Life of a Foster Family

Life of a Foster Family

I know it has been a long time since you heard from me last, let alone when I announced with you one of my workshops where I either answer dog training questions for dog owners or where I explained the importance of fresh nutrition for dogs.

But there is a reason why I have been so quiet – foster dogs.

In November of 2018, I took in a mama dog with her seven 2-week old puppies. She and the pups were dropped off at Cobb Animal Control the day before Thanksgiving. Who can do something like that? Thanksgiving and Christmas are non-existent holidays for me that usually give me plenty of time to relax and plan. So I decided to team up with Refuge Rescue and take in Lady (this is what we named the mama dog) and her pups. The room that I used for my training workshops became the puppy den overnight.

Unfortunately, their upbringing wasn’t as smooth as I anticipated it. Within ten days, one of the pups declined dramatically within hours, and her life couldn’t be saved. After that ordeal, all the puppies and the mama had to be checked out. In the end, the puppy must have caught a virus that caused her sudden decline and death. A couple of days after that, the entire family came down with kennel cough. Instead of going the antibiotic route, I did the hot steam and cupping route. Herding 6 young puppies in a bathroom and putting them through several minutes of breast cupping several times a day was some work. Thankfully, all puppies, including the mama, recovered nicely.

Unlike breeders or rescue groups, I kept the puppies until they were 12 weeks old. Now I can tell you that I understand why breeders and rescue groups give up the puppies at eight weeks because it requires a lot of work from the humans to entertain, protect, and clean the puppies. Between 8 and 12 weeks old is when they poop and pee everywhere when they explore their environment with their mouth and destroy everything that comes between their little teeth. But it was important to me that these young little creatures could spend time with their mama and each other. During that time, they learned how to play with their littermates, with their mama, and with my other dogs, and they also learned that biting hurts. It was fun watching them grow up and learn.

Once all puppies left the house, I focused on training Lady. She is a sweet dog who took very good care of her puppies. Unfortunately, she must have had a negative experience with men because when she saw men, she became very protective. I spent many hours with her at Home Depot to let her observe men who didn’t do anything to her.

In August of 2019, she found her home with a family in Canton. I was sad to see her go; she was such an awesome dog. But I was busy taking care of the next foster dog.

In June of 2019, I took in little Augie. At the time he was ten weeks old. A volunteer with Friends to the Forlorn found Augie, his two sisters, and their chained mother in Rockmart. Augie couldn’t walk; he only hobbled on his front legs. Nobody knew what his true issue was.

On top of that, his right paw must have gotten caught in the chain. The paw was infected, a toe was torn off, and the ligaments were visible. It took several weeks to get his paw healed.

Due to the lack of strength in his hindquarters, he also couldn’t hold his pee. And so when he ran around, he had to wear a belly band, or he peed everywhere.

In August, his paw was healed, but then one day, within just a couple of hours, he chewed up that paw all over again. A visit to and x-rays at the vet revealed that Augie didn’t have a hip socket in his left hip. He must have been in excruciating pain but he never showed it. So a month later, in September, he had a femoral head ostectomy (FHO) on his left hip. That is where they cut off the head and neck of the femur bone which stimulates the body to create a pseudo joint.

Once that healed up, we started his physical therapy. Every week, I took him to acupuncture or physical therapy exercises. Underwater treadmill, land sessions, land treadmill, stretching exercises, you name it – we’ve tried it. With Augie, we had to test 99 approaches until we found the one that works. We made a breakthrough in late November when GA Vet Rehab recommended putting thera bands on his hind legs. We finally saw some progress where he moved his hind legs. We continued the work, and he can walk now on his own. Unfortunately, his walking is not as consistent as it is needed to take him on a long walk. And therefore in April, we decided to get him a wheelchair. You should see him rocking it out with his little “min spins.” (This is the term that we use for his walker. “Min spins” stands for mini spinners. Mini – because we call him “Min” since he always has been rather small. With his min spins, he chases my dogs, runs the curbs up and down, goes over logs, walks through creeks – nothing stops this little guy.

Now, after a year of almost daily work, he is at the point where he is ready to find a forever home. Ideally, he needs a family who has another dog who is health-conscious and is willing to take good care of his deformed paw. And ideally, they have a house with no or limited stairs so that he can go in and out of the house on his own.

Thankfully, the Dodo made a video of him, and I hope that will help us find the best family for him.

And so, this is my 1,010-word summary of why you haven’t heard from me for such a long time. But I am still here helping dog owners create a harmonious and healthy relationship with their 4-legged companion. And while COVID-19 slowed down the world, I created a new virtual program that uniquely serve dog owners. Check it out here.

Seven Tips to End Your 4th of July Holiday with Ease and Calm

Seven Tips to End Your 4th of July Holiday with Ease and Calm

Imagine I take you to Six Flags Over Atlanta and force you on one of the extreme roller coaster rides. You know the ones where you see Facebook videos of people passing out. 😉 Now some of you may be completely excited about this, some of you could care less and take it in stride. And some of you may get scared to death, cry, throw up, faint, or even run away before I could grab you, force you and strap you in the rollercoaster seat.

Now that may sound a bit extreme for you, but that is how some dogs feel when they hear the first fireworks in the early evening hours of July 4th or New Year’s Eve. Some dogs could care less and sleep right through it. But then there are a lot of dogs who get so scared that they either freeze, shake, hide, or run. Whether a dog feels completely calm or freaked out depends on many factors – genes, socialization, environment, and also the lifestyle.

So before you get too excited about celebrating the independence of your country, let me share with you seven tips that allow you and your dog to have a good holiday experience.

  1. A tired dog is a calmer dog

If you know that your dog freaks out during fireworks, I recommend you to take your dog on a good long walk in the early evening hours. The more tired your dog is, the less he will pay attention to his fears. You want to wait until the sun goes down or walk your dog in a shaded area or on the grassy area so that you don’t have to go to your emergency vet due to overheating your dog. Physical exercise and mental stimulation are the best cures for many behavioral issues, including fear of fireworks.

  1. Take your dog on potty breaks before the fireworks start

Of course, you don’t know when your neighbors start this (for me senseless) activity, but you may want to time the moments when you take your dog for her last potty break for the night. If your dog can easily jump your fence or if you have a fenceless yard, I recommend you to keep your dog leashed. It just takes one loud bang near your house, and your dog can be so scared that he will run for his life and won’t listen to any of your commands.

  1. Ensure your dog has his collar on with current tags

If your dog escapes your home and one of your neighbors find him, having a collar on will help them to reunite you quicker with your dog. If that is not the case, many people will call animal control. Once they pick up your dog, she will be taken to the shelter, an environment that is even more fearful and stressful. Losing a dog that doesn’t wear a collar is always more difficult to get back than a dog with a collar.

  1. Let your dog settle on her own

If your dog starts pacing through the house or wants to hide under the bed, let him be. A lot of people communicate with their dogs with human psychology, and that makes the situation worse. They hug their dogs, they pet their dogs, they reaffirm the dog that “it’s okay.” What they fail to realize is that they reinforce the fearful behavior and keep the dog trapped in anxiety. Instead, allow the dog to do what he wants to do. If he wants to hide in a corner of your home, let him be. If your dog paces, let him do until he finds his spot where he feels safe. Animals in the wild will look for cozy and tight spots where they can hide and feel safe; that is exactly what your dog is looking for as well.

  1. Keep your dogs separate

This tip only applies if you have dogs in the home that may not always get along or who have different energy levels. So for example, if you have one dog that is scared to death and the other could care less and just thinks about playing and having fun, I would recommend you to keep them in separate rooms for the night. During nights like this, your fearful dog will be stressed and will not have the patience to deal with another dog. A situation like this can easily escalate into a physical argument. If your other dog is pretty chill and obedient, this suggestion may not be necessary.

  1. Medications, supplements, essential oils, and thunder shirts

There are now many commercial products on the market that have a calming effect on dogs. You can go to your vet and ask for a medication that will knock your dog out. There are also many homeopathic and natural products available that calm your dog down. Just google them and read their reviews. One of the latest products that can decrease anxiety are CBD oils (cannabinoid oils), but you want to ensure they come from a reputable distributor. Some people are able to calm their dogs down by fitting them in a thunder shirt.  Using natural essential oils such as lavender can also be helpful to create a calming environment. As you can see there are plenty of resources out there; you just have to find the one that works best for your pooch.

  1. Stay at home

I know there are some people who don’t like to make too many compromises for their dogs, but they will lose all the fun of the evening when they come home to a destructed home, a hurt dog that tried to escape a crate or a dog that ran away from the pet sitter’s home. That’s why I recommend people who have a noise sensitive dog to stay at home to ensure they can keep their dogs safe.

Fireworks are an inevitable evil of a luxury society.  We can’t avoid them, but we have several options to make them bearable for our dogs. I wish you and your canines a happy, healthy, and stress-free holiday!

What do you mean with “it’s a rescue dog?”

What do you mean with “it’s a rescue dog?”

This morning when I walked my dogs a lady hid her little dog behind an object because the dog tends to bark when she sees other dogs. When I passed by she smiled at me and said, “she is old, she is a rescue dog, she can’t get change.” When she said, “she is a rescue dog I stopped in my track and asked, “what do you mean when you say she is a rescue dog?” She couldn’t give me a correct answer and rather than ranting on her, I moved on.

Here is how I translate “she is a rescue” in combination with annoying behavior by the dog.

1. You give your dog and others the impression that the dog is broken. Here is my take on that. We are rescues. We all have our hang-ups, issues. And that doesn’t mean that we can’t live a happy and healthy life.

2. You make an excuse for your lazy behavior to not train the dog. Too often people bring dogs in their lives and they just think that the dog has to adjust to them without any training and guidance. And that is a recipe for disaster. That’s why so many dogs bought from breeders end up in shelters and become a rescue because humans didn’t honor their responsibility in the relationship of teaching the dogs. That is the same if you had a child and never taught your child to walk and speak; it will figure it out on its own.

Being labeled a broken dog is never positive energy to transform a dog’s behavior and well-being. So stop calling your dog a rescue and see your dog as whole and healthy. And make the time and honor your responsibility to train your dog good manners. And then you can walk proudly through the neighborhood and tell everyone “this is my dog and she is happy.”

What words are you speaking to your dog?

What words are you speaking to your dog?

What words are you speaking to your dog?

And what do you think about your dog? Do you think your dog is a good dog? Do you think your dog is a good dog but dumb? Or do you tell your dog that he is a bad dog when he does something bad (even though you love him of course)?
Last week, when I walked with my foster dog Deno to pick up my car from the car repair shop, the co-owner started a conversation about dogs. He showed me the pictures of his dogs and told me that he has had dogs his entire life. And then he said, “You know, I’ve never met a bad dog.”

Of course, I had to agree with him because I’ve never met a bad dog myself. Now sure, I’ve met dogs that displayed unhealthy and dangerous behavior, and I’ve met dogs where I didn’t care about their high energy, but that didn’t make them bad dogs; they just hadn’t been taught a better behavior yet respectively their energy wasn’t a good match for me.

And then I said to him, “do you know why you’ve never met a bad dog? Because that is not what you are looking for. You always look for the good in the dog, and that is what dogs prove to you. That is what you see.”

In social science research they call this principle Pygmalion Effect, which says that as we communicate our expectations of people with various cues, they tend to respond to our cues by adjusting their behavior to match them. In other words, the simplest way to bring out the best in people is to hold an attitude of positive expectations. Instead of looking for what’s missing, or what’s wrong with a person, we can re-frame our expectations to look for what’s positive. The management phrase, ‘Catch people doing something right’ captures the sense of this attitude.

The same applies to dogs. Even though they don’t speak English or any other human language, they pick up the energy behind the words we speak and the thoughts we think. When you believe in your dog; when you believe that your dog is a good dog; when you reinforce the positive behavior, and you redirect the negative behavior, your dog will adjust his behavior to match your cues.

If you point out that your dog is bad or dumb, your dog will always prove that you are right. So watch your words and thoughts; your dogs listen to their energy and match them with their behavior.

A life cut short – lessons to be learned

A life cut short – lessons to be learned

Less than 2 months ago I was contacted about a female Pit Bull that had been in the Fulton County Animal Control foster program for more than a year. She finally found a home with a family outside of Atlanta. However, when the family had friends come over, the dog reacted, barked aggressively and the guardian had to restrain her in the crate where she didn’t calm down. Even though the lady had dogs all her life, she didn’t know how to handle this situation. Unfortunately, I never spoke with her (just saw the post on Facebook where I was tagged)  and never heard anything from her and so I assumed that everything worked out well. After all, they had other dogs and that, of course, make them think, that they know dogs.

Three weeks ago I received a text message from this lady wanting to speak with me. I talked with her on the phone for 30 minutes where she explained to me that the dog nipped at one of her neighbors while the neighbor was in the driveway leaning over the dog. Now the family wasn’t sure whether they should keep the dog or return the dog to the shelter. When I asked her to make up a list of pros and cons about the dog she came up with 4 items on the pros list and 1 item on the cons list. Fair enough. Based on the situation she shared with me, I felt assured that this situation is easily solvable and I would love to help her with that. I’ve worked with lots of dogs that nipped at people, acted aggressively and once humans know how to redirect the dog, the dog learns very quickly and the fearful or aggressive behavior disappears over time. She said that she wanted to talk with her husband about it (because they pretty much made their mind up to return the dog) and she would get back with me. But she never did.

Well, this morning while I was laying in bed, I thought about this dog and the lady. And I felt compelled to write them a text message to see how things were going. I was shocked when I read the text message that said, “We had the dog put down. It was a terrible decision. She snapped at our 3-year-old and that was the final straw. Unfortunately, we had to make a tough decision. It is a very ugly situation. However, we were not in the position to take any chance.”

Of course, my reactive Self wanted to shout back at her and put her down for such a reckless decision. But that would not change the situation that a dog was prematurely euthanized – or killed. So Instead, my responsive Self, asked “what were the reasons you made this decision?” and her reply was “Honestly did not want her to continue home hopping. We didn’t want her to be mistreated for her behavior. Not fair to her. She’d been in 3 homes in less than 2 weeks. Nor did we want anyone hurt. The shelter I felt was less than transparent about her to being with and didn’t want that to happen to someone else.”

Believe me, I could write a whole essay about this situation and I could find a dozen reasons to make this lady wrong for the decision that she took. And it wouldn’t change anything. But here are a few things that I want you to consider if a dog gets in this kind of jam.

1.  Give a dog a chance. Too often I see people adopting or buying a dog and they want the dog to be perfect as soon as the dog enters their home. Who are you? Did you come out of your mother’s womb with perfect behavior and knowledge?

2.  What you put in, you get out. Give the dog time to adjust. Build trust with the dog. Teach the dog. Protect the dog from the stupidity of other humans. I always say, just because people have been around dogs and have dogs and love dogs doesn’t mean that they KNOW dogs. That is a big difference. When I am called to work with a family and their dog, the people that are the most unpleasant to work with are the ones who start out with, “I had dogs all my life. I grew up with dogs. We used to breed dogs. Blah blah blah.” which I translate into “Don’t tell me anything. I know it all.” And as soon as I watch them with their dog and how they handle their dog, I see that they have been doing it all wrong for the last 30 years. As they say, insanity is doing the same things expecting different results.

3.  Get a professional opinion before you make a drastic decision to put the dog down. And no, most vets don’t count when it comes to getting an opinion about behavioral issues in animals. They were trained in health issues but not behavioral issues. And again, just because you’ve had dogs your entire life, doesn’t make you a professional either. Having and knowing are two different things.

4.  If you decide to put a dog down, ask yourself, “if this dog was a Papillon dog or a Golden Retriever, would you make the same decision to put the dog down.” I truly hate how quickly people make unfair decisions when it comes to the more powerful breeds. And the Pit Bull is always at the end of the stick. Boy, do I have compassion for this breed!!!!

5.  Stop making up stories about the possible future of a dog. Just because you cannot have a dog in your home and you don’t know how to handle a certain dog, doesn’t mean that somebody else cannot. If a shelter had a dog in its foster program for more than a year, that tells me that there was nothing (or something minimally wrong) with the dog. And of course, there is always something dogs can learn and dogs are not perfect, even though most humans expect this from dogs. And these are the kinds of humans who are full of flaws and so imperfect.

Now you could say that this dog was this family’s property and they can do with it / her whatever they want. But I must admit, if someone did that to one of my former foster dogs, I don’t know how I would handle this.

I feel saddened that I couldn’t make a difference in this dog’s life and I am saddened that this dog’s life has been cut short. I just hope that she rests in peace and that her soul was ready to transcend. Rest in peace, little girl!

Just a Dog

A friend of mine just sent me the below article which rings so true for me. So I share it here on my blog and I hope Richard Biby, the creator of the article, doesn’t mind.  From time to time, people tell me, “lighten up, it’s just a dog,” or, “that’s a lot of money for just a dog.” They don’t understand the distance traveled, the time spent, or the costs involved for “just a dog.” Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a dog.” Many hours have passed and my only company was “just a dog,” but I did not once feel slighted. Some of my saddest moments have been brought about by “just a dog,” and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “just a dog” gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day. If you, too, think it’s “just a dog,” then you will probably understand phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.” “Just a dog” brings into my life the  very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy.   “Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience that make me a better person. Because of “just a dog”, I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly to the future. So for me and folks like me, it’s not “just a dog” but an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment. “Just a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day. I hope that some day they can understand that it’s not“just a dog”, but the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being “just a man or woman.”   So the next time you hear the phrase “just a dog” just smile… because they “just don’t understand.” by Richard Biby Tulsa, Oklahoma Contributing Editor VHD