Friday, July 07, 2006

July 7, 2005

A year ago today I was in London walking to Tavistock square when the bus blew up. I'm having a little trouble concentrating today, so I thought I'd talk about it in my blog. The following is an email I sent out to friends and family one week after the attack.

Dear friends and family, I don't usually send out general emails, but I wanted to share something with all of you that I experienced one week ago today. I was in London right in the midst of the bombings last Thursday. I was with the Psychology study abroad group, which met in London for three weeks. Our class was on Tavistock square (where the bus blew up). Class was supposed to start at 10:00 am. Four of our students saw the bus blow up (around 9:45 am) as they were walking to class. The people who were already in the building felt the blast. I wasn’t there yet. I started walking to class at 9:30. As I walked past Russell Square Station, I heard sirens and could smell a burning smoke coming from the tube station. Then the police started yelling at us to run. Hearing police yell to get away if you want to be safe - with a tone of fear in their voices is very scary. There was general confusion and people running mixed with people calmly walking just trying to get to work. One woman was crying hysterically, as if she had suffered a great loss or had seen something horrible. I imagine now from the direction she was coming from she must have seen the bus. No one really knew what happened at that time. It was about 9:40 am. At that point everyone on the street, as diverse a group as London has to offer, seemed to come together and talk to each other about what was going on.

Getting to the Psychology building was difficult because some of the streets were blocked off. I’d already gotten coffee so I didn’t go my normal route to the coffee shop via Woburn Place (where the bus was). I walked up Bedford Place, which had not been closed yet. It was obvious something bad had happened so I tried to call my graduate student Liz who was one of the TAs in the group. My cell phone just had a clicking noise. Then I tried to call my friend and colleague who I was staying with, Annette, who was already at the Institute of Child Health (ICH)- on Guilford Street right behind Russell Square Station. Still just clicking. When I got to the Psychology building we took a head count and determined that three students and the other two faculty members were missing. At that time, the story changed and the police said it was a “power surge”. I really didn’t think so given my experience at Russell Square, but we didn’t want the students to panic. Shortly thereafter, it was determined that there was a coordinated attack on London - at that time they thought there were 7 tube attacks and two buses.

By then it was on the international news, so we told the students to call their parents. It was only about 5:00 am on the east coast so some students didn’t want to wake up their parents. I did the best I could to convince them otherwise. Some of the students were crying but most appeared calm. Cell phones didn’t work so I asked the head of the department if we could use the regular phone line. Only one phone could make international calls so we had to take a few students in at a time. The room where the phone was overlooked Tavistock Square. It was filled with police. I had felt calm up to the point I tried to call home. Andrew wasn’t there so I left a message. I started the message the way I had recommended to the students “I’m ok, but …” I could hear my voice shake and I knew I had to get back to the students or I would loose it. A few students made calls, but the phone lines stopped putting through international calls shortly thereafter. Some cell phones started working and all of the students were able to contact their parents by email or phone. The room where we had class had 40 computers so each student has access to a computer. We had located two of the missing students who had been turned away at Tavistock Square. They went back to the dorm. One student was sill missing and no sign of my fellow faculty members.

The police were setting off controlled explosions outside - but we didn’t know that and thought that more bombs were going off. I suggested that students might want to use computers away from the window. I must have started about 10 to 15 emails that were never sent. Any time a student said my name I jumped to try and fulfill their requests. It was very comforting to have a role to play, and things to do. Later, one of the students told me that they needed a mom there and that I was the “Mom”. It seemed a little strange to me - but whatever made them feel better was a good thing. Being the mother of a college student, I could definitely relate to the role.

My fellow faculty members were trapped in a tube behind Edgeware station - two trains behind the one that blew up. They were underground for 2 ½ hours. It wasn’t until after 1:00 pm until we knew that they were ok. That was a HUGE relief. I was able to go watch the TV in the snack room for a few minutes. The other student was located too. She had stayed with a friend outside London and just wasn’t able to get through on the phones. I have several friends in London. I was able to contact all but one. The night before I walked though Tavistock square and picked up a double decker bus to take me to my friend Anne’s house. I was supposed to be staying with Anne but changed plans a couple days before. Anne is on the Psychology faculty at UCL, and her office is in the Psych building. Normally, at 9:45 am, she would have been walking through Tavistock square to take her three-year old daugher to preschool (about 50 meters from the bus). I found out after I was back in the US, that Anne was fine - they had to walk a very long way back home because all of the bus and tube stations were closed. If I had stayed at Anne’s (or with either of my other two friends who also offered to let me stay with them), I would have been on the tubes that morning trying to make my way to Russell Square station. Given that class started late, I would have been fine but would not have been able to be there for the students.

I was working on a grant with Annette. We planned to send it out on Friday. So when class ended I tried to make it to the ICH. It took 2 hours to walk around all of the road blocks. I met up with one of the students who was trying to get back to the dorm. We finally decided to stop and have a nice lunch. We chatted about all sorts of things even how to integrate religion and science. Then I went back to the flat to get my computer and off to the ICH. Ha! I couldn’t concentrate even a little bit. I was able to contact Andrew on IM and we chatted until Annette got back from her doctors appointment. We did work for a while, but decided to go back to the flat. We went to a pub, but I just had part of a small salad and sparkling water. The TAs with the group spent hour arranging transportation for the students. All three of them were amazing and did way more for everyone than I can include here. I don't know what I would have done without them. I was so glad they were all safe, and also that they were there with the students. It took 2 hours to get to Gatwick by taxi. I took the group of students out for breakfast at the airport (courtesy of the university). It was a long wait until my plane left at 2:00 pm and it seemed like the longest flight ever. Annette and I - and others - worked on the grant for the next two days and it arrived a day ahead of schedule. Then there was a stack of NIH grants to review. I just finished that so now I’m writing to all of you. It was a very scary experience to say the least. Although I don’t believe in the death penalty, I’m glad that those people aren’t around to gloat about what they did. On another note, a new friend of mine from Saudi Arabia was in London with her sick mother on Thursday. Her mother wears a veil and walking down the street, they were harassed by a group of teenagers who called them terrorists and yelled at them to leave the country. Its all very sad.

I’m doing fine now and I’m looking forward to taking a day off on Saturday to just relax. The pet rescue I volunteer with just got in four Great Danes, all starving and left by a breeder who moved out but didn't take the dogs. We are going to pick up one of the females and foster her until she can be adopted.

Update: The Great Dane gained back her weight and found a wonderful home. She is a wonderful dog, I still think about her and wish we could have kept her. The grant wasn't funded but we revised and resubmitted. I have my fingers crossed.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The foster who became a forever dog

Babe's Story: We had been fostering for Atlanta Pet Rescue (APR) for a few months when a Great Pyrenees (Pyr) named Sammy came in to the rescue. We were captivated by her size and beautiful white coat. The regular foster for the Pyrs was on vacation so we asked if we could foster her. Sammy had an amazing personality and we fell in love with the super sweet temperament typical of Pyrs. She had one unusual and endearing behavior. She would go down to the bedroom and get anything with our sent on it and bring it upstairs. She would put my things at my feet and my husband’s things at his feet, very cute. One day on TV a little boy was looking for his lost dog calling “Puppy, Puppy”. Sammy shot up and went searching all over for the little boy. It broke my heart and I asked my husband if we could keep her. We’d fostered her for a few weeks and he said, ”Well if she doesn’t get adopted on Saturday, we’ll talk”. But, she did get adopted and I cried and cried. We decided that if another Pyr ever came into APR we’d foster with the intention of adopting. Well, when this was made known to certain key people, an 18-month old Pyr named Babe just happened to show up at APR in about two days. Even though she was 20 lbs underweight, Babe was absolutely gorgeous and looked like the Pyrs at the Westminster dog show. She even had papers. However, Babe was not Sammy. She had been raised as a livestock guard dog (LGD) and had been passed from goat farm to goat farm. When the last goat farm was “downsized”, they tried to breed her but she wanted no part of that. Eventually she was given to APR.

At first, Babe was afraid of everything and everyone. LGDs are socialized with livestock and not people. It was difficult to get near her. Strangely, when I went to the back yard at the shelter, Babe came up and gave me a kiss. I was hooked and we took her home to “foster”. She was afraid of our hard wood floors and afraid to go downstairs to the carpeted area. She would run if we reached over our head to get something, she would run if the hose was on in the back yard, she would run if you even approached her. We referred to her as a Great Fear-enees. Still she had the sweetest look in her eyes and after two weeks we adopted her.

Like many Pyrs, she was an escape artist and could get over our 4-foot fence in 30 seconds. The joke among Pyr owners is “What do you call a Pyr off-leash? Dissapyr or gone.” We put up chain link fence extenders for most of the yard, but had to hot-wire the wood part of the fence. Of course she went over that section and got shocked. Did she learn to stay away from that part of the fence? No, but she did develop a strong fear of the back yard. Babe also had “truck aggression” and would go crazy when a truck would go by. She’d bark wildly at the window thinking she chased off the intruder. Walking her became a challenge. A giant breed dog lunging, barking and fiercely snarling at passing SUVs and trucks is hard to handle. Housetraining a dog that is afraid of the back yard and can’t be walked was also a special challenge. Fortunately, I knew something about systematic desensitization and counter conditioning. Gradually Babe overcame most of her fears. Now when she goes to dog park with us- forget playing with dogs - she runs from person to person and leans on them expecting lots of petting. She is thrilled when someone new comes to the house and she dances in circles wanting to be petted. Babe especially loves children. She now walks nicely on a loose leash and doesn’t chase trucks or try to run away anymore. She is great with my parrots - one even flew down to her dish and challenged her for her food. I’ll never forget the look of dismay on her face as she backed away from her dish. She is good with other dogs and has been a big help socializing the new fosters (especially the Pyrs). Our backyard is Pyr-proofed and the fence has been replaced so no hot-wire anymore. She's not afraid of it anymore but prefers to be inside, especially when its raining. She's mostly a big couch potato unless a squirrel happens to cross into our back yard - then watch out she can still run like a flash. Its been almost three years now. She still doesn’t like getting her ears cleaned and I’m not sure if we’ll ever trust her off-leash. But, adopting her was one of the best decisions we’ve made. Babe has been a true joy and we wouldn’t trade her for anything.

For more information on this wonderful breed: http://clubs.akc.org/gpca/

For information on counter conditioning see: The Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell (I wish I'd known about this book back when we first got Babe) http://www.dogsbestfriendtraining.com/books-retail.php

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

On Birds and Dogs

I’m writing this because of requests by a variety of different people on how to integrate dogs and birds. I think these techniques would probably work well with getting a dog used to cats too. Our dogs and our birds are important members of the family so keeping them separate is not an option for us. From fostering so many different kinds of dogs I’ve found that some breeds tend to require more behavior modification than others. Usually I can get a Great Pyrenees safely out in the living room around the birds in one or two days. On the other hand we fostered a Cocker Spaniel who never managed to go past Step 2, surprisingly the dog with the strongest prey drive ever was a Great Pyrenees. The extent to which each of the steps is needed will also vary with the size of the dog. Our Shih Tzu took six months to stop whining intently at the bird room even with the door closed. Although annoying to us humans, she is so small it didn’t matter for the birds’ safety because she couldn’t reach them. On the other hand Great Danes are so big they are at eye level with the birds even at the top of their play stands. Even when they seem fine around the birds, I never let them around the birds unless they are wearing a leash.

A note of caution a dog bite can be fatal to the bird from the bacteria alone. It is never safe to leave birds and dogs out alone together.

One thing to remember before getting started is that an excited dog and fearful bird constitute a recipe for disaster. It is essential that both the bird and dog are calm before you introduce them to each other. Taking your dog on a long walk before each step makes everything go much easier. One of my neighbors with a new puppy made the brilliant remark “A tired dog is a good dog”. A dog frustrated by not getting enough exercise is much more likely to find the bird irresistible no matter how good your food treats are

Step 1. Before you start: Have control over your dog.
Training will go much faster and will be much safer for your birds if your dog is already trained to follow simple obedience commands such as down and stay. At a minimum your dog needs to stop what its doing when you say “No”. Attaching a 15-foot leash to the dog to drag around will help deliver negative consequences for going after the bird and can stop the dog if it actually catches the bird.

I’ve found that habituating the dog and bird to each other before starting operant training really helps speed up the process and its much safer for the birds.

Step 2. Habituation: “getting the dog and bird used to each other”.
Habituation is the repeated presentation of a stimulus until you no longer get a reaction from the animal. The goal of this step is to get: a) the bird to ignore the dog, and b) the dog to ignore the bird.
a) Habituate the caged bird to the presence of the dog. For this step I keep the bird in the cage and introduce the dog, preferably after a long walk at a time of day when the dog will usually sleep anyway. Keep the bird locked in the cage with a yummy treat to get its attention away from the dog. If the bird starts screaming and fluttering you will need to go slower. In this case keep the dog far enough away from the bird so that it doesn’t scream or flap around in the cage. When you figure out how close you can get to the bird without a reaction - stay there for a few minutes - then leave with the dog. A little later go back to the same place then get a few inches closer to the bird cage. Stay there for a couple of minutes. If the bird doesn’t scream - leave the area. Your leaving will reinforce not screaming. Repeat this step several times until you can get within three feet of the cage. It might take a few minutes - it might take a few days depending on the bird.

When you can get within three feet of the cage without the bird screaming, lead the tired dog (on a loose leash) next to the birdcage. If the dog tries to lunge at the cage, give a quick tug on the leash and say “no”. Sometimes my birds say “no” or “out! out! out!” for me ☺. Make sure the leash is loose again immediately after the correction so the dog has a chance to be corrected. A constantly tight leash is just going to make the dog want to get to the bird even more! Reinforce (with food and praise) the dog’s behaviors that are incompatible with going after the birds, such as down, sit, or whatever the dog knows. When the dog is ignoring the birds (e.g., lying down, not staring at the birds in their cages and the birds stop screaming or telling the dog “out!”), let go of the leash. If the dog still ignores the birds, go to the next step. If the dog takes the opportunity to go after the caged birds keep repeating this step.

b) Habituate the dog to the presence of a bird out of its cage. If your dog is crate trained this is much easier and more effective. I put the dog in the crate with a yummy treat such as a Kong stuffed with food, and let the birds loose. My birds are fully flighted and this usually creates a lot of interest especially because they make noise when flying around. Eventually they settle on to their play stands, where I have nuts and other special treats in the food cups. When the dog is sitting quietly or laying down in the crate and has not lunged at or even looked at the birds for at least 15 minutes, I put the birds away and let the dog out. Getting out of the crate is a good reinforcer, so make sure the dog is doing what you want (laying down and ignoring the birds) before opening the door. Taking the dog for a walk or out to play afterward also helps speed up the process. I repeat this step several times across several days until the dog just ignores the birds from the onset of getting in the crate.

Step 3. Operant Conditioning. For the dog, reinforce behaviors that are incompatible with going after the birds and apply a negative consequence for going near the bird, or targeting (looking intently at) the bird.

Operant Conditioning: Phase 1. In this phase, the bird and dog (on a long loose leash) are out together. Before attempting this it’s a good idea to walk your dog. A tired dog is less likely to find the bird irresistible. The goal is to keep the dog at least five feet away from the bird. The farther away the dog is from the bird, the safer it is for the bird. Behaviors consistent with staying away from the bird should be reinforced, with treats, attention, or quiet playing. Going near the bird or staring at the bird should have negative consequences, e.g. snap to the leash, water squirt, loud noise. The purpose of the leash is to deliver consequences for going too close to the bird, lunging at the bird, etc, and for safety in case you aren’t quick enough with the consequence. The leash should be long enough to give the dog a chance to get corrected but you need to be able to snap the dog back if it goes after the bird. A 15-foot leash works well. At first keep a hold of the end of the leash. If the dog ignores the birds for 15 minutes or so, you can let go of the leash and let the dog drag it around. Make sure that you are close enough to the end of the leash so you can snap the leash to get the dog away from the bird if needed. I usually keep a squirt bottle of water close by in case I can’t get to the leash and the dog starts towards the bird. A water squirt to the nose usually does the trick if you get it early enough. A loud noise might also do the trick. If the dog is already within reach of the bird - you might be too late unless you can get to the leash. Remember if the dog is on a tight leash and you are holding it back it will only make the dog want the bird more. If you do this, you will be training the dog to attack the bird.

I recommend keeping the dog at least five feet away from the bird at first. If the dog gets within five feet of the bird, correct the dog with a snap on the leash or a water squirt to the nose. If the bird stays in one place, such as on top of the cage or on a play stand this is much easier than if the birds fly around (especially if they like to buzz the dog). Reinforce behaviors that are incompatible with going near the bird such as laying down, sitting on the couch with you, or playing with chew toys. Teaching the dog "leave it" is also helpful. Do not play games like fetch that will excite the dog or encourage the dog to think of the bird as a nice interactive squeak toy.

Operant conditioning: Phase 2. The bird and dog (no leash) are out together. Only go to this step if you no longer have to correct the dog for going near the bird. If the dog goes near the bird or even stares at it, I recommend going back to Step 3. Again, I recommend walking the dog first. The same principles apply, reinforce behaviors that are incompatible with going after the bird and deliver negative consequences for getting within five feet of the bird.
Another cautionary note, you need to pay close attention to the behaviors you are shaping - you might be shaping a behavior you don’t want. I learned this the hard way. For one foster dog who was particularly interested in the birds, I would squirt her with water every time she even glanced at the birds. I unintentionally shaped up her behavior so well that she learned to covertly attend to the birds without moving her eyes toward them. At the end of my “excellent” training she would lay on the couch, apparently relaxed and looking ahead and then without warning lunge at the birds. She plucked one of my birds out of the air - he was ok - but I was terrified. I had shaped her behavior to do something that would be very difficult to train on purpose. It just wasn’t the behavior I wanted.

A well known dog trainer, Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., www.dogsbestfriendtraining.com recommends training an “auto watch” for leash aggression and I think this would work well for dogs obsessed with birds too. In this procedure, dogs are trained to automatically look at the owner every time they see another dog. In relation to birds, train the dog to automatically look at you after looking at the bird. Make sure you don't accidentally reward the dog for aggressive fixations on the bird. The auto-watch technique is beyond the current article, please refer to “Feisty Fido” by Patricia McConnell if you want to learn more. The point is be careful about what behaviors you reinforce. Your dog might learn something different from what you intended.

Bringing home a new foster dog

In this piece, I’d like to share some of the “do’s and don’ts” we have found successful in integrating new foster dogs with our four forever dogs. We have one dog-aggressive corgi mix who has given us plenty of experience over the three years of fostering new dogs. Some of this has been learned the hard way. Other tips I’ve learned through obedience classes, reading several books and web pages. This advice will probably be helpful in integrating new forever dogs into an existing family with dogs as well.

1. Introductions
Do: Introduce the dogs on neutral territory: Even dogs that love to play with other dogs in the neighborhood might have issues with a strange dog taking up residence in their house. If you have a fenced yard you can let them run around and get to know each other before going inside. If you don’t have a fenced yard, introduce the dogs on a loose leash before they go in the house together. Either way, this will take more than a couple of minutes. Let the dogs work things out their way. There is some question about whether it is better to introduce the dogs on or off the leash. Some dogs are leash-aggressive(especially if the leash is held tight) and are less aggressive when off leash. However, if you are worried about true aggression, the leash can be a good way to separate the dogs without getting bitten. This depends on the individual dogs involved.

Don’t: Don't expect that the dogs will get along right away: Dogs that might bark, growl, or even draw blood the first few days can end up best friends playing and sleeping curled up together after a few weeks. Give them time to work things out. For our dog, the magic number is five weeks. If your own dogs have been through obedience training, and respects your authority, this will all be easier as you set the rules for what is or is not acceptable behavior.

2. Food
Do: Feed the new dog separately. If the new dog is crate trained, feed him or her in the crate. Wait until the food from all dogs is eaten or you are ready to pick it up before the new foster is let out of the crate. The crate helps the new dog feel secure, aids in digestion, as well as making the current family dogs secure that the new foster can’t get to their food. If you don’t have a crate, separate the dogs as much as possible until you are sure there won't be a problem.

Don’t: Don't leave long-lasting food treats such as bones, pig’s ears, and chew hoofs lying around the house. You might think that handing out treats for good behavior will encourage your dogs to get along. It can be a recipe for disaster! Even dogs that are not normally food aggressive might get a little out of sorts when a new dog gets to join in at food time. Be careful handing out biscuits to make sure there are no disagreements about who owns any left overs that might hit the ground.

3. Bonding activities
Do: Take the new dog and your forever dogs on walks together. I have found this to be the single most effective method for reducing aggressive behavior towards the foster. It builds a pack mentality (us vs. them) and associates the new dog with positive outcomes. Taking a family trip to a dog park or other fun dog activities can be helpful too. But dogs that don’t get along in the house probably won’t get along packed together in the back seat of the car either.

Don’t: Don't spend too much time with the new foster at your current dog’s expense. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is tempting when the foster dog may have emotional problems and needs that extra TLC.

4. Shaping wanted behaviors

Do: Give your forever dog treats and attention for being social with the new dog. Even though my dog Chase is food aggressive, he is also extremely food motivated. I've found that the most effective way to get him to accept the new dogs is to directly reinforce appropriate behaviors. First, I give him food treats (small bit of Natural Balance that is eaten quickly) for letting the other dog close to him without any unwanted signals - i.e. no evil eye, no body stiffening or lip curling, no growling of course. I gradually shape (reduce) the distance between him and other other dog for him to get a treat. Eventually, the other dog has to be close enough to sniff him for Chase to get a treat. Chase is clicker trained, so I use a clicker to vary the amount of food he gets. Once he lets the new dog sniff him, I put the behavior on cue by saying "be nice", this means if you let the dog sniff you, you might get a treat.

Don't: Don't give the dog attention for unwanted behaviors. Don't say "be nice" after the dog is already engaging in aggressive behaviors. This will reward the behaviors you don't want.

5. Reinforcing behaviors incompatible with aggression.
Do: Reinforce behaviors that can't happen at the same time as aggressive acts. Give your dog attention and treats for appropriate behaviors such as going to his bed, playing with a toy, and otherwise leaving the foster dog alone.

Don't: Don't ignore your dog until he or she starts bothering the foster and then yelling or scolding. Catch him or her being good!

6. Interupt the aggression before it escalates
Our dog knows the commands "leave it", "get in your bed", and "watch". If he glances at the other dog nonchalantly, I tell him "watch". This gets his attention off the other dog before it escalates into a stare down. If he's already fixating his gaze on the other dog - I tell him "leave it" or "get in your bed". This means walk away from whatever he's looking at. These behaviors have been rewarded before and he will usually comply. I don't reward this at the time because I don't want to set up a chained behavior (look intently at the other dog so she will say leave it and then I'll get a treat). A bit later when he's being good, I'll give him other commands so he gets attention and treats for appropriate behavior.

Don't: Don't reinforce aggressive behaviors by giving commands that will be followed by a treat.

When he does get aggressive, well - that's a topic for another entry.

On Fostering Dogs

Most dog lovers I meet say: “I could never foster a dog. I’d get too attached and I’d end up with 20 dogs”. My husband and I have been volunteering and fostering dogs for a local pet rescue for a little over three years now. Although we don’t know the exact number, we’ve probably fostered between 75 to 100 dogs. Still, I completely understand the sentiment quoted above. I cried buckets after the first few dogs we fostered got adopted. Even now, I know I will dearly miss our current foster when she is adopted. So why do we do this to ourselves, our furniture, and our dogs? I’d like to share some of our thoughts and feelings about fostering.

Fostering allows more dogs to be brought into rescue. Our state has a terrible problem with unwanted dogs and cats. It’s a really good feeling knowing that you are doing something to help with the problem. However, there are other benefits as well. Bringing home a foster gives you that magic feeling you get at the beginning of a new relationship. To be honest, our own dogs take us for granted - as well they should! Fosters follow you around, are super affectionate, and make you feel very loved. Its especially rewarding when you bring home a dog that is scared, aloof, or depressed and watch them blossom into a loving, trusting, playful companion. Being a dog lover, I’ve always wanted to have just about every breed of dog I’ve ever seen. As a foster parent, we’ve been able to share our home (usually one at a time) with thirteen Great Pyrenees, twelve Great Danes, two Dobermans, a Rottweiler puppy, a Border collie, three Bearded Collies, a Smooth-Coated Collie, an Irish Setter puppy, four Bassett Hounds, multiple Shih Tzu and Pekinese, Rat Terriers, a Dachshund puppy and many wonderful mixed breed dogs. I never would have been able to have all this experience without fostering. And oh boy, there is nothing like an adorable puppy to make you feel good. When you adopt a puppy, its only tiny for a few weeks. Then it goes through an awkward looking phase, chews up everything - and of course, there is housebreaking. But by fostering, you can share that special time in a puppy’s life and know that you helped properly socialize a puppy that will now find its forever home instead of the life it would have had - or not - at a kill shelter. I also enjoy the accomplishment of taking an untrained dog and teaching it to be a good family member. One of our most rewarding fosters was a wild and crazy Pointer/Terrier mix who had been adopted and returned multiple times. We did some simple obedience training with her and set some house rules. We had her for several weeks. She eventually found a very special family and in turn helped a boy with hyperactivity learn to sleep in his own bed and overcome some other emotional issues.

I have to admit there is a down side. That is the happy/sad feeling you get when a beloved foster gets adopted. At first I was afraid that the dogs would get so attached to us they would feel abandoned again when they went to a new home. That changed when I read the first “Happy Tails” comment from the new owner of a foster who had come in as a very sad and fearful girl and took a long time to trust us. Instead of going through another depression, this little Shih Tzu mix took to her new home immediately. Her adoptive mom sent in a wonderful picture of the two of them, and said she didn’t know how she ever lived without her before. We didn’t abandon her, we taught her how to trust and be happy again. That experience has been repeated with several fosters. From research on attachment, we know that once a dog, human, or other mammal is able to form a strong trusting relationship it is easier for them to transfer it to others. So don’t worry if the dogs get attached to you. It’s a good thing. On an ending note, I have a little confession. We did end up keeping one of our fosters. She’s a four year old Great Pyrenees who loves playing with her foster sisters (and sometimes brothers) and in turn they help keep her playful and young. Dogs are resilient and amazing creatures. From being a volunteer and foster, I’ve found that people who love and help dogs are amazing too. Be forewarned though, fostering can be addictive. When I feel sad about a foster leaving, the best remedy is getting another foster.

The Shaping of a Dog Behaviorist

This blog is dedicated to people who volunteer with, foster for, or work with dog rescues. The title of the blog is based on B. F. Skinner's autobiography published in 1979 "The Shaping of a Behaviorist". In my younger days as a graduate student in psychology, I considered myself to be a strict Skinnerian. Now as a psychology professor, my area of research is no longer in applied behavior analysis, I study developmental cognitive neuroscience. This is quite a change on many levels. However, over the last three years I've been volunteering with and fostering for a local pet rescue and have rediscovered the power of learning theory and especially positive reinforcement. Fostering rescue dogs, one sees a whole host of different dog behavior problems not experienced by the typical dog owner. The purpose of the blog is to share my successes and failures in my attempts to rehabilitate these wonderful creatures. I hope that other dog foster parents and the people who adopt rescue dogs might benefit from these posts.