Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The new dog books are here...the new dog books are here...!

Some girls are addicted to handbags...others its shoes. And although I cant tell a Jimmy-Choo from a Manolo-Blahnik I can appreciate a well made hiking boot when I see one.

My addiction is dog books, and the proof lies on my bookshelves, and the boxes of books in my closet & under the bed. I have books on breeds, dog sports,dog history,dog behavior,dog training & the human/dog relationship.And to add to my collection, I just received: TRICK SCHOOL FOR DOGS - FUN GAMES TO CHALLENGE AND BOND by Manuela Zaitz and SERIOUS FUN - PLAY LIKE A DOG by Sue Sternberg.

Trying to teach my 'old' dogs a few new tricks this winter, I dove straight away into Trick School for Dogs. Nothing kills the winter dull-drums better than a bowl of high value treats, a clicker and my dogs who are willing guinea pigs to learn another parlor trick.

Liam is learning how how to cover his face with his paw when I say 'Shame on you'. A pretty easy trick for him given his long legs. I just stick a post it over his left eye and when he tries to wipe it off I 'click' and treat.

Gimli is learning how to do 'dead dog' and lay on his side when given the cue 'dead'. Liam also does this trick, but he lies on his back and curls his paws looking cute. Gimli has taken this trick to the next level. When I say 'dead' He flops on his side with his legs straight out, his body is still and he doesn't blink until I release him. Its disturbingly funny. How cool would it be for both dogs to simultaneously fall over 'dead' when given the cue the next time we make a visit to the vet?

Looking for good doggie book? Check out dogwise

Friday, December 18, 2009

Socializing your winter puppy

Now that the Christmas season is coming to an end and the brutal Maine winter season has begun, it might seem overwhelming to get outside to socialize your new puppy. But it doesn’t have to be. Socializing your puppy doesn’t mean you need to spend long cold agonizing hours in a park! A quick introduction to something new is all that is needed. The most important thing to remember is to keep it positive.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while socializing during the winter months:

Safety First
• Dress your puppy in something warm when going on a field trip. Unless you have a northern breed puppy, it’s a good idea to put a fleece coat or sweater on a puppy when venturing out on a cold day.
• Salt on sidewalks and roads can burn and cause irritation to your puppies feet. Pad protection ointments like ‘Mushers Secret’ can be purchased at most pet stores.
• Make sure your puppy has had her first set of puppy vaccines
• Like all babies, puppies get tired easily. Keep your field trips to no more than an hour long.

Outdoor socializing
• The old port in Portland or downtown Freeport offer many great socializing opportunities. Many stores & banks will allow puppies, just ask before entering
• Make sure you have pocketful of soft treats.
• Start your visit by sitting on a bench near a busy area and observe your puppy. Reward her generously for being calm but curious.
• If your puppy appears fearful then calmly move away from what she is fearful of. Reward and praise generously for small acts of braveness. Laugh and smile at your puppy as she will not be sure how to respond to certain things (like strollers), and by being relaxed yourself, your showing her its ‘ok’, so she will be allowed to relax too.
• If someone wants to pet your puppy ask the person to give her a treat, while they are patting her.
• With each field trip, change your location and choose a different store to visit.
Indoor socializing
• Plan a ‘socializing party’ at home and invite friends of all ages to come over and meet your puppy. Have your friends wear silly hats (like a work-mans hat, party hat, cowboy hat) sunglasses, fake beards etc. Ask your guests to reward for your puppy for calm behavior.
• Walking on a new floor surface can be stressful to many puppies. You can introduce her to a new floor surface by stretching a plastic bag or tarp across the floor and rewarding for any interaction she has with the item. Start by rewarding with a soft treats for just looking or sniffing the new surface. Build up to big rewards when she chooses to walk on the item.
What about other dogs?
Dog parks are NOT good places to socialize a puppy. Many adult dogs do not like puppies, and may go out of their way to bully a youngster. Also, your puppy should not be around ‘unknown’ dogs or dog feces until they are completely up to date on vaccines. However, even if your puppy sees another dog while on a leash and is rewarded for calm behavior they are still being properly socialized.
What about puppy ‘play groups’?
Most puppy classes will allow some ‘play time’ during class. Although its fun to watch puppies play, this is a time for owners to learn how to observe what appropriate play is and isn’t, understanding play styles and when to step in. Finish Forward Dogs offers puppy kindergarten classes which cover not only socializing, but also baby obedience lessons, house manners & body handling. Please visit the website for more information on puppy classes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dogs of Christmas Past

As I sit here with pen in hand, I look around my living room. There is one theme that runs in my house; it’s my love for dogs. But the love for canines didn’t start with me. I come from a long line of dog lovers. I look at the portraits of my past and present family members which hang on my wall and grace my mantle. In almost every one the human is pictured with their dog.

I see the black & white photos of my grandparents and their beloved dogs, Petunia and Coco. My dad pictured as a boy with a collie mix on my great grandfather’s farm in Indiana. My mom, pictured with her Pomeranian mix, Ginger whose death she mourned for months.

These dogs are just as much a part of my family history as my relatives who cradle them. As I look at these pictures, I wonder if I would have become the same person if dogs were never in my life. Dogs teach us so much about the spectrum of humanity; empathy, patience, laughter, and above all unconditional love.

I was 5 years old when I started my love affair with dogs. Tippy was a spaniel mix that my dad dug out of a ‘free to good home’ cardboard box. I don’t remember the housebreaking, and crates were non existent back then. There were no puppy kindergarten classes, or puppy play groups. And, I hate to say it, but Tippy was never neutered. But somehow, in spite of these’ handicaps’, Tippy grew to be tolerant of sharing a rawhide and an occasional piece of kibble with curious child. He patiently let me dress him up in hats and sunglasses and sighed heavily when I would parade him around in front of my friends. He new many complex tricks, although no one ever remembers teaching him any. He never walked well on a leash, and sometimes ran away, only to come home the next morning hungry and tired. My parents jokingly referred to Tippy as my ‘brother’. But he was more than that. As a child, he was my rock during my parents divorce and I cried many teenage tears into his silky black hair. I still get a little weepy when I think about leaving home the summer I turned 18, and I will always remember the moment I said goodbye to him, knowing it would be the last time. He died that fall, and the ripe age 13 years.

Many more dogs graced my adult life. Nushka, my malamute, gave me strength, independence and encouraged my love for the outdoors. Doopie, my fearful rescue husky, taught me that patience was needed to achieve the reward of bringing light into the eyes of a scared dog.

My greatest teachers, healers, motivators & protectors were not human, but canine. Looking at the pictures of dogs whose lives have faded, I am proud to be a part of a human family who so graciously shared their lives with dogs. This holiday season, I will not only enjoy my dogs of Christmas present, but will honor the ones of Christmas past.