My dog is a poltergeist

Late Saturday night, I was up watching Ghost Hunters and drinking a cup of tea. I didn’t really taste the tea, as I was too busy getting goosebumps from watching that show (in the dark, naturally). I was so into it that at first the sound didn’t register.

The second time it happened – the subtle whirrrrrr-click! – of one of the kitchen drawers opening, my goosebumps suddenly went into overdrive. I believe I may have even had them on my forehead. True story.

I thought, oh, maybe I didn’t close it. I WAS rummaging around for a pen earlier. So I went into the (darkened) kitchen.

And promptly slammed my shin right into an open drawer. I may or may not have said several colorful expressions loudly.

I forgot my fear in a haze of pain and anger (at the drawer) and closed it. I checked the refrigerator to make sure it was closed (as when it isn’t closed the fan tends to make a similar whirrrr-click!) and went back to the show.

Ten minutes later, right when the Ghost Hunters were playing the ‘evidence’…. whirrrrr-click!

Then again, right after it… whirrrr-click!

Damn fridge, I thought. I stomped back into the kitchen, slightly more carefully than before, and turned on the light.

Four drawers, including the one I’d just closed, were open. Hair I didn’t know existed suddenly stood up in alarm. Then, from the living room, a resounding crash of my coffee cup falling onto the floor.

Oh god, was my instantaneous thought, poltergeist!

I held perfectly still, my instinctual motion when I am surprised by something and am trying to remember if I even have any holy water anymore (lapsed Catholic, you know…). If I make a make-shift cross out of a pair of breadsticks, will this make the evil thing go away?

Then, a sudden snort of air right at the back of my knees.

The oven, previously unfamiliar with my back-side, suddenly became much more acquainted with that part of me. A small part of my brain was congratulating myself on my ninja-like moves even as the rest of it panicked and I stared around in fright…

To Bean, standing by the kitchen doorway, with the approximate look of “What the hell?” on her face.

“Bean, I think we have a problem,” I whispered from the uncomfortable coziness under the range hood.

Bean went over to a drawer while I was preoccupied trying to find the silver in the drawer that was conveniently placed to my right. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move.

She somehow hooked one of her canines behind the drawer-front, and with a flick of her head, opened the drawer. And proceeded to rummage through it. Finding nothing, she apparently decided that sweetened tea was more her style and went back into the living room, where I could see her lapping at the tea she had obviously spilled.

Yes, there were many confusing emotions in that moment, “what the hell” being the most prominent. But there is one indisputable truth.

That ghost problem I thought I had… well, my dog is apparently half-poltergeist.

A crazy, furry poltergeist that lurks in the dark and opens drawers

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An obsession with pet nutrition

One of my research passions in life is pet nutrition. I love reading about it, and I read countless articles and books specifically on it. I don’t know why, but I have an unending appetite (har har) for any research on dog food.

It began when my chow, Rollo, had a seizure. After a round of vet visits, the vet found that her liver and kidneys had suddenly started to fail. She had just been in for a health check-up, and everything seemed fine – she was eating fine, her stool was fine, she wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms of sickness – then boom, three weeks later, seizure and organ failure. The vet asked what I was feeding her, I blinked and told him I had just opened a new bag of dog food.

The next day, I found out that the dog food had been recalled for melamine. I had never been more sorry in my life that I hadn’t ever actually looked in to what I was feeding her. The next year and a half was a slow decline for Rollo. The vet had been able to stabilize her liver somewhat for awhile, but after about ten months, the inevitable end was coming into view. She hung on for awhile, but never recovered from that initial sickness. After another few months, my decision became clear. It was the saddest day of my life, thus far, when I had to put my companion of 13 years to her final sleep.

I had started doing some research on pet food before she passed away, and had initially been shocked that most dog foods contained a majority of corn, and that this wasn’t good for dogs. After all – it’s what my vet sold. In fact, he had specifically warned me against feeding her a raw or home-made diet because it could make her condition worse – so I didn’t. I thought that Iams and the ‘Healthy, Natural’ food I was feeding her was fine.

In doing additional research, I found that many vets just aren’t taught about nutrition. Admittedly, I don’t know if recent changes and new research have improved this any, but it was kind of amazing. We’re taught that nutrition is one of the key points for preventing serious diseases as humans – why would it be any different for a dog, a cat, or a gerbil? And why would my vet recommend a corn-based diet for my dog?

Regardless of the motivation, the seed had been planted. I began reading everything I could get my hands on and was completely grossed out by what can actually be found in pet food – diseased, dying, disabled animals (use of these in human food is banned), a million different preservatives, a warning against mixing water with dry food because it can make the bacteria that is in pet food thrive and make your pet sick, unborn fetuses in the slaughtered animals – and horrified to find that though pet food companies were re-branding themselves as ‘safe’, ‘holistic’, and ‘healthy’, in reality, the food was anything but.

It was an eye-opener, to say the least. I used many, many sources to form my opinions – from books written by veterinarians to independent research to online articles – and all of them basically pointed to the fact that major pet food companies don’t always make a great product – in fact, some of them make a product that will make your pet sick, whether it be tomorrow or a year from now. Sometimes, the bigger the advertising budget, the worse the food is for your pet.

So what SHOULD pets be fed? My obvious choice would be a thoroughly researched raw diet, though it’s not nearly as convenient as kibble. Second to that, a home-cooked diet. Third to that (which, to be honest, I feed the dogs right now) a well-researched kibble, supplemented with human-grade foods.

Yes, it costs more, but the proof of feeding a better diet is amazing: Sam’s coat is gleaming and soft, their breath doesn’t smell as much, they don’t have a ‘doggy odor’, both of them are lively (even Sam, who’s getting up there in age). Sam has lost weight on a better diet, and Bean has maintained a healthy weight. If you’ve always fed your dogs a lower-grade food and make the switch to a better diet, the difference is truly amazing.

Where do I find the information? Pet nutrition info can be found many different places, and I’m working on a review of several books on the subject. However, if you need info RIGHT NOW because you’re interested in changing the way you feed your pets, I can point you to two good sources:

1. Dog Food Analysis. You can search for your current food and research the analysis given by a small group of individuals who have researched pet nutrition. Each food is given one review, a breakdown of the product, and a recommendation, from one (poor) to six (great) stars.

2. The Dog Food Project.  Another independent website that lists a lot of very helpful information about pet food. There is a list of foods to avoid, product groups, and many useful and informative articles about dog nutrition. The nutrition primer is very helpful if this is your first foray into dog nutrition.

I know this won’t endear me to many people, but I feel it needs to be said: research what you feed your dog. It’s not easy, and there’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but finding info to give them a better diet won’t just improve their coat and make them more spry. It may be the difference between life and death.

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“The Dog Whisperer”

Normally I do not watch “The Dog Whisperer”, but sometimes I get unwittingly sucked into an episode. One episode was about a dog that was fearful around strange people, and I wanted to watch it from a critical standpoint to see how it was handled.

All in all, I liked the methods he used. Socialization of dogs is a very critical step to take when they are puppies, so critical it led the AVSAB to issue a position statement on the issue approving socialization and experiences with new people and places very early in a puppy’s life. Unfortunately, this dog either had limited or bad experiences in socialization and had a lot of fear responses to new people and stimuli. Cesar took the dog to his “Dog Psychology Center” and let the dog socialize for an extended period of time with other dogs, as well as undergoing some additional socialization training. It was obvious this helped the dog, and Cesar also helped the family adopt another dog with a similar energy level so the fearful dog would stay socialized. A good step, I think, as in my experience dogs almost always do better with other dogs in the household. The dog seemed to feel better and enjoyed his new companion.

However, it was the second part of the episode that made me change the channel.

Cesar was dealing with a Jack Russell Terrier that was aggressive towards motorcycles, and anytime the JRT’s owners started up their motorcycles, the dog would bite and chase. Cesar put the dog on a prong collar and took the him out to the family’s garage to the motorcycle. Without barely any hesitation at all, Cesar starts the motorcycle and the dog goes mad. His response is to lift the leash up and let the dog spin at the end of the leash, not allowing the dog near the motorcycle, until the dog screams in fear and pain.

I wish I could find a clip of this because it was so inhumane it was almost shocking, and it was definitely heartbreaking.

So the dog, panting, subsides at the end of the leash, shaking in fear. Cesar explains this as “We have stopped the aggressive response and so that’s why he yelped like that. When you cut short an aggressive response you get that quivering that he’s doing.”

Oh really.

First of all, it should be obvious to anyone that the reason the dog screamed was because of pain and fear (after all, if a stranger shoved you in a prong collar and then hung you from the end of a leash, you wouldn’t be afraid at all, would you?). It looked like perhaps the jerking upward motion Cesar was employing may have caused the dog to bite his tongue. Either way, it looked very painful. And of course it ‘worked’ – the dog was too busy recovering his breath and being afraid to get feisty over the motorcycle.

I had to turn it off at this point. I agree with Cesar that dogs need exercise, they need consistent training, and they need to be socialized. I do NOT think that putting a dog in a painful or scary situation will ‘fix’ them (if it did, we wouldn’t see so many animals in shelters with severe aversion and fear issues, would we?), or trying to ‘dominate’ them will do any good.

I got to thinking about how I’d handle a situation like that, where the dog was obviously very keyed up over a certain subject. Here’s what I’d do:

Using a clicker and treats (NO choke chains or prong collars), teach the dog the “Look At That!” game. It’s a simple game, and can be employed in a number of situations where the dog fixates on a specific animal or object. You play it by telling the dog to “Look At That!”, pointing to the object. You are a very far way away from whatever they might fixate on so that the object of the game is to look at that object, but you can still easily get the dog’s attention because it’s so far away. Then, using a high-value treat, get the dog’s attention back to you (best accomplished if you can tell the dog to sit, lie down, or ‘watch’ you reliably). Click and reward for the dog paying attention to you and no longer paying attention to the object.

Of course, in subsequent sessions, you get closer to the object in question – the motorcycle – and continue to reward for the dog’s attention being on you (if the dog will not stop fixating on the object, move back to a safer distance and try again). You may even choose to desensitize the dog by playing a CD of motorcycle sounds in your home and rewarding for calm or no response. The whole key of this is to desensitize and familiarize the dog with the motorcycle, so it becomes a non-issue.

I had a similar issue with my dog, Bean, and the cat. She was very much interested in taking a nibble of the cat when I brought her home, and so I employed a similar ‘game’ to help desensitize her to the cat’s presence (it helps that my cat is the least aggressive cat I’ve ever known – she only wanted to rub up against Bean and be friends). “Look at the cat!” and rewarding for a calm response/looking back to me was helpful, but even more helpful was having another dog (Sam) that didn’t react at all when the cat was around. Dogs learn a lot from each other, and having an ‘established dog’ in the household was incredibly helpful. Bean picked up many behaviors from observing Sam, including ignoring the cat. Between a combination of the two, Bean got over her cat-interest within a couple of months and will now sleep happily on the couch with the cat.

The point of this training is to desensitize and normalize the subject with the dog, to where the dog becomes a willing participant. It takes much more patience and time and isn’t as dramatic, of course, but you end up with a dog that is happy and reacting normally around whatever they used to fixate on. Dogs trained this way don’t have any of the issues of a dog trained using ‘dominance theory’ (which is what Cesar employs).

There are many other tactics for helping a dog get over fear and aggression issues (usually the two are linked in some way), but I can say with confidence I have never seen a dog trained the way Cesar was training the JRT as having been ‘successfully trained’. In fact, I would be surprised if the dog acted normally around motorcycles, or its owners (should they employ the same tactics) from that point forward, or didn’t have a negative association with the prong collar or strangers.

The methods Cesar uses sometimes make sense – like exercise, attention and love for good behavior, providing a stable household for the dog, and consistently training the dog – but more often, I wonder what they DON’T show. Do they show the other issues the dog may have had as a result of their ‘training’? The follow up is always mellow, where owners smile and say that the dog was ‘cured’, which makes for good viewing. I suppose there’s a reason that National Geographic always tells you to ‘not try these methods at home without consulting a professional dog trainer’… hopefully no professional dog trainer would recommend these methods, ever.

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Wanna Help Some Dogs?

We all like to help, but most people have a hard time leaving their city/country/dayjob/children behind (like me! I would totally go to the Amazon on a spay/neuter mission… except my dogs couldn’t come with and that would be way sad for everyone involved). So what CAN you do? Here’s three ways you can help this week:

1. American Dog Rescue needs “Likes” on Facebook! 

They’ve been blessed with a generous donor who will donate $1 for each Facebook “like” to Missouri animal tornado victims that were injured or displaced by the May tornadoes in Joplin, MO. As soon as they reach 10,000 “likes”, they’ll get $10,000. Wanna help? Here’s a link to their page.


American Dog Rescue "Help Find Me!" Poster

found via: 4theloveofanimals Blog.

2. Write a post, help a dog 2011 – Pedigree Dog Food (end date: Sept. 3)

Most of us don’t need encouragement to write blog posts, but in case you do, here’s a stellar cause: For each blog post mentioning the Pedigree foundation from now until midnight ET on September 3, Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of its new dry dog food to a shelter. Here’s the details:

Simply spread the word about Write a Post, Help a Dog 2011 and once again Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of food for each blogger’s post.  Here’s all you need to include in your post:

  • The Write a Post, Help a Dog program is aimed at raising awareness and food for the more than four million dogs that wind up in shelters and breed rescues each year.
  • For each blog post mentioning the Pedigree Foundation from now until midnight ET on September 3, Pedigree will donate 20 pounds of its new dry Pedigree recipe food for dogs — its best recipe ever — to a shelter, because every dog deserves leading nutrition.
  • The Pedigree Foundation — a 501 (C)(3) nonprofit organization is committed to helping dogs by providing grants to shelters and rescues and encouraging dog adoption. This year the Foundation has already raised more than $376,570 against its goal of $1.5 million to carry out its work to fund grants that not only help shelters operate, but to further shelter innovations.

Pedigree BlogPaws Postcard

There are also other ways you can help at this blog. (Found via ToDogWithLove)

Last but not least:

3. Help Save Zabora the Elderbull!  (raffle end-date: Sept 5)

Zabora the Elderbull

Zabora is an elderly pitbull who is currently recovering from a ruptured blood clot after her spay operation. She also has mild arthritis and treatable conjunctivitis, in addition to being infected with a serious case of cuteness (no known cure for that, only treated by cuddles and love). Love and a Six Foot Leash is trying to get the funds together to help Zabora and donate some money for her care to the family that adopts her. Their deadline is September 5th. Have a few bucks you can throw at a pibble-related cause? Go to Zabora’s page at ChipIn, or you can also enter the raffle for a bunch of pretty sweet stuff at the blog.


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The (New and Improved) Most Evil Thing Ever

Sometimes, you don’t know what sets a dog off. It’s one of the things that makes me wish they could talk and tell me what’s wrong.
I’ve been working with Bean on the tippy board, to ready her for progressing to a teeter in agility. She’s done fine with the board, even when I raise the height of it. She’d even get halfway on the small teeter in class, and get on the tippy board by herself and walk around at home. And last night, she went without pause onto a piece of the dog-walk that had been laid out for warm-up practice, which is similar to a long, narrow tippy board.
And freaked out.
I don’t know if it was the weird noise or the narrowness of it, but suddenly it was the Most Evil Thing Ever. She wouldn’t go near it, or even the regular tippy board. We were back at square one.
I had a feeling that somewhere in our agility career something like that would happen, and I’m okay with that. It’s hard to say why a dog will suddenly freak out and refuse to have anything to do with an obstacle, and there’s nothing for it but to take a deep breath and move on.
It’s different with every dog, but Bean tends to regress suddenly and without warning, and I have to work up from Square One again. Usually, the second ‘learning’ process is rapid, when she realizes that it’s not the Most Evil Thing Ever (for a long time, the chute was one of the Most Evil Things Ever, and I suppose now that she’s all about going through the chute by herself, she had to find a new Most Evil Thing Ever). Bean is especially prone to sudden uncertainty and fear, which is something we’ve been working through. Agility has given her much more confidence and certainty about herself, but as last night proved, we still have a ways to go.
When we learned the A-frame, it was much the same kind of problem. It was scary, even the tiny A-frame for practice. When we got to the big A-frame, she looked at me like I asked her to climb Mount Everest. Now, however, it’s one of the Best Things ever, and she’ll go up and down endlessly if I let her.
For awhile after that, we just worked on getting close to the tippy board again. Pawing it. Putting her paw on it. Making it move. Putting her weight on it. It goes very fast with the clicker, because she knows what the clicker means, but this time I’m going to go slower, make sure she’s comfortable with each tiny step before we move on.
That’s how things sometimes go with training. You think it’s all good, and then the dog regresses, sometimes suddenly. While it’s kind of frustrating, you can’t blame the dog for it. I could come up with 10 reasons easily why Bean regressed, but does it matter? Not really. What matters is next time, I need to do a better job as her teacher to show her it’s ok, and if we need to spend weeks working up to it because that’s her pace, that’s what we’ll do. I have confidence that she’ll love the teeter as much as she loves running the other obstacles, once we get past her uncertainty about it.
In the interim, this currently sums up her feelings about the teeter:
(Want to buy this shirt for your teeter-hating pup? You can find it at Zazzle!)
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A little housekeeping

Doggerelle is now River City Mutts!

Reflecting on everything I learned at BlogPaws and, you know, a little embarrassed I had to actually spell out my blog name about a hundred times (“Doggerel? Dogger what?”), I’ve changed it to the infinitely more descriptive “River City Mutts”. Because that’s what we are, and where we’re based.

Also, you can now like us on Facebook or sign up for e-mail subscription! I know, how exciting is technology?

And since we’re getting into fall (and I couldn’t leave this post without a place-holder), my dearly departed pup Rollo, after an exciting romp in the swamp:

Happy Tuesday!

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Dogs Deserve Better moves to Smithfield, VA!

No one in Richmond, Virginia is a stranger to the Michael Vick case. His treatment of pitbulls and creation of Bad Newz Kennels near the Richmond metro area, and the subsequent heartbreaking investigation into dogfighting horrified many people in Richmond and throughout the country, especially the rescue community. The state seized Michael Vick’s assets, including his home and the surrounding areas.

Now, Dogs Deserve Better, a rescue organization from Pennsylvania, has bought the property and is in the process of moving in.

Their name of the property says it all: Good Newz Rehab Center for Chained and Penned Dogs.

Can you think of anything better? I can’t. This is a huge step in the right direction, and I hope they will bring their additional positive influence to Virginia’s already strong animal rescue community.  Congratulations, Dogs Deserve Better!


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