Thursday, May 28, 2009

Attorneys at Paw: Lawyers Helping Animals

Weil Gotchal and Manges LLP is a high powered law firm that is widely considered one of the preeminent legal practices in America. You're probably wondering what's this has to do with dogs? Everything. These buttoned up attorneys have been helping to expose some infamous (alleged) puppy mill dealers in Florida. Through the firm's work with the Humane Society of the United States, the lawyers won a victory on May 27th. The judge in the case ruled that the lawsuit against the Wizard of Claws and related businesses, Celebrity Kennels Inc., Dog Breeder Kennel, Inc. and Puppies For Sale, Inc., can proceed as a class action. This means the potential for a large damages award, and most importantly, an order to stop further sales of puppies. Moreover, the owners of the businesses must turn over business records and sit for depositions, which presumably will delve into the horrific practices of puppy mills.

"After years of reaping huge profits from the sale of sick and dying animals, the owners of this operation are finally going to have to answer for their actions," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president & chief counsel for animal protection litigation & research for The Humane Society of the United States. "The sad facts of this case are one more reminder of why consumers should never buy puppies from pet stores or over the Internet."

Weil Gotchal lawyers have been working on this case for several years and for free. Yes, folks, you read that correctly -- lawyers doing good and using their skills to help their community! Let's all put our paws together for the hard-working volunteers in the suits and ties! Thanks for helping raise awareness and exposing the horrors of puppy mills.

Remember, no matter what your job may be, you too can help animals.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Creative Fundraisers to Help Animals

Organizing a fundraiser for your "pet" animal welfare organization is a wonderful way to help your community. Here are some examples of the more creative ways people are helping dogs and animals.

Check out the vampy and campy calendar from Pin Ups For Pups. The volunteers use raise money for the Dawg Squad, an animal rescue in Los Angeles.

Helping animals is fun and rewarding for kids too. The kids at Ian's Bead Company make and sell crafts and jewelry and donate every last dime they raise to several animal shelters. The kids have raised over $18,000 in the last few years.

The winners of American Humane's Be Kind to Animals Week Kids Contest helped animals in a variety of clever ways. They collected blankets and towels to comfort Pit Bulls, volunteered at local shelters and rescues, raised money to purchase animal oxygen masks for use at fires, collected pet food to help families keep their pets in tough economic times and taught other kids how to help animals.

For more ideas and inspiration, check out Kids Making A Difference For Animals by Nancy Furstinger and Sheryl L. Pipe.

Get creative! Celebrate your dog's birthday and ask guests to bring a donation for a shelter in lieu of a gift. Set up a lemonade stand, have a garage sale and donate the proceeds, collect gently used crates and collars or walk or groom shelter dogs waiting for adoption. The options are endless.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hero Bulldog

Yesterday, we honored and remembered all the brave men and women who have served our country.

Today, we came across a story about a loyal Bulldog whose bravery saved his family from a devastating house fire. Read about the dog here.

If you know of a brave dog let us know so we can share with everyone in Happy Dog Land.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Why Fido Should NEVER Ride With His Head Out The Window

We know it looks like a harmless enjoyable treat for your pooch, but letting her ride with her head out the window is extremely dangerous. Lets look at the facts:

  1. Airborne debris (think bugs, pollution etc.) can become embedded in Fido's eyes.
  2. Airborne debris can become embedded in Fido's ear canal.
  3. Chilly air rushing into Fido's nose and lungs can damage his respiratory system.
  4. Fido's head can hit a sign, mail box, a tree or a passing bus.
  5. Fido can jump out the window.
So what can we do to allow Fido to feel the wind in his ears? Well, you could buy him a pair of canine goggles, but that would only take care of problem number 1. Instead, crack the window on both sides of the car to produce a cross wind. Then, drive to the dog park, the beach or any safe enclosed area and let Fido run free. If you frolic with him, you'll burn off a few extra calories and can enjoy another piece of pie on Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ask Billy: How Do I Keep My Dog's Ears Heathy?

Recently, Billy's clients have been asking about ear health and we thought we should share his answers. After all, Billy has been caring for canine ears (and other parts) for over 25 years. Moreover, he has earned several impressive certifications after completing rigorous coursework and testing on a wide area of subjects including grooming, canine anatomy, topical conditioning, first aid and dog care. He also frequently attends continuing education seminars and lectures on dog topics.

And now to the ears...

Dogs have an L-shaped ear canal, which is an ideal breeding ground for dirt, fungus, yeast and bacteria. In addition, water, whether from bathing, swimming or a walk in the rain, can get trapped inside the canal and cause nasty infections. This is why I always place cotton balls inside a dog's ears before bathing as a water barrier. Don't stuff the balls in too far. They should be inside just far enough to stay. Once the bath is finished, be sure to take out both balls. Remember, what goes in the ears, must come out.

The shape of a dog's ear flaps plays a role in ear health too.

Cocker Spaniel Arthur has "Drop" or "Long" ears.

Bella the Bulldog has "Semi-drop" ears.

Yorkies Louis and Lily have "Erect" ears.

If Fido has long ("Drop") ears, like on a Cocker Spaniel, Poodle or Labrador Retriever, the flap prevents air from circulating inside and traps debris, heat and moisture. This means that the ear canal on long-eared dogs can easily become infected. All canine ears, however, are at risk so nobody can be lax in the ear-care department. Genetics, allergies and parasites can also affect ear health. Whether Fido's ears stick straight up ("Erect"), fold over at the top ("Semi-drop") or are long ("Drop"), you must care for them at home. Here's a quick lesson.

Check Fido's ears at least once a week.

Start on the outside. Peruse and feel around the entire area. Parasites, mats and debris like to hide behind the ears. Clean and brush away any mats or dirt. If you find fleas or other parasites, call the vet.

Regardless of the shape of Fido's ears, you'll clean the inside in the same fashion. If, however, your pooch has Drop ears, gently flip the flap back (try to say that five times fast) so it's inside out and hold it out of the way so you can see and work inside. Check inside the canal for excess wax, debris, parasites or infections. If you notice a strong smell, see anything moving or notice dark brown/black crumbles, take Fido for an immediate vet appointment -- something is amiss. Likewise, if your dog is rubbing his ears on the ground, scratching them or shaking his head, he needs veterinary attention. Don't wait and see what happens, ear infections can quickly become serious, painful and costly. Moreover, the constant scratching can lead to a hot spot, which means an additional unpleasant infection.

If Fido's ears look and smell clear and you see only a small amount of wax (reddish-brown on dogs), don't do anything. Over cleaning the ear can cause problems too. Over cleaning can disrupt the natural balance of the inner ear environment (the good bacteria can be overcome by the bad bacteria).

If you see excess wax or dirt inside, clean the ears. You'll need these tools:
  • natural cotton balls (Avoid synthetic balls because they leave behind irritating fibers.)
  • unexpired canine ear wash (Feel free to ask your groomer or vet for brand recommendations.)
Read the product's directions carefully. For most products, you'll be instructed to squirt the product inside the ears and rub the base to disperse the liquid. Then, take a cotton ball and gently rub around the outermost part of the ear canal. DO NOT ram anything inside Fido's ears--whether it's a cotton ball, your finger or a q-tip. Use multiple cotton balls. Once a cotton ball has touched the ear, throw it away. Do not economize by using the ball until it's a brown mess. Most importantly, NEVER use the same ball in both ears. This is a sure way to spread infection. Many times a dog will have only one problematic ear.

Be diligent about keeping Fido's ears clean. Don't let wax build up. It can travel down the ear canal and cause a wide variety of painful and chronic infections, which sometimes require corrective surgery. If you are diligent about cleaning Fido's ears but he nonetheless continues to suffer from infections, talk to your vet about testing Fido for allergies. Often times, the first place an allergy rears its ugly head is inside a dog's ears.

Some dogs grow hair inside their ear canal. As you might expect, the ear hair traps moisture, wax and debris, which can cause infections and other undesirable problems. Professionals disagree as to whether this hair should be routinely removed. Suffice it to say that it’s difficult to remove ear hair safely and painlessly. This procedure is best left to professionals.

Remember, home ear care supplements, but never replaces, yearly or semi-annual veterinary exams.

Arthur's photo by Sheri Berliner, Bella, Louis and Lily's photos by Michael Vistia, Vistia Designs

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shelter Dog Makeovers: The Sequel

On May 17th, Billy, Jill and their volunteer crew (Jus Erickson, Alfred Laurie, Sue Naiden, and Jackie Sabian and of course all the CACC angels) performed grooming miracles at Chicago Animal Care and Control. The incredibly talented and generous photographer Sheri Berliner of Petraits photographed all the dogs and the cats available for adoption at the shelter.

Two of the dogs (Jeffrey and Hazel) were adopted by lovely families on the spot and two more of the dogs went to PAWS, another Chicago shelter. The rest of the pooches are clean and snazzy and are awaiting their forever homes. All of these dogs deserve a second chance, so if you're looking for a new best friend or know someone who is, GO DIRECTLY to CACC, DO NOT pass go and DO NOT collect $200. Instead, collect your new furry friend and enjoy a life time of kisses and unconditional love. As a bonus, you'll earn extra points for saving a life!

Take a look at the pooches that are now ready for their close up and their new home:

Happy, a volunteer favorite, is a jovial, lovable guy that is waiting for his forever home. He enjoyed being pampered and basked in the personalized attention.

Tank is a long-legged looker who can't wait to be someone's pal. He's a friendly, happy and easy-going guy. He'd make a wonderful walking partner since he loves to prance.

Leige was brought in as a neglected/abused dog and had been lovingly rehabilitated by Charles Craft, one of CACC's most dedicated people. Leige is a lover and a beautiful purebred Lab to boot. We sure he'd love hanging out at the beach or on your couch.

Selene likes nothing more than to have your attention and bonds with everyone who gives her a nuzzle or a cuddle. She's ready to snuggle up and keep you warm at night!

Our most dramatic makeover of the day was Brady. From the looks of him, this lovable mutt had never brushed during his 2 years on this earth. It took the efforts of four people to remove all the mats and dead fur in his coat. His undercarriage was covered in dreadlocks that were several inches long. We filled an entire industrial-sized garbage can with all his dead fur and mats! Brady took all the brushing, washing, dematting and manhandling in stride. He even mugged for the camera after almost 2 hours in the grooming area. Look at these before and after shots to see the details.




Brady shows what a huge difference a bit of TLC can make in the life of a down on his luck pooch. He also demonstrates what can happen to your furry pal if you're lax on dog care. So, whether your dog's coat is long or short, be sure to bathe, brush and groom him regularly and properly. Then, use your skills to help a shelter dog. Gather up a group of friends and volunteer together. We can tell you from experience that it's a fun, enjoyable and rewarding way to help your community!

Take a gander at all the photos from the makeovers here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ask Billy: What Do I Feeding Fido In An Emergency?

Bean's Mom from Miami writes: If you and your dog were by chance to be stuck on a desert island (or in a Miami hurricane, say) without your fancy prescription food or gourmet raw diet, what would you feed your pet? Protein? Would he need carbs and vegetables too?

Dogs do indeed require protein, carbs, fat and vitamins and minerals to thrive. A high quality food with a meat (protein) from an identified animal like "Chicken" or "Lamb" as the primary ingredient is the best source of nutrients. If the protein isn't the name of an animal you're familiar with, it's bad news. Steer clear of any food that has unspecified meat, such as "poultry by-products" or "meat and bone meal" or fillers such as "__ pulp" or "__ pomace." No good food will include artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

Click here for some official definitions of ingredients in pet food. The websites of many high quality pet foods include detailed information on the ingredients used in their products. Wellness, for example, has a detailed ingredients dictionary on its site.

Now, to your questions...

If stranded on a desert island assuming there is no regular food drop sponsored by a reclusive billionaire ex-arms dealer who decided to atone for his actions and help humanity, it's ok to share your dinner with Fido. Just be sure to follow basic canine food safety rules. Trim away excess fat from the wild boar and don't give Fido bones, chocolate or seeds, stems or leaves from fruits or vegetables. Click here for more food safety information.

For dealing with natural disasters....

Whether you live in Miami or Maine, every pet in your household should have his own emergency kit. Use an extra crate or pet carrier to hold the supplies. Clearly label the container with your pet’s name, your name and contact information and your veterinarian’s phone number.

Each emergency kit should include:
  • A current photo of the pet
  • Veterinary records including vaccination history
  • Species appropriate first aid manual and kit
  • A seven day supply of food and treats to minimize stress during a difficult situation. Changing food on the fly can cause stomach upset. If Fido eats canned food, pack a manual can opener.
  • A seven day supply of water and medicine. Pack copies of any prescriptions.
  • Poop bags
  • Blanket and a favorite toy
  • Leash and harness
  • Food and water bowls
Your pet should ALWAYS be wearing an identification tag with legible, current information and have a microchip. Click here for additional information on disaster preparedness.

Monday, May 18, 2009

It's Dog Bite Prevention Week

It's Dog Bite Prevention Week, which runs from May 17-23. Although many of our furry pals may feel they are being unnecessarily singled out, the US Postal Service who sponsors the week may have a point.

We must take responsibility for the behavior of our pets and that includes training Fido to be a good citizen. If your dog charges the door every time someone rings the bell, consult a trainer and learn how to keep him calm when someone visits.

And, being a responsible dog owner means knowing you dog's limits. Therefore, if Fido is scared of kids, don't walk him near a playground.

In addition, never let your pooch roam free. A dog off leash can be hit by a car, stolen or abused. Moreover, a roaming dog can attack if he feels threatened.

Socializing your dog to new people, new dogs and new situations is important too. If Fido become anxious or scared, he's more likely to bite as a defense mechanism. Spaying or neutering a dog is also a factor in reducing aggression.

Whether you are 3 or 103, everyone must be taught these additional safety rules:
  • Don't reach your hand out to pet a dog until you ask the owner if the dog is amenable to the contact. If you get the OK, allow the dog to sniff your hand and see you first. The dog is less likely to be spooked if she can see and smell who is touching her.
  • Don't allow children to play unsupervised with any dog, even your pet. Likewise, teach your children not to pull of the dog's tail or fur.
  • Leave a dog alone while he's eating, sniffing or caring for puppies. Bothering a dog in these situations can cause her to become protective.
  • Be kind to your dog. Dogs that are chained outside and left alone or abused are more likely to be come aggressive.
As dog lovers, we want to protect our furry family members. One way to help Fido (and all dogs) thrive is to learn how to prevent dog bites. Check out these websites for more information:

Most dogs give warning signs before they bite, so click here for the ASPCA's information about reading canine body language.

ASPCA's information for teaching kids to prevent dog bites.
American Humane: great fact sheet loaded with information
Humane Society of the US: this article also includes an informative video.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What does Fido think and feel?

Scientists at Harvard University's Canine Cognition Lab are studying the the thoughts and feelings of dogs.

Through non-invasive testing, these Harvard scientists are studying a wide range of topics, such as:
  • Are dogs patient?
  • Dog dogs understand fairness?
  • Does Fido recognize that cooperation brings rewards?
  • Can Fido distinguish between accidental and intentional actions?
  • Can Fido understand human language?
All these questions will eventually allow the scientists to decide whether dogs have a capacity for the acquisition of language or whether they exhibit morality.

This article from the Seattle Times explores whether dogs have souls. (We and the reporter think they do.) The article also discusses some interesting scientific discoveries. For example, a happy dog's brain structure shows the same activity as that of a laughing human. You won't hear a "ha ha" from Fido, but will see him rhythmically panting when he's enjoying himself.

We don't need to wait for the empirical evidence to demonstrate what we already know. We agree with Mark Twain: "Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in."

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Nice Way to Honor, Celebrate or Memorialize A Furry Friend

Buster and Clancy Roffe enjoying the shade of tree in the park near Lake Michigan.

In Happy Dog Land, we all know how important our pets are to us. A dog (or any other pet) bring us joy, unconditional love and emotional support. They are our friends, companions and family members. We just came across a wonderful way to celebrate or remember our pets and help the earth at the same time.

Trees are important to our planet and all who inhabit it. You may have shared a picnic with Fido under a shady Elm, enjoyed the song of a bird nesting on a Maple's branch as you and Fido strolled by or laughed as he chased a squirrel up the trunk of a leafy Oak.

Like our dogs and other pets, trees need people to care for them. The Arbor Day Foundation "encourages people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees." Trees clean our air and provide shelter and food for all types of creatures, including us. The Arbor Day Foundation has a program to buy trees to honor or remember our pets. Donations as small as $10 are accepted and for every dollar a tree is planted. According to the Foundation's website: "By planting Trees in Celebration or Trees in Memory of your pet, you honor your pet with a lasting symbol of your devotion while sharing a healthier world with everyone."

We couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lost Season Finale: The Dog Lives

In addition to being a dog-lover, Jill is a sci-fi fan. At least that's her explanation for attending Star Wars Conventions in costume, reading all the Dune prequels and sequels and watching Next Gen episodes over and over. Like many a sci-fi fan, she's a HUGE fan of Lost.

What does Jill's fascination with Lost have to do with our furry friends? As any Lostie will tell you, Vincent the Labrador Retriever won our hearts right from the start and we've all fretted over him as the story unfolded. We have not seen hide nor hair of him for a while, and Jill for one was worried about his fate. Can dogs time travel--especially one that has already survived a plane crash? Just how long can a dog live on DHARMA dog food?

Did anyone in the 1970s know that generic rendered meals are made from "any mammal" and are a very low quality protein source? Did Vincent become feral and learn to survive on goats or did he get fat and happy with Rose and Bernard only to end up as a skeleton in a cave?

We have about 9 months until we find the answers. Use the time to brush up on your dog care skills...come September you'll have a great book to fill the void on Wednesdays from 9-10 EST/8-9 CST. In the meantime, play with you pooch during the hour you were plastered to the TV.

And, if anyone can shed some light on who the heck that guy in the black shirt tell!

Airport Goes to the Dogs

After years of being dogged by birds that can cause serious aviation accidents, the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport has hired Filly. Filly, a rescued border collie, has been installed at the "wildlife management canine" officer. Check out these photos of Filly at work. While Filly runs and chases birds all day, she's helping keep passengers safe. After all, not every pilot is a Sully.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The National Canine Cancer Foundation: Fighting the disease and providing information

Did you know that cancer affects one in three dogs? Did you know that research into canine cancer may help cure cancer in humans? Do you know if your best pal is at risk for cancer?

The Nation Canine Cancer Foundation has the answers. The NCCF is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing, treating and curing cancer in dogs. The organization funds grants for scientific research and provides education and advocacy programs. The NCCF website is an excellent resource for facts and information on canine cancer. The site also hosts a memorial page to remember beloved furry friends who have lost their battle with cancer and includes an informative blog. Take a few minutes to navigate around the site and you'll learn something that could help your dog.

According the the NCCF, the 10 early warning signs of canine cancer are:
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
  • Offensive odor
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecation
Many of these symptoms can indicate other illnesses too. If your dog exhibits any of these signs or you feel that something just isn't right, take your pooch in for a veterinary check-up. Tell the doctor everything you've noticed and speak openly about your thoughts and hunches. Be your dog's advocate: if you know something is wrong, be sure that the doctor understands your concerns and takes steps to address them. In addition, don't be shy about getting a second opinion.

Get the facts on canine cancer from the National Canine Cancer Foundation.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dogs and your significant other

It goes without saying that your relationship with your pet can (and probably should!) influence your relationships with other people. Who doesn't utilize the "Do you like animals?" threshold test?--especially when looking for a significant other.

Once you find that significant other, you may get a pet together. Doing so can create bonds (and tensions) not unlike the introduction of a child to the relationship. Similarly, joining in a relationship with a man or woman who already has a pet can complicate (and enrich) the dating experience in ways you might never expect.

The Associated Press has also decided that this age-old issue is worth revisiting, and has done so here. A key quote: "It's important to remember that conflicts over the pets are often a sign of more fundamental differences." We cannot stress our agreement enough without dressing in adorable sailor outfits and waiving semaphore flags around.

Whether these issues relate to finances, physical intimacy, responsibility or displays of affection, your new beau's interaction with your pet can help you understand (and address) your own relationship in a more meaningful way. Do you insist on having the dog in the room while, um, certain intimate activities are taking place? Does your boyfriend/girlfriend object? What does that say about you, and what does that say about him/her? What does that mean in terms of how you are prioritizing -- and why? Are you driven insane by the fact that your girlfriend/boyfriend won't do certain pet-related chores?

There are no right answers to any of these questions, but they should spur on some introspection -- yet one more way in which dogs improve your life!

Dogs in Love

Here at Happy Dog Land we regularly wrestle with the question: Do dogs really love? What do they really think? It appears that Eric Zorn, a prominent columnist at the Chicago Tribune, has wondered the same thing. Please check out the debate here, and be sure to weigh in! Of course, we know from our own experience as long-time dog owners that our canine friends do feel emotion, and are connected to us (and each other) in deep and profound ways. But you knew that already!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

World's Oldest Dog

Check out Chanel, the world's oldest dog. She recently turned 147 in human years and her coat is now all white, but the Dachshund still enjoys an occasional walk. Chanel's owner adopted her from a Virginia shelter as a six week old pup. Clearly Chanel's family has taken good care of her body, mind and spirit!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Be Kind to Animals Week

From May 3 to 9, it's American Humane's Be Kind to Animals Week. This yearly celebration of the role animals play in our lives has been a tradition since 1915.

Through Be Kind to Animals Week, American Humane promotes the human-animal bond and encourages humane treatment of animals. Many of the events teach children how to treat animals with respect and care. Last year, Jill's son Ian won the Kind Kid award in the 6-12 year old category for his craft business, which has raised over $18,000 for animal shelters. Read about this year's Kind Kids here.

Whether you're 5 or 105, everyone can help animals. Check out these ideas on how to be kind to animals and then visit American Humane's website for more information.
  • Speak out for animals. Tell family, friends, strangers and law makers that it's important to take care of our furry friends.
  • Report animal abuse. Often the presence of abused animals indicates other forms of abuse like domestic violence.
  • Help dogs in need. Adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue or volunteer your time or donate money.
  • Appreciate wildlife. Learn how protecting the environment helps all critters.
  • Take good care of your pets, which of course means more than providing food, shelter and grooming. Show your pooch how much you love him by tending to his body, mind and spirit.
Now, treat your pooch to a little extra TLC today in honor of Be Kind to Animals Week.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Lucy Update: The (Formerly) Neglected Gal Is Doing Great!

Remember the neglected Cocker Spaniel rescued by New Leash on Life in April?

As you can see above, Lucy was in terrible shape, and had been severely neglected for a long, long time. New Leash brought Lucy to Billy and she went from horribly matted and filthy to clean and bouncy in a matter of hours. Not only did she look good, she lost almost 8 pounds of mats. For the first time in a long, long time Lucy was comfortable in her own skin, literally.

The wonderful volunteers at New Leash have attended to Lucy's health and have indeed given her a new leash on life. The photos show that she has a sparkle in her eye and is ready for her close-up -- and a new life filled with love, pampering and proper grooming.

Here at Happy Dog Land, we want to help Lucy -- who suffered so in her former life -- to start her new life in style. So, the lucky person who adopts her will get a gift certificate for a grooming with Billy!

To learn how to foster or adopt Lucy click here. Tell them Billy & Jill sent you!

Twittering Dogs

In this age of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo and about 9 gazillion other "social networking" tools, it should surprise no one that you can now get more information about your favorite furry friends in cyberspace too. We've gotten into the act, tapping away so quickly on our mobile devices that our arms now hang limply by our sides.

In fact, as some of you have noticed down on the left side of the page, Happy Dog Land now has established its own presence on Twitter. Each weekday we'll bring you a "tip of the day" designed to improve your dog's body, mind and/or spirit. And, in some cases, your own! Look for us @ Happydogland! And as many of you already know, you can also find us on Facebook.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Light, Camera, Action! So You Think Fido Has What It Takes To Be A Star

Through the miracle of the Internet we recently met Traci Murdock, a certified professional dog trainer. Traci, shown here with her pooch Cyan during a recent appearance on Good Morning Texas, works in Carrollton, Texas. Traci trains dogs for sports such as agility, obedience, flyball and rally. She is well known for her "Hollywood Dog Classes," which teach people how to break their dog into Show Biz. Traci also works as a Talent Scout and Wrangler on the sets of commercials and other places where canine actors work. Traci actively volunteers with shelters and rescue groups. Traci is our guest blogger today.

So without further ado, take it away Traci!

Is your dog just waiting to be discovered? Are you convinced he’s cuter, smarter, and more talented then all those dogs you see in the movies or in ads?

I was convinced that my dogs would be perfect for Show Biz! After all, they are Cattle Dog and Border Collie types and I knew they needed a “job.” Since I’m an experienced dog trainer, I thought this won’t be hard at all. Moreover, I already had a head start since my dogs’ training adventures began as soon as they came home with me. In order to compete in dog sports, they had to learn to focus on me and the job and learn to love tricks and playing the game with me.

I started researching and contacting agents and sending out portfolios. Then, we got our first callback from an agent and the client choose US! And that, of course, was when the adventure really began.

Although I had a better idea of what to expect than most first-timers because of my training and photography background, it was still overwhelming. There are so many things to remember, people to please, and expectations to meet in a very compressed time frame. If you don't meet expectations then you won’t get another chance -- no one can afford to spend the money if you and your pooch aren’t a “sure thing.”

As I worked with my dogs and began working as a Talent Scout and Wrangler, I began to assemble a list of things that a dog and owner needed to know in order to succeed in The Biz. This list was the basis for the creation of my Hollywood Dog class.

Here's what you need to know:

Learn clicker training. Although the concepts and skills needed can be taught in other ways, I prefer clicker training or marker-based training. I've found that this is the surest way to get the behavior on cue in the shortest time period. When casting a job, the director provides an outline of the skills and behaviors that will be needed. The outline is often incomplete or changed on the fly during the shoot. If you and your dog can use a clicker, you can quickly and positively train a new behavior on set. You never want to have to say that your dog can’t do what's needed. (ed: For those of you not familiar with dog training techniques, a clicker is a hand-held device that makes a "clicking" sound, which tells the dog that his behavior is correct or that he is doing the right thing.)

Learn commonly requested skills and tricks, and know how to improvise if you get a new request. Every dog must know sit, down, stand and stay. The dog should be able to be a "Gumby" and stay in whatever position he's put in until formally released. I also teach students how to send their dogs to a mark to perform, how to get the dogs used to working for others and in scary and unfamiliar places and how to build new tricks from known commands.

Practice under real conditions. We practice everything at a distance, since the owner will be behind the camera. In addition canine actors have to ignore many distractions on set, such as anxious humans, screaming kids, other dogs in weird situations, and new and scary objects and products. Your dog may even have to perform with a camera flash popping every couple of seconds.

Once your dog is ready, research the talent agents in your area and have your dog photographed. Every actor, even the four-legged type requires a head shot.

For more information about Traci, her classes or to learn how to make your dog a star, contact Traci here or give her a ring at The Training Spot: 214-878-2230.