Dog Scouts of America Rewards Canines

Does your dog have what it takes to become a certified Dog Scout? Nearly 600 dogs have passed their certification tests for the Dog Scouts of America, an organization similar to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Members are part of local troops and earn merit badges by proving proficiency in certain learned skills. Below, President Chris Puls of Dog Scouts of America (DSA) and founder Lonnie Olson explain scouting for dogs.

Dog Scouts Earn Badges

Puls says there are badges for backpacking, water rescue, herding, search and rescue, obedience, Frisbee and much more. Don’t think it’s all just for show; the certification and badge testing is serious and demanding.

“The badges are not easy and they aren’t supposed to be,” says Puls. “Yes, it does take some time to get to that level, but when considered over the span of the dog's life, it’s a short amount of time to get years of benefit. Visitors to your home and people you meet in public with your dog will appreciate the training time you have put in. Plus, you’ll have a better understanding of your dog and a deeper bond.” In order for a dog to be certified, its human companion must pass a written test that proves he or she is an educated and responsible dog owner.

Educational Mission

The Dog Scouts of America was founded in 1999 as a nonprofit by Olson, who got her inspiration from an encounter with an insurance salesman. “The guy asked why all the photos of my dogs were on the wall, winning at sports competitions,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Well, didn’t your kids participate in cheerleading, band, Boy Scouts and other activities?’ I told him that my dog likes to play flyball and Frisbee, and be active in the community, just like his kids. The difference was that my ‘kids’ were dogs.”
 
After this conversation, Olson formally organized all the activities and educational outreach she was already involved in and created the DSA. Like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, DSA’s mission is about more than giving its members fun activities to do. Puls and Olson say the larger mission is one of education that fosters better relationships between dogs and humans and that ultimately saves the lives of dogs.

“The No. 1 reason why people surrender their dogs to the shelter is ‘behavior problems,’ so we decided that we could change all of that by getting our message out to more people,” says Olson, noting that dogs surrendered to shelters are euthanized all too often. “We try to show the owners how they can enrich the lives of their dogs, themselves and the community by learning new things and doing things together.”

Puls says that DSA also encourages troops and members to perform community service. “They often hold fundraisers to help local shelters, provide bulletproof vests to police K-9s, or provide pet oxygen masks to their local fire departments,” she says. DSA dogs are trained to ring the iconic Salvation Army bell and to accept dollar bills from people and drop them into the donation bucket. The trick has helped DSA raise almost $40,000 for The Salvation Army.

Interested dog owners should check out DogScouts.org to find the nearest troop. If not, the site is filled with the information you’d need to participate or even start your own troop. It’s also worth noting that you do not need to pass the certification test to be a DSA member. You can join and do the testing at your own pace, or not at all. If you want an even less committed way to get involved and support the group, the entire month of May is their annual National Hike-a-Thon, in which anyone can participate.

Personal Assistants … for Dogs?

Personal assistants are no longer just for movie stars, presidents and CEOs. Entrepreneurial service industry experts like Manny Apolonio, founder of San Francisco-based At Chore Service are providing specialized care for dogs that goes above and beyond traditional dog walking and canine boarding.

“I don’t just walk your dog around the block and then call it a day,” explains Apolonio. “For example, one client asked me to change the filter on his furnace, drop off groceries at his house, replace batteries in his smoke detectors, water his plants and deliver his black lab, Bamboo, to his office in the Financial District because he missed her.”

Apolonio shares what his very untypical typical days are like, along with advice on how you can find, hire and make the most out of such professionals.

Dog Personal Assistants Come to the Rescue

Personal assistants like Apolonio can help out with even the most challenging dog-related problems. Consider one of Apolonio’s clients, Tanya, who lost her sight 10 years ago. Tanya’s Seeing Eye dog, Chancey, a golden retriever, “is a picky peer,” says Apolonio, “meaning we can’t just go outside for a stroll around the block and expect Chancey to just do her thing. She has to go where other dogs go.” Tanya’s neighborhood doesn’t have many suitable parks, so Apolonio drives several miles to where Chancey relaxes and does her thing.

Pet Sitter Plus

Personal assistants like Apolonio don’t just cater to wealthy clients. They are often available for more temporary assignments that require a specialized touch. One family, for example, recently contacted Apolonio to see if he could care for their pets while they went on a camping trip in Northern California. Why wouldn’t a standard pet sitter do? The family has a self-described mini zoo at home that includes two rottweilers, two Siamese cats, two rabbits and an iguana. The type of service Apolonio provides prevents this type of situation from going awry.

Dogs Help to Choose Their Assistants

The best personal assistants are sensitive to not just the dog owner’s needs, but also to those of the dog. For example, Little Lady Agency -- which operates out of Minnesota, California, Washington and New York -- begins the initial business stage by asking a lot of questions via email.

The next step is the face-to-face meeting. “You can tell right away if the dog will want to work with you. They’re usually the decision-makers in this instance,” says Apolonio.

How to Find, Hire and Work With a Personal Assistant

In addition to being aware of your dog’s comfort level with the prospective new assistant, Apolonio says keeping the following tips in mind will help to ensure that you select the best helper for your needs:

1. Request references and follow up with the provided named contacts.

2. Ask for proof of insurance or bonding.

3. Thoroughly interview prospective candidates in person, inquiring about their experience and time on the job.

4. Follow the advice of friends. Often personal assistants get their clients via networks of friends and business associates.

5. Trust your instincts.

Personal assistants, for both pets and their people, are becoming more common these days given busy work lives and the growing need for help at home. One of the best compliments Apolonio says he receives is that his good care is comparable to the companionship that owners provide to their dogs. He says, “I’m essentially a home owner and pet owner proxy while my clients are away.”

Big Benefits of Small-dog Day Care

For small dogs like these and their discriminating owners, only the most specialized care will do. To meet their needs, a number of day care and boarding facilities exclusive to tiny dogs have emerged in recent years. They’ve proven to be a triple-win for the owners of these businesses, their clients and small dogs everywhere.

Small-dog Specialists
Carolyn Vinci had to board her 9-pound Maltese/Yorkie mix, Cleo. Although she conducted research before placing Cleo in a local kennel, Vinci was horrified when the little dog came home thin and scared. “I could not find an appropriate place to board her, so I decided to create my own business,” said Vinci, who now runs Tiny Dog Daycare and Overnight Boarding out of her home in Bohemia, N.Y.

Lori Davis of Tiny Dog Boarding in New York City started her business several years ago after a similar problem. “I called a commercial boarding place in the city that supposedly has luxury suites for dogs and asked them if they could provide appropriate care for my three dogs: Taylee, Teangee and Teaka,” says Davis. “I mentioned their eyes must be cleaned, one needs allergy shots, another will lick her feet all of the time if she doesn’t have her booties and so on. I was fully expecting the facility to say, ‘Yes, we can do that, but it will cost you extra money.’ Instead, they told me I should board my dogs with a veterinarian.” It wasn’t long afterward that Davis created her business.

Big Benefits for Small Dogs

Specialized care at small-dog boarding places may include:

  • Cage-free surroundings. “Nobody is caged here,” Vinci says. “Our dogs lounge on comfy beds and couches in our home. They can play in our fenced in yard.”
  • Controlled feedings and medication. Most small-dog experts ask that owners bring the pet’s regular food and medication. Consistency is key to comfort.
  • Extra security. Tiny dogs can squeeze through chain-link fences and other barriers that can hold back larger dogs. Small-dog boarders take precautions to ensure their charges stay safe and secure.
  • Luxury additions. Julie Clemen, who runs Little Paws Boarding in Olympia, Wash., has heated floors in her facility. “Chihuahuas often get cold feet,” she explains.

Questions to Ask
Before you take your dog to any day care or boarding facility, do your research. Word-of-mouth recommendations are always best, but consider asking these questions:

1. What size dogs do you take? Depending on the facility, caregivers may limit their services to dogs weighing 8 to 20 pounds. Exceptions sometimes are made, contingent upon the breed, behavior and requirements of the dog.

2. How many years have you been in business, and what other experience with small dogs do you have? Davis, Vinci and Clemen each have decades of experience with small dogs. Be sure you get the background of the individual running the day care or boarding facility.

3. Do you train dogs too? Some boarders, like Davis, offer training and housebreaking instruction.

4. Do you own small dogs? “Ask how the person’s own dogs are cared for, in terms of feeding, grooming, medical care and other essentials,” advises Davis. “How the owner treats his or her own dogs can indicate how your dog will be cared for.”

5. What if there’s an emergency? Davis and all of the other experts have established relationships with their local veterinarians and pet hospitals. They may also be able to take your dog to its regular vet.

Finally, listen for the passion in the person’s voice. Most went into this line of work because they truly adore dogs, especially tiny breeds.

Image Credit:@iStockphoto.com/syagci

Summer Fun for Dogs

Murphy, a chocolate Lab and pit bull mix who was rescued from an animal shelter, is now one of the country’s top doggy dock divers.

Dock diving continues to grow in popularity as a sport for dogs. Competitions are held year-round, but summer is one of the best times of the year for the events. Whether your dog is an experienced flier or just learning to take off, your pet, like Murphy, could have what it takes to be a “Splash Dog.”

Dog Dock Diving

Diane Lundquist, who adopted Murphy with Dr. Noel Grandrath, a California-based veterinarian, explains that most events involve a portable, aboveground pool filled with 30,000 gallons of water. Nearby is a 40-foot dock that is set up with a flatbed trailer. The competing dogs follow their favorite lure -- be it a ball, duck toy or other coveted object -- off the end of the dock before leaping into the pool.

A high-tech camera system records 64 frames per second and captures the dog’s entry into the water to judge the distance of the jump. Distance is measured from the end of the dock to the point at which the base of the dog’s tail enters the water. Dogs with the longest jumps, performed in what are known as “competition waves,” earn both numerical and honorary rankings. Since Murphy has already performed a 22-foot leap, he’s considered to be a “pro.”

The longer of two jumps becomes the dog’s score for the “wave.” Through a group called Splash Dogs, the top 12 canine jumpers can then compete in a “pro final,” while the next 12 dogs compete in an “open final.” There are also finals for dogs with junior handlers (aged 16 and under) and “Lap Dogs,” or dogs under a certain height so no participant feels left out.

Could Your Dog Dock Dive?

Lundquist and Grandrath observed that dogs who do well at the competitions usually:

  • love being in and around water

  • are good swimmers

  • have a high toy drive, with a desire to chase toys

  • are healthy and active

  • have a motivated owner or handler who also loves the sport

  • are at least 6 months of age

“While people are competitive and want their dogs to do well, it is also a friendly group,” says Lundquist, who adds that no one is ever allowed to push or throw dogs into the water, and absolutely no abuse or negative behavior is tolerated. Everyone cheers each other’s new bests, and newcomers are welcomed and given assistance in working with their dogs.

How to Get Involved

If you’re interested and think your dog could be a jumping pro, consider taking these three steps:

  1. Join the SplashDogs.com mailing list. You will then receive information about dog dock diving events held all over the country.

  1. When first getting started, try to go to an event on a warm summer day. The splash of the cool water and outdoor fun will be all the more enjoyable.

  1. Beginners might consider participating, but not competing. This is allowed for a $20 practice fee. The payment permits owners to let their dogs jump into the pool in between the actual competition waves.

“The dogs love it,” says Lundquist, who is already looking forward to the next Splash Dogs competition.

Fashion for Paws Model Shares Dog Runway Tips

Fashion has gone to the dogs, with dog models all across the country strutting their stuff on the runway, often for charity events. While the buzz for these events can be as electric as that for human fashion shows, the signs of success somewhat differ. After a recent Fashion Institute of Technology dog fashion show in New York, for example, FIT’s Cheryl Fein deadpanned, “No one barked, peed, jumped, growled or otherwise misbehaved.”

Dr. Katy J. Nelson, an emergency veterinarian, knows how important good manners are for fashion model dogs. Nelson works as an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, but she also volunteers for a charity event called Fashion for Paws, in Washington, D.C. This annual show, proclaimed “The No. 1 Fashion Event of the Year” by Washington Life magazine, benefits the Washington Humane Society and other organizations.

Recently, Nelson and other human models walked the runway with dogs dressed in the latest fashions. Below, she shares how to dress up your own dog so that it can one day show off its moves on a runway for a good cause.

Spring 2010 Dog Fashion Trends

Dog fashion usually mirrors human trends, with such designers as Ralph Lauren featuring clothing for dogs in their product lines. Popular looks for dogs include:

  • Plaids
  • Leather bomber jackets and leather in general
  • Military green camouflage
  • Ruffles
  • Bright colors
  • Organic materials
  • Knit “turtleback” sweaters
  • Workout looks, such as hoodie sweatshirts

When fitting your dog, the measurements you need are the circumference around the widest part of the chest, around the neck and then the distance from the back of the head down to the base of the tail. Remember, canine clothing isn’t just for looks. Many dogs, particularly smaller breeds, often need the extra warmth and protection for outings.

Could Your Pet Be a Dog Fashion Model?
Nelson warns that there will be loud noise, music blaring, many other dogs, and women in expensive clothing, so the pressure is on when the doggie models hit the runway. As such, “a dog that is shy, nervous or slightly aggressive would not be put on the runway,” says Nelson. Model dogs ideally possess these four qualities:

1. They are well-trained and do not hesitate to follow basic commands.

2. They are very comfortable on a leash.

3. The dogs are very willing to please.

4. “It’s all about personalities,” Nelson believes.

“There is no way to train a dog to be a model,” says Nelson. “They’ve just got to be ready to rock the outfit, prance their way down and back, and ‘smile’ like a pro.” Unlike rail-thin human models, large and small dogs are both runway worthy. In fact, some of the pudgiest pups get the biggest applause if their winning personalities shine through.  

Dog Fashion for Charity
Many dog fashion shows benefit animal charities or are held for other good causes. Last year, Fashion for Paws raised over $250,000, with the money still coming in through fashionforpaws.org. All the dog models either belong to the fundraising models who are not compensated but are sponsored by supporters, or the dog models are adoptable canines from the Washington Humane Society.

“The adoptable dogs at the Washington Humane Society that grace the runway are thrilled to be there in the hopes that they may smile the right way at the right person and find a forever home,” says Nelson. “They’re there to find someone to love them.”