Monthly Archives: November 2011

Willie Nelson Says “No” to Breed Specific Legislation



Follow this link to see more about how singer Willie Nelson came to the aid of Best Friends Animal Society.


Quote from Willie:


“There are countless dogs deemed ‘pit bulls’ but actually are of unknown heritage who make wonderful family pets,” Willie Nelson writes. “Dogs, like people, are individuals and should each be judged on his/her own merits.”




This image was taken from

On a crisp, fall evening Nala and I got in the car and drove to Petsmart, her head hanging out the window the entire way, anticipating the possibilities of the fast moving world. I was anticipating as well, the possibilities of a perfectly behaved pooch.

Two weeks prior I had waltzed into Petsmart with a coupon for ten dollars off any training class. The clerk at the counter was nice enough to show me the information about the classes: Puppy, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Click-a-trick, Private, and Personal Training Camp. According to the clerk, Nala would fit in the Beginner.



Beginner Education

Specifically tailored for puppies over 5 months and adult dogs that have had no previous training.

Certificate of completion earned.

Course length: 6 weeks.

Key topics include:

Simple cues, such as sit, come, down and others

Problem solving

House manners

Canine health, grooming and nutrition

Relationship-forming games

It seemed a little juvenile. I didn’t see Nala fitting into the “had no previous training” group. She is so good at home. She can sit, stay, come, lie down, back up, shake and roll over. But the key words there are “at home.” Out in the world she’s a different dog. A leaf in the wind can interrupt her attention and cause her to bolt across the yard at a speed that no amount of “come” or “stay” will stop.

“She knows some basic commands,” I said to myself more than the clerk. “Maybe she should start in the Intermediate.”

“We’d like the new ones to start with Beginner.” I was about to protest with something like, sure you do, so I have to pay for more classes, when I had visions of Nala acting as a furry tornado in a room full of well behaved dogs. Then I would be kicked out, like in Marley and Me, and be too embarrassed to come back at a later date for the more appropriate Beginner course.

“You’ll like Brad,” the clerk was saying. “He just transferred here and he’s really good. He trains the trainers.”

With a sigh, I gave her my coupon, $100, and signed up, reluctantly for Beginner dog training classes at Petsmart.

I was reluctant not only because I wanted to believe Nala was beyond a Beginner, but also because, for the first time, I was signing up for a pet training class, something I always believed to be for people that have never had a pet. Or, in general, people that either didn’t know what the hell they were doing and were in the process of ruining their dogs, or for the extremely advanced dogs that were training for some sort of agility contest. For a teacher, someone always looking for new information, it is surprising how resistant I was to this learning opportunity. Maybe part of it was the cost. It is not uncommon that my cheapness trumps my need to further my bank of useless knowledge.

Or maybe it was more than that.

But two weeks later I found myself looking forward to the experience as I drove across town. I imagined some kind of open arena where somewhat well-behaved dogs and puppies were looking attentively at their owners while a man stood in the middle calmly giving instructions.

Plus, the possibility of seeing puppies is never a bad thing.

The Reality:

We were shown to the doggie day camp (day care) room, which is open via a glass wall to the rest of the store. I have stood on the store side many times, watching the dogs in daycare play and sometimes pee on the floor (promptly mopped up by a doggie sitter). The room is not much larger than 20 by 20 and, naturally, smells a little like pee. The addition for training class was small stools surrounding the perimeter.

Nala and I were the second to arrive. Preceding us were two women, each with a puppy, but it was clear they were together. I was greeted by a man about my age, slim, and somehow Zen in his demeanor. He greeted Nala and she attempted to crawl up on his lap.

We were soon joined by Moxy, a boxer mix puppy, Walter, an older, recently rescued white dog (maybe a Maltese or Schnauzer?), and Ace the extremely excited Boxer. Of course Nala found each dog equally interesting and worthy of play. I held her tight by the collar as she whined and attempted to escape over and over. But I was relieved to note that she was not the only rowdy child in the group. Moxy was a barker (specifically at Ace) and Ace was beside himself, tugging on his owner’s leash, rolling around on the floor while simultaneously whining and barking. Confinement is obviously not his thing. I did not envy Brad, talking over moving, barking dogs and attempting to maintain the attention of preoccupied and sometimes frustrated owners.

After all dogs were greeted, and human introductions completed, Brad started some demonstrations. He used the very wiggly Ace, who promptly stopped jumping up simply because Brad ignored him, and within moments was on the way to “sit.” Good start.

Then came the clicker, a little piece of blue plastic that is meant to make all the difference. “Click” good dog. “Click” thank you. Nala seemed to like it, and is responding to it well at home. It is the ah ha moment for the dog. Hear that click and they know exactly what it is they did correctly. No guess work. That is, as long as the holder of the great and powerful clicker is using it correctly.

Brad gave a kind of clicker lecture. As impatient humans, we might be tempted to use it at inappropriate times and, therefore, confuse our dogs. Brad was training us. In fact, the majority of the class was like this. If you don’t have well trained humans, you don’t have people capable of training dogs.


This is exactly why I had an issue with doggie classes. It had nothing to do with wanting Nala to be more trained than she is. It was my own ignorance or lack of skill that I had difficulty admitting.

I grew up watching my red-headed father training bird dogs in his vast back yard or in the back yards of friends. The training would continue in the tall grasses of the fields. During these sessions I was trained as well. He would narrate what he was doing and why, discuss how dogs think, and what we wanted from them. I knew how to train dogs.

But the fact is that Nala is not a bird dog and some of the techniques that worked on those labs and pointers were not working on her. She was either too meek or simply uninterested. I needed to learn a new way to teach my dog. I needed to be retrained

I started with books, Ceaser Millan, The Mini Encyclopedia of Dog Training.  Then I watched some videos and reviews of products on-line. I was doing research because that is how I know how to learn. But it wasn’t enough. Training a dog is not learning everything there is to know about Chinese foot binding, or how to play the guitar, there is another mind involved, an excited, young mind, therefore, to really learn, I needed to go beyond the solitary learning experience. I should have known better. I am the first one to preach about collaborative learning and the importance of learning communities among teachers when sitting in a meeting or the lounge. If I was going to learn how to teach this new, four-legged child, I needed to see what other teachers did.

Of course I didn’t realize that this was what I was doing until that click in the class.  And if it took me this long to realize this, as a teacher, it’s no wonder so many others believe themselves capable of training without training.

I can’t help but wonder if all those dogs that Nala and I see on our morning walks, tied to tired doghouses or in small, tarp-covered kennels, barking desperately as we stroll by, would maybe be inside, resting at the foot of a bed or with their backs against a warm radiator (which is what Nala is doing at this very moment) if their human had taken the time to take them to classes. Perhaps then the dog wouldn’t have chewed up that child’s toy or taken that food off the counter that landed them in their outdoor quarters.

Sure, $109 isn’t cheap. But there are other options. Local shelters provide some classes for free. My local shelter offers 50% off their $90 fee for all Pit Bulls and Pit mixes, for example.  The first class for puppies is free. But really, if we feel we can pay an adoption fee and fork out money for food on a monthly bases, is an additional bill really that much to ask?

We preach rescue. Don’t buy from a breeder, rescue. But what kind of rescue is a dirty kennel or a packed dirt circle around an uninsulated doghouse?

I’m not the perfect dog owner, that’s for sure. I make constant mistakes, and those are just the ones I’m aware of, but I am on the journey to realizing what I don’t know. Lesson one: put ego aside and ask for help.

More information on Petsmart training? Click here.



Product: Poochie Bells

Image taken from Poochie Bells website

Claim: Train your dog to ring the bells to alert you that it needs to go outside. Easy way to house train a dog.

There is training help via written instructions with each set of bells and more details on the product website.

Where to Buy: On-line via Amazon, E-bay… you get the idea. I purchased mine at a mall kiosk. The above website has places where you can purchase by state. Very nice.

Price: $15.95 on Amazon. I purchased mine for around $13.00.

Did it Work?: In short: yes.

Details: They worked a little too well. After showing Nala how to ring the bells twice,  a monster was born. Every time there is a squirrel or rabbit outside, ring ring! Whenever she’s sick of the apartment and wants some new scenery, ring ring! So she is very clear what they mean… outside.

I have read some on-line reviews that claim the reviewers’ dogs don’t like them, or can’t get the idea. Every dog is different. Nala catches on to most things very quickly so we had luck fast. Plus, she was over eight months old when she learned to use them, not a 12 week old puppy. I’m sure a puppy needs some more time.

Is it a Keeper?: Still hanging by the back door. Sure, the user sometimes abuses them, but I can’t see her by the back door when she wants out, so they have become a slightly annoying necessity.

Beer Drinkin’ Chili Eatin’ Dogs


Minn, my grandparents’ dog, loved chili. It was her favorite meal. Second favorite: corn on the cob, which, yes, she would hold upright in her tiny paws and nibble until every kernel was gone. Ridiculously adorable. “The only thing she didn’t like was mushrooms,” my grandmother reports.

Minn lived to be 12. For every one of the days that made up those years, she ate whatever my grandmother prepared for dinner for herself and her family. Not one kibble of dog food entered that house.

I can’t begin to image the repercussions of giving Nala a heaping bowl of chili. I’m sure that within the hour my pretty aqua paint would be peeling off the walls and my eyes would be watering. At least that’s what I imagine. But this is not to say that Nala has never had ‘people food.’ In fact, most of her diet is made up of ‘people food.’ She eats Sojourner Farms, a grain base that is mixed with raw or cooked meat (she gets raw) and whatever else the human-feeder is inclined to add. When I have leftover fruits and vegetables, in to the mix they go. On top of that, puppy vitamins. This was the same diet Miko, my previous dog, received for most of her 12 years. I would like to think that this somewhat natural diet is why at such an age she had no signs of arthritis, or problems of any kind. She did, eventually develop a tumor that took over her abdomen. But as my grandmother, the one that had Minn, says, “We all have to die of something.” But perhaps the food had nothing to do with her fantastic health. Maybe because she was a mix she had fewer problems. Who’s to say?

But many would disagree with such blasphemy as giving a dog ‘people food,’ especially as the main part of its diet. Some might claim it creates table begging, or, worse, that the food is simply bad for them, even life-threatening.

On the Today Show website Sloan Barnett reports “’People foods’ that can kill your pet.” Of course we want to treat our dogs, she introduces, but are we really hurting them more than helping?

Food Danger for Doggie #1: Avocados

Okay… I’m not sure how many people, or dogs for that matter, consider avocados a treat for an animal, but this seems doable.

Food Danger for Doggie #2: Beer

According to Barnett, or whoever her sources are (they are not listed), beer can “damage the animal’s liver and brain.” Sound familiar? And “the smaller the animal, the more deadly the effects can be.” So small dogs are lightweights.

But I grew up watching my father and his friends without fail give the last swigs of their beer to their dogs. The dogs loved it as much as their masters. None of the dogs died specifically from liver damage, nor did they seem to get drunk, or dumber in the long run due to lack of brain power… unlike their human counterparts.

Only a few days ago Nala found a beer can while on our walk. She carried it around for a while, and when a bit of beer feel out, she stopped to lap up the liquid treat. I let her. She’s still kicking.

Food Danger for Doggie #3: Nuts (especially walnuts and macadamia)

Nala’s favorite food for training: peanuts. Dry roasted. However, according to this, if I were to replace those peanuts with one of the no-nos, she could vomit, fall over from paralysis, or die within 12 hours.

I tried the “train me” treats that the pet stores sell for around five bucks a bag. She would take them, spit them out, and, funny enough, lose interest in my commands.

Should I replace the nuts with hotdogs or something because of this article?

Food Danger for Doggie #4: Chocolate

We’ve all heard this one. I’ve even heard horror stories about running to the vet from acquaintances. I have never witnessed this myself. But what I have witnessed is my uncle’s dog eating an entire bag of chocolate kisses, rappers and all, off the dinning room table. She lived to be 14. My father’s dog eating chocolate cookies from the counter. She lived to be 12. Were these just lucky exceptions?

Food Danger for Doggie #4: Candy

I can see that this treat would be rather pointless for a dog and, according to the article, it can cause a sudden drop in a dog’s blood sugar. Really no big surprise, it’s not good for humans either. But anyone who has a dog AND kids probably knows that a dog not getting a piece of candy here and there is highly unlikely.

Food Danger for Doggie #5: Caffeine

I’m not sure how this would even be possible. I can’t imagine a scenario when a dog would help itself to a cup of coffee. Tea even seems less possible.

Food Danger for Doggie #6: Grapes and raisins

I have watched a number of dogs attempt to eat grapes. They have never actually consumed them. The funniest grape-dog situation involved a Char-pei.

Raisins might be an issue if there are children in the house, I’m guessing?

Food Danger for Doggie#7: Onions

I let Nala sniff an Onion once. I didn’t see her for 20 minutes.

Food Danger for Doggie #8: Medicine


However, when my boyfriend’s mastiff was developing severe arthritis, he was told by the vet to give her baby aspirin. I was also told by a vet many years ago to give a dog a very small amount of Pepto-Bismol to treat severe diarrhea. It worked.

Another friend with a severely energetic lab once came home to find her then puppy had eaten an entire bottle of sleeping pills, along with most of the bottle itself. She rushed him to the vet. The vet saw no signs of emergency, sent them home, and the two of them had a quiet afternoon of napping. “He was calm for two days,” she told me.

However, the article does claim some good news. Lean meats are okay. But high fat meats should be avoided. And never…. NEVER give them bones as they could result in choking.

My previous mailman had a Golden Retriever that was fed half of a raw chicken every night for supper for all 12 years of his life. His name was Rigsby and he had the shiniest coat in town.

Remember the post about dressing up our dogs? This is yet one more symptom of forgetting that our four-legged friends are not people. Just as we should remember that not every dog is going to enjoy wearing a cute sweater, we should also remember that they have a different anatomy than our own. But they are still animals, descendants of wolves. They may just do better on a diet that is more substantial than kibble.

But, at the same time, perhaps articles like these, whether on-line, in Dog Fancy, or reported live from Studio 1-A in Rockegeller Center, should not be taken so seriously, or so literally. Consider the amount of articles and reports we read/hear about children. If parents pay too much attention to the dos and don’ts, they can become paralyzed with the never-ending list and confused by the constant contradictions. Let’s face it. We live in a fear-based society. And fear creates consumption.

Don’t feed your dog ‘people food’ or it will die! Feed it dog food. Buy dog food.

The dog food industry has been flourishing since 1890. By the time the second Great War was over, pet food sales were knocking on $200 million. It gave companies a chance to get rid of their by products. It didn’t seem like a bit deal. Since the beginning of dog and man, dogs had been eating the parts of animals that humans didn’t want. The problem arrived with the added stuff, sawdust and the heads of diseased rats. That’s not entirely an exaggeration.

Sure. Things have gotten better. As our concern over our pets has grown, so have our expectations for what we put in their bellies. But we still need to remember that they are what they are. They are carnivores. They are animals. Somewhere, deep down, behind those weepy eyes, they are wolves. They deserve more than kibble, and they deserve more respect than an avocado.

Maybe my grandparents had it right. It’s hard to argue with low vet bills, absent dog food costs, and a happy dog.




Pet Parent Price Tags


$41 billion.

More than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world.

That’s what Americans spend on their pets in one year – according to an article in Business Week.

This is double what it was a decade ago.

It’s a shocking number, yet not that surprising.

Today, 7:30 am, I took Nala to daycare. She’s been to the facility before, as a boarder for the weekend, twice, and she loves it because she can play with other dogs, which is her version of paradise. The only reason I don’t take her more often is because I’m a teacher, which means I’m poor, and $20 a day adds up fast (I know…  cheap compared to other places, but 20 bucks is 20 bucks.)

When I arrived I was one of two cars in the tiny parking lot. There was already a boxer inside, excited to start his day. A moment later, a lab, then a lab mix, then some sort of scruffy small dog, and then I lost count. All the dogs were more than a little excited to be there. Nala even pawed at the door to get to the back where she knows the other dogs are located. So much for the whole separation-anxiety-I-wanna-be-with-my-human-or-I’ll-go-crazy-thing. When there’s another dog in the room, I don’t exist.

As I drove away, I started counting on my fingers (I’m not a math teacher) the amount that place must make in a day. Five dogs would be $100. Doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve never driven past the daycare when there were less than 20 dogs in sight, and that’s just the “playgrounds” that are visible from the road. Now this isn’t to say that I think this place is making bank or ripping off the American public. It is only to make the point that not only do these places stay open and make a living, they are in demand. When researching doggie daycare two months ago, I realized very quickly that visiting the different options might be an all day process. There were just too many, each offering different services and care, and each with a slightly different price tag. A price tag all us pet parents are willing to pay for the happiness of our fuzzy children.

It’s easy to get caught up in it. Sometimes I think even more so for those of us who own a rescue. There is something in us that wants to give our little survivors the cushiest lives possible. It is the same drive that pushed us to rescue in the first place. It’s easy to forget that we have a dog, and a dog is not a person. In fact, the other day I was standing in Petsmart looking at the doggie Halloween costumes, seriously thinking about squeezing a wiggly Nala into a skeleton shirt. Eight bucks. Not bad. I pictured her walking around the planned Halloween party in her new spooky attire. She would make everyone smile. They would give her little treats and pet her, the star of the show. Then….. she would get excited about the attention, start to play with friends’ dogs, and the so cute costume would become a handle for the other dogs while playing. It would rip. Nala would see the little extra piece of fabric as a challenge and commence eating the cute little eight dollars off her own body.

I walked to the counter without the skeleton shirt and purchased what Nala DOES care about, rawhide bones.

Driving home I felt a little guilty. Maybe I didn’t love her enough yet to shove her into a costume, take her picture and slap it up all over facebook. But then my father’s voice kicked in, since he so often repeats himself, he sometimes lives inside my head. He hates (which may not be a strong enough word… loathes maybe?) when people dress up their dogs, for whatever reason, it doesn’t have to be Halloween. He says it is degrading to the dog.

He has a point. I’ve never witnessed a dog that looked happy wearing a costume. As a kid, I remember putting a t-shirt on our Golden Retriever; it was the only time her brown eyes glazed over into a kind of sarcasm. So why do we do this? Why do we spend the money? The dog sure doesn’t care if it’s dressed up or not. In fact, it most likely prefers not. If we love our dogs so much, why do we insist on making them uncomfortable for our own amusement? If we love our shelter dogs so much, why not take that eight bucks and send it to the local shelter, or buy some bones and send them to the local shelter?

In addition, take a moment to contemplate our economy, the 9.1% unemployment rate. How is the money we spend on our pets going up? All we have to do is turn on the TV or log on to our computer to experience the constant stream of economic alerts. People sitting on Wall street (and around the country for that matter), the president making frequent, desperate speeches, and, on a smaller scale, shows like Ten Dollar Dinners attempt to convince us we can sill feed our families.

But maybe I’m being too harsh.

And maybe I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

I recently spent $16 on a collar for Nala because it was more “her.” Like she cares. And I have slapped a bandana representing my college team around her neck. But I do have to say that the majority of the money I have spent on Nala (which is no small sum) has been for her and my genuine happiness, learning and comfort: organic food, dog bones, kong toys, bark collar (recall the crate barking post), training classes, invisible fence collar, and vitamin supplements.

Perhaps the cute collars and bandanas show we care. But show whom? The dogs know we care because we pet them, feed them, play with them, and give them a roof over their cute little heads. The stylish collar? That is showing everyone else.


Estimated 2011 Pet Sales within the U.S. Market

For 2011, it estimated that $50.84 billion will be spent on our pets in the U.S.

Part of the Estimated Breakdown:                                          

Food                                                     $19.53 billion

Supplies/OTC Medicine                   $11.4 billion

Vet Care                                                $14.11 billion

Grooming & Boarding                        $3.65 billion


The above was found on the American Pet Products Association Website.