Setting New Goals for 2017

Ah the smell of a brand new year!!  It’s so squeaky clean, and I always really love it when the calendar is brand new!!  Somehow, a new year always seems full of hope and anything feels possible!  I don’t set any New Years Resolutions, because for me, I might just as well stamp “epic fail” on anything that has the word “Resolution” attached to it!

Don’t get me wrong!  I like setting goals, and I like working toward achieving them.  I’m an eternal optimist!  I really am.  At my house, the glass is always half full.  When it’s a rainy day, if there’s a break in the clouds, I’m the one looking for the rainbow to appear at any moment!  It’s just who I am.  I have to admit that Disney’s “Pollyanna” is a favorite movie.  I love how she thinks and approaches life!

However, I’m also a realist.  Even though I’m optimistic about things in life, I understand the reality of life, and the limitations that are presented to all of us.  This is definitely true in my work with dogs.  I am always always hopeful that a reactive, emotional dog can change his way of thinking and responding to life.  It’s what keeps me working.

However, I know that realistically, much of the success with any given dog will be up to the dog himself to connect the dots and work through his issues to learn new behaviors.  Not all dogs can work through the process and I understand that.  Sometimes, the behavior has gone on for so long, that realistically, I’m not likely to change anything.  However, as long as the dog and owner want to try, I’m your girl, because I’m all in if there’s hope for change and a willingness to try.

I think dogs must surely be the most hopeful creatures that God has ever created!

So having said all of that, how in the world do I set any measurable goals in my work with Rugby James?  He’s soon going to be ten years old. Realistically, much of his behavior is pretty well set into stone at this stage of his life.  I’m not likely to see him completely stop resource guarding or learn to accept strangers or dogs.  For nine years, we have worked on these issues, and for nine years, I’ve seen some good results, but the changes have come in baby steps and with a whole lot of hard, consistent work.  In some situations, he can be an absolute rock star, and in other situations, he melts down into a ridiculous barky, reactive mess of emotion.

As a result, I’m selective in who and what I expose him to, and I’m always prepared for the worst possible behavior to erupt.  Because Rugby can be aggressive, I always have a basket muzzle if I ever think there’s a possibility that he could become dangerous.  He always wears his Thundershirt when we go somewhere.  I always use a harness with him, because if the situation goes south, I know I can’t physically harm him, if I have to give him a big tug on the leash to get him out of a situation.  And with Rugby, he’s far less reactive on a harness than he is on a buckle collar, so using a harness just makes good sense for us.

Generally, for all exams, Rugby sits/lays on my lap. I’m hoping to get him more comfortable on the exam table being handled by the vet staff.

Rugby is a dog who needs a small world.  He can’t cope with the everyday situations that other dogs can manage.  So I focus on improving the quality of his life within the confines of his small world.  I try to improve things where he simply has to be exposed:  the vet and staff, his house and yard, neighbors, friends, etc.

We have occasional fun outings to walk in a cemetery, for example, but I can’t do them very often, because Rugby gets very stressed if they are too frequent.  He loves to do the occasional field trip, so I try to schedule outings when it can be fun for Rugby and I know that he will have a successful, positive experience in the process.

This year, I hope to have some additional success in exposing him to the vet staff with “friendly vet visits.”  These are visits in which I simply take Rugby to our vet clinic during a slow period so that the staff can pet him, talk to him, and offer him treats.  That’s it.  It’s a friendly visit, where there is no poking or prodding, and his interactions with the staff are all positive and good in Rugby’s eyes.

If you look carefully in this photo, you’ll see Rugby wearing his basket muzzle. I never know when a dog will walk out into the lobby, so I’m prepared to keep all of us safe and secure….just in case!

Depending on how he does, I want to see if this year, I can get him comfortable being handled on the exam table rather than my lap.  He’s done super well with friendly vet visits this fall, and his vet said that his most recent annual exam was the best she thought he’d ever had.  I felt ten feet tall hearing that!  I was able to get him on the exam table for part of his exam, and he tolerated things really well for the most part.

This year, I hope to get him more comfortable watching humans walk in and out of the clinic without melting down.  He doesn’t cope well with change, so getting him to handle surprises like a new stranger coming into the clinic without completely freaking out would be great!  So far, this has been absolutely hit or miss with very little predictability in how he will respond.

At home, I hope to work more on getting him to tolerate our neighbors having friends over for cookouts in their back yards.  Rugby typically finds it necessary to announce to the world that the neighbors have guests over, and while he may feel that it’s important to bark loudly and for a long time, he really needs to learn that they honestly will not cook and eat him!  His primary concern is that it upsets the peace and quiet of his back yard, which is secluded and offers the same back yard experience day after day.  That’s the way that he likes it:  quiet, predictable and safe!  He loves the occasional squirrel or chipmunk surprise, but never appreciates people or dog surprises!!

I’d like to do additional yard training in the front yard, to see him feel safer outside the fence, trusting that I’ll have his back and keep him safe.  Right now, he’s clearly anxious, and his body language says that he’s very uncomfortable, and ready to explode at a moment’s notice. I’d like to see him improve with being able to see his neighborhood when nothing is happening, and learn to relax.  That’s really never, ever happened.  It will be a tall order!

In this photo, Rugby has “bunny ears” pinned back, and has not rolled over on his hip. It’s impossible to see in the photo, but his elbows were barely touching the grass.  He was unable to look at me or focus on a treat. He was ready to spring right up at a moment’s notice!

And those are our goals for 2017.  Some are realistic and more measurable.  Others are a bit lofty, but I think it’s good to have some balance with reality and daring to dream!  I want to give Rugby the chance to simply amaze me!  I always say that any progress forward is good progress, so even if it comes in the very familiar baby steps, I’ll take what I can get.  I’m an optimist, remember?




Honoring Black Dogs!

Many people may not realize this, but there’s a definite bias against black dogs in America.  Shocking, I know!  Who doesn’t love a goofy, fun-loving black Labrador Retriever, right?  But sadly, black shelter dogs don’t always fare very well.  They are the very first to be euthanized, and least adoptable animals in shelters.

Why is that?  What’s wrong with black dogs?  Honestly, a big part of the reason is because they don’t photograph well.  Shelters often try to take cute photos of their adoptable dogs that they can display online to help with adoptions, and black dogs often just don’t look great, because of lighting and the lack of definition of their features in photos.

Additionally, many parents want to have great family photos with the kids and the dog, and they sometimes choose dogs who will look great to make those family memories in photos.  As a result, they often steer clear of black dogs.  I know. I know.  Crazy.  No…CRAZY!!  It sounds like I’m loony tunes for sure!  All of us are drawn to a specific “look” in the dogs that we choose.  Unfortunately, black dogs just don’t fare well in that.

Rugby put out an invitation on his “Fussbutts” page to his black furiends and today, he and I would love to feature photos of those very special dogs.  Many thanks to their wonderful owners who were kind enough to send Rugby their photos and personal bios of these very special dogs!  Enjoy the photo montage of black dogs who are every bit as lovable as any other dog on planet Earth!

“Shelby” loved by Lila Marsh. She’s a German Rottweiler, the love of her mom’s life…and she often snores when she sleeps!!


“Katy” loved by Erin Imperati. Lived to be 17 years young, playful even in her old age! She most enjoyed stealing socks and hiding!


This 2.5 year old beauty is Peanut! He’s loved by Jessica Strebeck. He absolutely loves treats and playing fetch! Rugby James approves!!


“Roscoe” loved by Allen and Miracle Meyer. He loves balls and Nylabones and is obsessed with cardboard boxes! He gives slow sweet kisses even if the recipient doesn’t want them! His favorite treats are yogurt cups and cheese.


“Marley,” loved by Sarah Thomas. Marley loves: Salmon snacks, soft-serve vanilla ice cream, cheese, squirrels, animals on TV, and cuddles!
“Annie” loved by Peg Dixon. This is Annie relaxing on the sofa – in her sunny spot. In the mornings, she moves around the living room to stay in the sun for her nap.

So here’s a cheer to black dogs in America!!  At, we salute you!  We love your shiney, sleek black fur that looks amazing in sunshine!  We love your beautiful expressive eyes which simply melt into that shiney fur!  Your smiles are huge and bright because of the sharp contrast of white and black, giving you an edge over the average smiling dog.

Rock on, my furry friends!!  You deserve a day to call your own!



My Evolution into Positive Reinforcement Training

Just about every dog trainer in the world is going to say that they use “positive reinforcement” as their training method and style.  It’s a phrase that gets thrown around so much that it almost really doesn’t mean anything anymore.  Even trainers who use more traditional methods are likely going to say that they use positive reinforcement, because they offer praise to the dogs that they are training, and therefore offer “positive” reinforcement to the dogs.  It’s “politically correct” terminology.

To really understand my own evolution into positive reinforcement training, I think you almost have to know some of my history of training methods and styles, because they have really evolved over the years, and are headed in a really good direction!  The more that time goes by, the more science teaches us just how very smart dogs are, and my training methods have evolved to adjust to that.

Back in the early 1980’s when I was training my very first dog, the training methods used by my local kennel club were traditional, and harsh in my opinion.  The dogs were “corrected” into the behavior that the trainer wanted, and “made” to do the specific behavior.  The idea was that if the dog was consistently corrected when they stepped outside the boundary of the specific behavior, over time, they would simply give the trainer that given behavior in order to avoid the correction.  UGH!!


Those were the methods that I used with my very first dog.  No rewards other than pets and praise were offered at all, because the thought was that the dog would become dependent upon the food or toys and never willingly choose to provide the given behavior on a consistent basis.  The only positive aspect that I was allowed to use was to pet and verbally praise the dog.  That was it.


When I was showing Schatsi, almost all of the top obedience dogs in the Midwest were Golden Retrievers….the love sponges of the canine world!!   They were so happy to work for pets and sweet talk!  However, my independent thinking, creative, problem solving little Corgi wasn’t having any of that petting and praising business!  He was far too independent to work for those things, so our early training experience was very frustrating, and involved my trainers blaming me for a whole lot of Schatsi’s independence, because I was just too “soft” with him.  *sigh*

My Schatsi was ridiculously food motivated!  He would have stood on one ear for three minutes if he could have gotten a bite of something tasty!  However, all I was allowed to offer him was a bit of fetch with a tennis ball or Kong toy when he did a really great job.  Otherwise, it was only pets and verbal praise for him.  Don’t get me wrong….he didn’t mind the pets and praise, but he wasn’t especially willing to work for them, either.  As a result, training had a whole lot of correction and a very negative bias to it, because Schatsi wasn’t willing to please me out of the goodness of his little Corgi heart!  He wanted to feel like he was getting a good paycheck for hard work, and pets and praise wasn’t enough pay for the work he was giving me.  As a result, he hated working, and I really hated training him, to be perfectly honest.  It was just no fun for either one of us.


When I started training and showing him in conformation training….think Westminster Kennel Club Show….I found as if I had hit my sweet spot in training!  It was so happy, positive, and encouraging to dog and owner!  I got to use the yummiest treat Schatsi wanted, and I could dish out treats any time he was doing exactly what I wanted.  I actually taught him by “baiting” him right into the specific behavior that I wanted from him, and guess what?  Shatsi happily did anything and everything I wanted, without my having to be cross or give harsh corrections!  He quickly learned to provide the specific show stand and stay, even while a judge was doing a physical exam, and he gaited nicely and self stacked easily for me.  He was so happy working, and we both really had fun with it!  In the ring, I could let his little personality show itself just a bit, and there were no points deducted for that!


In short, it was such a positive, happy, and fun experience for us both!  I kept thinking that there shouldn’t be such a huge difference between training for obedience, or training for conformation.  In both venues, all we really wanted was a well trained dog who would be a team with their handler, and perform specified behaviors on a consistent basis.

Why was that so hard to accomplish?  To be honest, I was frustrated with the “war” that I saw going on between those two dog sports, largely because of the methods of training.  The obedience people thought that the conformation people were too soft on their dogs, and disliked the use of bait in the ring to show the dogs.  On the other hand, the conformation people thought that the obedience people were harsh and rough on dogs, and frankly, I had firsthand knowledge that this was definitely true at times.  It was why I left our local obedience club.  I just didn’t like the methods to get to the goal.


Now to be sure, when you compete in a dog sport, no matter what that sport is, you do have to have a dog who is more well trained than the average dog!  Performance trainers can be a bit hard core to be sure, just as Olympic athletes are serious about their training too.  However, for me, it came down to realizing that all my Schatsi wanted was a mama who loved him, food, water, shelter, predictable days, toys, fun, exercise, etc.  He didn’t ask to come live with me.  He didn’t ask to be a performance dog who had to “Heel” perfectly.  He just wanted a great life, and I am so glad I came to my senses to give that to him!


LOTS have changed in how dogs are trained today, and I’m so happy to have the opportunity to give countless other pet owners the same fun and relationship building experiences that I’ve had with my own dogs over the years.  I absolutely take a positive approach to my training, and work with each dog as an individual who has a unique personality and learning style.  At the end of the day, it’s such a great feeling to keep dogs out of shelters and gifting owners many fun filled years with their dogs.






Make a Difference Wednesday: One Small Dog’s Dream!

Wednesdays can be tough days because they are right smack dab in the middle of the week!  The past weekend was so long ago, and the upcoming weekend is still so far away!  It’s a precarious day of the week, because Wednesday can make or break the balance of the work week!  It’s the one day of the week that can make a very real difference for us.

I think almost everyone wants to make a difference in the world, but we often feel like it’s not possible when we’re just one person, and the needs in the world are never ending and huge!!  Seeing even just some of the needs can be overwhelming!

One of the amazing life lessons I’ve learned from training dogs, and especially from my Rugby James, is that any progress forward, is progress in the right direction.  Even if it’s small progress, if it’s forward progress, then I should celebrate it, no matter how small it may be.

When I’m working with an especially difficult dog, I always have in my mind what the ultimate goal will be, and then I think of those baby steps that will be needed to get me to that ultimate goal.  If I focus only on how big that goal is, it can seem too big to even start the process.

I think making a difference can be a whole lot like that.  If I focus on all of the needs I see or hear about, I can feel really overwhelmed to the point of doing nothing.  I’m just one person.  How can I possibly make a difference?

Rugby’s Dream

For any fans of my little speckled and spotted Rugby James, it’s no secret at all that he is crazy about his little polka dottie piggie toys.  For the whole story of his love affair with piggies, read my post “Piggies Rule at Our House.”  He’s loved these toys since I first introduced them in the summer of 2009. pig
Rugby with his very first blue polka dottie piggie in 2009!

For fun, about a year ago on his Facebook page “Rugby James,” Rugby mused that the only thing that would be way better than a polka dottie piggie toy would be to have his very own real little mini pig that could be his very own pet.  And naturally, I said, “NO!”  Rugby’s reactive behavior and aggressive inclinations make him a good candidate for being an “only dog.”  In addition, I am not equipped in any way, shape or form to care for a real piggie of any kind!  End of subject!

My little dog just never gives up.  He is one persistent pooch!  And he’s asked Santa Paws, the Easter Bunny, the Great Pumpkin….you name it!  He’s asked and sighed over having a little piggie of his very own.  His fans started posting pictures, videos and stories of piggies on his Facebook page! My postman learned that Rugby gets mail from fans which sometimes includes a piggie of one sort or another.  He has a piggie collection in the office he shares with me, small tokens of big love given to my little piggie loving dog.  His fans have been begging and rooting for Rugby to someday get his little dream piggie!

Some of Rugby’s piggie collection

This is serious stuff at my house!

How to Make a Dream Reality…

So….the big challenge for me, was how could I possibly ever give Rugby his dream?  One of his fans sent me a message, and she suggested that I consider sponsoring a pig in a sanctuary somewhere.  That idea just resonated with me, and I was so very excited about that possibility!  I started Googling “Pig Sanctuaries,” with eagerness, hoping that I could make this great idea work.

Sadly, most of the sanctuaries who have pigs, have such a high sponsorship amounts, that this modest dog trainer couldn’t possibly afford to help Rugby’s dream come true.  It was so disappointing, and after much searching, I finally thought it was an impossible dream and put it to rest.

Several months later, another one of Rugby’s friends who knew nothing about all of this, happened to post a link on Rugby’s page of a pig sanctuary near where she lived, because she wanted Rugby to know about it.  She wanted Rugby to know that there was a place for little throw away piggies who weren’t wanted anymore….much like what had happened to Rugby before he came to live with me.  She happened to be friends with the Director, and had volunteered at the sanctuary, so she knew firsthand what a great place it really is!

To be honest, I drug my feet looking into it, because I expected the sponsorship amounts to be similar to others that I had seen, and I didn’t have a lot of hope that I would be able to afford to sponsor a piggie for Rugby, much as I wanted to do so!  Well….imagine my HUGE surprise when I discovered that the cost to sponsor a pig was right within my budget!!  The excitement inside me was overwhelming!!

Rugby’s friend arranged for me to meet the Director online and she and I began chatting about what I wanted to do:  sponsor a piggie for Rugby, and help share a wonderful animal sanctuary helping hundreds of animals every single day!  I didn’t have a lot of money to donate to them, but I had a wonderful platform with my blog and Rugby’s Facebook page, and I could help by getting the word out!

I really didn’t want to sponsor just any old piggie….silly as that seems!  It had to be just the right piggie for Rugby…one that would be as special as Rugby James!  I didn’t know how I’d know it, but somehow I just knew in my gut that when the right piggie came along, I would know it!

Last week, I was in between lessons with ten or fifteen minutes to kill, so I opened my Facebook app on my phone, and started scrolling down through my news feed.  Staring back at me was the cutest little piggie snout and deep, expressive eyes!  My heart sighed.  And then I read about how he had been just dumped at the sanctuary overnight, injured in the process of being dumped, and my heart broke for this little waif.

I just couldn’t imagine how scared he must have felt!  And really, this could have been very dangerous for him or the other pigs to have him dumped into the existing herd late at night when there was no proper introduction and integration…especially with an adolescent male who was fully intact.  Fortunately, the on site video cameras captured the faces of the people who dumped him, and that information has been forwarded to the appropriate authorities!

Introductions and a drum roll, please….

So…..start the drum roll….with great joy and delight, I’m introducing our new little family member who happens to live in a wonderful piggie sanctuary in West Virginia!  Meet Oliver Wendell Piggleton!!  He’s a little Vietnamese Pot Bellied Pig, about 15-24 months of age.  He is named after my very first dog, Oliver, who was rescued from a garbage can at six weeks of age.  Like Oliver Wendell Piggleton, my first Oliver was also unwanted and dumped.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:
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PIGS Animal Sanctuary is an amazing place!  Located in West Virginia, they provide haven for all sorts of animals:  Potbellied pigs, farm pigs, horses, cats, dogs, goats, and many other species of animals.  They also do adopt animals to loving, caring homes, but typically, once animals are surrendered, they live out their days in a wonderful, safe sanctuary, with good care.

PIGS Mission Statement

“PIGS, Inc., a Sanctuary is organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes. 

The Sanctuary is a place of refuge to abused, abandoned, neglected or unwanted animals.  The Sanctuary specializes in the care of pot-bellied and domestic pigs, but shelters other farm and domestic animals as well.

Typically, animals residing at the Sanctuary have complicated medical and/or emotional needs, a history of abuse and/or neglect, diseases or ailments related to factory farming or genetic engineering, and are often considered “un-adoptable”.

The Sanctuary seeks to find forever homes for many animals, but serves as a permanent home for up to five hundred un-adoptable animals on any given day.”

Their mission statement really resonated with this dog trainer who adopted a little speckled and spotted puppy who has complicated emotional needs, and would likely be un-adoptable from a rescue or shelter because of those issues.  The thought of my little throw away dog sponsoring a throw away piggie just makes my heart sing!  A little dog and his sponsored piggie….what could be better than that?

Ways to Sponsor…

There are so many ways to help PIGS Animal Sanctuary!  They are a full not for profit organization, and all donations are tax deductible. One time donations are possible, as are regular monthly sponsorships.  They have a posted wish list of needs, if you prefer to send them something on their wish list instead of a cash donation.  And they also accept donated items of value which can be auctioned to raise money as well.

We’ve chosen to sponsor Oliver, which is a monthly donation of $20.00.  Rugby will also be holding an auction on his Facebook page to raise funds to pay for all of Oliver’s veterinary bills and initial costs, which are estimated at $800 to date.

ALL of the sponsorship donations are honestly pretty nominal amounts, and my hope is to inspire others to get involved in helping fund this wonderful place of peace for unwanted animals who often simply got too big to stay in their homes.   Here’s their current list of animals that can be sponsored, and the monthly donation amounts.

Chicken or Turkey – $5.00 A Month

Dog or Cat – $10.00 A Month

Goat or Llama – $15.00 A Month

Pot Belly Pig – $20.00 A Month

Domestic Farm Pig – $25.00 A Month

Horse or Donkey – $30.00 A Month

I’m so very proud to be a part of what’s happening for animals just one state away at PIGS!  And I’m so happy to finally, after more than a year, offer Rugby a little piggie of his very own!!

Links for More Information about PIGS

Here’s the URL for PIGS!

They also have a Facebook page you can follow: