Chix-a-Lot Friday: My criminal history

Did I ever tell you about the time my mama and dad had to do this?

Well, I should start with the most important info. I blame these two:

That’s my pal Pancho Villa and my former doggie door — the two REAL reasons I got in trouble.

You see, it all started like this. Pancho was staying with us for spring break while his parents were out of town, and we were snuggling like angels on our dog bed:

So when we ran outside to do our usual games of chase and bury-the-dog-in-the-sand, mama didn’t think anything of it when we were gone for kind of a long time:

But here’s the part mama had not calculated. The water-meter-reader-man had come earlier that day to read the meter — in our back yard. And when he left, he didn’t shut the gate! So the whole time she thought we were outside doing this:

I was actually following my bad influence Pancho on a joyrun around the neighborhood!

Now, you must understand something else. Pancho is an expert escape artist. If ever given the opportunity to bolt out a door — even if it’s only open a few squillimeters, he is gone. I, on the other hand, would never escape on my own. In fact, mama sometimes proudly brags about the few times she has accidentally left me unsupervised with a gate or a door open, and how she always discovers me sitting right inside the door or gate, worrying about when she’s coming to take care of the closing of it.

So obviously, this devilish Mr. Villa is to blame, and not me. Just look at how untrustworthy he looks:

Well anyhow, mama was inside working on her computer, not even knowing that anything had happened. Then a very panty me and Pancho came busting in the doggie door, and at the same time mama heard a knock at the door. Hmm.

She went to answer, and wouldn’t you know? There was the town animal control officer, out of breath and carrying his long stick with a noose at the end, telling a crazy story about chasing us dogs all over the neighborhood and back into our back yard! Mama tried very hard not to snicker while the red-faced man scolded and lectured, but it sure seemed hard — with us boys laying back on the dog bed acting like angels like this:

But then mama stopped giggling when the red-face man gave her a ticket and an order to appear in local court for a “public nuisance – dog running at large” charge! When she realized that she was going to have to take days off work to go to court, and that her lawyer-hunny, my dad, would have to put together all kinds of legal arguments for how our at-largeness was not our fault but rather the meter-reader-man’s fault, well — she was pissed. So pissed that she loaded us up in the truck and threatened to take us straight to the pound:

Just kidding, she didn’t really threaten to do that, though she was quite mad.

In the end, dad made a deal with the town prosecutor and got my record struck clean, and they just had to pay some little court fees and give me a big finger-waggling scolding. It was the first and last time I ever escaped from the yard for an adventure.

But it sure was an adventure!

Wishing everybody a Labor Day weekend full of adventures and burying each other in the sand!!

When a dog goes missing: Bring Dora home!

We’ve been all kinds of worried around here since we heard the terrible news on Sunday afternoon — our former foster dog, Dora the Explorer, is missing.

She was out for a walk with her mama at their local park when Dora saw a cat that Mary didn’t, and just like that — Dora pulled the leash out of Mary’s hand, and was off. It was before noon on Sunday, and there have been no Dora-sightings since.

Pretty scary.

The biggest glimmer of hope is in the fact that Mary has done everything right. Dora had been microchipped and registered, and wearing a tag with her name, address, and phone number. Mary posted all of Dora’s info to facebook right away. She shared the info with us and with Love-A-Bull, and we re-posted it. She went to the two closest city shelters to report her missing dog. She put Dora’s crate with her favorite blanket out near the site of her disappearance, hoping she would come back (as many dogs do). She made flyers with Dora’s photo and a description of where she was last seen and what she was last wearing, and has been posting it around the area where she went missing.

If preparation is any indicator of success, Dora will be home safe and sound very soon.

In the meantime, we’re crossing all of our fingers, toes, and paws, and praying for the speedy and safe return of Dora. If you are — or know anybody — in the Copperas Cove, TX area (this includes Fort Hood, Lampasas, and Killeen), please share this info via facebook, twitter, community listerves, or however you can:

Dora took off during her walk at South Park in Copperas Cove, TX, on Sunday, 8/26 around 11am. She is an adult blue pit bull, wearing a pink cupcake collar with her name tag and address on one side, and her rabies tag on the other. Her nails are also hot pink, and she was be dragging a red/silver/reflective leash. Please call Mary with any info on Dora’s whereabouts: 919-480-3304. Dora is very friendly and needs to come home.


Or please share our facebook post with the flyer embedded, here.

Together we can bring Dora home!



Chix-a-Lot Friday: Under the blankets

My mama has been feeling a little under-the-blanket the last couple of days. She’s been extra sleepy and not very playful and only taking us for one walk a day.

I would worry, except I don’t have to, because I know exactly what to do — get under the blanket with her. It works every time!


Wishing everyone a snuggly weekend!

Do Unto Others: Intimidation in dog training

I’ve been having a thought lately, brought about in large part by the behavioral work I’ve been observing at the Canine Center in Austin, and it goes a little like this:

If I bully Fido, Fido will bully others.

Popular religious thought seems to agree with this concept (“Do unto others . . .”), as do popular parenting theory and our criminal law framework. So why are so many of us still bullying our dogs?

A friend recently shared with me an article about a 2009 study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science concerning the outcomes associated with confrontational and non-confrontational behavior modification techniques in dog training. The study surveyed 140 dog owners seeking the help of a veterinary behaviorist, asking what methods they had attempted to improve the problem behavior in the past and what the result of these methods had been.  In summary, the study found that the more confrontational tactics — jerking the collar, yelling “NO!” at a dog, performing an “alpha roll,” and squirting the dog in the face with a squirt bottle — were more likely to trigger aggression than non-confrontational tactics.

Here are a few interesting data points. Of the owners surveyed who used the following tactics to “correct” undesirable behaviors, the following percentages saw aggressive responses from their dogs:

  • 31% of owners who performed an “alpha roll” on their dog
  • 43% of owners who hit or kicked their dog
  • 15% of owners who yelled “NO!” at their dog
  • 20% of owners who sprayed their dog with a spray bottle
  • 30% of owners who stared their dogs in the eye until the dog broke eye contact

By contrast:

  • 2% of owners who used a food reward for good behavior; and
  • 0% of owners who used a “look” / “watch me” command

Surprised? We weren’t.

It seems that the big myth floating around that continues to support bully behavior toward dogs is that behavioral problems are the result of a dominance imbalance between owner and dog, and only by properly dominating a dog can an owner regain the dog’s respect, and consequently, good behavior.

This is simply untrue.

Science has proven that the overwhelming majority of aggression in dogs stems from fear and related anxiety problems. When we treat fear by creating more fear, we aren’t solving anything at all. Only by addressing the underlying fear and teaching a dog to change its mind can we change the undesirable behavior in a reliable way. Fear-based training — intimidating a dog into suppressing a fear response — may change the outward response in the moment, but doesn’t address the root issue itself. Makes sense, right?

But there’s more: research has also shown that dogs that are trained using only positive reinforcement are less likely to develop future behavior problems, while those that are trained using punishment are more likely to develop fear-related responses to other things in the future. So by using intimidation tactics to treat behavioral challenges, we might not only be eliciting aggressive responses, but also setting ourselves up for future failure, too. Quite the icing on the cake.

When we choose to employ a training program in which we jab our dogs in the neck, reach for the spray bottle, or jerk them by the collar, we are building a relationship of intimidation with our dog. We are telling it: “Do what I want, or else.” But if the dog improves its behavior, we have to wonder — have we fixed the underlying issue, or have we created a scenario in which our dog is simply too afraid of what we as owners are going to do in order to act upon its instincts? I’m not sure about you, but this isn’t the kind of relationship I want to have with my dogs.

In contrast, when we use rewards-based training to lessen undesirable behaviors, we are saying to the dog “Here’s what I’d like you to do instead, and I will reward you handsomely.” It has a nicer ring to it. And when we combine the rewards approach with relationship-based training — in which our dog learns that we are fun, gentle, trustworthy, and will keep them safe in all situations — we can start to see real progress, real fast.

When Chick was much younger, he had some scary run-ins with off-leash dogs, and for years afterward, he lived in constant fear of being attacked. In Chick’s case, the fear manifested itself as stiffening, staring, growling, lunging, barking, and jumping on leash when other dogs were around. Confident of our ability to “fix” Chick’s behavior, we yelled and barked right along with him, jerked him by the collar with all our might, and searched pet stores for more imposing leash-walking tools to really show him who’s boss. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were essentially telling him: “You’re scared of that? Well you’d better be even more scared of us!” Our intimidation tactics did occasionally stop his tantrums in the moment, but the whole while, we were shocked that he didn’t automatically learn how to relax.

Eventually, Chick became so dog-aggressive that we gave up our methods and went to see a real trainer. We threw away our pinch collar that day, and never looked back. Rather than hollering and physically hurting our dog, we learned to earn his focus in all situations, and how to help him relax in moments of uncertainty. It took hours and hours of practice and months — maybe years — to undo all of the fear we had created. And still there are times — if an off-leash dog comes flying right up to his face — that Chick can lose his cool. But with hard work and positive, relationship-based training, we’ve helped Chick become a dog who can go anywhere, and helped ourselves become the people he can trust, no matter what.

For the full text of the 2009 study, click here.

Chix-a-Lot Friday: Anna (the lady-angel Chick)



Aunt Disney and our dear tripod friend Sierra are going to be almost as excited as I am heartbroken — my long-distance romance and female version of myself, Anna, has just packed up her bags and moved up to doggie heaven.

After 14 years of being the sweetest, softest, most beautiful, charming lady I have ever loved, Anna decided it was time to step off the stage. She lived a great life up to the very last day.

Anna wasn’t just all the wonderful things I mentioned above — she was also a classy broad with a great story. You see, her dad — a fireman — found her tied to his truck 13 years ago with some dumb note about her being a present to the department. Can you imagine it? Beautiful little adolescent Anna, abandoned at the fire station, dirty and scared as can be?

Well luckily Anna’s daddyman — our good friend Dan — didn’t think twice about what to do. He snapped Anna right up and made her his co-pilot and his best friend. And boy did they have some adventures together. She used to even get to ride around in the fire truck with him, pretending to be a dalmatian . . . until the time that she accidentally locked the humans out of the truck while they were off saving lives and putting out flames. It kinda sounds like something my aunt Disney would have done to me, huh? Oops!

Mama first met Anna and her family when she was taking photos of pit bull families for the Stubby Dog Project. As soon as mama told me about Anna’s special story, I started jumping around and doing my little Chicken-dance and saying “mama, I have GOT to meet this female Chick!” and also, “mama, you have GOT to take her photo at the fire station!”

Well I am full of good ideas, aren’t I? So Anna and I began our years-long romance, and mama met Anna, her canine siblings Roscoe and Gigi, and her humans at Dan’s fire station. Just look what a beautiful scene I dreamt up for their portraits!


It’s not just Anna’s rescue story and how madly we were in love that make her so special. She had a way of making others fall in love, too. Her mama Kelly says that seeing the bond that Anna and her daddy shared was one of the big things that made her fall in love with him years and years ago.

Anna also helped her mama and dad fall in love with pit bull dogs, and eventually convinced them to adopt her sister Gigi, too.

There were other things that made Anna so much my soulmate — like the time dad and I were both out of town during a hurricane and mama went over to Anna’s house so she didn’t have to be all by her lonesome, and Anna snuggled with her all night long to make her feel safe just like I would have done. What a gal.

Yes, we all loved Anna. Everybody did. That’s why it was so hard to say goodbye to her last week, when she packed her bags for doggie heaven. She cited “complications” and “old age.” But it didn’t make us any less sad.

We’ll miss you, Anna. And we know that everybody will hold their dogs a little closer tonight in honor of all the love you shared in your grand 14 years.




Dogs as art.

**Be sure to read all the way to the bottom for a special treat, exclusively for our readers**

Who else is guilty of decorating their homes with their own dogs? We’re not just talking about the flesh-and-blood dogs themselves, though they love decorating the house with themselves:

We’re talking about paintings, photographs, and other likenesses of the dogs. In our home, we have a smattering of dog art around the house, but our most precious little (growing) collection is our mini pet portraits from Yellow Brick Home’s Pet Shop.

We started our collection with a beautiful 6×6 inch portrait of Sir Chick to decorate our living room wall:


. . . and then couldn’t resist ordering a matching 6×6 of Doodlebug for our mantle:


And while we were at it, we started collecting 4x4s of each of our former fosters. We gave Kim “artist’s choice” in which foster to paint first, and she chose her favorite, Gonzo Bunny-Ears, for our collage wall:

Next up — and most recent — was Stevie Wonder. With all the turmoil in the dear girl’s life lately, we just can’t get her out of our heads, so we asked Kim for a portrait of her sweet little self doing her signature breakdancing move. Could she be any cuter? Just look at that “love me” face!

She arrived a few days ago, and we instantly knew that she’d look perfect atop our favorite antique chest:

Next up? Lollie Wonderdog. And we’re already scheming where to put her darling little self!

**Hop over to the Pet Shop to take advantage of an exclusive 15% off coupon for your very own pet painting! Our special code — CHICKERDOODLE — is good for anything at the Pet Shop. This includes custom art in 4×4, 6×6, and 8×8 sizes, ready-to-go originals, and gift certificates! There are only FIVE codes, so hurry along and claim one ASAP!**





Chix-A-Lot Friday: The day I almost became a CGC

It was yesterday.

Mama had a dream on Wednesday night that I took the Canine Good Citizen test and passed it, so on Thursday morning, she decided: why not?

When we got to work yesterday, we were lucky to find that Aunt J — a CGC evaluator — was there! So we went about our business, doing our work, and then when the time seemed right, we slipped outside to have a go at the test.

I’ve gotta tell you, I was feeling pretty good. Mama had had the dream, and Uncle C told mama that he thought I was “perfect,” so I went out there with a little spring in my step.  Mama emptied all the treats out of her pockets (one of the rules), and we got started.

From the very start, I was acing the heck out of this test. Mama says Aunt J was trying to be a little tougher on me than other dogs because I am a staff dog, but she wasn’t too tough. I accepted the friendly stranger with a very polite sit and some nice blinks. I waggled my tail ever-so-slightly for the pettings, and let her pick up both of my paws, manhandle my back, ears, teeth, tail, belly, and back feet (even though I do NOT like friendly strangers touching my back feet), no problems. She groomed me with her brush and I said “Thank you ma’am, may I have some more?

The sit and the down? Piece of cake. I basically sleep-sat and sleep-downed my way through those. The sit/stay where mama walked away was fine, I just patiently waited and did my blinky Chick eyes at mama and Aunt J. The recall was a breeze too. I love running to mama, because she always talks to me in that happy voice and gives me the best pettings ever when I get to her.

Then it was time for the loose leash walk. Aunt J told us where to go — head that way, turn left at the grill, then go straight and turn around the stump, make a right turn, then come back. What a joke, right? I am a prize-winning loose leash walker.

But oops. I got over there by the grill and the stump, and I couldn’t help but notice the scrumptious little pile of rabbit pellets on the ground, and even though mama called me away and I stayed in a loose leash, I got kind of discombobulated. I blame the rabbit. I rounded that turn, and I felt kind of light-headed. High from the wonderful smell of the rabbit poo. My manners got away from me, and when I sniffed some pee in a clump of grass, I did it: I lifted one of my legs and I peed too.

Like I said. Oops.

Turns out that peeing during one of the test items is an automatic no-pass. Well when I found that out I was so mad at that little rabbit that I shook my fist at him. Darn rabbit!

Nevertheless, Aunt J suggested that we do the rest of the test anyway, since it’s good practice and all, and so I could brag that I would have passed it except for the rabbit’s evil doings. So we continued.

Next was the part where Aunt J runs around acting all crazy, throwing buckets and walking crooked with a cane, and I have to shake it off like it’s nothing. Well that was easy because it was nothing but silly Aunt J. Then, some of the other people came outside to make a crowd, and I had to walk in between them while they were wandering around mumbling nonsense. I think I heard somebody saying “Peas and carrots, carrots and peas.” Totally silly, right? So, that one was easy too.

Then we got to the dog-dog meeting part. A few years ago, mama would have thought I could NEVER do that part right, but boy oh boy did I ace it. Let me tell you how muchly! Aunt J got a silly young Catahoula who is supposed to be a CGC herself, and we began. The idea is that me and mama and the other person and dog approach each other. Everybody stops, and me and the other dog aren’t allowed to pay each other any mind. Mama and the other person shake hands, exchange “Hi, how are yous,” and we go on about our business. Well you will never guess what happened. We got to each other, and I sat there like the perfect gentleman that I am, and the Catahoula sprang through the air right at me to say hello! I mean, I know I am the most handsome Chick of all Chicks, but come on girlfriend, where are your CGC manners? I was horrified! But being the gentleman that I am, I kept my horror to myself, and continued to sit there like a perfect mister. We did another pass, and this time the silly girl got it right (probably because I had reminded her how). Another ace in my pocket.

The last item was called a supervised separation. It means mama goes away and I get to stay outside wooing pretty Aunt J and asking her for pettings. I don’t even get why that’s a test item. It’s more like a prize if you ask me! Obviously, I rocked and rolled that one big-time.

So there you have it! A bittersweet win/loss. Aunt J said I totally aced every item on the test, except for the peeing no-no.

So mama and I went home and had ourselves some dessert, and dreamt of future tests. With no evil rabbits.

The magic of toy holding

Last week on our facebook page, we posted a photo of Doodlebug holding a tennis ball, and asked folks why they thought it might be useful to teach a dog to hold a toy. We were amazed at how many thoughtful, creative ideas everyone came up with!

In Doodlebug’s basic obedience class, our homework one week was to only pay attention to our dog when he was holding a toy in his mouth. If he came seeking affection, we were to offer a toy. If he took the toy, we could pet him and play with him for as long as he wanted. But the second he dropped the toy, we lost all interest and the toy disappeared. We stashed toys in all corners of the house, and took our assignment very seriously.


We wanted to work on Dude’s play drive — he didn’t have much interest in playing fetch, chase, tug, or other toy games. If we could teach him to develop warm, fuzzy feelings about holding a toy in his mouth while hanging out with us, we were well on our way — our hope was that his urge would be to find toys and bring them to us, which is — essentially — fetch. Some of our clever facebook readers guessed this reason right away: “Holding something in their mouth without chewing it is step 1 of shaping item retrieval behavior.” We also learned in class that petting a dog who is holding a toy promotes sharing rather than guarding behavior — “If I bring my treasure to you, you will love on me, not take it away.” A worthy lesson for sure!

Our Facebook fans also came up with many of the other great reasons a handler may want to teach a dog to hold a toy. Here are some highlights.

Limiting inappropriate mouthing or play:

  • I trained my Lilly to play with a ball in her mouth when she was a puppy, so she’d stop chomping on her sister Abby.
  • Luna learned early on to pick up a toy when people came in the door, as it kept her out of trouble as she can’t “love bite” when she has a toy in her mouth. That way she can still be excited but it’s a better way for her to use her toy.
  • I worked with a dog who had a mild case of PICA and at home he loved to carry toys and his bowl in his mouth so we worked on teaching the dog to carry a ball or a bone on walks to help prevent him from eating every little thing he wasn’t supposed to. 
  • My friend’s dog had anxiety issues when people left the house. He physically displaced by biting shoes pant legs etc. She taught him to find and hold a toy to keep him from biting; over time it seemed to help lessen his anxiety.
  • We’ve trained our pooch to “hold” something when we roughhouse. She doesn’t attempt to bite, but having her mouth closed around something prevents any accidental teeth-skin contact.

Boosting focus by giving the dog a “job” to do:

  • It’s like they have a “job” to do, something to stay focused on when out for walks rather than worrying about the passing dog or person.
  • Holding a ball in her mouth seems to make Harley a little less anxious. Not sure what the mechanism is here, but maybe like a human stress ball, it gives her something to let out a little crazy and focus on. 
  • Helps my girl Nina when we’re walking the neighborhood and she sees a dog that she would normally want to spark off at. Since she’s determined not to let go of her ball until she gets home, she doesn’t bark.
  • Both of mine know the “hold” command, kinda important when they are retrieving birds for us. We also like to make it into a game where we get them to carry things between the two of us. VERY handy when one is outside and needs something from inside. They get to be the messengers.

Have you taught a dog to hold a toy? If so, how, and for what reason?

Just over a year ago, we started Chick’s popular Chix-a-Lot Friday series. Exactly a year ago, Chick told the story of how he became ours — one of our favorite stories to this day.

Love and a Six-Foot Leash

So I was in the slammer, see. I got brought in for running loose on the town. Pit bull running at large, they said. And so they brought me in. It was an ok place, the slammer. The people gave me my very own room made of fence and concrete, and I had a water bowl full of water, and they would bring food, too. Some of the people who worked there weren’t too sure about me — a pit bull. But there’s this test they give the dogs to decide whether they get to be in the nicer dog hotel in the front where all the people walk by or the sad dog hotel in the back where nobody ever goes except the workers. I knew I had to woo them, and I did. I wooed and wooed, and I got straight A’s on my test. They gave me…

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