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Big Tail Waggin' Graduate Saves Home and Family from Fire

Grade saves familyOn the morning of May 16, 2006 Sue Desmarais of Jackson, NJ would have lost her home to a fire if not for Toby, a one-year-old shepard mix she adopted from The League. Desmarais noticed an odd smell in her home early that morning that she mistook for water damage and decided to head to the store to purchase cleaning fluid. Toby, a normaly quiet dog prevented her from leaving the house by barking at her and nipping at her pant leg. He then directed her to a room in the home where she suspected the water damage to find a smoldering fire that had just burst into flames. Desmarais, a retired police officer was able to extinguish the fire, but credits Toby for saving her home. "If we left for the store as I intented, my house, three dogs and prized possessions would have been gone by the time I arrived home."
Sue Desmarais is so grateful to Toby for saving her home and to North Shore Animal League America for bringing them together.

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Asbury Park Press (Neptune, NJ)
February 23, 2004
"Good dog, bad dog Animal behaviorist Sue Sternberg
brings her expertise to Big Tail Waggin' in Red Bank"

Section: C   Page: 08

SUE Sternberg is no Dr. Doolittle, but after a lifetime of working with dogs, she's learned quite a bit about communicating with animals. Now the owner of Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption shelter in Accord, N.Y., she is the subject of an HBO documentary, "Shelter Dogs," scheduled to air 12:24 p.m. tomorrow, and is taking her expert insights into dog behavior on the road, lecturing to animal care workers and pet owners about the importance of interpreting what she considers to be a universal language of facial and physical expressions.
On Sunday, from 9 to 5, Sternberg will be lecturing at Big Tail Waggin, 205 W. Front St. in Red Bank on the subjects of identifying aggression in puppies under 16 weeks of age and learning to read a dog's facial expressions. The all-day, two-part lecture, which costs $85, will include a continental breakfast and lunch and will incorporate demonstrations with dogs, as well as video footage.
"This is Sue's third time lecturing here," says dog trainer and owner of Big Tail Waggin, Roseann Baars. "She's a regular keynote speaker for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and she's world renowned for her work and her lectures. Most other seminars in the area are geared to obedience or agility. It's very unusual to have somebody right here in our own back yard to speak about aggression."
Baars says Sternberg is responsible for developing a new standard or prototype room that dog shelters around the world have begun to implement.
"As long as I've known her, which is about 10 years now, she's been working to better the lives of dogs in shelters, enriching their lives so they're not just in bare kennels with no blankets, bedding or bones. The "real life" rooms that she designed at her shelter have walls between them so that the dog doesn't have to worry about a dog next to it biting or growling through a chain link fence."
Sternberg says that she initially agreed to become the subject of "Shelter Dogs" because she wanted to dispel myths and simplify views people have about sheltering strays. "I wanted to make sure that the filmmaker, Cynthia Wade, didn't just make a film about how people are irresponsible, and how dogs are wonderful and warm and fuzzy if they're treated well. It's not all black and white, and Wade was very willing to experience (and show) all the difficult and gray areas of sheltering."
One of those "gray areas," says Sternberg, is animal behavior and how the nature vs. nurture argument plays into determining which dogs will eventually make good pets for potential adopters.
"So many people think that all puppies start out as clean slates, and that, if you socialize them and raise them well, they'll turn out to be little Lassies, and that's just not true. There are a lot of genetics involved. You can only socialize and train and enhance and work with what the dog was born with," she says.
"There are many puppies that are so great, temperamentally, that you can't ruin them. You could stick them out on a chain for 10 years, and after 10 years, they come to the shelter, and they're still wonderful dogs waiting to move into a home and live with somebody, despite the fact that they've known nothing but a chain.
"And then, there are some puppies that have been raised and trained and socialized by the most loving people, and they end up becoming very aggressive dogs, through no fault of their owners.
"Most puppies fall within the medium. Even if you didn't do much in the way of training and socialization, they'd end up decent dogs, Sternberg says. "But there are puppies at either extreme, and it's important to learn to recognize the signs of potential problem puppies, which is what I'll be discussing during the first half of the lecture."
Sternberg says when a family suspects their new puppy is not doing what other puppies do or if it is in any way threatening them, growling at them or biting at them or just doesn't seem to enjoy social interaction with humans, they should seek the advice of a dog behavior specialist or trainer to determine if their puppy has aggressive tendencies.
"All dogs show some kinds of aggression, as do humans," she says. "You have to determine what the dog's threshold is to find out if it is manageable. You can't train aggression out of a dog, but you may be able to learn to manage it if you understand the trigger points.
"I always encourage positive, reward-based training at any level, at any age. You don't have to train your dog because he needs it or because he's doing something that you're pulling your hair out over. You want to train your dog because it makes your life better. It makes the dog's life better, and it promotes a bond and a relationship that is like no other."
"Part two of her lecture," says Sternberg, "will focus on learning to read a dog's facial expressions and body language - a language she believes is universal in dogs and incorporates a full range of emotions, just as in humans.
"I don't know if this is scientifically proven, but ask anyone with a dog, and they will agree that a dog's can look angry, puzzled, curious, threatened, etc. Their faces, and their eyes, say so much, but you have to learn to read them. It's like communicating in a different language. Dogs don't speak English. We can't growl or bark. We don't have any idea what these things mean, but by learning more about body language and facial language, we can communicate with them, and we can understand them so much better."
Sternberg, who has spent most of her adult life working with dogs, says that although none of her theories about dog communication have been scientifically proven, she is "more than willing to be totally anthropomorphic" when it comes to evaluating the meaning from a dog's physical expressions.
"Our relationship with dogs is so profound and so not yet understood in its depth. They're not humans, and yet they're not wild animals, either. They're something so much more, and when you learn to understand them, you're much safer, and your relationship with your dog is much more enriched because you have a better sense of how what you're doing is affecting the dog," she says.
For registration and ticket information for the Sunday lecture at Big Tail Waggin, e-mail or call (732) 460-0021. Seating is limited.

Copyright (c) Asbury Park Press. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: asb20040223041

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Red Hot Red Bank Magazine
fall/winter issue 2003
Red Bank red Hot article
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Asbury Park Press (Neptune, NJ)
September 17, 2001
"Canine Control When 'good' dogs become aggressive, it's time to help"
Section: B   Page: B12

AMERICANS really love their dogs. At last count, there were close to 53 million dogs sharing homes with human families in the United States more per capita than anywhere else in the world, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Unfortunately, the age-old friendship between man and mutt is not without its problems. An estimated 4.5 million people are bitten each year in the United States - a number that appears to be on the rise. But dog trainer Roseann Baars of Tinton Falls is less interested in the statistics of human casualties than in understanding the behavior of "man's best friend." When Fido freaks, Baars believes that human misunderstanding is usually responsible.
"I think the greatest message I'd want to send to the public is that aggressive dogs aren't `bad.' You know, they're not up at night plotting, like people are," said Baars, who owns and operates Big Tail Waggin, a dog training center in Red Bank where she s! pecializes in animal behavior modification, counseling and socialization.
According to Baars, there are a number of reasons why an otherwise good dog might bite. Aggressive behavior might be a reaction to pain caused by a condition such as hip dysplasia, an inner-ear infection or even a brain tumor. If a trip to the vet rules out a medical condition as the cause of a dog's aggression, Baars suggests that the pet's owner begin a program of behavior modification to manage their dog's reactions to anxiety-provoking situations and to prevent further episodes.
"Dogs that bite are usually just intolerant or fearful," she said. "Every dog that bites is automatically labeled `dominant.' And that's just not accurate. It makes the dog a villain."
Baars, who has four dogs of her own, believes that almost all aggressive tendencies in dogs can be attributed to either genetics or traumatic experiences occurring during the critical developmental period between 3 and 12 weeks, when a puppy's eyes are just beginning to open.
"Some dogs have a genetic predisposition to be fearful or aggressive. It's not about breeds. It's more about breeding. A responsible breeder will pull an aggressive animal from the breeding program and have it neutered."
Aggression, barking, lunging, dropping the tail and baring the teeth, Baars explains, is distance-increasing behavior intended to put space between a dog and the thing it has a concern about.
"These are all ways that a dog communicates that it wants the object of its' anxiety to move farther away. When the defensive stuff doesn't work, it resorts to the offensive stuff and that usually works pretty well. What looks to the average person like aggressive behavior is a learned response to fear."
Which is why, according to Baars, owners should never punish a dog for behavior that appears aggressive. Instead, she suggests removing the dog immediately from the anxiety-provoking situation without reprimand, which she believes only increases the dog's fear and confusion, as well as the chance that it will react with more violence.
"Punishment doesn't teach appropriate behavior, and it can lead to more aggression," she said, offering as an example the tale of a happy-go-lucky dog that had no problems other than an overzealous reaction when greeting guests at the front door. In order to keep the dog from pouncing on her company, the dog's owner had taken the advice of a neighbor and purchased a shock collar, "the most severe form of punishment you can use on a dog," according to Baars. After a few months of being shocked every time someone came to the door, the dog began to associate the pain he was experiencing with the arrival of guests. He began biting people.
"The woman loved her dog," said Baars, "but she turned him into a monster by listening to bad advice. Now she's thinking of euthanizing him, and he's really just an innocent victim."
Baars feels her mission as a trainer is to educate dog owners about preventing aggression through proper training, preferably when the dog is still a puppy. "You can train-in bite inhibition," said Baars, who recommends that owners begin working with their puppies at around 8 weeks old.
For older dogs that are exhibiting aggression, Baars admits that typical obedience training will not be of much help, since the behavior is rooted in what she calls a "mental unsoundness." Instead, she suggests a therapeutic approach involving three principles: the first, counter classic-conditioning, exposes the dog to the thing it has developed a fear of and associates that thing with rewards the second, systematic desensitization, uses rewards to decrease by increments the amount of space a dog needs to tolerate a particular thing the third, response substitution, has the dog perform a task in exchange for a reward each time it becomes anxious.
"All three of these methods can be successful in reducing or eliminating aggression," said Baars, "but it can be a very slow process. It takes time."
When behavior modification therapies are unsuccessful, Baars sends her clients to a board certified veterinary behavior specialist, who may prescribe drug therapy for the pet in conjunction with behavior modification programs.

Copyright (c) Asbury Park Press. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: asb2001091741928200146
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