Thursday, October 30, 2008

Big Dog Discrimination

As a big dog owner all of my adult life, I have found there is a certain level of discrimination against the 50+ pound doggy crowd. Some hotels and resorts that are "pet friendly" are actually restricted to small dogs. Some people are more fearful of big dogs just because they are big. Houseguests don't want a big dog on their lap but probably wouldn't mind a small dog or cat.

I'm sure there are other examples but the most discouraging, especially this time of year, is the very small selection of big dog Halloween costumes! Last year, in order to participate in our local doggy day care's Halloween party, I went out in search of a costume for Finn, our 70-lb Labrador. I didn't have much luck as almost all of the costumes were only provided in small and medium sizes. I ultimately settled on a tuxedo and top hat outfit that came in size large. It appeared that all of the super cute costumes - the hot dog, the pumpkin, the dragon, etc. - were reserved for the small dogs.

I quickly discovered that even though the packaging on the tuxedo costume indicated it would fit a 50+ pound dog, I could barely get it zipped. Finn looked like a stuffed sausage as the costume fabric pinched and stretched across his chest and back. Worried that the circulation was being cut off to his legs and chest, the nice staff at doggy day care took some photos and quickly took the costume off.

So this year, I gave up on the costume idea and went with a simple neck scruff that was more comfortable and just as festive. As you can see by the picture, Finn was less than pleased to be wearing it but was a good sport overall! Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gotta be some justice in the world

I'm writing tonight from lovely Des Moines, Iowa. Okay, well, it's actually not so lovely because it has rained the entire day. Western parts of the state and Nebraska are apparently under blizzard warnings. Welcome to October in the Midwest - 80 degrees one day and a blizzard the next.

This will be a short post due to the fact that I'm pretty fried from an all-day training. However, I had to vent about something that I read on another blog regarding a starving and very sick puppy that was abandoned at a mall near where I work. I will let the blog post speak for itself. It was written by the staff at one of our local animal shelters. I hope they don't mind me cross-posting like this.

I'm not a vindictive person generally but I do hope that there is some justice in the universe that gives people who do these things what they deserve. On the other hand, I'm so grateful for all the animal shelter staff and volunteers out there who are committed to taking care of pets that other people just discard like trash. I wish I had the constitution to do that work but I fear I would spend every night driving home in tears. Along with all the adoptions and happy endings, they must see too much of this kind of horror. Please give generously to your local animal shelter whenever you can!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

She's Not There

Wow, it was an incredibly beautiful weekend. You can't ask for much more than 80 degrees in October in Wisconsin. And I wish that my real digital camera (not just my blackberry camera which is what I have been using to post photos up to this point) was working because the view from our front door is absolutely gorgeous right now. Looking west from our home there is a decent-sized hill that is just a wall of fall color. It's really stunning and I'm trying to remember to go out there every day and just appreciate it. Perhaps I will get my camera fixed this weekend and get some pictures posted before all the leaves fall off.

We got an email message from our neighbor about a coworker of hers who is trying to re-home a male black lab because his family is moving. Unfortunately, by the time I reached this person they had already found a home for the dog. I expect that there will be many more of these situations and many more dogs turning up in shelters in the coming months because of foreclosures and general economic strife.

The hubby and I go back and forth about getting a second dog. I think that Finn would really benefit from having a companion around the house and it's so much fun to watch him romp around with his doggy friends. The hubby worries that having two dogs will be a pain and twice as much work, despite the fact that we had two dogs during the most time-consuming and challenging time of Finn's life a.k.a housebreaking a puppy. I visit the local animal shelters pretty regularly looking for the right match but so far he or she hasn't appeared. Even though it has been a year and a half since we said goodbye to our 10-year old lab, Kayla, I still think about her often and mourn that loss. I think I expect that she will reappear at the humane society but even though I keep looking for her she's not there.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Now introducing, Mr. Certified Therapy Dog!

Yup, we passed! And holy crumb, I was WAY more nervous than I expected. The test started out well with greeting a stranger, sitting politely for petting, and staying in place for grooming and body checks. No problem.

Unfortunately, things went downhill a little bit when two of the assistants got up to begin the "walking through a crowd" item. One of the assistants was banging a walker and Finn was extremely suspicious of the other assistant. He let out a low woof and I started to sweat. It was way too early in the exam for things to start going wrong so my anxiety level went up about 10 notches. Finn was skittish and distracted, strained a little on the leash, startled when they dropped the pie plate (to simulate a loud noise) and was clearly frightened of one of the assistants. To the point that even after they sat back down he was watching her and giving a few low woofs.

We moved on to sit, down, stay and come on command which all went really well. Walking on a loose lead through cones was a piece of cake. Then Finn really gave his best performance during the "meeting a neutral dog" item. Seriously, he was fantastic - he stayed by my side, didn't lunge toward the other dog, paid attention to me, sat when I told him to and pretty much was a model of doggy behavior. The evaluator and the two assistants showered us with praise.

After that came the temperament items including rough petting, a restraining hug, people arguing, and several people crowding around him. Then came the "reaction to a person who is staggering and gesturing" and out came the walker again. Luckily it was the assistant that he liked so even though he didn't like the walker itself, he recovered nicely when she reached down to pet him.

Then all that was left was "leave it" when walking past a toy on the ground and taking a treat nicely. No problem! It was over and we were both exhausted. While the evaluator completed my paperwork I chatted with the two assistants and Finn was still hesitant to let one of them pet him. Of course, even though we passed the test and they were all very complimentary of our performance, I thought about his reaction to her to the whole way home.

Now that we've passed the exam, I have to have our vet fill out some paperwork about vaccines and health, send in a photo for our identification badge, complete some forms, and then wait until we receive our official registration before we can start our visits.

So, cheers to us and a doggy ice cream for Finn!

Whew! All of this therapy dog stuff is hard work!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nursing Home Part Two

I was out of town on business for a few days this week and to be perfectly honest the last thing I wanted to do when I got back was take Finn to the nursing home. Our visit this week did not have a promising start as we were sitting in the lobby waiting to start our rounds and a family came through the sliding doors including several small children. One child approached the area where we were sitting and just looked at the dogs. Finn let out a low "woof" that turned into a low growl which I quickly tried to redirect by getting some treats out of my pocket. I must say that I don't think he growls in an aggressive, teeth-baring way but rather as just a way of letting me know that something strange is approaching. It's not like he's never been exposed to children, we've had many children visit the house and after some initial uncertainty he seems to be fine with them. I don't know what the problem is but in certain situations with certain children he seems to be very fearful.

The rest of the visit went very well and it made me much more comfortable to see some of the same faces that we saw last week. Some of the residents are such clear dog lovers and it warms my heart to see how much joy they get out of our visits. The instructor thought Finn seemed very relaxed and she was very complimentary of how well he did. I think my comfort level and handling skills are improving as well.

So, next week is our final exam where we will repeat many of the same test items in the Canine Good Citizen test as well as be tested on a number of temperament items. Thinking about it makes my stomach turn but I'm trying to stay optimistic. If you are interested in learning more about the work that therapy dogs do and the examination components check out the Delta Society at