Unfortunately, right after Shadow died, the Covid 19 pandemic hit and changed our lives and the way we do things for the foreseeable future. One area where things have changed is pet adoption. Since many of us started working from home, we wanted a dog or two to keep us company. Due to this, the demand for dogs skyrocketed. It was very difficult for people to find a dog that didn't already have at least 10 adoption applications. Another issue is that many shelters had to close to the public, leaning on fosters, many brand new to fostering, to house and consult with new adopters about their foster dogs, picking the adopters they liked best. From my understanding, this is still going on in many shelters but some have opened to the public by appointment only.
First, as much as I respect and value foster parents for their kindness, generosity, and love of animals, they are not dog professionals. Many are not experienced enough to assess a dog's temperament quickly, manage dogs with behavior issues, and communicate realistic expectations to adopters because their foster dogs are not in their care long enough to assess their real personality and temperament. In my experience, the dog goes into a foster home and is made available almost overnight unless there is a reason they are told to hold off. Most dogs take weeks if not more to come out of their shell so many dogs are being adopted to families who have no idea what they are getting until it's too late. With that said, I like the foster to adopt approach that some shelters have implemented. It gives the dog time to come out of his or her shell and it gives the potential adopter time to get a feel for whether it's a good match or not.
Given my concerns with adopting through a foster I don't know, my first step in finding a new dog was to become a foster parent myself. First, I decided to foster a dog named Franny (now Madam), a super cute, shy Pitbull with a happy go lucky temperament and lots of energy to spare. Even though Franny is an awesome dog, I knew immediately that she was not the right fit for us. Once the shelter knew we would not be adopting her, they made her available on the website, and I screened around 35 people who wanted to adopt her. Franny stayed with me until she was adopted by an awesome woman named Meagan who lives in DC and now she is living the good life :)
In my consulting business, where I help potential adopters find a dog, it's important to look at everything about their lifestyle, wants, needs and commitment level. The two things that I have found most important when making successful matches is energy level and orientation (what the dog focuses on and enjoys most). I knew that I wanted a lap dog who only needed one 15 minute walk per day to be happy but could go for longer walks when I had the energy for it. I wanted a dog who loves to cuddle, and orients to people a lot and wants to be friends with everyone, including dogs. Lastly, since I work with lots of dogs who have behavior issues, I wanted a dog who didn't have many noticeable ones that we would need to work through.
I reached out to my friend Tony, who now works for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, to see if he knew of any dogs who might be a good fit. He recommended a sweet Pitbull named December. When we were going to get her out of her run, Tony pointed to a sweet, little hairy dog and said the shelter was looking for a two week foster to see if she was pregnant, since she was lactating. We got December out and she was a doll but still not quite the right fit. Then I asked to meet the little one who needed a foster home.
Enter Sassy! I have no clue what she is mixed with but the shelter suspects she is a corgi mix. I am waiting on the DNA test results as we speak from Embark, a company that tests dog DNA for breed and health markers. Once I get the results back, I will do a blog post on how accurate I believe it to be so stay tuned! Anyways, the second I met her I knew I had to foster her. She came straight up to me and sat in my lap giving me kisses and love. She was a little submissive and shy but she took treats and stayed near me most of the time. After I left I set up a time to come and get her to start fostering.
As with most new dogs, Sassy took her time getting acclimated to our home and to us. She wasn't eating very much and seemed to prefer to rest by herself much of the time. But she slowly started coming out of her shell every day. I was keeping an eye out for puppies. She was definitely doing what I assumed was nesting behavior as seen in the laundry basket picture but false alarm...she was not preggers. When it was time to bring her back to the shelter I didn't want to let her go, I didn't want to lose the chance of having her in my life forever. So I asked if I could officially adopt her, and the kind employees at AWLA agreed!
She is now our new family member and I honestly don't think we could have picked a better match. She loves all people and likes most dogs she meets. Her name from a previous owner was Sassy. At first I didn't think it fit because she always seemed more sweet than Sassy. But as with all dogs, young and old, their true colors come out the more they trust you. Sassy is definitely a complete mix of sugar and spice, and I love that about her. Despite her friendly temperament, we are currently working on leash reactivity towards people and dogs, something I hadn't seen during my 2 weeks of fostering, and her training is progressing beautifully with the use of high value treats. IMHO, training is a very small price to pay when you are gifted a best friend for life. She is our soul match. Not sure if that is a term people use but it feels right to say. She will never take the place of any of my dogs but she has all the qualities that I loved most about each of them: sensitivity, strength, intelligence and warmth. I can't wait to see what the future holds for my little Sassafras!
Dog not responding to training? Try a simpler form of communication.
Have you ever tried to teach your dog something new but no matter how hard you try, she just doesn't seem to get it? Don't worry, you are not alone. The good news is, this very common scenario has nothing to do with how intelligent our dogs are. We just aren't communicating with them in the way they understand best.
Dogs are very eager to learn and please but we confuse them with all of our human verbiage and body language to the point that our original message gets lost in translation. In order to communicate effectively, successful dog trainers use a "marker" followed by treats. A marker is sound that is used to let your dog know when he/she does something you like the moment it happens. When used correctly, in conjunction with treats to reinforce the desired behavior, you will see the behaviors happening more frequently.
Some trainers use a clicker, a little plastic button that makes a clicking noise when you push it down. Trainers like clickers because the noise is short, easily recognizable to the dog and consistent. Clickers are great but in my experience it's not realistic to assume that my clients will remember to bring one every time they leave home with their dog, people, like me, lose them all the time, and some fearful dogs get scared of the noise. So, I find using a marker word, "Yes", just as effective.
Timing is critical because you want to make sure you aren't marking the wrong thing, but most people pick it up quickly. Try bouncing a tennis ball. Every time it hits the ground say "yes". At first, your timing will most likely be off. But as you practice, you will get better and better, especially if someone is giving you a dollar every time you get it right! Same goes for your dog but her paycheck is in the form of yummy treats!
For more info on how to use a marker with your dog, contact me to schedule a session.
Best treats for dog training...
My clients are always asking me for recommendations of the best dog treats to use for training. The answer is dependent on a few different factors but typically, if the thing you are trying to teach your dog is new, needs improvement or is a little challenging, commercial dog treats don't cut it. I like to stick to human food like hot dogs, string cheese, vienna sausages, cheddar cheese, boiled chicken and occasionally tuna fish. The goal is to motivate your dog to learn the new behavior and then repeat the desired behavior. The easiest way to get there is through the use of really yummy food. Need more info on when and how to use these treats? Contact us to schedule a session.