Monday, July 16, 2012

Effective in an Emergency?

Fires are one of my biggest fears. When I was in the first grade my family’s barn burnt down, luckily for us, there were no horses in the barn at the time, but our beloved dogs were being kept in the horse stalls as a temporary kennel. I’ve blogged about this in the past, it was a windy day, the barn manager had a friend over whose car backfired causing sparks, the wind picked up the sparks, and a fire quickly began. A few things went wrong in the tactics being used to fight the fire, and the barn burned completely to the ground. The firefighters thought they had rescued all of the animals in the barn, but had overlooked my black lab, Rex. He perished in the blaze.

A few years ago I discovered decals made to notify emergency responders of any pets in the building. These decals can be placed on your front window or door, and give you space to write the number of dogs in your house to help ensure they are rescued in the event of an emergency. Of course, I loved this idea! My animals are like family to me, and I would hate to lose another beloved pet to a fire. Immediately I ordered one online (you can get them free through the ASPCA, or purchase one at your local pet specialty shop).

As you may know, one of my brothers is a firefighter, so I turn to him for all fire-related questions. One day we were talking about dogs in emergency situations, and how a normally docile dog may turn violent or aggressive when surrounded by the stress of a fire, first responders in full gear, sirens, etc. He explained from a fire fighter’s perspective the first priorities are saving human lives and putting out the blaze to save the building, but they do try to save animals, when they can. Many fire trucks are even equipped with oxygen masks for dogs to combat smoke inhalation. When I learned this I asked his thoughts on these decals, mentioning I always keep one in clear sight at the entrance to my house.

I was saddened to learn that decals like this are rarely noticed or relied upon by fire fighters… of course, this could be different for each department or area. He told me in the event of a fire the firefighters are focused on clearing the building and putting out the fire. With this in mind, they do everything possible to search for lives (including pets), but it is unlikely they would have the time to look for said decal in such instances.

I’ve blogged about the decals in the past, and I will continue to hang a decal notifying emergency crews of my animals, but I now have a more realistic view of how effective this tool is in saving the lives of my pets in a blaze. Fires are terrifying, and I pray none of my readers ever has to go through one, but there are some tools you can have in place. Practice for an emergency. Plan your exit strategies, and factor your pets into them. My brother said practicing is far and away the best preparation tool! Keep collars and leashes in an easily accessible place, but also keep in mind you may not be able to access that spot in a blaze. Your first priority should always be getting you and other humans out, but if time allows do try to bring your pets with you. As fires are an incredibly high stress situation for pets, work on socialization and obedience with distractions. Take your dogs places they may encounter loud noises, sirens, or people in full gear and practice your basic obedience. The last thing you want is your dog to hide in fear during an emergency like this. So work heavily on your recall, as well as your stay command.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I wanted to bring my readers up to speed, as a lot has happened since I was routinely blogging.

You may remember I purchased Hush as my first show dog, and while conformation has been put on the back burner (for the time being), that is still my ultimate goal with her. In the meantime, I’ve found I absolutely love obedience, and am working towards getting her ready for competition! At the end of last summer/early fall, I began taking basic obedience classes with Hush at the Mt. Vernon Dog Training Club, a wonderful group that runs incredible (and affordable!) classes out of the basement of a church in Old Town Alexandria. Between classes, I do a lot of practicing with both dogs. Here are Hush and Milly in a sit stay while on a walk with considerable distractions (children playing on the sidewalk, cars, and the dreaded squirrel!). I love our practice time almost as much as our class time, as the improvements are so apparent in my daily living! 

Basic went very well – we took an 8 week course where no treats were allowed, and this put a great foundation on her (you may remember I took the same course with Milly). Treats are an incredible tool, but I have become a firm believer in needing to know how to get your dog to perform both with and without treat-based rewards. By not having treats in class, I was able to really hone my skills as a handler, and learn the importance of verbal and physical queues, and most important, verbal and physical praise! The lack of treats in a very distraction filled class enabled me to be firm when necessary, and produced great results – particularly with her sit and stays.

At the end of the 8 week course, Hush graduated alongside Evan, my best friend Eileen’s dog. This was a great milestone, and we hosted a graduation party for our dogs at Jay’s Saloon and Grill in Clarendon (a section of Arlington, VA for those non-DC readers). The doggie graduation party was a blast for both people and dogs, and was well attended by friends and canines alike. Yappy hours and restaurants with outdoor/dog friendly seating are always fun and a good way to reinforce obedience with a multitude of distractions… so graduation was a perfect excuse to get everyone out to celebrate! Here are some pictures from the patio of Jay's saloon on graduation! Hush is the golden and Evan is that handsome boy in the natural tuxedo! They're BFF - which makes obedience class even more fun and challenging - talk about a MAJOR DISTRACTION when your dog is in a down-stay, you're 30 feet away, and their best friend walks by in a loose leash heal!

After basic, we continued obedience classes and moved up into the advanced basic course – the goal of this course was to prepare owners and dogs for the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. Advanced Basic was a 10-week course, where treats were allowed. The class reinforced and perfected everything we learned in the basic course, and incorporated more distractions and exercises geared towards passing the CGC test.

All dogs learn at different paces, and Hush is no exception. She has always been a dog that takes quickly to certain things, and seemingly takes forever to understand other concepts. For Hush, “down” is one of those areas that she and I both struggled greatly with. In basic, this was the hardest thing for us, and that struggle continued through advanced basic. Down is a very submissive command, where the handler is exhibiting a great deal of authority over the dog, and the dog is being asked to go into a very vulnerable position. It was less that Hush was not obeying or resisting me, and more that she just could not figure out what I wanted her to do. Luckily, Mt. Vernon Dog Training Club is run by incredible volunteers, and each teacher spent considerable one-on-one time with us working on this.

On the final day of class, we took the Canine Good Citizen test, and Hush went into a perfect down. For us, down stay is easy, but getting that down is hard. The rest of the test included walking in a crowd, meeting a stranger with a strange dog, sit and down, sit and down stays, loose leash walking, an off-leash recall (with a 20 foot rope dragging behind for safety purposes), and being left with a friendly stranger while the owner is out of sight for 2 minutes. Hush was perfect, and passed with flying colors! We received both an official certificate from the AKC, and our first ribbon (from MVDTC) upon graduation. While the Canine Good Citizen is a certificate and not a title, many dog enthusiasts like to include it as a suffix to their dog’s name, where you would also include your title abbreviations as you earn them. I can’t tell you the sense of pride I had as I updated Hush’s pedigree on to include her CGC. With the updated suffix, I decided to include a more grown up picture of her, as well. You can check it out here. And remember, those Golden Retriever and lab owners can use to research your dog's pedigree! Is your dog not on there already? Do you know your dogs parents? Or have a copy of their pedigree? If so, you can enter your dog yourself!

So where are we now? After the advanced basic course, we continued with obedience, taking the Pre-Novice course, but as luck would have it, Hush went into heat for the majority of the Pre-Novice course. Because of this, I requested I retake the class to continue to solidify basics. The great thing is MVDTC lets you re-take Pre-Novice up to three times. Hush is no longer in heat, and we're about 3/4 through Pre-Novice, we have learned so many new things – and perfected those we already know (like the dreaded down!). I am currently finishing up this level of courses, and will hopefully graduate and move to MVDTC Burke location, where we’ll work each week at the Novice level until we're ready to compete! I am one step away from seriously training for competition with Hush, and I am so excited and proud!