Archive | October 2011

Royal sleeve dog

Honey Bear, my first foster dog in 2010

One of the toughest things for me to accept as a child was that my mother was allergic to dogs. I was just as obsessed with dogs then as I am now but rarely got the chance to spend time with them. Instead, I combed through the glossy photos of a breed book over and over, learning about the different types that could some day be mine. I was always partial to the furry dogs – Chow Chows and Keeshonds, in particular – but pretty much all Spitz and Northern Breeds fit the bill. So the fact that I have now had three foster Pomeranians, a toy Spitz breed, is a lovely coincidence.

My first Pom was Honey Bear. She wasn’t just my first Pom, but my first foster dog. Honey Bear, we believe, was a puppy mill mama. She was dropped off at a shelter to be euthanized with severe hemorrhaging after giving birth to a litter of puppies, none of which survived. At the age of 8+, Honey Bear should not have still been giving birth to puppies so the fact that she ended up at the shelter was probably a blessing in disguise. The shelter staff and volunteers found her to be so sweet and gentle that they pooled their money to pay for Honey’s operation. By the time she got to me, she had spent over two months in the shelter.

My second Pom was Debbie who was found wandering the streets in Bayview Hunter’s Point. . To this day, Debbie remains one of my favorite foster dogs. This goofy, toothless little creature was with me for four months before she found her forever home and I still sometimes regret giving her up.

Debbie dog, my favorite foster (besides Franny, of course)

And now, little Layla has joined our lives. Layla shares a lot of similarities with the other Poms, especially Debbie’s goofiness, but she is also the most classic looking Pom I’ve had. At six pounds, this champagne colored girl has a foxy face, a huge fluffy coat and a perfect fluffy tail.

With all these great furry girls in my life over the past 18 months, I was curious to learn a bit more about the Pomeranian. The first recorded reference to the Pomeranian was in 1764. The breed is descendent from the German Spitz and was developed in the Pomerania region of Poland and northern Germany. Pomeranians were made famous by the British Royal Family, beginning with Queen Charlotte in the late 1760s. But it was Queen Victoria in the 1890s who is responsible for developing and promoting the modern Pomeranian; her Pomeranian breeding kennel decreased the size of the dog by 50% from an average of 30lbs+ to an average of 12-15lbs. Once the Pom’s size decreased, it joined the ranks of the Pekingese and other toy breeds as a royal sleeve dog – a dog held in the wide sleeves of female royalty to warm their hands.

Today the Pomeranian ranks the 15th most popular breed in the US (as of 2010). They can come in a variety of colors, from black to white. Pomeranians are intelligent and easily trainable. They are also good alarm dogs because of their high pitched yips. Poms are usually friendly and bond very closely with their owners. Since they can live for 12-16 years, a 9yr old like Layla has lots of time left to enrich the life of a deserving family.

If you are interested in adopting Layla, visit!

Debarking: inhumane or good idea?

It usually takes a foster dog some time to settle in to their temporary home. By the third or fourth day here, their full personality comes out. With Layla, a curious but hesitant Pom on Thursday night when she was dropped off, transformed in to a joyful, goofy little creature by Sunday. It wasn’t until Layla was comfortable that I realized that when she gets excited, she barks like crazy. How didn’t I notice this? Layla was debarked.

Debarking is a relatively easy surgery in which a vet slices the vocal cords with a laser, either going through the mouth or making a small cut in the larynx. The pain caused to the dog is minimal and recovery is fairly quick and the result is a dog who makes only a raspy wheeze or a squeek. So what is it about debarking that is so unsavory?

Debarking has fallen somewhat out of fashion among younger veterinarians and animal rights advocates. The procedure can lead to complications – scar tissue can build up in the throat and make it difficult to breathe – but this isn’t why some have an issue with it. Debarking impacts a dog’s ability to communicate. Dogs that bark excessively in the home are often frustrated and by removing the bark, you don’t fix the problem, you only silence it. Dog to dog communication also involves barking and other vocalization. If your pup can’t tell another canine to back off because he can’t vocalize, he may result to more physically agressive behavior.

But debarking has its advantages, particularly in urban environments. There is a Miniature Schnauzer in the building next door that barks out of frustration and lonliness for hours on end driving me absolutely nuts. Debarking this dog would certainly make me and the other neighbors a little happier…but couldn’t they achieve the same thing through training? Simple things like leaving your dog a KONG toy filled with peanut butter or cream cheese can keep him occupied while you are away, decreasing his barking. It seems to me that, unless in the most dire situations (for example, a landlord is ready to kick a tenant out because of their dog’s excessive barking), debarking should be a LAST resort, not a first choice.

Layla makes the best of what she’s got and I can’t help but admit that I am glad her excited barking is silent but I wonder, does she realize that she is not communicating vocally? Certainly she can hear herself but, depending on how long her vocal cords have been non-functional, she may not even know that the rest of us can’t hear her barking…

Layla is up for adoption at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue. Visit for more information or read her description here.

When it clicks…

My new clicker!

A great aspect of the Marin Humane Society’s Canine Behavior and Training Academy is the recommended reading list. I’d heard a lot about “clicker training” but it wasn’t until the CBA that I learned how useful it can truly be.

So, clickers are simple little mechanical wonders that, not surprisingly, make a clicking noise when you press them. The click is clear and loud and unlike other sounds in the natural environment. The great thing about a clicker is that you can tell your dog that you like something he is doing even when he is too far away for a treat or petting. So, for example, if Franny is off sniffing something gross (for the sake of argument, lets say her favorite thing, human feces…which she constantly finds in the Panhandle), and I call her name and she actually looks UP from the poop, I can give her a click and she knows she has done well. Over time, we can advance that look to her actually coming towards me and leaving the poop behind. Genius!

For more on clicker training, check out clicker guru Karen Pryor’s website aptly named

Are you interested in teaching your dog some new tricks? Contact me at for clicker training for your dog!

Layla, I’m beggin’ darlin’ please…

Layla is up for adoption at

Franny didn’t get along so well with our last Muttville foster dog, Dusty, but so far so good with our weekend charge Layla.

Layla was adopted last week but, when a gastrointestinal bleeding issue returned, the woman decided she wasn’t equipped to handle it and returned Layla to Muttville. Her return coincided with a perfect storm of the Muttville staff’s exodus to the No More Homeless Pets National Conference in Las Vegas so, Friday morning, I got a call from Anne at the office asking if there was any way I could take Layla in for the weekend. Since I am a sucker for fosters and a huge supporter of Muttville, I immediately agreed. Anne told me Layla was a pom, and the last two foster poms I had were amazing little creatures (one, Debbie – a toothless old lady – to this day remains my favorite…beside Franny, of course). I’m using some of the advice I learned from our experience with Dusty and things are mellow. I think I will foster Layla until she has found a new home…but, as with any foster, the faster she finds her new forever home, the happier she will be!


Layla is around 7-8lbs and a major fluff bucket. She has beautiful apricot fur that takes over everything but her tiny little feet, the tips of her ears, and her pretty face. Layla has very nice manners. She walks well on a leash and is very people friendly. She is a bit shy around other dogs but warmed up to Franny very quickly. She is great cats and sweet as can be. Layla is puppy pad trained and housebroken. She’s energetic and playful but not bouncing off the walls. She loves to “den”, fall asleep under furniture. I’m not sure how old Layla is but I’m guessing around 9-10yrs. If you or someone you know is interested in adding a gorgeous little lady to their lives, please contact me or visit!


The Hot Spot

I fell asleep on the couch this afternoon and awoke to the sound of Franny licking. She licks her paws – probably due to the excess cortisol in her system from her Cushing’s Disease – so when I turned my head to look, I was surprised to see her licking and biting a spot above her tail. When she paused for a moment, I took a look. A raw, red spot the size of the heel of my palm had formed there: the infamous hot spot.

Hot spots are common. They usually begin with an itchy catalyst like a flea bite or injury (think about that mosquito bite you keep scratching until it bleeds; the more you scratch, the itchier it gets) but some dogs create their own hot spot out of boredom, stress, or another psychological issue.

Hot spots can appear in a matter of hours, grow rapidly and easily develop in to a deeper skin infection. The most important thing is to keep the area clean and keep your pup from licking at it. In more extreme cases, this may require you to muzzle your dog or use an Elizabethan collar. You should speak with your veterinarian when a hot spot appears, especially if it grows. Because hot spots can be painful, some dogs may react poorly if you try to touch it (watch out for teeth!) But if your dog does allow you to handle the spot, there are a couple things you can do to help relieve the pain and itchiness while waiting to see the vet.

First shave the area or cut the hair as closely as possible. Hair loss is a feature of hot spots so your dog may have already done the job for you, but if not, the fur can get matted over the area and cause more trouble.

Clean the area with cool water and a mild skin cleanser and use a washcloth to make a cool, wet compress 2-4 times a day.

You can use a tea (black or green tea) to help dry the area out. Steep the tea and let it cool then use it as a wash or as a compress.

Aloe can also be used on the area but be sure that the aloe you choose is natural and non-toxic because your dog may ingest some of it if he licks at the spot.

Twenty tips for a better citizen canine

Modern Hound is officially six weeks old! In honor of our anniversary, I’ve pulled together the first twenty tips for a better citizen canine from our Facebook page:

Tip #1: Does your dog get upset when you leave the house? Next time, instead of showing your dog how much you love him right before leaving, slip out the door without a word. By decreasing the contrast between when you are home, giving your dog all your attention, and when you are away, your absence will be less alarming.

Tip #2: It is not cheating to use treats to reinforce things your dog has already learned! Go ahead, put a few in your pocket before you go out for a walk, and see how your dog puts on their best behavior.

Tip #3: Does your dog get destructive when you leave him alone for long periods of time? Try planting hollow Kong-type toys filled with dog treats around the house before you leave. Not only will he sniff them out and keep himself busy, he will give his doggy brain a great workout by using one of his most important senses!

Tip #4: If your dog barks at you for treats, to open the door or for attention, IGNORE HIM! If you respond, you are teaching him that barking is a good way to get what he wants.

Tip #5: If your dog has an itchy spot, or mange, try fish oil. It’s super hydrating and will help him develop important essential oils to keep the itching down. Buy a bottle of fish oil liquid gel vitamins from the drug or grocery store, cut one open, and put the liquid directly on the spot or brush it through his coat. Fish oil is also sometimes sold in liquid form.

Tip #6: Growling and barking are natural forms of canine communication. When a dog is punished for these behaviors, they may think they have to work harder to get their point across – whether it’s “Back off!” or “Pay attention to me!!”. For more info on barking check out

Tip #7: Never punish your dog for something they have done when you were out. Shoving your dog’s nose into the poo he left on the rug only teaches him to fear you when you return home. It does NOT teach him that pooing in the house is wrong.

Tip #8: When you meet an unfamiliar dog, let him sniff the top of your hand, then pet in under the chin INSTEAD of on top of the head. In dog language, a pet on top of the head by a stranger could be misinterpreted as an agressive act.

Tip #9: It happens to all pups at some time, dreaded diarrhea – hard to look at, even harder to clean up. If your dog’s having a bout, try feeding him a combination of white rice, cottage cheese, and boiled chicken for three to four days to ease digestion and make things solid once again!

Tip #10: When you bring a new dog home, don’t leave him alone with your other pets for at least 72 hours. Put your other animals in a safe room or separate them with a baby gate until you get home. For more tips on new pet introductions, take a look at today’s blog!

Tip #11: Does your dog get overly excited when you or a guest walks in the front door? Teach your pup not to jump all over you by turning your back and refusing to engage with him until he’s got all four paws on the floor!

Tip #12: Dogs can become senile just like humans so it is important to keep their minds working as they age. Try varying your walking route or visiting different parks. The new scents and change of scenery will force your dog to think instead of just walk or play in automatic mode.

Tip #13: If your dogs get into a fight at home, do not put them in seperate areas and run back to check on the weaker dog after the fight is over. This shows the dog struggling for dominance that they have failed to establish their position in the pack and makes another fight inevitable.

Tip #14: Chocolate isn’t the only delicious treat that is poisonous for dogs. Grapes, macadamia nuts, and onions are all dangerous culprits. For a full list, check out !

Tip #15: If your dog compulsively licks his paws, try lowering his stress, increasing his activity level, and changing his diet to a higher quality product.

Tip #16: Having trouble getting your dog to come when he’s off leash? Instead of threatening him by yelling his name or a command, try calling to him with happy tones and using a short, sharp, tone – like a kissing sound – to call him back to you. When he returns, immediately offer him a treat. Make the action of coming to you more fun than whatever he was doing before!

Tip #17: Has your dog ever peed on a guest? It’s not because he doesn’t like him or that he is angry – your dog is just saying, “I’m the boss here.”

Tip #18: If your dog pulls too much on the leash, try red-light-green-light:
Stop each time he pulls and don’t move forward until he has relaxed and stopped straining against the lead. When he learns you won’t move forward unless he is relaxed, the pulling will decrease!

Tip #19: If you are in a stressful situation (like at the vet’s office), don’t pat your dog, give him long gentle strokes to calm him down. Patting is a jarring movement but stroking mimics the action of a mother’s tongue on a puppy.

Tip #20: Having trouble getting your dog to heel? Try ditching that retractable leash. With such a long lead, the dog will naturally pull all the way to the end. On a shorter, single length leash, your pup’s got no choice but to stay close.

For more tips and facts on dogs, dog training, and animal resuce, “like” us at!

Art by Carin Steen. Commission a portrait of your pet at ModernHound on Etsy!

Shy dog

Today I began assisting for a training class at the SF SPCA called “Shy Dogs.” Everyone there has a dog with some major fears – they’re frightened of men, dogs, buses, tile floors, even of their owners. By the end of class I found myself thankful that Franny is fearless. Then I remembered…last night I took my best friend Jasmine’s Chihuahua mix, Sombra, for a doggy sleepover so she could spend the day at the Treasure Island Music Festival. Sombra is a shy dog!

Sombra is an adolescent and she’s carrying alot of baggage around from her puppyhood. First of all, Sombra was never well socialized with dogs. They freak her out. Cats too. Basically she’s a big weenie. Secondly, and this contributes to her weenie-dom, Sombra was born to a mother owned by a large family with lots of rambunctious kids who terrorized her with rough handling. None of this is Sombra’s fault and she’s a lovely dog but she has a lot of fears.

Paul, the instructor of the Shy Dogs class, used a good metaphor: in dogs fear and aggression are two sides of the same coin. A dog may growl or bark not because it wants to hurt another dog or human, but because he is afraid of it. If he barks and growls, maybe the scary object will go away. But it’s not too hard to push a frightened dog from a state of fear to a state of terror, perhaps inciting him to bite or to completely shut down.

Ultimately, the best thing that can be done to help a dog with his fears are to build up his confidence. How do you build a dog’s confidence? With food, of course. And lots of praise. Like people, some fears can never be gotten rid of and that shouldn’t necessarily be the goal. Instead, the goal in working with a shy dog should be bringing them to a point where they are able to tolerate the things that frighten them in a way that is appropriate (for example, running in to the street is not a good response to a scary man walking a dog you but moving by as quickly as possible and keeping eye contact with you is). We want to “chip away” (as Paul said) at the fear.

There is no quick or easy way to do this. So just remember to go slowly, set small goals, and don’t expect a full “recovery.”

The plight of the pit bull

My next door neighbors have two gorgeous dogs – Monkey, a calm and gentle Great Pyrenees, and Nash, a Blue Nose Pit Bull puppy. All puppies are exuberant but Nash is a special boy. At four months he was a bounding bundle of energy; at 7 months he is now a BIG bundle of energy. Franny hates Nash. She hates pretty much any dog that isn’t dignified and calm. So on the days I let Nash and Monkey out for a potty break in my back yard, I know I’m in for a grumpy Fran.

I love pitbulls and have for years but, like Franny, many people are not fans. Sadly, it is the pit’s reputation and the humans that have shaped them that are the problem, not the dogs themselves. But what is a pit bull, really?

Pits are a cross between terriers and bulldogs first bred to create a dog with a terrier’s tenaciousness and a bulldog’s athleticism. Pit bull is not a breed, it is a group of several different types of dogs with similar characteristics. Pits are intelligent dogs and are used as companion animals, police dogs, and therapy dogs; in the early 20th century, they were as popular as labs are today!

Pit bulls have a higher tendency towards agression than many other breeds. This is what has created a culture of fear around pit bulls in the US. Of the 238 humans killed by dogs between 1979 and 1998, 32% have been pit bull attacks.

Sadly, this is truly a case of a few bad eggs ruining a whole cake. The vast majority of pit bulls are sweet, amazing dogs. But their reputation has led to various forms of legislation banning their ownership, requiring that all pits wear muzzles, and more. Pit bulls are the hardest dogs for shelters to adopt out, in part because they have special requirements for their ownership. At the SF SPCA, for example, an adopter needs to bring all members of the household (including other dogs) to meet the dog and a note from the landlord approving the ownership of a pit bull by their tenants. Not many landlords out there are willing to take the liability risk. The situation was/is so bad that in 1996 the SF SPCA renamed pits as “St. Francis Terriers” in the hope that they would be more readily adopted.

Luckily, many residents of San Francisco have discovered how great pits are. With a pit, early socialization and training is key, but with a little effort, they are amazing companions!

If you are interested in adopting a pit, please visit a shelter or rescue organization and not a breeder. Even if you are searching for a puppy, rescues have plenty. Breeders are not only putting more dogs out there to eventually end up in shelters (over 50% of all puppies will end up in a shelter by age 2) but they often select for physical traits, not behavioral ones, and whenever a breed is shaped according to physical characteristics, it will automatically become more agressive.

Check out some of these pit-bull specific rescue organizations!

Bad Rap

Reunion Rescue

Our Pack Pit Bull Rescue

If you are looking for a pit bull but want to make sure you adopt the right one, contact me at!


It’s amazing what people leave on the street…and I’m not talking furniture or books. Chicken bones, whole baguettes – Franny once found five whole crabs rotting in the bushes in the Panhandle. Some dogs are less food driven than others but Franny, she’s a scavenger. This is not abnormal. Canine’s are scavengers. In fact, this is probably how they began getting close enough to humans to eventually become domesticated. The theory goes something like this: humans living in small bands or villages discarded things like animal bones in middens (trash pits) near their camp or homes. Canines, realizing that these trash pits were easy sources of delicious calories, likely began regularly visiting and, eventually, living nearby. We humans saw the potential of these animals with big teeth and a built-in warning bark and they slowly became our companions through domestication. But dogs never really lost their drive to scavenge and, in an urban environment like San Francisco, they have almost endless opportunities to follow their instincts.

While food scavenging on a walk or at the park can be frustrating, in the home it can be downright exhausting…and potentially dangerous. So what to do with a dog that keeps stealing food off the counter or dinner table? The quickest and easiest solution to this problem is vigilently watching your dog when you are cooking but this is easier said than done. When your eyes can’t be in 7 places at once, you have a couple easy options to discourage food stealing.

Option 1: Leave a choice piece of meat on a counter or table that your dog regularly scavenges. Tie a string around the meat on one end and on the other tie a tin can full of pebbles or another noisemaker like a bell. When your dog pulls the meat down, the can will come crashing down too, causing your dog to jump back and learn pulling food from the counter = a sudden loud noise (something dogs hate).

Option 2: Set a trap. Leave something yummy in an easy-to-reach spot but spike it with a foul taste. They sell products at any pet store that are safe to use for this purpose. If your dog begins to think every piece of food he pulls from the counter is gross, he won’t be interested in pulling down food anymore!

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