The Starfish Dog

The Starfish Dog // Suzanne Cardiff, Unleash Jacksonville Contributor // Photos by Suzanne Cardiff

 

We’ve all heard the story about the person walking down the beach, purposely throwing starfish back into the water. “It matters to that one!” In our lives, we each have times to ask ourselves, is this my starfish? For me this story became reality one December evening many years ago with a dog named SuzieQ.

Her story is much like a starfish being tossed across ocean waves as it moves toward the beach until thrown on shore through no fault of its own. For Suzie it started far before we knew of her landing on Animal Control’s euthanasia list immediately following the minimum stray hold. On the outside she had a scar from a previous C section, was fearful and was a biter triggered by touch. On the inside she was complex and broken, her true self only to be revealed with time and compassion. A small rescue stepped forward for her.

I met her after she had been at the rescue for a while. Volunteers passed her by intimidated by her wild display known as barrier frustration. When it was my turn, I held out the leash in peace offering for her one chance to get outside. As I slowly opened the crate door, she walked right into the slip lead.

Over the next nine months, my dog and I showed her a great deal about the world and her place in it. Until one afternoon when a group of dogs turned on her leaving her scarred physically and emotionally. Then a few days later her rear became paralyzed. No longer able to walk she regressed to a point of feeling threatened by everyone and everything. Yet, fate was not finished with her. I was at AVS for my own dog when the surgeon offered to examine her after hearing her story. The diagnosis, a slipped disc pushing on her spinal cord. He said most likely it had been slipping for a long time which explained her biting behavior when being picked up. The attack was the traumatic final blow to that disc. IVDD or Intervertebral Disc Disease. SuzieQ had a successful surgery, less than a year of rehab her back recovered leaving little residual nerve damage. The surgeon gave me caution it was probably the worst case he had seen and she probably would not survive another surgery. With the absence of pain for the first time in a long time, she was a like a puppy playing and chasing her ball. Her behavior improved some but the lasting effects of her trauma remained. I adopted her on August 1, 2014 as we celebrated her 5th birthday and adoption together.

Life with SuzieQ is always filled with twists and turns.
She was a dog wanting to live like any other dog but with more baggage then any being should have to carry. She is small but fierce, with a bold, independent, adorable personality that had gotten her through the toughest experiences of her life.Once labeled “unadoptable,” over the years she has enjoyed all the good things in life. She has a safe, comfortable home with healthy foods, affection and enrichment. She loves going on car rides and our adventures around town. She learned to feel comfortable around people, even kids. We have been through phases of medications and treatments for her behavior and her back. Physical therapy, acupuncture, laser therapy, Reiki, EMDR, salt cave, music therapy, essential oils and even a pet communicator. Some experiences in her early years were revealed and she has had many traumas leading to her PTSD behaviors.

Fast forward several years to Fall 2018 when she was diagnosed with a pinched nerve in her lower back. Life may be different now for her but the trauma from her back injury is still very real for her. Monthly acupuncture and laser therapy minimize progression of that pinched nerve and keep her comfortable. These treatments have become necessary to keep her moving and with the goal of preventing another slipped disc. This past year she was diagnosed with a heart condition possibly as a result of ongoing hypertension. We recently started Reiki sessions with Jade Paws, and it has become a greatest resource in addressing her past traumas.

I am still the only person she allows to touch and handle her. I can pick her up, give her a bath, even put on a muzzle. The one lasting challenge we have is in grooming. Her fear of the tools and being hurt again far outweigh any grooming benefits. These years of experience with her, and other misunderstood rescued dogs, has drawn me into the life of dog behavior and rehabilitation. She has led me down a path to studying positive and partnership training methods and teaching dog’s necessary life skills to fit into our world. I find alternative therapies and positive approaches to training outperform conventional methods. SuzieQ did not have to experience all her trauma. Of the traumas we know of, they were a result of human error in the form of lack of knowledge or access to providing appropriate vet care, a safe environment, and even basic knowledge of dog behaviors.

And now we’re here in the midst of a world crisis that has brought our medical and veterinary facilities to limiting patient services to curbside and drop offs. We cast aside the special needs of dogs like SuzieQ who once again do not conform into the mass molds. What happens to them? For SuzieQ, we’re fortunate to have places like the Saint Francis Animal Hospital which continues to keep the needs of the individual animals as their priority. For SuzieQ and me, this is not a new reality. For even specialists have refused her necessary care. My dog has PTSD and will not allow anyone near her without me handling her. This is her choice, her safety net, after all she has survived and grown through. And is she worth it? To be tossed another chance? To encourage us to perceive differently? When they ask her, I can see in her eyes and heart she is saying back, “Are you?” Maybe we need to put our egos aside more often and ask ourselves, are we worthy of their trust?

So, when is a dog a starfish?
When one is at your feet washed up on the shore of possibility. Be open, be mindful, and most importantly, listen. If you watch quietly with an open heart, they will tell you, “I am meant for more.” •

Should you bring your dog … just because you can?

/ Published in Unleash Jacksonville The FREEDOM  issue, written by Kate Godfrey, owner Comprehensive Canine Training

There are many reasons why people are bringing their dogs to more “human” events—it can be really fun to have your dog with you, for one! However, it’s important to learn how to read your dog’s subtle signals so that you aren’t unknowingly putting them in a situation that stresses them out.

Not all people do well in crowded places with lots of activity and noise, and the same goes for our dogs. Maybe you have a dog that wouldn’t be comfortable at a concert, festival, or sporting event, but may enjoy a less busy venue like a coffee shop patio, low-key restaurant patio, or park.

If your dog is sensitive to sounds and noise, consider that when planning an outing. Some dogs are sensitive to motion—think children playing, bikes, skateboards, or running humans. Don’t put your dog into situations in which they can’t cope. You don’t want to go full-hog and expose this type of dog to such things (this is called “flooding” and is not a sound training method). Take the time to figure out what outings your dog might enjoy, and respect them.

How do you know if your dog is comfortable?
The dog’s body language will give you all sorts of clues as to their comfort level—the more you get to know your dog, the better you’ll be at picking up the subtle and not-so-subtle messages he sends you.

Signs of canine fear, anxiety, and stress include but are not limited to: Lip licking, tail tucking, turning their head away from stressful stimuli, yawning, lifting a front paw, trembling, wet dog shaking when the dog is not wet or dirty, scratching, sniffing around, excessive salivation/drooling, nose dripping, hackles up, half-moon/whale eye (google that!), refusal to take treats or play with a toy they otherwise love, actively trying to leave the situation, hiding under a table or behind you, and paw sweating. Paw sweating is real. If you take your dog somewhere and see that they’re leaving paw prints on the floor, do them a favor and get them to a space where they’re more comfortable. The behaviors listed above can be thought of as “whispers” in which a dog is quietly telling you—and other dogs—that they’re in distress.

More obvious signs of fear, anxiety, and stress are: Growling, baring teeth, snarling, snapping, and actually biting. A dog doing anything on this list is no longer whispering, it’s shouting, please, please, I need my space—I am warning you! Of note, it’s a bad idea to punish a dog for growling—growling is a warning that should be heeded. Growling is what a dog will resort to when the subtle signs of distress have been ignored or disregarded. If you punish a growl, you’ll create a dog that no longer gives a warning. Instead, interrupt what is happening and get the dog to a place it’s more comfortable. If you need more help, consult with a trainer that practices modern, science-based training methods that do not endorse the use of force, fear, pain, or dominance theory.

A wagging tail isn’t always indicative of a happy dog. Take a look at what the dog’s body, ears, eyes, and mouth are doing. A loose and relaxed body along with the ears in their natural position and an open mouth are good indicators of a relaxed dog. A tight body, closed mouth, ears back, hackles up, and laser-focused stare can be signs that things are not going so well. Redirect the dog’s attention and get them back to a state of comfort, this may require leaving the situation, depending on the dog.

This applies not only to dog outings but to training as well. There’s no sense forcing a dog to try to train or do an activity if it’s frightened or above threshold. No good learning can take place under these circumstances. Now, there is a difference between a dog that is cautious and a dog that is afraid. A cautious dog will likely do some investigating and may overcome its initial aversion, while a dog that is afraid shouldn’t be forced to “suck it up” with the flooding technique mentioned before. Forcing a dog to endure something it’s afraid of is equivalent to forcing some who’s terrified of snakes to hold one.

Manage how people interact with your dog.
I always tell clients, This is your dog, you get to dictate how and IF people interact with your dog. There’s nothing wrong with a polite no thank you, or, we’re in training, please give us space, if someone asks to pet your dog or if they want their dog to say “hello” to your dog. Their dog may be friendly, but if you or your dog are uncomfortable it can be risky. Emotions travel down the leash—if you’re tense and not breathing, you’d better believe that canine at the other end of the leash knows about it.

When out and about with your dog, please remember that you are in charge of keeping them comfortable and safe, and that may differ from what you want them to do. If if you notice signs of anxiety or if someone can’t follow the rules of interacting with your dog, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with exiting the situation. Your dog will let you know if they want to engage and if they don’t—but you need to pay attention and respect their body language and warning signals. If you do, outings with your dogs will be fun for both of you! •

Kate Godfrey, ABCDT, is the owner of Comprehensive Canine Training, LLC, and a major advocate for using science-backed, force-free methods.
www.comprehensivecaninetraining.com
(904) 236-3780

Reinforce the Good

/ Published in Unleash Jacksonville The NEW issue, written by Kate Godfrey, owner Comprehensive Canine Training

In 2020, I’d like to change the misconception some may have that positive reinforcement/force-free training is a free-for-all for the dog with no boundaries that relies on bribery. This could not be further from the truth. Positive reinforcement dog training is based on rewarding the behavior you do want. The aim is to make training quick, effective, and pleasant for both parties.

It’s simple—rewarded behavior continues—you get more of what you reinforce.

Part of good training relies on setting the scene up so the dog is highly likely to be successful, instead of putting the dog in a situation in which it’s over threshold, not likely to learn what you want, and ultimately setting them up for failure and punishment.

We control so many aspects of our dog’s world, that preventing unwanted behavior and setting the dog up to succeed is usually rather simple. This is called management—prevent the dog from rehearsing the undesirable behavior by controlling the environment.

Positive reinforcement training isn’t all about rewards. There are boundaries and consequences for making the wrong choice, but these consequences need not be painful or scary. A consequence can be positive, as a means for the dog to gain access to what it wants, or negative in the loss of the opportunity to gain access to what it wants.

All good relationships are built on trust. Trust is earned, it’s not given. By training with positive reinforcement, the dog is taught to trust the handler rather than fear the handler. We give the dog a choice by teaching the appropriate behavior from the start, rather than waiting for them to screw up and implement a punishment that is painful or scary.

Rather than going on and on about what you don’t want the dog to do, answer this question: “What do I want the dog to do instead?” This gives you the power and the opportunity to get what you want. If you can’t determine what it is you’d like the dog to do, imagine how frustrated the dog must be.

With this shift in mindset, you start seeing the opportunities to reinforce the dog for the behaviors you like and ways to prevent the unwanted behavior from occurring. When you start reinforcing the behavior you want, you can expect the dog to start offering more of it. •

/ comprehensivecaninetraining.com

Pet Friendly Movie Night

FREE EVENT!

Join us Saturday, September 7th for our first pet-friendly Movie Night event!! The whole family—including the dog—is invited!

We will be showing “The Secret Life Of Pets 2”.

Popcorn and pet-friendly treats will be provided.

Paddle for the Paws

3 different paddles this year: Super Easy 2 mile Paddle WIth your Paws! 11 mile paddle to Exchange Island and New this Year: 12 mile Race around exchange Island and back. Lot of paddle craft welcome, kayaks, Stand up Paddleboards, OC’s and many more. $20.00 pre registration thru 8-28, $30.00 after 8-28.
Fun paddle registration call All Wet Sports (904) 646-9887
For Race registration : email gofitnessjax@gmail.com
MARK YOUR Calendars!

Clear the Shelters Jacksonville

Join us for a free adoption weekend as we aim to CLEAR THE SHELTERS in Jacksonville. Come to PetSmart in Regency and meet over 100 dogs, cats, kittens, and puppies looking for homes. This is a national movement to promote pet adoption – don’t miss it.

ADOPTIONS ARE FREE! *

Three Locations:

PetSmart
356 Monument Road
Jacksonville, FL 32225

The Jacksonville Humane Society
8464 Beach Blvd.
Jacksonville, FL 32216

Animal Care & Protective Services
2020 Forest Street
Jacksonville, FL 32204

This event is made possible from a generous grant from PetSmart Charities.

*Additional fees may apply.

Click here For more info

Paint Your Pet presented by Gogh Create

Atlantic Beach Arts Market

Gogh Create Presents:

Paint Your Pet

We all have the desire and love to create! Let’s enjoy making art and discovering our creative process together. With Gogh Create we believe in a customizable approach and provide you with the resources to help you create something that will bring you joy!
Using acrylic paint on a 12”x12” canvas you will create a painting of your furry friend. With a customizable approach you will be provided with the instruction and resources to help you create a painting of your pet. Participants are encouraged to bring pictures that would assist with the process.

$35- Includes all supplies.

Register Here

Atlantic Beach Arts Market

1805 Mayport Road
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
(904) 372-7442