Fetch-For-Fosters: A program that proactively helps rescue dogs to get adopted

Thanks Katie Grillaert for this blog…

No Dog About It Blog

Woman Rubbing Noses with PuppyIf you’ve read my blog, then you know that I am a big believer in dog training and helping people to better understand their dogs through dog body language. You probably also know that I am also a huge supporter of animal shelters and animal rescues.

The biggest issue many rescue organizations face is making a dog more adoptable. Training is key to making this happen. How a dog behaves is one of the biggest factors that impacts whether a dog will be adopted. It is a key factor in keeping an adopted dog in their new home.

Today, I would like to introduce you to someone who has a novel new idea that I hope will become a model nationwide. Fetch-for-Fosters is the brainchild of dog trainer Katie Grillaert of Fetch Dog Training and Behavior. It is a new program focused on proactively addressing a dog’s training needs…

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Dog Depression in Shelters – Be a Foster and Save a Life!

Dennis - photo by Sara Rylander

Dennis photo by Sara Rylander

Some dogs do “ok” in a shelter environment and some dogs just start to shut down. There is a common occurrence called “Kennel Crazy” where a dog is literally going stir crazy in their kennel. This is a common occurance for long timers in a shelter.  The depression can start as listlessness, drooling, obsessive licking, spinning, cage charging, barking and other destructive behaviors.  Life at a shelter can be a jail sentence for a depressed dog. It is very hard to bring a dog back to normal behavior once he crosses over to kennel crazy.

At Mostly Mutts Animal Rescue and Adoption, in Acworth Georgia, we have great volunteers and the majority of our dogs are in foster homes.  Our mission is to pull animals from the surrounding animal control, high-kill shelters.  Sometimes, we have some long-term residents in the shelter who haven’t found their forever homes and have not been – no fosters available, larger dogs seem to be harder to foster, dog/dog fear or aggression, special needs or a plethora of other reasons.

Dennis, has been in our shelter for a while.  He’s a loving and active dog and seems to get along well with other dogs.  He can also scale a 6-foot fence and that makes him a bit of a special needs dog.  We are lucky that we have so many dedicated volunteers and have four shifts of volunteers a day come in to walk the dogs, clean cages, feed and water, etc. but that doesn’t always prevent a dog like Dennis from getting depressed.

“…when I turned back to head back to the shelter on our walk, he was noticeably upset…he just wanted to keep going,” said Julie Wall, a Mostly Mutts shelter volunteer.

When dogs fall into this depression, it effects their ability to get adopted.  The Kennel Crazy can evolve to lunging at cage front, barking at potential adopters, not being able to self sooth. The daily noise and stress of being in a shelter can make it extremely difficult to adjust to a real home life if and when they do get adopted.  Even in the best, most comfortable and high-tech shelters, the boredom of being in a smell kennel or crate 20+ hours a day among the chaos of kennel life.

If you can’t foster a dog like Dennis then consider “checking” a dog out at your local shelter.  Many shelters have programs where a volunteer can take the shelter dogs on outings. Some of our shelter residents have been hiking up Kennesaw Mountain or Red Top Mountain, boating on Lake Allatoona, or even going to weekend slumber parties at volunteers’ homes who work too many hours during the week.

Exercise, psychological stimulation and plain, old fashioned love are keys to prevent Kennel Crazy.  Can you help Dennis or a dog like Dennis in your community?  If you are interested in fostering for Mostly Mutts, check out our website.

What I love about D-O-G-S!

The only time in my life that I can remember being without a dog is when I lived in Washington, DC right after college.  For a few years, I was petless until a mama cat walked into our townhouse and gave birth to four babies.  My roommate and I kept one of the kittens each and rehomed the others and mama cat.  When I moved a few years later, the brother/sister team were a bonded pair so I said goodbye to Sidley Ann (she was originally Sid Viscious until I discovered that he was a she!) and she stayed with her brother ‘Coon and my roommate, Rhonda.

kennai and kasey 3

Kennai and Kritter Keeper!

Most of my life I’ve had dogs and cats and multiples of both but I’ve always been drawn to a dog.  Big dogs, mostly! I’ve had labs and lab mixes since I was old enough to choose for myself (got a lab I named Boo Boo who went to FSU with me!).  But I love them all…big dogs, little dogs, hairless dogs, shaggy dogs.

First, I love that they are clever. Look at all that floor space but Kennai knows the best spot and softest spot is to sit in my lap.  That’s where he’s going to get the full-on doggie massage and butt scritchin’!  The first day we took this dog out of the kennels, we had to put up curtained panels around him so he couldn’t see the other dogs.  Now he’s a bubba smoosh and can tolerate being close by other dogs…he still tracks them but we can manage that.

Secondly, dogs don’t hold on to stuff.  They aren’t score keepers.  There is no secret chalk board that they are making marks on when you mess up a training sequence and don’t treat them when you should.  Kennai isn’t saying to me, “Ahhh, I’m not going to sit for you today because remember last Thursday when I sat for you and you didn’t tell me I was a good boy or give me a piece of cheese?”

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submissive grin

Third, you always know where you stand with a dog.  They are not capable of playing mind-games with you although some people really think that their dog tore up their favorite pair of shoes to get back at them for taking them to the vet instead of the dog park.  I’m pretty sure the dog tore up their favorite pair of shoes because a) they were accessible and b) they smelled like mom or dad.  A dog that doesn’t want you near is going to warn you away with a growl or with body language.  A dog that is more submissive may give you appeasement signals like showing his belly or a submissive grin.

Fourth, a dog helps me center myself.  I can drift off into a deep meditative state just by stroking the dog’s back.  I don’t have to worry about carrying a conversation.  We can just sit together and be. I know studies have shown that petting a dog or cat can lower blood pressure but it’s something deeper for me.  I once took a class on how to meditate at the Atlanta Yoga Center.  During the class you learned to focus on the air coming in and out of your nostrils while chanting your mantra to get into a deeper meditation.  Petting a dog is like chanting my mantra.

Last, and most important, dogs bond with you unconditionally.  You are their person to steal a phrase from Grey’s Anatomy! You rock a dog’s world and you are the person who feeds him, nurtures him, pets him, exercises him both physically and mentally.  Have you ever noticed that when you are sick, your dog is right by your side?  Because I have a multiple dogs at the Litt Palace of Puppy Love, I’m lucky to get the “tuck in” effect when I’m not feeling good.  I usually have one of the girls on the left side of me, one on the right side and one by the feet.  Sometimes I’m lucky (ha!) enough to have one resting on the same pillows as my head!

Dogs are my happy place and I’m a very lucky individual to have them in my life!

Timing, timing, timing!

Everything is about timing in the dog training world and how we can help our dogs learn to live compatibly with their humans. 

Forgive the awful video quality and the cooing voice in the background (it’s me!).  The first thing I did when we let the puppies loose is lay down on my back like Gulliver and let the Puppyputians jump all over me!  My friend Suzy Houpt and fellow dog fosterer for Mostly Mutts Animal Rescue in Acworth, GA actually came up with the Gulliver’s Travels reference!

Did you know that from about age six weeks to about 12 weeks is what animal behavior scientists call the Optimal Socialization Period for a dog?  This means that you need to get those puppies exposed to as many dogs, humans, other species, etc. as possible.  I’m not saying take your baby puppy to a dog park or PetSmart to walk on the floor — you have no control over anyone bringing a sick dog to those places and you definitely don’t want your pup exposed to that until fully vaccinated — but take your puppy to meet all types of people and dogs you know are healthy and social.

What about those dreaded “accidents” in the house as you train your puppy that going potty outside is way better?  Well, if you come across a puddle and you didn’t see it happen, if you reprimand the pup he will just think you are a crazy person because they won’t put the two together.  Too much time has passed.

Now if you catch the puppy in midstream, that’s perfect timing!  Don’t wait for him to finish — yell “Hey” or clap loud and pick him up and take him outside to finish (or on the wee wee pad if you are training that way).  When the pup potties outside, I have a “Potty Party” and give lots of excited praise.  Some people give actual treats but the act of relieving oneself and some good praise should be sufficient.  You know that feeling when you really have to go…you can almost hear the “Ahhhhhh!”

The timing of giving the dog a treat when teaching basic obedience behaviors is also very relative.  You really want to time the giving of the treat with the behavior you are rewarding.  Sometimes we humans are just not fast enough so teaching these commands using a marker like a clicker or even the word, “Yes!” gives you time to get the treat ready to give.  A treat pouch is helpful but you want to make sure the dog is paying attention to the hand signal, your verbal cue and you — not the treats!  If you are doing a down/stay, you want to reward the dog for the down and the stay but if he breaks it, well then no reward!IMG_0492

When I was first learning how to teach clicker training, our instructor had us get a pile of dried beans and a paper cup.  We would click and pick a bean out of our treat bag and place it in the paper cup.  Mark and then treat.  Mark and then treat. Mark and then treat.  I think I dream about marking and treating!

To practice my timing for marking a behavior, I used my table mirror.  First I would crinkle my nose and mark it with a “Yes!” just to get the rhythm and timing down.  I can imagine anyone who walked into my room at the time would be calling for the crazy wagon! But I needed (and still need to!) practice the timing.  But it’s all about timing, timing, timing!

Do dogs seek vengeance?

dog_urine_in_houseI do it all the time…I assign my dogs complex thoughts.  I used to believe they know right or wrong. I would say things like “he knows better than to steal that wooden leg!”

I see the videos where the dog has a submissive grin when the guy asks who stole the cat treats or who got into the garbage (and the trashcan lid is around the “guilty” dog’s neck). It sure feels like they are vindictive when I’ve just taken them home from the boarding place and they look at me and pee on the carpet in the bedroom!  In Jean Donaldson’s book, The Culture Clash, she states that dogs are completely and innocently selfish.

“Although some of their behaviors are socially facilitated, there is no good evidence that they have the all-purpose Swiss Arm Knife imitation tool that humans have. Here is the important point: this does not make them stupid or any less valuable than they would be if they could think more like us.”

Assigning these very human behaviors to dogs or any other species besides humans is called anthropomorphizing.  It’s pretty easy to do when you don’t really understand how small the dog’s brain is and how they really can’t think up these complex thoughts.  In Dr. Patricia McConnell’s book, The Other End of the Leash, she tells the story of a dog owner, John, who came to her with a male Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chester who didn’t like to be corrected.  When John said “No!”, Chester would run into the bedroom, jump on the bed, wait for his owner to come and then, staring directly at him, lift his leg and pee on the pillow.

That has to be a vengeance pee, right? Well, in a nutshell no. John had been warned that Chessies are often stubborn and willful dogs.  The breeder had advised him to yell, “NO!” at    Chester and grab him by the scruff and shake him.  John was a good student and did what was advised. Chester was freaked out frightened and flattened his ears, rolled over and peed some more.  John realized he’d gone over the top with his correction.

For the next few days, the same scenario ensued.  John would yell, “No!” and run toward Chester.  Chester would cower and urinate.  John would stop realizing it would just make the dog more anxious.  Chester learned that if he peed, John would stop his offensive movement.  Later Chester learned to combine his peeing with a game he’d been teaching John called “Tag, I’m It!” As with a lot of adolescents, it was pleasurable to be chased and to watch Dad go gaga (Chester had found the right button to push!) but the trigger to this behavior was John yelling “NO!”bedpee

The behavior was turned around with John changing his correction word from “no” to “wrong”.  Chester learned that if he stopped what he was doing when he heard “wrong,” something good happened. John and Chester lived happily ever after.

So the next time you think that puddle in your bed is a vengeance pee, think about all the things that might have led up to it.  Dogs just don’t think in terms of justice and vengeance.