There are many similarities and many differences in dogs and humans. Through training my dogs, I have learned how similar dogs are to us when it comes to learning. Many people could argue that with me, and I do realize there are vast differences between a dog's brain and ours, but we are all mammals and our very basic functions in life are the same: eat, sleep, reproduce. We both desire to be happy, we both feel pain, we both mourn, we both live for things we enjoy. Humans are capable of higher thinking processes than dogs are. I have read that a well trained dog has the thinking ability of a 3-year-old child. If you think about it, when it comes down to the basics of what we want and what we don't, don't we think at that level too? When you go off to college, you choose a major that feels good to you for whatever reason. If you enjoy helping people, you go into education, nursing, medicine, social work. If you enjoy solving problems, you go into engineering, mathematics, physics. We choose things in life that satisfy us. I don't like learning about history, so I would have never forced myself to be a history major. Dogs are the same way. If they don't like people, they will avoid people. If they love fetch, they will get excited every time they see a ball. You can make a dog who does not like people go up to people and socialize. You can also teach a dog who doesn't like to fetch, to fetch. With the proper training and understanding of dogs, you can teach a dog to do anything whether they like it or not. I could have forced myself to go through college learning about history.
Call me selfish, but I am not going to force myself to do something I despise.
Life is too short to not be happy. Dogs are dogs. Sure, we have two working dogs, but they are volunteers. We don't make a living off what they do or don't do, so why make them do things they do not enjoy? They both love being therapy dogs, but we are learning more and more about them and what areas they like to work in and what specific things they don't enjoy.
Topher and Tanker both love people. We knew Tanker would make a good therapy dog when we found him as a stray in 2006. We never pursued it with him because our other dog at the time, Blondie, was not therapy dog material and we didn't want to leave Blondie at home while Tanker went out and worked. It just didn't seem fair to a dog who already had some separation anxiety and that was madly in love with her owners. We didn't want to play favorites with our dogs. That's how it felt if we left Blondie at home and took Tanker out to have fun.
After Blondie died, we specifically looked for a dog who would make a good therapy dog. Call it luck, God's intervention, call it whatever you will, but we found the perfect dog. As soon as I saw Topher's picture on petfinder.com, I knew he was the one. The look in his eyes and his soft face looked as if he were saying he loved me though the computer. I didn't even have to open his profile to know he was the dog we were going to adopt. When I did open his profile, I saw pictures of two little girls laying all over him. I immediately called his foster mom, scheduled a time to take Tanker to meet Topher and adopt him. We met, Topher and Tanker bonded, I became fast friends with his foster mom, and it's been a happy story ever since.
Within six months, Topher and I had a deep bond that I have never had with any other dog. He laid by my side as I cared for my terminally ill grandmother and he put his head on my lap when she passed away. He traveled up and down the East Coast from Florida to Maryland with me, Wes, and Tanker. He has met several different dogs along the way and he has seen foster dogs come and go out of our house. He has learned commands very quickly. Within six months, he had passed his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification and shortly thereafter he passed his Delta Society Therapy Dog Evaluation. He was calm, predictable, loving, happy, fun, and every dog I could have ever dreamed of. People were always surprised to hear that he was only two years old and that he was a rescue dog. Yes, that's right. Topher was in a very high kill shelter before he was rescued by Georgia Humane Society and we adopted him.
Topher and Tanker have been therapy dogs for eight months now. We have worked them in several different areas: the hospital, the library, cheering on runners at marathons, promotion events, etc. We have mostly worked in psychiatric units. Due to life experiences, I have a passion for people suffering from psychiatric illnesses. I pursued this area of volunteer work for me. Wes was originally a psychology major in college, and he enjoyed helping these people as well. The question now is, do our dogs?
Psychiatric units are unpredictable. Delta Society likes you to test at a Complex rating in order to work in psychiatric units. Tanker and Wes tested as predictable. Topher and I tested as predictable. Tanker and I are the only team that are Complex. (Mainly because we were all new to it when we originally tested and they rarely rate a brand new team as complex.) The psychiatric hospital we volunteer at does not care if you are complex or not, just as long as your dog is comfortable there. Topher and Tanker do really well there. They love the kid's unit, especially. A few weeks ago, Topher had a very stressful experience in the units that I think may have scared him, and he has not been quite the same since. He seems to have lost interest in it.
Because we are more interested in having happy, healthy dogs at home than fearful, stressed out dogs, we are taking a short break. I have been making an effort to spend more time playing and doing fun things with Topher and Tanker and I have really seen their moods lift because of it. Some days, dogs just need to be dogs. We have been going for walks, playing fetch, playing with the hedgehogs, playing wiggle worm, and doing lots of fun things. Topher and Tanker have been happy!
After that incident in the psychiatric units, Topher has been nervous with people in his face. I don't think Topher would ever bite anyone, but I would never suggest anyone getting in the face of a nervous dog. I have been practicing at home with Topher and he has been fine with me. At one point, Topher sneezed when I got in his face. That made me start to think. How cool would it be if I could teach Topher to sneeze when people get in his face? The command would be someone putting their face up to his and the action would be the sneeze. Since he has been leery of people in his face lately, the result of the person backing away would be a reward for him. I called up one of my therapy dog friends and asked her about it and she knew of a dog once who could sneeze on command. This is workable! I am starting to teach this to him a little at a time.
Will we go back to working in the psychiatric units? Time will only tell. It may not be Topher's cup of tea. He loves doing tricks, so we are working more on that. Tanker is good in the psychiatric units. I think Bella and Shiloh would do well in there. I am not sure about Tango. We haven't had her long enough to know yet.
When I started writing this blog, I was not going to write about this. I was going to post pictures of all the dogs and show how well they are doing. All of this has been on my mind a lot lately. When I write, I generally just let my thoughts flow. As a result, you get to hear how I really feel and what I am thinking. It's called passionate writing.
Tango is doing well with "wait." In this picture, Topher, Tango, and Tanker are waiting to eat their food until I tell them they can do so.
Tango has also gotten good at "down."
Tango has been a pleasure to train. Like most cattle dogs, she is smart, fun, and eager to please.
Bella and Shiloh are excellent at wait and stay. I can tell them "wait" or "stay" and run circles around them without them moving. For the first time this week, I was able to put them in a stay and leave the room without them moving. They are doing well at "come" as well.
Tanker and Topher will always be our star dogs.
The entire zoo crew (minus the cats) are cute in a sit and stay together.
Little Bit loves to eat freshly cut up dog treats.
Little Bit loves to lay in her mama's arms.
Tango and Topher like to stay up late with me while waiting on Wes to get off work.
We took Topher and Tango out to Government Island this week to expose Tango to things. Topher did great with other dogs. I put him in a sit and stay every time another dog walked by. He did really well. Tango does not have much interest in other dogs other than the general sniff the air and see who it is.
We watched the beautiful sunset on Government Island.
Wes got a shot of Topher and I watching the sunset together.
Topher and Tango. Topher was watching the sunset and Tango was watching a squirrel. That's the difference between a guy in touch with his emotions and a girl who knows what she wants.
Topher really liked watching the sunset.
Walking on Government Island was a lot of fun and Topher and Tango did really well together.
Bella and Shiloh are watching the Garfield movie and hoping we never get a cat as mischievous Garfield.
About The Foster Zoo
- Lindsay, Wes, and The Zoo Crew
- We have decided to blog our adventures again. So much has changed since we last blogged. Bella and Shiloh both went to their forever homes and they are in wonderful families. June Bug got adopted. We quit fostering dogs after those adoptions because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. We quit doing therapy dog work because Tanker's epilepsy got bad. Tanker passed away June 9th, 2013. We adopted a senior border collie named Shania Tankerbelle in his memory. We still have our two cats, Sweet Pea and Little Bit. Wes has started rescuing pitiful bettas from Wal-Mart and we currently have seven. We have a camper. We camp. We have focused on giving our animals the best lives possible. We are The Foster Zoo Crew and we like to have fun.