Swift Return

Swift's Story

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On September 3, 2017 our dog Swift escaped from our yard.  He had gotten out of the yard a few previous times by ducking under the worn wire of our split rail fence to chase deer.  As a preventative we had just had the entire acre of fencing repaired and the wiring replaced the week before, and felt it was safe for him. After only ten minutes in the yard we discovered he was missing, and set out on our search with whistles and business cards in hand (more on that later.) We handed out business cards to everyone we came across. 

We searched the neighborhood for two hours before we came home empty handed and sat down to create some flyers and plan our next steps. That's when the phone rang. The woman on the other end said her husband had just come home and told her about Swift, and she just happened to have seen photos of him posted on social media by a friend of hers. She gave me her number, I called, and we picked Swift up within minutes, a mile away from our home.

We're grateful for a happy ending and determined to do everything in our power to prevent another escape.  But if it does happen we'll have planned for it as proactively as possible, using the ideas below.  


How Can You Improve Your Chances of a Swift Return?

There is plenty that you can do before your dog goes missing to improve your chances of finding him.  All it takes is a little preparation time and some training.  Please -- don't wait until he's gone to hatch your plan!  


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MICROCHIP YOUR PET

Is your dog microchipped? Have you registered and/or updated your information at the microchip registry?  Most veterinarians and animal control facilities will gladly scan your dog's microchip if he is brought into their clinic, but the microchip company won't be able to contact you unless you've submitted your contact information at their registry.  The small chip placed just above your dog's shoulders is worth installing, but do register it too!

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GPS TRACKING COLLARS

There are many GPS tracking collar options available. Some require a monthly monitoring fee and others do not.  Some require your dog wear a special collar, and others can be attached to your dog's existing collar. Some have apps for your phone, others don't.  

Check out this website that lists the top 15 GPS tracking collars for pets and consider what will work best for your dog. Swift now wears a Whistle 3 tracking device on his collar.


WHISTLE RECALL TRAINING

Teaching your dog to recall to a whistle can be a powerful resource.  The idea is to have whistles available to hand out to folks when your dog goes missing so that they can also blow their whistles in hopes of locating the dog or even having the dog come to them.  No one can recreate the voice you use when you call your dog, but everyone can recreate the sound of the whistle.  Also, while voices can carry a great deal of emotion that might keep your dog away, the whistle does not. Swift had just started his whistle recall training the week before he escaped, so we had no idea what affect blowing the whistle might have but it was worth a try.  We did confirm that the noise carried much further than our actual voices while we were out searching!  

Here's how you can train your dog to recall to a whistle:

Once your whistle recalling training is complete create a kit of several tagged whistles and store them where you can find them later. Just be sure you've bought several of the same exact whistles so the tones are as similar as possible.

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BUILD A SCENT KIT FOR YOUR DOG

If you are fortunate to have a tracking service like Dogs Finding Dogs or Pure Gold Pet Trackers in your area, a good scent article is essential for a successful search. If there are multiple pets in the household, it is suggested a scent article is made for each of the pets so that the tracking dog has an individual, uncontaminated article to identify which animal they are looking for.  

 

Here's how you can make a scent kit for your dog:

  • Take a clean, damp rag or wash cloth and using gloves, wipe the pet all over to include the nose, ears, toes, abdomen and chest.  
  • Hang the cloth to dry.
  • When it is completely dry secure in a sealed, zip lock bag.  
  • Label the bag with the pet's name.
  • Repeat this for all of the pets in the home, ensuring that different gloves are used for each pet to avoid cross contamination.
  • Store your dog's scent kit in a location that's easy to remember when you need it.


    Special thanks to Grinner Christine Rojas, pictured on the left with her pet tracking dog Keelah, for this great tip!

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BUSINESS CARDS FOR YOUR DOG

Passing out business cards turned out to be key for Swift's safe return.  There are several online services where you can create a card for your dog and order on the spot. Office Depot and Vista Print are only two of many.  Keep it simple or be as creative as you like. But do be sure you have them on hand before you need them, and store your dog's cards in a safe place so you can find them easily in a pinch.

If you can't source cheap business cards immediately you can have a flyer printed 4 to a page and then cut. These are so helpful for handing out to folks and many convenience stores will let you place a small stack at their checkout even when they have a "No posting flyers in the window" policy.  -Thanks to Kristina P. for this great idea.


USE SOCIAL MEDIA

If you're on Facebook you may find a local page where people share important happenings in your community.  Build a page for the sole purpose of finding your dog, and share it on the community page.  Be sure to include photos that show any unique markings your dog may have and your contact information in everything you post, and make your posts public for maximum effect.  Do consider what you'll share that will keep you safe but also promote your need as widely as possible. Consider how Twitter and Instagram might also help you spread the word.


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FREE ONLINE FLYER TEMPLATES

If you search the internet for "lost dog flyer template" you'll find several available.  Pet FBI offers a template and also offers helpful tips about lost pets, including how and where to post your flyers for the most benefit. When you print, make them BIG so drivers can see them as they pass by.  Laminating your flyers can protect them from moisture. - Thanks to Rhoda E. for sharing this tip.

Reader Kristina P. shares: Another easy way to make larger, cheaper posters is to print a standard sized color pic of the dog, put that in a page protector (opening at the bottom of the pic) and put that in the middle of a brightly colored piece of poster board. Then use a wide-tip sharpie marker to Add "Lost" and a phone number. Drivers don't have time to read much and it will pull focus to the pic. The poster board will hold up in mild rain and the pic will stay bright.

Don't forget to take down your flyers once your dog has been found!


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FINDTOTO is an online service that alerts folks in your area via telephone, social media and Google ads when a pet goes missing. There are varying levels of service available, depending on how much you'd like to spend.  

Bookmark the link to their website so you can retrieve when you need it.  To date they've located over 10,000 missing pets!

Diva's Spay Surgery


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January 1, 2018

Diva will be spayed in a couple of months and I'm already dreading it.  I'm not looking forward to leaving her at the vet, or waiting anxiously to hear that the surgery went well. I won't be able to get to the vet's office quickly enough to put my eyes on her and know that she's going to be just fine. And I'm not looking forward to the days following the procedure, keeping her settled and comfortable as she recovers and heals. 

She's never been under anesthesia, or had any procedure done out of my sight.  And while I've got great confidence in the medical staff who will care for her before, during and after her surgery, as her owner I'm charged with protecting her from pain and undue stress, and yet I'll hand over her leash and send her on her way that morning, knowing full well that she has no idea what's will happen later in the day, or what's in store for her in the coming days. Not a whole lot of options to change that, but there is plenty that I can do to prepare her for the big day and the days that follow. 

This blog chronicles various things I've done to familiarize Diva with some things she'll be experiencing before, during and after surgery.


The Surgi Snuggly

Diva's a BIG licker of wounds and sore spots, so I was pleased to come across the Surgi Snugglywhich will hopefully deter her from licking her incision while she heals, for times when she's supervised and taking a break from her Elizabethan collar.  The snug fit should also give her some comfort, like a Thundershirt for anxious dogs.

Because Diva's also not a fan of wearing "clothes", the last thing I want to do is add stress by introducing it when she's already uncomfortable and possibly painful.  Instead, we're working on wearing it now.  She's learning that amazingly good things happen when she wears her suit.  And when the awesomeness is finished, the suit comes off.  The videos below show Diva enjoying a bully stick, getting treats out of a loaded treat ball and chasing tossed treats while she's suited up.


The Lamp Shade

The Surgi Snuggly will help buy me a little time if she tries to clean her wound while I'm supervising her, but there will often be times that I'm not available to watch her closely. That means she'll spend a good amount of time in an Elizabethan collar, and she's not particularly fond of things that go over those big, beautiful ears of hers.

In this video I'm teaching her to put her head through the hole in the cone, and introducing a bit of duration at the very end.  

The next step was to begin moving while she was wearing the cone.

Next we worked on wearing the cone for a few seconds. A jar of baby food keeps Diva enthusiastic about game.

The Surgi Snuggly was added once she was comfortable moving in the cone.


Holding for a Jugular Blood Draw

The veterinary staff may need to draw blood as part of the process, so I want to be sure Diva is familiar and comfortable with what that feels like. Watch this video carefully.  Diva's not the only one who's learning!  By letting her use space as she needs to she's telling me when it's too much, sometimes she leans away as I move closer, and sometimes I've missed the memo and gone too far. At the end of the video, when I've asked for too much, she leaves a few times before she's willing to try again.  Letting her do so takes the pressure off.  Notice how she holds her position when she's ready to try again. Be sure to listen to what your dog is telling you!

 Diva's actual blood draw.

Diva's actual blood draw.


Restraint for Sedation

Shortly after being dropped off for surgery Diva will be sedated so that she can be shaved and a catheter can be placed.  Hospital staff will hold her for an injection that will sedate her.  In this video I'm introducing her to how she'll most likely be held and restrained for her injection.  


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There are plenty of other things you can do to help your dog before and during her hospital stay.  Check with your veterinary clinic to see if you can spend some time taking your dog in and out of the hospital cages, or if they'll allow you to be present when your dog is sedated.  Bring an old towel or blanket with your scent to put in the cage with your dog., but be sure it's something you don't want back as it may get soiled during your dog's stay.

When you drop your dog off for surgery, ask the veterinary staff if you can walk your dog back to the cage that's reserved for her, and let her know you'll be back!  Escorting your dog can start the day off a little less stressful than it might otherwise be.

The more positive experiences your dog can have prior to surgery, the easier her procedure and recovery will be.  Give your dog the gift of preparation.  It'll make things easier for everyone involved.

Special thanks to Dr. Leslie Carr and her support staff at Arnold Pet Station, for your great care of Diva and me throughout this process!


Diva Post Surgery

March 1, 2018

Life goes on in the Knowlton home, thankfully much more smoothly than it might have been for all the careful planning and preparation we invested in along the way.  And worth every minute!

We're now looking forward to the day Diva and run full speed across the yard to fetch her ball again and jump in the bed at night for a snuggle.  It won't be very long now . . . .

 Just home from surgery.

Just home from surgery.

48 hours post surgery.

48 hours post surgery.

I'll Be Back

“I’ll be back.” It’s interesting how powerful three simple words can be. When sitting with a friend who gets up and says “I’ll be back,” their intent is clear, and we know what we’re supposed to do in the meantime.

But imagine what your experience might be if your friend just gets up and wanders off without any further information. How would that make you feel?  Would you be confused?  Concerned?  Might you be angry?  Perhaps annoyed?  While each of us might experience it differently, one thing is certain.  It would leave us feeling uneasy to some degree.

It’s not much of a stretch to believe that dogs might also feel uncomfortable when we walk away from them without any other communication, and yet we often forget to include them in our plan. Some dogs may take it in stride, but it may concern others greatly.  When the dog understands what “I’ll be back” means, it can take some of the worry away.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with some folks whose dogs experience varying levels of crate anxiety. Using Suzanne Clothier’s well thought out process of teaching “I’ll be back,“ we started with the handlers facing their dogs in crates, saying “I’ll be back”, turning away from the dog for a second, then turning back and giving a treat.  By the end of class handlers were leaving the classroom after saying “I’ll be back” and then coming back in to reward the dogs at their crates.  Bonus for the dogs: other handlers were stopping by to reward with treats while their handlers were away.  By the end of the class some dogs were so busy watching what everyone else was doing that they didn’t even notice that their handler had returned!  There was a lot of great learning that happened that day, and a lot of confusion and concern about being left in a crate was washed away.

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I teach my dogs the skill of “I’ll be back.”  When we load up in the van and I’ve forgotten something in the house, I let them know I’ll be back.  In the event that I need someone to hold my dogs’ leash so I can use the bathroom, I let them know I’ll be back before I leave.  But I don’t think I realized just how valuable “I’ll be back” was until today.

This morning I dropped my dog Diva off to be spayed.  I was grateful for the opportunity to walk her back and put her in her assigned cage myself, and I made sure to tell her “I’ll be back” before I walked away.  I’d like to think it offered her some comfort today.  I know it comforted me, and I’ll keep holding onto that until I pick her up later this afternoon.

Just some food for thought.  That’s all for now, but rest assured . . . I’ll be back!

(If you’re interested in some of the other things I’ve done to prepare Diva for today’s surgery, you’ll find more details here.)

Adaptability Matters

The Blizzard of 2016 dropped 28” of snow in my neck of the woods this weekend -- the highest recorded snowfall in Baltimore history.  Despite a significant shift in the exercise routine and access to the great outdoors it proved to be just another day in the lives of our dogs, except for Groovy, who depends on rituals and patterns like no other dog I’ve ever met.

My earliest memory of Groovy’s obsession for patterns quite literally revolves around his puppy crate, which sat in the kitchen.  Every morning we’d let the dogs out, and when they came back in Groovy would get a treat for getting into his crate before we left for work.  Diving into his crate, he’d duck his head under the door, spin around, and duck his head back through the opening to await his reward.  He was a quick study, and made a mad dash for his crate as soon as he came through the doorway . . . which turns out to be my second hint that something seemed more than slightly out of balance.

The dogs came in through the garage, and every morning I’d watch Groovy run around the van three times clockwise before he’d come through the door into the house and dive into his crate. Even when his crate was no longer there.  Yes, for days after I had decided that he no longer needed to be crated and had therefore removed it, Groovy would run to the spot it had been, duck his head, spin around, duck his head again, and wait for his treat.  I finally started scattering kibble in the spot where his crate had been just to help him break the cycle.

Convincing him not to run around the van three times before coming in has proven to be much more challenging and fairly stressful to him, so much so that nine years later we just wait for him to complete the cycle and come inside. 

Groovy repeats the exercise where ever we ask him to come inside.  Years ago we stopped inviting him inside from the deck for fear that he’d injure himself circling the stairs three times and then launching his body to the top of the deck skipping all six stairs.  This spring, when we had our addition built with an adjoining deck, we made special accommodations with fewer stairs to be sure Groovy could clear them, and I carefully crafted a plan to teach him how to climb the new stairs so he’d have another access into the house.  This video shows the results of our efforts, and Groovy’s reality.

Interrupting Groovy while he’s in motion is quite stressful for him, and has revealed rituals that I might have otherwise not noticed.  Once our old dog crossed Groovy’s path while he was dashing towards the door to go out and left him standing frozen in the middle of the kitchen floor while he appeared to be sorting something out.  Then he ran back to where he came from and started over before dashing out the door.

It’s a fairly safe bet for Groovy to run up the ramp to my classroom and wait for me to open the door when I let him out of the van.  Once however, I was holding class in the parking lot and brought Groovy out of the van to be my demo dog.  Although I showed him my intended direction, he started up the ramp.  As he reached the end of his leash and turned around he stood frozen when I asked him to join me in the other direction.  He seemed confused as he stared at me, simply unable to oblige.  So, with a quick adjustment I took him up the ramp, into my classroom and then we both turned around and joined my class in the parking lot where his demo went off without a hitch.

 This is what it looked like when we opened the door to the backyard.  The snow was 3-4 feet high.

This is what it looked like when we opened the door to the backyard.  The snow was 3-4 feet high.

And that brings me back to The Blizzard of 2016, which was anything but normal for Groovy.  With 28” of snow and five foot drifts access to the back yard was impossible for about 24 hours as the snow fell, so we relied on sending the dogs into the front yard through the garage door.  During this time I learned a few things about The World According to Groovy.  First, if there are multiple dogs with you when the garage door opener is pushed, it is not time to potty, even when all the other dogs are pottying.  It means you’ll be playing Frisbee, so bark at the top of your lungs for joy and wait for your person to get the toy.  Sending the other dogs back inside was helpful and Groovy managed to urinate several times throughout the day when he was out by himself.  Each time he went out he’d also go to the door that led to the backyard insistent that it be opened.  And then he’d stand gob smacked at what he saw.

I knew he was asking to go into the backyard to defecate, but the storm left us helpless to accommodate his needs.  I felt awful for him, even after he finally had to go so badly that he resorted to hiking through the deep snow and into a void from a drift to relieve himself almost 12 hours later.

As the snow continued to fall I obsessed a little myself about how to make the yard functional for Groovy as well as our other dogs.  What about those deck stairs?  How would he manage them without being able to circle around them for the snow depth even if we cleared the steps?  How might we clear a path at the other door so that he’d have access to do his all of his business?  Would that need to be his access to inside as well?

In the end we worked out a system to suit everyone, but still not without emotional cost to Groovy, who has had to rethink how he gets inside.  Thankfully this part of his routine isn’t as ritualized as some of the others and he manages to make it happen.  But I’ll be especially happy for him when the snow finally melts and the world as he knows it returns to him.

The patterns and rituals that drive Groovy make him an amazing obedience dog and a fun trick dog for the repetition required for both.  He excels at predictability and delights in routine.  He’d really shine in competitions, if they were held at indoor facilities without stairs or loud speakers, and the trials weren’t busy, and as long as we didn’t have to travel too far or stay in a hotel, or it wasn’t too hot.  

That’s quite a list of restrictions, and while the stars might align every once in a while to make it so, more often than not, like other handlers, I might be compelled to ignore one or two of those conditions if I chose a competitive path for him.  And for each layer that was removed in favor of one more chance to compete, the distress it caused Groovy would cost him mentally, emotionally and even physically.

You see that’s what happens with animals who have difficulty adapting to the world around them.  Each time the dog is put in a situation that pulls him out of balance mentally, emotionally or physically – whether we intend to or not -- he pays a price we can only begin to understand.

The distress placed on the dog can manifest in the following ways and to varying degrees:

  • Muscle tension
  • Constricted breathing
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Loss of confidence
  • Apprehension
  • Indifference
  • Foggy thinking
  • Impaired judgement
  • Indecision
  • Loss of appetite

For Groovy it actually causes psychogenic fever, which unfortunately took years of observation and documentation to uncover before we were able to provide him with the predictability and routine he thrives on today.

Adaptability matters greatly.  The next time you find yourself saying, "He's fine unless . . . ," I urge you to take a moment to consider how adaptable your dog is, and what his needs might be. Simply put, when we diminish or overlook the dog’s needs and ask him to perform in ways that suit our own, we put the animal’s well-being at serious risk. 

Suzanne Clothier’s Functional Assessment Tool is a great way to assess and compare your dog’s adaptability in a variety of settings:  home without guests, home with guests, at grandma’s house, in class, at the hotel, during competitions, etc.  Email info@suzanneclothier.com for more details on this powerful tool.

Once we set aside whatever personal goals we might have and see the dog for who he is we may find that he’s perfectly adaptable to the role we’ve envisioned for him.  Or we may find that he is not.  But what we will find is the information we need to provide the dog with a life that keeps him whole.

We’re grateful to have found ways to offer Groovy a balanced life to the best of our abilities.  Despite some bumps along the way, he’s a very happy dog who feels safe.  And he’s loved very much.