Two Free Presentations!

There are two chances to see my free presentation on keeping our urban pets happier! Bring questions, comments, and save some room for snacks. 



Our 48 Hours as Pitbull Owners

If you read anything I've ever written, please let it be this.

We need to talk about the real families that are affected by #BSL (breed specific legislation) and breed discrimination. Though we weren't looking for a Pitbull, we ended up with one and had to return her after 48 hours.

I wrote about the unfairness of BSL in the very first chapter of Considerations for the City Dog, but this was the first time we had first hand experience with it. I was able to document our story - a story that is very common - over at 2 Dog Treats.

If you adopt Jasmine at the ARL, she knows sit, drop it, and come.
She pulls like an ox, but is sensitive. Use a Freedom Harness (sz. M).

Please share the 2 Dogs Treats post, and support banning breed specific legislation.

Help us reach out to the insurance companies that will drop home owners insurance if a "Pitbull" (or mix) is on the premises.

Please share this so families with well adjusted dogs of any kind (bully or otherwise) can adopt children without having to give up their dogs first (a lawyer friend told me of that being an actual, horrible, real-life thing).


Where's Melissa?

I've had some people ask where I'll be discussing Considerations for the City Dog.
Here is an updated schedule through the end of the year.

August 7th:
Interviewing with Dog Cast Radio in the UK! I'll be discussing Considerations for the City Dog and #HandsOnFirst. I don't know yet when it will air, but stay tuned.

August 27th:
Somerville Library WEST BRANCH (Davis Square)
Books and #HandsOnFirst Tees on sale ($16.00 book / $25.00 both)
Refreshments served

September 3rd: 
New England Dog Training Club's OPEN HOUSE
(for registered current students of NEDTC and families only).
Book signing table, free pet first aid presentation for registered students, and more dog-related stuff presented by our talented NEDTC staff.

September 14th:
Something's brewing for this date. Stay tuned!

September 24th:
Somerville Library EAST BRANCH (Broadway)
Books and #HandsOnFirst Tees on sale ($16.00 book / $25.00 both)
Refreshments served

December 28th:
Pet Professional Guild
"The Petfinder Loophole and #HandsOnFirst"
Free webinar *info and login to come soon

If you are interested in having me come talk about the book, dogs, puppies, #HandsOnFirst, responsible rescue / responsible breeding, how to acquire a dog for the city, please contact me here.


Interesting Topic: Warning Signs?

A few days ago, a student of mine posted to a reactive dogs group on Facebook. She said her dog sometimes freaks out, and sometimes doesn't (which is true for this dog, like many other dogs in this area) but it's much harder when her dog is on leash (say, in the woods) and an off leash dog charges up.

I told her to use a sleeve on the leash that announces her dog needs space and say clearly 'Call Your Dog. Not Friendly.' I then posted a link to the Dogs In Need Of Space store that advocates using these type of tools to help dog owners advocate for their dogs space in public places, particularly those that have leash laws/recall laws in place.

This group does not approve of these types of signs, equipment or other "announcements" that a dog might react poorly.

The only reason it's not allowed here is because in some places, if you have warning 'clothing' on your dog and then he/she bites or aggresses someone, your warning will be seen as an admission that you knew he/she was dangerous and you'll thus have greater liability.
I feel like this is akin to me not using sunscreen because it's telling the sun, "I'm of northern European descent, so if I still get burned, which I very likely will, I'm more liable because I used sunscreen." Sound silly?

I didn't get into it on that particular group because they had a rule and I did violate it by posting what I did. I figured they had already gone through this banter a dozen or more so times before, so anything I was going to chime in with would be useless. However, if there are rules in place that dogs must be under voice control at all times if off leash, and IF that dog isn't under voice control, runs up to my dog who needs space, and there is an incident, then the dog who charges my leashed dog should be the liable party.

The working theory: the charging dogs' owner did not obey the posted / assumed laws of "must be under voice control."

So let's air this out. What do you think? What do you do? If it were me (and it was!) I put Sadie in a head collar, a scarf that said "I Need Space" and blaze orange everything marked with "I Need Space." I would call out "Not Friendly!" to everyone who had a dog coming near us, and most would thank me for mentioning it. I would avoid the busier dog areas and busier times of day. I feel this saved her from many unnecessary altercations.

When dogs DID charge in (which happened, but infrequently) she was able to tolerate it because she trusted I would advocate for her space. This was a significant improvement compared to her previous behavior:

Bark. Lunge. Snap. Bark. Lunge. Snap. 

Lather, Rinse. Repeat. 

Any legal beagles wish to chime in?

Dog trainers - what do you tell your students? I don't want this to be used in a court of law or any of my students to jump in here and say "Melissa said it's cool!" but I think it's a worthwhile discussion IF we can keep it civil (which you guys usually do!)

That said, this group seemed to be perfectly fine with using spray deterrent with very little warning, which I think might be a bigger issue. I do agree using spray shield on a charging dog, but I think having warning signs on a dog first can give another owner a little opportunity to get their dog back before it resorts to spray shield?

I'm in the Boston area, too, and I have no trouble getting people to understand that my dog needs space. The ones who insist on allowing their dogs to approach me when I am clearly in an area where a leash or voice control law applies gets told once to recall their dog, or I will respond with a spray deterrent (Spray Shield). Special leashes and vests are a liability if you are even involved in a court case. However, muzzles can be used for purposed other than aggression, such as for dogs with pica, or dogs that like sticks a bit too much, or who tend to eat acorns or mushrooms and get sick. Special leashes and vests are a liability if you are even involved in a court case. However, muzzles can be used for purposed other than aggression, such as for dogs with pica, or dogs that like sticks a bit too much, or who tend to eat acorns or mushrooms and get sick.

Any takers? I'm really not trying to start an argument. I just thought it was interesting food-for-thought.



Every part of Considerations for the City Dog is centered around the word "advocate."

Finding professionals that do the same. 

Educating yourself and others so you know how to find these professionals, certifications, and what makes them a cut above the rest. This goes for breeders, rescues, shelters, groomers, doggie daycare providers, veterinarians, dog trainers, behaviorists, and veterinary behaviorists. 

Today I dropped off some bookmarks at local animal hospitals and grooming facilities. These bookmarks have the back blurb of the book on them and #HandsOnFirst on the back. 

It's important to consider the spark for Considerations was the dog attack on Halloween night in which a bull mastiff attacked a female German shepherd, and nearly killed her 6'3" owner. This attack was in my city. I sat through the hearing where terminology like "aggression," "territory," "redirected aggression," and bunk theories like "alpha" were used in a grossly inappropriate manner. I tried to speak in the hearing. I tried to advocate for my city and the dogs I love here.

I failed.

I wrote a book.

That is evident in the promotional material. 

It's also important to note that this is a true story. Real people and dogs were involved in a horror story in this city. Everyone lived, but the wounds, though physically healed, are still visible.

Though the book isn't at all about the case, it is noted that it motivated me to write the book. The case, which was public, is noted in the introduction. The only time I mention the name of the attacking dog is here on this blog, using resources (like the Somerville Journal and The Patch). His name is not mentioned in the body of the book (though it comes up twice in the acknowledgements.)

I want to say thank you as well to the local animal hospital (unnamed for privacy - that ISN'T part of the news story) that stood up for their client. The vet doesn't deserve anyone showing up at his door going off about the case, and the staff doesn't deserve that either. The client deserves peace in getting her dog medical care without side-eyed glances. The animal hospital - one that I've always highly recommended, remains at the top of my list of recommended hospitals as a result of what I write next. 

The staff said that this is an important book, but the party who owns the attacking dog is their client. Though his name isn't on the materials, there aren't too many dogs who have got publicity for what he did just a couple of years ago (thankfully). It would make the owner uncomfortable to have this material facing her while waiting for her dogs nail trim, or vaccines. 

The case that sparked Considerations for the City Dog is real. There are real people who have dogs in this book, stories in this book, and sadly - tragedy in this book. But there are happy stories, success stories, and helpful hints, too. There are corrections on terminology that is misunderstood in today's dog-culture, which I think can go a long way to helping people truly advocate for their dogs. Do you know what a behaviorist is? Can you define it? Can you do the same for socialization? The manner in which I use socialization is very different than what most of my students think socialization is, though we all use the term regularly. The same for behaviorist and other terms (like territorial aggression). Veterinarians can read it and know exactly how to refer to a trainer or behaviorist. A trainer can read this and know how to find good dog walkers and vets, and vice-versa. A client can read this and help their dog. 

As much as I wish that these bookmarks were all over the Metro-Boston area, three cheers to the hospital that stood up for their client. You're what I'm writing about in this book - the good ones, and how to find them. How to find a good veterinarian, chapter 5 - these guys.

If it were your hospital, you'd want that advocacy. I know I would. 


Book Signing This Saturday: Riverdog, Somerville MA

Hi everyone!

 I'll be doing a book signing of "Considerations for the City Dog" at Riverdog in Somerville this Saturday! The event is from 10am - 2pm.

 There will be wine and beer, but only after 12 because we have boundaries :)

 Peter and Priscilla have always supported me and my training since they opened their doors. I'm happy to be able to have my first real book-signing in my home town, the town that inspired Considerations.  You might even recognize many of the dogs in the book since many of them are 'Villans, too!

 So come on down and say hi! I'll have a few books on hand to purchase, and if you have your own already, bring it with you! We'll hang out and talk-dog for the morning!

Display at Riverdog. Thanks for the love!

- M3


Two AMAZING Events: Purina Dog Challenge and Pet Palooza!

I'm so excited for this. If my brother wasn't getting married this weekend, I'd drop everything else and go to this event. 

On Friday, July 10th & Saturday, July 11th, the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge will make its first visit to Boston, taking place at Joe Moakley Park from 11a.m. – 4p.m.  This event brings together top canine athletes from Boston and the surrounding Northeast region, to compete in a kind-of canine "Olympics” and features a variety of events---dog diving, freestyle flying disc, head-to-head weave poles, Jack Russell hurdle racing and agility.

This is the Eastern Regional event, so the competition will be elite, will be fun, and will wow the crowd! 

This event is totally free! This is a one-of-a-kind event that is perfect for dog lovers, families or people who are just looking for something fun to do that is off the beaten path.

You know how much I love and support canine sports, particularly for urban dogs who need outlets. Let this event inspire you to do something fun with your dog. If you can't make this event (or want to try what you see!) come to the Pet Palooza at Assembly Square on August 1st & 2nd Maybe what you practice at Pet Palooza can get you ready for Purina Dog Challenge 2016! Get involved, get inspired, and play with your dog! 


10 Minutes


"The Petfinder Loophole," and why we need to define reputable rescues in the same way we define reputable breeders.

For more information, visit my post on #HandsOnFirst , why it's important, and what we can all do to support responsible rescue groups and shelters in addition to supporting reputable breeders.

If you agree with #HandsOnFirst, please share this to help dog owners find reputable facilities in which to acquire their new pets.


Car Talk Two-Fer

A very special +Car Talk double feature!

Dr. Sip Siperstein and I were asked to tackle dogs and cars....

...and vomit.

So yes, it's a two-fer, but it's also pretty gross. Got to take the good with the bad, right?

This will TOTALLY make sense if you read the posts! 

Here is our piece on preventing puppy puke, and here is our piece on how to clean it if preventative measures fail!

If you like it, feel free to share. If you have suggestions for future posts, visit the CarTalk FIDO Blog Website!




While putting together a presentation for the Massachusetts Veterinary Technician's Association to promote the book, I stumbled onto something. 

Dog trainers, veterinarians, technicians, and every dog owner in the city has seen an influx of behaviorally unsound and sick dogs. Even The Boston Globe pointed out this issue in 2013:  - I referenced this very piece in the book. Everyone knows someone who got their dog off a truck in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or other state. Go around your office today and ask where people got their dogs - my bet is at least 25-30% were picked up out of state. 

That's because there is a law on the books (has been in MA since 2005) that states:

"all dogs coming into the state must be quarantined until behaviorally and physically sound for adoption." 

To get around this law, because with every law there is a loophole, thousands of dogs are trucked in to CT and other places for  new pet owners to pick up their dog. 

Not every dog is a mess. Many do great here - but many do not. Of the 85 dogs I've seen privately in 2 years, 67 have been trucked. Half have needed behavior modification medication and/or behavior plans in addition to a standard training regimen. This seemed high to me. 

So I looked on PetFinder. 

If you put in a search for dogs on Petfinder, and limit your search to 100 miles of Somerville, MA with no other restrictions (size, sex, house-trained, etc), you get ~4,000 dogs. That seems really high to me, but we are in a metropolitan area. If you click on the first dog, currently a dog from Blues Angels, it says the rescue is in Somerville MA----but if you click through to the rescue site, the dog is in Houston, TX. 

What's the big deal?

So say you are a client looking for a dog and you think you can go down and meet it. You click on a dog from Blues Angels in Somerville, MA - a shelter/rescue that we now know does not exist in Somerville, but the client doesn't know that. They pay for the dog, the rescue talks them into driving to CT to pick it up, and now the rescue has moved a dog that hasn't had behavior testing, or passed any standardized veterinary care and has gone through a traumatic transport. When I see that dog, a few weeks later, and it's unable to adjust to the city, the owners are frustrated, and the rescue won't take responsibility, everyone is frustrated. Veterinarians are seeing cases of dog flu related to unsafe transport, other highly contagious illnesses, and parasitic illnesses like rocky mountain spotted fever (a tick borne illness indigenous to the south, but we're seeing more cases here because of sick dogs being shipped).

The most extreme case in recent history was dog that needed all of his teeth removed, expensive parasite treatment, and treatment for pneumonia as soon as he got off the truck. This dog's new owner spent well over $1,000 immediately after transport. When I saw them a week after getting the dog, I recommended behavior modification medication and a more expensive specialist because the poor guy was very likely a former puppy mill stud. He jumped off a sofa and broke his leg because he didn't know that where the couch ended there was a significant drop. He was sold as a dog from Georgia who would be a "lovely family pet. He can walk on leash, doesn't bark, and is a low-key pomeranian." The dog peed on everything in sight (including the other dog), barked incessantly, and walking on a leash? Um...nope. Utter panic as soon as he was tethered. Did the rescue step up? No. The rescue was in Georgia the onus fell on the owners to pay for all of this. They were awesome and committed to this dog so he could experience love, but what would you go through with a dog like this? 

Now, imagine you're a dog owner with an undersocialized, sick dog in Somerville. The onus is now on the owner to pay for behavior consultations, behavior modification medication, and veterinary care - sometimes over $1,000 to save a dog. A dog they were promised is "a healthy, happy pet." 

The same thing happens for 10 out of 15 dogs on that first page. 

There is no way to meet the dog first. I've reached out to some of these rescues flying under the radar. None of them acknowledge they are operating illegally. They just send me an application, tell me how many dogs they have sent North and ask if I want the dog shipped through a particular shipping service.

In my opinion, this is as bad as the puppy mill industry. The dogs I see, the ones with problems - 67 out of 85 - when evaluated, present with similar issues to those from puppy mills: 

-Clinically undersocialized
-Few (if any) coping skills
-Issues with crates
-Fear of strangers
-Fear of loud noises / any noises
- Awkward social behavior 
- Reactivity to other dogs, strangers, or outside stimuli
- Constant Stress

When I contacted PetFinder on three documented occasions from February 28th of this year to May 24th, I was either met with "there is no restrictions to who can adopt these pets," - which is false. MA has a law as to who can adopt these pets without quarantine; or met with no response. 

Today I went to Twitter to say "Hey - look! A thing!" and they said they'd look into it. I bet if this starts to get more attention, the rescues would find a way to skirt the law, but it might be harder. We HAVE to start talking about this, and praising the good rescues and shelters who are making sure the dogs are safe, sound, and well-suited to their families. If they aren't, then they have resources available to help, or even take the dog back. Dogs can be a fifteen year commitment. If you don't have support, success can be harder. Particularly for #CityDogs. 

When contacting individual rescues skirting the law, they were all "individual / independent rescuers saving dogs." While I'm sure some are great at what they do, I can say given the number of dogs I'm seeing fail here in cities from well-intending rescues and well-intending dog owners saving dogs from terrible conditions, the behavior evaluations are failing. We have to do better. We have to put our hands on these dogs prior to adoption, and cease the culture of picking dogs up from out of state. Rescues can still send dogs to brick-and-mortar shelters here so people can see the dogs first, which is always advised. 

While one hot day does not indicate global warming, a trend in a direction does. This is that trend. 
67 of 85. 
That's quite the trend. 

Additionally, the website Adopt-a-Pet.com has Al-One Dog Rescue using "Sommerville, MA" to get around the loophole. If they can't spell the name of the town they are fake-operating in, it's probably a good indication that they aren't really here.

Canada is talking about the US rescue dogs that are behaviorally unsound shipped to them. We need to talk about this in the Northeast because we are all seeing it.

As a result of this, I'm starting a new campaign: #HandsOnFirst to promote people putting their hands on dogs prior to adoption, prior to purchase, prior to rescue. This goes for rescue, shelters or well-bred dogs. We can still ship and rescue dogs - as long as they are going to a reputable foster or a brick and mortar shelter prior to adoption. 

But this system as it stands now is wickedly broken. 

Also, so no one can say I hate rescue, every pet I've owned as an adult (except for a snail and fish - those were presents from my dad to my daughter!) were rescue. We are looking for a new rescue dog, and I'm seeing it's VERY difficult to find a rescue dog that is here for us to see in person because of the dogs flying under the radar that I can't meet first. We will likely always rescue in this home, though that is a conversation between me, my husband and my daughter. Local dogs are getting overlooked in favor of these more exotic rescues from the South, from Puerto Rico, from Iraq, from Afghanistan and now...Thailand and Korea (food dogs that are now being shipped as pet dogs in urban centers.) Yes, they all need help, but we need to sort this out so we don't make this worse.

I don't hate rescue - I really, really, really don't. I don't like unethical rescue, and I don't like seeing 2/3's of my students struggling and getting in over their heads because they wanted to save a dog. 

 This is on the verge of being a huge story. I know it. If you talk with Vets, Technicians, Certified Dog Behaviorists (Iaabc.org/ccpdt.org), rescues who are doing a good job, rescues who are skirting the law, and certified dog trainers (ccpdt.org / kpa.org /iaabc.org) - there is a lot here to unwind. 

There is a lot to say for puppy mills, irresponsible breeders and the like - but that is getting attention. I think this is something that needs focus, too, because the more people get burned by rescue, the fewer people there will be to rescue. We owe it to these families and their dogs to do better and come up with solutions. This is a start, but #HandsOnFirst is all I got as a solitary person trying to do the right thing for dogs. This is a way we can put responsible breeders, responsible shelters and responsible rescues at the forefront without starting an argument of rescues vs. purebred dogs, which doesn't help anyone. 

And no, just putting your hands on a dog does not indicate that this will be a match made in heaven - three of my toughest cases were all local dogs. That said, at least the family could meet the dogs first, and have a broad idea what they were getting into prior to bringing the dog into their home. They could bring a certified trainer to assess the dog prior to adoption. One of the owners actually wanted the tough case, and she's a superstar who is in a good place to take on these tough cases. But for a family who is looking for a sturdy, well-adjusted family pet, getting a dog sight-unseen is not unlike signing a pre-nup after meeting some dude on Match.com.