My first dog was named Bandito. I adopted him when I was 16. Okay, I didn’t officially adopt him–I stole him from a drug-dealer who’d left him in a truck with the windows rolled down for two days. Bandito was a four-month old brindle American Staffordshire Terrier with a broken hip when I found him. He’d been living with a broken hip for two months; his back left leg growth was stunted and he could barely walk. My mom didn’t want dogs at our house at all, so I snuck him in and out in a backpack for two months. I paid my 10-year-old sister $5 a day to watch him when I was working part-time in a cafe. I was working extra so I could pay for his $1,400 leg surgery that I had gotten on honor from the local vet.
He lived a good life, but I wasn’t the best dog owner. I never abused him or neglected him, but I didn’t know how to be a great dog owner–especially for a large breed dog that needed lots of exercise and humble discipline living in a city. We never had dogs when I was growing up, we had goldfish. It was all new to me, and so I made many mistakes when I attempted to train him: I’d pull back on his leash so he wouldn’t pull (counter-active), I let him eat people food (probably why he had kidney failure) and I didn’t socialize him correctly with dogs or people (why he had aggressive tendencies).
Bandito was about seven when we moved to Maui, and the island was Shangri-la for him. For the first time in his life, he started to swim in the ocean and play cordially with dogs. People say that dogs chill out and “age like fine wine” at seven, and Bandito had Huelo and Ho`okipa Beach Park as his retirement center. He lived another six years, which was really good for his breed. The vets suggested doggie dialysis for him, but his kidney failure was too progressed for any real help. It was hard, and he eventually withered and passed away at 12. It was very sad. I still wish I had been a better dog owner for him (even though I did the best I knew), but I just didn’t know better at that time. I still feel guilty about this.
About four years after Bandito died, I adopted an American Staffordshire Terrier named Miss Luna from a sweet family in Lahaina. Actually, her name is Tia Luna Mia Corazon (Auntie Luna My Heart). My thought was that I could call her Auntie as she starts getting older and still be in line with my Latino-Italian roots while respecting local culture. Anyway, I was ready for a new dog, and I knew that I wanted to be a more conscious and responsible dog owner for her than I was for Bandito.
Today, Miss Luna is three and a half, weighs 70 pounds and is healthy, behaved, aware and socialized. None of that happened overnight. And, her training is ongoing. Training a dog is actually kind of a funny thing when you think about it, because it’s actually a little bit more about training the owner. It’s not all about your heart and intuition–sometimes, it has more to do with experience, education and insight. It takes work and humane dedication, so to help you out, we’ve prepared this handy guide.
1. Get a leash
“Maui County Code 6.04.040 requires that your dog be under restraint at all times on the owner’s property, or on property other than the owner’s, a dog must be secured on a leash of not more than 10 feet in length and a responsible person must hold the leash,” states the Maui Humane Society’s website. “This includes all beaches and parks in Maui County except leash-free dog parks.”
If you own a dog on Maui, it’s your responsibility to have your dog leashed at all times. This includes when you’re playing your bongo drums at Baldwin Beach on a Saturday, and this also includes hiking in state parks on Maui. Throughout Maui County, the leash law applies. Everyone and their mother has a story about a dog bite on Maui, and nobody feels good seeing a dog dead on the side of the road. Even if your dog is the best dog in the world, it’s irresponsible to not leash your dog.
“The most important things that dog owners can do to be more responsible would be to obey the leash law, and get their dogs licensed and microchipped,” said Mark Wilson, Director of Humane Enforcement, Maui Humane Society.
If your dog is off leash, you can be fined up to $500 per dog, and are required to go to court. The Maui County Court has indicated that they will be increasing the fine for violating the leash law and it will soon be considered a criminal offense.
2. Get serious about dog bites and attacks
In 2013-2014, there were 183 reported dog bites in Maui County. In 2014-2015, there were 175. In 2015-2016, there were 142. Even though the numbers are decreasing, every single one of those bites could have been avoided if the dogs were properly controlled by their owners.
If your dog bites a person, you will get a citation for violating the leash law and a dog attack citation. Your dog could be deemed dangerous, which will put movement restrictions on your dog (meaning that you will have to keep them caged for the rest of their lives). As the owner, you’ll have to follow strict rules to maintain the ownership of your dog. If your dog bites again, your dog could be removed from your possession and euthanized.
If your dog bites another dog, you’ll receive a citation for violating the leash law. If your dog inflicted serious injury or death to the other dog, you can look forward to receiving a dog attack violation in addition to a leash law violation. If your dog is a repeat offender, you’re dog will be deemed dangerous, and most likely be euthanized.
If you, your child or your dog gets bitten by a dog, the first thing you should do is seek medical treatment immediately. Report the incident right away to the Maui Humane Society. Try to get the dog’s name, owner’s name and the license plate number for the vehicle that they’re driving.
To report a dog bite or a leash law violation, call the Maui Humane Society at 808-877-3680, ext. 29. You can also document the violation by taking a picture of the dog and the injury with your cell phone.
3. Get your dog registered, licensed and microchipped
Registering and licensing your dog is the easiest thing you could ever do. You can even do it at the DMV. If your dog is not licensed or registered, do it as soon as possible. In this way, if your dog is lost and found, proper authorities can quickly return your dog back to you.
Microchips are another effective way to secure the safety of your dogs. People seem to think that they’re like some kind of dog GPS, but they are not. The microchip has to be scanned when the dog is found. If your dog is found by Maui Police, they have scanners in their vehicles. But the most likely case is when a stranger finds your dog and turns them into the Humane Society. With registration, licensing and micro-chips, a found dog has a better chance of being returned to its rightful owner.
For more information about how to register, license or microchip your dog, you can apply for a dog license online at Co.maui.hi.us/1335/Dog-Registration-and-Licenses, or call the Maui Humane Society at 808-877-3680.
4. Never neglect your dog
The Maui Humane Society reported 493 dog neglect cases in 2013-2014. In 2014-2015, there were 869! (wtf) In 2015-2016, there were 581; that means that on average, Maui Humane Society’s enforcement officers deal with about 50 dog neglect calls per month.
“Calls of Neglect are most common,” said Jerleen Bryant, CEO of the Maui Humane Society. “No food, water, shelter, living in too small of a kennel and living in filth.”
Why would you own a dog if you’re not going to give it a good life? “Dogs live to please their owners, the one and only thing that they desire is to be WITH that person,” Bryant told me. “To keep a dog tethered up and not allow them to be with their family is torture and condemns them to a life of misery and frustration. Please stop and think about the life you are giving your dog, is it a good one? Are you doing right by your dog?”
5. Get your dog spayed or neutered
There are so many reasons why it’s important to spay and neuter dogs. There are the obvious population control and neglect issues, and there are many health and behavior issues that can be eliminated by spay/neuter. But many people on Maui still do not spay or neuter their dogs. This is totally by part from past conditioning, incorrect facts and a lack of household funds. It used to cost about $400 to spay or neuter a dog on Maui. Not anymore!
The Maui Humane Society has a Spay Neuter Assistance Program (SNARP) that offers low-cost spay and neuter services for dogs. The fees range between $65-70 per dog pending age and weight. Through a grant funded by Pet Smart Charities, the Maui Humane Society also offers free spay and neuter clinics throughout the year. And if you adopt a dog from the Humane Society, the dog will be spay/neutered at no cost to you before you take your new dog home.
6. Don’t give in to myths
It’s a myth that you need to wait for your female dog to have her first litter before getting spayed. It’s absolutely not true, and although puppies are super cute, it’s a huge responsibility to try to find good homes for a litter of unwanted puppies.
It’s also a myth that neutering your male dog will make him “less of a man.” But neutering a male dog will decrease testosterone-related behaviors like aggression, mounting tendencies, roaming and urine-marking.
And it’s a myth that spaying or neutering your dog will make them fat and lazy. Overfeeding and not exercising your dog is what will make them fat and lazy.
7. Get educated about housing BEFORE you adopt
If you’re thinking about getting a dog, and you’re a renter, double- and triple-check with your landlord that it’s okay for you to get a dog. When it’s approved, get it in writing to protect you and your pet. Add it to your lease agreement, and make sure that landlord-tenant communication is always open regarding your dog.
In 2015, 30 percent of the dogs surrendered to the Maui Humane Society were there because of a serious lack of rental housing that will accept a dog. This is sad and unfortunate, but it’s the current state of affairs on Maui. Do not put yourself and your dog into a situation that risks the security of your pet’s life.
Also considering fostering a dog, to test the waters before committing to adoption. There are many opportunities to volunteer with the Maui Humane Society or other dog rescues on Maui.
8. Get your dog vaccinated
As a puppy, your dog will most likely need to be de-wormed and get a consistent administer of vaccinations. Most veterinarians offer a low cost “puppy pack.” The vaccinations include DHPP (canine distemper, adenovirus/hepatitis), bordatella/parainfluenza and parvovirus. Additional vaccinations may be administered for corona virus and kennel cough.
If you’ve adopted an adult dog and are unaware of their vaccination history, you will most likely have to re-administer all vaccinations. The health of your pet is a commitment that needs to be made on behalf of the dog owner.
In the recent months, there has become a new viral threat to dogs on Maui: leptospirosis. Lepto is commonly seen in dogs that spend time around livestock or near brackish water. If your dog drinks water off the ground while hiking, your dog could get infected. It’s a good idea to vaccinate for lepto before infection. Signs of leptospirosis can go unseen for awhile and include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness and lethargy and muscle pain. If your dog becomes infected, treatment is generally through antibiotics.
9. Watch out for external parasites
Maui dogs need to have a scheduled maintenance for fleas, ticks and heart worms. Typically, you give your dog a monthly dose for each, but there are new dog prescriptions that combine two or all three. Speak to your vet about what choice is best for your dog.
10. Monitor your dog’s diet
What you feed your dog is just a important as what you feed yourself. Many grocery store bought dog food and dog treats are full of wheat fillers, chicken meal and chemicals. It may be less expensive than varieties you can find at pet stores, but it’s also less nutritional. It’s best to invest in healthy food and treats for your dogs.
Allergies in dogs can come from a million things including the food that you feed them. Every breed and every dog is suspect to specific administered and environmental allergens: chicken meal, wheat, pea protein, grass, insect bites, seasonal changes, etc. Common allergy symptoms in dogs include: itchy and runny eyes, itchy back and base of tail, itchy ears, dry skin, pustules and scabbing resulting in a loss of hair, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea and flea allergies.
“Never ignore a problem,” said Dr. Curtis Wilhour of Central Maui Animal Clinic. “If the same issue was affecting you, and you would seek medical attention; do the same for your dog.”
11. Get basic puppy training
Many pet owners assume that basic puppy training is just housebreaking. While that’s certainly necessary, crate-training is also a very effective puppy training concept. The crate should never be used for punishment, but more as a safe haven for the puppy to have for chill time and sleep. If you correctly crate-train your puppy, you will see that he or she will enjoy spending time in the crate.
“One of the motivating factors of beginning dog training at a young age is that skills become hard-wired,” said Scott Sanchez, owner of Sit Means Sit Hawaii Dog Training. “Boundaries can be put into place, and you can begin to have age appropriate expectations in regards to training your dog into adulthood. Concepts that are taught at a young age are based on communication and a value (skills learned) and reward based system (attention, food or toy).”
12. Communicate properly!
Incorrect dog discipline techniques that will put your communication to a halt with your dog includes confusing them with inconsistent requests, yelling at them, slapping them, etc. If you’re expecting that your dog understands or hears you while you haven’t put the effort into teaching them, you’re just creating problems.
13. Have realistic training expectations
Expecting a puppy to be able to do things they’ve never been taught is a ridiculous mistake that many dog owners make. If you’ve never effectively house-trained your dog, how can you expect them to not pee in the house? On the other hand, if you’ve never created boundaries with your dog and it’s now an adult, you can’t expect them to know things that you never introduced to them. Dog training is a step-by-step system that allows skills to build upon each other.
Sanchez says that having reasonable and age-appropriate expectations for your dog are key for successfully training your dog. He says that training a dog in a sense is not unlike training a child. By creating a consistent structure, introducing a value and reward based system and holding them accountable for their actions, you can introduce good behavior skills into your dog’s life.
14. Watch out for bad behaviors and aggression
Professional dog training does as much for your dog as it does for the lives of you, your family and friends. Bad behaviors and dog aggression can be eliminated by being a responsible dog owner and taking the necessary steps to train your dog. Training your dog can literally be the life-saving force for your dog, other dogs and the public.
The Sit Means Sit training system is heralded for dogs with aggressive and reactive tendencies. In fact, they are the only training program that’s been able to make appeals for dogs that have been previously deemed as dangerous. The system can introduce positive changes in your dog’s life as well as your family life. It’s about taking the time to teach them new skills and combat the bad behaviors.
“It’s a huge responsibility to maintain the health and the welfare of the dog and the general public,” says Sanchez. “With that in mind, it’s really important to be a good steward of the history of the dog. If you already know that your dog doesn’t like little dogs, and it’s on a flimsy leash and snap collar while you’re at the beach and looking at your cellphone instead of paying attention to the environment, then that would be setting things up for disaster.”
15. Enrich your family life
We’re all so fortunate to live on such a beautiful island, and Maui is probably one of the best places in the world for a dog to live a healthy and happy life. We have gorgeous beaches, fantastic hiking trails and an outdoor lifestyle that’s so cohesive to enriching your family life with a canine addition. Owning a dog is a commitment. Let’s all be better dog owners and help to educate those that are around us so they can better care for their dogs.
Dog Parks on Maui
Upcountry Off-Leash Dog Park: Located in Makawao, Maui’s largest off-leash dog park is found on two acres of the Eddie Tam Memorial Center. You can access it off of Hale Kipa Road behind Makawao’s Maui County Recycling Center.
Keopuolani Regional Park: Located in Wailuku, there’s a small and well-maintained off-leash dog park within this 100-acre public park. 700 Halia Nakoa St., Wailuku
Kilohana Park Field: Located in Kihei, this is a 1.5-acre dog park. Kilohana Drive, Kihei.
Honoapiilani Park: Located on Lower Honoapiilani Road in West Maui, you can access the dog park by veering to the right after park entry.
Photo of the author and Miss Luna courtesy Alex Mitchell