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On Day at a Time

Roger and Shira

Roger and Shira

Dear Friends,

My beloved husband Roger passed away on January 19 from Pancreatic Cancer. It’s been a very hard time for me.

I am gradually getting back into my business and am available now for dog walking and consulting.

Thank you so much for all your kind words.

Here’s one of my favourite pictures of us.

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Boom Boom Boom – Give the Dog some Room – She’ll Settle Really Soon – how to settle in a new dog that’s not a puppy

Boom Boom Boom – Give the Dog some Room – She’ll Settle Really Soon – how to settle in a new dog that’s not a puppy

Rukkah learning to enjoy her new family.

Rukkah gettting used to new spaces.

In the past two years I’ve fostered and rehomed quite a few dogs, but I’ve always wanted a Border Collie and so, about a year ago, I started seriously looking for the perfect dog to add to my little pack of 2 Mini Aussies. My agility instructor, whose advice I respect, suggested I adopt a young adult, rather than getting a puppy, because then I could see what I was getting physically and mentally, and I could select a dog that would be a good fit with my dogs and my busy schedule.

Dogs from “That’ll Do” Border Collie rescue and Pet Finders paraded across my computer screen but none of them called to me until I saw a picture of Rukkah on Face Book. Coincidentally, a friend contacted me about Rukkah at the same time, and soon I was visiting her at her current home and taking her out for walks, trying to make an objective and considered decision about adopting a nine-month old untrained adolescent Border Collie.

There’s a really fundamental difference between taking on a puppy and a (young) adult or mature dog that is obvious but often unacknowledged – the adult dog is no longer in her prime socialization window. To the degree that its genetics allow, during its prime socialization window (7-16 weeks) a puppy’s character can be positively molded by the experiences you provide it. Helping a puppy to become well adjusted and socially confident is as simple as taking advantage of every opportunity to socialize the puppy to people/dogs/substrates/sounds et cetera.  But after the age of 16 weeks the puppy’s character, fears and peccadilloes are pretty well set, and any socialization and/or training you do with a dog after 16 weeks is going to be largely remedial. Training for an older dog requires a different strategy to be successful – flooding with experiences doesn’t work, and the older the dog the harder you are going to have to work to reshape that dog’s established behavior. Additionally, the rehoming experience, for an adult dog coming out of the average pet home, is about as traumatic an experience as she can have in her life – even if she’s going from one good home to another and hasn’t had to endure abuse and neglect in her current home, or a stay in a shelter environment.

Up until the moment the new dog climbs into your car, she’s had a nice normal existence: she speaks the local language and understands the rules and norms of the society in which she is living.  Undoubtedly, not everything is entirely pleasant in her life all the time, but she’s come to recognize that unpleasantness is bound to occur and she’s learned to cope with it.  She knows where she lives, she knows who her friends and family are, and she understands her role in the family. She’s certain her basic needs will be met. She’s likely grown up in the same house in the same community and knows her neighbourhood by smell and sight.   Then suddenly…

She finds herself in a house, but it’s the wrong house.  Everything smells wrong.  The food tastes weird and there are strange dogs (and maybe cats) sitting around that clearly have some kind of relationship that she has no part of.  Everyone speaks some weird foreign dialect and the humans expect her to understand what they are saying. The strange humans keep taking her to strange rooms, strange yards, and strange sidewalks. Everything looks and smells weird and wrong – the neighbourhood smells are gone and are replaced by strange scary smells.  The pee spot has moved and every time she has to go to the bathroom it’s the wrong spot.  The food bowl is in a different spot.  The ownership of the toys is concerning and the other dogs keep eyeballing her every time she moves and growl every time she gets near their bowls or beds. Strange people keep arriving and departing, speaking too fast and moving in to pet her.  She feels sick to her stomach because it’s all so damned scary and all she wants to do is sleep and sleep and then go back home where everything is normal again.

And for those really unlucky dogs that get surrendered into a shelter first…they go from home …


…to incarceration.  Suddenly, she’s surrounded by the smell of diarrhea, illness, disease, fear and bleach.  She’s overwhelmed by other dogs’ terrified and endless barking and blazing lights. She cannot go anywhere; she’s locked in a small barren space for 22-23 hours a day and only let out into the outdoors for an hour or two a day – much like an inmate in solitary confinement. She knows no one, there’s nothing familiar to see or smell, and she has no idea if or when her terrifying experience will ever end. She’s petrified and shuts down and spends all her time trying to make herself as small as possible to avoid any potential confrontation with the wardens.  Until suddenly…


…she finds herself in a house, but it’s the wrong house…..

And sometimes the sequence of home – shelter – home happens multiple times! Can you imagine the poor dog’s state of mind?

The new dog, no matter how well adjusted or how smooth the transition, will be suffering traumatic stress and will be nowhere near ready for introduction to lots of new friends, dog parks or training classes but all too often, that’s exactly what the new owners have been advised to do – take the dog out and socialize it. This doesn’t work for adult dogs! The truth is that most dogs do much better if they are allowed a 3-6 week shut-in period – a nice, calm, extended transition period to settle in and settle down and figure out the new rules, the new routines and expectations. During the settling in time the new dog should get walked alone (rather than with the new sibling dogs) to learn the neighbourhood and establish a connection to her new owner.

The shut-in period is the perfect time to work on establishing a bond with your new dog. Start by teaching the foundation skills and impulse control that every dog needs to be a good citizen – all of which you’ll need even if you just want a nice companion dog. Following the shut-in period you may want to enroll you dog in a 12-14 week program in agility, Rally-O or freestyle. For dogs with human and/or inter-dog aggression and reactivity this would be a good time to enroll in a Reactive Rover class, although, in some cases, after a few weeks of “chill time” any reactivity the dog exhibited in the shelter or former home magically goes away (or subsides to the point that the guardians can reasonably live with it.)

I’ve adopted and fostered many dogs and I’ve tried the “get ‘em out and socializing right away” approach and I’ve tried the “give ‘em time” approach.  Rukkah is the first dog I’ve actually allowed to have a full 4 weeks of settling in (including a lot of one-on-one walks) with no expectations, no forced or arranged socialization, no classes or lessons – and what a difference it’s made. The transitioning to our rules, norms and expectations has been virtually seamless – she’s obviously happy and content and she’s bonded well with me and my family, and even the other dogs. The little bit of fearfulness & reactivity I observed when she first came has completely faded away: she knows who I am and she trusts that I’ve got her back and will protect her from whatever frightens her. She’s totally ready to learn now and her foundation skills are coming along very well.

I hope that if you adopt or foster a dog that’s older than a puppy you will remember to allow it 3-6 weeks to settle in without expectations and see what a difference it makes to your – and your dogs- overall satisfaction with the new arrangement.





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Aches and Pains Gone Wtih Treibball

I went to my massage therapist today. I go every two weeks (if I can wait that long) and have been going for years. I’ve got serious degenerative disc disease in my neck and it causes me a lot of pain. It also keeps me really aware of the ever-increasing limitations of my body. Sometimes this awareness makes me feel sad and hopeless and I spend too much time thinking about all the things I can’t do any more and all the things that I soon won’t be able to do – like Agility.

I ran Mia (my younger Mini Aussie) in a trial last weekend and suffered shooting pain into my ears on and off all week. Apparently, I irritated the joint at C1-C2, which is what happens when I torque my head around to watch my dog while running a course. The real downer of the arthritis in my neck is that it also hurts when I do Freestyle & RallyO (looking down and to the side for long periods of time.)

But partnering with my dogs is what I live for – I love playing with them and training them and creating that relationship that comes from learning how to communicate. We’ve taken up Nosework, which is intensely rewarding for the dogs, but only moderately rewarding for me. Nosework is not like Agility or Freestyle or Rally. Dogs are hard wired to find odor and once the dog understands that the game is to find a specific odor, he pretty much does it himself and I’m only along to drive the car and hold the leash out of his way! There’s none of that give and take of training operant behaviors, which is what I live for.

Recently, I discovered Treibball! Ha! As far as I can see, there’s no downside to Treibball! It’s interactive, it’s exciting for dogs and handlers, and it’s something I can do that doesn’t bother my neck! Awesome!

Now I just need to get everyone else on board so we have some other people to play with. I think I just have to be patient and keep telling people about Treibball – a lot of dog handlers are aging and suffering from aches and pains but still want to play with their dogs. Wait till they find out about Treibball!

I think I’m going to offer a two-day weekend workshop to introduce the basic skills of Treibball. I think that once people acquire the basic skills and start to see some progress that they might be induced to join an ongoing Novice or Advanced Treibball class and get to play full out games. I can’t wait!

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Bringing a new dog into the family – where do you start?

Anna and Margo making friends during Anna’s first days

Over this past year I’ve fostered three adult dogs – that’s three new personalities attempting to mesh into our existing little pack of four adults, two dogs and one large, dogwise cat. And each entry has had it’s own challenges – it’s rarely easy or simple (life just isn’t like that – ever!)

Adopting an adult dog is not like adopting a puppy. Adult dogs, like adult humans, are not as flexible and malleable as young dogs – they are no longer in their prime socialization window and rehoming, for the dog, is about as traumatic an experience as a dog can have in its life!

So where do you start?

First, it helps to see the integration process from the new dog’s perspective. The dog has gone from a life where he speaks the language, understands the rules and norms, where everything may not be always pleasant but is pretty predictable to suddenly, without out warning, finding himself with strangers in the wrong house!  He knew where he lived, who his friends were, his neighborhood and community but suddenly it’s like he’s been dropped into a foreign country where no one speaks his language and everything smells wrong, the food’s weird, and the pee spots are in the wrong place.

Ruby happily and safely off leash and playing with her house mates.

(And that’s if he’s gone from his former owner’s home directly to yours. What if he’s gone from his former owner’s home into a shelter where he was suddenly incarcerated in a tiny, cold space, surrounded by unrelenting barking, frightened animals and the smells of fear, illness and death? Or what if he was adopted from the shelter and returned several times?)

Can you imagine how confused and frightened your new dog feels? Where is the family who loved him, who gave him a job and fun times? And in this new house there are strange dogs who clearly know each other and have been working together for a long time – and they don’t want him there.

It’s very, very stressful. And then you – new owner -  want him to be quiet, get along with the thugs in the corner, ask to go out to go potty, oh – and walk nicely on a loose leash!

If you think about it, your new dog is traumatized and exhausted! He feels sick, lonely, frightened and all he wants is to go to sleep and wake up at home. You want to show off your new pet and introduce him to your friends, take him to the park, and enroll him in training classes right away.

But what your new dog needs is a 3-4 week adjustment period, a chill time, with minimal stimulation and a predictable routine. No visitors, no novel experiences, no doggy parks, nothing that will over-stimulate him or cause him to feel more fearful than he already does. If you can do this for him, chances are good that there will be no lasting damage or manifestation of strange behaviors after the readjustment.

The first thing your new dog will need is a crate. The crate should be large enough for the new dog to stand up and turn around in comfortably, and preferably even bigger than that. The crate is going to be the new dog’s safe place, his hidey–hole, his sanctuary. He’s going to have all his meals in here, he’s going to rest in here, he’s going to sleep in here and no one (human or animal) is going to be allowed to enter or reach in, unless the new dog is elsewhere and can’t see the invasion! The new crate needs to be solid or covered in a large blanket so the dog can feel private and safe.

Your new dog will need two 30 minutes periods of quality time with you per day. One of those periods should be a walk with just Mum or Dad – no other dogs allowed. The other should be a mix of brief training periods (each no more than 5 minutes long) and play – again, with no other dogs participating.

During the short training periods you are going to focus on teaching basic foundation behaviors that are going to make training all the other behaviors you’ll need after the shut in period that much easier.

The behaviors you’ll be working on in your short training sessions include: “look at me” – clicking and rewarding for eye contact; “touch” – clicking and rewarding for targeting two fingers, and a dowel with a cork on the end;  “go to your mat” – which is actually body targeting and is very easy to teach; “here” –clicking and rewarding for the beginning of a good recall. (Please see detailed instructions for teaching these behaviors on my website.)

Two of my foster girls, Ruby and Margo, adjusted well to life in our house and eventually went to their forever homes. I stay in touch with their new owners who report that they are happy and well adjusted and still offering their foundation behaviors on cue. One of my foster girls, Anna, found it too difficult to adjust and developed some very pronounced stress related behaviors. Luckily, Anna had the option of going back to her owner so, when it became clear that she wouldn’t adjust, I took her back and, at last report, she’s settled happily back into her familiar home. For some dogs, as for some people, the trauma and stress of rehoming is overwhelming. All we can do is be aware of how difficult it is and do our best to make the transition as calm and structured as possible, and give the new dog the time he needs to adjust. Most dogs adjust very well and go on to be happily integrated members of the family.

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