Thursday, December 17, 2009

NBC News Update on Polar the Service Dog

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When a paralyzing accident forces you to change how you live, sometimes it takes a four-legged companion to get 'day to day' life back to normal. Service Dogs of Virginia matches people with pooches, but in the recession donations are down.

With a watchful eye and a wagging tail, Polar can open doors or pick up dropped cell phones with a simple command.

"I'd be going down the road and I'd drop my phone," said Luke Morris, who owns a service dog. "And I had to go all the way home, get mom to come get my phone, or I couldn't get the door open and he solves all that. It's so nice."

About a year and a half ago, Luke Morris dove into a river and broke his back. He has limited movement in his arms, and he cannot move his legs. Service Dogs of Virginia, based in Charlottesville, gave Luke a yellow Lab named Polar for only a small placement fee.

"I like it," Morris said. "It's wonderful to be able to have him there and I don't have to worry about anything."

"Every little thing we take for granted, Luke has to think about now," explained Luke's mother, Linda Morris. "Polar can do those things for him."

"We want the dog to make huge difference," Service Dogs of Virginia founder Peggy Law said. "They will be a best friend but also a ticket to independence."

And that ticket is not cheap; it costs the organization about $18,000 to train Labs and Great Danes to be constant companions, guardians and helpers for people in need.

"Certainly the economy has taken its toll on us as a non profit," Law said.

The group relies on donations as well as families willing to foster these pups till they are ready for intense training.

"It's a gift of love to raise a puppy," Law said. "You do have to give them up, then you see a beautiful partnership."

These Pooches are helping people in a simple yet powerful way.

"Luke's had amazing support from friends and family," Linda Morris exclaimed. "Just having the dog there to do things and help and just be a companion is wonderful."

The group trains dogs to help people with mobility problems, diabetes, even children with autism.

Michelle McCarthy, Owner and Director of Training for K9 Home Schooling raised and trained Polar from 10 weeks of age until his return to Service Dogs of Virginia at 16months of age.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Puppy Socialization-Make It A Priority

There is a critical socialization window for puppies, it's birth to 18 weeks. This means you have to make socializing your puppy a top priority. They need to meet and greet ALOT of people, walk in new environments, be exposed to new sights and sounds, meet and play with other puppies and dogs, etc. I encourage people to enroll in a puppy class as soon as your puppy is 10 weeks of age. It's not too early to start training and the socialization gained in class is priceless. If you get a Winter puppy, buy warm clothes and get outside! It's tempting to hide away in your home for a few months until the weather warms, but by doing this you will deprive your puppy of much needed exposure, and you won't get it back after the socialization window closes. Here are some helpful tips to get you started. Walk your puppy in public places everyday, don't restrict your outdoor time to your backyard. Let your puppy meet and greet a variety of people. If you don't have kids in your home, go to places where kids are, parks, friends, neighbors, outside Toys R Us. Go for rides in the car, visit your Vets office and let the staff give your puppy treats. The bottow line is, get creative, have fun, and let your puppy expand his horizons in a safe and positive way.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Future Landscaper!

Is your dog trying to get to China by way of your backyard? Many dogs are diggers much to the dismay of their family. Why do dogs dig? Well there are many reasons, boredome, recreation, hunting and because it's just fun! The good news is there are things you can do to redirect this annoying behavior. First, provide your dog with a 'digging pit'. This is an area specially designed for your dog or puppy to dig in. It can be a kiddie pool filled with sand or a sectioned off area of your yard. You can bury some of his favorite toys or bones. If Fido wonders off to another area of your yard, you can quickly lead him back to his digging pit and reward him for digging in the appropriate area.

If you have a dog prone to digging, you need to provide adequate supervision. This means, don't put Fido in the yard alone, he will quickly become bored and you got it, START DIGGING! Provide your dog with appropriate toys outside, this will help deter digging out of boredom. I recommend using food dispensing toys, they are interactive, require brain power, and keep your dog entertained and less likely to dig out of boredom.

Play with your dog outside, they will be less likely to dig if someone is tossing a ball or throwing a frisbie. There are few dogs that enjoy just hanging out in the backyard alone, keep them busy!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Caring For Your Senior Dog

At what age does a dog become a "Senior"? Is it when their muzzle starts to gray? When they slow down? This is a common question. The typical dog begins to enter Senior Status around age 8 or 9. You may notice subtle changes such as graying, more naps throughout the day and arthritic changes that cause soreness or lameness. To help your dog make the most of their golden years a healthy lifestyle is very important. An active dog is not only healthy but happy. Whether it's a fun game of fetch, a walk in the park, or a swim in the lake, keep your dog active.  You can  teach an old dog new tricks so teach them a new skill or trick just for fun.  Speak with your Veterinarian about the best food for your dog, espescially those that include joint suppliments. The senior years can often lead to weight gain which puts added stress on the joints, so keep their weight down through diet and exercise. Keep up on regular grooming and do monthly exams to detect any physical changes in skin or abnormal growths. And most important enjoy this time with your dog. We all remember when they were wild crazy puppies and longed for the day that Fido would settle down. Well that day has arrived so ENJOY!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When play turns rough

Have you ever watched dogs play and wondered if it's getting too rough? When does it turn from play to fighting? Well it can happen in the blink of an eye. What starts out as innocent play can quicly escalate into fighting.

Dogs need playtime with other dogs but we need to be aware of problematic behavior to avoid injury. Watch for an even give and take in play. If one dog seems to be getting ganged up on then break up the play session until things settle down. Not all dogs are good playmates or are well suited with certain dogs. It's important to pick playmates for your dog that have a solid socialzation history and good play skills. Have regular breaks in play to allow the dogs to take a break and settle down. ALWAYS supervise dog play, never leave a group of dogs alone to play.

If any of the dogs has a history of resource guarding do not allow toys or food in the play area. Limit your group to 4 or 5 dogs to keep things manageable and safe. To prevent collar grabbing/strangling remove collars from all dogs before allowing them to play. By following some of these simple suggestings you can provide a safe and fun play environment for your dog.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Keeping Training Fun!

Yes it is possible to have fun while training your dog. Whether I'm teaching a group class or working with a famiy one-on-one, I always encourage people to have fun! Start by setting realistic training goals for you and your dog. Most people feel overwhelmed because they expect their puppy or untrained adult dog to be 'perfect' after a few weeks of training. The process of training a dog takes time, it's a marathon not a sprint. It's best to set achievable goals and gradually add more skills as your puppy/dog progresses. Keep your training sessions short and sweet, don't have long grueling training sessions, it's not good for you or your dog. Incorporate play and games like fetch or hide and seek into your training. Train in a variety of locations to keep things interesting and ask friends and thier dogs to join you. Some of the nicest people I know are people I've met at dog class so connect with other dog people and let your dogs play. We all want a well trained dog but try not to make it feel too much like a job, have fun!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Are two better than one?

I am often asked the question, Are two dogs better than one? My response is, "that all depends". There are many things to take into consideration before you add a 2nd dog to you family. First, does your current dog like other dogs? Have they been well socialized with other dogs? We often think that all dogs LOVE other dogs, need a constant playmate, long for 24/7 canine companionship, this is just not true. Some dogs are quite happy being the only dog in your home and find the addition of a puppy or adult dog very stressful. This can lead to fighting and potentially dangerous situations. Secondly, you need to consider the added expense of having a 2nd dog. This includes food, Vet care, equipment, boarding, etc. And lastly, do you have the time to train and exercise a 2nd dog. Too often people get a 2nd dog and think that the older dog somehow trains the new dog, again this is not true. You will need to supervise playtime, exercise and train both dogs and provide a safe environment for the dogs to live in.

Now with that said, don't think I am opposed to multi dog homes, I've had one for years. I enjoy having multiple dogs and can't imagine living any other way. I do however have the time and desire to meet their needs and provide a safe healthy environment for them to live in. There is nothing cuter than seeing the boys cuddeled up together sleeping in their doggie bed. We enjoy watching them run and play together, it's better than TV! They love to ride in the car together, take walks, visit other friends dogs and always welcome new dogs into our home. Leo, who will be 8 in January has welcomed over 10 puppies into our home over the years and is an awesome mentor. Issac will be 2 in January and clearly enjoys having a housemate.

The majority of my dogs have done well in a 'group home' but some did not and I had to make the difficult decision to rehome them. The daily stress of having another dog in their space or wanting to play, just does not sit well with every dog.

If you're thinking of getting a 2nd dog, try having a friends dog spend a weekend with you first. This will give you an idea of your dogs interest in having another family member. You'll know fairly quickly how things are going to go. And of course when it doubt speak to a professional!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Leo makes a special appearance at Chelsea Hospital

Today Leo and I made a special visit to Chelsea Community Hospital. We have been making visits for over 5 years but earlier this year I had to make the decision to retire Leo due to a chronic health problem. Thankfully Leo has been doing well the past few months so we agreed to cover for an absent Therapy Dog. As always the staff and patients were thrilled to see him and he always enjoys being the center of attention. So many of the patients have dogs of their own and really enjoyed spending time with Leo. After his busy morning, Leo was happy to come home and take his afternoon nap.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Teaching an old dog new tricks!

Yes it can be done, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I've found over the years that even my senior dogs enjoy learning new skills. We tend to think that training is just for puppies, but even older dogs benefit from learning new skills. It keeps them sharp and they can be easier to teach because they are more focused than younger dogs and puppies. Leo my 8 year old Lab loves to learn and has always amazed me at how quickly he can learn new skills/tricks. Today we are going to work on teaching him to pull laundry baskets for me. Having just had my 2nd shoulder surgery in 8 months I could use all the help I can get.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Playtime for the Doggies

Heading out later today to meet some friends to let our dogs have some much needed playtime. I've learned over the years that a happy dog is a tired dog and finding good playmates for my dogs is not always easy. From the day I bring my puppies home I seek out good playmates for them. It helps that I know ALOT of people with dogs :)