Monthly Archives: June 2012

Guest Post: I Am Not an Alpha Dog

There is resurgence in dog training circles emphasizing dominance. The central belief of this type of training is that a wolf pack, which is essentially what a dog has descended from, has an alpha male leader and the remainder of the pack act as followers.

Cathy's dog Cora shows signs of having been trained using dominance in her previous life. She wouldn't walk ahead of people, and she cowered a lot more than she does now.

This alpha dog theory uses a technique that I personally find revolting. It involves pinning the dog down when he or she is misbehaving or is behaving in such a manner that you, the “alpha,” do not approve of. If you were to ask a wolf about pinning, no doubt he would tell you it is a very serious display of dominance. Other acts, such as looking directly into the eyes of a dog (intimidating) or grabbing a dog by the scruff of the neck (as their mothers did), exhibit similar intent.

Allie Dawn (currently up for adoption through TAGS) has an abusive past. She has lots of fear built in her and is relatively slow to trust. Using dominance techniques on her would likely cause her to regress further into those traits.








The issue I have with this school of thought is that it does not actually achieve the desired effect. Yes, it may stop the dog from barking at the door or doing something else you deem “unacceptable.” However, in my view, it is not an actual training method. Essentially, you are scaring your dog into stopping the action.

Real dog training, on the other hand, involves teaching the dog to sit and stay back of the door when people knock. It is better than essentially threatening your dog’s well-being. While a threat may not be your intention, that is the way dogs view dominant acts. If you don’t believe me, feel free to go out and try staring down a wolf.

Most important, you are the one person in this world that the dog can trust. And here you are, in its eyes, threatening its life by holding it against the floor by its neck.

An adorable girl from a puppy mill in southern Ontario, Sophia is a happy-go-lucky dog who is discovering many things for the first time. Dominating a dog like her could cause some idiosyncrasies to develop, primarily fear of just about everything.

So do dogs “trained” by this dominance school of thought walk around understanding what they can or cannot do? Do they understand what rooms they can walk into? which couches they can sit on? where they can eliminate?

While I cannot have an actual conversation with these dogs, I believe they simply walk around in fear of doing the “wrong” thing.

Dogs were created by humans for specific uses—be it retrieving, ratting, hunting, or entertaining, they have an innate drive to please you. So why not put them to work? That, I believe, will be for them a happy life.

Let the Dog Days of Summer Begin!

Cora joining the crowd at the TAGS family reunion

With the hot weather and a weekend of dog activities scheduled, my past weekend really went to the dogs. On Saturday, TAGS hosted a “family reunion,” inviting back all of the dogs who had ever been adopted through the rescue. So I brought Cora and Dusty to the TAGS dog park, where they played a little, sniffed a lot, and enjoyed socializing with their own kind. While there, I also bought some of the wonderful homemade dog cookies a volunteer is making to raise money for TAGS. They were a big hit with all three of my dogs! (By the way, I didn’t bring Hogan only because I thought he’d be more stressed out than happy with so many dogs around.)

Cora, Sherlock, and Dusty checking each other out

Cora loving an open window for a few minutes during a slow drive












Then on Sunday, I packed up Dusty (our most social dog), his Cool Coat, his Gulpy, my mom, my mother-in-law, and a cooler filled with water and headed into the smoggy city for Woofstock! I felt bad contributing to the smog by taking the car, but I worried about Dusty getting into a barking fit on the GO train (once he starts barking, it’s not always easy to get him to stop).

Dusty cooling his paws at Woofstock

Thanks to his Cool Coat, Dusty managed to stay refreshed despite the 40-degree (with humidex) heat and hardly panted at all during our hour-and-a-half trek through the crowded street. He enjoyed sniffing all of the other dogs and didn’t make a peep the whole time we were there. He was patient with me when I wanted to stop and look at something he had no interest in (collars, T-shirts, and Scruffy Dog Photography, one of my two main reasons for going and where I was really hoping his picture would be taken, but no such luck) and wagged his tail excitedly when we stopped for something he was interested in (cookies, liver treats, doggy frozen yogurt).

We saw lots of Harlequin Great Danes, but none as big as our friend Mumford, who visited last weekend.

My new T-shirt (proceeds to Big on Beagles)!

As always, Dusty was an angel in the car, too. We are fortunate to have adopted three dogs who enjoy car rides and settle quickly. We just seatbelt them in and go. Sometimes they look out the window; other times they relax on their bed and have a snooze. On our way into Toronto, I had to have my mother-in-law look behind her to make sure we actually DID have Dusty in the car. He was that quiet.

One of the best parts of having dogs is doing fun, out-of-the-ordinary things with them, so as far as I’m concerned, a dog-centric weekend like this past one is pretty darn close to perfect! What sorts of fun activities do you do with your dogs?

Guest Post: Diamond in the Rough

I have been volunteering for a while now, and I have seen many dogs come and go. Some are especially memorable. This is the story of one of those dogs.

In January, TAGS “adopted” a dog who was about to be euthanized from the pound. The five-and-a-half-year-old boxer cross came with a chain collar and the name Bella. Both were changed immediately, and Bella became Buttercup.

The first time I met Buttercup was at the TAGS dog park. It was one of the coldest days of the year, so the park was very quiet. Since there weren’t others around and I didn’t have much to do, I decided to take this new dog out of her crate and into the park to see what she was all about. She went crazy. Others around us were overwhelmed by her energy, but I quickly realized it was harmless, excited energy (at least, I hoped it was).

Buttercup couldn't even lie down to chew a bone. She had to do it in the play bow position.

I’ve met dogs with high levels of energy before, but putting a leash on Buttercup was impossible. I had to use a slip leash and lasso her.  Once I got her in the dog park, I picked up a tennis ball, which elicited an intense wide-eyed stare. So I threw the ball, and she chased it down as if her life depended on it (see video here). She brought it back but circled me, chewing on the ball vigorously. It was obvious that she had a lot of energy pent up from being caged in the pound, most likely for months. Buttercup’s pace didn’t slow the entire time I threw that ball for her. I was trying to see how long it would take to tire her. I never found out.

I don’t have a dog of my own, so in the middle of winter, I experience dog withdrawal. Knowing Buttercup would benefit from a nice run, one day I contacted her foster mom and asked to take Buttercup to the park. This is one of the ways I see myself having the largest impact as a volunteer. I picked Buttercup up just before 11 a.m. and dropped her off at 2 p.m. She ran the entire time!

Head out the window in February?

For the first two weeks, I don’t believe she ever came close enough to let me touch her. But slowly, she started to trust me. It seemed that she was experiencing many things for the first time: her head out the window of the car, long grass, even just going for a walk.

On our third “date,” she rolled over onto her back and asked for a belly rub. I felt as though I had been let into the Buttercup Club. On our fifth date, I took her into Brooklin, a small town in north Whitby, to go for a walk on a busy street and among people. She seemed to love the walk in Brooklin even more than the dog park—I attribute it to experiencing more things for the first time. She was very social, walking up to storefront doors, wagging her boxer bum. It was fun going on walks with her because of her childlike playfulness.

Once she started to trust, her character really shone.

On these walks, I felt really good that I was helping out a dog like Buttercup. She had already come a long way compared to when I first met her (when she wouldn’t let me touch her). I learned on future walks to fill my pockets with TAGS business cards because her happiness was so noticeable, even people stopped at a red light would comment on her.

During an adopt-a-thon at Petsmart one weekend, Buttercup was a hit—as I knew she would be. I was over-the-moon happy when I found out someone had put in an application to adopt her.

The first step, the meet and greet, was set up with the applicants. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Up to this point, it had always been just the two of us, alone, nobody else around. I sat down at a picnic table at the dog park with the nice couple who had applied. Every 15 seconds or so, Buttercup would look at me to make sure I was still there.

The home visit the following week was more of the same. It took Buttercup 20-30 minutes to calm down, but she eventually lay on the carpet. The couple seemed very understanding of Buttercup. My mind was put at ease when the husband said that once she got into a routine, she would feel comfortable and would relax. I couldn’t agree more and gave my thumbs-up for the weeklong trial run that is the extended visit.

Sitting on the couch having a conversation

As is custom with extended visits, I called the couple 24 hours after the visit started and spoke to the wife. She said Buttercup was very well behaved, was beginning to settle down, and was even giving “gentle” kisses! They were concerned, though, about her relatively poor socialization skills in the local dog park, which I knew could be an issue. But she was eating and sleeping well.

After a few more days, I found out that the couple had decided to adopt Buttercup, which just made my week. Here was a dog who the first time I met her wouldn’t let me put a leash on her—and now she was being adopted. I felt like a father marrying off his only daughter. I was very proud of Buttercup, but mostly I felt vindicated. I saw in her that first time we met that she was a dog who was eager to please but, because of her circumstances, was misunderstood.

When the couple came to sign the adoption papers, the husband said to me, “I feel like I’ve had her my whole life.” All Buttercup needed, as is the case with all rescue dogs, was someone to see her for who she really was, a loving dog looking for someone to love.

Guest Post: The Power of an Hour

Julie Valentine was Hogan’s foster mom when we applied to Rat Terrier Rescue Canada to adopt him. She shared a house and a huge treed yard with about six dogs at that time. Selflessly, she’d moved to that house specifically so that she had a good home in which to foster dogs. Before that, she volunteered in other ways on behalf of animals. Here she explains how you can help by offering even just an hour of your time (and your car).

Colorado is one of Julie's current fosters. If you're interested in adopting this beautiful boy, contact Gentle Jake's Coonhound Rescue.

Rescues work to save dogs that would otherwise be euthanized, either because there isn’t enough space to care for them, because they need medical attention, or because their time is simply up. Rescued dogs come from puppy mills, animal shelters, dog pounds, and dog owners who are unable to keep them. I first got into rescue by volunteering to drive dogs around. If you don’t have any room in your home but have lots of space in your dog-friendly car, why not consider giving a dog a ride?

What is a transport?
A transport is a well-orchestrated “bucket brigade,” organized by a transport coordinator, followed by a transport monitor, in which dogs—as many as 20—travel from volunteer-driver to volunteer-driver along a pre-determined route for a day or two until each dog reaches its safe haven. Dogs may join or leave the transport anywhere along the route. Sometimes doggie sleepovers, aka “overnighting” a dog on transport, is also required when a run stops for the night before resuming in the morning.

How does it work?
The transport coordinator posts online for volunteers to drive a certain leg of the journey, about an hour in length. As volunteers sign up, the transport coordinator completes a run sheet, which lists the dogs, their size and age, the sending and receiving organizations, the driving times of each leg, drivers’ names, car descriptions, and cellphone numbers, as well as meeting spots where the dogs will change cars.

What do drivers do on the run?
Once you’ve signed up for a run, charge your cellphone and set up your car with crates, yummy treats, extra leashes and collars, towels and paper towels, water and water bowls, and a map or GPS system. Reread the run sheet, ensuring you know which dogs you’ll be transporting, where they will travel in your car, who you’ll be meeting, and where.

On run day, you will receive updates on your computer as the transport progresses, so you’ll know if the run is early, late, or on time. Plan to arrive before your leg is scheduled to begin. Leave your own dog at home: dogs on transport can be stressed and confused and may not behave as they would in another context.

At the meeting spot, the person with the dogs should do the transfer. It’s unusual, but sometimes a dog will bolt at the first opportunity, so you have to ensure their leashes are secured! Once the dogs have been watered and transferred, ensure the paperwork you’ve received matches the dogs you’re transporting.

Then comes the fun part: knowing you’re doing your part help a homeless dog find a warm bed! Some dogs will whine or bark until they settle into the trip. You can sing, turn on the radio, talk to them, or just drive along.

At the end of your leg, carefully transfer the dogs and their paperwork to the next volunteer. When you get home, check your email: you’ll find stories and pictures of the dogs’ journey from almost certain demise to foster care and, eventually, to a forever home in a loving family like Cathy’s.

How can I become involved?
Transporting is a great way to meet wonderful, compassionate people and oodles of dogs of all shapes and sizes. Drivers are needed both for large coordinated transports as well as for more flexible trips to move single dogs. If you can offer a dog a ride—or if you’re just going somewhere and have room in your car to transport donated items—contact a rescue in your area (such as RTRC, Gentle Jake’s Coonhound Rescue, or TAGS) and let them know you can help. When you see pictures of the dogs happy and loved in their new homes, you’ll be glad you did!