The Crate Debate

Just like pretty much every other part of dog ownership, there are lots of opinions out there regarding crating dogs. Some people swear against it, some people swear by it, and some people just don’t care. Similarly, some dogs love it, some dogs hate it, and some dogs can be trained to tolerate it.

I love crating. Responsible crating, that is – i.e. in a crate suitable for the dog’s size and for an acceptable amount of time. There are some parts of my fostering life where I’ve found it’s a total life saver to be able to crate a dog – mostly being any time I need them to not have free reign of whatever space they’re in (duh). It puts everyone’s mind at ease when you don’t have to worry about the dog getting into any trouble, and knowing that they’re happy while staying secure.

Something I’ve started doing with my fosters is crating at night. I believe that it’s best to keep my foster pups away from my room for bedtime so that they don’t get too used to sleeping in “my pack”. Who knows if it actually makes a difference, but since this is not their final destination I don’t want them getting too comfy with me at night.

It also helps me to be able to crate dogs when I, well, need them contained. This was very important for Baxter because of his affinity for eating things. That meant any time he was home alone, he was crated. He would get kongs and other indestructible things to keep him occupied, and he seemed pretty fond of his little house (after the first two weeks).

Regardless of the arguments one way or the other (dogs should never be caged vs. dogs love having something resembling a “den”), I choose to decide if my dog is happy to be crated simply by how they act. Do they resist going in? Do they whine? Do they bark? Do they try really, really hard to get out? While these are all things that can be worked through with a dog, it still helps to determine a pup’s initial feelings on the topic.

Otis’ last owner said she didn’t crate him because she knew he had probably been in a cage most of his life. While I understand that when translating this to human emotions you might not want to continue to “put him through that”, but in Otis’ mind the crate is his safest place. When I brought him home the first night, I walked him straight into his crate and closed the door while we hung out in the kitchen (the crate is right there in all the action), and he settled in nicely. I wanted to show him that this could be his happy place while at my house, and it’s continued to be that way ever since.

Since Otis doesn’t have the same eating problem that Baxter did, he gets the run of the house when we’re gone (so nice to have a dog like that, I know!). Honey Bunches only stays in his crate at night now. I’m okay with it because 1. He walks in willingly when it’s time to call it a night 2. He doesn’t whine or bark when he is in there and 3. He settles right in when I turn off the light and say goodnight. He seems to like it.

I also always make sure he isn’t in there for too long. If I want to sleep in, I often wake up super early to let him out to go to the bathroom and then I’ll let him sleep in my room for the next few hours since it’s technically just a nap, and it’s not every night.

So for us, crating works well and can be a total blessing for those “special cases” that need a little more supervision. I know that a lot of people don’t believe in crating, but – like most other things – I like to just look at it from a dog to dog (and situation) basis. Perhaps the next dog I get will hate crates. After whining about it myself for a few hours, we’ll figure out an alternative. We’ll work towards crate acceptance. We’ll adapt. That’s what you’ve got to do. But for now, we’ll revel in our crating successes.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to learn more about him and how to get in touch.

Progress Makes “Perfect”

I’ve really driven home on this blog the point that Otis can be a bit co-dependent. That’s what I remembered him being from over the summer, and what was confirmed by his last owner when I took him back. After an independent Baxter, I was wondering what it would be like to have a shadow dog again. I had visions of him whimpering outside the bathroom door while I showered, getting stuck under my feet at every step, and showing separation anxiety when left alone.

What I wasn’t accounting for was adjustment, relaxation, and a mind at ease. These ingredients have brought out an entire new side of Otis from when he came to me six weeks ago.  I was able to enjoy and appreciate progress with Baxter every day, but for some reason I’ve been totally blind to how far Otis has come.  So I want to take an entry to celebrate Otis’ victories like he deserves.

While Otis still loves to hang out with me, he no longer needs to be attached to my hip. A big milestone he recently started enjoying is relaxing in the living room by himself while everyone is in the kitchen. He’ll also leave my room and walk upstairs to hang out with my parents if I’m not doing something entertaining enough for him. He’ll be that companion dog who will follow you from room to room and keep you company, but who won’t let the whole neighborhood know when you’re separated from each other in the house.

In the same vein, another thing that makes him a great dog is how well he does when alone. He just stays on the couch the whole time he is by himself. No chewing, no whining, no destruction. Just calm and patience, waiting for our return. It’s so relieving! It is especially nice to know that he can stay home all day while I’m at work and not bug my parents. In fact, they barely even realize he is around.

Otis has also become a “normal” eater – he gobbles his meals down, he is enticed by treats, and sometimes he even comes over to have a sniff of what we’re eating. For the first while, Honey barely touched his food, let alone treats. I was worried about him, but he has proven to be just as eager as the rest of the food motivated pups out there. Along with the food motivation has come basic obedience. His butt is on the floor as soon as he sees a treat in my hand; a scene much like the photo below. “I did it, now where is my reward??”

Finally, one of the biggest things I realized when I stopped to reflect on Otie’s first month was that the jumping has almost completely stopped. It was always Otis’ go to –  he would get excited, then hop his front paws on whatever was in front of him: a human, a couch, a bed. He was always bopping around. Now it seems he doesn’t even think about jumping up (with a few exceptions of over excitement, of course).

So no, he is not perfect – but every day he is becoming more calm, comfortable, and happy – and what else can we ask for? So many dogs get bumped from home to home because they are not given the chance to settle in.  Otis, just like Baxter, is a prime example of a dog who needs a little time and TLC before he becomes the best that he can be. But once they come out of their shell and show you their goofy and loving personality, you’ll be so glad you gave them that chance.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to learn more about him and how to get in touch.

Peanut Butter Success

Many of you gave me some great advice on last week’s blog post about getting Otis engaged in his eating activities. While I’m looking for mentally stimulating activities that really challenge him, I did start with just simple peanut butter in the Kong to see how hard Otis would work for it. The answer? Very hard. Thanks for all your tips – I’m looking forward to working more with Otis on his food drive, but for now it’s fun to watch him enjoy the simplicity of delicious peanut butter.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to learn more about him and how to get in touch.

Four on the Floor, Please

Many of you with energetic, happy dogs know what it’s like when you come home and they are just SO EXCITED to see you. It can often involve (and this list, of course, is for the ones lacking suitable manners – aka many of my dogs at some point or another) jumping, trying to lick your face, happy tails knocking over anything within reach, paws on work clothes, etc. You get the idea? For a lot of dogs, jumping is the first reaction when excited and Otis was no exception.

Otis is really great at home all day by himself because he just sleeps on the couch, but then all of his saved up energy seems to be let out in an excitable explosion of happy dog, happy tail, and happy feet when I arrive home.  Please see Exhibit A from Paws in the Park when Otis saw me for the first time that day:

When Honey Bunches first came to my house, his previous owner warned me of his big hefty paws and the damage his claws could innocently do. My solution? Teach him not to jump! Now there are many different opinions out there about what is the best method to fix this (just like with everything else). I want to take a minute to remind you I’m not a professional anything, so what I’m going to talk about is mostly just from my own experiences.

The approach that I of course wanted to steer very clear of was using any sort of physical means to stop him: kneeing, kicking, shoving, whatever. The problem with this is that – among other things – the dog will slowly get used to this force, and you will have to increase what you do over time. Soon you will end up booting your dog in the face! Not really, but you get the point. Negative attention for a dog is still attention, so this method doesn’t work well because technically they’re still getting what they want. Plus, the idea of hurting Otis in the name of obedience totally irks me, so I went a different route.

What Otis is craving the most when I come home is acknowledgement and attention, which makes it pretty easy to show him what I want and don’t want. When I walk in and he starts jumping up to say hi, I completely ignore him. He is bouncing off the walls around me, but I don’t look at him, I don’t talk to him, and I even turn my body away from him. I walk in the door and put my things down and pretend he is not there, then as soon as he calms down with four feet on the floor, I give him calm praise. No big, “Yay, good job! Good boy!” because that just sets him off again. Just a calm, “Hi Otie,” and a pat on the head. It’s acknowledgement, so it’s good enough for him.  Soon he learns that in order to get my attention, he has to calm down. He has (for the most part) stopped jumping up on me when I get home.

This took a few days of trial and error of Otis still jumping up when I got home, but when he picked up on what I wanted, he caught on quick.  Like I’ve mentioned before, positive reinforcement training – so ignoring the bad and praising the good – has worked very well with Otis and his sensitive little soul.  It’s tough to remember in every day life though. As you can see in the video, I still say hi to him when he is jumping up, therefore reinforcing the behavior, so we’re still working on things – but we’ve made progress in this area and others. When he first tried to jump up on the bed I did the same thing: he put his paws on the bed to get up and I immediately turned away and ignored him, and as soon as he hopped back down I gave him a lot of praise. He caught on quickly that the bed was not somewhere he was welcome, and definitely not somewhere he was going to get attention.

It’s tough on these blogs to highlight dogs in their best light as great adoptable pets without making them out to be flawless dogs. All dogs (except those of you with perfect ones :-)) have things they need to work on. While foster homes aren’t responsible for creating the perfect pet, it is important to tell potential adopters what they should expect from an animal. For Otis, I will do as much as I can to tell them about his excitement and how to handle it. For Baxter, it was telling them about his need for space. Every dog has their “quirks”, and adopters are allowed to have a threshold of what they’re comfortable dealing with or not – which is why it is important to disclose as much information about a dog as you can.  If they really love the dog, they’ll be willing to put in the effort – if they’re not, they’re probably a better match for someone else. That’s the beauty of setting up animals with the perfect family.

Channeling his inner Sir Chick.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his Adopt Me page to check out more about him and how to get in touch.

Food Motivaton, Positive Training, and Progress

Food motivation: the thing that can make training with your dog a piece of cake and help you feel like the best dog-human team there is, or the thing that can make obedience class one of the most frustrating activities you and your dog will do together.

Baxter was food motivated. He would do almost anything for food. Baxter came to me with pretty much zero obedience training, and in a matter of weeks learned sit, down, paw, and… okay, well that’s about it – but still! It was easy enough because he loved food. I didn’t even have to use treats with him; he would bend over backwards for just kibble. It was great!

Otis showed up as a non-food motivated dog, or so it seemed. The first few days he wouldn’t eat his kibble even for meals, and would turn up his nose at whatever I put in front of him.  Working on basic obedience was frustrating and discouraging because Otis would pay zero attention to me or the treat in my hand. Turns out though that all he needed was to settle in a little, and boom went the appetite (duh! earth to fostermom!).

Look at me being a good little student and staring intently at the treat.

This is making a very positive change in his attention during training work. He will still have trouble focusing if I don’t have a treat, but as soon as I get something yummy in my hand, it’s all eyes and ears on me (gee, can’t imagine why). The treat still has to be pretty high value, like deli ham or cheese (which we break it into baby bites to make sure he doesn’t get an unhealthy amount during our sessions), but now his focus is worlds better than it was three weeks ago.

I’ve been using a clicker with him to help build a positive relationship, especially because he is so sensitive. Honey would not do well with someone saying “NO!” to him all the time. He works best when he is encouraged for doing well, and, like most dogs, he shuts off when he doesn’t know what you’re asking. I’ve used clicker training to help work on eye contact and focus, as well as basic stuff like sit and wait. I’m excited because he has been making quick progress with sit-stay-come; something Baxter never exactly mastered.

To make sure Otie doesn’t get confused or discouraged, we keep training sessions short, sweet, and frequent. I’ll grab some treats when we wake up in the morning and work for five minutes before breakfast. Then we’ll do some simple commands after the workday. Then we’ll have a refresher course after a walk – and so on. It ensures that our experiences stay positive, and Otis keeps enjoying to learn. It is our goal to set him up for success now during his time with us and for when he is in his forever home.

For more information on adopting Honey Bunches of Otis, go to his adopt me page or email

Pittie Trails First Walk!

You all had some really great guesses about what the two pictures in yesterday’s post had in common. The answer? They were both from the first ever Pittie Trails hike!

We had a great, great time! There were nine dogs total who came out to Rachel Carson Conservation Park last weekend. From the top left: Baxter, Lily, Athena, Reese (with the backpack), Cotton (gray & white), Nelly, Penny (pink collar), Stella, and McMuffin (who is for adoption!).

All of them were extremely well behaved, even while working on different manners.

Seeing all the dogs walking together really demonstrated how valuable things like this can be. It exposes the dogs to other dogs in a safe and controlled group, while also adding in distractions. Sometimes the distractions are far from anything they’d ever come across otherwise, like:

A horse! We came across very few other people on the trail, but one of which was this pair.

The poor horse “doesn’t like dogs” according to the rider, and you can imagine what we expected the dogs to think about the horse. Luckily, though, we were on a spot on the trail that everyone could get far off the path (which they did quickly and quietly because everyone was so awesome!). The horse snorted and pranced by us, visibly unhappy but tolerant. The dogs all did great, except I think for Athena who sent out a few barks expressing the way she felt – understandably!

Other than that, it was nothing but woods, creeks, and fields. The weather was perfect, and I think a good time was had by all! The trail was a little short, so I think a few dogs ended up energy to spare – but we are really excited to start branching out to new locations after we get the group going. Hopefully we can get to an area by everyone who wants to join.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out for the first hike!

We don’t have the next one scheduled yet, but stay tuned to the Pittie Trails Facebook page for the coming schedule. Also, check out the Facebook page in the next few days to see the photo album of all the pictures from this trip. Email if you have any questions about coming on hikes with us – we’d love to have you.

What a great afternoon!

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

Introducing Pittie Trails: a MD Hiking Group

I know it’s been a long time since I did my few posts about hiking, saying we wanted to get this group together – and here it finally is! Pittie Trails is a hiking group in the DC/MD/VA area, aiming to exercise and socialize the things that mean the most to us: our dogs! Sorry in advance that this post is about to be a little lengthy, but we have a lot of exciting stuff to cover to get ready for our first walk.

The name is no more than just a tribute to the breed we love – dogs of all shapes, sizes, and breeds are welcome! We are also super excited to meet other humans in the area who are as passionate about hiking and dogs as we are. Walks will probably be once a month at first.

I’m excited to introduce to you a few of the master minds behind this group, as you will probably meet them at some point if you are ever able to join us!

Jen & Lily Fireworks

You may remember Lily from our post about Baxter’s hiking date with his crush… yep, that was Lily – formerly known as Lollie from Love & a Six-Foot Leash. Lily’s mom Jen is the one who had the idea for us two to go for a walk together in the first place, and then made a comment in passing about starting this group. Well, one thing led to another and sure enough here it is! Lily is using the group as a way to stay social with other dogs, and to work on not trying to meet every squirrel she spots.

Katie, Ian, Reese, & McMuffin

Ian & Katie are our trail experts. They volunteer with the Montgomery County Parks Service (I think I’ve got that right…) so they know essentially every trail in the area — jackpot!!! Reese is their resident pittie, and McMuffin on the right is their foster from Jasmine’s House. They run the blog Running With Squirrels. McMuffin is working on her leash skills in the presence of other dogs, and Reese is working on staying the perfect trail dog that he already is.

Then there is Me & Bax, but we’re old news. Baxter will be working on his excitement levels when around other dogs & people.

See, everyone has things to work on! That’s why this group is so great. To make sure everyone stays safe when we’re walking and learning and socializing and exploring, we have some group rules. We ask that anyone who joins our hikes follow and respect these rules to keep the safety (and sanity) of the group.

Pittie Trails Rules

1.  No greetings between dogs even if the dogs know eachother. This alleviates the social pressure for everyone, and keeps the group calm (or… more calm than it could potentially be). Please respect this – we don’t know the background/behavior/preferences of the dogs and we want people to feel comfortable bringing their dogs no matter what “issues” they need to work on.

2.  No retractable leashes. Only 6′ and under leashes, please. We want to make sure everyone has the most control of their dog possible and at all times.

3.  At least 5 feet should stay between each dog on the trail at all times. The group will be nice and spread out so the dogs can relax. You’ll see that when the dogs start walking on top of each other, they get pretttty excited.

4.  One dog per walker. Again with the control factor. Speaking of, though – we would love to have extra humans who don’t have dogs, so feel free to bring dog-less friends!

5.  Respect the area & other hikers.  This means please bring things to pick up after your dog. Also, when other walkers pass us, please step off the trail and get your dog under control (if they are not being a perfect angel already, of course : -)) so that we don’t freak the community out with our big group of dogs. We want to send out a positive image of dogs, especially pitties, so we don’t want anyone annoyed/scared/unhappy with our group.

6. Bring treats & water. We want the dogs to stay hydrated and focused!

I think that’s it for now! As we begin these hikes we will tweak and add to these as we see necessary.

So, finally the fun stuff: our first hike is going to be this Saturday, February 4 at 10:30 am at Rachel Carson Conservation Park in Olney. We will meet at the parking lot off Zion Rd. (on the right if you are headed on Zion toward Sundown Rd from Rt. 108) around 10:15 am. We will do group introductions, then head out around 10:30.

The trail clocks in at just about 1 hour, winding through the woods past a gorgeous creek, rolling hills, and a horse farm. It is a pretty straight forward loop so for those of you who want extra exercise for your pooch, feel free to do the loop twice! It can be a little muddy, so come prepared.

We’d appreciate it if you emailed or left a comment here if you’re planning on coming, just so we have an idea of numbers. Also feel free to email us with any questions, and check out our Facebook page for updates. Other than that… we look forward to seeing you Saturday!

We also want to say a big thank you to Hikeabull and Chicago Sociabulls for their help on starting this project!