May 26, 2009

De-stressing your dog

It is easy to forget that dogs, like people, need very similar things to thrive. Your dog follows your routine, your eating habits, exercise habits and more. It is time that we thought about our own routines, and how they can impact the life of our pet. Dogs don't just need "dog food" and a ball to chase: each dog has something special and unique about them that should be honored, and it is up to you-- the owner-- to find out what it is!

In order to live, humans need the basics: food, water, and shelter. In order to thrive, however, we need a stable home environment, whole and nourishing foods, regular exercise, touch, love, community, strategies for managing stress, and a positive outlook on life. It would seem, to me, that we can say the same things about our pets.

At Give A Dog A Bone, we may work on a tight budget, but Corinne and her volunteers try to tackle the physical, emotional, and mental health of the dogs. One thing in particular: STRESS is not just our enemy, but an enemy of our pets as well. Although in some cases, prescription medicine is a necessity, these days, it is fun to play around with some of the extremely effective holistic and all-natural stress-busting options. Corinne has come up with some all-natural remedies that are worth sharing for de-stressing the dogs at the shelter:

1. Lavender spray bottle: Lavender has been used for ages as an herb to combat depression, anxiety, insomnia and a variety of other conditions. It works by having a calming effect on the body and thereby reducing the body's stress response. At the shelter, Corinne has a spray bottle filled with filtered water and lavender essential oil. Sprayed in the air around the dogs, they are noticeably intrigued and calmed by the smell. It is worth trying at home if your dog is having a barking attack, or noticeably agitated. 

2. Bach's Rescue Remedy: A long time holistic health staple, rescue remedy is a combination of flower essences developed by Edward Bach to be used in times of stress. Everyone from celebrities, to health professionals, or just your Average Joe can keep this in mind when stress arises. (Some EMT's even carry it around in their medical bag to use when patients are presenting with signs of shock!) The combination of flowers works synergistically to reduce stress, calm the mind, decrease anxiety, and even goes so far as to decrease panic symptoms. 

3. Diet: Dogs and people are sensitive to food. We may not know it, after all of the processes and refinements have taken place, but food definitely effects how we behave. Refined white sugar, for instance, spikes the blood sugar, causes mood imbalances, cravings, anxiety, and weight gain. Instead, it has been found that complex carbohydrates: quinoa, brown rice, millet, and protein: fish (high in protein and omega-s), chicken, lean meats have a profoundly calming effect on the body and mind. If you are up for it, make your dog breakfast of salmon, quinoa, and steamed veggies with olive oil to see how they respond to an all-natural and nourishing meal!!!

The list can go on forever, and it is fun to play around with your own stress busting ideas: Meditation, Yoga, massage, long walks, doing something fun with someone you love, watching a movie. Whatever your tactic is for stress-relief, try to get your dog in  on the action as well!

Wonderful wishes for a beautiful spring- the perfect time of year to enjoy a sunny patch of grass at the park with your furry friend.


May 5, 2009

Agility on a budget

It is one of the many perks of non-profit work that when recessions hit, you normally have a pretty good idea already of ways to save money. In an effort to make sure you can still get the most joy out of your time with your dog, we can show you how to do agility on a shoe-string. 

When looking for inexpensive thrills for your pet, look no further than some of the training equipment we use here at Give A Dog A Bone. Trust us, it doesn't take fancy toys, equipment, or high priced training sessions to make your pet happy (although I guess that never hurt, either). As any dog will tell you, they prefer your old shoes or stuffed animals to any of the other high priced toys you can find at the dog "boutiques". 

And why not let the pictures speak for themselves? The first thing you think when you see these pictures is, "My Gosh! That is one happy puppy!" Again, big thanks to Sylvia Spiro (our wonderful volunteer photographer) for being able to capture a puppy smiling and exuding pure puppy joy. You know, what we see in the pictures is not a picture-perfect puppy on a picture-perfect agility course; but rather, a sweet little guy with a patch of demodex (treatable mange) and a beautiful spirit making his own real-life agility course. Using a chair, a cone, a frisbee, and a fire hydrant (although we are not expecting you to have well-placed fire hydrants in your back yard:)), this puppy is in heaven!!! Using household objects: a broom handle, plastic chair, step stool, frisbee, rope, and any safe combination you can think of, can prove to be just the agility course your dog needs. In fact, using objects like cones and plastic chairs (cheap thrills!) is a wonderful way of getting your puppy used to objects that may seem "scary" or "strange" to its young mind. If you are looking for fun ways to socialize your puppy and get them accustomed to the big world out there, an at-home agility course could be just the mental and physical exercise they need to grow into strong, confident dogs. So look around your house today, and get experimental with your pet's agility course, they will thank you for it!

Life Behind Bars

It isn't always glamorous at the animal shelter, but there is some serious work that gets done while the animals are "behind bars". When animals are not being taken out for exercise and love, they spend the majority of their time inside of their kennel looking at life behind metal bars. Through no fault of their own, these dogs have ended up at Animal Care and Control, and it is through the effort of dedicated volunteers, like Corinne and her staff, that they end up with any human interaction at all. 

But don't despair yet! Where others might see a dead-end, Corinne and her volunteers see another opportunity to enrich the lives of the dogs. They strive to give their dogs the emotional support and mental stimulation they need in order to keep sane, even with a metal fence between them. In fact, Corinne once told me that every single time she enters a run she tries to acknowledge each dog she passes by. 

The photos above are taken by a wonderful volunteer, Sylvia, who uses her gift of photography to capture some of the wonderful day to day moments at Give A Dog A Bone. While in the cage, Corinne (seen above) is practicing "Ups" with one of her dogs. Treats abound in these training sessions, which Corinne stresses to me, keeps the dogs mentally stimulated and engaged, even when they can't be taken out. It seems that everything in life works from the inside out. Even when inside of their cages, Corinne and her volunteers begin putting behaviors on cue that will help groom these animals into well-behaved, loving dogs. Each time they pass by they have a kind word, a delicious treat, or squeaky toy to make each dog feel special.

At Give A Dog A Bone, no dog is too hopeless to be worked with or too sick to be loved. Every volunteer knows that each animal comes to the shelter with a unique set of circumstances and behaviors. Even dogs that are confined to their kennels because of aggression are not excluded from Corinne's remarkably positive training sessions. It may seem a small victory, but an animal deemed "vicious" or "aggressive" taking a treat from your hand, and doing "ups" for the volunteers, is just one of the many reasons that volunteering at Give A Dog A Bone is a worthwhile and enriching experience. 

More broadly, can you imagine what that would do for the world, if instead of turning a blind eye to others who need our help, we took the time to acknowledge each individual's beautiful and unique existence? We may not always have the answer to a problem, but taking the time to acknowledge what is around us is one of the most thoughtful things we can do.

So this is a big Thank You to all of the volunteers at Give A Dog A Bone, and to San Francisco's Animal Care and Control who make it their passion to acknowledge every dog, and give love, toys, treats, and affection to the dogs "behind bars".