Sunday, December 27, 2009

Eco-friendly dog poop bags?

While we were at the AKC/Eukanuba Natl Dog Championship show we perused the vendor booths and found something interesting. Dog poop bags that are not just biodegradable but are actually water-soluble.

You can flush these down your toilet.

For owners like us who have always had angst about using plastic bags for poop pickup, worrying about that disgusting effect we're having on the landfill, these products are of great interest.

At the same time, I live in a very old home (almost 100 years old) with very old plumbing. Dare I risk putting this stuff down the toilet? We're intrigued, and yes, we are trying them out.

The company is at 800-428-3645. I'll let you know what we think.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Should you auction off a puppy?

I had lunch the other day with a friend who is the executive director of a nonprofit. We were planning the annual fundraising gala, which includes an auction. I’m donating private dog training lessons to the auction. She shared with me that many people were urging her to get a puppy donated to auction off at the event. She asked me if I thought this was a good idea.

No, it’s not. The problem with it is that dogs are a big responsibility, and it would be wrong to just let anybody who put up the money walk off with the dog without the appropriate screening. What if the buyer’s landlord doesn’t allow pets? What if they have a yard that isn’t safely fenced? What if it doesn’t work out?

Here are some of the considerations people need to be guided through before getting a dog (thanks to the website from local rescue group, Rover Rescue):

Before you adopt a dog, please ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you willing to care for the dog throughout his or her entire lifetime? (Keep in mind that small dogs can live up to 18 years. )
2. Do you know how to housetrain a dog?
3. Can you afford the cost of food, grooming and regular veterinary care, including yearly vaccinations and check-ups? Dental cleaning?
4. Do you have the time to adequately exercise the dog?
5. Are you prepared to attend training classes to teach your dog basic obedience?
6. Are you prepared to hire a trainer if your dog has behavioral issues that you don’t know how to deal with?
7. Have you considered who will care for your dog during vacations or in an emergency? Can you afford kennel and boarding fees?
8. Will you give your pet love and attention when he or she needs you, and not just at your convenience?

Later, I called another friend who is also an executive director of a nonprofit, and I knew that her nonprofit had auctioned off a puppy 18 months ago (in fact, she bought the pup herself, after falling in love with it while caring for it for a week before the event). Even she agreed that she thinks the idea is not a good one, and is not one they would repeat.

She recalled a friend of hers who (at another event where a puppy was being auctioned) opened the bidding on the it just to get the bidding going. The friend did not actually want to OWN the dog, he just wanted to stimulate bidding. Well, guess what—he was the only bidder, and he ended up with a 15-year commitment he did not want.

A better idea is to put together a “New dog basket” containing the certificate for private lessons, a food and water bowl, a leash, a toy, some biscuits, and a gift certificate to a pet supply store. Include a card for so they can go online and instantly search through the various dogs available through all the local dog rescue groups and shelters.

LA county shelters to reduce pet adoption fees

(By the way, the LA county shelters currently have over 400 dogs available for adoption-- many labs, Havanese-type or poodle-type dogs, terrier mixes, a darling Pomeranian, and more).

From wire service reports
Posted: 12/16/2009 07:15:36 AM PST

Fees to adopt a pet will be reduced at all Los
Angeles County shelters this weekend through
Christmas Eve, county officials announced today.

All six county shelters will open at 9 a.m.
Saturday to host "Save-A- Stray for the Holidays"
events. Los Angeles County Animal Care and
Control officials hope to encourage Angelenos to
adopt stray animals rather than buying pets as
holiday gifts.

"Each year, the department takes in more than
90,000 animals. There are not enough homes for
all of them," said Michelle Roache, deputy
director of outreach and special enforcement for
the department. "Supporting adoption rather
than irresponsible breeding is one way to
significantly help to reduce this pet
overpopulation problem."

County officials hope to adopt out a record
number of pets during Saturday's events.

Pets looking for a new home can be found at:

-- Downey Animal Shelter, 11258 S. Garfield,

-- Carson Animal Shelter, 216 W. Victoria St.,

-- Baldwin Park Animal Shelter, 4275 N. Elton
St., Baldwin Park;

-- Lancaster Animal Shelter, 5210 W. Avenue I,

-- Castaic Animal Shelter, 31044 N. Charlie
Canyon Road, Castaic;

-- Agoura Animal Shelter, 29525 Agoura Road,
Agoura Hills; and

-- Antelope Valley Pet Stop, 42116 Fourth St.
East, Lancaster.

More information can be found at .

Monday, December 14, 2009

Report from the AKC/Eukanuba National Championships dog show

We arrived at the show at about 10:30 Saturday morning, just in time to get oriented and show up at the ring where the Borzois were being shown at 11:00am. There were 27 Borzois entered, and every one of them was beautiful. My friend Kay Novatny was there with her beautiful white and black boy, “Tie”, who is the dog who made me fall in love with this breed. Tie and Kay were in my agility class through the SPCA-LA and for 8 weeks I got to hang with them while waiting for our turn (I was in the class with Toby, my blue merle Sheltie). I soon felt like I was stalking her, because I just could not get enough of Tie. I truly have Kay to thank for ushering me into the world of Borzoi.

So they were in the ring, as was my own breeder, Marilyn McGraw, and her son, Stuart. Marilyn was showing Spark, who is with her for a year from Japan, where he became the number one Borzoi in that country. Her dog, Hunter (who is the father (sire) of my Borzoi, Bella) became the number one dog in the US, and he is now in Japan being shown there for a year or so.

By the way, considering how huge Borzoi are, and how space-constrained Japan is, I asked Marilyn why Borzoi were so popular there. She explained that the Japanese culture deeply reveres beauty, and they consider the Borzoi to be a stunningly beautiful breed (I would have to agree). So despite their space limitations they are in love with the breed. Spark is a gorgeous white and black male, and I expect him to become very successful on the show circuit under Marilyn’s handling. Here is an older photo of her with Hunter.

We met up with our friends Cindy Chiles and Helmut Fischer, and enjoyed watching the Havanese breed being shown. They adopted an adorable (slightly oversized) Havanese from Rover Rescue about a year ago, and it just goes to show what wonderful dogs are available through rescue groups. Their dog, Buddy, has the cutest personality I’ve ever met. And he’s adorable to look at.

There were lots of vendors at the show, including some beautiful collar vendors, though for hound collars my favorite is still 2 Hounds Design (which you can only get online). DogWise was there, and they have an unparalled selection of dog training books. I was in training heaven.

The “meet the breed” section was lots of fun—different breed groups were each invited to set up a booth, and they decorated it and often came in costume with their dogs to allow the public to meet the dogs and learn about the breed. For example, the club for the Pembroke Welsh Corgi came dressed as Welsh shepherdesses (they called themselves wenches!) and they each had a dog to share with interested people. They were quite a hit. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel booth had folks dressed as the king and queen, with CKCS’s snoozing on their laps (which is exactly what the dogs did in the court where they were developed!). There were a few Scottie puppies and I fell completely in love with them. There were also a few NEW breeds, which just became recognized by the AKC this past January.

The obedience section was great fun to watch and this the agility rings are the areas where I see the connection between the dogs and their owners really shine. Formal obedience competition is not growing in popularity, partially I think because it requires a level of drilling and practice far beyond what most casual dog owners are interested in. The foundation behaviors are great, but I prefer to work with folks on “real world” obedience, such as teaching a dog to maintain a down-stay at a Starbucks table even though another dog walks close by and sniffs at him. THAT is a useful skill. Coming when called is important, though I don’t care if the dog is sitting perfectly straight in front of me when he comes (whereas in competitive obedience, it matters). There is a newer form of less-strict obedience called Rally that is growing in popularity with more dog owners today, and I’ll write about that in a future post.

Overall, the show was a lot of fun, and Sunday night a Scottish Terrier was crowned the Best in Show.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Going to the AKC/Eukanuba National Dog Championships this weekend?

This weekend is the big dog show in Long Beach (see link below for details). I’m going on Saturday and possibly on Sunday too (I may be helping out at the booth for the Lomita Obedience Training Club). If you haven’t been to this show before, I encourage you to go because it’s the unique in several ways— the dogs that attend have had to earn a high number of points showing throughout the year in their various events—ie, in conformation, in obedience, and in agility. Only the top-scoring group of dogs are invited to attend this show (that’s what makes it a National Championship).

Last year when I went and observed the obedience competition, I was brought to tears watching a woman compete flawlessly with her magnificent Doberman. The woman was born without arms. She has eliminated the word “limitation” from her vocabulary and when she and her dog entered the ring, you could hear a pin drop. She had to enter and exit the ring with her dog on leash, and for her that was a very thin leash which she held with her toes (she competed in bare feet). I later spoke with her. She is a CPA from Louisiana, and has never let her disability stop her. I was in awe and it was very inspiring in many ways.

On a lighter note, there will be the most wonderful selection of dog collars and leashes and beds and toys and everything else you can imagine. There will be every kind of dog in the book. It’s going to be a lot of fun. For a quick video of an agility run from last year’s competition, click here. For some real comedy, see the really BIG dogs running--

Only dogs entered into competition are allowed in, so this is a “don’t bring your own dog” event. For a few of you on my list here who are in the market for a dog, this is a great place to meet breeders and do your homework and meet dogs and ask questions.

If you decide to go and want to try to hook up, call me on my cellphone (see below), I’ll have it with me.
At the 2009 AKC/Eukanuba National Championship this weekend (the nation’s largest dog show), more than 3,000 of man’s best friends will be exhibiting their obedience and athletic skills, while competing in a variety of live and televised competitions.

Diane Bassett
cell: 310-896-6419

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dogs go through developmental stages

A friend of mine has a young pup who is entering a fear stage, and I was explaining what that's all about. I find this website to be a great and concise explanation of the various developmental stages our dogs go through. I highly recommend reading it (it's short!).

View it here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Warm-A-Pup project a big success!

Letter to the Editor printed in the Peninsula News:

Wow! The South Bay Clicker Training Club received an overwhelmingly generous response to our call in September for used towels and blankets to be recycled into winter jackets for the dogs who live in cold concrete kennels at the animal shelter. People brought so many donations to the Pet Foods Market in Lunada Bay that the donations filled up entire room in my house. With the help of many people (including Cindy Chiles of Convergent Consulting LLC who provided additional supplies) we sewed enough dog jackets to meet the needs of the SPCA-LA animal shelter in Hawthorne. We had enough leftover towels and blankets to make additional donations to that shelter as well as the LA County shelter in San Pedro. It’s obvious that people on this peninsula are compassionate animal lovers and we are grateful for your support of this very successful project. We may very well do it again next year. Thank you!

Diane Bassett

Donate a towel or blanket, warm a shelter pup

By Rebecca Villaneda, Peninsula News
Thursday, September 3, 2009 4:41 PM PDT

It’s hard to imagine being cold with the dog days of summer still upon us, but a few local animal lovers hope you can pretend.

(photo omitted: Diane Bassett, left, and Cindy Chiles, right, with Nika, are hosting a towel-and-blanket drive in order to make coats for shelter dogs in the upcoming winter months.)

Palos Verdes Estates resident and dog trainer Dianne Basset happened upon the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ wish list, which had dog coats listed.

“I was surprised to learn that the SPCA was putting out a call for help for jackets for dogs; we usually worry about dogs being too warm,” said Bassett, who also is a foster parent to adoptable animals.

But sure enough, the SPCA said the warmth is needed to combat the cold cement floors during the winter months.

About the same time that Bassett learned about this, summer had just begun and she happened to have just purchased a sewing machine.

An idea was coming together.

“I’m getting out my beach towels and I’m looking at some of them, which are kind of frayed, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is probably this towel’s last season,’” the trainer with South Bay Clicker Training Club said. “And I thought, ‘I know what I could do with this towel.’ And my neighbor down the street, who has three kids who are all surfers, they’re going to be having the same experience — let’s put those to good use.”

The soon-to-be old towels and any old blankets were a perfect solution in creating some homemade dog coats.

The next thing Basset needed was a little help to get her idea to fly.

She reached out to Pet Foods Market owners Livia Varsanyu and Barbara Toth. The two women, animal advocates in their own right, allowed their two stores —one in Manhattan Beach and the other in PVE — to be drop-off sites for the towel and blanket drive.

“It’s an excellent idea, and if you haven’t been to a shelter, the conditions are not the best. They are on concrete in the winter, summer — all the time, and it gets really cold in there, especially when it’s wet,” Varsanyu said. “We collect items for dogs and take them down to the shelter … anything from old leashes, towels, beds, anything that people don’t use — toys that their dogs don’t use anymore, we collect everything.”

The third party in this donation drive is Convergent Consulting LLC owner Cindy Chiles, who will serve as the financer of the project’s odds and ends.

It didn’t take long for the San Pedro resident to agree to help. She recently adopted Buddy, her first shelter dog, that she said has given her a new perspective.

“I’ve had three dogs beforehand that I’ve had wonderful relationships with and long lives with, but … Buddy is just a joy,” Chiles said. “When I got him he had been shaved bald, and had been on the streets for quite a while, and also had kennel cough. He was so heavily matted they couldn’t save his hair. As it turned out he’s just a wonderful dog; he’s very smart and very loving.”

Since Buddy was not a puppy when she got him, she’s had some “unique”

hurdles to get over in getting him trained, but she said Basset has helped with his progress.

“It just seems so unconscionable that he was about to be put down — and he was, because he got kennel cough. It’s so highly contagious … The thought of him not surviving, it just seems unbelievable, because he has so much value and he’s so lovable immediately,” she said.

Bassett, excited to offer shelter dogs some warmth this winter, has already gotten her design OK’d by the SPCA. She will cut the fabrics into triangles and use ribbons to tie it around them, making them adjustable for different sizes.

“We’re not trying to create dog fashion,” she said. “These jackets may get chewed up, so we’re designing them in away that’s low-cost — they’re warm, they’re functional, they’re not necessarily going to be fashionable, but they’re going to do the job, and frankly, the thought of dogs who need homes being cold, makes me sad.”

To donate older towels or blankets drop them off at Pet Foods Market, 6 Yarmouth Road in Lunada Bay.

Book review: Reaching the Animal Mind (by Karen Pryor)

Reaching The Animal Mind by Karen Pryor

Clicker training fans will not be able to put this book down. It starts with some brief but fascinating stories of how Karen and her husband started a sea life park in Hawaii and started training dolphins, porpoises and whales to do Marineland-like shows for the public. Along the way she taught children to clicker-train horses and was surprised to find them surfing together in the ocean, the children riding bareback and the ponies having tremendous fun. She talks about behavior shaping, communicating with animals, animals expressing feelings and showing creativity, and creating attachments. She then goes on to cover the evidence of fear (and it’s detriment to the ability to learn). She covers the common questions around clicker training, and then goes to share some breakthrough understanding that has come from her pursuit of neuroscientists (such as recent discoveries that all conditioned reinforcers travel through the brain via the primitive brain—the amygdala—rather than the higher-thinking cortex). She also covers the revolutionary use of clicker training on people (called TAG teaching). Throughout the book she references wonderful videos and additional references available to all at .

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in clicker training. Karen writes with a straightforward and humble style that is engaging and fun to read. It’s a heartwarming book packed full of information for beginning and advanced trainers alike.

Dog parks coming to the peninsula!

I'm very happy to see that wonderful progress is being made to include dog parks in Hesse Park and Grandview Park. The Daily Breeze just covered this and the article can be read here.

Maureen and Bruce Megowan deserve our thanks for the tireless work they've put into this effort, as does RPV Mayor Larry Clark. Thank you!

Having moved here from the Bay Area 2 years ago, I really miss having a wide choice of legal off-leash dog runs. I used them every day up north and can't wait to use them here, too (I do know about the dog park in Redondo Beach but it's such a long drive just to run the dogs).

Please email the city council members in RPV and express your support for this project. You can reach them all with this one email address: (that autoforwards to everyone on the council).

Thank you!

Training "workouts"

I'm a member of the Lomita Obedience Training Club, and am starting to schedule informal training "workouts" with folks on a weekend morning in one of two parks in Palos Verdes Estates.

A "workout" means we get together to do some training exercises that are best done with other dogs present-- for example, it's harder for dogs to perform reliable recalls and stays in the presence of other dogs. We will work on many basic behaviors, and will also work on "real life" behaviors such as how to go under a chair at a cafe and stay politely and quietly while the owner has a nice coffee and chats with friends. And how to continue to do that even if another dog walks by and sniffs.

I'll be sending invitations to these "workouts" to the members of the club. I encourage anyone in the South Bay who's interested in learning how to train their dog to consider taking the classes with the LOTC. It's a great starting point and they use lots of positive reinforcement (I'm an avid clicker trainer. See for more info on clicker training).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Why do we train our dogs?

OK, I admit I’m more into dog training than the vast majority of people, but I still think the rest of the world would benefit by doing more enjoyable dog training with their canine buddies. When I ask people if they train their dogs, they often respond as though I’ve asked if their dog needs pharmaceutical drugs—“Oh no,” they explain, “he’s really pretty good.”

So the first myth I want to dispel is the idea that we train our dogs because they are not not good, or because they’re doing something so wrong that it’s making our lives miserable (by the way, there ARE many cases where that is true, but that’s not the majority of cases). We train our dogs in order to:

  • Keep them safe and possibly save their life,
  • Enrich our life by making it very very pleasant to be in their company, and
  • Enrich their life by making it very fun and interesting to be in our life.

Now some people will think that as long as their dog isn’t soiling the house or biting the neighbor, they get enough pleasure out of the dog to leave things as they are. Dogs are inherently lovable, so don’t think that just because you love your dog you’re done in terms of training.

So what does our end goal look like? I was hoping you’d ask. Let’s go through the list of commands that we who are puppy raisers for the nonprofit assistance dog organization Canine Companions for Independence teach our dogs, so you can have a great idea of the useful and fun behaviors that in my opinion, every pet dog should know and perform even under the most distracting of circumstances…..

31 Commands that a CCI puppy in training learns:

The dog’s name: this is used to get the dog’s attention. The dog should turn its head and look at you, but should not move towards you.

Back: this tells the dog to walk straight backwards

Bed: tells the dog to go to its designated bed and lie down. “Bed” has an implied “stay” command built into it.

Car: tells the dog to get into the car. Your dog should wait until you give the command before jumping into the car.

Come: tells the dog to come directly to you and focus its attention on you until given another command.

Don’t, “uh uh” or no: interrupts the current behavior and stops it, or prevents a behavior that is about to happen.

Down: tells the dog to lie down (with an implied “stay”). Note the difference between this and “off”! Off means “all feet on the floor, please”, while down means “belly on the floor, too”.

Dress: tells the dog to calmly place its head into a harness, a gentle leader head collar, a dog jacket, or whatever.

Drop: tells the dog to drop whatever is in its mouth and not pick it up again unless told to do so.

Heel: tells the dog to move to the handler’s left side and sit or stand close to the left leg, so the dog’s shoulder is even with the handler’s pant seam.

Hurry: is the word we use to tell the dog to eliminate—it lets the dog know that this is an appropriate time and place to toilet.

Jump: tells the dog to up on top of something until given the command “off”.

Kennel: tells the dog to enter the crate/kennel and stay there until asked to exit.

Lap: tells the dog to place the front legs across your lap, resting on his/her elbos until given the command “off”.

Let’s go: tells the dog to walk beside you (on either the right or left side) on a loose leash.

Okay: tells the dog it can eat from its food bowl now that you’ve put it down and are ready.

Off: tells the dog to put all 4 feet on the floor, to get off something or someone.

Out: signals the dog to move forward, ahead of the handler, through a door or archway (and when the dog has cleared the doorway, it turns to face the handler) and remains there until released or given another command.

Quiet: tells the dog to stop barking, whining, growling or making any other noise.

tells the dog that it is free to move out of the previous commanded position.

Roll: tells the dog to roll over on its back, exposing it tummy (this is different than the “roll over” trick many people like to teach—the purpose of this is to let us see and examine the belly. If the dog flips all the way over quickly, we won’t be able to do that so this is meant to have the dog hold the belly-up position).

Shake: tells the dog to offer its paw (in greeting). The dog should raise its paw to the level of its shoulder.

Side: tells the dog to move to the handler’s right side and sit or stand close to the right left—in other words, it’s the “heel” position, but on the right side.

Sit: tells the dog to put its rear on the ground. Sit has an implied “stay” built in.

tells the dog to bark.

Stand: Tells the dog to stand on all four feet, with an implied stay. This is essential for vet exams, grooming, etc.

Turn: tells the dog to turn and face the opposite direction, and stay there.

Under: tells the dog to crawl under a small space or table, and lie down. It has an implied stay. This is essential in cafes, at Starbucks, etc.

Up: tells the dog to place its front paws on an object such as a table, wall or counter.

Visit: tells the dog to rest its head in your lap.

Wait: tells the dog not to cross a threshold or barrier… such as your car door or the front gate. It does not require the dog to remain in an exact position, as “stay” does. The dog can move around behind the barrier, it just can’t cross over.

There are a few additional very useful commands that we puppy raisers would not teach our assistant dog puppies in training because the CCI trainers wanted a “clean slate” when teaching them during advanced training. Those commands included the following, and I do recommend that we teach these to our pet dogs:

Retrieve (involving Get, Hold, and Give)

Friday, June 12, 2009

My summer reading list

This post is not entirely dog oriented, but I thought I'd share my summer reading list:
  • First, a dog book: Shaping Success by Susan Garrett (I'm doing agility this summer with my Sheltie, Toby).
  • A fun book: To Touch a Wild Dolphin- a journey of discovery with the sea's most intelligent creatures by Rachel Smolker (we see dolphins swimming in the evenings in Redondo Beach and I looooooove dolphins and have swum with wild dolphins in the ocean in Hawaii).
  • Discover the Power Within You by Eric Butterworth (a spiritual book)
  • Leading Change by John P. Kotter
  • How People Grow by Cloud and Townsend
  • The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers by Citrin and Smith
  • Embracing Uncertainty by Susan Jeffers
  • The China Study (a book relevent to my health goals) by Campbell & Campbell
  • Where's My Fifteen Minutes? by Howard Bragman (relevent to my job)
What's on your reading list? Comment and let me know!