My $20,000 Pit bull story!

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The recent headlines regarding the legislation in Montreal which passed the breed ban of Pit Bulls and Pit Bull type dogs is the subject of considerable controversy.   As a dog trainer who has worked with and owned Pit bull breeds, I feel it is my responsibility to not only explain breed bans but also expel some myths about this very misunderstood dog breed.

So what is Breed ban legislation?  Breed-specific legislation is a law passed by a legislative body pertaining to a specific breed or breeds of domesticated animals. In practice, it generally refers to laws pertaining to a specific dog breed or breeds.

According to the A.S.P.C.A. and other animal welfare groups,  there is no evidence that breed-specific laws make communities safer for people or companion animals.  The CDC strongly recommends against breed-specific laws in its oft-cited study of fatal dog attacks, noting that data collection related to bites by breed is fraught with potential sources of error (Sacks et al., 2000).   To learn more about why breed ban legislation does not work  click here .

We agree that banning an entire breed or mixes of that breed will not solve the problem of vicious dogs and will only cause more problems.  We cannot judge an entire breed on one or two vicious dogs, if that was the case we would be euthanizing all dog breeds.  Almost every breed of dog has had one that bites at one time or another. Many bites occur not due to the nature of a particular breed or that the breed is vicious but rather to the circumstances surrounding the bite. All dogs can bite, will bite, (given the right circumstances) and can be taught to bite (police/personal protection). The larger the dog, the more damage is done regardless of breed.  Once breed bans are put in place for one breed, they can easily be modified for other breeds.  Many dogs are mixed breeds or have a certain look, may not be the breed that is banned, but will be deemed as such.

When it comes to the Pit Bull breeds there are two types of people in the general public, those that hate pit bulls and those that love them.  The problem is, those that HATE them, REALLY hate them and are reluctant to educate on the breed. Those that LOVE  them, REALLY love them and are reluctant to educate on the breed. This leads to common misconceptions on both parts.  One group states all are vicious and unpredictable, the other group says they are all wonderful, it is just the way they are raised.  Neither is true.

When talking about Pit bull breeds, I speak from experience not only from a dog training perspective but also having owned a dog aggressive Pit bull.  Yes, me.  You see, before I was a dog trainer, I was a Pit bull lover and believed it was how they were raised that caused the problem, mean people doing mean things to make the dog mean…. right?  If given lots of love, and toys ,and beds, and pillows, and kisses, and puppy training and…….you get the idea. I could prove the haters wrong, right?

Her name was Bailey and the first mistake my husband and I made was getting a puppy from a backyard breeder in whom we did not know, but was referred to us by a friend.  They kept the male and female separate because “they would fight at times.”  We adopted Bailey at 8 weeks of age.  We had two adult dogs at the time, a Dalmatian and a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix who  had a lot of love and little training.  We enrolled Bailey in Puppy class as soon as possible.  She excelled and was the star of the class.  She was quick at picking up commands, exuberant when performing tasks, very engaged and passed with flying colors.  We were so proud.

We noticed that the puppy was rough when playing with our other dogs or when coming out of her kennel or from behind a door. We also noticed scrapes and cuts on her after she was playing with the other dogs even though she would lie with them and play nicely as well.  It concerned us so we brought it up to the trainer of the puppy class.  We were told to just let them “work it out” on their own, which we did.  Bad advice from an inexperienced trainer.

She got into her first fight with our Dalmatian shortly after the conclusion of the puppy class. She ended up at the vet, had sutures and a drain put in and a cone on her head.   This was the first of many fights she had with our dogs over the 5 years we had her. They are too numerous to describe every one in detail.    One fight ended with me at the hospital due to a partially amputated fingertip from a dog bite. In case you’re wondering,  it wasn’t her, it was the Ridgeback.  I got in the middle of a dog fight and in the midst of the chaos was bitten.   Bailey was never aggressive toward humans  and was very loving toward people and was a big cuddle bug but she was innately dog aggressive.

The older she became, the more reactive she became despite training efforts.  We consulted trainers and a dog behaviorist.  The sad end result was that we had to euthanize her for the safety of our other dogs. We estimate over the 5 years we spent with her, we spent about $20,000 in vet bills from fighting and hospital bills from my finger incident.  This dog is the reason my husband and I became dog trainers.  We wanted to learn about dog training and give educated advice to people so they would not have to suffer as we did from bad advice.

So here is the truth about Pit bull breeds and what I know for sure;

Pit bull is the common name for a type of dog. Formal breeds often considered in North America to be of the pit bull type include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The American Bulldog is also sometimes included. They are called “Pit” bulls because they are breeds that were bred to fight in a fighting ring called a pit.

Pit bull breeds are  high energy level dogs that do everything 100%. Whatever they do, they give it their all. Rather it be obedience, play, exercise, loving, snuggling or fighting, they are in it to win it.  They also have a high prey drive which can make them reactive to quick-moving objects.

The myth that Pit bulls are aggressive because of how they are raised is true to an extent but is contrary to what you are probably thinking.   Yes, there are bad people who do bad things to dogs which make them aggressive or vicious. However, we have seen many Pit bull owners that love and care for their dogs and  still have dog aggression problems.  We have seen many dogs that have been given only love with no leadership which also become unstable and aggressive toward humans as well as other dogs, regardless of breed.  Dogs are pack animals and need stable leadership. Without leadership a dog will try to assume the leadership role.  A dog that is not a born leader will not be confident. A dog that is not confident will become unstable and can exhibit behaviors such as separation anxiety, fearfulness,  or aggression.  If a dog senses clear leadership he can relax because the leader has everything under control. Dogs that have a lack of proper exercise, training, or mental stimulation can also become aggressive and unstable due to pent-up energy.

Another reason that a Pit bull breed can be aggressive regardless of how they are raised is in the lineage;

Pit bull breeds were originally bred and raised to fight for sport. The ones that were best at the sport would bite, hold and kill their opponent. They were originally bred by combining an English bulldog with some form of terrier.  The English bulldog gave them the strength, the terrier gave them the tenacity and high prey drive.  The English Bulldog  was also used to fight and kill other dogs but this has been bred out of them for over 200 years.  This is why you see much less dog aggression in the English Bulldog breed however it occasionally occurs.  Even today, Pit bulls are being bred for dog fighting sport in underground dog fights and gambling organizations.  Since Pit bulls are still being bred for dog fighting some are “hard-wired” to do the job they were bred to do.  Just as cattle dogs chase cattle, sheep dogs chase sheep, bird dogs flush birds, Pointers point……you get the idea, Pit bulls fight other dogs.  Therefore, without knowing the breeding past of the dog you adopt, you will not know how close to fighting stock he/she comes from.  The closer to fighting stock, the more likely the dog is to do that job.  It is innate, something you cannot control regardless of how much love or how much training they receive and it has nothing to do with how they are raised.

Pit bulls are generally not human aggressive as this was bred out of them from the beginning.  The handler had to be able to go into a fighting ring and pull the dog out of the ring without being bitten.  Those dogs that would turn and bite the handler, were destroyed.  This explains how, when a pit bull attacks another dog, he generally bites, holds and shakes the prey.

Many dogs will be dominant over one another but generally, if one shows submission, the other will not attack. Dogs in a dog pack will go through dominance rituals on a regular basis.  Fighting Pit bulls are bred to ignore cut off signals from other dogs, in other words, they will attack regardless of what signs of submission the other animal is giving.   This, along with high prey drive, the ability to bite and hold and the prevalence to do everything 100%  give way to the myth that Pit bulls have “locking” jaws. They do not, they are just willing, capable and good at what they were bred to do.

The myth that Pit bulls are all aggressive or untrustworthy and can “turn” at any time is also untrue and not a fair statement for the breed.   Many Pit bulls and Pit bull mixes are not hard-wired to do the job their ancestors were bred to do. Many live in loving homes, have loving personalities, have never had a bite history, and are true ambassadors of the breed.

So what do you do if you are thinking of adopting a Pit bull?  There are a few things that will make the decision easier and more predictable. First and foremost ask yourself why you want a Pit Bull.  Is it because you are an active person, love the look, exuberance and stamina of the breed, or is it to make a statement or to  prove a point that it is not how they are raised.  Second, do your research and decide if this breed is the right fit for your family.  Pit bull breeds have high energy requirements and need to be stimulated both mentally and physically.  If you are a couch potato, work long hours, live in an apartment or want a low energy dog, the Pit bull type is not the dog for you.

If you want to adopt a puppy only adopt from a reputable breeder.  Reputable breeders breed for health and temperament of the breed, have been doing so for many years even decades and can provide you  with the puppies lineage. If you buy from a backyard or inexperienced breeder, you will not know how close to fighting stock the puppies are from and will possibly be contributing to the problem.

If you want to adopt from  a rescue or shelter, pick one that can give you as much information as possible about the individual dog you are interested in.  It is a good idea to have a dog trainer go with you to help evaluate behavior and temperament.

When you adopt a Pit bull, provide consistent leadership, training and exercise.

If you have a Pit bull and it is exhibiting dog aggression or aggression of any kind, consult with a dog trainer or an animal behaviorist to decide the reason for the behavior and if it can be modified.

If you have a Pit bull that is dog aggressive and you have put training in place and have come to the conclusion that the dog is innately dog aggressive, the only responsible option is euthanasia.  We do not take euthanasia lightly and it is the hardest decision a dog owner will make.  As dog trainers euthanasia is never the advice we like to give but have given it. As a Pit bull owner it was the last decision we ever wanted to make but made it.

The answer to breed banning and to the pet overpopulation problem in general is not breed specific legislation but breeding legislation and spay/neuter policies.   Breeders should be licensed and proven to be reputable with strict guidelines.   All pets should be spayed and neutered unless a person is a licensed breeder. Individual dogs of any breed deemed and tested to be vicious should be euthanized.

A dog aggressive Pit bull and the owner of one suffer greatly.   Managing the problem means keeping the dog away from others ( which often makes the problem worse), always walking on eggshells, and hoping nothing goes wrong.  You will also be contributing to the problem and giving haters and proponents of breed ban fuel for their fire. You will be putting all of your effort and time keeping an unstable dog alive, when many other loveable, stable dogs, Pit bulls and otherwise are being euthanized daily due to lack of shelter space.  Sadly, we have to sacrifice the few to save the many.  If you love the breed and hate the breed ban, it is the responsible thing to do and the only thing that will save the Pit bull breeds.

It isn’t the breed, it is the humans because we created it, we have failed it, and it is time to be responsible and do all we can to redeem the Pit bull breeds.

 

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, owner of Super Mutts Canine training and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 20 years experience professionally working with dogs.  She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior. She is an  AKC/ CGC, CGCU, Community Canine and S.T.A.R. puppy evaluator and a professional member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

You can read more or purchase her book at www.supermutts.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 reasons dog obedience doesn’t work!

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Properly trained, a man can be a dog’s best friend ~ Corey Ford

When it comes to training your dog, many people think of or have taken their dog to obedience classes.   Obedience is great in that it builds a common language between you and your dog. Obedience builds trust and respect between you and your dog. Obedience can help control a dominant dog and create confidence in an unsure dog. Obedience can also help keep your dog safe.  An obedient dog is more enjoyable in that he can join you on adventures outside the home and will listen to you in any situation.  Many people are involved in competition obedience which can be fun for both human and dog.

So, if obedience does all this, why is it that we have heard many people say, “I took my dog to obedience class but it didn’t stick.” There are three reasons why obedience classes do not work for some people.

  1. Most people will work with their dog during class and will do the homework for the six  weeks that the class is scheduled for.  After this time however, many people do not work with their dog daily if at all.  People assume that the six-week program is all their dog needs to learn how to be a “good” dog for the rest of its life.  This thinking is comparable to saying  children only need to go through kindergarten.  A dog’s training goes on for its entire life.  Basic obedience teaches a dog basic commands that you then use daily for their entire lives in many different situations.
  2. People are not consistent with the training.  They may do obedience “drills” with their dog but do not work the dog in other situations such as in public, when guests come over etc.  The dog quickly learns that the human is not consistent; he only has to do these obedience commands during the drills but at no other time. Dogs are contextual which means you have to work your dog in every situation that you want him to be obedient in.  Obedience should be used in every aspect of your dog’s life; when  you go to the park, to a friend’s house, out for a walk, in your neighborhood, or to the veterinarian.  Anywhere you take your dog , obedience should come into play.  This is how you get an obedient dog in any situation
  3. Leadership or behavioral problems, not obedience.  Obedience classes do not solve behavioral problems and sadly people wait until they are having behavioral problems to start an obedience program.  Obedience helps with leadership and behavioral issues but alone does not establish leadership. Obedience with a solid leadership program is what helps solve behavioral issues.

Case Study:

Several years ago, on a camping trip, was a woman that had rescued a large dog that she brought with her.  The dog was tied out on a corkscrew ground stake.  On two occasions, the dog lunged and tried to bite two people, one being a child.  Upon bringing it to the woman’s attention, she put her dog on leash and proceeded to do obedience drills to show “how obedient her dog was.”  The dog performed the drills as expected.  Despite the dog understanding obedience, the owner clearly used obedience improperly.  It was also clear that she did not establish a leadership program with the dog.  The dog has an aggression problem that obedience can help if used in the right context.  Most importantly, the owner needs to put a leadership plan in place in conjunction with obedience.

The proper way to handle this dog was first to never put the dog in a scenario in which he could potentially harm someone or behave in an aggressive manner.  You cannot change a dogs behavior if he is tethered thirty feet away from you.  The dog should have been tethered to the owner.  At times when this was not possible, he should have been kenneled.  While on leash, the human could work on sit/stay and down/stay while the dog was tethered to her and around other people.  She would have the ability to reinforce good behavior, create positive associations with people, and also the ability to correct unwanted behavior if necessary.  She could have taught the dog what is allowed and what is not allowed around people.  Instead, the dog learned nothing accept that after an outburst he had to do obedience drills.

Obedience can create a trusting bond between you and your dog. Obedience is a great way to teach your dog what behaviors are acceptable in your home and in society especially if started early, practiced often and in the right context.

So, the next time you find yourself or someone you know saying that obedience didn’t “stick”, stop and consider these three possible causes and adjust accordingly.

 

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, owner of Super Mutts Canine training and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 20 years experience professionally working with dogs.  She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. She is an  AKC/ CGC, CGCU, Community Canine and S.T.A.R. puppy evaluator.

You can read more or purchase her book at www.supermutts.com 

How to be a pack leader

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A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. ~John C. Maxwell

 

By becoming your dogs’ pack leader, you will set the stage for a more enjoyable life with your dog.  You will be giving your dog what he needs and in turn he will be much easier to manage and live with. Dogs that live in a dog pack do not develop the same behavioral issues of those that live with a human pack.  The cause of many behavioral problems  are from people “humanizing” their  dog. Humanizing a dog is one of the most detrimental things we can do to our dogs psyche.

When we compare a dog to a human, we cease to give him what he needs to be a dog.  We believe he thinks like a human so should act accordingly.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A dog is an animal, he thinks like an animal and cannot rationalize like a human or understand what you are thinking, it is impossible.  You would not bring a wild animal into your home (such as a Mountain lion or Grizzly bear) and expect it to understand anything you said or thought, yet people do it with the dog every day. Dogs are domesticated and capable of learning words but are still an animal and need to be respected for what they are.

Becoming a pack leader will make a dominant dog less dominant and give a fearful or anxious dog more confidence.

Below is a list of what the term Pack leader means and how you can become your dogs’ pack leader.

There are two positions in the pack–  1) Leader 2) Follower.  In the eyes of your dog, if you are not one, you must be the other.  A dog that senses no leadership, and is not a born leader, will try to become one.  This can cause problems such as aggression, dominance or anxiety.  A dog that senses a clear leader can relax because he is not responsible for the life of the pack; someone else has everything under control.

The pack Leader is calm and assertive –  A dog will only follow calm assertiveness.  If you are angry, fearful, anxious or nervous your dog will not follow your commands.  Pack leaders are never unstable.  If your dog is not performing or paying attention to you, ask yourself what state of mind you are in and change it if necessary.  Never work with your dog when you are angry.

Pack leaders are dictators but are fair and consistent – The rules of the pack are set by the pack leader and never change. Everyone in the pack knows what is expected.  Do not give your dog one set of rules today and change the rules tomorrow.

Examples include:

  • one family member does not allow the dog on the furniture and another family member does.
  • You make the dog wait before going out of a door one day, and allow him to push his way through the door on another day.
  • You enforce proper leash walking in your neighborhood, but not in other places such as a park or on a trail.

All these things are inconsistent and will confuse the dog. BE CONSISTENT. All family members are part of the pack and everyone should maintain the same rules for the dogs.  All rules apply to all dogs in the pack.  There is not one set of rules for one dog and not the other.  Everyone is treated equally.

All canine relationships are built on 2 things –  1) Trust 2) Respect.  If your dog does not trust you, he will not listen to you. If your dog does not respect you, he will not listen to you.  If your dog is not listening, ask yourself if it is a trust issue or a respect issue and change your training accordingly.

Never do anything to break your dogs’ trust.  For instance – Never Call your dog to you to discipline him or do something he doesn’t like.  If you do this, he will be leery to come to you because he cannot trust that coming to you is in his best interest.  If you punish him for not coming, once he does come to you, you continue to break the trust.  Dogs will not follow someone they do not trust.  If he cannot trust you, you cease to be the pack leader.

Pack leaders do not negotiate and are confident in their decisions.  – If you are on a walk and are afraid of what your dogs might do when a person, animal, bike, car etc. passes by, you are not confident, the dog will sense this and will react accordingly. In a dog pack the lead dog makes a decision and sticks with it. He does not worry about what is ahead, nor does the rest of the pack.  They trust the leader to do what is in their best interest for the survival of the pack.  Know what you want the walk to look like and focus on that, not what you think the dog will do.  This will build both trust and respect from your dog.  If your dog knows you are in control, he can relax.

The Pack leader always protects the pack – Your dog needs to see that you control the situation so he does not have to.  If another dog is acting out or a child or new puppy is being too forward with your dog, it is the pack leaders (YOUR) responsibility  to stop the others from bothering or injuring your dog.  No bullies allowed. Again, if your dog sees that you are controlling the other pack members, he does not have to.

Pack leaders do not give unnecessary affection – Do not give your dog unnecessary affection.  Dogs need to earn affection.   Too much affection is not good for their psyche.  For instance – do not pet your dog and kiss your dog just for being in the room.  He must work for affection by obeying rules, walking on leash properly and being obedient.  If he is misbehaving and still getting affection, you are rewarding the misbehavior and he will continue to do it in the future.

The pack engages with the pack leader – In a dog pack, the pack members are always engaged with (watching)  the pack leader, regardless of what they are doing.  If the pack leader moves, they move. If the pack leader growls, pack members listen. Many problems people have with their dogs are due to lack of engagement.  The dog would rather sniff a bush, chase a bunny, bug, piece of grass , whatever, than look at and obey his owner.  If a dog does not engage with you, he neither trusts nor respects your authority. Engagement is built through leash work, obedience, rewarding good behavior and disagreeing with bad behavior.

Your dog is a reflection of you –  If your dog is misbehaving or not obeying, ask yourself “what am I doing that is creating this situation and what can I do to change it.”  You are a human with higher intelligence DON’T BLAME THE DOG and DON”T BE LAZY! Do the work!

If you apply these principles when interacting with your dog, soon they will come naturally and you will create a new way of being with your dog.  You will see that your dog will become more relaxed, happier and less anxious and with that, so will you!

Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach, owner of Super Mutts Canine training and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 20 years experience professionally working with dogs.  She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. She is an  AKC/ CGC, CGCU, Community Canine and S.T.A.R. puppy evaluator.

You can read more or purchase her book at www.supermutts.com 

 

 

 

 

It’s not the dog!

 

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While walking a clients dog yesterday, I heard these words coming from my neighbors garage, ” Trixie come here, come on , come on Trixie, You want to go bye bye don’t you? GET OVER HERE NOW!!”

This brought to mind the numerous times in our dog training business we have heard people say , “My dog does not listen to me.” Our response to this statement is always, “It’s not the dog.” Actually, the majority of training issues are not the dog. The real reason for many problems is lack ( of the human) teaching the dog to listen. Another reason is that people assume dogs understand the human language without ever teaching them this language. Lets break down the above scenario to better explain.

1) “Trixie come over here”

Mistake number one: The dog is not on leash.
Putting a leash on the dog gives you control and stops the dog from running away. The leash allows you to guide the dog into position.

Mistake number two: Too many words used.
“Trixie come over here” Is not a command. The dog clearly was not taught what the command “come” means. If the dog is not taught a command, she will not comply, she cannot perform what she was never taught. Even if she was taught the word, the man coupled it with a series of other words which confuses the dog.

Mistake number three: No motivation.
The man had nothing to reward the dog with and therefore no motivation for the dog to come to him. All the other fun things in the garage are much more rewarding to check out than the human who is saying words the dog doesn’t understand.

2) “Come on, come on Trixie”

Mistake number one: As stated above, coupling too many words together confuses the dog

Mistake number two: Repeating a command.
Repeating a command without motivation for the dog to comply. By repeating a command, the dog is taught to ignore your words because they mean nothing.

3) “You want to go bye, bye don’t you?”

Mistake number one: Humanizing the dog.
Assuming the dog knows what this statement means is humanizing the dog. When we speak to our dog in this fashion the dog hears, “wa, wa, wa, wa”
again, this teaches that words mean nothing.

Mistake number two: Putting a command in the form of a question.
Dog’s do not understand questions and commands should never be given in the form of a question. This statement is not a command as stated above.

4) The final and most devastating command, “GET OVER HERE NOW!” in an angry tone.

Mistake number one: Yelling at a dog.
Yelling at the dog to come to you is the most detrimental thing a person can do to the learning process. The person is teaching the dog NOT to come to him. You should never yell at, spank, slap or punish your dog in any way once he comes to you. By yelling at a dog after he comes, you are punishing him for coming to you. By yelling to get the dog to comply, you are creating a negative association with your dog coming to you. The dog will be less likely to come in the future.

Mistake number two: Again, not a command. Too many words used that the dog clearly cannot understand.

There are three stages when training a dog.

1) The learning stage
2) The reinforcing stage
3) The proofing stage

You have to complete one stage before you can move on to the next. Many training issues come from mistakes made in the learning stage of training.

The correct way for the man in the garage to handle this situation was to first properly teach the dog a solid recall and work on it daily. A dog without a solid recall should never be off leash. The man should be wearing a treat pouch, Rewards should be readily available when teaching a dog anything. If the man wants the dog to learn that the command “bye bye” means go to the car, he should teach the dog by saying the word “bye bye” and guiding the dog with a leash to the car, rewarding when he jumps in.

So you see, it is not the dog, it is the person who is failing the dog. Once you teach a dog to ignore your commands, You will have a more difficult time teaching them to listen in the future. Often times you will need a dog trainer to help. Remember the saying “Don’t blame me if you don’t train me”

By properly teaching your dog what words mean, and rewarding when the dog performs, you will have a dog that happily listens to you no matter what you say, in any situation.

The next time the neighbor wants his dog to go to the car it should sound like this,  “Trixie come” (dog comes) ,  “bye bye” – (dog jumps in car!)  4 simple words, no frustration.

To learn more training techniques and to keep from making common training mistakes, visit our website and purchase our book Puppy Montessori!

http://www.supermutts.com/puppy-montessori.html

Cindy Quigley is the Owner of Super Mutts Canine Retreat. She is a dog trainer, dog groomer, and author.  She has 19 years professionally working with dogs.