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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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;
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!
*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.
***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.
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.
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.
**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.
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 I 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!
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.
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.
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.
*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.”
My 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.
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.
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.
That I love talking about dogs and find them endlessly fascinating, will come as no surprise to anyone of even passing acquaintance. And yet, there are times that I am stumped about what to write about in my blog. After trolling through various things I settled on linking to three short articles that I found on Facebook through Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services and/or behaviorist Traci Shreyer.
On March 30 Traci Shreyer posted an article about the long-lasting effects of punishment on our pets. In the study which the article reviews, researchers “taught mice to associate a tone with a mild shock and found that, once the mice learned the association, the pattern of neurons that activated in response to tone alone resembled the pattern that activated in response to the shock.” In other words, the tone alone elicited the same physiological response in the dog as did the shock. And, significantly, “[t]he findings also reveal that the neurons never returned to their original state, even after the training was undone. Although this was not the main focus of the study, the results could have wide-ranging implications for studying emotional memory disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” [Emphasis mine.]
What does this mean for family dogs? It means that after your dog has experienced the tone followed by the shock (from an electric fence or an electronic training collar), from that point on, even if you use only the tone on your shock collar, he will react in the same way as if he were receiving the shock. Every time he hears the tone, he will re-experience the trauma or fear associated with the shock. Even after several repetitions where the shock does not follow the tone, dogs may not show the outward signs of fear (such as freezing or running away), but their neurons will never return to the original state. How this may manifest in your dog is uncertain, but since the neurons never completely recover from the shock or trauma, it isn’t a stretch to think that your dog won’t either.*
Few things strike dread into owners of shy dogs, parents of small children, or frail individuals more quickly than the cry of “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” as an out of control dog races towards them. In a post shared by Reisner Veterinary, blogger PawsforPraise states:
Interestingly, confrontations such as this often play out in jurisdictions where leashes are mandatory. Yet, owners of off leash dogs still sometimes chastise their law-abiding counterparts as if accepting the unwanted advances of their out of control dogs should be acceptable. (It’s not.)
If you have control over your dog (real control, so that he really, truly comes when you call and you are not just saying his name repeatedly in a desperate plea for compliance), then I don’t have a problem with him being off lead in public areas.** But the vast majority of owners do not have this level of obedience, and it is incumbent upon them to keep their dog under reasonable control so that they do not cause injury or trauma to others (this applies to off lead areas such as dog parks as well).
For any dog, especially those who are young, fearful, or reactive, having another dog charge them can be not only scary, but genuinely traumatic, which can result in both short and long term behavior problems. I have helped several dogs recover from being attacked, but as we now know, the neurons involved in trauma never fully recover. And, moreover, most of these pups will need extra support and supervision for the rest of their lives.
The third article, Deadly Trust, by Karen Peak, owner of West Wind Dog Training in Virginia, continues the discussion of off lead dogs and why it might be in the best interest of everyone to keep your dog on lead. After discussing several instances where tragedy could have been prevented by leashing a dog, she says this about what we can really trust regarding our dogs:
I trust my dogs 100% to be dogs. I trust they will do dog things. They will do things others find gross. They may steal food if left unattended where they can get it. They will chase squirrels. They will growl when something is wrong or when playing. If pushed too far, they may nip. They are dogs. My job is to have them build trust in me so they feel comfortable letting me know what is going on. My job is not to trust but to work to increase safety for my dogs and the community. This means leashes, observation, recognizing situations that could set them up to fail and not demanding them to tolerate unfair treatment. My duty to my dogs is to remember they are a different species with different communication and behaviors trying to exist in my life.
Dogs are wonderful companions and their connection with humans can make it seem as if they are on a higher plane than other animals. Perhaps they are. But, if we do not provide for them the security and safety that they need, the resulting trauma can last a lifetime. We do them and ourselves no service if we disregard the very essence of their nature and fail to keep them safe and under control.
*Experience has shown me that it is very difficult to gauge what is traumatic to another person or animal. Something that does not bother you, may be quite scary to someone (think of spiders and how some people are terrified, while others have them as pets). Moreover, you might not be teaching your dog what you think you are when you use punishment. A dog may learn that the lawn is a scary place to be, not that he shouldn’t go to the edge. Or, if he is shocked while barking at a dog, he might learn that dogs cause him pain and he becomes leery, frightened, or even more reactive at the sight of a dog.
** The intent of this blog is not to argue for or against leash laws. My view is that if there is an ordinance requiring your dog to be leashed, then leash your dog even if he is the world’s reigning obedience champion. Dogs are not robots and can be unpredictable or reactive at times, especially when startled. So do everyone a favor and increase your level of control by leashing your dog.
Reviews.com, a company that reviews all sorts of things, from deodorant, to mattresses, to yoga mats, to dog food, recently contacted me about their review of dog foods. I initially did not pay any attention to the email as I get a lot of people wanting me (or, more specifically, “the person in charge of …”) to include their products/opinions/ideas/thoughts-on-aliens on my website. Besides, I thought, The Whole Dog Journal has it’s yearly review of dog foods that I think is the best of the best, so why bother?
But, they contacted me a second time, actually addressing me by name in the email! So I thought, “Why not? If it’s worthless I will have wasted 10-15 minutes of my life, but gained a brief respite from vacuuming. If it’s any good, I have yet another resource to share that will help people to better provide for their dog.”
So, I have to say that I was impressed by the thoroughness of their research and the standards they used to include foods in their recommended list. They had ten people working full-time (over 1400 hours) to produce this report. Here is how they conducted the research:
— We built a list of over 11,00 people with connections to the dog food industry and narrowed it down to the best.
— Over 20 experts contributed their valuable time to our work, including veterinarians, dog trainers, animal behaviorists, university researchers, and authors.
— We surveyed 300 dog owners and asked them if they knew what was in their dog’s food.
— We gathered a list of over 8,000 search queries to find out what matters most to dog owners.
— We read and analyzed 72 of the most popular articles and studies on dog food.
— We compiled a list of 2,223 formulas from 115 brands and reviewed their ingredients.
Their research led them to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that safe, quality ingredients are the key to good food and good health (physically and mentally) for your favorite canine. The use of inferior food products can lead to obesity, ear infections, liver or kidney issues, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and perhaps much worse.
Dogs need the right combination of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, and nutrients to live healthy, happy lives. The wrong ingredients in the wrong combinations can lead to a host of health problems, both physical and mental.
Digestive problems, including bloat and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are symptomatic of poor ingredients that don’t contain enough whole, unprocessed foods. Food allergies can also lead to digestive issues — many of the experts we reached out to have seen evidence that dogs are sensitive to wheat and corn, both popular fillers.
Obesity is on the rise in dogs. One main reason for this is overfeeding, but many of the experts we talked to were quick to point out that poor grain-based ingredients are also to blame.
Physical problems are only half of it. There was a unanimous consensus among trainers and behaviorists we talked to that poor diet causes mental health issues in dogs, including poor temperament and lack of focus. Marc Abraham elaborates: “Certain popular pet food brands on the market contain extra colorings, additives, and E numbers that, in my opinion, can affect behavior, leading to hyperactivity and difficulty with training.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Abraham that poor diet can lead to poor behavior and training issues. A dog who doesn’t feel well cannot perform well. Ask any parent of a child the day after Halloween if their child is cranky, unable to focus, distracted, amped up, or lethargic…
Included in the review are two handy charts: A Quick Guide to Dog Food Ingredients and A Quick Dog Food Type Comparison. Both give a handy overview of their subject matter with pros and cons. I especially liked the Food Type Comparison chart as it is hard to find information about the various types of food (dry, wet, dehydrated, raw and homemade) in one place.
And their conclusions?
After putting in 1,400 hours of research and analyzing over 2,223 formulas, we discovered even some of the most popular brands still make food with unhealthy or unsafe ingredients. Of the 2,223 formulas we looked at, only 134 met our standard of approval — about 6 percent overall.
Why so few? They eliminated 2,089 foods because of the following reasons*:
1) We removed products where the first ingredient is not a meat of any kind. 194 disqualified
2) We removed products containing corn, soy, wheat, grain, or flour. 578 disqualified.
3) We removed products containing beet pulp or sugar. 146 disqualified.
4) We removed products that contained by-products or sauces. 44 disqualified.
5) We removed brands for recalls, ingredient sources, history, and customer satisfaction. 956 disqualified.
6) We reviewed the remaining formulas based on the best ratio of protein, fat, and carbs, as well as the source of protein. 171 disqualified.
Near the end of the article is the complete list of approved dry dog foods as well as links to their lists of preferred canned, puppy, and grain free foods. It is well worth your time to peruse the review and the list of acceptable foods. It was a definite eye opener for me! I had already decided to switch my dogs from Taste of the Wild and Blue Wilderness Puppy to Origen and Origen Large Breed Puppy before I read this article. After reading it, not only was I glad I switched, but I went to the local pet store to get some Origen to tide us over until my auto-ship arrives.**
The Blue Buffalo Company established The Blue Buffalo Foundation for Cancer Research in 2003, “as part of our ongoing mission to raise awareness about pet cancer and money to help support various universities and clinics conducting research on the causes of, prevention and treatment of dogs and cats with the disease.”
Here is their list:
Swollen Lymph Nodes
These “glands” are located throughout the body but are most easily detected behind the jaw or behind the knee. When these lymph nodes are enlarged they can suggest a common form of cancer called lymphoma. A biopsy or cytology of these enlarged lymph nodes can aid in the diagnosis.
An Enlarging or Changing Lump
Any lump on a pet that is rapidly growing or changing in texture or shape should have a biopsy. Lumps belong in biopsy jars, not on pets.
When the “stomach” or belly becomes rapidly enlarged, this may suggest a mass or tumor in the abdomen or it may indicate some bleeding that is occurring in this area. A radiograph or an ultrasound of the abdomen can be very useful.
Chronic Weight Loss
When a pet is losing weight and you have not put your pet on a diet, you should have your pet checked. This sign is not diagnostic for cancer, but can indicate that something is wrong. Many cancer patients have weight loss.
Chronic Vomiting or Diarrhea
Unexplained vomiting or diarrhea should prompt further investigation. Often tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can cause chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea. Radiographs, ultrasound examinations and endoscopy are useful diagnostic tools when this occurs.
Bleeding from the mouth, nose, penis, vagina or gums that is not due to trauma should be examined. Although bleeding disorders do occur in pets, they usually are discovered while pets are young. If unexplained bleeding starts when a pet is old, a thorough search should be undertaken.
A dry, non-productive cough in an older pet should prompt chest radiographs to be taken. This type of cough is the most common sign of lung cancer. Please remember there are many causes of cough in dogs and cats.
Unexplained lameness especially in large or giant breed dogs is a very common sign of bone cancer. Radiographs of the affected area are useful for detecting cancer of the bone.
Straining to Urinate
Straining to urinate and blood in the urine usually indicate a common urinary tract infection; if the straining and bleeding are not rapidly controlled with antibiotics or are recurrent, cancer of the bladder may be the underlying cause. Cystoscopy or other techniques that allow a veterinarian to take a biopsy of the bladder are useful and sometimes necessary to establish a definitive diagnosis in these cases.
Oral tumors do occur in pets and can cause a pet to change its food preference (i.e. from hard to soft foods) or cause a pet to change the manner in which it chews its food. Many times a foul odor can be detected in pets with oral tumors. A thorough oral examination with radiographs or CT scan, necessitating sedation, is often necessary to determine the cause of the problem.
Cancer is a frightening and, too often, devastating diagnosis for pet owners. Being aware of the warning signs will give you a better chance of giving your dog the long and happy life he deserves.
*While these may be some of the more common signs of cancer in dogs and cats, there are cancers that do not have early warning signs. This is why it is important to have your dog regularly examined by your vet, especially as he ages, so that changes in your dog’s health can be noticed sooner rather than later. Our vet’s technician was the first to notice Buckley’s pale gums and alert us to his anemia, which was the telltale sign of his cancer (see: The Big “C“). For more information on caring for your elderly dog, check out our podcast: Giving Older Dogs the Good Life.
When I teach a behavior to a client I recommend that they practice this new skill in every room in the house where their dog is allowed, so that the dog learns to generalize the behavior. Dogs, by and large, are not particularly good at generalizing. As a result, we have to help them learn that “Sit!” does not simply mean “put my bottom on the ground facing Mom in the kitchen,” but rather, “put my bottom on the ground no matter where I am or what is going on around me.”
When you move to another location, it is important to understand that your dog sees this as something new and may not respond as quickly to your request as he does in a more familiar locale. Therefore, I tell clients to lower their expectations and ask for something easier or give their dog more time to respond. For example, last night I took Zuzu to her first agility class. At one point, we were told to get our dogs to lie down. This is not Zuzu’s strongest trick (she tends to pop right back up) but she will generally follow my hand and lie on the floor, especially if I have a small treat in my hand. So, in this exciting environment I made sure we had at least 15 feet between her and another dog, and I used a fistful of chicken to lure her into a down. It took her a moment to understand what I wanted, but when her belly hit the ground, a lot of chicken happened. Subsequent downs went more quickly and smoothly, and I was able to reduce the amount of poultry needed to produce the desired results.
I recently received an email from the Whole Dog Journal about training your dog in a new location. Here is a part of what they recommended:
In each new training space, first test that your dog can perform with a cookie in your hand. This is important because the total number of additional distractions (beyond what you are deliberately introducing) is going to increase simply by changing locations. You will continue to create controlled distractions for your dog, and you want them to hold his attention more than the stuff in the environment. This might sound counter intuitive, but the truth is, if the dog is paying more attention to the smells in the neighborhood than to the training exercises, you have a problem! You need to start with a distraction (and a reward) that is MORE interesting than the rest of the world. (From Beyond the Backyard by Denise Fenzi)
The point that you need to be more interesting than the rest of the world is the key to teaching your dog to be responsive to you in any environment, especially in the beginning. Having a good assortment of rewards* is also useful to keep your dog’s focus in new surroundings. To keep Zuzu’s attention last evening I varied the rewards I used: chicken, string cheese, and her favorite toy. While she has unlimited access to most of her toys, her bumper is one I keep special by limiting it’s availability. She zoomed through the tunnel to me and a chance to chase the bumper. Looking at me in line (right behind a really cute lab she wanted desperately to play with) earned her the right to hold the bumper as we waited our turn. Chicken enticed her into a down on the table, but her bumper was her reward for staying.
Zuzu had moments when she couldn’t focus due to the excitement of a new environment. But they were moments, not eons, and it was reinforcement, not detention, that got her to reengage with me. Be patient with your dog as you teach her to behave under exciting or distracting circumstances. Reward her well for a doing what you ask, even if it’s only for an instant. The instants will begin to add up and sooner than you think, you will have a truly engaged dog, eager to work with you, no matter where you are.
*Knowing what is reinforcing to your dog helps you choose the right reward for the level of distraction. I have written a lot about rewards or reinforcers but two blogs in particular are relevant: What if my dog isn’t food motivated? and What does your dog love?
As a positive reinforcement trainer I use a lot of food, especially in the beginning of training, to reward a dog for doing the right thing. Food, in general, is an easy and efficient way to let your dog know that he was on target with the desired behavior and for most dogs, it isn’t something we need to teach them to like. Depending on the circumstances and what we are working on, I will use the dog’s food (if we are in a low distraction situation) or higher value treats if the situation is more demanding or distracting to the dog and I need something to keep and hold his attention. I will eventually reduce the amount of food I use, and switch to other forms of reinforcement, but when teaching a new skill or working under unusual circumstances, I rely on tasty morsels to reward my dog.
If you want to reduce the amount of food rewards you use, the first thing to remember is that it is important to reward your dog every time he does something you ask him to do or that you appreciate him doing. If you want a behavior to increase in frequency or stay strong, it’s important that your dog understand that this behavior is worth his effort. You can begin to reduce the amount of food by combining it with other reinforcements. This is particularly handy when you reach into your bait bag and discover you only have a small handful of treats left. If I need to reward my dog for a particularly good performance and I have just a few morsels (or I want to reduce food rewards), I will pet, praise, play, and strategically throw in a couple of pieces of food. I find that dogs respond very well to 20-30 seconds of wonderfulness that includes all the things that they enjoy: your attention and affection, play, and a snack.
Another way to reduce the amount of food you use is to use it intermittently when reinforcing routine behaviors. If your dog really knows sit, then you don’t need to reinforce with food every time she plunks her bottom on the ground. A “Good Girl!” or scratch under the ear is probably sufficient, most of the time, to reward a sit. However, giving her a treat on occasion will help to keep the behavior strong as she never knows when the treat is coming and it just might be this time! (Think in terms of being a Vegas slot machine. Sometimes you get nothing, sometimes it’s a little, and every once in awhile, it’s a jackpot!) If, however, you ask her to do something routine (such as a sit) in a completely new and exciting environment (such as the entrance to the dog park), it will be much harder for her to comply. Let her know that you appreciate the effort she has put into doing this in a difficult situation by rewarding her with something really meaningful to her.
What do you do, however, when your dog is not food motivated, or is on a restricted diet? In a recent blog I discussed three things to experiment with to determine what is motivating to your dog. I have also written about making a list of 5 things your dog loves that you can use to reward your dog. But, how exactly do you use these things to reward your dog?
Let’s imagine that you are in the back yard and your dog heads over to the fence to bark at the neighbor’s kids. You call him, he stops, looks at you, looks at the fence, and decides to come to you. This tough decision needs to be rewarded in some way! If you have a toy, reward his come with a game of tug, fetch, or chase-me-to-get-the-toy. If you don’t have a toy readily available, then spend a full 30 seconds petting him, scratching his favorite spot, and telling him what a brilliant boy he was!
You can also use play as a way to teach a new behavior. I have a dog who is not particularly food motivated but LOVES to play. To teach her to sit between tosses of the ball I use two tennis balls when we play fetch. I toss the first one and when she brings it back, I show her the second ball. When she drops the first one and sits, the second one is immediately thrown. Off she flies and I pick up the first ball, and the cycle continues. I am using what she loves to do to get her to practice the impulse control (i.e.: sit) that I want from her.
I had a client whose dog had some very unusual dietary restrictions so treats were not an option. Bailey loved squeaky toys, however, so the owner bought several and kept them in a box in the closet with his leash. When walk time came, she would get one of the toys out of the box and tuck it in a pocket or bait bag. When Bailey got overly excited about something on his walk she would say his name, and squeak the toy. Bailey would turn and look at her, and she would give him the toy to hold. This calmed him and he would trot along with his Zen-inducing toy in his mouth until he relaxed enough to drop it. Susan would pick it up, tuck it away, and repeat the process as needed. At the end of the walk, the toy was put back in the box so that it remained special.
Figuring out what your dog loves, what motivates him to check in with you, and what holds his attention, will help you to know how best to creatively reward those behaviors that make you say, “What a good dog!”