What difference can a piece of string make ?

Hoss calmer for his piece of string

Hoss calmer for his piece of string

It’s nothing really…just a four foot piece of string tied to a dogs’ collar. What good is that going to do? How’s that going to change the world?
In the above picture, Hoss, our foster dog, has a piece of yellow string tied to his collar, I know its not very grand and certainly not befitting a gorgeous dog like Hoss, but that piece of string does a very important job.
When Hoss is playing too rough, or we need to calm him down, we tie that piece of string on his collar and he calms down within seconds. It is as if we push a magic button.
I have to be honest, it doesn’t work this way with every dog; but it does work with a dog whom you have a great relationship with, one who seriously values his freedom of movement like hunting and working breeds, a dog who is touch sensitive and one who has been leash trained.
Here at the Ranch, we use the short trailing leash to remind the dog that he isn’t completely free to make all of the decisions. We want him to remember that while he may be free to run and play, he is answerable to someone. The trailing line dragging on the floor as he runs is a symbol of his connection to us.
The feeling of the leash connecting with the ground below is hard for a sensitive dog to ignore as it sloughs around on the earth or concrete below his neck, so it acts as a signal to him to watch his behavior.
Kind of the canine equivalent of the WWJD bracelet worn by Christians all over the world to remind them as they use their dominant hand, to use it appropriately………In this case though, I want Hoss to think WWAPD? (What would Aunty Pen do…..?)
If ever Hoss, or any guest, disregards the string and continues to play inappropriately, we then go to level two and pop a leash on him in the field and have him walk beside one of us for about five minutes. It’s a simple form of time out where the dog feels the consequences of his action even moreso than if he were put up and away as he can see the play, hear it, and experience everyone else having a good time, but hes being stopped from joining in.
We sometimes have to put dogs into a real time out, but its very rare once they know the drill here, and even then, only for severe behavior that might lead to injury. In those cases, we instigate a time out inside the house for a few minutes (three max) and then lead the dog to a quieter area with different dogs of a different energy level.
I’m very well aware that these measures are akin to dealing with children and of course, that’s very much the way we deal with dogs here at the Ranch. Its all about boundaries, respect, guidance and love.
We operate on a policy here of ‘Least invasive, minimally aversive’ which basically means ‘As hands off as possible and as little unpleasantness as possible’…
No need to shock the living crap out of some poor dog for inappropriate behavior, that just seriously damages brain function.
No need to put him on his side and do the outmoded Alpha roll…that’s just basically telling the dog you can kill him if you want to, take him any time you please because you’re the big cheese…..a little over the top for your best friend, huh?
No need to smack him on the nose or the rump…..that just tells him you’re an idiot that doesn’t understand dog behavior. Dogs don’t smack each other, and they have no conception of why we do that.
The ‘time out’ in either of these forms is a really great way to check your dogs behavior…it gives him time to settle, then rethink his behavior and reboot. We want the dog to learn from his mistakes, so giving a mini time out in situ, so that he can go ahead and get a do over is a great learning opportunity.
So for Hoss, who was playing a little too physically with Gunnar yesterday, the three times that we checked his behavior by popping the leash on him, presented three opportunities………..1) to catch the behavior, 2) make the point, and 3) drive it home.
…And no animals were hurt during the making of this point!


Why doesn’t my dog love me ?

Jake our youngest son (and much younger here!!) cuddles his first rescue dog, Wishbone, during our time in Trinidad & Tobago

Jake our youngest son (and much younger here!!) cuddles his first rescue dog, Wishbone, during our time in Trinidad & Tobago

When we lived in Trinidad & Tobago, I used to volunteer at the kids school and every morning a lady called Daphne would drop her daughter Sammi off at the classroom door, fussing over her and trying to kiss her goodbye, while Sammi just would look away, roll her eyes and pull herself away from her mother. She looked thoroughly grossed out and couldn’t get far enough away!
Her mother was bemoaning the fact that her daughter couldn’t stand her, and what was she to do?
I delicately suggested she give the poor kid some space…how on earth was she ever going to like someone who smothered her from morning til night?
I was reminded of Sammi and Daphne this week, when I met a charming woman called Sally who brought her dog to us for a behavioral consult last Thursday night.
Sally’s dog, Vera, (you know I make these names up, don’t you? The people are real but the names are stupid, made up names that I have a right good giggle over…who would honestly call their dog Vera?) as well as having some fear issues around other dogs had not ever physically bonded to Sally, who told me quite candidly that she brought Vera into her life and rescued her, to ‘fill a hole in my heart’.
Little Vera adores Sally’s boyfriend Jim,and giggles and wiggles all the way over to him when he gets home from work, she comes when he calls her, looks up at him adoringly and wants to be near him.
Sally, who feeds Vera, walks her, trains her, takes her to the vet and is an exceptional mum to her in every way…when she walks in  looking for some love from her little pup, well…… it ain’t happenin’!
Sally is heartbroken about this and can’t understand why the dog doesn’t do back flips for her, when her previous dogs just adored her?
I explained to Sally that firstly all dogs are different, and secondly, as a fearful dog, Vera needs two things above all else in any new situation…time and distance.
I sat down on the tree trunk down in the meadow and told her, verbatim as if I had been a fly on the wall, exactly how she had acted the night she brought dear little fearful Vera to their house after they adopted her. I told her that she had cuddled her in the car, and brought her home and been given access to every area of the house straight away, Sally had set her on the couch and talked to her all night telling her how she was safe and how she was going to be loved forever, she had stroked her and loved on her like a little Princess. Sally admitted that this was the case.
Now, to a human child who has just been adopted that might just work and they might find that appealing, but to a fearful dog, passed from pillar to post, in a new environment, its a nightmare on wheels!
What little Vera really wanted to do was to sniff out her new environment; the scent of something tells them everything they need to know to get a handle on things in a new situation…who lives there, what they eat, how they act, if they are strong or weak characters, where they walk…..its a whole community newspaper at floor level for your dog if you only allow them to read it. Doing so helps them to get their bearings.
Next, taking the dog for a long, long walk around their new neighborhood and their new home on leash while letting the dog explore with their nose, helps the dog to settle much, much faster. Granted, Sally and her boyfriend did take Vera for a walk when they brought her home, but my guess was that they were talking and cooing to her and trying to ‘connect’ with her at every turn.
Here at the Ranch, we never ever talk to dogs while they are settling in. I can hear a million ‘positive dog trainers’ go green at the thought of no-one praising with a  ‘great job’ and ‘good girl’ every five minutes, but here, we just don’t think that dogs connect linguistically at first.
We connect and build a relationship through letting them use their nose, then exercise and then body language. When the relationship is formed, and the dog feels comfortable, (which might take half an hour, two hours, it might take two days, it all depends on the dog) then, and only then, do we bring in the language….calm commands and calm praise. Once the dog is settled with that, they will come to us and tell us they would like some touch now thankyou very much, and at that point, do I go all gooey and stroke away?
No, I don’t. At that point, I won’t touch the dog, I ignore her. Then ten seconds later, I will call the dog to me and start to touch and stroke gently on their shoulders or on the chest. Just for a moment.
Why like this? Because when I form a relationship with a dog, it is going to be a lasting one…….
All of my relationships with all of the dogs that come here are started this way because I want the dog to go through a gamut of emotions including an emotional release, and end up at the right place. This has worked for me over five thousand times so I’m not going to change it.
By using no touch, no talk and no eye contact at first, I am telling the dog that I am asking nothing of it, there is no need to be overwhelmed and they are free to explore the place as we walk together. Thats the start of the relationship.
Remember, the dog wants time and distance….time to make a decision as to whether they like me, and distance because no one likes anyone that gets all up in their business when they’ve just met.
Humans hate it and dogs hate it even more; to them its beyond rude.
Next, by allowing the dog to sniff as we walk, we are exercising together and working in tandem. This, to a dog is affection; its a shared experience and it s a language we can share as we walk and rest, walk and rest, which is how, in a pack, dogs bond. The dog then sees me as more than just some idiot on two legs, she sees me as someone who has respected her needs and thats a wonderful foundation for any relationship.
The calm commands and calm praise that form the next step are to introduce the dog to my voice and my expectations. Too much noise befuddles the dog, too much excitement and ‘whoop de doo’ and the message is lost on a fearful dog, who really is trying hard to cope in the new situation.
Don’t forget, they don’t speak English, they aren’t hard wired for language at all, so our words are just sounds to them unless they understand commands we give them. Flooding them with language is a strain on a fearful dogs senses, when in actuality, they would rather rely on their nose and eyes in a new situation. Its more comforting. Its what they know..
When the dog comes to me for affection, I turn it away at first because I have to set boundaries, respect and limitations, just as I have accorded the dog the same thing.
My particular boundaries are that I don’t like dogs clambering all over me willy nilly, I like to instigate physicality when I want it, as most humans do. By turning the dog away in that first instance, I am doing two things: I am setting my boundaries from the get go with the dog, which is very important as the dog then knows what to expect from our relationship from the off. Secondly, I am increasing my own value in the eyes of the dog. Dogs are like us, what they can’t have they tend to want more.
Every single time I do this technique, the dog can’t wait for me to call it over to me and get some loving and they revel in the special gift that I’m giving them, knowing I do not bestow it freely all the time. Once our relationship is formed I do, you’ll see pictures of me slushing all over some big handsome goofball every day with my lips wrapped round his chops…..but never at the start.
While Sally was here at the Ranch, I had her follow my protocol for the two hours that she was here with me. She hated it, felt there was no way she could do it for more than five minutes and looked appalled when I first told her to do this.
When she called Vera to her, and Vera ignored her commands, I had Sally and Jim, her boyfriend, hide behind a tree with me so that Vera had to physically come looking for her.
We watched, out of sight, as little Vera got the first shock of her relationship with Sally…she wasn’t there!
Vera panicked and bolted around looking for Sally and when she found her was all over her like white on rice, jumping up at her, joyous in the moment as she had just had a short sharp lesson in fear of loss and realised that Sally wasnt to be taken for granted.
Sally admitted to me and Jim by the end of our session that this was the most tactile Vera had ever been with her in the ten weeks she had had her.
Remember I said at the start that Vera loves Jim more than Sally and is all over him like a rash when he comes home……why?
Jim is the strong, silent type, far less openly affectionate and chatty to the dog than Sally, and has a clearer, less expansive vocabulary with the dog. He might not be a dog whisperer, but he is a lot more cool and not so in Vera’s face as Sally is. Thus, Vera chooses Jim as her significant other, because he suits her needs better and answered more of her needs for time and distance at the very start.
Sally is going to be dialling her relationship with Vera right back to zero and, after Vera had spent a little time here at the Ranch to work on some other, fear associated issues, she will be bringing her home and using the protocol that I use here to start her relationship with her dog over.
I predict that within a short time, Sally is going to have the dog of her dreams and Vera is going to be one happy, well adjusted, very tactile pup who can’t get enough of her new Mum!
Remember people…time and distance!


Stress …. a contagious disease

Nelson (clearly not stressed !!!) relaxes watched over by photos of his brothers Joe and Jake

Nelson (clearly not stressed !!!) relaxes watched over by photos of his loving brothers Joe and Jake

A dear friend and client of mine boarded her dog with us last week; she contacted me a few days before the dogs arrival to tell me that her pup had diarrhea that had been a problem for a few days now, and would I still have the dog come stay? She had apparently eaten a critter like our Steve did a week or so ago, and hadn’t been right since…..

Because I love her, and love her dog, I said of course we would take her (trust me, I gotta love your dog, and you, to face the prospect of runny diarrhea in my home….!) and so ‘Haley’ (not her real name, this dog is in the DD witness protection program now she’s had an article written about her, of course!!!) arrived early last week and settled in to her normal routine at the Ranch.

The dogs here have an immense amount of time outside with us; even when we are winding them down for the night, we normally are sitting outside under the porch, and so from day one, due to plenty of chances to eliminate outside, she didn’t have an accident inside the house. However, the poops that I noticed in the yard had a runny quality and a smidge of blood in them.

We set about trying to fix the problem and Haley went straight on to a diet of rice and chicken and her tummy quickly started to settle. We first checked with mum that it was okay and then gave the dog some metronidazole that we had here for our own dogs ‘just in case’ and some probiotics to balance the delicate flora in her digestive system; Haley was doing fine after a few short days.

However, I was scratching my head trying to determine what had caused this upset tummy that had no vomiting and no ill feeling at all, the dog was running footloose and fancy free all last week like a puppy, had a bundle of energy and didn’t present as sick at all…….it was then that I remembered a conversation I had had with her mum just after she dropped her off…..

She told me that she couldn’t really cope with any more poop on the carpets, her house had just gone on the market, she was constantly trying to keep it clean and tidy which was a huge ordeal in itself, and shampooing the carpets every day was wearing her out. She told me that this whole ordeal was so stressful; the thoughts of where they might be moving to, where her daughter might be going to school, added to the fact that the ex was behaving like a world class jerk and being totally unhelpful financially. She told me that the stress on her was incredible, and I had to admit that she looked absolutely overwrought with it. Her face was flushed, her eyes looked tired and she was finding it hard to relax and chat whereas we would normally be shooting the breeze like a couple of old tarts on a street corner together.

Things started to make sense….

When she picked Haley up, I had a word with her about her stress level and how it was affecting the dog…..I have no doubt at all that Haley was suffering a bout of stress colitis brought about maybe at the start by the nasty dead critter but I truly feel that it was exacerbated by the stress in Haleys mum’s life.

Dogs mirror their owners, how often have I said that on these pages?

If we feel stress, they feel stress. If we are ecstatic, so are they.

Heck, the only variance in most dogs’ days is brought about by a change in their owners demeanor….we are so fundamentally important to them, so intrinsically linked to them if we have a close relationship, that if we cry or feel anguish, it feels like the end of the world…..

Last time I took Hank Williams, our foster/rehab dog from the Gwinnett County Sheriffs Jail Dogs Program back to the jail, he was riding beside me in the front of the truck, sitting up high on his seat, looking out of the window.

I looked at him and felt such a pang for all that he had been through in his short life, how he had been manhandled to the point of him being so fearful of touch, how so many short sighted people had given up on him and pronounced him dangerous, and it cut right to my heart. I burst into tears and seriously couldn’t stop……. so I had to pull over.

As I sat there in the truck on the side of the road, sobbing my heart out, Hank eased over onto my lap and began to lick my face and snuffle my hair. Then he put his paw on my shoulder and laid his head on top of it. It’s one of the most beautiful moments I have ever had with a dog and it was at that moment that I truly knew Hank was going to be okay…..

Hank had taken on my pain, he probably even knew it was about him, and he sought to give me solace, a very special quality in a family dog. Our relationship had grown to new heights in that moment; a wonderful thing, and a terrible thing all at the same time, because his new-found sensitivity towards my feelings meant that my hurt was his hurt, my pain was his pain.

Had the jail called me up the next day and asked me what the hell had I fed Hank because he had the screaming abdabs (as we English would call it), I wouldn’t have been surprised, because, so often, I see stress being centered in the stomach.

As it is, thankfully, Hank has a cast iron constitution and could probably eat a whole dead rotten carcass and still run a marathon the next day, but the point is……..stress stays, it festers and its a weight we carry in our heart, in our head or in our stomach.

In talking to Haleys mum about this whole subject of stress and stress colitis, which is when stress manifests in the digestive tract as vomiting or diarrhea, she expressed surprise that Haley would be feeling stress over her current situation, because she was nowhere near as bad as this when her mother died two years ago. Surely she would have been worse then, when the pain was so much greater? The ordeal and the grief was so huge?

I explained to Haley’s mum that just like humans, dogs experience a huge range of emotions, in different ways at different times and thus, have different coping mechanisms with which to deal with them.

Dogs seeking to become a panacaea to their humans hurt might just provide a shoulder, as Hank did for me that day; they might howl, as a particular husky I know did after the death of his beloved mate; they might retreat, feeling they can do nothing in this situation and trust that their owner can work it out for themselves; or, as Haley did, they might feel helpless in the face of such a huge range of problems and emotions, feel a little perplexed at the shouting over the soiled carpets and the reaction becomes more of a physical one…hence the never ending cycle of poop/ sensing the disappointed owner/ seeing her shampooing the carpets wearily/ stress of seeing her so upset means back to pooping again.

Not every stressful situation is the same, and as a human I don’t handle each one the same. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I scream, sometimes I throw things, sometimes I withdraw, and yes occasionally I spend hours in the bathroom! Dogs are capable of the same array of coping mechanisms……mind you, when I’m in the bathroom for hours I wouldn’t call that coping!

Haley’s mum adores her dog, she is without question one of the most caring dog parents I have as a client, but even she isn’t perfect, she has a dog with the heaving poops and cant hide her displeasure at the sight of yet another steaming pile; as a vibrant, passionate woman, she cannot hide her emotions at all, so poor Haley just took it all in and wore it like a crown of thorns.

My advice to her was to find her inner calm and to just ‘let it go’ for the moment, for the sake of her, her family and her dog. Sometimes our dogs’ reaction to our problems can bring the whole situation into a much sharper focus and force us to rethink how we approach it….

Being someone who is incredibly quick to fly off the handle [never when I’m working, but oh my…when I’m at home? Duck and cover!] and who gets antsy at the stupidity of certain people in my life, I have had to find some quick ways to cool down and chill so that my pack and my family don’t get to feel the brunt of it.

My advice to you today, if you don’t want your dog to go stick their head in a gas oven or call the shelter asking if they can please come check themselves in is…..

1) Take a good brisk walk, go to Six flags, eat a bowl of curry or go get ‘jiggy’ with someone special.. all of these activities produce endorphins, a neurotransmitter produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, which acts as an analgesic. Endorphins are so named because they create a morphine like substance in the body. So much better for you than anti depressants and no side effects!

2) Big glass of sauvignon blanc and a pile of pasta with pesto, parmigiano cheese and good olive oil. (carb rich meals are scientifically proven to increase the flow of serotonin in our brain) The wine…well, everything tastes better with a good glass of sauvignon, doesn’t it? That’s not necessarily science that’s just common sense!

3) Big bar of 50% or higher cocoa solid chocolate. Chocolate contains phenylaninine, which is an amino acid that acts as an analgesic and an anti depressant. Thus, a trip to Godiva is exactly the place one needs to go when the poop hits the fan!

4) If all else fails, take five minutes and watch the bathroom scene from the hilarious movie ‘Hall Pass’…guaranteed to crack you up every time!

Stay calm out there….!


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.


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.

We’ll MEAT again

Riley here enjoys his "Got Milk" pose but enjoys a juicy steak like all his pals !!!!

Riley here enjoys his “Got Milk” pose but enjoys a juicy steak as much as anyone  !!!!

Last night, I was talking to a client and we were talking about a dog she was having a problem with, in her pack.  As I know the dog quite well (he stayed at the Ranch for a short time before she adopted him) I was doing a phone consult for her, and went through the whole gamut of questions, from environmental to exercise, family dynamic etc.
When we got on to the subject of diet, she told me that her dogs, all seven of them, were vegetarian….
No way could all seven of them be fed vegetarian food because of health issues, could they?
It turns out that she and her husband have been vegetarians for years and have always fed their dogs this way, because they hate the slaughter of animals.
In all honesty, that argument is lovely for a dog rescuer, as we should all be against the needless slaughter of animals, however for a Dog Mum, probably a little convoluted in my view…..
The dogs eat Tofu, Soy, and vegetables every day and apparently really like their food. (Mmmmm, I just bet they are turning up their nose at breast of chicken and sirloin every day in the hope that they might get a heaped serving of tofu instead)
I have heard lots of the arguments for dogs becoming vegetarians over the years.. the toxic substances in todays processed dog foods, the cruelty of slaughtering animals for food, polluting the planet with carcasses, the fact that dogs and cats are our pets and thus should eat as we do if we are vegetarians…the list goes on and on. And yet, lets look at the heart of the matter. Should dogs and cats be vegetarian?
Firstly (and quickly as I’m not a fan of cats), cats are what is known as OBLIGATE carnivores. This means that they don’t have a choice in the matter, they have to eat meat to nourish their body adequately and survive. It’s as simple as that.
Dogs, while not obligate carnivores, are still carnivores and not vegetarians. Their teeth are designed for ripping of flesh, and are not flat like ours, a sign that they are designed for te grinding of grains.
The dogs digestion starts in his stomach and not his mouth….every part of his digestive system, every enzyme in his stomach, is geared towards the breakdown of meat and raw foods.
This is one of the very reasons that I counsel so many of my clients to please feed their dogs fresh meat, veggies and/or appropriate table scraps instead of packaged dog food where they are able to; not only is it less processed but its also what they need.
We humans have  plenty of available choices in our lives; we can choose to eat ice cream all day every day, or to drink sugar laden soda every day, knowing that it puts us at risk of diabetes, getting fat or worse. We can gorge on steak every day if we want to, knowing that it will probably still be there in our colon for the next squillion years. Those are choices we make, because we can.
Feeding a dog inappropriate food because of our own moral take on a situation is just not fair to the dog.
I know I will possibly have a thousand carrot and tofu wielding dissenters campaigning for my immediate demise, however, I have to say it…go buy Fido a steak, please!