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posted September 22nd, 2014 by
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by Lauren Cavagnolo

A roomful of jovial faces and a strong sense of camaraderie among both people and dogs fill the classroom at K9 Manners & More on a Saturday afternoon.

Adults with special needs are assertively leading dogs around the room, commanding them to sit and generously rewarding them with both treats and smiles.

Though it has only been about a year and a  half since Co-directors Mindy Stevenson and Mary Green started the Champs Foundation (in November of 2012), it has already made quite an impact on so many lives.

The program for teens and adults with intellectual disabilities pairs each with a volunteer coach and trained dog, so the participants can learn how to train dogs themselves. Not only do the participants learn new skills associated with dog training, but the classes help with life skills and boost confidence, potentially helping its participants find jobs.

Stevenson’s two sons with special needs, Billy and Danny, were her inspiration for the first-of-its-kind program. After running a therapeutic horseback riding center for 18 years, Stevenson started working with dogs.

At one point, Stevenson had as many as 75 students riding horses weekly, but her youngest son Danny’s life-threatening seizures were not compatible with the program. Stevenson found that working with dogs allowed her to have constant supervision of her son since he could work alongside her.

“Dogs are so much easier to work with, and so many more children could benefit,” Stevenson says. “There’s not a lot of access to the therapeutic programs with horses and not all the kids like the big horses. It was just such an easy transition, why in the world had nobody thought of it before?

“Dogs have proven to be a great comfort and support to people everywhere and in all situations, so the transition to dogs was an easy one to pursue.”

Stevenson had been to several classes at K9 Manners & More through the years. When she approached Owners Mary Green and Kim Sykes about the possibility of beginning the Champs program, they were on board and ready to develop the program.

Green serves as the head instructor for the program and is “absolutely perfect for the job,” Stevenson says. “What a blessing that has been, and so here we are today with a bright future for Champs!”

No barriers

One of the biggest surprises to everyone involved in the program has been how quickly the participants have improved their communication skills.

“I just can’t stress enough how the communication skills have come along,” Green says. “Some of these kids were super, super quiet. The dogs couldn’t even hear when they would give a command or call the dog to come to them. My goodness, now they are all very vocal and very bold.”

However, Green says that strong verbal skills are not necessary to participate in the program because hand signals and other forms of communication are used with the dogs.

“In this environment with support and positive reinforcement and teamwork, they don’t have a disability; this is just as training would be with anybody else,” Green says. “That to me is the greatest joy of it; there are no barriers to being able to handle a dog to participate.”

Linda Evans says she is always looking for activities for her 24-year-old son Nick, a Champs Foundation participant. Evans was initially concerned about Nick’s ability to take part in the class because of his limited verbal skills.

“Once Nick learned the signs and increased his confidence level, he began to speak up, including the verbal command with the sign. When the sessions end, Nick impatiently waits for the next session to begin,” Evans says.

“He has gotten to know the dogs and their owners. These are wonderful, generous people. They donate part of their Saturday to provide this experience for my son and others with special needs.”

Fran Bohan’s 23-year-old son Evan also attends Champs classes, though at first he was hesitant to try it.

“After finding out a couple of friends of his were going to be there as well, he decided to give it a try. From day one, he has loved it,” Bohan says.

Like Nick, Bohan says Evan has gained confidence since joining the Champs Foundation.

“He’s become comfortable with giving the commands and being assertive with the dogs,” Bohan

says. “For a while, he tended to work with one dog in particular, but has since begun changing it up.

“I can’t say enough about the Champs program. You can see it on the faces of these class members every week—the smiles and love for those dogs. The dedication of those running the class and the dog owners is amazing, and we are very appreciative.”

The Champs give more to me

Champs volunteer Cathi Morris, who has previously worked with Special Olympics Oklahoma, began training her dog at K9 Manners & More a few years ago and says the program has allowed her to put her passions to good use through teaching and continuing work with her dog.

“When Champs classes finally began I’m not sure any of us really knew what to expect,” Morris says. “But the thought of being a part of something new and unique was exciting.” 

Fellow volunteer Mary Buck recalls being asked to participate along with her dog Nike and says she all but screamed with excitement. She has been a part of the program since the beginning.

“I never want to miss my Champs time, ever,” Buck says. “I leave our training sessions and head home with a smile on my face and the best feeling in the world. I have seen so many of these kids’ confidence increase and verbal skills increase as well.”

After hearing amazing things about the program, Laurie Lambert began to volunteer her time as a coach last fall.

“I love watching the faces of the Champs as they work the dogs and feel proud of their accomplishments,” Lambert says. “This hour-long session is one of the highlights of my week. The Champs give more to me than I give to them.”

Just the beginning

Up until now, the program has been invitation only but it was opened to the public at the end of February. A session costs $50 and runs for six weeks with classes held weekly.

Stevenson and Green are also working on developing a detailed curriculum for the program with the intent of expanding to other facilities.

“The kids have exceeded any initial expectations that   we had, and it keeps us on our toes thinking of new and greater things for them to accomplish,” Green says.

The pair hopes to raise funds to be able to offer scholar-ships to the program.

“This is just the beginning,” Stevenson adds. “It’s going to be amazing.”


For more information or to make a donation, visit

Interested in enrolling or volunteering? Email Champs at [email protected] or

Mindy Stevenson at [email protected]

Training 911 – Know Your Dog

posted January 25th, 2014 by
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by Mary Green

As a professional dog trainer and dog behavioral counselor, every day I talk with folks who own dogs with aggressive behavior. They are at their wits’ end as to how to deal with the dogs. Questions like, “Is this normal?” or, “Will he grow out of it?” are followed by “If you can’t fix him, I have to get rid of him.”

When we opened K9 Manners & More in 2001, these calls came much less frequently. This leads me to wonder, is dog aggression reaching new heights, or are we following a “zero-tolerance” policy? According to Wikipedia, aggression is usually defined by canine behaviorists as “the intent to do harm.”

Dogs will use aggressive displays such as barking, growling, or air-snapping as distance-increasing signals, intended to get the person or dog to move away. Does this mean that the dog is showing intent to do harm (offense), or do we interpret this as his belief that he is going to be attacked (defense)? Should we be punishing dogs for acting in selfdefense?

When I was about 8 years old, I came home one day sporting a bite (barely a scratch) inflicted by a neighbor dog. I remember my mother’s words quite clearly. When I showed her my wound, mom asked what I had done to provoke the dog.

I’m sure that if this happened today, we would be having a serious conversation with the neighbors about their aggressive dog, and my behavior would not be called into question.

I’m not suggesting that pet owners should be cavalier about their dogs’ aggression. I am suggesting that they learn a bit more about dog behavior in general. For example: arousal and excitement are different from aggression; fight or flight is a biological response; and dogs that bite other dogs do not necessarily go on to bite people.

In a message I received recently, the owner believes her 23-week-old pup has fear aggression. “I can’t take her into public without her trying to bite someone if they try to touch her,” she says. “She is fine unless she is touched or walked toward but only with strangers.”

In our quest to “socialize” pet dogs, are we subjecting them to invasive handling or rude behavior (their perception) by children and adults, and not allowing them to communicate in their language? Or worse, are we punishing them for reacting in a normal dog way?

Good socialization means not overwhelming a pup and pushing her to the point of reacting by biting. At this point, a qualified trainer can help you implement a program of desensitization and counter-condi tioning before the behavior worsens.

When someone tells me that his or her dog is growling at children, my response is sometimes, “Yay! Good dog!” As I stated earlier, growling is a distance-increasing signal. The dog is telling you not to approach.

We don’t need to question their motives; we just need to believe the signal. Many times I have seen dogs that have been punished for growling simply stop growling and go directly to biting.

A recent email read, “My Husky/ German Shepherd mix is very aggressive toward children he doesn’t know. He is fine with adult strangers, but when my kids have friends over he growls and snaps at them, even if the kids aren’t doing anything to taunt him. He’s a sweet dog and I just wish I could break him of this habit.”

First of all, it’s not a habit that can be broken. It’s a clear signal of how he feels about stranger children being in his house. Age and history factor into the prognosis of behavior change. While he may learn to tolerate children being around, and not act aggressively, he likely will not ever be trustworthy with children.

People seem surprised when “out of the blue” their dog bites someone, even though he has given them his clearest communication to keep away.

A friend of mine was comparing her adolescent German Shepherd dog to the Golden Retriever she had in college. The Golden was the perfect dog, loved all people and all dogs. The Shepherd is reserved with strangers and somewhat aggressive toward other dogs.

“I have not raised them any differently,” she said. “I don’t understand it!” I reminded her that different breeds of dogs have different temperaments. We use these temperament traits to determine the dog best suited to the job: the herders, the guardians, the retrievers, etc.

In general terms, temperament refers to the aspects of personality that are innate rather than learned. Behavior, on the other hand, is an action or mannerism in response to the environment, or a result of input or stimuli.

Behavior is to temperament as weather is to climate. In other words, “You pick your vacation destination based on the climate but pack your suitcase based on the weather.”

If you have a dog with aggressive behavior, it’s not the end of the world. Listen to what the dog is saying. Open your eyes to the behavior. Enlist a qualified trainer to help you and be prepared to use a lot of management.

He may not behave like the dog you want, but he is the dog you have. Give him a chance. 


posted July 15th, 2013 by
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by Mary Green

Q.  I have two dogs, Bubba and Charlie. Charlie is my problem child. We live in an apartment complex where there are lots of dogs. Charlie is apparently barking a lot when I’m gone. I know it’s him because I didn’t have any problems with Bubba before Charlie came along. He’s a Terrier mix, about a year old we think, and I’ve had him for about three months. Does he have separation anxiety?

A.  Separation anxiety is a diagnosis that your veterinarian might make based upon Charlie’s behavior. The first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your veterinarian about Charlie’s problems. Many times, what the pet owner believes is separation anxiety is really just a situation where the dog can’t be left alone and unsupervised.

When a dog has separation anxiety, he will exhibit behaviors such as: panting, salivating, vocalizing, pacing, destructiveness, chewing on his paws, flanks or tail; he may urinate or defecate, and may not eat food left for him. The dog appears to be anxious, stressed and uncomfortable. Also, he may scratch and claw at doorways and thresholds or attempt to escape from confinement.

Dogs with “home alone” problems may do some of these same behaviors, but they don’t act anxious. They may not like being home alone and do destructive things and bark, whine or howl, but they will usually eat food that is left for them and play with their toys and whatever else they can get into! If it looks like they had a party while you were gone, they probably did!

If your dog has “home alone” problems, there are steps you can take to help him be more comfortable and calm while you’re gone.

Crate training or confinement training: Reduce the space that your dog has available and restrict him from off-limits areas. Gradually acclimate him to the crate or confinement area and use it sometimes when you are staying home.

Interactive toys: Stuffable and chewable toys, like Kong toys, are wonderful for keeping dogs entertained. Other food delivery toys that are not designed for chewing, such as the Buster cube or Kong wobbler, can provide much mental stimulation and self-reward for clever dogs.

Exercise: Be sure that your dog is getting enough exercise when you are home. Address the need for both physical and mental exercise. A tired dog will nap a bit while you’re gone!

Calming aids: Some dogs are helped by herbal calming treats, aromatherapies, classical music or talk radio. There is a product called DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) that comes in an electrical outlet plug-in design or a collar that the dog wears. Discuss the use of homeopathic supplements with your veterinarian before you try something new.

Environment change: Close the curtains, open the curtains, turn on the TV or radio, or leave it off! Do something different than what you have been doing. Reposition the crate or place it in a different room. Sometimes just moving a dog closer to a heat or air vent or moving them farther away does the trick.

If your veterinarian does diagnose Charlie with separation anxiety, he or she may opt to prescribe medication. Medication alone is not the long-term solution, so behavior modification training will have to happen.

Q.  How can I teach my dog to swim?

A.  How great that you want to teach him! First, ask him if he wants to swim, and where he would like to swim. He may want to frolic at the edge of the pool, or on a step, but may not want to get his whole body in it. He may want to run into the lake or pond, where it is a gradual increase in depth, and splash around on the shore but may not want to jump off the dock or boat.

Put him in a vest! Life jackets or floatation vests for dogs have come a long way and are necessary for all but the most experienced and proficient swimmers. Prices range from around $25 to $75. If you are attempting to teach him how to swim, and he panics, he can cause harm to himself and to you. He is much less likely to panic if he has the vest on and doesn’t go under water.

Try to get him to swim to a toy that he likes. There are some great floating toys available for dogs. Most dogs tend to do better if they have a purpose for swimming! You may also have some luck getting him to swim toward a treat. I know personally that Charlee Bears dog treats float!

If you have a pool in your yard, please teach your dog how to get out of it. It’s imperative that you have a ramp or steps. You can purchase ramps specially designed for dogs that can be left in your pool all the time. Also, remember pool covers are responsible for many dog deaths each year, so don’t assume that your dog will stay off of your pool cover.

Schooling for Success

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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Free Training Classes Help Shelter Dogs
and Their New Owners

by Nancy Gallimore Werhane, CPDT-KA

It is 6:15 p.m., on a Thursday at Pooches, my dog care facility in Tulsa. Boarding dogs are being fed dinner, and daycare dogs are heading out the door to their homes—another busy day is winding down. At the same time, several dogs and owners parade in the door and head for the training room where their work is just beginning. There, they are greeted by the wonderful smile of Beth Sharp.

Beth Sharp is a dog enthusiast, trainer and unsung hero who well understands the journey a rescued dog and new owner can take. Her interest in working with dogs was born when she adopted her dog, Cooper, a stray that showed up on her property about nine years ago. Cooper uncovered the “latent dog lover” in Sharp, who had not had a dog since her childhood.

“The training bug bit while taking classes with my unruly Pit Bull mix,” Sharp says. “It was fascinating to watch him learn and to have this completely different species understand what it was I was asking. You can actually see the wheels turning in their little brains, and I love it!”

Sharp participated in several training classes with Cooper, exploring different training methods until she was introduced to force-free, positive training techniques. “I completely geeked-out on it and read every book about learning theory and animal behavior that I could get my hands on— and I still do,” she says. “The results I got were amazing, and I never looked back.”

Sharp’s experience with Cooper inspired her to want to help other dogs, but she wasn’t ready to commit to adding another dog permanently to her family. Instead, she opted to foster dogs waiting for adoption. Providing a temporary home for a variety of dogs not only helped local rescue groups but also gave Sharp a great opportunity to develop her training skills. “I loved the idea of fostering, of helping a dog past its fears and showing it how to be part of a family,” she says. And a bonus was the strong sense of accomplishment she felt when her foster dogs were adopted into good homes.

In addition to providing a foster home, Sharp also started volunteering at the City of Tulsa Animal Welfare shelter (TAW). “I’d been feeling like I wanted to try to have a bigger impact on the animal overpopulation problem in Tulsa. Helping one or two dogs at a time is a lot of fun and very much needed, but I was looking for ways to do more,” she says.

Initially, she helped out at the shelter by walking dogs and assisting with adoptions. As she spent time at the shelter, she realized that it would be helpful to offer some basic training tips to new dog owners in an effort to help adopted dogs settle into new homes successfully and reduce the number of dogs that are returned to the shelter. “I would have loved some tips when I got Cooper to help me avoid wasting time and effort, trying a litany of things that don’t really work,” Sharp says.

“Sometimes new and even experienced dog owners have issues with their dogs that seem overwhelming, but many issues have very simple solutions and that can be the difference between keeping a pet or having to return it to the shelter,” explains Sharp. That theory quickly developed into a free, three-session training class that Sharp would make available to anyone adopting a dog from TAW.

With the help of TAW Manager Jean Letcher, and volunteers Ann Stiles and Cindy Bucher, the training program started in May 2011. Classes were initially held in a small trailer behind the shelter but moved to the Pooches training room for additional space to accommodate more students.

According to Letcher, the program is making a difference. “It’s such a neat deal to be able to tell people about the class—especially if they are adopting their first dog. I have no doubt Beth’s classes have helped reduce our return rate,” Letcher says.

Sharp’s goal for the shelter training program is to show people how to communicate clearly with their dogs in a manner that focuses on positive motivation rather than correction-based training that might include yanking on the leash, yelling at the dog, or using prong collars and choke chain collars. “That stuff really is no fun and not terribly effective—in fact, it can actually be counter-productive to training goals,” Sharp says.

One of Sharp’s former students has nothing but praise for the free classes. Anne Lassiter adopted her Terrier mix, Woodstock, from TAW. A very fearful dog, Lassiter felt that bad experiences in Woodstock’s past had caused his issues, and she wanted to help him learn to enjoy his new life. When Lassiter and Woodstock arrived at their first class, the little dog tucked his tail, raised his hackles and immediately retreated to the space under Lassiter’s chair.

“I thought I made a mistake by bringing him, but Beth assured me that this was exactly what Woodstock needed,” Lassiter says. Sharp helped Lassiter understand that with time, training and positive experience, Woodstock could gain self-confidence. “He quickly fell in love with Beth and would not let her out of his sight,” she says. “He might be under the chair, but he was watching and learning from her.”

Sharp encouraged Lassiter to continue formal training with Woodstock following the three complimentary classes, and that’s exactly what they did. Since that time, Woodstock has graduated from four levels of training, including a trick class that required Lassiter and Woodstock to perform in a show.

“It was hard to believe the little dog I found curled up in the corner of the shelter cage was now on stage performing like a pro,” Lassiter says. “He now has boundless confidence… the transformation has been amazing, and I thank Beth for helping us get started.”

Lassiter says the jumpstart with training that Sharp provides is of vital importance during a crucial time of transition for shelter dogs. “Her gentle hand is reaching out to help, so they are not returned to the shelter before they have time to adjust to their new lives,” Lassiter says. She is certain Woodstock would not be the happy, wellbehaved dog he is today without Sharp’s assistance and encouragement. One glance at Sharp’s new group of students tells a story in itself. One dog is barking nonstop.

One dog is sitting in a corner drooling. One dog is straining at his leash, trying to visit everyone in the room. In the middle of the chaos, Beth Sharp smiles, introduces herself and dives right in, helping each owner/dog team learn how to work together. Before the hourlong class ends, the dogs have settled, the owners have relaxed and progress is underway.

When asked about her classes, Sharp’s response is immediate. “I’m having a blast doing this!” she says. “To date over 150 dogs and owners have gone through the program, and we’re adding more every month.” That’s a lot of dogs and people—past, present and future—who can be very grateful for the inspiration of a once unruly dog named Cooper and a very devoted dog trainer named Beth.

Dog Training 911

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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by Mary Green

Q I would love to be able to take my dog for a walk, but he pulls on the leash so bad he chokes himself! How do I stop this?

A Teaching loose leash walking is especially challenging when your dog is already a committed puller. Sometimes the best way to start is to make a change in equipment. Today there are a number of dog harnesses on the market that are specifically designed as no-pulling, or anti-pulling, harnesses.

Traditional harnesses did a good job of taking pressure off of the dog’s throat and distributing pressure across the whole chest but did nothing to discourage pulling. In fact, they make pulling much more comfortable. Over the last decade, there have been many advances in no-pull harnesses.

The Whole Dog Journal™ reviewed various no-pull harnesses in the October 2012 issue, listing their top picks. One pick for being simple and economical is the SENSE-ible harness, which is one that we recommend to our K9 Manners & More clients.

A no-pulling harness can help you control the front end of the dog without causing him pain or discomfort. Using a no-pull harness is definitely a management tool, and if you are using it as such without teaching the dog (with positive reinforcement), to walk calmly with you, he will eventually learn to pull against the harness as well.

Collars such as choke chains and prong collars might help stop the dog from pulling, but there are reasons why we do not recommend them. They are not easy to use without causing damage to a dog’s throat, trachea, tonsils, and perhaps, thyroid. In some cases, they actually increase a dog’s reactivity or aggression while on leash. Here are some of our tips for teaching loose leash walking:

• If he is pulling, we are not moving! Just stand still for a second, and then do something to get your dog’s attention. Move forward once he has reoriented toward you.

• Lure/Reward! Have treats in your hand and lure him along where you want him to be. Every few steps he gets a treat. After you’ve done that a few times, he will know that’s where the good stuff is, and you can reinforce him for staying close.

• If he pulls out ahead of you, stop. Then lure him so he is facing you; then lure him toward you (still facing you); then lure him around to your side. Feed the treat at your side.

• Be interesting and a little unpredictable on a walk! Walk in a circle, do some about face turns, stop and sit, etc.

• Take time to smell the roses! Or maybe smell the mailboxes? Stop frequently and let your dog enjoy a sniffing opportunity! Walks should be fun and interesting for both you and your dog.

Q Why does my dog seem friendly one minute, wanting to make friends with another dog, and the next minute wants to fight?

A Goodness, I wish I had a perfect answer for this question! The truth of the matter is that we just don’t know. It often seems that the snarky behavior came out of the blue. Some dogs are snarky at times with dogsthey know really well and usually get along with. Others are reactive only to dogs they don’t know.

Here are some points to ponder:

On leash/off leash: Many dogs are just fine with other dogs while off leash, and are reactive only when on leash. Reasons could include prior experience of being attacked while on the leash, making flight not an option.

Or perhaps some were collar corrected for sniffing other dogs, so they now associate the presence of another dog with a correction coming. Another reason I see for dogs to react while on leash is that they have been subjected to improper greeting by dogs, and their owners have “made” them tolerate it. So they want to warn off a potential improper greeter!

Resource guarding of their important human: I do think some dogs are just not comfortable with a dog coming too close to their beloved. Or maybe just too close to their stash of treats!

Prior bad experience: Some dogs react only to a certain breed, type or look of dog. It could be because of history of a bad experience.

Reaction of the other dog: There is a split second where dogs decide how the encounter is going to go; play, fight or retreat. They really are great at conflict resolution, and the vast majority of encounters do not result in fights. Frustration: Dogs that play with other dogs a lot may be frustrated on leash because they are not going to play.

Cues and signals from the owner: We can trigger a reaction in so many ways—tugging or jerking back on the leash, speaking sharply, tensing up or holding our breath. Our dogs are so attuned to us that they might sense danger because our hearts are beating faster, and we are breathing rapidly. And, since we are afraid our dog might act aggressively, we do all of these things!

Dog Training 911

posted March 9th, 2013 by
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by Mary Green

Q Is there anything you can suggest to keep my dog from eating his poop?

A The correct term is coprophagia, which means the consumption of feces. “Yuck!” That’s how we, as pet owners, feel about eating poop. To dogs, it’s perfectly acceptable behavior. For flies, dung-beetles, and pigs, this is survival.

Probably at some point in their lives, all dogs will eat poop. Always check with your veterinarian before trying any supplements or home remedies on your pet. Also, be certain that he is getting enough exercise—physical exercise and mental stimulation. Boredom is often a contributing factor in poop eating. These tips will help with varying results.

Q Our family would like to adopt a dog. We have no animals in our household and would like to teach our kids (ages 11 and 9) some responsibility. How do we select a shelter dog?

A it’s so encouraging to me as a professional trainer to hear someone such as you pre-planning for a pet! People frequently acquire pets on impulse, but afterward, “buyer’s remorse” sets in, and the pet is relinquished or abandoned.

Before you look at any dogs (because if you see them you will go home with one), sit down as a family and discuss the following factors, such as: appearance, size, sex, activity and exercise requirements, grooming requirements, etc. Decide what is flexible and non-negotiable.

Then you can begin to look at dogs that fi t your ideal pet profile. By doing some research online, you can find shelter dogs by description or breed type and learn a little about them before you go visit.

When you go visit, ask the adoption counselor if there is any history that they know of about the dogs. Was he surrendered by a previous owner? Was he a stray? Did he come from a puppy mill or hoarding situation? This information isn’t always available, but it can be helpful if known.

The staff and volunteers who have been taking care of the dogs you are looking at will have a pretty good idea about the personality and behavior of the dogs. They may know if he is shy or fearful of kids or men, if he is safe around cats or if he tries to keep his kennel clean.

When you are meeting the dogs under consideration for your family, be sure to choose a dog that is sociable. The dog that is hanging out in the back of the kennel, or not approaching the people, is not going to be the best choice for a family with young kids. in your household, where this will be an only (or first) pet, be sure that the candidate is seeking out the attention of the people rather than the other animals.

While I am not familiar with the adoption policies of all the rescue groups and shelters in the area, I do know that many of them do not adopt out animals the same day that you meet them. I think this is a great policy! This allows the organization adequate time to check your references, and it gives you some time to think and re-think your decision.

It also gives you time to go purchase food, toys, a crate, leash and a collar, which is fun for the kids and builds anticipation. You can even make a daily schedule of dog chores, such as feeding and exercise, to involve the kids in the adoption process.

The bottom line is that successful adoption and integration of a pet into your household takes research, commitment, flexibility and a good amount of patience.

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