Falling in Love at the Emergency Vet

I told myself I would be better about posting every Wednesday like I promised. You probably (hopefully?) noticed there wasn’t a post yesterday morning. Well, here’s why.

I’m watching Paco again for a week while his family is on vacation, which I am absolutely thrilled about. Like I wrote about last time I got him for ten glorious days, he’s super easy and we have a great time together. Tuesday morning started out like every other day. I was going to attempt to bring Paco to work with me for the first time because my shelter’s kids camp had a “Meet My Pet” session that Paco and I signed up for (he loves kids, after all), so I got him up early to wear him out for the day. We were playing with the flirt pole. Paco loooves the flirt pole, and his manners when playing with it are impeccable – he always sits before chasing, he drops as soon as I ask and his arousal levels stay low. He just runs like a crazy dog and exercises himself quickly! I’m always careful to keep our flirt poles games horizontal (unlike how I used with JC last year, which I have since learned to be more responsible and safe with). Chase-catch, not jump-spin-catch, for the exact reason of what happened next.

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Paco was chasing and chasing and grabbing and shaking and having a grand old time. Like I mentioned, he was being polite and following all of our game rules. Then, all of a sudden, he was all four paws off the ground. My wrist must have flicked too much and the toy went flying a bit too high, and Paco followed. To say he crash landed would be putting it lightly. This poor pup splatted on the ground. I held my breath as he got up. Please don’t be hurt, please don’t be hurt. Sure enough, he was limping and visibly in pain.

I rushed him inside and quickly got ready for work. Working at an animal shelter meant I’d have more resources for me there than anywhere else, so I scooped him up and off we went. I had some coworkers check him out and he seemed to be improving throughout the day. We were able to squeeze in a quick vet exam and get pain meds, so I thought he’d be okay until the following morning at 7 am when we had x-rays scheduled.  The vet exam determined it was probably a shoulder injury, but we couldn’t know for sure what was wrong until further investigation.

After work I realized he wasn’t fine. His breathing was a bit labored and he started to not want to walk at all, even with the pain meds. He started whimpering when he moved too much. I panicked, cancelled my training client for that evening (who is actually a vet herself and was the most wonderfully supportive human I could have asked for in that moment), and rushed Paco to the emergency vet. Watching him be in pain like that was the absolute worse feeling in the whole world – I just wanted him to feel better!

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Arriving at the vet put him in better spirits. He loves people so, so much that greeting all the people in the lobby and the techs and doctors made his happy little tail go crazy. Just like with my foster dogs, it makes my heart swell when people compliment Paco. Whether they comment on his handsome good looks, his polite greetings or his general happy-go-lucky attitude, I cannot help but beam when people fuss over him (yes, I know he isn’t mine – but more on that later).  With another initial exam the doctor confirmed it was the shoulder, but radiographs were the only way to determine if there was something broken, so I handed him over to the techs.

So I’m going to take a minute here to ask how those of you who have gone through any sort of trauma with a pet (or human, for that matter) came out the other end in one piece. I was a mess! Luckily there weren’t any real tears, but I sure came close a few times. I was just so worried about my little guy. And yes, I know he isn’t actually my dog, but after all those hours we spent together for KPA and how many times he’s stayed with me I just feel so close to him. We’re buddies, ya know? I’m his safe place and he’s a pair of big brown eyes that will do anything for me. We’re a team. I don’t want anything bad to happen to him. I want to keep him safe, happy and healthy forever and ever.  What if it had been a worse situation!? I have a whole new perspective on pet owners who have to go through medical emergencies with their pets.

Two and a half hours after I handed him off, I finally got a groggy, wiggly Paco back. The radiographs showed no fractures – hooray! The verdict was just very sore, probably strained or a little torn soft tissue. Treatment? Lots of pain meds and two weeks rest. The rest part will be difficult for Mr. Bouncy, but thanks to the pain medication I have already seen an improvement in his spirits.

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It was a late night, but I was thrilled to have his sleepy head rest on me for the remainder of the evening. I set up a comfy bed on the floor next to me and he immediately curled up and went to sleep. Seeing him peacefully sleeping was such a relief just knowing he was more comfortable and that nothing serious was wrong.

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Throughout this whole ordeal I had some friends tell me I was being too worried and that he was just milking it and that he was being a big baby. Sure, a strained shoulder might not be too serious but my goodness there was nothing worse than seeing him in that pain! I would have done anything for him in those moments, even for a stubbed toe. Luckily I was able to get a hold of his family who are vacationing out of the country and they were 100% supportive of anything he needed and they thanked me for taking care of him (never mind the fact that I broke him in the first place, but hey).

Even though it was a stressful twelve hours and it puts a damper on our hiking/adventure plans for the rest of the week, this little ordeal made me fall even harder in love with my Paco Taco. I think I am going to be seriously bummed when my forever dog, whenever I end up getting him or her, is not exactly like him. He’s everything what I want in a dog, which is probably why the stars aligned to bring us together like they did – so I can have him in my life at a time when I cannot actually have a dog of my own. For that, I am so grateful! Love you Taco Man.


Big shout out to my mama for being on call for hysterical-daughter duty, to my friends who gave in-person moral support or sent messages with well wishes and to Friendship Animal Hospital for treating him like one of your own!  I am one lucky stand-in dog mom.

Playing Catch Up

Whew… the Holidays are over! Life is back to normal, right? Sort of? I feel like I haven’t written a real blog post in FOREVER and that I need to just give you a long catch up entry about everything that’s been happening over here at PLF. However since I don’t want to bore you with those details, I’ll stick to one of the most major commitments in my life right now: the Karen Pryor Academy. I know you’ve read a lot about it over the past few months, but it’s still new and exciting and sort of scary so I want to continue to share my experiences with you all.

It feels like just last week that we had our second testing weekend. Well, it was much earlier than that because this past weekend was workshop #3! That means our next workshop in mid-February is the big exam weekend… YIKES.

This third weekend went much better than I thought it would. Unit three covered a lot of intense material, and I felt a little behind heading into the workshop. Turns out I understood the content better than I thought and had so many *a-ha!* moments that the entire weekend was extremely reinforcing for me. Just like weekend two, I left thinking you can do this, J.  I also left thinking wow, you really, really love this behavior stuff! Talking nerdy dog speak officially gets me going (speaking of: see you in March, Clicker Expo!).

This latest workshop left us both exhausted.

This latest workshop left us both exhausted.

We’ve covered so much in KPA up to this point. We’ve learned everything from proper clicker mechanics so that you’re not bribing your dog to how to build behaviors using shaping and capturing to how to teach cues to fluency (meaning they have precision, low latency, high speed and can be performed around distractions, from a distance and for whatever duration you choose) and put them under stimulus control to why building a relationship entirely around trust is so important for your dog’s ability to learn and be happy. I seriously CANNOT GET ENOUGH of all this knowledge. The fact that it is coming together so perfectly – all the long lessons and assignments and readings are finally all making sense in the big picture – is just so thrilling to me.

It hasn’t been easy though, and it won’t be easy moving forward. Not living with Paco has presented the challenge of scheduling and time. It’s funny to look back at our previous challenges though to the ones we are experiencing now. Before I couldn’t get him to focus on me, I couldn’t for the life of me find a reward that was exciting enough to keep him engaged and he would shut down after two minutes of attempted shaping.


Now, I’ve got a bouncy, happy puppy on my hands who will work with me whenever I request it. It’s no longer a matter of what to use to keep him engaged. He’s happy to train, sometimes I just need that little bit of extra yummy to really keep his focus. I especially noticed our progress at the workshop this weekend when we were doing a shaping exercise. Shaping was one of the first topics we learned about in KPA, so Paco and I were still new to each other and never very good at it. He generally bowed out of the exercises pretty early and I would get frustrated – not a good combo. During this workshop exercise I successfully shaped a new behavior in a brief five minute session almost without even realizing. Working together has become so natural to us it’s hard to realize how in sync we are now! I touched briefly on our budding relationship after weekend #2, but holy moly do I love that little dog.


Yes I am aware that he does not look thrilled in this photo. He loves me back, just not when I squeeze him like a teddy bear.


For the next six weeks, Paco and I will be tirelessly working on our ten-part chain, the ultimate test of our knowledge and skills from this course. You can see an example of a 10-part chain here on YouTube. Basically I have to teach Paco at least ten cues to fluency and then chain them together (a concept we learned about in our course). While the video you watch might not look *that* impressive, there are lots of technical details that make it the perfect way to showcase all that we have learned and taught our dogs. It is an impressive feat in the end!

While it’s a lot of work and stressful to fit in between my 9 to 5 and training clients, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered something that came so naturally to me (except maybe loving my foster dogs, but I think this is all related). The science behind animal training and behavior just makes sense to me, and I am realizing more and more that it will be yet another opportunity where I can help dogs – and people – in this world. How lucky I am to have discovered this passion (along with so many more) and been given this opportunity so quickly in life!


Sticking It Out

I’ve been so bogged down lately with KPA coursework, clients and my normal nine to five that some of my favorite shelter doggies have moved to the back of my brain. It’s not that I want it that way it’s just what happens when this thing called “life” comes calling. That’s why I am always thrilled when they randomly pop back into my life.

Some of you might remember Rojo, the shelter dog my neighbors adopted about a year ago who I wrote about once or twice on this blog. He’s totally handsome and stole my heart along with many of yours after I featured him on here.


I mentioned in one of the posts that he was working on his reactivity towards other dogs. He also had some separation anxiety issues that left his family scratching their heads about what to do. They consulted their vet, worked with trainers at Your Dog’s Friend, and more – they put so much into this dog to make him (and subsequently their family) happy. The rescue coordinator at his shelter and I would often talk about how lucky he was to go with this family, because we weren’t sure many other people would have stuck with his issues like they did.

When I got an email update in my inbox, I wasn’t sure what it would say. To say I was ecstatic about this update would be an understatement. See for yourself:

“Rojo is doing great, and I can’t believe it’s been nearly a year since we adopted him.  (We just re-hung the coat rack that he pulled down from the wall during his first week home, ha ha!)  While he’s still crated when we’re not home during the day, he has become a much, much calmer dog, almost like someone flipped a switch around what we think was his 2nd birthday in August.  So you can tell all those adolescent dog owners out there that there is light at the end of the tunnel!  

He’s had some adventures this summer.  
First, we’ve been happy to discover that he is fine with boarding – he had to stay home when we went to my grandmother’s 100th birthday party in July, and stayed at Pet Dominion in Rockville.  He’s stayed with them a couple other times since, when we’ve gone to the beach, and although he’s very excited to see us when we return (i.e., pees all over the place) he is also happy to see the kennel staff when he gets checked in, and they report he eats and sleeps well.  
In August he had a much bigger adventure – a family vacation to Colorado.  I am attaching a couple of pictures.  Rojo rode in the truck across country with Dave (the kids had gone out to my mom’s for “grandparent camp” a week or so earlier, and I had to finish a project at work, so I flew and met them) and it went fine, although he is not a big fan of roadside motels – too noisy at night!  Anyway, once he got to Colorado he had a grand time.  We avoided Denver (due to BSL, boo!) but he got to run with other dogs in a little mountain town where we have friends, and then hang out at my family’s A-frame near Leadville, at 10,500 ft.  I’ve included pictures of him at the top of a 4-wheel drive trail with the kids, then later, getting as close as he could to the wood stove because hey, he has a pretty short coat and despite it being August, it was 35 degrees outside that evening!  Finally, there’s one of him on the deck of the A-frame, enjoying the Colorado sunshine.”
rojo3Rojo1Are those pictures not remarkable? I can’t get over how perfect he looks with his human siblings! This update came at just the right time because I’ve been feeling a little stuck in my work with Paco. This update reminded me that sticking it out, coming up with creative ways to work with “issues” and thinking positive that our dogs can improve with us are all ways to move forward with progress.  Rojo’s family is certainly an inspiration to me, and I hope they also provide some hope for other dog owners out there who might be struggling with their own dogs.

What’s Black and White and Speckled All Over?



She’s the one I told you about yesterday that I took to an adoption event (so, before you get all excited, no she is not my new foster). Mark says I’m just on a “falling in love” kick since I miss Johnnie. I say that Jayla is AWESOME and how can anyone not fall in love with her!? Let me tell you about her.

Dogs like Jayla are actually very refreshing to me (have I talked about this before? I feel like I’ve talked about this before… I’m sorry if I’ve talked about this before!). To be totally honest, it’s very easy when you’re working at a shelter to sort of have your eyes glaze over and stop seeing every dog individually, but rather as a whole group of animals who need help (Animal Farm Foundation addressed this in a very interesting blog post about the concept of psychic numbing). I don’t do it consciously, it just sort of happens… maybe it’s our mind’s way of sparing us a bit of the emotional torture that comes along with working in animal welfare. In any case, it’s not every day that I find a dog I really, truly fall for.

Jayla, like lots of the dogs in a shelter, gets lost in the crowd. At four-ish years old, in the sixteen seconds it takes for someone to walk past her kennel she is just another black and white dog with short fur and a big head. Even when I first took her out, she was distracted and investigating her new environment. Not that I blame her – new places are ohsointeresting when you basically live in a box – but it’s hard to bond with a dog like that. It was only after spending about thirty minutes with her did she start to warm up to me. And it turns out that she is a big sweetie!


Point #1 for Jayla: awesome passenger in the car. Any dog who sits nicely and even falls asleep on their first ride in the car is awesome in my book. Point #2 for Jayla: calm around other dogs. After dealing with a few “over eager” pups, boy was this a nice change! Point #3 for Jayla: she’s tolerant and up for anything. Being around her while she’s got a bully stick? No big. Hanging out with kiddos who want to run and squeal and pull on her tail? It’s nothing. Taking her to new sights and sounds? Easy peesy.


It seems pretty evident that Jayla’s wisdom and maturity comes from the fact that she’s past her teenage years (she’s about 4, remember). She’s over the partyin’ and would rather just hang out on your couch. Oh, and those belly spots? Feel free to give those a nice long rub while the both of you are enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? I tell ya, if I wasn’t moving in July this little girl would be in my house on my floor at my feet right now (whether foster dad liked it or not ;-)).


And yes, I stole her away for a bit after the adoption event and introduced her to my parents and my yard. They fell in love with her, and she fell in love with them (okay, maybe mostly the yard). Sometimes you just have to fall for one again to remember why you do it!

05Looking for a laid back gal whose favorite thing to do is hang in your lap and make you smile? Email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com.

When You Want to Foster Fail

Johnnie has been with us now for six weeks. In those six weeks, we have fallen in love.

02With every passing day, I find myself a little less able to ignore the “what if. . . ” creeping up in the back of my head. Both Mark and I have cautiously brought up the idea of keeping her because each day we find something new about her to fall in love with. The sleepy face she makes when she wakes up, the way she offers “sit pretty” like crazy now when she wants something, the way she catches on to new training cues extremely quickly, the way she falls asleep on your chest at the end of the night – Johnnie is a one of a kind dog, and I’m beginning to wonder if I will always regret letting her get adopted.

I won’t lie – I have pictured my future with Johnnie. Mark loves her, and I imagine us going on countless more adventures since we’d have all the time in the world. I imagine what she’ll be like when she’s old and lazy and probably a little cranky. I imagine all the things we could get accomplished with years to dedicate to training, including getting her certified as a therapy dog so she could create more smiles like this one:


Photo by Virgil Ocampo.

But then I snap back to reality. I remember that my future is up in the air. I have no idea what I’ll be doing a year from now, let alone five or ten years down the road. Rental housing that accommodates pit bull dogs is tricky to find, especially for someone on a tight budget.  I don’t have the long term stability that she deserves.  Plus, there are always others out there who need my help. Adopting Johnnie would be letting go of some of my flexibility to help the many more in need.

It brings me comfort to know that she will bring so much joy to someone else. Once we find the right fit, I know she’ll bring them the same happiness she brings to me and my family.  They’ll learn how to deal with her quirks and they’ll figure out how to set her up for success and they’ll build a positive, trusting relationship with her – just like she deserves. And for a long time I’ll think about my former foster dog Johnnie Cash and how she was probably “the one that got away” and I’ll wonder if I’ll ever meet another dog like her again – but I’ll know we did the right thing for her.


Until the day comes that we send her off to the perfect family, we’ll be fitting in as much snuggling, laughing, playing, adventuring and loving time as possible. Even though it will be hard to see her go, Johnnie will always serve as a reminder for why I have to say goodbye to my foster dogs.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.” – Anonymous

sleepingTo adopt Johnnie Cash and experience how truly amazing she is, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.

Why You Want Me Wednesday

I think it’s becoming pretty clear, no? I am a very want-able dog! I am a lap dog, I like to get into mischief adventure with you, I’ll make you laugh simply by sleeping and I look fabulous in a dress. How do you spell “no brainer?” Oh yeah, “A-D-O-P-T J-O-H-N-N-I-E C-A-S-H!”

This week, I am here to tell you that I, Johnnie Cash, will be awesome at the following:


Yep, that’s right. You take me for a nice hike in the morning and give me a few food puzzles to work on and I’m usually pretty good for the day.  In fact, as you are reading this, I am probably curled up asleep in a sun spot somewhere thanks to the fact that my Foster Mama already gave me a walk and my breakfast this morning. Anybody else up for a sunny afternoon snooze?


To adopt Johnnie Cash and have an afternoon nap buddy, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com!

Big Ears Big Fun?

Foster Mama uses a saying for those rare exciting occasions that she goes out with her girlfriends:  “Big hair, big fun!” I think she uses it as an excuse for why her unruly locks come out looking like a lion’s mane – but don’t tell her I said that. Anyway, she was talking about that for this weekend, so I decided to try it too (since I LOVE having fun) – but I don’t have big hair, I only have ears. Big ears, big fun? You bet!!!


Happy Friday, you party animals!

To adopt your very own “Big Ears, Big Fun!” gal, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.