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Scaredy Scout

Sunday, 13. March 2011 23:44

The first time I heard of Dog Scouts of America I thought it sounded like just about the most fun you could have with a dog.  I wanted to join soooo bad.  But I figured something like that would only be for normal dogs.  You know the kind of dogs I mean.  Happy, well-adjusted dogs that you can take anywhere.  Not neurotic, snarky, fear aggressive, painfully shy, trembly, incredibly stubborn dogs.  I was pretty sure there was no way they were going to let a dog like mine come play.

Still, I kept nosing around the DSA website.  I couldn’t give up the idea that one day we would work through enough of her issues that some day she could belong to Dog Scouts, maybe even go to Scout Camp.   And then while I was reading about camp I read this:  “Yellow Bandannas are for dogs that don’t like other dogs in their face.  Please respect this unspoken request to keep your dog back.”  Whaaat – less than perfect dogs, dogs with issues, dogs that need a little space – they can join Dog Scouts? OMG, seriously?

Now, I’m definitely not saying that you should just bring an aggressive dog to Dog Scouts and expect everybody to welcome you with open arms!  But we’d been working really hard, Misha was improving and I’d learned how to manage her environment well enough that I felt safe and comfortable taking her to various dog training classes.  Meetings with Troop 184 weren’t all that different from a class, we felt very welcome and everyone was very considerate about giving her the space she needed.

We’ve met so many amazing dogs, from mutts of questionable ancestry like Misha to Champions with lots of letters before and after their names, but at a troop meeting we’re all equal.  Dog Scout humans are just as wonderful as their dogs.  Bewildered folks like me, who found themselves with a troubled dog and the sudden need to learn more about training and behavior than they ever wanted to know.  Highly competitive people showing in conformation and earning performance titles but still finding time for Scouts.  Training geeks, fascinated by how dogs learn but without any desire to compete.  And of course those seeking no more than to spend quality time with their dogs.  What do we have in common?  We love dogs.  We aspire to teach them without fear or pain.  And along the way we hope to give them a fun, fulfilling life.

What do we do at troop meetings?  Sometimes it’s fun and games, sometimes we try new dog sports, sometimes we practice to earn the Dog Scout Badge.  Once in a while, if all dogs are amenable, it turns into a play date.  At a troop activity day I watched Misha forget all about the monster that lives in the agility tunnel because she couldn’t resist following a zoomy Border Collie puppy through it.  When we practiced for a badge called “The Art of Shaping” she painted me a pretty picture.  (She also painted the garage floor.  And my left shoe.)  During “All Dog Band” badge practice, my fearful, sound sensitive dog happily bonged a cowbell with her nose (More Cowbell!) and pawed at noisy maracas.  We’ve gotten lost and befuddled on back yard RallyO courses, and enjoyed urban walks and mountain hikes.  We’ve tried some sports we never would have considered.  The last time I looked there were more than 75 badges we could try to earn, certainly something for any and every dog.  But the best part – the atmosphere is always non-competitive, low-key, and full of laughter.

Two years ago I didn’t really think we’d ever pass the Dog Scout Badge test, and now with the help of our troop we’ve done almost all the steps.  You know what though? Even if we don’t pass, it wouldn’t really matter.  I think the saying is something like “It’s the journey, not the destination.”  And Dog Scouts has been one heck of a great journey.  They’ve been instrumental in helping me bring my scaredy girl out of her shell, and helping her learn dogs and humans are not to be feared.

Here’s Misha with the picture she painted for me for the Art of Shaping!


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DNA Results!

Tuesday, 8. March 2011 0:09

We’ve always been curious about Misha’s heritage, we even did a Canine Heritage DNA test on her a few years ago but it came back “No tested breeds identified”.  What a disappointment that was!  I always kind of thought we’d try the Wisdom brand of test someday because it tested for more breeds, but it was really expensive and required a blood draw at the vet’s office.  We were really excited to find out they now offer an inexpensive cheek swab test that analyzes for a whopping 185 breeds!

The Wisdom Insights Panel DNA results say Misha’s grandparents were likely (Tah Dah!):
25% Alaskan Malamute, 25% American Bulldog, 12% Whippet with low certainty, and the remainder unknown mixed breed.

Would I have guessed any of that?  No, Malamutes and American Bulldogs are pretty good sized, next to them she’s a petite 60 pounds.  But I always thought a Husky and a Boxer got together somewhere up the line, so another Arctic breed plus a Bully breed – that’s not much of a stretch at all for my imagination.  Whippet simply never occurred to me.  Pluck a few genes from each of those and mix them up together?  Yep!  I can definitely see it.

But those EARS – without a hint of German Shepherd in the mix those ears become a brand new mystery all their own!

Arctic breed mixed with Bully mixed with Sighthound.  No wonder she’s a handful!

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Wordless Wednesday!

Wednesday, 16. February 2011 9:56


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Wordless Wednesday!

Wednesday, 22. December 2010 23:31

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Wordless Wednesday!

Wednesday, 8. December 2010 22:14



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Happy National Mutt Day!

Friday, 3. December 2010 0:49

Misha would like to wish everyone a very happy National Mutt Day!

Let me tell y’all the story of her mixed breed DNA test. We get lots of guesses about her ancestry.  We were told that she’s a Labrador/Australian Shepherd mix but I don’t see much of either in her physical appearance or her mannerisms.

When she was a lanky, awkward teenager a lot of people asked if she was a Great Dane mix puppy, so her tongue in cheek designer breed is “Teacup Great Dane”.  An adorable black and tan Chihuahua mix lived next door next door that looked like her mini-me with his great big ears, so for a while she was the “Giant Mutant Chihuahua”.  She looks very deer-like when she jumps – Mule deer mix?

Guesses always include German Shepherd because of her coloring and big ‘ol ears.  Our current vet believes she’s German Shepherd/Sharpei.  My guess is German Shepherd, Husky and Boxer.  German Shepherd for her markings and her ears.  Boxer for her square nose, deep chest, short body and long legs.  And ‘cuz she boxes just like her Boxer friend Pixel when she plays.  Husky for her mis-matched eyes, pretty eyeliner and hint of a mask, and one vet’s opinion that her scrawny little whip tail would curl up if it hadn’t been broken when she was a pup.  But guesses are just guesses and they are all made with a sense of humor.  It wouldn’t change anything to know, but that doesn’t stop us from being very curious.

So I was pretty excited when I heard that there were companies testing mixed breed dogs to give you some insight into their ancestry, and that we could do it with a cheek swab.  (It seemed mean to put a dog that was terrified of the vet through a blood draw just to satisfy our curiosity.)  The Canine Heritage website was testing for about sixty-five breeds at the time, but their website said they would be adding more breeds “soon”.

I waited and waited for the deadline.  Naturally, it took longer than they thought to update the test.  I waited some more.  Finally, the new test was ready and hubby bought the the test kit for my birthday present.

I read the instructions three times, I wanted to be sure and get a good sample the first time.  I had to rub the inside of her cheek with a bristly little brush, I’m sure it was uncomfortable but she was an absolute angel about it.  I packaged it all up, sent it off, and waited some more.

Finally, the certificate came in the mail.  I was so excited!  And the results were. . .

No tested breeds identified.

Wow.  What a let down.  I was prepared for some bizarre combination that didn’t make any sense, but no results at all?  The swab was good, and all of our best “guesses” were on the breed list.  She’s unusual looking but it’s unlikely that she’s any really rare breed.  Oh well, maybe we’ll try again some day with another company.

Happy Mutt Day to our mystery girl!

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Misha’s Kitties

Saturday, 16. October 2010 11:00

In honor of National Feral Cat Day and Blog the Change sponsored by Be the Change for Animals I’d like to thank Divine Feline, Rocky Mountain Alley Cat Alliance and the Feline Fix for their help with our little feral cat colony.  Like most cities, Denver has a huge feral cat population.  Feline Fix offers a very inexpensive spay and neuter program for feral, stray and tame cats.  TNR, trap, neuter and release programs are a humane and effective way to manage feral cat populations.

I remember the day Misha found the first kitten.  She wanted to play with it so bad! She fussed and whined and cried and pawed at the chain link.  The next day I spotted another kitten, two more the day after that.  We’d seen Mama Kitty a few times, including the day she trapped Misha in the back yard but didn’t think much of it, there are lots of “outdoor” kitties in our neighborhood.  But now we realized she’d moved in to a rickety old shed in our backyard to have her babies.  I did some research and found a nice woman in our neighborhood association who helped with feral cat issues.    She came by a few days later at dusk to help us trap Mama and her babies.

What an eye-opener that experience was!   I had no idea how many cats there were in our neighborhood, sitting quietly in the back yard for an hour or two at dusk counting cats just isn’t something I ever would have done.  Besides Mama Kitty and her family, we saw a half a dozen raggedy strays, plus a few healthier looking cats that probably had families but were out wandering.

She set up an interesting contraption called a box trap.  Mama and five babies eventually gathered underneath it, nomming on a plate full of extra stinky, extra fishy canned food.  She pulled a string, the trap dropped and we had ourselves a box full of freaked out kitties!

Mama Kitty was spayed and vaccinated through a program organized by RMACA.  In exchange we agreed to let her live out her life in our shed and to provide her with food.  The nice neighbor with the trap offered to foster the kittens until they were big enough to be neutered and find homes.  A couple of weeks later we realized we’d missed a kitten.  We fostered him ourselves, it was quite an experience having him and Misha in the house together!  His story is here.  He was neutered by Divine Feline for a small donation before he went to his new home.

There were two more adult cats, a male and a female. I was able to borrow a trap and take advantage of a visit to our area from Divine Feline’s mobile unit.  So we have a little TNR feral colony of three.  They’ll never be cuddly, tame, indoor kitties – but they will have full tummies and some shelter from the elements. They will keep other cats from moving into their territory.  And most important, they aren’t reproducing any more.  Here’s a quote from the RMACA website:

“Many of the 24,000 cats euthanized in 2009 were litters of  kittens. The only humane way to lower the numbers is through spaying and neutering. An unaltered female cat may become pregnant as early as five months of age, and bear 2-3 litters per year for her entire life. Every cat we spay will prevent as many as 200 more kittens from being born.”

There are two adult female cats, and three of the six kittens were female.  There could be as many as 1000 less homeless, unwanted kittens in this world just because Misha found a kitten.  Good job Misha!

Sweetie Pie


Miss Cranky Pants

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Too Boring for Prime Time

Wednesday, 6. October 2010 11:46

Humans love drama.  And television producers know that many dog lovers among us cannot resist the heartbreak of watching a troubled dog thrashing at the end of a leash, barking, snarling and snapping at something or someone.  So they put a dog in a situation that totally freaks it out and record the resulting meltdown to entertain us.

And invariably someone will point at the berserking dog and demand to know “What’cha gonna do now?  Stick a cookie in the dog’s mouth? Huh? Huh? HUH?”  Hey, don’t look at me to argue with that one!  I totally agree.  If a dog is actively trying to shred another dog, sticking a biscuit in its mouth is probably not going to make a damn stinking bit of difference.

So along comes a behaviorist to try to explain that they don’t actually work with a dog while it’s in that frantic state of mind and they get:  “Oh, you’re just jealous of the real experts.  If it works so good how come you’re not on TV?”

It turns out there’s a pretty simple reason you won’t see much science-based behavioral modification on television.

It’s boring as hell.

Once you commit to desensitizing an aggressive or fearful dog the goal becomes to avoid all that drama you see on TV.  That’s what a behaviorist means when they talk about keeping a dog “under threshold”.  No, that doesn’t mean to amp them up, bring them down, then try to work with them while their heart is still pounding and their blood pressure is sky high.  Working under their threshold means avoiding that state of mind to begin with.

No sane producer is going to put our story on TV – but what the heck, I’ll pitch my show anyway.  Let’s see, I think we need a working title.  How about “Decompressing Misha, a dramatic re-creation of the process we used to get my dog to the point where she could go for a walk in the park”.   To speed up the pace a little we’ll cover a whole week of training in each episode.

Episode 1:  The first week we’ll be working in the high school parking lot across the street because she can’t actually go in the park without freaking out.  She watches the dogs go by in the distance and growls once in a while.  It would be better if we could get far enough away that she doesn’t growl – but any time she can see a dog that isn’t safely behind a fence – she growls.  I feed her lots of little slivers of hot dog and we do simple repetitive obedience work.  Sit.  Watch me.  Walk around a bit.  Sit. Down.  Sit.  Watch me.  Down.  Walk around a little more.  (Are you bored yet?)

Episode 2:  See above.  About halfway through episode two she seems to realize that she is safe from those distant dogs, and stops trying to look around me to check the walking path.

Episode 3:  More of the same, hanging out in the high school parking lot.

Episode 4:  Whoohoo!  We’ll actually cross the street to walk in the park this week!  We’ll walk around in one corner, a football field or so away from the path where the dogs are.  We’ll do some more basic obedience and she’ll eat lots more little slivers of hot dog.

Episode 5:  Each day this week we’ll move a few feet closer to the path where everybody walks their dogs!  How’s that for excitement!? We’re a real ratings machine for the network, aren’t we?

Episode 6:  Some real drama this week.  Things have been going so well that I moved a little too close a little too fast and Misha garumphed at a dog walking on the trail.  We’ll move back a bit next week.

Episode 7:  We regain the ground we lost last week.

Episode 8:  Wow, can you believe it!  We’re working only fifty feet or so from the path.  On a quiet weekday morning we’ll even walk on the path for a few feet if there’s plenty of visibility all around so we can bail off the side of the path into the big field if we need to.

So tell me, are you really going to tune back in to that show week after week?  Heck, you probably didn’t even make it through the first episode.

Sure, it takes a lot longer – yet it’s not as time consuming as it sounds.  It’s actually a fairly simple process.  We only worked for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.  And that was time we would have spent on a walk or playing training games anyway.  But no, you certainly aren’t going to see results overnight.

So why bother?  Well, when we started out with other methods she tried really hard to behave for me – but she still hated most other dogs on sight.  Even now, she probably won’t ever be a dog park kind of girl.  But while she’s still a work in progress I do honestly believe we’ve changed how she feels about dogs this time, instead of just changing how she behaves around them.

For links to more blog posts from folks working successfully with reactive, aggressive and/or fearful dogs please visit this week’s Never Shock a Puppy blog hop.

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I am not a dog.

Monday, 23. August 2010 22:26

We’ve all heard it.  If you promote positive training methods you are constantly accused of anthropomorphism.  Yet the same people that accuse me of humanizing my dog tell me I’m supposed to correct her the way a Mama Dog would.

Ummm, guess what?  I’m human.  I don’t have to act like a Mama Dog to help my dog understand how she needs to behave.  So I’ve invented a new word.  Caninification.  The verb shall be caninify.  I do not humanize my dog.  I will not caninify myself.

In spite of all the rhetoric about humanizing our dogs the simple fact is we expect dogs to behave like humans.  Whenever a dog actually acts like a dog we get all freaked out.  What happens if a dog chews up our stuff, gets in the trash or digs holes in our yard?  If they correct another dog, or worse if they dare to correct a human?  The same way we’re told to correct them because it’s perfectly natural for a dog, right?  They’re punished, banished or, at worst, sentenced to death.

Not only do we demand that they understand a very human concept like respect, we expect them to offer it to us without question even when we are punishing them for behaving like, well, dogs.

In return for their companionship we’ve completely changed their world and not always in good ways.  It’s up to us to teach them how to behave in our world.  I choose to respect my dog for what she is, for the joy her doggy-ness brings to my life.  But I will use my bigger human brain to search out the kindest and gentlest ways to teach her how to survive and thrive in our confusing human world.

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Demon Kitten

Sunday, 11. January 2009 23:00

We snatched a feral kitten from one of the stray kitties that hide in our shed and Misha is going absolutely BONKERS. She is terrified of him, yet fascinated. The first couple of days she would not budge from the door to the kitten-room:

Whine. Whinewhinewhine. Whine. CanIseethekittenprettyplease.


CanIseethekitten, canIcanIcanI? Whinewhine YIP whine YIP whinewhinewhine.
Prettyplease I’llbegood letmeseethekitten. Pleeeeeease letmeseethekitten.


Whine. Hoooowwwwl. Whine. CanIseethekittenpleasepleaseprettyplease?

No, you can’t carry the kitten around in your mouth, even though you aren’t going to eat it it. No you can’t paw at the kitten, you will break it. No you CAN NOT clean the litter box for me.  EWWWWW!

I got some of those cute little heart and fishy shaped Whisker Lickins treats.  Feed one to the dog for quietly sitting or laying down next to us while I hold the kitten.  Feed one to the kitten so he thinks doggies mean good things like food.  Great idea, right?  Misha is so good about food, no resource guarding at all.  I’m very proud of her.  The kitten was very brave and snatched them right out from under her nose.  The only problem – the treats gave BOTH of them stinky farts.

Update – Tinky, short for Tinker, short for Little Stinker was fostered until he was old enough to be neutered and he now has the best home ever with Scamp and Scout and Molly!  Mama Kitty is too feral to ever be a pet, but still lives in the shed.  She will NOT be presenting us with any more kittens.

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