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Puppy sponges

Puppies between the ages of 3-12 weeks are sponges for new information. This is also the most critical period for them to be exposed to as many of the contexts that they will see in their adult lives in order to produce well-adjusted dogs. New challenges and experiences, lots of human TLC, dog-dog socialization and practice being alone are all important parts of a puppy’s development and failure to provide them to your new family member may result in a dog with major issues.

Some of the most forgotten stimuli for producing super puppies are things they will experience in their environment, particularly objects or noises that may appear suddenly. How to prepare your pup for a future of environmental uncertainty? Try some of these fun exercises:


Scary Objects

Dogs may be frightened by the most ordinary objects if they have never seen them before. Start a collection of “scary objects” that include cardboard boxes, an umbrella and a skateboard. Each day, place a new scary object in the middle of the living room and let your pup investigate it. Don’t force him to approach the object, let him go at his own pace.

Dogs perceive things like a man wearing a hat as a scary monster with a giant head. To help your puppy get used to “abnormal” humans, put on a silly hat, cape, cane, or other piece of clothing and interact with your puppy!


Puppies need exposure both to sudden loud noises and to more steady noises they will hear in daily life (like cars, trains, vacuum cleaners, etc.) These days you can purchase a noise desensitization c.d. that contains recordings of different common noises. Buy one (or more!) and play it for your puppy. If you are feeling more ambitious, create a playlist of scary sounds on your mp3 player or computer!

Buy or borrow a few instruments and objects that make “scary” sudden noises such as a horn, a bell, an (empty) pop gun, a megaphone with different alarm sounds, and more. Using these noise makers we can mimic an environmental change by making each noise suddenly when the home is quiet.


Why pay to adopt?

Cassie had to be completely shaved down to remove horribly matted fur.

Layla was adopted on Saturday night by a lovely young woman, Devi Feerick, who swooped her through the rain to her new home in Petaluma. Layla will join her new family – a 12-yr old Bichon, a kitty, mom and dad – to begin the rest of her life.

All rescue organizations and shelters charge fees for adoption that typically begin around $200; fees for puppy adoption can be much higher. So where does all that money go?

1) Grooming. Basic grooming can be done without a problem by rescue staff or foster parents but some dogs are pulled off the street or out of abusive homes in need of much more than just a brushing. Cassie, a beautiful Australian Shepherd I fostered in April, was so matted they had to shave her down completely.

2) Spaying and neutering. All responsible shelters and rescue organizations will spay or neuter the dogs they take in before they allow them to be adopted. This helps to cut down on the population of dogs in need of rescue. It also cuts down on potential health problems as the dog ages.

3) Vaccinations. All dogs are vaccinated prior to adoption to protect them from illnesses like rabies.

4) Dentistry. I have had several foster dogs with terrible, infected teeth in need of care. Debbie, a Pom I had last year, had to have all of her teeth removed because they were so terrible, turning her in to a gum smacking old lady…but a cute one. Animal dental care is ridiculously expensive – just a cleaning can be upwards of $300-400 – not to mention extractions.

5) Basic health care. In addition to all of these specifics, dogs that filter through shelters and rescue organizations often have health issues that range from worms to cancer. It is not unusual for a shelter/rescue to remove a limb to prevent the spread of cancer or to begin a dog on a long-term medical treatment for a permanent condition. And then there are the hospice dogs, like Franny, whose veterinary care will be taken care of until the end. In fact, if I needed them to, Muttville would also provide Franny with food and other basic necessities. Any time we pass by Muttville Manor, we end up with a trunk full of treats and other goodies that have been generously donated to the organization.

6) Day-to-day upkeep. This is more of an expense for shelters than rescues (although many rescues also keep several dogs at a time at their headquarters) that provide food, soft beds, toys, treats, and other necessities to keep their dogs as comfortable as possible.

In most cases, the $200 (or other similar fee) charged to adopters only begins to cover the expenses racked up by the dogs they rescue. So if it seems like a lot, remember that you are paying for the opportunity to adopt a healthy animal that (hopefully) will not have to return to the vet until its next check-up is due!

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!

Farewell to Dusty

Franny has gotten in to a number of little skirmishes with other dogs. Usually, it’s a quick bark or growl, telling another dog to back off, but occassionally it escalates into something more. Dusty is the second foster dog I attempted to bring into Franny’s home. The first was a sweet, confused mutt who had lived his life tied up in a backyard. The last year of his life, his humans stopped feeding him and he was kept alive by the neighbors. By the time he got to Muttville, he was severely underweight after having been removed from his home by Animal Care and Control. When I brought Franny to Muttville Manor to meet this sweet guy, though, there were just enough signs of agression to suggest that it wouldn’t be a good match. I brought Franny home alone.

And then Dusty entered our lives and, the first week, things were fine between them. Franny was clearly dominant and would let Dusty know when he was too stepping on her proverbial toes. Then we spent an afternoon at the park with a group of friends. Whether it was the shifting attention of the humans, the stress of a day in the heat or another spark, I don’t know, but Fran and Dusty got into a scuffle which, with snarls and yelps, sounded worse than it really was. I pushed Franny away with my knee to her shoulder and things calmed immediately. We had no more incidents until last night. I was preparing dinner for the dogs and both sat in the kitchen looking at me with their big hungry eyes. Then suddenly, Franny was on top of Dusty, pinning him to the ground with her teeth. Though it lasted only 20 seconds, it felt like minutes. I finally pulled Franny off of Dusty from her collar (behind her neck so she wouldn’t bite me on accident) and Dusty lay on the floor. I pulled Franny outside, closed the patio door, and went back to check on Dusty. He was fine – a little shaken, but no wounds – and within minutes it was as if nothing had happened. I called Sherri at Muttville immediately and let her know. Her wise advice? Franny doesn’t need that stress, Dusty doesn’t need that stress, and you don’t need that stress. A fellow foster mom, Yoko, came to pick up Dusty later that evening, and just like that, he was gone.

After Dusty left, I wondered what I should have done in this situation to make things better. What if, for example, Dusty was not a foster dog but a permanent one? So, I began to read and here is what I did wrong:

– I was treating Franny and Dusty as equals when, in reality, they were not equals in the pack. In fact, Franny may have felt I was giving Dusty preferential treatment (i.e., treating him as if he was dominant). Franny loves love but she also likes to have her own space. She rarely sleeps on my bed and doesn’t like to be on the couch (interestingly, her disinterest in being close could be a symptom of her Cushing’s Disease). Dusty, on the other hand, is a typical Doxie. He wanted to be as close as possible as often as possible and would whine if I didn’t put him up on the couch with me or let him sleep in my bed.

– Even though it sounded bad, I didn’t really need to pull Franny off of Dusty. She was reaffirming the pecking order in the pack and by pulling her off of Dusty, the pecking order issue was never resolved. If the fight became bad enough, I should have pulled Franny away by her back legs, silently (without saying things like “Franny, no!” or “Bad dog”). Another option is to shift the dogs’ attention by spraying something at them or making a loud noise away from them.

– I should not have put Franny outside and gone to check on Dusty. Dusty was fine and I just showed Franny that Dusty ranks higher than she. In other words, I contributed to her need to show she was dominant. I am also lucky that I did not make the situation worse by seperating the two. Franny could have come back inside and restarted the fight.


Bringing a new animal in to the house is rarely problem-free. Dusty is no exception. I joke that my flat is a zoo. There are constantly new animals coming in and out. There’s Franny, of course, two cats – Osito and Phoebe – and an occassional resident, Paku, a five-pound Chihuahua belonging to my roommate […]

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