Life for a rescue foster

Recently, we have had to deny some applications.  These people are nice, caring folks who, for one reason or another, didn’t meet the criteria for the pet in particular they were interested in adopting.  Two of these applicants were sure to tell me that they were disappointed by my selfish behavior, denying my fosters a “chance at a loving home.”  One suggested that I didn’t actually want to find homes for the animals in my care, and another asked “isn’t any home better than staying where she is?”  One applicant wasn’t denied, but she withdrew her application because I asked questions that weren’t on the application.

The misconception that animals in rescue are in need of rescue is one that I hear all the time.  When you adopt a pet from my organization, you’re not rescuing it from me.  You’re contributing to the rescue process, an admirable and fantastic choice, but please stop to think about what you’re implying when you suggest that foster care is a bad thing.

Noble and Sully were cats that lived outside on a hoarder’s property, eating cat food that was dumped on a piece of vinyl siding every several days. They’d never seen a vet, had to find their own shelter under broken-down cars or in the neighboring woods, and went without food for sometimes days.

We arranged for transport and the cats were removed in the nick of time.  The hoarder that owned the animals was so distraught when the first group left that she refused to let rescuers back to remove the rest of them.  I drove almost two hours to meet Noble and Sully’s transport, picking them up at around midnight.  They had had accidents in the carrier they were brought up in, and so in the back of my car I moved them to clean bedding in new carriers, and settled in for the drive home.  Once I got back, I was tired but had to clean them up before I could go to bed.  I bathed both cats with Dawn to kill the fleas and ticks that were on them, then again in a soothing oatmeal shampoo.  I cut their nails and gave them exams.  The Siamese was underweight by a few pounds and missing some teeth.  He had an upper respiratory infection but all things considered, he was strong and “healthy.”  The orange cat was another story.  He is a tall, large cat but he stood in front of me as a skeleton.  Emaciated, he weighed less than five pounds.  He was so thin that I could close my thumb and middle finger around his waist.  I found that he was missing almost all of his teeth, his eye socket was infected, and a film covered his remaining eye.  He appeared to be blind, though over the weeks we realized that he does have vision in that eye.  I set the cats up with high quality canned food and kibble, started them on antibiotics, dewormer and ear mite medication, and I fell into bed sometime in the wee hours of the morning.  They remained quarantined in our large bathroom for the next month or so.

Noble before and after

Sully quickly recovered from his respiratory infection, gained back his weight, and kicked his parasites.  He was neutered and had a dental cleaning.  With two more feedings per day than the rest of the cats in the house, Noble has DOUBLED his weight and is still lean but a healthy and sleek body shape, and his infections and parasites are gone.  His right eye wasn’t missing but instead, underdeveloped, and so it was removed when he was neutered.  He continues to do well but seems to have irritable bowels.  We were hoping this was a result of his starvation and that good diet and some steroid therapy would help him on the right track, but we are still managing it and attempting to get it under control. Both cats tested negative for feline lekemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. They are now up to date on vaccines and have been microchipped.

Sully recently, looking the picture of health!

The boys now live with our cats, freely roaming our home, getting attention when they seek it, playing with toys, getting into trouble (I’m-looking-at-you-Sully,) and enjoying a life they might never have had otherwise.  Sully spends every night plastered to us like static cling, and Noble takes the morning shift.  They have pet beds scattered throughout the house, play and receive enrichment daily, and they are cared for as we care for our own pets.

Rescuers are, with few exceptions, just doing the best they can to find permanent homes for the pets in their care.  When we take in these animals, care for them as though they were our own,  spend money from our pockets and time from our days to be sure their needs are met, we aren’t fulfilling our own agenda.  We don’t know you personally, you are strangers to us.  If we don’t approve your application for Sully because we don’t believe cats should live outdoors and you prefer yours to live that way, I’m not making a judgment of your character, it simply means that we are not a good fit for each other.  If you are denied for one of our pets because you don’t believe in going to a vet, I’m not snubbing you.  I’ve seen the good that comes from routine exams and medical care and that is what I want for my rescue’s pets.  When I ask questions, please don’t take it personally, I just want to get to know you.  They’re not numbers whizzing through a facility, in danger of euthanasia any day.  Foster homes are not your standard dog, cat, guinea pig, rat, etc. lovers.  We have created a lifestyle around caring for animals that needed advocates, giving them our time, money, and our hearts.  I care about you, and what you are looking for, but that can’t be my first priority.  Maybe my decision has caused us to miss out on a fabulous home- yours- but please understand why I’d rather pass up a good thing than make a decision that could result in stress or tragedy for our fosters.

One more thing- now that you know this, please don’t think that these animals don’t need adopted and that you are better off going elsewhere.  Foster homes often help animals that aren’t ready for adoption, and so adopting from us means opening up space and giving another animal a chance that they wouldn’t have.  Those fearful dogs that have never stepped outside puppy mills, animals like Noble who have health issues that need sorted out, they need foster care.  Adopting from a foster home benefits you in that you have a first-hand account of your new pet’s behavior that you probably couldn’t get from a shelter, and it opens up space for animals that need the specialized care a foster home can provide.

Thank you to everyone that fosters, adopts, or applies to adopt.  You are part of the rescue community and you are making a difference.  I’m sorry if it didn’t work out between us, but I still wish you the best.

Noble supervises from the arm of my recliner while I write this blog post!

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2011, a year in review

Tumors, cancers, kidney issues, death. New family members, awards, media attention.  New car, trying to get rid of the old house.  Attempts to turn the corner to a new life with our animals and rescue work. Two-thousand-eleven was too emotional. I’m hoping for more peace and calm in 2012.

January:

Started the year on Jan 2nd with our first rescue intake: Willow.

Adopted JB, Linus and Hurley from Small Angels (my first pet rats!)

Linus was diagnosed with advanced scarring from a mycoplasma-related respiratory infection.

Jonas came back to live with us after being in a home with a good friend for three years.

February:

L’orange was diagnosed with cancer.

Bunny went missing from her “forever” home. My heart broke irreparably; I haven’t been able to pick up the pieces.

Launched into action to try and maximize the chances that we would find her (and her companion, Brock) but they were never seen again. STAR made two papers with the dogs’ story.

March:

JB the rat developed a tumor.

Dover was the last of my dogs to receive his Canine Good Citizenship certification!

I was interviewed for a local paper for the rescue!

Cody, a mixed breed dog, was pulled from a shelter to go to an aussie rescue that agreed to take him.  He stayed here for a week before going to rescue, and four days later, they gave up on him.  We placed him in a new home to become (hopefully) a search and rescue dog.

April:

Sowen was hospitalized and had emergency surgery for urinary tract blockages.

Murphy was returned to the rescue after a serious dog bite in his home of over three years. We strived to give him sanctuary here.

I was featured in another newspaper article.

May:

Murphy’s dog aggression was severe and we felt we couldn’t house him here permanently.  He was euthanized.

JB was euthanized due to his tumor.

L’orange continued to go to the vet regularly.

Barney the basset/beagle with an injured leg arrived from Kentucky, at the time it was the longest transport into rescue that we’d ever had.

We took in Maia and Maddox as an emergency, dogs with porcupine quills that had been found at a gas station.

Hailey arrived.

June:

We bought our first new car, Scooby the Subie Forester.

Lots of vet trips, as usual.

July:

We acquired Yoda the degu.

Hailey was a demo dog in a Patricia McConnell seminar. I got to accompany a few others for dinner with Dr. McConnell that evening, one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had.

I attended a Dr. Dodds seminar the next day.

Eleven fantastic lab rats came to live with us.

Linus lost his fight with his respiratory problems and he was euthanized.

Gale and Zephyr, two foster pigs, became permanent after Gale developed cystic ovaries.

August:

Seminar with Nicole Wilde.

Mom had surgery on her leg and did just fine.

George broke his leg somehow…

Girlfriend passed away at the vet. She wasn’t sick until the day we took her in. Appeared to be kidney issues.

Performed a small miracle to get Frawley the English setter up here from Alabama, and it worked!

Noble and Sully’s transport came together and they were brought up from a horrible neglect situation.

Saw Phantom of the Opera as it toured for the last time.

Neville joined the family.

Moo was diagnosed with kidney disease.

September:

L’orange was also diagnosed with kidney disease, just a few days after Moo.

Saw Wicked the musical.

We lost Ross’s maternal grandmother, Elsie.She was so full of love and light, and is sorely missed.

October:

I had a photo shoot for Pittsburgh Magazine because of the 40 Under 40 Award that I was chosen to accept.

Peanut the rabbit was returned to the rescue with a severe head tilt and transferred to Rabbit Wranglers for rehabilitation, and we got Bugsy in exchange.

We began house hunting, sort of.

November:

Sweetpea, one of the lab rats, passed away.

I was honored with the Pittsburgh 40 Under 40 Award for public service.

Milo was returned to the rescue for a bite, and is getting the chance we couldn’t give Murphy earlier in the year.

December:

Frawley was adopted!

Peachblossom, another of the lab rats, passed away in her cage.

SERIOUSLY started looking into house hunting and a new home. Applied for loan pre-approval.  Wish us luck, our goal in 2012 is to move on to the next chapter of our lives- somewhere else!

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Second chances: Milo

It’s not a call you want to get as a rescuer.  I knew what was coming when I heard the vague message on the machine.  “I adopted a dog from you several years ago.  Could you call me as soon as possible?”  I knew from her name which dog she’d adopted and he’d been a wonderful, well-behaved boy but I knew something bad had happened.  Milo was, as best as we could figure, a german shepherd or collie mix that came from a cat shelter that only had outdoor kennels that he escaped from regularly.  In a strange coincidence, the day we returned the family’s phone call happened to be the fifth anniversary of his adoption.

The news was what I had expected.  Milo had bitten his adopted “dad”, an injury that required sutures, when he came toward the dog and demanded that he leave the room. It was not unprovoked, and it was the first time he’d aggressed with them and so they really felt they should give him another chance.  However, they had recently had a baby- unquestionably a stressor that led to the situation- and were unsure what would happen if they kept him.  After the bite, Milo was sent to the boarding kennel he stayed at sometimes, and they called us.  They used wording like “he goes insane” when someone would come to the door, mentioned that he was “extremely protective” of the home and of the woman adopter, and we were worried that the aggression was an issue that had been building up for a while.

Taking this into consideration, I made an appointment at the vet’s office to euthanize Milo, and called the family to make arrangements to pick him up.  I told them that I could not make promises and that it is not usually an option to rehome a dog that has bitten someone and sent them for stitches due to dangerous dog laws and liability issues.  They said they did not want to know what would happen, they would rather keep the idea in mind that Milo would have a happy ending; they did not want to be informed if we were to make a final decision about him.  It was their way also, I believe, of giving me a way to do what they understood I might need to do with less guilt and turmoil.

I drove to their home that Monday, depressed and miserable, setting out for what would have been one of the worst days I’ve had in rescue.  I held my composure as Milo’s “dad” met me at the door with Milo on leash, pulling and struggling to get to me, his body language showing an excited but happy dog, not an aggressive or fearful dog.  After an initial greeting, I knelt so he wouldn’t feel the need to jump on me, and he gave me kisses.  After Milo’s dad signed the return form, he started to show some emotion but soldiered through it.  We loaded Milo and some of his belongings- what had gone with him to the boarding kennel, anyway- into the back of my Forester, and as I drove away, I began to cry.  After what happened with Murphy earlier in the year, I knew I needed to do more for Milo than give up on him for a mistake that was probably human error entirely.  The dog in my vehicle was not giving signals that he was a crazy, dangerous beast.  I took him home in order to give him a chance to mingle with the dogs and cats.

Milo met the dogs with little issue, and showed some interest in the cats but not enough to be a concern.  I called the vet immediately and cancelled the euthanasia appointment and instead made one for a checkup and thyroid test (thyroid disorders can cause temperament imbalances, including aggression in many cases.)  His checkup went well, no thyroid issues, and he was very well behaved for the exam and blood draw and in the crowded waiting room.Milo has been here for five weeks, and we have seen no signs of aggression.  He is a high strung shepherd mix that can be reactive to lots of stimuli, but I believe he had to feel seriously threatened before he decided to bite.  My goals for 2012 is to work with Milo on confidence building, continuing to reduce his reactivity, and earn his Canine Good Citizenship award to prove that dogs can show less than desirable behavior without condemning them for good.

I know it was the right decision to make, though it comes with sacrifices- Milo is now a permanent part of our lives, at least for the duration of HIS life.  I’ve struggled with the very human response of feeling that it is unfair to us AND Milo  to have this dog join our family because of a situation that shouldn’t have happened, or because his adopters were unwilling to work with a behavior consultant or give Milo a chance to adjust to his new life with the newborn baby in the home.  It is inconvenient, and it is stressful having eight dogs under our roof to take care of.  Milo’s reactivity has gotten better already but as a sound-sensitive chronic migraine sufferer it has been incredibly difficult listening to him bark his head off at random things like neighbors in their own driveway and anything larger than a leaf moving down the road in front of the house.  I’ll admit that I selfishly allowed myself to resent this dog for no reason other than we have become stuck together.  In the last two weeks, I have really made an effort to spend one-on-one time with him, working on training with the reactivity (HUGE difference already) and basic manners and obedience to help develop a bond.  It has been easier to accept that he’s a part of our lives and look forward to seeing what kind of potential he has.  I feel guilty for allowing my own emotions to make me upset about having Milo in the house when really, I am relieved that he is doing so well.  He has the opportunity that I couldn’t give Murphy because of his dog aggression.  Though he is treated with the love and compassion that all dogs under our roof deserve and receive, I can’t bring myself to call him “my” dog yet, I simply refer to him as a sanctuary dog for the rescue for now.  It will take some time for that to change, but we’ll get through this together.

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Merry Christmas!

Just some photos for this post as everyone is really busy with the holiday, I know. Enjoy!

The three STAR dogs got pressies and they just loved them:

 

And the sanctuary rats got their cage gussied up and had a lot of fun ripping down their popcorn garland!

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Frawley’s Excellent Adventure

Frawley's shelter picture

When Frawley’s sad face appeared on Facebook on August 4th, I didn’t know what I could do to help him.  The message under his photo gave his location as Florence, Alabama with a note that said: “This is Frawley, a 9 yr old, male setter. He is so sweet and the owner just brought him because he was getting old.” I see lots of emails about animals in southern states daily, but I can rarely do anything special to help them.  With all of my contacts in setter rescue, I thought there was surely someone that could help him.  I started crossposting and trying to find someone with some room.  It became pretty clear that no setter rescue was able to take him in and his time grew shorter. I began asking for a foster home, and declared that if we could find a person willing to foster, I would commit to pulling Frawley. I asked everyone I could for help, which came in the form of a high school friend.  She had never fostered before but had always wanted to, and so she stepped up to help Frawley.

With a foster home lined up, I knew that we were on our way, but there was the issue of finding  a way to get Frawley to Pennsylvania.  Until teleport is an option, there are few options for moving rescue dogs over great distances.  I found, through another rescuer on Facebook, a transport group that does paid trips from Calhoun Georgia up the East Coast every two weeks.  Once they were checked out and lined up, there was only the matter of getting Frawley to Georgia.  Enter Jeff, a pilot who loves dogs and transports for Pilots ‘n Paws.  He happily agreed to help and we set up the flight and transport arrangements.  A shelter volunteer had him vetted so we could get his health certificate and we set up an auction of a watercolor portrait of Frawley to raise some money to help pay the costs that were already adding up.

Frawley's transport heroes- air and ground.

On August 11th, Frawley flew to Calhoun, GA, and was picked up by the family that runs the transport company, and after a sleepover he started a drive that would be twelve hours if it had been straight through but was closer to 24 with the stops that the transporters had to make.  Poor Frawley was so exhausted after the ordeal that he didn’t want to get up once we got home at around three in the morning.  He was every bit the handsome man we expeced. He met my dogs briefly but then went into a crate for the night so he could rest, and the next day he went to the temporary foster home that was to help evaluate him and hold him while we got him to the vet.

On August 16th, we took Frawley to the vet where he showed us how resilient he is.  He spent much of the time there soaking up whatever attention he could get and winning over multiple vets, techs, the girls at the front desk and people in the waiting room.   We put him through the ringer and had bloodwork, multiple parasite tests, even an x ray, and thorough physical exam performed.  He went through it all like a champ and the news was good for the most part, but the x ray was disturbing.  Poor Frawley has been shot with a shotgun and is loaded with birdshot pellets.  It doesn’t affect him at all, it’s just sad as a human to know that someone did this to such a wonderful dog.

Frawley was neutered soon after this first vet visit, and on September fifth went to stay with Laura, a first time foster parent, and her family.  While things were a bit rocky with one of the resident dogs, Frawley was thriving under the loving attention of Laura and her family.  He won over the hearts of people on his neighborhood walks and really learned to enjoy being a house dog for probably the first time in his life.  Unfortunately, no one searching for a new dog seemed to realize how wonderful he truly was, and he sat in our rescue for several months, just waiting, without one single inquiry.

It was on December 5th, right after we planned to take Frawley to a Petco adoption outing that we received an email from a friend that I have worked with and known the entire time I have been working “in” animal rescue.  She wrote with an interesting question: would we somehow be able to help her surprise her sister with a new dog for Christmas?  Her sister had divorced and lost her dog to Cushing’s syndrome in the recent year and she was miserable with the upcoming holiday.  She thought Frawley sounded like a perfect fit, but she realized that I would not agree to allowing her to adopt Frawley to give as a gift.  Normally, there would be no option but since I knew this person, I got her sister’s information and she essentially filled in the application on her sister’s behalf.  I called her landlord and saw her chart myself at the vet’s office, and all looked well.  The next step was to arrange a meeting between dog and sister.  I took Frawley to my friend’s house so she and her mother could meet him, and both felt he was perfect.  They asked the lady of the hour to show up at my friend’s house, and I hid in the kitchen when she arrived.  I was so nervous- we had never done anything like this.  As she walked through the door, my friend gave her a little speech announcing what was going on, and I released Frawley’s collar and sent him into the family room.  He ran to the woman, and when she sat on the floor with him it was clear he was in love.

He rolled on to his back, and that was that.  After an hour or so of cuddling, she knew she wanted to adopt him, and I asked her to wait and to sleep on it (so much for that- she went out that night to buy him things…)  The next day, she asked if Saturday would be a good day for a home visit and adoption.  Every day, she wrote to ask questions, tell me what she had bought for Frawley, and finalize a time for our get-together.

The big day came, and this dog- this scrawny, neglected dog from what was almost certainly a crummy life- dragged his foster mom and her roomie into his new home with a huge smile on his face, and made his rounds.  He peed on the Christmas tree (which elicited a laugh and a shrug), zoomed up and down the hall, and gave hugs to all.  Within fifteen minutes after we’d arrived, my friend showed up, then her mom, and then her husband, for a true welcoming party.  Frawley was so excited that everyone was there just to see him, and went from person to person giving hugs.  We stayed for a while as he got to know his way around the home, the yard, and then found his bed.  This home, that started out as such an iffy concept (a Christmas gift?) turned out to be better than we ever could have hoped.  While he may not have been the dog she would have chosen on her own, he was the RIGHT choice, and he has made his new mom so happy, just in time for the holiday.  His updates are perfect; he has not stopped smiling since he arrived, and I believe that his new mom probably hasn’t, either.

This rescue proved how many people it can take to help a dog, and how many lives that dog can touch along the way.  The people at the shelter, the people that crossposted on Facebook and other sites, the ones that tagged suckers like me (;)), the transporters, donors who helped us fund his vetting, fosters- temporary and long term- who love and care for our animals and provide for their needs without discrimination, those that help us process applications, and the families that provide a lifetime of love to these wonderful creatures.

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A Day with Dr. Patricia McConnell

Despite turning in far too late, when I first rolled over and opened my eyes this morning, it was 4:03am.  With an hour until my alarm was set to go off, I closed my eyes and counted my breaths, focusing on each inhale and exhale, and drifted off to sleep again.  When I next awoke, I peeked at the glaring red lights above my head and sighed: 4:09am.

I was having a difficult time sleeping because I knew I had a busy, exciting and somewhat frightening day ahead.  Having prepared for this day for weeks, I was as ready as I was going to be and hoped Hailey was, too.  At 6:11, dog and her belongings loaded into my vehicle, we headed off to the buildings where we would spend most of the day and arrived before anyone else.  Hailey was not totally unfamiliar with the club, but I walked her around and onto the empty stage.  I had taken her to the buildings previously and let her explore, get used to the sounds and sights, and played with her to encourage a positive association with the place.

Hailey was set up in a crate in the non-seminar building while I worked at the book table with some wonderful ladies from Barnes & Noble, amazed at how much we were able to sell.  It was there that I first met Dr. McConnell, and we spoke about her books and about Hailey.  I liked her right from the start.

The first part of the seminar was on reactivity.  The subject matter was nothing utterly groundbreaking but was presented in a great and interesting way with nice videos and of course, live dogs!  A border collie was the first demo dog and I was nearly done watching her when I was retrieved and told that “your dog is loose.”   She had broken out of her crate, and proved her intelligence by doing it again half an hour later, with me in the room! After the second time, Tena and Miranda kept her entertained while I worked at selling books (thank you, guys!! <3)  Tena even got Hailey to start tugging, something that she hasn’t done at home, and when the seminar started back up, we worked on loose leash walking, sits and downs, attention, and played with her toys until it was our turn.

"To Hailey- You're gonna be great!"

My nerves were crazy but Dr. McConnell is reassuring, warm and sweet- no wonder she gets along so well with dogs!  Hailey warmed up to her and explored the stage a bit before a dog that would serve as Hailey’s reactivity stimulus was brought into the building.  Hailey did great and I was happy to be simply a leash holder until Patricia McConnell handed me her clicker and told ME to work my dog, on stage, in front of a crowd nearly 150 strong (with the majority being dog trainers), standing next to the author of “The Other End of the Leash.”  Really, I cannot convey what was going through my head because it was a non-verbal equivalent of “OMGOMG.OH.EM.GEEE.”    When I voiced my distress (did words come out?  I felt more like a squeaking mouse) she asked the audience to help by saying “click” when I should click.  Let me just say this. I am no stranger to a clicker and have gotten very good and confident with it in the past couple years.  I love using a clicker with fosters and helping them learn how to think for themselves.  But holding that clicker in my hand, I felt like a total klutz.  I missed a lot of click opportunities (although I was spot on with more than a few, thankyouverymuch) and it is NOT a good feeling to have dozens of dog trainers telling you “CLICK! CLICK!” all at once.  More than once, I wasn’t ready because I was fiddling with treats with both hands.  Poor Hailey.

Except… maybe NOT “poor Hailey.”    She NEVER REACTED.  Using the clicker- something that Hailey had never experienced more than two weeks ago, mind you- she was able to get within about 25 feet, maybe less, of the stimulus dog and was offering a head turn after just moments each time she looked at the dog.  Sometimes, her attention was on my face and on me so much that it was hard to get her to look at the other dog.  Her demonstration ended very quickly compared to the other dogs simply because she had done such a good job and we needed to end the session while we were ahead.

Tena and Miranda pinch-hit for me once again in holding Hailey, and hubby Ross came to pick her up so she wouldn’t have to spend her day in lockdown in a crate, miserable.  The rest of the seminar was great.  There was another demo dog, lots of great information on dog play, with a lot of videos and a lot of opportunity to compare my own observations of dogs with Patricia McConnell herself as she talked about what we saw.  I spoke with her one-on-one during a break as she signed my book, and she gave me some advice for Hailey and gushed over how well she did.  She was so proud and so heartened by the progress Hailey made in such a short time frame. More than a dozen people, many total strangers, came up to me to give encouragement and praise for my job on stage and say that Hailey was wonderful.  It was an incredible experience.

After the seminar, I was part of a small group, eight total including Trisha, that went to dinner at a local restaurant.  Dinner was an amazing informal gathering where we talked about, yes, dogs, and Patricia asked some questions about Hailey before telling me she was “the star of the show,” or some similar sentiment.  She reiterated that Hailey will make amazing progress, that she is very intelligent and a really great dog (we knew that!), and that “she really lucked out to end up with you.  She is so lucky, right guys??” to which the entire table agreed.  Sitting there, I blushed and brushed it off, but here in private as I write this, I am overwhelmed with tears of pride, humility, and awe.  To be made to feel so worthwhile, to be encouraged by someone I respect greatly (someone that nearly has her own shelf on my bookshelf) is a feeling I will never forget.

Not asleep, just enjoying a chest rub, tired after a very long day!

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Dogs don’t have a “How to Live with Humans” manual

Twice this last week, I was saddened to read similar posts on a dog forum in which I participate regularly.

[My new puppy] is 10 weeks old and a total doll! Training has been going really well, I think, but I do have one concern….she has not had an accident in the house yet and it has been 4 days! I know, I know, not really a “problem” per se, but i’m afraid that she will not really be potty trained if she does not go in the house at least once where I can tell her “no”…

I was taken aback to hear from someone whose concern is that their dog hasn’t had any accidents.  I encouraged them to keep up the supervision and potty schedule that is working for their dog and not to rush her, and hope they listen.  Today this snippet came from another poster:

Just wondering, if we never punish [our 9 week old puppy] for going inside, how will she learn she can ONLY go outside, and not just anywhere she wants?

Sometimes people act so confusing for dogs that I'm sure they would be better off if there WERE a manual...

Not a thought about making sure that the only place the dog WANTS to go potty is outside.  This way of thinking is really difficult to grasp for some folks.  I don’t know why we tend to expect so much of our dogs but turn around and underestimate their capacity for learning.

I don’t believe either of these dog owners would mean to do harm to their puppies, but I believe that they are thinking in a detrimental way.  When potty training our children, do we punish them for not going to the toilet, or expect them to know how to use a toilet from the moment they can walk?  No, we manage their behavior with diapers and paying attention to their needs while we teach them where they should go.  Why, then, should we expect an animal species without the ability to communicate verbally to know the rules and understand the appropriate place to relieve itself around our unnatural human homes?

Scolding, physical corrections, scaring your puppy by yelling or making noise, etc, are meant as a penalty for a “wrongful” act. The problem with the idea of a dog or cat doing right or wrong is that would require a moral code and animals just don’t need one.  They follow their instincts or act based on training and experience.  A puppy or new dog peeing on the carpet  is not doing anything “wrong,” it has simply yet to be taught what you expect of it.  I think that’s where people struggle.

Imagine you are a school student.  You have not yet been taught PEMDAS (order of operations) and someone has asked you to complete a lengthy math equation.  Do you expect to be scolded, shouted at or worse, hit, for solving it incorrectly?   You would not look forward to math class or have a good relationship with your math teacher if this was the way these situations were handled.  Luckily for humans, it’s unlikely that you will be punished for this anyway because it just doesn’t make sense.  It’s unrealistic to expect a party to understand something that hasn’t been taught.

With positive reinforcement based training, true operant-style R+ that is, sweeping the globe and recruiting converts from the compulsion camp, it is my hope that things like this will someday be common knowledge and the idea of punishing an animal for our own mistakes or shortcomings will be long gone.

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