A charming bon vivant that wins hearts wherever he wanders. Estefanía Alvarez tells us what life is like with their sparky pet.
He’s named after Elvis Presley—Juan and I are fans. We’d had a dog called Popeye and considered calling him Brutus, but it didn’t quite fit. But our Spanish Water Dog Ollie is named after Popeye’s girlfriend, Olive.
It didn’t seem right to keep an active dog in an apartment, so we spent a lot of time with him outdoors, in parks, in dog runs, on the street. It was hard on our schedules, but we’re glad we did it. He’s a gentleman with everyone.
It’s a clever breed; they keep you on your toes. Sure, Elvis will follow you everywhere, but he’s not likely to go running with you. He needs to be motivated, to know why he’s doing something. Unlike a Labrador, for example, who simply wants to be with you. Elvis wants to cooperate, but he needs to know what comes next, what the catch is. The breed is special like that; they don’t follow you blindly. You’ve got to know dogs, otherwise they try to pull the wool over your eyes.
We can’t keep him out of the kitchen. When we moved to our current house, he picked up the bad habit of stealing food. Bits of food missing here and there. One day, he even stole a birthday cake my sister-in-law had brought over! I think the change of house threw him off. So, we made the kitchen off limits to the dogs. Ollie respects this, but Elvis will sneak in at the first chance.
He’s never been sick, but when he was a puppy, he refused all dry pet food and had constant diarrhea. We’d switch brands, and things would improve for a while. But then it would start over again. He kept getting skinnier. This went on for his first year until we switched to raw food. Once we changed the diet, the problem went away.
I don’t eat meat, but this doesn’t extend to our dogs. I tried replacing meat with beans, but they got bloated and gassy. Dogs need meat; they have the teeth for it—but not me. Our own fridge can’t hold all their food too; they’ve got their own fridge now.
You can’t find many Airedales in this part of Spain. We’ve taught Elvis the basics, like sit, down, come, and how to fetch a ball. Maybe we should have taken up Agility or something like that. To take advantage of his talents and popularise the breed. But it’s too late, probably; our Elvis is a real homebody.
‘Comedian’ is the word I’d use to describe him. He’s full of pep, always poking his nose into things, and so inquisitive about whatever and whoever he encounters.
We lost him once. We went to spend Christmas with my brother in Sierra de Cazorla. The whole family rented a big house, and it was cold and snowing when we arrived. What with all the confusion, it took a moment to realise that Elvis wasn’t around. We started calling him and searching everywhere and finally we found him in the backyard pool, of all places! The water hadn’t frozen, and he’d slipped in. I doubt it was intentional; Elvis doesn’t like water. My guess is he got excited by all the wildlife smells; leaves covered the ground, and he probably followed his nose right into the pool. I laugh now when I recall his expression when we found him. It was a poem! So scared and clueless.
He’s an adventurer, fearless in a natural environment. He’s even confronted a wild boar in the mountain. The breed is a working dog, like for the police in Scotland; here in Spain they help hunt for wild boar.
We’re so happy with Elvis. He may have started out as a skinny black puppy, but he’s turned into our handsome, fun-loving boy.
I started visiting the Center d’Acollida d’Animals de Barcelona (CAACB, Barcelona Animal Refuge Centre) in the summer of 2010 while studying biology at university. I became a regular volunteer in 2013, about the time I learned how to train dogs.
We always had dogs at home, but when I lived on my own in Barcelona, I missed them terribly. Being a volunteer helped fill that void.
Volunteering is addictive. You get attached to some dogs and begin to feel for them; they weigh on your mind if you can’t make it there.
Each volunteer deals with it as best they can. It’s a unique, personal experience—everyone lives it differently. I know several volunteers who have stopped coming because the situation overwhelms them, or others who became sad when a dog they bonded with left. Most can manage the difficulties.
People may try to avoid becoming attached to a dog. Forging a bond with a dog doesn’t bother me. That’s what motivates me to continue.
How can you help shelter dogs? It’s simple, just put yourself out there, take action. Share information on social media, for example. Some see the dogs profiled on Facebook; they share the information and that helps. Sometimes they find homes and you think, of the 10 cases that I have shared today, two dogs have found a home. Great, I’ll continue sharing information. Another way to help is to volunteer, of course. Show up and dedicate your time. You leave there knowing you have given them quality time and have contributed something to their lives. People must do it according to their skills; there are people who don’t know how to manage it. Everyone must find a way that makes them feel good and feel helpful, without getting depressed or down. But the goal is always the same: to find them a home. The dogs must leave the shelter.
Maybe you don’t want to be in direct contact with cases but want to do something for animals. You could become a vegan, which is also a way to contribute indirectly. Some people volunteer in administration, working in logistics. Or involve themselves with animal rights movements. If you are an expert in a required field, you can be an advisor. For example, you may be an expert on animal abuse. There are thousands of ways to help.
Shelter dogs bond quickly with a person. Walk the same dog two or three times and he remembers you. If he’s happy to see you when he doesn’t know you, imagine what happens after you take him out of his cage a few times. There are also cases where you develop a stronger connection … I developed a crush on one dog from day one! Now, every time I go to the shelter, I save the last 10 minutes for him alone. You can have a healthy bond with a shelter dog. But keep in mind, the dog should be also bonding with other people, not just you.
Occasionally there are cases when the dog enters the shelter very fearful and must learn to trust people. At first one person gains his trust. It can be a gigantic step. When one person wins his trust, then another must do the same. Then another, and so on until, little by little, he trusts people. These are small steps, but the dog benefits immensely. This is the ideal scenario. Of course, there are dogs in the shelter which are walked by only one volunteer. However, problems arise when there is the possibility of adoption. I understand that there are dogs that, if it were not for the one person taking him out for his walk, would never leave the cage. But ideally, they learn to be confident with many people.
I adopted Balu in September 2016. He entered the centre when he was 6 months old, and I thought, what a beautiful dog! I was sure it would be one of those cases where someone snaps up the dog quickly. Myself, I thought I’d adopt an elderly dog. But we had a connection. I guess the dog chooses you. I would see him every week during his stay – about a month and a half – but tell myself he’ll be going soon. He had come in with another dog – his brother, I think – who soon left and Balu was on his own. Once I went into his cage to spend time with him, and he quietly fell asleep in my lap. Not once in four years as a volunteer had that happened to me. There he was, snoring away. Someone adopted him, but they returned him 24 hours later. I was there the day they brought him back and when I saw him back in the cage, and saw him… Well, I just couldn’t resist anymore. I saw that poor, lost look they get when they’re back in the same place. You can’t understand it until you see it. Besides that, the poor boy had a fever, he was sick, and I couldn’t bear to look at his sad face. I adopted him that same day.
The idea of 21 Hogares (21 Homes) is to help the “invisible” dogs, those that have been in the shelter for a long time. I met a photographer who volunteered at a shelter. She told me she took pictures of the dogs and of their success rate. After disseminating their picture, people adopted them within days. That was a revelation and the start of an initiative. Together with Emma Infante (of Futur Animal), we worked on the idea. Soon, more people and more shelters became involved, and we created a group, of which I am a spokesperson.
We’re outraged that a dog can live in a cage for 8 years. They become invisible. The idea behind photographing them is to capture their appeal in a quality image. This awakens compassion in people; it helps people connect. Instead of focusing on sorrow, people see them in a positive light. We focus on their tender qualities, their cheerful natures. Unfortunately, it just so happens that most fall under the label of potentially dangerous dogs, according to the breed-specific law. Or they’re older dogs—many are between 8 and 13 years old. There are also younger dogs who don’t fall under breed-specific legislation but who have been in the shelter for many years. These are dogs that people don’t see, who go unnoticed. A mystery, really, and sad.
We made a list of those that we consider urgent, who we’d like to see adopted as soon as possible, and there were 21 dogs on the list. That’s where the name comes from: 21 Homes. Because the chief aim is to find homes for them. The list has expanded since then, but the name stays the same. It reflects our goal to find homes for these “invisible” dogs.
Did you know that animals can benefit the health and wellness of people in need? Pet Partners, a therapy animal organization, is on track to bring the healing power of therapy animals to hospitals, nursing homes, and more in Spain. Therapy animal teams are made up of a highly-educated handler who makes therapy animal visits with their pet, who has a calm temperament and seeks out interactions with people.
Pet Partners provides prospective therapy animal teams with online education about how to be a good therapy animal team. Then, prospective teams are tested by an evaluator, who will determine if the animal has the proper temperament to provide therapy animal visits. This evaluator will then determine if the handler can read their animal’s body language, as well as advocate for and provide continuous reassurance to their animal.
Pet Partners has been operating in the United States for 40 years, but recently expanded into 11 countries, thanks to a generous donation from the Lilly Foundation, through Elanco Animal Health. These funds allowed Pet Partners to create evaluators and register therapy animal teams around the world.
Our first international evaluation occurred at the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations conference. Practicum attendees hailed from Hong Kong, India, Poland, Romania, and Switzerland. These evaluators all passed their practicum, and then returned to their home countries to begin evaluating and registering therapy animal teams.
Next, Pet Partners traveled to South Korea and Colombia to hold practicums and evaluations over the span of a few days; these trips added 6 more international evaluators. These trips also allowed us to register several new therapy animal teams (many of whom were evaluators) during our time in-country.
In 2018, Pet Partners registered 3 more evaluators, hailing from Spain, Switzerland, and Romania. Mona Tellier, Pet Partners evaluator from Spain, explains why she became involved with Pet Partners:
“Pet Partners embodies the joy of practicing AAI with your pet in a safe, non-invasive manner. Everyone enjoys the experience. As volunteerism increases in Spain, I see more and more people willing and eager to share their beloved pet with those living in institutions.”
Prospective volunteers should be aware that the international Pet Partners therapy animal program is still in a pilot phase, so at this time, dogs are only accepted as therapy animals. Pet Partners does plan to add other species as international therapy animals in 2019 – if you’re a cat or horse lover, stay tuned! However, since 2019 Pet Partners offers insurance coverage to international teams. Some facilities may require this insurance coverage to visit, so we are pleased to ease the teams’ volunteer activities. The required course for handlers and all continuing education courses are in English, so comfort with speaking, reading, and writing in English is necessary to participate. The vet form is available in many languages, including Spanish, so your veterinarian can fill that form out with ease.
There are many benefits to volunteering with your pet. Volunteers experience a deep bond with their animal because they dedicate time to training and learning about their animal’s body language. This bond is deepened when volunteers visit in patients in hospitals.
Patients will begin to smile when you and your animal walk through the door; therapy animal visits are often the highlight in a patient’s day.
Volunteering with Pet Partners can also help you build a community of pet lovers who want to make a difference. Our volunteers work together to approach facilities about visits, visit groups together, and share resources and tips. Volunteering is an excellent way to meet people with your interests and values. Pet Partners will launch an online community soon for therapy animal teams. This will be an online resource where teams can post questions and seek advice from other therapy animal teams. As our international program is just getting started in Spain, this will be particularly helpful for our new Spanish teams to make connections and learn from other volunteers around the world.
Our volunteers will tell you that the best reason to get involved with Pet Partners is to make a difference in your community. The most meaningul moments for many of our volunteers occur when clients connect with their pets. One of our international handlers from Colombia, Teresa, recounts a visit that lifted the spirits of children and care workers in need of some joy.
“Our first visit as a Pet Partners therapy animal team was on December 23rd at Centro Terapeutico Infantil (CETI). The government places children with disabilities with this organization when the children are without family, need protection, have inadequate living situations, or when families need extra support. Many of the children are in wheelchairs. I felt that the energy of the organization was so heavy because of the difficulties the children had to overcome.
The children were sad because the organization didn’t have money for Christmas decorations. I collected Christmas decorations and went to visit them with some fellow volunteers. Molly the therapy dog said hello to each one of the kids, and they had the opportunity to pet her, brush her, and “shake” her paw. The children were so happy to see her! The adults working at the center also had the opportunity to be with Molly.”
Molly’s presence was able to brighten the day of those in need, because of dedicated volunteers like Teresa. Pet Partners teams can change the lives of those they visit, or even just brighten a person’s day.
If you want to share your pet’s love and comfort with those in need, please visit petpartners.org/about-us/contact-us/ to let us know of your interest.
People who are training their own service dogs are under an extraordinary amount of pressure from day one.
In addition to the baseline difficulties caused by our disabilities, we have also taken responsibility for the two-year process of painstakingly transforming a tiny infant mammal of another species into a reliable medical device. One which we will then depend on to literally save our lives for the next decade.
So, let’s acknowledge the obvious: That is an incredibly high bar.
And sometimes we get a little bit carried away in our enthusiasm.
It’s almost always their first service-dog training gig. They have waited months or years to get their prospect. They’ve done all their research. They’ve watched the videos, they’ve talked to other handlers, they’ve found a corner of the service dog community where they feel comfortable.
After all that learning and waiting, they have counted down the minutes until their prospect will come home. It’s going to be them and their dog against the world, partners for life.
Most of the time, they’re not a professional dog trainer, but they’ve done enough work with the family’s dog that they’re confident in their training skills. And besides, they have resources to reach out to if they run into trouble. They can’t wait to start this new adventure.
The puppy comes home, and he is perfect. Not merely perfect, but transcendent, sublime, world-shatteringly wonderful in every possible way. He is overflowing with potential. His puppy breath smells like hope.
And the owner-trainer dives into training with a gusto. Finally, time to act on those carefully laid plans! The puppy learns sit, down, stay, shake, roll over, take a bow, spin! He excels in his obedience classes. He is a wonder. His owner’s confidence blooms with every new success – and at this point, it’s all success. After all, this is the perfect puppy!
A couple weeks into their intensive training, the owner has a medical crisis, because the owner is disabled and that is a thing that happens on the regular. That’s why the puppy is here.
And it so happens that the puppy does a puppy thing before or during the crisis. Did he just do a medical alert? A natural alert? By jove, I believe it was! It must have been!
The owner-trainer is equal parts astounded and relieved. They are on the right track! This “training your own service dog” thing might be possible after all with a puppy this perfect.
So, they push the puppy a little bit further and a little bit faster – after all, the puppy is succeeding left, right and center. They put him into intensive training. He can handle it. He is a miracle on four legs, a furry Einstein.
The team starts practising in public early — really early. Puppy knows ten tasks by the time he’s six months old and he naturally alerts to every disability ever. The team is doing eight hours of training towards public access accreditation every day without breaking a sweat. Other dogs may need to take it slow and work on their foundations at this age, but this puppy is a prodigy. He can handle anything.
…. Until he can’t.
When starting a new service dog project, it’s normal to feel a sickening combination of ambitious and terrified. By this point in the journey, we’ve already had it carved into our brain that there are only two possible outcomes: utter perfection or screaming catastrophe.
We know that it is our solemn duty to protect the honor of other SD teams everywhere by being unimpeachably, unquestionably perfect at all hours of the day. We know that anything less than that is grievous injury to the reputation of the service dog community and a shame upon our people.
Now let that anxiety simmer for months or years in the unfortunate toxic soup of subtle one-upmanship and humble-bragging that absolutely permeates the online service dog community.
It’s no surprise that every new prospect leaves us teetering on the fine line between optimism and sheer panic.
The tragedy of the perfect puppy prodigy is that, despite their early promise, they often fail to live up to their own potential. Many struggle more than they needed to, and many others wash out of training entirely.
And they don’t wash out because they have some hidden flaw that doomed them from the start. They wash out because their handler becomes so fixated on getting to the finish line fast that they rush forward on a shaky foundation.
Service dog training involves a lot of pressure on both the handler and the dog. That’s why we have such high criteria for our service dog program eligibility.
And under pressure, shaky foundations collapse.
There is an adage in the dog training community that “slow is fast and fast is slow,” meaning that it is often faster in the long run to be thorough with your foundations in the beginning. That holds doubly true for service dog training or any type of intensive working dog training where burnout is a serious risk.
I suggest you read that paragraph again. And again.
Lock it into your heart as deeply as you’ve internalized all that talk about perfection and upholding the reputation of the service dog community, because it is every bit as important. Slow is fast and fast is slow. Digest the idea. Hold onto it. Write it on the cover of that notebook where you keep the training plans for your perfect future puppy.
If you want perfection when you are training your own service dog, then the best way to achieve that is to earn it by training slowly and building on a solid foundation.
Let the puppy learn puppy things. Focus on quality, not quantity, in your socialization plan. Support your dog’s changing brain through adolescence and expect to hit some temporary setbacks. Evaluate your progress regularly and shore up your weak points instead of exclusively improving on your strengths. Remember that you are building a functional partner, not racing toward a finish line.
The best service dog programs in the USA very consistently wait to place dogs until they are 18-24 months old. This is not an accident or a coincidence. It is hubris, pure and simple, to think that a first-time owner-trainer is going to have a reliable, proofed, stable, public-access-ready dog in half the time it takes someone who does this for a living, working with the best resources available.
When clients contact me with stories about their perfect puppy, I am cautious. When friends assure me that their adolescent dogs have a dozen tasks under their belt already, I don’t get excited — I get worried.
Because perfect puppies tend to burn out.
Training Your Own Service Dog? Choose Slow, Not Perfect.
We all want to believe we have the perfect prodigy puppy who was literally born for this job. We need as much help as we can get — if we didn’t need help, we wouldn’t be owner-training a service dog in the first place. And with the amount of pressure that we’re under to be perfect in every circumstance, it sometimes feels like a magical puppy is what it would take to succeed at all.
The uncomfortable reality is that the perfect puppy does not exist.
There are, however, many adequate puppies who can be shaped into service dogs with effort, skill and patience.
The critical ingredient is time.
Natalie Bridger Watson CPDT-KA is a
Positive reinforcement dog trainer
An advocate for deaf dogs and reactive dogs
A service dog handler
And the author of “Level Up Your Dog Training: How to Teach Your Dog Anything (Some Assembly Required)”
Who doesn’t love a photo of a charming dog? Especially when we snap and share the adorable antics of our own furry companions. Now that high-quality digital cameras are as close as the smart phone in our pocket, it’s never been easier to get images of our dogs at every waking (and sweetly snoozing) moment. However, while taking a photo is one thing, capturing images that play up your pet’s best features or finest moments is something else. Sad to say, we all can take photos, but not all of us are photographers.
The portrait industry, and the chronicling of family memories, has been around since cameras were first invented. Most of us remember sitting for the annual holiday family portrait or for that cringe-worthy shot that ended up in the high-school yearbook. But dogs were never really part of the portrait industry. At the most they made sporadic appearances in the photos that commemorated birthdays, family outings and reunions.
But recently all that is changed; nowadays professional pet photographers abound and, for those moments you want perfect, what better than to put your little puppy before the lens of an expert.
We all know cute dog pictures when we see them. Great natural snapshots that appeal to our nurturing instincts or wild action shots that flood us with awe. People + pet moments to be cherished, be it a tender nose-to-muzzle greeting, a dynamic Frisbee catch or a goofy pup photo-bombing a selfie. And let’s not forget the posed portraits – designed to highlight a dog costume or placing a pet in an incongruous place or time.
The Secret Behind the Pacia Wan Magic
The dogs in a Pacia Wan portrait look like little kids spruced up for the annual school photo. Slightly bewildered yet eager to please, they prick up their ears and fan the air with their noses. Tails wag, eyes sparkle, they face the camera and with a click! Shinichi Mito captures their canine charm. According to Mito, his are not merely dog portraits, they portray “dogs as family”, reflecting the special place they occupy within their homes.
Over ten years ago, Mito was a successful commercial photographer based in Tokyo. He enjoyed photographing his own miniature dachshund and it occurred to him that people might want to commemorate the appeal of their own canine companions. Taking an imaginative leap, he founded the company Pacia-Wan.
Mito captures their canine charisma with grace and imagination. Props and backgrounds place them in remote, romantic adventures that bounce off the aspirations and dreams of their human companions. Puppies pause amid frolic; seniors dignify the passage of time; purebreds and mutts alike strike regal poses. These are portraits to treasure – one swift moment in the lives they share with their dogs.
The arrangement is simple: Mito books weekend engagements throughout the year at dog-friendly hotels and hot-spring spas all over Japan. When he started Pacia-Wan there were few such places, but in recent years many establishments have laid out the dog-welcome mat. Dogs and their people enjoy a relaxing vacation at the spot of their choice, and pop up at the portable studio and outdoor dog run for their booked session. He photographs some dogs in their natural state, but more often people bring along holiday-theme costumes or designer wear. They decide upon a background, along with the props best suited to the setting or occasion. Sessions are rapid, fun, and loaded with as much variety as a dog’s patience will allow.
People often ask Mito to shoot a portrait of the entire household, and Mito assures us that these vignettes rival any traditional family portrait in warmth and solidarity. The acceptance of pets as part of the group reflects the changing nature of family as an institution in Japan. As reported in the Guardian newspaper, by 2012 Japan’s pet population had risen to 22 million, far more than the 16.5 million children under the age of 15. A growing population of young adults, whether single or partnered, are eschewing the life-changing responsibilities of having children. Yet many embrace the emotional benefits of caring for a four-legged companion.
Appealing to the Japanese fondness for commemorative goods, Pacia Wan invites its clients to immortalise their family memories on an ample array of collectibles. Selected images personalise such objects as cups, stickers, kitchen linen, calendars, and carry-on luggage. Like pop-star merchandise, everyday items are elevated as mementos to a special experience shared with their pet and permanent reminders of their special place within the family.
Take a moment to check out the Pacia Wan webpage at http://www.pacia.co.jp/ for an array of captivating images and impressive goods.
It’s been a while since issue number two. We apologise. We’ve been setting up a pet-dog training school, exploring many opportunities to spread the word about IAA and assistance dogs, and preparing future assistance-dog units. Most are people and their beloved pets, undergoing bespoke training to achieve the accreditation necessary to be able to enter any public place. We train at home and in public, creating training strategies to fit in with their special needs and the rhythm of their lives. Such a motivating task – the people we work with are sure of the valuable aid their dog will provide and train with unmatched dedication. Watch for these new units highlighted in future issues!
And we’ve been out and about talking about Animal-Assisted Interventions. Introducing our dogs and the work we do to adults and to children, in civic centres, libraries and schools. People love to hear how dogs reach out to the minds and hearts of people who gain by canine contact. This story collection will be shared in these pages in issues to come.
Everywhere we go we see examples of the deep bond formed between dogs and people. We observe it in real life both – on the train, in parks, at the dog-training school – as well as in photography, literature, art, and music. Many issues of Dog Heart Magazine will be filled by the stories we capture! Our aim is to have you relive and revel in the human-canine bond found all over the world.
We hope you savour this magazine. We wish to see you informed, inspired, and stimulated into action. We also would love to see your feedback and contributions.
Ready to collaborate? If so, please contact us and tell us about you, your dog, and your ideas.