Monday, November 23, 2009

Can Former Fight Dogs Be Friends?

At one time, Leo, the former Michael Vick dog, was grouped in with dogs that were called the "most dangerous dogs in America" Here he is with another "dangerous" dog, Belinda from the Humane Society of Missouri fight bust. Can they be friends? You decide:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Skeldon says he will step down Dec. 31

Konop wants him dismissed immediately

Lucas County Dog Warden Tom Skeldon has submitted a letter of resignation, effective Jan. 31, but Commissioner Ben Konop wants the warden to leave his office immediately."I am not comfortable with him as our dog warden for even another day," Mr. Konop announced at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

Read the rest of the article here.

It's Not You, It's Me

Those of you who read this blog regularly are familiar with my efforts to help my leash reactive dog, Bear, stay calmer on walks, especially when he spots other dogs. Bear has made so much progress that I thought I would give an update in the hopes that my experience might be helpful to others who are struggling with this challenge.

Our Pack leash reactive class.

Earlier this summer, I was taking Bear to Our Pack’s Sunday leash reactivity class. I have three young dogs, and walking them all together is a challenge, especially when one or more of them is leash reactive. Bear was doing well in class, but on walks around our neighborhood he was still getting pretty spun up. He makes this funny squeal when he gets excited or nervous, which would turn to barking and lunging whenever a strange dog got too close.

So I took Bear to see Marthina for a private consultation with her Pit Bull ambassadors, Hailey and Professor Dexter. He did great there too - making me look like an overwrought, anxious owner who was blowing this all WAY out of proportion. He laughed at me all the way home.

Marthina kindly advised me to just walk Bear alone for a while, without my other dogs, to continue building his confidence.

Well, a couple of months ago, I had knee surgery and couldn’t walk my dogs at all anymore, so I hired someone to come in the mornings to exercise them. Once my knee got a little better, I took Marthina’s advice and started taking Bear out for a second, short walk around the block in the afternoons, just the two of us. Well, it’s funny, the knee surgery meant that I had to walk REALLY slowly at first, which actually helped us both to relax a lot more. I think that before, I had been prone at times to taking those grim, “Grab the leashes, stare straight ahead, you are all going to behave!” death march walks with my dogs. You know the kind, where you keep walking a little faster and a little faster, just to “technically” stay out in front of your dog? You know who you are!

Now, with my bum knee, Bear and I would just sort of amble (limp) along, stopping often to rest and sniff the rose bushes. But I also took the opportunity to continue to work on his leash skills, giving him lots of treats and positive rewards for coming back to my side. I did this every time a dog barked inside a house or behind a fence we were passing, or when a squirrel ran across the road, a cyclist went by and, of course, when we saw other dogs. I went through a LOT of treats. But in the space of a few short weeks, our walks, and Bear’s leash skills, have vastly improved. We have gotten to the point where he will walk on a very loose leash without pulling, even as we pass by other dogs. Even excited, barking dogs.

I hadn’t realized, though, how much progress we’d really made until a recent afternoon. We were walking around the block and I was daydreaming a bit, not really paying attention, when a dog in a neighbor’s yard suddenly rushed the fence and erupted in furious barking. I nearly jumped out of my skin, then

Bear in Our Pack's class.

quickly recovered, only to see Bear, standing calmly at my side, looking up at me as if to say, “Well, where’s my treat??” He reacted better than I did! Amazing. I think the combination of me relaxing and providing TRUE consistency (we go every single day, even for just ten minutes) did wonders.

Bear still has his moments, but it is just awesome to see his progress. Our little daily walks have really helped us bond. I can see his trust in me growing every day, and more importantly, I’ve learned to trust him, too.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Welcoming Committiee for Missouri Bust Girl

Here's some of the Our Pack crew giving a warm good morning welcome to Belinda our newest girl from the Missouri raid.

Thank you to Gale from Mutts and Stuff for driving our girl to the airport. She arrived safe and sound!

Also, in this article I wanted to correct the fact that Jakob is living with Anna Morey Seekamp, an Our Pack volunteer and trainer. He is going to be fostered by her until he's adopted. She and I will be working together on his therapy training. In the article it states that Jakob is living with me. Easy to misunderstand being that Leo lives with me. Happy Endings
Thank you Anna for all your good work!!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Our Pack welcomes Belinda!

Humane Society of Missouri Releases Another Fight Bust Dog to Our Pack

Our Pack has had the pleasure of working with Humane Society of Missouri for the second time here recently. Our girl Zoe, who's now a therapy dog (seen here in this pic with her wonderfull person who addoped her) came from the Stoddard County MO raid in 2007. She's well and happpy because the good folks at HSMO gave these dogs a chance at a new life.

Well, this weekend we will be getting our second dog, Belinda, who from the HSMO fight bust, the largest dog fighting raid in US history. I just want to thank the HSMO from the bottom of my heart, along with Tracey Cutler and the Our Pack crew, for all that they've done for these wonderful dogs. We've included a video of Debbie Hill and Tim Rickey talking about the dogs they've helped. These are truly amazing people. We thank you and our dogs thank you!! This video made me cry!

You can see the video here:

Or visit our Facebook page to view it here:


Saturday, November 7, 2009


I get asked this question all the time. "Can dogs that have been abused by humans that fight them really be rehabilitated?" Hmmmm, well, I don't think the word is rehabilitated, I think it's more like we put the dogs that have been abused by humans in fighting rings in an environment where they can now go back to what they previously were or could have been without the abuse. In other words, the animal abusers put the dogs in a position to be defensive. It's not that there is a desire to fight in the dogs but a feeling of being threathened and a need to defend themselves. So any compulsion to defend themselves is due to having been put in a life threatening situation over and over and over. This is not a desire to fight. Having to have to do something for survival is different than a desire to do it for the fun of it. Humans are very different people during a war vs when they are at home comfortably watching TV for instance.
Humans make the dogs by setting up an environment that either places the dog in a winning-by-good-behavior position or he sets up an environment that places him in a "winning"-by-bad-behavior position. We allow the dog to go back to what he would naturally be in an environment that is condusive to survival on his terms.
Yes, they do have their own core temperaments and yes, genetics plays a role but that's actually another discussion apart from this one.
I'm not talking about just taking a dog from a raid and plunking him down somewhere where no one has a clue either. I'm talking about taking a dog and placing him in an environment where he learns that all is well and there's good leadership and wonderful things happen when he does the right thing. Again, he becomes what he already would have been if he wasn't threatened and forced to do and be something else.
Sometimes dogs are too damaged from abuse and they get "stuck". Then it's difficult to help them and that is something we always have to face. This is why it is so important to just assess first on an individual basis. Maybe some dogs aren't going to do well with dogs coming from these situations. However, as a trainer of all breeds I've seen this happen with many, many breeds up through maturity coming from many different situations.
So here we have Jakob who came from the largest dog fighting raid in US history. On his intake report it said that he did have scars but we don't let that be the brunt of our assessment. We go futher and see how he is with other dogs. We started out working with my dogs.
To sum it up we did long crate intros, walking side by side, meeting through a gate and in general just went slow with my dogs. This sends the message that these dogs here are cool. No one's going to do anything scary here.
The first dog to meet Jakob on leash with no barrier was Dexter. Jakob was, uh,hum, you know like, "uh, what are we going to do now?" Of course Dex knew what to do right away as he could see that Jakob was unsure of what he was suppose to be doing. He's met dogs that have been abused before many times and could see the lack of confidence that Jakob had in his own skills.
Jakob was willing to please and to listen to us. He was actually even willing to do whatever it was Dexter wanted as well. So when he could see that Dexter was not going to do anything but just some good ole fashioned canine fun stuff he was a bit lost but willing to go along or at least try.
When there was some interaction Jakob had no clue as to what to do at first. It was like his arsenal of doggie play behaviors was simply empty. Dexter continued to show him what to do and Jakob started to get the idea. I cheat at this for sure. My dogs do most of the work!
After this initial interaction with Dexter Jakob went to Tinkerbell's house for fostering. Tinkerbell has been there, done that. She was in big trouble at the shelter a few years ago because she was loud and very rude on a leash around other dogs. So we got her out of the shelter and we started to work with her.......well, obviously she's now helping other dogs that are in similar situations she's been in.
Tinkerbell has shown Jakob how to do a play bow, a little flip in the air that's quite catchy for any dog trying to get attention and to respect the anti-humping laws! This is all with his foster person's help.
Now that Jakob's a bit more grooved into the rules and regs of canine play (of course this is still very controlled and monitored by Anna his foster person) he's allowed to go a step further and even play a bit of tug with Tinkerbell. The game has rules and is very controlled by Anna, i.e. the dogs release the tug when she says to and they can have it back when she says they can. Fun and safe!
So please join us in congratulating Jakob on getting back to life and most of all back to who he really is! See picture of the "real" Jakob!
Note: This is one account of one dog in one situation. All assessments are going to be different for different dogs. Additionally, all dogs depending on outcome of assessment will require individual protocols.
Marthina McClay, CPDT

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Lives: Stories of Rescued Dogs Helping, Healing and Giving Hope

Our Leo will have his own chapter in this fabulous book available starting next week! It's called:

The book talks about dogs being rescued and then giving back. This is exactly what Leo, formerly one of Michael Vick's dogs, has done. Even though people didn't always give him the best, he gave the best back to people.

Please check out and/or purchase this heartwarming book about the many dogs that have been rescued and give back to their communities. You can purchase it here:

I'd like to thank Joanne Wannon for a wonderful job in recounting Leo's life and showing the world what a truly wonderful soul he is.

We're teaching at-risk kids positive reinforcement.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Our Pack featured in column

Earlier this week, we gave you a preview of some material that Christie Keith wrote for her blog that came out of an interview with Our Pack. This week, she published the main story in a terrific piece featured in her "Your Whole Pet" column on called:

Michael Vick's unpaid dues: Why dog advocates aren't moving on

We here at Our Pack understand that the Michael Vick case has received a lot of space in this blog, and elsewhere in the rescue community. We know that most of our readers are already aware (and abhor) what Vick did to his dogs at Bad Newz Kennels.

However, as Christie points out in her column, much of the general public still are not aware of the full details of this case, which is why we think, for the sake of all the dogs that didn't survive, it still deserves mention here.

Let us know what you think.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dexter's Corner

Hello, I'm Professor Dexter. I used to be a professor in bug chemistry, but now I'm a professor in canine communication. Because my person rescues dogs, I was exposed at a very early age to all sorts of personality types – in dogs that is. At well over 3 years of age, I am now a canine counselor.

I have seen many, many troubled dogs come to us that later did very well because my sister and I taught them better canine communication skills. I have found that many dog problems stem from an inability to communicate with each other the right way. Sometimes we simply misunderstand each others’ body signals (which is mostly what we go by). When this happens, everyone gets upset, really for no reason at all. Then, when the humans step in and they don't understand what's going on, it can get even worse. Sometimes humans think dogs are so much like themselves!

Dogs really are professors of sorts. They learn, then teach, learn, then teach. They teach for the purpose of survival and that survival is for all involved, not just for one. I learned from my older sister Hailey, with her gray muzzle, because she had to teach other rescue dogs lessons and learned from those lessons herself. Now I'm teaching my little sister, Posie, proper dog-to-dog skills. She's still in the "positive experience only allowed" mode because, at a year and a half, she's still young. She has to build up her skills and have a fair amount of confidence to do a job like mine and work with the tough guys. My person says that we've all taught her about us.

I like being a professor/counselor. I like helping dogs that are insecure. They're usually the really loud, barking, growling, lunging dogs that make a big dramatic display. They are also the type most often misunderstood by the humans. Humans usually think these dogs want to fight and are aggressive. But usually they're just trying to AVOID a fight. Funny, huh? I just completely ignore the noisy, dramatic show. Showing them the side of my face makes it clear that I don't care if they're loud and trying to get me to go away. I'm not afraid of them because it's all just BS anyway, and after they're done with that business, I reward them with play for stopping that behavior. This also shows them the proper way to greet, instead of using gaudy distancing type behaviors that only drive away potential friends.

I have helped shy dogs because I'm not pushy and I don't HAVE to play with anyone, because I myself am very secure in how I feel. I let them come to me and I give them their space, and use special signals to show I'm not threatening. I have a very well formed and structured pack, so I'm cool. Our people are careful to make sure we are guided correctly too. But some dogs don't have that, because the humans that took care of them in the past didn't understand that early play, socialization and guidance are like food to a young dog. Without these things, it's like there's a malnourishment of the canine spirit. Some horrible people go a step further and actually do the opposite, and get their dogs to communicate the wrong way on purpose so fights start. Then, of course, one can't help it, you're stuck and sort of forced now to defend yoursel. It’s sad when that happens to dogs because it goes against our grain. When those guys come to us, I see right away that they never wanted to be in a fight at all. Most of them are so happy to see that, at our place, we do fun stuff where everyone wins.

The dogs begin to realize that there's a lot of confidence to be gained from other dogs, especially in a pack sense, and they really start to feel better. I see tails rise out of butts, heads come up even with or above the shoulders, and sometimes maybe even for the first time in their life, a smile.

Now I see Leo doing it. A dog my person took into rescue recently got really noisy while on his leash around Leo. Leo used to live with Michael Vick, so you can imagine that when he first came to us, he was initially a little sensitive around this sort of behavior....poor guy. Anyway, this new dog was barking and lunging at Leo while Leo was on his leash. Lo and behold, there was Leo, looking just like me, calm, still and turning his head so the insecure dog could see the side of his face. He told the dog, "I know how you feel but you're wrong, I'm just here, doing nothing, so it's ok and all will be well....when you're calm we'll meet." I was so proud of Leo. And the new dog will learn too. See how it works? We've worked with many dogs that are now helping other dogs.

My person says to please pardon the anthropomorphism (making dogs sound like people) but sometimes we have to explain things to dogs in dog language, like what I do for a living. Other times we have to explain things to humans in human language, like what my person does for a living.

Thanks for listening to my story. I may be starting a column somewhere called "Dexter's Corner" or "Dear Dexter," so that I can answer your questions and concerns about canine behavior. I hope you’ll find it useful.

Dr. Dexter
Expert in Dog Behavior Challenges
Shelter Volunteer
Well Loved Family Member

Newsweek Article Featuring Our Friends Mary Harwelik and Tia Torres

Take a moment to read this article about Pit Bulls in Newsweek, and share your views:

The Pit-Bull Problem
America's most-maligned dog wants to be sweet and docile, but well-meaning humans mess it all up.
By Joan Raymond | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Oct 30, 2009

Also, let us know what you think of the show Pit Bulls and Parolees. The first episode aired Friday: