A Tale of Two Puppies

Karma - a model student

Karma – a model student


One of my favorite clients, and now a dear friend of mine, has a delightful German shepherd that we have been working on together for some time.

Karma has progressed, since last August when we first saw her, from being a withdrawn, unaffectionate and hopeless looking dog with no lightness of being, to a happy go lucky, playful dog that can assimilate into any pack and be extremely well mannered around adults and children in most situations. A little territorial issue remains in the home but it is much improved and is constantly being worked on.

I have to admit to not having been her biggest fan when first I met this dog; she was moody, fidgety and had problems and issues coming out the whazoo, but as our relationship grew and her trust in us grew, we developed a strong friendship with her that has been nothing short of delightful.

When Chris first contacted me about Karma, I told her it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, (although many of those would be prescribed!) and that throughout this process of changing her dog’s behavior, she was going to learn a great deal about her own. She knew she was going to have to roll up her sleeves and put the work in, as, apart from the practical sessions, it is Chris who has done all of the work with Karma. I give the owner the practical demonstrations and the instruction manual, but it is they who have to put the work in, day in, day out, in their own home.

One of the first discussions we had was about pinch collars and shock collars and I explained to Chris why we won’t work with people who use them, here at the Ranch.

It is our firm belief here at Desperate Dogs that if you use pain or aggression in any way with a dog, then the dog learns to either only respond to that; or the dog, even worse, becomes a bully and uses aggression with those he comes into contact with. Many people tell me that the shock collar (or e-collar as they like to call it when they feel guilty about calling it what it is…) is a light check and that the dog has no knowledge that the owner administers the correction.

Funnily enough, people who use choke chains and pinch collars also tell me that the dog feels no pain on its neck and that its a ‘light pinch’ merely to correct the dog at the time of its misdemeanor.

I tried one on once, pulled as hard as my dog can and trust me, it bloody hurt!

16th Century French writer Descartes believed that dogs had no feelings, logic or ability to feel pain and so, to prove his point, he nailed a dog to a barn door and eviscerated it. The poor thing screamed and writhed in agony, which Descartes attributed to a series of involuntary muscle reactions and movements, saying that the dog was not in pain and was just an ‘unintelligent machine.’

Using any instrument of pain or torture on a dog to achieve a desired effect is redolent of that ignoramus 16th Century thinking; any fool knows that dogs are sentient, intelligent and highly logical and creative thinkers.

Any fool also knows that all bullies started out by being bullied, just ask any kid in trouble for this crime in the Principals office at school, they’ll tell you that aggression trickles downwards…..

Thankfully, Chris had long ago decided never to use such means to train her dog, so we were completely on the same page, and she thus became a client.

I am very proud of their achievement together and also the huge change in Chris herself, who has emerged as a strong confident leader with far more faith in her own capabilities than she ever had before. Every change she has effected has been done using leadership, guidance, boundaries and education.

Our problem dogs show us the human we need to be, and if we are smart, we take their advice and go there….


While this may sound like it’s shaping up to be a love fest between me and my client, actually, this article is about something much, much sadder than that.

You see, just about two months before I even met Karma, I met another German Shepherd, Jack (not his real name, I wish to protect the innocent here) who we all instantly fell in love with here at the Ranch. He was the darling of the place, with all of the dogs loving him and everyone so excited to see him; it seemed there was nothing nicer than to have Jack running around my meadow, gallumphing like a small horse all last summer. His parents would call me at the last minute and I would always find room to fit him in to whatever pack I had here, I was just so happy to see him.

He was not the most well behaved dog in all honesty; his recall was pretty useless unless you had a stack of treats (one of the reasons I don’t use food too much when working with a dog,) and he was a bit of a space invader.

Never mind, we felt that the recall, with practice, could be worked on and that with constant exposure to other dogs, the right kind of dogs, his lack of respect for other dogs’ boundaries would be brushed up on by my employee dogs here at the Ranch.

At the end of the summer, we didn’t see too much of Jack; I asked his parents to bring him over for daycare every now and again as at his age (16 months old, the same as Karma) he needed to learn as many social skills as possible. It gets a little tougher the older they get…not impossible, but just a bit tougher. He came for a few daycare sessions every now and again but Dad got a new job and had to travel for work and Mum didn’t have time to bring him.

Poor Jack rarely got walked and spent lots of time in the backyard, and we hardly saw him for months despite his parents promising that as soon as they could, they would get him onto a regular schedule for dog to dog socialization.

On one of the occasions that they did, we were chatting, and they admitted to me that Jack had had some territorial issues when he was very young and so they had enlisted the help of a local trainer who had put the shock collar on him and zapped the living daylights out of him when he charged out of the door at a visitor.

I explained to them that while what was done was done, they must be very careful to never go down that road again, because while he may be better in the house now, there is always a price to pay for using these methods; either in terms of increased fear, of painful memories leading to inappropriate responses when they might least expect it, neurological disorders resulting from the sharp electrical impulse……. or the dog will associate their presence at the time he was being painfully zapped, and their acceptance and inaction while that was happening, to a lack of care on their part.

This leads to a lack of trust, which spells the end of any relationship. They swore blind they would never go there ever again, it had just been the once……they had been desperate.

Well, time went on, and we didn’t see him, but then they booked Jack in for a Christmas stay while they travelled. Having not seen him for months, the change in this dog was huge!

First of all, he was huge, all grown up and full of energy…the kind of energy you cant get rid of without lots and lots of activity over prolonged time. Second, he had gotten into some very bad habits through lack of attention. Third, him being aware that he was big, he was definitely the boss man and if he was wanting to play and if some other dog didn’t like it, well that was just tough because Jack wasn’t taking no for an answer. If he wanted to mount another dog, then he was going to mount another dog….

All of the work done on him throughout the summer had gone out of the window, he was, quite literally, a pain in the ass. I spent his whole 8 day stay on mainly damage control, every day wishing the time for his owners to pick him up would hurry up and come as he was like a spoiled child throwing his weight around. UGH!

On collection day, my husband begged the owners to bring him to us for regular daycare sessions so that we could work on his issues before it became too late. They said they would be in touch after the holidays…..

I haven’t seen them since then, five months ago; however, I have so many clients that know this dog and live close to this family (who by the way, are nice people) and what I hear makes me sick to my stomach.

Jack is constantly wearing a shock collar, and to be walked he has on a pinch collar and a very short leash, which his owner grips tight as he walks him, in case Jack lunges at passers by. He cannot be trusted around children anymore, they don’t have visitors to their home and his dog/dog social skills have completely disappeared.

When I hear people tell me how they have seen Jack like this, I cry.

I look back at last years pictures of this beautiful carefree dog who seemed to have it all going for him and understand that he is now a prisoner in his own life…in all likelihood he will never again experience that kind of freedom again…I can’t have him here at the Ranch again as we just won’t work with clients who use shock collars and pinch collars. It shows a penchant for the ‘quick fix’ or the ‘pill’ as dog trainers call it…anyone who isn’t wanting to put some work in and just thinks to hit the problem with a sledge hammer isn’t going to cut it here.

Conversely, Karma, the dog who had the bad start, was lucky enough to be adopted by the right owner, a lady who took time and trouble to work through all of her issues, and who, despite having to step out of her comfort zone time after time after time while working with this dog, did it.

That is a true show of strength, that’s true dedication, true parenting and that’s what real dog/ human relationships should be all about.

When we put the work in to anything in life, we reap the rewards every time. There are never any quick fixes in dog behavior modification.

Lucky Karma, Poor Jack.

My dog digs holes in my beautiful yard, what can I do about it ?

What do we think Freddie has been doing ? !!!!

What do we think Freddie has been doing ? !!!!

At this time of year, when everyone’s thoughts turn to beautifying their piece of property, I get lots of calls from horrified gardeners asking me how to stop their dog from digging humongous holes in their yard.
I get equal amounts of calls from horrified dogs who find that all their hard work creating the perfect backyard paradise of their dreams is not at all appreciated by their ignorant humans!
I have rolled up laughing on many occasion when owners of terriers call me and tell me that they can’t understand why their dog won’t stop digging holes: they ask me, ‘What am I doing wrong?’
Well, first off, you got yourself a terrier…!
Dogs don’t dig holes out of spite just to piss us off, they dig holes because all it takes is one tiny whiff of a scent and they’re off!…Digging for moles, or digging where a rabbit might have been once or a chipmunk, or a beetle..it doesn’t matter to the dog really. They just dig because there’s always the possibility that they’re going to find something interesting if they do. It’s exactly the same reason we visit yard sales or junk shops or flea markets; we want to find something, to unearth a little treasure.
There are two ways of handling dogs that dig.
You either try to train the dog not to dig, which can lead to much consternation on a very regular basis on your part, and a very pissed off Fido, or you can embrace all that both of you want, and manage the situation.
Here at the Ranch, I have a very tacit understanding with the dogs; down on the meadow and in the woods, they can dig any size hole they want, go from here to China if they want to, I don’t care.
But, in the top yards, where we cut the grass, they are not allowed to dig at all.
Giving the dog who loves to dig a little bit of space in your yard is one of the best and most stress free answers to this problem. It can be demarcated by fence or bushes or even a few logs laid on the ground, so it’s very easy to do. Then, YOU start the ball rolling by burrowing a small hole and planting a little treat like a piece of cooked chicken in it and encourage the dog to go look for it. Once he gets it, praise him like he won the lottery for you, and then do it again. And again. And again.
Of course the real reward is the digging out the treasure, and, once he has done this a few times, you can accompany the build up to this activity with the words ‘You wanna do some digging?’ and then walk over to that spot. As he starts to dig away, tell him ‘Good job, good digging’. Smile, show him you’re enjoying seeing him happy, look proud of his humongous architectural achievement instead of looking aghast at the tower of mud and earth rising out of your lawn. Dogs love to see us happy with them, so they intentionally try to please us so that they can revel in the positive energy of shared happiness with their owner.
The whole Pavlov’s dog scenario works really well on just about anything like this with your dog; within a few attempts, your dog, at the sound of the fridge door opening, combined with the sight of you in your gardening shoes, will be excitedly waiting for the chicken to come out and pacing between you and the door, looking out of the window towards his digging spot and coming back to the fridge.
Of course, like any dog, he is at some point going to try and dig a hole in what is now your yard, and you at first look very disappointed with him (yes, it does work, just as the smile does) then just calmly leash him up, walk him over to HIS yard and use the magic words ‘You wanna do some digging?’. As soon as he starts to dig in the designated spot, look pleased with him again.
By encouraging him and praising him to use his own little piece of real estate for this activity, you kill two birds with one stone. First of all, you get to keep your yard nice and just as you like it. Secondly, you are letting him know that you are fair, that his freedom comes on your terms and that the rewards are huge when he does it your way…food treats, praise, and a bloody good digging session. What more could he want?
We have done this successfully many times with our dogs in lots of different properties, and trust me, we have some hard core diggers, as anyone who has been on our Facebook page and seen photos of my dogs’ noses will know.
At Desperate Dogs, for every problem we deal with, we first look at the dogs’ point of view and try to work out a way for both owner and dog to get what they want in the kindest, most straight forward and logical way possible.
Working WITH your dog, embracing his drives, his innate needs, understanding the things that float his boat and trying to achieve them for him while still getting the desired effect that you want is the best kind of outcome.
That’s what you call a win-win situation.


A Day in the Life ……………….

Delia enjoying life at the Ranch with sister Lolly, new friend Ragsey and Aunty Pen

Delia enjoying life at the Ranch with sister Lolly, new friend Ragsey and Aunty Pen

Hi everyone,
My name is Delia Haupt and I’m a 12 year old Italian Greyhound.
I’m a pretty sprightly old lady but I only have one eye, and that makes me kind of nervous in a crowd of dogs, because I can’t always see whats coming at me from one side, so when I hear any kind of movement or commotion that I can’t figure out, I tend to squeal first and ask questions later.
Aunty Pen asked me if I would be happy to give all the DD family an idea of what its like for a nervous dog to stay at the Ranch, from my perspective, so that maybe other nervous dogs would know what to expect, and their owners would get an idea of what goes on when they’re away from their little cherubs.
Now I personally feel that what happens at the Ranch should stay at the Ranch, but well, okay!
I have had to dictate this to Aunty Pen as unfortunately, having only one eye and tiny little paws, I find the Mac keyboard a little difficult to navigate. If you find any grammatical errors, blame Aunty Pen, she’s British and Lord only knows where they all get their ideas on spelling and pronunciation……
So, the first day, drop off at 9am; Mummy had already been here many times with my brother Dauber, so she knew better than to be late and risk Aunty Pen’s icy stare and barely concealed grunts. We came in through the gate and had 15 minutes with the other newcomers to get a little scent introduction to all of the dogs already boarding at the Ranch. Not many people know this, but we dogs have such highly attuned noses, we can get all kinds of information from a pee spot; from the size of the dog, to what diet he or she eats, how high up in the pecking order they are, whether they are stressed or not, if they are sick….loads of stuff!
So, once I had figured all that stuff out, then Levi, Aunty Pen’s employee dog (and ‘head of the fearful dogs and puppy division’), came out to say hello and welcome me personally to the Ranch. He could see I was nervous so he didn’t aproach me head on, he just stood a few yards away quietly with averted eyes and wagged his tail til I saw him, then he gently sniffed me on my flanks. He told me he would look after me, that’s his job here, and that if I needed anything to just bark….
Because I’m nervous, and my sister Lolly the chihuahua is tiny, Aunty Pen put us both in the far yard while all the other dogs got let out into the meadow, whooping and hollering like Spring Break in Panama City. We waited til they had gotten all of their zoomies out and then we joined them in the meadow too once things had calmed down a little.
Because I’m sight impaired, Aunty Pen ties a scarf rubbed in my mum’s scent around her shin and I can follow that because it’s at my level, which makes me comfortable.
First walk down in the meadow is all about getting energy out, so most of the dogs are down there for about 2 hours running and playing while Aunty Pen and Uncle Pete supervise, one at either end of the field. Me and Lolly being old ladies, go back inside after about an hour because we get tired, then we curl up on our beds and have a nap while our brother Dauber cavorts with the rest of the gang.
After morning run and a snack, we have a nap for a couple of hours on the couch or dog beds, depending on what we feel like sleeping on (They love to give you a choice here, as they believe everyone needs a good nights sleep) so we are fresh for the afternoon’s activities. We nap after every play session so that noone gets tired and cranky.
In the afternoon, thats when the REAL fun begins…we do nose work in the woodpiles for meatballs, or we might do some agility on some of the tree trunks and obstacle courses that they have here, or, in the summer, we get to go swimming in the pool if we want to. If we have a raucous crowd, then we get separated up a little bit so that me and Lolly don’t have to deal with any whack jobs rushing past us at a million miles per hour, and at our age we certainly don’t want to be bothered by any of the ‘serial shaggers’ that sometimes stay at the Ranch…or sex pests, as Aunty Pen calls them!
She keeps a tight rein on those kind of dogs, and is always monitoring them to make sure they don’t do that, but as respectable Southern ladies, me and Lolly don’t even like to THINK about such things….
Sometimes we might sit out and just lay on memory foam pillows in the top yard in the sun having a snooze for a while once we are done with activities, as they like everyone to have a big dollop of fresh air and sunshine every day. They say that it’s a critical need for a dog and the foundation of something called a ‘holistic lifestyle’. We dogs don’t have a fancy name for it, we just think its common sense…..
At five ish, when everyone’s good and tired from whatever they’ve been doing, we have to go rest up inside so our stomachs are settled for dinner at 6pm. Dinner is always served in smaller groups, with the chow hounds and fast eaters separated from us more leisurely folk. I have a sensitive stomach so my mummy brings my food in a ziploc baggy, but the other dogs get home cooked meat and veggies with some cooked fruit and herbs every day. They get steak or turkey, chicken breast and sometimes even wild salmon.. it smells so good, all the dogs drool as Aunty Pen walks through with her big pot of food.
After dinner we rest and digest for an hour and a half, then Aunty and Uncle come down and let us out for a pee and a poop in the yard, and then settle on to the couch to watch TV or read a book with us, and we mostly chill out with them on the couches. One by one, every one gets a massage in the evening, (on their laps of course! ) and they pay close attention to any areas they know we might be sore. For me, I like to get my legs rubbed, especially my back ones, but some of the hunting dogs like the neck massage best. Touch is a really good way to connect with us dogs as it’s something we can enjoy on a really personal level and creates a bond between us and our people. Even tho’ Im a bit skiddish about touch at times, when I’m getting a massage I love it, because it releases tension, makes me feel special and I get kisses at the same time, which I love!
We all play out in the yard in the moonlight if we want to, but mostly the oldies by then are really tired so we just stay on the couch getting a rub down and watch the young ‘uns go nuts through the open french doors.
At about 11 oc clock, its time to go to bed, and no one really complains because we are all pretty wiped by then as you can imagine..
For those who can’t settle, they are offered a dish of warm milk and honey at bedtime, but everyone gets a snack to go to bed with as Uncle and Aunty believe no one sleeps well on an empty stomach.
So with fresh water in our bowls, blankets to snuggle down in, cosied up into smaller groups of friends, we have the classical music playing and the place all warmed up for us to drift off to sleep and dream of meadows….. and steak…… and rolling around with our friends……. and catching squirrels and….ZZZZZZZZZZ.


Meet Aspen a rare breed indeed

Aspen (American Dingo)

Aspen (American Dingo)

I wanted to introduce you all to a very special guest we have here this week…the lovely Aspen.
Aspen is very special because of the rarity of her breed, she is an American Dingo, sometimes known as a Carolina dog.
We first had Aspen two years ago when she was still a puppy (at our last location in Flowery Branch) and Pete and I just fell in love with her. There was something about her that was different, and then when her parents told us that she was a dingo, it all fell into place.
If you look closely at her face, you will see the markings on her muzzle that look like she’s been dipped in mud. Her muzzle is also shaped differently from other dogs, and her eyes are set uniquely with an almond shape. Her face is reminiscent of an African Wild dog.
This breed is truly primitive, a result of natural selection as opposed to Kennel Club breeding guidelines; they are incredibly fast (see pictures of her flying today), pounce on their prey like a fox does, and can turn on a button. This, my friends, is the real deal.
Discovered on the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, these dogs inhabit sparsely populated areas and still live perfectly well in packs where they hunt small game, snakes and raccoons.
Aspen has all the traits of a dingo and in all honesty is the perfect dog. Slightly shy with humans at first, yet immensely loyal and loving when she gets to know you. She plays beautifully and in the most carefree, unaffected way with other dogs, like an innocent child.
We find her breathtaking to watch when she is with us, her speed and endurance and lightness on her feet are stunning to watch, unlike any other dog we have here, so we just wanted to share with you a little bit about her. Her parents need to be very thankful that me and Uncle Pete already have seven of our own and can’t fit another one in…….
Have a good evening.