Behavior | Behavior Behavior en-us Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 Orion <![CDATA[5 Rules of Picking Up Dog Poop]]> As a dog sitter, I clean up a lot of poop. I'm always in awe of the amount one dog can produce. And, my daily multi-dog hikes can't even get going until everyone has spent the necessary time finding and using the perfect poop spot. 

Because of my occupation, I consider myself a poop expert. Turns out, there are actual animal-waste specialists who know far more than I do. I asked Timothy Stone, co-founder and treasurer of aPaws: The Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists, to help me put together these rules of etiquette for picking up dog poop.  

1. Always pick it up

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It's not a fun job, but it is your responsibility. (Picking dog poop up off of a concrete sidewalk by Shutterstock)

Seems fairly obvious, and yet we all know dog owners who choose not to exercise this common courtesy. Somewhere in my neighborhood, there is a pup who seems to only find release on my front yard, and his owner consistently skips the "pickup."

If you regularly ignore this rule, and often the law, consider why it's important to pick poop up in the first place.

"The most important issue is sanitary cleanliness," Timothy explains. "Next would be the higher concentration of parasites like giardia, roundworm, hookworm, and all those other intestinal worms [that can accumulate in areas where poop is not picked up]. Pet waste also has an effect on groundwater from urban runoff and can contaminate it if left unattended."

I say pick it up because poop is disgusting. I don't want to walk down a sidewalk or trail and smell an offending odor, only to realize I've stepped in your dog's mess and will now have a reminder of your poor poop manners for the rest of my walk. Don't even get me started on the pups who stay with me who like to eat poop they find on the trail. Gag!

2. Responsibly dispose of poop 

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Use these! (Dog waste box by Shutterstock)

So, how exactly should a person responsibly dispose of dog waste, I asked Timothy.

"The greenest way to dispose of dog waste would be to compost it and throw it in your garden," he says. "However, due to the chemical makeup of dog waste and the associated parasites, this would be detrimental to plants. That being said, you should check with your local municipalities as to the preferred method of pet waste disposal. Most scoopers simply bag it and throw it in the trash can. As for biodegradable bags, due to recent FTC rulings, no plastic bags in the U.S. can be classified as biodegradable."

Honestly, I'm just happy if you pick it up. Where it goes after that is of little concern to me. I read once that the best way to dispose of your dog's poop is by flushing it down the toilet. I suppose this is true, but I'm afraid with the amount of poop my guests produce I'd have the plumber on speed dial.

3. Deal with diarrhea by preventing it

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Keep people food out of your dog's reach. (Dog sneaking sausageby Shutterstock)

Timothy offered these tips for dealing with the dreaded loose stool.

"The best way to deal with loose stool is to avoid it to begin with by keeping your pet healthy and feeding him healthy foods," he recommends. "Once that ship has sailed, what we do is sprinkle a little dirt or sand on it before scooping it up."

That's really great advice there. Solid good person, that Timothy, doing the right thing, offering suggestions. I say run, and I realize that makes me not the Emily Post of poop.

4. Pick up and dispose of poop even when in the great outdoors

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My friends, along with their dogs Sadie and Beaux, drop their poop bags for just a minute to pose for a picture during a hike. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

When hiking, can you just kick it over the side, I asked Timothy.

"When you’re out on the trail, the old adage 'pack it in, pack it out' also applies to pet waste," he says. "You don’t want to hang it in the bushes like some folks do. That’s just plain rude."

I agree with Timothy, you have to pick it up. I realize it doesn't seem fair that the coyotes, squirrels (I've never seen squirrel poop, that I know if, but I assume they do poop somewhere), and horses don't have to have a human following them around and scooping up their excrement, placing it in a hand-dandy plastic bag that they pulled out of a plastic bone-shaped container, but life isn't fair. The sooner you accept that, the better off you will be!

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Left-behind bags of poop are so common around Bernal Heights in San Francisco, one resident has used them to create a series of artistic photos.

5. Seek professional help if necessary

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Timothy Stone hard at work! (Photo courtesy of Stone)

If you need to hire a professional to help with picking up your dog's poop, do so!

"The best time to call in a pro is when you’re sick of picking it up, you don’t have the time to pick it up, you’re too lazy to pick it up," Timothy says, adding "or due to health reasons, like a bad back or gag reflex when dealing with dog poop."

What he said. 

Let's hear from you, readers. Do you always pick up after your dog? If not, why not? Do you have neighbors who turn your yard into a poop minefield? Please share your stories, as well as any other etiquette rules or tips for picking up poop, in the comments.

Read more about dog poop on Dogster: 

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/picking-up-dog-poop-etiquette-tips-professional-pooper-scoopers
<![CDATA[Poop in the Elevators: Seattle Embraces Tracking Turds via DNA]]> When we first heard about DNA poop testing, we thought it was more than a little funny. It might catch on here and there, but it's not like any of our dog-loving meccas such as Seattle would really go in for it. 

Well, Seattle has really gone in for it.

According to the Seattle Times, a company called BioPet Vet Lab, out of Knoxville, Tenn., has its PooPrints testing kits in 26 apartment and condo complexes and homeowner associations in greater Seattle. 

It turns out that Seattleites are not the best at picking up poop. Perhaps it's the rain. Why else would you let your dog poop in the elevator?

Um, what? The elevator? 

Indeed: “There was poop inside the elevators, in the carpeted hallways, up on the roof,” Erin Atkinson, the property manager at Potala Village Apartments, told the Times. 

“They’re lazy, I guess,” Atkinson said about the dog owners. “I don’t know why.”

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DNA Strand by Shutterstock.

Atkinson's building is among the 26 that has poop testing; she said her complex has about two dozen dogs, and tenants pay a one-time fee of $29.95 for DNA testing, which involves rubbing a swab in a dog's inner cheek.  

It's been happening since February 2014, and it's been working: One owner was fined five times in one week, for a total of $500, before he changed his ways. 

"Now people clean up after their dogs,” Atkinson said.  

The process by which the poop perpetrators are fingered is sort of gross -- hence the steep fines. It involves collecting the poop in a very particular way. There's even a video tutorial. You see, you need to take a scraping from the "outer crust" of the poop -- “the most cellular-rich area," instructs the narrator of the video. 

Also, a good DNA solution has a “milkshake consistency." 

After collection, suddenly introspective and contemplative building managers bag up the sample and send it to BioPet, who matches it up with the correct dog. 

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Clean It Up, Printed on a Path by Shutterstock.

The residents of Atkinson's building don't have a problem with the testing, which is not surprising considering the turmoil the complex must have gone through during the elevator-and-hallway poop events of an earlier era. 

Resident Peggy Williams, who owns a dog named Hershey, is embracing the new technology. “I thought it was weird, but if that is what it takes.”

Via the Seattle Times

Read more dog news on Dogster:

Mon, 06 Apr 2015 12:00:00 -0700 /the-scoop/dog-poop-elevators-seattle-apartment-buildings-dna-poop-testing
<![CDATA[4 Tips for Introducing Your Pet Rock to a New Dog]]> Editor’s note: Simply put, rocks are the new dogs. To meet the needs of this growing population of pet parents, we are switching our focus to become your source for all things rock related. Rockster will deliver the latest care info from experts in the mineralogy field, the best training advice from leading rock behaviorists, and the most helpful tips from our team of rock lovers, who will help you navigate life with a not-so-furry friend. Also look for inspiring stories of rock rescue and adoption, as well as profiles of Rockster Heroes. And be sure to create a page in our Community area -- we want to see your pets, pebbles and boulders alike! We hope you enjoy Rockster. -- Pamela Mitchell, Senior Rockster Editor

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We brought Rocquel into our family many years ago. My wife and I didn't have pet rocks when we were younger, so bringing her into our life -- picking out Rocquel's bed, pouring her first bowl of gravel, taking her for a first roll -- are moments we will cherish forever.

In 2011, we decided to add to our family again and rescue a dog. We adopted an Italian Greyhuahua/Terrier mix, and keeping with the spirit of our pet parenting, we named him Rocky.

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Rocquel and Rocky -- who can resist those two cute faces?

But Susan and I knew that no matter how cute Rocky was, and no matter how stone-faced Rocquel acted upon hearing the news she would soon have a baby brother, we had our work cut out for us.

Getting the two of them to live happily together was not going to be just an easy skip on the lake.

But through trial and error, we found the ways that Rocky and Rocquel could coexist, and even share some puppy love.

Here are four easy tips to get your resident rock and her new pet friend to live happily ever after.

1. Put them to the sniff test

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Rocquel stays calm and stone-faced even after Rocky gives her a lick on the forehead.

One of the great things about having a pet rock is that she has no teeth and no paws. So unless you leave her on the edge of a shelf or table, or accidentally leave her in a walkway, there’s very little she can do in the way of harming another creature. The dog, on the other hand, could really sharpen his claws on the surface of your rock. So let the dog be the curious one, while instructing your rock to stay still. Once the dog has given your rock a friendly sniff -- and maybe even a lick on the forehead -- he will quickly learn that the rock is a friend, not a foe.

2. Let them sleep like a rock -- and dog -- together

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Nothing says cozy warm like sleeping in a bed of blankets.

Rocquel has had her own bed and blanket since we got her. She quietly sleeps at the end of our bed and never stirs. Now, some people would say you should try to avoid letting your pets sleep in the human bed, but we felt Rocky and Rocquel would bond better if they shared the same sleepy space -- they would have a shared comfort zone from which they could further bond as buddies.

3. Have dinner be a shared experience  

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Dinner time is always a fun time for these two hungry buddies.

Again, it’s all about the dog and rock being comfortable sharing their happy, intimate spaces. And what makes pets happier than dinnertime? Rocquel is way too busy inhaling her pebbles to even notice Rocky doing the same with his kibbles. Within days, our two scamps were sitting patiently together at their respective bowls waiting for dinner.

4. Take them out together to get their friendship on a roll  

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Rocquel and Rocky get ready for a winter walk in the neighborhood.

Rocquel loves putting on her leash and rolling down the street where we live. It gets her exercise and fresh air and keeps her from gathering moss. Rocky also loves his walks, and the two of them make quite a team traveling the sidewalks. Not only does it help them expend their extra energy, it is a shared activity that they both enjoy. Seeing Rocky and Rocquel enjoy doing things together means we no longer feel between a rock and a hard place.

Read more about pet rocks on Rockster:

Read more about introducing resident pets to new family members:

About the author: Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer in Quincy, Mass. A former editor for and sportswriter for the Hartford Courant who covered the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team (Huskies!) and the Boston Red Sox, Jeff has authored two books on the UConn women: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015). He lives with his wife, Susan, and their rescues Rocquel and Rocky. 

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 05:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/introducing-resident-pet-rock-new-dog-behavior
<![CDATA[5 Tips for Taking Your Pet Rock to the Dog Park]]> Editor’s note: Simply put, rocks are the new dogs. To meet the needs of this growing population of pet parents, we are switching our focus to become THE source for all things rock related. Rockster will deliver the latest care info from experts in the mineralogy field, the best training advice from leading rock behaviorists, and the most helpful tips from our team of rock lovers, who will help you navigate life with a not-so-furry friend. Also look for inspiring stories of rock rescue and adoption, as well as profiles of Rockster Heroes. And be sure to create a page in our Community area -- we want to see your pets, pebbles and boulders alike! We hope you enjoy Rockster. -- Pamela Mitchell, Senior Rockster Editor

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My pup, Riggins, loves the dog park. So it made perfect sense that when I added a sweet pet rock named Fuzzy to our family that he should enjoy some off-leash time with his friends, too. Unfortunately, my community has yet to realize that rocks need their own designated space. Until this happens, Fuzzy has to share with his doggie friends.

Thankfully, like most rocks, Fuzzy is so well behaved and amazingly tolerant of other pets that he doesn't mind being placed into the chaos that exists at some dog parks. Although, it is because of his well-mannered personality that I have to be extra careful and watch out for him. 

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Selfie! Fuzzy and me. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

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Anyone want to play ball?

With that in mind, I put together these tips for helping your rock enjoy a trip to the dog park. I hope you will get your rock out and about, too!

1. Drive safely

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Fuzzy's safe ride.

It's important that all of your kids, no matter the species, make it to the park safely. I'm sure you already have car seats for your human children and car restraints for your pups, but what about your rock? There hasn't been much research done on the safest way for someone like Fuzzy to travel. He tends to slip out of seat belts, and the harnesses currently available on the market just don't fit his cute tubby body. 

For Fuzzy's safety and the safety of my other passengers, he gets to ride in a small animal crate in the way-back of my car. He loves it back there and feels like he is one of the gang, snuggled safely between the toys and hiking gear!

2. Watch out for dogs

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Fuzzy looks a little worried.

Poor Fuzzy has had the unfortunate experience of being mistaken for a park rock. Of course the difference between him and his non-pet relatives is obvious to us humans, but to the pups wandering around, it can be a bit confusing. Usually, this misunderstanding is harmless, but every now and then a male dog comes around and marks Fuzzy! Once marked, it becomes a free-for-all, and poor Fuzzy has to endure a half dozen dudes peeing all over him, one after the other, unless I get to him first.

To help keep your rock safe from such disrespectful and impolite behavior, you will need to keep a close eye on him. If you see a male dog sniffing around, it's best to go over and pick up your rock and remove him from the area.

3. Enjoy any weather

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Watching his friends cool down on a hot day.

It was extremely hot in Los Angeles -- 90-plus degrees in the middle of March! -- during a recent trip to the dog park. That heat is just torture for pups, and most pet parents stay away from the park for the health of their dogs. Although I don't experience snow in my area, I'm told that dog parks in very cold climates also tend to empty out in harsh weather. 

Swings in weather are the perfect time to get your rock out to play! In fact, it's a time when the rocks can take over the park and socialize freely without being sniffed and peed on by their canine friends.

One more plus is that Fuzzy doesn't require water! If the water at your local dog park is hard to come by, just too dirty to consume safely or frozen over, it doesn't matter. Unlike with your pup, there is no need to carry your own water or to head over to the community bowl every few minutes to clean it out and fill it back up.

4. Not a ball

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Fuzzy's brother Riggins knows the difference between a pet rock and a ball!

I'm lucky in that Fuzzy is much too big and hefty (although his doctor assures me his weight is fine for his type) to be mistaken for a ball. Some of Fuzzy's more petite friends have been less fortunate. Be sure to keep a sharp eye on any small round rocks. Although, if a dog does sniff around and decide a pet rock is something to grab in his mouth and play with, it's more likely that the dog will be hurt than your little rock darling.

5. No throwing

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Fuzzy enjoys protection by his four-legged buddies.

We all know that heated arguments can happen between well-meaning owners at a dog park. Energetic play between two pups can escalate to a rumble, leaving the parents to throw around insults and accusations. No matter what happens, DO NOT use your adorable rock as a weapon. Just because he is handy, hard, and easy to chuck, that doesn't mean it's fair to involve him. There is nothing scarier to a rock than being hurled at someone. It's unsafe for your pet and certainly not good for the victim -- or your criminal record. 

I hope you find these tips helpful. Have lots of park fun with your rock!

Read more about pet rocks on Rockster:

Learn more ways to share dog-centric spaces:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, Fuzzy, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/rock-park-dog-park-etiquette-tips
<![CDATA[What Do I Feed My Pet Rock? Why Does He Eat Poop? Our Vet Has the Answers]]> Editor’s note: Simply put, rocks are the new dogs. To meet the needs of this growing population of pet parents, we are switching our focus to become THE source for all things rock related. Rockster will deliver the latest care info from experts in the mineralogy field, the best training advice from leading rock behaviorists, and the most helpful tips from our team of rock lovers, who will help you navigate life with a not-so-furry friend. Also look for inspiring stories of rock rescue and adoption, as well as profiles of Rockster Heroes. And be sure to create a page in our Community area -- we want to see your pets, pebbles, and boulders alike! We hope you enjoy Rockster. -- Pamela Mitchell, Senior Rockster Editor

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As a registered vet, I get a lot of questions from people who have no idea how to properly care for a pet rock. Unfortunately, I charge a lot, and countless people have left my office in tears, unable to afford even the paperwork reading fee ($89; applicable toward treatments costs if total amount exceeds $10,000 and full amount is paid with two weeks of service; CASH ONLY). 

But today, after 15 years on the job, I give back. 

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Hi, I'm Dr. Rockus. Would you like a banana or a piece of pizza? )Via Shutterstock)

FAQ: Caring for Your Pet Rock, by a Registered Vet

Why does my pet rock eat his own poop?

This habit of eating poop is disgusting. As a registered vet, I know exactly how disgusting this is, and the less said about it the better. 

Why are other people threatened by my pet rock?

To make people feel safe, you have to prove you're in charge. A good technique is to hold your rock like a baseball and wave it around to show you have complete control of your rock. You can also toss your rock from hand to hand while staring down passersby. 

What do I feed my pet rock?

God, if I had a nickel for every time I've heard that one. 

How much water should my pet rock drink?

He should drink two-fifths his body weight, divided by 3.65 and multiplied by how old he is. Ha, just kidding. I have no idea. 

How can I tell if my pet rock is in pain?

Best to assume she is in pain and start her on pain meds stat.

What if my pet rock eats a copper penny or magnets? Or insecticide? Can my pet rock eat garlic? What about onions? What if my pet rock eats a lily or a chicken bone

These are great questions, and although I am a veterinarian for pet rocks, I am not the right person to ask, funnily enough.

Should I brush my pet rock's teeth?


How long do pet rocks live?

Your pet rock will outlive you; she will outlive everything breathing on God's green Earth; she is eternal, everlasting, non-dying, all-surviving. Either that or about five years. 

Do pet rocks get cancer?


I'm serious. 

Oh, I'm sorry. No, they do not. 

Do you support medical marijuana use in pet rocks?

Why, do you have some?

Should I restrain my pet rock during car travel?

No, placing it on the dashboard should be fine. And hey, can I get a ride to the rock climbing gym tomorrow?

How do you treat pet rock mange?

Oh God, you had to bring up mange? Mange is horrible. Ecch! I feel unwell. 

How do you tell how old your pet rock is?

You can try asking him. But do it in a roundabout way; you really should know your pet rock's age by now, you monster. 

Is the pet rock obesity epidemic real?

Certainly. I have seen any number of fat, chubby rocks, mostly along the interstate. Where they get their food is anybody's guess.

How do I stop my pet rock from waking up the neighbors at night?

This is a tough one: You might have to stay up all night in your darkened living room, counseling your rock as it smashes against your neighbor's siding again and again and again and again, until he passes out from the booze or the police arrive, whichever comes first.

If you want to come over tomorrow with a bottle of vodka and bail money, I can show you how a registered vet handles this.

Should I use a retractable leash with my pet rock?

So you are coming over! Cool. Don't forget the bottle.

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What does a pet rock eat? Who the hell knows? Maybe ask the parking valet. )Via Shutterstock)

Read more about pet rocks on Rockster:

Read health stories about your other pets:

About Dr. Rockus: I am a professional pinochle player who spends his spare time working full-time as a registered pet-rock veterinarian. Once I rode the Concorde. I am fond of dips and salsas. Sometimes I collect pet rocks from alongside the interstate in Death Valley. It is so quiet there. Peaceful. I have eight unfinished novels.

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 01:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/faq-caring-for-pet-rock-rocks-vet
<![CDATA[Watch Fritz the Golden Retriever Fail Gloriously at Catching Food]]> Fritz the Golden Retriever has a lofty goal: to catch food. Unfortunately, while he looks dapper in his neckerchiefs, Fritz isn’t exactly blessed with coordination. A YouTube video going viral rounds up the best of his attempts to snag snacks being thrown to him, with the footage coming across as both hilarious and, well, a little heart-breaking.

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(All images via YouTube)

Relayed in slow-motion, the foodstuffs fly at Fritz fast. A doughnut lands on his chest after a brilliantly mistimed leap! A meatball smears his patriotic neckerchief after a stupendous jaw-chomping miscalculation! A rogue taco almost causes Fritz to flip 180 degrees in the air!

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And on it goes, as foods such as strawberries, steak, and even a slice of pizza are launched into the air for poor Fritz to somehow keep on coming up short.

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Then, just when all hope seems to be lost, Fritz’s salvation arrives in the form of a French fry. Watch the glorious moment in the video below.

Watch more Vids We Love on Dogster:

About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world's foremost expert on rappers' cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it's not quite what you think it is.

Wed, 25 Mar 2015 07:20:00 -0700 /lifestyle/golden-retriever-fritz-cant-catch-food-cute-dog-videos
<![CDATA[Does Your Dog Make Faces? What Do They Mean?]]> My dog Riggins has more facial expressions than a silent-movie star. It's like Buster Keaton and Rudolph Valentino had a son who just happened to be an adorable black-and-white mutt.

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Riggins stares me down. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

If he was a poker player, he'd lose his money before you could say "all in." If he was a high school student, I'd spend most of my time in the principal's office promising that Riggins would be punished for his constant eye-rolling at the teacher. If he was a bartender, his sweet soft eyes would make him millions in tips. 

With that in mind, I thought I'd share with you just a few of Riggins' classic faces.

1. Doubting his mom 

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"Look lady, I love you and all, but I'm pretty sure you are off your rocker. I mean, seriously, are you okay? Are you running a fever? I'm concerned about your health. Only a sick person would make us hike ALL THE WAY up this giant hill just to turn around and walk back down. So, I ask you again, are you okay?"

2. It wasn't me

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"Hmmm ... what? Are you talking to me? What treats? I have been standing right here this entire time. I had no idea there was a box of treats on the counter. I mean, even if I did, I wouldn't do anything about it. I've never seen that box of treats before. I don't even see it now. I'm not even looking at it, THAT is how much I did not eat that entire box of delicious crunchy yummies. I'm hurt you would even ask."

3. Schoolyard coward

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"Hey there, Mom! I just want to sit in your lap and say hi. I'm not afraid of that bully dog over there. I'm not afraid of him at all! I just wanted to see how you were doing and thought you needed a lap warmer. I'm here for you, not me. I am seriously not afraid of that other dog at all. At all. Ummm ... is he still behind me?"

4. The thespian

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"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen. Come on Hank, get in character, she is more likely to give us treats if we get in character. You have treats, right?"

5. Focused lover

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"Choo choo! The love train is pulling out of the station. Now everyone be quiet. I'm concentrating."

6. Selfie hater

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"Mom, geeze! Enough with the selfies already. Everyone knows you are my mom. There is no need to post pictures of the two of us all over the Interwebs. You are squishing me. Fine! Cheeeese. Cheeeeeseeeeeeee! Now get off me!"

7. Insecure hiker

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"WHO HAS MY LEASH?!? What the ... are they behind me? WHO IS BEHIND ME?!? This isn't funny, you guys. There is someone right behind me, AND THEY ARE HOLDING MY LEASH. Mom ... Mom ... help me! I can't say anything without causing suspicion so I'm just going to blink S.O.S. in Morse code to you. SHOOT I DON'T KNOW MORSE CODE! I'm going to die."

8. Loyal cuddlebug

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"Mom, I do believe my darling cousin Kira told you that she wanted to be next to me and that you had to get up and leave the bed. Shhh. Don't be sad. There is more than enough of me to go around, but right now is Kira time, so I must ask you to leave."

9. Concerned friend 

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"I saw Shadow go toward that pack of dogs on the other side of the park, and she has yet to come back. This is serious. She left the protection of our sacred picnic table. I told her not to go. I begged her to stay with me, but she has an adventurous spirit that cannot be tied down. I don't know, Mom. I just don't know. This is a tough one. I'm just going to have to sit here for a little bit longer and figure out what we should do."

10. Eager playmate

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"Hey there! You gonna find a ball and throw it for me? Sure, I'm not going to bring it back but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't throw it. I know you're tired and just sat down, but come on -- you wanna throw the ball. For me? Please?"

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Despite all the eye rolls and furrowed brows, I know my baby boy loves me and is always (well, almost always) happy to cuddle up for a selfie with his Mom!

I'm sure Riggins isn't the only pup out there with a variety of facial expressions. Share a picture of your pup's favorite face and tell us what it means in the comments below!

Read related stories by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop, sacrificing her bed, and with other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Thu, 19 Mar 2015 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/dog-faces-facial-expressions
<![CDATA[As a Dog Trainer, Here Are Three Things I Wish Veterinarians Would Do Differently]]> I adore veterinarians. I also respect and admire them. They are among the hardest-working individuals in the pet-care industry. I call many veterinarians friends, and most of my referrals for dog-training clients come from these fine human beings. Having said that, there are three things that I wish veterinarians would do differently for the sake of dogs everywhere.

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Our trainer LOVES veterinarians! She still wishes they would do a few things differently for their clients.

1. Improve the waiting room

Most veterinarian offices do not provide any kind of visual barrier that stops dogs from seeing (and often lunging) at one another. It is heartbreaking to sit in the wide-open waiting room and watch owners try to corral and control their already stressed-out pets. Going to the vet IS stressful for most dogs, not only because of the many smells in the building but because things veterinarians must do to keep our animals healthy sometimes involve pain. 

Even something as routine as a toenail clip can freak out many dogs. Why add to the dog's (and the owner’s) stress by allowing dogs to stare each other down in the waiting room? I know that veterinarians often stagger their appointment times, such as human doctors do. Nonetheless, every time I have a vet appointment for one of my own dogs or a foster dog, we run into other stressed-out dogs in the waiting room. My own dogs are not reactive, but I don’t want them to have to face off against a dog in the waiting room who is aggressive or overly stressed.  

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This is not how most dogs act while in the veterinarian's waiting room! It would be better for these dogs to have visual barriers and more individual space.

Solution:  Create solid walls, much like a cubicle set up in offices, and allow each dog and owner to wait in the mini stalls. They don’t have to be fully enclosed rooms -- often a visual barrier is enough to keep dogs calm and not lunging at others. Or veterinarians can do what my local wonderful vet does. She has four exam rooms, and right when we arrive for our appointment, we are escorted into our own private room to wait on the vet.  

2. Have a complete understanding of the behavioral impacts of thyroid disease

Obviously I am not a veterinarian, and because of that I do not give medical advice to my dog training clients. I have read, however, a ton of information about how being low in thyroid hormone can have an impact on canine behavior. My knowledge comes from veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM, through her groundbreaking book on the subject matter, The Canine Thyroid Epidemic: Answers You Need for Your Dog.

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I work every week with aggressive dogs, and the first thing I ask my clients to do is to get a complete medical checkup with a veterinarian to rule out any possible health condition that may be contributing to aggression. I suggest to some of my clients (based on behavior I observe in the dog) that they ask their veterinarian for a complete thyroid test. At least half of my clients' veterinarians scoff at the client and refuse to do the test. What’s the harm in ruling out a thyroid problem? The client requested a simple blood test that she or he is willing to pay for. Why not thank the dog owner for being involved and do the test?

Here are a few of the potential behavioral impacts a wonky thyroid can have a dog -- from Dr. Dodds’ excellent book: 

  • Fearfulness
  • Whining
  • Nervousness
  • Schizoid behavior
  • Aggression
  • Disorientation
  • Erratic Temperament
  • Hyperactivity
  • Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Submissiveness
  • Compulsiveness
  • Irritability 

Solution: Help those of us who do work with unwanted canine behavior issues and run a complete thyroid test when an owner requests it. Ruling out a potential medical reason for behavior changes is smart, compassionate, and the only fair thing to do for an animal who can’t speak up and tell us how he is feeling inside.   

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The non-speaking veterinarian customer could have an improved visit to see their doctor.

3. Understand canine behavior

How much does your veterinarian know about canine behavior? They are required to study it in order to become a DVM, right? Not so fast. The general answer is NO; understanding canine behavior is not a requirement for graduating from most U.S. vet schools. I’ve asked the veterinarians I know -- they range from fresh out of school to being in their late-60s -- if they had to take even one class in animal behavior to become a veterinarian, and they all say no, although some schools include one elective course. 

I called a few veterinary schools to see for myself what is required. The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine reports: “There is currently a one-hour course on animal behavior in the first year.” You read that correctly: a one-hour course! The school's spokeswoman added, “Because of the importance of this area in veterinary medicine, a prerequisite in basic psychology was added a few years ago for students applying to our college.” 

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California does a little more, requiring one week of behavior training in the first year of vet school. Its spokesperson says that in the third year, “Students taking the small-animal emphasis have a three-week integrated block that is Wellness/Behavior/Nutrition.” It’s better than most schools do, but because behavior is such a complicated subject matter and can be so instrumental in reaching the right diagnosis, it would seem every veterinarian should be well versed on it. 

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Every small animal veterinarian should read this important book.

Solution: Require vet students to graduate with a broad knowledge of how animals learn and a solid knowledge of behavior. Require students to (at least!) read and be tested on these books written by veterinarians: Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats by Dr. Karen Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB. This brilliant doctor has more upper-level degrees than anyone I’ve ever met! She is a champion for animals, and she has said her life’s mission is to help fellow veterinarians understand the importance of animal behavior in veterinary medicine.

Also require veterinary students to read the late Dr. Sophia Yin’s book Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavioral Modification of Dogs and Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits.  

I have one final request that may seem small but is, in fact, huge. I wish veterinarians would ditch the boring, dry dog biscuits some hand out in the exam room to their patients. Bravo for having a treat, but in order to have a canine prayer of pairing a dog’s experience at the vet’s with a good thing, it actually has to be a good-tasting thing. Replace those dry biscuits with dehydrated meat and see how many tail wags that creates in your patients!  

Do you feel the same as I do about these issues? Tell us in the comments what you love most about your veterinarian and one thing you wish he or she would do differently.

Read more by Annie Phenix: 

About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.  
Thu, 19 Mar 2015 02:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/veterinarian-veterinary-school-dog-behavior-training
<![CDATA[How I Trained My Dog to Always Come When I Call]]> Off-leash dogs are a touchy topic, and pretty much every dog owner I know has something to say about it. We've all encountered a rampant pooch running wild, or a distracted and inconsiderate owner who claims his dog is "friendly" while she lunges at everything that moves.

Still, there is something to be said for watching my beloved four-legged friend, Kira, run free with the wind flapping her ears and a big goofy grin on her face. We love our dogs, and we want them to be happy.

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Kira, my Border Collie/Husky mix, running on a snowy road. (Photo by Maya Bastian)

If you could effectively train your dog to have great recall, to listen to you no matter what, and to have fun within given boundaries, such as an off-leash park or other safe area, why wouldn't you? Here are five tips that can help you achieve this. 

1. Be repetitive and consistent 

When I first started training Kira, my Border Collie/Husky mix, I walked with her on a short leash, directly by my side. Every single day, every time we walked. For about nine months. My goal was to teach Kira that her place was by my side. I never strayed from this method, not even once. Eleven years later, Kira rarely strays from my side, and when she does, she will turn on a dime at the sound of my voice.

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I trained Kira daily. Now she's my closest companion. (Photo by Maya Bastian)

A reliable recall "takes consistency and repetition, and consistency and repetition, and more consistency and repetition,” says Noelle Blessey, co-owner of Los Angeles-based dog trainers Thank Dog! Blessey believes that owners need as much training as dogs in order to achieve effective results. “It starts on-leash in a non-distracted environment, and slowly, through methodical steps, reaches the point of no leash in a distracted environment. If you are an owner who is interested in working through every step with your dog, get started right away and work it. There are no shortcuts." 

2. Know your dog's limitations and predilections

Not every dog is capable of off-leash play. There are certain breeds who I would be more hesitant to let loose. My dog, a Border Collie mix, is a breed well known for attention to vocal commands. She may be easier to off-leash train than say a hound, whose nose tends to lead them astray more often that not. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. Get to know the specifics of your dog’s breed and personality before you attempt off-leash training. 

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Off-leash fun at the dog park. (Photo by Shutterstock)

3. Learn how to use training tools

As a former dog walker, I have many gripes about the ever-popular extending or retractable leash. Though it may seem awfully convenient to let your dog wander at will while still being tethered to you, extending leashes are actually teaching your dog nasty habits -- and are even dangerous. The dog is learning to pull you when he wants to go somewhere. He is also learning that he has free reign to go where he wants when he wants. Neither of these will help you with on- or off-leash training. Instead, I have had great success with 30- and 50-foot-long leashes. Take them to the dog park and allow your dogs to roam, pulling back the leash if they don’t respond to your recall. In my experience, puppies benefit greatly from this tactic.

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Extendable leashes are my least favorite training tool -- and they can be dangerous. (Beagle on extendable leash by Shutterstock)

Using treats for recall is a popular tool as well. I have seen this work incredibly well for food-focused dogs; however, it never worked a lick with my fussy Border Collie. Blessey also suggests that you learn how to use any tool properly before attempting training. She stresses, “Any tool can be misused in the hands of the uneducated. Any tool. Treats and leashes are tools, but your voice is a tool, too.” Learning how to use a specific tool is just as much your responsibility as which tool you choose. 

4. Be aware of the other dogs

No matter the situation, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times. When I'm at the park and a new dog enters, I watch that dog's behavior, and I watch the owner's behavior. If the dog looks threatened or her hackles are up, if the owner is keeping her distance or restraining the dog, or if there are any other signs that the dog may not be comfortable in the park, then I call my dog back and put her on the leash, or keep her by my side, until I can confirm the situation. As friendly and well-behaved as my dog is, there is no accounting for other people or their animals. It is always better to err on the side of safety. The responsibility lies in our own hands.

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Your dog may be fine off-leash, but always keep an eye on other dogs at the park. (Happy Beagles at the park by Shutterstock)

5. Get help from a training pro

Blessey is a firm advocate of the commitment to professional training. “Seek out a professional and be ready to do some work. Your results will be directly correlated to your commitment and consistency. But you can have so much fun with it and be rewarded by the bond you build with your dog during this kind of training."

Unless you have an unending amount of time to spend training your dog, a professional trainer can ease your way into this challenging task.

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Friendly off-leash dog on a forest hike—no owner in sight! (Photo by Maya Bastian)

It is an incredible thing to watch a pack of dogs tumble and wrestle. Equally beautiful is to see your best dog-friend streak past you in a blur. My dog runs like the wind. To see her take off in a wide circle, her black-grey fur streaming behind her, brings so much joy into my heart. I'm glad that I spent the time and effort to train her well, so that I can have the confidence necessary to let her run free. With commitment, sensible goals, and consistency, you can do the same thing.

Read more about off-leash life with dogs:

About the author: Maya Bastian is a dreamer by nature, a wanderer at heart, and an artist when the inspiration strikes. After almost a decade of spending every waking hour working and playing with a bunch of furry, four-legged friends, she realized she was never going to be able to pee outside as well as they did, so she quit and started traveling the world. Now based out of L.A., Maya works as a documentary filmmaker and video artist. She misses those days of canine connection and wrestling in the park, but she doesn't miss picking up all that poop.

Wed, 18 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/off-leash-recall-come-command-dog-training-tips
<![CDATA[Did the Digital Dogsitter Ease My Pup's Separation Anxiety?]]> I’ve tried sneaking out of the house. I’ve tried distraction with toys, highest-value treats, and interactive puzzles. I’ve tried desensitization training and counterconditioning. I’ve read every book on the market and every blog on the web, but none of my efforts to cure my two-year-old Vizsla, Finley, of her separation anxiety have worked.

Just when I thought I had tried every option available short of hiring a professional behaviorist, I stumbled upon the 21st century’s answer to leaving your dog home alone: Digital Dogsitter.

With the tagline, “Train Your Dog to Stay Home Alone. With Love,” the computer software is designed for dog owners whose pets become highly anxious, often to the point of being destructive, when they’re left by themselves. Desperate to try anything that might help alleviate the problem with my pup, I immediately downloaded the free trial and hoped for the best.

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Finley has separation anxiety and becomes very upset when we leave the house.

The idea behind Digital Dogsitter is to allow owners to communicate with their pets when they’re gone by correcting any barking or loud vocalizations. The system “listens” to the dog while the humans are away and then plays a recording of the owner's voice if her furry friend breaks the volume limit. Users are instructed to record corrections -- such as “Quiet!” or “Shhh!” -- so that the dog will hear the command and consequently calm down.

I quickly discovered that the program is fairly user friendly (despite its somewhat technical appearance) and pretty straightforward. After testing my computer’s microphone, I set the threshold fairly low so that it would capture any sounds of distress. Once I had recorded a few of my own Finley-specific commands, I put the program in “Watch” mode and left my pup alone in a closed-off living room while making my usual "leaving the house" noises, opening the back door and letting it slam shut.

As expected, she began pacing and whining immediately. But her soft, high-pitched whimpering didn’t exceed the volume threshold.

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Digital Dogsitter records your commands and plays them for your pup when you're away.

After six minutes or so, she suddenly barked twice. I have to admit, it was funny hearing my recorded voice say, “Finley, no! Shhh!” through the computer on the living room table. But much to my shock and awe, Finley immediately stopped making noise.

A few moments later, I heard another whine and another bark, followed by another one of my recordings, “Quiet! Shush!” Then another two barks and some additional commands.

Then came the familiar "thunk" of magazines and envelopes through the mail slot. The mailman had made his afternoon visit, which usually sets Finley off in a tailspin of barking and frantic panting as she follows his silhouette from window to window, jumping up at the blinds. Only this time, she became quiet after just three or four barks. She didn’t have an uncontrollable meltdown. I was shocked. With me nowhere in sight, I guess she didn’t see a reason to warn the entire household of the potentially threatening mail carrier outside the door.

Then there was silence. Absolute quiet. No more whining or pacing. Just complete and utter calm.

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Our dog can become very destructive when she's left alone, even for only an hour.

I figured she must be just starting out the window, wondering where I was and how I could have been talking to her from inside the house after she heard me leave. This, of course, pleased me to no end. My smart-as-a-whip dog was just outsmarted by a computer program! And, best of all, she wasn't scratching furiously at the door trying to escape the house to come find me, which is her usual response when she knows I've left.

Over-the-moon happy with the success of the program so far, I decided to go outside and let Finley see me walk down the driveway and into the street. This would be a true test of Digital Dogsitter since Finley usually gets the most worked up when she can physically see the distance between her and me.

As soon as I made it to the end of the driveway, she let out a chorus of shrieks and barks -- her usual hysterical display when she realizes how far away I am. After letting her throw a fit for a few minutes, I waited for a moment of quiet and then walked back up the driveway. The recorded commands didn’t seem to have as strong of an effect once she passed the point of no return in her tantrum.

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Finley watches and waits before getting upset.

When I got back inside and reviewed the log, I found nine recordings of Finley breaking the volume threshold. That wasn’t as bad as I had expected, but the software didn't seem to have captured every single staccato bark during her outburst. System overload, I think it's safe to say. So I think the key for me (and probably some other pet owners with a similar problem) is to trick my dog into thinking I'm still in the house, or to prevent her from seeing me leave by going through a window. That’s not a difficult thing to do, but it definitely requires a little extra effort.

I can imagine this kind of technology would work nicely for owners whose pets bark intermittently during alone time and need a simple correction as a firm reminder. And for the price ($18 for three months; $44 for a full year), Digital Dogsitter is one of the more affordable options when it comes to dealing with separation anxiety.

Overall, I was impressed with how effective Digital Dogsitter was with Finley’s first isolated protests. She really responded to my recorded voice and seemed genuinely convinced I was still nearby. If I had just closed the front window shades or put her in a room without street-access windows, I’m confident she would have done very well long-term. That said, I plan to keep using the program in conjunction with more rigorous desensitization training. From now on, I'll try putting her in the basement with my portable laptop whenever I leave so she can't see me out the window. And I don't have to see those sad puppy dog eyes begging me not to leave!

Does your dog experience separation anxiety? Would you use a product like this? Tell us in the comments!

Read more by Whitney C. Harris:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).

Fri, 13 Mar 2015 06:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/digital-dogsitter-review-dog-separation-anxiety-behavior-training
<![CDATA[Adjusting Your Clock for Daylight Savings Might Mess with Your Dog's Head]]> On Sunday, March 8, it's time for us to "spring forward," adjusting our clocks one hour ahead to segue from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time. Does that lost hour of sleep affect our pets?

"Of course it does," says dog behavior expert Sarah Wilson, author of Dogology: What Your Relationship With Your Dog Says About You (follow her on Twitter). "The next day you and your dog will be dreaming deeply in your 5:30 a.m. sleep cycle when the alarm says it is 6:30 a.m. -- and wakeup time."

How can we help our dogs cope?

"If your dog wants to sleep in, let them for as long as you can," she advises, adding, "Don’t you wish someone would do that for you?"

Creatures of habit, dogs love consistency in their daily schedule. When the old familiar routine is disrupted, the change can affect a dog's behavior.

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Just let me zzzzz!

"Getting up an hour earlier or later causes stress," explains William Berloni, author of Broadway Tails and director of behavior for the Humane Society of New York. "For instance, they have to 'hold it' an hour longer, wait an hour longer to eat, and wait an extra hour for you to come home from work. All that is stressful to dogs.

"But if we start adjusting their schedule in 15-minute increments a few days before the time change, it makes the transition easier."

Dogs have adjusted themselves to humans' wacky behavior since the first wolf let itself be domesticated. For the most part, they're used to training and otherwise synchronizing their routine to ours; but sometimes, they could use a little help.

When he's not working at the Humane Society, Berloni runs William Berloni Theatrical Animals, Broadway's go-to provider of animal talent. He travels often with his performing dogs, who must deal with the schedule changes in different time zones.

"We purposely never feed or walk our dogs at exactly the same time," he explains. "It's always slightly different: Dinner at 8 or 8.30 or 9, for instance. It's roughly the same window of time, but not the exact same time every day. This slight variation keeps the dogs accustomed to their lives being somewhat unpredictable, so they don't experience 'jet lag' and they're always ready to go. It reduces stress on them and us."

Obviously, those of us who are self-employed have an easier time of this because we create our own schedules.

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Walk meeeee! Begging dog by Shutterstock

"If you have a barky or reactive dog, prepare for a bit more of both on your first walk of the day," Wilson says. "The combination of darker conditions outside and being in a different brain space may be what combines to create this phenomenon I’ve observed through the years. I just bring extra treats and proactively help my dog connect with me to help them through this temporary readjustment phase."

Another helpful hint: "The local wildlife don't get the DST memo and can be wandering around when you are; keep an eye peeled for them so you don't have to do a gagging Google search on 'removing skunk odor.'"

Of course, the one-hour time difference could mean your dog isn't quite prepared to do all aspects of her business just yet. You know how it is when you're dealing with jet lag -- things don't always, ahem, move along the way they do on your usual schedule. So, it's a good idea to carve out a few extra minutes in your morning this week to take your pup for an additional outing, just in case it didn't get around to doing number two. If that still isn't forthcoming, don't be surprised if you're met with a little accident when you return home (and do be nice about it -- it's not the dog's fault that the clock got reset).

Incidentally, when it's time to "Fall Back" to Standard Time come November, while we get that extra hour in bed, it means our dogs awaken at their usual time wanting to relieve themselves. Some dogs are nice enough to just snuggle in and let us sleep. But very young or very old dogs might not be able to hold it. Again, it's the same drill: Don't be surprised if a little accident happens while you're enjoying that extra hour of snooze time. It's not your dog's fault.

Readers, what changes have you noticed in your dog's routine at the advent of Daylight Saving Time? Please share info and tips in the comments!

Photo Credits: A man and his dog, sleepy pup, begging dog supplied by our friends at Shutterstock

Read more about dogs and sleeping:

Mon, 09 Mar 2015 08:05:00 -0700 /lifestyle/adjusting-your-clock-for-daylight-savings-may-mess-with-your-dogs-head
<![CDATA[Are There Certain People Your Dog Just Doesn't Trust?]]> Riggins loves people, and they feel the same way about him. When we go to the dog park, he marches up to other owners and asks for affection. As soon as he gets it, Riggins shoots me a grin that says, "Everyone loves me. You know it's true." I roll my eyes and wait until he's had enough before throwing his ball toward the next soon-to-be adoring fan.

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Making friends with a stranger at the dog park (All photos by Wendy Newell unless otherwise noted)

It might be more accurate to say, though, that Riggins loves most people. I've learned that there are a few he just does not trust. When I had an office job, I'd take him for a walk in our neighborhood every morning before heading to work. We regularly passed a man walking down our street to the bus stop. Riggins HATED the guy and would react as if he were going to eat him for breakfast. The first few times I was horrified and apologized for my dog's horrific behavior, then I decided there must be a good reason why the man bothered him. I never discovered what that reason was, but I have since identified a few folks he generally distrusts. 

1. Smelly people

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Man smelling by

If you smell, Riggins wants nothing to do with you. Of course, it doesn't go both ways. While out on the trials, Riggins can flop down on a dead bird, roll around in the rotting flesh, and finish off our hike with his head held high and proud. If YOU haven't showered in the past 48 hours, forget it. Being a stinky human is NOT okay with him. It usually leads to him walking around the offending person in a defensive position and with a low growl that obviously means, "Back up and use some soap, buddy!"

2. Children

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Riggins with my nephew. Riggins has to like him. He's blood.

It's really not Riggins fault that he isn't good with kids -- he wasn't given an opportunity to grow up around the two-legged little monsters. Years ago, I had a house-warming party and my good friend brought over her son. The child was just old enough to plop down in a chair and sit there starring out at the world. Riggins disliked him the second the kid's diaper hit the seat. Growling, barking, and overwhelming grumpiness is what the poor child had to live with. I kept telling Riggins that the kid had done nothing to him, but he wasn't listening to logic. The small human was not to be trusted!

3. Anyone off-trail

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Riggins and his friend, Asscher, patrol the trail.

We hike almost every day, and Riggins is one of the best park rangers California has ever known. I once had to physically pull him forward on a trail because he was obsessed with a mylar balloon that had gotten stuck on a bush across the canyon. All Riggins knew was that the shiny object did not belong there and he was going to make sure everyone understood that.

Where we hike, it is good manners, common sense, and sometimes the law to stay on the trails, and yet some hikers are adventurous and push out beyond the boarders of the path. Riggins is NOT OKAY with that. Sure, in the legal off-leash areas, his friends and he run beyond the trail, jumping over bushes and ducking under branches, but just because the four-legged creatures can do it, that doesn't mean humans should. I've had to tell people as they come back onto a trail that my dog doesn't like such wandering and that perhaps they should wait until we pass them.

4. Bad singers

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Woman singing by

If you're going to sing around Riggins, you had better be in pitch. While on the trails, we sometimes walk by a fellow hiker singing at the top of his lungs. I'm sure in his ear cocoon of wonderful mushy headphones, he sounds like Justin Timberlake bringing sexy back, but out in the real world he sounds like someone nearing death, and Riggins reacts accordingly.

5. Anyone using wheels

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Elderly man in wheelchair pets therapy dog by

I once had a dream of Riggins becoming a therapy dog who visited hospitals and retirement homes, spreading joy and happiness among the residents. This dream was crushed as soon as I realized Riggins distrusts anything with wheels. If you require a chair that is mobile, Riggins is not going to be your friend. 

Of course none of this is logical, but in Riggins' mind the only person worse than someone in a wheelchair is a person on horseback. He just can't figure out why any human would want to straddle the animal he believes was spawned by the devil himself!

What about your pup? Who doesn't your dog trust? Let us know in the comments.

Read related stories by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop, sacrificing her bed, and with other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Mon, 09 Mar 2015 04:00:00 -0700 /lifestyle/people-my-dog-does-not-trust-dogs-fear-kids-wheels
<![CDATA[Monkey the Saint Bernard Tries Out the RuffGrip Dog Leash]]> It's no secret that my 140-pound, 18-month-old Saint Bernard is a huge fan of pulling on the leash. Obviously this is a behavior we're working to fix, but in the meantime, my hands literally have peeling callouses that no amount of hand lotion can fix. Which is why when I was given the opportunity to try the RuffGrip leash that promises "no more rope burns," I was waving my tired hands in the air yelling, "Yes, please."

The folks at RuffGrip were kind enough to also send a matching, rolled 1-inch leather collar, which at $18.95 is an amazing deal for the classic, sophisticated look. Monkey was previously sporting a nylon collar that tended to slip and stretch when he pulled, so this was a welcome treat. Plus, a rolled leather collar doesn't mat his hair hair down like a flat collar does. Sure, you can't even really see it thanks to how furry Monkey is, but whatever, I know he's sporting a stylish collar, and that's all that matters.

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But back to the leash ...

The RuffGrip Leash combines rubber, nylon, and leather and promises to be practically indestructible. The woven design and leather "stops" every six inches prevent slipping so you have more control; the leather bands give your fingers something to grab onto when you need to shorten the leash. This means you never have to wrap the leash around your hand, which, thanks to Monkey's insane strength, would be a really stupid and dangerous thing for me to do, at least if I wanted to keep my fingers. To put the leash to a true test, I used it to walk Monkey around the Village at Squaw Valley, a Tahoe ski resort, but also doggy paradise.

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Squaw has every single thing that would make a dog want to pull: tons of outdoor food, throngs of people, snow that's just begging to be peed on, but mostly lots and lots of dogs, many off-leash. Did Monkey pull on our adventure? Sure. But was it much easier to control him since the leash wasn't burning my hands and fingers? Absolutely, thanks to the fact that it was easy to keep a firm grip without any of the slipping that happens with most leashes. Plus, now that I've used a leash with a padded leather handle, it would be impossible to go back to nylon. Does that make me sound a little spoiled? Sure. Do my hands deserve to be a little spoiled after a year and a half of being torn up by "regular" leashes? They definitely think so. 

The other good thing about the leash, especially considering Monkey is a part-time Tahoe dog, is that the grip works in any kind of weather. Sadly, we're in a major drought in California so I haven't been able to test the leash in the rain or snow yet, but RuffGrip promises that wet or dry, hot or cold, the leash won't slip. So far we've only tested it out in mild weather, but it's obvious that this leash is more durable than any others we've used, so I feel confident that it's going to last long enough for us to test it during snowy blizzards and sticky summer days. I mean, if South African security teams in Iraq use the leash in 135 degree F heat and if Alaskan rescue teams use it in freezing cold temps (both according to the makers), I have a feeling it's going to be perfect for me and Monkey and our California lifestyle.

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Dogster scorecard for the RuffGripp Leash

  • Quality: A++. Supple leather, rust-resistant brass hardware, reinforced stitching, and a rubber-ized woven nylon design that prevents leash burn and slippage make this leash the best one Monkey and I have tried yet.
  • Style: Simple and classic, this leash doesn't sacrifice any style for function.
  • Function: While this leash has been praised by the Arthritis Foundation for helping people with gripping or dexterity problems due to arthritis in their hand joints, it also works for anyone who has a dog who pulls or chews on leashes.
  • Creativity: It looks like a simple leash, but it's a lot more than that.
  • Value: I'm actually shocked at how affordable the leash and collar are. Monkey is obviously enormous, so he got the Premium 4-foot leash with a padded leather handle, which still only cost $35.49. 

Bottom line

The RuffGrip leash keeps my hands from hurting when Monkey pulls AND promises not to get tacky in hot weather or crack in cold weather. It's 100 percent my go-to leash from now on, and if you're my friend and you own a dog, you should probably expect to get one the next time I give you a gift. Which, I think, says it all. 

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Update: While the RuffGrip proved to be sturdy enough for Monkey, unfortunately this weekend, my friend's dog chewed through the leash in under 30 seconds. To be fair, this particular pup LOVES to chew leashes and I can only imagine that the leather felt just as satisfying as a chew toy as he made his way through it. Still, I felt like it was only fair to add in an update for anyone out there with a dog with a propensity for chewing on leashes. Good news though, if that's the case, RuffGrip does have a ChewGuard Leash Protector available for $10.95.

Read more dog product reviews by Daisy Barringer and Monkey:

About the author: Daisy Barringer grew up in San Francisco and didn't let the fact that she's a city girl keep her from getting her dream dog: a Saint Bernard. She and Monkey love to romp in the snow in Tahoe, visit dog-friendly bars, watch 49ers football, and drool. Yup, both of 'em.  

Thu, 26 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-product-reviews-ruffgrip-leather-leash-saint-bernard
<![CDATA[Do You Deceive Your Dog? Study Shows He Knows When You Lie]]> There are few things in the world that our beloved Rocky hates. But if he had opposable thumbs and could write down his list, the first three, in order, would be: "Going to the vet," "Going to the groomer," and "Going to either the groomer or the vet."

One day, when he was due for his annual checkup, I told Rocky it was time to go to daycare. Rocky LOVES daycare. If we say, "daycare," he runs to the backdoor and waits for us to put on his leash.

So, naturally, in an attempt to assuage his fears about the vet visit, I excitedly announced we were going to daycare. Happiness ensued. But as soon as we drove past his daycare building, on the way to the vet’s office, he knew something was up, and it wasn't good, and the mournful cries from the backseat soon followed.

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Rocky suddenly realizes Daddy lied about going to daycare, and he's headed to the vet instead.

I felt terrible. I had deceived that cute little face. And I thought, I can't do that again or he might associate the command, "Time to go to daycare!" not with happy fun-time with his buddies, but with the horror of the vet waiting room.

Turns out, my concerns were well-founded.

According to a study in the journal, Animal Cognition, Japanese researchers have determined that dogs can tell when you're lying to them.

Bad human!

"Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought," Dr. Akiko Takaoka, a researcher at Kyoto University and a co-author of the study, told the BBC. "This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans."

In the study, which was originally published last October, researchers tested 34 dogs and their interactions with a human and two containers, one holding a treat, the other empty.

In the first of three exercises, a human pointed at a container that held a treat and the dogs took the cheese, so to speak. In the second phase, the tester showed the dogs the contents of both containers and then pointed to the empty container. In the final phase, the experimenter pointed once again at the treat-filled container, just as in phase one, but the dog this time hesitated.

The result was that the dogs were much less likely to trust the human in phase three than in phase one. That suggests that they can tell when they are being deceived, and they know not to be too trusting.

To further test the theory, another individual was brought in to point at the full container. This time the dogs jumped at the box and ate the food.

The researchers say the behavior shows dogs are able to distinguish between a "good actor" and a "bad actor" and learn not to trust the person who deceived them.

"These results suggest that not only dogs are highly skilled at understanding human pointing gestures, but also they make inferences about the reliability of a human who presents cues and consequently modify their behavior flexibly depending on the inference," the report states in its abstract.


Read more news about dogs on Dogster:

About the author: Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer in Quincy, Mass. A former editor for and sportswriter for the Hartford Courant who covered the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team (Huskies!) and the Boston Red Sox, Jeff has authored two books on the UConn women: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015). He lives with his wife, Susan, and their rescue pup, Rocky, an Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix from a foster home in Tennessee, hence the name Rocky (as in Rocky Top).

Wed, 25 Feb 2015 08:00:00 -0800 /the-scoop/animal-cognition-study-human-dog-behavior-lies-trust
<![CDATA[How to Shovel a "Path to Poop" in the Snow for Your Dog]]> If you think winter weather is frightful for humans, just imagine what's going through the mind of your four-legged friend. There can be no more unpleasant sight than his backyard bathroom covered in several feet of fresh powder.

Seriously, you know the feeling of settling down on a ceramic toilet seat on a February morning in a room with no heat -- it's not pleasant. Now imagine feeling that sensation after walking from the bedroom to the bathroom naked and neck deep in snow.

Our beloved Rocky came to us from the great state of Tennessee. Home of the Vols and Graceland. Also home to a warm, Southern climate. Born in June 2011 and adopted by my wife and me in August of the same year, our little Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix had no idea what snow was until he found himself surrounded by it the following January at our home in Quincy, Mass.

Now, in some ways, he loves it. Give him a tennis ball and a snowbank and he can push the ball into the pile all day. And if properly motivated and curious, he turns into the Arctic Explorer and wanders into the deep end.

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Rocky navigates his Path to Poop amid seven feet of snow over four weeks at his home in Quincy, Mass.

But on a cold, snowy morning, with the winds whipping and the deck and yard covered in several inches, Rocky will stand at the doorway threshold and whimper and mope, begging us to not make him trudge up to his shoulders just to do his business.

It's a pathetic sight, and Susan and I realized after his first humiliating and frozen-furred foray that something needed to be done.

There was only one solution. We call it the PTP.

Path to Poop (and Pee).

It sounds so simple, and amazingly, it is. All you need is some canine compassion -- and a shovel.

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After snowstorm No. 3 since Jan. 24, I near completion of a newly shoveled PTP.

The strategy is simple. For every three or four inches of fresh show, we head out onto our deck and shovel a direct path from the back door, across the deck, down the stairs, and into the yard. From the stairs, we shovel a small walkway, a safe corridor, leading out to the main PTP landing area.

Once there -- about 20 feet past the deck and into his favorite corner of the yard for business-doing -- the corridor gives way to a pitcher’s mound-size circle, a space big enough for Rocky to feel comfortable, make a spin or two, then assume the position without his cute white belly contacting the cold white snowfall.

The challenge, of course, are storms like the ones we’ve had here in Eastern Mass., absorbed over the past four weeks. The first one was a blizzard that dumped 26 inches on Quincy. Do the math, 26 divided by 3 is roughly 9 -- and that's the number of times between 9 p.m. on Monday and 6 p.m. on Tuesday that Susan and I cleared out the PTP.

We even took turns. Susan went to sleep at 11 p.m., while I stayed up and shoveled at midnight and 2:30 a.m. Then Susan took over with shovel shifts and 5 a.m. and 7:30. Despite our best efforts, Rocky basically eschewed the whole process and held it in all day. He has no future with the Post Office.

Now, after another five feet of snow a week after three more mega-storms that set a Boston record for most in a single month (85 inches), Rocky’s PTP looks like Hoth, or, keeping with the theme, that climactic scene from Star Wars, where Luke flies his X-wing inside those huge, narrow trenches before dropping his explosive down the shaft. The side-walls are twice as tall as he is.

Next year, we have a new plan for Rocky’s bathroom breaks in winter. We’re moving to San Diego.

Here, in picture form, is the step-by-step process of creating a PTP:

1. Recoil in horror upon opening the back door

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2. Regroup and start at the beginning

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3. If your deck leads out into the yard, that first step down can be a doozy. Don't forget to clear the stairs

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4. Take a break. No heart attacks, please!

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5. OK, back to work. Create as much of a narrow path as necessary opening out to the "sweet spot"

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6. Don't forget: Size matters

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7. The finished product ... until the next storm fills it all back in. Clear, shovel, repeat

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His PTP complete, the Arctic Explorer ventures out into the wild white yonder.

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Read more about dogs and this weather we're having:

About the author: Jeff Goldberg is a freelance writer in Quincy, Mass. A former editor for and sportswriter for the Hartford Courant who covered the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team (Huskies!) and the Boston Red Sox, Jeff has authored two books on the UConn women: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015). He lives with his wife, Susan, and their rescue pup, Rocky, an Italian Greyhuahua/Jack Russell mix from a foster home in Tennessee, hence the name Rocky (as in Rocky Top).

Thu, 19 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/path-to-poop-pee-dog-bathroom
<![CDATA[DogDecoder App Helps People Interpret Dog Body Language]]> Dogs don't speak human. No matter how many times I ask Riggins, "What's wrong?" he doesn't respond. I have to read his body language for clues as to how he is feeling.

Recently I had hiked up to the Observatory in Los Angeles' Griffith Park with him and two other dogs I was sitting. We got to the main building before it opened for the day, and I did what I always do: pose the pups for a cute picture. As I secured the dog's leashes, I heard a woman behind me yell, "This isn't a good place for dogs." I turned around and asked what I felt was an obvious question, "Why?" She answered, "They might bite someone."

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My very unhappy dog at the Griffith Observatory. Excuse the blurriness. I needed to snap fast and get him out of there!

I looked back at the dogs, around the park at other dogs hanging out, and then at her. The woman had her granddaughter with her, and she was projecting her obvious fear onto the girl. Refocusing on the dogs, I noticed my pup had changed how he was standing. Responding to her new energy, he was curled up with his back up and his tail tucked, his eyes were big and round almost pleading with me. There was no doubt that his body language said, "Mom, this woman is cray cray. She better not get any closer!"

"Well shoot," I thought, "now he might bite you!"

Jill Breitner, a dog trainer for more than 35 years, explained to me that knowing how to read a dog's body language is extremely important and a skill everyone should have. The knowledge can save you from getting bit and can save a dog who was just being a dog from being unnecessarily villainized and possibly euthanized. 

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Jill Breitner and one of her dogs, Oscar. (Photo courtesy of Jill Breitner)

Upon hearing about my experience at Griffith Park, Breitner identified more signs that my dog gave me that day, ones I hadn't noticed. The "tongue flick," "tense body," and "head lowered" behaviors, which Breitner says are additional signs of stress, were all present.

To help humans better understand what their dogs are trying to say, Breitner worked with Jeff Bellsey, a technology expert, and Lili Chin, a professional artist, to build a smart phone app called DogDecoder. It does exactly what the name suggests: It helps you decode what your dog's body language is telling you. 

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The app goes through approximately 60 different dog poses, pairing each with one of Chin's illustrations. Each pose includes a descriptive title; an info page explaining what the app's dog, Diamond, is feeling and how he may respond if ignored; and a detail page that points out exact body language to look for. 

Going through the poses, I quickly found one that mirrored what my dog looked like at the observatory. The pose is titled Anxiety. From the info page I learned, "Timidity is the first step toward aggression." That bit of info is certainly one that any owner should know.

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Although all the poses from DogDecoder are important to learn, Breitner chose three poses from her app that she wanted to talk about in particular:

1. Warning -- Space Invader

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This is the body language of a dog who is about to bite. In the DogDecoder app, it explains it as Diamond the dog screaming, "GET AWAY!" 

This is the warning position that finally led Breitner to move forward with designing the app. In 2012, KUSA anchor Kyle Dyer was bitten in the face by Max, an Argentine Mastiff, who was part of a news story interview Dyer was conducting.

"The warning pose shown on the app is exactly what happened," Breitner explains. "I looked at the video, and I looked at it in slow motion, and it was very clear that dog was going to bite."

For Breitner, that incident was the last straw. She knew that she had to find a way to reach more people and teach them how to read dog body language.

2. Guarding Toy -- Space Invader

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DogDecoder details that pausing is an important signal for parents to learn, as children will sometimes misinterpret a dog's pause as an interaction when, in fact, it is a warning sign.

Families with children are often at high risk for misinterpreting dogs. Family pets are often expected to happily tolerate pulling, chewing, grabbing, and other actions from their human brothers and sisters. Breitner warns, "While some dogs will tolerate it, that doesn't mean it's OK." 

Breitner relives an example of a child and dog interaction that she witnessed, one that ended badly. Breitner was at a park when an 18-month-old boy spotted a Lab who was tied up against the fence by the child's play area. Instead of heading to play with the other toddlers, the child went straight for the dog.

"I was in slow motion at the other end of the park, thinking, 'Oh, no. Please don't let this happen. Please let the mother catch this kid first.'" The child wasn't stopped. "He [the toddler] walks over to the dog and gives the dog a hug, and the dog rips the side of his face off."

After running over to help the child and family, Breitner learned that the toddler's family had two Golden Retrievers, which the child hugs all the time. "That doesn't mean they can do that to any other dog." Breitner believes that educating children about dog body language can stop these kinds of dog bites from happening in the future.

3. Playful Biting a Person -- Prey Drive/Play

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DogDecoder explains that "this is one of the most misinterpreted interactions between dogs and humans!" Many times, a new dog owner will believe the dog is being aggressive. Putting herself in the mind of the dog, Breitner explains the pup's thinking, "I'm only eight weeks old, and the closest thing to my face is your leg so I'm going after it."

To the dog you are playing tug-of-war, and it's just a game. Since it isn't a game you want to encourage, in her app Breitner tells the owner to simply stop moving. "A dog's prey drive is activated by motion." You stop moving, and the dog will stop "attacking" the pretend prey.

Breitner and her team worked hard on DogDecoder and have a clear goal for its use. "The mission for the app is to have less people bitten because they understand dog body language, which turns into less dogs euthanized." 

You can purchase and download DogDecoder through the Apple store or Google Play. It costs just $3.99.

Read more on dog body language:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop, sacrificing her bed, and with other furry filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Wed, 18 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-decoder-body-language-behavior-app
<![CDATA[Dog Fitness and Agility Classes Challenge the Body and Mind]]> I love my dog, Finley, more than I ever could have anticipated loving any non-human being. But most of the time, I feel more like a camp counselor or cruise ship director than a pet parent. Living with a two-year-old Vizsla means constantly coming up with new ways to occupy a highly curious dog's time and attention.

Finley requires at least an hour of off-leash running and wrestling with other doggies in order to settle into her morning nap. And by mid-afternoon, she's ready for more action, whether or not I have deadlines to meet. I usually resort to taking her on a run or letting her loose at the park again, but I've come to learn that fulfilling a dog's need for stimulation isn't all about physical activity. There's the mental element as well.

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Finley is an active dog who loves her off-leash time outside.

So, like any modern-day pet parent, I took to the Internet to find a solution for my puppy problem. When I discovered The Martial Arfs dog training and fitness center, I nearly tripped running to the phone. The program requires no prior training and offers classes for dogs of all ages, abilities, and temperaments. The combination of physical challenge and mental stimulation sounded like the perfect outlet for Finley's excess energy. (And while most Martial Arfs students are highly active dogs, many owners bring their pets specifically to slim down, which is not surprising given that 53 percent of canines are overweight.)

The 4,200-square-foot facility on Long Island opened its doors in October of 2013, and it offers 12 classes, each with its own unique focus on aspects of canine wellness, and an introductory private session. CaPawEra, for instance, combines disc dog training and injury prevention to improve strength, stabilization, flexibility, body awareness, coordination, and rhythm. Meanwhile, TaiPoochi is a low-impact option for senior, arthritic, obese, or physically limited dogs. Finley and I attended a KaRuffTe beginner class, which covers basic physical conditioning for health and behavior modification.

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The Martial Arfs sells toys, treats, and stability equipment so you can recreate the challenging exercises at home. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

Our first challenge as new Martial Arfs students was for me to lure Finley onto four stability surfaces -- a succession of FitPaws inflated discs atop rubber donuts, each one more inflated than the last -- using a few of her favorite treats. Within moments, I could actually see her leg muscles twitching and practically hear the neurons firing in her brain as she attempted to steady her shoulders, elbows, knees, and hips.

As Martial Arfs Founder Jeris Pugh explained to me, dogs place about 60 to 70 percent of their weight on their front legs, so one of the goals of the movements is to force them to shift backward. Jeris also indicated that one of the primary purposes of the exercises is for dogs to improve their focus. Because of this, I was instructed to resist giving my dog verbal commands because it can be confusing and the idea is for your dog to do the hard work of learning how to earn the treat.

And work hard is just what Finley did. As I moved my goody-filled hand in, down, out, and up along her silhouette, she achieved various stances -- some imitating puppy pushups and squats, others more like modified stretching. Once Finley was comfortable on the free-standing stability equipment, we moved on to a dog balance beam that Jeris assembles specifically for his students.

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The Martial Arfs Founder Jeris Pugh lures Finley onto some shaky surfaces to test her balance. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

From the moment her fourth paw lifted from the ground, Finley became intensely shaky and nervous about following the lure, so we let her take a break. The point isn't to make your dog feel forced into a scary situation; the activity should be a positive experience. 

After the hour-long class filled with more dip, turn, and stretch postures than I ever thought imaginable, I chatted with Jeris to learn more about the inspiration and methodology behind his programs.

Essentially, The Martial Arfs is the marriage of his wife's career as an emergency and rehabilitative veterinarian and Jeris's own professional expertise in personal training. Dr. Eve Pugh, DVM, CVA, came up with the idea to help pets stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight to fend off arthritis, obesity, and other issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Given her husband’s more than 15 years of experience teaching martial arts to kids (many with issues such as ADHD), the couple was poised to combine their knowledge to benefit four-legged students.

The goal, at least for most pet owners, is to redirect their dog's attention to something physically productive and mentally challenging, while discouraging misbehavior as the result of hyperactivity.

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Finley demonstrates a puppy push-up with Jeris Pugh as I watch. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

Granted, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to dog "academies" and "universities" for training, but The Martial Arfs stands out from the pack in how it combines health and fitness with behavior modification. Jeris refers to it as "Obedience Through Exercise." So while your dog can learn to "sit," "stay," and "come" at any run-of-the-mill training class, the coordinating physical activities are what make the curriculum far more challenging.

These elements come from Jeris's experience in dog agility and sports, like disc dog and flyball, along with specific aspects of canine rehabilitation from his wife's practice. What also makes The Martial Arfs different from other programs is that everyone (and his or her dog) is participating at the same time, whereas traditional programs typically have dogs working one at a time while others simply wait. 

This was probably the most valuable part of The Martial Arfs experience for Finley and me -- the constant activity to occupy her attention. I was surprised to see that she seemed less interested in what the other dogs were doing (she usually can't resist other pups) and more interested in working with me on maintaining her balance on an inflatable peanut.

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I help Finley stretch at the end of class. (Photo by Betsy Casser)

In fact, it's that very special dog-owner bond that The Martial Arfs works to strengthen. "Obedience training always works best when the owner works with the dog to improve behavior," Jeris said. "I can train anyone's dog, but then their dog would listen to me better than the owner. I'd have to teach the owner what to do, regardless, or their dog would never maintain the good behavior." What's more, the bonding experience during class helps build a trust between pet and person. The stability equipment and exercises can be daunting, but a benevolent leader assures the dog that everything is okay.

Beyond confirming my suspicion that owner-led training would solidify communication between Finley and me, Jeris told me exactly what I need to hear when it comes to my usual daily routine: "Taking your dog to the dog park and letting her run around with other dogs is great to burn off energy, but [it] doesn't improve your dog's behavior or the dog-owner relationship," he said. "When you create a positive structure that teaches your dog interacting with you is the most fun they can have, they'll want to do whatever you say."

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Finley and I indulge in a rare shared moment of rest.

I left class with renewed optimism that my only option wasn't just letting Finley run herself ragged at the park for hours every day. I could take what I learned in class and recreate it at home with inflatable gear bought at The Martial Arfs, or even using pillows, boxes, or chairs around the house. Since Jeris recommends making this kind of exercise a lifestyle, not just a once-a-week-at-class activity, I owe it to Finley and myself to challenge ourselves with the balance and coordination exercises we learned in KaRuffTe on a daily basis. I have a feeling she's more than up for it.

Read related stories on Dogster:

About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).

Wed, 11 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-agility-behavior-obedience-training-for-active-dogs-martial-arfs
<![CDATA[10 Random Acts of Canine-Inspired Kindness ]]> February 9 through 15 marks Random Acts of Kindness Week. It's a social phenomenon that's been gathering steam over the last few years and has resulted in many local news stories about strangers doing good deeds and creating chain reactions of downright nice behavior. It's a worthwhile week for sure, so how can dog lovers get in on the action and pay a nice thing forward?

Hers are 10 impulsive actions dog folks can take to get into the spontaneous spirit of Random Acts of Kindness Week.

1. Buy extra food

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Because every dog deserves a full bowl.

If you already have to pick up pet food, why not throw a little extra in the cart and swing by a shelter on your way home? Some pet stores are helping people skip the second step by placing donation bins by the exit door. Just put your extra bag of food in the bin, and your good deed for the day is done.

2. Pay for the next customer

Take a page from the book of the coffee buyers paying it forward in the drive-through line and offer to pick up the tab for the next person in line at the pet store. Maybe the person behind you is buying food for her dog instead of herself, or maybe they've got more than enough money in the bank and will be inspired to repeat your action. It's a simple thing that can start a chain reaction of kindness or help a dog-human pair who really needs that paw up.

3. Add some extra dogs to your walk

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I think he would go with anyone who offered to walk him.

Did your friend just have a baby? Or maybe your neighbor recently slipped on the ice and threw his back out? Sometimes even the most loving dog owners are temporarily unable to get their dogs out as much as the animals need. If you have a friend nearby who is recovering from surgery or illness, maybe stop by his place during your daily stroll and ask if his pooch would like to tag along with your pack.

4. Make a quick online donation to a shelter

But what if you hardly have the time to walk your own dog? Consider then a quick and painless online donation during Random Acts of Kindness Week. It'll take five minutes to log on to your favorite shelter or rescue's website and hit the Paypal link. It doesn't even have to be a big donation -- a random five bucks is totally in the spirit of the week.

5. Give kibble to homeless dog guardians

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A few servings of kibble would mean a lot to a hungry dog.

Anyone who has lived in a big city knows that sometimes homeless people have companion animals, and while some folks argue that the dogs would be better off somewhere else, plenty say the dogs are better off with their humans than in a shelter. This week, help those homeless humans help their dogs. You can make up some kibble doggy bags and take them with you on your commute. An extra large freezer bag full of dog food would be easily portable, and it could help sustain a homeless animal companion for at least a few days.

6. Take dog food to the food bank

Sometimes dogs in need have a roof over their heads but need food in their bowls. Sudden financial difficulties such as a job loss can make it hard for people to provide for their pets, so many food banks accept dog food to help people and their pets get back on their feet (and paws). If your local food bank has a kibble kitchen, consider dropping off a bag or two. Donating bags of (sealed) dog food could mean the difference between a family staying together or sending a four-legged member to a shelter.

7. Pick up the extra poop

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Man prepares to pick up his Pug's poop by Shutterstock.

We've all been there -- our pooch pauses to poop, and when we bend to pick it up, we find he's not the first dog to have done his business in that spot. This week, be kind to the other dogs and people who use your park or route and pick up what the last dog's human didn't (or couldn't, as who hasn't left the house with one bag and needed two). If the idea of unknown dog poop freaks you out, maybe you could double bag your hand before bending down -- and also carry hand sanitizer.

8. Pay someone's vet bill

Maybe you're feeling pretty flush with cash these days, but know someone who's been struggling with an expensive medical issue for her pet. Why not call up the vet and ask if you can put $50 or $100 toward that person's bill? You don't even need to tell your fellow animal lover what you did. Alternatively, if your own pet has a vet visit scheduled this week, why not ask the clinic staff if they know any patients who could use a bit of a break? Your $20 could mean so much more to someone who really needs it.

9. Contribute to a crowdfund

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This image of Pugsy the rescue dog is from a crowdfunding campaign for his medical expenses. You can donate at gofundme.

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching the vet's office with your offers of generosity, you can always make a similar impact online. The practice of crowdfunding for a pet's medical expenses is common on sites like GoFundMe and FundRazr. If you're wary about where crowdfunded money is actually going when you give to a stranger, you can turn to PetChance -- a site that pays the veterinary hospital directly.

10. Be a dog park angel 

Get yourself some gift certificates for pet supplies and head to the dog park. You could drop the gift certificates on the ground or tie them to trees. You could hand them to people or put them on parked cars. If you really want to your act of kindness to be contagious and paid forward, you could even leave a little note on the gift certificate, explaining what Random Acts of Kindness Week is and how you and your dog are celebrating it. Hopefully your kindness will be infectious.

How are you celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Week? What acts have we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Read more stories about dog lovers involved in good causes:

About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.

Mon, 09 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/random-acts-of-kindness-week-dogs-causes
<![CDATA[8 Dog Park Etiquette Tips]]> I've been taking Riggins to the dog park since he was a puppy. He grew up in a one-dog household with me as his only constant companion. I credit the socialization he got at the dog park, in large part, for the happy, playful, and sweet boy he is today.

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Riggins takes a break at the Silverlake Dog Park in Los Angeles, California. (All photos by Wendy Newell)

Now that Riggins is nine years old, his activity at the dog park has changed from seeking out friends for wrestling matches to chasing the balls I throw with my trusty Chuckit. Recently, I've witnessed a number of dog park faux pas and thought it might be a good time for us all to brush up on etiquette. Here are eight tips for having a happy dog park experience. 

1. Take a pre-park walk

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Clover shows how a calm dog enjoys Hermon Dog Park in Los Angeles while Beaux serves as an example of an overexcited dog.

With our busy schedules, we dog owners often use a trip to the dog park as a way to poop out our energetic pups. That means the dogs coming in are at their peak level of energy. This may be the first real exercise they have gotten in hours, sometimes all day. You know this is what happened whenever you see a dog charge through the gate and head face first into trouble. 

The dog park should be used for socialization as well as mental and physical exercise, and to do that safely a pup needs to come in calm and relaxed. If your dog is unable to enter the park without the energy of a kid in a candy store, take a pre-park walk around a block or two. 

2. Mind the gates

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Damsel and Dexter take a lap around the Laurel Canyon dog park in Los Angeles.

Most dog parks have two or even three gates you have to go through before getting in or out of the main park area. One of the reasons for these gates is to keep unleashed dogs inside. No matter how eager your dog is to get inside and join the fun or to go home, make sure you enter and exit safely. You should only go into the "leashing and unleashing" area when there is no one, or no other dog, inside. If someone is already in the process of going in or coming out, stop, step aside, and wait your turn. 

Always close and secure each gate behind you as you move through it. Just because your dog is ready to move on safely, that doesn't mean a dog on either side of the gate is ready to do the same.

3. Go leash-free

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Shadow enjoys some off-leash fun at the Griffith Park dog park in Los Angeles.

If a dog park is off-leash, you need to take the leash off your dog. Do so in that area between the two gates when there is no other dog around and you can make sure your dog is calm, cool, and collected before heading in to be with the masses. 

A dog on a leash, when all others are off, can cause trouble. A leashed dog is a magnet for other dogs to come check out, and when that happens the poor pup on the leash can easily get scared because of his inability to react the way he wants: to get away. This can be a recipe for a brawl.

4. Stay calm

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Riggins and Shadow wait patiently for me to throw the ball at the Griffith Park dog park in Los Angeles.

Us humans can really be a cuckoo bunch, especially when caged together in a dog park with our furry babies next to us. I've seen rational humans morph into insane lunatics in reaction to something or someone.

Calm down, take a deep breath, and walk away -- do anything that helps you NOT become "that guy." When you put a bunch of dogs together and then add very opinionated owners, you are bound to have a scuffle now and then. As long as no one is hurt, pick yourselves up, shake it off, and move on.

Dogs will react to the emotions of the humans around them, especially THEIR humans. When you go crazy, your dog is sure to follow, and that isn't good! 

5. Follow the rules regarding age and keep kids close

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Shadow and her running buddy at the Alice dog park in Pasadena.

Many dog parks prohibit children under a certain age from entering. Even if they are allowed, they need to be closely watched (as in stay right next to them). Just because your dog is good with your kid, that doesn't mean other dogs will be. Letting a child be unsupervised around unfamiliar dogs, who are just being dogs in a park designated for their kind, is unfair to both species.

6. Keep the party small

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Shadow, Asscher, and Riggins enjoy a water break at the Alice dog park in Pasadena.

Be aware of any rules your dog park has limiting the number of dogs one person can bring inside. Even if there isn't a rule, only take as many dogs as you can watch at once. 

7. Leave human food at home

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Sadie is pretty sure that the human has treats, and she is going to get some.

Don't bring human food into a dog park -- ever. You are just asking for trouble. 

And be very careful with dog treats. If you MUST have them for training reasons, keep them wrapped up tight so other dogs can't smell them, and only treat when no other dogs are around. You don't know which dogs at your park are food-possessive, and triggering a fight isn't a great way to find out!

8. Let the dogs teach each other

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Asscher and her dog park BFF wrestle at the Alice dog park in Pasadena.

The BEST thing that ever happened to Riggins at a dog park was when he was a puppy. He pissed off an older dog by not heeding his "get back" warnings and found himself at the bottom of a dog pile. He was yelping, but it was obvious he was not being hurt. He was being taught a lesson. When I got to him, I did a quick check to make sure he was okay and told him to walk it off. Now if there is a scuffle at a dog park, Riggins does not run toward it like many dogs do. Instead he glances up and then goes on with his important job of peeing on things.

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Asscher is a big fan of the Chuckit!

If you tend to be overprotective of your pooch and don't let dog lessons happen, you may be inadvertently teaching your pup to be afraid of other dogs and react negatively. Which is the exact opposite of why you are going to the dog park in the first place!

Do you have any tips for the dog park? Share them in the comments below!

Read more stories by Wendy Newell:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of "always be closing" to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy's new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

Fri, 06 Feb 2015 06:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/dog-park-rules-etiquette
<![CDATA[5 Steps to Get Reliable Recall in a Multi-Dog Household]]> It can be no easy feat getting just one dog to come back, but getting four to return all at once can be close to a miracle.

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One member of my pack, Otis, and me.

Just standing still and yelling my dogs' names in tandem with the word "come" and crossing my fingers wasn't cutting it. Sometimes I'd get one dog, sometimes three, but never all of them at once. Sometimes I'd get someone else's dog. Then I'd be left standing there wondering if one of my dogs was missing.

You've likely been to a dog park or at least in an area where your dogs can have some safe, well-deserved off-leash time. If you're like I once was, when that leash comes off, your dogs' listening skills seem to completely disappear. It's like those furry ears turn to stone. As a completely blind person with four dogs as beloved members of my household, recall is something that is even more so of a necessity for me.

So, how do you get multiple dogs to reliably come back all at once, even with distractions? Here are steps to take based on experience training my pack.

1. Gather your supplies

If you have any experience training your dogs, you know that the first thing to figure out is what they consider a highly desired reward. For most dogs, a nice, smelly treat broken into bite-sized pieces is perfect. For my dogs, I use dehydrated beef liver. You are also going to need a whistle. It really doesn't matter what kind of whistle, but make sure it's small enough to fit in a pocket or on a key ring and that it can be heard from a distance.

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Can't you see I'm busy here?

2. Plan training sessions

Next, set aside some time to train with your dogs in a non-distracting environment, like your living room. Two to five minutes is plenty of time. You will want to work with each dog individually at first. Add dogs into the mix as the concept of "whistle equals treat" starts to sink in.

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Still busy.

3. Load the whistle and treat!

With your treats, whistle, and dog all ready, the training can begin. If you have read about or done any clicker training, this will be easy for you. Even if you haven't done any clicker training, don't worry -- this will still be easy. The idea is to "load" the whistle. In plain English, that means you want the dog to associate the sound of the whistle with getting a treat from you. Instead of clicking and treating, you are going to toot the whistle and treat. Repeat this whistle tooting and treat feeding until you are out of treats. It's that simple. Each dog will learn at a different pace, so be patient. My black Lab, Roscoe, who is my retired guide dog, for example, only needed one loading session, whereas, Otis, my French Bulldog, needed about five.

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Did you call?

4. Reinforce the training

The key to this exercise is to gradually up the distraction level of the environment. A fun and easy way to practice inside is at feeding time. Put your dog in a sit-stay and walk away with the food. Place the bowl in front of you and blow the whistle. Watch your dog tear toward you, and dinner, the exact thing you want to have happen when you are at a dog park. Once your dog comes back to you in the house off-leash, move the training outside on a regular-length leash. Eventually the dog will learn that "toot" means treat, and the situational deafness will subside.

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Did someone blow a whistle?!

5. Up the stakes

Now you know that your dog will come back to you in the house, and you've loaded the whistle outside. Now it's time to really test your dog. As I'm sure you've heard from dog trainers, you want to set your dog up for success. If you think returning to the whistle outside when completely free might be too much of a challenge at first, put your dog on a lunge line, a much longer leash, and practice from various distances. Start with a couple of feet and slowly give your dog more room. If you are consistent and put in the time, this technique should work.

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This recall stuff is hard work.

Some trainers say that eventually you can stop treating your dog, but I prefer the interval approach instead. This means that when the dogs are returning reliably, only give them a treat every second or third return. This will keep the dogs guessing as to when a treat will be delivered. For me, recall is so important that giving out an extra few treats to ensure the game stays fun is okay with me. Gone are the days of "Nala, Roscoe, Otis, Hermione ... come" and having no response.

Also gone are the days of standing there helplessly, feeling like an idiot while my dogs did whatever it was they were doing. Now when I take my dogs out for off-leash fun, I feel confident that I can keep track of them even though I can't see them. The whistle recall has brought back a yellow Lab-Golden Retriever who was determined to jump into a muddy pond. It has pulled a French Bulldog out of play with other dogs, and it has even brought back a black Lab from a pile of bread he was about to eat. There's no other feeling like blowing your whistle and having four dogs, large and small, stop on a dime and come thundering back toward you, ears flapping and tongues lolling. It's not just about pride, though. It's about safety as well.

Do your dogs have good recall? How did you accomplish it? Tell us your techniques in the comments!

Read more dog-training stories on Dogster:

About the author: Jessica Hodges, a full time Masters of Social Work student, lives with her husband, four dogs, and two rescue cats. Her first puppy, a yellow Labrador given to her at age six, sparked her love of dogs. Not only does she have the joy of sharing her home with four unique and loving pups, but she also has the privilege of traveling through life with a Golden Retriever Lab mix named Nala as her constant companion and eyes. Upon graduation, Jessica hopes to incorporate Animal Assisted Therapy into her practice and make the world a better place, one tail wag at a time.

Fri, 06 Feb 2015 02:00:00 -0800 /lifestyle/reliable-recall-multiple-dogs-dog-training