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People Matter Too

Once again, last week I heard of two incidences of very poor management and lack of leadership in animal welfare organizations. Each case showed a complete disregard for people, the need for power, and the guise of helping the animals to further one’s own agenda. Why does this happen one too many times in these organizations?

I’m upset and am looking for answers. The line of people who have been trounced on while working or volunteering for animal rescue organizations is too lengthy. Where is the compassion for people? Without people, animal welfare organizations cannot thrive. They depend upon people to volunteer, adopt, and donate. People are deserving of as much compassion as the animals.

Tell me, how can we create better leaders in animal welfare organizations? We need better role models, not power-hungry, dictatorial anarchists who hide their hideous actions behind the mantra of “it’s all about the animals.”

If you are working for or with an upstanding animal welfare organization, please comment and let me know who it is and why they are doing a good job. I need this reassurance right now because I only know of a couple of places with integrity in my local area. That’s a sad commentary on the realities of animal rescue. We are working to help the animals but people matter just as much.


Dogs and Dominance

Many people arrive at my blog when they search terms such as “how to pin a dog down” and “how to show dominance to a dog.” I’m not sure how that happens because you will never hear me recommend these outdated strategies. There’s still a great deal of confusion about dogs and dominance. A study on wolves in captivity many years ago arrived at some false conclusions – that the alpha wolf showed he was in charge by using physical force. Some dog trainers took this information and assumed that since dogs are supposed to be descended from wolves, that this theory must also apply to the human-dog relationship. A dog training book by the Monks of New Skete taught people to be “dominant” over their dogs by using physical corrections and by holding the dog down until the dog stopped struggling, otherwise known as pinning the dog down, dominance down or an alpha roll. Television personality Cesar Millan further propagated this inaccurate dominance theory even more.

Over the years, the wolf dominance theory has been invalidated. In reality, the alpha wolf does NOT have to use physical force to show that he is the leader. It is the wolf with lesser status who is vying to be in charge who resorts to physical force. You can tell a true leader by the calmer demeanor. He only needs to give a glance or a posture to show the others that he is the leader. The alpha is confident and conveys it.

In the human world, we like our leaders to be calm and confident as well. It gives us more security to know that someone competent is in charge. Anyone in charge who resorts to physical challenges or who displays out of control behavior loses our respect. They are perceived of as bullies, incompetent, or insecure.

That’s exactly how our dogs perceive us. If we show physical force to them, raise our voices, or show any other behavior that is out of control, the dogs will not perceive us as the leaders and will feel less secure with us. When we show dominance by physical means, it may frighten the dogs. Some dogs may fight back and attack, while others may become very submission and will be fearful of you. The relationship between the human and the dog is destroyed. A true leader is in control and will not resort to physical methods to exert leadership.

Every dog has a different personality. Some dogs may not be disturbed by physical corrections. You may hear people say that they have alpha rolled their dog and it worked. Yes, it can work, but for the majority of dogs it will break down the bond of trust. I have seen many, many dogs whose behaviors have been permanently changed for the worse because of dominance moves. I worked with a family who purchased a Golden Retriever puppy. The husband watched Cesar Millan on TV and did an alpha roll on the dog every day to “show the dog who was boss.” I was called to work with the dog because he submissively urinated every time the husband came into the room. Sadly, the dog associated fear with the husband. The dog did not see the husband as in charge; he saw him as something that made him feel very scared.

I also worked with many people whose dogs were biting them. Of course, there are many reasons and situations for why dogs bite but quite a few of these cases involved owners who were trying to “teach the dog who is boss” by showing dominance. Dominance moves will only make any kind of aggression worse.

So, how can people be true leaders to their dogs? It’s so very simple and very humane. All it takes is good parenting skills. A good parent controls the resources fairly for a child. A good parent does not give in and give the child anything they want when they want it. A spoiled child rules the home and can become a behavior nightmare. And so it goes for dogs. Dogs must be taught not to be pushy and to have good manners. They need to be shown impulse control. They cannot get everything they want when they want it. All of this is accomplished by first training dogs to communicate with us: sit, stay, down, come, wait, etc. All dogs must know these basics.

The very best and easiest to understand way of being a leader to a dog is to ask the dog to wait for what he or she wants. Ask your dog to sit and wait before putting the food bowl down, sit and wait before going in and out of doors, sit and wait before going up and down steps, sit and wait before you throw his or her toy.

The bottom line: Never, ever pin your dog down or do anything physical to “show dominance” to your dog. Dogs are our partners and our friends, not our rivals. There is no competition, only love and respect.

Want to read more? I highly recommend the teachings of Dr. Sophia Yin, veterinary behaviorist. Here is a link to a great discussion of why the dominance theory is inaccurate and how Cesar Millan’s methods are so detrimental:

The Trumpeter in the Woods
Chapter Twelve – A New Teacher Arrives (part one)

By now, it’s been obvious that Caper was leading me to work with animals. Her arthritis brought dog massage awareness to me and introduced a host of influential people to my life. And after she died, it had to be her voice a week later telling me, “It’s a big world, you have to have a voice.” She had done her job in bringing me this far, now it was someone else’s turn to help me.

I was nearing the end of my training to be a certified pet behavior counselor when Caper died in October, 2002. The day after she passed away, I posted a comment in the online forum of one of my classes about her death and how sad I was. A classmate who happened to live in Quakertown, PA, about an hour and a half from where I lived, posted immediately in reply and expressed her condolences, as well as another comment that changed my life.

“Chris, I work at a vet’s office and we run a small rescue here for homeless animals. We have a 4-year-old Golden Retriever named Gizmo who really needs a foster home,” Nancy, the office manager at Mill Pond Veterinary Hospital, posted to me. “Can you foster him? You would be perfect. He needs a home with no children.”

Yes, I would be perfect, no children. But was I ready to bring in another dog just a couple of days after losing Caper? I had to admit that I was enjoying the freedom of not having to rush home to take her out for walks and feed her dinner. The last few years dealing with Caper’s illness and age had been quite stressful and I felt I needed a break. However, I was depressed. I missed my girl and the house was lonely and quiet without a dog. So I posted back to Nancy, “I need to think about it, Nancy. It’s a little too soon after losing Caper to consider this.” And that’s what I did for the next three weeks. Think about it and think about it. My desire to have another dog in my life got the best of me.

“Nancy, do you still need a foster home for Gizmo?” I posted to her in early November.

“He went to a foster home but it didn’t work out. They took him to a friend’s house who had kids. Gizmo was growling at them,” Nancy explained. “So he’s back here at our kennels.”

“Okay, sounds like he needs me. I’ll be there on Saturday.”

Saturday, November 16 arrived and I drove to Quakertown to meet Gizmo and bring him home with me. I arrived around 11:00am and sat in the veterinary hospital’s reception area as they went back to the grooming room to get him. The door flew open and out burst Gizmo, a blur of tan and white fur flashed past me as he spun around the room. He came over to me to say “hi” but before I could pet him, he ran over to the door, then back to me and around the room again like a bronco just let out of the gate.

I sat on the floor and he jumped in my lap, all 85 pounds of him, but he was off again for another spin around the room. I didn’t expect a dog with this much energy! After all, I had been living with a geriatric for the past several years and had forgotten how rambunctious a young dog can act. Even more remarkable than his energy was his resemblance to Caper. Not his face but the coloring of his fur and long, white feathering down his back legs, chest and tail. His tail was so long that it swept the floor. What a beautiful dog!

I was in love within minutes and decided to adopt Gizmo right then and there. It’s a good thing I adopted him because if I had only fostered him, I may not have kept him once his true personality came out.

Content and title copyright Christine Palm Shaughness. No reproduction allowed.

Know the Breeds – Pomeranian

In hopes that I can give my readers some insight into dog breeds’ personalities, I am featuring different breeds each week. I will give a little history about the breed, i.e., what they were bred to do, talk about their personalities, and provide advice on the lifestyle needs of the breed. Remember, as I always say, every dog is an individual. Some dogs will exactly fit the breed characteristics while others may be nothing like it.

Did you know that the teeny-tiny 8 inch high, 8-pound Pomeranian is really a sled dog? Truly. They belong to the Nordic Spitz group of dogs, originally bred in Iceland in the 16th century to pull sleds, carry packs, and even be guard dogs. The Pomeranian as we know it today came from the northern Poland/eastern Germany region called Pomerania and were much larger, weighing about 35 pounds. Through the years, they have been bred smaller and smaller and you can now find Pomeranians that weigh only 3 pounds (although that is not the breed standard). Queen Victoria of England is purported to have had a large influence with the breed in the late 1800s. But they still bear the appearance and temperament of their ancestors – thick, sturdy coat and a determined character.

Don’t be fooled by the Pom’s diminutive size. They can have big personalities! Often described as feisty and spirited, these little dogs are confident and are not aware of their small size. They can be quite the watchdog, very alert and barking frequently when they hear noises. So, despite their petite-ness, they may not be well-suited for apartment living unless trained not to bark. Because they can be suspicious of strangers, they must be socialized at a young age.

Pomeranians love to play, play, play! They will demand your attention and may be unhappy if left alone. They do bond closely with their humans and will love to be with you. They also like other dogs (another throwback to their sled dog roots!), so if you must leave them alone while you’re at work all day it would be nice if they had another dog-friend to live with.

Pomeranians can be strong-willed, despite their small size. If not trained and shown proper leadership, they will take over as boss of the home and won’t listen. Early obedience training and leadership by good parenting skills is required.

Poms may not be the best choice for families with young children. They can be fragile and easily harmed if stepped on or picked up. Little dogs have a tendency to be snappy with small children. It is their only defense.

Pomeranians are often exploited by puppy mills due to their small size (puppy millers prefer to breed small dogs because they take up less space, are less expensive to feed, and are in demand by the public – which all translates to bigger profits for them). Never buy a puppy from a pet store, on the Internet or from an Amish farmer. You will be paying a lot of money for a dog with questionable lineage and the strong possibility for health problems. My neighbor bought a Pomeranian from an Amish farm and the dog looks a lot like a Shih Tzu! That’s what they do, they mix the dogs together but then claim they are pure bred. AKC or ACA papers mean nothing nowadays.

Most Pomeranians are very sweet and loving, and will make wonderful pets. They can live for a very long time – be prepared for a lifetime of love from them.

Leader vs. Manager

“A leader can be a manager but a manager is not always a leader. And a leader is not always a manager. Leaders are someone that people look to for guidance, and that can be anyone who exhibits qualities that people respect and like to follow. Leaders understand that people are not robots, that they have feelings and families and personal issues. They care about people. They know that happiness on the job results in more productivity, and more productivity means a better organization and more profitability.”

This is an excerpt from my latest book, Leadership in Animal Welfare Organizations: Using Positive Dog Training Philosophies to be Better Leaders. I’ve witnessed many people get promoted to management positions but have never received training to be a manager or a leader. What are the attributes of an excellent leader?

• Calm and in control without being dictatorial, panicked, or angry. Conveys confidence in the midst of crisis.
• Builds trust with integrity to his or her word. A good leader never lies. Once an employee, volunteer, or supporter catches the leader in a lie, all credibility is lost and he or she cannot be trusted again.
• Understands that people matter. An organization is just bricks and mortar if there is no staff to fill it. Without people, there is no organization.
• Knows that when people are treated with respect, they are better workers.
• Realizes that he/she cannot do everything himself/herself and therefore delegates to the staff.
• Takes the time to communicate individually with staff members, finding out what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are and capitalizes on them.
• Keeps the lines of communication open with staff. A good manager checks in with each one of his or her direct reports every day to find out if there is anything that the staff member needs.
• Leads by example. A good leader does not tell employees to do one thing and then does another.
• Sets understandable goals and priorities, and ensures that they are effectively communicated to everyone. There should be clearly developed job descriptions for every employee and reviewed with the employees so that there is no confusion about responsibilities.
• Encourages teamwork and collaboration.

These traits apply, regardless if you work in an animal welfare organization or not. We all need good leaders. Are you a manager or leader in an organization? Learn more in the book, available here:

The Trumpeter in the Woods
Chapter Eleven – Another Totem Animal

Several months before Caper passed away, an animal communicator told me that after Caper died she would come back to me represented in the form of a very small bird. I didn’t think any more about this conversation until one day when Caper and I were out for a walk a few weeks later. We took our usual stroll across the street to the wooded path which Caper could no longer manage to walk for more than 10 minutes. We were on our way back home and had just crossed the street in front of our house when she turned around and walked slowly back to the grassy area in front of a glade of trees. I tried to coax her back to our house but she stood her ground. What was she doing? She looked up to a clearing between the maples and my gaze followed hers. Hovering in the clearing was a hummingbird. We stood watching it together, the first time I had ever seen a hummingbird. I smiled and knew immediately what she was telling me. A small bird. The hummingbird would be Caper’s sign to me.

After Caper passed away, I saw pictures of and references to hummingbirds everywhere. I saw them in a friend’s garden; I saw them at a feeder as I sat on one of my client’s back deck. I even heard a song I remembered from the 70’s called Hummingbird by Seals and Croft. When Caper died, I didn’t analyze and fully comprehend why she picked the hummingbird as her symbol. I only thought of it as her way of saying hi to me. One day, I decided to research the Native American symbolism of the hummingbird and, once again like turtle, butterfly, wolf and dolphin, I found that hummingbird had emerged just as timely as the other totem animals to show my path.

Hummingbird represents joy, endurance over long journeys and one who has the ability to heal by sending light as a laser through the mouth. Okay, I understood joy because Caper certainly brought a tremendous amount of joy into my life. Endurance over long journeys seemed similar to the turtle’s message that my journey would be a long, slow one. But what did it mean about the sending light as a laser through the mouth? How did that pertain to me?

I consulted with my energy healer and she explained that hummingbird was showing me that I was to be a healer, not with medicine like physicians, but with my words. I was going to send healing messages to help animals and people.

Content and title copyright Christine Palm Shaughness. No reproduction allowed.

In hopes that I can give my readers some insight into dog breeds’ personalities, I am featuring different breeds each week. I will give a little history about the breed, i.e., what they were bred to do, talk about their personalities, and provide advice on the lifestyle needs of the breed. Remember, as I always say, every dog is an individual. Some dogs will exactly fit the breed characteristics while others may be nothing like it.

Japan only has a couple of native dog breeds, and the Akita is probably the most recognizable. Its large size and head, dense and stunningly colored coat, and alert personality distinguish the Akita. The most famous Akita, Hachiko, was immortalized in the movie called Hachi: A Dog’s Tale starring Richard Gere, the true story of a dog who accompanied his owner to the train station every day and waited for his return. When the owner died at work, the dog kept vigil at the station for nine years until his death. Don’t watch the movie without a box of Kleenex!

Akitas are thought to have originated on the Japanese island of Honshu in the 17th century when land barons where challenged to create a dog who could hunt bear and deer. The Akita is thought to originate from the Matagi dog (an ancient Japanese breed), then mixed with Mastiff, Great Dane, and St. Bernard. An outbreak of rabies in 1899 and the killing of most dogs almost caused the extinction of Akitas in Japan. In the 1920’s, a concerted effort took place to ensure that the breed persevered.

U.S. servicemen brought Akitas back to the states after World War II and they were admitted to the American Kennel Club in 1955.

Akitas are not a breed for the first-time dog owner. They are physically strong and prone to have quite powerful personalities. Without the knowledge and ability to be an appropriate leader so that the dog knows he is not in charge, an Akita can become a very difficult dog to live with. They will not accept punishment-based training; they are smart and courageous, and will not allow themselves to be mistreated. Love, patience, and consistency is required.

By breeding, they are hunters so they have a significant prey drive. They also may not get along with other dogs. They have a tendency to try to exert dominance over other dogs. Early socialization to all animals, children, people, places, and things is of the utmost importance.

Akitas have the tendency to be very protective of their families, and consequently may be leery of strangers, another reason for early socialization. Early obedience training is a definite in order to ensure the dog listens to you. Because they were bred to hunt independently, they prefer to think for themselves. Training will help to develop the bond with the owner.

Despite their strength, Akitas are loving, devoted dogs. Their disposition should be kind with their families and very loyal.

Be sure to keep them out of the heat. Their coats are so dense that they prefer the cold.

In hopes that I can give my readers some insight into dog breeds’ personalities, I am featuring different breeds each week. I will give a little history about the breed, i.e., what they were bred to do, talk about their personalities, and provide advice on the lifestyle needs of the breed. Remember, as I always say, every dog is an individual. Some dogs will exactly fit the breed characteristics while others may be nothing like it.

No dog is more recognizable and beloved than Lassie, the Collie from films and TV. She is depicted as very intelligent, a great sleuth, protective, loyal, and loving. She certainly set the bar high for other Collies! Are all of these qualities accurate?

Collies belong to the herding group and indeed they are herders. Herding dogs will herd anything – people, kids, other animals – either by corralling them with their bodies or with their voices or both. Collies came from Scotland and Wales, traced back to the early 1800s, bred to herd and guard sheep and goats. Their long coats protected them from the damp, chilly weather in these countries. Their name is thought to be derived either from the English word coll which meant “black” or the Celtic word cóilean which meant ”doggie.”

Collies became show dogs in England in the 1860s and just after that, came to the United States and were accepted as an American Kennel Club breed in 1886.

Like Lassie, Collies are very smart. They do well in obedience and other mental activities, and many require a daily dose of some kind of brain work. Collies may love agility, treball, and herding games of course.

They are also fairly energetic and active dogs when young but can be laid back and settled as they age. A daily long walk or two to expel their energy is necessary, and they love their playtime. Some can be fairly high-strung and may require a great deal of exercise and activity.

Collies love to be with people, often found following you around the house and lying at your feet. They are especially good with children. Collies can be very loyal dogs but don’t expect them to be protective. They are gentle, kind dogs and aggression is rare. They may be slightly aloof with strangers but quickly warm up and become your best friend.

Because of their potential medium-large size as adults, early training is absolutely imperative. They can be nippy and jump on people when young. Collies are quite sensitive so be sure to use only positive rewards training – never punishment. Punishment-based training will adversely affect the relationship between the dog and human.

One issue to be aware of, Collies can be very vocal. They use their voices to communicate to other dogs and to their humans. It’s part of their instinct that they used when herding. They will bark when someone comes to the door and continue to bark at them once they are in the house, and will bark and bark until they get attention. They do love attention! So for this reason, Collies may not make the best dog for apartments or if you have close neighbors.

The Lassie of movies and TV was a smart dog, giving evidence to the high degree of trainability of the breed. And you can’t get a better family dog.

The Trumpeter in the Woods
Chapter Ten – Saying Goodbye (Part Three)

A neighbor helped me get Caper out of the car and into my living room. I placed her on an old white fringed bedspread. She opened her eyes, panted rapidly and pee’d on the bedspread without moving, and she did this several times throughout the night. I was now unable to even get her up on her feet.

I gave Caper the IV every 3-4 hours, praying that I wasn’t hurting her too much as I tentatively stuck the needle into her skin between her shoulders. Caper never stirred.

After a fitful night of sleeping once again on the floor beside her, I awoke and tried to rouse Caper. She opened her eyes, still pulsating, and never tried to get up. She had pee’d herself again. I tried for almost an hour to get her to stand up. I coaxed her with a spoonful of ice cream. She lapped it up while barely holding up her head. I placed the spoon out in front of her so she would have to reach for it. She couldn’t. I sat down on the floor beside her, tears running down my face and admitted to myself that I had to let her go.

“Caper, I love you so much but I don’t want to see you suffer any more.”

I called the vet and she was kind enough to come to my house so that I didn’t have to put Caper through getting her into the car and to the vet’s office. I dragged Caper on her bedspread out to the large deck off of our living room. It was a sunny day with the temperature in the 60’s and I sat with her on the deck that she loved so much. I remembered the day that she first looked out the hole in the wall that was to be the sliding glass door to this deck. It seemed like only yesterday that I bought this house for her, and now she was leaving me alone in it.

The vet and her assistant arrived at 1:00pm. I stroked Caper as the vet gave her a sedative then the lethal dose that stopped her heart. Caper’s tongue hung out and she didn’t look dead. The vet checked her vital signs and told me that she really was gone. They left me alone with her for my last goodbyes. Walking away from her was one of the hardest things I have ever done. When I was ready, the vet and her assistant asked me to leave the area while they packed up Caper’s body and placed it in their car. They hugged me and I watched them drive away with my girl. I walked across the street to the path through the woods that Caper and I had gleefully taken every day for the past seven years. I felt I could see her running happily ahead of me. Her spirit was freed from her sick, old body. Now she was on the other side and soon ready to help me in a different way.

Sadly, a couple of years later, I learned that Caper might have had a condition called vestibular syndrome, an imbalance in the inner ear that is quite common in old dogs. I often think about this with regret but I can only believe that it was Caper’s time to go. After all, she did have advanced cancer and had been though a lot.

Content and title copyright Christine Palm Shaughness. No reproduction allowed.

In hopes that I can give my readers some insight into dog breeds’ personalities, I am featuring different breeds each week. I will give a little history about the breed, i.e., what they were bred to do, talk about their personalities, and provide advice on the lifestyle needs of the breed. Remember, as I always say, every dog is an individual. Some dogs will exactly fit the breed characteristics while others may be nothing like it.

When you think of Beagles, either Snoopy the cartoon character comes to mind or you envision packs of them on the hunt, gleefully running after an animal as they howl and bark. Both images are accurate: Snoopy is always looking to get his food bowl filled and Beagles are hunting dogs. But they are so much more.

Beagles belong to the hound group, bred to hunt with an exceptional sense of smell and ability to track the scent. The direct origins of today’s Beagle are uncertain but hounds have been traced back to the Romans and Greeks around 400 BC.  It is speculated that Beagles were derived from the now-extinct Talbot hound, popular in 11th century England. Beagles began to get popular with royalty for hunting in the 13th century but they were much smaller than the dogs we know today. Some were called Glove Beagles and others called Pocket Beagles, obviously implying that the dogs were small enough to fit in pockets or in your hand. By the 1700’s the Foxhound became the favored dog to use for hunting instead of the Beagle. Possibly bred with the Foxhound, Beagles became much larger and started to be bred as the now-known Beagle in the 1800s in England. The Beagle came to the United States in the mid-late 1800s and were recognized as an American Kennel Club breed in 1884.

Having been mostly used by hunters, the introduction of Snoopy in the Peanuts comic strip in the 1960s caused the popularity of Beagles to soar as family pets. They are a small-to-medium sized dog and, because they were bred as hunting partners, are very social and friendly dogs. Beagles have a happy personality with a smiling, inviting face. They love people and can be quite loyal to their families. They especially gravitate to children and have a very playful nature. They love other dogs, due to the fact that they were bred to hunt in packs with other dogs. They may chase cats, believing that they are prey.

Beagles are motivated by two things: smells and food. The food motivation makes them easy to train – they indeed will work for food! However, the motivation to smell makes the Beagle a dog that requires careful containment. They will follow their noses and run away, tracking the scent regardless of where it takes them. Many a Beagle ends up at the animal shelter because they got lost. Consequently, a fenced yard is mandatory if you want a Beagle. Even with a fence, Beagles can be escape artists. Be sure that your fence is secure.

They love to track scents, and giving them the freedom to do so without the possibility of running away is necessary. Never allow a Beagle to be off-leash in an open area. You cannot possibility run after and catch a Beagle on the track of a scent! Consider enrolling your Beagle in a fun tracking class. Look to your local dog training club for ideas.

Beagles love to eat and if they don’t get enough exercise, have the tendency to gain lots of weight. A daily routine of exercise and play is a requirement, as well as watching how many treats they get. With their expressive eyes, Beagles can easily convince you that they are always hungry!

Keep in mind that Beagles are hunting dogs with an inbred trait to bark and bay loudly when they spot the prey. Beagles are barkers and not recommended for homes where neighbors will complain about barking dogs. Can you train a Beagle not to bark? It’s possible but don’t count on it. It’s as natural to them as breathing.

Like all dogs, early socialization to people, children, other animals, and places is important. So is early obedience training. Beagles are hounds, and hounds are known to have a stubborn streak. Start training as early as possible.

Sadly, Beagles are an exploited breed. Still used by hunters, some hunters are known to kill or turn out any dog who will not hunt to their specifications. In addition, Beagles are used in scientific laboratories for experiments.  As you can imagine, there are many Beagle rescue groups hoping to save as many as possible. If you are looking to get a Beagle, please go to your local shelter or find a rescue group on