Dear Rescue Groups and Shelters:

Dear Rescue Groups and Shelters who don't behavior assess, and truck dogs in from The South:
I know you mean well. I really, really know you mean well. These dogs would be likely euthanized if not sent north. I get it. However, every time you send a semi-feral dog ill-suited to the city and that dog ends up in Boston, Cambridge, NY, Portland, Somerville, and other congested areas, a fairy looses it's wings.
Every time you send a dog who should not be around children to a family with kids, someone gets hurt: either the family gets heartbroken when they have to re-home it or put it on drugs just so it can get through the day, or a kid gets bit.
Behavior assessment isn't the end all, but something needs to happen. You can start by not trucking sick and behaviorally unsound dogs into the state and giving them to well intending people who just want a family pet. Bring us your dogs that can survive in the city- legitimately survive in the city. I know they exist. I've met them. But the dogs who can't make it in the city should maybe NOT GO TO THE CITY, and you need to be honest about that.
I have to serve by a code of ethics as part of my certification, and many rescue groups do as well. Then, there are the ones who just need to get dogs out, and put them wherever. When it doesn't work out, those groups are unable to help an emotionally invested family, and that's totally, completely, absolutely unethical. A dog isn't saved because it's not in the shelter - a dog is saved when it can thrive and cope. Some of the "placements" and "matching" that is done is absolutely not in the interest of saving the dog. They are holding on by a thread, and these owners are trying their best. Sometimes that isn't good enough, and in many cases, that's back on you.
Every dog trainer and behavior specialist who has to tell a family with kids two weeks after getting the dog that it is not suited to be in the city, can't be around kids, needs meds, and a lot more work than was ever expected, or that their beloved pet needs to be rehomed because it can't cut it in the city even with all the training and management in the world.
PS - Let's work together and figure this out.
PPS: There are GREAT rescues who can totally ignore this.

Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA


Pet Palooza,Assembly Square August 2-3

Hey everyone! SomDog is throwing the biggest family friendly / pet friendly party in town just in time for the apex of summer!

 On August 2-3rd, we'll have PET Palooza, featuring the Dock Dogs competing over two days at Assembly Square, right on the Mystic River! They have a 25,000 gallon pool. Bring a bathing suit as they do have a "splash zone" where you will get soaked if you are anywhere in that range. There will also be seating this year because the pool is in the new Amphitheater on the Mystic River, so don't worry about getting wet if you don't want to!

 Additionally, there will be Agility demonstrations all day on Saturday, August 2nd (run by two of the best friends of MuttStuff, Leah Tremble and Donna Culbert).

I'll be helping out on Sunday, August 3rd with Robin Moxley and Beantown Disc Dogs run the first leg of the Cricket Classic - a USDDN format toss and fetch competition where anyone can register (find Beantown Disc Dogs on Facebook for the registration!). It's a free event and we encourage anyone who wants to try to come out and play! We'll also run Freestyle demonstrations after each round so you can watch these dogs really fly, jump and catch discs as part of a routine set to music!

There will be vendors, opportunity auctions, and of course (the best for last!). If you bring a new leash or collar to be donated to the Somerville Animal Control (for pets to wear as they are adopted out of the kennels), than you can get a ticket towards an opportunity drawing worth $200.00+ (free homemade leash, a free class at Cooperative Dog, a discount on a pet portrait, 2 competition style canine discs, tennis balls, and 2 bags of beer biscuits -treats made out of beer grains from home-brew! There are no hops in this treat, so it's safe for Fido, and delicious! These are always a huge hit). You get to help dogs and cats in need, and we get to give you beer....for your dog.

Come out, have fun, and if you see me in my "Toss, Fetch, Repeat" shirt, come say hi! I'll be running Ollie, a Boston Terrier in the Disc demonstrations on Sunday, but will be around with the family on Saturday. I'd love to see you!

Happy Summer!



Today, the Cummings School of Veterinary Sciences at Tufts University put out a lovely Public Service Announcement. It came on the heels of a widely circulated story about how one woman's dog nearly died from eating ice....something about spasming stomach causing bloat.

It's totally, completely, and thankfully, false.

I had this discussion with my students tonight in classes. The claim that ice water is dangerous to dogs is simply not true. The ASPCA and other shelters use ice as a mentally stimulative tool for keeping dogs sane in kennels. Huskies eat ice to stay hydrated during running events (including the Iditrarod). Snopes has confirmed this is false, though I'd rather people talk to their veterinarian 

That being said, it's incredibly sad that the woman in the story going "viral" had a horrible event, but one anecdotal circumstance does not an epidemic make. This also went around last year, and the year before.
Give your dog ice. The worst that could happen is brain freeze, unless they are suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Then call your vet because in those cases, ice, or any drastic temperature change, can be a shock to the system.
The Internet is great for so many things, but check your sources. I'm saying this as a blogger: blogs aren't always correct. Go to a reputable source.


Some Events Summer 2014!

Are you looking for some fun events this summer, or great hiking opportunities for you and Fido?


Hiking! (Thanks, Running The Pack!)

More hiking (my favorite....bring Deet.)

Even MORE hiking!

Happy Summer!



The below link is a tough, but I argue a necessary, read. 
Here is the link that has sparked a firestorm, but I totally, 1,000 % agree with it. 

A dog isn't saved if it's still stressed to the point of attacking people unprovoked (like Rocco), and bites hard enough to kill any dog.

Shelters, rescue groups, and people need to start focusing on the dogs that should be in a home, who are behaviorally sound, instead of sending loose cannons into people's homes, even if it's an unpopular stance. Additionally, people need to be held accountable for their dogs actions. If their dog bites, it's likely because one of the following has happened: 

 1. The dog has been asking for space and never got it.  (Owner didn't know what to look for). The dog snapped. If it's before a level 3 bite, a training plan might help, or not, depending on the severity of the anxiety and the prognosis of that dog.
 2. The owner hasn't trained the dog. (Dog barks, lunges, growls, but never bit before, so "it's not an issue").  If it's before a level 3 bite, a training plan might help, or not, depending on the severity of the anxiety and the prognosis of that dog.
 3. The owner noticed that something was amiss but used punishment to suppress anxiety (which science proves doesn't work, and often backfires over time).  Alternatively, insufficient steps were taken to manage a dog who is having a hard time. If it's before a level 3 bite, a training plan might help, or not, depending on the severity of the anxiety and the prognosis of that dog.
 4. A rescue, shelter, breeder, or Craigslister knowingly passed an unstable, feral, or behaviorally unsound dog to someone else (passed the buck so someone else could deal with the problem).  If it's before a level 3 bite, a training plan might help, or not, depending on the severity of the anxiety and the prognosis of that dog.
 5. The dog has a medical condition (blindness, deafness, lyme, arthritis, pre-seizure activity, or any number of conditions) that can't possibly be trained out. Some medical conditions can cause aggression, and some are contributing factors.
 6. The dog was defending itself from abuse, teasing, or a perceived threat.
 7. The dog is "wired wrong", is feral, unstable, overstressed, unable to cope, aggressive, undersocializaed, or homed in an environment/family where it will not thrive. We don't have to wait for a bite to determine if these dogs will likely harm a human or dog: that's what behavioral testing is for. This is the one that we are seeing much more of as trainers, and it's disheartening. 

 No matter what the reason, we have an epidemic of dogs going into homes in which they are not suited. There are thousands of dogs the need rescue and do very well with families, who become man's best friend, and love life to the fullest. There are dogs who do really well with a behavior plan and do well with management, and advocacy. Then, there are the dogs who need to be put humanely to sleep because the stress of living every day is hell, a hell that we owe them to get out of with dignity and prevent them from causing irreparable harm to a child, another dog, or any adult victim. 

 It's awesome that people want to save dogs, but what isn't helping is the idea that it's our duty to save every one of these dogs in shitty situations. We can't. We shouldn't. There are dogs who deserve a home, who genuinely love people, or can acclimate comfortably with a very strict routine in an environment that is suited to them. Some dogs, like Sadie, need to be medicated and trained every day to be successful, but she is generally a happy dog, even if certain things stress her out.  But it's not our duty to save dogs who are killing kids, dogs, and live their entire life as a ball of stress and anxiety. If Sadie were no longer happy, was stressed out, behaviorally unsound, or I was unable to keep her, my family, my kid, other dogs, and my community safe from her, than it's on me as her owner (damned public opinion) to humanely end her life so she doesn't harm another. She doesn't even need to physically harm to the point where the long arm of justice would crack down - if I, as her owner, see that she is too stressed to function, even without a bite, then it's on me to be accountable. 

To the people who are crying out for the dog who was run off by a cat to "please let me adopt him, I can help him!", go to a shelter and help a dog that is behaviorally tested. Put your effort into ending breed bans so dogs like Lennox don't get euthanized for being a Pitbull. Put your effort in a healthy place, not to rescue a dog who prey-stalked a kid, shook it to create substantial harm, and has had a reputation for biting people in the past. I know you want to help, so help in a meaningful way. Help the shelters in your area get behavior testing so dogs like the one above can get the help it needs BEFORE it attacks a kid completely unprovoked. Go into schools and talk to kids about the DoggoneSafe program. Volunteer at your local shelter and teach these dogs to "sit", "down" and "stay". Work on preventing dogs from getting adopted on roadsides out of state lines, or work with your shelter to make sure when dogs are homed, they have support if things aren't going well. If you want to help, help in these ways. I encourage you to do these things. We need this. 

Education is the part that is missing in many of these dog-bite cases. I recently worked on a case where the owners really just didn't know about barrier aggression, and inadvertently made things worse. The dog is now doing well with a training plan. Some do, some don't, but we need to behavior test and be honest with potential adopters about the dogs they are getting, and to humanely euthanize those that clearly won't be successful. To truly save dogs, we need to know where to focus efforts. Education, behavior evaluations, and accountability from owners/rescue groups/shelters/breeders is really where it's at. I have low regard for those shelters who are consistently passing the buck to owners so they can keep their "no kill" status, but to what end? That's really the terrible part in all of this. 


Shop, Take 2!

Hi everyone!

 I found a different platform that I think I like better for dog sports and dog training apparel through Spreadshirt.

My Shop can be found here

If there is something you'd like to see, let me know and I'll whip it up!

Currently, the following sports are featured, but I can certainly add more:

 - Disc 
 - Agility
 - Nosework (tm) / Tracking/ Find It Games
 - Rally Obedience

Let me know what you think or if you'd like a different sport highlighted!

 Get outside and play with your dog. In Somerville, we have the Pet Palooza in Assembly Square on August 2-3, and the Somerville Dog Festival on September 14th!

 It'll be a good time to wear your sport dog swag, or put your dog in a bandanna requesting space (for training, or space sensitive dogs) or requesting a sit (for puppies learning to sit, or exuberant jumpers!)

Happy Summer!



Gallows Humor

I have been working on a project which has brought up the passing of several dogs who have been near and dear to me. Though the topic of dogs passing away is gut-wrenching for anyone who has had to say goodbye to a canine companion, I remembered perhaps the funniest story I have (I pull it out at parties when the reading of the room is just right), which happened to involve the death of the last dog sledding dog I have ever loved. It defines "gallows humor" in a way that nothing else in my personal experience really quite can.

I was living with my dear friends, the Bogdanoves. Their son had moved to school in Boston, and they were new empty-nesters. I needed a nest after a series of events in Ohio left me rather stuck. I had just adopted Sadie, my Border collie puppy, which I thought would be a problem, but they welcomed me, and my little dog, too, with open arms. It was the perfect way to get a new start after college.

My brother got me a job at MBNA, where I was "that guy" that you have to talk to once you get through hours of "push one for English." "For credit cards, press 44, and then sit here and listen to this awful music for the next thirty minutes because all of our representatives are currently busy". I was that representative. It's ok, I hated it as much as you hated calling me. Maybe worse. 

My hours were 1pm to midnight, which in hindsight, was the worst. I'd get home at 1am and everyone in the house would be asleep. I'd be awake for 2 hours in a desperate attempt to wind down, fall asleep around 3am, get up at 10 for breakfast, and go into work at noon. It paid the bills and got me on my feet again, but god it was soul sucking. 

One morning at 6am, my father called the Bogdanoves. I heard his voice on the answering machine (those still existed!) so I jumped out of bed with only a couple hours of sleep from the night before. He said "Cinnamon had a heart attack or a stroke. She's dying. I need your help. Get here quickly." I hopped in  my tried and true S10 and drove to my dads house which was 30 minutes away (I made the trip in 15, inadvisably driving WAY over the speed limit). 

Cin was my puppy from childhood, and also the last of our huskies. She was 13 when this event occurred. When I got there, I left the truck running, hopped out of the car, crawled into her dog house without even saying hi to Dad, and that's when she licked me, and died. It was totally out of a movie or a book, and I'll never forget that moment.

Dad, seeing my truck in the driveway, came out, and I told him she was gone. "Alright, I'll drive up to the neighbors to grab a couple of shovels". It's Maine, so the nearest neighbor owned a farm and literally was driving distance away, so this in and of itself isn't odd, but does start the "gallows humor" part of the story. 

Dad started to go up his driveway, and ended up parking on the lawn. "Dammit, my brakes are gone. Alright, here's what we're going to do. I have to get to JJ's auto body in Damariscotta. You're going to use your truck to stop me if anything goes wrong."

Parenting, that's how you do it. You volunteer your oldest daughter to drive 7 mph in front of you in the break down lane, to go two towns in order to get the brakes fixed in a Buick, and tell her to run interference in the event the vehicle fails to stop. Luckily, there were only two turns, and one flashing yellow light, so we were probably going to be just fine. 

We hopped onto Rt. 1, drove to get his car fixed, luckily without incident, especially considering JJ's had a downhill driveway, and he hitched a ride back with me. We stopped at the neighbors to get some shovels, stopped at Dunkin' Donuts, because we have needs, and then we dug a hole for our deceased pet. 

We wrapped up around 11:30 am and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I was beyond exhausted and unable to go to my shift where I would sit at a desk for 11 hours. I called and left a voicemail for my manager from my cell phone. 

 "Hi Chris. I'm exhausted. My dog died this morning, and my dad's brakes failed. There was luckily no accident, but I did spend the morning burying the dog with him in the back yard. I'm spent. I'm not coming in today. I'm really tired and very upset. I hope you're not mad that I did this last minute. See you tomorrow."

 A few hours later, my brother, who I shared a shift with, showed up at my fathers house. He looked devastated. I asked him what on earth was wrong. He said "Where's dad?" When dad came to see who was at the door, my brother went sheet white, like he had seen a ghost, and exclaimed "Dad? You're alive!"

After he composed himself , my brother explained that he spent the better part of the afternoon calling area hospitals asking for our father. Evidently, the voicemail I left my manager raised a few eyebrows when the cell phone cut out in a few *key* points in the message.
What my brother heard was: 
"Hi Chris. I'm exhausted. My..daw ...died....dad's brakes failed....accident...I spent the morning burying..him in the back yard. I'm spent. I'm really tired and very upset. See you tomorrow."
We all had a laugh. I could only imagine my boss, his boss, and my brother, sitting around the answering machine, wondering why I thought to bury my dad in the back yard after a car accident. I bet they were also preparing my "Employee Of The Month" award for enthusiastically declaring I would come in the day after my dad died AND that I took matters into my own hands and placed him in the garden. Seriously, that's the sort of self motivation that this company really got off on, and honestly, probably why they went under less than a year later, but that's another tale for a different blog. 



Pro-Tip: DIY Kong Case

I can't  say it enough: food toys and puzzle games are mandatory for our urban dogs. Dogs who roam freely spend upwards of 85% of their day just looking for food, according to Dr. Nicholas Dodman at Tufts. That's a lot more time devoted to a job than anything most of our pet dogs experience. Most dogs just hang out, barking at the neighbors all day. They need something to keep them busy.

Most dogs prefer to eat in 30 seconds flat after the food hits the bottom of the dish. By the time you put the bag of dog food away, they are looking at you expectantly, as if to say "That would have been delicious if I took the time to taste it. Now what do we do!?! ADVENTURES!"

Having a dog eat out of a puzzle toy is the easiest thing to stave off boredom, and keep them busy for 10 minutes while you take a shower, or prepare to leave for work.

I always advise my students to go through the following routine:
-Buy 6-8 Kongs
-Fill them once a week with a mix of their Kibble and yogurt (or peanut butter, cream cheese, soft dog food, or something palatable/soft to mix with the kibble).
-Stuff the Kong and put in the freezer.
-Give dog the Kong at breakfast, dinner or as a goodie to distract from jumping on company.

The problem with this comes in two forms.
1. If the Kong is just hanging out in the freezer, the soft substance goops up the freezer, because it leaks during the freezing process.
2. If you try to put these in a bag first, they don't get quite as frozen, and your hands get yucky when you remove the Kong from the bag.

Instead, the next time you make a 12 egg omelet, save the carton. Put the egg carton on the inside of the freezer door, and put the stuffed Kongs pointy end down into the egg cartons. The cardboard (or Styrofoam) will catch all the goopy stuff you don't want to clean out in a year, and the Kongs get solidly frozen.

Don't judge me by the pre-made sweet potato casserole.
It's tasty.

Let me know what you think, and what you have used to help your dog stay busy! There are thousands of puzzle toys out there. Even just sprinkling kibble in a clean back yard (no pesticides, cocoa mulch, or other poisonous substances should be around!) can give a more sedentary dog a little break from the monotony of eating out of a food dish.



The temperature is up to a balmy 45, which means only one thing in New England- it's OUTSIDE SEASON! Activities can include hiking, running, or going to the dog park. Here are 5 easy things that you can do right now to make sure your dog is happy, healthy, and behaviorally set for the season to come!

5. Don't Keep Fido on a Leash in the Dog Park.
If you or someone you know is taking your dog to the dog park only to keep him leashed to "socialize" him, you might be doing more harm than good. Barrier Reactivity is a real thing that is quite common in the city. If you have a dog in a fenced in dog park who is leashed, chances are with every interaction that dog is having, there is tension on the leash, adding to the frustration in the leashed dog. In a matter of time (minutes, or weeks) that dog is likely going to develop frustration linked to being held back. If you are going to the dog park, and your dog is friendly, take him off leash. If you are not sure if your dog is a candidate for the dog park, read this article from the ASPCA to help you figure out how to introduce your dog to the dog park, or IF you should.

4. If Your Dog Is Off Leash, Have A Reliable Recall On Your Dog. 
I've written several times about the importance of having a reliable recall on your dog. When you say "COME!", your dog should come to you and be able to get leashed if need be without blowing you off, or introducing a game of "come chase me!" to the command. For starters, your dog might be super friendly, but the dog who he's running up to might have an issue with a charging dog bounding up to say hi. I don't like strangers tearing off across a field to embrace me in a hug, and I know for certain that my dog doesn't like it, either. If your dog can't handle off leash time (legality aside of being off leash in most parks!), you need to work on recall. Off leash time is earned, not a right for your dog. It's a matter of safety. 

3. Check These Etiquette Rules From Dr. Sophia Yin
Does your dog jump on people at the park? Do you let it slide? Read this quick blog post article and see what you can do to avoid being "that guy" at the dog park. There are great illustrations to show what to do, and what not to do, from the one and only, Dr. Sophia Yin. 

2. Watch the Temperature
In New England, the temperatures can go from 45 to 85 in a period of a few weeks, and then back down to 60. It's important to know what your dog can, and should, handle as it pertains to heat. Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with pushed-in-faces, like pug, bulldogs, and Boston terriers) have a harder time regulating their temperatures. Puppies don't know when to quit no matter what the weather. Older dogs might not be able to handle warm weather, either. It's also important to note the temperature of the sidewalks: if it's 85 degrees in the blistering sun at noon, it's best to not have dogs walking on the hot concrete. They can burn the delicate pads as they are the only body part that is not protected by fur. Time your walks appropriately, and be mindful of your pup. They might be stubborn, but if it's hot outside your bulldog is better for you not pushing it. 

1. If Your Dog Doesn't Like The Park Anymore, It's Totally OK!
When I was a kid, I loved the little kid park. Now that I'm older, I like a cocktail party. My needs and desires have changed greatly with my adult personality, and our dogs have changing preferences, too. Dogs who used to like playing with puppies, might not appreciate those "young whippersnappers" rudely lapping under their chins now that they are adult dogs. They might not like sharing their ball, or your affections with other dogs. Besides, at the dog park, there are a lot of dogs there, and not all are behaviorally sound, or give off good social cues. If your dog has been going to the park long enough, statistically it's bound to happen that time will toll on your dog and all the years of bad body language from a few dogs will make your dog think twice about bounding with other playmates. As your dog ages, they might really enjoy the company of 1-2 other dogs, or a play group with the same cast of characters instead of the who-knows-who-will-be-there at the local park.

If your dog is reactive in the presence of toys near other dogs, it's not fair for your dog to feel stressed out. It's best to find another outlet for your pup, where they can play without worrying that some young dog is going to take their prized ball (or worse - your attention!) Take your dog at a time when no one is at the park, or find another area to platy fetch with your dog, and make sure you have a reliable recall on your pup so you can call Fido over to you in the event another dog arrives at your secret spot. (See #4 for videos pertaining to this). It's worse to force your dog to go to the park to play around other dogs if they aren't enjoying the game anymore. Find another outlet. It's totally OK. I promise!

There is no shame in not going to the park anymore. Just think of it as the highest honor your dog can give you: they prefer you to the other dogs, which might be harder for you, but in the end, is pretty cool. 
In the interim, it's also important to work with your dog to safely instill confidence (not every dog will take your toy!) so if you would like to work with a certified professional on this, use positive techniques as aversive training can add more stress to your already stressed out pup. If your dog thinks that another dog means a collar pop or an alpha roll, they are likely to become more stressed out over time, which is the opposite of confidence training. You want your dog to look forward to other dogs, but also trust that you will provide adequate space. It's a dance and an important one, so find someone suited for this work by searching the APDT, CCPDT or KPA websites for more information. 


(Hopless) Beer Biscuits for Pups

A few weeks ago, the Husband and I brewed 2 batches of beer, and with it, we had about 2 1/2 pounds of grains that were used in the brew process that typically gets tossed out. Over the last 2 years, I had been using these grains to make dog cookies, use in baking (it's a great flavor to add to any baked goods for complexity in flavor!), but this time was special. I baked for 2 days making dog cookies for Som-Dog's second annual Pizza and Pints for Pups. Proceeds from the evening (including money spent at the restaurant and raffle!) are raised by the group to give back to the community in the form of events, education, and programs that encourage people to go out responsibly with their dogs. We also use the money to put towards education by teaching children how to say hi to dogs, what to do when there is a scary dog in the neighborhood, and how to tell someone that you don't want to say hi to their dog. It's a great group, and I'm happy to be a part of it, even in a small way.

Home-Made Beer Biscuits for the Som-Dog Event! 

I NEVER check my Facebook messages. I'm rather terrible at it. I also discovered that there is an "Other" inbox, which messages from people you don't know happen to appear. There were a couple messages from people who had dogs who loved the cookies, and who wanted to know how to get more. Two things:

1. I'm flattered, really!
2. I'm SO sorry I never got back to you all. (See disclaimer above)

If you happen to know of a person who brews at home, the recipe is easy. You can use some version of this recipe. (I've used pumpkin, yogurt and peanut butter, and other mixes. PB works best as it's clumpy and holds the cookies together, but if you like variety, there are other things you can do).

It should go without saying that the grains and hops are kept separate during the brew process, which is great because we only use the grains in making dog cookies. Hops, though great in beer, are toxic to dogs, so don't share the actual finished beer with Fido. Give them a Beer Biscuit instead.