Monthly Archives: December 2013

Choosing a Boarding Kennel

[Note: Recently, I asked my friend and colleague Shalise Keating of A Dog Spot to write about picking a boarding kennel. Here’s what she had to say…]

Sara asked me to share some of my thoughts about picking a boarding kennel.  I have to admit that my dogs have never been to a boarding kennel but I own and operate a boarding kennel of my own.  As I designed the kennel and thought about how I wanted the kennel to be run I always kept in mind what a kennel would have to be like in order for me to feel comfortable having my own dogs stay there.

Layla and Mischief running in the exercise yard at A Dog Spot.

Layla and Mischief running in the exercise yard at A Dog Spot.

If I needed to look for a kennel to board my dogs at I would start looking well before the time I needed to leave my dogs.  Then when I was ready to make vacation plans (or needed to board due to a family emergency), where my dogs would stay would already be taken care of.  Touring kennels with or without your dog along is a good idea.  If you take your dog along be sure to have your vaccination records along and take note if they check your records or not.

I would want to know how many dogs the kennel can take in at one time.  How is your dog going to feel about staying with that many dogs?  Some kennels can house more than 100 dogs at a time.  I have one dog who would think that it was simply grand to hang out with a whole bunch of dogs for a week, but the other two would find 100 dogs to be pretty overwhelming.  If you are traveling over a holiday you can count on boarding kennels being full.

Ask who takes care of the dogs and what kind of experience and training the caregivers have.  Will the same 1 or 2 people care for your dog each day or will they have several different caregivers thoughout their stay?  If they will have multiple caregivers, will your dog be comfortable with that?  Some dogs will be fine with lots of people caring for them and others will not.

Ask how they handle a dog that is not eating well.  Often when dogs are stressed they won’t eat.  How long do they let a dog not eat before trying to do something about it, and then what do they do to encourage them to eat?  How do they keep track of this if you are considering a larger kennel that has several caregivers working?  This is especially important if you have a very small dog or a dog with medical issues who needs to eat.  Even if your dog is a chow hound don’t assume that they will eat right away while being boarded.

Before we opened up for business I would have advised you to ask how much exercise the dogs would get each day.  I would have assumed that if the dogs got enough exercise, they would be tired, and that a tired dog in a boarding kennel would be a happy dog.  After doing this for a few years now I would instead advise you to ask what kinds of things the kennel does to minimize stress for the dogs who stay with them.  The answer is probably pretty complicated, and good exercise may or may not be part of the answer depending on the dog.  A young active dog will benefit from a couple of good sessions of exercise but an older dog might really enjoy sitting on my lap while I answer e-mail.  Keeping stress to a minimum is important and being sure the caregivers have the knowledge to adapt to the needs of different dogs is important.

Ask what a typical day looks like for a dog in boarding.  What time is the first and last chance to go outside to potty?  How many time a day does the dog get out?  Do they get to spend any time outside of their kennel run?

Be sure the kennel is clean.  Clean helps keep the germs away.  It really shouldn’t smell like urine or feces, and if it does, ask about it. Maybe someone had an accident recently.  Kennels should NOT be cleaned with a high pressure washer as that causes germs to become airborne.  It’s okay for kennels to be spayed down with a hose, just not a high pressure washer.  We scrub our kennels down by hand.

Does the kennel require vaccinations? Do they check to be sure that all dogs staying with them are up to date? Which vaccinations are required?  Most kennels are going to be real sticklers about this and require annual vaccinations with no exceptions.  I don’t think that pet owners should be railroaded into having to vaccinate their pets.  We require vaccinations but we are happy to make exceptions on a case by case basis.  Some dogs have had bad reactions to vaccinations and so vaccinating them puts their health at risk. Just have your veterinarian write us a letter explaining the situation.  There is some pretty good evidence that some vaccinations are good for much longer than the recommended 1 year.  Some owners will have a blood test done to check for titers (immunity) for diseases that we vaccinate for and will make vaccination decisions based on titer results.  Even if a dog staying with us has a good reason to not be vaccinated, we still require regular veterinary care to show that the dog is healthy, or is being properly cared for if they have some kind of health issue.  Good air exchange, proper cleaning techniques, and keeping stress levels down can help lessen the chance of diseases being spread in a kennel environment.

[Sara’s note: my dogs are boarded at A Dog Spot, and I always feel comfortable leaving them there. Shalise, Jill, and Sandy are patient when I call everyday for updates, and post pictures of the dogs playing in their large exercise yard. The dogs are happy to see me when I come to pick them up, but aren’t frantic or exhausted for days afterwards as they would be if they were stressed at the kennel.

Do you board your dogs? If so, where do you board them and how did you choose that facility? How do your dogs respond to boarding? Please share in the comments section below!]

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

Photo by Sea Turtle on flickr

Photo by Sea Turtle on flickr

There’s nothing like a good social network to minimize stress.

-Simon Gadbois

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

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“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

– Roald Dahl

What Kind of Dog do you Drive?

Bringing a new dog into your household is a big deal. It’s a long-term commitment that may last fifteen or more years. The type of dog you choose will influence your life in a big way. So why do so many people put less thought into bringing home a dog than they do into purchasing a car?

Photo by Andrew Morrell

Photo by Andrew Morrell

Recently, I invited Kim Brophey to journey to freezing Minnesota for a seminar on her DRIVE program. What if we put the same thought into bringing a dog into our lives that we do into buying a vehicle?

Obviously, dogs aren’t cars. Dogs are individual, sentient beings with unique personalities. Just as you’re not identical to your siblings, one dog from a given breed or group will not be exactly the same as the last one you knew. Asking which breed is the best for you misses the point. However, asking which type of dog would smooth most easily into your life is a very, very good idea.

So, which type of dog should you drive?

Hybrid: the mixed-breed dog is often one of the best options for those new to dog ownership or those who need an uncomplicated family companion. Dogs who are so mixed that their heritage can’t even be guessed at tend to be fairly balanced and healthy. Nature’s a great fixer, and if we give nature a few generations to smooth away the rough edges caused by the small gene pools often found in purebreds, we often end up with wonderful dogs.

Scooter: the scooters of the dog world are the toy dogs bred for companionship. These dogs smooth easily into many different lifestyles. While they tend to idle high, their upkeep is fairly simple and they can be driven by a wide variety of people. They may not be the most practical choice for country life due to the risk of predation, but are otherwise able to thrive in many different environments. It’s harder to get in serious trouble with a scooter simply because of its size.

ATV: like all-terrain vehicles, partner hunters such as the sporting breed dogs are quite easy to drive, as long as you’re willing to take them off-road regularly. As long as their exercise needs are addressed, these dogs tend to be simple for anyone to own. Bred to work closely with their human companions and to look to people for guidance, these dogs are easily trained and cared for.

Dirt Bike: Quick and flexible, able to get into tight spaces and a bit racy, small terriers are much like dirt bikes. Expect to get a bit dirty if you own one, but if you’re ready for the ride you can have a lot of fun. These dogs may require a few lessons to drive appropriately, and they’re certainly not for everyone. If you’re going to be horrified when your dog revs up and kills a small critter or digs up your yard, you may want to look into tamer scooters, which have a similar look without so much need for speed.

Train: hounds are the trains of the dog world… after all, they run on tracks! In all seriousness though, hounds tend to be simple to operate as long as their driver understands that they may take a while to stop once they get up a full head of steam. Sighthounds are the commuter trains of the dog world, while scenthounds are more like freight trains – just a little less polished and a little rougher around the edges.

Cop car: “Where have you been? Do you know how fast you were going? Show me your license!” Owners of herding-breed dogs will be familiar with these cars. Driving a cop car requires that you be able to give your deputy consistent work and instruction, but if you’re up for the task they can be wonderful partners. These dogs crave direction. They’re constantly aware of their surroundings and able to keep tabs on everything going on at all times, so if you have a laid-back personality that doesn’t enjoy that constant state of readiness, you may want to consider a different vehicle.

SWAT car: like a cop car on steroids, working dogs with a military, war, or police background take hypervigilance to a new extreme. These dogs require very consistent direction from a competent leader. Expect them to be suspicious of new people, animals, and things. These aren’t dogs who will be everyone’s friend, and expecting them to love everybody is simply unrealistic. However, if you want a loyal companion who will always have your back, and if you have the time and effort to put into training and socialization, these dogs can be amazing partners.

Tank: you wouldn’t drive a tank to work every day unless you had a very specialized job that required it, and livestock-guarding or other guard breeds are quite similar. A bit too much for a city environment without special considerations, they can be indispensable for flock or property guardianship. These dogs don’t get fired up about much, but when they do they’re ready to do what it takes to defend against the enemy. Tanks are great for experienced drivers who need that level of firepower, noise, and loyalty, but tend to be a poor choice for inexperienced drivers.

Hot rod: sexy and responsive, bully breeds are the hot rods of the dog world. They can function much like a normal car most of the time, but in the right conditions they’ll go 0-60 in mere seconds. Arousal can be a problem for these dogs, and in inexperienced hands that don’t know how to handle such a big engine they could cause accidents. Drivers should understand how to keep their dog away from the starting line and consider lessons in driving such a powerful car.

Dragon: it’s impossible to drive a dragon, and owners of primitive, Nordic, and Asian breeds understand this well. However, if you can form a bond with your dragon, you’re in for the ride of your life. These dogs are smart and capable. In fact, if people all disappeared tomorrow, these are the dogs who would not only survive, but thrive. That said, they’re not a good choice for most people. Dragons are never going to be perfectly obedient, and they don’t tolerate manhandling. They’re likely to use their amazing problem-solving abilities for their own benefit, which may often run counter to your own wishes. If you have a specific destination in mind, there are much easier vehicles available to get you there, but if you’re okay taking the scenic route you and your dragon can go on great journeys together.

So, what kind of dog do you currently drive? What kind of vehicle would be best for you in the future? Do you feel like these descriptions are accurate? Please share in the comments below!

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

Photo by nutmeg66 on flickr

Photo by nutmeg66 on flickr

“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would the world be like without dogs?”

– Mary Oliver, Dog Songs

Leadership 101

We hear a lot about leadership with dogs. But what does that mean, and how important is it to our dogs? Like any social creature, dogs use a variety of signals to navigate day-to-day life, and they look to those they live with to do the same.

Photo by Chris K. Photography

Photo by Chris K. Photography

Traditional advice urges owners to eat first, go through doorways first, alpha roll their dogs, force dogs to walk behind them, and engage in similar behaviors designed to artificially increase their rank in their dogs’ eyes. The message drips with fear (not to mention a healthy dose of paranoia): if you don’t work hard to keep your dog down, he’ll stage a household coup. Dogs are social climbers, we’re told, and if we don’t view every interaction as a contest that we must win, our dogs will take advantage of some perceived weakness and take over.

So here’s the thing: leadership is important to dogs. The vast majority of dogs do best when they feel like someone confident and in control is making responsible decisions for them. But using force doesn’t make you a good leader. It only labels you as weak.

You see, dogs with high status don’t do a lot of jockeying for position. They’re secure in their place, and they just don’t feel the need to butt heads with others.

We do the same thing. The president doesn’t feel the need to make jokes at his assistant’s expense to solidify his political position. The top CEO of your company doesn’t go around reminding middle management that she could fire them at any moment. The principal doesn’t steal the kindergartners’ lunch money to teach them their place. So why do we feel the need to do this with dogs?

Any time we shove in front of our dog at the door, stick our hands in his food bowl just to make sure we can, or haul him behind us on the leash, we’re certainly sending a message. But it’s not the message of calm, confident control a true leader would send. Instead, we’re telling our dog in every way possible that we’re concerned about our status. We’re telling him that we don’t have what it takes to be a great leader, and you can bet that he’s getting that message loud and clear.

The most fighting happens in middle management, whether you’re a person or a dog. If you’re “fighting” your dog for leadership, you’re in essence telling him that you’re middle management rather than the CEO. Is that really the message you want your dog to receive?

So, we know that force certainly isn’t the best way to gain your dog’s compliance and admiration. Your dog isn’t staying up at night plotting to overthrow you. Here’s how you can be the best leader possible.

Frankly, you already have all the tools you need to become a wonderful leader at your disposal. All you have to do is make use of them.

One of our primary advantages over dogs is our ability to use our opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs are like magic to dogs: they can cause door handles to turn, refrigerators to open, and dog treats to appear from sealed packages. They can snap leashes on and off, find just the right spot under the collar to scratch, and operate faucets to refill water bowls. These tasks, and many more, are your ticket to becoming the Grand High Poobah of your household.

You see, great leaders provide for their followers, and dogs intrinsically get this. You’re probably already giving your dog all sorts of wonderful things: fresh water, food, walks, access to the great outdoors, ear rubs, toys, and everything else he needs. To become a great leader, all you have to do is leverage these interactions by asking your dog to say “please” first by performing a simple task (such as sit). Just like with children, “please” will become a magic word for your dog. When he wants anything, simply ask him to sit calmly and look at you first. Voila! Instant leader.

I think Patty Ruzzo said it best. “I don’t know if my dogs respect me or not, but they’re greedy and I have their stuff.” So leverage your dog’s stuff. Stop fighting him. You’ll be amazed at the difference such simple things can make in your relationship.

How do you help your dog to look to you for guidance and leadership? Share your tips, tricks, and stories in the comments below!

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

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“Trust is a powerful thing.”  – Ken Ramirez