Dog Training

Dog trainers have evolved over the years as parents have evolved in raising children.  We have become a society that demands that correction be given in the form that appears to be a reward for the dog’s or child’s misbehavior.

Several years ago smart dog trainers stopped making public displays of training dogs.  They used public parks to facilitate training in hope that people would see them and would seek their assistance with their own pet.  Not any more.  Just as parents fear being in a shopping mall when their child or children act up.  Bystanders took on roles to determine how the correction should be administrated.

I learned to train dogs in the military.  Our lives depended on the dog following commands.  We needed the dog to listen and stop chewing on a person when then person became compliant and stopped resisting.  I did not find the training techniques abusive, just effective.  When the public first started complaining about the techniques in use by certain trainers, I figured that the economic principle of supply and demand would force the evolution of training techniques. 

If people started avoiding the “rough” trainers and sought out the “gentle” trainers, the tough (rough) trainers would adapt.  That is how evolution works, you adapt to the environment so as to survive and place food on your table.  The world did evolve and trainers became kinder and gentler; some even had their own television shows. 

There have been no studies that suggest that the kindler approach to dog training is more effective.  I think that it was less about the technique and more about the engagement of the owner with their dog.  The same is true with raising children, the more engaged that a parent is with their child, the better the child will behave.  Too many parents leave it up to the school system to raise their children; but, this is a blog about pets, not how people raise their children.

Leash 101

Welcome to Leash 101, your introduction to the use of leashes.  Let’s see a show of hands of those who believe that they have 100% control of their dogs off leash.  If you have raised your hand, you are one of the biggest threats to your neighborhood and need this class.

A leash is a physical connection between a dog and the dog’s owner.  For a leash to be effective, it must be of reasonable length and under the control of someone physically capable of controlling the dog.  A dog being walk on a flexi-leash by a six year old is NOT under control.

Most ordinances require that the length of a leash should be between six to ten feet and should be of sufficient strength to maintain control.  String, ribbon, and twine are insufficient material to constitute a leash.  Many owners purchase flexi-leashes that allow the leash to expand out to 50 feet or more.  These leashes, although not legal, give your dog sufficient room in open areas; these leashes are not suitable on trails.  If you lose sight of your dog, while on a leash, the leash is too long.

In order to achieve maximal control, the person controlling the leash should be of sufficient size and strength to control the dog.  This is called “walking the dog.”  It is not uncommon to see a dog pulling along its owner in an uncontrolled fashion, this is called “the dog walking the person.”  A person with reasonable intelligence would see the dangers of failing to control your dog.  Most incidents involve dogs walking their owners.

If you cannot control the dog that you are walking, look in the mirror.  You need to talk to that person into getting a smaller dog before someone is hurt.

There seems to be a misunderstanding as to when to use a leash.  Smart people place a leash of their dog while in a confined space before taking the dog outside.  Animal shelters are full with animals who once belonged to people who were not smart.

When we adopt animals, we discuss the need to keep a dog leashed until the dog accepts his new home.  I am constantly amazed at the number of times people get their new pet home only to lose the pet when they decided to open the door of their car to let the dog run off leash to the front door of their house.  We have fine-tuned our adoption screening process and have yet to discover a true test for identifying stupidity.  These are the same people who think that their adoption fee should be refunded because the shelter was negligent in adopting the dog to a stupid person.

The leash is your friend.  It keeps your dog from being hit by a car.  Keeps your neighbors from being frightened or bitten.  Keeps you out of court when animal control picks up your dog.  Your leash is one of the single most effective tools for keeping you out of trouble.  It is so important, I suggest that you give your leash a name… make it personal.

Trusting our Pets

It is not uncommon that people use their pets as an indicator for who to have relationships with.  On dating sites, you see comments like, “Must like pets.”  What they are really trying to say is, “My pet must like you.”  We seem to believe that pets have some psychic ability to discern the character of people. 

Pets are a bad judge of character.  Put them on a chain in front of your house and they hate everyone.  Pets hate delivery people and these are the folks that deliver presents to you on your birthday and Christmas.  Pets should hate animal control officers, but with a chocolate chip cookie, a pet will become their best friend (and no, one chocolate chip cookie will not kill a pet).  Let’s face it, you cannot trust your pet’s insights.

As pet owners, we place too much trust in our pets.  We don’t know what is going on in their heads.  If we did, we would have the ability to prevent dog bites.  Pets are like people, they are unpredictable.  Every year we read about a dog killing his or her owner.  Who could have predicted that?

Animal Control Officers become sensitive to the potential dangers of situations that put people and pets at odds with one another.  Too often we witness pet owners disregarding our suggestions, only to discover that we were right.  My experience as an animal control officer is that pet owners are the ones who know the least about their pets.

Why I Hate Social Media

Reading my blog, you may suspect that I hate social media.  I do.  I believe that our freedom of speech is one of the most abused freedoms granted in our country.  Social medial gives people the platform to slander, lie, and defame others.  But the worst abuse is not from those writing posts, but from the folks that believe that crap.

Lie + Social Media = New Truth

Watching the news is evidence that people have no filter.  We have become a society that cannot discern fact from fiction.  Worse, we are more likely to believe a lie than the obvious truth.

Social media provides a mechanism to boost our  own self importance.  We want to stand out and telling the truth just doesn’t provide the substance to become viral.  So, we have to state outlandish things.  People will believe them and will further spread the lie and future boost your online importance.

Animal welfare activists saw early on social media’s potential and exploited it.  They could get people to believe anything that they said, because we became a society too stupid to discern the lie, even when the truth is so obvious.  Social media became the means that our truth was whatever we posted.  As others have said, “Social media was dumbing down America.” 

People get so upset with foreign countries using social media to influence our elections, because we stupidly believe everything we read.  If we could gain back a lick of sense, like be had before social media, we could easily see through the sham.  If you want to find the truth, find someone who is not on social media.

Funding Animal Control

In an ideal world, an Animal Control program would be funded by the people who cause the need for the program to exist.  For that reason, communities create pet licenses to help offset the cost of controlling pets; the licenses also place a form of identification on the pet to facilitate their return to their owner.

The problem with using pet licenses are a funding source is that pet owners are horrible and licensing their pets.  In most communities, 20% licensing is considered good, but insufficient to fund a program.  Animal Control works like the police department, no one expects criminals to fund police patrols.  Any animal control officer will tell you that the bulk of the complaints that they receive are from neighbors of pet owners; so, the non-pet owning public is benefited by animal control services.

Animal control is a public safety organization and as such usually receives funding from the tax rolls.  I have always wanted to see a tax on pet food and pet products to fund animal control programs.  People who do not obtain pet licenses still have to feed their pet.  However, it isn’t an easy thing to tax specific products at the local level, as proven by States that offer animal themed license plates for vehicles.  Distribution of the funds become problematic. 

One option is to increase the fines associated with bad pet behavior.  The problem with penalties is that people who allow their pets to run at large are usually the ones who will abandon their pets when the are picked up; so now you have a shelter full of pets and no money to feed them.

The greatest battle that we wage is trying to prove that our services are necessary; it is a hard battle at budget times.  You will hear people saying that funding for animals take programs away from children.  So many times I have seen City/County Administrators offer up budget cuts to animal control before cutting anywhere else.  During those times, you have to hope that you have served your City/County Council well and they will protect your from your bosses.

Humane Balance

It is not uncommon in our profession to see a person taking on a “lost cause.”  These are the animals that under, most considerations, would be euthanized.  Some people have a knack for these causes; however, with these causes comes risk.

One of the offices of the State Attorney’s Office had a close relationship with a local animal welfare organization.  An attorney from that office decided to make an example of a board member of another organization by prosecuting that member for failure to provide adequate care of one of  those lost causes. 

Looking at the animal, one might agree with the assessment that the animal was beyond care, but anyone knowing the amount of medical care given to the animal would ever conclude that the animal was not being provided adequate care.  This is a common charge against animal rescuers.  The animal was seized and euthanized. 

Fortunately the Courts exercised good judgment and the board member was found not guilty.  I think the judge recognized the conflict of interest by the attorneys, but no one could undo the killing of that animal.  Reasonable minds might say that the euthanasia was a kindness to the animal due to its condition.  We’ll never know if the medial treatment could have turned the animal’s condition around.

Incidents like these are at the heart of our profession: making life and death decisions based on observations, veterinary advice, and availability of funds.  We find ourselves constantly questioning the decisions that we are forced to make and there will be a gallery of people wanting to armchair quarterback those decisions. 

Veterinarians

One of the most difficult task in running an animal shelter is hiring or contracting with a veterinarian.  Either they cannot face limited budgets, or working set schedules, or just cannot deal with the volume of patients.  Finding a suitable veterinarian is just a difficult task.

In order to be cost efficient, it is necessary for a veterinarian to perform a large number of spay/neuter surgeries.  During the interview process, I usually ask what the usual time that the candidate needed to perform a surgery.  When they claimed that they needed two or three hours, it became clear that you cannot afford the person.  Good high volume veterinarians are hard to find.  Sometimes you might find someone who can perform surgeries quickly, only to deal with constant suture failure after the surgery.

If you hire a luxury veterinarian, you need to explain the notion of limited resources.  Veterinarians coming from the luxury practises usually have few patients and plenty of resources.  To some, the act of providing just basic veterinary services is a slap to their profession.  In the long run, you won’t be able to afford them because they demand the best of everything.  Working in an animal shelter is an act of constant compromise.

The biggest issue facing a shelter veterinarian is placing a value on the services provided.  Does it make sense treating a critically injured animal, only to have the animal later euthanized for lack of an adopter.  It is a difficult balance; I have had veterinarians too quick to want to euthanize, but most are too slow.  After all, we would take on animals that were surrendered by their owners because the owner could not afford medical care.  Too many factors play in to the decision and I found it easier to relieve the veterinarian from those decisions.  Many times the decision is based on cost.  My last board of directors placed a $3,000 allowance on an animal; pretty generous by any standard.

If you live near a veterinary college, you will find it a wonderful resource for difficult injuries or illnesses.  If one of your animals is in horrible condition, the chances are good that the college will take the animal as a learning experience for their students.  Don’t expect the animal to be returned to you; usually one of their students will fall in love with the animal during its treatment.

Service Animals Out of Control

The issue has gotten so far out of control with people claiming that there dog is a service animal that Idaho is considering creating  laws under Senate Bill 1312 of making the false representation a misdemeanor, calling it “unlawful use of a service dog”. 

Although this is a good step forward to stop this abuse.  I am afraid that once the Bill is implemented, the legislators will see that they were negligent in not including other animals.  Idaho animal shelters might see an increase in cat adoptions.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) has allowed this to get too far out of control.  In an effort to protect the disabled, they have created a mechanism to allow overwhelming abuse.  This abuse is placing people at risk. 

Over a year ago, a child was “mauled” by a pit bull at the Portland International Airport that the owner claimed to be a service animal.  The case is now going to court because Alaska Airlines allowed the dog through the airport with out being in a crate.  I think the law suit is misdirected; the ADA is responsible because they refuse to create measures to prevent abuse.  I believe the ADA believes that it is better to protect one disabled person from unreasonable questioning than to protect society from the abuse of their system. 

I think Idaho is taking a good step to forcing compliance; but, until the ADA recognizes the abuse of their of their system, people will continue to be placed in harms way due to laws that are intended to protect our disabled population. 

Infant Spay/Neuter, a Necessary Evil

In the early days, one of the most difficult tasks that we perform was trying to get adopters to comply with their spay/neuter agreement.  We probably spent more time on that task and all of our other tasks combined.

When infant spay/neuters were being first performed, there was a lot of controversy about administering early surgery.  Over the years, the surgery became more accepted and better techniques were devised.  But we need to be clear that we were not performing the surgery for the sake of the animal.  In fact, the animals would be better off if the surgery was delayed so that the animal’s internal organs had more time to develop.  We performed the surgeries because we can’t trust adopters.

The problem remained in our memories as to the difficulty of bringing about compliance.  We just don’t live in a time that we can trust people.  And attempting to force compliance takes up too much of our time.  We have a pet overpopulation problem and it would be foolish on our part to allow our alumni to add to the problem due to an ignorant owner.

Originally, I bought in to infant spay/neuter surgery because I could adopt out an animal knowing that it could not breed.  My first concern was when I fostered a group of dogs in Jacksonville Florida and decided to adopt one of the dogs.  I witnessed immediately Frodo’s ability to urinate had changed, it was as if he had to force it, rather that just allow it to flow.  The problem never resolved itself.  I’m not a veterinarian, but I believe we neutered the dog before his urinary tract had fully developed.

The incident with Frodo always stayed with me and if the opportunity arose that I could delay a surgery, I would agree to it.  I don’t think Frodo was harmed, I just think he would have been better off delaying his surgery.  There are many veterinarians who would prefer to wait to perform the surgery, it is just too bad that we live in a world in which waiting doesn’t work.

Effectiveness of Behavior Evaluations

Animal shelters submit animals to behavior evaluations so as to provide an predictor as to an animal’s fitness for adopted.  The evaluation process places the animal into various situations to test the reaction of the animal’s response.  At best, the evaluation becomes an “educated” guess as to whether the animal will pose a risk when released for adoption.

Many animals fail the evaluation process and are often transferred into rescues groups who claim they can work out behavior issues; but, I am afraid that many of the rescues just have a lower behavior standard and move forward to adopt out the marginal animals.

The main problem with behavior evaluations is that they rarely put the animal in real life situation tests.  Tests performed at the animal shelter puts the animal off balance; the dog is not on his own turf.  Dogs on their own turf will act differently than one is an area unknown to the dog. 

We are frequently asked, “How is the dog with children?”  No animal shelter in its real mind would perform behavior tests with children.  Child Protective Services would have a field day with putting children at risk of being bitten.

The most important factor is the evaluator.  Dogs sense the confidence of a person.  There is an old saying, “It travels down the leash.”  A dog being evaluated by a confident person will evaluate differently that a person that is unsure of themselves.  Most potential adaptors do not exhibit the confidence of shelter employees.

The good news is that most adoptions go fine.  People adopting large powerful dogs should think twice about the results of the shelter’s evaluation.  Many shelters will give a large dog the benefit of the doubt because those are the breeds hardest to place.  I have frequently witnessed evaluators showing a bias while performing their evaluations; for this reason, an observer is in the room to monitor the evaluation process.

It has been my observation that most adoptions fail because the adopter begins training in bad habits into their new pet.  You can first glimpse the problem during a family meet and greet, when the room fills with a bunch of unruly children.