Advocacy As I See It

Advocacy As I See It

I want to talk (write) today about what being a pit bull advocate means to me.  It wasn’t in my plans to write about this today (it’s Easter and I have things to do) but I was accused of being a bad advocate/supporting BSL and it really bothered me.  Somebody I know, and his friends that I don’t know, gleefully wrote some very cruel things about me because I had the temerity to disagree with them.  Normally I can brush off people, but this blatant malice really bothered me.  I was up way too late, and up way too early, just thinking about it.  I almost lashed out in return.  I wanted to tell them exactly what I thought.  But I didn’t, as I’m trying to be more peaceful in my life, and quite frankly, it wouldn’t have changed anything.  So instead I’m going to write a blog about what I think our jobs as pit bull advocates are.

Before I begin, I have a disclaimer.  Shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it is – I think pit bulls are the best dogs are out there.  For me. I love them.  Period. 

I guess perhaps I should start by defining what dogs I’m talking about.  I’m talking about any dog that looks like it could be a pit bull or pit bull mix.  That’s right, I don’t care if it’s not been DNA tested and found to be 100% APBT or AmStaff.  Nothing divides pit bull people more than the definition of a pit bull.  It’s insane.  Do Lab people argue about whether dogs called Lab mixes really have Lab in them?  Do GSD people get angry when people call a dog a GSD mix?  Not that I’ve heard.  It’s reserved for pit bull people to argue about.

Our number one job is to realistic about these dogs.  Period.  Blowing smoke up people’s behinds to make them sound like magical little bunny-hugging unicorns in a compact, muscular body doesn’t do anybody any good.  Especially the dog.  Pit bulls are strong, athletic dogs that need something to do.  If you don’t provide the stimulation for them, they’ll figure it out on their own and it probably won’t be something you approve of!  Pit bulls weren’t known as “the nanny dog.”  Were pit bulls historically known for being great family dogs?  Absolutely, but they weren’t referred to as the nanny dog.  People need to stop saying that.  These dogs are phenomenal – it’s not necessary to lie about them to make them sound better.  It also may give some people the idea that it is safe leaving children alone with them.  NO dog should be left alone with children, period.

Nothing gets pit bull people more riled up than the talk of dog-dog issues within the breed.  AS WITH EVERYTHING, there are exceptions to the rule.  But pit bulls were bred for how many years to fight other dogs?  Granted, 99% of them are NOT bred for that anymore.  However, just because it isn’t being bred for, doesn’t mean it’s being actively bred against.  So you know, why not err on the side of caution and assume that your pit bull may not love all other dogs?  I firmly believe that pit bulls don’t belong in doggy daycares or dog parks.  No, your dog may never start anything, and that’s awesome!  But your dog may not back down if another dog tries to start something.  And you know what – your dog will be the one ending up in the news.  And it will make it harder for responsible pit bull owners to live in peace with their dogs.

Pit bulls are terriers/bulldogs and thus, they are more likely than the Poodle down the street to aggress at another dog and not back down.  This doesn’t make them bad!  It makes them terriers/bulldogs!

“But Liz, my dogs love each other and snuggle together and have never even looked sideways at each other.”  Rock on!  That is fantastic and I hope it stays that way forever.  I’d still separate them when you’re gone though.  Can’t tell you how many people I know/stories I’ve heard of people whose pit bulls loved each other for years, until the day they didn’t and e-vets were required and crate/rotate had to become a way of life forever after.

Dog aggression doesn’t mean that your dog will hate every dog on sight.  Most pit bulls are selective – they are okay with some dogs, heck, maybe even lots of dogs!  But some other dogs just torque them and get their panties in a bunch.  Sometimes we don’t know which dogs are going to do that, which is why it behooves us to act as if ANY dog could get our dog riled, AKA, err on the side of caution.

Are there pit bulls that love every other dog on the planet?  Sure.  Are there pit bulls that hate every other dog on the planet?  Sure.  Are the majority somewhere in between?  Yep.  So why risk it?  Why set your dog up for failure?  I’m a big fan of better safe than sorry.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Knowledge is power.  Knowing is half the battle.  All those good things.

Fair warning that here comes the other part of my pit bull advocacy that really angers people: Pit bulls aren’t the right dog for everybody. There, I said it.  Let the stoning begin.  But you know what?  Labs aren’t right for everybody.  GSD’s aren’t right for everybody.  Border Collies aren’t right for everybody.  Malinois?  Holy cripes you couldn’t PAY me to have one!  (Had to throw that one in for my Mal-owning friends!)  I can’t think of one breed of dog that IS right for everybody.  So why do some pit bull people feel that they need to convince every Joe Schmoe down the street that they need a pit bull?

Pit bulls require an owner that is going to be willing to invest some time and money.  They need training.  They need owners who won’t set them up to fail.  They don’t need owners who want a dog that they don’t have to interact with.  They aren’t for people who think dogs come fully trained out of the womb.  They aren’t for people who aren’t ready to educate themselves about possible breed tendencies, or who think “oh, I can love them into being good.”  No, you can TRAIN them into being good, but love isn’t everything when it comes to dogs.

This doesn’t mean that you need to keep your dog cloistered in your house behind closed blinds, never to see the light of day.  This means you don’t take your pit bull to dog parks.  You don’t take your pit bull to doggy daycares.  You keep your pit bull on leash when out in public.  You attend training classes with your pit bull.  You make sure your pit bull is an ambassador, out in public meeting people.  You don’t let your pit bull interact with strange dogs – instead, you set up playdates with one or two other dogs at a time that you know your dog is okay with.  And you SUPERVISE those play dates.  You separate your dogs when you’re out.

“But Liz, doesn’t this apply to all dogs?”  It absolutely should.  We should never set our dogs up to fail, especially if a failure on your behalf impacts other owners of that breed.  But I feel that as pit bull owners, we have a higher responsibility to keep our dogs safe from themselves and others.  

Inara, poster child for dog issues, being a breed ambassador.
Inara, poster child for dog issues, being a breed ambassador.
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Close Encounters of the Unpleasant Kind

Off leash dogs seem to be a big issue for a lot of my friends, but they are especially horrible for those of us with reactive dogs.  I was asked to write about ways to avoid them/fend them off.  Ask and ye shall receive, my friends!

As the owner of a dog-reactive dog, I often joke that basic trips outside even to go potty are like military operations.  Just for a 2 minute potty break, I put a sturdy collar on Inara; open the door while blocking Inara and look up and down the street to see who/what is moving; snap her cable (the Beast or Monster one that’s made for half-ton dogs) onto her collar and do a quick double-check of the street; release her and then stand on the porch shivering my hiney off as she sashays around the yard looking for the PERFECT place to poop.  And walks?  Oh lord, talk about a mission!  I time them for when there should be less dogs out on the street or in their yards.  I know which yards are more likely to have dogs out.  I know which houses have dogs that sound like they’re going to bust through a window to get to us.  I’m constantly scanning (while acting relaxed for Inara’s sake) for off-leash dogs.  It’s a mission.

But even people without reactive dogs often worry about off-leash dogs.  You have a split second to determine the other dog’s intent and decide how you’re going to deal with it.  What are some options?

  • Avoidance – If the dog is far enough away, turn and go the opposite direction.  Why subject yourself to drama if you can avoid it?
  • Emergency U-Turn – This is similar to avoidance, but generally happens when the dog is closer and you need to make a quick escape.  This is simply a cue for your dog that means, “let’s do a 180 and dash!”  You want to make the cue word for this a word that is likely to automatically come spewing out of your mouth when you turn the corner and see a dog right in your face.  Yes, swear words make excellent Emergency U-Turns cues!

These next few are for when things are going downhill in a big way.  The other dog either kept coming after you turned, or it came out of nowhere and you have no chance to escape.  Some of these options you run the risk of getting injured by placing yourself in between the oncoming dog and your own, so you need to decide which ones you are actually comfortable doing.

  • Throw treats – I’ve never tried this one, but Patricia McConnell recommends throwing a handful of treats at an oncoming dog to distract them and allow you and your dog to slip away.  This might work for a friendly dog – worth a try.  One downside is that the dog may then follow you for more treats.
  • Sit/Stay/Stop – Put your dog a in sit/stay, take a step in front of them and put your hand up in the universal signal for stop, all while bellowing “stop” directly at the dog.  Oftentimes they’ll be so surprised that they actually do stop, allowing you to back away.
  • Distractions/Intimidation – This is where you consider using the citronella spray (Direct Stop is one brand name) or an airhorn or other item to dissuade the oncoming dog.  Like the treats, citronella spray may work for a rude yet friendly dog, but just be sure the wind is not going to blow it back on to you and your dog.  An airhorn will scare the bejeezus out of everybody in the neighborhood, including you and your dog.  Other items?  An umbrella that flys open at the touch of a button.  Point it at the oncoming dog and hit the button.  Good chance of frightening the oncoming dog, and if that doesn’t work, you now have something to try to fend it off with.  A walking stick raised over your head and waved in a threatening manner may ward off a dog.  If you are going to use an umbrella or other physical deterrent, make sure your dog is conditioned to it so he doesn’t freak out, too.  Disclaimer: If the other dog’s clueless owner is in the vicinity, he or she is likely to get very angry at you for these actions because, as we all know, “he’s friendly and just wants to say hi!”  *rolling eyes*
  • VOG – Breaking out the Voice Of God (you know that voice, the one that comes from deep within you where you sound possessed and every living creature in the vicinity flees in terror?  Yeah, that one) and yelling at the other dog to “GO HOME” or something alone those lines.  This works for me 99% of the time and is my go-to move.  Disclaimer:  If the other dog is aggressive, it may anger them more if you become confrontational.
  • The Straddle – This is useful if the other dog is just cluelessly dumb and friendly but rude and your dog will just not handle that well.  Straddle your dog with your legs behind their belly, in front of their haunches, and hold onto the collar or harness.  Keep spinning your dog in a circle so their side (protected by your leg) is closest to the dog.  This keeps the dog out of your dog’s face while still allowing you to keep an eye on what the dog is doing.  You are also able to swipe one of your legs out at the dog to shoo it away if it gets too close.
  • The Ninja – This is the last resort, and this is one where you do risk injury to yourself.  Strongarm your dog behind you on a short leash so they can’t get past you and kick with all your might at the oncoming dog while yelling at it in the VOG.  Yes, you may actually make contact with the dog, though most are quite nimble at avoiding you.  Do this until the dog goes away or somebody comes to help you.

To add insult to injury, so often the idiot owner will be sauntering behind their dog calling out, “it’s okay, he’s friendly!”  Oh my, there are so many responses to this.  The easiest is, “mine’s not!”  You can also try, “my dog is contagious!”  Or on occasion I’ve resorted to, “my dog will eat your dog!”  Subtle?  No, but the guy kicked it into high gear to get his dog.  And yes, they will inevitably get angry at YOU.  Which blows my mind.  Just make sure you know the leash laws in your town so that you can tell them exactly how many laws they are breaking and that you’d be happy to call the police.

If possible and it is safe to do so, try to get a video of the off-leash dog on your cell phone.  This can be helpful as proof when the police are called because you were threatening their widdle fwuffy poopsy doopsy that just wanted to say hi.  If you know which house the dog came from, make a mental note of that for animal control.  “Is it really necessary to call animal control, Liz?”  Yes, it is.  Because if nobody does so the problem is going to keep happening, and the next person may not be as lucky or skilled as you.

There are several options above.  None of them are perfect, and none of them are perfect for every situation.  You need to quickly assess and decide on a course of action.  And you need to decide on a course of action that YOU are comfortable with.  If you aren’t physically capable/willing to put yourself in the midst of it, DON’T.  Figure out what works for you.

Feel free to leave other techniques that have worked for you in the comments section!

On a happier note, I’ll leave you with a photo:

Can't remember where we were going or why she was up front, but she was happy and cute!
Can’t remember where we were going or why she was up front, but she was happy and cute!

The Calling

Inara has finally received The Call.  After all the sports/games/STUFF we’ve tried, we have found THE ONE.  The One that she has a natural talent for.  Nay, not just a talent, but a PRONOUNCED talent.  What is her calling?

NOSEWORK. 

The girl is apparently part Bloodhound.  When I give her the command to “search” she glues her nose to the floor and works it, occasionally lifting up for an air sniff, but mostly going for the ground sniff method.  We started a 4 week Nosework class last week, so we’ve had two classes so far.  And due to a wedding this past weekend we didn’t practice at all in between our classes, yet she still rocked it.  Right now she’s still sniffing for hidden treats, but next week we’re introducing a new scent for the dogs to find.  I hope she can transition her searching behavior to a non-food item.

This past week our instructor, Katie, lined up six boxes and put a container with treats in one.  The dog had to sniff down the line and find the one with treats.  Inara was crated so she didn’t see which box the treats in.  When I told her to “search” she went to the first box and sniffed each box until she found the one with treats and pawed at it, got her treats, and then continued sniffing down the rest of the boxes to make sure they were empty.  And just as cool?  She’s totally ignoring the other dogs when she’s working the line of boxes.

I’ve got a couple vids from our informal practice at home this evening.  This was our first time trying nosework at home.  These two vids our Inara’s last two searches, so she had done maybe 6 or 7 before these.  I was having her sit in the dining room while I hid the container with treats, and then I would call her to heel and give the cue to search.  This first one was apparently way too easy for her:

For her last search, I hid the container up off the ground so she had to work a bit harder.  You can see her look to me for guidance at one point, so I didn’t point or anything, I just encouraged her again to search, and she did!

Hives, Prozac and Sharks

Heheheh, this title should get some odd hits coming in!  LOL

1.  Hives – Inara has never had hives before but for some reason broke out in them this week.  Fortunately they are confined to her back, just behind her withers (do dogs have withers or is that just a horse term?), so they aren’t hindering her breathing in any way.  That confined location makes me think something touched her that caused a reaction, but for the life of me I cannot think what has changed.  I gave her a couple Benadryl (please always consult your vet before giving meds to your dog) and they’ve mostly gone done.  She still has a couple small ones but I really don’t want to give her more Benadryl as it made her feel not so good.  Even stranger, I’ve had a few other friends across the country say that over the past couple weeks their dogs have also broken out in hives.  What’s going on???

2.  Prozac – Not for Inara this time.  For the cat.  She has always been crazy but her level of miserable-ness has increased exponentially over the past few weeks for some reason.  She growls out the window at anybody that dares to walk by the house.  She skulks around.  And best yet, she’s attacking Inara.  Not just a swat, but full-fledged yowling, swinging paws and chasing Inara through the house.  Kind of funny until you realize that at some point Inara may get tired of this and whip around and nail her.  So Prozac it is.  We’re on day three.  I really hope it works.  I don’t want to think about what to do if it doesn’t.

3.  Sharks – Okay, not really, but sort of.  I ordered something for Inara called a shark line leash.  It’s like super strong fishing wire attached to a small toggle handle, with a light snap at the end.  It’s to help us transition to off-leash work.  Because it’s so light, she won’t realize that she is still on leash, but should she decide to act like an ass (my dog?  NEVER!) I still have control over her.  A lot of friends recommended it to me so I’m kind of excited.  I think it may be exactly what we need to get over our training hump.  Here’s a link: http://www.jjdog.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Category_Code=3CATSharkLinesSHAL

Finally, a friend of mine has been having some issues with her pit bull, Toby, and has started a blog to chronicle his training.  Today she posted that instead of pushing him further when he’d already had a great day, she STOPPED.  That was such a hard lesson for me to learn, so it made me thrilled to see that she got it so quickly!  So please visit her blog and give her some love!

http://tubular-toby.blogspot.com/

Between a rock and a dog…

Inara and I seem to have hit an impasse with our training.  Not due to lack of skill, but because I can’t trust her off-leash.  She’s totally ready for advanced rally signs, but even the 2nd level of rally and obedience stuff is off leash.  Ginger and I were talking this evening and we feel she’s kind of hit the max benefit from our Rally classes we’ve been taking.  Ginger thinks I need to expand outwards, into new training places.  That frightens me.  It’s very difficult finding good, positive trainers.  And quite frankly, other places are really expensive ($140 for 6 weeks?  Really?).  And I like Ginger and her style of teaching.

I suggested to Ginger that maybe she can offer “semi-private sessions.”  Her normal rally classes have 6 dogs and are $85 for 6 weeks, so I said that maybe she can offer 3 week sessions, with only 3 dogs, for $85.  It’d be a lot more individualized attention, and if we chose the dogs well we could do off-leash stuff w/o worrying.  Once Inara got used to being off-leash around those 2 dogs, another dog could be added in.  I’m not looking to get her playing with other dogs – I want her to IGNORE them entirely.

I may also just do some private sessions with Ginger out and about in the community, just for the change of scenery.  We all know that dogs don’t generalize, so I do maintain Inara’s training elsewhere.  It would be nice sometimes to have Ginger on walks in the park with me when other dogs are passing in close proximity.  Not because I don’t know what to do, but because my confidence increases with her around *blush*.

Any other ideas for me as to break through this impasse?  I’m going to start working hard with Inara on training/walking w/o relying on the leash to keep her by me, even outside.  It will be on, of course, but only as an emergency measure.  But while we’re doing that, I want to DO something – classes, seminars, something.

Inara with Joe, Big Mike and Johnny O of Rescue Ink.

Hineys, workshops and carnage

Inara has hiney issues.  There.  I said it.  Hopefully she won’t read this or she’ll be embarrassed.  But she does.  A few weeks ago I took her to the vet because she had some weird, hard growth coming out of her hiney.  The vet determined that it was an abscess that had burst, and the growth was actually a scab protruding.  She pinched it off and called it a day.  I took her in again on Monday evening because she had another growth, again coming from her hiney, but this one was fleshy.  The Doc said it was actually a wart and needed to be removed since it was right on her anus and probably making it uncomfortable to go to the bathroom.

So I dropped Inara off Wednesday morning at the vet.  Even for a minor procedure, it was tough leaving her there.  The staff was excited to see her though, so that helped.  They also said I could call at noon and probably pick her up then.  So I called at noon, but young miss gets hit hard by anesthesia so she wasn’t awake enough yet.  I could go pick her up at 3.  I showed up at 3 and walked into the nearly silent vet’s office.  The vet techs were sitting behind the desk and quietly gestured for me to peek over.  I did, and there was a very groggy Inara, barely standing, but still giving kisses and soliciting lovin’s from the techs.  Totally melted my heart.  Especially when she finally noticed me and looked at me with her sleepy little eyes and wagged her tail (nearly falling in the process).  The vet had removed the wart, as well as the big skin tag that had been on her elbow, trimmed her nails and gave her a shot of amoxicillin.  Grand total?  $48.  Love my vet.  And the best part was that because the vet had cauterized them, there was absolutely zero aftercare needed.

So I took the little girl home and had to help her out of the car and up the steps.  Before I could even get her harness and collar off, she staggered straight to the bedroom and just looked at the bed, looked at me, and back at the bed.  I lifted her up and she immediately fell asleep.  I curled up next to her and she napped on me for a couple hours.  She was still kind of unsteady on her feet the rest of the evening, but did eat, drink, pee and poop, so I knew all was good.

I had to work today so she just snoozed in her crate, and when I came home she was rarin’ to go.  She wanted to play fetch and tug with her Alien carcass, so we did that a bit.  Then we had a Tug O’ War workshop at Fortunate Fido.  I hemmed and hawed about going since I was afraid it might make her surgery sites sore, but decided to go.  I figured I’d let her set the pace.

There were 5 other dogs in the workshop, so of course Inara had to announce herself upon entering.  I got her settled and then she only had a few other outbursts.  Pretty impressive since there was a lot of activity going on with 5 other dogs tugging.  It was odd though – if Inara was the only dog tugging, she was a BEAST.  Totally focused on tugging and giving it her all.  However, if the other dogs were tugging, she wouldn’t.  Or couldn’t.  Not sure which.  She could do beautiful obedience with me, but if I asked her to tug she just flat out refused.  I don’t know if she was uncomfortable letting loose enough to play?  She was very relaxed during the down time, either lounging on a hip or totally sprawled on her side.  But she couldn’t relax to play tug if the other dogs were.  Very strange and definitely something I’ll work on.

She is beat.  I think all the tugging was a bit much for her, so I gave her a couple baby aspirin with her dinner and she’s now curled up on my bed snoozing while I’m lying beside her typing.

I shall leave you with two things:

  1. A video of her doing one of her favorite things ever – turning a stuffie into a carcass.
  2. A picture of her amongst her carnage afterwards.

Enjoy!

Oh the humanity! Think of the children!

 

 

Exciting weekend!!!

I know I’m a bit late in posting, but Inara and I had a super exciting day this past weekend!    We were entered in beginner obedience and beginner zoom rally at a C-WAGS trial on Sunday.  I was pretty nervous because I had never been to the facility before, but Ginger told me to bring Inara early so she could sniff around before other dogs got there.  Great idea.

So we get Inara’s sniffing done and do a little training to get her into working mode, and then other dogs started arriving.  I decided that Inara would probably be more relaxed staying crated in my car than crated in the building with all the other dogs.  However, it was rapidly getting very hot so I ended up having to bring her inside anyway.  And miracle of all miracles – she didn’t bark as I brought her in.  NOT ONCE.  There were dogs out on leash, and dogs crated, and dogs barking, and she went by them all to the corner I’d chosen for her.  Whoa.

Our turn to do our first run-through came up and in she went.  She kept pulling towards the judge in between exercises because it was a new person and darnit she wanted to say hi!  Fortunately that didn’t count against us, LOL.  She had a couple bobbles in her routine – she popped up from her down during our position change exercise, and scooted closer to the judge during the greeting portion.  But other than that, she was outstanding!  Her heeling was gorgeous (she did bump me a bit on our left turn) and during her down/walk-around, apparently a dog in the other ring was doing an off-leash recall (possibly over a jump?) and according to Ginger, Inara thought about getting up – BUT DIDN’T.  My goodness, my girl is learning self-control!

So we finished and I was pleased.  My goal for each run-through of the day was just to qualify.  I didn’t care if I didn’t place high, I just wanted to qualify and have fun.  So the judge gathered us to hand out ribbons and says, “1st place goes to team #52, the pit bull.”  I was looking around trying to figure out how another pit bull competed without me noticing when Ginger said, “Liz, that’s YOU.”  Holy cripes we got 1st place.  *insert shocked face here!*

So then we did our 2nd obedience run-through.  Again, a couple bobbles, but over all very nice and I was pretty confident I was going to at least get another qualifying ribbon.  The judge is handing out ribbons, and I hear “2nd place, Inara!”  WHAT???  Whose dog have I stolen and been competing with???  I was totally grinning from ear to ear.

Then we did our Zoom Rally run-through.  That one was tougher because Inara was getting tired and over-threshold.  The first few exercises I just kind of dragged her through, but then she engaged with me and we finished pretty well.  However, I was still going to be shocked if we weren’t NQ’ed.  But oh no!  We got 4th place!!!

We were scheduled to do one more Rally run-through but Inara had had enough.  She lost it at another dog and I couldn’t get her back, so I withdrew her even though we were already in the ring.  It wasn’t going to be productive for either of us to try to force her through.

So now Inara has 3/4 legs for an obedience title, and 1/4 legs for a rally title.  And I’m floating on air.  🙂

This is our 1st run-through, with 1st place:

This is our 2nd run-through, with 2nd place:

This is our Rally run-through, with 4th place: