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Lessons from Langston: Opinions and E-Collars


(Todd Langston)

The pronged collar – a chain with a set of links pointing toward the neck – gets a lot of negative publicity because it can hurt a dog when used incorrectly. I often hear people condemn this device without ever having used it, meaning their ideas are based completely on opinion. For Mason and I, this tool has helped us save the lives of several fear aggressive dogs.

At its core, the collar is a simple device, based on a simple philosophy. When a dog misbehaves, we jerk the leash, making the chain tighten, which applies pressure to specific points on a dog’s neck. According to Cesar Millan in Be the Pack Leader, this misunderstood tool is one of the most “organic” devices on the market for controlling canines. The prong’s nip mimics animal behavior, and most dogs respond to it almost instantly. Every mother in nature – from bears to wolves – nips her young to show displeasure, not hard enough to break skin but hard enough to cause a reaction, a way of getting their attention. Basically, all a prong collar does is communicate to dogs in their own language.

Not surprisingly, I can be just as much of an opinionated a-hole as the next person. For years, I had the same negative impression about shock collars a.k.a. e-collars that many of my neighbors do about the pronged version. Luckily, I met Todd Langston, a dog behaviorist, who not only told me I was being a hypocrite, but schooled me on the benefits of e-collars. Needless to say, I wish I’d known Todd when we were fostering that maniac Bentley because I would have slapped on e-collar on him in a second. For this Lesson from Langston, our exchange about shock collars:

Melissa: We fostered a fear aggressive dog last year that we couldn’t break for anything. My husband I both got bit. Now, the woman that adopted him uses a shock collar.

TL: Do you see that as a bad thing?

Melissa: I don’t like shock collars.

TL: Have you ever used one?

Melissa: Yes, years ago on a fear aggressive German shepherd.

TL: If you’re calling it a shock collar, then there’s a there’s a good chance you weren’t using it correctly. There are a lot of ways to use that tool. E-collars are a brilliant device but it shouldn’t be sold to people that don’t know how to use it. It shouldn’t be sold in pet stores. Don’t sell that tool short. That tool has a very emotional history. It’s misused so it gets a very bad rap. Just like a prong collar does, but the people that have those opinions are often times just providing an opinion. And they don’t understand how it works.

If I could show you how to properly use the e-collar, you might possibly question why every dog owner doesn’t use one. You can use that tool more efficiently than you can use food. And you can use that tool with food together and it becomes the most beautiful tool that exists on the planet. But it’s not for everybody and it’s not for every dog. Not every situation needs it. Any human that lacks the ability to control their dog but is willing to put in the time and effort to learn a way, can take that tool and become the supreme pack leader without using corrections. It’s not going to replace effort. And that’s the problem; it’s been used as a moneymaker. You get a lot of trainers that say give me your dog for ten days and I’ll charge you $1500.00. I’ll make your dog sit and stay and be perfect. I don’t agree with that. I don’t appreciate that particular method. But if you understand dog behavior and psychology, then the [e-collar] is the best tool that exists and the least accepted.

Holly and the Rainbow Bridge

Katherine and Holly Post 3

(Katherine and Holly)

When I was in Vermont, I learned that Katherine Peacock, a Farnival contributor, lost her soul mate Holly a.k.a. Super Hero Holly. Katherine means the world to me because she’s the person that taught me how to be a pack leader. And Katherine learned the necessity of leading a pack because of her dog Holly. In a six- degrees-of-separation kind-of-way, Holly’s one of the germinating seeds for the Farnival.

Last year, I lost my own soul mate Miss Annie Daisy. The one thing that alleviated that first week’s overwhelming grief was reading this poem. I had never read the Rainbow Bridge before Annie died. I don’t know why but it helps, if only for a second. There are many versions of this poem, but I like the one below best. We love you, Katherine Peacock.

The Rainbow Bridge

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill

Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.

Where the friends of man and woman do run,

When their time on earth is over and done.


For here, between this world and the next,

Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.

On this golden land, they wait and they play.

Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.


No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,

For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.

Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,

Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.


They romp through the grass, without even a care,

Until one day they stop, and sniff at the air.

All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,

Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.


For just at that instant, their eyes have met,

Together again, both [human and dog.]

So they run to each other, these friends from long past,

The time of their parting is over at last.


The sadness they felt while they were apart,

Has turned into joy once more in each heart.

They embrace with a love that will last forever,

And then, side-by-side, they cross over…together.




Lessons From Langston: First Impressions

index_13l(Todd Langston)

“If I walk into your house, I communicate to your dog and what I’m going to communicate to them is that I expect respect.”

For those of you just tuning in, I had the opportunity to interview dog behaviorist Todd Langston last month. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting his advice in a feature called Lessons from Langston. His first lesson was about the necessity of mastering the walk. Click here for more.

In this post, Langston’s reveals what the “whisperer” in The Dog Whisperer means, plus how to make a positive first impression on a canine. How many times have you walked into a friend’s house and immediately dropped to your knees as soon as you saw they had a dog? According to Langston, that’s exactly how to make the wrong impression.

Where does the term whisperer come from in terms of Cesar Millan’s National Geographic show The Dog Whisperer?

That show has this very mystical appeal because [Cesar’s] going in and doing something that seems magical. Because what happens is when you learn how to work with dogs, you learn what they need, you learn how to communicate with them, you learn how to speak dog. So whispering means communication without words. If I walk into your house, I communicate to your dog and what I’m going to communicate to them is that I expect respect. And once we have that understanding, I’ll give them guidance. That becomes what the whole quote, unquote whispering is. It looks as though the dog is doing things for you in this magical way but in reality you are having an actual conversation through your actions and energy and being able to read and return what the dog gives you. Then the dog is like, “Holy shit, you know what I’m saying. What else can we do? Dude, let’s go do it.“ Humans struggle recognizing that they don’t do it the right way.

Can you be more specific about how to approach dogs?

I walk in head up, shoulders back. I have a notebook in my hand, like my schedule book. When a dog comes up to me, I hold that in front of me and ask for space. If the dog approaches and is barking, I just stand there because he’s telling me he doesn’t want me to come in yet. He needs to pause and kind of back away a little bit and that’s like giving me permission to come into his house. And that’s important because if you come in at the wrong time you can get challenged. And you don’t want that. I have a notebook and if the dog is too pushy, I touch him with the notebook. If I meet a new dog and they’re respectful, I’ll let them smell me for as long as they want because I probably smell [to them] like Facebook. I have a lot of smells on my shoes. And when they’re done, I’ll sit down and ignore the dog. Most dogs trigger a really emotional response in people. It triggers people to give right away. That puts the dog in control. Humans turn into these blubbering fools with dogs, and the dogs are like, “whatever.” It’s all about control.

The Perfect Dog by Danita Fowler

Hi y’all. You’ve met Danita Fowler, the author of this story, on the blog before. Click here for more about Danita a.k.a. the puppy goddess. I personally met Danita last year, soon after I lost my own soulmate, Miss Annie Daisy. When I heard Danita’s story about Belle, it comforted me in such a strange, sad, and wonderful way that I asked her if she wanted to write about Belle for the Farnival. Putting her feelings about Belle into words was hard for Danita, but her efforts were worth it. Please enjoy this heartbreaking story of unconditional love.



“When I saw a black spot on the road, I knew. If the human heart shattering can make a sound, my screams would be that sound.”

January 3rd 2008 was a Thursday. I was sixteen. It was Christmas break of my junior year. The plan was to eat lunch with my parents, then go to Springfield Animal Control on Industrial Drive and drop off a bag of dog food. As we sat at O’Charley’s, I remember talking to mom and telling her if there was a Chihuahua at the shelter, we would be bringing the dog home. I don’t even know why I thought about bringing home a Chihuahua that day. I love dogs but I never considered myself a small dog person.

After lunch, we pulled into the animal control parking lot. I grabbed the dog food, told mom I was going to look around. All eight kennels were occupied: a shepherd or lab here, a couple pit bulls there, a couple of mixed breed puppies. My eyes stopped on the third kennel to my left. A Chihuahua mix! She couldn’t have weighed more than seven pounds. She had a crooked nose, and her tongue hung out of the right side of her mouth but not because she was panting. It was permanently that way. The moment we locked eyes I knew she was mine. I opened her kennel door, and she let me pick her up. The animal control officer told us she had been brought in earlier in the week after someone witnessed her getting ditched on the roadside. She was on hold just in case someone called, but by Monday I could adopt her.

Monday, January 7th was a school day. I had spent all weekend picking out a collar and name for my new baby. I had decided to name her Belle. It meant “beautiful. I skipped my first class of the day, and just a few minutes after eight, I walked through the doors of the animal control office. The officer opened Belle’s kennel door, and she jumped from his arms to mine.

I held her the whole way home. Her tongue hung well past her jawline. It was dry, cracked, and so dark it looked almost black. She had the worst breath ever. She had no teeth except for one bottom tooth and half of another in the back. The vet guessed she was between 8 and 10 years old. Belle weighed almost eight pounds and had tumors on her stomach, but none of it mattered. I was totally and completely crazy about her.

I can distinctly tell you how happy I felt January 7th, 2008 when I brought her home, but I can’t even begin to describe the pain I went through five years later on October 1st, 2013 when she died. If I had known what was going to happen, I would have just stayed in bed with her all day.

Instead, I woke up and as usual let Belle out to do her business, then watched her come back inside. A few hours later I was in my room and had this terrible heartbreaking feeling that something was wrong with Belle. I asked my parents if they had seen her, but they hadn’t. We searched the house, yard, and roads, praying as we walked. Dead or alive, I needed to find her. I posted her on Facebook. I checked with neighbors. Nobody had seen her.

At 5:10 pm a friend messaged and asked if Belle was still missing. She said she had passed Belle walking down the road, heading towards the Kentucky state line. I’ve never moved so fast in my life. She was literally one mile from the house. Mom drove while I watched for Belle, but we didn’t get far before mom stopped. When I saw a black spot on the road, I knew. If the human heart shattering can make a sound, my screams would be that sound. As soon as mom went to pick up Belle, I grabbed my girl. One of the most important living beings in my life was gone, and I couldn’t tell her how sorry I was.

The day after Belle died was equally hard. I didn’t sleep much. I kept waking up and looking for her. My biggest fear was that Belle thought I had been the one to abandon her. Did she think I had gotten tired of her? Did she wonder where I was when she needed me the most?

At her cremation, I watched the men put my baby in that machine, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I stood there for an hour and fifteen minutes while they cremated her because I was never leaving her out of my sight again. The easiest part was picking out the urn; one of them had a flaw mark on it. It was the obvious choice for a dog with a tongue that permanently hung out. Thankfully, the men at Faithful Friends made the wait bearable by talking while we waited, making me both cry and laugh.

There’s a picture frame near Belle’s urn that says, “When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.” Belle’s picture is in that frame. That perfectly describes our bond. I miss everything about her, but mostly the simple things. I miss her hugs. No matter what kind of mood I was in, Belle would jump on me and put her paws on my shoulders and nuzzle me. I miss the tick of her nails on the floor. The way she would start off sleeping on top of my pillows and by the time I went to bed, she would get under the pillows. I miss how my arm would break out in an allergic reaction when I held her. I miss dressing her up in all the clothes I bought her, and seeing how excited she’d get over her AC-DC hoodie. I miss how she could be next to anyone, but if I sat down she was with me. I miss how fast she moved when she heard the timer on the stove because she knew it meant chicken, but what I miss most about Belle is her ability to make life brighter. She was pure perfection.

I’ll never know why Belle was dropped that winter in 2008, but I’m glad she was. I’m glad I had the chance to know this amazing little dog. For a long time I thought Belle came into my life because she needed me. Turns out I needed her.

Big Jim by Honora Gabriel

Please welcome the Farnival’s newest contributor: Honora Gabriel. After reading Honora’s story about Big Jim, I wrote to her: “I’m bawling my eyes out. You didn’t warn me. Beautiful.”

So consider yourself warned. This story is a tearjerker, but it’s also a heart-warming tale about a daughter and her dad. Enjoy.

BigJim4(Big Jim)

Big Jim 2(Big Jim with Cowboy)

Sitting at the kitchen table, looking through the big glass window, I saw that four inches of snow had fallen, and it still fell, fluffy and crisp, landing lightly on the big pine tree sitting alongside the driveway. It was January and I was home at the farm in New York, visiting my parents.

Reminiscing about climbing in the big pine tree as a child, I thought about how much time my brother, sisters, and I had spent playing outside in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains. During summer, we would catch frogs around the pond and build tree forts in the woods. In the wintertime, would play in a barn built in 1900, searching for treasures.

Through the windowpane, I watched a few of the animals that my dad has rescued over the past few years wandering around the snow-covered pastures. As he gets closer to retirement, he’s developed this hobby and now he has a herd of various animals – cute brown and white goats, a five horned sheep, big round pigs, enormous Dutch belted cows, ducks, chickens, cats and horses, all have names and quirky stories that he loves sharing.

Each time I visit my parents, I go with my dad during the evening feedings, and this last visit was no different. I anxiously anticipate these feedings, one of the rare times when I really get a glimpse into my dad. With the single-digit temperatures, I bundled up in a scarf, gloves, hat, heavy coat and boots. As we did our rounds, my dad gave each animal fresh water, hay, straw for their beds and, of course, a treat. My dad made sure every animal got a daily treat.

The wind whipped the snow across the pasture, almost dancing in the night sky. As it lashed across my face, I remembered the brutal coldness of winters in upstate New York. I pulled my legs through the snow, one step at a time, trying to keep up with my dad when he said we needed to check on Big Jim.

Big Jim is a two thousand pound Belgian horse that my dad welcomed onto his farm when the horse had nowhere else to go. At his tallest point Big Jim stands seven feet tall with a creamy coat and a dark brown mane. About five years ago northern New York had major flooding, and the floods destroyed Big Jim’s farm. After speaking to his owner, my father welcomed Big Jim to our home. Although Big Jim stood tall, he was very skittish. He had once been a proud racehorse but at the end of his career he’d been abused.

The big Belgian horse was inside the barn. My dad shone the flashlight over Big Jim, stopping the glowing beam on his leg. Blood stained the fur of his lower leg, leading up his hindquarter, then to a gash in his groin, where something that looked like a bloody icicle hung out of his stomach.

Big Jim had always liked to rub his body on the fence post; sometimes he’d even rub it on the big blue Ford tractor tire. That afternoon when Big Jim was rubbing himself, he must have slipped and a post jabbed into his groin area, leaving a very deep gash. We called the vet.

Dr. Joe and his assistant Mike arrived in their traveling veterinary truck. They got out of the truck wearing headlamps. The doctor explained that the gash had cut a vein and it hung loose, leaving a nerve exposed. We led Big Jim to the front of the barn, where we’d have cover from the biting wind, and it was a struggle getting the two thousand pound horse to move. While I carried the warm water, rags and treats, the three men moved Big Jim almost fifty yards, the once statuesque horse dragging his back right leg.

My dad went to get blankets. I looked at Dr. Joe and he looked back at me with a warm smile.

“This sounds pretty rough,” I said.

“With the cold temperatures the skin has already started to die – it’s black, and we’ll have to see if he can even use the leg again based on the nerve being damaged. When I put the warm water on the vein it’s going to start gushing,” he answered.

Tears welled, then fell down my cheek.“If we need to think about other options, you need to tell him. He will want to do the most humane thing,” I said.

When my dad returned, Dr. Joe said, “Dan, we need to talk.”

After a brief minute discussing the only real humane option, my dad said, “Big Jim, you enjoyed your treats here. You had a good life here.”

A second later, Dooley, the big Dutch belted cow, and Cowboy, Big Jim’s companion for many years, started making loud noises.

When Dr. Joe administered the tranquilizer, the two thousand pound horse dropped. Kneeling beside him, I rubbed Big Jim’s face, trying to make him feel peaceful during his last moments. Dr. Joe injected the lethal dose. We soothed Big Jim until his final breath, and then we closed his eyes.

My dad draped a ginormous blanket over Big Jim and said something to him – something that I’ll never know but I can imagine.

As my dad and I walked back to the place where Big Jim was originally standing, he thanked me for being there. Tears started flowing down my cheeks again.

Ultimately, I knew I was crying because of how much Big Jim meant to my dad, how much all the animals he rescues mean to him. At that moment, standing on the farm on a biting cold winter night, I realized how thankful I am for my dad. I love animals the way I do because of him.

Friends of the Farnival: Meet Danita Fowler

danita & pup(a three-week-old Border Collie mix and Danita)

pups at danita(eight of the 24 puppies Danita is currently fostering)

In 2015, once a month or so, I want to try out a new feature and do a Q and A with an unsung hero in the animal activism business. I’ll call it Friends of the Farnival. When I say unsung hero I mean people that most of us have no idea exist but who make incredible contributions to rescue efforts in their communities.

I’d like to start by introducing my favorite activist in all of Robertson County: Danita Fowler. Danita’s young for having accomplished so much; she’s only 23-years-old and has been independently rescuing puppies since she was twenty. She deals with puppies because she says she simply doesn’t have the room for big dogs.

Danita lives with her mother and father in rural Tennessee, where over the past two years they’ve fostered and rehomed 200 puppies that they meticulously catalog by name, date, and picture in photo albums. Last weekend, when I visited her home, she was caring for 24 puppies at one time; all were under six-weeks-old.

Over the past couple of years, all of the dogs she ended up inviting into her own permanent pack have a glitch or two; she has a weakness for the unwanted. While we were there, we met a dog without an eyeball, another without teeth, and another that had seizures.

Danita never stops working, not even for an interview, and when we talked she was mixing formula for the newest litter, while her mother and father each sat in their respective armchairs, bottle-feeding three-week-old pups. At the Fowler household animal rescue is a family affair.

How do you keep up with all the puppies? Your house is so clean.

Oh, thank you. Whew. I clean a lot. I change the paper in the puppies’ crates all day long. Every week we raid the Browser newspaper boxes at Kroger’s. We try to be nice and wait until Sunday afternoon.

How do you fund your rescue efforts?

Through babysitting [children.] I babysit three to four, maybe five days a week. Plus, I charge an adoption fee for fosters. I charge what I put into the dog, a little extra to cover the next litter.

When you interview potential adopters, what’s an instant red flag?

If they refer to a dog as an” it.” I’ll get these email that will say ‘Is it still available?’ I won’t even respond.

You don’t advertise, so how do people find out that you take in abandoned litters? Danita’s mom, still bottle-feeding pups, answers from her recliner:

Take the lady with the litter of pit [bull] mixes. We were picking up formula in the puppy aisle. And we knew her from church and she says, do you have puppies? Do we have puppies?! Danita says. And then the lady asks, do you want some more? That’s how it happens. I told Danita next time someone’s standing in the puppy aisle, we’re not going in there.

Do you remember every one of the 200 dogs you’ve fostered?

I remember what litter they were from and their names, even without checking my photo album.

How long does it normally take you to find homes for the pups?

Once I get them dewormed and vaccinated, it takes about two weeks. I try to do most of the vetting myself. I order their shots from the [Dorris Milling Company] in bulk. And we spend a lot of early mornings driving to Gallatin to get them fixed at the [Sumner County Spay and Neuter Alliance].

Would you ever give up rescuing dogs?

It gets overwhelming. Right before this winter, I said I’m not going to take any pups. Then I got hit with Betsy, Bianca, and Bernard, and it turned into my busiest winter. It’s hard to say no when it’s so cold.

What would you do if you weren’t rescuing puppies?

I never thought about it. It might be kind of nice to know.

Does the overpopulation problem in Robertson County ever make you mad?

When it’s the same person that calls over and over and says I got another litter. Yeah that makes me mad. It really does. It really does bother me. I mean I understand one slip-up. I get it. But once it got to the point I had to change my number because this one lady wouldn’t leave me alone.

 One day do you have dreams of opening up your own animal rescue facility?

I always have. I’ve had the name picked out for years. Belle’s Buddies…I had one girl try to talk me into opening one of those gofundme.com accounts, but I hate asking people for money.

Who is Belle?

Belle was simply the greatest little dog I’ve ever had. I’ve never had a bond like that with any other dog.

What’s up with the dog without an eye?

That’s Niles. The vet says he doesn’t have an eyeball in one socket and the other didn’t develop. He eats like a horse and runs into the swing set all the time. He was one of the cutest little puppies.