Archive | February, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

15 Feb

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Happy Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

Pinky is still available for adoption through the Picasso Veterinary Fund of The Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals. If you or anyone you know would be interested in adopting her, please email pvfadoption@animalalliancenyc.org.

Adoptable Pittie of the Week: Sue Sue

13 Feb

This week, we’re returning to Dutchess County, New York and featuring pretty pittie Sue Sue from Animal Farm Foundation!

“Energetic and playful, this 1 year old gal greets everyone with enthusiasm, hoping to land herself a new home. Before coming to Animal Farm Foundation, Sue Sue lived with other dogs and small children.”

“While on the farm, Sue Sue has enjoyed people time and playing with her gentle doggie friends. When she’s not running around, Sue Sue loves to nap in her crate.”

“Looking for a dog that is full of life and fancy free? Apply to make Sue Sue part of your family!

Guest Post: Kate Senisi from Kate Senisi Pet Solutions

10 Feb

Based in Manhattan, Kate Senisi is a pet-activist and trainer who uses positive, reward-based methods to help owners communicate effectively with their pets. With a holistic approach and an emphasis on common sense and creative thinking, she helps owners manage their pets behavior while nurturing the trust and respect required for a healthy relationship. Kate has a special affinity for Bully-breeds, and enjoys inspiring owners and ensuring education regardless of financial status. She currently teaches basic and puppy classes at Unleashed by Petco in the Upper West Side, Petco in Union Square and is available for private sessions through The Dogs. She lives with two furry four-leggeds: Sir Charles the cat and Disco, a rescue pit-mix with an underbite and dance moves like Travolta.

As a trainer and owner of a Bully breed I always recommend teaching your dog by using reward-based methods. Did you know that by using aversive, fear-based training methods you can actually destroy the trust and bond you have with your dog? Additionally, Bully breeds are typically very thick-skinned and can take quite a lot of “aversive” before being intimidated into modifying their behavior. Dogs (especially of Bully-descent) can also habituate to pain over time so a leash jerk that might have initially startled your dog can quickly lose it’s effectiveness after a hundred repetitions. So I ask a question that may be rhetorical to most; would you rather have a dog that follows your cues out of fear or respect?

Fear

Let’s talk about what constitute aversive, fear-based methods besides jerking the leash. Basically, think of any way to intimidate, startle or frighten a dog into achieving results and you’ve got an aversive. Aversives can include alpha rolls, jabbing a dog lightly with your hand, or holding a dog on its side until they stop struggling. Most people probably think this sounds horrible yet there are so-called trainers out there convincing owners they need to use these methods with their Bully’s to show they are “in charge.” The wolf pack studies that this dominance theory of training was initially based on have been shown to be inaccurate. However, it’s a concept that remains because it seems accessible to people. If you use these methods you will probably see the appearance of control and compliance, but at what cost? The trust and bond you have with your dog is slowly being eroded. Yep, you’ll probably have an obedient dog, but it will be because they’re living in fear of the consequence of every move they make. Is this the kind of relationship we want to have with our family pets?

Respect

On the other end of the spectrum, reward-based training isn’t just showering a dog with treats and praise. It’s based on understanding how dogs think and learn and then smartly rewarding them when they are doing something “good” and ignoring/redirecting behaviors when they are doing something “bad.” Always remember that dogs are just being dogs. Their behavior is not “bad” in their world, it has been somehow rewarded in the past and therefore “good” or successful for them. To be fair, they live in a world run by humans so why shouldn’t we show them the ropes in a way they can easily understand? Also note that most reward-based trainers do actually use mild forms of punishment to let the dog know a behavior is unwanted BUT the good ones never use force or intimidation. Punishment is not a dirty word unless it’s tainted with force or intimidation. An example of a mild punishment would be turning your back and ignoring on a dog who has jumped up on you or giving a 15-second timeout from play when your puppy’s teeth hit your skin. Smart, force-free punishment is just as effective in letting discouraging a behavior and doesn’t scare or intimidate your dog. Smart rewarding doesn’t always have to be done with food. Once your dog gets the concept of training, you can (and should!) use real-world rewards daily and food every once in a while. Aside from creating a dog that fears you or the choke collar when you use aversives, I think the key difference between using rewards and using aversives has to do with motivation.

Motivation

Bottom line: do you want your dog to selectively listen to you when you have treats in your hand or a choke collar on him? Or would you prefer that he actually WANTS to listen because you have a fair and balanced relationship based on trust and respect? It’s a no-brainer for me but give this question some thought and decide for yourself. If you decide trust and respect is the way to go, smart, reward-based training is for you!

As Bully owners I think it’s especially important that we lead the charge on using force-free methods with our dogs. We usually get a lot of attention on the street and should be setting the standards for having breed ambassadors and getting people educated in the most effective and healthy ways to train our four-legged friends whether they be Bullies or Chihuahuas!

Guest Post: Ettel Edshteyn from Poodles to Pitbulls Clicker Training

9 Feb

We were so excited to find out that Queens (one of New York City’s outer boroughs) finally has a positive reinforcement trainer! For years, the only option in the borough was some old-fashioned trainers that offered free classes in parks. Along with the free classes came chains, prongs and yanks! You won’t find that when you work with Ettel from Poodles to Pit Bulls (you can find them on Facebook here)since she is a graduate of the Karen Pryor Academy, which focuses on clicker training. And, of course we love her because she added a pittie named Emma to to her family.  

I’m so excited to be writing a guest post for That Touch of Pit! It’s my first guest post, and I just couldn’t be happier about the topic – Pitties of course!

I recently wrote a post on my blog about why I adopted Emma (the Pit Bull) as well as how we went about it, but here I’d like to talk more about what it was like to add a Pit Bull-type dog to a single Poodle home. Specifically, I want to focus on my mother’s reaction and growth.

My mom and I have a great relationship, but I knew that she didn’t like Pit Bulls; to her they were always “those dogs.” She’d mostly had Poodles growing up, and even though Charlie (the Poodle) was always my dog, she was a close second (there’s a whole story about how he “chose her” as a wee puppy). She’s always admired his intelligence and beauty; we raised him from puppyhood and he’s a rock solid dog temperament-wise (if you read any post on my blog you’ll see he has some other, er, issues).

Charlie, in all his short-haired Poodle cute-ness.

The first time my mom met Emma it was nighttime and we were outside of my old apartment. I had adopted Emma that morning and was still getting to know her. Emma was incredibly stressed out from living at the shelter, and was behaviorally shut down (in addition to having several substantial medical problems which I didn’t know about at the time). My mom’s face dropped when she saw Emma and she made a point of keeping her distance as she chatted with me. I remember she told me she thought Emma was “a good looking dog, as far as those dogs go, but what are you getting yourself into? She’s not for you. She’s a drug dealer’s dog.” She really thought Emma was going to eat me (and Charlie) while we slept, and then go on a rampage and destroy the neighborhood, or something to that effect. Emma just stood there the entire time, looking very hangdog and sad. It was one of my saddest days with her.

Over the months as we settled into our new apartment and our new lives as a threesome, Emma’s real issues came to the surface. She had (and is still living with) a multitude of medical issues stemming from the unpleasant life she lived before she met me, but even more serious, she has fear-based reactivity towards people who act in a way she feels is aggressive. In the beginning simply snapping your fingers within sight/sound of her was enough to trigger a reaction. Over months and months of hard work she’s now tolerant of many of her old triggers, but in a perfect storm (and sometimes for reasons I can’t explain or foresee) she will still react. Thankfully her reaction has always been very moderate – she has never done more than take a step or two towards the trigger while giving a few warning barks and calms down the moment you cease the “unlawful action.”

Where this gets slightly worse is that my mom’s new husband likes to talk with his hands, has a deep, booming voice, loves being the center of attention at dinner, and of course, is afraid of dogs. On top of that he took an immediate liking to Charlie and constantly tells me that he’s the only dog he’s ever thought was OK. And then there’s Emma. He’s just her favorite trigger ever. She used to just sit and watch him, waiting for him to do something “illegal” so she could bark at him. It got so bad that for a long time I didn’t bring her to my mom’s house, or hiking, or all the other fun stuff that I like to do with my family and my dogs. I really felt like she and I were missing out on so much. She was delegated to a crate in my apartment while Charlie and I had a blast.

It’s really sad, but it took Emma almost an entire year and a half to come into herself. It was only a few months ago that she showed interest in a toy for the first time on her own, and that was close to 18 months after I adopted her. It was even later that she actually began to stop on the street to sniff things instead of amble along at t-h-e-s-l-o-w-e-s-t-p-a-c-e-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e as though she were on a funeral march. And wouldn’t you know it, after all this time and all the training we’ve been doing, she’s much more tolerant of my stepfather (as well as arm-wielding strangers). I’ve also begun to take her to my mom’s more often – and get this – my mom sticks up for her! Something clicked for my mom. Whether it was rubbing Emma’s massive stretch marks from the many litters she was forced to carry while rubbing her own, to pointing out every pound of weight she put on, to petting her big head while laughing at Emma’s silly toothless grin, my mom grew to feel true empathy for the skinny red dog she so disliked at first.

The toothless grin that won my mom over.

When I bring Emma over these days my mom constantly reminds my stepfather to lower his arms, or speak more quietly – even when she lets out a hooting laugh or shout herself (we’re Russian, and like to, eh, have animated dinners), she’s pretty good at stopping herself, and watching Emma for signs of a reaction (often apologizing profusely for forgetting her manners). This has meant that I’m able to take Emma with me more often when I do things with my family, and when we go on hikes, my mom always offers to take Emma’s leash. And because of all the work I’ve done with Emma her inner love for people has come out and she’s shown me that she actually really likes meeting new people (as long as they behave and it’s a structured greeting). I’ve also found that my mom really loves to hold Emma’s leash proudly when we meet new people and tell them “yes you can pet her, she’s friendly.” She practically beams. (Of course I’m right there coaching people on how to say high politely, but mom always gets to tell everyone it’s OK to say hi.)

As far as my mom has come, though, she still has a long way to go. She will still regularly tell people that Emma’s “not like all those other Pit Bulls – she’s not vicious – she’s actually friendly and won’t hurt you or bite you.” It takes a lot of patience on my part, but just as I’m training Emma to learn to accept humans, I’m training my mom to learn to accept all Pit Bulls, not just the one who loves to snuggle with her precious Poodle.

They have a relationship built on trust.

Wordless Wednesday

8 Feb

Guest Post: Jenny Chun-Ossowski from Give Paw Dog Training

7 Feb

Jenny & Lucy

We’re so thrilled to be featuring a few of our favorite dog trainers on the blogthis week while Josh recovers from his vacation. First up is Jenny Chun-Ossowski from Give Paw Dog Training. Jenny also has a pittie named Lucy, ironically enough. Jenny is a huge advocate for our favorite breed, and a firm believer in positive reinforcement training. She’s full of great advice, knowledge, and so generously agreed to be one of our featured trainers this week. Here’s what she’s got to say on a topic we all wish we didn’t have to ever hear about…

If you’re a lover of bully breeds, you’re probably quite familiar with BSL (Breed Specific Legislation). For every generation, there’s a dog breed that society has chosen to unjustly demonize and pit bulls and their people have become the biggest victims of BSL in the past several decades. In many parts of this country, and even outside of this country, pit bulls and dogs that simply look like pit bulls are banned based on the myth that they’re inherently vicious and make for “dangerous weapons.” Even in areas where they aren’t banned, discrimination does occur. For instance, try purchasing homeowners insurance as a pit bull owner and see how easy that process goes.

In New York City, where pit bulls are prevalent as family dogs (and a lot of them make damn good ones too!), I sometimes forget what it feels like for my dog, Lucy, and I to be discriminated against. I’ve had rare experiences where people have moved to the opposite side of the street to avoid my 40-pound pit bull. I’ve also seen people pull back from petting her wiggling butt when they ask, “What kind of dog is she?,” and I tell them. But for the most part strangers are still smitten with her when they find out she’s a pit.

Then this past fall rolled around and my husband announced he wanted to go south for the winter and get out of New York City for a bit. As much as we can, we try to travel with Lucy and so I started seeking out pet friendly vacation options. Craving some time in the sun, we settled on the Florida Keys. It’s as far south on the east coast as you can go without leaving the country. There was only one dilemma. We’d have to drive Lucy through Miami-Dade County to get to the Keys and Miami-Dade is the only part of Florida where BSL exists and has existed since 1989. For the first time in my life, I had horrible images of getting pulled over and having my poor dog confiscated while I kicked and screamed.

I set out to find out how risky it was to drive with Lucy to the Florida Keys and this blog post is about the research I did to try to ensure a safe trip for my entire family. To this moment, I question the accuracy of the information I received from the multiple sources I reached out to, but here’s what I did and what I found out:

  • I called Miami-Dade’s Animal Services TWICE. The first time I called I spoke with a gentleman who kindly put me on hold to check the policy and then told me that the BSL only pertains to residents of the county, and I was clearly from out of state. He said just to make sure that my dog had her tags. If I got pulled over and an officer discovered her, he’d likely tell us to “be careful with her.” The second time I called, I got a woman who did not bother to check and told me that it’s best not to stop in the county. I asked her about rest stops and she said, “Make it brief because someone might call the cops on you.” Her advice was to play dumb if I got pulled over and pretend that I had no idea BSL existed in the area. (Now do you see why I question the accuracy of the information I received?)
  • I called several shelters in Monroe County, which the Keys are a part of, to make sure that they were okay with pit bulls in the area. Monroe is next to Miami-Dade and I didn’t know how far the BSL extended. All the shelters told me that they adopted out pit bulls and they also said that the BSL in Miami-Dade was meant for residents only.
  • I checked in with my old colleagues and friends at the ASPCA who gave the wise and simple advice of staying the heck out of Miami-Dade, but I still didn’t know if it was an offense to pass through with a pit bull. Concerned owners on the internet talked about a possible fine if you were caught driving through with a pit bull.
  • I spoke to friends based in Florida and was informed by some of them that even bringing a pit bull into other parts of Florida might invite discrimination from local residents. I was advised to lie about her breed and not have her present if I had to meet the landlord of our rental to get keys. My husband and I did not want to be dishonest, not only because there is no shame in owning a pit bull, but also because we didn’t want to tiptoe around during our entire vacation pretending our pit bull was a Jack Russell Terrier mix. I cleared Lucy with our landlord who had no issues with our dog’s breed. She said Lucy was very much welcome.
  • I learned that you could claim your pit bull as a service dog even if she isn’t and because the Americans With Disabilities Act limits the types of questions that can be asked of a supposedly disabled person needing the aid of a service dog, one could potentially get away with it. Whether this strategy is ethical is a different discussion. I gather if I were really in a bind and I thought Lucy’s life was in danger that I might very-well tell a white lie to save her life. Otherwise, I’d refrain from taking this route.

Armed with this research, we made a decision that we were going to take this trip and that we would not stop under any circumstances (that we could help) anywhere in Miami-Dade. I was, however, still nervous, especially when at one point we sat at a red light for what seemed like forever next to a cop car. Lucy was safely crated the entire trip, so there was never danger of her popping her head out of a window.

For the two weeks while staying in Key Largo, I was armed with a map, always making sure that Lucy never entered Miami-Dade by accident. I’m happy to report we had a lovely trip with no incidence whatsoever. Our neighbors at the rental never wondered what she was and when we walked her around Key West we even met a pit bull fan.

Though we had a nice vacation and didn’t encounter any issues, I do suggest that anyone looking to visit the Keys (or has to drive through Miami-Dade with their pit bull) to please do their research. I would advise at the very least to:

  • Not stop in Miami-Dade
  • Keep your dog’s tags on, including proof of license from a different county and proof of rabies vaccination
  • Keep your dog safely crated
  • Be informed of where the county begins and ends

Unfortunately, BSL is real and it exists… and sadly, way too many dogs have been confiscated from their owners because of the way they look. Though you may hold the same opinion as my husband who found my research to be a bit obsessive, ultimately I would rather be safe than sorry.

We 100% agree with Jenny on this issue. We all know our dogs are going to face this discrimination in many places. Therefore, we need to stress that if you plan on traveling ANYWHERE with your pittie, look into the local laws of not only the place to which you’re going, but also the places through which you’ll be traveling. Following Jenny’s easy tips and advice will help you avoid and/or resolve any situations that may come up, and have a much happier vacation with your pup.

In Memoriam…

6 Feb

At the end of last week, our friends’ dog passed away from a serious medical issue. Today’s post is a memoriam to Knox, and a tribute to his ever-loving family, Jessica & Brian (known in the blogosphere as Pittieful Love).

Even though we never got the chance to meet him in person, we know that Knox was an amazing dog. He served as a great foster brother to many a dog, was a doggie-blood-donor, a breed ambassador, and above all, a loving dog.

Knox’s life was cut way too short by a completely unexpected illness and his loss will be felt forever by his family and friends.

We ask that you please not comment on this blog post, but instead go over to Pittieful Love’s Facebook Page and leave them some kind words; a thoughtful message of support and hope to help them through this very difficult time.

RIP Knox D. May, 2009 – February 3, 2012.

Run free. We love you.

Jennifer’s Favorite Things

3 Feb

My first favorite thing this month is …Our readers! How cool it is that we all get to share our experiences, love and passion for our favorite “type” of dog. I truly believe this is a very special group of peeps, and glad to be a part of it!

I am excited to announce that the winner of our Favorite Things contest is Vanessa, of The Rufus Way. Vanessa, we will be sending you the info for your $50 certificate for MrChewy.com.

Now, on to the rest of my favorites:

1. Sometimes, I meet the nicest, smartest people who still think ALL pitties are dangerous. Often, I guide them to Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article from 2006, Troublemakers, but understand that might be a bit of a commitment. So, I love to refer people to Stubby Dog’s Dangerous Dog Check-List which is easily digested and can be shared!
2. I love treat pouches since I always leave the apartment with treats to reinforcement good behaviors with my dogs. I am always looking for new options. One of the first blogs I started to follow and love was Ours for A Year. It was such a delight to find out that the blogger makes treat pouches! I love the colors!
3. Nothing makes me happier than bonding with people that have dogs with similar issues. Yes, I love people with goofy labs and sweet lapdogs. But, when I meet someone who has a dog with some reactivity on leash, I am in heaven and love to talk shop. Thank goodness for the new blog, DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space. Jessica has opened up a forum for people whose dogs need space for varying reasons – reactivity, illness, fearfulness, training, etc. Not only is it helping owners of DINOS, the message is spreading to MDIF folks (MY DOG IS FRIENDLY). When I posted Jessica’s original blog post, a friend said “THANK YOU, I didn’t realize that my super friendly dog shouldn’t always approach other dogs in the park until I ask.”

4. Although my dogs wear head halters, I often recommend Easy Walk harnesses to help
people management pulling while training loose leash walking. Unfortunately, I have been so conflicted about buying and recommending products from Premier since a shock collar company now runs the show. Today, while chatting with Heather from Handsome Dan’s Rescue For Pitbull Type Dogs, I was delighted to find out about Hello Bully’s front clip harnesses.
Why I love them:
a. proceeds benefit the non-profit group and their mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and repair the reputation of the American Pit Bull Terrier.
b. the great color options
c. no need to give money to a shock collar company!
Have a fabulous weekend!

February’s “Touch of Pit…”

2 Feb

This month’s “Touch of Pit” features the beautiful honey-colored eyes of Izzy.

Izzy is a dog rescued from out of state and loving “upstate Manhattan.”  She has lots of friends at the dog park and is quite the ambassabull!

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