No Dog Left Behind: Making the Case for Canine Education

Education is important — so much so that it’s written into our law… for humans.

CanineEducation-4In the United States, there are compulsory education laws, which mandate that children attend school (public, private or home) by a certain age, and state they are not allowed to drop out (should they decide to) until a specific age. These laws were developed to help literacy rates, protect against child labor, and to better the population as a whole.

If we, as a society, promote the importance of education for people, then I propose that it’s high time we advocate for a similar system for inquisitive canines. Dogs (and other non-human animals) are becoming more a part of our everyday culture. I submit that we will only benefit if we establish similar requirements for our canine companions in order for them to not only adapt, but also to contribute in positive ways and gain wider acceptance.

According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 95% of Americans consider their pet as part of the family – I know I certainly do! So if this is the case, then why not go above and beyond the birthday present, special homemade treats and spa sessions by giving our dogs an education that not only enhances their home life, but also allows them to become an upstanding member of society?

One reason I became a certified dog trainer was because I wanted to be able to bring my own dog to as many places as possible. My rationale was that if all dogs were well-mannered, then they would be welcomed by more people and into more places, and eventually would help change our “no dogs allowed” culture to “courteous canines welcomed.”

How great would that be? (Bark once if you agree, twice if you enthusiastically concur!)

DogIndoorRestaurantI know there are some naysayers out there gasping as they read this, and I realize that some places might not be appropriate for dogs (i.e. commercial kitchens, operating rooms for humans, etc.), similar to certain places not being appropriate for young children. However, I believe with the right kind of training, many places that are currently considered off-limits for dogs could be perfectly fine, and even preferable with their presence.

But was does “well-mannered” look like? And what education would be necessary to achieve it?

In my opinion, the same guidelines used for therapy dogs would be a great starting point. Unlike service dogs, therapy dogs must hold an actual certification. This is not to say that service dogs don’t perform specific tasks – most do. However, owners aren’t required to show proof. Therapy dogs, on the other hand, go through detailed training with their handler and then have to complete a certain number of supervised visits where they are observed and given feedback. (Yes, this is a test!) Once these steps have been completed, they provide references and more to complete their application. And, therapy dog handlers are required to carry their membership card whenever he or she is “on the job.”

There are several organizations devoted to supporting canines and their humans in the therapy dog certification process including, Love on a Leash, Therapy Dog International, and the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen. Each of these programs require dogs be proficient in specific skills in order to perform duties to help make people feel happy, relaxed, and safe. These include:

  • Being able to sit, stay, lie down, and come when called around a variety of distractions, and without the use of treats to reinforce them
  • Allowing strangers to pet and handle them, including tugging on ears and tails
  • Being approached by strangers, including those behaving erratically
  • Being tolerant and accepting of loud and/or unfamiliar noises
  • Show no signs of being fearful or aggressive

Wow! Imagine a world where dogs were better behaved than us humans! It seems to me that if these skills are good enough for therapy work, they would be more than sufficient for general public interaction.

And just as children respond best to education with the support of their parents or other loving adults, dogs also thrive when we humans work with them – and in the process, we become better trained ourselves.

CanineEducation-2Many businesses have a “no dogs” policy. However, some might reconsider if the canine in question held a certificate stating he or she has gone through significant training. That might be a good first step for changing our culture. While I’d envision this as a “private school” type of education initially, imagine if there were public options to help teach all dogs how to become more upstanding members of our society. Now that would be something to howl about!

So here’s my question to you inquisitive pet lover: What do you think about mandated canine education – and if we get people and their pups to participate, should society as a whole welcome dogs into places they weren’t previously allowed? I say, no dog left behind!


Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine? We invite you to post on our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

Say NO To Weapons of Mutt Destruction – Choose The Best Dog Walking Gear

There is significant controversy over the use of aversive dog walking equipment such as choke, prong,
electric, and Citronella collars. Although research confirms that there are many negative side effects created by using this kind of punishment-based gear, the use of inhumane training equipment is unfortunately pretty common. Even large pet stores that claim to be animal advocates continue to sell aversive walking and training equipment.

AllisonColetteLamminen_DogTrainerAs an inquisitive dog mom, animal advocate, and certified dog trainer, I often wonder how and why gear that causes, as the ASPCA puts it, “physical discomfort and undue anxiety,” is considered acceptable. Haven’t we figured out that animals (which include us humans!) learn better in an environment that is friendly, trusting, and filled with love — not one that is ruled by anger, frustration, and pain?

Some may ask, “What’s the big deal? Haven’t those kinds of collars worked for decades now? Does it really matter how you get your dog to walk easily by your side, without pulling?”

Well, similar to outdated, ineffective medical treatments, there are high-risk side effects of using aversive equipment, which are absolutely not worth it. According to well-respected industry groups including The Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior, and popular high-profile dog trainers like author and on-air personality Victoria Stilwell and Karen Pryor, world renowned animal trainer and author of Don’t Shoot the Dog, the use of aversives for training purposes must be avoided at all costs.

InquisitiveCanine_Sarah-Penn-LeashWalkingThe implications of using such equipment are enormous: from physical damage and unwanted behavioral problems including aggression to shutting down, learned helplessness and destruction of the human-animal bond, the negative consequences are both likely and also very serious. There is no reason to continue to use aversive gear for dog walking and training, especially now that we know better — because we have better information and better tools to use.

Now, I’m not saying that getting to the desired goal of getting your dog to behave nicely and appropriately while on leash is easy for everyone. It’s clear to see where challenges arise.

First off, dogs weren’t born knowing how to walk while leashed up. Secondly, humans weren’t born knowing how to operate a leash. Thirdly, add up point one and point two, and you often end up with a scene from a Three Stooges episode — but not as funny. With all the frustration coming from both ends of the leash, even I can understand why some of these aversive tools came about and why people continue to turn to them for help.

But wait! Just because I say I get it on some levels, doesn’t mean I think using punishment-based gear is a remotely good idea.

Refining walking on leash is a relatively simple and easily trainable activity that doesn’t require an iron fist. When you get a cold, do you treat it with rest, fluids, and over the counter medicine that takes a little time and patience to work – or do you turn to bloodletting to cut to the chase and get it over as quickly (and brutally) as possible?

We first need to remember that any walking equipment should be considered management tools, not training tools. Empower yourself and your dog to walk together nicely using the bond you share, communication, and a clear message — as opposed to the equipment.

InquisitiveCanine_NellieTeaching your dog to walk on leash is a simple, straightforward process. Our Leash Walking 101 post outlines some helpful tips to get you started.

As for useful dog and human-friendly equipment, I’m a proponent of the harness-leash system. For dogs that tend to pull unnecessarily on a regular walk (so I’m not talking about more complex activities like sports, Search and Rescue or Nose Work), harnesses where the leash attaches to the front is my first choice, as they tend to help reduce pulling. For dogs that don’t pull, or for specific sports and activities, a harness where the leash attaches to the back is ideal. Our TransPaw Gear™ dog harness, which will be introduced in the coming months, has both – and I have designed it such that regardless of your canine’s situation, you will always have your harness bases covered.

In terms of leashes, I prefer regular four to six-foot leads — cotton, leather, nylon or whatever you prefer. Your dog and you should be walking together, so longer leashes should be necessary. Where leashes that are more than six feet long come in handy are for specific training exercises. Even retractable leashes can do the trick, but I’d only recommend them for very specific purposes and places, such as an open field with nothing the leash would get tangled on — including people, other animals, trees, bushes, etc.

As for collars, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: collars are like wallets — they’re meant to carry I.D. and complement your outfit. That’s about it.

I’m not here to chastise and point fingers. I will admit firsthand that when I adopted Poncho, I was taught to use a variety of training approaches, including collar-corrections. I never felt comfortable doing this — ever. And this was a primary reason I ended up becoming a trainer. To learn better and ultimately, do better. Instead of ignoring this dilemma, I trusted my gut instinct, questioned it, investigated, and turned to using better options that were actually easier to implement AND more effective. Talk about a win-win — for everyone, especially our beloved BFF Poncho. (That’s Best Fur Friend), but also for all of the inquisitive canines that I’ve had the pleasure of working with since then.

A recent L.A. Times article reported that the cancer rate has dropped by 25% compared to that of a quarter of a century ago, due to better diagnostics and treatment. This is a prime example of humans recognizing the treatment was as bad as the problem itself (maybe worse!), doing the research, checking old assumptions, and ultimately rejecting the status quo in order to make better choices and pursue more humane and effective treatments.

So my question to you, inquisitive animal lover, why do we continue to use and promote equipment we know can cause harm — these weapons of mutt destruction — when there are much better options out there for achieving the same goal?

A good friend mentioned there’s an update with one of the Golden Rules. It goes beyond treating others as you would want to be treated yourself. Instead, it now says we should treat others the way they want to be treated. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that dogs would prefer to be treated with a kind, loving hand over any other kind of handling.

In other words, you don’t have to be “ruff” to get the best out of your dog – humane and kind trumps ruthless and aversive any doggone day.
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What to Look for When Choosing the Best Dog Trainer for Your Pet

Recently I was on a run with a friend, and we were talking about how many dogs we saw along the way, as well as the people who were leading them. It was easy to spot the professionals, as they often had several dogs on leash.Inquisitivecanine_PrivateClient

Still, by observing how the animals were being handled, it was apparent even to my non-dog-trainer friend that not all “professionals” are created equal. Knowing that I’m a certified trainer, she innocently asked, “Is it me, or does everyone think they can be a dog trainer?”

In my experience, my friend’s observation was spot on. Many folks out there think that just because they’ve had dogs, grew up with dogs, love dogs, know dogs and/or watch TV shows about dog training, they know all there is to know about training canines.

That would be the same thing as me saying, “I love to bake, and I live for watching the shows on the Food Network. Once I even won a blue ribbon in a brownie baking competition. So I’m clearly a professional baker.” While you might encourage me to donate treats to your bake sale, there’s no way you’d hire me to make your wedding cake.

InquisitiveCanine_LouisVinnyWhen you work in a specialized field, in order to elevate your status from amateur to professional, training and education is a must. To help you make an informed decision about who should train and otherwise care for your inquisitive canine, here are a few tips about how to make the best selection:

  • Ask about training techniques and approach.

Humane, force-free methods for training are the best and only techniques a trainer should use. These go beyond “positive reinforcement,” as there are some trainers out there who use both positive reinforcement (i.e. treats, petting, praise) and “positive punishment” (i.e. collar corrections, alpha-rolls, aversive training collars). This is a contradiction in terms AND in approach, and also sure signs that your pet will at the very least get mixed messages, and possibly be subject to inhumane treatment. Ask specific questions as to which training methods the prospective trainer uses, and under which circumstances.

  • Inquire about education and certifications.

Whether you’re looking for private training for behavior specifics, puppy or basic manners classes, sports-related courses such as agility, Nose Work, and Canine Freestyle, or specialty Therapy Dog courses, professional training is a must. What schools or programs has the prospective trainer attended? Do they belong to groups or organizations that are respected across the industry? Keep in mind that not all dog training organizations are created equal – there are some that anyone can join, whether they are a trainer or not. Others, such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, literally certifies people in areas of both training and behavior. They require exams and letters of recommendation, along with continuing education credits for maintaining certifications.

If someone says they became a trainer because they love dogs and are good with them and/or got their DIY training from YouTube videos, you really should think twice before hiring that person for professional services. Also, be aware of the self-titled “dog behaviorist.” A true animal behaviorist holds a graduate degree in that field. This is an important distinction to make – and if your pet requires sincere behavioral modification, be sure that the person you are hiring to work with him or her has the education and experience necessary to truly help your pet.

  • Check that your trainer has both transparency and integrity.

Trust and honesty are important in any relationship, amiright? Trainers worth their salt will admit if a specific case is outside their scope of practice, or they are unfamiliar with the situation presented. For instance, when clients ask me about issues that might have an underlying medical origin, I always refer them to their vet. I often get questions about foods a particular dog should eat. Again, this is a question for that animal’s vet. While I can offer up tips for enrichment activities and how a dog should have his or her meal delivered (i.e. food toys, scavenger hunts, training), I refrain from advising what a dog should eat, since dietary concerns, age of the pet, and so on really influences what is best to feed a particular canine.

  • Similar to choosing any professional that you’ll work closely with, personality, graciousness, and communication are key.

While you want to choose someone your dog likes and trust, you have to share the same sentiments as your pet. It’s not the dogs that call for training needs (although sometimes we wish they would speak up!), it is the people. Just like you wouldn’t choose a nanny to watch your child without seeing how well she or he meshes with your family, you should definitely be conscious of how you get along with the prospective dog trainer, as well as how clearly he or she communicates with you, not just your dog. The goal is to have someone in place that you enjoy and can rely upon but who also makes sure you have all the information necessary to reinforce the work she or he has done with your dog.

My tips are just a starting point; here are a few additional resources for you to consider when hiring a dog trainer:

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What do you, or would you, look for when hiring a dog trainer?

Just head to the comment section below to join the conversation. And remember, we invite you to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine on our Facebook page. Or, follow us on Twitter – Tweet to us and we’ll Tweet ya back!

Harness the Love, for Dogs Everywhere

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Milo

The wonderful Academy for Dog Trainers, and my Alma Mater, is at it again! This time it’s #HarnessTheLove, a week long social media campaign to highlight and promote the use of no-pull harnesses. Hope you’ll join in the fun, take away some useful tidbits, and share the knowledge.

Of course the Inquisitive Canine is participating! As a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, I’m all about force-free training, pawsitive reinforcement, and the use of aversive-free equipment – specifically harnesses that allow for both front-clip and back-clip leash attachment. This special campaign is all about highlighting the use of these types of harnesses, while focusing on educating people what to do, rather than shaming or finger-pointing for choosing other types of equipment.

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Sam

Why do I love harnesses? First, they take pressure off your dog’s neck and distribute it across a larger body area, unlike traditional collars, making it more comfortable for your dog. And a comfortable dog is in position to learn better and often more readily. Harnesses also give you a vantage point in communicating with your inquisitive canine, as it is easier to feel movement, any tension, and energy through the leash.

Let’s take a look at loose leash walking, meaning your dog is walking in a relaxed state on a leash while being allowed to explore and sniff within the length of the leash with no pulling, tugging, or lunging. Sound too good to be true? Well, a harness helps makes this possible. Think about the traditional collar and leash from a dog’s perspective. Many dogs experience sharp pains in their neck, feelings of being choked, not being able to breathe, and what can be perceived as feelings of stress and frustration. There’s no reason for that with such a wide variety of harnesses available.

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Romeo

As a matter of fact, I’m so on-board with harness use that I’ve even started my own dog product company called TransPaw Gear™, LLC and am in the process of launching the official TransPaw Gear™ dog harness! A dog-friendly, user-friendly, multi-purpose harness that puts the FUN in FUNctional! Want more info? Check out our TransPaw Gear™ dog harness webpage – And, if you’re so inclined, “Like” us on Facebook!

But, this post, and the #HarnessTheLove campaign isn’t about self-promotion, it is about educating the community on the importance of using force-free methods and equipment with their inquisitive canines! I’ve always said that dog collars are like wallets: they should be used to carry identification and complement an outfit – or fur. So, what products should you use?

There seems to be a wide variety to choose from. And, I  know the importance of shopping around and making an informed decision. With the many options, it’s best to look for features that work best for you. your inquisitive canine, budget, and resources available. In addition to our very own TransPaw Gear™ dog harness, a few others that I’ve had some hands-on, and paws-on, experience with include:

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    Haley

    The Freedom No-Pull Dog Harness which has front and back clips to discourage pulling. It also has a velvet lining on the strap to prevent chafing behind the legs. Recommended by trainers and inquisitive canines alike.

  • The Tru-Fit Smart Harness has five adjustment points for a great fit plus a chest D-ring. Dogs are assured comfort and protection with its front chest pieces. A great everyday walking harness
  • Softtouch Concepts, Inc. Front-Connection™ harnesses offer a number of sizes, colors, and prices, without the use of restrictive designs. One of Poncho’s favorite.
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Moo

My personal and professional opinion is dogs would most likely rather run around naked than wear any type of collar or harness. But, to adapt to our human world, they’ll put up with our requests for sporting an article of clothing – or two. The least we can do is help make them comfortable.

So, tell me, how do you and your inquisitive canine #HarnessTheLove? Please share your #HarnessTheLove story. It’s easy on Facebook, Instagram, your own blog, and with friends at the dog park!

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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine?  We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

Creating a dog-friendly Fourth of July celebration

Paw-triotic pooches Cooper & MacKenzie enjoying play, while being kept safe by mom and dad!
Paw-triotic pooches Cooper & MacKenzie enjoying play, while being kept safe by mom and dad!

Happy July and here’s to wonderful Fourth of July! It’s a fun and festive time for our country and local communities. While humans are reveling in picnic games, barbecue menus, and colorful theatrics in the sky, the holiday can be a totally un-celebratory experience for our inquisitive canine family and friends.

As a certified professional dog trainer, I know how terrifying a thunderous fireworks display can be for pets or how a quick sniff of meat in hot coals can turn into a painful burn on a cold nose. With some preparation and environmental management, the Fourth of July can be a star spangled holiday for all family members.

Here are a couple of previous patriotic posts that readers have found helpful in making the day a special one for their inquisitive canines.

  • This Doggie Blog post offers a variety of gentle reminders and suggestions to create a stress free holiday for all involved.
  • I offer some management and training tips to help make the Fourth an enjoyable day on this Noozhawk post.
  • This post on Edhat, Pooch Patriotism Means Celebrate Smart, is written from the canine point of view.
  • For those of you who prefer an infographic, check this out on petfinder.com.

Here’s to wishing all of us a safe and enjoyable holiday. Let freedom ring – bark, or howl!

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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share patriotic pics and videos of your inquisitive canine?  We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

#Train4Rewards Blog Party … Reward, Reward, Reward

Woofs and wags to Companion Animal Psychology and its #Train4Rewards Blog Party. You think I’d miss this party? Read on!

As a is certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant, I’m all about reward, reward, reward. Plus, it’s an extra-special party for me as it’s Poncho’s birthday. So here’s what I’m bringing to the paw-ty: A case study on reward training from Poncho’s column A Pooch’s Perspective.” 

A woman asked Poncho why her inquisitive canine, a 13-year-old lab, would sometimes discreetly pee in her parents house, though the girl dog never had an “accident” at home. Poncho breaks down his answer into four points.Dickens

Know Your Animal – Dogs eliminate when they feel the need, unless they have been taught otherwise. A couple of triggers dogs commonly react to are: texture and scent. For texture, think dirt, grass, tile, cement, and carpet. Oh, about wet grass … do you like a wet toilet seat? For scent, a dog’s world is one big perfume counter. Observing another dog going potty, updating status by “marking” territory, and previous learning are a few triggers that give dogs the urge. Additionally, dogs understand “safe and dangerous” as opposed to “right and wrong.” Maybe the lab had a previous accident and got into trouble, so the lesson she learned was to “go” when no one was around. Please note: 13 years is on the senior side of a canine’s life, so a visit to the vet may be in order to rule out any medical issues.

Communicate Clearly – Humans need to determine what they want from their dogs. Go potty in a specific spot? Or just not indoors? Take the time to teach the wanted behavior and manage environments to help your inquisitive canine to make better choices.

Reward, Reward, Reward – It’s all about the reward. In the lab’s case, upon arrival at the parents’ house, the human should put the lab on a leash, take her to where she should go potty and wait. And wait and wait. If necessary, wait some more until potty victory. Then, celebrate! Give her a big whoo-hoo! Some chin chucks and scratching followed by an edible treat … and the big reward: being allowed inside. Once inside, be sure to keep an eye on her so she can be brought outside immediately should you observe signs she is likely to go.

Should her motivation be marking her territory, then follow basic house-training: keep an eagle eye on her and reward, reward, reward for eliminating outside, along with ignoring areas she likes to claim as her own. Take her to places she’s allowed to mark to provide an outlet to fulfill her doggy needs and wishes, while having fun and bonding together.

Set the Stage for Success – Extra time is needed when bringing the lab to her “grandparents,” who need to be in on the game plan. (They may need a little training themselves.) If the grandparents are distracted easily, they may want to keep their grand-dog on a leash or in a roomy, comfy crate. If allowed to wander at will, something may trigger the lab’s urge to go. Setting her up for success, not failure is key.

Dickens2

Paws and reflect – It’s best to use house-training basics: teach, reward-reward-reward, and manage the situation. Inquisitive canines don’t know the right thing to do by instinct no more than humans do. For example, if someone were to visit your house, you would show them where the bathroom is. If you didn’t they may choose a bathroom on their own and it may not be the one you’d like guests to use. You’d have no one to blame but yourself if they went in the wrong place.

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Wanna join the conversation? Just head to the comment section below. Care to share pics and videos of your inquisitive canine?  We invite you to post on our Facebook page.

Poncho Speaks from the Great Beyond, Part 3: When to Know It’s Time to Let Go

In July 2015, the Inquisitive Canine team supported CEO Poncho the dog’s entrepreneurial decision to start his own ventures in the great beyond. A philanthropic pooch through and through, he left behind a letter to his dear readers and fellow inquisitive canines, along with a three-part series in his Last Woof & Testament that generously included the following valuable advice for dog parents and their inquisitive canines.


Greetings, inquisitive canines and dog parents!

PonchoWalking-DirtPath

What follows is the most personal and difficult post I’ve ever had to write in my blogging career, let alone in this Great Beyond series. That’s because it’s about learning to let go of earthly life, which I know firsthand isn’t easy to do.

If you’re struggling with an end-of-life decision about your companion animal, it’s likely you’ve gone back and forth about whether it’s the right time to help your best fur friend transition. Just know that it’s normal to be unsure. It’s normal to waver. It’s even normal to throw your hands up in the air out of frustration and start sobbing. So just how do you know when it’s time to let your beloved companion animal go?

How You Know It’s Time

People kept saying to my parents, “You’ll just know,” and they didn’t understand the concept at first — since it’s such an individual decision — but they eventually found it to be true.

A good starting point is to think of any and all behaviors your dog engages in that many humans would describe as “annoying.” Things like:

  • pulling on leash
  • counter-surfing
  • excessive barking
  • jumping up
  • nipping at people’s feet
  • chasing after trucks
  • barking at delivery people

These common canine behaviors are helpful in determining overall quality of life, because you can use them as your baseline at first, and then later as your litmus test when they develop symptoms. If your dog used to do any of these habits, and then the habits suddenly stopped – and that stoppage isn’t part of a training plan –  that could be an indicator of illness. It’s like parents of human children getting suspicious when the house is suddenly quiet: “What are they up to?” Something must be wrong.

Next, think about your dog’s daily routine and the things he or she loves to do. Does your dog want to play anymore? Does your dog enjoy the same activities he or she always has? Or does it seem as though your dog prefers to spend time in hiding or wanting to be alone? I’m sure that more than anything, you’d like your dog to want to do all the things they’ve always enjoyed doing. For example, my parents wanted so badly for me to enjoy romps at the beach again, wanted me to snuggle or play kissy face like always, and wanted me to keep on weight.

Like many of my fellow canines, my decline was mostly age related. I started to experience the chronic physical ailments that often come with the territory. Sight loss, hearing loss, kidney issues and tummy troubles were the major culprits, but my mom said I never lost my personality or my appetite. (What can I say? I’ve always been a foodie!)

Seeing symptoms like the ones I’ve described above are always difficult for pet parents. No one wants to see animals suffer, especially their loved ones. Oftentimes though, it’s more painful for the parents than for the animal. Try your best to determine your animal’s quality of life. But how do you do that when your dog can’t verbally express to you everything he or she is feeling? Body language is a great and useful tool.

In addition, here’s what helped my parents: The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s quality-of-life scale for determining end-of-life decisions. Searching for help in trying to determine what “You’ll just know” really means, my mom found this document online and she and my dad took the test a month before helping me transition.

The questionnaire takes you through 25 descriptions of common symptoms (ex. “… is sleeping more than usual”) that you can chart to varying degrees. Notice that all the points to consider on the chart use the phrase “it may be time to discuss euthanasia.” The key word here is may, because every animal is different, and it’s an extremely individual decision that no one else can make for you.

“Taking the test was a wakeup call, because you don’t see it on your own,” my mom said. “You spend so much time trying to help your animal, constantly focusing on a he’s-going-to-get better mentality.”

Helpful Tip: Come to a Consensus

One of the most effective ways to make such an important decision is to ensure that everyone in the family is in agreement. Otherwise, you risk someone experiencing feelings of resentment that almost always bubble up to the surface after the fact.

A month before I passed, my specialist said to my parents, “I think he’s checked out. There’s always more things we can do, but if pursuing those options creates more stress for him, I will support your decision to help him transition.”

When my parents said they’d rather leave the decision up to me, the specialist cautioned them that canines are not wired to make the decision, because it’s instinctual for us to do all we can to survive and not let on that we’re declining (just like it’s in our DNA to not let predators know we’re ill). She went on to say that few canines pass quietly in their sleep, and that if it gets to the point where a dog decides to die on his own, it’s a certain indicator he is suffering.

After taking all this in, my parents wanted to wait for my regular vet to return from vacation. In the meantime, they saw a grief counselor, who advised that they should allow me to pass with dignity. Even though I was ready to go, my parents weren’t quite ready. It was as though I needed to teach them to be strong. I was trying to hang on for them.

Slowly, I stopped being so generous with kisses and stopped trying to cuddle. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it took energy to do so, and I could feel myself pulling away. I wasn’t in pain; something inside was simply telling me to withdraw. I had fulfilled my destiny on Earth and it was time for me to move on.

If you ask my parents, they’ll say that my eyes looked past them, that I’d face them but wouldn’t make eye contact. I stopped smiling and stopped wanting to interact. Even though they lovingly tended to my every need, including administering multiple medications twice a day, I appeared as though I wanted to be on my own.

When my vet returned from vacation, everyone agreed it was time. My mom made me a tasty roasted pork chop and I went to sleep. I couldn’t have asked for a better transition into the great beyond.

Important Resources: Pet Loss Recovery Counseling

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my parents sought solace in an animal grief-counseling group lead by Kathleen Ayl, Psy.D. A pet grief counselor can help answer questions regarding how to know when the time is right and also teach you about helping your pets die with dignity. These group sessions helped with both anticipatory grief and connected my parents with other wonderfully supportive parents. Look for pet loss recovery specialists and pet grief-counseling groups near you for both pre- and post-loss support.

Hopefully this 3-part series has helped those of you facing pet loss or those in pet loss recovery. I’m looking forward to sharing more wisdom in the topics to come. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching over all you inquisitive canines and your families as I bound around the fields of grass in the great beyond. Watch out for falling tennis balls!

Woofs and tail wags, Version 2

Poncho

Poncho Speaks from the Great Beyond, Part 2: Will Adopting Another Dog Ease Your Grief?

In July 2015, the Inquisitive Canine team supported CEO Poncho the dog’s entrepreneurial decision to start his own ventures in the great beyond. A philanthropic pooch through and through, he left behind a letter to his dear readers and fellow inquisitive canines, along with a three-part series in his Last Woof & Testament that generously included the following valuable advice for dog parents and their inquisitive canines.


Greetings, inquisitive canines and dog parents!PonchoPrancingGrass

I’ve heard through the grapevine that some well-meaning friends have asked my mom and dad when they’ll get another inquisitive canine. It’s a tough question, because even though my parents adore canine companionship, I know they’ve barely begun their grieving process.

Making the move to get a dog is an extremely individual decision. Professionally, I know my mom is comfortable being around other dogs right now. But as far as personal visits when she’s not working, it’s hard for her to be around dogs without getting teary-eyed.

No Timeline for Pet Loss Recovery

Some pet parents who’ve lost a furry friend refuse to go through heartbreak again. You know how some people choose never to remarry after the passing of a spouse? Some dog parents choose not to adopt again, and often channel their affection for canines toward being a loving “aunt” or “uncle” to friends’ or relatives’ dogs instead. Then there are those pet parents who after undergoing a period of grieving, are ready to open their hearts again to another dog. What’s important to remember is that any of these choices are valid, and the way you choose to handle your grief — and your timeline for doing so — is perfectly OK.

I recently overheard my mom say she considers me her litmus test. “The dogs I meet on a daily basis — they’re just not Poncho. But when I do get a new dog, I’ll make sure I’m ready so I won’t compare the love of Poncho to him or her. I won’t be looking to fill Poncho’s harness, so to speak.”

Take your time to make sure you’re ready, so you can fully devote yourself to a new loveable animal who will welcome you with open paws and an excited tail wag.

When You’re Ready for Your Search

Many dog parents begin their search based on breed or color or how adorable they find a face. When my parents and I adopted each other, they weren’t necessarily searching based on looks; they were more interested in personality. My mom once said, “Sure, Poncho could’ve passed the ball to anyone, but he passed it to us, and we knew then and there he would be part of our family.”

What can I say? They found me charming! Guess what? They unequivocally charmed me, too.

Another big consideration is finding a pooch that fits your lifestyle. Not only did my personality make me the ideal candidate to be a helpful assistant to my mom and the Inquisitive Canine’s most trusted product tester, but also, my size complemented my parents’ daily lives. My tiny frame meant I was perfect for lap-warming duties and made it easier for us all to travel together.

Don’t know where to start? Make a list to prioritize what matters most to you and you’ll be able to narrow down your choices.

Helpful Tip: Consider Options Beyond Dog Adoption

Pet adoption is a huge commitment. So before you take that step, it’s important to know about other available avenues for canine companionship.

Fostering canines is a great way to enjoy doggie cuddles without making a long-term commitment. It’s also a big help to local shelters trying to find loving homes for several pooches at a time. Fostering also enables pet parents to get to know different breeds and personality types, which in turn helps them later choose which type of dog they might like to adopt next.

Another option is to volunteer at an animal shelter. Again, you’ll get to know all kinds of dogs and make a significant difference in their lives. You could also offer to dog-sit for friends and family, or become a dog-walker and build a daily bond with a pet family.

You’ll Just Know

So, how will you know when you’re ready? The answer is, you’ll just know. When you’re open to welcoming another canine into your family, you’ll see a dog and little hearts will dance over your head and over the dog’s head as well. It’s a beautiful thing! My mom said she saw something in the soul of my eyes and immediately felt a bond.

Trust your instincts and be patient. You’ll meet your match when it’s the right time.

Let’s face it: Caring for a different species altogether involves taking a risk. The flipside of being together is the eventual separation that the circle of life requires. But life can be so much more meaningful with a canine companion at your side, and while dogs and humans practice different communication styles, keep in mind that we all have the same wants: comfort, love, trust, someone who won’t judge you when you cry, and another being to help make you laugh.

AboutJoan&PonchoV2

Like my mom says, “Poncho has shown us how wonderful it is to be pet parents, and how incredible it is to care for a nonhuman animal.”

Right back atcha, Mom!

Poncho Speaks from the Great Beyond, Part 1: Support for Grieving Pet Parents

In July 2015, the Inquisitive Canine team supported CEO Poncho the dog’s entrepreneurial decision to start his own ventures in the great beyond. A philanthropic pooch through and through, he left behind a letter to his dear readers and fellow inquisitive canines, along with a three-part series in his Last Woof & Testament that generously included the following valuable advice for dog parents and their inquisitive canines.


Version 2Greetings, inquisitive canines and dog parents!

Poncho the dog here. I’m always happy to be speaking up for those who want to be heard, and this time, I’m doing so from my new residence: the great beyond. I dearly miss my parents — they shared the best cuddles and warmest smiles — but I’m happy to report I’m comfy here, so please tell them not to worry!

Speaking of my mom and dad, some of you, especially those of you hearing this news for the first time, may be wondering what you could possibly say to them to comfort them during this difficult time. I’m happy to answer that, and since my answers apply to any animal parent who is grieving, here’s what to say — and maybe what to avoid saying — when talking with a pet parent who recently suffered a loss.

Practice Empathy

The loss of a pet can be devastating to a family. For many animal parents, it’s like losing a child. So try to think empathetically before you speak. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what you would like to hear if it were you.

The Simpler the Better

Just as I hear many humans talking about how important it is to listen, that’s the best approach here. Ask how the person is doing and just listen. Don’t try to be a problem-solver. Just listen. The shoulder and/or ear you lend might be exactly what‘s needed in that moment.

Personalize Those Clichés

When you’re talking with a grieving friend, I know it can be difficult to think of something to say. We’ve all heard the phrase “I’m sorry for your loss,” but try to personalize it a little. If you’re not feeling creative, say, “I’m so sorry that you’ve lost [pet’s name].” It’s a good start, and you can follow it up with a sentence that asks about their life together (ex. “Where did you get Poncho?” “What did you guys like to do together?”) These are great conversation-starters that will allow pet parents to focus on fond memories.

Respect Boundaries

If the person isn’t ready to talk, honor their feelings. Some people might say, “I just don’t know what to say …” That’s perfect! Don’t say anything. Just offer a shoulder or a hug.

What to Avoid Saying to Grieving Pet Parents

Oftentimes people will try to sugarcoat the situation by trying to find a bright side. This is human nature, but that doesn’t mean it’s what a grieving pet parent wants to hear. Some typical phrases to avoid:

  • “He was old …” 

The longer you’re with an animal, the stronger the bond between you, so hearing this makes that reality more painful.

Continue Reading “Poncho Speaks from the Great Beyond, Part 1: Support for Grieving Pet Parents”

Understanding an Older Dog’s Change in Behavior

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

My dog is is 12 years old and we’ve been best friends since she was a puppy. In the last six months or so, Violet has been acting very strange. She used to love snuggling together while watching a DVD, but now she growls at me if I pet her. We used to love ruff-housing and wrestling. Recently, Violet bit me quite hard and scared me.

As dogs age, it's natural for behavior to change. They slow down, and their senses aren't as sharp. A sharp, sudden change in behavior could indicate a medical issue. Photo by Elizabeth Tuz.
As dogs age, it’s natural for behavior to change. They slow down, and their senses aren’t as keen. A sharp, sudden change in behavior could indicate a medical issue. Photo by Elizabeth Tuz.

Also, it seems she doesn’t listen to me any longer. Doesn’t come when called; won’t follow commands.

It’s not only the bites that have hurt me. My feelings are very hurt. I’m losing my best friend and I don’t know what to do.

-Carole, aka, Violet’s Bestie

Dear Carole,

Thank you for reaching out and connecting with us. We can only imagine how traumatic this situation is for you and your family — including Violet. We know you are in a lot of pain, and I’m sorry Violet has hurt you.

Our first response is to suggest having Violet evaluated by her veterinarian. Sudden changes in behavior in any animal can be cause for concern. Her age, not wanting to play like she used to, and other indicators may point to a medical condition. If it turns out Violet is in perfect health, then behavioral aspects can be addressed.

Meanwhile, if she is uncomfortable or what she once found motivating has changed, you’ll want to follow her lead and interact on her level. Continue your keen observation skills: watch her body language and how she responds and interacts with her environment. Maybe change playtime to more gentle games. How about teaching her some new tricks? She might enjoy learning to wave (paw raise) or hand-targeting (touch her nose to the palm of your hand). It’s important to keep her engaged in mental and physical activities.

Thanks again for writing. We’ll be thinking about you and Violet. And, please keep us posted. We love updates.

Joan and Poncho love making new friends. Post snapshots and videos of your favorite Inquisitive Canine on their Facebook page