KPA: Preparing Makes Perfect

Well, it happened. The first testing weekend. It felt like it came so much faster than I was expecting. That’s life for you, right? I was so worried about this workshop weekend, constantly anxious about how it was going to go. Luckily – spoiler alert – it went really well. Here’s a bit about how Paco and I prepared ourselves!
The Karen Pryor Academy assessment weekends are designed to be mostly practice, discussion and instruction on what we the students worked on in our first web unit. While inevitably there is an assessment to demonstrate how well we’ve mastered the covered topics, I discovered that the weekends are, as a whole, relaxed and laid back. This was a great discovery once the workshop started – but I hadn’t always known that it would be okay. In fact, like I mentioned, I was quite sure it would not be okay!
Our dogs are required to be crated during the weekend workshops. This means they are crated while they see us – their owners/handlers – walking around interacting with other people and dogs. We give them plenty of bathroom/stretching breaks, but it’s a long day for the dogs. Not many dogs are used to this kind of set up. I certainly had no idea how Paco would react. His owners crate him at night and when they’re not home, and I’d seen him interact nicely with other dogs briefly, but didn’t exactly have a way to replicate this exact environment to see how he’d handle it.

Like all my dog training situations, I tried to go into the weekend as prepared as possible with management tools ready. I made sure to be completely packed and organized the night before so I wouldn’t feel rushed at any point. This helped immensely. I am the type of person who needs to feel prepared, and I only feel prepared if my ducks are all in a row! Part of packing meant taking a trip to the Petco in my neighborhood to stock up on long-lasting chews and high value treats. The last thing I needed was for Paco to be uninterested in my treats when I needed him to focus, and I knew the chewables would help keep him occupied if he was upset about being in the crate.  $60 later, we were more than ready:

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We arrived early Saturday morning so I could give Paco time to take in his surroundings. He did wonderfully with the other dogs that morning, and cautiously went into his crate as I tucked him in to begin listening to instruction. I was so nervous. Every little whine he made would cause my stomach to flop because I anxiously anticipated it being followed by a howl or other disruptive vocalizations. Everyone else’s dogs were being perfect. Would Paco be the problem child of the class? It still was unclear.

Two hours, a half-a-dozen harsh barks and lots of “please let this work” attention-withholding moments later, Paco was happily gnawing on his bully stick.  He seemed to have given up on throwing a fit to get out of his crate. We both breathed a sigh of relief, him seemingly thinking, “Oh, okay – you’re not going far. I can chill here and chew on this delicious bully stick without my world ending,” and me thinking, “You’re not going to lose your mind and disrupt class if I move two feet away from your crate. Whew.” He continued for the entire two days like that: a perfect angel.

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I am lucky that he adjusted so well to the novel environment, but I know he wouldn’t have had as easy of a time if I hadn’t made sure to prepare myself so well. Folks forget how vital some simple management can be. For Paco and I, it ended up being the difference between a successful weekend and a disaster weekend. Thank goodness for bully sticks and hoof chews!

Next week I’ll tell you more about the content we’re learning about and spending lots of time practicing. Let’s just say Paco’s new nickname is “Mr. Shaper.” Stay tuned!

Being Chewtastic: Why It Ain’t So Bad

Over the last five weeks, Johnnie has made it very clear to me that dogs will be dogs. Dogs have natural behaviors that, for their well-being, they need to express, including digging, chewing, chasing, seeking, etc. These behaviors can be found in different dogs at varying levels – even within individual breeds and closed gene pools – but most dogs have a need for a combination of these and other behaviors to be met in their daily life.

Like I wrote about on Tuesday, a fabulous Your Dog’s Friend “Creative Behavior Outlets” seminar reminded me that I need to help Johnnie Cash find productive ways to express her natural behaviors. Lots of dogs need “jobs,” and when they lack a job, they get themselves into trouble. This is where mental puzzles come into play to help fatigue her brain. I also want to go a step further than that and give her outlets for a few other behaviors, including chewing in particular.

When people tell me that their dog chewed up their favorite pair of sunglasses or a couple pairs of shoes, I wonder two things: 1. why did your dog have access to those in the first place and 2. did you give him alternative appealing things to chew? Unfortunately you can’t just wish away your dog’s want and need for chewing because of all the reasons I mentioned above.  Johnnie’s environment at our home is structured in such a way that, when she’s not directly supervised, she doesn’t have much ability to get into things. She has still managed to find a plastic cap here or there, which shows me that I need to give her more options for chewing that are appropriate and appealing to her.

Thanks to the advice on some friends, I found a few great options to satisfy Johnnie’s need for chewing. We have the trusty antler that lasts her many months and will occupy her for 15 – 30 minutes at a time, but only when the mood strikes her. We have the plain sterilized bone that is slightly less appealing to Johnnie than the antler, though does strike her fancy every once in a while. These are the two things we leave out for her at all times.


For those times when we want her extremely occupied for a solid 45 – 60 minutes, we pull out the extra-thick bully sticks or marrow bones. My favorite place to get these (when I think ahead, at least) is Your local pet store should have these or similar items as well, but make sure you’re getting brands that aren’t made in China and that you’re steering clear of rawhide, which is more difficult for your dog to digest. I would consult with your vet about how often your dog can handle bully sticks or bones, because they do carry lots of protein and calories that you don’t want to necessarily overfeed.


Like the food puzzles, the extra chewing devices have really done some good for Johnnie. Not only do they give her a great outlet for a behavior she clearly needs to express daily, they wear her out in the mean time. Working on a bone for 45 minutes nearly knocked her right off her feet the other day – it was great! If you do find that your dog is exhibiting particularly destructive behaviors, one issue you might be having is lack of exercise. It all goes back to the same concept: dogs have an allotted amount of energy to expend per day – and if you don’t expend it for them, they’ll find ways to do it themselves. You should find a combination of physical and mental exercise to keep your dog from deciding the legs on your table are his new favorite chew toy!

To adopt Johnnie Cash and give her plenty of productive chewing options, email

Winter break in review

Our winter break may be over, but Baxter and I still have plenty to share from it!

Baxter would like to show you some gifts he got over the holidays, before he shipped off to spend the week gallivanting around at Jasmine’s House. FosterGrandma saw how generous he was being with his Kibble for [FB] Comments drive, so she got him a nice big order or bully sticks for himself. Lucky DAWG, right?

He enjoyed a few, then promptly asked me to put a bunch in a bag and send them to Jasmine’s House. He is a sweetie.

A good friend of ours also felt inclined to spoil Baxter and get him a little present. Check out how he inspected the package and even opened it, with only a little bit of help from some opposable thumbs.

Baxter & I are so grateful for those who thought about him during the holidays — gift or no gift. He says he is loving his bully sticks and his kong, but he also loves knowing he has all these wonderful friends on the interwebs! He realizes he is lucky in many ways.

While Baxter was having the time of his life at Jasmine’s House, I was busy doing what I always do around Christmas: taking in the Maine scenery.

I’m still kicking myself for – get this – forgetting my camera! Yes, that’s right: I was completely limited to iPhone pictures the entire time. My Canon was waiting nicely for my on my bedroom floor when I came home from my trip, right where I left it. Talk about frustrating.

My Christmas was wonderful, mostly because I spent it with my loved ones. I have to highlight two fostering related gifts I got from my extremely thoughtful family. First, my sister designed this t-shirt for me.

Recognize those two!? Yep, that’s right – it’s Baxter and Zabora!!!

I nearly (okay, maybe I did) teared up when I opened it. I can’t get over how absolutely perfect and adorable it is! I feel like I am still squealing.

Another thing I got? My mom spent hours and hours and hours creating this for me:

The first six months of my blogging life, in hard copy. She copied & pasted everything – comments, pictures, and posts – reformatted it, printed it out, & stuck it all in a neat binder. Now I’ll be able to keep this part for as long as I want. I know I am going to really appreciate having this one day, even more than I do now. There is something to be said about having things in writing, not just on a computer screen. I am so thrilled about this. Thanks mama : -)

So that was a little overview of our holiday celebration. I am so happy & appreciative for everything and everyone around me! Especially Mr. Bax, who is finally back snoozing by my side. I feel like the world is right again. We are ready spend the New Year finding his perfect forever home!

Happy New Year, everyone! Bax & I are wishing you all a Happy & Safe 2012.

For more information on adopting Comeback Kid Baxter, click here or email