Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dog waste, poop... whatever you call it, it's your duty as a pet owner. (Or would that be doody?)

Walking your dog is one of the most fun and important things that you can do with them. It's a great activity that dogs of all ages can do and best of all - you're both outdoors! It's physical, mentally stimulating and a great way to bond any time of year.

The number of people who share life with dogs has grown substantially -  more than 72 million dogs in the United States alone.

With all of these pets and people in close proximity, there are a few rules of engagement to keep in mind. Good manners on leash is essential, of course as is one other very important thing: picking up after your pooch.

No one likes to see waste on the local trails, on streets or worse yet - on sidewalks. It's just unsightly, not to mention unsanitary. 

With all of the walking that I do, I can attest to the scowls from some people when they see a pooch that I'm accompanying might possibly stop on their lawn. It's understandable, certainly. I see dog waste left behind in very public areas - even in people's front yards - and it's irritating to those who don't have pets, especially.

Besides being the right thing to do, it's a health issue. Diseases can be transmitted to both pets and humans through fecal matter, so cleaning up right away is important.

It's easy to forget to grab a couple of the disposable grocery bags that are commonly used to take care of business, and if you have more than one dog, you need more bags and having ample pockets is a must, or tying them to the leash, as is having free hands to handle the leashes.

My nifty waste bag dispenser
I'm a pro, and see several pups a day for a visit. In the early days of the business there were plenty of times that I realized that I had forgotten a bag. *groan*

Yep, I felt pretty stupid having to return to the scene of the crime to swoop in and retrieve the evidence.

A simple solution solved that problem: a dispenser loaded with biodegradable waste bags attached to a favorite leash.

Yep, I love my dispenser from Bags on Board - the easy-to-load dispenser keeps bags handy, hands free and lightweight. I'm never without my trusty tool, and if I encounter a fellow human who has been a little forgetful, I can quickly offer them a spare bag discreetly.

If you're a dog owner living in Washtenaw County, you should take a minute to leave a comment and share your favorite places to get out for canine adventures.

Then, head over to my Facebook page, click "like" and you could win a new Bags on Board dog waste dispenser of your own. One lucky human's name will be drawn on September 30, 2011.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting  in Dexter Township, MI. She welcomes your contact by email.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Cesar Millan phemomenon: Is there blame to be laid? Where do we go from here?

I'll admit it. As a pet care professional, I am not a fan of "The Dog Whisperer". I cringe when I see the commercials for the show, and the poor dogs being subjected to methods of interaction that are cruel, and even dangerous. Cesar Millan, star of the show and self-professed dog behavior guru offers his methods and advice to millions of people across the country on the National Geographic Channel.

I will say that I do appreciate Millan's emphasis on dog's getting enough exercise and humans being more involved with their pets.

flickr photo courtesy of pmarkham
Alas, Millan relies heavily on the "dominance theory", which is for so many reasons, just backward thinking. In fact, the trainers who get the best results from their client rely on positive reinforcement techniques.

The Alpha roll, stringing up/hanging - all things that Millan is in favor of - are counterproductive, detrimental to actually teaching a canine anything besides, well, aggression (things that in many years past, they were implemented to "root out", or even stop it so to speak).

These tools of negative reinforcement as many readers are used to it being referred to, but is actually punishment, to be accurate, keep us from connecting to a canine, and teaching them self-control.

After all, that is the goal, right? To teach canines self-control so that we can both exist together under the same roof, and with others?

Click here for an interesting video that illustrates some of Millan's handiwork.

I'm a little curious that the dog in question, Shadow, was referred to as being "dominant". What's interesting, is that if you watch early on - although it can be hard to tell what Shadow seems to be feeling - he seems to have more of a "curious" posture when he sees the other dog, as does the other dog. Millan quickly "corrects" Shadow with a noisy check with the leash, gives him a soft rear kick when then seems to instigate defensive behavior from Shadow.

Millan proceeds to choke and physically subdue the pooch, all of which goes on for a few minutes.

My querie is: isn't a defensive reaction to being treated in that way normal?

I would hope so.

This isn't the only episode in which tactics like this are used on dogs, but this is an especially problematic one. So much so, that the American Veterinary Society of Behavior issued a position statement about the type of interaction that you just saw in the video.

I should note that Millan has no formal training or certification in animal behavior. That's not to say that there aren't dynamic, knowledgeable and very talented people out there who don't have certifications and are great trainers, because there are. But animal behaviorists are in a different category.

Now, as I said before, I'm not a fan of The Dog Whisperer. Far from it. And a lot of people feel the way that I do, including seasoned animal behaviorists and trainers.

There is talk that The Dog Whisperer show will not continue in the future, but that remains to be determined. I'll take a stab at it and say it's over money. After all, with Millan's seemingly disarming ability with dogs and their humans, his rags-to-riches story and most of all - his marketability (the market is inundated with his merchandise and endorsements) - he probably feels as though he deserves more. He built an empire on what he does.

The show has done quite well, and it's no secret why. We love dogs. My business clearly demonstrates just the tip of the iceberg: a society of caring, mindful human beings who love sharing their lives with those of the tail-wagging persuasion.

People also want to get a quick-fix, and to get it for free. With so many dogs being welcomed into homes as young pups, and even adult dogs being rescued by willing (albeit that some are ill-equipped to handle a difficult dog) families in our country, the help is needed.

So why not look to the television? It must be real, right? Surely, National Geographic wouldn't put someone that wasn't capable on their channel.

Did I mention that this is television?

In the years that I've been a professional pet sitter and dog walker, I have seen experienced, gentle dog owners who are mindful and intelligent turn to complete novices when it comes to their canines. All because of other people who want to make some money in a field that's all the rage - dog training and animal behavior - by  telling these unsuspecting dog owners that they need to be following the methods that they teach, not what has worked for them in the past.

A lot of negative talk against Millan and his methods are out there. Myself? I'm taking the opportunity that this situation has availed to emphasize why animal behavior problems need to stop being a part of our pop culture and fixing the problems need to go back into the hands of the real professionals.

Since it's already there, why not use the visibility that Millan has given animal behavior to really educate people about how to co-exist with their dogs correctly from the start - and point those who need help in the right direction. (Maybe, just maybe Cesar Millan could be 'rehabilitated', in the process as well.)

After all, if your child was clearly in the same need of help to get over their serious behavioral issues, it wouldn't be acceptable to watch a television show to try and get a handle on things - right?

So why does your dog - a long-term member of your family - deserve any less?

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Township, MI. She is also lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com and writes about pet health, behavior, pet culture and more. Catch her daily adventures or email her directly.