Higgins and I competed in our first-ever Canine Musical Freestyle contest in Corvallis, Ore. last weekend. Higgins gets a bit carried away, but in spite of his exuberance, we qualified both days and earned a title at the beginning level and now move up. It was great fun. It was wonderful to be around so many people who love spending time working with and having fun with their dogs.
In freestyle, you are penalized if the dog is not wagging his tail and showing the world that he is very happy doing what he is doing.
What amazed me at the competition was the number of mixed breed and rescue dogs. The dog world has become aware of the tremendous abilities and talents of mixed breed dogs. These rescue dogs were given up for adoption because they were said to be untrainable or otherwise unfit.
To see them happily performing spins, weaves and all sorts of precise movements in step with the music is indeed rewarding. Many of these competitors are friends and training partners. They know the heartbreaking stories of some of these rescue dogs, so the cheering is especially loud at the completion of a good performance.
Arriving at my daughter's home in Washington, I met Teeka, their rescue dog. She has been part of their family for about a year and has adjusted extremely well. The household's two young children can be loud and active. My daughter said they visited with several dogs at the shelter, but this one seemed interested in being close to them and she was calm.
There are always many dogs available for adoption at the Payson Humane Society. Now with the Katrina dogs, there are more than ever needing new homes. Careful consideration is essential when choosing a new dog to bring into the household. But particularly with a rescue dog, when you know very little about his background, care should be taken to match the dog and family life. What is your lifestyle and what makes up your family unit? Do you enjoy lots of outdoor activities? Do you have a fenced yard? Do you live in a one-room studio apartment? And -- do you have small children?
If there are small children in the family, it is particularly important to find out all you can about the history of the dog. Volunteers at the rescue centers, who have walked and worked with the dogs, have some good insight about each dog. Were children in his past? Does he nip or play rough? Does he have some basic obedience?
Most dogs like children and want to be part of a family. But children can be rough and loud. They move fast. When adopting an adult dog with small children in your home, take the time to prepare the children for the new dog and introduce them all while you are still at the shelter. If you think the match will work, bring the dog home, walk him on leash around the whole house and yard. Show him his boundaries and where he is to relieve himself outside. Then bring him into the house while the whole family is sitting around quietly and allow the dog to move from person to person and receive a pat or a rub behind the ears.
Keep the children calm until the dog is feeling comfortable. As time goes on, encourage the children to walk with the dog, throw the ball for him and spend lots of time sitting next to him and just talking. This is a great time for the child to read his favorite books to the dog. Take the time to let the children and the dog adjust to each other and respect each other's needs. Older children should be encouraged to take the dog for walks or to teach him some fun tricks. Enrolling in a dog training class is a plus.
You cannot just bring a dog into a household with children and expect that the dog immediately knows how to act. Both dog and child need to be taught some basic rules. Children need to know that dogs have feelings, they can get their feelings hurt and they can be lonely and sad. They also can get overly excited and someone can get hurt. Parental supervision is necessary.
As time goes on, you will begin to see hidden talents in the dog. As you teach him tricks and basic obedience, you will see his eagerness to learn more - but mostly you will see his desire to please and be part of his new family.
Christy Powers is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by snail mail at HC1Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.