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A few of my favorite things!

I have posted blogs on various toys, books, foods, and management and training aids that I like, but I decided that this week I would write about things I have encountered lately, or that I have re-discovered, that I would recommend. 

First, books!

I have mentioned The Education of Will, by Patricia McConnell previously, but I wanted to recommend it to anyone who has experienced trauma, or has a dog who was traumatized. Her compelling memoir sheds realistic light on how pervasive trauma can be and how challenging it is to overcome. But, mostly it is a tale of hope and compassion and well worth the read. 

The book I am currently reading is The Dawn of the Dog, The Genesis of a Natural Species, by Janice Koler-Matznick. It is a well researched look at the origin of dogs. She takes on the status quo ideas of domestication and challenges them with reasons why dogs are not just sub-species of wolves. I have not finished the book, but I am impressed by her extensive research and, I am becoming increasingly convinced that man did not create dog, but, as one reviewer put it: “dog existed as a unique, naturally evolved species distinct from today’s wolves long before any association with humans.”For anyone curious about the origin of dog, and who wants an eminently readable book, I highly recommend it. 

Dean Koonz is a prolific author and often includes dogs in his books. I found an old copy of Dragon Tears and really enjoyed the role of the golden retriever mix in this book. He has delightful insight into the mind of dogs and how they see/smell and interpret the world. He also wrote an endearing (tissue alert!) book about his dog Trixie called A Big Little Life that I loved and find myself reflecting on years after I read it. 

For those interested in the world of dog shows, I found tucked in the back of one of my shelves, Dog Eat Dog, by Jane and Michael Stern. Published in 1997, it is a bit dated, but the essence of dog shows and what it takes to have a champion remains true. It’s a quick read and has a good index of dog show terms. For a really entertaining look at the world of dog shows, nothing beats Best in Show, directed by Christopher Guest and starring a delightful potpourri of Hollywood actors.

Uncommon Goods has a wonderful line of “Bad Dog” products. My favorites are the tumblers, especially the Bad Dog Tumblers, and the Bad Dog Best in Show Tumblers. They also have free, downloadable Bad Dog Birthday cards. The images are a fun and are an all too real portrayal of our canine companions at their best…or worse!

The current treat of choice for my dogs is lamb lung. High in protein, low in fat, they are easy to break into small pieces and are a great addition to any Kong! I buy them in the 12-oz, headed-out-on-the-Oregon-trail size, though they are also available in a more reasonable 5-oz size. They are not wet or gooey (I think they are dehydrated), but they since they break into small pieces they are great for training treats and I have yet to find a dog that doesn’t adore them. 

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our podcast, Your Family Dog, featuring Colleen Pelar and me talking about all things canine. Our goal is to help families love living with dogs. Colleen’s gentle humor, compassion, and deep knowledge of dogs makes every episode a learning experience for me, and I hope for you as well. We cover a broad range of topics, from behavior problems, to dog sports, caring for your elderly dog, making happy dogs happier, managing vet visits, literary dogs, and so much more! With over 40 episodes, there is a topic of interest for every dog lover. Find us on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. If you like us, please leave us a review. And, if you have a question or comment, please let us know by emailing us at feedback@yourfamilydogpodcast.com or call and leave a message at 614-349-1661.

 

*Dr. Michael Fox, from the back cover of the book. 

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A most beloved dog.

Yesterday marked a year since my most beloved dog, Mr. Bingley, passed away. He had soft tissue histiocytic sarcoma, a nasty, aggressive cancer unfortunately associated with Flat-coated Retrievers, and the time had come for me to make sure he didn’t suffer.* He had been officially diagnosed 9 months earlier and had responded well to treatment, but this cancer is relentless. When the chemo no longer worked, I was determined to make the most of his time left with me. For three months we played, swam, tossed a
million tennis balls, and had a wonderful photo session with Gary Chisolm. Despite his illness, Bingley seemed invincible.

But finally, over the course of about 5 days, Bing began slowing down and detaching from the world. He had raging fevers for three nights. When he stopped eating completely and would take just a small amount of water (this was a dog who use to put his entire head into the water bowl to drink with great gusto), I knew the time was imminent. Our wonderful oncology vet, Dr. Erin Malone, gently confirmed that he just wasn’t the same dog they all remembered and his cancer was getting the best of him. They prepped him and then allowed me to spend some time with him outside. He laid down on the cool concrete and rested his head in my hand for the last time. I felt as if my living heart was being ripped from my chest. 

Now, I am fully aware that this was my dog, and not my child or my husband, but there is something unique about the human-dog bond that elevates it to something more than pet ownership. Bingley was my best buddy, my faithful, fun, and loving companion for over 10 years. I lost more than my dog on July 6, 2016, I lost a best friend, and the sting of that loss is pervasive. I still reach for the soft fur on his ears, listen for his breathing next to my bed, wait for the feel of a wet tennis ball dropped by my feet (or next to my head to wake me up…), and search for the soft and sweet look on his face that said, “All is well Mom. Let’s go play.” 

I have Zuzu now, and I adore her. She is sweet, earnest, and special. She has qualities that Bingley didn’t have (such as not barking at the door), and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. This eases my grief for Bingley, but it doesn’t repair it, nor does she replace him. My husband told me recently of a study of people who remarried and had a family after the death of a spouse. Though happy in their new lives, most said there wasn’t a day that went by that they didn’t think about and intensely miss their first spouse. That is not to say that they weren’t happy, it’s just that when you lose someone that significant, there is a lasting residual effect.  For anyone who has loved and lost a dog, you know there is no reason that this cannot apply, in a similar way, to your canine buddy. Every dog can hold a special place in your heart, but if you are lucky, there will be a dog that is your champion, your all-star, your unbeatable best friend who not only loves you unconditionally, but lights up your world like a lighthouse on a stormy night, pointing you towards a safe harbor and a warm place to rest your heart. 

 

 

*If you have to consider euthanasia for your pet, it might be helpful for you to listen to Colleen Pelar’s and my podcast with Dr. Alicia Karas: Knowing When It’s Time to Say Goodbye 

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Doggie Dental Care

The best thing about knowing a variety of trainers and reading blogs and posts by other dog people, is that it gives me ideas and sources for my blog, usually much better ideas than I can dream up!

This week, The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ), my bible for all things canine, blogged about dental care for your dog and why keeping his teeth clean and tartar free is important for Fido’s overall health. Dental care is not just about preventing bad breath.Like humans, dogs can develop gingivitis (swollen, red, inflamed gums due to infection) that can lead to more severe health issues as the infection moves into the bones and ligaments surrounding the teeth. Moreover:

Because of the rich blood supply to the mouth, the infection can also spread systemically, making your dog quite ill and/or affecting his heart, kidneys, and liver.  This chronic condition can prematurely age your dog. (WDJ)

Yikes! Considering how short our dogs’ lives are, we certainly do not want to risk anything that potentially decreases their life spans.**  So, here are some things you can do to keep your dog’s teeth healthy:

  1. Regularly check your dog’s teeth for signs of tarter build up. “Tartar builds up on the teeth, forming a concrete-like crust on the teeth at the gum line. It also forms under the gums, which helps [the] bacteria get under the gums and proliferate.” (WDJ) If your dog’s teeth are discolored and show signs of plaque build-up, you will need to schedule a professional cleaning with your vet. Unfortunately this is the only way to get rid of the tartar and will require that your dog be under full sedation.
  2. Brush your dog’s teeth. Once your dog’s teeth are pearly white again, you can maintain them with regular (i.e.: daily) brushing. Use a soft brush and canine toothpaste as human toothpaste containing fluoride is toxic to dogs. Start slowly, allowing the dog to sniff and lick at the toothbrush, and become comfortable with the process. Here is a video from ClickerTraining.com with instructions for teaching your dog to accept having his teeth brushed.
  3. Raw marrow bones. This is a bit controversial as some dogs might chip or break a tooth on a marrow bone, but my experience has been that it does help to keep my dog’s teeth cleaner and they have not had any problems with chipped or broken teeth. I do, however, have a couple of rules for bones: 

a) Supervise your dog chewing on the bone and if it gets too small, trade your dog for something else, lest she choke on it and;

A marrow bone similar to the bottom one cost me $300 to have removed from my dog’s jaw.

b) Be careful about the diameter of the opening of the marrow bone. Marrow bones are cut from the leg bones of cows and if you get one that has the flanged opening at the top of the bone (i.e.: the socket part of a ball and socket joint) the opening may be large enough for your dog to get his lower jaw through it and get stuck! This happened to my dog Bingley and it required a trip to MedVet to have it removed.*** In the photo with the bones, the one at the bottom has a wide opening on one side and is the type of bone which attached itself to Bingers (external diameter of 3 1/2″). The one on the top is narrower in both internal and external diameter (2″ external diameter) and is also longer, which helps to prevent it from slipping over the jaw. This is the type of bone my dogs now get, and so far, it has not produced deleterious results.

 

Your dog only has one set of teeth, and proper care of them will help to keep him happy and healthy longer! And, look on the bright side, at least you don’t have to floss them!

 

Pearly white smile!

 

*Bad breath may be an indication of more severe health problems such as kidney disease, diabetes, or injested toxins. If your dog has chronic bad breath, or suddenly develops bad breath, please see your vet. 

** For more information on how to keep your dog living longer see: Too Fat, Too Thin, or Just Right?, Exercise Can Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, and Food, Glorious Food!

***MedVet assured me that they see this at least once a week. Most dogs are taken in the back, have their jaws lubricated and the bone slides right off. Bingley, not being most dogs, required sedation as well as lubrication. Luckily they did not have to pull out the Stryker oscillating saw to remove it, but that was the next step. 

 

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Sniff sniff sniff, repeat.

Sniff, sniff, sniff, where has Julie been?

Reisner Veterinary Services posted this article from Silent Conversations, a website dedicated to “Insights into Canine Communication,” about sniffing the ground and what it might indicate about doggie discourse.

Although I have paid attention to sniffing in dogs, I have been watching it more closely lately as I recently read The Education of Will, by Dr Patricia McConnell. At one point she talks about noticing the constancy and intensity of Will’s sniffing and how it concerned her in such a young dog. So, I was delighted to see the article from Silent Conversations which explained and reinforced my own observations about something that all dogs do, but may do differently at different times. Knowing when your dog is just checking the pee-mail and when he is sniffing as a way to diffuse a potentially tense situation can help you keep Fido relaxed and manageable. 

Martha Knowes, the author of the blog says this by way of introduction:

 

Sniffing can be used as a calming signal when an interaction is too intense. One dog may start to walk away, slowly sniffing the ground; the other dog may mirror him by also sniffing the ground. This is a good way to defuse an interaction.

 

Sniffing can be used as negotiation as two dogs approach each other; a deliberate slower approach is polite when greeting. Sniffing the ground is commonly used as part of the body language signals offered at the beginning stages of an approach.

 

In other contexts, sniffing could also be interpreted as displacement behaviour or a stress response. A dog may feel conflicted about something he sees ahead of him; he may slow down and stop to sniff the environment. Sniffing may help displace the anxiety, and it gives the opportunity to assess things further from a safe distance by stalling the approach.

She continues by giving several examples of where you might see unusual sniffing and clearly describes not only the situation, but the body language that might accompany the sniffing. I really appreciated the use of common scenarios as well as the straight-forward, precise language used to describe canine body language. Even without accompanying pictures, I could clearly envision the dog she was describing.**

Ms. Knowles also adds a good section on what she means by stress. The paragraph is worth repeating in its entirety:

When I mention stress, this does not necessarily imply negative emotion. I mean stress in the physiological sense. So certain body language signals can mean the dog is feeling some sort of emotional discourse. This discourse could range from positive to negative emotion. Both excitement and fear could have similar effects on the body, with various hormones being released and activating the sympathetic nervous system. The dog may be feeling uncomfortable/fearful or it could also be excited about something. When analyzing stress in body language, it is worth noting the frequency and intensity of the various body language signals.

Closed mouth, turned head.

The last part of the article is a good reminder that when you are looking at body language it is important to describe what you see the animal doing, the immediate surroundings, and if there is anything that has changed in the environment (did something make a noise, is there a stranger dog approaching, or a person jogging?), rather than immediately interpreting the meaning of the behavior. For example, if you see a dog stop, close his mouth, look away, lower his tail, and squint his eyes, it could be that he saw a dog that he didn’t know, or a car backfired, or there was a strange smell. He might be slowing his approach to a strange dog, startled by a sound, or repelled by the smell. These are descriptions of the behavior and not emotional interpretations of the dog’s inner workings.  

In Ms Knowles words:

To offer an unbiased interpretation of the body language, observe and take note of the situation, taking into account the dog’s whole body, the body language signals, and environment first before offering an interpretation. List all the body language you see in the order that it occurs; try to be as descriptive as possible without adding any emotional language. For instance, saying a dog looks happy is not descriptive and would be seen as an interpretation rather than an observation.

 The more you know about your dog and her individual signals, including the more subtle ones such as sniffing, the better you will be able to protect and serve your best dog friend. 

Sniffing the breeze and getting the lowdown on the neighborhood.

 

**Note: she does include links to other articles which describe the dog’s perspective on things, or elucidate a particular aspect of canine body language, such as the head turn. All of her links are worth reading.

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Canine cognition, problem solving invertebrates, and basketball playing fish…who knew?

In doing some research for this week’s blog, I found this video on Animal Cognition which I find to be fascinating. Here is the original video on youtube:

 

Here is what Animal Cognition had to say about this video:

 

A dog successfully catches a fish by using pieces of bread as bait. The dog seems to understand that the best strategy for catching a fish is keeping his mouth close to the floating bread. Even when he sees a fish jump near his hind end, he doesn’t change his position.

 

Using bait to catch prey is generally considered a form of “proto-tool” use. This is different from “true” tool-use in that the tool (the bait) is not actually held or manipulated while the animal is using it. Other animals have been spotted using bait to catch fish, including herons and crows.

I love the idea that dogs have the ability to figure out that bread will help to achieve a goal, and what it implies about their cognition. I think we have only just begun to understand the power of the mind and what animals are capable of learning and planning. After all, who would have thought that you could teach a goldfish to swim through a hoop or play basketball?

The octopus is an invertebrate classified along with mollusks, such as clams and oysters who don’t have brains. How anything as primitive as an invertebrate could have any level of intelligence was the standard attitude for many years. But, the humble octopus has surprised us with it’s ability to use tools, play, and respond to human interaction with affection and dislike! Clearly the intellectual ability, and consciousness of invertebrates needs to be examined more closely! Here are a couple octopi videos:

First, the octopus uses a shell to hide from a crab, then dashes out to get it (without consciousness, how could an invertebrate figure out this hunting strategy of deception and surprise?):

And here is an octopus solving a Rubik’s cube. Lord knows can’t do this!**

Sea otters use rocks as tools to dislodge Abalone from rocks and to break them open, but here is a wonderfully clever adaptation by a sea otter to protect her baby.

Clearly there are amazing untapped abilities in a wide variety of animals. How we view the fellow creatures who share our lives and planet may need to be reassessed as we discover more evidence of creative problem solving and consciousness. If invertebrates can solve Rubik cubes, then, I’m thinking we need to get octopi more involved in solving some of our social/economic problems! After all, how many politicians do you know who can do a Rubik’s cube, or even catch a fish with a piece of bread…?

 

 

** For a wonderful book on Octopi, see The Soul of an Octopus, A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness. by Sy Montgomery. I loved it!

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“Chip, Chip, Hooray!”*

Zuzu and Little Bear in the back yard.

My dog is a felon. So to speak. I think she views the backyard as a prison yard with the wide world beyond her pond, toys, sandbox, children, and best friend Little Bear, beckoning like a siren song promising unimaginable pleasures. Her escape attempts started as an occasional leap over the back fence to retrieve her ball, and were reinforced by the gate being left open accidentally. For the most part though, she seemed content to be with Bear in the yard. 

However, the sultry voice of freedom gradually seduced her into a life of crime. We draped the backyard fence with plastic chairs to prevent her escape. This helped for a microsecond. So we added a long line that allows her to explore most of the yard (and to get tangled in a variety of Gordian Knot like configurations). That seemed to solve the problem and I contacted contractors for estimates for a new! better! secure! fence/prison wall. 

It was on Sunday, that the great escape occurred. Zuzu and Bear had a good morning of play and were out in the back yard sleeping in the sun. Zuzu was on her line, and our daughter was home to check on her periodically. I adjusted her collar so it was a bit tighter, or so I thought… and my husband, Brad, and I headed out to Home Depot to look at fence options.

Harry Houdini in 1899.

After finding some promising possibilities, he dropped me at a friend’s house and headed home to find Little Bear greeting him at the gate. Zuzu, however, was no where to be found, her collar still attached to the end of the long line. Apparently, in a canine impression of Houdini,  Zuzu had escaped her manacles. Brad grabbed a leash and headed out to find her, only to encounter the dog warden next door with our little felon in the paddy wagon. The warden was very kind and no fines or prison sentences were levied.

Zuzu’s wanted poster.

Meanwhile, a dear friend texted me with Zuzu’s wanted poster that that Granville Fire Department had released, causing me to nearly leap out of my friend’s car in a total panic. Apparently Zuzu was apprehended just a few blocks from home, but without her collar she had no ID, so they took her to the fire department, who sent out the alert and called the dog warden.  

Zuzu has a collar full of tags, a loving home and, theoretically, a functioning containment system, but management is never 100% and she found a way to game the system. I know that this did not have to have a happy ending, that I am very lucky she wasn’t hit by a car, and that we have wonderful neighbors in Granville who did the right thing and took her to the fire department. Those things aside however, it was her microchip that enabled the warden to find out who she was and where she belonged. Sadly, dogs without tags or microchips are not likely to find their way home. According to an article on Petfinder the statistics for lost pets are grim:

 

• The American Humane Association estimates over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year.

One in three pets will become lost at some point during their life.

A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, including 53 animal shelters across the U.S., confirmed the high rate of return of microchipped dogs and cats to their families, and the importance of microchip registration. From the study:

• Only about 22 percent of lost dogs that entered the animal shelters were reunited with their families. However, the return-to-owner rate for microchipped dogs was over 52 percent (a 238 percent increase).

• Only 58 percent of the microchipped animals’ microchips had been registered in a database with their pet parent’s contact information.

Collar ID tags are the primary way that pets are identified and find their way home, but having a backup system for when the collar is lost (or slipped) is critical. Microchipping is the best way to give you and your pet an effective insurance plan, but it is imperative that you not only chip the dog, but register it as well! It really, truly, takes just a moment and it could be the most important 10 minutes you invest in the welfare of your most beloved pet. 

Zuzu snuggling with me.

*HomeAgain, the microchip company, had this slogan at the top of the email they sent to inform me that Zuzu had been found by the “authorities.”

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Life is short. Play with your dog.

img_3432My new dog Zuzu is a special individual. She can be a bit nervous, insecure and unfocused, but always sweet and very loving. In an attempt to increase her focus, boost her confidence and strengthen our bond, I enrolled us in Beginning Agility 1 at Agility and Rally for Fun (A.R.F).* We learned table, tunnel, tire, jumps, the dog walk, the incline, and we began weave poles and teeter. 

The instruction was very good, clear and positive, as well as offering a lot of suggestions about how you can practice at home. One suggestion was to get a bunch of cheap plungers and line them up 2 feet apart from one another as an intro to weave poles. I put them in a hallway with hula hoops along the wall to keep her going through the gauntlet rather than around it. Then I stood at one end of the hallway and tossed a toy down the hall. She would go through the plungers get the toy and then I called her back to me. She trotted happily through the plungers to restart the game.

I also used the hula hoops as practice for the tire. I would place them in doorways for her to go through or I would hold them 2 to 8 inches off the ground. Then I would interest her in a treat or a toy and toss it through the hoop for her to follow. 

 

Zuzu's extension ladder

Zuzu’s extension ladder

Dogs, believe it or not, are rather oblivious to the existence of their hindquarters. But it is imperative, for safety reasons, that your dog be aware of the position of all body parts and know how to place each paw where it’s suppose to be.** One way to get your dog to be aware of his rear end is to have him walk slowly through a ladder on the ground so that he places each paw between the rungs of the ladder. Keep a treat right at his nose, close to the ladder so that he is looking at the ladder and moving deliberately through it. I will also toss the hula hoops in a random pattern (overlapping) in the lawn and lure her carefully through those, keeping the treat near her nose and close to the ground.

Zuzu prepares to walk the plank.

To teach Zuzu to keep all four paws on a 12″ wide surface (mimicking the dog walk) I found a 12″ x 10′ x 1″ piece of wood and placed it on the extension ladder I’d used to teach Zuzu she has a rear end. The plank fits nicely on the ladder as it is about 3-4 inches narrower than the ladder. Zuzu had to step up about 4 inches to walk on the plank and the sides of the ladder (along with the ~2″ gap on each side of the plank) helped to keep her on the board. I could also move it to different spots along the ladder so that she was walking partway between the rungs and partway on the board, thus working two skills and keeping her thinking about where she was going and what she needed to do.

 

Zuzu, being the deliberate soul that she is, is unlikely to win any agility titles, and it is also unlikely that we will even enter any competitions (but I never say never anymore!). We are taking Beginning Agility 2 so that we can improve our basic skills, learn to work together better, and increase Zuzu’s confidence and focus. But, mostly we are doing it because life is short, and it’s fun to play with your dog. 

 

*To learn more about Agility (and lure coursing), be sure to check out our podcast with Dr. Suzanne Terrant, airing May 5, 2017. Go to: Your Family Dog, episode 31.

**The dog walk is only 12 inches wide. If the dog is unaware of where his back legs are (or even that he possesses such a thing as a rear end), then he is more likely to mis-step and fall off the dog walk, risking injury. He may also be unaware of how to move himself up the incline if he doesn’t have awareness of his rear end and that can also result in him falling off the equipment. 

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