for Military" for more information. Want to sign up and offer your home to a military kitty? Here is a link to the foster application

NETPETSFOSTER:
MilitaryPetsFOSTER Project©
NetPets is different from Operation Noble Foster in that they do not place restrictions on the species of the foster animal in question. If you are interested in applying to be a foster parent for The MilitaryPetsFOSTER Project©, this link will bring you to their application for foster parents.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR FOSTER PARENTS
Do you have the room to bring another dog, cat, horse, chicken, or sheep into your life?

Do you have the finances? These organizations are volunteer run and are charitable organizations - you will likely be responsible for the veterinary bills, food, and other expenses associated with the animal's care while it lives in your home.

Concerned about how to introduce your foster pet to your existing household pets? If you need a little guidance, do not hesitate to ask a behavioral professional for help (www.greatdogtrainers.com).

IF YOU CANNOT FOSTER, DONATE OR VOLUNTEER!
You may not be able to foster for whatever reason, but that doesn't mean you are unable to help the effort. Both organizations accept tax-deductible donations on their websites.

Alternatively, if you have a well-visited website, consider writing an article about these programs, or post one of the organizations' banners on your websites to bring much-needed recognition to the plight of military pets needing foster homes.

If you are already involved with rescues, Operation Noble Foster offers the following link for tips on how you can help both with military cat rescue and provides contact information for individuals who can help if your rescue accepts other species of pets.

IF YOU ARE A SERVICEMAN OR SERVICEWOMEN LOOKING FOR A FOSTER HOME FOR YOUR BEST FRIEND
First, let me extend my heartfelt gratitude to you for your willingness to sacrifice, putting it all on the line, to defend a nation you believe in.

One sacrifice I hope none of you will ever have to make is that of a safe homecoming, welcomed warmly by those you love the most; those who have whispered countless prayers in your name during your absence, and those whose tails may have wagged less since you departed. All of you deserve to come home to the same thumping tail wag or enthusiastic kitty "mrao" that you left behind when you responded to the call of duty.

FINDING A FOSTER HOME FOR YOUR MILITARY KITTY
Here is Operation Noble Foster's Basic Information for Military Personnel. From their website, you can also find suggested foster contracts (which can be modified to suit the needs of both soldier and foster parent). You will be able to view applications from potential foster parents, contact references, ask any questions you might have to find the right home for your cat. While you are keeping your country safe, a kitty owner with a big heart might just open her home and keep your cat safe in return - contact Operation Noble Foster today to explore foster homes and opportunities for your favorite feline.

FINDING A FOSTER HOME FOR ALL OTHER MILITARY PETS
If you are a soldier looking for a foster home for your pets (and you do not have kitties), visit the home page for MilitaryPetsFOSTER Project and scroll down until you see the application for military personnel.

 

2009 John Fisher essay available online!

August 7th 2009 10:27 pm
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Hi dogster friends!

At last I can share with my friends Dances with Dogs; the essay about Monte which won this year's APDT/Dogwise John Fisher essay contest (and a free trip to San Fransisco for mom!).

Enjoy, dogster pals!

 

Dogwise John Fisher essay winner!

August 4th 2009 2:23 pm
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It is with great gratitude that I thank APDT and Dogwise for selecting my essay on Monte, my reactive Saint Bernard, as the winning entry in the 2009 John Fisher essay contest. I also thank Janice Patton, APDT awards committee chair, for being so understanding when I shrieked in her ear upon hearing the good news and accepting my award!

In offering the John Fisher essay contest, both organizations have taken a stand to promote modern, positive reinforcement dog training - an effort which will certainly result in improved relationships between dogs and the humans that love them.

The wonderful prize for this contest is a trip to San Fransisco for the APDT conference in October - what an opportunity! I am very much looking forward to the trip, and having a chance to visit with other KPA CTP in addition to learning from many talented trainers and behaviorists who have helped guide me in becoming the trainer I am today.

Thanks again, APDT and Dogwise! See you in San Fransisco!

APDT members - my winning entry will be published in a forthcoming issue of Chronicle of the Dog. I hope you enjoy reading it!

 

Have you read my articles yet on www.clickertraining.com?

July 29th 2009 8:59 pm
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How to Potty Train Your Puppy the Clicker Way

How to Create a Reactive Human in Ten Minutes or Less

Pro Trainers - How To Increase Revenue Via Memberships

Watch out for a new article this weekend!

Want to read more? Check out my personal blog on www.clickertraining.com!

 

Happy to be back as this week's tipster on the Daily Dog- Tip!

July 29th 2009 8:53 pm
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I'm ba-ack!

Once again, I have the great pleasure of being this week's dogster Daily Dog Tip writer.

Check out my tips here! This week's entries are on bite safety prevention/education - ways to keep kids and dogs safe around each other.

Hope you enjoy, happy training everyone!

 

Subscribe to the Rewarding Behaviors RSS feed!

July 29th 2009 8:42 pm
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Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training RSS feed

Check out my latest blog entries for great training videos and a link to a free clicker training course offered by some of the world's top competing clicker trainers!

 
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