A Northwest Arkansas family needed help. Their puppy was frantic when left alone. They called dog behavior specialist Deborah Grodecka. Would medication calm the dog?
We're in the dog days of summer's most unpleasant heat. Shimmers over roads. Record temperatures. Humidity pods. The dog days are not thought of as hectic-puppy season. Picture a dog languid in the yard, with barely the energy to pant.
The period (from July 3 through Thursday) is named for the Dog Star, Sirius, the biggest in the constellation Canis Major (Latin for "big dog") and rising before dawn these days. The Greeks named it; the Romans blamed it for human and canine madness, turbulent seas and general stupor.
What are "dog days" to a dog, though? What makes a dog's day good or bad?
Grodecka, owner of Every Dog Can in Rogers, might say it depends on owners' learning to think like a dog in general and to understand the needs and purpose of its breed. With good training, "all dogs can live good, enriched lives."
"I work with dogs that regular dog trainers don't have the experience to work with," said the highly trained and credentialed Grodecka. "Aggression cases, anxiety cases ... dogs that bite people ... dogs that are perceived to have problems by their humans."
The puppy was frenzied from nearly constant human interaction without "calm, quiet time away from being bombarded by all of the well-meaning but not helpful attention from the family," Grodecka said. "It sets the dog up for an expectation that the people are going to be there for them, meeting their needs, at all times."
'PEOPLE GOT HIM HELP'
After working with the family on crate training and positive reinforcement — key tools in her approach — Grodecka has high hopes for the puppy "because the people got him help."
Another case involved a Labrador retriever that spent 13 years chained to an outdoor doghouse, she said. "The only thing this dog knew within his perspective of the world was in the radius of that 10-foot chain," with little contact or stimulus beyond food and water.
Law enforcement officers convinced the owners to surrender their dog. "Through a lot of retraining and reprogramming, that had a very happy ending," she said. "He ended up going to a family with a lovely, quiet, 13-year-old boy. The two of them were fast friends."
These mark the extremes of owner mistakes, one with "too much attention but no structure" and the other a dog that has been "completely isolated."
Grodecka advises potential owners to look to trustworthy breeders for dogs, consider adult dogs rather than puppies and "think about the qualities they want in an animal companion" and their own lifestyles. Want an active running partner? A short-legged dog won't do. Don't choose a dog based on looks, she said, or the "dog du jour" of breeds popular in media.
"Start with solid internet research."
LOOKING FOR LOVE
Katie Rhodes of Little Rock finds homes for abandoned or neglected dogs through Last Chance Arkansas, a volunteer-run nonprofit. "We take in dogs that have no one else," she said. "We're always looking for fosters. That's how I got started."
Her father found a puppy running around a cemetery, possibly dumped. "I tried to find the owner," she said. "I didn't have any luck." She contacted Last Chance, which found a foster home and got him adopted. While following his story, she asked, "What can I do?"
She and her boyfriend became approved to foster dogs. Their first was Shirley, found in a culvert with littermates in the Van Buren County town of Shirley.
"She was super duper shy," Rhodes said. "She was a little Lab mix, and we have a 90-pound Lab." Their big dog "became her mother and taught her how to be a dog."
Rhodes keeps in touch with Shirley's adopters, who call her River now. "You become so attached as they grow and learn how to trust people," she said. "We say they leave paw prints on your heart."
As she spoke, a skittish foster named Bucky lay under her feet. The couple take him to socialize "everywhere we go, to restaurants, kickball."
She's also fostering rambunctious pup Leo, who will get more training from the Paws in Prison program, by living with an inmate of the Tucker Unit near Pine Bluff for eight weeks. Dogs "who otherwise have no professional training come out with all these amazing skills," she said. "That makes them much more adoptable and much less likely to get returned."
WELL TRAINED PEOPLE
Today Rhodes is a Last Chance caseworker, taking in abandoned dogs, finding fosters or emergency bottle-feeders, making vet appointments, posting adoption profiles and interviewing potential adopters. Last Chance gets many calls about dogs dumped in rural areas that lack animal shelters. Like Grodecka, Rhodes laments humans' lack of education.
"Sometimes people get puppies, or bunnies at Easter, without understanding and planning for the care they need. Once they're not puppies any more, they have adult dog issues due to lack of training," she said.
Last Chance lists its adoptable dogs in Connecticut, where pet care laws mean fewer dogs are available. Various transport organizations get the dogs from Arkansas to their new homes.
First, owners are screened. "We require vet references for any previous dogs" -- vaccines, spaying and neutering, heartworm prevention, circumstances of a dog's death. "Any red flags," they turn an applicant down. They turn down about half of their applications.
Shelter dogs can be great pets, or a risk. Rescued dogs make good adoptees, Rhodes said, because of their training in foster care. "That dog is crate trained, potty trained, leash trained, is good in a car, would be acceptable to take to a restaurant that allows dogs, is tested around cats and kids. I test all my dogs around my nephews," she said. "I can tell all about their personalities, their traits, their favorite toys."
The most amazing turnaround she recalls was Coco, a 10-year-old dog surrendered to Sherwood Humane Animal Shelter last year. With hip problems, tumors, arthritis and other frailties, he was a day away from being euthanized. Last Chance got him medical care and a foster home, but she doubted he'd be adopted.
"I get this application from a physician in Massachusetts. Something about his face spoke to her and her daughter. She knew all about those tumors in people and knew exactly what kind of care he needed," she said. "Her little girls dress him up in boas and hats, and he just takes it because he loves the attention."
Last Chance is looking for foster-home candidates, she said. "I never run out of energy for dog rescue. It means more to me than anything I've ever done."
For some dogs, a great dog day includes competing, even winning Best in Show.
The Arkansas Kennel Club's annual dog show returns this week after a pandemic hiatus. The show is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds. Admission is free.
More than 100 breeds are entered, with 900 dogs competing Friday and some 1,000 each on the last two days, said Amy Davis, club secretary.
Allan Reznik of Eureka Springs won't judge the Little Rock show, but he has abundant experience as a breeder, handler and judge, including recent shows in Phoenix, Seattle and Springfield, Mo.
He started early. "I stumbled over a copy of Dog World magazine in my preteens and I just inhaled it," he said.
He asked his dad to drop him off at a dog show for a day, and there he met breeders he had read about. His first mentor, an Afghan hound breeder, "invited me to meet the dogs, handed me a brush, and said, 'Young man, make yourself useful.'" She had more dogs than she could show, and "she pushed me into the ring."
With his parents' blessing, she drove out of her way to pick him up and take him to dog shows. "Years later, I picked her up and drove her."
He joined an area dog club, became a journalist and editor of several dog magazines, and did broadcast color commentary for dog shows; he also bred dogs and entered them in shows. Eventually, "I couldn't run around the ring the way I did when I was 20 and 30," so he applied to be a judge.
"My path in life was very much dictated by my love of dogs."
Dogs are judged on qualities and traits standard for their breed and its purpose, he said. For instance, retrievers should have water-resistant rather than soft, absorbent coats.
For the final competition of "best in show," it's not dog vs. dog. "You're evaluating whether the German shepherd is a better representative of its breed than the Afghan hound is of its breed or the poodle is of its breed. Its gait, construction, temperament."
A breeder of Afghan hounds and Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Reznik can spot a good show dog in puppyhood. It's more than coloring or breed-perfect features. It's a puppy "that is very extroverted, a little bit of a ham, the first one to get out of the pen, to say, 'Hey, world, look at me,'" he said.
He looks for "a happy, confident dog that loves the applause and makes the most of its virtues. You shouldn't be looking for faults. ...
"Other dogs don't have the spark. They're well put together but would rather be on your couch," he said, like his 13-year-old Afghan Mila, beside him as he talked. "We are very bonded. She's always been a house dog."
With a well-trained dog, any day can be a good dog day. As Grodecka says, especially of her German shepherd Lando, "They just live in the moment ... 'What can we do now?'
“It doesn't matter how crummy your day has been if you spend some time with a dog."
Laura Lynn Brown is the author of "Everything That Makes You Mom."