Faith, Trust, & Foster Pups

Helping dogs on the road to forever, forever finding ourselves as we walk that road with them.


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Dog Bite Prevention Week: Doing Right by Reactive Dogs, and My Dog Park Diatribe

Yesterday I wrote in detail about dog bite prevention from the perspective of someone living with an extraordinarily wonderful dog with a blemish on his record, because of his own fear based reactive behavior. When dealing with a reactive dog, especially one who already has a bite history, the attention to management in conjunction with a behavior modification/training program is critical. While I touched a bit on the training piece, the point was not to talk about our training plan or progress as much as it was the management tactics that keep people safe. Having said that, I do want to emphasize the importance of both. Management alone will not help a reactive dog develop coping strategies or change their state of mind, and so if you are dealing with a reactive dog, please be sure that you consult a professional trainer while implementing steps to keep you, your dog, and the world around them safe. With big love, sometimes there come big responsibilities, so please be responsible with your furry loved ones.

Okay – moving on, I would like to now speak on behalf of myself and all the nice people out there who are caring for dogs like mine. And I would like to thank Jessica Dolce for creating www.dogsinneedofspace.com – who much of what is to follow is credited to.

Keep in mind that not all dogs needing space are necessarily reactive, but mine is. And we’re working on it. But, just like people have good days and bad days, dogs have them too. Some days are worse than others. It’s embarrassing and makes me feel awful when my dog makes a scene. I feel awful for him as it is, because I see the struggle going on in his doggy brain, but feeling a burning stare from someone who slows their step, or worse, having to explain or apologize to someone trying to engage in conversation about my dog in the middle of a meltdown, turns a bad situation to worse times about 1,000.

I understand that most humans don’t need to fiercely protect their dog against the world (or the world against my dog) in the same way I do, and for a very long time, I probably fell into the “My Dog Is Friendly” patterns. So believe me when I say I see both sides of the coin on this issue.

Dogs In Need of Space created a great handout that outlines some of the requests of dogs like Balton – which can be viewed and explained HERE (and printed for easy real world sharing!). In short, the requests are:

1. Obey Leash Laws
2. Ask Permission Before Approaching
3. Listen to our Response
4. Respect Our Space
5. Do Not Give Chase

6. Lock your Leashes
7. Be Kind
8. No Matter How Nice You Are, the Rules Still Apply

While I will admit that no one has ever really chased us with their dogs (Balton doesn’t typically let that happen), kindness and space respecting are two that we we struggle with (we also do have a neighbor who seems to think he and his dog are above the leash law, and gives me dirty looks when both my on-leash dogs start flipping out when we encounter him on the trail).

While it pains me that the leash-walking world is unable to see the loving, gentle, wonderful dog I spend time with at home, and while I wish my dog COULD say hi to you, I’ve learned well enough the importance of space and not pushing the limits of my dog. I’ve learned when he has a meltdown, it does little to help when you and your walking partner slow down to ask what THAT dog’s problem is, so we can regroup or move on. It does less to help when you stop and ask the human of the muzzled dog you got too close to, who is now lunging at you, “does he bite sometimes?” as if that wasn’t already obvious. “Yes, he bites sometimes, so please keep moving.”

It’s awesome that you are friendly, but my dog really isn’t looking for new friends right now. Not while we are out on walks, anyway. They are too scary for him. So please, on behalf of the Baltons of the world, try to look at the dog acting like a werewolf at the end of his leash just a little differently, with a little more kindness in your eyes, and give him some room to breathe, while he learns how to deal with the big, fascinating, but sometimes scary world around him. The human on the other end of the leash in all likelihood isn’t a big anti-social jerk, nor are they an irresponsible pet owner. But they have a lot going on already, and they are trying to help protect their dog, while also being cognizant enough to protect the world from them as needed.

Notes on Dog Bite Prevention at Dog Parks:

I also mentioned that the Dog Park is a better space for Balton, likely because he can retreat as needed, without having to resort to a reacting at the scary things. People look at me like I am a liar when I tell them Balton has stranger danger while he is at the dog park. But, people can still make him nervous. When dogs give clear body language that they are uncomfortable, and we don’t listen, this is what can cause them to speak more loudly. As I stated yesterday, any dog can bite, and properly greeting a dog is important, regardless of whether that dog is naturally nervous or not.

So, here’s me standing on my soapbox about dog parks. I am of the belief that humans have many, many, many parks to enjoy in, and dogs have far less. Even the sweetest dogs run fast and play rough at dog parks, so it’s my firm belief that humans who enter into dog parks need to have a good understanding of dog body language. We’re in their territory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go into the woods to go camping and expect the bears to adapt to human behavior, and I don’t go to a foreign country expecting people to speak English (unless I guess I’m in England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, and some parts of Canada). Most bites come from inappropriate greetings, and just because dogs do well at dog parks, doesn’t make it any more okay to be rude. Dogs have a right to play off leash without being terrorized, and when you’re a fearful dog parent like me, we don’t need any more safe places taken away from us because human rudeness creates a bad experience at the dog park.

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We also like to run and play, so do us a favor and help keep it that way!

Dr. Sophia Yin goes over the principle of how dogs bite when greeted inappropriately, and how inappropriate greeters also put the lives of fearful dogs at risk, in this well written article. I encourage you to read it over and give some thought to what is being said.

At the risk of sounding like Miss Hannigan from Annie, I admit I also have a pretty strong cringe factor about when people bring their kids to the dog park. Recently, our county community dog park group opened, and they have a rule about kids under age 11 being there at all, and it is a rule that is constantly broken. The rule was established because even the most kid-friendly dogs can play rough at the dog park, and frankly, not all dogs like kids. Balton actually does fine with kids at the dog park while he’s off leash, but i watch him like a hawk and typically try to steal his attention with a soccer ball (ever grateful he has discovered that particular leisure activity) so he isn’t allowed to interact with them long enough to get overwhelmed. I do not want my dog to bite your child. I don’t want my dog to bite anyone, actually, as I hope I have made clear. If we find ourselves in a situation that we don’t think he can handle, we help him escape, and leave if necessary.

Having said that, it sucks a lot of joy out of our lives when we have to leave the dog park because there are little people running around, flailing about, picking up dog toys and playing with them (and seeming shocked when dogs show interest), running away when an overexcited dog starts chasing or mouthing at them, or bringing in an ice cream cone and shrieking when a circle of dogs stick their nose in their business. All of these things have happened at the park while I’ve been there, and not necessarily with my dog being the guilty dog party involved. I’ve also watched kids hover over dogs that are not their family pet, being completely inappropriate in their greetings, while their parents stand a good couple of hundred feet away. If you can’t keep your kid with you in the dog park, the kid shouldn’t be there.

Realizing that some people are going to bring their kids to the park, regardless of what rules are in place, this little document was created to state:

  1. Why your kid and the dog park don’t mix.
  2. What you should do and know if you insist on bringing your kid there and taking a risk with their safety. I’m not trying to tell people how to parent, but realize you ARE taking a risk with their safety when you take your kids to play with large quantities of strange, off leash dogs.

So, this post has gone on a little longer than I intended, and has already covered a couple different topics. So tomorrow, I’ll let Ollie chime in via the Ollie Pop Bloggie Stop, so he can offer his own advices on dog bite prevention, even with dogs like him, who are pretty much happy to see everyone and have never bitten anyone. He has made it clear that he REALLY doesn’t want to bite anyone in his young life, and would like to tell you what you can do so he never has to.

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I like to dress up as a shark, but I don’t like to act like one!

Meanwhile, for more complete information on Dog Bite Prevention Week (and making every week your own personal Dog Bite Prevention Week), visit www.doggonesafe.com

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Dog Bite Prevention Week – Safety Tips From Someone with a Dog that Bites

This week is dog bite prevention week. And so, what better way to celebrate than adopting a dog who needs a little extra support when it comes to preventing a bite?

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There, I said it. Let’s all just quickly acknowledge the 800 lb gorilla in the room, masked in the body of a Shepherd with adorable ears, so we can go back to not making eye contact with him, tossing a couple delicious treats on the floor for him to find, and I will then happily escort him out and put him in his crate upstairs with a frozen marrow bone.

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“Well, surely, you don’t mean me, Mama!”

Oh, but yes I do, my dear, sweet, Balton.

For the last 8 months, I have fostered a dog who bites. This weekend, I adopted a dog who has a bite history, because I have learned (partly through my educational development, and partly through my mistakes) how to safely handle him, and wish to provide him a good quality of life, as well as continued opportunities to build his confidence and learn skills to help him cope with and better handle his fears in public settings. And you know what, I need to own that fact, and be responsible in dealing with that fact for our own betterment, and in a way that maybe can help increase some awareness, create some empathy, and help us all learn and grow together.

A preliminary note: Even if you have a little dog whose bites have the capacity to cause less damage, or a dog who has put their teeth on skin, but hasn’t actually done damage, you need to deal with the cold, hard fact that those bites count, and any dog that bites, or has bitten, needs help. “Little bites” can lead to big problems if not addressed, and getting to the root of the problem and addressing it is so, so, important. See Dr. Sophia Yin’s article on “Was It Just A Little Bite or More? Evaluating Bite Levels in Dogs” for more information.

Here’s what we know – Balton is reactive to people on leash (and although he does better with accepting them when they also have a dog, he is a bit of a frustrated greeter with dogs on leash, which isn’t exactly helpful for his situation). He is also reactive to strange people in our home. Namely, he reacts in places and situations where he feels he is unable to retreat. He has had a good history of providing people clear “please stay away” messages for some time, but unfortunately, Balton has also had a couple incidents early on where his teeth made contact with scary humans. No medical attention was required in these early incidents, and his teeth left little more evidence than a bruise in all incidents. But, the bite is what made the scary thing go away, and ultimately, he learned what got results.

There’s a good piece on how practice makes perfect on a Paws Abilities, a training blog I follow, which states, “the more your dog engages in any behavior, whether you approve of that behavior or not, the better your dog will get at performing that behavior.” Such is the case with Balton. He practiced biting people, and got results. Ergo, he got pretty good at practicing biting and learning that if barking while backing himself into a corner wouldn’t make his voice heard (I presume he used more subtle communication tools with strangers before we began fostering him, but can’t speak well to those since he wasn’t with us at the time), the best defense would be a good offense.

Multiple trainers have affirmed that Balton’s behavior is a fear response. He doesn’t seek to hurt, but to create space.

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Nevertheless, he can (and regretfully, has), hurt people in his efforts to create space, and I would be an idiot to act like this isn’t a real problem. Having said that, it is my hope that people would be empathetic of DINOS (Dogs in Need of Space) like Balton. And that people would also understand while Balton is the canine embodiment of Level 57 Tetris, all dogs are like a Tetris board. And all dogs can be pushed to bite.

Let me repeat that. All dogs can, and will, bite, if their warning messages go unheeded. Also, all dogs have a need for and a right to their own personal space. Some dogs have a stronger need for personal space then others.

Balton has a stronger need for personal space than Ollie does. Ollie is an exceptionally tolerant and sociable dog, and even though he (as does any dog) has his limits, I would liken him to Tetris Level 3. It takes a lot to get him to a point where he feels a need to growl or snap. I’ll take on the “easy” dogs in my next post, but as a new reactive dog owner, I may as well embrace it and go into detail on what we do to prevent a dog bite, which is significantly more challenging and requires a great deal more management than what we do to prevent a dog bite with Ollie.

As Balton’s handler and caretaker, it is my responsibility to protect him, and protect others, by managing him, and the space between the things that cause him to react. Here is a list of things I do:

  • When we walk out on leash, Balton wears a basket muzzle.
    Now, I get that there’s a wacky stigma of using the muzzle, and for a long time we didn’t use it because we were so self-conscious about it. In hindsight, that was mega poor judgment. He has gotten comfortable with wearing it, and he can pant, receive treats, and drink with it on. But what he can’t do is bite people. We had a terrifying experience one evening, where Balton actually broke away from us, despite our best management tactics, and clipped a bypasser that got him particularly freaked out on the leg, which sadly was the catalyst for the muzzle on all walks to follow (though we had used it previously in introducing him to our dog walker). The guy went to the ER, and although he went home with no more than antibiotics, we were horrified and felt horrible. Balton was quarantined for 10 days. And if the guy wasn’t so kind about the fact that he was a rescue in rehabilitation, it could have been a lot worse.From that point on, we were not willing to risk any future damages caused by a bite. We use the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle, which is made of a soft, Kong-like rubbery/plasticky material. He is unbothered by it and happily sticks his nose in for a treat before our walks. Getting your reactive dog comfortable with a muzzle is important, so this piece from Best Friends Animal Society is useful for reviewing when you utilize this management tactic. No one benefits if your dog is extra stressed because of the muzzle.
  • We work with a trainer, and do our homework.
    Balton is enrolled in a Relaxing Rowdy Rovers class at All About Dogs, which provides us professional direction to skill build and develop management strategies, while helping change Balton’s state of mind and reduce his stress in settings that make him uncomfortable. A good piece on how to choose a good trainer can be found here at Love and a Six-Foot Leash. We go to All About Dogs because they fit the criteria in this piece, including encouraging us sit in on a class to observe, speak to trainers, and make sure it was the right fit for him. Of course, no training class can truly help us unless we put in the work outside of the classroom walls. They give us homework each week, and we do it. I also do a good deal of independent study, which helps me understand the hows and whys of reactive dogs. More on that as I work to build our resources page, but we are fans of Suzanne Clothier, Grisha Stewart, Victoria Stilwell, Karen Pryor, Jean Donaldson, Dr. Sophia Yin, and Dr. Ian Dunbar, to name a few.
  • We take the road less traveled.
    Although on leash encounters can’t always be avoided, we try to minimize them by sticking to wide roads that have exit routes, and work to avoid narrow trails if we can. If we see joggers, cyclists, or families with their dogs and strollers up ahead, we get off the trail, make a u-turn, or do whatever we have to in order to create space and keep under threshold.
  • We try to make it clear as can be that we need space.
    This is an example of what your dog can wear to communicate this message:

    Balton the Brave
    And this is an example of what you, as their human, can wear:
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    Balton’s vest was hand made by a talented Lucky Dog Animal Rescue volunteer, but a version can be purchased from The Pawsitive Dog, LLC. The human shirt can be acquired through the Team DINOS Store. And, in the absence of clearly labeled “give us space” garb (or in combination with it), never underestimate the power of standing up for your dog.

  • We do not force him on guests, nor do we force guests on him.This is a critical error we had made in the past, when we wanted so badly for Balton to be okay with people coming to our home, and because we didn’t know what the heck we were doing. Our fearful dog fails of exposing him to what scared him, at a level that overwhelmed him, created great fear in Balton, and in most cases, also created fear in our guests because Balton could not make it out without needing to react. While we work on the best ways to safely and effectively get Balton comfortable with strangers in the home, our best bet is to minimize exposure so nobody gets hurt. This typically means using 2 forms of management, in case one fails. Last weekend, my sister and her 18 month old baby came to visit for a few days. The first night, Balton went up to his crate behind the closed door of our bedroom to rest, after being thoroughly exhausted from time at training class. He was happily occupied with a bully stick, removed from his stressor, and my family was safe from Balton’s reactions to stress. The next morning, Balton went to board at Wagtime until they left the following day. Meanwhile, we adults managed our far-less-reactive dog safely at home with our nephew (this will be integrated into tomorrow’s post about dog bite prevention). We picked Balton up after their visit, he was happily tired, and no humans were bit during their visit. As we learned from Balton, the best defense can indeed be a good offense, so why risk anyone having to put up defenses and getting hurt in the process?

I’ll save for tomorrow the next part of the conversation – on what YOU can do to help dogs like Balton when you encounter them in the world, and how to also prevent bites among the Ollies and dogs in between of this world (if we can get there tomorrow – may have to save that until Saturday for our Dog Bite Prevention closer).

Meanwhile, for more complete information on Dog Bite Prevention Week (and making every week your own personal Dog Bite Prevention Week), visit www.doggonesafe.com


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Confessions of a Foster Failure

Hi, my name is Lynn, and I’m foster failure.

2 years and 2 months ago, I started fostering dogs. Over and over, I welcomed dogs into my home, and lovingly passed the leash onto their new happy ever after. Although I sobbed my heart out the first time I did this, with each temporary house guest that followed, we became more skilled in the art of Loving and Letting Go. I felt triumphant in the fact that while I had often considered my previous fosters were to stay with me, I ended up being proven wrong over and over as my fosters trotted off into the sunset with their new families. And I was happy about it, because it meant I could continue my foster chronicles with the next dog. One more dog saved, one more dog adopted. Just like every rescue with limited resources, I realized my own individual resources were limited within the context of that rescue. I knew if I were to adopt, fostering would have to stop.

When Balton came into our lives, I expected that he would be no different than the others. Though he was returned to Lucky Dog within days of his first adoption for bad behavior, I had met him at adoption events before and thought for sure the aggression being reported was simply misunderstood behavior. It sounded nothing like the Balton I had known. Surely in a home who had seen as many fosters to success as ours, Balton would shine once more and be adopted again in no time. So, sure, we would foster him and help him find that right fit forever home.

Little did we know at that time, we wouldn’t as much be preparing Balton go to his new home as much as we would be preparing ourselves to be it. Though we definitely gave it the old college try, and from the very beginning I had recognized his potential…and his challenges. For a dog who clearly suffered fear based issues and reacted to the world he didn’t trust because of them, he was one of the easiest dogs I’d had in the house. Almost immediately housetrained, quickly comfortable with us, and kind of a couch potato, happily napping while I worked in my home office. He easily adapted to our house rules, and both played well with Ollie and showed him respect. If he could do well in our home, clearly there must be a forever home out there for him.

Months went on. We made progress, and we backslid. We celebrated accomplishments, and then we faced new challenges that we hadn’t seen before. We sighed in frustration, we cried out in happiness. And sometimes, we just cried. Cried over mistakes made, and times I felt I failed him. Cried when I had been sure I was doing things right, and then we have an incident that makes me question everything.  But through the roller coaster of emotions that came with fostering a fearful, reactive dog, the two things that remained constant were my faith in this dog, and my refusal to give up on him.

Through this experience, I have studied, reflected, and put into practice the lessons I’d been learning about the challenging and awkward, but wonderful and beautiful, dances with dogs. And a couple weeks ago, I faced a decision point with my dancing partner. Balton is a wonderful dog, and I continue to believe in him – but my initial visions of the life I hoped to lead him to were fading, with light reflecting towards a different path. So, with the support and love of my other dance partner, my husband, we made a decision to continue dancing. We agreed to adopt Balton, knowing full well the dog he is, the dog he can be, and understanding the path between those two points is one that has some unknown turns. But, we will navigate that path as we have with fosters past – through faith, trust, and love for our pups.

baltonbigmouthWe signed the adoption contract this weekend, and Balton traded in his Lucky Dog ID tag for one of his own. I don’t know if he feels like he’s finally home, or if he had felt that way months ago. But, he’s here, he’s ours, and he’s got lot more stories to tell. So, although we’re not fostering for now, we’re still going to blog about our continued journeys, about other Lucky Dogs who we will recognize as honorary fosters, and other things we find interesting and important.

So, thanks for joining us for the ride so far, and we hope you’ll continue to stay with us!


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DC Actors for Animals Hosts First-Ever “Beltway Barks”

Lucky Dog Animal Rescue will be there! Check out this awesome event featuring amazing DC area adoptables!

Broadway Barks

DC Actors Help Animals Find Forever Homes in Adoption Extravaganza

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Attention Broadway Barkers who will be in the DC area on June 8—DC Actors for Animals is hosting the first-ever Beltway Barks! The inaugural event will take place on Saturday, June 8, from 10:00am to 2:00pm at the Friedheim Quad on the beautiful campus of American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC. The show and presentation of the animals begins at 11:00am.

Beltway Barks will feature dozens of adoptable dogs and cats from DC-area rescues and shelters including Adopt a Boxer Rescue, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, Montgomery County Humane Society, Mutts Matter, Rural Dog Rescue, and the Washington Animal Rescue League. The event will be emceed by Bobby Smith and Michael J. Bobbitt and will feature fabulous performances from some of DC’s most talented theater professionals including Sandy Bainum, Debra Buonaccorsi, Evan Casey, Sherri L. Edelen, Donna…

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Sharing The Luck (Cheating Edition): Oh, Darling!

This week’s edition of Share the Luck is made possible through the writings of our friends at Of Barks and Bones. Darling is an adorable little beagle who arrived to the DC area back in February from a North Carolina shelter, where she had been dumped when she was very, very pregnant. She arrived to Lucky Dog very soon after and gave birth to her three adorable puppies within days. Her pups have all found forever homes, but Darling is still seeking hers! She would be best placed in a home with a second dog because she is a wee bit shy, but click on the link above or photo below to check out her blog post to find out how she stole her temporary foster’s heart and will do the same for yours!

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Adopt Darling at www.luckydoganimalrescue.org 


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Rescue Matters of the Heart

If I could help the entire world with a great big hug, I would.

Unfortunately, I have learned over time that all the love in a single person’s heart is not enough to protect, defend, and help right all the wrongs in the world. This has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in my life, and one that I still have trouble remembering. This, along with taking care of myself before taking care of others, are two areas that I struggle with.

In a world of animal rescue and social media, you see so many animals in need of help. It’s downright painful to see people cross posting dogs who are in urgent need of rescue or adoption, because the hours in their lives are ticking down. Even for someone who has dedicated hours and hours to fostering, fundraising, finding forever homes, and rehabilitating the dogs who need some extra care, you find yourself wondering if your love is enough. When I consider how many “easily adoptable” foster dogs could have been circulated in and out of my care in 8 months with Balton, it makes me wonder if my heart’s intent to help one dog has put an overall rescue mission of sorts on the back burner. It makes me wonder if my love for this one dog, and the good life I think he deserves, has clouded my vision in my ability to share my love across more paws.

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My heart has become stronger, and somehow more fragile all at once, over the span of 8 months. It has been filled with love, and it has felt broken. I have been contented and joyful, and I have cried (or in some moments, held back tears) harder than I ever imagined I could. I have felt like I have been the best person for a singular dog, all the while feeling like I’m not good enough for him and have failed him in my moments human error. Or that by loving one dog so much, I have unwittingly given too much of my love to one place and limited it for others (human and non-human), including myself. I have learned, and continue to learn, so much through one 60 lb, misunderstood furball, but yet feel so inadequate in my knowledge. I have wondered and pondered if it’s all worth it.

Then I sit back and reflect, and all this uncertainty and inadequacy comes not from the heart, but from all the overthinking within my little human brain. When I really look at all these questions with my heart, and answer that all too often asked question, “is it all worth it?” I could think it over with my head forever.

But in my heart, it only takes a second to know the answer in all certainty is an undeniable, hands down, Mr. Big response of  “abso-f****ing-lutely.”

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