Sunday, February 3, 2013

10 things you need to do to have a great off-leash hike!

10 things you need to do to have a great off-leash hike!

Taking your dog on an off-leash adventure is one of the things we dog owners look forward to most.  There is nothing quite like watching your exuberant dog bound with joy up a mountain trail. And who doesn’t love being hands free??? But a seemingly perfect trip can turn sour fast if you and your dog are not prepared.  Dogs can get disoriented and lost if they stray too far, or they can get in trouble with other animals (wild or domestic) if you aren’t careful.  Going off-leash is a privilege that needs to be earned by your dog (and you!).  Following these tips will help you enjoy your off-leash time even more, and if you aren’t ready yet, will hopefully help to prepare you for when the time comes!

  1. Bring a leash (huh?)! Keep the leash on you at all times so you can leash up your pup if necessary (see below for some examples)
  2. Practice, practice, PRACTICE your dog’s recall.  It needs to be 100% reliable before going off-leash anywhere in public
  3. Bring treats! Use your dog’s favorite treats to continue to reinforce that great recall. Give only when your dog comes right away, not when she waits or wanders in the wrong direction before deciding to work her way to you.  You want her to know that she comes right away, every time. (and for goodness sake, don’t scold your dog if she doesn’t come right away- you also want her to know that coming to you is a good thing!)
  4. Respect the others on the trail: if you see a leashed dog coming towards you, call your dog and keep him close.  The leashed dog may be perfectly friendly, but don’t assume and don’t let your dog run up to unknown leashed dogs as they are at a disadvantage and could become defensive.  If you aren’t sure if your dog can resist the temptation, use the leash until you have passed (see #1)
  5. Don’t let your dog go so far from you that she is out of your sight.  If she is not coming to you reliably, leash her for the remainder of the walk, go home and see #2 before attempting your next off leash walk.  Or, try attaching a long lead to your dog to drag on the ground- if she starts to go too far and isn’t recalling, simply step on the rope and stop her in her tracks. Remember, it takes time and off-leash walking is a privilege, don’t get discouraged!
  6. Remember, it’s not a free for all. You can allow your dog to run and play with others, but make sure they are not a danger to other hikers/bikers/dogs/horses, etc on the trail.  Stop play when others (people and dogs included) not with your group are passing through.  See #1- use the leash if necessary until the others are safely by. Don’t assume that because it is an off-leash trail everyone will be ok with your dog.
  7. This one’s a no-brainer- pick up after your dog!  Just because he’s off leash doesn’t mean you can pretend you didn’t see it, especially if it is in the middle of the trail- remember #5- your dog should always be in sight anyway….
  8. Bring water! An off leash dog often covers, 2, 3, 4, or 10X the distance we cover in their running back and forth and up and down.  She’ll need water to rehydrate, and it’s best she doesn’t drink from strange pools of standing water (like mine loves to do)
  9. Keep your eyes open – off leash trails are often in rural or wilderness areas and come with lots of wildlife, some of which can be dangerous.  Take the necessary precautions.  Leash your dog if you spot a coyote- they may try to lure your dog away from you. Don’t let your dog chase after prey animals as she may lose track of you and get lost.  And in the summer,  especially if you live in the western states, beware of rattlesnakes.  If your dog is an off trail explorer, she may need to stay leashed for those months when rattlesnake danger is at its highest.  You can also get a rattlesnake vaccine (which buys you time in case of a bite) and take a rattlesnake aversion course so she will learn not to try to play with a snake…but she can still accidentally stumble over one.  Use your own discretion….
  10. Flea/tick and heartworm preventive- whatever your preferred method, use it and keep  it up to date.  Check your dog after every hike for ticks- they love to hide in folds of skin where it’s warm- so do an extra check around the ears, in their “armpits” and in the groin area.  They also like to get under the collar around the neck. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dogs and butterflies: a childhood memory

I don’t remember all that much from my early childhood, but I have one formative
memory that sticks with me to this day. I think I first realized I was meant for a life with
dogs when I met Wally. Wally was a Siberian husky with heterochromia or two different
colored eyes. He was a wild dog, always looking for an escape or meal in the form of
another animal. Wally was adopted by my uncle when I was very little. My uncle lived
in the same apartment building as my grandma who babysat me. Wally was the cutest
puppy I had ever seen. He had strong brown and white markings. I instantly bonded
with Wally. We became the best of friends. I thought we would end up growing up
together, but alas this was not to be. Wally drank anti-freeze and died at the tender age
of two. The dangers of antifreeze is a another story for another day. Wally left this world
on, of all days, my uncle’s birthday. He was not handling it well and neither was I. To
this day, we always talk about Wally when it gets to be that time in May.

My uncle brought Wally back from the vet in a blanket. I cried for days following the
news of his death. It was my first experience with death that actually affected me
in a profound way. After all, I didn’t even cry at my grandfather’s funeral, instead I
played with Hot Wheels on the pews. I never felt heartbreak until the day I lost Wally. I
considered myself a loner, and Wally was the perfect parallel to my personality in dog
form. He was at times my best friend.

I had to be there the day he was laid to rest. Wally’s lifeless body was buried in my
uncle’s backyard. He was the first of many pets to be placed under the flower beds. I
remember the Beatles’ song, “Let It Be” played on the radio as we paid our respects. It
was so unbearably painful, but as young as I was, I recognized he was in a better place.
As the song continued, “when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on
me...” we saw the most beautiful monarch butterfly dance around the yard. He did
circles around my uncle and then around me, eventually landing on Wally’s grave. I
remember saying, “There’s Wally. He’s saying goodbye to us.” It was extremely rare to
see a monarch in the midwest this early in the season. I knew it had to be him. Every
year around the anniversary of his death we would see a butterfly in the yard. They
would always just fly right up to me. Without hesitation I would consider this Wally
checking up on me. I no longer believe in reincarnation, but for a time in my life, this
coincidence helped me to cope with losing Wally. From that day on, I loved butterflies
and recognized the fragility of life. Butterflies have all sorts of symbolic representations.
Some say their transformative nature means resurrection. Christians associate them
with the soul. Whatever the case, I no longer believe in superstition. It made me
recognize how much I truly and deeply I love animals. I was destined for a life with

dogs. To this day I always cry when an animal dies in movies. To this day I collect
things with butterflies. “Let It Be” remains one of my all-time favorite songs and I have
spent the better part of my life being touched by amazing animals. I see a little bit of
Wally in all of them.

by Mary C.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is dog walking right for you?

Being a successful petsitter means being flexible. It also means keeping track of lots of little details. Over the years, I have gotten all kinds of requests. Some are simple details like, “please use the service elevator only” to “please, change my dog’s diaper.” Yes, some dogs wear diapers. Each time I hear something specific I make a mental note, a physical note, but also update our client records on those details. That way any sitter filling in has the latest information on each pet. I take all requests seriously no matter how unusual they might seem.

To some, petsitting might seem like an “easy” job or a fun one. What people don’t realize is that despite the fun that comes with bonding with your pet, there’s a lot to keep straight. There’s allergies, medications, behavioral issues, destructiveness...the list goes on and on. I can’t even count how many times people will come up to me and say, “I wish I could quit my job and just become a dog walker. You have it so easy.” Anyone who juggles a full route, can tell you it’s definitely not as easy it seems. Don’t get me wrong, I do think I have one of the coolest jobs on the planet. I just know not everyone is cut out for this. First, there is the handling. A lot of people who have had dogs as pets think they are dog experts. Just because you were a loving pet owner doesn’t mean dog walking is for you. You have to imagine the biggest, most unruly dog and ask yourself if you’re willing to go into a house with alarms going off, the dog barking and the key getting stuck in the door. The reason? You may encounter this. Granted, it may not be all at once, but we have these kinds of days. You have to be prepared and accept the possibility of being bit. Generally, most companies will not accept a client with a people-aggressive dog, but some slip through the cracks. I can tell you it’s a rare thing, but we’ve all been bit once or twice.

The other big issue is being calm under fire. Sometimes dog walking is super rewarding and other times it feels like a thankless job. What I mean is, a lot of pet owners forget to acknowledge us when everything is going smoothly, but are quick to point out when we mess up. We are only human and yes, things go wrong. But, I am a firm believer in owning up to your mistakes and communicating with the client right away. It eliminates a lot of frustration and hassle down the road. One of the biggest complaints I hear about other sitters is that they don’t keep the client in the loop. Just think about how you would feel if you left town and you didn’t even get a text from the sitter to say they made it to your house ok? I really hate leaving someone wondering. A quality sitter will always communicate. In addition, sending updates with pictures and video will make the client feel extra comfortable. After all, smart phones make this a lot easier. When I started dog walking all we used were pagers. I don’t know how I got around, which leads me to my next point.

A good sitter is a well-prepared sitter. I always map out my route to the client’s house ahead of time via google maps either on the computer or my iPhone. It will tell you about how long it will take to get there and give you directions. I always look it up again right before leaving the house because the timing could have changed due to traffic or some unforeseen circumstance. In LA, there’s always some unforeseen circumstance, so it’s best to check. Smart phones and GPS systems are a lifesaver, especially for a sitter who is new to the area.

Another important attribute is paying attention. A good dog walker doesn’t text, read books or listen to their headphones while walking your pet. Granted, we’ve all had something come through that we couldn’t wait to answer, but it’s best to be fully focused on the pet you are caring for. Often times, just being alert has helped me avoid a dog fight or a dog eating something they shouldn’t. In the Los Angeles area there’s also coyotes who are not shy of humans, so it’s especially important to be alert during dusk. I also try to look over a pet’s body at some point. I can’t tell you how many times I have noticed an injury, a wart or a tick on a pet. Going back to communication, it’s important you tell the pet parent about it and/or your company right away if you think it’s something serious.

Lastly, you need to know how you would deal with a dog dying or getting terribly sick in your care. It’s not something we like to think about, but it is a possibility. I have had puppies go into seizures in front of me. It’s scary, but you have to know what to do and how to stay calm. Some sitters take CPR classes to better prepare for emergency situations.

These are just some of the aspects of petsitting that most people probably don’t think about. If you’re still intrigued about being a sitter, than I say try it out. But, remember the more detail-oriented you are the better. These are lives we are dealing with. It’s a much more delicate situation than messing up someone’s latte order. If you still think you want to do it, I say go for it. You’ll know right away if you feel comfortable.

Contributed by our dog walker extraordinaire, Mary C.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Preparing your dog(s) for the 4th of July

Ugh, it’s that time of year again.  In just a few weeks, we’ll be subjected to evenings  full of cacophonous celebrations of our nation’s independence.  Ok, I realize that sounds very unpatriotic.  I do love our country and believe in celebrating the 4th of July. There was a time that I couldn't wait for all of the BBQs and fireworks night after night.  That was before I became involved in animal rescue, and before I owned one noise sensitive dog named Roo. Now, I dread it and all the days surrounding it.

Disney, an Angel City Pit Bull who is looking for his forever home!
For those who haven’t experienced the 4th of July from a rescuers perspective, let me fill you in with some hard to hear truths.  The 4th of July is the absolute busiest time of year for our city and county shelters.  Many dogs escape- either from their yards or homes, or sometimes from the hands of their handlers who mistakenly bring them along to a 4th of July fireworks celebration because they think it will be “fun.” The shelters overflow with dogs that they didn’t have room for to begin with.  And while many of these dogs may be reclaimed by their desperate owners, it’s too late for the dogs whose place they had to take.  There is often a huge push just before the 4th of July to get as many dogs as possible adopted, because when the 4th of July escapees start rolling in, space needs to be made for them for the mandatory 3 day holding period (which is good news for you if your dog gets out- you do have at least 3 days to find her at your local shelter).  But, this often means that the long-time, or even recent residents of the shelter have to lose their lives in order to make space.

So, what can we do to help alleviate this situation?  First of all, plan ahead.  Make sure you know what your dog will be doing not only the evening of the 4th, but also any other evenings around the 4thIt may help to do a quick online search to find out when the big 4th celebrations are happening around you. And be prepared for the impromptu neighborhood celebrations with the illegally purchased fireworks.  If you live in the  Hollywood Hills, you probably don’t have to worry so much about that (hopefully….as that creates a whole different problem altogether!) but for those of us down in the Valleys, this is something I’ve come to accept as given. Last year I tried to sneak in a trip to the dog park at around 6:30 pm, thinking it was far too early for anyone to be setting off fireworks, but boy was I wrong!

Things you can do in advance to prepare your dog:

Pick up a “Thundershirt”- make sure you do some test runs in advance, so that your pup does not always associate wearing the T-shirt with being stressed.  Follow the directions that come with the Thundershirt for a successful introduction.  You can find these at most pet supply stores and can also order online at

Get a Sound Socialization CD- I like the one from Start by playing on lowest volume possible during feeding , treat-time or playtime with a favorite toy, and note your dog’s reaction.  You will turn the volume up over time in your sessions, but be careful not to try to do too much too soon.  If your dog tries to leave the room or looks stressed, turn off the sound and go back to lower levels at your next session.

Find some Calming sounds- “Through a Dog’s Ear” provides relaxing classical music to calm your dog when he is stressed.  Again, start playing in advance during “normal” times so your dog associates the music with good times and not just stressful times.

Crate training-  it’s never too late to teach a dog to use a crate. If done correctly, your dog will actually come to see her crate as her safe haven.  Use the crate only for positive experiences, never for punishment.  Never attempt to force your dog in the crate, especially if you yourself are stressed, angry, or frustrated.  Practice having your dog go in and out of the crate in short intervals when you are not rushed to get out the door, and always make sure there are lots of good things inside the crate- peanut butter stuffed kongs, favorite toys, things to chew, etc.  Toss treats into the crate whenever you pass by.  Feed in the crate.  Put a nice cushy bed in the crate (warning- if you put too good of a bed in the crate, you might never see your dog hanging out anywhere else!) Note: Your pup could still injure herself trying to escape from the crate if she is left alone in the home inside the crate during the fireworks celebrations.  I still recommend staying home with your noise sensitive pup, and leaving the crate open so she can go inside if she feels stressed.

Medications and Supplements- Talk to your vet about anti-anxiety meds or supplements. In extreme cases, a Xanax-type medication may help calm your dog during stressful events.  There are also natural remedies available- “Quiet moments” is one that can be found in most pet supply stores.    

Reinforce all potential exits from your home- make sure your windows and doors are secure. While you shouldn’t be leaving your dog in the yard during fireworks celebrations, there is always a chance she could escape to the yard, so make sure all holes, gates, etc are patched and secured, and that there is nothing she could climb on to help her leap over the fence.

Finally, make sure your dog is wearing identification at all times! Also, microchip your pets!

Things you can do the day of and during the celebrations:

This goes without saying, but whatever you do, DON’T bring your dog to a fireworks display.  Remember, their hearing is far more sensitive than ours.  And they have no idea what it’s all about. Dogs have no business going to see fireworks, and they certainly don’t get any enjoyment out of it.

Plan to stay home.  If you can’t, hire a petsitter to stay with your dog.  Make sure your sitter understands the grave importance of staying with your dog and what his potential reaction may be to the fireworks.

Earlier in the day, take your dog out for a good long walk/hike/swim/run or extra long retrieving session- anything you can do to completely wear him out.  If he is really tired it will help him relax through the fireworks.

Play your calming music- start early, before the fireworks should start and let it run all night.

Put the Thundershirt on- also in advance of when you expect the explosions to start.

If your dog gets upset, let him do what makes him comfortable- if he goes and hides under a table or in his crate, don’t try to force him out, or make a big deal out if it.  If he has put himself in a precarious position, then of course remove him, but otherwise let him be ( and if you don’t want him to hide in a closet or under your bed, make sure you close it off or remove his access in advance). Check on him from time-to-time and make sure he is OK.  If he wants to cuddle, that’s OK too.  Just don’t make a big deal of constantly telling him "it's ok." The key to getting through this is for you to remain calm.  Don’t get stressed or frustrated about your dog being stressed.  

Close the windows, turn up your calming music, draw the curtains and stay in for the night. Celebrate your dog's independence and hopefully that of many other dogs who will be adopted this summer.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Some dogs just have their quirks

Lazlo was always a strange fella. He was a large handsome shepherd mix with ears that flopped over. He was the sweetest thing when it came to people, but he had no tolerance for other dogs. His other enemy? Books. Generally, destructive dogs are destructive with anything they can get their paws on. Not, Lazlo. Occasionally he’d get into the garbage, but his favorite play toys were always bound. I can’t explain it, but everyday when I would show up to walk him he would have chewed the corners or ripped pages out of a paperback. What he had against Chaucer or King, I do not know. Maybe it’s because his owner was very fond of books. She had loads of paperbacks and many lovely, expensive art books lying around. Even if they were put away tightly on a bookshelf, Laz would find a way to inch them out. He was a mama’s boy, so maybe it was his way of expressing his separation anxiety. I always thought it looked like revenge. After all, he stayed with me a few times and never did it to my library. 

His owner was very patient with him. I would leave her messages about the destruction and she would just sigh knowing this wasn’t the first or last time. I never understood why she would continue to leave books within reach considering his track record. Whenever I would come in and find the evidence, Lazlo would hide or just look at me with those guilty eyes. It was hard to be mad at a dog with such silly egg eyes. His floppy satellite dish ears always made him look so stupidly cute. So, day after day, I would clean up the mess feeling awful about throwing away the books. Eventually, Lazlo and his owners moved away up north and I missed his antics. I wonder if he’s still tearing up books in Minnesota? It’s been a while and I’ve lost touch with his family. He’s probably an older fella by now, so maybe he’s grown out of it. Maybe his mom bought an iPad or Kindle and that was the end of it. Gosh, I hope so. Last time I checked, the score was trees 0, Lazlo 1,000. 

By Mary C., dedicated Fetch walker, sitter, and all around snuggle-giver

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Best Friends launches NKLA (No-Kill Los Angeles)

Last night, Best Friends revealed to a crowd full of celebrities, rescue advocates, and animal lovers of all types, their plan to make Los Angeles a "No-Kill" city. What does this mean? 


Best Friends' proposal to solve this problem is twofold:

1- Fewer animals entering the shelter system due to spaying and neutering

2- More animals exiting the shelter (alive) due to more adoptions and fostering

Simple, right? It will be if we spread the word. 

We at Fetch are proud to be active volunteers with Best Friends and their NKLA campaign.  We hope you will join us.

To learn more about NKLA, visit their website and "like" them on Facebook.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Day of a Dog Walker: Chapter 2: The walk (s) and breakfast

In a perfect world, they could all go out together. But due to varying walking speeds, stamina, and reactivity, I choose to walk in shifts.  But who first?  Mr. Long black tail will find things to eat and tear apart, if left behind, so he gets to go on BOTH walks, lucky guy. He is already bounding around the room excitedly and when I pull out the lash and ask him to “sit,” I get a 2 second sit followed by a jump and a “hor-ra-row.” I give him a look and he sits back down, but squirms his head around as I try to loop the gentle leader over his long snout.  “Eh” I utter and he finally stops squirming long enough for me to fasten the leader to his collar.  Now he is off prancing about with the leash in his mouth.  Meanwhile, the little wrestler has been sitting patiently, occasionally rocking back and forth on his front feet in a show of mild impatience.  He will go along on the first round.
The first walk is fairly uneventful.  We walk slowly and only around the short block as the wrestler’s tendonitis is bothering him. Also he just likes to take his time and sniff everything in sight and this gives Long Tail the opportunity to pee on everything in sight, which then of course prompts the wrestler to pee on top of everything peed upon.  But it’s early and quiet and no one else is out, so it’s nice. 
We arrive back, and it’s now time for the Little Miss to join Long Tail- he gets two walks so I can keep an eye on him.  He could wait in a crate but he’ll wake up the whole building with his impatient barking at this hour so for the sake of my husband and neighbors, he gets to walk again.  He didn’t poop on the first round anyway, so he needs more exercise.
This is a much faster walk, as both dogs are young and want to GO.  They are also both a little bit leash reactive so we keep an eye out for other dogs approaching. We are ready to turn, cross the street, or reverse direction at any time. I believe that avoidance of confrontation at such an early hour is the best action.  I can’t control how the other owner controls their dog, and don’t want to take any chances that the other dog we pass could be just as reactive as my two.   But this morning is quiet, no dogs in sight and we move swiftly around the 2 mile route.
Back home, the wrestler is anxiously awaiting breakfast.  I find him sitting in front of the door, as if he has been staring at it the entire we have been out.
Everyone is unleashed and the Little Miss and Long Tail are off creating a ruckus as they jump and play.  I silently apologize to my downstairs neighbor- hopefully she is up and getting ready for work anyway.
I start running water to refill the water bowls for the day, and open the food bin and begin doling out the portions.  Glucosamine tablets are crumbled into the wrestlers food, and finally, a little crumble of freeze dried raw patty in each bowl as a little “dessert.” At one end of the kitchen goes the wrestler’s bowl, but I have to block Long Tail as he is desperate to get to any food bowl before it is plunked down. Long Tail and Little Miss follow me excitedly to the other room, where I plunk their bowls into their crates.
As they eat, I finish filling water bowls and then fill the water chamber of the coffee maker and flip on the coffee.  I wash my face, throw in my contacts and gather my things.   Coffee is ready, and in a travel cup it goes.  Off to the morning insulin shot for “grumpy” kitty.  Hope she’s in a good mood today!