Whole Dog Journal Blog

Go Check Your Dog’s Collar

August 27, 2012 - I feel as if I have written this story a hundred times, but it’s worth writing again: Please go check your dog’s collar RIGHT NOW and make sure that the numbers on its ID tags are current. And then, think about his microchip – he HAS an implanted identification microchip, doesn’t he? Is it currently registered with a microchip registration company? And if so, does the registry have your current contact information? A good friend lost her dog last week, and only after he went missing did she realize that his ID tag on his collar has only the number for her landline phone – long since disconnected in favor of a mobile phone.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 01:24PM Comments (8)

Learning Through Competition?

August 20, 2012 - My dog, Otto, has never been all that excited about fetch. Certainly not like my previous dog, a Border Collie fetchaholic named Rupert. You could make Rupert leap to his feet and run around to look for a ball if you just mimed the very first part of a throwing gesture, drawing your hand back over your shoulder. Otto will chase something if you throw it – but then he may or may not pick it up, and if he does, he is unlikely to bring it back to you. Only when the planets are aligned just so -- the fetch item is one of his favorite toys (only certain squishy balls and squeaky stuffed animals, once in a blue moon a flying disc); it’s not too hot; he hasn’t been for a run for a couple of days – will he reliably retrieve more than once or twice in a row.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:44PM Comments (3)

Do Animals Have Free Will and “Personal Responsibility” for Their Actions?

August 13, 2012 - Ages ago, I edited a horse magazine, and for a time, published a column written by the noted animal communicator Penelope Smith. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to Smith each month, and as we discussed the column, we’d sometimes veer off into a talk about a general topic having to do with animals and our relationships with them. Despite my preconceptions of someone who purports to “talk to the animals” as being nutty, I found Smith to be incredibly insightful, wise, and humorous. She was empathetic and yet practical. I bought several of her books on “interspecies communication” and was fascinated by her accounts of experiences with hundreds of animals.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 11:39AM Comments (20)

Tattoo You!

August 6, 2012 - Volunteering at my local shelter this past weekend, I was photographing a cute senior Chihuahua (in an effort to better represent him on the shelter website) when I noticed something on his tummy. At first I thought it was discolored for a health reason. But when another volunteer and I rolled him over for a closer look, I could see that he was tattooed. As we stretched him in such a way to reveal the whole tattoo, I was in the process of telling my fellow volunteer that this was once a common practice – that before identification microchips became common, dogs were sometimes tattooed with the owner’s driver’s license number or phone number. But then we decoded the message. It looked like this...
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 11:54AM Comments (17)

Mickey, Home At Last

July 29, 2012 - In the editorial of the August issue (now online and in your mailboxes soon), I updated the story of Mickey, an-odd-but-cute looking, high-energy dog who had somehow spent almost a year at my local shelter without finding a permanent home. (He was adopted once, for a little more than two months, but was returned because the family’s original dog was picking on him unmercifully.) I first wrote about Mickey in this space in May, when I started working with him prior to an all-weekend Adopt-A-Thon. I taught him to sit – and in that one simple process, he learned to pay attention to humans, control his own behavior, and offer that “good manners” basic whenever someone paid attention to him. Unfortunately, he didn’t get adopted that weekend…or for the next two months.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 04:00PM Comments (7)

Unfair to dogs!

July 21, 2012 - Otto has to coexist peacefully with chickens, foster dogs, and even adolescent CATS. You can tell from his expression he's not always thrilled about the terms, but he honors the contract nonetheless.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 02:54PM Comments (4)

A Good Recall

July 16, 2012 - Recently we enjoyed meeting our new brother in law, and providing day care for his 4-year-old Border Collie, Sis. Arriving from northern Idaho, he was totally unprepared for the reality of traveling with a dog during a northern California heat wave. We were more than happy to offer our home and shady fenced yard to Sis so her owners could sightsee without endangering her in a hot car.
Posted by Jozette Rutherford at 08:00AM Comments (2)

One of My Proudest Accomplishments

July 8, 2012 - If I had to pick which training accomplishment I am most proud of with my dog Otto, I’d have to consider a few. He’s got a rock-solid, enthusiastic recall that I love. When we’re out on the trail and he sees a duck and ducklings on the shore of the river, say, or hears a deer crashing through the brush away from us, this recall -- combined with a strong “Off!” (a.k.a. “Leave it!”) – never fails to bring admiration from my walking partners. (And because I reward him so richly for this, with a veritable avalanche of tasty treats, it stays nice and strong.)
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:01PM Comments (9)

Foxtails are a West Coast Danger to Dogs

June 24, 2012 - A friend called one day to complain about his dog’s latest vet bill: $300 to remove a foxtail that the dog sniffed up his nose on that morning’s walk. If you live on the west coast, you are likely cringing with recognition of the problem. If you live on the east coast, chances are you have no idea of what I’m talking about. Hordeum jubatum (informally called “foxtail barley” but infamous as “foxtail grass”) is a perennial plant species in the grass family Poaceae. It grows like, well, a pestilent, abundant weed all over California. When the grass is green in the spring, it’s pretty; it produces these lush heads that resemble a finer version or wheat or barley. But the moment the plants start to dry in the later part of the spring, the heads start to fall apart – and each tiny segment of the luxuriant heads becomes a danger to any dog who goes near it.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:01PM Comments (9)

Going to the Dog Groomers

June 17, 2012 - After a lifetime of washing my dogs myself, always, I’ve become addicted to taking my dogs to a groomer for even simple baths. Oh, I might still wash Otto on the back lawn in the middle of our 100-degree summers, but at any other time, I’ve decided it’s oh-so-worth it to have the groomer handle the whole mess. Even little 10-pound Tito, with his short coat – off to the groomer with you. It started last fall sometime. Someone had been forced to surrender a litter of backyard-bred (in the worst way) Labradoodles to my local shelter, and the chocolate brown puppies were thin, wormy, flea-infested, and, at the tender age of about 10 weeks, shaggy and matted to the skin in spots. They looked like a bunch of dirty mops, and they were lingering in the adoption kennels day after day. I asked the shelter director if we could possibly afford to take them to a groomer to be bathed and clipped and made to look like dogs. “Well,” she considered, “There is a groomer in town who sometimes will take one of our tough cases and groom them for free . . . .”
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:02PM Comments (21)

How NOT to Hire a House Sitter

June 10, 2012 - My husband and I recently went on vacation for a week. I hired an acquaintance to house-sit and take care of all the animals while we were gone. She had performed this task for us many times before, although not for about two years. But she and our dog Otto were familiar with each other, and she knew all the plants in our yard and garden that needed watering (the last time we went on vacation, we had hired someone else, and half of our azaleas died for lack of water while we were gone), so it seemed like a good idea. She is actually between jobs and staying with a friend right now, and told us that she’d appreciate having a place of her own to live in for the week. The one possible hitch in the plan was that she was bringing her young Pit-mix dog.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:01AM Comments (39)

Hidden Talents

June 4, 2012 - My son was visiting recently and we took the dogs for a walk: Our mixed-breed, Otto; Tito the Chihuahua, a relative’s dog who came to live with us “temporarily” a year ago; and Tule, an obese Labrador I was fostering for a few weeks on behalf of my local shelter. It was the evening of a hot day, and we walked to a nice spot along the river that flows through my town. Otto likes to wade, just up to his elbows. He’ll also swim a bit when he gets particularly exuberant, but it’s uncommon. Tule also likes to wade deeply, and to plunge her muzzle under the water and blow bubbles. I hadn’t seen her swim, though, in a half a dozen trips to the river.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 09:44AM Comments (3)

Hoping for a Home for Mickey

May 4, 2012 - So, the weekend of May 5-6 is the annual Adoptathon, organized by the North Shore Animal League. Participating shelters open for the whole weekend, or offer extended hours, and some reduce their adoption fees or have other strategies meant to maximize adoptions. At my local shelter, I’ve been doing my part this week by spending a few minutes every day with Mickey, doing a little basic training in hopes of finding him a forever home this weekend. Mickey is less than a year old, and cute in an ugly sort of way, or ugly in a cute way, I’m not sure which.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 11:49AM Comments (1)

Permanent Hall Passes

May 1, 2012 - My Border Collie Daisy is a consummate counter surfer; she hangs 10 with the best. The trainer in me sighs and acknowledges that I was not successful in getting the behavior to cease over 10 years (so she’s now had a decade of practice). The student of canine ethology in me watches in fascination at the opportunistic seeking and realizes this descendent of wolves has not succumbed to learned helplessness. The dog mom in me says “You go, girl!” and is filled with joy that this dog who was diagnosed with cancer over two years ago is feeling this feisty and that her spirit – and appetite - hasn’t been dampened by treatment.
Posted by Barbara Dobbins at 03:14PM Comments (7)

Spoken English

May 1, 2012 - I was volunteering at the shelter last Saturday, and in the course of the day, I showed several dogs and puppies to several different potential adopters. It struck me at some point that almost every person who takes a strange dog or pup out into a “get acquainted” room or grassy run will almost immediately tell the dog (or pup!) to “Sit! Sit! SIT! Siiiiiitt?” It’s as if they always assume the canine knows what “sit” means and is being willful in not responding.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 03:26PM Comments (3)