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Dear Dickens Archive

Dear Dachshund Admirers:
You may remember me from a few years ago, when I was featured on the DFW Dachshund Rescue website. The rescue volunteers and vet staff helped me overcome a number of medical challenges, including a broken jaw and treatment for heartworms. I was adopted last summer by a wonderful couple and have been happily settled in my new home for quite some time. Now that life is great for me, I have been thinking about ways to give back to those who helped me so much. One day, my new family was reading the paper and I saw something called an "advice column" for humans. I thought to myself, "that's it! I'll write my own advice column for DFW Dachshund Rescue and call it 'Dear Dickens'." Just like the people who write the human advice columns, I'll call upon different dog experts if I can't answer the whole question by myself. The volunteers thought it was a great idea, so this will be a regular feature on the website. I hope you will write to me if you have questions and I will do my best to answer them.
Love, Dickens

Dear Dickens,
My husband and I recently applied to adopt a dog from a rescue group. We have enjoyed training our previous dogs in both obedience and agility and even did some competing with them in area events. We had planned to pursue training in this area with our new adopted dog. However, when we shared that information with the rescue group during the home visit they immediately told us that our application would be immediately denied as it was their opinion that training a dog for performance events was unacceptable because the dog should not be forced to do or learn any sort of performance activity. They further stated that they knew we would abandon the dog if it did not perform up to the standards we wanted and therefore we could not adopt from their group. Dickens...we were stunned by this response. We have always loved and cared for our dogs as family members, and would never abandon a dog because he or she did not do well in a performance activity. Is this true that dogs should not be allowed to train and participate in performance events? Is it true that some rescue groups ban potential adopters that are interested in becoming involved in these types of activities with their dogs?
Dogless and Sad in Denver

Dear Dogless and Sad,
I am very disappointed to hear about the response you had from the rescue group. Performance activities, such as obedience, agility, tracking, etc are a lot of fun for owners and their dogs and further strengthen the bond between owner and dog. Dogs were bred to have a purpose in life, and many dogs enjoy participating in performance activities. The activity that may be the best match for a dog depends on his or her personality and energy level. A very active dog that loves to run and chase may enjoy agility, while a calmer dog may find obedience to be a better fit. Dogs in the hound category often enjoy and do well in tracking classes. Ask volunteers from a rescue group what they are involved in beyond simply fostering dogs for a rescue program. What do they get out and do with their own dogs? Look for a rescue group where at least some of the members and volunteers in the group are knowledgeable and involved in dog performance activities. A breed specific dog club also can be an excellent source of information. Please do not be discouraged in your attempt to adopt a dog from a rescue group. A well-run rescue group will encourage (never discourage!) prospective owners from becoming involved in performance activities with their dog. A good rescue group will help guide you to a dog in their program that would not only be a good fit for your home, but a good fit for a specific performance activity.

I sure am glad to be back writing my column! I took a long break, and I am refreshed and ready to go!

Your buddy, Dickens!

Dear Dickens,
I have missed your regular columns, and I am hoping you will start writing again soon. Could you answer my question in your next column? My friend found a stray dachshund and after a lot of searching, could not find the owner. She called a rescue group for help. They started asking her a lot of questions about the dog and wanted her to send them pictures. They also said the dog had to be "evaluated" before they would consider taking the dog in. Why all this "red tape"? Can't someone from the group just go over and pick up the dog right away?
Exasperated in Ennis

Dear Exasperated,
I understand that you feel frustrated on behalf of your friend. After all, she was trying to help the stray dog when the original owner could not be found. However, rescue groups focus on re-homing those dogs whose age, temperament and health lend themselves to being adopted. They are not able to provide permanent sanctuary care for dogs who would not be adopted. Therefore, they have to carefully screen potential dogs to determine their suitability for re-homing. The rescue group has to consider several factors before admitting a dog into their program.

1. Does the group have an available foster home for the dog? Responsible groups do not take in more dogs than can be cared for properly in a foster home. In most cases, foster homes can't care for more than two foster dogs in addition to their own animals. Space is very limited in most rescue groups.
2. In looking at the photographs of the dog that were sent from the person seeking help - is the dog of the breed and age range that the group is able to help?
3. When the dog is evaluated by a member of the group, does the dog pass a basic temperament test? Responsible rescue groups do not knowingly accept dogs into their programs that have unstable temperaments. Dogs like these cannot be re-homed and represent a danger to the public.

I hope this helps you understand what factors rescue groups consider when admitting dogs to their programs. Now I'm going to sniff out the packages under my Christmas tree - I heard maybe there are some new toys for me! I can't wait to open my presents!

Your buddy, Dickens!

Dear Dickens,
I'm so glad to see that you are writing new columns! I look forward to reading what you have to say. My owner and I are committed to getting more physically fit this year. Do you have any advice for us?
Wanting to Be Active in Washington

Dear Wanting,
Thank you for your kind words. I really like writing my column and hope that what I have to say helps people and their dogs.

Good for you - wanting to get more physically fit! Staying trim and being active helps dachshunds reduce their chance of back and neck problems.

Here are my suggestions:
1. Walking is great for you and your owner. Start gradually with a nice 15 or 20 minute walk and build up to longer distances gradually.
2. Be sure to have your nails trimmed before you start on your new fitness plan.
3. Your owner should have comfortable, but well fitting walking shoes.
4. Insist that your owner always carry a "poop bag" to clean up any unexpected messes. Responsible owners clean up after their dog buddies.
5. And please - have your owner use a regular six foot leash for you. Never, ever let your owner use a retractable leash. Those are very dangerous and have caused serious eye and skin injuries.

Happy walking! Here's to a physically fit New Year!

Your buddy, Dickens!

Dear Dickens,
I have missed reading your columns, and hope you have some new ones soon! I have a question. My family hears people talking about microchipping and how important this is. Is it really that important for me to have a microchip?
Thoughtful Tilly from Tennessee

Dear Thoughtful Tilly,
Thank you for reading my columns. I got behind in my writing, but now in the New Year I am busy catching up and preparing new columns for my loyal fans to read.

I'm glad you asked about microchips! A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is injected beneath the surface of a dog's skin, between the dog's shoulders. The microchip will last the lifetime of the dog. If we get lost, a shelter or a vet clinic can scan us (kind of like the grocery store!) and a series of numbers and letters will pop up. This unique ID number will trace us to a microchip company who has all the contact information for our family. This can help us be reunited with our family. It's so scary to think of being lost and not being able to tell someone who we are, and where we belong.

You may think that you won't get lost; but people sometimes forget to latch gates or close doors. Sometimes we dogs smell something great and bolt through the front door. Most of the time, we are much faster than our human family members, so they can't catch us. A microchip can save your life! They aren't expensive and your vet clinic can do this for you.

Our volunteers are very sad when a sweet dog comes to rescue; looking like he has been loved all his life - but he has no microchip or collar ID tags to help him reunite with his family. "If only he had a microchip or tags on his collar" the volunteers say. I am happy to say that all the rescue dogs that come through this program leave with a microchip!

For the New Year, please tell your family that you need to be microchipped! And don't forget to have them make sure you have collar ID tags as well; with your family's contact information on them. We like tags from Boomerang Tags. They are the most durable ones we have seen.

Have a Great New Year! And always carry your ID!

Your buddy, Dickens!

Dear Dickens,
I read the rescue blotter on your site regularly and it makes me so sad to see how many dachshunds need help and to realize there aren't enough foster homes to help out. I was wondering about being a foster parent. What should I be thinking about if I want to be a dachshund foster parent?
Nurturing Nancy

Dear Nancy,
I am so glad that you are thinking about fostering a dachshund in need. I wouldn't be here today if there hadn't been loving foster parents to care for me while I was in the rescue program. I am especially glad you want to learn about what is required before you decide to accept a foster dog into your home.

I talked with our experienced foster parents, and here are the questions they suggested you ask of yourself:
1. Do you have time and patience to work with a dog who most likely hasn't learned the basics of housetraining, crate training or walking on a leash? Most of us dachshunds don't end up in rescue because we came from responsible owners. We end up in rescue because people did not practice responsible pet ownership. It requires patience to teach these skills, but the good news is with patience and consistency we can learn!
2. Are you willing to feed your own dogs - and the rescue dachshund - on a set schedule? In order to make progress with housetraining and to manage weight, dachshunds must be fed on a set schedule. If you are determined to free feed your dog, be advised that this will not work for someone who wants to be a foster parent.
3. Are you a flexible person, willing to learn and try new ways of working with dogs? If you have set ways of working with dogs and are unwilling to learn new approaches, foster parenting is probably not for you.
4. Are your own dogs well socialized and do you think they will be able to tolerate other dogs coming in to their home?
5. Will you be able to let go of your foster dog once the right home has been found? I know my foster parents were sad to see me go, but so happy that I found the perfect "forever" home! They knew they had done their job well and it was time for me to be on my way.

If you can answer "yes" to the above questions, then I would encourage you to give fostering a try. All the foster parents I talked to assured me that they found fostering to be an interesting and rewarding experience.

Now, where is my ball? And my family? Time for a brisk game of fetch.

Until next time, Dickens!

Dear Dickens,
We haven't heard from you in awhile, and I am hoping that you could answer this question for your readers. What can someone do if a person dies and leaves behind an elderly dachshund? How do you find help for a dog in this situation? You seem to be so smart, I am sure you will have some answers.
Sunset Sam in San Francisco

Dear Sunset Sam,
This is a tough question, even for a smart fellow like me. Our volunteers would tell you that they get this type of call far too many times. Here are some things you can do:
1. If you have an elderly parent, please talk with them them about plans for their dog long before something happens. Your parent may have some ideas about options for their dog once they are gone.
2. Try to find out where the dog came from initially. Did the person purchase it from a breeder? If so, a responsible breeder always takes back a dog of their breeding. Did the person adopt the dog from a responsible rescue group? If so, the group's adoption contract will specify that the dog is to be returned to the group.
3. If those aren't options, then consider bringing together a group of the person's friends, neighbors and relatives to brainstorm who might provide (in memory of the deceased person) a home for the elderly dog for the rest of its life. A group of people together may come up with a workable solution.
4. Family members, who will have known how much the dog meant to their relative, should give strong consideration to caring for the dog for the rest of its life. That is truly an honorable thing to do.

Now, sadly, I have to get to the hard stuff. If the options above do not produce a home for the dog, then we need to discuss some painful realities.
1. If you take the dog to a shelter, it will be considered an "owner release". Most shelters are only obligated to keep dogs for a period of time who are actual "stray" dogs. Many times, "owner release" dogs are euthanized immediately due to the large number of dogs already in a shelter.
2. The odds of an elderly dog being adopted from a shelter are nearly zero. People want to adopt dogs with whom they can have a reasonable number of years of companionship. They don't want to adopt a dog at the time of life when its care will tend to be more expensive.
3. Rescue organizations (unless they also function as a sanctuary for unadoptable dogs) will almost never take elderly dogs. The purpose of most rescue organizations is to re-home dogs and their time and funds must be dedicated to dogs who can be re-homed.
4. In the event that there are no responsible people willing to care for the elderly dog to honor his/her previous owner, the kindest thing to do would be to accompany the dog and hold him or her while the final release to the Rainbow Bridge is administered. As tough as this is to imagine, it would be a kindness to the deceased owner and to their beloved companion to make sure that the dog does not leave this world alone and afraid, in the hands of strangers at an animal shelter.

If you are faced with an elderly dog who has lost its home due to the death of the owner, please understand the realities of this type of situation and work hard to find a home for the dog. We dogs are dependent on humans. We don't understand when our human is gone and we are abandoned. We did nothing wrong. Knowing that I have loyal readers, I hope you will share this information with people who may need it.

Until next time, Dickens!

Dear Dickens,
I really enjoy reading your column. You are one smart dachshund! I was thinking about your rescue volunteers, and wondering what they think the most important issues are in regard to dog rescue programs. Would you interview them and share some of their thoughts this holiday season?
Wondering Winston in Waxahachie

Dear Wondering Winston,
What a great question! I was happy to do that; there's nothing I like better than visiting with the wonderful people who saved my life and helped me find my "forever" family. I made the rounds this past week, and here is what the volunteers shared with me. I know you will find it interesting.

1. We dogs are a commitment for our lifetimes. For a small dog, like a dachshund, that can be up to 16 years. Please don't bring a dog into your home unless you envision letting the dog spend its entire life with you.

2. Some lifestyles work better for us than others. Think about the changes that you might face in the years to come, and try to think whether a dachshund is the right dog for you. So many times, our volunteers get calls from people who "have had a baby" and now want to "get rid of" the dog because it doesn't fit with the new family configuration. Dachshunds and other small dogs aren't necessarily the best choice for a family with very young children. If you see small children in your future... wait to get a dachshund.

3. Heartworm disease is caused by a mosquito bite! It is not picked up from the ground. It only takes one bite and the dog can be infected. The treatment is NOT pleasant. (I know... I had to go through it!) That monthly heartworm prevention is one of the most important things you can do for your dog.

4. Microchips help reunite lost dogs! Stray dogs rarely, if ever, have a microchip. This is so sad, because that microchip could have helped the dog reunite with its family. I know that I am so glad I have one. Every rescue dog that leaves this program gets a microchip so that we all have permanent identification. If your dog does not have a microchip, please do that for him or her as a Christmas gift.

5. One thing that makes the rescue volunteers very sad is to find a dog whose owner has died... and the owners made no plans for the dog's future care. Many people think their children will take the dog; but in the experience of our volunteers, the children usually take the dog to a shelter. That is so scary to think of being in a loving home, and then ending up in an animal shelter because a plan was not made. Please, this holiday season... be sure there is a written plan in place in case something happens to you. We dogs depend on our owners to do the right thing!

6. There are already too many of us dogs looking for loving homes. Many of the dogs in shelters will never find a forever home. That makes me SO sad. Please, please do not breed your pet dachshund. Have them spayed or neutered, and if you want another companion for your home, check out the area shelters and rescue groups.

The volunteers told me these are some of the most important issues to them, and I hope all of my loyal fans will read this and share my column with others, as well. If it weren't for DFW Dachshund Rescue, I would never have had a second chance so I want to use my platform as "Ask Dickens" to spread the word about these issues!

Well, I'm off to check out the holiday decorations in my home! I overheard my family saying that maybe they are going to get me some holiday themed toys... so a little investigation under the Christmas tree is in order.

Love and holiday wishes from Dickens!

Dear Dickens,
Now that I have been settled in to my new home for awhile, I would like to pursue some educational opportunities for myself. My new family says I am very smart so surely there are places and opportunities for me to learn and grow. I hear that I could even learn enough to eventually compete in special dog performance activities. Is this true?
Longing to Learn from Longview

Dear Longing to Learn,
Well! I am especially equipped to answer this question, as I just graduated from beginner's obedience class last week. I even had a mortarboard to wear at my graduation ceremony - check out my picture! You, too, can be an esteemed obedience school graduate just like your pal Dickens here.

It has been said that we dogs are often the most underemployed creatures on the planet. Every breed has specific jobs, and so often we don't get to do the jobs we were bred to so. For example, there aren't too many badgers to hunt in my neighborhood. However, squirrels make a fun replacement.

We need ways to exercise our minds as well as our bodies. Obedience class gives us a way to exercise our minds as well as helping us learn skills that are valuable in our homes. For example, I learned to sit and stay by the front door. Now I wait until my family says "okay" before I go out. Everyone loves an educated and well mannered dog!

You can find obedience classes in your community by doing a search on the internet for your area. Sometimes dog breed clubs offer classes, as well as specific obedience clubs. The classes at area pet stores are also an option, and some junior colleges may have a dog obedience course as part of their community education program. It shouldn't be hard to find a class.

Once you do find a place to take classes, have your family go out and observe the instructor first. In today's world, "positive training is the place to be" and you will want a class that uses that approach. Look for classes that encourage the use of the clicker because that is a very positive motivator for us dogs, and it is especially helpful for some of my dog buddies who are more timid and unsure about trying new things. I, of course, do not have a timid bone in my dachshund body!

Once you have taken a basic obedience class; the sky's the limit; you can go on for higher levels of obedience classes (that's what I am going to do) and even compete in rally obedience. I'll do a column about that later on. Or you may want to consider investigating agility. That is also a lot of fun and I can write more on that topic at another time.

As for me, I'm going off to practice my sit-stays and see if I can earn some more of those delicious treats my family was handing out! My guess is that the next time I hear from you, you will signing your letters "Loving to Learn"!

All my best, Dickens

Dear Dickens,
My owner is ready to pull her hair out. I have a problem with urinating on the carpet. My owner can't get the smell out of the carpet and she's so upset she's pulling her hair out. I love my family and I don't want my owner to go bald! I just know you'll have some great advice for me.
Hopeful Hope

Dear Hope,
You will relieved to know that you're not alone. We dachshunds tend to have a stubborn streak; after all - the breed standard describes us as "courageous to the point of rashness". While this serves us well in field events and other like activities, it sometimes makes us much more difficult to housetrain. We are also prone to relapses in our housetraining.

The first step is for you to have a good checkup with your vet, and to make sure you don't have a urinary tract infection. An infection - even a low grade one - will certainly make housetraining accidents more frequent. The second step is to make sure that your doxie mom or dad gets all the smell out of the carpet. You may need to have it professionally cleaned first. My helpful advisors (I have lots of friends!) suggested a wide variety of products that will be helpful for removing stains and smells.

Nature's Miracle (this was recommended the most)
Resolve Pet Stain
Simple Solutions
Oxi Clean mixed in a squirt bottle
Pfizer's Elmin-Odor Pet Accident Formula
Bissell Pet Stain & Odor Remover spray
A Spot Bot or Bisell Little green monster machine also works extremely well on small stains

Be sure to tell your mom or dad not to use any ammonia based products on the floor or carpet because it smells like urine and confuses our super sniffing dachsie noses.

Once the stains and smells are removed from the carpet and any urinary tract infections have been ruled out, it's time to return to the basics of "Housetraining 101". A good resource is a little booklet called Way to Go! How to Housetrain a Dog of Any Age by Patricia McConnell. It has a good review of an effective housetraining routine.

Our foster parents call this routine "No Pee/No Play" - like they have in schools where they call it "No Pass/No Play". Before you start this routine, your owners will need to make a simple housetraining chart where they can record what happens throughout the day. They can make their own, or search online where they will find several websites that have downloadable forms. Using a chart helps figure out each dog's unique bathroom habits and helps time the trips outside.

In the morning, your owners need to make sure you do all your business before returning inside. They will need to go with you and make sure that you take care of business rather than get distracted by other things - like the neighbor's dog or that pesky squirrel. If you don't do all your business, then your owners need to return you to your crate and try again in about 10 to 15 minutes. Getting a good start on the day helps establish a good housetraining routine. Have them mark down all of your business for the day on the chart. At the end of the day, they can review the chart and notice any patterns. Some dachshunds like to pee twice when they go out, so it's important for your owners to know your preferences and plan accordingly.

Using the chart, your owners can figure out how frequently you should be going out. The smaller and/or younger you are, the more frequently you'll have to go out. I should know - I was only 6 pounds when I came to the rescue program! Have them take you out about 10 minutes before your estimated "potty time". If your owners are consistent in using the chart and timing trips outside, you will do well. It takes patience, but it will be worth it and soon your home will be "smell-free". Now I'm off to show some of that courageous behavior I mentioned earlier. I'm going to retrieve my ball from under the big cabinet!

Love, Dickens

Dear Dickens,
I have a very embarrassing problem. I live with a wonderful couple and have a great life with them. They feed me a premium dog food, give me lots of exercise and plenty of attention. My vet even tells me I am the perfect weight! I also have a dachshund sibling for companionship. In short, I have everything I need for a great life. However, I have this compulsion to eat poop which is really bothering my family. What can I do to stop this behavior?
Blushing Rosie from Dallas

Dear Rosie,
You might not believe me, but this is a problem that you actually share with other dogs. People don't like to talk about this (we dogs are more "upfront" when it comes to things like this) because the behavior is disgusting to them.

"Eating poop" actually has a fancy name, it is called "coprophagia". This has been studied before, but there is still no definitive answer as to why dogs do this. Dogs don't find the taste of feces objectionable - otherwise they would stop this on their own.

The best method for your family is to always clean up right away so that there is no poop available to tempt you. If they do that consistently for about a month it may be enough time to break the habit for you. You are already eating a premium food; so your nutrition needs are being met. Some dogs aren't as lucky as you, and they have nutritional deficiencies from eating poor quality food that may contribute to the problem. I'm so glad that isn't a problem for you! You also have an active, fun life and that is something else that distracts dogs from eating poop. There are some products you can add to a dog's food to discourage this behavior, but most of the reports say that these don't help all that much.

With what your family is already doing and the suggestions in my letter, things will work out okay. Next time you can sign your letter to me as "Smiling Rosie" from Dallas.

Now, back to a game of ball with my family - they're waiting for me!

Love, Dickens

Dear Dickens,
I just went for my annual checkup at the vet and I heard the vet tell my owner I was much too fat! Oh, I was mortified! I have always thought of myself as "pleasingly plump". I have to say though - I do love to eat! What should I do now? Is losing weight really that important?
From "Plump in Pennsylvania"

Dear Plump in Pennsylvania,
I totally understand your enjoyment of food. We dachshunds seem to share a special enthusiasm for the gustatory pleasures of life.

Although it was hard to hear, your vet was right. Since we are considered a "dwarf breed", carrying extra weight is a special problem for us. Our long backs pre-dispose us to back injury and that is definitely something we want to try to avoid. Keeping a trim waistline helps reduce the possibility of back surgery and/or long weeks on crate rest recovering from a back injury. (Crate rest is boring; I know - I had to be on crate rest when I was going through heartworm treatment.)

Keep in mind that dog food bags recommend much more food than a dachshund truly needs. Have your owner talk with your vet as well as experienced dachshund people and find out what portions would be right to help you lose weight. Exercise helps too! Finding and chasing those pesky squirrels is one way to get some exercise; and daily walks where you can check out the great scents in your neighborhood are even better!

I'm rooting for you and I bet that soon your letters to me will be signed "Slim and Trim in Pennsylvania".

Love, Dickens