Dear Doodlebug: Foster, foster, and wear your harness

Dear Doodlebug

Dear Doodlebug here for another installment of my new blog advices column! It has been hot and sunny in Austin these past days which makes me and my brother very happy and very, very lazy. So ‘scuse me if I don’t write as much this week. I am very much enjoying your questions, so keep sending ’em!

On to business:

Dear Doodlebug, My mom keeps talking about fostering a pit bull type dog. The problem is I am not a big fan of this idea. I am HIGHLY dog selective and still get reactive if a dog looks at me the wrong way, even though I myself give long glares at most strange dogs I meet. My mom tells me this is rude and tries to distract me or go in the other direction, with limited success. I do have some friends I really like to play with and hang out with, though, preferably somewhat smaller and male and who don’t mind my rather rude behavior, rough play and wild vocalizations. Do you think I could ever handle a foster brother? Do you have suggestions? Do you think my mom is crazy for even considering this? Do you think you can convince her to give me more treats? Thanks Doodlebug. Sincerely, Shelby the Wonder Dog and Queen of all she surveys

Dear Queen (Shel)Bee ,

I have never gotten to be a foster brother myself, but I have heard stories about it from my brother the Chick, who has fostered many dogs. According to my brother, your mom can foster dogs whether you decide to be friend-like with them or not — the only question is whether YOU  foster them too. You see, some of my brother’s fosters, like Gonzo Bunny-Ears, Stevie Wonder, and Curious Georgia — became good pals with him and got to spend lots and lots of time together. 

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Others — like Lollie Wonderdog and Dora the Explorer — he wasn’t entirely sure about, so they only spent time together sometimes but not all the time. And others still — like Little Zee — did NOT want to be friends with my brother and there was no changing her mind, so they never even met at all. You see?

We wrote a few weeks ago about fostering and how to get started — please tell your mama to read that post if she hasn’t already. If she thinks that she can separate your house or crate-and-rotate, then she can get started irregardlessly of whether you are going to want to party with the foster over time. And if she is comfortable with her separation arrangement, then she can really take her time integrating you and the intruder (slowly, slowly, slowly) to maximize your chances at friendness. And who knows — you may even end up falling in love, just like my brother did with me!

XO, Doodlebug the foster failer

Dear Doodlebug… My question is this, why does my dear dog Tina love to burrow? Into your armpit, the corner of the couch, a pile of blankets, really anywhere. She particularly loves to burrow into my armpit/shoulder area making groan-y noise and then twist all around for belly rubs. Is this a special dog trick, do my armpits smell delicious or is her face really itchy? Please advise.  Yours Truly, Flummoxed in Philadelphia a.k.a Rose

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Dear Flummoxed,

I am not an expert of any kind, but I have been exercising my big brain thinking about your question just the same. What I came up with is this: maybe Tina likes to burrow because she is a dog who is getting back to her ancestral roots? Wild dogs (nothing like me and Chick, but our ancestors just the same) were denning animals, which means they liked to hide in small spaces to feel safe and warm. For those dogs, covering themselves up and making a little nest out of soft things was the best way to achieve the safeness and the warmness. Us modern dogs are no wild animals, of course, but maybe we still like to give a little shout-out to our homies of past by continuing some of their behaviors?

XO, Your Brainiac Bug

Dear Mr. Bug, What are your advices to get me to behave while in the car? I do so enjoy a car ride, but I get so excited sometimes that I misbehave. My mama sometimes uses a doggie harness, but sometimes we just need to go somewhere quick, and she is too lazy to put me in the harness. Are there any good ways to get me to be more calm so my momma doesn’t yell at me and threaten to pull the car over? Thanks, Hazel the Monkey-Puppy

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Dear Hazel,

Mama says that I can say this to you because she knows your mama personally. My extremest apologies if I offend you! You should tell your mom to stop being a lazy-butt and use your harness when you ride in the car! First of all, harnesses are much safer for the dog in case of accidentation. Second, they are safer for your mama because you won’t be trying to put yourself on her head like a hat while she is doing important things like texting using her turn signal and monitoring her surroundings. And third, they are so very stylish!

Also, tell your mama to never yell at you for being silly — you and I both know that when you are being silly, you are just trying to get attention, and her yelling is still attention (even if it’s mean attention), which is what you are going for. Tell her to strap on your harness, ignore your sillies, and praise you like the good girl you are when you’re being a good and calm girl.

Good luck! XO, The World’s Laziest Car Bug

Dear Doodlebug — Our blue Pit Bull Lola battles horrible allergies ever since she was a pup… fast forward to 3.5 years old — environmental allergies equaled numerous trips to the vet, Cornell University, allergy injections every 10 days… steroids, prednisone, benadryl, zyrtec… antibiotics for infections relating to her chewing and scratching… enzyme baths… have only temporarily helped. Then last year she developed a food allergy on top of it. I’m at a loss… we feel helpless and hate having her medicated all the time…. she’s just miserable. Per her food allergy tests we have ruled out much of what she is allergic to… rice, corn, chicken, potato… tho she did well with beef and quinoa, carrots and green beans… currently she on a dry prescription diet of Kangaroo & Oats, which worked for a bit in conjunction with her injections… but for the past 4 months she seems to be reverting… and altho she eats like a horse, she’s losing weight.  We are thinking of cooking her meals… can you recommend how to go about it to ensure she gets a balanced diet? Thank you ever so much! Peace, Love & Pawprints,  Jess

Dear Jess the Dog Chef,

Your poor Lola looks even worse than I did when I was having the worst of my allergenicness, yikes! I am not a vet or a nutritionist, so I can’t really help you. BUT, the good news I can offer you is that there are experts out there to solve your problems! Please find your nearest canine nutritionist and go see her or him. Most prescription vet formulas really aren’t very high quality as far as food goes, so I am not that suprised that she is losing weight. Home cooking (or feeding raw) might be a better option than the Iams food she is on right now. There are many books on the market about homemade dog food, but it’s a complex matter, and important, too. Best to save yourself the worry and consult with somebody whose whole job it is to help dogs like Lola eat healthy, well-balanced meals that don’t give them the itchies and the baldies!

XO, Your Ex-Itchy Bugaroo

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Chix-A-Lot Friday: How to Choose your Dog Trainer

Good morning friends! I’m a little late in writing to you today because, well, I slept in. Here is me at 9AM today:

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Many of you have written to my Brother-the-‘Bug with requests for advices about behavior issues. In a way, we are relieved to hear that so many of you are having behavior issues, since both my ‘Bug and I have some things that we’re working on too. For instance, did you know that my ‘Bug sometimes gets so worried about bicycles or motorcycles or joggers whizzing by that he wants to leap out and punch them with his teeth, to tell them to go away? Yep, it’s true! But he’s working on it, and I’m very proud.

My brother’s excellent advices a couple of weeks ago about your behavioral issues were that you need to find a good, reputable, experienced trainer in your area who can meet you in person and help you. But we put our handsome, handsome heads together and got to thinking: some of you may not know how to pick the very best trainer, so here are our ideas on what to look for and how to get started. This list does not include everything, but just our favorite things to think about when thinking about dog trainers.

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1. What can you find out through research? These days, any ol’ Chick or Doodlebug can hang a sign outside his door claiming to be a Professional Dog Trainer or even a Behavior Expert. There is no regulation and no certification of this profession! So just because somebody says they are a professional or an expert doesn’t actually mean anything. Yikes!  Look at the person’s website. What are their credentials? How long have they been in the business? Can you find any reviews of their services in your local paper, on Yelp!, or elsewhere on online forums? Do you know anybody who has used them with success? A dog trainer with little or no public info available and with no published references or recommendations may be an excellent trainer, but tread with caution — you can’t know for sure what you’re getting! And that’s a big risk for any serious behavioral issue!

2. What are their affiliations? Are they certified by any official governing body? Those fancy letters after some trainers’ names may mean that they have put in hundreds of hours of learning, have years of training already under their belt, and have taken a standardized exam to prove their knowledge and commitment to humane training methods. But other fancy groups of letters don’t mean much at all! APDT, for example, is a membership group that any individual interested in dog training can join. Pay a fee, and you’re in. It says nothing about an individual’s qualifications to work with dogs. My brother’s certification is CGC, which means he passed a test of good behavior, but it doesn’t make him qualified to offer advices on your behaviors! And my certification is GDG (Gosh-Darn Genius). It’s an elite title, but also does not make me an official expert! Other certifications come from private training clubs or programs, ranging a great deal in depth and duration — some programs offer just two weeks of instruction and gift students with a certificate! So before you let yourself be impressed by an affiliation, do your research — here is a good place to start.

3. What motivators do they use in training?  A trainer who uses fear and intimidation (shock collars, collar jerking, squirt bottles) should send you running in the opposite direction. One who primarily uses food is fine, but it’s best to find one who uses a wider variety of positive motivators — praise, attention, toys, and fun. My favorite place to learn (and I am biased, I know) focuses on the relationship between dog and person, even before addressing behavioral issues straight on — they are linked, after all. Many dogs who come in as behavior cases first spend days or weeks working on fundamental relationship issues with their person like trust, positivity, and fun, and only then move on to addressing the specific behavior that brought them in from the start.

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4. In behavior cases, do they look at the whole dog? I’m not talking about a dog’s tail and underbelly and ears — though those are important too. Jumping right in to a “fix” for a behavioral issue can be dangerous. In your first meeting with the trainer, be cautious if they don’t ask a lot of questions — even questions that don’t seem relevant. A good trainer should be interested in a dog’s physical appearance, behavioral and medical history, diet, relationships, and home behaviors — not only the immediate issue the owner is worried about. In countless cases, what looks like one issue to the casual observer can turn out to be caused by something seemingly unrelated. An experienced, sophisticated trainer will look at the big picture.

5. Are the dogs and handlers having fun? If still in doubt, ask if you can sit in on a group basics class. Do the trainer, handlers, and dogs look like they’re having a good time? If dogs are being bullied, forced, or yelled at while learning how to walk on leash or perform a “sit,” you might want to keep looking. Learning should, for the most part, be fun. If a trainer isn’t working with her clients in a warm, engaging way in a group setting, there’s good reason to believe that private consultations and lessons will involve the same bullying, force, and yelling. And you don’t want that.

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Of course, there are many more important criteria to consider when selecting a trainer for your dog — the Association of Pet Dog Trainers has a nice web page about this topic here. When you’re ready, you can search for a trainer here.

And if you’re in the Austin area, please come to the Open House (party!!) at the Canine Center for Training and Behavior, where mama, the ‘Bug, and I, work and play, tomorrow (February 2). We’ll have training demos, yoga, agility, food, music, balloons . . . a good time for everybody!

Open House Flyer 2013Love,

Sir Chick, GDG

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