All Dogs are Good Dogs!

Dogs and Cats
Yes, all dogs are good dogs (cats too, of course), which is what came to mind the other day when Sophie did her business right where she was supposed to, versus my rug or my bed (What a relief, those days are over). I repeated to her over and over, “Good Girl, Good Girl” in my usual high pitched voice gently clapping my hands and jumping for joy like a good little girl myself. And indeed, Sophie really has come a long way to doing all the things I set out to want her do. But the thought hit me right then, “yes she’s a good dog”, but “All Dogs are Good Dogs”. So I’ll say it again as I said it to myself, all dogs are good dogs even when they do something we prefer that they don’t. And I’ll add, “There are NO bad dogs”!

What we do have are poor training techniques, and poor behaviors ourselves. Now, I have mentioned before that I prefer conditioning and reconditioning versus training our best friends because too many times I witness people using “no” too often and especially too harshly when “training their dogs”. I personally have only used the word no two or three times in 8 months, and it isn’t because Sophie came home with me behaving perfectly (Don’t want a perfect dog anyway).

Now I am not an animal behaviorist so please know that I am not writing as a professional here, but the training methods including “corrections” are just not in my repertoire. Yet, I can say that positive reconditioning and reinforcement techniques are and have worked for me, while I have witnessed people correcting their dogs over and over for the same behavior that they want changed.

Here’s just one example.

My neighbor tugs and jerks her little dog’s collar every single time he barks quite ferociously as a bigger dog is coming down the block. Her dog starts barking when the bigger dog is about ¼ of a block away and continues while lunging as the dog passes. Yet, each time that she jerks his collar calling him a bad boy, he continues. Good dog, poor reconditioning. Some people may call it poor training, but I hope we can “recondition” ourselves to never say bad dog.

While I did touch upon animal behavior in school, I learned more about some wonderful conditioning tips from a book titled “For the Love of a Dog” by Patricia McConnell. What I did do with my little Sophie was to reward the positive behaviors and ignore the not so positive behaviors. The rewards were and are anything from me lightly squealing in a high pitch voice repeating good girl jumping and clapping with big smiles, to giving her little pieces of chicken. And boy did she catch on fast. While all dogs have individual personalities with individual temperaments generally they want to please us, and getting a favorite treat doesn’t hurt either!

You might ask, but how does that prevent the not so good behaviors? That is where part of the reconditioning comes into play. If we can catch the behaviors beforehand, we can distract and reward another behavior that is positive immediately. So if we have our dog turn away and sit at the first sign of another dog approaching before he barks, rewarding him, then over time this reconditions the behavior we want. The point is to gradually reward the positive behavior as an approaching dog gets closer and closer until he realizes that he will be rewarded for not barking and lunging. Of course, I’ve really simplified this. Let me say that along the way, I developed more patience, a more positive behavior myself as well.

Adopting Sophie has been much more rewarding than I ever expected. I had my own expectations and quite a few surprises from Sophie about her many behaviors, which now are well on their way to being all positive. One, which I mention in my first post, would have been a deal breaker 20 years ago.

Behavioral problems are one of the top reasons people bring their dogs to shelters, and bring back their adopted dogs to a shelter. Is it a dog’s fault? Is the dog bad? Absolutely not. One major problem is a lack of positive conditioning, knowledge, patience and commitment.

Of course there are other reasons people give up their dogs and cats, including not choosing the right species, breed, personality, etc. when they pick a new dog or cat. I know that 20 years ago I chose a wonderful dog but the one wrong for me and my lifestyle. Good dog, wrong decision on my part. All Dogs are Good Dogs. So while some reality shows have titles such as Bad Dog, or The Cat from Hell, these titles are meant to grab our attention. Bad Dog shows the mischievous ways our friends can behave, while doing so in a humorous way, and The Cat from Hell I am pleased to say addresses what behaviors we humans need to change versus blaming the cat. I can only hope that we change our perceptions and behaviors so that we don’t need to name these shows with sensationalized titles reinforcing how we use animals in a negative way in our everyday language (He treated me like a dog, for instance).Maybe then we can contribute to less good dogs and cats becoming homeless.

Adopt and Save a Life.

Next: What studies suggest about selecting a best friend!


Sophie is Home!

Sophie & the BowWhen I first wrote about Sophie, I gave the first post the title “Sophie’s Homecoming”. Now, my title reads “Sophie is Home”; so what’s the difference?

Sophie’s homecoming was about her behavior, reactions, and adjustments that first day, week and first several months that I observed. Now, eight months later, I sense from my observations, that she is truly home. Truly home meaning totally relaxed, confident, playful and all the things I surmise feeling at home might mean for her. In so many ways, I compare this to when we humans feel at home after arriving in a new place.

She has her favorite spots, her favorite toys, routines; she plays, has her” I want to rest spot”, goes pee pee exactly in the appropriate place, runs away like a little devil when the brush comes out, along with all the little habits, which take time to form, and well I can go on and on.

You may think I’m anthropomorphizing, but all I can say is that she is a completely different dog than eight months ago, and even than 6 months ago, and I’m not the only one noticing. In fact, all my neighbors have noticed too.

So what’s my point? Well, my point is that when we humans adopt a human child, we usually get counseling, and ongoing support, with all sorts of information from social workers, adoption agencies, school teachers, etc. We’re also told all about the adjustment stages children go through after being in foster care, etc., and the amount of time it may take to achieve that “I’m Home” feeling. But what are we told, or counseled in about the adjustment and time needed when we adopt a dog or cat for them to feel at home?

While human needs are more complicated of course, the dogs and cats we adopt have deep feelings, and need adjustment time too. Maybe much more than many people realize. And just as matching children to the right family is vital to the success of the adoption, so is matching a companion animal to the right family also vital for success. Unlike human adoptions, animal adoption decisions are commonly made within a visit or two to shelters.

According to a recent study,

“The majority of the 6 to 8 million animals that are homeless each year are dogs (National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy, NCPPSP 2009; Humane Society of the United States 2010). Of the dogs that end up at shelters each year, most arrive there because of owner relinquishment. Worldwide, studies reveal that a significant number of adopted dogs are returned to shelters. The return rate of dogs to shelters ranges from about 15% +(Mondelli et al. 2004) to 50% (NCPPSP 2009). Approximately 60% (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA 2011a) are euthanized.

In an attempt to keep so many dogs from being euthanized, pet adoption has been promoted, but with limited success. There is a need to reduce the number of dogs relinquished each year by owners. One way to achieve this is to understand the factors related to pet satisfaction”. 1.

Calling upon my own psychology studies, I’d like to add that expectations play a large role in success or failure of the things we choose. Unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointments, and my guess is this plays a role also in why so many people relinquish their dogs, adopted or not adopted. Whether this means unrealistic expectations of the companion animal chosen and the adjustment period, expectations of the responsibility, or not choosing the “right companion animal” or all of the above, realistic expectations prior to choosing an animal is part of what will make it successful.

The research paper goes on to give some reasons for relinquishing their dog based upon a unique study

“The problem of relinquished dogs is a worldwide concern. In Italy, in the first study of its kind (Mondelli et al. 2004), researchers reviewed questionnaire responses of people who returned a dog to a shelter. They found that, during a six-year period, 86.3% of dogs were adopted, and of these about 15.2% were returned. Of the people who returned a dog, 71.2% completed a survey. Responses indicated that 38.8% of these people returned the dog primarily for behavioral reasons. Some of the problematic behaviors were “vocalizes too much, hyperactive/stereotypes, destructive/soils house, escapes, and disobedient and problems with other pets.” Next, 34% stated management problems, which included “animal medical issue, no time for pets, personal or family reasons, pet conflict, small house, and no apparent owner”. Other reasons people returned dogs were aggression (14.9%), allergy (5.5%), and apartment block regulation (4.5%). In a few instances (2.3%), people did not give a reason for returning the dog (Mondelli et al. 2004).

I can only speak for myself. I had my own expectations and a few surprises from Sophie about her behavior, which as I stated in my first post would have been a deal breaker 25 years ago. Although I admit I would have never left a dog at a shelter. But since then I learned how deeply they feel, and I am still learning every day.

Sophie really is home, and my experience of watching her blossom from her previous unhappy life has been a joyful and fulfilling learning experience that I can’t help writing about.

Next: More on choosing a companion animal for a successful adoption.

Adopt and Save a Life!

1. Lisa A. Curb, Charles I. Abramson, et. Al, The Relationship between Personality Match and Pet Satisfaction among Dog Owners, ANTHROZOOS VOLUME 26, ISSUE 3


Our Best Friends!

great friends

Our Best Friends always near to us are our dogs and cats in our homes and hearts. Dogs in particular have long been known as ” Man’s Best Friend”, but my question here is “Are We Theirs?”

There are a multitude of scientific studies about how companion animals benefit us, from companionship, improved physical health and mental health, to social benefits (I have made several great friends while walking my Charlie and Teddy).

This is just a start. Military dogs, police dogs, bomb sniffing dogs, seeing eye dogs, cancer sniffing dogs, rescue mission dogs, therapy dogs, service dogs and on and on and on. Oh, how about bed bug sniffing dogs. Can you think of any other categories in which our best friends are by our side helping us? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of this as long as they benefit too (There are a couple of categories I’ve listed above that I am personally not in favor of).

But how as a society are we protecting them? Since I became aware of the abuses of animals and specieism, I have asked myself why are we not protecting our companion animals more since they do so much for us (I want all animals protected, but for my blog I’m discussing our dogs and cats)? While there are many many wonderful people who are a part of the Animal Protection Movement from organizations to animal Shelters, rescue groups, and all the employees and volunteers who selflessly dedicate themselves to helping animals, abuse continues in many forms. How about legal protection? How are the laws protecting our dogs and cats that we love?

First, here are two reports on the impact of sharing our lives with companion animals

“Although a wide variety of species are kept in our homes and near to us for companionship, the great majority are dogs and cats. And according to an article titled Companion Animals and Human Health, “sharing our environment with animals has a profound effect on the health of the humans concerned. As keeping companion animals is a very widespread activity, about 50% of all households in the Western world have some sort of animal, the effects are far reaching”.

In fact, in another study published in Public Health Reports, the researchers found “a positive correlation in survival rates in heart attack patients 1 year after discharge from hospitalization, meaning a higher survival rate in patients who lived with a companion animal than in patients who did not”.

Yes, most of us will testify how much our best friends mean to us. I’ve already written how mine have changed me and the course of my life. Yet, as a society and according to the law, our dogs and cats are property. If someone were to damage your property, the law would consider the financial worth to us in a lawsuit based upon replacement of the property. Since our companion animals are property, the law basically is stating they as property do not feel pain or suffer and their value is as close as the nearest pet shop to replace. We can also buy and sell them at whim like new or used furniture, discard them and breed them in puppy mills the same way as if they were cars on an assembly line. While things are changing, it still feels like an overwhelming uphill battle to change laws. But….

We can keep spreading the word to adopt of course so we save more lives. Sophie is my first adoption, and I will adopt another friend sometime in the future. I know I never want to contribute to the money the puppy mills, puppy stores, and even some veterinarians make (More on this another time) regardless of the abuse.

But, I’d also like to suggest that we change some of our language that objectifies our best friends. I call myself Sophie’s Guardian and sometimes, furry mom but never owner. I call Sophie my companion animal, little furry best friend, and sometimes my furry child but never again pet. I’d also like to suggest we replace “it”, with her/him, they for instance as we so often do when we refer to our furry friends. Sophie isn’t an “it”, she is a “she”!

I learned in my Animal Studies program that legally, a person is defined as a human of course, but a “corporation” is also legally defined as a person or as having a personhood. Hmm, a corporation is a personhood, but not our best friends? Our dogs and cats are living, breathing, feeling and thinking beings, not property, objects, or an “it”. If a corporation can be defined as a person, why isn’t a living being of another species legally defined as a person? As living beings why are they legally defined as objects? To me, this is even where the term pet comes from, and not just owner.

Language affects our perceptions; actions and eventually it can help to change laws. Perhaps another step to protecting our best friends in our society is to change our language. I will always call myself Sophie’s Guardian and she and any companion animal in my home, my Best Friend. Will you pledge to do this too?

Adopt and save a life!


Have questions about protecting your best friend legally? Go to http://aldf.org/

Are you a vegetarian with a great original recipe? And even if you aren’t, but want to cook more plant based meals, The Humane Society is sponsoring a Meatless Monday recipe contest so go here for more details: https://secure.humanesociety.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=meatless_monday_contest&s_src

Next: My series on adopting our Best Friends starts with
Laura and Jekell!


Sophie and Me, Our Transformation!

I brought Sophie home almost 6 months ago, and so I’ve been reflecting mainly on two things this week. Twenty-five years ago I would have returned Sophie to her foster mom sometime during the first 2 weeks, and secondly, how amazed, proud and filled with joy I am to see how much she has blossomed and changed.

I never expected Sophie to turn my bed into a giant wee wee pad. I know that before I learned how deeply animals feel, and before I learned be a responsible guardian, I would have given her up. Making my bed a pit stop would have definitely been a deal breaker years ago. But, not only do I get to see how much she has learned and changed now, I get to feel the joy from it, and I get to see how much I have learned and changed too. I compare this to my coined phrase and motivational tip “The Other Rewards”. Years ago I wrote about how great I felt when my small jeans fit after I lost weight, but the other rewards I felt came from the pride of small successes on the way. I feel great to see Sophie acting happy like a puppy, but I feel rewarded that as a guardian, my commitment paid off. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, but the joy I feel now everyday watching her was well worth it.

I didn’t stop trying different things aside from tin foil on the bed to covering my floor for a while with half a dozen wee wee pads to also limiting the space she had early mornings until she did go to the bathroom (Can’t get into all the details, it would take up your whole day). The day I snuck a peak to catch her right in the act on one of the wee wee pads, was the day we headed down the right track. I stuck my head out from around the corner, and in a high pitched excited happy voice yelled out “good girl” over and over and over while jumping for joy. She came running toward me tail wagging and while of course we still had mistakes for the next few months, she began and still runs tail wagging to find me immediately after a pee pee stop looking for praise.

I used the same method over and over whenever she would do something positive, including when she would stop to smell some other doggie’s pee pee outside, to more recently my jumping for joy like a crazy girl when she finally did her business outside (I’m sure someone watching me thought I was hilarious). I focused and rewarded her on the positive behaviors, while ignoring or distracting away from the negative behaviors.

Going to the bathroom on the appropriate spot at home and going outside were far from the only issues Sophie and I needed to work on. Sophie, the 5- pound little Poodle barked at almost every dog we encountered, and even once she lunged at my neighbor’s giant Newfoundland. While this incident was kind of funny, I didn’t want her to bark at every doggie we would encounter on our walks. I especially didn’t want her to spend her life having fear, which I surmise is much of the reason for her barking at other dogs. Her fears ranged from people to me saying no even though I didn’t say it harshly or in anger. She slightly cowered once when I said no and I knew that my little Sophie and I would overcome her fears slowly but surely, determined that I would never have my best friend cower again. To witness any dog regardless of size cower hurts me to see, but to me it also takes away the dignity and humanity we humans are supposed to have.

A boyfriend gave me the book “For the Love of a Dog” by Patricia McConnell PH.D, several years ago, which I dug it out when I brought Sophie home. I learned so much about reconditioning our best friends, or reeducating as I call it, which I have now come to prefer over training (Okay, I view training as a dominatistic stance versus teaching as we teach our children). I highly recommend this book whether we want to overcome fear, fear aggression, or aggression in our dogs, or any other behavior they show while understanding their emotions. One of the biggest reasons I learned that people bring their adopted dogs back to shelters is due to behavioral issues, so I think we can use a lot of help ourselves.

Is Sophie perfect now? No, of course not and nor do I expect or want her to be as maybe I once did, but we are well on our way, and I am filled with joy from all the rewards far beyond what I expected when I adopted her.

Next: Some statistics on us Americans and Our Companion Animals (And a little more of course about me and Sophie!).

Adopt and save a life!


Sophie’s Homecoming!

Sophie just homeI picked up Sophie the day before Christmas from Daryl Masone, a wonderful woman who runs Poodle Rescue of Connecticut. She rescues Poodles, Poodle mixes and other breeds. I found Daryl though the Poodle Club of America during my online rescue search. Daryl explained that she was fostering 2 girl Poodles almost ready for a new home. I answered several questions, gave references, and got her approval to be a new Poodle mom. I also thought that the timing was good over the Christmas holiday since I would be home to help ease her transition for 10 days. So when opportunity knocked to adopt Sophie, my heart said yes.

Sophie has a background unlike most shelter dogs, that is, the ones I came across during my online and local shelter searches. Daryl told me that Sophie was 2, beautiful, healthy, bred to be a show dog and shown but surrendered (I think due to shyness). I felt a bit guilty; after all rescuing a dog should be about adopting an abused dog that is waiting in a shelter for a home. But I also knew that after the emotional roller coaster I went through caring for my Teddy for almost a year and charging her medical care beyond my means, that maybe this was meant to be for my first adoption. Sophie needed a home too, and Daryl told me she didn’t have a good life up until then. I surmise that the majority of dogs bred specifically to be show dogs live in kennels, travel a lot, and well, we’ve all seen the extensive grooming, which I doubt isn’t fun for them (More on dog showing another time). I did have a few expectations about bringing home an adult dog, and a dog that may not have been taught to go pee pee on wee wee pads, or on concrete (I live in NYC), or used to the noise on city streets. Of course, I also expected she would need time to adjust to me and a new home. So off I went taking a deep breath with the help of a friend of Daryl’s, a woman who does a lot of rescue work, who drove me 2 hours away to bring Sophie home.

When someone puts a puppy in your arms, it is different than when someone puts an adult dog in your arms. At least for me it was. Sophie sat on my lap very still, not budging for a second. I felt as though I was meeting a stranger for the first time knowing she was about to come home with me, or perhaps I felt a bit strange because I was still grieving for Teddy. Puppies usually squirm, lick, and want to play, etc., but Sophie acted like a very quiet good little girl just leaning against me. We packed up, I signed a few papers, said my thank you, and off we went for the 2 hour drive back. Not once did Sophie make a move, or noise. I thought, maybe she’s used to cars and traveling. We arrived home, and I can say the rest of the day was a bit of a blur, Sophie just a quiet little girl, but what did concern me was that she didn’t do pee pee for the next 16 hours. Of course, worried I called Daryl at bedtime who told me that this was not uncommon when a doggie arrives at a new strange home. I was up much of the night checking on her, while she clung to me in bed all night long. Let’s just say she didn’t let me out of her sight all day, all night, and actually all month. When she finally did pee pee, of course it was not on the wee wee pad that morning, nor that first month. In fact, since Sophie was quite the athletic girl with the ability to jump onto my high bed, I’d say my king size bed became one huge wee wee pad. I still thank goodness I had an extra thick blanket on that first day she made her pit stop there. She was determined to continue going on my bed only when I wasn’t home, regardless of my spraying it with OFF for dogs, layering it with toys, pillows, tin foil, trash bags, and me almost beside myself. Sophie the perfectly proportioned stubborn little Poodle was maybe trying to tell me something, I just didn’t know what. During my absence she was confined to a small hallway, and my bedroom and bathroom, plenty of space. In addition if it wasn’t the bed during my absence, it was on my bare floors instead of the wee wee pads when I was home. Making things a bit more complicated was the fact that she wouldn’t go to the bathroom if I were in the room, obviously making it difficult to catch her and gently correct her. Of course, not only did she not go pee pee outside, but also didn’t smell all the wonderful odors that we humans hate, but dogs love. Instead, she would trot alongside me looking up as though we were in the show ring.

I think there is a saying that it is harder to break or change habits than first learn new ones. When and where Sophie learned her bathroom habits, this saying seemed to apply. However, with patience and luck, things would change soon; I was committed and not giving up!

Adopt and save a life.

Next: Sophie becomes a puppy!



Teedy, Charlie, Sicily 043I am Health & Fitness Specialist with an extensive educational and professional background working in the field for the last 25 years. I hold a Master’s Degree in Health, and undergraduate degrees in Behavioral Science, Nutrition, and Exercise Science along with several certifications. But during this time I also developed a passion for animals.

I have experienced firsthand what it is to have a relationship with our best friends, the companion animals we share our homes with. The relationship I had with my Toy Poodles Charlie and Teddy brought me joy, fun, love, and kept me in the moment. I learned so much from them over the span of the 15 years I shared with them. I also felt deep pain when I had to say goodbye. I learned that by giving my unconditional love, a whole new world opened up for me. My life and perceptions changed from living my life with them. While I will continue to help human clients achieve greater health, fitness and weight loss, I now dedicate myself also to Animal Welfare and to helping people with their Canine/Feline friends’ Health through Optimal Nutrition.

I hold a post graduate certificate from HSUS in Animal Studies, where I learned about the Animal Protection Movement, it’s Ethical and Cultural bases, Animal Behavior, and scientific discoveries regarding Animal Sentience. I am also a team member of the Guardian Campaign initiated by In Defense of Animals.

I recently completed an approved AVMA program as a Veterinary Medical Assistant as well as studies in Canine/Feline Clinical Nutrition. My educational and professional background in Human Health with an M.S. in Health, B.S. in Behavioral Science, A.A.S. in Nutrition, and additional certifications allowed me to enter the nutrition field for dogs and cats.

For more information about me, go to www.junefit.com/about_us_june.htm Contact me at june@junefit.com for information about my Canine/Feline Nutritional Consultations.