Summary: Officially One Week Together

First weeks with a new dog are generally pretty nuts. I was making the joke before Johnnie came back that we were putting our helmets on, battening down the hatches and going into the week head first. You never know what “issues” a new dog will have adjusting to their new life in your home.

I am very happy to say that the first week with Johnnie went relatively well! I’m not saying there weren’t some bumps, but all in all Johnnie has been easy going while she adjusts to living in our home (. . . KNOCK ON WOOD PLEASE).  Here’s a bit of a rundown of the first week having her with us!

Sunday – Her first day out of the shelter. I picked her up Sunday morning, took her for a run, took her to a doggy play date and then joined some shelter friends at an adoption event. She was completely wiped out by the time I brought her home so she slept all evening and did WONDERFULLY in her crate Sunday night! I had no idea if she was going to come used to the crate, take to it quickly enough or absolutely hate it and require intensive crate training.

Monday – I worked from home Monday morning to help her adjust since we only had a whirlwind Sunday together. She slept most of the morning, but I took her for a short run when we both woke up. I left her with my dad for the afternoon while I went to work and she did really well at home (which basically means she didn’t bug him all day). She got her paws on a random piece of wood in the house – she’s got a real thing for sticks – but other than that she didn’t do anything she wasn’t supposed to.

Tuesday – This was her first day coming into the office with me. I took her for a walk first thing and then she slept pretty much all morning in her pen next to my desk. A minor issue arose when I left for two hours in the middle of the day. I completely failed her by bringing her to a new place and then leaving her, and she made a bit of a fuss to my coworkers in my absence.  She behaved really well when I came back, but I knew it didn’t set us off on the right foot. I felt so awful that I didn’t set her up for success. The evening went well though and again she fell right asleep in her crate.

Wednesday – Wednesday was a pretty uneventful day! I decided to start a routine of bringing her to work for only a half day and then letting her stay at home with dad the rest of the day (I’m so lucky I have that luxury).  I had to go to reactive dog class in the evening so she was at home without me for the evening as well and she did fine. As long as I make sure she’s had enough exercise, usually all she does is lounge around with my parents. If she doesn’t get enough exercise, you can probably find her doing zoomies around the house/in the yard.  This evening she had an accident inside though, something she hadn’t done yet while living with us. It was – sorry for the gory details – some pretty runny stool. Poor monkey had a stomach ache!

ThursdayValentine’s Day! Johnnie joined me at work for the whole day because I didn’t have any meetings or anything to pull me away from my desk. She did well, but was a little antsy because we were both too lazy to get up for a walk that morning – bad foster mom! I took her for a jog after work because I was leaving her with my parents over night. She was “good as gold” for them, except she had another runny accident in the house :-(. I knew it was just because she couldn’t hold it since her stomach hurt so bad.

Friday – The upset stomach continued. . . I came home early Friday morning to a poor pup with a very messy crate. We (finally) decided to nix any treats or food except for some bland food the shelter gave us for dogs with upset tummies.   She was at work with me in the morning and then when I finally got home that afternoon. . . it was the weekend! We went for a long run/walk in the rain and spent the evening relaxing and playing with toys. I was so relieved to finally have the ability to spend as much time together as we wanted without having to impose on my parents to watch her while I was at work.

Saturday – Freedom! We woke up early and joined the Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s Pit Crew on a walk along the Potomac River. It was the first time Johnnie would be in a situation with so many other dogs. She did great, considering. She had some trouble focusing when we first got there because of all the stimulation, but as the walk went on she got better. I had to keep reminding myself this is all new to her and she is still learning and I shouldn’t be too hard on either of us if she isn’t perfect! She wasn’t reactive towards any of the dogs and some other walkers commented on how well she did. I was very proud of her!

Afterwards we made a special stop to get Johnnie a new toy and then hung out at Mark’s for some R&R, and then headed out on another short hike just the three of us. At the end of the day I took her to the Foster Dog Alliance class given by Your Dog’s Friend. Again, I had to remind myself that neither of us are going to be perfect in class because it was OUR FIRST TIME. Johnnie is already a pro at sit, down and touch. We practiced “watch me” and four on the floor. Johnnie has some manners to still master when it comes to greeting people – I think that will be our biggest project. She was so wiped out from the day that she curled up in her crate on her own at about 8 and just slept there the rest of the night. A tired dog is a happy… owner :-).

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Sunday – Another early morning for us at a group dog walk with B-More Dog! It was freeeezing but Johnnie was a trooper. I wanted to make sure we still had a good experience with so many other dogs so we stayed pretty separated from the group. I brought the clicker to this walk to reinforce some of the focusing tools we’d learned at the foster dog alliance class. She seemed to really love the structure and consistent reinforcement and stayed much more focused during this walk than the Pit Crew walk. People at the inner harbor LOVED her (I mean, who wouldn’t?).  I was very happy with how well she did with so many people and other dogs.

We swung by an MCHS adoption event on the way home, but only briefly. Johnnie’s favorite place to show off is somewhere with space and places to get away from other dogs or scary things (cars, trucks). Events where we’re in a small store with narrow aisles and lots of other dogs are not exactly our favorite. Instead of pushing her into a situation where she wouldn’t happy (and therefore would be outwardly cranky – something not so nice looking to the public), we left the event early and on a good note. I had plans for Sunday evening so she spent from about 6 pm on at home with parents, mostly switching between snoozing and telling them she deserves parts of their meal.

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Johnnie is such a special dog, and she shows that more every day.  I know I made it seem like she’s perfect in the above description, and she’s close to it – but there are still things that we need to work on to make her the best dog she can be for her forever family.  I’ll talk about this later in the week, but the worst part about the past seven days has been anticipating what might still go wrong – again, bad foster mom!

Right now my family and I are just enjoying the little things like watching Johnnie pounce after a squeaky toy or gently waddle over to you all groggy after waking up from a nap.  I absolutely love her, and I know there is someone else out there who one day will too.

If you’re interested in adopting Johnnie Cash, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.


A Post from FosterDad – December Edition

Juliana recently had her 1 year anniversary of fostering. Zabora, Baxter, Otis, and the occasional short term visitor have made this past year much different than the first few years we were together. Juliana loved all of the dogs that passed through her door. Some she handpicked, others picked her.

None of them picked me.

Don’t take this the wrong way, because I love dogs and have had a great time helping Juliana take care of these pups, but I never felt connected to these dogs at a deeper level. Juliana would have the first few days with the dog and because of our schedules we wouldn’t have much time to see each other. By the time I was able to interact with the dog, it was as if there were two sides and the dog had already chosen Juliana’s. I honestly never felt included.

And that was mostly my fault.

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This changed when Juliana brought Charlie home for a week. I was able to be around the first days he was in the house, but I was also able to hang out with Charlie alone. We spent a morning together working on his hesitation with basements. We built trust and team work (AKA I gave him a lot of yummy food), and this made it easier for Juliana since I was actively engaged with the dog (not that I completely wasn’t with the others).

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My point is, taking care of a dog is a group effort. From picking out a dog to training a dog everyone needs to be involved. With Christmas coming up here is an important reminder: it can be okay to give a pet as a gift only if you let the receiver pick out which pet to adopt rather than letting it a be a surprise. As much as we love to relish in the excitement of a surprise, an animal should never be a surprise. And after welcoming a new member to the family be sure to involve everyone. It’ll be better for the pet, and better for everyone else.

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Fall Afternoon Lessons… with Otis!

We love parallel walks. A dog can benefit so much from a walk with another dog. It gives them the opportunity to be around another dog without the pressure to interact, which can also help them learn to be calm in the presence of other dogs/people.  Sometimes I don’t always feel comfortable letting my fosters play off-leash with other dogs, but I’m always up for a fun leash walk!

The day after Thanksgiving was totally wide open for us. It was me, Charlie Bear, and a gorgeous Fall day, which obviously meant scoping out the best place to take him hiking.  I decided tocall up R to see if he and Otis wanted to join so that Charlie could practice walking nicely with another dog.  The four of us headed out to the C & O Canal, one of my absolute favorite spots to go for a nice long walk.

Charlie and Otis immediately hit it off.  In addition to getting practice walking with each other, both dogs got to work on staying calm when bikers, joggers, walkers and other dogs passed by.  With the help of treats and some distraction with the “sit” command, both boys pretty quickly began ignoring the passing company.

It can be helpful to take young dogs (or any age, really) to low-key places like this for a controlled amount of positive interactions (if and ONLY if they can handle it and aren’t reactive, etc.). What you want to avoid is introducing them to too much, causing them to become overstimulated where they might learn negative behavior or bad associations.  Socialization does not mean blasting your dog with every experience under the sun – it means controlled, positive situations where they can grow and learn in a positive way.  It also means knowing when to call it quits. We never reached that point with Charlie (or Otis, for that matter) because he’s pretty great in new situations, but I was constantly watching his body language for signs of stress.

As you can tell, the boys seemed pretty too cool for school during their hike.  After all the learning, practicing, and perfecting, both Charlie and Otis enjoyed some relaxing time lounging around for photos – which quickly turned into attempted play time! Ha!

I am proud of Charlie Bear for doing so awesome and for proving to me yet again what a great dog he will make for someone.  To top off our fun afternoon, Char plopped down when we got home from that walk and didn’t get up again until dinner.  Thanks to the basic obedience practice and the physical exercise, Charlie was tired and happy.

If you’re interested in adding Charlie to your family, email me at peacelovefoster@gmail.com, or fill out an application on the Jasmine’s House website.


There’s a New Pittie in the Neighborhood!

When my next door neighbors came to me saying they were looking into adopting a “pit bull” dog, I was elated.  They are the kind of laid back people who don’t care about stereotypes and just wanted a nice family dog for their kids to grow up with.  They headed to our local shelter and, after a slow moving search, finally found a pup that seemed to be the perfect match.

After meeting many dogs, they settled on handsome Rojo (pronounced Ro-ho). Rojo had been overlooked at the shelter for months because of his nondescript, brown-dog look. Even though he behaved like a gentleman during visits, he never caught anyone’s attention. Until this family stopped by and gave him a chance.

Rojo now lives with two kids and has a huge yard that backs up to woods.  He seriously hit the jackpot with this family. They’re so willing to accept him for who he is, and they’re ready to learn whatever they need to for him to be the best dog he can be.

They lost their last dog about a year and a half ago, so naturally they are experiencing some, “Oh yeah, he’s not Scooter” moments, but they’re working through those. We all know how hard it can be to not try and replace our last pet, but to realize that the new one is an entirely new experience to fall in love.  I have a feeling that Rojo will quickly turn into another beloved fur baby just like his predecessor.

I’d like to ask you all for some advice on their behalf: Rojo is a pretty consistent submissive/excitable wetter.  Do you have any ideas for curbing/curing that for me to pass on to them? Thanks!


What You Don’t Know

Last weekend I attended a free seminar about dog body language by Your Dog’s Friend, a non-profit committed to decreasing the amount of dogs who end up in shelters by educating owners. If you’re in the MD/DC/VA area I would absolutely recommend checking this organization out. Some upcoming free workshops they’re giving include how to address annoying behavior problems (digging, barking, jumping, etc.), dealing with an aging dog, and what is/is not aggression – all beneficial topics for any dog owner.

In just a two hour session, I learned more about dog body language than I had in a whole year. It was fascinating. That is where I’ll stop though, because I did not learn nearly enough to start regurgitating it back to you.

My reason for bringing up this seminar is because of another idea they covered during the lecture: the concept of learning. The speaker, Jules Nye from Sit, Stay, and Play, outlined four stages of learning:

1.  You don’t know what you don’t know

2.  You do know what you don’t know

3.  You do know what you do know

4.  You don’t know what you do know

I’ve found that as animal advocates, we usually find the most frustration with people in category #1 – those who don’t realize what they’re being clueless about. The person who lets their dog run up to your reactive dog, not realizing that not all dogs are social butterflies. The person whose pet’s nails grow super long because they don’t realize they need to cut them. The person who uses retractable leashes in busy places because they don’t see the problem with the lack of control. While many of us see these things as common sense, there is a true learning curve for those who don’t realize the consequences of their actions.

This is why the part of advocacy that is so important is education. We cannot expect everyone to just know all the ins and outs of being a sensible dog owner.  Were you born knowing the importance of spay/neuter? When you got your first dog, were you sensitive to every single other dog owner you came in contact with? What about when you first started training your dog, did you automatically know how to do it? We have to remember that those in category #1 that drive us so crazy (“I can’t believe they would let their dog do that!”) often just haven’t been informed of alternatives to what they are doing. Most times all it takes is one easy conversation to move someone from a category #1 to category #2 – and what a difference that makes! Then, even if they still don’t know it all, at least they are aware of what they don’t know.

So just remember: if you don’t know what you don’t know, you can never learn more. Help others help their animals by opening their eyes to what they need to learn. So many people are willing to improve themselves, they just don’t know how they should! It’s tough for us in category #4 (on some topics, not all) to realize that we know what we know because we’ve learned it and that it hasn’t just always been common knowledge to us, so we should be more understanding of those who are not yet where we are.

Just one year ago Little Zee was adopted, and I thought I knew so much. But the truth was that I knew only a small fraction of what I know now, and a miniscule amount compared to what I plan on learning over my life time. Every time I get preachy or self-righteous, I have to remind myself of that. I am always learning!

“The learning and knowledge that we have, is, at the most, but little compared with that of which we are ignorant.”  -Plato

Photo cred to Love & a Six-Foot Leash


Taking Your Dog to Public Events

The more I’m learning about dog behavior, the more large-scale dogs events make me cringe. I can now pick up on stress signals, signs of discomfort, poor social skills, warning signs, etc. – and I’m realizing that these behaviors, as you can imagine, are widely prevalent at events with lots of dogs and people.  Even though most of the dogs that attend these events are dog friendly (because they’d be kicked out in an instant if they weren’t), doesn’t mean that all the dogs present are having an easy time.

In order to keep dogs and people happy at big events, it’s important to stay in tune with your dog. I recommend reading up on dog behavior and stress signals before braving one of these big events. That will give you some tools to recognize issues as they arise, before they become a bigger problem.  After watching others attend these events and going to many myself, here are some tips I think are helpful for big public outings:

Come prepared with appropriate equipment. Make sure you bring everything you need to set you and your dog up for success. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do not take your dog to big events using retractable leashes. There is hardly any control with these leashes, and in high activity environments you need all the control you can get. For the sake of all other dogs and owners at the event, I encourage you to stick to 4′ or 6′ standard leashes. Many events, especially if run by a humane society or rescue group, have policies against using retractable leashes.

Bring lots of TREATS!   I understand that shoving a bunch of treats in your dogs mouth won’t solve real problems, but it can sure help manage some when you’re out in a distracting environment. Often times when there is an overwhelming amount of stimuli, your dog will only pay attention to you if you’ve got something they want: yummy food. In new environments it is essential to be able to capture your dog’s focus. Treats will help enormously for this, especially if they are high value.

Don’t test at big events. An easy way to set your dog up for failure is bringing them into a high stress situation and having the “they can sink or swim” mentality. Socialization doesn’t come in the form of mass interactions with lots of people/dogs/things at one time.  Socialization should be controlled, positive experiences. Events can be so overwhelming for dogs – to the point that instead of learning proper social skills they just shut down. It is much better to work on your dog’s reaction to new people, dogs, etc. at a threshold where they will still be able to learn and progress.

Understand that dogs are dogs. I think the worst thing we can do for our dogs is to anthropomorphize them. This leads to all sorts of unrealistic expectations: Fluffy should like all the dogs, Fluffy should behave all day because this is fun, Fluffy should listen to me when we’re here just like at home, etc. We have to be understanding that these events are so high stress and different for most dogs that they might not act like they do normally, or they might act differently than we expect or want.

Know your/their limits. It does not help anyone to overdo it with your dog. Dogs are extremely sensitive and can go from being fine to absolutely not fine in a matter of minutes. It is essential that you stay in tune to how your dog is reacting to other dogs or people, and the minute things start getting hairy, you skedaddle (like I mentioned – don’t use these big, unstructured events as tests or “learn to deal with it” situations!).  Your dog might not necessarily need to leave all together, but a time out away from all the hubbub can really help a dog’s mentality.  Baxter behaved perfectly for over an hour at the Nationals game, and we listened to him when he told us he’d had enough. We distanced ourselves from the crowd and hung out together at a separate table. We knew that was the best way for Baxter to finish the afternoon off successfully, so we made it happen. We didn’t push him, and we ended the afternoon on a great note.

There are the lucky few out there who have dogs that are game for anything and everything. But there are also a large number of dog owners who don’t realize what they’re putting their dogs through when they bring them to these tough situations. I’m not saying your dog will never be able to attend these sort of dog friendly events, I just want dog owners to be aware of how their dogs are handling situations. That makes for a happier and safer environment for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Instead of these large scale events, I am always a supporter of smaller ones that are more controlled, like B-More Dog’s walks where the dogs aren’t allowed to meet each other, and Pittie Trails where we work specifically on skills around other people and dogs. I like to live a life of always setting my dogs up for success!


Lessons from AFF: The Joys of Enrichment

I’ve always been a fan of kongs and toy puzzles and nose work, but I never truly realized how they fit into the bigger picture of enrichment. Enrichment is so essential to a dog’s happiness and mental well being because it allows them outlets to use their doggy senses. I learned that it doesn’t only encompass the taste and smell senses in the form of food games, but also visual, hearing, and touching exercises. Enrichment can be fun, easy, and cheap – and for what a dog gets out of it, the extra effort is one hundred percent worth it.

In shelters, dogs are often so bored, overwhelmed, and stressed that they can quickly start displaying negative behaviors that are unfortunately sometimes a poor representation to the dog’s true personality. Enrichment activities help to postpone or prevent the onset of these behaviors by stimulating the dog’s senses and wearing them out mentally.  The dogs then in turn show better to adopters because they are either preoccupied working on their puzzles and therefore not barking, or they’re just so tired from all their work to get the treats or whatever that they’re mellow in their kennels.

At Animal Farm we learned about all kinds of different enrichment activities.  The most well known ones are the kinds involving food that are supposed to be tricky and keep the dog busy for a while, including frozen stuffed kongs, busy buckets, and ice treats. Frozen stuffed kongs are self explanatory, but remember that you can stuff them with all sorts of different foods and treats (just make sure you’re not feeding your dog three meals in the process). Busy buckets are small pails that you fill with different things to do, smell, and taste. The point is to stuff them very tightly so that it’s a challenge for the dog to get each fun object out – try to flip your busy bucket upside down without anything falling out! Ice treats are also pretty self explanatory. Fill a bucket with different bones, balls, treat toys, etc. then add a little bit of kibble – fill with water, freeze, and you’re done. All of these toys can include your dog’s normal meal contents to make dinner a fun and difficult exercise! Busy buckets were a total blessing with our energetic housemate Birdie; they would keep her quiet and still for more than thirty seconds!

Smell is also, as expected, a very good way to engage dogs. In shelters, simple PVC pipes with holes drilled in them can be a world of smells for a dog. Fill it with something smelly, like dirty hamster shavings (gross for humans but jackpot for dogs), and close the endings to create an interesting activity for the dogs. You can hang them around their kennel or you can put them in the exercise yard where the dogs are walked to give them something to investigate while they get their potty break. Even short, simple activities like this can make a big difference in a dog’s mental well being.

I could write forever about other ways to help make a dog’s living environment – home or shelter – more positively stimulating, but all of this and more is on AFF’s website. There you can find a plethora of information about enrichment, including step-by-step instructions and explanations about the benefits. Remember that these are not just beneficial for shelter dogs, but for your own pets as well! All dogs can use an excuse to work their sniffer, tongue or noggin. A tired dog, whether mentally or physically, is a happier dog!