RESCUE VERSUS ADOPTION… The problem as I see and experience it, training and rehabilitating dogs.


   Buddy an English Mastiff, was my first dog. He was adopted from a reputable breeder who was fostering him, at 2 years old. He was an absolutely wonderful dog who I learned a lot from. He had no behavioral problems, simply a lack of training. Which was a good thing, because if he had problems it would have been an 185 pound problem.
First, let me say I am all for people finding the right dog for them. Whether it be from a responsible breeder, shelter, or rescue.
Let me define what I think that is.
  A responsible breeder is one who breeds for health (screening for congenital problems), and temperament, finding the correct, responsible homes for the puppies they produce based on matching personality and energy level to the right owners. Not all puppies are for everyone. A responsible breeder, in my experience, also takes responsibility for puppies they produce should they not work out in a home, for whatever reason, and re-homes them appropriately. Several good breeders I know, when they don’t have a litter, also foster rescued dogs of their breed and find them loving homes. These are breeders that truly love their chosen breed and the dogs they produce, and are not in it for the money. Prospective puppy buyers should feel they are more interviewed by the breeders as the breeders are by them.
  Having said that… good responsible breeders are the minority. Even now, the often sought-after mixed breeds, should be produced responsibly. Just as you would expect from a purebred. Being a cross breed doesn’t mean they should not be looking after the future health and happiness of that puppy and its owners. If someone is intentionally planning and producing a litter, they should be screening for any inheritable health problems that any of the breeds in the background are prone to.
  ‘Rescue’ is a term that has been used for close to 20 years, maybe more, to help people find a dog, adult or puppy, even of a specific breed (thus the term ‘breed rescue’). These dog lovers would keep their eyes and ears peeled for dogs, whose time was running out and have safe, appropriate temperament, and pull them out of shelters and other situations to give them a better chance of finding the perfect home. These dogs in “rescues” are often placed in a foster home where they live as a family member, while they are evaluated and trained for proper placement, while a suitable home is found.
  There are many Rescue organizations and Shelters who work very hard to find homes for animals every day. Beautiful mixed breeds and purebreds alike. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, dogs are not being as quickly adopted as they are being surrendered. More wonderful dogs are being given up because of various reasons including unemployment and difficult lifestyle change reasons (going into a nursing home for instance).
  Just as with screening breeders to make sure you take home a healthy happy dog, shelters and Rescues should be asked lots of questions as well. If it is a dog over 6 months of age it should be determined if it has been tested negative for heartworm disease. That is a very common, expensive, and fatal disease if left untreated. Temperament is also important. It is unethical, although not impossible, for someone to re-home a dog who has aggression issues, especially if it has bitten people. Many rescue, shelter workers and breeders want so badly to find a home for their animals that they under-play behavioral problems that can effect the safety of you and your family.
  Please know that many behavioral problems, including various types of aggression, can be fixed… but, it is a safety issue as well as a liability that you may not be prepared to deal with.
  Regardless of the age, size or background of your dog, it is a good idea to start building your relationship by getting them involved in a good obedience class as soon as possible. Partly to start off on the best possible foot, partly to be able to evaluate your new charges’ behavior and temperament in a controlled environment and nip a problem in the bud, should one arise. Not all issues will show themselves before you adopt them, and can even take a while to develop in your home environment.
​Find a GOOD reputable rescue, or a good reputable breeder whenever possible. Where ever you get your dog, start your relationship of on the right foot by learning how to best communicate with him/her by finding a reputable trainer.
Not all puppies or rescue dogs start out perfect… it’s up to you to help them become the perfect dog for you!

What is “Rescue”?

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A question I often ask myself is…
Why doesn’t anyone ADOPT dogs anymore?
  Of course it isn’t that they don’t adopt. It’s that they don’t really call it that anymore. They say they “rescued” their dog. No matter how long they have owned that dog. They got him at 6 months of age and he is their rescue dog. But he is now 8 years old. And any behavioral problems he has are because he is a “rescue”. I think this is a problem.
I prefer to reserve the term “rescue” to describe the rescue organization, a foster dog who has not yet found his forever home, or to describe the incident from which an animal was saved, from drowning in a frozen river or burning to death in a fire.
  I find it unfortunate that any animal that was acquired from nearly any situation other than being purchased as a puppy from a breeder, is described, and identified as “A RESCUE”.
  This has become not just a description, but an identity, for so many dogs I find it sad. Very few animals that are adopted or acquired with an unknown history were ever actually abused in any way. Perhaps they found themselves without a home. This was unfortunate. And MANY wonderful people choose to adopt homeless animals. If they want to say that they rescued them from the streets, or from being euthanized at a shelter… that is a wonderful thing.
  What I take exception to is, when someone tells me about the pet they obviously love, they identify that animal as “my rescue dog”. And it isn’t because they are trained to do Search and Rescue. That is hard.
  I find this is word used to excuse or explain all types of behavior. Often assuming many types of nervousness, fear or aggression, or other types of unwanted behavior, are a direct result of their unknown history. Most often assumed to be abuse of some type.
  I need to tell you from experience… when comparing all of these “rescued” dogs’ behavior to the behavior of puppies and adult dogs, with known history, owned from puppy-hood, there is nearly no increased incidence or severity of behavioral problems. They are nearly exactly the same.
What does this come from?
Nearly all of the less-than-perfect dogs I see are due to lack of appropriate training and socialization. They also have a common denominator of a sensitive temperament (that they were born with) and are affected by their experience, or lack there of.
Why do I call it less-than-perfect dogs?
Because people are hesitant to call something a behavioral problem. If they are willing to live with it, apparently its not really a problem. And if the dog is smart and loving and doesn’t present these issues in all contexts, many believe it isn’t a behavioral problem.
  Sometimes people feel that because the dog has made improvements over time that this is as good as he is going to get.
And because they have tried training and socializing and were unsuccessful, they may believe there is no hope. “This is how he is” or “always has been” is something I hear often. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Socializing means … “to fit for companionship with others, especially in attitude or manners.”
 This does not mean randomly expose to people, places or things that he or she will come in contact with. It means to expose so they experience these things the way you want them to. This is especially important if the subject is sensitive to new people or environments. Socializing has to be gone about very methodically (i.e. control the environment). Otherwise, even with good intent, you can cause the wrong social experience for a sensitive individual,  thus being a negative experience.
If I were to ask you if “is your dog perfect?” and you can answer a resounding “YES” with no ifs, ands or buts… fantastic! If your answer is yes, except for… Let me help you.
 PLEASE… seek help for your dog. Regardless of age, history or experience. You can save him form a lifetime of stress and anxiety if you learn how to train and socialize him appropriate to his temperament and environment.
Learn what he needs from you and how you can help him be everything you ever wanted for him. He is your companion. Not your “rescue” case. Stop feeling sorry for him and help him. Change the way he experiences life, if any of that is less than you would want it, in order for him to be truly as good as he can be.

Frustration In Training: Is there a place for it?

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Is there a place for frustration in training? In teaching? In learning?

The answer is a resounding YES! To ALL of the above.

The fact is… frustration begins, where knowledge ends. Period.

Its a simple fact. Life is stressful… learning is stressful. NOT learning is stressful. For the student and for the teacher both. “For the teacher?” you ask? Well yes. If that teacher pushes them-self to be better, clearer, more efficient, better understood. Only if you have the ego to believe that you have nothing to learn, do you not become frustrated. It means you aren’t challenging yourself. If you don’t want to be frustrated, make sure you set your expectations appropriately low so you won’t be disappointed. It is the only way not to experience lack of success. To accept everything the way it is. No frustration. Acceptance. Submission… is that a better word?

I once heard a quote… I don’t know the author, and I may not be quoting it perfectly accurately, but… “A man forced to change his opinion against his will, is of the same opinion still.” 

Some trainers prefer to teach students that are of this type of compliance. This is not educating. You may be able to create ’cause and effect’ behavior, but it is without the challenge to create true intelligent learning and not just blind obedience. I, myself, don’t want submission from my student. I want cooperation. Its a choice to cooperate, rather than blindly comply.

Many trainers get frustrated that a student, human or animal, isn’t “getting it”. Well, you are frustrated because YOUR knowledge has reached your limit. Not that you don’t have knowledge of the subject matter. But you have reached the limit of your particular ability to communicate that subject with THAT student. You need to back up and evaluate what and how you are asking. If YOU are frustrated, how does your STUDENT feel! Learning is a choice of thought. Not a reaction of command. It requires experience and problem solving.

Frustration is a normal part of learning. If you aren’t frustrated, you probably aren’t learning anything new. A teacher or trainer should ALWAYS be learning. From every new student, every new task. Challenge yourself. Teaching challenges the depth of your understanding.

Don’t forget, frustration is a normal experience of acquiring new information. But if what you are trying to communicate isn’t moving forward at a reasonable, measurable level, you may not be providing your student with sufficient information. Break down what you are trying to communicate into more palatable pieces. You can often get to the end of the road faster with small steps that continue to move forward, than by trying to take great leaps (to save time) only to have to take a detour to make that path successful.

And remember, every forward step along the path is a success. PART or the journey to knowledge and confidence. The journey is NOT just about the destination. Confidence IS knowledge. Frustration is LACK of it. Confidence in mastering a skill is the destination.

Shyness, fear and anxiety are a byproduct of the unknown. Lack of experience creates it. Create safe, careful situations that cause frustration and result in success. Build confidence. Learn through it. Challenge yourself.

You may find you are your own student.

Understanding Canine Sports: Risks and Benefits



If you have a dog, at some point in time, you may have considered getting into some type of sport. There are many to choose from, and there are many things to consider. That ranges from your dogs age, condition and activity level, as well as HIS temperament and personality traits, and YOURS.

You may not have the physical ability or training experience, for some sports, to train on your own. That being said, I have seen people in wheelchairs, elderly people and children compete VERY successfully in almost every sport.

I would like to address the well meaning public that is very conservative about dog sports in relation to the dogs health and safety. First, I think it is important to ALWAYS consider your dogs health, well being and safety. Dogs just don’t know when to quit. Especially when they are having fun. So it is YOUR job to start responsibly, and stop BEFORE the dog has had too much. That being said, I think people are often encouraged to be too conservative. For example waiting until the dog is 2 years old before starting a wide variety of sports. Personally, I thing this is very ill advised. For several reasons.

Comparatively, do we wait to involve our children in sports until they are 20 years old? Of course not! Sports are an important way for children to learn to control their body. They need to learn muscle control, focus, self control and drain excess energy. All of these things are important for children AND our pets. Don’t forget, your dogs may have all of the toys, treats, and chewies in the world. But they don’t have anything to DO. No job. No fulfilling purpose other than our enjoyment. And you may do well to learn how much training your dog can create SO MUCH more fulfillment and enjoyment FOR YOU as well!

I understand that many peoples (breeders, veterinarians) desire to err on the side of safety, to avoid an injury in young dogs, is often the motivation to encourage people to wait to start their dogs into training and sports, but you may be acting too hastily in your opinion, and in some cases it can be of detriment to the dog.

Some sports have an inherent risk to certain types of injuries due to how the body is used. Some sports, like flyball and agility can be considered high impact, and have risk to tendon and growth plate type injuries due to the impact of jumping and fast tight turns. However, because sports training, to some degree, are really under our control, we can reduce the risk. Especially in young dogs. We can work to keep jump heights lower, while dogs are growing. As well as (attempt) to control speed and fast turns until the dog has more control over his body and enough athletic conditioning.

But we have to remember that “form follows function”. Of course, there will always be some risk to certain types on injuries to any type of activity. Carpel tunnel for instance doesn’t require tennis, just typing, and we cant avoid all risk. But being ‘properly conditioned’ requires regular preparation for any activity. And that does NOT mean once per week. Regular conditioning prepares the body. Regular conditioning, even in impact sports, increases bone density, tendon and ligament flexibility and strength, and muscle flexibility and strength that PREVENTS injury. Keeping a dog with existing medical conditions, like hip displaysia, fit and in good weight and muscle condition helps with mobility and pain. Anyone who has gone through ANY type of physical therapy or structured exercise program knows that when they are stronger, they are more pain and injury free than before they were in condition. But may people don’t seem to recognize, or even know, that MOST cruciate ligament injuries, back and hip injuries are from overweight, out of condition dogs. In the northern US, veterinarians see a significant increase in ligament injuries directly related to spring thaw. With little exercise over the winter and a nice spring day to play ball outside, running and fast turns are just as often the culprit. And many of us know the dogs that jumped off the recliner or just were playing with another dog, that resulted in a ligament or joint injury (like two of my own dogs).

Besides controlling the length and intensity of the sport you are training your dog in, the best ways to keep young dogs in good condition and drain excess energy safely are activities that are considered ‘resistance training’. The two best examples of that type of exercise are swimming and weightpulling**.

** I am using the term weightpulling here to describe a conditioning method often referred to as “dragging” in which the dog, wearing a specially custom fitted harness, drags a small amount of weight, for resistance, while walking. I am not referring to the competition level where high weights are required.

The reason that these forms of exercise are more ideal for conditioning are…

1. They are low impact. Both swimming and weightpulling (dragging) use either the resistance of the water against the physical effort, or the low weights that are dragged, to engage more muscle groups in a longer sustained muscle contraction.

Neither swimming nor weightpulling, when using a properly fitted weightpulling harness and appropriate amount of resistance, contain any significant risk of injury. The International Weight Pull Association (IWPA), a sanctioning organization since the early 1980’s, has reported there has NEVER to their knowledge, been ANY report of injury to a dog at any event in their history.

2. Both exercise methods are easy for the owner to control the duration and the resistance involved in the activity, as well as equipment available for safety, like flotation devices and harnesses made to distribute the weight safely in order to prevent straining specific muscle groups and joints.

3. Resistance training engages the muscles in a longer, slower muscle contraction as well as typically engaging more muscle groups. For this reason, these sports can drain more physical energy in a shorter period of time than a trotting or running gait. For dogs that have self-control and arousal issues, resistance training  generally requires and encourages a more calm mental state. Unlike the excitement that is often associated with running sports like Flyball, Agility and other running sports.

4. Because these methods of exercise are not equipment intensive and are so effective a draining energy in a short period of time (20 minutes, 2-4 times per week), the rate of owner participation and compliance is much higher.

For the well meaning breeder or layperson, inexperienced in a variety of dog sports, I might encourage you to consider, before discouraging dog owners who wish to try new dog sports, that participation in a variety of exercise regimen may well be the best an owner can do. Many dogs wind up in shelter, or having a variety of behavioral problems from anxiety to reactivity simply because the did did NOT have appropriate energy outlet or training. Discouraging access to those things “for the dogs well being”, based on age or other reason, may not actually be in his best interest. Better yet, please recommend that the owner educate himself in safe execution of the discipline he chooses. Better yet work with an experienced trainer whenever possible.

Don’t forget that an increase exercise is one if the most important and effective additions to any behavioral modification regimen. It helps develop trust and relationship with the owner, build confidence in shy and nervous dogs, as well as decrease reactivity in high energy dogs. Owner compliance is key. When access to water is a concern for swimming, consider dragging exercise as an alternative.

The American Pulling Dog Association (APDA) website offers a lot of educational information about weightpulling, training, testimonials, videos and resources.

Why Weightpulling?

Sometimes we need reasons to try something new. Even if what we are questioning can be the most direct route to success.

Why weightpulling?

I would like to encourage, not only trainers and behaviorists, but the general dog owning public, to add this conditioning regimen to their dogs exercise program. Not only for draining excess energy, and as a rehabilitation supplement, but because its fun!

We spend most of our dogs early, and sometimes constant, training career teaching them NOT to pull. On a leash that is. It is something they clearly have a tendency to do, but often, also something that they enjoy. That being said, it does NOT encourage pulling on the leash when trained properly. They can learn to pull only in when in harness.

Why not LET them pull? Not on the leash, but with a properly fitted *pulling or *freight harness that is padded (custom made for the dog) and distributes weight safely. Satisfying that desire to pull and drain the energy that they need to, that cannot normally be satisfied on the end of a leash without the owner taking up jogging, cross country skiing or sledding.

Some people have even discovered that this form of resistance training works even better than throwing the ball or Frisbee, and other types of running exercise. Again, why? Because this form of exercise is something the dogs do in a calm, thinking state. It requires some focus and does not cause the same adrenaline rush that reactive forms of exercise can do, and takes less time and effort on the part of the owner.

As a method of conditioning and draining excess energy, I generally recommend that my students only need to *drag with their dog for about 20 minutes 2-3 times per week. A 10 minute walk, out and back. It does not require much weight, only enough to create resistance, 20 pounds or less to start with a 50 pound dog.

This generally is sufficient for most dogs. Owners usually seeing a difference in calming that can last a day or 2 and can maintain the dogs’ appropriately calm energy level with this regular regimen.

For more information on this sport, see You will find a variety of different videos and training information.

Resistance Training As Behavioral Therapy: Its Called Canine Weightpulling

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Obedience trainers and behaviorists are often searching for better solutions to help their clients address behavioral issues with their dogs.  In that search, many have found a common denominator in the most effective solutions.


That common denominator is exercise. Common complaints about issues with dogs are barking, biting, whining, chewing, and jumping.  Training is a key component, but even with good behavioral modification, the improvements can be minimal if the dog is not exercised according to his/her individual energy level.  Giving the dog a job, an outlet to drain their excess energy, is an integral part of addressing these issues.


In our current society, given the busy lifestyles of Americans today, many people find it difficult to properly exercise their dogs.  Living in the city, balancing work and family commitments, or having a physical impediment – any of these can prevent an owner from exercising their dog consistently enough.  And while many owners are QUITE dedicated, spending significant time exercising their dog, sometimes their dog just needs more.


As a trainer, I work regularly with owners and their dogs addressing a wide variety of behavioral problems.  Six years ago I happened across an efficient way of draining excess energy that requires just about the same amount of time and effort on the part of the owner as going for a walk.  This simple addition to their routine has made a considerable difference in behavioral issues in many dogs.


I introduced weightpulling at my training center as an additional sport to offer my clients.  I wanted to make something available that was less equipment and time intensive than the demanding sport of agility.  I thought that perhaps people whose dog dragged them down the street might enjoy putting their dog’s natural tendency to work.  Of course, I hoped those people might enroll in my obedience classes as well.


To my surprise, I found instead that it was my obedience students who wound up doing weightpull.  Quite the opposite response than I expected.


More and more often, I ended up recommending weightpulling to my obedience class students whose dogs were suffering from a variety of significant behavioral issues. From aggression, to anxiety, to extreme fear issues . . . I wanted to encourage a method of exercise that builds confidence, requires focus, and drains energy.


I found that resistance training was particularly successful for fearful and reactive dogs.  The simplicity of the task encouraged the dog to focus, and allowed them to be consistently successful.  And this method drained more energy in less time by engaging more muscle groups in a longer, more consistent muscle contraction than the fast sports that require running and chasing (like agility, lure coursing, and retrieving).  I knew that swimming could have been an effective alternative, except for the simple fact that many owners don’t have regular access to a body of water, either because of proximity or season.  I do find a direct correlation to reactive issues in dogs due to the weather in our region (Central New York).  January through March are often the worst for many dogs because it is just too cold to spend extended periods outside exercising regularly.


As a result of conditioning dogs with a variety of issues utilizing weightpulling, I found that the length of time it takes to rehabilitate problem behaviors through behavior modification was significantly decreased.  I also found this useful for dogs who had already had behavioral modification techniques in place for some time, and had come to a plateau in their progress.  Their owners and trainers found significant improvement in the dogs confidence and continuing improvement after incorporating weightpulling into their regimen.

Please see for more information about weightpulling, training, and testimonials.

Canine Culture: It is what it is.



Hello all, my name is Lisa Mawson.

I am creating this blog to… well, mostly to think out loud. To voice publicly my thoughts and experiences on many topics. Including but not limited to, dogs and other animals. Some are part of my life, and some, part of the lives of others, friends, acquaintances and sometimes clients of Canine Culture, my training center.

This blog is to share experiences. And I will welcome comments as such. But criticism and negative comments will not be appreciated.

“If you really love animals, here is some advice for you:  respect the boundaries and feelings of the people who own them, It is not your right or business to tell me, or anyone else, what to do with our animals or our lives, how much money to spend, who to call for help. Do not give advice to people who have not asked for it, and do not want it. It’s a creepy thing to do, even if you don’t mean it that way. Apart from animal welfare, boundaries are important for human beings. They respect dignity, privacy and identity. Don’t try and take those from me, it will not go well for you.” Quoted from author Jon Katz.

Any experiences I post here are with permission of the people involved, whether publicly named or not. Any success or failure that I post is for the purpose of sharing and learning. Remember, not all training methods work for all animals, or people for that matter. In some cases a particular method may ultimately be successful, but may not be the best choice for a particular animal or owner for good reason. Just because you may know another technique, assuming you KNOW and have USED it for many other dogs and owners with similar issues, temperament and experience, that may NOT constitute experience that is necessarily valid in another case. So keep it to yourself unless it is relevant.

Watching every episode of the “Dog Whisperer” or training your own pets, does NOT make you a qualified professional.

If you understand, respect and appreciate what I have just posted, read on and enjoy. I hope some the experiences and ideas I ultimately share will provide some insight to the work in the world of animals and their lives with their people and maybe even entertain you.


Dogs Life… Human World