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The Pawsitive Change Program: Changing Lives


This is a guest post by Eleanor Brison. Eleanor is part of the IPittyTheBull foundation and a trainer with Humble K9. She spends one day a week working with inmates at North Kern State Prison, a medium security prison located in Kern County, California.

I was an admirer of the Marley’s Mutts Pawsitive Change program well before I was brought in as an assistant trainer. Pawsitive Change is a progressive and intensive rehabilitation program which matches death row dogs with inmates inside California State Prisons.

The goal is to reduce inmate recidivism by providing them a viable skill, while at the same time saving dog’s lives.  My Mondays are spent driving three hours to North Kern prison where the Pawsitive Change program takes place in two different yards. I partake in the program at “M” yard but have also participated in a few classes at the “A” yard program as well. It’s amazing to see what this program has accomplished in such a short amount of time!

The “A” yard program has been around longer than the “M” yard program which is only in its second round. I was blown away by the energy and capabilities of the men in the “A” yard program and I can’t wait to see “M” yard become this way as the men go through more rounds. There are men in “A” yard who ask questions beyond what we teach them because they’re eager to learn more about dog psychology. They listen to what the trainers are saying and they really take it all in, carrying on questions from the week before, trying to do best for their dogs.

They have plans to work with dogs and to rescue when they are released. Some have even told me they want to start their own business. They all put a smile on my face with their thirst for knowledge, good humor, and friendliness. Being a young woman, I had people tell me to “be safe” and asked me if I was nervous about joining the program, but the men that I work with at North Kern are some of the most pleasant people I know. I look forward to Mondays so much that a six hour, round trip drive means nothing to me. It’s insignificant. 

The first round at “M” yard had a dog named Ashley who spent quite a bit of time with her tail tucked. Although, her team did such an amazing job with helping her open up. It was a beautiful thing to see the change in her as she wasn’t the same dog as she was when she walked in. The guys really connected with their dogs. So much, that some of their families adopted a few of the dogs and one even got to stay with his handler until he was released. You could always find Dallas trotting faithfully behind Rob. The dogs bring out a different side in these men. Even men that aren’t in the program say hi to all the dogs with a nice smile on their face. These dogs bring a lighter energy into North Kern and everyone is better because of it. 

Ashley showing off her new friends

     At “M” yard I am an assistant trainer and learning from Lia Marques and Lisa Porter who I admire very much. The Pawsitive Change program has provided me with many great trainers to look up to and it is filled with strong women. As someone who can be a bit more shy and reserved in front of crowds, it’s inspiring to watch these women teach class. They are calm, confident, and they know their stuff. They encourage me and they guide me when I need it, which I am very thankful for. The men in the program are equally encouraging, knowing how hard it is for me to speak up at times. However, as I get more familiar with everyone it becomes easier to teach part of the class and I am grateful for the opportunity to grow as a person.

With “M” yard only being in its second round, I think some of the guys are still settling in to the program. Luckily, they have help from some of the men who participated in the first round of the program. I love to watch them help each other while explaining what they’re doing to work with the dog and guiding the rest of their group through it. It’s great to see guys who may not normally interact with each other and communicate so much end up becoming good teammates. 

These men really benefit from slowing themselves down and checking in to see how they’re feeling, what they’re doing with their dog, and what they want from their dog. Some of their homework involves reflection on themselves and it’s touching to read what they have to say about themselves, their actions, and their lives.

The trainers and guys in the program have made Mondays my favorite day of the week and I truly believe that it is equally fulfilling for the trainers as it is for the men in the program. I am both elated and honored to be part of Pawsitive Change. 

All photos courtesy of Marley’s Mutt’s Pawsitive Change.

To learn more about Eleanor and all the dogs she’s helping, visit her Instagram page.

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10 Healthy Tips For Your Dog

We all love our dogs and want them to live a healthy and happy life.  Unfortunately, dogs can’t talk or tell us when something is wrong. Here are 10 tips to maintain your dog’s healthy lifestyle.

            1.  High Quality Diet

  • Dogs that are fed a high quality diet have healthier skin, brighter eyes and a shinier coat.
  • A healthy diet strengthens their immune system, intestinal health, mental health and keeps muscles and joints healthy and much more.
  • A poor diet can shorten your dog’s life span.
  • If you have noticed a lack in energy or a recent gain in weight, it could be his/her diet.
  • Give your dog a constant supply of fresh water.

            2. Regular Veterinary Visits

  • Find a recommended veterinarian and schedule routine exams.  
  • Schedule 1-2 exams per year.  This depends on your dog and his/her breed.
  • Puppies and older dogs should be seen more frequently.
  • Ask your doctor about different types of vaccinations.

            3. Exercise 

  • Keep your dog lean.  Obesity can shorten your dog’s life span.
  • Dogs that are overweight are more likely to develop health issues.
  • Exercise can help with separation anxiety and other destructive behaviors.
  • Dogs typically need 1-2 hours of exercise per day, depending on size and breed.  Do your own research.

            4. Dental Health

  • Pet owners often overlook the importance of keeping their dog’s mouth clean.
  • Plaque and tarter build up can lead to serious health issues.
  • Bad breath can be the first sign.
  • Don’t wait until there is a problem.  Focus on preventative dental care immediately.
  • If left untreated, oral health issues may even lead to heart and kidney disease.
  • Brush your dog’s teeth regularly or use oral treats and/or rinses.
  • A professional cleaning may be required.  Talk to your vet.

            5.  Parasites

  • Fleas and ticks can be the source of allergies, anemia and tapeworms.
  • Consult your veterinarian for the best products on the market.

            6.  Love

  • Being happy and content can actually increase the life span for both people and dogs.
  • It has been proven that having a dog can lower blood pressure and decrease anxiety and depression.
  • Show your dog some love and give him/her the same benefits.

            7.  Not Enough Play

  • A recent study revealed that dogs who don’t play enough can suffer from behavioral issues such as anxiety and aggression.
  • Not enough play can also result in whining, jumping and not obeying simple commands.
  • Scientists are beginning to agree that play is the key to a dog’s happiness.
  • Buy your dog some new toys and play with him/her.

            8.  Grooming

  • Grooming is about maintaining both your dog’s physical health as well as their appearance.
  • Grooming helps to check for any skin diseases, rashes, fleas, ticks or issues with their ears, teeth, nails and eyes such as infection.
  • Regular brushing removes hair, dirt and dandruff and brings out the natural oils in your dog’s fur.

            9.  Training

  • Training keeps your dog safe.
  • Make sure your dog knows the basic commands.  Sit, stay and come.
  • If your dog escapes from his/her leash, these commands will be vital.
  • Practice simple commands and use a reward system when a command is completed.
  • When training, never yell or say, “no” to your dog when they get a command wrong.  This will break his/her spirit and discourage them. Only reward him/her when they’ve properly completed the command.
  • A reward for a job well done will boost your dog’s confidence. 

            10. Proper Housing

  • Keeping your dog inside while you’re away will prevent a number of dangers.
  • A roaming dog is susceptible to car accidents, predators, diseases, poisons and more.
  • Do a safety check inside your home.  
  • Make sure your doors and windows close and lock properly.  
  • Look for weaknesses or holes in screen doors and windows.  
  • If you have a fenced in yard, walk the perimeter to check for possible escape routes. Examine gates and fences for damaged areas and holes under the fencing. Repair where necessary.

Following these tips can provide a long, healthy and happy life for your dog.

If you have any tips or comments you would like to add, please do so below.

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My Dog’s Private Hell


Chopper was an 8-month old, owner surrender to a kill shelter in South Central, Los Angeles.  An hour before he was to be euthanized, my strong and courageous sister (Ellen @deityanimalrescue) raced through the mean streets of Los Angeles to save this boys life.

A few hours later, Ellen arrived at my Hollywood apartment with Chopper, who looked like he’d been through a war.  He was covered in mange, his face was full of scabs with a smell that would clear a room.  He had very little hair and you could see and feel every bone in his body.  He wasn’t in the greatest shape, but his spirit and energy were like none other that I’ve experienced in my years with dogs.  This guy was different.  He was special.  I could feel it.

Chopper had been rescued and was now living in his forever home and he knew it.  Over the next month with the proper care, medicine, exercise and TLC, Chopper began to flourish.  For exercise, we would take long walks around the neighborhood.  On leash, he was learning how to heel and didn’t seem to fear anything.  He held his tail high and walked with confidence.  Over the next 4-5 months, Chopper continued to get better and showed signs of a happy, healthy and confident dog.  Walks were definitely his favorite.  However, that would abruptly change!

It was a typical day, as Chopper and I got ready for our morning walk. “Hey boy, wanna go for a walk?” Wag-wag, smile-smile, on with the harness and out the front door we went. After exploring the bushes and patch of grass outside of our building, we started our walk through the neighborhood like usual.  We left our property and while approaching the building directly next to ours, I felt something on the back of my leg.  As I looked behind me, I noticed it was Chopper jumping on me.  “What is it boy?”  I thought to myself.  “You’ve never done this before.”  Did something scare you?”  I couldn’t understand.  Then, Chopper turned around and with force, dragged me back to our front door.  Upon entering, he was shaking and wanted nothing more than to be at home.  I couldn’t figure out what spooked him because I didn’t see or hear anything and therefore, had no explanation for what just happened.  I took him out a few more times that day but never attempted to leave our area again.

The next morning, I had forgotten about what happened the day before and began our usual routine just like normal.  “Hey boy, wanna go for a walk?”  Wag-wag, smile-smile, on with the harness and out the front door we went. Chopper inspected the property as usual and then we started our walk through the neighborhood.  As we were approaching the next building, at the same spot and at the same time, I felt something on the back of my leg.  “OMG,” I thought to myself.”  “What is going on here?”  “What is it boy?”  “Why don’t you want to walk?”  “What are you afraid of?”  Once again and with force, Chopper pulled me back home.

The same thing happened the next day and the next and the next. It happened every day!

Chopper was about 13 months at this time and I had him for nearly 5 of those months.  Every day was the same and over time I tried every thing possible.  I analyzed everything about the first time this behavior occured and to this day, I still have no explanation.  It was just a typical day in Los Angeles.

During this initial period, I took Chopper to see the vet in hopes that he could magically cure him.  Well, I was wrong!  After explaining to the Dr. about how awesome Chopper has been and that one day he just changed and no longer wants to walk, blah, blah, blah…  In less then a minutes time the Dr. said, “sounds like depression and anxiety.”  He prescribed him doggie Prozac and said, “give him 1 per day and call me if you need anything.  Have a good day!”  He walked out and closed the door behind him.  I filled the script, took off and when I got home I noticed the doggie Prozac was the exact same thing as my human Prozac.  Hell no, was I giving my dog real human Prozac!  That wasn’t the answer.  It wasn’t the answer for me and I feared giving it to my dog.  I left the Dr. with my head hung low and feeling a bit deflated. Most importantly, the real question still lied unanswered.  What in the hell is going on with my dog?

Months and Months went by and Chopper still didn’t show any signs of improvement.  He didn’t want to leave the front of our property and he fought me every inch of the way while insisting on heading back towards home.  Interestingly enough, I started taking him to the dog park where he had zero problems and showed no signs of anxiety.  He was basically the king of the dog park if that even makes sense. Hiking has become a huge part of our daily routine as well. Again, he shows no real signs of anxiety or fear while hiking.  Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Unfortunately, as soon as the leash goes on and we head out for a walk in the neighborhood, all those fears return.

A few more months went by and I couldn’t take it anymore.  Not being able to take your dog on normal walks was killing me.  I felt horrible, guilty, sad and all those feelings and emotions that come to you when you can’t ask your beloved pet what’s wrong.  I could see sadness in his face now. It was a painful pill to swallow.  Something was up with this little guy and I needed to help him.  

I did some research and eventually was referred to an “Animal Behaviorist.”  I met with the Dr. and she and I agreed that she would work with Chopper.  After a few days, she diagnosed him with, “The Fear of Loud Noises.”  Chopper spent the next 7 days living with the Dr. while receiving one-on-one therapy and training.  Yes, I love my dog and he deserves only the best!  😉

Chopper returned after 7 days and absolutely nothing had changed. Same thing!  No different.  What now? The Fear of Loud Noises?  What does that mean? There weren’t any loud noises the first time this happened, or the second.  But, she was right.  Chopper gets scared out of his mind from loud noises.  Fireworks, loud cars and motorcycles and any noise that resembles a gun shot or a popping noise.  He panics, runs for cover, turns into a different dog, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  “The Fear of Loud Noises.” But, what to do?

Over 5 1/2 years have passed since adopting Chopper and nothing has changed.  Other than his anxiety, he is a brilliant, curious, adventurous, obedient, loving and loyal dog. Long ago, I made peace with trying to fix him.  It’s impossible to fix every thing but we’re always working on new techniques.  He is still king of the park and the wild frontier and to be honest, I don’t blame him for fearing the concrete jungle.  It’s a scary place out there!

Does your dog suffer from anxiety? If anybody has any advice, comments or similar stories they would like to share, please feel free to post a response.  

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Why and How Your Dog Escapes

As much as you and your dog love each other, they may sometimes run away. Some dogs respond to certain triggers which causes a flight response where they look for ways to escape and run for safety. Dogs are independent, strong-headed, athletic and can get themselves out of seemingly impossible situations. But, they are still unpredictable animals. Think it can’t happen to you? Here are the top reasons why your dog might escape and how they are doing it.

TOP REASONS WHY DOGS ESCAPE

  • Boredom – Dogs get easily bored and are curious by nature. If they are bored at home they may escape to find adventure.
  • Loneliness – Dogs are pack animals. They need love and attention too. Enough said!
  • Separation Anxiety – We’ve all seen this one before. Some dogs/breeds become very anxious when home alone. They try any means possible to find their family. That means escaping.
  • Fears – Most dogs fear loud noises and look for ways to escape the chaos. Fireworks, thunder, sirens, loud cars, smoke detector, etc… It could be something else in their environment such as, a low-frequency noise, a ride in the car, a crowded place or howling winds.
  • Urge to Mate – If your dog hasn’t been spayed or neutered, well… they probably want to meet a friend. Therefore, they leave in search of love.
  • Little Exercise – Dogs need daily exercise. Without it, they may run away just because they need to run.
  • Diggers and Climbers – Depending on the breed, some dogs like to dig holes under fences and walls while others like to jump them.
  • Territory Protection – Dogs with “guarding” instincts may escape to chase intruders from your property.
  • Predators – Some dogs with high prey instinct may chase animals from your property.
  • Avoiding an Unfamiliar Place – When dogs are brought to a new home, often they escape in search of their previous home or out of fear.
  • A Bad Home Environment – Dogs often look to escape an abusive household.

TOP WAYS DOGS ESCAPE

  • Some dogs jump fences and walls while others climb them.
  • Digging under fences and walls.
  • Your friend opening the front door, UPS guy, housekeeper, guest, child, gardener, police, maintenance man, landlord, burglar, etc…
  • Slipping out of their harness while with a dog walker, with you, at the kennel, etc…
  • Breaking free from broken leashes, collars or harnesses.
  • Running when opening your car door.
  • Jumping out of the car window when moving or still.
  • Jumping off balconies or patios.
  • Breaking through electric fences. If a dog panics, he can easily break through these type of fences.
  • Learning how to open the gate or squeezing through it.
  • Chewing through screen doors and windows.
  • Accidentally dropping the leash at the wrong time. It happens!

RECOMMENDATIONS & PREVENTION

  • Get Huan!
  • Hire a recommended, professional dog trainer.
  • Put locks on your gates and/or doors.
  • Teach your children and those who enter your home how to lock the gates and/or doors.
  • Periodically, examine your dog’s leashes, collars and harness for breaks and wear and tear. Replace them if necessary.
  • Check the strength of screen windows and doors. Dogs are strong and even stronger in panic mode.
  • Walk your dog daily and research their specific, “daily exercise needs.”
  • Play with them. Start with fetch.
  • Teach your dog commands or tricks. Try some new ones.
  • Never leave all of your dogs toys out at once. They can become over-stimulated.
  • Rotate your dog’s toys. They get bored chewing on the same old thing.
  • Stimulate your dog’s mind with dog toys for mental stimulation when you’re not home. They exist and they work!
  • Keep your dog inside when you’re not home.
  • Do a safety check around your property and/or fence. Fix any possible, “escape” areas. Think like a dog!
  • Try a doggie day care where they can play with other dogs while you’re at work.
  • Get a companion. Yes, this means adopting another dog who needs a forever home!

Never punish your dog if he has escaped. Any dog will associate punishment with what they were doing at that exact point in time. Punishing your dog even verbally won’t eliminate the unwanted behavior and will more than likely make it worse.

Please be a responsible pet owner and help us make the world a safer place.
Join the movement today.
Get Huan!