Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays from the Blue Dog Family!

Check out our awesome picture with Santa! We got to meet him and pose in our Jing-A-Ling Dog Bandanas. I think we all look pretty festive. Here's hoping 2011 is a healthy and happy year for you and your canine companions. Happy 2011!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Marching in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade

This morning, we braved the cold and marched with the Paws4Ever Dog Drill Team in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade. Jenn was a little nervous that it might be too much for me, but frankly, I was awesome. Jenn was very proud of me. I marched the whole route and never made one bark or ort and did all our Drill Team moves. Before we started, Jenn put on my snazzy rugby style Thundershirt. She thought it might help me chill out while all the noises were going on around us, which it did. Like fire trucks, bands, drums, screaming people, etc. It was very exciting to see everyone in the crowds and we all wore our special holiday style Jing-A-Ling Dog Bandanas. We heard lots of interesting comments!

You can check out our parade video here. And see us doing all our parade moves: the wave, the tractor, side spins, tight lefts/tight rights, double circles, and the crowd favorite-the pinwheel. Drill Team is such fun! And we are always looking for new members to join. So if your dog knows basic commands and how to heel, you should think about joining. It's a fun and positive way to learn new things and work in partnership with your pup. Contact Jenn for details at

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Getting Ready for the Chapel Hill Holiday Parade

Here's a great group picture of the Paws4Ever Drill Team during practice. We're getting ready to march in the holiday parades and had two outdoor practices in Carrboro. This coming Saturday will be my first time in the Chapel Hill Holiday Parade and I am so excited. We'll be doing routines and tricks as we march from the Planetarium on UNC's campus down past Akai Hana in Carrboro. Please come out and cheer us on!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our Tree in memory of Big Sandy

Today, Jenn and Eric planted a tree in memory of my friend Big Sandy. She died on September 24th and members of the Paws4Ever Drill Team gave us a gift certificate to the Unique Plant in Chapel Hill.
Jenn had been thinking about what kind of tree to plant for sweet and wonderful (and long lived) Big Sandy. She and Eric picked out a ginkgo biloba, a beautiful, large tree with fan-like leaves that turns golden yellow in the fall. Here's some interesting info on ginkgos:

"Darwin called the ginkgo "a living fossil." Ginkgo biloba, the graceful ornamental we know, is the only remaining species of a venerable genus that flourished with the dinosaurs. The ginkgo is said to be the oldest living seed-bearing plant, and, as such, it has become a symbol of longevity and of hope. In the century just past, it was the ginkgo, among all trees, that was first to bud unblemished at Hiroshima in the aftermath of atomic destruction."

Our ginkgo was planted right outside of yard within clear sight of the tree they planted for Elvis (their first Aussie) and Eric protected it with stakes so the deer can't trample it. I hope it grows as big as it can and look like this one day:
When your pet dies, you lose a very important member of your family. Some might say "well, it was just a pet". People and their pets really do grieve for each other and you may find it helpful to do something in your pet's memory. Here are some things that Jenn has done to help her process the loss:

Plant a tree or create a special place in a garden. Working in the dirt can be very therapeutic (even dogs know that).
Put together an album of favorite photos. Frame your favorites.
If your pet was cremated, find a unique vessel for their ashes. Think creativity and get outside the box (literally) on this one.
And take time for yourself. Everyone deals with loss differently and sometimes just talking about it can help a lot.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Jet Foot Issues

Boy oh boy. Jet and her feet. A few months back, Jet freaked everyone out when she came up lame on her left front foot. Turned out to be just a sprain, but now it has happened again, but this time on her right front foot. She's been limping and her right front foot is swollen.
So, Jenn took Jet to see Dr. Brady at Mebane Vet to get it checked out. Jet had no problem with her foot being manipulated and she was very cooperative and quite happy to have an xray done. The xray showed a very tiny fracture on the outside toe of her right foot. We thought it might require surgery to fix, but it turns out that this injury happened weeks ago, and Jet didn't give any indication. She's been running around on a fractured foot for weeks! That's one crazy pup. So, the best way to help the fracture is to provide supportive care to Jet's foot when she runs. Dr. Brady showed Jenn how to use non-sticky medical tape to make a little foot wrap for Jet.
We tested out the new wrap at the park with sufficient running and romping. Jet is no longer limping and the swelling is reduced, which is great news. She'll have to wear her wrap for several months to ensure that the fracture is supported.
Jenn's also been applying TTouches on Jet's injured foot for just a minute or so each day. She gently supports the foot with one hand, as she does light, circular touches with her fingertips. These touches are called the "Raccoon Touch" and can be useful for increasing circulation and reducing swelling. TTouch is a great complement for helping an animal recover from injuries or surgeries.
Here's an interesting article on Raccoon Touches for reducing swelling.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Day at the Duke Canine Cognition Center

This morning, I got to go participate in an ongoing research study at the Duke Canine Cognition Center. The Duke Canine Cognition Center is hoping to understand more about the effect of domestication on dog cognition, identify breed differences in problem solving skills and generally understand more about how dogs think and take direction from humans. The work of DCCC and Dr. Brian Hare was featured in Time Magazine.
Sounds cool to me. Jenn drove me onto Duke's campus with my party bandana and I was welcomed by four very nice people at the DCCC. And the whole place smelled like treats! I knew this was a good sign.
Jenn had to sit in an adjoining room and watch the study from a TV screen. Cups were set up on either side of the room. I had to stand in a blue block on one side of the room, while one of the cups was loaded with a treat. Then a person would point at one of the cups. Sometimes the person was facing me, sometimes away. Sometimes the treat was under the cup they were pointing to, and sometimes not. Then, we played a little version of the "shell game". Treats were placed under a cup and I had to choose the right cup. It started out pretty straightforward.But then, they started getting tricky on me and switching the treats around at the last second. I think I did pretty well all in all.The humans seems delighted with me either way. If you would like your dog to participate in the problem solving games or you would just like more information about the Duke Canine Cognition Center, click here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What to do when your puppy growls at a child

Jenn and Jet have been on the move! Every day they are going places to expose Jet to more children. You see, we had our own little drama over Halloween when she got really freaked out and barked and lunged at a little girl with face paint on. So, our little pup is going to playgrounds, soccer fields, supermarket parking lots and anywhere that kids of different ages might be out and about.
Jet is learning that kids can run and laugh and play and that she doesn't have to chase them, herd them or bark. This is great practice for puppies to do from the time you bring them home (even more important if you don't have kids and/or if you have a herding breed).

This brings up some questions about what you should do if your puppy barks or growls at a child?

1. First off, don't scold the puppy for vocalizing. Growling and barking are communication and a proper social signal. It is the puppy's way of saying there is something really uncomfortable going on. Puppies that are punished for growling can become dogs that revert to more serious behaviors to cope with discomfort or fear.
2. Create some distance. Get the puppy out of the situation that is making him uncomfortable. Move away, leave the room, get to place where your pup can calm down and feel safe.
3. Teach the puppy that children are super good and that good things happen when kids are around. Have some super high value treats and teach the pup that calm, settled behavior around kids gets big rewards.
4. Don't ever leave your puppy unsupervised with children (even your own). Most bites happen when children and dogs are left alone together.

Here's the deal, at first, kids can seem like little aliens. They sound different, they move different and they are closer to the ground. Kids don't have the same impulse control as adults (much like puppies) and they sometimes grab, pull or poke us. Puppies have to get used to these differences and children need to learn to be gentle with animals. It's the human adult's responsibility to always supervise interactions between dogs and kids. For example, does this dog look comfortable?
He looks very worried to me about being hugged, stiff body, closed mouth. Hugging is something you humans like to do, but it can feel invasive and creepy to a dog. Most dogs learn to tolerate these behaviors from humans, but humans should still pay attention to their dog and their comfort level. If you ask me, the human taking the picture needs to spend a little more time gauging the dog's comfort level.

And if you are concerned about your pup's behavior around kids, seek help from a professional dog trainer that uses reward based techniques and can counsel you on how to keep your human/dog family safe and sound through APDT or CCPDT.

For more information about how to help your puppy and children learn how to live together safely, check out these resources:

Living With Kids and Dogs Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar

Happy Kids, Happy Dogs by Barbara Shummenfang

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prepare your Puppy for Halloween adventures

Today is Halloween, which is a special night that humans dress up, act foolish and eat candy. What is up with you people anyway? And then you do stuff like this to us! So Halloween can be a weird experience for a puppy to see humans with masks and costumes on. Which is why it is a good idea to expose your puppy to all sorts of weirdness like masks, hats, and costumes BEFORE encountering them on Halloween. That's why Jenn always dons a hat or mask or costume when she is teaching puppy classes.

So you would think that Jenn would have prepared our puppy Jet, so that Halloween would not be a big deal. And Jenn thought she had covered all the bases by exposing Jet to lots of calm, gentle children of different ages.
But because Jet had not experienced one thing-Face Paint, things got a little out of hand.

Today, on a visit over to Bill and Meghan's house, Jet encountered their daughter Eva getting ready to enjoy Halloween and her face was painted with pretty little butterflies. Well, that face paint totally freaked Jet out! She started barking and growling at Eva and it scared her. Jenn tried to calm Jet down and distract her to get her out of the whole situation quickly.

Jenn came home very worried that Jet would bark and lunge at a child. It is very important that we all like children, cause Jenn and Eric's friends have lots of kids. So, Jenn got to work on a plan to help Jet feel more comfortable around kids and around face paint. First, Jenn is going to make sure that Jet spends more time every day having a calm, positive experience with a child. This is a challenge for folks that don't have children of their own, so you've got to go where the kids are. This means inviting people over that have children or lots of field trips to different places where kids will be. And letting nice, gentle kids give Jet a command and then give her a reward (like cheese or chicken). We always want Jet to think that kids are super great (which they are). We'll see how Jenn's plan for Jet goes.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You so need to know about Temple Grandin!

"Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be." -Temple Grandin

Who is Temple Grandin? Jenn got to hear Temple Grandin as the closing speaker at the APDT conference in Atlanta. We can all learn a thing or two from this amazing woman. She is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She is a renowned lecturer and an author of many books including Thinking in Pictures, Animals in Translation......and Animals Make Us Human. She is a unique visionary, who has changed the way in which livestock are handled to much more humane standards. And she is a person with autism, specifically Asperger's Syndrome.

Temple credits her experiences with both the visual and isolating aspects of autism with helping her to understand animals in a way few people can. She channeled herself completely and selflessly into working towards treating animals with patience, respect and kindness.
The movie about Temple Grandin's life starring Claire Danes aired on HBO last spring and it is a truly special experience. They run it periodically on HBO, and you can get it on Netflix too. Check out more info on the movie here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jenn's Adventures at the APDT Conference

Jenn had an amazing time attending the Association of Pet Dog Trainer annual conference in Atlanta! This conference is an educational opportunity for reward based trainers to share ideas, research and visions of the future of dog training. Jenn went to sessions by John Rogerson, Dr. Ian Dunbar, Victoria Stilwell, Leslie Nelson, Alexandra Horowitz, Dr. Barbara Sherman, Colleen Pelar, and Jean Owen. She really enjoyed the presentations by John Rogerson and Leslie Nelson especially. She said it was a stellar conference and she got to finally get a picture with Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of APDT. And with Victoria Stilwell too!Jenn said the big treat was going to a screening of the HBO movie based on the life of Temple Grandin. At the end of the film, Temple Grandin herself appeared on stage to answer questions. Really a special evening for all those in attendance.
She also got lots of great swag at the trade show, including the Manners Minder, a remote trainer developed by Dr. Sophia Yin. Apparently, we're going to have a ton of fun with this! More on that later...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jet likes leaves?!

Jet really likes leaves! She has been playing with the brown leaves coming off the fig tree like they are special toys coming down from the sky. She also plucks them off and shoves them in my face! I simply cannot understand her fascination. I have thoroughly checked out these leaves and they are no different from any other. Perhaps one day Jet will explain this.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New routines and Fall is finally here!

Bernie, Jet and I are settling into our routines without our "queen" Big Sandy. Lots of friends sent us cards, notes and emails saying how sorry they were about Big Sandy changing addresses. That was so nice of them. I really miss my friend, but now I don't have to worry about accidentally running into her or hurting her when I romp around. We don't have to be so careful anymore about making a ruckus in the livingroom. Jenn even said that it is OK if we go a little crazy now and then.

And it finally seems to be fall, which is my favorite time of the year. This is Jet's first fall, so I have to show her the ropes once again. Nice things about fall are that Jet and I can sit next to the door as the cool breeze blows in. We can look out and survey the yard from the deck. There has been an unprecedented amount of squirrel activity to keep track of. And we must monitor this activity. Bernie and I check out the trees. Then Jet and I check out the field. All is clear for the moment, but I know these squirrels are up to something. I better stay on my toes while Jenn is away at the Association of Pet Dog Trainer conference next week. She's going to learn lots of new things about reward based dog training and get to meet some very smart and fun people.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Big Sandy's Big Life

I thought I would write a little (actually a lot) more about my friend Big Sandy who passed away last week. Since Big Sandy was the reason Jenn discovered the TTouch Method, got involved in Animal Assisted Therapy, joined the Dog Drill Team, and became an anti-electric fencing advocate. And, she was a big part of how Jenn became a gentle, reward based dog trainer. BS had such an interesting life, afterall, and she really helped people and other dogs.

Big Sandy came from a small shelter in Western Maryland. We don't really know much about her life before she was found wandering along a highway, looking very hungry. Jenn's mom saw a picture of her in the newspaper as a dog available for adoption in January 2000 and went to the shelter to visit the dog. She thought this dog was definitely for Jenn. The caption of the picture stated "Red merle Australian Shepherd mix is five-seven years old and will need a very large yard". Hmmm, that generally means a dog with LOTS of energy. But there was truly something special about the dog's expression that set Jenn into action. She called the shelter and asked if they would keep the dog until Jenn could drive up that weekend. They couldn't. The dog was going to be euthanized the next day. As crazy as it sounds, Jenn basically left work early, grabbed a handful of clothes and drove 8 hours up to Maryland to rescue a dog she had never met. Jenn was waiting when the shelter opened up the morning and Big Sandy was ready for her new life.
But not until an unprecidented snowstorm hit that very day, dumping 20 inches of snow and shutting down all the roads in North Carolina. Jenn and her new pup were trapped in Maryland for four days until the roads were clear. Jenn had plenty of time to think about what to call her new friend.

So why the name Big Sandy? Jenn thought that if she named the dog something that her boyfriend Eric (now husband) would really like, he would be more inclined to like her. The human Big Sandy is a larger than life, super cool, charismatic rock-a-billy singer, and one of Eric's favorites. The name just seemed to fit.Once they got back to North Carolina, Jenn says that Big Sandy was definitely a challenge those first few months. She didn't really know how to do anything, cause she probably lived outside chained up most of the life and she had TONS of energy. More energy than Jenn thought she could handle. Jenn discovered if Big Sandy got a chance to run (really run) each and every day, that she was quite lovely to live with. If she didn't get a chance to run, she was hyper and erratic and jumpy. Getting her energy out was key.

The other very important turning point, was Jenn discovering BS's love of food and harnessing that love into training and better behavior. If Big Sandy did something naughty, Jenn tried to correct her by verbally saying "NO!". Big Sandy just crumpled when people yelled at her. Jenn knew that she couldn't get BS to understand her unless she made a connection of trust. Jenn read lots of reward based training books that suggested handfeeding the dog while working on simple commands during meals, instead of just putting the food in a bowl. Getting to dog to realize that their nourishment came directly from their person. And by concentrating on rewarding the dog for good behavior instead of correcting them for bad behavior. Boy, with vigorous exercise and routines, BS really started to blossom from a ferile, kind of crazy dog into a calmer, focused, responsive family dog.

Soon Big Sandy was housetrained, attending training classes, learning complex commands, going to the park, and becoming a super great companion. She excelled at training and loved to earn rewards. She would do anything for a treat or affection!

Big Sandy graduated from Family Dog 1 and 2, Canine Good Citizen, and soon she and Jenn were assisting in training classes at the Animal Protection Society in Orange County. This was also the beginning of Jenn's career as a dog trainer. They were helping out in a Pre-Agility class with Big Sandy learning how to be a demo dog in July 2001 when the accident happened.

Jenn and Eric had moved to a very nice little house that had a covenant in the neighborhood that restricted fencing. The only fencing allowed was the type you couldn't see, the kind that shocks the dog. Jenn and Eric didn't like it, but didn't really have a choice. One day, January 3rd, Big Sandy decided to chase another dog through the neighborhood that was chasing a van. She ran right through the fence to go after the dog and the van ran over her! Jenn saw it happen and felt helpless. It was the worst thing to see ever. Jenn ran over to help BS, who was screaming and trapped under the van. She asked the man driving the van to slowly back up. It was bad. BS's back leg was crushed and her beautiful long tail was hanging on by the skin. And she was bleeding. Jenn scooped her up, ran to the car, and Jenn's neighbor Meghan drove them to their vet, Triangle Veterinary Hospital. It was 5pm, but luckily, BS's vet, Chuck Miller hadn't left for the day. After examining BS, Chuck told Jenn that they could make courageous efforts to save the crushed back leg, but it would never be fully functional and would probably be a hinderance. They rushed her into surgery, amputating BS's leg and her tail. Jenn and Eric got to visit her and all she did was wimper. BS spent the night at the emergency hospital so she could be monitored round the clock. Things got a little dicey and her body wouldn't stabilize, but she made it though the night. The next day, Jenn visited BS and she and the technicians offered her some food. BS woofed down everything in sight! That was a good sign.

Jenn reached out to her dog training friends and asked if they knew of any type of holistic therapy or technique to help an injured dog. Someone suggested that Jenn try TTouch, a gentle form of bodywork, wraps, and balanced movement exercises. Intrigued, Jenn called local TTouch Practitioner Joe Strain. He talked her through a series of touches and exercises to help animals that have amputations and injuries.The next day BS went home with Jenn and Eric, bebopping on her three legs. But how could she go to the bathroom, how would be go up and down stairs? Well, no one needed to worry. BS just did everything like it was just the way they needed to be. Jenn did the TTouch techniques with her everyday. BS never fell, she never faltered. Her body and brain were strong and determined. Within a week, BS was back at training classes as the demo dog. She was running soon after that, almost as fast as she did before. She was quick and spry. Jenn and Eric were simply amazed. TTouch was definitely something that would become more a part of Jenn's life.

The local paper did a story on Big Sandy and how TTouch helped her recover.
And it wasn't long before she was doing some pretty amazing herding sheep on three legs:

Jenn's friend Sandi thought that BS's social and engaging personality would make a pretty terrific therapy dog. And that her recovery might show people that injuries don't have to slow you down or change who you are. Jenn and BS worked for many months to get ready for the animal assisted therapy certification process. They passed with flying colors and BS started volunteering at assisted living facilities, within the Orange County Exceptional Child Program, and at Learning Services, a group home for people with severe brain and spinal injuries. Jenn was always impressed with BS's ability to make people smile. She didn't care if the person was in bed, hooked up to tubes or machines, or couldn't speak clearly. She wanted every person to pet her and wanted to be near them. She had a great time going to APS Care Cadets camp and visiting with kids of every age.

BS had a great career as a therapy dog until she retired in 2008. If it weren't for her accident, she may never have been able to do all that.
BS's other claim to fame was joining the dog Drill Team. Jenn wanted an acitivity that was a little lower key than agility, but would get BS engaged and learning new things. Jenn's friend Barbara suggested Drill Team. And it was a perfect fit. The Drill Team is a group of people and dogs that do freestyle routines to music. They march in parades and perform every year at different dog related events.Big Sandy loved marching in the holiday parades.People would often yell "Wow! That dog only has three legs!" as Big Sandy passed by.
...Here's BS's favorite performance, "I Will Survive".

Big Sandy retired from her active life in 2008. Her spine developed spondylosis, where the vertibrea fuse together, due to the stress of her accident. Jenn helped her manage the pain, with monthly accupuncture, and chiropractic sessions a few times a year. Her kidneys began to fail, so Jenn gave her subcutaneous fluids every other day and made her a special homemade species appropriate diet. BS continued to love food and snuggling with people. And Jenn continued to do TTouch bodywork on Big Sandy every day.Big Sandy did other cool stuff. She was painted by local artist Shannon Bueker in a watercolor depicting her in one of her favorite places, Topsail Beach.And Big Sandy got to meet her idol, Linda Tellington-Jones.She saw oceans...
and mountains...
As time passed, Big Sandy decided to spend more of the days sleeping and lounging on her orthopedic pad. In 2010, life became more of a struggle for BS. As the year passed, Jenn and Eric knew that at 17 years old, BS was deteriorating.

Jenn visited her friend and vet Chuck and discussed the options for putting BS to sleep at our house when the time came. We all wanted to say a peaceful goodbye at home. Jenn also wanted to have BS cremated. She made arrangements with Faithful Friends Pet Crematory, so that she could bring BS directly to them. And that's what we did.

Big Sandy led a wonderful life with many ups and downs. She marched in parades, made people smile, showed other dogs how to do things, proved that you can do anything on three legs, and ate lots and lots of good food. She lived her best dog life to the fullest and died surrounded by people that loved her.